Mind Blown by Brazil: Part 5 – Bahia

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The state of Bahia in Brazil is know for its culture – the religion of Candomblé, reggae-inspired music, distinct food and for being the most relaxed and chilled-out place imaginable.

When I arrived in Salvador on a ferry from Morro de Sao Paulo Bruno and I checked into a hostel called Che Lagarto. Bruno left the next morning and for the first time in my trip, traveling alone actually affected me poorly. Mostly because the hostel I stayed in sucked! In every other hostel I have been in, I met people within a couple hours and proceeded to travel with them. In this hostel, everyone was either a couple on vacation with no desire to speak to others, old, or just not willing to communicate. The only people I did end up getting to talk to were three Argentinean girls who albeit kind were unwilling to do much of anything especially at night out of fear.

It is true that Salvador is dangerous and you must be careful especially when out at night, but there is little danger when traveling in groups. If they are going to rob you, they will do just that – rob you. It sucks, but you aren’t going to die and they won’t take much if you aren’t carrying much. Plus, what are you traveling for if you are just going to stay in the hostel the whole time? To their defense, they were on “vacation” not travelling – they only left work for 13 days with the aim to tan and enjoy the beach. So, one day I went to the beach with them.

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Praia do Forte, but not my paradise beach

Up the coast, 45 minutes north of Salvador we went to a popular beach town called Praia do Forte. Built around the beach was a quaint little town with restaurants, hostels and tours – kind of like Morro de Sao Paulo, but on the mainland. There, the Argentinian girls and I sat on the beach, and they tanned. I have been spoiled with great beaches, but this one really was pretty crappy mainly because the waves were so small and the water near the beach was extremely rocky and the girls knew it. They were complaining a lot about it so I suggested to them that I would go for a run up the coast to see if there were any nicer beaches.

Running in the sand with my iPod I breathed deeply, taking in the blue sky, palm trees, tiny crabs scurrying along the sand and the increasingly heavy waves. After about 30 minutes I arrived.

Paradise.

Allow me to explain: The white sand swept deeply up the coast and was almost completely untouched save for my footprints. The waves crashed onto the shore in a steady and powerful pace – unsafe for swimming according to a sign. The palm trees lined the coast bending towards to the awesome ocean horizon.

I stretched and pondered. I took in the cool ocean air and promised to live on this beach forever. I wanted to be there forever – sleep there, make love there, get married there, have babies there.

I guess that all the tourists stay by the town instead of coming to this because they are lazy.

Looking back it sounds funny, but there is certainly some magic to being on a beautiful beach alone. Now I saw what people were saying about the power of quiet beaches in comparison with beaches like Ipanema or Morro de Sao Paulo. The problem is that these people are not willing to walk to the quieter parts.

Speaking of people, I promised the Argentineans I would return and tell them about the beach. I did, and I regretted it. Honestly, they just didn’t care about what I wanted and I guess that’s ok – they had a mission to tan and I was some guy.

As soon as I got back one needed to eat at that very second. Not when we walked through the town, not when I was gone, NOW. So we went and she ate. Then about an hour later we headed towards paradise beach, but not without one of them whining “are we there yet” every two minutes. Because of the delay it was getting later and the tide was rising. This caused them to complain more and want to turn back.

praia walk

I was committed to getting back there so we easily walked along the grass above the sand towards the beach. More complaining and 20 minutes later I just decided to say that one of the beaches was paradise beach when it wasn’t – I couldn’t deal with their whining anymore. We stopped there, took some photos and then they wanted to leave so we left. Tip: never travel with a pack of girls on “vacation,” especially pretty ones that are used to getting what they want.

tiny turtle

On our way back we ran into a huge crowd of people – A local tortoise shelter called Projeto TAMAR was releasing newborn turtle babies into the ocean. Very cute.

We toured TAMAR and saw the biggest turtle I’ve ever seen! The species is like 15 million years old, it is a dinosaur.

big turtle

With a tiny (admittedly not heartfelt) goodbye to the Argentineans I went back to Salvador.

The next day I said to myself, fuck it, might as well go alone. So I boarded the bus to go to the main historic centre Pelourinho. Being alone doesn’t mean you can’t meet people right? So, I approached two Israeli tourists who were going to Pelourinho and we decided to join forces.

My priority? Seeing stuff. Their priority: Havaiana flip flops. Ask any Israeli girl, their goal in South America is to bring as many Havaiana flip flops home as they can because they are too expensive in Israeli. Seriously, I met an Israeli who bought 11 pairs.

