DAY 1Mar 30 2019
Day one. Breakfast is at Comptoir Gourmand, our favourite cafe in Maltby market. Pain chocolate, cinnamon roll and a coffee complete the morning.
Last minute cleaning? Check, complete. Packing? Done. Time to go. Wait, a grand trip deserves a last minute panic. My watch is nowhere to be seen. 10 min later and it’s found hiding behind a drawer.
Time to hit the road, we are off to Heathrow and onwards to discover the wonders of Atlanta airport.
Arrived in Atlanta. We landed only a few minutes late. But the excellence of Delta has let us down. Some of you may be surprised I’ve mentioned ‘Delta’ and ‘excellence’ in the same sentence. You would be right. Between delta and Atlanta, I’m pretty sure this is a shitshow.
After landing we spend 30 minutes on the tarmac. When we race to immigration we find a queue of thousands. Literally. We run past hundreds to queue behind thousands. Atlanta airport sucks.
DAY 2Mar 31 2019
Sleepless in Atlanta.
We seem to have had a touch of bad luck. First would be using Delta and Atlanta, very poorly organised so we are certain to miss our connection to NYC in 7 weeks time.
Second is that it’s spring break, all hotels are full. The airline nor us can seem to find a hotel room in the city. So we’ve spent the night roaming the terminals and sleeping in the domestic terminal (with a large number of homeless people).
After anger and denial came resignation and acceptance. Later today we’ll try to see something of Atlanta. I’ve never been, so a good southern meal would be nice!
We’ve escaped the airport. Hurrah for Uber.
We’ve headed to Ria Bluebird for breakfast and to be adventurous. We order a brisket soup (it’s a mystery to me too) with eggs and a plate of buttermilk pancakes. Savoury and sweet. Delicious
Afterwards we walked in Oakland cemetery. Surprisingly beautiful with well cared and planted grounds. The weather is really foul though. It’s about 10 degrees C, very damp and windy. Downright cold and unpleasant.
To ‘warm up’ we head to the museum district; although we are too tired to queue and aren’t particularly interested in culture at the moment. We aren’t sure what else to do. The city is very quiet with quite a lot of homeless men roaming the streets of downtown. They are keeping to themselves though.
Exhausted, we meander across town and everything seems closed today. It’s Sunday so that makes sense. Some places are opening later in the afternoon but by 11 we’re knackered.
We find the lobby of a nice hotel to crash. A Starbucks provides cover as we shelter within.
We pass a few hours before I realise I’m on the verge of taking a nap on the chair. Time to go.
We’ve struggled with having either BBQ or southern food. BBQ has won. Brisket and pulled pork. Oh yeah...
We can’t chance missing our flight so we head to the airport immediately.
Our driver takes us the scenic route, but we make it and get through security and immigration. Then I try to wrangle access to the VIP lounge; a shower would be nice. I’m giving the run around and leave as filthy as I arrived. But not empty handed. We’re upgraded, but I’m not sure what to!? (It’s called ‘Comfort Class’). Thanks John and Daga for the upgrade!
DAY 3Apr 01 2019
It appears that we’ve left Atlanta just on time. Whilst in the air, Delta’s data system crashed and all planes have been grounded. How is that for a bit of good luck!
We’ve spent most of the flight asleep or trying to sleep. We manage to get enough to keep us from turning into the walking dead.
We arrive at the airport and disembark quickly and easily. A good start at last.
Immigration is easy and straightforward. The good luck continues. We reach the baggage claim and, as we walk up, our bags are immediately in front of us. We were concerned that they would be ‘lost’ or at least misplaced after the transfer mishap.
On our way out we spy a final hurdle, customs. Red light and it’s a deep dive into our luggage. Green and it’s straight out. We get a green, thank god!
Getting a taxi is a bit more challenging. The first attempt, Uber, doesn’t work so well. We order a car but we just can’t seem to connect. Running around for 20 minutes does’t help. Finally I negotiate with some random guy and get a taxi. He, in turn, negotiates with a proper taxi and we pay the commission. Clearly not the best decision, but he drives like a bat out of hell.
What I haven’t mentioned is that we have reservations for “Don Julio”, the best steakhouse in Buenos Aires and one of the best restaurants in South America.
We get to the hotel eventually. The traffic is horrendous and we realise that we have 30 minutes to shower, change and grab a taxi to the restaurant. We arrive with 5 min to spare.
Lunch, is amazing. The pictures tell the full story. I think we’ve eaten two days worth of food in a sitting, plus a bottle of wine. My T-bone steak is 800 grams and about 2 inches thick. Delicious.
After the steak we decided to see a few sights. We are barely able to walk, but we’ve got a lot of sightseeing to make up for. So we struggle through the meat sweats and waddle around the Recoleta cemetery. It’s incredibly beautiful.
Afterwards we walk the main pedestrian shopping street “Florida”. A few pictures and by 8 we are exhausted. By 9:30 we are both unable to function dead asleep.
DAY 4Apr 02 2019
We have slept so well that we are up and ready to start the day at 8. By 9 we are hitting the mean street of Buenos Aires.
By 9:05 we realise we are the only ones on the streets. Today is a public holiday (Veterans Day) so we are walking Florida street to the presidential palace, but everywhere is closed.
W do discover a lovely cafe and have a massive breakfast, on accident as we are still full, then head towards the quay. It’s hot and sunny, we’re going to burn today!
San Telmo is like an artist colony. There are a lot of markets, antique stalls, steak restaurants and more than a few shops specialising in dulce de leche.
The dulce de leche shops are great as we get to sample all of the spreads for sale. It’s delicious and hard to choose which is best (Patagonia is nicest).
Afterwards, we head to la Boca for a spot of sightseeing. It’s famous for the colourful buildings and the area has been turned into something of a tourist attraction, The area is poor, and dangerous, but the immediate streets are quite nice and with a heavy police presence.
Leaving the area we take a taxi back to town. The driver was kind enough to take the long route and give us a counterfeit note as change. Jolly good!
We’re super exhausted, but today is our first/last full day in BA. So tonight we are rousing ourselves for Tango!
Alas there are no fancy dinner plans tonight. Primarily as we are a bit full and much of the city is closed for the public holiday. That makes me sad.
