Knobs and knockers

Here’s a delightful range of knobs and knockers that caught my eyeballs when I visited Portugal for the first time with the lovely Babs.

Porto is the perfect weekend away to get a sense of escapism. The 250,000 residence make for a rather tranquil juxtaposition to London which leaves you wondering if everyone living in the second largest city in Portugal are actually on holiday. No, it’s just very chilled and offers the perfect mix of culture, bars, restaurants and outdoor activities.

Don’t pack heels as these will break within seconds of tackling the steep cobbled streets where ambling is the perfect way to take in the lives of locals and to walk off the favourite dish, Francesinha, which means Little Frenchie in Portuguese. It’s a sort of OTT Croque Monsieur, stuffed with an assortment of meats and drenched in a rich tomatoey, cheesy, beery, gravy sauce. Yup it tastes as strange as it sounds. It’s a dish that will keep you going all day; it’s certainly not a snack unlike Pimentos de Padron, griddled peppers from Galicia, liberally salted (with the odd uber hot one thrown in for good measure – which is all part of the game). Wash these down with a cold beer whilst basking in the sun (we were there in November and we did see sunshine) once the smouldering fog from the morning has dispersed.

Right, feast your eyes on the knobs and knockers below:


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Women only


Arriving at the London Fields Lido this evening I felt a secret air of delight knowing that it was a women’s only session and after a friend told me how nice and relaxed it was last week I treated myself to a lie in and headed there after work. Tell tale signs of men still at the pool lingered around in the bike lot. There were a distinct lack of omafiets, far too many single speeds that could be lifted with my little finger and there were some bearded persons locking up their bikes. Upon inspecting the timetable I realised that actually the women’s only session didn’t start until 7pm. The joy of finishing work whilst still light meant I was at the pool by 6.30pm.

Today being over 20 degrees, the pool was rammed. As I walked past the deep end I received a shower as two guys belly flopped into the pool. They were larking in the dossing lane and being a ‘slow’ swimmer I have to put up with flapping, splashing, fondling and stray kicks of the dossers on a regular basis. At least there was a designated lane for them.

I noticed that the five life guards were all men, looking slightly more sprightly than usual. I think they’d secretly like someone to almost drown just to liven up their day but hey it’s Tuesday night, women only, surely the shift they all fight for.

I started doing some lengths and immediately got annoyed with guys not even swimming but doing the weirdest of random strokes. I call these random strokes butter-crawl, the breast-scissor-kick and the front-stroke. Guys in the slow lane usually always make a point of pelting past you by doing the front crawl and kick you in the face whilst cutting in or they just swim a random stroke, maybe mixing it up 25 metres in so that as you try to over take them you can’t and they suddenly switch to a speedier random stroke.

I sort of respect the guys who don’t wear goggles more, the ones that swim like your mum with their head above the water but again get annoyed at the fact that they’re not swimming ‘properly’ and to me it can’t be doing anything for your neck. Surely it’s equivalent to sleeping on three pillows – not a natural sleeping position. Saying this I can’t assume that all guys are having a sneaky peek; the majority of guys do go there to swim, the speedos give it away.

My mental countdown was going, just seven more minutes you bastards and you’re out.

With just three minutes to go music starts booming out of a ghetto-blaster from the side of the pool and I see a woman with those colour worm floaters in her arms waving them about.

Girls start arriving in their droves sporting not black or navy speedo swimsuits but skimpy coloured string bikinis featuring stripes, flowers, spots and all sorts of other patterns, and with their faces still caked in the days make-up.

I vaguely hear some sort of announcement, see some guys get out of the pool while other squeeze in a couple more lengths. The lifeguards are on their feet pointing at the stray man in the pool. He’s right in front of me doing one of the above mentioned annoying non-strokes.

Next thing I know the lanes switch and I’m ushered into the dossers lane. Someone is screaming at the side of the pool, ‘Pump those legs girls, and three, and four, and five, you’re doing great’. The girls in my lane start giggling, slow down considerable and start swimming like your mum with their head cocked to one side to see what all the commotion is about. OK, we can all see that it’s an aquarobic class not a car crash. I am useless at treading water so me slowing down to first gear will mean that the bodyguards might actually have to do some work. The girls are all bemused. Some stop swimming mid lane and join in with the class (in the dossers but now slow lane). I feel like the lane has turned into some sort of Crystal Maze obstacle course only I can’t see the crystal as there are a row of girls gassing at the end of the pool.

Girls who don’t usually go swimming are all in the pool just like fair weather bike riders. They don’t have a clue about lanes or etiquette or how fast or slow to go. Nans who can barely stay afloat only do so because of their massive boobs. They keep stopping mid stroke like they’ve forgotten to turn the oven off. Other mates are all swimming side by side, chatting as they do the mums breast stroke.

London Fields Lido officially turned into Sex in the City but in a pool. The whole place squealing with delight, except for me.

I see some guys try to get into the pool only to be told that it was a women only session. Surely they could hear the babble from the bike lot but maybe they thought that they were in luck. I felt really sorry for them as they had to get redressed with a sad face though probably not so sad as they peered on at 100 scantily clad women. I figured that actually the whole women only thing is completely sexist. Men only sessions don’t exist. How the hell would women respond if they did? Come back men, it was so much better before and more peaceful when you were allowed in.

I finally swim a kilometre and get the hell out of there, slightly annoyed as I had time to swim another half a km but I was getting too annoyed with the girls.

The bike lot is full of omafiets complete with baskets, not one single speed is in sight.

I can safely say that I will never be going back to the women only session on a Tuesday night at London Fields Lido every again.

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Put an egg on it please








Looking through all my foodie pictures (some restaurant foods and others home-cooked foods), I reckon 70% of them contain eggs. Yes I can safely say that I am obsessed with eggs. If in doubt put an egg in it, an easy way to spruce up any dish. This might be what my foodie blog is going to be called…

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Pick Me Up (said the cat)


At Pick Me Up 2013, this card was one of the best things that I saw.

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Time for a change

11 years ago when I lived near Hackney Wick it was a no go area. The odd occasion that I’d need to get the train to Highbury and Islington, I’d crap my pants as I ran into the unknown. I remember pelting it over the flyover past screaming cars and dodging burnt out cars in the numerous, what seemed to be, disused garages, when I got to the other side. I’d make it to the train and sit there amongst wrong uns whilst trying to slow down my heart rate. I remember sitting on the train all the way to the end of the line once, to Richmond, and how the clientele changed. I think the thing that made my hate using my nearest station at the time, Hackney Wick, was the fact that it seemed completely derelict. You’d never spot a soul there. Back then it was the perfect place for a horror film.

These days it’s a completely different place. The train has been revamped into the air-conditioned Ginger Line that’s spacious and the only tube line that I don’t actually mind taking. The disused buildings are now trendy warehouses which are accessorised by folk enjoying a quiet drink after hours. There are numerous new apartments there creating affordable living, a cool vibe and with the canal weaving through it and surrounding parks, it almost doesn’t feel like you’re really in London making a it a desirable to place to live now. Obviously money was pumped into the area to regenerate it as the Olympic Park is on it’s doorstep. There is still a sense of local business around the area too as it retains a slightly industrial feel, so the hipsters haven’t taken over yet.

What has now replaced graffiti and burnt out cars is a 100 metre long mural all about the area. The beautiful hand painted vintage style typography reference the rich industrial past that Hackney Wick once was. This imagery was once seen on old factories and canal boats.

The Bread Collective were the producers of the artwork which was a six month project where they integrated with the local community, organising workshops, interviews, using social media and a blog style website as their inspiration and source of research. Their aim was to make the mural slightly ambiguous but to also make people passing by reflect on what the words might actually mean and to use them as a starting point to want to delve in the history of the area. I think the results are brilliant and it’s a really clever way to revamp an area but retain the past at the same time.

If you plan on a visit to Hackney Wick then make sure you check out the Craft Brewery and pizzeria.  A delicious selection of ale is brewed on site which you can dink while sitting by the canal or enjoying the huge open space. What I love about it is that it’s a local business owned and implemented by the local community and the beer is cheap.

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Picture captions solved

I’m loving these images by the typographical manipulator, Aaron Kuehn who produces typograms.  It solves the problem of having to caption areas of the images and now I can brush up on my bike knowledge before I take in my Summer Dream for a service and get ripped off.

Bike Typogram

Guitar Typogram

Skeleton Typogram

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Due to popular demand… Good Lord, what do I sound like?

