Patagonia

The next morning, we set off for Torres del Paine National Park. It’s got two multiple day hiking treks, but since we have the car (and no tent), we decided to just drive around and do short hikes instead. Our first stop was Lago Grey, with view of Glacier Grey (and an iceberg floating in the lake!).

Two other hikers were very lucky that Wicked had given us a jump start cable because they had left the light on (you have to have your light on at all times in Chile and Argentina) and their battery was flat. Could just as easily happen to us, because the van doesn’t warn you when you’ve left the light on…
After Lago Grey, we did another short walk in an area with strong winds (they’re not kidding when they say that, felt in danger of being blown off my feet at times!).

A ticket to the park allows you to stay for up to three days and with a van like ours you an overnight in one of the parking lots (whereever there are bathrooms). Unfortunately, we stayed near a river with a lot of mosquitos! The next morning, we did part of the walk to Mirador del Torres. With hindsight I really wish we’d planned better and done the whole hike… But hey!


In the afternoon, we left the park and crossed into Argentina (there are no roads going North in Chile at that point). We stayed in El Calafate and enjoyed our first hot shower in days at the campsite… 🙂 We also took a drive to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares for Perito Moreno glacier. We went in the afternoon to avoid the crowds, but unfortunately it was a bit rainy. Still very impressive to see (and hear!) a glacier up close though!


Our next stop in Argentina was El ChaltĂ©n, which is actually in the same national park (but this time we didn’t have to pay stupid amounts of money like we did for the glacier). We took a hike to Laguna Torre in beautiful sunshine.

As we left El ChaltĂ©n that evening, we took two French/Basque hitchhikers who have been making their way through Argentina and Chile, playing the guitar and slacklining in bigger cities to make some money. We said we’d drive until about 9pm and then just stop on the side of the road somewhere……….. And we should have stopped when we saw a sign announcing resurfacing of Ruta 40 for the next 72km! It wasn’t fun driving across gravel and mud while it was getting darker and darker (no street lights). But there wasn’t really any good place to stop either, so we kept going and got stuck in the mud at some point (good thing we had taken those hitchhikers to help push us out!). When we finally finished the 72km around 11pm, we just pulled over and slept (best thing about the van). The next morning, we said goodbye to the hitchhikers and continued on to see the Cueva de las Manos, which are 9000 year old handprints and paintings on the side of the rock in a beautiful secluded canyon. Once again, the road leading up to and away from it were rather challenging (steep inclines this time, plus also gravel).

We made it to the town of Perito Moreno in the evening and stayed in the municipal campsite, where we met a Canadian couple who’s been driving down from Canada! We were planning on crossing back into Chile to see Laguna San Rafael, but they told us the roads were really really bad (and it was quite far), so in the end we decided to keep driving in Argentina. They also suggested that we could try and get a boat from Colombia to Panama and then fly to the US from there – we were hoping to have enough money at the end to go to the San Blast islands and apparently these boats go via them as well, but for less money than a special cruise. Let’s see if that works!

Staying in Argentina meant that we would pass by Bariloche and the Lake District. But before heading there, we decided to spend the night in another national park close by (Parque Nacional de Alerces). Funnily enough, on our way there we picked up the same French hitchhikers again – which was handy, because they’d forgotten a jumper in the car (I was ready to claim it, but was also happy to be able to give it back). Plus, they gifted us a little Bluetooth speaker after having to listen to our tiny one for a while. Result!

The park itself was beautiful, full of trees and lakes. We camped near the lake and enjoyed a very starry night (also full of mosquitos though). We had breakfast near the lake, watching the sun come up…

Before driving on, we went for a little walk, hoping to see a puma (we didn’t).

On our way north, we passed by the cabin in which Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lived after fleeing the US.

