Botanical Gardens and Lighting of the Lagoa X-Mas Tree

We weren’t too sure or in the know about either of the Botanical Gardens and Lighting of the Lagoa tree, but having spoke to a few Cariocas, they had said that the gardens are a welcome break from the Rio hustle and bustle and that the lighting of the tree is truly unmissable if you are in Rio at the time. Even if you aren’t in Rio at the time, it turns out that says that it is the 3rd biggest event now in Rio which draws tourists to this wonderful playground and since starting in 1996 has only grew in worldwide popularity year by year! So yeah, we were pretty excited for that.

As the Botanical gardens was in the same area as where we would be watching the tree lighting and fireworks, we decided to kill two birds with one stone and head their first, spend some time mooching around the gardens, eat and then join in with the festivities. Thanks to Rio traffic though and the lack of the bus we needed, when we needed it, we spent over 1-2 hours just getting there!! Although we weren’t anticipating it, there was a very small entrance fee attached with visiting the gardens, which is R$6 each, like I say….very small. Once you see where the money goes it is certainly money well spent.

We were immediately met with towering palm trees, which created a natural perimeter fence separating the urban jungle, from the (re-planted) real thing.

20131219-062537 PM.jpg

The gardens was also the most organised I have ever seen, with a fully detailed map, road names for all of the paths and points of interest all around the vast gardens. Unfortunately for us, it had taken us so long to get there, that we only had 1 1/2 hours until the park closed at 5pm! Which given its size would probably be a flexible 5, but it certainly didn’t give us as much freedom as we would have liked to roam carelessly. So with our little map in hand, we planned out a little ‘logical’ route that would take us on a big loop around the gardens and cover the majority of things to see, it just meant we couldn’t really just sit around and take it all in! As well as having orchards, rose gardens, huge palm trees and wild life, the gardens also had a really nice Japanese garden, which I am not too sure on the reason for, but does anybody need an excuse to make a Japanese garden?! It was a really prim and propa area, with a really big pond full of Koi fish, lotus flowers and a pagoda.

20131219-063113 PM.jpg

20131219-063117 PM.jpg

As we strolled around slightly aimlessly, we were consistently under the shadow of humongess trees, towering above us and creating a natural archway.

20131219-063301 PM.jpg

There was also one area of thick bamboo and shrubbery which was home to a little family of marmosets, which once again, we were quite content just watching them play away in their natural habitat and look very confused about why the huge, white thing was trying to point something at them and take pictures.

20131219-063508 PM.jpg

20131219-063511 PM.jpg

It was a real little tranquil hideaway that allowed Cariocas to escape the beeping horns, whizzing motos and touts selling their wares. Although it was all planted and you really couldn’t tell that this wasn’t a wild forest or small slice of the jungle. We would have loved to have spent much longer here and probably will go back there if we had a chance, to simply wind away the hours and enjoy nature at its best, all while under the watchful eye of big jesus (as always).

20131219-063743 PM.jpg

Once we had been subtly herded out of the park, we made our way down to Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas to see what all the fuss was about. When we arrived there wasn’t really much going on, apart from a few people sat next to the waters edge and a few others sat in a restaraunt facing the lake. So our immediate thought was that we were in the wrong place, as we had heard on the other side of the lake there was a stage, music, big crowds and hundreds of vendors. We opted to wait it out in the restaraunt, to shelter from the rain and see how things developed, as we were there by 6:30pm and nothing was meant to start until 8pm earliest, which was fine, as we would pass the time snacking and throwing back some beers. Come 8pm, nothing had really changed, although lots of people had turned up and the gathering had turned into quite a large crowd by this point. So we decided to get ourselves a front row seat before the crowd got any bigger. We found out that things did start at 8pm,but on the other side of the lake, on the stage.

Our wait wasn’t too long though, at 9pm the huge tree (worlds largest floating tree) sparked into life and was fully lit up in a deep blue, then immediately after the sky erupted, by this point anyone in a 1km vicinity had flocked to the waters edge and had simultaneously started cheering and celebrating as if the new year had just been seen in! The sky was alight for a good 15minutes, with huge fireworks that eventually smoked out the majority of the lake, but it was quite clear why people chose this side, as the panoramic view of the epic fireworks display was awesome, even whilst we were hiding under our umbrella.

20131222-080204 PM.jpg

20131222-080210 PM.jpg

20131222-080213 PM.jpg

20131222-080217 PM.jpg

20131222-080220 PM.jpg

20131222-080224 PM.jpg

Once the sky bombardment had finally stopped, there was a vast smokey cloud over the lake and the loud bangs were replaced by hundreds, if not thousands of people cheering and clapping. It was a true welcoming to the xmas period and if anybody knows how to celebrate, its the Brazilians.


Adam has an Accident in Punto del Diablo

We arrived here after a short bus ride from Montevideo and as our kind hostel offered to pick us up, and the bus was late, we saw a mini van waiting for us at the side of the road. The owner dumped our stuff in the back and we jumped in for the short ride to the hostel down sandy, dusty roads with no names.

