Pictures of Argentina, Pictures of Brazil, Pictures of Peru
Wednesday, November 9, 2011, 10:08 AM
Landed. Easy immigration with Italian passport. Very expensive if you have to use a US passport. Buenos Aires is not cheap. Can't afford a single here. Cheapest would be 150 pesos, which is about $35. Dorm is $16 in a four-bed room, pretty standard all over the center.
Buenos Aires is not a pretty city. It is also polluted and crowded.
The "modern" architecture is terrible. The old architecture reminds me of the unimaginated industrial cities of northern Italy. Anyway, i am methodically going from old building to old building, and tomorrow i hope to do the modern architecture (not exactly Hong Kong or Shanghai). Then i'll move on. Not my kind of city.
Transportation is very cheap (about 25 cents for most buses and subway trains) so very easy to explore.
All the pictures: http://www.scaruffi.com/monument/argentin/index.html
#1 = 4.25 pesos
Bus airport-town $65=$15 includes shared taxi to hotel
++Hostel Estoril Terrazza at 1385 Ave Mayo 6th floor 70=$16
BA Stop at 1194 Rivadavia 70=$16
Bus and subte 1.10=$.025
Train to La Plata 1.5h 2.10=$.050
Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Saturday, November 12, 2011, 05:45 PM
These might indeed be the most impressive waterfalls in the world just because it's kilometers and kilometers of waterfalls.
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Sunday, November 13, 2011, 06:03 PM
The first impact with Brazil is negative.
Nobody spoke English nor Spanish at the Brazilian bus terminal in Iguacu (whereas on the Argentian side just about everybody spoke English).
The Brazilian long-distance bus from Iguacu to Sao Paulo was
horrible compared with the Argentinian buses, and more expensive.
Way after the border the bus had to stop at an endless police checkpoint: apparently they are obsessed with people smuggling goods from Paraguay into Brazil. Then i understood why they almost confiscated my laptop when i boarded the bus: it's one of the most common items smuggled from Paraguay.
I expected Sao Paulo (Brazil's second largest city and its financial capital) to be more civilized: it's even worse. Absolutely nobody
speaks a word of any other language. Most people don't even seem to understand the question "Do you speak English?". They stare at you speechless like you are from another planet. Same reaction for Italian, French and German.
If you ask about Spanish, they at least recognize the word "Espanol" but they promptly shake their head like you asked them something dirty.
After a while you get the feeling that the average person in Brazil is
clueless that the rest of the world speaks other languages.
Since i don't speak Portuguese, i have no way to communicate, which doesn't happen very often on this planet.
There seems to be serious danger of pickpockets and worse in the center of town at night (unlike Buenos Aires where even the poorest neighborhood are relatively free of violence).
My book says that in Sao Paulo it is legal to run red traffic lights at night' because stopping is dangerous: the car might get attacked while you are stopping.
As for the people, the first thing you notice is how fat they are, especially the women. Forget the gorgeous Brazilian women you've seen in the movies.
Last but not least, the number of homeless people is still ridiculous: sometimes it is difficult to walk on a sidewalk without stepping on someone sleeping inside a cardboard blanket. The level of poverty is shocking.
In Buenos Aires almost every restaurant and hotel and even the bus terminal had Wi-Fi Internet access. Here nobody has it. You have to look for an Internet
Cafe, and they seem to be rarities. My hotel, which is listed in the Lonely
Planet and is fairly big, doesn't have Internet and doesn't know where one
could find an Internet cafe. I couldn't find one after walking for
one hour. I tried to open my laptop in the main street and it showed no networks at all in the whole neighborhood.
If all of this sounds like a story from generations ago, that's precisely how it feels to me.
In many ways this reminds me more of Africa than of booming Asia, despite Brazil's ambition to be an "emerging power" like China and India.
Brazil feels like a very isolated country, stuck in a time warp but convinced (because of its isolation) that it is a world power.
Nonetheless, i'd like to revisit the big cities before heading for the Northeast that i have never seen before.
Hopefully the Brazilian government and the Brazilian people will not make it too painful.
I am mostly traveling by overnight buses so i can move by night and see by day, and save money on hotels. Every now and then i take a hotel room, like tonight.
It has been raining every evening, but rarely during the day.
