An ode to flying and falling – paragliding and bungee jumping

By Erin Hancock

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*So this is a special post dedicated to Jackson Mann who turns 34 on February 27. But everyone is going to enjoy this!*

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This travel sabbatical adventure has comprised many a special adventure from hiking to bottom of the Grand Canyon to jet skiing with sharks dolphins in Key West. But today we’re going to enjoy a couple of videos of times when we got some air!

In 2015 while visiting Whistler, British Colombia, Jackson took the leap. He went bungee jumping. It wasn’t a quick or easy decision, but he followed through. Enjoy this video of his big jump.

 

And more recently, we took to the skies in Lima, Peru. The jagged, cliff coastline of Lima makes the prospect of paragliding a little intimidating, but Jackson was game from the word go. Enjoy this video of him.

 

And myself (Erin), being a lot more timid around heights and the possibility of falling…well I did it too! So check out this video of me going from terrified to completely loving it.

 

Happy birthday Jackson! Here’s to a bunch more adventures to come (as long as the chute always opens)!

Beer, cheer and street art in Sao Paulo, Brazil

By Erin Hancock

When our Brasilian tourist VISA finally came through, we immediately hopped a bus toward Sao Paulo (from Buenos Aires, Argentina). We stayed for a night in Uruguaiana just across the Argentina/Brazil border before the next bus was available.

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Uruguaiana is a small town, but pretty cute and with cheap beer available most everywhere. It was easy to spend a day here. Picnics, walking about and chilling out….anticipating visiting friends in Sao Paulo.

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Vicente, a wonderful man who Julia met through an English language school she worked at in Toronto where Vicente studied recently, was the PERFECT host! He wanted to show us all over Sao Paulo, made sure we ate delicious food and ensured that each day was memorable. He did that and more!

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We would wake up every morning to a wonderful spread of fruit and healthy foods. And in the evening he would take us to his favourite spots including Bacio de Latte, a top notch gelato joint in the lively neighborhood of Vila Madalena.

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Sao Paulo is the largest city in South America. So to say we saw it all would be a huge overstatement, but we did enjoy what we saw. The views from the Italian building were wild with high-rises as far as the eye could see in every direction.

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The street art of Sao Paulo is really well-done. We especially loved touring Vila Madalena which is a famous area for top-notch street art.

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The markets were also enjoyable. I got a pair of handmade leather sandals for less than $10 USD at the market off Avenida Paulista.

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And the art markets were fabulous too. The gentleman below – Paulo – is from a family of textile artists. I couldn’t resist a couple small pieces as souvenirs.

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The Municipal Market is a must-visit stop. It’s a lively, bustling market with tons of food options and so much to look at.

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Above see what “Brazil nuts” look like before being dissembled. These are long grapes on the bottom left. They taste the same as other grapes I’ve tried, but have a bit of a novelty factor.

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Liberdade is an area of town that is essentially Japantown. It’s full of Japanese and other Asian people, food, wares, music and more. See an outdoor market below as well as a bonsai stand, selling perfectly groomed plants.

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We even hosted a “real Brazilian pizza party” one night where we invited all of Julia’s past English-language student friends who she had met in Canada and a couple of our new friends from the Argentina-Brazil bus ride. That was so fun!

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We also had an evening of sampling Brazilian food – lots of fried pastries with various things inside. And beer.

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And we couldn’t complete our trip to Sao Paulo without getting in at least one night of live music and a valiant attempt at samba dancing. Thankfully there were some good teachers around. At one point I found myself in the air, having been thrown up there while dancing. That was a new experience.

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On our last day we had a great lunch with our host Vicente and his daughter Fernanda in a nearby city.

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Every day was packed – just how we like to travel. It was a wonderful trip! Brazilian people are fun.

Tips: Be safe, travel in groups, enjoy the markets, eat well, dance up a storm and take in the architecture.

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Thanks to all of the friends who made this a wonderful trip! We will never forget it.

