A Travellerspoint blog

Bye bye Brazil......hello home!!!

all seasons in one day 28 °C
View Backpacking 08/09 on VanessaT's travel map.

With only 2 ½ weeks left of my journey and a tropical coastline to explore it was into holiday mode!

I left Sao Paulo after two nights as there isn’t much to see there and it isn’t the safest city! I got the bus up the coast to the small colonial town of Paraty. Spent a couple of days there, tripping up and down the very uneven cobbled streets, admiring the many churches and avoiding the horse drawn carriages. A few months earlier the whole town had flooded and they were still having water supply issues which resulted in very quick (and usually cold!) showers!
On the advice of a traveller I met in Sao Paulo I headed for the village of Trindade, a 40 min bus (rollercoaster!) ride from Paraty. With the bus madly swerving up, up, up as high as we could go and then plunging down, down, down towards the coast we arrived, slightly shaken, in the quiet streets of Trindade. The hostel was gorgeous, wooden cabins nestled in the green shady jungle, absolute silence except for the toucans chattering high in the trees. Close by there were three lovely beaches to choose from, golden sands, clear waters, all backed by lush jungle. The perfect place to relax, read, even eat home-made upside down pineapple cake for breakfast!!

After a week it was time for another white knuckle ride over the mountains back to Paraty to catch the bus to Rio de Janeiro, my last stop!
Spent a few days wandering around the beach neighborhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema, marvelling at the brevity of the Brazilian swimwear- both womens- and mens! Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse and after the weekend it got a bit rainy. Rio isn’t the best city to be in when the weather is bad as most activities involve the beach! I was waiting with my fingers crossed for a clear day to head up to the Christ the Redeemer statue (some people get up there, are enveloped in cloud and can’t see a thing!) Thursday morning I looked out the window, saw a patch of blue and decided to go for it. As the train climbed Corcovado (the Hunchback) it started to ascend into the mist…oh dear, not looking good! I needn’t have worried as at the summit the clouds were drifting by, nice and high, giving a perfect view of the statue and of the city spread out below. The sandy stretches of Ipanema and Copacabana, the deep blue Lagoa, the white apartment buildings punctuated by the oval Jockey Club to the right and the Maracana Football Stadium to the left. The statue itself wasn’t actually as big as I thought it would be, but at 120ft, it’s still pretty impressive! The simple, clean lines are easy to appreciate and irresistibly photogenic, making you want to snap away from every angle- which I did, of course!
I spent today relaxing at the nearby Flamengo beach which is overlooked by the stunning Sugarloaf mountain, very glad that the sun has made an appearance for my last few days!

Well these are my final dispatches from the road, tomorrow all I have to do is finish packing and head for the airport!
Trying to find words to sum up the past year is proving impossible other than to say it’s been a truly unforgettable experience, one that hasn’t even begun to sink in yet! I hope everyone has enjoyed reading about what I’ve been up to and thank you for keeping my updated with news from home along the way! See you all when I get back, I can’t wait to catch up. Now….....who wants to see all 10,357 photos????!!

Posted by VanessaT Friday 3 April 2009 18:24 Archived in Brazil Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Busy, beautiful, Buenos Aires!

sunny 27 °C
View Backpacking 08/09 on VanessaT's travel map.

Finally made it to Buenos Aires!! Everyone I had met in Argentina who had been to BA had nothing but praise for the city…throughout my whole trip I’d never experienced such a positive reaction across the board to a destination so was very excited to see for myself. I definitely wasn’t disappointed!

Arrived at the bus station in Retiro and caught the subte (tube) across the city to Av. de Mayo, a big avenue that cuts east/west through the city, connecting the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada and the seat of government, Congreso. Had fun crossing the immense Av. 9 de Julio which runs north/south, all 17 lanes of it! Depending on who you ask- the widest avenue in the world/ the widest avenue in South America/ formerly the widest avenue in South America, whichever it is it’s the widest road I’ve ever seen! On a good day, walking really fast I eventually managed to cross the whole road in one green light but any dawdling or snapping pictures of the Obelisk meant you were stuck in the middle to wait for the next little green man! Hostel Estoril was on the 6th floor of an apartment building, really nice friendly place, the best thing about it was the massive roof terrace giving us a great view of the gorgeous Palacio Barolo across the street. When it was completed in 1923 it was the tallest building in South America and is topped by a lighthouse which can be seen all the way in Montevideo, Urgugay. It was so nice to open the windows in the morning, step out onto the balcony and gaze up at the Palaco Barolo and other buildings and down to the busy Ave de Mayo.

