Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!!!

Hello from Rio de Janeiro! We have been here since the 23rd, but first a recollection of our voyage from Iguaçu. What was supposed to be a 22 hour ride was punctuated with technical difficulties, a flat tire around two AM and a "broken" accelerator around noon. We finally got in around 3PM, only about five hours late. We got comfy in our new apartment, and hit the beach. It has averaged around 95° every day, hitting 115° one day, so the beach is a welcome necessity. A few days after our arrival Sarah's brother Jeremy and my friend Justine arrived in Rio. Earlier that day we had gone to the national history musuem and learned about Brasil's history. We also saw some very old vehicles, both internal combustion powered and horse drawn. Our friend and local guide, Alessandra, was kind enough to take us to her family's Christmas party where we basically ate all night. We also got to practice our Portuguese. In the past few days we went up the Sugar Loaf Mountains, and Sarah went hang gliding! We also have discovered açaí. It is much tastier here than what you get in America, I'm not sure why, but I intend to figure it out so I can continue eating it at home. On Christmas day we went to a live concert on the beach featuring a local Brazilian star, Gilberto Gil and Stevie Wonder! It's great that the city puts on free events like this and supposedly over a million people attended.

You'll be excited to know that Sarah has purchased a new bikini to fit in with the locals. I have not. We have also eaten a lot of the meat that Brazil is famous for, as well as experiencing enormous portions. Five of us shared a churrasco for two and there was still a pork chop left over! As I write this I can hear the firecrackers starting to go off. In a little bit we will be on the beach enjoying a cold beer, some champagne and NYE fireworks.

Happy New Year!!

Friday, December 21, 2012

No end of the world in Foz do Iguaçu!

Well, dear readers, it would seem the world hasn't ended after all, much like we knew it wouldn't after having visited all the Mayan ruins in central America.   We've spent the last two days in Foz do Iguaçu, the town on the Brazilian side of the beautiful Iguaçu/Iguazu/Iguassu Falls that border Brasil, Argentina, and Paraguay.  The place is HOT with a subtropical climate, meaning VERY humid (yes, the caps are necessary!).  Yesterday, we crossed to the Argentinian side (yay, more passport stamps!  That's 8 stamps from Argentina for those of you counting at home, 6 from Chile, 4 from Honduras, and just 2 from everywhere else, except only 1 from Nicaragua and El Salvador which has zero... not to mention several commemorative stamps), where you get a very upclose look at the waterfalls.  We started by taking the train up to La Garganta del Diabo, the Devil's Throat, which is a large horseshoe shaped collection of incredible waterfalls with about an 80 meter drop.  They have built some impressive bridges so you can walk over the river to see the falls. This is normally where I would put in some pictures, however, Matt decided to shoot in RAW format, so they are too big to upload from the ipad!  If we are able to find a locutorio, we will try to upload them from there. We then hiked the upper and lower circuits, which were more bridges that allowed us to see several falls from the bottom and top, respecitvely.  It was quite hot and we worked up quite a sweat, so the spray from the falls felt nice!  We had wanted to take a ferry over to San Martin Island for some more hikes and up close views, but unfortunately, the island was closed yesterday for an unknown reason.  We decided instead to do the allegedly challenging Macuco Trail to see another falls.  We walked about 3 kilometers and saw a lot of great wild life on the way, including coatis (racoon like animals with long snouts), capuchin monkeys, tiger ants (they are about an inch long and emit a sort of smelly acid), and some very large lizards, that may have been tigus or monitors, we are not sure.  So after walking about 45 minutes on a relatively flat trail, we got to the spot where you shiuld descend to see the falls, however, the bridge had been washed out and the trail was closed!  We were so bummed and had to walk the whole way back without having been refreshed from the water.  We then walked back to the visitor center and checked out the small museum before heading back.  All in all, I reckon we walked about 12 kilometers, about 7.5 miles.  We were quite lucky with the weather, because it started thundering as we exited the park, but the rain didn't hit until we were already in the van.  It rained off and on all night, cooling the air to a much more pleasant temperature. This morning, we headed to the Parque das Aves, the Bird Park, where we saw an incredible number of beautiful and exotic birds.  There were several walk-through aviaries where there was nothing between us and some very large-beaked toucans, pheasants, cassows (not sure on the spelling), macaws, and other birds.  They was also a butterfly and humming bird walk-through and a reptile portion of the zoo; they don't let you into the Anaconda pool though, I wonder why?  We also a Carrowary, a bird I am pretty sure is the direct descendant of the Velociraptor; it's like a raptor and an ostrich had a baby that mated with the baby of a hen and a peacock.  (Definitely need to post a picture of that one!). We ended by getting to have a Macaw perch on our arms for a photo. Around noon we headed to the Brazilian side of the falls, where you can really see the entire set of falls at once.  It's truly breath-taking!  We then followed a path to a bridge which takes you right out into the falls near the Devil's throat - water protecttion necessary!  There is a strong wind from the falls and the water that gets pushed up gets everyone wet!  Just as we were finished walking along the path, which is much shkrter than the Argentinian side, it began to rain again, so we caught the bus back to the entrance of the park and then another bus back into town.   Tomorrow, we catch a bus to Rio de Janeiro, a 22 hour trip, and arrive there on Sunday.  We've rented an apartment in Copacabana which we'll share with my brother, Jeremy and our friend/his girlfriend Justine, who arrive a few days later.  Rio will be our last city in South America, and it is so hard to believe our trip is nearly at an end!  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Uruguay by the Numbers and another Oi from Florianópolis!

