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Mango Madness

So plentiful, they fall from heaven

Brazil is worth a visit if even just for the mangoes! They are incredibly delicious and sold everywhere for very little. Not only that, most of the city streets are lined with mango trees so they literally fall from heaven! They have the big red/orange ones, the medium yellow/orange ones and the smaller green/yellow ones. Josh and I have been eating so many, we started a mango tally. So far, we have eaten over 25kg and we still have a month to go. That number doesn't include mango juice either which we have quite regularly. SCRUMPTIOUS!

Posted by edenjosh 08:37 Archived in Brazil Tagged food Comments (0)

Roraima trek

climbing the highest of the table-top mountains

all seasons in one day 25 °C
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Roraima is one of the most interesting treks in South America and one that Eden has wanted to do since last year. It is the highest of the table-top mountains in southern Venezuela, and was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World".

The tepuis (table-top mountains) are among the oldest rocks on earth and were formed before Africa separated from South America. Because the tops of the mountains are isolated from the Grand Savannah below, a large number of endemic plants have adapted to this environment and exist nowhere else. They are a kind of "Galapagos Islands" in the middle of a continent. The fact that most of the tepuis are unclimbable, due to 1000m cliffs, has enticed travellers and locals alike. The indigenous Pimon people believe that Roraima was a great tree that their ancestors fell in order to get its fruit. A large volume of water sprung from the trunk and flooded the land. When the water subsided all that was left was this huge stump (and it actually looks like a stump if you have a bit of an imagination). Some of the most interresting species on top are the carnivorous plants and black frogs that are more similar to frogs in Africa than those in South America.

While the trail to the top of the mountain is easy to follow, the top is a maze of eroded rocks, boggy areas and the shifting clouds make things disorrientating. For this reason most tourists go on a guided tour.

We began our trip at a small town nearby, and set off after a quick lunch. The path was through rolling grassland, and around 2pm it started to pour. The sky was dark and beautiful. Two hours later we arrived at camp in soggy boots and wet underwear but our raincovers had saved everything else. We quickly set up our tent and then hung up our clothes to dry.

The Gran Sabanna is very hot and dry and by 9am it was already 35C. We forded two rivers, stopping for a swim at the second and then a 2 hour siesta after lunch on the way to "base" camp. Given the temperature, it didn't take long for our boots to dry out.

The third day we began our ascent of Roraima up "the ramp". At first the mountain appears unclimbable, but a British expedition discovered this route in the 19th century. However, the jungle was so thick at the time that they were unable to get close enough to verify this. It wasn't until a large part of the jungle was burned (accidently by the Pimon) some 50 years later that the first two Westerners climbed to the top of the mountain. This was the hardest day, with an ascent of over 1200m. The top of the mountain is shaped by wind and rain into various shapes. Very little of it can be considered flat. One of the most prominent rocks is shaped like a car and is easily recognized from below. The two nights on the top we stayed at one of the "hotels". These are large rock overhangs large enough to accomodate several tents.

The fourth day we explored the tepui climbing the car, swimming in the jacuzzis (cold pools with quartz crystals on the bottom), and some other areas. The fifth day we went back to our first camp site. The sand flies and mosquitos were bad this day and we had a lot of distance to cover. And the sixth day we walked the final 12km back to where the Landcruisers were waiting for us with lunch and cold beer :)

Excellent trek, excellent people, 50km logged, 5 more nights in a tent. To date over 800km trekked and 70 nights in our tent.

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Posted by edenjosh 07:50 Archived in Venezuela Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Bemvindo a Brasil

The Amazon and Beaches and Beaches and Beaches...

sunny 40 °C
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Here we are in Brazil! We have covered A LOT of ground since we last wrote. I have tried to keep things brief. The people in Brazil have been extremely friendly -moreso than in any other place we have visited. One problem, however -neither Josh nor I speak any Portuguese! Just when we were getting pretty comfortable with Spanish, we cross the border and BAM! We are deaf and dumb again. Written Portuguese is similar to Spanish but the pronunciation is something else! It sounds like how a child speaks when they are pretending to speak a language they do not know.

At the border between Venezuela and Brazil, we were kindly offered a ride to the nearest city, Boa Vista, by a man working in the customs office. The trip was supposed to take about 4 hours because the road is so pot-holely, but our driver, drove an average of 160 km/hr with a maximum of 200km/hr!! This was while he was swerving to avoid pot holes and telling us about all the people smuggling cheap gas from Venezuela whose cars expolde like bombs if they are in an accident! Great! I cut my thumb while frantically digging under the back seat searching for the seat belt. It had been removed! Luckily, Josh had a belt in the front seat.

