Hey Hey, My My ….

Endings can often be more difficult than beginnings. Despite the trepidation we felt, heading out into the blue back in 2016, there was an imperative that drove us forward. We’d packed our belongings into a lock-up in Essex, our flight was booked to Trivandrum in India, we’d had countless ‘goodbye’ celebrations. We were off!

And now we are back. Back home in London town, with all the comforts you forget, hot P8170048-1000x1334water, cooking for yourself, knowing where light switches are in the dark – the little things. And the big things too – family and friends, smiles and hugs, the embrace of a city we’ve called home for over 30 years. So there is no doubt the ‘Big Adventure’ has ended – we have no flights, hostels or buses booked, no research needed, no visa applications or packing required. We are home.

But of course it’s never that simple. We are readjusting, settling in, and re-discovering our home. Walks around Alexandra Palace or Hampstead Heath, with the golden Autumn leaves and clear blue wintry skies – such a contrast to tropical rainforests. We are seeing our old place in new ways. We don’t have a plan for the future yet – we’re still coming to terms with our new present. It’s still a journey.

P2160167-690x774

20181029_235748-2015x670
London from Alexandra Palace
20181026_122842-1440x608
Hampstead Heath in Autumn glory

20181223_131603-548x1127

20181025_235056-1209x588

So this is an attempt to draw a line at the end of the blog. I’d originally planned to leave it with Farewell Brazil, but as the end of 2018 approached I thought it best that it came full circle.

And with all the images, smells, sights, joy and adventure we’ve experienced over these last two years, the most wonderful thing about travelling is the way your lives coincide with people you would never otherwise meet, doing things you never thought you’d be doing in places that you only dreamed of going to.

So thank you to all of those people we have met along the way for enriching our experiences and our lives. We are lucky indeed to now call so many of you friends.

Look by for a beer if you get the chance!

As it says in the introduction to our blog,

‘Here are the thoughts and pictures from two people in their sixties who have left London to travel and explore. The blog is intended as a personal reflection, a scrapbook and a way of keeping in touch with family and friends. If you are a visitor from elsewhere in this wonderful world, hello and enjoy.’

Now two years later, we’re astonished its been seen over 12,000 times with visitors from more than 60 countries.

Wherever you are from, whoever you are, if you are thinking of going travelling – do it, you will never regret it.

Not everyone who wanders is lost.

Niall & Anne x

Deckchair2-1040x585

The Amazon

P8318831-622x829

We’ve already visited our fair share of rainforests on this trip, notably tropical rainforests in Borneo and Indonesia, with Sub Tropical and Temperate Rainforests in Australia and New Zealand. (see Borneo, briefly … Here be DragonsMore tales from Sulawesi, Tasmanian Devils and other TalesLand of the Long White Cloud … cntd.).

But here is different.

The Amazon Basin

P8318809-622x829

The Amazon basin is immense – it constitutes half of all the tropical rainforest on earth. 20180909_184033-1167x876It contains the greatest biodiversity of plant species in the world and is home to more than 2.5 million species of insects and thousands of species of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.

It’s a truly global ecology, with around 27 million tones of sand from the Sahara desert, carried by winds and dropped on the Amazon each year. This replaces the phosphates taken out of the soil by the staggering amount of plant growth and the rainforest would be unsustainable without it.

So we knew there was no way we could ‘explore the Amazon’, but we did come across some astonishing and unexpected landscapes and environments in our journey 3,000 km north and west from Recife.

Alter do Chão

20180903_182623-1967x1107

A pal in Rio had recommend Alter do Chão in the Amazon basin, on the banks of the Rio Tapajós. It was a good base for exploration.

Having said that we had trouble finding the accommodation we had booked. It was way out of town and up a dirt track that the taxi  driver couldn’t even attempt to drive up. Luckily, and before it got dark, we found an alternative, a Pousada – Coraçāo Verde in town just a two minute walk from the town square. Friendly and helpful people. We signed up for a boat trip early the next day to the Canal do Jari – up the Tapajós and on to the Amazon river itself.

By happy chance the other people from the Pousada who signed up to the trip were two independent, English-speaking, young women travellers, Eloise and Ambra. They both had very different travel experiences and were great company, plus Eloise was fluent in Portuguese and Ambra very capable in Portunhol – the combination of Spanish and Portuguese.

20180903_171554-1297x973
Time to let go of preconceptions. The Amazon is vast, it’s more like being at sea

The waves picked up as we entered the seemingly boundless Amazon river. Silt and sandbanks are places where trees and humans seem to cling on, with other land points distant on the horizon.

20180903_163923-1171x878

We stopped at a point on the riverbank where a local biologist/guide took the four of us walking through the forest. Her knowledge and sharp eyesight ensured we saw plants, fruits, butterflies, monkeys, birds and sloths.

