Category Archives: brazil

And then it was over

australian-flag-mapAs I sat on the flat, spongy mattress of a cobbled together dorm room near the airport on the island of Tahiti listening to the woes of an eighteen year old French lad who’d had his money and laptop stolen whilst on a cruise out to the Tuamotus and now didn’t have any other option but to wait for a flight home, I realised that this too was the end of my journey.

Well, not really. If Stage 1 had been my initial South American adventures within Ecuador and Peru, and Stage 2 my previous time in Australia and New Zealand, then this travel through Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador followed by a delivery sail from the Galapagos Islands to Tahiti could be deemed Stage 3.

So Stage 3 was drawing to a close. There would still be more adventures up ahead, surely?

One of my favourite modern-day philosophers, Alain de Botton, says: ‘We’re getting better at learning how to structure journeys so that they can assuage what we’re lacking within us.’ And when I looked inside myself and questioned what was lacking (and causing a bit of concern), it was simple: health, familiarity, money. And a big, fat cuddle.

The biggest issue was my health, and my body was begging me to settle for a while. In the last few months, Bolivia had physically punished me and although I’d felt fairly healthy – inactive but healthy – during the Pacific crossing, now Tahiti had delivered up a fever thanks to some tropical sores, sores that stretched the skin on my left leg so tight that touch shot sharp tingles right down to my foot and up to my thigh. My immune system was shot. (I think if you’d told me then that I’d still have another two loads of antibiotics coming up once I was back in Australia, I would have cried. Seven lots of antibiotics within six months? Sorry body. Some people deal better with South America.)

I booked the cheapest flight back to Australia that I could find. But where to? Melbourne had been my original choice destination, a cultural city with opportunities for work and an agreeable cost of living, but Sydney was starting to appeal to me with its sailing scene. So why was I descending into a peachy, sunset Brisbane in mid-June?

I thought back to my French friend and hoped that his misfortunes hadn’t overly soured his impressions of paradise or deterred him from the wonders of travel. Life without travel, without adventure? Unimaginable.

I got off the plane, cursed the fact I’d worn flip-flops and a vest top as I shivered into an Aussie winter, and paused for a moment before I stepped through the Arrivals doors. My heart beating faster and a smile twitching on my lips, I pushed my airport trolley into a politely crowded Arrivals lounge. Still far from my UK home, Australia would be home for now.

Stage 4 starts. An empty page. Some good ideas, hopes and needs, but no plans or expectations. But definitely adventures. Always.

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Filed under australia, bolivia, brazil, ecuador, moorea, new zealand, oceania, pacific, peru, solo travel, south america, tahiti, travel

I just upped and went: the beauty, freedom and spontaneity of unplanned solo travel

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Pondering the next move: beautiful freedom or solo decision weightiness?

One rainy day back in Sucre I felt super flat. New friends had left and moved on and I was still sick. I sat sipping some coca tea by myself in the hostel kitchen, gazing out at a blanket of greyness, the odd flash of lightning streaking the early evening sky.

At this stage I had been living out of my backpack for eight months and I was having  one of those travel moments where I felt pretty lost and alone. Travel tired? Maybe. But did I want to go home? Where was home? Nope, it wasn’t a consideration. I thought hard about what would put the spark back into my travels.

A couple of days later I booked what I hoped would be my final flight for a little while: a one way ticket to Galapagos. Why, oh why, though, was I heading back to Ecuador? And why am I once again heralding solo travel?

Travelling with someone else is beautiful.Friend, partner, lover, whatever, – to share special moments on your journey is undoubtedly something to be treasured. I met back up with a friend in Brazil, someone I’d wandered with before. Travelling with them for three months previously had been easy; decision making fluid and compromise pretty unproblematic. No mean feat when we were in each other’s pockets 24/7.

But paths and desires inevitably take different turns and when my friend announced that Colombia was the next step, I wasn’t so sure. I did want to go to Colombia but there was the ticket price to take in to account (it required a flight) and there was my own personal journey to consider. And my gut instinct told me to do something different.

Three days later, I ended up on a bus making its way through Paraguay to Bolivia. It was one of the best decisions of my travels.