So, I’m back and some how I got back exactly six months ago. My travels are merely a figment of my imagination but I still talk about them fondly and slip them into conversation… ‘this one time, in Bolivia’ (in American Pie Band Camp voice), though every time I do I edge closer to being culled by my ‘pretending to look interested’ friend, from Facebook. Surprisingly I don’t feel exhausted about taking about my Latin American experiences as actually the majority of my friends have avoided bombarding me with questions as they all think I’ve been interrogated enough and that I’m sick of talking about them. The only people who have a flavour of what I got up to are those who followed my blog, though most friends didn’t bother reading it, claiming they didn’t want to be reminded of how rubbish their lives were. However, I wrote it from such an English point of view that it may as well have been called ‘Shit things that happened to me in South America’.

When I have been asked about my travels the most popular questions have been:
‘Did you have a good time?’
‘Yes, I had a very nice time thank you please.’
‘What was your favourite place?’
‘Errrm, there are too many to choose from’.
‘Favourite country?’
‘Errrm, I went to nine, there are too many to choose from.’
‘Did you have any trouble?’
This is a tricky one as although I don’t feel that I was ever in danger, when I retell stories of crossing the Ecuadorian border to Peru at 5am on New Year’s Eve on my own whilst having to bat off persistent men (this was after thinking someone was trying to rob me on a night bus half an hour earlier), three guys pretending to be the police and trying to get me into the back of their car while I had my worldly possessions on me in Bolivia, walking through eery National Parks in Colombia and crossing thrashing rivers on all fours over a slippery log, (the once more civilised bridge next to it so mangled it looked like rotten twigs), being robbed in Buenos Aires, dealing with guys who would just not take no for an answer, or remembering how I was going to get swallowed up by undergrowth on a hike in Ecuador, people look at me and think that I’m mad. Common sense got me out of all of those situations. ‘Life experiences are gained through living. That’s why it’s not a bad thing to travel well into your late twenties’. This is what I told all those gap year students as they relayed stories about their experiences at ‘school’ as they gazed through me with their saucer eyeballs and asked why I was travelling ‘at my age.’ ‘There is more to life than getting drunk’, I say ‘errrm… like knitting a cardigan for example’. (Note to self: learn how to knit and sign up to AA).

The things I was most looking forward to upon my return to Blighty was having something other than my rucksack in between my legs, ale, any food that wasn’t rice, chicken and beans, my own bed and my own room, my wardrobe and seeing a few friendly faces.

The one thing I was dreading was people asking me if I’d found myself. ‘Whaaa, I never lost myself.’ Of course your life really gets put into perspective when you spend three quarters of a year in a third world continent and there were little changes I wanted to undertake upon my return.

On all of the 15 overnight buses I got in South America I had a lot of time to think (in between studying Spanish and watching badly dubbed US films). I made the decision that I would do more things for myself and others that would benefit from my help. I would get some volunteer work sorted and put something back. (I have yet to sort anything out). Doing more for myself was also a way of giving my poor kidneys and liver a rest. I got a guitar one Christmas (errm perhaps several years ago) and although it looks very pretty in my flat gathering dust I am still yet to master an F. A friend gave my guitar a new set of stings and plenty of TLC while I was away, and although I’ve been back for six months he still has it. This is entirely my fault yet this is one of the things that I was going to do for myself, learn how to play the guitar properly and advance beyond a three cord Oasis tune.

Something else I really wanted to do was to continue learning Spanish. I’d worked so hard at getting to a basic level and I didn’t want to lose it just like that. In six months I have had one language exchange class and admittedly it was mainly in Spanish and quite exciting as it was the same guy that I met before I went out when 99% of the meet-up would be in English.

I made a pact with the sexy Swede, Hanna, that I would finish El Prinicipto (The Little Prince), the children’s book that I bought but I haven’t even opened this since I’ve been back. It’s barely visible with all the dust and cobwebs that it’s gathered. I have however, been listening to some of my Spanish podcasts though only on my lunch breaks of which I’ve had about ten in half a year.

I wanted to make little changes like not waste money ever again. The amount of money that I have wasted on fashion mounts to a deposit for a six bedroom house. This became apparent as I decided to get rid of the majority of my stuff when I returned. Having to live out of a backpack for nine months makes you realise that you don’t need a lot to survive. Also the possessions that I took with me was more than what whole families had in some areas of South America. What is upsetting is to see how as a society we are completely driven by money. We moan all the time. It’s either too hot or it’s too cold; we’re never satisfied. We have so much and yet we’re just grumpy bastards. You can be guaranteed that if the weather is shit then it will unite the nation. How often do you hear the reply ‘really good’ when you ask someone how they are. Most of the time it’s an ‘alright’ but in that droney sort of can’t be arsed to speak way.

Colombia was one of the poorest countries that I visited and I’ll always have a special place in my heart for it. Driving past flooded villages where the houses were rarely complete and seeing the locals running around in rags but happy and always smiling, really hit home. Even though I felt discriminated against in Colombia as there are very few orientals there and suffered what can only be described as constant racism (if I was in England), people were just uneducated but everyone was really friendly and would always to out of their way to help. Colombians were just curious and intrigued. I had to learn quickly that the last thing they wanted to do was offend me. Saying that, I could have probably got a job in a circus in one remote area that I went to. (I didn’t meet a single other traveller there it was that off the beaten track). As Colombia was the first country that I visited, I barely knew any Spanish as I didn’t have lessons until I went to Ecuador. I’d love to go back now and say thank you to all the kind people that helped me there, and actually communicate with the cute guy working in the bar in Cartagena. Oh how my travels may have been different. I might not have come back.

Well as things tuned out I did come back. I flew to the North and stayed with my sister and her family where I got treated to an M&S spread, slept in the comfiest double bed and the next day got treated to a massage and a spa treatment as a late birthday present. ‘The latest rage are these cellulite patches that really work, I’ve shifted 85% of the order in the last week. They’re literally flying off the shelves. At £45 for a months supply of patches they’re a right bargain too”. I was immediately sucked in. Even though I’d always poo poo gimmicky things like this, I was willing to try anything to get rid of the extra stone that I’d put on. As the beautician painted my toenails after I apologised about my mangy feet, “I walked hundreds of kilometres while I was away hence the manginess”, she told me about the amazing top coat that would make my nail polish last for weeks. Only £9.50? I’ll take a bottle. I’m not quite sure what had happened. I’d obviously not taken anything from my travels or maybe she was just a very good saleswoman.

The cellulite patches didn’t work and they were really painful.

Seeing family and friends over the next few days was really lovely. I even managed to receive some sort of embrace from my parents although it was more of a pat that you give someone who’s a bit on the smelly side who you don’t want to get contaminated from. Mum cooked up loads of yummy Chinese treats. Weirdly it look my a while to cope with a variety of different flavours and rich food and had to put up with the shits for a few weeks. My body had got used to really bland food. It was strange being back but still living out of a rucksack, I was desperate to return to the Smoke and say hello to my wardrobe.

I’m not sure what I was getting excited about. I’d put on so much weight all over that barely anything fitted me. Some of my dresses cut off the circulation in my arms and my trusty black sack of a dress made me look pregnant. I couldn’t even get some of my rings on. Hello bingo wings, tyre belly, fat back and pigs trotter fingers. I was devastated. I headed straight to Primani on Oxford Street, got freaked out by the crowds and bitchy women and walked straight out. I’d just have to cope with wearing old sack like clothes. Luckily I was working at a new place so they’d never seen my wardrobe before so I wouldn’t appear to be too much of a pikey.

Not so luckily I had lined up work on a daily National working with a program that was unique to that company. I had a couple of hours training in the morning where my brain managed to filter all the information straight out, annoyingly forgot most of the InDesign shortcuts and managed to merely tweak one page on my first day. During my last days there I worked on a few issues at once so I at least progressed a little. After about a week working there it felt like I’d never been away. Luckily my strong bladder control came into play as I barely have time to go to the toilet it was that busy. Although the job nearly killed me I’m glad that I wasn’t going back to my old job and that this change was actually a good move. As the job consisted of a late start I finally got in the habit of running again and managed to shed one of my three chins. It’s too cold to run now. (Thank you British weather).

My five months on the national came to a close at the end of the year. The Christmas party was the night before my last day where surprise surprise I got battered. (I was actually really responsible while I worked there and didn’t come into work with a hangover once – mainly because there was no-where to hide and there is no way I would have been able to do my job). I felt so hungover that I had to force down double egg and chips at the greasy spoon at lunch time but didn’t feel much better afterwards. In the afternoon I burped up a bit of sick, swallowed it then got up close and personal as I kissed and hugged all my colleagues as I said my goodbyes. Some things will never change.

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Doing it properly

Sunday 3 July to Saturday 23 July 2011

Sun, sea and sand calls for one thing, a Brazilian, well maybe two things, a Brazilian and liposuction. Judging by the constant sight of tanned strutter’s in their three tiny triangles tied together with dental floss, I guessed Brazilian woman like to partake fully. Fair play. My moto in life is that if you’re going to do anything, do it properly (or don’t do it at all). Don’t ever offer me three quarters of a cup of tea, even if it’s Yorkshire tea. I will not be a happy bunny. My failure to sort out a Brazilian meant that I wouldn’t be bagging myself a Brazilian though my experience of Lapa in Rio put me right off.

