Monday, June 11, 2007

4th - June (Salvador, Brazil)

After an itchy night, I woke up with a lot of mozzie bites which swelled to the size of two pence pieces so looked really good for the beach! The beach is very busy and there are guys coming along every two minutes trying to sell you stuff so it's not exatly the most relaxing beach ever. There are other beaches a short bus ride away but as I am feeling lazy this is the only beach I went to during my stay here. One guy came along with a watering can and watered my feet which took me by surprise. By 14.00 I decided I should probably get indoors as I didn't want to burn and I had plenty more days to toast myself, however, it rained for the next two days and I began to regret that decision. I had eight days in Salvador with the main objective of relaxing and getting a tan, the weather was always hot but raining or overcast at least half of the time. When the sun did come out it was scorching and I did manage to get a bit darker but nowhere near as dark as some of the natives...... Salvador is 'Africa in exile', where the African slaves settled making Salvador a very interesting cultural experience. The historical centre has lots of churches and colonial buildings, the sound of the drumming bands echo along the narrow cobbled streets, there are women dressed like those terrible toilet roll holders that old women have in their bathroom, there are some very nice local dishes such as the fish moqueca and calbresa, bright, vivid, colourful art and there are of course beggers, thieves and people trying to sell you stuff you don't want. Salvador is a busy tourist spot but mostly it seems with Brazilian tourists.

There were a load of 20ish year old Brazilian students over here on some kind of project/holiday staying at the hostel which meant it all got a bit noisy at times but was also good for a few drinks so my time here was mostly speant relaxing, reading, laying on the beach whenever possible, drinking, and watching football, tennis and films; really just winding down before returning to Blighty.

I had to get from Salvador to Rio as my flight home was from there, managed to find a cheap flight the day before the flight home but couldn't book online without a brazilian credit card so got the hostel owner to book it over the phone. However, what I thought was an 11.00 flight turned out to be an 08.00 flight so when I arrived at the airport I had missed it which could have been terrible if I hadn't managed to get on a later flight but that was delayed and I ended up spending ten hours at the airport and arrived at my hostel in Rio just before midnight. I had planned to do some gift shopping in Rio but only managed to buy a few pairs of havianas before leaving for the airport where I stocked up on Brazil t-shirts.

The British Airways flight home took thirteen hours and was very disapointing from an entertainment perspective and I found it very difficult to sleep. I was expecting a huge 'welcome home' banner at the airport but instead Carly was there holding baby Casey who was wearing a 'welcome home uncle Adam' t-shirt, and behind them was Mum, Dad and Daniel. We had some food before heading to Lambourn to see my Nan and uncle Jim, we popped into the pub where Dada and Dan let me beat them at pool. Later that evening we had a good curry which I had been looking forward to for a while.

On the Saturday, Carly and Dan had a barbecue and as a surprise a load of my mates turned up which was very nice. Later, Dan and I went into town where we met up with some of Dan's mates and I got hit over the head with a bottle - it's good to be back.

Thank you everyone for reading the blog.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

25th May - 3rd June (Buenos Aries and Uruguay)

Sorry - no photos until I replace the stolen USB cable for my camera.

Flying into Buenos Aries we got the birds eye view of the impressive bowl shaped river plate stadium. We were unsure which would be the best area to stay in between San Telmo and Palermo - after some deliberation we decided on the former. It was a public holiday and the streets were pretty empty but the hostels and hotels we tried were full or didn't have a room for three. I volunteered to stand in the street and guard the bags while the other two checked out a hostel, and stooped down to strap the sleeping bag to my rucksack at which point I felt something wet hit the back of my head and neck. As I looked around me a woman told me that it was a bird shit and provided me with water and tissues, it was all down the back of my jumper and was the runniest most vinegary smelling bird shit ever so I was very grateful to the woman helping me to clean it off. But then she was gone and so was my big bag, we were on a crossroads so she could have gone left or right and disapeared quickly and I couldn't leave the remaining bags to give chase anyway. I felt like a complete idiot but was glad they had took mine as I knew there was not much of value in there - mostly clothes. The most annoying things to lose were Cusco paintings, my kiwi and boomerang, the warranty to my broken camera, the travel towel, skydive video, all the little movies (eg the Maori rapper) that were on the photo cds (the photos are all saved on flicka - thank god!), the mountain madness t-shirt and my mp3 recharger which none of the electrical shops here have. The lads reappeared and decided we should get a taxi to Palermo where we checked into a hostel with a bar where we drank a load of cheap wine then went out to some bars and clubs until about 05.00. A strong G&T was the final straw that sent me off to sleep with my head on the table as Jamie and I were sat with a couple of girls (not that I remember any of this!)

We jumped out of bed at 11.00 as we had decided to check out and move to a nice hotel which we had found on the internet. This was in the central area. From here we went via taxi to the San Telmo police station to report the theft, our taxi driver spoke reasonable English and offered to translate in the police station for me - I don't know how I would have got anywhere without him as the police spoke very little English. Having suddenly remembered that the bag was stufffed with hi-tech equipment and $100 bills I made my report before the driver took us to a massive shopping mall to replace some clothes. We tipped the driver well - he was a really nice guy. After a couple of hours I was feeling the worse for wear and we had all had enough of shopping so we went back, had some beers, gave the boys another pool lesson and ate fajitas.

