A Travellerspoint blog

Florianopolis and The End!

semi-overcast 24 °C

Apologies for the long delay in loading this...it was written on the day of return to London but we have only just got internet in the flat!

The final stop on our 6-month trip was the island of Florianopolis for a week of relaxation before the impending return to London. We stayed in two different parts of the island. . .Lagoa de Concecaio, a busy hub with great nightlife and a Pousada in the middle of nowhere.

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An Italian couple owned the Pousada and as their only guests we were fortunate enough to be invited to an intimate pizza evening they were having with other Italians living on the island. Amazing pizza, great wine and lovely people. The pizza chef and his wife even invited us for dinner at their home the following evening, an unexpected and very enjoyable couple of nights to end our trip!

We can’t really believe that it is time to return, in some ways it seems to have flown by but at the same time we have fitted so much in. So, after visiting 13 countries, sleeping in 63 different beds, taking 37 flights and having countless amazing experiences we are back in London! Arriving to 6C was a bit of a shock!

Time to settle back in to normal life, I guess it will be tough but the main thing is that we really did have the best 6 months and loved every moment!

Posted by karenandlach 27/05/2012 14:42 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Iguazu Falls

rain 19 °C

From the Helicopter (thanks Mum, Dad and Fi)...
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From Brazil...
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From Argentina...
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Iguazu Falls is a truly stunning sight and certainly one of the top highlights of our entire trip.

We visited the falls in Argentina and Brazil and as an added bonus we were even lucky enough to see them from above in a helicopter! While Argentina is generally the favoured side we both preferred Brazil for the panoramic views it gives of the entire 275 waterfalls! Neither should be missed though and you can only get a sense of the power of the falls from Argentina. . .the roar of the water can be heard before you can even see it!

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Unfortunately the day we were there it decided to rain all day. . .really rain! You get pretty wet from the falls anyway but we were completely soaked all day! Despite this the falls were awesome and I can only imagine it is even more impressive when the sun is sparkling from every angle!

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The photos do not do it justice, it is just one of those places you have to see for yourself!

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Posted by karenandlach 03/05/2012 15:25 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

La Paz

semi-overcast 19 °C

We stepped off the overcrowded ‘water taxi’ in time to watch our bus follow us across the Lake Titikaka crossing on a barge, fingers crossed it would make the journey without taking itself and our luggage to the bottom of the lake. Getting to La Paz was half the fun when bussing in from Peru.

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The worlds highest “de facto” capital city, La Paz is built into the hills making it also one of the most breathless (for us!).

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Easily the most impoverished place we’ve visited in Sth America and with that the cheapest, parts of La Paz are also as modern if not more so than any place we’ve seen.

Being toward the end of our 6mths, La Paz for us was about seeking out activities like ten pin bowling, eating out at American style burger chains and taking in a few drinks at the Diesel sponsored chic bar a few blocks from our apartment.

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A few brief tourist stops at the witches market to see dried Alpaca fetuses and its time to head back to Brazil for one last massive highlight we’d been repeatedly told not to miss. . . yellow fever be damned!

Posted by karenandlach 02/05/2012 14:04 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Puno & Lake Titicaca

semi-overcast 16 °C

The bus journey from Cusco to Puno was what can only be described as painful. A 7.30am to 5pm bus journey with 5 ‘tourist stops’ along the way. We have been on our fair share of tour buses on this trip and have developed an extreme dislike for them...from being herded on and off buses like cattle to waiting for other tourists that can’t seem to tell the time (there is a surprising volume of these people) to being forced to listen to the most boring explanations of anything and everything. We vow that this will be our last tour.

Arriving into Puno, a town not winning any prizes for its beauty, we set out to plan our independent trip to the islands of Lake Titicaca. There is apparently a local ferry that can take you to the nearby islands (according to the LP) but if it does exist they must have set up a scheme to keep it a secret from tourists so we were forced to go ahead and book yet another tour!

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The star attraction of the area are the floating islands of the Uros people, a series of 50 islands all built from tortura reeds. The islands were built by these people hundreds of years ago in a bid to escape the aggressive Inca people at the time. They are now, of course, very commercialised and appear to serve more as tourist stops, with small markets on almost every island, than actual homes. Despite this they are an impressive sight and so unlike anything else we have seen that we still enjoyed the morning learning how they are built, sailing on a reed boat and watching the women in bright traditional dress sewing, knitting and making the other craft items for sale.

