Thursday, 20 January 2011

Salvador - Samba Capital

My bus arrived to Salvador in the middle of the night. Every time I read about Salvador, I always heard how dangerous it is, and how a tourist should be careful...I'm not saying I wasn't, I'm not saying you shouldn't...I just never felt like my life/belongings were at any risk.

Quickly finding a nice local from my bus to guide me through the ''getting to a hostel safely'' process, I found out there are no city-buses at this time, and my only option is to take a cab. Being very tired - I payed as much as it was (I bargained! off course I did!).

So...The next morning, I woke up early to search for a better place than the stinking HI hostel I spent the night in (Barra Hostel HI just sucks!), and found this Pousada owned by an Israeli couple called Pousada Marcus. I had my fun (alone) there, but it was a good thing I walk one evening along the beach and met my old friend Preetesh, because he connected me to the most awesome group of people, staying in the most awesome place in Salvador - Albergue Do Porto Yh. It's also an HI hostel in Barra, has the spirit of a backpacker in the first days of his trip. Maite, a proud worker of the place, made sure everyone finds what to do day/night. If it's laying om the beach, going for a boat ride to Itaparica, touring Pelorinho or just playing drinking games around the hostel's pool-table - she knew it all. On the beach - that day (remember I said I met Preetesh...), I got robbed. Horrible story. I cried three days over my worn-out Source-sandals...The first and only thing stolen from me in South America.

Also that evening, I met great people staying in Albergue Do Porto hostel. Yamit, was introduced to me by Preetesh because he found it funny that both of us were Israelis and together on the same beach - Obviously, his trip to South America was short...Visiting Yamit in her hostel I met all the rest...Alvaro (Argentina), Ivana (Brazil), Daniella (Brazil), Neto (Brazil), Jean (Canada). With the first five I got to hang out a lot!

We went together to Pelorinho day & night, so different and SO amazing...highly recommended. When walking around in Pelorinho, one feels like the streets are dancing with the people. From almost every house comes Samba music and people walking in the streets just can't help themselves from taking each-other's hands and dancing to the rhythm!
When in Salvador area, you can try the local Acaraje. A local dish, mixed from Vatapa, Caruru & Camarão (also local dishes...and shrimp).

The next day, we took a boat to the island of Itaparica. The advantage of spending your beach hours on an island and not on the urban beaches of Salvador is that it's a lot more quiet. Thanks to Neto, we always found ourselves drinking too much and very happy.
On our last day together, we took a long bus ride to Flamingo-beach. We for it to also be a quiet day on the beach, but it was a local holiday and so the beach was crowded...still had fun!

The communication between the people in our group was hard. Alavro mainly speaks Spanish. Neto & Daniella mainly speak Portuguese. Yamit knows Hebrew & English. Ivana speaks Portuguese, Spanish & English. I speak Hebrew, English & Spanish. Try making conversation with that!
Spending so much time together, I really bonded with all the group. Even though Ivana & I spent a whole lot of time translating sentences to the rest of the group - it was still fun (& funny) to see so many languages mixing and laughing around the same table.

This post is dedicated to all my friends from this trip, helping me fall in love with the world of languages - may we all be able to meet again someday and speak together - each in his own mother-tongue while the other understands every word coming out of ones mouth. Thank you.

Tips for Salvador Do Bahia:
- Albergue Do Porto Yh HI - Just the place to be in to meet good people and find what's to do & see.
- Pelorinho - The Historical town of Salvador is colorful and has a rhythm of its own - try spending the night there. Tuesday evenings are always special.
- Itaparica - most Israelis go to Morro de São-Paulo because it's more remote, if you don't have the time or don't want a whole lot of Israelis around you 24/7 - Itaparica is quiet and lovely for a day or more.
- Acaraje - A local dish I liked very much! You can also find the same dish served in other parts of Brazil, but every time I saw it (Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, São-Paulo) it was as expensive as a stake! In Salvador it's considered to be the cheap-local food, and so, you find it everywhere, and costs nothing.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Traveling The Amazon

The following takes place between Iquitos-Peru and Belem-Brazil.

