Three weeks in South America

I’m almost home. Almost. Really, I’m sitting in Newark bored out of my mind. I arrived in at 5:30am after an over night flight from Buenos Aires and my connection isn’t until 11:00.

So how was a three week vacation? Amazing, wonderful, everything I wanted it to be. I got see places I’ve wanted to visit for years. I got to see things I never thought I would. I realized my Spanish language abilities are not as dismal as I thought. I spent three weeks with my best friend and we never wanted to kill each other. This was a one in a life time trip and I’m so so glad we did it. We planned it right so that we did enough things it didn’t feel like three weeks.

What was my favorite part? That’s impossible to answer. We did and saw do many didn’t things I couldn’t possibly say which was my favorite. My favorite part is probably that I was able to make this trip happen. We booked the flights last April on frequent flyer miles and have been planning ever since. Each step of the trip was so fun to get to.

Pictures? Don’t worry, I have over 500, but promise not to subject anyone to all of them. I will post a few and if you wasn’t to see more let me know and I’ll share a link.

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What’s next? My bed. Oh how I have missed my own bed. And a shower. I’ve been traveling for a long time and really wasn’t a shower. And then work. I have to go back tomorrow, but am so glad I timed it so I only have to work two days before the weekend, better for readjustment. I’m a little terrified of my inbox, but it was worth it. Fingers crossed the weather in Jersey and Milwaukee hold up and I can get home.

[Update] After 16 hours and Newark and incessant tweeting about my unhappiness I made it home.

Argentina and the ability to communicate

I left off just after we arrived in Argentina. The guide who picked us up at the airport took us to Iguacu and then drove us to the hostel in Iguazu, Arentina. We mostly just rested at the hostel as we were exhuasted. Marie went for a swim and I hid in the shade needing to still protect myself from the sun.

The next morning we were picked up by a small tour bus to be taken to the Argentinian Iguazu Park. The Argentinian park is much bigger and there was more to do. We were with a group that had listening problems. You could tell the guide was annoyed. We signed up to do the short boat tour, which really mean get soaking wet from the falls. It was awesome. We were so ridiculously hot (the guide said it was near 100) and getting soaked by the falls was so much fun.  It was like an amusement park ride. Then we were given some time for lunch and took a little tram to the Devil´s Throat. We were warned this would be the hottest part of the day and boy was it. You walk out onto this long board walk across the river to get to the Devil`s Throat, a particularly large part of the falls. As soon as we made it out there it was all worth it. We just stared and were amazed. The amount of water moving was baffeling. It was a long and hot day and we were wondering if it was worth visiting both sides and it was so worth it. After the day at Parque Nacional Iguazu we had time to shower and pack up our bags before we were picked up and taken to the airport to fly to Buenos Aires.

We arrived late and went to bed. But the nice thing was we were able to check in all in Spanish and had no problems. On our first day in Buenos Aires we kind of did our own walking tour. Now this is the only part of the trip where I have already been to the city. I was in Buenos Aires in the fall of 2005 when I was studying in Santiago, Chile and my cousin was studying here in Buenos Aires. I don´t remember a lot about the city,  but there are small bits that seem familiar. We walked to the Recoleta Cemetary which is where Evita is burried. Burried is a loose term here. The cemetary is above ground and is full of massive graves, some almost small graves. We wondered Recoleta for awhile and ended up in Retiro. We found a delicious place for lunch. Side note: the exchange rate is awesome for Americans right now. Everything seems like a deal right now. We both had great entrees and shared a bottle of wine and it came out to around $60 US. The meal we had would have been over double that at home. We took it easy at night and got some food to go and some more wine at a great price.

Today we woke to rain, but chose to not let that bother us. We took the subway across the city and hopped on the Bus Turístico. This is one of those hop-on, hop-off buses that exist in lots of cities. Now I`ve never done one before, but Marie`s friend, who is originally from here recommended it. It was the perfect thing to do this morning while it was raining. We did over half the route and then stopped for another yummy meal. We decided we would do the rest of the bus tour tomorrow. It´s rest time before we head to an authentic Argentinian grill for dinner. Hopefully we get better weather tomorrow, but I still can´t complain about it when it´s February and winter at home.

Both of us were worried about our Spanish, but have been pleasantly surprised by our ability to communicate. We kind of supplement each other.

Goodbye Brazil, hello Argentina

It’s been a busy several days since we left Rio. We departed Rio via bus, then got on a boat, and landed on Ilha Grande, which is a vacation spot for lots of people from Rio and Sao Paulo. It was gorgeous. Most of the island is protected forests. There are no cars. You walk along the beach to get to wherever you are staying. We stayed at this amazing pousada, which is basically a step or two up from a hostel. We stayed at Pousada Naturalia which I cannot say enough good things about. They were so kind and incredibly helpful with everything.

On our second day on the island we took a “half” day boat ride around the island. We were able to snorkel and swim in beautiful blue water. We meet the wonderful couples from Sao Paulo and had ridiculous conversations in broken English and our pretend Portuguese which is really Spanish. It was a great day. We followed it up with amazing seafood at a beach front restaurant.

Due to too much sun the previous day we spent our last day hiding in the shade on the beach reading. It was so perfectly relaxing and just what we needed after a week in Rio.

This is where the travel got a little crazy. Because of the Carnaval holiday all the buses to Sao Paulo were sold out. We ended up taking a little transfer bus back to Rio, grabbing a bus to Sao Paulo, arriving at 3:30am and taking a taxi to the airport. Thankfully we made our flight with lots of time. And landed in Foz do Iguacu to see visit the Brazilian side of the falls.

