A Travellerspoint blog

Buenos Aires and Southern Argentina

Happy Easter everyone. Hope you all enjoy the time off work/chocolate.
Conveniently enough I´m currently in the centre of the South American
chocolate industry in the Lake district which straddles the Argentinian and
Chilean border.

Its been a fairly different month from the previous couple as Ive been doing
mainly outdoor activities and drunk very little. Buenos Aires was not meant
to be like that but the hostel I was staying in was very quiet and so I only
went out clubbing 3 times in the 10 nites I was there which was a bit of a
disappointment. The main time Ive found it a problem traveling by myself is
when I want to go to clubs and you are kind of reliant on other people also
being up for the same thing. I still really liked BA though, it had a great
atmosphere and a lot of activities to do. Argentina is often called the most
European country in the world outside of Europe and in BA in particular you
really do feel as though you could be in Rome or Madrid. Not a difficult
place to kill time in.

Perhaps the most memorable thing I did in BA was to go to a couple of
football games in BA where I saw the two biggest clubs in the country Boca
Juniors and River Plate at home. Argentinian football is widely agreed to be
the most passionate in the world and it really is another level from Europe.
You arrive about 2 hours before kick off and start singing; you stop singing
an hour after the final whistle when the police finally let you out of the
stadium. To have 50,000 people singing for that long (without stopping)
really is incredible, this was particularly so as both sides lost quite
badly to much smaller clubs. Half the fans don´t even bother to watch the
game they just encourage quieter fans to sing and they don´t speak at all,
literally the only words that you hear are swear words. Crazy but awesome.

The football grounds are interestingly the only places where I´ve felt the
need to change my nationality (if anyone asks me) to Canadian as the crowds
are a bit rough. I´d heard before I went to Argentina that you have to be
careful who you say your English to (due to the war) but have experienced
virtually no problems with it. The one time I really got stick for it was
kind of surreal as I was visiting a sort of a equivalent of a country club
in a small town in the North with an Argie friend where I became a bit of a
mini celebrity amongst the kids as I was a foreigner. Once they found out I
was English however within 5 minutes I had a group of about 30 10-13 yr olds
chanting "Give us back the Malvinas" at me until my friend arrived and told
them to go away.
It has however shocked me just how big an issue it is in Argentina, any city
of any size and particularly in the South will have a huge monument of "Las
Malvinas por siempre Argentinas" ("The Falklands are Argentinas forever").
The islands have never been Argentinian territory and are not exactly prime
land with sheep farming being the only economic activity possible. One
theory is that in such a large country (roughly the size of India) and with
such diverse people and activities it is the one issue that has helped to
keep the country together through the political problems of the 80´s and the
ongoing economic problems since the 90´s. 2007 is the 25th anniversary of
the war and is constantly in the papers with lots of church services etc
going on over Easter so is an interesting time to be here. Still, it´s
something I don´t understand the national obsession with.

I was also in BA when Mr Bush arrived and Chavez also came on a rival tour.
It´s been very interesting traveling in South America in the last few
months to see just how unpopular the US and in particular Bush are. I was in
both Venezuela and Brazil during the election campaigns and the President is
truly demonized by the majority of both populations. This I thought was
understandable as both countries have large urban poor populations but it
has surprised me much more in the South in Argentina and Uruguay. Uruguay is
sometimes called the Switzerland of South America due to its relatively
stable economy and political situation but the seemingly genteel streets of
Montevideo were absolutely covered in graffiti with the messages normally
saying nothing more than death to Bush and various other abusive statements.
The people in Argentina are amongst the most political I´ve ever met with
pretty much everyone having a good knowledge of political theory as well as
opinions on just about everything. They tend to be very left wing with the
Communist party strong and Morales and Chavez currently the heroes of South
America. Bush really is hated and even in small towns there were protests
against his very unpopular visit to the region.
Mr Blair is also not too popular and I often get asked my opinion on him and
the war in Iraq pretty quickly by Argentinians at which point I change the
subject onto something less controversial.