Travelling in a group is fun.Bolivia turned out to be a nuisance to my health but completely blessed in terms of the people I met, the landscapes and natural wonders that I encountered and the experiences that I had.

Strangely enough, despite all the amazing things that Bolivia presented me with, most significant to me were the other travellers that I befriended. Party people, caring people, fun people, thoughtful people, adventurous people, genuine people. People a little, no, a lot like me. We clicked.

Arriving into La Paz with a few of them gave a different angle to arriving into a big, South American city. It was more fun, less of a mission. So what if I ended up changing my plans a bit so that I could stay and hang out with them for a little while? Absolutely worth it. Lake Titicaca will still be there in a few years’ time, if I choose to come back. Hopefully some of these friendships will still be around too.

But then our paths started to part. If compromise with two of you is difficult enough, try it with a group of five or more. Nah, best to go get on with your own thing and meet back up to share stories and fun times when your paths next cross.

Travelling solo is freedom. When in Sucre I wondered what would really inspire and excite and challenge me. I suddenly returned to this random thought: I have my RYA Competent Crew and Day Skipper qualifications, I’m a little scared of the massive oceans, I like to face my fears. Wouldn’t a Pacific crossing be an amazing adventure?!

Not having to consider anyone else, I got right on it. Within a few hours I’d started the research, within a few days I’d heard back from skippers who needed crew for the crossing, and within a week I had booked a one way ticket to the Galapagos Islands with no real certainty that I had a place on a boat.

But I had bucket loads of enthusiasm and a whole lot of hope and trust that life would deliver something special. If it meant I ended up stranded in the Galapagos for a few weeks, how bad could it be? A slight monetary concern, but little else.

This is what I wanted my travels and adventuring to be about. Freedom for my path to unfold.

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Filed under bolivia, brazil, ecuador, random, sailing, solo travel, south america

What’s in my backpack?

www.travelola.orgPEOPLE HAVE ASKED ME ABOUT a post that I wrote a little while back where I downsized my backpack from an 80 litre to a 45 litre bundle of joy.

How did I do it? What am I carrying?

I wasn’t totally sure so one day in Sucre I laid it all out and took stock. I had bought a couple of extra things, but it still surprised me: it looked like a lot.