Metro ride 2.90 = $1.75
Overnight bus to Brasilia: 153 reales = $90, 14 hours (departs from Tiete' station, which is four metro stops from Se)
Hotel Banri, Galvao Bueno 209, two blocks from Liberdade metro station, in Japantown (Liberdade) which is very safe: 54 reales = $30 for a single with bathroom and tvset but no Internet.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011, 04:04 PM
This is a good example of what happens when architecture and urban planning are decoupled from cognitive science, i.e. from the very human mind that they are supposed to serve.
Brasilia was a futuristic project when it was conceived from scratch.
The idea was to create a pedestrian-friendly city, a more humane kind of city.
Like most modernist ideas, it backfired badly. I think few cities are so unfriendly to pedestrians as Brasilia: its colossal avenidas are virtually uncrossable; walking tours are an oxymoron unless you are a marathoner; and finding an address is a mathematical puzzle because the city is divided in cuadras, which are divided in blocos or conjuntos, which are divided in
Ouro Preto, Brazil
Thursday, November 17, 2011, 09:53 AM
Sometimes it is better not to revisit places. I had a good memory of Ouro Preto, a colonial town in the mountains. I am deeply disappointed. It is probably the most overrated colonial town i've ever seen. There is nothing special about the churches. Any colonial town in Mexico boasts much more impressive, older and artistic churches. To make things worse, here you have to pay to enter a church. To make things worse, photography is not allowed. The "colonial" streets are heavily remodeled. The town is also expensive, despite the fact that there seems to be precious few tourists. I couldn't find any single cheaper than 50 realese ($30) with no bathroom. One hostel was funny: they obviously have no guests at all, but it was asking me a ridiculous price for a filthy room with no furniture.
+Hostel Bromas 30 for dorm, 70 for single with bath, 50 for single no bath (near the bus station)
Note that maps can be misleading: Ouro Preto's street are very steep. A short distance may be very quick or very long depending if you are going downhill or uphill. If you have lots of luggage, either take a taxi or pick a pousada or hostel at the top. The bus station is at the top.
Bus Brasilia=Ouro Preto 156 reales = $90 12 hours
Bus Ouro Preto to Belo Horizonte 2 hours 21 reales
Rio de Janeiro
Friday, November 18, 2011, 07:08 PM
I left Ouro Preto early in the morning and stopped in Belo Horizonte to see just one church: Sao Francisco de Assis, another futuristic Niemeyer architecture. Then off to Rio de Janeiro, where i arrived in the evening. I was ready to head for Ipanema (probably the safest place in Rio after dark) but i met a supernice fellow, Maurice, who lives in Botafogo (a more central location, also cheaper) and took me to a popular hostel, El Misti, one block from the beach. If this is cheap, i don't want to know what is cheap in Ipanema. I have three days for Rio, then a long bus ride to Salvador, another historical town like Ouro Preto.
Ouro Preto - Belo Horizonte 20R 2 hours
Belo Horizonte to Pampulha 3R 25 minutes and back (the church is almost at the very end of the route)
Balo Horizonte - Rio 71R 6.5 hours
Hostel El Misti in Botafogo 30R in a 9-bed dorm!
Rio de Janeiro
Saturday, November 19, 2011, 06:51 PM
Pictures of Rio: http://www.scaruffi.com/monument/brazil/rio.html
It is hard to believe how much safer and cleaner Rio is now compared with two decades ago. Here the economic boom is visible because Rio's streets were full of homeless children and now there are none left.
Surprise: the highlight of Rio is not the beaches (yuck) nor the old town (as disappointing as the rest of colonial Brazil) but, yet again, the modern architecture. The cathedral (built in the 1970s) left me speechless. Possibly the most impressive church i've ever seen.
In nearby Niteroi i visited a museum designed by Niemeyer: it's another sci-fi building. Etc. Nobody talks about Rio's modern architecture, but it's the real reason to come here.
Sunday, November 20, 2011, 04:17 PM
Two nights in buses and one full day in Salvador.
Rio de Janeiro - Salvador 21/11 @9:15am arrives 22/11 @10:15am (25 hours) 239reales = $140
Salvador - Recife 22/11 @19:30 arrives 23/11 @7:30am (10 hours) 123 reales = $72
Then from Recife i'll take a local bus to Olinda.
Then i don't know.
