Apr 072016
 

I've climbed more than twenty volcanoes in my life, all with their own inherent charm, and of different levels of difficulty. Acatenango is not the tallest volcano I've climbed, but it's definitely the most memorable.

On the way up to the summit!

On the way up to the summit!

If you`re in Guatemala,and have the time(2 days), then you cannot miss this experience. There are organized tours to the volcano leaving every day from Antigua. In Antigua there are hundreds of tour operators offering lots of different trips and adventures.
The trip to the Acatenango volcano is priced differently , depending on which operator you sign up with. I would recommend choosing the cheapest.
The reason for this is that all tour operators are working together, so if you paid 50$ or 100$, you`ll end up in the same bus, and with the same group anyways!
I found a pretty reasonable operator, charging about 250 Quetzal, which is something like 260 Norwegian kroner(14$) ".
You can choose to get food from the operator, and get some warm clothes from them(tents and sleeping bags are included). I would recommend bringing your own food, as the food from the tour operator was`nt great. Remember to bring water! . no one told me I needed to bring it myself, so I was a little bit stressed on the bus since there were no shops along the road. Ultimately it was`nt a problem; as there are lots of locals selling water at the point where the trek starts. There is water, chocolate, some food, and even beer for sale here. They also sold some homemade small bottles of Guatamalan tamarind liquor. I love tamarind, so brought a bottle to the summit.

 

Large groups!

Large groups!

I didn't really read much about this volcano before I climbed it, so I got a surprise when we started trekking. The trail is very steep, and I was almost getting tired at some points. The first 3 hours continue straight up, without any levelling of the path, While the next few hours are a bit easier,and not as steep. The problem with the way these tours are organized is that they bring way to many people, without giving a lot of information about how difficult the climb might be. There was something like 35 people in my group, so obviously there had to be some people walking excruciatingly slowly(for my taste) . The weaker people in the group kept falling behind. We had something like 10 long pauses before we arrived to the camp.
It is a very nice trip, a varied fauna along the path, Depending on the altitude.

Cozy dinner in the tent

Cozy dinner in the tent

We got to the camp right before it got dark, so we managed to set up the tents before it was pitch black. It was a really social and cozy atmosphere between the people in the group, everyone got along really well, . When the tent was assembled we were 8 people togheter having our dinner in a 4 person tent.
After dinner we went up to the rest of the group, who had gathered around a large campfire. At this point, it was getting very cold, so very good with a campfire to stay warm.

 

 

 

 

The best thing about the experience was the view. The campsite was a very short distance from the top of the volcano Fuego, which is an active volcano. Every 15-20 minutes the top of the Fuego exploded ; to our great joy!.

eruption in the sunset

eruption in the sunset

 

Giant eruption at night!

Giant eruption at night!

Most of the eruptions were small, but it happened 1-2 times during this evening that the entire top of the mountain sprayed lava 50-80 metres straight up, and then covered the entire mountainside. It was absolutely spectacular to experience such a big eruption this close, but still be relative safe. The eruption itself was worth the whole trip for me. You can find daily updates on Fuego activity here: Info about volcanic activity
The evening was magic; campfire, grilling marshmallows, tamarind booze, and 2 big bottles of whiskey that was constantly rotating from person to person.

Volcano climber!

Volcano climber!

 

The next morning we had to get up at 03.30 to walk to the top of the volcano. From there you can see an amazingly beautiful Sunrise with unbeatable views. Sadly, as we woke up to fog and rain, the trip to the summit was cancelled.
It was disappointing for everyone, but ultimately, no one can control the weather.
The mist did eventually clear up, and the most amazing views of the Antigua Valley appeared like magic from the dispersing clouds. Guatemalan mountain scenery to one side, and a beautiful active volcano on the other side – incredibly mesmerising !

 

Beautiful morning!

Beautiful morning!

 

Perfect camping ground

Perfect camping ground

 

The trek down was worse than the trek up to me. It was a very steep path, and several of the younger participants began running downhill, so I could`nt be any worse than them(even if they were 10 years younger than me!)

 

On the way down steep terrain

On the way down steep terrain

We ran down the steep trail for hours. It felt as if we would never get back to the start. When I finally reached the end of the trail, both my knees and thight were completely destroyed.. An ibuprofen is recommended before the descent.

All in all, this is a Must-do, an experience you can't miss if you are in the area !

This trip can be done on your own if you have someone you can team up with, and is feeling a bit adventurous. Then you have to rent camping equipment, and preferably also hire a local guide. From Antigua, you can take local buses(takes some patience and planning..) ; Antigua-Parramos and PArramos-La Soleda Taxi takes 1-1,5 hours and costs around 3-400 Norwegian kroner(14$) ".

 Posted by at 11:39 in the morning
Apr 072016
 

Most tourists/backpackers going to Guatemala will end up in Antigua sooner or later, and for a good reason.
From the airport in Guatemala it is very easy to find transport directly to Antigua. It takes about 1,5 hours by bus. I would definitely recommend going there directly, because there is little of interest in Guatemala city. It is a large and disorganized city, that can also be quite dangerous.

streets of Antigua

streets of Antigua

I landed there late in the afternoon, so had to stay in the big city, but after one night there I went straight to Antigua. All of my time in Guatemala(one week) was spent there.
10 reasons to base yourself in Antigua:

 

1. A base to see the best of Guatemala
From Antigua you can get to anywhere in Guatemala, and also to some places in Honduras(Copan ruins) and El Salvador(El Tunco). The tours go as far as to the amazing mayaruin Tikal in the North, and to the scenic Semuc Champey region in the North-East. It can take 7-9 hours on the bus to get to these places, so it is usually organized as a multi-day trip.

Antigua

Antigua

If you have limited time in Guatemala, I would certainly recommended going on these organized tours. It's cheap, hassle-free, and a great way to get to know other Travelers .
It is also possible remain at the destination after “the tour” is finished. There are many who travel to the beautiful Lake Attilan in this way. There are plenty of backpackers ' hostels in Attilan.

 

2. Volcanoes
Antigua has an idyllic location in the Guatemalan mountain landscape. The city is surrounded by volcanoes on all sides, and all of these are possible to climb, even those that are active.
I would recommend doing this in organised tours. The climb can be done on your own, but it involves a lot of planning, and in some cases(Pacaya) It can be dangerous due to a lot of crime in the area.

Climbing the volcano

Climbing the volcano

There is 3 volcanoes that can be climbed – Acatenango, Fuego and Pacaya.
Pacaya is known as the volcano where you can roast marshmellows over glowing lava. It`s a Straightforward day trip, only takes 2 hours to go to the lava or hot rocks. If you go in the morning you`ll be back for lunch
Fuego is a very active volcano, but the tours go on a path on the side of the volcano where the lava does`nt run(which is to be prefered!). 6-8 hours to walk.
Acatenango is not active, but from the campsite you`ll be able to see the eruptions on the neighbouring volcano Fuego. It is truly spectacular..

Fuego seen from Acatenango

Fuego seen from Acatenango

From the top of Acatenango, you get an amazing view of the entire Antigua Valley, and the surrounding volcanoes. It is organized so that you`ll spend the entire first day to climb Acatenango, The campsite is approx. one hour from the summit. The following day you`ll start walking towards the top at 4 in the morning, so that you`ll get there by sunrise. If you only have time for ONE volcano trip from Antigua then I would definitely recommend this one!, but remember that it's a tough hike up to the campsite. Read about my experience at Acatenango

 

3. Diverse food and great coffee!!

Delicious coffee.. mmm

Delicious coffee.. mmm

There is a truly amazing variety of restaurants in Antigua. You can find everything from homemade Guatemalan food, authentic Mexican, Indian, sushi, Italian, Irish pub food etc.

 

I was there for a week, and did`nt even get to try a fraction of all the restaurants I wanted to sample. Antigua is revelling!
And the coffee…what an amazingly good coffee…they know all about brewing of good local coffee here. There are so many incredible small barristas where you`ll get a delicious breakfast served with the tastiest coffe, The prefectly untainted black kind. A superb start to the day.
I had had a lot of time so I had been missing for weeks in Antigua, and spent the days with a barrista coffee in one hand,and a good book in the second.

 

 

 

4. Party!
Antigua is a Mecca for partying backpackers,as well as families on vaccation. When out on the town you will also meet lots of local Guatemalan “tourists” that take the short trip from Guatemala city to party.
The whole place has a very positive vibe about it, and there are myriads of good places to party the night away.
I came here after spending 4 weeks in El Salvador and Honduras; countries that traditionally have a lot fewer tourists. So when I came to Antigua, I was very ready to socialize with other independent travellers.

ready for the party

ready for the party

I checked in at the city's main “Party hostel” with the appropriate name “Jungle party hostal”.
They had drinking games and such shenanigans every night, and I met lots of cool,young people there. The drinking games were slightly awkward , so we would usually depart for the pubs and clubs pretty early.
There are many clubs in Antigua, so it's worth to go out with someone who knows all the good spots,and know where it is best to party. In the clubs it was evenly distrubuted approx 50-50 with locals and Western tourists. The clubs close pretty early(01.00) due to local regulations. When the official clubs close you`ll have to go around town to find the “unofficial” clubs.
It was pretty funny to see all the confused people wandering the streets of Antigua looking for underground clubs. The wise move is to follow someone who has some local knowledge and knows where to find the places. you`ll have to ask around. I found that there were several guatemalan ladies who were asking me about where to find these clubs!

I also went to a so-called “poolparty” – this was pretty weird as it was a rave party inside an empty swimming pool. It is organized quite often,and is about 20 minutes taxi from Antigua. To find out when it is you will need to talk with local people, and the people on your hostel.

 

5. shopping
There are many markets in Antigua. On the weekends there is a large outdoor market by an old ruin of a church. You can buy all the possible different Guatemalan artisan products there. They have a lot of wooden sculptures, masks,clothes and shoes, fruits and food, and emeralds.

mayawomen selling stuff

mayawomen selling stuff

Many Maya related sculptures and jewelry. I bought some nice locally grown coffee in a home-made knitting bag, and homemade local chocolates.
There is a large indoor market .

This is located 3 blocks West of the main plaza. Where the shelves are packed with, lots of nice artisan products. The vendors can be a little intense once they sense a tourist, especially when times are slow. Many of them are selling the same stuff, so you`ll have to bargain well, otherwise you`ll end up paying twice the price.

 

6. Learning Spanish

He speaks only Spanish!

He speaks only Spanish!

 

Many travel to Antigua to learn the language. Guatemalan Spanish is generally easy to understand, and many travelers stay in Antigua for months while learning Spanish. There are tons of language schools, and it is also possible to participate in so-called immersion programs where you live with a host family, which don`t know much,or any, english.
In antigua there are so many tourists that it may actually be a disadvantage when you're going to learn Spanish. Most locals here speak english so well that they don't even bother trying to speak Spanish with someone who is less capable.

7. Chillout
Antigua is a resting zone for weary travelers ! A perfect place to relax for a while without doing anything useful.

After you have been backpacking through Central America for a few weeks/months it's nice to have a place like this. It's a small town,easily navigated,and easy to get around on foot. .P1010874There are a lots of other travelers to hang out with, but also possible to just be with local people if that's what you want

 

You can easily spend the days chilling in a hammock with a beer in hand, or enjoy a fresh coffee at one of the many barristas, and be social with the other backpackers in the evening. It is also possible to go on day trips down to the pacific coast if you'd like to spend the day on a beach.
I met many travelers who stayed here for months without any special goals or meaning, a lifestyle that would have suited me just fine.

 

 

 

8. Culture

Antigua was the former capital of Guatemala, and was founded in 1543 by the Spanish conquisadors. Churches and cathedrals were built, and destroyed time and again by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
At the present time there are myriads of churches, monasteries and ruins that are worth visiting for the history buffs. It is worth noting; Convento de Capuchinas, La Catedral, El Palacio de los Gobernadores, Convento de Santa Clara, El Arco de Santa Catarina and Iglesia La Merced.
On a hillside above the city there is “Cerro de la Cruz” – a large cross. It is not very interesting in itself, but it's a nice enough walk, and offers good views of the Valley.

