Leg Five - Rio de Janeiro to Paraty to Auckland

Day Thirty Three - São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro Travel day today! We took the super efficient São Paulo subway to the bus station, where we said our final goodbyes to our hosts, Alexey and Laira. Our bus trip was six hours long, and we had semi-cama seats, so were pretty comfortable for the trip.

As we got closer to Rio, the rain started pouring down. By the time we got to Rio, it was like we were driving through a river. All the roads were flooded, and lots of cars were stuck in the water on the side of the road.

We took a taxi to our hostel, which was in Santa Theresa, a suburb on the hill above Centro with cobblestone streets and a tram that runs through it. It's kind of a bohemian suburb - apparently lots of artists have studios there. The taxi driver had never heard of our hostel or the street it was on, so he drove there with our Lonely Planet map in one hand and the steering wheel in the other! The hostel is really nice - huge room with a balcony overlooking central Rio. Fantastic views!

Observations...

  • So many slums leaving São Paulo. All with churches.
  • All the road working guys drive white combivans.
  • Emergency vechicle lights on all the time = boy who cried wolf.

Day Thirty Four - Rio de Janeiro

We started the day with breakfast at the hostel. It's really quite an event. They cook the breakfast for you and serve you a huge plate of food - eggs, ham, cheese, bread, cake, fruit.

We took ourselves on a walking tour of central Rio today. First we visited the national library, Bibliotecha Nacional. We arrived just in time for an English-speaking tour of the library, which was really interesting! Next we visited Teatro Municipal, then a cool cathedral that has these metal statues outside. We bought our special New Year's Eve metro passes. Rio has a special metro system for New Year's Eve to get everyone out to Copacabana. We wandered through a street market that sells everything from loose batteries and extension cords to souvenir t-shirts to crotcheted bikinis. Pretty diverse! Our last stop of the day was Palacia Tiradentes, the old government building, where we were able to walk around the whole building. We were going to take the tram back to our hostel in Santa Theresa, but after we waited in line for nearly an hour with about 70 other people, we gave up and made our own way home!

Observations...

  • It is a worry when I have to give directions to the taxi driver.
  • An odd mix of people on the street who want to help you, and people on the street who want to kill you.
  • It's nice to see planes flying in and out from the airport WE are going to fly out of.

Day Thirty Five - Rio de Janeiro

Today we went on a tour of the main sights of Rio with some other people from our hostel. The van picked us all up at midday. We decided to a do a tour in Rio because the sights are all quite far apart and we only had limited time, so it was much easier to go on an organised tour rather than try and figure out how to get to each place on our own! Unfortunately it poured with rain all day, so our tour was dampened somewhat! We went to Corcodova first, which is the mountain that the famous Cristo Redentor statue is on top of. It was so foggy that when standing at the base of the statue, you couldn't see it at all. Every so often the fog would clear for about 15 seconds, the crowd would cheer and everyone would snap as many photos as possible. So, we didn't see much of the statue, and we definitely didn't see any of the great views of the city that you can see from the top of the mountain!

Next to Maracana Stadium, the biggest football stadium in the world. Then to the place where the main Carnaval parade is held. Carnaval is a huge celebration that takes place all over Brazil in February, but the main parade is in Rio. There are amazing fancy costumes, samba dancers, huge floats etc... We got to see some of the costumes. Then we went to Catedral Metropolitana, which is a very modern building - it kind of looks like the Beehive, and it has these beautiful stained-glass panels inside. We were also meant to go to Pao do Acucar, also called Sugar Loaf Mountain, but since it was still pouring and foggy, we decided to save our tickets for another day when we'd be able to see the view!

Observations...

  • There is no spouting on the rooves here.
  • It rains well.
  • Wives are handy.
  • Fireworks (for the people) sound like bombs going off and have little sparkle.

Day Thirty Six - Rio de Janeiro

New Year's Eve! We headed off on a tour of the largest favela in South America today, Rocinha, which is located near Copacabana. A favela is basically a slum or shanty town. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Favelas) There are 1000 favelas in Rio de Janeiro. They are a big mess of houses - the people just build the houses wherever they can fit them. There are lots of little paths that lead through them, because all the roads have been build over the top of. There is lots of crime and drugs in favelas, and obviously poverty is a major issue there. Our tour van dropped us (along with the other 10 people on our tour) at the bottom of the favela, and we each took a motorbike taxi to the top of the hill Rocinha is on. The motorbike taxis are the taxis the people in the favelas use. Wendy's taxi driver was a bit of a Romeo, and he was a crazy driver - he crashed into a bus! Luckily Wendy was holding on and didn't come off the bike, but it was a bit of a near miss!

Once we were all at the top, we spent about two hours walking through the paths of the favela with our tour guide, hearing about what life is like living in a favela. There were lots of little kids following us, and they love having their photo taken and seeing it afterwards. So cute! We saw lots of gang members and drug dealers. Every time we were near a known drug dealer hangout, our tour guide would tell us all not to take photos, because the drug dealers obviously don't want tourists taking their photo! We saw one guy from the gang that controls the favela who had a huge gun slung over his shoulder and a couple of other guns shoved in his waistband. Nice.

Apparently the only way the police can enter the favelas is in big armoured tanks, otherwise the gangs will shoot them dead. All the favelas are controlled by gangs and drug dealers. We were assured that it was quite safe for us to be there, but it was a bit freaky seeing so many gang members and bad guys! We visited an art studio, where some young artists who live in the favela paint and sell paintings of the favela. We bought one to bring home with us. They're really talented guys.

We saw lots of bad things in the favela and lots of good things. Good things - the kids who were so happy to see us, the people selling handicrafts from their stalls, the artists in the studio; bad things - gang presence, drug dealers, falling down houses with kids looking out the windows, huge piles of rubbish, crazy bird's nests of power lines, overflowing drains. It was a really interesting tour and definitely worth doing.

We headed out to Copacabana around 7pm for New Year's. We both wore white tops, like the cariocas (people from Rio) do on New Year's Eve. At Copacabana, there were four big stages set up along the beach, and it was packed with people. We hung out on the beach, watched the bands, watched the people. The fireworks at midnight were amazing - 16 tonnes of fireworks off 16 barges, 2 million people on the beach. We got sprayed with champagne, the whole beach was yelling and cheering during the fireworks. Very impressive. Great place to spend New Year's Eve!

