Friday, 27 September 2013


By Sanne

Iguazu Falls or Cataratas as the locals call them are shared between Argentina and Brazil although most of the falls are on the Argentina side. The power, size and sheer noise of the falls have to be experienced to be believed. It is actually a series of 275 waterfalls. The most impressive of them all is the Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat), a long and narrow chasm which half of the river's flow falls into. On the Argentinian side a footbridge takes you out across the river and up to the Devil's Throat so you actually stand right above where the river falls over the falls. How can I best explain it? It's not a trickle, let me tell you that much! There's a LOT of water! Suffice to say, every waterfall we'll visit after this will dwindle in comparison.

We had been told that to truly appreciate the falls we should go to both the Argentinian and the Brazilian side of the falls, which we did. Which side is best? It's hard to say. I think the best overview is perhaps from the Brazilian side but I personally feel the Argentinian side is more impressive because it lets you get up so close to the falls and there are a lot more walks and viewpoints.
We visited the Brazilian side some days after the Argentinian and in the leading up to it there had been a lot of rain which meant the falls were even fuller than full. At the carpark when we arrived we were approached by a woman asking if we wanted to buy her used rain poncho for 5 Riel. Nah, we'll be fine, who needs a poncho?! On reflection we probably should have agreed to pay the $2 as when we approached the falls the mist could be felt hundreds of metres away which meant that when we actually came up close to the falls, it meant for a complete soaking. It was like we had taken a shower with our clothes on basically. Drenched and cold we found ourselves a sunny spot to lie down and dry up, only stirring when he odd coati (a type of racoon) would try to steal our stuff. These coatis roam on both of the sides and they are very cheeky. Basically like the monkeys of Asia. If you take your eyes off your food for just a second, well you've just provided lunch for a hungry coati.

While in Foz we also went to visit Itaipu Dam, the largest operating hydroelectric facility in the world in terms of annual energy generation. It is a binational undertaking between Brazil and Paraguay and is right on the border of the two on the Parana River, just down from Iguazu Falls. It was interesting to see such a massive facility although one can not visit a place like this without considering the social and environmental impacts an installation like this has. As part of the tour you are being made to watch a movie about the dam from conception till finish. In the movie the narrator boasts about the dam's ability to generate large amounts of energy supplying both Brazil and Paraguay. But then the narrator goes on to claim that the dam had absolutely no detrimental effect on the environment. I guess they forgot about the 10,000 families living beside the river that had to be displaced, indigenous villages and 700 sq km of forest destroyed and the world's largest waterfall (by volume) big enough to rival the Iguazu, the Guaira Falls were drowned by the new reservoir created. The Brazilian government liquidated the Guaira Falls National Park and dynamited the submerged rock face where the falls had been. No detrimental effect you say?

Foz Do Iguacu was also to be our first encounter with a member of Brazil Riders. Our Brazilian friends in London, Carlos and Ellie had put us in contact with some members of the group and all of a sudden we had offers from several riders to come and stay in their house. In Foz we met Sampaio who very kindly took us in and gave us our own quarter out the back, basically a mini house with our own bathroom, kitchen and everything. He told us that we could stay as long as we wanted which because of the weather we kind of took him up upon! The damn rain had caught up with us again, just as we thought we had left it behind in Argentina. Not only was it wet but cold too, the nights were down to 5 degrees. So luckily we had a proper roof instead of the tent. Only challenge, Sampaio and his wife didn't speak a word of English and we sure as hell didn't speak a word of Portugese! Enter: Google Translate! The most wonderful invention known to man. During the 4 days we were there it got used intensively. It was helpful most of the time although sometimes it failed to translate correctly which lead to for example 'sesame seeds' being translated into 'hedgehog'! It made for many good laughs.

First the Argentinian side: Garganta del Diablo

Where the river drops down

Beautiful bird


And a cayman

I needed a shower anyway

Someone got a little too excited upon seeing the falls

The rumour is true: Brazilian women are veeerrry beautiful...

Now for the Brazilian side:

Hungry Coati

Itaipu Dam

Mark with Sampaio, Rosana and Luara outside their home in Foz

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Pursuit of Sunshine

By Sanne

And by pursuit I mean hunt!
After leaving La Plata heading north we seriously started to doubt if we hadn't arrived in South America a little too early. We did not see the sun nor blue skies for four whole days and I for one was starting to wonder if we would ever see it again. But on the fourth day, crossing into the province of Misiones in Northern Argentina, the sun finally managed to break through the clouds dousing our skin with some much needed Vitamin D.

