A Travellerspoint blog

March 2013

San Cristobal, Galapagos

Volunteering in the Galapagos

sunny 93 °F

Armed with only a machete and half of a fence post hole digger we combed the highlands of San Cristobal in search of invasive blackberries (‘mora’ in Spanish). The battle between native plants and blackberries is easily being won by the blackberries. However, places like Hacienda Esperanza are clearing large areas of blackberries and replanting the native species to then hand over the groomed land back to the giant tortoises (tortugas).

We initially wanted to volunteer as a way to offset the environmental stress that we cause as tourists in the Galapagos, but then realized that it was much more of a learning experience for us. Our week in the highlands gave us a chance to experience real country life in the Galapagos far from the travel agencies and restaurants. Each day we awoke to roosters at 6am, had breakfast, then hiked for 45 minutes to the top of the mountain for a grueling day of mountain gardening. Our evenings were spent tagging along with Jose and his family’s activities, including soccer with the neighborhood, his 5 year old nephew’s bautizo, and harvesting food for us and the tortoises from his brother’s plantation.

Jose’s nephew, Dyana, acted as our tour guide one day taking us to Puerto Chino and Largo Junco. It was a great way to practice our Spanish and learn a few things about the giant tortoises.

In the rest of our time off, we explored the tourist sites of San Cristobal including swimming with the marine iguanas and having our first glimpse of the infamous blue footed boobies…

…and deep water snorkeling with sharks at Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock)!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 18:19 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quito, Ecuador

Escaping the heat in the mountains

We have now been the two highest capitals in the world: Quito, Ecuador (9,350 feet) and La Paz, Bolivia (11,942). We were very excited to step off the plane in Quito and for the first time in a LONG time, feel the fresh cool breeze without any humidity. We walked through the city to our hotel and the simple fact that our shirts weren’t drenched with sweat amused us immensely. We attempted to go for a run and found a network of stairs up to the Itchimbia park. We aren’t sure what took our breath away more, the altitude or the stunning view of the city!

We explored both the old city and the new city combing the parks, old colonial buildings, and sampling the ice creams and meriendas – the menu of the day that always comes with fresh jugo (juice)! Best of all it turns out that some Ecuadorian dishes require peanut butter for the sauce, so there was plenty of bulk crema de maní (peanut butter) to be found!

Quito has an interesting ‘subway’ system that is composed of buses that have their own lane, and subway like stops. Opposite of the 6+ footers in Eastern Europe, the people here are relatively small and stout. We couldn’t help but be amused with being able to see over everyone in the bus and straight out the windshield.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 10:32 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Manaus, Brazil

The Concrete in the Jungle

overcast 86 °F

Manaus is an interesting city because it is really in the middle of nowhere, yet, it is big enough to be hosting some of the World Cup Football matches in 2014. It sprung up out of nowhere due to the rubber trade but when a synthetic replacement for rubber was developed, the city kind of fell back in time. The fish market and the theater were over rated, but luckily we were able to stay with Davide and Lillian to see another side of the city. . . including a trip to the Beautiful Bald Man’s Juice Shack! Where drinking some of the 60 different juice shakes make you beautiful! So, we tried a few fruits that we had never heard of, and of course some açai. What really made the night memorable was when the Bald Man himself came out on his microphone and started to talk to all the customers. He then repeated all 60 different fruit shakes within 1 minute from memory and challenged the customers to do the same for a free 7 years of shakes.

Now that rubber is no longer needed, one of Manaus’ number one exports is bananas. They come in many different sizes, shapes and colors and are all dropped off at the municipal market in an area designated for bananas. This so called banana market was an incredible site to see…

Since we didn’t see one in the jungle we thought we’d try to see a sloth at the zoo. This turned out to be quite an adventure mainly due to the fact that we didn’t have enough cash to pay the $3 entry fee. After trying every bank in the city, we finally found one that would accept a visa ATM card without a security chip (which the rest of the world has, but not the USA). Once we had had the necessary equivalent of $3 for the zoo entrance, we raced there only to get in about 45 minutes prior to closing. The zoo in Manaus is run by the military and is quite different from most zoos. First, there are no big signs to tell you where to go, or what animals are inside each cage. So we frantically walked around the zoo looking for cages with trees inside hoping to catch a glimpse of a sloth. Sadly, there wasn’t one, but lucky for us we spotted something special! Life found a way to blend the city of Manaus and jungle the amazon into a hybrid Cement Bug!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 12:58 Archived in Brazil Comments (2)

Juma Lake, Amazonas, Brazil

Diverse Flooded Forests

all seasons in one day 98 °F

One of the most fascinating things about visiting the Amazon is realizing how much water there is. The river/lake water level fluctuates by as much as 12 meters (40 feet) and since we visited in the middle of the rainy season we were canoeing through already flooded forests yet we could still look up about 15 feet and see the water marked line on the tree trunks.

We stayed in a family lodge on Juma Lake and spent a night camped out in the jungle in hammocks. Juma is a 3 ½ hour journey from Manaus by ferry across the meeting of the waters, to a taxi on a military road and then a speed boat through a sunken mangrove forest. Trail blazing through the jungle was like living inside an episode of Lost, with thoughts of The Medicine Man and the Hunger Games flowing through our minds. At any moment we felt like we would turn our heads and see Yoda making an X-Ray rise!

We ate so many new things from bright juicy fruits of the tree to juicy white grubs from the middle of huge nuts.

What impressed us the most about the Amazon was the sheer variety and diversity of the jungle flora and fauna. When our boat brushed against the leaves of a tree top (literally) or the floating rice, our boat would fill with critters of all sizes… including supersized snails, mini jumping spiders, caiman (think crocodile) and of course piranhas!

The heat, rain and mosquitoes were not as bad as we were expecting and we had a packed schedule full of surprises and adventure. All and all the trip blew our expectations away!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 08:30 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

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!

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.

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.

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?

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?

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.

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.

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.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:35 Archived in Brazil Comments (2)

Carnival Tips

An Alternate Guide to Rio’s Carnival

sunny 90 °F

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.
<pic on float with masks>

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)

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