A Travellerspoint blog

Central Thailand

Sangkhlaburi, Kanchaburi

sunny
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

Now as I sit on the bus headed to Ko Samui for the Full Moon Party a lot has occurred since my first blog entry. There was a little bit of a quick decision that had to be made after arriving in Kenchanaburi since the trip over to Sangkhlaburi (which was highly recommended in Travel Fish) was turning out to be pretty difficult to get to, especially since we only had a few days there and hadn’t decided whether we wanted to do a trek while there. Fortunately while doing some research while waiting for our mini-van we found out that P Guesthouse in town offered a one day trek that offered everything hikes in Chiang Mai did, just without the massive flow of tourists flocking to the villages or forested areas. We couldn’t reach P Guesthouse to book a reservation so we just decided to wing it and head over hoping for the best. The two our ride from Kanchanaburi to Sangkhlaburi was esay enough and after arriving around 4pm we headed to P Gueshouse and luckily we were able to get a room for two nights and sign up for the trek the following day.

P Guesthouse was unbelievable and I highly recommend staying there. This and another place called Burmese Inn are both very popular, but where we stayed definitely stood out for its staff, food, views, and vibe. The first night we spent around the guesthouse area relaxing near the lake until the sunset faded. We attempted to visit around the quaint village for a little bit until about 2 minutes into our walk I heard a slight noise come from Jessie only to find her on the ground with her entire leg inside a drain/manhole. I’m not sure exactly how she managed to put her leg into a hole the exact size of her foot, but it happened, and that was the end of our little walk, just some scratch marks along her leg, but nothing life threatening. That night we checked out a floating restaurant that was recommended in our guide book but was completely empty. The food was decent enough, nothing to write home about, but still very cheap.

The following day we started our trip with seven other people to boat ride underneath the world’s longest wooden bridge, visit an underwater temple (Jessie mentioned earlier that they damned the river flowing through the town, therefore creating the lake/reservoir that currently resides, therefore flooding any trees and structures that stood in its path, such as the temple), elephant riding, and bamboo rafting. I thought the day was a perfect option for anyone in a rush. While we didn’t visit any villages, which is usually a popular aspect of the treks offered in the north, I wasn’t too disappointed since those villages usually aren’t that secluded since they are visited by hundreds of tourists a day, and typically are only around because of the tour outfitters. Besides that, the elephant ride was a lot of fun as it was my first time to have that experience and the bamboo raft was both fun and relaxing. A solid lunch of fried rice and a much needed dip in the cold river mid way through the rafting segment topped the trip off. Also, our guide was a camera maniac and took close to a hundred pictures of each person throughout the trip from all different vantage points. Once we were wondering where he disappeared to only to find him up in a trip taking pictures from above.

Once we arrived back to the guest house around 2pm we decided to take another motor bike out on the town, this time with Jessie behind the wheel to visit the Mon Village across the lake as well as a temple, large Pogoda, and lastly the Three Pagodas that mark the Thai-Burmese border. The Mon Village was really interesting to visit since it gave some perspective into the poorer communities in Thailand, and it also gave us the opportunity to stop and actually walk on the wooden bridge, which I guess now adds another feat of walking across the longest man-made bridge in the world! Looking across the lake from P Gueshouse, a really cool looking golden Pagoda with Indian influences juts out from the forest, and while not as impressive up close (the reflection of the sun from a distance makes the gold much brighter) it was still a nice quick visit. On our way to the border it started pouring rain, so we stopped at a guard post to wait out the storm. The guards were a lot of fun, and after we asked for a picture with them, the cameras immediately came out as they too wanted pictures with the American and “Canadian.” The drive to the border from town is only 22 km, so even though the three Pagodas were pretty uninspiring, we didn’t have to sacrifice much and getting to the border was a nice surprise to our itinerary since we decided on the journey that same day. Burma is closed off to tourists and only allows around 100 visas a year, so spending time in the country is almost impossible, so at least being able to see the surrounding area from a distance I guess could be considered second best.

That night we ate at the hostel and tried some Burmese curry, which was pretty tasty and we could immediately tell the difference between it and Thai curry since it definitely had an Indian influence to it. We also finally smartened up and had the lady working at the desk write down on a piece of paper how to say “What is your best dish?” in Thai, so now when we show up to restaurants we just point to the piece of paper, and away the waiters go giving us advice on their best dishes…so far its helped a lot. The food has been very nice in our first week here. There are some dishes that are a little on the blander side compared to its Americanized counterpart, such as Pad Thai, but the majority of dishes have been impressive. After the cooking class in Chiang Mai, its now very easy to detect all the herbs and sauces they use. In fact, most dishes offered are very quick and easy to cook and only require the same types of sauces, herbs, and spices in most dishes, just with different variations and main ingredients. For example, fish sauce, oyster sauce, mushroom sauce, chili paste, coconut milk, and sweet and sour sauce are the main staples purchased in the markets that can be found in most dishes. Ginger, garlic, shallot, thai basil, green beans, cabbage, chili, kfair leaves, lime, mint, cilantro, and a few other herbs can be tasted throughout most entrees. And finally, the different meats, vegetables, rice, and noodles make each dish unique. I actually just recently tried a street food that I loved - spicy sausage sliced at an angle served with big heads of cabbage and large thin slices of ginger and dried chilies. The combination of flavors was really great, and can’t be beaten for around 50 cents.

Back to Kanchaburi we dropped our bags off early in the morning at the Jolly Frog Guesthouse and once again made a last second decision to head to the Erewan Waterfalls and spend the night in the national park first and then visit the few museums and attractions Kanchaburi is famous for. We arrived late to the national park unaware that the waterfalls close at 4pm as well as the caves, so we spent the afternoon and night wandering around and after finding a good location for the sunset, we set up shop and waited for it. I had read in a blog that hitchhiking was very easy and safe to do around Thailand, and it was readily apparent while walking outside the park. Without even trying to get a ride drivers and bikers were constantly stopping asking if we needed a ride back to the park or even back to Kanchaburi, a two hour ride. We would eventually rely on hitch hiking to get us from the Hellfire Pass Museum to the Death Railway, but we stuck to walking that first night.

The next morning we woke up bright and early to be the first ones at the waterfalls. Erewan Falls is a seven tiered waterfall system that is probably the most famous in Thailand. The water is crisp, clear, and bright turquoise with each tier providing different swimming environments, large fish, and interesting levels of water streams. Although for picture sake, the sun wasn’t at its perfect height to reflect the water’s color, getting their before anyone else allowed for some really nice unobstructed pictures. The entire hike up to the seventh tier and a little swim time took close to 3 hours, which was longer than expected, so we had to rush a bit in order to make visit the Hellfire Pass Museum and make the train ride back to the main town.

The original plan was to go from the national park back to Kanchaburi, take the Death Railway train to Nom Tok and visit the Hellfire Museum afterwards before getting a bus back to town. However, with a little research, Jessie discovered that we could get to these attractions without first going back to town, which would save us a few hours of transport, so that’s what we did. What we hadn’t planned on was the expensive cost to get from the park to Hellfire Pass. The cost is of course relative to Thai standards, and if we had more time I would highly have suggested hitch hiking since the road is a straight shot to the museum, not to mention it would have saved some good money.

I’ll save the history lesson, but the Kanchaburi and the surrounding was a strategic location really important in WWII, and the Japanese recruited POWs and workers from surrounding countries to build a massive railroad along the Burmese border for transport of supplies. Thousands of these men died in the process due to the terrible conditions they were put through, and the museum was dedicated to these men and describes the whole history of the project and even offers a walking tour that visit’s the actual Hellfire Pass and other areas along the railroad. We were a bit rushed to get back, so we only did the bare minimum, but everyone raves about the museum and it’s design, and it was nice to get a little history in before taking the Death Railway back home.

The train was well worth the time. It does take about twice as long to return, but the scenery is really nice and the final stretch of the trip, crossing the Bridge at River Kuaii, is a really famous segment of the journey. There were some really cute kids on the train as well that were fascinated by Jessie so that kept us occupied throughout the trip as we were able to capture some really great pictures of them. The next morning we took a bus back to Bangkok in order to pick our passports back up, now with visas to Vietnam, Jessie’s contacts that I left back in NY, and the chance to visit the Royal Palace. The palace was indeed extremely impressive and I’m glad I had the chance to visit it, even though we only made the closing time by 5 minutes due to an inept taxi cab driver. We left the Full Moon Party until the last minute and most accommodation was booked, so we decided to spend those few days in Ko Samui instead and just take a ferry to Ko Phanang the afternoon of the party and return back the next morning. I actually think this route may be better since Ko Samui seems a bit more interesting of an island, and accommodation
compared to Full Moon prices are much more reasonable. Until next time…..