Oi again from Florianopolis. As you might imagine we have been very busy on the beach here studying Portuguese. Here are the numbers from Uruguay. We entered the country on November 15th, and left December 2nd. For some reason they didn't have the month right on the sta,p out so it says we left on November 2nd instead, but no we did not time travel in Uruguay. This gives us 17 days in the country in total. We entered Uruguay with only $27 and left with $111, most of which was in USD. We withdrew $1336 giving us a total spend of $1252, roughly $73.65 per day. Uruguay is one of the more expensive countries we have been to, and our last bus into Brazil really put it ovee the edge as it was $175 per person. Witthout that bus trip we would have only been at $53 per day, but we had to leave somehow!

So in Florianopolis we have been taking it easy. We ate at a local all-you-can-eat sushi place which incidentally had different prices for men and women. Quality was about what you would expect for a sushi buffet. We are staying in a small fishing village called Barra da Lagoa, and on the weekends it turns into a magnet for beachgoers. Everyone has been very friendly especially with our limited language skills. Yesterday we finally bought a new SIM card for our cell phone and apparently Brazil makes foreigners jump through some hoops to register the phone number. Luckily the lady who sold us the chip was kind enough to use her ID number so we could avoid going through the process. On Tuesday we will be heading to Iguaçu Falls, and in the meantime, more beaching!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

So much to catch up!!!

