Monday, December 26, 2011


Although only 260 miles, we were late leaving VGB so it took us two days to get to Rosario. We spent the first night at a gas station in Villa Maria. It was quiet with a large grassy area to exercise Winston and it had Wi-Fi. Then it was on to Rosario. Also located on the Parana River in the province of Santa Fe, Rosario is a beautiful city and the third largest in Argentina with a population of over 1 million people. Our destination in the city is the Monumento Nacional a la Bandera (National Flag Monument). This 10,000 sq. meter complex built using stone from the Andes consists of the tower, civic courtyard and the Propileo Triunfal. The 70 meter (210ft) tower which has the crypt of Manuel Belgrano at the base provides fantastic views of the rest of the complex, the nearby Cathedral and the city and river. From there, the walk across the courtyard is filled with stone statues by sculptors Jose Fioravanti and Alfredo Bigatti until you enter the Propleo Triunfal. The huge stone pillars reminiscent of ancient Roman and Greek architecture has the Honor Room which displays all the flags of the Americas and holds the Eternal Flame at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Guarded by the military it is a tribute to the wars fought and soldiers who died for their country. Very Arlington Cemetery like. Across the street, National Flag Park has plenty of riverside parking and was perfect for our overnight stay. After dark, the monument and nearby Cathedral is lit with a fabulous display of lights and because of Christmas, plenty of decorations and Christmas trees. A little after dark a monstrous storm came through so in addition to all the other lights we were treated to a super display of lightening as it flashed across the sky and lit up the river. The only downside was there was no internet and we were unable to meet up with Luis and Sylvina. However time allowing we will come back to visit them but we are committed to being in Buenos Aires tomorrow to meet with Anne and Jon.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Staying at Camping La Florida

Our stay at the campground extended to almost 3 weeks. We are in a holding pattern, waiting for the refrigerator to arrive from the States. It will ship from New York on December 16th and is due to arrive in Buenos Aires, January 10th. We expect the earliest we can pick it up will be the 11th and that is only if the planets and stars are aligned correctly and the world says a collective prayer! The reality is we can only hope that it is not too delayed. We are very aware that after February, the weather in Patagonia will start to get colder and we only have a small window of opportunity to get down there before their winter. That being the case, we decided to stay in VGB as the campground is quite nice with hot showers, power, water and internet and it is very accommodating for Winston with plenty of places to walk him. It is close to town with all the amenities of supermarkets, smaller grocery and specialty stores, lavanderia etc. Also, people that we had met in Arapey started to arrive. Besides Michael, Wolf came with his wife Ilona. In Arapey, Ilona had been visiting back in Germany, so we had not met her. Another German couple also arrived that had been in Arapey briefly. Wolf and Ilona have been travelling South America for 12 years now. They have been through Central America and up to Alaska twice and visit Patagonia every few years. Michael has been travelling for 2 years. They gave us many tips on travelling and we may meet up with Wolf and Ilona in Patagonia as they are also driving down there this year. We are also keeping in contact with Anne and Jon. Biologists, we met them in Costa Rica last year and they travelled the west coast, whilst we went on the east. They have already been to Patagonia and are now headed north. The plan is to try to hook up in Buenos Aires and exchange information. We settled in to the easy life of camp. Besides small routine tasks around the motor home, we read, walked to town, walked Winston and explored the countryside. We tried a few different restaurants and were not disappointed at the food and cost. Argentina is substantially less expensive than Brazil, with beef and wine being the best deals. On our first visit to a restaurant, Tom ordered a beer and I red wine. I chose a mid priced wine from the list about $7.00 so imagine our surprise when we realized that that was for a whole bottle, not a glass! That night, Toms 2 beers cost more than the very good wine. I looked at Tom, eyes gleaming – “I think I’m going to like Argentine…a lot!” On our last Sunday at camp, Bettina and her husband Rolf hosted an Assada. An Argentinean barbeque that is similar to the Brazilian churrascarias. Rolf began the cooking around 1:30 in the afternoon and at 5:30 we were all still eating. It starts with a variety of sausages, 5 or 6 different types then pork in the form of spare ribs and pork loin and then huge porterhouse steaks in addition to a variety of veggies - corn, red bell peppers, mushrooms, different squashes and bread. All slowly roasted over hot coals. There were 12 people to dinner, all German with the exception of Tom and myself. The conversation was fast, rapid German and fortunately Wolf and Ilona were able to translate most of it for us. If you are ever at Camping La Florida join in on Sundays. It was tremendous fun and a fabulous last night for us. Before leaving Bettina had us write in her journal and she took our photo with Winston in front of the RV. She has 4 books now, filled with photos and writings of people who have stayed with them. We were tempted to stay longer but we need to head south to Rosario to visit with Luis and Sylvinia who we met in Uruguay and then to Buenos Aires on Wednesday night to hook up with Anne and Jon. So much going on and it is so exciting.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Villa General Belgrano

The campground is situated on the main road into town. Owned by Rolf and Bettina, Camping La Florida is nestled amongst pines and firs and has electricity hookup for the RV. They keep a myriad of goats, sheep, horses and dogs on the property so we decided to keep Winston on his long tether in camp and take him for walks in the surrounding countryside. One of the Germans we met at Arapey Michael is here and he said we had just missed another couple. After taking a couple of days to settle in at the camp ground, we were ready to explore the town. Named after Manuel Belgrano, a famous general and the creator of the Argentinean flag, Villa General Belgrano or VGB is located in the Calamuchita Valley. Founded in 1930 by two German prospectors interested in agriculture, the Alpine-like area continued to attract German and Swiss immigrants through the 30’s. In 1940, when German seamen sank their battle ship off the coast of Montevideo, some of the surviving sailors arrived and continued to build in the Bavarian style. Now the village is known for its typical Alpine architecture with red roofed, wood framed and exposed beams homes. Restaurants offer traditional German delicacies including goulash and spatzle, fondue, sausages, sauerkraut and apple strudel. There is a profusion of pastry and gourmet chocolate shops as well as microbreweries offering hand crafted German style pilsners and dark beers. In fact Oktoberfest here is considered the third most important site after Munich, Germany and Blumenau, Brazil. The village survives on a steady stream of tourists and you can’t miss the souvenir stores with their windows filled with beer steins in various sizes. Kitschy but charming and we enjoyed it. In true Bavarian tradition we ate dinner at a nearby restaurant specializing in fondue. Served with a variety of breads and sausages it was delicious. There were photographs on the wall showing the restaurant in winter (July and August), with a lot of snow on the ground. As we walked back to the campgrounds, the sky was clear and filled with stars and the surrounding hills were studded with lights from houses and small hotels, many now decorated for Christmas. We contemplated briefly that snow would be fun but spring days are nice too.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The border to Villa General Belgrano

The 470 mile drive will take us two days travelling through the provinces of Entre Rios, Santa Fe and into Córdoba. The border crossing was very routine and quick. After crossing the Puente Internacional at Salto, there is one small building with two counters. One for Uruguay and one for Argentina. After getting our passports stamped and the auto permit released for exit, we moved to the Argentina counter. They stamped our passports and copied the temporary auto permit directly from the Uruguayan paperwork. We were then directed to a group of officials outside. A lady from customs checked our RV permit but did not request to look inside the vehicle. Another man asked for Winston’s rabies certificate and looked at that and his USDA permit which is now almost 2 years old. After only about 30 minutes total, we were on our way. We had planned on our overnight stop to be in Parana the capital of Entre Rios province. Situated on the eastern side Parana River – the same river which feeds the Itaipu Dam by the way – Parana is a fairly large town with a very pretty river walk area. They also had a Wal-Mart! Although we later discovered that there is one in most of the larger towns. Tom went to see if he could find some of the products he likes from the US and I walked Winston. We ate and had dinner in their parking lot but had to park overnight at a Shell gas station. It was dark but had we driven a little further, we would have found the river walk which had plenty of places for overnight parking and even Wi-Fi zoned sections. Oh well, live and learn. On the west side of the Parana River is Santa Fe, capital of the province of Santa Fe. Since 1969, the two cities are connected by the The Raul Uranga – Carlos Silvestre Begnis Sub fluvial Tunnel, named in honor of the two governors who initiated the project. The 3 kilometer (about 2 mile) tunnel runs under the Parana River and at its deepest point is about 32 meters (100 feet) under water. It made me a little claustrophobic and Tom contemplating about their seeming lack of accident preparedness did not help my anxiety level. Santa Fe seemed a little seedier than Parana and not as well taken care of so we did not stop. As we entered Córdoba province and began climbing the first of the three mountain ranges which combined make up the Sierras de Córdoba, the scenery changed from industrial to agricultural and the weather got noticeably cooler. Our destination is Villa General Belgrano, about 60 miles from Córdoba in the Sierras de Córdoba. A German owned campground “Camping La Florida” is reputed to be set up for RV’s and it had in fact been recommended by a German couple in Grapey. As night approached, we looked forward to finding the campground and settling in.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Our last night and thoughts on Uruguay

As always on our last night in a country, I think about what we have seen, the people we have met and the places we visited. To really understand Uruguay and the Uruguayans you have to take into account their history. Until 1829 it was simply “the Eastern Territory”, in a constant battle between the Spanish and the Portuguese and many Uruguayans still refer to themselves as Orientales (Easterners) as in east of Argentina. However, long referred to as the Switzerland of South America, over the years it has been in the forefront of social reform. When Jose Batlle (Ba-zhay) y Ordonez began his second term of his presidency in 1915 he legalized divorce, abolished the death penalty and established an 8 hour work day. He also guaranteed complete freedom of the press. After his death in 1929 the reforms he had put in place continued and in 1942 the government established universal health care, accident and unemployment insurance. Due to these reforms, the middle class is well established here. We have seen less poverty and more of a distribution of wealth. The roads are well maintained and the countryside and beaches are clean. They live for the weekend to go to parks and beaches. They love to camp and barbeque. They recycle. In 2006, Uruguay was the first South American country to ban smoking in public places. Travelling, we have been treated with respect by all officials and never experienced any intimidation to try and manufacture infractions to incur bribes. We have been treated with friendliness and kindness by the people we met. But, for all that, they are definitely more reserved than the Venezuelans and Brazilians towards foreigners. Perhaps because they do not rely on tourism and it is not a huge part of the economy, the country is more insulated against the throngs of visitors that the neighboring countries experience. But, if a visit to a capital city that is a throwback to the 1950’s is what entices you or, if clean, beautiful, mostly empty, white sand beaches with a side visit to a geo-thermal park thrown in, all encapsulated in 5 star hotel/spa treatments is what you yearn for or, if dining on world class beef and red wines in first class restaurants would serve as your gastronomic delight, all (by the way) at bargain basement prices then Uruguay should definitely be on your “bucket list”.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Back to Arapey

