Old soda bottles being sold at the San Telmo Sunday market
We are really enjoying Buenos Aires. It is a nice city and feels similar to home both in climate and conveniences. It is a bit cold and it feels like autumn with all the leaves falling off the trees. We are staying in a really great guesthouse in the Palermo district. We have a beautiful, comfortable suite and are the only guests staying here at the moment. One of our big highlights was visiting the San Telmo Sunday market. People were out selling their antiques, street performers were everywhere and the whole neighbourhood was filled with people enjoying their day. The difficult part of that visit was when we encountered a mother in unbearable hysteria on the street. We weren’t sure when or how it happened but she had lost her 4 year old son. She could barely stand and was crying so hard she almost wasn’t breathing. She was shaking and collapsing and trying to show a photo of her boy on her camera. For a block away everyone in the street started a slow clap (we aren’t sure if it was a known notification method of someone missing) and people were yelling out the boy’s name. As the news spread, you could see mothers putting their hands to their hearts, thinking of the unimaginable. We are very hopeful she found her child.
We spent most of our first full day walking around this massive city. We likely walked 20km. On Monday we spent the morning with a friendly taxi driver who patiently took us all over town to visit the many highlights including the touristy Boca district with its brightly painted buildings. A city highlight is visiting the impressive Recoleta cemetery with its enormous crypts, statues and marble sarcophagi. It is also the resting place of Eva Peron (Evita). We did some shopping in the afternoon to replace some clothing we intend to leave behind and to visit an impressive bookstore housed in a restored theatre. We had a great dinner at La Cabrera and met some nice people outside including the owner of a popular French restaurant. Most of the restaurants here don’t open until 8:30PM and most people here don’t go for dinner until after 11PM, which makes us wonder what time people go to work in the morning.
Today we did a day trip to a small town in Uruguay called Colonia del Sacramento. It only takes an hour to get there by boat from Buenos Aries. It is very quiet place this time of year. While there we passed by a café and saw people sitting outside with meats barbecuing table side. When we saw a complete barbecue for two on the menu we decided to order it assuming it would be chicken, beef, sausage, etc. What arrived was a disgusting inedible tray of all the parts of an animal that would never be served back home including brain, kidneys and we don’t want to know what else. We picked at it a bit and I tried a few things and we left hungry and disgusted. Just the thought of it makes me gag. In the evening, back in Buenos Aires, we went for some great Indian food to try to make up for the miserable lunch.
Tomorrow we are going to take it easy, do a few errands, and relax before we end our South American odyssey when we fly out in the evening.
Photos from Buenos Aires and Colonia are in the following photo album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=103094&id=673382190&l=eb4c90dcca
At the hidden swimming hole at Iguazu Falls
Another quick post while we are at the Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls. We had another great day visiting the best waterfalls in the world and followed it up with a great evening at a great restaurant, El Quincho, enjoying Malbec wine and Argentinian beef. I couldn’t resist climbing over the rocks on the un-marked path back to the hidden swimming hole I swam in years ago. Just days away from the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, the weather is still pleasant during the day but not tempting enough to get in the water. As a bonus though, the park is nearly empty. If you are planning on going here let me know and I’ll detail how to get to this spot. You can swim right underneath the falls.
We are currently staying in a hotel inside the park in Argentina and have another morning here before we go to Buenos Aires. Photos are posted here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=103094&id=673382190&l=eb4c90dcca
Iguacu Falls, the Brazilian side
We are sad to leave Brazil behind. We just spent our last afternoon here enjoying the Brazilian side of the magnificent Iguacu Falls. The hospitality we’ve enjoyed in Brazil has been second to none and we left Rio with warm feelings towards the city and the wonderful people we met there. We will return one day. Hopefully sooner than later.
Our last photos from Brazil are now posted. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=102767&id=673382190&l=b627ab633c
Beautiful Rio de Janeiro
I think Rio is the most naturally beautiful city in the world. Not just for the stunning landscapes, the way the city was laid out, but also all the sexy people and their joy of life. It is infectious. The amount of eye candy here is unreal. This is my second visit here and Leanne’s first. I was here for New Years 2000 with my friend Victor and I hope to come back here many more times. On this trip Leanne and I stayed in a penthouse overlooking Copacabana beach. There is a guesthouse here run by a lovely Brazilian lady, Marta. When we drove in from the airport, Rafael, the person who picked us up, taught me a typical Rio introduction which I used when meeting Marta. She was so excited she hugged and kissed me and Leanne and rambled off in Portuguese for a few minutes before I finally explained that I wasn’t Brazilian and couldn’t actually understand her.
