A Travellerspoint blog

Rio de Janeiro

Down at the Copa....Copacabana

all seasons in one day 21 °C

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We arrived back to a rather overcast Rio, which was annoying because most of the sights in the city are best seen on clear sunny days.

The first day it was still bad weather so we decided to have a look around the neighbourhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa. There are some big aqueduct arches in Lapa, over which you take a small tram up to Santa Teresa on the hilltop. It costs about 50p to ride, but the locals get a free ride by hanging off the sides!

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Santa Teresa is famous for being quite an arty area and a nice part of town. However we think we somehow managed to get off the tram in the wrong place as what we saw didn't seem to be what all the guide books were raving about. We ended up wandering around for a while trying to find the right area but eventually had to give up! In the afternoon we visited the botanical gardens, which were really quite impressive as they back on to an area of forest and we even spotted lots of small toucans.

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The sun decided to come out on our second day so we had to make the most of it! We spent a few hours relaxing on Ipanema beach before walking down to Copacabana beach. Both are amazing beaches, full of all sorts of different people even on a week day. Unfortunately they are nothing compared to those on Ilha Grande because of the noisy main road on the sea front and rows of huge tower blocks. But still its pretty cool having them right in the middle of a city!

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In the late afternoon we took the cable car to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain just in time for the sunset. The view is just stunning as you get to see so many different types of scenery all at the same time. Theres the sea and the beaches, then the huge towers of the city centre, with forest covered mountains in the distance. It was made even better by the sun setting and turning the sky all different colours.

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The next day it was even hotter so we had to see the other famous view of Rio, from the top of Corcovado, while we had the clear skies. The mountain is famous because of the huge 'Christ the Redeemer' statue that looks down over the city. We had to get a train to the top, which was packed with people, but the view was once again amazing. The view from here looks out over the city and towards the sea, whereas from sugar loaf you look towards the mountain.

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In the afternoon we went back down to Ipanema for another taste of 'açai', which looks pretty gross (thick and black) but tastes amazing! Açai is an amazonian fruit grown in Brazil, like a berry but not really that comparable in flavour to anything back home. They serve it as a frozen slushy drink which is really refreshing, especially on the beach! We also watched the sun go down from here, which was really pretty.

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In the evening we went out to Lapa with a group of people from the hostel. Lapa is the area of Rio famous for its night life, especially on Fridays when its just like a massive street party. It was just crazy. There are stalls all the way down the street selling cheap caipirinhas and food and everyone stands around talking or dancing to the groups of people playing music until the sun comes up! Considering we were repeatedly warned that Rio is a really dangerous place, we did not see anyone fighting or causing trouble. Everyone was just having a great time! I could not imagine this ever happening back at home! Everyone else from the hostel left at about 3am but we met some locals who showed us some cool places and made sure we got home OK!

After getting back to the hostel at 6 in the morning we ended up sleeping until lunch time, which didn't really matter as the weather had turned horrible again and it rained all day. In the evening Alex went to the Maracana Stadium to watch a football match. Alex: The stadium was built in 1950 to be the biggest in the world, and for the 1950 world cup final it held over 200,000 people (the most ever recorded for a football match)! It only holds 115,000 now as they've seated all the stands but it's still enormous. I saw Flamengo play, who are the most popular team in Brazil (though not the best) and they won 1-0. It wasn't the greatest game of football I'd ever seen but the atmosphere more than made up for it. Even though there were only around 30,000 people the noise was incredible and there were flags and banners everywhere. The Brazilians are so passionate about football and instead of all the tourists sitting seperately we had to mix in with all the locals!

After the football we took a bus to Ipanema to have dinner at a Feijoada restaurant. Feijoada is the national dish of Brazil and is a stew of beans with lots of different cuts of meat. It's served with lots of side dishes of rice, collard greens and beans. There was so much of it we didn't even manage half, and the Brazilians seem to have very weak tastebuds as it was the saltiest thing ever. Sadly not the most delicious national dish we've tasted but it was nice to try the local cuisine.

