17.10.2014 - 25.10.2014 20 °C
After an epic 12 days in Peru, it was time to head down to Argentina for the last stage of my holiday: Buenos Aries to Rio de Janeiro. After yet another flight delay from Lima, then some chaotic traffic in BA, I did not get any time to explore the city which I was hoping to do. I had already made a lunch reservation for Niamh (who had also booked this tour after Peru) and myself at La Cabrera based on a recommendation from some friends back home, and also travel guides that rate this as one of the best steak houses in BA. With the traffic I only just made it to the restaurant in time for the booking, though as Niamh was delayed on her city tour I was forced to start drinking wine on my own until she arrived. Eventually she arrived and we ordered our steaks, and we were not disappointed. The food was amazing and we stuffed ourselves on meat and wine. So good.
That evening we met our new travelling companions for the next 9 days. We had an early morning flight set for Iguassu Falls the next day, so had a quiet dinner and night.
The flight to Iguassu is one of the craziest experiences of this trip. We left the hotel around 5:30 to get to the airport. On arrival we were told there was a delay on the flight (imagine my surprise!), and rather than leaving about 8 it would be around 9:30. Around 9 though, they decided that the flight would leave from the other airport in BA, so we had to travel by bus to the other airport. So we did that, and rechecked our bags in at the new airport. We made our way through to the boarding gate, only to be told the gate had been changed. So we moved gates. Then the boarding time got delayed again, and the locals decided it was time to show their lack of enthusiasm for all the messing around by starting to clap (not in a happy way) and bang the signposts at the boarding gate. They were then shouting at the crew and almost staging a riot because no one would tell us what was going on. Strangely enough there was very little action from security in response, and after a while things calmed down and we finally boarded a plane, though not one from our airline but a different company. It seems a separate plane was charted for us because of issues with the original one??!! Anyway, we boarded and people just sat anywhere they wanted rather than allocated seats. Finally take off! Relaxing on the flight that was almost 4 hrs delayed by this point, all of a sudden we hit some massive turbulence and a storm. I have flown through storms and turbulence before and it's been fine, but on this occasion the plane started making a weird loud noise from the rear engine, and given the dramas earlier in the day, I thought this may be it. There were people praying and a lot of wide eyed people looking around at each other. Eventually the storm passed and we were fine, finally landing in Iguassu. The pilot farewelled us all as we disembarked, looking as surprised as we were that we were still alive and safely in Iguassu. Phew!
The next day and a bit we spent checking out Iguassu Falls, which are on the borders of Argentina, Brasil and Paraguay. We walked around them, did a boat ride under and into some of the falls (so much fun!!) and I finished off by taking a helicopter tour over them. The falls are spectacular, and seeing them from all angles was really cool.
After the falls, we flew down to São Paulo and then travelled by bus to Paraty, a cool little colonial village on the Brazillian coast, with cobbled streets (or more like large rocks for streets) and beaches, waterfalls, etc. Unfortunately the weather wasn't great, but I did take a jeep tour out to some waterfalls and cacacha distilleries (cacacha being the main ingredient in the caipirinha's I had developed a taste for in Brasil). The waterfalls were a lot of fun to swim in and jump off some rocks, but best of all was the natural water slide down one of them. Wheeeeeeeee......splash! Awesome!!!
Next stop on the itinerary was Ilha Grande, Brasil's third largest island, and basically paradise, with beaches, jungle, swimming holes, no cars, etc. Again the weather wasn't great on our arrival, but I took up the challenge of a quick slide down a rock into a freezing swimming hole in the national park. A couple of drinks on the beach, and we had an early-ish dinner as a couple of us (myself included) had signed up and paid a guy to take us on a hike at 3am to catch the sunrise from Ilha Grande's second highest peak (Pico do Papagaio) at about 980m high. The climb to the top was through dense jungle terrain where at different points there was no trail at all, and doing it in the dark with a headlamp was tough trying to watch where you out your feet but also dodge branches, vines and spider webs with your head. It was tough going, and when we arrived at the top to find it blanketed in cloud, I was pretty disappointed. But after a couple of minutes the cloud cleared, and I was treated to one of the most spectacular sunrises that I have ever seen. It was magic seeing it above the clouds and totally worth the lack of sleep and effort to get up to the top of the mountain. The descent down was really tricky and slippery, and we were racing a bit to get back into town to catch the boat to Lopez Mendes beach where we we spending the afternoon chilling out. I smashed my toe into a rock and will probably lose the toenail (again), but considering all I have done on this trip that being the worst injury I have come away with isn't a bad effort. The beach was great and I realised it was the first time I had swam in waves in years, so I had a blast and got a nice bit of sunburn to show for my lack of beach time over recent years.
Final stop on my holiday was Rio. I wish I had more time here, as the way it worked out I only had 24hrs here. I jammed as much as I could in with a city tour on arrival to go see Big Jesus (or Christ the a Redeemer as he is more commonly known as) and we caught the sunset from Sugar Loaf after a couple of short stops along the way. After our last dinner together, most of us headed over to Lapa for a night out. This place is madness, with people, drums and caipirinha stalls lining the streets. Here you can get a pint size cup of caipirinha for 7 Real (or about $3.50 back home). Dangerously good!!! It was a fun night for my last night on my holiday.
The final morning I got up early and did a quick walk down to Copacabana beach, as I couldn't come to Rio and at least go see the beach, before going on a tour through the Rocinha favela, which is one of the worlds largest slums. Whilst some may see it as tourism at it's worst having people go touring through where the poor live, in my view it is a reality of life in Rio and it is easy to only see the "highlights" such as the beaches, big Jesus, etc and ignore this aspect of it. The tour was done very well, and opens your eyes up to a world that most of is are fortunate enough to never have to experience ourselves and I am glad I did it.
Unfortunately that was all I had time for in Rio. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had planned more time in BA and a Rio as these two cities would be fun to hang out in for a while. I have put them both back on my never ending list of places to see before I die.
And so I am on my way home, writing this during my four flights to get back to Australia. This month away has been unbelievable, filled with some of the best experiences of my life and meeting some amazing people. As always as I come to the end of a trip, one question remains......
Where to next?