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I waited for about a half an hour as they bought their Havaianas. Then finally we went to the local artisan market and I went crazy buying stuff because I love Brazil.

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Pelourinho. Google Images

We then went up the famous elevator to the historical centre of Pelourinho, which was nothing special, just an elevator. Pelourinho was pretty awesome though. The colourful buildings are beautiful to look at and being there really feels special. Pelourinho is where Michael Jackson filmed the other half of the video “They Don’t Care About Us” (I also went to the favela in Rio where he filmed the other half).

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Google Images

My brother told me about a capoeira school called Filhos de Bimba in Pelourinho, so I went and signed up for a class later that day.

Two Americans and I (I had already met one in the club in Morro de Sao Paulo) took part in a capoeira class led by a cool instructor who had taught in London. He played some music and first taught us the ginga – the basis for capoeira.

My brother plays capoeira so I know how to ginga, but not much else. Our teacher then taught us a bunch of moves like queixada (roundhouse kick) and aú (cartwheel) from a ginga position. I limped away with a massive blister on both toes due to playing on the stone tile floor in bare feet, but I limped away happy. I highly recommend trying capoeira!

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Ginga to the sunset

After a couple more low-key days in Salvador I was ready to move on to Lencois and the beautiful Chapada Diamantina, so I bought a bus ticket for 1pm on my 5th day in Salvador, but after my morning run all changed…my laptop was stolen!

If you haven’t read this yet please do yourself a favour and read the incredible story on Forget the Box about how my laptop was stolen and rescued by a Uruguayan couple:Faith in humanity restored: how an outstanding couple saved my computer.

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It has been really flattering to see the reception I have been getting from people about this story! The post about it being lost and then the picture where it was found both have over 100 likes on Facebook and the comments are filled with people who have been inspired by the story and those that think it was good karma because I am a good person. Thanks everybody!

After hanging out with the Veronica and Nicolas and promising to see them again, I took a bus to nearby Lencois overnight and slept the entire way.

As soon as I got there this German guy named Christian and I were essentially attacked by this local tour guide who wanted us to go on his tours and stay in a hostel that he recommended. I did plan to stay in this hostel I had heard was good, but he told me it was too expensive, which it was, so I went with him to a cheaper one.

Although Jaja, our tour guide, was pushy, he had the best price for tours that I could find, so we went with him.

The first day of our trek involved a lot of hours hiking up and down mountains, which I didn’t expect because I wasn’t told much of anything about the tour before I went on it. We had to carry our own sleeping bags and also the food for the next few days, which wasn’t told to us beforehand either. I was ok with it, but there is no way someone physically unfit, old, or too fat could have done it.

Our trip included three German girls, the German I was with, as well as two guys from Sao Paulo. I am grateful and don’t take it for granted that among all the different languages, the common denominator was English. I am very fortunate to speak it!

We continued hiking, bouncing from rock to rock. It’s incredible how huge and dangerous leaps become robotic when you are hiking.

Finally we came to the main canyon that gives our tour its name: Maxilla.

This lush canyon with it’s incredible scent and strong shades of green was lined with astonishingly straight layered mountain rock. At one point, there was the choice: swim or climb. I chose to scale the mountain wall and it was amazing! I love to be challenged physically. Life just isn’t that hard, but sports and physical activity is!

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A short time later we arrived at the Mecca…the Maxilla waterfall! This place is beyond words. Sights like this make you believe in G-d! Water crashed down the green-layered rock, bouncing from one to the other until it united to fall in the massive pool beneath. Next to the crashing waterfall, was another stream of water, but with slower water. I kept thinking: what is better to spend my limited time staring at? Fast or slow? Both were so insane! I stared so long that my neck hurt for days after.

I jumped off a huge rock into the water and splashed down into the cool fresh spring. Heavenly.

That night we slept on a nearly dried out river on the rocks under the stars without a tent. It was peaceful and refreshing and a little uncomfortable due to the angular nature of the rocks that caused me to keep sliding down.

I woke up near dawn and we had an incredible breakfast of milky oatmeal, scrambled eggs with veggies, fruit salad (mango, apple, melon), baguette, cheese, banana, guava jam and juice. This was the second best breakfast I’ve had in South America, the other was in Loki Hostel in Cusco, Peru.