20180903_163044-1152x864

The sloths were wonderful …

20180829_194047_edited-791x1055

20180829_193045_edited-968x1290

In the gloom and shadow of the rainforest we saw much more than I could photograph adequately or identify; any ‘birders’ out there, feel free to comment!

20180829_192728-1094x1458
A Great Potoo, I think (though not a great photo!) 

On our way back down the river we were lucky enough to come across a pod of pink freshwater dolphins. The boat stopped and for about fifteen minutes they swam in the river around us.

Outside of the dense forest, around the giant lillypads, the birdlife was easier to spot.

20180903_160917-1638x542
On the way home we stopped to swim in crystal clear fresh water at Lago Preto and then watched our first Amazon sunset at Ponta do Cururu. Magic.

The following day Anne and I spent the afternoon on the local beach, not something we expected to find in the Amazon. But the sandbar just a quick rowboat trip from Alter do Chão is thought by many to be one of Brazil’s best.

20180907_122212-1844x936

Certainly swimming in the cool freshwater waves and sitting on the soft white sand was pretty idyllic, as was the sunset.

20180903_161919-1330x749

I went on another boat trip the following day with Ambra, this time to the Floresta National do Tapajós. It’s a 9km hike from primary to secondary forest and our guide showed us some of the rainforests unique plants. We also spotted what he called a honey monkey and a female tarantula with her egg.

Throughout our walk there was a beautiful, evocative soundtrack of bird calls echoing through the treetops.

P8318855-691x921

P8318853-656x875
The hike up through the secondary forest was hot and sweaty but the view of the Amazon basin in the distance was spectacular

P8318837-622x829

P8318844-622x829

After the climb up through the rainforest it was wonderful to be able to swim in a cool clear river.

20180907_115012-737x983

We had lunch at the local village before heading back under threatening skies.

P9018888-864x1152

20180903_190541-1424x1068

 

Barreirinhas and Lençois Maranhenses

20180904_220451-3072x1172

The journey to Barreirinhas from Alter do Chão was not easy. The lovely people at our hostel Caraçáo Verde dropped us off at the airport for a night flight to Belem. Arriving at 1.30am, but with a twelve hour stopover, we checked in to a hotel for some sleep, then took another flight to Santarem and finally a four hour minibus ride to Barreirinhas, where we pulled up to our Pousada late at night and pretty worn out.

While Barreirinhas is not a spectacular town it had some nice restaurants and bars and an efficient taxi service in the main square that meant we could negotiate the dark unmade roads back to our hotel at night. In any event, we were there to visit Lençois Maranhenses National Park. It was a stunning other-worldly experience.

Lençois Maranhenses

Four wheel drive trucks take you along a maze of rivers and sand tracks to the national park itself.

The landscape is surreal, it’s wonder is magnified by the feeling of walking barefoot through the purest, softest fine white sand I’ve ever encountered.  Lençois Maranhenses translates as the ‘bedsheets of Maranhão’ and that’s a perfect simile for this undulating white terrain. As you walk this silent landscape you can find yourself sinking up to your knees in soft sand, causing mini avalanches that, like your footprints soon disappear in the constant breeze off the sea.

20180906_163521-941x1255

P9058976_edited (1)-2027x1520
Individuals appear simultaneously stark and insignificant in this astonishing landscape

The sand, carried down through the tributaries of the Amazon basin, is picked up by winds and blown inland, forming stunning pure white dunes. When rain falls, it collects amongst the dunes as there is impermeable rock beneath and creates vivid blue lagoons that are great to swim in. By the end of September most of these temporary lagoons have evaporated.

20180910_123335-1343x1008

As the day progressed the sun cast shadows and the sand colour grew warmer.

P9059111-1474x1106
Checking for signal …

20180908_211252-710x1263

20180908_211210-1925x833

20180908_211414-1834x1032

20180904_221230-986x1315

The final trip from Barreirinhas was by boat to Caburé, down the Rio Preguiça. This journey felt more like the stereotypical boat through the Amazon, with rainforest and mangroves up to the waters edge, and scarlet ibis in the trees.

20180908_162222_edited-1249x703

Soon, as we approached the Atlantic Coast, sandunes began to appear once more.

We stopped at the village of Farol Preguiças to see the lighthouse and it’s views of the river, Atíns and the Atlantic.

At one spot on the riverbank there were monkeys amongst the palms, although I don’t know what species.