I was thinking of continuing up the coast to Cayenne, then Suriname, then fly to the Caribbeans to an airport served by American Airlines (just about any country in the Caribbeans). Alas, Suriname is the only country in the Americas that requires visas even from Italian citizens, and the only reasonable way to get the visa is in Cayenne, and Cayenne is the most expensive place in the Americas, therefore avoided by backpackers, and the visa might take days. The prospect of getting stuck in Cayenne is not a pleasant one. Going around Suriname is not feasible because it's all Amazon jungle. Either i find a way to fly directly from the Brazilian coast to a Caribbean state, or... i don't know. I tried the usual websites for flights but they only list extremely expensive flights with the major airlines. I need a travel agent, a very local one.
Pictures of Brazil so far: http://www.scaruffi.com/monument/brazil
Salvador, northeast brazil
Tuesday, November 22, 2011, 06:07 PM
Today some adventure and a bit of more interesting Brazil.
The (expensive) bus from Rio to the state of Bahia broke down on the second day of the trip and i arrived in Salvador (that has a reputation for after-dark crime) today just before sunset. I was running out of cash and had to look for a "cambio" before looking for a hotel. Then the natives convinced me to take an ordinary bus to the historical center instead of the "executive" bus but that turned out to be a nightmare. It was so overcrowded what when it was time to get off the people in the bus told me to just walk out and they handed me my luggage from the windows of the bus. So much for the city of criminals: i trusted them with my laptop, camera, passports, etc. Now i found the nicest hostel of the trip so far but... the electricity went off. I was having dinner not far from here, close enough to run to the hotel if anyone started following me. Good strategy in principle... if the lampposts work. If not, you are walking in absolute darkness in narrow alleys and all you can tell is that there are people in the alley. I had not used my headlight the whole trip so i never bothered to check if the batteries were still good. Needless to say, they are almost dead and i can't go out to buy new ones because i would have to walk again in the dark through these alleys. So i have the faintest of light.
Before we lost electricity i had a chance to walk around the historical center (lots of police with machine guns before sunset) and this is more like what you think of Brazil: it feels like it's carnival. There are musicians and acrobats and mimes and vendors at every corner. The narrow alleys are intimidating but tomorrow i'll take my chances and walk around with the camera. It's worth the risk.
Music and thieves: what a romantic combination.
Brazil is becoming an expensive country. Accommodation already ranks among the most expensive: it is hard to pay less than $15 for a bed in a dormitory, and the cheapest single room in any major city is about $40. Even more expensive is eating: the average meal in an ordinary restaurant with one drink is $12-15.
Transportation costs as much as in Europe or the USA but by comparison it feels cheap, especially if you're also sleeping on the bus: with $100 you can travel 1,000 kms by bus and sleep in comfortable seats (although not as comfortable as in Argentina).
Soda in can: $2
Internet per hour: $3
Another annoying thing about Brazil is that every city/state seems to have its own ideas about power sockets: i've been using all sorts of converters from US plugs.
Still no idea on how to get back home since i spent two days in a bus. There are several options: 1. via Cayenne-Suriname as originally planned (but it seems ridiculously expensive), 2. via a Caribbean island (but the internet shows no flights from this part of Brazil to the Caribbeans), 3. via Bolivia-Peru-etc (very long, rain season there), 4? Tomorrow i'll spend a few hours with local travel agencies who should know of special deals to these destinations.
From the Rodoviaria (bus station) cross the passerella towards the shopping mall and take the "executivo" bus marked Praca da Se (do not take the ordinary buses because these very crowded buses leave you to the lower town and from there it's a nightmare to walk with luggage to the elevator that takes you to Praca da Se). This executivo does not run very often but it leaves you right in the square of the cathedral.
Hostel in Rua Laranjerias (two blocks from the Praca da Se): +Solar das Artes 50R for single with bath and wi-fi and they speak multiple languages
Wednesday, November 23, 2011, 08:26 AM
Spent hours trying to find a way out of north Brazil. Too expensive to go anywhere north. Hence i bought a ticket for Campo Grande, which is near the Bolivian border. Then i will enter Bolivia and we'll see if i have more luck from there.
Thursday, November 24, 2011, 08:19 PM
A few days ago i reached Peru through an incredible series of coincidences.
Cuzco is extremely safe. It has become a gigantic tourist trap with police everywhere.
Peru is still a poor country but around Cuzco things have changed dramatically in the 2000s: all roads are paved, the buses are good, the collectivos are brand new Japanese vans, school children wear a uniform, the colorful markets are tidy and well organized, there are Internet cafes everywhere and even the cheapest hostel has wi-fi. You can still occasionally see an old lady wearing the traditional clothes, but those are really for tourists these days. The Inca ruins are run efficiently and no vendors are allowed inside anymore. The good news is that it is a lot easier to visit these places now. The bad news is that this is the same kind of "sterilized tourism" that you can find anywhere in the West: if i showed you a picture of Cuzco without telling you that it's Cuzco, you wouldn't know it's in Peru. It could be anywhere in Spain or Turkey or Brazil.
