Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Punta del Este, Uruguay Feb 11th-Feb 16th, 2011

Hola, language change from last stop, now in Spanish instead of Portuguese

Traveling: I got here via a bus in Porto Alegre. The bus was expensive, about $120 or so. I have a feeling it included some fees for crossing the border, but I’m not sure. In the end, it was an insanely comfortable 9 hour bus ride or so that we took over night. The seats were amazing and it was very easy to sleep. I recommend traveling overnight, it saves you the money for a hotel for the night, and you also don’t miss anything going on.

Leg room on said bus

Culture/Stuff about there: Very laid back, it is a beach area where the wealthier people in Argentina and Brazil vacation, so it is similar to something like Florida for people taking vacations in the USA. Not as far as needing money to do that, but more of a comparison between the equivalency to something that we have. The beaches are nice, with two more family oriented beaches, the more popular being Playa Brava which is their “surfing” beach. You cannot actually get any good waves here, there are just more than the other beaches, but it is clearly not a surfing destination. The days start later here, as people stay out later at night. Most people wake up around noon, grab food and what not, then head to the beach from about 3pm-8pm. There is a beach that was a 15 minute walk from the hostel, that they refer to as “Bikini Beach”. It is a beach that still has more families than younger people, but this beach is the best of the three, and does have more of a younger vibe. The water was nice over here, not too cold or anything. I somehow stumbled in to a hand ball tournament on the beach that was going on for the weekend, that was hysterical to watch. Besides that, you just relax and grab food through out the day. The area is split kind of like South Beach where you can walk from a beach on one side of the strip to the other fairly quickly. Bikini beach is on one side, and Playa Brava is on the other. At night time, since the nightlife doesn’t get going in these countries until about 1am,, people start to pregame later as well. You can grab beers at the supermarket here for about $3 for a litre. A litre is about double what a normal beer is back home, it is similar in size to a 40. There is a strip on the pier which was about a 15 minute walk at night to go out. The bars are okay here, but nothing too special. The most popular bar is Moby Dick’s, it is decent. The bars stay open late, and it is common for people to be heading home at a time close to sunrise. I am a night person, so it is easy for me since I am always up late back home, but for a normal person this difference would take some adjusting to. I’m also starting to enjoy the music played at bars here better than the music in the USA. They play the popular US songs, well some of them, with a mix of the better South American music, which I like. They have a few small casinos, the Conrad being the larger of the two. It is owned by Harrah’s, and people talked about it as being good, but it is a joke of a casino, just insanely small. But, I guess they are not used to the ones in Las Vegas, so to them it is nice, but not even worth a visit like people tell you, unless you just want a good laugh at seeing the difference. Lastly, I’m really beginning to despise the United States for not allowing drinking in the street. People here do it everywhere and it is illegal, and they don’t abuse it or anything, but it helps create a more laid back atmosphere.

Also, when they joke here they type it….jejeje, and in Brazil they type….jajaja, and in the USA we type hahaha, so it is funny to see that.

A shot from out hostel, bikini beach is a fifteen minute walk in the background

A shot on the way to Bikini Beach w/ the Aussies

Bikini Beach

The Norweigan doctors and me, and Mads

Language: Spanish, besides Brazil and some of the French owned countries up North, everywhere in South America speaks Spanish. It does change from location to location, just like how people speak differently in California than New York. It was nice to be able to try and recall some Spanish from high school, and attempt to start learning again. I did a little Rosetta Stone here, but knowing the key verbs such as:

Have - tener
Like - gustar
Am I able - poder


How do you say… …in Spanish - Como se dice… …en Espanol?

Is very important. The best way by far to learn it is to understand the basics, and just attempt to ask questions and talk to people in Spanish. People are very willing to try helping once you show an effort to try. As I type this, it is difficult for me to type in English, because I am trying to learn Spanish, so some of my English vocabulary is not coming as easy to me, and I find myself speaking broken English here.