It's a 2 day trip in what seems like a Peruvian pirate boat if one wants to reach the three-sided-border connecting Colombia, Brazil & Peru.
Before joining a long ride on the Amazon, it is highly recommended to check what you need to survive it. On Peruvian boats, apart from having a hammock to sleep on, food is obligatory. Meals are served 3 times a day but the hygiene on the boat is as low as it gets.
My first hours on the boat passed by waiting for the Peruvian clock to show 19:00. We set sail at 21:00...
It was only the next morning when I saw the wonders of the beautiful river. October is the dry season but October of 2010 was declared the driest in 40 years. Even so, for one Israeli, there were a lot of water flowing down stream.
The boat stopped in major villages to drop off locals, mail & goods. The sight of the remote areas being reoccupied or filled with sudden prosperity is fascinating. Imagine what's it like to lack bread - no bread until the next boat arrives. Reminds me of the remote Galàpagos Islands...
Having enough of the same river views (not like Patagonia - views don't often change...), I found myself reading a lot of my books. World Cup Wishes (Eshkol Nevo) was done within 3 hours...
Suddenly, everyone left on the boat started packing all of their stuff. It was sudden for me, because I was told I have to expect 3 nights...Only 2 have passed and so it was weird and comforting to discover the next stop is Santa Rosa - the desired border town.
The three-way frontier is just another point on the wide river. Two cities Leticia-Colombia and Tabatinga-Brazil, are on one side while Peru has only the small island-town of Santa Rosa. Little peke-peke boats offer a transfer to the other countries. No need for passport checks if you're only interested in crossing from one populated area to the other. If you want to ''really'' enter another country, just be sure to visit the Federal Police station on each side.
I decided to stay the night on the cheaper Peruvian Santa Rosa. That same day (arriving so early!) I started making the arrangements of crossing the border and finding the next boat on the Brazilian side. The Brazilian-Federal-Police are located far away from the river and I had to take my first Moto-Taxi to get to it. A Moto-Taxi is simply a motorcycle which you mount having room only for one person at a time and with a constant cost of 2$R. Done with the international affairs, I took a boat back to sleep one last night on the cheap Spanish speaking side.
Portuguese is awful. Imagine yourself knowing a language, learning it for 8 months, then, you meet stubborn people who insist on speaking a very similar language, but this time - with a Russian accent! Lucky for me, Brazilians are very nice and some are willing to try and understand Spanish. Well, that's how I survived 2 months in Brazil.

Back to our storyline...
2 hours before the boat is due to leave the port, locals, tourists and I found ourselves in the hands of the annoying Federal-Police. The people on queue were told to open their bags and leave the line as the smell-dogs went through them as if we were all potential drug-dealers. When the dogs were done with the bags, the officers in the next room opened up ALL of the bags, poring all its contents on a table and asking random questions. Annoying.
Safe (from the scary looking Federal Policemen) and on the boat. Compering the Peruvian boats & the Brazilian ones is just the same as compering Peru to Brazil. Peru - poor, dirty, old... Brazil - Rich, clean and new! I truly felt like on a Cruz-boat.
Not too much time went by, and I also met a lovely Brazilian girl named Luciana. She was at the end of her long trip and headed home. Luciana knew good Spanish and so we could communicate. She showed me around, told me about her amazing country and what I shouldn't miss and was a great companion in a Portuguese speaking place.
Before I knew it - we were alongside with the long city of Manaus. Almost 2 million pop. Manaus is the Brazilian capital of the Amazon river. Dismounting the boat in the middle of the night, we were a group of six. Jaime & Pedro Salazar, father and son from Colombia. Flor & (can't recall his name) a nice french couple headed my direction. Luciana & me. We shared a taxi to a hostel (one of few) in town. Even though there is not much to do in Manaus, I found myself having a good time with all the gang. We went to the famous theater of Manaus and saw a play called "Dona America".
During my stay in the big river city, I had to make a decision about my next move. It was either down stream with a boat (again), 5 more days to Belem, or an expensive flight (one hour) to Belem. I ended up taking the flight - knowing I don't really have the time to ride the Amazon.
Belem is a harbor city in the delta of the Amazon. Not much to see there, but I somehow met a familiar face from the hostel of Manaus, in the hostel of Belem. Not such a coincidence if you know there's only one active hostel in Belem.
Preetesh is an Indian-South African, living in Canada nowadays. With him, I also met Roger, a Canadian in orgin. Roger loves his liqueur, or should I say beer. So we found ourselves in the arms of a nice Brazilian (Roger met him in the hostel!), searching for a place to drink. The night was young but the older of the bunch were the ones drinking the most. The night after that, same happy bunch, we wondered around Belem and a local festival that was in town. After having fun (shooting some guns and wining prizes, I showed them my Israeli-soldier skills) we ate local dishes in a local food-kart. It was right then and there when I fell in love with the Bahian Vatapa, Caruru & Acaraje.
During the days in Belem I found myself touring the city and it's sites. Belem is famous for its big market, in which, you can buy almost everything - from fruits & vegetables, football shirts & antiques.

