A Travellerspoint blog

Island hopping in Gorgeous Greece

Santorini, Milos, Sifnos and Athens in two weeks

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I finally find the time to update the blog! It has been so long since I could sit down to write our travels memoirs. The 7 week trip to Europe did not end in Spain but in Greece, our favorite country, I must say.

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My mother was right... as usual. Greece is gorgeous! No wonder why there were so many greek philosophers and poets. The scenery is amazingly inspiring... crystal clear waters reflecting the blue sky, islands scatered around, pristine colorful beaches and the mighty wind make you realize that truly God is the best artist ever. So much beauty in one place is hard to believe.

View from our hostel in Perissa Beach, Santorini

View from our hostel in Perissa Beach, Santorini

Santorini is one of the most beautiful therefore most visited islands in Greece. Gladly, Jay had already arranged a week of accommodation in Perissa beach for a great price (~25 USD/night) over the internet. Our small but cosy room had a balcony that overlooked the little village with the sea in the background and surrounding hills. We were literally 3 mins walking distance from one of the best black sand beaches of the island.

Ylla putting sun block on daddy's neck

Ylla putting sun block on daddy's neck

It takes forever to get ready to go out of the room with a baby. "Dont forget the diapers!", "Do we have clean bottles?"" Does she have sun block on?"... "Oh! Dont touch that, Ylla!!" And suddenly she hits herself on something and the crying begins. We did have a lot of fun times in the room though. It is so funny how babies try to imitate all they see... this kind of behavior later become sweet and fun memories.

Red Beach, Santorini

Red Beach, Santorini


The best way to explore Santorini, and most Greek Islands, is by car. The island is quite big and diverse: beaches with red, white, black and everything in between sand colors; archaeological sites; beautiful viewpoints; picturesque little villages; fishing coves and wineries. Our favorite attractions were definitely the beaches, even when some of them were quite crowded it was well worth it. "We have never seen a beach like this" said an Argentinian couple in Red Beach. "We have been all over the caribbean and Europe but nothing like this," he continued.

Kamari Beach

Kamari Beach

"Two days by car should be enough to see all the main attractions" said our friendly host. "You mean I will have to be driving a standard car in the steep and windy roads?" I said surprised to Jay. I haven't driven a mechanic car since I left Peru (~8 years ago). "Well, there is no alternative unless you want to pay almost double for the scarce automatic ones" said Jay.

Greek sings in Vathi Bay, Sifnos

Greek sings in Vathi Bay, Sifnos

Anyhow... I nervously had to drive all over the place. We got lost so many times... tension was in the air. The thing is that the signalization system sucked, big time, without mentioning that some of the off-the-beaten-path signs were written in Greek only! This forced me to pick up the Greek alphabet at light-speed... having learned quite a bit of science -math- in school and knowing the Russian alphabet became very handy, at last!

The Thibodeauxes in Ancient Thira

The Thibodeauxes in Ancient Thira

Ancient Thyra was the only archaeological site we explored while in Santorini. It is just not that fun to go see ruins when you have a toddler that all she wants is to pick up rocks and could care less about Apollos temple and amphitheaters where greek philosophy was discussed thousands of years ago.

Ancient Thira

Ancient Thira

The site happened to be on a ridge top which offered great views of the surrounding. The road to the top proved to be the most challenging thing I had ever driven through until then. It was rocky and narrow, steep and extremely curvy. Thank God we were able to make it to the top safely.

Perissa as seen from Ancient Thira

Perissa as seen from Ancient Thira

Exploring the Island on our own took us to Mesa Pigadia a rocky beach totally off-the-beaten-path. There was only one restaurant that seemed to host the handful of tourists that visited that day. I was surprised to see doors sticking out of the cliff. I kept wondering if that would be the entrance to a cave or some sort of house... Was that for real or just for display? i wondered. The mystery didn't resolve until I saw a local lady on her way to run errands walking out of one of the doors.

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DSC02791

Chilling out on black sand beach Perissa was our daily routine the days we didn't go for a ride. Most, if not all restaurants on the beach front offered umbrellas and sun beds for customers. Some even had free wi fi on the sand! Aeolos, the greek god of the winds, made its presence clear everyday... not that I believe in pagan gods but it was a nice way to say that it was pretty windy most of the time. Not bad for some otherwise burning days.

Jay walking Ylla into a black sand beach

Jay walking Ylla into a black sand beach

Jay's favorite thing to do was a 24/7 local bakery. In addition to the yummy pastries, the owner of the place was by far the main attraction. An old sweaty chubby but very friendly man wearing a wife beater and a waist down apron greeted all the new customers: "Hello, my friend"! He also liked to warn his customers about the local dangers "Be careful today is very windy" or "make sure not to walk on the side of the road, tourists are not very good drivers..." That in addition to the free fresh cookies he gave us every time for the baby totally won Jay over. He made runs to the bakery everyday, and sometimes more than once a day. He loved the massive chocolate filled donuts and I enjoyed the ice creams.

Oia

Oia

Ylla loves the beach. She used to be afraid of it. The first time we took her to Pensacola beach in Florida she cried as she set foot on the sand and even more when the tiny little waves of the shore broke next to her. Her conversion from beach hater to beach lover happened quite fast, as we let her play with stones and the sand real close to the water, dip her feet in the water and splash it showing her it is fun. But the part she loved the most was when both mommy and daddy got into the water together to swim and play with her.

Playing in Red Beach, Santorini

Playing in Red Beach, Santorini

Ylla is extremely social, a little flirty i would say! She smiles, waves and even approaches other travellers with boldness. She gets smiles out of everyone. Awww! We get to hear a lot as we pass by. Look at the baby with the bull! Most people find it funny to see Ylla grabbing Bevo's tale as she falls asleep. "You are from Spain!" A local guy said... "I know because of the bull (longhorn)".

Ylla and I in Oia

Ylla and I in Oia

The south end of the island is where the Faro (lighthouse) lays. "This would be a great place to pray" Says Jay as we watched the awesome scenery... Oh Lord! How great are your wonders, how mighty is the power of your hand to create. So simple yet so complex... Water, rock and wind was all you needed to make this spectacle of beauty, just for mankind to enjoy!

Near Faros, South end of Santorini

Near Faros, South end of Santorini

The North end of the Island where the touristy town of Oia is located is what people have in mind when they think: The Greek Islands. The place is very traditional looking with narrow rocky streets -filled with souvenir shops-, blue domes and church bells on steep cliffs....just beautiful.

Oia, Santorini

Oia, Santorini

But what Oia is most famous for is breath-taking sunsets. "People applaud when the sun sinks into the horizon at dusk" said the greek consul in Houston as I was getting my visa. And they do indeed! we found a good roof-top restaurant to have a romantic dinner as we witnessed the beautiful event.

Sunset as seen from the Restaurant in Oia

Sunset as seen from the Restaurant in Oia

We normally had quiet lunches and dinners as long as we coordinated them with her naps or bed time. The down side of this was that sometimes we would have to eat really early in order to avoid her toddler curiosity and destructive behavior in the restaurant.

Oia's Sunset

Oia's Sunset

The best you can do in the Greek Islands is to become a "Sunset hunter." Profitis Elias hill top also offers a great views of the Island as the sun resides. The hill is the tallest in the Island and host a Montastery at its top. We drove there and waited patiently to see the sun set. Very few other couples had thought the same way, although not all of them could take the long wait.

Sunset and mill in Oia

Sunset and mill in Oia

Santorini has an active crater called the Caldera. It warms up the water near by creating hot springs. We took a boat ride to the center of the Islands cluster more for the views than the warm waters. It ended up being an adventure in itself.

Oia as seen from the Caldera

Oia as seen from the Caldera

Ylla fell asleep on the boat so we had to improvise a way to not miss out the two hour time spam we had to climb up to the top of the volcanoe and back without waking her up. So we strapped her to her stroller and Jay carried her all the way up, like a slave carrying a queen in ancient times. Most tourists were amused at the situation and some even took pictures of it.

Jay carrying Ylla uphill

Jay carrying Ylla uphill

The views were well worth the strenous hike with a baby in your back. We enjoyed the time and Jay took the chance to swim in the hot water and paint his face with volcanic mud as Ylla and I waited on the boat.

Us in the Caldera

Us in the Caldera

Romantic and beautiful Milos was our next island to visit. You may have heard of the Venus of Milos statue? yeah the one with the arms cut off. This is the island where they found her. She was actually complete before they tried to ship it to Paris (it is now in Louvre) for what they had to cut her arms off in order to facilitate the trip.

Romantic diner with a full moon in Milos

Romantic diner with a full moon in Milos

We had good luck since the moment we arrived from the two hour fast boat ride. Our backpacker hotel had been overbooked so the owners put us on a nicer and well located one for the same price. We had a nice balcony overlooking a busy street and a kitchenette among other amenities.

Milos

Milos

We decided to hop into Milos because of the amazing looking beaches and the laid back atmosphere. We were right about that. There are some really strange looking beaches that make you feel you are in another planet.

Sarakiniko Beach

Sarakiniko Beach

Sarakiniko was on the top of the list for that. The white rock formations by a blue sea contrast beautifully. The beach was not as big as you may expect but we still loved it, we ended going there twice. Here Jay found his favorite spot for cliff jumping and we got some really nice sunset shots.

Sunset in Sarakiniko

Sunset in Sarakiniko

Again, the best thing to do to explore the island was to rent a car, so we hired it for a couple of days. Now with a bit more of experience driving a standard I was able to drive through some crazy unpaved roads in the middle of no-where. I must admit we still got lost but it was worth it. This is how we "discovered" an amazing beach called Ag. Ioannis.

Ag. Ioannis

Ag. Ioannis

It was actually a trilogy of beaches separated by small hills. The first one was accessible by car therefore there were a hand full of people at the beach. We decided to hike up to the next beach were we found paradise.

Hike to Ag. Ioannis

Hike to Ag. Ioannis

The beach was all to ourselves! there was no shade but the one created by some rocks so we had to shelter ourselves there to escape the burning sun. Ylla loved the place so much we ended up changing the name of the place to "Hola Gordita Beach."

Ag. Ioannis aka "Hola Gordita" Beach

Ag. Ioannis aka "Hola Gordita" Beach

Another trilogy of islands were located near Ag Ioannis, I don't remember the name of them and had actual sand on the beach. these beaches were so isolated that the only people we saw were either napping in a cave in the main beach or naked in another cave in the third beach. I had to climb a hill to see the third beach but had to hide as soon as I saw the naked guy. We decided to hang on the second beach which was again all to ourselves.

View of the "naked guy" beach

View of the "naked guy" beach

Other amazing beaches in the island include Paliachori for which we took a bus across the island, and Papafragos. The latter is just amazing. It looks likea canyon with crystal clear waters and caves around.

Paliochori beach

Paliochori beach

It was a bit too hidden and when we arrived we were the only ones in it. There was a warning sign on the parking lot saying that it was dangerous to climb down to it, but we made it safely thank God. It was well worth it.

Ylla and I in Papafragas beach

Ylla and I in Papafragas beach

After a 4-day lovely stay exploring beaches in Milos we took a ferry to Sifnos. We mainly chose this Island for its tranquility and the fact that was on the way to Athens. The Greek islands seem like the perfect gateway for older couples, newlyweds and single girls.

Leaving Milos, View of Plaka and the fishing village

Leaving Milos, View of Plaka and the fishing village

Sifnos was so laid back. You could feel the difference between crazy touristy Santorini, and Milos were you could hear children playing on the street at 11:30 pm. Sifnos is the perfect combination of mountains, beaches and litlle cozy vilages. We couldn't find a desolate beach as we did in Milos but the ones we found were so chilled and beautiful that we didn't even miss the luxury of being by ourselves.

Vathi, Sifnos

Vathi, Sifnos

We stayed in Vathi, the longest and my favorite beach on the island said the guy in the information office. We ended up renting a car, which is the best way to move around and explore the island, specially with a baby. We would have used the excellent bus service if we had more time and where not dragging a baby around.

Fisherman near Platis Gialos. Sifnos

Fisherman near Platis Gialos. Sifnos

Vathi was indeed our best option. We loved the tranquility of the bay. We were concerned we were not going to find accommodation because everything looked booked online, unless you want to pay double what u normally would. However, walking along the beach and into the tiny village I found an awesome hostel on top of a bakery.

Our balcony in Vathi

Our balcony in Vathi

They gave us a lovely room, or studio with a balcony overlooking the beach and village. They also had a common area with was a bigger terrace wit a nice view of the sea as well. Jay spent most of his time there either working, surfing the net or reading. The hostel was literally on the water.

Ylla in Pharos Beach

Ylla in Pharos Beach

Playing by the beach in Vathi we came across a retired french couple, they loved Sifnos so much that they come every year to spend their vacations. They had been in most of the Greek Islands and they said this one was their favorite. The lady seemed surprised we had come here because it is not really on the touristy route, but we were glad we did.

[center]Romantic diner in Apollonia, Sifnos

Romantic diner in Apollonia, Sifnos

Sifnos had the some of the best food we tried in Greece. We found this good restaurant with a lovely view. Is it early for dinner i asked the waiter. No, it is ok he said. For us greeks it is. We dine after 10pm. It is so true, on our second night in that same restaurant at about 10:30pm we were still the only ones.

House door and water fountain in Kastro

House door and water fountain in Kastro

Other than driving to the main town for dinner late at night, we used the car to explore other beaches in the Island as well as a cozy little town on a hill top called Kastro.

Kastro, Sifnos

Kastro, Sifnos

One interesting thing about the greek island is that they all have a sort of monastery or orthodox church at a hill top called profitis elias ( Profet Elijah) I am not sure if it os just a coincidence that all three islands we visited have them or if they are everywhere. Anyways, I am going to miss this island, and Greece in general Jay said as we sat on the beach of kamares, waiting for our ferry to Athens.

Platis Gialos, Sifnos

Platis Gialos, Sifnos

What an awful surprise we had in Athens. "I dont like your area," said the taxi driver as we dropped us off in one of the worst parts of Athens. Jay had booked the hotel there because it was near Acropolis and it was cheap. The dirty streets looked like the ugly parts of Manila, Lima or even Delhi (maybe not as bad cause there weren't any cows roaming around).

Athens

Athens

"Some reviews of the area said it wasn't that bad unless you don't like immigrants," said Jay. But it is not just immigrants but the fact that in these areas tends to be a lot of burglaries and we had a baby with us! The guy at the reception was smoking when we walked in. There was a bar on the first floor. Just when we thought things couldn't get any worse we were sent to a small hot room that didn't even have ac.

Ylla exploring the Agora

Ylla exploring the Agora

This is false advertisement i complained. The room was supposed to have a furnished balcony and AC. It was all my fault cause this hostel didn't have any reviews. Lesson learned! Jay talked to the boss the next morning and they moved us to a better room the second night, thank God.

