Lima to Rio Trip 2005 - Part 2 Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro
Thursday 20th October
The crossing from Buenos Aires to Colonia (Uruguay) seemed to pass quite quickly, and I was soon joining many others in descending to the car deck and walking into Uruguay. I waited for my backpack, and walked off in the hot sun to the bus station. I was able to leave my backpack & Charango with a bus company vendor, as I walked off to explore Colonia.
After trying a few banks, I finally got some Uruguayan Peso. I then followed the walking route shown in Lonely Planet of the historic UNESCO town of Colonia. The area was nice, maybe too nice. I passed a cafe where a bloke seemed to try to use embarrassment to lure in punters. First a ventriloquist's dummy, then crazy hats. All the time shouting something or other in the street next to a couple of diners. I went and climbed the lighthouse, banging my head at one point due to the low headroom. At the top I looked out over the River Plate and could just make out Buenos Aires buildings on the horizon, in other directions were views of the historic town..
I descended and followed the guidebook route to the end. I sat in a strange piece of wooden art, like a spiral, and drank some water in the sun watching the old smuggler’s port. I went back to the Bus station down Av. Florida, which ran near the shore. I bought my ticket and got on the 4pm bus to Montevideo. En route I spotted a large sign saying ‘Hereford’ in reference to the cattle. It was mostly green pastoral fields on the trip, browsed mainly by cows/bulls. I was able to see Montevideo’s tall buildings stretch into the sea, as we approached from the bay before the city.
At the terminal Tres Cruces on the outskirts of the city, I got a tourist map, and directions to the bus that would take me to the centre. I followed and sat at the stop waiting for my my bus, as the sun tortured my neck with it’s hot rays. Eventually the bus arrived and it was almost empty, which was good with all my bags. The bus crept into town after I’d paid P16 for the ride to a man sat just back from the driver. The city didn’t seem as impressive as I’d imagined. The shop fronts looked run down, and there was litter everywhere.
I got off opposite the Municipal Palace, and crossed over to the side of it for the Red Hostel. There I checked in and found I had a dorm to myself. I went on the internet for a bit. The hostel had a really cool interior with coloured lights and a metal spiral staircase. I walked a few blocks and into a restaurant with a few diners, it somewhat lacked in finesse or any real decor. I sat and ordered a water and Chicken Bourguignon. The guy serving seemed pleased with my Spanish compliments. I then left and wandered around the area a little and back to the hostel.
Friday 21st October
Phone number in hand, I set off to the nearby phone office, and got a booth to wish my Grandma a happy 90th birthday. Afterwards I rang mum at the office to catch up.
I finished the calls and walked off down Av. 18 de Julio to Plaza Independencia, where the large monument and mausoleum for a Mr. Artegas sat. Nearby was Palacio Salvo, once South America’s tallest building and with Art Deco styling.
Passing the cities old gate, I walked down the pedestrian street, Sarandi, until after Plaza Constitucion, When it became a straight road down to Rambla Francia. After that, continuing in the same straight line from the cities old gate, it became a sea wall, going about a kilometre into the sea. There were lots of men and boys fishing off one side or the other. I reached the end, took a photo and came back.
I followed ‘Rambla 25 de Agosto de 1825’ past a large cargo bay, where crab like forklifts with long arms were running about. Further round the headland I passed the huge customs building. I cut back into the old city along Solis, which lead past the Museo Romantico, and Italian renaissance building. From there I ended up on Plaza Zabala, where a military band were playing for no obvious reason.
I walked back to the Mercado De Puerta, and looked around at the various eateries inside. One cook held out an English menu, Prices seemed reasonable, so I sat down at the counter. In front of me was one of the cooks, and behind him a flat grill with a steeper angled grill above it. On the angled steeper grill were presumably pre-cooked meats and a couple of tomatoes. Probably for decoration. At the end of the grill was a raging fire, from which the embers were moved under the flat grill.
From the menu I chose a strip of Sirloin. The cook sliced off a large chunk, and plopped it onto the grill. He tried to stab at a conversation but he spoke less English than I spoke Spanish. I read my lonely planet until the feast was ready. The cook put a plate in front of me with the big hunk of meat covered in gorgeous mushroom sauce and some chips. It wasn’t as thoroughly cooked as I’d have liked, but was ok. Bloated, I left. I looked around for a bus, and got one to the Bus Terminal where I bought a ticket for tomorrow to Punta Del Este.
Back in town, and down to the Rambla, basically a promenade. It was far from the greatest promenade, but I had run out of things to do. I decided to follow the Rambla to the bend some way up ahead, but on reaching said bend, I noticed a beach at the end. The beach was now my next target.
All along the Rambla there were old men sunning themselves with their tops off, the odd couple, men, women and not so young couples were sat where the Rambla wall offered some shade. And they were indulging in Maté drinking. This is where people walk around with a thermos flask under one arm, and sip through a metal straw with a filter on one end. Maté of Té. The Té is loose in a gourd, and the gourd is topped up with Té. Watching people sit and walk around like this, makes them look like drug addicts or something.
On walking past the aforementioned bend on the Rambla, I continued on, past Rambla ‘lay-bys’ where kids were jumping and diving into the sea. At other places men and boys were fishing. My feet were on fire, as the hot sun beat down relentlessly. As I reached the beach, an electronic McDonalds ad said 34c. I found an ice-cream parlour, and had a crappy ice-cream in plastic. I tried to sit on the beach, but it was too hot, and the sun too strong. I hailed a cab to take me to the Palacio Legislativo, their Congress Building.
A few hundred metres down the road, another electronic sign said 31c! The slightly detached taxi driver sped across town and dropped me off on the road approaching the Palacio. I walked up to it, and managed to cross the myriad of roads with speeding cars.
The area around the building was less than salubrious and had the feeling of being neglected and/or run down. From the back, it looked like the building was all closed up and abandoned, as their was no security in sight. On the side some workers were emerging, and also at the front. There was also a number of clapped out farm implements parked in front, with signs and banners, straw bales on both sides of the road. A sign painted on the road mentioned various percentages.
After trying to find the right spot, I managed to get a taxi back to the hostel. I crashed out for a bit, and surfed the net, uploading some photos. I went off down to Independencia Plaza and the popular drinking streets behind. On entering a restaurant, I ordered Chaja as recommended by the Lonely Planet book. However I ordered Chaja with Dulche de Leche, and it arrived with a big pile of Dulce de Leche on. I was feeling sick before I’d even reached the Chaja, the later being ok, but not amazing. I paid, left, and walked back along Av. 18 de Julio to the hostel.
Saturday 22nd October
Got up and left at 8.30am. Caught a bus to the bus terminal, and waited for the bus to Punta Del Este at 9.15. I got on and we left, going through Montevideo’s suburbs and then a road some way in from the coast, so you couldn’t see the sea just lots of pastoral fields and woods etc. Along the way there was a cluster of large homes for the rich.
At Punta Del Este, i immediately left to look for a hotel. I found the Residencial 32 conveniently around the corner. After shouting ‘Hola’ someone emerged from the back. The woman showed me a room, but panicked as it wasn’t ready. I left my stuff and went to look for a cash point. I walked up Av. Juan Gorlero, the main street, which had a distinctly deserted feel to it, with most of the shops closed. In the peak season, the likes of Hollywood starlets come to these streets and beaches. However, this wasn't the peak season.
A few people were milling about, and looked mostly like locals. I passed down the other side of a slight hill, and continued down to the end of the peninsula. The southern area of the island is nearly all residential with house prices approaching around half a million dollars for not particularly out of the ordinary places. I sat on the rocks and relaxed for a bit, then walked round to the disappointing Playa Ingles (Englsih Beach, which might explain why it was disappointing), and then across the peninsula to the yacht club and ‘crazy bar’ that is MobyDicks, which looked all closed up.