Old church

Old church

To me a good cultural experience is more about finding out how the locals are living in their everyday life, not visiting old churches, To me it was interesting to see the local markets, and the festivals and crowds gathering during the weekends. When I was there they were celebrating some Jesus-related holiday where the locals were parading in masks and costumes. On Sunday there were concerts and crowds in the main plaza.
Check with the locals if there are any concerts or local celebrations when you visit Antigua.

 

Activities:
– join a “Workshop” in some local craft, knitting or something – You can learn how to make Guatemalean jewelry(Jade) and textile production, and other handicrafts.
– Learn about chocolate – There is a separate workshop where you'll learn to make chocolate,and about the history of chocolate,and coffee in Guatemala.
– Cooking class – Learn how to create genuine Guatemalan cuisine – lots of exciting food here”

 Posted by at 11:39 in the morning
Dec 252015
 
The Savior

The Savior

how to get to El Salvador?
It is often a good idea to fly into a more "touristy" place nearby such as cancun, or the bay islands. . Tha will be cheaper than flying directly to El Salvador in many cases,and it is an opportunity to get to visit other exciting destinations. I chose a cheap charter flight to Cancun(4000nok(500$)) ., then relaxed for a few days before flying to Guatemala(2000nok(250$)) from where I took a bus directly to El Salvador(5 hours, ca 300NOK(40$) for luxury bus!)

 

How much time should I spend there?
I would reccomend a week at least. 10 days is better if you have the time

 

What to do in El Salvador ?

El Tunco surfing beach

El Tunco surfing beach

There are lots of interesting palces in El Salvador,both scenic nature,partying and nightlife,beautiful villages, lagunas,volcanoes, and fun activities such as surfing and zip lining.
Most things worth seeing are in west and central El Salvador. There are also some nice mountain villages in the north, ,but they are fairly similar to the villages in the west.
I would reccomend getting to know some local salvadorians, especially if you want to go out in San Salvador and Santa Tecla. I made a little not on the local Couchsurfing page, and got responses from lots of local people who wanted to meet me. I was staying in a hostel, because I also wanted to meet other travellers. So then I ended up hanging out with a good mix of locals and tourists. I brought 2 american girls to meet Julio from couchsurfing. we met him, and 4 of his friends, and we ended up being a big and diverse group.

Meg and the gang from San Salvador

Meg and the gang from San Salvador

we went to a modern area of town called Santa Tecla, where we did some bar hopping, and got to see 4 different pubs before the end of the evening.

Is El Salvador safe?
Yes, and no. you should always be aware that there are lots of social unrest in El Salvador, and many gang-related murders. Getting mugged/robbes is a very real concern, most locals have experienced it,and as a tourist you are more attractive. Take advice from the locals. I would not reccomend first-time backpackers to go here. Seperate article about safety to come.

 

 

places worth visiting:

Route of flowers(the flower route):
this is the highlight of El Salvador. a very pittoresque area surrounded by volcanoes, coffeplantations, and beautiful nature. I would absolutely try to plan to visit during the weekend. That`s when the markets have the most activity, and it is the best time to see the exciting food market in Jujaya. Many of the Salvadorian dishes found there can be difficult to find elsewhere.

village on the flower route

village on the flower route

You can easily travel between villages on the local buses, And there are hotels and hostels in all of the villages along this route; zip lines, horseriding, visiting coffe plantations, and checking out the artisan markets.

decorative buildings in Ataco

decorative buildings in Ataco

I was staying in a very nice hostel in Jujaya, a city which I would recommend everyone to stay in. , .. Remember some warm clothes, as it gets cold there in the evenings.

 

Puerto Libertad and the surrounding beaches:
a large part of the backpackers that go to El Salvador go there only for the surf. It is a typically Central American phenomena, lots of surfbums everywhere. Libertidad itself is not much to talk about, most people will head straight for one the small beach villages. Playa El Tunco, Zonte and Suchal are the most popular ones.

Tunco promenade

Tunco promenade

Sunset on the pacific coast

Sunset on the pacific coast

Playa El Tunco is an established free-zone/party-place for backpackers, and it has a really chillout vibe. There`s only 2 things on the menu; surfing and partying. In the weekends the Salvadorians come down from San Salvador to get some beach time, and some partying. In the weekends it is wise to book your accomodation. We arrived on a saturday afternoon, and had some difficulties in finding a place to stay.
Tunco is a good place to learn how to surf,as it is relatively inexpensive. it costs about 10$ for one hour of tutition, and 10$ for the surf board. Check your board meticulosly, as they will often try to trick you by claiming that you dented/damaged the surfboard. I had to pay 30$ extra(7 days of salary in El salvador) because they claimed that I had damaged the board.

Surfing

Surfing

San Salvador:
Worth going to for the party-scene. otherwise not to much to see for a tourist. It is relatively dangerous to wander in the centre of town where most the "attractions" are. The city is known as one of the best places to go out drinking in Central America. Before going there take time to find out where it is safe to live, and , where it is safe to go out in the evening. Keep in contact with the locals for advice on the current situation. Zona Rosa is a pretty safe part of town,and this is also where most the clubs are. Another good option is to travel to Santa Tecla,which is like a little suburbian city 15 minutes from San Salvador. There are lots of bars/clubs all gathered in one little pedestrian street..

Lake Coatapeque:

Lake Coatapeque

Lake Coatapeque

beautiful lake in a volcanic crater. A place worth visiting. You can easily go here as a daytrip from San Salvador, or any village on the flower route. I would reccomend renting a car, but be aware that the roads to the lake are pretty low-maintenance.
there are local buses going to the lake, but those can be pretty low maintenance as well, and it is not unusual for bad guys to rob the passengers(happens mostly within San Salvador).

boats on coatapeque

boats on coatapeque

When visiting the lake it is really worth hiring a small boat to take you around the lake,and to visit a place that is nice for swimming.
There are som hostels along the crater edge, that has a very good view. it's worth staying here a few nights if you have the time.

East- San Salvador
The november carneval in San Miguel. it was happening when I was visiting the area, but the locals warned me about going there as a crowd like that can get pretty dangerous. There are also some nice scenic villages in this area, but you can get the same experience from visiting similar villages in the west.

Yhere is obviously more places to see in El Salvador, but the ones listed here are the mot popular tourist places. It is a relatively small country, and you can actually see a good many of the sights in 1-2 days if you rent a car. This is absolutely reccomended for those who has less than a week to spend. Just try to avoid driving into gerilja and gang territories, that might cause some discomfort and pain/death

 Posted by at 6:24 pm
Dec 202015
 

Along with my new Salvadoran friend Julio, and the American girls, I had made lots of plans to drive around the rest of El Salvador to see various beautiful places, but it fell slightly apart as Julio had some problems with the car.. We were sitting for half the day at the hostel in San Salvador before Julio came along with another car that he had borrowed. So then we were ready for our El Salvadorian roadtrip !

Salvadorian breakfast

Salvadorian breakfast

It was so late in the afternoon,and since it gets dark at five, we just had to drive right down to the coast to a surf beach called El Tunco. El Tunco was another night of partying with hipster-surfers.

ME and my new friends

ME and my new friends

The morning after we finally got on the road. We went to a volcanic crater lake called Lago Coatapeque.

by a nice volcanic lake

by a nice volcanic lake

When we finally got down to the lake(after almost wrecking the car on the terrible road) we rented a boat with skipper to take us round on the lake. It was very beautiful there, and the water kept a steady 30 degrees.

On the road to the Lake

On the road to the Lake

After that we wanted to see a place called 'ruta de flores " – The flower road - one of the nicest areas in the country. It is a series of small villages high up in the mountains, surrounded by volcanoes on all sides,and coffee plantations, and of course a lot of flowers.

 roadtrip(I`m Mr.crazy)

roadtrip(I`m Mr.crazy)

We came there just as darkness began to creep in, so did not get to see much of the area. We came to a small town called Jujaya. Jujaya has a very nice local food market on weekends with many Salvadoran favorites. We ate at a very famous(locally) steak restaurant. Since we were in the coffee district I could not help myself when I found sirloin with coffee sauce on the menu. It tasted amazing,as good as any sirloin I ever had.!

Coffee steak

Coffee steak

When we sat there the electricity went out, and everything became dark. We heard various fearful screams from the street. I was thinking that now there is surely full anarchy with robbers and other villains sneaking around in the dark. When traveling in El Salvador you constantly have safety in your mind, since it is rated as one of the most dangerous countries in the world.
The light eventually came back, and I reckon that that screaming were just kids playing around.
It was very cold up there in the mountains, and I was, in my usual spirit of poor planning, Only wearing a tiny singlet and shorts. Despite this, I took a spontaneous decision to find a place to stay for the night so that I could see more of Ruta de Flores the next day.
My luggage and all my stuff was left in El Tunco, and my friends went back to San Salvador. So there I was in a strange village in the mountains, naked(almost) and alone.

In Ataco along with Canader

In Ataco along with Canader

Next day I took the local buses between the different small villages, and visited a local coffee plantation and distillery.

Coffee my guide!

Coffee my guide!

There I had a private guide who took me through all the steps in the refining of coffee beans, and I got to sample some of the wonderful freshly brewed coffees, everything to the price of 40 Norwegian kroner(14$) ", about the same as you would pay for a cup of coffee in Norway.

The villages were very beautiful, sleepy little places inbetween mountains, each with its own charm.
When I got back to my own village I had planned to go check out some nice waterfalls that were in the woods outside of the village. I found that I had no time for that since I had to catch a bus to the beaches.

Sinnatagg on Ruta Flores

Sinnatagg on Ruta Flores

It worked out for the best,really. My new Canadian friend told me later that 2 other tourists from the same hostel had gone there at the same time, and they were robbed by a nervous guy with a big machete. I was actually constantly mentally prepared to be robbed, but I think it was nice that I avoided it that day.

My journey towards the beach was probably even more dangerous than it had been to get robbed. The driver of the ancient schoolbus speed up downhill as if there was no tomorrow. There was no question of slowing down when approaching a turn, then it was full on pedal to the metal. Had there been any cars around the corner, we had been pretty fucked. Ironically, he had more than enough time when he stopped in villages along the way, Then he would talk as long as possible with various buddies, even stopping for some food here and there.
I got safely(but not comfortably) to the beach after 5 hours in purgatory. I was stupid enough to buy a newspaper the next day. There I found out that another bus had crashed in the same area the same day.

The default transport El Salvador

The default transport El Salvador

In total 8 people died. I also read that there had been a massacre of 4 youths in the city which was located right next to the beach where I lived. It is not an unusual event in a country where there are over 50 murders daily, but I never felt unsafe. Most of these murders are gang members, or business owners who do not pay "tax" to the gangs.

El Tunco was a decent and safe place to stay. There was a blissful mix of Salvadorians and backpackers. Most of the backpackers there were classic surfbums from Australia and USA.
Of course I had to surf a bit when I was there. From past experience I know that I'm not just some crackerjack, so I decided to take some lessons.
The lessons were not much to brag about. I went to 3 different surf shops where I specifically asked for an instructor that spoke English. I ended up with one that could say "hello" and "goodbye".
But it was fine, as the lesson did not involve much chatter. It was just me on the board, and him pushing me into various waves.
It was not very good, I was unable to catch a single wave, or stand upright. The problem was really that one has to jump up on the board in a jerking motion, without using the knees for support. This was a problem for me since the jerking movements felt painful in the lower back.. Maybe I'm too old for this, most people there were 10 years younger than me!

I rented the board the following day as well, but was having the same problem.

Browsing(1 1seconds)

Browsing(1 1seconds)

In addition, as the waves of El Tunco are very unpredictable. One moment there is hardly movement on the surface, next moment there is a 3 meter high wave coming straight towards me. It was actually quite scary at times . It happened that I saw that a wave was coming, but it was too late to swim against it, and too late to swim away from it, so I was just sitting there waiting to get a hefty beating. I was actually mostly afraid that I would loose my gopro camera, it cost a fortune!.

This video led to this article; http://latincorrespondent.com/2016/01/salvadoran-media-mistakes-English-traveler-for-jason-statham/

When I returned the board they claimed that I had made some dents in it, and wanted $ 30, an average weekly wage, to fix it. I'm pretty sure I was careful with the board, but I just had to pay. Recommendation; Take a picture, and video of the board before you rent !

