A Travellerspoint blog

Onwards and upwards

sunny 35 °C
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Since leaving Rio, I have been covering a lot of ground in a fairly short period of time. My plan was always to head up the east coast of Brazil, heading for the Amazon. Closer inspection of the map had resulted in the dawning realisation of just how vast Brazil is and how far I had to cover. So the last three weeks have basically involved a series of long overnight bus journeys, each covering up to 1000km, with stops at various beaches and interesting cities along the way.

My first stop was Porto Seguro, a beach resort north of Rio. A couple of days there were enoguh to enjoy a lot of beach time and some particularly potent Caipirinhas on the town's "alcohol catwalk"- an area of the high street that in the evening is filled with booths selling food, drink and cheesy gifts. All too soon it was time to climb back onto the bus however and move on to Salvador.

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My first proper beach - Porto Seguro

Salvador is a large city with a reputation for being the cente of African culture in Brazil and South America. This is historically due to the region's sugar plantations, which brought vast riches to a minority of landowners and also resulted in the import of thousands of African slaves. This has resulted in a vibrant music and dance culture, including capoiera - the martial art/dance reputedly developed by the slaves as a way of training in fighting techniques without alarming the landowners. Whilst there I went to a dance show which presented some of these styles. The highlight was a stunning capoeira demonstration with amazing spins, kicks and general athleticism. All of the dancers had ridiculously ripped bodies and I think the girls I went with were drooling slightly by the end, whereas I just felt intimidated!

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Traditional Dress in Salvador

Salvador also has some lovely old buildings, including the Church of Sao Francisco which has a stunning interior with almost every surface covered in gold leaf - definitely 18th century bling!

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Bling!

A lot of the historic centre has been refurbished over the past few years, so areas such as the Pelourinho are very colourful. Salvador also has a reputation for one of the most dangerous places in Brazil, at least partly due to the large areas of poverty surrounding the city centre. Whilst I was there, some French girls had their bags stolen on the beach, so there is definitely some truth in the rumours. I played it (overly) safe and didn't leave the main tourist area or wave my camera about too much, and didn't feel too worried, but it definitely constrained where you felt comfortable going.

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Colourful buildings in Salvador

After Salvador I headed for another beach resort called Praia Da Pipa. This is one of the most popular resorts for Brazilians, with a series of beautiful beaches fringed by palms and cliffs. A couple of the bays have a resident population of dolphins, which are supposed to come swim with you if you're lucky - unfortunately I wasn't. I only had a couple of days here, but enjoyed some nice walks on the beaches and some great sunsets.

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Pipa Sunsets

If I thought these were good though, my next destination got even better. Jericoacoara is an amazing place - so remote you have to drive along the beach to get there and with streets paved with sand (if you can call that paving).

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Jeri High Street

It's a really chilled place, famous for its kite boarding and the surrounding sand dunes. It is also one of the only places in Brazil where you can watch the sun set directly over the sea. As the sun descends, everyone races to the top of "sunset dune" a huge dune next to the main beach, where you get the best view of the sun slowly slipping below the sea. It's a mesmerising experience, even when shared with several hundred people.

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Heading for Sunset Dune
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The sun dips below the horizon

The other unique feature is a rock formation called Pedra Furada (literally "pierced rock"). This has a natural arch, through which you can watch the sun set from the beach at certain times of the year. Fortunately, this was one of those times, so I also got to see the amazig sight of the sun dipping behind the rock, then reappearing in the arch before disappearing for good. Very impressive, even if it was shared with twenty other people all fighting for the perfect spot to take the photo (I think I won!).

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Pedra Furada

The final highlight of my time in Jeri (other than actually standing up on a surfboard for the first time ever) was a trip by dune buggy to Lagoa Azul - the blue lagoon. This is a vast lake formed within the dunes by rainwater. To get here you have to drive for almost an hour by dune buggy, the standard form of transport in Jeri. These are lightweight buggys with huge wheels, soft suspension and plenty of power for dealing with the soft, rutted sand. Our driver raced along as we hung onto the back, driving sideways up dunes just for the fun of it, as well as stopping to watch the local fishermen at work.

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Local fishermen at work

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Our transport for the day

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View from the buggy

The lagoon has a little bar and restaurant on an island in the middle, so you catch a boat across and then can lie in the crystal clear waters sipping an ice cold beer in the sun - it's a hard life!