P9059217-1013x760

20180909_091941-1058x1058

And now we are in Canoa Qebrada. To get here from Barreirinhas meant a five hour bus ride to São Luís (in the opposite direction), where we stopped for a couple of nights, then a flight from there to Fortaleza, followed by a two hour cab ride to here. The overland distance is only 1,300km, but the logistics of travel in this part of Brazil are complex, disjointed and expensive. Often on-line booking grinds to a halt if you haven’t got a Brazilian tax ID (!) and flights depart in the middle of the night. These factors, plus our lack of Portuguese and an almost universal absence of English mean even simple things become a challenge. With the exception of our lovely pals in Alter do Chão, we have not come across any European/English-speaking travellers or tourists. Yet we have seen some amazing, breathtaking sights that have made this part of our adventure more than worthwhile.

We’re having a brief rest for a few days here and then we’re heading East and South again. The next post will be the final part of our journey through Brazil.

Salvador and Olinda

Salvador – the beating heart of Brazil

The journey from beautiful Itacaré to Salvador worked well – despite the five hour bus ride, the ferry and the taxi, we travelled to Bahia’s capital Salvador without any major hassle.

20180819_125144-1884x703
The ferry from Bom Despacho in the south is the best way to cross the Todos os Santos Bay to Salvador

We’d chosen to stay in the old quarter of Pelourinho, which proved to be a wise move. Salvador is large city with glinting shopping malls, wealthy high-rises, poor favelas and a population of around four million people. Travelling around this sprawling city is hard work. Our lodging was in an attic room with a tiny little roof terrace and views over the streets and church towers of Pelourinho.

 

Pelourinho

P8218198-921x691

P8187885-1059x794
The Elvador Lacerda links Pelourinho with the rest of Salvador

Salvador. Brazil’s original capital under the Portuguese, the first slave port in the Americas with its historical centre, Pelourinho. Named after the pillory or whipping post where slaves were punished, the streets in the old quarter are alive with history. And, as the centre of Afro-Brazilian culture in Bahia music, art, religion and dance are everywhere.

P8208135-725x967

 

20180818_152130-1087x611
Capoeira display

 

P8198030-1013x760
At any time of the day or night the streets echo to the rhythm of drums

20180818_145329-906x679

 

20180822_100209-627x1115

As with other large cities in Brazil, alongside the joy and celebration of culture, there exists poverty and crime. The World Heritage streets of Pelourinho are guarded by armed police, tourist police and military police. Locals warned us not to walk down quiet streets, and conscious of our experience in Rio, we took their advice.

 

20180818_151735-1164x655
The campaign to release Lula seemed popular

A huge part of Bahian life centres around religion, not only the colonial Catholicism brought by the Portuguese, but the beliefs and traditions that came with the huge numbers of African slaves. The medieval religious orders, Franciscans, Carmelites and Dominicans all built churches, monasteries and convents, but alongside these grew ‘brotherhoods’ organised around class and race as support organisations for this widely diverse society. There appears to be a church on every street.

P8218210-1105x829

 

Most of these grand colonial structures were built with slave labour and their baroque interiors are dripping with wealth and spectacle.

P8187932-656x875

 

Portuguese Azulego tiles are everywhere, often glorifying the colonial conquest.

P8208121-1013x760

 

The Church of Sao Francisco is drenched with gold.

 

P8208156-656x875

A slave Brotherhood built the aptly named Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Black Men. They were banned from entering other Catholic churches (that they themselves had built) and could only work on this building in their ‘spare time’. It took around 100 years to complete.

P8187995-864x1152
The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Black Men has very different iconography and hosts services accompanied by spectacular drumming

20180819_122247-678x1205

The highlight of our stay in Pelourinho was a visit to see the Folklore Ballet of Bahia with its exhilarating dance and music bringing together the cultures of Africa, Europe and the Indigenous peoples. The displays of Capoeira were astonishing in their grace and athleticism, the music was intoxicating and the packed audience responded with a roar of approval at the end.

20180901_132924-548x363
image from the web

20180819_124610-1238x697

We left the beating heart of Brazil with fond memories and headed north to Recife and Olinda.

Olinda

P8268373-783x587

We loved our time in Olinda. It’s hilly cobbled streets have charm, and it has a common passion with Salvador – carnival. Although dwarfed by it’s neighbour Recife, artistic Olinda with its restaurants bars and music is a perfect place to explore both.

20180903_110348-916x687
The quaint streets of Olinda, with Recife in the distance

20180828_094928-1521x720

Our accommodation in Olinda was an excellent choice. Not only did we have a beautiful room in the heart of Olinda, but our hosts at Cama e Café Olinda were wonderfully kind and helpful – they are fluent in four European languages and provide the best breakfast we’ve had in Brazil.

