Friday, 13 March 2009

Rio De Janeiro and Iguazu Falls

We arrived in Rio on a mission to make the most of our 4 day stay in this massive city. The first day we decided to go up to the statue of Christ on the cog train as it was a lovely clear sky. Annoyingly after an hour and a half wait for the train the clouds had rolled in so by the time we got to the top the view was a little patchy!
It was still amazing though with great views over the city. In the afternoon we hit Ipanema beach which was a hive of volleyball, football, bat and ball related activity, all performed in Speedo's and dental floss bikinis, quite a sight to behold....!On the second day we booked, thanks to Zoe and Angus, a tandem hang glide off
 a mountain called Pedro Bonito with an eventual landing (hopefully!) on Pepino beach. We met our really enthusiastic guide Paulo at the landing site and then drove up to the top of the hill. After a short briefing Jo was the first to brave take off. I shortly followed in a fit of mild terror, however once airborne it was absolutely incredible. We battled to catch thermals however Jo and her guide won hands down (think I've been indulging in a bit too much Brazilian cuisine). 
Most importantly we both made a safe landing, and full of adrenalin headed down to Copacabana beach for a relaxing afternoon to bring us back down to earth (with the aid of one or two caiparhinas).
On the third day we did a walking tour through the largest of Rio's 811 favelas, Rocinha.
 We were picked up by one of the street vans that are all owned by the mafia that run the favela, then transferred to the back of motor bikes to get to the top of the favela. Our guide told us to not be scared of the mafia men sat around with various firearms and grenades. It was a little unnerving at first, the police basically don't enter the favela and the mafia run their own style of law and order, however it was clear that they were not bothered by gringos! We started by climbing onto the roof of someone's house (with their permission!) that has amazing views over Rio, and makes all too obvious the gap between the poverty stricken favela and the adjacent affluent
 neighbourhoods. We then walked down through various alleyways stopping at the most dangerous looking electricity pylon - the favela illegally taps into the city's grid for a free electricity supply!

On the last day we were supposed to go up the Sugar Loaf mountain however another days low cloud put paid to that so instead we chilled out in Copacabana (and bought a world record amount of Havaiana flip-flops!).

A short 26 hour bus ride later found us in the Brazilian city of Foz De Iguazu. We crossed over to the Argentinian side to visit the mighty Iguazu falls. Thanks to John and Joyce we treated ourselves to a boat ride/biggest power shower in the world, and also a jeep tour of the surrounding forest where we finally got to see some toucans!
The falls were absolutely incredible, and a definite highlight to end our trip on. To top it all off we're staying in lovely hostel that has a swimming pool to keep us cool in this 35 degree heat, and again we've met some great people (and have also learned how to make watermelon martinis!).

Today we squeezed in a visit to the Itaipu dam that spans the Pariana river between Paraguay and Brazil. Not the most attractive piece of concrete but quite spectacular as it's two and  half kilometres long!

Now we're waiting for a bus back to Sao Paulo, then a flight back home.

Sad that it's the end of our trip but very excited about seeing you all!

Lots of love,

Jo and Al x x x x

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Salvador and the beautiful island paradise of Boipeba

We arrived in Salvador and checked into the Estrella Do Mar pousada owned by Vic´s brother´s friend Sean in the Barra district. As we´d missed Carnival we decided to put the wedding money from Sam and Sarah towards a nice few days in Salvador (thanks Sam and Sarah!). We caught a bus up into the old town and had a lovely stroll around soaking up the local atmosphere (and some coconut milk to keep hydrated!).
We had our first taste of Mocqueca, a local dish of fish stew which was absolutely delicious. In the evening we ventured out to a local bar for our first proper Brazilian caiparhina cocktails and then
 onto another great restaurant (all this food is not helping our beach physiques...!).

