A Travellerspoint blog

Ilha Grande

8th October - 10th October

sunny 30 °C
View South American Adventure 2011 on slking's travel map.

A 2 hour public bus journey took us racing up and away from Paraty into the mountains overlooking the coast. Below us the dazzling blue sea sparkled in the sunlight, and bay after bay was scattered with yachts owned by the rich and famous. Infront of us the road was irridescent with the glass in the tarmac twinkling as the sun hit it.
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After a mad dash to make the ferry to Ilha Grande, what awaited us was a small piece of paradise. The pristine beaches with white sand and blue seas were contrasted against the lush green forests that cover the hillsides above. The day after we arrived we took a boat out into the sea between the island and the mainland where we had the opportunity to do some snorkelling and kayaking, and relax on the boat with an ice cold beer. One of our companions for the day was Pepa the dog who loved the water and even came out kayaking with us!
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In the evening after dinner we sat at one of the beachside bars with a caipirinha and listened as the waves lappeed at the shore.
Our second day on Ilha Grande took us on a 3 hours trek through the forests and across several headlands to Lopes Mendes beach. It has been named as one of the top 10 beaches in the world and you can easily see why.
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We relaxed on the beach for a couple of hours then got the boat back to where we were staying as we watched the sunset.
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Posted by slking 16:10 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Paraty

6th October - 7th October

sunny
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Leaving the beautiful Iguazu Falls behind, we took yet another night bus towards the coast. Sleeping on the night bus to Paraty I began to think that taking the aisle seat may not have been such a good idea. With the seats reclined to try to get some rest, my face was now at crotch level as people walked up and down the aisle, and being a public bus you never knew what you might be faced with! As we circled Sao Paulo trying to find a way in to catch our connecting bus to Paraty some children started to throw rocks from a nearby building site and actually hitting the cars and busses as they crawled along the road. Due to the volume of traffic in this busy city we actually missed our next bus at midday and thought we were going to have to wait until 10pm for te next direct bus. Luckily we were able to get one which would take us via Ubatuba, a great name but not so much of a great town.

We were headed for Paraty, a perfectly preserved colonial city on the Coste Verde coast of Brazil. The cobblestoned streets in the old town are pedestrianised and lined with many boutiques, shops, restaurants and bars. The city used to be a port used for the exportation of gold, but following occupation by pirates a new route was found overland for the gold and the city was left alone until the 19th century, when coffee and cachaça became it's main exports, meaning that modernisation of the city did not take place leaving us with the beautiful vistas that we see today.
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We spent a perfect day in Paraty wandering the streets, eating ice cream and browsing in the shops buying a few souveniers and quite a few pairs of Havainas between us. We headed to the local beach and indulged in one or two caipirinhas to celebrate the start of Sarah J's Australian birthday, and some extremely tasty garlic prawns. There were a few dogs lounging around on the beach digging holes and covering everyone in sand, one even tried to steal my spot on my towel! That night we went to a local seafood restaurant where we were introduced to a local dish called Moqueca which is a traditional Brazilian seafood stew consisting of fish, onions, garlic, tomatoes and coriander, and served with manioc a kind of root vegetable. It tasted a bit like a very mild Thai curry and was very tasty!
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Posted by slking 16:09 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Iguazu Falls

3rd October - 5th October

sunny 32 °C
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Another overnight bus, another night of broken sleep. This time the journey took us north towards the spectacular Iguazu Falls. As we crossed into Brazil, you could see the colours on the bridge change halfway over from the blue and white of the Argentinian flag to the green and yellow of Brazil. This time we didn’t even have to get out of the van or put our bags through a scanner. Brazil seemed a lot more relaxed about who they let into their country.

Brazil greeted us with more bright blue skies and blazing sunshine, and temperatures in the 30s. Finally time to get some colour! The next two days would be spent exploring the Argentinian and Brazilian sides of the falls. Argentina only has claim to approximately 25% so that was where we started.

I don’t think any words or photos will ever do Iguazu Falls justice, but I will try.

