My second favourite city

My second favourite city
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There’s just something about it, an almost intangible thing. Sometimes dirty, sometimes smoggy, I’m sure sometimes dangerous, aren’t all cities. But mostly it’s just kinda perfect. There’s juice stores on every corner, selling simple and delicious food and of course amazing natural juices. Most of the avenues, streets and roads are leafy and dappled in ever present sunshine. The trees are giants, huge leafy sentinels with tendrils of hair-like vines hanging from their branches, creating delicious shade for the architecturally cute flat blocks everywhere. Everybody walks, there are stairs linking everywhere and most of the roads are safe. Mountains frame the city and create beautiful horizons. The beaches and boardwalks, and the ocean beyond are simply stunning. Cape Town has most of these things too, and I love it. But what Brazil also has indefinable energy, and all year round good weather! I can’t really explain it but both times now that I’ve been here, I always think to myself “oh I could definitely live here!” And perhaps that’s what it is, that feeling of liveable, happy spaces, friendly faces, lots of green and blue and although there is the usual city dirt and grime, the energy underneath is what stays with you.

So we’re back in Rio, arrived today and a happy mishap with our other accommodation brought us into a divine little guest house belonging to a French architect. Our room is classically designed and beautiful. We have views over the city and a king bed with proper linen. There’s nothing like a beautiful space to make you feel creative and peaceful.

The time has almost come to wrap up this magical little adventure, last of everything now, time to take it all in, absorb as much as we can, and then say goodbye.

May the adventures never end! Little ones and big ones, here’s to being inspired by life and the world!

Cheers, lots of love!

*Oh yes, I forgot to mention why this guest house is so luxurious to us. Last night we slept from around 2am, on the cold tile floor of Rio’s airport. Our ferry left the island yesterday at 4pm, and due to the rain and bad weather the journey took us 5 or 6 hours by boat, bus & ferry instead of 2. After which we camped out on the airport floor, like hobo’s, at least we weren’t the only ones.

Beaches of Brazil

Beaches of Brazil
Salvador, Brazil

Salvador, Brazil

Finally! The beach time is upon us! Hot weather, cold drinks, hours of tanning, swimming and snorkelling… Alas for me the final night in Natal we partied hard with some Argentinian guys we met and the next morning, aside from a blistering hangover, I picked up the worst flu of my life! We actually fretted for a few days that I had Dengue fever or malaria, luckily not.

The bus from Pipa to Natal passed by in a daze, we all felt a bit rough (‘we’ being me, Jean and Chris – Jean’s brother). We arrived in the afternoon late-ish and attempted to find our apartment. No luck in the disarray and chaos of the little beach town! Streets led to alleys, or to nowhere, none were named, everyone told us something different, people didn’t even seem to know their own street names! Beautiful, befuddled, overly relaxed Brazilians! Eventually we gave up and just knocked on every pousada’s door, eventually finding a place which was cheap and had two rooms for us. We checked in, and headed out to dinner and to watch another game. I was still feeling relatively OK, and we had amazing pizza and some decent red wine. Good times. Pipa is a fantastic place for great food, if you happen to find yourselves on the shores of Brazil it’s worth a visit. The beaches are nothing to be sniffed at either. You have to walk or get a cheap and quick transfer bus to get to the main beauty, but either way it’s worth it. Framed by two orange cliffs is a +- 3km stretch of dazzling beach, dotted all over with umbrella’s and sun loungers and sunbathing masses. I missed the first beach day with Jean and Chris, I was sore, miserable and feverish in our room, with a running tap for a nose and an ache in every body part. They came back with such unbelievable stories about swimming with dolphins and perfect beaches that I was determined to join in the next day. So, armed with tissues, hall’s, painkillers and my book, I tentatively stepped out of my dark cave and into a dazzling sunshine day. Tissue attached to nose I perched happily all day under my sun umbrella and drank in paradise. It really is stunning, and people stretch all along the beach so there’s no crowding, everyone can have a front row seat to the bathers, dolphins and beach bums! There are some redonkulously pretty people on the beaches of Brazil, it’s like they try to live up to that reputation. They have certainly inherited the bums and curves of the planet! Skinny definitely isn’t in here! They even have curvaceous, plump, big bottomed mannequins.

