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Travels in South America
Thursday, 24 February 2005

Oh no! It is the last day in Buenos Aires and the last in South America. Until next time.

In between shopping for leather jackets and top notch malbec, we have compiled a best of and worst of list for our 7 month trip. Enjoy!

Best hotels

Dora, Buenos Aires

Everest, Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro

Royal Inka, Cusco, Peru

Best self-catering places

Ayen Quen, Bariloche, Argentina

BYT Argentina Apartments, Buenos Aires

Rio Flat rentals, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Barra Summer Flats, Salvador de Bahia
Av. Princesa Isabel, 526 - Barra Avenida - Cep: 40144-000
Fone: (71) 264-0152 / 0259 - Fax: (71) 264-4250

Best Hostals

Marani, Cusco, Peru

Cheapest hostel

Residencial J'os, Puerto Madryn, Argentina

Worst Hotel Room

Atlantis Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro

Biggest Rip Off

Rupa Wasi Eco Lodge, Aguas Calientes, Peru


Best bus

Andes Mar, Argentina

Most interesting bus journeys

Salta to Jujuy and up to the Bolivian border

Through Bolivia

Most boring bus journey

Through the desert scrub of Patagonia

Best train journey

Through Bolivia

Best view from a plane

Landing and taking off in Tierra del Fuego

Best boat trip

The Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego

Worst boat trip

From Buenos Aires to Montevideo (Uruguay) on Buquebus


Best breakfast

Posada del Fin Del Mundo, Ushuaia, Argentina

Poder Andino in the Andes (pancakes, granola...)

Best coffee

VIP Mall, Ipanema, Rio

Best tea

Gaiman, Argentina

Best wine

Malbec, Argentina

Best juice stands


Weirdest food we tried

Guinea pig, Peru

Heart kebabs, Peru

Skewered chicken hearts, Brazil

Dulce de leche, Argentina

Mate, Argentina

Millejas and chinchulines, Argentina

Giant pop corn, Bolivia

Fruit in Brazil - custard apple, acai, umbo, and cashew fruit


When we were stickiest

Amazon rain forest

When we were coldest

Bariloche, Argentina

Chiloe, Chile

When we were hottest

Salta, Argentina

Salvador de Bahia, Brazil


Amazon Rain Forest walking through the jungle to see budgies (OK, macaws then)

Montevideo, Uruguay


The road to Cafayate near salta, Argentina

Best storm

Night three in the Amazon rain forest


Bariloche, Argentina

Rio Gallegos, Argentina


Wackiest national dress

Bowler hats in Bolivia

Hats like pin cushions in Peru

Hooped skirts in Bahia

Worst smells

Favela in Rio

Bahia around carnival time

Latrine - day three of the Inca Trail

Best beach

Ipanema, Rio

Best heritage towns

Cusco, Peru

Paraty, Brazil

Pelorinho, Bahia, Brazil

Best markets

San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Praca XV on Saturdays in Rio

Cusco food market (ask David to tell you his rat story)

Best Museums

Artes Decorativos, Buenos Aires

High Altitude Archeological museum, Salta, Argentina

Best Mall

Patio Bullrich, Buenos Aires

Best Cemetery

Recoleta, Buenos Aires

Welsh Cemetery in Trelew

Best wildlife

Penguins - Punta Tombo, Argentina

Best sunset

Seen from the top of the Sugar Loaf in Rio

Best Sunrise

In the Andes. 4th and final day of the Inca trail and our first glimpse of Machu Picchu.

3 signature tunes

The girl from Ipanema

Vertigo by U2

Somewhere only we know by Keene

Posted by jo mynard at 6:20 PM
Updated: Thursday, 24 February 2005 6:29 PM
Sunday, 20 February 2005
Last day in Rio
Topic: Brazil
28 hours on a bus can go surprisingly quickly. This time I read 2 entire books and one magazine plus managed to get some sleep. The scenery approaching Rio is spectacular. Lots of isolated mountains dominating small towns. It was dark by the time we crossed Niteroi bridge and got into the bus station. We took an ice-cold taxi to the hotel we had booked for 2 nights in Ipanema (where else!). The receptionist told us that the hotel was actually fully booked and would we mind staying in their 5 star sister hotel around the corner? Mind! Were they mad? We lucked out big time. We would never have spent 250 dollars on a hotel. It was so lovely and comfortable and made for a great relaxing last hours in Brazil.

