Buenos Aires

I came to Buenos Aires not expecting much and knowing very little about the city besides that it was Argentina’s Capital and where Evita Perón started her fascinating career. However.. it was recommended by a lot of travelers that I knew and I thought that I should really give it a chance.

After a couple of days my attitude changed completely!! I was glad to be proved wrong and really wished that I had more time in this amazing place. I was blown away by the nice people, neoclassical architecture and the list of things that I wanted to see and do in the city grew exponentially during my stay.

I arrived on a Thursday night in one of Buenos Aires’ most renowned party hostels (Milhouse Hostel) – and it really lived up to the name. When I entered, I felt like I was walking into a club rather than a hostel and me and the people staying there enjoyed the next couple of nights becoming acquainted with the clubbing/bar scene of Argentina (that can go on until 6 or 7am) and, better still, Tango!

The days on the other hand were a different story. I began most mornings as a half human/half zombie creature nursing some of the biggest hangovers that I’ve ever had. I was shocked that I was even able to go sightseeing most of the time and even had to have a day off on my last day (and missed the opportunity to see La Boca) just so that I could recover.

Nevertheless, I still managed to get a lot done and even practiced my ‘awesome’ hustling-skills bartering for currency in Argentina’s underground “Blue Market”.

On my first day, I went to the Evita Perón museum where I was taught about some of the big changes that she was able to bring about for the country and expanded my knowledge of her life beyond the musical Evita. I walked down ‘9 de Julio’ (the widest avenue in the world) as well as ‘Avenida de Mayo’ and even got a tour of the Pink House (Argentina’s equivalent to the White House).

During the next couple of days, I branched out a lot more and saw some of the city’s best sites such as ‘Cementerio de la Recoleta’ – which had some of the tombs for the wealthiest and most powerful families in the land, the Museum of Fine Arts and even stumbled across a giant street concert for the ‘Hugo awards’ on Corrientes Street.

When I was leaving the city I felt that there was still lots of things that I still wanted to see.. but I wasn’t too disappointed. I think I enjoyed my time so much in BA that I know that I will most likely return in the future. I don’t know when right now but I’m sure that this isn’t the end!

Mal Abrigo – Finca Piedra

After a few days in Montevideo I travelled to a ranch/winery/hotel in a very small town in the countryside of Uruguay. Here I was able to see firsthand what the gaucho lifestyle was like and saw every stage of the wine making process too. I started of my work in the Bodega where we treated each giant batch of wine and checked it’s temperature and consistency. It was really interesting as each container had wine at a different period of the fermentation process so I could see and taste how the wine changed over time.

Walking into the Bodega was really cool and seemed like I stepped into the cook room of Breaking Bad (I think now I know how to set up my operations when I arrive in Colombia).

I found Uruguay a very relaxing place to live but also very quiet. Finca Piedra is situated in a really nice location amongst fields of vineyards and crops so there was lots of opportunities to go exploring and go for long runs whenever I wanted. The whole landscape of Uruguay reminds me so much of rural Ireland and the people as well (although with the exception that Uruguayan people speak Spanish and really can´t really be found without a Mate cup in their hand).

The local people that I worked with were really warm and hospitable which carried through even though I couldn’t talk to them properly – beside a few words of Spanish here and there (mixed with Portuguese).

At the very end of my stay I started working more outside in the garden which I think was okay but not really what I feel I am looking to do anymore and I made a silent vow at that moment when I was working under the hot sun that I would never to work a manual labour job again on this trip. Keeping with this promise, I’ve now thrown away my work gloves and I’m gonna try looking for other hostel jobs/ teaching jobs in the future if I can.

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Cunha

After spending such a long time in São Paulo I desperately needed a break from city life. I headed to a little town a few hours away called Cunha and landed in a spiritual community nearby.

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The community itself is very big and situated in a beautiful valley which had plenty of mountains, waterfalls and lakes. These were incredible and we were able to go exploring through most of them during our free time thanks to a resident there that was nice enough to take us on small treks.

