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Rio de Janeiro

November 3, 2013

Our journey from Montevideo wasn’t the shortest route as we had to first fly across the Rio de Plata to Buenos Aires and from there we flew up to Rio.

Having a drink

We arrived late in Rio at around 10pm so we jumped straight in a cab to our hotel. As this was the last stop on our journey before heading home we had booked a decent hotel right on Copacabana beach to go out with a bang.  Hotels in Rio are ridiculously expensive, even hostels are charging over 100 USD per night but we ponied up for a last treat.

Hotel Bar and Pool

Hotel Bar and Pool

When we visited Copacabana in Bolivia we had sung the Barry Manilow song to ourselves even though that time it was misplaced.  Now it was bang on the money and we couldn’t help humming to ourselves as we had a late night beer on the rooftop bar of our hotel looking out over the amazingly lit up beach.

Copacabana beach at night

We only had 4 nights in Rio and 3 full days to do as much exploring as possible. This meant that we had to plan our time to maximise what we would see and do.

Copacabana Beach

Our first full day was a Sunday and that meant that it was time to explore the beaches. At the weekend the Rio natives all hit the beaches and they are absolutely packed. This is Rio as you imagine it. There was a whole load of sport going on, all zoned in different areas. We saw football, volleyball and footvolley (volleyball played by kicking and heading the ball).

Foot Volley

We walked the length of Copacabana and up into Ipanema and Leblon.  It’s a great environment with so much going on and plenty of beachside bars to refresh you on the way. Of course it helps that its hot and the sun is shining.

Ipanema Beach

Day two of our Rio experience we caught the subway into the central business district.

Rio Subway

Rio is a big city and the central area is very similar to a European city. It is definitely very busy with lots of traffic and lots of people going about their daily lives.

Fire station

 

Theatre

 

Skyscrapers

We enjoyed walking around checking out the many interesting buildings and having lunch in a city workers restaurant. After a full day walking around Rio we were knackered so really enjoyed going back to our lovely hotel room.

Rio Cathedral

Rio Cathedral

 

Inside the Cathedral

For our third day in Rio we had booked a tour to get us out to some of the slightly more difficult to get to places (well we were being a bit lazy and without the Beast we had lapsed from traveller mode into tourist mode but we also wanted to fit in as much as possible into our limited time). We got picked up early in the morning and headed off, through the appalling traffic, down the beaches to Sao Conrado beach. This is where hang gliders land having leapt off the platform 520m up at Pedra Bonita.

Sand Castle on Copacabana Beach

Sand Castle on Copacabana Beach

Our second stop was at the National Park of Tijuca Forest  in the mountains above the city. As you drive up the winding roads the temperature noticeably drops and there is a cool freshness which is much appreciated. This has led to a number of exclusive neighbourhoods being in this area. In the forest we walked to a waterfall through the thick green woods.   This would be a great place to spend a whole day cycling or hiking but on the tourist trail and with limited time it wasn’t long before we were herded back into the minibus and swept off on our whistle stop tour.

Waterfall In Rio Park

Waterfall In Rio Park

The highlight of the tour was the trip up to the top of Corcovado mountain (700m) where the 30m statue of Christ the Redeemer is situated.  It is not possible to drive all the way to the top so we were transferred from one minibus onto another to take us to the small car park just below the base of the statue.

View from the Christ

From here it’s a short walk up some stairs (or a lift ride) to the viewing platform at the foot of the statue. The view of the city is fantastic (despite being hazy). The only downside is the hordes of tourists – mostly trying to get pictures of themselves with Christ The Redeemer in the same pose.

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer

After coming down from the top of the Corcovado mountain our tour continued into the Lapa district which is just above the CBD. This is a bohemian neighbourhood (slightly dodgy in parts) with interesting café’s and art shops and famous for the Selaron stairs, otherwise known as the Lapa Steps. These were built by Jorge Selaron starting in 1990 and finally finishing at his death in 2013. He covered the stairs in hand painted tiles many depicting a pregnant African woman whose identity he never revealed.

Lapa Stairs 1

 

Three boobs

After stopping for a late lunch in a local café at the base of the stairs our tour finished by dropping us off at the base of the Sugarloaf mountain which it is possible to ascend by way of a cable car to get stunning views of the city. The cable car is in two sections; the first goes to the 220m high Morro da Urca and the second to Pao de Acuar which is 396m high.

