Tuesday, 31 March 2009

From the nice life to the rough life!

So...our last post was when we were in Salta and talking about how easy travel had been thus far....things have changed in less than a week...we were certainly up for a challenge and a challenge we got!
We hopped on an over night bus from Salta(Argentina) to the boarder into Bolivia where we would go through the boarder crossing and spend our next few weeks in Bolivia. The trip is only about 300kms but takes 8 hours.....We hop on a bus for another over night travel in what looks like an OK Bus..in which is was...it was the roads that we horrendous! We had been spoilt with getting our 5 or 6 hours sleep on most over night trips but this one was not the case. The roads were like being on a cattle grid for most of it so the 2 or 3 hours sleep we got were well enjoyed! This is far from the worst bus stories we now have :)

When we got on the bus we saw 2 other white people speaking English so we quickly made conversation to help sooth our nerves for what we knew was ahead. They too were excited when we found out they were heading the same way as us.
We did make it safely to the bus station the next morning at 6am where we had to wait in a cattle pen of a terminal till day light when we could walk over to the boarder crossing to Bolivia. Boarder crossing are a classic. no security and just a box on the side of the road where they look and you and stamp your passport. We were now in Villazon (boarder of Bolivia) where we had to wait till 4pm to get a train to Toupiza. We were highly recommended NOT to take buses in Bolivia where possible...what is meant to be a 10 hour bus ride can take you 20 hours....due to very poor roads!
We set up camp in the first cafe that opened (about 8am) where we had copious amounts of te, coffee, water..anything to allow us to hang there for the day. Lunch quickly approached and we saw the Chickens being hung on the rotisserie... for the next 2 hours we were drooling. We were the first to call dibbs on them when ready....YUMMO!
The day went quickly with our new found friends from UK (now living in Sydney) talking rubbish, sipping tea and enjoying a chicken or two. 4pm we got on the train to Toupiza where our Tour started first thing the next morning. The train ride was picturesque...although we all passed out as soon as we hit the seats...missed our dinner call but woke up to a sandwich on our laps...haha Very long day. Tish had been suffering a head cold that week so went to bed as soon as we arrived....hoping to be better by morning.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Hugo´s bike and wine tour - Mendoza

A dangerous lunch stop with an extra bottle of two.

Simon finding a new lover!

Setting off with the Ozzy boys we met at the hostel.

Salta - Let the funny stories begin!

We stopped at Salta for 2 nights just to break up the trip from Mendoza to Bolivia. Another cute town known for it´s wine. (amazing how much money is around due to the wineries)

We arrived on a Sunday when EVERYTHING was closed so we wern´t sure about this town but heading out into town later that evening, we found a spot up-town where the action was happening. Salta is known for it´s wine and Peña (traditional folk dancing and singing over dinner) It really was great. Men in clots (baggy 3 quarter pants) and women in traditional dressed dancing around with a handkerchief - doesn´t sound great but it was! Really made us think what history and traditions these places have compared to our young country. (keep an eye out for the video and pics)

So we know how backwards Argentina can be but nothing prepared us for this!
Postal System!
We purchased a few Havaiana´s in Brazil (as you do) and have been trying to post them home...due to many reasons we had not yet been successful. So refusing to take them any further we made Salta the place to move it on.

Posting anything outside of Argentina is only possible from 8 to 12 mon to fri and at a "special" post office = Aduana.

So we found out from our hostel where to go...very vague directions..so much so that the 3 other locals we asked all gave different directions....anyway we made it there with with plenty of time....hmmmm.
We find out that you are required to provide your own box (they don´t sell them either), lucky for us we had purchased this weeks ago on your first attempt to send it. Then we find out they only send 3, 4 and 5kg boxes...we were 3.2kg...so after taking 1 small thing out at a time, (labels, plastic bags, stickers...etc) anything untill we were 2.80kg - we needed to leave weight for the brown paper to wrap the box and the tape to tape the paper...all of which you needed to purchase yourself down the road where we found out there was national shortage of clear 5cm width tape. We bent the rules and just got the normal clear (had to be clear not brown) tape and hoped for the best! So after running around town we made it back and started with the wrapping, taping and writing address detail. Through out this last process, the box was weighed at least 5 times after each step. 1. paper, 2. tape, 3. writing..... We came in at 2.85kg...Bonus! With 2 people processing this massive task, we signed on the dotted line (6 times) at 12.01pm....just made it.

