Balls-out in Setúbal

My girlfriend is Brazilian, so whenever I do something stupid and she starts yelling at me, I don’t have a clue what she’s saying because I don’t speak Portuguese. It’s always “small penis” this and “useless fucking dickhead” that, which makes no sense to me because I don’t understand the language. So, in an effort to strengthen the relationship, I left the epic mountains of Switzerland and headed to the home of the Portuguese language and Portuguese fried chicken – Portugal!

My first stop was the port(uguese) city of Setúbal, which is about an hour south of Lisbon by bus. The actual city is a bit rough and working class, and smells like a fisherman’s finger, but the plentiful coffee shops, seafood restaurants and bars scattered along the cobblestone streets give it a somewhat bohemian feel. Try the choco frito, it’s grouse!

Scattered throughout the streets are dozens of really weird statues, from dolphins to fat ladies and explorers to stuff I can’t even begin to explain. There’s even a gigantic squid escaping certain death in a searing hot frying pan, which I found kind of terrifying. If I’d known they possessed such emotions, I wouldn’t have eaten a bunch of the pricks for dinner.

There are some nice old buildings, and it can be pleasant along the waterfront, but you wouldn’t travel around the world to see it. The nearby national park, however, is absolutely glorious and well worth the trip.

The Parque Natural da Arrábida is home to golden beaches, blue waters, and steep, rocky cliffs. It’s not far from town by bus – I didn’t even have time to finish my can of Super Bock before climbing off at Figueirinha Beach. ‘Figgy’ isn’t the place to stay, because it’s pretty crowded and there are kids kicking soccer balls everywhere, so either jump on the free park shuttle to get further into the park, or get up off your fat arse and wander along the beautiful coast.

There are a few zesty tracks to wander along, but it’s best to just pick one of the quiet beaches and spread out by the water for a day in the sun. I like going naked, as is nature’s way, and nobody had a problem with that – I even received a few high-fives and a kind warning that “your sausage will sizzle if you don’t turn it over” from a local pervert. Just to be clear, I declined his kind offer to rub sunscreen on my old fella.

Honestly, these beaches are some of the best in Europe and it’s a top part of the world, with eagles soaring along the ridges and fish diving through the cool water. There are a handful of ancient ruins scattered around, and on a good day it offers some of the best coastal paragliding on the planet. It feels a lot like the Greek islands, which makes sense considering where it’s located, but it’s cheaper and quieter. Even better, this is Europe so there are chicks with their big tits out everywhere!

After a few days in Setúbal, I felt like I’d picked up enough of the local lingo to impress my girlfriend with my Portuguese skills, so I gave her a call while watching the blazing sunset.

“Ola, bebezinho,” I said smugly, looking around to see if anyone mistook me for a local. “Posso comer sua enguia? Faz um chapéu.”

“Are you sure you’re in Portugal? Because it sounds like you’re talking shit,” she replied, obviously using a regional dialect I was unfamiliar with. “Honestly, you’re as bad with languages as you are in bed.”

I’m pretty sure that means “I love you” in Portuguese 😍😍😍

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I Love Lucerne: The 5 coolest things about Switzerland’s medieval metropolis

THE LION MONUMENT

When bloodthirsty revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace during the 10th of August Insurrection in 1792, more than 600 Swiss guards were slaughtered whilst bravely trying to defend the French royal family. In 1820, this truly moving statue was carved to commemorate their efforts. Whilst the throngs of Chinese tourists with selfie sticks take away from the atmosphere somewhat, it’s an important part of the city’s history. Plus, there are pubs nearby.

Moustachioed author/rhythmic gymnast Mark Twain is probably the only writer more revered by the literary community than myself, so it seems right for me to let him say a few words about this tragic beast. Plus, he’s dead, so there’s no chance of him suing me for plagiarism.

“The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff — for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.

“Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion — and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.”

I’m certainly not lion when I say it’s a must-see when visiting this wonderful city!

