Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Bolivia - Part 1

In Quijàro, There is only one hostel. It`s a small border town, very small. Still, when giving the taxi-driver the full address & name of the place, he had to stop 3 times and ask where it is.
The hostel was 6 blocks from the center (as written in the brochure), but you couldn`t really count them in the mess of the streets called Quijàro. It also had the best view towards Corumbà, Brazil and the Pantanal.
We (3 annoying Israeli girls, 1 Argentinian, a nice English couple & I) got to the hostel late at night, and I hurried up to catch some dinner before going to bed. The girls were kind enough not to wait for me. I found my self walking alone in a very happy town, all awake. Turns out, it was mothers day, and all the families were celebrating. Music filled the streets, and all the ''restaurants'' were still open. I found a nice full place, with a ''Almuerso'' (lunch and also ''meal of the day'') for only 10 Bolivianos (1.5$ US, 5$ ISR). I was cow ''Shnitzel'' and rice. it wasn`t so tasty, so I thought - ''it`s so cheap, I could just cross the street and eat a different meal.'' That one was great! (The girls were scared of the food in the market, and so had just fries)
The next day, I went with my English friends to purchase a train ticket to Santa Cruz.
The train ride was fast and efficient. It was said we had meals during the ride (dinner & breakfast), good thing I brought some cookies with me.
In Santa Cruz, our ways parted. There wasn`t enough space in the same hostel. Thanks to that, I found the wonderful option (in Bolivia only, so far), of Alojamientos (refuge). Turns out, you can pay about 40-60$BOL for a dorm room in a hostel, OR... pay half the prise, for your own room in one Alojamiento. Sounds weird? Welcome to Bolivia.
Santa Cruz is a beautiful city, filled with markets, and it`s certainly the right gateway to Bolivia. It`s easygoing ways, almost dead streets (on Sunday), but a very full night life.
Just 2 days in Santa Cruz, and I was off to Samaipata. Two and a half hours in a special taxi from Santa Cruz, and suddenly your in heaven. I know I said it already 10 times, just in this Blog, and several more time on the phone, about other places in Patagonia, or the Iguazu Falls, but this quiet town has it all. It`s just an hour drive from a cloud forest, is surrounded by breathtaking mountains (hills in the perspective of Bolivia), and has a nice archaeological site named ''El Fuerte''. I shared a room with 2 female travelers (Lebsie from Peurto Rico & Karen from Switzerland) I met in Santa Cruz, I a nice (but a bit expensive) hostel called ''Posada del Sol''.
Posada del Sol is owned and ran by a couple (she`s Bolivian, he`s from Texas) and their lovely 15 year old daughter. They surve the best breakfast in South America - no doubt about it.
After my good horse experience in the Pantanal, I went to check out a place willing to rent me a horse with out a guide (only in Bolivia). It was in an animal refuge, I got the horse and had the best time. The horse was smart, and tested if I`m was awake every few meters, but I managed. Back in the refuge, I met an Irish volunteer, and asked her about the place. The animal refuge takes animals from all over... Hurt, abused and former home animals find a shelter there. And the best thing is, the volunteering is really volunteering! no need to pay absurd amount of money to a bureaucratic organisation like most of the places around South America. I also met 2 friendly monkeys, one named Chita, and one named Shakshuka (An Israeli volunteer gave her the name), that was a special day for Shakshuka, the first without her leash!
Posada del Sol also have a huge collection of DVD`s, and we (Lebsie, Karen & I) sat to relax in front of the movie ''Man on Wire''.
The next day I tried to find amigos to go with to ''El Fuerte'', long story short - I went alone.
Samaipata is a great place and you could find yourself spending weeks relaxing and traveling around it. I didn`t have the time.
The night bus from Samaipata to Sucre is hell. A bumpy road, for the whole 12 hours.
Sucre on the other hand (AKA the white city), is warm and welcoming. The local people all look like they`re on their way to a party of some sort. The women all wear traditional skirts, blankets and hats. The men wear all kinds of hats. But the most recognizable one is the black one, worn both by women and men alike.
After buying my self a black traditional hat, I was on my way to Potosì.
Have you every seen Gaza from a far? from up close? combine that with a dry 4000 meter mountain, and you`ve got the exact picture of Potosì. Above the town/refuge camp, stands Cerro Rico (the rich hill), AKA the mountain who eats men alive. Nevertheless, it is the main income of the citizens of Potosì. Once, it had loads and loads of silver. But expeditions both from Spain, and from the USA, came and took it all away, leaving the mountain and the people of Potosì with nothing but worthless metals, and tourists that come to blow up dynamite and see how miserable the miners are. I had enough just watching the movie ''The Devil`s Miner'' in my hostel, and decided to skip the tour to the mines.
Next stop - Uyuni.