Posted by STEVO1285 19:33 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Northern Thailand

Bangkok, Chiang Mai

overcast
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

Here we go, my first entry for Southeast Asia! I can’t believe I’m already able to say that, it’s been a long time coming, but still feels like I just started this blog not too long ago. After finally arriving into Bangkok pretty tired from the 15 hour flight to Hong Kong followed by another two more into Thailand, I walked around aimlessly looking for the guesthouse that I had written to Jessie about for close to an hour with no luck. It’s located on Rambuttri street and was highly recommended in my guide book, unfortunately once I arrived there weren’t any rooms available immediately making me aware that Thailand especially is a whole other monster when it comes to tourism, and rooms will need to be booked in advance, which is much different than in South America. Settling down in another guesthouse down the road (there were literally places to stay every other shop), I was eager to get outside, walk around some of the main streets, and search for some delicious Thai food). The weather is nice and humid over here, so it didn’t take long before I was drenched in sweat as I sat on the street corner eating some spicy stir fry from one of the carts. I checked out the street Khao San, by far the backpacker haven to Bangkok. The entire street was jam-packed with blond hair and tan kids in their young twenties (probably all there killing time until the full moon party), drinking from the numerous bars lining both sides of the street, each one blaring rap music. I was a little overwhelmed from the scene and headed back to my room for a good night sleep.

The following day Jessie arrived around 7:30am and from the time difference in India was pretty exhausted and needed a nap before venturing out into the city. I gave her a few hours and heading out to explore the streets and get lost, but in a good way. Once we checked out we spent a long time in the guesthouse using the internet to plan our next few days and have our visa to Vietnam taken care of. It started pouring down rain so we weren’t missing much at the time. That storm would only last an hour or more, but was still strong enough to flood the streets, causing every person to walk along barefoot through Bangkok’s dirty waters. We walked around in search of some quality Thai food, and after settling on a restaurant and fumbling around trying to order from a staff with no English under the belt, we had our lunch, and went to check out the Golden Palace. Unfortunately, and this would occur once again in Chang Mai, the Palace closes at 3:30pm, which we hadn’t checked before, ,so by the time we arrived, it was too late. I was pretty disappointed since that was the main attraction I wanted to see and wasn’t able to, but the frustration faded after remembering that I’d be back to Bangkok in no time. We booked a bus ticket leaving for Chiang Mai that late afternoon, taking one of the more uncomfortable buses of my trip thus far, but very cheap nonetheless.

The last few days have had a large emphasis on planning since we’d like to end our time in Thailand after the full moon party. Therefore, in the 10 days or so we have leading up the party, we need to visit and experience as much as we can all around central and northern Thailand. Jessie found a website called Travel Fish that she was immediately smitten by and after looking through this website solely dedicated to Southeast Asia, and after checking it out I too grew fond of it. It’s very direct and no-bullshit approach to describing each destination makes it very easy to trust, compared to the tour books, so we decided to give it a shot and see whether these writers are worth trusting for future references. Because of their advance, while in Chiang Mai we actually decided against spending two days in the jungle being driven around and herded like cattle to see hill tribes that are flooded with hundreds of tourists a day, elephant rides that lose their appeal in minutes, and a bamboo ride which more resembles slowly floating along a river. With these two extra days we thought it a good idea to take Travel Fish’s advice and head to a region in Central Thailand that they raved about as their favorite destination, beautiful scenery and slightly untouched by tourists (pretty difficult to find in Thailand mind you).

I didn’t want to waste any time in Chiang Mai since we weren’t going to have many days available for activities, so we signed up the day before to Thai Farm for a full day cooking class that was recommended to me by a few people from Australia I met this past summer. The class was a lot of fun. It consisted of going to a market and learning about coconut milk, spices, sauces, and curries, roaming around the program’s organic farm to learn about the most popular of Thai herbs and fruits, and finally choosing 6 different dishes to cook. With 18 options Jessie and I chose 6 different dishes to cook and taste. Dishes included three types of curries (red, yellow, and green) followed by a chicken dish with those curries, a soup, stir fry, noodle, and dessert. The winner of all the dishes was by far the curries, but the others were still really nice and the group we spent our day with was very cool as well, so all-in-all it was a really good experience and I highly recommend it. Due to the miserable bus ride over, Jessie was pretty tired and falling asleep all over the place on the car ride back, so while she took a nap, I walked around Chiang Mai visiting some of their most notable Wats and afterwards the two of us headed to the Night Market, and checked out the hundreds of different stalls selling anything and everything one could imagine, ate some more food, and headed back to the guest house for an early night since the following day would be really busy and we’d have to get an early start.

As I sit exhausted on the very comfortable bus headed back to Bangkok, I can say with certainty that today was indeed jam-packed. We took the advice from the other book on hand, How To Make The Most of Your Time on Earth and rented a motor bike to visit some Wats and other attractions a good distance outside the city. I, never haven ridden a motorbike, was pretty nervous, but after a few shaky turns I got the hang of it and we were off. It ended up being a lot of funny, cruising along the highways and visiting a bunch of the smaller towns outside of Chiang Mai. We weren’t able to see as much as we’d have liked due to some wrong directions and getting lost, but we saw two Wats, one of which is considered the most famous in Northern Thailand - day trips are offered there for 500 Bahts a person, so renting the bike to eventually get there was way cheaper and much more fun, so definitely worth it. Another lesson reinforced, we arrived at the Elephant Camp too late since we hadn’t checked its daily schedule before, so that was unfortunate but not a huge deal. We stopped for lunch halfway through at a very cool restaurant with multiple wooden structures perched in a lake with tables along the ground and bamboo mats to sit on. We ordered some chicken and ginger, Tom Yom soup, and fried shrimp with Thai sauce, all very good.

Our new plan as of now is to arrive in Bangkok, grab an early bus heading to Kenchaberi,, spend a day or so there before heading to Sarumpiri (the highly recommended place by Travel Fish) and spend some time there before taking a bus back to Bangkok and then leaving that night for Ko Phean Ngan for the full moon party. From there, grab a bus across the south to Ko Phi Phi, relax and sight see for a couple of days, and with the Thai New Years luring around, possibly overlap a day to enjoy the festivites and then fly from Phuket to Kuala Lampure, which would have given us exactly two weeks in Thailand, right on schedule. These plans will probably change, as they already have about 3 times, but I’m happy with how things have gone so far, and I think the places we’ve decided to have will give us a good taste of what Thailand has to offer. Alright, gonna get some sleep on the bus, hope everyone is doing well, as always, and hope to hear from you soon!

Posted by STEVO1285 19:29 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

My Time in South America

Bariloche

sunny
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

With this post I conclude my 6 month trip throughout South America. It's weird to think how quickly time has passed as I traveled and experienced more than I could ever imagine. The trip in many aspects changed me in ways I am aware of at this moment and ones I may not even notice. It's crazy to look back at pictures of Patagonia with Jon Matzner during the winter months and remember my excitement, anxiety, and overall disbelief, to name a few of my emotions, as I embarked on what seemed like such a ridiculously large amount of time away from home. However, as time continued and the flow of everyday life became second nature, the once infinite amount of time backpacking slowly dissipated until I finally met my parents for the last leg of my trip. I remember sitting on the bus heading to Rio contemplating and reminiscing about all my past adventures, good and bad, that had taken place, and it was definitely an emotional moment as I realized that my days in South America were numbered, and as I let my parents decide on the itinerary, my time planning ever aspect of the journey was finally over. Thinking back I remember great moments that both defined me and as well as my trip such as hiking solo in southern chile and finding myself all alone the first night, having the luxury to watch the sunset over glacier grey with the only noise being the echoing sounds of massive ice structures cracking and crashing into the water. Spending time with Jon and his family while we ventured through the vineyards of Mendoza, seeing whales and penguins in Peninsula Valdez, trekking along the Perito Moreno glacier with crampons tightly attached. Meeting Josh from Melbourne and making fools of ourselves in Porto Arenas, Ushuaia, and Buenos Aires. Taking my first round of Spanish classes, living with a family, and meeting some great friends while I experienced all BA had to offer. The biggest culture shock of my trip was the crossing from Argentina to Bolivia. The change in scenery, lifestyle, customs, food, and people completely blew my mind and I will never forget stepping off the bus in Villazon, crossing the border into Bolivia, and having the sense that I just stepped into a completely different world. Having my valuables stolen on the bus from Potosi to Sucre. More Spanish classes and family stays in Sucre, having the pleasure to be a part of the two Israeli's honeymoon on our trip along the salt flats of Uyuni, which contained some of the most breathtaking views on the trip, and the insanity that is La Paz, including the most dangerous bike ride in the world. Having the opportunity to sleep over in the Floating Islands was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will always remember, the Incra trail, 4-day trek in northern Peru, Christmas in Cusco, having my wallet stolen in Cusco, New Years and my Bday in Lima, getting a virus while in Lima but luckily during my stay with one of the most generous families I've ever met. Heading into Colombia was surreal from anticipation as I had been looking forward to visiting it for so many months. Traveling all throughout Colombia with Mark experiencing the salsa capital, zona cafetera, carribean coast, medellin, and staying with Ivan and his family in Bogota. Issues with my visa to Brazil, spending a week in Florianopolis surfing with another Assuie, Cadeyn before Ihla Grande. The amazing week in Salvador for Carnaval, a party that will never be matched. And finally, spending the final two weeks of my travels with my parents, the two people that probably lost the most sleep during these past six months, and being able to share a piece of my new world with them. And similar to Europe, where my trip ended in full circle from the beginning, starting in Athens and ending atop the same mountain for sunset 6 weeks later, even that trip feels like just yesterday, yet seems so long ago. Ending in Buenos Aires and especially Bariloche brought back nostalgia for those initial feelings I had six months ago and the endless activities, adventures, friends, and experiences I hold on to while arriving back in Bariloche for one last time, and how fitting for it to be my favorite place I visited, this time, 6 months later - no snow-capped mountains, no skiing, but instead lush trees, bright blue lakes, and fly fishing.