I’d always planned to finish my travels in Brazil though I had my reservations. My love for mountains were long gone after departing The Andes weeks ago, the cost of travelling in Brazil would be equal to any Western European city, I’d have to bare the flesh (this would have been bad enough at the start of my trip but carrying around an extra stone of blubber wasn’t going to be a pretty sight), I like beaches but only if I can break up tanning sessions with some culture and the fact that Brazilian’s speak a different language would plummet me into the category of an ‘ignorant Brit abroad’. I’d purposely chosen not to have Portuguese lessons so that it would be easier to carry on learning Spanish upon my return to Blighty and I didn’t want to confuse the two languages. I hoped that if I just spoke Spanish slow enough then I’d get by. Judging from my experience so far in Brazil the latter may be harder than I thought. The locals had a funny way of putting on a constipated face whenever I tried to talk to them in Spanish and upon asking ‘Voce fala espanol?’ (Do you speak Spanish?) they always replied with ‘Nao’ (No) even though most did actually understand me if I spoke slowly as the languages are so similar.

Aside from these reasons of course there were many positives as to why I should have been excited about the Brazilian coast. Boasting some of the most stunning beaches in the world and often being compared to those in Thailand, I was keen to see if my vote would be added to the opinion polls of Rio being one of the most desirable places to live on the planet. After following the winter for most of my travels, I would get the chance to obtain some colour so it appeared as though I’d been away or friends might think that I’d spend the last nine months in Wales. The Brazilian’s know how to party but most importantly, I would get the chance to sample a proper caipirinha.

My consumption of caipirinhas came close to treble figures during my final two and a half weeks. They were the perfect drink in the heat and I’d hoped that my bitter blood would ward off the mosquitoes but this didn’t seem to work. I managed to singe my organs from the amount of limes and cachaca I drank. For those of you who don’t know, a caipirinha is made of cachaca with sugar, lime and ice. The mixer is basically the ice. If you’re going to do something, do it Brazilian style – properly.

Although drinks were pretty much limited to the one variety, in Brazil I required more than one hand to count the different cuisine options. I wasn’t really sure how to cope with this. I wonder just how much time I’d save over the past eight months by just eating the chicken and rice that was put before me.

Sao Paulo didn’t have much to offer but being home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, we sampled an amazing Japanese brothy noodle dish whilst huddled amongst Japanese locals. The award winning dish of bacalhau, (salted dried codfish coated in breadcrumbs and then fried) famous in Sao Paulo, was also a highlight. We also had the freshest traditional Brazilian fish stew on the beach on the island of Ilha Grande, succulent sushi in Rio, went to a rodizo (all you can eat) meat restaurant, also in Rio, where the waiters only stopped serving me when I was about to regurgitate my food back up and ate at por kilo places which is basically like a giant buffet though you can avoid eating lard and actually eat green coloured food and dishes are charged by the weight. Por kilo places are really popular in Brazil so the standard of the food is usually quite high. Back at home the thought of a buffet makes me feel queasy. I’d much prefer a tiny amount of quality tasty food than mounds of bad food. Since when did I become such a food snob?

The tasty food made up for the tinned slimy mushrooms smothered over my fish (five-a-day that day, -1) on the island of Ilhabela, disintegrated vegetables swimming in a yellowy lukewarm liquid (popularly know as boiled vegetables in the UK) at a restaurant in Sao Paulo but what the hell was going on with the breakfasts in Brazil? Not only did the hotel in Sao Paulo serve breakfast from 6-8am (travellers don’t rise until 10am at the earliest), on offer were sliced frankfurters in a sort of tomato sauce soup like carroty thing, the plastic cutlery there was so small and flimsy that my knife kept snapping as I tried to scoop out my minuscule ration of lard onto my roll and the fruit salad looked as though someone had scooped out the previous nights vomit from a toilet bowl. And this was a hotel. The hostels weren’t much better. The Brazilians love a sweet breakfast. I can understand a pastry with jam but biscuits, chocolate cake, smarties and other sweets?

An English breakfast may be a slightly full on way to start the day but at least it tastes bloody good. I got interrogated several times about the English’s strange eating habits. ‘No I don’t eat a full fried breakfast every day, followed by a roast dinner for lunch and then fish and chips in the evening, and there’s no need to frown when I tell you that flat warm beer is nice. It’s better than this watery cats piss that you try and palm off as beer.’

I happily left the hustle and bustle of Sao Paulo where reals slipped through my fingers on nothing particularly interesting to the parallel universe of Ilhabela. Sao Paulo had been a strange time. It’s huge so you really need at least a week to get to know it and we only had a few days there. I’d arrived knackered from no sleep as my flight was at 6am but I kindly let the girl who I was with sleep for a couple of hours while I guarded her bags. So upon meeting my friend Suj who’d flown out for a holiday, I was a complete zombie. It was nice to see a familiar face though and not just real off the ‘Where are you from… how long have you…’ travellers speak. We met up with a guy that I’d met in Florianopolis and he showed us around some bars in the evenings meaning that we hung out with the kids in Sao Paulo because he was about 15.

Locals on the captivating ferry ride over to Ilhabela, Brazil

Praia do Jabaquara, well worth the hike, Ilhabela, Brazil

Praia do Jabaquara, Ilhabela, Brazil

The beautiful remote island of Ilhabela offered activities included sailing around the island, shipwreck dives, hikes in the mountains/small hills, jeep tours (gah – I hate the word ‘tour’), horse-riding along beautiful beaches… in the summer. On arrival to the island by ferry we admired the lovely view of grey clouds and dodged puddles en route to the hostel. There are some benefits about travelling out of season. After my three hour walk (Suj thought I was mad and did the jeep tour) to a gorgeous beach I pretty much had it all to myself. Luckily the weather had picked up. For me, this is what makes travelling special. If I can do anything independently then I will. Later I met Suj in the town where she got to sample the South American culinary delights of chicken, rice and beans, a dish that Suj proudly said that she could eat every day. After ploughing through the mountain of carbs, Suj stated that she would not be eating chicken, rice and beans again while she was away. Welcome to my world. This is where I had the delightful tinned limp mushroom dish served with a variety of carbs.

Ilhabela was so chilled out compared to crazy Sao Paulo and we had another three days of relaxing further up the coast on the tiny island of Ilha Grande with beaches often compared to Thailand proportions. However, when we got the packed catamaran over it was like being on a boat party. Hundreds of locals boarded with ghetto-blasters and stacks of liqour who sang and drank on the ride over. We figured that Ilha Grande would not be the tranquil island that we thought it would be. It turns out that there was a music festival going on on the beach. Could be interesting.

Praia Lopez Mendez, Ilha Grande, Brazil

Praia Lopez Mendez when everyone had buggered off, Ilha Grande, Brazil

One boat broke down, the other saved us, Ilha Gande, Brazil

I bypassed the biscuits and sweets at breakfast and picked up my war time ration of transparent wafer thin ham, slither of cheese and rock roll with which I assembled together for my lunch. Together with my choking hazard I left Suj in the hammock and set off on a two and a half hour hike to the most famous beach on the Island, Praia de Lopez Mendez passing four other beaches on the way. Reaching the 3km white sand beach with turquoise water, I witness a stunning beach framed with luscious green mountains, there were a few surfers in the distance, but what was this other strange vision? Loads of people, that’s what. Had they all really trekked all this way? The only people I passed along the way were gringos in Havaianas and skimpy shorts. A little later I found out that you can actually get a boat to the beach, I planned to take this back to allow my choking hazard to digest.

I scarped past the tanned toned Brazilians, the girls in their tiny bikinis, cheese wire up their asses (I have issues with G-string bikini bottoms, tiny bikini covering ‘some’ ass, fine, but there is something so wrong about showing a ‘whole’ ass) complete with their Brazilians. The boys were sporting Speedos, also so wrong. I found a spot which was at least five metres away from everyone else and bared the flesh. I waited until everyone had left the beach so I could enjoy it to myself and bumped into a couple of guys that I passed on the way who had stopped at an earlier beach and decided to run to Lopez Mendes (as boys do – usually for a laugh) to check it out. Good timing as it was deserted. I then headed back to the next beach to get the boat.

The sunset was amazing on the way back though my camera battery ran out, sods law. While everyone was enjoying the sunset the crew started having a flap as thick black smoke started billowing out of the engine. The boat stopped. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. We were still about 10 minutes away from shore. As everyone started to share out the remnants of lunch, cereal bars and cigarettes I tried to work out who would provide the tastiest feast if we threw them on the burning engine. The fat American kid defo. But then his mum made us sandwiches with ham, cheese and bread (so much better than my lunch) so I gave up on that idea. The sun disappeared and the temperature dropped. Us gringos in our beach gear had to huddle together under a single sarong, not for long though as the other boat came to save us.