DAY 5Apr 03 2019
Today we are sleeping in. We’re flying to Salta!
We’ve a leisurely coffee and a pastry Calle the “media Luna” (half moon). We have the sweet and ‘sour’ version. The bitter is with a bit of bitter. The sweet has a syrupy glaze. We decide the bitter version is nicer.
I arrived without a belt and with the express intention of buying one on Argentina to last me the trip. I’ve been looking extensively and found one for 400 pesos (about $9), which seems like a great deal for reasonable quality.
I choose one and no longer have to have my trousers falling down. Success.
Afterwards we locate a post office and get stamps. Easy...
Only it takes a mortgage to send a postcard. Stamps for 10 postcard cost 1,950 pesos (about $45). What... the... fuck!
We didn’t think too much about the price at the time. Post is a government service; it may be cheap or expensive but you would never think it would be financially crippling. Postcards are now an elite luxury. To put into context, those stamps are half the price of a blow-out meal in the best restaurant in the country. Our hotel room is just a bit more.
We are still traumatised, so if you are lucky enough to get a postcard from us, then savour it!
Arrival in Salta is a dream. Step off the plane and ‘boom’, we’ve arrived at baggage claim. A ew minutes later we’re picking up our rental car (again, this isn’t ‘the hard way’).
Our car is a Chevy, and it’s so basic it hurts. Terrible suspension, finicky gears but it runs and that’s good enough. The drive into Salta is straightforward.
Driving in Salta is a bit more involved. The city is on a grid system and they don’t believe in stop signs; they don’t have any! Every intersection is a chance; whoever seems to reach it first has right of way.
My hesitancy at intersections are driving locals mad; I get a few gestures by angry locals speeding past. Let them be angry, this is crazy!
Salta appears to be a lovely place. Our hotel looks like a converted colonial mansion. We only stay long enough to appreciate the decor and promptly leave to see a bit of the city and to have dinner.
Meandering the main square (9 de Julio) we note that there is a real mix in architecture. There are the various ages of Spanish colonial style. That is to be expected. But we spy a huge building which appears to be built in a French neo-imperial style.
It’s a lovely, bustling town centre. I even manage to find an electronic shop to get my watch battery repacked (by a very efficient woman who was all business).
For dinner we walk down a newly renovated part of the town. The city streets are re-paved brick, ew lamppost and the massive San Fransisco church is in pristine condition.
Zeynep has spied the perfect dinner restaurant. We don’t have reservations so show up as soon as it opens. We’re knocking on the door as the last workman shows up and hasn’t even taken off his backpack. Give us food!
Zeynep orders the T-Bone, an I order the ribeye. The meat and wine, a local grape, is miraculously delicious and so dark it’s practically purple.
DAY 6Apr 04 2019
We have an early start today. We are driving to the north to see the colourful mountains and salinas, the salt lake of Argentina.
Breakfast is a bit lacklustre, so we are on our way by 9. Getting out of Salto is a bit more complicated though. The traffic hasn’t much changed since we arrived last night. Drivers are manic and ‘the rules of the road’ are laid down in spirit only. I’m not the favourite visitor of salto as I seem to be annoying the drivers to no end. They insist on tailgating me and honk at my every hesitation at a junction. It’s a bit stressful to say the least...
Once out of the city, we are on our way with little hindrance. The state of the roads aren’t that great. A lot of potholes, but not a lot of traffic. That’s ok at least.
It’s about 12ish by the time we arrive in Tilcara. Tilcara is where we are staying tonight, but we are first going to see the pre-Incan ruins outside of the town. It’s incredibly hot already, we can feel the altitude and climbing around is hard work.
The ruins themselves are ‘out of this world’ (according to Zeynep). They are set amidst the mountains and the tranquility and beauty of the spot is really amazing.
We decide to stop in town for a bite, initially at a restaurant famous for its ‘mouth watering empanadas’. We order a large coke to share (which turns out to be 1.5 litres), a few empanadas and a salad. The empanadas are true to form and really delicious, not greasy at all.
We’re now driving to Humahuaca, famous for Serranía de Hornocal. This is a mountain range where there are 14 different colours within the geologic layers The road is only two lanes when we reach Humahuaca. We suddenly find ourselves having to drive off-road.
Just as we go off-road we decide to pick up two hitchhikers. They are clearly tourists of some description and look friendly enough. It seemed mean not to give them a ride, there is little else around. They turn out to be an Argentinian couple, Ronaldo and Christina, from outside of Buenos Aires. They wanted to spend more time at the mountain so decided not to take a tour, but hitch their way.
The drive is 22 km and good god is it a pain in the ass. The road is mostly small rocks, but the occasional boulder makes an appearance. We don’t come across another car. I can see why, the road is so bad that our crappy rental car (a really basic Chevy) is struggling. We soon realise that following Google can be a curse as it tells us ‘you have arrived’ in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Shit.
We turn around an race back the 22km. We come across a pickup truck and Christina asks for directions; we’re told to go back t the beginning. I think he also asks if we ‘plan to travel in that’. We go back to the beginning and realise I had turned the wrong way at a fork in the road. Shit again. Off we go, happily it seems to be about 14 km.
What we soon discover is that it is 14km on even worse roads and going uphill. The engine soon screams in agony. I can’t go uphill any longer in 3rd gear so stick to 2nd gear. We are still going up and the gravel road isn’t making any of us happy. I think I may loose the deposit on the car as it must be dinged to hell.
Soon 2nd gear isn’t enough and I have to put it in 1st gar. I can’t get any faster than 15 km/hr; although I’m not sure I want to. We consider turning back as the car is barely struggling to move and there is now traffic; well equipped pickup trucks carrying tourists zooming up with their 6 litre engines.
Reaching the top, yes it is beautiful. We can barely breath its so high. I have to use the toilet, which is pretty shocking.
We track down a path to get a better view. There isn’t anything else to do but to see the mountain. Our hitchhikers had visions of tracking across mountain scapes but rethink their plans. They opt to return with us.