Tips for Bolivia #1:
1. Samaipata - Plan for it, and stay there as much as you want. While you`re there, try the great breakfast of Posada del Sol.
2. Volunteering - The animal refuge in Samaipata is a great place to do that. You get accommodation, and 2 meals a day. No need to pay or plan a head, they usually lack workers.
3. Potosì - Don`t know yet if you want to go for the mine tour? put you self in a room with no air, loads of dust, and watch the movie ''The Devil`s Miner'' - decide for yourself.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Pantanal - The Brazilian Wetlands

Foz du Iguacu bus terminal, Brazil.
After a long day in the falls and birds park, I rush to see if my ticket (which I already bought back on the Argentinian side - and turned out to be cheaper?!?) is really good and worth something. As I`m talking (half Spanish, half English) to a only Portuguese speaking ticket salesman, I`m bothered by a fat, Semi-Hebrew speaking local, rubbish-talking something about ''what about a trip in the Pantanal''. I try to wave him off (cause I`m trying to understand the Portuguese spoken to me on the other side, but he won`t budge...
Knowing the only option to get rid of this guy is to start listening, I do. Turns out he is the guy Oren.Lilya told me about (Ecological Expedition is the name of the company), and I should book with him, so I do.
After a too long ride (all in Portuguese - an awful language if you don`t understand it) to Campo Grande, I`m picked up to a hostel (owned by Ecological Expedition), where I found out that Oren.Lilya just left 15 minutes ago to the airport (and headed to Salvador Bahia), But the good news is - they left me a jar of NUTELLA! Thank you! you made my first breakfast in Campo Grande a heavenly one!
30 minutes pass (me eating breakfast), and my long lost bearded friends Dror & Alek step down from their room. A very nice surprise. They left the same day, and I decided to rest one day (on the companies expense), in the very comfortable hostel.