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Lagua Azul

I'll end this now before everyone gets too jealous, my next post will probably be about being eaten alive by mosquitos in the Amazon, so less reason to be envious!

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Posted by Davelanky 11:03 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Rio de Janeiro

I think I'm falling in love..

sunny 30 °C
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Well, it's been an exhausting week. I headed to Rio somewhat nervous about all of the stories I'd heard about the muggings and the violence, but will be leaving a week later sandier, a little more tanned, with a severe loss of liver function and significantly poorer, but also a little infatuated with El Cidade Maravilhosa.

The week has mostly been about beaches, parties and football, with just a little sightseeing thrown in as well. I have been staying in Ipanema, in a great place called hostel row, where an entire little mews street has been taken over by hostels. This means that after a hard days sunbathing, everyone sits outside witha cold beer exchanging tales before heading off to yet another club. This makes it really easy to meet people, and I've encountered a great range of people all week.

The city itself is hard to describe - an intoxicating mix of infinitely long sandy beaches crowded with the stunningly beautiful carioca locals, rocky spires soaring out of the middle of the city, green rainforest all around, much of it gradually being replaced by the Favelas. And all this with a soundtrack of samba and a cold Caipirinha for refreshment.

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Rio de Janeiro

For the first few days I hooked up with a couple of Americans and some English girls, and we spent our time on the beach and doing a few touristy things. The beaches really are ridiculous - long, golden and filled with these amzing people, most of whom are tanned, slender and wearing very little clothing.

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A classic view of Ipanema?

Obviously I wasn't paying much attention to the latter, but just enjoying the atmosphere! Every couple of minutes a new salesman comes along to sell you drinks, food, hats, bikinis and countless other things, so you never have to move from your towel. There are also ridiculously large numbers of games of volleyball, football and foot volley going on - the standard is quite frankly intimidating - I can't understand how Brazil didn't win the world cup, based on the levels of footballing skills on show from both men and women.

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Ipanema beach at sunset

The slightly more cultured aspects of my week have included a city tour, taking in the cathedral, escadaria de selaron and Christo Redentor. The escadaria is an amazing set of steps that an artist has gradullay been decorating with painted tiles since 1990 - a photographer's dream!

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Escadaria Selaron

Christ the Redeemer is one of the classic images of Rio, and is pretty spectacular up close as well - located on one of the many hills, it gives some of the best views of the city.

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Christ the Redeemer
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The classic pose!

We also signed up (somewhat apprehensively) for a Favela tour. This turned out to be a great experience, which taught me a lot about the Favelas. We had a very knowledgeable guide, who took us to Rocinha; one of the biggest favelas (recently featured in the Incredible Hulk movie). Apparently there are believed to be as many as 250,00 people living there, which makes it a small city in it's own right. It is completely run by one gang, and is one of the safest places in Rio for general crime due to the strict rules they enforce and brutal penalties for anyone not following. We were taken up to see some of the amazing views of the city, passing gang members sporting AK47s and Uzis along the way, and then winding down through the narrow alleys to the bottom of the Favela. The last part of the trip was then a breakneck ride back up to the top on the back of motorcycle taxis - all very exciting.

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Our favela tour guide
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Rocinha favela

The other main touristy thing I've done is visit Pao de Asucar, or sugarload mountain. This is one of the many spires of rock sprouting out of the bay, but happens to have the most stunning views of Rio. After having to abort several days in succession due to the cloud, I finally managed to get up there for a clear sunset, and enjoy the most fantastic sight, as the sun gradually dropped below the horizon and the bright blues and greens turned to reds and oranges.

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Sugar loaf mountain
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Rio at night

One of the main attractions of the week has been the football - I arrived in time to catch the Germany Spain semi-final and the final on Copacabana beach. A huge fan park had been set up on the beach, with a giant screen and lots of (very expensive) food and drink. The final was an amzing atmosphere- I had grouped up with some Dutch from the hostels, and we all went along and had a huge song and dance. Sadly the Spanish won, and we all went home on a bit of a downer, but it was still a great experience.

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Supporting the Dutch!
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Some of the Dutch supporters

I have also been out partying more in Rio than probably the last year, and am now feeling the worse for it. The young crowd in the hostel and the general atmosphere mean that mos people have headed out every night to yet another of the amazing parties going on. The best by far was in Lapa, where a long street is filled with bars which spill out on the street, so you can buy a Caipirinha from a street stall, walk along enjoying the atmosphere and eventually pick a club to dance the night away. The only hitch is that most nights don't start till 11.00-12.00 and kep on going till 5 or 6.00, o you end up hungover and severely sleep deprived after a couple of consecutive nights out. Hence staying ten days in Rio has not been good for the health or bank balance.

