Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fuerzabruta (26/Nov/06)

Ushuaia, Argentina

Returned to Buenos Aires as we had the flight to Ushuaia the next day. As mentioned before, we have three tickets to various spectacles, and today was the day of the first of them, a performance art show called Fuerzabruta. It was started by a guy from De La Guarda, which we had seen in London a few years ago and really loved (a bunch of bungee jumpers doing all sorts of crazy shit above you to the sound of cool music and amazing lighting). Fuerzabruta did not disappoint. Not as impacting as De La Guarda (probably because then it was the first time we saw something like that), but with more innovative ideas.

5.5 times cheaper than the tango show. And 5.5 times better.

Mar del Plata (22-25/Nov/06)

Ushuaia, Argentina

Mar del Plata is where half the Porteños (Buenos Aires residents) go for their summer holidays. Probably all of them will be there this summer as the other half normally goes to Uruguay but Argentina and Uruguay are having a bit of a tiff at the moment over pollution by some paper factories on the border.

But now it is low season so we wanted to check it out without the crowds. It would be the equivalent of being slightly south of Madrid, at the end of spring, so weather can be a bit dodgy. First day we managed to spend the morning on the beach, but around 3ish we had to leave as it was getting cold (this is where the Patagonian winds begin) and went to a really amazing museum - a huge (in fact one of the biggest in the world) collection of shells. Well, we really liked it, but we later spoke to 3 other people and they weren't too impressed. Maybe being mesmerized because of suffering from a hangover helped.

Next day it rained, so not much happened. But the next two days we were back on the beach, giving our tan a last blast before heading south.

Cataratas de Iguazú (13-15/nov/2006)

Sin palabras!

Pensaba que ya no nos quedaba nada más impactante por ver en nuestro viaje, aparte de la Antártida claro, pero que equivocada estaba. Iguazú es uno de los top 10 del año. Es uno de los lugares donde más he sentido la fuerza y belleza de la naturaleza.

La mitad de las cataratas están en territorio argentino y la otra mitad en territorio brasileño así que para ver las de un país tienes que ir a los miradores y pasarelas del país vecino. El primer día fuimos al lado argentino y recorrimos todos las pasarelas con la boca abierta, hacia un día precioso y no nos podíamos creer lo que estabamos viendo. El segundo día fuimos al lado brasileño y otra vez se nos caía la baba. Las vistas desde los dos países son muy diferentes y hay mucha controversia entre cual es la mejor. Lo ideal es visitar los dos lados pero si no hay tiempo las vistas desde Brasil resumen mucho mejor lo que es Iguazú.

Circle complete! (19-21/Nov/06)

Ushuaia, Argentina

Arrived back at our starting point after more than 10 months of hard travelling. The circle is complete, but the trip isn't - there are still quite a few things to see, but we plan to use Buenos Aires as a base to leave all our gear as we shoot off in various directions.

As it was Sunday, the first thing we did was to go to San Telmo, which as fans of our blog will remember, we visited when we first arrived but it was raining. This time we saw the Sunday market in all its glory. And I finally had a steak I could cry over. Everybody goes on about how wonderful Argentinean beef is but until now I had only one steak I could call mind-blowing. And that was in an Argentinean restaurant in Mexico. My lack of amazing meat may have something to do with the kind of budget restaurants and the cook-it-yourself dinners you have to do when on a travellers budget. So after the mouth-watering treat; what better than a four hour siesta?

Next day we set out to hit the shops. Mountain gear shops to be specific - we had to buy a few things for the upcoming Antarctic adventure. It was a hard day, but in the end we got everything and more - the gear here was ridiculously cheap it being nearly summer here now. After that we went to a tango show.

Now, we had been recommended one, which on second thoughts we decided to avoid. The Lonely Planet describes it as "the closest thing to Vegas", it even has a horse on stage, and a chunk of an Evita musical. No way, we wanted something more real and authentic, so we chose the oldest tango theatre in town. You'd think that would mean escaping a puerile, superficial touristy crap quasi-tango show, but you'd be wrong. The price of the tickets should have been a giveaway - no Argentinean could afford this, it was the same price as the total price of three other tickets we had also bought: a performance arts show, a concert with 2 of Argentina's best singers, and another with one of Spain's best artists.