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The second island we stopped at, the island of Taquile, appears to just be a lunch stop. There is nothing worth seeing on the island itself and given the 5 hour round trip to get there it is most definitely not worth it!

The time we had in Puno itself was spent just trying to catch our breath most of the time. The 500m increase in altitude from Cusco took a little getting used to and we found we were out of breath after just a few steps of walking!! We did also find an amusement arcade to pass some of the time and I enjoyed beating Lach at the simulation bowling!

Time to come back down a couple of hundred metres and venture into our final new country – Bolivia for 3 nights!

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Posted by karenandlach 29/04/2012 14:28 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Cusco, the Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu

sunny 18 °C

Cusco sits 3300m above sea level. Even having had a week above 2500m it still takes a day or so to acclimatise. The town oozes backpackers headed for Machu Picchu, ensuring all the usual tourist traps are within easy reach. Cusco, however, maintains a charming authenticity that makes it a great place to visit in its own right.

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Having missed the opportunity to trek the Inca trail due to it being fully booked over two months ago, a quick re-plan meant two days in Cusco followed by the Sacred Valley enroute to Machu Picchu via Aguas Calientes

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The Sacred Valley, often ignored in favour of heading directly to Machu Picchu is the perfect entrée to the main sight. It’s a full day of taking in Inca and pre-Inca ruins, towns and customs. Kaz was particularly drawn in by the traditional methods of making and colouring Alpaca wool, buying a few machine ready scarves post demonstration.

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The tour ended with the Inca ruins at Ollyantaytambo prior to getting the train to Aguas Calientes.

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The rickety old train from Ollyantaytambo, seemingly from the colonial era, took just under 2 hours to travel the 43km to Aguas Calientes, at times being questionable whether it would make it at all.

Rising the next day at 5am, we joined the literally hundreds of other tourists to bus up to Machu Picchu for sunrise. It is without doubt a stunning sight in a spectacular setting.

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Digging a little deeper though, and perhaps some of the gloss is taken away. I was surprised to discover Machu Picchu is not nearly as ancient as I had perceived. Constructed toward the end of the 14th century, by comparison, parts of Edinburgh Castle date back to the 12th century. The various explanations as to its purpose are mostly speculative guesswork, with multiple theories to choose from.

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Constructed as a final attempt to revive the faltering Inca empire in the face of the Spanish conquistadores, Machu Picchu is a tribute to the once greatness of the Inca’s. There is no doubting it is amongst the most spectacular sights we’ve seen in the last 6 months.

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Posted by karenandlach 21/04/2012 16:56 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Arequipa & Colca Canyon

overcast 15 °C

The long, 26-hour journey from San Pedro to Arequipa included 2 bus journeys, around 8-hours in bus stations and a rather amusing colectivo (shared taxi) journey from Arica in Chile to Tacna in Peru.

The dozens of drivers are ready to pounce as you arrive at Arica international bus station. For £4.50 per person they pile you into their ancient, beat-up car, wait until it is full and drive you the hour or so to Tacna, rushing you through the two border controls as quickly as they can manage.

Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, is as beautiful a city as we have seen in South America. Stunning architecture, pretty churches and grand colonial buildings. The gorgeous main plaza, dominated by the city’s cathedral with snow covered El Misti peaking between the towers, would give any European square a run for it’s money in the prettiness stakes.

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The appeal of Arequipa doesn’t stop there…cute courtyard cafes and lantern lit restaurants line the busy streets enticing you in. Finally, the main attraction, Santa Catalina monastery shouldn’t be missed. At 20,000 sq m it feels more like a village than a convent…with it’s own lantern filled streets and flower filled squares.

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Unfortunately we had underestimated Arequipa and only allowed one day to soak in the sights. The following day we had an early pick up to start the 2-day tour into canyon country.

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As we were leaving Arequipa for the canyon we noticed that the beauty of the place is contained very much in the central hub. It is in fact a sprawling city with shanty towns surrounding it.

A cup of coca tea was the first stop on the agenda…Peru’s answer to altitude sickness. Perhaps it works because other than a little breathlessness Lach and I seem to have escaped any symptoms.

As well as the main selling point of the tour, the canyon, there were many other points of interest along the way. Short treks to inca ruins, rural indigenous villages and wildlife spotting. At every stop, no matter how small or brief, there would be a line of stalls with every type of colourful textile being sold. Many of these stops were at very high altitude, it was freezing, even snowing at some, and the women (and children) would be out there all day just waiting for the odd bus that passes. Our tour guide told us that if they sell only two items it is a good day for them.