Corcovado Cable Car

It was approaching sunset as we reached the top and we decided to stick around for the view but the Pao de Acuar became so crowded we went back down to the Morro da Urca for the sunset.

Marmoset

Marmoset

The other highlight was the many little marmosets that timidly appeared and just as quickly disappeared over the edge of the hilltop in an attempt to pick up any stray crumbs dropped by the masses.

Rio at Night

Our last day in Rio we booked  a tour to visit one the favelas, Rocinha, which is the largest favela in Rio.  Favela is the Brasilian word for shanty town and this is how Rocinha started. These were originally lawless and run by drug cartels.

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However the government has been pacifying the favelas one by one and investing money in them to bring in utilities and improve standards of living. Pacifying the favela means that the drug cartels have been run out and the police are now able to patrol inside.

Rocinha Favela

Rocinha Favela

We started our tour at the top of the Favela to get some fantastic views of the township as it stretches down the mountainside.

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The tour involved walking down through tiny alleys through the Favela and down the mountainside.  The alleys were a real maze however there is a main road that snakes its way through the Favela – mostly populated with motorbike taxis which seem the main way of getting around.

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The thing that really struck us is that although the favela is not as nice as the rest of Rio, compared to the poorer countries in South and Central America the people living here are living quite well.  We had seen far worse on our travels and were impressed by the government and the community’s drive to support, improve and development these neighbourhoods.

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Having weaved our way down the hillside and reached the foot of the mountain the tour was over and we were dropped back at our hotel where we collected our bags and headed off to the airport – our time in Rio and indeed South America, was finally up.

world cup

Montevideo

October 9, 2013

Once we’d dropped off the Beast at the port we were free to enjoy Montevideo and we had a couple of nights booked in a central city hotel from which to explore the city.

Palacio Salvo

Our hotel was just round the corner from the central Independence square and this was where we started our exploration of the city. Montevideo doesn’t have the grandeur of its neighbour Buenos Aries, but that doesn’t mean that it is devoid of interest. There are grand buildings but they are interspersed between some hideous 1970’s eye sores.

Tomb of Artigas

Tomb of Artigas

The centrepiece of Independence Square is the Mausoleo de Artigas, the tomb of Jose Gervasio Artigas, a Uruguayan hero often referred to as the “father of the Uruguayan nation”.  Above ground there is a statue of Artigas atop his horse and below ground is the actual tomb with a permanent honour guard.

Guard in Artigas tomb

The other highlights of the square are the Palacio Salvo (surprisingly a mixture of apartments and commercial premises), the Presidential Palace and the Solis Theatre.

Solis Theatre

Solis Theatre

Adjoining Independence Square is the Puerta de la Ciudadela (Gateway of the Citadel) which is one of the last remaining parts of the original city wall. Passing through this we walked through the old city and down towards the docks. Montevideo is a really friendly, relaxed city which is enjoyable to walk around however it does lack the spectacular architecture of many other old cities worldwide.

Presidential Palace

Presidential Palace

The area around the docks is considered to be quite dangerous after dark but during the day it’s a vibrant place with both locals and tourists visiting. The main attraction is the Mercado del Puerto which was opened in 1868 and was originally a market. It is now full of restaurants that are jammed together and is one of the best places to eat grilled meat in the world.

Mercado del Puerto

Mercado del Puerto

We loved this place so much that we actually came and ate here two days running. Our first lunch was at the famous “Estancia del Puerto”. We’d first seen this eatery on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”.  We sat at the bar in front of the massive grill covered in amazing looking meat and ordered the BBQ for two.

BBQ for two

BBQ for two

An amazing bowl of meat was delivered to us and we enjoyed it immensely eating every scrap. About half way through we discovered what two of the items that we had been enjoying were, the large and small intestine of a cow. Actually very nice, although very rich and definitely not something that you find on your plate back home too often.

Estancia del Puerto

Estancia del Puerto

We liked this place so much that the next day we came back for some massive steaks at one of the other restaurant joints in the Mercado. We were treated to one of the best steak meals that we’ve ever had.

Eating at Mercado del Puerto

The only downside of the Mercado del Puerto is that the restaurants are not cheap but that does not mean that it isn’t value because the meat is some of the best and tastiest that you will have anywhere. We definitely found that eating here for lunch meant that no dinner was required.

