Friday, 8 August 2014

Adios a Las Americas y ハロージャパン!!!

I guess it is about time that I wrapped up the tales of our trip around the Americas considering that we have now been home for over 6 weeks!

Already it seems like such a long time ago but my last post left us ready to exit Bolivia after 3 months and re-entering Brazil for a final 10 day World Cup extravaganza.
To get to our base camp (like all the squads) we first had to fly to Campo Grande for a couple of days before then flying on to Salvador where we would finish the journey we started in Canada in Dec 2012 / Jan 2013.
I can’t tell you much about Campo as we didn’t do anything. We just took it very easy and sat in the city park watching the toucans fly from tree to tree with me now popping off to the loo now and again because I was in the middle of my 6 week parasite induced arse-p*ssing phase.

It was a fairly long day to get from Campo Grande to Salvador via Sao Paulo and the local bus from the airport to our hotel just compounded this by taking 2 hours due to distance and intolerable traffic, adding to the reasons why Brazil is just not for me and towards the bottom of my country list.
Still, faced with the prospect of a cross-city venture the following day to get our footy tickets (which would’ve been equally as long) the length of this bus trip was softened somewhat by the fact that the airport had very helpfully set up a ticket collection booth and as we were in the city 2 days before the first match there were no queues and something that had been booked months in advance was now in my hands within minutes.

Given how big the city of Salvador is, the fact were well away from the old city and that we had booked a cheap hotel by World Cup standards we were somewhat anxious to see where we would be located and what our room would be like. As we came over the hill in the bus to the Bahia suburb, disembarked and walked along the beach front promenade to our hotel all our concerns evaporated in the barmy evening temperatures and we were well chuffed. The Pousada Marcos Hotel was a beaut. The room was clean and spacious, the buffet breakfast was served on a raised balcony overlooking the beach and ocean and even better, the Fanzone where you could watch the matches on the big screens was literally 100 metres to the right of our place next to Bahia’s iconic lighthouse.
We had 7 days in Salvador and we did only what we felt we had to – seriously we were so lazy (the previous 18 months catching up with us combined with the prospect of finding jobs) that we even had to make ourselves go to the beach for a swim and body surf in the sea.
The Pousada Marcos
Everyone needs Anti Mofo

The first full day was all about the footy (as were most days) and it was a special one as it was the opening match meaning that we would get to watch the hosts play in the Fanzone. As we all know football is everything to the Brazilians so the atmosphere watching the game was pumping even if they did cheat and get a soft penalty. I think it was important for the tournament to get off to a positive start though for us to get the most out of our time here.

Our first live match was the following day and what a cracker it was. I went to the match as a neutral but I guess siding slightly with Spain for Arancha’s sake, plus wanting to see possibly the best international team to ever play the beautiful game; but as soon as Van Persie made his leap of faith to equalise for the Dutch you could feel the shift of energy in the stadium and I was now feeling a shade of orange creep up over me. By the time the fifth goal went in Arancha had her head in her hands and I was on my feet. What a game to witness, 5 – 1 to the Dutch in a repeat of the previous World Cup Final. All in all, it was a brilliant first couple of days.

We had to do some cultural stuff and a few visits to the old city of Pelourinho, high up on a sort of plateau did the trick. The UNESCO listed city has to be the most impressive colonial city that I have been to; full of colourful and vibrant cobbled-stone alleyways, alive with the music of the Olodum drums, street food galore served up by the traditionally dressed Baiana women and home to the Capoeira, an art-form of martial arts meets ballet, being practiced in the streets.
Salvador is already known as the happiness capital of Brazil but it also helped that the thousands of fans from around the world especially those from Holland and Germany had also brought their own blend of colour and frivolity to the occasion.         
Also, when a place is featured in a Michael Jackson music video what more do you need?
By chance we have now visited both locations for the ‘They don’t care about us’ video; Pelourinho and the Santa Marta favela in Rio. MJ lives on!!!

On two occasions we also met up with our volunteering companions, Rotem and Marcel who we had bumped into as we were leaving Bolivia and it was really nice to spend some time with a couple of similar age with the same outlook on the world as ourselves. Also, kudos to them as in total they are keeping the travel dream alive for longer than us and I can only imagine what it was like for Marcel, a passionate Dutchman, to be in the stadium to see that match.

