Minas Gerais and Itacaré

In the state of Minas Gerais, just a few hours away from Belo Horizonte, lies the old colonial capital of Ouro Preto.

Founded in the 17th century after the discovery of gold, Ouro Preto grew exponentially as people were drawn to the city with the promise of new riches.

Those stories of wealth were not over exaggerated either – at its peak, it’s estimated that two thirds of all the world’s gold in circulation at the time had once originated from this city – leading to Brazil’s literal golden age!

Once extracted, the gold was transported from Ouro Preto to the coastal cities of Rio de Janeiro and Paraty along the “Caminho do Ouro”.

Officially 800 tons of gold was exported out of the country. Unofficially, it could have been 3 or 4 times more… after all, any gold which was logged publicly in the records also had to be taxed and, if there’s anything the rich know how to do well, even back then, it’s avoid taxes.

With the great influx of wealth into Ouro Preto, the construction of many beautiful churches in the city were commissioned – one of which, the Basilica of Nossa Senhora do Pilar is decorated with over 1000 kg of gold and 500 kg of silver.

However, the story of Ouro Preto has a dark side as well.  

In the period that the gold rush took place, slavery was commonplace. As the conditions in the mines were so horrible, it was seen as necessary to use slaves for this kind of work and, as more gold was found, so to increased the demand for these slaves, triggering a vicious cycle.

Even worse, as adults were too large to fit through the small tunnels and crevices of the mines, children were often used to do the work instead.

Whilst visiting one of these mines, our guide explained that the children were seen expendable in the eyes of their owners – and those that eventually grew too large to fit inside the small passages, were not longer useful and were left to die. Most of the children never lived past the age of 12.

After a week in Ouro Preto, I travelled back to Belo Horizonte.

Belo Horizonte “BH”, overtook Ouro Preto as the capital of Minas Gerais in 1897. Even though it is a huge city with over two and half million people, there is a funny expression in the city that BH is an egg – meaning that it’s a small place – one where everybody is in some way connected through a friend or relative.

For me, Minas Gerais is like Brazil’s own version of Yorkshire. In the UK, Yorkshire has some of the best farmland in the country and, all around the UK, you can buy Yorkshire puddings, Yorkshire sausages, Yorkshire cheeses – it’s simply known for having good quality food. In the same way, there are restaurants all around Brazil where you can buy Mineiro food (food from Minas Gerais). The entire state is full of farmland and it’s widely accepted that it’s the state with quality authentic food – whether it’s cheese, doce de leite or pao de queijo.

Similarly, like how people in Yorkshire have their own accent and expressions; such as nowt for no, aye for yes, ta for thanks and tarra for goodbye – the people from Minas Gerais have their own sayings which aren’t used in any other part of the country. For one, they call anything and everything a train (a trem), whether it’s a bottle of water, a microwave or a tree – even a plane can be a train in Minas Gerais!

One of the highlights of Belo Horizonte is, without a doubt, the Inhotim Museum.

Built in 2004 by Bernardo Paz, as part of a private collection, the museum was only opened to the public in 2008.

Spread over a massive 5,000 acres, the museum feels like the owner tried to recreate the garden of Eden. It has over 4000 species of plants, indoors and outdoors displays, and over a dozen uniquely shaped galleries from artists all around the world.

It’s honestly so big that we actually needed a golf cart to travel round from one exhibit to the next.

The name ‘Inhotim’ is also strange in that it’s not Portuguese or from a native indigenous language.. it’s kind of made up. The story goes that a British engineer used to own the land before it was purchased by the owner of the museum. This original landowner went by the name of Mr Tim in English – but, as the locals weren’t used to speaking English, they called Mr Tim, ‘Senhor Tim’ which later turned to ‘Nhô Tim’ and then Inhotim. I think the new owner found this funny and decided to keep the name for this reason.

Shortly after this trip, I then went to the beach town Itacaré to spend Christmas and New Years. This was only a short trip and, after having lockdown in the UK in March – which lasted for over 100 days – and also working continuously through this year without any breaks or holidays, it was nice to be able to have a chance to pause before returning back to work a few weeks later.

