Latin America

In November 2005 I have been coming from Sydney via Auckland to Santiago de Chile.
My 6-months-journey took me all the way to Cartagena on the Colombian coast of the Carribean.

You can see my route on the right. The blue parts I have been flying, for the green ones I took the boat and the vast majority which you can see in red I have been on a bus.

From Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, I have been traveling about 23000km up to Cartagena in the north of Colombia. Come with me and have a look at the places and faces I have met.
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Arrival to Santiago de Chile

After a flight of more than 12 hours and a short stop-over in Auckland I am in South America! It is gonna take a while to fully realize that I just crossed the Pacific and that I am on the other side of the world right now. From 10 hrs ahead of European time to 4 hrs behind. I have not seen much yet but my first impressions are very promising. It is very different from what I have seen so far in my life but culturally there are a lot of things I really appreciate: the cars are driving on the right side, the footballs are round and pisco, fiestas y muchachas son magnificos... After a very long weekend and lots of fun I got to leave now towards Argentina. The bus is gonna take me through the snow-covered Andes to Buenos Aires.
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Buenos Aires

Yeah, I don´t know where to start, first of all, I have to confess that I am loving this city, so don´t expect me to be unbiased...From boulevards and ancient buildings, to cafes, bars and nightclubs, from plazas to fiestas... There is just so much to see, so many beautiful places, a very rich culture and history, I am discovering more and more exciting things every day. After learning Spanish for two weeks I am able to write emails in castellan now and within a couple of weeks the speaking should work as well...
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Yesterday I have been to the final of the South American Cup where the Boca Juniors (Diego Maradona´s club, for those who know a bit about football) won it against the Pumas from Mexico. The game was exciting and went into penalties, but the crowd was just extraordinary. Absolute passion, absolutely crazy... An awesome experience that almost cost me my voice and my hearing... After the match and among fireworks all over the place, the players presented the trophy to Diego and 60,000 mad supporters. He is the absolute hero over here and when he is cheering topless with the players and the whole ground is singing the Maradona songs you know why he is considered to be a god by many...
On Wednesday it´s time to leave and I will head to Patagonia. But one thing is for sure, I will come back, maybe sooner than I think...
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Patagonia Tierra del Fuego - Fireland

After a flight of a bit more than three hours we arrived in Ushuaia, the southernmost city of the world. And this end of the world feeling is worth the trip down here to the southern end of Fireland or Tierra del Fuego. We went on a ride with the local steam train into the National Park and enjoyed the typical patagonian combination of forests, pristine lakes and glaciers. But the most impressive ones are a bit further north and so we focussed on the local fauna. We took a cruise on the Beagle Channel, which connects Atlantic and Pacific and seperates Fireland and the islands of Cape Horn to get really close to sea lions and penguins. After two days in the end of the world or maybe in the beginning of it, it was time to head north. A 12 hour bus and ferry ride across the Strait of Magellan took us to Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia.
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The impressive Patagonian Glaciers

We stayed in a very nice family-run hostel in Punta Arenas for the night. And this kind of hostel was not only run by a family, it was actually part of it as it was integrated into the house. Everybody shared the same kitchen and to enter you had to walk through the family´s living room. The next morning we left for another 4 hours by bus to Puerto Natales, the gateway to the impressive National Park Torres del Paine. We used the afternoon for some walks along the fiords and early the next morning we were heading into the park. We were really lucky with the weather and so the mountains, lakes and glaciers approached us in surreal colours. But just have a look on the picture... Moreover we went to a big waterfall between Lago Normannskjoeld and Lago Pehoe and we encountered blue gleaming icebergs that broke of a glacier and were floating to a beach on Lago de Grey. This place was just magic and one of the highlights of Patagonia.
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The following day we had to cross the border to Argentina again to go to El Calafate. Here we visited the Perito Moreno Glacier. This glacier is part of the southern Patagonian icefield which covers the Andes for hundreds of kilometers, marking the border between Chile and Argentina. This particular glacier is very special since it moves at a speed of around 7 meters a day and its 5 km wide glacier tongue ends up in Lago Argentino, Argentina´s largest lake. There you can either take a boat or hike to a lookout on the opposite shore to get a close view of the glacier. Then it just depends on the amount of sunshine and your luck to see and hear loud cracks in the glacier tongue which result in huge blocks of ice dropping into the lake or even small icebergs drifting away. Being this close to the forces of nature is surely impressive. The nearby town of El Calafate is not very interesting but touristy and thus fairly expensive. {short description of image}
So we decided to take the bus at night and make our way north via El Chalten towards the Lake district.

