A Travellerspoint blog

DJANGO!!

Best busride ever!

I'm elated. At 2 am, on a bus since 13 pm (including 2 hours at an in-between bus terminal) the credits for Django have just ended.
I got to se Django! Finally!
I got to see Django in English!
I didn't have to watch/overhear an American movie dubbed to Spanish on the bus!
(There are endless ways to phrase why this experience is so amazing!)
We got a WARM meal served on the bus!
It contained dessert! (It was delicious!)
There wasn't lots of cheese and milk in the food = I could eat it without getting a stomachache!
I'm in a HUGE and comfy chair that leans way back.
I got to watch a great movie in a really comfortable seat on a high quality screen with good sound, non-dubbed, while being served food and drink AND actually getting somewhere at the same time.

Best bus ride ever.

Oh, and of course there is also wifi on the bus (too bad there are no power outlets..)

Posted by Irmelin 05:58 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Granja El Roble

sunny 30 °C

In Brazil I realized that I had acquired the deepest tan of my life.
Loved that.

In Paraguay, I realize I have acquired the largest number of mosquito bites (at once) in my life.
Not loving that too much.

My skin is not so much a color as a pattern and Asia and I have given up on trying to beat the heat and now wear long pants and scarves all day.

That said, we are in paradise. Or heaven, take your pick :)
(Again. It seems I have uttered those words more times than I can count.. But what can I say? Life is great :) )

Granja El Roble is a working ranch outside of Concepcion in the middle of Paraguay. It is owned by Peter, a German who bought the land thirteen years ago with his Paraguayan wife Andresa and they now live on this farm with their three kids. Surrounding the main house are five little cottages with one room each containing 2-6 beds, all available for rent.
Staying at this place is like visiting (very service-minded) relatives or friends of the family, everybody eats at the same tables at the same time (three times a day, the food is delicious and EVERYthing from the meat to the fresh baked bread to the homemade cheese comes off the farm..!) and hangs out in the same common spaces with the animals.

Oh, THE ANIMALS!! During our four days here we have come to know and love a macaw named Gotí, a big bird named Sylvio but called Pico, a toucan ( ), a howler-monkey (Dodo), an armadillo (Tatí), an Anaconda (Ana), and a tapir (Fifi). Along with numerous fish (in numerous aquariums), frogs of every size (not in aquariums but everywhere else), turtles, rabbits and probably more that I can't remember right now they make up the household pets. As you can imagine, Asia and I have been thrilled from morning to evening playing with the animals or just happily enjoying their company.

Goti is incredibly social as well as extremely intelligent. He talks but not very clearly, so I at least can't understand what he is saying (plus, the phrases are in Spanish or Guarani). About a year ago he got in a fight with Dodo who proceeded to rip/tear/bite Goti's whole upper beak off. It is growing back slowly, but Gotí definitely looks quite remarkable right now. He loves to be petted and scratched over his neck and back, and politely holds up his wings for us so that we can reach better :)

Dodo is mainly confined to his cage because of the incident with Gotí a year ago. He gets to come out sometimes when the birds are locked up, but we have yet to see that, and the medium-sized monkey is the only one I feel is not leading a satisfactory life, which makes me sad.

Tatí is super-cute but weird - he CLIMBS the net of his cage instead of digging in the ground. As long as you watch him, you can take him "for a walk" which means to let him out and play with him. Oh, he is SO cute!!

Pico is also always around, he is really a "Southern Screamer" but he doesn't scream so much as coo, chirp and make little chuckling/gurgling noises. He is very cuddly and will come up and lay his head in your lap to be petted. He also reaches exactly to the top edge of the table and will walk around us chirping for bread or rice (or attention, but rice is better ;) ). The image of Pico poking his head up over the opposite side of the table, nibbling at an empty plate and looking at us politely but expectantly as if to suggest that he is indeed very hungry, is one that makes me laugh and a memory I hope I will never forget.

Fifi has an enclosure but is let out to roam around the premises during the day. It is lovely to lie reading in a hammock strung between two trees when suddenly a tapir comes up to sniff your face, allows you to scratch her on the back and then slowly wanders off again.