Going down is much, much easier on the car. But bittersweet when we get a puncture. Ronaldo helps change the tire, which I make it a mission to do as quickly as possible. I’m covered in dirt, happily not grease, and want to get down before dusk makes an appearance. I’ll worry about driving on this f’ing donut later.
Getting down Ronaldo helps find a tire repair shop. I’m exhausted at this point. dodging boulders and trying to find the right gear is so tiring. In pulling into the shop I nearly hit a motorcycle; whether it was because I wasn’t looking or he just ‘darted’ in front of me I don’t know. Disaster averted though.
15 minutes later we have a repaired tire and the donut returned to the boot.. We are on our way. Getting to the hotel just at dusk and we unpack and settle quickly. What a day! We head to the village square and have a meal of llama meat and more llama. It’s ok, not very distinctive, so we won’t be having much more.
DAY 7Apr 05 2019
It’s been pissing down with rain since early this morning. We are going to salinas, which are the Argentinian salt flats. Our breakfast is amazing, fresh juice, warm media luna and drinkable coffee. We ask about the best place to see the Salinas, we are told to go to the next town and check whether the way is even open. What? Apparently it is up through the mountains with steep cliffs on either side of the road; all the terrain is rocky so landslides are common. Joy.
We stop in Purmamarca for coffee and a break. It’s still pouring with rain and the village has a real basic, rustic feel to it. It’s a muddy mess really. I know it from research and thought it was a cut above Tilcara; apparently it just costs more to stay there but isn’t particularly nice at all.
We find out the road is fine. Off we go. It’s still pouring down with rain and we start up the road. Happily this is tarmac and in good condition. It starts straight, but that ends after a kilometre or less. Soon we are in familiar terrain, going up a mountainside and struggling with the gears.
The aren’t any major landslides but there are a lot of rocks and baby boulders in the road to avoid. Luckily there isn’t any traffic. We press on, as does the car. Soon I’m in 2nd gear again and I can see the road go up, up and up again in the distance. Zeynep isn’t pleased at all with the altitude and being stuck looking over the precipice to certain death if ‘we have an accident’. I don’t’ take it personally, I don’t think she is saying my driving is crap. Only that I don’t’ have enough experience in this crap car not to be a crap driver.
Zeynep insists we turn back; which I’m completely ok with. I’m not sure how good the village repair job is and every rock I hit (despite all efforts to avoid them) I think I’ll get another flat tyre. Fuck this sucks. We turn around and head out of the mountain. We are just under half way through, but the 30 plus minutes to get out isn’t’ thrilling as I have to avoid the same boulders to get out. Joy.
With that decision made, we decide to get to Salta asap. That’s fine by me. I drive quite sensibly to get to Salta and become the bane, yet again, of Argentinian drivers who are impatient to do double the speed limit. I’m happy to report we get back to Salta without incident or further adventures.
Salta itself, is another story as there is a detour due to the bad weather and I have to run the gauntlet of crappy roads and crazed drivers without any rules of the road.
When we finally arrive at our hotel we are in heaven. There is nothing basic about it and we slip into the luxury mode easily. Not that we’ve suffered at all over the past few days, but the drive is so stressful that I’m happy to be off the roads.
After returning to Salta we feel the need to celebrate and, frankly, enjoy the amazing steak available. We head back to our favourite restaurant for more ribeye!
Afterwards we head to a district with all the bars and go to watch a band do traditional folk dances and songs.
DAY 8Apr 06 2019
With the morning lie in we have a leisurely breakfast. We then stroll about town to have coffee, relax and see a museum.
Around noon I realise it’s time to move the car. It’s parked in a car park which closes at 2 pm on Saturday and is closed on Sundays.
We discover that the car has another flat! Rubbish car, rubbish streets! I’m hopeful of driving on it, but quickly resign myself to changing the tire, again. Luckily the attendant gives me a hand. Nice guy!
So now I’m running down leads to find a shop which is open and will repair the tire. I hate this car! We’re sent to a gas station which can’t help us and they send us onwards to a small shop which looks like they can help. Indeed they do and they tell me a nail is in the tire. They make a patch and charge me 200 pesos (5 dollars). The same cost as sending a post card to Turkey! Bizarre.
I even get them to clean the spare donut and it goes back into the boot. At this point, we want to get rid of this damn car. So we take it to the airport and hand it over. Good riddance! It gets a perfect bill of health, so nothing more to worry about. Taking a taxi back to town costs less than the parking overnight.
Once we are finished with the evil car of the damned, we go back to town and finish looking around. We feel a massive weight lifted from our shoulders. The ‘easy way’ became far too damn hard for our liking.
In the afternoon we return to the hotel for a siesta. I update VOLO, this is hard work!
For dinner we are going to be healthy. We do have some ice cream (damn that dulce de leche) and go off for salad. We find a place which has rave reviews and decide on a salad and ‘grilled meat for 2”. Unfortunately the meat is fatty, fatty, fatty and it’s actually the worse meal we’ve had by far. We both leave feeling a bit ill from the grease and swearing that we will be on a diet from tomorrow. We have hit peak meat!
DAY 9Apr 07 2019
We’re flying to Iguazu Falls, via BA, today. We’ve arrived VERY early for our flight as we don’t want any accidental mishaps on our journey. We’re also taking our luggage as carry on only so wish us luck! Hopefully they won’t get lost this way...
Our plane from Salta to BA arrived on time without problem. As we only had an hour to make the connecting flight.
We are very stressed about making it after Delta. First, we are at the last row of the plane. There is an old man and a baby next to us (we aren’t even sitting together). On arrival we get out to the tarmac and have to catch a bus. Then a bastard airline rep tells us to leave departure area and go through security again (all lies)!
So we are yet again running around the airport when, in reality we just had to go up one flight of stairs (literally as at he top of the stairs is our gate).
Despite all that we make it. Whew!!
We’ve arrived in Puerto Iguazu (‘PI’), the gateway to Iguazu falls. Our hotel is..... incredibly basic. Zeynep took this backpacking thing pretty seriously when she booked it. It’s a clean, functional apartment! But smells and looks dingy. Hopefully the water pressure is good!
First impressions of PI are not good. It is, and looks every bit of it, a run-down town filled with creepy bars, clubs and mediocre (but massively overpriced) restaurants. Even the hotels are run down. One would never guess that the World famous falls are nearby!