I went round the corner to an ice-cream parlour, where I had a three flavour tub, one flavour being Dulce de Leche, naturally! I tried a few banks, and managed to get into the ATM lobby of a closed bank. I drew out some cash, and walked back to the hotel. On arrival my room had been made. i quickly stripped off and cleaned myself up. I put my swim shorts on, optimistically, and my flip flops before heading to the beach.
The wind from earlier had been noticeable, but was picking up now. I walked along the beach, hoping to find a sheltered spot amongst the dunes. As I walked up the beach, the wind became stronger, and after trying to sit on a dune I gave up and walked back. I sat on a closed wooden patio of a hut, out of the wind and read a bit. I then walked back to town and found an internet cafe, where I killed a couple of hours. After the Internet, I went back to the hotel, and crashed out for awhile. Around 9, I changed, putting on a long sleeve top and my raincoat. I went to a restaurant on the far end of Av. Gorlero, and had a fish dish called Brotola a la Inglesa, which was okay. I also had Chaja for dessert. I paid up and left, and went into the ice-cream parlour a few doors down where I had another 3 flavour cup! Walked back to the hotel and bed.
Sunday 23rd October
Got up, packed and left. I caught the 11am bus to Punta del Diablo, further north up the coast from Punta Del Este. The weather hadn’t improved much, and was mainly overcast. The views from the bus were the normal pastures full of grazing cows. The bus dropped off and picked up people all over the place en route.
We pulled off the main road after a couple of hours or so, and past a number of houses with patches of sand in between. The bus stopped by some small shops and closed restaurants. I got off and went looking, somewhat hopefully, for a place to lay my weary head! I passed along one beach and onto the next, with little sign of anything. I did spot one place, but it was closed as no one replied to my knocking.
I came across a smart complex called Agua Marina, and ran into a bloke who showed me to reception. After signing in, he took me up a few flights of steps to the room. It had all modern facilities, including microwave and fridge etc. It was also very clean and was P400 a night. I took it, left my bags, and walked along the beach to the other end of the village, where the bus had dropped me off. I wandered through the village and onto another beach. There was an abandoned beach bar raised on a wooden platform, where I sat watching the waves and different types of birds come and go.
I walked back to the village centre via a beach and rocky headland, and then along the beaches past my lodgings. I went around the next bay to the following headland, the furthest north I’d been in Uruguay, and only 15 miles from Brazil. The beaches went on and on, with waves crashing the foreshore. Lots of bits and bobs, including a depressing amount of plastic bottles washed up on the beach. I got as far as the prominent headland at Playa cerro verde, however due to the cold, and with the sun setting, I turned back and walked to my lodgings.
There seemed no sign of anything open selling food in the village, even an earlier open place advertising pizza. This really was the off-season. Back at my room I lay under a rug with wooly hat on (it was freezing!), watching various rubbish on TV. For dinner, I had my emergency Snickers bar.
Monday 24th October
After bravely getting up, I showered and packed, then popped down to the reception, where they ok’d me to stay until 1pm for my bus. I lolled around, watched TV a bit, then got all my stuff and headed off to the bus ticket office next to the police station where I’d arrived. After getting the P150 ticket, I got chatting to two Aussie guys who were already waiting for the bus. We were all huddled under a shelter as it was pouring with rain.
The bus arrived a bit late, and inside the windows were dripping with condensation as I took my window seat. I nodded off a few times, the bus went to Maldonado and then back to Montevideo along the route I’d come the other day.
The bus pulled in at the Terminal Tres Cruces at Montevideo, under a gloomy sky. I bought a ticket for Fray Bentos for the next day. Onto a local bus down Av. 18 de Julio, I got off a few blocks from Plaza Independencia, and went looking for the HI Hostel. After looking for it on the wrong street, I finally found it and got a dorm bed. The interior was pretty cool for a HI hostel.
I got chatting to two Aussie guys and a Dutch guy. After the usual getting to know you small talk, we agreed to meet at 10pm on the main plaza. I went off and found a smart bar/restaurant, and had a chirito. Something I was advised to do by a receptionist in Buenos Aires. It was basically a roast beef sandwich with egg etc. To follow it I had a chocolate brownie, that came carefully presented but quickly demolished! I slowly finished my beer watching music videos, and then went off in the wind and rain to meet the others.
We went to a bar with a live band further down the street I’d just eaten on. We chatted for a bit and two Aussie women turned up and stole the Aussie blokes attention. I wasn’t feeling too good, and felt an eruption imminent from my derrière. I went upstairs to the loo and caught it in time. On returning and talking to the Dutch guy, I struggled to finish my drink, and when I did, I made my excuses and went back to the hostel and bed.
Tuesday 25th October
I woke at half six, just as the Dutch guy came in from his all nighter. I washed and shaved, grabbed my stuff and caught the local bus back to the bus terminal. From there I caught the 8am bus to Fray Bentos. I read some of my Economist magazine, caught some shut eye and watched the same old scenery from the window. Lots of fields with cows/bulls in.
We got to Fray Bentos, which was a lot smaller than I’d imagined, and I checked my backpack in where I bought my ticket for Gualeguaychú. This being the first town over the Argentinian border. After going to the tourist office in the bus terminal, run by two middle aged women who spoke continuously in Spanish despite my ‘I only speak a little bit of Spanish’ quips. I went down the main street to the centre of town.
At the tourist office near the main square, I found three people milling around who all spoke English. A woman gave me a street map and outside the door pointed to where I could get postcards, and where to go to see the old meat factory and Barrio Anglo (English District). I got some postcards, actually they were photos, and mainly quite sad. They were pictures of the international bridge, the run down harbour etc.
I walked towards the riverfront, where there was a park with an amphitheatre in it. Beyond was the River Uruguay, looking rather full and wide. In the near distance on my left, I saw the old factory and followed the path along the river to it. There were areas laid out for picnics with concrete round tables and chairs. The river had spilled over the banks and lay around some of them.
Above it was the gate to the actual barrio and factory. A line of lime green houses on one side lead up to the factory gates. The factory was only for tour groups, not that I really wanted to witness the horrors within.
I walked down the river a little further to a couple of tall dilapidated buildings, looking very much like the non-functioning part of the factory.
Across from it was a knackered dock with two old cranes on it. They both had metal plaques saying made in Leeds, UK.
Experiencing more bowel problems, I headed off back to the central plaza. Just south of the plaza were a handful of art deco homes, mostly single story. I made it back to the bus station, and got the loo paper out of my backpack, and sat on a seatless public toilet. The toilet cubicle was lovingly adorned with various spanish graffiti scribbles.
After a while sat around waiting, the bus finally arrived and I got on board. The bus drove through the town and along the River Uruguay until it came to the International bridge. My passport was taken by the bus driver and stamped by the border police. We drove over without having to get off, and went into Argentina again.
As we arrived at Gualeguaychú, I looked around the bus services and one left in 5 minutes for Parana. I paid and hopped on board, settling down for yet another bus journey. The views from the window were still mainly fields, cows in fields or crop fields for a change. The sun set and I tried to sleep a little.
At the Parana bus terminal, I got onto a bus to Santa Fe, less than an hour across the River Parana. The bus picked up people every other block along one street, then disappeared down a tunnel to go under the river. People were dropped off on the other side of the river, until finally it reached the bus terminal for Santa Fe. Alighting, I went off in search of a hotel. The hotel I was looking for (from the guidebook) didn’t exist or had been renamed. I checked in to a hotel I found and stayed there.
I went off up the various streets looking for a restaurant and on walking down the pedestrian Av. San Martin, I found one that was open. I had a chicken casserole (with bones) and chips. Not the greatest or most filling of meals, but better than nothing. Back at the hotel I flicked through the TV channels, then went to sleep.
Wednesday 26th October
On getting up, I went to the bus station to enquire about tickets, and there wasn’t one until 1pm. I went back to the hotel and checked out. With all my stuff, I went off down to the river, but the navy and some industry had blocked access to it. I went to Parque General Belgrano which had large iron pipes everywhere around the lake, rusting gently.