This was a pretty good breakfast, but it’s pretty disgraceful at the same time that the breakfast I had while hiking was better than any other one I’ve had on this trip. I love South America, I really do, but the breakfasts suck from coast to coast- especially Brazil’s breakfast. It has all the sugar, none of the protein. For instance, in Che Lagarto hostel in Salvador, breakfast everyday was white bread with jam, three kinds of cakes, cookies, fruit and juice. The only protein available was the milk for your coffee (which I don’t drink)! I cannot wait for a huge breakfast when I go back to Canada (L’Avenue or Station des Sports in Montreal, Tucker’s Marketplace or Eggspectations in Ottawa)!

The next day we went on a tour to see some diverse attractions in the national park including a huge waterfall, a river with crystal clear blue water and fish, and a cave with white spikey rocks. Thanks to Chapada I want to pick up mountain climbing and scuba diving – I guess I’ll just throw it on the to do list :P.

Back in Lencois I met up with my good friend Niall who I met in Bolivia. He has been volunteering at a children’s daycare called Casa Grande in Lencois. I went to help out one day and played games like “duck, duck, goose” and “Simon says” with the kids.

While Lencois appears to be like any tourist town, the tourism is simply a mask over the poverty. Men lie drunk on the streets in the middle of the day and children run around (usually naked) without adult supervision. There is no money for toys  and Niall told me that kids do whatever they can to make games – sometimes inventing games out of broken glass or flat soccer balls. Very sad.

In the morning I attended a capoeira class with Niall at 7am. The teacher, an large athletic smooth talking contra-mestre, was both kind and challenging in the class. I really enjoyed it. As I looked up at the walls of the capoeira studio I noticed a poster for a movie, “Besouro,” the capoeira movie my brother showed me 6 months ago. I looked over at the teacher, then back at the poster. Could it be?! Could this be BESOURO!?

Yes! I took a class with the actor who played the capoeira legend Besouro in the movie!

Besouro doesn’t walk, he glides and flips effortlessly. Definitely a man on par with the great Puma from earlier in my trip. I want to be them both.

That night I went to the group’s roda (capoeira circle) in the middle of the townsquare in front of the locals and tourists. The roda was mostly women and children as it was International Women’s Day, but after the women got to play, Niall and I jumped in and played. Some people go to rodas and don’t play, but where’s the fun in that!?

Afterwards some people in the group were not too pleased that gringos like Niall and I got to play, but Besouro shut them up.

I headed back to Salvador that night and said goodbye to Niall. I promised to see him again, I really hope I do.

Back in Salvador I headed straight for Nicolas and Veronica’s apartment to take them up on their invitation to stay there.

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There, I spent a relaxing 4 days writing, talking, eating great food, watching movies and surfing. Surfing is obviously really tough and I want to learn to get up on my board one day…another thing for the list!

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Veronica and Nicolas are truly great people and I wish them all the best!

I caught a flight from Salvador to Sao Paulo, my last stop before heading home!

Final travel blog coming up next…

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Mind Blown by Brazil: Part 1 – Florianopolis

Me Beach 1

You know that feeling of having your mind blown? Of course you do. At least, I hope you do!

Brazil blew my mind so hard that it took me a while to recover. I don’t know if I’m even the same person I was. I doubt it. Overdramatic? Read on and see. I will attempt to backtrack and bring you up to speed on an incredible month in Brazil. It will most definitely take several parts.

Where better to begin this wild story than to start where I left off. I was living in Buenos Aires for about 10 days, feeling calm and at home. I wanted to get to Florianopolis as soon as possible for as cheap as possible, so I went shopping for bus trips at the Retiro terminal in B.A. The cheapest bus would be a 27 hour journey to Florianopolis for about $175. Yuck! Anyways I tried to use my last Argentinian Pesos and round off the 870 Peso price with my credit card, but there was a problem… My credit card wouldn’t work at the ticket office, at machines or anywhere else! I tried to call the Royal Bank of Canada and sat on the phone for 20 minutes. 12$ of phone fees later, I get no answer. Thus, I went back to Damian’s on the scorching hot city train and an hour later returned to my temporary home in BA. There, I bought Skype minutes with my credit card, which surprisingly worked and finally reached RBC. It turned out that ALL of the credit cards in Canada were down for 3 hours on the day.

As Damian, my CouchSurfing host put it: “That’s not very first world of you.” So, I bought the ticket online with my credit card which left me stuck with 700 Pesos and only a few hours the next day to use it. That’s because if you sell a Peso outside of Argentina you might get 7 for a dollar when I bought it for 5. I wasn’t in the mood to lose $40 for nothing so I went on a shopping spree, which was actually really awesome. I bought shorts, sunscreen, Che’s diary, a falafel sandwich with an extra box of hummus (which was actually good!) and much more. I felt like a baller.

