Brazil Tudo Bem!

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With a few weeks delay, our post about our last destination: Brazil!
Although we only spent a short amount of time in this enormous country, it was a little bit “the cherry on the cake” with the football world cup taking place at the time of our visit. The downside of the worldcup was that the prices of accomodation had been multiplied by 10 (or more), which left us no other option than to shorten our stay to one week in Sao Paolo and another in Rio.

Our first week in Sao Paolo was great and it felt like home being sheltered by our amazing friend Nana! We couldn’t have wished for a better place to explore the city and to discover the favourite places of the locals. We experienced the precautions that the Brazilians take on the roads when driving in their car: reinforced windows and ignoring traffic lights! We had heard about it before, but living it was a little bit impressive, even though we did not experience any troubles during our travels. Nevertheless, we didn’t use our camera, so we have a limited amount of pictures, taken by our mobile phones only… That didn’t prevent us from enjoying our stay by going to the theatre and spending a night listening to great live brazilian music in a local bar. You can see that there are plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs and that it’s just the beginning of booming industry that will continue to develop over the next years. If only there was the beach, the stay would have been perfect!

And of course we were in the middle of the world cup taking place in THE country of football, although some rough scores makes me doubt that now.. but at leat we were there during a historical moment :-) There was an amazing ambiance but I guess watching the games on the beach of Copacabana drinking caipirinhas made it easy to enjoy..

We were there during what they call “winter”, how nice to be able to swim during such cold days, like 20°C… That’s what make the brazilian we saw so friendly certainly. I mean, to be honest, we didn’t went deep into the city so I guess it may be less paradisiac when you reach poor favellas, that are by hundreds.

We finished the world tour as we started it, eager to travel and to explore new horizons !!

J&C

Peru

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Arriving from Bolivia, our trip in Peru started in the far south with Puno, a city built on the riverbanks at the west side of the enormous Titicaca Lake. From there we took a boat to visit the floating islands of Uros, which are entire villages built on bamboo. It’s incredible to see how creative these people are with Bamboo (islands, houses, boats) as for us Bamboo mainly serves decoration purposes. It’s more incredible even when you see how these people manage to live from a small amount of resources found in their close environment and maintain their ancient lifestyle that is in big contrast with modern Peru.

After this, we headed to Arequipa where we wandered around in the Santa Catalina Monastery and Covent which was definitely worth the long ride. The colonial architecture, combined with an explosion of colors makes it really one of a kind. On our way back we coincidentally bumped in the ‘fête de la musique’ that night, a from French origin concept where concerts are held in the streets.

The next morning it was time to hop back on the bus to set course to Cusco. We decided for a change to travel by day – mainly for safety reasons – but instead the journey took twice as long and the bus took off without me while I was buying a drink (luckily I could hop on at the corner of the next street and the whole bus was laughing and cheering once back on board as Julien made quite a scene when the bus driver took off without me – or at least that was his version of the story ;) ! 12 hours later we finally arrived at our destination in a nice hostel where we could recover from our journey. From Cusco we took the train to Aguas Calientes, a small village at the bottom of the Machu Picchu mountain. To arrive before sunrise at Machu Picchu, we had an early wake-up and although the sunrise was not as particular as we had hoped for, it was good to explore the site a few hours without thousands of tourists that arrive in the early afternoon. The incredible architecture built in extreme altitude and conditions are really impressive. Our guide explained us much about the history of the Incas and it’s clear that Machu Picchu testifies of how skilled and intelligent the Incas were. After our tour, we decided to walk all the way to the top of the Machu Picchu mountain which took us over 4 hours but for those who have been there know that the view is largely compensating the endless(!) walk up.