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We also had the opportunity to glimpse the way of life for the indigenous communities living amongst the Andes, many of them living solely off the land with none of the basic services (clean water, electricity) that we all take for granted. All ages seem to be trained in sheep and cow herding and over the two days we saw young children of no more than 10 years old and pensioners of 70 herding their animals to or from the mountains.

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We stayed the night in Cabanaconde, a very small village located at the head of the canyon. Heating has certainly not reached this village and it gets freezing at nights here. I don’t think I have ever been as cold…even in Scotland!

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On the plus side staying here did mean we were well located for an early morning trek to the canyon viewpoint. Colca canyon is almost twice the depth of the Grand Canyon and it is quite a sight, particularly seeing the villages that cling to the edges of the canyon walls. The locals living there have no road access and need to walk a minimum of 4-5 hours (up a very steep hill) to sell the crops they grow and buy anything they need.

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All in all, a fascinating insight into a very different way of life and a brilliant opening to Peru.

Posted by karenandlach 18/04/2012 05:31 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

San Pedro de Atacama

sunny 30 °C

Nestled in the altiplano of northern Chile with the imposing Andes in the distance, San Pedro de Atacama is an oasis in the Atacama Desert.

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Lying 106km from Calama airport, the long stretch of road is surrounded by arid, dry and dusty plains on both sides. After the crowded streets of Rio the immediate feeling of isolation was invigorating.

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San Pedro feels as authentic as you will find on any tourist trail. Dusty narrow streets criss cross between the old adobe buildings (similar to mudbrick) which house open-air restaurants and bars, all of which seem to have big open fire pits.

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However, for all its authenticity, San Pedro is still in reality a tourist mecca for Chile. The buses and 4WD’s squeeze past each other through the tight streets, scrapping mud and dust from the walls on each side, ferrying hoards of tourists out into the desert. It even provides free wifi in the main square, something most major cities could take a lesson from.

Our four days were spent doing much the same, taking three trips into the desert for sunsets, sunrises, salt flats, flamingos, geysers and high altitude lakes in the Andes.

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The hot springs at the Tatio Geysers come more as a necessity than a treat. Arriving at a steaming pile of mud full of tourists comes as quite a shock after picturing a Rotorua style stone spa with piped in water. However, after suffering through -5 degrees at 7am to see the geysers at sunrise it’s more about warmth than enjoyment, even with the open-air strip down to bathers as the temperature rises to a balmy zero degrees.

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Boarding the bus at 8am headed for the salt flats also provided some amusement after Kaz realised she’d left her hiking boots behind. Inquiring with the guide as to their necessity (while wearing flip flops) he responded, “we’re going to the desert, not the beach princess”. This kept me amused the entire day.

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Arriving at altitudes of over 4000m at both the geysers and lakes can be a dizzying experience; the feeling of breathlessness is almost immediate. San Pedro itself sits at over 2500m. We spent a good portion of our time in San Pedro feeling less that perfect, however, the acclimatization was well timed with Peru just ahead of us.

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Posted by karenandlach 10/04/2012 21:06 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Rio de Janeiro

semi-overcast 28 °C

Our time in Salvador had made us a little apprehensive about Brazilian cities and with all the bad press Rio receives we arrived expecting much the same as we encountered in Salvador. We were pleasantly surprised.

Unlike Salvador there weren’t armed police on every corner and more importantly no obvious need for them. Admittedly our hotel was located in Copacabana, one of the safer neighbourhoods but nevertheless this was not the Rio I had been reading about.

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The favelas were not nearly as imposing as expected and I was even a little disappointed that we didn’t stumble across one…I was keen to seek one out but Lach said I would have to take that mission alone! I have no doubt that there are many pockets of Rio that are still to be avoided at all costs but it certainly seems to have had a major clean up and as one taxi driver said “The city is unrecognizable from the one that existed 5 years ago”.

So, without the excitement of drug deals on every corner we had to find our own amusement, fortunately this isn’t too hard in Rio.

Our 5 days were spent exploring the various neighbourhoods…Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Lagoa and the bohemian Santa Teresa. We strolled along the beaches, bought artwork at the local Feira Hippie (Hippie market) and enjoyed a typical Brazilian Rodizio (all you can eat)…amazing food and great quality meat but I was just left frustrated that I couldn’t eat more of it. I guess Lach made up for me though!