The bus to Florianopolis was pretty shit, but I’m so used to it by now. They didn’t give us food and the air conditioning was freezing cold at night, but again, at least it wasn’t as bad as Bolivia. I feel like I’m gonna be saying that about a lot in life: “It’s not as bad as Bolivia.” But, as I’ve mentioned before, my experience in Bolivia was incredible and I recommend it to every traveler I met that is going in the other direction. It also helped that outside my window on the bus to Florianopolis I could see lush green hills, palm trees and quaint fishing huts. I was also impressed that I was driving on paved roads the whole time and the infrastructure looked solid. Again, much better than Bolivia!

I do miss Bolivia’s prices though! Brazil can be much more expensive than even Canada at times.

Brazil 1 (1 of 1)

Florianopolis is known as one of Brazil’s most beautiful cities. Across a bridge from the city centre, where I stayed, the island of Florianopolis is circled by incredible beaches with high waves and amazing scenery. On the island, there are lagoons, lakes and nice restaurants, but I actually didn’t see much of that. The hostel I stayed at, near Campeche beach was in a residential area, so it was hard to get anywhere without the help of the really kind hostel staff. In addition, the hostel was clean, relaxed and had AMAZING food for us every night. The Loki effect, is what I’ll call it – a throwback to the amazing hostel I stayed in during my stay in Cusco.

Hostel owner Dayane, her daughter and her beautiful dog. A far cry from the scraggly stray dogs in Bolivia and Peru.
Hostel owner Dayane, her daughter and her beautiful dog. A far cry from the scraggly stray dogs in Bolivia and Peru.

For only 20 Reales ($10) each, we were treated to a massive barbecue feast one day, and an onslaught of delicious homemade Brazilian pizza the other – usually includes as many toppings as possible, I was throwing in the white towel even before 6 more pizzas came! We were also provided with one fresh homemade caipirinha – sugar, a molasses-like substance, crushed lime, ice and the nasty local liquor called cachaca filled to the top. You might notice that this drink is not mixed with anything, it is pure liquor with lime and sugar. Nuts!

Another reason why I didn’t depart on my own much from Sarau Hostel was because I didn’t yet speak Portuguese. “Everyone in Brazil speaks English,” some stupid person told me. “You can just speak Spanish and they will understand you.” WRONG! WRONG! Whoever is perpetuating these lies just needs to stop. Brazil could be as bas as America when it comes to speaking other languages. There are people who speak English and Spanish, but not a lot. If you are planning at trip to Brazil, and if not what the fuck are you doing with your life, learn Portugese or at least try to communicate. It’s easy, pick up a dictionary or phrase book and write down some words you would use. Also, write out some key verbs and their conjugations. Even if you memorize that, it will be hard because the Brazilian is so strong, but do it anyways. It’s fun! Throughout this trip I have learned how much I love languages! English, French, communicational Spanish and now a bit of Portugese. It makes the world a lot smaller to say the least.

One of the nights with the gang from Sarau Hostel, we went to our first pre-Carnaval street party in downtown Florianopolis. This would be my introduction to Brazil and once I got a taste I couldn’t get enough!

flor berbigao

For hours, hundreds of people sang and danced to the SAME SONG and it only got better and better. Singers on top of a huge bus tirelessly repeated “Berbigao do Boca” while thousands of people including costumed dancers swung themselves below. In addition, beer, caipirinhas and double-weiner hot dogs were available every few steps along the way.

hot dogOne of the hostel staff enjoyed parading me around as the gringo of the group, so I got a chance to meet some cool (and beautiful) Brazilians – like this gorgeous singer who I had the pleasure of photographing before my camera decided to stop working…

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A couple days later, I got mugged and had my ass kicked, but came out laughing.

Another pre-Carnaval party meant more people, more drinking, more dancing, more music (not-repetition this time) and more experiences. As I walked down the beach road amongst thousands, I tried my camera, but it wouldn’t work. It says that the SD card is locked, when it isn’t. Conclusion: can’t use the camera until I send it back to Canon for warranty. Pretty bummed about this.