After intensive physical efforts at the Machu Picchu we decided it was time for a laid back weekend to recover from our muscle aches. We had heard about this Oasis in the middle of the desert called Huacachina which was something we did not want to miss out on. And indeed, Huacachina is quite an extraordinary place if you have never seen an Oasis, although the village purely survives on tourism. It’s an ideal place for sand boarding and buggies and to simply watch the sunset over the miles of sand-dunes. After this last amazing stop, it was time to catch our flight to Brazil to spend the final two weeks of our world tour in the middle of the world cup madness…

J&C

Boliviaaaa… Boliviaaaa…

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When you enter bolivia, you really get into a different time. The landscapes are uniques, the people look different. Both are forged with the high altitudes, extreme weather conditions and simple life. We started our trip in Bolivia with a 3 days 4×4 trip from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni with a nice bunch of people. That was a succession of deserts, lagoons, geysers, mud pools, salt lakes, lamas, flamingos, colourful mountains, open cemeteries with mummies… All this in the altiplano, lying at 5000 metres and beyond. Despite the fact that this place is supposed to be the driest place in the world, we had ice and snow (something that didn’t happen for the last 65 years!). We slept in a hotel made of salt blocks, nice but not very isolating, while you need it when it is freezing cold outside! At least the clear skies allowed me to test our camera for some nice astronomical pictures. The climax of the trip was supposed to be the salar de Uyuni, where the Dakar race will go through this year, but due to the season and the previous days’ bad weather, it was not as immaculate white and reflective as we can sometimes see. Not a disappointment though because it remained impressive to do hundreds of kilometers on pure salt. Having a mechanical problem in the middle of it, alone, was quite a souvenir as well…
We were pretty lucky after because a strike started in the village of Uyuni a few hours after we took a bus to leave to the nice colonial style and chill-out Sucre city. Indeed the locals complained about how hard it is to travel in their country as the buses don’t really have fixed schedules. Eventhough it was not the first country at all where we saw that people were waiting anywhere on the roads to grab a bus, I can imagine it is far from practical. To be thorough, they were also on strike to move the bus station outside of the city in order to be able to charge people a taxi ride, which is a bit less noble…
We had to make an unforeseen stop in Potosi. It was a real pleasure to see the so colorful outfits of the locals. And it was not just for tourists, it’s their actual life-style. It was not easy to take snapshots of them as, being a beginner photographer, I still ask for permission… and there were sadly often very shy.
Once in Sucre, we decided to settle down a bit, that is not moving for at least 2 days.., so we took the chance to take spanish courses as it was very very cheap and bolivia is known to have one of the most comprehensive spanish in south america. So here we are, being able to finish the blog in spanish now… but just for you, we will stick to english! It was funny to see the rivalry between Sucre people and La Paz people about which city is the “real” capital. A subject that hasn’t found a definitive answer yet.. Something for sure, Sucre is much more pleasing than La Paz. The latter being much less interesting and colder as it is very high again. Eventhough it is nicely located inside and along mountains. The fact that claudia caught salmonella and that I had to get a tooth surgery because of the height didn’t help either… There we found the limit of the cheap food… But we had the chance to acknowledge a national party which was really impressive : during 2 days almost non stop, thousands of disguised groups were dancing in the streets, making the show for the locals that were renting chairs in order to watch AND drink all day. We were given beer by locals and even invited to dance with them, the result was.. special!
When we finally got out of La Paz, we ran out of time to go to the jungle nearby but we still had the chance to go to the “real” Copacabana, the village touching the huge titicaca lake and not the beach in Rio de Janeiro. There we did a loooooong excursion on the beautiful Isla del Sol.
Again, we survived crazy bus rides and that led us to our before last destination : Peru!

J&C

Argentina, que linda!

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After having been stuck in Valparaiso for days due to the heavy snowfall, we finally set course to Mendoza (Argentina) by crossing the famous Andes mountain range. The view from the bus was worth the wait, although the tons of snow made us quickly understand why the road was closed before.

17 hours later we finally arrived in Mendoza, a region that is known for its wine production. As we learned upon arrival, the vineyards are about 50 km away in the nearby Maipu region and the city itself was much less charming than we had expected. Moreover, the news that a tourist got shot in the park next doors only a few days before our arrival made me quite nervous but fortunately I had Julien Bond on my side. A quick bus ride the next morning took us all the way to Maipu from where we started our biking tour into the vineyards. It was not quite what we imagined as many bodegas are situated close to the main road, but we’re obviously very spoiled coming from France (Julien nods ;). During our first ‘dégustation’ we met a bunch of other people and finished the day together on a beautiful terrace while sharing some of the best wines of the region.

