Monday, June 30, 2008
So, here are a few panoramas to update you on where we've been...
We started here, high above Santiago, Chile...
Then to the port city of Valparaiso...
Then a quick flight to Lima, and its Plaza De Armas...
And off to Cuzco which has its own Plaza De Armas...
Then for a little walk - through the Lares Valley in Peru, where we walked to see places like this:
And then some more walking...
And a bit more...
And finally through the Sun Gate, to take in this vista...
Which includes, if you look closely this...
Overall, a pretty amazing week. We'll be back as soon as time allows with proper updates on the goings-on.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
To complement his efforts, I've done a bit of statistical work. To date, from Philadelphia to Valparaiso, we have traveled a total of:
8,459.2 miles or
Hopefully, we'll be able to keep this feature up to date as we move along, and maybe add some new statistical elements (empanadas consumed, photographs taken, litros de cerveca, etc.)
But for now, it's time to finish our exploration of Valparaiso... Ciao!
Saturday, June 21, 2008
If that doesn´t conjure up images of skiing, then I don´t know what does! Hammer and I decided a skiing adventure was in order while the other guys decided to explore Santiago for the day. When we arrived in Santiago on Thursday, there was intermittent rain in the city, but I knew that it must be snowing in the mountains a few thousand feet above us in elevation so I was getting pumped for a powder day in the Andes. As with any good ski day, it started before dawn when a mini-bus picked us up from the hostel and took us to the tour office to pick up skis, boots, poles, goggles, and ski pants. Although that took a long time, soon we were heading up to the mountains in a packed mini-bus sharing cups of matte tea (an argentine tea I picked up and was eager to try. Yummmmm) and cliff bars.
The drive was really the first adventure, and soon the mountains we had seen from the city were all around us. The best way up them was over many tight switchbacks that a steady line of cars was snaking up. We had chains on the tires, and the ride wasn´t too scary, but plenty scenic. Soon, we were at the base of El Colorado, one of the bigger mountains close to Santiago and we jumped into our ski boots and headed for the first lift. After all, it was a powder day!
The mountain was above the treeline, so it was a big expanse of snow, with a good network of ski lifts and surface lifts crawling up. The day started out warm and sunny and we had amazing views of the Andes all around us, and could even see Santiago way down below. Most of the mountain had sections that were expertly groomed right next to areas of fresh powder, so there was something for everyone. The mountain wasn´t too steep, but the 10 or so inches of fresh snow made for really great skiing.
We were conquering even the toughest trails, but there was a section of the mountain that led to the base of a closed lift, requiring a short hike back to the open lifts. I parted ways with Hammer (the rule that there are no friends on powder days was only a little true!) for an hour or so to spin some laps in the knee deep fresh snow, and I got a fresh line each lap. Needless to say, I was prett happy!!!!! While the terrain wasn´t very steep, there is something magical about being able to take perfect turns in thigh deep snow. Ahhhhhhhh!
Hammer and I rendevoused at a mid-mountain eatery for a great lunch and a few beers. But we were there to ski, and were quickly back at it. After a few more runs, Dan joined me on the fun powder field and he was carving up turns like Alberta Tomba. We did the short hike out and found another little powder stash that Dan promptly got stuck in. But hey, it´s not easy to put your skis on when the snow is up to your thighs! I needed to spin a few more laps on that powder field, so we parted ways for another short time. I could have skied that part of the mountain until my legs gave out, which actually happened after another hour over there! As I was heading back to the base area, Dan passed me overhead on a lift, and he gave out the first part of our new favorite cheer, ¨Chi, Chi, Chi¨and of course I responded with the ¨Le, Le, Le, Viva Chile!¨
At 4:30 we met up at the base area with time for either one more run, or one well-deserved beer. Guess what we decided on???? Beer never tastes as good as when it´s after an amazing day on the slopes, and this was no exception. We traded our boots for sneakers and boarded the mini-bus back to town. The sun was setting on the Andes as we snaked down the mountains, and we were exhausted and really excited that we had such a fun day on the slopes.