Anyways, I can explain to you what happened the old-fashioned way… After hours of partying with thousands of massively macho hammered male Brazilians (some of which were dressed in drag because that’s what you do at Carnaval) and beautiful female Brazilians it started to pour rain. Before this, it hadn’t rained in Florianopolis for exactly ONE MONTH! I haven’t gone a month in my entire life without precipitation, so that’s a pretty crazy thing to think about…

What. The. Fuck.
What. The. Fuck.

Since I had my camera and wallet I brought my trusty rain jacket and slipped my bag underneath. As I looked around the flooded streets (both with people and water) I realized that I was the only person with a rain jacket, so I basically stuck out like a super-white sore thumb.

Gringo jacket

Regardless, I was prepared and they weren’t ie. I saw a girl cry cause her phone was destroyed in the rain. Bam!

Soaking wet (with my bag still in tact :P), we decided to call it a day and head back to the car. I let the first wave of people from my hostel go, and I waited with two of the hostel’s Brazilian staff and a box of beer in a white Styrofoam container.

Dumb drunk people (not these one) kicked my ass. Coulda happend anywhere.
Dumb drunk people (not these ones) kicked my ass. Coulda happend anywhere.

Just as it turned to dusk, I put my jacket and Bolivian bag (with $1000+ camera and wallet) on top of the box as I went a few steps away to pee. When I turned around, three large Brazilian men were standing in front of my friends and one had his hand on my bag. I rushed over, grabbed my bag from him and retreated back a few steps. One of the three came over to me and started wailing punches to my skull. Pushed back by the blows, I fell to the ground clutching the bag close to my chest. Another one came and started kicking me. I guess I faced about 45 seconds of punches and kicks before my Brazilian friend (and wingman) Jesse grabbed one of the attackers and threw him back. The third attacker simply jumped on the box of beer, took the beers and they all left.

Immediately after they were out of sight I jumped up with elation! “What pussies! I got hit like 20 times and I’m not even hurt!” It’s true that I was pretty drunk, but still, after this attempted mugging I left with only a bunch of bruises, two small scrapes and all my stuff. Sweet deal!

Now, I expect this will fit nicely into the stereotype that Brazil is dangerous and scary and you should never come here. What ridiculousness! In my experience so far by being out tons of times on the street with thousands of drunk people I have seen barely any acts of violence of any kind! I see wayy more fights in an average night out in Ottawa than I have in my month in Brazil where you are actually allowed to drink outside.

While some parts of this trip have made my proud to be Canadian especially in comparison with other English speakers, my realization that Canadians have an irrational fear of South America finally hit me in Brazil. Despite what I would have expected, I have barely encountered any Canadians. Meanwhile, I have probably met more Australians than South Americans and their country consists of 14 million less people…what gives!?

Fear.

Canadians feel that South America is too dangerous and thus generally do not go. Instead they opt for resort trips to Central America, museum/club backpacking trips in Europe, or to South-East Asia for cheap debauchery at the Full Moon Party in Thailand etc. One Canadian couple I met in Rio de Janeiro the day before Carnaval had a flight booked to Bolivia ONE DAY before the greatest party on Earth was about to begin. Why? Fear. Someone in Canada actually told her that in Rio people come up behind you with a silencer gun, shoot you and take your stuff. It makes me laugh just thinking about this, but come on, the thieves are far far too poor to own a silencer. You may get robbed, its true, that is a reality of South America, but you won’t lose your life! I only got attacked cause I fought for my stuff, you can just give it over and you will be fine. At the same time, everyone I’ve talked to about this subject in Brazil say they feel safer here than in any other South American country.

I don’t understand it! Brazil is everything we wish we had in Canada – identity, culture, beaches, beautiful weather (what Canadian doesn’t complain about the weather), and IT ISN’T LAME! An Israeli recently told me that all she knew about Canada was that it is the lamest place on Earth. I resent that statement and strongly disagree, but at the same time it is ONE of the lamest places on Earth without a doubt. Less regulations does equal more fun. Brazilian culture is 100x more open. It is also a country made up of immigrants, but is has developed their own music, dances and unique culture unlike Canada. For example, in Brazil, I have barely heard any English music. Instead, on the radio, on the street, in the bars and in the clubs they play Brazilian music and EVERYONE knows all the words! I think every Brazilian has a catalogue over 20 000 songs in Portuguese that they know every word to. In Canada, you’d be hard-pressed to even find someone that can sing all the words to our national anthem, but I digress.

Brazil > Canada.