Cuzco is still a very cheap town by the standards of tourist towns.
Menu economico can be as little as 10 soles (less than $4) and includes two courses.
There are so many hotels and guesthouses that it is easy to bargain a good price for accommodation. In the San Blas barrio you can find a single room with bath for $10-12 and you can have dinner with $5
Food on average is very good in the San Blas neighborhood (look for "menu economico" which usually includes a first and a second and it's around 10 soles)
My favorite restaurants were on Choquechaka.
Scam alert: photography is not allowed in most churches of Cuzco so think twice before you pay the spectacular entry prices (churches are not included in the general ticket)
From the moment you arrive in Cuzco it is terribly difficult to identify the legitimate tourist information offices from the many travel agencies that pretend to be one.
One can definitely organize his visit to Cuzco and Machu Picchu without any need for travel agencies, but
a) It is difficult to find out which offices are government information offices and which are travel agencies (they all say "Tourist Information")
b) You need to visit three places to find everything you need
1. The Municipalidad on Avenida del Sol one block from the Plaza de Armas is where you can buy the multiple ticket for 130 soles ($50) that grants you access to all the main ruins except Machu Picchu and except the churches.
2. Peru Rail next to the cathedral is where you can buy your train tickets to/from Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu). Even in the low season you may want to book in advance because each train has a different price and of course everybody tries to get the cheapest ones. The prices range from $60 to $75 each way.
3. The Tourist Information on Marques one block from the cathedral square sells you the ticket to enter Machu Picchu with requires a reservation if you also want to hike Wayna Picchu (you do): 150 soles ($60)
In each of these places you may have to stand in line for a long time.
These offices are simple bureaucratic offices. They are totally useless to get real information. They simply sell you what they sell.
On top of these costs you have to add the cost of the shuttle from Aguas Calientes (the railway terminal) to Machu Picchu: $13 round trip.
The grand total is about $200!
Most tourists don't want to deal with all these procedures and use one of the many travel agencies that post the sign "Free Tourist Information". They will do everything for you for an additional fee, and frequently mess it up.
Here you need the passport even for peeing so take it with you all the time. Tickets (both to attractions and to trains) are issued in your name and they will check your name in the passport.
The whole excruciating experience is not fun at all. The rest of Peru is great. It's just this area that has been turned into a bureaucratic torture.
There are three main ruins to visit near Cuzco: Ollantaytambo (the main ruin in the Sacred Valley), Pisaq and Saksayhuaman.
Saksayhuaman can be reached on foot from Cuzco in less than 30 minutes. From Plaza San Blas walk up the waterfall and look for stairs on your left. Follow the stairs all the way to the top for about 20 minutes (or 40 minutes if you are out of shape). When you hit the paved road, turn left and climb to the Cristo Blanco (the white statue of Christ) and then continue on the trail to the very visible ruins. The whole climb should take less than an hour.
There is also the old road that is now closed to vehicles but that starts from the other side of Cuzco.
Pisaq is more complicated. You take a collectivo (3.5 soles) from Cuzco's vegetable market that leaves you in Pisaq village. From here you cam hike to the ruins or take a taxi to the upper parking lot. Most tourists take the taxi that costs about 20 soles and then hike down the trail. Distances are always wildly exaggerated. You can climb up in less than two hours and down in one hour. Pisaq opens at 9am. If you are planning on hiking, you should take the collective at 6-7am.
Pisaq has one of the best markets to buy souvenirs (half the price of Cuzco, which is half the price of Aguas Calientes).
From Pisaq village you can take a bus to Urubamba (2 soles) where you can change to a bus to Ollantaytambo (2.5 soles). Each ride is about 30 minutes and there are frequent buses. The main ruins this time are very near the main square. It is worth a hike to Pinkuylluna across the valley (from the main square). It takes about 20 minutes to get to that ruin and another 10 minutes to reach the top of the mountain.
One possible optimal tour:
Day 1: Cuzco and hike to Saks.
Day 2: Pisaq and Ollantaytambo and train to Aguas Calientes
Day 3: Machu Picchu and return to Cuzco
The Inca Trail (soon to be renamed Plastic Trail after the thousands of plastic bottles dumped along the way by the hikers) requires reservations and is extremely expensive, and by every account it is now infested with all sorts of vendors.
