Last Tango In Buenos Aires And Our Introduction To Brazilian Beaches...And Portuguese!

By Shannon Cronyn

After the near-insanity we had experienced waiting for repairs in General Acha, our sheer glee at being on the road again was palpable. But there we were, late in the afternoon, General Acha and Juan Manuel ever shrinking in our rearview and our beloved friends awaiting us in Buenos Aires. Normally, we don’t ever choose to drive at night for safety reasons but given the hot hot heat of the summertime Argentinian pampa and the promise of beer and ice cream from Brendan and Bridget, we said, f—k it, let’s drive!

The tension of the first kilometers gradually wore off as Masi rumbled happily along and we let ourselves relax at last. Night fell and with it, a cool breeze and some light rain. As we drove, the sky put on a show for us. Nearly 360° of crackling lightning as far as we could see, illuminating cloud formations and sometimes striking the ground in the distance. We both had never seen anything like it. It was a surreal drive if there ever was one. We diligently stopped every 100 km, giving Masi a rest and keeping our fingers crossed that she’d make it the 700 km to Buenos Aires. At nearly 3am, we pulled wearily into a parking spot outside Brendan and Bridget’s Airbnb that we’d be sharing for a couple of weeks. Hugs, smiles, and excited chatter eventually gave way to happy sleep as we settled onto our air mattress.

This was the second time we had been in Buenos Aires this trip and it was like coming home. Having the time for a place to become familiar is one of the greatest blessings of this trip and BA will forever be one of our favorite cities. Over the next couple of weeks the four of us cooked a lot, made twice-daily trips to the ice cream shop (BA has hands down THE BEST ice cream and they know how to pack a cone ‘til it’s nearly falling over), sweated it out at in a Crossfit class, practiced tango in the living room and went to a couple of milongas (tango dances), took a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class (Brendan’s first, Bridget and I watched), and attempted, unsuccessfully, to find a climbing gym (about the millionth time in South America that the Internet says something is there when it actually isn’t).  We also got to meet up with our good buddy Gareth again! He and his friend Katie were traveling together and the six of us enjoyed some lazy park days complete with Mölkky and Pimms in a thermos, a drumming/percussion dance party (La Bomba de Tiempo—amazing, don’t miss if you’re in BA), and the subsequent dancing in the street with hundreds of other people.

As the summer days rolled by, we became painfully aware we would have to say goodbye to Brendan and Bridget for the third and final time. They were selling their beloved Pepe to another traveling couple and getting on a plane home to South Africa and then Australia where they’d be setting up their new post-living-in-a-van life. There were more tears of course and promises to meet up again either on their continent or on ours. But first, it was me who had to say goodbye. My sister and her husband just had their first baby, a beautiful girl named Evanna, and I had planned months prior to fly home to Southern California for the birth. She arrived early, little scamp, but the trip had been booked and I was excited to meet my first niece and spend time with my family. Of course Danny and I never learn that we don’t do well apart and it was a heart wrenching goodbye at the bus station. And so for the next two and a half weeks, I was in California and Danny was working hard on a consulting contract in Buenos Aires teaching Latin American marketing execs how to be better at their jobs. It was a bittersweet and difficult period, one that we don’t intend to repeat (even though we do a few months later, told you we never learn). I returned to Buenos Aires at last and we both wanted nothing more than to savor our first moments back together and above all get our butts back on the road. Groceries bought, gas in the tank, and eager to make tracks, we started off, this time to a new country and a new language. Yep—Brazil!

Three long driving days, three gas-station nights, and one smooth border crossing later, we arrived in a small beachside town on the Southern coast of Brazil called Garopaba. The American couple we met at Sergio’s in Trevelin had recommended it to us and after weeks of the dusty Argentinian pampa and the humid summer heat of Buenos Aires, we were thrilled to find a campground where the sound of the waves would lull us to sleep at night. In between sleeping late, strolling the beach, and discovering our first taste of fresh Brazilian sushi and yes, even an American burger joint started by an actual American, Garopaba was exactly what we needed. A few days later we had to get on the road north to meet up with another great friend who would be meeting us in Florianopolis.

