While planning our trip we knew we would spend the bulk of our time in Chile and Argentina. But after that we really didn’t know what we would do, and still didn’t until we came close to the end our stay in Chile in February. Countries like Peru and Bolivia are arguably at the top of many people’s lists when they travel in South America, not least as they house some of the continents’ quintessential attractions. But for us with Amber, the altitude at which much of these countries reside and the remoteness of some of their destinations were concerns.
That said, we knew we needed to head roughly north and furthermore we had planned to meet up with friends in Costa Rica in March, so we looked for somewhere that could act as a stepping stone to Central America. Peru was the choice, with direct flights from the capital Lima to and from both Chile and Costa Rica. We would only have around two weeks in the country, and after what had been an incredibly busy period in February, we decided we would only visit one other place aside from Lima. With highlights of the country like Cuzco, Machu Pichu and Lake Titicaca all sitting at well over 3,000m above sea level it simply wouldn’t be responsible to visit these places with Amber without spending time acclimatising and that was time we just didn’t have. So we decided to stay at the more sedate altitude of 2,400m (still nearly twice as high as Ben Nevis it should be said) in the historic city of Arequipa. What we didn’t know at this point was that these two weeks in Peru would end up being the most challenging and intense period of our entire trip.
Exploring Lima before it all went wrong
After spending January in Santiago the rest of our time in Chile was largely spent with friends and family exploring the central coast and south of the country. Like me, Chile is very long and so we always knew it would be impossible to see all of the big highlights in one visit (again, like me). The Atacama Desert and Chilean Patagonia in particular were two such places that logistically, and particularly with a baby, we just couldn’t do. That said, what we did see over the final few weeks really enhanced our sense of the country, and in the case of Chiloe in particular, gave us a wonderful insight into a distinct and unique side to Chilean life.
In this blog entry we briefly sum up this 3-4 week period before our adventure took us north into Peru.
When we made the decision to go as far south as possible on the South American continent (and indeed the world, Antarctica aside) one inevitable question was what happens after that. What goes down must come up, as they (don’t) say. What we noticed while planning the trip was a direct flight from that most southerly point, Ushuaia and Cordoba, Argentina’s second largest city located in the central / north of the country.
Saying goodbye to the end of the world before our 4 hour flight north to Cordoba
In what would be some of the most incredible days of our trip so far, during November we spent nearly 4 weeks in Argentinian Patagonia. We travelled to Bariloche, El Calafate, El Chalten and completed our Patagonian adventure at the end of the world, in the town of Ushuaia. For us, it is impossible to describe in words the wild beauty of this part of the world. So we won’t try. Instead we have compiled a photo diary showing some of the highlights from our trip. Enjoy.
The views on our first few days were hindered by typically unpredictable weather. Here we are on the outskirts of Parque Llao-Llao
We are now 11 days into our month long stay in Buenos Aires and it’s safe to say we love it here. After changing destination every week since August 26th when we left Rio we were looking forward to the relative stability of an extended stay in a city with a global reputation. So far, despite the fact our explorations have been cut short by Amber’s first illness since being away, we are very happy to be here – the city has met all of our expectations and in many cases surpassed them.
The obligatory photo of the BA sign in front of Obelisco de Buenos Aires (built by Germans in 1936 in just 31 days)
Here’s what we’ve learnt so far.
Rather than do a blog on Food in Uruguay, (similar to our previous one from Brazil) this time we’re honing in on one particular location that we think encapsulates what food is all about here – the Puerto Mercado or Port Market, situated (unsurprisingly) close to the port on the north side of Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja (old town).
One of the recurring images I would think about before we came on this trip was the three of us in Argentina gorging ourselves on high quality, cheap steak and red wine. And it was only as I began to look a little closer at Uruguay that it became apparent we would have the chance to be doing exactly that a little earlier than expected. Uruguay loves beef. Uruguay loves meat. In a country where close to half the population of 3 million live in Montevideo there are vast swathes of sparsely populated interior plains where cows (and cowboys) are the only living things you’ll come across. Indeed it is the only country that keeps tracks of 100% of its cattle, cattle that outnumber humans by three to one. With that in mind it’s no surprise that beef (and meat more generally) is big here.
