Monthly Archives: June 2007

bad for the budget, good for the soul

I know I like to make out that actually this travelling business is really quite hard work; overcoming language barriers, constantly meeting new people, navigating new places, buying bus tickets, finding food, somewhere to stay. Well I’m currently in Paraty on the Costa Verde, the Green Coast south of Rio and for the first time since I arrived in south america I truly feel like I’m on holiday. I caught the bus down from Sao Paulo two days ago and arrived in this unbelievably cute, laid back small town full on old white buildings with brightly coloured door and window frames, cobbled streets and a beautiful bay with green turquoise water stretching out into a bay dotted with tiny, jungle covered islands.

Paraty

The hostel is lovely and right on the river front but my room which I’m sharing with three other girls is so small it’s hysterical! There’s Hettie from Somerset, Loreto from Chile and Karina from Portugal who has now become my official translator for the bad Brazilian Novellas on TV that are strangely addictive! They introduced me to an amazing dessert here called Acai, it’s made from amazonian fruit made into a pulp which they turn into either ice cream or a type of hot porridge stuff which you eat with granola, chopped bananas and honey, oh my god it’s sooooo good! Later the four of us went out for a quiet caiparinha which was rather strong and we were sitting peacefully outside a bar when we were accosted by a group of Brazilian boys, all studying german and all dressed up as rather passable women! The last thing I expected to see in Brazil was a group of 18 year olds in drag speaking german! Within about half an hour we were all in the bar over the road dancing and drinking and the Brazilian’s definitely love to dance and the caiparinhas with cinnamon and cloves are bloody delicious!

Island beaches, Paraty

Yesterday we all headed out on a boat tour to visit some of the island beaches dotted around the bay. We sunbathed on the roof of the boat, went diving off jetties, snorkelled in clear deep waters and wandered along palm fringed, yellow sandy beaches, life is tough I tell you! Then today I ventured a little further afield and got a bus to the nearby fishing town of Trinade in search of a nice beach I’d been recommended. Unfortunately following a friendly looking dog that seemed to know where it was going I took an unfortunate detour through the jungle and was hiking barefoot up and down tree roots and streams for nearly 40 minutes when I realised the beach was not supposed to be this far away! Got back and found the right path and finally made it to the beach. It was lovely but sadly by now the clouds had decided to settle over the hills so I had a lovely afternoon reading just without much sun!

piranha fishing and other stories


a shifty looking Caiman

I arrived in Campo Grande after a very quiet and peaceful fourteen hour bus ride and upon arriving in the bus station was met by a whole load of tour guides offering tours to the pantanal. So within an hour of arriving I have a tour booked to leave that day, have had a shower and a delicious freshly squeezd orange juice and cappucino to boot. It was another six hours journey into the pantanal to our camp, a series of palm thatched huts containing lines of hammocks, a few toilets and showers, no electricity and no hot water but there were palm trees, flocks of broght green parrots with black heads in the trees and a few friendly dogs sniffing around. That evening the group currently staying there had brought sugar cane alcohol and mixed upon two huge watering cans of incredibly strong caiparinhas to drink around the camp fire that evening…after which I slept pretty well in my gently swaying hammock, despite the ongoing scuffling and flapping of mice and bats in the roof!fishing!

Over the next three days we would be woken up at dawn (6am, luckily I took off my watch for the whole trip so the time was less of an issue!) by the bell for a breakfast of jam, bread, coffee and huge slices of pineapple and watermelon. We went on early morning walks through the palm forests, wading through thigh deep water (apparently the dry season it´s fairly uncommon to get anacondas, all very well but still deep water that you can´t see into still quickens the pulse) and spotting beautiful blue and green & red macaws, toucans, howler monkeys, coatis peering down at us from between the palm leaves, storks, cormorants, herons, egrets, hawks, vultures, red deer and capybaras or water pigs; these are like giant guinea pigs that make the funniest hiccuping noise when you spot them and literally bounce back into the water. We went swimming in the refreshing river next to the camp which is full of caiman and aligators but our guides assured us that it was safe. Then in the evenings we would have dinner and sit drinking beer and chatting around the fire until one by one everyone would drift off exhausted to sleep in the hammocks.

The catch of the day!