The deal was 4 days, 3 nights in the Pantanal.
The first day was waisted on the ride to the campground. 5 hours in total, 3 in a van, 2 on a jeep. The cross Pantanal road is strait. Very strait. After a while, we (A squealing Irishman, 2 British girls, 3 Ausi`s, a Dutchman and I) did not know if there`s going to be an end to the drive. But we got there.
In the campsite we met the guides and the family that is about to cook for us the same dinner, breakfast and lunch (dinner and lunch being the same), for the rest of the trip. We were also introduced to our hammock hut. 10 Hammocks in a large hut semi proof to mosquitoes (which means - not at all).
During our awaiting for our first dinner, arrived yesterday's group. Dror & Alek shouting my name out loud...
Dinner was good (although the others didn`t think so), 3 days ago chicken, rise and salad.
Every day (split into two), we would go out to a different expedition (a walk, truck ride, horse ride, boat ride, Piranha fishing & night safari). Every activity showed different views of the beautiful Pantanal.
Every night I was grateful for the mosquito-net I brought with me from Israel, and carried from 3 months all around Chile and Argentina. But it didn`t help during the day, I was eaten alive.
The first day was only walking safari, but it was a great first experience in the jungle. The guide (Max), knew his job very well, and could spot any animal from a mile away, just by hearing its feathers, sounds, running on the treetops.
Sadly, in my opinion (and the animals` as well), we were too many people. 10 altogether (the two girls (slept in a hostel near by - the more expensive option) switched with two boys from Manchester). We still managed to encounter lots of animals, but from a far. Max said they are all drying off from yesterday`s rain (on the high tree tops). We closed the day in a night safari (a ride on the truck, back to camp, while Max was searching for animal eyes with a very strong projector). We only saw a fast fox, who was running in the lights anyways. The cool thing was to watch the eyes of the Caymans turn red from the light.
The second day we took a truck ride (a big ass jeep) on the main road (yes the same one we came from, but further north), which gave us the opportunity to see far away areas we have not yet seen. Rivers filled with Caymans (a small kind of Crocodile). Apparently, there are about 4 million of them around the Pantanal, and they are a great dish for every kind of animal you can think of (from the big Jaguar, to the big Stork). Even Otters eat juvenile Caymans. Sure makes you fear them a lot less. During the ride, with passed (twice), local cowboys, moving a herd of 500 cows through the Pantanal.
The evening tour was in a boat. At first the engine wouldn`t start (which helped the others bitch some more), after that, we went on the most successful safari yet! Maybe all the animals live by the waters? Kingfishers, Capibara`s (the largest rodent on earth) and much more exotic animals flew all around.
And lets not forget the unsuccessful Piranha fishing (I heard, and saw pics, of some groups that caught 8 Piranhas!), we caught nothing. Made me think about not trying to fish ever again.
The Last day (Dror & Alek already left, so it wasn't as happy), we went for a horse ride. I enjoyed every moment! Max hurt his leg on the first 100 yards, so we were just with a young guide, who let us do whatever we liked with the horses. I wanted to run, my horse loved me for it. I Cantered and Galloped my way through the really wet lands... Didn`t see too much animals, but it was still really fun.
The other half of the last day was dedicated to getting out of the Pantanal. I ended up waiting with the most annoying 3 Israelis (yet), an hour, for the bus to Corumbà, and from there (still with the girls, but with a very nice English couple as well) to Quijàro, BOLIVIA!

Tips for the Pantanal:
1. Ecological Expedition - In Foz du Iguacu, they would find you. Max is a great guide. great English, and very professional.
2. Ecological Expedition - There are different arrangements for every deal. Make the people in the office (back in Foz du Iguacu or in Campo Grande) write everything that you agreed on on the voucher you receive. The guides on the campground don`t have a clue of what you arranged with the office. (I almost lost a horse ride because of confusion)
3. The Pantanal! - If you have the time, don`t miss it. The dry season (June-September) is the good season.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Iguazu Falls - "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