  1. Wash bag. This tough bag by North Face is waterproof but although it holds things in snugly, I find it a bit awkward to use on a daily basis.
  2. First aid kit. Everything from antibiotics to anti-malarials and antiseptics. Anti-everything, then. Oh, and some vitamins, plasters/band-aids and a thermometer.
  3. Second wash bag. Yes. Two washbags. Excessive. This one contains items that I don’t use often, such as anti-mosquito spray, make-up for nights out, spare razor blades, that kind of stuff.
  4. Electronics pouch containing chargers and cables. And a converter that works EVERYWHERE.
  5. Sun hat. My third one in the last year. The Inca Jungle Trail claimed one, a bus in Ecuador another. I get sunstroke and sunburnt fairly easily so head protection is a must.
  6. Merino buff®. This works out to be a scarf, hat, muff or whatever you want it to be. I barely used this but it is small, light and has been a blessing during some chilly moments, like in Cuenca.
  7. Zip up tops x3. One hooded fleece, one lightweight base layer and one heavier, lined hoodie.
  8. A RAB down jacket that folds down into its own pocket, and a raincoat. The raincoat was used fairly regularly, and although it took a month and half before I needed some extra warmth, the down jacket was a beautiful cuddle when I visited the glacier in Peru.
  9. Travel towel.  A little bigger than I needed; smaller would have been fine.
  10. Pants/undies/bra x10. There is no point skimping on underwear, I realised, so I stocked up in New Zealand.
  11. Legwarmers x2. Some Bolivian additions that are well loved in the chilly climate.
  12. Socks x4. One thicker pair for walking, the rest cotton. Other than when I went on hikes or travelled in Bolivia, for most of my travels my socks stay have stayed buried at the bottom of my bag.
  13. Eye-mask. Nothing exotic, just a freebie from the airplane but I wouldn’t travel without. Totally useful in hostels or when on overnight public transport.
  14. Shorts x 3. One longer pair, one roll-up, and one short. Two pairs would suffice.
  15. Jeans, combats and zip-off synthetic walking trousers. People say not to travel with jeans. Well I like them, so tough (and I have to carry my bag so I only have to face myself on that one really). I did downsize from proper jeans to skinny legs to save on a bit of space, but actually these are less versatile and only worn in cities or on nights out.
  16. Silk sleeping bag liner. I’ve used this less than I expected but the moments when I need some extra warmth or an extra layer between me and the bed bugs, it is great.
  17. Skirts x 2 and one dress. My skirts are all casual but absolutely adaptable for when I need to glam up a little.
  18. Black leggings and PJs. When I got to Oz I downsized my PJs to a shorty set to save on space. The leggings are great worn under trousers or with a skirt when it is cold.
  19. T-shirts x4: black, blue, yellow and white patterned. Versatile. Nothing fancy.
  20. Belt. Not always needed but was still worth having, either to hold my trousers up when I lost weight after my parasite incident back in Ecuador, or to open bottles with the built in opener (something I only discovered en route).
  21. Bikini. I did start my trip with two bikinis but my favourite set got left behind on a washing line in Raglan, New Zealand. One bikini, realistically, was enough.
  22. Long sleeved t-shirts x5. Mostly in plain, light cotton ideal for layering, these are adaptable to smart or casual situations. One of my favourites for that extra snug hug is my Howies’ merino top (although it has been so well worn that it is now pretty holey. Want to send me a new one, guys?!).
  23. Vest tops x 7. It may sound like too many, but I do use them all. Pretty much. And they don’t take up much space at all. Two of the seven were more going out style tops.
  24. Teva hiking sandals. Brown leather, these can come across fairly smart when I need them to whilst still being totally practical and cushioned comfortable.
  25. Salomon hiking shoes. Dark brown colour is perfect for making these not stand out too much or show the dirt too obviously. These are my go-everywhere shoes that are comfy, have good grip and are Goretex® waterproofed. The only downside is that in some countries I’ve found them to be a little too hot.
  26. Converse casual shoes. I didn’t have a pair of ‘hang-out’ shoes and didn’t intend to get any either as my trainers had doubled up fine for this purpose… but then in Bolivia I decided to buy myself a cheap pair of Converses. Probably fake but they fit and do the job.
  27. Flat, strappy sandals. Super light, these barely take up any space at all. After a backpacker in New Zealand lent me some sandals for a night out, I decided to go girly and get in on the action. And these sandals have actually been well used.
  28. Flip flops. I travelled for six months with just one pair but when I got to Brazil, home of the Havaianas, I couldn’t leave without another! Totally useful, including when using communal showers.
  29. Head torch. Most used item in my backpack, maybe? I keep this close at night and pack it at the top of my bag so that when arriving, for example, into a power cut Villa Serrano late at night, I can still find my way.

It is a lot, yet somehow it all fits into my 45 litre Berghaus backpack. Sure, it’s a bit of a squash but it weighs in at 15kg and is a doddle to carry around. I guess I should mention that I use some roll down vacuum bags. They’re great for packing things down small and keeping similar things together.

And! – I carry a little day pack with my sunglasses, wallet, water, pen, paper, and other valuables that I want close by, including a fake wallet with some old cards and a bit of cash so that if I get mugged, I can hand over something without losing everything. I always carry a photocopy of my passport (in each wallet) and I’ve found laminating them to be really helpful (compared to other travellers’ tatty bits of paper that means they often have to still produce real identification, my copied ID often  gets me past official  check points without any bother).

Looking at the above picture, I realise that I could quite easily prune my luggage a lot further but there does come a point where it’s quite nice having SOME choice.

So, if YOU’RE heading off soon and thinking of throwing in hair straighteners and high heels, just stop for a moment and think about the kind of travelling that you’ll be doing. A weekend in Paris? Maybe. A month trekking and roughing it? Nah. The tousled, flip flopped look will work just fine. Trust me.

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Travel tired after eight months? Happy to keep going?

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Waiting for the bus back home? I don’t think so. Not just yet.

