Hey everyone, sorry but I have fallen behind on updates as camping and laptop power don't go hand in hand. I will try to find time as soon as possible! We are nearing the end of our Journey and are currently in Northern California approaching San Francisco - 26th September 2012
I can't lie and say that we have completely enjoyed Costa Rica, the surf is crowded and it is low season, living costs are expensive and the locals are still paid chips and last of all we have the feeling that Americans and other fellow expats have mined the backbone out of culture here.
We reached Pavones after a sad goodbye to Punta Burica and found some accommodation. This was a treat, private bathroom, wifi Internet and a comfy double bed. We have just spent the last two weeks camping with no power, no people and a four hour round trip to the closest supermarket.
We could only handle two nights at Pavones, we saw the potential of the wave, but as there were fifty people in the water at last count and no waves; we had to leave and found ourselves on the road to Matapalo.
We reached Matapalo and set up camp while a roaring thunder and lightening storm moved overhead. We missed the afternoon surf as we arrived to late. We ate an early dinner and snuggled up in the tent listening to the storm around us. I went to bed with an impending ear ache, which kept me awake for a lot of the night and when it came time to open the tent flyer, the ear ache had grown into an ear infection. This took us to the doctor who prescribed me antibiotics and painkillers with notice of staying out of the water for a while.
Our next stop was Dominical where we found a place we could set up tent undercover with power to run a fan, kitchen, wifi and toilets and showers. We stayed here for four nights until my ear didn't feel like a grapefruit protruding from my head. Bronnie scored some good surf here.
The next stop is Playa Hermosa next to Jaco, which is a serious wave that is really hollow, breaks quite shallow and is known to snap boards from the lip. This wave was firing but unfortunately or fortunately I wasn't able to paddle out.
We flew into Panama City, loaded our gear into a taxi and set out for our Hotel. Wow, after spending two weeks in Cuba where most of the cars are dated pre 1955 and the buildings eventually fall down and are not replaced; we were in a modern city. The billboards stuck out noticeably but failing to draw us in for a sale. We had now entered our second half of our journey, Central America here we come.
Jo and Bruce have two nights with us in Panama City to explore before hopping aboard a plane for home; the Panama Canal was top of our priority, finding a vantage point of the city and exploring the old city.
We had a lot of fun with my parents Jo and Bruce but unfortunately we had to say goodbye to them. There was a strange empty feeling as we sat eating breakfast without them the morning they left.
Our next destination is Panama's second largest city to the west called David. We have been in communication with a German couple Mo and Heike who are selling their car to us.
We met up with Mo and Heike and decided that the car would be perfect for us. The following day we all set of for the boarder to find a notary (lawyer) to finalise the formalities for us. This process was a lot easier than the information we had found researching the Internet.
After the dealings at the border and a night in Costa Rica, we crossed the border back into Panama with Mo and Heike and headed for Santa Catalina. We reached Santa Catalina and were greeted with a big swell. After spending close to two months out of the water and wanting to start our own adventure with our new car "Felix" the 4Runner; we set off for Playa Venao.
We didn't grow fond of the wave that carried a large crowd at Playa Venao and were soon on our way to Cambutal with a lovely English couple called Rory and Katie.
I am writing this as I am siting on the plane to Panama from Cuba via El Salvador. This post will be my longest by far.
I am not going to go into the politics of this country, as I believe that Cuba's social regime has been left at a huge disadvantage by the trade embargoes that have been in place on the country by the United States. From what I could see in my short visit to this wonderful country, is a place that at its core holds an amazing balance and fairness on its Cuban citizens, but like I said this was a short visit. However I do say this to anyone who criticises the Cubans Socialism; remember the regime before Fidel and remember the harsh discrimination translated by the trade embargoes on Cuba.
Nonetheless the last two weeks have been marvellous and full of mojitos, old cars, Casa Particulars and plenty of cigars.
Day 1. Monday 16/4
The first thing we noticed apart from how friendly and laid back the people are, is how old the cars are. We had heard plenty about the age of the cars and other such wheeled things like the police motorbikes but nothing prepared us for the saturation of antiques on wheels. We were in aw at the pre 1955 vehicles that were driving around; the police motorbikes were very impressive.
We soon settled into our first port of accommodation our first Casa Particular, which is a family's house where you can rent a room from and eat a huge and tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner for an extra cost.
It wasn't long before we were strolling around the neighbourhood looking for our first mojito in Havana. We scored a well mixed mojito along with some cigars at a very friendly local bar.
This first night we settled into some fish and salad at our Casa Particular Gloria.
