São Paulo & Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil

City stats São Paulo

  • Population: 12.2m
  • Area: 1.521 km2
  • Elevation: 780m
  • Average temperature: 24C

City stats Foz do Iguaçu

  • Population: 263.508
  • Area: 618 km2
  • Elevation: 164m
  • Average temperature: 30C

From one jungle to the next

One a concrete jungle, the other an actual jungle (or Atlantic forest we were told); our final two stops in Brazil couldn’t have been more different.

Let’s take São Paulo first. Concrete jungle probably doesn’t do justice in describing how much of a beast this city is. It’s simply overwhelming; whether it be the volume of people, the obscene number of skyscrapers in all directions (which we observed from Edifício Italia during the day and the Skye Bar for a stunning nighttime view), or the sheer size, with vast neighborhoods and streets stretching from one side of the city to the other that have you walking for hours. Take your pick. The closest comparison we can draw is New York City (particularly Manhattan). But even that doesn’t really compare.

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Don’t get us wrong.  It wasn’t overwhelming in a bad way; quite the opposite for us. Albeit we’ve seen some beautiful places in Brazil, São Paulo was our favorite; beautiful in different ways.  It was here that we found some of what we’d been missing in the rest of Brazil; a more international feeling, a more cosmopolitan culture, (generally speaking) a more welcoming and open vibe and a kind of brutish charm to the buildings and different neighborhoods.

Put simply; in São Paulo we felt more at home:

  • We felt we could more easily show affection and be comfortable as a couple walking down the street (particularly in the Augusta and Jardin areas).
  • There was a much more welcoming night scene with way more open and (gay) friendly parties; we experienced a queer pop party at Club Zig thanks to Lucas (a guy we’d met last year in South Africa), an intimate techno party at Club Jerome and a rougher techno bear party (Brutus) in a cool abandoned warehouse with a Berlin feel about it.
  • The city brimmed with cultural activities, whether it be the Sundays on Paulista Avenue (an 8 lane avenue blocked off for the entire day for people to stroll down and enjoy artist markets and performances), or the heaps of free galleries, exhibits and museums to visit (particular favorites of us were the IMS and the 30th Bienal de São Paulo).  Added to this, on every turn we seemed to be caught by surprise by amazing street art (for street art lovers Batman Alley will send you into overload!)
  • Topping it all off is the abundance of small designer stores and markets, restaurants and food halls (at one of which we had the most amazing shawarma from ‘Mr Bean Laden’ himself), and bars and cafes to choose from.

The list could go on and on for us.

We acknowledge that for many the city may be too much to handle. Particularly the busyness, the run-down center and the stark levels of poverty and homelessness you encounter (we’ll talk a bit more about this in our next blog). For us, this made us feel more alive and so, São Paulo Is definitely on our list to return to some day (particularly as despite spending 8 days there we don’t feel like we even scratched the surface).

(Click on picture to enlarge)

Foz do Iguaçu by total contrast was about nature and waterfalls, followed by more waterfalls, with a side of waterfalls. Not forgetting the sweltering heat and barrage of insect bites too, of course.

Set at the point where the 3 borders of Brazil, Paraguay & Argentina meet, the Iguaçu Falls were breathtaking and the perfect place to finish our time in Brazil; showing us some of the best in beauty Brazil has to offer (and Argentina too for that matter).  We loved our time here on both sides of the falls; enabling us to enjoy a 9k trek through the falls, as well as enjoy a Disney-like boat ride into them (think the log flume on steroids).  It’s definitely worth a visit for anyone in this part of the world.

Couple of words of advice though:

  1. Bring plenty of insect repellent.  Carl began to look like the elephant man, swelling up from so many bites.
  2. Don’t stay in a 10 bed dorm room.  Especially in such hot and sticky areas.  Not advisable.  We can only liken it to witnessing a 3rd kind of jungle.  The first and last time we will be sleeping with 10 others on this trip.
(Click on picture to enlarge)

So after 5 weeks, that’s it for Brazil. Next up Argentina and Uruguay. You’ll be hearing more about those in the next couple of weeks (not before we have wrapped up our thoughts on Brazil in next week’s blog).

Until then…

Blondie & Jeroen x

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For more (daily) pictures, visit our instagram page :  2minionsontour

Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 1
  • Cities visited: 8
  • Distance travelled: 14.116 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (3)
    • Night-bus (3)
    • Day bus (3)

2minionsontour backpacking escapades: what to wear, what to wear?

