Tuesday, 3 May 2011


Dear all
We finally arrived in Rio De Janeiro with its soaring mountains, powder white beaches not to mention an abundance of samba sounds and the odd cappirinha!
We arrived quite early at the hostel, but still managed to miss most of the Royal wedding being  dragged out by BBC World & therefore only saw the edited highlights. Kate looked lovely & all that and I felt very patriotic and proud to be British, but I am really glad we missed the wedding fever in the UK & the media's second by second microscopic coverage  it all looked too much!
Much refreshed & in order to appreciate the full range of what Rio has to offer I spent the first afternoon on Marcelo Armstrong's Favla tour. There is no way to sugar coat Rio, despite its party name tag, it has a reputation for crime & violent, but as I saw on the tour it is generally  between the police & the drug lords running the larger favelas.  The fact that Brazil has managed to pay off its IMF debt and has seen some double digit growth in the last eight years has also served to temper the crime rate as more and more economic migrants move away to the north of Brazil rather than into the overcrowded city. Even the favelas have prospered in this time with most hovels now being refurbished into reasonable albeit basic brick abodes, with metred electricity, schools and in Rocinha  (the largest Favela with 250,000+ residents) there is a new hospital.

Day two saw us going on a city tour so we could appreciate the sights without taking the wrong street! Rio is surrounded on two sides by powder white beaches with turquoise waters and flanked by mountains covered in rainforest. We had a short walk in the Tijuca national park and then visited the chinese temple nearby which is supposed to have spectacular views of the city and Christ the Redeemer (voted one of the new worlds seven wonders in 2007). Alas the cloud base covered it all so we could only see a bit of Ipanema Beach. So I was a bit disappointed as we actually approached the Corcovado to see the iconic statue up close and personal, fully expecting to only see his feet.  But as you can see the cloud mysterously disappeared right at the top so you had a perfectly clear  view of him! Yippee.
Our Final part of the tour was around Lapa and the very picturesque Santa Teresa, which is set on a small hill overlooking the city. It is very olde worlde with cobbled streets and an old trolley car that rumbles up and down the hill. Our final stop was one of the most eccentric. A famous set of 215 steps whihc have been decorated over the last 20 years by a Chilean artist, who is a permaent fixture constantly tweaking the tiles and persuading you into his shop. He is quite a character and the tiles have been send from all over the world so its great fun trying to find ones form your own country!
I spent the next couple of days at the beach, and enjoying the hippie market, bought some Havainas, tried the local restaurants (including a a fantastic all you could eat Parilla!) and really got into passionfruit cappirinha's! There was also teh release of the new dreamworks movie Rio that was caputring everyones imagination (see right!)  On our last full day I walked from our hostel about halfway down Ipanema to Ponta do Aroador that seperates Ipanema from the famous Copacabana beach, then walked the whole length of Copa (4.5km) down to Brazils iconic Sugar Loaf mountain  and managed to get up the cable car just as dusk was falling. The view from the top was magical and will stay with me forever.

Rio is definately on my revisit list. Quite frankly 4 days is just not enough time to do this town justice and although I would actually visit Brazil at carnival time I think I would give Rio a swerve and see it in Salavador then come back to Rio to party! Girls you had better hope I win the lottery soon. Unfortunately our time here is done and tomorrow we take a flight to Iguassu  - onwards and upwards!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

The train to Morretes

Dear all

I think I'm going to really like our short excursion into Brazil. We have spent the last two days in Curitiba. Most people have never even heard of this place let alone added it too their travel, but its one of Brazil's urban success stories
This city has slums: some of the same shantytown 'favelas' that dominate most South American cities, have sprouted on the edge of town as the population has rocketed. But even they are different, & hopeful in palpable ways. They are clean, for instance, under a city program, a slum-dweller who collects a sack of garbage gets a sack of food from the city in return. And Curitiba is the classic example of decent lives helping produce a decent environment. Because it has a great public transport system, and because its inhabitants are attracted toward the city center instead of repelled out to a sprawl of suburbs, Curitibans use 25 percent less fuel per capita than other Brazilians, even though they are actually more likely to own cars.