To meet my next destination, Salvador Do Bahia, I had to cross 1/4 of Brazil on a 36 hour bus. Not too much to tell, just broke my personal record of hours on a bus.

Tips for Traveling the Amazon:
- Buy a Hammock. It's cheaper then cabins on boats and it's not that difficult to sleep on. Make sure you buy a matrimonial-long one & sleep diagonally.
- The theater in Manaus is worth a visit, not too sure about the amusement of tourist not understanding Portuguese spoken in the plays.
- A city tour in Belem is recommended. It's a nice town. Just ask someone in the hostel where the harbor is and let your legs do the work.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Iquitos, Peru

The last night of the Huayhuash trek in Huaraz I twisted my knee. The twist hurt so bad, I had to rest for 3 days in the hostel. Knowing the Alpamayo Circuit, last trek left on my list, is the hardest of the ones I´ve done, I decided not to challenge a bad knee with it.
The next stop for me would now be - Iquitos.
Iquitos is the biggest city in the world which is isolated with no road leading to it from the outside world. The only way to reach Iquitos is by plane or by boat (down/up stream on the Amazon).
I then took a night bus to Lima, and caught the first flight to Iquitos...
During my travel, my father set me up with a contact person (a friend of my father´s colleague). Apart from being an amazing bird-watcher, Noam is the regional-governer´s advisor for everything to do with the community and forests around it. This means he is responsible for recommending new national parks and reserves. In general, Noam is the man you want to be with when arriving to a crazy place like Iquitos.
After a day of just walking around, knowing the city & checking my touristic options, Noam knocks on the door of my hostel and offers me a ride on his motor-cycle to his house.

Ignorance is bliss?

Here I have to interrupt the story and tell what I think about the following events and its consequences:
Most people who arrive to Iquitos or the Amazon area in general - go on ´´Jungle-Tours´´. These tours cost around 100US$ a day, depending on how far you want to enter the forests and where (Brazil/Peru/Colombia) you book them. I almost booked a tour with an agency in Iquitos for about 5 days. The only reason I didn´t was because of what Noam told me. He said these tours go to the same place with all their tourists. The guide walks through trails which thousands of people walk on every day/year. This simply means that even if you do see animals on those trails they probably were put there by the agency. He also added that not all agencies are like that, but to see ´´real´´ jungle one would have to pay three times the offered price of the market and so no regular tourist would be able to afford such a big expense.
To hear/read these facts (by a very knowing man), one doubts everything he ever done/planed on doing. Knowing I can´t afford such expenses I tried my best to see the jungle my way.
If I haven´t met Noam - I would have spent (like any other tourist) a fortune on a touristic jungle tour. On the other hand, maybe if I wouldn´t have known it was touristic - I could live with it just fine - like the people I´ve met on the way telling me how wonderful their jungle tour was...So maybe ignorance is bliss after all?

In Noam´s house I met Ethan. Ethan is an Israeli-American, living in Miami for a long time, travelling the world for the past 3 years. Ethan is staying these days in Iquitos in order to finish the book he´s writing about the evolution of cities in human history. Peace of mind is something easy to come by in the small city of Iquitos.
Noam is a working man, busy. That´s why Ethan turned out being my travel friend for my stay in Iquitos. We first went to Nauta, the closest city to Iquitos and the only one connected to it by road.

Fun Fact: There is only one road exiting Iquitos, that´s why when someone want´s to ´´go out´´ and have some fun, he would turn to his friend and ask if he/she would like to go with him to ´´the road´´ (La Caratera).

From Nauta one could take a Pek-Peke boat to ´´The Birth of the Amazon´´. Rio Marañón & Rio Ucayali meet and together create the world´s widest river. It was impressive to know that I´m standing there, but really - it looked just like any other two wide rivers, it´s either me or the dry season...sorry.
Nauta itself is quiet and un-touristic. Walking around the small market makes the local people turn their heads to see the strange tourist passing by.