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During my stay we had the opportunity to work on a lot of different projects. For some reason I spent a lot of my working time cutting grass but I also helped in the construction of a house by putting the roof on and cementing the walls. The community also has an outreach program which attempts to improve the living standards of the wider community; they help by building houses for the poorer families and even bring volunteers in to the local schools to tell them stories about their countries and share cultures. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to work on this during my short stay, I was really impressed by their involvement in the work that they do.

As a spiritual community, my time here very peaceful and it felt like it gave me the space I needed to organise the rest of my trip and even catch a second wind. It also gave me a lot of space for reading and I made a good dent in reading War & Peace (well a good dent ≈ 14%, but a good start at least!). I also got to try a few new activities; the place offered lots of free classes such as Kung Fu & Chi Kung, different holistic therapies and horse riding and I even got to try yoga for the first time. It was an extremely nice place to live in and I think it’s definitely a place that I would like to return to in the future – if even just to meet the amazing people living there again.

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My visa for Brazil is now approaching it’s expiry date. I now have 6 months that I have to spend outside of the country before I can return. During this time I think I’m going to try to visit the other countries in South America that I haven’t been to before. The problem with this is that they all speak Spanish.. seriously Brazil, why did you have to be so different?! It’s going to be hard switching languages all over again but that’s just the way it has to be.

Okay, my next stop will be Uruguay where I will spend a month and then I’m off to Argentina straight after. Tchau Brasil, see you in six months!

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São Paulo

I don’t think it would have been possible for me to live in Brazil without at least staying in it’s largest and most developed city. São Paulo has a population of close to 12 million people and it is the business capital of South America. In my mind, São Paulo is analogous in Brazil to how New York is to the USA. As I flew into the city I saw tower blocks after tower blocks all along the horizon; it was an impressive sight and I was really looking forward to my stay.

However, after being here for roughly a month, I can’t say that there is much that I truly liked about the city. There were a few really cool areas and really interesting people but it really felt that the city was lacking the same flare that I have come to love about Brazil. It’s pretty hard to explain and some people would disagree but I really can’t see myself living here again unless I needed to work professionally.

At the same time however, there were a few things which perhaps made my experience worse. For starters, it seemed to rain non-stop! – This is actually extremely good for the city as there was a huge drought before I came and the water supply was at dangerously low levels. After speaking to a lot of the locals, it seemed that this was a strong topic of discussion as many people felt passionately that the drought was linked it to the corruption/inefficiency of the city politicians and the city’s poor planning.

I also don’t think I was very lucky in the place where I stayed as they seemed to have had a different motivation as to why they were accepting volunteers. With time, it became apparent to me that they weren’t accepting volunteers out of choice but they had to resort to it due to the lack of finances to pay full-time employees; for this I think they also slightly resented the fact that they had to use volunteers. The lack of money in the hostel really showed by how the facilities kept deteriorating and wasn’t properly maintained. After I realised that I didn’t like it in São Paulo I spoke to the manager and asked to leave 5 days earlier (giving over two week’s notice). In response, he changed my work schedule so that I would work 7/7days, all through carnival, and working 8 hours shifts. I simply refused as I felt that the amount of work was extortionate and since that point I felt that the atmosphere of the place really changed. I wasn’t the only one that felt this way as well, 3 other people left early and the remaining staff are talking about leaving soon.

But despite this, there were lots of things I did like about the city and I did have a lot of good times. What I most liked most about São Paulo was it’s art galleries and, because of the rain, I went to quite a few of these. The first gallery that I went to was in the MASP (São Paulo’s Museum of Art). It was relatively quiet even though entrance for that day was free and there were pieces of art hanging on the walls from some of the art-world’s greatest mavericks (Vincent Van Gogh, Picasso, Turner and Monet). It was really cool.

There was also a really interesting exhibition on in Ibirapuera Park around the theme of food.. just my cup of tea. There were heads made of sugar, popcorn rocks on the floor and there was even a painting made out of coffee beans to symbolise Brazil’s history and growth due to it’s coffee industry.

