Favela life

You are supposed to see things positive so right now I can happy announce that i do not need to get any favela tours. But before that, lets start from the beginning.

The flight was just as it supposed to and it felt like we arrived in no time at all. With one of the fastest and most efficient custom/pass control I was suddenly in Brazil. Since I have no knowledge at all in Portuguese and I heard some bad rumors about taxi drivers that doesn’t find their way I had booked a airport shuttle and the driver was standing, waiting for me and within a few minutes we went off to what I thought would be my hostel in the outskirts of a favela, I was wrong.

My hostel is located in the middle of a favela, of course there is no roads to it so I had to walk the last hundreds of meter, up for narrow and steep stairs, through narrow alleys with what looks like half built houses surrounding it. I did however find it and it is a really nice hostel with an amazing view over Copacabana but every second here feels like a scene from Cidade de Deus. I do however not feel insecure here but I do think before I grab my camera and I am a bit more restricted of what and where I shoot.

Today I woke up a bit jet lagged but solved it by walking around the area. Started with Copacabana beach, moved over to Ipanema beach and finished with a stroll through the botanic garden before I headed back to my hostel, via the favela of course. Around 25 degrees and really cozy walk so I dont complain, however my feet does since they are not used to 40 000 steps per day.

Jesus sees you!

I’ve got a feeling that wherever you are in Rio de Janeiro Jesus will look down at you. Is it an attempt to make the Brazilians to live a life with less sin? Maybe, but as long as its easy to ask for redemption the life continue as usual but I decided to visit Jesus.

After some Googling I decided to take a taxi to the statue, after a couple of attempts to pronounce the name of Cristo Redentor the cab driver finally understood where I wanted to go, however haggling about the price was out of the question but after some while we agrees to use the taximeter.
I thought that the taxi would take me to the statue but I was wrong, instead I ended up and had to take a tram up the mountain. The tram was more like the start of a roller coaster, so steep but the view was totally magic and made it worth every second. Once up at the top I realized that Jesus is not big, he is just as huge as the number of people up there watching him. Even if there is so many people up there, this is a must if you are in Rio de Janeiro.

Also, then you are there I recommend that you on your way down jump off at the first station and head to the viewpoint Mirante Dona Marta. Its 1-2km from the tram station and you can easily walk it or do like me, take a mc-cab. The road is both up and downhill so I don’t regret it and it is something special to feel the wind of speed while you are in shorts and t-shirt, helmet was included in the price but if we crash I don’t want to think about the result but in my case all went good!

The rest of the day was spent in city center, its so fun to just stroll around, feel the atmosphere, look at it, smell it and of course, taste something from all the small stands in every street corner.

Rocinha – the favela

The last day in Rio I spent, in another favela. My plan was to do a lazy day on the beach however when the suggestion about taking a favela tour came up I simple joined. There is a high risk that I would only be bored at the beach.

We visited the Rocinha favela which is one of the bigger with its population of 160 000. Thank god we took the car to the top and then walked down, through the narrow streets, alleys and sometimes pretty weird streets while our local guide explained the history but most interesting, hows the life in a favela. It is always good to have a local guide and since I had plans of buying a house I could resist to ask for the price. For €10 000 you get a house and that means no involvement of estate brokers, banks or papers, you simple pay the previous owner and get the keys. If there will be any issues with the transaction you simple bring it up with the local drug lord and he will fix the issue.

Rocinha is probably one of the safest favelas and it doesn’t not meet the expectations that our press spreads. It even exists banks here and while I was visiting I saw armor car transporting money to/from the banks, this would not be possible in any of the more poor, mostly located in north favelas or here for 15-20 years ago. The architecture is still the same though, each house is a small block randomly places, also often on top of each other which creates these narrow streets and tiny staircases. The power grid would give any certified engineer nightmares but Im still most impressed that its actually work.

