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Published: August 25th 2007
(Nick) Thursday 21st June
- the Uruguayan town of Fray Bentos is on the must
see list of any wandering lover of meat pies. Unfortunately I missed the place last time, with Richie in Jan 2005, due to time constraints (though we did consider hiring mopeds to get there). The second time I missed Fray Bentos was in the early hours of this morning, where we dropped off some bleary-eyed passengers around 03h30 before arriving in Montevideo around 07h00.
Having checked into our hotel, we went on a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento, one of the key places of interest in the country. Ironically, the weather we had this time (in Uruguay´s winter
) was better than when we were there last time in Summer; there were bright blue skies and verdant fields, ideal for the rearing of beef, which is so important to the country. Colonia, which was swopped about 6 or 7 times between Spain and Portugal over time, is on a peninsula, was founded in 1680 and lots of history was evident in the buildings which, together with the cobbled streets, old plazas, lighthouse and regular views of the River Plate, made it very enjoyable to wander
Colonia del Sacramento
Back in Montevideo, having got changed at the hotel, we had a good night out. We arrived in the centre around 23h30 (very early by Uruguayan standards), and stayed in a bar where they played great 80´s tunes on a big screen. However, the only beer in the bar was called ´Patricia´, which would never work in the UK, would it? Friday 22nd June
- a day to explore Montevideo. It was surprising to still see a small number of people using horse-and-cart as transport. There was not a great amount of interest, and we spent the day browsing an artesanal market, the large Plaza de Independencia (complete with subterranean mausoleum), an art gallery and the cathedral. The highlight of the day was the HUGE steak at the Port Market (the guidebook is correct with their description of them as ´almost obscene´!). My steak measured 10 inches by 3 inches, and half an inch thick. It was, needless to say, delicious and polished off with gusto. We also had the local drink, ´Medio y Medio´(´Half and Half´), which is half white wine and half *sparkling* white wine! And you can even buy it by the bottle
that one out.
Surely it´s like trying to sell tartan paint? Anyway, tasted good. We did like what we saw of Uruguay (despite being pronouned ´You are gay´by Homer Simpson!), although that night we took an night bus over the border to Porto Alegre in Brazil. Saturday 23rd June
- Brazil covers 50%!o(MISSING)f South America and is huge. The overnight bus meant that we managed to do the long journey while asleep, arriving at 07h00. Checked into a cheap but friendly hotel and walked around town. We were only stopping in Porto Alegre to catch a budget flight up to Rio and there was not much to do although the cathdral was impressive and a plaque told us that Pope John Paul II was there in recent times. Caught some jazz in the evening. Niiiiiiice. Sunday 24th June
- not much open around midday, decided to visit the place right next door for a sandwich. Or so we thought. We were welcomed like old friends by a man we had never seen before and whisked to a table, where we found out that the only food on the menu was an all-you-can eat churrascaria
extravaganza - the
waiters keep bringing meat on huge skewers to the tables, and only stop coming when the guests feel like they´re going to burst. Initially we were going to leave and go looking for the originally-planned sandwich, but then we had a good look (and smell) around us and decided to stay; before we knew it, the plates were piled with meat, sausages (and the odd veg), there was a cold bottle of Brahma
on the table, and life was good. To my recollection, this is the only day in my life when I have only eaten once and not managed to ingest single other comestible the entire day. In the afternoon, we saw another cultural centre and another market, before going to a cafe-bar founded in 1885 (´Chalé da Praca XV´). Monday 25th June
- got smoothly to the airport, the internal flight to Rio was delayed but we made our connection in Sao Paolo with 5 mins to spare. Not so our bags, which turned up about an hour later. Taxi to the great Rio Hostel (http://www.riohostel.com), where we had our own chalet with a view over its little swimming pool and, because the hostel is on a
Palacio Salvo, Montevideo, Uruguay
At 26 storeys high, it is difficult to believe that this was once the tallest building in South America.
hill, the city stretches out in the distance. Tuesday 26th June
- very lazy morning, great breakfast including toasties! Nearly got struck on the head by a falling avocado from the tree that looms over the chalet. In the afternoon, we walked around Rio city centre, visiting:
* the quite eccentric new (1979) cathdral (it is similar to Liverpool´s catholic cathdral, in that it is round and not cruciform. Its diameter is shorter than the one in Liverpool, but it seems much taller). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rio_de_Janeiro_Cathedral
* Praca (Plaza) XV Novembro, site of the old (traditional) cathedral
* Stately Praca Tirdentes square
* The most famous coffee shop in Rio, Confiteria Colombo, in business since 1899. Huge mirrors (10m x 3m) line the walls, lots of small marble tables inside.
We travelled home that night on the old tram - just like riding a ghost train! It was a really old wooden carriage with no safety bars, which chugged off into the darkness, jolting around corners with a ´no slow´approach to bends. Sparks of electricity flew from the overhead cables (just like the dodgems at old fairgrounds), we zoomed over the Lapa viaduct (see below) before stopping just
up the hill from the hostel. There is a great photo of the tram on the arches at http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/South_America/Brazil/photo660335.htm
That night, we had our first night out, in an area of Rio called Lapa, which is just down the hill from the hostel. This area is known in the city for its white arches (which used to be an aqueduct but which now carry the tram, with spectacular views) and also for bring the traditional samba district. Lots of music going on, settled for a couple of beers (N) and caipirinhas (P), but looking forward to a samba club soon! Wednesday 27th June
- a bit bleary-eyed, we headed off 3 hours south to Angra dos Reis, from where we took a schooner to the tropical island of Ilha Grande, which was a great 90 minute ride across blue sea in the sun. Yes, sun, finally!! We were staying in hostel Aquario, a fantastic place with a bar on the waterfront and small cabin-type rooms facing the sea. Caught a couple of the opening matches of the Copa America
(the equivalent of the European football tournament every 4 years). I won a free drink for predicting who would
New friends in the Mercado del Puerto, Uruguay
We had our steak at ´Ottonello´, cooked by Andres, Oscar and Silvio (who said they were going to look at their photo on the internet - gracias amigos!)
score first... Thursday 28th June
- we awoke to the sound of waves lapping against the shore and the view of fishing boats from our window. The breakfast patio was right by the sea, we had a cheese sandwich, cake and watermelon juice, on a lovely old and long chunky table, then read in hammocks till midday. The island is indeed quite Grande
(180 sq km), we had a look around the village where we were staying, and its church, followed by sushi in the evening (to the particular delight of one of us), followed by exotic ice cream scoops (crispy banana, rum & raisin, lemon pie etc.) - it was pay-by-weight so turned out quite expensive, but worth it...! Friday 29th June
- drizzled all day, doh. The day was improved by discovering that my visa application to New Zealand had been approved; this was a big relief, following the necessary medical (inc blood tests & chest x-rays) we had done in Buenos Aires, which were then couriered to NZ and arrived 2 days before the deadline! Paula is planning to complete her application soon, and we hope to go there around March 2008. We tried Acai
na Tigela for the first time (see photo), a snack of frozen berries in thick juice, covered in granola and slices of banana - tasty stuff. We also played the backpacker card game, which was a leaving present from Paula´s work friends. To complete the culinary experience, we had chicken in coconut milk & passionfruit (with chips!) for dinner.
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