The End of the Beginning & Our South America Recap

We spent our last few days in Brazil on Ilha Grande, an island south of Rio de Janeiro. We hopped on a ferry from the mainland and an hour and a half later, we were on the shores of Abrao, a small beach village on the coast which prides itself on not having any cars or ATMs. We spent three days hiking to Ilha Grande’s many beaches, including Lopez Mendes, one of Brazil’s “top 10 most beautiful beaches” (and Brazil has a lot of beaches).Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating with us and it rained for a good portion of our stay. We still had a great time walking around the small beach town, drinking the delicious local juices, eating the best burgers we’ve had on our trip and playing poker with our hostel roommates.

From Ilha Grande, we took a bus to Sao Paulo where we stayed for one night to catch our flight the following morning. We both LOVED Brazil and most definitely will be back again.

South America Recap:

After an incredible 99 days traveling through South America, we are headed to Africa!  Before we do, we wanted to do a quick recap of the past 3+ months and highlight a few trip stats as well as our favorite highs/lows.

  • Days traveled: 99
  • Countries visited: 8 (Ecuador/Galapagos Islands, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil)
  • # of Different beds slept in: 44
  • Flights within South America: 3 (Galapagos, to the jungle in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia to Chile)
  • # of Buses: too many to count

Favorite Country: Bolivia! There are so many incredible things to do and see, we could have spent months in Bolivia alone. They have it all – mountains, jungles, beautiful lakes, big cities and quaint remote towns. It was cheap, we ate incredibly well and stayed in some wonderful places.

Favorite City: Rio de Janeiro barely beats out Buenos Aires for our favorite city in South America. The gorgeous beaches, weather and lively culture pulled Rio to the top of our list.

Favorite Activity:  Our trip to the Galapagos Islands, the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia and hiking Machu Picchu all tie for our favorite activity. The Galapagos offers an up close and personal experience with wildlife while Uyuni transported us to a place that was so surreal we no longer thought we were on Earth. Machu Picchu was incredible because we’ve always wanted to hike the Inca Trail and it definitely lived up to our expectations. They were all unique and amazing in their own ways and the things we saw at each place were completely unreal! Honorable mentions go to the Potosi mine tour, the River Plate football match in Argentina, and our trip to the jungle in Madidi National Park, Bolivia.

Best Meal: Hands down, the best meal we had was at La Cabrera in Buenos Aires. The steak and chorizo was so good we ended up coming back again two days later for more. Plus, with 40% off all food and wine, it was a steal. Argentinian steaks definitely live up to the hype!

Best Snack: In Mancora, Peru, a woman wearing a big sun hat and pink skirt would walk up and down the beach selling homemade empanadas. The first day we bought one, the next day three and the last day we bought five. We’d impatiently eye her from across the beach with a soda in hand just waiting for her to come our way. The empanadas were hot, doughy, brushed with garlic and butter and packed with mozzarella, basil and tomato. So good.

Worst Food:  After hiking in Peru’s Colca Canyon for three days, we went to splurge for our first pizza in South America. We sat in a lovely restaurant overlooking the town square and were served the most disgusting pizza we’ve ever eaten. We didn’t know it was possible for pizza to be so bad. The dough wasn’t completely cooked, all of the toppings came from a can and the cheese and tomato sauce was foul. It was such a disappointment and the most expensive meal we’d purchased at the time!

Best Accommodation:  The hostel we wanted to book in Banos, Ecuador was full and they recommended that we stay at D’Mathias, a brand new hostel close by. For $6, we had a brand new private room and bathroom, TV, great in-room WiFi, balcony views, free tea and coffee all day and daily room service. We extended our stay from three nights to six nights because it was such a good deal.

Worst Accommodation:  We spent one night in Guayaquil, Ecuador, before heading to the Galapagos Islands. We found a hostel close to the airport and as soon as I saw our room, I wanted to bolt. You had to climb a narrow and dilapidated fire escape to get to our room which had eight beds and my bed had a cockroach crawling out of it. There weren’t any lockers for our belongings and the door to the room didn’t lock. The bathroom didn’t have a sink and the entire hostel didn’t have soap…of any kind. It was horrible.

