A Travellerspoint blog

November 2011

Final destination

Jacumá to Rio de Janeiro Day 358 to 365

sunny 29 °C

Number of churches in Ouro Preto = 35
Average age of men strutting their stuff along Copacabana in nothing but speedos = 65
Number of breakfast courses consumed at all you can eat buffet = 4 (bit of a poor show considering what was on offer)
Number of hours feeling sick after too many pancakes for one of the courses = 8

Our days in Jacumá were hectic, sunbathing, swimming, eating ice-cream and drinking caipirinhas. Hard life. We had to leave eventually which was devestating but the knowledge that we would soon be in Rio and homeward bound spurred us on.

En-route to Rio we stopped off for one night in lovely Olinda, a colonial town on the coast......
Then flew to Ouro Preto (sorry environment but it was much cheaper to fly than to bus, plus the bus would have taken 40 something hours and the plane took 2!) Ouro Preto is in Minas Gerais and famed for it's mineral rich land. We tried to find a gigantic emerald to bring home but alas, failed. We spent a couple of nights there just milling around, it has more churches than we have ever seen in one city, apparetly a way to show of the wealth of the people when they became rich from mining gold and all sorts of precious gems. Very impressive but it makes for difficult navigation of the town as they all look very similar and are all perched on hilltops that look much the same as the last. We got lost. Alot.

Our final nightbus (wooooo-hoooooo) took us directly to the Cidade Maravilhosa and we have now been here for 3 days. Sunbathing I hear you ask? Nope, it's been raining since we arrived! It still looks amazing (what you can see of it beneath the immense cloud cover) and we are very much enjoying the finalé to our adventure. Rio is a great place to end up. We met some great people in our hostel for our first two nights and had a lovely view of the sea, but keen to rid ourselves of the hostel lifestyle, we checked into a posh hotel on the main strip in Copacabana. When we arrived with our backpacks, I think they were getting ready to offer us directions not check us in!

It turns out that the gods are still smiling on us as our last day has been bathed in glorious sunshine. We hit the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer in the morning and then the beach in the afternoon, which is where we´ve just come from. Hope we don't miss the plane and this blog title isn't a bad omen!

We are keeping everything crossed for a smooth(ish) return to Heathrow tomorrow. Strike problems may leave us stranded on the tarmac for a few hours upon landing but we have become accustomed to waiting around for transport this year, and nothing can dampen our homecoming. We are too excited. Which leads us to our final blog paragraph although we'll be posting a mini review, more photos and stats.

So the cheesy bit. We have had the time of our lives this year. We could never have imagined everything that a year of travelling would bring and we couldn't have survived if not for the support and encouragement of our friends and family at home. Thank you for being there for us and reading our blog! Thank you for being pleased to hear from us, whatever the hour and at least pretending to be interested in our stories (of which there are loads more to come!) and thanks for doing those boring housekeeping jobs that we couldn't from the otherside of the world. To friends and family who we've met along the way, thank you for feeding, housing and entertaining us at various locations world-wide. It wouldn't have been half the adventure it has been without you. And to new friends acquired, thanks for providing a welcome distraction from speculative conversations and inventing two player card games.

So oscar speech over, we hope you'll all feign an interest for at least a couple of days more when we'll have this all wrapped up.

p.s. We are very much looking forward to taking further advantage of people's hospitality upon our return as we are officially homeless until Febuary. Any offers of homestays can be posted as comments - many thanks!

