A Travellerspoint blog

February 2013

Paraguay

24.02.2013 - 28.02.2013

sunny 35 °C

As there are not that many touristic highlights in Paraguay, my stay here only lasts a little over 4 days. Yet, I have to say I’m happy I came here. It’s a huge difference with Brasil in many ways. Coming from mostly busy places with many tourists, Paraguay seems deserted. Everything is so calm and people often look surprised when even seeing a tourist walking around in the city.

The country seems a little ‘less developed’ and that shows in many ways. It’s very cheap (on average, I spend about half of what I spent in Brasil per day), much less organized (eg. bus services), there is a lot of poverty (people living in houses made of wood and plastic), you see kids in the street selling stuff or cleaning shoes,… But the people are so friendly, maybe partly because they are not used to tourists.

During my short stay here, I only have 2 major touristic stops. First I visit the Jesuit missions of Trinidad and Jesús, about 1 hour driving from Encarnación in the South of Paraguay. It are the ruins of 2 cities, built in the 17th century, in order to convert indigenous people into Catholicism. The places are very beautiful and it is amazing we have this Unesco world heritage sites just for our own. If this place were for example in Brasil or Perú, it would be crowded with tourists and it would take away a lot of the charm.

Pictures Trinidad and Jesús...

The next big stop is the capital, Asunción. It’s a city full of contrasts and hard to imagine this is the capital of a country, because it feels like a mid-size, sleepy city. There is not a whole lot to do here, but it’s a fascinating atmosphere. You can have very modern buildings next to a beautiful colonial house. You can have a nice park at one side of the street and people living in wooden barracks at the other side. The local market is huge and must have kilometers of narrow corridors and thousands of small stores selling anything you can imagine: fresh fish, local specialties, jewelry, all kinds of clothes and shoes (mostly fake), ripped DVDs,…

The first night I there, celebrate my birthday by having some beers with the people from the hostel. It’s Tuesday, so there is not too much to do in town but still it’s a nice evening. On my birthday itself, I visit the town and go to bed in time. I have to get up the next morning at 5h to catch my flight to Lima and I’m very tired. No matter how exhausted I am, I do not manage to sleep longer then 7h30 every day, since my arrival here in South-America. So about 2 months with about 6h of sleep per night is starting to show: super tired, light headache all the time and my voice that disappearing… Hopefully I get some more sleep soon!!

Pictures Asunción...

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Posted by tombroekaert 05:54 Archived in Paraguay Comments (0)

Brasil

09.02.2013 - 24.02.2013

sunny 37 °C

Brasil was originally not on my planning, but convinced by other travellers and driven by the urge to see what all this carnival is about, I decided to go anyway. And what a good decision, Brasil has been extreme in any way: the carnival, the people, the weather the beaches,… I already know: I’ll be back!

It’s a 19h but very comfortable bus drive from Montevideo (Uruguay) to Florianópolis (Brasil). The bus company is Brazilian and I immediately understand it will be very difficult to understand anything of the Portuguese language. Written, it is similar to Spanish, but it sounds completely different, at least in the beginning. During my stay in Brasil, I also learn there are almost no Brazilians that speak English, or even Spanish.

When I arrive to Florianópolis (Floripa in short), it is evening and I feel very tired because I didn’t catch a lot of sleep on the bus. I do explore the town, which is nothing special, but I do get a first taste of Brazilian carnival. The next day I explore the south of Ilha Santa Catarina, the island on which Floripa is located. It’s extremely hot, about 38 °C and the humidity of the tropical forest doesn’t help. I take a hike to a beautiful beach and when I can finally swim in the cool water of the ocean, watching the white beach with the green mountains behind it, it feels like heaven. On the way back, I try an alternative route. The very small path through the jungle sometimes leads into a dead end and slowly I work my way back. I meet strange animals: huge lizards or leguanos, chicken-like running birds, colorful butterflies and too often I literally run into spider webs. A little later I see a big sign indicating ‘Área Militar’. I don’t speak Portuguese, but this I understand, I’ve been walking for over an hour in military domain…

A refreshing shower makes me ready for the carnival later at night. What a party… The crowd literally goes crazy, a lot of stories are no material for this blog… But it’s a great party, the shows and the people are amazing and we celebrate until the morning comes. Although the next day is cloudy, I wake up too early because of the heat. Around noon it even rains for an hour, but the rest of the afternoon I can spend on the beach relaxing and sleeping to get ready for another carnival night. It is as crazy as the first one, what an atmosphere!