From BA I took a 6 hr flight south to Ushuaia which brands itself as "the
southern most city in the world" (it isn´t) but with a mountainous
background and the Beagle Channel in front it was a really spectacular
setting. It´s in Tierra del Fuego which means Land of Fires but that really
did not feel like an appropriate name. After having spent a yr in late
Spring or Summer temperatures I suddenly found myself having to cope with
temperatures getting towards 0 in the evenings. I really really got a shock
but the area is truly beautiful with very few inhabitants and gorgeous snow
capped mountains and crystal lakes. I got to visit no less than 5 glaciers
over the next couple of weeks in both Argentina and across the border in
Chile as they are easily accessed and got to do some amazing hiking in the
Andes which is unsurprisingly not unattractive to look at. I did a week long
hike in a famous national park called Torres del Paine in Chile which whilst
quite hard work walking 25km a day (carrying all my equipment) was a great
experience.
However, the day after I´d finished it I found my achilles had swollen up to
about 6 inches in diameter and after trying to struggle with it was pretty
bluntly told by a couple of locals to get to a hospital. It was nothing
serious, just an infection but meant I had to stay in bed for about 6 days
which was obviously pretty boring although I did get to watch a few Steven
Segal films so could have been worse (for you Mr Johnson).
To make up for the time lost I took a big bus North and had my last view of
the Atlantic for a while in Welsh Patagonia. The whole of Patagonia reminds
me very much of Mongolia with the complete lack of people, unchanging
treeless scenery and endless views of nothing at all. Quite a special place
and in a place called Puerto Madryn I got to see lots of baby sea lions as
the birthing season was last month and also managed to see one of my
favorite animals the Southern Elephant seal in its natural setting which
was really cool.

I´m gonna be in the Lake district for a while b4 I head to wine country and
then go to Easter Island for a wk. Till next time and apologies for so much
politics,

from Bariloche.
Barney

Posted by carlswall 04:59 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Paraguay, Northern Argentina and Uruguay

12 yr old Girl at a bus stop: Excuse me, where are you from?
Me: England.
Girl: Whats your name?
Me: Barney
Girl: Wow, are you the man in the dinosaur suit?!!
Me: Erm, no its just my name.
Girl: But you used to be the man who played the dinosaur?
Me: No, its just my name.
Girl: But your parents did name you after the dinosaur, right?...