Posted by Po Gallon 17:15 Archived in Brazil Comments (5)

Angel of the North

Venezuela - Brazil Day 334 - 357

sunny 30 °C

Days slept in hammocks in Venezuela and Brazil= 12
Consective days with at least one meal containing rice, beans and coleslaw = 12
Height of Angel Falls = 979m
Overall 'blob' games tally = Richard 6 Laura 2 Pauline 0

Something we had been looking forward to all year was the trip deep into the wilds of Venezuela to see the world's highest waterfall. Angel falls didn't dissappoint. But first we had to survive the 'death plane'. The only way to get to the small town that allows access to Canaima National park is to fly in one of those tiny 6-seater planes that look like toys. Richard was excited, I was terrified and Laura said she was dreading it more than an operation! It all went off without a hitch, and Richard was over the moon to be coined 'co-pilot' in the front seat next to the pilot while the Gallon sisters cowered in the back next to the luggage. The views were spectacular (once we'd dried our eyes!) and the landing, although a little unconventional, as smooth as you like. I say unconventional as we landed just to the right of the run way in order to avoid the skeleton of last weeks plane that hadn't landed so smoothly!

Now pro's at hammock sleeping, after a few rounds of risk with our group the 3 of us had no trouble dozing off in the camp to get an early start for the trek to the main draw. We'll let the pictures do the talking on that. It's the skyscraper of waterfalls for sure, I did my scientific test as in, if you have to crane your neck, then look up again to see the top, its a skyscraper. After a sweaty ascent, we cooled off in the pool at the foot of the mighty falls and took the mandatory 'cheesy' group pics. On our way back to Canaima from our camp the canoe got stuck on the rocks and the boys got stuck and nearly stranded pushing us free. Further down the river we had to get out and walk a stretch to avoid dangerous rapids, a luxury they hadn't granted us up stream due to lack of time, white water rafting in a motorised canoe is scary.

There are several amazing waterfalls in Canaima too and our tour included a closer look at Salto el Sapo. We got to walk behind the curtain and got totally soaked, not all of our group made it passed the underwater stage but we wont mention any names!

Almost at the end of our time in Venezuela, we returned to Ciudad Bolivar then took a night bus to Santa Elena, on the border with Brazil. Out of season and out of Venezuelan Bolivares there wasn't much to entertain so we settled for pool, cards and cold beers. We met a Scottish traveller who didn't pay for his beers (no stereotypes please) and who dealt cards according to Laura 'like an amateur'. He went on to beat us at every game we know - typical! Next day we took a taxi to the border and so began our Brazillian adventure. It started badly when, too engrossed in our game of blob at the bus station and oblivious to the fact that Brasil is 30 minutes ahead of Venezuelan time, we were politely called to get on the bus as it was rolling out of the station. It soon picked up when a very handsome man (one tooth, half a T-shirt and an impressive belly) took a shine to Laura and chatted to her most of the way to Boa Vista.

Manaus was our first real Brazillian stop off and we all liked it almost immediately. It's a bustling city with plenty going on and cheap! Our hostel was about a sixth of the price of the rest of Brasil and the pay per kilo restaurant across the road helped us to settle in. Despite liking the place, we all decided it would be a shame to miss out on an Amazon Jungle trip so we put our trust in Eule and set off into the wilderness once more.

After boating to the 'meeting of the waters' where the light brown Solimoes river meets the dark Rio Negro and the Amazon truly begins, we took a motorised canoe to a floating lodge which would be our accommodation for the night. Whilst chilling in the afternoon we got a treat of sorts, spotting a rare sloth bear practically drowning in the River. We (or in truth one of the brazilians) rescued it and we dropped it off back on the river bank. After that start we went piranha fishing again but this time Pauline's luck turned and Richard was the only one of our group to catch one. Our guide, Joshua, showed us all how it's done hooking what must have been a 25-30lb catfish. After dark he also talked us through the features of an alligator after he dived into the reeds after it. Bit of a show off really! The next day we headed further into the Jungle and set up our hammocks to spend a night in the true rainforest. Whilst the rest of us spent the time worrying about tarantulas, Laura became obsessed with the stick that was used as a wedge to hold up her hammock. Convinced she was going to fall to the jungle floor in the middle of the night she was constantly asking 'do you think my stick will hold', much to our amusement, whenever the wind (or Richard) gave the hammocks a swing.