As we travel over the coming months, aside from writing about the places we visit, we want to document some of the backpacking experience we have; from the good, to the bad, to the ridiculous.

First off, a topic probably falling in the latter category – baggage (particularly clothes!)

Imagine you have to select 5% of your wardrobe to wear for 12 months. Just a handful of tops, bottoms, footwear and essential items. You have to try and cater for all kinds of terrain and weather conditions (cities, beaches, jungle, mountains, glaciers, etc.). You need to be careful not to take too much (no more than will fit into a 70 liter backpack with an absolute maximum weight of 23kg). You need to be careful not to take too expensive (or labelled) items, due to safety and the fact that you don’t want to ruin all your decent clothes.

Not even close to our entire baggage….

Quite a challenge for most people.

Now imagine on top of that, that you’re two gay guys who generally love their clothes, will often try on multiple outfits when getting ready at home and pretty much have a sneaker and cap addiction.

This was us 6 weeks ago when we were packing for the trip. Clichéd as it is, for us the task moved from being quite a challenge to near impossible. After spending a couple of months planning and debating, followed by a couple of weeks packing, unpacking and repacking, we finally had our shit together. Well, almost. We did have to do some last minute offloading of our skin products (you’re welcome Javi). This, our first achievement of the trip, was a great feeling. Although not very long lived.

Repacking our bags for the 100th time

What has followed over the past 5 weeks has been a series of offloading even more of our things, along with having (ok, maybe also wanting) to buy replacements along the way. What could have gone so wrong after having spent so much time planning, debating, packing, unpacking and repacking? Well, here are a few lessons we’ve learned in those 5 weeks.

(Full disclosure from Carl at this point. 80% of the baggage issues have been his. Jeroen has 2 advantages: firstly (and annoyingly), he can put anything on and make it look good, as well as not care what it looks like. Secondly, he is not as materialistic as Carl.)

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Jeroen not caring what he wears

Lesson 1: it’s no fun to be carrying 17-20kg (the original weight of our bags) around with you from hostel to hostel, bus station to bus station, etc. We know this sounds obvious, but it’s something we overlooked when we did the whole 30 second tryout of our backpacks at home. Even with the most comfortable of backpacks, less is definitely more!

Lesson 2: if you’re traveling as a couple, don’t bring matching clothes. (‘Why would you do that?’, we hear some of you cry!) We’re not really sure why, but for some reason we thought it would be a good idea to bring the same walking boots, Tevas, jogging pants, and some tops. We soon realized that walking around like you are twin brothers dressed by your mum, instead of husbands, is not the best look.

Carl wondering why we have matching clothes

Lesson 3: don’t pack items of clothing you haven’t worn in 3+ years. Again, not really sure what the thought process was here! If you’ve not liked something enough to wear it for so long, why would you carry it half way round the world for 12 months?

Lesson 4: on the point of shopping; don’t buy any new clothes at home just before your trip. Especially if one of the things you’re looking forward to in the big cities is exploring some of the shops. Aside from the fact you either can only window-shop, have to throw things away to make space, or end up with even more weight to carry, it’s also way cheaper (where we are at least) to buy locally.

Lesson 5: as a last resort, if you do bring too much and can’t bare to part with anything, take your clothes to a laundry shop where they don’t speak English. They’ll mix up what you said and ruin your clothes in the drier; forcing you to get rid of them. (Needless to say, we’ll be doing our own washing from now on.)

Thankfully, as a result of these lessons we’ve been able to donate quite a bit to charity along the way, managed to get our shopping fix to replace some items, and gotten our backpacks to a bearable weight now. That is providing Jeroen manages to prevent Carl buying more things in the meantime!

Tune in later for more of our backpacking escapades.

Carl & Jeroen

Doing our laundry ourselves this time

Paraty, Brazil

City stats:

  • Population: 35.7k
  • Area: 928km2
  • Elevation: 5m
  • Average temperature: 30C

Get Us to the Beach!

After a few weeks of bigger cities and quite a bit of hit and miss with the weather, we decided to cut out some of our planned stops along the way and head straight for Paraty to get a good dose of sunshine, beach and relaxation in a smaller place.

On all fronts, Paraty did not disappoint. Thankfully! We’d have been very sad otherwise, as it took a very uncomfortable 17 hour bus journey to get there; involving two opposite ends of the scale; a crazy bus driver who thought he was taking part in a Formula 1 race and super-laid back bus driver who didn’t know what traveling above 30 KPH was!