While I was in Florianopolis, masked bandits were burning down buses in the name of drug lords in prison, which kinda messed up the flow of the city, so I wrote a story about it: “Fire and chaos greets this backpacker in beautiful Brazil.”

On my last day in Florianopolis I decided to take a trip alone to the beach. While there, I asked a guy on the bus where the stop was, even though I knew where it was, just to spark up a conversation with a local. Being from Argentina, the guy did not understand the few Portuguese words I was speaking that I had learned from reading the dictionary and picking out words I thought I might use. As the Argentinian bumbled and fumbled to figure out what I was saying, a Brazilian in the seat behind me interjected and answered my question in English. After that, we sparked up a conversation. It turns out he was going to the same beach, so we agreed to go together and hang out.

Bruno, the flight attendant from Porto Allegre and I got along amazingly. After just a couple hours of getting to know each other we agreed to meet in Rio de Janeiro and shoot a video! I had planned to shoot videos this whole trip, but never had someone to help me and now, in Brazil, I finally had! We ate some acai (a magical purple berry from the Amazon) with fruit and granola and promised to meet each other in a couple days in Rio de Janeiro for the first few days of Carnaval.

What ensued was a ridiculous video that you can watch in a couple days when it is ready, and one of the greatest weeks of my life!

Up next: Part 2 in Rio de Janeiro. This one will be a MUST READ!

Sunshine, Happiness and Hippies: Home in Argentina

foot sandOh, how things have changed. I’ve stepped into a universe of calm, healthy(ier) living, sun, friendship, relaxation, and comfort. With it, I’ve pretty much lost all inspiration to write – especially freelance stories. Throughout this adventure, my blog has served as a forum for me to vent and right now I don’t feel like venting, rather, bragging about how awesome Argentina is. I am blissful here and have (almost) nothing to complain about. My altitude sickness is gone, my stomach and head feel great, I haven’t been robbed and the bad weather exists only on my Facebook News Feed where people complain about the -40 degree celsius weather in Ottawa and Montreal.

While I greatly appreciated my time in Bolivia and will never forget it, I am so happy to be in a country where my greatest worry is what club to go to at night and if I had a good enough to stay up all night – people don’t go to the club until 2 am and don’t leave till 5 am earliest!

My money is running out, fast, but I’ll deal with that later. While in Bolivia, I could travel 14 hours for 100 Bolivianos ($14) for a semi-cama (reclinable seat with leg rest), in Argentina it costs me about 100 dollars or more! But, and this is a big but, the buses are UNREAL! My semi-cama from Salta to Cordoba featured a free beer, two meals and snacks, TV (all Spanish dubbed, but still), fresh blankets still in their plastic laundry package, extremely comfortable chairs and best of all…A BATHROOM! What a polar opposite this was to the miserable Bolivian buses that had no bathrooms, (probably) flea-ridden blankets (if they had any), seats that felt like there was a metal pole in your ass and blaring music while you tried to sleep.

All is good. Unfortunately, however, I can’t help but think about what I will do when I get back even though there is still almost 2 months left of my trip. I think about it every single day, nearly every hour. It rules my thoughts. It’s terrible. I need a little Eckhart Tolle on my shoulder to tell me to live in the moment and appreciate every second because I may never return here again – not that any moment can ever be the same.

art of travel

Presently I’m reading a book called “The Art of Travel” by Alain de Botton and it is helping me seen why I feel the way I do when I travel. The author explains the why by using observations from European artists like Vincent Van Gogh or Edmund Burke to explain how they saw travel, but what about the art of moving cities or countries? I am so positive that I want to leave Ottawa when I get back, but where to next? I constantly find myself asking people that I meet how their city is and if I should move there. I want to work as a journalist, not a freelancer, somewhere, pretty much anywhere. I can see myself in Montreal or Vancouver, but it depends if there are opportunities there. I’m worried.

In “The Art of Travel,” the author explains how before we travel we have an imagined picture in our heads of what the destination that we travel to will be like. We establish this picture in our heads from postcards, guidebooks, photos on the Internet and from stories we hear about the place we visit – kind of like a bird’s eye view. But, when we get there, we realize that the magic can only be viewed through our own eyes; eyes that can experience doubt, negativity, wandering thoughts about the future or past, sickness, and loneliness. These feelings undoubtedly disturb our imagined picture of the destination and for some can be so dispiriting that it discourages them from travel altogether. It’s a shame, really, that we can’t always achieve the ideal we’ve developed in our heads. However, sometimes if you go with the flow, the ideal can sneak up and surprise you.

