Back into the cities – Cordoba and Buenos Aires

From Cafayate I went to Tucuman first and then caught a bus to Cordoba.  A guy from the hostel was heading the same way, so when we go to Tucuman we stopped for dinner and saw a bit of the city center before getting on the night bus to Cordoba.

Cordoba

We arrived in Cordoba at 6am and it was still dark and cold outside so we just chilled out in the station for a bit.  Once it got light out we set out in search of a hostel that my friend Steve (Canadian guy) had recommended.  I thought I knew where it was, but I was a little bit off  so we ended up walking around for at least an hour before finding it..whoops.  When we did find it, though, it was a great hostel, so worth the search.  We walked around the city and went to a museum in the center that was interesting.  The museum was actually a place that they used to detain/torture people during the dark period in the 80’s.  It was creepy to be in the place where so many horrible things had happened, but I thought it was good for them to turn it into a museum so the people would never forget what had happened.

Other than that I just walked around a closeby park and saw a little bit of the city before eating  at the hostel that evening.

The next morning I headed out to Los Gigantos which is part of a mountain range about an hour outside of Cordoba with some cool trekking.  I knew it would be cold that day, but I wasn’t prepared for how windy it would be there.  The winds were 50+km/hr which made the trekking sooo cold.  The trekking wasn’t that difficult, but you had to scramble to get to the very top.  The two girls that were with me were not really dressed appropriately for climbing and it was a little bit too dangerous to scramble to the top with the wind as crazy as it was.  We went close to the top though and overall it was a cool trek.

That evening I was determined to make it to a tango class.  I had researched a place earlier that I wanted to go, but when I showed the location to the guy at the front desk he said that the area across the bridge was not too safe, which is of course where I wanted to go.  The place was just across the bridge, so I walked to the bridge, then ran from the bridge to the tango place, haha.  It was very intimidating to walk into the tango studio, especially since all I had to wear for shoes were my red trail running shoes.  Once we started it wasn’t too awkward though.  After the lesson they have a milonga which is just a time for everyone to stay and practice.  Its crazy because people of all ages stay at the milongas until 2am or later, even though they have to work the next day.  Its just a time for them to relax and dance and they don’t worry about getting to sleep late…Its such a different culture.

The next day I headed to a closeby town called Alta Gracia to check out the Che Guevara museum.  I felt really ignorant because it seemed like all of the other travelers from different places in the world knew all about him and I barely recognized the name.  I later did some research and its really interesting stuff.

That evening I headed to the bus station to catch my last SA overnight bus to Buenos Aires..

Buenos Aires

I had contacted the guy from Hendersonville, Don, that I met in CdP since I knew he lived here.  He had offered to let me stay with him, so I took him up on the offer.  At first I was nervous that maybe it wasn’t a good idea, or maybe I had read him wrong, but once I got to his place, I felt comfortable and knew it was ok.  The first day we explored the parks and bars in Palermo, and went to a party at his friend’s house that evening.  I was SO tired at the end of the night – aka around 5am.  Its so hard to stay up that late when you aren’t used to it.

Needless to say I woke up really late the next day and we eventually made it to the Recoletta area and headed to the famous cemetery there.  All the graves are so ornate its really impressive.  I was told however that people’s families have to continue paying rent for people buried there or else they move them out somewhere else…craziness.  I can’t imagine what it costs to be buried there.  Only the very well-to-do people can be buried there.  We were surprised that Eva Peron’s grave was not incredibly elaborate.  I guess it makes sense though because it symbolizes how she cared about the people and didn’t want to stand out from everyone else when she was alive.

We walked around for the rest of the day in that area and the microcenter area.  I had also convinced Don to take a tango class with me, so we headed there before going back to his place.  The class was a lot of fun and it was so enjoyable to watch the instructors dance together at the end of the class.  It really is such an amazing dance.  That night we pre-gamed again at his place until 1am and then finally headed out.  We went to a really interesting bar with a live funk band, that later turned into a dance club with a dj.  It was lots of fun, but once again super tiring getting home at 6am.

So again, we got up really late and then headed to Boca.  The buildings are all extremely colorful.  The history behind it is that the people living there were very poor and they didn’t have money for paint so they just used whatever paint they could find on the ships to paint the houses.  It was cool to see that even the buildings off the mainstrip were painted the same way as the touristy strip.  We walked by the Boca futbol stadium and then into San Telmo.  There was a huge street fair that day and the atmostphere was really lively with drum bands and other music.  We spent the rest of the afternoon there and then had a great steak dinner that night : )  Argentina is known for its meat, and it definitely lived up to its reputation!

The next day Don had to go back to work, but I met up with an Australian friend that I had met in Cordoba that had just made it to Buenos Aires.  We walked around ALL DAY, hitting some of the areas I had already been, but also Puerto Madreo which was new to me.  We had dinner and drinks that night.  My plan was to go to one more tango class, but unfortunately I had run out of cash for the day and couldn’t go 😦  Its hard when you know you are leaving a country soon because you try to use your cash just right so that you don’t have leftover cash to exchange.  The class wouldn’t take a credit card, so I just headed home.

