Wednesday, February 28, 2007


I am home! Yes. With a bad cold, still mixing up day and night and not used to the 20-30 degrees drop in temperature. It is great to see my father and brother again (thank you for the beautiful flowers!!), sleep in the same comfortable bed, to throw toilet paper in the toilet (and not in a bin next to it), being able to bake cakes, watch loads of television, but that is really about it. There were definitely no valentine cards waiting for me and I am still not ready to confront reality. At least I have a head (and a camera) filled with beautiful memories.

A quick update on the way back: I caught my cold from the wonderful air co in the plane from Rio to Sao Paolo, there the flight was almost cancelled and we enthusiastically volunteered to stay behind, but unfortunately there was still room last minute. We had two overnight flights during which it was impossible to sleep (films watched: Running with scissors, Volver and Babe
The day in between we spent in Washington, where we walked around for five hours to see all the presidential and war memorials. Not enough time in Washington, but it was very interesting. In general we felt a lot of the memorials were celebrating victory more than commemorating death and one sided; at the Roosevelt memorial It mentioned the bombing of Pearl Harbour, but not a word about the nuclear bomb or other non-American victims.

It was just too weird to be surrounded by snow, while the day prior we had been lying on the beach. But I guess that is modern times: one day you are at the beach in Rio, the next in the city centre of Washington and the one after that in the outskirts of Amsterdam, sleeping...

I have been thinking of how to conclude this travel blog properly. It is too early to start looking back. One way to round off my last entry here is to look back at the several questions I have been asked, which I have answered personally, but why not make it public (censored of course-sorry took the names out..),..

Most frequent questions asked were by the way:
Where are you now? And when are you coming back?

-: How is the journey? Is it what you expected it to be?
-: by the way hows the crime scene where you're at?

For some reason South-America had been a very old dream of mine.
Why exactly, I don't know. Well, I like travelling and it sounds exotic, but it is
still a culture that might be understandable, seen its European origin.
When planning the trip it still stayed an abstract idea. Sure, we planned a route, prepared ourselves for all kinds of weather and bought loads of medication.
I got warnings about drugs, violence, the men, food poisoning, scam artists, theft...
These warnings did not stop while travelling, but even though we got ill, none of that threatened us. Partly because stories are exaggerated, we were very careful and we were simply lucky.

The trip was both what we expected from it and completely different. Travelling is fun and you see so much, but it also meant feeling very tired all the time, as we never stopped. And even if we did; a nightbus would spoil that again..Every day was different, that is for sure!

At arrival in Argentina it all felt very 'normal', almost as if we were in Europe, but later we found ourselves on completely unfamiliar ground. In that sense we could divide the journey in three 'cultures':
Buenos Aires and Chile: looks and feels very European, familiar
North of Argentina, Peru and Bolivia: poorer, indigenous culture
Brazil: different language, different mixture, different culture

I am constantly asked about high points. I think answering that is both hard and simple: the local people, who showed us around, invited us in or simply told us about their life.
I also enjoyed greatly the several hikes we undertook in Chapada de Diamantinha (Brazil), the volcano in Pucon (Chile) and Torres del Paine (Chile). Then there are of course the famous tourist points, that are famous for an obvious reason: they are breathtaking: the Iguazu falls (Argentina), Machu Picchu (Peru), the glacier in El Calafate (Argentina), the salt flats of Uyuni (Bolivia), the carnival of Brazil and many more sites..

Of course I have only scratched the surface, but South-America is now a vividly existing place for me, in culture, politics and nature.
In short: what this trip did was enabling me not to have a regret later for not doing such a thing and showing me that actually anything is possible, question of doing it!

-: How do you get along with your sister? Are you together all the time or do u sometimes go out and do stuff when the other one wants to stay inside?
We were practically always together and shared every moment and illness. No, we never fought, even though it would happen that we would snap at each other for a few minutes when tired & hungry, but that was really it. Well..we had a lifetime of practice...

-: And where is base camp? London ? Amsterdam... or wherever your family is?
Home is where your backpack is...Right now it is here, in Holland, but I do hope to take it back to London. I do believe that home is where your heart is, even if it means moving in between two places (or more). It is hard, but I also consider it a luxury. I am not entirely sure where to place London at this very moment, it feels far, it is entirely up to me to create my own home there. Anyone got a job & house for me, by any chance?!