Safety: It is very safe here, you can walk around at any time of the day or night with anything and be fine. So it is certainly fine to take valuables to the beach here or out at night. Also, you can walk at night with peace of mind, and so you don’t need to take cabs back at night like you do elsewhere.

Transportation: Cabs didn’t cost much here, but it is easy to walk 10-20 minutes to anything you need anyhow, so get some exercise unless you are in a big rush.

Population: 7,300, but it gets up to near 500,000 when the popular summer season comes around between January and March

Currency: Uruguyan Pesos or US Dollars. Both are accepted most places, they tell you the price in Pesos, but it is certainly fine to pay in US dollars. Keep in mind that they make a small amount off changing the way you can pay, about 5% when I was there. The peso trades currently at about 19.5 to 1 USD. They don’t have real small change here, so it is common to get a candy at the grocery store instead of real small change, it’s rather entertaining.

Place Stayed at: 1949 Hostel. I highly recommend this place, it was a stones throw from the beach. The room was just like any other hostel dorm room, and the restrooms were not great, but the stay here wasn’t expensive, about $30 a night per person, compared to the cheapest hotel here being $120 a night when we can. People chill out during the day in the area where their bar is, or outside in the front. The bar serves alcohol, but it is about double the price as getting it at a supermarket. There was a shorter guy at the front desk who would ask me to get beer for him when I went to get it at night, and he was totally cool with drinking it outside, but there was another guy who tried to enforce the “no outside drinks” policy. When you hit up the bars, their prices here are double what the hostel bar charged, so do the majority of your drinking with drinks from the supermarkets or gas stations.

view from outside the hostel

hostel hang out spot outside

I needed to take a nap in the bar/hangout area

Food: They had Italian places and it catered well to tourists here. Still, they have pretty good meats here, and I would either have a steak, or grab stuff at the grocery store to make at the hostel. Overall, the food is good, but nothing special compared to anywhere else that sets it apart, it’s certainly a little worse here than food I’d get at home.

Watch out, they serve random things on food in these countries that you don't expect, here is a burger with eggs on it

Beers/Drinks: They serve Patricia and Pilsner a lot, also Zillertal was common to get at the bars. They also sold a lot of Stella, the beer is pretty good here, but also nothing insanely awesome or anything.

Entertainment: Go to Playa Brava or Bikini beach during the day and then at night pregame some, and then walk along the pier until you see a strip of bars, Moby Dick being the one that was the best.

Shawn, I, y mi dos amigos de Uruguay

Internet: Very slow upload/download speeds, as well as disconnections while playing poker. If you lived here though, I’m sure you’d be fine when just hardwired directly to the modem or router.

Sites to see/Things to do: The beaches and the nightlife, and the nightlife is nothing great at all compared to other cities in South America. There is also this huge hand which I’d tell you that you should get a photo with at the entrance to Playa Brava. I didn’t do it, but renting a motor bike is cheaper here than at other places I’ve been, at about $15 for the day, so taking a bike to tour other area. Such as driving over the bordering town of Maldonado would be neat to just see what else there is along the coast line. You are supposed to have an international driving license from a place like AAA back home which is only $15, and that I have, but apparently no one really cares. So if you forgot to get this, I think it’s fine to still drive here.

Talk to the hand

Recommendation: Come here during their summer months, January to March. It’s also fine to come as early as October, but it’s not as nice then. At other times I assume it is not as happening here so I wouldn’t bother coming during those times. Also, three or so is ideal here. There are not sites to see, or crazy nightlife to witness, it is just a cool chill beach area. If you are craving beaches though, you can stay longer. I am heading to big cities for the next two weeks, so I won’t have access to the beaches as easy. This is a place that would be real awesome to have a vacation home at, and to live at as your place of residency, but as far as touring it, it just offers good beaches, and no sites to see.