IMG_1011.jpg

Even though we only had a little over a day to spend in Bariloche, that time was still sufficient to truly appreciate all this beautiful town has to offer. Staying at Llao Llao was all I could have wished for, considering my first encounter with the resort was from a bike ride Jon and I did our first day there, and I remember thinking to myself that one day I'd be back to stay in South America's nicest resorts. The resort is unbelievable, and while there was a little pressure from my mom hoping the change of plans was worth the trouble, the minute our driver turned the final corner to reveal Llao Llao perched on a hill surrounded by the Andes, my parent's gasps spoke for themselves. The following day would be spent relaxing by the pool, my dad playing golf, going into town, and taking a chairlift in order to view Bariloche from a height that National Geographic ranked Top 10 for best views in the world. Everything about our last few days was perfect including the weather, which can usually be difficult to predict in Patagonia. With no wind and a cloudless sky, everything seemed crystal clear and untouched. Had I not picked up that book on Patagonia in the bookstore that day in BA, we wouldn't have made Bariloche our last stop, but I guess those types of things are what makes traveling so fun. Having the flexibility to change plans on a dime resulting in a possible life-changing experience or just an amazing time, demonstrates how powerful a quick decision can be.

IMG_1076.jpg

As I conclude this momentous life journey, and now 8 months of travel, it saddens me to think that only 3 months left of travel await me. However, I must not think too far in advance and only focus on the present as my trip with Jessie to visit some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, eat some amazing food and learn to cook it, and have the opportunity to better understand the people from the opposite side of the world is something that can't be taken for granted, and for that reason, we will be doing our very best to see as much as possible and keep you updated on all it. So until next time, I hope everyone is safe and healthy, keep me posted on your lives and new developments, it's been great visiting some of you while I've been back in Dallas and NY, and the next you hear from me will be in Thailand. Wish us luck!!

Posted by STEVO1285 10:50 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Iguazu Falls, Buenos Aires

sunny
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

Ok, as I sit at my brother and Alana's place in NY wasting time I figure I might as well work on my blog and get completely up-to-date before heading to Bangkok this Sunday. Last I left off my parents and I had just arrived to Iguazu and were preparing for the following day. After a really good all-you-can-eat breakfast (pretty much every meal on our trip was either an all-you-can-eat affair or at leas felt like it), we headed to the train for the Devil's Throat. Once arriving, the views were unbelievable. I'm not sure whether it's best to start your day off visiting this portion of the waterfall or wait until after you've seen it from a distance, but either way, it was very impressive and a good way to start the day off. After arriving back to our starting point we decided to hike along the inferior trail which takes you down to the base of the falls for different boat tours and views. We signed up in the morning for the one that actually brings you into one of them, which was a definite highlight, just be prepared to get absolutely drenched. After the quick boat tour we walked back to the hotel to change up and then left to visit the Brazilian side of Iguazu. The advice I was given thousands of times throughout traveling around ended up being right on. Both sides are important to visit for the whole experience, the Argentinean giving a more in depth perspective on the fall's magnitude and size, while the Brazilian side offers a panoramic view of the entire complex of waterfalls, which helps put the pieces together. We hired a taxi from the hotel to drive us across to the Brazilian side and on the way back we had him stop in town just to check it out for a bit and grab their first taste of empanadas for dinner (which my parents loved). My parents coincidentally ran into some friends of theirs from Dallas that were on tour around South America, which was pretty funny, so we spent that night chatting with them while they ate. The following morning, we arose early again to hike around the superior trail to view the falls from above, also very nice, and then got all of our stuff together and headed to the airport for BA. The falls were amazing, a definite must-see in South America!

IMG_0599.jpg, IMG_0542.jpg

I won't go into too much detail over BA since I already have a pretty detailed post describing the two weeks I was last there. So to summarize, the first afternoon we arrived we immediately went to Palermo SoHo to eat at La Cabrera, which is one of the most popular Parillas in the city and one I really wanted to try and wasn't able to earlier in the trip. Unfortunately they only take reservations for one time each night and that's at 8:30pm, when they first open. Since we didn't have a reservation, we just showed up, and after about an hour of waiting, we were told to wait an hour more, thus beginning our meal at midnight, so instead we decided to return to our hotel. My mom wasn't too hungry so she went up to bed and my dad and I went across to the street to a nice parilla for our steak craving. All went well until I started to feel an itch slowly increasing throughout my body, followed by a cough and heat flashes. When I got to our room and checked myself in the bathroom I quickly noticed that my legs were full of hives and they were spreading rapidly. I got kinda nervous since I'd never had an allergic reaction to anything in my life, but my dad was a little overly-unconcerned and told me to take a benedryl and sleep it off. Unfortunately I was scratching my skin off and we called in a doctor to apply a cortisone injection. Everything was fine after that, just a little scare on my part, but we never figured out exactly what it was that caused the reaction, but apparently in can happen. The following day we took a tour of the city and the guide was my sister's friend from school that currently lives there and is employed as a tour-guide. So we saw all the major sites and neighborhoods finishing off at the Recoleta Cemetery. That night we went to La Brigada, which was another restaurant I was dying to try, they cut their steaks with a spoon!! and afterwards we went to a good Tango show. The following days were spent just relaxing, eating, indulging in everything dulce de leche, purchasing leather jackets, and deciding whether we wanted to spend our final days in Punta del Este or not. It was out of complete luck that while visiting the second largest bookstore in the world, I happened to stumble upon a photography book on Patagonia. While flipping through the pages I happened to land on one of Bariloche, with a picture exactly the same as one I had taken when I was there of the mountains surrounding the Llao Llao hotel. I pointed it out to my mom (without me realizing that my dad had originally made reservations for that same resort) and she immediately started hassling my dad, trying to see if we could change all of our plans in an instant and leave for Bariloche, just to experience it for a day and a half. I obviously didn't object because I had wanted us to visit there from the beginning, but my dad had been pretty adamant about going to Punta from advice he had been given back in Dallas. Thankfully, the arrangements all worked out and we were able to switch our plans and get reservations for one night at Llao Llao, which ended up being just enough time to truly appreciate Bariloche's beauty and get a day in of relaxation before heading back to Dallas. Our last night in BA we were able to get reservations for La Cabrera and it was truly amazing. We didn't even order that much, but the quantity of food that arrived at our table was absolutely ridiculous and delicious, so we stuffed ourselves silly. Started with the chorizo, which I introduced my parents to at the San Telmo antique market. I got them a choripan with the works from Desnivel and they fell in love. Then a rib eye steak, chicken skewer wrapped in bacon and dates, and a salad. That was it and it could have fed five people easily since the two entrees came with a mountain of side dishes. But even as full as we were, we couldn't resist the dulce de leche crepe, and thank god we didn't because it was one of the best desert I've had in my life. We walked back to the hotel to burn off some steam (ie calories) and packed for our flight the next morning.

169180, IMG_0732.jpg

Posted by STEVO1285 12:46 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Rio de Janeiro

sunny
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

The bus ride heading to Rio was very easy, pretty much slept the entire way, and once I arrived in Rio I hopped on the public bus for the Ceasar Park Hotel on Ipanema Beach. I arrived a few hours earlier than my parents so I took the time to walk around a bit, work out at the hotel gym, and lounge around in their sauna (just needed to take advantage). Finally my parents arrived, and although no tears were shed (my dad thought he was gonna cry beforehand) we were all obviously very happy to see each other, and I was also very happy to receive my new camera. We left for Porcao that night, for our first of many all you can eat restaurants on the trip, and it was incredible. I knew what to expect since I had been to Fogo de Caio multiple times, but the salad bar was even more impressive and I probably ate close to my body weight that night. Although I didn't have the same experience as the all-you-can-eat in Ushuaia (ie I didn't throw up involuntarily in the restaurant bathroom from over-eating), I did feel pretty sick afterwards, but there's nothing like dancing in place for 4 hours to feel better, which is what we did afterwards at the championship parade. The parade was really great. It was pure coincidence that we were able to see the final march, since neither I nor my parents knew about it until a few days leading up to the event. Nonetheless, we were there and stayed for a good while watching all the floats go by that had won prizes throughout Carnaval. We couldn't make it until 6 am, but we stayed long enough to enjoy the experience, and as I mentioned before, it was an amazing surprise to experience a bit of Rio's Carnaval.

