Back with a bump

Was it all a dream? Did it actually happen or was it just an amazing out of life experience?  Seems like it.

Back less than 24 hours and the banality of having to think about whether I want Cox or Gala apples, Lurpack or Buttermedelicious spread in Sainsburys baffles and depresses me almost to the point of tears.

No sooner than my rucksack hits the floor and all 10.5kg of it is deposited in the washing machine I feel rather naked and insecure, like the snail that lost the home on his back.  It’s amazing how little we actually need to live with, survive on, and be happy.

I don’t want to be back, back to the safety and security of my home, family and friends. I want to carry on enjoying the freedom and escapism travelling allows where everyday life is an adventure in itself.

The computer threatens like an oversized workload, the house dust seems friendly and comforting after 2 months of enjoying settling in peace – I’ve no inclination to touch it.

My body has returned but my soul is yet to follow, it is still playing in the waves on Copacabana beach…

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Paraty, Ilha Grande and Rio – the last leg

IMGA0248Relaxing on Isla Grande, a small island just off Rio in Brazil meant the arduous task of chilling in a hammock as well as exploring the island footpaths through the jungle, finding both monkeys, dolphins and an amazing variety of beautiful birds.  SAM_1045      SAM_1049    IMGA0283    IMGA0293    SAM_1051   IMGA0313

Previously serving as a leper’s colony and a prison due to it’s isolation, and with no motor vehicles this was a wonderful jungle-clad and preserved green island to retreat on and around.

To the south of Rio, on the Costa Verde we also stopped at one of Brazil’s most appealing and well preserved historical colonial towns – Paraty – set amidst secluded beaches and jungled mountains the irregular cobblestone streets are closed to motor vehicles 20131128_214903-1    20131129_071659   IMGA0144 making it ideal for strolling around and enjoying the centuries-old architecture.

SAM_1016    IMGA0149   IMGA0161     IMGA0162Boat trips around the many secluded beaches and islands were much enjoyed

And then there was Rio –  hard to believe I was finally at this amazing iconic City20131204_152624

Sugar Loaf Mountain and20131204_152000    IMGA0415Christ the Redeemer    20131204_190231and of course Copacabama beach – what a wonderful city 20131204_110254

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and sad goodbyes to a wonderful group of co-travellers and our guide Yasmina…  SAM_1087 who somehow managed to keep us all together and in the right place at the right time through the three countries visited, sometimes using up to six different methods of local transport in one day.

A wonderful wonderful trip – absolutely loved it – already planning the next one!

Rio favelas

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Standing looking down on the sparkling city and beaches of Rio de Janeiro at last, one is straight away struck by the contrasting neighbourhoods co-existing reluctantly side by side, each needing the other.
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The Sheraton Hotel for instance nestles into the hill right next to one of the many infamous favelas, as does a prestigious golf club.  Due to the narrow streets and the high density of the population,the predominant form of transport is by motorcycle/motortaxi and foot in the favelas.
The neighbourhoods have grown up over the years since slavery were abolished when the remaining slaves then had no place to go and started living high up on these undesirable steep slopes outside the city centre and are known as favelas  (although often erroneously referred to as slums) and so named from  the plants growing on these hillside areas.
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They have been built up in a verticularisation fashion as space became sparcer, with one selling his roof top on to another, and another, to build on the next layer. So they are built on up, badly, with what they have – often a topply and chaotic affair.
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20% of the Brazilian poulation live in favelas, and mainly without sewerage, which eventually finds its way down into the sea, once it rains.