Again, we got lucky with the hostel we chose, the people working there were so friendly, helpful and chatty and so we got loads of great advice on what to do and see.

Our first afternoon we had a walk along the beach to see the coast line and ended up with 2 doggy companions who decided they wanted a walk. So as we slowly trudged along the sand, they played and chased each other and sniffed everything they could find. Unluckily for Adam, he decided to take his toenail off on a rock (he claims he was pushed, I deny it all…) Either way, it was gross, bloody and pretty bad timing as we were about an hour away from anything. So a quick wash in the sea and wrapping it in tissue had to do for the time being. We continued on our limpy journey, watched surfers catching some waves, changed his tissue dressing, watched more surfers until we came to the little town we were looking for. We were lucky enough to find a little beach bar selling strong cocktails and decided to have one before we continued on our walk back to the hostel.

One thing to do in Punto del Diablo is go to the National Park, which we decided to do on a sunnier day. We caught the bus and got dropped off at the park with our backpack with a packed lunch ready to find a good picnic-ing spot. This walk took a couple of hours (mainly due to Adams everly increasing disgusting little toe) through some very beautfiul scenery which is unfortunatly entirely tarmaced. Still, we had a partly peaceful walk, found our spot to sit and chowed down and were joined by a very brazen peacock and around 40 screaming childnren. Not my ideal of peaceful, it just reminds me of work 😦



Our walk which ended at the Fort took us through a field with some very suspicious looking cows and got me a bit nervous, especially when one decided to pop out of the bushes at us! After that we were very happy to see fresh Churros being sold outside the Fort, so for our troubles we treated ourselves to one, and it was delicious! In fact it was so delicious, we had another one on the way out!


Adam, very cleaverly (is that a word?) didnt decide to bring any extra plasters or bandages, so his throbbing toe pretty much signaled the end of the day and we caught the bus home.

Our last day in Punto del Diablo was rained off, which was a shame as we didnt really get to fully experince the beach on a good day or use the pool, but oh well, onto Floripa and sun, sand and surf….well, thats if the bus turns up…

Short stop in Montevideo

The initial route that we had planned out to go through Uruguay, get us upto Iguazu and over to Rio, was to go via Montevideo, up to Salto (which is a border town), cross over to Concordia (the Argentine border town), take a bus upto Posadas and then from there a bus upto Puerto De Iguazu on the Argetinian side. Then see Iguazu from the Argentina side, cross over to Brazil and then see it from that side also and then make our way over to Sao Paulo, then onto Rio.

What we hadn’t anticipated, is getting so many suggestions to visit Punta Del Diablo and South Brazil instead of going through the nothingy route that we had initially planned out. This in theory did sound fine and sounded a lot better than just sitting on long 8-12+ buses for no end, however we had been a bit pro-active and booked our bus ticket when we arrived in Montevideo for 3 days time and therefore were a bit fixed on our route…….or so we thought.

Thanks to our lovely hosts from the Caballo Loco Hostal (yes I am name dropping, because they deserve it), who kindly rang the bus company up, asked if we could come and get a refund and helped us get all of our money back with no questions asked!!! Thanks to their help and advice, we were now set for a new course, heading East to Punta Del Diablo, which is an old fishing village on the Uruguyuan costline and then make our way north into Brazil and upto Florianopolis, which after a bit of playing around and taking some days off Montevideo, it looked like we were going to be beach bound sooner than we thought!

As our stay in Montevideo had been limited to 3 days, which one of them was spent getting our refund, buying a ticket for 3 days time and then sorting out our route from Punta Del Diablo onwards, we were only really left with 2 solid days to look around Montevideo. Which, thankfully as we had an absolutely awesome hostel, when we ran out of things to do around the city, retreating to the hostel was kind of enjoyable.

Montevideo was a beautiful city, but nothing like the likes of Colonia and as we had spent so long travelling through big cities for a while, it was slightly difficult to find the motivation to do the standard look at this building, look at this church and then go eat here! Instead we took ourselves for a big walk around the main centre and delved into our favourite past time…..eating good food and drinking coffee whilst people watching!

The short time we spent in the city was really enjoyable and it was very easy to get around. If we had more time there was lots to do like nice bike rides along the sea front, open top buses etc etc. As we were entering Brazil earlier, we decided to penny pinch at every corner and unfortunately avoided the extra cost that tourist attractions have and stuck with the free ones instead……..walking.


Bustling Buenos Aires to Calm Colonia

After checking out of our apartment, we jumped onto a ferry across the Rio De La Plata to Colonia Del Scramento, waving goodbye to Argentina and saying hello to Uruguay, making it our 13th country in 10 months on our trip!! Not bad going at all. Thanks to the gail force winds and thunder and lightning storm the day before we set off on the ferry, the crossing was similar to climbing inside a washing washine and set it on spin for an hour and a half!!!