To get to this point though we had to endure 1500 kms of boring, flat, barren scenery on Ruta 12 and 14. Apart from being incessantly dull, this part of Argentina, the province of Entre Rios, is also known for being littered with my favourite species aka The Corrupt Cop. We had read on a motorbike forum that many a motorbike traveller had been stopped and fined for various ludicrous things, such as not carrying a fire extinguisher, wearing headphones, and my favourite: not carrying a white sheet to cover you in the event of your own death! We had armed ourselves with some print outs of paragraphs from the law in Spanish that basically would serve to invalidate their arguments were we to be stopped. Apart from that we would just play the dumb tourist card with lots of "No entiendo"s which really would come very natural to us as most of the time we were pretty clueless anyway! The point at where everyone seemed to have experienced problems was very specific apparently: Ruta 14 Km no 341. So as we approached this police checkpoint we were bracing ourselves for a whole lotta fun. Imagine our relief then when we were casually waved past! They must have seen our cunning demeanor from miles away. In reality, the weather was shite so they most likely just wanted to get back inside for hot cup of mate.

Because of this really shitty weather I'm embarrassed to say we took only three photos in four days; one outside each hotel we stayed in. It really was that cold that I couldn't get myself to stop, remove my gloves and take a photo - it was all just too much effort! Besides as mentioned before, there really wasn't a whole lot out here. We did get some waves from a couple of Gauchos (cowboys) dressed up to the nines in colorful clothes, galloping along the side of the road on their horses looking every the bit of a traditional Argentinian cowboy.

We had hoped to camp on our way up but the rain and the lack of decent cover meant that we were forced to stay in hotels which was not cheap. Newsflash: Argentina is expensive. We had noticed that straight away upon arriving in Buenos Aires. Simply buying some food at the local supermercado set you back a great sum of money and accommodation was no different. Our first night in the town of Gualeguaychu (pronounce that when you've had a few to drink!) we paid 250 pesos which is roughly $45 for a room we would expect to pay $10 for in Asia. However every subsequent night we managed to pay a little less, while the room quality oddly improved at the same time. The cheapest we paid was 180 pesos which I whole-heartedly put down to Mark's negotiating skills. These "skills" were mainly a reflection of the before-mentioned cluelessnes of the Spanish language and trying to communicate with the hotel staff using a phrasebook. I was outside watching the bikes and I heard a lot of giggling coming from the reception area. Mark had somehow managed to get us a room (with breakfast included) with 100 pesos knocked off the price. How? By acting lost and bewildered!

Anyway, we finally made it to Puerto Iguazu and after a lot of riding around in circles (not the best signage around here) we found a little campsite down a dirt road which wasn't really open for business as the owners were re-developing the whole site but they very kindly let us stay there which was pretty cool as we were the only tourists there. The guys there were really nice to us and we hung out with them conversing with them in our Spanglish and I think if we had spent some more time there we would have eventually learnt Spanish! Really nice and chilled place and when it is all finished I think it will be a really cool place to stay. Check out their facebook page if you are coming to Puerto Iguazu. While we were here we organised a Brazilian visa for Mark at the consulate in town which was very easy and quick and from what we have heard much better than its Buenos Aires counterpart. Luckily being the holder of a European passport means that I don't need a visa for Brazil or Argentina, but because the Australian government chooses to charge these nations a lot of money to enter Australia, Australians then in return gets slugged the same amount of money for entering these countries. Fair enough really but a little expensive for us.

Of course while we were here we also went to check out this little waterfall that has everyone talking...but that's for the next blog.

Hotel numero uno

Hotel numero dos

Hotel numero tres

Our nice campsite in Puerto Iguazu


New cabanas being built onsite

That's Paraguay on the other side of the river

L-R: Martin, Mika, Rosalia, Gustavo, Mark

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Buenos Aires

By Mark

We left for Heathrow airport with much trepidation. We did not know when we would see our motorbikes again and at what cost...