There’ll come a point where you’ll just want to stop’, said my friend Jim. I was chatting to him about another friend who had hit the travel tired moment that most backpackers experience at some point, if not at many points.

I had taken time out of whizzing around South America and New Zealand to be based up in Byron Bay, Australia for just over a month. This in itself was a bit of a challenge after an otherwise very nomadic lifestyle with different places and beds every few nights.

Whilst it was wonderful to unpack my bag, hang out with people that knew me and meet a new group of fun, active and interesting people, I knew I hadn’t yet hit that point of wanting to stop. I was thirsty to return to South America and continue my journey there.

The language, the culture and the simpler approach to life over in South America all somehow felt more comfortable and welcoming to me than the gloss and riches of developed nations. Luckily for me, my ticket was easily reversed so rather than continue on to Asia or stay in Australia, I headed back across the Pacific and landed in Brazil to continue my South American adventuring.

But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t hit travel tired moments. During one of the lows I decided to bring together experiences – mine and others – and put together an article of sorts. You can read it here.

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Brazil to Bolivia by bus (and an apology to Paraguay)

You know when there is no other option but to laugh? The bus in front of me was about as far away from luxury as I could have hoped for and I was going to be on it for the next 22 hours. At least. Oh joy. Would I even make it to Bolivia?

The previous night I’d left Foz do Iguaçu at midnight on board the amazing comfort and space of a Sol del Paraguay bus destined for Asunción in Paraguay. Although I’m now pretty hardened to long distance bus travel, when unexpected luxury enters the mix, it’s a wonderful surprise.

Just across the border into Paraguay there was a visible return to South American poverty. Tens of makeshift tents lined the roadside leading up to the bus terminal of Ciudad del Este, little hives of activity, some adults and lots of kids spilling out onto the pavement. Blankets and bodies and unforgiving concrete. Such a contrast to the comfort that I was privileged to be experiencing.

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Sunrise in Bolivia, not far past the first border crossing

The bus drove on into the night, a smooth service that allowed me to sleep for a few hours. I almost wished the journey to be longer. But come 06:00am, I was back to a chaotic reality of cramped shops and money exchange stalls within Asunción bus station.

It would be unfair of me to comment on Asunción (or Paraguay as a whole) because my time there consisted of bus terminals, taxi rides, border crossings and a daytime sleep in a hostel with an unusually old clientele. I was battling infection, sore throat and a high temperature. The real threat of Dengue fever (discussed on the news the very night I was there) was enough to make me want to push on to a more trodden path where my poor Spanish and ill health would be less problematic.

So Paraguay, I am sorry for not stopping by and giving you a chance. Another time.

Having bought Bolivia bus tickets for that same night, I split a taxi with two English girls. The ride right across town cost 40,000₲. It sounded a small fortune but in reality Paraguay is South America´s second poorest economy and 40,000₲ is just US$9.32 or £5.92. We passed by some NSA buses. We’d booked through NSA. Their buses looked great. We were in for another nice journey.

So back to the start where I’m boarding the bus for Bolivia in Asunción bus station. Although I laughed when I saw the actual bus, I also felt that little trapdoor of gloom pull open and frustration start to bubble out of its depths. Despite a snatch of sleep in a hostel during the day, I still physically felt like absolute crap. Disgusting toilets (avoid use), limited stops with bush hideouts, 03:00am border crossings and military checks and a man who nicked my window seat were all things I had to look forward to. All I really wanted were crisp, cool sheets on a comfy, bug free bed in a Westernised country. And I wanted a cuddle from my mum. Or someone nice.

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One of many immigration stops en route from Paraguay to Bolivia

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Another military stop and´the bus´

The bus was pretty full. Although close to the front, I couldn’t see out: not only had the co-driver shut and locked the door to the front section but heavy curtains blocked any view. In my experience, this is pretty standard for buses in South America.

Across the aisle was sitting a thick set, broad bottomed woman with long, glossy hair. She took out a cup and flask from her bag and started to make up some mate. Sipping slowly on the straw, she eventually finished, put everything away and reclined her seat. She turned on her side, had a bit of a wriggle around and was finally comfortable, cushioned by the chair and a good dose of curves.