The next morning I had everything all planned out to get a shuttle to the airport for half the cost it would be for a taxi.  I had to catch a train, then walk a bit, and then catch the bus.  Everything went perfect…until I got to the airport and realized that I was at the wrong one!!!  I wanted to throw myself on the ground and have a tantrum right there and then.  Fortunately, for me and everyone else, I managed to keep it together, get to the other airport  an hour later and $170 pesos poorer, and somehow make it onto my flight.  Oh well..you make mistakes, and all you can do is suck it up and keep going.  I’m glad it all worked out so that I could head home for about 10 days!!

Link to pictures:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100102172178297.2421198.36615774&type=1&l=b6fc6baac4

Colonia de Pellegrini and Northwest Argentina

FYI – The buses in Argentina are AWESOME!  The chairs are roomy and recline pretty far, the temperature is well-controlled, and they give you really nice meals (usually).  I was definitely pleasantly surprised with my first overnight ride.  I arrived in Corrientes at 5:30am, managed to get a ticket to Mercedes leaving at 6am which worked out perfect.  When I arrived in Mercedes, it turned out that the only bus heading to Colonia de Pellegrini (CdP) was not until 1:00pm, which left me a few hours to waste.  I had started talking to a French couple at the bus station, and it turned out that the girl was 3 months pregnant!  It happened while they were travelling and they were planning on heading home at the end of August.  I just thought it was so interesting that they were able to continue traveling with a big change like that.

The town of Mercedes was super small and tourists were few and far between.  Luckily when I sat down on the bus, the only other people that stuck out as tourists sat beside me.  We started talking and it turned out the girl was from Germany but she had interned in Skyland for 6 months about 10 years ago, and her friend was from Hendersonville but was currently living in Buenos Aires!!  I couldn’t believe that the only other tourists on the bus had something like that in common with me 🙂  They had also met a Canadian guy the night before and they were all traveling to the same place.

We made it to CdP, and luckily found a hostel that could take us.  We were a little bit nervous because everyone kept saying that there were a lot of Argentineans on vacation there and that it might be hard to find a hostel with space, but thankfully it worked out.  The town was a small grid made up of dirt roads and small houses.  Everything looked like houses, but if you asked around you could figure out which house sold food and other things.  In the entire village there was one computer with internet..hah.  It was a really cool place and just so nice to get away from the big cities.  We decided to cook that night and managed to put together a really nice spaghetti dinner.  Cooking was an adventure because there were no lights in the kitchen and the handle to the sink was broken so that you had to rig it up to make the water stop running.  We overcame the obstacles though 🙂

We took a boat tour the next morning which was super cool with tons of animal sightings.  We saw a variety of birds, lots of caimans, deer, and water pigs.  It was amazing how easy it was to spot the animals and how close you could get to them without them running off.  After the boat tour we walked around on some trails on our own in search of monkeys, but were unsuccessful.  We went out at night in search of animals but were pretty unsuccessful again.  We did see armadillos and a type of night rabbit, but that is about it.  However, the stars were amazing and it was a nice excuse to enjoy the evening even though it was cold outside.  The Milky Way ran across the entire sky..it was so beautiful!  Steve, the Canadian guy, had stayed behind to cook up an asada (typical Argentina bbq), so, when the rest of us got back we enjoyed another great home cooked meal 🙂

We got up early to go monkey searching again and this time we were successful, but the monkeys were sleeping, so they were hard to see and not very entertaining.  However, that afternoon we were finally successful with the monkeys.  We got there at a perfect time when the monkeys were eating and playing 🙂  It was fun to watch them climb around in the trees.  It was really hard to get good pictures because they kept moving so fast, but I managed to get a few ok ones 🙂  We rented bikes that evening from a lady down the road.  They were TERRIBLE!  Haha…mine didn’t have any breaks, the German girl’s chain fell off every 100meters, and the Canadian guy’s entire back derailer fell off near the end.  It was really funny though and we were just riding around, so we didn’t need anything fancy.  We went out to eat that night at one of the few restaurants and enjoyed a few bottles of wine.

The plan was to catch the only bus leaving the village the next morning at 5am.  Even though we went to bed late we were up around 4:30 getting ready.  We heard something outside around 4:45, but assumed it was some other vehicle.  Unfortunately, it was our bus!  NOTHING is ever early in South America, so it was such a shock that we missed our bus because it came 15 minutes early!  We were all kind of pissed off because it is the only bus out of town.  We went back to sleep for a few hours and then tried to make a game plan to get back to Mercedes.  We ended up trying to hitchhike for about an hour and a half.  We split up in twos and stood by the only road in and out of town.  In that 1 ½ hours only 2 cars passed..haha!  One was full with a family and the other one was only going 10 minutes out of town.  So…hitchhiking attempt..big fail 🙂  We had to suck it up and pay for a transfer out of town back to Mercedes.  It cost us about 3 times what we would have paid for a bus, but it still wasn’t too expensive.

We all caught the same bus from Mercedes back to Corrientes and then had to say goodbye.  I was headed northwest to Salta and they were headed northeast to Iguazu..