We are happy to have it off our hands and are not sure if we will purchase too much more that needs to be posted home! sorry guys :)

Today we took a day trip out to Cafayate. Land of beautiful scenery (Grand Canyon type scenery with cactii thrown in) Pictures look great and will tell the story.

Off to Boliva tonight where the real action begins...good bye to easy travel...hello to trekking, high altitudes and no steak for dinner every night :(

Mendoza produces 70% of Argentinas wine

Mendoza started off with a rocky start.... After a crazy 5 days in Buenos Aires and a 14 hours bus ride we were keen to get out in the country and wind down a little...of which we did in the end! Arriving in our hostel early morning (the usual for a overnight bus ride) the hostel looked great from the outside but didn´t quite live up to our quieter expectations.

We booked a double room for the first time in a week or so and were keen to enjoy the peace and good sleep. No such luck! After the day of wandering and planning the next couple of days of wineyards and bike riding we were ready for an afternoon nap (what a luxury) Only minutes later we had a Ben Harper wannabe singing and strumming his guitar outside our room. Don´t get me wrong....he wasn´t bad just not what we were expecting. So after the initial shock we decided to have a laugh about it and join others at the bar...if you can´t beat em join em i say! The night consisted of another Parrilla (BBQ meat) and some local wine. We were well on our way to a fun but chilled evening. Having hit the sack reasonably early (1am - after the hostel staff cracked open the tequila!) which is very early in Argentina terms we were excited about a sleep in and no high pitched snoring, sleep screaming or talking or door slamming for 8 hours. Instead we were awoken by a mechanic workshop only metres from our room drilling and hammering from 7.30am......the humour shown from the previous afternoon wasn´t shown as much as this one. : ) - Simon the bear wasn´t so easily awoken...must have been the shots before bed that helped and of course the defensive ear plugs! Having booked 3 nights in the room, we swiftly informed them we were going to move on.

Off we went online and booked another place....and it was so lovely and peaceful! We stayed in a cracking hostel (Chimbas Hostel) with a swimming pool, kitchen and relaxed atmosphere. As is customary in wine regions of the world one must do a wine tour and taste the local delicacies, there was a good commotion at the hostel about Mr Hugos Bike tours...excellent, wine mixed with balance and speed - just what we needed. 3 Aussie lads from Sydney from the hostel were also keen so we all headed off with some early advice on two things...make sure you have change for the bus and that Mr Hugo puts on a mean serving of wine at the end of the tour.

So when we got the bus station we had to jet around multiple shops and buying things to give us all the correct 1.80 pesos required for the bus. So bus comes along and we get on but you cant give money to the bus driver for change or any transaction, it must go in the ticket machine, this thing looked like a clapped out old pokermachine which we happily fed our coins - finally we all got tickets after it chewing up coins and the bus driver having to stop the bus and use his special swipe card to get us the remaining tickets we needed - the locals dont like it when their bus stops for gringos...anyway on we go. So we arrived at Mr Hugos for a full briefing in Spanish, lots of pointing and smiling and then we greeted by the local policia and given some pamphlets on responsibility with riding and alcohol....hilarious, we thought Argentina perhaps had turned the corner when it came to road and other safety...alas they let us on the road.

So in a nutshell the riding tour was a 18km round tour, multiple wineries with tastings at each so lets call it 3 glasses at each, lunch with another 2 bottles amongst five and then we kinda forget bits probably due to dehydration! We had some great Malbecs, Rose, Cab Sav and Syrah along the way, bought some yummy olive tapenade and tasted some nice olive oil with 16 day old bread. One of the finest cellar buildings we saw in Simons opinion one of the best in the world was a modern building with a great terrace elevated to provide a view above the vines..very nice. This place came with its own party boy MC that proceeded to kiss and touch every male and female in the place expressing his deepest gratitude for our attendance..what a guy! After much talk of leaving that place we rode the final kms back to Hugos with some brilliant riding skills, abaiding by the pamplet instructions, phew. Hugo (I think I saw two Hugos) greeted us happily, sat us down and plonked a bottle of wine on the table for us to enjoy...the aussie lads balked at it but in true style poured the glasses, its worth noting that one of them didnt even drink wine!!! hahah he struggled through and in is eyes was now more educated on fine grape juice. The trip home was in a 5 person cab with 6 people...lots of giggles and smells after a fine days riding. Job done, we cruised home, cooked a great dinner and hit the hay.