Ana was found three years ago with a broken neck and somehow miraculously healed over time. Still she is not as a snake should be - she does not catch prey but is fed every day and even shares an enclosure with the children's rabbits which she has never attempted to touch.
Until the day we arrived when she killed the youngest son's pet rabbit and proceeded to try to eat it. We were of course fascinated and watched her try to swallow the rabbit for two hours until it got dark. Apparently she never managed to eat it, which is too bad since it was dead anyway. I wonder if it is the break and wounds of her neck that has left scarring making it impossible for her to swallow something of that size.. But that is just speculation of course, I know next to nothing about snakes.

We have been really lucky with the weather during our stay. Hot, sunny days just made for lying around reading, swimming in the stone-lined basin, talking, eating, taking pictures (slapping mosquitoes..) and random spells of rain at night. The other day we went tubing down a river for 1,5 hours (normally the trip takes 2,5 hours but because of all the rain lately the river is super-high and super-fast right now). It was wonderful to be totally immersed in Nature, peacefully floating down a river.. Have I told you how beautiful it is here? Paraguay is by far one of my most favorite countries to experience at close range the glory of nature. Whether we are running, walking, riding cars, busses or horse-drawn carriages (oh, incidentally, the "taxi" we took from the bus terminal to our hotel in Concepcion turned out to be a horse-drawn cart..) or just sitting somewhere, the beauty and the richness of nature takes my breath away.

I would not have missed going to Paraguay for the world, and I seriously hope to come back in the future!!

Posted by Irmelin 16:18 Archived in Paraguay Comments (0)

The forgotten country

Aka Paraguay

all seasons in one day

"Paraguay?? Why are you going to Paraguay??"

That question has haunted and puzzled us ever since we set foot in Buenos Aires and told people we met about our traveling plans.
Haunted because we have been asked again and again - it seems to be the all-accepted, "normal" and within social-etiquette response to the statement of somebody going to Paraguay. "Why?"
Puzzled because, well, I fail to understand the question.
Why not?
To me it sounds like the question of "why would you travel when you can stay home?" And yes, some people hate the idea of traveling. But these Paraguay comments come from other backpackers, people (locals and ex-pats) living in South America, people fluent in Spanish and in the South American cultures.. People who LOVE to travel, to see the world, to discover new things and experience other cultures.. or so one would think.

I guess it will remain a mystery question to me.
Why go to Paraguay? Because IT'S THERE.

So, that said, we have now finally reached this hidden mystery destination that does not even have it's own Lonely Planet guidebook. (However it does have a section in the South America guidebook, which we have). (Luckily, or we might start believing that Paraguay didn't actually exist).

We flew into Asuncion from São Paulo, a trip that took about three hours but for us lasted all day as my flight departed at 9 am and Asia's at 1 pm. The airport was tiny, smaller even than Landvetter. But it had a cafe and wifi so I had a great time waiting for Asia :)

It took a little while to figure out the currency. After finding out that US$ 1 = 4000 Guarani (Gs) and 1 SEK = 615 Gs I happily found an ATM and proceeded to withdraw one million (!) Gs. I had expected the lump of money to be somewhat more impressive though.. Ten paper bills (even if they ARE 100000 each) is not very much :P

As the cute little airport suggested, Asuncion turned out to be cute, small (although wide-spread), friendly and quite slow (in what seems to be a "don't take things too seriously, it'll work out in the end" kind of way) city. I would like to call it a town because that sure is what it feels like with houses 1-2 stories high and dirt roads every here and there, but as it is the Capitol, I will call it a city.

In Asuncion we stayed at a wonderful eco-friendly hostel (El Jardin Hostal) with a big garden with lots of fruit trees and wonderful staff - the owner even turned out to be Swedish..! We can't wait to go back and stay when we travel through Asuncion again on our way to Bolivia :)

After two nights we were bound for our reservation at Laguna Blanca! We read about this place when we were in BA, and it sounded like paradise.. Big lake out in the middle of nowhere with cabañas for rent right on the shore as well as kayaks to use and half-wild horses living free in the forest/jungle surrounding the lake. Some of South America's richest flora and fauna biotopes. Breakfast included and lunch and dinner optional for an extra fee. We had been dreaming of this place for weeks!

The only tiny unsolved problem was how to get there. Something about a bus that would take us more or less to the area and then walking. One guy wrote about having ridden his motorcycle out there. So we strolled down the road to the nearest MC dealer and..ah, no :) we weren't too worried because everyone we asked seem to know about Laguna Blanca (although nobody really knew exactly how to get there).