Sketchiest Moment:   A popular South American scam occurs when an offender throws fecal matter or something foul on you and/or your bags. Another culprit, who appears to be nice and helpful, offers to clean off your bags. While you are distracted by cleaning yourself off, they rob you of your bags and belongings. Well lucky us…when we were walking to the bus station (which are always located in shady areas) to leave Buenos Aires with all of our baggage, a nice looking woman tells me I have paint all over the back of my pack and jeans. It took a moment to realize that we both had white goo all over our clothes and bags. Another man starts pointing and laughing at us while other people start coming over with napkins to help us clean the mess off. I looked at Chris and said, “these people are about to steal all of our stuff – just keep walking.” We walk straight through the crowd and into the bus terminal while ignoring the commotion.  Once safely inside, we cleaned ourselves off and successfully made it on to our bus without any problems. We were mad that these people did this to us, relieved we had escaped with all of our stuff, grateful that we knew what was happening before something bad happened and thankful the “paint” turned out to be a good smelling shaving cream and not something worse!

Wow – what an amazing start to our trip. We can’t believe how quickly these first 3+ months have gone! We have had such an amazing time immersing ourselves in the South American culture. Thanks for all of your love and support over the past few months, it means the world to us that we have such amazing friends and family to come back to at the end of this journey. We are still happy to be traveling and look forward to the next chapter!

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One Week in Rio de Janeiro

Once we arrived in Rio, we found local transport to our home for the next week. Thanks to my dad, we were able to exchange his timeshare for an apartment on Rio’s largest and most southern beach, Barra de Tijuca. We’ve constantly been on the move every few days so were really looking forward to staying in one place for seven nights and taking advantage of the beach.  Thanks for the great digs, daddy-o!Top on our list of touristy things to do was to go see Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) which sits on Rio’s largest mountain overlooking the bays, ocean and city below. Chris hatched the perfect plan for our visit. To get to the top, you take a tram that leaves every 20-30 minutes. We caught the first tram of the day and as soon as we got to the top, Chris bee lined for the elevators which took us directly to the main viewpoint while the other tourists had to walk up several staircases. The result? We had the whole place to ourselves.A few minutes later, the place was crawling with tourists. We took this as an opportunity to take in the 360 degree views of the city and were able to take a few photos together.Rio is known for its beautiful beaches so we spent the next few days beach hopping around Copacabana, Ipanema and Barra de Tijuca. Every day the beaches were completely packed. Oh the things we saw…let’s just say the people-watching is prime.  During our week in Rio, we celebrated our three month travel anniversary by splurging on two gondola tickets to the top of Sugar Loaf. The views during sunset were gorgeous and as soon as the sun went down, Christ the Redeemer lit up the sky in the distance and the city sparkled.We were taking a few photos when we heard our names being called. We looked up and saw Kristin and Matt, two fellow round-the-world travelers from Texas, who we share mutual friends with back in the States. What a small world and a great surprise!To round out our three month travel anniversary celebration, we found a local joint that served a mean steak, pineapple and cheese sandwich. It was so good Chris has ranked it in his top three foods in South America.Afterwards, we went for drinks in the party neighborhood of Lapa. If you go out in Rio, you have to hit up Lapa which is filled with outdoor restaurants and sidewalk bars all playing samba music late into the night. We indulged with a few caipirinhas and a bucket of beer before heading back to our apartment.Bottom line – we love Rio. We felt safe the entire time. The people are friendly and helpful. The busy beaches are beautiful and incredibly clean. The food is cheap and delicious. It’s no wonder Rio will be the future home to the next World Cup and Summer Olympics. It’s absolutely an amazing place and our favorite city in South America.  We have one week left in Brazil and are heading south in search of more beaches!

