Cordoba

I was so happy to be back in Spanish speaking territory after the disaster of not understanding Portuguese – except for “can i?” which is “posso?” – same in Italian!  I have lost so much Spanish from just three weeks in Brasil it was remarkable.

Cordoba is a very agreeable town in the north of Argentina. It is a big university town, so there’s young people everywhere.  We had a good time there.  There are mountains surrounding the town of 2 million and nice churches and colonial architecture.

We stayed in a lovely boutique hotel that I chose – NH Hotel – and it was a lot like the hotel we stayed in when in Quito, except this time we had our own rooms with fluffy robes, slippers, posh bathroom products, big flat screen tv, and big soft fluffy beds.  It was joy!

I had my first “mate” pronounced ‘muttt-ey’.  We went for a walk by the river to check out the night markets and it took about four cafe’s before I found one that serves mate.  Mate (remember utt-ey) is like a strong herbal tea that all Argentineans drink. You see them walking around with their cups, metal filter straws, and thermos’ of hot water to top it up.  It is traditional to share your mate with family or a group of friends – you drink the water in it through the silver / metal straw, then pass it on.

Mate tastes like mixed herbs – hard to put a finger on the exact taste.  Mixed herbs is all that I can compare it too.. I had to add sugar to it and I can’t say I overly enjoyed it.  It’s not the sort of drink you have sitting in a cafe – the Argies walk around drinking it, work in shops and offices drinking it, and sit in parks drinking it.  I can say that after drinking mate, I felt happy, light, energetic, and fantastic!  I also wasn’t hungry.  I later discovered that mate has extremely high caffeine content – maybe I should persevere and learn to like it?

We didn’t do much in Cordoba, a city tour where we met the lovely Raquel from Madrid, and I did some shopping.  Admittedly, we both spent a bit of time in our beautiful rooms just enjoying them, reading and watching TV.  Joy.

From Cordoba, we had a 10 hour over night bus ride to Buenos Aires.  !0 hours on a bus..why did I sign up for that?!?

Next stop:  our home for the next month, Buenos Aires

Iguazu Falls – incredible

I saw the Iguazu Falls from Brasil first and was totally impressed.  I was travelling by myself (Hubs was meeting me on the Argentinean side of the falls).  I made friends with a guy called Richard from England and Scott from USA (knob).  Richard was from Surrey, so we had a bit to talk about since I know that part of England reasonably well.

The three of us marvelled at the falls, took photos of each other in front of various parts of the falls, and walked everywhere we could.  We grabbed some mediocre lunch from a cafe, then Rich and I went across to Argentina.  We took the bus to what we thought was going to be the border, but it wasn’t.  It was just another bus stop, flanked by waiting taxis.

We decided to catch a taxi over the border to Argentina and the taxi driver said it would be easy to do.  And he was right.  It was easy.  I didn’t even have to get out of the cab!  How’s that for crossing into another country!  I arranged to meet Rich for a steak dinner and we went off to our respective hotels.

Hubs chose a good hotel in Iguazu – it had a pool and the day I arrived it was hot! After checking in, I got changed straight away into my swimmers and headed to the pool – and that’s where I bumped into Hubs who had just arrived after her overnight bus.

We hung out by the pool. I met Rich and we went for a steak in a recommended restaurant – my first Argentinean steak!  We shared a bottle of wine and I have to say, I have really missed drinking good wine this trip.  Hubs doesn’t drink, so I often don’t drink o either r will just a beer or glass of wine.  It was lovely to have dinner with someone new and chatty.  Hubs and I sometimes have nothing to say to each other – or she tells me to shut up and stop talking.  She is not the chatty type, more the broody type.

The next day we went to the falls on the Argentinean side and they were no less impressive.  We did the crazy-ass boat ride where the boat goes right up to the fall, to tons and tons of cascading crashing water.  The sheer force of the falls is something to behold – it took me by surprise how powerful they are.  We got soaking bloody wet on the boat ride – my eyes were hurting / stinging from the water getting in them – it was impossible to see anything because it was impossible to keep your eyes open!!

Next stop:  Cordoba

I’m going to Rio – de Janiero..!

Rio!  Oh Rio!  It is a fantastic city – one I wouldn’t mind living in for a while.  We stayed right along Copacabana Beach.  Hub’s hotel was a 15 minute walk from min, along the esplanade.