Observations...

  • Rio knows how to party.
  • Everybody is very "clap, clap, cheer, cheer".
  • People WANT to live in the favella. Even come back from overseas to live in the favella. Hmmm...
  • Favellas are scary.

Day Thirty Seven - Rio de Janeiro

Feliz Ano Novo - Happy New Year!

We had a sleep in, then headed off to Pao do Acucar, Sugar Loaf Mountain, which we had missed the day of our tour. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we had great views. We took a gondola to the top and took lots of photos. Beautiful!

We spent the afternoon at Copacabana. We found an unused beach umbrella and settled under there for a few hours. It was pretty hot - 34 degrees. Every so often a man would come past with an ice block cart - we each had four ice blocks over the afternoon!

Observations...

  • G-string bikinis are the most awful, pointless, unflattering things I have ever seen. And as for those mankinis?!
  • People don't worry about the suns harmful rays. Be sunsmart team.
  • Tic Tacs are very big here and I like it.

Day Thirty Eight - Rio de Janeiro to Paraty

We packed up and headed to the bus station. Our whole bus to Paraty was full of tourists, which was a nice change - most of our buses have been filled with locals. The bus trip took four hours, plus a restaurant stop halfway through - it seems a bit unnecessary to have a restaurant stop on such a short bus trip! We saw lots of slips along the roads. Later we heard about the big landslide at Angra do Reis, which we drove past. 40 people died in it.

We stayed at a hostel on Jabaquara Beach at Paraty. The beach itself wasn't as good as we thought it would be - it was a long narrow strip of sand and no surf at the beach. We made use of our hostel's restaurant on our first night - pizzas and caiprihinas - a very Brazilian cocktail. Yum! And we listened to the live band at the restaurant!

We had an awful hot, sweaty sleep after we failed to turn on the air conditioning properly! Oops.

Observations...

  • Argentina cities are grids and are easy and sensible to get around. Brazil cities are a mess.
  • Taxi prices vary ALOT.
  • Police here think they're all hip with their big guns. But they have terrible cars.
  • Saw a bat on the tree at the hostel.
  • Found a crab in our room. Wendy chased it out.

Day Thirty Nine - Paraty

Wendy woke up to find approx 50 mosquito bites on her legs. Oh dear.

We discovered there was no water at all in Paraty - caused by all the landslides in the area. Not good to find out after a hot sweaty sleep! Ew!

We spent the day relaxing on the beach. We found a shady spot on the sand and read books, dozed. When we got back to the hostel, we realised we were sunburnt - so much for our shady spot! Oops!

Observations...

  • The sun here is VERY strong.
  • Why do some people walk around videoing camering everything? Are you really going to watch "view of Rio", "me getting on the gondiler", "my wife buying a postcard". Take a photo!!
  • It's height of summer, mid 30s outside. But everything is so green and healthy.

Day Forty - Paraty

Still no water!

We spent the day exploring the colonial town of Paraty today. We took a horse and cart tour of the old town - very quaint! Cobblestone streets, lots of little cottages, old churches.

It was the hottest day of our trip so far - 38 degrees. We spent the day ducking in and out of the shade - the sun was so hot!

We looked through all the shops scattered throughout the town. There were lots of people in their shops actually making the things they were selling - jewellery, art, ornaments, sewing, painting.

We had dinner at a local restaurant - a very authentic meal of steak, rice, manoic flour and chips. Pretty good.

Observations...

  • Oh my, it's hot.
  • In shops: Checkout 1 - Get receipt made, leave item. Checkout 2 - Pay, get receipt stamped. Checkout 3 - Get receipt checked, pick up item.

Day Forty One - Paraty to Rio de Janeiro

We had arranged the day before to get a lift from our hostel to the bus station. About five minutes before we were due to go, we checked with the receptionist and discovered the hostel's car had broken down... So we quickly arranged for a taxi to pick us up! Our bus trip to Rio was pretty uneventful. We had some great views of the beaches.

We took a taxi from the bus station to the airport and checked in to our fancy airport hotel. So nice to be somewhere where the water worked! We explored the airport, had dinner and repacked all our stuff before going to sleep early before our flight the next morning. Quite nice to be at the airport the night before our flight and know we only had to wheel our luggage trolley out the door and we'd be at the check-in counter!

Observations...

  • Communication is the key to everything.
  • Yay for airport hotels.

Day Forty Two - Rio de Janeiro to Santiago to Auckland

Yay, we're going home! We left the hotel at 5.30am and checked in for our flight. It was a little late leaving, but we were in the air around 9.30am. The flight from Rio to Santiago was pretty uneventful. We ate lunch, read the in-flight magazine, dozed. Finally arrived in Santiago. We had an eight-hour wait at Santiago airport. It's a pretty good airport - lots of shops, restaurants etc... We did some souvenir shopping, ate, bought some duty-free. Our flight was meant to be at 11pm, but was delayed, so we left about midnight. The flight from Santiago to Auckland was 13 hours. We ate dinner as soon as we got on the plane, then went to sleep. We each got about five hours sleep, then watched movies and ate breakfast.

We landed in Auckland at 5am NZ time on Friday 8th January. We're really happy to be back in New Zealand! Our friend David picked us up from the airport and dropped us home. We spent our first day back unpacking, doing big loads of washing and sleeping!

Observations...

  • Thumbs up for home time!

Leg Four - Argentina to Paraguay to Brazil

Day Twenty Three - Puerto Iguazu, Argentina to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay to São Paulo, Brazil Big travel day today. First thing, we headed to the Brazilian embassy just down the road from our hostel and double-checked that we didn´t need a visa to get in to Brazil, because we had heard some conflicting information. Thankfully, we didn´t! After breakfast, we packed up and headed to the bus station and caught a public bus to Ciudad del Este, just across the border in Paraguay. We were planning to take a bus straight from Iguazu to São Paulo, but the buses were all booked, so we had to travel to Paraguay and catch a bus from there. We thought we couldn´t get into Paraguay without a visa, but the man at the bus station that sold us our tickets assured us that we wouldn´t need a visa, as we are in transit to Brazil. The bus to del Este took us straight through to the bus station there - it was so packed with people! Looking out the window when we drove through the city, we were glad we weren´t hanging around there - heaps of stalls selling cheap electronics and the streets were packed with people!

