Sunday, February 23, 2020

Uruguay

Poor little Uruguay; sandwiched between the magnificent beaches of Brasil and the incredibly varied landscape of Argentina, she has a very hard time holding her own.

Upon entering customs and immigration in any country, the government always makes the most of catching the trapped audience’s attention with posters of her gorgeous marque attractions.
This guy got caught smuggling in instant coffee. Not even real coffee
Instant coffee.
In Uruguay we saw sky diving, horseback riding and beaches, which are available in practically every country. Hmmm – low wow factor. She lived up to it.

From my diary: “First impressions of Uruguay – Super expensive. It looks like the pampa of Argentina but with palm trees, but they are very low growing palms - pygmy palms. Flat and unremarkable. The beaches . . . so so.

No reason to put Uruguay on your travel list. There is nothing offensive about it, and there is nothing exciting either. It's the most average of all Latin America and super expensive.

South America should be at the top of your list. I love it here. However, there's no reason to ever go to Uruguay. It's a c-rated country. It has all the expense of the first world and a fraction of the infrastructure ($13 for a liter of ATF and it’s a pain in the ass to find).
Capybaras. They world's largest rodent

Punta Del Este

I went to Punta Del Este. It's unattractive and unimaginative. It’s a giant parking lot on a promontory with a casino. If you have friends there, that would make for a different story. I heard all the hype, couldn't wait to get there, and was completely let down. There's nothing superlative in either direction about Uruguay.  It's not wonderful and it doesn’t suck. It really only excels at being average: "Uruguay, the most expensive average money can buy"

Or maybe

Uruguay – There’s a reason you don’t know anything about it.
Montevideo does have some charm

Uruguay shouldn’t be at the bottom of your list, it shouldn’t even be on your list. Let’s be honest, with 195 countries in the whole world, you’re only going to see a small fraction. Don’t waste your time with this one.

I came to the conclusion that is must have been essentially a buffer land that allowed the Portuguese and the Spanish to stop fighting each other between Brazil and Argentina. It was the land “not worth dying for” and then it became a country.

One more bashing and then I’ll say something nice: This whole country desperately needs to invest in stop signs. These intersections are so dangerous. What are you doing with all that petrol tax? $5.50 per gallon? Come on.


Punta Del Diablo

If you do find yourself in Uruguay, stop and tour this beach community with their tiny houses and great designs in delightful colors.

Parking The Rig

We left Elsie on a farm that had indoor storage run by a very nice German family. We went back to our countries and returned 2 months later to start driving again. Back into Argentina!
When Elsie is the smallest vehicle you
 can begin to understand how the German's travel







Your man on point,
Bobby (The Basher of Nations) Friedman



Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Brazil Part 1

Recently, In Elsie

The last dispatch left us in Santiago Chile. It was early fall. We had some time to enjoy the city and drink good wine before Paso Libertadores (our Andes crossing) became unpassable. We traversed the Andes for the umpteenth time and once again made our way across Argentina stopping to see Rulo & Sere in Alicia, and Diego & Ana in Belen De Escobar.
Diego seasoning the ribs.
Another asado in Alicia with Rulo & Sere and friends
"A" is Iguazu. This was our 2 month drive up from Buenos Aires thru southern Brazil


This webpage will return to Argentina in the near future, but this dispatch is about Brazil. We drove for 5 days through the long arm of northern Argentina which borders Uruguay, Paraguay, and of course Brazil. We made 2 noteworthy stops before entering our next country of discovery in South America.

The Missions of San Ignacio - Argentina

The first was built in 1610. The Jesuits abandoned it in 1767 and in 1817 the Portuguese forces blew them apart. They were forgotten for 80 years until someone stumbled across them in 1897. Restoration began in 1940. The width of the walls averages 2 meters!

Iguazu Falls

It’s only the largest waterfall in the world. It straddles the Argentinian and Brazilian borders so you can view it from both sides. We only saw it from the Argentinian side, so our first views of Brasil were rather breathtaking. There are 2 distinct vistas and they are equally spectacular:

Brazil! Actually… Brasil!