Aah the joys of explaining my name in a foreign language, normally I just
say its the same as Homers (or Homero here) drunk friend in the Simpsons and
then they start laughing at me. Which funnily enough is bang on the money as
this last month has been one of the drunkest Ive had in a long time.
When I left you I was about to cross the Brazilian border into Paraguay and
after I'd forged my visa to give me a such a long stay in Brazil I was
bricking the crossing. However, I needn't have worried as in beautifully
laissez faire Latin America style the officer didn't even ask me about it an
let me thru no problems...
I really quite liked Paraguay, despite being bordered to South America's 2
biggest countries it still manages to maintain a really quite unique
culture. Its a lot poorer than both Brazil and Argentina, has one of the
most tragic histories in the world and receives virtually no tourism. None
the less I really enjoyed being somewhere a bit less developed. Perhaps the
only downside was the people were noticeably less friendly than they were in
Brazil (where the people are v curious at foreigners), however I got in a
convo with a guy in a bar about this and he said "Well the people are
probably quite scared of your (pierced/tattooed) appearance" so I only have
myself to blame.
When I crossed into Argentina I instantly fell in love with virtually all
aspects of the culture. From the fact its the latest country in the world
(Ive been to happy hours from 4 to 5. In the morning!) to the importance of
food to the fact you struggle to get beers in less than a litre it is all
awesome. The people have a reputation as being arrogant and unfriendly but
Ive found this to be completely untrue, wherever Ive gone Ive managed to
hook up with locals and have made some friends along the way.
This has been well timed as after 5 months on the road I really went off
speaking to gringos, there really is only so many times you can be bothered
to listen to the drunk stories of the Aussies or stomach the racism of the
Israelis.
My first port of call in Argentina was in the north of the country in an
area called La Quebrada Humahuaca, a truly stunning (see photos) mountainous
area running along an old river bed. I met an Argentinian guy called
Guilermo in a thermal springs and we stayed with an indigenous family for a
few days. it was great to be able to step into their lives so to speak and
my Spanish improved dramatically during this period. After a wk traveling
around local villages we had to drag ourselves away and onto the beautiful
city of Cordoba. In theory I should have been taking Spanish lessons during
the day but really wasted them in truth as not wanting to break an old habit
turned up to most of the lessons well under the influence. This was cos the
nightlife was simply spectacular, in a week of going out every nite the
earliest I went to bed was 8am and ended up sleeping something like 15 hrs
in a week. The pattern was the same every day, start drinking about 9 and
then go out to a bar at 2 b4 moving onto a club at 5.30/6. Amazing week.
I could only stay a week as I'd arranged to visit Guillermo in Argentinas
2nd city of Rosario. I didn't spend much time with him however, as he spent
most of his evenings comically meeting his internet girlfriends. His
flatmate (Seba) however was an absolute legend, something of a Flufyesque
character (if that means anything to you) he smoked about 50 a day and had
been at university for 8 yrs and still hadn't graduated. We got on well.
There were too many amusing incidents and unforgettable nites out to list
here but I had my proudest moment of Spanish when after having drunk 3l of
beer and half a bottle of vodka I managed to talk the police out of
arresting Seba for being drunk and disorderly in the city centre.
The culture is also spectacularly macho here, the blokes can say pretty much
what they like to any girl above the age of 12 and its seemingly fair game.
Nites out with girls are fun but with the lads they are spectacular. I found
myself just laughing for entire nites at things they would say to the girls,
which an Englishman simply is not used to hearing. Whilst I found the blokes
very friendly the women are a lot less so and kind of similar to Italian
women in that they literally wont give you the time of day unless you have a
good reason to ask them. However, I got into a conversation with a couple in
a bar about this when the girl stopped me dead with "Well, I think they
would speak to you its just you're so well, ugly" Ouch. Harsh but in a
country where the man are as good looking as Argentina, fair enough.
To rebuild my shattered self esteem I did the only thing I thought possible
and visited the "worlds least visited world heritage site", some Jesuit
missions in Paraguay. I also went to see the worlds largest dam (Itaipu) in
what is pretty much Paraguays only claim to fame. The city that supports the
dam is one of the most corrupt places Ive ever been. Its on the triple
frontier with Argentina and Brazil and serves as nothing more than a site to
traffic drugs and other contraband. Hookers cost just $10 and you could buy
shotguns from street stalls. Crazy.

On the way to Carnaval I stopped off at the Iguazu Falls which is regarded
as one of the most wondrous natural spectacles in the world. I cant say it
did it for me however as there were simply too many tourists to enjoy it
properly altho you do get spectacularly close to the 200+ cataracts that
make up the falls. For Carnaval I'd decided against one of the big centres
of Rio or Salvador from a financial standpoint as I didnt think $60 a nite
for a bed and beers at twice their real price were worth it. I therefore
went to a tiny place on the coast in the south and had a beautifully
hedonistic week. I hooked up with a group of lad from Sao Paulo, 2 of whom
listed their occupation as "drug dealer" but they were an awesome set of
lads and really got into the Carnaval. We'd spend most of the day drinking
and then about 10 the carnaval would start and you'd be dancing to the small
hours to some fantastic songs. My favorites ones were when the boys were
ordered to 'Levanta las camisas' (take off your t-shirt) and 'atrevete, tome
abajo las miniskirts' for the girls (which I'm not translating here). Despite
hemorrhaging money twas well worth it and made some gt friends there.
I really had loved Brazil with the warmth of the people and the ubiquitous
fun atmosphere making traveling there an absolute pleasure. The only
downsides were perhaps the surprisingly expensive costs and the Portuguese
which I never really got a handle on.
After Carnaval finished I took a bus down to Uruguay but have got very
little to say on the place. Nothing of note in terms of sights and the
culture is virtually identical to Argentina, I really couldn't call any
differences between the place. I did like it though with Montevideo in
particular being a surprisingly pleasant city with a beautiful oceanside
location.
I'm now in Buenos Aires where predictably I can't get the Evita soundtrack
out of my head and then from here will head on South to Patagonia. I
appreciate this has been a bit of a rambling one but its been that sort of a
month.
Let me know how life treats ya...
From Buenos Aires
Barney

Posted by carlswall 04:53 Archived in Paraguay Comments (0)

Elsewhere in Brazil

Guide} Its ok to swim here.
Me} Are you sure? We're only 50 metres away from the Piranhas.
Guide} There's piranhas here too but the water is 4m deep and they only bite
in shallow water.
Me} Well, OK then....

