8. Olivia in Bolivia: Sucre, La Paz, Death Road, Copacabana

After 2 months of rapid roaming and excessive Google Translate, we decided to hunker down and “estudiar espanol”. Once the capital of Bolivia (and still the constitutional capital), Sucre is a pleasant, mild climate, mid-altitude (although we still struggled up the hills) city located in the south-central part of the country. We settled in to the genuinely delightful (although a little fascist re rules) Casa Verde hostel and with writing implements in hand, we summoned our inner students and signed up to classes at the Sucre Spanish school. 

Whilst initially confused at paying to spend our evenings doing homework, it was made worth it by the vast improvements in our Spanish and the delicious 3-course £3 lunches at vege restaurant Cafe Condor. We even found time between shopping for weirdly shaped fruits at the markets, and moaning about man-flu, to make our own gluten free bread. 

 The key tourist attraction of Sucre is the Parque Cretacico aka Dinosaur Park which is home to one of the largest collections of dinosaur footprints in the world (over 5,000), as well as some impressive life size models of the dinosaurs themselves. It was fun stepping back in time (pun always intended!) however as the tours only run at lunchtime we could only view the actual footprints from afar. 

Armed with a new ability to almost communicate with locals, we took a nerve shattering flight from Sucre to La Paz which, unbeknown to an asleep Liv, eventually arrived at the 4,100m high airport after multiple attempts to land. La Paz, the highest administrative capital in the world, is a hectic, bustling, noisy, dirty, sprawling mishmash of a city which, like marmite, divides people into love it or hate it categories. For us it was more of the latter although Friday night at chabad filled with travellers, chicken shnitzels and an incredibly drunk Rabbi was great fun. The vege food at Namas Te was also amazing and they even sold jars of tahini. I think we must be the only travellers in history to travel with two bottles of olive oil and a jar of tahini!

 One of the stand out moments of the whole trip for me was Camino de la muerte aka…Death Road! The world’s most dangerous road gains it’s name from the ~300 people killed yearly from car accidents along this narrow winding mountain road with blind corners, overhanging rocks, waterfalls and of course a 1000m sheer drop. Thankfully, a new road was built in 2006 and since then, the old one is primarily used by crazy, thrill-seeking tourists (and us) on bikes looking to descend the 64km rocky dirt road from 4,700m high to 1,200m. Whilst we were frequently reminded that several cyclists still die each year, even I (the nervy-wobbly cyclist) felt safe in the hands of our Gravity (highly recommend this company) guide Scott from Scotland. The scenery was spectacular and my nerves quickly faded away as my confidence grew. Starting to believe that I may in fact survive the day, I even started enjoying myself and, whilst there were a couple of hairy moments, we both arrived back injury free and elated. We thought it best to wait until this point to let our parents know what we had just done!

After an exhilarating adrenaline pumping day, we thought we’d take it easy and unwind with… a series of 50mph zip wires several hundred meters above the jungle floor. The views were incredible and, after reaching terminal velocity, the ride was strangely serine. Vast coca plantations swept across the mountainous terrain and the cool air refreshed our tired faces.   

 With our feet firmly back on the ground, we joined a walking tour of La Paz from San Pedro prison which operates like an enclosed community where convicts pay rent for cells, live with their families and run businesses. The most notable of these were the prison tours (historically one of the top attractions on lonely planet) and the finest cocaine production in South America…hmm, I wonder if they could be related?!

From inmates to insanes, the Witches Market was seriously weird. Dried llama foetuses for use in rituals, sweets made with poisonous glues and “love potions”. The stories that accompanied them were even creepier, with tales of homeless people being buried alive as offerings to Pachamama (Mother Nature) to protect their buildings.

Weird did eventually turn to wonderful when hearing about traditional Bolivian courting practices (the age old tale of men throwing stones and women revealing their calves if they’re interested) and explanations for the unique female dress code; an over order of bowler hats that were accidentally too small for the men’s heads. My personal favourite story was that one of the many protests in La Paz was actually due to The Simpsons being taken off air, and resulted in it being shown 3 times a day. 

To celebrate the independence of La Paz, the whole city was having a party and the streets were crammed full with marching bands, parades and a lot of drinking. Thankfully being about a foot taller than all the locals meant getting a good view wasn’t much of a challenge.