P8258365-1152x864
Great shops restaurants and bars as you wander around the colourful streets

 

 

20180902_171806-1200x900

There are some fantastic, often impromptu, music venues, with all sorts of bands practising for carnival. As the only European tourists around we felt welcome everywhere. These events usually spill on to the streets where beer vendors and foodstalls fuel the revellers. Any night of the week seems to be party night.

 

Olinda also lays claim to some rather beautiful colonial churches.

P8258315-760x1013

 

P8258319-1013x760

Carnival, and preparing for carnival is always on the agenda.

P8258279-1036x1381

 

20180903_101805-1556x876
This collection of carnival figures was a bit spooky. We came across them unexpectedly while visiting the loo in a restaurant late one night

The giant carnival dolls had their origin in Olinda with the Man of Midnight in 1931. Kim Jong-un, Superman and ET are modern additions.

 

Recife

We headed in to Recife late one Sunday morning (a cheap cab ride is easiest). The roads around Marco Zero (the spot where the Portuguese first landed in 1537) are closed off on Sunday, foot-volley nets are strung up, market stalls and skateboarders appear, and carnival blocos gather on every street to practice their performances. It’s also the area for street art, galleries and museums, and for wandering around in the sunshine with everyone else.

 

 

Frevo

Frevo music and dance emerged from Afro-Brazilian culture, which is particularly strong in this region due to the historic importance of sugar cane as a crop and the slavery that went with it. Religious and military music bands at the end of the nineteenth century gave Frevo its distinctive character with plenty of brass instruments, and Frevo dance came from the fights that ensued as these bands clashed on the narrow streets and battled for space.

At the front of each band marched capoeirstas and fights, usually involving knives ended up with many  dead and wounded. When the police began arresting the capoeirstas they started carrying umbrellas instead of knives and disguising the capoeira movements as dance movements. The frevo dance was born.

20180827_100725-1375x1031
Frevo dancer from the 1970s. The small umbrellas are used in rapid intricate moves

20180827_101040-922x1229

 

20180827_101426-656x874

 

20180903_111911-882x1175
A standard spectacular Sunday on the streets of Recife

From Recife we travelled north and west, heading towards the Amazon. Although we are now in the last month of our big adventure, there’s still plenty to see.

Fly me Down to Rio

A flight to Rio made sense. With stormy weather down south, and our plans to travel north up the coast through Bahia to Recife and beyond, it was clear that this country is just too big to get around by road.

P8057467-1244x933I’ll start the Rio story with our visit to Sugarloaf mountain and then to the iconic, art deco statue of Christ the Redeemer – it proved to be an interesting and adventurous day.

That Saturday dawned with low cloud hanging over the city, but the forecast looked good and we headed down first to our local beach. We were staying in Injoy Hostel, Botafogo a friendly place in a great location for restaurants and public transport. We walked along the shore and then up by cable car to Sugarloaf, as the clouds began to clear.

20180804_225809-1444x1925
The mountain and ‘Redeemer’ appear and disappear among the clouds behind the city

20180820_173758-1401x789

Christ the Redeemer

Visiting such an instantly recognisable, totemic statue whose image has represented Rio, Brazil, South America, the Catholic church and so much more, we were prepared to be disappointed. The mountain was much higher than I imagined, the statue itself was smaller than I anticipated but it’s Art Deco design was striking. And the clouds lifted for a beautiful afternoon.

20180819_150500-1813x1360

P8057469-2165x1624
Not a miracle, just some lens flare!

P8057464-1612x1209

20180810_122811-4755x1531
Give us this Day, our Daily Selfie ….

Of course the view over the city, Sugarloaf peak and the harbour below were spectacular – set in a sparkling azure sea and sky.

P8057481-1244x933

P8057487-1059x794

With a good few hours left of sunlight, and with a cooling, balmy breeze, we decided to call an Uber and head down to Copacabana Beach to finish off a perfect day…

And then

On our way down from Christ the Redeemer, in an Uber, heading to Copacabana. Suddenly the cab screeched to a halt as two men stepped out on to the cobbled road in front of us. There was a moment of silence, as we tried to work out what was going on. Clearly the driver was spooked as he’d stood on the brakes to stop on the steep hill.

We peered out at the scene ahead and then saw one of the men raise an Uzi machine gun, crouch into a firing position, and aim right at us. The driver tried to reverse back up the street, but the clutch kept slipping on the steep hill, and the car wasn’t moving. The driver shouted ‘get out of the car, get out of the car’ so Anne and I slipped out of the doors, and using the car as a shield, headed back up the street. There was a lot of shouting going on.

The car managed to lurch up the hill, with the clutch screaming – the gunmen hadn’t moved – and we jumped in the car and sped away. I asked the driver ‘Foi um assalto’ via Google translate and he thought a gang were conducting a big drug deal in the area and had sealed off the streets.

