Final Week

And so it comes to the South of Mexico, the final destination of our amazing trip through the Latin American Continent. But before getting there we had to take another 12 hours bus through Guatemala. The bus ride was fine, if it wasn’t for the fact that we slept 3 hours before leaving…

When we reached the Guatemala/Mexico border I knew we were close before the bus stopped. Not because there were billboards “wishing us a nice trip” but because many of the streets started to get crowded with people waiting for the buses to stop, and offer to exchange money. Many of them spotted me and were obviously looking for something. Luckily, the other people on the bus and the stewardess stuck together through the countries departure procedure.

The nice lady at the Guatemalan migration office insisted it was 8$ each to leave the country. The only money we had on us was 50 USD. The only change she had was in Quetzals, Guatemala’s currency. We started asking around for some change in dollars and the guy behind us, told us that we should ask for a receipt. So we asked her if she could give us a receipt and she gives us back our passport and tell us it’s ok we can go! Turns out it is the same pattern everywhere in Central America. Without an official receipt, you don’t have to pay anything they ask you! Good thing I learned this at the last border crossing…

So after crossing a small bridge we arrived sound and safe in Mexico! An enormous flag was waiving over our head. Jimena was really excited to be back home and I was excited to be back in Mexico. The bus drove another hour until we reached Tapachula. We arrived around 16h and since we felt up for it, we bought tickets for the next bus to San Cristóbal de las Casas. The bus was leaving at 23h which gave us the afternoon to walk around Tapachula’s center. There wasn’t much to see or do, but the center was crowded with people: some were break dancing, many were sitting on the beaches, others shopping in the many stores surrounding the plaza and the rest trying to sale their products. There was 2 fountains in the center and a Statue for Benito Juarez.

The next morning we arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas. Jimena had been bothering me wanting to go to Chiapas for a year. She HAD to visit it so you could imagine the smile on her face when we arrived.

San Cristobal is a magical town, literally. Is one of the many “pueblos mágicos” in Mexico. These are colonial towns that can not be altered. They all have the same look and feel from colonial time. The city has the most beautiful center I have ever seen in a colonial town. The main square is surrounded by huge colorful buildings. All around there is many walking streets offering good food and terrace. A little further from the center there is an artisan market occupied mostly by Mayas offering their handmade products. They all do everything themselves so it’s impossible to deal a better price I feel too bad… at least they were offering very nice products at a very good price. Of course Jimena went there nearly everyday!

Our third day in Chiapas, we bought a day trip to Palenque with a stop in Agua Azul and Misol-Ha. The first stop was Agua Azul. Cascades with turquoise blue water, the water had that color because there’s a lot of minerals around there. The sight was amazing. On the top you could go a bit further and reach a place where there was a tree that crosses a small pond close to a small waterfall. It was kind of risky if you didn’t want to get wet, but it seemed fun so I crossed it!

After we stopped at Misol-Ha, a very high waterfall. The thing was at least 40 meters high! I could imagine someone diving for there. We could walk behind it and reach to other side. On the other side there was a small cavern, but not much to see in it. Coming back I decided to swim across and Jimena was kind enough to bring my things with her (she’s the best novia in the world!)

The last and main stop was the archeological site of Palenque. By the time we reached the place the sun was hitting full strenght! Walking around the ruins was very hard. We had to move from shade to shade. Going up a temple was a challenge since the stairs are really steep and there is nothing covering you from the sun. The ruins were very big, yet it seemed the site we were in is only ~2% of the old mayan city of Palenque. Temples are still found miles away! It’s incredible to be in the place that one of the great cultures built.

Jimena and I walked around for 2 hours before we had to go back. 2 hours was clearly not enough to visit the ruins of Palenque. Plus, we’ve heard visiting the surrounding Lacandona jungle in the morning is an amazing experience. It’s too bad we lacked time. The shuttle took us back to San Cristobal and this time the roads were way more dangerous. It’s a mix between, speed bumps, people walking on the highway, constructions, passing 18-wheeler on tight curves, sand more… I was sitting on the front so I could see all of it, I wouldn’t be comfortable driving there. Our driver said he liked more driving at night because he could see better the cars coming from the other directions. Also I asked him if all the speed bumps were legal and he said none of them were so they aren’t marked, you have to know were they are or you will be flying often.

Finally we made it back to San Cristobal where we stayed for one last day to visit and walk around. It’s a very beautiful city and I recommend anyone passing through Mexico to stop in Chiapas and spend at least 1 day in beautiful San Cristobal de las Casas.

Our last day we visited El Cañón del Sumidero near a small town called Chiapa del Corzo. The canyon is truly a natural wonder of the world. The 2-hours boat ride takes us deep inside it’s gorge crowded with birds, monkey, vultures and crocodiles. The surrounding sight was truly grandiose! On the highest peak the Canyon reaches 1 kilometer.

The boat captain really had an eye to find crocodiles. He found 3 big ones and took us really close to them! They are very impressive creatures.

The same night we slept in a small town called Chiapa de Corzo. It’s a small colonial town with not much to see but a big structure with a fountain in the middle of the city square. The next day we headed for the airport and flew back to Mexico City… Where Jimena’s family was waiting for us with a ‘Quesadilla Welcome Dinner’

So this is it! Our trip is over now and I am back in Montreal still looking for work. Now we are both focusing on moving to New York. It’s going to be a new adventure and also the beginning of our professional career. I think we are more than ready to take this next step together.

Signing out!

Guillaume Beaulieu

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Week 19

A lot of changes to the trip happened this week. It seems Guatemala is currently too dangerous for tourists to visit. We had to make a decision and it wasn’t easy… Jimena and I finally opted to skip Guatemala and change the date of our flight to Mexico City. The trip will end on May 29th, 2011. I will fly back to Montreal the next day to look for an intership or a job for the summer. Jimena will get an answer regarding a master scholaship contest June 2nd. Then we will be able to plan the next part of our lives!

El Salvador was not originally somewhere we planned to go. It was 1 week before leaving Costa Rica that we made the change. At first we thought of doing the open water diving course in Utila, Honduras. In the travel guide it says if you buy the online course for 120$ you can get up to 150$ discount on the course price. I purchased the class, studied for a good 8 hours, passed the final exam and called the diving center to reserve the course. Turns out the course is so cheap, they can only give me a 60$ discount. Out of principles, I simply refuse to pay that price. I couldn’t get a refund since I already finished the online part, but at least I was going to spend my money somewhere else.

And El Salvador became an interesting destination. Plus, Jimena has a friend living in the capital and she really wanted to see her again.

After another 12 hours bus ride, Liza picked us up and took us to a hotel. I insisted we only need a hostel, but it seems her mom invited us! It was extremely nice of her. In the car, Liza and Jimena talked all the time while I was looking around at the city. It was very nice to finally see a real city after so long (I don’t count San Jose so Lima was the last one we went to). San Salvador is very pretty, it felt it had the same vibe as Santiago: A big village. The population isn’t even 1 million. You can cross the capital in under 20 minutes by car! It’s also called the 30 minutes city because because it only takes half an hour to go to the volcano, half an hour to the archaeological sites, and half an hour to the beach.