We hung out in the bus station for a couple of hours until our bus in the afternoon. We were in the "VIP" section, which was not very VIP at all! Finally got on the big bus to São Paulo. Really nice coche cama seats - comfortable and almost fully reclining.

We got to the Paraguay border, and the bus driver told us to get off the bus to get stamped out of Paraguay. We explained that we didn´t get stamped in, so we didn´t need to get stamped out. He was adamant that we needed to. There were three other travellers on our bus with the same issue - they were told they didn´t need to get stamped in either. So, we all went in to the immigration office, and that´s where the fun started...

Apparently, we did need to get stamped in to Paraguay and we did need a visa. (Just like we told the guy we got our tickets from!) The other people - two Dutch girls and a British girl had all been told the same thing, so at least we weren't on our own! A nice Argentine girl translated between us and the immigration people. They wanted to charge us an astronomical price for not having an entry stamp, but we argued a bit and managed to negotiate something much less. Luckily we had a stash of US dollars with us. The other girls didn't have anything with them, though, so we lent them our spare cash. (Yes, they all paid us back later!) Finally we got our exit stamps and were allowed out! It all seemed very corrupt and not very fair, so we were glad to see the back of Paraguay! The whole debacle held the bus up for over an hour! A few hundred metres down the road was the Brazilian border, which was a breeze.

The rest of the bus trip was very uneventful. Had a great sleep in our reclining chairs!

Observations...

  • At hostel you can get lunch box with ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwich, cereal bar, delicious apple and a bottle of water. All for $12 pesos. Awesome!!
  • Brazilians have a quota of how much electronics they can take back into Brazil from Paraguay. I can see why.

Day Twenty Four - São Paulo

We arrived at the bus station in São Paulo, and it was gigantic and packed with people! We were wondering how on earth Laira (one of our hosts) would find us, and then suddenly there she was! One taxi ride later, we were at Alexey and Laira's apartment. We spent the day meeting their dog, Petrushka, eating and relaxing.

In the evening, we went across the city to a wedding. Alexey was playing in a quartet there, so we went along to watch. We ended up seeing two weddings, because the earlier one was running late - they don't seem to leave much time between them! It was at a big Catholic church. The ceremonies were very formal and quick, and the guests talked through the whole thing, and during the first ceremony, guests for the second wedding kept walking in and sitting down! So weird.

Observations...

  • We catch a lot of taxis. Better than walking!
  • We are getting VERY well looked after.
  • No constant car horns here.

Day Twenty Five - Paulo

We had a quiet morning, then headed out in the afternoon. Ryan conducted the Sphaera Ensemble who rehearsed and recorded his music -In Their Light, Reclusion, The Attic and two NZ pieces Ryan arranged - Pokarekare Ana and Te Haranui. The session went very well and the musicians really liked the music - a great success." Ryan will write a complete post about the afternoon on here soon.

In the evening we went to Avenida Paulista, a popular shopping street with lots of beatiful Christmas lights. We ate Brazilian food at a restaurant there - tasty marinated steak strips and chips made from something that is kind of like potato, but starts with m. Can´t quite remember the name! Wendy drank her first caiprihina cocktail - a very popular Brazilian drink. We also had our first taste of guarana, which is kind of like L&P is in NZ.

Observations...

  • The Sphaera Ensemble is awesome.

Day Twenty Six - São Paulo

We headed out to the supermarket with Alexey in the morning to get food for breakfast. There were so many things we had never seen before. All kinds of bright coloured fruits and vegetables! We spent the afternoon relaxing and planning out the sights we wanted to see over the next couple of days of our stay.

Late afternoon we went out and saw Catedral Se, which is a very beautiful cathedral in the heart of São Paulo. Then we went to Teatro Municipal, which, like all the other theatres we have been to on this trip, was undergoing renovations! We also went to Catedral Monastery San Bento, which is a huge old monastery with a school attached.

We ate at a restaurant with food from Minas Gerais, which is a region near São Paulo. Lots of good food, kind of Middle Easternish.

Observations...

  • Finally we're in a country where motorcyclists have to wear helmets.
  • They also have a law to not use cellphones while driving.
  • Arriving Saturday we thought there was no smog in São Paulo. Wait until Monday!
  • Toast here comes from the supermarket already cooked!
  • Fanta is fanta, but has real oranges!! What?
  • Police are NOT your friend.
  • Buenos Aires street market relaxed and civilized. São Paulo market agressive and uncomfortable.

Day Twenty Seven - São Paulo

Ryan and Alexey spent the morning composing their music. In the afternoon, we went to Estacao da Luz, a beautiful old railway building. Then we went to Pinacoteca do Estado, an art musuem and looked at the Brazilian art there. Then we went to Sala São Paulo, a big theatre, but it had shut for the day.

Our last stop was Liberdade, also known as Japan Town. Lots of cool Japanese shops, restaurants etc.

We had dinner at Black Dog, a popular restaurant there, a bit like Subway.

Observations...

  • Argentina was different to Chile. Uruguay was a little different to Argentina. Brazil is COMPLETELY different to all the rest.
  • There are markings on the floor in the art gallery for blind people. Ummm...
  • The subway here is mega!

Day Twenty Eight - São Paulo

After Ryan and Alexey spent another morning composing, we headed out on our own for a day of sightseeing and activities!

First stop was MASP, the São Paulo art musuem. It was very impressive. We saw paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir, a sculpture exhibit by Rodin, and an exhibit of Walker Evans´ photography, which Wendy studied at university. Also saw a cool street graffiti exhibit.

Next headed back to Sala São Paulo in time for the afternoon tour, but turns out the tours are closed for summer. Oh well! Just our luck.

Next we went to Memorial a la Americana Latina. It was pouring with rain by then, so we didn`t hang out for long!

Observations...

  • Sirens here are like a bad soundtrack to a sci-fi film.
  • It's not a tourist friendly city.
  • We think we blend in, but people look at us as if we are some strange creature they have never seen before.
  • Supermarkets don't smell in Brazil like in Argentina.