There were loud bangs coming from somewhere. I walked up to a plaza and a couple of museums. School parties were milling about. At the far end of the Plaza was a group of protesters gathered, and some bloke letting off loud fireworks to draw attention to the cause. I passed Plaza 25 de Mayo, and walked down Av. San Martin. There I went into a restaurant and had omelette, a small pizza and a cup of tea. Across the road I went to a cibercafe (sic) and checked my email.
Humming along the pedestrian section of Av. San Martin, I stopped for a cup of three flavour ice-cream, eating it as I scurried off to the bus station. I got up on the upper deck of the bus, and grabbed my window seat opposite the top of the stairs. A businessman sat next to me and we set off. After a couple of stops, I asked him to put my empty water bottle in the bin. He then asked me where I was from and we got talking. He spoke fairly good broken English we talked about where I was from, what I did etc. then what he did. He sold radio systems and was going to bid for a contract for Corrientes Police Force. He was then going to Porado to reclaim his brothers stolen car. We also talked about politics, house prices, the fact he’d quit smoking 3 months ago after his father had become terminally ill. His father had died less than 2 weeks ago. He, Mark, had a wife and two kids. They lived in San Francisco (Argentina), and he lived near his office in Cordoba during the week. He earnt £4800 a year, and his wife was a primary school teacher. He liked Pink Floyd and Supertramp for his musical dilection.
I got off at Resistencia, saying good luck to Mark, and after enquiring about buses to Asuncion, got a taxi to the centre. As we drove through the suburbs, it didn’t look too much of an inviting town. We pulled up at the hotel listed in my book, but it was full, so we drove further to two hotel/hostels next to each other. I waved off the taxi driver, confident of getting somewhere, but again both were full. I wandered around the town with all my stuff and found two other hotels, both full. I got a taxi back to the bus terminal and bought a ticket for a half midnight bus to Asuncion. I sat around in the terminal for an hour and a half, reading and writing this diary. Also fending off some pathological mosquitos.
Thursday 27th October
I got on the knackered looking bus, and as I finished climbing up the stairs, saw numerous large lights above the seats going up the bus. Under each light was a small swarm of mosquitos! I killed all the ones around the light above my seat, and got settled. The bus drove off and on leaving Resistencia, turned off the internal lights. I sprayed on more mozzie spray! Most of the journey I spent contorting myself into various different positions attempting to sleep.
Around 5am we came to Clorinda, and the border with Paraguay. The bus stopped and we all got off. Numerous men of questionable reputation were perusing us saying ‘cambio, cambio?’ (Change). We queued up at the Argentine border window, then walked around to the Paraguayan border window. While waiting in line, a number of stray dogs loitered, one male lazily started having sex with a bitch. On getting my passport, the guard stamped it and walked to the middle room, where under some rugs a man was sleeping on a row of chairs. The woken man waved ‘it’s fine’ type movement, and the guard gave me my passport.
Back on the bus, a Paraguayan border guard did a half arsed check inside the bus. Outside the bus driver spent a quarter of an hour or so fixing the bus. When he’d finished, we drove through the empty streets of the border town. The side streets were muddy from what I could see in the dark.
We drove for a while, as dawn began to rise, the expected levels of development for a country of this status were visible. As we got nearer the bus terminal and I got all my stuff together, I wandered into the bus terminal building. It was large with two floors and many shop units. I changed some Argentinian Peso, and sat writing for an hour or so on the terminal seats.
Around 8am I rang the Hotel Preciado, and I seemed to get the impression they had a vacancy. I went to the taxi rank, and an attendant flicked a switch. A yellow ageing Mercedes approached from 10m away. I said where I wanted to go, and the driver said ‘veinte’ (20) and I agreed, assuming he meant G20,000. The driver was in his forties, overweight and reminded me of a pushy unionist.
As we drove off past more large houses, Japanese car garages etc. The driver started saying ‘dollar’. I got the impression he wanted $20 for a 3km taxi ride. I said ‘veinte mil Guarani,’ and he implied it wasn’t enough for the Preciado. After some toing and froing, I upped things to G30,000 (£2.80), and he still wasn’t happy. He seemed to want $5 now. I explained in crap spanish that $1 was G6000, so G30, 000 was $5. Things went quiet for the rest of the journey. The houses became smaller and less well maintained. The roads were good, but the pavements were of varying standards.
We drove down a long road, and what must have been the longest 3km’s ever from the bus terminal, to find the Preciado Hotel. As we stopped, I dreaded the exchange to come. However he took the G30000, and after digging around, actually gave me G5000 change! I was so alarmed, I gave it him back as a tip! He smiled for the first time, and I got out. Leaving the passenger door open, as I opened the back door for my bags.
The woman on reception twigged after a brief moment of confusion that I was the person who had called. I asked for a single and she dropped the price to $17 or G100,000. After the usual filling in the form, I was shown the room, which was great, and then left alone.
I crashed on the bed, and slept for a few hours. When I awoke I could hear loud house music from outside, but never found the source. I flicked through the small portable TV’s channels, and finally ventured out. I went down to Plaza Uruguay, which was only a few blocks away. There were a number of people living in large tents on the southern corner of the Plaza. The bus companies nearby were both shut. I walked all the way NE down Eligio Ayala and crossing Independencia Nacional, Av. Presidente Franco, to where Lonely Planet’s suggested walk began.
I took a photo of the empty green far banks of the Rio Paraguay from Plaza de los Desparados. A number of men were either sleeping on park benches and the floor for siesta, or because they were homeless. Next to the plaza was the Palacio de Gobierno (Governor's Palace), where the President resides in opulent splendour, protected by the military.
Overlooking the Palace was a museum, Centro Cultural Manzana de la Rivera. After finding the entrance, a functionary pointed to the rooms housing the museum. There were a few old artifacts, and numerous drawings, pictures and maps etc. Mostly they dealt with Paraguay’s development. It was all in Spanish unsurprisingly, and not that interesting, so I left. I walked along Av. Republica, where on what might have been a park was a small squatter settlement. Literally across the road was a shiny glass and marble legislative building, dwarfing the area.
Around the corner was the deserted Plaza de Armas, and the ‘Camera de Diputados’ (Paraguay’s lower house). The building seemed to be part of a conglomerate of various buildings, including the legislative building. Across the square was the ‘Camara de Senadores,’ where the upper house sit. The Plaza de Armas was part of a larger square along with the Plaza Constitucion, which had the odd non-cathedral looking cathedral on it’s far side.
After a few streets more, I reached the Casa de la Independencia, which looked fairly new, but was built in 1772, and where Paraguay declared Independence from Spain. The functionary/guide/caretaker beckoned me in, and asked where I was from. He then spoke in broken English, and began to give me a tour whether I wanted one or not. After pointing out the map (painting) of how Asuncion was at the time of Independence, and the bamboo roof, several times. He proceeded to show me around the empty viewing areas.
First up was a room with a cluster of chairs in a semi-circle. This was where the leaders of the Independence met to decide what the score was. Next door was a room with a bed that one of the Independence types used. The next door had a catholic shrine and imagery. Then we were back in the courtyard. There was another viewing room, which just had a couple of paintings in, and some admin staff at work. Just outside was an alley with numerous plaques on the wall. One read ‘University of Moron!’ I put G5000 in my hand and shook the guides hand goodbye. Preempting his likely request for cash. I walked to the Panteon de los Heroes, a mausoleum with flags next to it, and military guards. They were guarding the remains of Paraguay's crap military leaders. I walked around The Plaza de los Heroes, which wasn’t very photogenic, and after a few tries, managed to get some cash out of an ATM with the assistance of a woman in the bank. I went to a cambio at the bottom of the square to get some smaller notes.