Before the tour I was a bit afraid that the tour would feel like exploiting poor people but it didn’t feel like that at all. Instead it was more any ordinary city tour in any given city, safe, secure and I must admit I feel a bit disappointed.

we finished the tour on a local bar and I just had to ask the guide about the favela I’m staying in. I didn’t really get any straight away answer, instead it was more like yea, its semi-safe and most likely there will be no shooting which means its just like back home in Sweden. Either way I will pack my bag and continue my trip west, next stop Peru.

At last in Peru

If you look at the map it doesn’t look much for the world but I’ve learned the hard way that the distances are huge on this continent.

The day started at 04.00 with boarding my plane from Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paolo, after that I boarded a plane to Lima and finally, the last plane to Puerto Maldonado. The tickets were everything except cheap but since I have limited time here I don’t have much of choice if I want to see as much as possible.

Everything went super smooth though, from a simple and fast checkin to descent connections and pretty ok airplanes. The only thing that made a bt nervous was when we went in for landing in Puerto Maldonado and you could only see, trees. We did however land and the terminal building look more like a garage then anything else but as long as it works I am happy. From the airport I was able to take some shots before the sun went down and what a hostel I found, its so beautiful and calm and I even was greeted by a sloth who was chilling in a tree, now I am in south america for real!

Tomorrow I will head into the jungle so I will be quite for a few days but don’t feel bad, I will be back with a lot of pictures!

In the rain forest

Back in the civilisation I’m now sitting and waiting for the night bus to take me to Cusco and hopefully I will see another of the modern wonders of the world.

The last days has been spent in Tambopata national park in amazons. Right now it’s dry season which means that the river Madre De dios which is around 100m wide is only 5m deep. During the rain season which starts in December the water level will rise around 5-6m, unbelievable but I can see clear traces of it at the shoreline.

I have stayed at two different lodges and got spoiled with both good, and a lot of food. Well needed indeed since it’s been long days starting around 4am And then off to watch birds, chasing tapirs and at one day, even took a paddle trip on Sandoval lake. It’s been quite tough and it started with some really bad weather which means no animals but it got better and I successfully spotted both macaws, parrots and many other birds, monkeys of all types, white and black Caymans, Agutis and even Capybara, however no tapir or jaguar.

But I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t saw more big mammals however that’s how seeing wild life is, you never really know. So today I went to Puerto Maldonado zoo and watched the boa constrictor, anaconda and both puma and jaguar, but that was on a zoo so it doesn’t count.

I add some pictures below taken with my cellphone.

In Cusco

Puerto Maldonado is roughly 185m above sea level, Cusco is 3400m. I may have arrived physical but oh my God what I’m feeling like I need a rest. Coca tea and chewing the leaves helps a little but far from enough.

I’m not sure if it’s the altitude, the 10 hour bus drive or that my stomach didn’t liked the Ceviche as much as my mouth, either way it’s been a really calm day for me. I took a 2 hour city tour through the historical part and it was really nice, feels like it covered most of what Cusco may offer.

The buses here are really amazing, kind a luxurious and I felt a sleep before we even left the city. The road however was very steep and went like a snake over the mountain. I did get a bit seasick which I normally don’t get but I guess it was the combo of the winding road and that it was pitch black so you had no idea where the horizon was.

Cusco as a city feels like a tourist trap with your agencies and hostels in every street corner. The historical center was nice though and it was really nice to get everything explained and some history of the Inca period. We did even find a statue of Jesus, located at an top so it’s visible from all of town. I do recognize this from Rio de Janeiro and for sure, theirs are greater.

Sacred valley

After hours of googling and comparing prices and offers I finally decided for a really good compromise, a full day tour to the “Sacred Valley” but jump off in and take the train to Aguas Caliante. Another long day but now I’m so close I can be to Macchu Picchu.

The day started as I said early with jumping on a minivan towards sacred valley and the first stop was Pisac. Blue sky, shining sun and we almost beat all other tourists there made it even more fun to explore the ruins.

Next stop was a tourist trap, a market. It started with a lesson in how you see difference between real and fake silver and if course they tried to sell you a lot after that but no, not for me. On the market there was also a lot of mother’s with their small kids, all dressed up in peruan costume and with a alpacas which would pose with you for a coin or two. It felt just weird so instead I bought myself a bottle of water and added some more sun lotion.