18 bus hours later, we arrived in Buenos Aires, a city for which we both had high expectations following many enthusiastic friends. We stayed in a hostel in one of the most popular areas of the town, Palermo SOHO, which is full of boutiques and restaurants (and the most frustrating place to be when you arrive with a full backpack ;). Food-wise it seemed heaven on earth with inexpensive parillas on every street corner and some fine french restaurants where we felt close to home. Highlights of our stay included the recoleta cemetery, the San Telmo market, and the ‘bomba del tiempo’, a percussion band that was absolutely fantastic and not to miss out if you ever plan on visiting the city!

After weeks of exploring urban areas in South America, we finally got off the beaten track when heading to Iguazu, a village known for the nearby Iguazu falls. All of the previous waterfalls we had visited during our travels instantly vanished from my memory when I reached the top and as you can see on the pictures, a beautiful rainbow could be spotted in the midst of the falls.

Two days later, we traveled all the way from Iguazu to Salta on our longest bus ride ever (28h). Although the ride was long, buses in Argentina are extremely comfortable and comparable to business class seats in an airplane. In general it is a safe way of transport, although we had the police coming on board at least a million times on our trip which made me wonder if we had a criminal amongst us. From Salta we rented a car to visit the famous rock formations at the Quebrada de las Conchas and some villages along the way (Cachi, Cafayate, Humahuaca). We very much enjoyed this part of Argentina and the grand canyon style rock formations, combined with the desert like temperatures, rocky/steep/abandoned roads, wild horses, cactus’s and the gypsies made the wild-wild-west feeling complete. On the way we visited vineyards, poncho workshops, goat cheese farms, haciendas but above all, the view from the car was spectacular every second of the way.

Following destination: Bolivia!

J&C

Chile con Claudia

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There we are : SOUTH AMERICA! That is going to be the last continent in this world tour. And after 3 months inside a 2m² campervan, claudia was happy to have the comfort of a nice bathroom again and I was glad to have a bed where I could spread my legs wherever I wanted too! So we started with Chile where we have been twice all in all, after an incursion into Argentina. We arrived in Santiago de Chile, flying over the Easter Island that we definitely want to do in some other trip. But hey, it was not the only country we had to skip over. If we look at the bright side of it, that leaves plenty more of good places to go to in the future!

So no, there was no western-movie-like-banditos holding guns and shooting in the streets all over (I had my expectations of south america..). Instead we found the most developed country of the region, even though of course if we are not on the same standards as the Occident. We had to pay extra-care to fake taxis for instance (that was after taking one without completely knowing it at first right after our arrival at the airport, having to negotiate the price and got another one once arrived. And also having one of the driver looking a bit too close at our money while withdrawing, etc…). Fortunately we arrived safe and sound at the marvellous youth hostel that looked like an “auberge espagnole”. Again we enjoyed the fact of meeting other travellers to get their impressions and tips for our next destinations. We tried to blend as well with some locals working there during evenings out. There was also this test : were all these years of Spanish lessons useful? I will know it at the end of the 3 months! We finally visited a fine museum : the one of Memory and Human Rights. As we did in other cities we took a “free” guiding tour (paid on tips) of the city which is excellent to have some landmarks and insights from locals.

After Santiago we visited the smaller city of Valparaiso. I’ve never seen such literally colourful houses, streets, and stairs. The city is located on an old famous port which is quite declining now. During our tours there, we could experience the numerous hills and their sketchy funiculars to climb them as well as the nice old trolleybuses. We ate a lot (!!) of meat empanadas. We also enjoyed some alfarojes biscuits, Pisco and good cheap wine in Valpo. Unfortunately, a huge fire took down a part of the city shortly before we arrived, so a lot of people lost everything and that made the streets a bit less safe for the tourists as we could notice when being followed once. We stopped by a restaurant to turn them down and had to pay more attention not to show our camera after that, which was not easy as we wanted to shoot so many things there! I had my first recalled experience of an earthquake there, luckily claudia who had this before made me realize it was not due to a (non-existing) metro passing under us, and alarmed me about this weird sensation.