Anyway I digress as this isn't a moralising blog its all about our adventures and the main reason we came to Curitiba was to catch a train out of it!  There are very few trains left in South America & those that are still running are usually just scenic journeys kept open by tourists and this was just such one. The Serra Verde Express journey decends 900m through the lush temerate Serra do Mar to Morretes (Except on Sundays when it goes all the way through to the port of Paranagua). We had a Portuguese guide who spoke very little English, but the views pretty much spoke for themselves. Our journey was made even better by the fact that it was just after the Easter holidays & the train was virtually empty! Once in Morettes we had a wander round the very sweet town and then took the bus back up to town.

Day two in Curitiba saw me taking the city double decker Linha Turismo bus. Its a great way to see the sights even on your own. It takes a set route and you can hop off and then on at four of the 23 attractiosn on route. Quite a few of the stops were within the city centre so I chose four of the more remote interesting places. First stop was the Botanical gardens with its eye catching palm house. Its pleasant enough to stroll around for an hour, but not really a patch on Kew or Wisley! The second stop was a Germanic park with a Hansel & Gretle story theme and a fantastic view over the city.
The third stop was at the Wire opera house, which is a huge steel & glass contruction and looks very beautiful. The final stop was to a park that has been generated from an old quarry and has zones for different uses.  Our next stoptakes us to Rio ............... its party time........ til then..............xx

Tuesday, 26 April 2011


Dear all

I hope you are having a great Easter break. We landed in Florianopolis gateway to to Ilha de Santa Catarina on Friday for the long weekend. We were staying at the very picturesque Barra Da Logoa right on the warm Atlantic waters - it really was! On the bus out to the village we bumped into Charlotte & Jonny, who we travelled down to the Chilean Lake district with.  The room in our hostel was not the best but the view from the rooftop made up for that. We met and spent most of our time with a lovely Irish couple Neil & Aileen.
 The weather for an Easter weekend behaved and we spent most of our time on the various little beaches and bays that were a few minutes walk from our place. The evenings were spent drinking caipirinhas in the bar - which go down far too easily! I can honestly say it was one of the best easters I have ever had & not a chocolate egg in sight!
Our next stop is Curitiba - one of Brazils most modern cities

Night all

Friday, 22 April 2011

Montevideo @ Easter

Dear all
Lonely Planet paints a beautiful picture of Montevideo - small enought to walk around, but big enough to have some great architecture and happening nightlife. So armed with this vision and loads of encouragement by fellow travellers & Uruguayans we have met we arrived for the long Easter weekend.

As we reached the bus terminal we were shocked at the number of people there & even more surprised when we realised that they were all leaving town for the Easter break! Undetered we arrived at our hostel and set out on a little explore of the city. It was 6.00pm and the whole city seemed closed apart from a couple of cafes and one supermarket. Thinking that maybe it was half day closing or something we decided to spend the next day exploring the whole place and visiting all the sights mentioned in LP. The next day was even worse. All the businesses and most of the shops were closed and the only people on the streets appeared to be a small number of tourists and elderly locals. I am not going to say much more, but to say our timing probably didn't help and (I have already mentioned before we are not really city lovers), but Montevideo to us was very disappointing. The architecture was to me not that special & the 'marie celeste' feel was a little un-nerving  Within 24 hours we had planned our early escape route and despite not being able to get a direct bus to Florianopolis due to the changes we were still determined to get out as soon as possible. I am sorry if I offend anyone by my comments it is not intended. Whilst we make our way across the South of Brazil I will leave you with some tasty bits.............

Nite all

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Colonia del Sacramento

When we first planned this trip, we left our route as decidedly vague when it came to getting from Argentina to Brazil as we had received some very mixed reports about Uruguay. Fortunately for us we had been luck enought to meet a number of travellers who had been and a number of Uruguayans who persuded us that we should travel across the coast into the south of Brazil. The ferry across to Colonia Del Sacramento took no time at all . Once we had secured a room and some lunch we took full advantage of the small historical area of the city which is located on a peninsula at the eastern end of the city. Originally built by the Portuguese in 1680 to smuggle goods across the Rio de la Plata to Buenos Aires.
 Nowadays the affluent houses have been restored and vintage cars rest on cobbled side streets. It was great fun to stroll around after being in the contstantly busy BA and virtually deserted once the day trippers had returned across the river. tranquil and pretty - you can guess how many images made their way onto my SD card! Here are a few to whet your appetite should you ever visit & make you jealous if your not!