Wine, tango and bikes in Buenos Aires, Argentina

By Erin Hancock

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(Parque Lezama and Obelisco de Buenos Aires)

Buenos Aires has quickly taken the top spot in my favorite cities of the world. It has the style and fashion of Europe, the flare of Latin American culture, cheap wine, good food, dancing every day of the week and lots to do.

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(Plaza de los dos Congresos)

Depending on your tolerance for heat and humidity, walking around the city can be a very enjoyable experience. The buildings are beautiful and there are parks and cafes at every turn.

 

Wine

If you love wine, Argentina is a wonderful destination. For a few USDs, you can enjoy a bottle of good quality wine. Of course you can splurge on higher end options with a pleasing price tag compared to North American standards. The Mendoza region of Argentina (close to Chile), has wonderful wines known the world over especially thanks to their climate that boasts 320 days of sunlight! Although we couldn’t make it to Mendoza for a famed vineyard tour, we did treat ourselves to Anuva Wines tasting session, which turned out to be a wonderful party!

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Ok, I’ll admit it – we were the rowdy table! Always accepting offers for refills, making jokes, yelling out our first guesses at trivia, etc. Wonderful new friends (left to right) Megan from Madison, Sylviane and John from New York, and Luke and Connie from Halifax – you guys made it a great night! (PS-stay tuned for an accidental run-in again with Connie in Lima where we ended up going paragliding….these things happen).

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The wine pairings with top quality tapas made for a full sensory experience. Spicy corn chowder, spinach empanadas and dark chocolate truffles were the highlights.

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And after the wine tasting, we wanted to continue exploring the night life in the soho neighborhood of Palermo, so we headed to to indulge in Argentina’s celebrated fried cheese called provoleta. A little goes a long wine…ahem…I mean way.

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And sangria also flows like water in Buenos Aires. I don’t think a day passed where we didn’t consumer some wine. Travel time well-spent.

 

Tango

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It would be difficult to speak about visiting Buenos Aires without speaking about tango dancing. Even for those more inclined to watch than dance, there is so much to enjoy. Plaza San Telmo is a popular square near where we were staying so we had an evening ritual of sipping wine while watching tango. Sometimes it would be professionals and other times there would be a milonga (a public, open dance for anyone wanting to dance tango – and there is a website so you can find one throughout the city every day of the week http://www.buenosairesmilongas.com/).

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#willdancefortips

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We were lucky to be put in touch with Ignacio (thanks Liz!) who showed us some of the traditional food and gave us a little tango lesson. It would have been a shame to leave without at least trying it.

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Bike tour

From what I’ve witnessed so far in South America, the walking tours and biking tours are simply wonderful. Especially if you’re staying a short time or if you want to get your bearings early in your stay, get yourself into one of these.

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(Casa Rosa and Parque Colon)

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(Julia and Erin at Puenta de la mujer (Woman’s bridge), Puerto Madero)

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(Memorial to Falkland’s war in 1982, read more here)

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(Torre Monumental – previously Torre London before Falkland’s war in Retiro Neighborhood)

 

Out for a run

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Staying in Boca

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If you’re a football (soccer) far, you’ll know the name Boca. We stayed a few blocks from the stadium. It’s a bit of a rough neighborhood, but taxis are affordable. Plus, the colorful neighborhood of Caminito is a short walk away where you’ll find great street food, markets, all the soccer paraphernalia you could ever want and adorable colorful buildings.

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Market and streets

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A tradition to ring in the new year is to throw old papers out the window…a cleansing of sorts. So people throw their personal papers out the window into the streets but also banks and businesses do the same. So basically it’s a huge mess, but a somewhat poetic one too.

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The flea/art markets of Buenos Aires are really fun, full of colourful wares, lots to eat and so many people to see.

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-Signing off from arguably the best city in the world

 

Flea markets and female fighting in La Paz, Bolivia

By Erin Hancock

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La Paz is a huge, busy city. It is not a gorgeous city or a particularly friendly one in my experience, but there are some things to check out if you find yourself there (perhaps on the way to the Uyuni salt flats which is a top destination for visitors to Bolivia).