After my first foray into the sun and fun I started to will myself better, it took a few days of rest but eventually I could join in wholeheartedly. Jean and I decided the next time to walk to the big beach via the middle beach. (Pipa’s own beach is nice enough but all the fishing boats are anchored there). Along the way we stopped off at the middle beach for a dip and a coconut. And then the dolphins came! I think it was a mom and two baby dolphins and they frolicked and swam in amongst all the people, sometimes getting to within 5 or 6 metres and surfacing a fin or face to say hi. It was incredible! The babies were about the cutest things I have ever seen! They would pop up vertically, showing off their skinny little baby dolphin bodies as they peeped around, it was just too cute and amazing!

From one beach to another? Hmmm. We were planning on heading south to Salvador and the beaches to the south which looked blissful, but then fate intervened and we ended up in possibly one of the more random places of the trip! It was by a bizarre set of events and the insistent hand of the travel god! We got to the bus station back in Natal, ready to buy our tickets to Recife – 5 hours away, and then from there we’d travel overnight to Salvador. As we got to the queue Jean said “should we not just go direct to Salvador?” So we changed queues to get a long distance bus all the way to Salvador. After some struggling with language, – we speak no Portuguese they speak no English, – we figured out the bus at 5pm was full, but there was one at 18:45, no problem. It was now about 12:30. In amongst all the words uselessly thrown back and forth we missed the fact until after we’d paid that she had booked us to Aracaju because the Salvador bus was actually sold out today. Oops and oh no! So Jean (surprisingly) kicked up a fuss, saying that “we want Salvador, not Acabaju!” (“Queremos Salvador!”) She corrected him, ‘Aracajuuuu’ is only 6 hours from Salvador and we can get a connecting bus. No thanks we insisted, we can get a bus now to Recife so we don’t want to wait around for 6 hours. Gosh we’d been off the hard travel road for too long! With a evil glint in her eye she said ok fine, come let’s go I’ll give you a refund (all in Portuguese of course but her intent was clear). She insisted on doing it quickly before we could check the other bus. With a slight feeling of something amiss in our hearts, we cancelled the Aracaju tickets and booked for Recife. The 1pm was sold out but we got seats on the 3pm bus. This, however, meant that we missed the connecting bus to Salvador by around 15 minutes. We hoped there would be a later one. Of course when we arrived there was no later bus to Salvador. We stood in various queues but no go. Recife is a horrible little place and all around us for miles and miles was just ugly uninviting industria. The lady at the baggage storage area said a taxi to a tourist area is minimum 50 Reals, about R250. Plus with a football game in a few nights time, the accommodation would be about 200 Reals minimum, plus the taxi back tomorrow… What a waste. We were fed up, frustrated and needed to get out of there, and on an overnight bus so that we could have a place to sleep. So we hopped from queue to queue seeing where there was an overnight bus to at this hour. (It was around 9pm). Aaah of course, Aracajuuu. So we booked two tickets to Aracaju departing at 23:10. We both laughed, we knew something like this was bound to happen, we both ‘had a feeling’ during the fuss in Natal. We actually found a great little hostel once we could find internet and actually research, for the first time, the place we were in! We ended up staying for four nights so that we wouldn’t have to travel on our anniversary and so that we didn’t miss any football games. It was a surprisingly nice time, we ate out, explored the neat little city, finally caved in and had sushi!! And had a really, really fun anniversary. We picked a well rated restaurant for dinner which was a bus ride down the beach out of town. We decided to have a bottle of bubbly on the beach beforehand as the sun went down and then do dinner. So onto the bus we hopped, and decided to pop into the restaurant to make sure we got a good table later. Only to find out that they don’t even open at night!! Haha whoops. Oh well, we headed down the beach to a quieter patch, set out a sarong and cracked that bottle of bubbly! It was delicious, plastic cups, soft beach sand between our toes, sun setting behind the palm trees at our backs… After the bubbly we decided we may as well stay and drink the red wine too, which was meant for after dinner. So we dug some small holes for candles and lit six around us to create a perfect little romantic moment! And then for about 15 or 20 seconds the skies decided to open up on our little moment, drenching my candles, scattering us like rabbits and then just as abruptly stopping. We stayed of course, 3 sputtering candles, two happy kids and a bottle of wine. It was kind of late by the time we headed back and no more busses were running. So we walked and hitchhiked and swayed our way down the road. Apparently the über friendly Brazilians are a bit more cautious at night. After a really long time one car actually turned around and came back for us, yay! And they could speak English. Apparently the driver, on seeing we were gringos knew we’d have a tough time of it! They were lovely people, on their way for a night out, and they wanted to have dinner and party with us, but we decided on our aniversary to stay just the two of us. Luckily they picked us up, it was about 10km back to town!