I walked into the nearby Lido bar, which had a sort of horseshoe bar around the serving area. I got talking to the balding 40’s bloke sat next to me, who was Paraguayan, but lived in Washington DC, where he ran his own construction business. We talked, inevitably with me, about politics and the country. He said he couldn’t see an end to self-serving Presidents or any real growth in the economy. He said Asuncion was mostly safe, just like any city. I ordered an empanada with cheese and ham, along with an orange juice.
The bloke and I shook hands, and he left as my food arrived. The orange juice was amazingly good. They had mixers just under the counter for doing the juices. The empanada was equally good. Looking a bit like a pasty, it contained melted cheese and ham. I saw another western looking back-packing couple at the other side of the counter. I ordered a strawberry juice and paid my bill. I have to get a juicer!
I walked up the hill a bit and wandered pretty aimlessly through the streets above the main centre. They were mostly residential and fairly uniform. I came upon a statue on a pillar, and a staircase that lead downhill from it to Plaza Uruguay. At the bottom I enquired about times to Foz de Iguazu and Ciudad del Este with two bus firms. After checking email at a nearby net cafe, I went back to the hotel.
Back at the hotel the house music was pounding away. I tried to rest a bit, and watched some American shows on TV. I went for a shower, and found no hot water! So had a cold shower and changed to go out. It was only later, after complaining at reception of no hot water, and leaving the next day, I realised I had been using the F tap, thinking C was cold, but F=Frio (cold). C is Caliente, hot. D’oh!
I went out to a restaurant, Bar San Roque, just off Plaza Uruguay. It had more tables than customers. Sat at one of the tables was the western couple from the Lido bar. I overheard their accent as being Australian. I had a non-beef meal, and a delicious mousse dessert, before paying the bill and leaving.
I walked along the lit streets looking for bars, but didn’t really find any. Eventually I found the Brittanian Pub, which was decked out with numerous red white and blue photos and so on. I ordered a beer at the bar and got one of the usual 660ml or so ones. They then put the cold pilsen beer in a special plastic thermos like carrier to keep it cool. I sat on a Union Jack bench and watched the football on TV. The bar was popular and mostly full. I had another beer, and after spotting no obvious other foreigners, left. Back at the hotel the music had stopped and I was able to get some sleep.
Friday 28th October
I got up around 8, and packed up my things. I went for breakfast, which was rather poor. I asked the waitress for Té con leche, and she brought a metal pot full of hot milk! I never saw her again. I made hot chocolate instead, and had a few slices of bread with ham and cheese etc.
Outside the rain was chucking it down, and the streets were awash with water, each side of the street having it’s own river of brown water. In the early hours I’d been woken by two powerful electric storms. The first vibrated the buildings with its thunderclaps. I paid, got my things, and darted out in the weaker rain. I went to a parallel street to the hotel, and waited 5 mins for a bus to the terminal. Again the journey seemed to take ages. At the terminal I’d missed a 10am bus, but rather than get a 11am bus, I opted for the 10.40am bus from Rysa, thinking the 20mins might make a difference.
After waiting about in the terminal, the bus arrived, 10mins late. The bus lacky wanted me to put the bag on top of the dirty tyres in the luggage hold. I refused and took them on the bus. We got on, and the bus picked up a few more passengers along the way. As we left Asunción we passed a Britain Mall or Mall Ingles, which was a bit odd. The UK doesn’t even have an embassy in Paraguay. After a while on the journey, it became clear the bus was a package delivery firm, hence why the driver had limited space for luggage. Numerous drops were made, delaying us. Along the way was a mix of open areas and semi-rainforest. There were numerous, what looked like termite hills everywhere in some places. They swallowed fence posts and the like. There were lots of homesteads lining the route, a few planted fields, sunflowers being popular. Any towns mostly followed the main road linear fashion, rarely forming a circular town.
After what seemed like forever, we finally entered Ciudad del Este, whose outskirts involved more drop offs. We arrived around an hour late, the trip taking 6 hours. The bus terminal was on the edge of the centre, and lacking in appeal of any kind. It wasn’t unclean or in need of repair, but a little stark. I found a woman who spoke broken English, and found that buses for Puerto Iguazu left every half hour from the top corner of the bus bays.
I sat around waiting, and a shop person advised me the next bus was at 7pm. Fortunately he got it wrong, and the bus arrived not long after 5pm. Getting on the bus, there were only a few people on. However, under every seat were four boxes of some alcoholic bottles, either wine or champagne or something. The bus drove off for 5mins or so, and stopped next to a run-down taxi hut. Some men got on at the back of the bus and began unloading all the boxes of bottles. They formed a chain and were stacking them all in the taxi hut. Eager to get moving, I helped out. Pulling boxes from under the seats, and pushing them down the aisle towards the back. There must have been about a 100 of them. After 10mins, they’d finished, and we were on the move.
The rain lashed down, and we entered streets full of shops. They mostly had large plastic hoardings above the shop entrance, advertising all the brands they sold. The street’s gutters were lined with packaging and cardboard. The traffic was slow and bumper to bumper. As we turned into another street the cars would jostle for position, everyone keen to get moving.
We finally entered the main road to the bridge and border. It had a downhill slope to it, and rivers of light brown water ran down the gutters. Far ahead the queue of vehicles barely moved. A pair of blokes on a motorbike whizzed down the outside, only to misjudge a gutter in the water, and go into a hole. The passenger falling off, and both getting their calves soaked.
After an age we were inching across the bridge. No border checks, so i didn’t get an exit stamp. The sun set over Foz de Iguaçu in the distance over the Rio Parana. As we got to the bridge, although some people had cut windows in the mesh on it here and there. A couple of people were raising or lower packages with a rope extremely suspiciously.
Every vehicle sailed through Brazilian customs as well, including us. The bus revelled at its freedom, and sped off through the City of Foz de Iguaçu. It looked very modern, clean and well maintained as we passed through it, and again Brazilian Customs. Only when we came to the Argentinian border did we all have to get off and walk through the border building to get passports checked. My third entry to Argentina on this trip.
The bus only took a few minutes from the border bridge to get to Puerto Iguazu. At the bus terminal, I tried to find my way up the hill to the HI Hostel. However street signs were a rarity, and found it after asking directions. I went in and the two guys on reception weren’t helpful, telling me to wait 5 mins. Eventually Daniel turned up, and seemed to be more in charge. He booked me in and showed me the dorm room. It wasn’t the greatest place, but would do.
I set off to find a restaurant, which I found after stopping by an internet place. I thought it looked a bit fancy from the outside, but it wasn’t inside. Although the waiters were smart in white & black uniforms. I had a pasta dish and beer. I left and after getting lost, got back to the hostel. I was in my room and could hear the thumping bass from the music in the main area. I went to ask to lower the music, but they said it would go on ‘til 1 or 2am. There were only three people playing pool, a person serving at a small bar, and that was it. Pathetic. I went to bed and somehow managed to sleep anyway.
Saturday 29th October
I was up around 7, and headed down to the bus terminal. The next bus was 7.40 or so, so a short wait. A bus turned up with ‘Cataratas’ on it, meaning waterfalls. I got on and the bus turned out of Puerto Iguazu, and past some posh hotels, onto a long straight road. The road ran parallel to the out of sight Rio Iguazu, somewhere behind all the trees.
We pulled into the visitors centre, and alighted. I was greeted by a sign on the cashiers window saying the ‘Garganta Diablo’ was closed, and there was no access to the Isla San Martin, meaning in effect the park was only half open. I paid up anyway, and went in. I could hear the distant roar of the falls as I looked for the green route to the falls. At an information booth, I found that was closed as well! I went to get the narrow gauge train that goes around to the area of the park where the falls were. After the train finished crawling along to the bit of the river with the falls. I got off and went around the ‘superior circuit,’ which goes along the top of the falls. At many points the water flowed on one side, and disappeared over the edge on the other. A little disconcerting!
