Brazil 2014: backpacking through the WorldCup

Mexico, as most countries in Latin America, is well known for its soccer crazed population. People here, specially men, choose a team and they are loyal to it until the day they die. Mexicans cry, laugh and root for their teams as if their victories were the single most important achievement of life. People sacrifice plans and social gatherings just to watch their favourite teams play. Some of the worst fights I’ve seen are caused by rivalry between different national teams and claiming your favourite soccer club out loud to a group of strangers can either get you a bunch of new friends or a couple of life-long enemies. That’s how strong is the Mexican love for fútbol.

Even so, I was raised in a household free of all this typical soccer enthusiasm. My brother has always been very sporty, but he never really got into soccer and all the fanaticism that surrounds it. He is actually a rock climber and has the most pacific personality that usually accompanies this specific outdoorsy activity. He has never understood the obsession that most guys here get over their soccer teams and he has always preferred to stay out of any type of conflict created because of two colliding teams. My dad, on the other side, does get a strong type of sport hype, but this one comes directly from a game that is not even played much in Mexico. He loves football, American football.

The only real influence I ever got to even pick a soccer Mexican team that I could say I somehow preferred comes from my grandpa on my father’s side. He loves Chivas, the second most famous and important team in Mexico, and he actually watches the games and gets excited for them. I love my grandpa, and watching him get excited every time they played convinced me completely to grant him my soccer support, so whenever either my dad, brother, or I get asked the very important question of who do we root for we always say Chivas.

If there ever is a sport playing in the TV of my household is American football. I believe none of the members of my family would have ever even watched a whole soccer game if it weren’t for the WorldCup. All of the soccer alienation in my home completely cancels for the WorldCup. The beautiful WorldCup.

Ever since I can remember, my less than soccer loving family has woken up at ungodly hours of the night whenever needed, to watch Mexico play in the World Cup. The fact that my first World Championships were in live-time of countries like France and South Korea meant that we had to be available at times when no one should even be awake. This, in the mind of a 6 and later 10-year-old, created a really big impression, so I have the most vivid memories of watching and actually loving every World Cup game Mexico ever played. This is where I finally started to understand all the enthusiasm that surrounded the sport. I was fascinated by the illusion that the whole world got together to root for their teams. I guess all the marketing and the fact that everything from songs on the radio to toys in my cereal celebrated the event helped to create an even bigger fan in me.

As I grew up, I only got more and more surprised and amazed by this whole event. I know a lot of people are sceptic about it, but in my head, anything that got the world together for something as pure and passionate as a sport was worthy of my love. This worship only got multiplied when I got to experience a World Cup with people from all over the world.

When I travelled to Australia in 2010, for my first academic exchange experience, the South Africa 2010 Worlcup happened. By the time it started, around July, I was already more than happy in my new environment and I had so many new friends from different nationalities (mostly Brazilian and German) that the World Cup experience was now better than ever. I got to root not only for Mexico, but for every other country my best friends were from with almost the same amount of enthusiasm, which was even more amazing. In past World Cups I mainly only watched the Mexican games, and we never really got that far, so this time, having other favourite teams like Brazil and Germany was like getting even closer to the win. By the time the World Cup was over I was already back home, and I remember that I was the last member of my family who was still watching almost every game in remembrance of all the friends I loved and missed so much. It was around this time that I decided to make going to a World Cup a bucket list item of mine.

Four years later, when I decided to do my second exchange to Chile, I always had the World Cup in the back of my mind. I knew there was a strong possibility for me to actually make it to Brazil but I was also aware of the fact that there was a really big chance I might not get there either, and that was okay too. Weeks passed and either fate or destiny or the universe, call it whatever you like, arranged itself for me to be able to travel to Brazil for around 12 days with my two Mexican best friends.

Long story short, towards the end of April, just as I was starting to loose hope that I might actually travel to the World Cup, one of my Mexican guy friends who was really into soccer and without whom I would have never made this dream of mine come true, found crazy cheap flights to Brazil. It didn’t take longer than an hour to get me convinced and talk to my parents, and we bought the tickets. We didn’t have absolutely anything else figured out, only the dates and the tickets, and I felt happier than ever. We were completely aware that Brazil, and specially Rio (where our flight landed), in those dates would be the most expensive place on earth. Probably all of the hotels and hostels would have been booked by then and we didn’t even care. We were willing to sleep in street benches if it was necessary. We believed we still had enough time to plan everything.