When we arrived off the bouncy boat, feeling a bit rubbery in the legs, we were met with a quaint little sea port, with cobbled streets and lots of golf carts wizzing around! As the town is so quiet and small, this is the norm here and if it wasn’t for the hefty $50 a day price tag, we would have definately got involved, which some of them were really pimped out.998800_848173323932_951569989_n 1461027_848175175222_1799766994_nColonia is a UNESCO world heritage site and when you take a walk down any street in and around the old town, its really easy to see why. The place is so rich in historic architecture from when the Portuguese had a colony here. It was also taken over by the Spanish, Barzilians and then eventually taken back by the Uruguyuans, which again lends itself to the rich blend of varied architecture. Coupled with beautiful seaside views and tree lined streets, you can easily see what all the fuss was about. 575746_848179037482_334311602_n 998100_848178308942_1393491109_n 1396014_848175529512_1022406705_n 1422526_848175559452_1762308873_n 1450300_848174456662_74420410_n 1454711_848174047482_1238045475_nAs well as admiring the old streets, remains of the old fort, lighthouse, piers and many old buildings. Colonia is also very famous for its artisan products such as mate cups, leather gaucho products such as hats, boots, jackets, knifes and ofcourse food products such as dulce de leches, breads, hams and cheeses.1390623_848176592382_1720794663_nIf your really lucky, aside from the old cars which I think have now became a permanent feature of the old streets and don’t move on a daily basis, you might also catch a glimpse of old american cars such as cadillacs, just cruising around the streets and taking in the sun.
1458622_848177854852_1755227221_nThe town is a picture perfect place and so often missed by travellers, who even though are only 1 hour away from Buenos Aires (making it an easy day trip) completely miss this tranquil old port town.



Argentina in 2 words: Maté and Parilla

Just a quick explanation of what these two things are. Mate is a hot drink well known in south america and is always argued which country actually started the obsession. A parilla or asado is a BBQ. Simple things done to an art form here in Argy.

Photo courtesy of:

Photo courtesy of:


Photo courtesy of: http:

Photo courtesy of: http:

Whilst travelling through Argentina, two things have been a constant in an ever changing scenery. These two constants seem to be a favourite pastime, no scratch that, an obsession with Argentinians wherever we go. Due to constantly seeing people either drinking mate or eating a parilla we have seen some pretty interesting situations where these have occurred, in which we would like to share, we only wish we were able to capture some of these with our camera. But this is the way with spontaneity, it always strikes when you don’t expect it.

So the art of mate drinking is not just a person drinking from a disposable takeaway coffee shop cup. Oh no. This would be far too simple. To drink mate whether you are on the go or not requires a wooden/metal/plastic (individual preference) drinking cup, a metal straw (which always burns my lips no matter how long I wait), a thermos of hot water and a  KG bag of yerba mate. So please bear this in mind when imagining these situations.

  • We first really took notice of people drinking mate constantly was upon our re-entry into Salta when we saw teenagers hanging out in the park passing around a cup of mate. Not smoking or slyly sharing a bottle of cider, but mate. Where else but Argentina, ay?
  • At a market we saw hordes of people carrying around the full mate set whilst browsing the stalls and having their cup topped up from their backpack
  • A women whilst driving. She was also talking on her phone at the same time. Thats real multi-tasking
  • Just walking around the streets on a hot day. As you do.
  • A teacher on a school trip with many, many students
  • German beer festival. Kind of counterintuitive, but each to their own.
  • Players of a local football match drinking in a break
  • Tango dancers drinking in between their dances

The parilla/asado/BBQ to us Brits is a rarity. We love a good barby but can only do it when we have the weather, and when we do have one we nip to the supermarket and pick up cheap burgers, sausages, plastic cheese and some limp salad and put it all on top of a disposable BBQ. If any Argentinian, or South American saw this they would probably give us a well deserved slap. Having a parilla is a way of life, normally done on a Sunday (like our Sunday Roast, I guess) families stock their open air grill with half a cow, the best bits of the pig and whole chickens (plucked of course.)

Now, I did say that most people have them only on a Sunday but we have managed to see them everwhere at all times. For example…

  • Our favourite: Workmen in Rosario laying tar on a new road, half of them were working, the other half were setting up their asado right next to the lovely smell of burning hot tar. Mmmm, can anyone say ´healthy fume inhaling lunch´? But atleast they don´t have to eat soggy sandwhiches.
  • workmen at a car wash starting up their smokey asado next to a nice clean pickup. Hmmm…?
  • in a late night garage with music blaring
  • public parks
  • national parks with built in half drum asados ready to be used
  • oh, and if your balcony or rooftop terrace doesnt have one built in then there is no point moving in (so I hear.)

If anyone else has seen other interesting asado-eating or mate-drinking situations, we would love to hear them. It has been a constant source of amusement wherever we have been trying to spot the weirdest occurance, and for me, I am not too sure which one I like the best.

Living like Porteños, Buenos Aires

When you go to Buenos Aires and google what to do, the most popular things that pop are tango show, Asado, tango show,drink mate,tango show, watch boca, tango show, Evita museum etc etc. what the guide books don’t tell you to do, is rent an apartment in a non touristy part of town where all the locals hang out and live for a short while like the locals do. We did exactly that, we hired ourselves a really nice 6th floor apartment in San Telmo which is sandwiched between the very touristy Centro barrio and La Boca.

