Poor Niagra (Eleanor Roosevelt)

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After the epic bus trip we arrived at a bit of a shitty bus terminal with no idea about where to go. I had booked a hostel but forgotten to print out directions and the Internet had been down so not on my emails. I had met up with an Irish couple who had been on the bus since Rio, looking slightly frazzled. They had no money and no idea of their accommodation so we muster up the energy and got a bus to the centro and took it from there. No banks would accept their card but we did find out with the help from a hotel where the hostels were. Mine was just around the corner so I bid them farewell and made my way to the hostel. Turns out that Ester, a girl from Holland I’d met in Ilha Grand, was also staying there. I had a quick shower and we planned to head to the falls on the Brazilian side.

it takes about an hour on the bus so thankfully it only takes a few hours to soak in the atmosphere and size of the falls. Incredible!

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We headed back and got caught in a massive storm which took down a tree blocking the road preventing the bus from passing. The power of 10 men did the job shifting the tree in torrential rain. We were off again and made it back to the hostel after a very long walk having got off the bus at the wrong place a looking for a supermarket to buy ingredients for our pasta dinner as we didn’t fancy BBQ.   We also needed to try and sort out peso for Argentina the following day. We got caught in another storm and banks were on strike so no luck on the money front. Pasta was a win and we mad enough to feed an army but works out people just help themselves anyway….rude! The hostel was great with separate beds and not bunks with your own power supply. Luxury!

The following day we got a bus to the Argentinian side.Passport control was a doddle and boom you’re in Argentina. The land of peso and various exchange rates. Our hostel was next to the bus terminal where we were dropped off and where you pick up the bus to the national park. A quick dash for money….again more issues as the machines don’t tell you if they are not working or out of money or just don’t accept your card. We managed to get enough out and headed to the falls on what was a scorcher of a day (35 C) and very humid.

You take a train through the forest and park land to the Devils throat where you walk for 30 minutes to the edge of the falls. Wow….just wow. The butterflies were incredible and swarmed like bees with literally 100s of different species. The power of the water was immense with beautiful rainbows cast into the sky amongst the misty spray.

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I have to say I was actually quite emotional and shed a tear of joy into the waterfall. I don’t think it made much difference though to the average 1,746 m3/s (61,660 cu ft/s). Its maximum recorded flow was 45,700 m3/s (1,614,000 cu ft/s) in June 9, 2014.By comparison, the average flow of Niagara Falls is 2,400 m3/s (85,000 cu ft/s), with a maximum recorded flow of 8,300 m3/s (293,000 cu ft/s).  With over 300 waterfalls over a 1.7 mile edge no wonder it was awarded a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the modern 7 wonders of the world. It seems hard to believe that in 1982/3 and in 1992 the falls turned yo a ragging 39000 c.m/s taking away the island and all the walkways yet in 1978 the falls almost dried up. Quite scary seeing the bridges still on the sides of the rocks as you walk above them.

On the way back we saw Toucans and monkeys carrying their babies along with lizards and many coyote. 453 bird species can be found at the park (45% of Argentina total species) 60 of which have only been seen at the park and 16 of which are globally endangered.

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To top off a perfect day we sat outside and ate pizza and had a beer. What else would you eat on day 1 in Argentina? On return to the hostel we were asked if we wanted to take part in a photo shoot to promote the hostel. Free cocktails you say?…..I’m in! I spoke with a French couple who had just come back from having their shoes stolen by a fox in Patagonia and then retired to my dorm for what was going to be a busy day the following day with flights to the city of Tango and meet up with my Newly made Columbian friends Gustav and Maria who were meeting me at the airport. Hummmm now what about getting money….Argentina ain’t cheap on bank exchange rates but I have a helpful tip but you’re have to wait to hear more about the pesky peso!

Salud Sao Paulo…Oooooh Iguazu!

