Wednesday, August 26, 2009

South America 2009 - Day 16 (8/22/2009) - Leaving Cuzco

I would have liked to sleep in longer this morning, but one of our roommates was sick, and had been throwing up all night - they conjectured that the cause was the guinea pig he ate the night before. After a hostel-provided breakfast of bread/butter/jam and juice, Greg and I checked out of the hostel before the 10:30 AM deadline, but still had a few hours before our flight departed around 5 PM. We stowed our big bags in the hostel storage, then went out in search of the 12-sided stone, which we found. We then walked around town for a bit, including a stop at one of the central markets, where I bought a glass of fresh-made pineapple juice. Curiously, when the merchant lady offered to give the juice to me "to go", she poured it from the glass into a plastic bag, tied it up, and inserted a straw. We walked back to the hostel and sat around for a bit (I started watching a movie in the movie room while Greg worked on his netbook) before heading back out to Plaza de Armas to find lunch. We ate at a restaurant that served a few Asian dishes in addition to the more standard far - had some Asian meatballs while Greg had a pasta/steak dish.

After eating, we made it back to the hostel in time to grab our bags before the taxi we had arranged earlier arrived to pick us up. The driver took us to the airport for S/.6.00, or about US$2, which we found to be ridiculously cheap. From there, we flew to Lima, where we had a layover of a few hours before flying to Atlanta (overnight), then back to St. Louis.

South America 2009 - Day 15 (8/21/2009) - Machu Picchu & Huayna Picchu

We checked out of the hotel, stowed our big bags in their storage, and departed shortly after 4 AM. Nora and Chris' advice to get flashlights was very handy, as it was dark for our entire hike to the base of Machu Picchu and then up. The stepped path up the mountain intersected the roadway at various points, and there were markers that very roughly indicated how many sets of steps were remaining (though some sets were very short while others were extremely long, and a few numbers were skipped). It took us about 1.25 hours to get from our hotel up to Machu Picchu, and it began raining a little about halfway up. In my opinion, the hike was quite difficult, and we had to stop fairly often to catch our breath.

When we reached the top, we entered the line behind about 100 people to wait for the gates to open at 6. We were confident we would be able to climb Huayna Picchu in the first of two groups of 200 each, one at 7 AM and another at 10 AM. As it turned out, we were #s 16 and 17 of the people who opted to do the climb at 7. After getting in, we walked across to the entrance to Huayna Picchu, and waited under some huts while it began to rain harder. Once they started letting people in, the queue that had gathered moved pretty slowly because each person had to sign in (so they could track if everyone had been through and exited). By the time we decided to get in line, and got through to the entrance, we were #s 112 and 113. We left at around 7:45, and made up to the top in about 1 hour. This path was far more treacherous, with steps sort of carved out of the rock. In some places, cables were attached in order to give something to hold on to. There were also a couple of ladders. The rain stopped just as we neared the top. At the top, the view was initially blocked by clouds and fog, as it had been the whole climb up. It periodically cleared up enough to get a decent shot of Machu Picchu, so we hung around for a while trying to get some good pictures. After we began our decent, things really started clearing up.

The hike down was not nearly as tiring as the hike up (which, while tough, was not as bad as the hike up Machu Picchu), but it was certainly scarier. After getting back down to Machu Picchu and walking back through, we decided to hike back down from there as well instead of taking the bus. I would later regret this decision, as my quadriceps were already burning only halfway down the steps. We reached the base, and then walked back to central Aguas Calientes to grab some lunch. We decided to stop at the first pizza restaurant saw, and shared a large "bacon pizza" (I use quotes because there was not really any bacon on the pizza, and the thinness of the crust almost made Imo's look like deep dish) and 2.25 liter bottle of Inca Cola. After eating, we walked back to the hotel, though I had to pause a couple of times due to cramps in both quads. Once at the hotel, we collected our bags and dried out some belongings that had become waterlogged during the climb.

We eventually headed back to the train station and caught our 5 PM train back to Poroy. There, we were picked up and taken back to Cuzco by bus.

