Hannah Robinson

I’m Hannah Robinson, freelance illustrator, volunteer and wanderer from a small corner of Wiltshire. My curiosity and volunteering experiences have seen me spending time exploring and working in parts of Asia and Africa, most recently a stint in Zambia. Latin America has been somewhere I’ve always wanted to see yet never dreamed I’d get a chance for such an incredible experience as a blogger of arts and culture! I will be spending 3 months in 3 countries, travelling down Ecuador into Peru and flying into the Amazon in Brazil, documenting my journey with my blog, photographs and sketchbook. Along the way I’ll be soaking in the sights and meeting locals, gathering stories and sampling the exciting cuisine of South America - yes I definitely will be trying guinea pig! The journey of a lifetime in some of the most beautiful parts of the world, I will be making some uniquely fantastic memories - follow my blog to experience it with me and see what I discover!

Southern Peru

My time in Peru has been so amazing and varied, it has felt far longer than just 1 month! My journey in the south has taken me from the city life of Lima, through the Andes to the beautiful Cusco and the ancient wonders of the Sacred Valley, and of course the majestic Machu Picchu. From the blue waters of Lake Titicaca, the highest body of water in the world, to the white city Arequipa and the jaw-dropping Colca Canyon, I’ve experienced incredible Peruvian cuisine, wonderful people and been lucky enough to see some of the world’s most beautiful natural scenery. My journey ended in Nazca, flying over the mysterious lines etched into the desert plains. This is a country that you absolutely have to visit!

 

Northern Peru

My first time venturing into Peru has led me to discover some truly beautiful places, from the ancient ruins of Kuelap near Chachapoyas, to pre-Incan temples in Trujillo, to the colourful bustle of city life in Lima. I’ve seen snow-capped peaks in Huaraz and eaten amazingly delicious Peruvian cuisine in every town I’ve passed through. This is northern Peru.

São Paulo

My final stop of my #NextStopLatinAmerica adventure is the vast, sprawling metropolis of São Paulo. With a population of 12 million in the city proper, and 20 million in the metropolitan area, this overwhelming city is the largest in the entire Southern Hemisphere. It is an enormous concrete jungle of high rise buildings that stretch as far as the eye can see – and for travellers can appear to be a daunting place to try to conquer.

 

However, nestled amongst the giant tower blocks and jam-packed highways, you will find there is a wealth of culture to discover – from top-notch museums, to gourmet restaurants (there are 12 500 restaurants and 52 kinds of cuisine in the city) to theatres, to an unbeatable night-life. This cultural melting pot is home to a huge number of ethnic groups – most notably the biggest population of Japanese people outside of Japan.

I decided to head straight to central São Paulo to soak up the atmosphere of the city. After navigating the metro, I started my exploration in Praça da República, a tree filled square surrounded by the jumble of tower blocks and old architectural gems that characterise this part of town. Graffiti decorates every other wall, some gigantic works of colourful art, some messy scribbles which create a sense of disrepair.

From here you can walk through the maze of cafes, shops and soaring offices to Praça da Sé, the oldest part of town where the magnificent Catedral sits. This huge gothic/ byzantine structure is impressive both inside and out, and is the largest Catholic church in the city. At the bottom of the cathedral square is the Caixa cultural centre, once a stately bank, and now a museum housing an exhibition by the famous Argentine artist Carybé, who I first encountered in Salvador.

Nearby is the Edifício Martinelli, São Paulo’s first skyscraper. This is a great place to view the city from the terrace on the 26th floor. You can start to fully appreciate the enormity of where you are from this vantage point!

Those wanting to escape the concrete hustle of city streets should head to Parque do Ibirapuera, the largest green space in the centre of São Paulo. Like in most big city parks, runners and cyclists whizz around on the pathways, while locals picnic on the grass. The weather in São Paulo is fairly volatile, with a high amount of rainfall, so when the clouds close in it’s the perfect time to visit one of the museums within the park complex.

 

The Afro-Brasil museum holds an extensive exhibition of paintings and photography by Afro-Brazilian artists, and artefacts connected with the slavery era. If like me, you are interested in the history of Brazil and the diversity of its people, this is not to be missed. Elaborate costume, sculptures and items of the candomblé religion fill this massive building where you could lose yourself for hours. Whilst North America took about 0.5 million slaves from Africa, Brazil took closer to 5 million, forever linking African culture with this part of the South American continent.

