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By this Author: luzian

Paraguay Camera Shopping Adventure

Ciudad del Este, Paraguay

rain 28 °C

Next day, we decided to head over the other border into Paraguay because I needed a new Camera (as you may have noticed from any of the pictures with a black spot in the middle). While in Brazil all electronics (and any other imported goods) are massively overpriced due to their high taxes/VAT (apparently they add 40% on everything), several people had recommended to buy in Paraguay because it's just cheaper.

So off we went after a short stop at the Bus terminal to secure our seats to Rio. There's a bus that goes directly from the terminal to Ciudad del Este, the town on the Paraguay side of the rivers. The boarder crossing was the easiest you could imagine - the bus didn't even stop at the border. Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and most other South American countries an agreement as part of the Union of South American Nations (UNISUR) that their citizens can freely travel between the countries (probably similar to Schengen in Europe), and apparently at this point so many people cross the border to go shopping in Paraugay that they don't even care to check for foreigners. So we hadn't officially left Brazil or entered Paraguay, but that was no problem.

Once on the Paraguayan side, you are immediately released from the bus into a very busy street which is a huge and messy combination of market and shopping malls. It starts with two or three rows of market stalls lining each side of the street, selling all kinds of cheap clothes, shoes and other stuff. Behind that, an almost infinite array of shops and malls again containing many smaller shops, selling everything from electronics to jewellery to whatever else you might imagine. And in between, hundreds of people trying to sell you something off their hands, from drinks to piles of USB memory sticks. We were only looking at the electronic shops that sell cameras, and there even seemed to be hundreds of those, each stacking piles of cameras and all kind of other electronic devices. It seems that enough Brazilian people come over here for shopping that it works out and they sell all that stuff in the end. (see link below)

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Ciudad del Este shopping street. This shows only a small part of the actual market stands and shops..

After shopping around for about two or three hours and finding similar choices of cameras in most places but surprisingly different prices (140 US$ - 230 US$ for exactly the same camera), we both decided for some camera model that seemed ok. We were both not very up to date on recent camera models, and of course most vendors were not much help, whatever you ask them they say this is a very good camera and has (insert number from box) megapixels and (insert other number from box) zoom. So it was more going by "look and feel" and hoping that we get something worth its price. Ivan bought a Sony and I bought a slightly cheaper Olympus (FE-5020), which seemed ok from the specs and when trying it in the shop, but now after trying it a bit more in the bus and viewing the results on the laptop, I'm not completely convinced anymore. I'll have to see if I manage to get any halfway decent pictures out of it. The old camera was probably better, apart that the black spot makes it pretty useless... so it will be an improvement in any case.

While we were buying our cameras, suddenly a big storm with lightnings and a torrential rainfall started. Apparently this was the first rain after more than a month of heat in the area. The street transformed into a dark brown river within minutes, people running in all directions to seek some shelter, market stall owners trying to close their stalls and protect their goods, suddenly everywhere people selling umbrellas and cheap plastic rain coats. We managed to get on the bus through almost knee deep water, protecting ourselves and the cameras we bought with some of the cheap plastic rain coats. Back across the border was easy again (we did stop and one border control person in a raincoat came into the bus to take a quick look), and made it safely back to the hostel, just had time to picked up our stuff and chage our wet clothes, and then left for the bus to Rio.

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Within minutes, the road was transformed into a river by the heavy rain...

Now while I'm writing this, we're still on the same bus, some 18 hours since we left and still several hours to go (it's a long trip, 23 hours total). During the night it was quite freezing in here because the staff didn't want to turn down the air conditioning despite most people in the bus complaining that it was too cold. They insisted that it can't be too cold because they had set the temperature to 22 degrees, but obviously it was MUCH colder than that. Luckily they let us grab things from the luggage (which they usually wouldn't), so I was wearing a sweatshirt, my warm fleece jacket and raincoat during the night, in the middle of the Brazilian summer... not all things need to make sense here :) UPDATE before arriving in Rio: Of course in the meantime it's day and sunny outside, meaning that it's now very hot and the climatisation of course stopped working. Now they allowed us to open the windows, which is quite funny too...

Next up, CARNIVAL in RIO DE JANEIRO!!!