Acropolis ruins

Acropolis ruins

Things got better the next morning. We walked towards the touristy area a midst old buildings and graffited walls. As we approached the massive archaeological park there were hundreds of little shops, shacks, stalls, and even tricycles selling antiques. Are they selling antiques or just all their belongings that may have value to cope with the crisis? I wondered.

Ylla and I on a viewpoint, Acropolis

Ylla and I on a viewpoint, Acropolis

You could see anything between old coins, lamps, and chandeliers to plates and plastics for domestic use. In one of this shops is where I found an antique marble phone for 20 Euro that I ended up carrying to the States.

Flowers and Parthenon

Flowers and Parthenon

We walked in the Agora for hours. It was hot and sunny but well worth it. As we approached the Parthenon I noticed a wooden cross on a small hill (Mars Hill). I had no idea what it meant until I saw a group of tourist guided by an american guy talking about the Book of Acts and the beginning of Christianity in Greece.

Cross with Acropolis at the back

Cross with Acropolis at the back

"Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. The God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands." Acts 17:22-24.

Athena's temple, Acropolis

Athena's temple, Acropolis

I was so excited to have set foot on such an important place, although I couldn't help to notice the difference between the monument (cross) set to represent Christianity and the impressive marble temples made to the pagan gods...

Sculpture in the Agora

Sculpture in the Agora

We only stayed in Athens for a day, and it was more than enough for my taste. It was very interesting to see the center and birthplace of ancient western culture but after 7 weeks on the road with a toddler we were ready to head home. The flights back were very hard on Ylla, thus us, but we made it safe which is what count.

Jay and Ylla on their way our of Acropolis

Jay and Ylla on their way our of Acropolis

On the next entry I will narrate out latest trip to Panama from which we returned only a few days ago (Dec 23rd) a totally different experience, yet lovely. Stay tuned and til then!

Posted by Fiorela 27.12.2013 19:23 Archived in Greece Comments (3)

Catalunya and the Basque Country... y Ole!

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Walking in Barcelona is like being in an architectural exhibition show. Most of the buildings, parks and public spaces have been designed by famous architects. Immense, diverse, artsy and touristy Barcelona welcomes its visitors with a Columbus statue wearing the local soccer team shirt: Barca's! You need more than a couple of days to get to see what this massive city has to offer.

Colon is also a Barca fan

Colon is also a Barca fan

Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia or Catalunya, another region of Spain that strives to become its own nation. They have their own language, flag and identity. The buildings are old, tall and have balconies that many locals have used to express their nationalism. As you stroll in the beautiful narrow streets of the gothic town you can appreciate the street art, the many immigrants and familiarize yourself with the Catalunyan flag.

We want a honorable neighborhood

We want a honorable neighborhood

The red and yellow stripes when accompanied by a blue triangle and a white start in the middle state that the residents want Catalunya to become a republic, independent of Spain. Catalan is what you hear the most in this city, they only speak Castillian (aka Spanish) with outsiders or tourists. "You need to speak Catalan if you want to get a good job" said a peruvian family that hosted us during our stay.

Walking in Plaza Catalunya

Walking in Plaza Catalunya

A delicious chicken soup was served the night we arrived... just what we needed! We had landed quite late; and my dear Peruvian friend, Vanessa, brought us from the airport into Plaza Espanya, two steps away from the apartment. It had been a long time since Vanessa and I had seen each other. We used to work for the same company in Peru, and now we are finally able to reunite. She is my spiritual sister as we belong to the same church and have a lot in common.

Luz and Ylla having a yummy soup

Luz and Ylla having a yummy soup

Vanessa has been living in Barcelona for over 5 years and is one of the lucky few who has a good, stable job. "Being able to work in Spain is like winning the lottery," she said. The crisis has hit so hard that most people we talked to have been looking for jobs for quite a while.

Vane and Us in Fuentes Magic de Mont Juic

Vane and Us in Fuentes Magic de Mont Juic

Nelson and Luz, the Peruvian couple we stayed with have been looking for jobs desperately for almost a year. "Most jobs available are only temporary", they said; and "of course you have to pay your dues with over time... any kind of benefits is out of the question."

Mont Juic and the Magic water fountains

Mont Juic and the Magic water fountains

Why not go back to Peru? we asked. They seemed to have had it very nice down there. "The girls -their two daughters- like it here, and I would like them to have better chances in life," said Luz. As they keep fetching temporary jobs they sublet a couple of rooms in their tiny apartment in order to pay the rent. "3 of every 4 people are able to work in Spain", says Nelson. "It is hard for every one."

Nelson, Vane, Celia, Ylla, Kiara and Jay at Mont Juic magic water fountains

Nelson, Vane, Celia, Ylla, Kiara and Jay at Mont Juic magic water fountains

Despite the crisis, they didn't lack a thing. God, has provided for them. They treated us to home made meals and everything else they could. Sometimes it felt as though they were fathering us... :/ yet, we are very grateful to them for their hospitality and for their help with Ylla. Celia and Kiara, their daughters, really bonded with Ylla Mae. They loved to play with her, and Ylla went crazy over them. They spoiled her quite a bit.

Celia, Ylla and Kiara playing in the apartment

Celia, Ylla and Kiara playing in the apartment

Tania, a friend and colleague from Peru happened to be in Barcelona at the time. Despite the difficulties to find each other and her time constraints, we were able to go to see Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. We didn't enter because she had very little time before her flight back. Tania had been under a lot of stress because of work.

Tania in La Sagrada Familia

Tania in La Sagrada Familia

"You have to be thankful for what you have, not what you are missing" I told Tania. "Look around! we are in Barcelona, under Gaudi's master piece. It could have be way worse, couldn't it?" We had some good laughs remembering the journeys we had taken together in the past. After all, what were the odds that we would meet in Barcelona!

Is Mary being crowned?

Is Mary being crowned?

We never saw La Sagrada Familia from the inside. We saw multiple times touring the city but never had the time to get in. That is something I regret because it is definitely a Master Piece. It is still under construction so paying the 20 Euros would have been a way to contribute to its conclusion. Once it is finished it will be the tallest building in the whole city.

La Sagrada Familia, a work in progress

La Sagrada Familia, a work in progress

Antoni Gaudi was definitely a Genius. He mixed the gothic style with naturalism producing a unique and impressive outcome. There are several of his art pieces scattered around Barcelona, but nothing as impressive as La Sagrada Familia. He was so excited and committed to its construction that he would work crazy hours and even slept in the premises until a tram took his life away as he crossed the street a few blocks from his beloved church.

La Pedrera by Gaudi

La Pedrera by Gaudi



He was also entrusted with designing a whole park, Park Guell. The park is named after his dear friend, the one who not only financed his bizarre projects but was also his best friend. The park offer amazing views of the city and has some really interesting designs. A couple of houses at the entrance give the impression you are entering an amusement park. Unfortunately we couldn't enjoy it at large because Ylla had a cold and the park was packed with tourist, making it hard to chill and take in the views.

Admiring Gaudi's work at Park Guell

Admiring Gaudi's work at Park Guell

Ciutadella Park was our favorite spot in the vast and beautiful city. The Arch of Triumph of Barcelona is located right next to this park. The Arch area is famous for skaters and bikers doing pirouettes. There are also some older people sitting on the benches either people watching, playing board games, cards or cross words. It was in this environment that Ylla took her first steps. "What a good spot to walk for the first time," our friends said. We will never forget the place... for sure!

The Arch of Triumph of Barcelona

The Arch of Triumph of Barcelona

We came several times to this park because it not only offered a more local experience but also had free wifi which allowed us to make a few call phones to Peru and the US as we watch some hippies walking on the tight rope. There was also a lake with ducks and a playground that Ylla greatly enjoyed.

Ylla's first steps at Barcelona's Arch of Triumph

Ylla's first steps at Barcelona's Arch of Triumph

Ylla loves fish, we noticed that in Nicola's house, back in England. She kept starting at the colorful fish for a long time (for a baby). We had heard that the Barcelona Aquarium was pretty good so we decided to pay it a visit. Indeed, it was nice, and Ylla got quite excited (at first).

Father and daughter in the aquarium

Father and daughter in the aquarium

They have a glass tube that crosses in between a giant pool where you can see sharks, rays, and all kinds of fish all around. For some reason I get the impression that Ylla still prefers stuffed animals over the real deal. She spent quite a while digging into the stuffed animals sold at the aquarium store.

Ylla pointing at some bizarre sea creatures in the aquarium

Ylla pointing at some bizarre sea creatures in the aquarium

One of the best things we did in Spain was visiting the Barcelona branch of our church. They get together at the apartment Javier (a peruvian guy) shares with two other brothers. The church members are from all over the world, a very diverse and dynamic group, I must say. We had lunch together and got to talk about spiritual matters.... hmmm food for the soul, finally! Vanessa and I had some good conversations with some of the sisters and got to pray for each other.

ICOC of Barcelona

ICOC of Barcelona

15 days are not enough to see all Barcelona has to offer. Thanks to a church member we got to see something pretty unique of this incredible country. The Castells or human towers are definitely something not to be missed. In one of those hidden plazas of the gothic neigborhood, some Sundays a group of nuts get together to make up some human towers, just for fun. I am not going to lie. It is quiet a show and impressive, but what in the world!? it is actually a bit dangerous specially because there are children involved.

Ylla was really into the Castells

Ylla was really into the Castells

Ylla was quite interested in seeing what was all the fuss about. The towers are composed of a bunch of heavy guys at the base, leaning towards the center of the tower providing support. The fist levels contain the strong men that will hold the weight of the people on top. The higher the level the smaller and lighter the people get, ending with children wearing helmets (thank God) at the top.

Careful!

Careful!

Different groups of unpaid participants wearing colorful shirts basically spend a couple of hours taking turns to make the tallest or most ingenious towers at the eyes of the surprised tourists and locals who love the tradition. Not all the castells come to a happy ending, we saw a couple of attempts that had to be stopped. The bases were shaky so the tower had to be rebuilt... nevertheless it is a free show that must not be missed!

Castells in Plaza Jaume

Castells in Plaza Jaume

A flamenco show is another thing not to be missed in Spain. Thanks to Vanessa's generosity (she got us us free tickets) we got to enjoy a traditional tapa's dinner in a beautiful setting followed by an amazing show of flamenco dancers. This was the perfect opportunity for Ylla to wear her 6 Euro flamenco dancer dress and we got to dress up a little as we watched the show.

Y Ole! at the Flamenco stage La Cordovesa

Y Ole! at the Flamenco stage La Cordovesa

Located in a dark and small tavern, we sat really close to the stage. The display caught Ylla's attention immediately and for some good 30 mins, which is pretty good for a baby her age. She loved it so much she was constantly clapping and acting as if she wanted to dance too. The dancers were incredibly good, oh! how I wish I had taken flamenco lessons before. It is such a strong and passionate dance.

Mommy and daughter at Flamenco stage La Cordovesa

Mommy and daughter at Flamenco stage La Cordovesa

The Basque country is another region of Spain that thrives to become independent. Heck! On this trip we only saw parts of Spain that do not want to be Spain. Oh well, anyways both Catalunya and Pais Vasco are parts of Spain as we speak, like it or not. We took a train to San Sebastian. We were to meet Steve, another English friend whom we met during our sabbatical trip climbing in Nepal. He has become an ex-pat in this lovely city.

In San Sebastian, Donostia

In San Sebastian, Donostia

The train ride ended up being an adventure in itself. Not only because we had to entertained a toddler with a cold, but because the train broke down arriving to our destination two hours late. The delay caused some other problems, such as having another passenger mistakenly taking Vanessa's luggage. He/she had got off the train in Pamplona, two hours before San Sebastian.

Vanessa and her bag, finally reunited

Vanessa and her bag, finally reunited

Due to that confusion we were not ready to leave the train upon arriving to our destination. So as Jay and I made sure we were not leaving anything behind, Vanessa got off the train. We were swaddling Ylla and the train started to move, the doors closed as we approached them and we were stuck until the next stop. Thank God it was "only 20 mins away" as one passenger said, but those were the longest 20 mins of our lives! I think it actually took longer than that.

San Sebastian, the patron of the city

San Sebastian, the patron of the city

Luckily Vanessa was able to identify Steve, who was waiting at the train station for us, and they came to pick us up from the French border, yes, that is how far the train had taken us. Ane, Steve's girlfriend drove us and took us to her nice apartment. She was really awesome to let us stay and leave us the entire place for ourselves.

Ylla playing at Ane's place

Ylla playing at Ane's place

It rained the whole next day. It was still not enough reason to keep us from sight seeing. Steve had prepared a tour of the city but unfortunately, the baby and the weather only allowed for a fraction of what he had planed. On our second day the rain stopped for a while so we were able to see more of the beautiful San Sebastian. It is an old looking small town that has a river crossing it and a bay with turquoise waters and little islands across.

We enjoyed strolling around the river and going through the narrow pedestrian streets. It didn't feel touristy at all.

Bread delivery, San Sebastian

Bread delivery, San Sebastian

As we waited in an alley for some delicious pinxos (traditional appetizers served on slices of bread) on the street we saw some people singing spontaneously, some guy delivering bread in a tricycle and people taking babies or dogs for a walk. Oh what a difference! To think that we found ourselves in a procession of tourists in Barcelona's ramble. San Sebastian was the perfect break from all that craziness.

Eating pinxos on the street

Eating pinxos on the street

The food in this part of Spain is exquisite! We were impressed with their seafood dishes. Steve knew all the good places to eat. He also took us to cafe's for tea as we waited for the rain to wane. We played cards, as we used to do when we met him and also took Ylla to amusement parks.
Jay and Steve had plenty of time to catch up as Vanessa and I did the same. It was an awesome weekend. We were happy to see Steve in this new phase of his life.
Jay, me, Vane and Steve in San Sebastian

Jay, me, Vane and Steve in San Sebastian



Montserrat is an important mountain for Catalans (people from Catalunya). It is also the home of a monastery and some of the nicest views of the area. Again Vanessa's generosity got us to Montserrat for free. It was mid afternoon and we took the time to go to a cross that was a bit off the beaten path. It wasn't easy to push Ylla's stroller all the way there but it was well worth it.

The Monastery in Montserrat

The Monastery in Montserrat

We were rewarded with amazing views of the Monastery and the surroundings as well as some alone time to appreciate them even more. The mountain is also a magnet for climbers. The rock formations are not only beautiful but perfect to practice that discipline. As we were in an organized tour we didn't have much time available so we couldn't visit the nearby museum neither the black madonna that is worshipped in the monastery. I don't think we missed much though.

Ylla and I in Montserrat

Ylla and I in Montserrat

The next day I ended up making a full peruvian dinner for Xavi's visit. We had met him briefly in the triple border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, near the Iguazu falls during the Sabbatical. He loves peruvian food and had told me he wanted to learn how to make Papa a la Huancaina... so Papa a la huancaina, Seco de Pollo, and Crema volteada was in the menu.

