● For full details on our route, transport info, hotel details, etc, look at our Google Maps page

Friday, 30 May 2008


26th May 2008 - 28th May 2008

After over a week in Sucre we decided it was high time to move on. There is only so much chocolate gorging even the two of us can take! And besides, the first chocolate festival was coming to a close…

Potosi wasn't part of our original itinerary, but everyone we met who had visited the city on route to or from Uyuni (our next destination) had raved about the silver mines - working mines, open for viewing by the public.

Potosi is the highest city of it´s size in the world. It was founded by the Spaniards on 10 April 1545, after they had discovered indigenous mine workings at Cerro Rico, which dominates the city. Immense amounts of silver were once extracted. By the early 17th century Potosi was the largest city in the Americas, but over the next two centuries as it's lodes began to deteriorate and silver was found elsewhere, Potosi became little more than a ghost town. It was the demand for tin – a metal the Spaniards largely ignored – that saved the city from absolute poverty in the early 20th century, until the price slumped because of over supply. Mining continues in CerroRico – mainly tin, zinc, lead, antimony and wolfram.

The bus journey to Potosi was our first real experience of Bolivian buses. Fortunately the journey was a short one, just three hours and we had looked forward to the scenery we would see as we climbed from 2,700 to 4,100 meters. Despite a comfortable start, and a wise decision to move from the back seat, Sam nevertheless ended up with a boy and a young girl draped over the arm of her seat. The other five or six family members, over four generations or so had taken up residence on the back seat with another couple of travellers. What a squash!!

On arrival to Potosi we checked into the Hostal Camposine de Jesus, a recommendation from a couple we'd met in Sucre, and in favour of the place we'd already reserved, complete with heating, hot showers etc. etc… what were we thinking?! Anyway, the room was pretty nice, and rather sunny at the time. The kind landlady had provided five thick blankets for the bed, so we couldn't see we'd be that cold!!

That night in Potosi was our first experience of the harsh realities of the Andean altitude. We're not sure quite how low the temperature dropped but it was a shock after Sucre. Thankfully, at least we’d both already acclimatised after the eleven days in Sucre and the extra 1300 meters did little to affect us. The rest of the Andes gringo trail would just be a breeze!

However all was not well. Our little laptop friend wasn't made of such sturdy stuff and whined to a halt that night, whilst warming our hands on a cup of trimate. Oh dear, evenings spent typing our blog in the local internet cafes await, complete with dodgy keyboards and eeee´s that rfus to work!! Hence the reason why we haven’t posted anything for quite some time...

We had booked places on the Potosi mine tour for the following morning, and after an early start of 8am (this is like being at work!) we were driven to the HQ of Koala tours for kitting out. Despite the early hour and the still close to zero degrees we were told to remove
all but one layer of clothing, for temperatures could reach 40ºC inside the mine. The protective outfits we were given we rather fetching (check out our photos!) but much needed, as were the helmets, head torches and battery packs.

First stop was the miners market to buy gifts for the working miners we would meet during the tour. 15% of the admission price was given back to the miners anyway, but we were told these extra gifts would be appreciated, especially with the current rate of inflation. Laden with bags of coca leaves, soft drinks and dynamite (!) we were taken around the processing plant and shown how the minerals were extracted from the "Completo", the substance mined by the miners. We were then driven further up Cerro Rico Mountain to the mine we were visiting today. Apparently there were around 200 mines still operating, with up to 15,000 miners working at one time.

The entrance to the mine was marked with dripping Llamas blood, a sacrifice from the working miners to their god in return for protection in the mine. What had we agreed to?! Inside the entrance we followed the train tracks into the mountain. After ten minutes or so we reached what they called the museum, the only part of the mine dedicated to tourism and filled with information from past to present day. It seemed that little had changed in the last 200 years and as we found out the processes used largely today are still very manual (a pick and shovel) and incredibly archaic.