We visited another volcano is called ¨El Boqueron¨ (The big mouth). It was the third volcano we’ve visited, but the first time we couldn’t see the crater. This volcano was quite impressive. It use to have a lake in the crater, but it disappeared after a second eruption. Now it simply is a massive hole. The volcano is still active, but there is no danger of it erupting.

After having lunch with Liza’s family, everyone decided to visit the San Andres archeological sites with us! So we all (5 of us) hopped in Liza’s mom compact car and headed for the ruins. We arrived just in time since they were about to close. The ruins are suppose to be full of energy. It’s recommended to walk around without your shoes to really feel it. Unfortunately lava covered everything years ago and we can only see certain parts while the rest is covered in grass. Archeologist are currently digging what could have been a underground city at the time. But the lack of resources make the task very hard for them…

La Libertad is a city 30 minutes from San Salvador on the coast. Near there you can find the best surfing places in Central America (not so sure Costa Ricans would agreed). We didn’t get to see the surfing beach, but we walked along the fish market and ate at a very good seafood restaurant right next to the sea.

Liza’s boyfriend, Bogdan invited me to a PS3 party with his friends. I figured it would be a change from the past 4 months. I’ve never played PS3 so I got practice about 1 hour. Nevertheless I got my ass kicked. At least I had a really good time!

Liza took us many places. In the ruins of the San Andres, artisans markets, the best pupusas in town (I’ll get back to those), an amazing volcano crater, the anthropology museum and the beach side. We can’t thank her, her mom and Bogdan enough for everything they did for us!

Thank You!

Now about the food in El Salvador. Here, restaurants  like Wendy’s and McDonald’s are expensive options compared to the real typical food: ‘Pupusas’ It’s a traditional Salvadoran dish made of thick, hand-made corn dough that is usually filled with a blend of the following: cheese, cooked pork and/or refried beans. Sounds simple, but it’s so amazing! I could eat easily 5 with a drink and get away with a 1$ meal! You usually mix the pupusas with tomato juice, which I love. Except if you mixed them with chiles, to me they all tasted the same. Jimena and I ate them nearly everday, for breakfast and/or for diner. I got sick of eating them after a week, but I now I could easily eat a revuelta (cheese, fried beans and meat).

After San Salvador we decided to head for Ruta de las Flores. It’s suppose to be a long route joining many small colonial towns together. It’s where Salvadorians like to spend their week-ends and relax. We left our bulky luggages (and dirty clothes) at Liza’s and left 4 days with just a back-pack. There were many towns to visit, but besides Ataco and Juayua, we randomly visited cities.

Our first stop was Apaneca. It was very quiet when we arrived. We walked to the market only to realize there was nothing to do here. The market was dead! Only 3 or 4 old ladies were offering food, but beside that nothing. We walked around and found only 1 hostel open asking for 25$ per night, way over our budget. After 2 hours we realize we walked though the whole city so there was no point staying longer. We simply jumped on the  bus for the next city called Ataco.

Ataco was another story. It looked more like what a tourist town should look like. A city guide pointed us to a really nice place called Segun where we had a double bed and private bathroom for 15$ per night. A bargain! We stayed 2 nights and really enjoyed the city.

The town offered quite a lot of restaurants, but everything is closed during the week! Only some places still do business for the locals. We walked around the main streets and Jiji couldn’t help herself (again) and photographed all the doors she liked. Especially if there was a dog in front… The mirador overlook the city very well. Since the beginning of the trip it has been my favorite mirador because you could see all the main streets and the people bringing them alive. It wasn’t too high nor too low. Plus there was no one at the top, only Jimena, another tourist drawing stuff and me. We stayed for an hour before heading back to the hostel. We stayed in Ataco 1 day and a half which is more than enough to visit (during the week at least), and I loved it. I only wish I had a pair of binoculars for the mirador…

Our last stop in El Salvador was Juayua. We left this city for last, since they have a well-known food festival all of the week-ends. The town is very pretty. The main square is full of colors and the streets are full with artisenal shops and original coffee houses. We loved this small coffee shop (called Candejo I think) offering the best michelada I ever had! Your move Mexico 🙂

Behind the church there is a place called ¨Reptilandia¨ which I HAD to visit. The place was small, but crowded with snakes, lizards and tarantulas. The owner offered me to hold any one I wanted. I chose the biggest tarantula and a huge hungry boa. It was so worth 2$!!

The food fare was a bit of a disappointment since it had been raining most of the day. We still got to eat some great meat and a mixed ceviche (with mixed taste…) The street dogs were quite alert looking and nothing stayed on the floor for more than 2 seconds. Even a homeless guy tried to pick in my plate! We finished the day watching a movie and headed for bed since we were going back to San Salvador very early morning.

We spent our last day in San Salvador with Liza’s family and Bogdan doing stuff here and there. It was a fun and simple day with friends. We played some arcade games. Bogdan and I were playing air hockey while Jimena and Liza were ¨riding¨a horse. You should have seen Jiji…

Anways, the goodbye’s were hard as usual, but we promised to keep in touch. We headed back to the hotel for yet another early night since the bus to Mexico left at 6 am the next morning.

Hasta Luego El Salvador!!

Next (and Final…) stop is the south of Mexico!!

Thank you for reading my blog

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Week 18

Finally we are leaving Funky Monkey! We headed for the bus very early morning and never looked back! Little did we knew the bus leaving Santa Teresa was going to be the first of a long travel day…

After a bus, a ferry, another bus, another bus (stopping once in a while), walking for 1 km and a taxi, we reached San Juan del Sur. Before arriving I booked a private room since we really needed our own space after Funky Monkey. I wasn’t sure which one to reserve because hostels aren’t really rated for that city, nor for the rest of Central America. I picked a place called “La Terraza”. Well little did I know it was actually a room in a newly renovated private apartement! And since there was no other guest when we arrived, we had the whole place to ourselves! As if this wasn’t enough we had the most amazing view from the roof. Of course I gave it a good review after 🙂

The city was simple and very easy to visit. You could see everything in one afternoon. The market offers plenty of good cheap food which I really enjoyed after Costa Rican prices. San Juan is right next to the ocean, but no waves reach the shore since it sits inside a bay. When we visited it was very calm. We’ve read that San Juan del Sur is a city that changes a lot during holdiays. Prices nearly double for Semana Santa. Stolling around the streets we noticed many houses with very vibrant colors. Adding the kindness of the locals, Nicaragua made a really good first impression on us.

Unfortunately we couldn’t stay longer since we were on a very thight schedule. We left San Juan del Sur on Sunday morning since we had to be in San Salvador by next Friday to meet Jimena’s friend Liza.

Our next destination was Ometepe Island. It’s an island straight from the comic books. It is nothing more than two volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. You have to take a ferry to reach the island. Once there, we took a minibus to the smaller volcano since hiking the big one was out of the question (over 12 hours round trip). We were the last ones to get off the minibus and still we had to walk 1 kilometer before reaching our hostel. We both have wheel luggage making them relly hard to carry on dirt roads. Before leaving Costa Rica I tried to sell my big black luggage, but no one was interested: The zipper was broken, 1 wheel was completly destroyed and you could see my clothes through the bottom left corner. Not even 250 meters in, we made a radical decision: leaving the luggage behind. Luckily we were prepared and we were carrying a smaller luggage inside my big black. We only had to take it out and leave the big luggage next to the road. I had a good run with it. I did not feel bad leaving it behind. The rest of the walk was way more easy!

