A Travellerspoint blog

Brazil part II: The long drive north

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Check out www.haydencarlyonphotography.com for more photos from the trip.

As you saw from the photos in the last post we did decide to go hang gliding and we picked the perfect morning to do it, it was beautiful. The launching pad was on a 550 meter mountain top overlooking one of the many beautiful beaches in Rio. It was an incredible view and a great experience, my only wish was that it was longer, unfortunately the flight only lasted around 10-15 minutes. Afterwards we spent another hour or so at the beach before starting the long drive north to Salvador. None of us were in any hurry to leave Rio though. What a beautiful city and a fantastic couple of days, my favorite city of the trip so far.

Next stop Porto Seguro, a small beach resort 1000km north of Rio, where we spent a couple of days relaxing at our hotel by the beach, before making the rest of the 500km drive to Salvador. The high season had just ended so we took advantage of the quiet beaches and cheap hotels.

Beach across form our hotel in Porto Seguro
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Jamie hard at work.
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When we arrived in Salvador we made the mistake of staying in the Pelourinho, a heavily touristed area in the historical center overlooking the harbor. From the best city of the trip to the worst, what a dump. The Pelourinho area itself isn’t too bad, but good luck walking down the street without being accosted by 400 people trying to sell you something or asking for money, it was ridiculous.

The tourists in Salvador are like a protected species and with machine gun wielding police on every corner it didn’t feel unsafe but it was hardly the most relaxing city we had been to. And if it weren't for the machine guns, Im pretty sure we would have walked away with our backpacks a lot lighter. It’s was an intense couple of days; people would actually come into the restaurant where we were having dinner and eat the scraps off our plates.

One of the statues at a creepy church we visited in salvador.. We have no idea what the dog is chewing on.
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The jesus room, complete with 25 very creepy statues.
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Square in the Pelourinho, Salvador
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Me and my girl
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View over Salvador harbor
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There were all sorts of scams going on too; one of the funniest was a Brazilian guy pretending to be a German tourist who had been robbed. He had even gone to the trouble of getting a police report from the tourist police so he could look more legit. I had read about the scam in our guide book and after we accused him of it, he reluctantly gave up the charade and started speaking perfect Portuguese.

He got pretty excited when we told him he was famous and someone had written about him in our guide book (at least we think it was him). A real character and a great actor, we gave him a couple of bucks just for the entertainment.

Brazilian Conman
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That night we had some fun with a couple of the local girls, dancing at a traditional music festival in the town square. A strange but entertaining evening that ended prematurely when someone yelled “help robbery”, after which most of the crowd disappeared into the night like a fart in the wind.

We spent the next day at a deserted beach in the middle of nowhere about 60km north of Salvador, where it was nice to have a beach to ourselves for a change. We decided though, that we had done enough beach hopping and it was time for a change of scenery. It was time to head west, then make the long drive south to the pantanel and Iguaçu falls. The Amazon would have to wait till another time.

Path to a deserted beach near salvador
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Diogo Beach 60km north of Salvador
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We drove to Lencois, a quiet, picturesque little town in the middle of nowhere with plenty of hiking trails, caves, water falls, natural water slides and by far the best buffet breakfast of the trip. A nice change of pace and a great little town with a good vibe. We spent a few days hiking around the many waterfalls and snorkeling in the fresh water caves.

Cave near Lencois
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One of the many beautiful waterfalls in Lencois
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The biggest toad I have ever seen.. A cave near Lencois
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We drove south west again, to the capital Brazilia, to see where the all the corrupt Brazilian politicians were spending the peoples money. Well they certainly weren’t spending it in Brazilia, unless it was on graffiti. After a couple of hours driving around seeing the sites we decided it wasn’t worth staying and found a hotel for the night just outside the city. It was cool to see the Government building but it didn’t warrant spending more than a couple of hours there.

Foreign affairs building Brasilia
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Next stop Campo Grande and Bonnito. We spent a couple of days in Campo trying to organize a tour into the Pantanal without much luck. After some investigation we found out that they were all heavily overpriced farm stays with little or no animal interaction and that “camping” meant sleeping in a hammock. We decided to try our luck in Bonitto.