Tomorrow we have to leave to get to Montevideo before the start of the Easter closedown.

Nite all

Monday, 18 April 2011

Buenos Aires

Buenos Dias  We have just spent the last few days in one of the nicest cities I think I have ever visited. Buenos Aires has charming and elegant european architecture, buzzing streets & neighbourhoods, never-ending nightlife! People from BA tend to rise late and eat and party till well into the early hours, so this was a bit of a culture shock to us as we are usually fed, watered and in bed by 11.00!
The main areas we wanted to visit were located in downtown and its neighbouring area's Recoleta, Palermo & Retiro, to the North, We stayed just to the South in San Telmo next to the infamous La Boca.
Our first 24 hours was just spent wandering the streets of downtown and San Telmo with its cobbled streets and mansions no longer fashionable. We ended our tour at Casa Rosada, the pink presidential palace, where Evita inspired the adoring crowds from the balcony. As it was Friday night we decided to check out the Irish bars in the microcentre, which were packed with locals ready to party.  As it was a bit of a walk back we bar hopped our way down Av 9 de Julio, past the Obelisco to our hostel and were surprised to find it was 3.00am when we fell through the door as everything was still going strong.  Saturday was Dad's birthday so we skyped home after a long lie in and then took the Metro to Palermo to saunter around the market. It is known for its artisan jewellery & leatherwork. We realised by about 6.00pm we were starving, so ambled up a couple of blocks to La Cabbrera a Parilla that had been recommended to us by a number of people. It wasn't open when we arrived so we settled in at a bar next door and started chatting. The next thing we knew there were people everywhere  and by the time had finished our drinks and made our way to the restaurant, it was 8.30 and there was a two hour waiting time....... oops.
 Well we put our name down and trundled back next door to await our summons! 10.30 came and went & so did 11.00pm. We eventually got seated around 11.40 for our dinner. Was it worth it I hear you say..................... well yes it was we had some sublime steaks with the most amazing accompaniments & there were still couples and groups waiting to be seated when we left at 1.50 and staggered into out taxi home.
 Given our late dining the previous night we rose late again and decided to just stroll down the main road in San Telmo, which is closed on Sundays to host its weekly antiques market. There are also stalls selling tourist souvenirs from tat to some really nice stuff. Every so often there were small groups/couples demonstrating the tango on the streets. on the whole a really facinating way to spend the morning.
 Once we reached to end of Defensa, we crossed over into La Boca to try and get some tickets for the afternoon game at the Bombonera. We walked around the side streets near to the gound trying to find places to buy tickets but apart from touts it was nigh on impossible. Worried by reports that most of the tout tickets were fakes we decided to carry on to nearby Caminito, an area within La Boca renound for its colourful houses and beautiful tango dancers and memorabilia. Just as we arrived we met a tour group on their way to the game and managed to pursuade the guide to ring her office and secure another two tickets for us - at 5 times face value!! Game on!! We just had enough time to quickly have a look around and then we were off ! The game was against Tigre a club just north of BA so the ground was packed and we had to hurry to get under the stand as we had the opposition fans above us firing all sorts of unmentionables onto those exposed below!!  The fans here have a passion I have never seen anywhere else in the world and they will climb on every available space to hand a flag or tie one of the huge banners which run over the three tiers of the home end
. Once the game started the band (& I mean band as they must have had 50-60 drummers, trumpets, trombones, tubas & other random instruments) and the fans played and sang for the whole game - non stop. The football itself was barely at league standard, but the score ended up being 3-3 so we did get to see lots of celebrating but we would have preferred to see a Boca win. We consoled ourself on the way home home with a meal at El Desnival a place we had heard mixed things abou, but I thought it had a very down to earth, verging on late night dingy drinking hole feel with amazingly good value food for the price. Just the finish for a day like ours!
Our final day was at the other extreme as we spent the afternoon walking around Recoleta, the Knightsbridge of BA. The streets were pretty and we had a beautiful lunch in a small, but perfectly formed cafe across from the Cementario de la Recoleta. You might have thought it a little macabre, but the cemetry is one of the most excentic places I have ever been. Within the high walls lies a mini city of ornate and towering sarcophagi. It is facinating and eventually you reach Evita's grave covered in fresh flowers even now - then you have to try and find your way out!!

