Backpacking Bliss

October 30, 2014 at 10:50 pm (Travel)

IMG_1810 I began the first part of my alone backpacking adventure at one of the highlights of South America… Iguazu Falls.  Many people had told me that this was one of their absolute Brazillian and South American must sees and I must admit that the waterfalls did not disappoint.  Iguazu Falls is shared by both Brazil and Argentina and occupies an area more than 3km wide and 80m high.  It is wider than Victoria Falls in Africa and higher than Niagra, which makes it, to put it quite simply… quite spectacular.

I saw Niagra falls when I visited Jimmy way back in Easter in 2010 and I was struck by the different surroundings of the two waterfalls.  Niagra is commercialised, the skyline dotted with massive hotels and amusement parks.  The city is built around the falls and utilises them to attract more people and money.  In stark contrast, Iguazu Falls is literally in the middle of nowhere.  Both the Brazillian and Argentina sides are in National Parks and have been developed in a way that does not feel overly touristy or improaching on what is definitely a gift from Mother Nature.

IMG_1780I had been firmly told that a visit to both sides of the falls was a must.  The Argentinien side not only offered a new country and two shiny new stamps in my passport, but also enabled me to walk along an elevated plank walkway that finished at the top of Garganta del Diablo.  Here you are able to get nice and close to the waterfall and watch as the water rushes downwards.  I visited this side with two lovely Swedish girls who baptized me (or reminded me) in the spirit of backpacking and really made me day enjoyable.  I was freaking out about most things… passport control, needing Argentinen Pesos etc.  But they took it in their stride and totally calmed me down.

They were determined to take a 12minute speedboat ride to get a close up experience of the falls and I decided to join them.  I’m glad I did.  The ferocity of the water was crazy and at the end of the short trip everybody was drenched through.  It was a much better experience than I had anticipated.

The next day it was time for the Brazillian side which I visited with another Australian and two English girls.  My Swedish friends had gone on and on about how much better the Argentinen side was so I was set up for disappointment.  Luckily I had a completely different opinion to them!  I found the Brazillian side much more spectacular because it gave me an overview of how big the falls were that the Argentinien side could not offer.  I also enjoyed walking out to the Devil’s throat at the bottom of the Garganta do Diablo.  At any rate if you ever make your way to the falls both sides are obligatory.  They really do offer completely different views to a magnificent wonder.

IMG_1862My travels took me onwards to the Pantanal, which is the world’s largest wetland and supposedly the best place in Brazil to spot wildlife.  I booked onto a three day tour and after many hours in buses was very glad to finally arrive at the lodge.  There were four of us that arrived together, a young German couple and Cres, who I had met on the overnight bus to Campo Grande.  We joined two French guys for the first day and a half an experienced activites such as canoing, prihana fishing, nature walks and jeep and boat safaris.  We had a lot of fun together and managed to spot lots of wildlife including both blue and red macaws, howling monkeys, coati, giant otters, caiman and my personal favourite toucans! (Seeing a toucan in the wild was my wildlife aim for this trip!) An added bonus was the buffet style meals included in the price!

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Due to my dates I ended up with an unplanned day in Bonito, which turned out to be brilliant and I wish I had been able to stay there longer to do some tours because they all looked amazing.  The area is basically a natural aquarium surrounded by green foliage.IMG_1924  Unfortunately there were lots of tourists about due to the election so it was impossible to get on a tour to do river snorkling.  (This is one reason why Bonito is already on my list to come back to)  Instead, after I began my morning with my first Brazillian run and an outstanding complimentary breakfast, I joined a German couple and a French family for a trip to the Balneário Municipal, which is a natural swimming pool on the Rio Formoso.  We hired bikes for the day and rode the 7km there.  It was absolutely beautiful; clear water with humungous fish surrounded by lush green foilage!  The place had a true beach atmosphere and we swam, sunbathed and even played volleyball with the locals.  The day was absolutely fantastic!