Other Pics:

My boy Joe from Bristol

Los tres amigos

Sorry, but if you are using that dance move I'm going to have to get a picture

Random funny ad at the hostel

Arcade, I'm still a kid at heart

Me being a tourist

Sunset, I never got a great one because I was always a little getting down there, lie on the beach at night and you are sure to get really good ones

My outside work out area, located across from the casino and right off the beach, ideal for me imo

Cool hand ball tournament on the beach, I luck boxed getting to see this

Their pathetic, tiny Conrad Casino

Rating: 8/10, the proximity to the beaches was much enjoyed by me, and the night life was okay, but the place lacked awesome site seeing. I enjoyed my stay, but now don’t have a huge need or desire to go back any time soon. It is a terrific spot to vacation too, but not worth the money to fly far to get there unless you have the extra cash or are traveling South America. It is also not a place you would be able to live year round, but could do during their summer months.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Porto Alegre, Brazil Feb 9th-Feb 11th, 2011


Traveling: It was about a nine hour bus ride from Florianopolis down the coast to the South. We took a bus with the bus company Santo Anjo. The total cost for the bus was about $38 or so. We had decent room, not lying down room, but plenty of leg room, and a decent amount of room to lean back. They did not provide food on the bus, but we stopped at a place mid way to get food at a stop. Overall, I’d certainly recommend it to someone traveling as a solid option.

Culture: Porto Alegre was much different than Floripa to say the least. Floripa is a beach area that is not heavily populated outside of the main city. The streets are hectic during the day. There is an area of about 4x4 blocks where there are just endless stores that people frequent all day long. I was convinced no one worked since the streets had an insane amount of people at all times of the day. Then, when night time came along, at about 7pm, every shop besides pharmacies shut down for the night. As far as food is concerned, make sure you eat by 6pm to ensure you have some options. Some places also close during the day time to nap or just shut down, so it’s possible that between non-lunch hours the place you desire might be closed. The area is amazing, I really liked the busyness and the atmosphere. At night time it completely changes, there are suddenly no one on the streets and it is almost like a ghost town compared to the day time. I had never seen anything like this before, but certainly don’t walk on any dark streets at night time, always take a cab. The people are nice and try to help if you attempt to speak Portuguese. Lastly, they also claim that the most beautiful people in Brazil live here and I agree wit that so far.

Streets during the day time, more busy than this street in most areas of the city

On the streets at night time - 1

On the streets at night time - 2

On the streets at night time - 3

On the streets at night time - 4

Religion: Over 70% are Roman Catholic

Language: Portuguese, it is a more complex version of Spanish basically. Due to this, those who speak Spanish cannot understand Portuguese, but those who speak Portuguese can understand Spanish since it is simpler. Almost all of South America speaks Spanish, except for Brazil, so I’d highly recommend learning Spanish for the trip, as it would be the most beneficial, and if time permitted to begin learning Portuguese. It is very, very hard to communicate in towns without the knowledge of Portuguese or Spanish, so do your studying ahead of time. Otherwise, you will feel very lost and somewhat outcast, even when trying to get food. I picked up some Portuguese here very quickly on my last night, and it helped a bunch. The people were very receptive and tried to help us out whenever they could. If you can speak some they are somewhat impressed and see you as sort of a novelty, so they will enjoy talking to you or helping you. A very friendly guy named Marcelo overheard me speaking English and stopped me to have a beer. I learned quite a bit of Portuguese from him, good stuff.

Transportation: Cars are the main transportation here, with less motorcycles than Floripa because it is a big city. Renting a motorbike is too expensive for tourists compared to the buses, which run around town for just a few dollars, however I did not use one at this stop. Taxis are rather expensive, but they are unavoidable when going far or traveling at night, drop the extra cash to ensure your safety.

Population: 2,000,000 in the main city, it is insanely crowded and fun to walk around all day.

Currency: Reai (Ray-eye). It is currently trading at 1.67 Reai to $1 USD.

Place Stayed at: Lido Hotel, right in the heart of the city. It was about $61 in 2 nights and I’d recommend it. Nothing special here, a small clean room in a good location. It is safe, and the staff does not speak much English just like everywhere else. It is a good budget hotel.