Post-surf chill

Post-surf chill

The next day I was just sitting eating puposaes and drinking beer by the pool, which is also a pretty rewarding activity when it's nice and sunny.

Puposa is the closest thing to national food in El Salvador. It is very easy, just a tortilla that is embedded with frijoles(beans) and cheese, and may also contain chicken, garlic, mushroom, fish, etc. It is very good and cheap. They sell it everywhere along the street,and the so-called "puposerias».

Ladies who make pupusaer

Ladies who make pupusaer

After a few days I had to move on because I had other places to see. I had to take the bus at 04.40 O`clock to San Salvador, then a new bus until San Pedro Sula In Honduras, and then another bus for the last stretch towards La Ceiba where I planned to take a boat to the islands Utila or Roatan.
It was a little scary to walk around with all my things in the middle of the night, especially since I had heard some loud bangs just before I left the hotel.
I met a solitary policeman on the street. He had a loaded gun in his hand. He assured me that there were no villains nearby, so I strolled further.
17 Hours and a border crossing later, I found myself in a dirty and ugly port city by the name of "La Ceiba".

 Posted by at 12:38 in the morning
Dec 172015
 

Finally back to Central America! I saved up all my holiday for a long trip through parts of between America because it is one of the favorite places my travel. Last time I got experienced the best of Panama, Costa Rica og Nicaragua. Another trip took me through Mexico and Belize, So now remained only El Salvador, Guatemala og Honduras – de 3 worst offenders !

The Savior,Honduras and Guatemala

The Savior,Honduras and Guatemala

Last time I was in the area so I let me stop from visiting El Salvador after I had read a little about the country. I read that it is the country with the highest number murder in relation to citizens - 50 people daily. There are plenty of threads where. It is also very much natural disasters - earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, gjørmeras, flooding, hurricanes are all relatively common. The traffic is also dangerous.
So I dropped it at that time. But this time I would not let trifles like that stop me. I've also heard great things about El Salvador, and the people who live there, so felt curious about how it would be. Curiosity is what drives me to go to all these places.
I went from a conference in London to Mexico. So idiotic as it is so significant was the ticket much cheaper from Bergen, although there is a plane that runs from London. That meant I had to fly from London to Bergen in the morning, only to begin the journey from Bergen. So I had to fly back to London in the afternoon to take the plane from there to Cancun.
After a few days of cave diving

Cave dive

Cave dive

and partying in Playa Del Carmen, then I went to Guatemala City, and from there they traveled painlessly with a very comfortable bus to San Salvador.

I was conscious that San Salvador is a fairly dangerous city, but luckily got the bus up on a pretty safe area where I strolled around for a while until I found a hostel.
The time was just 12 when I arrived, so I thought to be a bit touristy, and see a bit of the city. There is a very wide spread center of this city, so not so easy to get an overview. In the center there are some fine churches and sculptures and such that I thought to check out. When I asked the lady at reception about how to get to the center so she simply said "tu eres loco!?», which means "you are crazy?». She told me that for just under an hour ago 3 policemen shot and killed there, and that it was relatively common. So I had to weigh a little back and forth if it was worth going there or not. On one hand, it shall be a terrible beautiful church there, on the other side so I can risk getting shot in the crossfire.

Typical Saddle vad Stop

Typical Saddle vad Stop

I decided finally to just wander around a bit in the Zona Rosa nor, which is a relatively safe area, and where all the clubs and bars located. It also felt safe there with the thought that at least 50% of all the people I met on the street were security guards with shotguns and machine guns around the neck. I thought a bit so that if someone comes villains running and shooting at me as there is always a guard with a rifle right near.

I went on an anthropological museum where I learned a little about immigration. More than 3 millioner El Salvadorere bor i andre land. Most of it in the United States and Canada, but also large groups in other countries like Italy and Sweden.

It was not so much more walking on me that day. It is best to be careful when you are in a dangerous city.
I went out for dinner with the 2 American girls, and afterwards so I took them with me when I was going to meet Julio whom I had chatted with on the couch surfing.

Meg and the gang from San Salvador

Meg and the gang from San Salvador

We met Julio and 3 of his friends, so we were a large group that went on pubcrawl together. We went out to a suburb of San Salvador called Santa Tecla. Where it is quite safe, and lots of bars. It was fun to watch the local when they dance. It seems that everyone has the rhythms naturally in the body, and they just glide along in a sensual dance. I got trained me a bit of salsa with a real Salvador. It was fun since I found out I was not as hopeless as I had thought…
We got home safe and got a few hours sleep before the next day's roadtrip…..stay tuned…..

 Posted by at 12:59 in the morning
Jul 202014
 

 

After 7 months of traveling through South America- from north to South – We had many attempred scammings on the journey. Here I will list some of the most common scams in South America, some of them I have been subjected to, the other scam I have heard from people I met,or from people working in local hostels.
Some scams are probably common also on other continents, particularly Asia.
It is very convenient to learn about these tricks, so that you can avoid falling into the trap and getting your whole experience of this amazing continent ruined.

I had an experience where I came extremely close to losing my passport,credit card,laptop,hard-drive containing 10 months of travel photos. In short; all my valuables !!

Resourcefulness from me and Torunn was the only thing that prevented the disaster that time. If something like that can happen to a moderately cynical person like me,it can happen to anyone!.
Here is a small list of common scams in random order:

 

1. Friendly local person who only wants to practice English

 

A nice local person comes up to you and starts to ask all the classic questions; What country are you from? Is this your first time visiting ………..(the current country) ? Do you like staying here? Etc

At this point most people think that this is probably someone who is warming you up a bit before presenting whatever it is that they are selling.
This is probably true in most cases, but some are more clever than that.
They will become very defensive when you insinuate that you don`t want to buy anything from them, and then go on to explain that he just wants to be friends,and maybe get a chance to practice his English.

Friendly Goat

Friendly Goat

Then they will quickly proceed to start guiding you around the area of the attraction,or city that you are in.. They claim that they certainly don`t want any payment, maybe just a little tip at the end. After a short tour they suddenly ask for an insanely high tip of 500 norwegian kroner(100dollar) or a similar ridiculous sum. They can get quite aggressive and assertive if you refuse to pay. Many tourists will probably pay just to get rid of them..
One time I was driving around on a moped in the Dominican Republic then 2 men drove up beside me and asked me where I was going. I said I was heading towards the city center. Before I could say anything more they drove in front of me and started “directing” me through the city. They also made an attempt of guiding, telling me about neighborhoods etc.. It was totally unsolicited, but it was hard to get rid of them. Afterwards, they obviously wanted money. It was lucky that I had brought an empty decoy wallet with me that day!! I showed them the empty wallet, and kept driving.

How to Deal With Them?
The best is probably to be quite confident and clear that you have no interest in their service from the beginning.. Do not let them start guiding you"!
Of course some people just genuinely want to talk and get to know you, so you cannot go around being cynical all day, but merely make a judgement in each situation. It does`nt hurt to have a conversation with people coming up to you, but once they start providing a “service” for you, then you can end up in an uncomfortable situation where you feel you need to give them money when they start nagging.
One of the worst places I experienced this was in Jamaica. There I was walking happily toward an ATM when a local person came running,and pointed to the ATM and said ” That`s the ATM,just continue walking straight forward 50 meters , give me money since I helped you find the ATM”.They would often follow me over long distances to “help me” to find the post office,restaurant or whatever I was heading towards. You have to really be careful not to accept “services” that you don`t want or need..

 

 

 

2.The attraction / hotel / restaurant is closed or shut down

This is a very common trick, especially among taxi drivers. They get commission from some hotels / restaurants that pay them for taking customers there. Even if you have a booking that is only 2 days old, they will argue fervently that it was closed that evening, or burned down.

Closed!

Closed!

At some tourist attractions some tricksters, who are looking very official, tells you that the attraction is closed that day . Obviously, this is before you get to the main entrance. Then they take you to their shop where they might ave lots of nice souvenirs related to the attraction you were going to see.
How to Deal With Them?
Ask the taxi driver to drive you to the address you have been given whatever they tell you. Go all the way to the entrance of the attraction, and see for yourself that it is not closed.
We experienced some scammers on the streets of Quito. They saw us with the big backpacks, and tried to convince us that we were going to the wrong hotel.

3.Mayonnaise, ketchup, coffee trick

Someone spills something on your jacket / t-shirt ,

ohh my !!

ohh my !!

and then they become very apologetic ,and want to help clean your shirt or trousers. In the process they steal all your valuables.
How to Deal With Them?
Do not let people into your “personal zone” .. Explain that you can wipe it off yourself. If they start cleaning before you get a chance to comment you just have to pay close attention to where their hands are, and keep your hands firmly on whatever valuables you have .

 

4. “Assistant” on the bus

In South America there are lots of different bus companies that run between cities, and between countries. Many of these buses have several employees, who each have their own little job, running back and forth between the bus and the office. Often these people don`t have any uniform to distinguish them, one can only assume that they are working for the company as they are doing what looks like work..South America 186
My experience happened on a small,dilapidated local bus in Chile. One of the “Helpers” came over trying to “help” me with various things. Me and my girlfriend Torunn were the first passengers on this bus, and he was there ready to show us to our seats.
Then he disappeared, but kept coming back with new information of sorts. Eventually, he told us that we had put our hand-luggage in the overhead compartment. The reason for this was “police checks and narcotics” which was all the Spanish we could understand. He was quite assertive, and seemed like he had things under control. even though I always keep my hand luggage close to my body , I put it on the overhead cpmpartment, since this was what we had been told…pretty naïve …
A little while later the same man returned with a note where we had to write down our details,name,Address and lots of stuff. This would obviously be completed while he was standing right next to us, putting various stuff on the overhead shelf..
The next thing that happened was that he walked out of the bus with his coat well stretched from his body. The note he had us filling out was a distraction, while he was busy stealing my bag. Torunn got up and checked the overhead shelf,and saw at once that he had replaced my bag with an empty bag of the same size. Torunn was very fast in running after him. I ran after them, but it happened so fast that I ran the wrong way. After 30 seconds I found Torunn with my backpack! Amazingly, she had caught him just as he was heading into a car with my backpack. She walked toward him, and he tried to toss the bag behind the car while saying “All is well,no problems !” in Spanish. She ignored him,went straight over and grabbed the bag,and told him to go to hell. After that we removed the rest of the luggage and went to find another bus. Although he didn't work for the bus, the others who worked there must have seen what he was doing, maybe they even got commission . Read the full story here: http://stigsworld.no/del-30-ranet-i-chile-og-punktering-i-verdens-torreste-orken
How to Deal With Them?
Do not take everything you are told to be true,even if it is from someone who seems like an authority,or one that appears to work there. We should never have put our valuables in a place where we had no control over them. Never listen to anyone who asks you to part With your valuables. Always be conscious when someone shows to much interest in your valuables,and spend time close to where it is.
The bags are`nt always safe even on the floor by your legs. I read a story about someone who was on a bus in Ecuador and was distracted by a pretty lady that had various questions. As he answered the questions her friends crawled under the seat, cut holes in his bag and stole all his camera equipment.

 

5. taxi drivers

It doesn't matter which country you are in,One thing is always certain – Most taxi drivers will try to trick you. Taxis in South America costs almost nothing, but can get very expensive if you`re not paying attention.
I have been scammed by taxis many times, and it will probably happen in the future as well,since it can be very difficult to avoid. There are many ways that they can fool you; driving long detours while the meter is running, Having a rigged meter that moves 10 times faster than the normal rate,not using the meter and making an absurd price on arrival, drive you to the wrong hotel and assert that it is correct,but has changed its name so they can get commission etc etc.

Taxi in South America

Taxi in South America


Many times I have been tricked into paying much more than the normal fare, But the worst experience was one taxi I took in Vietnam.
How to Deal With Them?

