<insert rio-lly bad pun here>

Day 143 - Rio de Janeiro

It was early morning in Rio and Christ peered through the mist. Text messages flew back and forth.
"I'm here"
"At the hostel?"
"Are you? Which room?"
"The girl at reception days you haven't checked in and they don't even have a room 6"
"Oh. Where am I then?"
Not at the right hostel as it turned out. Still, I had a welcome little sleep in one of their beds before sheepishly leaving. Little else of blog-worthy note occurred for the rest of the day. Mike and I watched Barcelona cede the La Liga title to some awful team from Madrid and got drunk with a pair of English girls whilst espousing the joys of our jungle tour (moreso me than Mike) as they were headed to Bolivia next. We did manage to find diversions other than football and intoxication (important though they are) in the rest of our time in Rio and spent a peaceful few hours striking around a tropical rainforest within the city limits. Hummingbirds buzzed around us as we are lunch in a restaurant in the forest, hovering at feeders hanging from the ceiling (the birds, not us). You had to marvel at the ferocity with which they fought the earth's inner pull. As we walked back to the bus stop we witnessed a creature defying gravity with rather less success. Ambling along, the trees above us shook and a drizzle of leaves fluttered slowly down to the road. Small monkeys leapt nimbly from branch to branch before, out of nowhere, a furry shape plunged onto the hard concrete with a resounding slap. Did he jump or was he pushed? Either way the little ape lay still before the two dumbfounded big apes. A bit like a cat landing on its back this seemed to defy the laws of nature as we knew them. After a few astonished moments there was a twitch and a painfully slow clambering back onto feet (and hands). How he survived the 50 foot drop I don't know but he now gingerly hobbled across the road and began to climb a tree. Another monkey came down to meet him and he climbed on its back seemingly shaken but without serious physical damage. We swung by the Maracana Stadium on our way home, one of football's meccas, that is under extensive redevelopment for the World Cup in 2014.
The next day saw an ill-fated attempt to visit Christ the Redeemer but he was too thickly wrapped in opaque cloud to make the view from the top (one of the redeeming features) worth the ascent. Instead another green excursion was taken, this time to the city's botanical gardens. Their tranquility was shared with Dennis, a Turkish man in Brazil for studying purposes. As is traditional myself and Michael found an Irish pub in the evening whose entry fee and stunning prices necessitated a short stay. Long enough though to appreciate the live music provided by a young girl on an acoustic guitar. Perched on her stool and playing to muted applause she had a curious solitude to her as she broke the still air with her lonely strum. The following day I walked the famous sandy swathes of Copacabana and Ipanema with Camilla, a Polish girl who had been in the same hostel as me in São Paulo. We drank from fresh coconut, watched people plucked from the sea by helicopter and met a friend of hers called Estefania. Hot sun, cold beer and a free (if painful) massage from Ipanema's powerful waves. That night the 3 of us and Michael hit Lapa, a lively neighbourhood popular with local muggers. It seemed that they, and indeed all its usual inhabitants had taken the evening off though and the wild revelry was sadly missed.

Sampa, oww, low

Day 140 - São Paulo

Tears of frustration and pain lurked threateningly at the corners of my eyes. An overnight bus journey to South America's largest city had turned into a trip of torment. Whether it was my hours of walking the previous day or another, unknown cause I was in a bit of a sorry state. My right leg, from top to bottom, was a barely functional mass of discomfort. The muscles howled with indignation at every attempted movement. I shivered uncontrollably for several hours as the bus bisected São Paulo's vast suburbs and now I struggled to stand at the terminal as I waited for my bag. Porters descended on the bus, jostling in their hurry and running over my foot with their trollies. Eventually the crowds dispersed and I managed to retrieve my luggage. Doing my best to swallow self-pity I hobbled to a taxi and headed for a hostel Mike had recommended having arrived there the day before. Several hours of sleep proved somewhat restorative despite loud jazz music outside the room, screaming children in a school next door and pounding roadworks in the street!
Despite lacking any standout attractions and a rather shaky start (which I think I briefly mentioned?) my few days in São Paulo were enjoyable. After my afflicted limb had regained most of its strength and the shivers had stopped I was beset by a turbulent stomach and pounding headaches meaning I barely made it further than the hostel courtyard for the first 2 days. Thankfully I was staying with a sociable bunch of people who seemed to share my disinclination to stray far from the accommodation. We did make it down to the corner café where an amusing, improvised game was devised involving a small basket, a person's head and some scrunched up bits of greasy paper. Sadly it is probably too late to be included in the 2012 Olympics schedule. The following day I roused myself to serious movement by taking a walking tour of the sprawling metropolis with Rosa, a Dutch girl well versed in the art form of 'glitch' (I have no idea either). She had been to São Paulo many times so proved an able guide. Owing to my leg's fragility frequent stops for beer were an unfortunate necessity. We perused shops selling stuff and things, wondered at the compete absence of billboards, saw neatly dissected animals at the market and studied strange, cryptic graffiti plastering tall buildings. There was enough time for a detailed chat about chlamydia with a pair of Swedes back at the hostel before I had to get an overnight bus to Rio. Retrieving my bag from the hostel storage bunker I was saying my goodbyes when there was a tickling sensation on the back of my neck. A flick of my hand sent a cockroach flying to the ground, lovely. A circuitous route via bus and subway left me once again haring it through a terminal with minutes to spare. Thankfully if there is one thing reliable about South American buses it is the unreliability of their departure times. Next up - the marvellous city.