I'm now heading up the coast towards the Amazon, hopefull finding a few more beaches and some interesting towns on the way, fingers crossed..

Posted by Davelanky 13:11 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Pantanal

sunny 35 °C
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... After a 15 hour overnight bus ride we arrived at Campo Grande the next morning. Amazingly my bag was in one piece and nobody had nicked anything! We were picked up at the bus station and taken to the hostel, where we were given my best breakfast so far and a room to take a shower - all very civilised. Later that morning we were picked up by mini-van for our 6 hour transfer to the Pantanal. It was a long hot journey, but eventually we made it to the rendezvous with an open truck which took us the final leg into the pantanal. It was pretty exhilerating racing along the dirt track, with a beautiful sunset visible across the water, even though we were completely covered in dust by the end of our trip.

The Pantanal is one of the most spectacular wildlife habitats in the world - a vast area of low-lying land that during the rainy season is almost completely flooded, producing a perfect habitat for huge numbers of fish, birds and other animals. We were there at the beginning of the dry season, so the water was at least a couple of metres below its max level, but the area was still probably 60% wetland. Our camp was a pretty low key affair, with a couple of sleeping huts with hammocks, a mess hall and kitchen and toilet block. But the hammocks were comfortable, the showers (more or less) hot and the food tasty and filling, so no complaints from me. The first night was spent getting to know the others already at camp over copious amounts of home made Caipirinhas - the classic Brazilian cocktail made from Cachaca (a spirit made from sugar cane), lime juice and rum. I wouldn't say it was the best cocktail I've ever tasted, but it did the trick.

The next morning we were up and about at 6.30, ready for our first activity - horse riding. Now I've never been on a horse for more than a couple of minutes, so was a bit apprehensive at the thought of a good two and a half hours on one. Fortunately they turned out to be incredibly docile, and we had a fantastic time walking through the water and forests. The bird life is astonishing, with a huge variety of different types.

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Equestrian Action Dave - available in all good shops soon

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Riding through the wetlands

Our afternoon involved getting a bit more intimate with the area as we went for a long walk. We saw monkeys, deer, toucans and all sorts of other animals. Fortunately no anacondas, although we did cross one track. Our guide told us a story of one group where a straggler was found enveloped by an anaconda and had to be rescued. Needless to say we kept close to our guide after that! Tired, muddy and sweaty we headed back for camp for a well-deserved shower and dinner. On the way we got to see tarantulas and caiman eyes in the dark- hundreds of glowing points all over the swamps, more than slightly disturbing.

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Walking through the wetlands - watch out for anacondas!

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Caiman!

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Monkeying around

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Dusk Falls over the Pantanal

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The next day we were up even earlier at 5.30 in order to get back in time for the football. We took boats up the river, seeing loads of kingfishers, the odd caiman and all sorts of bird life.

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Boat trip

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Kingfisher at work

Then it was a race back in time for the football. They had set up the one tv in camp outside of the boss' tiny house, so we all sat round drinking beers at 10.00 in the morning cheering on Brazil, whilst delicious smells of BBQ swept over us. Sadly we all know the result, and there was a pretty despondent air over camp after Brazil had thrown the game away. The BBQ still tasted great though!

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The perfect place to watch football?

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And a nice BBQ for afterwards

We took advantage of the lunchtime break to head down to the river for a bit of swimming. Kev teaches gynastics in Ireland, so him and Lewis, another brit, were soon egging each other on to do bigger and bigger jumps. I think the biggest was a back somersault with 180 twist. I obviously took the sensible course of recording the action, taking the opportunity to try out my birthday present of a waterproof case for my camera.

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Kev shows off

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And Lewis tries to match him

Our afternoon activity was piranha fishing, so we headed along with a grumpy Gabriel (our guide) to the lake. It was a bit weird standing in the edge of the water in bare feet, with piranhas snapping meat off hooks a couple of feet away. The caiman also got pretty interested, so you had to smack them with your rod when they got too close. We managed a fairly feeble catch (I caught a couple), but fortunately Gabriel more than made up for our shortcomings with a huge catch. As we headed back I managed to get some great shots of a capybara - the biggest rodent in the world.