The night before we left Alex got picked up by the local BBQ buffet waitress and ditched us, so Jamie and I went to the local pool hall for a few beers and celebrate my birthday. We had the place to ourselves at the start of the night but it slowly started to fill up and began looking more and more like a brothel. One of the ladies of the night befriended us and kept us busy while she drugged our drinks.

Luckily another local saw what she was doing and warned us. With a cigarette still burning in the ashtray and our tainted beers half finished, we made a quick and not so subtle exit and ran back to our hotel. Alex didn’t have much of a night either and when he did finally make it home he was almost in tears. He had had a scary night with the locals too. Something involving a karaoke/biker/trucker/ex-con bar in the middle of nowhere, he wasn’t to clear on the details but he was pretty happy to be back in the safety of the hotel.

Over 5000km in less than 2 weeks, the most demanding driving we have done so far.. I don't think any of us realized just how huge Brazil is...

Posted by hayden111 18:17 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Argentina to Carnival in Brazil

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Check out www.haydencarlyonphotography.com for more photos from the trip.

We left for Montevideo in Uruguay early Monday morning. A relaxing 9 hour drive through the Argentinean and Uruguay countryside. We arrived just after dark, checked into our hotel and went out for a famous Uruguay steak. The next day we headed for Punta Del Est, a famous international beach resort, jammed with Brazilian and Argentinean tourists, 1 hour east of the capital Montevideo.

Sunflower fields in Uruguay
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We had heard good things about Punta and were planning on staying there for a few days but after taking a look around the city and checking out the beaches, we decided one night would be enough. With average beaches, heavily overpriced restaurants and hotels and a median age of 60, it was more like a retirement town than a beach resort. Maybe we were there at the wrong time of year.

We got an early start the next morning and headed straight for the Brazilian border and onto Peurto Alegre, Alex’s home town. Brazil, the final country of the trip, it was a definitely a surreal feeling for both of us to have made it so far. What had started out as an idea that came from a random conversation in Austin, had ended up being becoming a reality, and we had done it in just 3 months. It was great to finally be in Brazil and it was time for a much needed holiday from the holiday.

The night after we arrived I got to experience my first Brazilian BBQ. Alex’s dad cooked up a storm and served up the best BBQ I have ever eaten. I have never eaten so much meat in one day; I think we almost ate an entire cow. I don’t know how they do it.

We spent a couple of days in Peurto Alegre, before going to Alex’s parents beach house in Shangri-La (an hour north), for some further relaxation and to psych our selves up for carnival in Florianopolis, a beautiful island just off the southeast coast of Brazil. It was great to take some time out, eat some good food and do absolutely nothing for a while; what a fantastic week.

We took the long way through the country side to Florianopolis, to avoid the traffic jams and to bypass the roads that had become impassable due to a week of heavy rain. By the time we arrived late on Friday night, the party had already started and it didn’t stop until we left, 5 days later. Fourteen crazy Brazilians sharing a beautiful 5 bedroom beach house, over looking the harbor.

Carnival is all about drinking and partying till sunrise and then relaxing on the beach until sunset. People don’t even go out here till after 1am, so the nights are very long. We had a couple of house parties, went bar hoping and on the last night of carnival we went to the DJ Tiesto concert; definitely a crazy few days.

Girls in Florianopolis
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To be honest it wasn’t exactly what I thought of when I pictured Carnival in Brazil. I imagined crazy costumes, parades, fireworks and people partying in the streets, but apparently that is only in Rio. And being so close to Rio (1000km) it would have been a shame to miss the real Carnival, so I convinced Alex and Jamie to drive to Rio to make it for the last night of Carnival and the Champions Parade.

Surrounded by so many beautiful beaches, green hills and uniquely shaped mountains, Rio really is a beautiful city. As soon as we arrived we went straight to Copacabana beach. With powdery white sand, huge waves and the tiniest bikinis you have ever seen, I can’t think of a better place for an afternoon of sunbathing and people watching.

Ipanima beach, Rio
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Church across from our hotel in Rio
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Later that night we decided to brave the crowds and head out for the carnival parade. We bought a few beers and the cheapest tickets we could find from one of the many scalpers in the streets and went to the specially built carnival stadium/street where the parade is held.