Av Atlantica is a big busy road that runs along the coast, following the beach. It was so nice to wake up in the morning and join the hoards of joggers and walkers along the esplanade.

My hotel, the Tulip Copacobana Inn was quite reasonably priced at $100 per night. I had a bigger room than Hubs who was paying more, a balcony with ocean views, and a great restaurant.  We ate there one night and both had beautiful meals – Hubs’ had prawns with mango and rice – and it was gorgeous!

My favourite afternoon was a Saturday afternoon in Rio.  Hubs and I caught a bus down town to check out the centre.  Downtown is not a place to go at night time, so we were told.  Downtown was quite nice – some lovely old impressive French colonial and Spanish architecture.  We wandered through the antique market, and then decided to grab a bite to eat.  We went back to some closed off streets that had cafe and pub table and chairs spilling onto the pavement.  It looked cute, so we chose a place and took a seat.  Within an hour, all pubs and cafes were packed.

Our cafe had a nice young 3-peice band start playing and it was just lovely – sitting on the street, sun beaming down, beers ice cold, music playing – and the cherry on the cake was a shisha pipe place next door that let us smoke a shisha at the cafe!  Hubs said the shisha made her feel like she was high – shame that didn’t happen to me – I just felt happy!  It was one of my favourite afternoons in South America.

Along Copacobana beach are night markets every night (except Sunday) selling all manner of things – jewellery, t-shirts, sarongs, souveniers, hats, and hammocks.  We got a good deal and bought a hammock each for about A$40.  Mine is a double hammock for two people and I can’t wait to put it up at home!  Hubs and I decided to buy one because after Rio there’s only two stops then Buenos Aires (we have an apartment there for one month).

We went out on the Saturday night we were there to the happening area where we were told there was a samba festival. No, no samba festival, but thousands of Brasilians drinking on the streets – street vendors selling pina coladas and caprioscas, food, etc.  Despite all the streets being shut down and people everywhere, I was surprised that there wasn’t more music playing outside.  Neither of us really fancied a night club, so we soaked up the festive atmosphere and went back to our hotels about 2am.

In Rio we went to the best seafood restaurant, Marius, that was a bit like the meat restaurant we went to in Salavador.  Endless offerings of seafood – with waiters coming around every few minutes with platters of lobster, crab, bugs, prawns, langostines, everything!  It was too much for us – which was a shame since we did want to eat it all!  Not possible.

We walked along Impenema Beach – saw the Gay Beach, the Mussel Gym (on the beach).  The beach is Rio is a hive of activity. Fit guys playing beach volleyball or beach soccerball, girls in bikinis everywhere, dog walkers, joggers, artists, children – the beach in Rio is used by everyone – young, old, fat and skinny.  I think that’s awesome!

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We asked Hub’s hotel for a recommendation for a nice seafood lunch and headed to Siri Moles near Impenema beach.  It was ridiculously expensive and stuffy like an old gentlemen’s club.  We were not given any bread or any friendly service.   It was strange as there were only three other tables occupied, yet we were treated without regard.  The food was ok, but only ok. Not special, not memorable.  We were so disappointed that I wrote a negative review on trip advisor.

I really really like Rio. The weather was awesome while we were there, although the forecast was for rain rain and more rain.  We didn’t end up booking an island boat trip because we thought it would suck to do that in the rain – and it never rained!

On our last morning in Rio, we went to the Christo mountain to see the famous statue that looks over the city.  I didn’t have much time as I was flying from Rio to Foz di Iguassu (Iguazu Falls on the Brasilian side) in the afternoon and Hubs was taking an overnight bus direct to Iguazu on the Argentinian side.

Christo is impressive – it’s just huge!  From up high there you could see the whole of Rio and it is impressive.

I was out of time and had to rush back to my hotel to check out, and get to the airport.

I bid Hubs farewell and rushed out to find a taxi. Do you think I could find a taxi anywhere? I was starting to feel the stress build – so I rant to bus stop and was told that this was not the bus for Copacabana beach.  Oh shit!

