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Exploring Bolivia – Santa Cruz

Having wandered around South America over 5 countries so far we realised we were missing so many epic places right on our doorstep! Bolivia is truly one of the most amazing countries to visit and has so much to offer. 

We headed to Santa Cruz for a few days and first night there was the last night of their famous ExpoCruz which is basically a month of the biggest showroom in the whole of South America! We spent 3 hrs there and could have bought a motorbike, cookie machine, goat, organic cereal, a car, a kitchen, a horse, a smartphone/tablet, a popcorn maker, a tractor, a herd of cattle, a toastie maker, a ride on lawnmower, a dota 2/WOW/harry potter figurine, a holiday to anywhere…….the list would go on for the rest of this blog! It was mad and heaving with people watching dance shows, product demos, videos etc and generally just enjoying the party atmosphere of this massive event. (We bought a phone charger and some yuca crisps……and somehow not a horse!). 

We’d had a bit of time to look round the city and saw the beautiful Plaza 24th September and the urban park and the alter where the pope visited Bolivia with an audience of 1000’s people filling the streets to hear and see him. (Although some of that trip involved looking for Pokemon and pokestops…..) and having saltenas and smoothies for lunch. Yum! 

The other thing Santa Cruz offers is Aqualand, a water park and in 34 degree heat that is a real pull. We weren’t quite sure what to expect from a Bolivian water park as centreparcs is our usual water park haunt……but off we went at 10am like good brits to avoid the midday sun! We got in there and the first thing I did was fish a frog out the lazy river…..he didn’t look like he was enjoying the park much. As we weren’t locals we weren’t sure of the fundamental water park knowledge so we didn’t get an inflatable ring until well after midday……this meant that due to there being little or no health and safety awareness (or staff) that we managed to go down the huge slide designed for rubber rings without one…..not easy…….we braved the other two slides, one is pitch black for what felt like half my life, and the other was a bottom shredding experience as apparently the locals cram in their rubber rings down that one too! (In perspective it’s a normal small human size water slide!). The other options were a wave pool so powerful that I nearly drowned trying to get myself and my rubber ring to safety, and two ‘death slides’ named by us. One of which was a vertical drop for about 12m into a tiny splash of water which made grown men scream as they descended! But all in all we managed to spend a full 7hrs there without getting injured, dehydrated or burnt! So a win for the tourists! 

Then we got up at 4am to pick my lil sis up from Santa Cruz airport and all headed off to Cochabamba for a massive food fest!!

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Rio Paralympics 2016

Well…….where to start and what to say. 

To say I’d been excited about the thought of going to the Paralympics a) at all, b) somewhere warm and sunny, c) for ┬ú10-20 per event, d) for a full week would be the biggest understatement!! 

Originally we planned this Rio Paralympics trip before any other as soon as we knew we were actually taking the year break. We didn’t think Olympic tickets would be possible to get (judging by how impossible it was to see anything at London 2012!) so we ‘settled’ for Paralympics (which was actually my preferred option anyway ­čśŐ). 

Then the Rio media build up started……no police……athletes getting robbed……protests everywhere……Brazilians against the games…….Zika…….! And we started to panic. Reconsider our trip. Even dread it slightly. 

Then August came around and we caught serious Olympic fever! We sat and watched what we could (with it buffering throughout WFP’s XC round and me screaming at the TV!) and did a full 180 degrees to be ridiculously over excited again! 

We got back from ihla grande full of excitement ready for our week in ‘Estacio’ central Rio de Janerio. John had booked a really nice little appt through air bnb right in the middle of the 3 event areas. To put this into perspective…it took 1-2hrs to get from one event site to another so an appt in the ‘middle’ meant it took us 1-2hrs for each venue but we could got to all of them more easily! We could see the metro station from our appt so getting around was so easy (once we’d worked out the ticket system). 

We’d bought a few tickets ahead of the games so started with a full day at the equestrian event. It was 33deg, no shade, no breeze and no cover I can only imagine what the riders were feeling in full dressage gear! We melted into our seats……for me it was a great event as this was the Grade 1a class, Sophie Christensen and Anne Durham. Unfortunately for John as this was the most disabled class level he had to sit through 7hrs of “horse walking” in 33deg sun…….! 


BUT now we had the Paralympic bug! We went in search of a GB flag and promptly bought a stack more tickets for the rest of the week. 

We saw two sessions of athletics in the Olympic stadium, and were bowled over by the atmosphere, the positivity of the crowd, the sense of community from all the athletes and just got total Paralympic fever! We cheered team GB, we cheered Team Brazil, we cheered anyone and everyone that competed in that stadium and it was over too quickly each time. 

