Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Montevideo, Uruguay

Normally, I would spend the morning of December 31 sleeping in, and preparing to be up late that evening. in 2010, however, I was climbing into a taxi at 4:30am and on a plane by 6am. Obviously, I slept for most of the 1.5 hour flight to our connection Sao Paulo but was unable to do so for the 2nd half to Montevideo (I hate being in the middle seat!). As we arrived in Uruguay's capital city at noon and would be staying for only one night, we tried to make the most of our time and dropped off our bags at the hostel and went straight to the local bus station. While mostly all of our trip was planned and booked, there was one element I couldn't book ahead of time: the bus from Montevideo to the southern beaches. As I know that New Years is usually a very busy time to travel, I was quite worried that we wouldn't be able to get a bus to our destination and therefore cause us to miss out of a great vacation spot and loose a lot of money at the same time.
The bus station was a mad house! People everywhere! We went to the first ticket agency and asked for tickets for the next day. They had no availability. Same thing at the second. At this point, I started to panic. The one thing that I couldn't control during this trip's organization seemed be unravelling before me. As they say, though, third time's the charm and we were able to get tickets both there and back. I was relieved to say the least!
After my heart pace slowed to a normal rate, we decided to wander the city aimlessly. It's a good thing we didn't plan to visit any specific museums as most places were closed for New Years. It would seem to me (and I could be quite wrong) that a couple of New Year's traditions in Montevideo is to throw out pieces of last year's calendar onto the street (like confetti) as it was every where, and also to throw water onto people as they walk unsuspectingly below your balcony. As I was unaware of these things when I first arrived, I initially thought the city was just really dirty as it was covered in paper, and I gave the finger to the guy who doused me with water. I feel bad for both things now, but they seemed justified at the time.
After avoiding the crowds celebrating in the streets (have you ever seen Matthew in his tourist garb? Tilley hat, water bottle and giant camera. It screams "please rob me!"), we came back to the hostel to relax for a few hours before the festivities and dinner of NYE. We opted to attend the small party the hostel was having for guests as we didn't know where else to go. We met a few other American tourists from Colorado and spent most of our evening with them. It was a really nice time. Good conversation and laughs. We went to the roof of the hostel to ring in the new year. Unfortunately we were too low to see what sounded like many, many fireworks going off around the city, but we got to see a few nice ones. When things failed to pick up at the hostel after midnight, our small group decided to try to find a real party at a local bar. After that bombed, we decided instead to finish off a bottle of champagne in the main square of Montevideo. Not a bad way to start the new year.
After sleeping for a few hours, we awoke to journey to our next hot spot and one I had been looking forward to for quite sometime, Punta del Diablo in southern Uruguay.

Iguazu Falls

Since my last post, a New Year has started, numerous international borders have been crossed and many, many photos have been taken. I blame a busy schedule and a lack of reliable internet connections for not having posted in just over a week. To keep this interesting, I will do one post for each stop over the last week so that it breaks it up to a well sized easy read.
So, to pick up where we left off: going to Foz do Iguacu, Brasil.
After a short, direct flight from Rio, we landed in Foz, checked into our hostel and took a bus straight to see the Brazilian side of the famous Iguazu Falls (the spelling of the name of the falls varies based on whether or not you're writing in spanish or portuguese, but I prefer it with a "Z" so the spanish version wins). It was suggested to us from many sources that we needed to see the falls from both the Argentine and the Brazilian side, and that it would take the better part of a day to do the Argentine side, where the Brazilian side would only take a few hours.
A couple of cheap bus rides later, we arrived at the falls. The site was well organized and the lines were efficient. We took one of the trails that runs along the canyon overlooking the falls that leads towards the "main fall": the devil's throat. It was all very spectacular. Part of the trail includes a walkway that goes out into the falls area and you get very soaked from all the water spray. Lots of good photo opportunities as well. I think that day alone, Matthew and I took a good 400 photos! As the park closed at 5, we had just enough time to walk the trail, go up the lookout, and then catch the very crowded bus back to town.
Once we got back to the hostel, we decided to take a dip in the small pool by the outdoor patio and bar. There, we met two other travelling couples, one from South Africa and one from Canada. We spent much of the evening hanging out and chatting with them. Others joined us throughout the night, but due to a poor memory, I don't remember details (sorry, peoples!). Nonetheless, nights like that are one of the main reasons I like to stay at hostels: you just never know when you'll make a new friend!
After a short sleep, we awoke to take another couple of buses and crossed into Argentina to see the falls from their side. The views were nothing short of breath taking. Every time you saw them, you thought "this is nice", and then take a picture. Two steps later, you'd say "wow, this is even nicer" and take another picture. This went on and on. We took another 400 photos! Thank goodness for 4GB memory cards!
After another dip in the pool, and a couple of drinks during happy hour (I think Caipariniha might be Matthew's new favourite drink), we had a late dinner of tasty beef and then hit the hay.
Our third and final day in Foz was spent crossing yet another border, this time to Paraguay. As I hope to see as many countries as I can in my lifetime, I figured this was likely my best opportunity to check this small landlocked country off my list. I had heard mixed things about the possibility of getting a visa at the border or even needing one at all, so Matthew and I decided not to take the chance of being deported from Paraguay and got them in Ottawa before we left for our trip. I had read a great deal that the city and country were unsafe and that we should really watch our things, but luckily we didn't encounter any real problems. I was unsure what to expect from Ciudad del Este since I'd only heard about the shopping there. Well, it turns out, the only things to do in the city is shop. The markets were a bit nuts and crowded - dare I say far more crazy than anything I experienced in South East Asia! You could buy just about anything there, however, that doesn't mean that things were cheaper. In fact, most electronics we looked at were more expensive than they are back home. Needless to say, we only bought a couple of souvenir shirts and my requisite magnets before crossing back into Brazil to do our final Brazilian souvenir shopping and getting an early night's sleep. We had an early morning flight to catch on New Year's eve to visit our next destination: Montevideo, Uruguay.