At this point a couple of people left the tour group and were taken back to fresh air. This it seemed was when the going gets tough! We continued deeper into the mine. The temperatures were definitely rising and the handkerchiefs we’d tied around our necks were needed to filter the noxious gases and dust present in the air. Coupled with the altitude (we were some distance above the town at 4100m) it was pretty difficult to breathe. The tunnels were also becoming increasingly narrow and we were required to crawl and later wriggle on our bellies through certain sections, for up to 10 minutes at a time. We dropped three floors deep into the mine,
and by this I mean we slid on our bottoms or head first on our bellies down the shafts, doing our best to avoid the gaping chasms into other tunnels. UK Health and Safety would never have allowed such a tourist attraction at home. The feeling of claustrophobia was almost overwhelming and the rising heat did little to help. Our group met a number of miners as we descended into the mountain – some of the boys as young as 13, and one guy chiselling a bore hole by hand into the rock for later exploding with dynamite – he was just 37, we thought he must have been in his 50´s. After a couple of harrowing hours in the belly of the mountain we were allowed to escape. We had to crawl/clamber back up though, there were no lifts here! It was staggering how we had spent just a couple of hours inside the mine and yet the miners were spending 12-14 hours (some round the clock) a day here, without a single break. It really brought home how fortunate we all were.

The grand finale to the tour and in order to end the tour on a lighter note we clustered outside the mine and lit the dynamite…well the guide and his assistant did and we all kept a safe distance. Lets just say that the explosions were pretty impressive, the ground even shook!! Check out the film clip (when we get round to uploading it!)

The rest of the day was spent recovering from the exhaustion and preparing for Uyuni and the salt flats, our next destination…

Wednesday, 28 May 2008


15th May – 26th May 2008

To the sound of the Last Post, we boarded the Aerosur Boeing 727, bound for Sucre. The 40 year old plane had a retro feel to it – matched by the newly introduced Aerosur Stewardess uniforms. A real treat for the boys,
they included a mix of hot pants, mini skirts and all in one jump suits. As we stepped on board, Ady noticed that we were in the safe hands of not only a Pilot and Co-Pilot, but a Navigator too, like in the 70’s Airplane movies!

The 30 minute flight took us over some spectacular scenery – we now understood why the equivalent bus journey would take 16 hours. Landing in Sucre was also quite hairy, as we almost touched the tops of the surrounding mountains on the approach.

Sucre, (Altitude 2700m) is the official capital of Bolivia, and was founded in 1538 as ‘La Planta’. Full of colonial buildings and home to 2 universities, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We headed into the centre of town and tried to find somewhere to stay. We found a room in the Amigo hostel for the princely sum of £2.20 per person a night. We soon found out why. Few of the lights worked when it got dark, and although it had been recently refurbished, it hadn’t been done very well. The following day we moved to the Backpackers Sucre, and for an extra 40p each we had a much larger room, with luxuries such as a mirror and curtains.

After an initial exploration of Sucre, we ended up signing up for a mountain bike trek the next day. We also discovered that yet again we weren’t going to be bored by Bolivian Cuisine. Within an hour we had spotted Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, French and even German restaurants!

The mountain biking called for an early start of 9am (well by our standards at least!), and we headed to the office to meet our group. It turned out that there was only 4 of us on the ride, along with a guide. We felt the effects of the altitude once we set off… the short climb of no more than 500 meters had us gasping for breath! Maybe we should have given ourselves a few days to acclimatise before taking on any physical activity!

We arranged to head out in the evening with Steph (or was it Clare…?), who we met in the hostel. Mexican at Locots was on the menu and it turned out to be a lively evening, with an interesting 90´s dance soundtrack, on repeat about every hour. Food was great, and some of the drinks were memorable as you can see by the cocktail here! More pictures of the night are in the Sucre album.

On Sunday morning, at 7.30am, we remembered that we had agreed to get up early and take the local bus to the market at Tarabuco, with Steph. The journey involved catching a local bus to the place where all the locals catch their transport to the market, a further 64kms away. The choice is bus, minivan, truck or even a taxi… we managed to barter with a taxi driver who wanted to fill his back seat and paid 8 bolivianos each, 1 more than the bus! It’s a good job we didn’t want to take any luggage though, as the boot was full already, with 2 people and a number of sacks of goods for the market!

After an hour in the car, passing all the buses and trucks, we arrived into Tarabuco a little earlier than expected, with the market almost to ourselves! The pictures in the Tarabuco folder tell the story better than we can. Click here to see them.

We decide to stay on in Sucre for some more time, and took private Spanish lessons for a week. The fact that the chocolate festival was due to commence at the end of the week had nothing to do with the decision! Between our lessons we saw more of Sucre, including a number of Menu del Dia establishments where we hoped to get a cheap lunch. More often than not, we ended up getting stung by either being served up something that wasn’t on the cheap menu, or by the price not beiung advertised clearly (i.e. paying tourist prices!)