Peruvian Dinner with Xavi

Peruvian Dinner with Xavi

It was particularly yummy to my surprise. It is not easy cooking overseas in a kitchen that is not yours. We ended up talking the whole time about his experience with ayahuasca, long term traveling (he was travelling for years at a time) and the situation in Spain. He has also been affected by the shortage in jobs. We had a lovely evening and it was thanks to his recommendations that we went to Girona.

Girona by the river

Girona by the river

Girona is lovely. An hour away from Barcelona by train offered everything we wanted. The whole town was like Barcelona's gothic district but better. Stoned narrow streets, old interesting architecture, little touristy and original shops, every little street is worth a visit. The cobble stoned streets keep the history of a jewish population that still lives in this town.

Jay and Ylla in Girona

Jay and Ylla in Girona

We walked all over the place. Map in hand and sunblock on, we were ready to take the walk the tourist information lady had recommended. There was this ancient aqueduct that surrounded the city which offered amazing views of the area. Jay had to carry Ylla in several parts of the way, but it was well worth it.

Ylla and Jay in the Aqueduct

Ylla and Jay in the Aqueduct

We were practically walking it on our own. Every once in a while you would see a couple of tourists here and there but that was it. As laid back as it can be. We found this great spot that was by an ancient wall that had columns with jasmines, swallows flying around and gravel, perfect for Ylla to play. so we chilled there for a bit before going to get some food.

Ylla playing with rocks, her favorite thing

Ylla playing with rocks, her favorite thing

A restaurant on the other side of the river. Full of locals, executives that have a table waiting for them and the right wine served. Helli, we were waiting for you, said the waiter. That was the familiarity of a small town. We enjoyed a nice meal and went out again to explore more of the city. we spent the whole day there. Wish we would have stayed in Girona for a few days, but we are happy that we at least got to see it.

View's from the Aqueduct

View's from the Aqueduct

We greatly enjoyed our time in Spain. Yet we feel as though we haven't seen enough of it, or maybe haven't see anything at all. Next time we will have to go explore way more of the country, the part that is proud to belong to this beautiful and diverse nation.

Posted by Fiorela 14.07.2013 20:47 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Colorful Northern France

sunny

The weather improved as we approached the French shore. Although there were nice fancy buildings the beach did not seem very interesting. It appears that the old architecture and housing has not changed in ages. Arriving from England as I viewed the hills, cliffs and beaches; a thought crossed my mind that this must have been the view that the British saw when coming to fight for the expansion of their territories. We made it in about an hour and a half. Juliana, a classmate from grade school to high school, picked us up from the Port.

Juli y Fiore on a windy day in Calais

Juli y Fiore on a windy day in Calais

Calais is the name given to the northern most rural part of France. On a sunny day the fields, the roof tops, and the yellow flowers make a very colorful scenery. This is the perfect place to chill before moving forward inland into Europe.

Brasserie in Calais

Brasserie in Calais

We stayed in a lovely country side home with rocky walls, a gravel, and pretty gardens. A typical French couple, Oli’s parents, are living out most of their retirement years in this settlement. Not bad...not bad at all. They are building enough rooms to host their two grown up children and their families when they come for holidays. They also use one of the apartments as a Bed and Breakfast, the one we stayed in.

Playing with stones at Oli's parents

Playing with stones at Oli's parents

Patrick and Monique kindly invited us over for an aperitif. Champagne and Rose wine before dinner is a tradition that is religiously kept on this side of the world. Despite the fact we didn't speak French, Juli translated for us, and we were able to communicate some basic facts about America, Peru, and France. "The French language is not logical," they said. Their 4 year old granddaughter makes the same mistakes conjugating as a foreigner trying to learn because it doesn't really make sense, they pointed out.

Jay, Ylla, Oli and Juli in Calais country side

Jay, Ylla, Oli and Juli in Calais country side

In Calais we basically went out for a meal, took a couple of short walks by the beach and the fields and did a lot of catching up. After a couple of relaxing nights -Ylla had a crib for herself, score!!- we left to Lille. It was mother's day that Sunday in France so we went out for a nice lunch in an Italian restaurant. This year I have been congratulated twice for being a mother: SWEET!

Jay and Ylla at the Lille zoo

Jay and Ylla at the Lille zoo

Lille has some beautiful parks with lots of facilities for children. Juli and Oli have been remodeling their house in Lille for quite a while. We had the chance to visit the place. They are actually redoing everything. After seeing it in paper and visualizing in situ we have no doubt it is going to be amazing once it is finished.

Dinner in Lille

Dinner in Lille

We had a nice dinner made by Juli in Oli's parents apartment that night. The next we went out to explore the city. Both Jay and I were amazed at how beautiful and cozy Lille is. If I could speak French, I would probably like to live here. It seems like the perfect place to raise children, and the locals are nice for the most part.

Streets of old Lille

Streets of old Lille

Even though this was our second time in Lille we hadn't walked around the downtown area and enjoy the atmosphere of a small northern France city before. We walked pretty much everywhere for about 7 hours. Went to check out the free zoo, went to play in a couple of parks and had lunch with Juli. Both Juli and Oli were good hosts and spent a lot of time with us amidst their busy schedules.

Church

Church

Once in the airport things became ugly. Not only the people at the counter did not speak barely any English or Spanish but they tried to charge us for the stroller and our bags. They made us waste so much time... at the end the only lady in "town" that spoke English figured out that we actually didn't need to pay! but we had to run into the boarding gates. Thank God we were still able board the plane!

Ylla in the plane to Barcelona

Ylla in the plane to Barcelona

We are in Greece now. We will be chilling in this beautiful country for a couple of weeks before heading back to the U.S.
In the next entry I will write about the great time we had in Spain. Stay tuned and til then!

Posted by Fiorela 15.06.2013 07:13 Archived in France Comments (0)

The best of England

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We love England. Our English friends were definitely the highlights of our short stay in the gray, humid and old yet beautiful country.

Jay and Andy mastering the technique of Tai Chi farting

Jay and Andy mastering the technique of Tai Chi farting

A two hour train ride though the green country side took us to the Manchester area. Andy, a dear friend we met diving in Borneo awaited at the train station. He drove us to Ratclliffe, a town from which you can see a monument to Robert Peel, the guy who invented the Police (didn't you know that the English invented almost everything... right, Andy?). As we settled down in Nicola's beautiful two story home we took some time to catch up and let Ylla play with the rocks, flowers, and fish that graciously decorated Nicola's spacious back yard.

Dinner at Nicola's

Dinner at Nicola's

Andy and Nicola became good friends diving. Crazy Andy not only dove in Egypt after the 2010 shark attacks but goes paragliding in Tenerife, on a spot so dangerous that if you miss it, certain death awaits. Nicola, despite having a pretty intense week at work devoted some time to spend with us, bought toys for Ylla, and put together a delicious dinner for 6.

The Yorkshire Dales landscape

The Yorkshire Dales landscape

Visiting The Yorshire Dales is a must in Northern England, and we had the best guides to explore it. As we headed north into the dales we stopped at Bolton Abbey, the ruins of a 1511 massive catholic church in an impressive landscape. It was destroyed by Henry VIII when he went crazy after Catholics burning churches and monasteries.

Cemetery and Ruins in Bolton Abbey

Cemetery and Ruins in Bolton Abbey

This is where Jay attempted to cross the Wharf river over the jumping stones. It sounded like a good idea if Jay wouldn't have been carrying his backpack at the time. He fell off and got wet up to the "bollocks." Witnessing the dramatic fall made me turn back and take the bridge instead. "That was a good decision" said an old couple who laughed after watching the whole thing.

Crossing the river the old way

Crossing the river the old way

Chris (and his girlfriend Claire) met us in Skipton, their picturesque, small and cute hometown. We met Chris in Goa, India chilling out on the beach. Then, we met up with him a couple of months later to go to Ko Chang, a Thai island, for about a week to ring in the new year. We reminisced on the old times of a few months before.

Traditional Fish & Chips at Lunch time

Traditional Fish & Chips at Lunch time

After a yummy local meal (yes! fish and chips), and a brief stop at the local pub, we took a boat along the Liverpool and Leeds canal. The latter is remarkably long, covering about 150 miles of extension. The rather short but beautiful boat ride took us to some castle that I cannot remember (Andy, the man with a shocking memory should remember) the name of. I only know that currently there is an Italian family inhabiting.

Leeds and Liverpool Canal 2

Leeds and Liverpool Canal 2

The trip could not be completed until Chris took us to a tiny village (dale) called Lothersdale. In this shire he spent 5 years between 12 and 17 years of age. The day was cold and rainy but cozy houses, little streets and green hills made up for it. It amazes me how the English love flowers. They have them in pots, gardens, walls, rooftops and even on the most peculiar hanging items. The colorful and diverse flowers made a lovely contrast with the grey brick/stone houses.

Andy's Boots

Andy's Boots

We had to take turns to see what Lothersdale had to offer. Ylla had fallen asleep in the car and we didn't want to wake her up to avoid for the rest of the day. As Jay waited (probably napped) in the car while Chris, Claire, Andy and I went for a stroll.

Lothersdale, Chirs' childhood town

Lothersdale, Chirs' childhood town

Chris wanted to take us to see the old mill, instead we found that out of its ruins a girl was catching a goat to take it for a walk. "You only see stuff like that in the dales," said our English friend. The place is so peaceful, green and unique that makes you wish you could buy a little cottage out there to live in.

Taking the goat for a walk in Lothersdale

Taking the goat for a walk in Lothersdale

Living in The Yorkshire dales is remarkably expensive. "Only the rich can afford to buy properties there," pointed out Chris. Most of the locals newer generations find themselves unable to afford to live in their parents town and end up moving to larger towns. The rich have realized that living in the dales offers a better quality of life than in the stressful and populated urban areas, raising the price of the properties to the sky.

Chris' childhood town at the back

Chris' childhood town at the back

We said our farewells to Chris as he is getting ready to travel for 14 months across Africa. The following day Andy, took us sightseeing. Even though we were a week early to see the steam train in Hebden Bridge Village and ended up eating in the middle of nowhere cafe, driving around with a good friend makes your day. I believe it is true that in reality the journey is made up 90% the company and 10% the sights.

Railway Station at Hebden Bridge town

Railway Station at Hebden Bridge town

Despite Andy's efforts to take us to the Lake District and show us more of his lovely country we decided to chill in the house the day before our departure. Jay had to catch up with work (yes! work! online classes) and we needed to rest a little before heading to France and continue the journey. In fact, we decided it wasn't such a good idea to be traveling long distances by train to spend only a couple of days in a given place. Sadly, we had to tell my cousin in Holland and a nice couple in Germany that we were not going to visit them this time.

A real English breakfast

A real English breakfast

Andy really went out of his way to make us feel at home. He even went through the trouble to make us a real full English Breakfast which included a delicious black pudding made by his own company: "The Real Lancashire Black Pudding factory." He also drove us for about 7 hours from the Manchester vicinity across the country to Dover, one of the ferry launching points to France. The ride was longer than expected, the construction and bank holiday (what they call a 3 day weekend) created buttloads of traffic on the highways. The trip was no walk in the park having a lady who needed to pee every 30 mins (me) and a child in the back seat.

Tio Loco with his Longhorn shirt

Tio Loco with his Longhorn shirt

Posted by Fiorela 04.06.2013 01:29 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (5)

London: a city with character

rain

We are back on the road!

After a pause of about 3 years and a new addition to the family we are traveling again. Ylla is such a good traveler! The folks behind us were having a blast with her as she'd peak back between the seats. As the plane landed, Ylla happily stared through the window and banged on the glass out of excitement. She did very well during the whole flight. "She seems very together" commented the surprised flight attendant after learning Ylla had just turned one.

Ylla at the airport

Ylla at the airport

We arrived in London early morning. Heavy traffic and two-way narrow streets allowed for people watching. It took us 10 mins to cover about 300 feet of road. "It is always like that during school time.", said our taxi driver. Nevertheless it was lovely to see the students all dressed up in their school uniforms as if they were straight out of a Harry Potter movie. The view is so much different than in the U.S. with little streets, houses close together (like town homes and duplexes) with such a picturesque architecture... so much character!

DSC01019.jpg

We were staying in Surbiton, a beautiful suburb 20 mins by train south west of central London. Gini, a lovely girl we met in 2010 while traveling in Malaysia, is hosting us for a few days. She, despite her injury while playing tennis, made us feel more than welcomed in her cute cozy two story home in a corner lot. I can't get over how pretty everything it is.

With our lovely friend Gini at a Restaurant

With our lovely friend Gini at a Restaurant

"I thought Jet Lag was not going to hit me, but after 5 mins I crashed in bed," said Jay surprised. Despise the fact that the neighbors are doing some repair next door, and Ylla's wining every now and then, we slept some good 5 hours. We decided to chill although we wanted to go grocery shopping but was so cold and rainy, oh well... "this is London, you are going to get wet anyways", said Gini.

Big Ben as see from the London Eye

Big Ben as see from the London Eye

Hampton Court was our favorite attraction in London. It is a massive castle blending Baroque and Tudor styles. The most famous resident was Henry VIII. He not only was father to Elisabeth I but also founded his own Church. He wasn't pleased with the excess of Rome neither was he fond of the limitations it imposed on him. Therefore he proclaimed himself head of the Church of England and not only divorced many times but cut the head off some of his 6 wives.

At the entrance of the Hamptom Court

At the entrance of the Hamptom Court

The coolest thing about this old monument is that actual the actors walk around the premises as the real historical characters would. We witnessed some quarrels between the queen and king, "royal gossiping," and controversial plans for the abolition of the church. The actors and exhibitions really bring it to life.

Ylla's coronation

Ylla's coronation

"Hello, little one" said "the King" to Ylla in a very deep voice. We believe that Ylla's favorite part, by far, was the Children's court where she played at will and was crowned with a Jester costumer :)

What? a Jester!?

What? a Jester!?

Hampton Court is currently used as a guest house for the royal family. "Does the Queen live in the Palace"? I asked a guide. "No, not really. She may visit every once in a while but one of the Queen's friends is a permanent resident."

No water there

No water there


We also learned that in it was in Hampton Court King James I requested a new translation of the Bible in 1611. This is what we know as the Authorized Version of the King James Bible which is actually my personal preference when it comes to bibles in the English language.

Finally asleep in a Palace backstreet

Finally asleep in a Palace backstreet

The Thames River surrounds the immense extension of the Court. We walked 5 miles along the river to get to Kingston. It was just so quiet and beautiful. Very few hikers, bikers and pedestrians were seen. The houses across the River looked beautiful and cozy. The sun timidly shone a few times and some ducklings came to welcomed us expecting some food in return. It was a long day in which we walked almost 5 hours. But, hey! there is no better way to get the feeling of a city!

Beautiful Swan

Beautiful Swan

London Eye is Britain's main modern attraction. A tranquil ferris wheel spin to view the sites of London in all their glory. From the Eye one has an enchanting, bird’s eye view of the city. The Parliament, Big Bend, Thames River and many old bridges were seen from above. The wait was not too bad; however, it was a bit pricey. Ylla ate the whole time we were there and made us realize that we cannot do the same things we used to before she appeared in the scene.