We must unfortunately talk England for a brief sentence or two. Our third night in Salvador was the England vs Italy game and the pre-match atmosphere outside a cramped little bar was palpable as the English fans met the Italians and a sing-off ensued. It was all very good natured – as most of the time it always is – and England definitely won the battle of the chants simply because Italy only had one!
We lost, that is it, we are crap and bombed out with no pride at all.
This cannot be said of Australia though. They were brilliant in a group of 3 completely superior teams and with a healthy amount of Aussie fans we went ballistic for Tim Cahill’s wonder volley against the Dutch.

Live match number two was soon upon us and we made our way back to the waterside Arena Fonte Nova for Germany vs Portugal.
I was really up for this game as I wanted to see the German’s play live as I fully expected them to win the tournament (and they did) and I also wanted to see Ronaldo play in the flesh again. As much as you want to see the special players do something extraordinary, when it comes to Ronaldo the sound of booing and seeing him sulk supersedes this. Being a former Portuguese colony the Brazilians hate their former oppressors and none more so than CR7 – it was very amusing.
The booing even outweighed the special reception reserved for Diego Costa who chose to play for Spain rather than his country of birth.
The sending off ruined the spectacle and the game was over by half-time but the 4 – 0 victory to the Germany meant that from 2 matches we saw the previous winners, the previous finalists, the eventual winners, 10 goals, 2 penalties and 1 red card – what more do you want than that???

The rest of the week passed us by in a very calm manner and whereas last time I was dreading going back to reality, this time I was ready for England’s green and pleasant land.
The Americas have been a wonderful and unforgettable experience but at times we were left pining for Asia (a wish that has now been granted) probably because of that complete culture shock that you get by moving from country to country.
We covered every mainland country except for El Salvador in Central and Venezuela, Suriname, Guiana and French Guiana in the South, but for now, the Americas are done.
We have done some many beautiful things and seen so much that I take my hat off to myself and AJ for the way we were efficient with our time without being militant and did just about everything we set out to – conquering a 6,000+ metre peak is still a standout.
After a very long mid-life crisis I can now proudly say that I have spent 3 years out of the previous 3.5 ‘living’ my life; that is 1,098 days from 1,348.
What more is there to say?
We have to thank so many people that we met along the way, for their friendship, hospitality and always good sense of humour, and some have become firm friends and will remain so for the rest of our lives – traveling forms a bond that no other can and who else can you really talk to about your experiences without boring those who haven’t been there and can truly empathise?

So what is next for team ALAJ? (Our initials if you didn’t pick up on that)
Well as eluded to above, the future is very exciting. I may be going back to work but a short conversation along the lines of:

Me: “Have you got a job?”
Contact: “No, the European project is now done, I am looking after Asia”
Me: “I didn’t say that I wanted to work in Europe”
Contact: “Oh, fancy Tokyo?”
Me: “Yes please”

sees us moving to Tokyo for the foreseeable future!

You have to manifest what you want and doing the corporate thing but in a massive Asian city was always on my to-do list and softens the blow of returning to reality. Whereas just 2 weeks before we came home and I was planning to work for 6 months in London and then relocate to Australia we now have this golden opportunity to sample something completely new and keep the travel dream alive.
Skiing on my doorstep and the rest of Asia accessible for a long weekend away? Yes please, thanks very much.

So there you go, that was our trip around the Americas in 18 extraordinary months.
Muchas gracias y hasta luego; and as the blog title reads; Goodbye to the Americas and Hello Japan!

Before I summarise the trip I think Arancha put her own experience into words better than I ever could in her recent FB status and so she can write the next set of blogs:
I'm going home! 23 countries in 30 months. Beginning with a little of my own land down under. Backpacking through China, trekking up to Mount Everest base-camp and then rewarding ourselves with some R&R on a Thai beach. Back to the UK for another pint before embarking on a snowboard adventure through the Canadian Rockies. Eating our way through the west part of the States, onto walking in the footsteps of the Mayans in Central America, volcanoes, lakes, caves, sloths, Caribbean beaches and learning Spanish. Only to continue onto the Inca trail through South America from life on the Galapagos to rustic desserts, and trekking along the icy cold regions of Patagonia, hitchhike, take a bus to the end of the world, back to cycling the wine country in Argentina. Celebrating carnival in 3 different countries, exploring the jungle, the world’s highest salt lake, trekking the Andean mountains, walking a puma and finally finishing up at World Cup. I've been privileged to meet some life-long friends and strangers with their stories. But most of all I got to explore all of this with my amazing Amazonian hubby. What an adventure we had Adam Lambert! Until the next instalment I will see you in a few months where the adventure continues in Tokyo for a year of a different life. See you peeps soon in OZ! Can't wait! And thanks world for what you gave us! Xxx

In keeping with the final words of my last trip:
Life is for living!