What to do? We have slowed our journey south for two reasons. First our refrigerator won’t arrive in Buenos Aires until January 7th and due to the weather, we need to wait until then to head to Patagonia. January and February here is the same as July and August in the north. Termas Del Arapey has the most decent facilities for a motor home and we decide to go back there for a couple of weeks. We want to be in Buenos Aires for Christmas. No particular reason, it just sounds nice. However, Arapey is the perfect fill-in for the interim with full hook up, internet, thermal spa pools and stores for groceries. It takes us two days to get back there and the first thing we notice is all but 3 of the German vehicles have left. The remaining Germans welcome us back, admire our new window and we settle back into the lazy lifestyle of the campground. Besides cleaning the RV, basic chores and laundry our days are spent relaxing, reading, swimming and getting to know our neighbors. There is a tree beside our campsite which, during the day is host to flocks of green and blue parrots. They are some of the most raucous birds we have heard and spend their day chattering and shrieking to one another. If they weren’t so beautiful and darned cute, it would be annoying but we love it. Winston loves his walks along the river where we can let him loose. Unfortunately we need to keep him on his long tether in camp as there are just too many other campers. Being a beagle there are just a plethora of opportunities to snag, beg or otherwise obtain food from other people and we need him to maintain his boyish figure! The downside to Arapey is Saturday nights. During the week it is quiet and peaceful. Friday night there is a small build up of people which rise to a crescendo by Saturday. These are for the most part, young and we mean young, maybe 14 to 26 year olds. They arrive “en masse” complete with trucks containing monstrous speakers that play music, loudly until 4 and 5 in the morning. It is so completely obnoxious and there appear to be no rules regarding noise observance, even the parrots are driven away. Weekenders come from all over. Arapey is close to both the Brazilian and Argentinean borders and to several of the larger Uruguayan cities so there are many people within driving distances. It makes for a colorful Saturday night. Then by Sunday afternoon, they have all left and the site belongs to the sane again. And the parrots return. Speaking with Nobert and Wolf, two of our German friends, we learn of an RV campsite in Argentina, close to Cordoba. This is only a two day drive from here and after talking it over we decide to try it. We still have a couple of weeks to hang around and seeing a new place, especially one with a campground for RV’s, sounds appealing. Our new plan is to leave here Friday, spend the weekend at another thermal campground in Dayman, which is even closer to the border and then cross on Monday

Friday, December 2, 2011

Montevideo to La Paloma via Ruta Interbalnearia (interbeach route).

Uruguay is reckoned to have one of the most attractive coastlines in South America and virtually all the country’s major tourist destinations are on the coast. Linked by the Interbalnearia, most of the beaches are easily accessible and so we planned to spend a week or so getting acquainted with some of them. After passing the eastern most beach of Carrasco where the very run-down Montevideo Casino and Hotel was closed due to massive renovations we left metropolitan Montevideo and had an easy 45km (28 mile) drive to Atlántida. Surrounded by a windbreak of cypress and eucalyptus, this is a small upscale community. We parked and camped on the beach access road which is separated from the ocean by massive sand dunes but there are plenty of wooden walkways to get to the sand and sea. Except for some surf fisherman we had the beach to ourselves and Winston ran free. We also found a great supermarket “Tienda Inglesia” which had a high quality delicatessen, meat and seafood dept. and some hard to find products like sesame seed oil for when we cook Asian. Seeing the sand dunes did forewarn us, the wind here is quite fierce at times. From Atlántida, we passed through Piriapolis, a beautiful town with a curving bay and old fashioned promenade. The largest building is the huge Argentino Hotel built in the 1920’s complete with stained glass windows. Absolutely stunning. But we are headed to the most famous beach on the Uruguayan coast, Punte Del Este. Located on a peninsula where the Rio de la Plata empties into the Atlantic Ocean, it has two long, beautiful beaches. The tranquil bay side and the more windswept ocean side. Popular with richer Uruguayans, Argentineans and Europeans, Punta is visited by the proverbial “jet-set” and make it more expensive than beaches to the north and south of it. Since it is still the off-season it is quiet and less expensive and the beaches are indeed gorgeous. Before going to our campsite, we stop off at the point in Punta Ballena just outside of Punta Del Este, to see the “casa blanca”, the white adobe style home of painter Paez Vilaro. Built into the sea cliffs above the ocean it is very reminiscent of ocean homes in Greece or Italy both in architecture with the rounded, flowing structure complete with turrets and in style with lots of windows opening to ocean views. Quite unique and stunning. The campsite turned out to be disappointing. Far inland from the ocean, it was open but undergoing renovation for the summer. We decided to spend only two days and then head further north. Before leaving town there was one other famous site for us to see. Built into the sand at Punta Brava on the north end of Punta Del Este is Los Dedos (The Fingers). Designed to resemble a giant hand reaching out of the sand, it ranges in size from about four feet (thumb and little finger) to about 16 feet (middle finger) with a span of about 25 feet. Grey in color, the joints and finger nails are clearly visible in amazing detail. We agreed that this was one of the most strange, bizarre sculptures we have ever seen. It was also a great photo op! Our final beach spot was just a little further north at La Paloma. A small old colonial town with a pretty lighthouse. We spent two nights camping at the port where Winston could run free and we had nice picturesque views of the ocean and lighthouse.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


From Arapey to Montevideo was a 370 mile drive which took us 2 days with an overnight stop in Trinidad. Luck was with us. We decided to park at the Esso gas station overnight instead of a campsite. The next morning there was another RV parked next to us. The couple was from San Jose about 2 hours from Montevideo. They had seen our license plate and knew we were from San Jose, California. Also, they had replaced some of their windows with Plexiglas and gave us the name and cross streets for the people who did the work in Montevideo. Funny how things seem to work out. Entering the city from the west, the first thing we saw was “the hill”. Montevideo is said to be a version of a sailor’s cry “Monte vi eu!” (I saw a hill). The 139 meter (456 ft) cerro is topped with a fort and lighthouse and is one of the sight-seeing places on our list. But first, Plexiglas. We pulled into a gas station for directions and with some help from the attendants; a friend of theirs got into his car and said to follow him. It was actually a house which the owner had remodeled a part of, into his workshop. We told him what we wanted and were told “no problem”. He could do it immediately for $130.00. What a deal. Whilst he and a friend did the work with Tom overseeing, I chatted with his wife and children. They bought us iced sparkling water and offered cookies whilst we waited. Within 2 hours we were finished and on our way. The Plexiglas window looks great and Tom is happy. We made our way to the river (Rio de la Plata) and the coast road called La Rambla which follows the bay. Uruguay has a population of only 3.4 million people of which almost 2 million live in the capital city. The streets many which are still cobbled, are jammed with cars, buses, scooters, cyclists and pedestrians. La Rambla itself is a wide, paved boulevard and the bay has beautiful curved beaches. We drive the length of it, looking for possible places to stay, admiring the gorgeous white sand and marveling at the number of people enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. We pull into a park but are quickly told that it is not a good place to spend the night – no security. Out on the point there is a lighthouse and since there is a naval facility and port authority offices there, with security, which would be a better place. It was. We found a parking spot right on the point, not too far from the lighthouse. It provided fabulous views of the city and bay. Tom got out our gas grill and, as I walked Winston he prepared the steaks we had picked up earlier. Facing due west, we were treated to a beautiful sunset as we ate our Uruguayan steaks and drank Uruguayan red wine. Later, to our delight and Winston’s dismay and panic, there was a brilliant fireworks display. We are not sure of the occasion but it definitely was a great way to spend our first evening in the capital. Quite patriotic. We spent the next day visiting the Cerro with its fort dedicated to General Jose Artigas, who in 1815 led Uruguay towards independence (true independence from both the Spanish and Portuguese did not happen until 1829) and was the first leader of the nation of Uruguay. We followed the cobbled streets through parts of old town past the imposing stone buildings of the Banco de la Republica, La Bolsa (the Stock Exchange) and Aduana (Customs House). We also drove around Parque Rodo, named after Jose Enrique Rodo, one of the most prominent 19th century South American writers. His most famous work was Ariel. Visiting Montevideo gives the feeling of stepping back in time and old versus modern. Where narrow cobbled streets, huge stone-hewn buildings and old cathedrals lay side by side with modern high rise condo and office buildings. Where cars battle with horse drawn carts on the city’s streets. Where the ceremony of drinking mate and partaking of afternoon tea battle with the profusion of modern restaurants and brew houses. Colonial opulence versus steel and glass. Diverse and definitely interesting.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Termas Del Arapey.