20131108-123449 PM.jpg

20131108-123458 PM.jpg

20131108-123503 PM.jpg

20131108-123509 PM.jpg

After our first weekend staying in a hostel, so we could orientate ourselves with the city and hopefully meet some people, we checked into our apartment, which happened to be walking distance from our hostel. The street that we stayed on doesn’t immediately jump out at you as ‘luxury’ living, but neither does it as slum living, instead what you get is beautiful old buildings and a mix of tarmac and cobbled streets, which help San Telmo become the historical and bohemian area of Buenos Aires, where all of the arty, student and quirky types hang out. Throw in a few historic local cafes and cozy local bars/pubs and you have quite a nice living environment. As we had been travelling for so long, the novelty of not only being able to fully unpack our bags, but also flush paper down the toilet and have our own space, almost made us house bound for 2 weeks, so we could soak it all up before moving on again and hostel reality kicking back in.

There was a big city to be explored though and it wasn’t going to do it on its own. The first stage to becoming a Porteño (port people and name given to people living in BA) was to adopt the argentine clock, which is eating at 11pm and starting your night out at 12/1am! Or if its a work night, calling it a night at 2am, obviously for us this didn’t really apply, so our nightly schedule involved us eating at 10:30-11pm every day and then going to bed at 3am! This obviously means you can’t get up until at least 10am, at earliest, which means the day really starts at about 11:30am once your fed and ready to go. In terms of exploring such a big city, this obviously doesn’t leave you with much time to explore, without missing meal times, which is obviously as big as breathing to Argentinians as every meal of the day is a big fuss and should be never rushed or missed, friends don’t just say hello and have their sandwich to go, friends order a litre of beer and finish that before their food arrives and then treat themselves to another whilst they wash down the grub, all the while completely engaged in conversation and I know this might sound crazy to modern British society (possibly US too) but this was all done without ever removing their phone from their pocket, checking their friends sitting opposites Facebook or updating everyone else about what their eating! Fascinating! Its also impossible to live this lifestyle without indulging in the practise of ‘cafe y medialunas’ or in English ‘afternoon tea’ every day, which again is a staple diet of the social needs of Argentines, retreating to the local cafe or where you were for lunch 3 hours ago, as obviously your next meal is after 10pm, so you need to curb the hunger somehow.

20131108-124633 PM.jpg

20131108-124639 PM.jpg

20131108-124654 PM.jpg

The area we stayed in gave us easy access to some of the best free attractions BA has to offer, either accessed by foot or by Subte (BA underground network) this included visiting La Boca area, which is mostly famous for Boca Juniors football club, where some of Argentinas most famous players including Maradona played at, not to mention the best football ground atmosphere in the world. Unfortunately without selling all of your worldly goods and paying somebody off big time, getting tickets to a Boca home match is as easy as getting into Oxford, where money opens the right doors. We just so happen not to be millionaires and do care about every penny, so couldn’t justify the ridiculous fee that was involved to only ‘maybe’ get us a ticket, no guarantees though!!!! Walking around La Boca though is a free affair and although recommended not too by every guide on the planet, we decided to make our own way there and back to Caminito, which is an area famous for painted corrugated iron houses and said to be the birth place of Tango. Now there is a open top tourist bus which takes people from the centre district and drops them right at the bottom of the only policed street in La Boca, Caminito and they can frolic with cameras around their neck, purses open and handbags in plain sight!! Yes, that is a little dig at stupid tourists. We however hid our valuables, took little cash and hid my camera, so as not to draw attention and took in some of the sights of the less seen streets of La Boca and the old transport bridge. Ending up at the Caminito street, where every other person is hassling you to enter their restaurant and German men think its fine to walk around in creme suits and smoke fat cigars!! Each to their own I guess, but this did actually happen as were walking through!