We arrived safely in Boa Vista and hopped a night bus to Manaus. Manaus is a large city in the middle of the jungle on the Amazon River. It was a really rich place during the rubber boom and has some beautiful colonial buildings and a grand opera house. What is even more amazing is that everything in Manaus -all the building supplies, food etc. is sent via the Amazon River. There are no roads connecting it to the coast.

From Manaus we went on a 4-day excursion into the Amazon Jungle. There we went pirranha fishing, saw fresh water dolphins, monkeys, caiman (alligators) and sloths and spent two nights sleeping in hammocks in the jungle. It was a lot of fun and we emerged from the jungle VERY dirty and covered with mosquito bites...and some sort of rash that could not be identified. Signs of a successful trip!!

After our nights in the jungle, we decided we hadn't had enough nights in hammocks so we boarded a boat headed for Belem, on the coast. The trip is at least 4 nights to Belem but we decided to break up the trip and stay in Santa Rem, a town half way that has a beautiful amazon beach. Unfortunately, when we got to Santa Rem, we were informed that the next boat to Belem wouldn't be for about a week, so we had to leave that day for Belem. The boat ride itself was pretty uneventful. There were about 100 passengers, mostly locals, and we all hung our hammocks together on the middle deck. It was really cramped so the old lady beside me kept kicking me all night from her hammock and the baby beside Josh kept sprawling on him -the baby also kept pooping her underwear and crying. I guess her mother though she was toilet trained, but she obviously was not! I'm not sure how often children usually poop in one day, but this one was a pro. The Amazon River is so big and wide that for the most part, you don't really see much besides water -except for the odd dolphin. At one point our boat broke down so we were marooned in a little town for about a day before we set out again. The most interesting part of the trip was when our boat went through some narrow passages. Natives from the jungle heard the boat and came out in their canoes -even really tiny kids were manuevering their canoes through the wake of the boat! Passengers from our boat threw plastic bags of food, clothes or whatever to the natives and they quickly paddled around to collect them. A couple people even threw a hooks from their canoes to our boat and hitched a free ride. It was a very special experience.

We arrived in Belem and spent a couple of days exploring the city. It also has a lot of old, colonial architecture and quite a bit of charm. It was so hot that we tried to find some respite in a couple of botanical gardens. The gardens were beautiful, but it was still about 40 degrees and humid! The port area was very interesting and we bought mangoes in the market and ate them while listening to a live band.

From Belem, we headed to São Luis. It is another historical city with amazing colonial buildings. Most of them, however, are in some form of disrepair or completely decrepit and inhabited by stray cats! It is still quite beautiful though to see these grand buildings being swallowed up by time and the tropical climate. The near-by Island of Alcantara was much the same but had fewer people and a real "ghost town" feel.

From São Luis we headed to Natal to hit the beach. We stayed in a suburb called Ponto Negro which has a nice beach with HUGE dunes! We spent a day jumping in the waves and then headed south to Praia de Pipa. Pipa is an old hippie town so it is very laid back. The beaches are beautiful too! We spent three days there playing in the water, swimming with dolphins, walking on the beach and eating mangoes. From Pipa we headed further south to another couple of beaches, south of Recife, at Porto de Galinhas (port of chickens!). Here they had natural coral pools in the ocean that you could snorkel around and of course, beautiful aqua-blue water. From there we headed south to Maceio and, you guessed it-another beach, Praia do Gunga. Gunga is amazing and is exactly how you picture an idyllic, tropical paradise in your head -complete with chilled coconuts to sip from.

We thought after all that beach time, we needed a bit more culture, so on to Salvador! Salvador has a very strong African culture. Many, many slaves were brought there from all over Africa and they have kept some of their own traditions, religions and have, of course, modified them to suit the Brazilian environment. The streets are busy with artists, musicians, dancing and food/beer vendors. Very interesting were the capoeira (sp?) performances. Capoeira is a martial art that is performed as more of an extremely aerobic dance between two people. It looks like break dancing with lots of head stands, spins and high kicks. Amazing!

From Salvador we are making our way to Rio de Janeiro. The bus ride is about 30+ hours so we have stopped half way at Porto Seguro for a day of beach. Tomorrow we hop another long bus all the way to Rio.