For those who are familiar with Rio I’ll let you know some of the more memorable places we ate at: the most famous barbecue house in Brazil, Porcao Rio’s, Zaza Bistro, amazing Japanese food at Sushi Leblon, and excellent traditional Brazilian food at Restaurante a Mineira. We had a great time walking on the beach paths and wandering past the shops in Ipanema and Leblon. We went downtown and visited Rio’s famous night district Lapa and had the local cocktail of choice, a Caiprinha. We also made it to a couple of incredible vistas during our stay including the Redeemer statue. We spent one day covering as much ground as possible from early morning until late at night, and on other days we took time to relax and just enjoy where we were. We also had the chance to meet up with Marianne, a friend we first met in Peru. It was great to see her again. We look forward to our next visit with her which won’t be until we get a chance to return to Amsterdam. If anyone is planning on visiting Rio, which everyone should, please let us know and we will put you in touch with an incredible host and place to stay as well as an amazing local tour guide and driver. If you need added incentive to visit here how about coming for Carnival, the 2014 World Cup, or likely the 2016 Summer Olympics.
I only allowed for us to have four nights in Rio which is not enough time to enjoy all the city has to offer. I wanted to squeeze in a two night visit to Ilha Grande which is over three hours away. The idyllic island is considered by many Brazilians to be paradise on earth. It has rocky peaks and almost the whole island is covered in dense forest and there are many beautiful secluded beaches. The accommodation there is pretty basic and while the island is great to explore during the day we wished we could have found somewhere more romantic to have retired to each night. The highlight of our time there was hiking through the forested hills to the beaches and visiting what is considered by some to be one of the top ten beaches in the world, Lopes Mendes. In the middle of a forest during our hike Leanne yelled out as she thought she was being attacked by a wild boar. I was ahead of her and yelled as well when I turned to find an animal behind her. We immediately realized it was just an overly friendly dog they had popped out of the bushes to greet us. This dog immediately befriended us and followed us for most of the day. We didn’t have enough time to explore the whole island, but at the same time we were happy to get back to Rio as we didn’t have our fill of it before leaving.
On our last night in Rio we went out for dinner with Marta and her partner John to a favourite restaurant of theirs. It was a great evening and we will certainly miss lovely Marta and hope that we will have the opportunity to stay with her again in Rio sometime in our future. We are looking forward to seeing Rafael again in the morning. He is giving us a lift to the airport.
Next stop will be Iguazu Falls. Photos from Brazil are posted here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=102767&id=673382190&l=b627ab633c
Moai statues in Rapa Nui
We’ve just had an incredible time on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). The island is in the middle of nowhere in the South Pacific and is an overseas territory of Chile. You can sail almost 2000km in any direction and not hit inhabited land, therefore making it the most remote inhabited island in the world. We were there in off-season and felt like we had the place to ourselves. The local population is less than 4000 people. We were the only people staying at our hotel and restaurants only had patrons at a few other tables when we went for meals. We rented a little 4-wheel drive and explored everywhere. Our visit exceeded our expectations. It is a beautiful island with incredible Moai sculptures all over. The downside of when we visited is the weather wasn’t predictable and just as we would start enjoying the nice sunny and warm weather we would feel a few rain drops and would only have about 30 seconds to run for cover before a five minute torrential downpour. The benefit of this is there were no mosquitoes, almost no tourists, and a seemingly endless supply of rainbows. We were surprised to see mature trees scattered across the island, knowing the history here of overusing their resources. The trees were reintroduced many years ago. We also had expectations that it would be possible to see across the entire island, but the terrain is rolling hills and even from the highest point it is not possible to see everywhere. Most of the coast is rocky but there are two really beautiful beaches that must be packed in the on season. On one side of the island the waves were massive and intimidating, while it was completely calm in the area with the beaches. We drove through lots of mud and puddles in the interior and got muddy on our explorations. There are wild horses here everywhere, grazing in the cemetery, by the beach, blocking access to the Moai and often to the road. The place we stayed at was wonderful and we looked forward to our breakfasts each morning (omelettes, crepes, etc.) always with a fruit smoothie, French press coffee, and freshly baked bread. The hospitality was great and we had hugs from the hotel owner when she dropped us off at the airport when it was time to go five days later. We also had incredible meals out (albeit a bit expensive as everything on the island). I ate a variety of locally caught fish for lunch and dinner every single day. We are sad we are gone and thrilled we went.