Eduardo was our driver for the next two days as he shepherded us around the Iguazu Falls giving us all the tips on how to avoid all the big groups of American tourists and beat them to the best spots on the walkways. We stopped off briefly to load up with some Brazilian Reals and were greeted by the Brazilian version of the Securicor van., but here full on armed guards were on every corner surrounding the bank with huge rifles!
Enroute we were given the opportunity to take a helicopter ride upto and over the falls. Having never been in a helicopter before I was keen to try it out. Myself and 3 other girls in the group waited nervously as we watched the helicopter fly in and out of the airfield several times picking up different groups of people. All looking anxious as they left then returning with huge smiles on their faces, we knew we were in for a treat. As we walked upto the helicopter to take our seats you could feel the force of the air from the blades above. I was lucky enough to get the seat up front with the pilot so I had a great view of the landscape infront and below me. I know Dad would have been very jealous of this part of my trip too and I like to think that he was up there enjoying it with me. We flew over the vast rainforest surrounding the falls and the lush green trees just looked like tiny toy trees, it was hard to get your head around the sights of what lay before us. The falls gradually came into sight and the views from above were absolutely amazing.
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Following the flight, we entered the national park and made our way along the maze of walkways. You could hear the crashing of the water as it went over the edge of the falls, but at first you couldn't see them. As they came into view, again they took your breath away at how magnificant they were. Little did we know that this was just the beginning of what we were to see of the falls.
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On the second day we stayed on the Brazilian side and prepared ourselves to see the remaining 75%, and wow did they get the better deal. The falls on this side were stunning. You could get so much closer to the actual falls. As we stood at ' The Devil's Throat' and looked over the edge of the viewing platform, all you could see was the spray coming back up from the rapids below. At times the wind would change direction and hit you in the face with the spray. Needless to say there are some very soggy looking photos of us all. We navigated the rest of the park along various walkways and were able to get to vantage points all around the falls. Many rainbows could be seen as the strong sunlight interacted with the spray of the falls. It was almost magical.
IMG_4486.jpg Iguazu Falls, Brazilian side

Iguazu Falls, Brazilian side

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Next was another once in a lifetime opportunity to take a speedboat ride into the rapids. We had been warned that we would get very wet, but drenched would have been a better word. We boarded the boat and were handed a lifejacket and a waterproof bag. Approaching the falls we were snapping away and taking in the marvel of the rapids and the falls above. Then the crew began to put on great big waterproof jackets and you knew it was time to put all your valuables in the bags and prepare for the rapids. We drove up to the first waterfall and as we made a turn, a huge plume of water came and smacked Sarah J and I straight in the face. What followed was the boat continually turning and heading closer towards the rapids, the water getting us from all angles. We came off the boat completely soaked through like drowned rats! It was so much fun I wanted to go on again.
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I'd like to introduce you to Raul. He is a raccoon-like creature with a bit of aardvark thrown in known as a coati which are native to South America. There are many of them roaming freely around the national park, so I didn't think they would miss just one. You may see him popping up time to time in some of my photos.
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Posted by slking 15:47 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Estancia Stay

29th September - 1st October

rain
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The journey to the ranch was a very favourable 5 hours by coach. As we left Montevideo, the rain was pouring down and it didn't look hopeful for the day ahead, but as we drove things started to brighten up and even the sun came out. The drive took us through some beautiful landscape as we headed deeper into the Uruguayan countryside. There were rolling green hills on either side, interspersed with lush green forests and buildings, and scattered with animals. As the journey continued, the sun shone high in the bright blue sky reflecting off the surface of lakes as we passed. We passed a farm on one side where they had lit a huge bonfire causing a silky mist across the fields surrounding it.

We were picked up in Tacuarembó by Juan, the owner of the ranch where we were staying. All hopes of meeting a strapping, young Gaucho were dashed as a 40 something man came strolling towards us. We all piled into the minivan with our rucksacks and cases that appear to be getting heavier and heavier by the day. As we made the journey to the ranch, the sun began to set. It created a deep orange-pink hue in the sky. We turned down a bumpy dirt road track which we continued on for what felt like hours. Due to the uneven surface, we were all bobbing up and down in the back of the van like we were on pogo sticks. Finally we arrived at the ranch which was called Panagea. This is named after......