10 things I hate about this bus

Day 139 - Automotive hell

1, lights off from the off.
2, no movies.
3, people are playing music off their phones
4, no food provided, I want my packed lunch.
5, aircon is set to stun.
6, the decor is shit.
7, I want to go somewhere snowy and it's taking me to Sao Paulo.
8, the woman that has just spent 20 minutes in the driver's cabin may have been administering executive relief, this service is not available to passengers.
9, not enough stops.
10, the conductor is forced to wear claret trousers with a salmon pink shirt and a claret tie, that is cruel.
11, the seat next to me isn't occupied by a pretty Brazilian girl with tight clothes and loose morals.
12, too many stops.
13, it cost eighty dollars.
14, it's trying to kill me.


Day 136 - Foz do Iguazu

I wouldn't have thought it odd had a church bell struck a single, sonorous note right at that point. For I was alone, frighteningly literally. The Argentinian-Brazilian border was at my back, the bus I crossed on at my front, going at 40mph and not turning around. "What are we going to do now?" I could only ask myself. I had just set foot in a country whose language might as well have been Sanskrit for all I knew. Looking about for a clue, the merest hint of what I should do next having discounted my initial idea of getting into the foetal position. I noticed a fellow former passenger had also been deserted and approached with my best 'help the poor gringo' look. Rudimentary Spanish gleaned the information that more buses were imminent. He also informed that should I need a hostel his friend was picking him up shortly and they could take me to such a place. I had to question the merits of my decision as I sat in the back of the car heading to the aforementioned hostel but, I reasoned, Stevan and Diego seemed nice chaps. When decisions like this pan out you attribute yourself a wonderful judge of character and not a little intrepid. When they don't, a hopeless (and hopefully still living) knave.
I had judged well, both men were as they said they were and it was indeed a hostel to which I was brought. It was a backpacker factory for sure, the slick operation, the wallpaper of signs and notices left no doubt as to that but I found it unexpectedly agreeable. Perhaps its quiet appealed, a limited residence left me talking primarily to Stevan (in Spanish), Diego (in Portuguese) and Luisa the chef (in gesture) both nights I was there. After a first couple of hours at the bar of being entertained by some dubious musical choices and far too many UB40 tracks (i.e. more than zero) I felt Stevan required the benefit of my DJ'ing expertise *cough*. We tried Irish punk and some Jay-Z before a bit of American heavy rock piqued his interest. I retired to bed feeling my work was done for the day.
War had broken out again between Argentina and Britain. Again it was over a tiny, insignificant patch of green in the middle of nowhere. Again the sly South Americans were first to the scene, again the British were not far behind. With surprise the aggressors struck the first blow raining down exocets from every direction. Britain was shaken, doubting its resolve, its ability to protect its own territory from the assault. But slowly, but surely with a stiff upper lip, blitz spirit and other worn clichés it clawed itself back into contention. Guile and persistence and a healthy dose of spin ensured the day was won. Stevan, you must play on that ping-pong table everyday, forshame!
Time moved at its constant metre and I could spend no longer gathering my senses. I was here to see the Iguazu falls. Vast torrents of water surge over 275 sheer drops falling 260 feet into the eroded river bed below. As I waited at a lonely bus stop between the sight and the city where every passing motorist looked at me with an odd curiosity I planned the full day that lay ahead. The falls were for the evening before I got my next bus, first stop - Paraguay. Just over the river from Foz lies Ciudad de Este in South America's 2nd poorest country (after Bolivia). A bus took me from Foz city centre up to and over the international border without a single "passaporté señor". With no Brazilian exit stamp in my passport mild concern at the possible difficulties involved in reentry couldn't help but strike me. Oh well, I was here now. Here in a bustling city of commerce inundated with malls and stalls. Vendors proffered their wares in the welcome tongue of Spanish as I strolled the main thoroughfare. But I had little time for window(less) shopping so purchased a computer cable and sat down over a beer to plan my clandestine return to Brazil. As chance would have it the Paraguayans hop over this most porous of borders in great numbers and with apparent ease on the back of motorbikes. This would take the different means of transport I have used to swap countries on this trip to 7. My rider weaved through oncoming traffic slowing for not a second as we passed customs and immigration offices and I had made it back without Brazil ever knowing I'd left.
The sun blazed and a slight limp developed. Sitting on the bus to the waterfalls back in Foz I suddenly remembered a monument in the city that I wished to see. But after an hour of walking there was still no sight of it. Reasoning that I had enough time to reach it on foot if I got a taxi back, I could then fit in the falls and get my bus to Sao Paulo at 7pm. When I did reach the monument I stood at the meeting point of three countries, to my left the land of Argentina and to my right Paraguay, my feet planted firmly on Brazilian soil. An interesting location with one major, potentially ruinous problem - it was near deserted. The odd car came and went but not a single taxi in sight, another 90 minute walk would blast a giant hole through my packed itinerary and necessitate missing the main sight I was here for in order to make my bus on time. A minibus arrived with a couple of Japanese tourists in it. They came, they saw, they were swiftly leaving, no time to waste. Emboldened by desperation I negotiated a free lift back down the road and fortune had me on track again. Fortune bestowed greater gifts still when it transpired that the falls were also their next destination and they would happily take me all the way there.
I stood alone for the first time since I had reached this world-renowned sight and as the sun sank slowly in the sky I contemplated. Having done the tourist shuffle, having waited for a gap to open up on the viewing platform so I could take an identical picture I was left feeling unmoved. Standing solitary on another viewpoint further downstream little lizards scuttled back and forth, dragonflies buzzed around and around, hawks wheeled circles in the air. All of them in their circles just as the water below was in its circle, flowing to the sea where it will return to the sky and plunge down onto the mountains once more. Every creature in its own little circle, every element following its cycle. It is all circles really, life and death, decay and rebirth, growth and retreat, erosion and eruption. What is the point if everything ends up where it starts? What does it all matter? Nothing and everything. All matter returns to the earth and all earth returns to the stars, just as we erect monuments to perpetuity so we tear them down, or nature does it for us. All is just matter so nothing truly matters, but what else can we do? I felt, as I often have at these major sights, underwhelmed. That a lone little waterfall hidden somewhere secluded amongst the trees could have the same impact on a person as these mighty falls. That it isn't about the size of the location it's how you use it.