South America 2009 - Day 14 (8/20/2009) - Machu Picchu

Our tour operator was at our hostel around 6:00 AM to take us to the train station in Poroy. She had paid us a visit the night to give us our tour packets and some information - including reiterating the fact that Peru Rail does not allow luggage over 5 kg, though she said we could carry more on if we paid a fee. Because of this, and a dream that he had that night, Greg repacked his medium sized bag, and took that along with his smaller day pack, while leaving his big bag in storage at the hostel. I, however, only had a big bag and a day pack, so I took both.

It turned out not to be such a big deal. There were other people with big bags, and even a couple with suitcases. I was not charged any extra for my bag, and I was able to store it on the overhead rack. The train ride on the backpacker train from Poroy to Aguas Calientes took about 3 hours (8-11), and mostly followed a river for the second half (after Ollantaytambo). When we arrived in Aguas Calientes, we found our tour guide (Mario), and he directed us to the bus station, where we took the bus up to Machu Picchu. We had to take all our bags with us, and stored them in lockers by the entrance. Mario then showed us around Machu Picchu for a couple of hours, and then we had some time to explore on our own. We were satisfied with our exploration at around 3 PM, at which point we bought entrance tickets for the next day (2nd day entrance was not included in the tour) so we could climb Huayna Picchu, collected our bags, and took the bus back down to Aguas Calientes.

We found our hotel with help from the bus driver (who was kind enough to double back and drop us in front of it), then checked in. We then walked back to the central area of town and found a restaurant to have a late lunch/early dinner. I had the cebiche de trucha (trout ceviche), which is roughly a Peruvian equivalent to sushi - the fish is eaten raw. For dessert I had a pancake with ice cream - I was expecting a crepe (even though the name said pancake), but it was an actual pancake. After eating, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the early start the next morning.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

South America 2009 - Day 13 (8/19/2009) - Santiago to Cuzco

We were picked up by the taxi at 4:15 in the morning and taken to the airport for our 6:55 flight to Lima. After retrieving our checked bags and going through customs in Lima, we had to exit the arrivals area and re-check in for the flight to Cuzco. Before going through security, we stopped at Papa John's for an early lunch. In Cuzco, the hostel arranged to have a taxi pick us up from the airport (for no extra charge).

After we arrived at the hostel, checked in, and put our stuff away, we decided to explore a little bit of Cuzco. We walked down to the Plaza de Armas, which was only about 3 blocks away, and the surrounding area. We also went into the Cuzco Cathedral, even though we could not take pictures inside (but we did get in for half price using our student IDs, even though the lady at the window was hesitant because ours do not have expiration dates). Additionally, we found a couple of cheap flashlights for our Huayna Picchu excursion. We then walked back to the hostel to figure out where to eat.

After looking at a couple of maps an brochures, we settled on the Inka Grill, on Plaza de Armas, because it was both in Greg's book and a brochure map from the hostel. We walked back out to the plaza, and initially passed up on it because it seemed a little too expensive. When we couldn't decide on anything else, we went back to it. I had a tasty chicken dish (ají de gallina) that reputedly is very popular in Peru, while Greg had a steak-based dish. After dinner we walked back to the hostel so Greg could grab his camera, then walked back to the plaza to take some night photos. After that, it was back to the hostel for the night.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

South America 2009 - Day 12 (8/18/2009) - Santiago

Today was a cold and wet day - it rained most of the day, and the temperature was around 45-50 Fahrenheit. We met up with Nora, Chris(tina), and Jason around 9:45 to walk down to a crepe stand in a shopping area nearby. When we arrived there a little after 10, the stand was closed, and would not open until 10:30. We waited around, and eventually a girl showed up to open it up. When she was still cleaning it at 10:40, Nora approached her and found out that it would probably be another hour until the stand was ready to serve. Hungry and impatient, we checked out a couple of other restaurants on the plaza before settling on a place to eat. There, the other three had quiches while Greg and I had empanaditas.