Main beach on Ilha Grande, Brazil

Praia de las Palmas on the way to Lopez Mendez, Ilha Grande, Brazil

Praia Abraozinho that I had all to myself for a good hour, Ilha Grande, Brazil

We met the guys later to check out the music festival and interesting it was. It’s certainly like no other music festival that I’ve been to and I can’t say that bands were very good but it was still fun. The next morning we nursed our caipirinha heads. I went on another hike two hour hike to a nearer beach and chilled out there for the day. I was too scared to get the boat back so I walked. The following morning I checked out a row of five beaches that sat side by side which were all lovely. I got there that early that I had the beach to myself (Suj refused to come with me) for a good two hours. It was so nice to finally do some chilling out, reading whilst catching a few rays. I’d not seen much sun for quite a while but saying that my tan was pretty much none existent when I came to leave Brazil.

The next stop was Rio which I was really looking forward to. Beaches, mountains though smallish, sun but also a manageable sized small city with some really interesting sights to check out. We arrived quite late and headed out for a few beers with a guy from Sao Paulo who was staying at the same hostel. I had a slight panic when we were out as I’d come on my period and needed to get to a chemist fast. Amazingly there was a 24 hour chemist open on the plaza nearby, however, it worked in the same way that a petrol station does after a certain time in the evening – venerable man checking you out behind a plane of glass. I had no idea how to ask for tampons and sanitary towels in Portuguese. In Spanish I didn’t either but I was at the level that I could have made my request clear in possibly the most disgusting way. I ended up having to ask the guy that we’d met to assist me. I’d only known the poor guy for about 10 minutes. ‘Hello, my name’s Claire. Please will you buy me some tampons, thank you please’. It was highly embarrassing as he kept relaying back questions in English, ‘What size tampon do you need?’, then bending down to reply into the microphone, ‘How many packs do you want?, What you need sanitary towels as well?’ ‘Extra large please’. He gave me a funny look and then handed me my goods as though I had some sort of disease as the now humongous queue craned their necks to see what the hold up was.

First sighting of a favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Selaron's steps, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

A tile 'From Mexico for Selaron', Selaron's steps, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Selaron's steps, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Cheeky pussy on Selaron's steps, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The rickety bonde, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Nova Cathedral, ugly on the outside but beautiful on the inside, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

With 10 nights in Rio it meant we could explore ir properly and still chill out a bit. Petty crime is really common and with reportedly over 900 favelas and widespread poverty, you have to watch your back all the time. It’s advised to avoid carrying anything valuable around with you at all times. I had a hairy moment when I went exploring into the unknown on my own during my first day there. I ended up walking up to a favela where the locals seemed really friendly. The area just below the favelas appeared to be quite wealthy and locals assured me that it was fine to go up there to get some good views of the city. I walked down a different route, mainly because I was running away from a dodgy looking character who was dragging his leg behind him. I ended up in the weirdest little area only full of locals where people were just getting on with their daily grind. It wasn’t a favela but it didn’t feel safe. I jumped on a bus to the more touristy part called Lapa. This really wasn’t much better. Nearby was the touristy site of Selarons steps. They were great but I was the only tourist walking around on my own although occasional bus loads of gringos hopped out to get their picture taken before piling back on the bus to their next destination. I walked around Lapa and it’s just seemed really desolate and a bit dodgy with a scattering of workers in suits. I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting but it all just felt a bit strange. I didn’t stay for long.

Going back to these places in the evening was a completely different experience. We met a French girl at the hostel and decided to check out Lapa on a Friday night, it’s just the thing to do. The cute Brazilian working at the hostel couldn’t recommend a specific bar; I would later understand why. It was crazy. Thousands of people lined the streets, music was blaring, different cachachas were flying out of the bars, people were dancing samba in the street, there were stalls selling beer and food and even portaloos. The only thing I can describe it as it like Notting Hill Carnival but 10 times more mental. There were a few gringos around but this was essentially where the locals hung out. One of the best sights was of a tranny in a netted (very large holes) red dress, black bra and G-string highly visible, huge heels and tits and arse big enough that you could easily balance a pint on each protruding bump. What a vision, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. If there is one place where locals wouldn’t even bat an eyelid, it’s Rio. They do things properly here. I can’t even begin to imagine what Carnival is like in Rio. It was really strange the way Lapa came alive in the evening but was almost a ghost town during a normal working day.

The Maze (in a favela) where Pharrel and Snoop Dogg filmed a music video, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Tavares Bastos Favela party, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Popcorn with pork scratchings, Brazilian styleee, favela grub, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Sampling the national dish of feijoada in Tavares Bastos Favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The guys in Lapa were seriously sleazy. The rest of South America was nothing compared to Lapa and I know you’ve had to put up with my moaning about them. This is one thing that Brazilian men seriously ‘do properly’. Towards about 6am we were trying to squeeze through the crowds to escape the chaos, I got accosted by about eight guys in a matter of minutes. After shrugging off one sleeze, another sleazebag grabbed me and tried to make samba happen, saw that this would never work so would give up before allowing the next sniffer to partake. It was an interesting night to say the least.?The following night we ended up being invited to a party in a favela by some Frenchies who’d befriended the guy who owned the Cultural Centre there. One girl assured us that it was really safe up in this favela which was one of the few actually run by the police and not the drug lords. It only turned out to be the Catete favela which I had stumbled across on my first day. We received our own private tour and headed to the hostel up there called The Maze with stunning views which was part of the setting for Snoop Dogg and Pharrel´s music video Beautiful. After a tour around the Cultural Centre aimed at giving the local kids from the favela multiple opportunities, we joined the party. It wasn’t quite Lapa but it was fun meeting the locals and supporting them by partaking in drinking their dirty concoction of caipirinhas and sampling some street food. There was an amazing community spirit and everyone seemed to know each other. We even got invited back to the favela where a tiny restaurant promised to prepare us the national dish of feijoada especially for us (stewed pork with beans in a rich sauce).

Later that evening we headed back into Lapa again which was crazy but no where as mental as the previous night. The owner of the Cultural Centre showed us where we could see authentic samba, a brightly lit cafe with plastic chairs plastered with beer sponsors (similar to a greasy cafe back home) where the band were squeezed in the corner and locals were sexy dancing in front of them. It was raw, passionate and what samba is all about. However some of the other guys we were with went to a samba club night where a band were performing so I went to check out that after. This was a completely different experience in more ways than one.  It wasn’t cheap to get in, everyone had to set up a tab, it was European, dark, dingy and expensive, a band were performing on stage and gringos were trying to shake their booty. Authentic it certainly wasn’t.

Cristo Redentor and some scaffolding, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

View from Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Pao de Azucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) in the distance, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Waiting for the cable car up to Pao de Azucar, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

View from Pao de Azucar, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Although most nights did consist of going out in Lapa, the day activities were slightly more varied. The Cristo Redentor (Christ statue) at sunset was amazing, offering stunning views over the city but the millions of gringos thing got to me. I preferred Pao de Azucar (Sugar Loaf) mainly because I got to hike up the first hump. 98% of visitors take the cable car. It was an easy walk where I passed loads of monkeys scurrying around along the way but best of all I would only pay half the price and it was a rip off to get the cable car four times. I got there just after midday and went to the ticket office only to find that it was closed until 1pm for lunch. Whhhaaa, this is one of the most touristy attractions in Rio and the ticket office was closed for lunch? Ludicrous. Still the views weren’t bad at the half way point. Finally at the top I met some really sweet locals who complimented me on my Portuguese, ‘No, please don’t think I’m speaking really bad Portuguese, I’m actually speaking Spanish with a few Portuguese words thrown in’.

I went to see what the hype was about with the beautiful city beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema by going on a four hour hike. I wasn’t a massive fan as the area was so much more built up, it was where the gringos hung out and was peppered with trendy bars, little boutique shops, travel agencies and money exchange places. I could completely see why tourists stayed around the area though. You get to stay next to the beaches and bars and it’s generally a safer area. One thing that you can’t avoid noticing in Rio are the tanned lean bodies. You especially get a good eyeful on Copacabana and Ipanema. Fitness is a really big issues and with outdoor mini gyms in parks, plazas and on the beaches, it’s accessible to everyone, not just drunk gringos who think it’s funny and would only pluck up the courage to use the equipment after several caipirinhas. The stretches of beaches are littered with volleyball courts and scantily clad toned players. It’s just part of the culture. Perhaps as a nation we need to take some tips from the Brazilian’s.