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Today, for our last day in Brazil we took a tour to a favela. Over 50% of Brazilians live in favelas, so we thought we should see the way that they live. We were initially put off doing a tour as we thought it might be a bit disrespectful for rich tourists to go to the poorest part of Rio and take pictures of the poverty but everyone we spoke to who'd done it said that it really wasn't like that at all. We went to Rocinha, which is the largest favela in Rio with a population of about 400,000. There are 811 favelas in Rio State alone and they're a law unto themselves, run and controlled by drug dealing mafia. The police are paid not to enter them and the guide said that in Rocinha there are 2000 stolen motorbikes, for some unknown reason noone in the favela has to pay for their electricity?!

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Although it was clearly a lot poorer than the rest of Rio we were surprised at how developed it was. Nothing like the impoverished slums we had been expecting. The whole favela is built on the side of a mountain and we walked to the top which had amazing views over Rio. As there isn't much space they build their houses as high as they can, and instead of buying plots of land they buy someone's roof to build on! Some of the more basic buildings don't even have stairs so they have to climb the stairs of the house next door and jump across to theirs! We saw lots of the mafia with big machine guns that they buy from the police and army and would have felt really unsafe had the guide not explained to us that we would be fine. He told us that the money we pay for the tour goes back into the economy of the favela so the mafia want to make sure tourists keep coming and would kill anyone if they robbed us. The guide also told us that we couldn't take pictures in the main streets because we'd have photos of the stolen bikes or the people with guns. At one point some children showed us the Brazilian 'Capoeira' which is a dance that looks like people fighting but without touching eachother. They were so cute and really got into it. It was a such an interesting experience to see how so many people in Brazil live and we were glad that we'd changed our minds about doing the tour.

And thats all we had time for! Off to start our last journey of the trip - HOME! Can't wait to see everyone! xxxx

Posted by alexdani 12:53 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Ilha Grande

Sand, Sea and Sunsets

sunny 27 °C

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After our final and longest bus journey yet (30 hours!) we arrived in Rio. We only stayed the night though as the weather forecast was good for Ilha Grande (which is only 2 hours away from Rio), so we quickly made our way there for a few relaxing days on the beach!

Ilha Grande is an island off the coast South of Rio, which is covered in 'Atlantic Rainforest' and has loads of beautiful beaches. There is only one main 'town' on the island and no roads so many of the beaches are only accessable by boat or walking! We decided to treat ourselves and stay in a triangular shaped 'chalet' (christened "The Toblerone") which was set up on the hillside and surrounded by forest. The stupid thing was that this only ended up costing the same per night as a 9 bed dorm in Rio!

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Our first day we decided to walk to a beach called 'Lopes Mendes' which was recently voted one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world. There is no pier on the beach so the only way to reach it is by walking. It took us around 2 1/2 hours to follow the path through the forest. We spotted lots of tiny monkeys and Alex nearly stepped on a snake along the way!

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It was worth the effort though because the beach was amazing, and not too busy (we managed to find a spot where you couldn't see anyone else!). Theres no buildings either so the scenery is completely unspoilt unlike a lot of places these days.

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We walked back only as far as the next beach to catch a boat back to the main part of the island. We somehow managed to time it just right to see an amazing sunset from the boat! This was a real stroke of luck, as we don`t think it would have been possible to have seen it from the shore.

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On our second day we followed a different trail that led to some natural pools in the forest and some ruins of a prison that was used in the 30s. The Prison had mostly been destroyed but the remaining building had been taken over by the forest, making it quite eerie. The rest of afternoon we spent on some smaller beaches nearer to the town, until it began to cloud over and eventually start to rain :(

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We would have very happily stayed much longer on Ilha Grande, but the forecast was bad for the next few days and instead we headed back to Rio our final stop!

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Posted by alexdani 13:15 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Bonito

Snorkelling and Hostages

overcast 18 °C

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It was only a short 4 hour minibus journey from the Pantanal to Bonito and on the way we saw a GIANT ANTEATER! It was absolutely amazing, probably better than anything else we'd seen over the last few days. Unfortunately it was too dark to take a picture so you'll just have to google it instead!