 

The next day we headed to the Barra Olympic village to catch the GB vs AUS wheelchair rugby game. I’d had advice from home that this was definitely an event not to miss (thanks Vicky!) and my days that was true. We spent the first 15 mins with our mouths open while the teams bashed into each other, smashed their chairs, knocked each other over or out of the arena, caught the ball with no hands/arms, propelled at mad speeds with no arms or legs, were strapped into chairs with minimal upper body functions scoring goals! Once we’d got over the initial impact (pun intended) of this sport we quickly got right into it and cheered for Team GB at the top of our lungs for the rest of the game. Then we came back for the France vs USA game and cheered all over again!! Epic event! Now we’re hooked!! 

The next day we headed off to table tennis but had also managed to get tickets to be in the live audience of the last leg. We thought these venues were close……….we were wrong. So unfortunately we ended up very late to the table tennis but managed to catch the players John was hoping to see…….South Korea vs China (sounds like a stereotype but they are the best in the world at table tennis!) and watched the team game with a mad South Korean support contingent singing and chanting and cheering throughout. They even managed to make the quiet calm table tennis arena raucous!

Then we headed off to see the last leg, both of us anxious about getting accidentally on TV but excited for the show. It was SO much fun. The guys were as funny of camera as they were on. We were there for Alex Brookers amazing speech (all over youtube). The feeling in the room was just pure warmth, respect and admiration for every single athlete in and out of the studio! It was a lot of fun! We managed to grab some athletes for photos for Funprobo. 

The end of the week was another full day at the horses but this time the place was alive and we enjoyed the freestyle tests to music (or ‘horse dancing’) and saw Team GB clean up with 4 golds including Team Gold! We met Diana Man a para dressage equestrian athlete who commentated with Clare Balding at London 2012 and is gunning for a place on Team GB for Tokyo 2020. So we learned even more about the sport and the riders. It was an amazing historical day of equestrianism and we both thoroughly enjoyed it!! 

Sat was our last day in Rio so we spent the morning walking down Copacabana beach, had calamari and a coco loco cocktail for lunch, bought a lot of havaianas, met more wonderful athletes (Shaun ‘one arm bandit’ Anderson – SA archer) then headed to the Olympic stadium for the last evening of athletics. 

The atmosphere was electric and the stands were full. Everyone cheered everyone, Mexican waves rippled round the stadium, the athletes who asked for the crowd to clap them into their jump/throw/race were dutifully clapped, whooped and cheered, the entire stadium fell silent when asked to allow the visually impaired athletes to hear cues from their guides and the who evening passed in a flash! 

Sadly then it was time to leave. I can safely say this week was one of the best holidays I’ve ever had (and that’s saying something!), I got to Physio nerd all week and be inspired and reminded why I do the job I do. John got to experience seeing people with all sorts of disabilities overcome that and be better at sport than he is……! We are very lucky for lots of reasons. 

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Ilha Grande

This island is a 4 hour trip from Rio; it can be a quiet refuge for some to escape the city, however; it is also know for it’s parties.
To get to the island it is a 40 minute boat ride from main land.

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The travel agent failed massively on this trip giving us the wrong times for the bus. They also forgot to inform us which hostel we were staying; we just assumed someone would meet us at the dock. We managed to find a hostel anyway. It was party hostel so full of kids getting drunk. The next day we found out of actual hostel was a much quieter,  the stay here was much nicer and not full of hipster kids playing a ukulele at 3am.
The island can be discovered on foot but there are also water taxis available. There are no cars on the island, this make getting around on foot relaxed.

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The next day we jumped on a boat to visit Lopes Mendes beach. The beach was beautiful and  not very busy. It gives you an idea what the beaches of Rio must have looked like before all the buildings and humans moved in. In peak season I imagine it would be a different scene packed with people.

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Getting to the beach was a fun trek though the jungle

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At this time of year there were not many tourists so it was relatively quiet. However, it seemed that most of the income must come from tourism. The roads are all lined with restaurants and tourist offices.
The island is a reserve site which is protected. There were also no big name shops on the island; there were also many signs saying “No Privatisation”.
On the second day we headed out on another boat ride to the blue lagoon. It was amazing. We managed to get some pictures under water:

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Next we headed to another beach to have lunch.

Since the island is a tourist destination the prices of food were pretty high, especially after living in Bolivia for a few month; but it was worth it:

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On the final day we had a few more hours to relax on the beach and do a bit of swimming. The water here was not as clear as the blue lagoon but we managed to get a few fish snaps:

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Overall the island was a great experience a bit more on the tourist trail than before but was great to get some sun after some time in La Paz.

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Border Crossing – Corumba – Bolivia to Brazil

ÔÇő”You’ve been in Bolivia too long!” This is what two Americans said to us at the border to Brazil after I’d explained how much I liked La Paz. They mentioned they did not feel safe there at all. Perceived safety changes with familiarity and knowledge about the area.
The only knowledge we had about Brazil apart from the amazing things that attracted us to visit in the first place; was the the problems. In the lead up to the Olympics the world was focused on Brazil. Much if it had been negative mentioning the lack of money for police and firemen. The reputation of crime in the country made us more paranoid as well.

