Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Chile, Brazil and New York

It is that time of year again when the cold has started to kick in which means it is my time to get out of here. I am off to Chile, Brazil and New York for a months holiday.

Pre-flight day.
I left work slightly earlier today as I had to make my way to Heathrow airport, I would be staying at the Premier Inn, an OK cheapish hotel which always does the job for me. I took the train from my work place in Paddington which is a 15 minute train journey to London Heathrow. I checked in and later on I had something to eat. Dinner was quite late so afterwards I made my way back to my bedroom and had an early night.

The following morning I made my way to London Heathrow airport, I was flying with American Airlines at 11:05am via Miami which would land at 16:05pm, where I would have a 5hr layover until my connecting flight at 21:30pm from Miami to Chile. It was a non-eventful flight and we landed in Chile on time which was 8am the following morning, so it had been a very long 24 hours for me.

Chile - Day 1
Once I landed, I paid for the Transvip car service to take me to my apartment which was called Chileapart located in the Playa de Arms area, I dumped my bags, took a shower and then headed out to try and find the "Where's Wally" gang, also known as Tours 4 Tips. This is a walking tour which scores highly on Tripadvisor and there times are 10am and 3pm everyday, I was aiming for the 10am tour as I had plans for that evening. It turned out that I was running late but only by about 20mins, so I walked into the main square trying to look for the walking tour, I did spot one group doing a walking tour but it was not Tours 4 Tips as you would be able to spot them from a mile off as the guides where the famous stripy red and white, where's wally tops. After I had been walking for about 30mins I gave up on finding them and gave-in to the bus tour which drove around Santiago with the intention of covering 12 stops, but on this occasion it only covered 10 stops due to some protesting, in hindsight I think this was the best thing for me as as the morning went on, tiredness started to creep up on me, after all the only sleep that I had got within the last 30 hours was what I managed on the plane from Miami to Santiago and I am not one to sleep for long on a plane at all! The bus tour took around 2.5hrs, I did not get off once and just sat back and enjoyed the round trip back to Playa de Arms. I went back to my apartment and by now I was feeling shattered but there was no point in me trying to sleep as I was being picked up at 15:45pm for my horse ride in the lower Andes mountains with a company called Horse riding in Chile. This was an evening ride which would last around 3 hours, I do not remember much of it but there was a few moments where my heart skipped a beat! I believe I was home by 8pm, I took a shower and changed for bed, got into bed with the TV and eventually started to fall asleep.

Chile Day 2

I had to be up and ready for 8:45am in order to be collected for the wine tour, which was run by a company called Uncorked Wine tours. It was to be a long day and it was based in the Casablanca Valleys. We visited 3 different vine yards, Bodegas, Kingston and House casa del vino. We tasted 15 different types of wines! It was a lot and if anybody goes on this tour and consumed all of the contents off all 15 wines.....they would be screwed. The dinner provided was great and it consisted of 4 different courses. The Rabbit in the pastry as a nibble was very nice but I didn't know it was Rabbit until afterwards. Our group consisted of Americans and Canadians and we all got on very well, and I believe this was my best day whilst in Santiago. We returned to our apartments at 7pm. I chilled for a couple of hours and then walked a couple of blocks to the Lasteria area. There was lots of people out, I got an outside seat and ordered my first Pisco sour drink but I also had to order food so I opted for the cheapest because I was not hungry due to the 4 course meal on the wine tour. Anyway, 2 Pisco sours later which was very tasty and strong I then walked the 2 blocks home. 

Chile Day 3  
Unfortunately, I had a very late start, I woke up at around 11am which is unheard off for me and then on top of that I had to pack for my flight the next morning which was at 7:25am, which meant I would need to be at the airport for 4:30am, which also meant I would have to be up at god knows what time but I think you get the picture. By the time I left the apartment it was late. I had a bit of a late start due to tiredness, I left the apartment about 11am in search of a cashpoint, but every single one I tried wouldn't work for me including the Santander which I had withdrew money from on day 1!. My plan was to go to Valpariso for the 3pm walking tour but time was passing by quickly so it soon became obvious that I would not be able to go. In the end I went to Barrio belavista and rode the funicular up for 2600cpl return, the view up there was amazing and I definitely recommend you doing it. Once I left here I made my way to the central market and had some awesome clams, by this time it was around 6pm so I walked back to the apartment as I needed to finish packing and that was my 3 days in Chile.