We'd arranged to stay at a hostel in Bonito which was owned by the company that we'd taken the Pantanal tour with so arrived with some reservations about how good it would be. All seemed fine until the second morning of our stay...

The first day we'd planned on renting bikes and cycling down to the river to relax in the sunshine. However, the bad weather that seems to have plagued us recently was back and it was yet again rather chilly! Instead we decided to stay inside and catch up with the blog (so hope you all appreciated it! :) ).

The second morning was when things took a turn for the worse. The saga started when we found out that we´d accidentally left the gas oven on in our hostel overnight when the manager told us we'd used up all his gas and demanded a small fortune (by Brazil standards) for a whole new tank of gas. We told him we were very sorry to have left it on all night but could only reasonably be expectd to pay half of the ridiculous amount he was asking for. This started a massive arguement which ended in us telling him where to go and packing up our things to move to another hostel for our last night here. But then when we were sat in his office to pay for the 2 nights we´d stayed, he LOCKED US IN until we'd paid all the money for the gas and told us he could wait there all day if we wouldn't pay! We threated to call the police and tell them he was keeping us hostage but he told us the police would always be on the side of a local and not a foreigner which sounded about right. We had no choice but to pay all the money because we had our expensive snorkelling tour booked just half an hour later and would have missed it if we'd been stubborn and sat it out. Safe to say we didn't part on the kindest of words, and Im sure we'll be writing lots of reviews on the internet warning backpackers not to stay there! :(

Luckily the afternoon made up for our bad morning. We took a tour to the 'Rio Sucuri' which is one of the clearest rivers in the world. We got changed into some fetching wetsuits and walked through the forest to reach the river. Along the way there was a beautiful bright blue pool of water, although again we can't show you a picture as everything non-waterproof had to be left on the bus. We then got into the river which was absolutely crystal clear and was 22 degrees so wasn't too cold, to begin with at least! The current was really strong so we peacefully floated along watching all the fish pass beneath us. There were lots of fish, but only 4 or 5 different types. The most common one was over a foot long though which was quite scary when they were right next to your face!

The worst bit was definitely getting out. It was still really cold and windy, which made us shiver so much that the tea we were drinking was splashing all over the place! Bonito is clearly better suited to hot weather, which sadly is expected the day after we leave.

Posted by alexdani 17:50 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Pantanal

Wetland Wandering

sunny 20 °C

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After a relatively short, 13 hour bus journey from Foz do Iguacu we arrived in Campo Grande, from where we were hoping to start our trip to the Pantanal. The Pantanal is a huge area of wetlands (the largest in the world) in the West of Brazil where it is much easier to spot wildlife than in the jungle (as it is much more open).

We booked our tour with a company called Ecological Expeditions (which if anyone other than our family at home happens to be reading this I definitely WOULD NOT recommend). So the next day we set off on our journey to spend 4 days in the Pantanal. After a 4 hour minibus journey we transferred to the back of a truck for a bumpy trip to the campsite another hour away. On the way a huge caiman made its way across the road in front of us, we saw a monkey dangling from a tree and at one point the driver stopped after spotting a snake track across the road and dived into the bushes in search of the anaconda! Unfortunately he didn´t manage to find anything, but we thought this was a good start and looked forward to what was to come on the rest of the trip!

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It started going downhill from when we arrived at the campsite and were introduced to our guide. He barely said anything to us and rudely told us that there was nothing for us to do this evening. Luckily we had a really nice group and passed time chatting and playing cards. We had dinner which was really disappointing after the amazing food we´d been served up in the jungle and then tried to get comfy in our hammocks where we had to sleep for the next 3 nights! In middle of the night I (Danielle) woke up feeling really sick and then spent the rest of the night and the next day being ill :( (not exactly the best introduction to Brazillian cuisine!)