The weather in Paraty was on point. Mainly sun and around 30C most days. Perfect for spending a few days around the pool, as we did (this time having decided to splash out on a bigger room in a resort with pool, sauna, etc.) Carl even managed to get the start of a decent tan (Jeroen of course was dark within minutes of even looking towards the sun!)

The beaches were out of this world. Not so much the beaches near the old town, but the five remote (island) beaches we went to by boat. There was one beach in particular (Praia de Itamambuca) that took our breath away. Nestled in a small bay with golden sands, blue waters, hardly anything (or anybody) else there except a single small beach bar (which of course we had a couple of beers at). It was total paradise! The kind of place you could consider not returning from.

 

Click on the pictures to enlarge

Paraty town itself (more specifically, the Old Town) was another colorful colonial town with beautiful buildings (similar to Ouro Preto). But that’s where the similarities stopped for us. Ouro Preto was nestled up in the mountains, with steep streets, a bit rough around the edges. By contrast, Paraty (particularly the old town) was flatter (thankfully!) and chicer, with a much more relaxed holiday vibe (filled with street vendors, cafés, bars, restaurants, terraces and music in the streets). We spent 4 wonderful days and nights slowly wandering the streets exploring the cafes (of particular note – Montanita Café, where we became regulars drinking some of the best coffee we have tasted), bars and restaurants with no rush to get anywhere fast – perfect!

Click on the pictures to enlarge

It’s safe to say Paraty gave us exactly the rest & relaxation we were looking for. It’s a good job too… our next stop will probably not be as accommodating – the biggest city in South America – São Paulo.

For more pictures check our Instagram page 2minionsontour

Big kiss!

Carl & Jeroen

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Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 1
  • Cities visited: 6
  • Distance travelled: 13,082 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (3)
    • Nightbus (2)
    • Daybus (2)

 

 

Brasilia to Ouro Preto

Architectural, Botanical & Colonial Extravaganza

We spent week 3 of the trip with just a couple of days in a few different cities (Brasilia, Belo Horizonte & Ouro Preto). Here, we give you the stand-out experience from each place.

Architectural (Brasilia)

When we told people that we were going to visit Brasilia, the response from most was ‘Why? There’s not much to do there’.  Apart from the fact that we want to see the capital of every country we visit on the trip, we had it on good authority (Lonely Planet) that what Brasilia lacks in charm, it makes up for with its architecture. And we’re glad we listened.

Designed and constructed in the fifties by Oscar Niemeyer it was supposed to be the city of the future, which you can see straight away it was (at that time at least).  On walking around (which was not easy to do – it’s definitely a driver’s place!), we were mesmerized in equal measure by its uber-organized (if somewhat complex) ‘superblock’ neighborhoods and bold Soviet Union-like buildings rising up out of nowhere.

We aren’t sure it holds up as the city of the future by today’s standards, but still an impressive place and one we are glad we didn’t skip.

Botanical (Belo Horizonte)

Now, Inhotim isn’t technically in Belo Horizonte, but it was the main attraction we experienced when staying there (apart from a dodgy night in a crap gay nightclub, which we won’t go into). One word describes the place – WOW! Around a 2 hour bus ride from Belo Horizonte, inhotim is a great concept; bringing together 37 amazonian botanical gardens and contemporary art (23 outdoor sculptures & 23 galleries, with over 500 pieces on display).

The perfect place (especially when the sun’s shining) to spend a day or two getting lost. It made the trip to Belo Horizonte (which for us was just another relatively boring big city) totally worthwhile.

Colonial – Ouro Preto

If Brasilia is steeped in the future, then Ouro Preto is most certainly steeped in the past. With barely a single structure from the 20th & 21st centuries, it was simply magical. Although, the steep cobbled streets were not.  Our legs are still recovering from those damn hills.  Still it was worth every literally breathtaking ascent to reach beautiful colonial architecture and breathtaking views at every turn.

Another thing to mention about our time in Ouro Preto was the hostel we stayed at (Goiabada com Queijo Hostel). After staying in a couple of sterile and non-interactive hostels in Brasilia and Belo Horizonte, this place was exactly what we needed; warm and welcoming, with an amazing host (Lidiane) who was just a dream and made us feel right at home.

It’s difficult to chose what made this place for us – the hostel or the surroundings. We’ll call it a tie.

