Snapshot of the Week(s): Drivin’ USA

We haven’t written anything for a good while now. We haven’t just been lazy bums, we have been stupid busy since we left the Bahamas just over two weeks ago. We’ve been to seven states, three National Parks, driven 2316 miles (I counted) and had nowhere near enough sleep. You can see our Lego selves in our first stop, New Orleans, in the famous Jackson Square.

It all started back in Florida, where we spent our first night in the US of A sleeping on a bench in Fort Lauderdale airport. As far as airport sleeps go it wasn’t actually too bad, but it was hardly a glamorous introduction to our US adventure. From there we took an early flight to New Orleans where our tour could start in earnest.

NOLA was everything we hoped it would be. It’s very difficult to portray the feeling in the city without resorting to cliché, but the best word I can think of for the place is that it’s fun. The famous French Quarter positively buzzes with live music; jazz and blues and rock ‘n’ roll, street performers and artists decorate every corner and smells from the incredible Cajun and Creole cookery are almost as intoxicating as the liberal amounts of alcohol flowing day and night down Bourbon Street. We spent pretty much all our days wandering the streets, dodging the baking heat as much as possible and avoiding the occasional torrential downpour. We took a cookery class, did a graveyard tour and did a late night bar crawl, taking in the full range of opportunities the Big Easy has to offer. We were sad to leave when we ran out of time there, but we had a Steve to pick up in Vegas.

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St Louis Cathedral.
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Bourbon Street.
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A rather revolting “hand grenade.”

When we arrived in Vegas things got a little interesting.  Steve arrived, quite a bit little later than planned but otherwise in good health, but his bag (which included some clothes of ours also) had not made the connection. Luckily the nice chap at JetBlue customer services assured Steve that his bag would be on its way to our accommodation the next day. Reassured, but no less tired, we made the 3-hour journey to our lodge in Utah which neighboured Bryce National Park, arriving at a solid 4am. Although we had kept the lodge posted on the delay, it seems sleep had overcame them, resulting in some very ungainly banging and shouting on our parts. We managed to wake the poor owners and get a solid 3 hours’ sleep. The most frustrating part? Mark and I had booked the more expensive flight, so we arrived at a similar time to Steve and with plenty of wiggle room to get to the lodge at a reasonable hour. OH THE IRONY.

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Wow.

The next day revealed two things to us – 1) even with minimal sleep Bryce is an absolutely stunning destination, and we had a cracking day. 2) Steve’s bag wouldn’t be joining us in Utah that day. Or the next day. Perhaps the day after, when we’d already left though. 3 further hours on the phone later, and we were reassured that the bag would be with us in Vegas, by the following day, at 5pm. Definitely. Totally. 100%.

We spent the next day at Zion National Park, which though very busy – cleverly I arranged for us to visit on a Saturday in the Kids’ holidays – was absolutely amazing. Sadly, we had to leave fairly early to pick up Steve’s bag.

You can guess the rest I bet. Long story short: We didn’t get the bag back until two cities later, in San Francisco. On the plus side, Steve got some sick new threads at JetBlue’s expense.

As we’d dithered at the airport for so long, and then went shopping to replace our party clothes (Vegas is notoriously picky about these things) we arrived at the Strip after midnight, and proceeded to spent the next 7 hours, not clubbing or gambling (not quite budget traveller pastimes, after all), but drinking tinnies, people watching and climbing into fountains. It was a blast.

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The infamous strip.
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A sunrise dip.

One hungover day visiting the Hoover Dam, followed by another delightful 3am wake-up for the 5 hour drive to San Diego. San Diego was a combination of marine life watching and eating Mexican food, but sadly we didn’t have time to check out the city itself. I think the lack of sleep and the sheer amount of driving had caught up with us a little. This in mind, we awoke the next day at 4am to drive the 540 miles up the coast to San Francisco. We were supposed to be going to see a baseball game in the evening but the start time had changed to lunchtime, so we stood no chance of making it. Instead we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway and made a day of it. We drove through Los Angeles at rush hour, enjoying (not the right word) its notorious traffic, then cruised up the coast through Malibu to Santa Barbara where we stopped for an insane breakfast. From there it was another few hundred miles up the beautiful coast to San Fran, where we were staying with our friend Josh who we met down in Patagonia back in March. The drive itself was one hell of an experience, something of a bucket list moment for me, but I was glad to arrive in the city, over 12 hours after we set off. We watched Josh play softball (he won, convincingly), had a few beers and some incredibly spicy hot wings and passed out, somewhat exhausted.

As well as doing all the touristy stuff (a hell of a lot of Golden Gate Bridge photos), Sadie had the delights of a dentist appointment to deal with. As South America does not have a reputation for particularly safe dentistry, she had held off until she could see a clinician without the risk of infection/death. As much as nobody wants to go to the dentist when visiting a city, it was a huge relief to get rid of the pain that had been bothering her on and off since Christmas. Once the (hilarious) anaesthetic had worn off, we could still spend a productive afternoon in the city, capped off by an evening watching a pod of passing humpback whales off the shore.

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See? Bridge, innit.

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From San Fran, we had a lovely jaunt to Yosemite planned, which (of course) meant another ridiculously early start. Yosemite is only about 200 miles from San Fran but the roads aren’t great, meaning that it takes a while to get there. It is an incredibly beautiful place but it is SO busy, especially on weekends. Even with this in mind, it was one of the most beautiful places we have ever been to.