We do discover one specialty of town, the ice cream! It’s delicious!!!
For dinner we search and search and finally find a decent restaurant. The waitress is efficient, yet so indifferent on everything that it is amusing. I order the fish, which is surprisingly delicious, and Zeynep has grilled chicken (we are trying to be healthy). They are both surprisingly good. We wash it down with a large bottle of Patagonia, which is a nice craft style saison beer.
After dinner we return to the ritz and I spend the rest of the evening watching movies in Spanish whilst doing laundry. Not all holiday moments are exotic!
DAY 10Apr 08 2019
We had a rough night’s sleep. Our hotel is actually a duplex apartment (we are the annex) and all last night we heard what seemed to be intruders on the stairs. Very creepy. The walls must be paper thin and the neighbours must be coming and going during the night.
But by morning we are ready to tackle the day. Zeynep is very keen to see the falls and pretty much drags me along to ensure we catch the first bus to the park.
The park is huge. We are lucky and managed to find a Havanna coffee shop and our spirit awakens. We realise that we have to get another ticket to take the train to Garganta del Diablo; which is the main waterfalls. We take a train up for 3 km and, once we arrive, walk on an elevated platform for another kilometre. The platform is above the river and the views are amazing. As we near it, we can hear the roar come closer and closer. When we are on top of it the sound is deafening.
Afterwards we walk the park and do the Upper and then the Lower Circuit. The area is littered with waterfalls, monkeys, and some bizarre mammals of an unknown description. The walks are, in total, about 3 kilometres but we stop for so many pictures that it takes a few hours to complete.
Finishing up, we discover our favourite ice cream for sale in the food court. Tres leches for Zeynep and Chocolate with almonds for me. We share of course.
Once back in PI we have a coffee which, happily, includes a single serving of ice cream. We go to tres fronteres which is the point where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet. On this occasion we aren’t going into Paraguay so this is as close as we are going to get!
DAY 11Apr 09 2019
Foz do Iguaçu
Rio de Janeiro
Breakfast is shocking, in that it is so good. Fresh fruit, juice and eggs. A good start to the day.
Our arranged for taxi has come promptly for 9. We are both relieved. Beto, our driver is quick and efficient. Leaving Argentina is easy. With a taxi we have a separate queue, and it’s like fast food; we give our passports through the window and are done in no time.
Brazilian immigration requires us to get out of the car and go to an office, but they are quicker and we are on our way. Within a few more minutes we are at the airport. Fast!
We are here so early that I run around to change money. The money changers want such a high commission that it isn’t worth our changing hour pesos. I pull out some Real from a cash point to keep us going when we land; the charge is less than the money changer.
We’ve got hours to kill, so we’re prepared for a looooong wait.
As we approach security a airline employee comes and enquires in our destination. Salvador. He then offers to put us on earliest flights via Rio to get there. How bizarre, never heard of such a service. We take him up on it and we go to a slightly panicked mode as we now must rush to get through the airport security. We make it and I’m now sitting on our luxurious Avianca plane. Lovely. But will we have to run for our connection?
Yes, we had to run for our connection as we had 5 minutes from disembarking to boarding. Miracle #1. The gate was immediately next to our so we ran for 10 meters only. But we are sure to miss our luggage transferring. Miracle#2. The plane to Salvador is late. So (hopefully) our bags will arrive!
We arrive into Salvador and arrange for a pre-paid taxi to take us to the hotel. This, apparently, is the safest thing to do.
There ensues a lot of confusion over who will take us. We find this exceedingly strange although it turns out they are trying to find one of their drivers that speak English. They find Carlos, who seems a nice chap and will also (time will tell) be taking us back to the airport in a few days time (at 4’am no less).
Salvador is famous for its architecture, food and historic centre. But from the airport it looks like any huge city. Modern.
Arriving in the historic centre is like arriving in a movie set. The historical centre is beautiful, colourful and full of Brazilians which could be movie extras. They are dressed in practically nothing, drinking in the streets and getting ready for a weekly, free, concert. A lot of young people out to party.
The hotel is weird. We arrive, ring the bell and it is opened. Inside is lovely; a boutique hotel in the historic area. After a few minutes of registration we find it odd that the manager/porter or whomever has yet to utter a single word. Finally I ask if he is well, he responds with ‘no english’. Ok.... so much for a greeting.
We pay, but he doesn’t have a receipt book or change. Hmm. After much translation via google I demand the money back so I can pay tomorrow and get a receipt. He gets into a right mood at that.
He unceremoniously shows us to our room, which is a literal shoebox without air conditioning. It’s so humid right now it’s like being shown hell’s closet. Great. When we leave to see the city, a receipt magically appears as does his smile. Weird again._
There are hundreds, maybe thousands of people on the street for this concert. A lot of beer for sale by hawkers. It looks like fun. But the number of warnings on the lack of safety in Salvador is running through our heads. Will we be robbed? No, there are tons of police out. Will we be pickpocketed? Likely. So we retreat to the hotel after dinner.
DAY 12Apr 10 2019
In the middle of the night we wake up terrified; something has smashed.
Zeynep goes to investigate (I’m too scared) and the ceiling light fixture has fallen in the bathroom. Glass everywhere. It’s about 4:30.
I’ve got to pee so bad! But our reception at this little bnb was so poor last night that it’s pointless to try get this cleaned up tonight. Plus it’s sooo hot (room has no a/c) that I can barely sleep.
By breakfast we go down to explain. I assume the breakfast lady doesn’t speak English and there is no manager to be seen.
Whilst eating we hear ‘you must be Christian’. It’s the owners son, Hugo. ‘I thought you were a phantom booking’.
What?? ‘You didn’t respond to my message on booking.com [that they take cash payments only].’
Ok... he reassures us that ‘it’s ok’. Thanks for the assurance, didn’t realise it was necessary though.
I explain the broken glass and ask to be moved to a different room. He starts by telling me that other rooms are more expensive and that I have to pay. what the fuck...
I’m immediately pissed off. He goes off. Comes back a few minutes later ‘Christian is the room open or so you have the key?’