It was a short drive from Garopaba to Florianopolis, or Floripa as Brazilians call it. We pulled into the tiny airport and there he was—dapper as ever with his side swept hair and stylish travel duffel, Tall Paul! It was our first friend visit since Sean came to see us in Buenos Aires months ago and we were stoked to show him a good time. We had booked an Airbnb for a week and truly we were all most happy when we were sitting around together, eating, drinking, and playing guitar in the hammocks outside. Gareth and Katie made an appearance as well and there more than a couple nights spent sipping caipirinhas (thank you Gareth!) and singing into the wee hours of the morning. We even had a Disney sing along—it was epic, mainly thanks to my having had more than a half a caipirinha and Paul’s princely singing voice. Floripa also has dozens of stunning beaches so we spent a few days exploring them, most notably Praia Lagoinha do Leste. About 90 minutes of hiking up and down over a mountain and we arrived on a pristine white sand beach that was blessedly devoid of both tourists and touts. It was a perfect day and we didn’t even mind that much that we had to hike back because the fishing boats taking people back to town were full.  We filled our remaining time together with good food, great laughs, and even a bit of skateboard watching (the 80’s empty pool skateboarding trend is alive and well in this part of Brazil). Soon we had to hop in Masi and drive north to Curitiba so Paul could catch his flight home. We spent one night in a two-star hotel in the city center (bad idea, nothing going on except nefarious characters loitering on street corners) and the next morning managed to squeeze in a visit to the lovely botanical garden before heading to the airport. (Shout out to Paul for being so awesome and coming so far to pay us visit. We miss you buddy!)

Then it was just us two again. Still beaming from the adventures of the past week, we stocked up on food and drove a little outside of town to a super tranquil campground where we planned to hole up for a week. Danny had some work to do for consulting clients and actually ended up giving a livestream presentation inside the van during a hailstorm! Ice percussion be damned, he pulled it off because he’s just that good. So it was a productive and relaxing week. Being low season, there was nearly no one there and we spent a couple days swimming in what felt like our own private pool. The only negative (and this didn’t make itself known until weeks later) were these tiny little black flies called borrachudos. Their bites draw blood but don’t start to itch until days later. Not knowing any better, I scratched them. Turns out this makes them a million times worse and I ended up with scaly, weeping patches of skin around all my bites that didn’t go away for weeks. So yeah. Avoid those suckers at all costs and don’t scratch! Danny also noticed that in the dish-cleaning area of the camp, in the ceiling above the sinks, we had an additional friend- the Brazilian Wandering Spider, aka, the most venomous spider in the world. It was scary enough being bigger than the size of your hand, venomous, and striped and furry…but added a next-level horror factor when one night we found a literal trail of blood dripping from its ceiling hole, likely from a frog it killed and dragged up there.

Curitiba is a on a high plateau surrounded by lush green forest that descends to the coast. Our next stop was to drive down the mountain to a tiny beach town called Pontal do Sul to catch a ferry to Ilha do Mel (Honey Island). We had heard this place was a “can’t-miss” in the Curitiba area and we wholeheartedly agree. With Masi safely parked in a campground for a couple days we hoisted our packs and boarded the ferry. Ilha do Mel is 93% nature preserve and no cars are allowed on the island. There are no roads, only a network of sandy trails that wind through lush forest and emerge onto white sand beaches. We were taken by it’s magic as soon as we stepped off the boat. We hadn’t booked anything in advance since there are dozens of pousadas and hostels on the island so we set off to explore and find something we liked. After about an hour of stopping in to places and finding that they were closed for the season (we were there in low season) or much too expensive for what you got (when $10 dollars a night sounds expensive, just imagine the state of affairs), we were directed by a fully booked hotel to check out Pousada de Charme. The moment we walked through the gate we felt like we had entered paradise. The owner Claudio beckoned us enthusiastically in, which was a welcome change from our reception at the other pousadas where we were treated more like intrusive bothers rather than potential customers. This place was beautiful, unique, and obviously pricier than the other options on the island. But after chatting with Claudio for a few minutes we were sold. Sometimes you just have that feeling you know? Turns out Claudio and his wife Vaninha turned their family plot of land into this luxury bed and breakfast a few years back. Their warmth, attention to detail, and fabulous food (made by Vaninha, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef) all add up to an experience that you want to have again and again. At one point Danny and I looked at each other and we both agreed that this was a place that we would happily come back to, hopefully with family and friends. So we settled in to our cozy bungalow (with the most comfortable bed we had slept in since our own in NYC) then were met by Vaninha who brought us our happy hour snack—delicate spring rolls in rice paper and a local fruit sangria in a pitcher. We took it out to the private deck overlooking the beach and sat quietly for a while soaking it all in as the setting sun recast the lighthouse in shades of pink and orange.

