Week 8 - Farroupilha, Buenos Aires and Tigre - Brazil and Argentina

A day by day account of the first week in our 2022 travels through South America, Mexico, USA and Canada.

Thursday 24th March 2022

Today was supposed to be our departure date, but due to a Covid spike in Buenos Aires, the bus company had cancelled, therefore we had to take the next available bus there from Porto Alegre, which is Sunday. 

We went out wandering. Last visit and goodbye at Talkers as I picked up my guitar.

A couple of drinks at BLEND and a Meal at La Vacchia Italian restaurant. Due to its massive Italian influence, Farroupilha has a famous tradition of buffet style Italian restaurants, whereby the waiters constantly wander around with countless different flavours of pizza, of which you can eat as much as you want. La Vacchia was a take on this but with pasta and meats (a lot better in our opinion). It was an amazing night, and one that we had been hoping for, for a while. The setting and the food felt like fine dining. We got a bottle of local white wine which was beautiful. We then sampled every variation of pasta, meat and sauce that they had to offer. Every part of the palette was catered for. I would go back to Farroupilha just to go to this restaurant. We then visited another couple of bars, wandering like two people trying to hold onto somewhere that they did not want to leave. A beautiful night, and our last here alone together before a few days of goodbye’s.

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Friday 25th March 2022

We had booked tattoos to remember our time in Rio Grande do Sul and to remind us of how much we were enjoying our lives here and in traveling in general. Today was the day we were to get them. We were booked in with a guy called Lucci, who had a studio in the centre of town in which he ran both of his operations. Grunge Design and Whiplash Tattoos. Lucci is famous in Farroupilha, providing many of its residents with their many tattoos. And his studio is massively impressive. He is a massive fan of Metal music, and his studio reflects that, with black walls, framed Metallica pictures, and an accompanying Spotify playlist. To add to the impression, it is on the 11th floor and has a full wall length window that looks out onto Farroupilha. He also designs trainers, of which there are many on the shelves dotted around. When we arrived, he was revising our designs on his Ipad 12 PRO. With Megan having such an interest in digital design, we were immediately immersed in conversation about his equipment and his process. He talked us through all his different types of customers and the great work that he had done. We both wanted a tattoo that we could remember South Brazil with. I got ‘Que Vida!’ (What a Life!) and Megan got ‘Coisa Linda’ (Beautiful Things), both including the colours of the Rio Grande do Sul flag.

 

At 6:20, we got picked up to be taken to perform at the Talkers Graduation, which was to start around 7. We drastically underestimated the scale of this due to Talkers being just a small building in the centre of town. But each of the 36 students, all had a table booked for their family and there was over 200 people in this impressive old stone banquette hall. Luckily we had dressed up as most people were in their finest outfits to suit this amazing setting. We opened the nights proceedings with an acoustic version of ‘Stand By Me’, which quietened the crowd and got them ready for the awards. Following this it was a traditional South Brazilian ‘Buffet Livre’. Things wrapped up around 10pm and it was home for another early night.

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Saturday 26th March 2022

Today had shaped up to be one of our busiest days yet, with a whole host of friends that we had met here wanting to take the final opportunity to say goodbye.

 

Firstly, we were picked up at 10:30 by Sam and Fernando who had been in one of Megan’s English language classes and had plans to move to Europe in the next year or so. They were one of those couple’s that we just clicked with immediately and wanted to take us to their home for a lunch of Churrasco and a few drinks. Fernando fired up the BBQ and made us many different cuts and flavours of sausage and salty, juicy beef, along with Farofa (a Brazilian seasoning which includes salt and garlic). He was also very keen foe us to sample his extensive spirit collection. We had some rare ‘43’ Caramel liquor, Smoked whisky, and Sheridan’s coffee liquor amongst others. They also introduced us to their dog ‘Orion’ who has his own Instagram account.