Some interesting reading on Shopping in Ciudad del Este: http://www.colorsmagazine.com/issues/colors63/08.php

Posted by luzian 20:06 Archived in Paraguay Tagged shopping Comments (0)

Waterfalls as far as you can see

Iguazu/Iguaçu Falls, Argentina/Brazil

sunny 39 °C

Arriving in the morning in Foz do Iguaçu, the Brazilian town near the falls, we decided to head directly to the Argentinean side. The Iguaçu/Iguazú river is on the border between Brazil and Argentina, with the falls located about 20km from the border towns on either side (Foz de Iguaçu in Brazil, Puerto Iguazú in Argentina). You can visit the falls from both sides, but from Argentina you get much closer to the action, while the Brazilian side is good for a distance overview. Paraguay also borders the area and meets the river a bit further down, but it doesn't have access to the falls. We decided to take a more expensive organized transport across the border because by public buses, you have to change several times and it takes much longer to get there, and we wanted to be back in Brazil in the evening.

After picking up a couple of other people in different hostels, the van headed to the border, where we left Brazil and entered Argentina. Unfortunately one of the group, a girl from Indonesia, wasn't allowed across the border because apparently she would have needed a visa for Argentina. All the other passengers (1 Dutch, 2 English, 3 Brazilians, 1 Italian [Ivan], and 3 Swiss including me) had no problems, no visa required, no questions asked. Sometimes the world is unfair...

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Funny furry animals near the falls / Butterflies drinking water in a small puddle

After border crossing and driving to the falls, we were conveniently dropped off at the entrance to the National Park surrounding the falls. On the Argentinean side, the falls can be visited at a number of places with different views. After a short walk on a jungle trail (with plenty of big spiders hanging around in their nets above our heads), we took a little train and then a trail over bridges connecting some small islands in the river, leading to a platform on top of the Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat), the biggest single fall within the Iguaçu falls. From there, we got a spectacular view down into the massive, horse-shoe shaped fall where incredible amounts of water rush down 80 meters into the depth literally just under our feet, creating a tremendous noise and so much water spraying into the air that you can't actually see the lower part of the river.

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Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat)

The second part of our visit was the "Upper Trail", leading again from the centre along the top edge of the falls. This was our favourite part, it gives a view of the dimension of the falls. There's not just a couple of them, but waterfalls as far as you can see! Depending on the amount of water in the river, up to 275 waterfalls rush down the 80 meter drop in the landscape over a distance of 2.7 kilometers, creating an immensely beautiful natural spectacle.

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Iguazu Falls (from upper trail)

The third approach is the "Lower Trail", leading as you would have guessed, to views from below the falls. Three of us (Ivan, me and the Dutch guy) skipped a part of the trail to join a truck and boat tour on the river with even more spectacular views from below. While the "jungle truck tour" was boring, the boat tour was absolutely worth it. The speed boat took us up the river from a bit further below. We knew that we'd get wet on the boat trip, and we didn't mind at all as it was again very hot (probably near 40 °C again), but it passed our expectations. After a stop a bit further away to take pictures of the falls from below, we were told to put the cameras (and anything else we didn't want to get wet) in the waterproof bags that had been handed out before. After some first "getting sprayed" from a bit further away, the boat captain then went pretty much into the middle of a couple of falls where we got completely showered and soaked to the skin... good thing we had those waterproof bags :)

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Waterfalls from the boat below, just before entering into the white masses rushing down from above

After the boat trip we had to hurry up to get back to the van - we were still wet when we crossed the border back form Argentina to Brazil. The hostel was fun but the small room with 6 people and almost no air circulation was so hot that we both soon left the room to sleep in the common room, which was slightly less hot... But apart from the heat, we enjoyed it, playing table-tennis and jumping into the outdoor pool within the hostel.

Unfortunately I don't have many good pictures from the falls. As my old camera is broken and makes a black spot in the middle of every picture, I was also using my mobile phone to take pictures, but had the phone including the pictures stolen a few days later during the Carnival in Rio, so those pictures are gone. So all the pictures here will have the black spot... but they should still give an idea of the beauty of the falls.

Posted by luzian 08:50 Archived in Argentina Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

The sun is shining at South Brazilian beaches

Florianópolis, Ilha de Santa Catarina, Brazil

sunny 40 °C
View South America 2010!!! on luzian's travel map.