 

A rather aggressive police control later (including a sniffer dog!), we found a nice campsite in Colonia Suiza near Bariloche. The owner Ana put on the Chile vs Argentina game in the evening and we watched it together with her and some other guests, including an American couple in their late 40s/ early 50s who have “retired” to travel around the world for the rest of their lives. It’s always interesting to hear these stories and how people realise their dreams.
The next day, we did the Circuito Chico, which is a circular route around Lago Moreno. We started with a 30min hike up a rather steep hill for a view of the lakes. The rest of the day was very relaxed as we drove around and stopped occasionally, but we didn’t want to leave the car alone for too long as we had been warned that there are a lot of break ins in that area.


We got back early on and Oscar decided to try to slow cook some meat like we had eaten in the hostel in FlorianopĂłlis (it turned out well).


Next day we started driving up via the 7 lakes route. We gave a lift to a Spanish hitchhiker on her way to Chile as well. This particular border crossing is in a national park and so we had some nice views even after the lake district. Chile is very strict about what you can bring into the country and we were advised to declare stuff rather than them fining us if they found anything. We had to get rid of onions and other vegetables we had in the car, but they also pretty much took everything apart (including checking in our dirty clothes….). I don’t think the van design does us any favours in those cases!

Punta Arenas

We arrived around 7pm and had a bit of trouble finding our accommodation (the place looked like a normal house, so I decided it couldn’t be it). Our first meal in Chile was the biggest steak we’ve ever seen (for Oscar) and a mixed lasagna (for me), either of which would have fed about 3 people. Oscar almost cried at his inability to finish his steak :).
The next morning was the big day to pick up our Wicked Camper! I’d been looking forward to having a car and being able to drive and stop whenever we want to. We got dropped off by a taxi driver with plastic sheeting for a window. The first van we saw had “Femme Fatale” on the side and Oscar said “This better not be ours”. But of course it was :).


Alejandro, the person responsible for Wicked vans in Punta Arenas, took a lot of time to talk us through everything. We were planning on buying sleeping bags but there was a shelf of free stuff that other people had left, which happened to contain two sleeping bags, pillows and a woolly blanket (and since we have silk sleeping bag liners, we were happy to take them!). We were off! Straight to the supermarket where we spent the next 3 hours stocking up. Our first purchase was a Chilean SIM which, a week later, has only worked properly once. Oh well!

We decided to spend the first night south of Punta Arenas so we could test everything before actually setting off. We headed off towards Fuerte Bulnes and got lucky an hour into our drive along the Strait of Magellan – three dolphins playing in the water not too far off the coast. The drive took us through a number of small villages and past old fishing boats and we got a first taste of the gravel roads that you find in many places in Patagonia. Having reached the fort too late for entry, we continued on until the end of the road to reach the “southernmost lighthouse of the Americas”, San Isidro. Unfortunately, it was really late once we got there, so we decided to park up for the night rather than walk in the dark. We chose a nice location by the Strait close to a fisherman’s hut and tested the gas cooker and bed. Our new sleeping bags and blanket kept us quite warm and it was comfortable enough that we slept in until 10am!
We then went back to Fuerte Bulnes and explored the reconstructed fort there. Unfortunately, due to recent puma sightings, a lot of the walks were closed…

On our way past Punta Arenas, we picked up some more provisions and petrol (there are not a whole lot of petrol stations down here, so you’re recommended to fill up whenever you can) before continuing on to Puerto Natales. While looking for place to park up for the night, we drove past the Greenpeace ship ‘Rainbow Warrior’, which had apparently arrived the day before.
We spent the night on a parking lot near the sea, next to a French family who had been stuck there for a week due to issues with their van. Hopefully that won’t happen to us!

