Category Archives: South America Travel Blog

It’s Brazil, Baby!

You like beaches? Brazil’s got trillions. You like jungle? They’ve got the world’s biggest. You like mountains and caves? Yup, they’ve got those. Waterfalls? Tick. Deserts and dunes? Err… yes. Wildlife? Yah, plenty dat too. And of course, the football… many shed-loads of that! They do sport, they do fashion, they do science, they do arts, they build things, they party-hard and they’re the economic power-house of the region. Sure, they have few teeny political snags on the agenda at the moment (who hasn’t? 🙂 ) but overall, we’re looking forward to seeing Brazil (and those beaches!)

Flat-out to a cave

Brazil is big (correction… make that ‘BIG!’). Last year we popped into Brazil from Bolivia for a quick 2,000 km, three week jaunt around the Pantanal. Now we’re back for the main game, we’ll be needing the whole of our annual 90 day entry permit allowance! We enter Brazil from Argentina waaaay inland at Iguazu Falls and it’s a long slog over 1,200km to get to some of those fabled beaches on the Atlantic coast.

We set course on a generally northerly direction through Brazil, so our route takes us diagonally to the coast on some of Brazil’s many long-haul trucking routes. On the way, the countryside at first glance appears curiously European: rolling green hills with cow-dotted pastures. But the occasional palm tree towering above the hedgerows (and the fact that we pass a Tropic of Capricorn sign on the way) is proof that we are very much not in northern Europe! Although the views are of a green and pleasant land, there is precious little in the way of attractions to stop and see on this slog to the coast.

After around 800km we spot a small icon on the open-source mapping indicating some caves around 20km off the main road. At this stage of the journey, anything to break the tedium is attractive so we turn-off down a rough dirt track to investigate the site, optimistic that we might just discover a hidden and little known gem! Some way down the track we notice a strange sound from Cuthbert and Marcus feels unsteady steering. Uh-oh! Flat tyre? Hmmm… perhaps the term ‘mangled’ rather than ‘flat’ might better describe the tyre’s condition! Luckily, if such word can be used in these circumstances, it’s one of the tyres that is nearing the end of its life and was going to be replaced in a few hundred kilometres anyway. Marcus sweats away changing the tyre in the toasty 35C afternoon sunshine whilst an ancient, sun-wizened local farmer stands over him offering what we believe were intended to be helpful words of advice in rambling Portugese.

Once the tyre was fixed we had kind-of lost enthusiasm for the cave exploration, which is a good thing because although we did proceed down the track towards the site, we never actually found it! Hey-ho! It’s back to the main road we go! And a nice scenic Brazilian fuel station car-park for the quick night-stop (sad, but it’s often the best we can do for overnighting between destinations on these long-haul truck routes)!

Sao Paulo to Sea

Further on towards the coast we approach one of the world’s biggest, endlessly sprawling cities: Sao Paulo. On our way past we wonder whether it’s worth a stop-off. We do a bit of research looking for a reason that we might find Sao Paulo worthwhile, but the only really positive feature that popped up repeatedly was its high-end cuisine. Sao Paulo is apparently Brazil’s centre of gourmet (aka expensive) restaurants. Goes without saying, we like a bit of fancy nosh as much as

Green and pleasant land

the next chap, but we need a better reason than an aspiring Michelin Star restaurant to risk Cuthbert’s life, battling for hours with hideous traffic in one of the most crime-ridden centres of South America. Ok… that’s probably just a teeny-weeny bit over dramatic! But although our friends Guy and Fiona’s brilliant foodie/travel blog at Compass and Ladle provides some serious temptation for us to head into town, we decide in the end to tackle Sao Paulo’s equivalent of London’s M25 and bypass the city in search of the seaside.

Costa Verde

Circumnavigating Sao Paolo isn’t quite as bad as we feared and soon we’re past it, dropping off the high ground and looking out over the South Atlantic Ocean for the first time since Tierra del Fuego just over a year ago. Same ocean, same South American eastern coastline, but the sky and the sea are both a lot bluer up here in the mid-summer tropics. This section of coast for 350km south/west of Rio de Janeiro is known as the Costa Verde and it is indeed very green! Travel books say this is a beautiful drive with tiny islands and literally hundreds of stunningly beautiful beach coves cut into the rainforest shoreline. We can happily report that the books aren’t wrong. Our only problem is deciding which of the many beaches to stop and camp by – can’t do them all!

