Detour De Brasil

​No country can conjure in the imagination such an immensely vibrant attack on our senses as South America’s largest nation. Whether it is of sticky jungle, pulsating samba, stunning beaches, tropical fruits or aromatic coffee, the idea of Brazil is overwhelming. Although our plan was to avoid this huge country with its higher costs and Portuguese tongue, such a hope was always doomed for failure so close to its border with Uruguay. Travellers and locals alike had spoken about an impossibly beautiful island south of Sao Paulo, but to get there we had to first make it past immigration and pay visit to the city Porto Alegre.

The border town of Chuy/Chui holds interest only in the novelty of its high street setting aside two countries. The shops on one side facilitate business in Spanish and Pesos with Portuguese and Reals used on the other. Although there is 6km between the immigration offices, our biggest issue was money and not stamps. Dripping with sweat from running between countries and banks, we watched the only bus for Porto Alegre leave without us whilst clutching a useless piece of plastic emblazoned with a horse. Changing the leftovers of three currencies, we managed to make it into Brazil’s first big town only to be rejected again by a wider selection of ATMs. We find one buried note, do an informal currency conversion with a man in a hat and have just enough to get two tickets to finally Porto Alegre under the supermoon.

The city was of interest to me due to it being the most successful example of participatory democracy in the world. Despite a population of 4.5 million, all of its citizen’s are able to decide through various votes and forums how the city’s budget should be best spent. Whilst we were aware the metropolis was an example of Brazil’s wealthy South, we had also been warned by a nervous resident of the seven times he had been assaulted living there. We weren’t sure what to expect.

Wedged between a sketchy red light district and leafy affluent neighbourhood was our accommodation, HOSTEL ROCK. The long hair of Diego manning the desk and bread pieces with breakfast were about as rock and roll as things got in the quiet hostel. Leaving to explore on our one full day here, we wondered through deserted streets in this big city like a scene straight from 28 days later. Nobody had told us it was Republic day and our chances of going inside anywhere or getting cash lay at zero. The only people around were the city’s army of homeless people, a reminder of the deep divides in the world’s tenth richest country. The lack of distractions allowed us to appreciate the mix of sky scrapers and old churches, surrounded by pleasant parks and Jacaranda trees. The next day we were able to quench our thirst for Brazilian bustle and fitted in a morning of galleries, markets and procuring funds before leaving.

Past fields brimming with Capybara and then round lush green coastal coves, our bus carried us 8 hours north. After crossing a bridge connecting the mainland to the island we arrived in Florianopolis which straddles both. The long name of this town is also used in place of Isle De Santa Caterina and is understandably shortened to Floripa to avoid syllable induced tongue palpitations. 

There are plenty of beautiful islands in the world but the impossibility of escape from blue water on Floripa gives the large landmass a unique kind of wow. Two huge lagoons nestle between the steep jungle covered peaks, on top of which you are spoilt with incredible and varied vistas both to sea and lake. One of the best of these we found at the top of a light house balanced on a hill surrounded by tangled vegetation. Somebody had forgotten to lock the door to the ladder within, allowing us to climb up to a superb but vertigo inducing views of two sides of coast and hills struggling to hide the lagoon inland.

The island’s largeness means that its beauty is unspoiled by development and allows for 42 beaches that offer something for everyone. From our base on a cliff in Barra De Lagoa we had free access to both a surfboard and waves perfect for novices and pros a like. The island also has one of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches complete with funny name (Mole) and gay section pumping out 80s pop remixes. Along from here, naturists are catered for with a nudest beach, allowing newcomers like us a chance to visit one for the first time. Out of the 50 or so people there wasn’t any nudity to be found, not a sausage. We didn’t hike all that way for nothing so we stripped off and marched into the sea, triggering a more adult version of Spartacus as more and more followed our ice breaker. Finally, if you are looking for an escape from people, the south beaches lie deserted and we were able to reach them by joining a friendly couple in their hire car.