20131108-124343 PM.jpg

20131108-124349 PM.jpg

20131108-124354 PM.jpg

20131108-124358 PM.jpg

20131108-124403 PM.jpg

20131108-124408 PM.jpg

20131108-124412 PM.jpg

20131108-124417 PM.jpg

20131108-124423 PM.jpg

20131108-124428 PM.jpg

20131108-124431 PM.jpg

20131108-124436 PM.jpg

20131108-124440 PM.jpg

20131108-124444 PM.jpg

Within walking distance to our apartment as well, was the Puerto Maderno, Montiserrat and Constitucion barrios, which were really nice to just walk around, take in the general sights, dine in new areas and if we were really, really lucky…….eat Sushi! We were craving asian food since leaving and had heard of the quality of asian food in BA, which unfortunately for us we only had Sushi, but when you have been eating beyond your body weight in Asado, Sushi is the perfect alternative and was actually really good, just do your research before going and there are two great choices in San Telmo called ‘Shokudo’ and ‘Comedor Nikkai’, selling lots of authentic japanese dishes. As well as the local ‘medialuna’ shops selling various pastries and the fruit n veg shop, we also had the delight of having a very uninviting shop on or corner which as well as sold beers and the standard corner shop affairs, also was fully stocked with coffee beans from around Latin America and an in house roasting machine!! So you could pick your favourite beans, how roasted you like them and then have them grinded down or just order a cup with your favourite choice. We stumbled across a gem of a cafe/resteraunt too, which served the best salads and sandwiches, so much so we went there twice for lunch and treat ourselves to a beautiful dinner, accompanied by a fine bottle of wine, which they have a vast selection of. If anybody is ever in Buenos Aires, I recommend trying ‘El Refuerzo’ in SanTelmo, you will not be disappointed. Aside from food and coffee, we also had some really cool quirky bars in our neighbourhood, including ‘Gibraltar’ which was decked out like an old English pub, along with wooden seats, the subtle smell of stale ale and beer on tap, including ales!! Usually we would avoid these places as their full of traveller louts who are simply trying to recreate their local, however Gibraltar blasts out latin tango and salsa music on the speakers and nobody in there is English, as its out of the main stream tourist scene, so for brits, creates quite a weird atmosphere, like the local boozer has been taken over by a Latino landlord.

20131108-125003 PM.jpg

20131108-125007 PM.jpg

20131108-125012 PM.jpg

20131108-125228 PM.jpg

As we were in BA for a fortnight, we had agreed that we would ‘try’ and do some much needed fitness, in anyway we could. After searching many gyms and finding out exercising in BA is a costly affair, I managed to find a company called Futbol Amigos Buenos Aires, which organise weekly 5-a-side games for expats and travellers in different areas and it has a very user friendly online system to find info and sign up. We also managed to find a gym on route which was a lot less than all the others we had found, so it all fit in perfectly. I got to meet some great people, which the majority were expats or students from around the world who were now living in BA semi permanent, as well as a few locals thrown in the mix, making a great mix of people and a very funny game of football given the different languages being used. The football games were mainly in the Palermo area, so it gave us a chance to explore that area of the city for the day before heading to the gym/football. This area is classed as the richer side of BA and certain streets can be laced with multimillion pound houses and VIP night clubs, to give an idea of the area, a kind of Kensington/Chelsea of BA if you like. It also is the neighbouring barrio to Retiro, which is home to the ‘Cementerio de Flores’, which people know more widely for the ‘Duarte’ family tomb and where Eva Peron is buried. It sounds strange to walk around a cemetery, but this is like no other you will ever see in your life! The cemetery houses the Argentina once mega elite and their family tombs, which some of them are bigger than a 3 bedroom house and have more marble and roman columns than Tony Montana’s mansion.

20131108-125102 PM.jpg

20131108-125108 PM.jpg

20131108-125128 PM.jpg

20131108-125133 PM.jpg

20131108-125136 PM.jpg

20131108-125141 PM.jpg

We really enjoyed our time in BA and contrary to popular reports, we weren’t mugged and we didn’t need to stay in our hostel to have fun (mainly because we didn’t have a hostel!), we went where the locals went and did as the locals do, rode the Subte nearly every day and wined and dined like a true Porteño. Partying from 12am onwards and people watching in cafes with medialunas and coffee was a daily affair. If I was to return to BA, my only change would be packing more cash, as (same for all of Argentina) it ain’t cheap and unfortunately aside from the free attractions and walking around, to fully enjoy the city, cash needs to be parted with, to put it in perspective we survived on £60 per day for two of us including rent and we just managed, if we had £60 each per day, we would have left very fat and very hungover!

20131108-125317 PM.jpg

20131108-125323 PM.jpg

20131108-125335 PM.jpg

Now we are taking a quick ferry ride across the pond and will be arriving in Colonia De Sacramento, Uruguay for yet another new adventure.


A Quick Review: Salta – Buenos Aires

I have decided to lump this all together as one, as to be honest we have not really done too much.

We returned to Salta and decided we liked it a lot more the second time round. Possibly because it wasn’t winter anymore, or because we didn’t stay in a dive this time round. Either way we had a much more enjoyable experience going out Argentinan style which includes not going out to gone middnight and not returning until the sunrises. Sadly though, we did get US$360 stolen from our locked backpack from our dorm room. But this is not a reflection upon the hostel who very kindly took us to the tourist police and helped sort everything out. It is just bad luck that we were sharing a room with a robbing b@*!**d who had the time and patience to get into our backpack whilst we were out partying.

Apart from that incident the other major disapointment was that we didn’t get to see the mummies of the incan children (who have been all over the global news) as it was closed due to polling….another strike of bad luck. So we left Salta a bit down hearted and angry. Oh well, on to Cordoba…

Cordoba, we loved! We pretty much got a personal tour of the city as we were the only ones on the free walking tour that day. We learnt about the very recent troubled political history of Argentina and Cordoba in particular and of the ‘baby snatchings’ which was particularly sobering and distressing to hear about. Our lovely tour ended with us having lunch with our fantastic and chatty guide! The rest of our time here we spent milling around, looking in shops and finding good bars to go and drink in.