Pictures Florianópolis...

The next day I head to Rio de Janeiro, but not without problems. First I have difficulties getting money from Western Union, but in the end I manage to get it anyway. When arriving at the bus station, the direct bus to Rio is full and I have to go via Sao Paulo. It turns out to take a little more time, but it’s a little cheaper so no problem.

I arrive in Rio early in the morning and spend the rest of the day exploring the north of the city. In the evening I take the lift to Pão do Açuúcar, a 400m high rock with magnificent views over Rio. It’s crowded there, but as the night falls over Rio, people start heading home. I enjoy valentine’s night there in this quiet place, the view of the city is just spectacular and so relaxing. I must have been sitting there for two hours, when a guard calls me the latest lift down is about to leave.

The next day I take the small train to Cristo Redentor, the Christ statue overlooking Rio and one of the new world wonders. It’s a fun train ride with live samba music, but not a very nice experience once at the top. There are way too many people, so no chance of taking some time to enjoy the views over Rio or of the statue. I take the obligatory pictures to prove I’ve been there but go back down quite soon. I do south of the city, including Ipanema and Copacabana beach. Although the official carnival is overstill a lot of people have the rest of the week off. so the beaches are very crowded and full of life: guys showing their football skills, girls parading up and down the beach, everyone taking a refreshing swim now and then,… In the night we go to a samba club in Lapa, where I try the dance moves and envy the locals that are samba masters. Incredible!

The next day in the afternoon, I take the bus to Parque National da Tijuca. It’s only a 30 min drive from Rio, but you’re in the middle of tropical rain forest. It’s a nice walk through the jungle, along some waterfalls. But still, it’s só hot and humid and everything I crave for after the walk is an ice cold beer. At night, I go to Sambódromo, thé carnival parade everyone must have seen images from on tv. It’s the champion’s night: the 6 best samba schools show their skills in a parade that lasts 8 hours in total. After every school, you think the parade cannot get any better, beautiful or more impressive and yet it builds up to an absolute climax around 4h in the morning. This parade was só impressive and this only would have been worth coming to Brasil for.

Rio… It’s a city you MUST love as a tourist. It has everything and more: history and economy, beaches and mountains, hide-aways and busy nightlife,… But in a way I’m glad this is my last night in the city as well. Having to be so careful in order not to be robbed is not the nicest feeling. And in the city itself: it’s busy, noisy, very often dirty and smelly, incredibly hot,…

Pictures Rio de Janeiro...

So after a very short night, I get up in time to travel to Ilha Grande. By bus and boat I get to the island. The two days there I spend walking, but mostly relaxing on the beach: finding and opening coconuts, swimming at the absolutely gorgeous Lopes Mendes beach, playing coconut jeu de boules, having caiperiñas,… It’s a nice and relaxing time, a nice break after the madness in Rio.

Getting from Ilha Grande to Foz do Iguaçu, my last stop in Brasil, turns out to be difficult. I have problems, once again, getting my money from Western Union and by the time my parents can make the necessary changes, banks are closed. I don’t have enough money for transportation so I lose a day by staying in this small town to get the money from the bank only the next day.

Pictures Ilha Grande...

