Friday, June 28, 2013

Brazil. 2.

By the time we got back from Ilha Grande, the sands of change were shifting beneath our feet again. I had said goodbye to Jen but hoping I will get to see her in France in september. Livvy by this point had really mixed feelings about going home- remembering South Africa two years ago, I fully understood her point that it takes a month to settle into travelling, and then to go home when you are used to one way of life is a really big downer.

Saying goodbye at Books to Liv was really sad- at this point I thought I would be home mid October. It had been a great month travelling with her, I had not covered so much ground in so little time before and I still marvel over the contrast. She got on her flight with another Brit friend made at Books, and as his friend and I waved their taxi off, I suddenly felt pretty alone.
Though with this type of life, unless you are really socially inept, you are not stuck for long. I had already met three Aussies very drunk at a petrol station on the way to the favelas, Stacie and sisters Lucy and Bridget, and when they returned three days later from Ilha Grande, we became good friends.

They were on a totally different time schedule to me but on a similar route. Both parties wanted to get north, to the less well known towns of Jericoacoara and the national park of Lençóis Maranhenses and then to attempt to take on the Amazon and cross to Colombia. It was thirty hrs alone to Salvador and with the Aussies flying to Mexico on the tenth of July from Bogota, and wanting to see most places along the way, buses were no longer an option. So I broke my rule of not flying and flew to Forteleza with them.
This city doesn´t envoke nice memories for me, having got there at two in the morning and booked a hostel for 18 reales which smelt of cattle. It was one of the only places I feared for my belongings as well, being stalked by two girls of about fifteen who never took their eyes off us, in the bus terminal. Afterwards we laughed at the likelihood of a mugging from these two but we were glad to get out.

I felt pretty intrepid heading up to Jericoacoara. All other travellers I had met had not ventured that far north, it seemed a little big more origional than the classic gringo horseshoe and you had to get to these cut off town on buggies in the middle of the night through huge sand dunes. As we bounced along in the dark, swerving when coming across stray donkeys and admiring the moon, I felt incredibly happy.
The town itself had the same feel as Ilha Grande and even San Pedro de Actacama which I visited in late February. As it was a national park, there were no cars, just little dune buggies which churned up the sand roads between the little huts that made up the place. It had a huge amount of character, not least because of the dangerous gypies which hung around the beach at day and town at night. These guys were mainly from Colombia and Venezuela and we ran into the wrong crowd one night, who wanted to show us a good time with illegal substances. We met one guy who we nicknamed ´hannibal lecter´ because of the tattoo on his chest only visible in good light. Otherwise we would have avoided him at all costs. As we babbled away in Spanish, one Brit took me to one side and told me to leave because Hannibal Lecter´s tattoos showed he had committed serious crimes such as killing cops.

Aside from this, the tour we did of paradise lagoon and other beaches in little buggies was so much fun and make for some of my happiest memories of South America. It was sad to leave but we couldn´t get stuck.

Lençóis Maranhenses
This was a similarly beautiful place but bigger with a huge river running through the town we stayed in and several more lagoons hidden in giant sand dunes. One night, Lucy was convinced she saw Cayman eyes in the river reflecting light. Owing to the fact she spent three months volunteering in the amazon, we all believed her. The next day as we jumped onto the boat which pulled up at our hostel, we were promised adventure and we soon forgot that we all were pretty sick. The next installment consisted of going along the river then jumping off our boat, climbing a sand dune then ending up on a pastel white beach facing the roaring Atlantic. We ate delicious seafood too.

Sao Luis
The girls had a tip from a friend in Mendoza that Sao Luis was a great city to visit and it was also major enough to have an airport that allowed us to venture to Manuas and onto Columbia. Sao Luis had a beautiful historical centre, a great party vibe but we came away with little but bad memories from it. I have had the conversation many times before that its a shame when muggings happen because they can put you off a great place. Lucy and Stacie were robbed and threatened with a machete, and normally not girls to become paranoid, none of us felt safe crossing the street alone after that, owing to the fact we were the only gringos around and stuck out.
In addition to this, we could not fly to anywhere but Sao Paulo, right at the bottom of the country to get to Colombia cheaply. I was slowly burning through my budget with absolutely nothing I could do about it.