Don't get me wrong - the tango was all right. But it was fluffed up. Too much costumes, too much acting, and a very annoying Andean band (which could at least have been introduced by explaining to a clueless audience that Argentina had a bit of Andes up in the northwest) which didn't even play typical Argentinean Andean songs; instead we had 2 Ennio Morricone themes from spaghetti westerns, one Peruvian classic (Peru doesn't even border Argentina), and the most hateful song of all: El bloody Condor bloody Pasa. I hate that song for what it stands for: the dilution of a great culture into something superficial and bland, ready for mass consumption for clueless tourists.

Needless to say, the Andean dudes got the loudest applause at the end of the show.

Anyways, after that, the next day, we went to the airport to see Jaime (Esther's brother in law), who was on his way to the Antarctic. He's going to a Spanish base for a second time to do some measurements on glacier formation. Sadly it doesn't look like we'll see him there, but you never know. After he left (he was just on a short stopover) we took the bus down South to the beach.

Florianapolis (9-12/nov/2006)

Florianapolis es el punto de partida para visitar Ilha Santa Catarina, otro más de los mil puntos costeros altamente recomendados (la verdad es que hay tantas playas recomendadas en Brasil que esto empieza a ser un cachondeo). En la isla hay como 100 playas para ver pero como os podéis imaginar sólo vimos unas pocas. Y que os puedo decir aparte de que todas las playas en Brasil son preciosas!

El tiempo en el sur de Brasil no es tan bueno como en el norte asi que emprendimos ruta a Iguazú antes de tiempo e incluso nos saltamos otra playa altamente recomendada :-) llamada Praia de Rosa que dejaremos para otra ocasión...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Jesuit missions (16-18/Nov/06)

Mar del Plata, Argentina

On the way down to Buenos Aires we had a stopover in Posadas to visit some of the ruins of Jesuit missions in the area (the Jesuits were expelled in 1767 as they got in the way of enslaving and slaughtering the local Indians). We took the bus to San Ignacio Mini for a short tour which was really nice. It is basically a city, as the Jesuits had communist tendencies. Each mission had about 4000 Guarani Indians plus a handful of Jesuits. Food and work was communal and everybody was protected from local slave traders and rich hacienda owners.

The next day we planned to cross the border to see another 2 in Paraguay, but it rained all night and also that morning so we had to ditch it (also because in Paraguay the roads to the missions are dirt tracks) and the next day we headed South.

Iguazu (13-15/Nov/06)

Mar del Plata, Argentina

The Iguazu waterfalls can be seen from either the Brazilian side or the Argentinean side. Best is to see both. We went straight across the border to Argentina as hotels there are much cheaper. We then went to the falls on the Argentinean side. Absolutely amazing. We spent about 9 hours there, walking the various paths and gawking at the magnificent spectacle. There is also plenty of wildlife hanging around there, probably they like the waterfalls as well.

The next day we crossed the border again for our last few hours in Brazil. To see the falls from the Brazilian side only takes half a day, but due to bad bus connections we didn't have time to also go and see the world's largest dam.

Iguazu is definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

So which side is best? We both recon that depends on how much time you have there. If you have just half a day, see the Brazilian side. If you have a day, focus on the Argentinean side. Best is to see both, but you need 2 days for that as there is no point in rushing.

Florianapolis (9-12/Nov/06)

Mar del Plata, Argentina

Florianapolis is the main city and gateway to Ilha Santa Catarina, an island with our last beaches in Brazil. After popping into the bank (to sort out some cash from a machine that never appeared) we headed to the nearest beaches. Weather is decidedly dodgier down here compared to up north. The next day was pretty windy and the third day it actually rained, so we went to a nearby village for lunch and a stroll. We then decided to push on as it didn't look like it was going to improve...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Paraty (7-8/nov/2006)

Camino a las playas del sur de Sao Paulo paramos en Paraty, otra pequeña ciudad colonial. Paraty era parada obligatoria pen la ruta de los mineros de oro y piedras preciosas así como el puerto de salida de dichos tesoros hacia Portugal. Como en cualquier otra ciudad colonial las actividades no van más allá de un paseo por las calles empedradas del centro y una visita a las iglesias. El centro histórico es muy mono porque todas las casas conservan la misma estructura arquitectónica, paredes blancas con pequeños retoques de colores en ventanas y puertas.

El albergue en el que nos quedamos nos invitó a un paseo por la costa que por supuesto recibimos con mucho gusto. No fue nada especial porque el tiempo no acompañaba pero hicimos unas buenas fotos del pueblo desde el mar, además a caballo regalado no le mires el diente.