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There is some electricity and a few peeps through open doors and the number of sky dishes gave clues to a more reasonable standard of living for some.
Run by drug gangs, there is a certain order and little crime within the favelas themselves.
Perceived by the outside world to be full of drug dealers, drug takers, crime and  criminals, most inhabitants actually do have jobs and only 1% are involved in drug dealing.
However when the government tried a clean up it was police corruption that made this fail, and in the area we visited the only crime in revent years was when a policeman tried to rob a bank.
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Rubbish is collected from designated points twice daily, though as a result of dead bodies appearing from time to time in the past, collection workers are hard to find.
Down in the little passageways it is damp, humid and smells somewhat unpleasant.  Tuberculosis has been a big problem in the past.
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There are schools and a hospital but finding staff for them can be a problem.
Funds from the the tour make up 40% of the funding for a education foundation set up for children between 4 and 12 wanting to take advantage of extra opportunities.
The tour was not voyeuristic and it was most illuminating to gain a better understanding of Brazilian society away from the beach culture prevailing in this city.  It changes one’s perception of poverty and violence ridden slums to that of generally hard working people doing their best to live within the parameters given.
Very pleased to have visited Rocina and Vila Canoas favelas and become more informed, despite advice not to from well meaning but seemingly prejuduced Brazilians and to see a more balanced picture of an everyday struggle to survive crammed up on the outskirts of a vibrant city.  There is so much more than the drugs, shootings, crime and poverty  focused on by the media. it is not all bad, the favela dwellers are human too.

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Gaucho life in Uruguay

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After a full day travelling by taxi, incongruously huge double decker coach and held-together fume-perfumed minibus, the asphalt disintegrated into bumpy tracks and ultimately fields…. now, 220km on, in the far depths of the Uruguayan  countrside we arrived at the genuine working estancia of Panagea. 
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Wonderfully relaxed unpretentious no-frills but comfortable home and ranch, where Juan and his Swiss wife Susannah enthusiasticly welcomed us. 
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The 1000 hectare working farm nestles within miles and miles of cattle, sheep and horse filled fields with the odd cluster of rhia thrown in to remind you where you are.
The farm house runs on a beautiful blend of simplicity, rustic charm and local customs along with underlying Swiss efficiency and hospitality. They provide as much totally delicious and healthy home cooked food as we can manage which we are encouraged to help prepare in the homely kitchen.
Showers are short as the water from the well is limited, as well as brown. The generator only runs 3 hours a day so we all plug our phones, cameras and ipads in ready, and each bedside has its own candlestick and matches ready for the power cut-off time. Its amazing how quickly one gets used to no electricity and also no wifi whatsoever, which is a very strange feeling for us all. ‘No WIFI – we talk here’ a sign reminds us.
Day one we all donned hats, traditional gaucho pants and cowboy boots which not only felt good; had plenty of room in the seat for riding, but made you feel the part.
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In the coral we were instructed by Juan how to saddle our horses,
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and how to ride – nothing like the way we Europeans do things. Loads of sheepskins and extra girths, the reins held differently and in one hand as well as the seating stance being totally the BHS reverse. To turn you pull both reins to the side you wish to go – it works. A $ fine was threatened to anyone using two reins!
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Some considerable time later we were all mounted and tentatively set forth, amusingly with some animals being hard to get going and others hard to stop. However we were shown the principle of herding sheep and set off to bring a herd back from a far away field.
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When you start herding you understand straight away where the ‘follow the sheep’ expressions come from.
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It was fun, and he made us all feel useful ( although the sheepdogs were quietly doing most the work alongside us).
Once penned, after lunch we had to drench and wean them.
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Drenching meant deworming so first bit of fun was catching them, then managing to inject the medicine into the mouth while keeping them still and lastly to chalk them to show they’d been done. 
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The lambs were ready to leave the sheep so splitting them up was the next challenge. Very satisfying, good team work, huge fun and interesting to learn how it was done, best of all we had been a genuine part of completing a necessary job.
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Think this cuddly one must’ve known I’m vegi!
Day two; bums slightly sore and now able to saddle up and mount our own horses, we rode out to bring some cattle in, our herding skills improving so we began to move instinctively to the right positions. 
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It was wonderful to be out there working alongside genuine ranch gauchos in the amazing
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scenery, brilliant weather and not feel like a tourist at all. Just loved it.
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Saw pink flamingos, some amazing birds and some of their strange nests, rhia (and a huge rhia egg), old volcano craters and even a tarrantula
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– and yes they are h u g e!
As numbers decreased to chill back at the home-stay the remaining enthusiastic would-be gouchos worked together to bring the lowing cattle back, and had a laugh trying to round up the wayward ones.  Once penned we worked in teams; wallowing in the muck waving white cloths on sticks trying to get the cows into a shute but keeping the calves behind in the pen. The cows had to be prodded down the shute (narrow run) so one of us could spray them to keep them bug free and healthy and then another let them free into the next pen. Hectic dirty work wallowing in the muck and getting splattered,  catching the spray and getting covered with angry cow flies. Wouldn’t have swapped it though. Next the calves had to be caught in the shute so Juan could check if their recent castrations had been achieved cleanly and to administer anticeptic before they were reunited with their lowing noisy mothers pacing up and down in the next field.
The tight band that kills off the offending parts on one unlucky heffer had slipped off half way through the job leaving a messy smelly infected result. It took a hillarious hour for us to collectively single him out, get him out of the shute, restle him rugby tackle style to the ground
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(they might look feeble and sweet but legs splayed and angry they sure stand their ground) – then to stop him kicking his legs had to be tied together, and with us holding him down Juan could then cut off the remaining part, cleanse, and apply the tourniquet and anticeptic spray. Fascinating stuff and great to all pull together to achieve it, yet again feeling we were of worthwhile help.
Day three we were allowed out on the ranch to explore unaccompanied which was nice, just enjoying riding in the vastness of the lovely scenery with not a cloud in the sky.
Loved my experience of being a gaucho.
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Argentina to Uruguay