Time to start exploring the city!
Went to the Eva Peron museum, in Palermo, its in a lovely building, a mansion that was actually converted into a temporary home for women and children, founded by Eva Peron. The museum had some interesting displays including some of Evitas outfits but was wasn’t that thorough in telling the story of her life which was a shame! I think if I didn’t know a bit about her already I’d have come out scratching my head!
The next evening we went to watch a tango show in San Telmo, some fantastic dancing, the rest of the show was a little rough around the edges though!

Visited the Recoleta cemetery, sounds like a strange tourist destination but this cemetery is rather unique. Recoleta is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in BA and its residents are buried accordingly in wonderfully elaborate crypts. The cemetery is full of family mausoleums, creating a mini city within the walls, with small ‘streets’ lined on either side with imposing crypts, their facades full of plaques dedicated to the deceased within. At first it doesn’t seem that creepy although the narrow alleys do make you feel far away from civilisation but as you walk around and start to peer through the doors to the crypts you can see the coffins on shelves inside. Some with as many as six on the ground floor with a staircase leading underground with space for more family members below! I came across a few people crowded around one crypt and it turned out to be the resting place of the Duarte family and their most famous daughter….Eva Peron nee Duarte. Walking around a bit more the place started to give me the heebie jeebies so I headed back out into the sunshine and the land of the living!

Time for another steak, this time at La Cabrera, a highly recommended steak restaurant in Palermo. It was busy and we had to wait 20 mins for a table, they gave us free champagne while we were waiting though so we weren’t complaining! They really do eat late in Argentina, we weren’t seated until about midnight and finished our meal about 2am! The steak was really good though and was served with lots of small tapas dishes. For desert we had ‘flan’ which is basically crème caramel with massive dollops of dulce du leche!

On Saturday we caught the bus down to La Boca, definitely the most colourful neighborhood in BA, from the bus it was hard to miss the blue and yellow football stadium, home to Boca Juniors. La Boca was built by Italian immigrants from Genoa, historically home to the artists of Buenos Aires this is reflected in the houses which are painted in a myriad of colours. Great atmosphere, lots of people around, restaurants on the pavements, people dancing the tango, little street market. A samba band even came though at one point and filled the street with the sound of rhythmic drumming! La Boca is a bit of a dodgy neighborhood but we stuck to the tourist streets and felt perfectly safe. I heard from other people that when they wandered off the main streets they were chased down by the police and herded back onto the Caminito! That evening I met up with Mariella a friend from London, we discovered that we were on the same flight out of Buenos Aires, it had a stop over in Sao Paulo where I would deplane and Mariella would carry on to Heathrow. What a co-incidence!

Sunday and it was time to visit San Telmo and its famous antiques market. It was a lovely sunny day and we spent all day wandering around the markets which take up the main square and branch off into the side streets. Ended up in the Plaza de Mayo and took photos of the Casa Rosada, where Eva Peron famously appeared on the balcony and made her emotive speech declining the calls to run for vice-president whilst in the grip of cancer. We headed back into the heart of San Telmo for dinner and for pudding went to Dylans ice cream shop for some gorgeous Dulce de leche ice cream!

Monday we spent the day wandering Av. Florida the busy pedestrian shopping street and had a nice relax in the sun on the rooftop! Tuesday it was St Patricks Day, I didn’t know if they would celebrate it in Argentina but like everywhere else in the world everyone became honorary Irish and used it as an excuse to drink beer! The Kilkenny pub was the centre of the action, everyone wearing green and drinking green beer, we went for one drink but it got so packed we headed for somewhere a bit quieter, it was my last night in Argentina so went for a final steak! Really am a convert! Earlier in the day we had come across the United Buddy Bears art exhibition in Plaza San Martin. Travelling the world since 2002 it’s aim is to promote tolerance and understanding between different countries and cultures. 2m tall fiberglass bears are arranged in a large circle, colourfully decorated and representing over 140 countries from around the world. The UK offering is nice with a union jack draped across it but with some very random and dodgy goggles!