The champion’s parade is the last parade of Carnival and shows the best 6 teams that had competed in the previous week. With over 4000 people per team it takes more than one hour for each team and their floats to go through. The parade itself lasts for around 10 hours and it is an incredible display. With over 50,000 people watching the atmosphere is fantastic, especially in $5 seat section. Where you get drunk, cheer for your team and throw things at the people in the $1000 per seat section. It wasn’t safe to take my camera, so sorry no pictures, but check it out on the internet if you get a chance. Definitely a great night and well worth the 1000km drive.

View from the top of sugar loaf mountain in Rio.
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Yesterday we hiked up to Cristo Redentor, the statue of Christ on Corcovado hill overlooking the city. We nearly died after the 35 degree, 3km hike up to the statue but it was definitely a fantastic view.

Cristo Redentor in Rio
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After the hike we went back to the beach to cool off with a quick swim before heading to the local soccer stadium to watch Flamengo vs Fluminense, two rival teams from Rio. With 5 goals scored in the 2nd half and around 45,000 screaming locals, it was a great game to watch and the atmosphere was electric, literally. As an added bonus we got to see one of the most impressive lightening shows I have ever seen. Half way through the game the sky turned black as a massive thunderstorm rolled in. A bolt of lightening hit the stadium and the lights went out, delighting the 45000 fans.

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Today we did some more sight seeing around Rio and people watching at the beach and tomorrow we are considering hand gliding off one of the cliffs overlooking the city. Then we head further north to Salvador and onto the Amazon.

View from the 500+ meter cliff we jumped off.
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Me and my flatulent hang gliding instructor.
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Jaime getting cozy with his hang gliding instructor. At least one of them is smiling....
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Posted by hayden111 07:50 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Chile to Argentina: The shortcut


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Check out www.haydencarlyonphotography.com for more photos from the trip.

We spent the morning getting fried and avoiding the jellyfish infested waters at the local beach in Arica, at the very top of Chilean Pacific Coast. Then started the long drive south through the Atacama, the driest desert in the world, to Santiago.

Yes Alex we actually paid $25us for this room.
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First stop along the way was San Pedro. A small, green but dusty oasis town, set in a mountain plateau, at the northern tip of the Atacama Desert. The landscape in and around San Pedro de Atacama is very dramatic and looks like something you would find on another planet. There were loads of day trips to do and things to see around the town, so we decided to give ourselves a few days to check it out.

Valley of the moon
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We hiked another sand dune, went sand boarding in the Valley of Death ( where it almost never rains, except of course when we were there), did a tour through the Valley of the Moon, checked out a few other tourist spots and took some much needed time to just relax.

San Pedro is a popular stop over for people coming to and from Argentina, so it’s a bit of a tourist trap but still a nice place to chill for a few days. It is also one of the best places in the world for star gazing, with over 330 clear nights a year.

Although we planned on continuing the drive 1500km south through the desert, we decided to skip Santiago and take a short cut through the Andes, into the north or Argentina. The drive through Chile to Santiago then onto Buenos Aries would have taken twice as long and cost twice as much, so after our brief stop in the Atacama Desert we headed back into the Andes for the 3rd time.
Volcanoes in the Andes. Chile
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The first two times we crossed the Andes the weather wasn’t exactly great and there was a lot of low cloud, so we didn’t get to see a lot but this time we really lucked out, what an amazing drive. The weather was fantastic and the drive was absolutely beautiful. The scenery changed continuously throughout the day and the colors at high altitude were incredible.

Drive over the Andes; the Chilean side where I took the photos of the flamingos.
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Flamingo lagoons, salt lakes, salt flats, multicolored mountains and valleys, grassy plateaus that stretch for hundreds of miles and thousands of what have to be the biggest cactus in the world. The best drive of the trip by far. We topped the day off with a massive steak dinner at a very chilled out, road side camping ground, at the bottom of the Argentinean side of the Andes.
Argentina Salt flats
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Biggest cactus in the world
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A hummingbird that was hanging around in the campinground we stayed at.
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Apart from the Andes, the north of Argentina is completely flat, so unfortunately the scenery is pretty repetitive, especially when you compare it to the drive through the mountains; some grass fields a few trees, grass and more grass. But luckily enough the 130kmph express ways, the crazy Argentinean drivers and the extremely, and I mean extremely, corrupt Police officers kept us entertained.