I have now been back in Florianópolis since September. As I was living here before Covid happened, I’ve had a chance to see how things have changed in the city from before the pandemic through to today. Honestly, if I were to compare my experience in the UK to what I’ve seen here (in the south of the country anyway), the people here seem to take the restrictions more seriously than what I experienced in London.

Whilst beaches and natural trails are more relaxed… on the streets, nearly everybody wears a mask – temperature checks are mandatory when going into supermarkets and you would not be allowed to even enter a building if you don’t have one.

Hopefully this trend will continue and 2021 will be a better year with the vaccine rollout going well.

Florianópolis

On October 13th – the day after one of my best friend’s weddings, I was on a plane back to South America, heading to an island city in the south of Brazil – Florianópolis.

Florianópolis - Lagoa da ConceiçãoFlorianópolis, nicknamed as the ‘magical city’ by Brazilians, is a pretty extraordinary place to live.

Despite being an island, it is anything but small – driving from one end to the other would take over 2 hours on a good day. If you’re Brazilian (or American for that matter), this might not sound like much but, coming from the UK, this is pretty huge! For us, it would be just as quick to go from London to Cambridge and back as it would to make this same journey.

Because of this size, the island is fantastic to explore – it has dozens of hiking trails, mountains paths, sand dunes and 42 beaches all around. And, if you go to one of the beaches in the northern part of the island, you’ll probably even get a chance to spot the odd pirate boat hanging around!

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Ignoring the occasional pirate, Florianópolis is actually one of Brazil’s safest and more developed cities. I had first heard about it when working in the hostel in Salvador 5 years before and, since then, whenever I have asked my Brazilian friends where in the country would be their favourite place to live – they have all almost unanimously said Florianópolis.

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Being a southern city, the climate is much cooler than the rest of the country with an average temperature ranging from 22° to 30°C in the summer or 13° to 21°C in the winter.

Temperature aside, the south is surprising in other ways… to understand why, you need to first know that the majority of the population in the south are actually descendants from Germany, Austria and Italy rather than from Portugal or Africa like the rest of Brazil. Due to this, the ethnicity of the population is entirely different to what you would normally expect – with many people having blond hair, blue eyes and, believe it or not, might even be whiter than me!

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Some places even look like they are straight out of Europe – seeming to imitate the architecture of traditional German towns. And, because of their heritage, quite a lot of Brazilians in this region celebrate the same German customs and traditions.

Shortly after I arrived, there was even an Oktoberfest celebration in the nearby city of Blumenau – it was no small celebration either… I was told by one person there that there were over a million people attending and it was officially the 2nd largest Oktoberfest in the world.

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After a few months living in Florianópolis, my dad came to visit. Over the next week, I introduced him to some of the more iconic Brazilian foods like Pão de Queijo and Açaí, we went kayaking, had a proper Brazilian Rodízio (barbecue) and a big variety of chopes (beers).

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After a week going around Florianoplis, we took a 15 hour night bus north to see the waterfalls of Foz do Iguaçu. The highlight of which was “The Devil’s Throat” – La Garganta del Diablo on the Argentinian side of the falls

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We then travelled to Rio de Janeiro where I was able to take my dad around to all the top sites like Christ the Redeemer, Pão de Açúcar, and even the neighbourhood where I used to live a few years before.

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After this quick escape, I returned back to Florianópolis to spend my last few months. I began taking Portuguese lessons again in January and ended the trip in the city of Natal to celebrate Carnaval.

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One of the coolest things on the border of Natal was ‘Cajueiro de Pirangi’ – the world’s largest cashew tree. It’s 2.2 acres across and produces over 60,000 cashew fruits each year!

Natal - Cajueiro de Pirangi (Largest cashew tree in the world)Natal - Cajueiro de Pirangi (Largest cashew tree in the world)It felt like something out of a storybook.