I found 
Chile cheap, I loved the wine tour, expensive but worth it in my opinion! The horse riding was great too but as I mentioned it is not for the faint hearted. I had no problems with anybody and I found the locals to be helpful, if I asked a question with my very limited Spanish, and that person couldn't answer, that person would ask another person, and then that person would ask someone else, in the end the 4th person actually took me to the place I was after. All in all, I loved Chile but I should have stayed longer.

One of the Vineyards

Day 4 - Brazil 
Arrived on Sunday from Chile and I stayed at the Secret Gardens on the Argentina side for both of my nights. The first day I arrived at 3:30pm and I had a pick-up already pre-arranged through John at the Secret Gardens, included in the pick-up price was a brief tour around the neighbourhood, pointing out where there are good places to eat, banks and I was also taken to the point where the 3 countries meet, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. The Secret Gardens is a great place to stay and as I previously mentioned you get a brief tour around the town and every evening John provides a cocktail hour and also some tasty nibbles.
For the rest of the day I literally just relaxed and re-charged my batteries.

Photo taken by John where the 3 countries meet

Day 5 -  Brazil - Iguazu Falls

The next day, again with a pre- arranged taxi I was picked up at 8:30am and I headed to the Brazilian falls as it had suddenly become clear that my suitcase might have been too big to stay in the lockers if I had done the Brazil falls on my last day as this is what I had planned as my departure airport was from Brazil. The falls here are something else and no picture will ever do it justice, It is amazing, powerful and just out of this world!! It didn't take me that long to walk around, maybe because I was by myself so I probably moved a bit quicker and plus the plan was to be picked up at 1pm to take me to the Argentina falls with the intention of returning for half price the next day to finish the walk. By 12pm I was on the bus going back but I got confused as I had never noticed the bird park when I arrived so I thought it must be at one of the 3 stops that the bus stops at so I got off along the way but I got off at the boat stop and not the bird park. I Paid my entrance fee and got on the Jeep type thing, it then became apparent that everybody was here to do the boat ride. I asked how long it would take and the answer was 25mins, at this point I realised I would be pushed for time and the driver would be waiting for me so what did I do...I turned back so yes, I wasted some money but oh well...I should pay more attention. :) I waited for the bus once again and took it to the exit and by this time I had about 20mins to spare before the driver arrived so I decided to do the helicopter ride and it was at this point I saw the bird park. I paid my fee and then I was away. It was my first time in a helicopter and where better of a place to do it than over the falls. It was amazing up there and I don't regret anything although it was 12mins and it came to about £80 (300brs). It was me and 6 other guys and I was stuck in the middle so the only thing I would suggest is to see if you can get a window seat, you still see everything but just for the photo opportunity perspective. Once I came back down, one of the straps on my bag had broken and it was a big hassle carrying it and couldn't bear the thought of doing this on the Argentina side so when my driver came I said I would do the falls tomorrow (last day). I figured at the speed I walked around Brazil falls, I should be fine with trying to squeeze it in on my last day. I returned home and again relaxed for the evening.

Day 6 - Argentina falls
I realised that Brazil was an hour ahead so that gave me less time at the Argentina falls so I basically had 3 hours to do it in as I had to be at the airport for 2pm. I rushed around the Argentina falls like a mad women possessed and I honestly am not sure if I saw it all but again it was an amazing sight but I have to say I preferred the Brazil side, I know one side is usually preferred but I can't remember which one it is.

Couple of points:
If you do the boat ride, definitely take a spare set of clothing because people was drenched and I'm not sure how useful the ponchos would be. The hotel on the Brazil side looked a lot more appealing than the one on the Argentina side, in fact the Argentina hotel didn't look very nice at all. If you do stay at these hotels just remember there is nothing else around. The bus that goes from the Arg side to me looked like a bit of a hassle in regards to the passport stamp. From what I saw the bus goes to the 1st window, the people get off and get their passports stamp, then I believe they had to wait for another bus but I'm not sure if they had to get off again at the other window, it's possible and fine but it was sickly hot that day at 32 degrees. With my car, I gave the driver my passport, he got out at the 1st window, came back and then we dive on some more and he had to get out again with my passport, I then moved on to the falls. Not sure how it works coming from Brazil to Arg by the bus. Taxis are cheap so maybe consider it as an option.