Our time in BA seems to gone in a flash and although neither of us profess to be city people I think we will always carry fond memories of the place. I may have to just pencil a tick in my 'bucket' list for now as I am going to find a way back here sometime!

Tomorrow we depart on the ferry across the River Plate to Uruguay
Nite all

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Patagonian Lake District

Well at the end of our very bumpy trip up Ruta 40 we were delighted to end up at one of the nicest hostels we have stayed at to date - Hostel Achalay. Pablo the owner waited up until 1.30am to receive us and was so helpful in the morning when we finally woke up. The hostel was only a couple of minutes walk from the main streets so we spent the rest of the day wandering around the town. Bariloche is something out of an alpine postcard, with chalet style buildings and its location right next to Nahuel Huapi lake. There are cholcolate shops everywhere & I did manage to avail myself of some Fra-nui (fresh raspberries enrobed in first white chololate and then a sumptuous milk chocolate - Super yummy!) from the famous Rapa Nui shop.
 We also tried out the local Parrilla - El Boliche de Alberto with the most amazing steaks for not very much. Yes I know I can't normally eat steak, but this was sooooo nice & I took loads of antihistamine! It must have been good because I didn't get a single hive. Near to Bariloche is the very chocolate box Villa la Angostura, which I went to visit one day when Dean fancied a lazy day! Unfortunately the buses were all full for the return trip so I was ablout to turn around and leave when I bumped into two guys we had met on Ruta 40 Jeff & Azim! They followed me back to check out out our place & decided to stay. We had a wonder around the town and treated ourselves to a cup of the very lush hot chocolate in the cafe in Rapa Nui.
We also managed to sample some more chocolates - well its rude not to try when offered isn't it! We then had a walk down to Cerro Viejo where we took the ski lift up for some stunning views of the town and the lake. Azim & I took a luge back down, but Jeff had to take the lift back down due to a knee injury from the "w" trek he had recently completed. That night we did a little micro brewery ale sampling & then went to La Fonda del Tio a local restauant with enormous portions.
We had to share a milanase between two of us and I still had to leave half of mine! On our final day we did manage to escape the town and took a bus and then a ski lift up Cerro Campanario. The 360 degree view from the top was placed in National Geographics top ten and it is so easy to see why. Despite the bitter wind tugging at our cameras we managed to fill our SD cards with dozens of breathtaking shots and had it not been a for our afternoon bus to BA I'm sure we would have stayed longer. Albeit in the warmth of the Cafe!

Got a trip to Argentina coming up - make sure this place is on your list!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Ruta 40

Ruta 40 runs alongside the Andes to the Glaciers of the South. It is mythical for many reasons. For the solitary stretches it crosses. For the peaks of the Andes that guard the route like centennials. And also because its footprint follows that of the ancient travel routes of the first inhabitants of South America.
Dear all 

   Having exhausted our time in Southern Pategonia it was time to move on and so we took the 7.00 pm bus north to Bariloche, along the infamous Ruta 40. This road spans most of the length of Argentina and for vast amounts is little more than a gravel track. The chips and cracks on the bus’s windscreen bore testament to the harshness of the road and it was a long 31hr, bumpy and noisy ride. For the most part all you can see along the route is the vast flatness of the Patagonian steppe, but the occasional wildlife keeps you going. We were lucky enough to spot guanacos, rheas, wild horses and eagles. 

Catch ya soon


Sunday, 10 April 2011

El Calafate & Perito Moreno

Dear all
 Just 5 hours up the road and over the border in Argentina is the mammoth Glacier Perito Moreno.This is the most spectacular and unforgettable day out since our visit to Torres del Paine two days! No seriously I thought I had started to lose the ability to be wowed by spectacular views and then all at once two come along together! The day itself wasn't wonderful, but the mist in the air only added beautiful rainbows over the whole valley.
 Time for some stats! The glacier is 35km long and 5km wide and approximately 74m high above the lake, what makes it exceptional is that its one of three advancing glaciers out of the 48  fed by the Southern Pategonian ice field, located in the Andean system shared with neighbouring Chile.