Arriving in the London Eye

Arriving in the London Eye

Americans always mistake the Tower Bridge, said Gini. It is so true! We were supposed to visit the Tower Bridge which is iconic for the city, but we ended up in the London Bridge instead! This bridge has literally nothing to offer. I kept wondering, Did Gini really meant this bridge? At least we saw the Tower Bridge from a distance as we crossed the London one.

Ylla playing by the London Eye

Ylla playing by the London Eye

This unexpected detour took us to Leaden hall Market. Of course we were meant to go to another market for lunch but I lost the paper where Gini had written down the name. Anyways, it was probably nicer and less touristy. The place was lovely and predominantly visited by what would be the wall street finance dudes of London. Why do Englishmen always drink standing up? at 2 pm in the afternoon the suited business men hanged out in the market's pubs.

Leadenhall Market

Leadenhall Market

Wthout a doubt, London is the New York City of England. The metro was our main means of transportation. The busy and not so friendly London residents run across the endless maze of passages. We are certain that, if Ylla wasn't around, the locals would never have noticed us. Ylla would catch smiles and kind gestures easily. On the contrary, we were ignored most of the time. London is so diverse that you can hear almost every language in the world.

Ylla with London at her feet

Ylla with London at her feet

Have you ever heard of the Buckingham Palace? if you follow English Royal gossip you probably have. This is the place where they are supposed to live and where the smile-less guards watch. It was my desire to go there and I am still not sure if it was worth the visit. It is surrounded by beautiful and massive parks, but nothing was seen of the famous British blue bloods.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

One thing we’ve learned quite quickly is that, when traveling with a child, parks and playgrounds are a must. So, we cart off to the greenery where she can crawl, play, and stretch out. London’s parks such as Green and Regent's park are quite lovely for this. It is in these parks that Ylla will most likely take her first steps. We are letting her train by pushing her very own stroller through the parks as a walker.

Pushing my stroller is fun!

Pushing my stroller is fun!

Poor Ylla, at the tender age of 1 and some change, her parents are strapping her into a stroller for up to hours at a time while mommy and daddy see the sights. Needless to say, she can get to be quite the subhuman monster clawing and yowling from the body of a baby, when there isn't enough play time allowed. As we advance in our journey through Europe, we shall continue to scope the nice parks for potential picnicking rather than attempt to devour the tourist attractions. It is hoped that the park visits will kick the Dies Irae-a-la-Ylla can down the road.

Your Highness Ylla Mae

Your Highness Ylla Mae

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Posted by Fiorela 28.05.2013 15:17 Archived in England Comments (7)

Highlights of the Sabbatical


View South America & Asia on Fiorela's travel map.

Total distance covered in 17 months: 87957 km / 54657 miles.
Distance covered in

  • South America: 24652 km / 15319 miles;
  • Eurasia: 63305 km / 39338 miles.

Click here to see a complete map of the entire trip

Best Moments:

  • Watching the sunset on Mt. Everest followed by a full moon rise (Nepal).
  • Visiting Iguacu Falls (Brazil-Argentina)
  • Hiking in Vale do Pati - Chapada Diamantina (Brazil)
  • Cruising the Amazon River on hammocks (Peru-Brazil).

Sunset on Everest and Nupse

Sunset on Everest and Nupse

Worst Moments

  • Assault attempt in Belem (Brazil)
  • Bang Lassi overdose in Varanasi (India)
  • Car crash in kashmir (India)
  • Motorbike accidents in Koh Chang (Thailand)
  • Stung by a black scorpion (Malaysia)
  • Being threaten to buy over priced tickets -twice! (India)

After the Accident Outside Srinagar, India</p><p>[b

After the Accident Outside Srinagar, India

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Best Nature-Watching Experiences[/b]

  • Diving with Thresher Sharks and mating Mandarin Fish (Philippines)
  • Whale watching in Puerto Madryn (Argentina)
  • Jacare and Capibara spotting in Esteros del Ibera (Argentina)
  • Diving inside a twisting school of sardines and Barracudas, Sipadan (Malaysia)
  • Elephant back riding searching for tigers and Rinhos in Chitwan (Nepal)

Mating Mandarin fish

Mating Mandarin fish

Most Amazing Monuments

  • Golden Temple in Amritsar (India)
  • Great Wall in Beijing (China)
  • Angkor Tom in Angkor Wat Park (Cambodia)
  • Ajanta Caves (India)

Great Wall

Great Wall

Most Gratifying Experiences

  • Meeting with old friends (Argentina & Uruguay)
  • Volunteering in Vang Vieng (Laos)
  • Playing with local children (Laos).
  • Helping a lost and desperate British girl in Irkutsk (Russia)
  • Being helped by a local Sikh (Malaysia)

Jay weaving bamboo

Jay weaving bamboo

Most Awkward/Uncomfortable Situations

  • Experiencing Russian Banya (butt-naked) with 3 locals
  • Riding a second class train unreserved (India)
  • Having our door pissed by a bunch of drunken finish guys (Myanmar)
  • Local vendors forcing us to buy handicrafts on a boat ride (Viet Nam)

Jay annoyed be the lady selling souvenirs

Jay annoyed be the lady selling souvenirs

Best food

  • Papaya Salad and Curries in Bangkok (Thailand)
  • Paneer Tikha Masala and Masala Dosas (India)
  • Pasta in Mercado del Puerto, Montevideo (Uruguay)
  • Acai na Tigela (Brazil)

Eating Masala Dosa, Kannyakumari

Eating Masala Dosa, Kannyakumari

Worst Food ever:

  • Fermented horse milk (Mongolia)
  • Iceland preserved (with urine) shark meat (China)
  • Cheese snacks (Mongolia)
  • Frozen Pizza (Viet Nam)

Posted by Fiorela 13.04.2013 13:15 Tagged the world around Comments (0)

Chile... the Last Stop (E)

The Sabbatical's Last Week


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Hello y'all!

Greetings from Houston, TX. This entry covers the last week of our long voyage...

Valparaiso is a crazy port town that resembles a head with messy hair, trying to comb itself endlessly without success... jeopardizing its own particular character, just like Chilean poet Pablo Neruda described it.

Church, Hills and the Pacific Ocean

Church, Hills and the Pacific Ocean

The intense, vehement, and bohemian town continues to grow sideways and upward. The many alleys attest to a revolting population that expresses itself in hundreds if not thousands of colorful graffitti; "decorating" walls, portals, old balconies and even rustic elevators that spread throughout the capricious geography of a hilly town in front of the Pacific Ocean.

Elevator and Graffitti

Elevator and Graffitti

On the weekends, Valparaiso is filled up with Santiaguinos (people from the country's capital). It was a Wednesday when we arrived in Valpo. A strike of public workers had altered the normal atmosphere of the town. Elevators didn't run and there were loads of garbage accumulating all over the place.

Graffitti and Trash Colors

Graffitti and Trash Colors

An old three story building own by a family of artisan hosted us for the next 5 days. It was very well located on a steep street full of restaurants, pubs and alcohol vending facilities. "Non Smokers Not Allowed" stated a popular unusual cafe a block away from us.

Old Man... taken from our Hostal

Old Man... taken from our Hostal

People-watching, wandering around the maze like steep streets of Valpo and eating fresh seafood are the things to do. As we walked downhill from visiting La Sebastiana -Neruda's home- we encountered a very talkative old lady who had Santa sneaking through her window. "Go ahead, take a photo" she yelled from across the street.

Santa and Doña Esther!

Santa and Doña Esther!

Standing in front of her house we chatted for about half an hour. "When I hear the youngsters speaking on the streets I ask myself: what is that language?" said Doña Esther. "They look at you as if you are an alien when you speak properly," upset she declared. Indeed, Chilean Spanish is one of the most difficult to understand, even for native speakers! No wonder why our fluent Swiss friend e-mailed us: "I thought I knew Spanish until I came to Chile."

Valpo Street

Valpo Street

One day we decided to walk to famous Viña del Mar. In addition to visiting the popular music capital of South America we wanted to find a good movie theater. It was a very enjoyable stroll right next to the water. What we didn't know is that it was going to take more than two hours to reach our destination. But oh well... the modern, clean, exclusive high-priced city was more beautiful than expected. That being said, we both agreed that staying in Valpo was a far better idea.

Viña del Mar

Viña del Mar

As we arrived in Santiago a Peruvian friend -she is Chilean now- I hadn't seen in a long time awaited us on the bus station. Taking in the city views from her centric 20th floor apartment, Danixa filled us up with stories about the fast growing Peruvian population in the city. "They mostly live in confined places and even though they make enough money, they do not try to upgrade" she said upset. Of course this is just a generalized opinion.

At Danixa's Place: Feliz Navidad!

At Danixa's Place: Feliz Navidad!

In Santiago, we stayed with a nice couple who lived in one of the most exclusive parts of town. We had met Jorge almost a year ago waiting on a bus in Beijing, China. We had such a great time conversing about Latin American politics and idiosyncrasy in Spanish -oh! it felt so good to speak in your native language- that he kindly invited us to visit him in Santiago... and so we did. Despite of what the lovely couple say they were great hostesses. Their busy schedules did not prevent them from showing us the city and taking us to delicious restaurants.

With Sarah and Jorge... Sushi Time!!

With Sarah and Jorge... Sushi Time!!

Surprisingly enough we had continued travelling since we got back to the U.S. Denver, Boston and Austin welcomed us with an old friend's warmth... It has been great to listen to all your impressions on our long voyage. We noticed though there are many questions we have not addressed in the blog. Therefore, we have decided to write one more entry (yeah, one more!) about the journey's highlights. So, please if there is anything you would like to know about the trip (budget, itinerary, planning, etc.), feel free to post it as a comment or send us an email. We'll make sure to include the answers to your inquiries on the next entry. We LOVE having you as reader and commenter of our blog...

Posted by Fiorela 04.02.2011 13:03 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Argentina por Partida Doble! (E)

Buenos Aires, Patagonia and Mendoza.


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Happy New Years 2011!!! Feliz Año Nuevo 2011!!!

Greetings from Houston, Texas! We are finally back… In this entry we narrate the events that took place on our second visit to Argentina. There is one more entry (about Chile) on the way... hopefully it will be posted pretty soon!

A comfy overnight bus brought us back from Montevideo to Buenos Aires. After one and a half hours of carrying our heavy bags looking for a place to stay, we run into an old, quiet and welcoming Hostel. It was very well located in the microcentro (meaning the most centric part of town), right next to the Obelisk, artsy and bohemian Corrientes St. and gigantic 9 de Julio Ave. As I have mentioned before, the best way to get to know a city in on foot, and so we did. We walked all over BA, about 20 - 25 km per day.

The Obelisk...Check it out, I’m in Buenos Aires!

The Obelisk...Check it out, I’m in Buenos Aires!

A good map and a heavy breakfast (lots of facturas -sweet pastry- and hierba mate -Argentinian Tea) got us to Recoleta Cemetery, a little town in its own. The many streets, monuments and sculptures in a maze-like arrangement makes it easy for first-timers to get lost. Finding Eva Peron's grave ended up being more difficult than we originally thought.

Recoleta Cementery

Recoleta Cementery

To see her mausoleum we had been advised to follow the tourist crowds, but such strategy proved to be wrong. We jumped into group whose guide was trying to get rid of a local couple using the same approach. The heated conversation between the guide and the couple got nasty. Actually the trip’s ugliest racist remark came out of it: "Look at the color of your skin in the mirror before addressing me like that" replied the upset white female to the dark tour guide.

Angels in Recoleta

Angels in Recoleta

On a Sunday most businesses close and parks are filled with merry locals biking, skating, walking pets, exercising or chatting drinking hierba mate. Palermo's Rosedal -Rose Park- was over crowded that day. The many benches, lakes and rose patches with delicate scents were visited by masses of people of all ages. Needless to say this place is so romantic that it is not difficult to see couples expressing their love through passionate kisses and endearing hugs. Of course we didn't want to look alien so we played our part... "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," so the saying goes ;)

Caressing in Rosedal, Palermo

Caressing in Rosedal, Palermo

For the next two days our main objective was shopping for leather stuff and warm clothes for Patagonia. Monchi joined us on the quest. We went all over town, reached every possible shop so Jay could fulfill his dream of buying Argentinian leather pants. La Boca, Once, Florida, Corrientes, Murillo... It took us two days and lots of patience to find them. What we didn't know was that Jay would leave his pants on a bus a few weeks later (darn!).

Somewhere near "La Boca", Buenos Aires.

Somewhere near "La Boca", Buenos Aires.

"A trip to Argentina is incomplete without going to Patagonia, you have to go whale-watching in Puerto Madryn" said Guille and Cami when in La Plata. Our friends' enthusiasm convinced us to jump on a 20-hour bus ride South-wise. We liked the mid-size town as soon as we arrived. Laid-back, friendly people in addition to a long pear and walkable beach with dozens of jumping whales (and a few sea lions) made us realize the trip was worthwhile.

Puerto Madryn at Night, as seen from the Pier

Puerto Madryn at Night, as seen from the Pier

I must confess by the time we arrived in Patagonia, 15 months on the road were making us lazier and lazier... Yet our motivation to see whales for the first time got us on our feet to arrange a tour to go to Peninsula Valdez. We ended up sharing a car with a Brazilian couple and a driver who turned out to be a very atypical guide. Happy to show the area where he grew up, he drove us to remote unvisited spots that offer great views of the dry and windy Patagonian shore.

Puerto Piramide Landscape

Puerto Piramide Landscape

In Puerto Piramide we shared a boat with 80 people to go whale-watching. In mid November most of the male adults have already left the area so what we saw were females nursing the young. The curious young sea mammals approached our boat so closely; within an arm's reach. Some of them even swam underneath the boat, leaving the exited visitors breathless. The majestic creatures were definitely well worth the trip down.

Mother and Child

Mother and Child

The sounds of the wind, the camera shutters, and the exhaling of the beasts combined as the heat of the moment reached it climax. At a distance, many whales were going deep, looking for food, leaving only the tale in the surface or just jumped graciously splashing water all over. Thinking things could not get any better, a school of playful dolphins surprised us by chasing the boat as it headed back to the port. It was one of the best nature-watching excursions we've had.

Whale Tale, Patagonia

Whale Tale, Patagonia

Whales are not the only attraction of the area. Our guide drove us around the peninsula to see sea lions lying on the beach, some birds -including Patagonian Ostrich- and penguins. The later were our favorite. They were so close to us and so friendly that we felt like touching them. Not that we did it... instead we took lots of photos of them mating, breeding, walking around and even fighting. Check out the Photography section for more pics.

Penguins

Penguins

Andean village El Bolson was chosen to spend my 31st birthday. It poured rain that day so we stayed indoors warming up, drinking wine and eating empanadas while contemplating a nostalgic view of the Piltriquitron Mountain through the window. I just wanted to rest that day, but when the rain waned Jay convinced me to go for a walk.