Day Twenty Nine - São Paulo

Today was Christmas Eve and NZ cuisine day. We had promised Alexey and Laira that we would treat them to a day of typical NZ food.

We made pancakes for breakfast. Ryan did a great job of flipping pancakes. We had fruit salad and syrup with them.

For lunch we had fresh ravioli with garlic and tomatoes. More Italian than NZ, I guess, but it was something that we would typically eat!

In the afternoon, we went to the bus station and bought our tickets to Rio. The bus station was completely packed with people. Apparently there were 200,000 people through the bus station on that day. Crazy!

For dinner we made our favourite chorizo, potato and chickpea salad. We watched fireworks out the window of the apartment. There are lots of parties and fireworks on Christmas Eve in Brazil.

Observations...

  • At shops the gift wrapping is do it yourself.
  • Buying a bus ticket? Write down destination and date. So easy.
  • Pets are big here.
  • Here you stay up and party until Christmas day.
  • Fireworks non-stop from 7pm until well after midnight. Huge crazy ones that are illegal in NZ. Sounded like a warzone.

Day Thirty - São Paulo

Merry Christmas! Oh, actually, Feliz Natal!

We started the day with pao do quejos for breakfast, which is a typical 'special' breakfast in Brazil. They are basically cheese scones served hot.

For Christmas lunch, Laira cooked a fantastic lasagne - very different from lasagnes we're used to, but it tasted great. Thanks, Laira!

We gave Alexey and Laira the presents we had brought with us from NZ. Lots of Kiwiana souvenirs.

We spent the afternoon at Parque Do Ibirapuera, which is a big park around two lakes - lots of families and people biking, walking and rollerblading. As we were leaving we noticed crowds of people gathering around the lake. We found out they were waiting for a fountain light show. We joined the crowds and found a good spot to wait. The show was OK - not quite the extravaganza we were expecting, but we got to see the huge Christmas tree at the park all lit up, so that made it worth it!

We had breads and dips for dinner and red Chilean wine. So, that was our Brazilian Christmas! Thanks, Alexey and Laira, for a great day!

Observations...

  • When we take the stairs, people look at us strange as they fight to get on to the escalator.
  • Don't stare at people on the subway!

Day Thirty One - São Paulo

We headed off to the São Paulo Zoologico today. There were thousands of animals there all with their own little cage. Very different atmosphere from NZ zoos. Crowds of people would stand waiting and would cheer and applaud when the animals moved or did something special.

After the zoo we went across the city to a street full of music shops. There were at least 30 shops there!

Later that night, we had ice cream sundaes from a per kilo ice cream shop. You make your own sundae, and they weigh it and charge you per kilo. Per kilo is a very popular style of restaurant in Brazil.

We were all pretty tired after lots of walking, so we had a quiet night. Ryan and I watched ET on DVD.

Observations...

  • Boy on the train walks down putting lollies in your lap or balances on your leg. Then once given to everyone, he'll walk back down and collect money for the lollies.
  • Full length body suits are in fashion.

Day Thirty Two - São Paulo

Last day in São Paulo today. We headed out to check out the shops in the morning.

In the afternoon, Ryan and Alexey worked on their music.

We all decided to go to the movies and see Avatar (English audio for us, Portuguese subtitles for them). When we got there, tickets were sold out! So we had an early dinner instead and spent the night repacking our bags and swapping photos.

Observations...

  • Bookshops are very hard to find here.
  • In Argentina you say you don't speak much Spanish, they help you and it's easy. In Brazil you say you don't speak much Portuguese and they are persistent with their long sentences.

Leg Three - Colonia to Iguazu

Day  Fifteen - Colonia to Rosario Today was a big travelling day. Caught the ferry from Colonia to Buenos Aires around mid-morning. Once we got to BA, we headed straight to the bus station. Huge bus station - room for 75 buses and probably around 50 bus company offices. Got our tickets to Rosario and stocked up on snacks for the trip.

It was a five-hour trip. Went pretty quickly. Once we arrived we booked our tickets to Posadas for two days' time.

Our hostel is OK. Really friendly staff, but room isn't that great. Ate an apalling pizza for dinner at a restaurant nearby. Long day!

Observations...

  • So many toll stations on the roads.
  • Customs sometimes just doesn´t exist!
  • Air conditioning is just wonderful.
  • Today´s taxi driver was absolutely insane-o. Had his hand on the horn almost the whole way from the bus station to the hostel. We thought we were going to die several times, and he nearly caused multiple accidents.
  • A thin sheet of paper is NOT a napkin.
  • Was that chicken on our pizza or catfood?
  • Why do insects keep landing in Ryan´s drink?
  • Lots of people sell flowers here, and they´re pretty darn fresh.

Day Sixteen -  Rosario

Sightseeing day today. It was pouring with rain, which was a nice change from blazing sunshine.

First we went to visit the Monumento Nacional a la Bandera, which is a huge monument to the Argentine flag, which was designed in Rosario. It's a very impressive monument! Couldn't go up the tower because of the rain.

Walked along the river and got attacked by giant mosquitos. Saw the modern art musuem.

We were dying for vegetables after eating so much meat, so we asked a guy that worked at our hostel where we should go for dinner and he suggested a Chinese restaurant nearby. It was sooo good - just what we needed. And it was so cheap - about NZ$12 for two big meals plus drinks.

Observations...

  • Don´t go near the river. The mosquitos will get you.
  • McDonald´s staff here are dressed in full denim - hat, shirt, pants. Nice.
  • No one will let us into their shops with our small backpack. Do we look like shoplifters?

Day Seventeen -  Rosario to Posadas

Checked out of our hostel, then headed off to see the Circulo Theatre. We missed the only tour of the day by half an hour! It's a huge majestic looking theatre. Pretty disappointed we didn't get to go in. Went down to the Comedia theatre, but that wasn't open either.

Had a nice lunch at a pub/restaurant. Went back to the monument for the flag, and since it was a fine day, we were able to go up the tower. Great view of the city from the top.