Ruta 40 - Through the desolate Patagonian steppe

According to the travel agent who sold us our bus-tickets the trip to Esquel would be 22 hours. Leaving El Calafate we caught the sunset and then traveled along Lago Argentino and Lago Viedma in the dry lowlands but with snowcovered mountains on the horizon in the west. After a shaking night on this gravel road the scenery did not change much, just the mountains on the horizon had disappeared and the area seemed even more remote and desolate. In the early afternoon we were wondering why we had not been further on the map and we got doubts if we would make it to Esquel in the evening. A couple of hours later the bus stopped in a tiny town on the way, the first settlement for a while. In this dusty place we were told that we had a break of about 4 hours and we should go and eat something.
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Asking how we could be in Esquel in the evening the driver explained us that this bus would be in Esquel at three o´clock the following morning instead. The travel agent had just told us complete non-sense. So we enjoyed a nice meal and the tranquility outside the shaking bus. Continuing our journey north the landscape stayed the same, the sunset was as pretty as the night before and we were thinking of changing our plans again. Getting to Esquel at three in the morning would be quite pointless since we would not be able to find an accomodation for the night. As we were keen for some rest we decided to stay on the bus for five more hours in order to get to Bariloche straight away and explore the lake district from there. As you can see on the picture, Bariloche, the largest city of Patagonia, rewarded us with magnificient weather after 32 hours on a gravel road. {short description of image}
The Lake District

This area of lakes, forests and mountains rewarded us with warm sunshine and summerly temperatures from the very beginning. So we ended up staying in Bariloche for a week exploring the many things this region has to offer. We took a cruise across Lago Nahuel Huapi to the Chileanean borderand hiked to some waterfalls next to Lago Frias. Another day we went along the Ruta de los siete Lagos from Villa Angostura to San Martin de los Andes and back along the colourful valley of the Rio Limay to Bariloche. But the best thing we did was a day-trip with a kayak across Lago Nahuel Huapi. The steady wind created some waves that our kayaks could surf down and bump over so we had a bit of a challenge as well. At lunch-time we stopped on a sheltered beach on one of the lakes islands and even dipped into the cold water. But a temperature of around 8 degrees makes you leave the water almost as quickly as you jump in.
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Finally, my parents had to catch their plane to Buenos Aires and back to Europe and I was more or less on my own again. I went to El Bolson and National Park Los Alerces with a friend from Buenos Aires for a couple of days. But heavy rains and an almost flooded tent made me escape to Esquel and then Bariloche again although I really enjoyed the time in the national park. Hiking through the Arrayanes forests along a colourful river alone was worth the trip. And at night we had a big campfire with a bunch of Argentinians. The romantic was completed by a delicious asado (barbeque) and the guitar songs of some of the guys who played in a band in Buenos Aires... Luckily, we met those guys again in our hostel in Esquel and we had some great nights of Argentinian and German culture. {short description of image}
Now I´m back to Bariloche again and I´m just getting into Kite-Surfing. This place is an ideal spot for that since the winds are absolutely reliable and strong, unfortunately sometimes even to strong for an unexperienced kiter. The only downside is the water temperature but with a warm wetsuit it is warm enough and the scenery with snowcovered mountains in the background makes surfing here quite unique anyway... {short description of image}
As I mentioned before, some days the wind was sostrong that there was no chance I could go onto the water with my skills.

That gave me the chance to enjoy the famous nightlife of Bariloche a bit and some nights even a bit more thanks to the Argentinian national drink, Fernet Branca with Cola...

In the beginning it just tastes disgusting. But once you get used to it, it gets you going all night long.

After another two weeks, however, it was time to move on again. I hope I can manage to come back soon to go snowboarding over here and to see what Argentinians know about apres-ski...
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Southern Chile - Lakes and Volcanoes

I crossed the Andes once more to the west towards Osorno and Llanquihue in Southern Chile. Since I have not had any German food, music or beer for along while I went to the German Bierfest in Llanquihue and met some of the people I knew from Santiago. We had a great party on Lago Llanquihue and I enjoyed the Bierfest so much that I decided to visit the other one in Valdivia a week later as well.
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After the partying it was time for me to have some excercise again. So I went for a day-tour to the top of Volcan Villarica, a 2800m high, snowcovered, active volcano. The ascent through the snow took five hours but I should have done it on my own rather then in a tour since the climb was technically not very difficult. On top I witnessed how active this volcano was. Through the sulfurus gases I was able to approach the edge of the crater and when a windgust blew the smoke away I could see boiling red lava about 30 meters below me. That was definitely worth the ascent. But the way down was quite rewarding as well. We were just sitting on our bums and sliding down the glacier at quite a high speed... The only thing I missed was my snowboard.
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The next day I chilled out and explored some of the other lakes around Pucon before leaving this tourist-packed place again towards Valdivia.


