Brazil…the beginning of the end

From Uruguay we travelled across the border to Brazil with three lovely (and mad) Irish girls, Maeve, Cliona and Mary, who we’d met in our hostel. The journey started with a bit of drama…Cliona had left one of her bags at the bus station containing hundreds of dollars, and it was unlocked…oh. After some tears, frantic phone calls and a very helpful local lady at the border, she was eventually reunited with her bag seconds before we had to leave on our connecting bus (lucky).  Disaster averted. This was our last overnight bus (whoop!) so we thought we’d travel in style and treated ourselves to cama seats (full recliners). Once on board we sat back, relaxed and enjoyed a dinner of dry chicken and plastic tortilla.

After a good night’s sleep we were finally in Brazil…our last country of this trip and which takes the tally up to 21 visited in 15 months. We were both really excited about Brazil as we had heard such good things from fellow travellers. However a depressing thought was at the back of our minds…just four weeks until we have return to a cold and rainy London.

A few weeks before Brazil we decided that we wanted a stress free month so we booked as much in advance as we could including hostels, transfers, buses and any flights we may need…more time for the beach.

Our first stop in Brazil was Florianopolis (or Floripa as the locals call it), a large island with over 40 beaches, famous for its amazing surf and a chilled out vibe.

Barra de la Goa
Barra de Lagoa

Happy with our hostel choice, we quickly admired the sea view from our window and headed out to explore the small fishing village of Barra de Lagoa. We were starving after our 14 hour bus ride so treated ourselves to an amazing seafood lunch, prawns three ways; breaded, in garlic and grilled, fish in a prawn sauce and crab cakes. It was great to be eating fish again after all the red meat in Argentina.

Mmmmm, seafood
Mmmmm, seafood

It was still a bit out of season so for the first few days we pretty much had a beach to ourselves…it was heaven. In the evenings the hostel offered free caipirinhas in the bar which were delicious and a great way to meet people or just admire the amazing view from the balcony.

View from our room
View from our room

The Irish girls were staying in a different hostel so we arranged to meet them on the beach for Sam’s birthday. They had bought him a Brazilian flag sarong which was great and his only birthday present. Before you ask where his present was from me, let me remind you that he spent £150 on a football ticket not so long ago…that was his birthday treat!

Girl's night out...and Sam
Girl’s night out…and Sam

In the evening we headed out for another delicious seafood dinner and Sam got to enjoy his birthday with four lovely ladies. We ended the night in an English bar called the Black Swan and were joined by a few more people…more girls, one of which asked Sam if I was for keeps (rude). I evidently had far too many caipirinhas as I can’t remember a thing, but I do believe Sam said that I was.

The next few days were pretty chilled out and involved applying sun tan lotion, playing frisbee, eating acai berry smoothies and relaxing in the hostel bar. I have to say the acai berry things have been a real highlight…they are absolutely delicious and apparently very healthy (bonus). They blend frozen acai pulp with bananas and serve it with chopped bananas and granola on the top…it’s like a frozen yogurt type thing and makes a great (and cheap) alternative to lunch…see…healthy!

Acai
Acai

We discovered (well Sam actually) that the Black Swan would be showing the Arsenal match on the Saturday so of course it was decided that we would go into town and watch it. What a dull game it turned out to be but luckily the rugby was on at the same time which kept us more entertained. After a few buckets of beer we headed back to our hostel and straight to bed…what lightweights we have become.

Our hostel was always very busy with lots of people coming and going and we got chatting to a couple of Irish lads, Tom and Darra and an English girl called Candy and immediately hit it off. We spent our last few days and nights hanging out with them and even had a mini beach party when the Irish girls joined us for their last night.

Beach party
Beach party

Florianopolis was a fabulous start to Brazil…we’re tanned, healthier (thanks to the acai) and really looking forward to seeing more of Brazil.

Until the next time…

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Cheap nights in and sun-kissed skin

We arrived at Montevideo airport in Uruguay ready for some sun, and that is exactly what we got. It was nearly 40°C and we were quick to get to our hostel and find a nice spot for some lunch and a beer. It has become a bit of a tradition to see in a new country with a few beers, and it was a very enjoyable afternoon just soaking in the sun and the sights over a few cold ones.

What we noticed while sunning ourselves is how much the locals like hot-dogs (panchos). People go for lunch and just order five of them. We’ve seen a lot of fast food in South America, and a lot of hot-dogs, but Uruguay seems to have taken it to a whole new level. There are hot-dog vans all over the city, and most seem to be open 24 hours a day. Not the healthiest or appealing national dish, but that doesn’t surprise me at all with South American food.