Hello dear readers, friends, and family, Let me apologize for the long delay in blogging. Quite a lot has passed since we last wrote and I hope to catch you all up today. When we last wrote, we had just arrived in Montevideo and wete staying in a neighborhood called Pocitos. All we did there was relax on the beach and eat some delicious Uruguayan food, as we waited for the arrival of my mother and Matt's parents, who were coming to join us for Thanksgiving break. As before, I will let the mothers tell about our trip. Take it away, ladies: (Cue Belinda) It had only been 5 months since we had visited Sarah and Matt in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, but we couldn’t resist the urge to spend additional time with our children, so the “Moms” (Matt’s mother Saralyn and me, Sarah’s mother Belinda) planned another trip to South America. Based on our availability and the availability of tickets using our miles, we decided on Montevideo, Uruguay over Thanksgiving.  Then Allan (Matt’s father), decided he wanted to go, too, so he bought a ticket on the same flights as Saralyn and me and our trip was on! We left Los Angeles on Tuesday, November 20th and arrived in Montevideo on Wednesday, the 21st.  Our taxi took us from the airport along the Rambla, the road that goes along the Rio de la Plata, to Pocitos, a residential area along the south facing coast of Montevideo.  Sarah and Matt were waiting for us at our hotel, the Punta Trouville Suites. We walked along the Rambla in the afternoon, took an obligatory siesta and then had our first dinner in Montevideo at a local restaurant that specializes in empanadas. On Thursday we went to visit the Botanical Gardens, Matt and Sarah leading us on local buses, but unfortunately when we arrived we found that the Botanical Gardens were closed due to a labor strike.  We did find a nearby rose garden open and spent a bit of time there until the rain started.  We made it home on the bus, but not before getting a bit wet!  That evening we had a typical Thanksgiving dinner: Parilla, Uruguayan grilled barbecue meat, at a nice restaurant just a few blocks from our hotel. On Friday morning we went on a Jewish tour of Montevideo.  We started in the old city and saw the synagogues that were built by the city’s Jewish population at the turn of the last century, the Holocaust Memorial along the banks of the river and then visited the Jewish Community Center in Pocitos.  Saralyn and I ventured out to the Shopping Montevideo mall by ourselves that afternoon, taking a bus there and a taxi back.  That evening we had dinner at Raffi, a Mediterranean restaurant that Allan and Saralyn found when out walking.  Excellent kabob! Saturday we took a walking tour of the Old City.  Our guide, Maria, took us through the pedestrian shopping streets and pointed out various landmarks along the way.  We ended up at the Port of Montevideo and had lunch at El Palenque…incredible fresh salmon!  After siesta we returned to our favorite Pizzeria for dinner, this time trying another local dish, Chivito. On Sunday, Sarah led the group to the “Ferria” in downtown, which was a flea market spread out over several blocks.  Everything you never wanted from every garage and yard sale you’ve ever been to!  But Sarah was able to successfully trade in some books that she and Matt had already read for some new ones that she could read in the remaining time on their trip. On Monday we took a trip outside of Montevideo to the Bouza Bodega Boutique Winery.  Originally an old farm, it was purchased by the owner in about 2000 and made into a lovely small winery.  After touring the winery with winemaker Ana Laura and her assistant, Gus, from Holland of all places, we had an incredible lunch at the winery’s restaurant and sampled two of their wines, the Albarino and a Merlot-Tannat blend.  Both were really good and we’re hoping to find a store here in L.A. where we can buy them. Tuesday was museum day.  Saralyn and I started at MAPI, a museum for pre-Columbian art which also had a temporary exhibit on the second floor. The exhibit included photographs by two different artists and an historic musical instrument display.  Allan, Sarah and Matt enjoyed a cold beer at “Beatles”, a local cafe, while we enjoyed our art education! Then we all went to the National Bank Building and a church across the street which are currently being used to display works of art.  All of the exhibits were very interesting and the architecture of these old buildings was an extra added attraction.  We had lunch in the market at the Port again, enjoying various items from the grill. On our last day, we checked out of our hotel and took a long walk along the Rambla again.  We stopped for lunch at a restaurant right next to the water and just enjoyed sitting outdoors and being with each other.  