Our hostel in Ometepe was quite nice. The place is also use to grow coffee so they serve fresh organic coffee in the restaurant. The building was old but enormous! There was at least 70 beds in there. A COOP was managing the place and they were really nice. It was situated right at the bottom of the small volcano which was pretty convenient.

It seems a guide is required to hike the mountain. So I joined other guests to split the price and we all left early morning the next day. Going up wasn’t that hard, the first part was very easy since there was a stairway for the first 2 checkpoints. It’s afterwards that things started getting a little messy. When you reach the cloud there is this constant rain falling on you. It’s refreshing, but very annoying. The only pair of shoes I have are flat tennis. Very innapropriate for hiking. Since it “rained” all the time, the trail was very muddy and the rocks and roots were covered with a thin layer of alga. For 4 hours, I had to watch every step I made… Not to mention I fell many times. Finally we all made it to the top and it was worth it. We couldn’t see anything, but now I can scrath hiking a volcano of my bucket list.

Ometepe was a really short stop. It was relaxing as well as physically demanding. I was really happy when I reached the top and I was very relax reading a book in a hammack until sunset. Ometepe is the perfect retreat for long-been-travelling backpackers.

Our next and final destination in Nicaragua was a colonial town called Granada. It’s suppose to be the crown jewel of Nicaragua’s tourism industry. We get off the bus just outside the center and already you can tell it’s beautiful. To reach our hostel we walk through the market. It’s been a while since I saw something like that (San Jose I think) so I was happy to see so much life around me. The main square is typical for a colonial town. Since all of Latin America has the same cultural background, I could easily have mistaken it for a colonial town in Mexico!

Next to the church, there is a pedestrian road with many restaurants and shops, but what really is unique are the multicolor houses. Every house has bright colors and original doors. Jimena took pictures of the best and made a montage of them.

Our last day in Granada I promised Jimena she would get some spoiling for helping me so much with the luggages and carrying all our valuable stuff (passport, camera and money included) since the beginning of the trip (obviously she will be responsible if lost). Therefore we went to this new Spa Hotel and she got herself a full spa treatment while I waited at the pool. I’m pretty sure in Canada she would have get half a massage for what we paid for the whole package!

Nicaragua was short, but sweet. You can tell the country is looking to develop their tourism industry. The people in the streets are very nice and the prices were perfect for backpackers like us. If we had more time we would have gone to little corn island in the carrabean sea, but I’m happy with what we did.

It feels good to be travelling again 🙂

Next Stop El Salvador!!

Thank You for reading my blog

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Week 12-17

Here we are again! After 1 month and a half lay over in Costa Rica, Jimena and I are back on the road for the last stretch of our Latin America experience. For the next month we will cross Central America all the way to the South of Mexico and then we fly to Mexico City. I will be back home in Montreal around June 20-25!

When we started planning this trip, we looked at the different offers from the Volunteer Guide. We looked through and 3 offers called our attention, 1 being the Funky Monkey Lodge in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. We liked the offer for many reasons: It’s next to the beach, they offer free accommodation, the job is relaxed, we get to meet many people and there is a natural reserve near where we stayed looking for volunteers.

Santa Teresa is a very small town. There is 1 main road which connect all the towns longing the ocean. The main road used to be paved, but in less than a year after it was paved, the rain completely destroyed it. Now it’s so dusty people have to cover their mouth or eat the dust left behind by the many motorcycles and ATVs using the road.

So after a 5 hours bus ride and a 1 hour ferry, we finally made it to Funky Monkey Lodge. Gaby, the owner, greets us with a little hi and shows us where we will stay for the next 2 months before heading I don’t know where. I was expecting a little more after being in touch with her for so long.

After dropping our luggage, Jimena and I start meeting the staff of the resort. First there was Andre, the other receptionist. He is from Portugal and has the most laid back attitude. When we arrived he was with this girl. I thought she was his girlfriend, but she was a simple tourist in vacation. He’s the kind of guy that can’t go to bed alone. Also in our room was Alex. A thirty something Argentinian cook traveling around the world. He just arrived and was replacing the previous chef.

Working around the resort there was Adolfo and Rambo. Two Nicaraguans doing the handy jobs. They were really nice people. I got to practice my spanish with them more than anyone else during our stay.  Nahuel the restaurant and recption manager. He is the guy we asked questions to. Only him could handle money and take reservations for the tours. Also he was behind the restaurant managing the inventory and serving the client’s drink. He was kind of a weird guy. He was trying to be kind, but at the same time really made the clients uncomfortable with his jokes. Finally there was Gabi and Emilio. They are the couple that own the resort. They came by everyday making sure everything was in order. Gabi always checked the reservations and informed us about anything we needed to know. Emilio was more management things like water, the construction site (a dojo for yoga) and the laundry room.

Adolfo, Andre and Rambo

There was also a client called Mark from the UK. He stayed at the resort for 3 months straight! The only time he left the resort was for a 10 days car trip further down Costa Rica. He loves surfing more than anything and Santa Teresa provided him with amazing waves everyday. He loved it. He got really close to Andre since they were together everyday. It was quite hard for him when he left.

My first day at work I was first shift. There was 3 shifts during the day: 7 to 11, 11 to 15 and 15 to 19. We alternate everyday. The morning shift is the busy one. We have to sweep the reception, bar, and common areas; and clean anything that need to be cleaned (the roof, the pool table, the tv set, etc.). As there were only 3 receptionists, we had to work everyday!

The job wasn’t hard: staying in the common area waiting around for peopel to check in or out, answer the phone, hang and fold the sheets. The rest of the time we surf the net or chat with the people hanging around the resort. And there is quite a lot of it! We spent so much time on our laptop its ridiculous. We both had things to do all the time in the computer, since we were learning how to create websites and stuff like that. Luckily I had other options during my time off.

As I said earlier we were interested in doing volunteer work in a natural reserve very close to the resort, well it looked close on the map… The thing is the reserve is so hard to reach, you need a ATV or a motocross to get in. We didn’t even had a bicycle… We had to drop the idea to work there since distance was an issue. This is when I decided to keep myself busy in a different way : Surfing. Mark and Nahuel are big surfers and talked me into learning it. And so I bought a longboard and started “hitting” the waves.

