Floripa – Florianopolis, Brazil

We have come accustomed to arriving in new cities greeted by rain and Florianopolis was no different. This time we were in a beach town where rain is typically not welcomed. We waited for the rain to let up a bit before wandering around and exploring town. We walked around scoping out the different shops and restaurants. One thing was for sure the closer you got to Rio, the more Acai shops and Havaiannas stores there were. It was a very uneventful day as there is not much to do in Florianopolis when raining. We grabbed food at the market, cooked at the hostel, and hung out with the rest of the people staying at Backpackers Share Hostel for the night. We went to bed hoping for clear skies the next morning.

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The opposite happened the next morning, instead of blue skies there was torrential downpour. Everyone ended up just staying at the hostel that day because no one wanted to venture out into the rain. The Brazil vs. Chile game was on and the hostel set up a big screen TV to watch it. Most of us were cheering for Brazil with a select few Chilean fans. That game was the most intense game I’d seen so far in the world cup having me on the edge of my seat. Since it was nerve-racking for me, I couldn’t imagine how the Chileans who were staying at our hostel felt. You could see how passionate they were about futbol, praying throughout the game and going nuts when Chile scored. Chile ended up losing in the worst way possible with a shootout. As much as we all wanted to cheer for Brazil it was bittersweet. The Chileans were in tears when the game ended and it was heartbreaking to watch. After the game, the hostel hosted a BBQ for everyone to enjoy. It was fun to hang out with everyone and celebrate a Brazilian victory. Once again we went to bed hoping for clear skies!

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This time we got what we hoped for, the skies were clear and the sun was out. Since it was a beautiful day and the waters seemed calm we decided to go paddle boarding in the lake and down the canal. Alex (a girl we met at our hostel), Dominic (someone we met in Cusco and ran into in Floripa), Farima, and I walked to the lake to rent boards. The man we rented boards from was really nice and because it was slow season told us we could take the boards out for as long as we wanted. Alex and Dominic had never paddle boarded before, but they learned quickly. We started in the lake and made our way down the canal enjoying the scenery and peace. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to be out on the water. After returning our boards, we headed to a restaurant to enjoy a nice refreshing acai bowl. Back at the hostel, Farima and Alex convinced a big group of us to go dance samba at a local club in the area. 21 of us crammed into the hostel van and headed to the club. Alex tried to teach me how to samba but I don’t think I picked it up very well. Even though I may not have learned how to samba, dancing with both locals and tourists alike was still fun.

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The next morning a group of us (Keir, Steven, Alex, Farima, and I) took a bus tour of the southern beaches of Florianopolis. Although it wasn’t the sunniest of days it was still a nice day to explore other beaches on the island and the company made it all that much better. The people you spend your day with can really make or break your experience and we were lucky to have met some really entertaining Australians.

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Somehow the next day I was convinced (it didn’t take much convincing) to go on a booze cruise around the lake with a large group from the hostel. I was on board (pun intended) as long as we were back to watch the USA vs. Belgium game. Decked out in red, white, and blue, I boarded out boat for the day. We sailed around Lagoa da Conceicao happily drinking and enjoying the surrounding views. I began to feel anxious that we would not make it back in time for the start of the USA game, which encouraged fellow travelers to point out that Americans don’t really watch soccer and therefore do not deserve to advance. I will be the first to admit that I in fact do not watch soccer back in the States, but that does not mean I can’t cheer for my country! We ended up losing thus ending the possibility of Farima and I being able to catch a USA game in one of the stadiums throughout Brazil. With USA out of the World Cup, I was hoping for a Brazilian win! After a fun filled and exciting day, we were off to Paraty the same night!

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A European Mountain Resort in Brazil – Gramado, Brazil

Farima’s friend, Douglas, recommended a place called Gramado for us to go visit, so the following day we headed to this quaint little town. Gramado looked like a mountain resort town straight out of Switzerland and it appeared to be Christmas all year round. We checked into our hostel, where besides us there was only one other family staying there. Both the owner and manager were amazing, telling us all the possible activities to do in town. After settling in we walked to the center to admire the Swiss like architecture. We learned quickly that Gramado was an upscale resort destination with fancy shops and pricey restaurants, much like mountain resort towns back home. We were told by the owner of the hostel that while in Gramado we must try fondue (exactly like Switzerland). We found a restaurant that was a bit cheaper than most and we were ready to get our grub on. First, you start off with cheese fondue accompanied by bread, broccoli, potatoes, cubes of jelly (not our favorite), and some sort of fried potato. We didn’t want to get too full on the first part of the meal, but we ended up finishing everything except for the cubes of jelly, it was too good to waste. Next came the meat (both steak and chicken) along with a stone to cook it on and about 10 different sauces. The meat was extremely delicious and even though we didn’t know what the different sauces were we tried those too! The last but definitely not the least part of the meal was the chocolate fondue accompanied by strawberries, bananas, grapes, pineapple, and melon. Telling you we were full would be an understatement. We headed back with full and satisfied bellies for a peaceful night of sleep. IMG_4898