The Inca Trail is the mother of all tourist traps. In the high season the trail is very trafficked. In the low season you are one of the few tourists around so are constantly approached by vendors. Either way, it's hardly a refreshing experience. Agencies try to make it last as many days as you are willing to sit in a campground/refuge, but it can be done in less than two days (i did).
I was puzzled that in the touristy part of towns stores only sell drinks in plastic (which i abhor) but in the most regular neighborhoods they also sell drinks in glass. Then someone explained to me that tourists want plastic bottles both because they are lighter to carry and because... you can carry them. The procedure for glass bottles is that you return them to the store so that they can be sent back to the factory where they will be recycled: zero environmental footprint. Instead, plastic bottles can be disposed in garbage cans (there is no recycling here). It's the demand from tourists that is causing stores to switch from glass (that is always recycled) to plastic (that is never recycled). The local brands that used glass bottles are disappearing and your favorite multinational drinks in plastic are replacing them.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Saturday, November 26, 2011, 08:32 AM
This was my third time in Machu Picchu and probably the last one. The first time was in the 1980s when Peru was under civil war. The second time was in the 1990s and i did the Inca trail (in 1.5 days).
Sunday, November 27, 2011, 07:33 PM
Tomorrow could be the last day of my life. I will rent a bike and a truck will take me to 4600 meters. Then i will bike down to the valley (a 3000-meter elevation drop) and then i will bike up again. Weather permitting. The ride should offer the best of the two worlds: Andean landscape and jungle. And biking it allows me to see it in one day (there is a similar trek but it requires 2-3 days). I am not worried about the uphill (that's just a matter of time) but about the downhill (steep and not all paved).
Yesterday i got rained during the descent from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes. It rarely rains in the morning but the afternoons are a lottery. Of course, chances of bad weather greatly increase at high elevation and the jungle is called "rain forest" for a reason.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011, 08:26 AM
End of the trip to Argentina, Brazil and Peru. All the pictures: http://www.scaruffi.com/monument/nov2011.html
Lima has a few interesting churches but mostly it confirms the rule that Latin American capitals (with the exceptions of Mexico City and Brasilia) are best avoided. The only good thing is that the historical center is even cheaper than Cuzco. Out in the poor barrios it must be incredibly cheap.
The Museo de Oro is interesting but it is located far from the center (Alonso de Molina 1100 – Monterrico – Surco) and it's expensive (33 soles or $13).
Confusingly, there are two National Museums: the Museum of the Nation (Museo de la Nacion), which is the larger, and the Peruvian National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History (Museo Nacional de Arqueologia Antropología e Historia). The former (Av Javier Prado Este 2466 in San Borja) contains the Lanzon from Chavin, a reconstruction of the burial chamber of Sipan, and the mural "Revolt of the Objects". The latter (Plaza Bolívar in Pueblo Libre) is better known as Museo Arqueologico Rafael Larco. They are both difficult to reach if you don't take taxis.
Airport to center: walk out of the international arrivals, turn right, cross the parking lot, take the pedestrian exit and walk 50 meters to the right to the bus stop and ask for a collectivo that goes to your destination (eg Plaza de Armas or Miraflores).
Cheap accommodation in the historical center: +Hostal San Francisco 35 soles (one block from San Francisco), Hotel Espana (next door), Hotel Europa 20 soles (across from San Francisco), Hospedaje Santa Rosa 30 soles, Pension Ibarra 25 soles (on noisy Tacna). Miraflores has many more hostels but the prices are usually higher (not only for accommodation).
Silicon Valley, California, USA
Friday, December 2, 2011, 01:57 PM
Biggest (and scariest) adventure of the trip: the flight from Los Angeles to San Jose. I had not seen such an old low-tech plane since maybe the 1980s, not even in Africa. You board and you pause to think: "does this thing actually fly?" It does, but at very low elevation and at a speed of a bump per second. It's a fascinating experience, the flying equivalent of the old chicken buses of the third world (that are rapidly being replaced by lightning-speed trains).
Sitting next to me is a young woman equipped with the latest smartphone and all who works for a Silicon Valley company (presumably like most of the passengers on this antiquated plane). I told her that i'm coming from Peru and she replied that she's coming from Irvine... i don't think she knows that Peru is a country.
Coming home can be really depressing.
Pictures of Argentina, Pictures of Brazil, Pictures of Peru
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