On Thursday, we rescheduled our Spanish lesson to start at 7.30am so that we could head out on a walk to the infamous ‘7 Waterfalls’. As we were leaving to go to the waterfalls, the friendly lady on reception caught our attention as she informed us that as of Friday, we wouldn’t be able to stay any longer as they had reserved our room for someone else! Without going into detail (we’ll post the tripadvisor review of the hostel here when we write it), we had been evicted due to the terrible management of the hostel not having any sort of common sense – they had double booked 10 rooms for the coming weekend! We prompty packed our bags and moved to another hostel, not wanting to give the owners of the Cruz de Popayan any more money!

Back to the waterfalls...The instructions were clear enough – take a bus to Alta Delicias and walk for 20 mins from there to the waterfalls. Three buses later and no closer to the waterfalls, we settled for these pictures of the city of Sucre from an alternative angle, along with a pig to show the diverse wildlife.

Due to Bolivia Belly, Sam spent Friday around the hostel, while Ady went out in search of a couple of essentials (lip balm, cash, dictionary and a hair dryer!). Mission 1 accomplished – lip balm purchased and applied, next step – find a cheap hairdryer. After a while of searching, Ady bumped into Steph and Michelle in the street, who started laughing upon seeing Ady. The cherry lip balm had turned Adys lips bright red and he didn’t have a clue. After a nightmare at the bank when the cash machine crashed and all pocket dictionaries being bigger than any pocket, it was time to give in.

Friday night was Chocolate and Salsa night at Locots, as part of the Festival of Chocolate. Sam made it out for the start of the night, but as you can see from the photos it was left to Ady, Steph and Michelle to show the Bolivians how to Salsa!

On Saturday, the Chocolate Festival was in full swing and the city was also starting to celebrate Sucre’s Day of Independence. Marching bands were pounding the streets again, and it seemed that you couldn’t turn a corner without seeing another band!

Sunday 25th – Sucre’s Day of Indepedance. We were woken by the sound of marching bands at 8am! This country is both crazy and obsessed! The chocolate festival was also still in swing and we ended up taking a walk out to see how the city would be celebrating. A fruitless hike up to the Cafe Mirador (it was closed) left us looking for a cheap eat. We stumbled upon a Sausage fest, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but ended up costing us a fortune! Tourist prices were applied to our lunch, it’s a shame that people do this but you get used to it!

Time to move on, and a private taxi shared with some people we met turned out to be a no go-er as the price was doubled due to the ‘holiday’. We headed to the bus station, and took a bus, which cost us a fraction of the price. After a journey involving just the one puncture, we arrived in Potosi – the highest city of it’s size in the world, breathless but ready for some underground mine action.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Update - Altitude Sickness at 13,300 feet!

A quick newsflash... the laptop has suffered from a severe case of altitude sickness and has packed in. We're not sure if it will work when we get back to a lower altitude, but in the meantime our photo editing and blog writing has ground to a halt... We are off to the Salt Flats on Wednesday so will be incommunicado until we get to La Paz at the weekend.

We'll post our updates from Sucre and Potosi as soon as we have time in an internet cafe...!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Santa Cruz de la Sierra

12th – 15th May 2008

Our “short” hop over from Sao Paulo to Santa Cruz turned into an epic adventure involving three take offs and three landings. I guess this is what you get for buying cheap tickets! We certainly got to see something of Bolivia before setting foot on firm ground. We sailed through immigration with little more than a grunt from the officer, not needing any of the Spanish we’d carefully prepared beforehand about our reasons for, or length of stay.

We took a taxi into the centre of Santa Cruz; an affordable luxury in Bolivia, even if it was an old banger! We’d timed it just perfectly for the rush hour and sat in the most chaotic traffic jam imaginable – are these the words coming from two Londoners?! On first impressions though, it felt as if we were still in Brazil. There were plenty of fast food joints, furniture shops and car dealerships. This wasn’t painting a picture of a country crippled by inflation and poverty. We knew that Santa Cruz was the wealthiest city in Bolivia, but still…

On arrival at our new home, the cool Hostel Bolivar with its two resident toucans, we set out to explore the city. The central plaza “Plaza de 24 Septembre” was really stunning. With an impressive cathedral and a number of elegant colonial buildings, well tended gardens, polished marble seats and towering palm trees, we could have been forgiven for believing we were still in Madrid, or any other beautiful Spanish city. The surrounding streets were full of expensive boutiques with designer labels and cool European style cafes, complete with Wifi! This city appeared to be paved with gold! There were also numerous optical shops displaying top end designer glasses and sunglasses. Perfect, finally we could buy our prescription sunnies! Anyway, to cut a long story short, we are both now the proud owners of Bolivian made, prescription sunglasses (though not Prada or Gucci after all, we couldn’t justify nice frames with a -6 lens!). Wow, we can even see through them…no mean feat with our minimal grasp of the Spanish language…plus, try finding a phrase book with an “at the opticians” section!