In the morning we went on a trek which I didn't really feel up to but thought I had to try and make the most of our time there. After trekking for an hour in the heat and without breakfast I was really beginning to regret this decision, and felt really bad about holding up the rest of the group while throwing up behind a tree! We did get to see a few monkeys, hyacinth macaws (which are now endanged) and lots of other birds. We also had to wade bare foot through some of the swamps freaking out about having our ankles nibbled by caiman!

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After getting back to camp another member of our group had come down with the illness and we decided to say at camp while Alex and the others went piranha fishing in the afternoon. They managed to catch a few between them to bring home for cooking but the tiddler Alex caught wasn't deemed worthy of the trip back to the kitchen! When the meat bait ran out the guide killed one of the piranhas that had been caught and used that. Apparently, piranha's aren't fussy eaters! They had seriously sharp teeth which looked like they could definitely do some damage, which was a bit worrying as they told us the river was fine to swim in!

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Fortunately by the evening I was feeling much better and braved a dinner of plain rice, once I´d picked out all the ants! Everyone else was a bit nervous of the food too and avoided the meat. Before dinner we went on a 'night safari' in the truck, which involved driving up the 'main' dirt road rather loudly. No wonder we only managed to spot a snake. Still, it was a very poisonous one!

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After a surprisingly good nights sleep in the hammock, we awoke to a new set of people who´d arrived the day before being ill. People were dropping like flies! We set out on our 'day safari' in the same truck, and on the same road as the night before. We stopped at a lake where there were about 50 caiman lounging around, which was really cool. Apparantly they like this spot because there is a flow of water that brings fish right to them! We got off of the truck and went right down to the bank, some people were even wading in the water! The caiman didn´t seem to like this too much and took cover in the water with just their nose and eyes above the surface.

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As we were driving down the road we saw loads of 'toco' toucans flying around, which were really beautiful with their huge colourful orange beaks.

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From the truck the guide spotted a giant otter in the water and we jumped off again and went on a short walk to get a better look at them. Unfortunately by the time we´d got there the otters had gone.

After lunch we went on our 'boat safari' which we had high hopes for as the river was quite a way from the road, so hopefully we'd spot more animals. There were loads of cool looking kingfishers perched on trees over the water, and we saw one bird catch a fish and batter it to death before eating it! We also saw lots of Howler monkeys jumping from the trees, and one was even carrying a baby! The highlight though was a pair of 'Capybara' that were sitting right on the bank and didn't move when we got up really close! Capybara are the largest member of the rodent family and they look like enourmous (pig sized) hamsters-come guinea pigs.

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Before leaving on our final day we went horse riding through the swamps. The horses were surprisingly well looked after and well behaved and we took a relaxing trot around the area, spotting a few more monkeys up close and about another 100 different types of bird!

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And that was it for our 4 day pantanal tour. We were really pleased with all the wildlife we'd managed to spot, especially the capybara and the toucans. We would have to have been really lucky to have seen some of the much rarer animals like jaguars and giant anteaters, so we couldn't really complain. The terrible guide and the food poisoning meant that we definitely wouldn't recommend the company to anyone, but we had an amazing experience otherwise!

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Posted by alexdani 06:56 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Iguazu Falls (Brazil Style)

The view from the other side...

sunny 22 °C

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The morning after our day at the Argentinian side of the falls we took the quick bus ride across the border into Brazil to check out the falls from the other side of the river. It felt very odd being in another country but going to see the same attraction!

Before heading to the falls we had lunch at a 'per kilo' buffet, which is apparently very popular in Brazil. There's basically loads of meat, rice, beans and salad and you pay for what you eat by the kilo! It was really tasty, even though we had no idea what quite a lot of the stuff was.

We took a public bus which dropped us off right next to the entrance to the falls. They look completely different from this side as you're much further away, so you can really appreciate the scale. In total there's over 300 seperate falls, it's absolutely incredible.

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There were even more rainbows here than we'd seen the day before, and at times the view looked too perfect to be true, with the vivid rainbows arching over the cascading falls. There's only one trail on the Brazil side so it only takes a couple of hours instead of a full day which meant we were done by the early afternoon, in time to visit the bird sanctuary nearby.