We went to some of our favourite haunts - Ipanema beach, Zaza's cafe and Porker's churascaria. On Saturday, we took a bus in to Praca XV to collect some books we had bought 4 weeks ago - an 1833 twelve volume set of Walter Scott's poems. We hoped that the owners still had them... When we got there, there was a minor panic as the building looked closed. The bookshop is housed in the cultural center which used to be the mayor's residence. Fortunately, it wasn't closed and the guy actually remembered us. The books are gorgeous and we looked at them more closely over lunch at the bistro in the cultural center. I hadn't realised before that the illustrations were done by Turner. I can't believe the whole lot cost just 50 dollars.

After lunch, we put away our toys and headed outside to the weekend antiques market. I wished I had an upcoming fancy dress party as there were some fabulous vintage clothes, wigs, shoes and funky 50s glasses. I hoped I'd find a pair of vintage Chanel and I would have bought them no matter how ridiculous they looked on me! There weren't of course.

The market is set up in the shade of the motorway overhead and the further along you go from town, the poorer the stands are. Ones near the end were like car boot sale offerings. Lots of odds and ends. One couple were selling bits of dolls - they had a pile of legs and torsos for people to root through. Another guy had bits of mobile phones. Lots of stands sold 1970s porn mags. One guy's stand had only a typewriter and a pair of wellies on it. I was tempted by the old radios, globes and clocks but they are not the kind of thing you buy to lug home over 3 continents...

In the afternoon, we paid a visit to the specialised Bossa Nova shop. The owner told us about the start of Bossa Nova and the sales assistant practiced her English on us. After that, we just made it up to the roof terrace in time to watch our last sunset over Ipanema beach with our last caipirinhas. Rio is great. Not the dangerous place I had expected at all.

Posted by jo mynard at 12:01 AM
Saturday, 19 February 2005
Topic: Brazil
Churascarias are restaurants and as Brazilian as they come. We found a good one in Ipanema and went there a couple of times. If it was good enough for Bono, Naomi Campbell, Magic Johnson, Ronaldo, Pele and Romario (pictured on the wall posing by the buffet), then it was good enough for us!

Basically, you pay a fixed price (very reasonable by European standards) and this entitles you to visit the buffet as many times as you like. On this buffet are really good salads, sushi and seafood. In addition to all this, guys circulate around the restaurant with skewers of different cuts of meat. They slice you off slivers of flesh with their scary looking sharp knives until you can eat no more. the name of the place translates as something like "Porkers" but despite the cheesy name, the restaurant has an old fashioned charm. The impeccable service seems almost choreographed right from the pre-dinner cocktails, to the sommelier-served wines to the dessert trolley and the drinks cabinet. It has a typical Ipanema-chic 50s style decor and is probably the only place in the world where you could drink "creme de menthe" 2005 and still look cool. Not that we did of course.

Posted by jo mynard at 12:01 AM
Tuesday, 15 February 2005
Praia do Forte
Topic: Brazil
Praia do Forte is a sweet little resort town about an hour and a half on the bus from Bahia. We went there one rainy day primarily to visit a place called TAMAR, a turtle protection sanctuary. The resort is lovely. There are no cars in the main street which is full of upmarket pousadas (inns), shops, restaurants and cafes. The beach is small and beautiful and the whole place had a very relaxed feel to it. People sat out drinking beer and having coffees. We wished we had found it sooner so that we could have stayed there. Ah well, next time. TAMAR was great. It looked like a Hilton beach resort for turtles. Lots of pools containing turtles of varying sized and tropical fish tanks. TAMAR collect the turtle eggs and bury them in a protected part of the beach. One shallow tank contained a stingray. Those guys are weird looking - like flat grey dusters with a long tail and a bump in the middle where the eyes are.

Later we watched some cute little monkeys playing in the trees. It was a real wildlife kind of day.

