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View World Tour 2016 on paulymx's travel map.

The Lonely Planet's introduction to Salvador isn't very encouraging. "If you're going to be robbed or mugged anywhere in Brazil, it's probably going to be in Salvador." Still, pictures of the heart of the old city were very picturesque and it was supposed to have an interesting and vibrant culture, so we went anyway.
Our hostel organised a pick up at the airport, which made things a little easier on us. Salvador seemed vast as we drove in on the new freeway. A new light rail was being built to link the airport with downtown. It seemed like a city going places.

The heart of the old town is called Pelourinho, with its cobbled streets and old Portuguese buildings and churches. The streets were well lit and there were armed police on every second corner. This was a bit of a surprise. They weren't ordinary police but military police, with automatic weapons and flak jackets. This is how seriously the city treats security in its one tourist asset.
Our room at the Solar Das Artes Pousada was fabulous, but up three flights of very narrow, steep stairs. We cleaned ourselves up and set out to explore. It was only early, maybe 7.30pm, but there were few people on the streets and fewer places open.
A band played fairly ordinary American jazz tunes in the centre of the square for the patrons of the four open restaurants in town. We chose the Cuco Restaurant in the main square for dinner and both had steaks, washed down with a generous dose of caprihinia, and agreed this was the best meal of our trip. It was so good we went back the next night, something we never do when travelling.
By 10pm everything in the city shut down, which was fortunate for us as there was a rap session in the bar beneath our room. We slept well.
The next day we explored the old town. We visited the two main churches, San Francesco and San Dominco. The interior of San Francesco was the epitome of baroque madness - coated in golden extravagance. San Dominico had a side chapel decorated with life size effigies of Christ and the saints, all grim, with tortured expressions. It was obviously intended to put the fear of God in you.

The surrounding streets of the old town were quaint and charming, but a few streets from the old town you find yourself in Salvador's favelas - the slums. These streets are not so safe to walk around.
We wandered back up to the centre and over to the Elevator, which is exactly what it says - an elevator that links the upper old town with the old port. It costs 25B cents one way (which is around 12c Australian). The old port and market was pretty run down so we didn't stay too long.
Brazil itself has cities like Salvador to thank for its existence. During the Age of Exploration when the Spanish and Portuguese were competing to find the route to India, the Pope was concerned that his two Most Catholic kingdoms were fighting each other, so to avoid further conflict, he agreed to split the world between the two. In 1494 the Pope, Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, which gave Portugal the right to all lands east of a line 500 leagues west of the Maderia Islands (in the Atlantic). Spain was granted all the lands west of that line. Spain of course went on to found colonies in the Caribbean, South and North America. Portugal went east, around Africa to India but were still pretty pissed at missing out on the Americas, until they accidentally stumbled on the far east coast of Brazil. By good fortune Brazil's far eastern coast was just across Portugal's side of the line.

The establishment of Portuguese colonies on the east coast of the South American continent blocked Spain's expansion to the south, forcing the Spanish to cross the isthmus at Panama and then progress south, down the west coast of America, a route which would lead them to the Incas and the jewel in the Spanish colonial crown - Peru. But that's a story for another time.
Salvador was Portugal's slave entrepot. Millions of West African slaves were shipped to Brazil and elsewhere over the centuries and Salvador today is dominated by their descendants. It has a different culture to Rio, merging Brazilian-African influences in music, food, art and dress.
After a couple of days we moved down to Hostel Pousada Papaya Verde in the beachside neighbourhood of Barre. Things were pretty quiet there, even at night. We visited the Farro (lighthouse) built on the base of a 16th century fortress. The fortress houses a small maritime museum which recounts the early exploration of the area and Salvador's slave history.

The next morning we were off to the Amazon.

Posted by paulymx 19:19 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Rio de Janeiro

"Tall and tanned and young and lovely, the girl from Impanema goes walking, and when she passes, each one she passes goes...ahhhh"

The Internet is certainly a great tool for the independent traveller. Now you can easily hop online and book a flight, a bus, or a tour With just a couple of mouse clicks. When we traveled through South America 10 years ago there was no internet and we had to book all our travel with local travel agents. That's all gone now. We'd not seen a single local travel agent offering flights, tours or buses on our trip so far. The good thing about the local travel agent was that you could discuss some options ( in broken Spanish) and avoid making rooky mistakes. The Internet however, allows you to make rooky mistakes.