I walked past all the falls and came to an abrupt end, as access to the last bit of the falls superior circuit was blocked off. When I couldn’t see any park supervisors, I hopped over the barrier for a quick look.
As I was walking back along the top of the falls, a very gay looking bloke, who had said something to me earlier I’d ignored, brushed his hand over my genitals and gave me a come on look as I turned around. My first instinct was to punch him, but I had a camera in hand and the catwalks were dangerous. He hadn’t actually touched anything other than my money/security pouch, but I still felt upset by the incident.
I went back to the start, and went to the lower circuit, the ‘inferior circuit.’ Some of which was closed off. It was amazing seeing the brown water thundering down from above. The noise overall was deafening. At one point a waterfall had spilt over onto a platform area and flooded it a bit.
I got chatting to an English bloke Jim, who was with his girlfriend. He took my picture and we talked for a while. They were off to work in Australia for a year, and hopefully settle there for good.
On the way back to the top and the train, I saw some raccoon like animals, called Coati. I got the train back to the start, and embarked on the 3km walk to the Sendero Macuco, another waterfall by itself, reached by walking through the rainforest. The first part of the walk left the train station, and went through marshland. There were large puddles and I had to lift my trousers and plod through them as they covered my trainers. Floating between the puddles were large numbers of butterflies, it seemed rare to see so many in large groups.
After crossing the train tracks and road, I followed the main trail, which began with a 20m or so long unavoidable pool of water. I lifted my trousers again and plodded through, but the water went over my shoe, soaking my socks. My feet were squelchy as I walked off down the trail. There were numerous bits that were muddy and places where the water filled the path and I had to precariously step around it. I passed an odd group of people, some of whom in full safari outfits, using binoculars to observe something. I saw some wildlife a large Toucan followed by three smaller ones. About three or four Iguana/lizard type creatures crept back into the rainforest as I passed. High in some trees around the 2km mark were some monkeys, leaping from tree top to tree top.
As I got to the 3km mark after around 50mins, a couple were sat on a bridge that had a fast flowing light brown stream running under it. I could hear the waterfall in the near distance. I went along a narrow muddy path between some young trees, and then descended a somewhat precarious path to the bottom. There were a couple of large rocks to navigate around, and then I could see the waterfall, finally crashing into a pool. The spray from the falls was powerful and soaking. I clambered back up, keen to see the top of the falls which had tape blocking the path.
On getting to the top, I passed some people on their way down. One guy told me to follow a path, and I’d come out at the top of the falls. I did and the path ended at the falls. An open wooden fence ran over the top of the falls. I could see the water crashing down into the pool below, and then going out to the Iguazu River, floating by in full flood. A beautiful sight.
After a few photos I turned and left. As I walked back I dreaded the pools of water waiting for me. A gate blocked a road near the end, and I went past it ignoring the no entry notice. The path went a 100m and then went past a house with a sign saying ‘T.IES’ in front. Past the sign I was back on the road, a few metres from the proper start of the path to the falls. I didn’t cut back through the marsh to the station, but instead followed the road that went around to the entrance, and cut back in near the narrow gauge train station, saving a further soaking.
I got on the train, and went to the falls area again. After cleaning myself up, I walked around to the Sheraton hotel. The lonely planet said they served an all you can eat buffet for $10. However when I enquired, they said $22. So I turned around and left as it wasn’t quite the bargain I’d hoped. I walked to the far end of the superior falls walk, but they’d now closed off the last walkway, that had earlier been open. At around 3pm, the park was almost deserted in the warm afternoon sun.
They had reopened the green trail though, so I was able to walk back to the entrance area. The green walk wasn’t very exciting. I bought an ice-cream, and walked past loads of native indigenous people selling tourist wares. With no one around, they had a look of hopelessness about them. Outside the park and a 10min wait later, I got the bus back to Puerto Iguazu.
I bought some postcards, and a three flavour ice-cream that I ate as I walked out to the point where the Iguazu River joins the Parana River. Also at this point was a small park and a pointed pillar painted like the Argentine flag.
Across the mouth of the Iguazu River was a similar park with a pointed pillar painted in the Brazilian colours.
At the centre point of the Iguazu river, and across the Parana River, was a more grander concrete park, with a chunky pillar in the Paraguayan colours.
This completed the vista of three countries from one spot, and the junction of the mighty Iguazu River and Parana River.
I took off my socks and shoes to air them, as well as try to dry them in the afternoon sun. I laid back on the grass, taking it all in. After half an hour or so, I headed back into town. I bought some Dulce de Leche from a shop. Then, onto an internet place for a bit where I uploaded some photos. I walked down the street to an Italian restaurant, and had a pasta meal. Afterwards I went back to the hostel and bed.
Sunday 30th October
Got up early again, and packed up to leave. As I put my key in reception, the bloke tried to make out I hadn’t paid, when I had. I told him to speak to Daniel, who’d booked me in. And then I left, a little worried. At the bus terminal I waited a quarter of an hour or so, and a bus for Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil turned up.
The bus drove out of Puerto Iguazu, and we all got off for Argentine customs. Back on the bus, we drove over the International Bridge to the Brazilian side of the Iguazu River. I was the only person that had to go to get my passport stamped. I thought the bus had driven off without me, but the driver came in to the border office, waiting for me. On getting my passport back, I had passed my last border of the trip. On the up side, I had all of Brazil in front of me.
We drove into Brazil, and followed various roads into the quiet/deserted city. After a while, the driver signalled for me to get off, as across the road was the urban bus terminal. I crossed over, and came up against some language difficulties. It seemed I had to pay a few Realis to get into the terminal. However after pointing at the tourist information office, the guard let me in.
At the office I found out that paying at the entry point means not having to pay on the buses. I left my big bag for R$3 in a shop next door, and waited a few minutes for the bus to the falls. On board, there was a ticket person and a turnstile, a third of the way from the front of the bus. People got on at the front and off at the back.
The bus went off round the city, and eventually came to the entrance building to the Iguaçu park. I got off, and withdrew some money from the ATM. I begrudgingly joined the long queue for park tickets, which only took 15mins. Then I joined another queue for the bus, which passed slightly quicker. I clambered onto the top deck of a bus with the windows removed. As the bus drove off, I got a full blast of wind in my face. The ride took ages along a road lined with trees. A quarter of an hour to 20mins later, we finally reached a large hotel, and the start of the walk by the falls.
It seemed a little odd to be looking at where I was walking yesterday. The falls looked amazing from across the River Iguaçu. There were numerous tour groups about, including a Chinese one which was a rarity at the time..
I walked off down the path that ran above the cliff like bank to the river. Taking pictures here and there as I did. Eventually I passed a walkway that goes out to the falls like everything else near the falls, it was closed.
A couple of ramps led up hairpin style to the lookout area. A couple of times the corner of the switchback came to the face of a thunderous wall of water that marked one end of the falls at the Brazilian side. It was very wet, and at one point people had to walk through a bit where it was easy to get wet, and I did a bit. Some people danced around in shorts and t-shirts on a platform that was getting heavy spray from the falls. They got soaked.
At the top of the lookout platform was a metal grid walkway that was level with the top of the falls. I walked out and took a number of photos. Below I could see a couple tangoing in the spray of the falls on the hairpin walkways. A couple of the Coatis were walking about.
I wandered over to a restaurant area, and got a baguette and a mousse. I tried from various positions to see the actual Devil’s Throat, but I could only just make it out. I walked back to the lookout for a last gaze at the falls, and then got the bus back to the visitors centre.
I waited outside the visitors centre for a bit, and a local bus took me back to the urban bus station. I got my bag, and caught another bus to the inter-city bus terminal. There I found I’d have to wait until 9.30pm for a bus to Curitiba. Resigned to my fate of around six hours of waiting. I watched a Corinthians football match on a TV in the main waiting area.