Route taken:
Canada – USA – Mexico – Belize – Guatemala – Honduras – Nicaragua – Costa Rica – Panama – Colombia – Ecuador – Galapagos Islands (part of Ecuador) – Peru – Chile – Argentina – Chile – Argentina – Uruguay – Argentina – Paraguay – *Brazil* – Argentina – Brazil – Bolivia – Brazil
*illegal entry and exit – not our fault!
(no wonder my passport is now full up – got to love a bit of border hopping)

Modes of Transport:
Plane, Bus, Car, Boat, Bicycle, Pedalo, Scooter, Hitchhike, Horse

Me:      34 years old – San Pedro de Atacama, Atacama Desert, Chile

AJ:       birthday 1 – Banff, Canada
            birthday 2 – Sao Paulo, Brazil

2013 – Punta Arenas, Chile

New Years:
2012 – Banff, Canada (AJ only)
2013 – Torres Del Paine, Chile (in a tent)

Madidi National Park, Amazon Basin, Bolivia

Official Wonders of the World:
Chichen-Itza, Mexico
Machu Picchu, Peru
Christ the Redeemer, Brazil

Official Natural Wonders of the World:
Grand Canyon, USA
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Iguazu Falls, Argentina / Brazil

Volcanoes summited:
Volcan Santa Maria, 3,772 metres, Guatemala
Volcan San Pedro, 3,020 metres, Guatemala
Volcan Chicabal, 2,712 metres, Guatemala
Volcan Pichincha, 4,696 metres, Ecuador

Volcanoes seen erupting / smoking / spouting ash:
Volcan Santiguito, Guatemala
Volcan Fuego, Guatemala
Volcan Chaiten, Chile

Volcanoes slept on:
Volcan Osorno, Chile

Glaciers visited:
Glacier Grey, Chile
Glacier Queulat, Chile
Glacier Moreno, Argentina
Glacier Upsala, Argentina
Glacier Spegazzini, Argentina

Treks completed:
Xela – Lago Atitlan, Guatemala, 3 days
Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador, 3 days
Santa Cruz, Peru, 4 days
Inca Trail, Peru, 4 days
The O, Torres Del Paine, Chile, 7 days

Santa Cruz, 4,700 metres, Peru
Salar de Uyuni, 5,000 metres, Bolivia

Significant Locations:
Longitude 0,00,00. The middle of the world, Ecuador
Ushuaia, The end of the world, Argentina
Straddling the North and South American Continents
La Paz, the highest capital city in the world, 3,640 metres, Bolivia
Potosi, the highest city in the world, 4,090 metres, Bolivia

Mayan Ruins Visited:
Monte Alban, Mexico
Palenque, Mexico
Chichen-Itza, Mexico
Coban, Mexico
Tulum, Mexico
Mitla, Mexico
Lamanai, Belize
Tikal, Guatemala
Copan, Honduras

Items stolen:
i-phone, pickpocket, my pocket, Colombia
i-pad, quick hands, Ecuador
Camera, more quick hands, Ecuador

Items lost or forgotten by Arancha:
Too many to list but a full bag of dirty underwear is one example, Mexico

Carnival celebrations:
Montevideo, Uruguay
Encarnacion, Paraguay
Sao Paulo, Brazil

Religious Celebrations:
Too many to list but Mama Negra was the standout, Ecuador

Successful Hitchhikes:
Puyuhuapi – Queulat – Puyuhuapi, Chile
Cerro Castillo – Coyhaique, Chile

Horses Ridden:

Man vs Food Challenges:
The Crab Pot, Seattle, USA
Beth’s Café, Seattle, USA
Voodoo Donuts, Portland, USA

Celebrities met:
Adam Richman, Man vs Food

Football matches seen live:
Xela vs Ciudad de Guatemala, 1 – 2, Guatemala
River Plate vs Gimnasia, 1 – 0, Argentina
Holland vs Spain, 5 – 1, Brazil (World Cup)
Germany vs Portugal, 4 – 0, Brazil (World Cup)

Close Encounters of the Animal Kind:
Balu the Bear
Gato the Puma
Wilbur the Worm
Peter the Parasite
Buttercup the Sloth
Colin & Connie the Andean Condors

Times Chased by a Bear:
Approximately 10 times

Standout Sights:
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
All of Patagonia, Chile / Argentina
Santa Cruz, Peru
Atacama Desert, Chile
Grand Canyon, USA
Iguazu Falls, Brazil / Argentina
Cerro Castillo, Chile
Full length of the Carretera Austral, Chile
Amazon Rainforest, Bolivia
….and so many more