In front of our Hotel

Food: There were a lot more options here than in Floripa. You could get pizza and cheeseburgers if you are American, but they are still not good at all compared to in the states. Most burgers are served with ham on them here, sometimes they have an egg on them also. Here is a picture of food I had there, but I don’t know much about their food, just that they have lots of meat dishes.

A dish I had with chicken, tomatoes, cheese, onions, etc.

Beers/Drinks: We still had some Skol here, but it is basically the same all around Brazil, with people drinking lots of Caiprinhas and then heavy Brazilian beer. Most of the places do not have light beers like in the US.

Entertainment: During the day, the streets are packed in the heart of the city. You can walk around this area all day for fun and people watching. There are a ton of shops, and it seems like no one is working, because the streets are insanely packed on all days with people shopping. In the night, that goes away, and the streets are dead, so do not walk outside in any dark areas at this time. At night you can go a few places for drinks. We went to Cidade Baixa, and it had a good mix of bars. Some smaller bars to socialize, or some bigger bars that were more like clubs. It was not the best night scene, but it did just fine.

Internet: The internet worked just fine at our hotel

Sites to see/Things to do: The Central Market, in the heart of the city. It is not big, but a decent place that most people go to buy their groceries. Cidade Baixa is not a must see, it is where the night life is, but it is something I’d recommend you do to see the different cultural nuances. There are parks and museums here, but nothing that is a must see either. Linha Turismo is a bus company that gives you a tour of the city in a little over an hour for a cheap rate. We couldn’t do it since it rained the two days we were there, and they cancel the tours when it rains. Note that the building is extremely hard to find, the sign is on the second floor from the outside, and there is no label on the door. It took me about 20 minutes of walking to finally find it.

Me at the central market

Me at the central market

Pigs heads at the market

Recommendation: If you like cities, and speak some Portuguese, this place is a great option for you. It is not a tourist area, but was great to see. I would absolutely love to live here. My write up is not very exciting, because there aren’t any big sites to see, but the city itself impressed me, and I really enjoyed the area.

Other Pics:

Yeah, you can get HGH on the shelves here

They had these guys at a lot of buildings, appearing to be holding the weight of the building on their shoulders, pretty cool

Lots of police every where to make it safe for the upcoming World Cup in 2014

Most of their stuff is not based on fast food stuff, but it was cool to just see a random ice cream machine on the streets

This is about $220 and $240 respectively for the shoes, they are insanely expensive here

Neat little park area near the hotel

Funny to see our movies in their language

Really fuckin random, but funny

Quentin decided to get in a ghetto work out in the streets

Loads of neat graffiti - 1

Loads of neat graffiti - 2

Loads of neat graffiti - 3

Rating: 8/10, a place I’d love to live, not a place to stop and see as a vacation, unless you are backpacking or traveling a lot and want to places.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Florianopolis, Brazil Feb 5th-Feb 9th, 2011

Culture: It is a very laid back beach area. It is somewhat similar in comparison to how South Beach, Florida is to the United States. This is at the top of the price chain as far as prices in Brazil go, and is a popular destination for those traveling. They have the Lagoa de Conceicao (Middle) where I stayed by, as well as Jurere (North). They also have a fairly large city, but this is not frequented much by tourists. In Jurere, you will find your chic clubs that cater to the wealthy, most notably P12. This area is much safer than the big cities, I would not recommend walking around alone at night, but you should be just fine doing so. You can also take your cameras to the beach with much less fear of someone stealing it (in Rio de Janeiro it would be gone instantly). This is also the case for carrying them in public, people in Rio would just steal them from you, but here it is fine to carry for pictures/videos.

In red is where I stayed

Religion: Over 70% are Roman Catholic

Language: Portuguese, it is a more complex version of Spanish basically. Due to this, those who speak Spanish cannot understand Portuguese, but those who speak Portuguese can understand Spanish since it is simpler. Almost all of South America speaks Spanish, except for Brazil, so I’d highly recommend learning Spanish for the trip, as it would be the most beneficial, and if time permitted to begin learning Portuguese. It is very, very hard to communicate in towns without the knowledge of Portuguese or Spanish, so do your studying ahead of time. Otherwise, you will feel very lost and somewhat outcast, even when trying to get food.