IMG_0035.jpg

The following day was a Sunday and since our tour guide wasn't meeting us until Monday morning, we decided to spend the day just relaxing on the beach and walking around the hippie market near our hotel. It was incredible to witness that insane amount of people that crowded the beach, and further appreciated Brazilian's obsession with body surfing. It was almost dangerous trying to go in the water as there was a constant flow of bodies heading towards you throughout the first hundred meters, my dad definitely was pummeled a few times (I forgot to mention that in Salvador we saw lifeguards four times within about 30 minutes rushing into the water to help swimmers out, and we were later told that they don't really know how to swim well, but still go out into the ocean anyways...brought back fond memories of football practice in the pool). On Ipanema beach, Stall #9 is notorious for having all the pretty people so that's where we stationed ourselves that day, and the area didn't disappoint, it was just funny seeing my mom from a distance being the only person wearing a one-piece bathing suit and by far the palest one within a mile's radius..."where's Waldo?" my dad would continuously ask.

IMG_0273.jpg, IMG_0398.jpg

That night I really wanted to try the Feijoada at this one restaurant that was recommended by everyone I spoke to called "House of Feijoada." Typically this popular dish of Brazil is served during lunch on Saturdays, but this restaurant earns its fame because it serves the food every day of the week. It's pretty much a dish consisting of rice with stewed beans and meat, with the meat consisting of all things pig, including the ear, tail, nose, etc. Rahul and I had tried a few in Salvador and really enjoyed the experience, but after eating at this restaurant, I probably won't be able to eat the dish until my visa expires in 5 years. It was just extremely rich, salty, and heavy on the Palm Oil. From that moment on I would have some stomach issues for the rest of the trip, and I attribute that to the dinner. My parents would also keep referring to that meal at the worst one we had...I felt bad for the decision, but I continually heard great things, so not too guilty.

IMG_0465.jpg

The following day we woke up bright and early in the morning to meet with our tour guide Andrea for the day. She was absolutely incredible, by far the best tour guide I've ever had. She was recommended to us by family friends and she's been a guide for close to two decades, responsible for "acclimating" the wives and families of different CEOs and other heads of big oil companies. We had her for close to 9 hours that day and saw pretty much every touristic sight possible in the city including Sugar Loaf, Christ, museums, Copacabana, Downtown, Lapa, Santa Teresa, and the two zones. She was very energetic and had answers to all of our questions, and while at first I was a little skeptical about staying in a car all day long since I prefer walking much more (something my parents would find out the hard way), it turned out to be a great experience and the amount we saw in one day would have taken me closer to four by myself in order to complete. The views from Sugar Loaf and the Christ were spectacular and visiting some boutique hotels in Santa Teresa gave a more hipster look into some of Rio's neighborhoods. We finished off the tour by heading to the area where paragliding is done to meet an instructor that Andrea highly recommended since I had planned the next morning on coming back. But we decided, since I was there, I might as well take the flight, and that's what I did. It was really cool, the views were amazing with th take-off being the most exhilarating part of the flight, except for our crash landing on the beach. Luckily I was slightly behind the instructor during the land, so I was able to put all my body weight on his in order to save myself as I saw his face plant hard into the sand...he was pretty embarrassed about that. After that day, Rio quickly moved to the top of my list as being the most beautiful city in South America and possibly my overall favorite big city of the trip. At this point, my stomach issues were continuing and I had completely lost my appetite, which would continue up until the final day of the trip, which is when for the first time in almost 10 days I finally experienced true hunger. That night we went to a seafood restaurant, but I wasn't really that hunger, so just picked a bit.

SDC10012.jpg

Our last day in Rio was a bit more relaxed as well. Just roamed around Ipanema a bit more, explored the streets of Copacabana some, and Leblon (which is a great place to stay for backpackers). That night I met up with the other guys who arrived the night before and we went out to a place nearby for our last party together. Our flight the next morning leaving for Iguazu Falls was at 6 am so I just decided to stay out until we left for the airport. I said my goodbyes before leaving, which was kind of sad simply cause the next time we see each other is a bit uncertain, and headed for the hotel room. That day the travel was miserable. For some reason, apparently there weren't any direct flights available at the time, we had to take a flight to Buenos Aires first, drive the one hour from the international airport to the national one, then hop on another flight for Iguazu. All in all, we didn't arrive to the Sheraton hotel until close to 5 p.m., so the whole day was unfortunately lost to travel, but getting to the hotel and seeing the Devil's Throat portion of the falls from a distance was pretty spectacular so there weren't any complaints coming from me.

That night we opted for the all-you-can-eat at the hotel's restaurant, which I didn't take full advantage of due to my unfortunate circumstance, but still satisfied my cravings of blood sausage and chorizo, which was delightful. The next day....a full day at the falls on the Argentinean and Brazilian side.

Posted by STEVO1285 08:22 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Carnaval

sunny
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

Now for the Carnaval blog! Ok, so after finally arriving in Salvador, thank God, I was greeted at the airport by the other three guys very confused why I requested their presence. In reality I guess by them waiting for my arrival they couldn't be partying without me, very selfish yes, but I was nervous that I could be missing some big parties leading up to the start and didn't want to arrive at the apartment having no idea where they were. But, the start day of carnaval is indeed the first day, and leading up to the opening, everything remains pretty quiet and relaxed, so there were no parties to attend that night and therefore my request was a bit unnecessary, but I appreciated it nonetheless. I won't go into all of the details of each night, but I can give a little insight into how things work for the Carnaval in Salvador. There are three main options during the days and nights, all ranging in different prices. The cheapest option is called "Pipoca" or "Popcorn" where you pretty much just follow a Bloco (big trucks with singers on top playing music to the hundreds and even thousands of people dancing within the confined ropes surrounding the truck). Some Popcorn people choose to dress up in drag or some other costumes, but it's not mandatory. This manner of celebrating and partying is completely free and we chose to do it only one out of the six nights. In increasing expense, the next option is actually participating in a Bloco, which requires purchasing a shirt to go within the ropes and following the truck and other dancers down the streets for around 8 hours. Blocos will either go throughout the day or night, and we only participated in night Blocos lasting from about 10pm to 6am, even though it would have been fun to have tried an earlier one, but we weren't too pumped for day drinking, mainly just relaxing and preparing for the following night. Blocos, depending on the singer, range in price as well. The last option and typically most expensive one are Camarotes, which are pretty much just temporary clubs that are constructed along the streets and these parties tend to last for about 13 hours. Camarotes also range greatly in prices and it's a huge difference between those that offer all-inclusive and those that don't. The first night we went to Camarote Nana, which was an all-inclusive and it was amazing. I have never seen waiters so eager to fill your glass with all different types of alcohol and the amount of high quality food available and flowing was ridiculous with all-you-can-eat sushi, grilled meats, pastas, fried foods, and more...it was delicious and I literally was eating every second of the night and having to continually drink to maintain my buzz. The third night we decided to join another Camarote, but this time not an all-inclusive to save a bit of money; however, the extra cost for unlimited alcohol and food isn't the only difference between the expensive Camarotes and cheaper ones...the venues themselves are of much different quality and even the types of people present at the two options are different as well. So I highly recommend paying the extra cost for the all included, cause it's worth every penny. Occasionally throughout the day we would walk around and check out some of the floats marching along the streets or visit the more touristy areas of the cities, but most of the time was spent sleeping (at least in the case of the other three) and just kinda lounging around, soaking in the good weather, and waiting to start all over again. The couple whose apartment we stayed in were really nice people and gave us great advice on things to do in and around Salvador and they were definitely a big help when we needed a translator while arranging travel plans. So in summary, Carnaval is just a clusterf*ck, with thousands and thousands of people lining the streets dancing and drinking. Watch out for the wandering hands of staff members holding the Bloco ropes and be mindful when trying to pass through a big group of people right before the chorus of a popular song kicks in cause you'll be crushed for sure. But all in all, the four of us remained safe for the most part and managed to go five out of the six nights dancing and drinking until 7am. Needless to say, after taking the bus from Salvador to my next location after Carnaval ended, my feet puffed up until my ankles dissapeared. I kinda freaked out at first and I thought I had an infection, but just turned out that whatever liquid were inside me must have trickled down to my feet while in the sitting position for the entirety of the bus ride. Just goes to show how much I put my feet through during that week.