Raul, the guy who had taken my seat, received a call shortly after we set off. He smiled down the phone. ‘I’m on the bus’, he said, ‘it’s great. Air conditioned, food, reclining bed seats’.

And I thought, hell yeah, who cares about a seriously shabby appearance, about a looped Bruce Willis movie where the sound is screwed, about dry bread and chicken nugget dinners, about the many stops and bumpy, dire roads I was due to encounter over the next day. It really could be worse.

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Buses leave regularly from Ciudad del Este, Paraguay for the five to six hour journey to Asunción. If you want to leave from Foz do Iguaçu, as I did, then Sol has a service leaving at midnight that costs R$40 (£14.55). Buses for Santa Cruz, Bolivia leave Asunción at 20:00pm most nights (not Thursday and possibly not Sunday). A number of offices on the top floor of the terminal sell tickets but the most reputable seems to be the official NSA office where tickets cost 250,000₲ (£37.02) (cash/card) or US$60 (£37.73) (cash only). The journey takes 22 hours and includes many military stops and border checks including stamps in and out of Paraguay and Bolivia. It feels like an extended process where the first check point is in the middle of the night, the last some time around midday. There are basic meals on board but I would recommend bringing some water, at the very least.

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Blowing the budget in Brazil

Português: Verso da moeda de 10 centavos da se...

Brazil is undeniably beautiful and fun. I partied, I indulged in good food and I visited quirky places and and beaches and natural wonders. But despite staying part of the time with a friend, I still spent a lot of money. Because, as all backpackers I’ve met agree, Brazil is expensive. Having overtaken the UK in 2012 to become the sixth strongest economic force in the world, it’s easy to see how exchange rates aren’t going to be particularly favourable for many of us.

Overall, my daily budget in Brazil came to R$90.74 (£43.02) per day but it’s worth being aware that I spent quite a lot of my time in in the main cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and on Ilha Grande, none of which were the cheapest of places.  My expenses were pretty standard with no major splurges other than nights out. I did visit Iguazu Falls, which cost R$172(£62.55) for both the Argentinian and the Brazilian sides but was totally worth every penny. And the only actual purchase I made was a pair of Havaianas for R$18 (£6.55). I love living in flip flops and as I was visiting the birthplace of the worlds ‘best’ flip flops (or thongs, if you must), it had to be done.

Here’s a rough idea of costs:

R$ £
Hostel bed R$45 £16.36
1.5l bottle water R$3 £1.09
Cheapish meal out R$30 £10.91
Bus travel (per hour) R$10 £3.64
Taxi ride (2km-5km) R$10-R$20 £3.64-£7.27
Club entry R$30 £10.91
Beer R$6 £2.18
Capairinha R$14 £5.09

With very little effort, I way overspent in Brazil. But on my travels I’m not obsessing about sticking to a daily budget and I’ve accepted that you just have to go with the reality of the costs and deal with it. Even if it means cutting your stay short.

Next up: Bolivia, South America’s weakest economy, where I knew my money would go a little further. I hoped that less time in Brazil and more time in Bolivia would balance things out a bit.

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Iguazu Falls: Brazil, Argentina or both?

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The Devil’s Throat, Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Some people I met tried to tell me Iguazu wasn’t worth it. Give it a miss, they said. I’m glad I didn’t listen to them. And I’m equally as glad that I went to both the Brazilian side and the Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls.

I was staying in HI Paudimar Falls in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, a great set-up of a hostel with a social, laid back vibe, friendly staff (once you got past the newly arrived stage), excellent facilities, the luxury of a swimming pool and a little bar serving mean caipirinhas for R$4.

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Views from The Devil’s Throat over to the Brazilian side, Iguazu Falls, Argentina

The hostel arranged everything for my visit to the Argentinian side of the falls, including the option to do a boat trip depending on what I decided when I was actually there. Costing R$75 (£27.27), this trip included speedy transits through border crossings and entry to Parque Nacional de Iguazu. Additional costs were the boat rides into the waterfalls, starting at R$50 (£18.18).

Exploring the Argentinian side took the full day and I didn’t get to complete all of the mapped trails. It was an amazing day full of walks, boat rides and the feeling of being right in amongst the powerful rush of the falls. It all felt close and loud and immediate. The ground smelt damp and earthy and the air was thick with humidity and spray.

