A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Hawkson

Los Colores de Sudamerica

rain 8 °C

Our journey to the end of the world and back took us through an amazing kaleidoscope of colours that began with James and his son, Ian, swimming with the sharks in the warm aquamarine seas surrounding the Galapagos Islands...
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Their next adventure was zip-lining high above the verdant canopy in the tropical cloud forest of Mindo, Ecuador. It was there that they encountered thousands of flambouyant butterflies...
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The South American continent is vast and it is some 15,00 kilometres from our home in the North Pacific to the tip of Patagonia at the other end of the world. Our first stop together was in Peru where 65,000 indigenous dancers and musicians in their brilliant costumes took nearly 24 hours to dance their way through the streets of Puno, more than 12,000 feet above sea level on the shores of Lake Titicaca...
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The perpetual sun that followed us to the end of the world and back warmed us as we visited the floating Uros islands on Lake Titicaca and shone on the brilliantly painted reed boats of the Aymara peoples - and from there the colours just kept getting more vibrant. First there were the stalls laden with all manner of carnaval paraphernalia on the chaotic streets of La Paz, Bolivia, followed by the incredible reflections on the surface of the salt flats in Uyuni...
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And then to Valparaiso, Chile, where elaborate murals adorn almost every building in the old port city...
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Following the tree lined avenues and boulvards of Santiago we headed to southern Patagonia where this solitary king penguin was showing off his brilliant plumage to his black and white megellanic cousins. We imagined him saying, "O.K. Clear the runway. If Wilbur and Orville could do it..."
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The starkly white Perito Moreno glacier of El Calafate in Argentina led us on to our next stop, Buenos Aires, where the parks and gardens were festooned with blossoming trees. But then the vineyards and leafy avenues of Mendoza drew us back to the Andes. From Mendoza we headed north to Cordoba and then on to witness the incredible vistas of the Iguazu falls...
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Next stop, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the colourful favelas that festoon the hillsides. Sheila couldn't resist buying this shawl on the beach at Copacabana for our dear Cuban friend, Lourdes...
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For the statisticians: this journey of 75 days took us more than 24,000 miles (the earth's circumference at the equator) by a total of 29 flights. We stayed in 27 hotels and guesthouses and ate in more than 150 restaurants. Now we are back home for the summer – just one bed and one restaurant and time to plan our next adventure in this wide and wonderful world. But first, a big thank you to all the terrific people who helped us along the way and listened patiently to our garbled Spanish. After several years of trying we have finally grasped sufficient so that we no longer begin each conversation with, “Hables ingles?” (Do you speak English?).
A special thank you to our very good friends in Cuba – Leyani, Osvedi and their sons in Vinales, and Las tres amigas, (the three friends); Lourdes, Marisol and Rita in Havana. Muchos gracias to them for their kind hearts and incredible generosity, and thank you for coming along for the ride. We hope to see you soon on our next Blissful Adventure somewhere in this wonderful colourful world. Adios for now.

Posted by Hawkson 16:56 Archived in Canada Comments (8)

Cuban Friends

sunny 28 °C

Daily life for Cubans is a challenge, yet they are among the most generous and warmhearted people in the world. Here we are enjoying dinner with our friends Lourdes, Marisol and Rita at a restaurant in Havana...
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And this is Sheila with Heather, a childhood friend from England, in front of Revolution Place and the images of Che Guevara and Jose Marti – two of Cuba’s most admired figures...
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We met up with Heather at the end of her tour of Mexico and Cuba. Touring is easy and relatively inexpensive for foreigners in Cuba and it is easy to overlook the difficulties and privations suffered by the locals. Shopping for even basic foods like flour, butter, cheese, coffee and tea, can be a frustrating, time consuming, and sometimes a fruitless exercise. However, there is a thriving black market, (known here as ‘the black bag’ (bolsa negra)). For instance: there were no eggs in the stores but we saw dozens of people carrying trays of eggs like this...
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We then discovered that each tray cost just $1.30 (about a pound) off the back of a truck. Anyone with a few dollars could buy hundreds of eggs and make a tidy profit by selling them individually for a few cents to friends and neighbours.
In the face of 60 years of American blockade, and numerous attempts by Washington to destroy their economy and morale, the Cubans have become incredibly ingenious at keeping old machinery running. We were in Vinales at the time of the annual carnival and were surprised to see American fairground rides from the 1930s still going strong...
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Even the portable toilets looked like leftovers from World War II...
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Thousands of battered yank tanks from the 1950s, with more than a million miles on the clock, ferry locals around Havana for 50 cents a time, while a ride in one of the superbly restored cars from the same period is reserved for tourists with deeper pockets...
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The streets of Cuba are filled with old cars that would be on the scrap heap almost anywhere else in the world, but here they are incredibly valuable. Imagine having to pay nearly $20,000 US (14,000 UK Pounds) for a 1980 Lada. Yet, despite the inconveniences and shortages the Cubans know how to enjoy themselves. These are our Vinales friends, Osvedi, Leyani and their two sons, treating us to a pizza lunch...
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After a couple of months of daily sightseeing and travelling throughout South America our ten days in Cuba were spent simply relaxing with friends and practising our Spanish. We are now home. The temperature has plummeted by more than 20 degrees and spring doesn’t seem in a hurry to arrive – a good time to reflect on our summer in the Southern Hemisphere. .

