Saturday, February 21, 2009

Visit to the Itaipu Dam in Foz de Iguazu, Brazil

Approx the 5th of February...

We visited a dam which produces impressive amounts of energy for Brazil and Paraguay (not Argentina). As the river flows between the two countries, they share the energy. However, Brazil clearly needs more because it is an absolutly huge country in comparisson to Paraguay. From what I remember, the Itaipu dam produces 80% of the energy that Paraguay consumes and 20% of the energy that Sao Paulo consumes. Yet in terms of productivity, Sao Paulo uses 80% of the energy and Paraguay only 20%. Something like that. We visited it and had a little tour in an air conditioned mini van. It was one of the most luxurious days we had! Interesting, but I got to admit that, not being an engineering freak - i was not completly taken away by it. Although we did have a good laugh at the cheesy half hour propoganda video they showed us!

By the way, the Itaipu Dam is named that way due to the history of the formation of the dam. Before constructing the dam, and consequently flooding kilometers of inhabited land around the river, there was a big rock/island in the middle of the river. As the water crashed onto the rock, it produced a sound. The indigenous people living on the banks of the river would hear this and therefore named the rock "Itaipu" which means "the rock that sings".

OK thats all great, but now is my moment to have my little "crisis" and moan and complain. COMPUTERS DRIVE ME NUTS!!!!
Its so great to spend my time away from them, forgetting the sore eyes, headaches and stresses that computers provide, especially when they are slow, old and break down all the time when you don't have the time (nor the pesos) for it!
My blog is over a month behind and I just cant manage to update it. This is partially due to the fact that I dont have time, the computers crashing and or freezing and I dont want to post anything if there are no pictures. Its not fun without pictures, right?
Well its just going to be too bad for all of us, because pictures take a long time to upload AND it just so happens that my USB key, (which is supposed to have all my pictures stored since day one) has a virus. Yes USB keys can have a virus and I learnt it the hard way. I have therefore lost my pictures of Bahia (Brazil), Buenos Aires, Puerto Madryn, Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia (Argentina). And right now none of my pictures can be read from the USB key.
In other words: ESTOY FLIPANDO! Oh how I love to rely on technology for my memories!

Foz de Iguazu

Around the 30th of January 2009....

We met up with Stephanie in Puerto Iguazu (the Argentinian side) at the end of January. We spent one night on the Argentinian side, before reaching the Brazilian side (Foz de Iguazu) the next day, which is approx. one hour apart by bus. In Brazil we spent 3 or 4 nights in a great hostel called "Bambu" which had an outdour kitchen, terrace and swimming pool! The people running the hostel were also very nice, which allowed us to plan our trip and relax before setting off to Buenos Aires.

The Falls of Iguazu fall between Brazil and Argentina. It is this river which seperates both countries and also Paraguay. To visit the falls you can go either on the Argentinian or the Brazilian side. I went to both!

View of the Falls from the Brazilian side. This side is more panoramic than teh Argentinian side, which also means that you are further away from the falls themselves.
The view of "La Garganta del Diabolo" (the Devil's Throat). All the white smoky effect is from the huge quantity of water which explodes all over the place as the waterfall crashes down.

A pretty view from the Brazilian side (what else can I say?)

A tropical butterfly with the number "88" sitting on a ramdom man's hairy hand.

Another beautiful view from the Brazilian side (hence you are looking at Argentina)

The stillness and tranquility of the river as it reaches the falls. Quite misleading!

Me and the "Los Hermanos" falls - two baby ones on the Argentinian side.

Me again, on the Argentinian side.
You can get very close to the falls (and wet) in Argentina.
Here I am wearing my bathing suit as we had just come off the boat which takes you right into the falls! It is like being in a huge powerfall and very refreshing shower!

A view from the Argentinian side.

Looking up at a waterfall in Argentina.

Another, yet again, beautiful and breathtaking view from the Argentinian side.

View from Argentina.

Photos of Bonito!

Around the 25th of January 2009...

River in Bonito, Brazil, where we swam amongst the fish and waterfalls.
"Gruta de Lagoa Azul" (and my shoe) visited in Bonito.
We had to walk down into a hidden cave that was discovered 25 years ago. The water is turquoise deep blue and it is prohibited to touch the water.
A view of the cave, the turquoise water and the stalagtites and stalagmites. Spot the people walking at the bottom of the photo to notice the sheer size of the cave!

Nathalie and I with our masks on before snorkeling in Rio Sucurri in Bonito, Brazil. We did a day of "fluctuacao" int eh river, allowing ourselves to be taken downt eh river by the current. It was prohibited to even touch the banks or even a stone, as to not disturb the natural ecosystem.