It was a five day wait at the border for my Brasilian visa, and then the real driving began. This is a very large country. Yes the USA is larger but only because of Alaska. If you pull that out of the formula and compare only the lower 48 Brasil wins by 200,000 square miles. It borders every country in South America except Ecuador and Chile. For over a century they’ve been taking immigrants from everywhere so she has 210,000,000 different faces.
That one was a little too close for comfort

That first day of crossing a border is really special. It’s an immediate immersion into a new culture. The street signs, the method of road construction, the architecture and city planning - it’s always a little different. Do they use roundabouts or intersections?  A gas station in the middle of the highway? – that’s novel! It’s always interesting to see how a different culture solves infrastructure.

Weighing Your food. 

I love their approach to feeding the masses! Buffet style, serve yourself, and at the cash register you put the plate on a scale. You pay per kilo. So smart, lots of variety, and the food is really delicious. In Central America you count how many good meals you get. In Brazil you count how many bad meals you get. It’s about the same low number.

A New Language

“R’s” are “H’s”. “T’s are “CH” (First T only. Second T is a T). “D’s are “G’s” but the best part is that the “J” …. is a “J” (Suck on that one Español)! My proper name; “Robert” is pronounced “Hoberch”
We met a dog. Great dog. That dog’s name was Cheetah. Know how to spell it? Titan. Yep. Pronounced “Cheetah” spelled “Titan” That’s Portuguese baby!

Maybe Portuguese sounds like a happy Russian, if there was such a thing, trying to speak Spanish. Or if a French goat could speak. It’s got that tonal nasal quality to some of its words so I’m reminded of Vietnamese. But don’t be confused; unlike Vietnamese, it’s very pleasing to the ear.

They aren’t comfortable not affixing a vowel to the end of a word. Their language does it, so when they speak English they auto correct. “Lap top” becomes “Lapi-topi”, Milk shake” becomes “Milky Shakey”. Netflix is “Netchiflicki”. How cute is that? I started mispronouncing English words just to encourage their specific brand of adorable. Kitchenette became Kitchy Netchy. We’d watch Netchiflicki in the Kitchy Netchy.

Ponta Grossa

We drove for days to track down a family of overlanders that we had met back in Peru. We met Martin (Marcheen) at The Atacadista: Brazil beats Argentina hands down for food options in the super market except for cereal and wine.

And strangely enough – you’ll never find celery. They either never developed a taste for it or they can’t grow it. They know about peanut butter. Sad to realize they’ve never slathered the trough of a celery stick with the viscose wonderment of peanut butter. Oh well, they invented Samba. I can forgive them.
The pond beneath the home of Martin, Cintia, Gabriel & Tiago.
We cooked and shot guns and drank and had a Brasilero redneck good time


Curitiba

Shaming Kleber

Sometimes it’s not the place but the people. On 3 different occasions we parked at this overflowing trailer park and though I couldn’t communicate with anyone I never felt more welcome. Meat meat meat, beer beer beer, big happy smiles - That’s all you need.


Marcos the massive meat eating Brasilero. "Bom Dia. Cerveja?"

I sold my sailboat Barraveigh to Luiz Belo in 2010 in Bali and we became friends. We spent some great times getting reacquainted in his landlocked home town of Curitiba.

They love salt so much that their snacks are called “salgados”. That translates as “Salties”. And since salt is the most popular seasoning they even bump it up a level and make artisanal salgados. Guess what goes on meat? Yep, salt and salt alone. And then more salt. Our trailer park was filled with smiling wonderful Brasileros who generously tried to explode my organs with salt laden BBQs (churrascos) nightly. Guard your meat, they will see a spot that doesn’t sparkle white with sodium crystals and they’ll smash a handful of salt right on top of your filet mignon when you reach for your caipirinha. And they love to dip their meat in farinha; a flour made from cassava. Weird at first but it grew on me. And you don’t get your own plate. Instead the cutting board is passed around and you eat with your fingers. That’s hard for a germ freak like me but I came to adapt, and now I love not having to wash all those dishes when the party is over.
Trailer park girls from the 50's