Oh, one thing in particular that we did was go to Octoberfest, which is about an hour out of Cordoba, and seems to be a pretty big deal around here as they have a massive German community. So we got the bus over and 3/4’s of the way through the drive it felt like we had been magically transported into Germany. All the buildings and houses changed design and style and we saw people walking around in lederhosen. It was a beautiful area surrounded by lots of greenery, and then you drive into the town and its just crazy. Crazy busy with so many people stumbling around in silly hats, fancy dress and steins attached to them. It. Was. Great. Probably not a touch on the actual Octoberfest in Munich, but boy did they give it a good go! We wandered the streets for a bit looking for a good place to buy a stein and then find some food before we entered the festival. Tickets were ARG$100 each (about £10) and the beer was, well, just OK. Not as tasty other German beers we have had before. But it did the trick. To top the day off, when waiting for our bus back we saw an older lady who had just had too much to drink and insisted on vomiting everywhere. This included the seats next to us on bus, which her husband thought was a good idea to put her on. Poor bus driver had to mop it all up and ask them to leave. And society and the media make you believe its only the younger generations who can’t handle their drink…. :s

Our next stop, Rosario. Nice city with some good parks and shopping centres, but with everything pretty spread out. We managed to get on the very confusing bus system one day and went out a bit further. But apart from that, nothing too special occured.

After all the excitment in Peru and Bolivia with all the treks, mountain biking and monkey cuddling (please see previous posts for more), city life seems, well, just that. A city. And another city. Nothing too special, but of course nothing too bad. It is just what it is I guess. I do miss the monkeys though 😦

Next on our stop off of cities, the big capital Buenos Aires. Hopefully having our own apartment and space will make this city just a little bit different.

Riding the World’s Most Dangerous Road (Bolivia)

When people thinking of riding the Death Road the words that come to mind are usually downhill mountain biking, Top Gear, worlds most deadliest road. What they don’t usually talk about is climbing down the cliff side which gives the death road its name and rescuing a dog!!!! It was certainly a more unique experience to say the least.

The day starts with an early set off (7am) driving through the always at rush hour La Paz, to reach the police check point, before heading off into the mountains and racing ahead of the 20 or other so buses heading in the same direction. The start point of the ride is at about 4,800metres, where the majority of the biking companies will start, with some (from what i can gather) cheaper companies starting further down. Once the bike preps and briefings have been made about how to ride the tarmac section of the ride, its down to blessing our bikes and giving thanks to the ‘pacha mama’ or mother earth. This comes in the form of not only pouring 92% proof alcohol on your bike, but also having yourself a little swig!! Remember this is 9am in the morning and were about the hurl ourselves down a road at 40-50mph!! Only in Bolivia.
20131024-125722 PM.jpg20131024-125739 PM.jpg20131024-125754 PM.jpg20131024-125802 PM.jpg

Once we had all blessed our bikes, geared up, briefed and got liquored up, it was time to hit the ‘easy’ section of our ride for the day. Which was a downhill tarmac road, giving us plenty of time to get used to our bikes, smooth out any issues there might be with the bikes and get our adrenaline flowing and wake us up. We also got to take in some awesome scenery and as the road was a nice easy ride with not too much traffic, you could actually see some of the scenery as well, unlike what we would on the Death Road where our absolutely every bit of our attention would be needed. Our guide even took some down time to show off a few wheelies and supermans, which it was tempting to try, but I did actually want to make the deathroad!
20131024-010400 PM.jpg20131024-010411 PM.jpg20131024-010418 PM.jpg20131024-010428 PM.jpg

We reached the start of the actual Deathroad around about 10:30am, as we had made really good time, took over some other groups and luckily nobody had fell off or give up. So we were given a good briefing about how this road would be different a) being completely gravel, therefore punishing on the arms and b) its the death road, ‘death’ meaning its fairly dangerous! Where we started also gave us a great view down the valley, where we could see a huge chunk of the ride we were about to do, including the lovely trucks, coaches and vans we were going to be running into! My initial thought was, they shouldn’t be a worry because obviously they will go snail pace, along the tiny one track dirt road with a massive drop on one side, how wrong I could of been, how stupid of me to forget that this is Bolivia and nobody EVER drives slow!! Instead what they do is drive as they would on a normal tarmac road but stick to the inside, away from the drop, which means when two cars meet, its all about slamming on the breaks as fast as you can or swerving and not driving off the cliff like a rally car driver!! Still can’t see where the name comes from huh!
20131024-011426 PM.jpg20131024-011434 PM.jpg20131024-011549 PM.jpg20131024-011553 PM.jpg

Luckily for us the guide had split the ride into small sections, so that we didn’t ride for any longer than 15mins at a time, which trust me on a gravel road were you either go fast and don’t break or break the whole way, either way its punishing on the legs and arms. I opted for the bat out of hell, shut off a stick, no breaks approach were any hiccup resulted in the backend sliding out and me constantly fighting with the bike to keep it in check. It was fun as f*ck though and got the heart racing to say the least. The stops we made were usually places of significance or awesome view/photo points, one of the first stops being where a Canadian girl managed to over judge the corner, ended up at the bottom of the cliff and after 3-4hours of silence came through, started screaming and was rescued by guides from different bike companies! They were all astounded that she was intact, let alone alive! Another stop was a awesome photo point, where the ledge overhangs the cliff, so you can dangle your bike over, sit on the edge or just do your favourite ‘trend’ holiday pose. Just before we were about to set off, before all of the other companies turned up, our bus driver and I thought we could hear barking, which I thought nothing off, but then when the driver said the nearest village is over 1hrs drive away, it caught our attention a bit more. It turned out that there was a big black Rottweiler at the bottom of the cliff, which as soon as we started looking down at it, stopped barking and just sat and looked at us! Before we knew it, everyone was intrigued to know what we were looking at and once our guide saw, it was action stations, after obviously getting the all clear from all of us, to stay around and try and rescue the dog from the bottom of a 100metre high cliff, which has no obvious way of getting down or getting a dog up!!!
20131024-013124 PM.jpg