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This was a bird sanctuary like nothing we'd seen before, as the enclosures were so large you could walk through them, with the exotic birds swooping right past your head. We saw loads of different birds but the main reason we'd wanted to visit was to see the toucans. Amazingly, within a couple of minutes of walking into their huge cage one landed on the railing of the path about a foot away from us. They're such beautiful birds, which look completely out of proportion with their beaks almost as long as their bodies. We could have stayed here all day, but when one of the toucans pooed directly onto the head of a little girl standing next to us, we decided it was time to leave! Just before we left the park I couldn't help having a little hold of a blue and yellow macaw. This photo was taken shortly before it started trying to eat my neck...

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That evening we caught what seemed like the 100th night bus of the trip 13 hours to Campo Grande, where we'd begin our tour of the pantanal region.

Posted by alexdani 06:55 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Iguazu Falls

Splash!

sunny 25 °C

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We arrived in Puerto Iguazu after yet another long 18 hour bus journey from Buenos Aires.

The next day we went to explore the Argentinian side of the Iguazu Falls, which offers an up close view of the waterfalls. When we arrived it became clear that we were by no means going to have the view to ourselves. There were hundreds of people, and later found out it was the Argentinian school holidays so it was extra busy!

There were lots of different trails to take that lead to different parts of the waterfall, as well as a train to take you to the furthest point (the place was huge!). First we decided to bypass the massive queue for the train and do the 'upper trail' which takes you along the top of one set of waterfalls. We were told that there are over 270 different individual waterfalls in this section and it was definitely very impressive. The walkway let you look down on the water splashing beneath you which was quite amazing.

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Next we decided to brave the queue to get the train that takes you to the top of the most powerful set of waterfalls known as 'the devil´s throat'. The walkway here was built out over the top of a wide river and led to the point where it dropped with unimaginable force to the bottom. When we reached the end of the walkway there was a crowd 4 people deep around the barrier to get a look over the edge, so all we could do was join the mass of elbowing people and hope for a gap to appear. Once we'd finally managed to squeeze to the front all you could see when you looked down was the white spray and hear the roar of the water. The photos really don't do it justice and we could not believe how much water there was!

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After fighting our way out of the crowd again we got the train back to do the 'lower trail'. As we were walking along the path we were amazed to see some quite unusual animals coming out of the bushes. They had stripey tails like racoons and a long nose. We thought that we were really lucky to spot them until we turned the corner to where the cafe was with loads of the 'Coaties' everywhere pestering people for food!

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The trail took us to the foot of the falls where we got a boat right up underneath the water. Needless to say we got soaked, but it was worth it! There was also another walkway where you could see the waterfalls from a bit further away as well as some really vivid rainbows which made the view even more spectacular!

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The next day we were planning to visit the Brazilian side of the waterfalls across the river, but couldn't really imagine how it could be any more beautiful that it was here!

Posted by alexdani 15:22 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Buenos Aires

Tango, Evita and even More Steak

overcast 7 °C

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We arrived in Argentina's capital city after another mammoth 14 hour bus journey across the whole width of the country. Luckily this bus was pretty much on time and we were at our hostel in time for breakfast. We sat down to plan the next few days activities and soon realised it was a tough task, as Buenos Aires is MASSIVE! After a good few hours of leafing through the guide books we had our rough itinerary and headed off to San Telmo, a part of town known for its colonial-style houses along narrow cobblestone lanes and a leafy plaza where there's usually some street tango. As we're getting used to now, it was yet again freezing. This meant there wasn't any tango dancing in the street, but it was a nice part of town, and we bought some tango photos off of a friendly old photographer who we chatted to for a while in our perfect Spanglish.

In the afternoon we wandered across town taking in a few of the sights before joining a FREE tour of another area of the city! We found this highly recommended company on the web that works only for tips and it was fantastic. The guide spoke great English and gave us a real insight into the Argentinian culture as well as showing us parts of town we never would have found. We walked around the rich part of town with loads of enormous mansions and found out why Buenos Aires feels far more European than South American. Apparently between 1850 and 1900, 10 million Europeans moved to the city and basically rebuilt it in their own style. It's quite surreal walking around, as it really doesn't feel like South America at all. Our guide recommended her favourite steak restaurant to us, and even though we're trying to cut down on the meals out, we couldn't help having one last Argentinian steak! It wasn't a dissapointment either. They cut the steak for you with a SPOON! Amazing!