The Caves of Parque PETAR

Yes the Amazon of Brasil is being denuded but so is the Atlantic Forest. This park is one exception. The big draw is the caves - 350 of them. Totally Protected and worth the drive. We even made friends - Hard not to in Brasil.
We made friends with a local and we were invited to a churrasco.
You can see the farinha on the cutting board

Itatinga


Our time in Brasil would have been a shadow of itself without Erick De Castro Rosa as our nexus. We met on a hike to a volcano in El Salvador years before: “You live in your vehicle? I live in my vehicle!” We became friends and stayed in touch. I have learned over the years that Erick is a legend. He lived in the no-man’s land between Nicaragua and Costa Rica for 12 days on the kindness of others when the bureaucrats wouldn’t let him enter with his steering wheel on the right hand side. He spent 45 days in isolation paddling through the Amazon River basin on an unsupported self-sustained excursion. He speaks 3 languages. He’s taller and younger than me and can dance. I wait for the bouncer to usher me away from the cool kids table, but Erick keeps talking to me. When we were in Curitiba he sent over his friends Kleber and Fran. When we got to Florianopolis he introduced us to Mauricio and Rita. He plugged us into his community of friends multiple times. That’s the beauty of this culture. “They are quality, I vouch for them” And just like that, Brasileros will go out of their way to take you in.

We parked in front of his parents’ house in their small town for a few nights and really enjoyed the surroundings.

Sao Paulo


Hock and Holl!

Brazilians are a proud people and they should be; their food, beaches, drinks, dancing, Carnival and …. transsexuals. Who does it better – Brasil or Thailand? Brasil wins! But why so many? I’m not judging, just curious. Why would those 2 countries have such a disproportionate number? Message me please. (Interestingly – I’m writing this in Thailand).
Erick; our most gracious host

We wanted to see the big city. Erick was a little concerned for our safety so he came along as a guide, should we hit road construction and a detour. Driving into a favela could be a death sentence. We navigated the route to his parent’s apartment building and managed to park Elsie in a guarded lot. Sometimes lucky. We had a fun cosmopolitan experience for 3 nights and then drove to the coast where we said goodbye to Erick.

Bombinhas

Brasil and her beaches. Oh boy. I need to warn you.... Brazil invented the ass. They do ass so well that you could cuddle up to one for a year, fall in love, share your greatest secrets, and never even get around to talking to its owner. The day after Brazil invented the ass, Colombia and Cuba said, “uh huh, we can do that.” And they did. It’s a toss-up for world’s greatest ass. There’s a million dollar tour group idea for you: “The Nalgas Tour of Latin America”. Can I get a royalty?

I can’t speak for all of Brasil but the corner I saw was the perfect mix between first world and third world. Nature is protected in the form of near pristine parks, but you can still drink on the beach. It’s cheap and loose but… And this is huge.... They don't litter. I know that’s a broad stroke statement, and of course you will find exceptions, but I found that to be the rule. The infrastructure is (almost) all in place but at reduced prices to the first world, and the people are Wunderbar!

Bombinhas is an angry bull neck of a peninsula that thrusts her head into the turmoil of the Atlantic Ocean. You’ll find placid beaches on one side and pounding surf on the other.

Florianopolis
There is an island south of Bombinhas in the same state of Santa Catarina called Florianopolis. The locals call it Floripa. I call it heaven on earth. With 42 beaches, a couple lakes in the middle and many fantastic restaurants you might find something to like as well. They have mansions in the north and cattle farms in the south. There’s a little something for everyone here.