After eating, we walked back to the hostel and began plotting our next move. The girls wanted to go to a couple of museums, while Greg and I wanted to go to a shopping mall to get some gear for Machu Picchu. Nora talked three other guys (extreme sportsmen from California) into giving us a ride in their rented van. The eight of us piled in and first headed to the mall, where Greg and I each bought hiking pants and socks, Jason bought the same pants, and Chris bought an umbrella. After leaving the mall, the guys dropped us of at a metro station by the hostel, and we took the metro to the center of the city.

The first museum the girls wanted to check out was closed, so we went to the other one - the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art). We looked around that for a while, then walked back to the hostel, with stops at Plaza de Armas and a posteleria/paneria for some empanadas (I bought one Neapolitan and one carne).

Later on, around 9:15, Greg and I went out for dinner at a pasta place. This was the first restaurant in Chile that did not serve us salsa with our bread - only an oil and spice mix. Greg was craving some lasagna so he ordered that, while I had some ham-stuffed ravioli in alfredo sause. We also each had a delicious glass of fresh juice - he had raspberry while I had strawberry. After dinner we walked back to the hostel (it was still raining) and packed for our early departure the next morning.

Monday, August 17, 2009

South America 2009 - Day 11 (8/17/2009) - Valparaíso and Viña del Mar

The main item on the itinerary today was a tour to Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. The Turis Tour van picked us up at the hostel around 9:00, after I had time to grab a quick biscuit with jam for breakfast. The van made a couple of stops to pick up 4 other people on the way to the agency center, where we boarded the tour bus. We had plenty of space to spread out on the bus, as there were only 16 of us on the tour.

We first headed to Viña del Mar, where we stopped at Quinta Vergara, which houses an amphitheater which is the site of the Viña del Mar International Song Festival (Festival Internacional de la Canción de Viña del Mar), possibly the most important musical event in Latin America. We made a couple of more stops in Viña, including one at a small beach, before heading down the coast to Valparaíso next door. Though the two cities are next to each other, Valparaíso is more of a port city while Viña del Mar is more of a beach city (though the stretch of rocky beach is not very long). We drove through Valparaíso, with the only stop at the port across from Plaza Sotomayor, where we had lunch at a restaurant nearby. I ordered a three-course combination from the tourist menu (seafood cream soup, shrimp and palm crepes, and a tropical fruit crepe) while Greg had another filet steak. After lunch, and a milkshake, the bus took us up the coast a little more before heading back to Santiago.

Back in Santiago, we were dropped off down the street from our hostel, around 5:45. After chilling out at the hostel for a while, we headed out to dinner around 9 with a couple of others from the hostel - Nora and Christina, (the South Park girls) and Jason (a Canadian who had lived in the U.S., but has been living/traveling outside the States for the last two years, and will most likely become an expatriate). We walked to a nearby Chilean restaurant recommended by one of the hostel clerks. I had the Pastel de Choclo, which was a casserole-like corn dish with meat, onions, olives, and eggs (also a recommendation) - it was very good. I also two more excellent glasses of juice - this time mango and honeydew. After eating, we walked back to the hostel around 11:15, happy to have missed the rain that fell while we were in the restaurant.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

South America 2009 - Day 10 (8/16/2009) - Buenos Aires to Santiago

We took a taxi (arranged by the hostel) to the international airport around 8:30, and our flight to Santiago departed around 11:30. The rain that morning was the first that we had encountered during our trip - luckily, we were on our way out of town. After arriving in Santiago, we grudgingly paid the reciprocal entrance fee for Americans ($130) and then got through immigration and customs without issue. As we exited into the terminal, we were mobbed by taxi drivers offering us rides. One persisted, and we yielded when he offered us a price of C$10000 (the information from the hostel said that prices under C$15000 are reasonable - the exchange rate was about 540:1 relative to the US dollar). The driver had some trouble finding our hostel (La Chimba), but we eventually got there.