The best option in my experience is to avoid taxis as far as it is possible! There are usually local buses,opportunities to rent a scooter, or just walking if the distances are`nt too great. If you still need to take a taxi you need to turn on your “Cynical mode” right away. In most situations when traveling abroad I would advise people to be open and approachable, but when dealing with taxi drivers , one must unfortunately be cynical from the start. It's too late to start asking questions after the drive is over, At that point he can take charge any crazy amount for the trip.
Always do a little research about how much a taxi ride should cost in the city you are going to. Talk to locals. If you have the opportunity to connect with a local you can get him to help. If a local hails the taxi and talk in the native language,the driver is much less likely to scam you.. Check that the car is a licensed public taxi, and not counterfeit.
Insist that the meter will be turned on,or if there is no meter try to agree on the price beforehand.

 

 

6.The tourist and the policeman

This is a classic scam in South America. A friendly co-tourist (most times of South American origin) come over and have a chat. Often they need directions to some attraction. After a few minutes arrives a plainclothes “Policeman ”. He instantly flashes a small badge, and asks to see your passport and inspect the bag of your new friend. This guy does everything that the policeman ask him to do, and everything is going very smoothly.

Policia civil

Policia civil

Then the policeman wants to see your passport, and check your backpack, and your new friend promptly informs you that it's fine,and this is routine.
Then he goes through your bag, and steals your money and your creditcard while “the tourist” distract you with nonsense chatting. An alternative way to implement this scam is that the police officer retains your passport until you pay a hefty ransom to get it back.
How to Deal With Them?
There are very few plainclothes policemen in South America, and it is very unlikely that they would run around taking passports from random tourists. You just have to stand your ground, refuse to show them your passport and bags. Tell them to discuss it at the police station, but not on the street. Do not get in a car with these people, as it can be very dangerous. I would leave them on the street, and start to cry and draw attention if they tried any physical action.
Some of them will also ask to see your wallet to check for counterfeit bills, This is obviously not something you let them do!

 

 

7. Pickpockets

Everyone knows that you have to watch out for pickpockets when visiting the big city, but it is important to be well prepared,not just have it in the back of your mind. pickpockets in South America can be spectacularly cunning and skilled at what they do. All the time when I traveled through South America I was uber-careful with my valuables. every time we stood in a crowd, or a full bus, I kept both my hands over my pockets. I also had a “secret” zip-closed pocket inside the regular pocket. Here I kept passports and credit cards.

pickpocket

pickpocket

Despite this, me and torunn still got pickpopcketed 2 different times. The first time was on a fully loaded bus in Quito,Ecuador – http://stigsworld.no/del-22-ranet-i-quito. As we ere busy reading our Lonely Planet book, trying to figure out the opening hours to some museum – the perfect distraction for a pickpocket. Torunn noticed that the wallet was gone the second we had exited the bus. In retrospective we realised that there was a young girl who got a little too close. We only lost 4-500 Norwegian kroner(14$) ", but the experience was still enough to ruin the whole day, as we had to run back and forth to find a police station.
The second time was on a subway in Buenos Aires. Then we were talking about something that made me loose focus,and loosen my grip over the pocket with my camera. It was only 30 seconds that I lost focus, but it was enough – The thieves stole the camera containing all the pictures from the amazing Iguazu Falls,and all the images from the city. It was enough to destroy the whole week for us.
How to Deal With Them
There are many who use money belts. This can be a clever idea,but it is still possible for the bad guys to cut it gently with a knife. I've heard of thieves who cut through the trousers of tourists to access the “secret” pockets inside, all this without the tourist noticing.
There are some underpants and T-shirts with secret pockets http://www.clevertravelcompanion.com/, which is a pretty smart idea!
Have constant focus your valuables every time you are in a crowd or on public transport. We met a guy that had chains on all valuables that was secured in the trousers. He often experienced all of his valuables hanging out of his pocket after a metro-ride in Buenos Aires!

8.Friendly local who wants to take you to the pub

This trick is in most cases aimed at young male backpackers. There is usually a sweet local girl who greets you on the street. She wants to practice English,or to learn about your country. When you say you're from Norway she obviously has some relatives living in Oslo – see how much you have in common !
Coincidentally, she knows about a great local pub nearby, where you can have a drink together.

Expensive alcohol at the pub..

Expensive alcohol at the pub..

The pub workers are obviously a part of the scam. You stick around for a while, talking and drinking with this great person. The girl disappears to the bathroom, or something, and the tourist is left with a huge bill for the drinks which are priced 10 times the regular rate. The bartender, and his enormously large friends, are more than willing to follow the confused tourists to the nearest ATM etc.
I have heard several versions of this scam. A backpacker who I talked to told me that he was into a group with 9 other youngsters. They became acquainted with a nice young man who everyone got along with. He was decent enough to take them to a local pub. There the whole group was offered to try a marihuana cigarette. The cigarette went round to everyone in the group. When the last tourist took a puff of smoke 6-7 policemen jumped out from their hiding place, and explained that this was illegal, and now had everyone had to go to prison,or pay a hefty bribe. They ended up paying an insane amount of money to be released -4-500 dollar per person. The policemen and the young man who tricked them into the trap made 5000 dollars on such a simple and devious trick.
What to do?
Do not trust cute girls who approaches you on the street wanting to spend time with you,just because they evidently "like" you, It can get very expensive and very dangerous. Have a healthy skepticism towards people who suddenly have the urge to show you the various “good” places. Don`t accept pot cigarettes from strangers in strange countries !

 Posted by at 5:24 pm
Dec 172013
 

Back in our bamboo cabin we slept like children after the hardships of the day. The morning would bring new hardships.
After a wholesome Philippine rice-and-egg breakfast we threw our backpacks on our backs and continued the intensive backpacking. We took a bus to Tagbilaran and from there we tried to find transport to Alona beach, a small town on the island of Panglao. We made the stupid decision that the 40 kroner ($8) the local with a tricycle wanted was too much. We decided to rather sit there and wait for a jeepney which cost 25 Norwegian kroner(14$) ". This is the way it is when travelling in poor countries, you start to expect to pay as little as the locals, even if it means sacrificing comfort. We ended up with a jeepney that at first stood for 40 minutes without moving, then drove a half km before stopping in a different place for 30 minutes. By the time we were finally on our way to Panglao there were so many people inside the small claustrophobic bus that they definitely could have won some world record. We should have taken the private transport…

Jeepney

Jeepney


When we arrived in Alona Beach the rain was pouring down with biblical proportions, so we checked in at the first and best (not!) place we came across.
Alona beach is not a typical Filipino village by the sea, It is a tourist city where everyone lives off of the tourists in one way or another. There are pale, people everywhere, all with a tail of Filipinos after them, trying to sell "tours" and useless souvenirs. It was quite lively there in the evening as

Torunn in Alona beach

Torunn in Alona beach

all the restaurants along the beach had live music with local bands. We met a Norwegian who I had contacted through couchsurfing. Henning stayed at the beach and worked as a dive instructor at one of the many dive centers there. He also had a visit from his teenage brother and his friends, so it was time for a party!
The night before they had been drinking, and one of the teenagers had been so drunk that he fell from the balcony of his room and landed on some of diving equipment. Thats Norwegians abroad!
We sat drinking with them on the beach for a few hours before the whole lot went to a sleazy karaoke bar a bit inland.

singing and dancing

singing and dancing

The local Filipinos sitting there when we arrived would soon experience how off key you can be. The Norwegian crew took to the microphone and started a round of sound-pollution reaching new dimensions. The teen boys made a real show of synchronized dancing and screaming, it was beautiful. The beers went down quickly, this was neither the time or place to be sober. Thank the Gods for 1 liter bottles!

Stig stock tidy musikk

Stig stock tidy musikk

After we had scared away all the Philipinos in a one mile radius, we continued to a disco.

The outdoor disco

The outdoor disco

After a short moped-ride we found our that the disco really was just a basketball -court where they had set up some speakers and a disco ball. We jumped around with the locals into the late night hours. We continued to dance even though it started pouring down with rain, while 200 Philipinos stood under a roof and wondered what was wrong with the Western invaders. What they do not understand is that for us who are used to COLD rain, even in the summer, hot tropical rain, in a location which is already 30 C in the air, is not a problem.
The locals returned to the dancefloor when the shower stopped. Then we were hit on, on the dancefloor, by 2 brothers. One man said that I was very beautiful and had nice eyes, and he indicated that his brother (who just then was dancing close to Torunn) thought that Torunn was a top-notch lady. It should be mentioned that the said brother was a ladyboy, ie a transvestite. We politely declined the offer, and took that as a sign that it was time to go home.

diving in Alona beach

diving in Alona beach

The next day was a classic hangover day at the beach, but at least we got the diving booked.
There are myriads of diving centers on the beach, but we took the easy choice and booked diving with the cheapest of them all. Without quite knowing why they cost 1/3 less than the other centers. Some said they were poor quality etc, but in my experience I have always been as pleased with the cheapest dive centers as the most expensive regardless of what other people have said. Some old equipment and ineffective guides are not big problems. We were pleasantly surprised anyway because we got a big Filipino-boat almost to ourselves, and our own private dive guide. We went to a dive-island called Balicasag, which is supposed to be the best place in the Philippines for scuba diving. It was a very relaxing day – Me and Torunn just sat there sunbathing while a bunch of Filipinos carried all our equipment, put it together, and even put it on us before going in the water.
There were plenty of nice stuff to see underwater - turtles, seahorses, schools of fish, soft and hard corals and fish everywhere in all colors and shapes. And after the dive we got to take part in a very Filipino meal that a Filipino family who were on the boat with us had brought.
2 dives, a boat ride and a full Filipino lunch for less than 300 kroner ($50) is a bargain, in the Caribbean, we paid more than 1000 kroner ($150) for only 2 dives.

The next day we got up early so we could get to the next island we would visit in the Philippines - Malapascua. It was pretty far away Bohol, a full day of traveling. First we took a home-built moped to the ferry dock, where we found out that almost all the boats to Cebu were canceled due to bad weather. There we ended up waiting for a few hours before we got on a boat to Cebu.

Torunn at the ferry terminal

Torunn at the ferry terminal

Cebu city is a chaotic, congested and ugly city where we had to find a bus that took more than 5 hours to get to the very north of the island. The bus was of very low standard. It seemed like we never got out of the city, but it turned out that almost the entire island of Cebu was populated. There is 3 million people gathered on an island the size of Buskerud (a county in Norway). The bus was driving in a jogging pace all the way, and when in addition the locals started smoking inside the bus, the stage was set for a rather unpleasant journey.
When arrived to the north of the island, it was already dark, and we had lost the last boat to Malapascua, so we had to stay in a rat's nest of a guesthouse in an anonymous village. The next morning we finally got a boat to the tropical paradise island where we were to spend the next week.

 Posted by at 12:18 pm
Oct 142013
 

A bus transfer and 22 hours later we were in the town of Florianopolis in Southern Brazil. We looked forward to some "beach time" after 3 months in cold countries, but the weather failed us again. One of my new favorite things about Brazilian culture has got to be the so-called "kilo-restaurants". These are restaurants where they have huge buffets with lots of great Brazilian food. Here you can help yourself to as much as you want, and then pay according to the weight of the food.

Delicious Brazilian food

Delicious Brazilian food

It usually comes to around 5 kroner per 100 grams, which is not too bad. It is one of the few opportunities you have in Brazil to find affordable food, as otherwise it is pretty expensive in Brazil, but not as expensive as Norway of course. There are some benefits to come from the world's most expensive country.
Florianopolis is a nice little place to spend some days relaxing. It's nice to stop some places where you can just relax on the beach without having too do much . Unfortunately it rained the day we were supposed to go to the beach, so we ended up with some quality time at the hostel instead. Some blogging in the hammock with a cold beer in your hand is not the worst pasttime.
The buses in Brazil are ridiculously expensive, and we found out it was not that much more expensive to take a flight to Rio than taking an 22 hour bus. The choice was easy.
In Rio it all got a bit messy…

Torunn and Stig does Rio !

Torunn and Stig does Rio !