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After an incredibly sweaty evening in a nearby lodge, complete with a tarantula spotting, we were more than happy to return to Josh’s beautiful San Francisco flat (sans Josh sadly, as he had departed for Italia, until our reunion in Nashville in a few weeks). Words cannot really describe how grateful we are, not only to have been able to stay with Josh, but to have had the opportunity to kinda play-act living in the city for the last week. We’ve spent a lot of time people watching, drinking in parks and wandering around beautiful hipster neighbourhoods. Tie dye and flowers are everywhere, being a foodie is seemingly obligatory and colourful bongs line shop windows. Honestly, the only downside to SF is the price tag – I can only imagine what hippies of the past would think of an eight of marijuana selling for $60.

Originally when we first planned our great USA jaunt, we both said San Francisco was somewhere we would happily have stayed for a couple of weeks, but after a quick peek at the accommodation options (£70pp for a crappy dorm bed!) we quickly realised this was not within our budget. To have met Josh back in Chile, and has the opportunity to stay with him was beyond lucky, and as a result this city has rocketed to the top of both our lists (and Steve’s). So THANK YOU so very much Josh, for showing us your beautiful home and current hometown. We’ve both mused about returning for a workaway stint, so I’m afraid you haven’t seen the last of us yet (sorry).

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Next stop avec Steven: Vancouver. Poutine, maple cinnamon whisky shots, the infamous Grouse Grind… it’s gonna be sweet.

Snapshot of the Week: Bahama Dreamin’

The last week has, without a shadow of a doubt, been the easiest week of our 8 months or so on the road. But for the generosity of Sadie’s Aunt Barbara, it wouldn’t have been possible. As it stands, we have spent 7 nights on Long Island, what Wikipedia calls “the most picturesque island in the Bahamas,” (quite an accolade), and we are not going to disagree with them.

Getting to Long Island was an interesting experience. After an overnight stay in Nassau airport, we walked to our gate to see what was essentially a large tin can with wings. There’s no way we’re on that, we thought. We thought wrong. The plane was so small that passengers were arranged according to weight to keep the balance right. There was no separate cockpit so you could see the pilots from your seat – apparently hijacking isn’t really a thing in the Caribbean. Still, it was probably the most interesting flight we’ve ever been on, and arriving at Deadman’s Cay (how cool is that name?) airport was definitely the least stressful airport experience we’ve had, as the terminal is the size of a petrol station all-night shop, and someone brings you your bag on a hand-pulled trailer. They even have a picnic table next to the runway, to have a cheeky beer while you wait. We knew then that it was going to be good.

Our days here have consisted of being chauffeured around the island by our hosts, seeing stunning beach after stunning beach, napping and drinking rum. I am struggling to think of a better way to pass a week. The beaches come straight from a holiday brochure – all white sand, water so blue that it looks Photoshopped, sunny skies and palm trees at a rakish angle like they too are getting into the relaxed, Caribbean spirit. The best thing about them, though, is that they are completely deserted. These beaches in other parts of the world would be teeming with tourists, touters and tat-merchants. Here you have them entirely to yourself. It is bliss.

 

We paddled with piggies, strolled down beaches and enjoyed Long Island’s regatta and my aunt’s adorable little boat. We also dived into the world’s deepest blue hole, which was more than a little heart-pounding.

Unless you have a fat wallet, Long Island isn’t somewhere you’d generally visit. Of the total population on the 80-mile-long island (less than 3000 people) we could count the tourists we’ve seen on two hands. Bahamas isn’t exactly a cheap destination to begin with, but Long Island and the Family Islands (i.e. the quieter, smaller islands) are pretty much reserved for the honeymooners and the wealthy Americans (God bless that almighty dollar). Combined with my aunt’s beautiful home, brilliant tour-guiding skills and endless supply of liquor, we feel incredibly lucky to be here.

Now, we will be the first to correct anyone who says our daily life is just like “a holiday”. It’s not. Although I happily spam social media with gorgeous photos, and feel incredibly lucky to see the amazing things we have, for obvious reasons we omit the bad stuff.

The days we spent willing the electricity, the water or the Wi-Fi back on. The overnight stays in airports, bus stations, and quite memorably, the street. The 24-hour bus rides or the days locked away in a hostel room with catastrophic diarrhoea.  The hours spent planning, working, or generally doing chores. While some days ARE absolutely holidays, a lot have just become…well…life. We don’t expect sympathy – we chose this, absolutely love it, and would much rather be here than working – but it isn’t all fun and games all of the time.

(Note: The next time you see a boastful, beautiful insta-traveller, showing of her perfect manicure and beautiful villa, just remember that 90% travellers get the shits. It makes me feel better anyway.)

HOWEVER, this week, we will eat a massive slice of humble pie and admit that this has been one hell of a holiday! Backpacking is hard? Pfffft.*

It’s time to move on tomorrow and return to budget travelling. We have an overnight stay in Fort Lauderdale airport (see?) and then on to New Orleans. I think it’s safe to say we’re both crazy excited to start our USA tour, as well as a little nervous at what this country will do to our poor, battered bank balance. We’ve got gumbo, voodoo, jazz and ghost stories to sample, then it’s onto the Sin City and its surrounding natural beauty. Next time you hear from us we’ll be in Nevada, shooting dice and with money burning holes in our pockets*, as well as with our good friend Steve in tow. It’s going to be a blast.