Ushuaia

Our flight to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires was one of the shakiest both of us have ever been on, from take off to landing (people actually applauded with relief once the pilot sat the plane down). Coming out of the airport was a bit of a temperature shock, it was about 6 degrees and rainy. We shared a cab into town with two random French ladies, got into our paint smelling apartment and turned on the heating. Annoyingly, the only kitchen gadget in the apartment was a kettle – no fridge, no stove… The only useful thing in there was an extra bed in the kitchen, so that we could host Max (who we had met in the school in Buenos Aires) for the second night.
We had booked our stay in Ushuaia early on – before the lessons we learned about not just booking two nights! So we only had one full day to discover anything of the area and had to make a choice between the National Park and another hike recommended to us, to Laguna Esmeralda. We decided for the Laguna n d set off the next day in a shuttle bus with one other person, a book seller/ musicians from Buenos Aires. It had been raining quite a lot, so the path was very muddy on top of being very boggy in the first place. Fortunately, we’d bought new trainers that let the water go through rather than keep it in and they were put to good use when Oscar decided to take a path that meant we had to cross a small river!
Once we reached the lake, it was clear why it had been recommended to us. The colour really was emerald and it must be even more stunning in good weather.
On the way back, the sun decided to come out for a little, which made for a more pleasant return trip.

(Photos are still on the camera – will upload more later)

Max joined us in the apartment that evening and we shared a rapidly cooling take-away meal in our ‘kitchen’.

The next morning, we already got on the bus to Punta Arenas in Chile. While driving, we crossed the Straits of Magellan (where we had to disembark from the coach and stand on the ferry deck while crossing). Oscar was moaning about the cold, but I was really excited to be crossing this stretch of water that I remember reading about when I was a child.

Buenos Aires

We got to Buenos Aires on the 1st of March and by that point I think we were both ready to move on from Carnival! Plus we wanted to have a bit of time before our Spanish course to discover the city.

We took the bus to SĂŁo Paulo and stayed over at our friend Erika’s house. We went for dinner with her father, brother and Luiz.

Her father took us to the bus station the next morning and made sure we were going in the right direction for the airport. Communication was not the easiest, but the whole family was super friendly.

We had booked an apartment in the Palermo area of Buenos Aires, as recommended​ by Fernando. It’s a very nice area full of bars and restaurants. We arrived after midnight, but this being Argentina, we had no problem getting dinner in the area. And we took care of an important thing the best day, which was to buy some Malbec after two months of mainly drinking beer!

We met up with Angel and Elisa the next night and they took us to a nice restaurant where Oscar could get the kind of steak he’d been talking about for weeks!

We also got introduced to a “Pinguino”, which is a penguin-shaped jug with house wine that you can order in restaurants.

We went on one of the free walking tours in the city again, which was really good.

On Saturday, we met with Angel and Elisa on Plaza Francia for some mate. We had tried before but found it very bitter, but they had brought sugar which makes it a lot easier for beginners! 🙂

It’s quite funny because when you drink together, one person is responsible for filling up the cup with water and handing it to everyone in turn. A bit like passing around a joint…

In the evening, we met with Fernando’s friend Santiago, who I had already met in London. We had a great dinner with him and his fiancee and then got taken to a speakeasy bar in the basement of a flower shop!

On Sunday, Elisa and Angel took us to the “Feria de Mataderos”, a weekly market with traditional crafts, food and music.  There are a lot more traditional dances in Argentina than we had ever heard of… And we got to see some dancers in traditional clothes.

Tamales and Loucro

Making empanadas

On Monday, we had to get up early for the first time in months to get to the Spanish School. They had organised a stay with a retired art professor in Recoleta for us, which was in a huge apartment on Avenida Santa FĂ©, a big road with shops.

The school (Expanish) is quite big and there were a lot of – mainly European – students. A lot of Swiss, actually!

There were quite a few events after classes, so we got to see a bit more of Buenos Aires in the afternoon. We also went to a Tango class which was fun.

Casa Rosada

In Puerto Madero

Puente de las Mujeres

Plaza de Mayo

We left Buenos Aires after just a bit more than a week, feeling that we really should have had more time. I really liked the city, it’s a place I feel I could easily live!

 

 

 

Rio de Janeiro (part 2)

We got to Rio on the evening of the Sutton – Arsenal match and found a tiny little bar with a TV that was happy to put it on for us.