After 3 weeks of surfing I started getting better. I even managed to catch a wave for a solid 7 seconds. I was quite proud of myself. It was fun until I nearly died at the end of April. I always surf on low tide since I can’t catch the big waves. But that day was different. I liked catching the foam after a wave breaks it gives me time to get on the board without getting smashed by the real wave. What I didn’t realize was the current was slowly pulling me further from the shore. Next thing I know a massive wave is about to break on me. My first reflex was to push the board in front and swim under the wave. I made it fine, but I could feel the board being forced inside the wave. My leash was very tight. Back on the surface my board was cracked in half and another enormous wave was coming straight for me. I manage to take a good breath and suddenly I find myself carried underwater. I was so deep everything around me was dark. I wanted to swim back to the surface, but I didn’t know which direction to swim. Normally I would follow the leash to my board, but now I was on my own. If it wasn’t for my positive buoyancy I would have been underwater for much longer. After 30 seconds I reach the surface and take a breath of fresh air. I noticed I was getting further and further from the shore so I started swimming hard. Non stop for 10 mins I swam and swam. I was lucky enough to no find myself stuck in a wave again. Finally I reach the shore and 2 guys holding the pieces from my board asked me if I was fine. I gave them thumbs up and headed back to the resort with a good scare and a broken board…

After over a month of working everyday, we decided it was time to ask for a day off. Working everyday wasn’t so tiring, but as a couple it was impossible to go far from the resort more than 4 hours together. We really wanted to visit Montezuma so we needed at least this day. Kinda sad we had to ask, since they never offered, but Gabi agreed and May 1st Jimena and I headed for Montezuma on a ATV. It felt really great to finally move a little bit. We were getting really sick of staying at Funky Monkey Lodge all the time. We took the ATV-only road towards the other side of the peninsula. After 45 minutes of ATV in a crazy road full of steep hills and mud we arrived in front of the Cabo Blanco natural reserve main entrance. So yeah volunteering was definitely out of the question! We continued towards Montezuma and finaly stopped at the famous waterfalls. All the guests that stayed at Funky Monkey said they were amazing, but the part that really interested me was the possibility to jump down a 50 feet tall waterfall!! I was really excited to reach the falls… We reached the first waterfall and I was already looking for a spot to jump from. I found a little step, but nothing worth getting excited about. An hour later we headed for the second waterfall. The 3 falls are aligned  so to reach the next one you have to take a very steep hike in the woods.

When we arrived at the second waterfall I wasn’t sure if they meant jumping off that one because it seemed extremely high! Jimena and I relaxed at the top when a crazy american got ready to jump down! Everyone was curious. Finally he made it and again! I looked at Jimena and she knew I was going to do it. She gave me the no-no look, I responded with the yes-yes smile. Another guy jumped and then it was my turn. These were the best 3 seconds of the trip by far. For me it seemed like forever. I came out of the water shaking from the adrenaline! The sensation was really worth the risk. So much that I decided to go again…

Montezuma Falls were a by highlight for me. I challenged my own fear and it felt great. I recommend the falls to everyone if only to relax and look at the crazy guys jumping down the falls.

During our stay, Adolfo disappeared without leaving any information. Emilio was worried the first day he didn’t get any news since he knew Adolfo wasn’t like that. The events following that were more confusing than then the preceding. The day we left, more than 2 weeks following the event, we still haven’t heard from him.

Also, Nahuel was fired following many arguments with the chef and money missing from the restaurant. Over 50 receipts were never to be found! They think he was stealing money, but honestly I think everyone is over there. After many hard discussions, Gabi and Emilio decided to replace him with the old manager called Bruno (another Argentino).

Overall, Funky Monkey was a deception. Yes we had a nice time, I’m sure Jimena did too, but we simply felt taken for granted. Gabi and Emilio never gave us any incentives to enjoy what we did. At least 70% of the shift nothing happened. This was a good opportunity to work on our stuff, but later they reprimanded us because we were always on the computer. I wasn’t always doing productive stuff, but in the last month I learn some basic for HTML and C++. Personnal knowledge that I might never need for work, but still very interesting to know. What we really didn’t like is their lack of appreciation for the things we did for them. Not only did we have to ask for a day off, but they charged us full price for the ATV rental (ok no $5 commission off) . We are two employees, the least they could have done is lend it to us, its theirs!!

Also there was problem with the gasoline. I putted regular since no-one told us, only super it good here. Regular is suppose to be super diluted with water. Emilio emptied the whole tank and threw the gasoline in the forest! A full tank of Super cost 12 000 colones (around 24$). The next day they showed me the receipt and dare to ask me to pay half! I refused, but Emilio wasn’t happy about it. To bad we had to leave under such a sad note.

On the up side, I met so many great people coming and going. Many guests stayed for 1 week or more so we got to meet a couple really well. Phil, a UK business Analyst, and Mike, an ex designer director from New York both helped me rewrite my curriculum to make it more attractive and to make the key points stand out. I’m really glad they helped me since finding a job is my top priority after this trip.

Also I got to surf for nearly a month (before the accident) and I managed to get up a couple of times near the end. Still I don’t feel surfing is my thing so I’m going to stick to skis for now.

So here we are back on the road for the final stretch of this amazing trip around Latin America. From now until the end, I will keep you posted every week.

See you in Nicaragua!

And welcome back to my blog 🙂

**UPDATE**: It seems they found Adolfo’s body near Montezuma Waterfalls… The autopsy said he was stabbed multiple times and shot in the head! His family is trying to bring back the body to Nicaragua

**UPDATE**: On May 8th, Rambo was found unconscious on the beach. He was also stabbed multiple times and shot in the head. Right now he is in a coma and the doctors think he’s never going to wake up! Also a police investigation found that Rambo took out all the money from Adolfo bank account the day before he was found nearly death. More to follow…

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Week 11

We are not going to upload pictures this week. In fact no pictures for the next 2 months or until we have a full album. We are very relaxed and working everyday so there is not much time to visit.

You see every traveler coming from South America needs a yellow fever shot taken at least 10 days before the departure date. As a Canadian and a Mexican we had no idea this was a necessary. We checked the requirements for Canadians and a Mexicans and it said nothing about a yellow fever vaccine… We arrived at the check it gate with a “we can’t let you on the flight” response. The best part is Jimena and I already had the shot more than a year ago for when we flew to Thailand and Malaysia, but no way to prove it. Fortunately, the check in lady informed us we could get the vaccine in a small clinic in the airport and if the vaccine record indicated it’s a “revacunado” then the customs would let us in Costa Rica. This information came from the Costa Rica customs office so it was legit.

We rushed with the luggage to get the vaccine, spent a lot of money for a stupid 5 second shot, get our records officially stamped and with the legend that said it was a revaccination (the nurse was nice enough to do it without any proof since they knew we were in a rush) and run back to check-in. Finally she let us on the flight! Next step was paying the airport tax since I bought the tickets so early our tickets didn’t include it. Turns out it cost 37$ beautiful american dollars per person to leave beautiful Peru! Of course I don’t have such money on me so I have to withdraw cash in a ATM 5 minutes for the customs. I run back with the money, they stamp our tickets and we head for the scanning zone. Turns out 25ml lipsticks tubes aren’t allowed on the plane without a 6$  zip-lock bag! For principles, Jimena tell the customs to simply through them away. Seriously who pays 6$ for a zip-lock bag! At this point we considered leaving the country was quite a rip-off!

The plane was empty. We saw 3 other obvious tourists and the rest were locals. When we sitting in the plane, we couldn’t believe we made it! But little did I know the hardest part was going to be in San Jose.

