The last days of South America

Trip Start Feb 07, 2007
Trip End Sep 03, 2007

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Flag of Brazil  ,
Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Hola hola!

I am writing this letter, nearly in tears, as it will be my last from South America!  I am really disappointed to be leaving.  It feels like this continent has captured my heart and itīs claws donīt want to let me go just yet.

The last few weeks have been fantastically relaxing.  Although I have really enjoyed the past 2 and a half months, they were really tiring.  Everyday a new town, sometimes a new country...always moving...and so many sensations, one after the other!  So it was really lovely to spend our last two weeks in Rio as well as a few islands and coastal cities along Brazil.

We spent our last night in Rio with the two Israelis from our hostel and a big gruff-looking American guy (especially good to have one of those around when you plan to go out in Rio).  We took a crazy van ride to a suburb called Lapa (I almost thought we were in Guatemala again...the van should have been called `the danger-mobile`) and spent the night drinking caiprinahs and chatting.  Lapa is a suburb pretty much dedicated to nightlife and has a great vibe.  A lot of the bars and restaurants are held in older buildings and the streets are somewhat dimly lit, which makes all of these venues very inviting and cosy looking.  Many of them host bands of different sorts as well, so the bossa nova and folk music that drifts out of the buildings makes you want to visit each place you pass.  Although the whole atmosphere of Lapa is wonderful, it led us to develop a false sense of security.  We turned a few corners that were not as pleasant (i.e. pretty dodgy) and realised that we were still in Rio and had to be careful not to wander to far from the main street.  We spent the night well and (wisely) took a taxi back home.  We figured that squeezing five people into a four person taxi was more comfortablle than taking another van ride...we were squashed but didnt have to hang on to eachother each time we breaked.

It was good that we left Rio when we did.  A few days after we left we caught glimpses of a few news reports that showed a few incidents involving police shoot outs on the streets in the city.  Not sure what it was all about, but seemed a bit serious.  A few people from Sao Paolo that were staying at our hostel saw the same thing and were pretty shocked.  We figured it must have been pretty serious and a little out of the ordinary...especially if people from Sao Paolo were concerned.