When we after many hours had managed to navigate our way to the house of the couchsurfer who we were going to stay with, he was not at home. We ended up sitting at a local pub drinking beer with the most dubious Brazilians I've seen so far. It was already dark outside, and there we sat in good company with all of our assets between our legs. Fortunately, we had a backup-plan. We contacted our friend Patricia who lived in a completely different part of the giant metropolis. To find her place would prove to be even more challenging. In line with our infallible bad timing, we had arrived to Rio on the day when the massive protests became violent. 300 000 people running around in the enclosed main streets is a recipe for disaster. When the metro stopped there was smoke everywhere in the street with cars that burned, gunshots were fired, and people were running with policemen after them. Not the ideal place to run around with backpacks. We managed to shake them off and got to Patricias apartment, which was in a shabby-looking area of town.

Stig looking at tiles

Stig looking at tiles

Patricia is a real Rio lady with all that might entail. She also has a little Yorkshire terrier who, surprisingly , actually did not try to bite my fingers off.
Patricia is a veterinarian just like me and Torunn, so we should really have enough to talk about. The only problem was that she had no interest in talking about anything other than herself. She is the first couchsurfer we met who has not even bothered to ask us about our journey or other things, everything was about her. I quickly lose interest in people who show no interest in anyone but themselves. After we had sat there for 3 hours and heard her babble on about all her problems we started to get both hungry and thirsty. She took out a large Coca Cola and a glass for herself, and began to drink away while she continued to complain about how awful the world is to her. It did not occur to her at any point to offer us a drink. Eventually, we had to go into the kitchen and wash up some dirty glasses and then ask if we could have some coke. She was the worst host we have had, no comparison!
We went on a weekend trip with Patricia to a small coastal town 3 hours east of Rio.

Stig on top of Arrail Do Cabo

Stig on top of Arrail Do Cabo

Here the plan was to dive a little. Patricia has been working for free for the dive center for the last 5 months in the pretense that she is a "divemaster candidate"!
The male instructors were quite mean with her, most of the time. Gender discrimination is common in Brazil. No one respects a woman who is trying to get anywhere, especially in a male-dominated diving environment. She had slaved for months carrying tanks, babysitting fresh divers and really everything except washing the dive boat only to be allowed to pay them for a course she wanted to take. They claimed that it was necessary to "test" her with all sorts of stupid tasks to find out if she's divemaster material. It is very very bullshit. They were just looking for a slave to work for free for them…what crooks…

Diving in Rio

Diving in Rio

The day we arrived they had found a new slave to work for free for them. He was also a "divemaster candidate". What was most comical about it was that he had never dived before, had not even done the first dive certificate.
Me and Torunn dived with them as we had already traveled that far into the middle of nowhere. They were pretty amateurish. I have done 650 dives in more than 20 different countries, but it is the first time I've dived with someone who has not asked me to sign a disclaimer. They did not even check our certificates!
If one of us had gotten hurt or drowned, we could have sued them and become very rich!
The dives were absolutely average. Poor visibility, and no corals. It was a bit like diving in Bergen in the summer, just a little more exotic fish and turtles than in Bergen. It was not too bad as we saw a few fish I've never seen before, which is starting to be a pretty rare experience. Unfortunately I did not take any pictures because my camera died a few months earlier (R.I.P). At some point during the dive I lost Torunn and the divemaster for a few minutes. The visibility was very poor, so it was hard to see things. Torunn told me later that it was the best part of the dive as she had found a sleeping turtle and had experienced a close encounter of the third kind.
At the pier where the boat left from there were lots of turtles that appeared periodically.
In the evening we went to one of the great Brazilian "kilo restaurants" where you pay for how much food is on your plate. It was pretty nice. I had a raw octopus salad, which made Torunn almost lose appetite for her own meal. We saw droves of large-breasted Brazilians going down towards the beach, so we followed them to see what was happening. Of course it was all about football!

People on the street with a football match on tv

People on the street with a football match on tv

Large screens were set up, and the road was blocked for the masses as it was a football game where Brazil played against another country.
After a weekend at the dive center Patricia drove us back to Rio. Her apartment was full of dog feces and urine everywhere. There was even excrement on top of the kitchen counter- ... It did not seem to concern Patricia too much as she went directly to bed without cleaning up any of it. We decided to get away from there as fast as possible, so we moved to our new couchsurfing host Rajesh that same evening.
Rajesh was of a completely different caliber. He was a genuinely nice and pleasant person to be around, which was a pleasure after 3 days of complaining.
He shared a small studio apartment with 2 cute burmese cats. We got the bed, while he was sleeping on an inflatable mattress on the floor. It was almost a little surreal to be in Rio De Janeiro with an Indian who made delicious Indian food for us.

Stig with Rio cats

Stig with Rio cats

We spent a week in Rio and tried to make the most of our stay. The advantage of having so much time is that we do not need to rush to see what's worth seeing, we could take our time.
We went to the famous staircase made of tiles from hundreds of countries one day. It was definitely one of my favorite stair-related experiences ever, However, it should be noted that the list is quite short. The neighborhood around the stairs seemed quite dilapidated and unsafe, but there was police on site, and many other tourists. We walked up to the street on the top of the stairs and ended up in a district with views of much of Rio. There we found a small art museum. It was quite uninteresting, but fortunately it cost almost nothing.

Stig looking at tiles

Stig looking at tiles

We felt that we should head up on the mountain and meet Jesus. Even though we had seen quite a number of Jesus's in the rest of South America, this on was supposed to be much more special and is considered one of the seven wonders of the world. It cost a small fortune to take the train up to meet him, and the meeting really held no surprises. It is a large cement-Jesus on the top of a mountain, just as we had imagined it was going to be. We took the obligatory pictures of our Jesus-pose and turned our nose towards the view.

We have found Jesus!

We have found Jesus!

The best part about this place is definitely the good view you get of Rio de Janeiro from the top of the mountain. It was absolutely thick with other people who had also come to meet Jesus. Amazingly enough we met an old acquaintance among all the other people. Michael is an American medical student who we had met 4 months earlier in the mountains of northern Peru. Those who have followed the blog might remember the story of the 2 American boys who were stuck between 2 landslides in the middle of nowhere.
We exchanged anecdotes and words of wisdom before we continued on our separate ways around the planet earth.
The other thing that somehow is a "must do" in Rio is to take the cable car up to Sugarloaf Mountain, which is right next Cobacabana Beach. We skipped the cable car due to a very unsocial price level, but we still got a full experience of climbing up the mountain by our own muscle power. It is not possible to climb up Sugarloaf mountain unless you are a pro climber.

Being friends with monkey

Being friends with monkey

Instead we climbed up the mountain which is right next to it, which is the first stop on the cable car. On our way through the jungle we met a bunch of cute little marmosets. They were well accustomed to people as they came right up to us and said hi (in their own way). A poor little one had strayed onto a bench right at the lookout point over the city. There he was soon surrounded by tourists with big cameras and sunburned skin. A frightening experience for a little adventurous monkey.
The views were very good, but due to all the mountains that separate the different neighborhoods in Rio it is very difficult to find a vantage point where one can see the city in its entirety. The Jesus-mountain was better for the view.
Well back in the urban jungle, we had lunch with Torunns old Brazilian pen-friend Guilherme. He is a very cool guy who bought us lunch. The food was great, and since it was a buffet it was very difficult to stop. All in all, I was more pleased with the food in Brazil than any other country in South America. The price for the worst food goes undoubtedly to Bolivia.
Obviously we also spent a lot of time on 2 of the world's most famous beaches; Ipanema and Copacabana. Ipanema is a very nice beach which is divided into several zones depending on the type of people you find there. First, there is an area with only young families, then a zone with beach hunks and sexy bikini ladies with Brazilian bikinis (the kind that disappears into the butt crack), then a zone for gays.
We felt most at home in the beach-hunk zone.

enjoying coconut on Ipanema

enjoying coconut on Ipanema

The sunset at Ipanema was very beautiful, especially as seen from the mountain area at the far end of the beach. We sat and drank coconut milk straight from the coconut while the sky was redder and redder until darkness took over. It can be dangerous to wander around Rio at night, as there are quite a few thieves, rapists and generally unpleasant characters. We went straight to the metro to get home to Rajesh who had planned yet another good Indian meal.
Later that night Rajesh took us to the city's active nightlife area - Plata.
It's a really cool place to be, and I've never seen anything like it. It is reminiscent of Khao San Road in Thailand, only minus all the tourists. Thousands of people were gathered over a large area with several streets and lots of clubs. We soon found out that there was not even any point in going into a club as there was a huge party going on in the street. People played instruments and danced away on the street. There was even plenty of small outlets that sold drinks and street food at cheap prices. We had of course some Caipirinhas as it is a typical Brazilian cocktail. Then of course we had to try another typical Brazilian cocktail with pineapple juice

Stig on Copacabana

Stig on Copacabana


and a special brasil-vodka. We paid approximately 8 kroner for the drink, and got a total shock when we found out that each of the drinks was a pint where half of it was vodka. I suspect it was a pretty low-quality vodka since I have never had such a bad hangover ever that I had the next day. We had plans to go to Copacabana as it was our last day in Rio. One can simply not go to Rio without spending time on the world's most famous beach!

We got up at 2 in the afternoon and failed to get out of the apartment before half past three. We got to the beach just before the sun went down at five o'clock in the afternoon. With much effort we reached our goal of spending time on Copacabana beach.
The rest of the night, after we had eaten fantastic sushi (as one does in Rio), we stayed in Rajesh's apartment while waiting for our flight to leave. Since our flight was due to leave at 05.00 in the morning, we found out that there was not much point in sleeping since we had to leave for the airport at 02.30 .... Next stop LA!!

 Posted by at 12:28 pm
Oct 082013
 

Uruguay is quite close to Buenos Aires, only 1,5 hours by boat across the river.
We lacked 10 kroner for the taxi to the port so we had the ingenious idea to exchange all our 200 dollars to Argentinian pesos on the black market. We thought that since we get 8 peso to 1 dollar, and the official exchange rate is 5 we can exchange dollars for pesos, and sell them for the official rate when we get to Uruguay. It turned out to be a pretty stupid idea. After a quick trip in the speedboat we arrived in Uruguay, and found out that the peso was more or less worthless there. It is obvious that if our little plan had worked there would have been herds of people doing the same thing, and the economy would have collapsed. In Uruguay, the only way to get rid of Argentinian money is to sell them at a price that is far below even the unofficial exchange rate in Argentina. We would have lost quite a bit of money if we had not found a friendly couch surfer who was really cool, buying them at the right price.

sunset in Uruguay

sunset in Uruguay

We did not manage to contact our host on the first day, so we found the cheapest hostel in town. It was not good.... We shared a room with 2 local Uruguayan workers. Torunn thought they looked dubious.
Colonial del Sacramento is a wonderful little town, very possibly the nicest town we have visited in all of South America. It is the oldest city in all of South America, but it still felt modern when we were there. Everything is clean and neat, no smell of urine or dirty, noisy buses from the 60s, which we saw in many other cities on the continent. There was actually almost no cars, and in addition there were enormous pavements, Finally we found a town that is better for pedestrians than for cars. It is actually illegal for trucks to drive into town. All the roads in the city are made of colonial cobblestone, so if a truck drives there it can create so much vibration that there is a risk that the old houses fall down. At least that is what our new Uruguayan friend Mariano told us. His job was to make sure no big cars drove into town, and to provide parking fines. He told us that he was the only office who never gave fines to people, and therefore everyone in Colonial loved him!
Street in Colonia del sacramento

Street in Colonia del sacramento


The first afternoon in Colonial was great. There was wide streets lined with trees in all the fall colors and green parrots everywhere. This was lovely after coming straight from the city of Buenos Aires. We went to the top of the lighthouse and saw an amazing sunset in Uruguay bay.
Uruguay is even more European than Argentina, I had no problem pretending to be a local, at least until they started talking to me. The people here are tall, relatively good looking and many even blonde with blue eyes. Everything is like in Europe, even the prices. It was definitely the most expensive country we had visited out of the 20 countries visited after leaving Norway.
Our couchsurfer-host Mariano let us stay in his house which he shares with his mother. His mother was not home, but he managed to dish up a typical Uruguayan dish anyway. Chivito is almost the national dish in Uruguay. It consists of a beef patty that is on top of french fries and salad. On top of the patti there is cheese and a fried egg. A fairly simple dish, and a real calorie bomb. Mariano is a man of high ambition. He showed us all his diplomas from various courses he had taken to get a job on a cruise ship, and on an airplane as a flight attendant. He had never been on a plane before, so he was not sure if the 2-year training as flight attendant was the right choice. When we were there, he had hosted lots of couchsurfers to get some references before going to Europe and couchsurf himself.
Us in Colonia del sacramento with our Couchsurfer