 

* We would also add how wonderful it has been, just to exist in a normal, family home for a little while. Sitting on the sofa, making dinner in a proper kitchen and going to the same bed every night has been honestly, pretty glorious.
**We will not be doing this. Our budget does not cover gambling, despite Mark’s assurances to the contrary.

The Best and Worst of South America

So we did this for Central America and kind of enjoyed it. It was also a good way to pass a bus journey. Some things were impossible to pick, some an absolute piece of cake. We did not fall out about any of these, honest.

Top 10 Cities (in no particular order):

  1. Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  2. Bariloche, Argentina (Definitely a town not a city, but it has an airport so shhh).
  3. Pisco Elqui, Chile (Ok this is a tiny village).
  4. Ilha Grande, Brazil.
  5. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
  6. Valparaiso, Chile.
  7. Mendoza, Argentina.
  8. Cartagena, Colombia.
  9. Florianopolis, Brazil
  10. Arequipa, Peru.IMG_20170529_230008

Top 10 Experiences (in no order):

  1. Standing in the Devil’s Throat at Iguazu Falls getting utterly soaked.
  2. Pre-Carnaval in Florionopolis and Rio.
  3. Seeing bottle-nose dolphins off Isla Damas in Chile
  4. Visiting the penguin reserve in Puerto Madryn, Argentina
  5. Seeing the clouds clear over Macchu Picchu, Peru.
  6. Sunrise at Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
  7. Visiting the vineyards, the Andes and Aconcagua around Mendoza, Argentina.
  8. Stargazing in the Elqui Valley, Chile
  9. Seeing the world’s largest flying birds, condors, in the Colca Canyon, Peru.
  10. The Gray Glacier in Torres del Paine, Chile.

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Top 10 Meals:

  1. Steak at Alto El Fuego, Bariloche, Argentina.
  2. Five course lunch at Bodega Domaine Bousquet, Mendoza, Argentina.
  3. Ridiculous steak lunch at Bodega Lopez, Argentina (There is a theme developing here isn’t there?).
  4. Picada lunch at Mendoza, Argentina.
  5. Hungover steak in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
  6. Street BBQ in Florianopolis, Brazil.
  7. Oysters in Florianopolis, Brazil.
  8. Fabiano’s Pizza in Cuenca, Ecuador
  9. Ceviche and Sushi at Jack Fish, La Serena, Chile.
  10. Moqueca in Salvador, Brazil.

Top 10 Regional Foods:

  1. Acai: The best thing ever. All over Brazil (and mystifyingly nowhere else).
  2. Acaraje, Bahia, Brazil. Spicy prawns in a deep fried bean roll, utterly filthy street food.
  3. Ceviche; Chile, Peru and Ecuador. These three countries squabble over who makes the best (especially the first two) but honestly they are all pretty damn good.
  4. Corviche, Ecuador. Admittedly we only found this in one place, but it was a deep fried plantain ball filled with either prawns or fish, served with coleslaw and spicy aji sauce.
  5. Empanadas, specifically baked ones. These are everywhere all over SA but Argentine ones took the metaphorical biscuit.
  6. Stuffed arepas, Colombia. A Thick, grilled corn tortilla, filled with guac, cheese, spicy sauce, sour cream… pretty much anything you can imagine.
  7. Moqueca, Bahia, Brazil. Spicy seafood curry. Best served sizzling with a limitless side of beer.
  8. Morcilla, blood sausage, Uruguay and Argentina.
  9. Coxinha, mashed potato balls stuffed with chicken and breaded. Sound disgusting but they are brilliant road-food.
  10. Fusion sushi, Peru and Chile.

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Top 5 Hostels:

  1. La Cupula Hostel, Copacabana, Bolivia.
  2. The W Circuit Hostel, Puerto Natales, Chile.
  3. Casa de Mathilde, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
  4. Hostel e Pousada El Shaddai, Iguazu Falls, Brazil.
  5. Hostel Achalay, Bariloche, Argentina.

Top 6 Historic Centres

  1. Cusco, Peru.
  2. Colonia, Uruguay.
  3. Pelourinho, Salvador, Brazil.
  4. Cuenca, Ecuador.
  5. Cartagena, Colombia.
  6. Bogota, Colombia.18816568_10154791785014075_404692381_n

5 Worst Experiences:

  1. Food poisoning, Bolivia. When your chef is also your driver and he uses “Inca toilets” without hand sanitiser, you should be wary of your food. We suffered the consequences of this and felt crap for weeks.
  2. Sadie’s useless tooth. A persistent infection coupled with drastic changes in temperature and altitude does not a good combination make. Thank god for cheap over-the-counter antibiotics.
  3. Cancelled flights. Take this as life advice: NEVER FLY WITH VIVA COLOMBIA. Our first flight with this airline was cancelled without our notice at all, we actually made it to the airport to find it simply didn’t exist. Our second flight was cancelled 12 hours before we left for the airport (how courteous of them), and took forever to sort out. An absolutely useless, shambles of a company.
  4. Getting to the top of the Salkantay Pass and seeing precisely bugger all. 2 days of hiking up to the 4700m summit revealed a view of, well, fog. And drizzle and sleet.
  5. Getting washed out of the Torres del Paine National Park. This 5-day adventure cost us an absolute fortune and for the first 4 days of it it rained endlessly. There were landslides, path closures, raging rivers where trickling streams used to be, the works. In fact, it was the worst in-season rainfall in over a decade. Lucky us.

