Valparaiso

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We had finally made it to the coast of Chile. Back at sea level and next to the wide-open ocean for the first time in months… I was ecstatic! You could smell the salty seawater as we drove through town in the taxi. Valparaiso is such a beautiful seaside city. It’s built into the natural hills of the landscape, has a massive port for the city’s fishing industry, and if you go just a few minutes out of town in either direction, there’s fresh seafood and sandy beaches!

 

We spent the first afternoon strolling the cities slopes. Valparaiso was the first place where we realized that it is actually autumn… In May! The leaves are changing a beautiful yellow colour, and crunchy brown leaves cover the sidewalks. The mornings and evenings were brisk, but the afternoons were still full of sunshine and heat! Personally I find this really neat, that autumn can happen in May. For Adam, it totally freaks him out. It’s been over a week since we arrived in fall weather, and he still can’t stop talking about how unnerved he is by the sudden change in seasons. I egg him on by stomping on every crispy leaf we pass with a satisfying crunch and then talking about everything fall related: the colours, the weather, the fall boots I spot at every shoe store… I find his weather frustration infinitely entertaining. But even Adam admits that it’s a great time to end our trip.

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Valparaiso, Santiago and Mendoza are utterly stunning in Fall colours!
  Our second afternoon in Valparaiso we went on a self-proclaimed graffiti crawl. The city is absolutely chock-a-block full of beautiful works of graffiti. Not just tags and amateur scrawling, but real works of unique and innovative pieces of art. The graffiti covers nearly every blank space of wall in the city, and we had a great time searching out our favourite pieces and photo-bombing the city.

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Near the end of our afternoon we ran across the Museum of Pablo Neruda, a famous poet and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. I used to love reading Neruda’s work in school, so was eager to check out his museum. The museum was actually Neruda’s house at one point in his life. He lived for many years in Valparaiso in a gorgeous, 5-story house, high up on the hilltop of the city, with a fabulous view of the ocean. Of course it was interesting seeing where the poet lived, wrote, spent time engrossed in thought etc, but what was the most fun, was checking out the house itself. Firstly, the architecture of the place is beautifully unique: rounded rooms with large open windows, a floor to ceiling, urn shaped fireplace, a spectacular view of the city from every room in the house… This was prime real estate. But secondly, Neruda was the most amazing collector of antiques and artifacts. He was fastidious with his decorating, and when he found an object that he wanted, he stopped at nothing until he obtained it. Paintings, maps, statues, plates, desks, you name it! Each piece had a history and a place in Neruda’s home. We must have spent over an hour, listening to the audiotapes and exploring his home before finally moving on. We both walked out of the place wishing we could become antique collectors… Guess I’d need a house first.

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After our “exhausting” afternoon taking photos and exploring museums, we decided it was time to relax. We found this great restaurant by our hostel that overlooked the water, where we sipped on a bottle of chilled white wine and watched the sun descend over the water.

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At 6 we met up with Mark and Oli, who had finally finished their bus trip down from the North. It was their final night, so we decided to celebrate Adam’s birthday one night early and head out on the town together. We had some pre-bottles of wine at their stunning hotel with an awesome view and then went back to the restaurant we had found in the afternoon for some food. (Adam and I had the crab-stuffed ravioli in a cream sauce with truffles that was honest-to-God the best ravioli I’ve eaten in my life!). By our third stop I lost track of the bottles of wine. Although we woke up with pictures of each label, there’s no way I could have properly rated them in our ongoing wine log…needless to say, Adam and I both spent most of the next day’s afternoon in our room recovering.

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On our final day in Valparaiso we went to the beach. The forecast had called for rain, but when we woke up it was sunny and gorgeous! We took the metro out to Portales station and walked up and down the waterfront. From there you could see the entire city of Valparaiso; from the ports to the towering city behind them. The beach was beautiful and sandy, and covered with great looking, fresh seafood joints. After checking out the fishermen on the docks, and watching them feed the group of sea lions below, we picked a place to eat and decided to camp there ALL afternoon eating platters of seafood and sipping on wine. This was one of my goals since day one: seafood and wine on the coast of Chile. So that’s what we did!

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We started with a delicious seafood soup. It came out in a steaming hot, stone bowl, and the water was still boiling inside! The soup was full of prawns, muscles, scallops, and squid, and had fresh herbs and some veggies in it as well. We mixed in a couple scoops of their freshly, homemade, spicy seafood sauce and the thing was to die for! We had endless garlic bread to go with and a lovely bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. After we sat around and let the soup settle, we ordered prawns. A plethora of prawns!! We had one massive bowl of prawns, sautéed in butter and garlic, which came out as steaming hot as the soup. Then we had a cold, avocado shrimp cocktail which had slices of fresh avocado under a mountain of prawns, topped with a light mayonnaise dressing, displayed on a bed of lettuce. We picked away at these dishes for a loooong time, still indulging on the endless bread, before we realized that there was no way we could order a main dish. They did not skimp out on the number of shrimp they offered in each dish, and we were both stuffed by the end of it. We settled up, moved back outside to the beach, and lay down on the sand to let our stomachs digest and to watch the waves. I could not have though of a better way to spend our last day in Valparaiso. This was definitely vacation mode… And luckily, it is only a short hour and a half bus ride to Santiago!!