After getting back to town, we regrouped with the Hern, Mike, and Carlos and headed to the beautiful port town of Valparaiso which we have been exploring all day and will get a post all to itself.
Carlos has spent the better part of the last two days reciting the following exchange from There's Something About Mary:
Norm: Really? Where would I have seen your work?
Pat Healy: Well, have you been to, uh well, let me see... Santiago, Chile?
Norm: Twice last year. Which building's yours?
PAre you familiar with the soccer stadium?
Norm: Did you build the Estadio Olimpico?
Pat Healy: No, just down the street the Celinto Catayente Towers. It's quite a fine example, in fact. I recommend that next time you're up that way that you drop in and take a gander at it yourself.
As for today, we had a killer day exploring Valparaiso. After a nap and some fun tonight, we'll be back with a full update on Buenos Aires, replete with a full photo gallery!
Here's a little taste of the city to whet your appetites.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Once equipped, we headed to La Boca (a blue collar barrio of Buenos Aires where Spanish and Italian immigrants settled in mid 19th century - and home of the Boca Juniors, one of South America's best futbol clubs) for some hood-rat action. A lot of houses consist of colorful corrugated metal, which port dwellers painted using leftover paint from shipping barges.
After terrorizing much of the neighborhood (with our tango dancing skillz) along el Caminito (that's small path for those of you that don't habla español), a pedestrian path with shops/restaurants and La Boca's most famous street, we hopped on a bus and headed back to the 'hood - without paying, of course.
We continued on with our wild adventures by devouring some amazing pizzas (NO HAM!! [for Dan]) whilst watching the Celtics destroy the Lakers (we strongly believe the sighting of the leprechaun helped insure their victory) and downing some cervezas - no worries, we were sure to pour some beer on the restaurant floor for our cronies back in North America (that continent is so last year). And this here picture is to prove that we do smile after all...
Monday, June 16, 2008
Ouro Preto, Brazil
82 photographs of our day and night in the hilly little gold town can be found here.
Belo Horizonte, Brazil
40 photos from our day in BH with plenty of Oscar Niemeyer buildings and a guest appearance by a pair of capybara (which look kind of like dog-sized guinea pigs) can be found over here. Sadly, there is not one picture of the beautiful women who were crawling all over that town.
Sao Paulo, Brazil
113 shots from a few days spent in Brazil's largest city are here.
Love it or hate it (and I'm probably the only one who didn't hate it) we spent a delightful day of public transport and closed attractions in Curitiba. The next day featured a train trip through the Serra Verde mountains to the small town of Morretes. 73 photos from Curitiba (and the fun train rides that leave from there) can be found right here.
Straddling the river border between Argentina and Brazil, Iguacu is one of the world's three great waterfalls. (Niagara and Victoria being the others) We saw the falls from up close, far-away and both sides of the river. Our trip also included a stop by the Itaipu dam, which is the world's largest or second largest, depending on which guidebook you're reading. Regardless of its rank it is quite large, and involved a technical (but no passport stamps) visit to Paraguay. 57 wet and wild pictures from three countries can be found aqui.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
There was a paved path that led into the woods, high up above the Iguacu river. The first sight wasn't the falls, but some raccoons that were scrounging for food around the path. I'm pretty sure no one from our group fed them, but I really can't be sure. Carlos had some really mischievous looks. The path initially led through some dense fauna, affording us only quick and limited glances of the falls. There are 271 individual falls that stretch 1km across the river, and we were seeing a good portion of them, but it wasn't until we got to Garganta do Diabo that things really got impressive.
The Diabo is a horseshoe shaped part of the falls where the path leads right into the river to let you get up close and personal with the water. The bridges they have built into the river are awesome, and you can peer right over the edge to see the water thundering down a few hundred feet or look up and see more waterfalls coming right down at you. As if the view isn't good enough, you are also getting soaked from the midst and hearing the roar of all the water!