Chasing Waterfalls in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

Following our two-week bender of steak and meat-loaded sandwiches in Buenos Aires and Uruguay, we hopped on a bus headed north to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. This was not the normal bus experience we had become accustomed to in South America, however.  Our seats were wonderfully comfortable (and not broken) and we were given pre-dinner around 5:30PM followed by a full dinner around 9PM. I was served two whiskeys on ice before dinner and had a full beer with dinner.  Following dinner, the attendant served chocolate dipped cookies and a glass of champagne for both Annie and me.  Best bus ride ever!Puerto Iguazu is a small town in northern Argentina that borders Foz do Iguacu, Brasil and Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. When we arrived in town, we met an Irish couple who were going to Paraguay for the rest of the day so we decided to go along since we couldn’t check-in to our hostel for a few hours. Long story short, we were only in Paraguay for about 30 minutes before we decided that we should head back to Argentina. The local bus we took blasted through Brazil and Paraguay without stopping at any borders or custom stations. We arrived in Paraguay and tried to find a bar or restaurant so we could have a drink but no such luck. I guess it didn’t matter, we didn’t have any Paraguayan money anyway which was just poor planning on our part. Unfortunately, we don’t have picture evidence or passport stamps to prove we ever really went!

The main reason we traveled to Puerto Iguazu was to see its massive display of waterfalls that span the Argentinian and Brazilian border. The next day, we woke up early to head to Parque Nacional Iguazu to explore the Argentinian side of the falls.The Iguazu River spills over the cliffs to form incredible waterfalls. The number of falls varies depending on the river’s water flow, but can range anywhere from 150-300 separate falls. One of the main attractions is the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) where approximately half of the river spills over the cliff and falls 82 meters. This is where we decided to start our tour of the park!After the Devil’s Throat, we explored some other trails around the park and took in the many different viewpoints of the falls.  Some of the catwalks were right under the path of the falls letting us feel the power of the water and getting us soaked at the same time.While walking around the park, we were constantly surrounded by beautiful butterflies.The highlight of the day was the boat ride into the falls! We got decked out in all of our waterproof gear and headed out on the river.The views from the river and beneath the falls were amazing. The rush of the waterfalls was so powerful, it was hard to keep your eyes open.

We came back to shore completely soaked and exhilarated!We had planned to go to the Brazilian side of the falls the next day, but a rainstorm kept us in the hostel. The upside is that we were able to catch up on some errands and also save a little money. The weather did clear for a bit and we walked down to a lookout in town where you can see all three surrounding countries (Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay).

Now we are preparing to head to Brazil, our last country in South America. Can’t wait for the sun, sand, and samba!

Our Search for Chivitos in Uruguay

Our food tour didn’t stop in Buenos Aires. When I read Lonely Planet’s 11 Best Street Foods Worth Blowing Your Diet Over, the chivito (#7 on the list) really stuck with me. For those of you who don’t know, me and sandwiches are quite fond of one another. A classic chivito is an oversized sandwich containing steak, ham, bacon, mozzarella cheese, egg, lettuce, tomato and other fixings that the local establishment selects to add – YUM! I knew we had to hop on a ferry to neighboring Uruguay for a few days to taste it for ourselves.

Our first stop was Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay. We arrived just in time for dinner and the anticipation of our first chivito was growing. Our first chivito had all of the traditional toppings on a tasty ciabatta roll. It was the perfect welcome to our new country. Sorry, the photo fell victim to bad exposure.The next morning, we ate a light breakfast and went searching for the tastiest chivito Montevideo had to offer. After watching Anthony Bourdain’s food review of the chivito from Chiviteria Marcos, we were on a mission. Several local buses and a few kilometers later, we arrived.The chivito did not disappoint, it was piled high with toppings and had gooey mozzarella cheese melting down the sides. They also added chopped green olives and pickled vegetables making the already salty sandwich even tastier.  Just like Anthony says in his video, we left feeling like “a meat piñata ready to pop.”The weather was perfect for waddling around Montevideo for the rest of the day with full and happy bellies. Sadly, Kenny was flying back home through Montevideo that evening so it was time to say goodbye. We had such an amazing time traveling with a friend and familiar face for two weeks. We miss you Kenny!

From Montevideo, Chris and I took a bus to Colonia del Sacramento. I keep describing the town as “lovely” because that is exactly what it is. Cobblestone streets weave through the quaint and walkable town where you can sit at a sidewalk café or restaurant to enjoy the beautiful river views. The town was very charming and nice change of pace from the bustling city of Montevideo.What made our time in Colonia even better was eating our favorite chivito yet. We sat down at an extremely cute restaurant near the Plaza de Armas called The Drugstore. The chivito here was topped with a fried egg, the bread was soft and crusty and the steak was thick and juicy – the perfect trifecta!Although our time in Uruguay was short, it was deliciously sweet. We highly recommend visiting Uruguay, especially Colonia, and indulging in the local chivitos. Now a few pounds heavier, we are headed back to Buenos Aires to catch a bus to Iguazu Falls in northern Argentina.

