A Travellerspoint blog

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Take a chopper to the street art, why not?!

sunny 90 °F

Sao Paulo is in the top 10 most expensive cities in the world to live in, and from our new friend Gustavo’s balcony we could watch people FLYING to a nearby meeting in their helicopters… it was kinda crazy. It gave us a whole new perspective on the term ‘concrete jungle’ … you could seriously see high rises for miles and miles!
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We met up with Celso, a long lost family friend and he graciously showed us around his city. He guided us through some amazing alley ways including Beco do Batman y Aprendiz filled with ‘Arte Urbana’ and showed us the hot spots of Vila Madalena.
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As most people know, Brazilians are crazy about their futbol and we can’t imagine how crazy Brazil is going to get in 2014 for World Cup… but what we didn’t know was how obsessed Brazilians are with farofa (a cassava root flour that resembles really stale bread crumbs)! For one meal, we were given about two cups worth of the stuff to go with a few slices of meat, and they even have a sweet version for ice cream! If we had to choose between anything topped with farofa or an enormous Mortadella sandwich that contains a year’s worth of bologna, we’d definitely choose the bologna.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 08:09 Archived in Brazil Comments (2)

The Pay Toilet

Spare any change?

In most countries (especially under developed ones) there doesn’t seem to be any issues with urinating in public, and having a coin collecting attendant guarding a fly infested hole in the ground seems to only encourage it. So here we are, face to face with the question every Westerner must tackle when traveling abroad; Do I pay to pee, or hold it till I’m back in the hotel?
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It seems like these pay toilets are in an unhealthy cycle:
1. attendants can’t possibly collect enough change to pay their salary and for cleaning supplies
2. that’s probably why most attendants don’t actually clean
3. the shack becomes foul and makes a bush or a tree seem a lot more enticing
4. people are already poor so why would they choose a foul pit over open air?
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In Asia it would only be something like 10 cents to use the loo, but on principle we would hold out for hours. It has taken a long time to come to terms with this concept, but after 16months, Kevin has finally given in and is now paying for toilets with a smile. In this demo video he shows how to put on his happy face and pay with exact change…

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 19:05 Comments (2)

Beach Time, Brazil

Paraty and Ubatuba

sunny 90 °F

Brazil’s coastline between Rio and Santos is simply amazing. It is lined with beautiful sandy beaches, super warm clear blue waters and rocky islands that spear out of the water commanding attention like they were in a movie set. We home based in Paraty first and then Ubatuba on our way to Sao Paulo.
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The old cobbled street colonial town of Paraty was one of the nicest historical old towns that we’ve been in. Walking along through the streets was unusually enjoyable with colorful bright paint and a quiet feel.
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Paraty was full of surprises, including a micro brewery (cervejaria) called Cabore, a schooner boat trip to islands and beaches with a live guitarist serenading our snorkeling, as well as a natural waterslide along a rockface!

Another big surprise for us was when we found out that our hostel in Ubatuba was actually 15K away from the city. A blessing in disguise, as it turned out to be our favorite hostel in Brazil! It was completely chill so we spent a few days relaxing on the long beaches, swimming, snorkeling with turtles and catch up on some planning.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:35 Archived in Brazil Comments (2)

Carnival Tips

An Alternate Guide to Rio’s Carnival

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The alternative tourist is always on the hunt for an unorthodox yet effective way to experience a culture or event. While in the Sambadrome the parade and atmosphere was lively at times, the activities just before the entrance and right outside the exit were just as exciting! We were able to get up close to some of the floats before and after they went into competition. Below we outline an alternative itinerary for travelers who want to get up close and personal with samba dancers, their outfits and into the heart of the action without having to spend the big bucks on Sambadrome tickets.
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The Traditional Carnival in Rio Itinerary:
1. Go to the Copacabana block party and sing top billboard hits with the Australian and UK tourists. (3x350ml beer cans for R$12)
2. Buy Sambadrome tickets for section 9 ($300) or the nosebleed section 12/13 ($50)
3. Watch the dancers with binoculars if you have them