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A 6 hour bus journey completed and I find myself in a mad metropolis of Sao Paulo. I opted for the taxi to take me to my hostel in Villa Madelina a very bohemian part of the city. I couldn’t quite cope with the tube having been on the bus for so long, being delayed and not knowing the city. I still managed to haggle a fixed price taxi though so a minor victory. I also got a hand slap and first punch from the driver as I didn’t have cash for a tip. Bloody tourists hey! I opted to stay one night  instead of two as I was keen to spend more time in Iguazu and meet friends in Buenos Airies. In the morning I got my bus ticket and did the free down town tour of the city before getting my 17 hr night bus to Foz Iguazu.

São Paulo is Brazil’s  financial center, Its iconic buildings range from the 1929 Edifício Martinelli skyscraper and the neo-Gothic Metropolitan Cathedral to modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer’s curvy Edifício Copan. The colonial-style Pátio do Colégio church marks where Jesuit priests founded the city in 1554. It’s architecture really does tell a story of São Paulos past before it was a city, the divide between the two sides of what was a river (now a large square) it’s political unrest and people fighting from slavery,trade, poverty and corruption. With over 19 million people the scale of the city is unimaginable but New York would fit in about 6.5 times…….it is big. From the roof tops of one of the tallest buildings the city landscape goes on as far as the eye can see. For lunch we stopped at the oldest bakery where I had more cheeses dough bread and fried fish croquette type thing. It was nice and an efficient ordering system where you take on entrance they scan why you have, you eat then you hand in your card to the cashier who tells you the price. You then deposit your card in a box to be let through the turnstile…much like a car park.

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Interesting fact: In São Paulo if you don’t vote you have to explain why and pay a fine. An interesting incentive to vote and made me wonder what state UK politics would be in if we applied the same! There appears to be a bit of competition for the tallest building in the city. The tallest is actually not known for being so as it is only the tallest based on the 5 floors of nothingness built just to be the tallest and it really is a beauty. No wonder they keep it quiet!! All of the street crossings have an iconic building instead of a red and green man. I don’t think this building features though…shame! There are also no bill boards something you don’t really notice until you’re told. It is nice not having advertising thrust at you everywhere you look. Somethings are very similar….the tubes are rammed at rush hour and you can always rely on some iconic buildings.

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This is Lutz station……look familiar?

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After a mad dash around the city for 4 hours I headed back to the hostel to take the subway to the bus terminal (darn not being able to buy tickets online). The longest journey I’ve ever done but I am sure it won’t be the last. South America is vast and I have a way to go…not long before I’m at the end of the world. I’m not joking…but first some nature and tango!

Paraty….a gold mine of activities!

 

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So I made it from the golden sands of Ilha Grande to the portuguese colonial town of Paraty which was founded in 1667 in an area populated by Guaianás Indians. It still has many hand-made crafts and beautiful buildings and cobbled streets. Cobbled streets are great except when you are moving hostels or drunk ( I managed both). The Guaianás people who lived where the city now stands called the entire area “Paraty”. In the Tupi language “Paraty” means “river of fish”…..this has a very different meaning to me as I will come on to explain later. It is the most southernmost and westernmost city in Rio de Janeiro state and was the export port for the gold found in the mountains of Minas Gerais. I certainly had not struck gold having realised that I had left my boxers in Ilha Grande. So much for clean underwear! The pirates had different ideas though and would storm the boats and raid the gold. A fort was created to protect the town but the town was slowly cut off after new safer routes were built to move the gold and all good things must come to and end….the gold ran out (18th Century). Today Paraty is a holiday destination for some south americans taking in the sea, islands, waterfalls and forests. We hit the holiday weekend as it was Kids day on Monday also a saints holiday (think it was Mary but who knows!). It did mean I couldn´t get a bus on Monday so had to leave on Tuesday afternoon for Sao Paulo. Getting buses in Brazil is a nightmare as you can´t book on-line if you are not Brazilian so have to go to the bus station to book and take your passport. As I am writing this I am having the same issue with my 15 hour bus to Foz Iguazu.