The next day we woke to an unbelievable breakfast spread of fresh fruits, yogurt, bread, cheese, and a made to order smoothie and omelette. After breakfast we took a walk along the beach to a Portuguese fort that was finished in 1769 and has since been restored for tourists. The views from the battlements atop the mountain above the fort were also stunning. That afternoon, we asked Claudio and Vaninha if they had any time to talk with us about their life and how they created their bed and breakfast. We told them we’d like to build something similar someday and when we happen across a place that fits our vision or aesthetic we have to know how it came to be. They graciously sat with us for the rest of the day (even missing their boat back to the mainland to keep talking) and told us all about their life and the vision and process for creating Pousada do Charme. We found we agreed with much of what they said and left the conversation feeling full of ideas and energy about the future. As people, Claudio and Vaninha are that rare couple we felt we wanted to emulate, in their passion for life, for each other, and their family. It was a special couple of days and we hope we’ll cross paths again someday.

The next morning we checked out of our room to hike the rest of the island. Our path took us through forest and out onto beach a couple of times until we reached the southern end of the island and the Enchanted Cave. The cave was, well, a cave, though the hike was what made the visit worth it. We had lunch in the second of only two villages on the island and caught the last ferry back to the mainland where we camped for the night. The next day we started off early to our next destination and also the most fun to say…Ubatuba! We’ll pick it up next time with Sao Paulo rush hour traffic and why Brazil is really good at grading their roads. Not. 

On Hitchhiking, Specifically In South America And More Specifically On The Carretera Austral And Route 40 (Ruta 40)

By Danny Cronyn

This missive comes mostly from a place of desire for improvement and optimization—of constructive criticism in hopes that generations of future backpackers can make good on the vibrant expectations of what past hitchhiking cohorts have provided. This also comes from a place of being disappointed and disenchanted with the current stock of unappreciative scenesters looking to thumb rides for free on the roads today. Here we go...

Dear Hitchhikers in South America and especially those on the road to/from Patagonia (specifically the Carretera Austral and Ruta 40 outside Calafate, Chalten, Trevelin, Bariloche, El Bolson, etc),

Let me preface this by saying I have purchased and driven vehicles in different parts of the world over the last decade. I’ve picked up hitchhikers in India, across Central and East Asia, Africa, and all over the Americas (north and south). I’ve hitchhiked myself as well, when it became either a mechanical or economical necessity...hence the impetus for penning this here blog post.

Hitchhiking is not a mode of public transportation. It is not a way to get from “here” to “there”. Possessing a thumb and backpack is not your entry price to the world of free travel. Your sociopathic desire to save money on air/train/bus transportation while not offering money for gas to the kind people that pick you up is not “the way it works”. Having nothing to offer is why you would hitchhike, not a chic new way to do things.

Briefly, hitchhiking should not exist to you in the same way that soup kitchens should not exist to you. If you had the money to take a taxi to a homeless shelter, it doesn’t make you an adventurous eater or frugal for dining there, it makes you a real jerk. There is no hitchhiking ecosystem, since there is ostensibly only one side: people who have worked hard, saved, and laid out real money for their own transportation which they improve, fill with gas, and fix (often) when it fails them. You, hitchhikers, have done none of this yet still think by holding out a sign or thumb you’re entitled to free transport.

You paid for an airplane ticket to South America, you pay for meals in restaurants, you pay for nights in hostels and some even pay for hotels (!!!). You come armed with nothing but a sense of entitlement and serious case of bad travel etiquette. You are a freeloading, mooching, grifting, scabby, and sometimes worst of all, boring lot of bad travelers...but here I am willing to try and help out future wannabes by trying to dissuade them.

The situation is this, in South America, that there are far too many hitchhikers now, since it has evidently become vogue to do this, and far too few people who can pick them up. In the olden days, VW buses and Defenders rumbling down to Patagonia on terrible roads would pick up the itinerant hitchers out of a sense of community and transcendental travel spirit. The current class of hitchers though, realizing this, has figured that they can take advantage and use the Overlanding Oversoul to their advantage and just skip purchasing bus tickets all together—offering nothing in return.