Sunday was pleasant; we went to the big market with lots of antiques, art, junk and street performers; a nice atmosphere. We ate lovely food with a little wine and I bought some good quality shoes to match the suit that I will soon be wearing to Casey's christening and Richie's wedding. In the evening we went into several bars, in one of which we seemed to be very popular with the multitude of girls who kept looking over at us - it turned out to be some sort of brothel although it looked just like a normal bar. We drank up and left.

Monday was a real struggle to get up. We had booked a three and a half hour bicycle tour of the city. We all wore shorts and it was freezing with an icy cold wind that numbed our fingers. Our young female guide was lovely and informative and we managed to enjoy the tour despite the cold. We went to another shopping mall to buy a few more things. In the evening I needed a couple of energy drinks to get me going, again everywhere seemed quiet but we stayed out late and finished the night playing cards and eating the pizzas we had delivered until 06.00 whilst reminiscing about Bullseye!

The first taxi driver we asked to take us to the cemetry dropped us at completely the wrong end of town (god knows what he thought we said!), lucky the cabs are cheap so we just got another one to the right place. 54,843 square metres with 4,800 vaults housing the bodies of wealthy and important argentinians. Some incredibly grand tombs, coffins and statues including that of Evita. We walked to the big metal flower in the park and then to a British Airways office which was of absolutely no use in replacing my stolen flight ticket home. For the evening we had booked up at the cafe Tortoni to see the amazing Tango show; the music, dancers, drummers and costumes were incredible, the food not so great. We drank until 03.00.

Tired and a little hungover, we rushed around to get to the port for 09.00, however the 09.00 ferry is a slow one, the fast one leaves at 11.15 but arrives in Colonia (Uruguay) at about the same time so we killed time by going to La Boca to buy some pictures that we had seen during the bike tour. In Colonia, I checked into a hostel and dumped my bags, the boys were going back to Buenos Aries the same day as they were flying home that evening. We strolled around the old part of the city; very picturesque cobbled streets and colonial architecture, a good lunch and then the boys were gone. In the evening I went back to the old part of town to see it with it's old gas style lamps lit on the houses - it was deathly quiet and I was about the only person around. Back at the hostel I got chatting to a nice Irish family and I hate to admit I never had a drop of alcohol (sorry boys!).

Colonia is lovely but there isn't much reason to stay more than a day so I took a bus to the capital 'Montevideo', home of the first ever world cup. Checked into a hostel located right on the lovely plaza independiencia and soon realised that it was full of predominantly gay blokes, one of which was determined to get me batting for his side! I quickly left to explore the city which is full of surprises; it's a lovely place, with so many impressive buildings; churches, massive banks, loads of museums, nice little market stalls, park areas, huge statues and of course scattered among these are the usual horrible drab grey highrise blocks and ugly crumbling eyesores and some persistent but polite begging kids. In the evening I went out with a few of the straight people from the hostel to a lively bar with a band playing where I seemed to be getting somewhere with both a nice American girl called Jackie and a Danish/Bolivian girl who was very drunk. Back at the hostel Jackie fell asleep as we watched Saw 3.

I went for lunch with Jackie and her friend Mark, quite possibly the healthiest lunch I have had in a year as it was a huge salad buffet, however I did finish it off with an extremely rich piece of chocolate pie! We walked around the streets and into a couple of museums then played cards and used the net before going out for a few bottles of wine and a magnificent steak in red wine sauce - perfect!

Jackie and Mark left in the morning, I took a bus ride with all my stuff to the bus station hoping there might me a bus leaving for Port Alegre (from there flights to Salvador seem to be much cheaper). There wasn't one until 21.00 so took my stuff back to the hostel. The bus journeys were entertaining; people come on to beg, sing, read poetry, play instruments and sell bits and bobs. I walked around the city again, the breeze was cold but it was quite hot in the sun. I discovered that you can't buy flights online over here without a Brazilian credit card. Before leaving the hostel again for the bus station the gays made me eat some food which was nice but I was worried that it might be spiked! I was glad to get away!

On the bus, I was told that I would be fined at the border for not having a piece of paper that was supposed to be given to me as I enetered Uruguay (that really annoyed me as I'd never had it), but luckily I slept through the border crossing and they must have let it go. In the evening there was a U2 live dvd, in the morning Placebo sang 'Where is my mind?' with Frank Black on stage - much better than the usual tosh I have to sit through! I arrived at Port Alegre on a Sunday, waited an hour for tourist info to open and was told the only place to buy flights is at the airport. I would maybe have liked a day in Port Alegre but at 08.30 took a short, expensive taxi ride to the airport where I booked an 11.00 flight to Salvador where I am hoping as it is quite a long way north of Rio it will be hot and sunny for my last week or so, so that I can come home with a tan! I arrived in the late evening in the Barra area of Salvador, it was hot and sticky which I thought bode well for a day in the sun the next day. The dorm at Albergue do Porto seemed pleasant enough and the showers were hot. I was warned as I left to get food that the streets aren't safe at night and not to take anything valuable, so I walked around all jittery and jumpy before stopping for a horrible pizza on the seafront which didn't seem like there was much going on. I made it safely back to the hostel.