Cooking at Estancia del Puerto

For us two days in Montevideo was definitely enough (even if we could keep going back to Mercado del Puerto for lunch for ever!). Montevideo isn’t a spectacular city but its comfortable, friendly and holds enough of interest for a couple of days.

Fountain with locks

Fountain with locks

After our second visit to the Mercado del Puerto we needed to take a taxi and head to the airport. We had a flight to catch to send us on our way to Rio de Janeiro, our last stop on our tour of the Americas.

Palacio Salvo 2

Car in Montevideo

Estancia del Puerto

Shipping Montevideo to Antwerp: Part 1 – Montevideo

August 20, 2013

A few weeks before we wanted to head home we had contacted a shipping agent in Montevideo. We knew that we wanted to send the Beast back to Europe via Grimaldi Shipping Lines and their agent in Montevideo is MHSA Ltda. We tried to contact Grimaldi directly but didn’t have any luck with this. It took a little while to get through to MHSA (problems with their spam filter deleting our emails) but once we were in communication they were very responsive and helpful.

Alejandra Barreto
M.H.S.A.  LTDA.
1498 Colon ST., Suites 501, 502 & 503
11001 Montevideo
URUGUAY

PH ++ 598 2 917 0056 ext 101
FX  ++ 598 2 917 0038
www.mhsa-uy.com

Alejandra was very helpful and after giving us a choice of dates and ports we chose one and were booked in. Her English was excellent. We were not able to ship back to the UK and the ports we had available were in Belgium (Antwerp) and Germany (Hamburg). We decided on Antwerp due to is proximity to Calais and cheap channel ferries.

We were given a quote for costs:

POL: Montevideo

POD: Hamburg/Antwerp

7.5m long, 2.4m wide and 3.5m h

5 tons

SEAFREIGHT:

US$ 6426

LOCAL CHARGES :

US$ 860  (IT INCLUDES : DOCS, IN PORT ,DEPOT ,  TAXES, DRIVING TO VESSEL)

Terms: LT

Validity: 30/06/2013
Subject to space availability.

Rates are valid for self propelled units only.

We decided to ignore the weight that they had assumed (and this proved fine in the end). The quote was definitely more expensive than we would have liked but there isn’t much choice in the cross Atlantic market.  There were to be no charges at the European end.

We had to provide Alejandra with some documents a couple of weeks before departure:

  • Copy of Owners Passport
  • Registration Document for Truck (V5)
  • Customs Form from Uruguay Border 

She was very happy to receive scans of these documents.  We had scans of the V5 and my passport which we sent straight away but we had to wait until crossing into Uruguay before sending the customs form (obviously). This was quickly and easily scanned using a digital camera. We emailed the file on our first night in Uruguay.

As a result of providing all the documentation up front we wouldn’t need to visit MHSA’s office until the day that we would take the truck to the port.

One concern that we had was payment and we learnt that the local payment was required in cash and in USD on the day that we were shipping however the bulk of the payment could be made by international transfer once we were back home.

The good thing about Uruguay, unlike its large southern neighbour, is that US Dollars are readily available and in fact dispensed by most cashpoints. Our experience in Uruguay was that only the more modern cash machines accepted our foreign cards and the more basic and older machines just wouldn’t give us any money. These modern machines also gave out US Dollars – most of the time. In Montevideo all the machines are new but in the the more rural parts of the country the older machines are more common.

Alejandra had asked us to come into their offices in central Montevideo on any of three days before our shipping date. We decided to leave it as late as possible and deliver our truck the day before the ship was due to leave (a Uruguayan bank holiday did push us down this route somewhat though).

We spent the night before parked at the beach a few miles short of Montevideo and then drove in to the city the next morning to get to the offices fairly early.

MHSA Offices

MHSA Offices

MHSA’s offices are in the old town of Montevideo with fairly narrow streets and no easy parking. For smaller vehicles there would be no problem parking on the street or even in a couple of parking garages nearby. We decided to park on the “Rambla” which is the big road running around the sea front and port. There was technically no parking but we didn’t have any problems.

On visiting the office we paid over the local fee in US Dollars and then were told to come back in the afternoon in order to take the truck to the port.