Sundays in São Paulo are the days for exploring markets and strolling the streets of the city. The 2.8km long financial avenue Paulista is closed off and becomes a pedestrianised strip for dog walkers, cyclists and live music performers. An antiques market can be found under the MASP São Paulo Museum of Art, and a craft market next to the gardens.

The Japanese district at Liberdade is another good Sunday spot, with more hand-crafted goods to buy and some amazingly delicious street food stalls – foodies will want to hit up this area!

 

São Paulo is a known haven for graffiti and street artists, and the best place to see some of the most impressive pieces is Beco do Batman, an area where 3 alleyways meet near Vila Madalena. Every inch of wall is smothered in enormous colourful artworks by well-known street artists from all over Brazil.

And for those looking for a good night out, São Paulo will not disappoint. With 15 000 bars in the city, there is something for everyone, from craft beer bars to all night samba clubs. Start the night by grabbing some local food – rice and feijoada – in a corner bar, where beers come in ice cold litre bottles!

It is time for me to hop on a plane back home to my small corner of England! It has been an incredible 3 months in Latin America, the absolute experience of a life-time, and my only regret is that I can’t stay longer! From the cloud forests of Ecuador, to the snow-capped mountains of Peru, to the beaches of Brazil, this continent has inspired me and entranced me at every turn. To all you would-be travellers out there, put South America straight to the top of your list and get planning!

#NextStopLatinAmerica

The Beaches of Itacaré

I’ve spent my final few days in the beautiful state of Bahia in the gorgeous beach town of Itacaré. This small, laid back surfer’s paradise is the perfect place to experience some of the beach culture of Brazil whilst surrounded by Atlantic rainforest.

 

The town itself is tiny, colourful and holds the kind of hippy charm which so many beach-side places do. The sea front looks out over a harbour full of boats, next to a strip of sand and grass, where locals gather to play football and volleyball. Further back the bumpy streets wind past yellow painted walls smothered in red and pink flowers, leading towards the nearest beach Praia da Concha. This palm-backed cove attracts surfers and paddle – boarders, and is a good place to grab a cold drink or cup of açaí and relax for a day.

Pousadas– The Brazilian version of B&Bs, litter the sea front of Itacaré. I stayed in a cosy and spacious Moroccan style place, filled with low seating, cushions and plates piled high with mango, papaya and bananas. A very peaceful stop off – except for the occasional loud bang as the trees towering over the roof dropped their bright pink fruit. Not entirely sure what these are but they were quite tasty!

Itacaré is also great as a base to explore the surrounding coastline from. I hopped into a car with a couple of fellow travellers and headed southwards to the village of Serra Grande and its famously beautiful beaches.

On the way out of town we passed a small hillside favela of colourful houses. This sight has become so familiar now, the disparity of touristic wealthy areas alongside ramshackle shanty towns such as this.

The drive to Serra Grande takes you past lush green jungle, dense with bamboo, banana groves and palm trees. The weather right now is hot and humid, with the occasional rain shower. Along the journey we passed over patches of road where steam rose so thickly from the drying ground that it was like driving through low lying cloud. After about 40 minutes we came to a viewpoint overlooking the beaches. The sand stretches away far into the distance, the bright blue water endlessly breaking in white headed waves. This is what paradise looks like!

The beach looked practically deserted from this vantage point, which proved true as we parked up and found a spot to relax. The back of the sand is lined with tall palms which provide shade in the hottest part of the day, and unobtrusive holiday homes. Time for a swim! The sun beat down over gloriously warm water, which on closer inspection sparkled gold in the light as if the waves were tumbling over glitter. The discovery of this natural beauty of a beach, plus the total lack of other people, created a surreal too-good-to-be-true kind of feeling that had me splashing through the shallows with the biggest smile on my face!

As the tide came in and the day wore on, small white crabs started to emerge out of holes in the sand, scuttling to and fro as the waves drew closer. The evening light over the beaches in Bahia is simply wonderful, try and catch as many sunsets as you can!

Back in Itacaré the early night time is perfect to grab some local food and listen to music at one of the harbour side bars, or stroll along the water with an ice cream (it’s still hot at night –perfect justification for 24/7 ice cream eating!)