Meat And Wine. All. The. Time.

After a hassle-free and incredibly scenic border crossing, we made our way to Mendoza, Argentina. The first thing we did when we checked into our hostel was look for a steak (well, after we enjoyed our free glass of wine). We found a nice sidewalk restaurant and indulged in the rarest steak we’ve ever eaten. It tasted so good and left us wanting more.  Sorry, no picture. We were too famished at the time to remember to take a picture before we started digging in.

Mendoza is known for its wines and surrounding vineyards.  For six hours, we rented bikes and cycled our way through the nearby wineries, a brewery and a liquor distillery while wearing our super safe bike helmets. To be honest, Mendoza doesn’t hold a flame to Sonoma or Napa Valley but the Malbecs, Cab Savs and mountain views were amazing! From Mendoza, we took an overnight bus to Buenos Aires. As soon as we checked into our hostel, we had our hearts set on attending a futball game. After researching, we learned there was an inner-city match between River Plate and Racing that afternoon. Tickets can only be purchased by club members so the only way to attend a match is to go on a tour with an agency or scalp tickets. The hostel offered a futball package for 570 Argentine Pesos that included tickets, round-trip transportation from the hostel, pizza, beer and someone to “watch after you” as games can get incredibly rowdy and sometimes dangerous, especially for tourists. Always up for an adventure to save money, we opted to try to scalp tickets at the game.  The do-it-yourself method was easier than we thought. You just have to watch out for the crazy drunk throwing bricks. The police may beat you with a baton a little for throwing bricks but don’t worry, they’ll still let you into the game.

We were blessed with beautiful weather and the crowds did not disappoint. Everyone was chanting and singing at the top of their lungs throughout the entire game. The opposing team’s stands were barricaded with a fence and barbed wire and separated by two whole empty sections filled with police. Once the game was over, the opposing team’s supporters were forced to leave the stadium completely before they let anyone else out. Unfortunately, River Plate lost 0-1 but we were lucky enough to still see a goal.One of the highlights in Buenos Aires was the food, especially the meat! The locals recommend DesNivel for sirloin steak sandwiches and sausage sandwiches (choripan). We loved the food so much, we ended up eating there three times. The steak sandwiches have not one, but two thick and juicy steaks on it. It is so incredibly good.We were told to go to La Cabrera for the best steak in Buenos Aires. From 7pm-8pm all of the food and wine is 40% off. We couldn’t pass up this amazing deal. We ordered two 400 gram steaks, one extremely large chorizo and ribs. Hands down, it was the best steak we’ve ever eaten.Kenny has a friend, Jessica, living in Buenos Aires who invited us over for a dinner party. Argentines don’t eat until 10pm or later so we decided to go back to La Cabrera for an 800 gram steak appetizer before heading to her house. It was just as good the second time. The food that Jessica made was also amazing! We were served delicious appetizers and sides, half pound burgers with all of the fixings and had a surplus of wine at our disposal.We knew Argentina was known for their cheap steaks and BA did not disappoint. A big thank you to Aunt Aline and Uncle Steve for the wine tasting and steak dinner honeyfund! We’ve never eaten so well on our trip and have definitely gained all our weight back (and then some) over the past few weeks.

One of my favorite things about Buenos Aires is that they have bars (and sometimes restaurants) within the shops. You can browse through the latest fashions with a glass of wine in hand.Other Buenos Aires highlights include visiting the extremely large cemetery. As Kenny said, “it’s a neighborhood for the dead.” Some of the mausoleums were incredibly ornate while others were falling apart to the point where you could see the coffins through the window.We also enjoyed a free tango show in the colorful neighborhood of Boca.We also took a few street art photos around Boca Juniors’ stadium.All in all, Argentina and Buenos Aires have been amazing! BA is probably our favorite city we’ve visited in South America. There was so much to do and we feel that we’ve only grazed the surface of what the city has to offer in five days. Plus, their food and drink is to die for!