Ilha Grande (3-6/nov/2006)

Ilha Grande es uno de los destinos turísticos más populares en Brasil por su cercanía a Rio y por la belleza de sus playas. Si encima visitas la isla en un puente la popularidad del lugar y los precios se disparan. Y eso fue lo que nos pasó a nosotros que sin saberlo llegamos allí el viernes de un puente. Los precios de las posadas eran ridículos y al final nos quedamos en un camping (que era lo que teniamos pensado hacer en cualquier caso) donde las tiendas ya estaban montadas y encima te daban colchones. El tiempo estaba raro pero conseguimos visitar varias playas por nuestra cuenta, allí todo se hace en tours, y tomar el sol un poco más :-)

Las playas de la isla son preciosas pero la verdad es que todas las playas en Brasil son alucinantes y estoy empezando a perder el sentido de la crítica en cuanto a playas se refiere. Quizás cuando vuelva a Fuengirola lo recupere un poco…

Paraty (7-8/Nov/06)

Florianapolis, Brazil

As the weather was still a bit dodgy we stopped by Paraty, a beautiful colonial beach town, on our way South. Spent some time walking though the cobbled streets and looking at the churches, something we seem to do quite often lately but don't seem to tire of it.

Ouro Preto y Congonhas (1-2/nov/2006)

Ouro Preto es la ciudad colonial más famosa de Brasil. Su desarrollo es debido a las reservas de oro negro que se encontraron en las orillas de sus ríos en 1700. En sólo un día recorrimos varias de las muchas iglesias cuesta arriba y cuesta abajo sin parar por el suelo empedrado de la ciudad y acabamos agotados.

Al día siguiente fuimos a Congonhas para ver las famosas esculturas de tamaño real del artista Aleijadinho, de los profetas y de varias escenas de la pasión de cristo. Fue un día muy santo. Lo malo es que para una visita de media hora y un viaje de una hora nos pasamos todo el día de bus en bus y de terminal en terminal porque las conexiones de bus son terribles.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Rio de Janeiro (26-31/oct/2006)

Definitivamente estoy enamorada de Rio. La anterior y primera vez que había ido fue por trabajo y no pude ver mucho, pero lo poco me vi encantó. Y ahora que he tenido tiempo de ver todo con más calma he podido confirmar mi primera impresión.

Nada más llegar quedamos con Livia, una amiga de la familia, y nos fuimos directos al Corcovado, uno de los iconos de Rio. Hacía un día esplendido y, a pesar de las miles de personas que había por allí, las vistas desde lo alto de la montaña eran espectaculares. Al día siguiente hicimos un paseo muy variado por el centro. Visitamos varias iglesias, la catedral (que es super moderna y parece todo menos una catedral), mercadillos y muchas calles pintorescas. De vuelta a nuestro hostal todo el mundo se iba de marcha pero nosotros por falta de fondos nos fuimos a la cama.

El tercer día fuimos a una pequeña ciudad llamada Petropolis, famosa por sus palacios y casa imperiales, donde vivió el emperador Pedro II. El suelo del Museo Imperial (el museo mas visitado en la ciudad) está tan encerado que tienes que medio caminar-patinar encima de una especie de chancla-balleta para no estropear la madera, es muy divertido. No caímos en la cuenta de que Petropolis estaba en la montaña y la temperatura no es como en Rio así que como íbamos en plan guiris con pantalones cortos y camiseta al salir del museo nos quedamos helados y después de comer y visitar un par de casonas más nos fuimos corriendo al bus y de vuelta a Rio. Esa noche había fiesta en el hostal así que por fin pudimos bailotear un poco.

El cuarto día fue la bomba, por la mañana hicimos ala delta! Por la tarde paseo por las playas de Copacabana e Ipanema y al atardecer visita al Pan de Azúcar. Qué más se puede pedir!

El quinto día por fin fuimos a la playa a retomar un poco el moreno y después de comer visitamos el jardín botánico. Cenamos en una churrasquería, una especie de buffet libre donde los camareros no paran de pasear ofreciéndote carne asada hasta que ya no puedes más y pones una tarjeta roja en la mesa que dice STOP. De vuelta al hostel estuvimos tomando cervecitas con un grupo bastante ecléctico de personas...esto es lo divertido de los hostels.

