Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Iguazu Falls

Feeling lazy in the heat of the day I decided to hop in a taxi to take me to the RioViaria bus station, arriving in plenty of time for the first of many long bus rides I will no doubt encounter during this trip. Travelling from Rio in Brazil to Puerto Iguazu in Argentina was to take around 22 hours, but having booked the ticket in advance I got a pretty good deal on the Cama class bus, basically you can just about lay flat, one class shy of the buses where you can lie totally flat.

Getting over the border was easy enough, exit stamp in Argentina took no time and at the Brazilian side there was a little more faff but once everything was x-rayed we were good to go. Feeling pretty refreshed once I got to my hostel I decided to have a wander around the town, the jumping off point to see Iguazu Falls. These are the widest falls in the world at 275m and Iguazu literally means ‘big water’. When you see the falls themselves you can see why.

Getting to them is easy enough .There are two sides to the falls: the Argentinian side which gets you closer to the actual individual waterfalls and the Brazilian side which gives amazing panoramic views of the them.

Argentinian Side

From the bus station in Puerto Iguazu you can just take a 60 pesos round trip to the national park, buses come every 20/30 minutes.. Once in the park, there are three main circuits which are must dos: the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) trail which takes you right up to the biggest section and the centre piece of the falls, the Lower Circuit trail which takes you along the base of some of the falls and the Upper Circuit trail which takes you above a few of the others. Other trails include the Macuco Trail which is a 7km round trip to Salto Arrechea and not half as strenuous as it’s made out to be, and taking a boat trip to San Martin Island, but unfortunately this one was out of commission, probably due to recent rainfall.

Getting there relatively early, the best thing to do is take the train to the Devil’s Throat to try and avoid the big tour groups and later crowds. As you walk along the gangway, you can see the mist rising in the distance and when close enough you can hear the roar of the falls until you approach the site where you are at the end of the walkway looking into the water and getting soaked by the spray. It really is an amazing sight; a huge torrent of water exploding out into the river below, however you have to be quick with photos as the second a good photo opportunity comes, it is gone in the mist and both you and your camera will get wet.

Entrance to Devil's Throat

Approaching the Devil's Throat

Once you have been up and down to the Devil’s Throat, you can take it easy as the trails themselves are long enough not to get too caught up in crowds, only at the bottle neck view points do things start to get a little crowded.

On the Lower trail, you get a good soaking and vantage point around Salto Ramirez and Salto Bossetti, when open you can follow the path down to the dock to take the boat over to San Martin Island, and following the Upper Trail you have great views down into Saltos Dos Hermanos, Chico, Ramirez and Bossetti, culminating with great all round views of falls Mbigua, San Martin and Escondido right at the end of the Upper Trail around Salto Bernabe Mendez.

Lower trail

View of Saltos Adan, Eva and Bossetti

View of San Martin and Escondido

View of San Martin and Escondido

View along Lower Trail

Salto Alvar Nunex
 Upper trail

View over Bernabe Mendez

Above Salto Ramirez

Brazilian Side

This side is easily reached in a couple of ways: take a local bus to the Argentinian border, get it stamped, wait for another bus (if the one you were on left) to get to the Brazil border, get another stamp, get another bus to the park and repeat the process coming back, or sign up for a tour.

Usually I would just go about the cheaper more drawn out route but the tour also included a buffet (which had insane meat options), some time in Ciudad del Este in Paraguay (which ended up being the biggest waste of time ever unless I wanted to buy cheap, knock off goods) and Itaipu Dam (which provided a wonderful tour in Spanish). In conclusion, maybe just going to the Brazilian side of the falls on my own steam would have been a better option.

The Brazilian side of the falls is much smaller than the Argentinian side but it does offer amazing panoramic views. The first view point gives spectacular views of the waterfalls around the Upper Trail on the Argentinian side and the further along ‘The Path of the Falls’ you go, the better they become. The end of the walkway leads into the water and again you are taken into the mist of the falls before heading up to the lookout tower for one more final photo opportunity.

View of Saltos Adan, Eva, Bossetti and Mbigua among others

View of Salto Tres Mosqueteros in the foreground, Salto Rivadavia in the background

Approaching the biggest fall on the Brazilia side

There are less falls on this side but better views of the Argentinian side, whereas the Argentinian side is better for getting up close and personal with the falls. All in all, I would say you have to go to both sides in order to get the most out of this amazing natural experience.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Rio de Janeiro

After experiencing an amazing Carnaval where I had loads of fun and met some great people, it was sadly time to say goodbye to Olinda, and move on to Rio de Janeiro. Having a time constraint I was unable to slowly meander down the east coast of Brazil and soak in the sun, and instead opted for a flight straight to Rio from Recife. Having booked it in advance, it worked out to be pretty good deal.

Once in Rio, having just got a flight straight after a night out, I just jumped straight in a taxi and headed to downtown Lapa to my hostel. Bit of a dingy place but centrally located: close to the subway for access to the sights and the Lapa nightlife just around the corner.

Rather than rushing anything in the heat, decided to take my time about seeing the sights. I know most people would relish the opportunity to bathe on the Copacabana beach but with my wonderfully pale skin, I was quite happy to walk up and down through the surf, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy a couple beers watching the day go by: volleyball tournaments, ripped up lads and bimbos strutting their stuff, people running up and down the beach (it’s too hot for that lark people) and attempting to ignore vendors selling caps and shades.

Christ the Redeemer being one of the new seven wonders of the world is without question one of the highlights of Rio, if not the centre piece of the city. With Christianity being the religion of choice, it is revered by all and a tourist hot spot to boot. The brain child of  Heitor da Silva Costa, it was originally designed to have Christ holding a cross in one hand (to symbolise Christianity) and a globe in the other (to represent the world). Come Oct 12th 1931 when it was inaugurated, the design had slightly changed to what we have today, that of Christ in the position of a cross with the city of Rio itself representing the world.