Keen to see more of the city we sought out the tourist information office. After our success at the opticians we were full of confidence in our newly acquired Spanish tongue. But not for long!!! The young girl staffing the office soon blew away our attempts to converse in broken Spanish. The more we struggled, the faster she spoke! Amongst other things we asked for the whereabouts of the main shopping district (designer labels are out of our budget now!). She gesticulated wildly and pointed out some places on map… we left feeling more confused than when we’d arrived.

We decided to head to one of the streets she’d circled, not sure what we’d find, but sure there must be something of interest there. After walking for twenty minutes or so, the wealthy city of Santa Cruz was certainly less apparent. In fact, the further towards this point on the map we walked, the rich/poor divide became even more obvious. We suddenly wondered whether we heading to the one point of the city we should AVOID?!!

After all, it turned out to be just a street market. Not the main Mercado central that we planned to visit later that afternoon, but a small collection of stalls selling homewares, cleaning products, dodgy electrical goods and badly made, rip off clothing. Why she had thought to direct us here I don’t know, but it was fun for people watching and Ady took some pretty cool photos, Sam acting as bodyguard against camera poachers.

The real market was over the other side of town. After our detour to the “mini” market, we had a fairly good idea what to expect. It was lunchtime by now and I think the entire population of Santa Cruz had descended upon the food stalls. Our guidebook had recommended those inside the market; set lunches of Bolivian and Chinese cuisine prepared in “clean” kitchens. Ady decided he’d rather brave the food stalls on the street outside and opted for a huge plate of deep fried chicken and rice*. Sam lost her appetite altogether.

*For the record, Ady wasn’t poorly from the chicken…THIS TIME!!

There are loads of pictures to see from the market. Most seemed quite happy to pose for a photo, for the rest the long lense came in handy…!

There wasn’t a huge amount else to see in Santa Cruz itself, and we were reluctant to take up any of the expensive tours to the surrounding countryside, still needing to recover from our time in Rio. We did however find ourselves joining a yoga class at the Santa Cruz Sivanada Centre. I don’t think it occurred to us at the time how difficult a yoga class could be…IN SPANISH!! The class was a beginners, and Sivanada at that, which excusing ones ignorance (Sam is deffo a fan of Ashtanga) doesn’t involve a lot more than lying on a mat and lifting various limbs off the floor, one by one. So not too challenging then?! We realised yet again how poor our Spanish was! We didn’t know our left from our right, our legs from our arms, stand up from sit down. The class was very slow going but we still had to follow our fellow classmates every move – quite embarrassing really and a long 90 minutes.

On the morning of our departure we sat in one of the many cafes to make use of their wifi. From the window we could see that a crowd of people had begun to gather in the Plaza outside, as had the presence of the military police. A woman’s voice could be heard over a microphone, getting louder and louder and more passionate… or irate, we couldn’t tell. Then something like fireworks…or gun shots!!! A few people peered out of the window, but all seemed well and there were no riots breaking out. We had been concerned about visiting Santa Cruz as elections (illegal in the eyes of La Paz) had just been held locally (a few days prior to our arrival) for the state to gain autonomy from La Paz. For the duration of our visit the city had seemed very peaceful, but perhaps we’d stayed one day too long! As it turned out the commotion outside was simply a remembrance service for the war veterans. Phew!

All we had to do now was survive the flight with Aerosur, Bolivias favourite airline...

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Out of Brasil

We've posted loads of updates today, from the last few places we've been to in Brasil. We arrived safely in Bolivia on Monday night, and are staying in Santa Cruz. Our 'Residence' is shared with some feathered friends who we couldn't wait to post up pictures of! The Toucan on the left is one of two that live at the place we are staying in.

Anyway, if you've not seen the blog for a while, links to the new posts are below in the order we visited them!

23rd April - Click HERE for Arraial d'Ajuda
28th April - Click HERE for Trancoso
3rd May - Click HERE for Ouro Preto
5th May - Click HERE for Sanctuario de Caracas
7th May - Click HERE for Rio de Janeiro

Monday, 12 May 2008

Rio de Janeiro

7th – 11th May 2008

After 5 weeks in Brazil, it was time to head further south to our final Brazilian destination – Rio.