A kind gentlemen who was travelling with is 25-something year old son, must’ve noticed my panicked look and asked me if I was going to Copacobana and offered to share his taxi.  Oh yes! Thank you!  He was well dressed, tanned, (old), and spoke perfect Portuguese and perfect English.  He was from Portugal – that would help I suppose!  When we got to my hotel, he would not let me pay and told me to rush so I wouldn’t miss my flight.

Then he said that they would get out there and walk by the beach – and he arranged for the taxi driver to wait for me to check out and then take me to the airport. So nice!  He was a really nice man and that little encounter renewed my faith that people are generally good.

I made my flight – all good. Next stop – Iguazu Falls.

Brasilian beaches: Arriail D’Ajuda

Arriail D’Ajuda

Another annoying bus ride where the bus stopped every 10 minutes to let people off and on. It felt like we were on that bus for 20 hours when it was probably only about 7 or 8 hours.  Hubs is better with bus travel than I am – I hate it and I especially hate stopping every 10 mins and the bus was so old and rickety that it was impossible to sleep, write, type, or read.

Then once we got to Puerto Seguro we caught a local bus with all our luggage (dumb move) to the port. Except we missed the stop and ended up having to walk 20 mins. Grr.

Arriail D’Ajuda is 5 mins by ferry from Puerto Seguro and much nicer.  The beaches are long wide stretches of soft white sand – just beautiful.  Hubs chose a good reasonably cheap hotel for us to stay in (our own rooms of course) and it was right on the beach and it also had a restaurant.  Good good.  The first day was warm and sunny and it was so lovely.

I continued on with my fitness regime and got up and went jogging on the beach – so nice.  There weren’t that many people around so at times, I had the whole beach to myself.

We had a couple of days of rain whilst there and that was really really boring.  The town was small and a bus ride away.  Arriail D’Ajuda town is really tiny – one main square, some beachy tourist shops,  a few pizza places and not much else.

It was nice, but it would have been perfect had the weather been better.

There was no way I was enduring more overnight travel or another long Brazilian bus ride. I flew to Rio and Hubs took the bus.

Next stop:  Rio

Brasilian beaches: Itacare

From Salvador to Ilheus is about a 7 hour direct bus ride.  But of course going direct by bus would have been too easy.  The bus stopped every 10 minutes to let people on or off and it was mucho annoying!!

As it turned out, Hubs booked a hotel that was over 30km from Itacare – almost half way between Itacare and Ilheus.  My eco lodge was 10 mins from Itacare.  Oh well, neither of us realised that – so we made a rendezvous for two day’s time to meet on the morning bus to Puerto Seguro.  It was almost 8pm and pitch black.

I arrived late to the Art Jungle Eco Lodge and I was VERY happy just to arrive there alive. The taxi from the small dusty bus station had me worried when he turned off a tarmac road and onto a dirt road that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. No houses around, just bush land.  Then another car appeared behind us and was tail gating us.  I started to panic. Where am I?  Where is this taxi driver taking me? Who was in that car behind us? Was it a friend of the taxi driver and were they going to rob me and then chop me up into little pieces and leave my remains scattered in the bush?

I asked the taxi driver in my best Spanish where the jungle lodge was.  He answered me in Portuguese and said I think that the normal road was blocked so he had to come this way.  Ten minutes later we turned into the Jungle Lodge and I’ve never been so happy to see a sign in my life!

I was greeted by the very friendly Jeff (French also) and his two year old daughter Joelma.  Because there was a problem with the bathrooms, I got upgraded to the private lodge – it was open on one side – i.e. it was missing a wall.  Instead, there was a deck that was the platform for the views that stole the show.  Jungle, river, birds, gardens, etc, it was so lovely!  Giselle – Brasilian super model used to date Leonardo De Caprio stayed there.

I was invited to have dinner with the family and four of their friends which was awesome – I was tired and hungry and we were in the middle of nowhere so I didn’t have much chance of finding food elsewhere.  It was all healthy and delicious.   I slept like a log in my big private lodge that was missing one wall.

My new friends invited me to join them in a trip to the beach the next day – and of course I said yes!  The beach was like a postcard – small cove, wide stretch of soft white sand bordered with palm trees. Yes indeed, it was beautiful.  Jeff is so warm and friendly – he then took me for a quick tour of the town of Itacare and it’s really cute!  Brightly coloured buildings, a real surf-scene feel, and cute little shops.