Throughout the next weeks we were able to buy the local plane tickets, create a route and decide the cities we were going to visit. *Unfortunately, Mexico lost its last match a day before we were supposed to leave (the really hurtful, and legendary #NOERAPENAL game against The Netherlands), so we were not able to follow them, or get to see them play*. The cities we decided to visit were Rio, Brasilia and Sao Paulo, and once we had the dates and everything kind of figured out we started looking for cheap, or any available, accommodations.

The trickiest part was figuring out where we were going to sleep in Rio, because even the cheapest hostels were around 50-80 USD per night, which was way over our budget. It was through couchsurfing that I found a guy that was offering a camping site for 40 reales per night per person (around 10-12 USD) so we decided to book that because it happened to be our last resort. We bought a pretty inexpensive tent and didn’t even bother to buy sleeping bags because we figured it’d be too hot and we could just use some blankets as a sort of mattress.

Finding accommodation in Brasilia and Sao Paulo turned out to be way easier. I contacted around 50 people (seriously) through couchsurfing as well, and managed to find some hosts for the three of us during our stay in each of those cities. We had everything ready and figured out a couple of days before our trip and I was beyond excited about it.

The first city we arrived to was Rio, and it was as amazing as I remembered it. The last time I was there I wasn’t able to see Christ the Redeemer (the Corcovado) from up close because of the cloudy weather and I was really bummed about it. I remember my mom telling me that you always had to leave something unresolved, a reason to go back, to the cities you loved that forced you to return. When I looked at Christ the Redeemer from up close I remembered her words and felt such a rush of emotion because it was true, in the end I was able to look at it up close and it was even more meaningful to me. I felt happier than ever.

It turned out that our camping site was around 1 hour away form the main beaches, still, we were able to visit most of the main touristic spots of the city, and some more random ones (like a museum of the history of Brazilian paediatrics, for real). After Rio we went to Brasilia, by plane, and we actually ended up cancelling our couchsurfing host and staying with a friend of mine, who I’d met in my first exchange in Australia. It turned out that, even though he was studying/working in a different city, he was going to be spending some days at his house, back in Brasilia, and he was nice enough host me and my friends.

We arrived to Brasilia and my friend went to pick us up at the airport. What was so special about this city, besides the fact that I felt so happy to see my friend again after so many years, was that from that moment on we stopped being tourists and became locals. We felt so welcomed by my friend and his family, everyone was so friendly and extremely nice to us that we felt right at home. The days we spent there were some of the most amazing ones.

We got to attend a really local and really massive Brazilian college party, we ate a bunch of delicious food, we were driven and shown around the city by locals; everything was oh so amazing. Along with all the eating and partying we did we also got to rest and relax so much during these days, we stopped worrying about the usual backpackers’ stuff. As if all these things weren’t enough, it turned out that one of Brazil’s matches was being played during our stay in Brasilia (against Colombia) so we actually got to be part of a true Brazilian World Cup local’s party. My friend had a sort of massive patio where all of his friends and family were invited to watch the game. Everyone brought food, music, and the best vibes and light-heartedness that Brazilians are well known to have. We cheered, sang and had the best time with them. Of course Brazil won.

We left Brasilia reluctantly and flew directly to Sao Paulo… which brought us back to the backpacking reality. We arrived to this huge city and looked for our couchsurfing host’s address. It turned out he wasn’t actually home at that time but he had left his apartment keys at the reception for us, which seemed so strange. We couldn’t believe someone would trust three strangers so much as to actually leave them the keys to his home right there, without haven’t ever met us before, but we went right in and decided to rest for awhile since there was no one else around. Our host, Dennis, turned out to be truly one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. He actually had a two-bedroom apartment, with bunk beds in each one so he hosted as many couchsurfers as he could, all the time. He was really so nice and selfless, he didn’t ask for anything in return from any of the couchsurfers and he actually sometimes slept in the living room or in a friend’s house himself in order to be able to host more people, he was amazing.