The 6 hour overnight bus journey was supposed to in luxury with a bed! Or so we thought. The road was winding all night long and bear no resemblance to the highway indicated on the map! We arrived into Rio at 5.30am, earlier than we expected, then took a bus and a tram to the hostel.

Rio has a glorious theatrical backdrop of tumbling wooded mountains, stark expanses of bare rock, and a deep blue sea, studded with rocky islands. Best known for the curving Copacabana beach, for Ipanema – home to the Girl and beautiful sunsets, for Carnival, Rio also has some fine artistic, architectural and cultural heritage from its time as capital of both imperial and republican Brazil.

We stayed at the Rio Hostel in Santa Teresa, and luckily the room was available early as it was only 7am when we got there. We had a couple of hours sleep then headed out to explore. Santa Teresa is know as the coolest part of Rio as it is very ‘arty’. Set in narrow curving tree lines streets, it boasts many colonial 19th Century buildings.

A tram, or ‘Bonde’, runs past the hostel and up into Santa Teresa. It dates from ages ago and runs open sided wooden carriages that look like they should be in a museum! A service runs every 20 minutes, and you can see the tram in some of the photos. The locals (and some of the tourists!) like to hang off the side of the tram as it trundles along – this way you get to ride for free!

Time for Work!

Our main task for the day was to both get pairs of prescription sunglasses ordered… quite a challenge with our standard of Portuguese! All attempts were fruitless as it would take more than a week to get them made up – too long for us to wait – we’d be in Bolivia by the time they were ready. Work done for the day, it was lunchtime and the centro part of the city was mobbed… like Oxford Circus at rush hour, only 10 times worse! We wanted a snack and all we could find was fast food and deep fried pastels. Sam was longing for Pret a Manger but we ended up going to Bob’s Burgers! We gave up with the centro and headed back to explore Santa Teresa further.

Birthday Girl
It was Sam’s birthday on Thursday and when we awoke we found the sun was shining and it was sunny and warm… the perfect day to visit Ipanema beach. After another hairy bus ride, we arrived in Ipanema. The beach was very busy – it was the first day of beach weather that Rio had seen for some time and everyone was out taking advantage. This did mean that the beach wasn’t quite as idyllic as we had been led to believe. Compared to some of the beaches that we had visited in the north ot Brazil, Ipanama wasn’t great. Sam wasn’t impressed with the standard of the Brazilian men, and Ady found no need to use his extra dark sunglasses (you know - those ones where you can’t see where your eyes are looking!)

In the evening, we headed out for some food in one of Santa Teresas restaurants. It was very quiet, and a Japonese restaurant was the only place that looked lively. Delicious sushi and noodles were served up and we’d recommend this place to anyone going to Rio. (See the new ‘Links’ section at the right for all of our recommendations as we go along.

After a slow start to Friday we eventually made it up to see the statue of Christ. We had spent the morning sorting out a parcel to be sent home - Sam’s skimpy party outfits and excess flipflops, not needed for hard trekking through Bolivia! This will hopefully lighten the load for the next leg of the journey! The train to Christ crawls round the side of the mountain, and rises high above the city to give some spectacular views.

The 38 metre high statue of Christ stands on a structure over 13 stories high, constructed in the 1931’s from concrete covered in triangular pieces of soap stone. The cog railway leading to the top climbs 700 metres to the top of the Corcovado mountain.

We spent quite a bit of time at the top – it was freezing cold though and Sam soon couldn’t feel her fingers. The compulsory poses are in the photos, along with many others of the view from the top.

Big plans for a night out in Lapa didn’t come to fruition after 60 winks turned into us both crashing out. Couple this with the rain that had closed in, and our hostel seemed like a much nicer place to be than the cold wet streets of Rio.

Keen to have a full day out on Saturday, we planned to visit the botanical gardens and then to do some shopping – Sam was itching to buy a brazilian bikini! The gardens were very green, but not as colourful as we had imagined. After a couple of hours and a couple of hundred photos (don’t worry – we’ve only put the best ones on the web!), we headed to shop. Ady got a haircut and Sam searched for the bikini… we couldn’t find it though and before long we headed back to the Hostel to prepare for a big night our in Lapa… again…!