 

From there we were picked up by Edson, an English teacher that we had got to know through speaking at his school ‘Sao Tiago’ a couple of weeks earlier. This was our second outing with him outside work. We went to a place that was famous in the local area called ‘Caminhos de Pedra’, which was a beautiful road through a valley, full of small coffee shops, eateries, and cheese makers. We stopped at a café in the middle of a large grassy area, full of benches. The place was called ‘Benevento Chocolate & Café’, we got coffee and cheesecake. It was great to see Edson for a last time. Today was a day of goodbye’s and we told him as we did everyone, that we would be back.

 

Edson dropped us off at Allan and Patricia’s house for a final goodbye. We had been following Gremio’s progress in the South Brazil Cup. I had watched a few games in the progression up to this final, and it felt only right to try to watch it with Allan. It was Allen and his mother’s joint birthday party outside the city tonight, so we just watched the first half together. Patricia came back from her competitive running race in which she had come third. We then all got in the car and as they went to the supermarket for party supplies, we parted ways for what we thought was the last time.

 

We then wandered home from there, taking in as much as we could. We got home at 6pm, got ready and then headed back out for food with our hosts Marcella and Bruno. We went back to ‘Mundo Animal’ which was a place we had been before, which did the massive piles of sharing beef stroganoff chips. From there we went to Iron Beer Bar where we had been asked to return by the management, to perform some songs before we left Farroupilha. So this was our last chance. There was a Brazilian man performing and the crowd were in high spirits, which made us feel like being shoehorned into the show may dampen the mood with songs that people may not know. Luckily the crowd was up for anything. Lots of people that we had met over our month there attended. Many songs, beers, photographs, and hugs later we were heading home. But not before Patricia and Allan had made sure that they called in after the party. A great night with great people. Thank you to all who were there.

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Sunday 27th March 2022

Today was our last day In Farroupilha, our last day in Rio Grande do Sul, and our last day in Brazil. And what an amazing time it has been. So many amazing memories made, many life-long friends and a place we will never forget. Today was a nice way to end the trip, a leisurely Sunday stroll and visit to the park with Marcela, who has housed us, fed us and been a great friend to us for the last month.
 

We were up early as Megan had two online reading classes for her students in China at 9am (8pm China time). Following this we had Coffee with Marcela and headed out of the house at Midday for our 12:30 Covid test appointment (Antigen within 24 hours of our departure to Argentina at 11pm tonight). As we waited for our results, we went to a local supermarket and got some picnic snacks, including sandwiches, crisps, and a couple of Brazilian staples that we will miss. Guarana flavoured drinks and Sonho, which is a Brazilian desert which looks a little like a Doughnut filled with sweet milk caramel. We took this to the park and spent a couple of final hours together talking about the last few weeks and about the future.
 

Today was also Mother’s Day back in England, therefore we got in a couple of video call’s with our families, who were both celebrating in different ways and we were very happy to see everyone was having a good day.
 

We went back to pick up our test results and official documentation and then walked across Farroupilha with our bags to the bus station. We got the 4pm bus from there to Porto Alegre and went for something to eat. We got Yakisoba from a shopping centre close by and then returned to check-in for our bus. We had a little scare as the woman at the counter said that it was a PCR that was needed to enter Argentina despite our research (PTSD of being denied our flight out of China crept in). Yet after discussion with her manager, they agreed that an Antigen test, along with travel insurance including Covid cover was sufficient. We departed at 11:30pm.

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Monday 28th March 2022

A 19-hour bus journey turned into a 22 hour one due to a long passing of immigration into Argentina. We hoped that it had been factored into the journey time, but as the afternoon went by, it became apparent that it had not. We had to contact Cato, our Workaway host in Buenos Aires to let him know that we would be late as he was supposed to be picking us up on his boat, from a port in San Fernando at 18:30, which now was never going to happen.