The final leg
We flew back to Sao Paulo, thousands of kms south, having wiped our foreheads for relief getting out of Sao Luis. I spent the next two days in Sao Paulo airport whilst we tried to get flights to get out of Brazil, for fear of spending money.  Stupid complications came up like restrictions on international credit cards on all flight websites and huge hidden costs, not to mention flights that went up by two hundred dollars in the time it took to click confirm. When we did book our flight to Bogota, missing out the Amazon completely, it was so expensive I cried in the airport. However, getting out of Brazil was an absolute must and having taken off on a flight that the Colombian football team were also on, I started not to feel so bad.

Right now I am in Bogota broke- the Aussies have left for Cartagena where I would have joined them but for the money. Essentially trapped in Bogota for a month but not worrying about it because the city has a great vibe and people are cool.

Brazil 1.

Having spent three and a half weeks in Brazil, I feel its justified to cover the place in two posts. Normally I would veer away from doing this, particularly as I have managed to lap the country three times and so, seemingly, there is much to write about. And there is. It was a good thing that Brazil turned out to be an assault on all my high expectations anyway, I really have had little time to miss Argentina apart from the sense of familarity.

Liv needed to fly home from Rio on June 14th and Rakan two days after on some crazy flight plan that involved twenty hrs up in the air and in airports so he could get to La Paz. Therefore it was in everyone´s interests to stop off at Florianopolis on the way north of which we had heard really good things. It was nice to head north as well, to warmer climbs. Yes, I have become a spoilt Brit who chases summer.
Probably the most notable difference was the language on getting to Brazil. Suddenly strangers spoke to me and I could make out about 30% of what they were saying at best and only the palabras that were similar in Spanish. It was pointed out to me later that speaking Spanish back would only cause offence even though I thought it was going to be more useful than talking English. I could inevitably made myself look like the uneducated gringo who thought the whole of South America had no diversity in culture, people or language if I continued in Spanish. So I tried to drop it.
Florianopolis (or ´fuck off obelisk´) was an absolute gem of a place, an ´island´ though still accessible by land. It boasts white sands that drew me to Brazil-huge waves, coconuts, lazy days and great parties. Who cared that we were out of season- if you don´t know a place when its busy, you are less likely to miss any buzz its lacking. We stayed in Brazil´s fifth best hostel which had towering climbs and beautiful views over the lagoon and partied.  And we were joined by a second person, a girl named Jen and as we were all making the same trail to Rio, we went on together.

The journey was about eighteen hours and we all made the decision to avoid Sao Paulo (the biggest city in the south hemisphere) as it was said  it had great nightlife and that was it. Better than Rio de Janerio? Probably not.
We stayed at a hostel recommended by numerous friends called Books. Books isn´t in the Lonely Planet and I do not know why. As soon as we arrived, I knew it was going to be magnet and I would stay there for ages. Books was probably the hostel I made the most friends at, had the best location (five minutes from the Lapa steps) and had Felipe. Felipe was the owner of Books. When it is said you meet amazing people on the road, Felipe is the epiphany of that backpacker saying. I can´t really write why but can only give examples. His philosophy is amongst the most well intentioned, thought provoking and educating I have ever read. When Rakan´s foot got infected and he needed medical attention, Felipe took him to a hospital, spending numerous hrs and then took him back to his mum´s house when Rakan was treated like an additional son. When friends of mine ran into money issues, he did everything he could to make sure they could still get to Ilha Grande which took an enormous amount of trust in them, all for their well being. Apart from that, Felipe was always around for banter so much that when all my travelling crowd left (which had grown to about eight of us) he took it upon himself to make me find friends so those blues did not get to me so much.

Rio was an absolutely amazing city! I feel like I am addicted and I need to get back A.S.A.P. Lapa was a fusion of art, culture, music, coconuts, had great links to the famous beaches of Ipanema and Cocabamba. It was also one of the safest parts. One night, we went to a favela party, a party in the slums. Though this is a dangerous thing to do, we were in a warehouse and I really enjoyed myself, dancing all night to the famous Favela music and getting catastrophically wrecked. I could not even get up to do Christ the Redeemer with Liv, Rakan and Jen the next day.
We left for Ilha Grande, an island about four hrs away from Rio with the intention of returning within two days. The best thing Ilha Grande boasted was the seventh best beach in the world Lopez Mendez which had huge Atlantic rollers. However, shit weather set in and we went back to Rio.