In summary - Mendoza, great town, nice people, relaxing, good food and wine - highly recommended as part of any Argentinian tour but only a few days required.
Off now to Salta to enjoy some yup you guessed it, more wine and beef.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

La Boca´s colourful culture

Transport used in La Boca

Buenos Aires Bike Tour

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires...the city that never sleeps. They say NY is the city that never sleeps and they are so wrong. Everyone in BA don´t start eating till 11pm (of all ages. 5 to 95).
We arrived into BA at 11pm and freshened up and went for dinner...yep dinner at midnight and the restaurant was full.
Our very first impression of the city when we were in the taxi was that we were in Paris. The European Architecture and the main avenue (Av 9 de Julio) looking very much like the champs Elysees but with an obelisk, it made us have to think twice that we weren´t in Paris. It is know for its European feel with the Architecture and the cafe culture but with it´s own twist which makes the great city. A population of 3 million in BA city and 13 million greater BA so it is decent size city and after its economic fall in 2002, you can see it is still trying to bounce back which is great to see.
The best way to see a city for us is on a bike so after our first day of exploring locally on foot, we hopped on a bike tour that took us around the historical parts. Having just finished a novel "bad times in Buenos Aires" that covers the Peron period - Evita, Dirty and Falkland war which all has happen just over the last 50 years, it was great to see these place where it all went on. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_War and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falklands_War this is such an interesting history but with such melancoly that still seen in the locals.
We have fallen in love with this city...even more so than Rio and could see ourselves living here :)
We quickly met some great local girls that took as to a bar/club that was hosting a live electro Tango show. This under ground bar rocked with such funky tunes coming from these guys. It looks like they were trying to mix old with the new...which really worked for us. We were so excited to have had a taste of the local life. Once again, it didn´t kick off till the early morning and on our walk home at 3.30am the streets were full of young and old casually walking home....very strange feeling. We would definitely recommend a holiday trip to BA.
I spent the next day checking out Recoleta (the rich area) where the highlight is the local markets and the Cementerio - Cemetery where Evita and Peron were buried. I have not seen a cemetery like it. Bodies are buried above ground (some almost 2 stories high) and families are buried together.
Sunday we got the opportunity to go to a local football game....La Boca v AAP. They don't always suggest girls go to the game as it is well known that SA football games are not always the safest but i felt extremely safe there. Lucky La Boca were winning the entire game so the crowd was tame. It may have been a different story if it was the other way around. La Boca is the poorest part of BA but it had such character in its building and people.
Leaving BA after 5 nights we were well ready to leave the city. It feels like the cities are sucking us in and spitting you out so we have been happy to wave goodbye. 13hour bus trip to Mendoza...the city of Argentina's wineries....how exciting!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Food and Drink

Random pics of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina so far..

Pictures paint a thousand words they say (who is they?)...so here are some to give you the travel bug:

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Getting to Buenos Aires

It is hard to know what your bus experience is going to be like but for this one we were blown away. With a waiter to give you refreshments, a few sugar sweets for breakfast and a movie that wasn´t in the 80s (although they have been classics) we had one of the best nights sleeps and a good laugh.
Our transit from Bus to accommodation has been very smooth so far. I think because we have quickly adapted to the pace in which you need to move to get anywhere and using our limited amount of Spanish we get there in the end. We are now living the true backpacker life with local buses, cheap eats (well not very often) big dorms and drinking beer instead of spirits. (simon is still struggling to belive that we can´t travel like we have done for the past 5 years on this 5 month trip...haha)
We arrived into Punta del Este (southern Uruguay) early morning to a sleepy town, thinking because it was early the town was still sleeping....no, it really is a sleepy town. Our view on the town was a cute and EXPENSIVE place you would retire on the beach with your yacht.
A chilled night in meant we were up early for a morning run and yoga before our trip out of Uruguay.
There certainly is a lot of travel through this continent...people tell you but you never really understand until you are doing it. It is comfortable travel so it isn´t a worry...just plenty of it. A full day of Bus, Boat and Taxi´s finally got up in to Buenos Aires...