After soaking in the falls (haha, get it!) it was early enough in the day that we wanted another adventure, a dam good one too. Lucky for us, the Itaipu Dam was close by, so we jumped back on the park bus, got on a city bus back to town, switched to one heading in the Dam direction, and arrived with 10 seconds to spare before the last tour left. We dam near missed it! We opted for the extended, or engineering tour, which started with a short propaganda film about how great the dam is, even though it flooded a few dozen towns, a famous waterfall, and has hurt a lot of the wildlife in the area. But still, this is the world's biggest hydroelectric dam and powers 40% of Brazil and 90% of Paraguay. The dam is shared between the two countries.
The tour started with the panoramic lookouts, and the scale of the project is pretty insane. If you look at this picture, try to find the red bus!
Then we drove along the top of it, checking out the massive reservoir on one side, and the 180 meter drop on the other. We drove over the spillway, which only opens and creates a very dramatic setting when the water in the reservoir is too high. Unfortunately for us, it was closed. But we still continued on to the main level of the dam, walking in between the massive buttresses and seeing the old river bottom way, way below. The white pipe below is us one of the 20 penstocks where the water falls. It's 10 meters in diameter just so you know!
We got to go into the main power plant and see the dam control room and how much energy was being produced at the time. Then we went to the dam turbine floor, which was 1 km in length. Although the turbines were in the floor below us, it was still an impressive space. Our tour actually continued down another level where we actually saw the turbines spinning. Since we were only a few feet from a machine that was powering most of Paraguay, we were pretty impressed! I don't think they let you get this close to sensitive equipment in the US, so we were happy for the opportunity.That just about wrapped up the dam tour, so we headed back to town for some food and an early night to bed.
Wait, our adventure at Iguacu wasn't over yet... there was day 2! We had a slow start, but eventually caught a bus to take us to the Argentine side of the falls, but that meant us Gringos had to stop at the border, twice. The bus dropped us off, we got our passports stamped out of Brazil, and had to wait for the bus again. In the meantime, we did our calesthenics and strength training excercises much to the delight of the border guards. These included pushups with our packs, lots of pull ups on a bus station kiosk, and situps. We're getting buff on this trip, so watch out!
We arrived at the Argentine bus terminal, booked our tickets for the 18 hour ride to Buenos Aires, and then got on a local bus to the falls. Once we arrived there, we realized we were very short on time, so after a little train ride into the park, we started the hustle. The five of us were power walking / jogging along the metal decks that led to the falls in the most ridiculous fashion possible. It was slippery, and that just made it all the more hysterical. We would stop at a scenic lookout, take our pictures, then sprint to the next one. There is video documenting this and we'll upload that as soon as we can.
The falls on the Argentine side were really awesome and we got up close and personal with many of them. There was another bridge we could take that brought us right up to the falling water where we stopped for a few minutes to soak in the setting. I can't believe I have been able to use that cheezy joke twice in one post!!!
Once we had seen everything at the falls, we headed back to the tourist train which departed about 15 seconds once we got on board. Our timing was impeccable on this day. After that it was a local bus to the main bus station where we boarded our night bus to Buenos Aires.
Sorry this post has been a long time in the making, and I'm sure it doesn't do justice to how awesome Iguacu was. But it certainly was IguAWESOME!
Saturday, June 14, 2008
The old adage (Hernaldo) claims South Americans find Argentinians to be snobby and aloof, and in turn Argentinians think that way of Portenos (people of the River Plate port, i.e. Buenos Aires residents). So far, however, nothing but platitudes to report here at one of the most cosmopolitan stops on our itinerary.