At our first stop near the wonderfully named Ubatuba, we receive news that our paths are crossing yet again with Dakar Rally hero Lyndon and his friend Tony on their grand bike tour. No, we’re not stalking them around South America 🙂 it’s just a true Old English saying that ‘Great minds think alike’ when it comes to South American routing! We’ve bumped into them three times in the last few months, but now this fourth time in Paraty will be the last. They’re heading south to Patagonia and we’re heading up across Brazil, so if we bump into them again any time soon, one of us will have made a grossly negligent navigational error!

The colonial town of Paraty is one of the most popular tourist attractions on this section of the coast of Brazil, with good cause. Its history is in the gruesome slave-trade, but now with its well preserved old buildings and cobbled streets, the town is quaint with style and a chilled-out atmosphere. Nearby is the gorgeous Trindade beach which we find particularly hard to drive away from and end up staying for several days. Here, the beautiful warm ocean waves are crying out for us to make a small investment in a boogie-board to play in the surf. How old are we? Probably older enough to know better, but what the hell… it is fun! Our final stop on this bit of coast, Conceicao wasn’t quite as spectacular as further south, but nevertheless still a lovely beach to spend an afternoon before tackling Rio.

Riiiiio!

Rio de Janeiro has always seemed to me one of the most impossibly glamourous cities of the world full of samba music and beautiful people. Arguably these days it has become more famous for its vast, sprawling, crime-ridden favelas and certain problems hosting the recent World Cup 2014 and Olympics 2016, but I prefer the slightly mythical cool, sophisticated images conjured up by Frank Sinatra’s ‘Girl from Ipanema’ 🙂

Last time we visited Rio in Oct ‘15, we had a day out from the ship on our voyage from Europe to Uruguay. Back then we left Cuthbert on board the Grande Nigeria, this time we have the small matter of getting him into and around the city. Cuthbert isn’t an ideal vehicle for busy traffic in an unfamiliar city, but Marcus is now well practiced at barging across traffic lanes with the best of the Latin American taxi drivers. The first couple of places that we try to park are full, but eventually we find a reasonably secure car-park near the central Flamengo beach. It’s a tad on the noisy side but hey… it’s in down-town central Rio! Can’t grumble at that 🙂

Up on that Sugar Loaf

So… the sights of Rio eh? What do we see? Well… we take a cable car up Sugar Loaf Mountain, have a few of the obligatory caipirinhas on Copacabana Beach, wander round the trendy streets of Leblon, see the pre-Carnival street parties in Ipanema, take a moped-taxi into up an incredibly steep path into one of the more ‘tourist-friendly’ favelas, and finally… see the dentist! Yes, the up-market end of Rio seems as good a place as any to get some routine work done. A good English speaking lady in Leblon did a great job extracting my molar, which had been long overdue.

Another day at the office in Rio

Talking about Rio… there’s this whole crime and personal-safety-thing that everyone talks about. Is it that bad? Well… as we were entering Brazil a couple of weeks ago, an area just north/east of here hit the international news with record-breaking crime levels (yes, record-breaking by Brazilian standards is pretty bad!) due to a police labour strike and gun-toting bad-boys taking control of some cities. Anarchy and lawlessness reigned for a few days in Espirito Santo province and as the police labour strikes widened, the troubles were threatening to spread into down-town Rio de Janeiro. Luckily, the government sent in the military to take control of the streets and order was restored just before we approached the area. In the tourist-friendly areas of Rio that we visit, we see no evidence of the problems reported in the news. As with New York, London, Paris, Wagga Wagga, wherever… there are parts of town into which a tourist would be foolish to venture, particularly at night. But really, tourist-town Rio is as safe as any other major city of the world and you really shouldn’t miss a few of those caipirinhas on Copacabana 🙂

Caipirinhas on Copacabana

Now Carnival time is approaching next week. We’re considering extending our stay here for this mega-event, but we decide we really should move on. Unlike other countries round here, Brazil is quite strict with its entry permits. We’re already one-quarter into the time we have to reach the French Guiana border and we still have well over 7,000 km to go! Need to get a wiggle-on and head in-land a bit.