Horse ridingThe second day we went piranha fishing, well I say fishing, piranha feeding would be a more accurate description. You get your bamboo rod, lace some tender red meat onto the hook at the end and then flick it out into the river. Thankfully this is not a sport that requires much patience. Within seconds you feel the line beginning to pull and one of two things then happen. Usually you pull it out to discover that the fish have cleaned the hook completely of meat and you are totally empty handed or as happened to me you get a huge tug and eagerly whip out the line to find a particularly large piranha has bitten off the whole hook! But sometimes you get lucky as out pops the line with a round, sharp toothed angry looking fish squirming away on the end. I caught a far number but all but two were too small to eat so I had to grasp the fish firmly and placing my fingers perilously close to the biting mouth pull out the hook and toss back the fish. A risky process and the frech guy Remhi´s hand attested to by the end of the morning! We deep fried the piranhas and had them for lunch on a farm, they were delicious, all the more so for the fact that we´d caught all of them ourselves!  Continue reading

water, water everywhere and more than a drop to drink!

Iguazu falls

How do you describe Iguazu falls? I was ten years old when I visited Niagra in the states and I remember being pretty blown away by the experience. Well Niagara has nothing, absolutely nothing on Iguazu!

Yesterday I began the experience with the Brazilian side, mainly to convince myself that Portuguese wouldn’t be that hard to understand (it is) and to get an onward bus ticket. The Brazilian side is further away from the falls themselves but gives you a series of fantastic panoramic views of both major sections and finally you arrive on a walkway to look up at the columns of water pounding down over the rim and into the Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s Throat). I’d gone with another English girl, Paula, and with navigating the border, bus to the national park and then the bus across to the beginning of the walk we were both starting to wonder if the trip had really been worth the effort. When you first catch glimpse of the falls, surrounded by jungle with a cloud dotted blue sky there’s no question, it is simply amazing.

Iguazu birds

Today I went in an international contingent of myself (UK), Lou (Argentina) and Will (France) to visit the Argentian side, by far the largest and most impressive. You walk along walkways downstream and upstream of the falls, through jungle filled with brightly coloured butterflies and birds, see small isolated cascades and huge curves of water columns pounding down onto the rocks. There are mischevious racoon like coatis sniffing round trying to steal food from tourists (after my incident with a similar suspiciously cute-faced animal in Guatemala I wasn’t falling for that ruse again) and huge black vulture like birds sunning themselves on the rocks and circling ominously around the falls as if waiting for some poor unbalanced tourist to fall over and provide them with an easy lunch. Continue reading

frenchmen and flaming cockroaches

I had planned a relatively quiet final night in Salta. Brought some rice and vegetables and a bottle of beer to have in the hostel. I should have known better. Whilst having a quiet read on the patio I ended up collecting a group of people and before you can say ‘alcoholic travellers’ five of us decided to have a final night out on the town. Now having met quite a few Frenchmen in my time I have never known them to be piss-heads in any sense of the word. My opinion has been completely changed by Victor who came out with us in Salta. We had a lovely meal involving quite a bit of wine then walked on to the bar district and upon installing ourselves in a table he had ordered us flaming cockroaches, cuba libres, beer and speed (local version of red bull) and soon was challenging our Dutch friend Martin and a local Argentian guy to competitions in downing pints of beer! We ended up in a club dancing to the wee hours before staggering back to the hostel where upon Victor had us in hysterics as he was unable to climb into the top bunk bed for about 15 minutes! Very funny evening.

San IgnacioThe next afternoon I left Salta on a marathon bus ride to get to a small town in the Northwest of Argentina called San Ignacio where I wanted to visit one of the best preserved Jesuit Missions. Okay, ready for a spot of history? Continue reading

Cachi and Parque Nacional los Cardones

Me and the cactus

Back in Salta, again, after my latest little excursion into yet another tucked away valley in the North. Not fancying one the whirlwind, in-out-and-shake-it-all-about tours from the city I decided to make my own way to Cachi along yet another long, windy, unpaved expanse of road on the only bus of the day, which left at the thoroughly uncivilised hour of 7am, to arrive in Cachi fiv

Cemetary at Cachi

e hours later. One reason local bus trips that cover relatively short distances on the map take so long here is that they stop for pretty much anyone, anywhere, plus the actual scheduled stops and the odd detours around small towns to deliver random packages and items of post. I did however have the scenery to keep me entertained. I missed the very lovely green stretch of valley along the river out of the Salta area as I was asleep (caught it on the way back!) but woke up as we were driving along the side of high cliff faces covered in soft green vegetation with rose coloured rock peeking though the gaps. Soon the vegetation grew gradually more sparse until we entered into the Parque Nacional los Cardones, an area with more than your average count of the huge cardon cacti, some of them more than two hundred years old.