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The next day the sun came out, perfect for a stroll through Ecoparque Sperry, a trail through the surrounding mountainside. We walked along the forest trail past 4 waterfalls, all beautiful in different ways. Besides two other people, we were the only ones on the trail making it incredibly peaceful. After completing the loop, which took us about an hour and a half, we headed to town for lunch and to try to catch the Iran vs. Bosnia game. Unfortunately, every restaurant in Gramado were only playing the Argentina vs. Nigeria game so Farima had to watch through live updates. The sun didn’t last long and it began to rain so we headed back to the hostel for cover.

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We were headed to Florianopolis on a night bus the following night, so we decided to do our first ever hop on hop off bus to see as much as we could in the little amount of time we had in Gramado. We hadn’t realized there was so much natural beauty and hiking in Gramado or we would have stayed longer. The hop on hop off bus had some very interesting stops on them including a Hollywood dream cars stop, a railroad museum, a miniature world, a perfume museum, a house built without nails, and a Hollywood actors museum (kind of like a wax museum). At almost every stop, there was some sort of cartoon like character depicting the stop we were at. I felt like I was constantly on a Hollywood movie set. The first stop we got off was at a chocolate factory, but it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. You went through various rooms each telling what I believe was the history of chocolate (it was all in Portuguese). I felt as though I was on a ride at Disneyland, like snow-white or one of those storybook rides where in each different room there are different characters. At the end, there was a café and gift shop, I ordered hot chocolate just to get something with chocolate since I was at a chocolate factory. We bypassed a bunch of stops so that we would have time to see the famous cascata (waterfall) before the 1 pm USA vs. Germany game. When we arrived at the Cascata do Caracol we couldn’t believe how stunning it was. The water goes over a 131m-high cliff into the middle of dense forest. You can hike 744 steps down to the foot of the falls (and back up), but we only made it down 600 when we had to turn around because we ran out of time. Our next bus was on its way and we couldn’t miss the USA game. We rode the bus back to the center of town where they had a big screen playing all the world cup games. We watched the first half of the game at a restaurant (Madre Café) nearby and ordered a typical Brazilian dish consisting of steak with an egg on top, rice, black beans, fries, and a salad. Then for the second half we went over to watch it on the big screen. I really thought we might have a chance at beating Germany, but it didn’t turn out in our favor. Even though we didn’t win, we still celebrated our advance to the next round! We’re coming for you Belgium!

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After the game, we hopped back on the bus for our last stop, Lago Negro (Black Lake). It was a beautiful lake in the middle of a neighborhood. We took a walk around the lake and contemplated riding a swan boat, but decided against it. We hopped back on the bus one last time as we made our way back to the hostel to pick up our bags and head to the bus station. Boarding yet another overnight bus (we’ve taken so many I’ve lost count!) to Florianopolis.

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Futbol all day everyday – Porto Alegre, Brazil

This is just the start of a life revolving around watching futbol! We arrived in Porto Alegre on Saturday and found our way to the Airbnb we booked. Thankfully with the world cup in full swing we were still able to find a place to stay that wasn’t too outrageously priced. Our host for the next two days was named Felipe. He was awesome and very accommodating. Farima wanted to catch the Iran vs. Argentina game so we headed to an area called Lima e Silva, a street lined with a bunch of bars. After the game we made our way to Rua Padre Chagas, home to upscale bars, restaurants, and shops. Along the way we came a across a beautiful park lined with multiple stands selling all kinds of various stuff. Of course we had to stop and have a look! While in Padre Chagas we stopped in a sports bar called the Malt Store for a beer and to watch yet another game (Germany vs. Ghana). We headed back “home” to get ready for a night out. We convinced Felipe to come out with us and show us all the local spots in Porto Alegre. First, the three of us went out to dinner in Padre Chagas at a Thai food restaurant, a nice change from what we’d typically been eating. Then we walked down the street to a bar named Thomas, but the line was really long and Felipe told us he could take us somewhere better. We headed to Lima e Silva where at night the area turns into a big street party. All the locals come here to hang out and drink on the street. There are various vendors selling beer, as well as a local Brazilian hot wine drink, Quentao. I love to try local food and drinks, so I ordered a Quentao and it was perfect for the cold night. It tasted like a mixture of hot apple cider and wine. After hanging out for a bit on the street, we went into a bar and all got a Caipirinha, another local drink made up of cachaça (sugar-cane liquor) mixed with fresh lime, sugar, and ice. An interesting thing about Brazilian bars and restaurants is that you are given an individual card upon entry where everything you order is documented, then you must pay and show your validated ticket at the door when you leave.