Our flight from London to Rome was on time and nothing really to report along with our connecting flight to Buenos Aires. What we did not realise was how bloody cold it would be when we landed, it was in the low numbers, around 5 degrees. Were we here too early? We thought we had planned it well but it soon had us thinking that we should hit the road as soon as we got the bikes and head for Rio and warmer skies!
All cold things aside, we were happy to know that we had a place to stay in the city centre of BA. It has been hit and miss lately with couchsurfing  for us, but the good people of Buenos Aires have come to the party for us. Our first host was Santiago, a fellow bike rider who hopes to do a big trip very soon throughout the Americas. He was a great host and told us the places of interest to go and visit. One of those places he took us to was a great bar/microbrewery called Antares and is well known for its beers and has won a few awards for them also. You would hope so considering we had to wait close to an hour to get in, yes you heard right, we had to wait to get into a bar! And it was only 8pm!

We were not our usual cheery selves those first few days as we were still feeling worried about the bikes and our finances. It did not help either that after we got our yellow fever shots (for free at a local clinic) we both ended up getting sick from it. Our main concern was that our bikes were still sitting in a warehouse in Heathrow and they were going nowhere until one more large sum of money had been paid. As I explained in our last blog we made the biggest mistake of this trip trusting Russell’s freight with our precious cargo. The latest cock up on their behalf was to have our bikes built into new crates at a mammoth size therefore giving up any chance of us having our bikes shipped cheaply. The price they initially quoted us was always going to be too good to be true. Boys and girls, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is! So we reluctantly paid the excessive amount of money, feeling majorly pissed off with our agents once again, but now at least we knew our bikes would be on their way. Or...not quite; just when we thought the bikes were on their way, another delay! At least only by a day. There was not enough space on the first flight out so it was bumped back one day, but hey what was one more day in the big scheme of things?!

With our time up with our first host we had another to go to in a new neighbourhood. The problem was how to get there as we still did not have our bikes. We had a go at the public transport which is cheap but does not link you to the outer greater parts of the city. Having been on it the previous night with Santiago we were sure not to get too lost. Just a little wet from the rain! Lugging our bags around was not much fun as we had loaded up with a bunch of motorbike spares before leaving the UK and they weighed a ton. After about an hour's travel on public transport and by foot we found Alan and Mariana's cool apartment in Saavedra. From the moment we met them we both found ourselves very comfortable in their home and they made us feel both very welcome. We hit it off quickly and enjoyed chatting to them about all sorts of things over a cup of Mate, a kind of grassy tea drank widely all over Argentina and when we visited the local park this came apparent as everyone sitting down in the grass were sharing their mate, usually from an unusual cup that comes in many different shapes and sizes along with a straw to sip it through. We had it with sugar to help it go down as it has a very strong flavour which I found to be quite bitter with a strong after taste. Needless to say, I only had it the once. 

We ended up spending the next 5 nights with Alan and Mariana, the original plan was we were going to spend 3 nights with them until we got our bikes, then we would head for La Plata, about 75 kms south of Buenos Aires where we would stay with our next couchsurfing host. But of course our bikes were delayed that extra day and Alan asked if we would like to stay longer and we jumped at the chance to do so. It was great to be able to stay with people we got along with so well on top of the fact it would make life easier for us to get our bikes from the airport.

That day finally came and what date was it? 9/11! An omen? We had been tracking the bike through the American Airlines website and knew the bike would be landing around 8am so we caught a remis cab to get out to the airport first thing in the morning. We had been looking into how easy/hard it could be to get the bikes out of customs and with our limited Spanish we decided we would give it a go and were sure that it could not be any worse than it was getting our bikes out in Kathmandu. We had been to a local motorcycle garage the previous day and they had made it sound like we would have troubles especially if we didn't have the correct paper work etc when it came to our airway bills. We did for a second consider using their services to get the bikes out but at a huge cost it was just not worth it, and they would charge for 2 bikes even though they were only in 1 crate.

We firstly had to go to the American Airlines office which we were directed to after wandering around the wrong office buildings. The first thing we picked up on was how friendly and helpful everyone seemed to be. After paying a considerable sum of money for the original airway bill we were set to go tackle customs. The moment we stepped in the door, the young man at reception put us at ease and went about helping us, even bringing in a woman, well at least we think it was a woman. She was extremely tall, no hips big hands and hairy arms like a man! But she/he was lovely and could speak English. She checked that we had the correct paper work including local insurance as without this the bikes would not be going anywhere. We had already organised this a few days prior so we took a number and sat and waited patiently for our number to come up. After waiting around a while, just watching the events of everybody else going through the same motions our number was called. Oh, got excited too quickly and we were ever so lucky to wait another half an hour to be served. We sat and smiled and just let it be, we would be getting our bikes no matter what today! Finally we entered office number 2 where we had to hand over our original documents and get many more others photocopied, then we were hand balled to office number 3, back to visit she-man, once again we were palmed off now to office number 3 where things hit a little snag when we walked into office of Mr Grumpy. The problem for him was we had 1 crate but 2 motorcycles inside with 2 different owners. In normal day to day life one would probably think nothing of it, however Mr Grumpy's day had turned for the worst when we walked in. One shipment, 2 sets of paperwork for him to drown under. What was one to do! We sat, we smiled, we played stupid and showed our documents that was meant to match the original from the airline. In the end, the poor old fella took it on the chin and realised he was stuck with us and set about getting our bikes out.