Approximately 3 minutes later...
Me} OWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW! F*/k, F*/k, F*/k. (Desperately swims the 10m back
to shore

When I got to the shore I found that I had a small chunk of my left big toe
missing and blood pouring everywhere. The fish in the water were going
crazy for my blood but luckily there was a doctor in the camp I was staying in,
she patched me up and my toe is now on the mend quite nicely. A nice way to
finish Brazil you feel....

I last wrote before Xmas so I trust you all had a good time and New Year
was enjoyable too. B4 Xmas I went to a couple of places off the coast b4 I
reached Rio. Firstly I went to Brasilia which I found really interesting
and very different. The entire city was planned to look like an aeroplane in
the 1950s, was built in 3 yrs and is all built in the modernist style, a sort
of St Petersburg for the 20th century. Therefore architecturally its one of
the most important cities in the world and some of the buildings most notably
the Cathedral really are incredible. However, the city famously doesn't
work in a lot of ways with no provisions made for pedestrians and a complete
lack of culture meaning everyone who can afford it flies to Rio for the weekend.
Which is what I did and arrived in Rio on Xmas Eve eve. It was the first
time I'd ever been away from home for Xmas and it really sucked in Brazil.
Everybody works on Xmas eve but the big meal and present giving is about
10pm, on Xmas Day itself very little happens thats unusual and I was
confronted with the bizarre sight of open shops, a fully functioning bus
service and even things like shopping malls open. I, along with everyone
else went to the beach and sunbathed in 42 degree heat instead of watching
the Queen. Strange. New Year was a lot better, everybody wears white and
goes to the beach. The Black Eyed Peas gave a free concert in front of
around 2 million people on Ipanema and it really was a spectacular evening
which didnt end till about 8.30 the next morning.
The only problem was that there were absolutely no limits on people geting
onto the beach and in a city of some 2 million slum dwellers this meant
there were some pretty rough characters around during the concert but I
didnt get robbed and really enjoyed the concert.
Rio had quite a strange feel to it, it is the most beautiful city Ive ever
been to but it feels oddly static. I think this is because (like in
everywhere in Brazil barring Sao Paulo) theres not really a middle class of
any note. There's a big rich population who live on the beach and enjoy the
sunsets and a huge poor population who have no education and no real means
to improve their lives. Theres no entrepreneurialism and I later read that
the economy has not got grown in 30 years in Rio and as a city it seems
content with its natural setting without trying to improve things.
The sites are really great however, and I did Sugarloaf, Corcovado and the
Maracana of course.
I also went running everyday as with sugarloaf and Copacabana as a backdrop
its not exactly hard to get yourself motivated. After New Year I dragged
myself away but found another slice of paradise in an island off the coast
near Rio called Ilha Grande. On my first nite there I managed to stun 15
noisy Brazilian holidaymakers into silence by eating 1.5 kilos of rice and
beans washed down with an entire bottle of hot sauce. After this tho I
became very popular and spent an entire week living the dream with a group
of Brazilian students smoking js and drinking beer on the beach by day and
drinking beer and smoking js on boat parties by nite. Not exactly a hard
week.
When they left I did too and went to the slightly different surroundings of
Sao Paulo. At around 18m people only Tokyo and Mexico City come any bigger
and it was so big and the people so tough it made London look like High
Wycombe. Really it was scary even for a Londoner. I only lasted a couple of
days and whilst it was interesting seeing the huge financial district and
the Japanese community (the largest in the world outside of Japan) I really
was happy to leave.
And thats when I got to the Pantanal and got partly eaten by Piranhas. The
Pantanal is a huge area of wetlands encompassing a huge part of Brazil as
well as parts of Parguay and Bolivia. It's one of the best places in the
world to spot wildlife and I saw Capybara, many alligators and even an
anaconda.
The best way to get around is by horseback and definitely a memory I'll
keep
from this trip is galloping over swamp as far as the eye can see in an
almighty storm. Truly memorable.
I'm now in Paraguay for a few days but will be heading onto Argentina and
then returning to Brazil for Carnaval in February. Hope your lives all go
well.
From Ascuncion,
Barney