Salta/Tilcara/Iruya

I made it to Salta and easily found a hostel pretty close to the bus station.  I hiked to get up to a cool viewpoint and then walked around the city.  I met a few people at the hostel and we headed out for dinner.  I didn’t really have anything else I wanted to do  in Salta so I decided to leave the next day to go to Tilcara which is north of Salta.  It turned out that an Italian guy and a Polish girl were heading the same way so we traveled together.

The area north of Salta is the Quebrada de Humahuaca, which is a beautiful valley with multi-colored rock formations.  During the first part of the bus trip the scenery wasn’t anything spectacular, so naturally I fell asleep, but when I woke up the scenery outside was amazing!  When we got to Tilcara, the others had booked a hostel, but I was told it was full, so I just found another place to stay.  I took a picture of the place because it almost looked like ruins from the outside but it was fine on the inside…haha

I really loved the look and the feel of Tilcara.  It was touristy, but it was such a charming small town set amongst an amazing backdrop of rock formations.  I met up with the others and we walked to the nearby Pucara ruins.  The ruins were cool, but I thought the surrounding scenery was the best part about it.  That night we went out to eat with some “portenas”, which is what they call Argentineans from Buenos Aires.  They were a fun group to hang out with.  At the restaurant there was a band playing traditional music, which was neat.  It is interesting to see the similarities between the Peruvian, Bolivian, and Argentinean people in the Andes area.  Their dress, food, and looks are very similar, which makes sense because they are all traditional people of the Andes, so the modern day borders don’t change them.  When I got back to the hostel, the host was also playing a few instruments and singing for the small group of people staying there.  It was a cool intimate setting 🙂

The next morning I met the others early in the morning and we started our walk to Gargantuan del Diablo (4km each way).  It was a beautiful walk and the actual valley and waterfall were well worth it too.  We had a snack at a cute shack nearby and explored the area before heading back into town.

That afternoon we took the bus to Purmamarca which is a UNESCO site due to the Hill of 7 colors.  It’s a cute but very touristy town, and the main thing to do it is see the hill and shop for souvenirs.  We took some pictures and then decided to go to the Grand Salinas which are some nearby salt flats.  I had already been to salt flats in Bolivia, but it wasn’t expensive so it was worth it to go again.  The salt flats were very cool, and so was the long windy ride to get there 🙂

The next morning all of us decided to go to Iruya.  I hadn’t even heard of the place because its not mentioned in my guidebook, but Vincenzo (Italian guy) was so enthusiastic about going that we were convinced.  Iruya is a very small and remote village that isn’t that far away distance wise, but because of the roads it takes several hours to get there.  Once we got there I definitely did not have regrets about going.  It was such a cool little place and once again the scenery was just breathtaking.

After we found a hostel we had lunch and then decided to walk through the canyon following the river to another small town.  It turned out to be an amazing trek, but longer and harder than expected.  When we finally reached the other town we were exhausted and it was starting to get dark.  We asked around and at first it seemed that the only way back was to walk the way we came.  However, we lucked out and a guy with a truck that delivers produce between the two villages was headed back soon and we were able to hitch a ride with him and a few other Argentinean tourists.

The next morning we caught a bus towards Humahuaca which is the closest village with a bus station.  There Vincenzo and I had to say goodbye to Dorota (Polish girl) because she was heading farther north up into Bolivia and we were headed south towards Cafayate.

Cafayate

Cafayate is south of Salta and the ride there takes you through the Quebrada de Cafayate that has a “martian-like” landscape (LP description).  The main thing I wanted to do there was rent a bike and take a bus from Cafayate up to the beginning of the Quebrada which is about 50km and then ride all the way back.  So, that’s what we did 🙂

Vincenzo and I took the bus and got off at Gargantuan del Diablo and were immediately “wowed” by the scenery.  We stopped almost every 5 minutes for the first 2 hours of the ride..haha.  It was unfortunately pretty cold and windy during the entire ride, but the landscape made it worth it.  Thankfully, the bikes we rented were in good condition and there weren’t too many hills that we had to go up.  It definitely wasn’t an easy ride though.

Needless to say we were both exhausted when we got back and our butts hurt so bad from the seats.  We didn’t want to waste the afternoon so we forced ourselves to go to a local winery and explore the town a bit.

The next day Vincenzo left early in the morning.  It was sad to see him go, just like it is with everyone, and I knew I would miss his enthusiastic Italian sayings like, “fantastico!”, etc 🙂  We had traveled together for nearly 5 days, so it felt weird to be alone again once he left.  Thankfully, like always, I met an Australian girl and we visited a local goat farm and ate goat cheese during the day.  That afternoon I caught a bus to start heading towards Cordoba, the country’s second largest city.

Link for the pictures:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.997955642097.2419747.36615774&type=1&l=94eb4f0ca4

Revival of the Neglected Blog!