The evening before our departure Thomas (the hostel-owner) helped us figure it out. We were to take a bus going to San Pedro (there were two different san pedro's on the time-table but only one in real life.. oh it'll work itself out) and get off in the town of Santa Rosa (by the way, the time-table on the Internet said one thing, the info-person we called to double-check with gave us a different time and the actual departure turned out to be a third time. Oh well, it worked out).
In Santa Rosa we were to take a local "collectivo" bus which didn't appear to have a time table at all ("continually" was the only answer we got to when it left. Oh, it'll work out:) ) and get off in the middle of nowhere (the driver would tell us) and proceed to walk about 4 km until we reached the ranch.

Getting up early the next morning we caught the first bus to Santa Rosa and happily sat there watching the country-side, buying fresh-baked still warm chipa (Paraguayan bread with cheese in it - delicious!) from saleswomen and children who ran up and down the aisle of the bus (the bus would stop for salespeople on the road so that they would have a chance to sell their wares) and reading for the 4,5 hours the trip was supposed to take. Half an hour later we started getting a bit nervous. The door to the driver was locked. Nobody to ask. Oh well, it'll work out (we hoped). Finally the bus stopped and we were able to ask the driver through the window about Santa Rosa. He smiled and said "a couple if minutes!" while holding his thumb and index finger about three cm apart to illustrate just how soon we would be there. We breathed a sigh of relief (still on the right track!) and a mere hour later we arrived at Santa Rosa. The terminal (a roof and a sign) was deserted. It's 2 pm, surely we can't have missed the last collectivo..? We caught sight of a man standing outside of what seemed to be a ticket booth and asked him how to get to Laguna Blanca.
"No" was his perfectly clear and understandable (not) answer. "There are no collectivos, no bus, nothing."
"Well how shall we get to Laguna Blanca?"
"You can't"
He picks up his phone and makes a call. "Yes, it is possible to take a taxi, the driver has agreed to take you for 200000 Gs."
Was he trying to trick us? Rip us off? No, upon further questioning he warmed up enough to explain the perfect logic of "there are no busses today because of the rain last night." (Duh, why didn't we think of that?)
So we agreed to take a taxi and he waved toward a guy sitting across the street. (Of course he had called a guy sitting 10 m away).
We got into his car laughing about how "the busses didn't go" because of some rain. Haha.
Half an hour later we started understanding that perhaps this reasoning was sound, after all. The road was red dirt, half washed away, half mud and half giant puddles (or ponds) that our driver had no choice but to drive straight through. After a few puddles the car started leaking in. Bridges we drove over were made of planks. Half of them seemed to be snapped in two or more pieces. By the end of the close to 2 hour drive (!) we were relieved beyond measure to get out of the car and decided to procrastinate all thoughts on getting back to Santa Rosa.

Well, what can I say? We made it, it all worked out AND we didn't even have to walk 4 km with our packs as the driver brought us all the way in. Win! :)

After traveling all day we were just in time to witness a stunning sunset over the lake. As it turned out, we were the only guests. We had the WHOLE place to ourselves for the whole 5 days we stayed. It was just as beautiful, secluded, rich-in-nature and absolutely glorious as we had imagined.

As a note, the service was weird.. Half of the time we felt like we were imposing and half of the time we were sort of left abandoned without means to contact anyone or even get into the house/main building. Not to mention the times we were joined at sitting and reading, watching Big Bang Theory or a movie on the computer, etc by one of three weird (creepy) guys. "Joined" being a code word for "stared at".. Once the creepy little oldest man came up to us sitting outside in the dark with a big machete and showed us what seemed to be three little (dead) catfish that he had apparently caught(?). (We tried to act sufficiently impressed but we're still not really sure why he showed us the fish to begin with..)

All-in-all we had a GREAT stay! Beautiful days mixed with the largest thunderstorm of our lives (240 mm of rain in one night..!), kayaking and swimming in the lake, running in the woods, interacting with the horses, taking pictures, reading, talking, relaxing and LOVING LIFE.