Overshadowing the last few months however was the growing threat of Coronavirus (or COVID-19). Fortunately, I had already bought plane tickets to return back to the UK on the 15th of March as I had planned to return for work. However, as the weeks went on, more and more of the conferences that I was scheduled to attend were being cancelled until there were absolutely none left.

After some thought, I decided that it would still be safer for me to return. However, there was then an even bigger worry at this point that the airline that I was flying back with might go bankrupt… this same airline had cancelled over half of its international flights so the risk was very real. Fortunately, no announcements like this were made and I was able to fly home without any problems. The timing actually couldn’t have been luckier as, the day after I got back, both Florianópolis and the greater state of Santa Catarina went in a state of full lockdown.

I’ve now been in London for just under a month. Returning at this time has been surreal to say the least – right now, nobody knows what the future might hold or when everything will return back to normal – all we know is that this can’t last forever.

Hopefully, if the situation does improve before the end of the year, I will be able to return back to Florianópolis but, whether this will actually happen or not… only time will tell.

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A Million and One Conferences 2019

Since last year, I was offered a job working for a company that I would have never seen myself working in before – a radiocarbon dating lab.

Radiocarbon dating is a huge deal for archaeologists in particular because, when one of these researchers makes a new discovery, it is down to a radiocarbon dating lab to determine the age of that artefact and give them more information about its chemistry.

The majority of the time this information fits in perfectly with the reseach team’s expectations, however, every now and again it can give data that is unexpected – making them completely rethink their understanding of a site or an entire epoch of human history.

It is a really fascinating job to be in because you continuously talk to professors and researchers about their work and find out about all the different projects that are going on around the world. However, without having any formal background in chemistry or archaeology, it was surreal to find myself talking with world experts about their projects without feeling like a complete impostor! Even more so when they use really specific terminologies or definitions that make if feel as though they are speaking a foreign-language entirely. Imagine – Speleothems!

Fortunately, living in foreign-speaking countries had prepared me for this very situation as I mastered many years ago the art of pretending as if I could follow a conversation without letting on that I didn’t understand a thing! So how do you do this? Well, it’s a perfectly-timed nod of the head, the classic “mhm”, mixed in with either an “ahh” or “ohh” of realisation. After years of experience, you will even start recognising the ‘traps’ early on – like when the tone of the conversation suddenly changes and you realise that something serious has just been said… when this happens, be ready to look deeply concerned – almost as if you’re trying to remember whether you have left the oven on at home. And then, after all is said and done, don’t forget to tell them that you “hadn’t thought about it in that way before” – after all, you wouldn’t be lying!

It’s a simple skill but also incredibly powerful when used right… now I’m just wondering when my career in politics will begin!

IMG_6487bIMG_6486In all seriousness, I don’t think anybody really expected me to be an expert in these fields when I began and the technicians in the lab (the real experts and professionals) were always on hand to answer any questions that I didn’t know myself.

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Like with Uber, this position has also been remote – the only exception to this has been when I have been needed to attend conferences. Over the last year I have been many of these such as in Bern, Bilbao, Birmingham, Brussels, Dublin, Manchester and Vienna. There were also two other scientific conferences in London however these were much simpler to travel to as I was already living in London at the time.

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I really enjoyed my time in Bilbao in particular as it was during this trip that I was able to meet quite a lot of the people that I work with on a daily basis (but had never met in person). It also gave me a chance to learn more about Bilbao and the Basque country – an autonomous region in the north of Spain with its own unique language, flag and culture.

My team and I spent a week exploring the Basque countryside and, being there, you really wouldn’t believe that you were in Spain at all.

DSC08291I think one of the best parts for me was trying all the different types of Pintxos (bitesize meals/snacks you can find on the counter of every pub and bar). We also met several archaeologists that we work with in the region and they brought us along to one of their excavations.

Near to the end of August, I had a conference scheduled in the city of Bern, Swizerland. I read up about the area and decided to use the opportunity to take a week off from work in order to travel around the nearby Jungfrau region.