More pictures can be found on our instagram page 2minionsontour.

Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 1
  • Cities visited: 5
  • Distance travelled: 12633 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (3)
    • Nightbus (1)
    • Daybus (1)

Till the next blog.

Big kiss.

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Salvador, Brazil

City stats

  • Population: 3.0m
  • Area 693km2
  • Elevation: 8m
  • Co-ordinates: 12o58’29’S  38o28’36’’W
  • Average temperature: 32C

Sun, Sea & Samba Take 2 (but the people steal the show).

The bits we missed in Rio, Salvador delivered.

With both of us feeling much better and each of the 5 days we stayed reaching around 34C with full sun, we spent most of them exploring the various beaches around the Barra area where we were staying (as well as a day trip to the serene Flamengo beach further north). The beaches themselves were beautiful, way more relaxed than the Rio beaches and with much calmer waters too, making Salvador feel like a small piece of paradise (much more what we’d anticipated of coastal Brazil).

Praia do Porto da Barra
Praia do Farol da Barra
Itapuã lighthouse

Our Samba experience was a Friday night session in a churchyard with the band Grupo Botequim. We were lucky to be put in touch with Paolo (a friend of Jurgen’s) who took us along to it (it only takes place once a month). Definitely glad we didn’t miss it! The setting (with the band sat at a table in the center of the yard playing and drinking away throughout the night) was super intimate. The crowd of all colours, ages, shapes, sizes, sexes and orientations stood in a circle around the band for 4+ hours straight; dancing, singing and laughing. The atmosphere was euphoric. Amazing! One of the best nights out without techno music, drunkenness, etc. that we’ve had in a long time.

Grupo Botaquim live Samba

Food was another major highlight of Salvador. Despite a few challenges with Jeroen not being able to eat at some places due to his fussy eating habits (a shitload of pork & fish), which resulted one night in us heading to a local Subway sandwich place (!!), we still managed to discover loads of wonderful dishes here:

  • Tapioca in abundance; from pancakes at breakfast to savory and sweet dishes available throughout the day.
  • Pastels (baked pasties) in various yummy flavors.
  • A huge meat platter of grilled beef, chicken and pork with local grilled veggies and rice at a secluded spot in Pelourinho.
  • Moqueca; a shrimp casserole, served with rice and puréed cassava. To die for!
  • Freshly made upside down fruit cakes every day for breakfast at the guest house.
  • Copious amounts of fresh local fruits (water melon, mango, papaya, pineapple to name a few).
  • Açaí available in 20+ different flavors (what is marketed as a health craze in Europe is standard fare here).
Moqueca
Tapioca breakfast pancake

For Jeroen, we also found some not so local (although still great) places to eat, including a cute burger place attached to a music/ dance yard and an even cuter small Mexican place attached to an art/ crafts/ clothing collective store. It’s fair to say that any hopes of weight loss and getting fitter on the trip were out of the window before they’d even started in Salvador.

Cute little Mexican place

Overall though, the thing that stood out for us in Salvador was the people. Before we came to Salvador we had warnings about it being one of the most dangerous cities, which to be honest gave us (Carl in particular) quite a nervous feeling about coming here. Now, we are not going to say that it’s a totally safe city and that there’s no danger here. Even the locals would disagree with that and would be able to reel off some no-go areas. Nor will we say that our view is representative of everyone’s. However, our experience of Salvador was one of a warm, open and welcoming place. The atmosphere was relaxed, vibrant and relatively safe (compared to what we felt in Rio) – particularly at night when the city came alive.

Old town Pelourinho
Traditional dress of Baianas (women of Bahia)
Street life at night

The people we met along the ay (in particular Marcus and his family at the guest house and Paolo) were hospitable, friendly and interested in trying to connect and proudly show the best of their city. This is what made our trip to Salvador and we would recommend it to anyone!

Our pousada owners in their earlier (hippie) years
With Paulo

More pictures can be found on our instagram page 2minionsontour.

Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 1
  • Cities visited: 2
  • Distance travelled: 10,799km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (2)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

  • Population: 6.7m
  • Area: 1,221km2
  • Elevation: 0-1,020m
  • Co-ordinates: 22o54’30’’S 43o11’47’’W
  • Average temperature: 25C

Sun, Sea & Samba

Well, not quite. After months of anticipation it seems that the universe had different ideas for the start of our trip.