In Foz do Iguaçu, close to the border with Argentina, I spend 2 full days to see the main attractions there. First of all there are the Iguaçu waterfalls, and absolute wonder of nature. An uncountable number of waterfalls form a spectacular scene. You can walk around all day, seeing the waterfalls from from below and above, from close and far,… It’s something you can just keep looking at.
The next day I go to the Itaipú dam. It was the biggest dam in the world, until they built that new one in China. Yet, it remains the biggest hydroelectrical plant in the world. From far away it doesn’t seem that impressive, until you realize that what you see is 140m high and 8km wide. And when you go close and inside, you realize how huge this is. As an engineer, of course I’m thrilled to do the visit. A technical world wonder you could say.

Pictures Foz do Iguaçu...

The next day I leave for Paraguay, where I can spend just a few days before flying back to Lima. It’s been a fantastic time in Brazil and I’m glad I changed my planning. Of course I don’t know what I’ve missed out on in Bolivia, so that remains on my to do list.

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Posted by tombroekaert 14:14 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Uruguay

6.02.2013 - 9.02.2013

sunny 28 °C

Just across the river from Buenos Aires and 1 hour by boat, you have Uruguay. I’m told it’s not a spectacular country, but when so close it would be stupid not to make a stop. It’s also my gateway to the next stop, which is still unclear. The question is: Brazil or Bolivia…

My first stop in Uruguay is Colonia del Sacramento, where I only spend 1 night. It’s a small and charming town, but besides that there is not much to do. The next morning I already leave for Montevideo, only 2 and a half hours further along the coast.

Pictures Colonia...

The city center is very small and in 2 hours you have seen all historical buildings and plazas. Thank god Montevideo has more to offer: beaches! So I take some time to relax on the beach, swim and play beach volleyball with the locals. The 2nd night is the start of the carnival period in South America and we have a great party with the people from the hostel.

Maybe it’s because it was a very short period here, maybe it’s because nothing spectacular happened, maybe it’s because I’m still wasted from the party yesterday but… That’s all I have to say for now!

Oh, some side notes... After my wallet was stolen in Buenos Aires, I’m still surviving. My parents are sending me money with Western Union so I’m surviving well. And, I have finally decided to go to Brazil after all! In a few moments I’m heading for the bus to Florianopolis!

Pictures Montevideo...

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Posted by tombroekaert 10:27 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

Argentina

27.01.2013 - 6.01.2013

sunny 35 °C

The first stop in Argentina is Salta, where I got after a long but beautiful trip on the bus. It is a very beautiful and charming city, In the surroundings of the city, there is also a lot to see, but most of the tours visit areas similar to what I have already seen or what I’m thinking I will see later during my trip.

Pictures Salta...

Hence, and because my time is limited, I decide to leave the day afterwards already to Cachi. The bus leaves at 7 in the morning, but the road goes through a national park so I keep my eyes open for the amazing views. Mostly the road is not paved and very narrow. If this is not categorized as a dangerous road, I’m really curious about the ‘Death Road’ in Bolivia… Cachi itself is very calm and charming, but not that impressive. I decide to rent a mountain bike and explore the surroundings of the village, ancient ruins of a civilization that fought both the Inca’s and the Spaniards, and a cemetery. I do about 45km with a lot of height difference, so I’m exhausted by the time I get back. Most tourists just come during the day, so at night I find myself alone in the hostel…

The next day, I hitchhike my way south to Cafayate. There is no bus connection and you notice why: there is hardly any traffic. The few people that do pass by are super friendly. Whoever has some space left and goes in the right direction stops and gives me a lift. It’s an amazing experience, something you would never experience in a bus. I need 4 different lifts and mostly, I’m happy when all 4 wheels are still attached to the car when they drop me. The road is not paved (and all 165km I do were part of the 2013 edition of the Paris-Dakar rally) and the cars are mostly very old. I have nice conversations in the cars, but also with a police officer in a very small town – not even on the map – which tries to sell me weed and cocaine. The second half of the route is breathtaking, driving through quebradas (gorges), having volcanic rock formations rising up left and right from the car.