The 525 mile drive from Santa Teresa took us three days. We camped overnight in Melo and Tacuarembó at the municipal parks. Most of the larger towns have camping areas in the park and there is usually room for a motor home. Our destination Arapey is well known for its thermal mineral spas and we had been told there was an excellent ran department (state) park. We were not disappointed. The park had a 3 motel, a 5 star hotel and a huge camping zone that had electricity, water and sewer hookups plus Wi-Fi throughout the whole area. There were 10 thermal pools, some enclosed and some outside and they are open 24 hours a day. We found a campsite close to the Rio Arapey Grande which borders the park. There were plenty of areas for walking Winston and we were able to let him off leash by the river. The pools are amazing, not too hot, in the mid 90’sF and very relaxing. The first three days though, it poured with rain which did not stop us from enjoying the thermal pools but made other activities hard to appreciate. Like sloshing through the mud to exercise Winston. Luckily, he is a fair weather dog and does not like the rain so walks were blessedly short although the pile of towels from drying him off was getting quite substantial by the time the rains stopped and the sun finally emerged. The other major thing that happened between Tacuarembó and Arapey was a rock from a truck ahead of us must have bounced up and completely shattered the window in the over cab. We did not realize anything had happened until we arrived and parked at the thermals. Since it was raining, Tom simply secured a tarp over the front until we can come up with a better solution. Also, we use that area for storage so much of the items were saturated and for now there was little we could do except wait for the rains to stop. There were lots of RVs, mostly from Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil but there was a contingent of 8 motor homes from Germany. One couple had been travelling South America for six years. The German RVs resemble tanks on wheels with Mercedes truck engines, custom bodies having few windows, large tires and well, sturdy. On our third day, the sun came out. Relief. I had lots of laundry waiting to be done. It has to be washed and rinsed by hand and then hung out to dry as there are no lavanderias in town. Everyone is in the same boat and by late morning, all campers have washing lines full of clothes, sheets and blankets. Tacky but what can you do! Tom, meanwhile had emptied the over cab of all our things and had lain them out to dry. He also devised a makeshift window from some plywood we had stashed under the mattress. Fortunately he always makes sure we have a variety of nuts, bolts and screws on hand. After he took the tarp off and starting measuring the window, other campers starting drifting over, offering suggestions and help. We are going to try to replace it in Montevideo and if not there then we will wait until we get to Buenos Aires. Not with tempered glass but with an acrylic, plexiglass or similar products that will better withstand the journey. Until then, it is the wood covered with plastic taped in place in case we have more rain. Chores completed we spent our remaining days enjoying the pools and walking Winston by the river.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Photos for Iguazu Falls

Here are the photos from our trip to Foz do Iguazu - Iguazu Falls. Both Brazil & Argentina sides. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Whales and a Recumbent Tandem Bicycle

The whales are the Southern Right whales, which breed, calf and migrate between the state of Santa Catalina in Brazil south to Patagonia and Antarctica. I had been on the lookout ever since Santa Catalina but since it is October and I hadn’t even sighted one, I was beginning to think that the migration south had begun. So, here we were on our first full day at Santa Teresa and we decide to spend it at the beach. Tom wants to fix the door and it will be easier to exercise Winston on the sand away from the main park. Tom is in the back holding the door and I am driving. As we come over the crest of the cliff to the beach parking I suddenly see whale fluke, not just one or two but what appears to be a pod of at least 8. “Wow” I yell to Tom, “Wow, whales”. Then I remember he can’t see. Hang on”, I tell him. “No, get the camera”. I careened down the hill to the parking area. I did not know how long they would stay and I wanted to get some photos, if possible and check them out with the binoculars. Slamming the brakes on and barely taking the time to put the RV in park, I jump out. “Can you see them?” I ask Tom.
Winston, not knowing exactly what was happening, ran around us jumping and barking. I was entranced. I had so hoped to see these amazing whales. On the endangered species list, it is reckoned that there are only about 12,000 left in the world, although they are gradually increasing in numbers since countries are making a consolidated effort to conserve their breeding and migration. Their skin is dark grey or black with white patches on their belly. The females can grow to be over 45ft. long. They are known to have a unique form of play which scientists call “sailing” whereby they use their elevated flukes to catch the wind. They stayed in the bay all afternoon, not more than 200 feet offshore, sometimes closer and we watched as much as possible. We surmised it was a pod of perhaps 8 – 10. It could have been that they were feeding or maybe even calving. There were some smaller whales which could have been young. We were unsure but I was in 7th heaven. I couldn’t believe my luck and could barely take my eyes off them as they swam, surfaced, sailed and even arced from the water. I was in awe at their size and beauty. And so it was, as the sun starting to set and we walked Winston on the beach, we gazed out at two of the whales seemingly at play. Their bodies arching through the water and their flukes high above the surface as they dived. “Sailing”, it is a good term for it. As we headed back to our campsite, I just could not stop thinking about them, the Southern Right whale. When we got back to our site, another surprise awaited us. We had neighbors. A young German couple, Carsten and Anne are on a yearlong honeymoon trip through South America but... (and I swear I am not making this up) they are doing it on a recumbent tandem bicycle. For the second time today, I am in awe. A bicycle! Not in my wildest dreams (or nightmares) could I imagine doing this journey that way. They transported their German designed and made cycle from Hamburg to Porto Alegre, Brazil and they hope to ride to Patagonia before going to Chile and Peru. Anne sits in the front on the recumbent seat and Carsten takes the back. We chat about our respective trips. They, of course, face a whole different set of challenges than us but they are enthusiastic and confident that they will be able to accomplish it. We wish them well and hope to meet up with them again as we travel south.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Crossing the border into Uruguay.

The border crossing was a breeze. The most exciting thing to happen was meeting with a fellow traveler from the States. Doing virtually the same route we are but on a motorcycle and by himself. It was quite amazing that, at the most southern point in Brazil and one of the most remote crossings, the only other person was another American. We exchanged stories as the officials took care of our paperwork. The lady at the Aduana office even spoke English. On the Uruguayan side, we processed through immigration and customs with a minimum of fuss. The person who inspected the RV also asked if we had documentation for Winston. I started pulling the USDA certificate, now almost two years old and certificates for rabies and health. He barely glanced at them and said ok. The fact that we have the paperwork and can show it on demand means more to the officials than actually reading it. He also asked if we had any meat or dairy. Because our refrigerator isn’t working and we are using an ice-chest, we didn’t, but other travelers, beware. He would have confiscated them. Even with this, the crossing only took us about 20 minutes. We had planned our first stop to be at the Parque Nacional de Santa Teresa, which was a campground that Sylvia from Paraguay had told us about. It is only about 40 kilometers from the border but first we need to get Uruguayan pesos, groceries and gas. The towns we passed en route had no bank and we were getting concerned. We arrived in Santa Teresa and immediately saw the old fortaleza (fort) on the hill. Built in 1762 it guarded this area of coastline until the early 1800’s. Although the guard allowed us to drive up to it, it was closed. Apparently, it is only open Thursday through Sunday and we vow to try to return providing we are still in the area. From there it was only another few minutes to the national park. To our surprise, it is guarded by the military. We ask about a bank and store. “Chuy”, the guard answered. Chuy? No where closer? He also said we could drive another 40 kilometers south to Castillos. Since we did not really want to retrace our route, we decided to go to Castillos and then explore some coast, maybe camp someplace else. In Castillos, we found the bank, a small supermarket and gas. Close to Castillos is the road to Aguas Dulces, which our map showed had a campground. However the camping was far from the beach and did not look very nice. We decided to go back up the coast and return to the national park. Dogs are technically not allowed but after we were told to keep Winston on a leash and close to the motor home and we agreed, everything was fine. The park is beautifully maintained with plenty of camp sites and small cabinas for rent. There are easy beach access roads and we chose a camp site on a hill overlooking the ocean. We allow Winston to play a little on the beach, under constant supervision of course and we are pleased with our first day in this small country that remains below the radar for most tourists but seems inviting to us.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Florianopolis to Chui (the frontera)

After spending a night at a posto, we were again on beach access roads following the coastline to Porto Alegre. When we arrived at the small town of Arroio do Sal, there was some great parking by the beach on the very quiet roads. Maybe it gets busy in the summer months or even weekends but now the hotels are closed as are many of the shops, but the sleepy beach town was perfect for us. We were able to allow Winston time to roam the beach at his leisure and the two days we spent here were warm and sunny although very windy. The sand dunes were a testament to the fact that the winds must stay gusty here year long. There was also an internet in town so we were able to catch up on emails and Skype our children. Our next stop is just about 50 miles south of Arroio do Sal. It is another small beach town called Xangri-La. Yes, that is pronounced Shangri-La and we can’t resist. If anything it is even more deserted than Arroio do Sal. We note that many houses are under construction or being refurbished but for who we don’t know. Maybe, people come from Porto Alegre on weekends. We find a shady picnic spot on the beach and decide it is good for the night. The beach is wide and flat with plenty of space for Winston. It’s early and we spend an idyllic day on the beach and lazing with our books. We also decided that this will be our last weekend in Brazil. On Monday we will cross the border. With that in mind, Friday became our longest drive day since leaving Peruibe. Over 300 miles. We went inland and by-passed the city of Porto Alegre. This is a huge port and we could see ships waiting to dock. There was also a lot of traffic and we had no wish to be in downtown with the motor home. After Porto Alegre it was on to Pelotas and a decision to make. We could take the shortest route to the border at Jagaurao but we have a few days left, so we decide to drive to Chui. This is Brazil’s southernmost city. There are also a couple of praias very close to the border after Rio Grande and we hope that one will be good for the RV. But first, we spend another night at a posto. Tom has driven all day and is tired. 300 plus miles is a lot given the roads and our frequent stops to stretch our legs and give Winston bathroom breaks. The road from Rio Grande to Chui is a narrow inlet with lagoons and swamps on both sides of the road. We are treated to an array of different birds and as always we think of Bruce, our brother in law and an avid ornithologist. He would love this. As it was we could identify only a few of the many species. Our last two nights in Brazil were spent at Praia Hermenegildo. We were able to park in a paved area at the beach, right next to the Capela Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes, which we took to translate to the Chapel of Our Lady of Navigators. The small capela is beautiful with an altar dedicated to the Virgin and a 5 ft model of an old sailing vessel against one wall. This is also a popular surf spot and by evening there were at least a dozen people in the water but all wearing wetsuits. Tom debated going in with his board but without a suit did not know how long he could stay in. He reconciled with taking his book and sat on the sea wall to watch. Sunday was spent relaxing and preparing for our border crossing. The capela hosted no service but was open so we could go inside and sit. We took long walks with Winston and contemplated our final day here in Brazil.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ilha de Santa Catarina & Praia Canasvieiras.