I have been really lucky meeting up with such great people. I stayed in Paraty Beach hostel with friends I had made in Rio and we later met up with a Dutch couple (Tim and Caroline) who lent us their frisby in Ilha Grande.  The weather was great so Saturday was an all day boat trip (12 GBP) from 11-5pm and included as many caipirinha as you can drink…..and we had many. We jumped of the boat into the sea doing back flips and belly flops. We snorkled saw amazing fish and a turtles and monkeys. It was a great day and we were got on like a house on fire and ate delicious crab stew for lunch. Works out that another couple on our boat are getting married in Coughton and Tim (different one) used to go into the Holly Bush in Alcester and remembers my friend and old housemate Laura. Of all the days and places in the world……it really is a small world….what are the chances? Anyway we were pretty drunk and think we went out for some more drinks…I can´t be sure!

Sunday we took a trip to the local waterfalls after I had tried twice to get a bus ticket. The falls are a local attractions due to the smooth moss laden surface which is perfect for sliding down on your bum or standing and jumping over 3 kids on the rocks whilst skipping with a cane if you are a pro. It was incredible fun and whilst from the bottom of the falls it doesn´t look that bad, from the top it is terrifying. Once we plucked up the courage we all had a go and loved it….except loosing the gopro and having to try to find it whilst dodging the falling bodies from the waterfall. We searched but couldn´t find it. Despite my ice skating skills I was also incredibly poor at getting up the rocks to the top of the waterfall. I manage to slide down and push a women who was relaxing at the bottom of the falls into the water, my legs pretty much wrapped around her neck. It is all about the recovery right? Things lost to date:

1 phone (not mine), 1 pair of prescription sunglasses, one gopro and my boxer shorts. Ohh and our shopping that somebody stole from the hostel. To be fair we didn’t put our name on it.

We then had lunch which was a (delicious) fish stew which several hours later a seemed to squeeze out of most orophices. fortunately it only lasted a few hours but the name Paraty (sea of fish) came to mind as I had my head in the toilet bowl shouting for Europe.

Monday was a chilled day and we looked around the town and walked up to the fort where we were warned of the dangerous oysters (we have no idea what it was meant to say). We ignored it!

We went into a cachaca (spirit made from sugarcane) shop as Paraty has a distillery which we didn´t visit but thought it rude not to try its wares. We had some samples and then bought some for the evening. There are over 1700 different Cachacas….we tried 3 I think! I have to say that Capri Gabriela is a favourite of mine (notes of clove, cinnamon and ginger) mixed with passionfruit…delicious. We then headed out for our last meal together before we went our separate ways. We opted for Turkish wraps as we had already gorged ourselves on pay per kilo buffet. Tim (Dutch) told us stories of having Christmas with a serial killer and we exchanged stories of our travels and cultures…..so we went out for a few more goodbye Capris.

Today was a 7 hours journey to Sao Paulo through some beautiful forested mountains. I only have one night here as planning to get a night bus tomorrow to Iguacu falls. My bus will leave at 7.30pm and arrive at 11am the following day. At least I can sleep and save a days accommodation. Sao Paulo is Megatropolis of a city which I think you would need to spend a week in to get to grips with. As I don´t have much desire I am getting a free walking tour of the old town and then getting back on the road.

 

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Argentina……I can almost smell you…

 

 

 

Sun, sea and rescue

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One week in! The sun has come out following from some grey days in Rio and I headed down the coast to an Island called Ilha Grande. It is 190 Km2 hence the name I guess. It was where leppers were sent along with some of the most dangerous criminals. The island is largely unspoilt although quite touristy as provides a great get away with it 100 plus beaches. There are no cars and the only way to get anywhere is by boat or walk. Lopez Mendes is 2-3 hour walk and stunning. We also walked to the beach where we were the only people. The sand squeeks as it is fine…just like flour. In the evening we went to a BBQ on the sand with amazing fish and cheese on a skewer. Expensive ( 20 GBP…included wine and caipirinha) but lovely and just what i needed after soaking up the sun. We have been lucky as last week they had no sun and no electrcity for 10 days so facilities were limited.