Afterwards we headed to our accommodation for the next few nights – this was the first time ever that we actually couchsurfed rather than hosted. We stayed with a guy called Nilo in a flat he shared with two friends in Lapa (the party area of Rio). We only met one of his housemates, as they both work on large oil ships and are away for a month at a time and then back on land for a month.
Nilo will also start working on one of these shortly. Apparently it is very good money, but not so great for a settled life (as you can imagine).
Since we had got the most important sights out of the way earlier, we took it quite easy this time. Most of the first day was spent at the markets near Uruguaiana to see if they could fix the iPhone Oscar had dropped the day before (they couldn’t). In the evening, we met up with Nathalia again and this time we also got to see another of our previous Couchsurfers, Ana. They in turn were meeting with a couple from Martinique that had hosted her and Nathalia in Paris.


Oscar had joined up with a number of randoms via Couchsurfing and an English guy from the group joined us for drinks (Oscar and Joey went partying in Copacabana once the rest of us had given up).

The next day, we took the little tram up to Santa Theresa, which is a beautiful arty area on the hill. Lene had recommended a bar up there for Feijoada and it was really good.

In the evening, we had some drinks with Nilo, Alisson (the housemate) and a friend of theirs and then went to the same little alley that Nathalia and Flavio had taken us two weeks earlier.
Another place on Lene’s list of recommendations was Pedra Bonita. Nilo had told us about it as well, so the next day we headed there. One of the people from the hostel in Salvador, Abi, was already in Rio and joined us along with two of his friends. After a short hike, you get stunning views of the city.

We were planning to meet Abi and his friends in Lapa later that night. A Chilean girl called Anto (from the Couchsurfing carnival group) came to meet us at Nilo’s. We then went to meet Alisson and a Polish girl, who had met one of his close friends somewhere else in South America and was spending carnival in Rio as well. A few caipirinhas and a club lter, I was ready to go home (Anto and Oscar kept partying, met Abi – and Oscar came back absolutely covered in glitter :-p.

By this point, it was Friday and carnival was officially about to start! We moved all our stuff to a hotel near the bus station that we had booked on Black Friday sales. Not a terrible selection this time, except for the fact that the roads around the hotel were closed a different times during the night to allow the massive samba floats to move to the Sambodromo for the parades!
Friday night we had tickets to see the first parades, which was pretty cool. Anto was there too and we had a little non-samba looking dance in the stands.


Saturday we slept late and missed the bloco (street party) in Copacabana. We ended up picking up Abi from his hostel in Botafogo and Oscar incited a little grime rave in the courtyard with some cool people in various stages of drunkenness while we were waiting for two Dutch girls (also from the hostel in Salvador) to join us. We caught the last bit of a bloco around the corner and then made our way to Lapa again and ended up in the usual alley by Praça Tiradentes, where we also bumped into Nilo and his friends again.


By Sunday, I desperately needed a break from alcohol and people so decided to stay in. We only left the room to eat at the hotel restaurant next door and then Oscar joined Anto and Joey later on while I caught up with some Netflix. Simple pleasures :).

Monday was the last day for us (and a number of others) as we were catching the bus to SĂŁo Paulo at lunchtime on Tuesday. For once, I decided to get up early to catch one of the early blocos (Nilo had said they were the best). I picked the AfroReggae one and it was awesome. Oscar joined me a bit later and we managed to see everyone we’d been hanging out with in the course of the day.

Arraial do Cabo

Our bus from Rio to Arraial crossed the impressive Niteroi bridge that we had seen from high up last time we were there. Once we got to Arraial, we made our way to our Airbnb and headed for the closest beach. There are many different beaches dotted around Arraial and we visited most of them during our stay (some by boat). One thing we really noticed is that the beaches were much cleaner and there were signs to take your rubbish back with you everywhere.
The water was super clear and you could see quite far down.
One evening we watched the sunset from the roof of a ruined house, another night we witnessed a rap battle on the village square, otherwise we had food and relaxed. A beautiful place!