We will let the pictures to speak for themselves. Click to the second page here to see them: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=100440&id=673382190&l=badd514835
We are currently in Santiago and will be on our way to Brazil tomorrow.
Leanne on our little hike in Northern Chile
Non-stop sneezing, sore throat, watery eyes, are some of the symptoms we suffered after walking into a main square area in Santiago. Riot police were on all corners and there were a number of tanks with water canons. Professors were demonstrating for higher wages and before we arrived police used tear gas to disperse some of the crowd. It was our first experience with tear gas and at first I didn’t understand what was causing the symptoms. This aside, Santiago is actually quite a nice city. It is one of the most developed and easily the safest city in South America. It has wide boulevards, a number or nice parks, including a massive one, Parque Metropolitano, that encompasses an entire hill with nice views of the city from the top, at least when it isn’t hazy. In a lot of ways it feels like home. The city can come across as a little plain on arrival as the city edges are full of big box stores and malls. When you look around a bit you can discover some really great areas, such as around Barrio Bellavista, a bohemian area full of life and an impressive selection of restaurants. We had a great dinner there last night. The little tour we took from Peru to Chile has now officially ended and the friends we made will be heading off on their own adventures now. We wish them well in their future travels.
Yesterday we went to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. They are two very different side-by-side cities on the coast. Not bad places, but we were expecting them to be a little quainter so it was a bit of a let down. The day before we did a private city tour that concluded with a visit to a local vineyard. The owner took us around and was very frank with his opinions and methods and everyone in the group agreed it was the best winery visit any of us has had. It was very educational.
Before arriving in Santiago we had a tour of the Valley of the Moon in Sand Pedro de Atacama. There are some beautiful landscapes there and we had a good little hike up a dune to watch the sunset. Today we are relaxing in Santiago and I have been attempting to buy Olympic tickets while writing this, but have had no luck. Tomorrow we fly to Easter Island. We don’t expect to have wi-fi where we are staying so we may not be providing updates until we are back.
We have posted some photos from the past few days already and will post those from Easter Island here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=100440&id=673382190&l=badd514835
Michael & Leanne in Salar de Uyuni
We have had an incredible last few days. We were lucky to leave Bolivian cities behind when we did as the country was preparing to strike. The only impact to us was a few hour morning delay as the drivers of the two Land Cruisers we were taking had trouble finding gas since everyone was stocking up in advance of the strike. We split the group in the two vehicles and we also had a cook accompany us. We first drove to the train graveyard just outside of Uyuni and climbed around the rusted remains. We later stopped at a little town that collects the salt to sell across Bolivia, and also creates goods from it including furniture, sculptures, and knickknacks, We finally drove onto the largest salt flat in the world. In the distance hills looked like they were floating from the mirage of the sun reflecting off the salt planes. We stopped at a section where salt was being piled and ready to be transported. We took numerous pictures of everyone jumping off the piles. A lot of of laughs and a lot of fun. Our drive was entertaining with the driver continuously dozing off. If there was ever a time you didn’t care if the person driving the vehicle you are in is asleep, this was it. There is nothing around whatsoever but simply a flat, solid surface in all directions. We eventually arrived at a little cactus covered island in the middle of the flats. We took a hike through it to get views of the surroundings and had an excellent cooked meal before wandering back onto the salt flat to play with taking photos while there is little in the background for perspective. When we finished we drove a while more and stopped to watch the sunset in what felt like the middle of nowhere where the ground seemed like it belonged on the moon. That night we arrived at a little hostel made almost entirely of salt. This included the floors, walls, bed frames, tables, and chairs. The accommodation was basic. No private rooms and shared facilities. We were lucky to be able to share the smallest room available (for 4) with people we were travelling with. We had an ok dinner and played cards before they turned the generator off at 9PM and then settled in for a chilly night.