Looking online we couldn't find any helpful information about buses from Montevideo to Rio, except to note that the bus took 26 hours. That wasn't a particularly appealing prospect. Flights from Montevideo to Rio also seemed to be in short supply, unless we paid extravagant prices into the thousands of dollars. There were a couple of suitably priced flights, but all involved multiple stops and long layovers. We started with the cheapest, most direct flight, but could not complete the sale. Then the next cheapest - same problem. And so it went on. After two nights of attempts we finally managed to secure a flight to Rio via Buenos Aires for a reasonable price, but at the cost of a long layover, however, we were not really concerned as there were plenty of things left for us to do in Buenos Aires.

The next day we were up at dawn and took a taxi to Montevideo's spectacularly modern airport. It was very quiet. The gentleman at check in was extremely helpful and noted we had a long layover in BA. "Speak to the service desk when you get to the airport," ,he suggested. "See if you can get on the 1.30pm flight, but make sure they change your bags to the new flight!"

The flight to BA was over in less than an hour and we were hustled into the transit area with the very few passengers who were catching onward flights. The transit lounge at Jorge Newbery airport is very small and within a minute we discovered our first problem. There was no service desk. I grabbed one of the airline staff to ask who we could speak to about the tickets and was curtly told, "no one! You cannot change." I asked about going through to immigration, but was again told "No!" We were stuck in transit now and there was no way out. It was somewhat futile at any rate, as we are Australians and have to pay a 'reciprocity fee' when we enter Argentina. This is the fee the Argentine's charge Australians in retaliation for a charge the Australian government charges Argentine tourists (thank you Australian government, you assholes!). The fee must also be paid outside Argentina and cannot be paid at the airport. We'd paid originally at home, online, but when we arrived in BA earlier the immigration officer had hurled the printed receipt I'd offered him back at me with a curt, "this is useless!" We then conducted a futile discussion in broken Spanish and English where he told me he needed something else, and I told him this is all I have. Eventually, he just waived us through. At any rate, the useless receipt was long gone.

This didn't really matter though as we were stuck and had no way to leave. Now we encountered the next problem - money. Jorge Newbery transit does not have a money exchange. Or an ATM. I'd spent my reserve of $US on the taxi in Montevideo so was left only with a pocketful of Uruguayan pesos. These I quickly discovered were useless as no one would take them. Shit. We fell back on the trusty credit card, but I must admit that it is somewhat embarrassing buying a single diet Coke on your credit card.

So, the lesson for the future is - Jorge Newbery transit lounge is not a good way to spend 10 hours and make sure you have Argentine $ on you.

Rio - at last
We finally boarded our flight at 6.30pm (having arrived at 10.30am). The two and a half hour flight was smooth and uneventful. As we came in to land we were treated to the spectacular lights of Rio. Impanema and Cocacabana beaches were well lit up. Rio, even in the dark, is a magnificent sight.

We were whisked from the airport to our hotel by a part-time grand prix driver. In fact, all the taxi drivers we'd used in Santiago, Buenos Aires and Montevideo were certifiably insane and reckless on the road, but the Rio driver took it to a new level. Lanes, speed limits and red lights were all more optional considerations than hard and fast rules, but we did make it to our hotel alive.

Hotel Bandierates in Cocacabana looked modern in the photos on Booking.com (booking dot yeah!), but the room we were shown to was anything but. The only thing older than the decor was the air-conditioner, which was powered by a diesel engine, circa 1920. The room was stifling like a sauna, but the noise of the air-conditioner (which barely released more than an incipient wheeze of air) was so deafening it drowned out the perpetual roar of the four lanes of traffic outside our window. Thank God for ear plugs!!!!

