A Travellerspoint blog

Mate in, Uruguay

Mate Mate Mate!

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The legal Marijuana market is nowhere near as big as the other green market in Uruguay. . . Mate! However, at the rate that people here drink mate, we are beginning to wonder if Caa Yari (goddess of mate grass) is adding a little something more than just strong caffeine in the Uruguayan’s favorite drink.
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Mate is a tea like drink, that to some could say that it tastes a lot like it has been made with dirt, twigs, and common grass. It is definitely an acquired taste, and locals of Uruguay seem to never leave home without it. Everywhere we went, people were holding a big thermos full of hot water under one arm and a small round mug filled with mate leaves and a long metal straw (bombilla) in their hand, it is definitely a most awkward setup to carry around all day, so some hard core folks have upgraded to the massive water/cup combo!
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Since it’s more of a ritual to people here, you can’t just drink it out of any cup. One needs a fancy cup that is typically made out of a gourd or something wooden, but since they are usually not able to stand up by themselves, they come with a fancy little metal stand… but as you can see, there are many different options to suite your fancy:
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Some potential issues we see with being addicted to mate:
1. one arm could become significantly out of balance form the other while carrying around a huge thermos in a tight headlock-like grip
2. half of your day could be spent in search of more hot water
3. your breath has a high risk of smelling like dirt and twigs
4. your lips could either blister badly or grow a huge callus from sipping boiling water out of a highly conductive metal straw
5. you need literally a full cup per serving so you’ll likely need to buy mucho mucho kilos!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 13:23 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

Montevideo, Uruguay

Sumer Fest!

Montevideo claims to be the longest running carnival festival in the world, running 6 weeks of theater shows and parades of which some don’t come on stage until after 2am!
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There were events to attend every day from music on the beach to watching the five competitive group categories of Carnaval in amphitheaters. Our favorite category was Murga because we had trouble following the story lines and jokes of the other categories since they habla en espanol y muy rapido!
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Then big attraction we came to see was Desfile de Llamadas which is a parade of Candombe drumming that takes place on calle Isla de Flores, in Barrio Sur, the barrio of the African-Uruguayan population. The African drum influence is what makes Montevideo’s Carnaval celebration unique, and makes for some spectacular drum-off’s where groups sort of “call” each other out.

It just so happened that we were staying in a hostel a few blocks away from the biggest water festival of the year, Festa de Iemanjá, a celebration of 'Goddess of the Sea and Mother of the Waters'. Although a very meaningful ceremony for the locals, it was hard to watch so many Styrofoam boats filled with burning candles and watermelons be pushed off into the waves only to be broken apart and washed ashore minutes later. Perhaps the wind and waves picked up that night by the water goddess showing her dismay of the environmental destruction caused by this religious ceremony.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 06:26 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Watch your step!

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We thought it would be fun to stay put for a while and practice our Spanish. We rented a studio overlooking the infamous Cemetario de Recoleta (where Evita is buried) and had a relaxing 9 day stay in Buenos Aires – one of our longest stays in one city at a time!
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Our first introduction to South America was a lesson on how to walk without hitting one of the bio hazard land mines that are placed throughout the city sidewalks every morning.
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We reunited with Margo, our travel buddy we had met in Africa, and rented some bikes to tour around the city. Lucky for us, our new Argentinian friend Adrian knew a good route and all the good spots for chorizopan and hamburguesa completa! He even knew of a local tango spot where it seemed to be quite normal to take a dance lesson in 90 degrees. We perfected our steps so that we mingled near the one and only fan.
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It was summer in Buenos Aires and there were loads of fun city hosted festivals for “Verano en la Ciudad”. There was everything from creating a fake beach in the park to a tango circus variety show and ExTrEmE TaNgO where the dancers were attached to bungee cords!
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We couldn’t help but notice a pharmacy or an ice cream shop (heladeria) on every corner. We first had had to sample from the entire menu of different varieties of Dulce de Leche! Cooling off with air conditioning is also a must, and one of our favorite spots was El Ateneo Grand Splendid, an old theater converted into a bookstore where you can have a coffee on stage, or enjoy a book in one of the box seats!
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We really loved Buenos Aries and offer a few bits of advice for future travelers.
1. take advantage of the blue/black market money exchange. We were getting 7:1 instead of 5:1 (shot out to xoom .com)
2. if you are into race car driving, sit in the front of a bus and watch how they weave through traffic and come screeching across three lanes to pick up passengers
3. find a way into a local’s fridge and check out the milk carton, or lake there of!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 05:28 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Doha, Qatar

The best missed connection ever!