P8067572-875x656
Around a quarter of Rio’s population live in the favelas or comunidades

All ended well, but it’s the first time I’ve been threatened by a machine gun (600 rounds per minute – I looked it up).

The driver dropped us off in Copacabana and said ‘Rio is very beautiful, but sometimes dangerous’. And of course that’s true. What happened to us could have happened to an organised tour bus, and obviously happens to local people living in the city. With the military deployed on the streets, and shoot outs Screenshot_20180822-135120_crop_653x703between them and well armed drug gangs, violence is a real problem in Rio.

But it’s a big city of over six million people and hundreds of thousands of tourists, most of whom are unaffected by this conflict. There are now regular organised tours into some favelas, with the avowed aim of showing the positive community organisation in these poor areas, although this ‘slum tourism’, as in South Africa and India, remains controversial.

20180813_152339-723x964
Jorge Selaron, with his take on favela living

As if to emphasise the normal life of Rio, within minutes of our scary moment we were walking along the beach in Copacabana, as people swam, played ‘ foot-volley’ and relaxed with cold beers on a sunny Saturday.

20180813_140449-849x1132

We’d started off our time in Rio with a three hour free walking tour on the Thursday morning. It was very well done, with information about the unique and surprising colonial history and architecture of Rio. There were also some friendly and interesting people on the tour, so we signed up for an entertaining pub crawl in Lapa that evening. We missed breakfast the next day.

The walking tour ended at the Escadaria Selarón, 125 steps covered in different tiles and ceramics over decades by Chilean-born local artist Jorge Selaron. He spent his artistic life working on the steps, at first using reclaimed tiles and then adding contributions from around the world. It is an eclectic and vivid tribute to the people of his adopted city, Rio.

20180813_150617-717x956

P8037318-875x656

20180813_150238-900x675

Santa Teresa

One other area we visited in Rio was Santa Theresa, a mixed neighborhood with some old colonial buildings, either dilapidated or restored as well as poorer areas hanging on to the hill. One incentive for us to visit was the old tram that went from town, across the viaduct in Lapa and up the hill – hard for two ex tram drivers to resist. Our first visit was a wash out with rain and low cloud, but on the Sunday, after promenading on Ipanema beach and visiting the hippie market, we jumped on the tram and rattled through the streets once more.

P8047335-1152x864

P8057514-875x656
View from the tram as it crosses the viaduct in Lapa

P8067524-691x921

There is also a project representing the trams in ceramic tiles, which of course we liked.

P8067535-829x622

Perhaps the final highlight of our time in Rio came via a message from a friend in London – two friends were visiting Brazil, and might just still be in Rio. Sure enough, we tracked each other down and spent a lovely evening catching up and swapping tales, a precursor for our return home in October after two years traveling.

Arraial d’Ajuda

Heading North from Rio to Arraial d’Ajuda looked a logistical nightmare. Two flights (with a two hour delay), a taxi from Porto Seguro airport to the harbour, a ferry and then a van/bus to our hostel. Yet it all worked smoothly, despite the language barrier, and we were dropped right outside our hostel, Hostel Arraial d’Ajuda. And what a lovely place, beautiful, artistic shared areas, comfortable rooms and staff that did everything they could to make you welcome.

20180817_123220-1482x612
Aerial d’Ajuda Hostel

20180822_094622-1285x964

Arraial d’Ajuda is relaxed, with cobbled streets, markets, bars and restaurants. You get to the beaches down a steep cobbled street and then follow the coast along to your chosen spot. Minibuses ferry you back to the town square at the end of the day for a small fare. Lovely spot; and in the evening there is the music of Bahia on the streets and in the bars and restaurants.

P8097588-1152x864

20180817_122634-1515x596

Caraíva

On the advice from our hostel we took a minibus tour to Caraíva – two hours over bumpy cobble and dirt roads would have been twice as long on a local bus. Access to the village, river mouth and beach is across the river, boats constantly ferry people and goods back and forth. There are no roads, and the whole place has a relaxed slightly ‘alternative’ vibe.

20180817_112342-1162x654
The ever present foot-volley

Itacaré

It’s around 450km from Arraial d’Ajuda to Itacaré, and of course the journey starts with the bus/ferry/taxi to Porto Seguro. The bus to Itacaré is then another seven or eight hours, (comfortable but ice cold a/c) so we arrived about 8.00pm. Luckily our hostel, Che Lagarto, was a short walk from the bus depot and we were soon checked in and wandering down the pedestrianised street, looking for somewhere to eat. The hostel is in a great location and the people are friendly and helpful with advice and recommendations. It’s known as a surfing destination (we were amazed to see all the young people in the hostel up so early for breakfast!), but there are plenty of beautiful little bays with golden sands.