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In Cordoba, Argentina, I experienced what I figure is the imagined ideal for anyone who travels on vacation to the South. Allow me to explain:

My journey started from the hostel I was staying at, Mate. The hostel was brand new and eager for new guests and good reviews on hostelbookers.com. It was small, kind of like an apartment with five roommates, but it was kept clean and you get free eggs for breakfast :).

church sky cordoba

I had planned to CouchSurf in Cordoba, but it didn’t work out because I don’t have a phone – and meeting up without a phone is impossible, so I stayed at Mate for a couple days. I walked around the city a lot, but was generally unimpressed. Barely anyone was around except old and obese people, which was in sharp contrast to the beauties I saw in Salta. This is because Cordoba is a student city, and since all the students were on summer holidays Cordoba lacked most of its population. Also, most people in Argentina spend the hot summer at the beach, by the river or in a small town outside of the city. This is why I hesitated travelling here in the first place – no people equals no fun. But, perhaps if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. So, a Canadian from the hostel and I made a plan to go to a nearby river for the day. We packed light – a towel, bathing suit and sunscreen – and asked the hostel staff for directions to a river. She recommended Cuesta Blanco.

It wasn’t easy to get there. In Argentina, to take a city bus you need an exact amount of coins and they don’t give change. The problem is you barely ever get coins and the only money you can get on your own is 100’s from the bank machine that most vendors don’t like to take. At 5 Argentinian pesos to 1 American dollar, you go through more 100s than you ever want to. To make matters worse, you can only take out 1000 pesos from the bank at a time. For a fee of 20 pesos plus 5$ cash advance on my credit card, taking out just $200 is a rip off!

Anyways, with just enough change we caught the bus we were supposed to get and made it to a bus station outside of the city in a place called Carlos Paz. Carlos Paz looked like I would imagine Costa Rica to look like – a Westernized affluent sun-infused city. There, we caught another bus to Cuesta Blanco. What we thought would be a short trip ended up taking at least 2 hours.

Playa sign

When we got there, we saw a sign that led to a beach 2km Playa de los Hippies. Needless to say, our plans immediately diverted to this playa. As I walked there I tried to imagine what I would see…a nude beach? Harre Krishnas like in the Isla del Sol? A cloud of weed smoke? John Lennon still alive? After about a half an hour on a dirt road and through a winding trail up a mountain we overlooked one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. About a hundred people frolicked by a beach in front of crystal clear water surrounded by lush mountains and a baby blue sky.

playa hippies 3

Just behind the beach, people had set up tents with the idea of staying days or even weeks by this hippie oasis. There, they would spend the days hiking, playing music, swimming, eating, drinking wine and smoking. Amazingly, after about an hour by the beach a Columbian my Canadian companion had met at Mate Hostel called over to us. He had left the hostel a day earlier with plans to stay at Playa de Los Hippies for a week and, with true South American spirit, he invited us to stay in his tent overnight. We had no long pants or sweaters, but fuck it, this is what travel is all about – spontaneous decisions to sleep on a sandy beach. Am I wrong or is that the fucking ideal!?

natalia playa
Beautiful Argentinian who came from the north for this magical beach

Overnight we chatted with Argentinians and Brazilians, drank copious amounts of wine and were provided with fresh barbeque pizza that would have been amazing if not for the insane amount of salt added by the drunk cooks. As the only two non-South Americans in our new group of beach friends, we were seen as some of the biggest entertainment. We were different like a pollo negro according to one Argentinian. According to his terrible English translation that means that I am a “fried chicken nigger.” WHAT!? I almost died! He meant no harm and obviously had no idea what he was saying, nor about any fried chicken stereotypes, but somehow the translation came out as such. Talk about communication barriers haha!

it is what it is
“It is what it is” – our lowly tent at Playa de los Hippies

We slept four to a tiny two-person tent and froze our nuts off, but it wasn’t too too bad – not like those freezing La Paz nights. The next morning, we returned to Cordoba with huge smiles on our faces. One of the best experiences of my trip so far without a doubt!

playa hippies 1

That night, I headed to Buenos Aires, the nation’s capital – where I am writing to you right now.

ba me

Buenos Aires observations: it never rains, people are young looking, people are beautiful, people don’t say hello to you on the street, people speak English, if you try and speak English they will switch to Spanish (it’s not only Montreal where this stupid attitude exists);

Jew Graff
Jews immigrated to Argentina following World War 2. So did a bunch of Nazis.