Border towns are already reputed to be hives for criminal activities, black markets and choke points for smugglers. However, the only thing eventful that happened at the boarder was a toucan flying over the river.

On the Bolivian side of the river there was a large queue and some folks selling pastel (deep fried cheese empanadas). After the immigration official checked the entry slip we received when entering last we were though faster than many Bolivians; as nationals had to pay a tax before leaving.

We passed over the bridge to Brazil.

On the Brazilian side we walked down the road to find a bus stop. It cost about 4 reals for a ticket to the center of Corumba.

It was a walk to the hostel and our first try at speaking to the locals. Our below par Portuguese skills managed to land us some saldagos.

We stayed in the Road riders hostel, it was a reasonable price it had nice sized rooms and was quite modern. This was filled with the usual group of young  hipsters talking about their latest parent funded trips, quickly avoiding having to listen to another story about traveling it was time to rest after a long trip.

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Rio de Janerio – Brazil #favelalife

So when I booked a hostel in a favela in Rio, John went through varying levels of grief…….disbelief…….doubt…….fear…….then acceptance. 


We contemplated cancelling our entire trip to Brazil a number of times since we booked it in April due to all the negative media attention. Then we watched the Olympics on the TV in Bolivia, got thoroughly swept up in the passion, positivity and feeling of the games, packed our bags and in the end set off ridiculously excited for our trip! But we were still staying in a favela……. It would be fine I assured him as David Beckham has a house there and trip advisor has great reviews. I did book a taxi transfer from the airport though as we were arriving at night and that seemed the safest option. So we were met at the airport by a very smiley chap dressed in an incredibly floral Hawaiian shirt and we thought ‘yep we’re in Rio, home of carnival’! He preceded to give us the full tour on route to the hostel and we passed downtown Rio, Copacabana beach, Ipanema Beach, Leblon Beach all full of beautiful people skateboarding, rollerblading, drinking and enjoying the warm evening in Rio. Then we got to the square marking the turning up to the favela…..this is when the tables turned. I saw scary looking folk, noise, swathes of people, police everywhere and crapped my pants. John saw noodles, deep fried cheese empanadas, cu├▒apes, churros and suddenly decided the favela was a great idea………


As we climbed the hill in the taxi, motorcycle taxis sped past us with their fares. We were told the best way to get up normally was a motorcycle taxi at a cost of 3Reals……visions of kidnapping and Bolivian amputees flashed through my head, John however was all for a mototaxi another day. As we climbed he told us he’d lived there for 30yrs and the favela was like a big family and everyone looked out for each other. Sure enough he was smiled at and waved at by everyone we passed. We were still climbing and winding up narrow roads as we slowly realised why no taxis will come up there to our hostel normally. We got there and met the owner who was lovely, on the wall of the reception was lots of awards she’d won for community innovation and achievements with the hostel and surrounding area. She showed us up to our room and the balcony and all was forgotten as the view was spectacular! 


We went to bed (in bunk beds ­čśé – obvs shot gunned top bunk) much more relaxed and excited about the next few days and our favela experience. 

The next day we got up and had a good look round our hostel in the light of day. And it was lovely! The rooftop terrace was a highlight and we went up there at least once everyday for the views and the air.



Our Bolivian training of hills and no oxygen served us well as we found we could skip up and down the vertical cliff face to our hostel with little trouble! We were definitely tourists in the favela but sure enough everyone was friendly and we actually really enjoyed our few days there. We chilled on the Vidigal beach as well which on the 7th Sept (Brazilian Independence Day) was full of families, groups of friends and couples all hanging out together and enjoying just being brazilian. 


On reflection we would definitely recommend Vidigal house as a great place to stay even if you’re a worrier like me or a foodie like John! 

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Meet Futuro! I’m in ­čśŹ

These last two months as well as seeing the amputee patients, teaching kids to ride at the weekend, training the riding ponies in the week I have also found time to fall head over heels for this little spotty monster!


This is Futuro. He is a 3yo Appaloosa colt who was an unexpected surprise 3 yrs ago when his mummy was bought for Fundacion Porvenir but it turned out she was a buy 1 get 1 free offer……..and this little terror came out. He was the first foal born here (hence the name) but is definitely not an Arab!


I am lucky enough to be here at optimal teaching time for this gorgeous boy. So have spent my time brushing, halter breaking, tying practise, feet lifting and avoiding getting nipped! We tried lunging but as neither of us know what to do it wasn’t that successful. So we tried loose lunging to give ourselves a bit more room, started well then he wandered out the arena via a tiny space behind the shed so once I’d had to fetch him back we gave loose lunging up as a bad job and had lunch instead!


He is so bossy and so confident that it’s tricky to know which of us is more bossy….or which of us knows best as we’re both convinced it’s us! But he’s getting much less bargy and I can pick up both front feet now without loosing an eye (although he does still like to sink his teeth into my backside at the same time!).


So next step will be getting a saddle on then maybe getting on! Or I could just stay on the ground and keep snuggling! !