However, I think the best gallery I visited was in the Pinacoteca which had an exhibition on by the sculpture Ron Mueck. It was simply breathtaking. There were hyper-realistic sculptures in the museum of all sizes and the level of detail was extraordinary! There was even a video which demonstrated how the whole process was achieved which really added to the visit.

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But above all of this, the other volunteers were just fun people to know and hang around with. They also taught me a lot. I really happy to learn that two of them were even professional cooks. Because of this, I spent nearly every day cooking and they kept on giving me tips on how to prepare and cook different dishes, they explained what type of meat is the best type to buy and the reasons why and what herbs and spices are best for each situation. It was like every day I had the opportunity to have a private cooking class, definitely useful for the rest of my journey.

Key things I’ve learnt:  How to make the perfect dish with steaks 😀

Chapada Diamantina

The Hippy culture is booming in Chapada Diamantina!! On the day we arrived we were told about a eletro/reggie/art rave happening that night in the jungle. So after predrinking in the hostel, a bunch of us decided we’ll go and check it out. It was mad, there were hippies everywhere on lsd and mdma, really loud music and, as the stages were set up in natural caverns, it was unlike anything I have ever seen. I think we all got back around 3 or 4 in the morning – really not the best idea when we had to go hiking early the next morning.

Over the next couple of days we travelled to a lot of mountains, waterfalls, lakes and caverns. Cachoeira da Fumaça was amazing; it’s a giant waterfall which blows all of the water into the wind before it has a chance to touch the ground. When we were first hiking up to it, we thought that it was starting to rain (even though there were no rainclouds in the sky) and then we realized that we must have finally reached our destination as the breeze was blowing the water over the top of us.

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Gruto de lapão was also really interesting; you start of walking into a cave but it’s so large that you keep walking for around 30 minutes – all the way through the mountain – to the other side. At one point, when we were deep in the cave, we all turned off our torches to see what complete darkness is like. It’s a really surreal feeling, my brain kept trying to find a piece of light to focus on but it was impossible.

Besides this, I think I’ve learnt not to trust my camera with some people. When we went to Cachoeira do Sossego, I asked my friend Diarmuid to take a photo of me standing next to waterfall. It was only when I got back that I realised that there was only two photos taken..

And the day before this my friend Andrea went to take a photo of me sliding down a waterfall in Ribeirao do Meio

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… I think she decided that the photo needed somebody else in the foreground to make it better.

I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’m starting to see what the hype is all about with selfie sticks!

My trip was shorter than I expected as it was ridiculously expensive in Chapada. I’ve now returned to Arembepe to catch up with my friends here. We had a great day yesterday where I said my final goodbye to Diarmuid who will stay Salvador for another couple of months as well as a few others. I’m now ready for the next stage of my journey to start. Next stop São Paulo.

Salvador

I have spent the last 5 weeks living in Pelourinho, the historical centre of Salvador, in Bahia… and it’s definitely been a unique experience – entirely different to the rest of my time in Brazil.

I think most people believe that the soul of Brazil, it’s passion, comes from Bahia and, more specifically, Salvador. Pelourinho has inspired lots of artists and music over the years and definitely has a rhythm of it’s own. Due to the large number of slaves brought to Brazil during the 18th and 19th century to work on sugar plantations, there is a huge influence of African culture reflected in everyday life; the religion of Candomblé, the clothes people wear as well as the music and style of dance here. Nearly every day a drum band called Olodum assembles at the top of the Lago do Pelourinho and play for hours on end. They’re really popular, you can see them performing with Michael Jackson in Pelourinho in his music video ‘They don’t care about us’.

Because of all of this, Pelourinho is the place where all of the tourists (aka the gringos) go. However that’s not really a good thing. It’s really a stroller’s paradise during the day, with lots of museums and beautiful baroque churches and even live Capoeira, but at night the vibe changes entirely as some of the people that live here view the tourists as wealthy and easy targets to rob. Because of this, I think Pelourinho is the most dangerous part of Salvador.. there are robberies all the time and I don’t think I went a week without hearing about a couple of people being held at knife point. I was fairly fortunate that nothing happened to me during my stay but I also think I was being really careful; I always tried to go out in groups, I only went to place I knew were safe and I never took anything valuable with me. More than this, I think I may have been slightly lucky.