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The following day was game day! First we met Farima’s friend, Douglas, who she originally met when we were in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. We walked around the waterfront with him for a bit and browsed the various food stands. Then Farima and I headed to Fan Fest to watch the USA vs. Portugal game. At first we couldn’t find any other American fans, but after a little searching we spotted a few in the distance. We all started to go crazy in the final seconds of the game as we anticipated the USA win over Portugal. But then came a moment of disappointment as Portugal scored in the last few seconds. Still proud of our team for playing a good game, we all headed to Lima e Silva to celebrate.

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The main reason we came to Porto Alegre was to watch the world cup games at a Fan Fest. Fan Fests were set up in all the major cities where games were being held as a way for fans who didn’t have tickets to watch the games. Therefore on our last day in Porto Alegre we headed to Fan Fest one more time to watch the Brazil vs. Cameroon game. We thought Fan Fest would be filled with Brazilian fans, but we found more Argentines than Brazilians, which we later found out was because of the Argentina game on Wednesday in the Porto Alegre stadium. It was an awesome first stop in Brazil, really immersing ourselves in all the excitement the world cup had to offer.

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(Rain) Breaking Records – Iguazu Falls

We were welcomed to Iguazu with pouring rain…

As we had only two days in town (Puerto Iguazu) before we had to catch our flight to Buenos Aires, we contemplated what to do over lunch as far as seeing the falls. Iguaza Falls are waterfalls of the Iguazu River that fall on the border of Argentina and Brazil and form the boundary between the two countries. The falls can be reached from the two main towns on either side of the falls, Puerto Iguazú in Argentina and Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, both providing you different views and experiences of the falls. From the Argentinean side you are able to take a boat tour into the river and see the falls up close while the Brazilian side gives you overall panoramic views from a distance.

Since it was raining on the first day and we figured more time was needed to explore the Argentinean side, we decided on crossing over to the Brazilian side given it stopped raining, which it thankfully did. We were able to catch the last bus that crossed the border at 4 pm and the weather turned out to be really nice… we were not so lucky with the water in the river and the falls. Since it had been raining, the color of the water was brown and the waterfall pressures so powerful that many of the tourists attractions were closed in response, including a walkway known as the Devil’s Throat where some of the best views can be found. The panoramic views from the Brazilian side although still breathtaking were at a distance and we were excited to get up and close to the falls from the Argentinean side. Jaap, Farima, and I decided along with two other guys from our hostel that we would head to the Argentinean side the following morning, crossing our fingers for no more rain.

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We woke up excited like kids on Christmas morning the next day to a cease rain and the sun shining from behind the clouds. The feeling was short-lived as our hostel guy informed us that the falls were closed due to a more than normal high water level as a result of all the rain. Who knew that too much water in a waterfall could close down a national park? Farima and I were really bummed, we had come all the way to Iguazu Falls only to have the park be closed. Weather seems to be a recurring factor in the demise of our travel plans! Since there wasn’t much to do in town, we caught up on some TV shows, did some reading, and posted some blogs.

Later in the afternoon, we headed to the Hito Tres Fronteras, an obelisk overlooking the Iguazu river where the three borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. Whoever said you can’t be in three places at once?! We even have a picture to prove it!

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We headed back to the hostel after our little adventure and tried to figure out whether or not we should push back our flight one more day to try and do the tour from the Argentinean side. The unfortunate thing was that no one could predict whether the park would open back up the next day or anytime soon for that matter. Since we had the option of changing our flight up until an hour before departure, we agreed to wait till the next morning and make a last minute decision then. If we were lucky and the park was open the next morning, we were to change our flight and stay one more night and if not, we were headed to Buenos Aires as originally planned. We headed to dinner and drinks that same night with a big crew from the hostel, all of us hopeful and positive about what the next morning would bring… a reopened National Park!

The conditions were not in our favor as we find out early the next morning that the tours and the National Park were still closed. Apparently, Iguazu had received an excessive amount of rainfall that week causing the falls to receive high water levels that broke records. The falls remained closed up to a few weeks after we had departed the town, which we learned from fellow travelers who had the same experience weeks down the road. Thankful to have seen and experienced the Brazilian side, we headed to the airport after saying goodbye to our Iguazu crew and boarded our flight to Buenos Aires. Although we were a little disappointed not to be able to get up close and experience the Argentinean side of the falls, it only added to our list of reasons to come back and explore more of everything this amazing country has to offer!

Edited by: Farima Mn.