The Marvellous City
I think the Portuguese must have an affection for steep and inaccessible locales. Look at Lisbon. Look at Porto. Look at Rio - it's a ridiculous place to built a city. There are massive, towering granite monoliths everywhere, blocking one district from another, forcing roads to weave around like snakes, guaranteeing endemic road congestion. But no city is quite as beautiful. The sheer granite towers, towering over the city as they do, are awesome, stunning and scenic. They frame and counterpoint the man-made Rio with their natural splendour. The views from Sugar Loaf and Cristo Redemer are unforgettable.
When we visited Rio ten years ago it was drizzly and raining so there was no beach action to be seen. This time the weather couldn't have been better and the beaches were packed. Did you know the national costume of Brazil is the bikini? It is - well, for women that is. Everybody wears one to the beach, doesn't matter who you are, how old you are, what size you are. You wear a bikini to the beach. Rio is the only place in the world where you could expect to see your grandmother in a G-string - and no one bats an eyelid.
That night we hit the town for the Lapa Pub Crawl (Free Walkers). The crawl itself was a bit shambolic - but then this is Rio. The Lapa district, surrounding the old railway arches, is absolutely bursting with nightlife. Bars spill out onto the street and there are long queues to get in anywhere. The crawl at least got us into places. We also met a lot of interesting people and got speak English to other human beings. Being submersed in a world of Spanish and Portuguese can be a bit daunting. It was a great night and we kicked on with a couple from Melbourne well into the night.
The next day was ..... well, a little bit slow actually. We didn't get moving until well after lunch. We went to the Sugar Loaf and enjoyed the spectacular view - bumping into Sid from Melbourne from the previous night on the cable car down - what are the odds? We ate that night in Impanema but otherwise took it easy.

The next day we packed out shit up and headed off to Christ Redemer. This statue of Jesus on top of the highest peak overlooking Rio is the symbol of the city. It was jam packed with tourists, all trying to get the same selfie shot. After Sugar Loaf, which is a much larger area, I found the Redemer quiet oppressive. We took a couple of photos and hurried out of there. We didn't have the luxury of time anyway as we had a plane to catch. At 4pm we were off to Salvador, capital of Bahia.

Posted by paulymx 15:08 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)


More old cars and wine

It was a pleasant two and half hour bus ride from Colonia to Montevideo, through a flat and rather mundane landscape of small farms and pasture land. Traffic was sparse and I dare say you could pretty safely wander across the four lane highway blindfolded without much risk of coming to a sticky end.
Montevideo is the capital of Uuguay and home to almost half Uruguay's population. Like Buenos Aires, Montevideo was remodelled in the French Imperial style during the late 19th century beef boom, but has seen leaner times than it's bigger sister. Many of the citys heritage buildings were torn down during urban modernisation during the 1960s and 70s, with the usual dire results. Still, there is a core of old buildings in the old centre that makes for a pleasant wander.
We had booked a night at the Hotel Palacio, and old 19th century gem of a hotel backing on to Plaza Independencia. The old lady manager ther spoke no English and we spoke virtually no usuable Spanish, but we all got by as she explained in detail the hotel rules and - most importantly - where it was safe to walk at night. It seemed we were right of the border of the no go area, one street to the west. There is a pedestrian mall running between Plaza Independencia and the port area. Various stall holders set up there during the day, but they all clear out at dusk. We still had an hour of daylight left so we walked down into the no go area while we could. It was a pleasant walk, but the further along we got the sketchier it became so we stopped before we reached the port.
Then we walked back to Plaza Independencia, with its obligatory statues and monuments to the countries founders and the magnificent Palacia Salvo, which was the tallest building in South America when it was built in 1927.
After a couple of hours wandering the city, we settled in for another beef-fest at a local parilla restaurant.

The next day, having pretty much exhausted the sight seeing in downtown Montevideo, we took a cab to the Bouzas Boutique Bodega (winery), about 15 minutes north of the city by taxi. The winery is very beautiful, with great wine, a great restaurant and a small, but interesting classic collection. The winery owner is a bit of a collector with over 100 cars in his collection. A small sample are displayed here.

After lunch we visited Punta Carretas for some retail therapy before returning to downtown and an early night as we had an early flight to Rio the next morning.

Posted by paulymx 18:46 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

Viva Colonia

Old cars and dogs

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The next morning we had a ferry to catch across the River Plate to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. The trip only takes about an hour and half and is a popular day trip for Argentinians and those needing a visa run. Colonia was originally a Portuguese town on the front line between the Portuguese colony of Brazil and the Spanish colony of Argentina. Many battles were fought between the two powers over its possession until the Spanish conquered what is now Uruguay. The old town consequently has a unique mix of Portuguese and Spanish architecture that has led to its being added to the UNESCO world heritage list.
After a pleasant trip across the River Plate Shelly and I stepped ashore into a light drizzle and dragged our bags the four blocks from the new port to our hostel in the old town. Two things were apparent immediately:
1. the town was extremely quiet. You could walk right down the middle of the street without fear of interrupting any traffic, and:
2. the new town's architecture, which dates from the 1950s, was distinctively different from anything we'd seen on our travels and, although it would have seemed old fashioned a couple of years ago with their square form and slate feature walls, was now cutting edge trendy thanks to the revival of 50s-60s chic.
Our hostel (imaginatively named Rio Hostel and Suites) was square, angular, ultra modern and stylish and totally in keeping with the neighbouring houses thanks to the town's unique styling. We freshened up and set out to explore - despite the rain.

