I wanted to send a New York postcard to my old host family back in Cusco, Peru, before I left for Boston. So this morning, I went to the Central Post Office, near Penn Station in Manhattan, to send off the postcard. Well, it turns out that going to the post office on Columbus Day is a Really Bad Idea™. The Central Post Office was, apparently, the only post office in all of Greater New York that was open today. I walked inside, and there was one service desk open (with the other 25 or so roller-doored shut), and nobody at the information booth, and a queue that was literally about 100 feet long (that's over 30 metres!). And all I wanted to do was buy a stamp. Stuff that — I'm not waiting 3 hours to buy a daym stamp — I'll send the bloody thing in Boston.
Well, that's it. After six long and incredible months, I'm done with South America. Today was my final (half of a) day on this continent, and I spent it most unspectacularly, performing a convoluted three-legged flight that got me out of here: São Paulo to Lima; Lima to San Salvador; and San Salvador to New York. After sleeping in São Paulo airport last night (got in about an hour or two of shut-eye — wasn't that bad), my first flight took off at 6:30am. My third flight didn't get in to New York until 11:30pm — over 16 hours later. Wasn't the quickest or the most convenient way to fly north: but the airline — TACA Int'l, the same guys that I flew from Quito to Santiago with, about 6 weeks ago — was quite good; and the ticket (which I bought before I left Sydney) was pretty cheap.
I've had a really enjoyable few days on Ilha Grande; but sadly, my flight out of São Paulo leaves tomorrow morning, and if I miss it I'm royally screwed. So this morning I had to say goodbye to this island paradise, and to begin making my way back to the mainland, and over to South America's biggest city. It took a full day — a ferry ride all morning, and a bus trip all afternoon — but after a great deal of time spent sitting on these various vehicles, I got to São Paulo. Now it's more sitting, and sleeping, as I wait for my plane.
Especially when you go by bus. I'm talking twenty-four hours straight kinda long, direct (-ish) from Foz do Iguaçu. My first bus experience in Brazil, from yesterday evening to this evening, was not a positive one: very tedious; quite uncomfortable; and outrageously expensive. All in all, a really rude shock, especially after the "sheer bussing pleasure" that is backpacking in Argentina. What's going on, Brazil? Why do your buses suck so bad?
After almost 7 months of travelling in Latin America, my Spanish has gotten pretty good. It's been a long time since I stepped off the plane in Mexico City (seems like a lifetime ago!), and I found myself all alone in a foreign country, and unable to speak or to understand a word of what anyone said. Ever since, I've been getting more and more comfortable with Spanish, and the language barrier has become so small as to be easily stepped over. But today, for my first day in Brazil, I received a rude shock: I'm back to square one! "Eu não falo o português" (lit: "I don't speak Portuguese"), and it's a problem. Despite what people have told me, Portuguese sounds nothing like Spanish (although reading it is easy enough), and talking to Brazilians in Spanish has very limited results.
Today was a day of bus trips, and not much else. From Pucón, this morning I hopped on a bus, and rode the 4-hour trip to the town of Osorno, a bit further to the south (but still in the Chilean Lake District). There's really not much to see in Osorno: just another town in a very long country, and one that has very little open on a Saturday, at that. The main reason for stopping in Osorno (and the reason why I came here today), is because it's where the road begins that goes over the Andean mountains, and straight into Argentina. Anyway, I had to wait about 3 hours in Osorno, before I could grab a bus for the rest of today's trip: over the border, and to San Carlos de Bariloche.
This morning, Patrick and I embarked upon our two-day sojourn from Baños, up to the Quilotoa Loop area. The "Quilotoa Loop" is a ring of road and villages that begins and ends at the town of Latacunga, which is about 2 hours north of Baños (by bus). The most important spots on the loop are: Laguna Quilotoa itself, a massive lagoon that sits inside an ancient volcano crater; and Chugchilán, a village north of the lagoon, with great day-hiking (or horse-riding, whatever floats ye' boat) in the area around. Our journey began with a bus up the nice highway, from Baños to Latacunga; and then another bus along the crazily winding mountain road, from Latacunga to the village of Zumbahua.
Today, Chris and I flew back from Rurrenabaque to La Paz, with the affordable and reasonably-safe Transporte Aéreo Militar (TAM), the "military airline" of Bolivia. Slightly cheaper than Amaszonas, and just as efficient. After going through the experience of catching a plane in Bolivia twice now, I feel I should write up some instructions on how it's done, for anyone else who's interested in using Bolivia's fine commercial aviation services.
After arriving in Rurrenabaque yesterday, Chris and I wasted no time in getting ourselves booked in for a three-day trip to the pampas (swampy grasslands), starting today. This morning, in a group of seven, and with one tourguide to show us where the hell to go, we were off. Our group consists of: Chris, Andrea, Anna, Marie, Matt, Dave, and myself. Today was a slow start to a great trip.
Myself, Chris, and two random Belgians that we met at Qoni Wasi headed down to the Puno docks this morning, to grab a boat-and-island-stay package deal with one of the captains down there. We found a deal that included a boat to Los Uros, Amantaní, (next day) Taquile, and back to Puno, as well as a night's stay with a family on Amantaní. Quite a few fellow crazy travellers were on the boat with us, and the rides themselves were quite scenic, if a bit long.