Friday, June 5, 2009
I spent Carnival due to "prior piss poor planning" not at any of the well known sites across Brazil. Book your carnival accommodation many many months in advance experience tells! Thankfully I met 2 beautiful Brazialian girls whilst traveling Chile and they became like sisters so I organised to spend Carnival in Piracicaba (north of Sau Paulo). The carnival week was the first time I had spent 1 week in the same town/bed since Christmas and that in itself was relaxing...I may not have experienced the Samba-drome of Rio De Janeiro or the massive street party in Salvador but where I was, was a typical Brazilian carnival. It was spent at a hired house, with pool and BBQ (as important for Brazilian life as Australian) and amongst university/ex-school mates. Food and beer was the only expense and at a 600mL bottle costing $1.50AUD, $250 goes a long way! (accom. in well known carnival cities is about $100 per night). The food was the best part, a Brazilian BBQ is...well its been a long time since an Australian BBQ so going to have to say better! and the house keeper also taught me to cook some national dishes...Brazilians love their beans so watchout when I recreate these meals! All towns in Brazil have samba parties so attending these was a great experience...could I samba? or just get drunk enough so that I couldn't see if my feet were doing the correct thing...I cant samba when sober is all that I know!
After Carnival I want to relax on a beach so went to the Island resort of (Illa do Mel) where the Brazilians themselves go...stunning beaches and Argentinians to play with (my Spanish is marginally better than speaking no Portuguese) and Brazilian fruit, I didn't need to relax after carnival but I got it anyway!
Foz do Iguacu is up there with Victoria Falls and Niagra Falls as the biggest in the world. Wow...so much water and both the Brazilians and Argentinians have great view points across the falls. Better than Victoria Falls? which I saw in Africa...just different! Foz do Iguacu is spread out so you can see the falls better but bear in mind I didn't get to see Vic Falls from the Zimbabwee side! The cloud of mist at Vic Falls is much larger however. Whilst at Foz do Iguacu you must also visit the largest dam in the world (til the one in China finishes being constructed)
The last place I visited in Brazil was the Pantanal. This is a wetland at the south/bottom of the Amazon with supposedly the most bird life in the world. It wasn't the best weather so it is the excuse to why we didn't see many birds but it was a fun experience and other animals seen included (Piranhas, Caymans, Howler Monkeys, Macaws, Tapirs (largest rodent in the world) and anteaters)
Crossing from Brazil to Bolivia you immediately see the poverty difference and things become much, much cheaper (except beer...). To cross from the Pantanal (west) to central Bolivia I took the Death train...not such a big deal now except that it is 24hrs in a train that stops at every station and would do the journey in 1/3 of the time if things didn't happen in Bolivian time!
The Potosi silver mines are famed for the sheer amount and fortune of silver that was removed from inside the mountain and also the number of people that it killed to do so. Today you can do tours into the mountain and it is said conditions haven't changed since the 1600's when it was in peak use. I got up close and personal to asbestos crystals growing on the walls, used scraps of plastic bags as hearing protection and my shirt as a dust mask...conditions were horrible but I didn't see any child miners. They worship the devil to please him (as it is said that he owns the silver), drink 96% alcohol, smoke dirty homemade cigarettes as thick as a cigar and chew enough coca-leaves to numb themselves to the 12hr shift of back breaking labor. Terrible conditions but strangely silicosis (having your lungs cemented full of dust) and rock falls kill less people than the getting drunk and falling down a mine shaft! (Dynamite was 10 Bolivanos a stick to buy off the street. approx $2AUD)
The most amazing landscape on earth would have to be in the Andes mountains of southern Bolivia. The salt flats (Salar de Uyuni) are an expanse of pure white salt as far as you can see. Driving across this very old lake you can stop at a few islands on which grow carton style cactus. The photos look amazing yet still don't do it justice. The altitude was noticeable for the first time here when you would take a couple of quick steps up a slope to a better photo point a find yourself struggling for breath.
I signed onto a tour in La Paz to climb a 6000m mountain. This experience was probably the most fun, challenging and exciting thing I did all trip! Sleeping at 5000+m was an experience, not enough oxygen meant that you could not sleep breathing through your nose so you would end up waking in a pile of drool...sounds fun! Then after sleeping less than 4hrs you wake up at 1am and in the bitter cold (inside) you put on the layers of clothing, waterproofs, harness, heavy mountaineering boots and once outside fit your crampons (fingers loose feeling very quick playing with metal in the snow) Then you start walking uphill...6hrs later needing to breathe every 5-10 steps you arrive at a 70degree ice slope...even in the dark it looks steep and you cant see the top. Calves burning from holding your body weight on the toe points of your crampons and trying not to swing your ice axe too hard into the ice so you can get it out again you crawl up the slope to the ridge where you can walk along a 1 foot wide top...did I mention 200m slope/cliff each side...once at the top it is minus -5C to -15C...you get very cold very quick and have to time it correctly so that you have 1min of camera battery before it gets to cold also to work. However the sunrise was amazing, the sense of triumph and achievement unbelievable and finally you have 'bagged a peak' worth writing about! Coming down was possibly the scariest thing I have ever done...going downhill is always harder and particularly when you can see the drop you would fall if you place a single foot wrong...not to mention the guide saying that you need to hurry as the sun softens the snow and makes it more dangerous. I was so taken by this guided climb I did another solo climb up a 6300m volcano the next week!
