Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cruising from Brazil to Argentina via some Impressive Falls

May 19 to June 4, 2010 (by Swiss)

As you may have noticed by our somewhat delayed blog updates, we are nearing the end of our trip, and blog writing motivation has waned a bit.  As I write this, we are within three weeks of returning to the US.  This post will cover our visit to Salvador (Brazil), Porto Allegre (Brazil), Puerto Iguazu (Argentina), and Salta (Argentina.)  Along with our blogging, sightseeing has taken a slight hit as we are spending more time relaxing (ok, being lazy) and prepping for our return to the US (you know, jobs and stuff.)  Oh, and there have been some "mobility issues", on which I will elaborate shortly.


Although we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Rio, it was time to explore a different part of Brazil.  With winter approaching towards the south, we decided a trip north to Salvador would be in order.  Located in the state of Bahia, Salvador is probably best known for its african roots, beautiful historic center, and colonial architecture.  Oh, and its crime.  Since flying there was actually cheaper than taking the bus, we hopped on our webjet flight northbound mid-day on May 19.

Our arrival in Salvador was fairly uneventful, as we arrived a tad late and promptly hopped on the public bus that would get us to the Barra (pronounced Baha) neighborhood, where we had booked our hostel accomodation at the Barra Guest House.  A friendly girl on the bus just about walked us to the door of our hostel, where we checked in, got our free Caipirinha, and got the rundown of the neighborhood (i.e., where not to go if one wants to stay alive.)  To be honest, we found crime in the area to not be an issue as long as one stays on the beaten path and exercises common sense (stay in groups, hide valuables, don't carry too much cash on you, use reputable taxis, etc.)

Our hostel, run by a British guy (Russel) and his Brazilian wife, ended up being one of the best hostels we have stayed at.  Great breakfast (including made to order eggs and freshly made juices), clean rooms, nice atmosphere, and helpful advice about sums it up.  This was clearly reflected in the fact that the hostel was top rated on hostelworld and booked full almost the entire time we were there.

Our stay in Salvador revolved around three main themes:  1) Hostel life, 2) Touristy things, and 3) Doctor visits.

1)  Our hostel social life was quite enjoyable, especially on rainy days, and generally peaked at the daily 7pm free Caipirinha, which usually brought the entire group of guests (and former guests who couldn't get a room and were staying down the street) together for social hour.  It was usually there where plans were made for subsequent activities, such as the night where we headed out for a tasty dinner of shrimp Moqueca, basically a seafood stew.

One of the days, in a lead up to a local performing arts show, the entire hostel got together for a very tasty and filling BBQ organized by Russell and his crew.  All in all, it was a nice little home away from home.  I even managed to team up with a Dutch guest (Joep) in a game of soccer against some Brazilian kids on one of the days.  There are tougher ways to spend time abroad.

2) Salvador offers a variety of activities for people visiting the town.  Our first day was spent on one of the beaches, which were much smaller than what we were used to in Rio, but nice nonetheless.  With temperatures hovering around 30 deg C (86 deg F), a relaxing day at the beach was appreciated.   It would mark our only beach day, as other days were filled with other activies and/or unfavorable weather.

Besides beaches, Salvador sports a beautiful old town with nice cobble stone roads and gorgeous architecture.  We used one of our more sunny days to team up with Andrew (from England) for a stroll through town.  This included a visit to the "golden church" of St. Francis, which was a worthwhile sight to see.  Pics from town are shown below:

Our cultural highlight, however, was the "Bale Folclorico Da Bahia" show we caught on the 22nd of June.  A group of about 10 from our hostel got together to catch the show, which basically consists of a mix of traditional dances and athletic performances, inlcuding what I call the famous Brazilian fighting thingy, aka Capoeira.  While pictures were not allowed, you just have to trust me that it's a must see event if you make it to Salvador.  Russel was kind enough to arrange all the tickets (at cost, no markup) for us, which coupled with the BBQ mentioned earlier made for a fantastic day.  The admission to the show is a well worth 30 reais.

3)  Which now brings us to item 3:  Doctor visits.  So Jason had been feeling pain in his leg after we had an argument back in Rio.  It basically involved me kicking the lower portion of his left leg.  We had figured it was just bruised, as it got better within 1-2 days.  When we got to the cobble stone laden streets of Salvador, however, things started to get worse.  It was finally decided that the leg had to be examined by a doctor.  Our first visit happened to be on a Sunday when most clinics are closed.  We finally managed to find a place with an English speaking physician, who ordered an x-ray which revealed a broken fibula.  Yes, I broke Jason's leg.  You may email me hate mail as you please, I deserve it (and don't worry, I have been been getting plenty of crap from folks over the last couple of weeks.)

