A Travellerspoint blog

Chapada Diamantina

sunny 35 °C

Bom dia!

After spending a few days in beautiful Salvador, we followed some of our new found friends from our hostel to Capão. Capão is a small town in the national park Chapada Diamantina, about a seven hour bus ride inland from Salvador. And when I say small town, I mean small town. This place wasn't even mentioned in our Lonely Planet guide (aka The Traveller's Bible), and to get there you have to get in a jeep for another 45 minutes after the last bus stop. Be sure to bring cash, the closest ATM is at the bus station.

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Capão's main street

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The bar

Because this literally is in the middle of nowhere accommodation was a lot cheaper than the rest of Brazil. Nevertheless, we still made the effort to find the cheapest place in town, and it wasn’t even that bad :)

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Home :)

Most people come to Chapada Diamantina to hike. There are a million different treks you can do ranging from day trips to several days in the wilderness. Still there appear to be a lot of people just hanging out in this sleepy town doing nothing or taking classes at the local circus. Yes, circus. We decided to stick to the hiking, and our first trek was to Fumaça, Brazils highest waterfall.

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The crew, minus Jason; Kane, Morten and Anne

Morten is one of those people who find everything absolutely amazing, and his positivity and enthusiasm is very contagious. You cannot help smiling around this guy. Also, he came to Brazil to practice capoeira, which he has been doing for years, and was needless to say in better shape than us. Our other co-hiker was Kane, a laid back Australian who had been on the road for a while and had a lot of good stories to tell. A gentleman with a big mouth, much like Jason :)

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Up, up, up for an hour or so

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The hike up the mountain is a little hard at times, we were all sweating like pigs in the heat, and I at least was pretty happy when we reached the plateau at the top. Fumaça is 420 m high, and most of the water coming off it evaporates before it ever hits the ground. After spending about three hours getting there (we only got lost once) it was glorious being hit by cool water blowing off the fall.

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Far down!

After taking in the scenery for a while, we made our way back down the mountain and into town. Thinking ahead for once, we arranged the next days activities that evening; a trip to some of the caves in the area. As we were all fairly tired after a long day, we headed to bed after a few beers.

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The team, minus the Big Fin photographer

The trip took all day, and we visited three caves; Caverna Torrinha, Gruta da Pratinha and Gruta Azul. At Caverna Torrinha we took a tour of the cave which lasted about two hours. It was a little creepy at first, squeezing through narrow rock passages, but you got used to it. We saw loads of stalactites, stalagmites and crystals that had formed in the cave over thousands of years.

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Ready to explore some caves!

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Cave Bob Marley :)

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This crystal is the only of it's kind in the whole world!

From Caverna Torrinha we went to see Gruta da Pratinha and Gruta Azul. Both of these caves are filled with water and at Pratinha you could swim inside the cave if you were willing to pay. Just outside this cave is a beautiful little lake with crystal clear water. We spent a couple of hours here, swimming in the lake and relaxing in the sun.

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Gruta Azul

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Gruta da Pratinha

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The crew at the lake :) Lia, Morten, Jason, Anne, Kane and Santeri aka The Big Fin

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Getting eaten by fish!

When it got close to sunset we all got in the car again and headed for a mountain which was supposed to be a good spot for seeing the sun go down. We drove most of the way before hiking to the top in about 15 minutes. Here we enjoyed the view of the surrounding valley while we waited for the sun to set.

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Waiting for the sunset

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We ended the day at the local bar, where after a few beer, Kane decided it was a good idea to switch to cachaça. Cachaça is a very popular local brew in Brazil, the spirit used in caipirinhas. The local Capão bar is not the kind of place where you would find cocktails of any kind, so we ended up with a glass of straight cachaça each. It was less than tasty. We should have realized that this was a bad idea when the bartender initially refused to serve it to us.

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Morten post-cachaça

The next morning we made our way to a nearby swimming hole where we spent the day.

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All reinvigorated from the clean fresh air and nature we headed back to the coast. Morten decided to come with us, while we left Kane, Johnny and the Big Fin behind.

Posted by CanWay 08:08 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Salvador

African Brazil

sunny 36 °C

Oi!!

Salvador, our first proper stop in Brazil :) Salvador da Bahia is the African soul of Brazil; this is where the descendants of slaves preserved their culture more than anywhere on the American continent. This also the capital of capoeira, and Bahian food is what is usually looked upon as Brazilian food outside the country.

Like most tourists we headed for the area known as Pelourinho to find a hostel. After struggling with our backpacks for a while on the narrow and steep streets of Pelo we settled into The Nega Maluca. Being tired after a long nights travel we didn’t get up to much on our first day. We talked with some fellow backpackers at the hostel and realized we had arrived just in time for one of the biggest festivals in town; Festa de Yemanjá.