I'm sure our faithful readers will forgive our non-chronological postings, and perhaps text-heavy entries, as images/videos take a while to upload. Anyway, one of us will fill you in on the thoroughly amazing Iguacu Falls and the Itaipu Dam, from which we took a surprisingly pleasant 18-hr bus ride to Buenos Aires, where we have taken up residence (at $12/night hostel) in the ritzy Recoleta neighborhood. The Wallpaper* City Guide describes our current 'hood as "A little slice of Paris' staid, salubrious 16th arrondissement in South America." I've not been to Paris, but Recoleta is replete with comfortable confiterias (bakery/coffeeshop/cafes), fashionable clothing stores, and grand architecture--Beaux Arts and other styles of which we learned nothing in graduate school if a little in undergrad. Tree-lined streets sandwiched by rusticated stone, wrought iron, sculpted gargoyles, and mansard roofs. Meandering through the city in our first day and a half, we have explored the Microcentro (business/museum district), Puerto Madero (a recent dockland development with its own thoroughly-photographed, pivoting Calatrava pedestrian bridge), Avenida Florida (pedestrianized shopping area), and other neighborhoods. Last night we checked out Palermo, a very cool part of town full of restaurants, bars, clubs, all different cuisines, bebidas, tunes, crowds, and scenes, indoors and outdoors. Nightlife does not even pick up until around 1-2am, as Portenos generally don't eat until 9 or 10pm, which is followed by a nap before hitting the town. This meant that as we were getting tired, places were just coming alive. So no doubt we rallied, even Joey stayed out until 7am or so (playing bingo at the church, of course...)
It's about time for a quick power nap before heading out tonight. It looks like Palermo/Palermo Viejo tonight, and tomorrow San Telmo (perhaps Mike will be forced to take a tango lesson, or at least watch), La Boca, and if we can find cheap tickets, the Argentina-Ecuador qualifier match. I'm also very excited to meet for the first time a large branch of my extended family for a Dia del Padre (Father's Day) lunch tomorrow. Happy Father's Day to all back home.
-DH, el hombre martillo
I've finally gotten a chance to upload and geo-tag the 114 best pictures that I took in Rio de Janeiro earlier this month. You can check out the album over at my Picasa page:
I'll try to caption them as I get time. And yes, Picasa also has a comments feature.
Friday, June 13, 2008
We arrived in Curitiba, Brazil after a brief 7-hour night bus from Sao Paolo. I was pumped to see the city, which is upheld as a model of urban planning, innovative transportation, and creative solutions to the myriad problems growing South American cities face. Of course, leaving the bus station, we ended up in a cab out to our hostel which was out in the suburbs. The hostel, Curitiba Eco Hostel, was among the nicest we've stayed at. Unfortunately, it was rather far outside of the city center. After checking in, we took a little nap, and caught a bus (just like any other bus, in any other city) into the center.
After a quick lunch, we took our first ride on the vaunted Bus Rapid Transit. Here's how it works: you pay in order to enter the tube, which means that the bus can run faster, by loading and unloading more quickly at each step. From the tube, you enter at the level of the bus floor, and the buses are HUGE. The BRT runs double-articulated buses capable of carrying 270 people. So, we waited a while, and caught the bus out to the Botanical Garden.
Botanical Garden - very nice. Cool greenhouse.
Great views of the city.
On the way back, we decided to hit the tourist office to see what else we could see in Curitiba. Here is where we encountered a little problem. Being a Monday, all the museums were closed. Unfortunately, the tourist bus line that connects all of the sites and almost all of the sites were also closed. So, with only a day in Curitiba, we were left with little to see.
So, we went to a Niemeyer museum!
After, we walked into the center, which was nice and had a most enjoyable pedestrian core. After the bustle and excitement of Brazil's big cities, Curitiba was quite a change. We found some good eats at a Pinhao (some weird fruit/nut thing) Festival - the Brazilian pulled pork sandwiches were a hit as was the mulled wine and chocolates.