The five stories permitted inside the Vila Canoas favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Inside Vila Canoas favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

View from the shop in Vila Canoas Favela, Rio de Janiero, Brazil

The largest favela in Rio, Rochina, Brazil

We went on an organised favela tour and specifically chose one where some of the money goes towards community projects. The projects took place at Vila Canoas, a small, safe favela run by the police. After we were driven to the largest and probably the most dangerous favela, Rocinha, home to 100,000 residents where the drug lords dictate how the favela is run. We weren’t permitted to take photos there as the drug lords didn’t want the risk of being identified and arrested. The city within a city was huge and had everything from banks to schools and butchers to McDonald’s. Less than a kilometer away lies a beautiful stretch of beach, a luscious green golf course and 5 star hotels at eye popping prices.? It was crazy to see different levels of society literally living side by side. Back home any home on a hillside generally represents wealth but it the opposite in Rio. All the favelas, (or shanty towns) are built on the hillside but they do boast amazing views.

We were really eager to try and see a Brazilian league football game and while we were there the game happened to be between two of the top four sides but the agencies reported that it was too dangerous to take us. We figured that the game was probably the equivalent of United versus Arsenal. We did however, manage a night out to the enormous jockey club, so big that you can probably see it from space. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing but luckily I asked a guy from Spain who explaned everything to us. Suj won on just about every race but I was playing a riskier game so only won once. It made a change to going out in Lapa.  The guys at the hostel were not able to give us any information about it as it wasn’t on the list of things to do for travellers.

We managed to accomplish just about everything in our 10 days in Rio. It’s definitely a cool city but I wouldn’t want to live there. I couldn’t quite believe that my nine months on the road were coming to an end. It felt quite strange to be going back home but I was ready for some home comforts.

Cultural centre in Recife which was formerly a prison, Brazil

When checking in for my three flights home, gah, with a six hour wait in Recife in the north of Brazil, the guy who checked me in was really sweet and ended up giving me a seat right by the emergency exit so I got more leg room. Learning the language and fluttering my lashes has definitely paid off. It was so worth it as the local flight was equivalent to a Squeezy Jet flight. I met a couple of other travellers who were also on their way home which softened the blow of returning home and made the six hour transfer bearable. I suggested heading in Recife where we went for something to eat and sank beers and even squeezed in a visit to the museum/shopping/cultural centre housed in a former prison.

My next flight (Recife to Frankfurt) was so budget that there weren’t even any screens but I was incredibly thankful to a couple who gave me a copy of Anchor Man which got me through the flight. I was literally pissing myself laughing and I kept getting funny looks from others. The final leg was from Frankfurt to Manchester… completely knackered I returned back to Blighty.

Posted in Travel | Comments Off on Doing it properly


Sunday 11 June – Sunday 3 July 2011

My next three weeks of travelling can only be described as ‘interesting’, with my decision making included, as I didn’t have any sort of plan. I’m not sure if they were the right decisions but then this adds to the ‘experience’ of travelling. The sights were so varied that it’s impossible for me to even attempt to put this entry under one category. Perhaps ‘random’ sums it up though ‘interesting’ is probably more appropriate. The scenery and landscape, transport, food, cleanliness, architecture, border crossings and weather were all so different in such a short space of time. But then I did travel from Argentina, to Brazil, back to Argentina, to Paraguay and then back into Brazil. The one thing that remained consistant was the friendliness and generosity of everyone in these countries, including other travellers, (oh and of course the pervyness of Latinos). I recall a time, just a few days into Brazil, where I asked a local I was sat next to on a bus if I was at the right station. He asked where I was going and showed me where the ticket office was and where I needed to get the bus from to the airport then walked off in the opposite direction so obviously went out of his way. I then tried to ask in Spanish for some tickets but the woman working at the bus agency didn’t understand me at all, and neither did her five colleagues who were staring at me confused with frowning wrinkly foreheads whilst trying their hardest to understand at least one word that I was trying to say. In the end a local in the queue who could speak really good English helped me out and translated everything, then one of the workers escorted me to where I needed to get the bus. I made the bus with minutes to spare. Brazilians really do go out of their way to help you. At times I almost found the friendliness overwhelming. It’s going to be strange to get back to dog eat dog London where everyone will think I’m trying to rob then if I merely smile at them.

I met a really sweet Swiss guy whilst in Iguazu (I only befriended him as I knew he’d still got a small supply of Swiss chocolate left) who was heading back into Paraguay as he had family there and as I had just over three weeks before my friend Suj was due to join me, I had time to do a bit of exploring so we decided to travel together for a few days. I’d not heard many interesting reports about Paraguay bar the fact that it’s cheap, everyone is incredibly friendly and you can save a few quid if you want to buy anything electrical. Slightly annoying seeing as I’d already bought a laptop and a camera, the latter in the most expensive South American country where the electronic items aren’t even that good. I was intrigued though and wanted to check it out for myself. (And not just to get a stamp and tick it off my list like many of the other travellers that I’d met).

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

El Garganta del Diablo (The Devil's Throat), Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Double rainbow, Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Bar the thousands of tourists at Iguazu Falls, the majority of them coach loads of visored Japanese who view the falls through their two inch Nikon screens, bat you out of the way, get ‘the photo’ complete with peace signs, then move onto the next viewpoint, they were incredible. Machu Picchu, The Galapagos and Iguazu Falls are definitely in the top five of ‘must sees’ in South America so you just have to deal with the fact that there will be millions of tourists. The Falls are actually shared with Argentina and Brazil. On the Argentinian side you get on top of the waterfalls via a series of walkways and see an amazing view of the thunderous El Garganta de Diablo (The Devil’s Throat), I stayed there for a good hour, (the Japenese got ‘the photo’ and left, interesting), while on the Brazilian side you get more of a panaramic view and more of a sense of scale of the Falls. (There are 275 falls in total making them the widest range in the world). Ask any Argentinian or any traveller that has only seen them from the Argentinian side and they will swear that they are better from that side and the same goes for the Brazilian side. I’d always planned to see both sides so I could make up my own mind and slightly controversially, although both sides were immense, I think I prefered the Brazilian side (though probably because most people prefer the Argentinian side and I like to be different – some might say awkward). There is one section on the Brazilian side where there are walkways over the top of a fall, at the base of another, panoramic views of several more with El Garganta de Diablo in the distance. For me, being at the base of a waterfall you physically feel the impact of the thunderous crashes and really get the sense of how dramatic the falls are and although I come out looking like I was competing in a wet t-shirt competition and with hair glued to my face, it’s worth it. It’s contradictory anyway as from the Brazilian side you’re actually seeing the Argetine falls and vice versa. My advice is to go and see them from both sides.

Together with Severin, the Swiss chocolate guy, we headed to Ciudade del Este in Paraguay (right on the border) though only to visit the Itaipu Dam (the second largest in the world although its produces more electricity pro rata than the largest dam in China) before heading South and staying in Encarnacion for the night which was near to a National Park and some Jesuit ruins. I swear that as soon as I crossed the border I got the shits. After leaving Bolivia I’d been fine for almost three months in the ‘European’ countries of Chile and Argentina where they have seats, flushing toilets and toilet roll. The border crossing was an ‘interesting’ experience. We left Argentina and got our routine stamps. The full bus briefly entered Brazil and left towards Paraguay where more and more people squeezed onto the bus and crammed down the aisle. Memories of bus rides in the Andean countries came flooding back. Swiss chocolate had said that we would have to get more stamps as we entered and left Brazil but the local bus never stopped. Now we know why everyone was eager to get their stamps quickily and get back on the bus – so they could get a seat. I’d left my quick dry towel hanging on the back seat to dry. We got back on the bus and had to stand right at the front. A local parked her arse on my feet. I hoped she’d not got the shits too just from crossing the border.

Upon entering Paraguay it was crazy. There were people and traffic everywhere and so much noise and commotion. I asked the driver if he was going to stop and wait at emigration while we got out stamps but he had absolutely no plans to (we’d read that locals didn’t need stamps to get in though but obviously us gringos did). I shouted for the driver to stop but I still needed to get my towel. Swiss chocolate took my day pack for me and said he’d get our rucksacks from under the bus while I tried to retrieve my towel. It was a nightmare. There was no way that I could get past everyone sandwiched down the aisle without being accused of wanting to touch everyone up (though the Latino’s would have quite liked this) so I had to shout. Locals shouted back that it wasn’t there but I could see it. It was like chinese whispers, by the time the message got to the person in my seat, they were looking for some green pantaloons. The bus had started up again and we were getting deeper into electronic shopping caos. Before panic kicked in I eventually got my towel back very slowly as it got passed down the aisle through grubby locals hands. Grabbing it, I demanded to get off the bus only to get bombarded by electronic shopping flyers being thrust in my face. Luckily because of the traffic we’d only moved about 100m down the road. I headed back towards the immigration office hoping Swiss chocolate would be there waiting for me. Phew, to our relief we see each other in the street through the arms of flapping flyers waving in the air. Poor Swiss chocolate was almost melting after carrying my many kilos.