A trip out to the Brazilian side of the falls, if you’re based in Foz do Iguaçu, is easy to organise by yourself. Catch the No. 120 bus from Avenida Jorge Schimmelpfeng to the Parque National do Iguaçu, costing R$2.60 (£0.95) each way. Entrance is R$41.10 (£14.95) for foreigners and includes a short bus ride to the start.

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Iguazu Falls, Brazil

I jumped off at the first viewpoint with a small crowd of others. Something very noticeable was the lack of people compared to overcrowding on the Argentinian side. No bad thing. Together with a friend I walked along the pathway, stopping at various miradors to take in the scenery.

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The Devil’s Throat in the distance, Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Here on the Brazilian side the sound was less intense and the views of the waterfalls were more distant; wide and open they allowed you to get a sense of scale and perspective.

Towards the end was the one opportunity to get closer to the water; to get a little damp from the spray and take in an undisturbed view of El Garganta del Diablo – The Devil’s Throat. Yes, overall it felt more removed than the Argentinian side but it actually allowed one to appreciate the place as a whole.

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Iguazu Falls, Brazil

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I was glad to have visited both sides in order to get a broader, fuller picture of the place. The Brazilian side was a short trip out, needing no more than a few hours whereas visiting the Argentinian side of Iguazu required a full day.

If I had to suggest an order it would be to do the Brazilian side first and build up to the Argentinian side. And if you only get the opportunity to do one? Go for Argentina. It’s a powerful experience.

On the Brazilian side there are also options to do rafting and rappelling (at extra cost) and close by is a bird park that I didn’t visit but fellow backpackers highly recommended.

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Filed under activity & sport, argentina, brazil, natural wonders, south america, wow!

Ignorance at Iguazu Falls (but a whole lot of energy too)

I don’t know whether to cry or slap him. A casual flick and the cigarette butt tumbles into the wide jungle river. He saunters off. I think I shouted ‘no!’, but maybe I just thought it. Precious nature, one of the world’s natural wonders, contaminated by an ignorant man.

I’m at Iguazu Falls (ak.a. Iguassu Falls or Iguaçu Falls) on the Argentinian side. Paying R$75 through the hostel has turned out to be a good option with quicker, stress-free border crossings from Brazil and easy entry to the park.

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Catching the train to the Devil's Throat at Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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Whiskered fish in the jungle river at Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Once through the turnstiles, a two train trip takes me towards the Garganta del Diablo – the Devil’s Throat – where I wander along springy, metal walkways over an extensive jungle and river landscape, stopping only to watch black whiskered fish on a feeding frenzy, two foot masses competing for crumbs thrown in by rule-breaking visitors. And then I see the guy and witness the cigarette incident, and I’m upset.

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The Devil's Throat, Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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Feel the spray at The Devil's Throat, Iguazu Falls, Argentina

But time to appreciate what else is going on. The roar, no, the constant pounding of water is all-consuming. As it falls, lines and shapes in the stream mutate and tumble downwards with force, only to be bounced back up as puffs of cloudy spray.

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Views away from The Devil's Throat at Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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Views away from The Devil's Throat in Iguazu Falls, Argentina

I take some photos and then put away my camera. I squeeze myself into a gap, shut out the crowds and turn my face to be kissed by misty wetness, and I allow myself to be calmed by nature’s rumble.

And I stand and stare. In the truest sense of the word, it is awesome. If I was a believer, I’d have thanked God at this point. Instead I thank life (and my ticket company for reversing my flight back to South America so easily).

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By the bottom of Bossetti Falls at Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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San Martin Island and The Devil's Throat, Iguazu Falls in Argentina (Brazil land on the left)

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The beach on La Isla San Martin at Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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San Martin Falls and surrounding waterfalls at Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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San Martin Falls at Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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Mbigua and Gpque Bernabe Mendez Falls at Iguazu Falls, Argentina

I take a short, free ferry ride and eat a picnic lunch on the little island of San Martin, a place with a mini sandy beach and a steep, stepped climb to vistas of the San Martin Falls. I have a voucher for the boat ride into the falls that I can choose to use or return later to the hostel. At R$50, I’m weighing up cost over experience. Should I just go for it?