After the beach, it was time to prepare for the tea-drinking ceremony.

The Ceremony

Jeff and his wife and their friends were all going to someone else’s house to participate in a religious tea-drinking ceremony – similar to the Ayawashka ceremonies the Sharman’s perform in the Jungle.  The tea is supposed to connect you to God … just like the Ayawashka is supposed to connect you to the spirit world.

The whole evening felt surreal.  Before we left Art Jungle Lodge, Jeff told me to wear white as the colour generates good energy.  Well that was an easy request since white is one of my favourite colours!

We then drove an hour to Ilheus where the friend’s lived and where the ceremony would be held.  When I got there I was told to put on a skirt as my white pants would not be suitable.  Sigh. Whatever, ok. There were about 10 of us all together.

Outside under a pergola is where we gathered.  There was a huge crucifix on the table, pictures of Mary and Jesus on the walls.  The women in white sat on one side of the table and the men on ther other.  The “padrino” who leads there ceremony had a shirt and tie on and a crucifix tie pin.  It was a serious affair.  The Padrino opened the ceremony and then we sang some hymns in Portuguese (interesting) and then it was time to drink the tea.

The men lined up first and got a thimble of the tea – which in fact was poured from a bottle (so why is it called tea?), and the women next.  The tea tasted so disgusting, the only thing I could do to stop myself from puking up is to nibble on a slice of ginger.  Then we went into an hour long hymn singing session that was a bit boring for me – I had no idea how to sing these hymns! I don’t even sing hymns in church. So I did what i learned to do when at catholic high school, I mimed as best I could.

I wasn’t really feeling anything, just a general feeling of well being.  After an hour, we all had another shot of tea – it was almost like taking communion it was that serious.  This one started to kick in within 30 minutes and all I knew was that I had to lie down.  I could no longer be polite, so I quietly went inside, felt totally relieved that the lounge room was empty, curled up on the couch and tried to sleep.  I couldn’t sleep – my mind was racing, but my body was so heavy like cement.

I could hear them all chanting outside and it went on for another hour. Jeff checked up on me and also came back a second time to tell me to rejoin the group, which I reluctantly did.  We had another shot of tea – mine was not even a half shot – and the Portuguese singing continued.  Again, within 15 to 20 minutes, I had to go and lie down, so I did.  I felt so happy to be lying on the sofa and not outside sitting on a plastic chair singing church songs.

A few people checked up on me to make sure I was ok, and I was, I just needed to lie down.  After about 1.5 hours of singing, Jeff came and got me again and said I was needed because the Padrino was about the close the ceremony.  I politely did what was asked and went outside and joined the others.

As the Padrino was closing the ceremony thanked everyone for their energy, their friendship and participation.   Just as he mentioned ‘our new special friend from Australia who is most welcomed’, I felt a surge of nausea rise and covered my mouth and ran to the toilet.  I wasn’t sure which end would go first.  After a good vomit, I felt much much better.  As Jeff had told me, vomiting is part of the cleansing process and it’s good to get it out.

After everyone hugged and kissed after the ceremony, we all crashed out on mattresses / sofas, wherever we could find space for the next hour or two before we went home.  Jeff drove an hour back to Art Jungle Lodge and I have no idea how he did that – i could hardly see my vision was so distorted – but he did a good job and we got home safely.

I had 1.5 hours sleep in my lovely bed and then got up and left for the bus, where I was to meet Hubba.  Hubba got on the bus and we were reunited and she spun out at my story.

Art Jungle Lodge was such a lovely stay – even though I was there for two nights (one full day), I feel like I came as a stranger and left as an old friend.  A gorgeous family and gorgeous place to stay.

From Salvador to Ilheus is about a 7 hour direct bus ride.  But of course going direct by bus would have been too easy.  The bus stopped every 10 minutes to let people on or off and it was mucho annoying!!

As it turned out, Hubs booked a hotel that was over 30km from Itacare – almost half way between Itacare and Ilheus.  My eco lodge was 10 mins from Itacare.  Oh well, neither of us realised that – so we made a rendezvous for two day’s time to meet on the morning bus to Puerto Seguro.  It was almost 8pm and pitch black.