IMG_1916As I reflect on everything I have already been able to experience I realise how lucky I have been that so many wonderful people have allowed me to be a part of their own Brazillian experiences.  I have already met some absolutely amazing people and they have made travelling by myself that little bit easier.

xoxo

P.s  More photos?  Check out my Photo of the Day Album https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152705041795589.1073741841.509745588&type=1&l=a62aac7f3d

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When my baby goes to Rio…

October 20, 2014 at 10:07 pm (Travel)

IMG_1613After four full days in Rio de Janeiro I have experienced so much that I literally don’t know where to begin.  I’m used to writing this blog every three months or so, but I might need to be a little more diligent on this trip!  I will be spending the next 7 weeks here and no doubt there will be a lot to report on.  I think it’s the most adventurous of my trips to date as I am travelling alone (Charliebear is here too of course)  and I speak no Portuguese!  You might be thinking that 7 weeks is a long time, why are you not doing South America?  Basically I decided that Brazil, being the fifth largest country in the world, had enough to offer me and it leaves the opportunity for another South America trip wide open.  🙂

The day before I left Germany my brother’s Brazilian girlfriend got in touch with me as she was concerned about the hostel I had booked in Copacabana being unsafe as it was basically in a favela.  Typical Kate already making mistakes before she had already left.  She and her mother offered to host me at their place and suddenly I had my own personal Rio tour guide!  Maria is absolutely gorgeous and such a lovely person.  (Why she is with my brother is beyond me :P)  She and her mum made me feel so welcome and made me stay here really special.

IMG-20141018-WA0000I didn’t realise that there were so many beaches in Rio and I have been lucky enough to see quite a few of them.  Yesterday we spent the day sunbaking in a beautiful cove with aquamarine water, crazy waves, hot surfers and even a very determined crab.  We strolled along the famous Copacabana and I had the mandatory coconut water while watching beach volleyball in the sun.  Other excursions included a visit to the Jardim Botânico (Botanical Gardens), Parque Lage (a beautiful city park) and a huge shopping mall that we somehow managed to visit each day.  Go figure!

We put our culture hats on for a visit to the Museu da República, which Maria hasn’t been to since high school.  The museum gave me a really good insight into Brazilian history up to around 1888 when slavery was finally abolished (80 years after Britain).  We even saw the pen that signed the act!  It was a great insight to the country and as an added bonus there was even a Playmobil exhibition.  🙂

Another highlight was a visit to the Escadaria Selarón.  This art installation is the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón.  He randomly decided to start decorating the stairs using the colours of the Brazilian flag in mosaics.  He had to get the tiles specially made for the colours.  After he had finished paving the stairs he came across an old antique shop in Rio that sold old European tiles and he knew he had to use them to add to his project.  So one by one he purchased tiles and exchanged them for coloured ones he had already used.  The work progressed to him also painting on some tiles and people offering their own tiles.  Selarón passed away in 2013, hence completing his installation.

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A must see in Rio is of course Sugarloaf.  The cable car was one of the first in the world and on the way up I kept looking for my skis.  🙂  Unfortunately we were a little too optimistic with the weather and when we reached he top we could see… cloud!  Luckily we hung around for quite a long time and it finally cleared to some extent.  The photos don’t quite give it justice but it was magical watching the mist roll in.

IMG_1716This is exactly the reason why we decided not to visit Cristo Redentor.  It actually wasn’t until late on my first day that I actually managed to catch a glimpse of the staggering figure.  The statue is just amazing, perched on the top of what seems like an impossible peak and it must literally be enormous because you can clearly see it from ground level.  Just seeing it took my breath away

I’m really looking forward to seeing it when I am back in Rio.  Actually there is a lot to look forward to… we want to do a favela tour, take a day trip to a city in the mountains and of course beach time!  But actually, what I am most looking forward to is seeing Maria and her mum again.  I feel like they’re family already.

xoxo

 

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Sweet Goodbyes

October 17, 2014 at 11:56 am (Germany)

Partying for the last time with my hockey girls

Partying for the last time with my hockey girls and Mo

September and October have been emotional months.  I’ve been busy catching up with people, organising things and making sure my last weeks in Darmstadt are as memorable as possible.  In particular I have been enjoying riding my bike everywhere and cream cheese bretzels.

Saying goodbye to some people has already begun and I am reminded time after time of the relationships I have built and fostered here.  My whole adult life, where I have learnt to be self-confident and that life will always surprise you no matter how hard you try to plan.  My Year 5 class from last year brought me to tears on my last day and I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the best teaching personalities.