Death Road, similar to the death train in that it killed people regularly through its use. The road drops 3000+m on a mostly single lane dirt road which until 5 years ago traffic went in both directions. Nowdays it is a great mountain bike road, huge 600m cliffs to ride next to and through the lush rain forrest. If i wasnt trying to use my travel insurance I would have enjoyed the scenery a lot more but speed was all the more faster and fun knowing 1m to the left of me was a very large drop!
Lake Titicaca is the centre of Inca and Pre-inca cultures. This mean lots of ruins, stone walls and historic sites where your imagination is required to see the way people would have lived 500 years ago. Unfortunately I will remember the easter weekend all the more after having my wallet cut from the pocket of my shorts whilst standing a church (screw you to god). Not a bad experience as I was super-impressed at the skill required (I didnt feel a thing) and at a total loss of around $20AUD to me and no cards. Avoid crowds, avoid church and wear shirts that have chest pockets...much much safer!
The most memorable experience in Peru is for most people Machu Picchu. These well preserved Inca ruins are stunning, sitting ontop of a steep mountain ridge at the egde of the Amazon jungle but it is smothered in tourists. The walk into Mauchupichu had various routes, I chose the thrill seekers bike & hike trip which was a bit disappointing after Bolivia. My most memorable outing in Peru was hiring a motorbike and offroad riding between the Inca ruins. Remembering to keep RIGHT was only a problem for the first corner, which scared me enough not to forget for the rest of the day. Cuzco is the hot-spot for tourism in Peru but I found a nicer side to Cuzco by aoviding the crowds and in particular eating out at the market and not staying at hostels full of GAP students who never leave the hostel/bar. Foods were amazing from cebiche (raw fish in lemon juice), peruvian chicken soup, fruit juices from the numerous stalls and even cuy (Roast Guinea Pig) which did taste like tough chicken!
For my last week on holidays I went walking solo through Colca canyon, actually deeper than the grand canyon and then did a flight over the Nazca Lines. These were made 500+ years ago by the locals (with no GPS help) and are giant figures (200m-300+m long) marked in the earth and seen best from a plane.
My return flight to Australia was from Lima-Santiago-Aukland-Melbourne 27hrs flying time...no jet lag...probably as I slept better on the plane than the Bolivian-Peruvian buses. Mentioning buses...you must travel both the cheapest bus in South America and then the Cama-bus (cama=bed in spanish but it is still cheaper than Australian buses) to see how bad and how good bus travel can be. Stinking locals to a 'meal and alcohol' being served are all possible experiences.
Shirts with chest pockets...keeps everythign in your personal space hence safe!
No heavy-thick cotton clothing...re-consider jeans...as it takes forever to dry!
Carry as many forms of cash as possible, Visa = Africa, Mastercard = South America, Travellers Cheques, USD, local currency. Sometimes even then it is still hard to access money!
You dont need to carry a pharmacy...most drugs and medical necessities are available from pharmacys in those countries and it is cheaper to buy it there (3rd world) than here...but will it work? (My first aid kit was far to big and to many drugs)
Travel for only 6-7months at a time...to long and you forget how the normal world opperates, banks dont open of weekends, brandnames of drugs, side effects...it has been a steep learning curve returning to work! You must also have a week every so often where you dont try to see everything...go to the beach and relax with a good book...travelling it hard work and just sleeping in the same bed is a holiday from you holiday!
Back in Australia I went to visit my Grandpa, enjoyed mums cooking, ate in Victoria St (Melb) and caught up with friends I hadnt seen in a year. A quick trip via Armidale to go walking in Granite country of NSW-Qld border with Brad & Amanda and then back to Alice Springs. Returning to work even if it has been checking masses of webster packs has been good fun and I realise how much I missed Alice whenever I go running in the mornings.
Plans - 6 months in Alice, Darwin for a wet season? then winter paraolympics in Vancouver 2010, ?commonwealth games - india?
Send me lots of emails, update me on your life.
'tchau, tchau I have to go now'