Why is he yelling this across the room? Wierd.
After breakfast I go and ask him what is going on. The room is being cleaned, we won’t be moved.
Hmm. I set off. Shitty reception, unsafe room and he wants to sell me a upgrade in an empty hotel so I don’t get my feet cut.
Five minutes later I just demand my money back. He will, of course, charge me for one night. It’s two cocks squaring off (he’s about 25 and wearing a wife beater t-shirt) and I’m basically telling him to fuck off.
He starts speaking French to Zeynep. Zeynep replies telling him that ‘Christian is asking for a safe room’. Tension suddenly becomes defused. I realise it’s going to be a pain (but not insurmountable) to switch hotels and he’s going to loose the only paying customers. He sets out that I am asking for a room switch rudely (a la asshole). In the interest of moving on I apologise (I’ll get my revenge on the review). We get the room changed. Yay, this seems to have been a needlessly stressful exchange this morning.
Leaving the hotel, we are keen to put the unpleasantness behind us and enjoy the city.
Salvador is the original capital of Brazil and it shows. A lot of cathedrals and historic buildings. The buildings are brightly painted, which adds to the flavour of the city.
Within thirty minutes of leaving the hotel we are caught in a torrential downpour. This is sub-tropical after all. For about an hour the rain pours down like we’ve been hit by a hurricane. There is nothing to do but wait it out.
When the rain eases, and appears to stop, we venture out and deeper into town. We find a cafe just in time for the second torrential downpour. We are a bit more comfortable sitting in the cafe waiting out the rain than before.
The historic centre isn’t extensive and so we are able to meander through each street looking at the shops and the curious we aren’t going to buy.
The historic centre sits on a cliff overlooking the industrial dock so we take a massive elevator to go down to the docks and to the ‘mercado’. We expected to see a market with locals, but it turns out to be a massive building filled with small curio shops solely for tourists. A bit disappointing as everyone sells the same tat (at least the distributor is doing well).
We attempt to buy stamps at the local post office (a short walk in a very dodgy area near the mercado), We are stuck behind a philatelist; he and his wife spend 15 minutes having a great time with the sales lady as they go through sheets of stamps. We only want a few stamps for postcards. Eventually they wear us down; we can’t bear to wait any longer. We leave, they can continue their stamp love triangle without our glares.
Dinner is simple, a salad! We note that the comparison to last night is stark. The streets are deserted by 8. Shops are closed, restaurants closed, and those restaurants that are open are mostly empty. This is not the tourist season, there are no cruise ships docked and no reason for the locals to come tot he centre. Despite the impression last night, the centre is a bit of a ghost town. No crazy parties here!
DAY 13Apr 11 2019
We do our best to sleep in. Not much to do in Salvador and the rains will come again. We have a leisurely breakfast, which is surprisingly good and with lots of juice.
We need to do research for Bolivia (what to do, where to go and where to stay). We head back into town and the coffee shop we found yesterday. Twenty minutes after sitting it pours down with rain for about 2 hours. Everyone is stuck so we manage to finish our research. Yay.
For lunch/dinner we have the stew again. We swear never again as it is such a heavy meal we both leave feeling bloated and terrible. Yikes.
We retreat to our room for a nap. When we awake we head out again; we hear that ‘Thursday is the start of the weekend in Brazil’. Well, not in the historic centre it isn’t. Tonight is just as quiet as last night; everything closed or closing and a whole lot of nothing going on.
The one thing I do continue to observe is the police presence. Salvador has a extremely high crime rate; high by Brazilian standards. Scary. There is a police, or military police, presence on nearly every street corner. If there are tourists (local or foreign) nearby then there will be a police officer hanging it nearby. All our research, and advice received, is that stepping foot (taxi’s are mandatory) outside of this zone means certain robbery. Seems too be crime hell, can’t imagine living here!
DAY 14Apr 12 2019
Rio de Janeiro
About three this morning it began pouring down with rain. We were happy as it cleared out the street (and the noise) but raised concerns on flooding. Never fear, at 4 we go downstairs to find our taxi driver, Carlos, waiting for us. Perfect!
The flight is lovely, no issue no problem and 20 min ahead of schedule (on a 1:45 hr flight).
Quite happily we make our way to the hotel without any problems. The traffic is horrendous though. So many cars on the road that is feels chaotic, motorcycles are zipping between rows of cars. I’m not sure I’d be too happy driving during rush hour.
The hotel is nice, a pleasure to see when getting off the hotel. Unfortunately the room isn’t ready so we walk along the beach (we’re staying just off Copacabana beach). I’m pretty much dressed in safari clothes (literally the perfect outfit for africa). I must look a sight, but it’s the only clean clothes I’ve got left. I’m stinking hot, but what can I do?
As we are desperate to shower we don’t venture far from the hotel. We do walk along the main strip to get a SIM card (no luck, only certain shops sell them) and stamps (luck, but we end up with about 8 stamps per postcard).
After we go to lunch at a seafood restaurant and have an amazing octopus dinner. Then we dash to see Christ the Redeemer but it’s cloudy. So we don’t see anything. We’re very sad...
DAY 15Apr 13 2019
Zeynep is obsessed with Christ (the Redeemer). We’re up before 7, rush breakfast and rush out of the hotel. We’re at Christ by 8. Happily the traffic has disappeared on the weekend.
We arrive to a queue. I hurriedly buy the tickets on my phone so we can collect them in a shorter queue. We have tickets... in 4 and a half hours.
We decide to return to the hotel, to pick up some laundry and to make sure I locked the safe! Once all is secured we head out to Escadaria Selaron, which is basically a Chilean artist covering a public staircase in tiles. It’s beautiful but we become the main attraction for some Chinese tourists. First they get their picture taken with Zeynep, then they insist on a group picture! Is it Zeynep’s red hair? My crazy safari outfit?
We walk through the deserted downtown, which is the historic central. We zip to the St Theresa area which is in the hills and filled with hipsters. We have a healthy lunch then race back to Jesus.
Seeing Jesus means we take a team to the top then meander around its base. It’s cloudy so our views are obscured. Zeynep is truly devastated. We spend an hour at the top but only have a fleeting glance of the city. Jesus is obscured. On the way down I’m concerned Zeynep is going to cry, she is very unhappy with the Jesus experience...