Next stop was Ollantaytambo and even this time we arrived before the horses of tourists. Now it was really hot and the sun was so bright but that didn’t stop us from climbing higher and higher in the ruins. Our guide was really good and had a nice mixture of facts and jokes and overall I would say that sacred valley is a must if you are close by. Now I jumped of the tour a bit early but I think I covered the most of it.

The train trip wasn’t that impressive though. The was doing like 40km/h and the scenery was really nice for sure but it’s kind a the same for two hours. If you are hardcore you do the Inca trail instead but if you are like me and have no time, the train works really nice.

I finished the day walking around in Aguas Caliante and tried some delicious local dishes, this time I started with a guinea pig as a starter and alpaca as main dish. It may sound aweful but it was actually really, really good. Now let’s wait and see if my stomach thinks the same.

Some basic pictures from my phone since I can’t access my real camera for the moment.

Machu Picchu

Even if I already was in place at Aguas Calientes the day started really early, around 05.00 to stand in queue for the shuttle buses up to Macchu Picchu. When you buy your ticket to Macchu Picchu you will get a time slot when you can arrive and according to the rules you are only allowed to stay for 4h and you must have a guide. These rules are good to minimize the wear of the site but the rules are not checked. However you cant get on the bus before its your time according to the Macchu Picchu ticket.

I arrived to Macchu Picchu around 07.00 and the mountains where hidden in cloud which made it really mystical and beautiful. Once the sun arrived the clouds disappeared and it was blue sky and shining sun, cant beat it! My guide was really good explaining the different houses, temples, how it was built and used and how come the Spanish never found it and finally he gave some advice of what to do after his guiding was finished. I think it was roughly 3h with the guide and after that I spent another three hours so hike and see the inka.bridge and of course, the sun gate. The sun gate is a neat hike of 300 altitude meter from the citadel and is real inca-trail. The gate itself isn’t that impressive but the hike is really nice.

The whole place is magical and I cant put words on it. Is is defined as one of new wonders of the world and I do understand why. I think also its the only one who really impressed me and which I didn’t get bored at after 5 minutes. My pictures needs some editing but I give you some raw previews anyway.

Resting days in Cusco

A sprained ankle and a upcoming cold made me decide to skip rainbow mountain as planned and instead rest for two days. I mean I think I could do it but then you are not feeling alright a 10km hike (in total) up to 5000m above sea level is maybe not the best idea. I rather miss it and can enjoy the rest of my vacation instead.

So instead I spent two days on a new hostel. This time the money had to talk and to be honest, I live in a hovel. The staff is friendly, the other guests are super friendly and the location is in the middle of the city which made it worth every penny and to be honest, we are not talking about many pennies here.

Yesterday I spent most of my time walking around in Cusco while today it has been raining with thunderstorms and hails so I decided to stay at the hostel and socialize.

That is actually the best part of staying at hostels. You meet new people and even if most of the people here are Spanish speaking and my spanish is, not good you do meet new people, you talk and learn new stuff. We have discussed high as low and how about the language? Well its a nice mixture of all kind of languages that I guess only we, backpackers understand.

A city within the city

Another overnight bus and I woke up in a new city, this time Arequipa. It wasn’t in my rough original plan to go here but what can I say, plans are made are made to be changed and now I have the possibility to see a live, wild condor.

The day today I spent exploring Arequipa with it’s 1 million population feels really tiny, it’s a really cozy and beautiful city but feels small and one day is enough.

However I found a city in the city, Santa Catalina monastery. I’m not a religious person and I don’t use to enjoy exploring old churches but this was like finding Eldorado. I spent several hours exploring this huge monastery . It’s located in the middle of the city but still its so calm and quiet here. The atmosphere is relaxing and the buildings are beautiful in both their architecture and with all the wall paintings. To get a grip of the size this monastery has its own network of roads, named after Spanish cities.

Fun fact is that during one of the earthquakes here the outer wall collapsed and they found skeletons from babies and fetus. Apparently the priests made the nuns to pay for their sins in a very nontraditional way.