After a couple of beers, we headed home in a heavy downpour for a good night's rest. In the morning, we were up early to head into town to catch an 8:15 train to Morretes, a small town to the east of Curitiba. The train route crossed the Serra Verde mountains, and is billed as the most scenic train route in all of Brazil.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Caipirinhas started flowing and the conversation on the table quickly turned to a mix of Spanish, English, some french and of course, Portuguese. Isabel then invited us to a party where one of her friends was going to dj and off we went. I think we all agreed that we would never have found this place on our own nor in a guide book. The place was like a small warehouse in someone`s former house. The music consisted of samba, some jazzy tunes, a small mix of reggae and some American hip hop. We kinda danced the night away, met some local folks and had a great time.
Friday, June 6, 2008
On this day for lunch, we visited a typical restaurant from the Minera Gerais region, in Orou Preto. The buffet consisted of several rice dishes, stewed meats and a spread of salads and veggies.
Dan was the mastermind as he consulted his magical book, or the Lonely Planet guide for a good place to eat. As you can tell from the pictures, the hills, the walking and the food took a toll on us.
The scene in Ouro Preto, an old gold mining town in rural Minas Gerais, where the fabulous wealth of the mines was invested in the town's 23 churches. The place has the look and feel of an Italian or Portuguese hill town, only bigger. The city once had a population of 120,000 - though the number has dwindled to around 60,000 today.
A little orientation for you gringos reading this back home. Ouro Preto is an old mining town that was a major player in the Portugese empire. Basically, they came, dug out tons of gold with some help from local slave labor, and funded their empire back across the Atlantic. Not all of the money left the town, though, and it was very well built. Set amongst steep hills, even our red eyes could appreciate the beauty right away. Steep cobblestone streets crisscrossed the mountains, with picture perfect shops, houses, and running alongside. Sure, there were certainly more poor parts of the town, but it was all very beautiful and seemed to be a suprisingly busy town even though there were not many tourists.
Ouro Preto is really famous for its churches, I think there are 23 in the small town. Each was unique and each was beautiful. Lots of great paintings, carvings, and art to appreciate in each one. Imagine looking out amongst the rolling green hills and being able to always see at least a dozen church steeples. After just a few churches, our group needed a little cat nap, and I'm sure there are a few German tourists with pictures of the five of us napping in front of one of the churches. Once we got going again, we came across a gold mine that we wanted to explore, and our guide Marcelo took us deep into the mountains. We saw some gold flakes, but I think the Portugese did a pretty good job cleaning it out. Since we got such an early start and had done a ton of walking up and down the steep hills, we were ready for a feast. Lucky for us, we made our way to an all you can eat restaurant, and I think the owners eyes dropped when he saw 5 big guys attacking the food. But it was great eats, and soon we were fighting a food coma! Carlos and Hernaldo went back for a little cat nap, while Mike and Dan and I went and found some more churches! I also managed to pick up some great souveniers made of local stone and carved by local artisans. (It wasnt until I put them in my pack that I realized I added about 10 pounds of stone to my load!)
After a long day of exploring this great town, we got cleaned up and went to a restaurant that was highly recomended by our guide from earlier. Low and behold, he was the waiter! Right off the bat, he made us 5 caipirinhas, which is a fantastic brazillian drink that we had yet to try! They are sugary, full of liquor, and make the miles of steep climbing melt away. Marcelo was right, he knew how to make a great drink and of course we had some more! We shared some smaller plates of food because of our big lunch and had a great time relaxing after the day. We wandered around the town some more after dinner in seach of elusive night life. We were led to a pretty cheasy bar where we were able to catch the end of a big football game over a few more beers. We werent out too late though, knowing that there is a pretty steep climb back to the hostel and soon we were fast asleep. I knew I was tired because I didn't even hear Hernaldo snoring.
Captain Burlando was the first out of bed and found out the bus schedule to our next destination. He roused us at a great hour, we feasted on the hostel's breakfast, and soon it was back to the Rodovario where the next bus was going to take us to Bello Horizonte. I'll let one of the straight guys tell you about that stop, they seemed to really love that town for some reason!