It was a shame to go back to the city. This was our last little excursion. From now on it's all about getting back home. From Bahia to Rio on the bus. From Rio to Buenos Aires by plane and then back to London.

Posted by jo mynard at 12:01 AM
Saturday, 12 February 2005
Pedicures for two
Topic: Brazil
We both went for pedicures last week. Well, it started off with me going for one while David had his haircut in the same salon. When he had finished, he came up to where I was just to see how long I would be. The staff insisted he take a seat next to me and wait. before he could protest, a young barber thrust a magazine in his hands with a smile and two thumbs up. the rag was called "Sexy" and was full of naked women. yes, completely naked. Funnily enough, this isn't considered to be porn here - just a healthy bloke's magazine like say FHM or Loaded in the UK. "Sexy" is usually located on news stands next to travel magazines and Marie Claire. While David was distracted, Maria (my pedicurist) took one look at David's toe nails and declared he was in desperate need of a pedicure. I couldn't have agreed more. I have been trying to get him to have one for ages. The last time was three years ago in Vietnam when Cuk the backstreet beautician butchered him and his toe went septic. The poor thing has been understandably wary ever since. Maria reassured him that the process was clean and painless and that all the boys had them nowadays. We looked around the room full of men getting their hair cut while reading "Sexy" and doubted it, but David agreed anyway. His skin was so tough that Maria had to get out the electric sander which freaked him out a bit, but apart from that, I think he rather enjoyed it. We weren't sure if Maria was being serious when she asked him if he wanted them painted, but politely refused....

Posted by jo mynard at 4:49 PM
Thursday, 10 February 2005
Topic: Brazil
Apart from carnival, there are lots of African festivals here in Bahia. We were lucky enough to be here for one of the most important ones, Yemanja. This is an annual festival to give offerings to the goddess of the sea.

It was a boiling hot day and the shade-free streets were packed with people and food and drink vendors. Down on the beach, a giant raft was filled with offerings of flowers from the people. Queues of people stood in line with more flowers, dolls and perfume to put into the boats that would go out to sea later that day. On another part of the beach, a group of men played fast furious African drums while women in hooped skirts danced themselves into a trance. Some of the women ended up in the sea and had to be rescued.

Up in the hot streets, a Capoeira school performed. Capoeira looks like a cross between a martial art and break dancing. Members form a circle around the performers and chant while three or four people play drums, tambourines and strange looking local instruments. To the untrained eye, the dancers looked like they were spinning on their heads on the tarmac.

We found a tiny bit of shade under a tall coconut tree on the beach and watched all this for a while. I felt oddly detached. The sun was frying my brain. Everything was so strange and all taking place in an alien place and in a language that I couldn't understand. I have never felt this so strongly before. I can't imagine what Japan is going to be like!

Posted by jo mynard at 12:01 AM
Updated: Saturday, 12 February 2005 4:37 PM
Sunday, 6 February 2005
Carnival 1 - Where are the dancing girls with the tassles?
Well, the third day of carnival is over and now we have a better idea of what it is all about. Our Camarote (box) is great. There is a good atmosphere, friendly people, great food and cocktails and a spectacular view over the procession and the dancing crowds below. There is plenty of dancing in the camarote too - it is attached to the naval club so there is lots of space and clean bathrooms!

As for the procession.... well, initially I was disappointed at the floats. They are not decorated at all like in Rio or Notting Hill. The only decoration is to advertise the sponsor, typically a poster or a balloon for Joytex condoms, Skol beer, a mobile phone or a shopping mall. The float is basically a moving stage for a band which plays music as it moves slowly through the streets at an ear splitting volume. Apart from wearing t-shirts provided by the sponsor, no one is in costume. People have bought t-shirts and have the privilege of either sitting on the float or dancing behind it. Actually, no one else dresses up. I used to look forward to making goofy costumes for carnival in Spain but here, only the under 5s get to dress up. Spiderman is the most popular boys (forgive my punctuation - I don't have apostrophes on this computer!) costume and most girls are fairies. My favourite quote from David was - Where are the dancing girls with the tassels? I wondered the same thing myself - where are the head dresses and bright costumes? We asked our friend Washington and he told us that that only happens in Rio. Did we choose badly? Should we have stayed in Rio? We talked to a guy from Rio who told us that Bahia carnival was more fun and more participatory. In fact, he told us that he never went to Rio carnival - he didn't like it as it was more like a show and less like a party. I guess we will have to come back and go to Rio carnival next time so that we can judge for ourselves which is best.