We have met so many great people from Israel, Portugal (sofia - they are all as great as you), Spain, France, UK, NZ and Oz of course. It was so amazing to see so many Isrealians traveling....such great people.

Buenos Aires....to come

Beyond Ilha Grande

From our tropical island Ilha Grande we slowly made our way to Iguacu Falls -based on the Argentinan side. We hopped on our first long haul bus from Sao Paulo...14 hours. It went much quicker than we expected, however we were unlucky to get on a pretty ordinary bus. Pluma was the company, it smelt like toilet the entire trip and the aircon....when it worked sounded like a plane taking off...ahh it´s all part of the experience. We arrived with little hastle, through the border crossing early morning to our hostel....the hostel is highly recommended!!
First thing we noticed when crossing the border from Brazil to Argentina was the red soil and the people looking very different. They are very much spanish looking with a little indian thrown in there. We spent our first afternoon watching the sunset at the Tres Frontieras (3 points) in which you can see Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. They are split by the Iguazu river. It was such a beautiful and tranquil place to sit.

First night we smashed up (simon new favorite word following on from smashed potatoes) a 400g sirloin each. The entire bill with a bottle of Mendoza wine, side orders was about $40 aud....nice!
An early start meant we were through the gates of the Iguazu falls park first thing. From the second we were inside we were impressed by grounds and the size of the park, 55,ooo hectares in fact with subtropical rainforests.
The region was discovered in 1542, by the expedition of the spaniard Alvar Nunez. The name Iguacu or Iguazu Falls(depending on what country you are in) Legend has it that a god planned to marry a beautiful aborigine named Naipí, who fled with her mortal lover Tarobá in a canoe. In rage, the god sliced the river creating the waterfalls, condemning the lovers to an eternal fall.....hmm not too sure about that one but its a good story.

We were crazy as usual and went on a boat ride that runs you into the falls. Looked tame from the sideline but when your on the boat being thrown under a smashing waterfall the smile is very quickly wiped off and fear is the only thing you feel (Simon quietly enjoyed it :).(we have a video to cringe when we watch it)
We left the main falls to the afternoon and were really blown away - the key attraction at the park is the Devils Throat which is indescribable. There is something about a waterfall that is so humbling. We had 7 hours at the park and then came back feeling nicely sun kissed and happily exhausted. Got on another 14 hour bus trip the next day back to the Brazilian coast to see a little more beach at Florianopolis...also know to us as Flop.... we were due to spend 3 days on the beach but we had 2 days of torrential rain so got out of there early and made our way to Uruguay.

Hostel Insomnia

I thought I would put togther my thoughts on hostels and places we have stayed at so far because there has been quite a mix! We decided to use as many hostels while travelling as possible to drive the cost of the trip down. With that comes a dorm room...or in some places they should call them a bacteria room. Dorms range anywhere from a private room 2 bed with shared or private ensuite into the 4, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 12 and 16 bed dorms...in my view you could write an algorithm to help youto calculate how little sleep or how many germs you might acquire and this might be multiplied by the number of people who can potentially provide a distraction and wake you up. So you might walk into a hostel thinking its layout, free internet, free breakfast is spot on, the beds might look comfortable but once the sleeping starts you get the snoring, the sleep shouting (no not talking), opening of doors, switching on the light during the night, slamming doors, opening lockers, scratching around in backpacks filled with plastic bags, talking loudly, mobile phones going off and the list goes on...so welcome to the world of insomnia...I usually love a healthly 7 to 8 hours sleep a night but I think that average is down around 4 to 5 hours now but I have been offsetting that with a strategically placed poppa nap in the afternoon where possible. A number of things we can highly recommend to push your sleep average higher are a good eye mask...preferrably a fabric one in case you sweat from the temperature and earplugs, we got a stack of ebay before we left and it was the best purchase ever...only thing they dont totally cancel out is the noise from talking...but still worth it!

