Adventures in South America
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?
The Inca Trail and more
05.10.2014 - 16.10.2014 15 °C
This post has taken some time to get finished, as Peru has been pretty full on, and any time I had free I have been trying to catch up on some sleep or have been too tired to get around to writing a post.
Firstly arriving in Lima, I have never seen the traffic system that is Lima. Lanes on the road are suggestion only, indicators are an exception not the norm, and red lights are optional to obey. It's chaos and I love it. Arriving from Quito before meeting the group I would be travelling with around Peru, I spent the afternoon wandering around the Miraflores area of Lima spring food, icecream and coffee at different restaurants/cafés in the area. Keen to try a Pisco Sour (Peruvian cocktail), I ordered one with my lunch. However in a mish-mash of Spanish and English, I somehow was told that I couldn't have a pisco, but would I like something something red (the red was all I could make out from the conversation), to which I was agreeable. The waiter soon after delivered some red liquid to the table, served in a tea cup and saucer. Red wine evidently, but I was a little confused as to why it was served in a tea cup, particularly as it was cold and not a mulled wine served hot. Either way, I didn't ask questions, and it went quite well with my steak, so I was happy enough. Unbeknown to me at the time, but I subsequently found out that day was local government Election Day in Peru. There is a law where alcohol cannot be served for the day before and on the election, to ensure the Peruvian people turn up and vote, and do so sober. Therefore, unable to legally serve me alcohol, the waiter skirted around the rules by serving me wine that looked like I was drinking tea. Brilliant!!
The next morning we flew up to Cusco to start adjusting to the altitude and preparing to hike the Inca trail. After meeting our local guide Roger and after a siesta, we headed out for a lunch of local Peruvian delights. I had Guinea pig bacon and alpaca steak for lunch. Both very tasty! We did a quick tour around Cusco city, and then had a briefing on what to expect for the hike. Before starting the hike though we spent a night in Ollytaytambo in the a Sacred Valley for more time adjusting to the altitude, and also we visited our first couple of Inca ruins during the day, getting in some short practice walks for the upcoming hike.
The following day, we set off on the hike. I was exited yet a bit nervous about how difficult the trek would be at this point. It kind of felt like preparing for a grand final or something as I had been training for a few months to get ready for the trek, and the thought of not making it to the end lingered in the back of my mind.
The next four days is something I will never forget.
The first day was about 11km, and a fairly gentle introduction for what was to come. However the final part of the day was the commencement of the big uphill climb, taking us to our first camping spot which was above 3000m. Walking past where all the other groups were camping wasn't exactly fun, but the next day I was pretty pleased we had chewed a few hundred metres off the climb already.
Day two was tough. We climbed over 1200m in altitude to reach Dead Woman's Pass. It is only a few steps before you feel short of breath at this altitude, so slow and steady was the motto of the day for me. At one point I got fairly light headed and dizzy on the second section of the climb, but after a short rest and a bit of encouragement from Roger that comes off as unintentionally impersonal ("you can do it Lady"), I kept pushing. The feeling of making to the top of the pass was firstly of relief, but then satisfaction of knowing I had made it. After celebrating reaching the peak we had a couple of hours of downhill through cloud and a small bit of rain which made it pretty slippery to get to our camp site for a late lunch and rest for the afternoon.
Day three was the longest day, walking about 16km. The first part was back uphill to the second pass, though not as high as Dead Woman's pass the legs were a bit weary that morning so it was another slow climb up the stairs. We then had about 3000 steps to go back downhill, before going along the undulating track through the cloud forest for the rest of the day. This was the most scenic and beautiful part of the trip, and I really enjoyed day three, especially the parts that wasn't steep uphill climbing.
The final day we woke up at 3:30 so we could get into the last part of the trail as soon as it opened as they close it overnight as people have died trying to get to the sungate in the dark before sunrise. A 6km walk to the sungate, with a killer set of stairs right at the end, we got our first view of Machu Picchu. The weather was perfect, and the view simply spectacular. My words will not do it justice but hopefully some of the photos will capture the beauty of this place, and the feeling of walking the 44km to see this was pretty satisfying at that point. After plenty of photos, we walked down to the ruins and had a snack (a beer and empanada for me even though it was only 8:30am) before Roger took us for a tour of the site.
Following the trek, we made our way back to Cusco for a final dinner as a group, but firstly a hot shower which we had all been looking forward to all day. A few of us kicked on for a few drinks afterwards, and when the bar would only serve us shots for drinks all I probably need to say here is that it was a pretty funny night. The whitewater rafting Niamh and I had planned for the next day didn't eventuate as we only got to bed about 3:30am when we decided at some point we should stay awake for a full 24hrs before going to sleep. It made sense at the time after about 6 tequila shots!
Next on the agenda was a couple of nights in the amazon jungle. At 37 degrees and about 90% humidity, it was a shock to the system after the cool nights on the trail. Whilst it wasn't entirely pleasant in that heat without any electricity or cooling system other than taking a dip in the murky watering hole, we did get to spot some cool wildlife: mostly spiders, frogs and bugs. But we did also see some Caymans (related to crocodiles and alligators) and some copibaras which are basically a giant guinea pig that lives on the banks of the river in the mud.
We departed the jungle and headed back to Lima. The six of us in the amazon crew: Guiness Lady (Niamh) and Lady (myself); the honeymooners/team Canada (Andrew and Kate); and the power couple/MacGyvers (Matt and Kerri) decided to splurge on a nice seafood dinner on our last night together. The ceviche, famous in Lima, exceeded expectations and was superb and a great way to finish off our tour.
If I was asked to choose just one word to describe this part of the holiday and in particular the Inca Trail, I would have to choose 'breathtaking' as it captures both the physical and visual aspects of the trek. Whilst this was a challenge I had set myself as an individual, having an amazing group who are some of the best people I have ever met with me for the journey was a big part of this. Their support, stories, energy and most importantly their humour made this trip what it was. Roger is an unbelievable trek guide; full of knowledge but most importantly passion about his culture. We all started the journey as strangers, but have finished as friends, and I hope we can cross paths again in the future.
Go team Brown Llama!