It’s Brazil, Baby! Photo Gallery

Little Falls, Big Falls

Argentina has its finger stuck between Paraguay and Brazil. Yes, really! Look on the map… there’s long, narrow, finger-like, sticky-up bit in the far north-east of Argentina: Misiones province. We crossed into Argentina from Paraguay at the bottom of the finger and set a new northerly course through Misiones, up to Brazil.

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Paraguay

The Chaco… a chuffing big, flat plain stretching east from the Andes. Covering eastern Bolivia, north-east Argentina, a bit of south-west Brazil and much of Paraguay… it’s big. After the descent from the Bolivian altiplano, it’s a long, long, straight road reaching over 800km to Asuncion. We expect the Chaco to be hot. Turns out… our introduction to Paraguay is not just hot, but damned hot! And what’s Paraguay all about beyond the Chaco?
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Bolivia: Celebrities and Wine

In the Andes at over 4,000m again… a bit of re-acclimatisation is required. We interrupted the sequence of our blogs slightly for our ‘Dakar Special’ when we had a tougher than expected challenge to catch the Rally in Bolivia. So now please humour our ‘time-warp’ as we step back in time to a few days before the Dakar: we’re leaving the beaches of Arica on New Year’s Day for a last bit of exploring in the Andes of northern Chile before crossing into Bolivia.

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The Dakar

No, we haven’t just upped-sticks and shipped to Africa, we’re in Bolivia for the world famous Dakar Rally 2017. After a load of security shenanigans in West Africa, the rally formerly known as ‘Paris-Dakar’ was shifted to South America where it’s affectionately known by locals as ‘El Dakar’. Here’s our attempt at finding over 400 bikes, quads, cars and trucks charging across the altiplano in 2017, together with our Top Tips if you’re contemplating a trip to see Dakar 2018.

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Not-so-silent night

It’s not every Christmas that we open our presents to the booming sound of Chile’s answer to Snoop-Doggy-Dog (or whatever the latest hip-hop chap is called these days) and to be honest, it wouldn’t be our first choice for 2016 either! Nevertheless, that’s what we get 🙂  But before we launch into the Christmas Story, there is the final instalment of the Tyre Story. Continue reading

Colca and Coast

It’s little visited, the south coast of Peru, which is a real shame. Back in September when we travelled up through southern Peru we took, like most travellers, the mountain route via Lake Titicaca and Cusco. Now south-bound, we’re loving the coastal route south of Nazca and on to Chile. Continue reading

Peru Two

Heading to the Dakar Rally?” we asked the friendly Brit biker at the Peruvian border, “Yeah… I’m competing” came the reply. Blimey. Impressed.com. We’re not quite, or even anywhere near, as brave as Lyndon, but we are keen to go and see what antics the competitors get up to on their way around the route. Our new claim to fame: we now know one of the Dakar riders who we can go to cheer on!

Peru by the back door

We’re now in Peru for the second time. This time we’re far inland from the coastal route that we took north-bound. Now we’re taking a small rough back-road through the mountains to a relatively little used border post at La Balsa. On this whole trip we have met very few Brits Continue reading

Exit Ecuador

A ‘rainy season’ usually brings ummm… rain. Except for Ecuador in 2016, that is. The 2016 ‘rainy season’ has so far not really materialised in these parts and it’s been conspicuously dry in the north-western Andes. Locals tell us that they have seen not a single drop throughout November. Regular Cuthbert readers may recall that we have just returned to Quito from an impromptu trip back to UK due to a family illness. During those three weeks we had the traditional British ration of copious precipitation, but now we are back in sunny Ecuador ready to hit the road with a fresh supply of Twiglets and Yorkshire Tea bags!

 

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The Big Turn Around

Flexibility… the key to overlanding! Way back in May we left Chile into Bolivia, then on to Brazil, back to Bolivia, then to Peru. Now here we are in Ecuador and we’re making a big turn-around, heading some 3,000 km back southwards. It’s not the most logical of routes, and if we ever had an approximate route in mind when we set off in South America this certainly wasn’t it! But we have a date with a tyre supplier… in Chile!
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Galapagos