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Posted by edenjosh 06:53 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Very Venezuela -Beaches, jungle and waterfalls

Feelin' HOT HOT HOT!

sunny 38 °C
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From Quito, we took a flight to Caracas, Venezuela. It was our first non-surface travel but was necessary because time is ticking away and there was a big ol' Colombia in our way. We had planned to leave Caracas immediately for Isla Margarita since Caracas isn't supposed to be very nice and is quite dangerous, but our flight was delayed. As a result, we spent one night in Caracas and headed for the island the next day. We spent the first few days in the small town of Juan Griego. The beach in town is just your average, beautiful, aqua marine Carribean beach, but the beach about 30 mins walk down the road was SPECTACULAR! Soft, white sand and warm blue waters. I now understand why my mother, who grew up in Trinidad, always has a hard time jumping into frigid, Ontario lakes. We spent a few days there lazing on the beach and then moved to another beach to laze some more. We decided to splurge a little on a nice hotel in the town of El Agua. For the next three days, we enjoyed every amenity to the max -especially the buffet breakfast!

From Isla Margarita we headed by boat and then bus to Ciudad Bolivar. It is a quiet little city with brightly coloured buildings. They seem to especially like pink. It was there we arranged a tour to Angel Falls -the highest falls in the world at 980m tall! The falls are deep in the jungle so the only way to get near then is to fly to a small town near-by, Canaima. The flight was pretty exciting! It was a 5 seater plane and we got great jungle, mountain and river views and not too much turbulance. Josh got to be co-pilot. After we landed in Canaima, we hopped in a motorised canoe and headed up river for 4 hours. Our driver was amazing and successfully navigated us by all the rocks and rapids we encountered. The scenery was incredible too! We were surrounded by table top mountains and jungle. After 4 hours in the boat, we had an hour hike through the forest to get close to the falls. Wow! They were so tall and so amazing! It was hard to grasp the true scale, however. We even swam in one of its pools about 2/3 of the way down. A great experience! That night we slept in hammocks in the forest and headed back to town by boat in the morning. After lunch, we toured some of the other amazing waterfalls in the area. We walked behind the "Sapo" waterfall and we have never experienced being so drenched! There was so much water it felt like it might push your eyes out of their sockets! I'm not sure if that is an actual risk. It was a wonderful excursion! the next morning we got back into the tiny plane and putt putted back to Ciudad Bolivar.

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Posted by edenjosh 14:50 Archived in Venezuela Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Adios Ecuador

Panama hats, hot springs and colonial buildings

sunny 25 °C
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After returning from the Galapagos, Josh and I headed to Cuenca, Peru. Cuenca is considered the prettiest city in Ecuador and it didn't dissapoint. The cobbled streets are lined with interesting and beautiful colonial buildings. We spent most of our time there roaming the streets and peeking into churches. One of our highlights, however, was visiting a Panama hat museum and manufacturer. The famous Panama hat, is more accurately called a "Monte Cristi" hat and it is not from Panama at all, but from Ecuador! It was called a "Panama hat" by gold prospectors heading to California during the gold rush. It was faster for prospectors from the east to travel by boat down the east coast, through the Panama canal and up the west coast to California than to travel over land. When they were heading by Panama, a popluar purchase was a Monte Cristi hat from Ecuador. That's how they got their current name. Anyway, Cuenca is famous for their Monte Cristi hats. They are made with a type of soft straw, woven by hand and then hammered on a wooden mold to make the classic shape. The prices varied depending on how fine and tight the weave was. Josh found a hat that looked great on him so we bought it for a steal.

After Cuenca, we headed for Baños. Baños is a fairly small town, about 2000m in elevation and pretty much right on a volcano. Because of this, they have geothermal hot springs ...and don't worry, the volcano hasn't erupted for about a year or two! Josh and I had a really enjoyable time there hiking in the hills, riding bikes to explore the many, many waterfalls in the area and soaking in the near-scalding waters. We stayed there an extra day or two to wait out a referendum that was taking place in Ecuador at the time, but finally we had to move on.

From Baños, we took the bus to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. We picked a cheap hostel at random in the Mariscal district where most backpackers stay. The streets were lined with trendy restaurants and bars. The most interesting part of Quito has to be the old city. The colonial buildings and churches would rival those of Europe, I'm sure. We toured the sites, museums and churches and my favourite things were the Santa Catalina convent where the nuns live in isolation (even from eachother) but make soaps, creams, wine and elixers for sale and climbing up into the bell tower of the San Fransisco church. I had to go on my own because Josh is afraid of heights but I took the camera to capture the view from the top. The climb started up narrow stairways but eventually declined to ladders with unevenly spaced rungs. I climbed and climbed and was eventually ABOVE the bells in the tippy-top of the spire. There wasn't even a floor here but some chicken wire stretched over some beams. I balanced on the beams and carefully removed the camera from the case so I could snap a picture of the great view. Click, click -nothing. There was no battery in the camera! Oh well, I'll just have the picture in my mind. On my way back down, I had the (mis)fortune of being IN the bell tower when the clock struck 5! I was startled to say the least and a little deaf.

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Posted by edenjosh 13:47 Archived in Ecuador Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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