This enjoyable student town has received a strong German influence due to migrations, especially in the 19th century. I stayed for 4 days and besides the Bierfestival I made it to the Pacific Coast where some fortresses guard the entrance to the river leading to Valdivia. Next to them the pretty black beaches are a popular holiday and weekend destination for Chilenians.
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The Bierfestival with an Oktoberfest-like atmosphere hosted German folklore from southern Latin America. Some artists came all the way from Argentina and Brasil to perform. Being German I obviously had to take part in the drinking competition and I even made it to the final. After four very long nights I needed a break and we went north to Santiago.

Viña del Mar and Valparaiso

As carnival in Brasil was coming closer I wanted to go eastwards to Argentina again. But as it was summer, I had to check out the famous beaches of Viña del Mar before. We spent half a day on the beach where Argentinians easily outnumbered the locals and then headed on to Viña´s sister city Valparaiso. This old city today acts as the seat of the Chilenian parliament and its charme is very different from the holiday-town of Viña. After returning to Santiago in the evening it was time to say goodbye to Chile as I took the bus to Argentina the next morning. But I will come back to meet the friends I made and to explore the north of this incredibly diverse country as well.
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Mendoza and Cordoba

I was crossing the Andes towards Mendoza like two months earlier on my way to Buenos Aires. But this time I got off the bus in Mendoza, Argentinas third largest city. The best Argentinian wines grow over here. Its lovely setting on the eastern slopes of the Andes and the lively university scene make it a pleasant place to live. After enjoying food, wines and fiesta for 2 days I had to move on to Cordoba, Argentina`s second largest city. It is also famous for Che Guevara who grew up in a twon nearby. And if you should ever consider studying in Argentina, Cordoba (whose central square you can see on the right) might be a good option as it hosts the biggest university of Latin America. Thus its student life is absolutely vibrant.
Unfortunately I got a bad diarrhoea with high fever over here. I took some antibiotics from a pharmacy and decided to take the 22-hour-bus to Iguazu Falls which I booked the day before anyway.
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There was a toilet on the bus which I visited occasionally and managed to get to Iguazu Falls the next day. But there a heat of 38 degrees rewarded me with a very warm welcome which did not feel very nice cause of my fever...

Iguazu Falls

Still being a bit dizzy I went into the national park to explore the various beautiful waterfalls. Especially the so-called devils throat which you can on the next picture is breath-taking. You can walk up to a viewing platform where you are almost in the middle of the rio Iguazu. Argentina on your right and Brazil on your left the masses of water are falling into the garganto del diablo and you are in between.
The next morning I was still not feeling better, so I decided to go to the local hospital since I was going to Brazil without speaking any Portuguese and I did not want to end up a couple of days later in a Brazilian hospital, not being able to talk to anybody.
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I was quite worried since I had had that diarrhoea for five days and even antibiotics did not seem to help. Walking into the hospital I did not have a clue about the local procedures concerning insurance and all that stuff. But they told me not to worry and I should talk to the doctor first. So I explained what I had and the lady told me it would not be unusual and gave me a different antibiotic which should cure my disease within a few days. Great. I was relieved and walked out and I asked about the formalities. The secretary was not sure how to deal with it. She told me that I could pay 20 pesos (around 6 Euros) which I thankfully did. Later on I found out that most South American countries have got a free public health system. So even being a tourist normally you are not charged (and I would not have been if I had not asked) for medical services in a hospital! Imagine somebody from a third world country walking into a hospital in Europe... {short description of image}

In the evening it was time to say good-bye to Argentina once again and head into Brazil. After dealing with the border formalities I got to the bus-terminal of Foz do Iguacu and took the night-bus to Curitiba in Parana state. I met two Israeli girls and a Brazilian guy on the bus and as we had no clue where to stay he offered us his apartment in town since he was going to his parents house anyway. Excellent. I was happy to have met a local since I had heard a lot of dangerous strories about Brazil, especially from Brazilians themselves. This was supposed to become quite an issue in the first weeks in Brazil.