Headed to the bus station to catch our bus to Posadas. It was an overnight bus and took 15 hours. We were served a snack and dinner and watched a couple of movies. We had seats up the top (double-decker bus) at the very front. Before it got dark we had a great view. Really interesting to see all the villages. On the outskirts of the cities, there are hundreds of makeshift shacks. Lots of kids and dogs running around.

During the night on the bus, people were getting on and off at stops, and some really noisy guys got on and woke everyone up. After a while, Ryan said, "Chicos, shhh!" That told them!

Observations...

  • Why does there need to be three men in the toilets to sell toilet paper?
  • Novus would have a heart attack at the state of some windscreens here.
  • Ryan was quite offended when someone told him he didn´t have a NZ accent.

Day Eighteen -  Posadas

The bus arrived at Posadas at 8am. We bought our tickets for the next day, then headed into town. Checked into our hotel. Yes, hotel. Couldn't find a decent hostel there, so decided to splash out. Quite nice.

We walked through the town, which was cometely dead. Decided it must be because it's Sunday. Walked along the waterfront, where a huge stage and tents were being set up for some kind of tourism event.

We went back there in the evening,and it was buzzing - people everywhere! We hung out down there for a few hours and checked out the tents and the bands playing. Watched a pretty impressive fireworks display.

Observations...

  • Our clothes are smaller than when we took them to the laundromat.
  • Sundays are really "everything is shut and no one goes out of their home" days.
  • The supermarkets smell awful.

Day Nineteen  - Posadas to Puerto Iguazu

Caught our bus to Puerto Iguazu first thing. We sat in the very front up the top again, so had great views again.

Our hostel was very conveniently just across the road from the bus station. It's a really nice hostel - very bamboo safari. We did some trip rearranging here and decided to stay longer in Puerto Iguazu and go to Sāo Paulo from here, so we booked our tickets to Sāo Paulo. It will be another long trip, but it will be coche cama, which is basically a bus full of la-z-boy armchairs!

We also sorted out what we were going to do at the falls the next day.

After a light dinner near our hostel, we had an early night. Really really hot in Puerto Iguazu - very tropical.

Observations...

  • The dirt here is very red.
  • Siestas are for a reason. Everything shuts between 1pm and 5pm here.
  • Food here is either very salty or very sweet.

Day Twenty  - Iguazu Falls

Headed off to the falls, known as Cataratas here, bright and early. It was already very very hot and the day had only just begun!

After paying our entry fee, we visited the largest falls first, called Garganta del Diablo, or Devil's Throat. It was so impressive. Amazing! Got a bit wet from the spray, but considering the temperature, we didn't mind at all!

Next we walked around the upper circuit, which takes you past lots of very impressive falls.

Next we walked the lower circuit. At one of the viewing platforms, you get completely soaked. Next was the boat trip. We went on a jetboat that takes you right under the falls. It goes very fast and you get absolutely saturated. It was awesome!

If you ever visit South America, you have got to visit Iguazu. Definitely a trip highlight.

Observations...

  • We drank 3.5L of water today.
  • 32 degrees here.
  • Took 300 photos. Later culled to 200.

Day Twenty One - Iguazu Falls

We headed back to the falls again today. Another very hot day! Went back to Diablo, and we almost had the platform to ourselves - it had been packed the day before.

We wandered through the walks and saw some great wildlife - lizards, colourful birds, monster ants.

Bought a few souvenirs, then headed back to the hostel in the late afternoon. Nice to spend some time in an air-conditioned room!

We went to a restaurant down the road for dinner. There's a guy that stands outside and shouts the specials at potential customers. To be honest, I think he scares away more people than he attracts! We had very interesting rockmelon juice with our dinner.

Observations...

  • It was 32 degrees and people still carry around their thermos.
  • Guys, that was hand sanitiser, not insect repellant. Your body is now very clean.
  • We have never had cold showers so regularly.

Day Twenty Two - Puerto Iguazu

We were a bit exhausted after all the sun and walking in the last couple of days, so it was a rest day for our last day in Iguazu. We wandered through the town, did some shopping, caught up on the travel blog, did some reading and sitting by the pool. Very relaxing!

Big bus trip tomorrow to Sāo Paulo.

Leg Two - Buenos Aires to Uruguay

Day Eight - Buenos Aires Today was our first sightseeing day in Buenos Aires. We headed out in the morning and walked down Av de Florida, which is the main shopping street. So many shops and so many people! We visited Galeria Pacifica, which is a big fancy shopping mall with a really ornate roof with classic paintings. So beautiful, but kind of weird that it´s a mall!

Walked down to Av 9 de Julio, which is a 16-lane road. Pretty crazy! We walked down to the Obelisco,which is a really big tall monument to commemmorate the founding of the city.

We went to Plaza Dorrego for a fancy dinner. The restaurant had a tango show. It was very dramatic. After the dancers had finished, they collected tips from the diners. We´re getting very good at handing out tips! We also learnt that if you give nearly the right amount of money when you pay the dinner bill, you don´t get change. Apparently it´s a tip...

Observations...

  • Saw the first Mac for the trip today. There´s hope for the future.
  • Why is the toilet water level so high?

Day Nine - Buenos Aires

Today was another big sightseeing day in BA. Caught the subway to Plaza de Mayo first thing and visited the historical buildings there - Museo de Cabildo, an 18th C building; Catedral Metropolitana, which has the tomb of liberator Jose de San Martin; Casa Rosada, the pink presidential palace (pink? yes!). It was weird to see the tomb at the cathedral and think that there was a 150-year-old body inside there!

We walked down to Puerto Madero, which is an up and coming area on the wharf. Saw an old navy ship there.

Back on the subway. This time to Palermo, which is an upmarket leafy suburb just out of the central BA area. We went to the zoo - Jardin Zoologico. Saw lots of animals we hadn´t seen before - bears, a condor, antelopes. They all seemed pretty well cared for, but felt a bit sorry for the condor, which was in a smallish cage. We had lunch at the zoo, and Ryan waited for the food at the counter and said yes to all the lady´s questions because he didn´t know what she was saying - we ended up with heaps of different condiments!

Next we headed off to visit the apartment our friends Amanda and David are moving to in February. Really nice area, apartment looks good. Snapped some photos there. Then stopped off at Persicco, an ice-cream boutique, for a snack. This was a recommended stop from Amanda. Definitely worth it!