Given that we had a few hours to kill we drove up to Punta Carretas, a small headland park surrounded by water. We parked up by the water and proceeded to wash the truck.  We’d been trying for almost a week to find somewhere to get the truck washed for us and completely failed so we thought we might as well do it ourselves. (For those smaller than us there is actually an indoor car park about 50m from the MHSA office which will wash your vehicle – we debated whether we would fit and in the end decided we were just too big).

Washing the Beast in Montevideo

Washing the Beast in Montevideo

We were back on the Rambla ready to go at the appropriate time. After popping back into the office we were back in the truck following our fixer in a car towards the port.

Security at Montevideo Port

Security at Montevideo Port

Once at the port we had to have our photos taken and get a security pass for the port.

Truck Scales

Truck Scales

After having the Beast weighed we had a customs inspection. This involved our fixer talking to the customs official for a couple of minutes and persuading him that he didn’t actually need to take a look to which he eventually agreed.

Driving through the Port

We then drove through the port to a muddy lot which was the holding area for all the vehicles going on RORO. Here we had to leave our lovely home and wave goodbye, crossing our fingers that in 4 weeks time we would be picking the Beast up undamaged thousands of km’s away in Europe.

Our Last view of The Beast in South America

Our Last view of The Beast in South America

The fixer dropped us back at the MHSA office where it was easy enough to get a taxi to the hotel we had booked for the night.

Alejandra gave us some contact details for Grimaldi in Antwerp who we needed to talk to before our ship arrived in order to arrange payment and pickup.

Grimaldi Belgium NV (Antwerp)
Brouwersvliet 37
2000
Antwerp
Belgium
 
+32 3545 9430
+32 3541 4275
 
grimaldi@grimaldi.be
j.coremans@grimaldi.be
c.costrop@grimaldi.be
l.dewit@grimaldi.be
l.bos@grimaldi.be
m.laurent@grimaldi.be
n.verdin@grimaldi.be

Colonia del Sacramento

July 24, 2013
Oldest Street in Colonia

Oldest Street in Colonia

Colonia is a beautiful city in the South West of Uruguay. It is one of the oldest cities in the country and was established in 1680 as a walled town.  The city itself changed hands between the Spanish and the Portuguese before finally coming to rest as part of Uruguay in 1828.

Old car in Colonia

The old part of the city has been designated as a World Heritage Site.  It seems sometimes that most of the places we go are Unesco designated some seemingly without too much merit. However Colonia was truly deserving as a beautiful old colonial city.

Colonia Church

We found a quiet campsite just outside the city which we could use to easily cycle into the centre and also sort our camper out before taking it for shipping back to Europe.

We did take a small trip in the truck to the massive bull ring in Colonia – the Plaza de Toros Real de San Carlos. This was built in 1910 to host bull fights but unfortunately the Uruguayan government outlawed bull fighting 2 years later so it became a white elephant and is now crumbling and derelict.

Colonia Bullring

Plaza de toros real de San Carlos

This was to be our last few days of camper living, BBQing and enjoying the sun.  We took the opportunity to buy some great steaks from a local butcher and our last grill of the trip turned out to be one of the best meals that we’d had in our two years on the road.

Cooking our Last BBQ

I don’t quite know how we’re going to the go back to European beef when we go home after having such amazing steak while we’ve been in South America.

Best meal ever

We cycled into town which was only 10 minutes away and enjoyed the old walled town and the small but beautiful historic area.  The Chivito sandwich is the traditional dish from this part of the world and we couldn’t resist visiting a restaurant which served the “King Chivito” and very tasty it was too.

King Chivito Uruguay

The town itself is very leafy and feels quite European. Throughout the town there are a number of vintage cars that are parked up as features and even a few that work !

colonia street

The downside of this part of Uruguay at this time of year is the large amount of mosquitos that were around seemingly all day (in the shade) and at dusk.  After stitching some holes in the old faithful mosquito net up it went once again to provide us with some relief.