Day 6 - Brazil - Salvador
So, I arrived yesterday at 7:30pm, I took a taxi to where I would be staying for the night called BahiaCafe and whilst I was checking in and talking to reception there was another guy there who I assumed was staff and he was talking to me too and he said I could tag along with him out to the main square if I wanted. I then went to my room to freshen up and the reception guy helped me with my suitcase, at this point I asked him if it would be ok to go out with the other guy who was downstairs, would he be expecting me to pay him? Buy food and drinks? Would I be safe?, I just wanted to know what to expect. He said, maybe buy him a drink but he also said "how do I say this without sounding rude, he is a bit crazy but in a good way, but he knows everyone and you would be safe with him" so at this point I was still undecided. I then freshened up and went back downstairs for the Tuesday night party in the main square. At this point I decided to take the crazy but good guys offer and went with him. I think it was a good idea as I'm solo and hitting the streets for the first time at night in Salvador. He pointed out some of the churches, showed me the Michael Jackson steps and took me around to where the music was being played around the square.
I had two of the famous cocktail drinks and brought him a beer but he poured 3 thirds of it away! We also had the medicinal drink which I quite liked but crazy good guy had said it wakes you up and makes you alert but it didn't for me or maybe I was passed tired. The only slightly odd thing about him, not crazy but just odd, is that he can talk for Britain, he has 1 dog and 7 cats and he walks around with 2 garlic cloves, one in his pocket and the other on his back by his neck line, not sure how it stays there but anyway...He was also pointing out potential opportunist thieves and transvestites for some reason.....I did not think they was Transvestites, but he said they was, does not bother me either way in the slightest.
I went back to my room just after 12am and he walked me back to BahiaCafe he said the next time I come to that area I should stay with him for free, but I would honestly prefer to pay 10 times the amount of what I had paid for my room than stay with crazy good and his 7 cats for free, but I thanked him for the offer. He was a character to say the least.

Sitting on the famous Michael Jackson steps

Morro De Sao Paulo

Leaving Morro De Sao Paulo
Day 7 & 8 Brazil - Morro De Sao Paulo
The morning after my night in Salvador, I took the 1pm boat and the ride was smooth, nobody was sick so I am not sure if the time had anything to do with it. It was a 2hr ride and a few of us just found seats together and laid down and slept until we felt the boat slow down which at that point we were all trying to bop our heads over each other to get our first view of the island. You have to pay 15 brl to enter onto the island and show them your passport. I then took the wheelbarrow taxi down to beach 2 where my apartment was which is called Le Terrace. I won't go into too much detail here as the 2 days were very similar, both chilled and beautiful and the most I did was walk along the couple of beaches, take a dip into the sea and just sit and meditate. I have never seen anything like it, tiny island, no cars, wheelbarrows as their taxis, nice people, music playing all day and on beach 2 as long as your on the actual beach you are amongst everything and it is available practically all day long. After 2 nights on the Island it was time to take the boat back to Salvador, this time on the boat there was about 5 of us and we all sat outside and it honestly felt like our own private boat. I was so sad to leave the Island. 

Morro De Sao Paulo is a must!!

Day 9 - Salvador
I arrived in Rio Vermelho yesterday, and I felt wrecked no idea why as I had just sat on an island for 2 days doing nothing, in fact when I got to my hotel the receptionist asked if it was a long flight....I just chose to agree with her and said "I came from England", that's how wrecked I must of looked. I showered, had a quick sit down and then walked out for a short while. I am staying at Mecure hotel so there seems to be several restaurants around, so I had something to eat and got an early'ish night back in my hotel room.