Colca Canyon

I’ve heard a lot of good stuff about one of the deepest canyons in the world and its quiet impressive with its 3191m depth. To compare it with something we can look at the pretty famous “Grand Canyon” which is only 1857m deep. Besides that the tour agency almost guarantee that I would see a condor, South Americas biggest land bird.

Of course I booked it and at 03.00 I got picked up at my hostel by a small minibus for a long drive towards the Colca Canyon. A few hours later, around 06.00 it was time for breakfast and our first stop, which was nice until it turned out to be a tourist trap. Suddenly two small kids join us, dressed in a Peru uniform and tried to do some sort of classic dance. I give them a capital a for trying, but the implementation wasn’t really that good and of course they demanded money afterwards.

Once we arrived to the Colca valley it was time for our second stop which means, second tourist trap. It was a small village with a market who sold the usual crappy things and of course a bunch of alpacas which you can get your photo with for a solel. The most weird thing was though a gentleman had dressed up as a condor and for “only” five solels you could get a hug by the condor. The dress was so terrifying though that I didn’t even dare to take a photo of it.

Lucky for us we soon jumped into the car again an headed for the climax of the day, the condor viewpoint. At more or less the top of the canyon they have built a viewpoint so you can literally look down, into the canyon and down at the birds who are majestic gliding around and looking for food. It was just one simple problem, there was no birds there. None, zero, zipp. After approx 40 minutes we finally saw three birds far far away in the horizon and we had to agree that we were beaten, such an anticlimax. However the luck changed and while driving down from the viewpoint suddenly the car hit the breaks really hard, we stormed out and yes, it was a youngster but still a free, wild, living condor. I did both get to see him in real life and took a picture, that saved the day!

The tour continued to stop number three, which means tourist trap number three. This time it was time to take a swim in hot springs. For you who know your geography knows that Peru has a lot of volcanoes and volcanoes are hot. That means that the hot springs was really, really hot and the people who paid for it could do it for five minutes before they had to go to the local river to cool down. Myself took a cold beer instead and just watched the spectacle, maybe laughing a bit for myself.

The last stop for the day was another viewpoint, this time to see all the volcanoes in the area. Around 5000m above sea level, a cold breeze and clouds so you actually didn’t see the volcanoes made sure that was a fiasco too. Sometimes you simply don’t have the luck with you and I guess that I could spent these 14 hours in a better way but hey, at least I saw a condor!

A lot of bus riding

This will be a short post since I’ve been traveling for 23h in row now.

It all started with me checking out from my hostel and get the nightbus to Puno. As usual the bus hold a high standard but even so you don’t get a lot of sleep. Once I arrived I realized that my research was right and there is not much to do here.

A quick stroll through the city and then I jumped on a boat to the famous floating islands in Lake Titikaka, the highest navigable lake in the world. It was fun to see and we were even included inside their houses to see how they lived. Of course they wanted us to buy something from them in return but in this case I can accept it, after all they do something more than just trying to sell.

I am however sceptical to call it islands, it’s more like rafts but built by all natural which means they have to rebuild everything a couple of times per year. A bonus effect was the bouncing when you walked around on the island, that was cool.

After the tour I jumped on next bus, this time towards La Paz. This time it was not a tourist bus and let me just say that the 10 hour experience was not super fun. I did at least get some time to stretch my legs while I walked over the border to Bolivia and now, pretty exact 23h after I checked out I checked in on a new hostel, in a new city in a new country.

Arrived in La Paz

The city is located high up in the mountains and if that wouldn’t be enough its also hilly. You look at the map and think that’s not so far, I can walk but what you don’t see on the map is that is extremely steep, both up and down. From at have walked around 30 000 steps per day I am now down to only 14 000, still not bad for an old man like me.

The city is very beautiful in its own kind of way. Most of the houses are built with bricks and have no grout or color but then suddenly, just as someone has color bombed a specific area or house it change to bright colors.

The day was spent with trying to figure out how to find my way in the city since I will be here for some days. strolling around the small streets, checked out Witches market and hiked up to the viewpoint Mirador Killi Killi. With a almost 360 degree view over the city and surrounding mountains its an incredible view and well worth the hike.