 

It’s been emotional.

Snapshot of the Week: Bye to Bolivia, Hello Peru

So when we last posted we were in a little hippy town in Bolivia. Since then we have spent an ungodly amount of time on buses, been to the highest navigable lake in the world, crossed into Peru, seen some condors and got drunk. It’s been an interesting week or so to say the least. Our Lego amigos can be seen at the staggeringly beautiful Colca Canyon in southern Peru, home to the giant Andean condors.

Our journey out of Samaipata to Copacabana (on Lake Titicaca, not the one in Rio de Janeiro) was a monster. A sweltering shuttle bus, a taxi that smelled rather alarmingly of petrol, a ridiculously long and winding coach ride, a freezing cold wait in a bus station and a minibus journey including a perilous-looking water crossing, and we arrived in Copacabana 30 hours later. Not only were we tired, dirty and  dishevelled, but also out of breath due to its not inconsiderable 4000m altitude. Still, our hostel was absolutely beautiful, the view was stunning and there were llamas in the garden (although these turned out to be evil), so we were pretty pleased with ourselves.

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View from our balcony of Copcabana town.

The pretty little lakeside town was the perfect cure for our travel-weary souls. Cheap, chilled and gastronomically varied, Copcabana overflowed with bargain alpaca goodies and hipster travellers. For the first time in our wanderings, we were absolutely surrounded by English accents and an all-too-familar herbal scent. Honestly, how they partook I cannot imagine, I could barely breath at that height never mind share my precious oxygen with a joint.

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Bitches love alpacas.

A few quiet and wonderfully cosy days spent recuperating were followed by a jaunt to Isla del Sol, a stunning island on the Bolivian side of the lake which served as a holy place for the Incan Empire. Bordered by azure waters, the island is dotted with llamas, terraces and preserved Incan steps, with the odd overpriced cafe selling local trout. We spent the day mosying around with an amusing 19 year old Croydon boy who was slowly partying his way across South America. The only downside to the day was the 2 hour boat ride to and from the island – devoid of travel sickness drugs, a speed over 10mph or a roof. BRR comes to mind.

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Gateway to the Incan Kingdom of Isla del Sol.

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Originally we had planned to make our way to Puno, the Peruvian town on the opposite side of the lake, before moving on to Arequipa, but last minute we decided to ditch the allegedly underwhelming Puno in favour of one more night in Copacabana and a “direct” bus to Arequipa. Now, I don’t know about you fellows, but paying double the usual rate for two bus journeys and a ninety minute wait in Puno, followed by an additional 3 hours of traffic jams, did not feel particularly direct. In the end we arrived at Arequipa late at night, tired and more than a bit irritable. The latter was probably not helped by the fact we had agreed to leave at 3am the following morning for a tour of Colca Canyon with a couple of Aussie mates we had met back in Mexico.

The Canyon itself was worth the ludicrously early start. The reason we went was for the condors, but the scenery was gorgeous, and we had a cheeky dip in some natural hot springs as a bonus. That night we were utterly knackered but glad we had done it.

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Colca Canyon.
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The world’s largest flying bird.

We spent Saturday here drinking, and Sunday suffering (well, Mark did anyway). Tonight we head off to Cusco, back in the mountains, to prepare for our Macchu Picchu trek for which we are woefully unprepared. Five days at altitude, in the cold, in tents, with big old bags, upset stomachs and a hell of a lot of steps… doesn’t sound too fun. We are both wondering why we signed up for it in the first place to be honest. That said, it is meant to be one of the most scenic treks in the world (however I believe we heard that about the W and look how that turned out…) and obviously Macchu Picchu tops a lot of travellers’ bucket lists, so the dread is tinged with excitement.

Whatever happens, it will be interesting to say the least. Wish us luck.

Oh yeah, and here is some photographic proof of the aforementioned llama attack:

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The best thing that ever happened. Ever.

Snapshot of the week – Into Argentina

20170220_164647.jpgSo when we left you last time we were about to head off on a ferry across the Rio de la Plata into Argentina. We were both a touch nervous, with our money having being severely challenged by Uruguay’s daft cost of living, and with the slightly strained reputation of Anglo-Argentine relations. Within minutes of arriving in Buenos Aires however, our fears were allayed.

Our digs in BA were amazing. We stayed, as ever, in an Airbnb with an Argentine couple who had a beautiful house just out of the centre. As nice as the house was (with free espresso, a pool and Netflix – literally could have stayed there forever), the real stars of the place were Juaquin and Olivia. Not our hosts, but the resident Beagle and kitten. We both instantly fell in love with them, making it even harder to leave after our 6-day stint.