Luckily, we had slept all night on the coach until about 11am, and from then we spent the day reading, writing, messaging, listening to music/podcasts and generally watching the clock. From here the day’s events took a turn from relaxation to massive frustration. We were stopped at the border between Brazil and Argentina for a couple of hours and then also spent some time in Traffic. Our already very long journey of 19 hours was increased to 23, and we arrived in Buenos Aires at 10:30pm. Since Cato had young children and was also to pick us up by 1 hour from the center by boat to take us to his island in Tigre, he told us that we needed to get a room somewhere for the night and reassess getting to him in the morning. We totally understood and quickly found a room in the center of B.A on Booking.com. We walked from the bus station and got there at about 11:30 and I nipped out to get cash from the cash point, not knowing at this point, that it was totally impossible to draw out money from an English card here. I put my card into a ‘Link’ machine, and it was immediately swallowed up, panic and chaos ensued. Not knowing whether the machine was going to keep my card or throw it back out in ten minutes (due to me only being shown a loading screen), I wasn’t sure whether to wait there or go and try to sort my situation by other means. I asked a passer-by where the nearest police were and luckily, he pointed down the street, about 100 metres to the station. In VERY broken Spanish, I told the two officers outside what had happened. They told me that it had happened before, and that I needed to return at 10am when the bank opened for them to get my card out of the machine. I reluctantly went back to the hotel, still worried that it may be spat back out at any moment and into the hands of the many street dwellers around that area. I returned to the hotel to a very anxious Megan who could only wait and hope I was ok, due to having no data due to only being in Argentina a couple of hours. I explained the situation to the man behind the desk and he said that he would have to ring the management. We were very anxious as it was now approaching midnight, we had our lives for the next how many months on our backs and we had been told by everyone we had ever spoke to about Buenos Aires to be careful as muggings and hostility in the center were commonplace. After about 15 minutes of us pleading to be able to pay the following day at 10am, and offering everything we had as insurance on the room, including our passports, our laptops and my guitar, the answer was still no and we were back out on the street. Very anxious, angry and tired. We returned to the police and after a couple of hours of ringing around hotels for us, and getting to know the four officers that worked in the tourist police station, they all agreed to put towards and pay a room for us for the night. They told us not to say anything in Buenos Aires as this was not something that they were supposed to do. We were incredibly thankful and told them that we would return the money to them on their next shift together which is Friday night. They found us the cheapest hotel available and reminded me of the night that Tom Hanks checks into the hotel on 'Big'. A very budget ordeal but luckily we are not picky and were happy to have a room for the night.

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Tuesday 29th March 2022

Although our hotel was very cheap, the Wifi was deceptively fast and I was able to honor my Tuesday morning lessons online to China, which I did at 9am. We checked out at 10. Following retrieval of my card from the machine that had swallowed it the night before, the order of the day was to get cash out so we headed for Santander. This is where another bad day in the capital began and just got worse until we managed to get out of the city at 4pm. I say managed to get out as we had absolutely no cash and unlike Brazil, getting your hands on cash (cashcard or no cashcard) is almost impossible. We only ended up with enough for the train to our Workaway in Tigre by a stroke of luck.

First of all, we toured all of the Santander banks (of which I am a customer) and spent a good half an hour on the phone to Santander in England before realising that it wasn't possible to draw out cash here. We subsequently found out that it is something to do with the governments decisions on how money entering and leaving Argentina. We went to more banks than I care to remember and were turned away at every one. Foriegn currency (Dollars and Euros) is being exchanged on a kind of black market into 'Blue Dollars', which is effectively double the amount of Pesos you would get for your money if you changed it officially. This is because lots of Argentinians and Argentinian businesses are saving Dollars and Euros as it is worth more to them hat their own currency. due to the fact that the problem is with changing cash, it is totally fine to pay on card at most places, which is OK for eating, but is not accepted as payment fore the 'TubeCard' which gets you on the trains and Metro. We thought that if we get to Tigre, we would be ok, as our host would be able to help us out, but that plan was also scuppered when they would not accept card at the station. We really were STUCK in the city center. We were losing the will to live and were actually contemplating whether staying in Argentina was for us.