Aside of these negatives Hostels are a great place to meet people from all over the world and share information and experiences. There are some Hostels in Sth America that have been really great, you can see that they have really thought about the layout, service, good staff etc etc to make your stay easy and comfortable.

Some ones worth noting for good and bad reasons:

- Our apartment in Rio on Copacabana beach, not a hostel but worth noting...the guys we went through also arranged tickets to Sambodrome for us also. So if you are after something not a hostel in Rio let me know, our man Mauro was very helpful.

-Hostel Botafogo - poor hostel in terms of layout and design...9 bed dorms (yuck) with triple bunks with one fan in the room. Only 3 showers in the whole hostel and toilets were inside the shower rooms! muppets.

- Puerto Iguazu Aregntinian side - Marco Polo Hostel Inn (also another one by the same owner 5km out of town called Hostel Inn). arguably the best hostel we have stayed in - almost like a 3 star hotel, aircon in the rooms, quiet dorms, swimming pool, nice bar and happy hour, awesome staff with great service that will book you tickets, and run around after anything you need. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

- Casa Brasil - Florianopolis - it rained the whole time we were there but this hostel made it worth the stay, we were given a really nice double room for a fraction more per night so thsi made the stay more comfortable. This place was more like someones house...frash baked bread cooked for breakfast, in house bar with great Capairinhas, free internet. Hammocls outside under cover to chill out and read your book.

- Hostel Estoril - Buenos Aires - probably the best so far, won south american hostel of the year. 6 floor hostel in downtown BA..each floor has a manager and takes care of your needs...more like a sharehouse. Rooftop garden with bar that overlooks BA, awesome. free internet, kitchen to cook your own food, free breakfast of croissants and freshly squeezed orange juice, tea coffee etc..yum.

well best get myself ready for the Football today - off to see Boca Juniors at the Bombonera!

signing off

Mr SJ Peric
Hostel Operations Manager

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Pics are slow!

Ok we are experiencing long upload delays getting photos onto teh blog so we will look at options and get more up soon. Keep your eyes on the Slideshow in coming days on the right and you will soon see Tishs whole Rio photo collection scanning through...you can stop it and rewind etc to look at photos of your choice.

chat soon

Rio Pics...

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Bye Rio - Ola Paradise (Ilha Grande)

Well we havent really been living the true backpacker life as yet with apartments in Copacabana and now after 8 exhausting days it was time to head for some quieter beaches = 3 nights in a studio apartment with ocean views in Ilha Grande. Brazils 3rd largest island (although very small)

We rocked up to Ilha Grande with a reservation in a hostel but realised in a 3am inebriated booking it was for march...so arriving in one of the busiest weekends on the island we were turned down but were then offered an apartment with spectacular views for only 10 Reais more....can´t belive it was possible. The Island is extremly tropical and very very chilled. Sort of what you might expect from the whitsundays if you have been there.

We had one of the best pizza´s ever in Ilha Grande (no honestly)

After 2 days rest and recooperation we headed for a 2 1/2 hour walk to one of the most amazing beaches in the world (arguably) in 34 degree heat it was one of the hardest walks i think we have had to endure. Tish sweated through her clothes completely and well you know what Simon did (he was setting new records for water loss in an hour). If it is anyting like the Kokoda trail Graeme it must be tough but manageable :)

The Brazillians have been the warmest, friendliest people. Even in Rio people are just so nice (apart from some cabbies but that is international )

It has been weird to speak portugese when we have learnt spanish but we are getting there and conversing well with locals now for basic needs..

We LOVE Brazil. We were due to spend only 2 weeks here but have loved it so much it will be closer to 1 month. Hmmm can we extend this trip?

Now heading for a 17 hour bus ride to Iguacu Falls for 2 nights and spectacular waterfall action before heading back to a beach paradise (again :) island called Florianopolis.

Over and Out

Rio Gastronomy and touristy bits

We spent most of the time in Rio Russ and Bobby (Russ is Tishs old housemate from London but now lives in Perth) it was really great to see these guys and catchup and enjoy Rio together. We also had another fellow Aussie Jackie from Melbourne stay with us at the apartment.