 After a hectic few days, we opted for simplicity and boarded a Bolivia/Peru Hop bus tour headed to Copacabana (the beach in Brazil is named after this town) which lies on the banks of Lake Titicaca; the worlds highest navigable lake. Las Olas hotel was truly spectacular, from a gigantic round bed to a wood burning fire, not to mention the incredible sunset views over the lake. 

Feeling refreshed, we said goodbye to B-Olivia and crossed into Peru only to discover that chaos awaited us. More on that next time… 

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6. Water load of fun! Brazil: Rio de Janiero, Ilha Grande & Iguazu Falls

When we last left you we were “stranded” on the island paradise of Morro de Sao Paolo following an ill timed ill time. Well good news! Just three boats, two super cool hats, a bus, plane and several taxi rides later and we had made it to Rio – phew!

Rio de Janeiro is just a 2 hour flight south of Salvador and until the 1960s was the capital of Brazil until the newly built Brasilia took that mantle. We arrived at the famed (and disappointingly pretentious) Mango Tree Hostel relieved but wary; Rio is known for being extremely dangerous. Petty crime such as thefts and muggings are at an all time high and frequent shootouts occur in the favelas (slums). As a local once said: “America is great but sucks. Brazil sucks but is great”.

A short taxi ride into what we were assured was one of the “safer favelas” (I was obviously still on edge!) brings you to the Dois Irmaos (Two Brothers) mountain. Motorbike taxis await to zip you up the narrow windy roads to the start of the trail as, unlike our unwitting and confused uber driver, most taxis won’t venture all the way. The hike is a fairly steep climb to the top where panoramic views of the south side of Rio can usually be enjoyed. Whilst our view was sadly this:

we were kept entertained by the marmosets along the way.

Having learnt our lesson about cloudy mountain tops + views, we opted for exploring Rio’s impressive 140-hectares of botanical gardens which houses more than 6,000 species of plants and trees. A haven of tranquility inside such a hectic city, the gardens are packed with intricate orchids, gigantic bamboo, bird swooping from tree to tree and lakes swarming with fish.

The only thing spoiling the calm were a couple of crazy jumping touristsand the impromptu game of “Find the Roamington”…After a brief tropical storm and with the sun poking it’s head through, we headed to Sugar Loaf Mountain where a series of cable cars whisk you 400m up to the top of the peak. From there we witnessed spectacular panoramic views of the sun setting over Rio, from the huge Rio-Niteroi bridge spanning the entire Guanabara bay, to the numerous verdant (#karen) islands and the golden beaches of Copacabana (cue Rachel from Friends singing).

Next on our itinerary was Ilha Grande (pronounced “gr-arn-gee” and literally translates as “large island”), a lush mountainous island just a few hours bus/boat south of Rio. Staving off Morro related flashbacks, we joined a speedboat tour of the island’s most popular highlights which, to our surprise, turned out to be completely Portuguese speaking! Not deterred and with snorkels in hand, we braved the chilly waters of the nearly indistinguishable “blue” and “green” lagoons and were rewarded with swarms of exotic fish and turtles.

Any trip to Ilha Grande must involve a trip to the famed Lopez Mendez beach. Having been told it was a two hour walk, we were pretty impressed with ourselves when seeing the beach after just an hour of hiking through treacherous terrain. Alas our smugness was quickly shattered when a randomly placed tourist office informed us that we were in fact only at the half way point. Tired and sceptical (how different could this beach really be?!) we trooped on and, luckily, it was totally worth it. The powdery white sand was as fine as flour and seemed to stretch for miles. The crystal clear waters were pleasantly cool and, until a gigantic wave came and took Liv by surprise, were perfect to relax in; it really was an idyllic setting.

After a tranquil few days, we headed back to Rio just in time to see a chaotic futbol game between arch rivals Flamengo and Fluminense (no we hadn’t heard of them either!). We arrived at the famed Maracana stadium and witnessed a hair-raising and emotional battle ending in a 2-2 draw after a literal last (95th) minute goal. Go sports teams!From Rio we flew to Iguazu falls where we spent a couple of days exploring both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides of one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders. Whilst the Brazilian side provides an incredible overview of the whole waterfall system, the Argentinian side gets you up close and personal to the two thousand tonnes of water flowing per second. Witnessing this sheer natural power was a truly breathtaking experience and whilst pictures don’t do it justice, here’s a few we took:

After three weeks of feeling linguistically lacking, we stocked up on delicious gluten free bread (Miss Laura Bakery in Foz do Iguacu was incredible) and left Brazil for an unexpected but delicious travel reunion tour. More on that next time…If you like reading our blog posts, please follow us and feel free to leave a comment or two!