The beaches were not all that great in Aracaju, so after our chilled time we excitedly headed on with our journey to the beaches of Bahia. We spent two nights in Salvador at a great little hostel, in the area of Pelourinho, which is beautiful! We arrived on a holiday day, their day of independence, inexplicably, I mean they’re a state of Brazil, what’s to separate from? In any case the cobbled streets were buzzing and the street decorations made the whole place really fun and pretty.

After Salvador we hopped on a quick two hour ferry to Morro de Sao Paulo, a place recommended to us by the owner of the pousada in Pipa. And am I ever so glad that he did!! Paradise paradise paradise! Not the deserted kind, but the kind which is ringed with beach bars and restaurants, ice-cream parlours and shops selling dresses, bikini’s and souvenirs. The other kind is too expensive for this trip! But the beaches and lushness are picture perfect, it has just 4 main beaches and 2 smaller ones further from the action, absolutely no cars, and clear, calm, azure waters ringed with reefs and rocks, forming perfect pools for swimming and sup-boarding. Yesterday was a rainy day and perfect blogging weather, today is warm and sunny, so time to hit the beach.

Our room has a balcony with a hammock, which I found myself in yesterday all morning, coffee and book in hand. The day before we watched the Brazil game in the tiny town square with a hundred or so others, drinking beer, cheering, munching popcorn and enjoying this divine place which is Brazil.

I thank my twinkling lucky stars to be here! The time is far too near when it will all become memories.