The following morning it was time to say goodbye to Salvador and journey out to enjoy our wedding present from Vic, Janine, Rob, Arthur (although he wasn´t technically around we like to think he contributed), Soph, Eric, Cat, James, Katie, Tom and Annabelle, a stay at another one of Vic´s brothers friends places (thanks Gavin!) on the island of Boipeba! 
We left early and caught a ferry across the bay to Bom Dispachio, then hopped on a bus to Valença before jumping onto a speedboat bound for Boipeba. Pulling up onto the beach there we realised we had truly arrived in paradise, and we walked down a quiet little path at the back of beach to the Pousada Santa Clara owned by a lovely guy called Charles. 
The place is totally stunning, lots of little buildings set hidden amongst the greenery, connected by a network of wooden paths. 
Charles greeted us and showed us to our two-level tree house along with a lovely terrace area with the obligatory hammocks! 
He told us that we weren´t allowed to worry about anything as Victoria had ´sent me a bunch of money and told me to make sure you guys have a really special time´!
And we certainly did have the most amazing few days there walking around the island exploring various beaches, eating beautiful food both at Charles´s restaurant and in the local village and also making sure we had a least one caiparhina a day to celebrate Sophie´s birthday!
It was the perfect romantic place to spend a few days chilling out now our honeymoon is nearing it´s end. Thank you so so much guys for a totally amazing present!
With a large degree of sadness we had to bid farewell to Charles and his piece of paradise, and it was time to hit the road (and water!) again. We went back up to Salvador for another night and have just enjoyed a monster 28 hour bus journey down to Rio De Janeiro.

Looking forward to catching up with you all in a couple of weeks or so!

Lots of love,

Al and Jo x x

Friday, 27 February 2009

Bogota, Leticia and the boat journey to Manaus

Fortunately the next day in Bogota was much brighter and although it was still not as hot as the Caribbean it was about perfect for city walking! We started with a visit to the Police museum which might sound an odd choice but it´s actually really interesting and you get a free, private guided tour from one of the young men doing their national service. The museum includes a big section on the life of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel all the way up to his eventual capture and fairly brutal death (and weirdly includes his cousin´s Harley Davidson!). We then visited the Botero museum that features lots of paintings by the Colombian artist (and a few others by Monet, Gaugin and Dali). The next morning we took a cable car ride to the top of Cerro Montserrat, a big hill behind that city that has amazing views over the whole of Bogota. In the afternoon we visited the gold museum which was huge (and full of gold, surprisingly....).
The following day and it was time to jump back on a plane (oh the luxury of being able to travel long distances in short times) down to the Amazon part of Colombia to a town called Leticia. The area is known as the triple frontier as it´s where Colombia, Brazil and Peru meet. You can easily walk from Leticia into the neighbouring Brazilian town of Tabatinga without any immigration hassle (unless you plan to travel further into either country). And you can hope on a boat over the other side of the Amazon river to the Island of Santa Rosa which belongs to Peru. We arrived happy to back in the sweltering heat and immediately got down to arranging a jungle tour for the next day. We opted for the slightly more luxurious jungle lodge option over the hardcore trekking and camping in the jungle option, this is a honeymoon after all. Our hostel owner presented us with these fat maggot-like creatures for our first breakfast, we politely declined.....
And so after a earlyish night (including a short stroll into Brazil!) we were up early the next day and down to the port in Tabatinga to meet our boatman, Costa. He took us up river for about an hour and a half over to the Peruvian side where we met our guide Roberto in a really small riverside village called Porto Alegre. After some dolphin spotting he took us briefly back to his village so we could see the local school (no jobs for Jo though unfortunately...).
After this we transferred boats and got into a proper canoe (only oars, no outboard, damn!) and started to paddle through a little inlet off the Amazon. It was hot work but totally amazing as we realised we were now experiencing the jungle proper, and to really hammer the point home it wasn´t long until we spotted our first tarantula sitting on a leaf about 2 feet from our boat! Eventually (after about an hours rowing and tarantula dodging) we emerged out onto the Lake Marasha, home to the Reserva Marasha and our lovely jungle lodge.
After hopping ashore, checking out our cute little room and dropping off our bags, we were back onto the lake for a proper tour around the perimeter. The guide had packed four bananas and we initially thought it was a little snack for us, but we paddled to the other side of the lake, nosed the boat into a hedge and the guide asked us to hold the bananas out in front of us and preceded to whistle. In a matter of seconds, loads of small Titi monkeys were climbing all over us tucking into the bananas! (Not sure on the ethics of feeding the ´wild´animals in reserve but it was still good fun! We did turn down the chance of paying to hold a jaguar the following day!) Once they´d demolished our offerings they were soon back off into the trees leaving us to a relaxing afternoon on the water.