We made one last stop at Matt’s favorite ice cream parlor, Venezia on the Blv. Espana and went back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and say our good-byes to Matt and Sarah. We flew overnight to Miami, and returned to L.A. on Thursday afternoon. (cue Saralyn) ...And now it is Friday, November 30th. Allan and I have just driven back to Scottsdale, AZ, where we live, from our restful overnight at Belinda and Mike’s home in L.A. More than anything, our trip was memorable just because we had the opportunity to visit with Sarah and Matt again. This was quite different from our trip to Galapagos and Machu Picchu. On that trip, we were on the move almost every day, constantly exerting ourselves with very little “down” time. This was a more “laid back” trip, with lots of time to visit with each other, time to stroll, and time to relax and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of just one city. We never tired of Sarah or Matt discussing the similarities and differences between the cultures they’ve visited, their thoughts and concerns for the futures of these countries and their people, telling us about the friends they’ve made throughout their travels, and to feel their love and excitement for the adventure they continue to have before they return to the states in just under six weeks. Montevideo is not a particularly beautiful city, but it is very easy to get around, people are very friendly, and there are any number of interesting things to do and places to visit. I was particularly impressed that, for the most part, people are polite and kind to others. When you are riding on a local bus, folks move over in the seats so you can sit down, there is no pushing and shoving, and people seem to be patient even when it is crowded. People didn’t push and shove in the marketplace. Montevideo is, simultaneously, a combination of quiet, calm areas, and vibrancy. The area in which we stayed, Pocitos, is very residential, so it was a great place to walk; browse in the neighborhood shops and grocery stores (more like our “mini marts”); enjoy a visit to the neighborhood hair salon, as did Belinda; and people-watch in the local environment. Yet, like any other major, international capital city of a country, consulates are scattered throughout the city, and Montevideo is vibrant with business and a huge port. The city sits at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, which is so big, it looks like the ocean itself! And, of course, a very important “plus” is that you can drink the water and eat raw fruits and vegetables!! On the whole, Montevideo is a very pleasant city. Of course, that’s not to say that everything in Montevideo is pedestrian friendly! You take your life in your hands when you step off the curb if there is a car anywhere in the vicinity! Stopping for pedestrians is not on the local drivers’ radar screens! Basically, though, Montevideo is a big city with a small city feel, and is a really nice place to visit. Thank you, Sarah and Matt, for sharing your experiences with us. We had a wonderful eight days, seeing Montevideo through your eyes and in your relaxed manner of touring. We wish you all the best, much fun, and a very safe journey as you continue on this last “leg” of your adventure! Savor every moment as you continue on your trip of a lifetime. We love you and can’t wait to see you again, in January! Belinda, Saralyn and Allan Well, there you have it. As you can see, we had our hands full that week, playing host to our parents and discovering Montevideo! After our folks left, Matt and I headed to Piriapolis, a beachtown an hour and a half up the coast. It's a cute sleepy beach town, unfortunately, the prices were a bit high as the high season is starting. The beach was nice but the water was cold and it even rained one day, cutting in on my suntanning time! After three nights, we headed back to Montevideo to catch our bus to Brazil! The ride was 18 hours from Montevideo to Florianopolis, Brazil, and though the bus did not have wifi as promised, it did have free whisky, so we weren't complaining. When we arrived on the island of Santa Catarina, we met a local tour guide who helped find a simple one room apartment on the east side of the island, at a beach called Barra de Lagoa. Costs here are surprisingly low considering it is high season, but it is certainly more expensive than some countries we've visited. The sun is shining bright all day long, so we're spending plenty of time on the beach, and there are lovely vegetable and fruit markets in town, so we're eating healthy, too. Yesterday, we had a Tejila do Açai for breakfast, which was a sort of yogurt made from the açai berry, very popular here, with granola and banana slices. After a few days of portunhol, we decided it might behoove us to learn some Portuguese, since we were having trouble communicating. As it happens, there is a school right across the street from us and yesterday we had our first Portuguese lesson! It is fitting that we are starting school again just as we started our spanish school this time, last year. It's a nice relaxed life here on the island and we're planning on staying and continuing classes until the 18th or so, with our next destination being Iguazu Falls. I am sure when you see the next pictures of us, you won't believe how tan we are! But don't worry, we wear sunscreen every day! Well, that's all for now. See you next time and I hope we'll write sooner this time! Tchau! (yes, that's how they spell it here!)