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Kev and Sara catching Piranha's

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Our catch

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Capybara at dusk

Our final activity the next day was a jeep safari, which gave us the opportunity to to see our first giant otters. Apparently they are very aggressive and regularly eat caiman! After enjoying some of the previous day's catch fopr lunch (tasty but mostly bones), it was time to leave for the 6 hour journey back to Campo Grande. After a good night's sleep I've now flown to Rio, for a week of beaches and caipirinhas, hurrah!

Posted by Davelanky 16:10 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Argentina and on

We was robbed (in more ways than one)

sunny 34 °C
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A lack of internet and a few problems with the blog have kept me quiet for the last ten days, but now I'm back! The last two weeks have been pretty hectic and it's nice to finally have a couple of quieter days to catch up. here's a lot to write about, so I will be breaking it into two posts.

I left Posadas for Paraguay with Aimee and Calum and it was nice to have the company as we headed over the bridge, through two sets of customs and into Encarnation. Immediately it felt like a completely different place, with everything much more run-down and more rustic. We found a hotel and went for a wander into the poorer part of the town, and it was utterly different to Posadas, with dirt tracks and crude market stalls everywhere. Paraguay is apparently the poorest country in South America, and you could certainly see why. The amazing thing was the complete discrepancy between rich and poor, with huge shiny new trucks roaring through town and shops selling the latest widescreen tv's just 10 minutes walk from the poorest areas. That evening we went to a highly recommended Japanese restaurant, and had a fantastic meal with sushi, sashimi and all sorts of delicacies for the bargain price of 10 quid.

The next day was the final Paraguay world cup group game, which I watched in a packed bar. Afterwards, the whole town turned out to celebrate, with the main streets filled with cars, trucks and mopeds all rammed full of people waving flags and honking horns.

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Paraguay celebrate

After the football, I headed out to the ruins of the Jesuit Mission at Trinidad. There were a whole series of settlements in this area of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil (hence the area is known as los missiones). Trinidad has the most complete ruins, and was fairly interesting to walk round, despite the lack of any background information provided. The most memorable aspect was probaby when I tried to get the bus back into town, and was left waiting at the bus stop in the dark for more than an hour, desperately hoping one more bus would come past. Fortunately a helpful local finally stopped and explained (mostly by gestures) that I need to walk up the road to a bus stop where the buses stopped at night. Fortunately another bus did come past and I didn't have to spend the night in the ruins.

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Ruins at Trinidad

The next day I headed back into Argentina and caught the bus straight up to Iguacu. Amazingly, yet again someone seems to have nicked stuff from my bag, this time they managed to somehow open my lock, rather than cut my bag open, which was nice. This time I lost some cash and a lightweight fleece, so annoying rather than important, but still. Talking to others, I seem to have just been ridiculously unlucky, but I am wondering if there's some sort of hidden sign saying help yourself.

The highlight of Iguacu is the cataractas, the most ridiculously huge set of waterfalls you've ever seen. Everyone in the world has raved about them already, so I won't say much more than all of the comments are true and it really is one of the stupendous things I've ever seen. It was a beautiful day, with blue skies and rainbows everywhere. Not sure how many pics I took, but it was a lot!

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Views along the falls

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El Diablo, the biggest fall

That night our hostel did a big asado (bbq), which included huge amounts of meat, before we were dragged out onto town. Argentinians don't even think about going out till 1.00am (after eating at about 10.00), so it was way past my bedtime by the time we got to the local club, which was absolutely rammed. We finally staggered home about 4.30am for at least a few hours sleep before dragging myself out of bed for the England game. As if watching the game wasn't bad enough, my hangover got steadily worse and seemed to peak at the very moment the Germans scored their fourth goal.

Fortunately, I had met some friendly Aussies, who were obviously far too nice to spend the next few hours mercilessly taunting me through the Argentina game. At least a couple of bottles of Quilmes seemed to clear away the last dregs of the hangover. After the game we were pointed in the direction of the local crossroads where everyone went to party. This was the biggest party I've seen yet - probably 5000 people took over the square and danced til it got dark.

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Victory!

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I should probably feel guilty about this!

I then foolishly got dragged out for yet another night, which the next border crossing into Brazil a little painful. Kevin, an Irish guy I met in Iguacu decided to come along into Brazil, and it was great to have the company. The original idea was to catch a bus straight to Campo Grande the same day, however we both felt so rough we ended up finding a hostel in Foz de Iguacu.

