Thursday, March 26, 2015

Morretes | Paraná | Brazil

We decided to take the long way back from Curitiba and go through a small little town called Morretes. If you are in the area, I highly recommend a detour to this charming town nestled at the foot of lush mountains. Even the drive to this adorable enclave is peaceful, winding down the mountain on a cobblestone road. We arrived early in the morning, just in time for breakfast, ahead of the tour buses that fill up the streets in the late morning. There are a wide variety of adventure sports that depart from Morretes, but we were content to simply wander through the town and see what there was to discover.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Curitiba | Paraná | Brazil

Soon after returning to Brazil, it was time to celebrate Carnaval. After so much time on the open road over the previous holiday, I was already feeling claustrophobic after only a few weeks back in the city. With this in mind, Felipe and I thought about where everyone would go and drove in the opposite direction.

As previously mentioned, Brazilian traffic is rough on a good day. Toss in a national holiday and your estimated travel time of six hours might turn into fourteen. We left at 4 am to circumvent the gridlock but instead ended up right in the middle of a backup caused by an overturned truck. This meant that from 5-7 am, we were completely stopped on the toll road. That's right, two hours without moving. Naturally everyone fell asleep so, when traffic started to move several hours later, a police officer drove down the middle of the two lanes knocking on everyone's window to wake them up. No joke.

The backup still lasted for several more miles but then cleared up and was rather uneventful for the rest of the drive. By word of mouth, Curitiba is known as one of the cleanest and most organized (planned) cities in all of Brazil. I was relieved when we arrived to see that the rumors were all true. We spent the whole weekend enjoying the ease of getting around, the variety of cuisine that was available, and the general calm of the city.

We celebrated Valentine's Day at Cantina do Delio, which we would highly recommend for both cuisine and atmosphere. We walked across the street to the adorable Banoffi Cafe & Confeitaria, which is the perfect sweet ending to any day and also gets five stars for atmosphere.
Because of the consistent rain for the duration of our stay, we didn't get to visit many of the different parks Curitiba is famous for, but that's just another excuse to go back for another visit!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Venice Beach | California

We wrapped up our west coast road trip with a final day at the Los Angeles area beaches. Growing up, the Santa Monica/ Venice Beach area was the Irons family´s go-to spot for holiday getaways, so with our time constraint in mind, I knew that we had to start our day with one of the best breakfast burritos in America, at the Candle Cafe on Venice Beach. I was pleased to discover that my memory did not disappoint and we both left feeling full and satisfied. While we were voraciously devouring our breakfast, I noticed that a homeless woman was hanging around outside the patio area. Unlike most restaurants, which would have shooed her away, the server from our table invited her in and paid for her breakfast out of his own salary.

We continued our beach day by parking near the Santa Monica Pier, renting bikes and riding the length of the beach and back before, for the first time in my life, going for a ride on the ferris wheel. Since January is not optimal beach-going time in the northern hemisphere, there were minimal crowds present which made for a lovely view from the top.

Our day finished with a late afternoon meal at Paradise Cove in Malibu, one of Haley´s favorites. Though we discovered that the breakfast is more worth the journey up the coast than later day savory eats, the view was still pleasant and peaceful. Our day concluded with a spectacular view of the sun vanishing behind the coastline.

What a whirlwind trip! We essentially made a round-trip drive the length from Canada to Mexico. We drove aproximately 3,000+ miles in our sturdy little Saturn. We saw three different states, two National Parks, and made some lovely memories. Stay tuned for our Carnaval road trip upon our return to Brazil!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Salvation Mountain | Niland | California

Located in the desert a few miles from the Mexican border (which we learned the hard way, see below), Salvation Mountain springs from the sandy landscape in a bright burst of whimsy. We decided to give up a day in Los Angeles in order to be able to drive through Joshua Tree National Park and make it to Salvation Mountain. It was indeed worth the trade off! In essence, this "mountain" was created from locally donated hay bales, locally harvested adobe clay, and gifted paint from enthusiasts. To understand why this is such a special place, not just for its artistic quality, take a look at these video portraits of the artist, Leonard Knight (you can view them here and here).

As I said, we learned the hard way that we were near the Mexican border. While we were driving down the two-lane road towards Niland, California, we passed a Border Patrol roadblock, which we would encounter on our way back to LA. As soon as we saw it, Felipe and I shared a brief (or not-so-brief) moment of panic because we realized that his passport was not in the car but three hours behind us in a Los Angeles hotel. 

We approached the roadblock around dusk. Though I've had a large gun pointed in my general direction in other countries and not thought twice about it, it has never happened on my home turf. This experience coupled with the feisty canine eagerly sniffing each vehicle that passed definitely got our adrenaline pumping. 

Of course, out of all of the cars slowly creeping through the checkpoint, we were the ones that got stopped. After staring at us for what felt like eternity, the border patrol guy asked some simple questions in a rather accusatory manner before asking if we were both citizens. Having played games enough to realize that my poker face is almost non-existent, I calmly stated that Felipe was a Brazilian citizen. At that point, the officer ceased the not-so-friendly chit chat and with furrowed brow, intently considered what to do with us after examining Felipe's Brazilian identification and promptly declaring "All that does is prove that you don't belong here". After minutes of deliberation, we left with a stern warning and a lesson learned to always carry your passport abroad. Meanwhile, I was immensely relieved to have avoided a nine hour round trip to retrieve the passport and return to the desert in the dark to bail Felipe out of border jail!