Summer / seaside towns in the rain are always a little depressing and only the hardy (or desperate) ventured out into the weather. Early in our journey we met our first dog friend. He was lying in a doorway in front of a shop, sheltering from the rain when we walked past, but he obviously thought we were much more interesting and fell in with us. He wandered around with us for the next 15 minutes, never straying far from us and checking to make sure we were following as he guided us around the old town. He wasn't the first. All over the old town we came across these well fed, sociable street dogs, who seemed to take inordinate interest in whatever we were doing or wherever we were going. They'd walk with us a while, then get bored and trot off and walk with someone else a while. They were all very well behaved and not aggressive with people or each other.
We eventually took shelter from the rain in a little hole in the wall cafe called Buen Suspireo, where we had a cheese board and some refreshing local wine. Then we headed back to the hostel to dry and plan the next stage of our trip. For dinner that night we grabbed a takeaway chivito - the Uruguayan version of a steak sandwich the lot - and it was delicious.
The next day we were blessed with blue skies and sunshine - a relief after a week of continuously miserable rain - so were able to really appreciate the old town as it should be seen. The buildings of the oldest part of the town, down by the lighthouse, are of limewashed rough hewn stone, often painted in rich ochre colours. The roads here were all rough cobblestones and very difficult to walk on - the area is a pedestrianised, although there are few cars up this end of town. The streets were decorated with old cars, some derelict, some running, but all generally in rough condition which combined with the city's broad boulevards, old fashioned houses and abundant street trees give the town a forlorn, atmospheric character.
By lunchtime we'd exhausted the sights that little Colonia had to offer and it was time to head off to greener pastures - Uruguay's capital city, Montevideo.

Posted by paulymx 10:09 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

Buenos Aires

"Don't cry for me Argentina!"

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Buenos Aires was founded by the Spanish on the southern shore of the River Plate in 1536, although a permanent settlement wasn't established until 1580. The city's original architecture was typically Spanish colonial, but in the late 19th century Buenos Aires (and Argentina as a whole) boomed off the back of the beef trade and the entire old city was torn down and rebuilt in French fin de si├Ęcle I mperial style, making Buenos Aires the "Paris" of South America. European immigrants flooded to the city, giving the city a very European feel.
Indeed, walking through Buenos Aires you can't but feel you're somewhwere in Europe. Maybe an alternate universe, post-apocalyptic Paris. Not that Buenos Aires is post-apocalyptic - it is quite beautiful; but it is quite down at heel in comparison. One must always pay close attention to where one is walking as the footpaths are a minefield of ripped up paving and dog turds. We found this perplexing; when a beautiful store or restaurant was fronted by a footpath that resembled a war zone. No one seemed to mind.
Our first experiences of BA after our trials and tribulations in Santiago did not bode well. We'd booked accommodation on Hotels.com from Santiago airport, but the hotel had no record of our reservation, but they were very helpful and gave us their last room anyway. Phew! It was night and raining and not a time to be scrambling for accommodation. Our suite was excellent and spacious with a huge balcony, which we never really got to enjoy due to the weather. After cleaning ourselves up we wandered around the neighbourhood and grabbed a pizza at a local bar.
Buenos Aires is a vast metropolis and not at a walkable city, despite its broad, tree lined boulevards, but we did give it a fair old crack. Shelly's Fitbit got a workout as we covered approximate 35 kilometres in 3 solid days. The first day we set off from the heart of Recoleta and walked all the way to the new port - a round trip of about 11 kilometres. The old docklands have been turned into a nice bar and restaurant area and there are two historic ships at the warf. One is the Antartic exploration vessel "Uruguay" and the other the ironclad "President Sarmiento." I didn't force Shelly aboard either (enough of that on our english trip last year) as we had visited the Sarmiento on our last visit 10 years ago, although I couldn't remember the details. Instead we settled in for a nice meal at the Bahia Maderio restaurant - ironically we'd eaten there 10 years before too, but didn't realise until we sat down. It was delicious.
President Sarmiento

After an exhausting walk back up past the "pink house" (presidential palace) we headed home for a nap before a big night out.