Since we were nearby, we headed to the Evita Peron musuem, which, unlike many musuems we´ve been in, has an English translation of all the text on the walls! Really interesting visit there.

Caught the subway back to San Telmo, where we were staying. It was peak hour, so the subway was packed. It´s pretty up close and personal in there! Stopped off and picked up the laundry we dropped off that morning at the laundromat - it was all clean, neatly pressed and folded, and it only cost $12 pesos, which is around NZ$4.50.

Observations...

  • White lab coats are school uniforms here. What?
  • How come hardly anyone speaks English, but all the music, movies and TV programmes are in English? Odd.
  • Subways are great, but not so good at peak time.

Day Ten - Buenos Aires

Had a sleep in this morning after our busy day the day before! Took the subway to Recoleta, which is near Palermo. This was the first rainy day of our trip. Quite nice for a change!

Wandered through Recoleta Cemetary, then decided we were getting too wet, so headed out to find an umbrella and some lunch. Went to supermarket and bought some food for lunch. Recoleta is a very posh neighbourhood - lots of botoxed women and flashy men. All the shoppers were carrying Christian Dior and Mont Blanc bags. We looked a little scruffy eating our supermarket lunch on a park bench!

Back to Recoleta Cemetary for a proper look. Bought an umbrella from some guy on the street. There is always a guy on the street selling what you need!

The cemetary was  really interesting. It is full of big tombs with whole families inside. In some of them, there are 25+ bodies inside! And what´s really weird is that you can see the coffins through the windows of the tombs. They´re all just stacked up on shelves inside. The tombs go down below the ground and most are about 4-6m above the ground. We visited Evita´s tomb. Heaps of tourists there.

We went to our first Lonely Planet recommended restaurant - La Rotisseria. We had schnitzel. It was very cheap and tasted all right.

Observations...

  • All the money machine gives us is $100 peso notes, but no one wants to accept them.
  • They´re big on supermarket deliveries here.
  • We´re learning to eat the stale bread which is given to you before every meal.
  • Still lots of people doing jobs that don´t really need to be done.
  • Shop owners here enjoy standing at the front door and scaring away potential customers.
  • People know of the All Blacks here. Ryan tells them we always beat the Pumas.

Day Eleven - Buenos Aires

Wendy´s sinus infection returned today, so we took it pretty easy. Went back to Av de Florida and wandered through the shops. Things really quieten down on Sundays here. There were so many men on the street yelling out "Cambio, cambio", which means "change, change". Not sure why there are so many money change places around. Wouldn´t most travellers just use ATMs?

Headed back to hostel and then down to Plaza Dorrego to check out the famous antiques fair that happens down there on Sundays. We thought it would just be a little fair in the plaza area, but turns it out the plaza area has the little antiques fair and then a handcraft market spills out from there that is literally a couple of kilometres long. Bought a bunch of souvenirs. There were heaps of street performers, which were great to watch - experimental orchestras, dancers, solo musicians, theatre perf0rmers, mimes.

Had our first exprimida de naranja - freshy squeezed orange juice. There are people on every street corner with a manual juicer and a big bucket of oranges. For $5 pesos (NZ$2), you get a cup of juice. Tastes so good! After walking through the fair for miles, we were starving, so bought these huge empanadas - bread turnovers filled with tomato and cheese. We bought them from a bakery man riding a bike with a huge basket of empanadas on the front.

Observations...

  • Sugar cereal for breakfast and caramel to spread on your toast? No thanks.
  • Cash, cash, cash. No Eftpos.
  • The ants here are huge.
  • We got waited on in McDonalds. What?!

Day Twelve - Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay

We caught the ferry from BA to Colonia today. After we checked in, we headed through immigration, which was a man and a lady in a little booth. The man stamped us out of Argentina and the lady stamped us into Uruguay. Very efficient!

When we arrived in Colonia, customs again was almost non-existent. Walked from the ferry terminal to our hostel. Really nice room there - quite cosy. Much nicer than the rooms we have had. Had a walk through the town centre - very quaint, and everyone rides motorbikes or scooters. Went out for pizza for dinner - weirdest pizza ever! Ryan loved it; Wendy hated it. It was covered in thousand-island sauce and had palm hearts, green olives and mozzarella on it.

After dinner we went down to the beach and had ice cream while we watched the sun set. When we got back to the hostel, we saw a little sign that said "Uruguay is an hour ahead of Argentina". Glad we found that out sooner rather than later!

Observations...

  • Motorbikes, minivans, mini trucks and 4wd bikes galore.
  • Inflatable toilet seat. But, hey, it works.
  • Pedestrian crossings work in Colonia (unlike in Argentina!)
  • First caravan sighting.

Day Thirteen - Colonia, Uruguay

We started the day with a walking tour of the barrio historico in Colonia, which is the main attraction. The Portuguese built there in the late 18th C. Lots of little brick houses and cobbled streets.

Walked down to the shopping mall. It´s nothing compared to Albany Westfield, but I guess it´s pretty fancy for a small seaside town in Uruguay!

Headed out for an early dinner and came across a big police parade. Not exactly sure what they were all doing, but it looked impressive! We went to La Drugstore for dinner and ate in a vintage car on the road. Very quirky! Lots of people laughed when they walked past us! We paid for dinner with our US dollars, which are very widely accepted in Colonia. You can pay with US dollars, Argentine pesos or Uruguayan pesos.

Observations...

  • People queue up at the banks. Like, 80 people were queued there.
  • People don´t like giving you change here.
  • Most things you buy are made in the country you´re in.
  • We had a cutlery charge for dinner. What?!

Day Fourteen - Colonia, Uruguay

A very hot day in Colonia today. We headed down to Thrifty rentals and hired two bicycles for the day. The bikes were a bit rickety, but not too bad. No helmets - no one wears helmets in Colonia!

We biked out along the coast to Plaze de Torres, which is an old bullring. It´s pretty huge!

Biked back along the coast and stopped at a restaurant for lunch - we were the only people there.

On our bike ride back through town, we passed the lighthouse we had seen the day before, and this time it was open, so we went up and saw the great view from the top.