Itaipu Dam, Paraguay

We manage to get a local bus to the bus station where we witnessed numerous people living in homemade tent made from bin lines and cardboard boxes opposite. Kids with their dirty palms out swarmed towards us asking for money. I’d not seen such poverty for a few months so it was a bit of a shock to the system. We scurried into the bus station and ended up getting a taxi to the dam as it was the only way we’d make the tour (in English) and there was no way we were staying the night in Electronic Town. The dam was really impressive but the tour was in Spanish so hard work understanding everything. We ended up returning to Electronic Town with hours to spare before our bus to Encarnacion, further south, so we decided to check out the place. With some poor/no information and a useless map from the unhelpful woman at the information booth who couldn’t even locate where we were on he map, we headed out. We literally walked about 5 meters, turned a corner and were stopped by a man and his son. They are filthy. The father peered at us through his long, grey matted hair with his strange, blue, glazed, glassy eyeball whilst cluthching a plastic bag full of chicken feet which was completely covered in raw blood. The kid was there with his hands out and they both talked really slowly… it felt like a scene out of The Road. We jumped into a taxi where the driver tried to make a few quid and asked if we wanted to see some sites far out of town. This is after we drive to the lake whereupon he asks why we’re going there as it’s not interesting and it’s really dangerous. (The unhelpful woman at the station gave us this unuseful advice about the lake or rather, I asked her if the lake was nice and she replied with ‘yes’). We get him to take us to a restaurant and we arrive at what is probably the most expensive one in the whole of the city. We catch some rays on the balcony which is overlooking the lake, whilst sipping a beer and it’s feels like we’re in Europe. Not quite a true representation of Electronic Town.

Swiss Chocolate relaxing after the border crossing from Argentina to Paraguay

It was like being back in Bolivia when we got the bus south to Encarnation. The bus was full of smelly locals with on average three per two seats, there was no air con, the toilet stank, (you’re lucky if there was a toilet), my seat was broken and I kept sliding forward and head-butting the seat in front of me every time the bus stopped while vendors jumped on and tried to sell you something. It’s fine if you’re lazy as goods come to you but being asked if you want chipa, chipa, chipa, (local cheesy bread there which might be tasty if they wasn’t as hard as rocks and warm) about 50 times on a three hour journey is pretty annoying. Sometimes there were even proper meals offered although the slop was usually sold in a plastic bag thinner than cling film and merely tied at the top. They looked disgusting and I’ve never sampled one because it would probably have gone right through me but also because you’re not allowed to poo on buses. Fortunately on our journey a small child was selling beer so that helped ease the pain.

Nothing much was going on in Encarnacion and we’d originally planned to go to the San Rafael National Park nearby to do some hiking but we scorned at the idea of needing to get a bus back towards Electronic Town (although nowhere near it) and instead came up with the ridiculous idea of going and staying at Hotel Tirol, literally fit for a King, (apparently it’s a favourite of the King of Spain). Or rather Swiss Chocolate who was on a slightly different budget to me talked me into it and at GBP18 each for the night it was a bit of bargain to stay in a 5 star hotel. I was easily convinced after I read that there were acres of land to go hiking in, it had a classy restaurant and had four, yes four, swimming pools.

Gorgeous view of the hairy pool, Hotel Tirol, Paraguay

Fancy a dip? Hotel Tirol, Paraguay

Two of the pools were illuminous green they had that much algea in them. One was about three inches deep and basically for small children or midgits and as I swam in the only hole that resembled a pool, I swallowed several flies, moths, balls of hair and plasters. It was freezing but then I wasn’t expecting it be heated seeing as we were the only guests staying there. The walk in the gardens was pleasant enough though the trails weren’t clearly marked but we found some fresh satsumas to eat while the mosquitos ate us. The food was disgusting. We asked for our steaks rare and they came out shrivelled and tough. Luckily we’d had a bottle of rum before hand so saw the funny side. Breakfast mainly consisted of cakes and biscuits which included some of a Christmas variety that you could whack against a table and they still wouldn’t break and probably the leftovers from the last time they had guests (at Christmas). Fit for a King my arse. Although it didn’t really live up to our expectations we still managed to have fun there. It was a treat sitting out on the balcony in the sun reading, occassionally pausing to see if the dead moths or the plasters would win the race to the end of the pool.

Trinidad Jesuit Ruins, Paraguay

One of the highlights of Paraguay were the visits to the beautifully preserved Jesuit Ruins of Jesus and Trinidad. They are supposedly the least visited UNESCO World Heritage Site’s in the world so well worth a visit. Settlements built amongst beautiful surroundings gave the native indigenous people, the Guarani Indian’s, an enhanced and equal life thanks to the arrival of the Jesuit priests, although this didn’t last very long. After visiting the Ruins of Jesus, we decided to head to the Ruins of Trinidad further afield and ended up sharing a taxi with two of the rudest French travellers ever, who we’d seen wandering around the first ruins. We tried to make converstation but they weren’t having any of it so I gave up. This is a rare occurance as the majority of travellers always seem to make an effort even if they do sound like an Indian phone operator reading off a screen, ‘Where are you from, where have you been, where are you going, yah yah yah…..’ When we got to the ruins they walked off and myself and Swiss Chocolate chatted to the guy that worked there for ages and he ended up giving us the key to the tower (the only other way to scale up to the tower for amazing views is to hire a guide). After a quick walk around, we snook up past the French while they were sat in front of the tower after their speedy viewing. Feeling like school kids we darting past windows and ducking our heads, then crawling along the roof on our fronts so we were out of view all the while giggling like naughty five year olds. I did feel a bit guilty but agreed with Swiss Chocolate when he said ‘sod the unfriendly gits’. I was trying to come up with a plan as to where we’d been as we could see them looking for us but they never peeped a word in the taxi back so that saved us a job.

Sevein and his cute family in the cutest bar ever, San Lorenzo, Paraguay

We spent the next few days staying with Swiss Chocolate’s family in San Lorezo just below the capital, Asuncion. The family were so cute and welcoming and had no quarms about this random girl staying, perhaps because they thought that I was Swiss Chocolate’s girlfriend but he set the record straight. Apart from jumping on some bathroom scales, nearly breaking them and finding out that I actually weighed exactly the same as Swiss Chocolate (OK maybe you should keep that bar of Swiss chocolate, Swiss Chocolate) and having a little cry after realising that I’d put on a stone, I had a lovely time. I got invited to a family parrilla, drank in the family owned bar, got cooked delicious food, was encouraged to take siestas and headed to the fair for the day which got the adrenline pumping. It was the equivalent of Zippo’s Circus, complete with the rickety Mouse Trap ride where I feared for my life. I’m not sure why I was expecting an Alton Towers-esque experience in such a poor country. This I can guarantee was one of the most terrifying things that I’d done in the last eight months. Forget Death Road. The Mouse Trap won hands down.

The few days with the family were really chilled and it was great to be part of and see how important families are to the Paraguayans. (There were four generations at the parilla). They live a really simple yet fulfilled life, the extended family sharing a dongle between about 15 members (which still didn’t work when I tried it). I had an all round ‘interesting’ experience in Paraguay. It was sad saying goodbye to Severin (Swiss Chocolate) but worth it so that I got the last bar of his supply. Yum and such a treat as I’d not had good chocolate for months.