Away from the waves, the thick jungle surrounding the saltwater lagoon presented some of the strangest insects we have ever seen. The entwined plants may hide pumas within, but we were only chased by flying bugs the stuff of nightmares and grunting wild boars. Around the other desalinated lake, huge white bats danced nightly under the waterside lighting providing free entertainment above the lone men wading through midnight on their search for crabs. 

The ‘magic’ prefix often given to the island owes as much to the energy of its inhabitants and visitors as it does to natural beauty. Partly responsible is the cheap sugar cane liquor smashed up with ice and lime juice often given out complimentary in hostels. Brazil’s national drink, the Caiprainina, seamlessly pulled us from evening refreshment into wild parties before we’d even realised the bottle was empty. Nestled in the dunes, we found ourselves dancing a version of Samba alongside the pros to the dismay of there shoes and culture. On another night, I wound up at at an eclectic pay as you feel venue facing the lagoon, predrinks arranged by an overly keen shopkeeper whose charisma had trapped a group of 20 drunk strangers to form a party outside his kiosk. After the fast jazz and space cookies the party flowed out to the waters edge where a pop up microeconomy cashed in on the Monday night revellers; flavoured cacha sold from the bus stop, Brazilian meats cooked on a trolley and the most incredible tropical cocktails whipped up from a cart. 

Alcohol aside, the people on the island display a friendliness which was at first unnerving. Anytime we were wearing a backpack the locals wanted to make sure we knew where were going or indeed just have a chat. Most of the staff in the hostels were young folk who had dreamed of a better life outside of Sao Paulo, left everything and turned up trumps upon arriving in Floripa. Even the backpackers filling the hostels had also realised they had lucked out and so everyone was in a happy-go-lucky mindset. 

One of the best characters was an old Colombian whose memorable voice we can still hear drawing out the words ‘I think its fantassstic’. He was blowing across a continent with no real plan, sniffing out enough odd jobs to keep him going. One night I was surfing in the dark and not doing too badly when I saw the last fishing boats come in. Running to the hostel I grabbed Rafael to help us buy some fish cheap and fresh straight from the tired seaman. Keeping our English down, he enquired about prices and the fisherman gave the small tuna cousin called a Bonito to him for free – something that had never happened to Rafael in all his years. Being shown the ropes, we filleted the fish with the old nomad for a long time, ready to eat raw sashimi. Right at the end little white worms appeared and Rafael was horrified, safe to say we didn’t eat the fish like the Japanese that night.

Whilst we were only at the island for a week, it was all to easy to understand why some people never left. Having not planned the visit, we had to shake ourselves to reality and get on with our the plan. The lack of cheap camping options (our tent design doesn’t allow for beach wild camping) coupled with an atmosphere which induces you to get carried away was too dangerous to our thin budget.

Sandy sleepiness – Valizas, Uruguay

​Rallying against improved infrastructure, the locals had stopped from entering the village the tarmacking that slowed our arrival. Whilst it would make the fishing village less dusty, the residents revelled in the low key feel of this little settlement. Valizas was far smaller than Punta Del Diablo and  tourism only makes up part of its existence, leaving its working life on display, the sporadic horse and cart clunking by reflecting its slow pace.

‘I don’t know if he thinks I’ve got honey up my arsh or what’ joked Dutch Mascha as she pointed out the tasks to be done whilst Tony the dog followed closed behind. She liked having travellers maintain her two holiday homes as even seven years of Uruguayan living couldn’t make her adjust to the habits of the local workmen. In these sleepy towns the job has no time frame with a start or completion ‘next week’ promised each new seven days. Sometimes the work stops once they have enough to live on for the week. ‘They are not materialistic’, Mascha explained half positively, half begrudgingly, as a culprit craftsman who had bailed on a previous job cycled past.