BA was a wonderful surprise. We were expecting a bit of a sprawling metropolis, complete with Latin America’s usual aversion to waste management. Instead we were greeted with what can only be described as a French-Spanish-Italian-English-Argentine fusion of architecture, food and people. A city founded largely by European immigrants, the sparkling tree-lined streets of its prosperous Northern neighbourhoods are filled with neoclassical buildings, with enough French balconies and cute little café’s to make even the almighty Paris a little green with envy. The city’s abundance of pizzerias and distinctive pizza style – a mixture between stone baked and deep pan with a LOT of cheese – are a huge source of pride and an everyday reminder of the city’s Italian heritage. Argentina’s three greatest loves – wine, beef and tango – were abundant and as brilliant as you would expect. You can even see our Lego selves doing a little Tango, unsurprisingly they were braver than we were.

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Unsurprisingly, given our status as stoic Europhiles, the city was just our cup of tea.It was one of the few places we have visited where we could utterly imagine living, and we were very sad to leave, but leave we must. Puerto Madryn’s wildlife-filled coastline beckoned, along with another delightful 19-hour overnight bus. But this was a different bus. This was a fancy bus. Mark begged us to book ‘Executivo’ – first class seating with comfier chairs and ‘dining service’ – I was too intrigued to resist. The experience started off well enough, with a very comfy reclining chair and suitably empty bus, but as dinner time rolled around, and we were greeted with a little snack pack of various biscuits and a cup of tea, we started questioning the hefty price tag (£100 for a damn bus journey). But, in true Latin American style, of course something else was in store. As the bells of midnight chimed (there were no actual bells, only a less ominous digital clock) we shushed our growling tummies and pulled the blankets over our tired heads, only to be greeted by, what else, our dinner. At 12.30am we tucked into a hot dinner with red wine aplenty, as you do.

On arrival in Puerto Madryn, slightly bleary-eyed but not too horrendous, we decided to spend our day planning how to see all the wildlife the area had to offer. Unfortunately, we were kind of stopped in our tracks by one small problem. Everything cost a bloody fortune.  Argentina’s continually turbulent economy has resulted in massive inflation across the board. Awful for locals, and cataclysmic for the country’s budding shoestring tourism. In Autumn 2016 the tour we wished to take was £35pp. At the date of writing, it is now £75pp. Thankfully, we met two brilliant English lasses who had sensibly rented their own car, and were willing to share. We had an incredible day frolicking with the Punto Tombo penguin colony, and our wallets breathed a sigh of relief. Due to our time and budget restraints, we were unable to visit the other major national park – Peninsula Valdes – which was a real shame, but the penguins alone were well worth the journey.

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Alright fella?
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One tiny bit of the colony.

Another 18 hour bus journey later – this country really needs to invest in a budget airline – and we found ourselves smack in the middle of the Argentine lake district, in the delightful town of Bariloche. This was an extreme source of relief, as at 7am the same day, swaying with sleep deprivation in the Esquel bus station, we made the startling realisation that Mark had printed off the wrong tickets, and our bus, for which we had no tickets, was leaving. Thankfully our bus driver understood our desperate pleas, and off we popped for a stunning journey through the alps.

Bariloche, our current residence, is simply beautiful. It looks like a little Swiss/German Alpine town, complete with St Bernard dogs and Milka. (Somewhat uncomfortably, this Germanic influence is at least in part present due to Bariloche being the desintation of choice for justice-fleeing Nazi war criminals, but we can gloss over that). The town itself is not the highlight though, the surrounding national park is what attracts travellers from across the globe. The pristine blue lakes, dense forests and dramatic mountains, interspersed with hiking trails are the perfect combination for those, like us, seeking a bit of fresh air and exercise, but not enough to batter our bodies into submission. That comes next week, when we hit the Torres del Paine. Watch this space.

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Snapshot of the Week (Part II) – A Brief Stint in Uruguay

First up, a confession. Our Lego photo here is not in Uruguay. We couldn’t find a decent spot to take a photo of them so instead this is our Lego guys getting serious suntans in the dunes of Florianopolis. I’m sure you don’t mind. Read Part I or check out Sadie’s Instagram to see more photos.

After a cracking few days in Floripa (or Flo, as we took to adoringly calling it) it was time to cross over the border into our second South American country – Uruguay. It was another pretty comfortable bus journey (albeit a 19 hour one) to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay and as we now dub it, the MOST OVERPRICED CITY IN LATIN AMERICA (thus far). Now don’t get us wrong, we generally enjoyed our 3 days here, in large part because we had an absolutely wonderful Airbnb stint in an adorable apartment with an equally adorable Grandma, Marisa. (If you stay in Montevideo we would highly recommend her place as your homely port-of-call, which can be found here). Incidentally, Airbnb has been a lifesaver on this trip, it’s often cheaper than hostels and so much better. If you haven’t signed up do it through this link to get discount off your first booking (in fact, even if you have, use a different email address. They make enough money, right?)

Montevideo is a nice enough city, with pretty good crime rates, a decent night life and a nice little old town and promenade. Like its neighbour Argentina, it also does two things very well and affordably – cows and wine. If man could live on steak and merlot alone, he would do so very contently in Uruguay. The real problems arise when you want to do anything else. Despite a perfect agriculture climate, Uruguay grows very little and imports expensively. At a supermarket, mushrooms cost £3, peppers were £1 each and god forbid you even look at beansprouts – £4 a packet. Tampons were £5 for a pack of ten and even a bottle of coke (the universal budget standard) was £3. Likewise, a meal out would typically cost around £15pp just for a main course (typically consisting of the aforementioned red meat), with a small can of beer setting you back £3 a go. Everything we read likened Uruguay’s cost of living to that of Brazil, but whether it is the Real’s continuing instability or Uruguay’s continuing economic recovery, it was a real shock to our purse strings.