Leafy Colonia Street

 

We did find a cool preying mantis under our truck – we were hoping he’d eat mosquitoes for us but I’m not sure they do that.

mantis

While we were in Colonia we had to get the truck ready for shipping.  So we spent part of the week emptying out our cupboards and lockers to throw away all the useless things that we had collected over the last 2 years. We also dumped some things that were at the end of their useful lives such as some clothes and our long suffering BBQ.  Our bicycles and remaining food went to the very friendly campsite owners but we did manage to drink all our remaining booze.

colonia window

Southern Uruguay

July 4, 2013

Lighthouse stairs

After a few relaxing days in Santa Teresa we continued our journey South knowing that we had to be in Montevideo in a couple of weeks as we had organised shipping for the Beast back to Europe.

Lighthouse at La Paloma

Driving down the coastal road was a joy with a good road surface and almost no traffic. We stopped at a town called La Paloma.

Room with a view in Paloma

The town is really the first proper Uruguayan town that we had come across with a supermarket and thankfully the first ATM that we could get to work.  There’s also a big lighthouse in town which we couldn’t resist climbing with some lovely views along the coast.

Lighthouse View

Just outside town situated on a long deserted beach is a huge campsite which has capacity for well over 1000 people. We stayed here a few nights and had the place to ourselves with a lovely shaded site on grass.

Camping in Paloma

The weather in Uruguay was treating us really well with almost unbroken sunshine, unseasonably warm temperatures all coupled with beautiful long sandy deserted beaches.

Hand in the Sand

Our next stop after La Paloma was to move south to the famous resort of Punta del Este. This is an upscale resort which is frequented by the rich and famous of both Uruguay and Argentina.  However its only busy for a couple of months a year and the rest of year is off season. Walking around town it felt like we’d missed the zombie apocalypse as the streets were completely empty. We decided to move on straight away as it was too built up for our liking.

Punta del Este

Punta del Este is the South most point of the ocean coast but we continued to move towards Montevideo along the coast of the estuary of the Rio de la Plata. We stopped for the night in Piriapolis a coastal resort whose glory days are long behind it.

Piriapolis Beach

The centrepiece of the town is the Hotel Argentino which was a post-war gin palace frequented by the monied from Buenos Aires.  After a night in an empty campground – well empty apart from swarms of very hungry mosquitos we moved on the very beautiful old fortified town of Colonia.

Piriapolis Hotel

Santa Teresa National Park

June 18, 2013

Wild beach at Santa Teresa

Our first stop off in Uruguay was just over the border at the small seaside town of Barra del Chuy. We found a massive campsite with over 500 pitches which was completely deserted. This was to become a theme in coastal Uruguay during our visit.

Beach at Barra del Chuy

It seems that Uruguay has a three month summer season of December to February and outside of that there is no one around.

The beach at Barra del Chuy was big and empty but we didn’t stick around too long to enjoy it.

Fort at Santa Teresa

Just 25km down the coast is the Santa Teresa National Park which was set up to protect a fortress which was constructed in 1762 by the Portuguese.  The park is not just about the fortress though as there are a number of big wild beaches in the park as well.

Santa Teresa Fort main gates

For overlanders Santa Teresa is a wonderful place as there are hundreds of camping spots in shaded woodland.  There is even a section between the fortress and the beach which has power and water for which there is a small charge. There are many other free camping spots throughout the park which are free and provide lovely shaded sites.

Sunset at Santa Teresa NP

The area where we camped had two other overlanders and a couple of Brasilian groups. However it’s a big area so we didn’t feel crowded. It’s a really beautiful and relaxed place to spend a few days, however we were there out of season and things may be very different during the high season.

On the Beach at Santa Teresa

In the massive park there are a number of beautiful beaches and some great surfing and if that’s not enough there is an ornamental garden and a small wildlife park with some amazing coloured birds as well as some of the indigenous mammals.

Rhea at Santa Teresa

 

Marmoset in Santa Teresa wildlife park

While staying at Santa Teresa we also visited Laguna Negra and Punta del Diablo which is a laid back beach town just outside the park. It was deserted although we did find a small supermarket to stock up our fridge with some great steaks for grilling.  Preferring the peaceful beachside campsites in the National Park we decided to head back there and chill out, although it looked like there may have been some great free camping in the dunes to the South of the town.

On the beach at Punta del Diablo

Border Crossing: Brasil to Uruguay at Chui/Chuy

June 18, 2013
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As we’d been driving down the coast and because we wanted to visit the Northern beaches in Uruguay the quiet border at Chui (the Brasilian spelling) or Chuy (the Uruguayan spelling) was our best choice. The road to the border in Brasil branches at Pelotas with most of the trucks heading the opposite way – this meant that we found the border at Chui to be quiet and relaxed.