Unfortunately, Dennis wasn’t around a lot to be able to show us or let us know any of the touristic spots, he was very busy with work so we barely even saw him. We made our way as usual tourists, searching online for the main places to visit and walking around as much as we could. We found that Sao Paulo was actually very similar to Mexico City, or any big city in Latin America really. Huge crowded streets, lots of pollution and traffic and a bunch of interesting museums, churches and open spaces to visit. We went around the city as much as we could and we enjoyed it, but it definitely turned out to be our least favourite city between the three we got to visit. The fact that we got some rainy days and that we were actually starting to get tired of all the traveling I think also had a sort of negative impact on our stay in Sao Paulo. Furthermore, it was during those days that the infamous 1-7 Brazil vs Germany game was played, so it was safe to say there was a gloomy (to say the least) atmosphere in the city.

After around 3 or 4 days in Sao Paulo we travelled back to Rio, this time in an overnight bus (surrounded mostly by Argentinians), and we got back to the city for my last couple of days. This time we got to the experience the city in a completely different way because we were actually hosted by a friend’s family again. This time we arrived to the house of one of my Mexican friend’s classmates back in Santiago. It was so random and so nice of her but this also goes to show just how nice Brazilians are. She wasn’t even home yet, as she was also still doing her exchange in Santiago, but she asked her family to host us while we were there and they agreed. I felt so embarrassed to arrive at her house, it was so beautiful and she lived practically by the beach so we had an awesome location. Those last couple of days we just walked around by the seaside streets. We took it pretty chill because we also got some rainy days, so we couldn’t really do much, and we had already seen most of the main spots.

After two days it was finally time for me to go back to Santiago, and this turned out to be a whole ordeal. I barely made it in time for my flight because of the crazy traffic in Rio. It took me almost three hours to get to the airport, I arrived last minute only to find out my flight had actually been delayed and then cancelled. They sent me in a flight to Sao Paulo, and after getting there they sent me by bus to another airport (there’s two in SP) and there they finally put me in a plane to Santiago. I got to Chile around 5 or 6 in the morning, when I was supposed to get there the night before, at 11pm, but when I finally got home I was just glad to be back.

Traveling to the World Cup was definitely a dream come true, even if I didn’t get to go to any of the live matches. Watching the games in the fan fests, with the locals as well as with so many other people of different nationalities was more than enough for me. In the end, this trip didn’t end up to be just about the World Cup, it meant being able to travel with two of my best friends in a country that I so much adored. We had so much fun and got to experience a million different and random things that we’ll always remember. Brazil brought us so much closer together, it welcomed us and showed us the warmness of its people and the beauty of its cities. 2014’s World Cup is now so much more than just a check mark on this travel bucket list of mine.

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San Pedro de Atacama: The Most Magical Place on Earth

Traveling to San Pedro de Atacama was one of the most surprising, astonishing and magical trips I’ve ever made. Before arriving to Chile, I had never really heard a lot of this place. Actually, 2 years before, when I visited Chile with my family for the first time nobody even mentioned it as a main touristic spot. People always told us about places like Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, Puerto Mont, Puerto Varas and the Chilean Patagonia but never about the northern part of this country. It was until I started planning my exchange that me and my friends started doing a little more thorough research with people who had spend a little more time in Chile or who had actually lived there that we started to hear of this place more frequently.

It was because of this reason that we left this trip to be the last one; we didn’t really consider it as a “must”. A group of other international girls had actually visited Atacama first and told us all sorts of amazing things about it. That it was beautiful and the most amazing place they had ever been, still, with all this comments and reviews I was still skeptical of how incredible it actually could be. Naively, I considered I had been to and seen a lot of remarkable places, and looking at some of their pictures I didn’t really think it was that special after all… boy was I wrong.

Me and my other 2 Mexican girlfriends started to plan our trip without really knowing much of the place. We booked the plane to Calama and we knew it was a little way from there to Atacama. We started talking to couchsurfing people and we actually contacted one guy who lived sort of in the outskirts of Atacama, but we thought it wouldn’t be that bad to walk for around 15-20 minutes to get there everyday if that meant we could save some money; again, we didn’t know how wrong we were.