sunny 77 °F

If you take a look at a map, you might be wondering why on earth would we be connecting a flight from Cape Town to Buenos Aires in Doha…. well, that is because it turns out to be half as much money to fly twice as far! (We are going to have to plan some serious trees after this trip to offset our carbon emissions.) Our departure was 3 hours delayed so we missed our 1 hour transfer to the only flight of the day out of Doha into Buenos Aires.
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Since almost every one of the passengers on our 777 flight from Cape Town was transferring in Doha, there were A LOT of missed connections and pissed off travelers. At first, we were a little disappointed until we were handed vouchers to a 4-star hotel with all inclusive meals and realized that this was a perfect way to break up our 24-hour journey from Africa to Argentina!! Yahhhhooooooo!!! We were even honored a picture with His Highness Sheikh and Heir...
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We took the opportunity to explore the city for a day and were very pleased. The stunning architecture of the Islamic Art Museum was high tech inside and right on the water with a view of the city skyline. It was the complete opposite of the museum in Cairo.
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Souq Waqif felt like a remodeled new age souk of the future! The floors were paved and the shop keeps were respectful. It was also seemed as though even the locals were doing their shopping their and was fun to walk around looking at all the traditional robes and getups.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:27 Archived in Qatar Comments (0)

T.I.A. – This is Africa!

An acronym to explain the unexplainable in Africa

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Traveling in South/Eastern Africa blew our expectations away. Everyone was extremely friendly, honest and hospitable. We’ve traveled in poor countries before, however it’s more of an eye opener in Africa because of the huge differences in wealth and class living side by side. There were a few things however that defied all logic and common sense that caught us off guard and there was no way to for these situations to be explained other than simply reminding ourselves that we were in Africa... here are a few of our favorite T.I.A. moments.

  • Bartender runs out of beer on New Year’s Eve
  • Ask for wifi password and hotel staff gives it to you, but doesn’t turn on the router, nor do they know what or where it is
  • Without prior safety talk, a scorpion walks through safari camp while clients are all wearing flip flops
  • Aircon isn’t cool enough so hotel staff turns the temperature up to a higher number
  • Dealer in casino will pay you twice on blackjack b/c they forgot who they paid out already
  • New cycling safari advertised on website but once you get there they’ll tell you it’s BYOB
  • Hotel staff will clean your room before you leave on the day of your checkout
  • You can freely carry a knife through any airport, yet the second you step into a security line outside Africa, it is goodbye knife
  • Hostel staff will be using the kitchen in the morning to make their breakfast, and be annoyed with the paying guests who are in their way
  • Mini bus driver will head straight for police checkpoints without actually have a license or registration

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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 03:25 Archived in South Africa Tagged africa Comments (1)

Cape Town, South Africa

An amazing end to an awesome road trip

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Look out San Francisco cause Cape Town may just offer more beauty, better weather, and a scenic coast drive that rivals Highway One… in fact, we found that it has more variety of activities in a smaller area. Table Mountain and Lion’s Head both offer great walking/running routes and a little bouldering for fantastic views of the coastline and the city.
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The beaches are beautiful along the coast and the water is a bright blue color. Along our drive to most south western tip of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope, we stopped in at a shark center and a penguin habitat. Boulders National Park is home to a pretty amazing penguin population and the park is designed to let you get up close and personal with them. It was shocking that they let us actually swim in the same waters and sun bath with them on the same beach, but hey… T.I.A! We really enjoyed our time with the awkward little animals.

We highly recommend driving around the peninsula and stopping at the cute little towns. With Robin’s eagle eyes for food she spotted Mama Lucy cooking up some pork fat and we were able to have our last real African meal with corn grits (mieliepap). FYI, there is a toll to drive Chapmans Peak but it has stunning views of the bay on a nice winding road.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 03:06 Archived in South Africa Comments (3)

Garden Route, South Africa

Our top road trip so far!

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Of all of our road trips so far, South Africa’s Garden Route wins our award for Best Road Trip Vacation and highly recommend it to our loyal readers :) The malaria free scenic drive has so much to offer that even in 10 days, we couldn’t fit it all in. We picked up a very small tent claiming to be for “2 Adults” that would make a great light weight backpacking tent for a 12 year old! It was pretty funny comparing our little tent next to the incredible multi-room tents that we saw being used. Having our rental car and tent allowed us the freedom to stay inside many of the National Parks in some of the most beautiful campsites we’ve seen; our favorite being Stormsriver. It has tent spots right on the ocean with access to multiple hikes, swimming and funny mini marmot looking animals called Dassies.
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We used our rental car for our own self-drive safari in the Addo Elephant National Park, where there are over 400 elephants! It was so exciting to be our own guides, stopping for as long or little as we wanted. We felt as though we had learned a lot about tracking from our Botswana safari guide, and managed to see everything from A-ntelopes to Z-ebras including some up close lions that just finished off a porcupine earlier that morning.