We made real friends and enjoyed cooking and touring the island together. Brazilians are just as inclusive and friendly as Argentinians. They do seem to be slightly apologetic for using cachaça in a caipirinha. As if they recognize that the whole world would prefer vodka (caipiroska). Not me. I prefer cachaça. I love it in a caipirinha and I’ve even been known to drink the good stuff neat.
Cachaça!
Oysters on the west side, shrimp on the east, steak in the south and you can eat the rich in the north

Mauricio - Lent to us by Erick, but now ours as well.
Our dear friends Gustavo and Barbara


Rio Grande Do Sul

Sorry, I’m going to hurt some feelings with this one but this enormous state is only worth visiting for friends. There are a few attractions but it can’t compete with Santa Catarina and few would argue with that. The inhabitants call themselves “gauchos” and they all go to Floripa and Bombinhas to vacation.

Brasil!

We had such a great tour on this lap around this big beautiful country that we swore we’d return. And we did. But first we drove thousands more miles through Uruguay, Argentina, and Bolivia. Stay tuned.

Your man on point,
Blacktop Bobby



Sunday, January 26, 2020

Chile Part 2

The New Lows Of Hygiene

Its 36 degrees inside this camper, which means the water in the tank is 36 degrees. In order to make that shower ready I flip on the propane water heater for about 30 minutes. It used to be 10 minutes, just to take the chill off, but that was many degrees of latitude to the north. Now it’s a matter of survival. Hypothermia sets in when your core temp drops less than 5 degrees. The result is reduced hygiene. We rarely want to get naked and we never want to take a shower. I grew up in the sunshine and Aleja is from the “City of Eternal Spring”. We are not used to this. Here is the routine: First I light the propane space heater.  (its warning labels guarantee death in 2 ways – 1). Asphyxiation due to burning off the oxygen in a closed environment. 2). Knocking the angry little orange faced devil over and torching the whole camper in a plastic shrink-wrap of pain. Could there be a worse death? No. It is the worst, but with these temps we brave it.) We put it on the open oven door and light it. It is a glorious sunburst of heat. Then I light the hot water heater. Half an hour later it's warm enough to get naked for a hot water shower. Wonderful. First time I took those clothes off in ten days. That's right, you will discuss me, and you will find that I'm disgusting, but at the moment.... I'm clean and warm.

Patagonia

You can’t get to Argentina’s Tierra Del Fuego without going through Chile. Chile blocks Argentina from Argentina. There are some strangely arranged borders down there. On our route north we exited Argentina for Chile and stayed through Torres Del Paine and then crossed back into Argentina for the next marque landscape attraction. Then back to Chile for its grandeur. So it goes. The busty Goddess of Nature straddled the border with her bountiful goodness exposed on both flanks. We mapped a route unfettered by border constraints and built our quest concerned only with feasting our eyes on her delights. We were unapologetic voyeurs, and she was not at all shy. In order to take it all in, we crossed the Chilean/Argentinian border 9 times.


"Freaks with follow through" that's my affectionate term for most of the ones that society would call, "out there". But think about what these guys have done: they've run a marathon every other day for 2 years. You aren't seeing double. They built 2 of these vehicles and ran from Alaska to Ushuaia.

Throwing Away Food

Overlander joke: “How do you know when it’s time to cross a border – you run out of honey”. The customs officials on the Argentinian side are push overs. They hate wasting food; Chile, on the other hand, loves to throw it away. Their list of edible contraband is a very long one. Fruits, veggies, meats, eggs, seeds, wood and for some reason expensive honey are all no-nos. Why don’t all poor people just move to a Chilean border crossing? Band name: "Chilean Border Food" Album title: "Dumpster Diving for Dinner" Hit single: "They Tossed My Bondiola"

On the subject of food and the constant border hopping… We refer to Argentina as The Land of Masa and Milanesa. We love it and we stock up because you can’t find it in Chile. Then there is the yogurt issue. Only Chile has good yogurt. We play the border game: Stock up on masa and milanesa while in Argentina and corner the market on yogurt when in Chile.