The doctor, though nice (he did the consult and x-ray for free), wanted to put Jason in a full leg plaster cast for 90 days.  This, of course, would severely impact our trip.  Jason decided to opt-out of the suggested treatment and instead seek at least one second opinion.  Since the fibula is not a load bearing component of the leg (and rather useless, apparently, as we learned the bone is sometimes removed for re-constructive surgery in jaw cancer patients), we were a bit perplexed why he would need a full leg cast.

A couple of consults with some other folks and finally a very thorough local doctor (orthopaedic surgeon with some US training) at a different clinic the following day reduced the recommended treatment from a full leg cast to a immobilizing boot and crutches for 6 weeks.  Not perfect, but at least it would allow Jason to continue the trip and take proper showers.  I would be the designated mule carrying our luggage.

So that was our excitement for Salvador.  Again, a very nice town to visit if you ever have a chance.

A brief flight, Brazilian BBQ, and off we were to the falls

Our next item on our itinerary was Porto Alegre, which drew multiple "Why would you go there?" inquisitions by locals and fellow travelers leading up to our departure.  Since we had gone through the same questioning when talking about Sao Paulo, it was taken with a grain of salt (Sao Paulo was quite alright, in our opinion.)

The true answer to the question, however, was that our original itinerary included a flight from PA to Buenos Aires, so we had to get there in time to catch that flight. The flight plan to BA ended up getting nixed, since we decided to take the bus to the Iguazu falls instead.  Although we had to bite the non-refundable airfare to BA, it would save Jason a US$130 airport entry fee extended to US citizens arriving via airplane to BA courtesy of the Argentinian government.  If you go by land (or are a citizen of any country but the US, Australia, or Canada), it's free.  Given that we were to visit the falls either way, and would have to backtrack from BA to do so, biting the bullet on the airfare and instead taking the bus made tons of time and financial sense.

Our trip to Porto Alegre, again courtesy of webjet, was fairly uneventful.  Well, except that robo-footed Jason (and I by affiliation), got the VIP treatment, including front row seats and wheelchair service to the correct city bus upon arrival in Porto Alegre.  It may have been our easiest travel segment to date.

We ended up only staying one night in Porto Alegre, which was spent searching for meat.  We had heard that the south of Brazil is famous for its BBQ, or Churrasca, as they call it over here, so that would be our goal for PA.  Our hostel recommended a place that offered all you can eat BBQ with a show for 50 reais (USD 28), which frankly was a bit above what we wanted to spend.  So off to ever-reliable it was, where we found Churrascaria Giovanaz that supposedly had all-you-can eat BBQ for reasonable prices.  A quick cab ride to the understated, Portugese-only speaking establishment revealed a sign at the entrance hinting at 14 reais menu, though neither of us were sure how much the thing would end up costing.  Sure enough, after pigging out for a good hour on a variety of meats (including what we think were Chicken hearts) and solid side dishes ranging from salads to fried polenta, our charge for the food ended up being 14 reais per person - 8 USD - plus some tax and service charge.  Nifty.

This would essentially sum up our visit to Porto Alegre, as we caught an overnight bus to Foz de Iguazu the next day after a fairly noisy stay at Hostel Porto do Sol.  To be honest, from the little we saw of PA, it didn't seem like that bad of a place.  Especially if you like meat.

Some Big Ass Falls

Ask most travelers who have been to Argentina or Brazil, they will likely agree that one of the "must see" destinations are the Iguazu Falls, located near the intersection of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.  Visitors have the option to visit the falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinan side, though the consensus is that the Argentinian side is a bit more impressive.  Couple that with Jason's new handicap, and we reached the conclusion to focus our visit to the Argentinian side which is best accessed from the Argentinian town of Puerto Iguazu.

Our overnight bus dropped us off in the Brazilian border town of Foz de Igazu in the morning hours of May 27, where we promptly used public transport to get over to Puerto Iguazu.  Though not quite as convenient as using a pre-arranged shuttle touted by folks at the bus station, at about 1/8th the cost, it got us across the border and to our hostel within about one hour with no major obstacles.  We had booked a room in a 10-bed dorm at Bambu Hostel, and they were nice enough to upgrade us to a 4 bed dorm given Jason's leg condition.  The hostel was clean, cozy, and staff were very nice.  Recommended if you ever make it to Puerto Igazu.