Posted by carlswall 04:49 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

NE Brazil

You know you've been in the tropics a while when you step out the door and
think "Its a bit cooler today" (as happened yesterday) and then see a
thermometer which reads 31 degrees. So seasons greetings from a no doubt
slightly warmer Brazil.
The last month has seen me traveling along the North East coast which has
seen me go off the tourist map but also hit the party scene pretty hard
after a while in the interior.
My first visit was to an island in the Amazon called Marajo where life has
stood still in a lot of ways. The pace of life was beautifully slow and
after renting a bike for a couple of days found myself weaving in and out of
the meandering buffalo en route to coastal villages where the locals were
just a little bemused to see me. I camped on the beach and gloriously woke
up to the sunrise each morning. After briefly stopping in a couple of
colonial cities which weren't great (Belem and Sao Luis for the record) I
went to no less than 3 national parks in the course of a week. I was
traveling in Piaui and Ceara states which are the poorest part of Brazil
and the stereotypical Brazilian images of Rio, beaches or even the Amazon
did not apply here. The landscape was extremely dry with little vegetation
and infertile land. Transport was only possible via 4 wheel drives on
tortuous sand tracks which meant progress was also slow. The first park was
a stunning sand dune filled area called Lencois (literally 'bed linen') as
the dunes look like this from afar. The dunes are studded with freshwater
pools and I felt incredibly free running up and down the sand with nothing
but more dunes as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately I ran out of food
and so had to leave but happily carried on into a couple of parks in the
interior. These were perhaps less spectacular but I did enjoy going into
smalltown Brazil well off the tourist map and talking to the locals, some of
which had never even heard of England.
It was then time to hit the carnaval in the city of Natal. I really cannot
put into words just how much fun a carnaval is. The best description I can
give is like trying to drink as much as you can for four days but still
being able to carry on dancing to the constant music provided by the bands
passing by on the floats. You can spend a lot (i.e. $50 a nite) and go into
the VIP bit or spend nothing but the 30p beers you drink on the street. I
did the latter and had an absolute blast mixing with the locals, I was there
with couple of other English lads and had four v memorable nites in a
row....
Unfortunately the day after Carnaval finished I was (even for my standards)
spectacularly sick and had 9 separate vomiting sessions. I think my body was
giving me a message and so we headed to one of the many beach resorts which
line the beautiful North Eastern coastline.
I got back on it the next day and had another 4 days of heavy drinking
followed by going to the beach and even swimming with dolphins which came
within about 20 ft of the shore.
After partying so much I decided I needed to calm down a little and went to
the picturesque colonial city of Olinda where I saw many churches and viewed
a couple of the free dance performances which the locals absolutely love
doing.
I'm now in the city of Salvador which is one of if not the cultural centre
of the country. The nightlife and music here too are very good although being
hassled literally every minute by street kids, the homeless and prostitutes
really gets tiresome after a couple of days.
Salvador is also the centre of 'black Brazil' and Ive found it very
interesting coming here. Brazil (along with South Africa) has always been
the Sociology textbook example of how your color determined your place in
society. With a succession of socialist governments various positive
discrimination laws were brought in but the lower status of darker
Brazilians can be seen in more subtle ways. Virtually no-one on television
is very dark at all. The most popular telenovela (soap opera) Chocolate e
Pimhentos may as well have been cast in Ireland. Most of the cast have my
colorings despite the fact that less than 1% of the country seem to look
like this and its also true of the politicians, models and business leaders
where most of them are far whiter than the average Brazilian. However, the
country is clearly moving fwd under Lula and I am loving being in this
beautiful country which seems to love partying more than anywhere else in
the world. The people are very happy here and its easy to see why (according
to the BBC website) 11,000 Brits have moved here.