Hi to anyone that is still checking my terribly neglected blog!!  I haven’t been posting because uploading pictures to the blog is incredibly slow.  However, I have a solution 🙂  Uploading pictures to facebook is much faster, so I will continue writing on here, and then add the link to the pictures on facebook at the bottom of the post.  Hopefully this will help me to keep up with the blog instead of letting it die 🙂  Enjoy!

Down South – Rio and Iguazu

I woke up on the plane to Rio and sleepily opened the window.  The view I encountered was incredible!  We were just coming into Rio and the top of the mountains were peaking up above clouds that were illuminated by the morning sun.  It took me by surprise and I regret so much that I wasn’t able to take a picture, but they had already given the “turn off your electronics” announcement 😦  I arrived to Rio in the morning and took the bus into town.  When I arrived at the hostel, I had an interesting twist of culture shock.  In the northern part of Brazil, when there were tourists at all, they were always Brazilian tourists, so I had gotten used to muddling my way through with the language and only hearing English with a few people that I had met.  When I walked into the hostel, it was swarming with young people who were all speaking English.  It took me a second to switch gears and relax, knowing I wouldn’t have to try so hard for things..haha.

The hostel was in the Ipanema area, which is very nice, trendy, and super safe.  It was only 2 blocks from the famous Brazilian beaches and a few blocks from the Lagoa area, which has a very nice running track around it.  The weather was beautiful so I just spent the day exploring the area, running around lake, and making plans for the next few days in preparation for Josh’s arrival.

The next morning, Josh arrived!  He had some complications at the airport on the way, and barely made it on the flight, but still managed to arrive on time in Rio 🙂  I showed him around the closeby areas that I had checked out previously, and then we headed to Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf) to do the famous gondola ride.  It was blue sky the whole day, but there was kind of a haze in the air, which affected the view.  The view was still amazing, except for at the very top, where there was a thick cloud surrounding the peak.  We took a picture in the white abyss nonetheless..haha 🙂

The agenda for the next day…hang gliding!!  Josh and I had talked about this previously, and although it was very expensive, we decided it was worth it 🙂  We got picked up around 10 in the morning and headed south along the coastline where we met our instructors at the base of the mountain.  In a various assortment of cars (we had to switch into a different type about 4 times), we were driven to the top of the mountain.  Once at the top things went pretty quickly.  They suited us up in our harnesses and demonstrated how we needed to run side by side with them quickly and not stop until our feet were in the air.  My instructor was pretty laid back and we only practiced once.  Josh’s on the otherhand kept practicing and asked Josh over and over again if he was going to keep running..haha.  Before we knew it I was set up on the ramp ready for takeoff.  It was so exhilarating to just run off the ramp into the air so high above ground 🙂  I love stuff like this and I wish it wasn’t so expensive or I would consider making it a hobby.  After making it into the air, we floated like birds for about 10 minutes, taking in the amazing scenery below.  We ended with a swift but gentle descent on the beach.  So, now I can check “hang gliding” off my list, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t do it again one day 🙂

Since we were already in the area, Josh and I decided to spend the afternoon in the Tijuca National Park.  The park is huge (~8000 acres, I think) and the city is just built around it.  We barely scratched the surface of the park that day, but it was nice to do a short trail and get a beautiful view at the top.

When we got back, I prepared for the evening by taking a nap!  The nightlife doesn’t start until midnight, and the wait time from 9pm-midnight kills me!  I guess that means I’m getting old..hah.  But that night I wanted to be ready to get out, so I showered, napped and did my best to get in a “going out” mood.  A bunch of people from the hostel were planning on going to the Lapa area for a street party.  That area is also really well known for its samba clubs.  When we arrived I was surprised at how big the street party was.  I was expecting one street, but it ended up being a combination of several streets, all crammed full with people.  As to be expected on crowded streets with lots of drunk people, a street fight soon broke out.  We moved away, but not quite far enough.  A few minutes later we saw people running towards us, and I had a second where I just froze and thought, “Oh crap, we might get trampled”.  After that thought it didn’t take long to start running.  Unfortunately for our group it was a few seconds too late.  The reason people were running is because some idiot was throwing glass bottles at the guy he was fighting.  Bottles shattered near us and a few of us got some battle wounds.  One of the girls got a really bad cut on her ankle, but I lucked out and just got a small cut on my thigh.

Needless to say we were a little shaken up after that, but we wanted to stay since we hadn’t been there for that long.  We found a drum circle with people dancing samba, so we joined in on the fun 🙂  I can usually watch people dance and kind of pick up on some of the moves…not the case with samba.  I don’t know how they move like that…maybe I just needed a few more drinks..haha.  They move their feet and their hips super fast.  I gave it a try, but I’m sure I looked ridiculous.  After that we walked around a little bit more, but many of the guys were super touchy and annoying, so we just decided that it was better to head on home.

We slept in the next day…ok, I slept in and Josh went and ran 5 miles or something crazy like that.  We set out to find the place to pick up the marathon packet for Josh, then walked around in an attempt to find a cool staircase in the Santa Teresa area that the guide book mentioned.  We didn’t actually find it, but we did have a nice day of walking around and exploring.  In the afternoon, Josh and I decided to head to see one of the seven wonders of the world – the Cristo Redentor Statue.  It is about 40 meters tall, 30 meters wide, weighs about 635 metric tonnes, and of course it is located on the top of a mountain!  It was really cool to see, but as to be expected when visiting a world wonder, it was crawling with tourists.  We took some photos, tried to duck out of other peoples’ photos, and watched the sunset before heading back to the hostel.