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Belem: Detox Days

Adam is pumped to finally be at the Amazon River

To be honest, we did nothing in Belem. We desperately needed to sleep and detox after Carnaval, and quickly got comfortable lounging around our hostel.  Soon, even the most menial tasks were overwhelming. Originally, we were supposed to spend 24 hours in the city.  It was going to be a quick stopover before we booked hammock space on a cargo boat and cruised the length of the Amazon River from Belem to Manaus.  When we arrived, however, we found out that a brand new boat was sailing for Manaus this upcoming Saturday.  The lady ensured us it would be very nice and, not being in much of a hurry, we decided to hang around for 4 days.

 

Each day we came up with a task to complete. Groceries. Laundry. Buy hammock. After we completed one task, we felt accomplished and could spend the morning and the evening catching up on reading.  So that’s what we did. 
Our mornings were filled with LOTS of coffee drinking and writing; then, each afternoon we spent a little time at the market.

Belem’s market is THE largest open aired market in all of South America! It runs along the riverfront and holds just about everything you can imagine.  To begin with, there are rows upon rows of clothing: sweatshirts, t-shirts, football jerseys, bathing suits and the such.  Then Hammocks.  Hammocks are a very popular commodity in Brazil is seems, and Belem’s market had colourful, hand-woven hammocks strung up all throughout the stands. After that there were crafts, and trinkets, and carvings, and toys.  Then finally the food began!  Hundreds of cheap eateries all packed together in one area.  Each sold a version of fish and meat with the usual rice, spaghetti, beans and salad.  They had wooden stools to sit on, and one, very reasonable, price for everything (we paid a little less than $3US for a massive plate of food that neither of us could finish).  After the eateries were vegetable markets. Huge pallets of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and MANY things I’d never even seen before.  I’m assuming these were local to the area, and, with one of the most diverse ecosystem’s on Earth at your fingertips, I’m sure there were an endless number of unique foods sold there. After the fruits and vegetables, venders sold hundreds of little vials of liquids all labeled in Portuguese. It wasn’t until I looked in our guidebook later that we realized they were extracts from plants found in the Amazon jungle. They were natural healing remedies that the locals used, apparently, quite frequently! Bottles of coconut milk were sold, then the meat: live chickens, ducks, rabbits etc were in cages all waiting to be freshly picked for eating. Finally came the fish. The smell was horrid, as to be expected in an outdoor fish market, but the selection was incredible. Every day the fishermen go out early in the morning to fish, by 5am they are all back at port and selling their goods to the venders. It’s a hectic scene as people shout prices and throw around fish, trying to get the best deals (as we saw on our last morning when we passed on the bus early in the morning).

At the more “affluent” end of the market – which was enclosed and air-conditioned – there were loads of expensive buffets, small restaurants and a brewery. We found and acai berry shop and sat down for prawns and acai on our first day in Belem. We ended up sitting with a couple from California that we had literally met only 20 seconds earlier. They heard us speaking English, asked us where we were from, and we asked them to join us for lunch. Afterwards, we remarked how different things can be when you travel. I HIGHLY doubt I would invite a random couple for lunch on the sole fact that they speak the same language as me back in Vancouver! But it’s such a normal thing to befriend someone instantly when you are in a different country.

 

 

We all loved the acai. It is actually everywhere you turn in Brazil, so I’m amazed it took us this long to try it. At this place they sold it in litres; it comes out in a thick dark purple liquid that has a similar consistency to yogurt. It has a fairly bitter taste alone, and will stain your teeth purple in an instant, but, after adding a little sugar and tapioca, the stuff was delicious! Not to mention, it’s considered the super berry of the world with all the supposed health benefits it provides. We’ve had it several times since in Brazil, and I’ll be on the look out in Vancouver when I’m back!

 

Our lazy few days were easily pushed along by the weather. Although it was hot and muggy during the afternoon, by about 5 o’clock everyday the rains came in. I suppose that’s why the Amazon is considered a rainforest.  But these were not just normal rains; these were torrential thunderstorms that boomed across the city for a few hours each evening.  I have never heard thunder this loud before. The rain bucketed down in waterfalls all across the city and even within our hostel walls I jumped with every clash of thunder. The storm lasted just a few hours, then calmed down around 9 or 10. So we spent that time watching movies and playing cards: a far better alternative to bearing the storm outdoors!