Posted by Hawkson 15:33 Archived in Cuba Comments (2)

The Reality of Rio

semi-overcast 30 °C

Rio de Janeiro was once the seat of the Portuguese Crown and capital of the entire Portuguese Empire. Queen Marie 1 moved her court here from Lisbon in 1815. Rio thus became a prominent world city of great palaces and elaborate mansions that was a favourite of the world's rich and famous in the 20s and 30s when prohibition and mobsters drove the Americans abroad to drink. Today, Rio de Janeiro is a place familiar to us all – a romantic city too dangerous for many tourists; an Olympic city with waters too toxic for swimmers; a seaside city with beaches piled in garbage; a footballing city with stadiums too violent for fans; a genteel bayside city of fancy highrises encircled by millions of the world's most colourful crime-ridden slums – the favelas...
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Rio is an enigma. It is all of the above, and yet its soft sand beaches, spectacular vistas, and superb (though very pricey) shopping malls, draw visitors and businesses from around the globe. This is just a tiny section of Leblon Shopping Mall...
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All of the world's ritziest brands are on the shelves here and the supermarket near our apartment has products from every part of the globe. We are eating the finest French cheeses, English preserves and Swiss chocolates. The tropical fruits from all over South America are mouthwateringly good as are the finest wines from Italy, France and Argentina. The supermarket even has a range of beers and wines for dogs...
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The restaurants are equally eclectic, equally superb and equally expensive. We have said little about the meals in South America because, in general, it has been similar to the food we might get in Canada or Europe. Here in Rio we are surrounded by restaurants from every part of the planet – Arabian, Australian, Japanese, French and even English baked potatoes. And, of course, the ubiquitous Italians. Nowhere in the world is safe from pizza, pasta and gelato. And nowhere is safe from the Americans – especially McDonald's and Starbucks. But we didn't come to Rio for the food – we came for the sights. But the weather let us down. We have had clear skies and thirty plus temperatures for the past three weeks but the 38 degrees that greeted us on our arrival in Rio was simply over the top. Even the professional sunbathers on the beaches of Leblon and Ipanema were feeling the heat...
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And then the skies clouded and thunderstorms rolled in. However, the dark skies and chilly 28 degree weather didn't stop the hardy sunworshippers on Copacabana beach...
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But we are not beach people – we wanted the spectacular sights of Rio and our time was running out. By our fourth night in the city we had only one distant glimpse of Rio's most famous landmark, the lofty statue of Christ the Redeemer, and had barely spotted the Sugar Loaf Mountain through the persistent clouds...
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Now, you are probably thinking that when we got up this morning - our last morning in Rio – the skies had cleared and we raced to get the first shuttle up the mountain to see Christ's statue before the clouds rolled back in and the crowds arrived... And you would be absolutely right...
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How do we do it – we don't know. But just a few minutes after we took this picture this is all we saw...
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Well - that's it for this trip around South America. Now we are going to visit friends in Cuba where the internet is unreliable. Adios for now – look out for our final thoughts on South America in a couple of weeks.