We felt slightly worried about not finding any accommodation in Santa Marta as we had called around several hostels before leaving Cartagena with no luck of booking. We don't usually book in advance but we were now faced with Easter holidays. Upon arrival we settled into a cheap, clean and quiet hostel called Casa Familiar that we found straight up to our relief.
After spending three nights sleeping in Santa Marta, we felt very tired of this place and eager to move on. While in Santa Marta we visited the beaches of Playa Grande, Taganga and Bahia Concha in the Tayrona National Park. Although these beaches were as crowded as they could be, we enjoyed all these beaches with their pretty surroundings and tranquil water.
In our last journal entry I said that we were going to fly to Bogota from the coast and that we had taken our last long distance bus in South America. I was wrong, we changed our mind and were soon on another ten hour overnight bus to Bucaramanga to meet a friend we met in Lima called Nicolas.
Nicolas had just flown home from working in Rio de Janeiro in Brasil and was home for a short time before flying to London in England for more work. This was great timing and a real treat to see Nico and his home city. The first night we caught up with Nico and met his brother Felipe who showed us the nightlife of Bucaramanga. Waking the following day, Bronnie and I jumped in a taxi with one of many of Nico's cousins that we had met the night before and travelled to Nico's family home. We were welcomed into a beautiful home set in a stunning countryside. Here we spent the best part of the day relaxing and drinking beers in the jacuzzi. The pool they have has an amazing view of the hills where parapentes and paragliders take off. Bronnie and I had an incredible time with Nico and Felipe and are so pleased to spend some time with them in their home city.
We left Ecuador feeling slightly nervous but confident about our expired visa. Upon arrival at immigration, we waited in line as usual and then approached the desk. When the immigration officer found that the exit dates on our visa were three weeks old, he questioned us and then sought of looked at us with an expression of "computer says no". All was good, they joked with us that we were in big trouble and then that we would be there waiting for another 8hrs. Instead after waiting for one and a half hours we were cleared by "the big boss" who was called in to sign us out. All in all a fairly smooth transition if anyone is wondering about overstaying their visa in Ecuador.
Soon after entering Colombia, we found ourselves our first overnight bus to enjoy. We arrived in our first port of call Popayan. Here we stayed in the clean and well run Hostel Trail, explored the white buildings of the colonial city and ventured to the hot springs that were nearby. We failed to swim in the hot springs at Aguas Hirviendos as they represented over crowded cess pits to us though not as bad as the ones in Baños, Ecuador. The hot springs of Agua Tibia weren't a lot better but were bigger and set in a beautiful location. There were quite a few people walking around covered from head to toe in in mud because apparently the mud and water at the hot springs has great healing powers. We opted to stay clean and walk around the lush green farmland taking in the first taste of real dairy cream that we had had for months.
It was already proving hard not to fall in love with the friendliness of the Colombian people, so friendly that they reminded us of how friendly the people of Brasil are. They have been very helpful, courteous and warming to each other and us.
After another big mission; this time from Lima to Ayampe in Ecuador, we were ready to hang up the boots for some chill out time and some warm water.
We scored well with accommodation in Ayampe this time. Beach front, self contained house with 4 rooms up for grabs. BAM! Downside was no waves! After six nights here and still no waves. We hit the road again and said goodbye to Triff. Our hitchhiking days started the day we left Ayampe. Fed up with waiting for a bus that never seemed to arrive, we soon took up throwing the thumb out to anyone passing by. This is how we now travel when there is no bus in sight.
After talking to Keith from La Buena Vida about surf spots on the coast, we bunked down in Puerto Cayo for the night before adventuring off to find the infamous barreling beach of San Jose. We found San Jose with little difficulty; the hard part was the lack of transport and the scorching sun. We kept heading north to San Lorenzo. On the way there, we noticed a right hand wave near Las Pinas and it was peeling perfectly. Our main aim was to find accommodation, which we thought we could at San Lorenzo. Instead we were faced with three options over $140. Feeling sunburnt after riding around in the back of pickups and a dump truck; we pushed on to Santa Marianita and San Mateo with no luck of finding accommodation. We then turned around and hitched back to Las Pinas to where I thought I had seen somewhere to sleep; when this failed we managed to hail a bus that was headed back to Puerto Cayo. Luckily for us there was some people on the bus who ran a "hostel." Having mixed feelings of suspicion and desperation we took up their offer and followed them up the hill to their accommodation. They were very accommodating people for whom we are grateful for their help. Our hosts showed us the prize winning fighting cocks and even put on a display for us.
After travelling through blockades of demonstrators in Argentina, which luckily for us only set us back a couple of hours. We finally arrived in Bolivia, landing in Tupiza in the south. With only six days till Christmas day and plans of catching Jake and Claire in La Paz for a hit of cricket, we had little time for delays.