20180818_140905-1584x892

20180820_220101-1011x759

The highlight of our time in Itacaré was a day  out on a boat for some whale watching. It was recommended by the hostel and Amanda, one of the workers there, volunteered to come with us to help with translation. The project is heavily involved in research of humpback whale migration, behavior and distribution along the coast of Brazil and our guide explained how local and global conservation efforts have seen a massive increase in whales migrating down the coast from Antarctica between July and October.

For the first hour, the boat rocked back and forth, but no whales, and unfortunately Amanda was seasick 😯.

And then we started sighting humpbacks.

20180815_153831-1584x891

P8158144-1152x864

Before long there were groups of them all around the boat. In all we saw maybe fifty whales. One, bigger than the boat, passed underneath us. It was a wonderful sight.

20180817_102437-1568x1175

And then, just as we were about to finish for the day, three humpback whales breached the water and came crashing down nearby. Jaw dropping. I only managed to capture one picture, as it slammed down on to the sea -everyone was mesmerised by this force of nature.

20180815_150644-1750x1314

Our guides told us it was the best day of the year. It was a special experience.

From Itacaré, our next stop was Salvador, the old capital of Brazil and the capital of Bahia, with its unique history and culture. But that story will be in our next blog, coming soon.

A Slice of Argentina

South America

20180802_175629-1398x787

Back in South America after thirty five years, it’s immediately clear that there is so much to see on this vast and varied continent that we would have to be traveling for another year at least if we wanted to experience it properly.

So for our few remaining months we’ve set ourselves the task of exploring a few regions of Argentina and Brazil, with the ambition to return – but maybe with a shorter interval between visits next time.

Buenos Aries

20180719_152241-715x1271

Landing in Buenos Aries after a long flight from New Zealand gave us the chance to adjust to a new continent. All the basic things work – water, money, transport, eating, pavements, accommodation. Indeed it’s considered the most European of Latin America’s big cities, and though of course Spanish is universal there were plenty of locals who took pity on us and helped out with English.

We’d booked a room in Milhouse Hostel, a good choice in the heart of the city with lots of organised activities, including a walking tour of the barrio of La Boca. A traditional working class area, with a history of European immigration and radical politics, it is famous for its colorful tin covered buildings and walkways. These are said to have been inspired by one of its most famous sons, artist Benito Quinquela Martín who used his fame and wealth to provide medical care and facilities in the area.

20180801_115106-1037x1382
Tango dancers still perform on the streets
A large mural reflects continued anger and continued protest for The Disappeared, victims of Argentina’s Dirty War in the 1970s

And of course La Bombonera football stadium is in the heart of La Boca, where large sections remain standing areas, ensuring a ‘waterfall’ of fans when Boca Juniors score.

P7175422-1152x864

La Boca, despite the tourist visits remains a vibrant community.

We spent the rest of our time in BA, visiting museums, watching a Tango performance and walking through the eerie streets of mausoleums in La Recoleta cemetery, where Eva Peron is buried.

20180719_080549-1152x1535
Tango is taken very seriously in Buenos Aries

P7185551-1036x1381

Salta

Salta, in the mountainous north west of Argentina, with its Spanish colonial buildings and Andean culture, was a real contrast to cosmopolitan Buenos Aries. It is also a popular destination for Argentineans, and we had trouble getting accommodation in the local holiday season. Luckily we found an Airbnb place in the centre of town (Posta del Àngel) and our plan was explore the city for a few days and then hire a car and drive into the mountains. The town square, elaborate churches, yummy empanadas, cold Salta beer and local restaurants all gave off a very relaxed vibe, and the Andean culture reminded us of Bolivia, all those years ago.

20180802_161739-1068x1425

We also visited the museum of High Altitude Archaeology, where the three mummified bodies of the Children of Llullaillaco are kept. They were discovered in 1999, at 6,800 metres on the border between Argentina and Bolivia. The mummies are Inca child sacrifices from the sixteenth century who were sacrificed to appease the gods and it was usually the children of the elite who were chosen. They were taken to Cusco and then sent high up in the mountains across the Empire where they were drugged, froze to death and then entombed. Seeing these mummified children was a sad, poignant moment, and to me a reminder of the insanity of religion.

20180806_154711-429x549

20180802_152736-699x393

Our planned journey in to the mountain regions around Salta quickly fell apart when we turned up at the local Hertz car hire, only to be told they had no cars, despite having booked the car a week in advance and visiting the office twice beforehand. There were no other cars available in town. Luckily, even though we had checked out of Posta del Àngel, Marta was kind enough to let us back, and we then spent hours booking day tours of the area, which it must be said turned out to be well organised and informative.