Stay cosy stay safe

Muchos love

To the World Cup! via the Amazon please

To the World Cup! via the Amazon please
Natal, Brazil

Natal, Brazil

Back in Brazil. We sadly said adiós to Colombia and floated down the Amazon as it snaked its way through dense and gorgeous jungle to our next adventure. The Amazon is wide, really unbelievably wide in some places, there was only a couple of occasions where we were close enough to shore to have a chance of seeing wildlife, and we didn’t see any hidden in the green tangles. We did see weird and wonderful pink river dolphins, very cool! We also saw a long black river snake swimming past the ferry one night. That brought out discussions of anaconda and thereafter of ‘so bad they’re good’ bad movies. The trip was a good laugh, super relaxing; beautiful in the way that being so close to nature is; and a one of a kind experience in the way that sleeping in a hammock strung up on the deck of a ferry along with a hundred others is.. It was colourful, full of international comraderie and friendly banter, and best of all we finally, after 4 and a bit months of travelling and encountering no saffas, met up with two fellow South Africans, Capetonians no less!! We spotted two guys a few times in Leticia the day before we left, buying hammocks and supplies. We assumed they were Australian, and chances are they normally would be. So with that assumed knowledge tucked safely away we carried on with our own preparations for leaving Colombia.
Leticia is a river town in southern Colombia, it borders Brazil so closely that you cannot even really tell when leaving one country for another. Also, 20 minutes away by boat is the Peru border. A triborder situation which is also the doorway to the Amazon jungle and river. A very hot, humid, lively and friendly place. The only way to reach Leticia and Tabatinga (Brazil) is by air or river, there are no roads, and as a result both towns are riddled with Suzuki’s, tuk tuks, poegies (scooters) and moto-taxis. It’s the only way to get around as cars are not exactly necessary and therefore quite rare. Everywhere you go the sound of motorbikes fills the air and with seemingly no road rules you have to be really careful crossing the road. The mototaxi rides by motorbike on the Brazil side are quite exhilarating. The tuktuks on the Colombia side are safer, like most things in Colombia.
Departure day arrived and after a police bag search we found a spot to string up our newly purchased hammocks on the middle deck of ferry GM Perreira, Manaus bound. After getting the help of a deck hand with our knots (mental note: learn to tie a proper knot!), we settled in to people-watch new arrivals and get acquainted with the boat. I was standing by the kiosk for food and cool drinks when I saw the Aussies again, and noticed that one of the guys had a tattoo of Africa on his arm, I figured I will have to ask him why an Aussie has Africa tattooed on him. Duh, what a blondie, but really, South Africans are that scarce! We quickly firgured out we were from the same city and country and excitedly exchanged greetings, the boat trip was looking up. We spent the days just hanging out together and watching the river and jungle float by, exchanging stories and sharing laughs, looking out for river dolphins and dreaming of spotting the elusive puma. It was a very pleasant experience, the sunsets and sunrises were lovely and all too quickly it was over and we were pulling into Manaus.
Here we parted ways and planned to meet up again in Natal for the Ghana USA game. Jean and I had a few days to kill before our flight to Natal, and we did this at a cute, new and cheap hostel called Amazon Adventure Hostel (or with the accent ‘Amazoney Adventurey Hhostel’). Manaus is a massive city right in the Amazon jungle, you do not however see any jungle while you’re in the city, it feels far away. It is extremely hot and humid though, and we happily spent hours in the air conditioned recesses of the hostel, reading books and watching movies and shows on the tablet. I love free wifi. We saw the Teatro Amazonas, which is a beautiful theatre built during the rubber boom to bring some culture to the city. We flew to Natal early on the 11th, leaving the strange and lonely feeling city behind us for the sunny, popular beach town. Natal is where we watch all our football games. Cameroon Mexico was first – a disappointing loss, but the Mexicans are now some of my favourite people on the planet! Friendly beyond compare, loud, boisterous, generous and fun! While they were in town the chanting, revelry and drinking was infectious and constant. During the opening game of the world cup we were in a large, packed bar with many Mexicans and this one guy walked around and gave everyone a mini shot of tequila and took a photo with them, sombreros, lemon, salt and all! The first few days it rained heavily and nonstop, Chris arrived by bus after the opening match, and I think he brought London weather with him. After three days the sun finally shone and we spent some happy lazy hours on the beach, the guys joined some footie games and the swimming is fantastic! We drank copiously every day, watching a LOT of football and my liver and body is desperate for a detox. The Ghana game was extremely depressing, we met up with Matt and Justin and their friend Faizal, also from Cape Town. We painted our faces in support of the black stars, and the gees (spirit) was incredible, the Ghanaian supporters were epic, but it was with sad faces that we left the stadium, to the tuneless, grating chant of USA USA USA. All in all it was still a fun day.
It’s raining again today, so somewhat gratefully I find myself lazing in bed, writing and resting (recuperating ��). Our hostel, Lua Cheia has a medieval theme, with turrets, tapestries, arrow slit windows, stained glass, cobwebbed chandeliers (real cobwebs, I saw the spiders), pointed archways and a suit of armour in the entrance hall. Strange but really cool, it’s a nice place to stay, and it has been great to settle down for 8 nights, I even unpacked – a first! Unfortunately we are in the epicentre of the party district, loud music, crowds and chanting goes through the night. It will be wonderful to experience silence and peace again, fun as this has been. Tonight we see Japan and Greece, tomorrow we head south to Pipa, on our road back to Rio – our final stop before flying home.
Eeek, it’s hard to believe that it is all nearly over! Thinking back on some things we did in the beginning it feels like a lifetime ago, at other times it feels unbelievable that home is just around the corner. I am happy with it, I feel like a traveller, it’s no longer a mission to live out of a backpack, to sleep in strange beds or hammocks or places every few nights, it now feels natural. Going home is going to take some getting used to! But I look forward to it, to seeing Pinky, family, friends, my beautiful city and familiar streets, shops and food. And decent, well priced red wine, oh how I’ve missed you!! A ****** bottle here is R100, something at least drinkable is R160/R180! I will miss açaì, fernet and coke, proper heat, humidity which means I never have dry skin, the feeling of impending adventure around any corner and constantly seeing and experiencing new things. I’ll miss dearly the amount of time we spend outdoors, and make a promise to myself to seek adventure and nature in my normal life too.
The next few weeks will be spent on beaches all down the stunning coastline of Brazil, 30 degree weather, cocktails, lazing, tanning and just being beach bums. I heard it was cold in SA? �� See you all soon.
Much love, x