The hostel was not heated during the day, so it was quite cold inside. After settling in we headed out to find some food around 4 PM. We settled on a Chilean restaurant around the block, and the meal turned out to be quite good. I had some chicken maranera (which actually turned out to be a heavily stuffed chicken breast) with french fries, while Greg had a filet steak with rice. We also ordered some fried cheese and a couple of jars of freshly squeezed juice that ranks among the best I have ever had - one orange, and one orange-banana. We must have caught the tail end of the lunch crowd, as the restaurant was pretty crowded when we arrived, but had emptied out by the time we were finished eating at 5:30. After eating, we took a small loop around the block on foot - not much going on - before heading back to the hostel, where we stayed for the rest of the evening/night. During this time, we met a few people, including a couple of girls who work on South Park (the TV show) - they gave us some advice about Machu Picchu, as they had recently been there. We also decided to book a tour to Valparaíso and Viña del Mar for the next day, and planned to take a city tour of Santiago the following day (if the predicted rain was not too bad).

South America 2009 - Day 9 (8/15/2009) - Buenos Aires

I met a couple of girls from KU (Kelly and Tara) in Lawrence at breakfast, and we decided to hang out for the day. Greg, Peter (who was not leaving for Iguazú until later that evening, but had been kicked out of the room earlier in the morning because the person taking his spot had already arrived), Kelly, Tara, and I took the bus to La Boca, where we shopped in a street market, stopped by La Bombonera (the Boca Juniors stadium), and then had some lunch at one of the restaurants by the markets (I had 4 types of empanadas - all good). While walking down the market streets we were hounded by people trying to get us to eat at their restaurants. I was especially hounded, as they thought it was fun to refer to me as Bob Marley. I tried to remain in good spirits about it, though it became a little annoying after a while.

Peter left us a little early in order to catch his bus. The rest of us ended up taking the bus back to Plaza de Mayo and then walking to Puerto Madero. After walking along the waterfront for a bit, we walked back to the hostel. Along the way, we stopped at a gelateria, but I was the only one who ended up getting any gelato. After getting back to the hostel, the girls prettied themselves up for a pub crawl that started at another hostel. I joined them at the hostel for a drink, while Greg stayed back at the hostel, but did not go on the crawl. I walked back to the hostel alone (about 20 minutes), but did not feel as though I was in any danger. I was back around 11:45, and then called it a night.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

South America 2009 - Day 8 (8/14/2009) - Buenos Aires

We were awoken around 9 AM when our new roommate, Lukas, checked into the room. The plan this morning was to meet up with a free walking tour that was leaving at 11 from the Plaza del Congreso, which was very close to our hostel. Around 10:30, though, we found out that there was another free tour that started from the hostel at the same time - so we decided to do that instead. Lukas also did this tour, and on it we met Constance and her dental student friends from London. The tour started with a video about Argentine history and then we walked down Avenida de Mayo to the Casa Rosada. At this point, Greg and I had the option of continuing on with the tour for A$55, but initally chose to decline. When we realized that we did not really know what else to do, we rushed to catch up with the rest of the group. The tour continued to the CGT building, where we were shown through a shrine dedicated to Eva Perón by an old man who had lived through those times, stopped at a detention camp under a highway that was used during the rule of the military junta, and then finished up in Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo.

After the tour, Greg and I ate lunch at a restaurant on the square (I had spinach caneloni and crème brûlée, and he had a tenderloin steak) before walking back to the hostel via Avenida 9 de Julio, the wide 12-lane street. Once we got back, we decided to head out to the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), a contemporary art museum. We took the subway most of the way there, but had to walk about a mile from the subway station to get there. We arrived around 6:15 and spent an hour there before heading back the same way we came. A few of the pieces were interesting, and some were pretty ridiculous - it was stuff that was kinda pointless and we felt like we could have done. In fact, we came up with a few ideas for "art" on the way back to the hostel.

