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Iguazu Falls and Parque Das Aves: Natural Wonders Of Brazil!

Our first experience in Brazil was… interesting. Foz Do Iguacu is the city from where backpackers/tourists/outdoor lovers venture to the incredible Iguazu Falls. The city itself isn’t the most specactular… but to give you an accurate description of it, I’d have to ask you to imagine an ordinary city whose main meal options include a piece of chicken or beef, rice and beans. The beans? We loved, but eventually you start craving vegetables. Now that we are in Ecuador, I’ve been ravaging salads like there’s no tomorrow!

Anyway, the reason for coming here is to stand – drenched – as a witness to thundering waterfalls and epic panoramas. Epic is an overused word, but epic justifies Iguazu Falls. For some reason when we travel, we aren’t overly taken by tourist sites nor find ourselves wanting to visit many, so going into the falls on the local bus, my expectations were mediocre. That sounds crazy looking back on it, but it certainly set me up for the knock-out punch that these mighty, cascading falls delivered.

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The day after the falls, when we tired of snacking on chips and chocolate for the lack of food options, we decided to go to another place which is far less talked about. Indeed, we only heard about it because we saw a small sign outside as we passed it by on the bus. Nobody seems to talk about it. For us though, Parque Das Aves was the best zoo experience we have ever had. Anacondas, colourful macaws, toucans and other crazy-looking birds whose names we will never remember, filled what is technically a zoo, but more a loosely contained wildlife park. The zoo has literally been built in between a rainforest, which makes you feel as though you aren’t in a zoo at all!

Check out our photos below. If you visit the falls, you absolutely must put aside a few hours for Parque Das Aves – you will not regret it!

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La Paz: Witch’s Market, Coca Leaves, Llama Foetuses

Hilly La Paz and its oxygen-starved streets is one of South America’s highlights, without doubt. It is the world’s highest capital city at 3,650 metres above sea level. You will notice the altitude the most when trying to walk up one of the city’s many hills, only to find yourself bizarrely puffed out barely half way. Bolivia has extremely high altitude points. At one point during a four day expedition out to the salt desert, we were above 5,000 metres. I can’t imagine how people with asthma cope (they probably don’t, unless they have a lot of puffers on them). La Paz is beautiful, felt a lot safer than some people had told us it would, and was a street photographer’s paradise given its narrow, hilly streets, bizarre markets, indigenous people (who are dressed colourfully), and the view to a horizon full of cascading homes, dropping down toward the city streets.

The two places which stood out the most for us were the Coca Museum and the Witch’s Market. The former is a museum dedicated to the coca plant, which holds cultural significance in Bolivia, as well as practical use for its energetic properties and alleviation of altitude sickness. Here, we learned about the plant’s historical use which has remained unchanged up until today. The museum also showed how the plant is cultivated into cocaine, especially in the USA, where “crack” is an issue in some impoverished areas. The general consensus amongst Bolivians regarding pressure by the US to stop harvesting the coca plant, is that whatever drug dealers choose to transform the plant into outside Bolivian borders has nothing to do with them. The museum has an upstairs cafe selling coca beer, coca liquor, coca muffins, and pretty much anything coca-consumable.

Don’t get it confused, however: This isn’t Amsterdam, and eating or drinking something containing the coca plant won’t get you high. It’s simply another ingredient, and in order to make the coca plant into its cocaine derivative, you’ll need sulphuric acid, kerosene, a wok, a bunch of leaves, and about one hour of cooking time. Yep, we’ve been freely told by guides how to become the next Walter White, although beyond cocaine being a drug for losers who can’t socialise normally, even if you loved the stuff, surely reading “sulphuric acid” and “kerosene” would be a turn off, right?

Maybe that’s why they highlight the ingredients prominently. For what it’s worth, Bolivians despise gringos who come here in search of a cocaine adventure. They often laugh when they hear about Route 36 — the infamous travelling cocaine bar — since they claim that no drug dealer sells anything pure to gringos. They sell them crap, and the gringos think that because it’s Bolivian it must be the best score in the world. That aside, they’re angry about the attention this bar gets and how it affects the reputation of the country, so the irony of a traveller coming here just to piss off the locals is just about on par with a giant cruise ship barging through the peaceful paradise of Mykonos. You just don’t do it — nobody wants you there. Be normal and respect the local customs.