I was able to see the Parade of Champions in Rio with my parents a few days later, which was really great, and I was extremely lucky to get a glimpse into Rio's Carnaval, but I could definitely understand why younger people prefer Salvador's version. Everything about the two are completely different...the parties, music, atmosphere...and I'd definitely recommend Salvador over Rio any day. While Carnaval was coming to an end, we had to start planning the next leg of the trip. I decided to take the bus back to Rio instead of a flight, so I wanted to choose a location about halfway along the journey in order to break the trip up. We originally wanted to go to Morro de Sao Paulo which is an island off of Salvador where everyone goes to once Carnaval ends to continue the festivities. Unfortunately we didn't realize how popular that destination was and in fact you're supposed to find accommodation there as early in the year as the search for places in Salvador. Because of that, we sorta lost the motivation to continue on since we didn't have a place to stay and we were all secretly pretty exhausted and ready for a rest. So we chose Arraial d'Ajuda as our next stop before Rio.

Here's a good website that shows some pics and videos of what Carnaval is like just for some reference...

http://www.bahiacarnival.info/carnaval.html

I was only able to spend about a day in Arraial d'Ajuda, but it was very easy to see the town's charm. I met a kid from Germany on the bus ride over, so we hung out for the afternoon once we arrived and then eventually met up with the others once they were able to leave Porto Seguro. The following day all 5 of us took a nice long walk along the beach and then we parted about halfway so I could head to the bus station for my ride to Rio. Arraial d'Ajuda is a really nice area. Just very relaxed with lots of beaches to hang out on. That whole area of Brazil has lots of small towns nearby that are all accessible by boat off the coast of Porto Seguro, so it's definitely a great spot to relax at for a few days especially if taking the bus ride from Rio to Salvador.

Posted by STEVO1285 19:38 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Ihla Grande

sunny
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

This post is more about my stressful few days leading up to Carnaval and less about Ihla Grande, but oh well.

The next few days ended up being pretty hectic due to my indecisiveness regarding where I should go next. I hadn't yet booked my plane ticket for Salvador so there was still the possibility of taking the bus up from Rio, which is what the other three guys were planning on doing. There was a slight lack in communication from the four of us since I didn't realize how soon they were flying into Rio and then how quickly they were leaving for Salvador, so I had assumed there were a few days to kill before heading up to Rio to meet with them, when in fact there wasn't. Regardless, from Florianopolis I arrived back to Sao Paulo hoping to get an immediate bus to Angra dos Reis, which is the jumping off point for Ihla Grande. That way I could have a full two days on the island before going to Rio. However, once I got to SP the only bus leaving for ADR wasn't until late in the afternoon, which eliminated that day on the island since the last ferry's departure was before the arrival time. Now, with only one day on the island I began to waver about whether it was worth the stress just for the one day or if it would be best to just go straight up to Rio and meet the others to take the 30 hour bus ride. I decided on the latter and immediately jumped on the 6 hour bus to Rio, only finding out once I arrived that the others had left for Salvador about 2 hours before and the next bus wasn't leaving until the following afternoon, which was a terrible option for me. So, with another quick decision to be made, I took the bus four hours back in the opposite direction to ADR arriving late in the night without any idea of where to stay or in fact where I was. The first few places I inquired about were really expensive so I just continued to walk until I luckily ran into one hostel with one of the coolest owners I've met thus far. Granted, I was one of his few clients, but he was extremely nice and helpful getting more organized for my trip along with helping me plan my travel to Salvador. I wish I could remember the name of the hostel cause I would recommend it in a second, but all I can describe is it's location, which is about half way from the bus stop to the center of town, on the opposite side of the train tracks behind a few sandwich shops...doesn't help much, but who knows.

Now that I was going to spend some time on the big island, I definitely had to book a flight to Salvador since I wouldn't have time for the bus ride. Just to further the last few days of stress, you're not able to book a national flight in Brazil online using an international credit card, so I had to beg at the hostel to let me charge their card to the flight and then grab enough money to pay them back. That in itself resulted in mad dashes back and forth to the ATM machines trying to finalize the flight while still catching the early boat to the island. Long story short, that day or two of travel was intensely stressful, I'd probably say one of the more stressful decision making moments of the trip, and it resulted in a very cheesy email I sent the other guys in Salvador trying to convince them to meet me at the airport when I arrived for a little moral support (something I would end up not needing by that time).

Ihla Grande was amazing and definitely worth all the traveling around. The second we left the port towards the island, my stress was immediately lifted and I was finally able to relax. You can spend as much time as you'd like there, but I'd recommend two to three days max. You can take a few full day boat tours that show you different islands and beaches along the main area that are absolutely stunning, and there are also other hikes throughout the forests as well. Since I had a full day and a morning, I wasn't able to take the tour to the Laguna Azul and beaches around the northern side of the island, since I really wanted to take the four hour hike to the most beautiful beach there (the same beach that the other boat takes passengers to). So I embarked on my hike through forests, passing through three or four nice beaches along the way, with Lopez Mendez beach at the end being the most beautiful.

The hosteling situation is a bit pricey on the island, but one called Aquarius, is apparently one of the cheaper options and seems to be the main backpacker hostel. Even though I had no clothes or preparations with me, I convinced myself that it wasn't worth the cost to stay somewhere overnight since I was planning on waking up really early the next morning for another hike, and with tons of beaches, I could just crash on one of them for the night. That turned out to not be the best idea since I hadn't brought any blankets or insect repellent, so I had some difficulty falling asleep, especially since my bed ended up being a concrete floor on the beach on the side of a house...kinda wierd.

So I woke up around 530am the next morning for a hike to a waterfall that was recommended by the same person that spoke so highly of the Big Island in Florianopolis. Three random stray dogs actually decided to join me for the entirety of the trip which was kinda nice for company but annoying when they started getting tired and slowing down. One of the dogs in particular always had to be in front, so once he began to stop on occasion from exhaustion and probably lack of food, I started to get pretty frustrated especially since I had to rush back to catch the 9am ferry to ADR. Back to the story....once reaching the waterfall I soon realized my mistake. Throughout traveling you get pretty good at recognizing those types of people that describe everything they do as the most amazing thing in the world, and unfortunately I didn't catch on to the guy who recommended the waterfalls until it was too late. Then thinking back to all his other advice and activities he had done, I soon realized that all his adventures were "the best experience of his life" so I misjudged on that one. Needless to say, the waterfall was pretty unimpressive and could definitely have been skipped, but the exercise was nice and I guess there wasn't anything else to do, so it wasn't a huge problem.

I jumped on the ferry, headed back to ADR, and soon realized that the boat was jam-packed with backpackers on their way to Rio for Carnaval and it immediately hit me....shit, if all these people are trying to get on buses to Rio today, and all the buses book up, then I won't make my flight to Salvador. So that began the stress again trying to figure out the best way to grab a ticket before the rest. I ended up necessarily sprinting about two miles (cause I didnt wanna spend the money on a taxi) to the bus station, when in fact there was no real rush at all.

Lastly, and this will be the last post before getting into Carnaval, since I arrived really early at the airport in Rio, I was given a ticket for a flight that was leaving an hour earlier than I had booked it for without realizing it. So while I was wasting time outside the airport, my flight was taking off, and I didn't figure it out until I started looking at the monitor and my ticket for about 20 minutes. So I started to freak out, not understanding how it could have happened, and not realizing that she put me on an earlier flight. Luckily, there were still plenty of spots left on the flight I was supposed to be on, so it all worked out. I seriously thought God was trying to stop me from getting to Carnaval with everything that was happening, but thank God I made it, cause Carnaval in Salvador was ridiculous and worth all the hassle leading up to it...

Posted by STEVO1285 12:37 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Florianopolis

sunny
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

After leaving on the night bus from Sao Paulo, I arrived in Florianopolis around 7am. It hadn't quite occurred to me until I got to the bus station that I had absolutely no idea where I was supposed to go and the tourist information office was still closed, so I killed a bit of time wandering around the main town area as shops were beginning to open up. Around 8am a massive wave of people starting entering the town from buses transporting passengers all throughout the main Santa Catarina Island. Finally I decided to head back to the bus station to gather a bit more info. Thankfully at that hour the office was open with a nice line out the door of other backpackers trying to figure out where to go as well, so I wasn't alone. Florianopolis was one of those places I had heard such great things about even before my trip started and was one of the main reasons I decided to fly in to Sao Paulo, versus sticking with the Amazon trip. It was pretty amusing to me that after all this hype and time before finally visiting the area I had absolutely no concept of where I was supposed to go or even what part of the island people stay on. After getting situated at the tourist office I quickly discovered that the two big hostels located on the eastern part of the island are Backpacker's Sunset Hostel and Backpacker's Share hostel - both offering pretty much the same amenities, just located in slightly different areas. So from the main town you take the bus headed for Lagoa, number 320 or 330 and Lagoa ends up being the main town connecting all of Santa Catarina to the main land, and from there you have to get on another bus headed for Barra Lagoa where the hostels and most popular area is located. So in a sense, to get anywhere on the island using public transportation you have to go through Lagoa first and then transfer buses from there. Lagoa is also where most of the bars and clubs are located during the nights. For the first time on my trip I arrived at the hostel without a reservation and was unable to get a room for the first night, that's how crowded the area was with tourists looking for a nice place to relax before heading north to Rio for Carnaval. Luckily, there were a few other kids in the same situation so we all went searching for another place until we came across a Pousada and were able to get a spot in the Share hostel for the rest of the nights.