We decide that, as the weather is due to get worse over the next few days, to go to Sugarloaf mountain and the cable car. I’m glad we do as the experience and view is everything Jesus was supposed to be but wasn’t; slick, easy and amazing.
For dinner we walk along the beach searching for something healthy. Brazilian food is extremely unhealthy, high calorie sauces, fried foods and creamy. We end up at the seafood restaurant and have octopus starter whilst we wait for a seafood paella. Well they both came within minutes and the paella was big enough to feed a family. We polish most of it off.
DAY 16Apr 14 2019
We are feeling so stuffed after last nights feast. We have hit peak food. Peak meat was in Argentina. We have struggled to find ‘good’ Brazilian food (even with an ‘unlimited budget’) so have ended up eating lots to find something satisfying. Yes, it’s a transparent excuse to be gluttonous but I’m sticking to it.
We head to Copacabana beach again and find the road in front of it pedestrianised. A good mix of people with some side streets holding markets. We head to the next beach, Ipanema, we discover that this is the nice beach. Copacabana is run down and the streets are tired and the shops... tatty. Ipanema is the hipster area; nice cafes, shops, restaurant and beautiful apartments. We have coffee, delicious ice cream and then head to a really disappointing art gallery.
Returning to our hotel in the early evening we decide to watch a few movies and have a beer before going out for dinner. We pick up some bites to go with the beer. Then we realise we’ve eaten all the bites and dinner is unnecessary. I can’t stay awake to do VOLO so decide that tomorrow is the ‘roght’ day to catch up. And without writing a novel each day too! These enteritis are too long!!
DAY 17Apr 15 2019
Breakfast is just fruit. No bread, no carbs. We’re still full, or bloated, and can’t think to eat anything more. We slept in forever and are sooooo relaxed.
We head to the botanical gardens. They are really nice and relaxing but it turns out to be very very small. London parks are bigger.
We return back to Ipanema for a earthy bite. We find a lovely restaurant but the food turns out to be shit. Fried chicken breast and friend fish. I guess we didn’t ask the right questions.
We’re back at Copacabana beach and having the first Caipirinha. Strong!
DAY 18Apr 16 2019
Rio de Janeiro
We have a late flight and a late checkout, which means we sleep in as long as possible. A leisurely breakfast, and a couple of showers later and we hit the beach one last time. We find a cafe with amazing views over Copacabana beach and, just as surprising, with really good food. A last beer to soak in the view.
Leaving Rio we are treated to a final sunset; the sky, colours and scenery really are breathtaking. Alas, no pictures can really do it justice.
Rio traffic... takes us nearly 90 min to go the 23 km to the airport. Once there, there’s not much to do but wait.
DAY 19Apr 17 2019
Leg one of the flight goes well; no delays. We are deeply unhappy with our seats though; stuck in the last row with 3/4 the leg room of normal seats. When the seat on front reclines they are practically on top of me. Claustrophobia sets in...
We have a few hours to kill in Santiago airport; we are shocked that it’s better in every way than Atlanta. At least half a dozen restaurants are open, most of the shops and there is plenty of space to lie down. Reminds us how much Atlanta airport sucks (not that we’re bitter!).
Plane two to La Paz isn’t an auspicious start. The plane is older than me (so much for Latam being a decent airline). Leaving the gate the plane looses power... twice! We have an engineer looking at it, seems like safety should be the priority not whether they can get this hunk of junk to fly. Will be avoiding them in the future.
We survived! But now we must struggle with the altitude of La Paz.
We spend the morning moving very slowly. Picking up luggage, getting money, getting to the hotel we all done slowly to avoid over exertion.
La Paz is surprisingly beautiful, the city Sits within a depression andnis surrounded by mountains. The people also seem so laid back. It’s relaxing here.
We eat, take a nap and eventually explore the city in the afternoon. We make a stop to the ‘witches market’ and the city’s Cathedral (which are oddly next to each other).
For dinner we choose a random restaurant which turns out to be a new age Bolivian gourmet restaurant. Good choice!
DAY 20Apr 18 2019
We’ve managed to escape the worst of altitude sickness. We’ve slept in and had a leisurely breakfast. Then we head to a cafe for coffee and to catch up on postcard logistics.
In the afternoon we visit a number of museums, which are surprisingly good and enjoyable. We hit the major tourists area, with old colonial buildings, eat cakes and drink more coffee.
Then we return to the hotel, whereupon the manager lets us rest in an empty room. Amazing!
We’re now on the bus waiting to leave the station (already 30 min late) to go to Uyuni!
DAY 21Apr 19 2019
The bus ride is, quite possibly, the best I’ve ever experienced. They fed us chicken and rice, put on a movie and, best of all, issues blankets and a pillow to use in our reclining chairs. We both slept and we arrived safely
Uyuni is a small, dusty town. After killing a few hours we start our tour. First is a railway cemetery. Basically a bunch of rusted train locomotives and carriages.
Next was a traditional salt factory set amidst a hundred stands selling the same tourist tat. So far, unimpressed.
We head onto the salt flats; it’s a huge extinct sea of white salt. Our vehicles are like boats on an ocean of salt.
We head to ‘cactus island’ which is part of an extinct volcano. The island rises from the salt pan and has a few plants and cactus. Aside from birds, there are no animals.
After we head out to the salt plain again for a few memorable pictures.
We end in a part of the plain which has a few centimetres of water; we see the mirror effect whilst seeing dusk. It’s pretty amazing.
With dusk we rush back to catch our bus. We are taking another night bus back to La Paz. A whirlwind trip!
DAY 22Apr 20 2019
We’ve arrived back in La Paz at 6 am; which is a bit too early for my liking. Hard to check in early when dawn hasn’t even arisen.
We get a taxi to the hotel and the driver ignores every red light between the terminal and the hotel. Thank god it isn’t too far!
After ringing the doorbell
at the gate for a few minutes we realise we’re stuck. No one at our tiny hotel is up. And no where is open yet. Shit.