PILATUS

When a little Swiss bloke suggested that pilates is the number one thing to experience whilst in Lucerne, I assumed he was on the drugs. After all, I’ve been thrown out of pilates classes across the globe, so they’re nothing new to me. Then I realised he was actually talking about Mount Pilatus, and kind of regretted reporting the little bloke to the cops for heroin possession.

The big slab of rock is close to the centre of town and it’s a short bus ride from the main station to the base. There’s a cable car to the top that can save you an eight-hour round-trip hike, but it costs close to $100, so do what I did – wait till the attendants at the bottom aren’t looking and just hop on. Like beer, cable cars are even tastier when they’re free!

I’m not sure what the view from the top of 2118m Donkey Peak is like, because the weather was shithouse and it was draped in clouds, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had on the mountain. There are bars, ropes courses, and paragliding launches. On the way back down a crazy black man started chasing me and I had to hide in a small cave. Good times!

THE CHAPEL BRIDGE

I’ve been infatuated by old, wooden buildings ever since my nextdoor neighbour Mr Pringle took me to see
The Bridges of Madison County at the cinema when I was eight years old. It was difficult for me to see the film through my tears of shame, but it certainly left an impression on me.

Known to locals as Kapellbrücke, this structure is the oldest surviving wooden covered bridge in Europe, having been built in 1365, and is seen as the symbol of the city. It’s right in the middle of town, just a stone’s throw from the station, and can get really bloody busy. There are all sorts of fancy paintings in it, including a number depicting beheadings and lynchings and all that fun stuff, so psychos should be satisfied.

I would have liked to stroll along the bridge with my good friend Mr Pringle, but he’s currently enjoying his honeymoon with his seven-year-old Vietnamese husband, Tran, at Disneyland.

YE OLDE TOWNE

Lucerne is older than Hugh Jackman’s wife, and the historic heart of the city is really well preserved. I had fun pretending I’d found a time machine and had been transported back to medieval Europe, smugly swaggering around with iPhone in hand whilst the backwards peasants around me amused themselves with sharpened sticks and dried dog turds.

Then I started thinking about the black plague and what I could do to prevent it ever happening, so I raced around warning people not to fuck rats. I thought about World War II and started telling anyone with a little moustache that nobody’s impressed by mass genocide. I tried to warn the clueless Euros about the atrocities to come, but it didn’t work. Nobody appreciated my heartfelt pleas and eventually some locals threw me in the frigid Reuss River. Oh well, enjoy coughing up your intestintes and getting chucked in concentration camps, you ungrateful pricks.

THE LUCERNE GOLEM

Everyone knows that the Swiss have been involved in a brutal war with vampires for the past 4000 years, but what’s not so well known is the reason Lucerne has never been overrun by creatures of the night. It’s because of Plugg, who’s some sort of magical golem.

Legend has it that the vampires were about take over the city when the locals, out of sheer desperation, crafted Plugg out of mud and horse manure, danced around her a bit, and then sacrificed 683 virgins in order to bring her to life. Sounds like a waste of perfectly good virgins to me, but anyway, it worked. Plugg came to life, splattered the vamps, and has looked after Lucerne ever since.

I found Plugg beneath the ancient Musegg Wall and, magic vanquisher of demons or not, she wasn’t able to protect herself from my roving hands. I just hope no bloodsucking freaks snuck in whilst we were making out.

Interlaken: A paraglider’s paradise

There have been three perfect moments in my life; watching Paul Osborne’s around-the-corner offload to Dave Furner during the 1994 grand final, seeing my girlfriend for the first time, and soaring above the unreal azure waters of Interlaken. But they say the darkest night is before the dawn, and that was certainly the case during my first solo paragliding trip through Switzerland.