 

there are an infinite amount of awesome parks, graffiti looks incredible, Argentinians care about paint (unlike Juliaca, Peru);

ba train

trains are slow, you can’t transfer buses, getting places takes me 3 hours (four fucking times it took me 3 hours to get somewhere because bus drivers and taxis don’t know where they are going KNOW YOUR FUCKING CITY);

people love to be outdoors, people love exercise, there are palm trees everywhere, it doesn’t get cold (at -5 in the “winter” they stay inside), museums are mostly free, there are pretty much no natives around, it appears to be a patriarchy instead of a matriarchy like in Peru/Bolivia, food is good, street food is better and clubs are shockingly incredible (at least one was…to be explained).

In all, Argentina seems like a great place to live. They provide education to everyone for free, and their universities are highly ranked. Oh ya, and if you want to immigrate here and go to school here you wouldn’t have to pay either (take that out-of-province/international fees Quebec!). They also provide free health care to anyone on their land, so foreigners can travel here, get surgery, then leave. Finally, they subsidize buses, trains and the metro making the prices very low for the wide amount of services they provide.

damian and i
My Couch Surfing host Damian and I at an outdoor hipster party

I have had the good fortune to be told all this, been shown all the cool places and to have stayed here for free due to the wonderful community that is Couch Surfing. How? Go online, set up a profile and send off emails to hosts. My host provided me with a room of my own in his spacious condo just outside of downtown, a kitchen to cook in, a tv to watch and daily things to do. We have essentially been roommates for a week and it has gone so well. I am so thankful for this opportunity and definitely plan to host people when I get a place of my own. I mean, if you get jacked you know who did it (Couch Surfing shows references and vouches for you if you are legit). It’s a great way to meet new people and feel like you are travelling even in your own city. Highly recommend it!

Licking salt off the shoulder of an employee before I take a shot of tequila at Club 69 in one of the wildest clubs I've ever been to!
Licking salt off the shoulder of an employee before I take a shot of tequila at Club 69 in one of the wildest clubs I’ve ever been to!

On Thursday night, my host took me to my first Argentinian nightclub experience. As normal in Buenos Aires, we arrive at 2 am and were immediately greeted by ripped dudes in spandex underwear, women in bright spandex bathing suits and a tall lanky man in a yellow spandex zebra suit. Uh oh, had my host taken me to a gay club? Nope, it was just really artsy! As the dj played some of the best electronic music I’d ever heard, these extravagantly dressed spokespeople for the club danced on moving platforms with polls and up on a huge stage in fun choreographed performances. You could even go up to one of the girls sitting on the bar, lick salt off her shoulder and take a free tequila shot. Meanwhile, behind the stage there was a whole other room with an awesome hip-hop/dancehall DJ who played “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” by KRS-ONE (one of my faves all time). Also, at this other mini-club other performances occurred like a live rapper and a Michael Jackson impersonator who looked scarily like White Michael’s jean-jacket, curly long hair and large brimmed-hat phase. I had no idea that something this awesome was possible in a club. For performances like this back home we would have to pay top dollar – if they even thought of providing this much stimulation. I generally hate on clubbing, but this was amazing. Oh and by the way, most people (as far as I know) were NOT on drugs! Little lesson for everyone back home who feels like they need drugs to enjoy electronic music – you don’t!

Rollerskates. Hipster.
Rollerskates. Hipster.

Two days ago, Damian, my Couch Surfing host took me to an outdoor free concert/bar under the sun. If you are curious what the definition of hipster is (for some reason), then this is where you’d find it. I saw more ironic moustaches, circular sunglasses and high-wasted jean shorts than you can ever imagine. It was really cool though. Argentina is so trendy and fashionable and they have their own culture and style that isn’t exactly what you see in America. Great place to live if you are young.

ba river 1

After that, we visited the river in the middle of the city where thousands of Argentinians were running, roller blading (on rollerskates you can rent from vendors in the park), and enjoying the beautiful weather. I always though that in Montreal and Ottawa we had such great summers because thoughout the rest of the year the weather is miserable, but even in a place where the weather is great nearly all of the time they take the time to really enjoy the weather. Brings me back to the question – why does anyone ever live in cold climates – everything is better and everyone is happier in the summer.

My time in Buenos Aires has come to an end. Tomorrow morning I’ll be on a 26 hour bus to Florianopolis, Brazil. I’ve always dreamed of going to Brazil and the time has finally come.

Can’t wait!