It all started to hit home at Rob’s 50th birthday bash.  There were so many people there who I have grown to love and who have supported me during my time in Darmstadt.  It’s like a big family!  The party started at 3pm and at quarter past three Fiona and I were sitting in the hut blowing up balloons and keeping an eye on the spit roast… there was not a guest in sight!  The night was a lot of fun and most importantly Rob enjoyed himself.  🙂

IMG_1559Last weekend was the annual Kate and Katha long weekend.  This year we decided to visit her aunt who lives in a town called Backnang, which is approximately 30km from Stuttgart and connected via the S Bahn.  On the Friday we visited the biggest pumpkin exhibition in the world at the Blühenden Barock in Ludwigsburg.  The exhibition was made up of spectacular pieces of art from… you guessed it!  Pumpkins!  500 different types to be exact and more than 450,000 pumpkins in total with a combined weight of 150 tonnes.  At the Blühenden Barock we also strolled around a fairy tale garden and treated ourselves to various pumpkin themed delicacies.

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In the evening we saw ‘Tristan und Isolde’ at the Stuttgart opera.  Being the clever little foxes that we are, we managed to get 9€ tickets, which was great because we had no regrets leaving early.  The piece began at 5pm and after two breaks would be finished at quarter past ten… we stayed until the second break.  It was quite an interesting show because the lead female had fallen sick the day before so they had flown a new lead down from Berlin.  She sang, while another member of the cast played the part of Isolde.  Considering the circumstances they did a pretty good job.  🙂

IMG_1595On Saturday we went shopping in Backnang and then spent the afternoon at the Wasen.  The Wasen is the Stuttgart equivalent to the Munich Oktoberfest.  It’s smaller, but the beer drinking and traditional German dress is the same.  I feel no need to go to Oktoberfest after being at the Wasen twice.  The place was absolutely packed and we were lucky to even get into a tent.  Katha had done heaps if research but was unable to pre-purchase us tickets on the internet so we basically tried our luck and in true Kate and Katha form we managed to buy tickets off somebody.  We had a lot of fun dancing and singing random German songs.

On Sunday we had a stress free breakfast, helped Katha’s cousin with her talk on anorexia in English (she killed it by the way!) and headed home.  Katha was nice enough to drop me off in Heidelberg as it was on the way and I spent the evening catching up with Danny and Peer before heading home on the Monday.

After a frantic week I made my way down to Engen on Friday.  Engen is the town where I spent my exchange year back in 2000 and it was lovely to see it again.  I spent the weekend with two old friends from my time there, Ole and Martina.  They were fabulous hosts and I particularly enjoyed meeting their two gorgeous children.  I hadn’t seen either of them for around four years so it was interesting to see how they had moulded with their new roles as parents but are still exactly how I remembered them.

IMG_1605The main reason for my visit was to attend Janina and Fritsche’s wedding, which was held in Engen and Ole was actually the one in charge of marrying them.  I  actually know Janina from my exchange year as well, she’s Damaris’ sister and I used to help her with her English back when she was just starting secondary school.  It was my first proper German wedding and I was very excited.

The main difference between this wedding and the ones I have attended in Australia is the element of games throughout the day.  For example, the couple both enjoy playing soccer so after the ceremony all the guests were asked to gather round and they were both given ‘Team Turtle’ construction worker vests.  Their legs were tied together and they had the goal to kick a ball through a heart shaped goal.  Very cute.  During the reception there was a running program where people performed games, songs and skits for the happy couple.  I really enjoyed it and have some lovely ideas up my sleeve for any weddings I might be involved in in the future.

DSC_7173_WZThe wedding also gave me a chance to catch up with an old school friend Torsten and to see Damaris after her South America trip.  Time after time I am reminded of the wonderful friendships I have gained her in Europe and I wonder if my decision is truly the right one.  Friendships stay strong no matter what as long as you want them to and hopefully I can look forward to lots of visitors in the near and distant future.

It really was a beautiful wedding and <I had a fabulous night.  Thank you for the invite and I wish you all the happiness in the world for your future life together!  ❤

As I originally wrote this I was sitting in the middle of packing stress, and I realised I had a lot to reflect on.  Five years in Europe to be exact.  I feel like an emotional rollercoaster.  I want to thank each and every person who has helped to make my experience so memorable, in particular Suzie, Fiona, Rob and Gwen.  I have loved living here and am thankful for all of the positive and negative experiences I have been lucky enough to have… but sometimes we need to take a big leap of faith and break out of our shell.

That time is now.

xoxo

P.s  More photos?  Check out https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152690454815589.1073741839.509745588&type=1&l=cac01e0ea4

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