Us in Colonia del sacramento with our Couchsurfer


We left in the afternoon with a Uruguayan luxury bus with internet. Montevideo is perhaps the least chaotic capital city we have visited throughout South America. Just like in Colonial then there were trees everywhere, on both sides of all the streets. There are long promenades and parks. We stayed with couchsurfer Marcos who had an apartment right in the centre of the city. In fact, his apartment was right next to the most fashionable hotel in Montevideo, where the American presidents tend to stay. Marcos had separated with his wife only 2 weeks earlier, but it seemed that he had recovered from the break already. We could not believe how many women he was juggling at once. He mentioned at least 5 women that he was courting at the same time, and possibly more. He also loved the local football team Penarol more than anything else in the world.
us and football-crazy Uruguayan

us and football-crazy Uruguayan

We had never heard of this football team before, but after 2 days with him, we learned almost everything there is to know about it. The first day we went out to see the city he had left a Penarol-jacket and many t-shirts for us. I did not have a lot of clothes, and it was very cold outside, so I put on the football-jacket. Everywhere we went we got full respect from the locals, I passed as a real Uruguayan that day. The only thing that gave me away was that I did not speak Spanish so well, and I always forgot the name of the football team that I was supposed to be supporting. At one point we walked past a tramp who babbled something to me and said "dineros!”. Dineros means money, so I assumed he was begging for money, and said that I did not have any change and kept walking. He continued to shout "dineros" after us, even when we were 100 meters away. When I turned around as he ran towards us, and I started to get a little worried about his intentions. He had a large note in his hand and gave it to me. It turned out that he had seen the note falling out of my pocket, and wanted to return it. I have never ever seen a hobo who was more eager to give back money, Maybe it was because he was a Penarol fan!
Montevideo is a pleasant capital. It's nice, clean and tidy, with lots of pedestrian streets. We visited some relatively mundane (but free!) museums, which did not make us very much wiser about Uruguayan history. There were many pictures and busts of men from the last century who had big mustaches. We also saw some nice swords, robes and a medal collection. There was some text here and there, but it was all in Spanish.
It was really rewarding to rent bikes and ride along the promenade and to the local parks to watch the Uruguayans do whatever Uruguayans do.
Stig and street artist

Stig and street artist


We cooked a delicious Norwegian meal for Marcos, which was a success. Since it was Friday night, we had to take a trip out to experience the fabled Montevideo nightlife. First we went to an Irish pub, and then a salsa concert with a Brazilian big charmer.
It was lively, everyone was in full swing on the dance floor with hefty latino movements that involve both hips and torso. As it should be, it did not take many minutes before our Uruguayan friend flipped and flopped in various positions on the dance floor. He also drew the attention of the local ladies. Gradually they began to nag at us to join the madness. As uncomfortable as I was dancing with a group of people that has rhythm in their blood, I still ended up on the floor with a smiling middle-aged Uruguayan woman. We were also lucky enough to meet a celebrity! But since he was a Uruguayan celebrity it was not very exciting.
The following morning we got a tour of the Solis Theatre. This is a large and venerable old building the Montevideo citizens are very proud of.
Teater Solis i Montevideo

Teater Solis i Montevideo

It was very nice inside, and the tour was a bit more original than just talk about dates and boring facts about carpets and chandeliers in the ceiling. There were 3 actors who appeared in every room we went into. They were dressed up as Italian and Spanish immigrants 150 years ago. They were the first to settle there when it started to get a little civilized. It was entertaining, although we did not understand a word. They bounced around, playing guitar, singing and arguing in Italian and Spanish. Marcos tried of course to hit on the Italian actress, cheeky guy!
After the tour, we took the bus from Montevideo to a popular town on the north coast; Punta del Este. It is a real tourist town where there are lots of beaches and fine hotels. We arrived there in the middle of winter and soon found out that it was nothing but an icy ghost-town. We walked around the deserted streets as the cold wind howled and sprayed seawater in our faces. We went for a walk to the pier to watch the sea lions. The sea lions at the pier are one of the few things worth seeing in PDE. All the restaurants had ridiculously high prices, Norwegian standards! They also charged a so-called "cover", meaning money to be allowed to sit at their tables. This is one of the most ridiculous fees I know of. If you eat at a place you should not need to pay to be allowed to sit there (unless they have a show or something). I am never going to do that, I do not like to be ripped off.
The other thing that is worth doing in Punta del Este is to take some pictures next to some big fingers sticking out of the sand. It is not extremely impressive , especially since some brain damaged teenagers have tagged the fingernails.
Stig and fingers in the sand

Stig and fingers in the sand


There are many nice beaches in the city, but not very relevant for us since we were there in June when it was about 0 C.
We had one extra day in the city since the bus to Brazil left in the night, so we went to a marine museum to make the time to go by. It was more impressive than we had expected.
Sea lion that`s eating

Sea lion that`s eating

They had plenty of giant skeletons of whales, dolphins and crocodiles. There were thousands of fish and shellfish, and lots of information. We also sat for over an hour watching a documentary about coral reefs. I love coral reefs. I also like fish in all shapes and sizes, After all I studied biology at the University of Bergen, the fish-university as it is known in certain very small circles.
Mermaid in Uruguay

Mermaid in Uruguay


There were also lots of stuff about pirates and development of Punta del este as a sea holiday destination. It was fun to read about all the rules they had about "acceptable" beach behavior 100 years ago. It was forbidden for men to get closer than 30 meters to a lady in the water. It was forbidden for men and women to talk to each other on the beach, or at all sit together. That men and women at all hooked up at that time is nothing but a small miracle, and a witness to how strong the sex drive actually is.
The bus arrived at night and we had barely sat down before a bus-lady came and asked us if we wanted whiskey or martini. It was the least I expected in the most expensive bus we had taken in all of South America. 800 kroner for a 10 hour night bus. In Ecuador we paid 45 kroner for the same. Pretty crazy.

 Posted by at 10:55 in the morning
Oct 042013
 

We arrived in Buenos Aires after 20 hours on the bus, and immediately went to find the couchsurfers that we were staying with. Buenos Aires has a real European vibe. It really felt like we were in the middle of a major city in central Europe.

View from the apartment we stayed in

View from the apartment we stayed in

The people do not look like South-Americans. There were no small indigenous ladies with hats, that we had seen in all the other countries on the continent. People are tall, pale and some even blonde.
Fortunately, Buenos Aires also has a fairly well-functioning metro system like most major European cities, so within an hour we had located the apartment of our new Argentinian friends.
Mauro and Guillermo turned out to be super-nice guys. I had scarcely put my backpack down before I found myself sitting on their couch with an xbox-remote in hand. I played as "Brann" against Argentina in a footballgame. Brann lost something like 10-0, so it was a fairly realistic game.
We also had the honor of hitting the guinea pig Osmey, that should be our roomey the next week. Every day got Osmey allowed to run loose around the front porch eating various plants. Mauro told us Osmey had managed to eat a giant hashplant they had on the porch. After that he was really great appetite(so that one gets the hash) and puked in a whole apple. An apple that weighed almost as much as the guinea pig!
The next week we were awakened every morning when Osmey decided to scream.

In the evening we went to a local Parilla. A Parilla is a special restaurant serving meat directly from the grill. It's every vegetarian's nightmare. We ordered a feast for 4 which included large quantities of meat from all parts of the cow, and some from the pig too.

Stig,Torunn og Mauro

Stig,Torunn og Mauro


The meal began with a giant serving dish full of guts. It's really a pretty sly strategy to fill up customers with intestines so that they eat less meat, which is much more expensive. I tasted cow intestines for the first time. They were at least crispy, but not particularly tasty, and you can not avoid thinking about what has gone through them. The kidneys and liver were also just OK, but we tried not to eat too much to keep a little space for when the meat came. Some assorted sausages arrived together with the meat, even a blood sausage. I thought it best to just eat the sausages without looking inside them, but when I was halfway through a blood sausage, I could not help myself. It turned out that the big tasteless pieces I thought were coagulated blood was actually fat lumps.
Argeninske super nasty fat sausages

Argeninske super nasty fat sausages

At this point I lost my appetite a little, and gave up on the blood sausage. The meat platter was filled with enough meat to feed a small city in Africa, but we were not very hungry after the intestines and fat. It was not exactly a fillet steak. We never really found out what a fillet steak is called in Argentina.

Although the meat was chewy it went down fine, slowly but surely.
In Argentina they eat dinner very late, rarely before 10 P.M. Since we had not eaten anything other than biscuits since we arrived to Buenos Aires we managed to get the boys to go out with us at nine o'clock in the evening, at which time the restaurant was more or less empty. Many evenings we did not have dinner until 12 AM. It feels a little weird to eat a big greasy meal an hour before jumping into bed.
The first day when we were going out to explore the big city it only took one hour before some jerk on the metro stole our camera. It was a bad start to the day.
This was the first time anybody had stolen anything from me, and it destroyed 2 two whole days. Usually in big cities I always keep a hand on all the pockets, and I am constantly cynical to everybody who comes near me. But during this trip on the metro I forgot to pay attention for only 10 minutes, maybe because we had an interesting conversation just then. This little oversight to be cynical was enough for some asshole to put his hand in my pocket and steal our brand new camera. We were not very upset about losing the camera, but the images that were on the memory card were irreplaceable. We lost all the pictures from the world's largest dam in Paraguay, and from the world's most beautiful waterfall; Iguazu in Argentina and Brazil. The 2 most important places in South America, Macchu Picchu and Iguazu Falls, and we
I Buenos Aires docks

I Buenos Aires docks

have almost no photos from some of the places .... it's amazing sour. It is extremely annoying to know that some idiot in Buenos Aires may have sold our camera for 30$ when we would be willing to pay 5 times as much to get our pictures back.

There was no sightseeing for us that day, we just drowned our sorrows in Argentinian wine and beer. The next day went mostly by finding a police station and trying to get a police certificate for the insurance, a procedure that we are getting pretty fed up with as it is the third country in South America where someone steals from us.
We had been rather unfortunate that last week .... and when stuff like that happens you really feel like taking the first flight home to Norway. The insurance company hates us anyway, since this is the fourth insurance claim in less than 5 months. Only 4 days earlier we had another claim to cover the costs of Torunn's fishbone in the throat.

The following day we went to try paintball with Mauro and Guillermo and a bunch of their friends. I had been looking forward to trying paintball, but after half an hour I wanted to leave and never touch a paintball gun again.
The place was quite amateurish, and lacked the most basic safety procedures. We got a little face mask, but no helmet. This led to, of course, that I managed to get shot 4 times

Stig by parlamentsbygg

Stig by parlamentsbygg

i Knollen. The last time some idiot managed to shoot me in the forehead from 2 meter distance. It was really painful and I started spinning. It's really not fun anymore when you are bleeding from a large bump on your head. Stupid game....

The rest of our time in Buenos Aires, we used to try

Argentinian grill

Argentinian grill

To find the tourist thing. It is a very nice city, but also very complex. It resembles very much Budapest or Prague, very similar architecture. It's probably because Buenos Aires was built by immigrants from Europe.
We went to the district of La Boca where there are many old houses in every possible color. It was a real tourist trap, but still a pretty interesting place. We ate another large meat meal in a "Parilla", and were served something that I can only describe as the nastiest sausage in the world. It was almost completely without any meat, you had to really dig deep into the sausage to find meat. The sausage consisted almost entirely of a white, soft, homogeneous fat lump.
Tango !

Tango !