For us, the deal was to work 10 hours whenever we wished over 5 days, painting and cleaning in return for free use of the mellow yellow house. Mascha stayed one night to teach dutch online in her shed come office before leaving us to tend to her olive farm some distance away.

The weather had changed many times on the first day and by the time we had got to the beach a cool mist had descended. The storm we had experienced 10 days previously had a greater effect down here as many people had illegally built houses on the beach which were swept to sea, over 80 in the neighbouring village. These half collapsed houses jutted out between the dunes and mist, their possessions still being washed back in each day. Adding further to these eerie scenes an expanse of moorland straight from a Tolkien novel hid horses in the mist behind the buildings.

We had come to this village due to its proximity to Cabbo Polonio, a remote village kept from mains electricity and water behind a huge expanse of sand. To get there we decided against taking the bus both ways, opting instead to cross a lagoon and then hike 10km. Cutting through the beach, we were followed by a handkerchief wearing dog that no amount of clothing would make any less vicious. Due to the high ratio of grim dogs in Uruguay, Holly and I had created a fun game for naming them – nice or slice. This one was a definite slice and with teeth barred, began its attack. Caught in the dunes the dog and I duelled like something from an old video game, running at each other with either an attempted bite or retaliating kick. After a couple of minutes, a mate sipping local saw the scene and whistled to stop the assault, leaving us to cross the lagoon. A normal person would pay the little money it cost to be rowed but we thought it better to wrap the ruck sack in a rain cover and swim across. When I swam the previous day the current was strong enough to suck you out to sea after a few metres but luckily for us it had partially subsided. Upon entering I instantly lost the forgotten fake Ray Bans balanced on my head (negating any money saved by swimming) and failed to hold the bag up in the air whilst swimming. Luckily our wrapped bag was surprisingly buoyant and waterproof. The old boys in the rowing boats would be right think ‘dumb tourists’.

Walking on fine particles can be a fatihuing experience but the awesome 360 degree views of sandy emptiness distracted us. The dunes surrounding Cabbo Polonio are monstrous and apparently great for sand boarding, an activity we did not try due to our possession of board a third the length of usable size. After some hours we arrived at the cut off village, greeted by chickens roaming around and a few small owls nestled on a knoll. At the light house beyond the few basic shacks, over 100 sea lions gathered on the rocks against a back drop of enormous crashing waves. The water the around the cape full of large black lumps riding the surf. Leaving their barking behind we enjoyed an easier route home on the roof of a 4×4 truck.

The rest of our time was hazily spent having barbecues and watching horses roam the beach. The garden’s front facing seats of the main road allowed us to revel in the lack of passers by traversing it and the forest on its other side. From here we could enjoy shiny hummingbirds inspecting the garden by day and fire flies glowing mysteriously in the woods at night.

Mascha had a certain way with words and she summarised eloquently the lack of cares one has lazing in your own place. ‘Yesh, when your not at a hoshtel all you have to worry about is the shmell of your own shit’ – ironically I was sat on the toilet at the time and didn’t catch her fleeting bye to Holly. We had enjoyed a very lazy time over the previous weeks in Uruguay unlike any kind of travelling I have ever done. To experience South America’s most chilled and sleepy nook it only seemed right to work and travel it at such a gentle pace. In complete contrast, the next leg to Brazil was far from tranquilo.

Around The World of Work – Punta Del Diablo, Uruguay

​Swapping high rise apartments for oddly shaped shacks tumbling down a sandy hill, we entered Punta Del Diablo. Without an address we found the tall eco guest house we had been tasked to paint due to its unique position by the national park and its  memorable wooden tiers. Earning its imposing spot, Via Verde’s location is ‘off the grid’ and so relies on limited solar power and a well reaching for brownish water 40 metres below. 