The Witch’s Market was the other highlight of La Paz. A strip of stalls selling magic potions, coca leaves, and pretty much anything associated with black magic, it also sold… llama foetuses. Supposedly, people buy them to bury beneath new housing constructions for good luck. They’re hung up in the streets so are impossible to miss — dried up, shrivilled, and in some cases, blackened. It’s a surreal sight. Amongst these stalls are small shops selling beautiful paintings. There were far too many times that I wanted to buy almost all that I saw, but since we’re on the road for a few more months, they’d be too difficult to transport. Anybody who plans on coming to La Paz though should definitely check it out. Some of these back home would be worth a fortune, given how well they are painted.

Bolivia has been fun and eye-opening, and the people warm and friendly. We’ve felt safe everywhere we have been so far (except a certain park in Mendoza felt shady, and unfortunately a New Zealander was murdered there two days later), but Bolivia has felt the most safe. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but you just don’t get drunken idiots or drug-fuelled losers roaming around the streets (unlike parts of say, Melbourne). We get the feeling that Bolivians have far more important things to be doing, like trying to survive in such a poor economy. Family plays a big role here too, and unlike Australia and England, Latin America largely doesn’t have a binge drinking culture attached to it. The focus is on the food, we have been told, which suits us perfectly.

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The White City

Sucre, Bolivia’s constitutional capital, is an old-world city painted completely in white. It’s a far cry from La Paz’s hilly streets and road side stalls, and stands on its own as much for its polarity as it does its attractiveness.

As observed in the rural areas of Bolivia, Sucre’s locals have an obvious affliction for hotted up sports cars. This city could be a genuine contender for one of the Fast and Furious films of the future, given the assortment of Japanese cars which have been tricked out with sub woofers, decals, body kits, flashy rims, and under body neon lights. At night in the main square of Sucre, a white van was parked with its slider door open, and proceeded to blast hardcore techno for most of the evening. People enjoyed simply hanging out, checking out one of the local restaurants serving up traditional Bolivian food, and forming part of the everyday scenery in the white city. Sucre also has incredible chocolate stores, where they mix chocolate with quinoa, coconut, nuts, and other combinations, such as random grains we had never heard of before.

President Morales visited one of the days we were there to celebrate their independence from Spain. The festivities in the street included marching bands, school children dressed up in colourful clothes playing the drums, trombones and other instruments, and what felt like a never ending stream of locals following them around. It was a huge deal. We saw six ambulances hidden beneath a white tarp on the street, and thought “maybe there’s going to be a riot?” But as it turned out, President Morales gives away new ambulances each year on the same day, amongst other gifts, as parades mob the streets to celebrate the “first cry for freedom.” Our assumptions about a potential riot weren’t too far off the mark though, as we later discovered in 2008 during this exact celebration in Sucre, hostages were taken, beaten, and humiliated publicly by local protestors. The victims were all indigenous supporters — for those who don’t know, President Morales is pro-indigenous, which has rubbed the upper class up the wrong way for some time now.

To celebrate the “first cry for freedom,” there was a big art exhibition in the main square dedicated to some of history’s most important, if not beloved, freedom fighters. Paintings included Martin Luther King, Tupac Amaru, Anne Frank, Gandhi, and if to purposely stand out and make a point, a bright red central painting of Che Guevara. As previously noted, the perception of Guevara in Latin America is divisive as it is elsewhere in the world, but overall there are many paintings, murals, books, and references to Che Guevara as a freedom fighter who overthrew the corrupt and bloody US-backed Batista government. The art gallery also contained paintings of some of Bolivia’s most important people; politicians, soldiers, and an amazing female warrior named Juana Azurduy Bermudez who fought the Spanish. Her white-handled sword was on display and looked incredible. As she led an army of 6,000 men, the Spanish decapitated her husband and killed her kids as revenge for her Bolivian heroics, but she came back in spades and led a field of fighters to success. Reading about all she had accomplished, she sounded like the ultimate heroine and a great reference point for women in general.

For those visiting Sucre make sure to check out Joy Ride cafe, which shows movies every night in their upstairs bar area. We watched Scarface one evening, and The Devil’s Miner the next. They have a full service bar and restaurant, as well as lounges to relax on while watching some classics.

After we left the clean white city, we made our way to La Paz, which would be our final stop before adventure-laden Peru.

 

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Inspired Travel!

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