Three Peaks Glacier as seen from El Bolson

Three Peaks Glacier as seen from El Bolson

A muddy trail took us to a lookout point with good views of the town and nearby mountains. On the way up, a greeting to a local old man started a brief conversation: "Things are not what they used to..." he mentioned the shire's rapid growth and complaint about people not talking to each other anymore. "When I was your age, I always liked to talk to older people; now that I am old, I like talking to the young" he said as a sort of justification...

After the Rain, El Bolson

After the Rain, El Bolson

We had a lovely delicious dinner at a fine restaurant to celebrate my B-day... The following days had perfectly sunny weather so exploring the village surroundings was the thing to do. About five to six kilometers away the vivid colorful Valle del Azul and Cabeza de Indio welcomed us. I now understand why El Bolson could be a wonderful place to settle: growing what you eat amidst a beautiful mountainous scenery and chill out artsy atmosphere is not the worst lifestyle, is it?

Two profiles: the Indian and Jay

Two profiles: the Indian and Jay

A street Milonga -event where Tango is danced- with life music closed the program. Several members of the shire and outsiders alike (who had obviously taken Tango lessons) where dancing to Bandoneon (sort of concertina) tunes. Many bailarines spontaneously popped up in the dance floor casually dressed. My favorite couple was an enigmatic old man elegantly dressed who danced passionately and skilfully with a young girl with dreadlocks... what an interesting combination, don't you think?

Street Milonga in El Bolsón

Street Milonga in El Bolsón

Snow-capped mountain that drained into a massive lake populated with multiple islands dressed with pine forests and aromatic flowers under a deep blue sky... wonderful Bariloche was our next stop. Home-like comfort, Hostel Penthouse 1004 is an apartment on the tenth floor with Bariloche's best views and some of the friendliest staff we have encountered on this trip.

Nahuel Huapi Lake as seen from our Hostel

Nahuel Huapi Lake as seen from our Hostel

We took it easy in Bariloche and only went sightseeing three times. A short but steep hike took us to the summit of Cerro Campanario. A chairlift could have been taken instead but we needed to exercise (due to the great chocolate, ice cream and wine availability in town). I would say this place offers the best views of the Nahuel Huapi Park. The coffee shop at the top was perfect to rest, play cards while taking in the marvelous views.

Panoramic from Cerro Campanario

Panoramic from Cerro Campanario

Good public transportation is another great thing about Bariloche. Nahuel Huapi's Circuito Chico is normally done by car or bike but we did it by bus and on foot. Even though it takes a longer time to cover the same distances it is well worth it. You can access off the beaten track areas, stop anywhere anytime and take a greater number of photos. We ended up walking more than planned and sometimes it seemed as though we were lost ( some trails got narrower leading to a dead end)... But the views where more than rewarding.

Tree Trunk Bay, Nahuel Huapi Park

Tree Trunk Bay, Nahuel Huapi Park

Villa La Angostura, an hour away from Bariloche was our last excursion. A boat tour drop us off at the tip of the Peninsula from where we headed back 19 kms through one of the two unique Arrayan forest in the world. The amber color of the Arrayan trees twisted in capricious ways gives them a particular appearance. According to Fede this forest may have inspired Walt Disney to design the landscape for the Bamby movie. It looks like a forest from a fairy Tale, indeed!

Living in a Fairy Tale... Arrayan National Park

Living in a Fairy Tale... Arrayan National Park

I happened to have two friends in town: Fede (a Patagonian Museum employee who hosted me in the past) and Gabriel (a mount climbing guide that I met in Huaraz many years ago). Fede is quite a character, with his refined Castilian and thousand of stories about Patagonian architectural legacy he entertained us quite a bit. Gabriel and his wife Nancy -who was 8 months pregnant by the time- joined us for a lovely dinner; climbing in Huaraz and friends in common were the main topics at the table. Jay took he opportunity to learn more Argentinian slang... so typical!

Dinning with Fede

Dinning with Fede

One of the things Jay was really looking forward to was the wine touring around Mendoza. The bicycle circuit is very popular with the tourists. So the day after Jay's bedridden bout with the sights, we joined up with several other backpackers in our Hostel for an independent group tour of about 10 people through some of the wineries.

Mr. Hugo's Bike Shop

Mr. Hugo's Bike Shop

Now, most of the time, we try to avoid large groups when we're out doing sight seeing, but we were VERY fortunate to have a very diverse group of too cool for school travellers. Needless to say that, by the end of the day, we were quite tipsy. As a bicycle is not considered 'heavy machinery' we took no precautions in riding while intoxicated.

Jay, it is the other way!!

Jay, it is the other way!!

One of our favorite things about the city of Mendoza itself was this little restaurant we found around the corner from our second Hostel. Other than being an excellent economy option, it was popular with the older pension crowd, so we got to overhear some interesting conversations. But there was also a nice city park that we spent a good amount of time walking through.

Dusty Bottles, Mendoza

Dusty Bottles, Mendoza

After 4 nights in Mendoza, we took a short bus ride to Uspallata, which is on the way to the Chilean border. As 7 Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt was filmed here, you can imagine the landscapes; F'n AMAZING! The town is very small and friendly. Seventy percent of the locals are environmental activist in some way. It was not hard to see graffitti and street paintings against a Canadian mining company.

Against Mining Exploitation, Uspallata

Against Mining Exploitation, Uspallata

While in town we stayed at the oldest hostel of the area. The family who run the posada was quite interesting, The old lady enjoyed talking to people "it keeps me learning and entertained" she said. Therefore she had all sorts of stories about peculiar hostel's guests, some of them climbers attempting to reach the highest point in the Western Hemisphere. Her husband was an excellent entrepreneur with lots interesting anecdotes and tips on how to run a successful businesses.

Walking in the Desert, Uspallata

Walking in the Desert, Uspallata

We spent our last 2 days in Argentina here doing day hikes while saying our goodbyes to the country. One of the loveliest excursion was a 14km round trip hike to the 7 Colors Hill. If you want to be alone in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but deserted rocky hills, this is your best bet! After climbing the hill, we enjoyed many hours of solitude just listening to the wind and watching the clouds pass-by near some of the driest Andean mountains I have seen.

Puente Inca

Puente Inca

On the next day the target was to visit Aconcagua Provincial Park. The bus dropped us off by Puente Inca, an impressive natural bridge with sulfuric structures and hot springs. It was 4 kms away from the Park's entrance. "Just follow the highway and you'll get there" said a local seller. We didn't want to walk next to the road so we took a shortcut which ended up being a closed trail that used to be accessible in olden times. This was one of our favorite parts of the day. It seemed as though we were actually exploring something... and the views couldn't be better.

Old Trail to Aconcagua Park

Old Trail to Aconcagua Park

Once in the Park, we took a short trail to a viewpoint to see the highest mountain of the Americas. Unfortunately the clouds didn't allow us to see massive Aconcagua (~7000 meters) in all its magnitude. So we took it easy and laid down for a couple of hours by Horcones Lake watching a family of ducks swimming around looking for food, fixing their feathers and taking a nap.

Horcones Lake, Aconcagua Provincial Park

Horcones Lake, Aconcagua Provincial Park

The way back to the bus stop was an adventure in itself. Since the park rangers had made it clear it was forbidden to take the old trail, we headed back along the highway. We realized there was a railway parallel to the road not too far from us, so we decided to follow it. Gladly, the old railway was out of service. Some of the tunnels had collapsing parts blocking the way.

Old Railway Tunnel

Old Railway Tunnel

The scariest part of it all was having to cross a partially fallen bridge. We could see the river underneath us. A minor stumbling step would mean the end... so we had to use both legs and arms to secure ourselves. Our agitated heart beats and shaky legs let us know that we had been in great danger. Thank God nothing bad happened. "It is the last time we do something like this" Jay and I agreed.

Scary Bridge Crossing

Scary Bridge Crossing

It's a little awkward updating the blog from home... but we wish to tell you about the last days of our long trip. It makes all the difference in the world to know that some of you have been able to see (and travel) the world through our blog. We greatly appreciate your encouraging words, your comments and suggestions. There is only about a week left to be narrated so stayed tuned...God bless you.

Posted by Fiorela 05.01.2011 13:56 Archived in Argentina Tagged patagonia Comments (0)

Beloved Uruguay! (E)

Merry Christmas People!!!

Although it is not accurate to say that Jesus was born on December 25th, this is the time of the year when we remember the arrival of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to this world. So, let's celebrate and open our hearts to let Him fill them with love, peace and hope.

Uruguay is a great place to meet up friendly and well educated people -actually there are no illiterates in the country. A three hour boat ride across Rio de la Plata brought us to Colonia del Sacramento. Portuguese and English architecture, rocky streets, a bohemian atmosphere and a windy-rainy weather gave this little town a nostalgic feel.

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

It was in Colonia that Jay found out about a meal called Chivito which deceivingly -for Spanish speakers- evokes the thought of a lamb based meal. However, it is beef topped with ham, cheese and fried eggs, accompanied by French fries served on a gigantic plate or with bread as a sort of sandwich. The portion is literally "Texas size," no wonder why It was one of Jay's favorites.

Is dinner ready? Colonia

Is dinner ready? Colonia

A couple of cool Uruguayan girls we met in Salvador, Brazil invited us to stay with them in Montevideo. We were quite the rowdy crowd out to live it up. These girls took us dancing and for several strolls around the historic city center and greater metro area, to live music pubs and street performances. It was a jolly ol' time with them, being the lovely girls that they are.

Walking Around Montevideo

Walking Around Montevideo

One of them, Silvana, also took us on a tour of the local theater -Teatro Solis- and to see a short play which was directed by her. It is amazing how many Uruguayans are into art and intellectual affairs. "We are all over-educated, we all want to be artists or intellectuals of some sort, to the point that there is not enough people to work in the fields" explained Silvana.

Nuns in Solis Theater

Nuns in Solis Theater

Another thing we really enjoyed about Montevideo was the security we felt walking around at night. No worries about getting robbed or jumped. Everything about this capital is pretty laid back. One of the other highlights for us was the excellent food. It has a somewhat meat and steak driven gastronomy (Chivito) similar to Argentina with some small variations.

What should I eat??

What should I eat??

The wine was also pretty descent, but not as good of a value as in Argentina. Our time in Montevideo also made possible for me -Fiorela- to see old friends. The ones who host me in early 2003. Ale's great sense of humor energized us while Talo instructed us in Uruguayan Soccer history and politics. I loved seeing Alejandro and Talo again, they have not change a bit!

Dinning at Ale &#38; Talo's Apartment

Dinning at Ale &#38; Talo's Apartment

The longer we stayed in Montevideo, the more we liked it. There are so many charming details about Uruguayans... for example, it is common for people to gather on the weekends to play drums on the street, most likely preparing for the Carnival. Candombe is a tradition that comes from the black slaves who used it to communicate, dance and express their religion.

Playing Hard, Montevideo

Playing Hard, Montevideo

Nowadays whites, indigenous and black Uruguayans of all ages alike walk along the streets playing African drums for hours until their hands bleed. The sounds are so inviting that people sneak out through the windows and even follow the musicians on the street dancing to their tunes.

Warming up Drums, Montevideo

Warming up Drums, Montevideo

We left Montevideo wishing we could have stayed longer... Our Swiss friend Oli joined us for the most part but as we arrived in Buenos Aires time had come to say goodbye. He continued South along the coast towards Patagonia and we stay for a few extra days to see more of the lively downtown area, spend time with Monchi and do some shopping. In the next entry we'll tell you about it, also about whale-watching in Patagonia and Mendoza wineries...

Posted by Fiorela 26.12.2010 18:46 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

Nature-watching & Friendly Encounters in Argentina (E)

Corrientes, La Plata and Buenos Aires

Hola Amigos!

Greetings from Valparaìso, Chile... I hate it always takes so long to update the blog. We have been enjoying ourselves so much lately that we barely found time to sit in front of the computer. I was thinking in posting one last entry but I realized it is just too much for a single post. I decided to add more detail and photos rather than saturate ya'll or just narrate it superficially. So here we go...

Two bus rides were needed to go from Iguazu to Mercedes, a lovely laid-back little town in Corrientes province. It seemed as though we had been just a few minutes behind schedule because both connecting buses, in Corrientes City and Mercedes, had departed minutes before our arrival. In Mercedes there was supposed be another bus leaving 3 and a half hours later, so we waited in the bus station next to some "gauchos" (Argentinian cowboys) dressed with elegant bright shirts, horse-back riding pants, alpargatas (casual shoes made out of frabric), and boinas (funny looking hats) smoking a pipe or a cigarrete.

Gaucho in Mercedes

Gaucho in Mercedes

When the old bus had finally arrived the driver signed the papers as if he was getting ready to depart, but since there was no person checking in the ticketing office he decided he would not work that day... I couldn't believe my eyes! To make it even worse the next bus to Pellegrini would not depart for another two days!!! So we were stuck. There wasn't much to do in Mercedes other than sit in the park, people-watch and to have some of the best value meals we've had in Argentina. As we looked for a place to stay we met a couple from Buenos Aires who were traveling with grandma (la abuela) and two puppies in a landrover.

La Abuela at Gauchito Gil's

La Abuela at Gauchito Gil's

They kindly invited us to join them see "Gauchito Gil's Sancturary" the next day. Gauchito Gil is a sort of Argentinian Robin Hood. ASbout a hundred years ago, the so-called heroe got caught by the authorities and was shot to death in front of a tree that is now painted in red and adorns his sanctuary. Many locals who were grateful to him made him into a saint. Legend has it that the Gauchito Gil performs miracles! in that case the grantee returns to Gauchito's sanctuary and leaves something of sentimental value. When we arrived there was a gaucho cutting his little boy's hair at the feet of the tree as a sort of offering.

Lighting candles to the "Saint"

Lighting candles to the "Saint"

The place is visited all year long by large masses of devotees who not only pay their respects to the "Saint" but also wander around the informal improvised shacks on the dusty grounds outside of Mercedes, buying thousands of souvenirs and religious items. A Museum with tons of plaques and artifacts that had been offered as a ransom completes the tour. You would be amazed at the number of famous Argentinian characters that have left aticles such as bicycles, pictures, trophies, wedding dresses and uniforms from all sorts in return.

Getting a blessing at Gil's Museum

Getting a blessing at Gil's Museum

After that they took us to see San La Muerte, the most bizarre pagan "saint" you would ever imagine. Some Argentinians actually worship the image of death. How is that possible? The Cult place was predominantly black, with flags and images of the Grim Reaper. There were many many bottles of expensive and not so expensive whiskeys at the feet of the image. An article posted in the cult states that the "Santito" was actually a guarani priest that cured using plants and other sorts of beverages.