OK, on to the music. Perhaps Bahia makes up for the lack of costumes with its music??? Um.... not exactly. We haven't heard anything that good. It is mainly cheesy Brazilian pop and rock with a sprinkling of bad ska. One or two floats have impressed us with all the awesome drumming and saxophone music, but most have cheesy singers who do sing-along favourites which makes the crowd go wild. They love it and react like it is U2 or something when actually it sounds more like the okey-cokey. I guess we don't have the history with carnival to be able to appreciate the music properly. Despite the disappointment with the costumes and not being able to understand why a Brazilian Celine Dionne is so popular, we are having a great time. The atmosphere is electric and we end up singing and dancing along anyway.

Down in the urine-sodden streets people are selling beers, cocktails and kebabs. Gangs of excited people rush along linking arms and spitting. Men with bags of ice or eskies on their heads dodge trolleys loaded with Skol coming the other way. For some reason, people also drive their cars into the crowded streets too. Off the main streets we caught some impromptu musical troupes playing samba which was great. One group were all grown men dressed as babies. We found this the first night, but since then, we haven't been able to find anything like them again. We have three more nights.

Although there is a strong police presence, we have so far seen no trouble. One guy we talked to told us proudly that he loves the people of Salvador as although there isn't much money about, people just have fun and there is never any trouble. We imagined how many fights would occur with the population of Cardiff or Dublin out in the streets fueled up on alcohol.

Another thing I like is that when we are tired, we can walk home and put the telly on and continue watching carnival until we fall asleep.

Posted by jo mynard at 6:23 PM
Tuesday, 1 February 2005
Preparations for Carnival
Topic: Brazil
Carnival starts in 2 days and we are trying to workout what happens exactly. Everyone has seen pictures of carnival dancing girls dressed in nothing but glitter, but I have no idea whether that happens only in Rio or whether Bahia gets the same performances. When we ask locals, they are overwhelmed by the task of explaining it and just make noises and wave their arms around and tell us that we`ll have to see it for ourselves to understand.

We saw some pictures yesterday of parades of people in t-shirts. Not very festive, surely that can`t be it!?

Our guidebook is next to useless. It does tell us that Salvador`s carnival is the biggest in the world with over a million and a half people dancing in the streets at one time. It also says that it is less regimented and more spontaneous than Rio. I guess we will see for ourselves soon enough. As far as we can gather, we don`t dress up and the festivities do not stop for 6 days.

In the meantime, stands have been popping up all over the malls selling tickets to camarotes. These are a kind of viewing platform lining the street the procession goes down. We thought this sounded a good idea so had a look at some of them. Some include a DJ, food and drink, some are just platforms in key locations. Some are really expensive and some dead cheap. We have bought tickets to one opposite the famous lighthouse near the start of the parade. For about 11 dollars a day each, we get a fabulous view plus all our food and drink!

Posted by jo mynard at 10:15 PM
Topic: Brazil
I need the smallest excuse to buy clothes and I have been starved of shopping opportunities on this trip as I can't carry any more. In order to blend in more in Bahia, I naturally needed to hit the malls. Women here dress in things that are tiny, tight and very trashy. All my sensible travel clothes make me look positively puritanical in comparison. The shopping trip was great fun, a real chance to re-invent myself as a Brazilian beach babe. I did draw the line at some items including a skimpy t-shirt with the following words written across the chest (in English): "You can't be first, but you can be next". Can you imagine wearing that!

As we were walking to the bank one day with me kitted out in one of my slutty new outfits, I commented that no one would ever recognize the trashy new me - especially those more used to seeing me in a suit. The words were barely out of my mouth when I heard "Hiya Jo". It was Andy, a friend from Dubai. I was so surprised to see him I didn't speak for a full minute and he thought I didn't recognize him! It turns out he is on holiday and is staying just up the road from us. So much for being unrecognizable!