After some discussion on where and how we would see the salt flats of Bolivia, we decided to travel to Uyuni. This is where we took a one day tour out to the salt flats. Thank goodness we didn't take a two or even worse a four day tour because there is only so much salt to see. Nonetheless we had heaps of fun. We are quite surprised at how arid the country is in the south, as we had heard from other travellers that the countryside is spekky.
The other travellers were right; it didn't take long before landing in La Paz to see the countryside changing around us. We met Jake and Claire in La Paz on the 22nd of December, three days before Christmas. This had left us with heaps of time to find a suitable place to bunk down in until the festivities had passed. The four of us headed for Coroico on Jake and Claire's recommendation, which proved to be an excellent choice. We found a cosy tree house each with wonderful views. This is where we spent the next six nights hiding and relaxing. The hosts of our accommodation were wonderful people who make delicious tasting food and alcoholic orange liquor. We didn't hold off nocking back a few of these bottles. There is a 15oo meter zip line broken into 3 sections in Coroico, which is well worth the ride. Heaps of fun, the man guiding us said that you could reach speeds up to 80km/hr flying across the valleys. Bron and I went tandem on the last leg of the zip line. After complete break failure because of the wait and speed we were travelling at, we luckily survived the crash landing with no broken bones.
After saying "see ya later" to Ilo and the menacing waves we found there; we travelled to Arica, Chile. Our main goal in this area was to see the two famous waves called El Gringo and El Buey breaking. Unfortunately we had timed our travels here without much if any swell. To make up for this loss, we discovered cheap but divine wine, which had been lacking on our journey so far. We also discovered that Chili wasn't full of motos revving around with regaton rattling the windows as they passed. Instead we discovered decent live music we could jive to.
With Christmas just three weeks away; the pressure of escaping to somewhere much cheaper and quieter was growing into a reality. Feeling sad to miss El Gringo, we jumped aboard a bus for Iquique, which we were told was a city with a great surfing vibe to it. On our bus ride from Arica to Iquique we drove past a nine span centre pivot irrigator in the middle of the Atacama Desert. This is a strange site to see in one of the driest deserts in the world. On arriving in Iquique we found a hostel and some more of that cheap and divine wine and relaxed in front of the sunset.
We had been in contact with Jake and Claire. They are in Santiago, only twenty five hours by bus away. With the decision of breaking up the journey to see Jake and Claire into smaller legs or hauling it twenty five hours in the one go. We held our faith in a coin that it would choose the correct decision for us. The lady selling us the tickets jaw nearly broke the counter when the coin held us by our hand and said we must travel straight to Santiago in one go.
Feeling fresh as a daisy and landing in a very hot Santiago, we found where Jake and Claire were hiding. The first night with our amigos we found some live music, something we had been missing and it was death metal!
Arriving fresh as a daisy in Lima; we found the streets in Miraflores the touristy area of Lima to be cordoned off. With no taxis being able to drop us close to our final destination we lugged our bags to our hostel. Feeling the buzz in Lima, it was time for a beer. Little did I know that this beer was the start of an all and mighty 1 week bender in Lima.
Bronnie had signed up for 1 week worth of Español lessons while staying at a house full of other students. This left Tas and me to our own adventures. During this time Tas was able to buy a surfboard for himself, which was the main reason he had travelled back to Lima and Bronnie was able to buy the same model just scaled down a bit. Tas managed to escape after a few nights in. Then Triff turned up and the bender continued. Feeling the weight of very little sleep, plenty of intoxication and numb body parts. It was time to have a quiet one and watch a movie at the cinemas. This didn't go to plan, when Bronnie turned up and said. "I have finished my week of Español so lets go out and celebrate!" I looked at Triff.. "Oh ohh.."
A fun place to spend time bending but quite a trap. Lucky the door opened and we found ourselves in Punta Hermosa. This is where we caught up with Seb. We finally surfed a right hander called Punta Rocas, apart from the rubbery smell in the water and the weird polluted froth. This was a fun wave with a good take off. Wanting to move on from the polluted water, we moved on to Cerro Azul hoping for an epic left handed point break. Unfortunately the swell was hidden from this location. Off to Huacachina we all headed, Seb, Triff, Bronnie and I. Triff had been eyeing this off for a while and it looked like a great relaxed party town surrounding an oasis. We were right thinking it was a party town but full of trash. The oasis appeared to be an effluent pond or a mozzie breading ground that we were all too scared to go near for the fear of catching cholera.