 

When Saturday arrived it was time for the boat! We were up at a ridiculous hour of the morning (first from a man wailing in the halls of the hostel at 3am, and then from our alarm a couple hours later) to set up our spot on the boat and trek up the entire length of the Amazon proper!

Salvador: Carnaval Part 2

The next day we had plans to meet up with Katelynn and Scott, the Canadian couple I had met on the Sugar Loaf tour in Rio. They had rented an apartment in the Barra district for 10 days and invited us to dinner and pre-drinks at their place before the parade. We were in charge of caipirinhas and beer while they provided the dinner (although we definitely got the better end of the deal considering booze was cheap and the meal they made us was out of this WORLD).

 

Google map said it was 5.2 km from our place to theirs. 1 hour 6 min walk, or a 20ish min cab ride. So we grabbed a cab at 6:30, and figured we’d be early for our 7:00 meet time.  Then we hit Carnaval traffic… An HOUR and TEN minutes later we were dropped off on a street NEAR their place. It then took us a lot longer to find their unlabelled “Palmieras” street, which made us over an hour late to their place.  Fail.

 

Their apartment was wonderful: a big kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and an adorable living room. Music was already on, hor’deurves of meat and smoked cheeses were on the table, food was in the oven and icy beers were cracked. 
We caught up on our trips and adventures and made the most wonderful caipirinhas throughout the evening (To see how to make perfect Caipirinha’s, check out Scott and Caitlin’s “how to” video blog).  For dinner they had made an extravagant Brazilian meal: marinated beef with lots of vegetables, fried potato wedges (actually some special Brazilian potato that I can’t remember the name of), cooked beats, and a homemade salad with loads of cilantro. It was UNREAL. Scott is an excellent cook, and he and Katelynn obviously love to entertain. Which worked perfectly, because Adam and I loved every bit of it!

 

Once dinner was over, it was time for the parade!

 Carnaval Salvador is very different from Rio. Rio is about the spectacle, the performance, the elaborate outfits and lavish floats. Salvador is about the dancing, the music and the party. Where in Rio people party in the blocos or pay money to sit in the Sambadrome, in Salvador the party IS the parade. It’s the “crazy” Carnaval, as people here have been referring to it. It’s considered THE largest street party ON EARTH, and even after Stampede in Calgary, Full Moon in Thailand, Oktoberfest in Munich, Guinness’s 250’s Birthday in Dublin and every other crazy festival I’ve been to over the years, I wasn’t prepared for Salvador.  Yet, it lived up to every one of my expectations!

 

There are approximately 5 million partying for Carnaval in the city. That is twice the size of Salvador’s usual 2.5 million people. The Barra district holds the larger of the two parades in the city. It starts from the lighthouse and stretches for kilometers along the main drag right along the water.  The four of us
 came around the corner from the apartment and faced MAYHEM. Millions of people, in a crowd tighter than the craziest moshpit, filled the street and sidewalk; bodies took up every inch of space.  Massive trucks with bands playing on top of them and people dancing, slowly inched down the road in procession. Speakers on all sides of the trucks were massive 10ft amps or sub woofers that blasted deafening music out to the crowd.

 

Each float had a specific t-shirt that you could buy and subsequently be allowed within the roped off section. Around each float they had probably 50 or 60 people who’s job was to hold a rope to section off a “safer” place to dance. 
The four of us were not, by any means, limiting ourselves to a single float. We danced along with the crowds, imitating their moves, or making up our own, until we got bored, then we ran ahead to the next float and started again. Let me tell you, Brazilians can DANCE! Even the performers had dancers that could shake their ass for hours without tiring. At one point we even grabbed two random girls and made them teach us how to dance like the locals. I’m not sure we got it in the end, but they laughed and gave us the thumbs up that we were making progress. 
As Katelynn pointed out, it takes a lot of practice to dance AND move forward at the same time; of course, she is a dancer and got it perfectly, but for us more challenged folk, it took a lot of focus and a lot more beers to get the rhythm.

 

We moved along through the floats all through the night dancing to music. On one side of the street there were stands high above the ground. These were boxes for the VIP’s that paid money to drink for free and watch the performers from eye-level. We made it our mission to be at eye-level as well, so on one of the floats, Scott bribed a security guard with a beer who then let me climb up the ladder on the side of the truck. I got to the top of the float and overlooked the hoards of people below. Millions stretched for as far as you could see. I danced up a storm with some random girl next to me then eventually turned and saw another security guard with his arms crossed, shaking his head at me.  Busted.  I laughed sheepishly and he smiled before taking me down the stairs and booting me out of the side of the float. I didn’t care: MISSION COMPLETE! I partied on top of a float at Carnival! Bucket list, check!  And we all cheered about it before running down to the next float.