A cold breeze was blowing through the terminal, so I went into a room full of floating posters and carefully closed one of the doors, and most of the windows. The posters were headshots of women from around the world, who’d emigrated to Foz du Iguaçu. I sat behind a partition out of sight, and wrote my diary.
The bus was pretty strict when it came to getting on. I got my rucksack ticketed and put under the bus. Then I had to show my passport and ticket to another bloke to get on. On board the ‘semi-cama’ bus, the seats were comfy, and reclined back a long way, but not quite far enough. It was like trying to sleep on a slope. As the bus left the city, it was plunged into darkness inside and outside the bus.
Monday 31st October
My last full Monday, and last full week of the trip. As it became light outside, I broke the cycle of sleeping for an hour or two, and then trying to sleep again by just watching the view. We pulled in around 6 or 7am, and I left the bus station, nervously looking around. I crossed a busy road and walked into the Hotel Maia.
The Hotel Maia had vacancies, and the bloke on the front desk showed me up to the room. The place could pass as a prison cell block. It had lots of rooms with a walkway in front, then a drop down to the ground floor. There were at least three floors overlooking the ground floor. My room had a door and window that looked out onto the walkway. Inside the small room was a single bed, wardrobe, chair and a sink by the window. I reluctantly agreed, and dumped my stuff for a kip.
On waking around 11am, I hid my money belt under the wardrobe and set off with a few vital things in a carrier bag. My first expedition into a Brazilian city, I was somewhat nervous. I went to the Post Office and got stamps for my Iguazu postcards, then posted them.
Outside I took a few photos, then walked along the Rue des Flores, the main pedestrianised high street. After a small park at the end, I found the Tourist Information Office in a small arcade of shops and cafes, all open 24hrs. The woman at the desk assured me the city was safe. She highlighted a map where the historical quarter was, and where to change my Argentinian Pesos.
I walked up the hill to a modern open street that seemed very American in feel, as well as having a number of Americans outlets. I walked down another street that ended up back at the park and Rua das Flores. I changed my Pesos, then walked to the historical area. The historical area was something of a disappointment. It was an area about 200m long, and none of the buildings were amazingly historical looking. I walked off back to the hotel.
I rested up a bit at the hotel, then set off in search of the internet and some food. I spent an hour or so on the web, looking into places in São Paulo as well as uploading some pics. My belly was urging me to start looking for a restaurant. The one I wanted was up a road that led away from the centre, and looked rather dodgy, so I turned back. I looked around aimlessly for somewhere that wasn’t a fast food outlet. On re-checking the map, I found the road I wanted earlier was actually nearby, so I went there and found the restaurant I’d wanted all along. Hoorah! After eating a single course, I left the practically empty restaurant for the hotel.
Tuesday November 1st
Got up early and had a quick breakfast before rushing off to catch my 7.30am bus to São Paulo. The bus pulled away and I thought I’d get two seats to myself, but the bus pulled in again to pick up another passenger who typically sat next to me. After a bit, it became clear he spoke English, and we began to talk. It turned out he was Brazilian, but now lived with his family in Switzerland.
We talked about most things, including that he was an evangelical christian (aka born again christian). How dangerous Rio was (bad but not that bad), what he did (IT) etc. After a few hours we stopped at a motorway service station. The whole place was owned by the same company. As we walked in, we were given a slip of paper that everything we bought was written on. I got a drink, banana, and a bag of Dulce de Leche & chocolate lumps, basically fudge. Back on the bus, we drove through the Brazilian countryside in the sun. The odd field was filled with termite mounds as I’d seen in Paraguay.
The slums started to increase and became continuous, rising up and down hills by the road. Most seemed to have power lines and roads. The houses were a mess, piled precariously on top of each other and next to each other.
It took an hour from the outskirts to the bus station. We crossed the main river in Sao Paulo (Rio Tietê), which had been concreted in and was brown. The guy next to me pointed out the Deutsche Bank glass building in the distance.
We arrived at the bus terminal Tietê, and I nervously got all my stuff and walked into the terminal. I went to the nearby information booth, where a Chino-Brazilian lady spoke good English. She gave me a map, and directed me to how to get a phone card. None of the phone booths in Brazil accept coins. I got the card and tried to call the Hotel Ibis, but I got a recorded message. I decided to risk going there by Metro, and went to the station that connects to the terminal on the first floor.
I looked out at the city from the platforms. There wasn’t much to see. A train came and I sat awkwardly on a seat. After a stop it went underground. At Paraiso, I hobbled off and changed to the other line, and went as far as Consolação, where I got off. Consolação opened onto Av. Paulista, a long avenue lined by tall buildings, a little reminiscent of the main shopping street in Singapore. I crossed over and walked into the Ibis Hotel. They had a room and gave me one night cheaper than the other (R$99 and R$119). I paid on my card and went up to the room. It was on the 7th floor, and the view looked at the building opposite, as well as down onto Av. Paulista. The room had a safe, wardrobe, TV, a double bed and a bathroom with a good enclosed shower.
I rested a bit, flipping through the TV channels. Then I walked to M.A.S.P (Museum of Art). Most of the ground floor outlets of the tall buildings were pretty unexciting, mainly banks. The base of the M.A.S.P (A tissue box on legs) overlooked the central area of the city. Av. Paulista is a ridge, and steep slopes go off both sides to lower areas of the city.
I paid and went up in the elevator into the rectangular box above. The display had various periods of Art, starting with religious early art, and working up to Modern Art of dubious quality/merit. I got the elevator down, luckily the elevator didn’t understand what I wanted, and took me to the basement instead of street level. In the basement were more paintings in a dark room with paintings mounted on glass walls. There were a couple of Van Goghs amongst them.
I left and walked back to the hotel, looking for Av. Augusta, which was badly signposted. Finally I found it, and walked downhill all the way to Av. Europa. At the base of the hill was the posh ‘Sao Paulo Athletics Club.’
Passed that there were numerous dealers for cars, including Ferrari, Porsche, Harley Davidson and Triumph etc. I passed them and went into the Museu da Imagem e do Som, a film and photography museum. They only had one display, by a Brazilian photographer, mostly quasi homoerotic pictures of men pushing fishing boats about on beaches. I left, and stopped off at an internet cafe on the way back to the hotel and bed.
Wednesday 2nd November (National Holiday)
I looked out my window and noticed it was definitely quieter outside. I got the subway from Brigadeiro, after walking the length of Av. Paulista and getting a few computer discs at an indoor IT market. I swapped lines at the next stop, and got off at Sê Metro Station.
Paranoid I had my camera in one pocket of my raincoat, and the memory card in another. Most guides and the tourist info person said avoid Centro at night, I wasn't sure what to expect on a national holiday.
Above ground I was glad to see a couple of cops in their drab grey uniforms. There were a considerable number of mainly brown skinned men, looking down and out. Some sleeping on benches or low walls, others clustered in small groups. I carefully put the memory card in my camera while still in my pocket, then took it out for a few photos.
I walked around to Rue 15 de Novembro street, a contrast to the areas by Praça de Sê. It had a cluster of important buildings towards the end, including the BOVESPA building, Brazil’s main stock exchange. From there I walked down the next pedestrianised street, Av. São João, which had a small garden at the top, and the road stretched out ahead into the near distance.
A hundred metres down Av. São João was the urban parque Anhangabãu. It lay lower than the streets around it, and had tall buildings on either side. Mostly concrete, laid out in various ways, making it an attractive place. I walked up to the Municipal Theatre, a very grand building, and pride of São Paulo in the park in front, a woman walked by followed by a half dozen or more cats! This is Sao Paulo Cathedral, in Praça de Sê
From the theatre I walked into the pedestrianised area again. Outside the odd shop, someone had set up a makeshift home. The shops weren’t particularly exciting. The rich mainly shop at shopping malls or off Av. Paulista and the Jardin district. I came out onto the Praça de Republica, a small tree intensive park surrounded by busy roads. At the far corner was the Edificio Itália, the 2nd tallest building in São Paulo and Latin America by 2 metres. I wanted to go up, but it was closed. I went to the Tourist Information and then pointed to a bus stop for the Instituto Butantan.