The 390 mile drive from Peruibe to Florianopolis took us two days, spending the night at a posto in Joinville. Before leaving Peruibe, I had emailed friends that we had met who had motor homes in Brazil, asking for places to stay. Jo & Lis had sent some information about a campsite in Praia Canasvieiras. Camping Costa do Sol turned out to be perfect. It had a river flowing to the ocean on one side and was located right on the beach but with plenty of shade. We were able to park with great views of the river on one side and the ocean on the other. They had water, electricity and sewer hookup but no internet, oh well. It is owned by two gentlemen and Ernesto visited us every day. He introduced us to his grand-daughter and her boyfriend, both of whom speak English and are studying International Relations at a nearby university. We stayed for 6 days, enjoying this beautiful island. Praia Canasvieiras is on the north western side of the island so the water is quite calm with only a little surf. The beach is about a 3 mile stretch of gorgeous white, silky sand. Throughout the days, we took some long walks with Winston. He just loves to race on the beach, jumping in waves and then running back to us for praise. It is so good to see him healthy after some of his recent joint problems. The weather stayed fairly good with only one day of rain – not bad for springtime. On our third day, we took a 5 hour cruise with an outfit called Pirate de Caribe. It was tremendous fun. We visited the Fortaleza de Santa Cruz, a fortress built in the early 1700’s by a brigadier to serve as protection for Florianopolis. Lunch was on another small island, a traditional Brazilian lunch of salad, rice, beans with a selection of fish and chicken. Quite delicious. We watched schools of dolphins, playing around the boat and in our wake and we met Pablo and Cesar. They are on vacation from Buenos Aires and spoke English. They were amazed at our adventures and we exchanged contact information. We will stay in touch and they offered to show us around Buenos Aires. We want to try some Argentinean beef that we have heard so much about and see a tango show. They also told us of some places in Uruguay to visit. Our last two days at the campsite were spent doing laundry and catching up on the never ending maintenance of the motor home. Monday found us on the road again, with the idea we will stay as close to the coast as we can to Porto Alegre and the border.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Leaving Peruibe

The good news is we are going to be back on the road to continue our trip. The bad – leaving our Peruibe “family”. After almost 5 months here, we are leaving. The kindness and friendship that has been shown to us is truly a testament to human beings. We befriended our neighbors Fred and Inga who kindly offered us use of their internet, washing machine and shared dinners. Tony and Ingrid and Franklina were steady companions throughout our stay. Luis, unfortunately, had to return to Egypt for business, but we hope to meet with him again. Ecilla, who owns the local TV station and had interviewed us, remained close to the end. We spent a couple of evenings with Patricia, including a memorable night of pizza and episodes of Fawlty Towers in deference to my (and hers) English upbringing. John Cleese still makes me have belly laughs at his antics. Adriana and her husband Nivaldo came to several of our get-togethers and Adriana – God bless her – managed to get my hair back into shape after some previous dreadful highlight work. Their 4 year old daughter, Carol reminded me that I am really looking forward to grand-children. Marcos helped us tremendously and in addition to several shared dinners, we were able to get to know his wife, Anna and daughters Fernanda, Marianna and Amanda. We spent a great evening in Santos with them and Franklina at the Coliseum listening to a symphonic Beatles Tribute night. Fernando came to our home, drove us to Sao Paulo for our trip to the US and introduced us and some of our friends to a great new restaurant. Maureen, we met through Adriana and Nivaldo. Up until our last day we were meeting new people who had heard of us and came to see us. Our final few days was spent packing the motor home for travel. We managed to get in dinners and the afore mentioned concert with friends. Winston sensed changes were in the air again and our sadness at leaving. Our last night, Ecilla cooked a traditional Bahia (east Brazilian) dinner. In addition to her brother Cleber, Franklina, Ingrid and Marcos were also there. After dinner, thanks to a handout from Franklina, they sang a song for us “Cancao da America” by Milton Nascimento which is about friends who leave and friends who return. We ended the evening with an enthusiastic – if slightly off key – rendition of James Taylor’s “You’ve got a friend”. After Marcos drove us back to our motor home for the night, I reminisced and shed some tears. Of sadness but also joy. Before the night was over, I had reminded Franklina, Ecilla and Ingrid – they are my Peruibe “sisters”. I don’t know when but one day I will visit again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Us on Television

It has been a long time between blogs. We are in Peruibe, Brazil and settled into our small 2 bedroom rental house waiting out the winter before heading to Uruguay, Argentina and Patagonia. I will write about our stay in Peruibe in more detail later. But...we were invited to be on local television and seized the opportunity! We were interviewed separately about our travels and if you are interested here are the You Tube links.

For Angela

For Tom

You can also access it at and search uploads for QI Cultural com Angela and Tom. Enjoy.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Paraguay border to Bonito, Brazil, 200 miles.

First, if ever you do this crossing, stop and shop at Shopping China. This huge duty free store has just about everything and at amazing prices. We bought, amongst other things, lounging chairs for the beach, wine and champagne, gourmet food such as caviar, chocolate from Switzerland and candies from England and shoes for Tom. Traveling from my youth, I had seen stores like this but for Tom, it was astounding. From there it was a visit to the Policia Federal for our immigration and Aduana for the motor home before getting on the road to Bonito. We had been told that the road was well maintained so the trip would only take 5 hours or so. As we drove we were again in swamp and marsh terrain with a variety of birds to keep our interest. At one point we thought we saw ostrich...or emus...or what are they?...we muttered to each other. Without the benefit of the internet we came to the conclusion that they must be some type of rhea from this area. They definitely had the flightless appearance of the emu and some were quite large. Two other species of tall birds caught our interest, one being a road-runner type with a crest on its head and the other we knew from books – it was the 2 meter (7ft. tall) red-necked Tuiuiu stork. The Pantanol is home to about 650 species of birds including ibises, egrets, herons and parakeets. There are also many ranches with herds of Brahma cattle and acres upon acres of corn and sugar cane, most of which goes into the production of alternative fuel. Our campsite in Bonito is operated by Hostel International and similar to the hostel in Foz do Iguaçu but it turned out to be much smaller and not really set up for RVs. We had to park next to their tour vans in a small gravel lot with not much room. The town itself is very small, very touristy and very expensive. Since it is approaching winter here there were very few people and the big attraction – swimming and snorkeling in the local rivers – was cold to say the least. We visited a tourist park, Balneario do Sol which borders the Rio Formosa and has several waterfalls and areas for snorkeling. Tom and I endured a chilling 20 minutes in the water and that was enough for us. The park itself is pretty and clean with trails where you can see macaws, monkeys and a large furry rodent similar to a guinea pig called a capivara. But after all our travels and sight-seeing, Bonito was disappointing to us. After two days we decided to leave and get back to Peruibe and our rental home. We are not sorry we made the trip as if we hadn’t we would have wondered what it would be like but if your time in Brazil is limited, there are many other regions that are much more interesting and satisfying to visit. Sorry Bonito!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

San Bernardino to Pedro Juan Caballero – 300 miles

Heading north-east, we quickly left the populated southern part of the country and began the climb through the sparse, less frequently visited areas of Paraguay. This is the border of the Chaco region which gets extremely hot in the summer months but now in May is cool and pleasant. The first part, low Chaco is known as arroyos (streams) and esteros (marshes). This primeval terrain of swamp and palm forests is a boon for bird-watchers and definitely cattle-raising country with herds of Brahma studding the landscape. We pass acres of swamp, covered for miles in water hyacinth and marsh reeds clearly visible from the road. Due to its remoteness, this area has attracted a number of diverse unusual immigrant communities over the years. The best known are the Mennonites, a strict Protestant sect who settled from the 1920’s onwards. They are famous for their carpentry skills in furniture making and still speak a dialect of German known as Platt Deutsch. A more bizarre story occurred in 1886, in the settlement town of Nueva Germania, north of Coronel Oviedo. Elisabeth Nietzsche, the fanatical and (some say) crazy sister of the philosopher Nietzsche with her equally crazed husband developed a plan to found a pure Aryan colony. This venture went awry (Thank God) when they had to endure the realities of the countryside, other indigenous settlements, dense vegetation and intense heat accompanied by monsoon type rains. The ensuing anger of the colonists they had brought with them led to her husband committing suicide and her return to Germany where eventually she embraced Hitler as her leader. Her story is told by Ben Macintyre in the book “The Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche”, if you are inclined to know more. Our night on the road we spent in Liberacion. The shock here was that our refrigerator has stopped working. After finding propane in Asunción we had gone shopping for meat, chicken and the like for our freezer and now none of it has frozen. Since there is nothing that can be done on the road, we give all our perishable foods to an older man and his family. The looks of gratitude and words of thanks from them almost made up for our own loss. Just one more item to deal with on our stay in Peruibe. The final leg of our trip in Paraguay is to the border town of Pedro Juan Caballero passing Parque Nacional Cerro Cora. The national park was the scene of the last battle in the War of the Triple Alliance and the death of “El Mariscal Lopez”. This was a disastrous war for Paraguay in the 1860’s against Brazil and Argentina in which, it was reckoned more than half the population was killed and only about 30,000 adult males survived, causing Paraguay to be rebuilt mostly by women and to become for a while, a polygamous society which the Catholic Church chose to ignore. There are also caves in the park showing pre-Columbian petroglyphs. We passed many interesting rock formations scattered throughout the landscape dating from this same period in geologic history. As far as border towns go, Pedro Juan Caballero is clean and safe and we park overnight in the lot of the mega duty-free store “Shopping China” which we will browse in the morning before crossing back to Brazil. As always on my last night in a country, I think about its history, the people we have met and the experiences we have taken from our time spent there. The most striking difference in Paraguay is not from the Spaniards occupation but the strong ties that have remained with the Guarani lifestyle and beliefs. In many areas more than 70 percent are completely bi-lingual. The music and poetry of the Guarani is hauntingly beautiful even if you don’t understand it and the modesty and humbleness of the Paraguayan nature show none of the characteristics of the Spanish. They are a gentle, peaceful people who show an almost reverence in the love of their country, their history, their wars and their soldiers. The country is a reminder that the first Spaniards who came here, seeking refuge from the misery and war of the settlements at Buenos Aires wanted not to dominate but to find a Utopia, a paradise. Since then the country has been ravaged by a series of wars and dictators and yet the people remain the same. Unassuming and humble but with a deep sense of unity. And so with the sounds of the harp and guitar of the Guarani music in my head, I am also humbled and glad we visited this small but Utopian country.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sightseeing in Paraguay