Oh, how I love it :)

Posted by Irmelin 16:04 Archived in Paraguay Tagged paraguay laguna asunción blanca Comments (0)

Paraty

(Only one letter away from "party"! ;) )

rain 28 °C

As arraial do cabo is three hours north of Rio and Paraty is four and a half hours south of Rio, we had a full day of traveling ahead of us. Had there been a direct bus we might have considered going overnight, but as there wasn't (and we didn't want to spend a couple of hours at the bus station in the middle of the night) AND we were kind of looking forward to lounging on a bus all day (hey, we've been lounging on the beach these past days - time for a change of scenery haha) we left arraial do cabo after breakfast and got to Paraty at about 8pm.

Paraty is a well-visited and well-known town/city right on the coast of Brazil. The area surrounding it is quite hilly and the coast itself is winding with lots of little inlets, outlets, lagoons and islands, making the ocean incredibly calm. A local told us with a smile that there are "never any waves". Oh, and did I mention the widespread mangrove forests lining the whole coastal area including a lot of the islands? That's the other half of the reason for the ocean being so still :)

So no chance for surfing, but lots of kayaking available! We went out for a couple of hours and had an amazing day. The kayaks were incredibly lightweight, being short and basically all "open". We were glad we hadn't dared bring our cameras as they surely would've gotten wet! Sadly, though, this means we will only remember the excursion the old fashioned way. Oh well ;)
Although the lightness of the kayaks made them a bit unstable, it also made for zipping through the water at what felt like hardly any effort. Oh, I love kayaking so much!
A setback for the day was the fact that the tide was extremely high. This meant that several of the sights we were going to se, such as a beach, a "mud beach", and some lovely natural rock pools were flooded and therefore non-sight-see-able. Our guide asked us if we were up to taking an extra long paddling tour around some islands instead and our answer was a given yes. First though, we paddled through the mangrove forest, having to weave through the branches and duck every so often because of the high tide bringing us a lot closer to the trees than normal. Still, it was an amazing sight and I'm so happy we got to do that! One really weird and cool sight was hundreds of crabs (quite big) scurrying up and down the tree trunks and branches. I don't really understand the point of crabs climbing trees but I guess there must be one except from falling into the kayaks of certain tourists and making them freak out a little bit. Or maybe they just have a warped sense of humor :P

The next day it was still cloudy and somewhat rainy, so after lunch (at the amazing turkish place aaahh best falafel EVER) we rented bikes, got directions from the hostel-owner Pablo (great guy, more about the hostel later) and biked up half a mountain (that was a surprise, Pablo's directions didn't include us sweating our butts of but still, it was a refreshing surprise) to get to Penha - a waterfall that is more like a water"run" - a river flowing over a great big gently curving rock into a small but deep lagoon. The result? Nature's best water slide!! Omg, we had so much fun! Once we dared go down the rock that is. Quite high up, both thrilling and scary and very much uncontrollable once you've started sliding, we were happy that there was a guy there who had obvious knowledge of the whole spot and could show us exactly where to start and what to do as well as both reassure us that it was safe as well as slide ahead to show us that it was indeed safe.
As it turns out, sliding down a waterfall is a glorious way to spend a rainy day! :)

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Our last full day in Paraty dawned bright, warm and clear! I was poked awake early (7:30 am is now considered early) by little rays of light slipping through the drapes into our dorm room and was instantly wide awake. Nothing left to do but go out to the porch for some reading in a hammock in the morning sun, oh well ;)
At about nine we all settled down for breakfast (such an amazing breakfast!) and immediately asked Pablo about going on a boat trip that same day (this is one of the most common, most recommended tourist attractions in Paraty). He immediately made a phone call and then all that was left for us to do was to make it to the dock by 11 ! (Did I say Pablo is a great guy?)
That day was the best one yet, which says something about the absolute perfectness of it. Our boat was large; it consisted of a main deck with a mattress-covered lounging area and a small bar, a lower deck with a kitchen (meals were offered from the bar as well as drinks) and bathrooms (the only reason I know that there was also a kitchen down there), as well as an upper, unshaded/unroofed deck with large retractable chairs and could hold 40 passengers (excluding the staff). Oh, and a guy sang and played the guitar for our enjoyment all day as well. A piece of heaven for US$20 (yes everything, all day) - incredible.
It was glorious. Absolutely perfect. Lying/ sitting on the upper deck in the sun or somewhat shaded on the main deck, seeing the beautifully stunning mountainous coastline and islands drift by, gently rocked by the boat, listening to live music and all the while surrounded by the turquoise, glittering loveliness of water that is the Atlantic Ocean. Did I say something about heaven? I meant it.
The trip lasted all day, varying between sailing along and making 45-60 min stops at varying beaches so we could have a chance to swim (jumping from the boat! So much fun!). It all ended with a stunning sunset over that same beautiful landscape while on our way back to Paraty. Glorious.