A mini waterfall in the Rio Formoso in Bonito, where we swam all day with some friends from the hostal. One of my favourite days - the waterfall looks unimpressive, but believe me the current and the force of the water were enough to make it a challange to even cross the river!

Nathalie and I on a tree trunck in the middle of the river - a real tropical paradise!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Life in Flip Flops: BAHIA!

After completing the hurried and exhausting and "bus-full" challange of visiting several places in and around Rio de Janeiro in under 2 weeks - we heading up north to the Bahian town of Itacaré. Described in the Lonely Planet guide (which I now want to burn) as a town of "surf, reggae and eco tourism". Perfect! For this trip, we had to prepare ourselves for our first "over 20 hours" bus ride. Indeed it seemed like quite a feat, so we armed ourselves with playing cards, newspapers, books and lots of food!

From the moment we got on the bus, the whole feel was different. In general on Brazilian buses, the air con is put on very high and the people in general are also quite religious. So you would sometimes see written on the bus "departure 17.00hrs to Salvador. Jesus is our Lord", for example. Even on the bus, the bus driver, before heading off, explains to all passengers that the journey will last so many hours, that we will make such and such stops every couple of hours to stretch our legs and go to the bathroom and perhaps buy food (which we definitely did). So from the moment we got on bus, aside from all these regular rituals, the people were already darker skinned and conversed with one another freely, as though all previously aquainted. We were offered food from two ladies sat in front of us and given some "cumin cake" from the woman opposite, after noticing me stare curiously at her fluffy yellow delicacy, and oh what a delicacy it was!

Within the first two hours, we had eaten pratically all our food (except for the fruit). Yet the journey went pretty easily and quickly overall. We read, spoke, listened to music, ate again... and overall, it was a pleasant journey and an incredible destination. Itacaré, situated a couple of hours south from Salvador de Bahia, was a coast town village full of surfboards, surfers and surf shops. Good vibes resumes it quite well.

We checked into our hostel, which had a balcony with hammocks, an open air kitchen and was approximetaly 10 minutes walk from the beach and just off the main street. Before even seeing the Atlantic Ocean from a Bahian point of view, we headed off to get information on Surf schools. We were advised to go to an independent one, which was in fact 3 times cheaper than all the rest, and within a couple of hours in Bahia, we already had a surf board under our arms and heading to the beach! Our instructor, Allan, spoke little English, but enough to tell us to "peddle" "sit" "turn the board" "protect the wax" (from the sun), "feet together" "big wave" "little wave" and "good wave". The first day we peddled and peddled to practice (and realise how unfit we are!). The second day we went on waves and managed to stand up a couple of times. I also managed to nearly kill people several times! (no kidding). Me and my orange board were a real danger to all other surfers! But I was determined to catch a wave, no matter what it costs!
The third day was great - The first wave I took, I rode and overall had a good days surf because the waves were stronger. However, after midday, the waves get chaotic and we couldnt do it anymore. Besides, our bodies were aching us a lot!

By day we surfed, and by night we went out with people from the hostel. We met Swiss and Swedish, amongst others. On one of the nights we all went to a party on the beach where they played "Forró" music. I didn´t dare to dance but Nathalie managed pretty well!

The beach in Itacaré is heavenly. Those (un)lucky to receive a postcard from there will know what I mean... Just imagine a heavenly beach - that was it! And it was SO hot! The sand was burning hot! So hot it literaly burned your feet and we had to run to the shade! Speaking of which, this is where we developed a gorgeous tan and where my hair had been naturally dyed a blonder tint by the sun. It was definitely over 40 degrees in Itacaré. We were taking two to three cold showers everyday, and as soon as we were out of the shower, we already began sweating!

We tried hard to not succomb to the tourist temptations of shopping, but did indulge in the best "Açai na Tigela" I have ever had! Açai is an Amazonian fruit, packed with vitamins and energy and absolutly delicious. The way they serve it in Brazil is in a bowl, blended with ice cubes and other fruits (especially bananas) and topped with honey and granola grains. A real breakfast boost!

We loved our time in Itacaré so much that we didnt want to leave! We had only 4 days there but we had already bought our ticket from Salvador to Campo Grande (on the other side of the country), so we were obliged to leave the town, a town I shall definitely return to one day.

I can´t upload pictures of Itacaré, but will do the next chance I get.