To begin, some drinks in the hostel were in order. Fresh mint, limes, and rum means only one thing… Mojito time! Brazil’s local Rum helped kick the night off and we had drinks around the pool with the other people we had met in the hostel. Without going into detail, Ady managed to smash 2 separate bottles of Rum (and a glass!) in the space of 3 hours. The full story on this one can wait…

Finally heading down to Lapa close to midnight, a 5 minute walk (10 in heels!) we meandered through the streets on the way to the Rio Scenarium. We had been recommended this place by several people (mentioning no names!) so expected great things… in the end it was a bit like On Anon in Piccadilly Circus. Fun, but you could have been anywhere in the world. We had a few drinks and attempted a bit of dancing but then decided to move on and find somewhere “real”. We went into another bar for a drink, but it was only when we got to the bar that they tried to charge us an entry fee… running low on cash (Scenarium was London prices!) we gave up and headed home…

The end of Brasil

We planned on making the most of our last day in Rio by heading out for the day to one of the beaches, via somewhere that we hadn’t yet seen. When the day dawned, it was apparent that our plans would have to change as a thick grey cloud of that fine rain that soaks you through was looming above. We had to leave our room by 11am and our coach to Sao Paulo wasn’t until 11pm. Feeling a little hung over, we lounged around the hostel pool area, planning the next part of our adventure – Bolivia. By late afternoon, the sky had cleared, so we headed out to Santa Teresa again to see what else we could find. Right on our doorstep were some ruins, which provided a fantastic vista of the city. Further along the street, a group of musicians were playing, providing a much better atmosphere than the Rio Scenarium. A handful of people were watching – we joined them for a few minutes and then headed for some food.

After a delicious meal at Espirito Santa (great steak), we started to walk back down towards the hostel. We could hear the tram further down the street, and when it got to us we hopped onto the side and held on tight! Half way back, the tram passed the street musicians. By now there was a large crowd, so we jumped off and joined the party. There is a video of the music on our Youtube page here, and loads of photos. A great end to our Brazilian adventure.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Sanctuario de Caracas

5th – 6th May 2008

After a two hour bus ride stopping at every hole in the hedge, but encompassing some amazing views, we arrived at Barao Cocais. From here we had to take a taxi to the Monastery. Our helpful guidebook informed us that the taxi should cost about £7. We tried to barter, but £15 lighter and 1 hour later we arrived at the Sanctuario.

The Parque Natural de Caraca is a remarkable reserve about 120Km east of Belo Horizonte. It has been preserved so well because the land belongs to a monastery, part of which has been converted into a hostel. The rarest mammal in the park is the maned wolf; the monks feed them on the monastery steps in the evening.

Day 1

The hostel and monastery were deserted when we arrived. We were shown to our room and ate lunch before taking a walk out along one of the trails to a waterfall. Half way along the trail, we heard the distant rumbling of thunder and could see the sky getting darker. We were fully prepared, with our waterproof jackets so continued the walk. When the rain started, we were almost at the waterfall, and came across a pagoda type shelter… with the thunder and lightening overhead, we decided that it wouldn’t be the wisest move to shelter under a tin roof, so we braved the rain.

Ady’s waterproof proved not to be waterproof at all. Sam commented that it was only shower proof… not much use here! There are some photos of the waterfall and the rest of the walk in the Caracas folder on Picasa. When we returned, we wandered around the gardens and came across a number of very tame animals!

All meals were included with the room, and dinner was traditional Brazilian style meat, rice, and beans – all you can eat. At dinner, there were only 2 other people, and we knew it was going to be a quiet evening!

The meat was put our on the steps after dinner and we were told that the wolves may visit to eat at any time in the evening. We popped our heads into the church where a mass was beginning. Sam was horrified at the suggestion of attending, but agreed to join the ‘experience’. After 20 minutes, we heard someone at the door of the church, gesturing that the wolves were here. Sam looked delighted at the excuse to escape!

The wolf that was eating didn’t hang around for long, but we did manage to get a picture as you can see. After an exhausting day we crashed out by 10pm.

Day 2

The following day, we had to work out how to get back to Barao Cocais without spending our whole daily budget on another taxi. We hoped to pick up a lift with someone who was heading into the town, but as the place was empty, there was nobody going. The staff bus was our only other option, and that wasn’t until 5pm. Our bus to Rio wasn’t until 11pm so we decided that we’d be better spending a few more hours in the beautiful surroundings, rather than in a bus station.

