A Travellerspoint blog

Christmas in Rio

all seasons in one day 30 °C
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We arrived in Rio on Christmas Eve and sighed with relief as all our luggage appeared on the carousel. We checked into our hostel and signed ourselves up for Christmas lunch the next day which some of the other guests had volunteered to prepare.

Christmas Day in Rio was a lazy affair, waking late and heading to Copacabana for a morning swim. We followed up with a great lunch (Turkey and trimmings), Secret Santa, more beach, some volley ball and more swimming. I've attached photos of the lunch - they don't do it justice and it looks small relative to the feasts at home but at the time it really felt like Christmas – kudos to our English chef Martin.

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On Boxing Day we walked from Copacabana to Ipanema Beach to visit some local hippy markets and spend some time at the beach. The weather was overcast and incredibly humid but that didn't stop people packing onto the sand, with the number putting Bondi to shame.

The following day we met up with some friends from Uni for a tour covering some of the major sites – Cristo Redentor, the Sugar Loaf and the tiled steps in Lapa. The weather can make or break your sightseeing in Rio and others at the hostel had forked out $40 to take the train up to Christ the previous day only to see the inside of clouds and little else (not even the statue). We were lucky and reasonably clear skies gave us a great view over Rio from the hills.

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The obligatory shots of the Christ Statue and Rio are attached in the gallery and you can see from these why the geography makes it such an amazing location for a city.

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We decided on our last day to go hang gliding (our Christmas present to ourselves). The quality of the ride seemed to be dependent on the wind which was quite variable. While I got a great ride across the valley, Jess was only in the air for 6 or 7 minutes. That said, you really feel like you are one of the birds and it is definitely something I would do again. We forked out the extra money for the photos from the wing-tip and some of these are in the gallery.

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Rio was great and although the weather could have been slightly better you have to roll with the punches. Our New Year's destination is Florianopolis (Floripa for short) which is a beach strewn island a leisurely 18 hour bus ride south down the coast. Next update from there.

Posted by mwalmsle 18:16 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Salvador da Bahia

sunny 34 °C
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No update from Salvador da Bahia, nor from Rio or Florianopolis – the wheels are already falling off this train! I'll cover all of them over the next few days and will keep things reasonably brief for everyone's sanity.

Arriving in Salvador from the bottom of Argentina was a paradigm shift – moving from glaciers to tropical beaches and from Spanish and European influences to the heartland of Afro-Brazilian culture.

Salvador is the state capital of Bahia and due to the somewhat unique combination of indigenous, Portuguese and African cultures has a very different vibe to the Southern parts of Brazil. Known as one of the best places in Brazil for Carnival, the city's profile has been increasing in recent years and tourism is having a huge impact. While increased visitor numbers has obviously led to a huge influx of money and certainly improved the living standards of many I can't help but think it has also created a caricature of the culture to some extent, given rise to some over the top tourist activities and created an army of scammers out to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists such as Jess and I - we were minor victims!

It also isn't known as the safest place for tourists to explore freely with areas outside the tourist centres essentially a no go for travellers. That said, if you (as recommended) confine yourself to the old city and a couple of small inner city beach suburbs you have nothing to be worried about – must be something to do with the police stationed on every corner!

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While our first couple of days were spent antagonising Aerolineas Argentina and the associated airport staff into returning my lost luggage, we did manage to explore the Pelourinho (the old central city quarter where we stayed) and had a Tuesday night out (the biggest night of the week in the Pelourinho) when the streets come alive with free music and drum shows. Right next to our hostel there was a free concert which a local artist has put on every Tuesday for the past 8 years which we were able to watch from the roof. We also saw an amazing dance show showcasing the various styles of Brazilian dance and took a day trip out to an island to relax on the beaches and eat some of the delicious Bahian cuisine – stews made out of Fish and Shrimp.

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In retrospect we had a great time in Salvador but I would do things a little differently if we came again. Firstly, the airline wouldn't lose the bags, which would be a great start and give us a couple of extra days! Secondly, I would spend only two days in Salvador proper (one of those being a Tuesday night in the Pelourinho) and then use the rest of the time to explore Bahia. Either north to Lencois and some great beaches and/or South to Morro (an island) and Itacare (great surf beach) all of which I have been told are amazing.

As Christmas Eve is an important night for Brazilians we were able to get a cheap flight from Salvador to Rio at 4pm on the 24th of December. I'll post the Rio update shortly.

Posted by mwalmsle 17:23 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Patagonia - Part 2

El Chalten, El Calafate & Perito Moreno Glacier

semi-overcast 10 °C
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El Chalten must definitely be the highlight of the trip so far. Marketing itself as Argentina's premier trekking (tramping / hiking) destination it is surrounded by Los Glaciares National Park and presided over by two imposing mountains, Mount Fitzroy (3,400m) and Cerro Torre (3,100m). Both of these peaks have almost vertical granite faces on all sides and the level of difficulty attracts a lot of hardcore climbers.

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Rather than tackling vertical cliffs Jess and I took advantage of the numerous walks throughout the area which are spectacular. The accessibility of these walks was amazing and while we restricted ourselves to day walks of around 6 hours, there are plenty of longer walks and places to camp.

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We walked through and past amazing alpine forests, lakes and glaciers, of which I have attached heaps of pictures. We were pretty lucky with the weather, while it was blowing a gale most of the time this didn't hinder our walks at all and the only negative was that cloud in the mountain prevented me taking clear pictures of Fitzroy and Cerro Torre to share with you all. That and the worlds worst ham and cheese sandwiches which Jess and I bought to take on our first day trekking, they were so bad that we were literally gagging trying to force them down!

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Other than the ham and cheese sandwich experience the food in the town was great and we dined like kings most nights on Argentinian BBQ and the local trout given that we were not spending any money walking during the day. Plus, the hostel we had booked was full and they moved us to a much nicer hotel next door at the same rate. I imagine this will be the nicest place we will stay on our trip.

We spent three full days in El Chalten and would have stayed longer if we didn't have a plane to catch to Brazil, so it was with much regret that we boarded the bus to El Calafate, our final destination in South America.

On the bus the only interesting occurrence was Jess's water bottle leaking throughout her small backpack, including all over her passport. This made for some exciting mid bus ride drying and flattening efforts. Fingers crossed the passport has survived and our entrance to Brazil is not impeded! For future reference I shall call this the “watergate” incident.

El Calafate seems to owe its current existence to its proximity to El Chalten and the Perito Moreno glacier. We stayed here only one night to visit the glacier before leaving for Brazil.

Words can't describe the glacier suffice to say it puts the glaciers in New Zealand to shame. I guess for a start Los Glaciares National Park looks to have at least 10 glaciers, if not more. Perito Moreno is not the largest, that distinction going to Glacier Viedma which is more than 700 square kilometres, but is the most active, advancing around 2 meters a day into Lake Argentino. This is is stark contrast to most glaciers around the world which are receding rather than advancing. Due to the constant advancement the glacier is incredibly active and from an elaborate network of board walks you can hear the ice cracking and groaning and see huge chunks breaking off into the lake from the 60 meter high, 5km long ice face. I took heaps of photos trying to capture the shear size and deep blue colour of the glacier and some videos to show the massive ice falls and these are all in the gallery.

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Jess and I are heading to Brazil next so our next update will be from Salvador de Bahia.

Posted by mwalmsle 19:05 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

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