Puerto Natales & Torres Del Paine Chile

How about I shut up and drown you in photos


Calafate & Perrito Moreno Glacier Arg

I’m not sure how many more times in my life I’ll get to utter the words, “Oh my god I have never seen anything like this.” The Perrito Moreno Glacier took my breath away.
It's almost impossible to understand the scale because ships can't get that close. When it calves, everyone would die

The edge of this is over 200 feet tall
When the icebergs calve you will never forget it

And then we went to an ice bar and speed drank until we couldn't feel our noses

Real life gaucho! Look, he's the same size as Aleja

El Chaltén & Fitzroy Arg

Adjective impotence. Nothing I could say could convey better than these photos and they are one dimensional to being there. Just go.

Hierarchal Respect For World Travel

I’m merely assigning levels on the respect I have for each method of global travel. By no means do I think that 1,2 or 3 are preferable to 4 or 5. But I do have much more respect for those who undertake the first 2.
1.) Walking/Sailing
2.) Riding a bicycle
3.) Driving a motorcycle
4.) Driving
5.) Flying

The speed at which you walk is about the same speed as sailing. Sailing around the world is essentially walking around the world. Both walking and sailing are the slowest, and most reflective paces you can take. The level of suffering rises with the level of respect. For me – walking is too slow, flying is too fast. Though I respect 2 & 3, I’m not willing to sign up for that discomfort. This is why self-contained driving is the perfected mode of travel…for me. Will I buy a boat and sail again? I might, but it has loads of short comings. The workload, the expense, the difficulty in participating in anything land based (which is a very high % of where the fun and interesting things reside), and the danger are almost unacceptable. Almost. Take a gander at what the bicyclist have to suffer:



La Cueva De Las Manos, Argentina

The art in the caves dates from 13,000 to 9,000 years ago. Let that sink in. The current theory is that this was a rite of passage for young boys reaching manhood (the size of the hands is thought to be around 13 years of age. Most are left hands which means the populace was predominantly right handed - same as today). The new adults would leave their mark alongside their ancestors. This “hand signature” has been found around the world from the Sahara to Australia and as far back as 35,000 years ago. Art and our human desire to leave something of permanence – I’ll drive hundreds of miles out of my way for this every time.
Oh the places we've camped

We came upon a Guanaco high centered on a wire fence. There were bones of others that had died tangled up near by. It's mother stood on a nearby hill and cried. Exposure or a predator would have taken her soon. Stressful for all participants but we got her free.

The Carretera Austral 

Also known as Chile’s Ruta 7, it runs for 770 miles from Villa O’ Higgins in the south to Puerto Montt in the north. For decades it was a mud bog, and then the paving began. The last 60 miles were opened in 2003 and when we were on it I would estimate it’s about 90% paved.
Get there soon before the buses of Chinese tourists take over. It’s probably the longest stretch of gorgeous I have ever driven. There is a reason why Chile rents so many RVs. You could fly there and rent one, and you should. This has to be one of the dreamiest places to have your own self-contained live in vehicle.
A hanging glacier


What a campsite

The Marble Caves, Chile

Thousands of years of wave erosion has created these beautifully intriguing grottoes of pure marble. Just remember that the erosion didn’t happen on calm days. It blows hard here and in order to cut marble these waves pound. The water temp is just above freezing so the survival clock starts ticking once wet. Check the weather report and don’t make the news.

Coyhaique, Chile

Rain rain rain. The drive from Coyhaique to Puerto Aysen was absolutely priceless. Maybe the best piece of the whole trip. It wasn’t easy though. We earned it in time spent making repairs


 “The leaks - without a little trouble your adventure is but a holiday”

Chaitén & Parque Pumalin, Chile


The story of Parque Pumalin is one deserved of praise. Doug Tompkins (from North Face and Esprit Clothing fame, as well as climbing and kayaking) retired rich and set about buying over 2,000,000 acres of land for conservation. He donated it to the country of Chile, which added another 10,000,000 acres to make this enormous park. This is a story that shows rich white guys can still be heroes. It looks like manicured nature and it’s all free. Doug died from hypothermia in 2015 after capsizing at the Marble Caves.