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Despite this, and a few extremely grey weather days, we had a nice enough time in the little capital. We spent our eighth Valentine’s Day together eating (guess what?) red meat and drinking (guess what?) red wine, and soaking up the baking hot Uruguayan sunshine, in between the torrential downpours. The next day, today in fact, we headed off to Colonia, a little colonial (duh) gem of a town 3 hours down the coast. We get the ferry to Argentina at a godless hour tomorrow morning, and we can’t wait. Steak and red wine await. Oh, right. Well, I’m sure they do something else well, too.

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See what we mean about the meat?

 

Snapshot of the Week (Part I)– Iguazu Falls, Florianopolis and Goodbye Brazil

I’m going to apologise in advance for the long post here. It’s been a busy week (and a bit). We’ve gone from paradise island to natural wonder to bustling city, covered thousands of kilometres in the process and it’s been something of an adventure, both for us and our Lego selves, who you can see standing in front of the Iguazu Falls.

When we last left you we were in Boipeba, a paradise island in Bahia state. We had to drag ourselves away, especially since we were faced with roughly 24 hours on the road to get to Iguazu Falls. We took a boat from the island to the mainland and met a kindly Paulistano who was heading in our direction and kindly offered us a lift, sparing us two taxis and a bus, not to mention a few quid. The only downside of this was that it meant we arrived at the airport a full 11 [not a typo: ELEVEN] hours early. We watched a fair whack of TV, did a decent bit of work on the sketchy-as wifi and had the obligatory squabble induced by lack of sleep and boredom.

Anyway, by the time the sun came up we had arrived at Iguazu Falls, the airport, not the waterfalls, absolutely knackered. The next morning held the exciting prospect of the falls themselves, so we killed the rest of the day by eating and monging out, a wonderful concoction. Our hostel had a pool which was a lovely treat. The following day at the falls was absolutely amazing, one of the most incredible things either of us have ever seen. The sheer size and power of the waterfalls was an awesome sight to behold, and even surrounded by thousands of like-minded tourists it was still a brilliant sensation to be stood in the spray in the middle of the Iguazu River.

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N’aww

Following Foz do Iguacu was Florianopolis, the little matter of a 15 hour bus ride away. We were expecting to be thoroughly miserable for the duration but actually the bus turned out to be really comfortable (a common theme with Brazilian buses) and it wasn’t too much of a chore. Florianopolis, or Floripa as the locals call it, was a cracking city. We split our time there between two different parts of the city, one night in an old fishing village and two in the more energetic centre. Our night in the fishing village turned out to be anything but quiet. While we were looking for a restaurant (Trip Advisor failed us) we were invited to join a barbecue outside a pub. Wary, we asked in pathetic Portuguese how much it would cost us, to which we received a friendly reply in English: “Nothing!” We simply popped into the supermarket next door, bought two enormous steaks for a few quid, then grilled them while the beer flowed freely. Our new Floripan friend, Diego, was kind enough to show us his favourite beach and buy us beers while we watched the village practise for Carnaval. It was loud, chaotic and brilliant fun. At one point he turned to us, and explained that he was sometimes concerned that Brazilians don’t always appear overly welcoming to tourists, and that if he ever visited our country, he’d hope people would make him feel at home. We’ve actually found Brazilians to generally be very friendly people, but after the fifth free beer was forced upon us, we decided we liked them very much indeed.

The next morning, with slightly sore heads, we took an Uber (seriously, a godsend in this country) to our second place in the city. We spent the next two days shopping in markets, sandboarding with limited success (honestly, it gets everywhere), walking in baking heat because we couldn’t figure out the buses and generally just having a very nice time. The best thing? Insanely cheap oysters. Being the travel wankers we are, rather than (sensibly) sit at a restaurant and have 12 fresh oysters served to us for a measly BR$35 (£9) we went to the fish market, bought 19 oysters for BR$15 and bought our very own oyster shucker for BR$35 – we had left ours at home, because we are uncouth. The fact that we actually spent more, and the fact that we will most likely never use the damn thing again, were momentarily forgotten in our seafood-fuelled delirium. Never mind.

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We got carried away. Bad backpackers.

Read Part II here.

Bahia: A Brief Guide

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We paid Bahia a flying visit, going to Salvador and to Boipeba. Both places deserve their own posts but sadly we didn’t spend enough time in either to give a proper account of them, so here are our pointers if you decide to head to Bahia.

Salvador
First stop; Salvador. This sprawling city of around 3 million people is one of Brazil’s former capitals, one of its most important ports and the capital of the state of Bahia.

  • Salvador was a very important slave port for Brazil. Consequently, after the abolition of slavery the city maintained a decidedly African influence, and it shows. Every night the city bounces to the beat of drums until the small hours, and samba plays on every corner. Go to Pelourinho on a weekend or a Tuesday night to sample it.