"San LaMuerte"

"San LaMuerte"

He was persecuted and burnt by Jesuit priests because of his bizarre practices. The "saint" is more popular among prisoners. The devotees of the Santito can ask for protection, and/or wishes with good and bad purposes. Apparently whatever is granted to the devotee is Satan's rather than God's work. I left the place with an akward feeling... Either way we were grateful to the Argentinian couple for having taken us there, otherwise we would have never know this kind of Pagan cults are practiced in Argentina.

The "Santito's Worship Place

The "Santito's Worship Place

After three long, dusty, and hot hours on a falling-apart green bus with red curtains we were in Colonia Pellegrini , the gateway to Provincial Park Esteros del Iberà. The little town (if you can call it a town) is composed of big `town` blocks but only with one or two houses on each. It looked more like a bunch of microfarms put together than a proper settlement. The charm of the place is the incredibly high diversity of birds and approachable animals that populated the area, not to mention its extremely sleepy atmosphere.

Wood-Pecker

Wood-Pecker

Esteros del Iberà is a paradise for nature lovers, competing with world-famous Brazilian Pantanal... and no wonder why. By taking a very short walk in the parks trails one can easily see Howler monkeys taking a nap or playing around, capibaras (the biggest rodents on earth), deer, foxes, and many many kinds of birds...On a short boat excursion we saw tons of capibaras, jacares (aligators), hundreds if not thousands of different birds and some of the most beautiful landscapes we have seen.

Jacarè eye

Jacarè eye

Imagine a deep blue cloudless sky mirrored on the dark waters of a gigantic lake with floating islands that host thousands of different animals that are not bothered by man's proximity. To see the sunset on the boat is quite a sight... seeing animals mating, hearing sounds of birds saluting the coming night as they get ready to sleep, feeling the cool breeze and breathing the purest air as one watches the warm colors of a setting sun fading on the horizon is awesome and can soften even the toughest hearts.

Esteros del Iberá

Esteros del Iberá

Traveling for work, town engineers working in a reforestation project in the area happened to be our neighbors in Pellegrini. The two Concordianos entertained us with conversations about Argentinian politics, development and social behavior. The tallest Argentinian guy we've ever seen complained about Kirchner's policy to alleviate poverty: "they are giving tax payers money to more than 2.5 million people to sit around and scratch their nuts, while we work our asses off" he said loudly. Some complaints don't change between continents.

Jay in Parque Moreno, La Plata

Jay in Parque Moreno, La Plata

A was very long bus ride took us to La Plata where a nice and happy couple (Guille and Camila) had opened their doors and arms to receive us. We had met Guille twice, first travelling in Bolivia in 2007 and then when he visited us in Austin. They were very hospitable and put up with us for four days. In addition to cozy and delicious restaurants our hosts took us to Republica de los Niños. A "sort of Argentinian Disneyland" they said joking. It had been Camila's dream since she was little to visit Peròn's gift to the Argentinian children. No wonder why there was a bust to Evita in the place.

Cami, Jay and Guille going for a train ride in Republica de los Niños

Cami, Jay and Guille going for a train ride in Republica de los Niños

The place is more than a mere amusement park, I must say. It has everything from a government palace, congress, court and banks, to jog tracks, Ferris wheel, horses and even a train that gives tours around the gigantic thematic park. But the greatest part of it all is that the Children's Republic is actually run by children! every six months they democratically elect president, congress members and other authorities to design and execute projects. Isn't it great!?

Three happy couples at Guille's

Three happy couples at Guille's

Guille and Cami also introduced us to a couple of fun friends with who we enjoyed a lovely dinner... we mainly talked about our trip, they couldn't believe that we were actually doing it, but the chat somehow evolved into a heated conversation about politics, family planning and gay marriage?

A Barril in San Telmo

A Barril in San Telmo

One of the best of being back in Buenos Aires was to see a dear friend of mine, Monchi. He hadn't cut his hair for 9 years giving him a totally different look. Walking the long streets of Argentina's capital is the best way to know the city. Along with our Swiss friend (Oli), we strolled around downtown B.A., for many hours. San Telmo seemed more picturesque and the souvenir shops, antique houses and steakhouses had multiplied by the thousands. It looked brighter, cleaner, and a lot more touristy than I remember... "When you came there was no body visiting Argentina, except for you, peruana" said Monchi. I came right after the big crisis that hit Argentina so everything was outrageously cheap.

Monchi, Oli and Jay in San Telmo

Monchi, Oli and Jay in San Telmo

And so we walked all over the place, a day was not enough so we decided to get back after going to Uruguay, but to stay in the Microcentro (downtown area). I will tell you about the amazing time we had in Uruguay and Argentinian Patagonia on the next entry... this time it won't take that long...I hope! Love ya'll.

Posted by Fiorela 08.12.2010 16:55 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

Southern Brazil: Beaches, Waterfalls...(E)

all seasons in one day
View South America on Fiorela's travel map.

Oi Gente!

Greetings from La Plata, Argentina. We are very fortunate to be staying with a couple of locals, our friends Guille and Cami. As usual, the blog update takes place several weeks after the facts...but, as a popular Spanish saying goes "mas vale tarde, que nunca..." Continuing with the narration of the trip... we flew from Salvador de Bahia to Rio de Janeiro on September 28th.

Unlike the Northeast part of the country, Cidade Maravilhosa the weather in Rio really sucked. To wait out the weather we took a side trip to Arraial do Cabo, one of the best dive spots in Brazil -after touristy and outrageously expensive Fernando de Noronha.
To our surprise the water temperature was so low that one could even see penguins fishing on the beach. That did not stop us from booking a
couple of dives in a nearby Island to keep our license up to date.

Praia do Forno, Arraial do Cabo

Praia do Forno, Arraial do Cabo

Even though, sometimes it felt as though we were about to get hypothermia, the experience was well worth it. Despite the crap visibility we saw many colorful fishies, puffers, turtles and even rare nudy-branches (colorful worm-lookin things). The best part of it all was that, for the first time, we dove on our own, without a guide. It was not the original plan but the cheap deal came with a surprise. "Brazil is one of the least professional scuba diving destinations in the world" complained an upset German diver after her dive master opted not to dive, because he was tired.
Getting ready to go for a dip?

Getting ready to go for a dip?

Back in Rio de Janeiro we were lucky enough to find a basic affordable Pousada in pricey Copacabana, run by a friendly Paraguayan lady... We decided to stay until the weather improved, which only happened for a couple of days during the week. The best days were when Jay was bedridden from jailroom constipation and the day we left...drag... However, regardless of the bad weather we enjoyed walking along the most famous beaches in the world, Copacabana and Ipanema. Without the sun, Rio starts to look a little bit like Lima, and that's not so good (?)!

Copacabana beach

Copacabana beach

On one of those cloudy days Jay and I decided to climb more than 700 meters to the top of the Corcovado Hill (the big Christ Statue)
hoping for the skies to open... unfortunately as we approached the summit, it only got worse.
However, the one-and-a- half hour steep hike amidst the Mata Atlântica was well worth it. No one else dared to climb that day, so we had it all for ourselves. Not only we saved money by not taking the "gringo train" but we enjoyed walking in the forests of Parque Nacional da Tijuca. When we reached the top it was so misty that we could hardly see the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer... and only for a few minutes, when the wind blew strongly enough the Wonderful City would appear to greet the visitor.

The Sugar Loaf as seen from Corcovado

The Sugar Loaf as seen from Corcovado

We had better luck with the weather on the day we went to the Sugar Loaf. It was a sunny day yet the capricious Pao de Açúcar did not show its summit to us. A cloud was forming right on the top of the hill covering it almost completely... Never mind, we interpret the whole situation as hint that we have to go back to Rio. The next time we will bring my mom along, since it has been
her dream to return to Rio one day.
Sugar Loaf

Sugar Loaf

Election day in Brazil!! Politics are so hilarious, no matter where you are in the world.
We just love the televised debates and commercials, as well as the politicians` desperate attempts to make themselves look like
heroes while making the opponent candidates look like crap. Our Carioca friend, Alexandre, and his wife, Luciana, took us with them to vote in a public school. The have a beautiful 8 month old baby girl named Sofia.

Sofia, Alexandre, Jay and the tanned lady

Sofia, Alexandre, Jay and the tanned lady

Brazilians elect president, members of the congress, governors and prefeitos every four years from a very long list of
candidates. In order to vote, people have to memorize numbers of up to 5 digits (crazy!) to enter them in little machines... "A device that has the power to predict the future of a country" accoding to a Government commercial. Therefore, candidates have to find effective ways to make their numbers known. The most popular advertized method was to compose"cheesy" and repetitive songs using Forro and other popular melodies which are played continuously on the streets (using cars with souped-up stereos) as if they were Buddhist mantras... .

Pico do Papagaio and Abraão as seen from the trail to Palmas

Pico do Papagaio and Abraão as seen from the trail to Palmas

The next stop on the trip was my all times favorite Ilha Grande. Thank God, after all these years, my dream comes true to return little paradise with love of my life :). Regardless of the dynamic weather we had a number of wonderful, sunny days. There are about 116 beaches in the Island, but only a few of them are accessible on foot. On the trails you see can easily see Howler Monkeys, Micos, lizards, squirrels and lots of tropical birds. During our 11 day stay on the Island we went to a different beach each day, a waterfall, some ruins and even went twice to the so-called second most beautiful beach of Brazil: Lopes Mendes.

Walking in paradise, Lopes Mendes

Walking in paradise, Lopes Mendes



Without a doubt, the very best day was the day of our near'1000 meter hike to the second highest peak of the island: Pico do Papagaio. The weather was E-MAC-U-L8!!! A lunch at the top and two hours of contemplating life with views of nearly half the island below our feet...who could ask for more?
Views from Pico do Papagaio

Views from Pico do Papagaio

In Abraao, the main town on the Island we stayed in a hotel run by a Carioca artist whose paintings were graciously decorating the trendy posada. He managed to serve us well and politely almost until the last day when Jay found out that our
breakfast was not served on time -whattttt!?- and we had to leave soon. So he went knocking on the paintor´s door. The
guy exploded to his helper -who was supposed to be in charge that day- by quoting Jay: "knock, knock, knock...Cafe da manha!!" and them
cursed out loud: porra!!!!! we didn´t know what to think since it wasn't our fault, but after a good laugh we concluded that the guy is not content with his job and simply plays the part of a temperamental "artist."

Paraty's traditional means of transport

Paraty's traditional means of transport

Upon our exeunt from Ilha Grande we were dog-tired but not enough to keep us from pushing on to Paraty. The enchanting and picturesque town welcomed and hosted us for the next 5 days. We stayed in a low-key posada with a nice balcony right outside of the historic center, the best spot for cheaper food and people-watching. We sat for hours watching passers-by on foot, bike, motorcycle, car, and even horseback & horse and carriage. All this while playing cards and sipping on some caipirinhas a la Jay.

Interesting character of Paraty

Interesting character of Paraty

Wandering the rocky streets of Paraty we found a whipping pole by the main church where a sculptural black guy talked about the history of the place -for free, to the curious tourists. The guy held a chain in his hand and was shirtless giving him the look of a runaway slave. Praia do Jabaquara, a short walk away from town, became our favorite spot. The tranquil and beautiful setting allowed us to finish reading a couple of books and play around with the local kids. Though the most beautiful beaches nearby were in Trinidade.

Reading in Jabaquara Beach

Reading in Jabaquara Beach

The mega metropolis of Sao Paulo is now a pleasant memory of a 3-day stay which were spent riding one of the best metro systems in the world, walking amidst the unique architecture of Av. Paulista, climbing the second tallest building in town for great views (free entry), listening to Gregorian songs in Sao Bento and visiting my old twin college friends, Alfredito and Gonzalito.

Downtown Sao Paulo

Downtown Sao Paulo

How cool it must be to have a twin sibling, don't you think? Alfredo and Gonzalo took turns to keep us company without missing any of their normal activities. With Gonzalo we went to see some trendy contemporary art in Parque do Ibirapuera. He also joined us to watch the highly recommended Tropa de Elite 2 in a cool shopping mall... Alfredo introduced us to his lovely fiance, Valeria, and her hospitable family. We enjoyed dinning and conversing with them so much that time just flew by. We left Sao Paulo a bit sad, wishing we had more time and hoping to go back for their wedding in May.

Alfredo, Valeria, Gonzalo and Jay in Av. Paulista

Alfredo, Valeria, Gonzalo and Jay in Av. Paulista

The last stop in Brazil was the marvelous Iguazù Falls... oh dear! one can only get speechless at such wonder... You need at least two days to get to see the Cataratas properly: one day for the Brazilian side and one for the Argentinian side. On the Brazilian side we stood in awe and were inspired by the picturesque, panoramic views of hundreds of water falls of all sizes that found their way through the dense forest and the many butterflies that could be carried on your fingertips...

My "local" friend and I

My "local" friend and I

on the Argentinian side awaits the visitor a more "hands on" experience due to the multiple sidewalks that take you right on top, on the side and underneath the falls. It is unsual to remain dry after wandering about... you get so close to the fall that you can feel the energy of the falling water.

Panoramic View of the Falls from the Brazilian side

Panoramic View of the Falls from the Brazilian side

A thought kept visiting my mind... how a geological fault and a river can produce such a beautiful work of art... hundreds of white walls of bright white and drops of water reflecting the light and forming rainbows. What else could you add to this precious setting? Wildlife! The exotic toucans with huge colorful bills and their peculiar way of flying and hundreds if not thousands of swifts gliding around the water drops and disappearing into the falls as they get back to their nests... Not to mention the many mamals that inhabit the park.... Indubidably, a World Wonder. In short, this place does NOT suck at all.

Falls and a rainbow I

Falls and a rainbow I

One day we took a bus around the three borders to see Paraguay, or Ciudad del Este, to be more precise... I am not sure this was worth it. The main reason we went??? Bragging rights for entering another country?? Guilty as charged. We did meet a couple of other nice travelers to sit down and talk with for a while. It was also interesting to see the hustle and bustle of the tax-free commercial area where 4 currencies are constantly exchanged and 4 languages are spoken.

From Puerto Iguazu we took a bus to Corrientes to see Esteros del Ibera, one of the best places in South America to see wildlife... indeed!!! For the last 5 weeks for our VERY long trip we shall be exploring Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Puerto Madryn, Mendoza and Santiago de Chile. I will tell you about that in the next and last entry... until then and God bless y`all!

Posted by Fiorela 06.11.2010 08:16 Archived in Brazil Comments (3)

Coasting the Northeast of Brazil (E)

Viajando pelo Nordeste Brasileiro


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Olá Galera!!!

We are writing from Rio de Janeiro aka Cidade Maravilhosa -the Wonderful City- for a good reason... it is beautiful even with bad weather. On the last entry we had just finished cruising the Amazon... on this one, we went exploring the Northeastern coast of Brazil which had much more than gorgeous beaches to offer, as you may find out below.