Sao Paulo

From Curitiba we took a scenic train through the mountains to the Atlantic Coast before I moved on to Sao Paulo the next night. There I stayed with Luci who I met in Australia for a couple of days and experienced the impressive life in South Americas largest and busiest city. It is not a top tourist destination as you can see in the picture. But it was an interesting contrast to the picturesque Brazil that was about to come.
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Rio de Janeiro

We left the metropolis behind and stayed for the week-end in Maresias on the Atlantic Coast. Afterwards I took another bus to get to the city whose spectacular setting has made it world famous: Rio de Janeiro. The translation would mean river of January since the Portuguese mistakenly took the beautiful bay next to sugar loaf for the mouth of a huge river.
But I can't blame them, I have been infatuated by its beauty as well. This city's scenery between mountain slopes and beaches between Cristo Redemptor (where I took this picture) and Sugar Loaf is the most beautiful I have seen so far. Sipping on a Caipirinha on Copacabana or Ipanema beach you don' t wanna be anywhere else...
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This is a beach-football ground on Ipanema beach, belonging to the football school of Flamengo, the most popular football club in the world. I have been playing here with a bunch of Argentinians from my hostel agains some local kids. Although I showed some German old-school tacklings in the sand there was not much to scoop for us. Probabaly cause of the heat... ;-)
Honestly, it was a great honour for me to kick the ball on a beach of Rio and even on a ground belonging to Flamengo.
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Rio is a diverse city and Brazil is an even more diverse country. Just a couple of meters from the gliterring beach promenade of Ipanema you can find the other side of this country. The side you neither find in any tourism brochures nor in television. Except there is a drug war to report about.
Some of you may have seen the movie called "Ciudade de Deus" or in English "The City of God". This is where that authentic story took place: The favela of Rocinha.
A childcare-project in Rocinha offered a trip into this slum of 300,000 people. At first, I was a bit afraid of going into such an area, since you are always told not to get into any favela under no circumstances. But this trustworthy project convinced me of going and I did not regret having done so. Security was absolutely no issue. Probably it was safer on that tour in the favela than anywhere else in Rio.
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We learned a lot about the structure and the governing of a favela. It was an eye-opening experience to get in close contact with the down-side of the way we execute globalization and secure our standard of living.
But to see people who struggle to survive day by day and who got so few things we take for granted, it was impressive to watch the smile on their faces and the friendliness in which they approached me. There certainly is violence in these areas and so are drugs and weapons. But a vast majority does not use any of them and just tries to make a living in a peaceful matter. As much as they would like to escape from poverty most would not want to leave this place since it is their home.
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Back on the beach and with a caipirinha from one of the street vendors (who all live in the favelas) today it was a sunset full of thoughts on the world and what keeps it moving the way it does.

The next day I left this inspiring city behind and took the bus towards Porto Seguro and the north east.
The tropical Brazil was lying ahead of me.
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Bahia - where Africa meets Latin America

Porto Seguro and nearby Arraial d'Ajuda are popular beachside spots among both, brazilians and backpackers. Fortunately everyting was much cheaper than in pricy Rio and life somehow seemed relaxed and much less complicated. In contrast to the European influenced south of Brazil, in the north-east many people have African roots. Obviously, culture and lifestyle are very much influenced by that and African drums play a significant role in local music.
I tried to adapt to the lifestyle and chilled out on the beaches or wandered around the village.
As the celebrations of Carnival were coming closer and closer, some rest was exactly what I needed.
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Another 10 hours on a bus at freezing temperatures (while the air-con is running) and humid heat (after it was finally broken) and I was in Salvador do Bahia. Brazil's fourth-largest city is famous for its colonial heritage. The neighbourhood of Pelourinho is on the Unesco's World Heritage list.
But what makes Salvador even more famous is that ithosts Brazil's second largest carnival. In contrast to Rio's world-famous Samba-parades, carnival in Salvador is more interactive and makes it verypopular among young people.
It is like a Berlin-style Love Parade with the typical Axé music and more than 2 million people dancing in the streets.
The music and the spirit of the Brazilians make it the biggest party you can probably find on this planet...
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After five days of partying in the parades and relaxing on the beach I stayed for a bit in the picturesque Pelourinho area and explored the city with my friend Gabriela. Although especially around carnival the Pelourinho is quite touristy, its charme keeps you wandering the cobble-stone streets on and on. And the beautiful beaches on the Atlantic Ocean are a nice spot for a short holiday during a long trip, don't you think? {short description of image}
The sunsets over the Baía de todos os santos dip the colonial buildings into a golden light and every day it is getting harder to leave this magic place. After a couple of days, however, once again I had to catch the bus and travel on to the north...

To come with me on the bus to Fortaleza and beyond just follow the link below:

Northern Latin America -
from Salvador to Cartagena
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