It is best to try and learn the basic verbs and build on from there. You can say “Como voce fala (como vo-say fala) to ask how to say something.

Transportation: Cars are the main transportation here, while many locals ride motorcycles as well. Renting a motorbike is too expensive for tourists compared to the buses, which run around $3 Reais, which is about $2 USD. These run back and forth from Barra de Lagoa to Lagoa de Conceicao, and are the main modes of transportation. Even though it is a beach area, you still need a shirt to board the bus, so make sure to bring one with you. It is best to just take taxis when in a rush, or when it is late at night, as they are quite pricey in comparison to the buses. I also arrived via flight from JFK in New York for $650 for a one way ticket. When I landed, it was about a $30 USD cab ride to the hostel, but you can take a bus for a few dollars.

Population: 1,000,000 in the main city, but it is not crowded at all in Logoa which is separate

Currency: Reai (Ray-eye). It is currently trading at 1.67 Reai to $1 USD.

Place Stayed at: Backpackers Sunset. It was a great hostel set in Lagoa between Lagoa de Conceicao and Barra de Lagoa. The view was fantastic overlooking Lagoa de Conceicao, with great sunsets in the evening. The hostel holds about 50 people, and has a good social atmosphere. You will find quite a mix of different people here. Also, the hostel sets up nightlife for each evening, as well as some day trips, which make it much easier to figure out what to do. They also get discounts on the covers, which can be very expensive here. Breakfast is free and served 8am-10am, with a small selection to choose from. The rooms are comfortable as far as hostels go, with privates as well as dorms. The showers were decent, but sometimes lacked hot water. The hostel also has a tiny pool down bottom to relax in. The steps are pretty annoying here when going from your room to the lobby, but not too big of a hassle. There is a common television area where people congregated, as well as a bar that has a great view of the lake. Each evening before sunset, everyone gets a Caiprinha, which is a soury mixed drink that is the big drink nationally. Happy hour runs from 830pm-10pm, but is nothing to special, it is basically like 1 Reai off 2 drinks. After happy hour, the people go out usually. The hostel also hosts dinner each evening for about 15 Reai on average, which is reasonable and convenient. The main down side to this hostel is it’s location for food. It is a 15-20 minute walk to the nearest food, so eat up while you can, and try to sneak in some snacks for late night. You can’t have it all, and this spot has a location close to Praia Mole, which is the best beach in this area, so it is a trade off on what is most important to you. The hostel also had two computers for those who don’t travel with a laptop. This is one of the most highly recommended hostels, along with Barra Beach Backpackers.

Entrance to the hostel

My hostel room, my bed on the left. There were three of us.

The view from my balcony, I am just listening to music relaxing.

The view from the bar area, it was a real relaxing spot to chill

Another view from the bar, the closest I got to having my camera at sunset

Beaches: Be very careful, the current is much stronger here than in the United States. I am a strong swimmer, and it was extremely difficult for me to swim out at all. Also, the waves are more frequent and can be tough to deal with. Finally, the water was very cold, but I enjoyed it anyhow, just jump in.

1) Praia Mole - It is close to Lagoa and a 3 minute walk from Backpackers Sunset hostel. It is directly between Barra de Lagoa and Lagoa de Conceicao. The water is clear, and this is regarded as the nicest beach in the area. The better looking crowd seems to end up here. On the right end it is quiet and a relaxing area if you like that. You can also head to the center where it is rather busy. People surf here, but it is not the main surf destination.

The less packed side

Myself heading to lie down and get burnt.

The crowded area

The water was not to blue. Apparently it changes often though, and is a lot better at times.

2) Barra da Lagoa - This beach is very packed and crammed. It is not a surfing area either. This is a place to go to see the culture some more, and if you like crowded areas. This area has quite a few shops and restaurants, although they are expensive. When you take the bus, it takes you almost directly to the beach. There is also a volleyball game and soccer game running at all times, if you enjoy that. At the bus stop, if you walk over the bridge instead of to the beach, and turn left at the end, you will wind up at a more secluded beach, which I recommend seeing. Lastly, the cheapest food place I found was right next to the bus stop, with very reasonable prices. The burgers are very thin though, unlike American burgers. The cappuccino here was also very good, with a cinnamon flavor.