We need to go to Asunción to visit the Brazilian and U. S Consulates. We want to check Tom’s visa for re-entering Brazil and he needs more pages in his passport. Geraldo has offered to drive us and we eagerly accept since the alternative is driving the RV which is never an enviable task in the larger cities. As we drive, Tom & I take in the sights of local rural towns and the larger, bustling suburb of Asunción, San Lorenzo. We head to the Brazilian Consulate first and are told the passport is good for another visit to Brazil. Since by now it is lunch time and the U. S. Consulate is closed, Geraldo takes us to one of their favorite dining spots in the city. It is a German restaurant and the food was indeed delicious. After lunch it was time to go to our own consulate. We were warmly greeted although we noticed that security at the U.S. embassy was significantly more than any other. We were told that adding pages was no problem and to wait about 20 minutes. As we were waiting, David came out and chatted with us about our trip to date. He is the secretary and consul for the embassy in Paraguay and has also travelled extensively in South America. We exchanges stories of our experiences and in no time we received the passport complete with another 24 pages. Geraldo offered to take us sightseeing but we had already left Winston for quite a while and wanted to get back to the RV so sightseeing would have to wait for another day. When we returned we did not receive our usual exuberant beagle greeting and noticed that Winston’s hind legs were bothering him again. After visiting the vet in Panama we have been following her instructions to the letter with periodic usage of Doxicycline but it appears it may be recurring. We will watch him for the next few days and see what transpires. The next few days we donate to checking out the area around San Bernardino. In the hills, the small town of Luque (Loo-keh) is famous for its silver filigree work. Hand-made by artisans following a tradition brought by the Spanish, the jewellery and trinkets are truly exquisite. We marvel at the intrinsical work and of course had to purchase some. The other town that interested us was Itagua, located about 7 mile east of Asunción. Famous for its hand crafted production of nanduti or spider web lace which is woven into handkerchiefs, tablecloths, hammocks and clothing. The delicate handmade lace is beautiful with gorgeous colors and again we are drawn to the craftsmanship and care which goes into each unique piece. Our credit card is getting a lot of use! But Winston is getting worse. He now needs help climbing into the RV and we discuss our problem with Silvia and Geraldo. They have three dogs, one of which has recently undergone cancer treatment so they recommend the University of Asunción Veterinary School and Hospital which is located in San Lorenzo. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday found us going back and forth between San Bernardino and the hospital as Winston underwent a series of blood tests, sonograms and x-rays. It wasn’t his old problem but a new one. An x-ray is showing some deterioration of his hip joint and there is a start of mild hip dysplasia. They recommend trying a change in diet and start using the Royal Canin for mobility strength and aspirin and to stick with this for about six weeks. They advise surgery should be a last resort. Well, at least it isn’t some rare, tropical disease. Oh, and the three days of tests and consultations cost us…about $35.00, amazing. Since there is no quick cure, we decide it is time to head back to Brazil. Before going to Peruibe and our rented home, we want to visit Bonito in the Pantanol region. It will take us a couple of days driving north in Paraguay to get to the border so we bid farewell to Silvia and Geraldo and San Bernardino and start the journey.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

San Bernardino and Bi-centennial celebrations.

Our first day in Paraguay and we stay at our lakeside retreat and get acquainted with our hosts, Silvia and Geraldo. Their campgrounds and cabinas are in a breath-takingly beautiful lakeside setting. The lake being Lake Ypacarai (Ee-pa-car-eye). Located about 35 miles from Asunción it is a popular retreat for wealthy Paraguayans from the capital who maintain second homes here or visit on the weekends. It is not a large lake, measuring about 3 by 5 miles but very idyllic surrounded by tropical vegetation. Only one small problem. If we go swimming, explained Silvia, be sure to splash your feet on the bottom. There are stingrays. Hmm, that did it for me. No swimming for this girl! We find out that everything is closed from Friday through Monday for the national holiday, so after we learn that San Bernardino will have its own parade and celebrations we decide to stay here. The festivities were initially planned for Saturday but the day started dark and gloomy and quickly became a huge deluge. A true storm with high winds, rain sheeting down, thunder and lightning. Everyone quickly dispersed and all was postponed until Monday. After shopping at the local supermarket, we hunkered down in the motor home and spent the rest of Saturday and Sunday, reading, playing backgammon and taking short, poncho-wearing walks to the lake with Winston. Sunday showed some improvement in the weather and Monday was clear and sunny. When we arrived at the town center at 9am, people were already gathered and the stage and speaker system at the ready. First were the speeches by the mayor and local officials, interspersed with school bands playing the national anthem and other patriotic tunes accompanied with cries of Viva la Patria and Viva Paraguay. Like our July 4th music, it is very military, marching sounding, very Sousa-like. Then there was a play given by the high school students, re-enacting the revolution and history of Paraguay. It followed not only the events leading to the break from Spain but also the role that the indigenous Guarani and the Jesuit priests played in Paraguayan history. It was very entertaining and both Tom and I were able to follow the story. After it was over, we followed the crowd to the main street in town stopping to photograph a little girl dressed in a long, frilled, patriotic red, white and blue dress with matching ribbons in her hair and a group of the play-starring, high school students. The girls were in long, traditional dresses and the boys dressed in various garb ranging from colonists to colonial soldiers to Jesuit priests. All the children were charming and polite. Of course, as in the past, we always ask before taking pictures. If the children are young, we ask their parents. Most say yes and all are gracious even if they decline. There were chairs set out along the parade route but we elected to stay close to the end of the procession. Tom stood on a high curb so he could take photographs, whilst I stood with a small crowd of moms whose children were taking part in the parade. All the local schools were represented with bands and students clad in costumes of the revolution. All showed their school colors and emblems and proudly marched to the beating of drums and the clash of cymbals. We could not sing along to the tunes as did most of the crowd but we enthusiastically clapped as the children passed by. By early afternoon it was over and to the sounds of fireworks, music and cries of Viva Paraguay we walked down main street and went to eat lunch. Silvia had told us about a restaurant owned by a French couple that serves good food. Le Café Frances was excellent. Madame et Monsieur who are in their seventies, and not only own but actively participate in the running of the establishment welcomed us and gave us a table by the window. The food was delicious and as we ate we listened to the music of pre-world war Europe. Edith Piaf was the only singer I knew but the music was hauntingly beautiful. After dessert we indulged with some coffee and cognac, served by the elderly monsieur in warmed snifters. We sat and sipped and listened to the music. Tom turned to me. “This is beautiful,” he said, “I am so glad we are doing this trip together”. Like so much of the trip, this day was completely unplanned. Paraguay was unplanned. And yet here we are. I could only smile and agree.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Paraguayan border to San Bernardino – 180 miles.

By far the easiest border crossing to date. Even though this is a busy border with hundreds of people crossing every day between the falls, the dam and duty-free shopping in Ciudad del Este, only if you are venturing further into the country do you need to stop. After we were checked out of Brazil at Foz do Iguaçu, we crossed the Puente de la Amistad (Friendship Bridge) that spans the Parana River and divides Paraguay and Brazil. This afforded some beautiful views of the surrounding area. From there it was a quick stop at the immigration and customs building. We went first to Immigration to get our passports stamped and then we were directed to Aduana for the vehicle. There was one official who glanced at our title. He immediately stamped and initialed it. That was it. No photocopies, no request to see our licenses, no vehicle check, no carnet. We had been told and read that carnet was required. That is not so. Winston is also a non issue. Within 15 minutes, after changing some of our Brazilian currency for Guarani with a money changer we were finished. Since it is not possible to exchange Guarani outside of the country, we are only going to try to change what we need and first we need gas. Thinking petrol would be cheaper than Brazil we had waited to fill up. Disappointment. Gas is still expensive around $6.50 a gallon. Oh well. The next step was to navigate through, what is called “South America’s biggest shopping center” – Ciudad del Este. This is a bustling city where Brazilians arrive by bus loads to buy imported, duty free goods. Tom asked if I wanted to stop. After looking at the crowded walkways and the masses of humanity, I declined. What could we possibly need that would require struggling through the crowds? With the help of the many police who direct traffic through the busy intersections of streets thronged with people, we were through the town and on our way. Our stop for the night was to be San Bernardino, a resort town on Lake Ypacarai, about 35 miles from Asunción. We had read online about a hostel and campground which had room for motor homes and offered water and power. Hopefully we can camp there and get used to our new country. Just as we began the drive on Highway 7, known as the Mariscal Estigarribia Highway, we arrived at the first, of what turned out to be many police/military checkpoints. Naturally we are stopped. After a perfunctionary check of our passports and title, the inevitable questions began. How long had we been travelling? How were our experiences? Questions upon questions. Tom and I answer good naturedly and with laughter. Sharing stories as best we can in our limited Spanish, which after 4 months in Brazil has become rusty, we chat. Although this adds to the time it takes to travel, we understand that for some of these officials, it may be their only chance at talking with Americans and we want to leave a good impression of our own people and country behind. As we travel we view ourselves as ambassadors for America and realize that for many of the people we meet, this will be their only contact with Americans. We want the experience to be as pleasant for them as it is for us. So, we indulge their curiosity. The road is a toll road and we make good time even with the stops. We also learn that in a few days, on May 15th, it is the bi-centennial of Paraguay’s independence from Spain in 1811. At one of the stops we are presented with an emblem to honor the occasion, which we promptly hang from our mirror, much to the delight of the attendant. As we travel, we pass roadside vendors selling pottery and wood carvings from the nearby villages, the most famous being Tobati and beautiful wood furniture made by descendents of the Mennonites. We pass through the town of Caacupe, which today is quiet but is known for its celebration on December 8th, when pilgrims come from all over Paraguay carrying heavy stones on their heads as penance. We also pass many stores called Chiparrias and wonder about them. It turns out that chipas are small cakes made from maize and are sold by the Guarani. We see traditional Guarani women carrying baskets on their heads, filled with fruit and chipas. All of this is surrounded by a landscape that is lush and sub-tropical. Lots of agriculture with fields of corn and soya. Well-fed cattle, goats and sheep, graze on the abundant grasses in fields by the side of the road. It is all so new and exciting to us. As we turn from the main highway for the final 10 kilometers to San Bernardino and the lake it is getting dark, so it was with relief when we finally arrive at the resort. A friendly lady called Silvia greeted us. On 6 hectares we are the only ones here. Winston is in heaven and as soon as we park takes off to explore his new surroundings. It has been a long day but we have made it. We are in Paraguay and at a very pretty lakeside campground. We will definitely stay a couple of days and try to decide where to spend the May 15th, bicentennial Independence Day celebrations.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Foz do Iguaçu