After 10-15 minutes some street dogs go crazy for a random local. The barking wakes up the night porter; we’re in! Even better is that they give us an empty room to rest in. Nice!!!
We shower, nap and change clothes. We feel like new people and head out for desayuno (breakfast).
Coffee, media Luna, empanada (called Salteña in Bolivia, they are a breakfast dish here) and a raisin pastry later we’re satisfied. We’ve even dropped our dirties at a laundromat for cleaning.
Now to take the cable car to the mall of Bolivia. La Paz doesn’t have a underground, they have an overground on the form of multiple cable car lines. At the mall I get my Hard Rock shot glass (still sad, I know) and take a taxi to the valley of the moon. It’s pretty cool, but we’re exhausted so we give the visit lip service only. Zeynep is too grumpy to hike it.
Now we are sitting in our favourite cafe. We had to return as we saw they have ‘tres leches’. It’s pretty good, quite acceptable and gets consumed in seconds (by me at least). We’re lucky to find this place as a torrential downpour comes and we are stuck. The streets flood quickly and there is even hail.
After toughing our the weather we decide to eat steak! The meat is decent although the sides are terrible. We have an early evening.
DAY 23Apr 21 2019
An early start today. We are going to Tiwanaku, the site of a large pre-Inca capital city.
There are some problems with the tour we were set to take; accident or vehicle breakdown. The tiny lady running reception jumps into action. She arranged and negotiated a taxi for marginally more than the tour would have cost. We get to do it in 2/3 the time required as part of a group.
Tiwanaku is impressive. It covers several acres and was one of the most important pre-Inca civilisations.
We have the place to ourselves for the first hour. By the time we are finishing up the site the tour groups come.
We race back to La Paz and walk around. We’ve scheduled the next stage of our travels, to Peru.
The evening is quiet. I suspect that La Paz is quiet on Sunday, and Easter Sunday may be a double whammy. It’s dead quiet and we are forced to have pizza; it’s the only place open!
I’m now trying to figure out the most effective way to get from Peru to Ecuador. Travelling from Iquitos is a 5 day boat ride; maybe too hardcore for this trip. So it is likely we will return to Lima to take a 2 day bus to Quito. We’ve got some fun ahead!
DAY 24Apr 22 2019
Today we are spending the day in a state of rest. Waking up leisurely and having two breakfasts! One of fruit and one of pastries and coffee. We’re planning out our time in Peru. Looking like a lot of fun.
We’re also doing a bit of laundry and getting our jackets cleaned as well. They’re getting a lot of use as the temp at night gets to 6 degrees C and it’s cold in the shade.
In the afternoon we realise we’ve still about 10 tickets for the cable car system. One ticket per line, per direction. We accidentally go the wrong way; turning around requires another ticket!
Taking the cable cars is like riding a rollercoaster across a city. The views really are breathtaking and some of the ascents are a bit scary. Leaving the station the car accelerates quickly and arriving at a station means rapid deceleration. It really is a rollercoaster ride! Most fun ever on public transport!!!
We’re pretty full at this point. The patties and bread in La Paz are the best of the trip so far, a huge shock to us. So we’ve carb’d up. But I’m full and sick of pastries. We were sucked into having this donut as there was a big queue. Very bread-like, like a Tesco donut.
An early night. We’ve an early bus to catch and have to go to a hostel to catch it; how random?!
DAY 25Apr 23 2019
Isla del Sol
Sitting on another bus. This is taking us to Copacabana, then onwards to Puno, Peru.
I slept horribly last night; I’m still figuring out logistics for the next month. Challenges remain on Ecuador and getting into Colombia.
Now we are sitting on a bus (Bolivia Hop) which is like a hop-on hop-off bus which goes to different cities. A cool concept; of course we’re surrounded by travellers and backpackers so i suppose we are skipping the flavour of the local busses. We’re ok with that, given that bus drivers are notorious for driving whilst drunk.
After an exciting bus ride, including getting off so it could take a wooden ferry, we,be arrived in the hippie paradise of Copacabana. Who knew so many lost Europeans/Americans would want to call this tiny town home for an extended period of time.
From Copacabana we have an excursion; we take a small boat for over an hour to Isla del Sol. The island is famous for its Incan ruins. We are only on the island for about 90 minutes and trek from one side to the other. It’s a lovely lake and a nice hike. The altitude does make it hard to go up steep hills.
We hop back onto our bus and make our way to the border. It seems chaotic as everyone from the bus tries to be first to pass immigration. But going through Bolivian customs is quick and easy. We walk to the Peruvian side and stand in a queue for ages.
Paperwork completed we head to Puno in the rain. After checking into our dated, but clean, hotel we head into Puno. It turns out to be a city which sleeps early and is overrun by tourists. It’s not as delightful as I expected.
We go to four restaurants before finning one which is good. The first looks excellent, but is full. The second looks ok, is full of tourists but, once we enter, is filthy (we leave quickly). The third is a steak restaurant which looks good, but I get the silent treatment and a stink eye from the waiter when we enter and ask for a table (we leave when he is throwing a fit at cleaning a table). The fourth is lovely, full of people, clean and the waitresses actually engage with us. The food is good too.
DAY 26Apr 24 2019
This morning we have sorted out the logistics for Cuzco. Hotel booked. We also booked the train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes (for Machu Picchu). The cost of it all is absolutely shocking. If I wasn’t here already, I wouldn’t bother to see Machu Picchu. Train costs an outrageous USD$300 for the both of us; disgusting considering those are the cheap seats and half the journey is by bus. Taking the bus to the ruins is another $50 and the ruins themselves is another $100. This isn’t for the frugally hearted!
Uros floating islands
Now we are heading to Uros islands on Lake Titicaca. It’s a manmade floating island made by reeds. I’ve wanted to visit it for years, so am quite excited. The other 15 tourists on our boat are as equally excited.
After the floating islands we head back into town and get SIM cards for our phones. This is an important activity in each country; being connected allows us to do research, use UBER (if available), book tickets/trains/bus and update VOLO.
Getting a SIM is easy work, we are both connected in minutes. Zeynep’s phone doesn’t seem to connect so we spend 45 min at the shop trying to get it to work. We fail (something about the APN) and go to another provider, Movistar. 20 minutes later we give up in disgust as it still won’t work. Zeynep is very sad.