The sunny and musical Nordeste Brasileiro definitely exceeded our expectations. An expensive and long overnight busride from Belem took us to São Luis de Maranhão. The historic center had a trendy area with what appeared to be the University/Middle class crowd. It was a nice place to hang out and have a Caipirinha or two or three.... But other than perusing a few historic houses and churches, we hightailed on a bus to our next destination. After our experience in Belem, we were kind of put of by the big cities of the Northeast, so we didn't quite enjoy this city that much.

Colonial architecture in São Luis de Maranhão

Colonial architecture in São Luis de Maranhão

Across the bay from the capital of Maranhão we found one of the very best colonial towns of Brazil -that we've seen,- Alcântara. This town has a great number of colonial jewels in a state of decay. On a Sunday - the day we arrived- pretty much everything is closed and the locals stay home... All this gives it a tint of ghost town, which was quite charming to us. The historic district has a good-ol´pre-S&M Movement whipping post. Unfortunately, it's in a public area, otherwise we may have been tempted to try it out (kidding?).

Alcantara's whipping pole

Alcantara's whipping pole

We also had the good fortune of being there during one of their Catholic/Candomble(Afro-Brazilian religion) festivals for a local saint. There were a few parties scattered around town where free meals were handed out (raise the roof!). The scene was dominated by old men drinking cachaça -hard alcohol made out of sugar can- and women dancing to African drums... not the worse place to be, huh?

Celebrations under the full moon in Alcântara

Celebrations under the full moon in Alcântara

Barreirinhas is a nice town with sandy streets and beautiful starry nights, but extremely touristy with tons of resorts. We took the typical group day tour to the Lençóis (Bedsheets) Maranhenses on the spot to save time. The dunes, named Bedsheets for obvious reasons, were quite marvelous. Now, there ARE some amazing sand dunes in the deserts of West Texas and Peru, but what makes these babies special are the natural lagoon pools. They're excellent for swimming. As the windy breeze is constant, you don't feel as through you're walking on sand dunes.

J Lençóis Maranhences

J Lençóis Maranhences

Parnaíba is a quaint little city, and taking a boat tour of the delta is the activity of choice. We teamed up with 2 Italian girls we met on the truck and reserved a small boat for the 4 of us. The poor things, the Italian girls (nameless for their protection) got sick from something. We all ate the same thing, so Goodness knows what got them. We visited a two sided beach that had a fresh water side and a side to the Atlantic with salt water. The boatmen also took us crabhunting in the mud. Mud is always fun. After lunch, we canoed down a tiny, IndianaJones'ish channel that had two types of monkeys hanging out in the trees above.
Thinking about.... food, probably

Thinking about.... food, probably

Some of those little guys were curious about us. Towards the end of the day, we took in the sunset on some riverside sand dunes. With the boatmen and the sick Italian girls hanging down by the river and no one else around for miles, Jay took the liberty of walking around in the buff for a bit (no pics for the best interest of the blogviewers). Other than getting your nude on and viewing the fantastic sunset, you have a nice view of an area of the delta with lovely islets and that. The next day, we went to one of the local beaches, one of the many we would visit over the next several weeks.
Sunset in Parnaíba beach

Sunset in Parnaíba beach

Getting away from the beach and the classic gringo trail along the coast we detoured towards Piripiri where we stayed in the Texas Hotel. Hey, it was an excellent value. You probably wouldn't be surprised to see how many Texas-themed restaurants and hotels there are all over the world: countless. Close by is the Sete Cidades or Seven Cities National Park, a prime slice of nature with some very interesting rock formations that seem to resemble petrified remains of ancient cities. The indigenous and foreign alike have concocted legends and such about how they came about, but as usual... it is all speculation. There are also some prehistoric paintings that date back to like.....a LONG time ago.

Sete Cidades

Sete Cidades

A little something that blows about this park is that, since a few years ago, you're required to hire a guide. Hiking on your own is prohibited. It can be cheap if you have a group, but it's a bit pricey if you´re just a couple. Thanks to the lady who arranged our boattour in Parnaíba, we had a recommendation for Oziel as a guide. Born and raised in the park, this guy was fantastic. He calls himself a Curiologo (Curiologist) because he is curious about everything, he doesn't have any academic degree but he's been a guide and a teacher to many scientist (such as geologists, archaeologists and biologists) who have visited the park.
The Curiologo making a bracelet from leaves

The Curiologo making a bracelet from leaves

Não fala Inglês, but even if you don't understand a word he's saying you'll still have quite a time. He made a necklace for Fiorela and a bracelet for me out of some plants in minutes. The necklace, didn't last, but the bracelet has been on my wrist for over a month and doesn't show any sign of coming off. He also made us try different fruits and leaves from the forest and told us many interesting stories of the area... Apart from the guide, the rock formations are quite out of this world.

Canyon in Sete Cidades

Canyon in Sete Cidades

Fortaleza was another Brazilian metropolis. Upon our arrival in the early morning on the overnight, we gave it a miss as there was another bus leaving pronto for Canoa Quebrada, one of Brazil's many beach towns. The beach here was beautiful, but what really made this place worthwhile was the spectacular view we had from our hotel balcony. It was the perfect place to lay in our hammocks while gazing out at the Atlantic, not without a glass of straight-chilled cachaça, contemplating life. The town itself was okay. It's a popular weekend getaway for the Brazilians, so there are plenty of shops and restaurants geared for that. After 4 nights, it was time to put the beachbumming on hold in favor of moving on. Que-up busride to Natal.
Resting in a hammock

Resting in a hammock

Natal is a large city, but with a population of less than 1 million, so we felt more secure feel than some of the other larger cities. The beaches are lovely for thong gazing (shame on me -Jay), and here you can find some of the cheapest coconuts in Brazil. This is extremely important if you develop an addiction for them like me. The normal price in Brazil is 2 reals (3 in Rio), but here we found them for as low as .50 reals.
Natal as seen from the beach

Natal as seen from the beach

About 30 kms south of Natal, you come to Praia da Pipa, which has a similar ambience to Canoa Quebrada, only more developed and expensive. We also happened to arrive during a long-weekend holiday -Brazil's Indepence day, so it was pretty full. At our Pousada, in the room next to ours, there was a group of 5 Brazilian girls sharing a room together. One of them invited us to her place in Recife, and we ended up staying with her there for a couple of nights. Their routine was to stay up all night drinking at the bars, have breakfast, and then sleep ´til at least noon (4 hours sleep per day). Can we say Spring Break ´86? Our routine was somewhat different.

Working out in Pipa

Working out in Pipa

We'd walk the beaches in the morning after breakfast, lunch, drink and play cards, and then walk the beaches again in the evening. No all-night partying for we old folk. After all, Jay is going to turn 30 soon. A popular tour highlight of these beaches is Praia dos Golfinhos (Dolphin Beach) that has a crowd of dolphins swimming around at various times of the day. They get pretty close to the people in the water as if they're looking for playmates. If you´re lucky you'll get one doing a flip out of the waves breaking in front of you. We were.

Bahía dos Golfinhos, Pipa

Bahía dos Golfinhos, Pipa

What also makes the beaches of Pipa cool is their proximity to the cliff walls, although you need time your walks with the tide as at various times of the day it´ll be right up to the cliffs and some areas get too deep for walking. Another great thing about Pipa is to see Micos -little monkeys- literally invading people's roof tops in the quest for a treat. Even though it is not good to feed the wildlife, some Pipa residents did it... the little creatures seemed to prefer cookies over fruit... no wonder why!!

Mico in Pipa

Mico in Pipa

Joã Pessoa is the next big city south of Pipa. Smaller than Natal, it felt secure in various areas. The beaches were okay, but the fact that they were quite long, made for an extensive beachwalk to the Easternmost point of the Americas. Next time, you guys gaze at a world map and you focus on that tiny point eastern most of S. America.....we were there!!! We also drank a cold coconut there. The architecture in the historic district is also fantastic. One interesting thing that happened while we were there, was that the Scorpions played. As we're not DIE-hard fans, we didn´t go, but it was nifty to know they were there. We'll have to be rocked like hurricanes some other time.

This is the Eastern most point of the Americas!!!

This is the Eastern most point of the Americas!!!

Recife/Oilinda. Like a big sister/little sister pair of cities. We mainly made a stop here to visit the girl we met in Pipa. She and her sisters were very friendly and hospitable. We took them to a local Rodizio restaurant. Now, everyone who's been to a Fogo do Chão in the states knows what a Rodizio is. It's a simple don't stop feeding me steak products until I explode or have a heart-attack. The beauty of this particular restaurant is that the buffet included some quality sushi and other non-steak fare. This is good, because one of the people in this relationship doesn't eat red meat.
Rodizio in Recife with Lenira and her little sister Isabella.

Rodizio in Recife with Lenira and her little sister Isabella.

Other than hanging with the girls for a night, we took care of our laundry, did a routine walk through the local historic district of Oilinda, and arranged our bus to Salvador. Take a note that bus travel over long distances in brazil is not economical. Most of the time, if you know your dates and purchase far enough ahead of time, you'll find flights for the same price or cheaper than the bus.

Sitting on Onlinda's rooftop

Sitting on Onlinda's rooftop

Salvador is the 3rd largest city in Brazil and the center of Afro-Brazilian culture. As we wanted to reserve more time to explore the highlands, we didn't stay too long. But in two days, we were able to explore the historic district. It's set in an old slave market. We visited a church here and viewed a number of paintings made by former slaves, and it appears these slaves took some revenge on their oppressors in the art. Angels that look pregnant or like they have big wangs. After reading about this in the guidebooks, this was one of the churchest I simply had to see. The images in the paintings weren´t as cut and dried as I hoped, but we can't have it all. Our last evening in Salvador, we ate a buffet with a number of traditional dishes from the Bahian state. Yummy yummy yummy. Two jelly-rolls walking out the door afterwards.

Cable car in Pelourinho, Salvador

Cable car in Pelourinho, Salvador

Lençois (Parque da Diamantina) was an opportunity to try something else out in Brazil aside from beaches and big cities: hiking. At first, we weren´t expecting much. We loved the town of Lençois, and there were plenty of day-trips we partook in. A few of these, we made with two charming Uruguayan girls and a world-traveling Canadian guy (he has some awesome traveling stories from back in the day) with whom we visited Cachoeira da Fumaça, the tallest waterfall in Brazil.

... in Fumaça

... in Fumaça

However, after talking to a number of agencies about a multi-day excursion through the park interior, we realized that, unless we went on our own, it was going to be out of our budget. So, we invested in a good map, stuffed our packs with the essentials and took to the trails. We must say that our hike through this park completely exceeded our every expectation.
Cachoeirão por cima, Chapada Diamantina

Cachoeirão por cima, Chapada Diamantina

For those of you that visit Brazil in the future, if you're into hiking, you won't want to miss a visit there. The jewel is the Vale do Pati. We spent 5 days hiking through this area of the park. The hikes and viewpoints here were absolutely breathtaking. Of course we did get lost a couple of times, but that's part of the adventure. One of those times, we stumbled upon the beginnings of a small pot garden. I guess some of the locals are looking for new revenue streams. And wouldn't you know it...we met two Americans at one of the viewpoints...on top of that they were Houstonians....who would´ve thought of all places...? They were pretty cool, so we ended up hanging out with them for 4 days.

Vale do Pati, Chapada Diamantina

Vale do Pati, Chapada Diamantina

We went to one of them coolest spots in the Chapada Diamantina: Poço Azul -or Blue Well.- This place, at the right time of the day, has a blue light coming through a whole which, seen underwater, seemed as though thousands of blue lazers... it was just amazing to be able to snorquel in the crystal clear waters looking for transparent little shrimps. Poço Azul is so impressive that visitors would just keep it quiet and whispered among themselves, without being told... as if a loud sound would disrupt the beauty of the site.
Poço Azul

Poço Azul

On September 28th we took a flight from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro... from the sunny Northeast we arrived in the rainy Southeast. So, as soon as we got here we took a bus to Arrial do Cabo. We did a couple of dives there which was actually pretty nice, even though the water was soooo cold that I felt I was going to get hypothermia or something... We'll let you know more about our time in Rio and Southern Brazil on the next entry... until then and God Bless y'all!

Posted by Fiorela 05.10.2010 11:40 Archived in Brazil Comments (2)

Cruising the Amazon River (E)

85 °F
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We are in Brazil!!! At last we have a chance to update the blog. I was thinking that it would be easier to update South America more often, but the friggin´macbook stopped working. Plus, its a bit more difficult to find a good connection for a good price as Brazil is a LOT more expensive then Asia. Why don´t they use a gun!! But here we are. By the way, don´t forget to check out our pictures in the Photography section on the right. You can access it by clicking one of the photos, on the "more photos" link or by clicking HERE. Remember, the ones displayed below are just the "tip of the iceberg."

After a 4 week visit to our respective families in Houston and Lima, we flew to Iquitos, a charming city in the middle of the rainforest, on July 24th. There we met up with one of my University friends, Tania. She accompanied us on our voyage to the Peruvian border and was loads of fun. After a couple of days we hopped our first boat for our grand cruise of the Amazon River.

Floating house, Iquitos

Floating house, Iquitos

This first boat ride from Iquitos to the triple border (Peru, Colombia, Brazil) was a bit more raw than the boats on the Brazilian side. In Peru the boats are stocked with both passengers AND cargo, such as livestock, produce, and other products. As it stops at villages along the river, one can observe the micro commerce of the communities.

La Gran Loretana, our ride to the triple border

La Gran Loretana, our ride to the triple border

As all the passengers are crammed along the hull of the ships on strung-up hammocks (byoh), it is quite easy to make friends and engage in conversation. We had the good fortunate of meeting Don Alex, who taught us about living a simple life in what he called Paradise -cheap prductive land, no draughts, delicious fruits and nature all around- and the art of currency exchange in merchandising, where he buys products in Peru with Soles and then sells them at an identical price on the Brazilian side of the border, but in the super-strong Brazilian Real. Drag, that we didn´t bring anything to sell. We also met two vets: Peruvian Daniel and a crazy Spaniard, Pedro (aka Peter Pan), a part-time expat of the Amazon; and two Colombian college students, Luisa & Felipe. The amenities aboard were basic, but they were good enough to allow us -and our new friends- to cheer for the Peruvian Independce day.

Feliz 28!!!

Feliz 28!!!

So, it turns our that the triple border as more like a double border (Colombia-Brazil). We couldn´t even found any resemblance of a civilization on the Peruvian side on Google Maps. Imagine that. The Colombian side is the best place to stay for value, food (you can eat rainforest worms here), nightlife, etc. Lucky for us Luisa and Felipe were our youthful guides to the nightlife in Leticia. Both nights, we spent out drinking with some limited salsa dancing. You simply have to dane in latin america; even if you´re not a dancer.