I arrived late to the Art Jungle Eco Lodge and I was VERY happy just to arrive there alive. The taxi from the small dusty bus station had me worried when he turned off a tarmac road and onto a dirt road that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. No houses around, just bush land.  Then another car appeared behind us and was tail gating us.  I started to panic. Where am I?  Where is this taxi driver taking me? Who was in that car behind us? Was it a friend of the taxi driver and were they going to rob me and then chop me up into little pieces and leave my remains scattered in the bush?

I asked the taxi driver in my best Spanish where the jungle lodge was.  He answered me in Portuguese and said I think that the normal road was blocked so he had to come this way.  Ten minutes later we turned into the Jungle Lodge and I’ve never been so happy to see a sign in my life!

I was greeted by the very friendly Jeff (French also) and his two year old daughter Joelma.  Because there was a problem with the bathrooms, I got upgraded to the private lodge – it was open on one side – i.e. it was missing a wall.  Instead, there was a deck that was the platform for the views that stole the show.  Jungle, river, birds, gardens, etc, it was so lovely!

I was invited to have dinner with the family and four of their friends which was awesome – I was tired and hungry and we were in the middle of nowhere so I didn’t have much choice.  It was all healthy and delicious.   I slept like a log in my big private lodge that was missing one wall.

My new friends invited me to join them in a trip to the beach the next day – and of course I said yes!  The beach was like a postcard – small cove, wide stretch of soft white sand bordered with palm trees. Yes indeed, it was beautiful.  Jeff is so warm and friendly – he then took me for a quick tour of the town of Itacare and it’s really cute!  Brightly coloured buildings, a real surf-scene feel, and cute little shops.

After the beach, it was time to prepare for the tea-drinking ceremony.

The Ceremony

Jeff and his wife and their friends were all going to someone else’s house to participate in a religious tea-drinking ceremony – similar to the Ayawashka ceremonies the Sharman’s perform in the Jungle.  The tea is supposed to connect you to God … just like the Ayawashka is supposed to connect you to the spirit world.

The whole evening felt surreal.  Before we left Art Jungle Lodge, Jeff told me to wear white as the colour generates good energy.  Well that was an easy request since white is one of my favourite colours!

We then drove an hour to Ilheus where the friend’s lived and where the ceremony would be held.  When I got there I was told to put on a skirt as my white pants would not be suitable.  Sigh. Whatever, ok. There were about 10 of us all together.

Outside under a pergola is where we gathered.  There was a huge crucifix on the table, pictures of Mary and Jesus on the walls.  The women in white sat on one side of the table and the men on ther other.  The “padrino” who leads there ceremony had a shirt and tie on and a crucifix tie pin.  It was a serious affair.  The Padrino opened the ceremony and then we sang some hymns in Portuguese (interesting) and then it was time to drink the tea.

The men lined up first and got a thimble of the tea – which in fact was poured from a bottle (so why is it called tea?), and the women next.  The tea tasted so disgusting, the only thing I could do to stop myself from puking up is to nibble on a slice of ginger.  Then we went into an hour long hymn singing session that was a bit boring for me – I had no idea how to sing these hymns! I don’t even sing hymns in church. So I did what i learned to do when at catholic high school, I mimed as best I could.

I wasn’t really feeling anything, just a general feeling of well being.  After an hour, we all had another shot of tea – it was almost like taking communion it was that serious.  This one started to kick in within 30 minutes and all I knew was that I had to lie down.  I could no longer be polite, so I quietly went inside, felt totally relieved that the lounge room was empty, curled up on the couch and tried to sleep.  I couldn’t sleep – my mind was racing, but my body was so heavy like cement.

I could hear them all chanting outside and it went on for another hour. Jeff checked up on me and also came back a second time to tell me to rejoin the group, which I reluctantly did.  We had another shot of tea – mine was not even a half shot – and the Portuguese singing continued.  Again, within 15 to 20 minutes, I had to go and lie down, so I did.  I felt so happy to be lying on the sofa and not outside sitting on a plastic chair singing church songs.

A few people checked up on me to make sure I was ok, and I was, I just needed to lie down.  After about 1.5 hours of singing, Jeff came and got me again and said I was needed because the Padrino was about the close the ceremony.  I politely did what was asked and went outside and joined the others.

