2016: our Year of South American Travel in Review
During June and early July we stayed in the same sleepy little beach side town on three different occasions: Barra de São Joãa. There’s nothing really special about this town; it’s probably not really on the tourist radar, but we found a lovely parking lot on a peninsula wedged between the beach and a river mouth, where we watched the fishing boats come and go… For us, it was a perfect spot to collect our thoughts and feelings, and also get some internet work done.
In between, we headed inland through another part of Brazil which is strongly German and Swiss influenced. Near Nova Friburgo we even found a Swiss cheese making school (mmm – yummy cheese and chocolate on sale!). Our destination was Teresópolis and the nearby P.N. Serra dos Orgãos, a remnant of the Atlantic Forest. We stayed a few days longer to witness their annual meeting of historic cars .
Later in the month we drove all the way up to the northern tip of the Espirito Santo state, a trip we only mentioned in our post ‘6 Places and Experiences we didn’t write about in 2016’ .
On the 1st of August we had to be back in the São Paulo state because I had an appointment for laser eye treatment in Campos dos Goytacazes. Finally, towards the middle of the month, we decided that we had to get back to some ‘serious travelling’ – we headed inland to the state of Minas Gerais.
There were so many historic towns to visit, many of which are World Heritage listed , that later we thought we should have left the coast weeks earlier… Between the historic towns of Ouro Preto , Mariana, and Diamantina we also visited a completely different sight: the botanical gardens of Inhotim . To this day we really don’t know how to classify this place in two or three words. It’s so much more than a collection of rare plants – you have to experience it yourself (if possible, allow 2 days – we didn’t, and we regret it)!
The month of September was characterised by some long driving days as our already extended visas were running out. The west of Brazil is more sparsely populated; the hilly landscape is dominated by dry-ish low scrub land, grain and cattle farms.
In between we stopped at more historical towns, some of which are also World Heritage listed . And let’s not forget our week in Brasilia! For a long time we had thought it would be too far out of the way, but in the end we were very pleased that we went and got to see all the futuristic Oscar Niemeyer buildings .
Our final destination in Brazil was the North Pantanal, the famous wetlands which are also a listed WHS. On the 27th we crossed the border with Bolivia.
Although Bolivia’s population includes many people with recent European roots, it felt very different to Brazil. Santa Cruz was the first province we came into; it is probably the wealthiest and has long aimed for independence from Bolivia. Initially it meant for us a lot of dusty dirt roads, through tropical vegetation and huge cattle farms.
One UNESCO World Heritage listing makes it really worthwhile to visit the east of Santa Cruz: the Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos . The five (of six listed) missions we visited were the most interesting sights during our trip so far, particularly since they completed the impressions we had gained during visits to other Jesuit sites last year .
We continued the month with three more WHS locations, which couldn’t be more different: ‘El Fuerte’ in Samaipata, the historic town of Sucre, and the mining town of Potosi. Read about these UNESCO World Heritage Sites here!
On the 1st of November we arrived in Uyuni, which is famous for its Salar, now a Dakar destination. By that time we had decided, for various reasons, to cut our visit to Bolivia short. We crossed the Salar de Uyuni with the intention of returning to Chile. Little did we know that the border shown on our maps was one without border facilities .
The next few weeks were spent in Iquique and Arica, waiting for our Brazilian friends Bia and Paulo to catch up with us (see June! In the meantime they had overcome their ‘parked overlander syndrome’ and had started the second leg of their trip to Alaska). This wasn’t meant to happen; the day before they would have caught up with us (for Yasha’s birthday on the 28th) their car was broken into and most of their documents stolen.
We spent most of the time relaxing, sorting photos, writing some posts, and re-visiting the historic centres of both towns, Iquique and Arica. (Yasha has written a post covering our time in North Chile, which will be published soon.) On route between the two cities we also visited another WHS, the saltpeter mines of Humberstone .
Since we had only been waiting for our friends, we crossed the border with Peru on the 29th. This was probably one of our most bureaucratic border crossings this trip… The first town in Peru, Tacna, is a medical destination for Chileans: dozens of dentists next to dozens of glasses shop; I had some cheap prescription reading glasses made within 2 hours…
We travelled along the barren coast until it was time to turn inland to Arequipa. There our Brazilian friends finally caught up with us. To this day we haven’t written anything about our December in Peru – we will update this page once it’s done.
And what will 2017 bring?
Later in the year we’ll reach Ecuador, where Yasha quietly hopes to find a job teaching English in Cuenca, or some other lovely spot to spend some time. If not we might reach Colombia before year’s end and possibly ship back to Europe…