We had a barbecue at our hostel for dinner. Huge slabs of meat, chorizos and salads. Met a few other travellers from the hostel - notably an Austrian guy who seemed to be travelling aimlessly for eight months and all we´d seen him do was watch sports on TV at the hostel!

Observations...

  • They watch soccer 24-7.
  • There are so many bugs in Colonia.
  • There doesn´t seem to be any road rules. Hey, suits us... on our bikes!
  • Police here look very friendly, but can´t say we´ve made conversation...

Leg One - Chile to Argentina

Welcome to our travel blog. This is post one, and we´ve just finished the first leg of our trip. Enjoy! Day One - flight from Auckland to Santiago, Chile.

Flight was long, and we watched movies and slept the whole way. Were pretty glad to arrive in Santiago! Going through customs was a bit of a joke - they hardly even looked at us. We could have had anything with us! As soon as we got out into the terminal, the taxi hecklers were after us and our money! One guy followed us right down the terminal. We bargained him down to a reasonable price (from 26,000 pesos to 16,000) and set off for our hostel.

We stayed at Bellavista Hostel in Barrio Bellavista. Hostel was really nice - clean, big room. After we had a bit of a rest, we headed out to expl0re. We had three aims for our walk - get our bearings, buy tissues and buy a plug adaptor - our SA adaptor apparently doesn´t work in Chile. We got a bit lost and ended up walking for around 2.5 hours, but we got everything we needed. We walked through a huge political parade for a presidential candidate - Frei. Everyone was singing and dancing and waving flags (not us, though!).

Went out for a late dinner at a place near our hostel. Had this huge platter of assorted meats. Quite good, but way too much to eat!

Observations...

  • PDAs galore
  • Lots of men in uniform doing nothing
  • Tons of farmacais (pharmacies)
  • A gazillion stray dogs
  • It´s dirty
  • Nobody seems all that happy
  • Traffic lights and traffic police directing the traffic - overkill?
  • Parking wardens are insane and seem to work 24-7

Day Two - Santiago

Had a great breakfast at our hostel - buns and fruit and cereal. (We later learnt this was the best breakfast we´ll probably get in SA). We headed to Parque Metropolitanas de Chile, which is a huge park complex just down from our hostel. It´s got a zoo, gardens, a big hill and some statues. We took a cable car (or teleferiko) up to the top of the hill, San Cristobal, where there´s a big religious statue and an ampitheatre. It was really hot up there. Took lots of photos of the city - great view.

After a break back at the hostel, we headed out for a sightseeing afternoon. Walked to Plaza de Armas to see all the historical buildings there - presidential buildings, huge church with paintings inside. Went to Palacia de la Moneda, which is a huge govt building, where I think the President lives (at least, that´s what Lonely Planet says). As with everywhere in Chile, there were heaps of police outside looking very serious!

We were pretty tired from walking, so decided to try out the subway. Was actually remarkably easy to navigate and buy a ticket. Got off just near our hostel, then stopped off for some frozen yoghurt (which was a nightmare to order in our mix of Espanol and English!) After a quick break, we headed to Teatro de Universidad to see the Symphony Orchestra of Chile play.

Stopped off for crepes at Patio Bellavista on our way home - not very Chilean, but nevermind!

Observations...

  • Everyone wears pants and heavy shoes. We look odd in jandals and shorts, but maybe it´s just Ryan´s skinny ankles!
  • We were happy to find a NZ $5 note in a gift shop.
  • Apart from the two cellphone companies, there is no advertising in Chile.
  • Everything - grass, trees, streets - gets watered constantly.
  • Everyone wants your money.
  • Don´t take a photo of a police armoured vehicle/tank - they will point the big gun on top at you and will say something in Spanish that you don´t understand.

Day Three - Santiago to Valparaiso

Checked out of hostel, then took the subway to the bus station. It took some gesturing, nodding and pointing, but we managed to purchase our bus tickets to Valparaiso. We didn´t know which bus bay to go to, so we wandered around and asked some bus drivers, but they kept sending us completely wrong! Eventually we found the right bay, but the bus had left! Argh! A nice security man sorted out our tickets so we could catch the next bus. Phew!

When we got to Valparaiso, things got even more confusing - we had to buy our tickets to Mendoza, Argentina and back, but no one spoke English, and there weren´t any buses going to Mendoza on Sunday. Eventually we worked out we could go back to Santiago and then to Mendoza on the day we wanted. Confusing, but finally worked it out!

Got to our hostel - Hostel Girasoles - which was more like a bed and breakfast. The guy who runs it used to live in Auckland. He gave us some good ideas of places we should see in Valpo. We walked around the neighbourhood where we were staying - lots of crazy dirt roads and brightly painted old buildings. Valparaiso is a port town, and there´s definitely a real harbour trade feel to it. Then we caught a bus to Vina del Mar, the next town over. The bus got to Vina del Mar, then seemed to head in completely the wrong direction, so after an indecisive few minutes, we got off - about 5km from where we wanted to be! Long walk back to the beach. Wandered along the beach boulevard - lots of stalls, confectionary sellers and heaps of people sunbathing on the beach. No restaurants along the beach, which is unusual.

Back to Valpo. Walked through the town, then back to the hostel. Went out for dinner and had chorillana, which is basically french fries with egg and onion on top and steak pieces, bacon and sausage on top of that. It´s a real specialty in Valparaiso, apparently! Surprisingly tasty.

Observations...

  • You can get sunburnt in Chile.
  • Chilean people don´t really like you.
  • There are many many many soccer fields in Chile.
  • Subways are better than buses.
  • Crazy men walk onto the buses while stopped at lights or bus stops and try to sell food and ice cream and then jump off while moving. They also walk up and down in traffic on busy roads.
  • You can buy big, yum meals for very cheap prices.

Day Four - Valparaiso to Santiago to Mendoza

A bus day today. Left the hostel and walked to the bus terminal, where we caught our bus back to Santiago. Stopped at a supermarket on the way to buy some food for the bus trip - peanuts and dry bread rolls. Apparently spreads aren´t big in Chile.