The rest of Argentina

It would have been six weeks since my last blog entry and whilst this means that I could question my dedication and determination to blog this amazing continent, inevitably I find myself remincing. And mentally pinching myself. And not beating myself up for the pause in writing. For I have travelled five thousand miles since you last heard from me, met some more amazing and varied people and seen even more than I would normally see in a year.

After I left Cordoba, I headed back to my favourite city of Buenos Aires, having said goodbye to the geniunely brilliant and lovely family of the Novillos and having said goodbye to polo for a while. I worried my family sick when I got my dates mixed up and failed to meet my friend Tom in B.A who contacted my sister. Lack of internet was the reason for this and my mum told me, having been cool headed these past months, that she was worried sick and had googled Argentine bus crashes. Fortunately, the latter did not occur and I was soon back in the safe haven of Tom´s appartment and ready to meet one of my close friends from home, Livvy, at the aeropuerto, flying in from Madrid.

Meeting Livvy had been in the pipeline for a while but one or two of us at any time, thought it would never materalise. I have had hundreds of people back home flirt with the idea of coming to join me. And it didn´t seem real until I ran into the arms of Livvy at arrivals. I couldn´t wait to show her the country that had completely stolen my heart.

Liv is super organised...and I have gathered I am not. I think it shocked her that up until this point, I had never logged onto hostel world. (N.B- turning up in Iquique, San Pedro and Mendoza at wild times in the morning, trying to find a bed). We were both worried therefore about our ability to travel together. She also watches her bank balance like a hawk and I watch mine like a bored housewife- ie.  hardly ever. (N.B point 2- from the mess I am currently in, I have learnt from this).
We spent a few days in B.A- both of us having extreme fatigue, Livvys from travelling and mine a prolonged hangover from the parties of Cordoba. I think she liked B.A but was sorry that there was not enough time to show her Palermo in the light and some of the cool bars I had discovered.

We headed south and took the long 22 hr bus to Bariloche of Patagonia. What an absolutely beautiful landscape- it was not far off Wales in its bleakness (we had arrived before snow had come, therefore unfortunately, the skiing opportunites were off) and being a Cornish girl at heart, I found its expanse and its coldness facinating.  Frankily, it is in my plan to come back to Patagonia and do only Patagonia, you only need to google it to fall in love.
We booked an absolutely dire bus company- stay away from Crucero del Norte if you are passing by.
I had had such luck in South America and Argentina is thought to have the best buses but this was absolutely appalling. I was further appalled when I got to Bariloche I caught a fever. It was absolutely freezing at night but I slept in all my Peruvian jumpers only to wake up in a sauna. I felt very guilty for the amount of time I spent in bed but didn´t really want to suffer for months on end unless I found time to get over this bug. We only managed to do one excursion (a big shame in Patagonia) and set off to explore the lake district on bikes. Northern England boasts a lake district too, of Beatrix Potter fame among other things but she would have had a cardiac arrest had she seen Argentinas. Epically beautiful and just huge.

Iguazu falls
We headed back to B.A, spent a few nights with Tom, then took the 18 hr bus to Iguazu falls for Brazil. Getting to the rainforest and experiencing my first and soon to be not my last, sense of real humidity. Having advised Livvy not to take malaria pills with her at all, I was relieved to find that catching it in Iguazu is nearly unheard despite what Lonely Planet says. We met some other people at our hostel and did Iguazu (just the Argentine side) with them after a couple of days. The reason for not leaving Puerto Iguazu and heading out straight away was the tropical rainstorm...the day in between arriving and the falls was incredibly boring...the town has abolutely nothing going for it. I clocked we spent about three hrs a day in the petrol station cafe.We soon realised Puerto Iguazu did not need anything going for it.
Getting to Iguazu, experiencing the volume of water, the wildlife (like watching an aussie girl we were with getting her lunch pinched by coatimundi, the infamous Argentine racoon) and the rainbows over the falls, we forgot about any resentments we had, about Puerto Iguazu or perhaps everything.
Going to Garganta del Diablo (The Devils Throat) and seeing the rush and power of the water is something that does not even bear writing about, because perhaps writing about it, similiar to Machu picchu involuntarily degrads it. After five or six hrs, Liv and a new companion called Rakan, took a taxi across the border. It crossed my mind to buy a jam jar, empty it then fill it with Argentine dirt to take with me like I meant to do with Cornish sand before I left home. Both plans never came into being, and irregardless I felt my insides turn and pretty upset leaving Argentina. Brazil had to have enough to live up to.