We took a coach at midnight for Salvador (overnight buses save us one night in the hostel).
We froze, the ride was extremely bumpy and we didnt sleep all night. I think it was the worst bus ride we ever took. The combination of that, plus saying good bye to Itacaré, did not make me a happy bunny! We had to change coach midway in the middle of the night and at 6am catch a boat to Salvador for another hour. We arrived in Salvador, exhausted and hungry at 7am, and everything was closed. Even the local market hadnt opened yet!
We managed to find a small food store and ate an Açai na Tigela to boost us up and walked around town. We had a day and night to kill before taking the plane at 4am to Campo Grande.

Salvador is a beautiful little town. Once the comercial capital of Brazil, it is now renowned to be the most dangerous city and to have the best Carnival parties! We spent the day in the old town centre, called Pelourinho. The streets and houses all looked colonial, with a touch of colour. We visited sevral churches (including one made of gold - very impressive - called Sao Francisco) and a historic museum. We also visited the house of the famous Brazilian writer called Jorge Amado. We bought one of his books (I bought his best seller "Garbiel, cinnamon and clove") and we came across a musical cultural centre, filled with historic indigenous musical instruments. I wish I could remember all the names. There were incredible instruments from all over South America. We even had the chance to watch a group of 11 young kids from the age of 4 to 10 play drums. They played amazingly well and learned new beats very quickly. It was very impressive.

We spent the rest of the day in the sun and headed off to the airport before night-time fell. We didnt want to be around Salvador with our backpacks late at night, nor take a bus to the airport. We picked our bags up from the port (where we had left them in the morning) and took the bus to the airport. From that moment on, our bodies started entering a mode of delirium from sheer exhaustion. We arrived at the airport and just wanted to pass out. We were so tired! We had been awake for almost 48 hours! Finally we boarded our plane at 4am and were hoping to arrive in Campo Grande at midday.

The first flight was fine, I utterly passed out. But we had to change plane in Rio de Janeiro at approx 8 am. We did so, but whislt waiting for the second plane to take off, the air con stopped working and the plane could not take off. We had to go back into the airport and wait for the next plane. To cut a long story short, we finally got to Campo Grande airport and were lucky enought to find a cheap ride to the village of Bonito, our destination for the next couple of days.

So what attracted us to Bonito? Well , it is situated in the world´s largest wetland - The Pantanal. And is Brazil-wide famous for its incredible excursions in crystal clear rivers and caves. We wanted some of that!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Teresopolis & Petropolis: An Attempt to Hike the Mountain

The day after Ilha Grande we wanted to hike in the National Park of Teresopolis. Before heading off, people were confused as to why we would want to visit Teresopolis - a town approx. 3 hours inland from the centre of Rio. Apparantely there was nothing to do there, but the country side is supposed ot be spectacular (surprise).

We took an early bus at 7am and arrived there at 10am. The views on the way were really impressive, espcially this one rock formation, which I later discovered it to be called "El Dedo de Deus" (The Finger of God), because it points upwards towards the sky - a sequence or three smaller ones and one larger one.

Upon arrival in Teresopolis we searched for transport to the National Park and were informed that the park was closed due to bad weather - indeed it was raining. So...there we were 3 hours away from home, exhausted from the combination of Ilha Grande and the early bus ride, with nothing to do in Teresopolis. We looked around town and indeed, it was a very dull place!

However, another hour away was a historic must see "Imperial City" - home to the Brazilian Emperor "Pedro II" from the 19th century.
So within another hour´s bus ride, we were in the next town.

Here there was definitely more life, and more tourists. It was a pretty little town cropped between the mountains. We visited the Emperor´s museum, which was their old mansion. Now this was a very interesting tour! We had to put on these slippers on top of our shoes in order to slide around and almost "polish" the wooden floors! It felt almost like ice-skating on wooden floors! We also visited a very interesting church and headed back to Rio de Janeiro.

Despite the fact that it was the most "tragically amusing" day, it was also our most expensive day with up to 7 buses in one day! All because we didnt organise our trip to hike before hand (we were also supposed to book a hike with a guide before setting off!) That ought to teach us to be more organised!

Here is an alternative sunset view of the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

As we arrived in the bus station (by the way, there are no train lines in Brazil and in South America in general) in Rio, we bought our bus ticket to Bahia for the next day - over twenty hours bus journey was waiting for us the next day...

Before taking the bus to the beach town of Itacaré in Bahia (north of Ilheus and south of Salvador) the following morning, Paulo, Nathalie´s AMAZING friend, invited us for a helicopter tour over Rio de Janeiro!! So an hour before our bus, there we were in the skies smapping 1000 pictures per second of the view over Rio. It was amazing, incredible and "oh my god!".

The perfect way to say goodbye to Rio!