We walked to a second waterfall, and saw some amazing wildlife on the way – we were also warned not to stray off the paths because there were cobras in the grass… this preyed on Sam’s mind for most of the walk… what are we going to do in the Amazon?!

The staff bus at 5pm was like something from the Italian Job as it wound it’s way down the road back to civilisation. We were dropped off at another bus stop in the middle of nowhere, where we got another local bus back to Barao. We then took another bus to Belo Horizonte and waited for our overnight bus to Rio.

All the bus drivers we encountered that day were slightly mad! We now have a new strategy for bus journeys which involved sitting in the middle of the bus, instead of at the front. It’s best not to see what is happening! Neither of us will ever curse the quality of a London bus driver again – they are all highly skilled, mentally stable people in comparison to over here!

Monday, 5 May 2008

Ouro Preto

3rd – 5th May 2008

Following our sleepless night, we made it to Ouro Preto and were at our hostel by 11am! Ady had a lie down to recover, Sam had lunch with 30 european students, and their guide, in the hostel. By the time Ady woke up, it was 6pm and time to go out and explore. By now it was dark, so the proper sight seeing would have to wait until the morning.

Ouro Preto is the former state capital of Minas Gerais, with cobbled streets that wind up and down steep hills crowned with 13 churches. Mansions, fountains, terraced gardens, ruins, towers shining with coloured tiles, all blend together to maintain a delightful 18th century atmosphere.

We walked around the town and found a Comida a Kilo place for dinner… Afterwards, our guide book recommended a place for desserts. Having got our sweet tooth’s back (and knowing we didn’t have the pressure of having to strut our stuff on the beach for at least 2 months) we decided a nice big slice of cake was in order. Still tired, we headed to bed and prepared for a busy day sightseeing!

13 churches are situated around Ouro Preto. We looked in 2. When you’ve seen two…! We visited one of the many mines in the town, and crawled around the tunnels.

We then took the Trem da Vale steam train to the next town, a scenic journey of 18kms through the mountains – you can see the pictures here.

In the evening, we headed out for what turned out to be a very mediocre pizza. Still feeling hungry, we had some cake again. This time, black forest gateaux. Mmmmm.

Having spent 2 nights in Ouro Preto, we decided that we needed go somewhere without the temptation of cake. We had been recommended to visit a monastery in a national park, not too far from Ouro Preto. It sounded like a bit of a mission to get there, but we were up for the challenge. 1 bus per day left Ouro Preto for the nearest town to the Monastory, at 7.25am. This should be interesting!

Friday, 2 May 2008


28th April – 2nd May

After settling into our new home we set out to explore Trancoso further. We found the newer part of Trancoso, where the locals reside, fairly quickly. It was good to see another side to this
idyllic town, and I think it would be fair to say the locals were having a much better time than many of the well heeled tourists! We joined them for dinner at one of the town’s choice restaurants, a real minimalist affair with the usual yellow plastic tables and chairs – in our eyes these plastic furnishings had become the biggest giveaway to enormous platefuls of tasty food for next to nothing. I think the meal we had here was even tastier and even cheaper than our favourite yellow plastic chair hangout in Itacaré.

On Tuesday, Clare decided to put on her tour guide hat and show us the mud pools along the beach between Arraial and Trancoso, tempting us with hopes of also seeing the nesting turtles. The guidebooks tell you to allow 3 hours for this walk, which was approximately 12km. The last time Clare had walked between the two towns the tide had been completely out. However full moon had come and gone and this morning was a very different story! One hour into the walk and we had to half scramble, half rock climb across a rather daunting set of rocks to avoid drowning in the surf, clad in bikini’s and havianas and not the hiking boots and safety helmets one would have worn at home for this kind of thing!

Another set of rocks at the other end of the bay (by the time we were all pros!) and we were on our way to the mud. Unfortunately the turtles didn’t make an appearance, maybe they didn’t like the high tide either! When we arrived, (by which time we were just a few hundred metres from our old sunbathing pitch at Pitinga!) we all looked at one another in bemusement. The morning had been particularly hot and the mud pools had almost completely dried up, leaving a small pool of some rather dubious looking, stagnant, muddy water, complete with a wooden warning sign we all struggled to decipher.
After some encouragement from Claire and a lot of scepticism on our part, we were all slapping great handfuls of wet mud onto our bodies, faces and hair, not to mention a fair amount of mud throwing at one another! Check out the photos to see the fun we had! Thankfully the sun was so hot the mud dried on pretty quickly, so we could rinse off the now rather smelly sulphurous mud in the sea. The result achieved from our “treatment” was certainly equal to that experienced at any spa retreat, and all for nought! All that remained was for none of us to be stuck down with mysterious sickness the next day!