Na Trioblóidí

Day 131 - Buenos Aires

I think I finally put my finger on it in Buenos Aires. An explanation for a malaise grown over recent weeks that niggled and pricked my waking hours. I thought I could shake it, I just needed a bit more sleep. But it was emotional lethargy that saw days pass in this coolest of capitals without the slightest endeavour to sample its 'je ne sais quoi'. There were broad boulevards, architecture redolent of Paris and beautiful public spaces but somehow the city lacked something. It was I that lacked something though I realised. It suddenly struck me that we all form a connection to the place in which we live. We invest something in our home and it in turn invests something in us. The wandering alien severs his connection and loses a certain sense of belonging. I had no door to shut the world behind, no space to claim as my own. I was caught in a river whose course was unknown but whose current was insistent. Despite the new-found clarity and understanding I stood, or rather lay, surprised at this revelation. I hadn't anticipated a form of homesickness and certainly not so soon. It seems the wider world had taught me something about myself, fancy.
The hourglass didn't cease though even as my activity did. Every hour another grain of sand. 17 days left, 3000 miles to Bogota. I couldn't hang around the hostel all day plaguing Leon with music requests and bothering Cecilia with psychoanalysis. Make hay. So I ate fantastic steaks and monotone pizzas. I saw the tombs of San Martín and Eva Peron. Perused quirky antiques and drank endlessly flat beer. And edged inexorably towards a reckoning. A violent putsch and a nearly punch. Spite laden eyes narrow and black. Desperate remonstration fought chilling logic. A sudden crossroads without traffic lights or speed limits. The great unraveling or an inevitable check? Absolute or absolution? Reality swirled like a stirred cappuccino. It melted like the persistence of memory. Simple streaks of variance contorted into gaping, fanged mouths poised to devour us whole.  Gravity slipped Newton's leash and quadrangles twisted like a Rubik's cube. A volcano had erupted and I knew not how long its ash would cover the sky. I followed a faint light in the gloom, it pulsed, it flickered, it dimmed beyond sight at times but I followed. What else could I do?