There were a few decent cities to check out along the way, so we stopped for a night or two at some of them and took our time getting to the capital. The people in Argentina are far more Italian than Spanish, they dress, act and eat like the Italians. Pasta, pizzas, ice cream and every kind of meat imaginable, especially steak, which they consume by the pound.

When we arrived in Buenos Aires we took a few days to check out the capital and its bars, clubs and restaurants. Definitely a cool place and very civilized, my favorite big city of the trip so far. It’s hard to believe there are over 13 million living there. There are lots of things to do, plenty of parks and wide streets and a real eclectic mix of people. I’m still not sure what a typical Argentinean person looks like, or even if there is such a thing.

Local street performer in Buenos Aires
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Tourist and local prices
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Recoleta Cemetery Beunos Aires
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With the Brazilian Carnival starting early this year (2nd of Feb), we also decided to make another slight adjustment to the trip and not make the drive to Patagonia and down Tierra del Fuego. I have heard that the drive is incredible and it was a big part of the trip but it was either that or carnival and im afraid carnival wins out this time. We may still be able to squeeze it in at the end of the trip but I doubt it. Besides Alex is starting to get home sick and wants to get to Brazil as soon as possible. So we will drive to Uruguay in the next few days or so and then onto Florianopolis for the 5 day carnival. Then continue the drive up the coast to Salvador and the Amazon.

On a slightly more comical note check this out….Just outside Buenos Aires we were pulled over by the local police at a checkpoint. The following is the actual word for word conversation that took place yesterday.

Conversation with one of the many Corrupt Argentinean Police officers:

Dodgy Police officer: Drivers license and temporary import papers please.
We showed him our papers.

Dodgy Police officer: Do you have the original title.
We handed him a copy of the title.

DodgyPolice officer: Ok, do you have insurance?
We gave him a copy of the insurance as well.

Dodgy Police officer: Hmmm (he scratched his head as his dodgy, ant sized, scheming brain started to tick over and spluttered into life )… Ok… do you have a tow rope?

Alex: A what? A tow rope? What for?

Dodgy Police officer: Well in Argentina by law you must carry a tow rope, in case you break down.

Alex: Ah, sorry, no we don’t…

Dodgy Police officer: Ok, come with me, I have to write you a ticket.

Hayden: Ah hang on a minute; I forgot, yes we do have a tow rope, it’s in the trunk under all our luggage. Do you want me to get it?

Dodgy Police officer: Ah ..No.

Dodgy Police officer: Do you have a road triangle?

Alex. Huh?

Dodgy Police officer: You know, a reflective triangle, to put on the road in the case of an accident or break down.

Alex: Ah yes somewhere. I think it’s also in the trunk with the tow rope, under the luggage.

Dodgy Police officer: (Pauses and thinks for a while…). Ok then. Do you have a large white blanket?

Alex/Hayden: WTF? (In English of course…)

Dodgy Police officer: A white blanket, to cover the dead bodies?

Alex: The dead bodies??? Oh I get it “in case of an accident”.. No we don’t.

Hayden: I have a beach towel and I’m pretty sure it’s big enough to cover a dead body if we need it to.
…At this point we are both trying our hardest not to laugh as we follow him across the road to his portable office/bribe room…

Dodgy Police officer: No a towel won’t do, it has to be sheet that is used specifically to cover dead bodies.
-we didnt bother to ask where one would purchase one of the aforementioned dead body blankets.

Alex: Well in that case no we don’t. And Im sure we can’t be fined for that. Maybe we should call our embassies.

Dodgy Police officer: Call whoever you want, we are the police, we are in charge of the roads and we can do whatever we want.

This went on for another 5 minutes or so and in the end he gave up trying to fine us and just asked directly for money. He asked for $30US so he could buy him and his friends some coffee. We gave up fighting, paid him $3; he called us “cheap” and were on our way.

I really hate paying bribes, especially for no reason, but police corruption seems to be a way of life here, besides it was worth the $3 purely for the entertainment.

I would like to say it was the only time it happened but it wasn’t. It happened 2 more times that day. Less than an hour later we were pulled over again, by yet another corrupt Argentinean police officer and we went through the same crap again, we paid $3 “gas money” this time and were on our way again.

Posted by hayden111 14:38 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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