The next day was Marathon Day!  Josh woke up at some ridiculous hour to go catch a shuttle down to the start point.  Lucky for me, the marathon route went along the coastline up through the Ipanema area, so I just had to roll out of bed and stroll out to the beach 2 blocks away.  Holly (one of the girls from the hostel) and I went out to the beach to try to get photos of Josh and her friends running the race.  As we waited, we saw some interesting people…a blind guy running the race (amazing), a guy running it barefoot (didn’t get a picture), and then the typical Brazilian man strolling along the walking path (see third picture below..hehe).  Of course Josh snuck up when I wasn’t paying attention, so I had to try to run to get ahead of him for pictures.  The problem was that Josh runs fast when he’s doing marathons..haha!  I had to book it for a few minutes to gain any ground on him and take pictures.  I think he cut off 20 minutes from his last marathon time (Josh correct me if I’m wrong), which is amazing!  He did awesome..congrats Josh!

The rest of the day we spent taking it easy and checking out a cool street market in Ipanema.  The next day was our last day, so we just hung out at the beach in the morning, got huge acai bowls, and then got ready to go to the airport.  I had read in my guide that you can take the bus back to the airport if you just go by the beach and wave them down.  I knew that they only came about once an hour, so we were prepared to wait it out.  And we did wait for like 45 minutes.  We finally spotted the bus and I started waving and jumping up and down, but the guy didn’t stop!!  I was so pissed because I definitely made eye contact with him..jerk!  Oh well..after all that, we just jumped in a cab and headed to the airport.  Thankfully, the cab wasn’t as expensive as we had expected, which was a nice surprise after our failed bus attempt.  We made it on the flight with no problems and were on our way to Foz do Iguazu!

Foz do Iguazu

We arrived around 7pm in Foz do Iguazu, caught the bus and navigated our way to our hostel.  We went ahead and signed up for a tour to go to the Argentina side of the falls the next day.  You can do it yourself, but when you consider the cost of transportation and the hassle of going through both borders, it makes it worth it to do a tour.  We met the group that was already planning on going and they were super nice 🙂  There were 5 people from San Diego, who had also done the marathon in Rio, a guy from Peru, and a guy from Switzerland.

The next morning they picked us up around 8, took us through both border controls and dropped us off at the park.  The Argentinean side has several different trails that get you very close to the falls.  Thankfully, I had talked to people about the falls and was prepared to get soaking wet.  Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day and there were a ton of tourists, but the falls are so amazing that it didn’t matter.  We walked ALL day.  When we calculated it at the end of the day, it was around 15km!  We started with the Upper Circuit, followed by the Lower Circuit, then cut off the tourist track and did a small trail that goes to a “hidden waterfall”, and finally finished with the grand finale of Devil’s throat.  We did get soaking wet twice that day as expected.  It is definitely a “must-see” place 🙂

When we got back to the hostel, the owner was preparing a bbq for everyone.  It was a delicious dinner with SO much meat, which is typical of South American bbqs.  The dinner turned into a small dance party, and the main attractions were two young boys probably around the age of 10-12.  They were hilarious and definitely not afraid to strut their stuff 🙂

The next morning Josh and I decided to go to the Brazil side of the falls.  Since we had already seen the Argentina side, we really weren’t expecting to be “wowed” again.  But of course we were 🙂  The day was beautiful – blue skies and sunshine.  Because of all of the mist from the waterfalls there were really awesome rainbows everywhere and it was such a beautiful sight to get the overall view of the falls.  There were also tons of beautiful butterflies that we got some good shots of and there were lots of raccoons around that kept trying to steal food.  One took a liking to Josh ad followed him around for a while 🙂

That night we went out for all you can eat pizza.  There is a reason I avoid buffets and I proved it once again to myself that I have no self control at places like that.  I ate so much that Josh was impressed and I felt sick for the next 2 hours.  Oh well..maybe one day I will be able to control myself..haha.

The next morning Josh left really early 😦  It was sad to see him go after traveling with him for the whole week.  I had not made any plans for Argentina, so I did some research that morning, and then checked out Itaupu dam in the afternoon.  The dam was pretty cool to see.  It is split 50/50 between Brazil and Argentina, and it provides 90% of Paraguay’s electricity and 20% of Brazil’s!  They say that the falls that were there before they made the dam were much more powerful than Iguazu falls which is hard to imagine.


I thought about staying one more night, but decided against it and jumped on a bus towards the border around 4.  I was nervous about doing everything right at the border crossing, but as always, I met a German guy on the bus that spoke English and was doing the exact same thing.  It truly is amazing how you meet these people just at the right time.  He was literally the only other tourist on the bus..haha.  I made it through both borders without a problem, and arrived at the bus station in Iguassu on the Argentina side.  I bought a ticket for a night bus going to Corrientes and was on my way..