After a 12 hour overnight bus trip from São Paulo, we arrived in Florianópolis at the south Brazilian coast. Floripa (as it's called by its locals) connects the mainland to a quite large island, Ilha de Santa Catarina. The island is known for its many beaches (apparently 42) and good nightlife, so we thought it would be a good place to stay for a couple of days. There are indeed some very beautiful beaches for almost every taste - long beaches (up to 13km) and short beaches, wide and narrow beaches, busy and quiet beaches, warm or cold water, big or small waves, old or young people, fancy beaches, surfer beaches, family beaches, nudist beaches, whatever you like.

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Praia Mole in the evening

The only difficult thing with so much choice was of course to figure out which ones would suit us. We first went by the recommendations by the hostel staff and were a bit disappointed, probably our expectations were slightly too high or we just got to the wrong places. But after visiting a couple of beaches during the next days we figured out the ones we like. Our favourite in the end was Praia Mole, a beautiful, relatively wide beach surrounded by green hills and large red rocks on one end, on the outer side of the island with colder water and bigger waves, hence less crowded with families and small children, but a young and relaxed crowd, partly a surfer beach but also good for a swim, enough people to make it interesting but wide enough not to seem overcrowded, some bars with music but no hotels directly nearby, and the road only touching and then disappearing behind the hills. You do get picky when you have so much choice :)

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Rocks at Praia Mole

Speaking of choice, as mentioned the island is also known for its choices of nightlife. Here again we had some trouble finding the right spots at the start - one bar (Cachaçaria da Ilha) with a live band playing a local version of samba was great but we got there only 15 minutes before the band stopped playing, an Irish pub had live music which was good but not really Brazilian (more American country and blues). But there again we found the right spots in the end - the best part was our visit at the Escola de Samba Consulado, where local samba bands/blocos practise for Carnival. It's a wide and high hall with hundreds of people dancing to the extremely loud rhythms and songs (too loud for our ears, but that's part of the experience), with the hall heating up more and more and everybody getting completely wet from sweating and from the big overhead ventilators spraying out water in a desperate attempt to cool down the air a tiny bit. After about two hours it was over, which was good because we were completely soaked and exhausted, and our ears were buzzing for the next few days...

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Escola de Samba Consulado

The other very interesting experience was when we got out of a bar (Jinga bar, where we again listened to live Samba) in Lagoa, the town in the center of the island, sometime between 2 and 3am. In the center of the town, there were hundreds of people on the streeds, standing around, talking, and dancing to music coming out of a couple of cars with HUGE sound systems. Now when I say huge, I mean it... the sound systems and speakers actually filled the entire car boots/trunks, imagine more a disco on wheels than just a car :) And there was not just one but several of them, competing who can play the loudest music, with people dancing around and between them. And many other people driving around town, showing off their big or loud or otherwise crazy cars or driving skills. Asking some other Brazilians about it, they said yes people are crazy about their cars in the south... :)

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4am street party in Lagoa

Not surprising that also here the local busdrivers seem to see their job as a race. There is no single moment where they are not operating their vehicle at maximum possible speed, including in turns where you feel like the bus is going to fly off the road, uphill parts where you think they will just blow up the engine going at full speet in the first gear, and any kind of holes or bumps in the road over which they just race with no regret for the poor old bus. These buses must be extremely strong to support that permanent torture!

All in all a very good time during our 6 days in Floripa! I suffered from the heat (most of the time around 40 degrees Celsius) and the first days it was impossible to avoid being burned by the sun due to its sheer strength here - closer to the Equator than I've ever been before. Even with factor 50 sunblock, drinking water all day, and staying out of the sun most of the noon/afternoon, I got burned... but after a few days at least the skin gets a bit more used to the sun. Just the extreme heat still exhausts me.

Next up: overnight bus trip to the Iguaçu Falls!

Posted by luzian 20:25 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Oi, Brazil, tudo bem!

São Paulo, Brazil

rain 28 °C
View South America 2010!!! on luzian's travel map.

Arriving at São Paulo Guarulhos airport, we were greeted by very warm and humid air already at 7 in the morning. Quite a shock to the freezing temperatures all over Europe. We hadn't booked any acommodation because we were hoping until the last moment to find a CouchSurfing host to start our trip staying with Brazilian people to directly plunge into the Brazilian culture. We had actually found someone who would have hosted us, but in the end had to tell them that we can't come because they have cats and Ivan has an animal hair allergy. So we asked for hostel recommendations at the airport and headed towards Sampa Hostel (Sampa is also the short name for São Paulo) which was located in Vila Madalena, an Area that they told us was safe and has a lot of nightlife. We had to take a bus and then 3 different metro lines to get there.