After a little while in Argentina, we crossed back the Andes mountains in the north in the most impressive landscape I have ever seen : a succession of high mountains, volcanoes, high plains (the Altiplano), deserts, salars, lagoons with llamas, foxes, etc! It was so breath-taking from my front-row seat in the full day travel by bus that I MAY have shed a little tear (or maybe I was just very tired or felt a bit homesick, we’ll never know ;-) ). In my “etc”, there was also a lot of wild dogs, south america is just loaded with them, but they are not dangerous, most of the time they are fed by the locals. That led us to San Pedro de Atacama, the driest desert in the world… where there was some snow when we were there. It hadn’t happened that much since 60 years. San Pedro itself is a very tiny village and is made up of dozens of tourist agencies and one veeeery good real French bakery! Due to the lack of clouds, the lack of light pollution and of high altitude, the region is famous for its star gazing so we faced a cold night and followed an astronomical “course”. We also managed to overcome our frustration of missing the skiing season in France by doing some sandboarding on the local death valley. We had a wonderful sunset on the moon valley with the distant mountains changing colours all around. And of course, how to forget this horse-riding afternoon on the dunes with our guide asking if I have paper to roll his joint, and me handing him some toilet paper after I obviously misunderstood him.

After buying some extra warm clothes, we were then ready for a several days trip in 4×4 to Uyuni in Bolivia and to continue our “gringo” life further north! Hasta luego!

A last note : chile is pretty picky about fruits import as we were fined at the airport for not declaring precisely 128g of apples and 34g of apricots…

J&C

New(s) Zealand

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After 6 incredible weeks in Australia, the idea of traveling in New Zealand by bus was far from appealing thus we rented another van! Starting in Christchurch, we traveled for two weeks on the Southern Island, while enjoying the most stunning landscapes:
Mt Cook, Milford sounds (fjords), Lake Wanaka, the Fox glacier (& thermal pools), the Abel Tasman National Park and the Marlborough vineyards to name a few. It’s exceptional to see so many different landscapes and climates all in one country and only separated by a few hours in our minivan.

Quite a change compared to Australia where we spent our days at the beach and in the water. Temperature wise we went from 30 degrees (or shorts and T-shirts) to 10 degrees (long sleeves and other clothing taking up way to much space in a backpack) and the nights were pretty rough in our badly isolated campervan (not to mention the mouse that squatted our camper van that I discovered in the night..) But the every day beautiful “vistas” compensated largely for the sleepless nights and the mouse mania. I hope the pictures will speak for themselves cause describing each place will simply take too long :)

Like in Australia, we slept in the most remote and gorgeous places anywhere from along the coastline, lakes, glaciers, and thus waking up has never been easier and more exciting. We had originally planned another week in the Northern Island, but we could not resist to adding another two weeks to our journey to drive all the way to the North and the notorious bay of islands. And we are happy we did decided so as we spent an unforgettable day on the water with dolphins only a hand reach away from our boat. Besides the bay of islands, we visited Mt Tanaka, Tongariro (Volcano), Lake Taupo, Rotura, and the Coromandel with its hot water beach and the beautiful cathedral cove. Hahei (Coromandel) was really one of our favorite spots where we had one of our most beautiful wake-ups while looking out over the cliffs and staying with locals in exchange for a pizza. The locals are very friendly and very passionate about their country (explained by the fact that many seem to have the pleasure of working in one of the most beautiful sites of the world). We also attended a cultural performance (haka) in one of the maori villages, and we could obviously not leave without attending a rugby game in the legendary Eden Park stadium in Auckland (even though we ended up watching a 13 players rugby and not the authentical 15 one).
Besides visiting the cultural and historical highlights of the country, our days were mainly filled with hiking, swimming, wake-boarding, horse-riding, driving and off course tasting some of New Zealand’s best wines….the kind of life we could continue for ever;)

Unfortunately for us, the campervan rental was far to expensive to continue our nomads lifestyle in New Zealand and although we could have spends so many more months exploring this country, we were very excited to take-off to Chile and spend our final three months in Latin America!