The Argentinian Side:
Caught the first bus to the park. Thinking I`ll have enough time to see it all just in one long day. The gate was still closed, and me & 6 more early wakers had to wait 15 minutes for it to open. During those 15 minutes 3 buses stopped by the entrance unloading 100 more tourists. Good thing we were first in line.
Decided to see the main attraction first (while its still empty), The Devil`s Throat, But the train was leaving just 15 minutes later and that was the only way to get to the Throat. Knowing that, I went first to a small nature trail called ''The Green Trail''. It was silent & empty, both from animals & people. On the other side of the trail was the second stop of the train (first been the entrance), I still had to wait there, 15 more minutes. The train got to the station already filled up. I managed to find a free sit, and waited patiently for my first glance of what was to be the greatest WOW yet in my long, scenery changing, trip.
Dismounted the train and made my way through the crowd (lot of crowd). Doing everything I can to pass everyone politely. It was a long trail, and only the strong survived, and after 15 minutes of fast walk & fast photo shooting (`cause everything was so pretty!), WoW. Endless amounts of water rushing (impolitely), shoving, banging, falling into a 300 degrees hole about 60 meters high (but you couldn`t really see the bottom), and I was standing on a balcony, on the edge.
All of that, but the sun was in front, and we (the camera & I) couldn`t see clear enough - we`ll return in the evening for a better photo shootout.
Walking back to the train I spotted a gang of vultures sitting on a near by deck, and all of the people (though they clearly noticed them), don`t stop for even a second. But they kept on sitting there - posing beautifully only for me.
After another train ride (this time empty), I got off to see the other lesser waterfalls of the park. A long trail, going down, through the woods. The tumulting waterfalls are heard from afar. The people passing by are covered with raincoats, disposable or not, to seal themselves from the wonderful drops of nature. As you could have guessed I didn`t put mine on.
The first waterfall visible was one you have to get wet from. And if your crazy - you walk slowly. I did. Got some good pictures while doing so.
Every viewpoint have the option to get close to the waterfalls, or get even closer. The 'Splashzone' became my favorite. I was with my 'fastdrying' trekking cloths but they didn`t get a chance to show me what their made of.
I didn`t take the boat (that everybody takes) to see the waterfalls from up close. I was wet enough with out it.
The lower balcony Is made to take you under all the waterfalls. The upper balcony goes above the mighty nature. I stood on top of the great stream, not understanding where all this amount of water comes from (if I would have, I would solve Israel`s water problem).
After having fun with strange looking Raccoons, I took a risk (of timetables) and went to see the smallest waterfall in the park (Macuco trail). The aim was to see some wildlife. I so some Monkey`s far away on the treetops, and caught a glimpse of a few birds, but the most exciting animal I met was a HUGE spider, swinging just above the heads of the people passing on the trail. I myself, noticed it only on my way back from the waterfall (that was as high as the white waterfall, Zavitan river, Israel. and was nothing compered to the outstanding waterfall 800 meters from it).
Coming back from Macuco trail, I climbed once again to the train (the last one going that direction). Ran all the way to the waterfalls (the sun, in Argentina, doesn`t wait for anyone). and got to witness the great powers of The Devil`s Throat once again.

The Brazilian Side:
Woke up in Argentina with a goal to be on a bus to Campo Grande, Brazil by the end of the day. Passing through the Argentinian border, getting stamped (with all the other passengers). The Brazilian side was different. The driver of the bus pointed at me, ''Gringo'' he says, I did not understand why just me, but still I was left there (just for the 30 seconds of the stamping process), and had to wait for the next bus (20 minutes). Knowing what a crazy day awaits me, I climbed the first bus driving through the station (having to pay again because it wasn`t the same company).
I had to find a place for my luggage in the Foz Do Iguacu bus terminal, and took the next bus to the Brazilian Park. When buying the entrance ticket, I was asked where I am from, and while entering, the man tearing my ticket read it, and welcomed me in my own language.
Being on the Brazilian side is a whole different experience. you get to see all the falls at once from a panoramic view point. Still, people were sealing themselves from the waters of nature with disposable raincoats. Again, I didn`t.
Got very wet and got out (the Brazilian side is shorter).
Parque Das Aves (The Bird Park) is located 50 meters from the main entrance to the Falls park. The cost is 25 Reals, but it absolutely worth it. You start of from the less impressive bird cages, with little options to catch a good picture of them, because the bars are in the way. Then you get to the 'open to the humans' cages. You are all surrounded by birds from every shape and size - Storks, Ibis, Parrots, Hawks & Tucans - which are vicious.
Zeologicly speaking, there are enough birds just in Brazil. Still, for some reason there were also birds from Africa (ones which I already saw during my trip in Tanzania). Anacondas, Alligators, Monkeys and Turtles welcomed me as well.
It was a wonderful experience for a bird lover. I got a huge V on seeing lots of species, before even visiting the Pantanal or the Amazons.