Brasil Border

As with all of the borders in South America we found the crossing quick and easy. The people we came across were friendly and efficient.

We first arrived at the Brasilian border post where we were directed to park just off the road (albeit blocking another loop of the road) a few metres before the border building.

Inside Brasil Border

The building itself was very organised with numbered signs above each window indicating the order of the steps to be taken. As usual the immigration was first up followed by customs. The process went quickly and smoothly although the woman at customs did want to check the VIN (identification) number of  the truck.

Entering Uruguay

Once through the Brasilian side we continued along the road which forks to the town of Chui or to Uruguay.

The town of Chui is slightly strange as it crosses the border with the main street marking the split between the two countries with signs in Portuguese on one side and Spanish on the other and of course the shops on one side of the street price everything in Reals and the other in Pesos!

Uruguay Border at Chui

We took the fork in the road to the border and soon came across the border building where there is a big concrete construction built over the road.  We were flagged down (by a bloke in plain clothes who we were initially quite suspicious of!) and directed to park just in front of the concrete construction and hopped out of the truck to visit the building on the right.

Uruguay Immigration

We were quickly stamped in at immigration and then moved to the customs table where the ‘suspicious looking’ man who had flagged us down processed us and turned out to be the chief official! He was very friendly and filled in the forms to give us a Temporary Import Permit.

Uruguay Customs

He wanted to come out and check out the truck and we initially thought this was going to be a food inspection and that we might lose some of our stores. Other people have had food inspections coming into Uruguay (at other borders) and these have been quite strict. However it turned out that the customs guy was thinking about buying a motorhome and just wanted a look inside!

After this we were done and drove off. We were hoping that the road would lead to the town because we needed some money from an ATM. However the highway just headed South so we turned around – back down the highway, past the border  and back into the town.

We didn’t have any luck getting money on the Uruguayan side of the town as the only cashpoint we could find didn’t accept foreign cards.  Not to be thwarted, we crossed over to the Brasilian side where there were several banks doling out Brasilian Reals, filled up our wallets and crossed back over the street to one of the hundreds of moneychangers and finally, in a roundabout way, we managed to get our hands on some Pesos.

Porto Alegre and a Gaucho Feast

June 2, 2013

The South of Brasil is the home of Gaucho culture and with it the world’s best grilling of meat. Everywhere you go are Churrascaria restaurants where skewers of meat are carved off onto your plate at the table. The meat keeps coming until you are defeated by the sheer quantity.

In the Kitchen

In Brasil the spiritual home of Churrascaria is the Southern city of Porto Alegre and in this town one of the best is Galpao Crioulo. The restaurant is right in the middle of the city but we were relieved to find wide streets and ample secure parking right outside the restaurant.

A GAucho Welcome

A GAucho Welcome

As we walked up to the entrance we were greeted by a Gaucho server grilling meat in the traditional way on upright spits over an open fire.

Once inside the meat started coming, and despite making a small error in visiting the salad/sides bar, we revelled in at least 12 different types of meat carved at our table by a bunch of really friendly waiters. We were very surprised by the chicken hearts that were very tasty but the highlight was really the 3 or 4 different types of beef which was amazing. As a tip just focus on the meat and don’t fill up at the salad bar – don’t waste the space !

Spits cooking

While we were eating there was a display of Gaucho dancing including a guy spinning a bola blindfolded,  around a volunteer’s head. Rather him than me !

After we finished eating (and had rested long enough to be able to move) we went outside where there was more traditional dancing and singing round the outside fire.Dancing Outside

 

It was a fantastic Saturday afternoon and when we finally left we drove a few miles south before finding somewhere to spend the night and sleep off our meat sweats !

Muddy Water

We had one final stop in Brasil which was the holiday town of Cassino. The town is set up as a sea -side resort for Uruguyans and Argentinians but we just couldn’t see the attraction. It didn’t help that the sea was really muddy and the beach particularly windswept. It may just be the time of year but we were definitely not enamoured.

Mountains in Brasil

May 26, 2013

Despite the mixed weather we decided to head into the mountains (well really hills compared to much of South America) of Rio Grande du Sul. The mountains in Rio Grande are the one place in Brasil where it occasionally snows.