Finally we started descending into the Cachi Adentro, a valley hidden by the large mountain range of the Nevado de Cachi with the highest peak ever so slightly dusted with snow. Cachi is a beautiful town set around a central plaza with white washed buildings, church complete with cactus wood roof, and porticos all with dark green painted doors. Continue reading

the guys love to cook!

Parilla in Tilcara
Finally back in Salta after my adventures in the

Quebrada de Humahuaca. Hayley and I ventured away from Tilcara for a five hour walk up into the hills to the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) one of many in Argentina. After complaning about the cold for the past few weeks this heat has been a bit of a shock to the system. By the time we made it down into the gorge, we had to paddle in the freezing stream to cool down. We got back into town and the three boys in our hostel, two Dutch, one Belgium, had offered to cook a parilla (barbeque) for us all. So we came back to find a chicken marinading in the fridge, salads and home made salsa being prepared. They’d also managed to find one of the gigantic five litre bottles of cheap red plonk they sell here. So some fire, a few card games, drinking games, a laptop full of music and much wine later it made for a fairly amusing evening. In the spirit of sharing and experiencing new cultures, I learnt an hysterical drinking game called “Roxanne”. It’s very simple, you put on Roxanne by the Police and all the girls have to drink everytime they sing ‘Roxanne’ and the boys drink every time they sing ‘red light’. Play the song and you’ll get the idea!

Humahuaca

The next day Hayley and I headed further up the Quebrada to Humahuaca and got ourselves a little attic style bedroom in a hostel on the outskirts of town. We were sharing it with two lovely Dutch girls, Patti and Pia who, to Hayley’s relief, were also going on up to cross the border into Bolivia so she wouldn’t have to go it alone. The four us explored the town which is full of cobbled streets, a beautiful white church and bizarre statue reaching up into the sky. We also climbed upto a mirador behind the town to see the views and the colourful rock formations surrounding the valley. Cultural bit and sightseeing done, we went out to feast on empanadas, pizza and wine!

Journey to Iruya

Iruya

Yesterday I bade farewell to the girls and headed off on a six hour round trip to the decidedly remote village of Iruya with an Israeli guy from the hostel (seriously Argentina is full of Israelis!). Continue reading

rocks of many colours

Llamas

The extremes of temperature and the altitude are getting a little crazy…actually the weather here at the moment is really hot and sunny in the day and then pleasantly chilling at night time! I left Salta yesterday morning at the very unsavoury hour of 7am. Craig however, had a 5.20am bus for 27 hours to Iguazu so really shouldn’t complain! I spent yesterday in a big red van/car with our guide, Jorge, a lovely guy who was a little preoccupied with reminding us every half hour which Ruta we were on and how high we were, and Charles and Becky, a brother and sister from New Mexico who have done a lot to restore my faith in the American public! We started from Salta armed with water and bags of Coca leaves. We then followed a long winding road for 150km to San Antonio de las Cobres at about 3700m above sea level through stunning rocky scenery with mini frozen waterfalls. From there we headed across to the mini Salinas Grandes, took lots of silly photos, then had the world’s curviest road dropping over 2000m in less than 30km!

We ended up in the tiny adobe-brick housed town of Purmamarca at the bottom of the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a wide gorge that stretches north to Bolivia through crazy striped rocks, yellow, green, pink and red, and slopes peppered with giant cacti called Cardones. The three of us found a small hostel at the back of a restaurant for the night and feasted on Llama steaks whilst listening to folk music and samba rhythms. About 10.30pm when the restaurant owner got stuck in with his accordian as well, it seemed like time to go to bed.

Salt flats

Charles and Becky left on another tour this morning so I strolled around the town taking photos of the rock of seven colours that looms above the houses and then decided to get the midday bus up to the next village. Waiting at the bus stop, I bump into another English girl, Hayley, who I’m now staying with in Tilcara, (travelling is so wonderfully random) although given that I made her walk about 20 minutes up the only steep hill in town to reach the hostel I picked (and I’m making her walk 5 hours tomorrow on a trek) she may not be my friend for much longer! Tilcara is a really sweet town, bigger than Purmamarca and the hostel is awesome, lots of pine wood, a garden, soap and a towel in the shared bathroom…seriously these things become very important when you start opting for budget accomodation in south america! We went to the bus station diner for one of the best and cheapest meals I’ve had in days and then headed up to the prehispanic ruins at Pucara, 1km outside the town. From the top of the maze of stone walls and forests of Cacti there were beautiful views across the valley. We made friends with a school girl from Salta, Antonela, whose friends had deserted her on their geography school trip and we took her back to her bus at the end of the afternoon. I like to think she gained some considerable kudos by hanging out with two older English girls…well maybe! Well there are some american girls in our hostel too, so the plan for tonight involves cooking, it involves wine and then who knows..but in a town this small there surely can’t be that much trouble to find?

