2016: our Year of South American Travel in Review
It’s that time again, to review our past year. We spent much of 2016 in Brazil – nearly half the year. Despite that, we saw less than half of the country; for our slow pace Brazil is simply too big!
I often think back to our time in Brazil with warm feelings. There are many beautiful corners left in this country, although it’s mostly densely settled. And, of course, there is the warmth and openness of the people. Many strangers became friends. They welcomed us without question, helped us through some difficult times, and also to solve some immediate problems. For this we are very grateful.
As matter of fact, if there wasn’t the far reaching corruption and uneven distribution of wealth (which often go hand-in-hand), I could almost consider Brazil as a worthy country to migrate to. Ah, and there is the difficult language to master. And those pesky little black flies that keep biting you…
But let me start further south and begin with January and Uruguay.
We arrived in Uruguay on New Year’s Eve and spent a fairly quiet night on our own, in the vast park surrounding the Angus Meat Works. This is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site , which we found very interesting to visit.
We had signed up for a volunteering position north-east of Montevideo. It didn’t work out the way we had hoped or expected (more detail in one of our 2016 newsletters ), so we were back on the road earlier than expected. This gave us time to visit the town of 25 de Agosto, with its amazing murals – a sight you won’t find in guidebooks yet.
The month of carnival – worldwide! We wanted to experience this in Montevideo as we had heard that it is quite unique. Although both of us don’t like large crowds, Las Llamadas had us spellbound . During the day we explored more of the city, visited the markets, and caught up with some website work. After carnival we travelled up the coast to visit the beaches, some of which we had last seen in 2009.
In the second week of March, Uruguay celebrates its biggest Gaucho festival in Tacuarembo (German overlanders told us about this – thank you!). It was something we really wanted to see, since we had already witnessed the Gaucho culture in Argentina the year before . It also gave us the opportunity to explore more of Uruguay’s inland and to see the murals of San Gregorio .
We had time to ‘waste’ as we were waiting for our new credit cards to arrive by mail. Uruguay is a very easy country for overlanders : you can find a nice spot to overnight (for free) almost anywhere. It’s safe, shops offer a lot of ‘western conveniences’, and it’s very laid-back. Though one thing Uruguay is not, is cheap! But then it’s a small country, and distances are short, so you never use much fuel…
On the 4th of April we arrived in Brazil; we left on the 27th of September. As we entered via Chuy we passed through Rio Grande do Sul again, a state we had explored in October the year before and also briefly in 2008. This time we had a destination: we were keen to meet up with Dani and Zander in Florianópolis. They are Brazilian overlanders we had met in La Serena/Chile the year before.
Along the way, I really wanted to drive a road once again, which had stuck in my mind since we drove it in 2008. Back then it was simply the shortest route to get away from the coast, which was getting busy with holiday makers. This time I learned that The Guardian lists it as one of the 10 great drives in the world: the Serra do Rio do Rastro .
After leaving our friends we explored the island Florianópolis on our own . Then we went back to the mainland and drove north. We have to say that some of the first towns along the coast had changed for the worse since 2008; more built up, much more commercialised – but we know this from our home town in Australia…
We visited Curitiba, a city we didn’t get to see in 2008, and its amazing Oscar Niemeyer designed art centre, with the famous ‘eye’ building. Finally in Morretes, a small town we had good memories of from 2008, we found a place where things hadn’t changed that much .
When we crossed the border into the São Paulo state we were contacted by a couple of Brazilians with ‘parked overlander syndrome’ (their expression): Bia and Paulo from Asfalto, Terra e Mar on Instagram . We visited for a Sunday afternoon coffee and stayed for 8 days, camped in front of their house in Itamambuca near Ubatuba.
The time was characterised by shared cooking of some real feasts, a lot of storytelling and laughter, and some desperate tears, as Yasha’s father was in his last days. But it also gave us the opportunity to liberally use the internet, and stay in contact with family and friends, which was very important at such a difficult time.
In the middle of the month we finally left. Initially we visited Paraty, the first really beautiful colonial town, which captured us this trip. We have hundreds of photos from Paraty!
Rio de Janeiro was logically the next place on our route. Since large cities aren’t really our thing we were a little apprehensive to visit – in the end it wasn’t an uplifting experience despite the fact that the city has some interesting sights.
When we left Rio we drove across the bay to Niteroi, to see its many Oscar Niemeyer buildings . We ended the month in Buzios – another place we didn’t write much about. It’s a seaside resort made famous by Brigitte Bardot in the 60s. In many aspects it could be compared with Byron Bay, our home: the same stylish shops and restaurants, a building code which keeps development tied to a certain standard (in height and scale), and it also attracts a lot of the rich and famous.