It was a pretty miserable Parilla, where they actually managed to take "cover charge" to be allowed to eat there, although we sat on plastic chairs in a dark backyard.
After that experience we lightened the mood a little by sharing a giant beer at one of the tourist restaurants that had a continuous Tango-show. Thankfully we got to see a tango show before leaving BA!
Many of the places that had tango shows charged more than 1000 kroner for a ticket, While we only needed to pay 25 kroner for a beer to share.
After 5 nights with Mauro and Guillermo it was time to say goodbye and move on to Uruguay. Uruguay is quite close to Buenos Aires, only 1,5 hours by boat across the river.

 Posted by at 9:42 in the morning
Sep 212013
 

We continued our trip with another rickety bus (which is the standard in Paraguay) 5 hours east to Ciudad del Este. CDE is a small unmentionable town which lies on the border between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. People from the 2 other countries go to Ciudad del este to shop, much like Norwegians go to Sweden or Denmark. It is much cheaper, and it is a tax-free town, so it is a South American mecca for shopping. We saw nothing we liked there.

Dam in Paraguay

Dam in Paraguay

Actually we went there just to see the world's largest dam, and Iguazu falls. Well, actually it is not the world's biggest dam anymore after they built one in China not long ago, but it is still the one that produces the most power. We had a pretty intensive day planned after a night in Ciudad del Este. We started going to the dam, which was a little more tricky than we had hoped for..
When we arrived they showed us a quick movie and took us on a pretty rushed tour through the facility. A cute little Paraguayan lady talked away about the various heights and flow rates. It turns out that they could build 380 Eiffel Towers with all the steel they had used, or a road 40 times around the earth with the concrete.
We stopped at a lookout point and confirmed what we suspected; It was really a very big dam. It is more than 7 kilometers long and 100 metres tall, so pretty impressive. 80% of Paraguay's electricity and 20% of Brazil's electricity comes from this dam, and in a year it produces enough power to keep the world running for 2 days.
The tour was long enough; there is a limit to how long a dam can be entertaining, even with cute little Paraguay women who talk about them.
The plan was to go straight to Brazil to see the Iguazu Falls, and then to Argentina to stay the night and see the falls from the other side.
Iguazu falls are shared between 2 borders; Brazil and Argentina, which the 2 countries have taken advantage of. Both countries have created their own "national park" around the area and charge obscene amounts of money for people to be allowed to see the falls. What if Norway were to put up fences around the waterfalls and take entrance fees! The very thought is ridiculous!
Our plan turned out to be a bad plan; it turned into a horrible day, possibly the worst in 10 months.

Rainbow over the falls

Rainbow over the falls

We walked from Ciudad del Este across the border to Brazil, and into the town of Foz de Iguazu. We ended up walking around for 3 hours with our giant backpacks in the scorching sun. All we wanted was to find a bus to the bus station so we could find another bus to the falls. Everyone we asked sent us in different directions so we ended up walking around like headless chickens. Taxis were about 10 times more expensive than any other we had in all of South America, so it was not an option. After much back and forth we finally arrived to the bus station and took a bus to the falls. We did not find a place to store our bags, but thought it would be no problem when we got to the "national park"…we turned out to be painfully wrong.
When we got to the park we found out that they had managed to double the price in the 2 years that had passed since our guide book came out. It was very frustrating because it was the most we had paid for any attraction 10 months. 25$ to see a waterfall seems like a complete scam, but we could not turn around when we had worked so hard to get there. When we had paid and entered the visitor center the people there were grumpy and not very helpful. We found that there was no place they could store our bags for an hour or two. The only lockers they had were 2 small, and they wanted 80 kroners (1100$) for !
This is how we ended up walking around with our big backpacks while trying to enjoy the sight of the falls. The whole experience was totally ruined and futile.

Stig and a big waterfall

Stig and a big waterfall

It was a very nice waterfall, no doubt about it, but after being ripped off and mistreated the pleasure of it disappeared. It also turned out to be a complete waste of time to see the falls from Brazil as they were considerably better from Argentina.
After many hours of stress and crossing into country number 3 that day we hoped to finally be able to relax a little when we got to the hotel. Unfortunately our stress was not over yet…. as we had to find a place to change money to Argentinian pesos. The system in Argentina is quite hopeless to say the least. The official exchange rate to the dollar is 5 , while the unofficial street price is around 8. It goes without saying that official exchange, or withdrawal from the ATM is no alternative.
We had to get out on the street, in the dark, in a strange city to look for random people to exchange money with us. We felt a bit like 2 drug addicts looking to "score" with a local "dealer" in a foreign country. We did things that we would normally avoid like walking around in questionable areas and parking lots in search of dubious people. Every time we saw some tramp on a street corner I went right over to him and looked him in the eyes as a signal that I wanted to "score". The word on the street was that we had to find a guy who went by the name "Rambo". He usually hangs out in the park or outside the local casino! Great! Finally a clue!
It did not help us much as we could find neither he nor any other questionable characters to exchange money with… Damn the system that allows its economy to go so wrong!
The next day all the exchange-people were at work, and there was no problem to find a volunteer. It was a real bad deal though, as the unofficial exchange rate here was very much lower than everywhere else in Argentina since it is right on the border with Paraguay.
Even worse was when we went to the waterfall on the Argentinan side and found that it was actually more expensive than in Brazil, which we had assumed to be impossible. I had actually been told that it did not cost anything to see the falls from Argentina, and we only had to pay if we were out in a boat. Naive as I am I actually thought that it would be possible to see a waterfall without paying 200 Norwegian kroner(14$) ". I guess I'm a little too well accustomed after many years in Norway, a country that does not put up fences around everything that is beautiful to squeeze money out of people. Fair enough, Norway squeezes money out of people in many other ways, but not on the nature!!
One of the most annoying thing was that after we highly reluctantly gave away the money for the ticket, we went into the park and the first thing we saw was a “museums” where there was a sign with "free entry"! .

Stig in the falls

Stig in the falls

After we had paid a fortune to get in there they have the nerve to advertise with free admission to a silly little museum with some pictures of the forest.
It was one of my worst money-spending experiences in the entire trip, but in retrospect we were glad we did it.

The way to the falls

The way to the falls

There was a significantly better trail-system and opportunities to see the falls from many more angles than in Brazil. In Brazil, we paid 140 kroners to see the waterfall in half an hour, while in Argentina we spent 5 hours in the "national park".
It's not just a waterfall, but it is a system of many different waterfalls, and many of them culminate into larger waterfalls falling down several levels and come together to form a giant waterfall. We walked all the trails around the park, and got to see the falls from every possible angle. After waterfall number 200 we felt pretty saturated with waterfalls. It was a truly amazing sight, and if I believed in God, then I would say that he is a cool guy making something that amazing (however, I think he should let the lightning strike down on all those who destroy his masterpiece by scamming tourists out of their hard earned money to be allowed to see it).
They have destroyed a lot of the rainforest around the waterfall, and there is even a 5 star hotel there. It was a real tourist trap, they even had a silly little Disneyland-type train with 200 other tourists that we had to suffer through before we got to see the magnificent waterfall.

Stig og ouzo bjørnen

Stig and coati

 

The paths around the park had lot of coatis, small cute animals similar to raccoons. ...

Pushy bear

Pushy bear

Around the restaurant there were hundreds of them. Tourism has not done them any favors as the whole population is now more or less tame and begging for food. They really have no limitations; we saw them crawling up on the tables of people while they ate dinner, others were in a pack stealing bags from older women. They are cute, but behave like real bullies. The best was when a random American girl passed by with 5-6 coatis after her.

Lady with lots of coatis

Lady with lots of coatis

Within 10 seconds she was surrounded by about 50 little coatis, and she was terrified!
Maybe she had a biscuit in her pocket or something else that they wanted.
Me and Torunn also got to experience the little bullies, but just thought it was hilarious. I was drinking a beer and minding my own business when I suddenly felt a sharp claw on my shoulder and a snout on my nose. I could not move as I did not want it to bite me in the neck

In the evening we went on to Buenos Aires - the hometown of Tango!

 Posted by at 10:08 pm
Sep 052013
 

 

After Salta we moved on with a 22 hour bus to Encarnacion in Paraguay where we were to stay with our next couchsurfing host Cesar and his mother. We arrived to their house which turned out to be a large villa in the middle of the city centre. Det er alltid greit når vi finner couchsurfere som er litt overklasse 😉
Cesar was a cool guy, and he was very curious about all the countries that we have ever been to, which is beginning to be a long list. He was very interested in the tsunami in Thailand, and was a bit surprised when I said that everything was rebuilt the last time I was there in 2008.

Grilling i Encarnacion

Grilling i Encarnacion


They had a great big back yard that was right outside our room. The room was very nice, and in the evening 20 of Cesar's friends showed up for a karaoke party. Me and Torunn were exhausted after a long journey on the night bus…so rather than joining the karaoke we tried to get some sleep - which was not so easy as the party went on until 3 AM. One thing is karaoke with people who can sing, but it was a bit difficult to sleep next to a bunch of tone-deaf Paraguayans ;).
Encarnacion was refreshingly free of other gringos. It was just us and the Paraguyans, which was quite nice.
We went to one of Paraguay's main tourist attractions, a Jesuit ruin called Trinidad.
Stig i Trinidad ruinene

Stig i Trinidad ruinene

We jumped on a rickety bus to the middle of nowhere and got off in a small village near the ruins. Although this is the main attraction of Paraguay we got the whole place to ourselves. The Jesuits were a bunch of religious people who were among the first to arrive to Paraguay. The became mates with the local Indians; The Guaranies (the currency in Paraguay is called Guarani). Otherwise it was pretty poorly explained who they were, what they wanted and why they were chased away. Trinidad was a huge complex of houses, churches and various other buildings. The ruins were pretty well maintained, and contrary to Macchu Picchu there were no tourist groups there, which made us feel a bit special. What was almost as interesting as the ruins were all of the different exotic birds flapping around in the area. All the palm trees were alive with tons of parrots.
Encarnacion sentrum

Encarnacion sentrum


Encarnacion itself is totally devoid of tourist attractions. I'm not even sure if they have a museum. It is still a nice little town, and seems more modern and civilized than most cities we visited in South America.
We had planned to leave early in the morning after our second night, but Cesar insisted that we had to stay for lunch so he could cook us a Paraguayan meal. That was obviously something we could not say no to!
He prepared a fish from the local river in a real Paraguayan way. The fish was soaked in wine, red sauces, ketchup(!), various spices and 2 different types of cheeses before being placed on the giant grill in the backyard. After a long time the fish was done and we greedily dug into the juicy river fish. There were quite a few bones in the fish, but most were large and easy to pick out. The fish was very good, and had a very special juicy flavor.
Mencho griller fisk

Mencho griller fisk


Torunn disappeared suddenly at full speed to the toilet. Of course I was worried when I saw that she was all red in the face. It turned out that she had a bone stuck in her throat. No matter how much she tried to eat or drink to wash it down it stayed put in the same place. The frustration got worse when after 10 minutes of trial and error, her throat became so sensitive that she started throwing up every time she tried to drink or eat. Cesar insisted that she had to eat bread, since it was an old remedy that had worked for both him and his mother when they had the same problem. At this stage Torunn did not manage to eat anything without it coming back up again, so there was only one thing left to do; go to the emergency room.
Unfortunately it was a Sunday,
Leger som bruker Iphone til å operere med

Leger som bruker Iphone til å operere med

and since almost no places were open there were not many places to choose from when it came to medical treatment. In the emergency room there were tons of injured people in all possible states. It was a very stuffy little room with lots of sick people. I was impressed at how quickly they took care of Torunn; within 5 minutes they had placed her on a stretcher and got out some instruments to look for the bone in her throat. She got a little local anaesthetic in her throat before they began digging. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThere were 3 doctors- one to look for the bone, one to hold a mobile phone with light down into her mouth(!) and one who stood watching. In the same compartment as they had put Torunn there was an almost naked man with lots of injuries. He tried to get the attention of the doctors the whole time, but no one took any notice of him. After a lot of trying they could not find the bone, and we were stuck as to what to do. Cesar was incredibly cool and took us to a number of other doctors that we could get to on a Sunday, but there was amazingly little help available, and some of them were absolutely hopeless. One doctor said there was no bone there because she could not see it after a quick look. The next doctor looked like she was fresh out of medical school, and took a look in the throat 5 seconds before she started calling around to more experienced colleagues to ask for help. The next doctor was a pediatrician, but he also owned his own clinic. He looked down the throat and observed that there was a lot of inflammation of the tissue. That was no big surprise since 5 other doctors had been digging around in the throat earlier. Then he concluded that there probably was no bone in the throat, it was probably just inflammation. The medicine we got was that the nurse came running with a tray of dry bread. "Just eat lots of bread and the bone will probably go away, if there is a bone" was his medical opinion. So we went back to the house and Torunn ate a whole loaf, on doctor's orders. The only thing that happened was that the bone moved to the other side of the throat so that she now had pain on both sides.

