Hitting the Road in South America

January 21, 2013

We have completed the final scheduled flight of our journey and will be traveling by ground and sea from this point forward until we reach California at the end of March. Our ground travel will be mainly by bus and we just finished the first of 14 journeys that will ultimately take us to Valparaiso, Chile, where we will board our ship home.

From Manaus, Brazil, where we ended our Amazon Rainforest excursion, we took a short flight to Brasilia, where we spent a few days. This city was built in 1956 and became Brazil’s capital in 1960, moving it to a more central location than the coastal metropolis of Rio de Janeiro. Brasilia is now the fourth-largest city in Brazil, with a population of about two million people. It is, in fact, the largest city in the world that did not exist at the beginning of the 20th century (If you are wondering, Chicago held that distinction for the 19th century).

Unfortunately it rained the entire three days we were in Brasilia, and some attractions that we wanted to visit, such as the observation tower, were closed because of the weather. We still got a good feel for the city and enjoyed walking around in between heavy rain storms. Brasilia was built in a planned fashion and divided into numbered blocks, as well as sectors dedicated to hotels, banking, shopping and residential buildings. From the air, Brasilia looks like a bird or a plane, with the residential areas located in the wings. See the Google Earth image below.

Google Earth view of Brasilia, Brazil

From Brasilia, we took the final scheduled flight of our journey to the Southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. We walked from the airport for a short distance to the metro and rode it three stops to the long distance bus station. After paying for the tickets we had reserved by email, we waited about seven hours until our overnight bus left at 10:00 pm, bound for Uruguay.

Bus travel in South America is fairly comfortable. The buses are double-decker, with about 45 semi-reclining seats on the top level and 10 to 12 fully reclining seats on the bottom. To save money we booked our first couple of overnight trips on the top level, and actually slept pretty well in seats that recline much more than in economy class airplanes. During the 10-hour trip we were served dinner and breakfast and shown obscure movies (with Spanish subtitles) before things settled down for the night. Our passports were collected and Brazilian / Uruguayan immigration handled by the bus staff so we did not have to wake up when we crossed the border in the middle of the night.

The next morning we woke up in Northeastern Uruguay with views of the pampas, which are the lowlands that cover most of this country. We arrived in the resort city of Punta del Este a couple of hours later. During our entire around-the-world journey we have been following the sun and we are now in our third summer in a little less than a year! Punta del Este, located about 80 miles (140 kilometers) east of Uruguay’s capital city of Montevideo, is a popular beach destination for Uruguayans, Brazilians and Argentinians alike. In fact, we saw just as many cars with Argentinian license plates as Uruguayan while walking around the city.

Punta del Este is on a peninsula where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Rio de la Plata, which is an estuary about 180 miles (290 kilometers) long. Both the capital cities of Buenos Aires and Montevideo are located along this area of water. On Rio del la Plata side of the city is the Playa Mansa beach, which has calm water. The Playa Brava, on the Atlantic side, has rolling waves and is a rougher beach. Also located on this beach is the Monumento al Ahogado (Monument to the Drowned Fingers) which warns of the more dangerous water conditions here.

Punta del Este is a great place to relax for a few days and we took long walks on the beach and enjoyed the sunshine as we took part in the Southern Hemisphere summer with other tourists. After leaving here we will begin our bus travel in earnest. Our journey will take us into Argentina, down to the Patagonia region in the south of the continent and finally into Chile. We are looking forward to seeing South American scenery as we hit the road.

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