-: Been meaning to ask you how it's going not eating meat out there? Guess it's ok cause there's a fair amount of fish depending on where you are. Do you eat shellfish?
No shellfish for me. Still a vegetarian, but it was hard at times. Not even so much because the steaks looked great in Argentina, but hard because sometimes there wasn't much else (= just rice) to eat. On the boat to Belem (Brazil)
I did eat some of the meat soup, as I did not want to go to sleep hungry, but I couldn't force myself beyond a few bites. Nothing wrong though with the way South-Americans treat their animals btw. Lost weight (and strength), that is for sure!

-: any prospects on a new job?
Have not started looking yet and no offers! I am looking for a job into Publishing..anyone?

-: Heard that you are going to Nahum this summer ?
I really really do want to go to Israel this summer, but it is going to depend on my job situation, as I am sure no new boss will be thrilled if I asked for 3 weeks off after a month...

I did enjoy writing this blog very much and it was a way for me to digest some of the many impressions we had. I want to thank everybody who read, reacted and wrote me over the past few months, it meant a lot to me and am looking forward to seeing you again!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

O MUNDO PARA PRA FANTASIA (do Cavaco,Totonho,Remédio)

We arrive at a ridiculous early hour in Rio de Janeiro (River of January, the month it was discovered in, in 1502), but still get a warm welcome by Michel in his beautiful apartment on the 24th floor. We do not know him, but we are both fellows and he has invited us to stay in his house.
On one side of the flat we look out over the biggest favela of Rio and on the other side we look out over the ocean and the tennis court and swimming pool. Michel and his wife Sheila are very generous with
us and it makes our stay in Rio very comfortable.
Rio could be described in one word: Sunny. It is a big city, with not even that many specific tourist attractions, but it has a great natural setting, surrounded by green mountains and the blue sea with its busy beaches, with names like Ipanema and Copacabana (remember the songs?). Our touristy activities include visits to the Pão de Açúcar (sugerloafmountain) and the huge Christ statue for the views. We get many warnings about the dangers, but the most dangerous thing we do in Rio is going to the beach; the waves are really high and even standing knee deep in water can knock you off your feet, but it is fun.

Every person we've met on the way who has been to Rio, advised us to go on a so called favelatour. Even though we feel a bit reluctant, as we are not that excited about watching the poor, we're convinced and we go. With a guide and about ten other tourists we go up the mountain and wander down through the narrow streets of Rocinha, the biggest in South-America. About 200.000 inhabitants live here. A lot of small houses, families, open sewers, a bad smell and a good view. Favelas have a bad reputation mainly for all the drug dealing that is going on and the guide points out a guy here and there that is supposedly checking who is coming in and out. He kind of freaks out when someone wants to take a picture of two marijuana smoking guys. Almost funny to us, as marijuana is really no big deal to us Amsterdammers. My sister asks him if he pays anyone to leave us alone. He is all defensive and first answers with a "who told you that?" and then a " of course not, I do whatever I want." It was an interesting visit in the sense that we could see how it really is and not just hear stories about it. Most houses, made of concrete and brick, up there are legal. There is basic sanitation, plumbing, and electricity and even shops. Most people have jobs and are not the criminals that a lot of people try to make of them. It still however felt like a trip in which we went to see the poor. It might've been different had we just arrived in South-America, but we had already had a fair share of decayed houses and smelly streets...

Then t
here was the carnival....Carnival is not so much about dressing up. It is more about big trucks with music and singers on it and people jumping and dancing behind them. These are called 'blocos' and are all over town. We somehow never got really in the mood to get lost in the noise and crowds and mainly watched it from the bus we would be stuck in (constantly). The famous carnival with the dresses and the samba has been taken out of the streets into an especially designed stadium, called the Sambodromo. Four nights, from 8pm till about 6am the various schools present their bateria (drum section), their floats and their thousands of dressed up dancers. The family we were staying at had signed themselves up and bought a suit and were dancing in the parade. Sylvia and me did not have tickets to go in, but we watched them from the side, at the entrance of the stadium. We had a fantastic time watching the colourful masses and original floats.
This can also be described in one word: Loucura

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


We are flying homewards tonight!