Well, I promised to tell you about Pablo and his homey, wonderful hostel complete with a garden area, hammocks and a puppy to play with, but I'm starting to think that you probably get the point already. Let me just say I would (and have) recommend it to everyone and anyone -it is worth going to Paraty just to stay there. We loved it!

I'm so happy we went to Paraty. We had an amazing stay even though it is a beach town and we almost only had rain. I love our life :)

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Posted by Irmelin 18:10 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Arraial do cabo

Underwater paradise!

sunny 30 °C

I have found one of my most favorite beach-towns in the world. Correction: my MOST favorite beach-town. (Side note: Rio de Janeiro does not fall under the "town" category).

The water ranges from bright, light blue to turquoise and darker shades if azul, the sand ranges from white to whiter, people are friendly, it only rains at night, beaches are never-ending, the city itself is quaint, food is absolutely amazing, and anywhere you turn there are fish leaping out of pure joy (really, I've seen more jumping fish than in my whole life combined, and it actually looks pretty funny.. Fish don't really "bend" so they don't really "leap" gracefully so much as suddenly appear from the water for half a second before flopping back in again with a splash) and sea turtles swimming by, sticking their little heads out of the water like the cutest periscopes ever before heading on their way to bite off the toe of some unsuspecting tourist (just kidding -we still have all our toes and fingers despite close proximity to sea turtles).
To be noted, this is also basically the first beach in brazil where we have been able to swim. As in going in the water deep enough for us to not touch the bottom, float around outside the breaking point of the waves or bodysurf at the breakpoint without our lives being in danger. WONDERFUL.

However, what I really want to talk about is going DIVING. When I started reading up on Arraial do Cabo, it became clear that the small town hosts some of "the best diving in all of Brazil". Instantly, I knew that above all else, I really wanted to explore the underwater world again. I got my diver's license in 2009, and have since then only done a couple of dives. Man, it had been about 2 years since my last dive, and that is quite a bit! But I couldn't let the chance pass me by.
I set to studying, and basically read through all the theory of the PADI open water divers course to freshen up my mind. That gave me enough confidence to go to a scuba diving agency and ask about their offers. I was very careful to explain how long it had been since my last dive and that I was feeling rusty. They assured me that this wouldn't be a problem. Also, it turned out that Christoffer and Asia would be able to come along on the boat and snorkel while the rest of us were diving for a small fee (which, turned out to be free because they forgot to ask for payment). I payed my 180 Reales for two dives including all the equipment (good deal!) and proceeded to wait for the next morning with more than a few expectant, happy-but-a-bit-anxious butterflies in my stomach.

Big surprise (not) - the day turned out to be absolutely amazing, wonderful, mind blowing, deeply satisfactory.. Oh I LOVE being underwater so much!!! It is such a totally different world and it makes me so calm, harmonic and happy deep into my bones. By the time I was finished with the first dive and came out of the water I was elated. And the best thing ever was to have Christoffer and Asia on the boat, sitting up front in the sun having fika and being the wonderful captive audience that let me go on and on about my dive, seeing fish of all colors shapes and sizes, rocks, plants, anemones, corals, SEA TURTLES.. So amazing.

The second dive was just as good! I did t encounter any sea turtles that time but nonetheless a SEA HORSE! Soo cool!! It was a lot bigger than I had expected and DO CUTE! Absolutely adorable! Oh, I could have stayed right there totally enraptured by the creature for like the rest of the dive :P

Arraial do cabo was a little piece of paradise. Everything from the nature, beaches, ocean, cliffs to the excursions and the weather and food.. The town itself has a really friendly feeling to it, we didn't get gawked at and actually it seemed like people couldn't care less that we were obviously tourists/not from there and we loved it!

Until next time, I will dream about this wonderful town (and as it is so close to Rio, I can actually nurture (for once) realistic plans to go back!) (not that my dreams are in any way unrealistic otherwise but..).
Yes. There will be a next time.

Posted by Irmelin 07:57 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

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