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A taster soaking at a smaller waterfall en route to The Devil's Throat at Iguazu Falls

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More of a soaking in the heavy spray of San Martin Falls at Iguazu Falls

Experience wins. Absolutely worth it. The only disappointment is that we don’t go in as far as I would hope beneath the rush of the Devil’s Throat, but we do still all get a good soaking and the thrill of the being so close to the power and force of the water is indescribable.

And it’s a blessing to get wet; the sun has been shining with such ferocity. Not that I’m complaining. It has been a perfect day to visit Iguazu.

Less than fifteen minutes later and I’m back on land. I sit on a rock to dry off and take in the scenery. I’ve forgotten about the man and his cigarette. I am just here, in the now, drinking in the beauty and energy of this amazing place. A precious moment.

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Drying off and taking in the views at Iguazu Falls

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Sun, sea, sand and… snorkelling on Ilha Grande

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Ilha Grande, Brazil

It was my first experience in a triple bunk hostel in a place that clearly practised rack ‘em and stack ‘em, where tripping over bags and inhaling recycled breath was to be expected.

I’d sailed into the simple docks of Abraão on Ilha Grande where touts eagerly awaited new arrivals offering rooms at rates that easily competed with my pre-booked hostel bed.

Once checked in, me and a friend set off to explore the village. It didn’t take long. Consisting of places to eat and shops stacked high with overpriced souvenirs and Havaianas, Abraão is fully established as a tourist spot.

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One of the main streets down to the beach in Ilha Grande, Brazil

Part of its appeal is the lack of vehicles. People walk and cycle about the place and little boats take visitors out on day trips to more remote beaches on the island. Sixteen trails of different lengths and difficulty are mapped out for walks across the island but it’s the beaches that are the main attraction, some perfect for lounging and swimming, others for snorkelling, others still for surfing.

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Praia Preta, Ilha Grande, Brazil

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Going snorkelling at Praia Preta, Ilha Grande, Brazil

I hired some snorkelling equipment (R$15) and made my way over to nearby Praia Preta with its dusting of black sand. I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Walking away from the crowds and right along to the rocks, however,  resulted in a pleasing reward in the shape of an enclosed bit of privacy.

Swim, snorkel, sun dry, read, chat, picnic, repeat. Good times.

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Praia Preta, Ilha Grande, Brazil

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Private hideaway, Ilha Grande, Brazil

And then what else to do on the island other than window shop, eat out and indulge on tasty desserts from outdoor sweets trolleys, and sit under twinkling fairy lights on the beachfront whilst listening to street musicians as night took hold?

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Sweets stall, Ilha Grande, Brazil

Overall, with more money I could have stayed here longer, exploring secluded bays, maybe doing some diving. But Brazil is expensive for backpackers, and little islands with inflated prices proved to be even more problematic. After three nights on Ilha Grande, I bade farewell to this cute little place and boarded a boat back to the mainland.

Getting to Ilha Grande from Rio de Janeiro is pretty straightforward and takes between three to four hours. You can either take a bus with Costa Verde from RODOVIARIA (main bus terminal in Rio) to Angra do Reis where you can catch a ferry or local boat to Vila do Abraão, or book a direct transfer through your hostel/hotel. The latter can work out a little cheaper if you factor in a taxi ride to the bus terminal. All in, travel to the island should cost you in the region of R$85. Speedy return transfers are easily booked when on the island and depart three times per day.

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Brazil celebrates: an International Women’s Day present

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International Women's Day, present from hotel

Brazil, with its first female president, seemed like a good place to be based for International Women’s Day in March 2012.

If I’m honest, as with so many celebrations and important days when you’re travelling, I really had no idea that anything special was meant to be happening.

But I arrived back into my hotel room after a busy day sightseeing in Taubaté (yes, the hard life of a traveller) and there, on the coffee table, was a big, balloon modelled flower along with a little note.

A nice and colourful surprise that got me thinking about the many strong and influential women out there doing all sorts of things to ensure a better, safer and more equal future for us all.

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