My next stop was Brazil, in the winter. Florianopolis, famous for it’s lovely, remote beaches on the island of Santa Catarina, was grey and miserable so there was no point of even attempting to go and check out the sea and sand. I decided to head further South to a tiny town called Praia Grande where there were some beautiful canyons where I could go trekking. I figured that I could trek in the rain but sitting on the beach in the rain is a bit weird. After taking almost a day to get there, I found out the following morning that we couldn’t do the day trek as it involved crossing a river at the base of the canyons which was too high and dangerous. I was trapped there for three days, with about 20 locals who were all taking a long weekend off work as the Friday was a holiday. Although they were all really sweet, I could barely communicate with any of them as I didn’t know Portuguese and I was somewhat reluntant to take lessons as I want to keep up my Spanish. A group who could speak some english took me under their wing and ferried me around to see some sights. One of the girls, Paula, had an amazing contraption for her camera. ‘Do you know what this is Claire?’, she asked me on the first day that we met, ‘It’s looks like a tripod’, I replied. ‘No, it’s not, watch this’. The silver pole was already screwed into the little hole underneath the camera, (where a tripod would usually sit). Paula extended the pole so it was about a metre long, set the timer on the camera and tilted it slightly so it was facing all of us, grabbed hold of the end of the pole with her arm stretched out, and told us to smile. Throughout my life I have always wanted a Go Go Gadget Arm, and now my dream was in sight. The device was basically an arm extension so you didn’t need to ask someone to take a photo for you, everyone in the group could be in the picture, it’s ideal for lone travellers so you don’t just have an extended arm and fleshy face with no background in pictures, perfect for taking sneaky shots of things that you’re not supposed to be photographing, amazing at gigs as you can take pictures of the acts and the crowd easily rather than asking the tallest person there who is usually always conveniently positioned in front of me anyway, in fact we kept thinking of more and more uses for it. Paula’s friend had seen the device in China and was thinking about importing it to Brazil. It would definitely make millions. I wonder how it would go down in the UK? One occasion where the contraption came into use was when a group of us packed into two car loads and headed up to the National Park at the top of the canyon (we were staying at the base of the canyon). Paula’s car decided to break down in the middle of nowhere. The other car load were in front of us and luckily they headed back after about five minutes when they realised that we were no longer following them. The boys did the manly thing of getting underneath the bonnet and luckily managed to fix the problem as we were starting to freeze to death. We took a group shot so that we could remember out memorable day with the Go Go Gadget Arm. Perfect, as there was no-one around to take the shot for us.

Go Go Gadget Arm, Praia Grande, Brazil

You can just about make out the crack, Praia Grande, Brazil

Finally sun, on my leaving day, Praia Grande, Brazil

Because the town was so tiny there was usually a bus every day but they were at random times so I ended up staying for longer than I had wanted to. On arrival into the town I had no idea where to get off or where I was going and wasn’t even able to find a map when researching about the place. I asked a local on the bus and luckily the guy spoke really good ‘American’ English and ended up taking me to the centre and to a cafe where the wife of a tour guide worked who would know where my hostel was. He recognised the three girls in the cafe who were having an afternoon pit stop of tea and cakes who also tried to help. The wife was really sweet, she figured out where I needed to be and actually called the hostel to have someone come and pick me up and told me about the canyons while I waited. This sort of hospitality is really hard to come by back home, maybe in small towns but then you’d always worry that you might get raped on the moors en route. I finally managed to escape the tiny town.

Fishermen stopping for a bite, Barra del Lagoa, Santa Catarina, Brazil

Hike up to the lighthouse, Barra del Lagoa, Santa Catarina, Brazil

Santa Catarina, Brazil

Santa Catarina, Brazil

My plan was to head back to Florianopolis to visit the beaches and the forecast for the next few days seemed much better so I figured I’d be able to bare some flesh. Santa Catarina turns out to be a beautiful island so I’m glad I came back. I did a hike up to a lighthouse for some amazing views but then saw some discarded trousers in there and got a bit freaked out so headed back down. I met a guy who was staying at the same hostel and he escorted me around the island one day in his car, our mission was to try and get a boat to a tiny island but there were very few going as it was out of season but we still visited numerous other beaches and stopped for a shrimp show for dinner which consisted of about six courses of prawns.

Views over Ouro Preto, Brazil

Ouro Preto, Brazil

Por kilo fun, Ouro Preto, Brazil

Colonial churches in Mariana, Brasil

Colourful buildings, Mariana, Brazil

Capoeira in Mariana, Brasil

Suddenly over two weeks had passed just like that and I still had a few days before I was due to meet my friend in Sao Paulo. I really wished I had more time to visit the North of Brazil but as were were going to travel from Sao Paulo and end up in Rio de Janeiro I didn’t want to repeat that bit of the journey so I decided to head a bit more inland to a small colonial place called Ouro Preto (meaning Black Gold in Portuguese) in Minas Gerais, famous for the gold rush and Brazil’s golden age in the 18th century. The journey there was a mere six buses and a flight but it was well worth it. Today, the remains of it’s several beautiful churches are proof of it’s past prosperity. The historic town was simply stunning, as was the neighbouring even smaller town of Mariana, the sun shone and I managed to eat a ridiculous amount of food and have a bit of a rest as I psyched myself up for crazy Sao Paulo. Deep breath. Now, time to head to the coast and get me a Brazilian…

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Thursday 12 May 2011 – Saturday 11 June 2011

Buenos Aires, was it going to live up to all the hype of being the most vibrant and exciting city in South America? I was really excited about heading there, one because I would be putting my clothes into a draw for at least two weeks, two because I would be staying in an apartment and three I would be sharing a bed with a sexy Swede… by the name of Hanna. We’d met on the very first day of my travels and bumped into each other in Colombia a few times and then I passed by the beach where Hanna was working in Ecuador. It was five and a half months since we’d seen each other.

My first impression of Buenos Aires wasn’t so good. Like most cities, the area around the station is never nice and it’s one of the first times that I’ve felt quite vulnerable carrying my worldly possessions, (albeit holey smelly clothes that are worth about three empanadas) though mainly because there were so many people around. It was the first time that I felt like I was in a busy city. It felt like I was back in London. Rather than take a taxi, I took the ridiculously cheap Subte (underground) for ARS1.10, the equivalent of 18p and reached the apartment fine in the bohemian area of San Telmo better known for it’s antiques. It turns out I would be sharing with nine others, all young professionals mainly from Europe with the majority being creative individuals all there to work or study or do both. Myself and Hanna felt like the vagabonds as we were merely there for a jolly. I soon settled into a routine of no routine.

The chill out area in the apartment, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The roof terrace of the apartment where I had breakfast (at lunch time) every morning (well afternoon)

Whilst in BA, nothing seemed to function properly. My body-clock got completely messed up. Porteñas (locals who are from BA) eat really late, it’s not unusual for a family, sometimes with a baby, to enter a restaurant at 11pm for a light dinner of a kilo of meat and a bottle of wine. After dinner, Porteñas go out and party until at least 7am by which time the kebab on the way home is actually breakfast. They sleep for most of the day rising late and beginning the days activities well into the afternoon.

Partying all night is fun but then I hate sleeping until the afternoon, I beat myself up and feel like one of those rebellious 18 year old Gap Year travellers who fester in party hostels all day and waste their lives away. This is just the way it is in BA. I did manage to pretty much do an activity a day (even if this was just go for a coffee – one day this was literally the only thing I managed), though the activity usually started around 2pm rather than the morning, generally with an non functioning brain.

I did start off with good intentions on my very first day though. On my introduction to BA after lunch and mate (type of herbal tea using yerba that the Argentines drink constantly out of a non functional gourd and metal straw whilst clenching a flask of hot water under their armpit) on the roof terrace, we headed to the Holocaust Museum for a nice fun start, then for a rip off bite to eat, treated ourselves to some tetro pack wine much to the disgust of our fellow flatmates (I’m sure they were wondering who these new pikeys were) then headed to a private view in a gallery in Palermo (plusher end of the town where everyone goes out), with some interesting erotic, purply pink ink drawings. The majority of the people there were skinny gay art students in bollock hugging garish trousers. One piece of art was so rude that it was behind a curtain and myself and Hanna were asked to partake in a video that a funny gay guy was filming where we had to act really shocked when we peered through the curtain. By the fifth time it was just embarrassing. He wasn’t impressed so decided to film himself emerging from the curtain in some sort of sexual tongue waggling through fingers in true Kingpin styleee whilst making groaning sounds. We left the too cool for skool gang and got enticed into a bar offering free pizzas only to have missed out by minutes, meet a guy from Austria and end up in a hip hop club with sleezy men up to our eyeballs (not literally as the men are actually taller than 5 foot in BA thank the lord). We get back at 6am and have breakfast. So after completely overdoing it on my first day with multiple activities, I thought I’d step off the gas a little and do nothing.

I felt tired for the first month in BA; I stayed for a month. My motivation seemed to have gone out of the window but then it was difficult when there wasn’t even the hostel breakfast of dry bread, butter and jam to look forward to before 10am in the morning. Myself and Hanna congratulated ourselves if we got up before 10am and out of the apartment before 11am. Also there were no tours organised by the hostels to get up for as we were staying in an apartment.

We went on one tour in a month which was to a football game at La Bombonera (meaning chocolate box as the stadium resembles a one, there was nothing chocolaty about it), to see Boca Juniors play and supposedly the craziest supporters in the world. I’d contacted my Porteño friends asking how to go about getting tickets as it’s one activity where it’s advised that it’s too dangerous to do independently and myself and Hanna were reluctant to go with a ‘gringo’ tour. Hanna had worked at a hostel for a few days before I arrived so had a contact to try too (although she’d completely forgotten what he looked like) and luckily he was able to get us tickets though we’d have to join the tour at the hostel. Tickets are usually around ARS100 each unless it’s a really big game. We paid ARS150 and all the gringos paid ARS330. We felt pretty smug. I think the worst thing about the tour was the fact that all 70 travellers, bar one Spanish guy, were speaking English. It was the first time that we’re been surrounded by so many English speaking travellers and felt really strange. I generally try and avoid the young party crowds where Spanish is rarely spoken.