Next to the bus stop a man was gambling, using three small metal cups and a pea. He rushed off though when someone signalled to him. The bus came, and I sat in the front half. The driver had indicated I had the right bus. It went out via Av. Reboucas to the river, crossed it and followed some back-streets where it seemed to terminate.
A student who spoke English saw me looking puzzled and offered to point me in the right direction. The university sat at the front of a park nearby, and he walked down to a road that lead to the back entrance where the institute was. I walked up a path that lead to the park, and up a small hill was a collection of large pits, one containing rattlesnakes, another had pythons or boa constrictors. The closed white institute building sat next to the pits.
I got a ticket from the booth by the pits, and crossed the quiet campus road to a building filled with loads of snakes from around the country of Brazil, along with a few spiders. They had pretty much everything, from coral snakes to Anacondas. Sadly none looked happy in their glass boxes. The displays were in English as well, which was cool. They offered advice to Brazilians on how to avoid snake bites and where to get vaccines. A quick look at a lab museum and I walked back out of the campus, and got a bus to Av. Reboucas. After walking the wrong way, I got back to the hotel and rested for a bit.
Feeling brave, I walked off down Av. Paulista, and then down hill along Av. Brigadeiro Luis Antonio.
At the bottom a collection of large fountains and a big monument showed the beginnings of São Paulo’s main park, Parque do Ibirapuera. I crossed a busy road into the park, and round the edge of the lake.
There were a couple of interesting buildings. One had a long round covered walkway, being used by numerous skateboarders. Elsewhere in the expansive park were a group of dog owners, volleyball players, endless football matches, joggers, rollerbladers, lovers and so on.
As I left the park, I spotted a cluster of gorgeous VW Campers in a car park looking fairly new. How I'd love to have driven one all the way back home. Maybe after I win the Lottery...
I got a bus back up the hill to Av. Paulista and walked back to the hotel as dusk started to end. I rested up for a bit, watching TV, writing my diary. The TV only had one channel, the American channel ‘Fox International News’. I waited for their advertised ‘main news hour’, and within 5 minutes they had ‘car chase of the day.’ Feeling sorry for Americans, I then wandered off in search of the Pizzaria Camelo. I walked down to Rua Oscar Freire, a well known posh street full of apartment blocks with electric fences and elaborate entry systems. There were a number of upmarket boutiques and shops.
I crossed the wide Av. Nove de Julho, and around the corner past the Pele club, and found Camelo’s. Initially I thought it was too pricey, and appeared to be full of very wealthy Paulistas, but then I thought what the hell and went in. The maitre de was a short squat bloke who clearly thought of himself akin to a butler to royalty with an aloof presence and a blazer. However he was friendly to me. After briefly chatting to a wealthy Brazilian who spoke English, he studied textiles at Leicester University and saw the Rolling Stones free concert in Hyde Park. I got seated and ordered a R$35 Du Funghi Pizza (Mushroom). The waiters rushed about with Visa emblazoned on their outfit’s sleeves.
The pizza came and it was big. The pizza sat under a metal hood. Every time I finished a slice, the waiter would rush over and put the next slice on my plate until I told him to stop. I didn’t feel comfortable in the place, as São Paulo’s wealthy and fabulous tucked into Pizza around me. I finally finished what was a good pizza and walked back to the hotel through the dimly lit streets.
Thursday 3rd November
I got up leisurely, and had a buffet breakfast at the hotel. I nipped out to withdraw some more money. Packed and checked out. I got the metro to Praça Republica, and with all my stuff, crossed the road and into the Edificio Itália. There was no way I was missing out on this! I took one lift up to a higher floor, then another lift a few extra floors to the restaurant at the top. A woman there took R$15 off me, and opened the door to a walkway that went just over three quarters of the way around the top of the building. There were tall buildings as far as the eye could see. From the air São Paulo looked a modern thriving city.
I came down and got the subway to Tietê Terminal, and I got the next bus out. It was an executive bus and I got a drink and a bag of biscuits. I had both seats to myself for most of the 6 hour journey. The scenery was lots of open areas after the industrial areas petered out. The termites were out in force with hills everywhere.
The later part of the journey was mostly jungle.
We passed the small town of Aparecida as we got nearer halfway. It looked like a small town, but had a massive great religious building dominating the town. It was the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, the patron saint of Brazil. Basically a huge building built around a 300 year old 40cm clay statue of the Virgin Mary. The Cathedral built around it is the 2nd largest church on earth and attracts 7million visitors a year. In Brazil, religion is big! A little later around the midway point, I bought an ice-cream as the bus paused for 20mins or so.
As we got nearer Rio, the poor housing became visible. A number of makeshift tarpaulin ‘homes’ had been constructed under some trees in a field. This gave way to the now familiar favelas clinging to any available space on low hills. Deeper into the suburbs, there were people living in cargo ship containers. This aside, it was poor, but not as bad as I’d imagined. We pulled into a quiet area that probably looked worse at night.
Having read and heard horror stories about Rio, I was paranoid of being robbed or attacked at any moment. I looked for an information booth, but it had long gone. I got a taxi for R$22 to the hotel. I later found this was twice the normal fare. The area we drove through was mostly empty. We got to a run down street that was Rua Joaquim Silva. Horrified, I got out and got my stuff, before walking quickly, dodging a cockroach, and into the Hotel Marajo.
I checked in and was shown to my room. I dumped my stuff and crashed on the bed. Paranoid about Rio’s violence, I stayed in, afraid to go out. I ate a Snickers for tea. I tried to go to sleep but the noise was relentless, a thumping bass from nearby. I eventually dropped off in the early hours.
Friday 4th November
After shedding most of my valuables and bag, passport in the safe. I apprehensively walked down the road and onto a busy street. I crossed the main Centro district, following streets around Rio Branco, and up to Campo de Santana, a park.
I went to the historic district near the bay, and found the tourist information office inside an office block. I got some tourist advice and safety advice. I also tried to find out about football games. I left and stopped at Confeitaria Colombo, a marvellous cafe from a bygone era, and rather posh. I had a brownie and ate it at a table. Below an ornate building in the historic district.
At Uruguaiana, I got the metro east to Maracana Station. From the above street level platform, I could see across the road to the light blue and concrete grey Maracana stadium, the biggest in the world. The pitch was almost sunken. All around were favelas in the distance. I crossed the road to walk up to the Maracana, however I couldn’t go in as it was closed for repairs.
I walked past the Maracana, and over the rail tracks to the Quinta da Boa Vista park or the National Museum. The park was fairly sparsely populated, and I kept checking who was around me. The National Museum was in an old mansion looking a little worse for wear. On paying and passing the famous meteorite on the way in, it was a hodge podge of displays from the animal and fish worlds, with a few ethnic tribe and prehistoric displays. A number of the rooms were empty. It wasn’t great! I got the Metro at Sao Cristovao back to the centre, and wandered back to the cathedral where I got the tram. The open tram, or Bondinho to locals, took a fair while to fill up and eventually leave. It went up over the white arches of Lopa, and then up the middle of a road to Santa Teresa.
I got off at a stop near Rua Dias de Barros. Weary of being robbed, I was careful about looking at the views and taking a photo or two. I walked up Rua Dias de Barros, and backtracked up a long dead end street. At the end was a large house in fantastic gardens with a great view. It was Museu Chacara do Ceu (Estate of Heaven Museum), an old industrialists home, now an art gallery. In a fantastic period room was a Salvador Dali original. There were a few other well known pieces, a dining room laid out in full with glorious crockery, silverware etc. I walked back near where I got off the tram and went into a restaurant where I had a large meal.