Anyway...we took a bus ride with Yonny and Gil (our two Israeli friends) to Agra dos Reis, a port town a few hours from Rio.  We were only a half hour away from Rio when everything around us changed so dramatically!  The scenery near the coast is amazing here.  You can see the diversity so clearly...with port towns on one side of the road and beautiful rainforest and enormous hills on the other.  We made it to Angra and took a sailboat across to Ilha Grande (the big island), about an hour away.  The island is apparently the largest in the area and was originally mistaken for the mainland (that is where it got its name).
Ilha Grande is vey quaint and very underdeveloped, which was absolutely refreshing after the hustle-bustle world of frantic Rio.  There are two small villiages on the island and the rest of the land is pure rainforest (apparently there is very little remaining Atlantic rainforest in Brazil---and this is part of it).  We had one clear day in Ilha Grande and we spent it trying to get to its most reknown beach, Praia Lopez Mendes.  Kath, Gil, Yonny, adn I set out to make the 3 hour trek through the rainforest to get there (we were a bit too cheap to take the boat option, and thought that the trek would be great anyway).  The walk was fantastic, and a piece of cake compared to the Inca Trail (yes...I still feel invinsible after that weekend)!!!  Much of it was uphill, but it was good as it gave us some time to take in our surroundings.  The flora here is really varied, ranging from bamboo to elm-like trees.  Unfortinately it started to sprinkle half way there...which turned into proper rain...which later turned into a full-on down pour!  So we only were able to make it 3/4 of the way to Lopes Mendes.  A bit disappointing that we didnīt get to our destination and had to turn back early, but it was pretty fun trekking through the mud and puddles never-the-less! 
We finally made it to Lopes Mendes a few days later...this time with the help of a boat (so much easier)!  It was a gorgeous ride around the island...we were able to see all of the secluded areas that you can' t otherwise see.  So we made it to the beach a few times.  But most of the visit was spent indoors as the restaurants were pretty pricey (Brazil is pretty expensive) and it was raining way too much.  In some ways this was really good as it gave us lots of time to spend with the Israeli boys and some of their friends that we met on the island as well (small world, huh?).  We decided to move out of our hostel and all of us (10 in all) hired a small pousada in the hills of the island.  It was a great location.  Nowhere near the beach, but inland where all of the non-tourists live (very serene).  There we learned a lot from our new Israeli friends.  We had a geography lesson one day and learned all about Israeli politics and the army as well.  We then learned a famous children's song which Yonny tried to teach me in Hebrew.  According to the boys, Hebrew is the "new English", just on the verge of sweeping the world.  I pretty much learned the first line of the song and whilst practicing drove Kath absolutely mad.  Here is a taster:
On Sunday morning, the zebra woke up.
She pulled off her pyjamas and put on a shirt and a tie.
But she suddenly realised that she wasn't so happy.
So she took off her clothes and put oooon heeeerrr...
PYJAMAS! Pyjama-ma, pyjama-ma, pyja-pyja-pyjama-ma.
Pretty fun once you get into it.  Although Kath still doesn't think so.
We spent the rest of the time paying Gil out about his showering habits (he only uses Pantene conditioner [the one "designed to promote body and moisture] and shampoos his hair twice to make sure it is really sparkly---he spends AGES in there), playing card games and drinking games with cachaįa, and sometimes venturing out of the pousada to hunt down the dessert men from the street.  The desert men are men dressed in white who roam the streets near the town pushing big (2x2 meter) white carts FULL of all different types of cakes and rolls and tarts.  Kath and I believe that they are one of Brazilīs most important icons!
We left the island on a sunny day (go figure---after so many days of rain) and headed off back to Angra Dos Reis on the sail boat.  We had a lovely sunset to send us off and passed the time on the boat listening to the boys' ipods (a nice change after spending the last two months listening to bus music and my 2 new Mana CDs).  We got to Angra and there the fun began.  One of our travel books gave us dodgy directions to the only hostel in Angra and we spent about an hour and a half looking for it in the dark.  My bag, which has ballooned to 27 kilos now, was beginning to make me feel like an elephant and I was growing to hate it and consider it the bane of my life more and more.  We asked at least 5 people where to find it, with each giving us a different direction and sending us off down a multitude of streets and alleyways.  FINALLY one very kind man informed us that the hostel didn't exist anymore and had closed down last year.  We made it to the first hotel we could find and finally could drop our stuff.

We spent the rest of the night trying to find some good food (we could get nothing that wasn't fried or dripping in oil and settled on hamburgers) and some beer that we took back to the hotel.  We thought we had found a nice drop (the "Antartica Penguin" brand for all of those who want to really know a bad beer from Brazil) and took it back to the place only to realise it was the worse tasting beer we had EVER tried.  Imagine a mixture of beer and coffee and cola and you would get an idea-we had to play drinking games for the rest of the night in order to get through the little that we had bought.  Made for some nice pictures of "ewwwww" faces.

We left Angra the next day and travelled to Parati, which is another 2 hours down the coast of Brazil, heading towards Sao Paolo.  Again the coastal route was amazing and Parati was as quaint and as full of character as we had imagined.  The entire old town has been declared a heritage site by Unesco and it is really quite lovely.  All of the buildings are painted white, with many doors painted in bright reds or blues or greens.  The streets are cobbled and they lead to the water (the old town is nearly all surrounded by the sea and a river).  The place as a really laid back feel, again completely different from Rio, and most all people were friendly and very helpful.  Our hostel was was situated right on the river and the courtyard was always buzzing with hummingbirds and little sparrows