Yjemanjá is the Godess of the Ocean and the patron of fishermen, among other things. On the 2th of February thousands of people gather at her shrine at Rio Vermelho with their offerings. The offerings are then collected in baskets and taken out to sea by local fishermen. Afterwards it’s party time :)

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We didn’t make it to the ceremony which started at dawn, but showed up for the party :) Johnny, not only a Canadian but also resident of Invermere, accompanied us.

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Beer time!

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These are both dudes. I wonder if they are both aware of that. Note that the men wearing white are holy men.

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It's important to keep hydrated.

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Prime people watching spot

We were fortunate enough to walk into a performance by Salvadors best drum band; Olodum. For you Micheal Jackson fans out there, Olodum is the drum band which performs in “They don’t really care about us”. And dare I say they have at least as much rhythm as the King of Pop.

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We had trouble just standing up in the heat drinking our beer, these guys on the other hand seemed to have an endless amount of energy.

After a while it got too hot, and we decided to head back to the hostel for some food and relaxation before returning to the party later.
When we arrived back at the hostel we learned that the city police had gone on strike a few hours ago. Salvador is not the kind of city you want to be walking around in when there are no police around, so we unwillingly spent the rest of the day on the hostel balcony watching opportunists run around the streets with newly acquired TVs on their shoulders.

As the strike went on we didn’t feel safe to wander outside of Pelourinho. Because this is the main tourist area in town there was military police on patrol, and therefore was considered safe during the day. Everyone raves about the nightlife in Salvador, and we were a little upset that we didn’t get to experience it. Nevertheless, we were still able to walk around Pelo in the day time. This part of town is full of restored old colonial buildings built by the Portuguese, and it really is beautiful.

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On the way to tourist central from our hostel

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The square where MJ filmed the music video for "They don't really care about us"

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The strike appeared to be everlasting and after getting to know a bunch of nice people at the hostel we decided to change our plans and head inland with them to the national park of Chapada Diamantina. It was time to revive the old trekking-havaianas!

Posted by CanWay 06:15 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Caracas Hustle

semi-overcast 32 °C

¡Hola!

In our 25 or so blogs, I (Jason) have written...1. I have to give Anne Credit, she's putting in all the work. But our time spent in Santa Elena, Venezuela was interrupted because of problems I had getting a visa for Brazil. And so began a stressful 5 days for me.

On the morning of Jan 24th, we boarded a 3 hour ferry from Isla Margarita back to Puerto La Cruz, and from there hired a "por puesto" (literally "per seat", which is essentially payed hitchhiking) to Ciudad Bolivar, about 4 hours. Upon arrival we found out there were no buses to Santa Elena until 3am, about 6 hours later. Falling asleep at a bus station in Latin America in the middle of the night with your bags around you is generally a bad idea. So after killing 6 hours, we finally boarded an arctic bus (Venezuela buses like to keep the AC cranked all night, resulting in temperatures somewhere around 15*C) and tried to get comfy for the 12 hour ride to Santa Elena.

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Freezing on the bus to Santa Elena

So after about 30 hours in transit, we arrived in Santa Elena, a quiet, hot little city located 10 minutes North of Brazil. Canadians are from one of a lonely few countries that need a prearranged $150ish visa to enter Brazil. I was aware of this, but had also read numerous blogs stating that it was easier and cheaper to just get the visa on the border. The Brazilian embassy was closed when we arrived so the next morning we went straight there to sort things out. That's when things deteriorated. Turns out the Brazilian visa process is finally going electronic. Problem is, before the new system was up and ready to use, they stopped allowing the manual process. So long story short, the only place in Venezuela to get a Brazil visa was in Caracas, a 24 hour bus ride away, and very close to where we just came from 2 days before. Neat.

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Sign in Santa Elena

After an incredibly stressful and pissed off day, organizing passport photos, other necessary documents, a bus and a flight, I hopped on a night bus headed directly back in the direction I came from. Already in a tired, angry, dizzy state, at about 3 in the morning a awoke to the bus stalling. Then it wouldn't start. I was in the middle of the Venezuelan jungle on a broken bus, spoke very limited Spanish, with no city within 5 hours and no cell service, and I had a flight to catch that morning from Ciudad Bolivar to Caracas. Neat. Again. Eventually another bus rolled up and helped get our wreck going. I got to the airport 30 minutes before my flight.

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One of the many favelas in Caracas

Short on time and in the state of mind I was in, it didn't even phase me to ride the subway in Caracas, one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Once downtown, I fought with traffic and multiple cab drivers before finally arriving at the embassy 15 minutes before closing. These close calls were really getting to me. Including the 26 hours on buses back to Santa Elena, in 5 days I spent about 72 hours in transit and 15 hours in bus stations. And just to top it all off, with about 3 hours left before finally getting back to Santa Elena, I was selected from the bus to be searched at one of the many Venezuelan military check points. Off the bus, bags opened, wallet searched (but not emptied thankfully, mostly because my money was in my underwear), and patted down. Thanks for the extra kick in the balls Venezuela.