Afterwards I walked down the hill and ended up near my hotel. I looked around the Centro area again, and ended up near the cathedral. I walked up Av. Mem de Sa where I stopped at an internet cafe and sent an email. I then went into a supermarket where I stocked up on food. It was getting dark and I headed back to my hotel room to eat the food.On the way I passed some cool graffiti painted on walls by the main route through the area
I hadn’t really felt threatened all day, and was a bit upset I wasn’t robbed. The centro of São Paulo was more scary. The rain at night meant the street outside was quieter, but still noisy.
Saturday 5th November
Got up, as I was about to leave the hotel, the old guy behind the desk took me upstairs to a breakfast area I didn’t know about. Inside was just one couple, Jim and his wife from the Iguazu Falls a few days ago. Small world! We caught up and agreed to go to a football match. I put my stuff into a room at the hotel, and went to withdraw some money. I then got the bus to the base of the hill near Christ the Redeemer.
I walked a bit further up the street to a lush cul de sac called Largo do Boticario. A small enclave of colonial houses from the 19th Century. I went back to the tram station for Corcovado. An English speaking taxi tout showed me a sign with the route on, and I coughed up. We went up to the Helipad at Morro Dona Marta and I could see most of Rio below me. Lots of favelas, Centro, Maracana etc.
Back in the car we drove up to the Corcovado, where I was given a time limit to get back. Thankfully there was no cloud and after wading through the huge crowds, got some great views and photos of Rio. I saw the Copacabana beach through hotels, and Ipanema beach.
I got back in the taxi, and was driven to the bottom. I got a bus back to the hotel. A bare chested bloke in his 40’s started talking to me in English. When I told him where I was staying, he said he said he was going to be working there. I did a quick tour of Centro, taking pictures with my digital camera. On the Praca Floriano, a plaza that is the centre of Rio, an anti-Bush (George W) march/protest was in progress. Loads of people with banners chanting ‘Bush-ey, Bush-ey.’
Back at the hotel I got all my stuff and hailed a taxi to take me to Copacabana. The taxi driver had trouble locating the hotel, in a cul de sac behind the very grand Copacabana hotel. I checked into the Mellow Yellow Backpackers Hostel, and was shown to a 6 bed (3 bunk) dorm room. People were sleeping still inside. I dumped all my stuff, and headed down to the not so busy Copacabana beach.
I walked along the famous promenade to the Forte de Copacabana. I paid the nominal entrance fee and walked around. Not very interesting. I was also told to put a t-shirt on!
After the fort I went to Ipanema Park, where the song ‘Girl from Ipanema’ was written. I sat on a highish rock headland jutting out into the sea. I chatted a bit with some scousers, some of whom had been hang gliding. I walked fairly randomly down the streets behind the beachfront. Crossing the canal that splits Leblon and Ipanema in Jardim de Alah, things became a bit less pleasant. Ipanema itself is very middle class. I went to the beach and walked back to Ipanema Beach and Copacabana Fort. On the way I ran into Jim and his wife, again! We walked and talked for a bit, then I went looking for food.
After much searching I found a restaurant with seating by the road. I had a meat based meal and a beer. My feet tired, I got a bus back to the hostel. People in the hostel were off to see a choir sing or something. I wanted to find a bar called ‘Bukowskis’ and got a Metro to Botafogo. After looking round on the quiet empty streets, I gave up and came home to bed.
Sunday 6th November
My last full day, sob! I got some food from a nearby grocery shop, then caught a bus to Barra. Supposedly a posh beach with less crime. On the way we passed Ipanema beach again, and favelas as well as gated mansions. The bus entered Barra away from the sea front, passing plastic fronted American style outlets. I got off the bus with sadly overcast skies. I walked a mile or so to the beach, then a good half mile down the beach to a populated area with some surfers on the limited waves. The beach was very sparsely populated. I lay for a few hours, and walked further down the beach, then waited for a bus. As i was waiting I could feel myself burning and put a t-shirt on. A bus finally arrived and took me back to to Copacabana.
I went back to the hotel and got ready for the football match. I got a Metro to the Rio Sul shopping mall, then had a wander round and some cake/food. I then got a taxi to the Hotel Marajo. The bare chested guy I’d met in the street the other day was chatting to Jim and his wife.
We got a taxi to take us to the football ground. I sat in the front with the taxi driver who was clearly a little crazy. He kept going on about the few English references he knew, in particular Princess Diana, who he called ‘Lady Dee.’ I started taking the piss a bit after a while. We drove along flyovers to São Cristóvão and Vasco da Gama’s ground. There were lots of Fluminense fans in the streets in their green and burgundy tops. They are from Rio, and second best in Brazil after Corinthians (Sao Paulo). They were playing Figueirense, from Santa Catarina in black and white.
We bought tickets off a tout, and went into the ground, buying a beer just inside. We sat on the concrete steps above the halfway line. Most of our side of the ground was full, and Figueirense did their best to fill out the opposite side, but were clearly outnumbered. Fluminense fans carried around a small coffin draped in the opposing sides colours which was a little disturbing.
The game was exciting and featured good play. Fluminense (abbreviated to ‘Nency’ in chants) scored in both halves (Tuta, 38mins and Alexandre, 86mins) to win 2-0. We left the ground and went back to Lapa in a taxi. We said our goodbyes and I kept the taxi back to Copacabana. I freshened up and got some food. I then waited around for the minibuses to take us to the ‘Favela Dance Party.’
After waiting for an age, we were taken out to two white minibus vans, and ferried along dark roads and underpasses, sometimes seemingly through the countryside. After at least half an hour or more, we were in a favela, and parked outside a nightclub with few white faces on show. We nervously got out and had to wait in various groups at certain places. Eventually we were led upstairs to a VIP area, past a large bouncer. We looked over the balcony down onto the throng below, it was packed. A DJ was along on a side stage with his decks. I danced around in the VIP area, and later on the main dancefloor with a couple of German guys from the hotel. I was really tired towards the end of the night, and sat resting in an empty area of the club. Outside I noticed a bus destined for Cidade de Deus (City of God!). As the club closed we were escorted back to the mini-buses and whisked back to the hostel.
Monday 7th November
Got up around 10am, and went to the beach and a last look around. I then got all my stuff and realised I had been badly burnt on my shoulders and chest yesterday on the beach. I checked out and got a taxi to the Rio Sul Mall. Inside I boughtGESSAP2-64 by guerrillaexploring, on Flickrp some t-shirts and a bottle of Br border=p style=azilian spiri609t / for my boss. I got another taxi to the airport, filming with my camera as we went. At the airport I had arrived too soon, as the flight wasn’t until later. While waiting the Fluminense team came past with journalists and media following/interviewing them.
Eventually I was able to check-in, and ditch my bag. I got the plane and tried to sleep/rest on the way home.
Tuesday 8th November
We landed at Madrid in the early hours while it was still dark, and I transferred onto my flight to Heathrow. We flew down over the Thames in London, with glorious early morning light. After landing I struggled into work, carrying my backpack with sunburnt shoulders. Later in the evening I went to A&E where I got a special cream for my diagnosed third degree burns.
A googlemap exists of this trip to give perspective and help plan your own trip! See it here.
Exchange rates as of August 2005
£1 = $1.75
Peru £1 = 5.81 Soles
Bolivia £1 = 14.94 Bolivares
Chile £1 = 974.7 Pesos
Argentina £1 = 5.1 Pesos
Uruguay £1 = 43.3 Pesos
Paraguay £1 = 10800 Guimaras
Brazil £1= 4.12 Reals
Flights (Arranged by Journey Latin America)
London - Madrid
Madrid - Lima
Rio - Madrid
Madrid - London
Lima - Cusco. Lan Peru Air
Calama - Santiago. Sky Air
Mendoza - Buenos Aires. Aerolineas Argentina
Argentina £1 = 5.1 Pesos