On the subject of food, one of my favourite Brazilian snacks which has yet to be mentioned is the humble coxinha (co-shee-nya) – the Brazilian answer to a chicken croquette. These delicious chicken-leg-shaped deep fried dough/ potato balls, filled with shredded chicken, are found everywhere, and are super cheap and incredibly good eaten with spicy salsa. I can’t get enough!

I am now faced with the necessary but rather unpleasant bus to São Paulo, which will take roughly 28 hours if I am lucky! Time to say goodbye to the beautiful state of Bahia and begin the final leg of my #NextStopLatinAmerica adventure!

Lençóis and Chapada Diamantina

From the bright bustling city of Salvador, I’ve come to the tiny diamond-mining town of Lençóis set in the Chapada Diamantina national park. The small cobbled streets, lined with cafes, brightly painted buildings and art and craft shops, create a tranquil hippy-esque haven alongside the Rio Lençóis. This is the perfect place to start your adventures in to the national park.

The first diamonds were found here in 1822, bringing in prospectors from across the country and from France. The boom ended at the beginning of the 20th century however the mining has not stopped here. After a ban on destructive water pumps, the remaining miners now use traditional methods to extract diamonds from the river, however none of the stones being found are of high quality.

I instantly fell in love with the charm of Lençóis and its chilled out small-town vibes. During the sweltering hot days its best to find one of the swimming holes just outside of the town, or relax in the shade of one of the many cafes with a bowl of açaí. In the evenings the town lights up with restaurants spilling out onto the cobblestoned streets, and locals wandering by the riverside. I arrived during a 7-day party, which meant music, dancing and lots of caipirinhas served fresh from little outdoor stalls! There is the usual delicious array of street food to be found here, particularly tapioca pancakes, which come with anything from Nutella and strawberries to cheese and chicken.

Chapada Diamantina covers 1520 square kilometres, and is a paradise of waterfalls, swimming holes, plateaus and wide green valleys. Serious hikers can find an almost endless network of treks and camping opportunities here. Some of them can be tough – on arrival I met a couple of other Brits staggering back completed exhausted and rather sunburnt!

This helped my decision to pick a tour that would involve a lot of swimming…

 

20km out of Lençóis is the Mucugezinho River which leads to the red-brown waters of the Devil’s Pool. The colour of the water which gives this swimming hole its name is due to the algae which grows there. A short walk over boulders and through cactus strewn landscape, and we were sunning ourselves by the 25m high waterfall. The water here is refreshingly cool, and you can perch on the rocks right under the cascading water!

Caves and pools were big on the agenda which suited me perfectly (nearly 3 weeks in Brazil and I’m still not quite used to the heat and sunburn!). After driving past coffee plantations, fields of manioc and endless stretches of green valley dotted with cacti we reached Pratinha. It can get quite busy here with tourists and locals enjoying the glorious blue waters, so is best to visit in quiet season or early mornings.

However, the Azul Cave is a rather mesmerizing sight with its clear aquamarine waters that disappear into absolute darkness. We donned snorkelling gear and with flash lights in hand we set off into the gloom. For 170 m we swam in the black waters, with only the thin beans of blueish light to guide us. At the very back of the cave, we were told to switch off the light altogether and tread water, small splashes from our flippers echoing eerily off the stone walls. A cluster of miniscule bats hung from the ceiling – disturbed by the sudden arrival of visitors they flew around our heads with tiny squeaks. Not an experience for claustrophobes or if you’re scared of the dark!

The next cave on the tour was the impressive Lapa Doce, a subterranean cave 850 m long, filled with amazing stalagmite and stalactite formations. Hard hats and flashlights are needed in this surreal world of natural stone sculpture.

One of the most well-known attractions in Chapada Diamantina is the Pai Inãcio mountain. This 1120 m high plateau offers stunning 360 degree views over the valley. It is particularly beautiful at sunset, where weather permitting you can watch the glorious red rays of the sun disappearing over the national park. It’s a short but steep climb up a rocky staircase to the top where we sat in the cool evening breeze, soaking in the magnificence of our surroundings. This is a truly gorgeous part of Brazil not to be missed!