We got there in the late afternoon, and for the first time it was just us girls traveling (we usually traveled with 2 other boys) but we were confident and weren’t really worried we were going to stay with some guy we had contacted on the web. When we got to Atacama, after taking a 2-hour bus from Calama, this actually really nice guy went to pick us up with his bike and we walked back to his home from the tiny bus station. It was around 20 – 30 minutes of walking, in an almost complete darkness because Atacama is a really, really small town; there aren’t any type of buildings or big houses or lots of people or really anything there, so the start of our trip wasn’t really surprising or exciting. The only thing we could really appreciate were the stars in the sky. Because there are almost no city lights or any lights for that matter, the sky is absolutely amazing. I had heard that one of the main space observatories, the ALMA, was placed in Atacama, and I could definitely see why.

Long story short, the guy we had contacted lived in a 2 room concrete square, in the middle of a practically deserted town. One room had his bed, a computer and what seemed to our paranoid minds as a portable mini drug lab and the other room, “our” room, a set of drums and a carton like bitten mattress, which was our accommodation for the night. Without getting into much detail we obviously tried to be as friendly as we could with this young man who had offered to share his tiny living quarters with us. We also pretended we were absolutely cool with him inviting some friends over to what we though would be a gathering to get either drunk or high but politely excused ourselves as being very tired and proceeded to lock ourselves in the tiny concrete room in complete silence; each one of us not wanting to say a single word about our fears of being surrounded by unknown, probably drunk, guys. We were completely sleepless, scared, and ready to attack anyone who even tried to enter our room. Of course nothing bad happened, but after managing to get 2, probably 3 hours of sleep we literally escaped running the next morning at around 6 am, leaving a note saying that we decided to start our tours early, which also gave us enough time to afterwards make up an excuse that wouldn’t sound too mean to explain why we never got back… So yeah our start in Atacama wasn’t really an ideal one.

That morning, after waking up at 6am we probably arrived to the center of town, or its main 3 blocks, at around 7am. We walked around for a little while until we found a hostel that seemed good enough and was still cheap. When the lady in the entrance told us we could actually access our room since that early hour we went in running. We paid around 15 dollars per night, which seemed like a great deal after the terrible experience we had just had. We decided to rest for a while, and then walk around town asking and comparing prices of the different tours we could take.

Basically all the touristic offices offer the same excursions, and they have either an early morning or a mid afternoon schedule. We realized it was too late to take a morning tour, since they all departed very early, but we could still take an afternoon tour to the Laguna Cejar, in which we were told to bring our bathing suits, even if it was winter there, because the main attraction was arriving to a lagoon that was so salty you floated, like in the dead sea.

We got back to the hostel and packed our things for the visit and from that moment on this trip turned out to be indescribably breathtaking. I couldn’t imagine that just by driving for around 20 minutes away from the cute-but-simple little town you could get to see these absolutely mind-blowing landscapes. I don’t know if it was because I was so not expecting it, but I seriously felt like I had never seen such wonderful and beautiful colors in my life. Everything seemed like a dream. Seriously I could not believe my eyes, the sky and the water mixed and reflected into one and created the most fairylike places ever.

This first tour was my favourite by far, we did go into the floating lagoon, even if it was totally freezing, but we just couldn’t go without getting to say we had swam, or rather floated in the saltiest of waters. This, by the way, is not refreshing or cool at all, I mean it is great to float without an effort, but because of the amount of salt you cannot actually swim or get your head wet unless you want to experience extreme discomfort and allover dryness in your skin and eyes. After that we went to another place nearby and waited for the most beautiful sunset ever, by dawn I knew I was completely in love with this place.

We were in Atacama for a total of 5 days (from Friday to Tuesday) so more like 3 if you leave out the traveling hours of the first and last days. Still, this was just enough time for us to do most of the must-do tours. After the Laguna Cejar we got to visit the Laguna Tebenquiche, the Lagunas Altiplanicas, the Piedras Rojas, el Salar del Talar, el Valle de la Muerte, the Valle de la Luna and the last day we went to the night tour to see the stars through telescopes (which by the way was one of the coldest nights of my life so if you come here in winter please be prepared to freeze).