Later that night we attended the barbecue that the hostel put on. The meat was pretty good, especially the beef and sausage. During the meal we met another guy from Wisconsin named Peter who we later found out was the fourth person in our room. After dinner Constance showed up and we all (me, Greg, Lukas, Peter, Constance, and her 3 friends) bought tickets to a club called Kika from the hostel. After hanging out for a while, we eventually took taxis to the club around 1:30. I had a pretty good time at the club, though I wish the musical selection had been more to my tasted - they played some American pop, some 80s and 90s, a little hip-hop, some raggaeton, and some presumably Argentine music. Around 4, Greg and I left early because some cigarette ashes had gotten into his eye and it was pretty painful (the others got back around 5:30).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

South America 2009 - Day 7 (8/13/2009) - Iguazú to Buenos Aires

After a couple of hot ham and cheese sandwiches (each) for breakfast, we checked out of the hostel and departed around 10:15. The plan was to take the bus to Iguazú, then take a taxi to to Argentine airport to catch our 1:50 flight. Things did not start out well, as we missed the first bus to Argentina that passed by because we were not paying attention. We tried to wave down the next one, but the driver seemed to ignore us and did not stop. We finally boarded a bus a little after 11:00 and took it to the Brazilian side of the border, where we had to get exit stamps in our passports. Since the bus went on ahead without us, we had to wait for the next one to come pick us up - and even then, we were not sure if it would wait for us at the Argentine side of the border, as the one the day before had.

While we were waiting a taxi driver approached us and offered us a ride to the airport for "60" - we assumed this was in pesos, and made the mistake of not asking. We accepted, and he drove us there, with a stop at the Argentine border. At first, we were surprised at how easy it seemed to get into the country (especially after the lack of any real check the day before), but we were a little reassured when the border police called us aside and x-rayed our bags (and even had us open our smaller backpacks). After we arrived at the airport, we found out that the taxi driver had meant (or at least said he had meant) 60 in Reais. Since we only had Pesos, we gave him A$120, as the exchange rate was approximately double. We then checked in for our flight and took it to Buenos Aires.

After arriving in Buenos Aires (Aeroparque), we attemped to follow the directions provided by the hostel and take the #37 bus to the city. When we tried to board the bus, the driver informed us that the buses only accept coins (the smallest denomination we had was a A$5 bill), and that we should take a different bus (#33 or #45). Luckily, a kind lady at the bus stop provided us with change for our bill and told us that either of the buses would take us where we needed to go. We took the #33 and eventually made it to Avenida de Mayo, about half a mile from our hostel. During the walk, we observed that the weather in Buenos Aires was a little closer to what we would expect from winter - it hovered around 55 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit that afternoon/evening, and the occasional breeze definitely brought a chill.

After checking into the Hostel Estoril, we headed out for a walk down Avenida de Mayo. We walked to the National Congress at the nearby end, then down to the Casa Rosada at the far end. Meanwhile, we looked for a restaurant where we could have some Argentine steak, but had no luck - all the restaurants seemed to be pizzerias. We then headed north away from Mayo, and eventually found a few non-pizzerias (and a football jersey store). We were a little apprehensive, as the restaurants all seemed to be empty even at 8:00 (Argentineans dine very late), but we settled on one anyway because we were hungry. We both had the tenderloin steak, which turned out to be alright but did not live up to the hype that we had been hearing (so we resolved to try an Argentine filet mignon). After eating we headed back to the hostel on foot.

I only took 5 pictures today, and they are not worthy of a separate gallery.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

South America 2009 - Day 6 (8/12/2009) - Puerto Iguazú

We ended up leaving the hostel a little later than we had planned, but we blamed this on the sun being later to rise than we had anticipated. After breakfast, we departed around 9:30 to catch the bus to Puerto Iguazú, where we would take another bus to the Argentinian side of the falls. While crossing the border, we got off the bus once to go through the entrance portion of Argentinian immigration (take note that we did not get exit stamps from Brazil). At the bus terminal in Puerto Iguazú, we realized that we did not have Argentinian currency, so we walked down to an ATM in order to get some. After returning, we encountered two girls that we had seen the day before on the Brazilian side of the falls. We bought our bus tickets to the falls, and then took the bus there.