Rainforest and Paradise – Belem and Sao Luis*

I found a cheap flight to Belem which is a town in the north near the opening to the Amazon river.  I figured I would head there to get a small taste of the Amazon.  What I didn’t realize is that Belem is really not a touristy place.  I showed up at 4am and then waited until daylight to start my exploring.  I had figured out how to use the buses in the city and headed out to see the markets and check out any cool activities that were available.  I found two small areas within the city that had the indigenous plants and animals from the Amazon rainforest.  It was fun to walk around these areas, but I have to admit that it was a lonely day and by the end of it I was starting to regret my decision to go to Belem.  However, the next day I was saved from my loneliness by a fantastic Irish girl who was also traveling solo.  We hit it off immediately and had a great time hanging out there for the rest of the time.

My Irish friend, Aoife, with the hugest avocado I have ever seen!

I did book two tours – one to go on a rainforest trek and then one to go to Parrot Island.  On the rainforest trek the guide pointed out the huge variety of plants and fruits that are indigenous to the Amazon rainforest.

There is a red berry in the forest that is used for many purposes, one of them being makeup 🙂

This guy was showing us how they crack open the Brazil nuts and then peel them.  The nuts tasted a little bit different than the ones you buy at the store.  Mainly they were less dry and tasted fresher..makes sense…

This a rubber tree.  If you scratch the bark it “bleeds” the white substance as shown in the picture which is used to make rubber.

These are the roots to the largest tree in the rainforest.

The same elderly guy from before also demonstrated how they climb the trees to get the acai berries.  The trees are very tall and flexible, and it is kind of scary to watch someone climb while the tree sways back and forth.  It was extremely impressive to see a man of that age still able to climb like that too.  They say that is one of the first things they learn to do in the forest.

So, I gave it a try and didn’t get too far up the tree..haha.  I probably could have jumped up the tree the same distance that I climbed 🙂

This scary spider is part of the tarantula family, but its not poisonous.  Either way I was NOT going to let it crawl on me!

A DOUBLE RAINBOW!! 🙂

The parrot island tour the next morning took us out to an island closeby where all of the parrots sleep.  Once the sun starts to rise, they all wake up and start zooming in circles above the trees.  They find their mate and then head off for the day at other places.  It was cool to see, and I got to see the sunrise over the river which was beautiful too 🙂  Unfortunately due to the low light, I couldn’t get many good pictures of the birds though.


Moving on…

I only stayed a few days in Belem and then caught a flight to Sao Luis.  The thing about Brazil is that the buses and the flights are pretty comparable in price and the flights obviously save you so much time.  I knew Brazil was big, but it was amazing to see the length of travel time between cities.  I left early for my flight because I was planning on taking the local bus to the airport.  With all of my practice the 2 days before, I thought I had the bus system understood….turns out not so much.  I don’t know if I fell asleep (probable) or if I was just on the wrong bus, but after about 30 minutes I became aware that we were in a small town with dirt roads.  The bus driver started saying something to me, which of course I didn’t understand.  Then he stopped a bus coming from the other direction, directed me to get off and got me on the other one.  Haha..it was really nice of him to do that because I obviously wanted to go to the airport with all my bags and he knew I was lost.  I rode back on the other bus for about 15 minutes (wide awake and alert this time) and then spotted the airport finally.  Thank goodness I left early 🙂

Welcome to Paradise

I knew I would be arriving in Sao Luis after dark, but I was still kind of hoping I could figure out how to take the bus into town.  That is the drawback of traveling single – taxis cost a lot when you don’t have anyone to split them with.  However, as I was standing by the baggage claim area I heard a wonderful sound…the sound of English.  I hadn’t seen any other travelers on the flight, but when I turned around there were 3 girls that looked about my age.  I approached them and asked if they were headed into town and, if so, if I could share a taxi with them.  They turned out to be from Canada and immediately took me in, which was wonderful.  When we got to the hostel that we all were thinking about staying, it was full!  The town at night seemed so desolate and scary, so we really didn’t know what to do.  The lady at the hostel didn’t speak any English but she took us across the street and started knocking on a random door.  When someone finally arrived they said that they could take us for the night.  The place didn’t have a sign or anything, but it looked decent and they quoted a good price so we took it.  It ended up being an extension to a really nice hotel on the next street over.  They had started to expand and then I don’t know what happened.  Either way it seemed perfect for the night.  We were all excited to hit the sack after dinner and were looking forward to a good night’s rest.  Unfortunately, the bar next door wasn’t turning in so early, or turning in at all. Loud techno music blared through the thin walls until 4am..oh well.  It was only for 1 night and we were up early the next day to head to Barreirinhas for the next few days.