Day 127 - Mendoza

I'm desperately searching for an emotion, be it sadness or gladness, regret or disdain. There is no clarity only a vague nagging feeling that something is not right, the world is never as it should be but even less so right now. It tickles the back of my neck, it sours the beer in my glass, it stymies all action and makes every notion impotent. Do I attribute it to events still in motion? To dark days of high consequence? Is it the slow breaking of my heart or a great brittle chunk cleaving from the glacier of my being? My hand picks furiously, uncontrollably at my nails, discomfort in all but words. And words, words, how they fail me. Not with pen in hand but in situation out of hand. Do I lack emotion or do others have too much? No matter the rights and wrongs of that preposition logic always loses to emotion, the needle of ration crushed by the sledgehammer of feeling...

Drink! Feck! Spoons! Potatoes! Maggie Thatcher! Simultaneously!

Day 123 - Santiago

"No" was the answer to my request.
It was hard to pinpoint exactly what the 4 of us had done the previous evening to warrant the Hotel manager's curt response but it could be any one of a number of things.
"This is not the way people behave."
His English was impressive. I had been sent down to the lobby to ask humbly, futilely if we could stay another night. I was beginning to get the impression we could not. The seeds of this behavioural nadir were sown several days earlier when, having come to the end of our Bolivian tour, we found that Darren, Dee, Teresa and Sofia were also heading down into Chile. Our collective first stop was San Pedro de Atacama, a little tourist town on the edge of the world's driest desert. After washing the dirt of the road from ourselves myself and Michael decided a spot of lunch was in order. Having located a pleasant venue on the main plaza we were joined before long by, as chance would have it, a couple of Irish and a pair of Germans. 16ish pitchers of beer later we had negotiated San Pedro's odd licensing laws, almost stopped moaning about Chile's high prices and, most miraculously of all, booked our onward bus for the next day (thanks Teresa!)
The German girls had perhaps felt a prophetic twinge and elected to go their own way after we reached Santiago; the Anglo-Irish connection remained strong. Grand plans to see the capital's sights were made as the 4 of us sat outside a bar, grand plans were unmade as we ordered another round of beers. Waiting for the Irish outside Burger King a drunken Englishman provided entertainment by taking a running dive into a large pile of rubbish. I can't say which drunken Englishman it was. It wasn't me. Video coming to a Facebook near you soon. We returned our hotel provisioned with wine and snacks and continued our libations (bender). We found a small patio area with some fellow guests who quite obviously hadn't had the tiring, emotional evening that we had. The only conversation I can remember is Mike and Darren convincing them that the latter was a 'Cheese Mechanic' en-route to Australia by request of the government to teach the country how to make...well...cheese. All I know of the other conversions were that they were of sufficient volume to draw complaints. Darren had run out of cigarettes so I accompanied him on a foray to the local shops. Having purchased the smokes and insulted the football team of every male member of staff in the store we returned to find an asleep Mike, slumped in his chair and a bored Dee inserting cheese puffs into his nose, mouth and ears.
"Lo siento". It was no user, my tardy, poorly pronounced, apology would sway the manager not one bit. Hotel Londres in Santiago would not be accommodating us again. Okay so I knew about the noise we had made the previous night. I was aware the manager had witnessed me and Mike wrestling over who got the better bed. What I did not know until I had returned upstairs to deliver the bad news was that a drunken Englishman had urinated in front of the night porter. I can't say which drunken Englishman it was. It wasn't me. Alas, video not coming to a Facebook near you soon. Had I realised the cause of the wet towel lying on the bedroom floor in the morning I might have spent the time wasted negotiating with the Hotel manager packing my bag instead. Turns out (after we were turned out) that a major music festival was being held in Santiago that weekend and hotel rooms were, to say the least, in demand. But for a husband and wife team who packed all 4 of us and all our bags into their jeep and drove us from hotel to hotel we might have been sleeping in the park. Which is ironic given that the park was where we spent most of our remaining time in the capital. Our new accommodation was near to a pleasant green area replete with bars, restaurants, market stalls and a playground. A playground where fueled by Heineken and Clos we rolled back the years to careen down slides and soar on swings, to climb trees and hurl fistfuls of dirt. We ate picnics on the grass and Mike gave haircuts by lamplight.
And that is all can really tell you of Chile. Of its sights, its culture I am ignorant. Of its landscape and nature I know little. Of the fact it was one of the highlights of the trip I am certain.