Was very sad to leave Buenos Aires the next day, it really is a great city, so much to do, I feel like I only scratched the surface. 2 ½ hours into the flight I said goodbye to Mariella and stepped off the plane in Sao Paulo, Brazil!!

Posted by VanessaT Thursday 19 March 2009 14:10 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Pictures

I can't get Flickr to work anymore but for people not on Facebook here are the links to my photo albums on there.......

China

China Part Two

Japan

Macau

Hong Kong

Vietnam

Cambodia

Laos

Thailand

Malaysia

Singapore

Indonesia

Australia

Australia Part Two

Australia Part Three

New Zealand

New Zealand Part Two

New Zealand Part Three

Chile

Argentina

Argentina Part Two

Posted by VanessaT 14:47 Comments (0)

Iguazu Falls

sunny 33 °C
View Backpacking 08/09 on VanessaT's travel map.

It was back on the bus to make the trip to the Iguazu falls...on the first bus i was in the 'death seat' as its affectionately known, the seat right at the front on the top deck of the bus, crash and you are flying out that window! Anyway that was only for the first 4 hrs, we were served our lunch of cheese and ham sandwich with a ham and cheese roll to go with it, a favourite thing to serve on buses here! Time to swap buses in Tucuman, land of the weird coin operated tv's. The second bus was a cama which has two seats one side of the aisle and only one seat on the other and i was in a seat on my own so no getting breathed on! Result! Had a mid afternoon nap and was rudely awoken by Ricky Martin screeching at me from the TV! After sitting through what seemed like his entire music video collection it was time for dinner...yep you guessed it, the bus journey classic, cheese and ham and ham and cheese! Although they did mix it up a bit with a salami and cheese version! So after 30 hours of bus fun and plastic food i'd travelled 1/2 way across the country and finally arrived in Puerto Iguazu, starving! But soon forgot all about being hungry as i was blasted by the heat and humidity as i stepped off the bus and ran for the nearest air-conditioned building! It was so hot, like being back in Asia but felt a lot more torturous as i hadn't had the gradual acclimatisation, i'd gone from nice and sunny but not too hot Salta to the furnace-like Iguazu!! Luckily the dorm at the hostel was a haven of ice cold air-con!

The next day we filled our bags with plentiful water supplies and headed off into the heat to visit the Argentine side of the Iguazu Falls (they straddle the Brazil/Argentina border). There are various trails you can follow to view the falls from different angles, from above, afar and then finally you can see the Garganta del Diablo close up in all it's roaring glory. We started by walking along the top of the long stretch of falls, here you start to get an appreciation for the sheer size of the falls, they stretch in a long arc for about 3kms! Then it was down to the lower circuit, this is where you get the big panoramic vista and really see the beauty of the falls, pouring down over two levels surrounded by lush green vegetation and sub tropical rain forest. We stopped every ten paces to snap another photo just because the view was slightly different, but really, no picture or words can even begin to explain how beautiful they are. Eleanor Roosevelt was famously reported to have exclaimed 'Poor Niagara!' when she visited! Not having visited Niagara i couldn't compare but Iguazu would take some beating! If the garden of eden existed, Iguazu would be the centrepiece.

We spent about 2 hours walking around and admiring the falls from every angle possible and then it was time to take the train across the park to visit the Garganta del Diablo- The Devils Throat, a narrow horseshoe shaped cataract, the largest and most powerful of all the falls at Iguazu. You walk for about 10 minutes on a specially constructed walkway that takes you out into the Iguazu River, as you draw closer the roar increases and all of a sudden..its there! The hypnotic, blinding sight of thousands of gallons of white water plunging down, creating so much spray you can't see the bottom of the falls.