As the Padrino was closing the ceremony thanked everyone for their energy, their friendship and participation.   Just as he mentioned ‘our new special friend from Australia who is most welcomed’, I felt a surge of nausea rise and covered my mouth and ran to the toilet.  I wasn’t sure which end would go first.  After a good vomit, I felt much much better.  As Jeff had told me, vomiting is part of the cleansing process and it’s good to get it out.

After everyone hugged and kissed after the ceremony, we all crashed out on mattresses / sofas, wherever we could find space for the next hour or two before we went home.  Jeff drove an hour back to Art Jungle Lodge and I have no idea how he did that – i could hardly see my vision was so distorted – but he did a good job and we got home safely.

I had 1.5 hours sleep in my lovely bed and then got up and left for the bus, where I was to meet Hubba.  Hubba got on the bus and we were reunited and she spun out at my story.

Salvador, Brasil

I was more than happy to be flying across South America to the other side of the continent.  I had had enough of Peru and Boliva and eating chicken and rice.  I’m going to miss the prices of things on the east coast – Brasil is expensive, just mildly cheaper than Australia.

We had to fly to San Paolo first before taking another flight to Salvador.  It was a long bloody way and the flight from Lima to Sao Paolo was over night.  Ugh. I was so tired, cranky, and vowed not to do any overnight travel again for a while.  In keeping with Hub’s request of getting our own rooms, Hubs stayed at the beach in a 3-star hotel, where I choose to be more modest and stayed in a nice pousada (B&B / hostel) with my own room and bathroom – and it cost about $100 per night less than Hub’s place.  Hubs had a view of the beach, and I had a 10 minute walk to get to the beach.  I didn’t mind, my place was run by a french lesbian couple who were just lovely.

We had four days in Salvador.  Tuesday night is the big night out there, so we followed the advice of my pousada and headed into the historic centre.  There was a stage set up, a crappy band playing, and loads of poor looking drug-affected homeless types doing some unique dance moves in front of the stage.  It was a strange scene and because of the pick pocket warnings we received, we didn’t take anything with us.  We were both unsure of this ‘big night out’ and didn’t really like the crowd we were in.  Anyway, we hung out there a beer or so, then left.

The beach in Salvador is nice and it felt so so so so sooooooo good to be by the sea again.  Loads of people run, walk, and stoll along the esplanade and the views are nice.  It inspired me to do something  about my bulging waist line – so I joined the masses and began each morning with a run / walk along the coast path. It made me feel fantastic!

This place feels so different to other side of South America where there are more indigenous people and more indigenous art for sale everywhere.  Salvador is considered the centre of all afro-brasilian heritage and you can see it everywhere you.  It also feels quite similar to Australia with the beach and beach lifestyle the locals adopt.

We had dinner one night along the beach one night and they had happy hour for seafood – so we ordered a plate of crabs and plate of prawns.  Happy travellers.   We also treated ourselves to the best restaurant in Salvador.  It cost us a bomb in a taxi to get there, about US$25 each – which is expensive.  It was a traditional Brasilian restaurant where the table is marked with red for meat, or blue for fish.  After you decide if you want meat or fish, you can help yourself to the world’s biggest buffet.  Hubs and I both had two shares of fresh salmon sashimi – it was so so so good.  I also stocked up on vegies, and then the waiters would come past with all different kinds of meats on skewers – beef, pork, lamb, liver, chicken hearts, etc.  They slice the meat off the giant skewers at the table. There were so many waiters – we both ate waaaaay too much. It was delicious though.

We spent some time on the beach and spent some time shopping, although it’s almost impossible because we can’t carry too much.

I like the feel of Salvador and really like the historic centre – it’s really quirky (except on a Tuesday night).

Brrrraaaasssssiiiillll!

My Spanish has improved by leaps and bounds since we first arrived in Ecuador.  Then Brasil happened.  Why do they have to speak Portuguese?  It’s so different to Spanish and to Italian that I could not understand anyone.  Wouldn’t you think that many Brasilians would speak Spanish? Well, they don’t.  And where is my Portuguese phrase book? Damn thing – been carrying it around in my heavy backpack for four / five months and now I can’t find it.  I think I dumped it somewhere when I was fed up of having a heavy backpack!

p.s. I finally found that rotten phrase book after we arrived in Argentina, rendering it useless!