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Sat at the stern of the ferry crossing the Rio de la Plata that separates Buenos Aires in Argentina from Colonia in Uruguay and pondered how surreal it seems at times to be here, in this experience.
After 5 weeks of not meeting any other tourists or native English speakers, I’m now part of a group of 14  other ‘Intrepid’ independent travellers from UK, Ireland, Australia and Canada,
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most of whom have already been on the road some time already so interesting travel experiences being the exchanged.
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The trip is ‘basicx’ which means we are guided from place to place but roam and explore on our own or in sub-groups if and as we wish.  Its great to have the flexibility and freedom alongside the security of now being under a group umbrella along with other like-minded travellers.
I believe BA is the second largest city in S America and it felt like I covered almost ever quarter of it by foot yesterday,  consistently getting lost but that all added to the fun. Twice tried to board local buses without requisite passes and on both occasions locals insisted on paying the fare. To own private  transport is very expensive here so the hectic loud and busy traffic system is mainly full of taxis and buses.

Eclectic architectural mix with some lovely impressive large
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buildings midst the beautiful purple Jacaranda trees.  The faded grandeur of the past still remains alongside modern everyday shops and banks on broken pavements with holes and missing tiles screaming sue me pavements.

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My favourite area however was La Boca, one of the city’s poorer barrios in the old port area, which was full of
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colourfully painted corrugated  metal buildings styled by the original Italian immigrants.
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Although tourist shops and stalls around, they were mainly styled sympathetically to the ambience and original theme of the buildings so it was a pleasure to roam around.
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A pleasant beer or two in a little square watching some Tango.
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Finding a good way of sampling authentic varieties of food at ‘pay by weight’ self service restaurants.   The city never seems to sleep and constantly buzzes with sidewalks still full of late night diners til the early hours.
Uruguay seemed rather ‘grey’ on arrival, not just the weather but it appears to lack the firey vibrance of BA, the buildings having an air of dilapidation and the colours faded and muted.  Agriculture is the main industry and i have learnt there is a ratio of 3.8 cows per capita here. The countryside is visually less rich and scarcely inhabited with the majority of the population centered in the capital Montevideo where we are staying. 
The city is currently alive with the sound of fireworks celebrating Uruguyans following the football tonight,
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Which was exciting to witness the atmosphere in the run up this evening, and then joining locals to watch the game in a nearby bar.
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We have visited the oldest town, Colonia, which was picturesque, apparently the rounded roof tiles were originally moulded by the slwves legs,  which makes a nicely rustic effect.
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Off to stay on a ranch tomorrow for a few days tomorrow and experience the working life on a farm.  Generator only on 3 hrs a day and no wifi so I’ll be quiet for a while…