Its inhabitants, Rosi, Martin and their two year old son Telmo, were similarly ‘off the grid’ and welcomed us into their family for two weeks. Rosi was Argentinian and understandably relaxed due to her superb escape from a pressurised previous life as a BBC journalist. A past hard to imagine when faced with her lounging on the balcony or dancing with Telmo to Reggae. Having taught him the term, I will describe Basque Martin in the nicest possible way as as a ‘know it all’. Whether it was telling us about Basque culture, weird nursery rhymes or the perfect place to start a guesthouse (a dream of ours) he was endlessly interesting. Their son, Telmo, at first made us ashamed of our Spanish before we realised he communicated in part espanol, part basque, shaken with a large squeeze of gibberish. Holly would become the apple of his eye over the weeks and she probably had interesting conversations about existentialism, space and time if only she understood him.

In return for a morning decorating on week days, we we enjoyed feasting on hearty food with the family and staying in a guest room facing the ocean. Holly’s many years of painting meant she was my task master. She efficiently enforced Martin’s direction with a brutal efficiency that left me half blinded from paint and half mad from fumes (okay, I exaggerate).

Outside of work there wasn’t a lot to do apart from take in the easy beauty of the area. Their nearest beach was aptly named Playa Grande and walking on it we were mostly alone, aside from maybe a dead penguin or lost sea lion pup. For a full days cycling we were able to slope our way around the hills, forests, beaches and fort of Santa Teresa national park. Most importantly we were spoilt in encounters with Holly’s favourite animal the Capybara. Having anticipated this moment we were not underwhelmed by the world’s largest rodents (essentially a huge Guinea pig) roaming wild around the lagoon or within a special reserve. 

The proximity of this park to Via Verde was also felt daily with small birds flying into the rooms, a goanna under our deck, door matt loving scorpions and huge hawks constantly circling above the empty dunes out front. A rather shaken up cat arrived one day and with the offer of a regular feed also joined the family.

Back in the village, almost every house was a holiday cabana now empty. Dolphins swam unnoticed by the shoreline and the only life some days were the obligatory dogs everywhere who quite possibly ran the town’s bureaucracy. We had to wait for a Saturday to try Rosi’s recommendation of large plate loaded ice creams and freshly made Empanada’s (a South American pasty) as well as see other people.

Adding to our remoteness, a huge storm took out power along a large swathe of the coast. Despite being off grid, a faulty battery meant a reliance upon a neighbour’s solar setup. As soon as the neighbour caught whiff of the storm we were left without electricity and subsequently a means to pump water for a few days. Most annoyingly the sea was left flat for days after the initial turbulence, rendering my daily use of Martin’s surfboard without point or success. On the bright side, the stars of this hemisphere became impossibly emboldened by the immense darkness and surpassed their already stunning clarity. Underneath them we drank red wine and cooked a barbeque with bohemian neighbours in the chilly air.

Sharing in later feasts we were joined by Martin’s Basque friend Benny who was seeking peace from a hard year and reevaluating this hope in the presence of Telmo. Soon after came a Chilean girl, also volunteering, whose up bringing on a Dulce De Leche farm no doubt contributed to her chilled out happiness. Finally an American who hadn’t quite managed to leave Montevideo after a unsuccessful basketball try out two years previous showed up late the day before we left. 

The American’s arrival coincided with his nation electing a racist president, making the goodbye to these wonderful people all the more sad. The paint had run out, the job was done and we had one last bit of Uruguayan coast to sea.

Beyond Suarez: Uncovering Uruguay

​Uruguay is not known for much in the UK apart from the skill and biting habits of Luis Suarez, revealing little apart from its citizens’ appetite for football and meat (normally beef over human). Until recently my only additional knowledge was that it was home to the world’s most decriminalised Marijuana and humblest former president, Jose Munica, whom was kept in a well under dictatorship and lived in a shack as president. For a slow start to our year long trip we headed across the river from Buenos Aires to follow the coast of Uruguay for a month.