I definitely recommend the Share hostel, it was 40 Reais or a little under $20, but that included a massive breakfast, free internet, free surfboards, bodysuits, kayaks, etc...and all the people there were really cool and social. The sunset hostel is also supposed to be nice, but a bit pricier and not as conveniently located to the beach.

When I first arrived to Florianopolis I was a little bumbed out due to the weather the first few days - slightly overcast with on and off showers throughout the day. So even though there were a few instances where I thought I was only gonna stick around for a couple of days I convinced myself to stick it out and just relax for a while, especially considering this was a location I had been looking forward to for a while. So after the second day the weather thankfully cleared up and remained beautiful for the rest of my stay, which ended up lasting close to a week.

Each day pretty much consisted of waking up, eating breakfast, surfing, making lunch for friends, surfing, hanging out, cooking dinner, and then party with different activities thrown in the mix such as visiting other beaches on the island or full hikes to more secluded beaches. The eastern and southern part of the island have the prettiest beaches while the northern beaches are more known for nightlife activities. A few friends staying at the hostel also rented mopeds one day and drove all around the island visiting the other beaches, which I highly recommend considering it takes FOREVER to use the public transportation. One day I literally spent an unimaginable amount of time on buses just trying to get to a day party in the north, only to finally arrive after it had ended...pretty lame.

Back to Florianopolis...it's an awesome awesome place. Really great beaches, relaxed environment, and great nightlife. The island lived up to its reputation and it was definitely worth the plane flight down south from Colombia. It was pretty crowded at the time because of carnaval, but I imagine during the year its an even more tranquil place to spend time in. There are also a ton of people on the streets with apartments for rent, so it's highly recommended if in a group of 3-5 people to consider renting one of those places since they are in great locations and cheaper than the hostels, but obviously without all the free stuff. What else....don't spend too much time around the northern part of the island and visit the more secluded beaches along the south including the hike to one of the prettiest beaches. I can't remember the name, but you can either hike through the forests which takes around 40 minutes or trek along the coast which takes closer to 2.5 hours, but the beach is incredible, as well as the hike, so it's a great day trip. Here's a good website with some pics of Floripa...http://www.nexussurf.com/beaches.html.

After meeting a few kids that spent time in Ihla Grande (big island), about 3 hours south of Rio, I decided to head there for a day or two after Floripa since I had a little time before my flight to Salvador.

Posted by STEVO1285 06:33 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Sao Paulo

overcast
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

It's been a while since my last blog, but things have been pretty busy ever since I hit Brazil. After spending a few more days in Medellin before catching my flight to Sao Paulo, I was able to really appreciate the city in Colombia that people continually rave about. The weather finally held up, and having Azim and Ro to walk around with during the day and go out with at night made a lot of difference. The flight left pretty late at night connecting through Lima and I arrived in Sao Paulo close to 5am to the maddness that is one of the largest cities in the world. I guess I assumed before landing in Brazil that there wouldn't be a language barrier since Portuguese on paper seems so similar to Spanish; however, that wishful thinking was very quickly destroyed the minute I left the aiport and would continue throughout my one day in Sao Paulo. It was definitely a nice shock trying to get from the airport to the bus station using the metro system, as the people packed in to the carts by the thousands, with none of the workers speaking either spanish or english to help direct me in the proper direction. But luckily I made it out alive and booked my bus ticket for the overnight journey to Florianopolis. After putting my bags in a locker I headed out to explore Sao Paulo. As is the case with most big cities, the massive population of immigrants brought along with them some great culinary tradition and for that reason, Sao Paulo is known to boast the best food in all of Brazil, and it was definitely apparent the minute I stepped foot in the market. I was reminded immediately of Italy as all the stalls were offering dried meats, cheeses, dried bacalao, and other Italian specialties, with the most popular items on the menus being either massive Mortadela sandwiches or the many types of fried lanches stuffed with chicken (frango), beef, or bacaloa. Another frustrating aspect with having zero familiarity with Portuguese was my inability to ask what different items were, and since I was new to all of Brazil's eating norms, I must have seemed like a deer in headlights while walking around trying to orient myself. I soon realized that if I wanted to really get the best experience of Brazil, I had to try learning at least a little bit of Portuguese on an elementary level so I started hitting up a few book stores for anything that could give me a leg up on the language. I settled with a small pocket sized book containing useful phrases and words along with their prononciations and would later print off about 5 pages of notes from the internet on grammar rules to get me started. The rest of the day was spent walking all around the main touristic area, visiting the different parks, and getting a birds eye view of the city from atop a roof of one of the highest buildings in the city. It started to rain a little bit later in the afternoon, which I later came to find out, occurs a lot in Sao Pualo (I just thought I had bad luck again).

My first day in Brazil was definitely an eye opening experience, but a really good one. In almost an instant I could tell why people rave so much about this country. The language, the people, the atmosphere, is very different than any of the last handful of countries I've visited, and I knew that with a little Portuguese under my belt I would really start to take advantage of what Brazil has to offer. Sao Paulo was a cool city to start out from, and I was happy with the decision to leave that night for Florianopolis since time was an issue. I could have easily stayed for longer in Sao Paulo to experience the night life or explore different other areas of that massive city; however, walking from 5am (which was actually 3am for me) until around 8pm that night gave me a nice glimpse into the city's culture. That night I hopped on the bus to Florianopolis and quickly passed out for the entirety of the 12 hour journey until arriving in the terminal around 7am.

Posted by STEVO1285 06:44 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Bogota

overcast
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

I was recently talking on skype with Alana U and realized to an extent how exhausting this past week has been in Bogota for multiple reasons. When I'm constantly active and visiting pace after place, time flies by very quickly as I truly enjoy every moment of my travel. However, when I have to waste multiple days trying to plan the next leg of my journey, spending hours trying to decide which route is the best to take, the exhaustion of traveling finally takes its toll. So in a sense, I get really frustrated and exhausted when I find myself doing nothing except organizational tasks. Unfortunately, these tasks would last over a week; however, being in Bogota and staying at a friend's house in the city wasn't the worst place in the world to deal with these specific issues: getting a visa, acquiring a new passport, and deciding how to get to Brazil.

P1000834.jpg

Besides Buenos Aires and Sucre, where I was taking Spanish classes for two weeks, Bogota ranks third for the city I have spent the longest in during my entire time here in South America, and not even taking classes. My extended stay here was due to visa and passport issues. In the US only one free page in the passport is required for getting a visa to Brazil, but for some reaon, Colombia requires two free pages, and since temporary passport only have 4 pages, I was only worried about keeping one free, and therefore would need more added to it by the US Embassy. After spending hours waiting for more pages to be added I was conveniently told that temporary passports can't have pages added to it, and I would have to send it in to the States and wait almost two weeks to receive a legitimate one. Unfortunately I couldn't wait two weeks and soon became very anxious and upset that my trip to Brazil would be ruined. Ivan (the kid from Bogota I stayed with) had a brilliant idea which resulted in only needing one day extra to acquire the necessary pages. After finally having the proper items for the visa, I went back to the Brazilian Embassy to start the process. Finally when changing my flight reservation I was told that boats only leave for Manaus, Brazil on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Unfortunately, since both Embassys close on the weekends including Fridays for the US Embassy (which really pissed me off), I wasnt able to get my visa until Friday afternoon, which means I had to change my flight to the following Tuesday in order to grab the Wednesday boat on February 11th. I was originally supposed to leave Bogota on Monday the 2nd, take the Wednesday boat and arrive in Manaus on the 6th. Now, I wouldn't be arriving into Brazil until the 13th...a week lost!

Luckily, TACA airlines sent me an email with a promotional flight leaving Medellin for Sau Paulo on Sunday the 8th of February arriving early morning on the 9th. It took me a while to make the decision, but I finally decided that it would be best to throw away the ticket to Leticia and book the one leaving for Medellin. Although my new itinerary would cost an extra few hundred dollars, I would now get the chance to visit beaches in the south (which I had been looking forward to from the start of my trip) and allow me to have a full 10 days before carnival starts just to enjoy the country. Whereas, had I taken the boat trip, I would have immediately taken a flight from Manaus to Belem and then a 36 hour bus ride from Belem to Salvador a few days before carnival started. So in essence, for a slightly higher price I am getting the chance to visit a lot more of Brazil and decrease significantly the amount of time I'll be spending in transit. It's one of those decisions that I know looking back on I will have regretted had I just tried to save a little bit of money and in doing so, missed out on a lot, especially at the end of my trip. For that reason, I am leaving Bogota tonight (Friday) for Medellin where Azim and Ro are currently located, have Saturday to visit the city one more time, and then take my flight Sunday afternoon for Sao Paulo. So luckily, although the whole passport and visa situation was a huge pain and wasted pretty much half a day, each day, for a week straight, the flight really corrected the situation for me. It's also funny to think that had I not had any issues with the paperwork, I would have definitely taken the boat and spent my time before Carnival in the North. And now, I will be getting to visit the South before meeting up the Rahul, Azim, and Ro in Rio to take the bus on to Salvador. How different my experience in Brazil will be all because of this one incident!