Wrapping up the Carretera Austral

Portions of the Carretera Austral are so remote that roads will never be built due to these fjords. Ferry boats will always be the mode of transport. We completed our stint of heaven, got an oil change in Puerto Montt and continued north.


Panguipuli, Pucon, Huerquehue Natl Park, Villarica and the Lake District
Reunion party with our Dutch friends
Volcan Villarica
Some monster hike we went on. Damn near killed me

I’d buy another motor home in South America just so I could spend more time exploring the Lake District. How many ways can I fling superlatives about country sides? You need to put this whole part of the world on your list. At the top of your list!

Tired Of The Cold & The Rain

We finally lost our sense of humor with this weather after a few months. We started moving faster for the warmth and wine of Santiago.
Santiago. Great city. Lousy air pollution
Also, we needed to get over the Andes before winter set in and closed the passes. That moon roof covering is essentially a percussion instrument when the rain and hail come down as hard as it does.
Our return to the grape fields
And the wind is so strong I had to tie weights to the outside of it to hold it down. We really needed to dry everything out and get the circulation back in our toes. Goodbye Patagonia, thank you for everything.

“Alex, I’ll Take “Things Overlanders Say” For $800 Please”

“Did you see Torres Del Paine?” “Oh I know! The views were even better than Fitzroy!” “How about that gas station outside of Tres Lagos with the super fast wifi huh!” “Fer sure! We could watch Netflix all night in our roof top tent!” Trust me, this is really funny if you live in your vehicle.
Do you know how many pix I decided against posting? So many. It's impossible to take a bad one. Buy your tickets already 

Living at Gas Stations

We spent over 2 months in Patagonia which means many nights parked at gas stations. YPF (Arg) and Copec (Chile) are the big chains that everyone who has overlanded this vast territory trusts for sanctuary. Remember when i used to love Friday and Saturday nights? Down there it means I'm going to lose sleep to rural kids partying at the local gas station/convenience store. I gather this is the gaucho equivalent of what it’s like at the Dairy Queen in Dust Patch, Oklahoma.
Now I'm just shaming you. I didn't even need to put this pic here. It doesn't have anything to do with gas stations

Anyway, I'm soaked through with rum and the rain is coming down sideways in sheets while the thermometer hovers at 35 F. The Spanish language hisses outside my window and fuses with the clinking of bottles as some locals discuss another round of beers. Occasionally I am aware that this life is special and worthy and needs to continue. But I might be wrong, further research is needed.

A Personal Thank You


There’s been talk that the Pope is going to canonize Aleja for all the warmth she’s put into the world. I’m not talking about good deeds. I mean literal heat. She is my personal “calentador”. In the tropics it’s taxing to even be in the same room with her because she raises the ambient temperature by 9 degrees (dependent upon square footage, insulation rating and ceiling height) but in cold climates, she is a savior. If you could take a thermal image of this camper while in Patagonia during those long cold nights you would see a skinny blue skeleton clinging to a sun burst of orange and red. Why is she so hot? Is it true that Latins are the next untapped power source? Or is it that Whites are just stiff and cold? (Probably not. It’s probably just me. Like the planets core I’m just slowly cooling as I die). As much as she saved my life at the bottom of the world she is going to try to kill me in tropical Brazil, which is the next dispatch. Stay tuned.


Chile In Conclusion: 

Before we entered Patagonian Chile, I thought Chile was about average. We spent a few months in the north and while it was pleasant, it was a C+ to a B+. However, everything in the south has been spectacular. Not only spectacular in the common usage of the word, as meaning “spectacle to behold” but “spectacularly challenging” as well. We struggled with the cold, the rain, and the long hard miles on those roads, and yet the vistas were our fortifying nutrients. Patagonia is large and wild and only lightly trampled, and there is a reason for that. There is a paradise experience still waiting for you to discover down there…but you will earn it.

Your man on point,
Captain Bobby
Only angels get a better view