Moving on

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Karla arranged a small goodbye evening and it was sad to leave some of the lovely and kind people I got to know in Araguari, who all went out of their way for me one way or another… especially my hosts Castro and Layla… 
but it’s also great to be staying with Junior and Katianne in Campo Grande now (yes, another 17 hour coach journey) 20131111_151451
where I can birdwatch from their veranda and listen to the parquets sqabbling. So restful. 20131113_10443520131114_185933
We visited his parents one night, they have bought a small holding from the government who bought out an old farm and divided it off.  Its in the back of beyond  and took half an hour on very rough track through estancias (ranches), small farms, fields of various livestock and crops amidst wonderful and far reaching views. Totally cut off and so 20131113_195346peaceful. 20131113_200853
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Once the chickens had all been herded into their respective night-time pens they showed me all the crops they are growing, both for own use making them largely self-sufficient and also to sell on. 20131113_213711
Although the living accommodation is small the huge roof which encompasses a sort of all-round veranda,  and open-air living areas with hammocks, sofa, tv etc. Great ambience. 20131113_214338
Tucked into a brilliant meal full of all local produce listening to the night and being bitten by flying ants and mozzies.  Love the way the thick slabs if bbq’d steak are served in plastic washing up bowls then picked over, hacked into bits and chosen or chucked back pending preferences. The only thing I miss out here is a decent mug of PG Tips.
Have enjoyed pottering round Campo Grande which is the capital city of Motto Grosse do Sul; the parks are most attractive              20131113_111913   20131113_103916            and many even have fitness áreas, which are actually used.
Thought we were going for a Mac Donalds as entered a ‘drive-in’ only to discover we were on a drive-in Pharmacy.You can also call them by phone and they do home delivery which is good, especially for the elderly, disabled and those with youngsters.
After Paraguayan soup for breakfast we left at 4 am yesterday for the 4 hour drive to one of the country’s top eco-tourism spots – Bonito (which means beautiful in Portuguese) where there are amazing caves and waterfallsSAM_0778SAM_0788 in conservation areas.  With the temperature nudging 40 degrees you swim amidst huge fish and picnic amongst random emus and araras.  SAM_0793  SAM_0809 (excuse formatting, haven´t quite got to grips with computer I´m borrowing at present!)
I enjoyed as much, the wild Pantanal countryside and far reaching red soiled vistas on the way; speckled with the white Brahman cattle, coconut palms, grazing emus and the various unidentifed birds, parrots, eagles or toucan in flight.
Treat of the week was a pamper – at a somewhat more affordable price than the UK. 20131114_134016   20131114_115730
Although if having a bikini wax in Brazil, its relevant to keep in mind the infamous size of bikinis here!
Anyhow, it´s swimming with mangoes right now   20131116_114133[1] and I´m off to Sao Paulo then Buenos Aires tomorrow for last leg of trip (Argentina-Uruguay-Rio de Janiero-home) so that´s all for now.

Coffee beans

Adriane fixed for she and I to be shown around a nearby coffee company which was fascinating.
Once the coffee beans have been dried they are graded for colour and size.
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The best coffees are exported.  They are sent out by freight in large sacks or packaged accordingly.
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It was fascinating to watch the taster preparing and tasting the desired strength and flavours.
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The coffee was so fresh, smooth and aromatic.  I shall be choosing more carefully in the future.  And it all comes from this…
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Seems so simple, yet a pretty exact and complex process.