I’ve seen enough boobies for today” Things you thought you’d never hear your husband say 🙂  But fair cop… these are the red and blue footed avian varieties of boobies, indigenous to the Galapagos Islands and we had indeed seen rather a lot of them on that particular day. By far the best way to see the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands is on a cruise and our friends Mark and Lindsey have flown out from UK to join us for one of the most exciting legs of our South American trip. It’s more than just a wee bit exciting, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. For our flights to Galapagos we need to get to Quito. Let’s first pick-up where regular Cuthbert followers last saw us: leaving Peru and crossing into Ecuador…

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Coasting North

Back at sea-level! Yehhy! We do love the mountains, but life at over 12,000 ft can provide a few wobbles in your physiology. It’s a welcome change to now have the soothing sound of rolling waves and the smell of the salty sea air. The drive from Cusco down to the coast is a long and painfully winding road, but finally we’re down at the Pacific coast, back on the Pan-American super-highway, looking forward to following it north all the way to Ecuador.

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Reaching the Rainbow

Rainbow Mountain might predictably be described as colourful. The strata are indeed exquisite but at over 5,000m/16,400ft altitude in southern Peru, Rainbow Mountain sits far from any driveable tracks and it’s no ‘walk in the park’ to get there. Our friends Karen and Jimmy on holiday from UK, aren’t going to let the minor detail of a gruelling high-altitude Andes trek put them off visiting this geological wonder and we (foolishly??? 🙂 ) agree to join them on this quest.

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The Rainbow Mountain hike can be done in one tough day-sesh, but only if you are both: (a) a fit-young-crazy-thing, and (b) Continue reading

Sleeping on a cliff-face

How on earth do we find ourselves hanging off a cliff-face, in a glass-bubble bedroom, suspended on wires above Peru’s Sacred Valley? Well, it is just the small matter of a 400m rock-climb via-ferrata and a 200m high hanging wire-bridge to reach said bubble, then a six-stage zip-wire descent to return to terra-firma next morning. Stupid or brave… 🙂 ?

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Winding the clock back a few months, our great friends Jimmy and Karen are planning a holiday in Peru to meet up with us. Karen has a proven track record as an adventure holiday planner extraordinaire. “There’s this Skylodge thing…Continue reading

Incas and Reeds

Peru is a new country for us. We cross the border from Bolivia on the shore of Lake Titicaca near Copacabana and perhaps unsurprisingly, the Peru-bit of Lake Titicaca looks remarkably similar to the Bolivia-bit of Lake Titicaca! We’re heading first to Puno on the north-west side of the Lake then on to… well… errrm… we do have a plan, honest we do! We’ll let you know when it’s safe to do so (or to be more frank, when we have made up our minds and have a clue) 🙂   So much to see and do in Peru.

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Titicaca and out

Titicaca… the highest lake in the world. More accurately the highest navigable lake, although we don’t know exactly what the difference is. It sits at 3,700m on the altiplano and straddles the Bolivia/Peru border. Bolivia has more than a fair share of natural beauty and this is yet another example of its best. A fitting exit point for us from this scenic country (Click here for route map).

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Amazon and Mud

Amazon… the well-known patch of rainforest rather than a profitable on-line retailer. We’re in the Bolivian bit of it known as the Madidi; the most southerly extent of the vast Amazon Basin. It’s hot, humid and of course, jungly (see route map).

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There’s a lot of trees in Madidi

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La Paz

Approaching La Paz we have a mixed impression. The city sits in a spectacularly steep sided valley surrounded by stunning snow-capped mountains. Nice. But we also see a blanket of ‘clag’ hanging over its skyline. Not nice. Emission standards still have some way to go around here! We’re not great fans of mega-cities but we do have a few practicalities to sort out here and we are just a teeny bit interested to have a look around.

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Altiplano and whiteness

We’re high. Very high. We’ve been plodding around the Bolivian altiplano, often at well over 4,000 m (13,000ft). After the central cities of Sucre and Potosí we’ve moseyed-on down to the remote south-west corner of Bolivia: volcanos, lakes and the world’s largest salty-pan Salar de Uyuni (see map).

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Back to Bolivia

Chiquitania is a land far from Bolivia’s stereotypical image of Andean high peaks, llamas and chunky chaps in brimmed hats and colourful ponchos. Here is Bolivia’s eastern flat, humid wetland punctuated by some scenic red-rock monoliths and some interesting sights. We’re back from Brazil and heading west through Chiquitania to the highlands, but on the way we have the small matter of recovering our deposited food store.

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