Jonas (German guy) managed to loose his prescription sunglasses in the sea so we spent a few hours looking for them. Did we find them?….. of course not! Mitch and I then went for a jog along the beach. I have no idea what made me want to do that but it as great. I think I would jog everyday if I had sun and views like that!

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I have met up with some lovely people from all around the world (Columbia, Israel, Australia Belgium, Germany etc etc) and last night we all came together for food, drinks and a singa round a guitar post the Brazil Chille football game. Then we had a bit of a dance where I was adopted by the Columbian couple who live in Buenos Aires and have invited me to stay with them. I say invited…..insisted.

Today I am heading to Paraty with Jonas, Barbara and maybe Mitch…..if he managed to book. Then on to Sao Paulo briefly before heading to Igauzu falls and Buenos Aires.

Ciao! (Pictures will follow once wifi has resumed)

It’s a slippery slope Snoop Dogg’s!

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Today I saw the Selaron steps.There are 250 steps measuring 125 metres long which are covered in over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world. No sooner than one section of the steps were ‘finished’, Selarón started work on another section, constantly changing it so that it was an ever evolving piece of art. Selarón considered the work as “never complete” and claimed that “This crazy and unique dream will only end on the day of my death”. The tiles were scavenged and later donated. Of the 2000+ tiles, 300-odd are hand painted by Selarón depicting a pregnant African woman. Selarón didn’t comment on this except to say that it was a “Personal problem from my past”.

Apparently Selaron received death threats and people thought him crazy. He was Always out of out of money and living as an artist. He was found dead on the steps in Jan 2013 with burn marks on his body. The cause was unknown but murder and suicide were not ruled out. Today they still stand as a land mark in a very dodgy part of Rio and have been used in videos such as Snoop Doggs beautiful and U2.

Early start tomorrow for my transfer so popped to a bakery for some sweet treats then an early night. Food in Rio is not varied and to be honest very poor. I do quite like their pay by kilo buffet and cooked meats.

Monkeying around. I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!

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Here is a quick update. The weather turned a bit overcast but very humid so I took a trip to the botanical gardens…..bus 410 from Lapa at a cost of 3.40 Real (70p maybe). Beautiful with some stunning orchids and trees from all around South America. I learnt that vanilla was actually an orchid. Not sure I knew that but there is a fact for you! It boarders the Atlantic urban forest so some beautiful butterflies, hummingbirds and monkeys. I spent about 3 hours there and got a bit hungry so ate some more cheese and bread related stuff ( it filled a gap).

I met a girl on the bus back to the hostel who gave me the download on Rio central. Apparently they based the new centre on Paris but thought there was something missing…..pigeons. Yep they imported them and now they swarm Rio to. Who knew people actually like and want pigeons. In the countryside we just shoot them and put them in pies. I didn’t have the heart to say this. The old centre is more Portuguese architecture but I’ve not seen it yet for reasons I’ll go on to explain later.

When I got back I got a mototaxi to Santa Teressa an area which was designed to raise the bar on Rio living. My first trip on the back of a bike….and my fingers hurt from holding on so tight as we made our way up steep cobbled roads. An interesting area but really not safe once the sun goes down. We are not in Kansas anymore! There are many favelas (slums) that make up what are the twinkling lights of Rio. They have tried to incorporate them into the community but with limited success. For the World Cup they paid them off but this isn’t going to be the case for the Olympics which has people a bit worried. Anybody seen city of Gods? If yes you know what I mean…..if no….don’t watch it until I’ve left (mum)

Today it rained all day so took the opportunity for a bit of a rest and took in the modern cathedral and an arts gallery. The cathedral is bas d on an inca style pyramid But it’s pretty ugly but interesting. I was going to go to the national history museum but was warned it was not safe to travel there by myself as it was quite isolated and the centre was very quiet so not safe. The advise was from a guy who I met at the cultural centre which used to be the courts of Justice. I had spent 3 hrs in a museum looking at Brazilian art works etc so headed back to the hostel .To be honest Rio is a very different place in the grey misty rain and brings out all sorts of riffraff.