The customs were overloaded with many planes arriving at the same time. We waited maybe 50 minutes before reaching an agent. We handed him our papers and he did the protocol thing. 3 minutes later he checks the vaccine record and notice the vaccine was taken today. Immediately he refuses to let us through. Jimena start explaining that the airline called the customs and Alonso Soto (the agent for the customs) said if the record indicated a “revacunado” they wouldn’t be any problem. The agent asks us to wait and when in the office to check the information.

20 minutes later he comes back explaining we needed proof of the it. Or course we didn’t have any, so he refused again to let us in and told us we will be sent back to Lima! Jimena gets her angry face on and makes sure the agent really understands that Alonso said we didn’t need any proof since the legend was a proof already. He says there is nothing much he could do and took us to a gate where the airline agent took care of deporting other passengers without the right papers. When we arrived, she was handing tickets to passengers that didn’t look so happy to receive their flight back. Jimena immediately explained her the situation. We thought Alonso was responsible since he gave us false information. Otherwise the airline would have never let us on the flight. As a consequence, the airline had to take care of us. They would have offered us a free night in the hotel since there wasn’t any flights leaving that day, but there wasn’t any hotel in the airport so we would have to spend the night on uncomfortable chairs… another option would have been to sleep in the airport for the night and call the immigration office the next morning and see if they would let us in. After arguing for 30 minutes we tried to make the best out of the situation and ask for a free round-trip flight for 2 to Panama City instead. We figured it’s closer and less expensive for the airline. We could stay there until we are allowed to come back. This would have been a 1000$ gift and another country add in our list! We proposed the idea and she said she needs to check with her superiors, but it was a possibility! Now we really started enjoying this whole mess! Later she informs us that she was going to talk with the guys at the customs and come back with more information. It was nice to have the airline working to make sure we were satisfied with their service. Meanwhile, we surfed the web with free wi-fi and ate a nice cinnamon bun. Jimena of course immediately informed her mom of every details…

30 minutes later, a miracle happens! The airline agent came back with our passport telling us we were allowed to go through! I have no idea what she said, but it worked! We were a little sad that the Panama plan was out, but excited to arrive in Costa Rica!

We stayed in San Jose for 5 days at Jimena’s cousin. Marcela has 3 kids and 1 maid so the house was always crowded. Her husband Oliver was away in Mexico for work so I didn’t get to meet him. There isn’t much to do in San Jose. The capital is large, but without attractions. Tough there is some volcanos 1 hour from the city. Marcela was kind enough to lend us her car and visit Poas Volcano.

Getting there would have been impossible for me without a GPS. Even the GPS kept telling me Unknown Streets because, beside the center. Costa Rica doesn’t have names for streets. Everything is 100m away from something in that city. It works since it’s so small and everyone knows where things are.

Unfortunately we reached the volcano in the afternoon and a huge cloud was formed so we couldn’t see anything. There was a path to a lagoon but it wasn’t so interesting. A big disappointment for me since it would have been my first volcano, but I guess they’ll be a next time. On our way back we stopped at Cataratas La Paz. It was supposed to be these amazing waterfalls, only you have to pay 35$ to see get in the Park… We are tourist, but not stupid. On our way there we crossed this bridge broken down in half! Some guy patched it with plank of woods goings sideways. It was the most sketchy bridge I’ve ever seen. I got really nervous crossing it with the car! I could feel the plank moving under the wheels. Jimena couldn’t look at the road. But we made it fine and 5 minutes later we saw some guys closing the bridge to repair it. It was the best moment of the day in my opinion.

Beside this little visit we went to San Jose center and we stayed in Marcela’s house to relax. The center is very average. There is nothing special to do. You get the basic services a city would offer, but that’s about it. It has no charm and no character. It’s worth 1 afternoon visiting and that’s it. We’ve heard Central America is the same everywhere: the best parts are always outside the capitals. They all have amazing beaches, grand volcanoes and diversified natural reserves.

After staying 4 days in San Jose we headed for Santa Teresa where the biggest part of the trip was waiting for us.

We will be staying 2 months in Funky Monkey lodge enjoying the beach. While working here I decided I was also going to learn how to build website and learn how to surf. Very different goals I know, but I have the possibility to do both. I have been here less than one week and it’s exactly as I expected! I will talk about it in my post next week.

Nos vemos la proxima semana!

Pura Vida!!

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Week 10

Wow this is the longest post I wrote so far. I understand if you don’t feel like reading all of it. But in any case I hope you like it!

We are now in Peru, a stop we made to visit another wonder of the world (Machu Picchu) and to participate in another volunteer project. Our flight leaving Rio was very early (6am) so we slept very little the night before…

We arrived in Lima in the morning. We took a cab to our hostel, but this time it was a little different: we were going to meet my grandmother and my brother. Last January they decided to join us on this part of the trip and visit Machu Picchu. I told my grandmother it was going to be tough, specially since we had a very tight and tiring schedule, but she made her decision and now there were they.


So we wake up at 4am the next morning (our second day straight) and went to the airport to fly to Cusco. We decided to fly because the price difference wasn’t so big with the bus, but bus takes 18 hours… we already had this experience with Iguazu so we gladly took a 1h20min flight!

We arrived in Cusco early in the morning so we had a full day to visit the city before leaving for Machu Picchu. Only the way we planned things we had to leave that day to arrive in Aguas Calientes (the small town right next to the wonder of the world) at 1am the next day. We planned it so we were definitely going to visit Wayna Picchu because they only allow 400 persons a day and its first come first serve. Wayna Picchu offers an amazing view of Machu Picchu so there was no way we were going to miss this.


Anyways Cusco is quite a nice city. It used to be the capital of the Inca Empire mainly because it’s so high. Its altitude is around 3400m! Many tourist come through here to reach Machu Picchu and find themselves staying a day or two more to really appreciate this town. It’s a perfect city for tourists because everything is walking distance, even an amazing view on the city. We visited the city walking around the many squares and we really enjoyed it. I started feeling a bit weird because of the altitude and the lack of sleep, but I managed (with some pills and a dose of oxygen). Cusco was a short stop, but a great one.

So to reach Machu Picchu, our train leaved from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (the only way to reach Machu Picchu) at 11:30pm so our plan was to walk around Cusco until 4pm and then go to bed until 19h30 and take a “colectivo” to Ollantaytambo. As you can see it’s quite difficult to reach Machu Picchu. From Lima it’s 1 plane, 1 “colectivo”, 1 train and 1 bus! Including the park entrance fee, the food, the round trip and the hostels; visiting this wonder of the world gets quite expensive! And don’t get me started on the shopping… Peru is full of amazing typical handcrafts. Everyone bought at least something. I got a nice sweater and Jimena bought funky socks, 2 earings, a purse, a sweater, a hat and maybe something else she didn’t show me…

After some well deserved rest, we headed out to Ollantaytambo with a little van. Going there we went down altitude-wise and I felt better because at some point I felt my eyes wanted to pop out! My deodorant was a rolling ball and when I wanted to use it in Cusco the thing popped out! All the bottles had to depressurized when opened the first time. If you brought a bottle of coke from lima and you opened it in Cusco, the reaction is the same as if you shake the bottle for 10 minutes!