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  • Pelourinho is also the city’s old town, and it is beautiful. Think cobbled streets, pastel coloured houses, crumbling colonial churches and street food to die for. On the subject of street food, you have to try acaraje. It is kind of like a prawn sandwich, only the bread is made from beans, the prawns are whole king prawns and it is served with a spicy spread. I have done it no justice at all – it’s absolutely incredible – and you can get it at loads of stalls pretty much anywhere near the sea for about BR$8.
  • Barra (confusingly pronounced “Ba-ha”) is probably the most well-to-do district of the city. It runs right along the coast and has the best beaches, as well as a wide promenade ideal for an evening stroll. Watch the sunset with a coco gelado at the Barra lighthouse and feel good about the world.
  • We stayed in Barra at a great Airbnb. (This link is to a shared room but we stayed in a private for very little extra). Sol and Michael were amazing hosts and we can’t recommend them enough. Airbnb has been a godsend on our travels, if you haven’t used it before sign up using this link to get discount off your first stay. In fact, even if you already have an account, use this link to get another one, Airbnb make enough money, right?
  • Getting around Salvador can be hard work. The buses are really confusing and there is no metro, although one does seem to be indefinitely under construction. Taxis are very common and there is Uber in the city, useful when you have wi-fi. Do your research before you try and head anywhere, or there is a very good chance you will get lost.
  • Unfortunately, getting lost in Salvador could have quite serious consequences. The city has high crime rates, even for Brazil. We spoke to a South African girl we met who had been in the city for 6 months teaching, and she said that she didn’t know a single person who hadn’t been robbed. When a South African calls the place dangerous you should take note. Don’t take out valuables with you, don’t wear flashy jewellery and don’t go wandering off into parts of the city you aren’t sure about.

 

Boipeba
Next stop is Boipeba, a paradise island 80km or so from Salvador. You should go because it is ridiculously beautiful, peaceful, relaxing and safe. First though, you have to get there.

  • Getting from Salvador to Boipeba is a bit of a trek. I’ll break it down into steps:
    • First, get to the Terminal Maritimo Sao Joaquim. It’s near the public elevator which takes you from the coastline to Praca do Se in Pelourinho. It can be a bit of a rough area at night so go in daylight hours.
    • From there take the ferry to Bom Despacho. It takes 45 minutes and costs about BR$5, a little more on Sundays. They run on the hour, every hour, starting around 6am.
    • From Bom Despacho, take the bus to Valenca with the Cidade Sol bus company. That takes 2 hours and costs BR$24.
    • You then have a choice. The quickest way is to hop in a taxi to the cais or port, which should cost you about BR$10 but the drivers will try and charge you more. In a metered taxi if you are lucky enough to find one, it will be cheaper. On the dock there are ticket agencies selling various different boats to Boipeba. The fast boats leave about every hour and a half, cost BR$44 and take one hour. The slower option costs BR$31, and involves a 20-minute bus ride up the coast then a one hour boat. The catch of this is that the initial bus ride takes you right past the bus station, the very same one that you have just paid a taxi to bring you from. So, if you are happy to just wait, a bus probably will come right to you at the bus station and take you to a boat, however, the information about it is non-existent so it is a bit of a gamble. You pay for the slower option on the bus, the faster option on the dock.
  • Once you finally get to Boipeba, you are treated to a sleepy little seaside village. There are no cars, only horses and carts and the odd tractor. The towns are laden with pousadas, we stayed in Abaquar Hostel which was great.
  • Food on Boipeba is a little hit and miss. There are lots of restaurants lining the coast, but they are very overpriced. We found a couple of good ones in the town, Verandha and Pamela de Barro, the latter of which doesn’t look much but serves huge portions for very little, and the former which is a Brazilian Italian crossover and serves a mean steak.
  • The town also has a great little night market. I don’t know if it only opens on weekends, but in the main square loads of little stalls open up in the evening selling sweet treats, juices, caprahinas, burgers and of course acarajes. Think deep fried everything. Try it all (for a reasonable price) and feel guilty another day. It’s a great experience and really popular with Brazilians there, whether they are local or tourists.
  • Of course the reason you go to a paradise island is for the beaches. Boipeba’s are stupidly pretty, and all are walkable from the main village, with the exception of the northern-most one at high tide. It takes a few hours to do a full circuit from the village right around the coast on foot, and it’s a stunningly beautiful walk.

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P.S While you are here: Take a look at our newly opened store! We personalise and print beautiful collages for you to remember your travels in a really unique way. Check it out 🙂 More details can be found here.

Snapshot of the Week: Bahia, Beaches, Batala and Beer

We left Ilha Grande behind with a slightly heavy heart. It’s always going to be difficult to leave behind paradise, after all, especially with the prospect of multi-faceted transport on the horizon. Ilha Grande to Salvador, door to door, is a boat-taxi-bus-bus-flight-bus affair, and with three oversized bags between us in 30-plus degree heat, it isn’t a fun one. And yes, despite our best efforts, we overpacked again.

Anyway, 12 hours after leaving we arrived at our little casa in Salvador with a sigh of relief. The neighbourhood was nice and our hosts were fantastic, plus we had our own private bathroom (the luxury!). The only downside was the lack of air conditioning – our room was on the top floor and had two large, sunset-facing windows, meaning that our room was roughly the temperature of a blast furnace. Luckily, we were able to be a little sticky-fingered with a fan from another room and catch some sleep.