Posted by Hawkson 10:11 Archived in Brazil Comments (5)

The Inland Lighthouse of Iguazu

semi-overcast 32 °C

Blissful Adventurers, the people who recently brought you the exciting Patagonian Production of 'The Lighthouse at the End of The World", now present their latest epic...(cue uplifting music)"... “The Inland Lighthouse of The Iguazu Jungle"...Ta-Da...”
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While some people may question the idea of building a lighthouse in the tropical jungle some 300 kilometres from the nearest ocean and 1,000 feet above sea level, the Argentinians maybe onto something here. How many other countries are far-sighted enough to prepare for the extreme effects of global warming?

This remote part of South America sits at a crossroads between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina where multiple watercourses from the Brazilian wetlands converge. The climate is hot and humid and the jungles thick with almost impenetrable vegetation...
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The verdant canopy of orchids, bromeliads, vines and palms of all kinds block out the fierce noonday sun and provide cover for animals like the coatimundi..
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and perches for numerous exotic birds...
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However, this 'jungle' is actually the garden of our current hostelry in the small city of Puerto Iguazu. The real jungle is in the national park on the outskirts of the city where every day thousands of people from all over the globe come to marvel at the World's greatest water spectacle – the Iguazu Falls...
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Higher than Niagara and wider than Victoria, the Iguazu Falls are made up of nearly 300 cataracts that cascade over an escarpment some 270 feet high. When Eleanor Roosevelt visited the falls she apparently exclaimed, “Poor Niagara”. The falls are so vast that it takes hours to walk their length and a narrow gauge railway took us to the viewpoint overlooking the biggest – the “Devil's Throat”...
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Just as it was impossible to truly convey the majesty of the Perito Moreno glacier in Patagonia so too the Iguazu Falls...
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With hundreds of cataracts seemingly pouring out of the sky and thundering into the valley below all we can do is watch this wonder of nature and say – where on earth did all this water come from?...
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...and where is it going?
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Now our time in Argentina is at an end and although we can see Paraguay across the river we must leave it for another time. Our next stop is Rio de Janeiro and the beaches of Copacabana. Meet you there in a few days.

.

Posted by Hawkson 13:44 Archived in Argentina Comments (10)

A Sunday Stroll in Cordoba

sunny 38 °C

It was a sweltering 38 celsius in Cordoba, Argentina, yesterday and we were forced to cool off in our hotel's rooftop swimming pool...
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However, there is no need to feel sorry for us. A cold front from the nearby mountains swept through overnight and we will be lucky to hit 25 today.
In relative terms, Cordoba is an ancient city, although the view from the rooftop pool deck gives away little of its Spanish colonial history...
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However, there is some fascinating British history here...
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This veteran 'Bristol Lodekka' bus from the 1950s now tours the sights of Cordoba. The 'Lodekkas', (think: low-deckers), were specifically designed to be able to pass under low railway bridges on rural routes in post-war Britain. James travelled to school daily on a Bristol Lodekka and had not seen one in 50 years. He was more excited by this discovery than by the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, a Jesuit monastery which may have been the first major ecclesiastical edifice in this part of the world. However, the monastery was shut and the exterior uninteresting. The nearby Convento Santa Catalina de Siena was much more photogenic, (although it was also closed)....
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Unfortunately, the architecture and provenance of the the English bus was easier to determine than that of most of the religious buildings in Cordoba because, being Sunday, almost all were closed. However, the ornate exterior of the 20th century Iglesia de Los Capuchinos is quite a sight...
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The enormous 18th century cathedral in the central plaza was open for business, however there were few takers for morning communion...
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There were even fewer worshippers in another of Cordoba's churches, the Monastery of St. Catalina, but we were unable to get a photo. The equestrian statue of Jose San Martin, the venerated general credited with liberating Argentina, Chile and Peru, from the Spanish in the mid 1900s, was easier to see...
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Cordoba's recent history was marred by the military dictatorship in the late 70s when part of the old city hall, the Cabildo de Cordoba, was used by the secret police for detention and torture during Argentina's dirty war. Many reminders of those who were murdered or 'disappeared' during that time can be still be seen on the walls of the building...
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And so ends today's sermon. Now we continue following the sun northwards to the Brazillian border to witness one of nature's greatest wonders.

Posted by Hawkson 14:11 Archived in Argentina Comments (3)

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