As this kind of desperation leads us to think long and hard, Megan realized that when we left England, two months ago, we had a £10 note, which we stuffed in a random pocket of our backpacks to be used  9 or so months later. We took it in turns to leave the station, looking for currency conversion shops that would take it. Finally after a couple of hours, we found one that accepted pounds as well as Dollars and Euros. Six hours after setting out for the day with all our bags and our host expecting us, We were off!

All the stress dissipated to the point of even feeling worth it when we arrived in Tigre. Our Workaway host Cato picked us up from the port in his boat and we had an amazing trip down the rivers to his house on one of the islands in the labyrinth of rivers in that area.  It is so weird for this place to be just outside Buenos Aires. The boat ride was just the beginning of it. You never quite know what your sleeping environment is going to be when you get to a WorkAway as it can be a mattress on the floor or a private room in a palace, but this was just perfect for us; our style and our taste. We arrived at Cato's house and we were very impressed, he then took us through a walkway in the hedge to our accomodation, a beautiful, small bungalow cottage that sat alone, isolated in its own little area surrounded on the back and sides by bushes and at the front, a quaint path, small grassy area and then decking out onto the lake. The type of place that you would pay hundreds for, but we were exchanging it for a few hours a day working. We were to be painting the house and sorting out the garden. We felt very, very lucky; and the travel bus came back and hit hard. We were in paradise and very thankful.

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Wednesday 30th March 2022

We woke up this morning and had coffee, sat on the decking, looking out over the river, joined by a couple of stray dogs with the sun on our backs. We had barely got used to our amazing hideaway on the river before Cato picked us up this morning and took us a few miles down the river. Deeper into the forest, to a second set of houses, ones that he owned along with his father. The two houses (one with a pool) covered the front and the back of the land, with a very sizable area of water in the middle. A very large pond or small lake, I can't quite decide. This is where we met Pedro, a Spanish man who had been staying as a Workaway in this other house since the weekend. We worked on this house for the day, Megan painting the outside of the house and me and Pedro clearing the pond of really long and heavy weeds and plants. We ate some fruit from the trees at lunch time and then headed back to the other house around two so that Cato could take his boat to the main city and pick up his children from school. We spent the late afternoon and evening, enjoying the surroundings, talking with Pedro and eating his speciality Spanish Omelette.

Today we enjoyed ourselves so much and felt so connected, that I put an idea to Megan that began to roll around my head. We have tickets to see Bright Eyes (my favorite band fronted by my biggest inspiration Conor Oberst) on June 20th in San Fransisco and I started to wonder whether we were going to end up rushing our time in south America and Mexico in order to get to that specific place on that specific date. In both our Workaway's up until now, we have been unbelievably impressed and have wanted to extend our stay and enjoy the places and the culture even more. Is one night at a gig, regardless of who it is, worth cutting short once in a lifetime experiences, in once in a lifetime places? Its under three months away and to fully get a good experience in each town/city we stayin, it takes at least a week, to build relationships and experience the food, the local things to see and also include our work. We are now in Buenos Aires and still have; Patagonia (Ushuaia); Chile (Santiago); Bolivia (Salt flats/La Paz); Peru (Machu picchu/The Amazon/Lima/Cusco) ; Columbia; Mexico; Hawaii and other places that we have been recommended. I secretly knew, but did not want to admit to myself that I had already decided that we were never going to get there. I spoke to Megan and she totally agreed. We wanted to drink in all we could here, and be able to extend our stay in any place we wanted, without constantly thinking about this date. I messaged a new friend of mine from San Fransisco (who i met in South Brazil) and he said he wanted the tickets for him and his wife. Perfect. We can now take the year more as it comes, and get to Canada at our leisure.

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