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The next day we went for a day trip to Uruguay! It's only a few hours on the ferry across the Rio Plata to the pretty coastal town of Colonia and meant we could get another couple of stamps in our passports! There's not really much to say about the place other than that it was a very quaint and peaceful little town with not a lot to do other than stroll around in the sunshine check out all the small colourful colonial buildings. It was a world away from the bustling Buenos Aires, whose skyscrapers you could just about make out across the river.

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Back in Buenos Aires the following day, we went on another 'free tour', this time of the main tourist sights in the center of town. We visited the congress building and a few other historic monuments and then finished by walking down the main 'avenue de Mayo' to the large 'Plaza de Mayo' where the president building (known as the 'casa rosada' or 'pink house') is.

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This building is the home of Evita's famous balcony, and as Argentina are currently celebrating 200 years of independance from Spain, it's open to the public for tours every weekend. We queued up for ages thinking we were just getting to go on the balcony, but it turned out we were getting a tour of the whole building (basically the equivalent of taking a stroll around 10 Downing Street!). We saw all the conference rooms and offices and then finally were escorted into the president's office! It was all a bit unbelievable, and the tour was in Spanish so we didn't really know what was going on until we saw a sign saying 'presidential office'!

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In the afternoon we took a trip on the subway, which doesn't sound that exciting but was actually really cool because the subway was built in 1913 and on one line they still use the original carriages! You have to pull open the doors manually and the inside is still exactly as it would have been almost 100 years ago. The interior is all wood, and the lights flicker on and off as the carriage rattles down the tracks.

That evening we had our first taste of Buenos Aires' most loved past-time and national dance, the tango! We went to an old French style theatre where we took a quick tango lesson before watching how it was really done. Obviously we were both complete natural's but admittedly the proffesionals were slightly better! They pulled off some amazing moves, twirling around passionately to the music played by a live orchestra. It was a really fun night, and the dancers were awesome.

For our last day in BA we'd planned a packed day of on foot sight seeing but sadly it pouring with rain. Undettered, we forked out a fortune in taxi fares, and made it round all the places we wanted to visit. In the morning, we headed to Puerto Madero, the docklands of the city, where the most modern buildings are. Our guide the previous day had recommended a place in this part of the city where you can get the tastiest snack in town called a 'Choripan'. This not just any sausage sandwich...this is an Argentinian sausage sandwich! A juicy fat chorizo sausage grilled on a BBQ in the street crammed into a toasted roll, yum! It doesn't quite beat the steak, but it's definitely close!

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Next stop was a district called 'La Boca'. Home of the country's most famous football team, 'Boca Juniors'. (also the club of it's most adored player, Diego Maradona)

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At night, it's the roughest, most dangerous part of town but during the day it buzzes with tourists who all come to see the streets full of colourful buildings and practicing tango dancers. The bright colours of the buildings didn't quite have their full effect in the rain, but it was still nice to see.

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After snapping a few photo's under the umbrella it was back in the taxi for the long ride all the way across town to the Recoleta Cemetary. The weather suited a trip here, and it definitely added to the super spooky atmosphere as we walked around the enormous mausoleums. This was the resting place of the rich back in the early 1900's, so each mausoleum is the size of a small room in a house, sometimes filled with creepy cobweb covered coffins of a whole family.

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We ventured up and down the 'streets' of tombs until we found Evita's grave (the main reason the place is usually so full of tourists). I found it really interesting but Dani was creeped out by all the eerie half open tombs so we didn't stay long! Feeling very soggy, we hopped back in a taxi to visit Cafe Tortoni (a conveniently indoor attraction!) which has been almost unchanged from the day it opened back in 1858 by a French immigrant. We had to queue for half an hour just to get a table for a drink, but stepping through the doors was like stepping back in time. The waiters (some of whom looked unchanged from 1858 themselves!) were in tuxedos, and the walls were covered in beautiful old paintings and wallpaper. We tried an Argentian speciality called a 'submarino' which is a mug of hot milk that you drop a submarine shaped bar of chocolate into to make a delicious hot chocolate!