Salvador da Bahia

We wanted to visit Salvador because it is the centre of afro-brazilian culture, the former capital and birthplace of Capoeira. The road from the airport was lined with bamboo arches and we drove past what seemed like a new railway system. Like SĂŁo Paulo, the outskirts of the city seemed to go on forever, with high risers as far as we could see.
For the first two nights, we stayed in a Pousada near the touristic centre of Pelourinho, full of old colonial houses in various stages of (did)repair – Salvador does not seem like a very rich city…
Close to where we stayed was an old fort, which now houses a number of different Capoeira schools.

Oscar was very excited to find out that Michael Jackson’s “They don’t really care about us” was filmed on one of the squares in Pelourinho, in collaboration with the Oludum drum school.


On our second evening, as we left for dinner, we bumped into our French neighbours from the Pousada and they invited us to join them and some friends for dinner and we got to taste Moqueca (a sort of sea food stew with coconut milk).
We moved to a hostel closer to the beaches the day after (recommended by a German couple we had met in FlorianopĂłlis). On a walking tour, we met two Austrian friends (who we later discovered​ were only 19 and had just finished school!) and spent the evening and the next few days with them. Dinner that night was eventful – a taxi stopped in front of the restaurant where we were sitting because its gas tank in the trunk was leaking. Everyone sitting outside jumped up from their meals and hurried inside, while the driver tried to fix the leak (he didn’t manage and just let it all stream out in the end). Our first night in the hostel was also interesting as apparently they had double booked Oscar’s bed (but fortunately he was the first one in there, so the other person moved her stuff (loudly!) in the middle of the night.
The next day we checked out some of the beaches with the Austrians (they were alright, but unfortunately full of rubbish) and watched the sun go down by a lighthouse. In the evening, we joined a group of people from the hostel for drinks at the beach and found out that a number of them would be in Rio for the carnival as well.


On our last day, we went into Pelourinho with some guys from the hostel as there was live music in various places. For some reason, we all ended up buying touristic t-shirts at some point during the day and formed a group of super tourists for the rest of the day…

We now had five days left before Rio Carnival and had decided to spend these relaxing by a proper beach. So we flew back to Rio and then caught a bus to Arraial do Cabo, about 3 hours north.

Rio de Janeiro

We arrived in Rio on a Friday evening and got a cab to our Airbnb in Urca. Urca is a small, safe and residential neighbourhood around the PĂŁo de AçĂșcar (the Sugarloaf). Our accommodation was tiny, like a converted garage, but perfect for a few days.

We hosted three Brazilian ladies in London last year and we met up with one of them and her boyfriend in Botafogo for a drink and then they decided to take us out in Lapa. FlĂĄvio was driving, so we were lucky enough to be chauffeured around! We first went to the Escadaria SelarĂłn (famous steps in Lapa that I’d never even heard of) and had some caipirinha there.

We then went to a cachaça bar and shared an entire bottle of ginger-cinnamon cachaça between Nathålia, Oscar and me (since Flåvio was driving).

It must have already been fairly late at that point, but the streets were busy and we were merry and so when they suggested to go to a street party, we happily said yes. So here we are, at 5am…

We got taken home around 6am and has a very unproductive day after waking up in the afternoon! Our only action of the day was to get some pizza in the neighbourhood later on.

Sunday we decided to do some sightseeing and walked across town for a while before heading to the Sugarloaf in the early evening. We timed it well to see the sunset over Rio, which was breathtaking! It really is a beautiful city with the mountains and beaches and bays around it.

On Monday, we had tickets to take the train up the Corcovado to see Christ the Redeemer. Again we had the most amazing view over the city.

In the evening, we met our Argentinian friends from Paraty and Ilha Grande, Ángel and Elisa, for a beer on the wall of Urca – a stretch of low wall around the bay with a beautiful view of the city.