A few days later, Noam offered me to join him for a one day jungle walk. Just 30 minutes drive out of the city NP Alpauayo Mashina lies. We dismounted the taxi (colectivo), and just walked in to the woods. Walking around with an expert like Noam is amazing even without the jungle surrounding us. Walking around, he carries: DSLR (big ass camera)+3 lens´ (400mm, 100mm Marco, 18-135mm), iPod+speaker, Microphone+Recorder, Binoculars.
Hearing a bird from afar, Noam would identify which bird it is, then he would search for the right track in his iPod and play it to the bird. The bird, hearing the right sound, would fly closer and search for it´s mate. Noam would then re-play the track, look though his binoculars and only after being satisfied from the work, he would quickly try and take amazing photos with his new camera. First I like to see it, he says. If he doesn´t have the voice of the exact bird, he would then record the animal ´´live´´ (with the microphone - remember?) and play the bird its own voice.
Not long after entering the woods, I understood birdwatching is just not for me. Being color-blind (thanks mom) I just couldn´t see all the birds Noam could see. Bummer.
Next time, I went on my own to Alpauayo Mashina. I went to a different area and managed to see some monkeys and more birds (less than what I´ve seen with Noam´s help, and far away...) and lizards.
So, in order for you to not be sad for me for not seeing all the animals the Amazon has to offer, I went to the Local-Animal-Zoo. There I could witness with my own eyes amazing creatures one could see, regularly, only in the zoo.

The days in Iquitos pass by slowly but surely, I would spend a lot of time with Ethan. On Fridays we would eat great food at Noam´s house (great cook by the way). Everyday would end with ice-cream on the ´´broadway´´ of Iquitos. Ethan is amazingly kind and can not witness a child in need, every other day he would buy the children (living in the streets) ice-cream. It was just heartbreaking to see those kids, trying to sell worthless candy to tourists in the middle of the night.
Without even noticing, two weeks have gone by. I then took my vacation days in
strict hands and climbed the next boat leaving towards the Brazilian/Colombian border.

Tips for Iquitos:
- Think about what you want to accomplish by arriving to such an amazing place. You can always take the touristic tour, but is true? Is it real?
- If you do take a guided tour through the jungle, check carefully if the guide is known and get recommendations. Never go on a tour with just any guide offering himself on the main plaza (for example. There have been too many stories of people lost/robed/left to die in the jungle by unreliable guides.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Enjoy Huayhuash?

Back from the Santa Cruz and in Huaraz, Paz & I met Itai, another familiar face on my journeys. I first met Itai in La Paz, at Shaul's place. Dror went with him on the Rio Verde trek parallel to my voyage down the Pirita river. We also witnessed the Chola-Wrestling together. This time, Itai was gathering a group for our next in plans - Huayhuash trek.
There were already enough people in the group, they all seemed nice, and they were perfectly leaving the next day. The only problem was the agency they picked - I heard only bad things about.
10 Israelis, 1 Czech (AKA Martin), 1 guide (AKA Jesus), 1 assistant (AKA Moises), 1 cook/harriero, 2 horses for 8 days in the Cordillera Huayhuash, Oh well, how bad could it be?
Day 1, Thursday, September 9
Ready on time, we found out a delay in Peru (as usual) is constant and sure as loosing in the lottery. Our good luck continued with a dead van (engine got sick and tired of Israelis, who wouldn't?). So there we all were, eating bread with Avocado & waiting for a miracle to happen. The miracle took us all the way to our campsite - for only 150 $oles.
Sunset was great, tents were up in no-time, and I even got a private tent with Paz! Yummy!
Day 2, Friday, September 10
The next morning we got up way to late (for my regular trekking hours - but I got used to it..), than took our time eating and packing. While in the end of the latter, Jesus thought it would be OK for him to start walking without the group (a thought that followed frequently every day). One hour later, the group had a gap of an hour & a half between the first and the last person.
Reaching the pass and seeing I have enough time, I took Gil with me and we climbed a nearby, more impressive, rocky peak. Climbing back down - we were frowned upon - "crazy" is the term I remember most people used.
Mid-way to the 2nd pass of the day, we ate lunch. Near the second pass, I reunited with Itai (who was brave and strong and got to the 1st pass first as well!), we thought again about how much time we would have to wait until all the group arrived, and so decided to see the area around. The detour was amazing. We got better views of valleys and glaciers. Trying to return back to the pass, it was getting late; So we walked a bit faster and found the trail just as it got dark.
Having a head-torch we were not too worried, but a bit curious to why we haven't seen the guide searching for us?
Closer to camp, we saw lights spread around the area. Turning on my torch we found the worried searchers. Jesus, Moises & the cook were not included in the search. Apparently - Jesus thought we're crazy to go alone, and so we were not worth searching for - it's not his problem! The kind Israelis were worried and so searched alone.
Day 3, Saturday, September 11
New morning, new day. It took only 15 minutes before we couldn't find Itai & Gil. Jesus didn't even realize they were missing until I told him so. Turns out there was a junction 100m out of camp Itai & Gil missed easily.
Later on, same day, coffee break. Itai points at a direction and offers me to join his climb. Once the target is reached the only thing we could think of is why, in god's name, didn't Jesus bring us here? We shouted for the others to join us - they did not regret standing in the most beautiful viewpoint of the 8 days. It took us about half an hour more to take all the possible pictures from the spot.