The campsite in Colonia De Sacramento was desolate when we arrived after our long walk apart from a lady who spoke no English pointing us to place our small tent anywhere in the large empty grounds. Her husband emerged later advising through gesture for us to sleep in the showers due to the ‘grande tormenta’ on its way. We figured the storm coming was pretty big for a campsite owner to suggest this but wanted to test the new tent out so ignored the advice. It took us a month to learn that we narrowly avoided a cyclone that night which changed direction last minute.

Still pitched by morning we awoke in Colonia, a cobbled town with well preserved buildings which reflect its historical place in the midst of an imperial tug-of-war between the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Aside from having a general gander, the only other pointers from the tourist office was ‘you are in Uruguay now, relax and be happy’. Watching across the huge river we had crossed we did just that. The parakeets building nests in the palm trees made a nice change from the pidgeon eating Seagulls I was more used to. A Sea Otter stared at us during sunset before becoming bored and disappearing under the calm water.

Before arriving in Montevideo, the onward bus showed us the flatness of this country and its higher than human bovine population. Upon arrival we looked for a face that we wouldn’t recognise and were greeted by Alejandro, who had left his daughters’ birthday to pick us up. Within the 15 minute journey to his house I already felt as if I had known him for years. Ale had worked with my dad whilst he and his partner Paula were living in the UK some eight years ago and in spite of the gap put us up for a few nights to show us the city.
Standing in the old meat market Ale thrust glasses of medyu y medyu into our hands, half vermouth, half sparkling wine. “In the UK you have pub crawls, in Uruguay we do the barbeque crawl” he said explaining how a group of friends would go to different Parillas selecting what looked best on the competing fires. Before long Ale had ordered us an enormous lunch with the more traditional blood sausage and lemon soaked esophagus alongside the staple selection of tender steak and flavoursome sausages. We put away our vegetarianism for a rainy day outside these lands of the Gaucho.

At this point it would be worth mentioning a few other Uruguayan delicacies shared with neighbouring countries. First is an addiction to a certain green plant that gets passed between friends. I am of course referring to Yerba Mate, a bitter tea which everyone sips through a metal straw at any given moment. There is something quite comic about this drink. Everyone lugs around these enormous thermos flasks so they are able to top up their gourd piled high with green matter at any given point. The second delicacy worth a mention is Dulce De Leche, a creamy caramel that you can smother on anything and everything or eat straight from the pot as we ended up doing. Finally, the chivito, an exercise in excess, is a burger consisting of steak, ham, bacon, cheese, fried egg, salad and whatever else you may want.
Although a third of the nation lives here, 

Montevideo still only has 1.3 million people. By bike, car, foot and lost on buses we managed to have good poke around, even gatecrashing an opening of a new restaurant for free food and wine. The crumbling Art Decco buildings of the historic centre quickly become river facing high rise apartments which stretch for miles along the Rambla, where everyone fishes but nothing gets caught (my observations backed up by Alejandro’s own sentiments).

Leaving the family but not their hospitality, we relocated to Ale’s parents’ empty large apartment in Punta Del Este whilst they were away. The flash and popular coastal resort in a few months would swell to five times its size, attracting in the rich and famous to its iconic beaches and nightlife. Off season and during a rather wet week, the Sea Lions fending off the gulls for fish scraps in the harbour were as lively as things got. We felt very fancy in our beach side apartment, although our visit to a famous artists gallery was marred by me smelling of the dog excrement I had stepped in before we entered. The weekend breathed warmth and life into the town, giving us a brief taste of summer and we left onwards for the work further up the coast.

Same flush, different direction

I am Charlie; traveller, visionary, dream weaver, plus blogger. You are about to enter the world of my South American Trip, my time out of place.

Okay, so I’m taking the piss ( and have no idea how to begin or write a travel blog. Apart from the obvious purpose of shameless self indulgence this blog might also explain what/where on earth we’ve been up to – or it may not, who knows?