Apart from all of the boring crap mentioned above, I really enjoyed the free time I had in Bogota. I stayed over at Ivan's family's house which included him, his sister Bibiana, and his mother. I first met Ivan in Arequipa, Peru for about 30 minutes over breakfast, and from that point on, we continued to stay in contact up until I finally arrived in his town. They were more than nice to me and it was a great break from the standard backpacking track as I spent the entire time hanging out with Ivan and his friends as well as going to local parties and visiting areas less traveled. It was a nice change-up from the everyday travel routine and I don't even think I hung out with a single traveler the entire time here. The times Ivan was busy, his sister was more than happy to show me around, which was really sweet of her (she recently returned to Bogota from living in the Hamptons where she was in school). Their mom was also really accomodating, she was constantly trying to feed me, and after the 10th time of saying I wasn't hungry I was eventually eating once again. Being able to hang out with Ivan was a lot of fun....he took me to great parties, showed me around, gave me some nice history lessons on the city, and provided me with a mountain of interesting foods to eat, all of which I highly appreciated.

P1000429.jpg

Azim and Ro arrived in Bogota Wednesday night and coincidently ran into each other at a pretty sizeable party near the downtown area. We then met up during the next few days and all went together to the most popular restaurant in Bogota, Andres Carne de Res, located 40 minutes outside the city. The restaurant has cheap drinks, amazing steaks, and holds thousands of people, so late in the night the whole venue erupts into a big party which was great. I also had plenty of time to visit all the neighborhoods of Bogota as well as a few quick bus rides outside the city. I highly recommend the trip to Zipaquira for the salt cathedral, probably one of the coolest cathedrals I have seen thus far, including Italy. Included in the admission price is a one hour guided tour in where you enter inside a salt mine to be shocked by the insanely intricate and well designed cathedral and surrounding stations, all constructed by 100% salt (they even let you lick the walls to prove their point). It's a massive architecural masterpiece, with each station representing a scene in Jesus' life. I usually don't appreciate these types of things too much, but it was very impressive, similar to the David in Florence, no joke. And the guide was also really helpful about getting me up to speed on all things religion, so I could better understand the imagery and importance of each structure.

Besides walking around the city multiple times, visiting touristy areas, and working on getting to Brazil, the remainder of my time here was spent shoving my face with foods. In a little while I will eventually post an entry solely listing all the different foods I tried while here in Colombia (I'll also do this for Peru), and with pictures by the side of each food for reference sake. This should be pretty helpful since the food here typically gets a bad rap, but only because poor quality food is readily available, and it just takes a little more patience and insight in order to find the really delicious stuff, and it is really delicious. I probably wont right anything new about Medellin, unless something really interesting occurs. So when I write next, it will be from Brazil. Alright, hope everyone is still doing well and I will talk to you all soon. Keep me updated on life events! Love you all!

Posted by STEVO1285 13:32 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Villa de Leyva

sunny
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

http://wikitravel.org/en/Villa_de_Leyva

Villa de Leyva is a great town about 4 hours north of Bogotá that gets pretty crowded over the weekend with vacationers seeking some warm air and beautiful landscapes. The town is relatively small with lots of restaurants, artesanal stores, and quick day excursions. I was recommended by a Colombian I met in Tayrona National Park to stay at the hostel Colombian Highlands, which offers really nice and reasonably priced rooms as well as great advice on everything to do in and around the small town. The only problem is that it's located a pretty nice distance away from the main city, so it's not an ideal place to stay if you plan on going out late at night cause the dark road back to the hostel is pretty sketchy and not well marked.

IMG_6596.jpg

Since I arrived at around 3pm, I really didn't have too much time to explore the city before leaving. I was planning on possibly spending most of the second day in de Leyva as well but early the next morning I found out that it takes four days to get a visa to Brazil, so I ended up having to leave early the next day in order to make it to the Brazilian Embassy before it closed.

I immediately dropped by bags at the hostel and headed out for a nice long walk to the Ostrich Farm, less to see the animals and more to eat an Ostrich steak, which the restaurant there serves. Or if nothing else, at least purchase a piece of meat to cook back at the hostel. I recommend taking the bus down to the farm cause the walk was a pretty far distance, especially since I unknowingly took the long way. By the time I made it there, they were already closed, which didn't bother me too much because the restaurant is only opened on the weekends, they only had huge pieces of meat costing around $50, and the entrance fee was a bit pricey just to play with the animals. So a little dissapointed I walked back to the main town to wander the streets and eat dinner before making the trek back to the hostel. The next morning I met a few other travelers that were headed to Bogota as well, so I joined them to the bus station and we jumped on the bus on route to Bogota.

IMG_6611.jpg

Even in the short time I spent in Villa de Leyva I could easily understand why everyone from Bogota flocks there over the weekends. It's a very charming town with one of the biggest colonial style plazas in all of Colombia, they have tons of really great looking day hikes to lakes, waterfalls, and mountains around the area, and I recently learned that the town used to be the beach part of an ocean that once exhisted hundreds of millions of years ago and because of that they have an apparently really cool fossil museum which houses some of the oldest marine reptile fossils in the world (this may be a lie, but it sounds better). If going to Villa de Leyva I definitely recommend staying there enough days to experience both the weekend and weekdays. Arriving on a Saturday and staying past Monday would be ideal in order to see the city during its liveliest, eating Ostrich at the restuarant that opens only on the weekends, and then relaxing in the quiet, tranquil streets once every returns home.

After arriving in Bogota I immediately headed to the Brazilian Embassy in order to start the Visa process. Unfortunately, I just missed the cut-off time for that day and therefore would have to push my flight back one day in order to wait for the visa. But to my luck, that would end up being the least of my worries....

Posted by STEVO1285 11:45 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Tayrona National Park

sunny
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

The following morning, Mark and I met up at my hostel and we headed over to the market for the bus to Tayrona National Park. There are two ways of getting to the national park. One way is by boat, which is actually illegal and a bit dangerous, I´m guessing the main reason people take this option is that you can bypass the security guards at the control, therefore having the ability to bring drugs along for the stay. Even though you also don´t have to pay the $15 entrance fee, the cost of the boat ride is high enough that you don´t save any money using this tactic. The other way is by land with lots of hostels offering transportation for about $7 each way. However, if you´d like to save even more money, catching a bus from the market only costs $2 and takes you right up to the front gate. Also, being in the market allows you to purchase all the necessary food for the trip, which ends up being a huge saver since most of the food in the park is really expensive. Once in the park, you can either pay a buck or so and take a jeep ride to the main parking lot area to start the hike or spend an hour and a half walking along a road to that same point. I definitely recommend the jeep.

http://wikitravel.org/en/El_Parque_Tayrona (a nice link describing the park)

9IMG_6499.jpg

Tayrona is an absolutely beautiful place with tons of really great beaches and interesting rock formations along the water. There are a lot of different areas to walk around and from the parking lot to the final campsite took us close to a few hours including stoppage time for pictures. There´s also a really nice expensive hotel along the way that would be a pretty cool option for older travelers. As I mentioned in the previous post, I was given advice on where to stay the night, which was about 45 minutes or so more from the final campsite, so once we arrived we dropped our stuff off and continued on the hike without our backpacks. After spending time in el Cabo that late afternoon, we headed back to our campsite for dinner before heading to bed relatively early. We ended up not having time to visit the pueblitos, which is another apparently interesting site to visit, similar to the ruins in the lost city.

After waking up and eating breakfast the next morning, we pretty much spent the entire rest of the time hanging out at one of the beaches right before La Piscina, which we thought was the best one in the park. There´s a lady that walks around with all different types of cakes and breads that are extremely tasty, so look out for her when passing through. Around midday we caught another jeep back to the front gates and then headed back to Santa Marta. Once we arrived back, I did some research on the intenet trying to decide where I wanted to go next and then headed for the bus terminal after splitting apart from Mark while he went back to Taganga for his scuba certification and Lost City Trek. I decided on the way to the bus terminal that it would be more interesting to visit Villa de Leyva instead of San Gil because it would provide a more interesting glimpse into Colombian history and differing landscapes versus simply doing extreme sports. I ended up underestimating how long it would take to arrive in Villa de Leyva which was a bit of a shame since I wasn´t able to spend too much time there before moving on to Bogota, but it was still a great visit, worth the 15 hours and 4 transfers during the ride from Santa Marta.