The following morning we left the salt flats and climbed over dirt and rock roads through incredible landscapes of wind sculptured rocks, lagoons, and multicoloured mountains. At one point the road was so bad we all had to get out of the vehicles to reduce the load and climb a while up a hill at high altitude in freezing weather. The drive was often bumpy, or dusty, but it was well worth it for the scenery. We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and were often surprised at the direction the vehicle would go, onto what seemed like rarely driven paths. We saw a lot of wildlife including many animals that look like a cross between a llama and a deer. I forget the name but will add it when I figure it out. We also found flamingos in the half frozen lagoons. Our night was spent well above 4000 meters in another multi-share hostel with no electricity after 9PM. It was almost too cold to handle and it was a rough night for a number of us. We got out of bed and packed at 5AM in the dark and cold. We drove off to reach some amazing geysers at sunrise that were spewing hot steam high into the air. We later arrived at some hot springs and had some breakfast. There were other travellers there and some were crazy enough to go in the waters. While the baths would have been lovely to get into, I couldn’t imagine getting out of them in sub zero temperatures. We crossed around 5000 meters in elevation before finally reaching the border of Chile. Once we left Bolivia we descended on well paved roads down to the Atacama Desert (considered the driest place on earth) with an elevation of only 2400 meters. It is amazing how much more energy and comfort you feel after such a descent. We were lucky with no real altitude problems during our adventure through the Andes, having gone in a direction that allowed plenty of acclimatization. People who go from Santiago to Bolivia through this high elevation pass often suffer tremendously.
We are now in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, a tiny tourist town. We are thrilled to have our own room and private shower with hot water again. The difference in culture in Chile is immediately evident. The people look of more Spanish than native descent, and service and food is similar to what we are used to at home. Drinks arrive for everyone before the meals and food is served for everyone at the same time instead of sporadically like elsewhere in Bolivia and Peru. Chile is one of the richest of the South American countries and we are benefiting from its comforts, but not prices. We are taking it easy this morning getting some laundry done and will be taking a trip to the Valley of the Moon this afternoon. Tomorrow we will be on our way to Santiago.
Photos from our last few days are posted here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=98725&id=673382190&l=5ae4c02cd9
Fake US Dollars
I’ll start with the bad news, and will follow-up later with a post about the incredible 3 days we just had. In Potosi we were advised that since the town was dangerous and a few people had been mugged there in the past that it was best to put all valuables in the hotel safety deposit box. Normally, I keep everything securely on me, but in this situation since the hotel was a long way from any restaurants and we were going out at night, I followed the advice. What I deposited was a money belt that contained passports, vaccination booklets, and US dollars. You inventory the contents and sign a receipt with the receptionist. It is then placed into a sealed bag and taken away to the safe. In the morning when I claimed my items, the sealed bag was opened by an employee who was a couple meters away from me. I was suspicious that it was done this way, as I should have been the one to open the bag. I immediately checked the contents in front of him. He looked on cautiously. Passports, check. Vaccination booklets, check. USD, yes, the right number of bills and the front one matched the bent one from my other money belt. I said ok to him and walked away. We left shortly after that and took a 5 hour bus ride from Potosi to Uyuni on dusty, bumpy roads. We paid extra to have the bus to ourselves instead of being crowded in the usual local bus that doesn’t stop letting people on after the bus is full and it also extends the trip by a couple hours due to all the stops. Just prior to arriving in Uyuni there had been a violent wind storm. The ATMs would not work, and the Internet was unavailable. There were people in the group relying on being able to withdraw money on arrival so they borrowed US dollars from another traveller in our group and took it to a money exchange office. The money exchange took a $100 bill from the passenger, inspected it and returned it saying this is clearly fake. The bill had Spanish written on it saying it was not of legal tender and was on different paper. Other than that it looked real. When the traveller returned to the hotel with the fake it was discovered that 2 other bills in the girl’s possession were fake as well. I heard the story when walking with a few others for dinner. I immediately felt ill, knowing my concerns about the hotel in Potosi were probably justified. I inspected my money and found that only the front and back bills were real and that a few of the middle bills had been swapped with clearly fake money. What kills me is how close I came to catching this immediately at the hotel. I spoke with the tour company and explained the situation they promised to follow-up and get back to me when I reach Santiago. It is a hotel they regularly use. Our lovely tour leader called the hotel and yelled at the owner, who was denying this could have happened. We went to the local police station to report the crime, but it was late, and we had to return the following morning to make a statement. Later that morning we left for a 3 day drive across beautiful Bolivian landscapes towards Chile and were completely out of communication with the rest of the world.