Of the numerous activities along the route for the adrenalin junkie, we gave sand-boarding and sand-sledding on the Sunday River’s Dunes a try. Although getting a few winter snowboard runs in was fun, you could get some major speed on the sled and definitely recommend it.
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The Cango Caves in Oudstoorn was another attraction we enjoyed. We did the “adventure tour” of the cave which promised for some narrow passage ways, crawling, and getting through obstacles such as the post box and up the chimney but child’s play compared to the birth canal in California’s Santa Cruz.
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We celebrated Robin’s birthday with an ostrich braai an ostrich egg breakfast. Then we got up close and personal at an ostrich show farm where the birthday girl had the ride of her life.
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The Napa Valley of South Africa sits just outside of Cape Town and the tasting rooms are a dime a dozen in Stellenbosch. A highlight was the wine and chocolate pairing, a cheese and wine pairing, and a tasting room that over looked zebras, wildebeests, springboks, and guinea fowl.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 09:06 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Johannesburg, South Africa

Most people did not recommend coming here, but...

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We had mixed feelings about going to Johannesburg (or Jo-burg as the locals call it). Everything we read online and everyone we met advised against it because of crime and nothing much to do there. We decided to give it a shot and found a great deal for renting a flat in Standton. The Standton mall at Nelson Mandela Square was reminiscent of LA with its flashy people and shops. It would have been completely awkward a year ago to be walking around in such a fancy place with our backpacking packs, but apparently we’ve gained some courage since being on this trip.
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On the bus ride from Botswana we drove past a few townships and shanty towns outside of Johannesburg. It was comforting to be heading to a nicer part of town but there was an eerie feel to the whole city. There wasn’t a house without bars on the windows and big walls around the property topped with rows of electric fencing. The apartment complex we stayed in had a really big park like backyard and over our first bottle of S.African wine, it made us wonder how all the neighborhood cats and birds survived without getting electrocuted on the daily!
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When it comes to tourism, Jo-burg could use an overhaul. We kept our itinerary short, visiting the Apartheid Museum for some history and the Carlton Center for a 360 degree view of the city. The views were nice, but it was a shame that they neglected washing the windows or adding any up to date information regarding the skylines that you could see.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 05:09 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Gaborone, Botswana

Escaping the capital

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We spent a few days with Vermz in Gaborone prior to his epic 60-hour journey back to SF and then headed out to a backpackers near the Mokolodi Reserve for some R&R. Gaborone was fun, they have a great minibus system and was a mixed bag of fancy malls and African souvenir stands.
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We spent an evening doubling down at the Palm Resort casino and got lucky on the roulette table. It was just another day in Africa when the dealer paid Vermz for his blackjack and then a second time (by mistake) for having a winning hand!

Although where we stayed by Mokolodi was super comfy and more like a resort than a backpackers, the Mokolodi Reserve was a bit of a bummer and we wouldn’t recommend anyone heading out there. The reserve advertises bike safaris and night drive safaris but don’t actually have any bikes, and don’t have any predators to see at night. So we just relaxed in our banda and used the time to plan the next phase of our trip.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 04:53 Archived in Botswana Comments (1)

Camping Safari, Botswana

Chobe, Savuti, Moremi, Okavango Delta, and the Makgadikgadi Pans

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To summarize our safari briefly, it was AMAZING! We saw so many different animals each day that we couldn’t remember them all! Despite it being about two weeks into rainy season the weather was great, our guide, Max, was extremely knowledgeable as well as hilarious. We completed our spotting of the Big Five and more importantly learned about the Little Five! We met up with Max in Kasane and then took the jeep on game drives through the parks, camping along the way. Our route finished in Nata, and looked like this:


Sleeping in the wild was quite the experience. While setting up camp, we’d watch elephants walking by and then hear them at night in watering holes 300m from our tent that sounded like they were just outside. Max was an excellent tracker; we’d follow the fresh animal tracks from the night before to find game on the morning drive. We noticed a lot of people wearing ‘proper’ story book safari outfits (think Tin Tin comics and the guy with the dome hat), and asked Max if anyone came dressed in camo gear with camo face paint before. He said we were the first and probably the last :)
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The safari company also sent us an ex-chef (KB) who completely blew our expectations away with the quality of food he made. He would even bake us fresh bread on the camp fire!
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We spent New Year’s Eve in a small town called Maun… it made for quite a tough early morning New Year’s Day flight over the Okavango Delta.
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After Max dropped us off in Nata, we made our way to Francistown and Gaborone for a little Botswana city life. We put a few of our highlights of our trip with Verm together in a movie that is about 9 minutes long, but well worth the viewing! The safari footage starts at 3:30 into the video.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 05:10 Archived in Botswana Comments (2)

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