We groggily got up early the next morning, raided the breakfast buffet, and then headed to the bus station.  The reason I had come to Sao Luis was to visit the Lencois Maranhenses National park that is most commonly accessed through Barreirinhas, but Sao Luis is the closest airport.  I have to attribute my knowledge of this park to Jeff Dean who mentioned it in passing a few months ago.  I am so thankful that I knew about this park because it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.  We took a 4W drive car from Barreirinhas to the sand dunes.  We arrived at the base of a large dune and we climbed to the top to the view shown below.  It was breathtaking at first sight.  I literally felt like I had shrunk myself into a magazine picture.  There are airplane tours over the dunes to get an overhead view, but it was too expensive.  However, just google images of “lencois maranhenses” to get an idea of what the park looks like from above…

We spent the day frolicking among the dunes, swimming in the incredible lagoon, and then experiencing the sunset.  I took so many of the same photos because I wanted to make sure I had good ones to remember it by.  I only put a few on here though.

The next day we did a boat tour up the river to see other small dunes and villages.  It was a super relaxing day 🙂

Unfortunately, the end of that day didn’t turn out so good 😦  I had stored a bunch of money in my pants pocket the previous evening.  When we got back I needed to start packing up my bag for the next day so I went to get the money out and move it somewhere else.  I started to count it and soon realized that it was short.  All 4 of us had gone to the atm the night before, returned to the hostel, and then left the next morning to go on the tour without spending any of that money.  So it was very easy to know exactly how much money we all had.  All of us were missing about R$300.  Whoever did it was super sneaky about it.  They didn’t take any objects, which would have been noticed very quickly.  Also, they didn’t take all of our money.  They just took a few R$100 bills so if you looked at your money, you wouldn’t know you were missing anything unless you counted it.  It was a terrible experience realizing it and then trying to explain it in limited Portuguese when the hosts didn’t speak any English at all.  It felt like such a betrayal and I kept thinking about all of the things I could have done differently.  It’s a really small town and all of the tourists go on these organized tours of which the time tables and length of the tour are well known.  Fortunately, the owner of the hostel was really upset about the whole thing and did not charge us for the nights we stayed there, which definitely helped to make up some of the money.  It really sucked but I tried not to dwell on it because there was nothing that could be done about it.

The next day I just hung around the hostel and then caught the night bus back to Sao Luis.  The other girls were staying one more night so we had to part ways that evening.  It’s funny how close you get to people in such a short time and how you feel like you are leaving old friends when you go.  I made it to the airport around 11 and then had to stay up until 2:30am for my flight.  Normally I would just have gone to sleep, but I ended up meeting an English guy that I talked to for the entire time.  His girlfriend was from the states, and she was narcoleptic.  I really wanted to talk to her about it since I always joke about being “mildly narcoleptic”, but she was sleeping the whole time..imagine that 🙂  The airport was such a cluster.  All of the flights went out a single gate that had 4 normal sized doors.  I couldn’t for the life of me figure out if I was in the correct line or not, so I just followed the crowd and got on a plane hoping for the best.  Thankfully, I chose the right line and the plane was heading to Rio 🙂

*Disclaimer – I can’t seem to get the accents and unique letters for the Spanish and Portuguese languages, so I have just left them off.  Sorry to all of the native Spanish and Portuguese speakers!

Beautiful culture and Spectacular natural beauty – Salvador and Lencois

On my way to Salvador, I figured I should probably start reading more about the city in my Lonely Planet guide.  I opened it up and the first thing I read was if I was going to get mugged anywhere in Brazil it would be in Salvador…oh great.  I had planned to take the bus from the airport to the hostel since the hostel said it would be ok before 8.  However, it gets dark at 6pm, so I was still a little bit nervous about taking the bus.  I read that the airport was about 30km from the city center and that I needed to get off at the last stop.  I figured it couldn’t take more than an hour to go 30km.  So, an hour passed and I started to get nervous and to think that maybe I misunderstood and that my stop wasn’t the last one.  I sat on pins and needles for another 45 minutes positive that I had missed my stop and I was headed into the middle of nowhere in the dark.  Finally, to my relief, we pulled up to my stop, however, to my dismay, my stop was not exactly where I thought it would be on the map.  So with pepper spray in hand and the most hardcore expression I could muster on my face, I headed out into the street in search of my hostel.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to use it on anyone and made it safely to my hostel unscathed 🙂

I lucked out because I arrived on a Tuesday which just so happens to be the big party night in Salvador.  I made it out to a free concert and then met a group of people studying there and went out salsa dancing.  The city was so alive with people and music in the streets, especially drum bands that go down the streets followed by raucous crowds of people dancing.  So I joined in the fun and broke out some moves I didn’t know I had..haha.  Unfortunately, it is very unsafe there, especially at night, so I was not able to bring my camera with me 😦  I had planned to, but as I was walking out of the hostel with my small handpurse I was warned by the front desk that it was not a good idea to bring anything because it was sure to be stolen.