The following day we went on a 4 hour walk into the jungle, which as it´s coming to a high water season, meant even our wellies were pretty useless as we went nervously wading waist deep in water! Unfortunately we didn´t see too much in the way of wildlife (or maybe that can be counted as fortunate given the venomous nature of alot of the creatures in the jungle!) although there were plenty of mosquito´s managing to bite us through our clothing! After arriving back at the lodge and applying plenty of bite cream we were back out on the lake for a fruitless but very relaxing fishing session.
That evening after dinner we went out onto the lake to try and spot some cayman. We think we just about saw one beady red eye from a distance!

The next morning we had a bit of a relax sitting by the lake and decided to have another crack at fishing, but alas it was another fruitless venture! By afternoon it was time to leave and to give us another type of experience, the heavens decided to open, reminding us that we were definitely in a rainforest.
The next day we flew around Leticia and Tabatinga on the back of motorbikes or mototaxis (a cheap but risky way of getting around) sorting out money changing and passport stamping. We then packed up and went down to the port in Tabatinga to board our riverboat that would be our home for the next 4 days and 3 nights on the journey to Manaus. We strung up our hammocks, and proceeded to have a very chilled out few days admiring the scenery. The food was actually pretty good and there was also a bar onboard so all was well!
We arrived in Manaus on the Friday morning and were pleased that we had a flight out of there that same evening as the city is not particularly attractive.

We´re now in Salvador ready to put some more beach miles on the clock!

Hope you´re all okay.

Lots of love.

Al and Jo xxx

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Taganga and the Tayrona National Park

We arrived in Taganga courtesy of the laziest bus service ever, we were picked up outside our hostel in Cartagena and dropped off right outside our hostel in Taganga after the 5 hour drive! Taganga is a little fishing village over the hill from the next main town of Santa Marta, and has a beach (not the cleanest in the world) but also the option to walk up the coast to some slightly nicer, less crowded beaches. We were staying in a hostel called La Casa de Felipe which is definitely one of the best places we´ve stayed in, made even better by the fairly constant 35 degree heat! On arrival we made the sensible decision to spend a couple of weeks here (with a visit to Tayrona National Park wedged in the middle!). Obviously we weren´t the only people to be impressed with the place as the hostel is full of people also making extended stops here!We met loads of sound people, gave the blender an excellent workout making rum based cocktails and also had two fish-fest evenings involving masses of a fish similar to tuna and on the second night a couple of gigantic lobsters (all purchased straight off the beach!)!

Our friend The Sheriff haggling with the lobster salesman........!

The two beauties ready to be boiled.....

(Animal rights activists look away now!) A scene of lobster carnage.......!

We also discovered the best smoothie known to man, Oreo cookie and banana, best consumed on a lilo floating on the Caribbean! After our first week in Taganga we took a trip to the Tayrona National Park a few miles up the coast.It´s a section of gorgeous tropical beaches separated from civilisation by lush jungle, so after a 1 hour journey by car to the entrance you have to hike for an hour through the jungle before stepping out onto something that resembles a scene from LOST!
The rocks and currents are fairly treacherous so swimming spots have to be chosen with care and there´s clear evidence that ships are at risk too....During our three days there we did a nice hike back into the jungle to some ruins called Pueblito and plenty of lying around soaking up more of that 35 degree sunshine. Once again we were sleeping in hammocks which is definitely not as comfortable as it sounds.We did however get to justify the purchase of our mosquito head-nets and remained bite-free for the duration of our stay, although this was at the expense of looking slightly ridiculous!

After our stay we returned to Taganga for more sun/rum/fish based fun at Casa Felipe for another 5 days.

Yesterday we had to wave goodbye to the Caribbean and hopped on a flight down to Bogota. We were greeted by some very UK-like pouring rain and chilly winds and were tempted to hop straight back on the next flight to the coast. However, we decided to stay and are now in another nice new hostel about to step out for some big city sightseeing!

Hope all is well.

Lots of love.

Al and Jo x x x