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!

2016 in South America – our review (photo: Salar de Uyuni)

2016 in South America – our review (photo: Salar de Uyuni)

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.


January

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.

This is where we spent our first night in 2016: a large riverside park near the World Heritage listed Angus Meat Works in Uruguay.

This is where we spent our first night in 2016: a large riverside park near the World Heritage listed Angus Meat Works in Uruguay.

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.

Our volunteering position in Uruguay: lots of raking of grass and dry leaves, and lots of back breaking hand-weeding.

Our volunteering position in Uruguay: lots of raking of grass and dry leaves, and lots of back breaking hand-weeding.

Pink corner building in 25 de Agosto with a collection of murals

Pink corner building in 25 de Agosto with a collection of murals


February

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.

Carnival in Montevideo: a group with a grey haired El Escobillero (Broom Man) marching in front of two Vedettes and the drummers

Carnival in Montevideo: a group with a grey haired El Escobillero (Broom Man) marching in front of two Vedettes and the drummers


March

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 .

Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha: a group of gauchos waiting with their horses under shade trees for their call into the arena.

Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha: a group of gauchos waiting with their horses under shade trees for their call into the arena.

San Gregorio street art: 'humano mamifero', the human mammal.

San Gregorio street art: ‘humano mamifero’, the human mammal.

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…

Our best beach side camping in Uruguay: across the road from the beach (which was windy with heavy salt spray) we parked in a hidden spot overlooking a tranquil lagoon.

Our best beach side camping in Uruguay: across the road from the beach (which was windy with heavy salt spray) we parked in a hidden spot overlooking a tranquil lagoon.


April

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.

A beautiful wild camping spot in Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. Everybody warned us about “dangerous Brazil” – we never felt threatened, and camped wild almost every night.

A beautiful wild camping spot in Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. Everybody warned us about “dangerous Brazil” – we never felt threatened, and camped wild almost every night.

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 .

SC-390: the view from the lookout platform on top of the plateau. You can see nicely how the road disappears into the distance towards the coast. Though you don’t see many of the hairpin bends from here – for that vista you have to stop at a small viewing platform further down the mountain.

SC-390: the view from the lookout platform on top of the plateau. You can see nicely how the road disappears into the distance towards the coast. Though you don’t see many of the hairpin bends from here – for that vista you have to stop at a small viewing platform further down the mountain.


May

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…

Our friends Dani and Zander. We first met them, overlanding in La Serena the year before.

Our friends Dani and Zander. We first met them, overlanding in La Serena the year before.

A Portuguese style church in the historic city in Curitiba.

A Portuguese style church in the historic city in Curitiba.

 

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 .


June

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.

Yummy home-cooked meals and long conversations were the main focus of our stay with Bia and Paulo.

Yummy home-cooked meals and long conversations were the main focus of our stay with Bia and Paulo.

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.

Away from the water front in Paraty we found this small park with nice colonial buildings around it.

Away from the water front in Paraty we found this small park with nice colonial buildings around it.

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.

A sculpture at Búzios' beach promenade: it was Brigit Bardot's visit which catapulted Buziós, formerly a sleepy fishing village, into the international spotlight as a tourist destination. Now it's also known as the Saint Tropez of Brazil.

A sculpture at Búzios’ beach promenade: it was Brigit Bardot’s visit which catapulted Buziós, formerly a sleepy fishing village, into the international spotlight as a tourist destination. Now it’s also known as the Saint Tropez of Brazil.

2016 saw us travel in Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and finally in Peru. We spent nearly half a year exploring Brazil by road. Before that we witnessed Uruguay's largest gaucho festival and 'had a holiday' by the beach. Towards the end of the year the Andean mountains of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru 'took our breath away'. To read about our many other experiences and discoveries during the year PLEASE FOLLOW THE LINK!

2016 saw us travel in Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and finally in Peru. We spent nearly half a year exploring Brazil by road. Before that we witnessed Uruguay’s largest gaucho festival and ‘had a holiday’ by the beach. Towards the end of the year the Andean mountains of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru ‘took our breath away’. To read about our many other experiences and discoveries during the year PLEASE FOLLOW THE LINK!


Juergen

webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with nearly 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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10 Responses

  1. For years I steered clear of South America, but in the the past two years I have had the opportunity to visit Ecuador, Chile and Argentina. I have considered Brazil since, and your post and glorious photos are leaning me even more toward Brazil!! All the best in 2017!!

    • Juergen says:

      Glad that we can inspire people like you to consider new destinations. For a short itinerary please see my reply above (to Donna Janke’s comment).

  2. Donna Janke says:

    Looks like a great year with varied experiences. I’ve not travelled to South America at all, but your posts have really piqued my interest.

    • Juergen says:

      Donna, if you’re interested to get a taste of Brazil, then I recommend Paraty, the beaches around Paraty (or Ilha Grande), and the colonial towns of Minas Gerais (plus the botanical gardens of Inhotim, which is en route). In those parts we felt the safest. All have a strong tourist infrastructure, Paraty has a large expat community (often the hotel owners), and you could probably find pre-arranged tours starting in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo (cheaper to fly to). Just avoid peak summer (December to mid February), best time to visit is the Brazilian spring (from mid August onwards). Without too much stress this could be a nice vacation for 2 weeks or bit longer.

  3. I had never heard the term “overlanders” before… :) Sounds like you are enjoying your adventures in Brazil and haven’t found the country to be a dangerous one to travel through. If you have had positive experiences with the people you have met on your travels, I think that makes all the difference. Happy travels in 2017!

    • Juergen says:

      Thank you, Debra!
      From all we hear we might have missed the most dangerous part of Brazil: the far north. But then again: this might be exaggerated too… Travel experiences are always unique and very subjective.

  4. Frank says:

    Wow, you guys are courageous. We are also slow travellers, but to do it overland and in South America takes guts. Congratulations!
    Some fantastic photos, the Serro do Rio de Rasto is quite something.

    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Juergen says:

      Actually, it’s not as gutsy as many people (who haven’t done it) might think. The vast majority of people are really friendly and helpful. Maybe even more so than in ‘western’ societies. There are a few hot spots for crime, but nothing worse than in gang riddled cities of the USA. This is our second trip and we are still enjoying it.

  5. David and I have been to Argentina, Uruguay and Chile more than once but never Brazil. We have always been a bit nervous of the safety aspect there but maybe one day we’ll pluck up the courage.

    • Juergen says:

      Brazil is really weird in a way. The locals watch all the time reports about gang crimes in the ‘favelas’ and often warned us that overlanding is really dangerous. Yet, if you asked questions which go a deeper, like has ever something happened to you personally, your family or friends, you often get to hear ‘no’, but of course we’re careful. I guess it’s like travelling in the USA or even in Sydney: you avoid certain parts of a city and are careful where you go.
      On the other hand we haven’t met as many friendly and inviting people elsewhere (well, maybe in Colombia, another country many people are still afraid to visit); the Brazilians are really warm and welcoming people!
      We hear and read more about petty theft against overlanders in Chile than in Brazil. Like our Brazilian friends, who were robbed in Iquique – twice within 24 hours! They never experienced something like that in Brazil…

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