After our guides and and the driver pulled out the climbing ropes from the back of the van (saved for a rainy day), Scooby (as he goes by) took it upon himself to go recce the situation, as from above it looked pretty plain sailing, but if that was the case why the hell was the dog not coming to us! As this was a popular spot, he said his walkie talkie had fell down this area before and he had climbed down a small section with no ropes, by small section I mean the first 20-30 metres of flat rock face! After reaching this space, he found that indeed the next part was not flat, as seen from above (as expected) and was a sheer drop with different levels all the way down. We just so happened to have a guy from NZ, who was a climbing instructor and got stuck into the action along with the driver, to help set up a rig for the ropes, so that once Scooby had reached the bottom, we could winch the dog back up. After about an hour, he finally reached the area with the dog and thankfully it didn’t bite him, runaway or worse! Instead the dog was placid and relived to see somebody. After making acquaintances and checking he wasn’t going to be savaged, Scooby went for a look around, as for a dog to be all the way down there, so far away from any villages, the only explanation could be that a car had gone over and the dog was in the car. After searching for about 30mins around the surrounding area, we were relieved to hear that it was only the dog, which obviously made it a greater mystery as it was completely unharmed, but at least there was nobody hurt or worse.
20131024-014623 PM.jpg20131024-014503 PM.jpg20131024-014511 PM.jpg

After spending about an 1 1/2hours getting Scooby down there and checking the area, it was now time for the monumental task off getting the dog back up the sheer cliff face. Firstly Scooby tried putting the dog in his bag, throwing it on his back and then having the kiwi, driver and other guide winch him up, however by the first ledge, the dog ripped the bag because it was so heavy! So Scooby re-rigged the dog into a homemade harness and it would be dog first, throw the rope back and he would work his way back up using knots and footholds. I was getting itchy feet by this point and had done so well to not get myself involved and try climb down the cliff, but enough was enough and i couldn’t resist, it was only a matter of time! Plus the guys were really struggling with hauling up the dog, as that motherf*cker was heavy! To put it in perspective, it took 4 fairly strong guys 45 straight minutes of pulling and winching the rope to get the dog to the top (well to where we were!). When we eventually got him up, the poor thing was absolutely terrified and wouldn’t come near us, which I wouldn’t blame him. While waiting for Scooby to winch himself back up, we slowly got the dog used to us and although he was still very jumpy, he did allow us to give him a stroke and get really close, which was definately going to come in handy for the next part of the challenge.
20131024-015624 PM.jpg20131024-015635 PM.jpg20131024-015716 PM.jpg20131024-015721 PM.jpg

The final section was the last 20-30mts that we had all scrambled down ropeless to get to the first ledge. Thanks to the awkward shape of the rock face and lack of options for anchors, we could only winch the dog about 30% up, which thankfully was the steepest part, however after that it was all going to be by hand, with brute strength and a lot of stability! We had the winching down to a T, so he was up in a matter of seconds, as we simply pulled up the rope without setting up an anchor and again went for the brute strenght approach. We then had to leapfrog up the cliff and two people would push the dog from behind while the other (precariously above) would heave him up. After about 20mins or so of this process, we finally got the dog to the top and he was very relived to have all his harnesses removed. It was a great effort by all 5 of us, but more so by Scooby our guide, who literally threw himself down the cliff, pretty epic experience and definitely not something I expected to do on the Deathroad! Scooby said he was going to take the dog in as his pet if he couldn’t find its owners and he would be called Rocky…nice.
20131024-020526 PM.jpg20131024-020541 PM.jpg20131024-020549 PM.jpg20131024-020556 PM.jpg20131024-020600 PM.jpg20131024-020605 PM.jpg

As we had spent 3 hours rescuing a dog and all of the other companies had now long gone, we had to make up some time. Therefore our stops were very limited, although still happened and unfortunately our time at the bottom was now shortened, as we had to leave before it got too dark and cold on the mountain pass. We had anticipated going back to La Senda verda, as it was across the river from where Barracuda finish and therefore we could bob in for a few hours, see our old friends and our old monkey friends too. Now our time was down to 30mins and would be a very flash visit. The rescue mission was worth it though and its slightly ironic that in the process of rescuing a dog, we ate into our time at the animal rescue centre! It turned out perfect in the end, as the owner Vicky had just returned from La Paz as we were knocking on the door and had we turned up earlier, we would have missed her. So maybe it was meant to be. We still got to see all of our favourite animals, including my little favourite Combo, the baby capuchin. 20131024-021332 PM.jpg

20131024-021339 PM.jpg

It was certainly an eventful day and when I signed up for the Deathroad, definitely not was I was expecting. The ride itself was awesome and I would happily do it again, although I would advise anybody who decides to adopt the shit of a stick approach to get ready for a all out pounding on the forearms and legs, good workout to say the least! Please also make the effort to go and visit if not stay at La Senda Verda as well, not enough companies push it doing the Deathroad, but they all finish in the village next door and its shame that so many people pass every day and don’t know it even exists.

