Saturday, June 6, 2015

Jericoacoara - Jijoca de Jericoacoara


Jijoca de Jericoacoara (Brazil) via Fortaleza (Brazil)
06 JUNE - 11 JUNE 2015


Paris, New York, London, Sydney - they're omnipotent in the consciousness of the mind of the traveler. They're the beacons that somehow draw you into their gravitational frame of reference. Somehow you feel compelled to visit and inevitably there's something that captures the imagination. They're locks. That's a given.

Other experiences of mine have been happy discoveries when 'sailing the seas of consequence', places like Buenos Aires (Argentina), Hallstat (Austria), Antigua (Guatemala), Caye Caulker (Belize), Cape Town (South Africa), Amalfi (Italy), El Tunco (El Salvador), El Chalten (Argentina) - there's probably a few more to add AND they're not so hidden. These places are well known but it was the unspecified consequence of chance and choice that delivered me to these locations without preconceived notions of what would exist, usually, but not always, being the route to take for the happiest of surprises....and then, you have a third category,  he 'randomly referred locations'.

I've found that the randomly referred location has also brought me a lot of joy over the years. Whilst those have been few and far between, mostly as travel discussions centre on the well traveled and traversed locales, some do happen to appear out of the blue. In this category I add Vang Vieng (Laos), Chefchaouen (Morocco), Huacachina (Peru) and Jericoacoara (Brazil).


Usually the randomly referred locations come in the form of legendary or fabled stories. I recall Vang Vieng being described to me as an Apocalypse Now type of setting, random bars located in the Lao jungle where drugged out hippies floated down the river on rubber inner tubes looking for their next giant water slide....(and guess what)...that was more or less the case (back then, FYI). In the same manner "Jeri" was sold to me as a hippie hangout, 'kumbaya' sing alongs on mountainous sand dunes overlooking the sea. Streets paved of golden sand and not a closed toe shoe within 50kms...(and guess what)....well, I'll get to that in the moment.

Our flight out of Foz du Iguaza was via Brasilia, landing in the city of Fortaleza early in the evening, a city of around 2.5 million people and the fifth largest in Brazil. Whilst this acted purely as a transit destination the city, or rather the beaches, were more than pleasant, and we spent a nice day working out the logistics of how to get to Jeri whilst downing beach side caipirinhas. This my friends was also the trigger for my downfall - once again....

 Fortaleza - Brazil


Fortaleza - Brasil

Whilst in Fortaleza we stayed in a nice beach side hotel called the Seara Praia. The top floor had a rooftop spa, nice views down the coastline and bar service. This as they say in the classics was the 'Return of the Mack', or something akin to that, you know insert whatever moniker you want for making a comeback. I do believe that it was another errant Tom Collins, or at the very least, a drink with a bit of squeezed lemon that commenced proceedings, but 2-3 weeks after shaking off awful stomach troubles whilst in Puno (Peru), whatever it was that was somehow still lurking in the nasty crevices of my intestines decided to come back for a second bite. I knew it immediately too. I knew what trouble existed just over the horizon. In that moment I tried to rationalise it as just some acid reflux that I'd easily step out of but come the next day, the very moment when we started our 5.5hr journey by minibus to Jeri, I was layed out on the back seat and painfully riding out every bump on that God forsaken highway to nowhere. Now, I've done that same road a few times since then and can say that its not nearly the pot holed riddled bomb pit that I make it out to be, but bouncing in the back of the van with that ultra sensitivity to vertical movement in the hope of delaying the upcheck reflex - man oh man, that was a nightmare.

 Jericoacoara - Brazil

Jericoacoara - Brazil

Jericoacoara - Brazil

From Jijoca to Jericoacoara the only method of transport is via 4*4. All the roads are sand and there's just no other way. Quite the pleasure ride into wild if at peak fitness at will but somewhere on that road, I believe it was when we stopped to view some pissant lake (which was probably quite nice), the ghosts of Tom Collins' past came back to me. On that day I left a piece of me out on the dunes of Parque Nacional de Jericoacoara - there's just some thing in life that you can never get back.

It took me a few days to get into the idea of Jeri, that was purely for the fact that a lot of that time I was occupying a position on the 'bed of recuperation'. Inga however was like a duck to water, what more does a Latvian girl want than sun, getting a sun tan, beach life and sand wherever you go?

When I finally recovered myself I found Jeri to be quite the location. Probably not exactly the trippy hippie commune set in the sticks of Northern Brazil but how can you go past streets of sand, sand floors in restaurants and bars, and a saloon where the locals do actually tie their horses up out front. The place was and is quite beautiful with God's additional gift of magical sunsets being granted almost upon request.