Church in Praia Grande

Our first stop was the town of Praia Grande where we checked with the local tourist office that the road into the mountains that was labelled on our maps as a 4×4 only track was passable in a truck of our side. The answer, in a mangled mix of Spanish and Portugese, was pretty ambiguous but we decided to give it a shot anyway. The alternative route was a lot further and paved the whole way but where is the fun in that.

Bad Road

The plan was to drive up into the mountains and visit the Parque Nacional dos Aparados da Serra which has a number of huge canyons breaking up the edge of the mountain plateau. The road started off as paved with rocky breaks on the corners but soon became unpaved. As soon as we gained some altitude the temperature dropped, the clouds closed in and the visibility dropped. This scotched any idea we had of getting views.

Canela Waterfall

As the weather was killing any views we kept driving and after a particularly challenging short cut where the road narrowed and roughened we ended up on a paved road to the resort town of Canela. This is popular with Brazilians as a great place to escape the heat of the rest of the country.

Canela Waterfall 2

In Canela we visited the amazing Parque Estadual de Caracol whose centrepiece is a massive 131 metre waterfall. There are several viewpoints for this including the bottom of an 800 step staircase at the foot of the falls.  There are a number of other smaller waterfalls here and a nice walk through the forest where we saw coati.

Another Canela waterfall

After spending the night just outside the parque we awoke to a grey miserable day so we decided to drive back out of the mountains, through the incredibly touristy town of Gramado and back down to sea level.  Descending back to the lowlands was rewarded by improving weather as blue sky broke out through the clouds. Looking back to the mountains we could see a band of dark grey clouds hovering over where we had been.

Temple 3

We had heard that near the town of Tres Coroas that there was the largest Buddhist Temple in the Americas. We had a bit of trouble finding our way there but eventually we found the steep cobbled road that took us up to the hilltop temple. Once we had negotiated the security on the door – an automatic gate which is only opened by talking to a monk on an intercom (who only speaks Portugese).

Buddhist Temple

The temple itself is amazing with really ornate buildings and temples including buildings with massive powered prayer wheels which turn constantly supposedly distributing the prayers inside to the winds.

Temple 2

Porto Belo and Florianopolis

May 14, 2013

Florianopolis Beach 2

We came back down to the coast after exploring the Valle Europa and decided that it was time to find a nice beach to rest up on for a couple of days.

We drove into a peninsula called Porto Belo in search of our perfect beach. The first town is Porto Belo itself where the beach front is built up and it’s pretty difficult to get near the beach itself. Despite help from the local tourist information office we couldn’t find anywhere near the town to park for the night.

Small Beachside Village

We explored a narrow road up a peninsula with little Mediterranean-esque villages. It was very pretty but we were much too big for the road so we headed back to the main road.

We visited a town on the other side of the peninsula called Bombinhas  which was a bit bigger but there was no camping here and it was still difficult to access the beach. We kept going and eventually ended up in a really quiet area called Canto Grande.

Canto Grande

To our surprise we found a full service RV park which was completely empty. There was even a big building at one end with grills, sinks, table football and a pool table. We enjoyed having the place to ourselves and making it even better was a lovely deserted beach only 100 metres away.

RV Park

We spent a couple of days in Porto Belo and then drove a bit further South to the Island of Florianopolis. The bridge over to the island has the city of Florianopolis on either side and this is the capital city of Santa Catarina with over a million people. We took the opportunity to stock up at a big supermarket but didn’t hang around in the very busy city. Instead we drove to the Eastern side of the island and found a campground on a causeway cutting a big lagoon in half.

Oldest Church in Florianopolis

Oldest Church in Florianopolis

Unfortunately soon after arriving on the island it started to rain – hard.  This meant that when we went to explore the island the following morning there was some flooding. We didn’t have a problem with the water but all the cars had to turn round.

A road in Brasil

The island has some beautiful beaches but we couldn’t find any deserted beaches with no buildings to camp on or next to, so in the end we didn’t hang about in these areas for too long.

Floreanopolis Beach

 

 

While walking on one of the beaches in Florianopolis we were joined by the scary looking dog pictured below. Fortunately he was perfectly friendly and befriended us for the whole walk.

 

 

Freaky eyed Dog