The shoulders of roads out of every town now are littered with hitchers, sometimes literally waiting in lines, to get picked up by people like my wife and me, and our fellow overlanders. Like I’ve stated, they bought food and room/board whilst in town, but set aside nothing for transportation (making them jerks, not poor). Out of the tens of dozens of hitchers that we’ve transported, sometimes for distances of hundreds of miles, do you know approximately how many of them offered money for gas? Approximately zero of them. Exactly zero of them. Some have even forgotten to thank us. Our friends picked up one hitcher that was awesome, a true professional that came armed with stories, stickers, and a small donation for gas, but he was the exception that proved the rule.

So, what to do? Here’s a helpful FAQ for you, to help you decide whether you should hitch in South America.

Q: Can you afford to buy a plane ticket to South America, along with food, room/board, and entertainment but not yet for transportation?

A: You’re a great little saver, keep going, you’re almost at “ready to travel” level!

Q: Can you theoretically afford to pay for travel, but prefer the adventurous spirit and kinsmanship of bumming rides?

A: I admire your spirit, make sure to split gas with your ride-givers (or at least offer the maximum you can afford), polish your A-game chatting and storytelling, and do make sure to profusely thank them for their generosity.

Q: Did you arrive on the shoulder of the road by hitching from somewhere else, do you use Couchsurfing or sleep in your own tent, and are you self-sufficient and a real world traveler?

A: You don’t need this FAQ; you know what to do. You’ve got great stories and no one minds picking up someone with those.

Attitudes are shifting about hitchers thanks to the lot currently out on the road. If you’re reading this and considering doing the same, please heed my advice and get the hitchhiking image back to “lovable tramp” from “scheming cheapskate”.

Rant completed.

Uruguay: Definitely A Country

Hello beautiful people, thank you for keeping up with us- I know it's a chore to be this far behind us (we're about two months behind right now) and still care...which is why these blogs are so delightful. Just think how dry they'd be if we were timely- so I guess count your blessings and stuff you guys.

Anyways, Shan1 and I left you whilst enjoying Buenos Aires where we were joined by a ginger Welshmen and non-ginger Aussie, Gareth and Sean. Only a few days to hang out and enjoy BA, where the opening hours for bars made for some very late and dizzying nights for us all, before boarding a ferry boat destined for Colonia, Uruguay.

 Carriages and cobblestones in Colonia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Carriages and cobblestones in Colonia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Word of advice: book these ferry trips ahead of time if you're looking to go from BA to Uruguay, since they fill up quickly (likely less so, now that you don't have to cross borders to get advantageous currency rates), and are weirdly way expensive. It was kind of a hassle to do, since much like all of South America, the build-a-good-eComm-website craze has not yet taken over. If I decided to stay down here, I'd build a year 2000-esque business and just make people decent websites out of goDaddy templates. I'd be a millionaire in no time.

Bought tickets, waited in line, took ferry to Colonia, pretty straightforward. Colonia is a great little tourist spot, we found. Old walled city, cobblestone streets, cafes, lots of places to grub some food, and plenty of welcoming hostels. We spent the day walking around, looking at some of the antique cars, chatting, and mostly just waiting to ride and/or die the next day and go to Montevideo. Sean and Gareth both watched "Best in Show" for the first time ever as well, what a film. Oh, highlight of Colonia was easily this huge creepy poster of what looked like Gareth with a cut out black mask on...so eerie.

 Gareth's masked doppelganger, mustache and all.

Gareth's masked doppelganger, mustache and all.

Then we went to Montevideo. I can honestly say I was looking forward to seeing this place, what I thought would be a smaller, more progressive, more beachy version of Buenos Aires. Not so much really. I shan't write about Montevideo too much other than to say it was nice and fine and I wouldn't go back unless I had to. We stayed in an awesome AirBnB though, made some wonderful meals all together, and hit up a few local spots for drinks after days spent walking all across the vast city. Nothing too impressive, especially after BA, and a bit underwhelming all over. Politically though, Uruguay IS super progressive and were one of the first countries in the world to legalize same sex marriage on the federal level as well as legalizing marijuana consumption and cultivation. Way to go you guys...now back to making your city cool again OK?

 Epic Sunday roast in Montevideo—thank you Chef Gareth! 

Epic Sunday roast in Montevideo—thank you Chef Gareth! 

OH YEAH! On our way out though, we arrived at the main bus terminal to take the three hour bus ride back to Colonia to catch our ferry, and found the entire terminal was blocked in by a protest. Not cool. We waited around in some decent heat, while the Uruguayans drank their mate (they love the stuff even more than Argentinians), but sneakily climbed onboard the first bus to bust the blockade. Few hours later, we were in Colonia and ready to git 'er done on the ferry.