Our limited research (a quick read of Lonely Planet South America) told us that THE place to eat beef alongside the locals is in the Puerto Mercado, particularly at the weekend. So last Saturday, the day after we arrived in Montevideo, we took that advice and headed down there.
We left Brazil at the end of last week. In total we spent five weeks roaming around, arriving in Rio and travelling south via Barra da Lagoa (outside Florianopolis), onto Porto Alegre and then finishing in Gramado in the Sierra Gaucha mountains. We can by no means say we have ‘done’ Brazil – there are huge swathes of the country that we did not get to see (saved hopefully for a future trip – the Amazon in particular is a dream, albeit a much less baby friendly one) but what we did see we loved, and we had a pleasingly varied itinerary that included beaches, mountains, cities and a zoo.
We have covered our Brazilian adventures pretty extensively to date so not much more remains to be said. However, there are a couple of final overall observations and experiences that we would like to jot down.
If you’re not bothered about what we have spent the last week doing and just want to know what the title is all about I’d suggest scrolling down the page until you get to the quiz section. For those that are left here’s our quick update.
On 9th September we left Porto Alegre and took a 2 hour bus journey north to Gramado which lies in the mountains of the Serra Gaucha region. As explained in a previous blog entry Gramado received an influx of German and Italian immigrants in the 19th Century who had a significant influence on the town. The resulting resemblance to a European Alpine resort is striking and is completed by a plethora of artisan chocolate shops and fondue restaurants.
With the hot sun and clear skies giving an unseasonable warmth on the day we arrived combined with the European architecture it felt somewhat surreal getting off the bus, particularly after what was a rather wet and cold week in Porto Alegre. A surreal start soon gave way to excitement though as we breathed in fresh mountain air and admired the pristine town centre.
Gramado is a high profile tourist destination, having been voted by Trip Advisor as the 2nd best destination in the whole of Brazil after Rio. A bold claim for a country that houses the bulk of the Amazon rain forest, as well as hundreds of miles of paradisaical beaches but regardless on first sight we were impressed by how clearly well cared for the town is. What with the tourists, the Alpine architecture and a very apparent love for Christmas there could be a danger the town drifts into tackiness but actually we found it upmarket and classy clearly appealing to well-heeled Brazilians (and us).
In Gramado we were staying through AirBnB at Casa Marlene, an annex to a house located about 10 mins walk from the centre of the town. It was Marlene herself who greeted us on arrival and who subsequently provided us with the best hospitality we have enjoyed so far in Brazil – opening up her kitchen for us to use, ferrying us to the zoo and bus station and playing with / cuddling Amber (maybe we should start charging for that…)
Anyway here’s some of the highlights of our week in the mountains:
Upsy Daisy was a girl we once knew
Who understood just what to do
When Amber was sad
Or teething like mad
Daisy lifted her spirits anew
As well as numbers I also love a good plan and this trip gives us plenty of opportunities to scour maps, AirBnB and flight / bus schedules in order to arrange the next phases of our trip.
With 2 weeks in Rio behind us (see Claire’s blog here) we want to lay out what we have planned over the next few weeks as well as quickly comment on the week just gone.
26th August – 2nd September: Barra da Lagoa
This week we have been in the fishing village of Barra da Lagoa (not quite as small as it sounds with the plethora of hostels, surf schools and restaurants around but that said it is still very quiet and relaxed) near Florianopolis. This is a tranquil, serene and beautiful place that sits at the southerly point of a seemingly endless beach on the east side of Isla Santa Catarina. Our days here are simple – playing on the beach with Amber, drinking Brahma beer, keeping our costs down and trying (sometimes succeeding) to make meals that Amber will eat (more on this to come but it’s been emotional to say the least).
Barra da Lagoa