The first thing that comes to mind about “Foz” is water. Water, primarily the Parana and Iguaçu rivers almost define the very existence of this tourist destination. I use the term “tourist” loosely, as the remoteness of the town keeps tourists to only the most adventuresome and curious. Without the Parana River, there would be no Itaipu Dam with the world’s largest producing hydro-electric plant and without the Iguaçu River, those famous, completely spectacular Iguaçu Falls would not have been created. In addition it is also the cornerstone for the Brazilian border with both Paraguay and Argentina as evident by the Marca dos Tres Fronteras (The Three Border Monument). Foz do Iguaçu co-exists not only with Brazil but also in its close proximity to the other two countries with many visitors entering and leaving daily. In addition, our visit was highlighted by our choice of camping facilities. The Hostel Paudimar is beautiful, clean and well-maintained. We were able to have power and water and much to Tom’s surprise and delight, a sewer dump. These have been few and far between and he has had to resort to using the “bucket technique” for emptying our black water tank, not an enviable task but we absolutely refuse to jungle dump. There is laundry service, swimming pool, restaurant and a huge field where we can let Winston run. What more could a traveler need? The other thing we need to do is go to the Paraguayan Consulate in town. Like Brazil, Tom being a US citizen needs a visa; Angela with her UK passport does not. We also have questions regarding the motor home – do we need Carnet (insurance) or not – and Winston. The weather is gloomy and rainy so we spent the first couple of days relaxing at the campground. We are told that by midweek the weather will be sunny for our trip to the falls. Tuesday found us at the consulate. It was easy. With just a photo and payment of $100.00 we have the visa and according to the consulate, driving into Paraguay with the RV and Winston will not be a problem. On the way back to the hostel, we stopped off at the Tres Fronteras Marca. The view is amazing with the Parana River running down the center, Argentina to the left and Paraguay to the right, both national flags clearly visible from our own vantage point on the Brazilian side. Wednesday, we go to Itaipu Dam. Built as a joint venture between the governments of Brazil and Paraguay, Itaipu Dam is the second largest hydro electric plant (China now has the first) in the world but it is the largest producer of hydro-electric power. Classified as one of the seven wonders of the modern world, the dam is a feat of engineering and ingenuity. In addition to the panoramic tour we elected to take the technical tour which gives an overview of not only the workings of the plant but also how Brazil and Paraguay by joint agreement and personnel (50% of employees are Brazilian, 50% Paraguayan) who do not share a common language (Brazilians speak Portuguese and Paraguayans, Spanish) manage to co-ordinate their efforts into this huge power-producing facility. Thursday and Friday, we dedicated to the cataratas, Iguaçu Falls. Spectacular. Awesome. Amazing. Jaw-dropping. There are not enough adjectives to explain the absolutely powerful, thundering, beauty of these falls. Since they border both Brazil and Argentina, they can be viewed from the National Parks on both sides. Wednesday we spent on the Argentina side, doing a boat trip which took us up close and personal to some of the areas. It was very exciting and very wet! Thank goodness it was a sunny day and we could dry off quickly. We were also able via a string of trails and walkways, to get extremely close to many areas of the falls especially an area called Garganta Del Diablo (the Devil’s Throat canyon). The sheer amount of water that cascaded over the edge was amazing. The trail back through the park also provided close encounters with coatmundis, monkeys and, what has quickly become my most favorite of birds, the beautiful Toucan. Friday, we visited the Brazilian side with another couple who are travelling from Ireland. Steve and Jenny have been on the road for three months going first to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Then onto Australia and New Zealand and finally Peru and Brazil before going home to Dublin. They are young, energetic and loving life and Tom and I enjoyed spending the day with them before taking them to the airport to visit Rio before going home. The Brazilian side is more tranquil, more serene and gives the most beautiful panoramic views of these amazing cascades. Again easily accessible trails and walkways give up close and at times very wet experiences. On both days we saw gorgeous rainbows, single, double, triple ones created by the mist and sun. We were truly awe-struck. Everyone, it seems has their favorite side. Neither Tom nor I could decide as both are vastly different and both should be seen. The Argentine side is larger, more developed and more dramatic where as the Brazilian side is definitely more panoramic, scenic and with a greater overview of the falls. We took hundreds of photos, which once I have sorted them, we will post. Friday night we gave ourselves a treat. We got dressed up and went to a dinner and show at the Rafain, an event center in town. It was a churrascaria (Brazilian barbeque) buffet and a show featuring traditional music and dancing from South America. Since we rarely get gussied up and go out for the evening, this was a great way to end a remarkable few days of sight-seeing. Our last 4 days, we stayed around the campground. Tom did a little maintenance on the R.V. and I did some cleaning and preparation for the upcoming border crossing to Paraguay. We gave Winston a much needed bath and generally lazed around enjoying the solitude and sun. Wednesday we will cross the border into Paraguay and as there is little written by overlanders about that small land-locked country we are not quite sure what awaits us. Exciting!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Peruibe and a change of plans

The sleepy, small beach town of Peruibe is perfect for us. Not too many people during the week and a little busier on the weekends with mostly people coming from Sao Paulo to their beach homes. Within a few days we had met several of the locals and were becoming fast friends with Tony and his wife Ingrid and Luis and his wife Franklina. Tony had lived in the US for 30 years and immediately offered us the use of their home for showers, internet, laundry and anything else that was needed. Luis is a geo physicist who works for a US company and travels mostly to the middle- east for oil exploration and Franklina stays Brazil at their home in town. We are also very aware that we are woefully behind schedule and winter (southern hemisphere) is fast approaching. Our original goal had been to be in Patagonia no later than March and here it is April and we are still in Brazil. In addition we need to go back to the United States at the end of July for about three weeks for Tom’s mom’s 90th birthday. The family has scheduled a Mexican Riviera cruise for the party and it is a good opportunity to catch up with family and friends. However, leaving Winston and our motor home had been a dilemma. This was solved when Tony and Ingrid kindly offered to take care of both whilst we were gone. Being retired does have benefits and having a flexible schedule is one of those. We study our maps and timetable and revise our plans. We will still go to Foz do Iguaçu but from there will go to Paraguay (not originally on our list) and will come back to Brazil either via Argentina in the south or go to northern Paraguay and head into the Pantanal region of Brazil before coming back to Peruibe. With the help of Franklina and Elena (a realtor friend) we rented a house for June and July. After our trip back to the States, we will continue going south in Brazil down the coast to Uruguay, also not on our original itinerary before travelling from Montevideo to Buenos Aires by ferry. We will miss some of central Argentina but we will see more countries and will be back on schedule to be in Patagonia in December. As we plan our visit for Foz do Iguaçu and beyond, we are visited by a lady from the local TV company. When we return, she wants to do an interview with me regarding our travels. What fun. On the day of our departure, we sign the rental agreement; get a farewell gift from Franklina – a bag filled with local goodies and a last lunch with Tony and Ingrid. Early afternoon finds us on the road. We hope to be in Foz do Iguaçu in 3 days.

Monday, April 25, 2011

From Rio - South

We have decided to take the coast road, once again in lieu of the more direct route to Sao Paulo. As with many of the large cities, Sao Paulo with an estimated population of 11 million is somewhere we will try to avoid if possible. Large cities and RVs do not mix well! Also the coastal route between these two renowned cities, a drive of 375 miles is considered one of the most stunning stretches of coastline in the world. The Costa Verde or “Green Coast”. Our first stop was a little south of Angra dos Reis (The King’s Cove) which is a beautiful bay with hundreds of tropical islands. This is a perfect bay for snorkeling as it is a protected marine area and you can see thousands of fish and turtles. After the madness of Carnaval in Rio, this was a welcome respite and we stayed for a few days parked at a campground in Tarituba which also offered cabins for rent but we were fortunate to be able to park the motor home next to the beach away from the cabins. As we continued south we avoided the larger resort areas and camped at smaller beaches along the way. At Praia Boicucanga, we parked along the roadside by some restaurants and were lucky enough to pick up Wi-Fi from a local store and at Boraceia we found a campground which offered us power and water and was again close to the beach. We are now no longer in the protected bay and these praia are well known surf spots so Tom got in some well deserved boogie board time. Winston ran like a mad dog on the beaches, relishing his freedom. When we arrived at Boraceia we immediately saw another RV, a Mercedes, smaller than ours. No-one was around but after about 30 minutes, a couple returned. Jo and Lis are from Sao Paulo and they were able to give us the names and directions to other campgrounds as we go further south. Thanks to them, our next stop was in Bertioga at a really nice, well maintained campsite opposite the ocean. As we pulled in we saw a huge motor home, about 45 feet long. The biggest we have seen since leaving Mexico. It was obvious that it had a permanent place at the campsite. Chico and his wife Marcia have a business in Santos (a city about one hour south) and come up on weekends with their two daughters, Carolina and Vivi. We quickly became friends and shared several meals with them. Vivi is three years old and fell in love with Winston. She just could not stop chasing him, petting him and playing with him. Carolina had her laptop and when English got too difficult we resorted to Google translator to help us out. After they left on Sunday, we stayed a couple more days before leaving. We did not want to stay in Santos but we needed to stop and find propane. In Rio, Bruno at Ultragaz had been very helpful and after getting lost in the port area only twice, we found the Ultragaz main facility. Cesar is the manager and speaks English. Yes, they would fill us but we would have to wait until about 3pm for a truck. No problem. We also asked about places to camp for the night and after much discussion we were told that Santos was not really suitable but Praia Grande just a little further south should be ok. We parked by the side of the beach overnight and then made our way to the last beach town of Peruibe before heading inland to the border at Foz do Iguaçu.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Photos of Rio de Janeiro

Attached is the link to our photos of Rio de Janeiro.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rio de Janeiro. February 23rd – March 14th, 2011