We reached the train station 1 hour ahead of schedule so we try to catch a nap since we are all exhausted. Remember Jimena and I haven’t had a full night sleep in the last 3 days and my grandmother is 70 years old. I guess Grégoire was fine. The train left at exactly 11:30 and 2 hours later we reached Aguas Calientes. My original plan was to wait until 5:30 to take the first bus up the Machu Picchu, but we decided to stay in a cheap hostel close to the Ticket office. The room was small and the beds also, but for 2 hours of sleep we weren’t going to complain. At 4:30am we woke up and got ready to finally reach Machu Picchu. But first we had to buy the park entrance tickets. They were extremely expensive (530 soles for the 4 of us) but we didn’t have any choice, but to pay at this point. Also we needed bus tickets and they were 15$ US each for a 10 min bus ride. Also I forgot to mention the train is also ridiculously expensive (50$ US each for one way)! We emptied our pockets, and went to do the line for the bus. Already a huge line was formed and it wasn’t even 5:15 yet. All the people arrived early for Wayna Picchu, but I estimated we were about 200 persons in front of us so nothing to worry about. At 6:00am we arrived in front of the main gate. Before entering an employee stamps our tickets allowing us to enter Wayna Picchu at 10pm. We were really lucky since he stopped stamping shortly after us. We finally made it up, our tickets are stamped and the archeological site lies meters away from us. But just before entering, we had a small breakfast at what is probably the most expensive cafeteria in Peru.

Machu Picchu was absolutely amazing! Since we arrived early, the place was still empty and we managed to catch amazing pictures of the ruins. It’s surrounded by even bigger mountains and clouds slowly passing by with the wind. Machu Picchu is not as big as I thought, but you really want to see everything. It takes about 2 hours to walk around, but 1 day to see everything  there is. Some places have amazing sceneries and other a lot of history. Adding the lamas (a baby lama was born the day before we arrived) and the hundreds of birds flying around Machu Picchu, it’s my favorite wonder of the world by far.



At 10pm everyone was ready to hike Wayna Picchu, even my grandmother. The hike was going to take about an hour at our speed so she asked us to leave her behind and that she would go at her own rhythm. The hike looked very steep. We figured she might reach half-way then wait for us at the entrance after. Grégoire took the lead leaving Jimena and me at the back. After only 20 minutes we were already tired! The stairs were very steep and narrow. Plus the rain made everything slippery. 40 minutes after, we had crossed many people who were taking breaks, among them Grégoire that handed me the backpack saying it’s harder than he thought. We continued anyways and finally we reached the top! We had an amazing view of Machu Picchu and the surroundings. Unfortunately I think Wayna Picchu was too tall to get a good view of the wonder, nevertheless it was truly stunning. We took a couple of pictures, placed a new lock and headed down the long way towards “The Great Cavern”. Going down felt great. About 40 minutes later we reached the cavern and wow what a disappointment. There was nothing to see but a small hole with some window shape in it with a bench in the middle. We took some boring pictures and headed back. The problem with going back was going back up. At this point we barely had water left and the road back asked us to hike up 3/4 of Wayna Picchu. We did it, but it was painfully hard for all of us. We couldn’t see the end of the steep stairs. Finally we reached the common trail. I was the first one to arrive and far away, close to the exit, I saw my grandmother. I let her know where we were by shouting ‘grand-mère’. She turned around, waved back and said she went all the way up! At first neither of us could believe it! But later we found out it was true! Some woman took a picture of her at the top (because she didn’t bring her own camera) and confirmed us she really did reach the peak. We were making jokes about her making it all the way up so you could imagine our reaction when we learned that she actually did! Following the hike, obviously my grandmother wasn’t in shape (to be honest, neither were we) to visit more so we slowly walked back to the bus and headed back to Aguas Calientes and we reached Cusco 6 hours later.

Jimena and I had to leave early the next day since we were heading to Huancayo to do more volunteering. After a short stroll in the city we said goodbye to my Grandmother and my brother. My grandmother told me later that it was the most beautiful trip she ever did. It was nice. We arrived at the airport at 12:30 because our flight was at 14:40. No one was waiting to check in and the guy and the counter looked at us very weirdly and said there was no flight at that schedule, that it was moved to 12:55 and it’s the last flight of the day! Turns out this was our flight and we were the only two missing passengers on the flight. This happened because in order to buy tickets they refuse the transaction if you don’t use a domain email (hotmail, yahoo and gmail are not accepted). I had to buy the tickets with my friend’s email and he would forward me any email regarding this flight. I guess he forgot that one…

So convinced we might make it, he started registering the luggages while I ran to pay the airport tax fee. Then we ran more to the checkpoint were we passed straight through, because they were escorting us. On the other side a lady waved at us to run some more. 5 minutes after we arrived at the airport, we were in our seats with the plane pulling back! A new personal record! We arrived in Lima, at the time our flight was supposed to be departing… we spent the whole afternoon at the airport, relaxing since our next stop, was Huancayo, cultural and commercial center of the whole central Peruvian Andes area.

The bus was overnight. But for some reason, we stopped for a while in the middle of the night. I didn’t bother to check why since I was to tired, but at six in the morning (time at which we were supposed to arrive) the bus was still not moving. I was getting really curious so I woke up Jimena and told her we hadn’t moved for 3 hours opened the curtain and outside the bus was surrounded with snow! Snow had blocked the road crossing the Andes and all the buses had to wait for the road to reopen. Jimena and I didn’t mind waiting, what we minded was the weather! Turns out Huancayo gets really cold at this time of the year. The city is 3 200 meters high and has a micro climate. All I brought was shorts and t-shirts. The rest of my stuff was in the dirty clothes bag.


We were greeted by the guy responsible of the organization called Neto. He immediately took us under his wings and told us we will be staying at his place with his wife Eli, daughter Marifer and more volunteers. We would have a private room and all 3 meals included if desired for a very good price. We agreed, dropped the luggages in our room (it wasn’t very clean, but the beds were nice) and headed to our project at “Escuela de aza”.

The school is not that far from the center yet the roads aren’t done properly, the houses looked abandoned and dogs were ruling the streets. It’s a poor region, but I never felt in danger. The people in Peru are the nicest we have met since the beginning of our trip. The school was quite big compared to the other buildings around it. It’s a public primary school. The administration consists only of Victor, the principal and 1 teacher per classroom (sometimes less…) so they were really happy when they saw us arrive the first day. They asked us to teach English. We mostly taught vocabulary since the children really liked to know how to say “lobo” or “pato” in english.


We stayed only for 1 week so we could do much with the kids, specially since we taught 1 different class everyday… So we tried to focus on getting them interested in English by playing games and singing songs. In the end it worked for some of the kids, but others found our class as a break for the usual discipline their regular teacher has. They were walking around the class, talking to each other and threw stuff around the class…

Teaching in Spanish was quite a challenge for me. Luckily, Jimena was always around to correct me when I said something wrong. It wasn’t my first teaching experience, but definitely the hardest.

