You Only Live Once: Backpacking Adventures in South America

This summer, two long-time SIA-ers Jenna Canning and Natasha Farrugia have embarked on a backpacking adventure of a lifetime across South America.  Follow along with them as Natasha Farrugia shares their story….

Image Backpacking in a foreign county can be defined in many ways by different people. Here is how our definition has shaped up to be…Our very long flight to Rio ended after a long day on travel to Panama City. We met a lovely young lady named Tina, who was flying into Rio for the UN conference being held here right now (Rio +20). She was travelling on her own and would be our first encounter with luck. Prior to leaving for South America, Jenna and I had been a bit concerned about our accommodations once we arrived in Rio….we had none.  Luckily, Tina had a Canadian friend who now lives with his Brazilian girlfriend. Tina begged her friend with desperation and we successfully had accommodations on our first night in a safe and warm apartment. The hard floor that we slept on certainly helped with our stiff backs from the plane ride.

Our generous Canadian friend needed to get to work in the morning so we quickly ventured out to find a hostel. Tina had already had arrangements at a very happening hostel called Che Lagarto.  We tried shopping around for a cheap hostel and settled on Karisma Hostel in Ipanema.  We should mention that had we waited 5 minutes longer to settle on Karisma Hostel, we would have lost it to two Brits.

Tina, Jenna and I decided to get right at it and try to find some tourist spots on our own. We headed to look for the steps in Lapa.  We stopped for lunch and met an individual who independenely writes for Trip Advisor, so we took his suggestion to visit a beach, which he compared to paradise, called Praihina. A simple bus ride and a cheap taxi would have us there in no time! AHAHAH forgetting about the South American lax sense of punctuality we spent the entire afternooon on the bus. I’d say it was very worth it, we just wished we had more time to enjoy the beach. We didn’t want to be travelling in the dark so we took some time to soak of the little sunshine we had left and dip our toes in the ocean. We sat on a rock to reflect on the adventure thus far (a short but adventurous one already!) when a big wake came and swept Jenna runners away. They were saved, but poor Jenna had to walk back in wet shoes.

Becoming acquainted with other backpackers and the lifestyle we were going to be living the next 2.5 months took some adjusting to.  Arriving safely back in Ipanema we were surprised to find that the Brits were back!  We all hung out in the village and despite being exhausted, we went out to Imporium, a local bar. Gus (who is ironically nicknamed Goose) and Sam became our first backpacking mates.

The next morning we headed to the notorious Brazilian beaches on a bright sunny day. On our journey to the beach, our eyes were attracted to the colourful fresh food market. We stopped in and was immediately offered a fruit buffet, with a local handing us various fruits.  We filled our bellies and headed back to the beach to watch the sunset. Throughout the day we had adopted the now universal #YOLO and coined in significant to our #southamerica2012 backpacking journey. For those of you that don’t know what #yolo means, it’s an abbreviation for YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE. It’s something simple to live by, whether in South America or at home, try to do something everyday that gives meaning to doing something because you only live once.

That evening we gathered with many other backpackers and headed out for a night of dancing and celebrating on the streets. This weekly party which takes place in Lapa is something like many of us will never experience. Thousands of people line streets in a club district and drink and dance to the very early hours of the morning.

A few days later, we began at the Corvocado mountain where the 5th largest statue of Christ overlooks Rio. This is one of the Seven New Wonders of the World and Jenna and I had the opportunity to stand in front of it! -with MANY other tourists.  From the Christ the Redeemer statue we headed to the football or better known to us as the soccer field which is currently under extreme construction for the 2014 FIFA world cup. We than went to the Metro Convention Cathedral where the Pope will visit next year for World Youth Day.  We were then driven to Lapa, and visited steps that a man named George Selaron created when he was in his late twenties. The steps are marked with over 20,000 tiles which include tiles from 145 countries.  Selaron was sitting on the steps in front of his house and we were able to talk to him and take a picture with him. So neat! We were treated to a buffet dinner that night. We realized later that the buffet was fuel for the hike up the Sugar Loaf mountain. Well half way – then we took a cable car up to the very top.  We were than taken home and exhausted as you could imagine. We arranged our belongings to be ready for our early morning departure to Foz do Iguacu.

We managed to get ourselves to the bus terminal where we would begin our Green Toad adventure which we had booked prior to leaving Toronto. Jenna and I finally managed to have a look at our Green Toad itinerary and quickly discovered that the 10 hour bus ride we thought we were on, was actually a 23 hour bus ride! Lucky for us, we had bought snacks the night before. We snuggled up with our books and iPods and caught up on some much needed sleep. The bus company Pluma, had comfortable seating and we were able to stop for lunch and dinner.

The next morning we arrived groggy and chilly in Foz do Iguacu. We had been warned about the cooler temperatures.  We spent the day with some gentlemen from France.  We went to a pub to watch the France vs. Sweden game. Jenna and I had a moment to take in our experience and discuss what has been happening around us. Backpacking has taught us that you don’t just have an opportunity to visit wonderful places around the world, on an attempted “cheap” budget, but you get to experience many of the cultures you are surrounded by when you meet people from around the world. Naturally we have run into Brits, Aussie’s, and Americans but it also amazing to be sitting around a hostel kitchen talking to people from Switzerland and Namibia.

Until next time….

Jenna and Natasha