In the search for consistency of good waves, we crossed the border from Ecuador into Peru. Crossing in the middle of the night, we had missed the transition from greenery to desert. Peru welcomes you was obvious with the change of landscape. Our first stop was Mancora, a town to enjoy if all you want to do is drink a lot. The wave here was small and overcrowded.
We wanted to surf Lobitos (the land of barrels) but with a swell 4 days away we decided to find a break before it to chill out in. Los Organos was where we stopped. 1 hour later we were on the bus again. A very creepy town and an unpleasant experience involving a challenged local simulating a gun with his hand at us left us wondering why we even bothered to exit the bus here.
Unfortunately we didn't surf Lobitos as we arrived 4 nights too early for the swell and could only hold out in this town for 2 nights as boredom in this town can hit quickly and easily especially with the lack of produce to by and places to eat. 2 dogs locked their sites on Bronnie from a mile away. 1 of which was able to hit their target. Bronnie's ankle; no skin was pierced so we were pleasantly relieved.
We bee lined it straight for Puerto Chicama via a night in Trujillo.
Apparently Chicama is one of the longest waves in the world. We were in ore at this place. We would wake up just as light was bearing its face, pull on our wetsuits and stuff our mouth with a banana. Often we would be the only ones out there for the first round of waves. This was a good tactic because often there would be at least 1 rubber ducky start up at 9am with its main aim of pissing all the paddle surfers off. These rubber duckies would drop someone off right on the take off when a good set would come through. Rendering you useless to compete as the current being so strong had already dragged you off to the side. Once the people using the ducky would finish their wave. The ducky would be there to pick them up again. Usually 800 meters down the line but sometimes earlier depending on the length of the wave. It was a great day watching from the balcony of El Hombres, when a ducky flipped over and was swamped by a wave in the sandpit. The sandpit is where the take off is on the 1st point where the water really shallows out. There is a lot of sand churning around in it, hence the name sandpit.
After spending a good month away from the coast we arrived in Atacames. As we don't have anything good to write on this place, we found ourselves on a bus to Mompiche. We have heard that one of Ecuadors best left hand points is here. On arrival we weren't expecting much as the swells were travelling in the wrong direction. We were right, there wasn't much to spark the eye brows and twitch the nose. We are very excited to come back here one day and experience what we could see of the amazing potential that this place was letting us lick. In this quiet chilled out town, we were able to have the tail of my board fixed. One side of the swallow tail had almost completely snapped of during transit from Brasil to Ecuador.
The next town we stopped at is called Canoa. This town carries a relaxed vibe with the potential for raucous parties and not world class but a whole beach of waves. The waves seem to carry a sweet flavour of Boat Harbour without the power. This is where we met a couple of friends Justin and Hein. Not a bad place to kick back at and pass some time relaxing.
We have been in contact with Triff and heard that he was in Ayampe. So this is where we have decided to head too. With thoughts in the back of our heads that we would come back to the coast of Ecuador, this wasn't an issue missing so much. En route to Ayampe, we stopped at Puerto Lopez with Justin our friendly translator. Here we ventured on a tour with Justin to Isla de la Plata, which is supposed to be the poor mans Galapogos Island. On the trip to the island we saw up to 10 whales, Blue Footed Boobies and a turtle. Not a terribly exciting adventure. With not much else to do in this town, we said goodbye to Justin and bused 20 minutes down the road to Ayampe.
We made it, after leaving our hostel in Salvador at 1pm and arriving in Quito at 2pm the following day after 4 flights. Yes 25hrs in transit and we felt knacked. This journey involved flying from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro, flying from Rio to Buenos Aires and landing there at 1am. Our next flight was supposed to leave at 6am for Guayaquil and then onto Quito. This was not our fault. We booked through Webjet who foiled our first itinerary and then failed a second time. They compensated us for the 3rd itinerary which was 25hours and cost about $AUD200 more than the original itinerary. This soon eventuated into our worst 25 hours in transit.
When landing at the Buenos Aires airport at 1am; Our first task was to track down some drinking water before finding a makeshift bed. We were really in for it. We exchanged some Brasilian Reals for some Argentinian Pesos. Pushed a coin into the first drink machine only to have the drink fall down and break the door rendering our drink safe from our consumption. After battling with the drink machine with the help of a security guard we moved on. Every other machine was broken that we could find. We found an information desk and told them the story. They gave us a token for another drink machine. Bronnie went off in pursuit of this machine as I watched our luggage. Soon after she had left looking confident she was already on her way back looking frustrated. My heart sank. "Aggggh the machine ate the token and didn't do anything" Said Bronnie. We went to the information desk and told our story. In the end we bought some water from a cafe after changing more money because of the extravagant prices they were charging. It was now close to 3am when we gave up looking for a comfy bed and settled for a metal bench seat with mettle arm wrests. Half sleeping on high alert isn't fun.