Rio really is a spectacular city with much to see....we eventually got around most of the sights after an extra two nights in Rio to fill in the gaps (the last 2 nights were enjoyed in a steamy 9 bed dorm ...eeek wont be doing that again...)

Days have been no less than 34 degrees and evenings around 28 so the sweat machine (Simon) has been in good form. Now on to the sights - Ipanema beach sunset = a beautiful view from the point over a vast and packed beach is a sight to see, street bands keep the energy alive on the beach. Rio Downside = nearly every tourist and local in Rio is there so it is mayhem. we were lucky to have a couple quieter beach days before the manic carnval period started.

Cristo Redendtor (Christ the Redeemer) - amazing views over Rio, under the famous statue with oustretched arms....great vantage point but packed with crazy tourists photographing themselves as statues...choppers flying overhead. Suggest being there at sunset for great photo opportunities.

Sugar Loaf mountain - again must see - a cable car that travels to two massive protruding rocks above Rio where the views are second to none, we were again there at sunset and got some cool night shots. Clouds that day prevented a total view but the odd shot with views back to Cristo made it worth it. Simon realised he is getting old when he got a touch of vertigo on the cable car hahah.

After a few intense and hot days in Rio we needed a break so we headed for the Tijuca national park for some trekking and waterfalls, well worthwhile. We managed to get the subway to the end of the line and then with some englo-portugese and much pointing we embarked on the local bus to Tijuca...funny experience..the bus drivers have magnets around the driving console with loads of coins magnetised to them - you get on and give him some money and he selects from the coins your change and then you head through the turnstile (on the bus!) to the bus seating! So after a while we realised we had missed our stop (no signs of course!) and we got off and took a bus back the other way. free entry to the national park = good and then purchased bad map to do some tracks on badly signed trails :) after we worked it out it was stunning, we rested at a small waterfall, had a swim and chilled out before making the trek back to Rio to meet up with an australian couple Matt and Krystal on their last night in Rio after about 3.5 months on the road.

Hang in there - its worth hearing about the food....remember gastronomy is the key word of our travels! Ok so day 1 in Rio we stumble upon a Galeto (essential a BBQ grill type place but better then Nandos :) it was called Galeto Viva Flor and HIGHLY recommended - it is not in any lonely planet so we felt like food pioneers- Its in Copacabana (Rua Paula Freitas). Now this place is always packed with locals so a good sign, to get a seat you cant book but wait on a series of chairs on the pavement, and bum on the chair = your right to an ice cold beer while waiting for a table. For the record we went to this place 4 nights in about 8 nights...the highlight is the toasted chicken (I had visions of a custom toaster made for chickens) but in essence it was BBQ rotisserie cooked chicken..yum yum yum. Highlight number 2 = SMASHED potato, I think they meant mashed :) but we smashed many a smashed potato. Highlight number 3 = lethal (get the theme here) capairinha. Best part was the price, we had some local beers, dinner with a side dish and some capairinhas for about 30 Brazilian Reais - about 10 pounds sterling or $20 AUD. Best finish this post now but the food here cannot be understated...photos to come..

Rio Carnaval...ouch!

Rio is an amazing city and with it came Carnaval. We had Sambodromo tickets for Sunday in section 5 = Great seats! The event itself was a visual spectacular with over 6 samba schools competing for first prize. Each school showed off its samba talent and flambyont floats for over an hour each. Sambodomo is broken up into many sections as well as vip boxes, constructed mainly of concrete steps (No allocated seats). We expected this to be a party with all the locals dancing and drinking on but it really is a tourist majority event but still an event you must see once - Proudly our stamina held us from 7pm to 6am fueled by chicken and beverages. We found out the locals have their own parties in the streets which is called a "bloco" party. (as per the band bloc party)

The night before carnaval we ventured to the area of Lapa where there are many bloco parties which are crazy. It involves street side barmen selling very very cheap lethal cocktails to unsuspecting/suspecting gringos. After 2 drinks we were well on our way and in bed safely soon after...with mystery illness the next day, leaving us a little worse for wear in the lead up to carnaval night.