The first stop on our tour was to visit a traditional restaurant in La Boca. It was the same touristy restaurant that myself and Hanna had been dragged in the week before. This time we were all herded to the back where there was a separate bar, merely a crate of beer behind a table and the only available food being choripan. (Chorizo sausage in a small baguette). Everyone in the restaurant starred at the gringo lemmings as we trooped in. It was pretty awful and I felt like a bit of an animal.

La bombonera, Boca Juniors

Me and the sexy Swede at La bombonera checking out a few Nobs

In the stadium we were surrounded by hooded youths in the concrete stands opposite the crazy home fans. I’ve been to a few football games and they are by far the craziest fans I’ve even seen. At one point everyone at the opposite end was jumping up and down while singing (the same chant a millions times) to the sound of a band whilst twirling umbrellas; I thought the stand was going to collapse. It must be the most intimidating stadium for away fans to visit. They were nowhere to be seen but then when we saw piss get tipped onto the fans below us we realised that the away fans, Nobs Newells, were sat above. We were quite far back in the stand so luckily were safe from getting a golden shower.

The game wasn’t that exciting but La Boca beat the Nobs by 2 goals to nil, going completely crazy with each goal. When the game finished we were told that we’d have to wait about half an hour before we would be leaving. I figured it was because there were thousands of fans there and it would be hard to remain as a 70 strong group, but actually it was to allow the away fans out first so they could piss all over the stairwell and get on the Subte (Metro) before the home fans beat the crap out of them, nice.

The most annoying thing that wasn’t functioning was my compact camera which gave up on me on an incredible hike in Bariloche. It had served me well and I was slighly annoyed that it wasn’t going to last the duration of my trip. Hanna was glad that I was meeting her as her camera had packed up and figured she could just get copies from my camera, I was thinking the same thing. I was without a camera for a good few weeks, tried to get it fixed but it came back even worse so gave in and bought a new one in a country where electronic items are really expensive and generally not very good.

I’d visited the Zoo, watched a camel poo then sleep in what can only be described as the most uncomfortable position and seen some animals for the first time without a camera but as it wasn’t too expensive and Hanna was keen on going I went back with my new camera that I’d bought the day before. I’d taken about 15 pictures of a monkey that I’d befriended when my new camera decided to pack up. I was so annoyed, I wasn’t going to come back to the zoo for a third time.

As Argentina was not the place to get electronics fixed I thought I’d give my beloved PC a bash, (God knows how it happened) and have to get the screen replaced because ink had dispersed all over the screen, just as I was about to post my blog. In two months of being in Argentina my mobile didn’t work once even though I tried buying two different sim cards, going into numerous phone shops and topping it up twice with credit. Gah, nada estan funcionando. (Nothing is working).

My organs got well and truly battered, I realised this was a problem when I got alcohol poisoning. Four clubs in my first six days (about the same amount of clubs I’ve been to in the last 10 years), was a bit excessive. The funny thing is that I was in BA over four Saturdays but we never even really went out on a Saturday night. (I went out once but this was for a few local drinks and I was back by 4am so an early night). We chose instead to drink tea and eat cake in a nice part of town, read our books and then stroll back to the apartment. It’s just the way that it worked out, we’d go out during the week then come Saturday we’d always need a night off. But then the city never sleeps, which is why I loved it, there’s is always something different going on and if you want to go out until 6am on Sunday, you can, though I’m not sure how any local manages to keep to a routine and remain disciplined.

Hanna chilling in the country

Parrilla in the country

Still, although I moved at a very slow pace in BA, I still managed to do some really cool stuff which included activities that the average tourist wouldn’t do, thanks to staying in the apartment. Heading out to the country for the day courtesy of our landlord and a guy that lived in one of his other properties was great. Although I loved BA, it was nice to get out to somewhere rural for the day. We went horse riding, or more, we both shat our pants  at the mere thought of having to geton a horse (the last time I was on a horse was when I fell off it), and trotted around a field for a few minutes but luckily the parrilla (barbecued meat) was ready soon after we mounted so saved us, we went for a walk, ate mounds of tasty meat, dranks lots of mate, tried to understand what a local guy was saying but he was literally the fastest speaker I’ve encountered on my trip and I had to get him to repeat sentences about 5 times before I managed to even pluck out one word, it got quite comical in the end and we just ended up laughing at him. Usually if you ask someone to repeat something in Spanish they just repeat but louder, though perhaps a little clearer. This guy repeated the sentence just as quickly, using the same complex words all the time whilst barely moving his mouth. It wasn’t quite an Eustacia, where gaucho’s own millions of horses and acres of land in the country but still it was a really good day.

Concrete = Canvas

Artists at work, Concrete = Canvas

Concrete = Canvas

Flatmate Estebans's work of art, Concrete = Canvas

Concrete = Canvas

Concrete = Canvas

Concrete = Canvas

Another cool day was the event that our flatmate, Callie, had organised, the founder of Concrete = Canvas where street art is made accessible to everyone. Her latest project was to invite artists to paint the walls of a deprived gated community, formerly an abandoned textile factory but now home to 3000 residents, to inject some life and vibrancy into the vacant concrete walls. It was such an eye opener as usually if you got your camera out in similar surroundings it would be whipped out of your hand before a picture was taken. I met a few locals living there who were really friendly and the kids were so cute and got really excited by the circus show. I’d turned up two hours after I’d said that I’d meet Hanna due to non functioning streets. I’d found the street and got nearer to the actual number when the street disappeared only to restart about a km away. What’s that all about? So confusing. I’d stopped to ask at least 25 locals for directions, most of them not able to help me but everyone really went out of their way to help.

It was really good to get shown around by locals even though their idea of a good bar in the evening of a brightly lit cafe was interesting, sample traditional food where there were only locals, go to house parties, visit an cute organic food market where I treated myself to some expensive posh cheese only to have it robbed from the fridge, go to local bars where myself and Hanna were treated like celebrities (people were literally queuing up to speak to us and kept offering us their drinks as they never see tourists), share an apartment with nine others where we conversed mainly in Spanish which was tough as moving on from the basic Spanish that rolls off my tongue as I’ve said sentences like ‘I’m from England, I live in London, I am travelling’ about a million times, requires the next level of Spanish so much harder but good practice, but essentially, to live like a local for a short period was really good experience.

La Bomba del Tiempo

La Boca

La Boca

Obelisk, 9 de Julio, the widest avenue in the world, according to the Argentinian's

San Telmo antiques

Graffiti in San Telmo


My favourite hangout spot in BA where I spend a lot of time pretending to be a writer, La Poesia

Obviously we indulged ourselves in touristy stuff too. We went to some interesting galleries, art events, saw loads of graffiti, La Bomba de Tiempo only three times, a crazy drum show and a bad start to the week as it was on a Monday night but the best bit was the burrito man after the show who was the only vendor who was selling so much that he was sweating, (I was distraught the third time I went to La Bomba and he wasn’t there), spent was too much time in Palermo which was the other end of town but there was a huge park and where the main hub of nightlife was, got invited by Ben and Emma (who I met on the W) to a parrilla at their hostel, visited one of the worlds largest deltas, Tigre, for the day, (it was the second time I’d been on a train in seven and a half months), sampled some tasty food, got completely marketed out (though the antique markets of San Telmo were really good where I ummed and ahhed about whether to buy a glass soda syphon which would cost me about GBP40 just to send home as it weighed about two kilos), hired bikes and cycled through and around parks, visited the Recoleta Cemetery and went on a couple of city walks though right at the end of my stay. Everyone else had only been in BA for a matter of days but I tried to blag that it was actually more interesting to get to know a city first so you knew your bearings and weren’t just walking around aimlessly, I think they fell for it.

Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay

I popped over to Colonia deSacramento in Uruguay for the day as it’s just a short ferry ride away though nearly missed it as I’d partied till 6am the night before and had to be up at 7am to be at the port by 8am. I woke up at 7.59am and leapt out of bed, even contemplating not brushing my teeth but thought again, and made the 8.45am departure with minutes to spare. I met a friendly guy from Spain though could barely speak as my brain wasn’t functioning and kept having to wipe dribble from my mouth. It was a really sweet Colonial town though and good to escape the bright lights for a day even though I spent most of my hungover days at the cute cafe or Poesia (a writers cafe) just downstairs and next door to the apartment.

It was really sad leaving BA but after a month I really needed to give my liver and kidneys a bit of TLC so they function again, but it was fun, so worth the battering.

bit of TLC. Time to give my organs a break so they start functioning again.

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