 

The place was madness. Men and women held large Styrofoam coolers full of beer: 3 or 4 beers for 5reais ($2.50). Street meat was sold for pennies, and food was everywhere you turned. Shaking empty beer cans with the tabs rattling inside meant beer girls were near to sell Skol, Brahma or Shin. People, men mostly, avoided the wretched port-o-potties and peed in the streets. The place was smelly, overwhelming, crazy and wonderful all at the same time! There’s really no other way to describe it.

When we finally got tired, we realized we had danced the entire length of the parade. We fought back against the crowd for about an hour before reaching the apartment. It was 6AM. Oh my God! The party outside was still in full force and it was 6AM! Adam and I crashed at the apartment, not having the strength to make it home, and I didn’t move until 10:00AM when I was woken by a party upstairs.  

By 1:00 that afternoon we were ready to face the world again. We decided to head to the beach and check out the surf; a quiet activity for the daytime.  However, when we got down to the main road by the beach, what did we find? The parade!!! It absolutely NEVER stops! I had heard that the parade went from 5pm to 5am (which is crazy enough), but no! It goes from 5pm to 5am then continues from 5am to 5pm again: 24 hours a day, for the entire week. And people were dancing, and drinking and crowded together, singing to the music just like the night before. So we joined them…

 

At one point we walked by a float that was so loud I thought my head was going to explode. The bass was beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed. My chest was vibrating so much I could hardly breathe. Adam held up his water bottle and it was like the scene in Jurrasic Park where the water vibrated on the dashboard… Except to the equivalent of 100 T-Rex’s.
  I don’t know how people don’t go deaf during this week long event!

 

We kept walking until we found the beginning of the parade at Campo Grande. The people were in full party mode, and we joined them with eager enthusiasm. We stood on the sidewalk and danced with the performers as the parade crawled along. Then it began to rain, and the people embraced it. We all danced harder as the rain poured down and soaked us all. It cooled everyone off from the heat of the day and refreshed our tired bodies. We danced in the raid with 10s of thousands of people until all of a sudden it was 6:30 again. We all hit a wall at the same time. Standing alone was an impossible task.  We walked back to the apartment and then Adam and I cabbed back to our favela. Definitely called it an early night.

 

Monday was our last day in Salvador. Not quite sure how four days had passed so quickly, but there we were. We decided to take it easy; we flew out at half past midnight and had already arranged for transportation that evening. We agreed that our last day we would take some photos, as we hadn’t dared take our cameras with us any other day (sorry about the lack of photo evidence from this part of the trip), spend some time at our favourite Internet cafe and then end our trip with a fancy seafood dinner: the prawns in Salvador are supposed to be second to none. And we did do that… for a while.

 

We walked the Pelo district for a while and checked out a wonderful craft market at the bottom of the elevator.  We took a mid afternoon break and shared a snack and beer on the patio of a restaurant overlooking the ocean, and then set up camp in an Internet cafe. We both sipped on coffee; Adam wrote emails and caught up on the financial news in the world while I discovered my newfound love for the game “Animals vs. Zombies” on my iPod.

But then, the parade went by.  That irresistible samba music and rhythmic drumming floated past us: the dancing and singing throng of people that you can’t help but join. We grabbed a beer each and watched. Then we started dancing on the spot. Then we saw a truck that played music we liked and chased it down.
  Before we knew it, it was dinner time and we were 4kms from our restaurant. We had bought one too many Brahmas, and Adam had been propositioned by several too many cross-dressing men. All in all, it was time to go.  We pushed through the crowds, dancing all the while, and made it back the Pelorinho in record time.

 

From the doorway of the internet cafe

The Pelo district, mid afternoon on the final day of Carnaval

We then sat down to the best seafood dinner I have had in a long time! Yes, this is another lengthy description of delicious food. We started with a baguette of garlic bread and a surprisingly tasty Chardonnay. We then ordered the “tropical style” prawns, which were prawns cooked in a pineapple cream sauce, inside a hollowed out pineapple half. A delicious white cheese was broiled on top, and then sliced tomatoes on top of that. It was served with a side of yellow curried rice with chunks of pineapple in it. It was absolutely to die for! Afterwards, we had a light chocolate mousse and little coconut cakes for dessert. I promise you we don’t spoil ourselves often with dinners out (I have 400 stale/eaten sandwiches that can attest to that) but when we do, it’s awesome!

After dinner we rounded up, caught our flight and got into Salvador at 2am local time (3am ours). We had finally made it to the mouth of the mighty Amazon!!!

Me, trying to find a comfortable way to sleep on a plane…

Again I am unsuccessful… at least Adam finds my misery entertaining!