Back in the relative safety of Manaus, we put Laura on her plane to Rio 'by her own' and headed for our boat journey down the rest of the Amazon to the Brazilian coast and Belem. Sold as a 3 nighter, it turned into a 5 night slog, arriving roughly 2 days late! It was a true test of mental strength since it was packed full of people and fish and the entertainment was limited to tubby blokes dancing under the on-deck showers. We even resorted to inventing prison-style schedules to keep us going (shower 7am, lunch 12.30pm, exercise 3pm etc)! Still the river dolphins, sunsets and child pirates, who hooked there small boats to ours to save some rowing time, helped to break the monotony.

Arriving in Belem was a relief even if there wasn't much to see there. We switfly moved along the coast to Sao Luis and after spending two hours trying to find a hotel that wasn't falling apart and had a room that had been cleaned we settled down for one night and then moved on again. In what we hope might be our last night bus (wouldn't be surprised if you can hear us shouting for joy from here!) we decided to go all the way to Recife (24 hours) and then up the coast a few hours to a small beachside town called Jacumá. So that's where we sit now having enjoyed 3 days of pure relaxation on possibly the best beaches we've seen all year, not to mention a few too many caipirinhas and huge breakfasts that Richard won't forget in a hurry.

Only 8 sleeps left on foreign soil. We plan to be in Rio by Saturday so we have time to take in the sights before BA kindly fly us home next week. I hope it's bigger than a cessna!
.................................................There are new photos in the gallery, it just wont let us publish them in this blog.........................................

Posted by Po Gallon 20:26 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Two gallons go a long way

Day 310 - 333 Colombia to Venezuela

sunny 34 °C
View World Wide Wander on millfred's travel map.

Average age of a police officer in Colombia - 16
Number of arepas (fried corn cakes) consumed - 35
No. of passport checkpoints crossing from Colombia to Venezuela - 9
Price of petrol in Venezuela - 8 pence per litre
No. of murders per day in Caracas - 26
No. of Piranhas we caught fishing in Los Llanos, Venezuela - 7

So our first experience in Colombia was getting ripped off! We arrived with a handful of dollars from Ecuador and after being advised not to change them at the border because we would get short changed, we ended up getting short changed at the local bus station! You'd think we'd be wise to it by now.

Our spirits picked up, however, in our first destination of Pasto. Whilst, only a one night stopover, a gent in the street offered to pay our bus fare (about 50p!) bacause he was so happy to see tourists visiting. After politely refusing we moved swiftly through the rest of southern Colombia, stopping in colonial Popayan, which was neat and tidy but with not much to do and onto Bogota, the capital. We hit the town on Friday night to sample the apparently famous Septimazo, when the city's inhabitants come out to party on the streets. Unfortunately we seemed to be too early and unfashionably late after heading out at 6pm and then again at 10. All we saw was a drunk guy singing on a kareoke machine to four people in one of the main plaza's! The next day the sights got a little less bizarre although the Police Museum was strange enough. Escorted through the four floors by one of the typically juvenile officers felt a bit formal and it wasn't much 'cop' to see one exhibit showcasing a modern british police uniform that you could see anyday at home.

Moving onto now 'safe' Medellin, the home of former drug baron Pablo Escobar, we found a typical 'aussie' style hostel decked out with pool, bar, home cinema, table tennis table etc. Due to this and the constant afternoon downpours most of our time was spent watching 'flight of the conchords' repeats or getting too competitive 'one on one' on the a basketball court. We did still get out sightseeing which is more than we can say for most of the other backpackers who had been there for weeks!