DSC00389This was a really big trip for me as I had never been to Switzerland before and had always wanted to go since I was a kid. My mum had also never been and, because of this, my family all chipped to buy a ticket for her to come along as well as a surprise birthday present. This actually worked out pretty great as she is allergic to nuts so any swiss chocolate samples that she was given were instantaneously handed over to me. Not bad at all.

The town where we stayed was called Interlaken – it’s name literally translates to “between lakes” based upon its location right inbetween two large lakes, Brienz and Thun.

DSC08778As we were hoping to visit quite a lot of places during this trip, we decided to buy a Jungfrau Rail Pass as this gives you umlimited access to get on and off any train, cable-car, tram or boat in the entire Jungrau region! Definitely worth getting.

DSC09473DSC09490DSC09526DSC09554Just 30 minutes away from Interlaken via train was another scenic village called Lauterbrunnen. This town is also a perfect base to explore the Jungrau region with the added benefit of also having Staubbach Falls right next to the town centre!

DSC09994From Lauterbrunnen, you can take a train higher into the Alps – all the way to the last stop JungfrauJoch (nicknamed the ‘Top of Europe’). At this stop, there is a viewing station where you can see and even hike across the Altsch glacier. It even has a few restaurants, a chocolate shop and ‘Ice Palace’ inside.

DSC09220DSC09259DSC09274DSC09174On the way back down to a lower altitude, the temperature starts to rise again and it begins to feel more and more like summer. After a while, its hard to believe that you were standing by a glacier just a few hours before.

I think one of the coolest parts of the trip were the boat journeys across Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. As the Jungfrau Travel pass let us take any boat on either lake, you can take one whenever you please and use it to travel from village to village as if it were a bus. It’s really the perfect way to get some fantastic scenery without ever needing to leave your seat!

DSC00215DSC00344DSC00297DSC00281DSC00321All in all,  Swizterland really does live up to its hype. I can only imagine how it must have been for the local townspeople to grow up in such a place.

Since coming back, I have now moved out of London and will continue working for the same company in Florianopolis, Brazil. I’m really excited about this change as it has been three years since I was last in Brazil. At the same time however, I am a bit anxious as I have also never been to this city before and it feels like that I have forgotten quite a lot of my Portuguese since living in Mexico! This trip will only be short however and I’ll be back in Europe from the spring onwards to attend even more conferences!

Belize and Guatemala

After a night-bus south from Mexico, I arrived in Belize. Belize gained its independence from British rule in 1981 but still retains quite a lot of influence from its colonial past. For starters, English is still the native language (where Spanish is spoken everywhere else), they drive on the right side of the road and even have the Queen on their currency.

Belize is probably most loved by diving enthusiasts due to the abundance of wildlife in the oceans (similar to the Great Barrier Reef) and the infamous ‘Blue Hole’ that people travel all around the world to see. For me, the highlight was snorkelling in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

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There is really nothing quite like it; you can swim with thousands of different species of fish, rays, nurse sharks and even manatees. It is an experience unlike any other.

To the west of Belize are several sets of Mayan ruins. Whilst there, I visited the pyramid of Xunantunich (which can be found just 45 minutes away from the town of San Ignacio).

DSC07168DSC07191Strangely, these ruins were practically deserted without any other tourists in sight.

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After my short stay in Belize, I crossed the border into Guatemala and headed to the town of Flores.

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Whilst I don’t normally give comparisons between countries, I would have to say that I had a much better experience in Guatemala and believe that it is the better country to visit between the two.

It’s strange, I never had a bad experience in Belize but, while walking through Belize City especially, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t a safe place to be. It reminded me of Salvador in Brazil where week after week I met tourists who were threatened or robbed on the streets of Pelourinho. It wasn’t a nice feeling to have. On the other hand, I never once felt that way in Guatemala. In fact, I was taken back by how peaceful and beautiful Flores is – it’s the perfect spot to visit for anybody who wants to experience the country.

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I was lucky to be in the town during the country’s Independence Day – where people celebrate throughout the weekend with parties, parades and by running through the streets with fire torches.