My first day in Pelourinho pretty much set the tone for the rest of my stay. I arrived on a day called Terça do Benção (Blessed Tuesday) which is weekly event where the churches in the area give food and gifts to the poor and homeless and consequently the town erupts into a giant street party. Seriously, every week there was a big stage set up on the hill with samba music playing and people drinking and partying in the street until around 4am. I really can’t even imagine this happening in the UK with the amount of laws we have. Also, because I was working in a hostel, it was pretty much parties (or at least drinking and drinking games) nearly every night. It’s safe to say that my health this month has just dropped and the free caiprinhas haven’t helped in the slightest!

The biggest party night of the year came on the buildup to New Years day. There was an enormous free festival set up about 15 minutes from our hostel with tens of thousands of people tightly packed in front of the stage. The humidity in the centre of the crowd, with everybody dancing, was too much!! There were lots of great acts that came on during the night. For me, the highlight was when Bob Sinclair came on as at this point we were at the very front and dancing like crazy in a circle with a load of Brazilian friends we had just made. It was awesome.

While I really enjoyed my time this month, I was also a bit disappointed by the progress I made with my Portuguese. I was surrounded by English speaking people in the hostel and I never had much opportunity to practice. To get around this I had to force myself to speak to as many Brazilian people as possible (but there were times when I was lazy and spoke English instead if I knew they could speak English). But, all in all, the Brazilian people I have met here have been some really great people and I have made a lot of cool friends. They’ve also taught me a lot of slang words and expressions which is really interesting and definitely useful here!

For New Years, I was invited to go camping in a place called Moreré on the Island of Boipeba by a friend I met. I think I was feeling pretty crazy by accepting the invite as I didn’t really know any of them and they didn’t speak English. However, after a while, I decided that it would be an interesting experience and an adventure no matter what happened and it would help me with my Portuguese.. so I summed up the courage and went. However, to get to Moreré was a giant mission. I arranged to travel with my friend’s friend as she knew the way to the place but this friend didn’t speak a word of English and we had never met before. In total, our journey went from a taxi ride – to a ferry boat – to a cab – to a bus – to a river boat – to a tractor!! I left at 6am and arrived around 8pm! :/ And not only this, the friend was taking the mick out of my accent the entire time. It turns out I can’t even pronounced the colour green correctly or even Brazil! Aeey

But that night was incredible, at midnight the fireworks went off at the beach and we partied and sambaed (attempted to samba) until there was a sunrise! There were only a small group of about one hundred people on the beach, but that was enough. When the sun rose everybody went into the shallow water and then danced to the live music playing. In Brazil the people believe that wearing white is a symbol of peace for the next year.. so imagine the view of all of these people dancing in the sea wearing white during the sunrise; it was pretty magical.

The next few days flew by, we went from tropical beach to tropical beach. It was paradise. After a few days of camping I said my goodbyes and returned to Salvador.

I really liked with my stay in Salvador but it has also been really hard. It’s difficult when you make some good friends who are travellers and, just as you are getting to know them, you realise that they are leaving the next day. Even worse is when you have friends that you are leaving behind. It sucks. It’s a feeling of unfulfillment – a mix of an expectation for something that you thought might happen but understand never will. But you have to accept these things.

Bit of a long post this time, I’ll try to make the next one shorter! I’m now off camping for a few weeks with my friend Diarmuid (aka Thomas) from home and some people we met here.10893853_746581302092676_34576592_n

Key things I’ve learnt: How to cut limes and make Caiprinhas!!!

Arembepe

After a great month living along the ’Estrada do Côco’ in Arembepe I am now starting work in Salvador.

My time in Arembepe though was amazing! I stayed in a ‘natural park’ called Sítio Folha d´Água. It offered workshops for Meditation with crystal bowls, Yoga, Tai Chi and lots more activities which was very relaxing to see and even be part of.