our friend Enrique

Finally reached Salta in the North of Argentina, a really beautiful and lively town with a gorgeous central Plaza and amazing churches and buildings. I arrived just after midday on Sunday to find Craig, my friend from Buenos Aires, waiting at the bus station for me! So we spent the rest of the day exploring the town and catching up on the past three weeks since I’d left him in Mendoza and then went to see Pirates of the Caribean 3 at the cinema. For once the film was acutally dubbed into Spanish but luckily there wasn’t really enough of a plot to require me to understand more than the basics.

Yesterday Craig decided that his 11 year old fear of horses had probably come to an end so we went out to one of the Estancias 40km south of Salta to go horse riding for the day and finish up with an asado. It turned out there was an English girl, Sam, working at the Estancia so the three of us and a gaucho guide set out across country. It was a lot of fun as we got to do some galloping aswell across the fields and the scenery was lovely. Craig did pretty well although he has been complaining all day today that his backside is rather sore!

We got back to have a huge asado with the owner Enrique, a whole table full of food. Enrique was thrilled that both of us spoke reasonably good Spanish although spent the first 20 minutes refusing to believe the two of us were just friends and said it was only a matter of time before we became a couple as men and women cannot be just friends. Apparently a very common belief in Argentina. Anyway, somehow we drank a lot of wine and Enrique just kept producing more bottles. By the time our car came to take us back into Salta, I was pretty hammered and trying to play a Peruvian flute and failing utterly. I fell fast asleep in the car all the way back to Craig’s amusement. We were still drunk when we got back to the hostel and spent most of the rest of the evening sobering up. I think we were in bed by about 10pm! Such an amusing day.

Today I made Craig and his sore bum do some serious walking in the Qubrada de San Lorenzo, a gentle gorge through the hills about 11km west of Salta. Again the landscape continues to surprise me. The whole area was lush, green, forested jungle, rocky mountain streams, condors and loads of bright green parrots chattering away. We sort of followed the path but ended up walking up the river bed before spending an hour climbing up one of the hills to see spectacular views of the valley in the distance and had a picnic lunch by a steep drop back down into the gorge.  We got back in time to take the cable car up to a view point over Salta called Cerro San Bernardo before walking leisurely back down the hill and into town. Definitely ready for a few beers and some good empanadas!

bow legged

Me and Ezack
Back from my two day horse trek into the wilds. I should totally become a gaucho, after two days I had the hat, the poncho, a wad of cocoa leaves in my mouth, totally going native! No, seriously though, the horse trip was brilliant. We had fantastic weather, blue skies, gorgeous scenery. It was Miguel (on Chiquito), Martina (on Calypso), me (on Ezak) and Amber carrying the food. Then there were our three dogs, Terri (short for terrible, hunts everything and half killed an armadillo yesterday), Gala and Dana. Martina and I spent most of the two days gossiping about the countries we’d travelled to, places we’d like to go, then we got onto the subject of boys and relationships and we were laughing so much Miguel started talking to Chiquito and deliberately laughing loudly saying they were discussing “boy things!”

Last night we camped out in the countryside, built a fire and cooked a fantastic asado, grilled meat, onions, potatoes, a bottle of red wine and some chocolate for dessert. Then Miguel fell asleep with Gala and Dana by the fire and Martina and I slept in the tent on the horse blankets, I slept so well! When I woke up there was a small slit open at the end of the tent through which I could see the blue skies and Calypso in the distance.

While Martina was packing up the camp Miguel and I took Ezak and Chiquito for a canter up the road into the nearby hills. Managed to stay on the horse, just about! Then it was about seven hours across the valley through scrub land, Miguel hacking through bushes with his Machete and finally taking a short cut through several farms to get back to Cafayate

It’s going to be sad to leave Cafayate, it’s been my favourite place in Argentina so far. The night before we left on the horses was the last night of the Greeks; Natassa, Michael and Katalina so Martina and I made chocolate mousse (my first!) and they cooked a huge chicken curry. Then we all ended up in a bar in town with the hostel’s two playboys, Fernando and Mariano drinking Fernet and Cuba Libres!