After checking in to the hostel, we went to check out the area. After eating something, we walked randomly, stopped to get a Brazilian SIM card (if you ask for a SIM card, they don't understand you here - ask for a Chip instead!), and then looked for a bus to the center. As we didn't know how the bus and ticket system worked, we asked some people where to buy tickets. They sent us in some direction, so we went there, but couldn't find a shop which sold tickets. So we asked again, and were sent further and further each time we asked. The journey took over an hour, but in the end we got our shiny new "Bilhete Único" cards - an electronic pre-pay ticket that works for all metros, trains and buses in São Paulo. Of course once on the bus, we noticed that we could have just paid cash to the ticket vending person on every bus :) But when we showed it later to our hostel staff, they were surprised and asked how we managed to get that. Seems to be quite an achievement to have found the proper "local" ticket!

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Downtown São Paulo

Downtown is mainly the financial center of São Paulo, with lots of high buildings (mostly offices), some of them new and some quite run down. In between, a bunch of museums, some small parks, and depending on the exact location many people or no people at all. There were some weird corners with dodgy figures hanging around, but in general it seemed ok. After a walk around the center (and going into a random crappy food place to get out of some rain), we walked to Luz station, which (apart that I wanted to go there for its name :) is known for a historic train station and a nice park. The area felt quite dodgy though, and it was almost getting dark, so we didn't stay long and took the metro back to the hostel. In the evening we went to a club (Matrix) with some people from the hostel, which was relatively boring because in they played exactly the same selection of music that you would hear in your random average European or American pub/bar/club.

Next day, we met up downtown with our Couchsurfing Hosts (who couldn't host us) and some other couchsurfers they know, mostly Brazilians. They were all extremely friendly people who immediately made us feel part of the group of locals. They took us to the Mercado municipal (central market), a large market hall with many stands selling tons of exotic (=Brazilian) fruit, some of which we've never seen before. Often they would let you try some to convince you to buy more, but we only went from one to the next to try different fruit. In the market, there are also lots of other stands selling cheese, meat, or other food or general stuff. Along them, there's a number of cafés and food places, selling some local specialities - a huge Mortadella sandwich with about 100 layers of Mortadella (not that spectacluar but you have to try it when you're in São Paulo because everybody will ask you if you did and be very disappointed if you didn't...), as well as the Pastel de Bacalhau, a pastry containing cod fish.

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Fruits at central market

From there, the Brazilians took us by car to another place, a small market/fair which was actually not far from our hostel. There was a live band playing in the market but they just finished when we arrived. We had a Fresh Coconut Water directly from a coconut, and then spent some time with the Brazilians in a nearby bar. There was also our first small Brazilian Carnival group (called bloco), with some drums and Samba dancers. They played next to the market, then disappeared in some direction and then reappeared from another direction some time later.

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Refreshing drink...

In the evening, Ivan and I decided not to join the Gringo group going to some random pop/rock/hits place again and asked around for a place with live Samba. We found one not fare away, a small and very crowded place called PauBrasil. It was so packed that nobody managed to dance, but the music was great and the atmosphere fantastic. There were almost only locals, not like in the gringo club the night before. Our Caipirinhas were so strong that we had enough after one...

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Live samba at PaUBrasil

Third day, we went to the Bus terminal first as we had decided to leave to somewhere on the beach as soon as possible, so we bought our tickets for an overnight bus to Florianópolis in the south. Then we took a bus to a small town just outside São Paulo called Embu das Arts, where we were going to meet our Couchsurfing friends again. The one hour bus ride was mind-thrilling with the driver seeming to be in a race for his life and not paying attention to the condition of his bus or the road below it. But we survived and the place was quite interesting with a lot of market stands of local people selling all kind of mostly hand crafted things. We headed directly into a restaurant where the others were already eating - an all you can eat buffet with a lot of great food for just 22 Reais (the Brazilian currency is Real/Reais, that's around 7-8 Euro). We ment to go around the market after eating, but there was a big thunderstorm coming up and just as we left the restaurant, it was starting to rain. Within minutes it was pouring down, market stand owners were closing their stands to protect their goods, and everybody was running to protect from the rain. We ran to the car with our couchsurfing friends and left immediately because they feared the heavy rain could flood the road (there had been quite a lot of floodings around São Paulo in the prior month). But we got back to the center without trouble, we didn't actually see anything of the floodings (São Paulo is quite hilly and flood would only affect certain areas).

