The Parque nacioal “La Campana” is in any decent tourist guide as a day-trip from Santiago; though, unless you rent a car, it’s somewhat further. Other than that, it’s known for the fact that Darwin stopped by on his second trip on the Beagle. We went to La Campana from Valparaiso, by train, bus and some walking and arrived rather late in the day despite an early morning start.
Though it didn’t matter too much in the end as we would not have had the equipment to climb the top of La Campana. Plus, it takes 4:30 hours for the 7km trip (one way), of which 2 hours are for the last 1800 meters alone.
We, on the other hand, got all the way to the basecamp thanks to a really sweet couple that was driving up and kindly answered to our “hacer dedo“. As we already had walked and hiked 8km by that time, it was just perfect to get up this high and enjoy the beautiful view on the top. Before hiking a relaxing 5 km down to the park entrance and catching another ride into the nearest town where we enjoyed a well deserved late afternoon lunch.
is the largest harbour of Chile, it’s Unesco world heritage and rather dirty.
But most impressively is certainly the sheer number of street art:
Where would you go if you had to leave Brazil for a few days due to visa issues, while flights to Europe are bloody expensive, not to mention cumbersome? Santiago! As it turned out, it was the cheapest destination in LatAm and with an 8 hour trip much more enticing than a 30 hour trip to Europe.
The weather in Santiago was not the best. For one because of the cold – it’s winter after all. But more importantly, there has been no rain in recent months leading to an all-time high in air pollution which meant that we didn’t get to see much from the mountain scenery that Santiago is famous for.
Still, we found Santiago to be a very interesting city. Not exactly beautiful, but more a bric-à-brac of houses, streets and neighborhoods, modern, old; without too many traces of urban planning. The city features many soul-less apartment blocks and as we rented flats in two different ones, I can now say that Chilean constructions are just as badly insulated as Brazilian ones. In other words: you can be happy if the windows close properly.
Nevertheless, many of the neighborhoods are quite charmful, featuring parks, museums, pubs and coffee places; thus giving the city its very own flair.
One other thing that was noticeable were the many, large, peaceful stray dogs that behaved as if they were holy cows. Appearing rather well fed, often with sewed jackets – provided by animal activists as we later learned – they were everywhere, either sleeping or chasing cars (never people) and generally acting as if the city belonged to them.
Benefitting from a four day weekend, plus some additional holidays to make it a full week, we started by heading South along the coast of Santa Catharina. We were advised to go and visit Gramando and Canela in Rio Grande do Sul but first, a couple of days spent in the tiny town of Pinheira seemed about right.
Later during that week, Gramado and Canela turned out to be one more classic example for the mismatch between what Brazilians think is great and what we consider so. While Canela is a pretty little town, Gramado is much bigger, very touristic, though in a well kept “German style”. All in all, much better than Blumenau but still not quite our cup of chimarão.
So the best part of the journey was the one between the coast & the cities, two days spent exploring the huge canyons close by the little town of Cambara do Sul. With the nights being frosty cold, the days turned out to be amazingly sunny and clear. Both canyons, one called Itaimbézinho and the other one called Fortaleza, are accessible through well managed, easy hikes. The most adventorous bit is the crossing of the stones just above a waterfall.
During the second hike, we were lucky enough to observe two playful foxes from a short distance; though the most impressive animal on the trip was a onça – a Jaguar – in the Zoo of Gramado.
It’s easy to see why the German and Italian settlers who came to Brasil towards the end of the 19th century were drawn to the highlands of Santa Catarina; commonly known as vale europeu – European valley – today.
Unlike the coast, the highlands, which reach from 700 to 1800 meters in altitude, have a cool and rainy climate and even snow in winter; not unsimilar to the country of origin.
Beyond the climate, it is the landscape that reminded me of Southern Germany: timber plantations, onion fields and apple trees, large green fields dotted with cows & chicken and occasional remnants of the Mata Atlantica. Were it not for the occasional palm tree or the less occasional banana plantations, one could almost forget that this is Southern Brazil.
Benefiting from the long Carnival weekend, we escaped any potential festivities by driving first down to Urubiçi, then to the Serra do Rio do Rastro, where we were greeted by absolutely zero visibility at the lookout and a bunch of quatis.
Driving the Serra down one day and up the other, we still got to enjoy a some spectacular sights. Touristically, the vale europeu has lots to offer: from zip-lining over a waterfall, to rafting in the Itaiji-Açu river – one of the best in the entire country it seems – and many, pretty waterfalls.
The only downside was the rather cool & rainy weather in what is supposed to be summer. Though, upon returning to Curitiba, we learned that it had been raining for 5 days continuously…
The Chapada de Guimarães – one hour north of Cuiabá, the capital of Mato Grosso – was the last stop on our journey. However, we made the crucial mistake to go there on the 31st of December.
Apparently, this is the ONE day of the year where everybody wants to go to the little city carrying the same name as the mountain range. While we got to see the top sightseeing attraction our friends had told us to check out,
and visited two minor ones, our plan was to go hiking the next day. Only that finding a place to stay for the night proved to be impossible, and that in a city that seems to have one of the highest ratios of B’n’B per capita.
Even so, nothing remotely within our budget and our expectations. It was kind of fascinating to discover that apparently New Year’s Eve commands double if not the triple of what’s considered an otherwise normal price. At one moment, we found ourselves briefly considering to pay 300 bugs for a room hardly worth a third of that. After a dozen or so stops, it turned out to be cheaper to drive back to Cuiabá, have a fancy dinner and to stay in a nice business hotel.
Coming back two days later, we found out that one hike started just behind a little shop selling local honey & sweets (on km 47 of the Rodovia Emanuel Pinheiro, to be precise), finding ourselves quite unexpectedly in the cidade da pedra – stone city – enjoying some stunning views.
One of the luxuries of traveling is to meet people from all kinds of origins, classes or educational backgrounds. Sometimes that can be challenging, sometimes that can be wonderful.
In all of the Pantanal, we found people to be very kind and helpful. It’s easy to see that life out there is somewhat slower, simpler but often also harder. Still, people were not only very respectful, but also very curious to know more about these two gringos who would share a few days on a boat with them.
They were equally eager to tell us more about their lives out there on the farms, on the boat, or in the city. It sometimes was a glimpse in a different world. A world I would have liked to explore though I’m not sure if I would like to live there.
One thing that stood out as not respectful however, was the way they deal with nature. The only possible explanation for all the waste thrown in the water, is that, maybe, there is just too much of it. Too much green, too much water, too many animals and of course, too many mosquitos. It almost seems as if there was an endless supply. If only that was true.