North to Humahuaca

The tour ran along the Humahuaca gorge and the Rio Grande, once part of the Inca trails across the altiplano, connecting the vast empire.

20180726_083332-1024x768

20180803_183609-1198x899

20180803_183222-1146x645

The startling colours of the sedimentary layers, twisted and thrown up in dramatic patterns were a striking feature of this journey. The village of Purmamarca set at the base of the seven colour hill also had a busy artisan market.

P7256417-1059x794
Much simpler than the ornate churches of Salta

Humahuaca

The village of Humahuaca is dominated by a large statue, commemorating the native chasqui in the fight for independence.

P7246121-1382x1037

 

Tilcara

The Pukara fortress in Tilcara is impressive, because of its size and because it is the most extensive example of the pre Inca society that existed before the mid 16th century. It’s a harsh landscape, with giant cacti growing down the valley.

P7246171-1059x794

20180723_181749-1638x921

20180726_083501-860x645
The famous ‘Painter’s Palette’ rock formation

Salińas Grandes

20180724_185742-752x1337

The next day we were to head high in to the altiplano, following the original route of the ‘Tren de Los Nubes’, the train of the clouds, with some track, viaducts and switchbacks still in place. This region is important for its mining, as you get higher, very little grows in this immense dry climate.

Lower down we spotted some ostriches that had come off the mountains in search of water, a Vicuna and a heard of llamas, brightly tagged and running across the path of our van.

20180724_184659-747x995

20180724_190540-1141x856

20180724_185452-1638x1047

20180803_180204-1632x918

P7256387-1059x794

P7256394-1336x1002

From a high point of 4,170m (around the height of the Matterhorn), where the air is thin, we dropped down to the Salińas Grandes at 3,400m (Ben Nevis in Scotland comes in at 1,350m).

20180802_181533-2865x840

We tried some fun pictures with two great people from Barcelona, but I’d say I need to work on my technique🤣

20180724_232303-1279x960

On our third day out of Salta we headed South to Cafayate. Again we encountered dramatic rock formations and vast empty landscapes, particularly as we headed through Quebrada de Las Conchas, the gorge of the shells, with 60 million year old sedimentary rock.

20180802_171357-1209x680

20180802_174309-1228x921

20180802_162846-1940x563

P7266635-967x725

P7256493-691x921

We saw a condor soaring above our heads at Tres Cruces, visited a winery in the quaint town of Cafayete and headed for home before an early morning flight down to Puerto Iguazú and the falls.

Iguazú

The Iguazú National Park covers an area of subtropical rainforest on the border with Brazil. Within the park on the Iguazú River, the Iguazú Falls encompasses over 200 separate cascades, including the iconic Garganta del Diablo or ‘Devil’s Throat’.

It is, first and foremost, an experience of the power and wonder of a natural phenomenon and, as such descriptions and photos cannot do it justice. The Argentinean park is brilliantly designed to bring you close to the falls on accessible tracks through the rainforest. If you can, go!

20180803_191211-1269x714

20180727_161553-3055x882

P7286803-1474x1106

P7286808-1520x1140

20180803_190410-1615x909

P7286782-1428x1071

20180727_184159-1187x890

On our second day we explored the lower area and took the boat through the rapids and into the falls. It was a great way to get close and appreciate the waterfalls intensity. You also get very wet!

20180728_153434-1105x621

P7286918-864x1152

P7286976-794x1059

P7286884-1382x1037

P7286930-864x1152

P7286950-1175x1567

20180801_095137-1433x806

Brazil – Foz de Iguaçu

It’s just a short bus ride to Brazil, though our driver abandoned us at the visa checkpoint, and we had to catch the next one to Foz de Iguaçu. As a town it lacks the charm of its Argentinean neighbour, but we were there to see the falls from the Brazilian side, before heading to the east coast – Rio and beyond. They say that Argentina has the falls, but Brazil has the views. While it certainly is an impressive perspective, we preferred the varied experience from Argentina.

P7317030-1013x760

20180801_095759-983x1311

20180801_101203-1169x877
Ariel view from a helicopter

P8017088-875x656

We also caught some wildlife in a sanctuary near the park.

20180808_090511-1243x933

20180731_180424-1259x1678

20180731_214943-911x1214

So our plan is to head to Rio, then up the coast to Bahia, Salvador and beyond. After nearly two years on the road it feels strange to have an end date – a flight out of Recife at the end of September.

Lots left to see and do before then. 🌏

Fiji

It would be hard for a traveller to not enjoy Fiji. Over 300 islands, clear tropical water bursting with life, remote palm fringed beaches, and a vibrant culture that is positive, friendly and welcoming. This belies it’s previous decades long history of ethnic conflict, military coups and expulsion from international bodies. Indeed, now, according to some international surveys Fiji is rated as the country where its population is happiest.