Coffee, fireflies and tranquility

Coffee, fireflies and tranquility
Salento, Colombia

Salento, Colombia

Ecuador held no great secrets, love or allure for us. Our sights were set on the mystery and enchantment of Colombia, and so we sailed swiftly through Ecuador, enjoying coffee, cooking for ourselves, cheap-ish box wine and the occasional charm of a fellow traveller. The cities of Cuenca and Quito were relatively charming and there were quite a few historical buildings to see, and Cuenca is remarkably clean and pretty, with wonderful half decayed and extravagant buildings looming up the hillside next to the river. In Quito we met a lovely old guy from Alaska, a teacher of English to Eskimo’s, a traveller eternal, full of stories and a pleasure to hang around with. We made pescado encocado, a local prawn dish, and invited him to dinner. It was a first for us, hosting a guest within a hostel �� we only had boxed white wine to offer, but it was surprisingly good, and the evening was one of our favourites.

In Quito we waited for four hours for a delayed bus which would take us into Colombia, the bus was doing an epic journey from Lima to Venezuela. We eventually boarded the bus, due to take 20 hours, it took 24. It was hot and stuffy, and they played incessant and loud salsa music for hours on end. It may sound fun but it wasn’t, I can still hear the ts ts ts ts ts which is present in each and every song. But we read, relaxed and slept and finally arrived in Cali. This was just a brief pit stop to refuel, and the next day we set off for the coffee region. The scenery just got prettier and prettier, the mountains grew, the trees stretched into bluer skies, the grass grew greener and everything became more lush and verdant. A pleasant five hour bus journey brought us to Armenia. On the way we had a full police search of the bus, the officer got to us, asked for passports, saw we were South African, smiled and moved right on, everyone else on the bus had their belongings fully searched! Another one hour bus and we arrived in the quaint little town of Salento. Our hostel was 20 minutes out of town, so off we walked, ice creams in hand, through pretty streets, admiring the architecture and colours along the way. Around half way there I spotted the cutest spot for our first real Colombian coffee. The friendliest woman owned the kiosk, we perched on some half logs outside and she brought us mini trays with a small tin cup of coffee. It was black, fragrant and wonderful! It already felt so calm and peaceful and we were still on the road! Our souls mellowed out as we sank into the aroma and flavours of Colombia. Tranquillo they always say, and it really was.

The hostel / farm La Serrana was set on the top of a mountain rigde with valleys on either side, the view was almost 360 degrees, green green green, our eyes were saturated with colour, I was pretty speechless once again. We smiled at each other and began setting up our tent. This place is so popular it seems to be fully booked every night. Lucky we have our tent. As evening settled in we grabbed some beers and sat down to enjoy the view. Slowly as the darkness grew complete, the fireflies came out.. Thousands of them blinked and twinkled on the dark soft rolling hills around us, it was like nothing we had ever seen before, nature’s beauty is often unexplainable in terms of man’s limited vocabulary and imagination, some things have to be seen and experienced. Our minds and souls absorbed this wonder and grew richer for it. The following morning we woke lazily to a quiet garden and house, the dogs and everyone still slept. The air was so fresh and calm, a few clouds hung over the neighbouring mountains. After breakfast we grabbed our books and a couple of hammocks and settled in for a few serene hours. The afternoon was set aside for a visit to a coffee plantation. It started to drizzle but they said it should stop within the hour. So we set off on foot to town for some lunch before our coffee mission. I took my rain poncho as I didn’t feel like getting cold. Luckily I did, the drizzle carried on all the way to town, so we both huddled under it. During lunch of grilled trout the rain seemed to stop for a little while, then a sudden clap of thunder and the skies opened up! It was an intense tropical downpour, we were stuck in the restaurant for what felt like hours, the proprietress luckily offered us a strong cup of ‘tinto’ which is basically delicious black coffee. It was getting pretty chilly as we got wet with one attempt to jump into a taxi which was waiting outside, hooting. Jean got in first I shouted at him over the roar of the rain to grab my polystyrene coffee cup as I clambered into the back of the jeep. A whole family was already inside, we all looked at each other, the woman was saying something to us, oh ****! It wasn’t actually a taxi! It was a private car we had just scrambled into! She apologised profusely as we climbed back out, into the rain and back into the restaurant. All the taxi’s are Jeeps, and they were hooting, so you can understand our confusion! Eventually the rain began to let up, so we held my ponco above us and waded through the streets back to the hostel. Unfortunately this was our coffee day so we missed out on that. The next day we went on a hike to a place in the jungle with lots of hummingbirds, it was amazing to be so close to so many of them, watching them drink water, their little wings almost invisible as they darted about, thudding however very audibly as they whizzed past your head. The hike then led us down a mountain road and past impossibly green cow fields with the tallest palm trees I have ever seen, dotted all over the hillsides, very Dr. Seuss, I could picture the Onclers wagon puffing along through the trees, chopping them down.