In the end we had to go back to the first clinic where the doctors actually took us seriously. There were as many people as before, and when we arrived a man that was shot in the head was rolled past us. Yet they took Torunn quickly into the examination room and the main doctor in the emergency room began an operation on her within minutes. They found an endoscope (which was my suggestion already the first time we were there…but then they said that they did not have such an apparatus) and kept working on her for 2 hours. Despite the great efforts they could not get the bone out. Every time she came close to the bone, Torunn started gagging. We had to move on to a private hospital where they had to get a specialist in ear, nose and throat, as well as an anaesthesiologist. They gave Torunn some sedation, and pulled out the bone within 15 minutes. After 9 hours of having a bone in the throat, and 7 various doctor visits, Torunn was finally free!
The leg from Torunn his neck

The leg from Torunn his neck

It will probably be a long time until she eats fish that is not filleted again!
Cesar was a real hero during the ordeal, and we would never have gotten anywhere without him. He called around everywhere and was able to arrange doctor's appointments with doctors that he knew. He drove us around all over town for 9 hours with a smile on his face.
Without couchsurfing who knows how long the bone would have been stuck in Torunns throat.
We had to stay an extra day in Encarnacion, but got going the morning after.
We continued our trip with another rickety bus (which is the standard in Paraguay) 5 hours east to Ciudad del Este. CDE is a small unmentionable town which lies on the border between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. People from the 2 other countries go to Ciudad del Este to do their shopping, much like Norwegians go to Sweden or Denmark. It is much cheaper, and it is a tax-free town, so it is a South American mecca for shopping. We saw nothing we liked there.

 Posted by at 6:19 in the morning
Aug 292013
 

 

The next day was a very long day. We were stuck on different buses for 13 hours before we finally arrived in Salta in Argentina.
The first few days there we had a special arrangement; we couchsurfed at a hostel!

Hostel in Salta

Hostel in Salta


The lady who owned the hostel used couchsurfing as a way to promote the newly built hostel. We were staying there for free one night and had to pay the other nights. When we got there we found out that it was the same for all the guests. We liked the hostel so much that we ended up staying for 3 days. The hostel was like a large ranch in the middle of the countryside. There was a main building with a swimmingpool and a half circle of cabins where we slept. Loki is a hostel chain that is found throughout South America. We had never stayed there before because it is a so-called "party hostel" which is aimed at teenagers who want to get drunk and have sex in dorms and such. The hostel in Salta was fortunately not like this.
The guys gathered around a bonfire

The guys gathered around a bonfire

There was a very social atmosphere with people much like ourselves; who enjoyed having a few glasses of vino and talk about current topics around a cozy campfire.

There was a group of teenagers there though, but they were just comical (and slightly annoying). There was a Canadian couple and a deranged Northern Irishman who were travelling together. When we ate breakfast at 11 they were already completely wasted. They had gotten up at 6 in the morning and started right on the booze, and judging on the Irishman also various central stimulants. We would sunbathe all day by the pool while the 3 of them would stumble around doing funny, and stupid things. The owner of the hostel stopped serving them, and denied them a taxi to town, which turned a tad dramatic. None of them were able to formulate a sentence or stand upright without falling over, but they still wanted to go to town. Youngsters nowadays!
Stig and Torunn on horseback

Stig and Torunn on horseback


We went on a horseback-ride on the Argentine plains on one of the days. It was one of the best days we've had in South America. The trip was very different from what we had done 2 days earlier. For one thing, the guide was actually a grown man, and he instructed us in horse riding. Of all the times we had hired horses with guide earlier, nobody had told us anything about horse riding. It turned out that you actually have to jump in time with the horse when trotting, which proved to be much more tiring than to just sit there and do nothing. We did do some gallopping where he instructed us in breathing techniques and focusing vision. First, they served us a wonderful local wine.
The Argentine steak

The Argentine steak


The horse riding was fun, but the best thing about the trip was really when we got back to the ranch for lunch. There have always been 2 reasons for me to want to go to Argentina; wine and steak, and here we got both in huge amounts!
Each time the glass was almost empty one of the workers came running to re-fill it. Lunch was really one of the best we have had served on the trip; lots of local vegetables and chilis, PERFECTLY barbecued filet steak straight off the grill - as much as we managed to shove in. It was really decadent perfection. When
we came back to the hostel we were both quite tipsy, at 4pm.

At the hostel, me and Torunn joined the pub-quiz. As usual we did well on the topic of biology and actors, while we lost a lot of points on the subject of sports and Argentinian politics.

Stig and Pedro working

Stig and Pedro working


After 3 days we went to Salta city to stay in the centre with Pedro. I first met Pedro 5,5 years earlier when he was the first couchsurfer that I hosted in Budapest.
Since I last saw him, he had managed to complete his legal studies, got himself a nice house in the nicest neighbourhood in Salta, and is co-owner of a tourist farm that organizes horse rides, and all at the age of 27 years - not bad!
Salta is a nice little town, with a quiet plaza and several pedestrian and shopping streets. Hot Dogs are extremely popular, they call them 'super-panchos». One evening when we wandered around the main street we saw a crowd of around 100 people who were
Torunn and cactus

Torunn and cactus

gathered around a window. When we got closer we saw that they actually stood and watched a football game on some TVs inside a store. The TV was behind a lattice window. Argentinians really LOVE football, and apparently have no TV in their homes.

We took the cable car to the top of a mountain and discovered that Salta is not as small as we thought. There is 1,5 million people, 3 times larger than the largest city in Norway, so we ought to have realized that there had to be some houses there.
We walked back down the mountain on a footpath. It was a nice trail and nice scenery, but it was a little disturbing that there were figures of the crucified Jesus every 100 meters .
Church in the middle of nowhere

Church in the middle of nowhere


Argentina is possibly the least religious country in South America; 80% of the population are registered catholics, but only 20% are active.
It is still like all the other countries in South America with Jesus and the Virgin Mary and saints everywhere.
Pedro took us to his farm one morning. It was us and his grandmother and a co-owner. Grandma (Abuela) was a sweet 90 year-old woman who chattered away in Spanish all day, while we tried as best we could to understand a fraction of what she said. In real Argentina-style we were served a big juicy steak and wine as we arrived at the farm. It was pretty far out into the desert, which had a unique charm in itself. We spent the day going zig-zag between giant cacti and corn plants. We got the chance to help with the farm-work when Pedro and his friends needed help to lift the wheelbarrow.
After Salta we moved on with a 22 hour bus to Encarnacion in Paraguay where we were to stay with our next couchsurfing host Cesar and his mother.

 Posted by at 12:58 pm
Aug 262013
 

After Coroico we did not plan to spend much more time in Bolivia. It was time to proceed to the next country; Paraguay!

After our first experience with a night bus in Bolivia, we decided to skip the 15 hours nightbus between La Paz and Sucre, and took a flight that would get there in 45 minutes. It cost no more than 260 kroner for a ticket!
Sucre is a nicer city than La Paz; quieter, smaller and with much nicer people. Many guide books describe Sucre as the most beautiful city in Bolivia, and it's probably not far from the truth. What not many people outside of Bolivia know is that Sucre is actually the capital of Bolivia. The authorities are sitting in La Paz, but according to the constitution Sucre is still the capital of the country. According to all the guide books and websites La Paz is the capital, so it's probably the officially correct answer, but if someone is on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and says Sucre is the capital, it should be accepted as a correct answer. .
We learned that from a guide in the best museum in town. The "Libertidad»- museum had many exhibits referring to Bolivias 2 big heroes; general Sucre, and Simon Bolivar. The 2 of them were the forces that together created Bolivia 300 years ago. The last 150 years, Bolivia has been through quite a lot of crap. They have been at war with all its neighbors; Paraguay, Chile, Peru and Brazil…and they have pretty much lost all the conflicts. As a result, Bolivia has lost most of its resources, and became "landlocked". They used to have a coastline until Chile invaded and took over the Atacama desert because there were lots of mineral resources there. Bolivians are still a little bit angry about that, but Chile feels a bit sorry for them so has given them access to import things by coastal transport without paying any import taxes. Brazil stole most of the jungle from Bolivia because there were lots of rubber trees, which are very nice to have when one is to make and sell rubber. Argentina took over large areas in the south for other reasons.
In addition, Spaniards and other Europeans largely took over all of the mining of silver and other minerals in the country.
There is a reason why Bolivia is the poorest country on the continent.
Sucre has a very nice white painted plaza with various grand historical buildings dotted around the square. Several nights when we accidentally walked around there were some sort of festival going on. I think we were there just before some national day. They had a very interesting dance show with dancers from Argentina, Chile and Bolivia.

Party in Sucre

Party in Sucre

I've never seen anything like those dances, but it was pretty catchy.
We spent much of our time in Sucre at a pub where they served delicious food and giant beers for the price it would cost for a small Coca-Cola in Norway.
We found out that it was more or less impossible to get from Sucre to Asuncion in Paraguay, although it looks on the map like the city is located on the central main road that goes towards Paraguay. The only option was to take a horrible night bus, that went completely the opposite way for 15 hours to Santa Cruz, and then take an even worse low-standard bus that takes 28 hours, almost entirely on gravel roads.
We found out that it was better to go to Argentina first. So we went to Potosi for a day, and then southwards in Bolivia. Potosi is the world's highest city on 4050 masl.

Potosi streets

Potosi streets

It is best known for the giant silver mines located next to the town. The Spanish built the city just to have a place for silver miners to stay. They worked the miners very hard , more than 8 million people (slaves) died yearly in the mines. Nowadays it is not that many, but the conditions are still pretty dreary. Thousands of mine workers have destroyed their lungs by breathing the air in the mines containing silica dust. The mines are narrow, dark, hot as hell and claustrophobic….all good reasons why me and Torunn skipped a visit inside them. We are probably the first tourists in history to go to Potosi without going inside the mines. The town itself has a certain charm, so it was worth the trip anyway.
We continued our trip south to "the wild west" in a desert town called Tupiza. Tupiza is located in an area that looks like it's straight out of a western movie; dry, hot, red mountains, cacti everywhere and people on horseback. Indeed, it was in this area that the original Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid robbed a transport train, and was later surrounded by sheriffs and shot themselves.

Stig in desert

Stig in desert

We arrived at our hostel after a 6 hours bus drive, and an hour later we set off on a horse each in a dry riverbed surrounded by cacti and hungry vultures (mild exaggeration).
Our guide had picked us up in town and took us to the horse farm.

Horse riding.

Riding horses…

There we met one of the guides kids, a little tiny boy that barely reached my stomach. I'm kidding around with them and asking if he would be our guide too, and then our driver said; "He is very good with horses and has many years experience as guide».

The horseman

The horseman

I found it a little hard to believe that the kid had many years of experience with anything, bearing in mind that 2-3 years ago he was in a stroller and pooped himself.
Me and Torunn and 3 frenchmen were in the group that was on horseback-riding tour, and to our surprise it was actually just the little kid who were to guide us into the desert. This is Bolivia in a nutshell.
Riding was fun, but my horse was a bit lazy, and every time I got it to move a little I was told off by our 10 year old kid guide. It does not feel quite right having to take orders from someone who was not even born when I was in university, but on the other hand, he probably knew a lot more about horse riding than me despite his young age.
The desert terrain was beautiful; bright red rock formations on all sides, giant cacti, and riding in the evening sun. It was very special. That was the only reason we went to Tupiza.
We got to experience what it was like to be in a western movie… so now it was time to leave Bolivia and find out what Argentina could offer……

 Posted by at 1:40 in the morning