Day 10 - Salvador
I walked 1 block away or so from Mecure in Rio Verm and saw the bus which said Praca de se at the traffic lights and he let me jump on. I had my 2.80brl in my hand ready to hand over the bus fare but the driver just ignored me so I sat directly behind him so I could give it to him at any point. As the driver ignored me, there was an elderly gentleman sitting adjacent to me and he said something to me and then proceeded to point his stick towards the back of the bus. I smiled at him and turned to the back to see if there was somewhere there where I could pay. I saw what I thought was a bus conductor and he waved his hand at me as if to say no or don't worry. So, I turned back to the helpful elderly gentleman and smiled again which he did not return. The bus was not even a quarter full and I kept feeling the old man eyes on me throughout the journey but he never smiled. It wasn't until he got off the bus, I noticed the disabled\elderly sticker on his seat and then realised I too had one of the stickers, so from that I gather the helpful elderly gentleman was being helpful but not to me but towards the rest of the elderly community that did not exist on this practically empty bus! I stayed on the bus until everybody got off as I figured I must be in the centre now, if you remember I did not see it in the day time really so I did not recognise anywhere. As I got off the "conductor man" walked towards the front of the bus and I was again trying to hand over my 2.80brl, the driver ignored me and the conductor shooed me off the bus and said "obrigado", and I then said "de-nada" and I got off, so I really don’t know what happened there. Anyway, I walked around and around looking for the main square where I had been a few days before, and I was also looking for Bahiacafe and even crazy-good man so I would know that I was in the right place but I never saw any of this. I walked more and sat down and had a drink, till this day, I dont know where I was but it was manic, I guess being a Saturday was the reason for this. I ended up staying for maybe 3 hours until I gave up and took a taxi back to Rio Verm. I had some food there which was described as beef but when it came it looked like a Lasagne and it tasted awful, the only thing I liked was the side dish of pepper. I ate some and then asked for the bill, he did ask if I wanted to take it home with me but I politely declined (I’m the queen of doggy bags). After this I went back to the hotel, rested for a while and then went out in the evening. Rio verm does have quite a nice night life with locals and tourists and I didn’t feel threatened although I had my guard up all the time. Being by myself, I was home by about 11-12pm as I was not far from the hotel. The next day, it was an easy day, I had a flight at 7'ish so I pretty much walked around Rio verm for a bit in the morning and then spent the rest of the day by the pool before it was time for me to leave for the airport to fly to The Amazons.

Day 11 -  Brazil - Amazon
I was picked up at 8:00 am from the hotel to go to the Ceasa Port, where you have the opportunity to see the fish market with different types of fish from the Amazon. We then went by speed boat to go to Careiro Village. On the way, you will stop at one of the biggest phenomenon of the Amazon, the Meeting of the Waters, the junction of the rivers forming the Amazon River, the Rio Negro and Solimôes. After, you will continue along the Amazon River for a few minutes until you reach Xiborena, where you will have the opportunity to see the biggest Amazon fresh water fish, Pirarucú. Next you cross the river to reach Careiro Village, where you continue along the Transamazonica road by car or van for about 40 kilometres until you reach Araça Village. Here our speed boat will be waiting for you to go downstream to our lodge. When you arrive at the lodge, we will set up your accommodation and then serve lunch. In the afternoon, you go by regional motorized wood canoe to view the fauna and flora, go piranha fishing and spotting dolphins, and watch the sunset. We return to the lodge for dinner, and then you leave by boat to go caiman spotting , returning for overnight.

Day 12
After Breakfast,  we left for a jungle trek where you  have the opportunity to learn about wildlife and techniques of survival in the jungle, and also about the world of insects. We returned for lunch, and spend the afternoon canoeing in the channels and flooded forest to observe the birds and animals. We return for dinner, and afterwards we will head off for another nocturnal activity, spear fishing. We return to sleep overnight.

Day 13
We will leave before breakfast to watch the sunrise. Following breakfast, we will go to visit the caboclos native family to see how the local people deal with the jungle, where you will get an explanation of their typical way of life; their plantation growing cupuaçu and cassava. We return for lunch at the lodge, and in the afternoon we will leave for overnight in the jungle using hammocks and mosquito nets. We set up our camp and you will learn how the natives survive in the wild using natural things like leaves to make a plate and using wood to make a spoon. We’ll have dinner and afterward we go out for a nocturnal canoe trip to spot wildlife then back to camp to sleep.

Day 14
Breakfast in the jungle, a short walk to explore the area and return to camp where we will pack up everything and start back to the lodge. On the way, we stop to see one of the largest trees of the Amazon, the Samaura, then to the lodge for lunch and showers. At 2:00 pm we start to back to Manaus, arriving around 5:00 pm at your hotel.

Day 14 -

After i was taken back to the airport, I had a few hours to wait before me flight to Rio. Again, a non-eventful flight and befofre I knew it I had arrived in Rio and got to my hotel at about 10pm so it was shower, change to bed clothes and a miniture whilst I stood on the balcony overlooking Copacobana beach.

Where you can see the dried leaves, this is how high the water can get at another time of the year.

Day 15- 24

Rio was more of a relaxing stay for me, the hotel was very nice, it was called the Porto bay Rio international, and from the balcony I could see straight onto the Copa strip and also see Christ redeemer, even at night he glowed up. I spent my days doing a little bit of shopping, brought my Brazilian flip flops and little shorts which won’t ever get worn unless i am abroad, ate, spent my time at the beach and by the pool. The people were friendly as could be considering the language barrier and I had an amazing time. The last day I went to Christ Redeemer and Sugar loaf Mountain which was great and that was pretty much me in Rio. I think my body was appreciating the rest, so far I had a lot of flights, something like 9 including the domestic flights so I enjoyed the rest, plus I knew my final next stop would be manic. I loved Brazil, but here I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had come with company or learnt the language.