Thursday, February 15, 2007


We arrived in Brazil after three months non-stop travelling and tiredness had gotten the best of us. Even though we had decided to take it easier, it did not happen. Everything seemed a little bit more difficult and the Brazilians not very helpful. Feeling ill did not lift our spirits much either and I started to feel ready to go home. The constant repetitive conversation with other tourists about ´wherehaveyoubeen´, ´whereareyougoingto´and ´whereareyoufrom´were boring me and I was looking forward to more personal connections.
Now that the actual returning date is nearing, the opposite is true. Feeling well helps a great deal to enjoy the surrounding. We have been having a great time since Salvador!

We visited a small island in front of Salvador, called Morro de Sao Paolo where we just lazed around on the beach.
We visited Lençois after that, which is the best thing we have done in Brazil (so far, with just a few days left). Lençois is a small village with freshly painted houses and cobblestone streets. The locals, who all work in tourism, do not have that much to do in the evening and are more than happy to hang around with tourists. OK, being two girls does help, as it was mostly male attention..I will need to adapt again in Europe, by far most guys here are dark, muscled and good dancers...nothing wrong with white,skinny and stiff, but still...;-)
We did not come for Lençois, though. We came for its park: Chapada de Diamantinha (Plateau of small diamonds), which is almost as big as Holland and where diamonds used to be found. We took a three day hike, during which we visited several beautiful waterfalls, including Fumaça the second highest (400 meters) in South America. I found the hike pretty tough, often having to use both legs and hands as we were climbing over rocks. I think all hikes we have done were not easy, but they were all the highpoints of our stay. I am sure there is a lesson in that!
Our 9 persons strong group consisted mainly of Israelis and they annoyed me, as they were like a lot of Israelis we have met: noisy, impolite and only into their own.
However it is wrong to generalise that much, as in the beautiful town of Vila Rica de Ouro Preto (rich village of black gold) we met some cool Israelis who took us to a republica (student dorm) where we witnessed a band practice for carnaval (still a little deaf) and where locals and tourists happily mixed. As this town thrived on former goldmines, we visited one. Impressive how complicated finding gold is! (and how many slaves were abused to do so).

Tonight we are off to our last stop: Rio de Janeiro, even if we are contemplating about whether we should stay longer or not.

Monday, February 05, 2007


Most of what Brazil offers is coast. I get easily bored at the beach, so we try to visit Natural Parks. This is easier said than done.
At 7 a.m. there is a bus going to the park of Sete Ciudades from Piripiri, the nearest village to the park, say some. Others say that this bus does not run anymore. We just have to find out for ourselves. As soon I step out of bed with one food, I feel that I am being bitten. I look down and discover my rug sack has been attacked by an army of little red ants. After a fierce battle, I win, but then it is passed seven. (after again more conflicting opinions, we establish that that bus does not run anymore). Now we have extra time and we visit the bank. There are several banks in town, but of course none accept any of our international cards.
We call a cab, agree on a price, but when it is there, the driver claims he misunderstood and asks more. We are not surprised, but we hold on and he eventually gives in.

At the park all roads are clearly indicated, but it is mandatory to take a Portuguese speaking guide, who does not add much to the visit.
The Park has several rock formations and if you stare long enough at them, you can see animal shapes in them. It is kind of fun, but very hot.

The same evening we try to catch a bus to Ubajara, to visit another park. The bus is late and we miss our connection. We look for a place to stay in Tiaguia, but just that day the yearly motorcross rally takes place and everything is fully booked. A nice hotel owner offers that we can stay in the bar area, sleep on a plastic chair. An American walks in, apparently being told that some American girls have arrived. He is building a factory vitamin C there for multi billion dollar firm. He seems decent and says that if we do not feel awkward about it, he has an extra room in his house. We do what you do in those instances and trust our instincts and accept his offer.
Greg tells us about life in Brazil. He just moved to this new house. He enjoyed where he used to live, but there he was threatened that he would be beaten up if he did not pay. He called the police and paid them to protect him. After that the police came asking for more and now he had two parties coming round for him. Apparently it only costs you 50 reais (20 euros) to have someone beaten up and 150 (60 euros) to have someone killed. He then moved reluctantly. In all countries we have visited there were warnings and stories about theft, but here there seem to be a stream of stories of violence. It feels like this country lacks harmony.

In Ubajara we experience the same ridiculous rule as in the previous park: the park is open till five, but you are only allowed to visit the waterfalls till 10 a.m. Why is an enigma. After some whining we are walked to the nearest one (again over the only, well indicated road). Just a trickle, but we are excited about the monkeys we see running in the trees high above us. Luckily the park has also some really cool caves, so the 3 km walk to get to the park was worthwhile!