(Picture below shows the friendly hostel dog 🙂 )


The next few days I spent exploring the old city and the beaches close to Salvador.  As always with the beauty of travelling solo, I was never alone for long.  I met so many wonderful people everyday.  It is so easy to form a connection with people when you are in a different country and you have the similar interests of traveling and speaking English.  I met many Europeans, especially Germans, but not too many Americans in Salvador.  I took a few capoeira classes and really fell in love with it.  I am definitely considering trying it out once I get back to the states.  I also went to folkloric show that entailed music and dance native to the Bahia state, which has influence from Europe (Portugese colonization), Africa (slaves), and indigenous cultures (natives of Brazil).  The show included dances that represent the personalities of the African gods (god of fire, thunder, sea, earth, etc.), followed by a capoeira demonstration and a samba dance.  The capoeira demonstration was out of this world, they were so good, and the samba was really fun to watch 🙂  I don’t know how they move their bodies like that..

I don’t know if there are any Michael Jackson fans reading this, but if there are, you might recognize the square below from the music video of They Don’t Care About Us 🙂

After a few days I decided to head to Lencois, which is a 6 hour bus ride inland.  The Chapada Diamantina National Park is accessed from this quaint town.  It was a nice break from the city and you could tell it was so much safer.  I met a collection of girls there from Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland.  Many of them were travelling solo as well and we all hit it off really well.  I did a few day tours into the park.  Originally, I wanted to do a 2-3 day hike, but unfortunately, there were no such hikes that would take me to all of the places I wanted to see because the park is so spread out.  The first day I visited Poco Encantado and Poco Azul.  These are both caves where the water looks bright blue.  In fact, the water is transparent, and the bottom of the cave is the bright blue color due to the minerals that fall from the stalagmites at the top of the cave.  The pictures I took could not do either of the caves justice unfortunately, but then again they never do.  I met two girls from Puerto Rico on the tour that were wonderful to hang out with.  We went snorkeling in Poco Azul and had a great time taking underwater pictures.  We were laughing so hard at the last photo that I took – I would have drowned if I didn’t have the life jacket on..haha.  It still cracks me up everytime I look at it 🙂


The second tour I went on with 2 of the Danish girls from the hostel.  We visited some more caves, a waterfall and then watched the sunset from the top of Pai Inacio.  The cave that we went into had the coolest stalactite formations!  I felt like a kid again walking through the cave and letting my imagination go wild…haha.  I could imagine a Disney movie where all of the old sculptures come to life after years of being frozen.

Please take a second to look at the third instruction on this sign 🙂  I’m wondering how big of a problem this was that they had to add it to the sign..haha

Angel

Couple dancing (see 2 stalactites on the right)

Monster (check out shadow behind stalagmite)

Owl

Jellyfish

The water in this river is super rich with minerals from the shoreline, and it is literally like bathing in tea.

(This structure marks the center of the Bahia state)

The third tour I went on was to the highest waterfall in Brazil – La Fumaca.  It is about 400m tall.  I was on this tour with a Brazilian couple and a guide, all who did not speak English.  We still communicated with small phrases, smiles, and charades 🙂  We hiked about 2 hours to the waterfall and 2 hours back.  It was quite exhilarating to lean over the edge of the rock at this waterfall and see the long way down.

The other girls and I headed back to Salvador on the night bus.  Luckily it happened to be Tuesday morning when we got in, so I got a repeat of the past Tuesday with the free concert, street bands, and salsa dancing.  I also convinced one of the German girls to take an Afro class with me, which turned out to be super funny.  It was definitely not a tourist venue and we were the only gringos there, which was a big plus.  At first the class was fine because we warmed up as a group.  However, then we started going across the floor doing different moves in groups of 3.  About halfway through the German girl gave up and so did the other girl in my group and I ended up going across the floor doing really awkward, ridiculous  movements all by myself.  Haha…I figured I would never see them again so there was no reason to give up and get embarrassed.  The moves looked great when the teacher did them, but I would pay money to see a video of what I looked like doing it across the floor..haha.  I spent the last day in Salvador exploring a few more churches, other sights in the old city, and enjoying the sunset at the beach 🙂

On the road again…

Brazil here I come!!  My time at home has been great and refreshing, and now it is time to head out again.  I’m so glad that I was able to come home to be part of Lindsay’s wedding, which was AMAZING!  I’m definitely getting Lindsay to ghostwrite my vows when that day comes..haha 🙂

I do have to take a second to brag…currently I am hanging out in the USAirways Club at the Charlotte airport.  It turns out if you are a gold member and you have an international flight, then you get in for free!  I’m definitely the youngest one in here, and my Osprey daypack doesn’t blend in with the roller suitcases and the old men in their sports jackets.  You get great chairs, free snacks (i’m just waiting to raid them when the attendant looks away 🙂 ), wireless, and an outlet right by your chair.  I’m starting to understand Jonathan’s obsession with getting a membership to the club 😉

Here are a few things I realized I’m going to miss (not including being around my friends, boyfriend, and family :)):

  • Comfy, clean bed
  • Hot showers whenever I want them
  • Being able to throw toilet paper in the toilet
  • Not having to carry toilet paper with me everywhere
  • Clean tap water!!  This is a big one.  I will miss drinking it at restaurants, brushing my teeth and washing the dishes,with it, etc.
  • Eating salads, raw vegetables, and fruit without worrying
However, even though where I’m heading is sure to be uncomfortable, I’m still super excited about the places I will see and the new experiences in store for me 🙂

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