Later that day, we bumped into a couple we had done the Inca Trail with in December. They filled us in on their adventures in Chile - a path we had considered in Puerto Montt but gave up on because the transport seemed too unreliable. It turns out, it is, and tried the patience of our friends. It was interesting to hear about it though, it could have been us in a parallel universe.

Posted by jo mynard at 12:01 AM
Monday, 24 January 2005
Flat hunting in Barra
Topic: Brazil
Today was allocated to finding an apartment for the next three weeks which includes carnival time. I have had enough of crap hotels. the first stop was the Pelorinha tourist office. They gave us addresses of three agencies in Barra, the beach area of Bahia. We grabbed a taxi bound for Barra. the driver asked us where we were from. David said Irlanda (I said nothing - I cannot be bothered bringing up Pais de Gales as no one has ever heard of it). The driver stuck his thumbs up and said "Ah! Irlanda! You chew!". Eh? "Yoo Choo! Yoo Choo!" he said enthusiastically. What what? "Ewe Sioux, Bono!". The penny finally dropped. "U2! Yes, great band.".

The first agency was owned by Senor Mendez (of Spanish decent). He showed us three very grim places indeed.. The bedroom in one place contained nothing but a metal bed and thin grubby mattress like something out of a Victorian mental asylum. The sitting room contained nothing but 2 brown matresses on top of each other instead of a sofa. One place would have full view of the carnival procession but I would really have to be desperate to take it and the horrid smells that came with it. We told the amiable Mr Mendez that we would think about it and give him a call.

There was no sign of the second agency but it was located in a crumbling oldmallwhich looked like it would be pulled down any day.

The third agency was really difficult to locate. The street numbering system is a mystery. 1292 was located between numbers 19 and 38. The taxi driver ended up calling them for directions and we eventually got there. It was a block of flats with no sign of an office. The doorman told us to wait as she would be back in 10 minutes (Who? we wondered). After about 15 minutes Concepc?u arrived. She was about 35, smartly dressed and carrying piles of papers and a well stuffed 2004 diary. We sat in the lobby and we told her what we were looking for and our budget while she scribbled notes. She invited us up to her flat and she showed us around. We spoke to her in Spanish peppered with a few words of Portuguese while she babbled on and on in Portuguese. We caught about 40 percent which was frankly too much. It turned out she was completely mad. She babbled on about how busy she was and how she would like to decorate the flat and about previous flat mates. Apparently, she was willing to share her flat with us (for a huge rent). We were not on for that and tried to subtly encourage her to drop the subject and show us some other flats. Eventually, she got the hint and started making phone calls while we sat on the sofa wishing we had not found the place after all.

Each phone call lasted an age and at the end of it, there was always something wrong with the property -something that she could have established in under 30 seconds. It was not free or it was out of our price range etc. We had been with her for about an hour and a half and were keen to escape so we made some noise about having to go for lunch and perhaps we could meet later when she had some apartments to show us.

She ended upcoming to lunch with us and talking non stop to anyone who would listen and taking ages to eat. The Mendez flats were awful be at least he was no a time waster.

Finally, we went out to see some apartments. Each viewing was torture as she walked so slowly, would stop to talk at everyone she saw and insist on giving us a presentation on the benefits of the particular neighbourhood before going inside. Both were unsuitable - very expensive with no fan or air conditioning. We said we would think about it and give her a ring if we were interested. She tried to detain us and showed us contracts and so on, but after over three and a half hours of Concepc?u, we needed to escape. We ran away to the mall to cool down and think. Would we get anywhere? had we made a mistake incoming to Bahia?

We went to the Barra tourist office in the mall in case they knew of anywhere. The guy on duty, Pedro, did not seem hopeful and started to give us some phone numbers for hotels. His friend, Virginie, had overheard our request for a flat and mentioned that she worked at some serviced apartments and thought that there might be some free ones. She gave us the address and name of her boss.

We went there right away and within an hour we had sorted out a lovely apartment for a reasonable rent. The building has security, a gym, a pool, Internet access and a lovely restaurant. This is where we will be until we leave Barra - relaxing.

Posted by jo mynard at 12:01 AM

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