The Unorthodox Yet Effective Tourist’s Alternative Carnival in Rio Itinerary:
1. Go to the Madureira block party and hang out with the locals and listen to live local music (3x473ml beer cans for R$10)
2. Go to the Central Train/Metro Station and watch the dancers prepare the costumes and watch the floats being tested out. It’s free front row seats, baby!
3. Walk behind section 11 and you’ll see a street I’ll call “tight wad hill” that has a view of the parade and can hear the music clearly ($0)
4. Walk down to end of parade and see all the dancers and floats exiting. Everyone is in a good mood so they will take a pic with you and let you stand on the floats! ($0)
5. Sit down at one of the stands and order a cheap beer, some food and chat with the family and friends of the Samba schools. Note: Some people even set up TVs so you can watch the dancers before they arrive!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 17:25 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Carnival!!

sunny 90 °F

Everyone has their own idea of what Carnival is. In Rio, to us it looked like it meant mixing all of your holidays into one… imagine Thanksgiving Day Parade floats filled with cross-dressing Halloween costumes, the amount of drinking that happens at Oktoberfest and the combined cheerful spirit of your birthday and New Year’s Eve put together! Wow, are the Brazilians good at this!! There was something like 400 parties going on in different areas of the city every night of Carnival. Some are streets parades, concerts, block parties, and then of course, the coveted Samba Parade in the Sambadrome. There was one thing that we noticed immediately that we had to get in order to join in the festivities without Kevin having to cross-dress, and that was finding two silly hats!
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We stayed in a neighborhood called Madueria a few houses away from the Portela Samba School and a few blocks away from the Madueria Carnaval Street Party. Each night the block party filled with local families until the early hours of the morning. It was fun comparing this local block party (where we were the only gringos) to the tourist parties in the center of the city. Aside from visiting the blocos (what they call a block party) and street parades, we watched the famous Samba School Competition from within the Sambadrome. We met two American travelers who were also on a world adventure and became their sidekicks for the Sambadrome activities.
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Room rates for Carnival in Rio de Janeiro are more than quadruple the normal prices, and many require a minimum of 7 nights. So, continuing with our unorthodox yet effective alternative way of traveling, we chose a private room with aircon a 20 minute train ride outside the central city, over a crowded dorm room with no aircon inside the central city. Our cheap hotel was actually one of those famous Brazilian love motels… you know the kind that you can pay by the hour : ) We knew about this prior to booking but what we didn’t know was that it had a floor on the elevator labeled ‘P’ (for Pole)!

Sightseeing around Carnival is a little tricky, since we only had a few hours in between events, and most of the city is closed down for the holidays. We did however manage to walk through the different neighborhoods, explore some beaches, venture up the tiled Escadaria Selarón steps and hike up a dirt trail to the top of the Parque das Ruinas for a nice panoramic view of the city and Sugarloaf!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 20:03 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Foz de Iguazu, Brazil

Damn that’s a big dam!

sunny 94 °F

We had our fill of the falls in Argentina so skipped the Brazil side. Instead we paid a visit to the largest hydro-powered dam in the world, Itapu Dam (soon to be exceeded by Three Gorges Dam in China). Regardless of numbers, this dam is HUGE.
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It is only once you are up close that you can really get a feel for the size. The pipes in this picture that convey the water to the turbines are 10 meters in diameter!
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The dam is equally shared with Paraguay and the actual country borders goes through the control room so at the same time we were able to have one foot in Paraguay and one foot in Brazil :) It was well worth the special tour to see into the heart of the dam and watch a spinning turbine.

This is our second Wonder of the Modern World - as defined by the American Society of Civil Engineers... Robin getting a little geeky on this trip!