This worked out quite well as the next day we had time to visit the Itaipu dam in the morning and the falls in the afternoon. The dam is the second largest in the world after the three gorges in china, but it isn't especially impressive in person. It is extremely functional (read ugly), and the tour was limited to say the least. The highlight was probably the 20 minute information video at the beginning, which was just one long advert for the Itaipu company, rather than giving any useful information. Naturally we learned nothing about the huge environmental cost of flooding such a vast area.

After lunch, I had a flying visit to the falls on the Brazilian side. This gives a much better overview of the falls and was an interesting contrast to the up close and personal view on the Argentine side. Unfortunately I had to race round in order to make it back for the bus, so couldn't stop and enjoy the sunset. So the next step was to hop on the bus for the start of our Pantanal adventure...

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El Diablo from Brazil

Posted by Davelanky 15:00 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Argentina part 3

Highs and Lows in Posadas

all seasons in one day 25 °C
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Well the last couple of days have been good introduction to the highs and lows of travelling, not to mention how your perspective of a place can be totally skewed by your mood.

My overnight bus from Buenos Aires to Posadas had gone very smoothly, until I went to collect my bag when we arrived. As soon as they pulled it out from the luggage compartment I noticed that unfortunately someone had tried to nick stuff from my big rucksack. Fortunately my bag was locked. Unfortunately that just meant they cut the front open instead. Fortunately they only took my first aid kit. Unfortunately that means I have had to replace as much of the kit as I could find in the local pharmacy. Fortunately it's more annoying than anything, but it's still a pain and doesn't help with any paranoia over taking public transport.

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my poor bag

All of this meant that I was in a foul mood by the time I got to the hostel, not helped by the grey weather and finding that the hostel seemed particularly basic with a single, lukewarm shower and dodgy wiring that could electrocute you at any second. I walked into the city centre and spent a few hours muttering about how all Argentines are clearly criminals. Wandering around the streets didn't help as, apart from a nice central square, they all seemed pretty run-down and shabby.

My first stroke of luck was that I happened to notice a stream of teenagers carrying musical instruments into the cathedral and on further investigation found that there was a free concert later that night. This turned out to be really good - it was part of the bicentennial celebrations in Argentina and was performed by a national youth orchestra and choir created specifically for this event. They were touring the entire country and it was just luck they were in Posadas that one night. They performed a wide range of pieces and it was great, other than struggling to stay awake.

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Orchestra and cathedral in Posadas

My improved mood didn't last long, as I wandered back to the hostel to find I was the only occupant, and so headed off for dinner on my own, feeling a bit pissed off and realising that 6 months of travelling on my own like this could be a long time.

Fortunately the next day things picked up. First I found a sewing shop that had exactly the right colour blue thread, a big needle and iron-on repair patches for my bag, then I got back to the hostel to find a couple of brits and a French girl had moved in. I repaired my bag and then, later in the day, we all headed down to the riverside for what we had heard was some kind of festival. As far as we worked out, it was a combination of the national flag day - an Argentine holiday celebrating the creation of the national flag, together with the opening of a new promenade, museum and amphitheater on the riverside. Anyway, it involved a really good fireworks display, and lots of traditional dancing, so it was all good fun.

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my repaired bag, sporting a scar but looking more cheerful!

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Fireworks and traditional dancing in Posadas

Today, the sun finally shined and it was actually t-shirt weather rather than wearing all of the fleeces I've brought. That, together with the fact that suddenly the town was buzzing with activity after the holiday, made it feel like a completely different place.

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Enjoying the sun sporting my new Argentina top - I still feel a bit guilty wearing it though! (that's not a large sombrero I'm wearing either

This afternoon was the final Argentina game. I watched in a cafe in the centre of town and it was a fantastic atmosphere. When the game finished, everyone poured out into the square, and it was complete chaos. If they celebrate beating Greece like this, I hate to think what they'd do if they win the whole tournament.

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Everyone piles into the streets to get a glimpse of the game on whatever tv they can find

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Locals go a little loco!

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So I've now decided that Posadas is a lovely little city, my hostel is nice and chilled with a unique ambience and life is good again! Off to Paraguay tomorrow to start the whole process all over again....

Posted by Davelanky 16:40 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

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