3) Joaquina - The surfing beach, also within walking distance from the hostel I stayed at. I am not a surfer though, so I did not venture here.

The entrance to Joaquina, I am the one on the hill.

4) Lagoa de Conceicao - This is a lake which seemed rather dirty to me. Kids swim in it, but I would not recommend it.

Leaving town, a view of the lake from the other side

The water in the lake, too dirty to swim in imo

Food: There are a ton of seafood restaurants in Lagoa de Conceicao. Also, there are empanadas sold at a decent amount of places for a quick food. An empanada is basically fried bread typically with meat inside of it, although it is possible to get some stuff without meat. Sit down restaurants are expensive for those on a budget, and typically run about $40 USD for 2 people at a middle scale place. To stay on a budget, it is best to find smaller places that are not real sit down places. A good price is if you pay about $8 USD per person, anything else is a great bargain. In Lagoa de Conceicao there is a Subway and a Pizza place, for those looking for cheaper American food, although I didn’t know about this until the day I was leaving.

Chicken Parm, it had ham on it which was strange to me. They also served it with fries and a bean soup which I am not used to.

Beer/Drinks: Skol seems to be the most common beer. Other options are Antartica, Brahma, Sol(different than Sol in US), and Summer. They do not have light beers, sorry. The Caipirinha is the most common drink of choice here, and is sometimes very sour, definitely try it though.

Entertainment: The beaches are popular for the day, and some bars to drink at night. The best nightlife is in Jurere, with the best party being P12, which is a beach/pool party similar to a party like Rehab in Las Vegas. I missed the party as we were very tired since we just arrived. Flo Rida was actually playing there a few days after I left. The covers are expensive, as well as cab fares. In Lagoa de Conceicao, it appeared online that is had good nightlife, but I did not experience this. I went to Black Swan to watch the Super Bowl, which is an American owned bar. The owner is an man about 60 with gray hair named Simon if you need someone that speaks English. There is a place called Confrari das Artes that is supposed to be good on Thursdays, but I did not get to this either since I wasn’t in town on a Thursday. We also went to Forza Joaquina which was a samba club outside of Joaquina beach near nothing. It was tiny, and you could not move much. Samba is a fast paced slow dance if that makes sense where they basically just move their feet fast and waist fast. I did not attempt this, but it appears much easier than American dancing.

Inside Black Swan, nothing special

P12 w/ Flo Rida

Internet: The hostel had internet, and I believe cafes had them as well, although I did not see many of them. The hostels internet was rather spotty, and I lost connections to my games some. Also, the download/upload speed was very poor, taking me about 2 minutes per photo I wanted to upload to the internet.

Sites to See/What to do: The beaches, as well as making it to a club in Jurere. There is a view point near where my hostel was that is good for a drink or some photos.

View point, Lagoa de Conceicao in the background

Recommendations: There is no need to stay in a hotel here, so go hostel all the way. If you want beach scenery, stay in Lagoa de Conceicao or nearby. If you like chic expensive nightlife, than stay north in Jurere. There are not historical sites to see, so I moved on from here fast, it is just a place to relax on the beaches, which were nothing special at all compared to other places I’ve seen.

Other Pics:

Leaving for the airport on Feb 4th. There was about 2 feet of snow accumulated over the past week.

Cool sign, appears I should have already bought sunglasses.

The biggest spider I’ve ever seen in the open. It was about 4 inches long, and very hidden off to the right, so I’m not sure how I spotted him.

Romy and I, he was one of my bunk mates. He was from Montreal, but also spoke fluent Portuguese.

Dogs available for adoption at the shelter

Money exchange place

Rating: 6/10, it was hyped up to be very nice, but it was basically just expensive places and decent beaches. I have no desire to go back.