Apart from the volunteering experience, Huancayo was a definitive test for the altitude. Everyday I felt dizzy and my back hurted. My hands and feet were constantly cold even under 5 sheets with all my clothes on. On the last night I was shaking for 2 hours straight! Luckily coca teas were always a cure. Also since Huancayo is so high the weather gets quite cold compared to Lima. Only we didn’t plan it was going to be like that so all I had with me was the sweater I got in Cusco and a dirty pair of jeans. I wore them everyday…

Huancayo was a last-minute stop in our organization. Normally people stay longer, but we had to leave since our flight was booked way before we decided to come and volunteer here. Nevertheless we had a great time. The people were amazing and the projects were fun. I recommend Carismaperu for anyone with an interest in visiting Peru, but to experience the real side of the country and meet people who genuinely have an interest in making their community better.

Lima was the last stop in Peru. We only had a week-end to visit the biggest city of the country so we needed a plan, we had none. Huancayo was so tiring for me, I didn’t bother look into the city’s attractions.

We arrived early morning and my ears were completely blocked. The altitude was finally back to normal, but I still felt sick. We stayed in the hostel for the whole morning to recover from the last part of the trip. Jimena slept 3 more hours! Around 15h we figured it was time to move. We stayed in Barranco which is close to Miraflores, the nicest neighbourhood in Lima. We walked along the coast line (Lima is one the few capitals next to the ocean) the whole afternoon and visited places like “Larcomar”, an opened mall next to the sea, “Parque del Amor” where couples come to make out and laugh together, and “Parque Kennedy”, a park in the center of Miraflores full of artisans. Later, we wanted to catch the Super Full Moon rise, but unfortunately the sky was very cloudy… At least we had a good view of the sunset.  Afterwards it was time to go back home and fully recover from Huancayo’s altitude.

The next day we felt like new! We woke up around 9h45 and I felt great for the first time in the last week. The plan was to visit the center and “Parque de la Reserva”. We found a group organizing free walking tour of the center at 11am every day. We took a taxi to make it on time, but we never found the tour… Later we found out it was suspended until late March. So we took a map and started walking around the different attractions. The center is quite impressive. The main square in really big and is surrounding by many interesting buildings and colors: A massive Church in front, bright yellow buildings right and the President’s House on the right. We behaved as good tourist and we shopped around a little bit before taking a tour by bus of the further key points. Lima looks really good from a double-decker bus!

After the tour we stopped at a small Peruvian gastronomy festival (but we already ate unfortunately) and saw some typical meals like the ‘cuy’ which is a cooked guinea pig! Following our little excursion in the center we walked to “Parque de la Reserva”. The park is well-known to have the highest water fountain in the world. It also had many original fountains. Some of them were interactive, like a maze or a tunnel. The park was getting crowded when we arrived because the best time to visit the park is early night when all the fountains become alive with colors. The main fountain offered a show of laser lights, but frankly it was more a distraction to the water show. Finally the highest fountain was definitely the best part for me. It reaches up to 80 meters!  It’s quite impressive to watch. Jimena and I starred at it for a good 10 mins before heading back for the hostel.

Peru was quite a full stop. We visited 1 wonder of the world, we worked in another volunteer organization and we visited another capital. It went by really fast, but we had a great time.

Now the last part is coming up, yet we just reach half of the trip! Jimena and I will be staying in Costa Rica for 2 months next to the ocean for a well deserved relax time (travelling is exhausting!) we will be working 4 hours a day in exchange of free accommodation. We will also offer some of our time to the Cabo Blanco natural reserve and I promised myself I was going to learn how to make websites and basic java coding so I downloaded some guides from the internet.

See you next week

Thank you very much for reading me!

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Week 8½

Sorry for taking so long to write this post. Things have been crazy since the end of Brazil! Jimena and I slept an average of 7 hours in 2 days… Hope you like my post!

Also I saw about the tsunami in Japan. Traveller as a Volunteer I could see myself being helpful over there… I hope the country will recover soon!


What a trip we had in Brazil! It started with the biggest city in South America and finished with another wonder of the world crossed from our list. Only this part of the trip wasn’t that perfect.

Let’s start with the beginning. We arrived in Sao Paulo in late afternoon. Getting in the subway with 2 huge suitcases during rush hours it not something I want to experience again… Finally we managed to check in our hostel right before rain started pouring down. We figured it was better to visit tomorrow and have a good night rest.

The next morning rain was still very present. The sky could not have been more grey. Anyways Jimena and I were determine to walk around the city. We had only two days and a lot to do. We bought an umbrella and headed for the city. Brazilians say Sao Paulo is working while the rest of the country is resting. Indeed the city was moving a lot. Rain wasn’t going to slow anything down. We walked on the “25 de marzo” street which is known for its hundreds of wholesale shops and street market. It was frantic to say the least. Left and right people were offering, often, the same product hoping they will finally get your attention. You have to walk fast to look around (ironic isn’t?)

Afterwards we went on to “Se”, a famous and busy square right in the middle of the city. Very pretty and very close to the amazing Metropolitan Cathedral. It was definitely a good spot to visit. So far we noticed Sao Paulo might be big, but it’s not such a touristy city. After walking around for 2 hours, we felt the city is owned by the locals. We barely felt any tourist activities. They is no bus tours, small agencies offering tours when reserved in advanced and no must-see stop. Personally I love it. Since Brazilians are from very mixed background, it was easy to blend in the city as a local until Jimena took out the camera.

Afterwards we walked towards Libertade also known as “Japantown” which is the biggest japanese community in the world outside Japan. But to me it felt more like Chinatown. Most of the restaurants and markets were owned by chinese people. The rests were Japanese restaurants. We wanted to stop to eat but we walked too much and the only restaurant we found interesting was too far (it’s a big neighborhood). Plus it was around 15h and all restaurants were closed at that time.

We kept on walking under the never stopping rain towards Avenida Paulista. It’s supposed to be the pride of the Paulistano. Maybe because we started getting tired of the rain or we were getting really hungry, but the street felt very normal to me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely the main artery of the city, but it’s hard to see what is so special about it. It doesn’t have a “Time Square” effect.

We continued our walking adventures to the street Oscar Freite. It’s supposed to be the 5th avenue of Sao Paulo. At this point water already got in my shoes and it was getting darker and rainier. We really wanted to look around, but we walked really fast to reach the hostel as soon as possible. One of our stops on the street was the Havaianas shop. They are famous for their cheap and colorful flip-flops. Buying 1 pair was a must for me, specially since I destroyed my previous pair (I managed to get through the sole…)

Straight after we jogged to the hostel, ate and headed to bed early because the next day was gonna be more of the same. We got up early, ate a full breakfast offered by our hostel (the best we had since the beginning of our trip), got the umbrella ready (you think it stopped raining?) and headed for “Parque Ibirapuera” compared to New York’s Central Park (yes Paulistanos love comparing their city to New York). The park was nice, relaxing, diverse, wet. There was an interesting dome structure in the middle. We stayed for about 3 hours walking around and enjoying couple of free museums within the park, like the Modern Art Museum and African-Brazilian Museum, which were very interesting. Afterwards the plan was to go have lunch in Mercado Central close to city center. I had a huge mortadella sandwich and it was pretty average. The market was nice, but overpriced. I paid $10 for 8 Date Palm and 5 lychees. The guy wanted to sell us a weird exotic fruit and double my price but we refused. The day went on visiting places here and there but nothing particular. We ended up in different part of the city taking really nice pictures. Around 18h we were close to the working center and everyone was going back home. I never saw such a huge line to take the Metro. It was insane!