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They dropped us off at the bus station, and we just had time for a quick stop in the center, grab our bags at the hostel, and head to the Rodoviària (bus terminal) to catch our bus to Florianópolis.

PS: As you notice on the pictures, my camera unfortunately has a problem - from the first picture since we arrived in Brazil, every picture has a black spot in the middle. I'm trying to get around with it but will probably have to get a new one eventually...

Posted by luzian 20:57 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

South America calling!

One way ticket to Brazil!

rain 0 °C

It has been a while since I wrote anything on here... about time to revive this blog! Or at least try to - time will tell if I can get myself into the habit of writing from time to time while travelling. During my last trip all across South East Europe, I didn't get to write anything. It's very time consuming to write blogs and upload pictures while having to rely on internet cafes, and the often old computers there and sometimes terribly slow connection makes it a pain in the a... So this time I decided to carry a netbook which allows me to use some of the idle time to write (long bus journeys, waiting time etc.), makes everything related to pictures much easier (I can copy/sort/select/downsize them on my netbook before uploading, instead of having to do that on a crappy internet cafe computers with no useful software), use a myriad of wlan spots/places/cafes which seems to take over the world... and maybe most importantly, it gives me less of an excuse to be lazy with writing :)

So now I'm finally starting my South America tour which I've been talking about for a long time, but pushed back quite long because I fell in love with Eastern Europe :) and couldn't quite decide where to start. I was thinking about travelling on bicycle again, but even though I really like the idea, I finally decided against it because South America is just too big. It would take years to get around the continent just on bicycle, or alternatively mean a lot of hassle to take the bicycle on other transports to move faster. I'm sure I'll do more bike travelling sometime, but in a more limited area and rather for some months instead of years...

Anyway, now its time to start! Ivan, a good friend from University in Lausanne, is joining me for three weeks, so we're starting together in Brazil, and when we has to go back, I'll continue to wherever the wind takes me... of course I have a rough outline of where I want to go, but going with the flow instead of planning any details has turned out to be my favourite way of travelling. The best thing on my last trips have been the spontaneous and unplanned parts when I could join other people or follow suggestions.

Before Brazil, a two and half day stop in London to catch up with some friends there, which I had wanted to do for a while but pushed back. Freezing cold weather (it seems it's the coldest winter in the UK in quite some time) combined with enough rain reminded me why I had left London :) and made me look forward to the summer in South America even more!

So on a cold Thursday morning in late January I went to Heathrow Terminal 4 and checked in to my one way flight to São Paulo, Brazil! Actually, the airline (Alitalia) didn't first want to let me check in because of the one way ticket. The problem is that theoretically Brazil immigration can ask proof of a return or onward ticket to make sure visitors are going to leave the country. Even though they are unlikely to ask, and I read that they would normally accept an explanation that the plan is to travel by bus to other South American countries (which is not bookable online), the airline refuses to take passengers with one way tickets because in the unlikely case that the passenger is denied entry to Brazil, they would be responsible to take the passenger back to the original destination. Ok makes sense to me, but I'm still wondering why they sell the one way ticket in the first place if afterwards they don't allow to use it. Luckily they were in the end helpful - after 45minuts and a number of phone calls to different ranks of managers, they had booked me a "fake" return flight two months later, which I could show at the border in case they do ask.

Anyway after a short flight from London to Rome where Ivan was going to join me to the flight to São Paulo, I had a couple of hours stopover and time to eat a crappy airport meal, and spending about an hour looking for a public WLan spot - which is not an easy task in Fiumicino airport - to sort out some last organisation things. Finally I found one. Later Ivan joined me, and soon after we were boarding our flight. And after completely smooth and uneventful (which I'm not complaining about) flight, we were landing in São Paulo and setting foot on South American ground - my first step on the southern hemisphere!! That's one small step for mankind, but one giant leap for me! ;)

Posted by luzian 04:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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