Our hosts kindly invited us to join them for lunch on the first day with some of their friends. We didn’t realise that “lunch” in Salvador is pretty much an all-day affair, not that we were complaining. We took an endless bus (well actually it was about 45 minutes but it was roasting and we were still pretty transport-cranky from the day before), then a little boat to a packed family restaurant, where we didn’t even get to order, we just got what we were given. What we were given turned out to be a seafood feast – shell on prawns, whole fried fish and a prawn moqueca, the Bahian speciality, which is a spicy seafood stew made with coconut milk, coupled with seemingly limitless, ice-cold beer. Our sadness at leaving Ilha Grande was fading by the glass.

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Salvador is a very culturally, if not economically, rich city. It was historically a very significant port for the slave trade in Brazil, so after slavery was abolished (shamefully not until 1888!) the city took on a strong African influence. The old, historical centre, Pelourhino, is filled with stalls selling street food and cocktails, it bounces to the sound of drums and people dance in the streets until the early hours. It was a fantastic sight to see troupes of old and young, black and white, male and female Bahians coming together and either making or enjoying music. Salvador has quite a reputation for crime but in the party atmosphere of Pelourinho everyone’s problems seem to disappear.

The next destination was Boipeba, which is where this is being written. Only 81km from Salvador, the journey was obviously a colossal pain in the arse. Think taxi-boat-bus-taxi-bus-speedboat, where your taxi drivers don’t know where they are going and queue-impaired Brazilian women try and force you off a boat because you were in front of them in line. But honestly, Boipeba is a ridiculous paradise once again. It’s different to Ilha Grande, as it is accessed by river estuary through a mangrove forest rather than crossing the sea. It felt a bit Jurassic Park-esque getting here but the peninsula is simply beautiful. There are no cars here, just little lanes, seemingly limitless Atlantic forest, pristine white beaches and warm, friendly people. The weather is amazing, despite the usual predicted thunderstorms the sky is a canvas of blue.

We also had the good fortune to be here on February 2nd. Obviously (ahem) this is the Festival of Yemanja in Bahia (the resident sea goddess), which meant street parties, live music, public drinking and a mini festival in the town square. Some people took the festivities a little too far – we saw a couple being, erm, intimate, in the sea (not even subtly, it was the middle of the day and the water was VERY shallow) and there was a lot of underage drinking going on, but it’s all in good fun.

Our next stop is Iguzu Falls. Taller than Niagara Falls and twice as wide, they are considered one of the natural wonders of the world. Predictably they are another mammoth journey away – Brazil is huge– but we cannot wait for another bucket list moment for both of us.

Have a great weekend 🙂

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P.S While you are here: Take a look at our newly opened store! We personalise and print beautiful collages for you to remember your travels in a really unique way. Check it out 🙂 More details can be found here, including a cheeky discount code as a thank you for reading.

Snapshot of the Week: Rio de Janeiro and Ilha Grande – Blame it on the Weatherman

Here you can see Lego Mark and Sadie at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain overlooking Brazil. Here you can also see a sparkling blue sky. This is something that we have been pleasantly surprised by, seeing as the weather forecast had informed us that every day of our first few weeks in Brazil would be non-stop rain. Michael Fish, eat your heart out.
Rio was simply an awesome city. Sadie had visited before back in 2010, but it was a newbie for me and frankly, the city had changed so  much for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics that it wasn’t far off a fresh one for her too. We did all the touristy things, except Christ the Redeemer because it kept clouding over when we wanted to go up, and had a bloody lovely time doing so. It’s quite hard to describe Rio without descending into tiresome cliché, but the city really does buzz with activity all the time, and it doesn’t half look incredible in the sunshine. Our only regret was that we chose to go out in Ipanema for a night out, which was nice but a little tame, when we should have gone to Lapa – Rio’s newly gentrified historical centre and home to the best samba clubs – but sadly this was only learned the following day. Still, we were drunk enough for 3am McDonalds so we can’t really complain.

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Not a bad view

We then took a bus and a boat to Ilha Grande, a few hours to the South of Rio. Again, Sadie had been here before and pretty much hasn’t shut up about it in the intervening 6 and a half years.* Turns out that it wasn’t without good reason – the island is ridiculously beautiful. It has azure seas  lapping bright golden sands, backing onto lush, green rainforests occupied by birds of paradise, not to mention the odd marmoset or two. My words don’t do it justice. To be honest the photos don’t either. It has to be seen to be believed.

Our few days here, despite the odd thunderstorm (they have to get it right occasionally), have just flown by, and we don’t want to leave, but Salvador beckons. It’s a massive city a few hours’ north of Rio, known as the samba capital of Brazil, which is no small accolade. If Rio buzzes, Salvador thumps. I may have been born with precisely no rhythm or co-ordination (or poise, balance, timing etc) but I cannot wait to make a tit of myself on the floor of a Salvadorian Samba bar. It’s going to be immense. MB
*Not entirely true. I only mention it every time I look at Timehop/Facebook/any time we visit a beach…so pretty frequently I’ll admit. When I last visited I promised myself that one day I would bring Mark back with me. SEE HOW NICE I AM. SGJ