Hola Uruguay
Hola Uruguay

Another thing they go mad for is Mate (pronounced Matay), a traditional drink made of dried leaves of yerba mate mixed with hot water and drunk through a silver straw…tea basically. We tried some in Argentina and Katy thought it tasted like cabbage juice. We’ve seen a lot of people drink it recently but in Uruguay it’s almost like they’re addicted to it. They carry around thermos flasks of hot water everywhere they go either under their arms or they have special bags to carry both the flask and the traditional style Mate mug. I thought us Brit’s were mad about our tea.

Mate madness
Mate madness

We were only in the capital for two nights, so we decided to have an early-ish night to ensure we didn’t sleep in the following day. What we had forgotten about places that are hot are the mosquitoes. We were in a dorm room with no fan or air-con, and it was ridiculously hot. There were literally hundreds of mosquitoes in the room; so many that we could hear them buzzing around our heads. We had to sleep with the cover over our heads and dripping with sweat. Let’s just say it wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. That’s what you get when choose the cheapest hostel in town though.

The next day we still managed to get up early and decided to take a walk along the famous promenade that the hostel owner had highly recommended. It was really hot again, and we were looking forward to seeing some nice beaches. What actually happened was that we walked along a walkway that was next to the sea; a sea full of sewage. The walkway was adjoined by a very busy duel carriageway and the walk took us through some very dodgy parts of the city. There were various very drunk tramps keen on getting acquainted with Katy, so it wasn’t quite the romantic walk we had imagined especially as it was recommended to us. On the brightside, it was still sunny.

We hadn’t originally planned to come to Uruguay, but we decided that it might be nice to get some beach time after a few months of countryside and cities. That is the beauty of not having a set plan when travelling; you can make it up as you go along. One thing you can’t count on however is the weather. We have been so lucky on our trip as we have not really hit any sustained bad weather along the way. We counted a total of about ten days that it has rained during our trip, and that’s not bad in 14 months.

This week however our luck ran out. We had been hoping for ten days sunning ourselves in the hippie beach town of Punta Del Diablo, but when we arrived it was grey and overcast…a reminder of what we have to look forward to on our return to London. The weather forecast for the rest of the week didn’t look much better either. On our second night, there was a huge storm which knocked out all of the power and left everyone stranded in the hostel.

Grey days
Grey days

Most of the town was closed as the season doesn’t start until 31st December. That meant that there was a supermarket and one very expensive restaurant open…and that was it. It may have been a blessing in disguise though, as it really helped us save some money. We’ve been having some really nice (and healthy) home-cooked meals courtesy of Katy while we have been here, and it has saved us a fortune. We had our first jacked potato in 14 months, and it was absolutely amazing. It’s quite funny what gets us excited when it comes to food nowadays.

Our hostel
Our hostel

Thankfully the weather did pick up, so the first thing we did was visit the Santa Teresa National Park. We got a bus about 15 minutes up the road to the entrance to the park and began our trek. It was very quiet along the paths, and it almost felt like we were the only people in the park that day.

Llamas
Llamas

The path runs parallel to various beaches, and there is plenty of wildlife to see along the way, including llamas, horses, peacocks, monkeys and hundreds of different types of birds. There were green parrots everywhere we looked.

Playa Grande
Playa Grande

Some of the beaches we saw were stunning, and we were the only people on them. We had been warned that it was a long walk back, and it was beginning to take its toll in the hot sun. We had been told of a short cut towards the end of the walk which would take us directly back to our hostel. We thought we had found it as we followed a small path leading from the beach. We had actually walked into a cow field. It was all fine until two of the cows started charging towards us. I don’t think I have ever seen Katy panic so much. She even decided to take her red cap off in case it was attracting them.

Just another beach
Just another beach

Eventually we lost the cows, but we were still stuck in a farmer’s field. Rather than turn around and risk being chased by cows again, we decided to follow the fence round until we got back to the entrance.  As we approached the farmer’s house in the corner of the field, two dogs came charging towards us, and let’s just say that they weren’t too happy to see us. Thankfully we got away without being bitten by rabid dogs or trampled by cows and eventually found our way out of the field. The problem was that we were actually about 1km further back than when we entered the field. It probably added an extra hour and 4km to our trek, but it was quite funny none-the-less.

Playa Viuda
Playa Viuda

Thankfully the good weather continued, and for the rest of the week we enjoyed the sun. We went on a few more walks down different beaches, watched another great North London derby and prepared for our final month of travelling. Just one more country to visit before our flight home…Brazil.

Until the next time…

Argy-bargy in Buenos Aires

Sometimes this blog is quite difficult to write, or at least write and keep it vaguely interesting. It has got harder as our trip has gone on, but is usually hindered by the fact that sometimes we do very little of any interest. That’s not to say that we haven’t been having a great time…just that we’ve had a quiet few days or weeks…and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing in Buenos Aires.