Rio is overwhelming, over populated, over-crowded, over exuberant and over the top and yet we loved it. The fact that is was Carnaval also contributed to the influx of people and activity. Before arriving, even when we started planning the trip, one of our goals was not to be in Rio for Carnaval and we are and loving every minute. The city has a stunning setting flanked by the Bay of Guanabara and the Atlantic Ocean, with a landscape that builds up the sides and around enormous granite mountains and flows down to the many world renowned beaches notably Copacabana and Ipanema, giving a topography that looks to have been molded by nature. The 7 million residents who are known as “Cariocas” exhibit the casual, open friendliness that is often associated with Brazil and the tourists which at times triple the city’s population are definitely here to have fun. Our stay extended from a few days to almost three weeks, thanks in part to our meeting Mauricio and his wife Maria, a Brazilian couple who reside in Rio. Our generator was still giving us grief so Tom found an Onan Cummins service distributor online and we called them. Mauricio, who works there, speaks English and directed us to bring in the RV to them. They are more used to the newer diesel generators than our older gas-powered model but nevertheless the two mechanics Daniel and Gladson, with Mauricio providing the translation, over the course of a week, managed to get the generator working like never before and it is now purring like a kitten. Tom is ecstatic. When Mauricio found out we were only planning to stay a few days, he was shocked. “How can you leave” he said to us. “It is Carnaval. People plan for a year to come here and enjoy the experience”. We had all the old clichés. Too many people, too dangerous, too expensive. “Nonsense”, he assured us. “The people who want to party, do so all night and sleep through the day, leaving the major attractions quieter. The government, both State and Federal are working hard to ensure peace and have a campaign in place for reducing crime mostly due to the World Cup Soccer tournament being in Rio in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 and the Carnaval street parades are free. If you want to go to the Sambadromo, the ticket prices vary from inexpensive to outrageous, depending on your seat location. If you do not stay for Carnaval, you will regret it later” We promised to think it over and arranged to meet him and his wife for dinner at a local churrascaria (Brazilian barbeque) restaurant. The meal was different and delicious. It is served by waiters who come to your table with a huge variety of barbeque beef, chicken, pork, lamb, ribs, and sausages of various persuasions on skewers and rib-eye and fillet steaks on platters. Side dishes of vegetables and potatoes are brought to your table as needed. This is an all you can eat smorgasbord and I can honestly say that when we left we could not have eaten another mouthful. During dinner, we exchanged life stories and by the end the result was, two more friends from our travels and we will stay for Carnaval. Also, March is a rainy month in Rio and we will have to wait for clear days to go to two of the main attractions, Pao de Azucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) and Corcovado Mountain where the trademark statue of Rio’s, Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) is located. Both of these attractions are better on clearer days due to the spectacular views. We also decided to rent a car so we can leave the motor home in the RV park with Winston and get around the city more comfortably. But first it’s Carnaval! The name, by the way, is believed to be a derivation of the Italian phrase “carne vale” or farewell to meat. It is 4 days (5 in Salvador) of lavish extravagance, excitement and exhibitionism that for better or worse has come to be a symbol of Brazil. Samba is the signature trademark music and dance and there is huge rivalry in competition between the large samba schools. After months of preparation and practice, the gates of the samba stadium, the Sambadromo, designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer are opened and about 65,000 spectators with tickets are seated along the kilometer long parade street to watch the samba schools shimmy and shake their way, telling a story with their individual music score, dancers, musicians and floats. To give an idea of the size of the schools, the rules of competition are no more than eight full size floats and 4,000 participants per school with a routine that lasts not longer than 85 minutes. It is extravagance at its best and Tom and I were fortunate to attend one of the nights. (Photos will follow, once we have assembled them). Oh and the parades, they consist of 6 schools each night for 4 nights (Sat – Tues), starting at 9pm and the last school scheduled at 3am, with an end at around 4:30 in the morning. We lasted until 1am and called it a night. It took us an hour to get back to our car through the streets of revelers and another hour to get to the RV Park. Even though it was exciting and amazing, this was the latest we had stayed up in a long time but we are glad we stayed and experienced it. And safety. Not once did we feel threatened or in danger. There are more than enough police and military to keep an eye on the activities and knowledgeable enough to know when to intervene. We also managed several visits to the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, the cable car ride to Sugar Loaf and a memorable trip up Corcovado Mountain to the statue. Memorable because the weather would not co-operate with us and with our time in Rio running out, the day was cloudy and rainy so there were no good views. (Photos again to follow). But that did not change our love for Rio. Both of us gave the city our biggest accolade by agreeing that this is one place that we will return to again, if only to see those views from the statue.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Amazon River Barge Photos

The link to the photos of our 5 days on the Amazon is Enjoy

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Salvador to Rio de Janeiro. 1,300 miles.

After leaving Praia do Forte and Salvador, we spent the night at a posto in Gandu before getting to our first beach stop at a praia just south of Ilheus, about 240 mile from Salvador. Ilheus is known for its beaches and being the growing region for 95 percent of Brazil’s cocoa production. Got to love that! Looking at the enormous banana plantations that we passed through, we surmised they also heavily contribute to that crop production also. In addition we passed vineyards although most of the wine from Brazil comes from the Valle do Sao Francisco region. We found a large campground with quite a few tent campers and were able to park facing the ocean. They also have 110 power available and water. We decide to stay two days and after putting up the awning, took Winston to the water. This is open water so plenty of wave action for Tom to boogie board. Winston has a couple of resident dogs to play with and I want to catch up on my computer work (blogs, book etc) and finish our taxes, so we can efile at the next internet café. No better place to complete that task than listening to the ocean and smelling the sea air. After another night at a posto, we want to get back to the coast. It’s Saturday and my birthday. On the way we stop off at the many roadside stands offering wood carvings made by the local artisans and from a variety of Brazilian hardwoods. We bought a large platter that had attractive grain patterns and a trivet. As we drove we went through massive eucalyptus forests that are planted, cultivated and cut. After another stop at the grocery store, it was time to find a beach spot. We followed the coast road to the small town of Alcobaca and were able to park by the ocean. Tom barbequed hamburgers and corn and we ate watching the moon rise over the Atlantic, toasting my birthday with a bottle of Brazilian Syrah. Simple and perfect. Sunday, found us on the road again getting ever closer to Rio. We were again driving through eucalyptus plantations and the people were working even on a Sunday as we passed huge logging trucks. After driving through the large port town of Vitoria, we once again took the coast road from BR101 through the small towns of Anchietta and Piuma to the small beach of Barra do Sahy. We had hoped to park at a campground there that we had seen advertised but arriving realized it was too small with lots of trees and suitable only for tent camping. But there were plenty of parking spots on the beach so we took one that had coconut palms for shade overlooking the ocean and was the ideal spot to finish the day by playing in the sand with Winston. Monday and it is driving again. This is granite and marble territory. We see huge mining operations in the mountains where the granite is carved into about 8 by 10 foot blocks and trucked down the mountain to a cutting and polishing facility. After that process, it is again loaded onto trucks for distribution, most of it worldwide, some to the States. We pass through the town of Campos Dos Goitacazes which is the last large city before Rio. It is one of our longest drive days yet, as we take the coast road to Quissama and finally at darkness find the beach at Praia de Joao Francisco. We have driven over 280 miles and we are tired but on the way we had stopped at a fishmonger and purchased some lobster tails and freshly caught tuna. We can freeze the lobster for a later date but want to eat the tuna immediately. Tom seared it and prepared a wasabi sauce to go with it. That and some tomatoes that we had purchased at a farmers stand were the gourmet dinner tonight at the casa. Tuesday and finally Rio. It is with great excitement that we study the map and plot our way through the city to a campground that we had read about. The book is a few years old now and we hope it still exists. But first we need to negotiate the city traffic. As we cross the huge bridge that spans the Bay of Guanabara, it is cloudy and a little smoggy but that can’t dampen our enthusiasm as we spy Sugar Loaf Mountain and Rio’s trademark statue of Christ the Redeemer, atop a mountain, arms spread wide to encompass the city and its people. On the ocean side there are cargo ships and tankers as far as the eye can see, waiting to come into port. Then we descend and become one of the hoards of vehicles trying to maneuver through the city streets. After getting lost, twice and asking directions we made it to the campground. It still exists. It is small but we manage to get the motor home to a shady spot under some trees where we can plug into electricity and water. There is some cabin-style housing and it looks like some people live here permanently. There are also 3 dogs that are more than a little territorial and they bark and growl at Winston. Time to try out some of the lessons from watching Cesar, the Dog Whisperer. I put Winston on a long leash and armed with a broom, in case things go badly and a pocketful of treats, go outside. The lead alpha dog growls and comes closer. I crouch down and in my friendliest voice tell him he’s a good dog and introduce Winston, at the same time putting a small treat into each of my hands. I hold one to Winston and one to the dog. He sniffs and takes the treat. I then repeat it bringing both dogs closer together. The growling has stopped. I try to pet him but he’s nervous and tries to nip at me. I make myself big and tell him No! I remind him he’s a good dog and he takes more treats. He sniffs Winston, Winston wags his tail. At least now he is tolerating Winston and I leave them, watching from a little way off in case things take a turn for the worse, as they become acquainted. I prepare Winston’s evening meal and a little dry food for the other dog. The other two have retreated and are watching from the main house. As Winston eats, I offer the dry food and it is immediately gobbled up. I get a tail wag so attempt to pet him again. He flinches but lets me pet his head and ears. I don’t think he is shown much affection, poor thing. As I go into the RV, he is lying with Winston and the two are playing a little. I remind myself to give Winston and extra dose of Frontline. Tom has leveled the RV and got the power going. He gets a couple of beers and we toast each other. We have made it. We have driven more than 4,000 miles in the 5 weeks we have been in Brazil and travelled another 1,000 or so down the Amazon but we are here. We will play tourist for the next few days as there are several places we want to see but for now, the RV and ourselves are in a safe place and Winston has a new, best friend.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Maceio to Praia do Forte. 340 miles. (February 9th – 14th, 2011)

Leaving Praia do Frances we drove on BR101 to Estancia, passing through Aracaju and then took the Linha Verde (the coastal road) to Salvador. The Linha Verde is beautiful, following the Atlantic Ocean with gorgeous, well maintained beaches bordered by coconut palms. Our first night we spent in Porto do Sauipe in the old part of town. The newer part of the Costa was built in 2001 with luxury resorts and a world renowned golf course but we could not park there, so we stayed in the old town by the beach. It is only for the night as we need to make up a little time – Rio is still more than 1,300 miles away! Before leaving on Thursday morning, we browsed the local artisan shops and purchased a large, pretty blue quartz carving of a girl dancing. Carvings from Brazilian hardwoods and quartz are extremely ubiquitous and are found everywhere in the area. This one happened to be done by the owner and was very reasonable. Our stop in Salvador was actually about 30 mile from the city at Praia do Forte. This is a 7 mile stretch of white sand beach bordered by palms with warm, turquoise water and plenty of reefs. As we entered the town we were hoping to park on the beach but finally settled for a 24 hr. guarded, fenced lot with water and electricity about a block inland. Also, imagine our surprise to see another motor home, the first we have seen in a long time, owned by a Brazilian couple. Marcia and Wilson are from the state of Parana and are vacationing on the northeast coast. They will follow the path we have just taken before returning home through the central mountain region. They were astonished at our journey and had many questions for us. Praia do Forte is amazingly pretty and we will stay through the weekend and leave Tuesday. We even find the time to browse some of the shops and Tom bought a pair of shorts and a shirt whilst I found a couple of pretty swimsuit cover-ups embroidered with Baiana lace that the state of Bahia is famous for and a dress. Sunday we went to mass at one of the smallest churches we have visited. It is located right on the beach and it was definitely one of the most exuberant, energetic services’ we have attended so far. The Salvador region is where much of the food, religion, dances and music that symbolizes Brazil originated. The Catholic Portuguese culture was blended with the beliefs and ways of the slaves who were brought from Western Africa to produce the hypnotic, rhythmic beat of symbolizes Brazilian life. The Brazilians love of music and dance is in evidence everywhere we go and their exuberance for life prevalent in every aspect of the culture. And so it was in church that Sunday that we heard mass accompanied by drumbeats and a tambourine, played by a Rastafarian man with the congregations voices singing to a Brazilian beat and yet surrounded by the incense and formality of a more traditional Catholic service. Even though we could not understand the sermon or parts of the mass, Tom and I completely loved participating in the clapping and hand-holding that accompanied the music. What fun.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Maceio. February 3rd – 8th, 2011)