I’m hoping the tour company will be able to pressure the hotel to compensate us for the scam, or stop giving them business (they give them a lot). I’m not sure what will happen with the police investigation. Although it is unfortunate I’m glad it happened to more than one person that night, so it was not a simple one word against another. I suspect the money is gone forever. I’m glad it was just money. First time in all my travels I’ve had money taken from me. The lesson learned is to take a photo of the contents going to a safe before parting with them and doing a very thorough inspection when it is returned. Not the end of the world, but aggravating none the less.
Celebrations in Sucre, Bolivia
Sucre is a beautiful town with many buildings painted white, and a place very proud of being the capital. Bolivian flags are hung everywhere. The day we arrived there were celebrations in the main square. It is the 200th anniversary of Bolivia this year. We stayed in a beautiful mansion converted into a hotel in a great location. It was comfortable and easy to wander throughout the town. In the afternoon of our second day, Leanne and I went to see Cal Orck’o, the World’s largest paleontological site with 5055 dinosaur tracks of at least 8 species. It was fascinating to learn about how it was discovered. Sucre is probably one of the nicest cities in Bolivia and our next stop was Potosi, which we reached on a stinky local bus. Potosi by contrast is one of the least appealing cities in the country. It is famous for being the city (there are towns higher) with the highest elevation in the world at about 4100 meters. It is also known for its silver mines and the appalling conditions the miners work in. The average miner will not survive long past their 40th birthday. It is a courtesy to buy dynamite, 90+ proof alcohol and coca leaves for the miners to chew on when visiting inside the mines. With a very drunk and possibly high tour guide we opted not to go beyond the mine entrance. The city is also known for being unsafe with numerous travellers having bad stories from their visit. We are looking forward to leaving in the morning for Uyuni.
We will be out of communication when we are crossing the famous Bolivian salt flats, but should be back in contact once we cross into Chile.
Some photos from Bolivia are posted here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=98725&id=673382190&l=5ae4c02cd9
Michael near cliff edge on the Death Road
I thought I wasn’t going to do it, but I could not pass up the opportunity to mountain bike down the world’s most dangerous road. It was a phenomenal day. The ride starts at 4.7KM above sea level and consists of 64 kilometers of continuous, windy, downhill riding along one of the most scenic roads imaginable. The road is cut into the edge of the mountains and is typically about 3 meters wide, with a massive drop off on one side. It was an incredible day I shared with 4 other riders. Most travelers who have done this ride say it was their highlight of Bolivia. While it was the first real adventure I have done in this country I have no expectations that something else might surpass it. It was exhilarating, beautiful, and had me smiling and feeling great the entire day. We rode through clouds at the top, and were surrounded by lush vegetation, and even rode through the occasional waterfall. Sadly, the road is called the Death Road for good reason. It has a tragic history and as recently as May 9th it claimed another life, that of a 22 year old tourist who perished on one of its corners. It was sobering to see the marker for where it happened and the newly added posts and wooden bars now protecting that corner (one of the only walls on the road). If the conditions are good, your equipment is good, and you ride within your limits it is certainly possible to do the trip safely. If any of that changes an accident is likely fatal. I certainly stayed within my abilities for the dangerous parts, but had a blast speeding along after our guide on the lower portion in my protective equipment where an accident would hopefully be little more than painful. After descending 3.5KM in vertical altitude we celebrated with drinks and a swim in a local hotel pool before making the long and scenic drive back to La Paz on the road that for the past few years has provided a safer means of transit and taken most of the vehicles off of the Death Road.
La Paz is an interesting place, the outskirts contain some of the worst poverty in South America, the center is filled with the hustle of some of the world’s biggest cities, and rich suburbs that could be anywhere in the world. They call it the highest capital city in the world even though the capital of Bolivia is Sucre. We suffered no altitude problems having acclimatized already in Peru. On the day I went mountain biking one of our travelling companions went to the world’s highest ski resort at 5600 meters. La Paz is also the place where you can climb the “easiest 6000er in the world”, where height seekers are able to ascend to 6022M and return back to La Paz in as little as 2 days. I would have liked to have tried it (but the 3 day version) if I had more time. The same company the runs the bike trip does this tour as well.
We were in La Paz for only 3 days and 2 nights and have now arrived in Sucre, a beautiful city where most buildings are painted white.