After we paid and entered the park (around 11:30), we ran into the two girls (Paula and Andrea - sisters from San Juan, Argentina, but who live in Spain) again. This time we decided to hang together, and we stayed that way for the rest of the day. We first walked down a short path and caught the park train to Garganta del Diablo, where we were able to walk across the river and up close to the Devil's Throat. It was about 1:30 when we were finished with this, so we had to hustle in order to grab lunch and see the rest of the park before it closed. We forewent the buffet restaurant and instead grabbed some sandwiches for lunch at one of the fast food stores. We then went through the upper and lower circuit paths, with a very wet stop close to the feet of one of the falls. This time Greg and I were prepared, and brought our rain gear.

We departed the park around 5:30 and headed to Hito Tres Fronteras, the point where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet, and the Iguazú and the Paraná rivers converge. We stayed there for a bit then took the bus back to the Puerto Iguazú terminal in time to catch the last bus back to Foz do Iguaçu at 7:00. While waiting for the bus to Foz, we ran into another group of people that we had seen the day before - Luiz (a local of Foz but who has been around the Americas and Europe), Gwen (a Frenchman visiting Luiz - they met while Luiz was studying in France), and Cecilia (a couchsurfer who had hosted Luiz and Gwen in São Paulo).  The bus ride back was mostly uneventful until we reached the Brazil border, where everyone got out of the bus to go through immigration.  While I was going through, they noticed that I had not stamped my passport on the way out, and started questioning me about it.  I didn't think it was a big deal (especially since Greg went through fine), until it looked like they were going to detain me, and the bus was starting to leave.  Greg had to stop the bus while they finally let me go, and I was able to rejoin the group.

After arriving in Foz, the group decided to have dinner together at a churrascaria downtown. After eating and conversing for a while, we exchanged contact information and went our separate ways around 11:45 - Greg and I took the bus back to our hostel.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

South America 2009 - Day 5 (8/11/2009) - Foz do Iguaçu

The free breakfast at Charm Iguassu was pretty impressive - they had a big spread that included different types of breads, cakes, meats, cheeses, and fruits, as well as coffee, tea, and 2 types of juice. After eating, Greg and I walked down to the bus stop, where we caught the bus to Parque Nacional, the Brazilian side of the falls. This time, we had no problems figuring out where to go - plus pretty much everyone on the bus was headed to the same place.

Once at the park, we bought our tickets and entered. From there, we hopped on another bus (transportation within the park is included in the entrance fee) that took us through the park. We got off at the Cataratas stop, and walked down the path to the falls, with stops at look-outs along the way for some photos. When we got down to the Devil's Throat walkway, we realized that we had made a mistake in not bringing along our rain gear (this was at my behest - I figured we wouldn't get wet since we didn't plan on taking any of the boat rides). We grudgingly bought plastic parkas for R$7 each, and then took the walkway out to the middle of the falls. After a few minutes of photos and videos (though I could barely see anything through my wet glasses), we continued on to the panorama area above the falls. After we were done with the falls, we headed up to the food area and had a huge lunch at the buffet restaurant before leaving the park.

Next, we headed to the bird park that was nearby. I must admit that the experience there exceeded my expectations, which were not that high. It also reconfirmed that I am scared of animals, though one of the highlights for me was holding a parrot on my arm. Others included seeing Greg being attacked by both a parrot and a toucan, and the hummingbirds in the butterfly cage. After the bird park, we took the bus back to the city and returned to our hostel (after buying some water and beer). We again settled in early for the night, intending to wake up early for the Argentinian side tomorrow.