The day after we arrived, Kath, Yonny, Gil and I all took a boat trip to a few of the nearby islands (which are completely free of people).  We went to one quiet island for a swim, some beaching and then lunch on the boat, and then the skipper took us to a rocky island.  We anchored just off the rocky island and then he began to throw breadrolls over the side of the boat.  Out of nowhere came about 100 or so beautifully coloured fish (yellow and silver) who were so excited to munch on the bread.  We got into the water and had a bit of a snorkel under the boat...was really fun!  We headed off to another island after this and exhaustedly made it back to Parati after the sun and swimming.  We were sent back to the hostel accompanied by a beautiful sunset (I will never get used to them).  We relaxed as the boat bounced along the water, allowing us to dreamily gaze over the ocean...the sun was shining over it in such a way that made the surface of the water look like it was glittering with 1000s of golden fish (a bit cliche...but it really was so lovely)!
We met so many lovely people at the hostel!  A very bright Parisian guy who Kath and I will surely visit when we make to Paris...sooner rather than later.  A hilarious Italian ex-chef who looked a bit like a wizard (bushy eyebrows and comical clothes) who had the most interesting stories to share.  A lovely girl from Sao Paolo who is studying French literature, fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, and French.  An Aussie guy (one of the few we have met) from Sydney who we briefly met in Ihla Grande as well, and who we played many a card game with.  And many others who we were able to have some really good chats with.

Along with the nearby islands, we visited Trinidade, which is a group of beaches about 45 minutes away from Parati.  The main beach is shaped like a croissant (beautifully pointed out by Sven, our Parisian friend) and is surrounded by more seemingly unexplored forest.  The waves were apparently great for surfing...a Brazilian guy who approached us told us that.  Once he found out we were Aussies he was keen to go and get an extra board for us to surf with him...we had to (sheepishly) tell him that neither of us can really surf.  I think he thought we were lying...after all we are Australian :)

We bid the Israeli boys goodbye a few days later and then a few more after that Kath and I had our last night together.  It was very nostalgic and a bit sad...we have been travelling for 3 months together after all.  We made the most of it and went into the centre to have a bottle of wine beside the cobbled road.  It was mostly quiet until we heard the soft sounds of a guitar nearby...we soon realised that the storefront nextdoor to our little winebar had put on a Jack Johnson CD (one of Kath and my favorites...we had been just saying a few days before how nice it would be to hear that CD).  We both spent the rest of the night humming along, having a marvelous dinner, and reminiscing over our fantastic journey...highlighting the best parts and those we will never be able to forget for the rest of our lives (even if we tried to).  Before I left Australia I didnīt know Katherine all that well but thought our trip would be fine anyway.  I always knew that I would like her...but I never realised how much I would come to love my new friend.  I hope this is the only the beginning of a fantastic travelling partnership (insert quiet tears and sniffles here).  And if not...we have vowed to eventually make it back to Roatan in Honduras and open our fabulous bar/cafe of all must visit!

Katherine left for Sao Paolo and I dropped her off at the bus station early one morning.  The other bus company clients must have been pretty amused to see the send off...complete with tears and "I dont want to leave"s!  I amused myself for the next few days at Trinidade with Martino (the funny Italian man), Daniel (Aussie friend from the hostel), and two lovely french girls accompanying him.  I have discovered that it is very difficult to travel always seem to meet new faces and hear new and exciting stories and are never never on your own.  It is great...I didnt really get the opportunity to spend much time alone at all!

I finally left Parati and began the ardous journey to Spain.  This involved a 4 hour bus trip to Rio...then a 1 hour bus trip to the airport...a long wait at the airport (5 hours)...a 10 hour flight next to the fattest, smelliest man alive (sitting next to the window is ALWAYS a bad choice)...a 1 hour rush to change flights in Madrid (involving a short train ride to another terminal---Madrid airport is like a small city)...a 1 hour flight to Mallorca...a 30 minute bus ride to the train station in Palma...a 50 minute train ride to Inca...and finally a 20 minute ride in a car with Charlotte (Kathīs beautiful mum) to the farm she is working at.  I dont think I have ever taken so many forms of transport one after the other!

So I have left South America and my heart is quietly crying for it...but Iīm not overly sad as I know I will soon return (perhaps to live) and Spain looks like it will be quite interesting indeed! 

Hope you are all well!  Lots of love from, Kirsten
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