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We took a few days to head from Copacabana on Lake Titicaca (Peru border) on to La Paz to check it out. The drive to La Paz included a spectacular sunset.

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One really wild thing about La Paz is a prisoner self-regulated prison. Although some tourists take sneaky tours of the establishment, it’s illegal so I just learned about it from outside the gates. San Pedro Prison is beside the park shown in the above pics – Plaza de San Pedro.

More fascinating info about San Pedro Prison:
-Too many guards were being killed so the government had to abandon sending in external guards, so this is where the idea of self-management emerged from.
-Prisoners can have their partners and children living with them inside the prison. Many volunteers go to the prison to make prison life better for the children.
-Unlike in North America, the legal principle in Bolivia is one is guilty until proven innocent after being accused of a crime. This puts the onus on the accused to prove their innocence. Some would say it is possible many innocent people live in San Pedro, so lucky for them they get to live with their families and even have a plasma screen tv!
-The majority of prisoners are convicted of drug-related offenses.
-Inmates elect a leader and a secretary per arm of the prison and collectively agree on rules for their area.
-Stabbing is used as a method to keep order within the prison
-Each prisoner must pay 5000 bolivianos (roughly $725 USD) per month to stay at the prison and complete their sentence. If a prisoner cannot pay this, they must work or run an enterprise to generate income. For some this means renting space in the prison to run a small store, a barber shop or a restaurant. For others it means selling cocaine.
-It is said that the cocaine-selling prisoners walk the roof of the prison at night and prisoners can tap on the ceiling to buy.
-If you want to learn more about this prison, an Australian tourist sentenced to 3 months in the prison wrote a book about his experience there called “Marching Powder” by Rusty Young

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The markets are pretty neat in La Paz. Although bartering is not warmly welcomed, there is one thing to know; if you mention “casara” or “yapa”, the vendors may throw in a little something extra for you at no extra charge. I tested this and got a couple extra carrots. It’s a way of saying I will be loyal to you and buy from you and in return you will make it worth my while.

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You have to take the Mi Teleferico (cable car) up the hill to the Al Alto part of the city where you’ll find the largest flea market in South America. Anything you desire from socks to struts for your car, whitening body lotion to chia seeds is available for a good price. Enjoy the incredible view of the city on the ride.

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On the way up to Al Alto on the cable car you’ll see the graveyard district too which is vertical (coffins stacked), an efficient approach for a city this large.

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But the coolest market of all is the witches market. For any wish, spell or hex you are seeking, there are lots of charms, potions and odd ingredients to peruse. This includes llama fetuses, essential oils and herbs to burn. Only take pictures of the women after you ask (and buying something from them often helps too).

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Eating in La Paz is alright. Coming from Peru with pretty delicious food, it’s stiff competition, but we found the Star of India restaurant as well as tons of fresh fruit stands. Having a little Spanish under your belt really helps at the smaller establishments.

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Doing a walking tour of the city is definitely a must-do in La Paz. Red Cap Walking Tours does a great job. So if you’re only in the city for a short time, they get the job done for seeing most of the interesting spots. Above see Plaza Murillo as well as the Presidential Palace (where the clock runs anti-clockwise….takes a minute to process it at first), and the Congresso Nacional.

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A bizarre and notable experience in La Paz is watching Cholitas Wrestling. This has become a popular event for both locals and tourists alike. We found it a little cheesy but were glad to pop in for a few rounds. Picture Hulk Hogan in elaborate traditional dress, but all of the schtick of WWF.

 

Above is a video I took (if the video doesn’t display for you, you can go direct to this youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RMsWxjSLbw). Unfortunately the woman may have broken her arm on the last fall. A group of people rushed her away moments after I ended the video. Par for the course I suppose but I felt for her.

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The night life in La Paz is not bad. We didn’t find La Paz to be particularly friendly which meant the atmosphere at the bars was a little cooler, but we gathered some foreigners together and made a night of it. Nicole and Julia, you were great travel buddies!

Ciao for now Bolivia