Monday, August 10, 2009

South America 2009 - Day 4 (8/10/2009) - Rio to Iguaçu

After breakfast and another cold shower (the hot water never really worked in our bathroom at the hostel), Greg and I headed out around 10:30 intending to go relax on the beach for a while before heading back to catch a taxi to the airport. Things did not exactly go according to plan. We caught the 435 bus, which one map said went to Copacabana, but after a while we realized that it was not headed anywhere near there. We figured that it would eventually loop around and reach the beach, so we stayed on. This was not the case - we reached the end of the line and had to get off. So we hopped back on the same bus and took it in the other direction. We went close to the stop where we got on (only in the other direction), and eventually made it to 12:15. We walked along the beach for a while, and then stopped at one of the Bob's Burgers establishments for lunch. I must say that their #1, the Big Bob, is curiously similar to a Big Mac...hmmm...

Next, we high-tailed it back to the hostel by bus (first time quality this time), picked up our big bags, and walked down to the taxi stand at the Botafogo metro station. We somehow managed to ask (our communication skills may be improving) a cabby how much the trip to the airport would cost. He told us R$35, which was about what we expected. It ended up being about R$33, so we tipped him the extra 2. In the airport, we had absolutely no problems getting through security and finding our departure gate...apparently, Terminal 2 of that airport is not very busy on Monday afternoons. We checked our bags, thinking that they were too big to fit in the carry-on test container, but later on realized that we would have been fine had we not.

The flight to Foz do Iguaçu was mostly uneventful. They served a candy before departure and a hot ham and cheese sandwich during the flight. When we arrived, we disembarked by stairs (no jet-bridge), and we were greeted at the terminal by some musician. We picked up our bags and caught a taxi (conveniently, the taxi stand sets up fixed price rides so people don't get screwed) to the Charm Iguassu Suites, our hostel for the next 3 nights. The building seemed unoccupied when we arrived, and I started to freak out a little bit. Fortunately, someone answered the intercom after ringing the bell a few times, and the taxi driver helped explain to them that we were here to check in. We then checked into our charming little room, and settled in for the night.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

South America 2009 - Day 3 (8/9/2009) - Rio - Botanical Garden, Maracana

After breakfast at the hostel, we started out intending to go to Tijuca Forest, which is in the same direction as the Jardim Botânico (botanical garden). While we were on the bus toward the garden, we realized that we didn't really know how to get to the park, so we decided just to go to the garden. The garden is pretty big, and we probably didn't see even half of it in our two hours of walking around.

When we left the garden, we took the bus back to Botafogo. After getting off, we searched for some quick lunch, eventually stumbling across a Subway. We took our sandwiches back to the hostel, where we were to meet our new friend Jill (an astronomer from Wisconsin, currently living in Seattle) before heading to the football game at Estádio do Maracanã (Maracanã Stadium). We lucked out, as the game was between Flamengo and Corinthians, the two biggest teams (in terms of fan base) in Brazil.

We took the subway to the stadium, and arrived about one hour before the 16:00 game. We waited in line for tickets, and at one point needed help from a kind fan to determine which of the 3 branches of the line to take. We chose the middle one (the one on the left was for the upper deck, and the one on the right was for the expensive seats), and we ended up quite satisfied with our decision. There was no assigned seating with our tickets, and we ended up by one of the end lines, about 20 seats up from the field. During the game, we each bought a jersey from a guy selling bootleg jeryseys out of a backpack. Flamengo ended up winning the game 1-0 (at least that was the score when we left late in the second half) on a goal by Adriano, whose jersey we each had bought.

After the game we took the metro back to the hostel. There, we ran into a few other people and invited them out to dinner with us. The other attendees were Dorian (one of our roommates, from France) and another guy from Israel. After wandering around indecisively for a while, we settled on a pizza churrascaria and buffet. We opted to go the unlimited pizza/pasta route. My favorites probably were the desert pizzas that came out towards the end: chocolate, chocalate-cream, chocolate-strawberry, and chocolate-M&M. A couple of other guys from the hostel showed up at the restaurant and joined our table midway through the dinner. After eating and conversing for a while, we headed back to hostel. A couple of the astronomers (there's an astronomy conference in Rio last week and this week) took off for an astronomy party, but Greg and I stayed in.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