Posted by alexdani 15:12 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Mendoza

Wine country!

sunny 5 °C

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Our bus from Salta to Mendoza was supposed to take 19 hours, which sounded bad enough itself but would have been a treat compared to our actual journey! First off our bus stopped at a bus station in the middle of nowhere for almost 2 hours waiting for another bus that we were transferring onto. After 21 hours we guessed that we should be there soon so asked the driver how long (expecting him to say about 5 mins), and he said 3 hours! We were not impressed. Then the kind lady behind us decided to throw up all over the floor just before getting off the bus, so it all leaked through to our feet - really gross! After 3 hours we were getting ready to jump off the bus when we realised we were only in a place called San Juan, still 2 hours away from Mendoza! The whole journey took 26 hours and we arrived at midnight with our fingers crossed that the hostel would still be open!

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Anyway.... The first day we spent in Mendoza was a Sunday so nothing was really happening. We wandered around town trying to sort out the things we wanted to do in the next few days and then took a stroll in the city`s big leafy park. It was really cold, so all the outdoor adventure tours were out of the question and we decided on (a rather pricey) winery tour instead. The winery tour we did in Cafayate was a bit rushed and touristy so we decided to splash out a bit and go for a private tour that included lunch. We visited 3 of the top wineries in the region (not that we`d know the difference!) and they all had really beautiful buildings set among hundreds of rows of grape vines overlooking the snowy mountain range in the distance.

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At the second winery they had a `smelling room` where they have 24 different fragrances wafting out of plastic tubes. This is supposed to train your nose to the many complex fragrances in the wine so you are able to pick them out. Our guide gave us a glass of sparkling rose and told us to try and work out what 4 things were in it. I managed to guess rose petal and cherry, so the training must have been a success! The lunch we got was amazing! 4 courses with a different glass of wine for each one! The main course was a tasty piece of Argentinian beef...mmm!

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With the freezing cold weather and unprecedented snow across the country we were hoping to make a day trip to the nearby ski resort in Los Penitentes. Unbelievably though, the resort was closed (almost a month into its season)! Apparently although there`s been lots of snow in the cities, there hasn`t been enough in the mountains! We were pretty gutted, but the forecast said snow was due in the next few days so we decided to wait it out.

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The following day we went to some hot springs about an hour outside of Mendoza. They were in a beautiful setting right next to a river running alongside the mountain. It was great soaking outside in the steamy pools looking out at the all the snow! They had some `therapeutic` mud which you could smear all over yourself and have a full body facial!

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Then there were some super power showers which shot out from about 5 different places to wash it all off afterwards, and leave you with lovely silky skin! We spent the whole day there, and had the buffet BBQ lunch with yet more Argentinian steak. Just can`t get enough of it!

The next day we rushed to the ski shop hoping for some good news on the snow but sadly it wasn`t to be so we booked our bus to Buenos Aires for that evening.

Posted by alexdani 17:32 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Salta

Steak and Wine Galore

snow 5 °C

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We arrived into Salta around 9pm and found our hostel. The owners were so friendly that they offered us some of the leftovers of that night's 'Asado' (Argentinian barbeque with lots and lots of beef!). So after only being in Argentina for a few hours we'd already had our first taste of steak and red wine that we'd been looking forward to!

Thanks to some toasty bedside heaters, our hostel room wasn´t too bad at night. The only problem was that it was raining really heavily and I was rudely awakened by water dripping on my head!

The next day we had a look around the town, which was very Westernised. We tried some empañadas (Argentinian Pasties) which are very popular here and we can see why! very tasty! In the evening we went to a restaurant in search of some good steak, and we weren't disappointed! We found it really funny that the steak came completely on its own and you had to order accompaniments if you wanted. We decided to share one piece between us which was lucky because it was the most enormous steak I've ever seen!