Of course we don´t completely skip the beach, we go to what everybody calls paradise: Jericoacoara. I am all ready to be my sceptical self, but truth needs to be told as well. The village is in spite of its commercial nature very laid back and cute. The beach sandy with palm trees and capoeira is performed constantly. The sea is unfortunately mainly good for surfing, too shallow and too much of a stream to swim. A lot of people come for a few days, but often end up staying longer. So do we, even though that is not a deliberate choice. The first day there I happily announce to Sylvia, who is ill, that my diarrhea seems to be over after two weeks, but in the afternoon I am throwing up on the beach, even after all the liquids in my body are finished. The rota virus has gotten hold of us. This means liquids pouring out from all sides and fever. A struggle not to dehydrate. But of course we beat it, even if it means losing a few kilos.

Now in Pelourinho, a neighbourhood which reminds us of Portugal, if you ignore the very different looking people (staring at me, as they apparently never saw a white girl move her hips) and the beggars who don´t just ask for money, but for bread, in Salvador de Bahia and we are enjoying the pre-carnaval atmosphere...

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Manaus isn´t a pleasant place, dirty, run down, it just does not make you feel safe. We soon discover that most cities have this feel over themselves. The next city where we conclude this, is Belem. The differences between the rich and poor are so great, it makes you feel uncomfortable. For example in Bolivia there was a lot of poverty, but, and I really don´t intend to sound cynical, everybody is poor. In Belem we see a homeless man stripped naked in the middle of the street and being washed by some kind of aid workers. The next morning we are sitting in a modern mall a few blocks further looking how a poodle gets a pedicure in a dog saloon.

But first we have to get to Belem. The boat is the most logical option. We buy a hammock and go looking for a ticket. We don´t want to buy from the men selling on the street, as we are afraid to get a false one. We go directly to the boat before departure and are a little shocked by what we find: the deck is full of hammocks. Logical, but they are just hanging everywhere, and with that I mean three layers hanging next to each other AND on top of each other. Never seen such a crowded place.

After a lot of doubt (and the captain lowering the price), we decide to embark on this adventure and put up our hammocks and just hope nobody will steal our luggage under it. To get in it, I wake my neighbour, for others to get into theirs, they have to crawl under mine. Except for the sleeping comfort, it turns out not to be so bad, just long. It doesn´t smell and the food is OK. Soon we find the other tourists and the ten of us (Belgians, Argentineans, Sao Paolo, Dave) form a little group that sits on the top deck and drink alcohol (of course not us), chat and dance and even get off the boat to go for a swim on the lovely riverbeach of Santarem.
We also have the opportunity here to meet some Brazilians.
Portuguese is all is spoken here. Written it has a lot of similarities to Spanish, but spoken it is very different. We do our best to speak a little, but if they don´t understand you once, they decide they can´t understand you at all, instead of trying. So far we get by for directions and food and have little conversations on the boat with girls who do have the patience. A lot of young women are already married. One of the girls, Adriana dances every night happily with us, interested in the European boys, but she can´t hide the sad look in her eyes. At 22 she has been divorced for two years and is now taking care of her three children.

There are many beautiful children on the boat. Brazil prides itself with being a nation where all races mix, and in fact you do see black guys with green eyes or fair coloured haired girls with thick curls. But if it is so mixed well, it still makes you wonder how come the elite is all white and the poorest all are black...
The kids are often staring at me. Even though I don´t feel I stand out, I apparently do with my white skin and blue eyes. I do not mind at all, I love kids and enjoy playing with them. Kids are treated with a lot of care and affection here. The girls are little princess and the boys mini-machos, who already master sexy dance moves.
All that is ever danced here is Reggae and Forro (and its variations). I try to learn it, but it doesn´t thrill me. Luckily there is a Colombian guy as well and we danced salsa on the deck, which is great! Yes, I got ´jinga´ which is ´muito legal´!

In Belem we do not get our well deserved rest, see my remark about noise and heat earlier on. We do not feel well at all, as we have pretty bad diarrhea. We however keep on going, do not like Belem that much and take a night bus to Sao Luis. To our surprise the old, colonial part of town is lovely and we think we have found a quiet hotel in the non-traffic zone. Wrong. At night it suddenly comes alive and it sounds like we have several bands performing simultaneously in our room. We do stay three days, ´cause with every visit to the bathroom we feel weaker and weaker. Medications do not seem to do much, but we keep our senses and drink loads. As soon as we feel better we leave for Barreirinhas, where again it is noisy. We visit the dunes nearby. It is a huge sandy area, which makes you feel as if you are in the desert and watch the sunset.