I realize this has been a stupidly long email so Ill stop now to view the
Xmas advertising which all incorporate snow/robins etc despite the fact that
no part of Brazil ever receives snow! A few of you have asked for photos so
Ill also send a couple of links to albums from the Amazon and carnaval so
apologies for bombarding your mailboxes. Tonight Ill be heading into the
interior to an old mining town then onto Brasilia and eventually Rio for
Xmas and what sounds like the best NYE anywhere in the world. I hope Santa
brings you all the presents you want for Xmas and I know its been said many
times, many ways but Feliz Natal a tudo voce!
From Salvador,
Barney

Posted by carlswall 04:41 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

The Guianas

Hi everyone hope you're all well and looking fwd to Xmas, just to let you know
how I'm getting on...

Well it took about 3 days traveling to get into the Guianas and 48 hours to
get out again and it was 3 of the hottest weeks of my life but nonetheless
it has still been an interesting area to travel in.

French Guiana finds itself in the interesting position of being a
deportement of France despite being in South America. I had fairly romantic
notions of the place as a penal colony based on a few Somerset Maugham
stories and of course the Steve McQueen film Papillon. In reality there
aren't any convicts there anymore and the standard of living is essentially
that of France due to it being subsidised to a ridiculous extent. This means
it was unfortunately v expensive (i.e. slightly more expensive than France)
but unlike in France the people were extremely friendly and it was safe
enough for me to sleep on the beach every nite I was there. The highlight
was definitely visiting the penal islands called the Illes de Salut
(Salvation Islands). Lush rainforest and surprisingly abundant wildlife were
all around the remains of the notorious prisons and you can see the ruins of
all the prison buildings. I also got the chance to spend a nite in a cell
that was used about 60 yrs ago, whilst making for a gt anecdote it really
did scare me. The cell was only about 8ft x 4 ft and in the pitch black I
really could feel and hear everything that went bump in the nite. I was very
pleased when the dawn came and I got to return to the mainland.
Next up it was onto Suriname which I daresay a couple of you might not have
even heard of, both my travel nurse and the lady at the foreign office didnt
and the only thing I knew about it was that it was the only other country in
the world to speak Dutch. It is however a really surprisingly interesting
place. The people are made up of Indians, Chinese, descendants from the
slave plantations as well as Indonesians and a few Dutch too but with a
Caribbean flavor. The food was really good and it was interesting talking
to people about their various backgrounds and how they ended up in such a
random part of South America.
After a week in the Suriname jungle i journeyed into Guyana which has the
unfortunate distinction of its 2 major claims to fame being the site of the
Jonestown tragedy and one of the most crime ridden places in the world. On
the day I got there a 10 yr old was killed by a 12 yr old for his cricket
pads. This was only in the newspapers for 2 days and in the week I was there
3 other children under the age of 10 were murdered for various reasons. This
is in a national population of 700,000 so with all due respect it kind of
put a case like Damilola Taylor into something of a perspective for me. The
country really is unfortunately riddled with problems; public services don´t
work, the crime rate is simply shocking and this is all underpinned with the
2 communities (Afro-Guyanese and Indian) hating each other to the extent
that there are 2 of everything for the different communities(political
parties, food stores etc).
I didn't see a single traveler in the month in the Guianas and its kind of
easy to see why by looking at Guyana. The cost of living is bewilderingly
high for very low value for money and to do any touristy stuff in the jungle
cost something like 100 pounds a day so was well out of my budget.
The one thing that really saved it for me tho was meeting up with a lad
called Damien on the boat coming from Suriname. I stayed with him in the
capital Georgetown and I saw 3 cricket matches, 2 football matches and it
just generally gave me the chance to do stuff like have a beer in the
evening and mix with Guyanese which as a white man there's no way I could do
very easily by myself. It did mean I didn't really get to see much of the
Indian community so much but was very grateful for his company.

Anyway I am now back in Manaus, the most important city on the Amazon but on
Tuesday I shall be taking a flight East to the Ilha Marajo which is an
island in the mouth of the Amazon that's slightly bigger than the size of
Switzerland(!) b4 working my way across the coast to a pre carnaval festival
in the city of Natal at the beginning of December.
Let me know how you're all doing.
From Manaus,
Barney

Posted by carlswall 04:35 Archived in French Guiana Comments (0)

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