The next day we'd planned a tour to the wine making town of Cafayate. When we booked the woman said that we'd be in a small group of 4 people, so we were not impressed when a minivan came to pick us up. We couldn't be annoyed with the guide as he worked for another company, so we planned on having a word with the tour agency when we got back.

We were hoping that after over a week of being cold cold cold in Uyuni and San Pedro, Argentina might be a bit warmer. When we woke up for our first morning in Salta it was snowing....for the first time in 10 YEARS! Looks like we´re destined to be cold for the forseeable future! All the locals were really excited to see snow for the first time in ages, but we were less than impressed to have to continue with the 3 jumper, hat, gloves and shiver combo.

The road to Cafayate passes through 'Las Conchas Gorge' which looks like something out of the wild west, with bright red jagged mountains and the odd cactus here and there. Wind and rain erosion to the cliffs has caused some spectacular rock formations (which I´m aware sounds ridiculously lame written down, but are actually really impressive). They also have exciting names like ´La Garganta del Diablo´ (The Devil’s Throat) and ´El Anfiteatro´ (The Amphitheatre).

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Just before arriving in Cafayate we stopped off at our first vineyard to take a tour (frustratingly in Spanish) and try some of the famous Argentinian wine. It was delicious, especially the super fruity traditional ´torontes´white wine. We stopped for a while in Cafayate for a lunch of Argentine fare and then visited our second vineyard which was a lot prettier and had a ´translator´who attempted to explain the tour in English.

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We tried a few more glasses of vino, a musty red Malbec and a sickly sweet desert wine before climbing back into the minibus for the 3 hour trip home. On the way back we stopped for some pictures of the snow covered mountains (an extremely rare sight in Salta which was completely lost on us but made our guide very excited indeed!).

When we got back we headed straight to the tour agency to complain that the "private"4 person English tour in a small car that we´d paid for was actually a 16 person mainly Spanish tour in a minibus. Unsurprisingly the only person at the office was a man who conveniently didn´t speak a word of English. We tried rather comedically to argue with him in our terrible Spanish, and it was clear he knew exactly what we were saying, but he just kept telling us we had to come back tomorrow when the English speaking lady was back. We´d be 2000km away in Mendoza by then though so we had to give up the fight and accept an extremely generous 3 pound refund for our troubles!

That evening we happily boarded the night bus to Mendoza, oblivous that it would be the worst journey of the trip so far...

Posted by alexdani 13:34 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

San Pedro de Atacama

sunny 15 °C

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We were pleased to find that it was much warmer in Chile than it had been in Bolivia, during the day at least! San Pedro is an Oasis in the Atacama desert, the driest place on earth which in places they´ve never recorded rain...ever!

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We'd planned on staying here for a while, but found that everything was REALLY expensive, especially in comparison to Bolivia! Also a lot of the scenery around San Pedro (the main source of touristy trips) was similar to that in the part of Bolivia we'd driven through. So we ended up only staying a couple of days, much to the relief of our bank accounts!

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On the first day be booked a tour to the 'Valle de la Luna', which is just outside of the town. The landscape was incredible - like being on the moon! There were canyons, huge sand dunes and areas where the wind had scultped rocks into unusual shapes. We also saw the remains of some salt mines that were abandoned in the 80's. At the end of the tour we stopped to watch the sun go down behind the mountains.

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Because of its height, and the fact that theres very little light pollution around, San Pedro is said to be the best place in the world to view the nights sky. So on our second day we booked a star gazing tour. The place was run by a French couple that did the tours themselves and explained some features of the sky in the Southern Hemisphere. This ended up being quite similar to the trip we did in New Zealand, except that they had 8 different telescopes to see different features a bit closer. We saw some distant galaxies and mars, but the highlight was seeing saturn and its rings (which actually just looked like one single ring)!

And that was all of our rather brief visit to Chile. The next morning we were off on a 10 hour bus to Salta in the North of Argentina.

Posted by alexdani 14:31 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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