I had the joy of going to the tourist police with a guy at the hostel who had his phone stolen. We went to the domestic airport via taxi but no luck so got a bus for 40 minutes to Leblon where the tourist police station is. The fact they have one sums up Rio and the efforts they are putting in to try and clean it up before the Olympics….which by the way I was on the plane with the U.K. cycling team.

Having gone to the station we went the shopping mall which was like athose in American (big) and really highlighted the difference between the rich and poor. We ate there, having been around Rio in a taxi and waiting 2 hrs, then got a taxi back ready to watch the Goonies and 2 caprihna for 6 Real (£1).

The weather looks to improve for Tuesday through until Thursday so I booked an extra night in the hostel and then a transfer to an island Ilha Grande where I will stay for 3 days. No cars just beaches and walking. Rio has been fun and interesting but it is time to move on and out of the city.

Hardest thing: not looking like a tourist…..white and pasety. And I refuse to do flip flops The gaps between my toes are to big, I can’t walk or run in them and they should be banned from Oxford street! And a pair of those high market branded flip flop things are like £2 here not £40 but don’t be asking  me to buy any because they are banned……banned I tell you!

Here is a monkey and an orchid.

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Christ! Her name was Lola?

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Well after an 11 hr flight through thunderstorms and 4 movies I made it to Rio with no sleep. I negotiated my taxi fare…go me… and we went straight through some road works on the way to the hostel. Bollards….what? Rocked up to the hostel and works out I’m staying in an ex red light district. They say ex but I’m not so sure although mainly male. You know what I’m saying! To be honest it was a relatively  easy journey. The hostel is great and the people incredibly friendly although that may be due to the drunken state they are in for most of the day. I arrived to beer ping pong and happy hour……every hour. Two vodka sprites $12 BRL (just over £2). It works in our favour. Needless to say day 1 resulted in a few drinks then bed. Early by Brazilian standards it would seem. I’m writing this at 1.30am and I’m the first back!

The weather looks as if it’s going to turn so today I maximised on the 30 C heat and glorious sunshine and went all out for the views. Christ statue, sugar loaf some Brazilian folk art and the beaches of Ipaneema and Copacabana.

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I have to say I had no idea how to get back from sugar loaf and it was getting dark..queue my introduction to the Rio tube having gone way out of my way. All being said it is relatively straight forward and air conditioned….praise the Lord. London has a few things to learn about air con although their bus system is far better. Wait for a bus? 30minutes……what! Is it a night bus? Things do not move fast in South America which whilst frustrating’ when you don’t have city mapper, adds an element of surprise and joy.

So some things you may not know about Rio:

  1. largest Japanese population outside of Japan
  2. The only city outside of Europe to ever be a European capital (Portugal historically)
  3. largest urban forest in the world which is now a UNESCO world heritage site. Covers 3.5% of Rio
  4. The statue of Christ is one of the new modern wonders.
  5. sugar loaf mountain is over 600 million years old….that is ancient!

I am sure there are more but that will do for now. It’s now 2am and I’ve been dancing in a club in Lapa the bohemian quarter and managed to escape from some crazy (but lovely) German guys to head back to the hostel. Tomorrow looks lovely hot and cloudy so I may explore the latest cal area and possibly the botanical garden which are supposed to be nice. Ohhh…. I seem to be eating bread and cheese in various forms so no comments on pictures please 🙂

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