Its now safe to say that I have survived the Deathroad, done that and got the T-Shirt….


La Frontera y Volvemos a Bolivia

Before arriving in La Paz to do the death road, we had ourselves a very interesting journey to cross ‘la frontera’ (border)! The idea was to leave Arequipa on our pre-booked bus, which ‘would’ arrive on time to catch the connecting bus at and only at 2:30. Luckily for us, our travelling luck was in and we had the privilege of following trucks on all of the single track roads, leaving us hoping that the ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ story was going to come good……….which it didn’t! We arrived exactly at 2:40pm, which once again our travelling luck was in and ALL of the connecting 2:30pm buses left nice and sharp that day! We therefore seeked out the next pausible route to get across the border. Which was a joyful 2 and 1/2 hour ‘taxi’ ride thats takes you to a very, very non touristy border, unlike the one when coming from Copacabana. Only in SA is it possible to grab a 4 person taxi for 2 1/2 hours!! Love this place.

Again our luck was on top form and we were (for the first time I might add) pulled into the customs office to be questioned, patted down, bags searched, individually while the other squirmed outside. After a slightly (used very lightly) smoother re-entry into Bolivia, we jumped on the next mini-bus bound for La Paz, which again was a delightful 2 1/2 hours on a very over crammed 6 person mini-bus. We ‘were’ meant ti be dropped off at one of the smaller more local bus depos, however as our luck was on tip too form that day, instead the driver thought it would be better to drop us in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in La Paz, as there was potential fares to pick up! So after being refused to be taken anywhere by a few taxis, as we were too far away from anything, we finally landed our first bit of good news that day and got one of the happiest, most helpful drivers we could of asked for and possibly had in South America this far. The guy wasn’t sure on where our hotel was, but said this was not a good neighbourhood for us to be in, so would help us find it anyway he could, which after his many questions to police officers and standers by, he managed to find it down a quiet little street in the safest and nicest neighbourhood of La Paz! Which we also had one of the nicest rooms we have had since being in SA and genuinely felt like the day hadn’t been a total right off, even though there was only 30mins of it left and it started at 7am!!

Safe to say it was one of our most interesting border crossings and was definitely not without its drama. What a difference a day makes though, as in the morning it turned out we were the only guests in the hotel and had possibly theeeee best breakfast we have had so far in SA and all to ourselves, complete with fresh bread, various fresh fruits, fresh juices, coffee, serrano ham and fresh cheese…….mmmmmmm. Strange how easily your happiness can be changed with a good lodge and good grub, making me nice and relaxed and ready to throw myself down the worlds dangerous road…..


A little bit of peace and quiet in Arequipa, Peru.

20131020-033409 PM.jpg

20131020-033420 PM.jpgView from our apartment at day and at dusk

Arequipa was a haven for us. We managed to find an apartment for cheap (cheaper than any hostel) and we pretty much had a 3 storey house to ourselves for a week! We were very happy. Never underestimate having your own space. After 9 months of having sometimes not even a room just to yourself where you can spread your things out and feel settled, we went to having a house with your own bed (big deal…) seperate living room (…wow…) and a CLEAN kitchen, not being used and mucked up by others where we didn’t have to store our food in the fridge in a plastic bag with our names on and no risk of it being eaten by others (this was the icing on the cake!) Its safe to say we were happy and felt at home and relaxed in Arequipa instantly.

Bearing this is mind, we actually did very little in Arequipa. Sometimes not even leaving our little neighbourhood. Like I said, we were happy just…being, I guess. We went to the local market and bought loads of fresh fruit and food and every morning had a beautiful fresh fruit salad with freshly squeezed OJ (Adams new speciality learnt from our host mum in Bolivia). We caught up on some exercise and constantly had our camera uploading to Skydrive (we were still uploading pics from Asia!)

The days we did decide to leave our nest, we got the local buses down the hill to the town centre and had a walk about the beautiful streets. Arequipa is a very beautiful city and it reminded us of Sucre in Bolivia quite a lot. This is maybe why we liked the place so much.

There is not really a lot to report on from Arequipa, but having a week to ourselves really makes you appreciate just ‘stopping’. Stopping from the buses, border crossings and constant unpack and repack routine. Stopping from just being on the move constantly. Not that you can complain about any of these things (they are amazing things to be able to do) But hopefully, any person/s in the same position can appreciate the feeling of just Stopping and just Being.

20131020-033718 PM.jpg

20131020-033722 PM.jpg