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On my last day, I visited the ruins of Tikal. These were probably the biggest set of Mayan ruins that I’ve seen and you would honestly need an entire day to explore them all!

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If you have a chance, I would recommend going to these ruins before sunrise – this would mean waking up at the ungodly hour of 3:30AM but I promise that it’s worth it!

The enter

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The Yucatán

After my visa for Brazil was rejected, I felt a bit lost to say the least… my plans for the next few years went out of the window and I had to completely rethink about what I wanted and what was most important to me.

There’s one thing I was certain of however and that was that I wanted a change; a place that I had never been before and suddenly – like a flash – the answer became obvious. Two weeks later, my bags were packed, my money was converted and my farewells were said… I would be going to the land of Mariachis, burritos and tequila – MEXICO.

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After arriving in early March, I spent a few days in Cancún and then travelled south to the resort town of Playa del Carmen in the Yucatán; where I would be living for the next six months.

Learning from my earlier mistakes with Portuguese – where it took me a ridiculous amount of time to even get a basic grasp of the language – I decided to join a school straightaway where I could learn Spanish in a formal and organised way. Although my time in this school was short, I picked up a great deal; drilling conjugations after conjugations, learning to roll my r’s and, of course, dropping all the essential Mexican slang words into my vocabulary!

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Playa del Carmen and the surrounding Yucatán Peninsula is probably best known for its ancient Mayan ruins, crystal-clear cenotes and beautiful islands; what I have loved most about this part of the country however makes all of these pale in insignificance… the food!

Exploring new dishes and spices here has been amazing and I don’t think I would be able to live now without having the simple pleasures of quesadillas and burritos on a weekly basis.

I also discovered some completely new (and frankly alien-looking) fruit littered around the marketplaces; such as Rambutan and Pitaya (Dragon Fruit).

These are surprisingly tasty despite the appearance on the outside.

Just an hour south of Playa del Carmen are the Mayan ruins of Tulum; which is thought to have been a trading post until the 13th century.

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The best times to visit these ruins are either in the early morning or late in the evening (go any time other than that and you will be surrounded by thousands of tourists being shuffled around by their guides).

Also dotted around the region are dozens of cenotes (natural pits filled with fresh water).

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Interestingly, many of these cenotes used to be used during the Mayan period for ritual sacrifices (typically animals). During the ritual, the priest would push the sacrifice down the hole which would, in theory, appease the gods.

Luckily for everyone around, the cenotes are now only used for swimming, snorkelling and diving. There are even some underground cenotes in the region which are filled with stalactites and stalagmites.

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The entire region is facing a problem however. A pressing issue which has only seem to have been worsened during my time here due to the effects of climate change – Sargasso.

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Sargasso is a type of seaweed that can be found in great quantities in the Atlantic Ocean. There is so much of it actually that an entire area of the North Atlantic Ocean is referred to as the Sargasso Sea; this has been around for hundreds of years and sailors used to tell horror stories about it as it would often trap merchant boats in the water – preventing them from escaping.

Historically, the Gulfstream in the Atlantic Ocean has kept the Sargasso relatively stationary in one section but, due to the warming of the ocean waters, the Gulfstream has become weaker and the Sargasso has pushed its way south-west towards Central America. This has already begun affecting tourism (the primary source of income for the area) and may worsen over the upcoming years.

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…Still that doesn’t stop some people trying to pretend it isn’t there.

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Fortunately, islands act as a natural barrier to the incoming Sargasso (and a welcome escape). During the six months, I visited two islands in the region; Cozumel and Isla Mujeres.

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Without a doubt, Isla Mujeres was my favourite of the two for its laid-back atmosphere and pristine beaches.

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All in all, I have loved my stay in Mexico and am feeling much more settled in what I’m doing here. I’m planning to stay in Mexico for another six months just after a little time away exploring the countries of Belize and Guatemala.

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Naples and Venice – December 2017

In need of a short break from London life, I travelled to the old town of Naples in Italy; renowned for mafia dons, pizza, and its alarmingly close proximity to a 4000ft tall active volcano… what could go wrong!