We found our rooms and claimed our beds. Juan ran through the house rules and introduced us to his wife Susannah and children, and we quickly discovered what a dry sense of humour he had, we were all going to get along just fine. Juan is himself from Uruguay and Susannah is from Switzerland. They met some years ago whilst they were both travelling, and despite Susannah not liking Juan upon first sight, he managed to persuade her to give up her life in Switzerland and move to Uruguay and the remote ranch. The rest as they say is history. They welcomed us all into their home and ranch for the next couple of days. It is a working sheep and cattle ranch where everyday you can help as much or as little as you like with tasks such as herding the animals, vaccinations, preparing the meals, and riding the horses. Any stresses quickly disappeared and all that awaited us were 2 days of rest and relaxation, with no electricity, no internet, no phone, just the simple things in life.
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The following day we awoke to yet more rain and the possibility of taking the horses out quickly vanished. Instead Juan took us out for a walk around the ranch. We must have walked for a good couple of hours in the drizzling rain. He took us up to the top of an old volcano crater. This one was much easier to navigate!
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At the top we saw a nest that contained the most enormous Rhea eggs. They are birds closely related to the emu, so you can imagine the size of these things. We also visited a cemetery which was located at the top of a very steep hill. It was a bit treacherous getting up and down the hill in our slippery wellies we had borrowed from Juan, but we did our best as we zig-zagged the hill and eventually made it back safely. What awaited us was a very damp and soggy BBQ being cooked in the rain on an old plough wheel. We each chose our steaks and then cooked them exactly how we wanted them and piled our plates high with delicious salad.
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The rain continued to pour for the rest of the day and until the following morning, getting heavier as it went. On many occasions it looked like it might be clearing up, and just as Melissa and Simon uttered those fateful words, the rain started up again and we went back to chatting, playing cards and reading. Electricity was very scarce and they had to run a generator every evening between 7.00-9.30pm as the power lines don’t reach out as far as the ranch. We therefore had to rely on candles and headtorches after this time. Thankfully Juan and Susannah had a very well stocked cellar of wine, so the frustration of the day was alleviated by the many bottles of wine we consumed as we huddled round the candlelight under our blankets, and Sarah J, Melissa, Jenny and I stayed up until 2am, chatting and laughing so much it hurt.

Our second day at the ranch brought renewed faith in the weather as it had stopped raining and we were able to get out and about on the horses. First Juan showed us how to saddle up the horses Gaucho style. We were then each given our own horse for the day and we set about trying to remember what we had just been taught. My horse was called Basho, which apparently related to his colour. He had a beautiful grey/white coat and was so soft you couldn't help but want to stroke him. Our task for the day was to take the horses out to muster the sheep and bring them back in for drenching (deworming). It was great fun being out on the horses and having to control them to be in the right position for the mustering was challenging but by the end of the morning it was us controlling them rather than the other way round.
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After some more of Susannah's delicious home cooked food we began the afternoon by working in teams to deworm all the little lambs. Some of us had to grab the lambs and keep them still between our legs, but they were very wriggly and difficult to get hold of. Emma and Paul then squirted the medicine into their mouths whilst Jenny and Nimisha marked the top of their heads with chalk so we knew which ones had been done. Then it was time to take the flock back out into the paddocks. So off we rode once again after we had saddled up our horses. We carefully mustered the sheep out into the fields surrounding the ranch. This time round I felt much more confident on the horse and was able to control Basho more and tell him where to go to make sure none of the sheep made a run for it. Due to all the rain the previous day there were patches of very soft marshy land and some very free-flowing rivers which we had to cross.
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We were all very sad to be leaving the ranch the next day. And it was sod’s law that it was a really nice day again with bright blue skies, the perfect weather to be on the ranch. I would have liked a bit more time on the horses as I was just beginning to get into it. It had been nice to be away from it all and get back to basics for a few days. So, we headed back out into civilization as Juan drove us towards the Argentinian border and a little town called Salto. As we passed through villages on the way, the smell of what I can only liken to honeysuckle filled the minivan. Salto was a funny little town with not much to show for itself other than the lure of some thermal baths. The temperatures in these baths reached 38-40⁰C and in the strong sunlight it was difficult to stay in them for too long without feeling a little light-headed.

Another border crossing, another stamp in the passport. We crossed into Argentina in a taxi and as we dutifully waited in line to get our next stamp symbolising our rite to pass into yet another country, I know Dad would have been very jealous of my ever growing collection of passport stamps.

Posted by slking 11:43 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

Montevideo

Sept 28th - Sept 29th

rain 19 °C
View South American Adventure 2011 on slking's travel map.

Leaving behind the quaint town of Colonia, we headed to Montevideo which is the capital of Uruguay. It´s name means sixth mountain from the East (Monte - mountain, VI - six in Roman numerals, deo - from the East). There are old and new parts of the city, the old town being the nicest area with old colonial buildings and architecture. The rest of the city is quite run down and a bit drab with worn-out buildings and polluted air. One day here was enough to have a bit of an explore and browse the shops, but other than that there is not much to see or do here, and not much to write home about. We did find a little interesting fact in the Lonely Planet though about a town called Fray Bentos (yes, like the pies!) which is just North of Montevideo. It was once dominated by an enormous English-run meat-processing plant!

We woke up to rain in Montevideo, and Jenny´s birthday. Provisions were acquired for the 5 hour journey out of Montevideo and onto the ranch in Tacuarembo!

Posted by slking 05:17 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

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