By 16h in the afternoon, the last lift drops me on the main plaza of Cafayate. I explore the small town and at night, we try to make a party with the people from the hostel. Unfortunately it’s Wednesday and there is not a lot going on besides live folklore music, which works as well… The next day I take a bike tour through the vineyards, in the area that is known for its Torrontés grapes, a variety which is not known in Europe, and in the afternoon I already take the bus to Córdoba

The first half of the journey is to Tucumán, where I arrive around 19h in the evening, giving me just enough time to explore the city ‘by night’. It’s perfect, as the monuments are spectacularly lighted at night and the views of the plaza, the cathedral,… are amazing. Unfortunately, my camera runs out of battery right after the 1st night picture… Although it’s evening and dark, it’s still very hot in Tucumán and I’m happy I can cool down for half an hour in the air-conditioned bus terminal before I take the night bus to Córdoba at midnight.

Pictures Cachi, Cafayate and Tucumán...

The next morning I arrive to Córdoba. After the check-in in the hostel, I leave to Villa General Belgrano, about 1h30min south of Córdoba. It’s a village that Germans founded after a battleship was sunk off the coast of Montevideo. You can tell right away, the German-style houses are all over, just like the advertisements for the yearly Oktoberfest and German or locally brewed beers, schlager music,… Of course, I cannot leave before tasting the ‘German’ beers, but it’s not my thing: way too sweet. It reminds me there must be an opportunity for making a premium Belgian beer in South America. Something to keep in mind…
Afterwards I go to Alta Gracia, a charming little town where I also visit the house where Ernesto Che Guevara grew up. I only get back to the hostel by 21h30, while the warmth is still overwhelming. I enjoy a cool shower, but it only helps for 5 minutes. Although it’s Friday, I take it easy. After the folklore party on Wednesday, the night bus on Thursday and a long & hot day today, my batteries need to be recharged…

The next day I visit Córodoba. It’s a fascinating city: mixing history and economy, noise and tranquility, locals & internationals,… If it wasn’t for the heat, I’d say this would be a sweet place to live. At night I go to Argentina’s ‘el superclasico’: River Plate vs Boca Juniors. We manage to score tickets for the sold out match at the entrance of the stadium. 2 hours before the start of the match, the stadium is almost full and people are singing already. It’s a great match with plenty of opportunities but unfortunately, ‘we’ (Bocas) lose 2-1. But the atmosphere is amazing. The fans are singing and standing by there team all match long and the referee is called ‘hijo de puta’ only once during the match. I think fans in Belgium can learn a lot…

We only get back from the match by 3h in the morning, and after a last beer in the hostel, I get a good night’s sleep. The last day in Córdoba I relax, spending some time walking around and enjoying the sun: a nice change in the otherwise busy schedule. At night I catch the bus to Buenos Aires, my last stop in Argentina. When I want to buy the ticket I notice both my debit and credit card are blocked. Thank god I can pay in dollars, but I’m running very short in cash… Unlike Peru and Chile, buses are not very punctual in Argentina and we leave almost 1h30 minutes late.

Pictures Córdoba...

The next day my cash issues are solved and I can continue without troubles. I spend 2 full days in Buenos Aires. It’s a huge city and walking around between the different sights takes time and is exhausting. I have mixed feelings in the city. It is very nice, but it could be so much more. A lot of beautiful buildings are hidden behind trees, flag poles, modern ‘art’,… And right in front of others, they have made a bus terminal. As I’m not 100% convinced, I decide to move on to Uruguay after two days already.

When heading from the hostel to the boat to Uruguay, my wallet is stolen on the subway. It’s very crowded and I’m carrying 2 bags, and I don’t even notice I was robbed until I want to pay my taxi at the boat terminal. Luckily a friendly Argentinian pays the taxi for me and later I get a little cash from an American guy. Together with the 50 euros I’ll change, I should be able to survive the first moments!
I’ve only lost about 30 dollars (I had spent all my Argentinian money because I was leaving for Uruguay), along with my credit/debit cards, my Belgian ID and driving licence. So… nothing too serious, thank god I still have my passport!

Pictures Buenos Aires...

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Posted by tombroekaert 13:24 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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