Getting here is easy enough, there are buses from all over town to Cosme Velho, and if you say Corcovado to anyone they know what you are on about. (that's the name of the hill that it is on). Once at the bottom you can either get a shared bus ride to the top, or if you don’t mind waiting, there is the train to the top.

At the top there is minimal space to try and get that all important copy cat photo as the crowds are heaving and everyone is up there for the same thing, The panoramic views of Rio are incredible, there was a little haze up at the top so on an even clearer day the views would be even better.

Sugar Loaf mountain is another popular spot, again it is easy to get to and offers great views of the city, especially at sunset. At 396m it is significantly smaller than Corcovado which stands at 710m but you get better views of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. To get up to the top, you need to get the cable car which stops halfway on one mountain and then carries on up to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Around the Lapa area, you have to be a little careful as there are some dodgy characters about but by and large if you keep your wits about you, you’ll be okay. With it being Rio it is possible that you’ll bump into some trouble but if this were to happen I would consider myself unlucky, however it does happen.

Nearby to the hostel are the Lapa Arches, an old viaduct that the train up to Santa Teresa uses. Up here you are privy to one of Rio’s main tourist attractions, Escadaria Selarón. In 1990, a Chilean artist took it upon himself to decorate the steps with tiles from all around the world and after a 30 year period, he could well be still going. Looking up it looks great, however, looking down it just looks like a cobbled set of steps, looks like he has a little more work to do then. 

Although I only had limited time, I was able to see most things I wanted, a derby football game happened to be on the day I left which was a shame though, guess I’ll just have to make sure I fit in a Boca game in Buenos Airies, but before then, my first stop in Argentina will be Puerto Iguazu, the jumping off point to see the mighty Iguazu Falls.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Carnaval in Olinda, Brazil

Once the Carnaval started, it was pretty much impossible to get the views from the previous couple of days again, there was never a moment when the streets were even close to been clear, maybe in the early morning hours, say 5am. The thing that made this Carnaval different from those in Salvador, Rio ad Recife nearby is that it didn't go on into the early hours. The odd night might have had some road where things didn't quieten down until 2am or so, but by and large come midnight, most people were tucked away in the their homes and hostels and getting ready to start again in the morning. Come 8am, horns blaring, fireworks exploding and drums pounding sounded the alarm to get moving and start again.

Having met some great people in the hostel, we tried to arrange it that we'd do our own thing during the day and then meet up later in the afternoon. During the heat of the day, the party never let up, with many of the surrounding roads always packed with blocos streaming through the crowds; some pulling a float, others with a puppet at the front with a flag bearer and brass band behind playing the local frevo music that Olinda, and the Pernambuco region is famous for. It was just up to you whether you joined in their party or carried on chatting/ drinking/ dancing where you were.

Wherever you looked, there was a street vendor selling water and cans of Skol or Brahma, the beers of choice up north. Both watery badness that goes down well in the heat when cold, quite horrific when they are mildly chilled and horrendous at room temp. Best to get them down quickly then. When the beer gets to much, there are always the mixed drinks and when in Brazil, why look any further than the fabled Caipirinha, the most sugary drink on the planet, surely.

To make a Caipirinha you need:

Crushed Ice,
Cachaça (Brazilian sugar cane based alcohol)

Simply put some sliced lime in a canister, add 2 heaped table spoons of sugar (some of them had even more, it's a sweet drink in case you hadn't noticed). Use a crusher to mix the two together. Add some Cachaça, a couple of shots or so depending on how strong you want it, then add some crushed ice. Cover the canister and shake the living daylights out of it. Pour, drink, wince, get used to it, repeat.

There are other drinks of choice, but this would be the one I would go for. There's the chocolaty Capeta (not my favourite) or a Caprioska (think Caipirinha but with vodka instead). You can also mix up the fruit too, it doesn't always have to be limes. If you can handle the seeds, the passion fruit one is delicious.

Various squares throughout the town were set up with stages and at varying times throughout the day, there would be performances by different bands all pretty much playing the same music. It's not often you hear the same six or seven songs and like them even more at the end than at the start, something about them just makes you want to stamp you feet, raise your glass and dance. Of course the problem here is you look  a total gringo, as even the most ungifted Brazilian native can dance the samba and beyond and make it look easy. It's not, I just ended up stamping myself so I'll carry on with my generic clubbing moves. 

Down the bottom end of town, there is an area reserved for stalls selling drinks and food. It's also a decent place to rendezvous with lost friends, have a breather and prepare for another dance party or bloco. The food is pretty basic but who doesn't love beans and rice, and then there's the old family classic, Macaxeira (ma-ca-she-ra), meat and stodge, perfect to prepare for the next round of celebrating.

When you aren't dancing in a plaza by the stage or following a bloco and tapping away to the rhythm of the drums, you can quite happily stand to the side and watch as the revelry passes you by. This is one of the many reasons I chose this Carnaval as you can just watch a sea of colour pass you by and as it is so small and intimate, it was safe too, so taking pictures couldn't be easier. The people are also super friendly, so if you see someone in the parade who you think looks awesome, or you want to join in with them and dance, it isn't a problem, they are only too happy to accommodate you and dance and pose with you.

A genuinely pleasurable experience and one I would only be too happy to do again. However, if that were the case, next time I would bring an array of costumes and accessories. The amount of people dressed up in random regalia and genuinely original costumes was incredible. Besides that, there's not much more I would change about the way I celebrated Carnaval here in Olinda. A real treat and something I would recommend to anyone.