One word for Rio de Janeiro could be wow! Tree lined streets behind Copacabana and Ipanema, white beaches, and lots of thong wearing bottoms. We embraced the buzzing atmosphere of people working and people with sand in every crack imaginable.
Just like in the James Bond movie Moonraker from 1979; Jesus (Christ the redeemer) is still standing high threatening the city with high levels of anxiety and guilt (notice the photo). After catching the wrong bus to the base of Corcovado Mountain, we then tried to find the right route with dusk approaching rapidly. After finding the route with still 600meters in altitude to climb we hailed a taxi who took us straight to the top. Unfortunately we missed seeing the view of Rio during the day. Still it was a spekky tail end of the sunset looking over Rio and her beautiful beaches.
We caught up with Sally and Bridget at our hostel with plans to go out drinking. Unfortunately Bronnie was quite sick and had a relapse of asthma after 14 years in the clear. We blamed this on the moldy room we stayed in in Sao Paulo and the pollution we had been sucking in. Fortunately Bronnie was well enough to join us all for a famous Brasilian buffet, which of course involves plenty of carbohydrates. We now understand where all the big bottoms come from.
The following day we caught up with Sally and Bridget for an afternoon of basking in the sun at Ipanema beach. We spent many days relaxing on the squelchy white sands of Rio dreaming for more money. We have found Brasil and especially the bigger cities to be very expensive.
We heard from fellow travellers that the island of Ilha Grande was a treat to be seen. In hearing this we backtracked south a few hours. We soon realised that this piece of paradise wasn't for us. It reminded us of any other tropical island with no waves you go to party at with heaps of fellow gringos.
Realising the size of Brasil to the rest of the continent soon set in with our first day of bus Travel to Porto Alegre. This didn't stop us quickly reaching Armecao on the island of Florianopolis. This is where I wore board shorts for the first 2 days in the water before reverting back to a wetsuit. Almost warm enough, just not quite.
We found a lovely self-contained unit we spent the next 9 nights in Pousada Pires owned by a wonderful family. Even though we couldn't speak a word of Portuguese, there were some common words in Espanol that helped us communicate. The surf here was great with easy going and friendly locals. The whole island seemed to have a very laid back feel to it.
We loved it here and are keen to come back here one day.
After hearing that Sally and Bridget would be in Rio de Janeiro, we decided to head off and meet them. This was great timing, as the swell wasn't looking flash for the next week.
En route to Rio; we travelled via Foz Do Iguacu and Sao Paulo. Both are a must see and experience while in the area. On this trip from Florianopolis to Rio we racked up roughly 34 hours on 3 buses to give you an idea of travel lengths in Brasil.
As you can see we really worked the camera at Iguacu falls. We liked the up and close side of the Argentinian falls more than the Brasilian side. You could really feel the power and see the volume of water thundering through the Devils Throat and other sections of the falls. The Brasilian side was spectacular as well. It gives you a broader over all view. You stay a fair bit dryer on the Brasilian side.
We heard that the Paraguayan side wasn't as spekky as what we had just seen so decided to head off to Sao Paulo.
We left Australia on the 7th of June bound for Buenos Aires in Argentina via Auckland New Zealand. After arriving in New Zealand we were told that the Puyehue volcano in the Andes Mountains of southern Chile was erupting at the time and had made it dangerous to fly at night. This was due to the large plume of ash rising from the volcano. We soon learnt that this ash made it as far as Australia grounding many planes. Thankfully our plane was delayed until the next morning. We didn't mind a bit as it was our first night on this trip out of Australia and the airline were putting us up in the Grand Chancellor all paid for. There were only 1 or 2 disgruntled passengers, 1 of whom was only holidaying for 8 days in Buenos Aires. We guessed that this might shake of any jet lag before his return home.
After landing in Buenos Aires and finding a comfy hotel to stay in; we went into jet lag recovery mode. For the next few days we would wake at 7am last till 6pm sleep till 2am and then venture out for a beer and dinner for 1-2 hours before sleep and waking early again. This was painful but a good place to be in as we discovered Buenos Aires seems to be always awake.
We found evidence of the volcano here. At first we thought that this must be a very dusty city. We soon realised that the buildings and cars were actually covered in a silky thin layer of ash.
Finding our bearings in such a large and beautiful city, we decided the only way to see a lot of it before we left would be to jump a board one of the city double decker buses. This was a great decision as we were able to jump on and off the bus where and when we chose; we discovered many sites. As always we left many more for returning journeys.