The view from this day's pass wasn't satisfying enough for Itai & I, and so the adventure continues - we searched for better viewpoints on the ridge.
Day 4, Sunday, September 12
The day starts with a long and easy ascent. Jesus said that we will all just meet up in the camp for lunch. Itai & I were the fastest all day (even though we did take our time). We found ourselves climbing small peaks & ridges just for a slightly better view of the surrounding mountains. Later on we passed by the most amazing lagoon (number one of this trek anyways...), it was a warm day and entering was obligatory.
The camp of day 4 was near hot-springs. We all took a long bath with Mr.Rum by our side. Exiting the baths late, it was cold. We all hung our cloths to dry during the night just to find them in the morning raped with ice (a very beautiful sight).
Day 5, Monday, September 13
Waking up, I felt fine, mid-way up the pass I felt as sick as a dead dog. Without any other option - I mounted a horse. 10 minutes up I found Omry feeling even worse and so gave up my horse. Climbing with the help of my tired legs I also passed Shani (did I forget to mention? She was sick as well...).
After falling asleep on the pass, I was woken up by Moises. Descending, I passed sick-Paz. Lunch was "served" at the end of the descent. Right after eating, Jesus asked: "who's climbing to San-Antonio?" Even though all knew it is a hard climb, only Paz & I conceded. Jesus accompanied us both to camp and left Moises to walk with the rest.
Day 6, Tuesday, September 14
Long story short:
Gil & Hilla spent the night on the mountain, in a snowstorm. Israelis (Paz, Omry & I were too sick..) and Moises were looking for them all night. In the morning, Feeling a lot better I volunteered to run to the nearest village to call the Israeli-embassy. Moises found me 2 hours later in the village and told me Gil & Hilla are fine and found their way down by their own.
Where was Jesus? He spent all night in the village with his family and got notice of the crisis only when I got to the Village.
Moises & I stayed at the village and waited for the rest of the group which arrived, tired & late.
Day 7, Wednesday, September 15
Paz, Shani & Hilla (the sickest), drove off with the investigation police that interviewed us right after breakfast. 7 of us, Israelis, remained.
Mid-day, the pass, Itai was shivering cold. I took the liberty of trying to warm him up. Coffee, clothes & rubbing his back helped but he still was feeling bad.
By the end of the day, Eliran & Hagai were not feeling so well. Spending the night besides Itai (thinking I'm already immunized, I was sick just 24 hours before), I woke up sickest of all.
Day 8, Thursday, September 16
The next day and a half passed slowly and with loads of sufferings. All were feeling bad and getting worse. 2 horses were not enough and sick people had to try and climb with unbearable pain and bathroom breaks.
Mesner (the owner of the company Enjoy-Huayhuash), met us an hour before the end. He gave some of us medicine and promised he will arrive to Huaraz on Monday and get everything fixed.
Back in Huaraz, I was too sick to fight, but all the rest did the best they could. Unlucky for us, the receptionist couldn't do anything but give us 20US$ each for that was what Mesner told her to do. We all decided not to take that money & return the next day to try again (with newly charged powers).
Here I would like to state Ishay, the greatest of friends, who tended me with my needs all through my sickness. Thank you very much!
The story continues...
The Agency was closed every day until Monday. By then, only Omry, Gil & I were left in Huaraz. Mesner was pissed (don't ask me why), we couldn't really talk without him shouting at us (weren't we the victims here?), So we returned to the hostel empty-handed.
After all, it's only money. At least all are well and healthy.

Tips for the Huayhuash:
- Choose an agency carefully. There are a lot of tour-operators in Huaraz, gather information and think a bit before putting your life in some one's hand.
- Detours. There are a lot of them. If walking something you like, keep a lookout for more viewpoints near the main trail.
- Do not register a tour through Enjoy-Huayhuash or any guy named Mesner. Re-opening agencies with different names is common in Peru.