Tips for the Iguazu:
1. Visit both sides - If you got the time (just two days are enough) and money. Each park shows you a unique side of the falls.
2. Visit the Bird Park on the Brazilian side. Its just heaven for the eyes.
3. I heard Israelis shoudn`t stay on the Brazilian side (Foz do Iguacu) - I managed to see some Arabic signs, and terror groups posters, so maybe the rumors are true.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


Waking up.
Not too sure where the hell I am, but this time, Its not a brief stop. I`m guessing we`re in Còrdoba. Shocked, I put on my shoes (it`s not allowed to take of your shoes in buses around Argentina), check again that I didn`t forget any thing on the bus and climb down (the bus is 2 stories high).
Just of the bus, and I recognise a short lady, looking at me and testing my moves. I do the same. Then a two sided smile, the unneeded question ''Lily?'', ''si, Bèbe said you`d look like Jesus''.
Lily and Tito`s House is a warm and welcoming one. The walls are filled with memories. Ether family pictures from all around the world, or souvenirs completing the picture. They even have all of their spoons collection hanged up, dad! ;-)
Lily shown me to my room, and we went out for a night tour around the city.
Còrdoba`s main plaza is all lite. The view of all the main buildings surrounding it is so beautiful. Music was playing in the main square of the plaza, and so we got closer. couples were dancing Tango to the sound of the music and the moon light.
After the tour, we went to eat at the restaurant* partly owned by the fiance of Vero (Veronica, Lily & Tito`s Daughter). Had good Empanadas, and a new dish (for me) called Locro. It reminded me of a Jewish dish called Jamin/Chulnt - it was great. In the restaurant I was introduced to Batia. A nice 25 years old Israeli waitress, studying Physiotherapy in Còrdoba and wanting to go home very badly. The Idea was that she would translate for me. BUT I UNDERSTAND SPANISH!
After a good sleep, I woke up to a Sunday. Lily said she and I could go around town with the car. She showed me around and finished the tour in a restaurant* (all you can weigh buffet), with all of Tito`s relatives. They loved me so much, after a long lunch, we went out for coffee* (Lily, Tito`s nephew, his girlfriend & I). After the nice coffee, Lily and I went to see Nache. (had another coffee* with him. After saying goodbye to Nache, Lily drove by Vero`s house, she happened to be outside, and we went inside her apartment, this time for a glass of water. It was very nice to meet new family members and see that it doesn`t matter if met already or not, we are all Menis.
The next morning I took a 2 hour bus ride to the town called Villa General Belgrano. It`s a nice Touristic, German town close to the mountains of Còrdoba. From there I took another bus to La Cumbrecita. Another Touristic town, Swiss, but this time Inside the mountains. I just had to find my way through the houses, and I was next to a beautiful untouched Laguna. Going back to town, and out again, and I was facing a waterfall. In & out again, and I was on the mountains above the town. I had so much fun, I was just pissed of at the ''Unusefull'' (AKA my Lonely Planet) for not saying anything about this places.
For a very late lunch (there were no Empanadas in Villa General Belgrano), I ate a Cazuela de Ciervo (deer stew). Wow, that`s all.
Along ride back, and I was back just in time to say thanks for the lovely dinner Lily cooked (I don`t know how it all got in to my belly)
Another day, and this time, to the north countryside of Còrdoba. La Cumbre is a nice, quite little town just on the mountainside of the Andes. I could not find the right trail, so I improvised. I went up to see the Christ on the hill. went back down. and returned to Còrdoba.
It was a great trip, but would have been better with more time.
Slept another night with the family, Thanking A LOT, and took a bus the next day to Puerto Iguazu.

*I was not allowed to pay.

Tips For Còrdoba:
1. Sleep with family - Its cheep, and mine just happened to be nice.
2. La Cumbrecita - Plan time for it, there are a lot more places to see, I didn`t have the time.
3. La Cumbre - See La Cumbrecita.