5. Pousada Poosaga. Brazil: Salvador, Chapada and Morro de Sao Paulo

pousada
pəʊˈsɑːdə/
noun
1. a hotel, B&B or guest house in Brazil
Origin
Portuguese, literally ‘resting place’.


poosaga
puˈsɑːgə/
noun
1. a period of being in somewhat less than perfect health
Origin
Roamingtons June 2017, literally ‘poo saga’

As you probably have guessed from the blog intro, we were forced to face the age old reality about travelling this week; at some point everyone gets ill. Luckily for you readers, this didn’t happen until the end of the week…

From Santiago (Chile) we flew to Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia (26 states in total), located on the northeastern side of Brazil. After the mammoth journeys we’d been taking in Patagonia (see past blog posts), the 6 hours of flying seemed like a breeze: swift and turbulent. OK so first impressions of Brazil: warm, noisy, energetic, vibrant, and… unnerving, party due to everyone warning us how dangerous it was, and partly due to the number of cockroaches scurrying around!

Armed with a good night’s sleep, a delicious avocado, mango and banana smoothie (the fruit in Salvador was incredible!) and a secret bum-bag for our stuff, we roamed from the beaches of Barra, to the cobbled pavements of Pelourinho. 

With colourful buildings, bustling market stalls, giant public lifts and quirky statues, there was a real excitement to the city.

To avoid being hassled whilst spying on an impressive street capoeira performance, we popped into a building that turned out to be incredibly interesting museum. The Afro-Brazilian Museum details the history of Brazil, from Portuguese invasion to the several hundred years of slave trade from Africa. At one point 75% of the population were African slaves and, along with the historical information, the museum displays several styles of art from those cultures including amazingly detailed wooden carvings. Mmm chicken…

Speaking of chicken, Friday night was spent with a bellowing chabad Rabbi in a shul weirdly donated by the “Fingergut” family; a relation of ours perhaps?

A 7-hour coach ride from Salvador brings you to the town of Lencois and the Chapada Da Diamantina national park, named after historic diamond mining, and features incredible mountains, forests, waterfalls and caves.

Our day started at the Devil’s Pool waterfall where unscrupulous workers would curse the devil for taking the diamonds they had been attempting to steal. In reality, rain could increase the water flow so much that even sunken diamonds would be swept downstream. Whilst the diamond mining has long ended (I still optimistically scanned the ground), this particular spot has become popular for people crazy enough to jump (or accidentally belly flop) 30m into the water below.



Armed with torches we explored some of Lapa Doce’s 23km of caves (third largest in Brazil) littered with striking stalagmites and the guide’s amusingly pronounced “stalag-tits”.

The most unique cave experience was swimming in the brilliant blue waters of Poco Azul. In high season tourists face a 4-hour queue for just 15 minutes in the cave; luckily we were the first people there so went straight in. The water was so completely still and clear to the rock beneath that, as we descended the rickety steps, I was surprised to find the water level about 10m higher than it appears!

Photo from Google as didn’t have our good camera with us then. 

At Pai Inacio however we were “special enough” to witness one of only two days a year that the view looks like this:

Thankfully it cleared quickly and we did get to admire the view. 

After three days of delicious tapioca pancakes, stunning views and swimming in every cave, waterfall and lake we encountered, we headed to Morro De São Paulo, an island a few hours south of Salvador, for some beach chilling.

OK folks, remember how this blog post started? Well I’ll spare you the unpleasant details, but after a lovely day of exploring Morro, things turned ugly fast when we were hit by a stomach bug. Numerous days were spent indoors wishing we were home whilst being surrounded by lush palm trees, warm sea water and pristine sun-drenched beaches; not quite what we had envisioned!

This is however the reality of travelling; it’s great, but it’s not all great. Blogging about the hours upon hours of planning, researching, debating and deliberating, or the conversations assisted by Google Translate, would make for some pretty dry reading. Travelling can be tough, and requires a lot of work, but I could not recommend it highly enough…in the words of Nike, just do it!

Our supply of freshly felled coconut water did seem to be helping (the pousada owners were really lovely!), but progress was slow. With a flight to Rio de Janeiro rapidly approaching, we had to find a way to escape the island…