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We also fitted in the obligatory cable car ride to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain for a stunning view of the city. Later that day we hit yet another of Rio’s neighbourhoods, Lapa, for the best of Rio’s nightlife. Any concerns we had that a night here would be a repeat of Buenos Aires (everything kicking off well past our bedtime) were soon quelled on seeing the queue at Rio Scenarium at 8pm stretching around the corner.

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Rio Scenarium had been recommended to us as one of the best Samba clubs in Rio. It was a fun night with live music, tapas and Caipirinhas and the best thing is you can be tucked up in bed by 2am!

A helicopter ride over the city was next on the agenda – a Christmas gift from my parents and Fi. Unfortunately due to very persistent clouds sitting over the mountains and more specifically Cristo it was cancelled.

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Rio is an exciting city with plenty to keep you entertained for longer than 5 days but our next stop, San Pedro de Atacama, is calling.

We will be back though…we have decided to return to Brazil for the final 10 days of our trip and hope to take the helicopter ride over Iguazu falls then as we missed out in Rio…can’t wait!

Posted by karenandlach 09/04/2012 21:38 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Buzios and the Inn

sunny 31 °C

Shortly after the tornedo pierced through town we headed in to inspect the damage. Like any good holiday resort the town had sprung back to life but for a scattering of trees blocking the streets.

Arriving in Buzios to a relatively modest entrance, the Inn/B&B we had chosen hides its uniquely stunning grounds from the outside world. Stepping inside you move from postcard view to postcard view throughout its terraces, living areas and rooms, all framed by the beautifully designed waterfalls cascading from the top floor through each level to the sea front below.

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The views equally matched by the welcome, we felt at home instantly upon sitting down as we were handed a caipirinha and deli platter to enjoy.

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Although a peninsula, Buzios feels much more like an island. The Inn was easily the highlight of our five days in Buzios, however, the bustling cobblestone streets of the town is filled with boutiques and the usual bars and restaurants we seem to be encountering everywhere we go. Not sure if it’s us seeking them or Brazil thrusting them upon us.

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Spending a day out on a yacht seeing 4 of the 17 beaches was a great way to spend half a day, however, we couldn’t help but want to be back at our cozy Inn sitting by one of the four pools.

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Managing to do something active, we made it out kayaking for an hour or so around the small bay our B&B sat within. The highlight being the crossing of the bay, which Kaz likened to crossing the Atlantic.

After five nights of luxury reality finally welcomed us back as we headed off on the 3hr drive to Rio.

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Posted by karenandlach 05/04/2012 19:16 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Morro de Sao Paulo

sunny 30 °C

A short 2-hour (notoriously rough) catamaran ride away from Salvador is the tropical paradise island of Morro de Sao Paulo. Stepping off the boat you are greeted by a throng of wheelbarrow drivers…the only form of ‘taxi’ on this car-free island. They are all vying for your business so we quickly drop our bags into one and let him lead the way to our pousada.

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Morro is a relaxed, fun, pretty island lined with sandy beaches and crowded with little boutiques, cafes, restaurants and bars. One of the key evening attractions, and advertised all over the island is Toca, an Ibiza style bar/club that specialises in a sunset party every night. As we watched the sunset while sipping on our caipirinhas we tried not to feel too sad that we only have 6 weeks of our trip to go!

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The evenings in Morro are lively and Segunda Praia (Second Beach) is the place to be for late night beach parties…Caipirinha stalls line the beachfront, mixing up cocktails with every fruit you can think of (and quite a few more).

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Having been reliably informed that Thursday was the big night on the beach we took it easy for our first few nights, saving ourselves for Thursday (our last night on the island). Unfortunately it was not to be…the whole island experienced a 14 –hour power out on our final day and after venturing out into the pitch black lanes to grab a bite to eat by candlelight we realised that there would be no big night out to be had here :(

On the plus side, Lach did get to use the headlamp again!!

After four sun soaked days we threw our packs back in the wheel-barrow and headed for the pier. The 2-hour return journey (which actually took closer to 3-hours) certainly lived up to it’s reputation...and poor Lach was a little sick. Never mind, we are off to Buzios next for some 'honeymoon' time!

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Posted by karenandlach 01/04/2012 06:44 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

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