In a nut shell, the plan has been to dismantle the working week, leaving for South America to follow the coast
of Uruguay and Brazil (late addition) before swapping sides to take in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. Our ticket is one way but the hope is we stretch a year out before returning home (wherever we decide that might be in 12 months). Its an expensive continent when compared to my last long trip around Asia and with our budget based upon failed austerity and tax rebates it will be tight to say the least. Sharing in both this experiment as well as my passion for long haul loitering is my girlfriend Holly, who may or may not be mentioned again.

The Europa flight had no films, a stop in the soul destroying airport of Madrid and someone trying to steal my weird anteateresque travel pillow. Despite the questionable take offs and landings, the 400 tonne rigamortis bird transported us 7000 miles over the Atlantic – not bad for £400.

In contradiction to the previous remarks of budgeteering, our trip began with a premature birthday present from Holly’s sister: one nights stay in a swanky boutique hotel in Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America. img_20161021_200827With ease the thick mental crust containing hundreds of pressurised office hours washed away in the indoor and roof top swimming pools. The Morrissey loving front desk even provided a muffin shaped birthday cake, which I found out the hard way was actually a candle.

The following four nights were more in line with our expectations, paying £5 each day for sharing the nightly mosquito massage with sleepless staff and a bizarre Belgian called Albear. The bear was spending months at a time in just a few cities to think up a business model and was outdone on his oddness by the presence of an old Canadian whose inescapable conversation had the effect of a cheese grater.


Beyond the hostel walls was antique ridden San Telmo, a cool neighbourhood in which you are never far from markets, decent bars or the city centre. On the weekend everyone comes together to tango on the main square, swapping  partners every few songs with different strangers, young and old. As it takes more than cheap Malbec and two to tango, our poor mimic only stumbled at the edge of the action.


The rest of the city is framed by incoherent architecture, at its best showing off Argentina’s lost wealth of 100 years ago in the wide Parisian avenues and neoclassical structures. Whilst Buenos Aires never strays far from warm and trendy European cities such as Barcelona, the shanty town wedged behind the train station and black market currency dealers in the centre bellowing “cambio!” (change) tell more accurately which continent we are on. Other reminders are found amongst the many murals, demonstrations and riot ready barricades which float above the deep tensions bubbling between the Peronist left and market fanaticism.


Protests, dictatorships and crises seem along way away lazing in any of the cities many green spaces. Near to parks and a botanical garden, the tree lined hip neighbourhood of Palermo feels like the best parts of my childhood city Perth, Australia. Dotted with bars it served as a good place to sip the light Argentine lager watching the plaza from a balcony.

Leaving the city for a day we were able to visit Tigre, a cheap one hour commute from the capital. Although the guide book describes the place as a ‘mini venice’, the slow pace, drooping trees and wooden stilted houses tell a different story. The community does, however, exist upon a river delta, traversable only by boat and bridges, a novelty which does not wear thin walking around one of the quiet green islands.

For a closer escape to nature we walked to the ecological reserve behind Puerte Madre, a modern neighbourhood grown from the transformation of old dockland into 60 story apartments. As afternoon rolled into evening we watched Coypu’s (
paddle between the cormerents and egrets. An endearing animal in this setting but all to similar to the rife ‘super rats’ reported by Liverpool’s Echo when we were students.


We would be coming back to this country at some point and had the more immediate task of leaving it to contend with. The most common route from Argentina to Uruguay is across the world’s widest river, the plate, and our ticket for the ferry was the only solid item on our year long trip by this point. Despite this, I managed to convince myself and Holly that the ferry company we were going with was Burquebus, whose terminal was north of our hostel. It was a good job we last minute decided against the 45 minute walk to the terminal with backpacks. Within moments after our first cab dropped us we were told we needed to get in another taxi some 30 blocks back the way we had come. Our ticket was in fact with Colonia Express. The taxi driver shared none of our angst for this first major cock up and indeed was nochaulenty humming along to Porto Ti Volar blaring from the speakers ( Cutting it fine we got through immigration and boat bound for Uruguay.