Periodically the glacier advances over the L-shaped Lake forming a natural dam which separates the two halves of the lake when it reaches the opposite shore. With no escape route, the water-level on the Brazo Rico side of the lake can rise by up to 30 meters above the level of the main lake. The enormous pressure produced by the height of the dammed water finally breaks the ice barrier holding it back, in a spectacular rupture event. This last occured in July 2008, with distructive consequances flattening a huge ancient forest.

The reason this place is so popular is because of the ideally placed Peninsula de Magallanes is close enough to provide fantastic vistas, but far enough away to be safe.   We spent most of the day either taking a boat up to the face of the northern side or wondering around the boardwalks & platforms, of which there are over 8km criss crossing around the terminus. The glacier is never quiet, cracking and smashing its way down to the lake.Every so often you will see ice slicing off the face and roar down the face of the glacier crashing into the lake below.  On our way back to the bus we saw this magnificent Magellan woodpecker having his lunch.

Back in the tourist town of El Calefate there is not much to do apart from eat in fancy restaurants or upmarket souvenir shops, but I did manage to find a small but perfectly formed wetlands centre - Laguna Nimez, which took about 2 hours to walk around and had a huge number of birds including flamingos!

Tomorrow we head north along the infamous Ruta 40 to Bariloche.
Thanks for looking

Friday, 8 April 2011

Torres del Paine

Dear all                                                                         Following our mammoth 30 hour bus journey to Punta Arenas we sure needed to have a rest to recover and this little town didn't disappoint. As with most South American towns it is based on a grid system & the main areas of interest are all based around Plaza Munoz Gamero.  Dean managed to find a great cafe Lomits and he had a huge burger whilst I sampled a Completo (Hotdog with tomato, mayo & avocado). Yummy!  This wind swept town is a former penitentiary and has had its fair share of reprobates & would be pioneers. Nowadays its more reliant on tourism and oil exploitation. We did do our bit for dog kind when we managed to rescue a small collie off the beach where he looked like he had been stranded below the harbour wall for a couple of days and was wet and his feet torn from trying to jump clear. We managed to pull him out & then we had a shadow for the rest of the day until he found a source of food!
 Our next stop was Puerto Natales, a rather dull fishing & ferry port, which is constantly awash with tourists headed towards South Americas most visited national park.  The place itself is not too bad, but I really fell in love with the amazing skies as you can see to the right.
As the weather had started to turn for the worse &the fact that we had just moved into low season our options to visit the park were resticted to either a very expensive 4-5 day trek or a day trip. Guess which one we picked? Hee hee!

. The nice think about the day trip, was that we got to see much more that we could ever have covered by foot although we couldn't get up close and personal with the granite pillars of Torres del paine. We had a little aside at a cave where Milodons used to roam - Big ugly sloths from about 10,000 years ago. I suppose that about all I have to say cos I truely believe that the pictures below show how gaspingly beautiful this place is without me rabbiting on! Even Dean was suitably impressed. So without any further fuss enjoy..................................................................

Yes that is a Guanaco jumping the fence

So pretty!

Condors up close and personal!

Friday, 1 April 2011

The Emerald Isle and around

Hi All

Over the last two days we have been travelling around in a hire car, which made a nice change to being in the minivan. We had both been engaged by the sound of an island nearby, Chiloe. An island full of churches, penguins and a climate like Ireland! Maybe that wouldn't do it for you, but in Chile its quite refreshing. So off we pottered in the car mindful of the fact that we had to drive on the wrong side of the road!! The little ferry across was pretty painless & then what should we see immediately as we left the ferry,but our first of the many churches. As you can see on the left.
We then went on a bit of wild goosechase down a single dirt track to see if we could find some of the Magellan penguins, but they had just left the week before - typical. The views were amazing still so all was not lost as you can see at the top.

We then drove down through a pretty town called Ancud down to Castro the capital of Chiloe, which again had loads of churches and thanks to its salmon industry a host of cute little multicoloured stilt houses called palafitos a testiment to its humble beginnings. That evening we spent the night in one of the nicest room we have been to date overlooking the bay.
 The following day we took the ferry back to the mainland and as the weather was so good we decided to drive to volcano Orsorno to check it out at closer quarters as you can see drive quite a way up to a ski lodge and take the ski lift up to near the top - although it was a bit cloudy once we got there so we had to skip it.  Tomorrow we have to take a 32 hour bus ride down through Argentina to get to our next stop Punta Arenas in Pategonia - Wish us luck!