After ping ponging back and forth through the 3 offices we finally got to set our eyes on our crate. Our lovelies were back in our hands, well almost. First the guys from the storage area split open the crate and to our surprise we found our 2 original crates untouched inside! Yes, we were screwed well and proper by our agents paying for a new crate that was never needed and on top of that we paid for a crate that was bigger than what we had received! All things aside our bikes were there, our gear and luggage and we hastily set about putting them back together again so we could ride the hell out of there. This would only happen after we paid some more money and going in and out of the 3 offices a few more times. The last hurdle of the day would be when we were about to leave. Once again having 2 bikes in 1 crate presented a problem at the exit gate. 1 airway bill but 2 bikes was just too difficult to comprehend. She-man suggested we wait until we could get the 2 bikes put onto 1 pallet and take them to the exit! Seriously? We sat, we smiled and went along with it until 10 minutes later she said she will just make a phone call to the guys at the gate and explain to them the problem. We sat, we smiled and nodded and thought this was just the obvious thing to do in the first place. But not wanting to upset anyone we went along with the charade until finally we were rolling our bikes out of the gate. We were not allowed to ride them and we couldn't even if we wanted. We were told to empty all fuel from our tanks in London so we had to push them to the nearest fuel station which was luckily very close by which we already knew after landing at the same airport about 10 days previously.

It was a fantastic feeling to be reunited with the bikes, with full tanks of fuel all we had to deal with was navigating our way back to our new friends' home in the city. Usually I tend to crumble and get a bit funny navigating in such huge cities but loaded with my recently acquired 'stress protect' deodorant I was well prepared. All in all, the day went smoothly and all the worries and troubles of the past few weeks disappeared now we had our bikes between our legs again. So we celebrated with a few cold beers of Argentina's finest, Quilmes cerveza.

Sadly this would be our last evening with Alan and Mariana. We wish the guys all the best for their 12 months in Australia and we really hope that one day we can host them in our home.
We parted ways early the next morning with the weather turning for the worse. Our trip to La Plata was wet and cold and in peak hour traffic right through the centre of Buenos Aires. We made it to La Plata easy enough where we met Facundo and his cat Evita Morales! Another great host who showed us around his city all afternoon and ending at our favourite pub from Buenos Aires: Antares. We enjoyed a few beverages and a light meal with him and his girlfriend. Facundo was very kind and gave up his bed for us and he would stay with his girlfriend. It was great meeting him and spending time with him and his friends. I must say that we have been really enjoying couch surfing and hope for more of the same hospitality throughout the Americas.
The next few days were very low key as the weather had really turned and felt like it was the middle of winter! Our days were spent planing our route north to a warmer climate. We were looking very forward to getting out of the big smoke and meeting many more great people.
I would like to say a big thank you to our 3 couch surfing hosts, you are all wonderful great people and made a big impression on us and we hope to again meet you all.

An old building in San Thelmo, Buenos Aires

 San Thelmo

Many demonstrations and protests at Plaza De Mayo

Looking up the Av De Mayo


 Palacio del Congreso

Across the road from Palacio del Congreso were many homeless, in fact many homeless all over the city

A beautiful sunset from Santiago's home

Me and Santiago chilling out

Let the warm up begin before the skating takes place

Mariana and Alan

This is the view from the Av 9 de Julio, the widest street in the world.

That's one big phallic symbol, or Obelisk. As you like.

A clear message from the people (Las Malvinas = Falkland Islands)

Our bikes in their original crates as well as in the big crate

Someone was veeerrrry happy to be reunited with her bike

The cathedral in down town La Plata

Town hall, La Plata

Facundo doing his best Rambo impersonation

A drawing his friend did of us and Facundo one evening on the window

Evita Morales