The next stage of my journey will take me southwards along some of Brazil’s finest coastline and towards my final destination of São Paolo!

Discovering Salvador

Welcome to the Africa of South America! Salvador, the jewel of the north-eastern state of Bahia is an absolute must-see for any traveller in Brazil. It is the place to be to discover the intoxicatingly colourful Afro-Brazilian culture which dominates this region. The music, dance, food and even religion of this city is heavily influenced by the African roots of its inhabitants.

 

Established in 1549 by the Portuguese, Salvador became immensely wealthy from sugarcane, tobacco, and eventually gold and diamond exports. African slaves were first brought here in the mid-1500s, in huge numbers, and the majority remained in this part of Brazil.

 

This is the birthplace of capoeira, a blend of martial arts and dance developed by Afro-Brazilian slaves as an act of defiance against their slave masters. It is also where the Candomblé religion originated, meaning “dance in honour of the gods”. This combination of West African beliefs and Catholicism celebrates many different deities, much like the gods of Greek mythology. Visit the Museu Afro-Brasileiro in the historic neighbourhood of Pelourinho to see one of the most important collections of artefacts connecting these two cultures. Here you’ll find a stunning exhibition by renown Argentine artist Carybé of the orixás, the many deities of Candomblé. It’s well worth a visit here to get an idea of the history of the city and multi-faceted cultural heritage.

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I’ve based myself in the stunning UNESCO World Heritage site that is Pelourinho. Every street is a kaleidoscope of colour – colonial style buildings, ornate baroque churches, cobblestone streets lined with cafes, art galleries, schools of music and dance…it is the perfect environment to soak up the culture of Bahia. This is the life and heartbeat of Salvador, the musical vibrant soul of a beautiful city.

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Every night there seems to be some kind of festivity – including a regular jazz concert held in the modern art museum by the edge of Baía de Todos os Santos (the Bay of All Saints). In the centre of Pelourinho I found myself dancing the night away to a live band of Afro-Samba music, huge drums pounding away on the stage as women in elaborate bright costumes performed traditional dances. The atmosphere here cannot be beaten! From here you can wander the streets to find capoeira circles, and a wealth of other live music performances. Amongst the thrumming energy of song and dance wafts the delicious smells of street food –shrimp and bean acarajé, tapioca coconut pancakes, rice and grilled meats…a little piece of heaven for food lovers!

Undoubtedly the best dish here, and my favourite meal so far in Brazil, is moqueca. This bubbling seafood stew comes in an enormous clay pot, made with coconut milk and palm oil, served with rice, bean curd and manioc flour. It’s so good I’ve eaten it every day!

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Minutes from my hostel sits one of the most splendid baroque churches in Brazil – Igreja e Convento São Francisco. The blindingly elaborate interior, smothered in gold leaf, is really something to behold. Completed during the first half of the 1700s, and dedicated to saint Francis, the church is filled with painted wooden panels, carvings, chandeliers and a vast decorated ceiling.

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You cannot visit Bahia or indeed Salvador without experiencing its famous beaches. Head towards Barra, the busy waterfront with ancient forts and a lighthouse, and join the throngs relaxing on the sands or paddle boarding along the shoreline. Hawkers patrol the beach pushing wheelbarrows of coconuts, or selling cheese on sticks, grilled right in front of you on tiny portable stoves.

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There are also a number of day trips out of the city for anyone wanting to explore further afield. I hopped onto a ferry across the bay to the island of Itaparica for a day of exploring and relaxing on the beaches here. The sparkling blue waters attract both locals and tourists – sitting in the shallows enjoying a few beers seems to be a popular activity! There is some beautiful old architecture in the tiny port town, and its relaxed character makes it a great escape from the mainland.

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About an hour and a half north of Salvador lies the town of Praia do Forte, a popular but admittedly rather touristy destination. However, it’s still worth a visit for the long stretches of white sand, backed by towering palm trees, a tiny white sea-side church and turtle reserve. The Tamar Project runs a programme dedicated to protecting endangered species of sea turtles which nest along the coastline here, so it’s a good place to visit to see hatchlings.

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I’ve loved my time in Salvador (it’s a great place to have a birthday by the way!) and I will definitely try to come back some day. My next stop is Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina, an outdoor paradise of waterfalls and treks. I can’t wait!