We had a pretty action packed few weeks in the south of Argentina, so we booked an apartment for our time in the city, and it was good to have our own place rather than staying in dorms for a change. It turned out that our friends Kristin and Matt were here at the same time, so we offered them our sofa bed for a few days…in exchange for wine of course.

San Telmo
San Telmo

Our first few days were dominated with very little other than eating and drinking. We were staying in a nice area of the city called San Telmo, which has loads of small restaurants and bars to visit. BA can take some getting used to though. Most locals don’t go out for dinner until well after 21:00, they might then pop out for a few drinks at about 23:00 and won’t hit the clubs until at least 03:00. Luckily we’re far too old for clubs nowadays, so that wasn’t really a problem.

Another steak dinner
Another steak dinner

One thing we had both said we wanted to do while we were here is watch a football match. It’s such a huge part of their culture that it is a must for a person visiting; especially in Buenos Aires.

When we looked into it, it turns out that the big derby game was on at the weekend. Now this isn’t just any derby game…this is River Plate vs Boca Juniors…El Superclásico.

 

Superclásico
Superclásico

The rivalry between Boca and River Plate is the most intense in Argentine football and in my opinion the rest of the world as well. Buenos Aires has the highest concentration of football teams of any city in the world, and River and Boca are the two main clubs. Both clubs are originally from the dockland area of the city, but 90 years ago it was decided that one of the clubs needed to move to a different area of the city. So they played a game to decide who should move, and Boca won. River moved away from the area to a more upmarket district with a more affluent fan base, hence their nickname, Los Millionarios.

Boca Juniors fans
Boca Juniors fans

This now leaves without doubt the fiercest, most vibrant, loud and violent derby experiences in the world. Anyone who doubts this really should take the time to look at some of my videos of the game below. This game was even more intense as it was the first time they have played each other in 15 months, as River were relegated to the second division last season.

Tickets for the game were a budget busting £150, including a guide, pizza and beer. We had also read that this might not be the best game for women to attend, so Katy decided to leave it to me. I thought this all may have been slightly exaggerated, but when we got our security briefing on the bus, I realised that I was wrong. I was told not to speak in English to anyone. If anybody asks a question in English, just reply “no entiendo” (i.e. I don’t understand). We were told not to get our cameras or tickets out before we had to and all bags should be left on the bus.

The National Stadium
The National Stadium

Let’s just say the walk from the bus to the stadium was a bit tense. It was so obvious that we were a group of tourists; mainly as we were the only group of people within three square miles without club colours on. Thankfully before we drew too much attention, a group of Boca fans already in the stadium started to throw things from the balcony down on the entering River fans, diverting any attention away from us.  All this and it was still two and a half hours before kick-off.

Most of the stadium is old style terracing with the rest unreserved seating. Even though we were so early, most of the stadium was already full and watching the equivalent game for the reserves. The noise even at that point was deafening, and made the atmosphere at most big premiership games seem rather drab. There is a capacity of 65,000, but so many people were pushing through the turnstiles I would guess that at least 75,000 were in there.

A bit crowded
A bit crowded

After a long wait we were treated to a 2-2 draw with Boca scoring in the last minute to equalise. To be honest though, what was going on in the stands was drawing more interest. Just before the second half started, the River fans inflated a giant pig dressed in Boca colours, suspended directly in front of the Boca fans. I’m not sure how they got this through the strict security and into the stadium, but let’s just say this didn’t go down very well.

The Boca fans proceeded to rip up every chair from their section and throw it down onto the River fans. Some stewards were sent in to try to calm them down, and just got a severe beating (see my video below that already has over 40,000 views on YouTube). We have since heard rumours that two of the stewards actually died from their injuries.

It was all a bit bizarre as while this was all going on, the game continued below as if nothing was happening. Apparently this type of thing is quite common, and so much so that away fans are banned from most grounds. It was an amazing experience. I got to see a pretty good game, but the sheer noise of the crowd were what really made it for me.

While all of this was going on, Katy, Kristin and Matt were in San Telmo for the Sunday market. Somehow I think I got the better deal. We visited the market the following week as well, and it is a really nice place for a Sunday stroll. We went for an amazing steak lunch at a great restaurant called Gran Parrilla del Plata, which is one of many that had been recommended to us. We did our best to sample them all during our two weeks in town.

San Telmo Market
San Telmo Market

We also had a few nights out in Palermo, which is another area of the city with hundreds of bars and restaurants to choose from. It’s quite difficult to know where exactly to go as there is so much choice, but we knew a few people that lived here so they helped with a few tips.

Yet another steak dinner
Yet another steak dinner

We’re now getting ready to leave and head into Uruguay. Argentina has been incredible, and by far our favourite country in South America so far. It’s a big place as well, and there are so many areas that we didn’t get a chance to see. Hopefully we will get the chance to come back some day and see some more.

Until the next time…