I initially spent the first couple of days helping to make furniture and maintaining the place but after my third day I offered to help develop the website for the Sítio and since that point I was working on the site every day.

I found that there was quite a lot to do in Arembepe… there was another preservation project ongoing here, but this time with turtles so I was able to see all the different types of tortoises in the region. I was actually surprised at the size of some of them – one of them was huge, even bigger than me.

Besides this, the woman who owned the Sìtio had a lot of dogs; 16 in total, all of which were her pets! It was insane and really fun to watch them all of the time. After a day it was clear to see the pack hierarchy and mentality. There was an Alpha male which all of the dogs followed and a matriarch which was the oldest female dog – which was tiny but treated as powerful by dogs twice her size. It was really interesting, but when they barked and howled as a group, wow! It’ll be some time before my hearing gets better.

Key things I learned: When working with code, backup everything and do this frequently!

João Pessoa

After a two and half hour delay from my flight from Rome, I was rushed through security and customs and luckily caught my connecting flight when it was on it’s final boarding call. A short while later I landed in João Pessoa; a newly developing city at the eastern most point in Brazil – where the sun is the first to rise in the Americas. Staying in a nearby town called Conde, I was introduced to and lived with a really nice family and helped the owner of the land construct a natural swimming pool (lots of digging!) as well as a few other projects he had going on.

I feel like I was really thrown into the deep end with this trip (especially at first) as none of the family can speak English and, even now, I think my Portuguese is pretty limited. However, the family itself were extremely friendly and really approachable and throughout the weeks I slowly learnt more and more and met countless brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, grandmothers and so on, that I began to feel like part of the family. I also met a few of their friends which spoke English and, with a group I met in the first week, I travelled North for an hour to Barra de Mamanguape for a weekend break. These are some of the photos from the weekend.

It was really cool, the area was very beautiful and there was a local project being undertaken to save the manatees (peixe-bois) in the region. For a really cheap price we were taken out in a small boat to see the manatees and was even this one that followed us and kept rocking our boat!! Being able to speak English on this trip, even for a little while, was a breath of fresh air after two weeks in and helped me to return me a bit to normality. In the evening we played a game similar to pool with the locals in a bar and then went back to the house to play Uno! Very fun In the house where I stayed in Conde, there were lots of different types of animals; some of which seem very strange at first like this ugly red headed duck called a Muscovy duck.

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All in all, there were two dogs, three cats, this monster and a 45 year old turtle. One of the cats became pregnant during my stay as little by little we saw that her belly was getting bigger… until one day we realised that she suddenly lost weight?!

It was only during the next day that we realised where she had her children.. I opened my cupboard in the morning to find three little kittens quietly sleeping in the bottom drawer. Very big surprise!

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 There were lots of really cool beaches in the area, one of my favourite was the stunning praia de coqueirinho. I was pretty lucky as there was another beach just 5 minute drive away and there was also one I could get to by kayaking from the house (although the journey took an exhausting two hours and was pretty treacherous)

Staying with a Brazilian family has really helped add to the experience, one I don’t think I’ll have again as I’m now going to start working in hostels and hotels soon. The family have introduce me to a variety of new foods and the owner of the place makes so many different types of juices every day based on the fruits grown here (like Açaí, Mangaba and Cashew)… some of them are so sweet and delicious that I want to take them back with me when I return! Normally, I work about four hours (five days a week) at the end of the day feels like a great reward to have one of these and then I have the rest of the day to relax. Now that five weeks are up, I feel sad to be leaving, the time has flown by and I feel like I’ve settled into a nice routine here. I’m now travelling down to what looks like a hippy town near Salvador called Arembepe; hopefully I’ll be able to find a reliable internet connection in this place. I desperately need it. DSC05133 Key things I learned: No matter how much mosquito repellent you put on, you’re still gonna be bitten! Pular doesn’t mean pull and puxar definitely doesn’t mean push!!