We head to dinner before our 9 pm overnight bus to Arequipa. Neither of us are much impressed by Puno (the term ‘dump’ comes to mind) so we are happy to leave.
DAY 27Apr 25 2019
We’ve arrived in Arequipa! We had to change busses at 12:30 am, so were not very happy. But the second bus was more comfy than the first, so we ended up getting more sleep that way.
Too early to check in, we meander the town at 7. I reckon all the other tourists walking about can’t check-in either. We meet other people from out bus too. At 7:30 a coffee shop opens and we sit there for about 90 minutes.
First impressions of Arequipa are great, this town is beautiful and noticeably more wealthy than Puno.
We get to the hotel around 11:30 to check in, shower and rest. We’re back out quickly thereafter and head to the huge Santa Catalina Convent. It’s bigger than we imagined and it is one of the most impressive buildings (there are nuns still living in a section) I’ve been to in a very long time.
Afterwards we decide we need a beer! We head to a lovely cafe in a courtyard. After 10 minutes we leave in disgust, no service despite lots of waiters being busy moving stuff and few customers. We end up a in grotty bar; which has reasonable prices and great service. Sometimes going upscale doesn’t pay off.
Dinner is at another fancy restarting. We op to skip the dinner pictures; we are both so tired. The meal turns out to be huge. I get pork belly (oh my god, delicious) and Zeynep a lamb fettuccini. We’re skipping alpaca when we see it on the menu, it’s a tasteless meat.
At the hotel, we pass out immediately. We are exhausted!
DAY 28Apr 26 2019
We wake up today rested. Breakfast is light and we have planned dinner to be ceviche.
After the day’s planning is complete, we schedule our day to go to a lookout point over the city. It’s a nice spot, but doesn’t provide much of a panoramic of the city.
We then decide it’s Ceviche time! We walk across town into a small suburb to go to a recommend ceviche restaurant. We have a hard time finding it; it turns out to be someone’s home converted to a restaurant. We have to ring on a doorbell, it’s supercool and popular with the locals. Unfortunately we aren’t too thrilled with the taste, portion size or price. At least it was a cool experience.
After eating, we have cake (we ate that too fast to photograph) and then take a long walk back to the hotel. The views of the volcano over the city are wonderful. We then siesta before heading out in the evening. A restful day.
DAY 29Apr 27 2019
Another day of exploring Arequipa. We discovered that our well laid plans to do laundry have floundered. The ‘laundry district’ (where nearly all laundry shops are) is without water due to road works. Shit.
Our area is the ‘Optician district’ and our hotel is surrounded by at least 40 (no exaggeration) optician shops of all sizes. I guess Peruvians have terrible eyes!
We do a bit of shopping, to pick up that certain baby alpaca piece of clothing, and drink more coffee. We may even see a museum today!?
Beer and rotisserie chicken today. What a wonderful life.
DAY 30Apr 28 2019
Not a great start to the day. We stood outside the hotel for an hour, from 5:15 am, waiting for the bus’s taxi to collect us and take us to the bus. It is one of the selling points of the hop-on hop-off bus service. Our concierge finally managed to get through to them on the phone and they sent a taxi to pick us up and drive be us to overtake the bus (which had already left).
With the adventure of getting on the bus over, the rest of the journey was almost boring. We slept, watched movies (Lion King and Gladiator) and watched the countryside go by.
Arriving in Cusco, we get to our hotel without much problem. We promptly leave to go into town. It’s a 15 minute walk and I can easily see that Cusco has changed. Getting to Plaza de Armas, I can tell that there is a lot more money here now. Things are slick, and expensive.
DAY 31Apr 29 2019
Today we’ve woken up at a decent hour to enjoy breakfast. We are going to explore Cusco and set out tomorrow’s journey. We are also to decide if we are going to the Amazon jungle in Manu national park.
We cross cross the town but avoid paying to enter any of the churches. The whole city is a giant funnel to suck cash from tourists. Everything is vastly overpriced and every attraction, no matter how shitty, has an entry fee. Some are pretty exorbitant.
We decide we will go to Iquitos for the Amazon and that we won’t take the 12-13 hour tour tomorrow to see the sacred valley. We’ve been put off by the forced visits to second rate sites and the time we will have to spend at terrible curio stalls. As all we want to see two sites, Ollyantayambo and Pisac, we are going to do it ourselves!
DAY 32Apr 30 2019
We’ve left town on a local bus pretty easily. About 30 min out of town the driver says something in Spanish and veers off the road. It looks like a weird shortcut between two roads.
Suddenly we find ourselves on switchbacks on a sheer cliff hundreds, maybe even a few thousand, meters above the valley floor. For thirty minutes we go back and forth, descending to the valley floor on a dirt road which is only wide enough for one vehicle. Our van seems hard pressed on this kind of terrain. Perhaps this is the scariest ride of my life. Death seems certain.
Somehow we survive. But we are told we have to switch buses to go to Ollantaytambo. Damn. When we reach Ollantaytambo it is amazing. A large Inca site which is really amazing to see.
Leaving we head to Pisac. We discover we need to switch twice to get to Pisac. Great. We do get there pretty quickly although the first van is packed with school kids and moms picking them up. The second bus is empty and we have it (almost) to ourselves.
Arriving to Pisac we discover that the trek is at least 2 1/2 hours. Probably 3 hours. Shit. That means we may be driving back in the dark. Not cool given this Morning’s crazy bus ride. So after all that we don’t see it.
We realise we should have done the damn tour. Idiot!
Returning to Cusco we meander through town, organise seeing Nazca lines and have a final dinner. We go back to a wonderful restaurant, Pachamama. The food is great but the service today is shambolic.
DAY 33May 01 2019
What an early start! Up at 3:10 in little sleep. Taxi is late, but we’ve ample time to get to the station. We arrive to an office of tea and cake. Yay.
We have to take a rather bumpy coach ride to Oyantayambo then switch to a train to take us to Aguas Calientes. As it’s so expensive there aren’t many ‘backpacker’ types. Mostly retirees and the odd family. The journey is very bouncy, but we arrive easily enough.