A Travellerspoint blog

February 2013

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)

Mate in, Uruguay

Mate Mate Mate!

sunny

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!

sunny 96 °F

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)

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