The day after getting back, we took a cab across the border into Brazil where I proudly showed my hard-earned visa to immigration official. She wasn't nearly as impressed as she should have been.

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Crossing the border. Finally!

Our first stop in Brazil was the Amazonian city of Manaus. There we spent one day waiting for a flight to Salvador de Bahia, which would be our first proper stop in Brazil. This was our first introduction to pay-per-kilo bbq restaurants, which I had no problem with :)

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Pay-per-kilo restaurant in Manaus. Very common in Brazil. Who gets veggies at a pay-per-kilo restaurant?!

Pics from Salvador coming very soon :)

Posted by CanWay 18:26 Archived in Venezuela Comments (0)

Isla Margarita

semi-overcast 30 °C

Hello!!

After having spent a few days at the beach in Puerto Colombia we needed to get moving again. After considering numerous options, we decided to go to Isla Margarita, an island off the coast of Venezuela. Isla Margarita has been a popular holiday spot for a number of years, especially for Canadians, so we weren’t sure if the resort style towns were going to fit our budget. But after realizing that alcohol on the island was tax free, we figured we’d probably save money :)
We got a bus to Puerto la Cruz Where we got on an overnight ferry to the island.

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Bed for the night

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Local kids welcoming the ferry

Intent on keeping our budget we opted for the local bus instead of a taxi when we arrived the next morning. After about an hour on a hot slow bus we were both fairly grumpy and spent all the money we had saved on breakfast.
We settled in at a nice Irish-Venezuelan owned hotel in Juangriego, a small town famous for its sunsets. At sundown we made our way up to a fortress only a few minutes’ walk from our hostel to watch the show.

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Outside our hostel

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At the fortress waiting for the show

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Juangriego Sunset

The weather was fairly unpredictable while we were on the island. It would usually rain in the mornings, so we’d have a long breakfast before we went to the beach when it cleared up later in the day. After realizing taxis were fairly cheap here compared to other countries we’d been to, we gave up on the local buses and drove around to different beaches in taxis instead.

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Because Venezuela has a lot of oil (and because Chavez is so giving...), gas is subsidized by the government; the reasoning being that the oil belongs to the people. We figured out that 100 liter of gas was worth a little more than 1 US dollars!!

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The cheap fuel is reflected in the car park, which consists mainly of old, beat up, gas-guzzling American muscle cars.

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After visiting most of the beaches on Margarita, we got ready to get back to the mainland. Here we would have to get Jason a visa, before heading to Brazil :)

Posted by CanWay 13:00 Archived in Venezuela Comments (2)

Puerto Colombia

sunny 35 °C

Hola!

After a couple of days packed full of activities and early mornings, we were ready for some relaxation at the beach :) (I know, tough life .Good luck in the real world.)

From Barinas and Los Llanos, we got on a bus to the beach town of Puerto Colombia, also known as Choroní.

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So you thought you were going to have a snooze on the bus? Think again.

After another round of security check points and a ridiculously loud bus ride, we finally found ourselves back at the beach. As usual we hadn’t booked ahead, and once again had some trouble finding a place to stay. Nevertheless, we found an overpriced room and went to bed pretty early.

The next day we picked up our bags and found a cheaper hostel, before making our way to the beach.

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Hostel Cat

Puerto Colombia is a popular holiday spot for Venezuelans, and the place was packed. I’m pretty sure we were the only gringos some of these people had ever seen in person. Venezuelan men drunk on local sugar cane liquor at 10 a.m. are hardly as charming as they think, and most of them chose to ignore the big Canadian on my arm, much to Jason’s dismay. Sometimes blonds don’t have more fun.
We made it to the beach only to find it swarming with people.

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Still it was a beautiful beach, and the water was actually kind of cool which was refreshing :) We spent a couple of hours tanning and reading until Small-Town-Jason got claustrophobic, and we headed home. Fortunately this was a Sunday, and the last weekend of the public holiday in Venezuela, so the next day we had this gorgeous beach almost to ourselves :)
We mentioned in one of our Colombia posts how Colombian girls love their huge implants; they are just as popular in Venezuela. However, here they’re not restricted to breasts. The bum implant is not a myth; it is alive and well in Venezuela.

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Why choose when you can have both?!

We saw some ridiculous plastic surgery feats at this beach, and it kept us entertained for quite a while.

Puerto Colombia is a relatively small town, and after the vacationing Venezuelans left it got pretty sleepy. We enjoyed a couple of days of sun and surf here, before we decided to make our way to Isla Margarita, an island a few hours off mainland Venezuela.

Posted by CanWay 09:50 Archived in Venezuela Comments (0)

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