The only thing we didn’t do which we later kind of regret was visit the Geiser del Tatio, still, instead of doing that one we decided to rent some bikes and sand boards and went on our own to the sand dunes and it was absolutely amazing. Riding my bike through the highway in the dessert, with the most beautiful landscape around me felt like the most liberating, peaceful and thrilling thing ever. I was as happy as I could be. I have always loved doing sportive activities so for me this was ideal. Being able to bike around town, at our own pace, and just enjoying everything was fantastic.

We turned out to be not so skilled in the actual sandboarding, but just the whole experience was worth everything to me. We ended up exhausted of course, we slept like babies every night but I was just so happy, I even considered coming back and staying there for a longer period of time. The guy who we rented the bikes and sandboards from actually invited us to work for him and I had never been so tempted to stay anywhere else in my life.

I could write a million words just to try to describe the beauty of San Pedro de Atacama, but as a personal experience I just know you have to be there to actually take it all in. You can also take infinite pictures, which we did, to try and share or remember the beauty, but these are not even half of the magnificence of being there. I had never been so astonished by any place in my life. Seriously I could go on forever on the splendor of this place, but I don’t want to set the highest of standards either, because after us, we convinced some of our friends to visit this place and they weren’t even half as amazed as we were, so I guess its a matter of perception.

For me, this trip is definitely one of the best ones of my life, through and through. Atacama is a place for nature lovers, people who enjoy a beautiful landscape or just a peaceful place. After being here I’m glad its actually not so known or popular, its part of its magic. If you want to enjoy the beauty of the earth, far from buildings, cities or crowds please come here, you won’t regret it, I know I never will.

Summer Trip: Backpacking through Europe

 

“I would definitely live out of a backpack, if it meant I could see the world.”

🎒 Backpacking was definitely one of my best traveling experiences. Even if it wasn’t an easy one, I learned so much throughout the whole process.

Starting out with not-so-simple steps as planning and booking all of our transportation, I found out it is not as easy as people would think. It gets even more complicated when you travel in a group. I traveled with 3 other people so since the beginning we had to agree on dates, countries, cities, and towns we would visit, which was nearly impossible. Everyone wanted to visit a certain specific place, so we had to do our best to design a plan in which everyone got to visit their dream countries, as well as the typical and most famous tourist attractions in a 25 day-span. Not to mention also getting in touch with our European friends and try to accomplish a plan in which we could visit their home cities and get them to accept to host 4 semi-strangers in their house.

When you manage to get this figured out you still have to pack and prepare for it. Find the right backpack, pack enough but not too much, fitting everything inside your bag, prepare for all types of weather and still consider some extra space for souvenirs is definitely not easy when you know you will have to carry everything you need literally on your back.

Even as it is difficult, I found this process exciting, not the planning part, but the packing one. Deciding which clothes to take, which shoes will make you more comfortable, what shirts you want to remain forever in your pictures and which ones are the easiest ones to coordinate with all your shorts/jeans/leggings, as well as preparing for any random situations gets you all shaky and excited for the unknown in the good way. I love the idea of traveling only with what you can carry, because this way you realize how much you can live without. You start in a simpler way, a free and carefree way. Also, afterwards, you realize you will not travel to the end of the world, so pretty much anything you forget, you can buy it wherever you are going.

Throughout our trip I learned how much all our planning was helpful to keep us from being stranded in only one country. Of course not everything went as planned. We ended up in random towns, and either extending or shortening our stays in different cities because of fully booked trains and hostels. Even so, we were lucky enough to visit Europe before the actual summer vacation days started, so even if a lot of our planned trains were already full, we managed to find similar ones and still get to the places we wanted, even if not in the actual hour or date planned. Traveling by the cheapest way we could find was crazy; we slept at train stations in the freezing cold, spent 16 hours in a boat without a seat, shared an all night-train cabin with two ladies and a crying baby in the hottest night of our lives, showered in bathrooms at stations or not showered at all for days at a time… Kebabs and Milka became my go to diet plan, which I don’t regret for a single moment, even if it cost me some extra kilos and hours at the gym on my way back. McDonalds turned into our second home, the free WIFI and cheap meals beat the hatred you may have for globalized food chains; it certainly did for me and my friends never had a problem with their euro burgers (plus they sell the cheapest and best macaroons in France).