Whilst part of me was, in a small way, secretly hoping for tiny ash cloud to appear or a slight tremor (just to liven things up a bit), I have to say that I was more than relieved in the end that nothing actually did happen and can only wonder how the local townspeople in the nearby cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum must manage this lingering anxiety with the volcano so close.

For me, the best view of the entire city can be seen from Castel Sant’Elmo; constructed in the 13th century. From here, Mount Vesuvius looms over the Bay of Naples and you can see all of its famous landmarks; including the long and extremely straight street of Spaccanapoli. Directly underneath is the Certosa di San Martino, an old monastery which has now been converted into a museum.

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Just a train ride away, at the base of Mount Vesuvius, sits the ancient Roman city of Pompeii – which was once home to some 15,000 inhabitants. After the catastrophic eruption of the volcano in 79 A.D, the city was abruptly buried under a thick cloud of molten ash (only to be discovered over one and a half thousand years later in 1748). The city of Pompeii was much larger than I had expected and I was shocked that many of the houses still retained the colours in the paintings that once decorated the walls thousands of years prior.

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After a week in Naples, I travelled to mountainside town of Positano which sits perched next to the Amalfi coast. During winter, there was not much to do in the town as most restaurants were closed for the holiday period however, for the scenery alone, it was well worth the trip.

 

Five days later I found myself on a flight to the City of Bridges – Venice. I feel that Venice could have been drawn from the imagination of a fantasy children’s book writer; a floating city with rivers for roads and boats for buses and cars. Even though small, the wealth and opulence within Venice is astounding; probably akin in its time to modern Dubai today.

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Within the main city, there are 139 churches; the grandest holy place undoubtedly being St Mark’s Basilica which is filled with golden treasures unlike any I have ever seen. Despite its beauty however, I couldn’t help but think of the hypocrisy of it all – magnificent but wholly unnecessary displays of wealth in a church whose religion condemns such things. I cannot think of any reason to ethically justify these holy relics of the church when there was (and still is) so much poverty in the world.

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Nevertheless, I could easily see why so many people are charmed by Venice as a whole; it is unlike any city I’ve been to and certainly one without any equal. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Italy for both its history and, without a doubt, it’s food! I’m now in the stages of organising a return trip to Brazil, hopefully this time I will be able to stay for a longer period of time.

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Rio de Janeiro – Part 3 (and the North-East)

Shortly after my sister’s wedding, I returned back to Rio and then promptly flew up to Fortaleza to explore the North-East of the Brazil. Being so close to the equator, Fortaleza felt extremely different to Rio (which was going through winter at the time). The air was much thicker than I had expected and there were a lot more mosquitos. On top of this, the Portuguese accent in Fortaleza is very strange in comparison (just imagine how Scottish must sound to foreigners).

After a few days of exploring the city, trying to Samba and getting lost in favelas, me and some friends in the hostel rented a car and travelled to a small fishing village called Jericoacoara (yea, we couldn’t pronounce it either!)

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With white sandy beaches, hammocks, cheap alcohol and water sports, many Brazilians travel here for their holidays (and many foreigners have decided to live here permanently… I can’t see why).

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One of the highlights in Jeri for me was a giant sand dune just on the outside of the town where everybody watches the sunset. Just afterwards, everybody runs or jumps down the dune as quickly as they can to get to the bottom (which is a lot more fun than it looks!)

 

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After a week here (and lots of organisation), I managed to split a ride over to an even smaller town called Barreirinhas which sits just outside a giant national park called Lençois Maranhenses. Unknown to the people I was traveling with, it was actually my birthday on the day that we arrived – as soon as they found out, one person in the group somehow managed to buy the largest Caipirinha I have ever seen!

img-20160722-wa0004Over the course of the next couple of days we explored the national park which interestingly has the name, “Lençois” as it looks like a giant bedsheet.

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Shortly after this I travelled to São Luiz and then got a flight back to Rio.