The Iguacu Falls are one of the 7 Wonders of the World and its easy to see why. They were truly amazing and massive. We just stared at them. After visiting them our guide took us across the boarder into Argentina. Thankfully crossing the boarder was very easy. And we both audibly sighed with relief to now be in a country where we can speak the language.

The end of our time in Rio

It’s been a stressful 24 hours. Last night we went out to a real Brazilian Steak house that had good ratings on TripAdviser. Dinner was good enough, crazy, and then ended up being more than we expected. As we were leaving some people waved us over to their table. They were so excited to find other Americans so we stopped and chatted, which turned into caipirinhas. They were nice enough, but turned out to be a lot drinker than we realized. Basically we ended up sitting with “those” American tourists. During our time there Marie’s purse was stolen. Really, really shitty, but thankfully she didn’t have too much in it. We think the drunken crazies made us a target. Marie was really pissed last night and I had no idea what to say to her.

She talked to our front desk and learned shred have to go to a specific police station to file a report. So bright and early she was off. Of course the police station was having IT problems do after 2 hours there they just told her to come back later. When she returned she was in better spirits, but still understandably upset. We decided to not let it ruin out plans for the day. (Side note: Chase Sapphire was fantastic).

Thankfully early in the day was tons of fun. We went to Sugar Loaf, which is a huge mountain over looking all of Rio. It was gorgeous up there and do nice to get our of downtown Rio. I discovered the panorama seeing on my camera so should have some awesome photos.

Overall Rio has been fun. Carnaval activities were a blast even if they got a little overwhelming. We got some great beach time (even though I already started peeling some. I swear you can only put sunscreen on so many times a day). I think there would have been some other things to visit had we not been here during Carnaval, but it was a trade off. What I really can’t believe is that we’ve been here a week. Lots of adventures still. Not sure how much internet access we will have at some of our next stops. We’ve been spoiled having wifi here. (Also, all typos are courtesy of writing these posts on my phone.

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Best drink in Brazil

Adventures in Rio: Carnaval

We knew what we were getting ourselves into, or at least we thought we did. Carnaval is every bit as crazy and overwhelming as you can imagine. The first night we just went to a small neighborhood parade. It was family friendly and mostly people drinking and dancing in the street.

Night 2 was our big might. We went to the Sambradromo for one of the huge parades. There were ten samba schools scheduled starting at 9pm meaning they run all night. We stayed for 5 of them and took the 2am shuttle back.

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Here are a few shots just from my phone. I have over a hundred on my camera that are amazing photos. We are so glad we spent the money to do this.

That late night of course made Sunday a late start. We took the Rio metro to Ipanema for more neighborhood parades. It was a blast, plus nice to get a break from the sun and beach. Ipanema is supposedly the young part of town as well as having a large gay population. After the craziness today I can’t imagine what their gay pride events must be like. The neighborhood parades are basically moving block parties. They start somewhere with a band on a float and then everyone joins in. Everyone. The beer sellers, kids, people decked out in every costume you can imagine. I have seen more slutty mini mouse costumes and slutty Disney princesses than the last time I went out for Halloween.

I really can’t wait to go through all of my photos and have to give a huge short out to my aunt Gina for the awesome camera I got for Christmas. Thank you.

Other than all that I’ve been enjoying watching the culture here in Rio. Overall they are a very friendly people. Contrary to what many people believe they come in all shapes and sizes. This does not stop anyone from wearing a bikini. Neither does age. I love how comfortable everyone is. It is a clean city. They are so on top of cleaning up after each event that a garbage truck and street cleaner trend to end the parades.

Tomorrow is going to be some sightseeing away from down town craziness. I’m looking forward to some views and taking the photo I promised Katie.

Brazil: our first day in Rio

First off I can’t imagine being here with anyone other than Marie. As we sat over our dinner chatting we realized how long we’ve known each other and how much of becoming who we are we did together. She is as close to a sister as I will ever have.

We arrived around mid-day Rio time, which is 4 hours different than home, an hour more than I was expecting. We arranged for a driver for safety reasons (Marie’s dad insisted), which turned out to be great. We finally made it out of baggage claim and customs to a sign that read “Mrs. Marie Vicksta”, which I enjoyed. Once we made it to the apartment it was shower and regroup time.

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View from our patio

We ventured out to get Reales, which was way harder than expected. Both of us have traveled out of the country before and never had trouble getting foreign cash. Today was a disaster. I think 6 banks later we finally got cash. We were hungry, tired and pissed off at this point. Finally we bought some chips and water and wandered back to our apartment. Food helped, we were able to function.

Next up, see the beach. We got some beers on the beach and it was magical. We walked the beach and the ordered caipirinhas, which were amazing. Best one I’ve had in 7 years, which was the last time I was in South America.

Next up, dinner. Thankfully they had a menu in English. My brain is a crazy swirl of French and Spanish, neither if Erich are Portuguese, nor helpful. I can’t pronounce anything nor can I understand anything. I can kind of read things. Dinner was good. We had cod balls and flank steak with what was supposedly chimichuri sauce. It was not, but it was good and the cod balls were amazing.

We hit the market on the way back to get breakfast food and beer. And now that it’s almost 11 this time zone we’re ready to pass out.

I’ll try for more photos tomorrow. I got a bunch in my camera but have no way to upload them.