A freezing (air-conditioned) night bus further on we finally hit the caribbean and Cartegena. Pauline had been looking forward to getting here for ages due to being an avid fan of 'Romancing the Stone' only to find out that none of the film was actually shot here! Even so, we 'forced' ourselves to go out for dinner in one of the picturesque plaza's and even pushed the boat out for a bottle of wine, probably spending 3 days budget in the process! Desperate for a taste of Caribbean beach we headed east to Taganga only to find that the place was less than idyllic, packed with local tourists and you couldn't sit on the beach without hiring a deck chair! Scandalous. A good atmosphere around town was then drowned out by a torrential downpour that left our hostel flooded. Can't win them all eh!?

The next day we packed up and headed for our penultimate country, Venezuela. It promised a lot, a rendevous with Pauline's sister, Laura, (hopefully putting an end to our 'exciting' discussions about what to put in our sandwiches the following day!), beautiful beaches and the highest waterfall in the world. So far it's delivered but before we got there we had to negotiate the border crossing which the foreign office 'advises against all travel to within 80km'. Determined and oblivious to the fact it was Sunday we took a bus to the border town only to find there was no onward connection. We were left with the only option of taking a share taxi (beaten up cadillac with a Jaguar badge and a boot that didn't close) for the 3.5 hours across the border to Maracaibo. After an hour and a pot hole too many the headlights failed and we we're left crawling along in no man's land. A monotony of police checks later we arrived and then jumped straight on a night bus to Caracas. After a night spent in a 'safe' area we picked Laura at the Airport and not wanting to hang around because of it's repution, ventured a relatively simple route (4 buses, 2 metro's, 8 hours) to the coastal town of Puerto Colombia. One note however from the third most dangerous city in the world, I did manage to sample the best doughnut I´ve ever had. Bursting at the seems with caramel and just the right side of crispy!

Finally we found a caribbean beach worth the travel. We spent a day soaking up the sun, chewing on belly pork (available beachside, mad!) and collecting about 20 bites from sandflies on each leg. To further entertain, Pauline initiated another of her famous drawing competitions. It backfired on her however when she suggest a catchphrase theme and all she could come up with was ´Calamari´. Funny, we´d never heard of that catchphrase! That night and with Laura´s funding we let ourselves loose on the town. After sharing 3 quid bottle of vodka with our new norwegian friends we sampled the local brew of Guarapita. The thick passion fruit liquor was all the more weird as the unlabelled bottle was purchased via a barred unsigned door in a back alley. Illegal maybe?

We left Puerto Colombia on Laura`s first night bus and headed for Merida in order to visit the animal paradise of Los Llanos. After being signed up for a tour we headed out with guide Juan and fellow tourist Simon. After 12 hours in the back of a jeep, getting lost in the savanna (home to caimans and anocondas) on the way, we arrived at Campamento Rancho Grande and met our host family led by Ramón. The accomodation was basic but the location right on the river bank, amazing. On the way Juan insisted on sufficient ´refreshment´, we all thought he meant water but infact he meant beer! He was good at drinking it too, but not so proficient at paying!

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The place was as hot and humid as we´ve had and our first experience sleeping in hammocks turned out to be a blessing, much cooler than a bed. We´d never seen so many insects however and the floors were crawling with beetles, crickets and cockroaches.

The next day, watching Laura embark on her first horseriding experience and just mounting the animal on our first morning was as entertaining as it gets. She was bricking it though and there was death in her eyes when Juan decided to give her horse a slap on the arse to get it moving a bit faster! Safe and sound back at the ranch we set out on an afternoon Jeep safari and after 15 minutes were face to face with a giant anteater, attempting to lasso a group of caimans and just failing to catch an anaconda.

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We also saw pink river dolphins cruise a few meters past our dinner table, capybyras, iguanas and a shedload of rare birds. Day 2 saw us head out on the swamp by boat and then piranha fishing where Pauline embarrassed everyone else by catching 4 before any of the others got a sniff.

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We´ve since headed out onto our second Venezuela tour and into our final country Brazil but as I´ve already rambled on a bit here it´ll have to wait till next time.

Posted by millfred 20:26 Archived in Venezuela Comments (3)

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