About two weeks after I got back, the Olympics began. During the build-up of the Olympics I wasn’t really looking forward to anything; I didn’t buy any tickets and honestly didn’t think that Rio was ready to host anything. After it began however, it felt like the mood in the city began to change and people started enjoying it. As a whole, I was pleased that nothing went catastrophically wrong (with the exception of a small green swimming pool…) and I’m sure the city felt the same way but probably more so relieved when it all finished.

What also helped during this time was that my friend from school, Diarmuid, flew into Rio just as the games began and literally lived next door to me for the month. During this time, we went a few games together and even hiked up a nearby mountain called Pedra da Gavea.

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After he left, the next few months (my final few months) flew by and I really wished that I didn’t have to leave so soon.

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I’m now going to spend what looks like a year or more in the UK to work, save money and perhaps focus a bit on building a career. I’m really not looking forward to spending winter in England (especially as I just had winter in Rio) but… it is nice to be home for Christmas after spending the last two away.

In the meantime, I will try to work around the unnecessarily complicated visa system and hopefully get a job in Brazil in the upcoming years.dscn0229RIP tan, it was nice knowing you 😥

 

 

Rio de Janeiro – Part 2

So… it’s been a while since my last post and it seems like so much has happened since I left Colombia.

I flew back to England near the end of June depleted of all energy and entirely spread thin. I think if there was ever such a thing as a traveler’s wall, I definitely hit it. It was a point where I simply got tired of moving from place to place and just wanted signs in English, a decent Guinness and my own bed (not sharing a room with 7 other people was definitely a plus).

After being back for a couple of weeks, I felt pretty underwhelmed. Only a few things had changed but it wasn’t (or didn’t feel like) the same place as I remembered and was not what I had hoped for. With a bit of time however I started to appreciate being home and began to feel more like myself.

London prices caught up with me pretty quickly so I began looking for a job. I was lucky to be hired for Uber and have now been with them since July. I really like the team I’m with and was quite fortunate to be given permission to work abroad whilst I study Portuguese. With the go ahead, I planned my trip to Rio and left in November. In all honestly, my journey to Rio was strange, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was ready for another trip but I also felt a need to keep moving forward.

All in all, I’m now glad with the decision that I made. I’m currently renting a house in a cool neighbourhood called Glória. There is an occasional bout of torrential rain and a giant hill to climb every day, but it’s good exercise and pretty interesting. We also have two dogs and three cats which definitely adds to the appeal.

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As I had already been to Rio before, all of the key touristy/gringo things were checked off my ‘to do list’ but I slowly branched out to visit the other less well known areas of the city.

 

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I think Parque Lage was one of the coolest places to visit in the day and one of their parties was also featured in Snoop Doggs’ video, “Beautiful”.

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The journey up the Dois Irmãos was also incredible albeit a bit complicated. To get to the top we first took a motorbike which raced us up the favela, “Vigidal”. After this, we then hiked through a big chuck of the mata atlantic rainforrest to finally get to the peak. Probably not the best idea to do this in the summer during the middle of the day but the view at the end made it all worth it.

Whilst living here I also took some side trips during the six months to see the rest of the state such as Buzios and Paraty. These places definitely lived up to their reputation although I was mistaken as an Argentinean in Buzios more times than I’m comfortable with!

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And lastly… a picture of a duck with the coolest hairstyle I’ve ever seen.

DSC01025I’m now back home shortly for my sister’s wedding and will then return to Rio after for another six months. I have no idea what I will do after this point but I’m looking forward to it no matter what happens.

Annnd whilst I’m posting, huge thanks to everybody that I got to know or who I saw again over this time, it’s been incredible! 😀

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Santa Marta

Since it was founded in the 16th Century, Santa Marta has grown into one of the biggest cities on the Caribbean coast. It is a centre point for some of the main attractions of the region however it also has quite a notorious past predominately due to its location.

The city is situated right next to a giant mountain range called the Sierra Nevada. In this vast stretch of forestry you can typically find farms growing either coffee beans, marijuana plants or coca leaves. It was, and still is, the perfect place to grow these products and, as it is also next to the coast, it is the ideal place to smuggle them as well.