El ultimo día fui a visitar la favela Rochina, una de las más grandes de Rio, con un voluntario que trabaja en una guardería. Habíamos pensado visitar la favela en un tour organizado pero al final nos pareció un abuso y una falta de respeto y pensé que si quería ver una favela había que ir con alguien que estuviese realmente involucrado. Josh me dijo que era una "estrafalaria" y se quedó durmiendo en la cama. Ya os contaré con calma la visita, pero no os preocupéis que no Rochina no tiene nada que ver con Ciudad de Dios. Por la tarde fui con Josh a ver el Museo de la Republica, pedazo mansión! y montamos en un pequeño tranvía que sube hasta una de las zonas mas antiguas de Rio.

Como veis hicimos de todo pero tenemos que volver porque nos queda mucho pendiente. Alguien se apunta?

Trancoso (23-25/oct/2006)

Nuestro plan era ir a Tapuis de Fora, una de las mejores playas de Brasil, pero el tiempo no pintaba bien y pasamos al siguiente destino, Trancoso y Praia de Espeho. Al llegar allí nos encontramos con el mismo problema, el tiempo no era muy bueno, lluvia y nubes, así que nos quedamos sin playa. Al menos tuvimos la suerte de encontrar uno de las mejores posadas (calidad-precio) de todo el viaje porque pasamos allí la mayoría del tiempo. En realidad era un mini apartamento con salón comedor, cocina y jardín de lo mas mono. Y gracias a toda la tele que vimos también mejoro mucho nuestro portuges!

Salvador y Morro de Sao Paulo (14-22/oct/2006)

Habíamos quedado en llamar a Ramiro en cuanto llegásemos a Salvador el 14 de octubre por la mañana pero llegamos a las 5:30 y como la hora era un poco intempestiva hicimos tiempo hasta las 7:00.

Una vez instalados en casa de Ramiro, en el barrio vecino a Pelourinho, nos fuimos de paseo por el casco antiguo y más tarde de copas a un bar de salsa. El día siguiente lo pasamos en la playa de la ciudad y probamos el acarajé, una comida típica de Bahía con sabores muy especiales y diferentes a todo lo que habíamos probado hasta entonces…y nos gustó mucho! Esa noche llegaban Ainhoa y Niall de vacaciones por una semana y nos fuimos a su hotel de 5 estrellas a esperarlos. El encuentro fue genial, lleno de emociones, boda incluida, pacharán y champagne. Y fueron tantas las emociones que al final Josh y yo nos quedamos a dormir allí en una de las 2 camas gigantes que tenía la habitación.

El plan era pasar unos días en Salvador y luego ir a Morro de Sao Paulo a “descansar” en la playita. En Salvador fuimos a la playa de la ciudad, a Praia do Forte, a ver una sesión de Candomblé, un ritual africano que te pone los pelos de punta, y de paseo y birras por el casco antiguo. Por cuestiones gastrointestinales nos perdimos la famosa noche de los martes en Pelourinho…

En Morro de Sao Paulo el plan era playa, langosta y caipirinhas! Y así fue, de día visitamos las playas de Morro y alrededores que por cierto son increíbles, y de noche salimos a bailar descalzos en la playa. El penúltimo día el tiempo no fue bueno y no pudimos tomar el sol…

El 22 de octubre tristemente Ainhoa y Niall regresaron a Salvador para coger el avión de vuelta a Madrid y Josh y yo seguimos nuestra ruta camino hacia el sur.

Ilha Grande (3-6/Nov/06)

Paraty, Brazil

The coastline between Rio and Sao Paulo is amongst the most beautiful in the world. Here, the Mata Atlantica comes down from the hills right up to the sea. The Mata Atlantica was a huge tropical forest along the entire Brazilian coastline until it was "discovered" and chopped down before Environmentalism was invented. Now only 7% of the original remains. By the look of how things are doing in the Amazon rain forest it doesn't seem we have learned much over the centuries.

Anyways, we were extremely unlucky here for two reasons. Firstly, it was a national holiday and Ilha Grande is quite near to both Rio and Sao Paulo (and accommodation prices go up by 400% to 500% - the crowds don't matter as the are paltry to someone who has seen the Mediterranean in August), and secondly the weather was beastly. On the first count we found a nice camping ground which only hiked it's prices by 50%, and on the second the weather slowly got better. So what could have been a bit of a disaster turned out great.