P7064724-1036x1381

20180711_100131-1411x793
Beach Rugby

P7064727-725x967

We landed in Nadi, on the main Island of Viti Levu and took a two hour bus ride to accommodation we had booked in Pacific Harbour, arriving at night. In Fiji we found that backpacker dorms tend to be located within holiday resorts, meaning private rooms proved relatively expensive, especially as we had arrived in the Australia/New Zealand school holidays.

With blue skies the next morning we explored our surrounds and spent quality time in hammocks, planning our journey in Fiji.

Locally, we booked some diving with Aqua-Trek Beqa Dive Centre (old, badly maintained gear), and on my birthday had two dives with beautiful soft coral and clear water teeming with life. We came across around a dozen tawny nurse sharks asleep on the sand, reef sharks and a big bull shark, moving fast, clearly on the hunt.

The area is renowned for shark feeding displays, and even though we had avoided this, it was clear that the practice impacted on how sharks and other underwater life behaved. A remora (a fish that hangs around sharks hoping to grab some food) took a painful bite out of Anne’s little finger, something we have never encountered before.

Heading back to Nadi, we checked in to Bamboo Travellers on Wailoaloa Beach, an old-school backpacking haunt, where you can relax in the bar on the beach, swim, eat good food, drink cold beer, watch sunsets and talk into the night with fellow travellers. My kind of place.

P6254555-1290x968

20180705_193432-1801x1014

 

Bamboo Travellers also had an efficient travel desk that meant we were able to sort out all our Fijian travel and accommodation arrangements with minimum fuss, something that we had found near impossible till then. Our next stop was the southern Island of Kadavu.

Kadavu

Our fifty minute flight south to Kadavu was on an eighteen seater De Havilland Twin Otter, with passengers distributed according to their weight.

 

 

20180629_144305-1731x974
The Great Astrolobe Reef Kadavu.
P6264606-1290x968
With only one landing per day (weather depending) it’s not the busiest airport.

We were met at the airfield and taken through Vunisea, with its government buildings, post office and local school.

 

20180628_190040-1319x742

P6264608-829x622
Most students stay at the school during the week. With no roads and a population of under 10,000 a daily journey is impossible
20180711_101809-964x723
There is still evidence of the damage caused by Cyclone Keni in April this year

P7024641-1152x864

The boat trip to Matava resort took around ninety minutes in some heavy swell (despite the protection of the Astrolobe Reef), and poor weather characterised our time in Kadavu. Strong Trade Winds from the south-east can develop at any time between May and October in Fiji, and this clearly affected activities such as snorkeling and kayaking. We were able to enjoy some good diving on the reef however, with colourful soft coral, unique macro life and massive cabbage and brain coral sitting on brilliant white sand. On our first dive Anne spotted a leopard shark asleep on the sand, who then woke and circled us a few times.

The company of other guests was enjoyable, the staff lovely and the view from our bure was transformed by different light on the bay. But those trade winds kept on blowing.

 

 

Among the staff at Matava were two O’Connors … very distant relatives

The Yasawas

On the day before our departure from Kadavu the plane tried to land twice, but the strong winds meant it had to return to Nadi, so we were unsure whether we would be able to leave the island. All turned out well on the day however and we were soon back in Nadi, rushing around withdrawing cash from ATMs before our trip north to the Yasawas.

The Yasawas are an archipelago of around twenty volcanic islands, scattered along the north east of Fiji. At one time they were remote and visited by only the most determined backpackers but these days island hopping is popular with travellers, budget-backpackers and those seeking luxury resorts.

We’d selected two islands and travelled first up to one of the northernmost islands, Nacula, aboard the Tavewa Seabus.

One feature of touring the Yasawas is that you frequently bump in to people you’ve met on the boats on other islands and because you share meals, activities and travelling tales, a shifting community soon develops. Add to this the friendly and enthusiastic engagement of local Fijians and you get a relaxed and entertaining journey. While we enjoyed snorkelling, visiting caves and chilling in hammocks, for me the best part of our time in Nabua Lodge was the visit to a local village where we got a real sense of how the community live, work and play in an isolated environment.

P7074749-691x921
Village life

P7074748-967x725

20180707_110818-1114x1486
Origami continues to make friends

 

P7074741-1071x1428

P7074732-1059x794
Kava session on Saturday morning following a wedding in the village the previous day

Our second stop in the Yasawas was at Korovou Eco-Tour resort in Naviti. Lovely beaches, blue skies and sunsets – classic Fiji.

20180708_092743-1529x861