We got invited to stay at theirs in Buenos Aires and this will certainly teach us to book refundable and cancelable hotels from now on! 🙂

Tuesday was our day to travel to Salvador, but since our flight was only in the evening, we checked out of our Airbnb and left our luggage and the bus terminal before meeting Elisa and Angel at the Museum of Tomorrow.

And that was our first trip to Rio! We got the big sights out of the way, but Lene gave us a list of things to do as well and I’m looking forward to checking out some of those when we get back there on the 20th of February.

Paraty and Ilha Grande

From Floripa, we caught a bus to Paraty further north (on the way to Rio). It’s got a historical centre in colonial style, complete with old cobbled streets. We had booked two nights, and on reflection that really should have been three to five is two full days rather than just one. We spent our day on a boat trip to a few beaches and bays around the area, swimming and snorkeling.

There were two other couples on our boat but we didn’t really chat to each other.
The next day we were due to get a bus to Angra dos Reis and catch a ferry to Ilha Grande from there. Oscar had started feeling ill the evening before, so we got a taxi to the bus terminal (and got well and truly overcharged). Funnily enough, one of the couples from the boat trip was ahead of us in the queue for the bus, so we joined forces in making our way to Ilha Grande. There are a few places along the coast that travellers visit and this is one of the common routes.
Ilha Grande is car-free and mainly full of trees (yay!), with good hiking trails and nice beaches.

Unfortunately, we had only booked two nights here as well (all booked together on that one day…), so again we only had one full day and Oscar wasn’t feeling great. At least we had the hostel dorm to ourselves.
Internet wasn’t great, so I couldn’t coordinate with the Argentinian couple and instead walked around a bit by myself before carrying Oscar to the beach for the afternoon (I carry him all the time. I’m very strong).


Short visit over, we caught the morning ferry back to Angra and a bus to Rio de Janeiro.

FlorianopĂłlis

Our friend Lene used to live in Floripa and she sent us a long list of things to do there – it’s a cool city half on the mainland and half on the island of Santa Catarina.
We wanted a few days to just chill at the beach and do nothing, because we felt a bit tired at that point… So we got ourselves an Airbnb in the centre for two nights (excellent choice of location this time!) and spent the day watching football and going to a Couchsurfing event called “Dinner with Strangers” in the evening. It was pretty cool – everyone paid a certain amount and brought their own drinks while two chefs made some really nice Lebanese food. The people there were a mix of FlorianopĂłlis natives, people working in the government there, tourists from other areas of Brazil… and us. Oscar has been saying that he wants to try and organise something like that when we’re back… Could be fun if it works out 🙂


The next day we spent just chilling and watching Netflix, with an excursion for some food in the evening.
For the rest of the week, we decided to move a bit closer to the beaches (of which there are many) and booked a hostel in Lagoa da Conceição, which is a big lagoon with a little town centre near it, full of shops and restaurants. At that point we’d also worked out the public bus system (there are not a lot of signs so it often involves asking the bus driver where they are going…).
Anyway, we were very lucky with the hostel – staff and guests were all really cool and we spent the evenings chatting and playing cards. So Oscar finally got a nice hostel experience :). One day we hiked to a remote beach called Lagoinha do Leste with our dorm neighbour from Germany (we’re everywhere). It took two hours to get there and another to get back to an area where we could catch a bus, but was totally worth it. The beach was nearly empty when we got there.

On the way home, we stopped in a restaurant by the beach from Lene’s list – it’s full of little notes from people all over the world.

I’m super sunburnt here from the day before, but I’m glad to say it got better quickly…

 

Oscar’s clear highlight was the BBQ prepared by one of the hostel guests (a chef from Norway) and the staff one night. He has since been telling everyone about the slow-cooked ribs they made (ask him, I dare you. Or has he told you already?).

We got a bit caught out with high season in Floripa and had to move to a different hostel for the last two nights, which wasn’t as nice and made us think that we really had to plan ahead a bit more. So we booked the next two weeks ahead and it took quite a long time to get it all sorted… and then we got it a bit wrong too :).