Also, being the young and cool but also smart and cultivated people we decided we were, we took it as our mission to manage to visit all the cultural, important places, as well as the best recommended clubs, and pub-crawls, or even any pubs or clubs that we could find. We spent a whole night in the freezing streets of Amsterdam, pub-crawling because we couldn’t find a hostel to stay in, visited the biggest club in Prague and managing to walk back to our hostel in the middle of the night, even after one of my friends got lost in the way, tried the best pizza of our lives in one of the most expensive organized pub crawls in Rome, experienced the night beach life in Barcelona and found a club out of the blue, far far away of the city by taking a random bus filled with other crazy students in Florence; all of this at the same time as we were waking up at 9:00am in the morning to manage to have enough time to visit all the necessary museums, landmarks, castles, buildings, parks and statues we were told we just had to visit. Looking back I don’t even know how we managed to get it done, it was insane, but oh-so perfect.

After this trip the people I travelled with, we were family; we laughed, we cried, we fought, we fell apart and got together again, we drank, we danced, we ate like crazy, we took care of each other… Everything was so intense; I would not change it for the world.
For me backpacking was one of the best experiences of my life. This journey throughout Europe was the first time I travelled so far, to so many places, with people who weren’t my family, in the cheapest way possible, and I fell in love with it. I found that this is the right way to travel, to try to experience as much as you can out of a place is the best way to do it. I don’t care if I have never been as tired as I was after that trip, it was definitely the one that convinced me that this is the way that I want to live my life, backpacking, as far as I can, with whoever is willing to go with me. Because even if you go with people who are not so close to you, you end up sharing so much that you create closer ties with them than with anyone else before.

 

France

I’ve been to Paris twice in my life. It’s the only city in France i know and the first european city I ever visited.

As cliched as it may sound I was in love with Paris since my first visit. It was so different from any other city I had ever been to. Everything was so classy, so artistic, so pretty. The first time I went there I didn’t have time to take all the Eiffel Tower/Louvre Museum/Pont des Artes pictures I wanted because I visited it in a guided tour trip with my whole family. Even so, I was so in awe by all its beauty I knew I had to go back.

The second time I didn’t make the same mistake and I planned for my trip to paris to be as long as it could, within the limits of my month-long backpacking Europe trip. I was there for around 5 or 6 days in which I woke up at 9 and slept at around 11 at a far away and kind of dangerous hostal. I got to visit so many beautiful places I hadn’t before. The Orsay museum was by far one of my favourites, I never did like the Louvre that much. I got to take a million pictures of the Eiffel tower in every possible angle. I even had some spare time to visit not so touristic places like Beautes Chaumont park and I got to spend the most wonderful afternoon just looking at people pass by at the Luxembourg park. I loved feeling like I wasn’t that much of a tourist by being able to travel by subway, every day, and getting to know not so popular places in a carefree way. Paris is filled with so many beautiful spots, you can never get tired of it.

The only place we visited that was not technically inside of Paris, but a must in every guide, was the Versailles Castle. This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Its so amazing you can cry, literally. I don’t know if its just for me but every inch of this palace screamed beauty. I don’t think im exaggerating because even now, as I remember it, I cannot think of enough words to describe how amazed i was by it. I loved it. Maybe because I was so young the first time I went there, and it didn’t resemble anything I had ever seen, or because of its immense gardens and my love for nature, i don’t know, i just know since the first moment I saw it, it became officially one of my favourite places in France, in Europe, in the world.

These 6 days were some of the most tiring of my trip, but at the same time they were some of the best. I got to show my friends around a city I had already visited, but that I already loved, and visit whole new beautiful and new places for me in a different light. I would love to visit other cities in France, just to make sure I am not missing out on anything as magical as Paris is.