Got to Santiago and found our bus bay for our trip to Mendoza. Realised that if announcements were made about our bus, we would have no idea, cos they´re all in Spanish! Checked we were in the right place by asking a bus man. We were quite early, so we bought some lunch - empanadas chicos, which are basically little deepfried cheese turnovers.

Our bus arrived and we lined up to get on. Our first international bus trip! Handed the driver our passports and got really confused when he asked for our visas. Turns out that flimsy piece of paper you get at the airport is actually a visa! Lucky we had them handy.

The bus trip through the Andes to Mendoza was spectacular - snow capped peaks, terrifyingly windy roads. It even snowed as we were driving through!

The border crossing was this huge formiddable building that the bus drives into. Had to stand in a line at a little booth, where a lady took our Chilean visas. Then we went to another booth, where we were issued our Argentina visas. Next a scary looking man looked in our backpacks. Pretty scary place. Not exactly a warm welcome into the country!

Arrived in Mendoza just before 9pm and set off to walk to our hostel. Realised after a few blocks that we really didn´t know where we were going, so caught a taxi from the bus station. Turns out he didn´t really know where he was going either, but we eventually got to our hostel!

Our hostel was really nice. As soon as we arrived, we were shown around. So nice to be there! We booked some activities for the next day. Since we were so close to the Andes, it was only appropriate we should do some adventure activities there! We booked a half day of horse riding and a half day of rafting.

Observations...

  • Think Chilean police are scary? Wait for Argentina!
  • You have to give "tips" to the border officials.
  • So that´s what a visa is! Thanks, bus driver, for freaking us out!
  • Finding other English speakers is nice, very nice.
  • What´s with all the guns? World peace?
  • Trust a good Kiwi boy to be in shorts, t-shirt and jandals at the top of the Andes while it´s snowing.

Day Five - Mendoza, Argentina

Our tour company picked us up and drove us for about an hour into the foothills of the Andes. We were dropped at a cafe to wait for the horses. Our guide and the horses turned up, and we set off for our trek. Great views, lovely ride, great guide.

Back to the cafe for lunch - hambourgesa and coke. Much cheaper than Chilean food.

Our next transfer to the rafting turned up, but there weren´t enough people to fill the boat, so we couldn´t go. Bit of a shame, but it was a Monday, so not exactly peak sightseeing day! Headed back to the hostel.

A guy from our hostel gave us a map and some really good directions. We headed off to walk through the town of Mendoza. Really nice town - wide, open boulevards and pedestrians. Stopped off for some helados (ice cream).

Back to the hostel for an authentic Argentinian asado (BBQ) and wine from Mendoza. Had huge steaks, chorizo, chicken, salads. Met heaps of other travellers there.

Observations...

  • Drivers are not quite as horn-happy as Chile.
  • No one seems to care about emergency vehicles. They drive at normal speed and stop at traffic lights with lights and sirens on.
  • No road markings.
  • Play dodgem with the cars. Go on...
  • Too many people smoke, including children. Don´t they know it´s bad for you?
  • Argentinian people are much nicer than Chilean.
  • NZ plugs work here. Cool.
  • People are obssessed with what sort of cars they have and with cleaning them.
  • A cone or bottle on top of a car means it´s for sale. Weird.

Day Six - Mendoza to Santiago

Walked to the bus station. Didn't know where to go (again!) so headed for the first Tur Bus (company our ticket was with) that we saw. Right one on the first try - there's a first time for everything! This time we had our visas all ready, unlike a guy in front of us - betcha he didn't realise just how important that flimsy piece of paper was either!

First half of bus trip was uneventful. Wendy got pretty sick. Looked up symptoms in Lonely Planet and decided it was altitude sickness. Pretty gross. Got to Los Libertadores, where the border crossing is. Had a three hour wait to get through. That did not help the altitude sickness.

Finally got to Santiago around 7pm. Caught subway to centro. Was absolutely jam packed. Ew. Checked in at Bellavista Hostel. Got an even nicer room this time. Went for a walk and bought some souvenirs. Then had dinner at a very bright green Mexican restaurant. Back to hostel after an early night!

Observations...

  • Bus drivers pass like drunks on a police chase, but it works.
  • The Andes gets better each time.
  • The Andes has cellphone reception all the way. That´s impressive.
  • Things dry so quickly here.
  • 1st December and wow, it´s Christmas time - decorations and music everywhere!
  • Feliz Navidad - every time we say it, we want to break into song.

Day Seven - Santiago to Buenos Aires

Headed straight to Santiago International Airport after breakfast. After a bit of wandering around, we found the LAN check-in counter. Went through security and into the international departures area. Very nice. We´ve got a nine-hour wait here on our way home, so glad to see we won´t starve and there are plenty of shops to look at.

A nice old lady from Buenos Aires told us a few places we should visit and gave us a few travel tips - maybe we looked like we needed them!

Boarded our flight. Had crap seats in the middle, so no views of the Andes as we flew over. Flight was around an hour. Had to wait for an hour in a line to get through immigration. On the flipside, we walked straight through customs and they didn´t even scan our bags - um, hello, we could bring anything through!

Got a taxi to our hostel in San Telmo. You prepay for your taxi at the airport, and then you wait for the next free taxi. Pretty good service.

Nice hostel, pretty good location. Went for a walk to explore after we settled in at the hostel. Walked through a massive protest on the main avenue of the central city. People had tents set up, and they were all waving huge banners, banging drums and shouting. There were riot police surrounding it all. We asked at our hostel when we got back, and apparently that happens all the time!

We walked along Av de Mayo, which is one of the main streets, but there wasn´t much happening, aside from the protest, of course. We saw Plaza de Mayo, where there are some historical buildings. We´ll be going back there in the daytime to see them properly later on.

Observations...

  • Cool luggage-wrapping machines at airport.
  • The car horns are back.
  • The pedestrian crossings mean find a gap and run!
  • I though we learnt the lesson of walking aimlessly around town - sore feet and no real idea of where we are!

So, that´s the end of leg one of our trip. We´ve travelled from Chile to Argentina (twice!), and now we´re slowing down a little in Buenos Aires before travelling north to Brazil. Stay tuned for our next blog!

Ryano and Wendo (these aren´t authentic, but we though we´d change our names so we blend in a little more!)