Brazilian Amazon views

Brazilian Amazon views

July 31st, we were once again on our own journeying on boat number 2 into the Brazilian interior for 4 days and 3 nights to Manaus. Though a great deal more expensive, the Brazilian boats have a lot more amenities, such as cold drinking water, more bathrooms, and most of all more space to escape the crowded hammock areas. Topside, there is normally a bar with a dancefloor and a flatscreen; the perfect place for catching some football (not American football), having a beer or cachaça, or taking in the romantic sunsets and the occasional soothing micro-storm.

Sunset in the Amazon River

Sunset in the Amazon River

This boat trip is where we encountered the greatest number of foreign tourists. Subsequent to Manaus is practically all local. Occasional hanky panky can be seen or sensed, whichever one applies, amongst the hammocks or along the recesses of the vessel. A balled Brazilian dude, named Aldemir, works in import-export and has lived in many places of the world shared some of his life experiences with us as well as a number of tips for our voyage along coastal Brazil.

Free Bossa Nova Show in Manaus

Free Bossa Nova Show in Manaus

Manaus is the largest city in the Amazon state. It is a bit dirty and can instill a bit of uneasiness, but it was not without a few charms for us, such as the plaza with the Teatro Amazonas where they have some nice cafes with live music performances. There are also some tourist sites with free entry (we like free, cheap bastards that we-JAY are). 2 nights were more than enough here before boating to the next destination, Santarem. Now this town was more to our liking. On top of that, a 40 minute public bus ride takes you to a beautiful ´carribean´ bubble in amidst the Amazonian greenery, Alter do Chão. It looks like a great honeymoon spot. There are pretty freshwater beaches and good-natured vibes in the little town.

Alter do Chão

Alter do Chão

Boat #4 magically whisked us away to Macapa. What did we like best about Macapa? Whats not to like? The extensive river walk with an old colonial fortress (free-entry and guide..SCORE!!), a ´gluttony coral´ churrasco restaurant, and one of the best places in the country for açai. Açai is a nutritious amazon fruit from a palmtree that the locals turn into a creamy gravy that melts in your mouth spawning a new addiction...am I running on too much? We even bought the açai ice cream and some lime soda to make floats in our Hotel. Man, those really conquered our stomachs and hips.

Macapá Fort at night

Macapá Fort at night

A short public bus-ride from Macapa is Curiau, originally, Cria U (the original name somehow translates from raising water buffalo). This was a refuge for the rebelling and escaped Afro-Brazilian slaves seeking a life of freedom. It is a popular weekend spot for the Macapa locals with a number of natural swimming areas and bars and extensive country side for some beer-induced meditation. The town people are some of the kindest we´ve met in the country. Dona Angela was the owner of the oldest bar in town, she entertained us with her stories and her good sense of humor.

Dona Angela and a bottle filled with açaí, Curiaú

Dona Angela and a bottle filled with açaí, Curiaú

The fifth and final boat......drumroll please....Macapa to Belem. Storybook characters we met on this voyage included a family of blissful elderlies (2 parents married 60 years and their daughter), a lady named Gildete with her grandchild from her adopted daughter she literally rescued from amidst the garbage in the street of her city, and a young man who was actually involved in a creepy sort of cult... what a combination of people!

Leti, Me and Gildete on the boat to Belém

Leti, Me and Gildete on the boat to Belém

This segment of cruising the Amazon held something special; it travels along the Island of Marajó, an island larger than Switzerland, where the riverside villagers row up in canoes to collect gifts bagged in plastic and tossed by the passengers. This is a custom for the area; though we´re not sure exactly when or how the tradition was created.

Amazonian children getting free clothing, Ilha de Marajó

Amazonian children getting free clothing, Ilha de Marajó

Belem is one of the most important commercial centers of the northern region. Though we had heard many negative things about the city, it appeared okay to us. That was until a couple of guys tried to mug me for my camera. Though I was lucky. As I wasn´t harmed and the thugs didn´t get anything from me. They appeared pretty wasted and unprofessional(in the theiving sense of the word), so Jay was able to pull them off and scare them away pretty easily. Luckily he didn´t have to fight them, and it is hoped that he never will have to with any theives in the future. The key is to remember, we´re not in Asia anymore; thus, its necessary to be more descreet with our belongings going forward.
Belém Old Pier

Belém Old Pier

After the unpleasantness of the mugging, it was a hightailing to the Island of Algodoal. It was to our good fortune that the island was in the low season. This gave the village on the island a cool, deserted feel. Think of the images of post-apocolyptic America in ´The Road´ and `Book of Eli, but with an Ocean-front.` WICKED!!! This place merited 3 nights at least. Laidback people, nice day hikes, and tasty locally made icecreams of coco and...yep you guessed it...açai. One of the 3 nights we spent with some French people drinking beer around a campfire while playing a guitar and singing songs... one of them was Jean Cristoph, a documentary camera man who actually said that he loved the USA. Imagine that!!!

Praia da Princesa, Algodoal

Praia da Princesa, Algodoal

At the moment we are in Canoa Quebrada heading to Natal tomorrow. In the next entry we will tell you about the Northeast experience: Sand dunes and oasis, beautiful colonial towns lost in time, geougeous beaches, and mysterious rock formations.... until then!!!

Posted by Fiorela 01.09.2010 08:08 Archived in Brazil Tagged boating Comments (5)

Aloha and Mahalo Hawai'i!! (E)


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Aloha!!!

Back in the U.S it feels like we left yesterday. Believe it or not, 11 months can pass quickly if you are having fun. As we left Asia the thoughts of what now is a collection of lovely memories kept visiting our minds. I highly recommend you to take a long trip. It is definitely an investment on yourselves to get out of the routine and experience a lifestyle of constant discovery with the sole purpose of seeing different cultures, gorgeous landscapes, participate in outdoor activities and creating long-lasting friendships.

Chicken in Kauai

Chicken in Kauai

Lazy to be facing the last week of the Asia trip, before getting to continental U.S, we hibernated for two days in Kauai, victims of the Jet Lag. Our hotel was conveniently located in walking distance from the town with grocery stores and restaurants. During our stay in the Island one particular thing that stood out i was the presence of chickens everywhere! It was funny to hear the roosters at dawn and dusk, and having to reduce the car's speed to allow a Hen and its chicks to cross the road.

Us in Waimea Canyon, Kauai

Us in Waimea Canyon, Kauai

Subsequent to hibernation, the two islands we visited undoubtedly exceeded our expectations. Hitchhiking is an acceptable mode of transportation on Kauai. As a matter of fact I hitched a ride from our hotel to the airport to pick up the rent car. Of course, we returned the favor to the locals we encountered along the freeway. Renting a car is the best way to explore the islands as there is not too much public transport and hitchhiking is normally only for short distances.

Waimea Canyon, Kauai

Waimea Canyon, Kauai

Most of the Hawaiian islands are small enough to drive through and visit the attractions in a couple of days. Driving, we were able to explore a number of the gems, such as this happy little fellow, Waimea Canyon, the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" as some locals like to call it. This was a perfect half day-trip, specially because we did not get to hike but only drive to all the view points available.

Na Pali Coast State Park III, Kauai

Na Pali Coast State Park III, Kauai

The Na Pali Coast State Park is one of the highlights of Kauai. There is an 11 mile stretch that is absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, we didn't get to do the 11 mile, but the 2 mile was breathtaking all the same. There is a beautiful white sand beach with HUGE waves. Thank God, it was calm enough to swim in when we were there, for it can get quite violent. "This beach is the most dangerous in the Island, and there is no Lifeguard" a couple of local hitchhikers said. If I had known it beforehand we probably wouldn't have swam there.

View from the Koolau Mountain Range, Oahu

View from the Koolau Mountain Range, Oahu

After 5 relaxing nights on Kauai, we flew back to Oahu. There we gave couchsurfing another try, and this time it was quite amazing. Our host was very kind and attentive. On Sunday he took us around to some of the Oahu highlights, such as a three hour hike up around the mountains, a drive through Waikiki, as well as to some of the beaches. It was just lovely to have such a great selection of beaches where you could go to sunbathe, swim, snorkel, surf and/or body board during the day and have a "romantic walk" on the long stretches of sand at sunset. The perfect place to end our long journey...

Hanauma Bay, Oahu

Hanauma Bay, Oahu

When we began this trip we had plans to cover a big chunk of the world i.e. Asia, Africa and Europe in a year. Realistically speaking that is impossible unless you constantly fly and "run" from place to place. We felt like we wanted to spend more time in almost every country we visited, thus we reduced our itinerary to cover mainly (South-East) Asia. For the last third of the trip the plan is to go visit the family and friends in Texas and Peru and travel in South America until December. We will continue updating the blog. We'll be carrying a laptop this time so we should be able to update more often.

Thank you for following us through the blog. God bless y'all!!!

Posted by Fiorela 11.07.2010 00:14 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Underwater Adventures in the Philippines (E)

The end of the Asia trip...

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View Asia on Fiorela's travel map.

On the last entry Jay and I were running an internet cafe and a little store in Oslob, Cebu. After five days of having a “profound Philippine experience” the time had come to do something more adventurous. Our friend gave us a lift to the next destination where we would finally get wet to enjoy the marine life. The three-hour truck-bed ride rewarded us with beautiful blue, turquoise and green scenery under the shiny sun…

On the back of a truck, Cebu Island

On the back of a truck, Cebu Island

Moalboal a low-key backpacker/diver enclave located on the Southwest Coast of Cebu Island awaited us. Fortunately, the touristy season had not yet begun so we practically had the place for ourselves. The best to do in this little town is, of course, the diving. But even If you are not a diver, there are excellent snorkeling opportunities –very accessible and free of charge- in addition to the gorgeous sunsets, laid-back atmosphere and friendliness of the Philippine people.

Cebu Island Views

Cebu Island Views

Many divers say that you either love or hate night dives. To my surprise, I loved it! Even if you have dived in a site many times it looks like a totally different place at night. As one floats in darkness the attention focuses on whatever the flashlight is pointing to. This sort of forces the diver to observe things in more detail making the most ordinary creatures appear very special. The nocturnal marine life one would normally see are crabs, shrimps, snakes and seldom fish -asleep. Our guide even caressed the forehead of a huge porcupine puffer fish: “you can only do that during a night dive,” he said smiling.

Jay ready for a night dive

Jay ready for a night dive

Pescador Island, near Moalboal, offers the most interesting diving in the area. Upon arrival we were welcomed by a huge school of sardines that jumped as though they were trying to salute us or maybe just to catch a glimpse of the surface world. Underwater, the billions of fish formed dark clouds that evolved into twisters extending endlessly into the deep. As we got closer the little silver fish looked as though they were actors in a strobe light sequence. It was just surreal!

Moalboal Sunset

Moalboal Sunset

Malapascua is an island located North of Cebu and has a well deserved reputation for hosting a rich and diverse underwater wildlife, and is famous for Thresher Sharks sightings. This kind of shark has the tale as long as its body and it likes to be at 25 meters -or deeper- from the surface. In order to see it divers have to be on-site right before dawn. Our guide was so experienced that he even knew how to get the shark’s attention, just by rubbing one’s fingers. The shark responded to our call swimming around in circles bringing the beast to just a couple of meters from us (YIKES!). At that moment our excitement turned into fear due to the “unusual” proximity of the beautiful, yet wild, fish.

Thresher Shark, diving in Malapascua

Thresher Shark, diving in Malapascua

Although the spot where we waited “perched” at the bottom for the sharks to appear didn’t have many fish or coral, later in the afternoon at the very same site a massive Manta Ray was swimming around as if it were a plane (that big) flying over the deep waters of the Visayan Sea. Sadly, we had already started our ascent when the gigantic creature –manta in Spanish is a sort of blanket- showed up, but we still got to see it, while we were envious of other divers -with better timing- who were able to admire it in all its splendor from the sea floor.

Oxygen Tanks, Malapascua

Oxygen Tanks, Malapascua

We dove a few more times in the surrounding sites, and this was more rewarding than anticipated. Gato Island is a tiny island with a cave underneath. It was so exciting to be inside the cave and see lots of crabs of different sizes, shapes and colors, banded snakes, and a big white-tip sharks going in circles agitated by our proximity. Around the Island a handful of large white-tips rested at the sea bottom while 5 full size Squids guarded a bunch white long (squid) eggs.

Us getting ready for the night dive, Malapascua

Us getting ready for the night dive, Malapascua

Another highlight of the area is the presence of numerous Mandarin fish. The best time to see them is right after Sunset when they mate. Despite the long wait, the ritual was worth every second!! It was amazing and romantic to see the couple -with a marvelous, trippy pattern of green, orange, red, and gold- shyly but harmoniously getting together and swimming upward as if they were holding hands (and doing other stuff) for a about a foot of distance from the coral and then suddenly separating to turn back to the coral.

Padre Burgos

Padre Burgos

Whale Sharks are the biggest fish in the world (don't forget, whales aren't fish) and Padre Burgos is "the place" to see them all year round. The town, located in the Southern most part of Leyte (another Visayan island) was a pleasant surprise. It was breezy and laid-back, the locals were genuinely friendly, and the scenery couldn't be better. You could practically step off of the porch of our bungalow and into the shallow and calm waters that offered good snorkeling opportunities. Fortunately –or unfortunately (still undecided)- the giant fish shows up almost everyday in Limasaya to be fed by local fishermen. So as long as we were swimming near the boat with the little man of the conical hat with the feed, it was possible to get close enough to touch; of course it's forbidden to touch. What a beauty! The immense, dotted body was intimidating, but the fact that they only eat plankton allayed the fears of the many excited snorkelers.

Docked boat, Padre Burgos

Docked boat, Padre Burgos

In Padre the only visitors are either a few avid divers or ex-pats (ex –patriots), older men who now are residing abroad mainly due to cheap cost of living and great availability of young Philippine "wives." As we sat in the waterfront at the Boulevard Pub, a group of ex-pats entertained us with their stories and opinions on the Philippine “way” (No comment on the ex-pats' controversial statements).

Padre Burgos local children

Padre Burgos local children

Our last few days in the Philippines were spent traveling back to meet a friend from Houston, Chris, who came to visit with us in Dumaguete, Negros Island. With him we ate good western food in the most expensive restaurants in town and went exploring the nearby Islands. Beautiful scenery as usual, it was exiting to share our experiences with a person whom we knew from home.

Us, proud to go on a tricycle to explore Siquijor

Us, proud to go on a tricycle to explore Siquijor

The most fun we had was in 45 mins-boat ride away Siquijor Island as we rented a tricycle, with no driver, and rode around without any clear destination. We will never forget the faces of the locals as they saw a gringo driving a taxi. We even gave a couple of free rides to the amused the surprised locals. Negros is another recommended place for underwater adventures. Apo Island, according to travel books, offers great diving opportunities. Yet by the time we went there we had already decided not to dive until Brazil.

Apo Island

Apo Island

The Philippines is the last Asian country we visited before returning to the U.S. The next and last entry of the first 2/3 of our trip will be about Hawai’i… I should be able to post it within a couple of days… until then!

Posted by Fiorela 08.07.2010 11:18 Archived in Philippines Comments (1)

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