Firstly, the weather was unseasonably cloudy and wet for almost our entire stay. This was a common annoyance with the other hostel-goers as it made beach days and other activities difficult.

To top that off, we both got ill in the first week, meaning lots of medication and early nights for the entire stay in Rio. Not surprising probably, given the amount of things going on for us over the past couple of months – we had to let go at some point. So no Samba for us. We didn’t even explore the bar/ party scene at all (pause for looks of shock amongst anyone who knows us)!

All was not completely lost…

We did still explore some of Rio; the Big Dude city tour, some days walking Ipanema, Copacabana and other neighborhoods. We managed to get a couple of beach days in when the sun briefly broke through; in particular enjoying people watching (from the muscle guys working out at the beach gym, to those perfecting their beach selfies to the multitude of vendors working hard to earn a living, and everyone else in between). More importantly we spent some great relaxed nights in the hostel meeting some great people (Veselin from Copenhagen, Dylan from London, Sergio from Santiago), adjusting to our nomadic life for the coming year and sinking a few of their homemade caipirinhas (which blew your head off).

Ipanema Beach
‘Flinstones’ gym at the beach
All day fresh Caipirinhas

So, what did we think of Rio? We found it to be kind of a tale of two cities, with a tension you can feel present.

One city is this lively, beautiful place where we felt a great energy:

    Super friendly people, although the lack of understanding Portuguese was often a barrier.
    Great food. Our favorite place was Garoua de Ipanema where we had picanha Brasileira – a pan of sirloin steak brought sizzling to our table.
    Mesmerizing mountainscapes – Dos Hermanos, Corcovado with Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain to name a few.
    Some beautiful neighborhoods to wander round – our favorite being Santa Theresa which had a welcoming and open bohemian feel (Bar Do Mineiro was a favorite).
    Loads of activities to take part in – most notably, hang gliding over the city, although Jeroen chickened out!)
View over Rio (incl. Sugarloaf Mountain)
Christ the Redeemer
Old trams in Santa Theresa
Sunday lunch with the locals
Piggies can fly!

The other city is one of extreme inequality and poverty, where you feel danger could lurk around the corner; particularly if you venture into the favelas and some other areas of the city. The locals constantly reminded us of this. We took their advice and stayed clear of certain areas; residing predominantly in the Ipanema and Copacabana areas. It was a shame not to be able to explore more freely. In the end, even in those areas you needed to be aware of your surroundings (Carl was subject to a shoe cleaning scam involving faeces… we won’t say any more on this topic).

One of the many Favela’s

We are not sure we have really come to terms yet with this way of being (in particular for Carl). Maybe we never will, although we think it will not be the only place we come across where this is the case, so we probably need to get used to it.

That said, we did love Rio for all it’s good parts and may look at spending a few more days there later in the trip. Maybe once we have adjusted a bit more (and with a full recovery and better weather) we can appreciate more of the great things it has to experience.

Carl & Jeroen

*Disclaimer: we assumed people would not want to see pictures of the crap weather, us being sick or Carl with poo on his shoes, so we left those out!

Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 1
  • Cities visited: 1
  • Distance travelled: 9,588km
  • Modes of transport: Plane (1)

Our journey so far

Before we met each other, we had both longed to take time out from our usual routine – work, sleep, repeat (with the odd party and a holiday here and there) – and travel.  And both wanted to do South & Central America.  As usual, life took over.

After meeting around 4 years ago (becoming boyfriends about a year later), as we get to know each other we quickly realized we both had the same dream.

We often talked about it for a long time, although still had things going on that we let block us taking it any further.  After a lot of back and forth we set ourselves a deadline of end 2018 to just do it!

For the past 12 months we have been planning and saving, quit our jobs, and just to keep things interesting (read: insanely hectic), decided to also sell up our apartments in Amsterdam and get married.  Basically, all the major life changes people do one at a time – all in one go!  We like to make things easy for ourselves, obviously.

So, we start our trip together as homeless husbands (although we prefer nomadic husbands). And despite what many people say – this is not just an extended honeymoon…. We have been using the term ‘sabbatical’ although we are not 100% sure exactly what it is, what it will bring, what we want from it.  We just know we want to do it.

12 months.  Exploring almost all countries in South & Central America.  Rio to Mexico City, and all in between.  Stepping into married life in the most uncertain way possible.  We can’t wait!!

Feel free to follow us to see what awaits…

Carl & Jeroen (the Brugman-Smiths)