I also visited a tour agency and attempt to re-schedule my trip. Apparently it is president election in Bolivia and both buses and flights are closed down. The days are running away and believe it or not, I actually have a time to suit.

La Paz, Bolivia

Another day was spent strolling around in La Paz. This day was dedicated to try all kind of different street food and there is just as much as its good. Its really cozy with all the narrow streets and alleys here and suddenly you realize that the small shop you just entered is in reality a really huge one. Nothing here is built in the square and block architecture you are used to which makes it really cozy and nice to stroll around, but a pain to try to find your way.

A visit to the largest food market in the city, Rodriguez market almost ended up that I couldn’t find my way out. Its really huge and filled with everything from fruit and vegetables to clothes and cakes. A short comment from my side, I never seen as many different potatoes before in my life as here.

I took a lunch which in this country means a nice soap with bread, a large portion of rice and beef and a small ice cream for dessert on a restaurant I found on google. They recommended the food but warned that its expensive, it costed me around €6 including drinks.

After lunch I literally rolled over to the San Pedro prison. The prison is the largest in La Paz and has been nominated to the most dangerous prison in South America however for me its most known from the documentary/biography book El Choco. The book is really good and if you haven’t read it I can really recommend that you read it at once.

This prison is special and if you end up here the first thing you need to do is to buy yourself somewhere to live. If you are a drug lord you probably will buy a penthouse but if you don’t have any money you will end up in the sewer or on the streets. Previously there was unofficial tours into the prison and you could even spend a night there if you wanted to get the real prison feeling. The director of the prison was the replaced though and the new one effectively put this to an end. These days, if you wake up in the prison you know that you really fucked up.

The Yungas road

The Yungas road was built by war prisoners during the 1930’s to connect La Paz with Coroico. The highest point is almost 4700 meter above sea level and it ends at only 330 m above sea level. It is a narrow, winding road built totally without any security in mind, the result is yearly between 200-300 deaths by year. This has given the road the nickname “The death road”.

These days there is a new, modern road which is both wider and safer you could take instead. This means that the old Yungas road is primarily used but tourist and cyclists like myself but Wikipedia is wrong. The old road is still open for traffic and it is still used by both cars and trucks, how they do if they meet another car or truck I have no idea about, the road is really, really narrow.

Myself decided to take and bike down the road. While getting shuttle to the top I should get a nice, cozy downhill trip with magical scenery, well that was the plan at least.

The first of the road is tarmac and to be honest quite boring, Its a a perfect opportunity to get to learn your bike though which I must say was way more modern and had a higher level of components than I thought.
Somewhere around that we left the tarmac and went into the real Yungas road it started to rain, and what a rain. One of the main attractions on the road is that you actually drive through a waterfall, for us however it was no difference between the waterfall and the rain. The view which is supposed to be magical was, nothing since we were at the same altitude as the clouds. However you could look out, over the cliff and look down 3-400 meters.The surface of the road is hard packed gravel and stones/rocks, not really hard to bike on, it is really narrow though and on the right side you have a cliff wall and on the other it is just, nothing.

The death road lived up to its name and I think I did under under the worst conditions you can. As if the rain was not enough it switched to snow. Wet into the bones while the snow slowly fell down made me everything besides happy but I biked down and in the shuttle bus on the way back to La Paz I never felt more worthy of a beer.

Election in Bolivia

President Election in Bolivia in not the same as in Sweden and if I knew about the election I would have rescheduled my trip.

Now it is like it is and I’m literally stranded here in La Paz. Every single bus, flight, tour, shop or restaurant is closed down and the besides the echo of boots of military and police in full riot gear the city is empty. Not even the doves who usually occupies the Plaza Murillo is here.

Everything is calm so far and the both candidates are so close that it will be another, second election. That means that I will get enough time to get out of here before all hell breaks loose.

The weather is at least good and my plan is to go to Uyuni for visiting the salt desert. It will be a long trip and probably without any internet but I will do a new post as soon as possible.