BACK TO BA, met another AirBnB hostess in Palermo neighborhood where we'd be staying the next two weeks or so. Got our stuff sorted, then headed right back out, around midnight (when things are getting started in BA) to a Pearl Jam pre-party (the live show was the next day) at a bar across town. Just so happened a good buddy from back home (JC, I know you're reading this) had a friend in BA for the show as well, so we were lined up to meet him too. Well, after about an hour of being in Pearl Jam only bar, with my buddy's super duper turbo drunk friend screaming in my ear, I remembered, "Oh yeah, I don't even like Pearl Jam that much". Hey, don't get me wrong, I like them the same way every casual radio listener from years 1993 to 2001 likes them, but I don't LIKE THEM LIKE THEM the way every single person in that bar did. The night devolved, another 5am performance.

Next day was a mess, as we discovered "Pearl Jam in Buenos Aires" really meant they were playing an HOUR BY CAR outside the city, and there was no real public transportation option out there. Context, that's like saying you're playing NYC and actually your gig is at the Hot Topic in the Paramus Mall. We persuaded a taxi driver to take us, skirted the gay pride parade happening that day (two days in a row a crowd of peeps blocked our way, it's a streak), and went to the show. Great tailgating happening everywhere, with choripan and large beers being sold in front yards- I will say that Argentinian Pearl Jam fans have zero problem wearing the band's shirt to the gig (a no-no in the US and also everywhere else ever).

 Olééé olé olé olé...Pearl Jaaam, Pearl Jaaam!

Olééé olé olé olé...Pearl Jaaam, Pearl Jaaam!

Eventually we made our way inside, found the bathrooms (which for Argentinians were conveniently located everywhere there is a wall, because the dudes there pee on everything), and then tried to locate the place where beer is sold. You know about beer? At music shows? It's like popcorn at movies, or turkey at Thanksgiving, or an eye roll after someone rolls their RRRRs when saying "burrito". YEAH WELL, they don't serve any alcohol at big shows in Argentina, thanks for making me see a band sober it was...actually not terrible at all and I didn't have to pee once, so all in all...yup. Pearl Jam was good, Eddie Vedder drank more wine than than 20,000 people, and I gained a newfound respect for how cool a dude he is, even if I don't plan on listening to much Pearl Jam. Thank You Gareth for your wonderful present, we shall always remember (because we were super sober), the BA Pearl Jam show with much fondness and also because of the...

MOST TERRIFYING CAB RIDE EVER

Preface: I've driven cars, tuk-tuks/rickshaws, and motorcycles in Kazahkstan, friggin' Russia, Botswana, Cambodia, Vietnam, even INDIA YOU GUYS, and this insane, third-dimension existing, speed-me-to-the-afterlife loving, nightmare of a cab driver was BY FAR the most scary ride of my life. Seriously. It was literally crazy, like impossible and you wonder how this is being accomplished (scary level, that is), kind of crazy. Besides requisite high speed, non-obeyance of general road rules, and disconcerting amount of texting while driving (the holy trinity of bad driving) this guy was actually creating his own lane IN BETWEEN actual lanes. Imagine, two lanes on a highway, it's tarmac, you're near a major capital, there are lots of cars, and this guy was literally trying to fit between the two cars in the two lanes and creating his own third lane, IN THE MIDDLE. It that didn't work, and often it didn't and we were maybe an inch away from cars on both sides, he would switch out and gun the engine down the shoulder which sometimes had huge 2-4 foot dropoffs. I feel as though this is like trying to describe a bad dream where it's never going to be as scary as I want it to sounds, but let's just say I texted my rickshaw partner from India, Tall Paul, right after we got let out and told him I just had the scariest ride of my entire life. That's saying something, since vehicular manslaughter isn't really even a crime in India (don't fact check that).

Now back in BA, we partied a bunch more, had some great nights, Shan1 got to dance some tango, we walked around the city for days enjoying the sights, I rolled some jiu jistu in a local gym, and we reluctantly bid farewell to Aussie Sean from Brisbane (aka, Brisvegas, BrisneyLand, Brisbekistan).

Now we needed a fourth! Luckily, Gareth's friend Maricel from Lima came to join us for our ride west and south to the Lakes District in Argentina, and then to Bariloche to start our trip to Patagonia. Until next time (phew, only two months behind still!).