New York may claim to be 'the city that never sleep' but that's bullshit. Argentina is the country that never sleeps. People eat late and stay out even later. Going to dinner at 11pm is nothing. Some night clubs don't even open until 2pm. I guess this is why many shops don't open until 10 or 11am. We set off on our planned pub crawl around 10.30pm and although we tried to find many ofthe places we'd earmarked, we either couldn't find them or they didn't really suit ( the Argentinian Irish pub is not really a thing ). We ended up at the Milion, a restaurant cum bar cum nightclub spread over 5 floors of an old mansion. Great. It was now 12am and the restaurant was full so we had to wait in the bar. I love the Argentine' approach to wine - there are no tiny glasses here, but fishbowl sized goblets, filled with a decent pour. One glass here would be two or three standard drinks at home. We had two glasses each and that took us till 1.30am. We checked with the waiter and tables still weren't available so we called it a night. It seems that since the original review was written the place has somewhat slimmed down to a restaurant bar on one floor. Times are tough. We wandered home and grabbed a magnificent Mexican feast at a bar called the Taco Box. The kitchen was officially closed but they were nice enough to serve us. So, we ate lunch at 2pm and dinner at 2am. Interesting times.
The next day we moved to the hotel we'd originally booked. We couldn't check in until 3 but that was okay as we were going to the San Telmo markets that morning. It was inauspicious weather, drizzling and overcast, and the markets were a bit of a washout. On a good day the markets would be packed like Portobello Road in London.
We took shelter from the rain in a restored mansion that has become an archaeological site. The owner had originally intended to turn the building into a restaurant but when excavating the basement uncovered a series of tunnels that had channelled two rivers that ran through the area in the 18th century. He's been excavating them ever since and runs the place as a private museum.
We refreshed ourselves with a steak at El Presidente, an old cafe in San Telmo.
Our grand plans for heading out on the town that night were washed out by the rain and our own lethargy. We had a good nights sleep.

The next day it was up early to Recoleta cemetery. This is the resting place for many of Argentina's good and great, from politicians and generals to artists and museums. The noble families who competed with each other in life also competed with each other in death, striving to outdo each other with larger and more extravagant tombs. Some of the tombs are masterpieces of classical architecture and sculpture.
The most popular tomb in the cemetery is that of Eva Peron (Evita), former first lady of Argentina. Eva, a former actress, married Colonel Juan Peron in 1945. The next year he became president of Argentina. Evita was the face of the government and a voice of the people, encouraging reforms that improved the life of the poor. She died in 1952 at the age of only 33 from cancer and was deeply mourned by many Argentines. The right wing political establishment however hated her with equal passion and she remains a controversial figure today, nevertheless, the small plaque on the Duarte family tomb is festooned with fresh flowers daily from her many visitors.
From Recoleta we wandered north to the Argentine Motoring Association to visit their little car museum, housed on the second floor of their enormous, Italian Fascist style headquarters, before swinging over to Palermo where we had lunch at La Cabrera for an enormous slab of meat. There's no denying the
Argentine's love their steak. It was inevitable really. When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century they bought cows with them. Some of course escaped into the pampas, the huge flat grassland that makes up most of Argentina. This was cow heaven and without any natural predators their numbers grew expodentially. Argentina's cowboys, the gauchos, hunted the cattle for their leather and ate whatever choice parts of the cattle they desired - there was simply too much meat to use. This was the start of the asado (bbq) tradition for which Argentina is famous. Later, when rail links expanded into the pampas and refridgerated transport became available Argentina became the beef capital of the world, which funded the complete transformation of Buenos Aires. Shelly doesn't really eat steak, but she made an exception here. We ate about a kilo of fine BBQ beef flesh, washed down with cava. Excellent! I had always thought the meat sweats were a made up thing. They are not.
And that was the end of our Buenos Aires experience - wallowing in a meat induced coma. The next morning we were off to our first 'new' destination of the holiday - Uruguay!

Posted by paulymx 03:59 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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