Friday, January 26, 2007


The first week into the New Year was our first week in Brazil.
Not quite what we expected: New Years eve was -apart from some fireworks- pretty much a non-event, the beach in Florionapolis nothing special and the sea too cold. We did not even get that much rest, due to the suffocating heat, itchy mosquito bites and noise (situation still the same). It is not all that negative of course. It was good to finally do a little reading, there is proper coffee here, not Nescafe (but now tea is a difficult product) and to confirm a cliché: the people are beautiful here. The women are very expressive and the men have a beautiful skin colour and generally are really fit (I am however keeping my distance, as nao is not easily taken as an answer).

Brazil is huge. Bigger than Europe. To get to the rainforest in the north, we had to fly. We flew from Sao Paolo and made a stopover there for a day. Still dazed of the nightbus, we were lucky enough to meet Lilian there, who took us around the town with her two small children by car. Sao Paolo has more inhabitants than the whole of the Netherlands and is, to say it simply: ugly. High buildings seemed to be planted all over the place, without any clear planning. Some streets are ´good´streets, but the next street is dangerous.

On the way to the airport we meet Dave, a loud Australian, who we would be seeing for the next 10 days. We arrive in the middle of the night in Manaus. Dave gets a free ride to his hostel, but they don’t want to take us. Some guy offers to bring us for less than a taxi. Sylvia bargains it down. He doesn’t bring us to the hostel we requested (´full´) and tries to sell us his jungle tours. We are so tired, we decide just to go to bed. I am still combing my hair the next morning, when this guy stands in front of my nose again, trying to make me buy his tour. If you want to get on my nerves, this is the perfect way how.
We notice this later too: once you show some kind of interest, they keep following you around, hardly giving you any space to move elsewhere.
We leave the hotel and go to the hostel of our choice, which of course has plenty of room.

We do our own little research and then pick one tour. It feels a bit like going on a Disney trip (not that I have ever done that). Luckily my nerves are good for something; we discover that the guy from the airport is a scam artist.
Excursions are expensive, so again, we bargain. Bargaining seems to work most of the time in Brazil. Sylvia has understood the trick. It is called patience. If you wait and ask long enough, they will lower the price. They don’t seem to mind spending that much extra time on one client. Instead of having a good tourist infrastructure, people just seem to be busy to get money out of individual tourists. Everywhere we go we find that everyone has paid a different price, both locals and tourists. It makes it hard to understand what we are supposed to pay and to trust anyone. What we have seen in other South-American countries seems to be valid here even more: no long-term thinking, only looking at short-term gain. Or as another tourist phrased it: "Brazil is the country of the future and always will be."

At night someone shows us the synagogue. We are surprised to find one, at the edge of the jungle. There are about 150 Jews left, who at first came here because of the rubber trade (which later moved to Malaysia and Indonesia, but the tree is still called Hevea brasiliensis).

It is odd that almost 20 years ago I collected signatures in order to protect the tropical rainforest. I had no clue that it was a possibility to actually go there. It is still very much under threat; farmers, soja plantations, log companies. I don’t know how much harm our presence does.

We travel with the loud Ozzie, three silly Swiss girls and one decent German about four hours by bus, boat, jeep and by boat again to get to the jungle lodge. You know, the kind of place where you find a frog on the toilet seat (gesproken over kikker in je bil). The next four days we are kept busy with a walk through the forest, caiman spotting, eating a lot of fish, piranha fishing (and swimming in between them), chatting and playing cards with people from all over the world, sleeping in the jungle in a hammock, watching rubber making from the tree and visiting natives. And getting constantly soaking wet, because of the rain. The Tropical rainforest consists of many rivers and many trees and (medicinal) plants, so we spend a big amount of time in a little boat (which of course had no life jackets *see comment). We didn’t see many animals, which was disappointing.
In the end it is all in the name: lots of rain and lots of forest.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Four days in the jungle and four days on a boat kept me away from the computer. Feeling not so well now, must´ve caught something.
Hope to update soon!

Friday, January 05, 2007