After standing staring into the abyss, taking lots of photos and being engulfed in the cloud of spray we tore ourselves away and headed back to the town to collapse in the air con!

The Iguazu Falls were definitely one of the highlights of my trip and one of the most powerful displays of nature i have ever experienced.

Back on another bus!! This time only 20 hours south to the city of Rosario, this was the last overnight bus of my whole trip! I was on a single cama seat again but with a different company and boy did i know it! We got pillows and blankets, the seats had pull out trays and when dinner came round i couldn't believe it, no sandwiches! A little salad, with a strange sweet swiss roll thing, a roll and cheese spread (didnt get away from the bread and cheese totally!) then we got a hot (yes hot!!!) rice and prawn dish, which seeing as we were on a coach for the foreseeable future i thought the inclusion of seafood was living a bit dangerously! a fruit salad for dessert, we even got offered champagne! It was luxury compared to the previous journey!

Spent a few days relaxing here in Rosario and in the morning its off to Buenos Aires!

Posted by VanessaT Monday 9 March 2009 10:46 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Cordoba, Cafayate and Salta

sunny 23 °C
View Backpacking 08/09 on VanessaT's travel map.

I forgot to mention in my last entry that we had a massive asado meal in Mendoza! Argentinians love their meat and an asado is a big bbq with lots of different meats, including things like black pudding..which i passed on! The parrillada (grill) even had its own room in the restaurant we went to! You went up to the serving hatch and asked for whichever meat you wanted which led us in our very bad Spanish to basically ask...'i'll have some cow please!' and in response the chef picked up, what looked to me like half a cow, and happily started to hack off bits and pieces and plonk them on our plates! Now i cant remember the last time i ate a cut of red meat and i'm not saying it was the nicest thing i've ever tasted but it wasn't that bad, just a bit chewy as i think it had been cooking for a while! It had a really nice flavour because they dont use any additional flavourings on the meat, just some salt before cooking and it picks up a woody, smoky flavour from the grill. I had some chicken along with the beef and the chicken was really tasty! Much like the hangi in NZ actually.

Back in Cordoba we went out for a look round the town and had lunch. I was getting the hang of the red meat thing, my second steak was nicer and a bit less chewy so i enjoyed it more. Cordoba is a university town, kind of Argentinas answer to Cambridge so we mingled with the bustling students in the pedestrian streets, looked at all the old buildings and enjoyed a drink in one of the shady cafes in the plaza. My favourite thing about Cordoba was that the outlines of the cathedrals and older buildings were mirrored on the ground in white stone, like a reflection, it was really pretty. Unfortunately it started to rain so we headed back to the hostel and hunkered down for the night. There was a big covered rooftop terrace which was the perfect place to spend the evening.

The next day it was still raining but i headed out anyway, it was a Saturday and because of the rain everything had shut so it was a bit miserable. Also the pedestrian areas were paved with smooth stone and when wet it basically turned into a massive ice-rink! I don't think the Cordoba town planners were expecting much rain! So i slipping and sliding i made my way back to safety!

Sunday evening we went to the craft market, a really nice higgeldy piggeldy market which descended into a bit of a car boot sale by the end! Strangely there were lots of people wandering around thrusting kittens and puppies in your arms trying to get you to buy them! Had dinner in a lovely restaurant with a rooftop terrace overlooking the market, another meal, another steak! This time i had lomo which is fillet steak and so far this is the best steak i've had in Argentina, it was so tender they didnt even give us steak knives to eat with, just normal ones. And it was even served with vegetables!! I dont understand why everyone in this country isnt the size of a house because all they seem to eat is meat, pastry, pasta and pizza!!

Our hostel was on one of the pedestrian streets and out balcony faced the road so every morning we awoke to the sounds of the man in the street below trying to flog sunglasses, it had driven us mad and i think we were all ready to go and buy out his entire stall just to get him to be quiet!!!