Christ Redeemer glowing at night - view from my balcony.


Day 24
I left Rio late as I had a 11'ish pm flight, so i landed in New York at 6:30am. I left the airport and stood at the taxi stand to get to my hotel.....it was freezing!!, the fact that I had come from 35 degree Brazil did not help I suppose and plus i was in a pair of converse trainers which really is not going to do much good. I got to the hotel at about 9am, and realised i could not check-in until 3pm!!, bear in mind I had checked out of Rio at 12pm, was out all day until 7pm as I got back late so I did not have any time to shower and I literally just changed in the taxi on its way to the airport, washed some what at the airport and now I had to wait 6 hours until i was able to check in to my NY hotel. I sat down in the reception as there feeling sorry for myself, I was cold, miserable and cold again. There was no shower facilities that i could use so freshened up somewhat in the larger bathroom. It took me about 3 hours before I managed to pull myself together and I sucked it up and headed outside, at that point I realised i should go back inside and put my Ugg boots on, which i did and then i proceeded out again at which point I decided to buy a coat so i headed towards Macy's, went inside but it was manic, crazy, so I left and went back to the hotel again! I had suddenly remembered that i had purchased a ticket to go to ToTR  for 4pm, but there was noway this was going to happen considering i could not check in until 3pm, so I called them and they kindly change my date and time slot to my last day in NY. This time I asked for the directions to the subway so I could get to Grand Central station. I brought a subway ticket, I think i put 20 or 30 dollors on and jumped on the subway. I arrived at Grand central and by this time it was approaching 2pm, so I had a brief look at the amazing ceiling as my intention was to come and then asked where the Apple store was, I needed something to cheer me up and I had planned to buy an Ipad whilst in NY and that is what i done. I work in IT so i like gadgets, so I could have easily spent a couple  of hours there but i didnt. I was shocked at how the store was set up, I have never seen anythging like that here in London, where the Apple shop is just open like not in a shop at all, anyway 1hr later and Ipad in the hand i was off again heading back to my hotel as I had planned to come back and spend more time at GCS for my long awaited shower only to find a queue of about 20 people also waiting to check-in. By 7pm, I was back outside feeling a lot more refreshed and better  about myself, I walked towards Macy's again and I could not believe how full it was, it was such a great atmosphere, lots of cameras, huge lenses and massive backpacks.....reminded me of London, anyway I checked out what floors would interest me and off I went. On this particular day I only brought a much needed coat, apparently it is supposed to protect you against -20 degrees, it was a Calvin Klein coat and it was 65% off. I suddenly started to feel tired and just beat, so I walked slowly back to my hotel, stopping off for a bottle of wine and some chinese food to take back with me, it was 11pm by the time I went to my bed and I slept good.

Day 25
I woke up at 10:30am (this is unheard off for me), even on a weekend at home i wake up before my alarm clock. Anyway, by lunch time I was out and about again. I wondered around and  had lunch. I headed to Macy's again and done some more shopping and just general sight seeing. I came back to the hotel, dropped of my bags and then went to where the Circle line cruise boards from, I had a 4pm appointment as they only go once a day during this time of year. I got there quite late so I had to sit on the outside deck and it was freezing which is when i started to question my -20 protective coat!! I got to see the bridge, Lady liberty which was impressive but in all honesty I was not prepared for how cold it would be sitting on the deck. After the cruise finished, I then went back to my hotel, showered and changed and then headed back out to the theatre which I had booked. The show finished at 9:30pm, so I wondered some more, brought something else to eat whilst people watching and eventually went back to my hotel at around 12 or 1am.

Day 26
This was my final day in NY and off my holidays. On this day I visited Ground Zero, went to Macys and had a MAC makeover, if you want a makeover you have to agree to buy $100 worth of MAC stuff,which you can easily do considering the price, this also enabled me to kill some time. All done up, I then jumped on a subway and went to Top of The Rock, this was scheduled now to 15:30pm. I was glad I went up, seeing Central park from that distance and the Empire state building was a great way to end my day in the wonderful city of New York.

I am gutted that I did not see what I wanted to and having such a short stay there, I missed out on Day 1 Central Park, 5th av, New York library, Bryant Park, Brooklyn bridge, Greenwich village and Chelsea market amongst other things but the good news is....I will be back again from the 20th-28th December 2015 and I am so excited.