Jericoacoara - Brazil

Jericoacoara - Brazil

Jericoacoara - Brasil

Jericoacoara - Brasil

If the beach wasn't on the agenda for the day then there were other opportunities aplenty. One of those day we did a quad bike tour around the area that took us to dreamlike places like Paradise lagoon (both Lagoa Azul & Lagoa Paridiso), place where the water is disarmingly clear and you can pick your own hammock in the water, swaying in or just above the azure water. If this place isn't an advertisement for 'tranquilo' then I don't know what it.

Lagoa Paridiso - Jericoacoara - Brasil


Jeri has a lot going for it, a relatively small community of 16000+ people, sand, beaches, bars, relative isolation. If anyone is interested, here's my vote to you for a randomly referred location.


Fortaleza airport - on the way to Rio - Brazil

Getting there

We got to Jeri utilising www.fretcar.com.br 


Book from Fortaleza to Jericoacoara - there will be a transfer required in Jijoca. The site covers that, so don't be surprised by the request for two tickets, it's essentially Fortaleza - Jijoca, then Jijoca - Jericoacoara

The site is in Portuguese, so if you're unsure then go to a Fretcar agent in Fortaleza, either the airport or on the beach in Meireles.


Time wise you're looking at 6-7hrs one way.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Foz do Iguacu - Puerto Iguazu - Big Water


Foz do Iguacu (Brasil) - Puerto Iguazu (Argentina)
04 JUNE - 06 JUNE 2015


We spent a couple of days getting to Foz do Iguacu from Havana. The first night was via a stop in Cartagena and the second was a stop back in Lima. After a couple of jumps we touched down at Foz do Iguacu/Cataratas international airport on the afternoon of 04 JUNE.

Havana had somehow felt like the apex of our journey. Even though our scheduled traveling time was for three months and 04 JUNE essentially marked the '1 month to go point', somehow the slip across the continent to 'the other side' felt like the halfway mark.

This attempt was actually my third try to get here. Back in 2010 I had turned back from travelling South America due to a pilfered wallet, and in 2012 I actually had flights booked from Buenos Aires. On that occasion I left a credit card in a hungry ATM on the back streets of Montevideo (Uruguay), thus denying me access to funds. So whilst I had the flight available I had not much else to support me had I arrived on terra firma in Puerto Iguazu

So lets call this third time lucky. 


Iguazu Falls - Argentina / Brazil

Entrance to the Argentina side  - 260 pesos - Parque Nacional Iguazu

 Parque Nacional Iguazu - Argentina

 Parque Nacional Iguazu - Argentina

Parque Nacional Iguazu - Argentina

For our time in Foz do Iguacu we actually stayed in a pretty cool hostel. Hostels are generally a role of the dice, some are good, some aren't, some draw randoms from the oddest, weirdest part of the cosmos, and others are just cool. Che Lagarto Hostel in Foz do Iguacu was the latter. Clean, spacious, great staff and a bit of a sanctuary. I don't know if they still do this now but when I was there they were providing free caipirinhas to guests between 6pm & 7pm each evening That was all the invitation we needed. Once the clock hit 6:01pm we were already a caipirnha down and our hand was reaching out for delivery of the second. Thank you Che Largaro! Thank you.

Parque Nacional Iguazu - Argentina

Parque Nacional  Iguazu - Argentina

Parque Nacional Iguazu - Argentina

Parque Nacional Iguazu


We commenced our discovery of the falls with a visit to the Argentinian side on day one - it felt kind of nice to be back in my 'self adopted country'. From memory we jumped on a small tour provided through the hostel, so I don't remember the cost exactly. I did note however that there was no formal border crossing as such, so no real stress for travelers if wanting to move between the two parks.

Note to travelers also, whilst the Argentine side has access to 'more of the falls', the more impressive views are from the Brazilian side. If you had to chose one side and had limited time then I'd say do the Brazilian side, although from the Argentine side you'll be able to get up close and personal with the falls.

The walkways here are essentially above the falls, or rather, set on top of the waterfalls edge. So after covering a few trails and with a short train ride within the park you actually get to traverse the Superior Iguazu River, above the falls, then walk across to San Martin island on your way to the Devil's throat. There's specifics that I may have missed there but what I can tell you, as clear now as it was then, is that there's a ferocity and power to the vantage point you get on this side. The sheer magnitude and volume of water kind of takes you by surprise. I mean, you can hear the roar of the falls a long time before getting to the falls proper but that intensity is surprising. On average 1500 cubic mtrs of water flow over the falls every second and depending on the time of season that can actually increase to 13.000 per second when the rains have swung into gear - apparently the size of five Olympic pools every second, that's simply a staggering number.

The area span/width of the falls in 2.7kms and when you stand at the edge of the Devil's throat then you're looking at that water fall away some 80mtrs into a milky abyss that also throws up a permanent mist cloud, the associated bonus of which can throw up some inspiring rainbows when the sunlight hits it.

 Parque Nacional Iguazu - Argentina
Parque Nacional Iguazu - Argentina


Parque Nacional Iguazu - Argentina

What you get on the Argentine side is something ferocious & brutal, a little like the famed Latin temperament. On the Brazilian side its more samba & show, there are sweeping views of the cataracts where you can get a chance to dance and play with the falls. From here you can also take boat rides that will literally roll you in and out of the base of some of the falls. Fair warning too, the crappy little raincoats that they provide before getting on the boat will serve as just an irritation. They offer absolutely no protection other than making you look like a bit of a dumbass in photos. My suggestion, either where a Hazmat suit or strip to the bare essentials - it's like taking a bath in a washing machine, hell of a lot of fun but no place for the aquaphobic.

Parque Nacional Iguazu - Argentina

 Parque Nacional do Iguacu - Brazil

Parque Nacional do Iguacu - Brazil

Parque Nacional do Iguacu - Brazil

Parque Nacional do Iguacu - Brasil


Somewhat of a different treat in this area, especially for a person like me, is access to the triple contingent border. After our visit to the falls on our first day we were able to go to view the triple border between Argentina, Brazil & Paraguay. For political and factual accuracy, the border representation actually resides well inside Argentina whilst the actual border is at the intersection of the Rio Parana & Rio Iguazu, or even more accurately, in the middle of the Rio Parana. No matter, from where you're standing you can probably take a good guess as to where it is, and the photo you can take is kind of cool.

Iguazu falls rightly takes its places amongst the new 7 natural wonders of the world. Visually intoxicating and insta-freakin'-gramable, don't miss it!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Havana - Ciudad de las Columnas

Havana (Cuba)
27 MAY - 02 JUNE 2015

Anthony Bourdain on Havana's charms: "Havana still looks like you want it to look. Or maybe, how I want it to look."



That's exactly it. I'm sure that most of the population within this city, one of the top 20 largest in the Americas, would probably want it somewhat differently. Again, there's the dichotomy. Almost selfishly, outsiders, such as myself, would love this place to remain untouched, to remain true to itself in the manner which it has come to find its place in the world. The reality and the desire from within Cuba, I'm more than sure, is a lot different.

Change will come to Cuba and Havana. What it does and how it affects live here is anyone's guess. What we don't want to see is another 'Vegas on the Caribbean', that would be a tragedy. In 2014 a global competition named Havana as one of the new 7UbanWonders of the world - the sentiment externally expressing what we openly desire but secretly know won't happen, 'keep what you have, and stick it too them' ...easily said by an outsider.

The only real choice you have therefore is to try and catch Havana as it is now, and even now, in this time, change is evident. From the plethora of American accents we heard on the street we know that the gig is up. Still, for now, that didn't stop Inga & I enjoying what was on offer, and that my friends was a day that commenced at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba with a nice Montecristo and a cocktail to boot. No complaints with that.


Hotel Nacional de Cuba - Havana - Cuba




Havana - Cuba

Outside of the Hotel Nacional is an ever present line of Buicks & Chryslers just waiting for tourists to hire them out. Which we did on the back of our initial request/attempt to hire and self-drive a vehicle for a day, which was flatly refused at every turn. Still, when you're cruising down the Malecon on a beautiful sunny day, the wind throwing your hair about, lounging deep in the leather upholstered seats, then you can't help but think that you got a few things rights.


With our tour we caught a lot of the sites that are on people's agendas, the Paseo del Prado, Malecon, Capitol, Revolucion Square, Bosque de la Habana, Havana Beverly Hills, Nuevo Vedado and of course parts of Havana Viejo.



Plaza de Revolucion - Havana - Cuba


Driving in style





Hasta la victoria siempre - 'Until you get to Victoria always?' - Che loved Australia


Plaza de Revolucion - Havana - Cuba

Admittedly we did our fair amount of walking too, but that walking entailed stops at some of Hemingway's favourite haunts, El Floridita for a daiquiri and a La Bodeguita for a Mojito. My favourite stop out of these two was definitely El Floridita - full of 'turistas', sure, but hell, isn't every place these days. Inga and I occupied a table in the back corner, lighting up Montecristos, drinking daiquiris and listening to the music on offer. Let me say, on every occasion it was just a fantastic experience. Even when the place was full on the back of tourist flotillas, or outside of those times, the place, just like the rest of Havana, just has a vibe and sense of fun that you can't help but enjoy. In much the same way, when you move out of there and get into the backstreets, there's always music that occupies some little corner, enticing you to see out more...or there's someone running an angle for a hustle, wanting to take you up a flight of stairs to a 'secret' hidden room where the 'cousin of a cousin' has managed to get their hands on a box of Cohiba's that they're willing to sell you at a discount. In fact, that's the way Inga and I managed to secure a few 'cheap' cigars one night. With out readily accessible stash of cash running out it was a quick conversation with the doorman at the Hotel Inglaterra, who then took us to an acquaintance on the street, who the took us down a few dark blocks, up some flights of stairs and into a room where the covert deal was done. Pure Havana!



El Floridita - Havana - Cuba

El Floridita - Havana - Cuba


La Bodeguita del Medio - Havana - Cuba


Whilst most of our time was spent wandering around Havana we did get out to the beach one day at the Hotel Gran Caribe Club Atlantico, Santa Maria del Mar, Playas Este. I'd heard somewhere on the grapevine that for a reasonable fee you could pay for unlimited snacks and drinks for the afternoon whilst accessing the strip of sand behind the hotel and swimming in the Caribbean at one's leisure, which is what we did. We had a fantastic afternoon, although I fear we may have looked quite riddled with disease as the sunburn that we adopted from our stay in Colombia had caught up with us quite nicely. We had layers of skin peeling off everywhere. No matter, the alcohol eventually blunted any self consciousness we had about the situation.



Club Atlantico - Cuba


Club Atlantico - Cuba


Hotel Nactional de Cuba

Both for Havana's beauty and decay, its' very hard to restrain yourself from staring everywhere you look - Brin-Jonathan Butler


We found that quote to be right on the mark there was something magical in everything that surrounded us, whether it was the obvious hardship, mode of live, energy and vibrancy. There was just a potent mix of 'something' that made it undeniably magnetic.





The Malecon




The Malecon - Havana - Cuba

Our last meal in Havana, on our last night, kind of typified what we found here. I'd bought in a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue label to celebrate our time in Havana. By the end of our days we were down to our last drinks and had run out of readily accessible funds. We were literally counting dollars for taxi to the airport, possible exit taxes etc and had about $3-4 USD left over. With that $ we walked across the street from our hotel, bought two small take away pizzas from the closest shop and went back up to our room. There on the 16th floor we sat overlooking the lights of the city, glass of JW Blue in hand and a poor, sloppy Havana pizza. Somehow it felt right, it all made sense. Simple pleasures.



Johnny Walker Blue - microwaved pizza and toilet paper - this is Havana

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Havana - the most exquisite of ruins, awaiting the apocalypse


Havana (Cuba)
27 MAY - 02 JUNE 2015


As Anthony Bourdain said, '...there's something coming. It will come from out there but also within Cuba. It's already happening, but what is it? Everybody knows. Everybody can feel it. It smells like freedom, but will it be victory?'

This is it, the final flickering embers of the 26th of July Movement. The same movement that brought the face of Che Guevera to the t-shirts of university students across the globe, the same movement that brought to you Fidel Castro, the Marxist-Leninist, Cuban revolutionary that stood on the front door of the Imperialist Estados Unidos and managed to dodge 638 assassination attempts, this is....or is this...where the flame is finally extinguished?

Everyone knows a snippet or two about the 2nd Cuban revolution. The trade embargo with the US, the alignment with the mighty economic Soviet power, their ensuing collapse and the struggle of the Cuban people thereafter. In truth, it was all a struggle. The moment the revolutionary goverment nationalised all US assets in Cuba the US government returned fire and froze all Cuban assets in the US - welcome the the great  trade embargo and the history of this island that lasted for 60 yrs.

Cuba and Havana have found its own way. Perhaps a way to stand in the centre of contradiction, right where the truth exists.


Another stop in Panama City - Panama


...another few drinks in Panama City

We wanted to visit Havana now, before the cruise ships start rolling into Havana Harbour, before a Starbucks opens up at the top of Paseo de Marti and before the Malecon gets transferred into a stretch of glamour hotels, boutiques and bars. Havana is awaiting the apocalypse, and it might be people just like me that bring it. For that I raise my hand and admit some type of blame.

When Inga and I received the green light from the Cuban embassy in Lima we managed to conjure up a barrage of flights that had us flying out of Cartagena, via Panama City to Havana. In actual fact, over the next week we would fly in and out of Panama City on four separate occasions without actually setting foot in the city proper. We chalked one up for the memory bank and place it onto our 'to do list' for a future Central American jaunt.


Our view over Havana from the Hotel Habana Libre - Havana - Cuba

Wearing a Panama hat, purchased in Panama City, made in Ecuador, worn in Cuba...huh?

Havana panorama

Maybe it was simply the anticipation of arriving in Havana but it felt different. Dimly lit halls, Communist red walls, strangely young immigration officials and the weight of expectation about what you'd encounter outside of the sliding doors of the Arrivals Hall. It was all there, we were in it now, and I was so looking forward to heading out to sink in to my own level of discovery.

Heading from the airport and into the city you immediately start to get a feel for what's going on. Warm sunshine hits your face, people casually walk the grassy paths beside the main road, either off to wait for a bus, or a ride, or just to wait. The roads aren't busy at all, sparse in fact, not what you'd expect of a city of this magnitude. And as our taxi roles on we start to come across the time warp of Havana, of Cuba in fact. The vehicles that were on the street back in 1962 are the style that you see on the streets now, the Chevrolet Bel Air, Ford Falcons, Chevy Impalas and other so called 'yank tanks'. Of course, there are Soviet inspired vehicles too, such as the Moskvitch and Lada. Still, you have to say, if there was ever an era that you want to be trapped in then you couldn't think of too many better than the early 1960's.



Inga & I set up camp in Vedado, an area dominated by the 25 story post modernist Hotel Habana Libre. Built in 1958, a one time Hilton hotel, this still has that old world feeling of the early 60s, cool & chic, blunted by Communist revolution. It's a grand building without being attractive and it still very much carries the feel of that era. It was also here that we had a crash course in the inevitable difficulties that would come in being a tourist on this island. For some reason my Australian credit card(s) did not work at reception and I only had sufficient cash on me to pay for an evening. Which we did. But then we had to negate the hurdles placed in front of us as to how we could arrange financing whilst here. Thankfully Inga's credit card seemed to work, but with no readily available WiFi in the hotel and international calls being charged out at $5USD per 30 seconds we needed to find an express carrier pigeon to get across the oceans and assist with our monetary struggles.

Still, with minor struggles resolved we were gifted with a fantastic room on the 16th floor. Not a better view to be had in the whole of Havana. Looking out over the city towards the deep blue of the Caribbean Sea met with a disheveled and ramshackle sea of white of its own, betraying the true decay of the buildings below us.

Hotel Nacional de Cuba - Havana - Cuba

Havana - Cuba

Havana - Cuba


From our window we could see the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, a grand Art deco hotel built in the 1930's that still exuded 'old school cool', 'rich in retro glamour' as they say - a stop that was definitely on the 'to do' list for the next day.

True to our own word, we ventured to the Hotel just before noon that next day. No matter how it represents itself inside on the outside it still gives the impression of being quite the glamorous location. Especially when you enter the driveway and where there's several prime 1960's style vintage cars just waiting for you to 'own them' for an hour or two. Walking up the stairs and to the breezy outdoor garden terrace, palms gently swaying, there were cane lounge chairs beckoning us to come and stay a while. It wasn't hard at all to grab a few cocktails and light up a couple of Montecristo's right there and then, because you have to smoke of course. Apart from the faux air of sophistication you sign a contract on arrival at immigration that you will smoke in Havana. I have to say, one of my favourite experiences in Havana was just letting time drift by under the arches of that old building


Had to be done...and done...and done

Cigars at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba

The Malecon - Havana - Cuba


The Malecon - Havana - Cuba

Havana - Cuba

The Malecon - Havana - Cuba

The Malecon - Havana - Cuba

Havana - Cuba

After Hotel Nacional we moved onto the Malecon. THE drawcard of Havana, of that there is not doubt. This famous seaside avenue is a sea-wall but acts as a glorious promenade. It draws tourists and locals along, especially in the evening when the brilliant burnt orange light of the sun drops into the equally as magnificent sea. Here people gather, drink, chat, play music and flirt under the canopy of cool evening breezes and the shelter of the night. On our first afternoon there however we strolled ever so casually, watching old 60's cars roll by and admiring the architecture, pastel coloured buildings that had been beaten down by the salt of the sea and the rays of sun. As we walked we committed to one day staying for a few nights in one of the buildings that occupied prime position on the Malecon, made possible these days by the government allowing families to rent our rooms to tourists for short term rentals.


Havana - Cuba

Havana - Cuba

Catch you tomorrow...


(Habana - to be continued)