Time to get on the move again and go north to Cafayate, another fun bus journey! The first part was overnight and a bit of a nightmare because the guy in the seat next to me wasn't content to just use his seat, no, he wanted half of mine too! Then he started to snore...and breathe all over me! Didn't get much sleep! Got to Tucuman then had to wait a few hours for the next bus. They had coin operated TV's bolted to the floor in front of the waiting area! Never see those before. Bus terminals are always great for people watching and here they are very busy due to the fact that for every one family member leaving on a bus there has to be a minimum of ten other family and friends to wave them off!!

Cafayate is a small town in the mountains and to get there you drive through the Quebrada de Cafayate which has some stunning scenery, from subtropical forest to mountain deserts complete with massive cacti! Spent a couple of days relaxing in Cafayate and enjoying the slow pace of life before heading north again to Salta (on the shakiest bone rattling bus ever!!)

In Salta i visited El Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña, the Museum of High Altitude Archeology a really fascinating museum that documents the discovery and excavation of three mummified bodies on the peak of Mount Llullaillaco in 1999. The tale does get slightly spine chilling as you discover that the bodies were actually children who were essentially Inca child sacrifices. The Incas believed that the way to the gods was via the mountains, many high altitude altars and religious sites have been found, the resting place of the three Llullaillaco children being the highest in the area. The exhibition includes the burial artifacts found with the children, the most astonishing aspect is that due to the high altitude everything was preserved as if it had been made only yesterday, you can't quite believe that everything is original and not replicated. The final room holds the body of 'the Maiden', the only one of the three mummified bodies actually on display. She was approximately 15 years old when she died and is sat with her legs crossed and head bowed, like the artifacts she is perfectly preserved, it looks like she could just lift her head and re-enter the world of the living. Capacocha is the Incan practice of human sacrifice to the gods, using mainly children. They would only pick physically perfect, healthy children and it was an honour to be chosen. They would be dressed in their finest clothes and walk hundreds of miles to Cuzco to take part in ceremonies. After which they would be taken to the mountains, given maize beer to make them sleep and left in underground niches to freeze to death as an offering to the gods. According to Incan beliefs, the children didn't die but joined their ancestors and watched over their villages from the mountaintops. The museum gives a very interesting insight into the Incan culture and practices but you are left to wonder whether it would have been more respectful to leave the children, together, in their original resting place.

The next day we were walking through the main square and happened upon the changing of the guard....gaucho style! A marching band for atmosphere and in trot the mounted gauchos in full traditional dress, flags, the works. They pranced around for a bit in what seemed like a very elaborate ceremony, one of the guards sang a song which got the crowd misty eyed and swaying, we weren't really sure what it was though. Then the gauchos dismounted, swapped with the other guards, a bit more horsemanship and they were off.
That evening we went for another asado, this time i had bife de chorizo, sirloin steak. Well my eyes nearly popped out my head when it arrived! A 500g plate full of 2 inch thick, still bleeding in the middle, steak! Ha, well i made a valiant attempt but barely ate a 1/3 of it!! Sarah however ate the ENTIRE THING i could not believe it! So now having sampled a variety of steaks i think i can safely say i'm a bife de lomo girl and cant wait to hunt out a good steak in Buenos Aires! ha never thought i'd say those words!!

With the gaucho guards as my inspiration i headed off into the hills for an afternoon of horse riding. I was picked up by a guy who spoke very little english but managed to get across that we were driving up to the ranch. Two minutes into the journey he hopped out to go to the shop and took about ten minutes to buy one bottle of water...ahh Argentinian time. Then we headed out of the city with the driver pointing out all the landmarks, including the town industrial estate and dump...nice!! Then we were off the tarmac and onto the most pot holed gravel track i've seen in a long while. The appalling condition of the road meant our top speed was so slow i could have probably walked up the hill faster! 50 millions switchbacks and bumps later we reached the top of the hill and descended into the valley and finally made it to the ranch. It was only me and another couple from London going riding so all the horses were quickly saddled up with the traditional layered Argentinian saddles. Then we were off with our guides and one of their young daughters, trailed by 4 or 5 dogs that live at the ranch! The scenery was beautiful and it was so peaceful, the perfect end to my time in Salta.

Posted by VanessaT Monday 9 March 2009 10:42 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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