After another quiet day on the beach we wanted to head further down the coast to the nearby village of Caraiva. Until as recently as this year, Caraiva had no electricity and no motorized vehicles. You have to travel across the river by canoe to reach the village and whilst on the mainland is completely cut off by river/mangrove at either side. The journey down to Caraiva is short in distance but could be expected to take up to two hours by bus, due to the poor condition of the dirt/sand tracks. Eager to get back on two wheels we decided to hire a bike to ease the journey and to explore the area further.

To make the most of the bike, we set the alarm for 5am and slipped off down to the beach to see the sunrise. Now this isn’t something either of us would normally do, but for the complete lack of sunsets in Brazil (being on the East coast of course). It wasn’t quite a spectacular as we’d hoped but the photos look quite cool all the same.

After a couple of hours back in bed we set off for Caraiva. After the first 10k of tarmac the road turned into a composition of stone, dirt, and when the going got really tough, soft golden sand! Anyone used to riding two wheels will understand how much fun this can be, especially when you have a fidgeting pillion!

Just before we got to Caraiva, black clouds rolled in. We pulled over and got a drink from a shack on the side of the road. It was great timing as in true Brazilian style the heavens opened. Ady had just becoming accustomed to riding a new bike through the dry sand when the road was about to turn to mud!

15 minutes later we were in a canoe heading across the river – leaving the bike behind. The guys offered to take it over the river for us – we declined – a wise move as we shall describe later.

Caraiva was very quiet and there were few people around. We strolled around the sand streets and had some breakfast. There were many expensive looking apartments and Pousadas, although the place was very basic it had an air of exclusivity about it. Maybe the kind of place that celebs would be helicoptered into!

We strolled down the deserted beach, much more beautiful than the other beaches that the Brazilians seem to like… They have a preference for lots of tables, chairs and loungers and countless people selling things on the beach. Here it was just us and the wild sea and the sand.

Keen to explore further on the bike, and having been recommended ‘Bahia’s most beautiful beach’, we decided to leave Caraiva and head back towards Trancoso. Back in a canoe, we soon realised the crossing was going to be a little more interesting, when we discovered we would be sharing the canoe with one of two motorbikes that needed to cross. The first bike was loaded onto another canoe, precariously balanced in the middle. The girl who was riding held onto the bike and the canoe was pushed away from the shore. As soon as it set off, the bike began to wobble. We saw it coming as the girl lost control and the bike ended up slowly sinking underwater! By now the second bike was balanced on our canoe, everyone seemed to be concentrating on rescuing the other bike and didn’t see the first canoe heading to bump into ours! Ady jumped into the water and pushed away the first boat – it was nearly two bikes in the water. Surprisingly, when the bike was recovered, it wouldn’t start… we jumped back on our bike, thankful we hadn’t accepted the offer of taking it in the canoe, and headed to Espelho.

Espelho was not what we expected… a very thin strip of sand, with very expensive Pousadas and Restaurants. The sea was very rough and not the flat calm we had been told about. It was very windy too. Walking down the beach, we recognised a couple of bronzed bodies who had walked to Espelho from Caraiva for the day- it was Thomas and Clare!

We didn’t stay around for long as the weather looked like it was closing in, so back onto the bike to head back home!

Our last day in Trancoso was meant to be spent at the beach. It was Friday and we had a flight at 4.30am on Saturday morning. Wanting to save money, we checked out of our Pousada in the morning and were now homeless!

So much for the beach. It rained all day, so we spent the time running between internet café and bar, and eventually gave up on getting to the beach. We decided to get the bus to Porto Seguro, and spend the evening in the town, before heading to the airport. By now the weather had cleared, and after some great Sushi at the port, we set about killing the 6 hours we had before we could think about going to the airport. There was a tourist market on and tens of coach loads of Brazilian tourists set about their hunt for bargains. We found a step by the side of the road, sat on our packs and people watched. Brazilians have an obsession with cake. There were several stalls selling huge slices of gateaux – how could we resist.

The rest of the evening was a blur – a taxi, a sleep at the smallest airport in the world, a 1 hour flight and then before we knew it we were in Belo Horizonte – the first time in 5 weeks we couldn’t see a beach!

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