Time to regroup and work on that list. Thursday, we decide to stay at the posto and since we have all the components to fix the camper that is what we will do. We spent most of the day on that task and as Tom did the work, I fetched and carried, made sure his power drill stayed charged and helped with the bracing and nailing. We have also decided to get rid of an extra spare tire that is taking up space. We have been carrying two spares, one with a rim mounted on the back of the RV and the other in a storage compartment but without a rim. We have had new tires since Acapulco and now think one spare will be sufficient. Plus we want the extra space that getting rid of it will give us. By day’s end we felt good about our progress and rewarded ourselves with a lobster dinner cooked in a white wine and garlic sauce. Yum! Friday we drive to the city of Maceio and ask directions to a dealership. As we drive on the main road into town we see two propane plants, Ultragaz and Brasilgas. Since, in Natal Brasilgas would not fill us, we thought we’d try Ultragaz first. No, said a nice gentleman, we can’t but Brasilgas has the connection. We shrug, we have nothing to lose. Tom goes up to the guards at the gate and gets the same reply. They can’t help. We had discussed this prior to him asking, so he immediately asked for the manager (jefe). No, Tom is told. He insisted, we want to talk to the person in charge. Finally they relent and go to the plant manager. He checks out our connections and talks to us. Like most people, he is impressed we have come so far. Do we like Brazil? How are the people? We reply we love Brazil but getting propane is difficult. “I will call for a truck to come here and we will fill you”, he said. Another lesson learned. We will not be turned away again until we speak to the person in charge first. We are told the truck will be here at about 2:30, so I stay with the RV and Tom walks to a huge Home Depot type store to replenish some of his fix-it supplies, tape, caulking, sealants etc. By 3pm, we have propane and on our way to Ford. Once there, they check out the oil gauge. They can find nothing wrong and think it is just a sensor malfunction but they don’t have a new sensor. They basically tell us not to worry and Tom agrees. If it is just a sensor then we should be ok. They chat about the generator and offer to take us to another dealership, Hyundai and they think there is a mechanic there who knows generators. He also could not help but he did think that Honda would. It is too late to go to Honda so we make that a Saturday task and instead ask for places to shop, internet and spend the night. The beach is the place to camp and on the way they tell us about two supermarkets and an internet café. We follow their directions and find the markets. We go to Extra. This is the best stocked market that we have seen since Costa Rica, lots of high quality produce, meats and a good wine selection. We even find a favourite cheese of ours, aged Rembrandt Gouda that we have not seen since the US, we get two chunks and some parma ham, which is also hard to find. We also find the beach. It is Friday night and crowded but driving all the way to the end, the paved road ended and we found a secluded spot under the palm trees. After too many days tethered, Winston finally gets to run again. He and Tom go to the water, whilst I prepare the RV for the night. Pork chops are on the menu and Tom is cooking. We see flashing lights outside, it is a visit by the local police. They indicate we must move. Where we are parked there are no street lights and there are roaming bandits who wear masks and are armed. They tell us to move about 50 yards back under a light and they will keep a watch on us for tonight. No problem. We move, we are satisfied with our progress and we sleep well. On Saturday, we headed back into town to find the Honda repair shop. On the way, I see a laundry. Stop! We park and I talk to the lady. Laundry has not been done since Ciudad Bolivar and we have lots. She can have everything ready by 5pm on Monday. That’s fine. One more thing accomplished. At the Honda shop, we met Guilherme, he is the owner/manager and speaks English. They set to work, dropping the generator, taking it apart and cleaning the carburetor and other things! (I am very mechanically challenged). They work for several hours but still can’t get the darned thing to run with any regularity. They are stumped, Tom is stumped and as I grapple to understand the mechanics of a generator, I am stumped. We have done what we can. Guilherme feels bad that he can’t help us further and we assure him it’s ok. Our next step will be an internet and try to contact Onan generators. Computers and the internet, I understand and do not stump me. Guilherme also tells us of a beach going south about 20 kms called Praia do Frances and that is where we plan to spend Sunday. On our way we stop at an internet café and contact friends and family, post blogs and download more library books onto our ereaders, then we find the beach. It is beautiful. White sand and a reef just offshore so at low tide the water is calm. We see people with snorkel, spear guns and scuba gear. We smile, this is perfect. As we park, we see a house right on the beach which is also a scuba school, ran by a Brazilian couple who it turns out have travelled extensively and speak English. They invite us to park by their home and run a cord for electricity and to use their internet. We offer to pay them but they refuse. We cook the fresh fish we had purchased for dinner and reflect on the past few days. We have had some problems but are working through them. We have found a great place to spend Sunday and we just might get to do some snorkeling. Sunday, the beach is packed with people and the scuba school, Ecoscuba is busy. We chat with the owners and Tom books a scuba session for Monday, when it will be quieter and not as many people at the reef. An extra day here. We need it and deserve it. Sunday and Monday we completely chill out. We play in the water, snorkel and take in the sun. We catch up on internet work and fully charge all our batteries – ours included. I even download Turbotax and start on our taxes, what better place to do them than whilst looking out over a blue ocean as it breaks over a reef, the dog at my feet and my husband happily snorkeling. Sunday we marinated the second half of a filet mignon we had bought previously and invited Flavia and Tom, Wagner and her visiting sister to join us for dinner. On Monday Tom went scuba diving on the other side of the reef with Tom from Ecoscuba. He had a wonderful time, saw plenty of fish, sea snakes and corals. Even snofkelling, the water is clear and we see tropical reef fish and corals. We feel good about things again. Tuesday, we set off for Maceio again. We will pick up our laundry, have a tire shop check our tires , the front ones are showing uneven wear and mail our postcards back to the States. It took us all day to do those tasks, so we spent the night again in front of Ecoscuba at Praia do Frances, our door facing the ocean and the sea breezes coming through the screen door and windows, which we leave open. Our list of woes is no longer and we can now stay on the coastal litoral and avoid the main towns all the way to the next city we want to visit, Salvador. Also attached is the link to view the photos we took from Angel Falls. Just copy and paste.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Natal to Maceio. 335 miles. February 1st & 2nd, 2011.

These were probably the most frustrating two days of our trip. We set off Tuesday morning to find the Liquigas plant. Going back into Natal, we stop at the police checkpoint and ask for directions. They drew us a detailed map through the city to the north industrial zone. There is major construction work and it took us more than 2 hours to get to the plant, only to be told they don’t have the correct connections and can’t help us. Next to them is a Brasilgas plant. We drive to their gate and after about an hour, they tell us they could fill us but they don’t sell to individuals. Tom pleads with them but they are unmoved. We don’t have an account and they can’t help. Fuming, with his blood pressure elevated, Tom gets back into the truck and we decide to find the beach and stay overnight. It took another 2 and half hours to get through town and back to where we had started. We find the turnoff for the Pipa and see it is about 15 miles from the main road. When we get there we quickly realize that Pipa, like Canoa Quebrada is a tourist resort with the same narrow cobbled streets and nowhere to maneuver the RV. We try a second town close by but again the RV was too large to find anyplace to safely park. We are tired and frustrated. Our only option is to go back to the main highway and find a posto for the night. It was dark before we arrived in Mamanguape and found a place. Wednesday, our list of woes just kept growing. We need to try to find someone to fix the generator. We need to try to find propane. And the part of the camper that comes over the front cab which is a bed but is what we use for storage, is coming apart and Tom needs to do some carpentry repair work. We sigh. We drive. As we approach the large port city of Recife, we devise a plan. We will find a home store where Tom can buy some 2 x 4 wood, bolts and hardware for the repairs. We will try to find a generator mechanic and if it is convenient we will get propane. We find a store for the wood and they send us to another for the hardware. One thing down. A gas station attendant who spoke some English told us where to go to find a mechanic. Ave. Norte. It was a narrow street with repair shops on both sides. Even if we could find the correct mechanic, we would never be able to park the RV on such a street. We drive and find ourselves on the outskirts of town. What to do? One road leads to the litoral which follows the coast, the other goes back to the main highway. I look at Tom. We can’t go the scenic route and follow the coast; we need towns where we can fix our problems. We drive towards the next port city of Maceio and talk about a course of action. To repair the camper, Tom needs electricity for his power tools but we don’t have a generator. We need a posto with electricity to do the work. We have now driven more than 200 miles again and we are tired. There are plenty of postos just before the city and pull into one. It was ok but we decide to try the Texaco a little further down the road. We drive in and see they have a TV room that has plugs we can use. As Tom parks and prepares the RV for the night, I walk Winston and take a deep breath. Dinner will be easy, just vegetable soup that we had made and still have a package frozen and tuna salad sandwiches. As we eat, I try to come up with a plan. We still need a mechanic and we still need propane. Tom looks at me. There is something else. As we drove today, he had noticed that the oil gauge was running hot. The list just keeps getting bigger. In addition we need an internet to check on things at home and a laundry to wash our clothes. Also, another trip to a supermarket is needed and we have some postcards to mail. I feel overwhelmed. One thing at a time, so after dinner I head to the TV room to charge both computers and Tom reads. There is nothing more we can do tonight. To paraphrase Scarlett in Gone with the Wind, tomorrow is another day.