Around twenty to thirty years ago, Santa Marta was well known to be associated with cartels. The cartels used the farmland of the Sierra Nevada as well as the nearby harbour (called Taganga) to load up small boats of drugs which would then travel to nearby countries such as Cuba, to then make their way up to the US.

Over the last fifteen years, the power and influence of the cartels has diminished dramatically and these products are no longer being smuggled overseas through these same routes. After speaking with the locals of the region, I quickly found out that this didn’t mean that the farmers had stopped growing the drugs altogether, only that they now had different buyers.

I started work in Santa Marta two months ago in a really cool hostel called DropBear. It was an amazing place to live but I don’t think I have ever felt so lazy and lethargic in my life. The temperature of the city averaged around 32 degrees every day with a humidity of what was at times 90%… even a walk to the shops resulted in buckets of sweat! I think I must have lost half of my weight and I spent most of my time just lying around doing nothing.

During the days that I was working, I was a bartender. This was a pretty fun job to work in and it gave me the chance to learn how to make a lot of new cocktails. That being said, I don’t know whether it was the heat or the work or something about the place, but when I left the DropBear I just felt drained of energy. I felt I lost so much compared to when I first came into the place that I didn’t even feel like I was the same person anymore. I even had a giant string of bad luck during my stay (with my phone breaking, my laptop breaking twice, losing my camera twice and even having my mp3 player break.. the owner of the hostel told me when I arrived that the place was cursed and, after a while, I started to understand why he felt that way).

After leaving the DropBear, me and a friend started to explore the area more in depth. We started to either hitchhike around the coast (which I’ve really taking a liking to) or we took motor taxis wherever the cars couldn’t bring us. One of the best places that we stayed at was in a Surf Camp called Costeño. It was here where I had my first ever surf lesson (and spent the whole time with a mouth full of salt water!). It was great, it loved it!!

We also visited a national park in the region called Tayrona. We camped there for a couple of days, hiking along a great string of incredibly beautiful beaches which sat perched next to the jungle. Most of these were practically deserted and all were within a couple of hours from one another. Seeing the sunset and the sunrise here felt like I was living on a different world.

Bogotá

Up in the mountains at 2600m sits Colombia’s Capital City, Bogotá. Because of the high altitude, the weather was a lot colder here but I felt it was a refreshing change from some of the hotter countries which I have visited on this trip (and gave me a little taste of home).

What impressed me most of all about Bogotá were the transport links and the way how the city was laid out (geeky as that sounds). Rather than having arbitrary street names, the roads were labelled systematically by numbers. ‘Calles’ would run at a right angle to this giant set of hills and ‘Carreras’ run from north to south. All of these ran in perfect order which made getting around so easy and I always knew where I was in relation to where I was going (calle 5 for instance would 4 blocks down from calle 9 and Carrera 2 would be 6 blocks down from Carrera 8, simple!).

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When I was in Bogotá, I lived in the historical centre of the city ‘La Candelaria’ which was an amazing place full of narrow twisting roads and had real bohemian atmosphere about it. I went on a couple of walking tours of the city to get to know the history of the town better and the tour guides were really interested in sharing their experience about Colombia’s change over the last 15 years and their pride in the good coffee that they make.

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A little bit out of the way was a mysterious abandoned hotel that I heard a lot about called the Hotel of Tequendama. This sat overlooking a grand waterfall which was equally cool. When I arrived it was very misty which gave the whole area an eerie feel. At this present moment in time the hotel is said to be in the stage of remodeling (as they hope to change it into a museum) but when I arrived the building was still closed which no sign of anybody near it except a little food stool also overlooking the waterfall.

I really enjoyed Bogotá for two reasons I think; the food and the art. Although I’m sure if I stayed for longer I could have easily fell in love with more things about the city. One of the more interesting art galleries that I went to was the Botero Museo which had some interesting work by an artist called, ‘Fernando Botero’ in which he seemed to plumpify all the statues and paintings in his exhibit.