Our adventures are continuing though, and I'll be the first to say we are having a great trip, seeing some amazing things, spending just a bit too much money, and being very safe.
Ciao mis amigos!
Joey (Bag of Everything)
We boarded the Bunde and proceeded over an aqueduct at a good sped, maybe 15-20 mph, give or take and headed into the hills. It was like a fun roller coaster ride until the driver kicked it into high gear. We were all having a great time, then a certain stop, we picked up about 10 kids, but not by choice. They chased down the trolley and hopped on as it was in motion. No wonder Brasil continues to dominate futbol, these kids start training very early. They were hanging from the sides, running alongside it and hopping over cars (I am not joking) as they held on and pulled themselves over the parked cars. It was pretty crazy. At one point we thought it could not get any more crazy until we (lightly) hit a bus that was on the same path.
The ride continued and we made the entire loop into Santa Teresa before returning back to downtown. The last bit of excitement came as we were ascending and saw another trolley approaching, also on the same track. No crash occurred as our driver told the trolley to back up and let us through, which he did. On the last portion of the ride, most of us if not all decided to try the hanging on the side of the trolley thing, and it was pretty sweet. We survived, then headed back to the Stone of a Beach.
Eventually we arrived at the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro which had a small collection that was geared towards the senses. All items on display were there for us to touch, smell, hear and obviously see. The building itself was described by my compadre Dan as Erdyesque..And if we had a card reader that read my camera card, I would probably upload a picture.
Finally we ended our afternoon with our trip to see a classic game betwen two local futbol clubs, the Flamengo and Fluminense. We sat on the Flamengo side and it was by far the better choice. Drums and people singing was the recipe for this great experience, ohh wait and large, large flags of the club`s many fans. It was insane!!
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Monday, June 2, 2008
Had a great first night last night. On the recommendation of Carlos´friend in Rio, we went out to Lapa, an area of bars and clubs on a couple of streets that surrounded a huge aquaduct. The street life was electric, dozens of vendors selling all kinds of food, all of it really cheap and most of it really good. Despite the drizzle, there were tons of people out, mostly all Brazilians. We bounced around to a couple of places, then just strolled around the main plaza beneath the aquaduct.
It was great to people watch. There was a huge party going on at the Shell station (yes, a gas station) They were selling much more beer than gas, and there were probably 150 people milling about drinking and blasting music out of their cars. We bought a few tallboys of Skol beer and joined in the fun for a bit.
Probably the highlight of the evening (beyond even all the tranny prostitutes we saw) started as the bars were winding down. We stumbled upon a big group of people playing drums and singing under one of the arches of the aquaduct. We stayed for a while, watching the action and drinking. It seemed like everyone was there, from dancing little girls (really little, like 4) to old men and everyone in between. There were several old guys who were the life of the party, in addition to drunkenly leading the singing, they´d walk up to us with their cups in hand, looking for us to pour them a bit of beer.
All in all, a great first night out in Rio.
Just a quick update…. we’re in Rio! Our flights went great and we arrived in Rio earlier this afternoon. Unfortunately, it’s been raining pretty steady all day so we ‘ve been laying pretty low. Luckily our hostel has a hot tub, so we’ve been soaking away the long flight. The weather outlook in Rio doesn’t look good for the weekend, but we’re planning to hit the ground running tomorrow.
I also haven’t learned enough portuguese to have any kind of cool sign off, but we’ll work on that for tomorrow too!
Ok, maybe this isn’t big enough to report, but there’s still a little grumbling going on around St. Albans. The convertible roof on Dan’s car is broken and now we can’t have our perfect ride to Dan’s house (then off to the airport) with the top down.
We’re not worried though, morale is great. Our flight’s at 7:30 tonight and we’ll be in Rio by morning!