To go back home we had a choice of either going the regular way or taking the long way. The problem was the trains on the regular train were ALL jammed. No one could fit in! We figured going the other way would have been faster. We were so wrong…

Turns out we had to transfer to another subway, after transfer to a train, then take a bus to transfer us to our line. It took us 2 hours to do 20 km. At least the final transfer allowed us to cross a bridge offering a very nice view of the city.

We finally reached the hostel, wet and tired, again. But overall it was worth it. Sao Paulo is a really blossoming city. They really have to work of the Metro (it’s very clean and modern but they definitely need a bigger one) before the World Cup and Olympics arrive or it’s going to be a real mess! Otherwise I recommend a quick stop to anyone travelling in Brazil. It might big enormous, but 2 days is enough to enjoy the Paulistano lifestyle.

And then it was time to head for Rio de Janeiro and the world-famous Carnival. We arrived late after a longer bus ride due to hard rain and traffic. The taxi took us to our hostel situated on the other side of the city in a “favela”. I never though I would be in a place that inspired a Call of Duty map (geek reference). Our favela used to be very dangerous, but police took action some years ago and now it’s very safe to walk alone at night. Actually the raid that occurred there inspired the movie called Elite Squad.

Anyways the whole point of being in Rio de Janeiro at this time was for the worldwide famous Carnival!! A time where the whole city shuts down and the streets are flooded with celebrations. You can find something anywhere in the city. There is a map to show all the events happening during the carnival. It was wild. One day we just wanted to walk around the city and there was a parade blocking one of the main streets. Most of the shows were in Centro or Ipanema (close to where we stayed).

We went to one of the balls in Scala club. Every Carnival Scala club welcomes events that are organized by the samba schools. We went to see the Mangueira Ball. We really didn’t know what to expect (actually we didn’t know what to expect for any of it). We arrived early and the place was pretty empty. A band was playing samba songs, but we didn’t know if they were suppose to be Mangueira or not. We danced and enjoyed the show until 2h when we decided to have a break and sit out of the event for while. An hour late, drums start banging and very loud music comes from the stage: Mangueira arrived. We rushed back and at least 30 musicians were on stage playing samba as loud as they can. It was really impressive. They played 3 or 4 songs before welcoming on stage 3 dancers from the school. They were moving like I’ve never seen a women move before! Jimena and 3 girls she met earlier danced through the whole samba while I was trying to take pictures with my phone. The dancers showed their every moves and gave us a small taste of what to expect for the sambadrome. We stayed until the end around 4 in the morning before heading back to our favela.

The next day was probably the hardest day I had to go through since the beginning of the trip. We woke up late, ate breakfast/lunch and took the bus to Centro. We wanted to enjoy the carnival and walk around the different events, but at some point I started feeling really, really bad. We kept on walking but I didn’t feel any better. We decided to go back home and rest since the next day was going to be the Sambadrome and we needed to be in shape to last the whole show. In the subway it only got worst. My stomach hurted more and more. It felt like something had to come out…

I managed to control myself until we were forced out of the subway since it was the end of that line and we had to wait for the next one. This was the moment I felt something was going to happen soon, really soon.. Our metro arrived 1 minute later and everyone got in. I got on the train and it happened right there. I abruptly moved Jimena out of my way and puked everywhere on the floor my whole meal right in front of everywhere to see and smell! I was so ashamed! Fortunately our stop was the next station so we got out the train leaving a mess and some people gagging because of just happened… We immediately went back to the hostel. Turns out I had the symptoms of food poisoning and I couldn’t do anything to help it besides resting and wait for it to pass. I stayed in bed a full day hoping I’ll be okay for the Sambadrome..

And it worked! Late afternoon I was ready to go and enjoy the greatest show on earth!

Sambadrome is a unique event happening every year around Brazil. The one in Rio de Janeiro is the most popular one for being completely over the top. 2 nights in a row 12 samba schools compete to win the prize and honor of being the “Samba School of the Year”. Out of the 12 schools, 3 are considered favorite to win every year: Mangueira, Salgueiro and Beija-Flor.  We went the second night and among the 6 schools competing that night was Salgueiro and Beija-Flor. The show starts at 21h and goes on until.. well the information booklet said 3:30am in the morning, but we were still there at 7am!

The show was simply a-ma-zing! Every school gave everything they had. 2 of the schools that had their costumes burned were competing that night and we couldn’t tell since they were both fantastic and you could feel the support from the people in the stands applauding at them very often. Maybe because we didn’t fully know the rules, but Beija-Flor won this year championship and we could barely see any differences with the others. They were all over the top. In fact, Jimena and I had some trouble looking at the thousands of costumes parading in front of us since they were all very complex. After the 3rd school we were just concentrating on the Chariots. The chariots were all varied and full of creativity. This is where the school is expecting to get the most points so they really give everything they have. Some were gigantic animals moving and others throwing stuff and the crowds. The chariot were to me the number one reason why Samadrome was so awesome. Finally about the music. Seriously I understand they write a new song every year and it’s hard, but why do they have to play it over and over until the end of the parade.. Every school was repeating their song non-stop with small change once in a while to give the musicians some break I guess because I’m sure they would keep it going if they could. Hearing the same thing for 1 hour and 20 minutes (the time limit every school have to parade) gets irritating. Overvall, Sambradome will be a once in a lifetime experience for me. I loved it, but I didn’t get attached to it. I might check the web next year to know who won…

Our last day in Brazil was spent doing the things we had to do before leaving. Our first and most important stop was the Corcovado Mountain, where Christ the Redeemer is located. It is right now considered a New Wonder of the World. This brings our count to 3 including Chichen Itza, and the Colosseum. Honestly it wasn’t the impressive statue I was expecting. It’s much smaller than I thought. We arrived early and the summit was already crowded with tourists doing a cross stand picture with the Christ. We touristed around a little bit, then we put another lock in a new country. After that, we headed to Ipanema Beach, since this was our first sunny day we had since we arrived in Brazil. The place was, as famously expected, full of speedos and bikinis more showing than underwears. Not all the girls all the body to rock it though… We stayed 20 mins, took a couple of pictures and headed back to the centro to visit the Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro. It was quite interesting to see a Church so modern.

And finally we took the metro to Pao de Açucar to take a nice picture of the sunset on the city. It was really expensive to go up, so Jimena went on her own and I stayed down keeping myself entertained with Angry Birds.

Brazil is a country I feel the world will hear about a lot in the upcoming years. With the World Cup and the Olympics coming soon, it’s a perfect opportunity to show the world how great this country his. I would consider doing a full 6 months trip to visit all of Brazil. Now if only I understood Portuguese as well as I understand spanish…

See you next week and a half in Peru!!

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