After arriving the first day we walked around the town and had a peek at some nearby (and not very impressive) beaches. The second day we took a 2h hike to the best beach on the island, and one of the best in Brazil, Lopes Mendes. The weather was still a bit dodgy so we returned by taxi-boat the next day, for a full day of sun on the mile-long beach. The last day was the best weather-wise so we didn't waste any time and went to the beaches near the town. 'Nuff said, this island is a complete paradise.

Ouro Preto (1-2/Nov/06)

Paraty, Brazil

Ouro Preto was a big gold & diamonds mining town at one point, which is why it is crammed with beautiful churches, colonial architecture, and plenty of art. Now the gold has all but run out they can turn to that to bring in tourists, which explains why we went here. It is a beautiful town in the hills and we spent the entire day walking the cobbled streets in and out of churches looking at the various masterpieces of Alehandrinho and others. I also popped into a disused mine which had belonged to a cooperative of ex-slaves; a whole tribe and its chief were captured in Africa and sold as slaves, but slowly the chief saved up enough money to buy his liberty. He then bought his son, and between the two they liberated the entire tribe and finally bought the mine.

The next day we went to a nearby (relatively speaking) town, Congohas, to see Alehandrinho's masterpiece at the Basilica de Matosinhos, a series of amazing life-size wood carvings of various scenes from the Passion of Christ, together with some stone sculptures of various Old Testament Prophets (these were really cool, they looked like something out of the Lord of the Rings). Definitely worth the trip.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Rio! (26-31/Oct/06)

Ouro Preto, Brazil

We love Rio. We have decided it's the best city in South America. Sorry Buenos Aires.

First day there we met up with Livia, a friend of Esther's parents, who immediately marched us up to the foot of the Corcovado, the mountain with the Christ the Redeemer. Went up the train and saw the whole city from above. What a sight! Tried to get to the Pao de Açucar (Sugarloaf) mountain as well but it was getting dark.

Next day we followed the Lonely Planet's "city walk" around the centre. Very nice, a bit of everything really: churches, skyscrapers, the weirdest cathedral in the world, street bazaars, squares and the really cool headquarters of the military fireman service.

The day after we had an outing to nearby Petropolis, which is where the old emperors used to have their summer retreat. There is a great museum in the old imperial palace, which you slide around in on slippers so as not to damage the floor. Then had a short walk around the village itself, which has an amazing collection of mansions of Rio's rich & famous. That night there was a party at the hostel, and since our room was next to the common area we were forced to join in.

Sunday morning started with a bit of a jolt. Apparently, after 4 days, the weather was perfect for hang-gliding. So off we went with another 3 guys from the hostel, jumped off a cliff (in tandem with the instructor), and hung around in the air for 10-15 minutes for one of the most amazing experiences (and views) ever. From there we had a walk along the beachfront from Copacabana to Ipanema and checked out the "hippy market" (which wasn't anything special). Rounded off the day going up the Pao de Açucar and stayed up it until the evening lights came on in the city.

Monday was a relaxing day at the beach. Ipanema is apparently the place to be, while Copacabana is supposed to be the old fogey's beach. However in our walk we noticed Copacabana was much nicer, so we joined all the grannies down there. Then in the afternoon we visited the botanical gardens, and celebrated with a large amount of beers in the evening.

Our last day in Rio Esther had arranged to go to the favela (slum/shantytown) with a guy from the hostel who was a volunteer there in one of the schools. A much better way to visit than by package tour. The favela in question wasn't Ciudad de Deus (in fact it was not much different from what we had seen in Bolivia) and I was a bit under the weather so Esther went alone (and later confirmed I hadn't missed much). We met up later to visit the Republic Museum in one of the most sumptuous palaces I've ever seen. After that we hitched a ride on a famous tram to a famous neighborhood (which I really liked) and then headed off to catch yet another night bus.

Oh, and we had the second round of elections here which resulted in a thumping victory for Lula.

Trancoso (23-25/Oct/06)

Ouro Preto, Brazil

After looking at the weather we decided to skip one of our stops, Tapuis de Fora, one of the best (if not the best) beaches in Brazil. So we went on straight to Trancoso, which is next to another of Brazil's best beaches (Praia do Espelho). Found a great condominium (a word I've always found hilarious) at rock-bottom price. As we were a bit knackered we went to the nearest beach we found. Next day, nothing but rain. Spent the day watching TV and drinking beers in our condominium. The plan was to leave next day, which seemed an OK thing to do as the weather looked bad again. Had a last-minute bit of indecision as the sun started to come out, but left anyways as we were dying to get to Rio.