Posted by STEVO1285 11:23 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Taganga

sunny
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

To get to Taganga, which we had heard was a really cool fishing town where people go for a few days and get stuck for weeks at a time, is about a 20 minute bus ride from Santa Marta, so after arriving in Santa Marta we spent a little time getting stuff organized and our clothes washed before heading to Taganga. There are a few popular hostels, Bayview and Casa Felipe, costing around $7-$9, but most rooms were booked and since I was only there for a night I wanted a cheaper option so we stayed in a double room behind a small restuarant for $5, which was a good deal and we were able to use the restaurant's kitchen as well. We got to Taganga that first day late in the afternoon so we spent that time just checking out the small town and hanging out on the beach before the sun set. I could immediately understand why people got stuck there though. The area has beautiful beaches, great diving, very cheap certifcation classes, lots of fresh seafood and fruit smoothies, and tons of young backpackers hanging around. So all in all, it's a very chilled out place to kickback, relax, and get certified. The place also reminded me a bit of Rurrenabaque in Bolivia as well since its a pretty big hub for Israeli travellers. We ran into a ton while over there and all the restuarants and hostels have signs in front of them with Hebrew writing, which usually signifies a lot of Israeli traffic through the area. I once again was mistaken as an Israeli while wearing my sandals I bought over there. Literally every person has a pair of Sourse Sandals it seems.

IMG_6348.jpg

The next day we woke up early, made breakfast, and headed for a short hike to another beach called Playa Grande. The hike itself is pretty easy with some great bay views for picture taking. Playa Grande was a good beach and if you continue hiking around the hill you can reach other more remote beaches along the way. After a few hours of hiking we arrived back at the main beach in Taganga and grabbed a nice smoothie to quench our hunger and thirst. Since I was leaving that night, Mark decided to move into Hostel Bayview, which had a lot more backpackers staying there and offered a free minicourse in suba diving, which sounded like a great deal. Also, they have a pretty good kitchen so we decided to head down to the beach where the fisherman were, buy some fresh fish and cook it ourselves for dinner that evening (me cooking and Mark eating). So the rest of the time I spent cooking up a storm and luckily it turned out really well. Since the whole going to the Shahman with my friend from Bogota kinda fell through last minute, there wasn't a rush to get there anymore, so I decided to check out Tayrona National Park for a few days, which I was originally planning on skipping. Mark had planned to visit the park later on, but since I had to go the following day he decided to join me as well. Looking back, I'm glad the Shahman trip fell through cause Tayrona was an amazing place with spectacular beaches to hang out on. So I left after the meal for Santa Marta, since the accomodation there was very inexpensive, and getting to the national park costs less than half the price then from Taganga. So we just decided that Mark would meet me at my hostel early in the morning and from there we'd head over. I also spoke with a guy from Santa Marta at the hostel that night and he gave me some really good advice on a place to spend the night which also cost half as much as all the other options, La Finca de San Pedro, which is where we ended up staying overnight. So it all ended up working out well and we smoothly made it over to the Park the following morning.

IMG_6391.jpg

Posted by STEVO1285 11:25 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Cartagena

sunny
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

IMG_6168.jpg

I can't even describe how happy I was getting off the bus and feeling the warm heat of the Carribean, even though I was a bit tired from the bus ride, I was too excited to even care. So pretty much the first day we checked into our hostel, Hotel Real, which was a fine hostel, nothing special. The most popular one Casa Vienna was completely booked when we arrived so we spent some time searching for other options. After lunch we spent the rest of the day basically walking all along the streets of the Old Town, which is the main tourist attraction of the city. Most of the hostels and cheap places to eat are in an area called Getsmani, which is kinda the ghetto right outside the walls of the Old City. It's actually a pretty fun, interesting area with a nice little vibe, and plenty of bums walking around the street. The Old Town; however, is really cool. The first day we arrived it was Sunday so most of the stores were closed, but the following day we checked it out again, and the whole area is just a lot of fun to explore. You're pretty much just supposed to walk aimlessly around all the different small streets getting lost. All the buildings are brightly colored and the streets are mainly filled with boutique stores, hotels, and restaurants with nice outdoor cafes and plenty of people to watch in the parks. There's also lots of stalls serving ceviche, and really good cheese and butter arepas, which I highly recommend trying. We pretty much ate at one of the stands every single day. You'll also see a lot of really good pastrys and desserts there along with fried fishes and coconut rice.

IMG_6231.jpg

The second day we also spent walking around the new town area which is pretty modernized with large commercial buildings, but it also has the beach, which isn't anything spectacular. So we just walked around there as well. There's also a fortress you can walk up, but it costs about 7 dollars entry fee, which isn't worth the price. I didn't want to spend the money for it, but Mark did, and he didn't seem too impressed.

From Cartagena there are a few different excursions you can do, one of them is a tour of the Rosario Islands which stops off on Playa Blaca, possibly one of the best beaches in Colombia, for lunch and then heads back for about 30 dollars total. There's also a tour that takes people to a mud volcano which apparently has very good minerals and whatnot that's good for the skin. Could be fun, but I heard it's more of a hill with mud inside that gets packed with visitor, so it's definitely not the spa treatment some people expect. Instead we decided to just go on our own to Playa Blanca and spend the night at one of the many sheds along the beach that will rent you a hammock and mosquito net for $3/night. I really preferred what we decided on. It allowed us to spend a lot of time just relaxing on the beach and once the group from Rosario left the area around 2pm the beach gets very quiet and tranquil, which is exactly what I was looking for. We brought food with us cause we figured it would be pretty pricey on the beach, but there were some cheaper options available so it wasn't completely necessary. Also, the whole two days including transportation to the beach ended up costing us much less the had we done the tour. There are cheap boats you can take from the market which will save about half the cost compared to taking one of the larger ships from the main port.

IMG_6287.jpg

In Januarys the weather starts to get a bit dodgy due to the trade winds, so the second day on the beach we had to leave earlier than expected to catch a boat back since the waves were getting pretty rough. The ride back, to say the least, was a bit of an adventure in itself. Lots of air time during the ride and back pain throughout it. But it was exciting nonetheless. I at one point looked back at Mark and thought he was gonna puke, but all turned out fine. That afternoon we spent a little more time in the Old Town, slept at Hotel Real again, and left early the next morning for Santa Marta, a four hour ride East.

Posted by STEVO1285 11:02 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Medellin

rain
View Around the World on STEVO1285's travel map.

After leaving Solento, we arrived very early in the morning to Medellina, and immediately checked into the hostel Mark had booked us for the night. At this point I was running a little low on funds so every dollar counted, and the place he made a reservation with was a little more expensive then usual and the minute we got to our rooms I knew I wanted to change. The place smelled, the beds were uncomfortable, and there was an old guy in the room rummaging through his bag for the longest time. The final straw while I trying to get some more sleep came when some random cat in the room started meowing. So I immediately got up and spent the next hour or so walking around the Zona Rosa neighborhood checking out different hostels for a lower price. I finally came across Casa Meidi, which had a much friendlier atmosphere, cost less, and contained mostly South American travellers, so we were both pretty happy about the change.

IMG_6150.jpg

There's not too much to report on regarding Medellin. I pretty much spent the entire two days walking around as much of the city as possible while the weather wasn't absolute crap. It was pretty much overcast skies the entire time with rainfall every few hours. I had heard amazing things about Medellin from everyone I met while in Colombia, and unfortunately the timing just wasn't right, because at that point I was so anxious to get out of the cold and rain and head to the Carribean coast, that I only managed to spend two days and one night there before heading out to Cartagena. Mark was originally planning on spending close to a week there, eventually splitting off when I left for the north, but I guess he wasn't feeling the atmosphere either so we both ended up leaving together for Cartagena the same night.

At this point of the trip, I'm not gonna lie, I was getting pretty dissapointed overall in my Colombian experience. I can't tell whether it was due to the weather, the actual country itself, the food, people, or just the overall climate during the first couple of cities, but I was starting to get a bit frustrated over the whole situation and just needed some heat and beach time. Turns out the main cause of my frustration was the weather. Luckily my feelings about Colombia drastically changed as I first stepped out of the bus to the warm sun against my face.

The following places I would eventually visit in the north...Cartagena, Playa Blanca, Santa Marta, Taganga, and Tayrona National Park quickly dispelled all doubts I had about Colombia and quickly moved the country up to the top of the list tied with Bolivia as my favorite thus far in South America with only Brazil left to compete.

At some point in the future I would love to give Medellin another chance, hopefully when the weather is better. It was just bad timing and my experience there was an uncommon one...it's definitely not a city to skip over. The night scene in Zona Rosa is a lot of fun, completely packed with people, and the central plaza area is also filled with different museums and in the afternoons, tons of food carts serving really tasty stuff. Due to the weather I didn't find it worth it to visit the other sites, but the cable car rides, botanical gardens, and other neighborhoods shouldn't be missed. The pueblito was nice, I went up there during the night where below the entire river was still completely covered in beautiful christmas lights, but during the day would probably give a better viewpoint of the main city area. Next up, Cartagena!

Posted by STEVO1285 17:21 Archived in Comoros Comments (0)

(Entries 31 - 45 of 73) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 5 »