Sadly we had to say goodbye to the green magical fields and carry on our journey through Colombia. We decided to fly to Cartagena as we found out the busses were horrendous and it is only a little bit more to fly. An Irish couple we met and did the hike with told us that Viva Colombia was supposed to be the cheapest but that you can only book at the airport. We saw online the flight was at 9:30pm, but to be on the safe side we decided to get there early and make sure we got seats. We arrived at about 2pm and there was no one at the Viva Colombia desk. Apparently they would be there at 3. So we had some lunch and went back at 3. There were three ladies at the desk now, having a discussion of some sort. We waited patiently in line, 3:15, 3:25, getting steadily impatient and annoyed at what was clearly a personal conversation. I looked angrily at them, clearing my throat, huffing etc to let them know I was running out of patience, finally one of them looked at me and seemed to say sorry we’ll be with you in a moment, a terribly fake smiled graced her face for 2 seconds. A few minutes later a woman arrived, walked through main doors, lifted the rope of the queue and went straight to the deak. They began to help her. I nearly had a fit, I think I hyperventilated a bit and one of them noticed and pointed me out, they called me up. Luckily, otherwise I think my fist would have acted on it’s own accord and flew over the counter and planted itself into one of their noses. Online the price of the flight was 399,999 pesos, roughly $200. Which was what our Irish friends had paid, what we could afford and what we were expecting. She typed a bit, then held up the calculator showing 300,000, perfect, then pulls out a piece of paper when I ask ‘para dos?’ just to make sure, and writes 600,000 on it. I ask why when it is so much less online, and they just say, online it is cheaper, but here it is more. You cannot book on their website, as I mentioned before, you have to go to the aiport. In utter tears of frustration we sit back down. I am inconsolable at this stage, the idea of staying in this ****** city and then only getting two long busses the next day is unbearable. Eventually I run off, I went to every airline counter, eventually at LAN a lovely helpful guy who could speak English had flights for $107 each, yay!!! I was so relieved! We flew via Bogota and landed in sultry hot Cartagena around 10pm. We’re staying in the historical walled city, with its labyrinth of streets lined with pretty colourful houses, most of them have indecently large wooden doors, with wrought iron knockers in exquisite designs of lizards, lions, lion koi fish things etc. Each beautiful façade is a different colour, the windows have wooden – useless – burglar bars (it’s probably more for decoration than anything else, the city feels pretty safe) and many are draped with pretty magenta and pink bougainvillea. I’m lying on my top bunk now, their is a big bird cage outside my window which looks onto the lobby with checkered floors and a gilt mirror. The fans are humming over head, moving the hot sticky air around and keeping the sweat at bay. I know as soon as I walk outside the sweat will run in rivulets down my back again. The heat is immense, it’s everwhere, there is no escape, we are not rich enough to stay in a place with a pool, and even the water out of the showers is not really cold. But I’m truly happy to be here, to be warm all the time, to shudder at the thought of fleece or wool, blergh. Because I know that this adventure which has taken us vast distances and to wildly different places will all too soon be over. And I love the sunshine.

So cheers, I’m off for an ice cold beer and to bathe in my own sweat as I amble through the streets.

Love you all.