South America 2009 - Day 2 (8/8/2009) - Rio - Sugar Loaf, Central

We were up a little after 9:00, in time to get some of the free breakfast offered by the hostel. I had some toast and an apple. After eating, we readied ourselves and headed out for the day. We walked to Urca, where we took the cable car up to the tops of Morro da Urca and Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar), looked around for a while, and then took the cable car back down. During the journey up the mountain I realized that my camera battery was dying and I did not have the back-up, so I had to revert to my cell phone - which actually has a higher megapixel, but less capable, camera. After getting back down, we took a quick stroll by the beach nearby.

Next, we walked back up to the road to a churrascaria that we had seen on the way, and had a late (for us, but not for Brazilians) lunch there. The experience there was about comparable to what I had at the churrascaria in St. Louis (Bacana Brazil). Considering that we walked in and sat down without knowing how much they were charging, I was pleasantly surprised when the bill came out. I predicted R$240 for the both of us (including 3 drinks and a dessert), while Greg said R$170 - the total was $115, or about US$60.

After lunch we caught a bus to Centro, where we wandered around for a while. We went by a few places, including Praça XV, but only briefly stopped in one building (because it had a "Be Kind, Rewind" exhibit). After a while we headed to the hostel, and were back before dark (around 6:30). It's about 8:15 now, and I'm about ready to crash.


Friday, August 7, 2009

South America 2009 - Day 1 (8/7/2009) - Arriving in Rio

After our 9+ hour flight from Atlanta arrived in Rio de Janeiro at about 8:30 in the morning, Greg and I soon realized that we would be pretty much screwed in terms of getting around in Brazil. We got through passport control and customs fairly easily (to my surprise, I was not searched), but once we walked out into the terminal we had no idea what was going on. We were harrassed by some taxi drivers who wanted to score a fare, but we mostly warded them off. After walking around for a while, we eventually found out (with the help of one of the taxi drivers) that the ATMs were up on the third floor. We eventually found them in the far corner of the building, and I was able to withdraw some cash. Unfortunately, Greg's card did not work, so I had to spot him a little cash up front.

We eventually found a bus into town after about an hour of wandering around the airport. The bus ride took a long time, and a couple of other riders would not stop complaining about it. We overshot our desired stop in Botafogo, and ended up getting off at Copacabana with a couple of other young travelers. We walked over to the nearest Metro stop and took it one stop up to Botafogo. From there we wandered around for a bit before finding our hostel, the Vila Carioca. By the time we checked in and put our stuff away, it was after noon.

Next, we headed out to find some lunch. Once again, we wandered about for a while, half-lost and hesitant to make a decision about anything. We eventually settled on Mr. Pizza Express, where Greg had a small "pepperoni" (more like tiny salami) pizza and I had a ham calzone. After that, we wandered over to Cosme Velho (a bit of a hike from Flamengo), intending to take the Funincular tram up to the top of the Corcovado. We were intercepted by a guy (he referenced me as "Bob Marley") who was selling car rides up to the Corcovado but with stops at top of Morro Dona Marta and a nearby helipad. This only cost R$4 more than the tram, so we thought it was worthwhile. We were a bit worried the whole time that the driver would leave us at each stop, but it all ended up working out. After our visit to Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), I attempted to buy a figurine of the statue at a gift shop, but could not because I did not have enough cash (they did not accept cards).

Once we made it back down the mountain we caught a bus back towards Botafogo. Once again we missed our stop, and had to navigate back to the hostel (after dark) - and once again, we got a little lost. After making it back and putting some stuff away, we headed back out to find dinner. After much indecision, we settled on an American restaurant named B-52s in a multi-storey mall. We both had burgers (Greg's was of the monster variety), and I was disappointed by mine. On the way out of the mall I grabbed a McFlurry.

We walked back and settled in for the night. We headed down to the living area of the hostel to use the Internet, and ended up meeting a few fellow travelers who provided some good conversation and activity advice.

Pictures below: