Last day at Ipanema beach

It’s time to go home in 12 hours and we’re a bit hung over from yesterday night. We had a great last night at the hostel with some of the other people staying here (and a lot of beer).

Yesterday was the last day at the beach and as much as we want to go home right now – we had a pretty good time at the beach yesterday.

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The sun was shining and it was superb.

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And yes – I’m almost black and Jon is red (forgot the sunblock).

IMG_5921 We went back to the beach before dinner to see the sunset.

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Goodbye Rio, it’s been a pleasure!

Diving in Arraial do Cabo, Rio de Janeiro

After we got back to Rio we realized we were missing one night of accommodation between the 6th and 7th of March. And I had been wanting to go to Arraial do Cabo to do some SCUBA diving there. Some research showed that there are a lot of dive centers there, and also rather nice beaches. And the bus is just €10-15 each way, depending if you want air-con or not.

We decided to stay two nights there, as we could then both get there and have a good nights sleep, I could dive in the morning (all dive tours seem to start at or around 09:00, but you need to show up at 08:00 to show your certificate), and we could then relax and have a swim in the ocean before heading back to Rio. We booked a hostel and a dive tour with the operator called Seaquest Sub. Linn did not feel like diving but wanted to join in on the boat tour. The diving cost €55 including everything (I just needed to bring myself), and riding on the boat was €14.

When we arrived we realized that the hostel was not at all located in Arraial do Cabo, but rather in Arraial do something else. A bit stumped we started to walk around to find a place to stay, at first we found a pousada charging €40 per night for two people in a room. Later we found a hostel charging €16 per person in a dorm. They also offered use to use their WiFi to find something cheaper, and also to stay in a tent in the yard, at just €9 per person. We found another hostel online that cost €12 per person. On our way there we stumbled on our final choice, Paradise Hostel, €9 per person in a dorm (which we shared with noone) including towels, linen, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste!

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After a good nights sleep we woke up early and had a light breakfast. At 08:00 we arrived at the dive center just by the bus stop we were dropped at earlier. The only thing that we did there was pay and I showed my open water certificate. After this we were sent down to the port which is a 10 minute walk from the dive center. Here we had to pay the boarding tax that finances the port, it was €1 per person.

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Our boat was for some reason put last in the line of boats taking tourists out, why we were not allowed to board until 09:40. Well on the boat there was a big Norwegian group getting their open water certifications and four Brazilians who were doing the same dive tour as I did. One of them, a lady named Beh Valerio took a lot of pictures and was nice enough to let us use them on the blog, so all underwater photography is credited to her.

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After a short while we arrived at the first dive site, the information wasnt too good, but the service was. The only thing I needed to do myself was to put on the gear, everything got assembled by our guide and the others working on the boat.

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We stayed close to shore and at about 5-10 meters depth. We saw hundreds of amazing colorful fish that I do not know the name of, one big turtle and two huge stingrays! The visibility was about 15 meters, and I enjoyed it a lot more than diving in Sweden.

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The next stop offered more or less the same sights as the first dive, but felt a bit more relaxed as I was getting used to how both the gear and the guiding worked. No stingrays this time, but another turtle, and this one was nice enough to let us get real close!

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All in all a great experience which I am happy to have done. We took the air-conditioned bus back to Rio, and after the return there we had just a few days left of our trip. These will be spent on Ipanema beach!

Pantanal – Day 3

The day started with two hours of bumpy roads in the car before we got to the boat on the river where we were to fish. It was windy and the guide had some trouble to find a good place. After a while he decided we should be by the pier and he showed us how to do it.

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It was lots of piranhas in the water and they had noticed us (or the fish we used for bait). The first half hour we just fed them. The piranhas took our bait and took off. Maybe our guide wanted to show us how to do it so he started fishing as well. After literally three minutes he got one. And he showed us the teeth, and yes they are strong.

After a while we were able to fish from the boat. And yey! – I got my first piranha. A bit afraid of the teeth I just gave it to the guide.

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Jon caught one as well and at the same time I got my second.

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Happy with the boat and fishing tour we returned to the accommodation for the last lunch before we went to Campo Grande. And yes – the piranhas were served for lunch.

Pantanal – Day 2

The day started early, or really it should have. Breakfast was at six o’clock and we should have started the first walk of the day at seven, but the rain was too heavy. We said goodbye to the group we talked to yesterday and waited for the rain to stop.

The night before we had gotten some advice that we should wear sneakers and long pants during the walk. A bit confused – our guide said shorts and flip-flops, the water we would be walking in was one meter deep. I decided to go with the advice of long pants and sneakers even if my shoes are made of leather and pretty new. Jon wore sneakers but combined them with short pants. The other in our group had shorts and walked barefoot like our guide.

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We started walking and it was wet. We saw some birds and armadillos.

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And a raccoon.

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The problem with walking barefoot.

It was in all maybe a two and a half hours walk in water and in the woods. I was pretty happy with my choice of clothes. It was aggressive ants on the ground and lots of mosquitoes in the air. We had mosquito repellent but I’m not sure it worked. But long pants did. Not even one bite on my legs when we were finish. Jon was pretty badly bitten but the girl Hazel in our group took the prize.

In the afternoon it was time for another walk to see more animals. And yes we saw more birds and armadillos.

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Jon and the guide saw a ocelot and according to him it was the best on the trip. I was too far behind to follow when they started to run and when I googled the animal later I was bit jealous. Lucky for me my best animal (after Morris, my cat) is the crocodile. No crocodile found but lots of caimans. They had a tame one who lived in the lake and when the guide called for him by name he came. The caiman did get part of a chicken to eat as a means of convincing him to come. This was great as we got to see one of the caimans up close. It was so many caimans everywhere so I was very happy.

In the evening we had the night walk. The guide showed us spiders and ants. When he turned the flashlight to the lake we saw lots of eyes – the eyes of the caimans. Right where we had walked during the day. No snakes were to be seen, but a dead horse in the bushes. When Jon asked our guide why no vultures where there he said that they would be soon.

Tired after a long day of walking we went to bed early to get a good nights sleep before fishing piranhas in the morning after.

Pantanal – Day 1

The agency picked us up at our hotel and drove us to the bus station. The man who helped us to book the tickets was a bit confused (first he showed up in the morning at the hotel because he forgot to take our names and lost his copy of the ticket and then he sent us into the bus but forgot to give us the very important envelopes we didn’t know that we were supposed to bring. But all turned out well and we were on our way.

The bus ride took almost two hours and then a Jeep picked us up to continue into the Pantanal. The first hour went well but then the car slowed down and the driver talked a lot to the guide. The problem? The road was all muddy. They decided to give it a try – and we got stuck.

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After some meaningless attempts to push the car (yes we tried to help) out of the mud they sent us off to walk the last bit to the accommodation. Just one out of all us six persons was smart enough to bring flip-flops – it was a stony road after the muddy part.

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When we finally got there it was time for dinner and we found both a Swedish guy and some Danish people who arrived the day before. We spent the rest of the evening to listening to their day (= what we were to expect) and teach the girls from Israel some Swedish. We should have done a night walk to see the animals but the weather was too bad and it was too many trucks on the roads.

Hotel El Shadday, Corumbá

Okay people. We need to talk about hostels and hotels. I know I can be a bit picky. And also a bit unreasonable sometimes. But during this trip I’ve learnt that you don’t die in hostels and it can be pretty nice. Yes people are weird, there is always someone sleeping at all times, making noises, turning down the air-con to freezing and are being drunk, all the time. But you learn to handle it. As long as the building is clean, the beds are comfy and the staff is cleaning the bathrooms.

The first stop after the border crossing into Brazil was Corumbá. The plan was to stay there one night before visiting the Pantanal. A bit (very) tired after the long wait at the border we were starving. With the Spanish couple we met in the queue we grabbed some lunch before we were off looking for a place to stay the night.

First hotel we bumped into was “El Shadday”. We asked about the price and it was cheap, €12 for a private room with shower. No air-con but a fan. “Do you want to see the room?” they asked – we said no. In retrospective maybe we should’ve seen it.

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Even Jon admitted that this was the worst place we have been to so far. But he fell asleep pretty fast. So many insects and cockroaches, just close your eyes and pretend you never saw it.

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Just one night was enough and we were off to Pantanal the day after.

Border crossing: Boliva to Brazil

When we arrived in Puerto Quijarro we took a taxi directly to the border, the “frontera”. The taxi was supposed to cost €1,20 but the driver doubled the price by telling us it was per person. As we were exhausted we only made a small attempt to complain about this but didnt get anything for that.

Well at the border there was a rather large queue forming. And after consulting a note on the border office for the Bolivian side we could see that the crossing did not open until 08:00, and the time now was 06:50. We stood around and started to converse with the Spanish couple after us in the queue. After the office opened and the queue started to move it became apparent that people were not really respecting it. And it got even worse when the rain started to pour down and the queue was compacted under the small roof. The slow family in front of us gave people in the adjacent line perfect opportunities to skip in front of them, and all the others who where in between.

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When we finally arrived it was a quick process to get the stamp and go off to the Brazilian side of the crossing. Just 3 hours of queuing later.

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We thought that the Brazilian side would be a bit quicker, both since they are more of a developed country and because the Bolivian check should give them a steady flow at a not too high pace. WRONG!

After queuing for 3 hours during which we fended of a lot of people who thought it to be clever to try and skip the line we were approaching the office in which the treasured stamp resides.

Just when we were meters away from the entrance a Bolivian woman shows up in front of us in the queue, apparently her son had waited and saved this place for her, and her baby she had on her back.

Okay, a bit foul play, but okay.

A few minutes later though, her aunt(?) and mother(?) arrives and are supposing they can too stand with her. This is where we, the Spanish couple and most others drew the line. All of them were sent to the end of the line. However the Bolivian lady who had her son keeping the spot went around the office and in through the back door, occupying the border official who where assigned to stamp the passports of Brazilians. This made the wait even longer.

When we finally arrived and we let in through the door we got our stamps in a matter of seconds. The only question we were asked was for how long we planned to stay in Brazil. No proof was required, just an answer to the question. So, 6-7 hours of queuing and 2 minutes in the offices later we had our stamps and were now officially in Brazil again!

The train of death, Santa Cruz to Puerto Quijarro

While staying in the middle of Santa Cruz de la Sierra we had almost 3 km to the bus and train station. Our plan was to visit the station on a Sunday to buy tickets to go the day after. The Sunday however was very much a holiday since the No side of the constitutional referendum just won, meaning that Evo Morales can not remain in office after 2019.

When we asked the personnel in the hotel they said it was very unlikely that the train station would be open, why we saved the ticket buying for later. In the evening we planned how to make the best use of the Monday, the initial plan was to have a late breakfast and then take a taxi to the station in the hopes that there would be tickets left for us. However, the online ticket website www.ticketsbolivia.com showed tickets available for Wednesday, but not Monday or Tuesday. But then again, we thought, this is Bolivia, a website does not have to be right. The new plan was that I would get up early and walk to the station.

After 25 minutes of quick walking I arrived and sure enough, there were tickets available. Even better, they were almost half the advertised price online, at only €8 for a 15 hour train ride we could not complain!

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When we arrived to the station 20 minutes before departure we were greeted by a man that helped take care of our luggage for a small fee, he worked for the train company and were putting it in the locked baggage car. After this we had to buy two tickets for the tax to use the station, a system that seems to be somewhat of a standard in Bolivia, and at somewhere like €0.30 it was not breaking the bank.

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We got on the train which was a rather modern one compared to the rest of the transportation in the country. Rather close to the stated departure time the train actually departed, and started its journey towards Puerto Quijarro.