The main event, of course, would be our visit to the falls.  They were very much handicap friendly, offering free transfers and suspension equipped wheelchairs for folks with disabilities.  Stopping short of claiming a non-accidental disability, which would have earned Jason a free entry to the park, we both forked over 85 pesos and had a great day visitng the very impressive Iguazu falls:

Swiss pushing me up hill!

Besides water and wheelchairs, the falls also offered visits by animals/critters with varying degrees of "I'd-like-to-interact-with-you'd-ness":

Swiss makes a new friend

The remaining time in Puerto Iguazu was spent checking out the town (not much to it, to be honest), and catching the sunset at the intersection of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay:

With Igazu under our belt, it was time to head on to the city of Salta.  We had heard various praises about bus service in Argentina, and thus opted to brave the 23 hour overnight ride courtesy of Flecha bus.  The service, at a cost of around 280 pesos, was nice but didn't live up the hype we've been hearing over the previous couple of weeks.  On the up side, the bus service did include meals and wide, comfy, reclining seats.

A couple days in Salta

Salta, located in the north-west of Argentina, would provide us with a couple days to chill out, enjoy Argentinan cuisine, update the blog, and catch up on resume/job stuff.  It turns out Salta is a very charming small-ish town with nice restaurants, beautiful architecture, and with prices in town being fairly cheap, a great place to lay low for a few days.

We stayed at Las Rejas Hostel, which was run by a nice Argentinian couple and offered comfortable digs with decent breakfast and fast wifi.  During our stay, we met a variety of backpackers from around the world.  It was also during our stay when our electronics started to go south:  My camera had been on the brinks for months and was really starting to bite the dust, while Jason's laptop decided to no longer recognize the n, o, up, right, colon, and apostrophe keys.  If your name is Lawton, you can imagine how troublesome it is to type without the n and o keys.  So part of the stay was spent nerding out and assigning keyboard shortcuts to those missing keys.

The other major achievement was for Jason to finally sample some Yerba Mate, courtesy of a Mate kit we had bought in Puerto Iguazu.  Now, Argentinians are crazy about this stuff, and you'll see them drinking it out of their gourds all over the place.  So you'd think it would be pretty tasty.  Well, here's Jason's reaction to sampling the stuff:

Yeah, Yerba Matte wasn't as good as I had hoped

Most of the time, however, was spent bumming around town which included a visit to the "Museum of High Altitude Archeology."  That latter activity revealed the fascinating history of children that were "sacrificed" by being left also high in the mountains to die after various ceremonies, including childhood weddings.  Three of these children were discovered in 1999, mummified in excellent condition, and are on display at the museum.  Yeah, it's a bit creepy, but given the number of mummies (Egypt) and embalmed folks (Vietnam) we have seen on this trip, it was also quite appropriate.  Below are some pictures from strolling around in Salta.

Oh, and how cool is this shot?

In terms of distance to our digs, the greatest excursion during our stay was a visit to San Bernando Hill, which courtesy of yet another Swiss designed gondola, could be reached fairly easily with minimal walking/hobbling.  The top of the hill afforded beautiful views of Salta, though we both wished we had brought a book to enjoy more time on top of the hill.

Looking out on Salta

The last item of note once again revolves around meat.  As you may know, Argentina is world reknowned for its beef.  We were recommended a parilla, "La Monumental", by our ever-helpful host and decided to give it a shot.  The meat, as it turned out, was excellent and coupled with garlic/parsley french fries and local wine, made for an excellent dinner.  So excellent, in fact, that we re-visited the place a few days later for seconds :)  If you make it to Salta, check out "La Monumental"; it's tasty, unpretentious, and very reasonably priced.

Which brings us to the end of our stay in Salta.  We booked yet another Argentinan bus, this time with Andesmar, to Buenos Aires.  The 19 hour ride, while nice but yet again not all that great, got us to BA safely where we were to spend almost a week meeting up with our friend Sonia.  But I'll let Jason tell that part of the story...


Unknown said...

Ok - you guys will never live down the domestic violence jokes that I am feverishly formulating now. And that wheelchair looked quite "rugged" indeed!

Selah said...

Jason, I'm glad it's working out with the broken leg and you don't have to come home early! I hope you make Swiss pay for this...

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