J&C

Surfin’ Australia

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Australia! This was the beginning of a new step in our trip around the world : the road trip! After spending a few days in rainy Cairns to find a vehicle, we finally took off in our van heading south all the way to Sydney. It was definitely time to go when we saw the amazingly huge bats flying everywhere in the city at dawn, even though we noticed later on that they were everywhere. That was a complete change from the succession of hostels we had so far, this time we would spend months (yes, I kill the suspense : we kept using a camper van in New-Zealand as well..) in a tiny confined environment (I will break a second suspense : yes our couple did go through such awful conditions :-) ), but what a luxury to be free to stop and sleep wherever it pleased us along the way – everyday! We enjoyed that freedom by living a bit like hippies (modern and comfort ones with internet, razors, warm showers, gps, etc..): sleeping in the most insanely beautiful (forbidden) places, waking up with the sunrise, having a morning swim in the ocean, eating food from farms along the road (how nice by the way to see that people still have trust and leave the donation box filled with money unattended).
I was ashamed to discover that French have a reputation of being thieves as apparently a lot of them are going there with very few money hoping to easily find a job in this occidental Promised Land, and they end up having difficulties when they realize how hard it is to do fruit picking all the time.. Claudia and I had the chance to find a much more convenient little job in Brisbane for a week (thanks Elodie and “Cartes”).
Brisbane was definitely one of the highlights as we spent much time with my cousin, his wife and their two kids I unfortunately barely knew, not to forget my other cousin Boris that happened to be in Australia too! It was so good to see them all and we spent such a great time at their place (and on the hockey field – I had to go that far to play a perfect hockey game – on real grass please!) that it was hard to leave after 10 days and getting back in our habit of travelling in our van.
Our trip was a succession of plenty of new wild animals for us, both alive and dead along the road.. So many warm and wonderful beaches where you feel like alone on earth. Sometimes too warm as it attracted jelly fishes and made the swimming forbidden on half of the coast actually. But many cities have created their own artificial lagoons or installed fish nets in order to be able to take a dip anyway. The contrary would have been pretty frustrating otherwise. The national parks perfectly equipped for camping allowed us to spend nights in remote areas with the van. We could eat everywhere on public barbecues, that was brilliant even though we still had to buy the food to cook on it.. We could then find ourselves eating with ocean views from the top of cliffs in the presence of dolphins. Sometimes it has been scarier as when we had this 1,5m iguana that seemed to be attracted by our food, but in the end, he was a common mate as a close-by security crew told us.. In addition to this, we saw koalas, snakes, kangaroos, opossums, cassowaries, crocodiles, trees loaded with parrots. But as we did a few more dives we encountered mega huge manta rays, sharks, parrot-fishes, trumpet-fishes, groupers, stone fishes, lion fishes, etc, etc. As we woke up early to enjoy the sunrise, we also met locals like this photographer who told us everything about the best way Australians eat their wonderful mangos : naked in a bathtub as the mangos are so juicy! I have to say he was quite true.. :-)
Australia was also a little come-back into the kind of food we know, which we appreciated after a lot of months on rice and chicken. In good faith, after trying the Australian wines and the wineries of hunter valley, I can say French wines are still the best. Oh come on, a bit of chauvinism never hurts! It was also time to surf again of course, after a failure in Bali, and oh my god it’s hard and can be scary even with middle-range waves, they are just very powerful once on your face! But the pleasure was there when we managed to stand on the board… a few times. That didn’t prevent claudia from getting a massive bruise while we were pushing each other’s board. Once again, not everyone can easily be teacher, no matter the discipline.
We left the campervan a few days before we departed to New-Zealand in order to enjoy more easily the big city of sydney, its famous bondi beach, its opera, its blue mountains and all its macquarie places. In the end we neither went nor did every single thing we wanted to. But the souvenir of the mythic byron’s bay with its silent disco, its surf, its cool people, or the sensational views more beautiful than the last, definitely made up for a missed Fraser island known for being filled with only sand dunes or Lizard island who is another diving Mecca in the world. And there are still so many things that we still want to see there, that the good news is that it will keep us travelling until the rest of our lives!

J&C