We made it into Brazil just as the Carnival festivities were kicking off. It was here we got our first taste of how important it is for Brazilian lads to dress up in woman’s clothing for carnival. Sticking it to social norms we caught both the Samba Drag Queen dance off and real Samba Queen competition (otherwise known as the competition for who can shake their jigglers the fastest while wearing ridiculously high heels).
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 04:48 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Rainbows and endless waterfalls

Iguacu Falls is a never ending series of over 200 hundred waterfalls boasting the largest curtain of water in the world. We enjoyed all of the many views of the falls while walking the many trails the Argentina side has to offer.
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Although the falls were amazing, at some points we felt as though we were in Disneyland with the amount of tourists blocking the narrow boardwalks. We have two tips for future travelers:
1. Go early to ride the free boat out to the island view. They stopped the boat service between 10-11am for the days we were there.
2. Pack a lunch and a book, find a spot to chill during midday and stay until closing time to enjoy the sounds of the falls when it becomes much quieter. Towards the end of the day we could freely move around the park and had most of the boardwalks to ourselves.
3. Get your video camera ready, there are lots of not so smart tourists feeding and petting the wild animals… you never know when one of them will get jumped on and start screaming haha.
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The spray of the falls creates rainbows everywhere you look and leads to some amazing photo ops.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 14:52 Comments (2)

World’s Biggest Winners

Foods that guaranty to pack on the most pounds

Every once in a while, we encounter a country that has some sort of food that you must try. It is usually something that if you had more than once, you might not ever fit into your clothes again. We have had quite a few meals like this, but there are three in particular that stand out at what we will call the “World’s Biggest Winners” … guaranteeing to pack on the pounds if consumed regularly. Note that these dishes are all meant for 1 person, yet we shared them, and still felt overwhelmed! Drum roll please….

  1. Coming in at #3, the Franscecia from Porto, Portugal (Our nickname: heart attack between two slices of bread)A sandwich that has been ranked as one of the top ten sandwiches of the world, consisting of wet-cured ham, linguica, fresh sausage, and steak between slices of wonder bread, topped with tomatoe, fried egg, cheese, and a beer sauce. Served with french fries.
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  1. 2, the Pljeskavica near Kragujevac, Serbia (Our nickname: hamburger taco) A few hamburgers without the bun, folded around cheese and ham like a big calzone.
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  1. …and the #1 Biggest Winner is the Chorvitos of Montevideo, Uruguay (Our nickname: cholesterol on a platter)Can be a sandwich or platter. Churrasco beef, bacon, ham, egg, olives, all under melted cheese, served with enough fries to feed a family of five.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 16:39 Comments (1)

Dollars vs. Pesos

The $115 burrito!

Imagine landing in Uruguay and going out for your first meal; $170 salad, $115 burrito and a $80 ice cream dessert... can you say sticker shock?!
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Little did we know that the all mighty dollar sign ($) is actually the all mighty dollar OR peso sign! Needless to say, this caused a bit of confusion at first. After an interesting read on Wikipedia about the origin of the dollar sign, it was a humbling reminder that we aren’t actually the center of the universe…

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:21 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Biking for Grappa

Uruguay is not as famous as Argentina for its wine, but it does produce yummy wine and grappa. We found a local winery called Bodega Bernardi just 12 km outside of town and rented some bikes to get out there for some wine and grappa. This place was a super old winery and still has some of the original 1892 equipment. We had the place to ourselves with such a nice lady and more than enough grappa.
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Then just a few kilometer’s down the road we found a farm with fresh jams, cheeses and the World’s Largest Pencil collection +1 (we stopped by the store to pick up another pencil for him)! Emilio and his wife were such gracious hosts, walking us through their home to show us their private collections and as it turns out, Emilo and his son also collect key chains, perfume bottles, ash trays, and other miscellaneous items. With the “Hoarders” show ringing in our heads, it made us appreciate our minimalist approach to getting rid of our stuff before traveling. **Note: Robin is no longer collecting frogs.
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Neither of us are that big into American football (in Latin America you need to always specify “American” or else football = soccer), but since the 49ers were in it and a few folks in the hostel had never seen the Super Bowl, we thought it might be kinda fun to watch. So we got some local brews, cooked up some Uruguayan delights (carne milanesa and faina) and asked our hostel to put on the game. Sadly, our Spanish coverage on ESPN was in Spanish and did not have the coveted commercials, but no fear, we were able to stream them online in real time!!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 05:50 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

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