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After showing the tickets we were asked if we wanted to have lunch at a cost of €2.50. The offer was for chicken and we accepted, seeing that this was the only offer on the menu. The chicken was not too amazing but it made sure we wouldnt go hungry for a while. For dinner the same chicken was offered, only this time deep fried instead of grilled. Linn opted to have just the rice and a salad, which bumped the price down to half.

When we got back to our car after dinner we found a man in our seats. He apparently saw that no one was sitting there at the moment and took his chance to get a better view of the movie playing. When we asked him to move he said that we could take his seat, in the back of the car. Right next to the frickin cold AC outlet. After sitting there for 20 seconds we concluded that he will move. He refused even though some other people on the train helped with our broken Spanish.

I quickly went back and got the conductor who informed the man that he has his own seat that he can sit in, and after grumping a bit more he finally got out of our way and we could settle in, watch some TV and fall asleep. Sleeping on the train was OK, but as the tracks are not of the standard we are used to in Europe the train is moving a lot side to side and makes some noise. But nothing too bad.

We arrived in Puerto Quijarro close to the Brasilian border at the stated time. There we took some time and I used the bathroom in the station to put in my contact lenses. Next up was crossing the border into Brazil!

Bolivia says no to the changed constitution

While in Santa Cruz we were a bit worried about the vote that was going to be held on the Sunday. Bolivia has had its president Evo Morales in office for a long time and in 2019 he will not be able to run for office again. Because of this there was a referendum held to change the constitution of Bolivia to allow him to take office again. During our time in Bolivia we both experienced a blockade because of people being unhappy with the government and a lot of advertising for what you should vote in the referendum. We were worried that the “wrong” result might lead to new blockades.

In the evening of the Sunday of the vote we walked back to the hotel after a nice dinner and found the big square of the city like in the video above! Apparently the No side won with 51% of the votes, and Evo Morales will not be president after 2019.

We wanted to buy tickets for the train on Monday in the Sunday evening, but when talking to the personnel in the hotel they told us that it is definitely impossible that the ticket office is open on the day of the vote, and we should be happy if the train leaves at all the day after. Time will tell!

Bus from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz

After three nights in Cochabamba it was time to continue our journey. After some breakfast consisting of buns from the local bakery and juice from a juice stand in the park we took a taxi to the bus station. The only problem was that we arrived at 11:15, and most buses to Santa Cruz apparently depart either between 07:00 and 11:00 or 19:00 to 23:00. After walking a few laps around all the stands in the station there was a lady shouting “Santa Cruz! Santa Cruz!” and apparently had a bus leaving at 12:30. Great! And it just cost us €9 for a (predicted) 10 hour trip.

When the bus arrived we realized that it was not the newest bus on the block, but it did have semi-cama seats and looked like it could get the job done. The bus ride from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz takes you from 2500 m above sea level down to just 500 m, and the first part of the road is notorious for breaking when it rains.

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After a few hours in the bus the traffic thickened, and finally we came to a complete stop. We had just passed the sign in the picture and I remembered the rain from the day before. For a while we just stood there, but suddenly the line of vehicles started to move, and then stopped again 100 meters further.

After maybe two hours in the line we started to see what the problem with the road was. It had indeed gotten damaged by the rain, and were now being repaired. This meant that it was only possible to drive in one direction at a time, and this in turn resulted in huge queues.

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After passing the part where the road was being repaired we gained speed. Some of the time we went rather fast, smiling as we passed everyone queuing to pass the broken part. Some of the time we slowed down since people in the queue thought it was a good idea to stop on the outer side of the road, and the big trucks we had in front of us had a hard time passing. We could also see that the road was damaged in more places, and was being repaired.

After a few more hours the road got flatter, and suddenly our driver was reaching 100km/h! At times we felt that he might have gotten a bit too happy about finally getting away from the queues. He was overtaking cars in blind corners and not considering it an issue to be more or less constantly on the wrong side of the road, only to get back in line when we had meeting traffic.

Everything passed without incidents and we arrived in Santa Cruz de la Sierra just a few hours after the promised time!