Interlaken has dozens of launches, but I decided to head to th 1060m-high Luegibrueggli (know as Eggs by the locals) for my first flight – mainly because it’s easy to get to by bus from the middle of Interlaken. After 20 minutes scraping up the hill from town, and a brisk walk through the woods, I found myself in a tiny clearing looking out over the most beautiful lake in the world. I set up my gear, took a deep breath, and cruised out into the clear Swiss air.

It took me about five seconds to realise something was wrong. Very, very wrong. After narrowly missing a tree after launching, I realised my left brakeline was tangled, meaning I couldn’t steer the bloody thing and was being dragged dangerously close to town by the swelling valley breeze. I was a kilometre above the Earth with barely any control over my glider, a thin stream of urine dribbling down my leg and regret on my mind. I needed to use all my experience as a pilot to somehow drag my glider down to the green valley floor, and drop into the tiny landing zone. When i finally landed safely, I took a moment to scrape the fright shite out of my pants and reflect on how close I’d come to disaster.

As I sucked on a frosty can of Tell that night whilst watching the sun set over the Alps, I was still thinking about what had happened. I’m so proud of myself for having reached a stage of my flying that I can travel to a foreign country alone, find flying spots, check out the conditions and take to the air by myself, but I always have more to learn. Today’s lesson was patience – and to wear dark-coloured undies when I fly a new spot. The next day, I promised myself, would be perfect.

With great conditions forecast, I took the bus all the way up to the 1280m-high Waldegg (known as Eggs by the locals) launch. After quadruple-checking my lines, I once again launched into the beautiful alpine valley, and this time everything was absolutely perfect. I hooked into a thermal and climbed up into the clear, blue sky, as the magical scenery shrank beneath me. Dozens of other gliders were dancing through the sky and heading off in all directions, and I managed to cross the valley and play above the monumental peaks of the Andes. Finally, I was able to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to Swiss flying – and I was doing it completely alone.

After a couple of hours of the best paragliding imaginable, the wind picked up and it was time for me to head down, down, down to the ground. I spiralled towards Lake Thun, watching its crystal clear water rush towards me as I ended my ride. And then, just like that, it was over. As I packed up my wing and graciously accepted an ice-cold Rugenbräu from fellow pilot Hans, I looked up at those indomitable mountains and smiled as I thought about cruising over them. Paragliding is all about ups and downs – both literally and figuratively – but the apex of this wonderful sport surely exists in the pristine skies above Interlaken.

Intensely interesting interactions in Interlaken

Switzerland is best known for reliable watches, multi-purpose knives, successful tennis players and its lively gangsta rap scene, but all I was really interested in during my visit was climbing a really big mountain and then paragliding into wild. So after bidding adieu to Hamster I headed straight for Interlaken, an adventure playground high up in the Alps that offers something for everyone.

Switzerland (not to be confused with Swaziland – if you’re not sure which one you’re in, just look around and count the black people) is about the size of your average Manly fan’s penis and has great public transport infrastructure, so it’s easy to explore. With some time to kill in Geneva before catching the train to Interlaken, I took a stroll through the buzzing city centre and along Lake Geneva’s lively waterfront. The mixture of history, culture and architecture makes for a stunning place to spend an arvo – shame there was a half-pissed Aussie ruining the authentic Euro feel of the place.

A few hours on a modern train brought me to the fairytale village of Interlaken, with it’s shimmering lakes, cute houses, thunderous mountains and swarms of Chinese tourists. Ignore the throngs of selfie-snapping shitheads and it’s easy to fall in love with the place. The sweet scent of freshly-baked bread and cakes wafts through the streets, and the sound of energetic music competes with bird songs for attention. There’s something beautiful to see on every corner, it’s easy to get around, and there are usually paragliders soaring through the air, so it’s pretty much a slice of heaven.

As the name suggests, Interlaken is in-ter-middle of a couple of wonderful lakes. The water is cold year-round, but slug a few cans of Quöllfrisch and they’re fine to swim in. There are dozens of hikes to take on, a couple of funicular railways that look like they’d be plenty of fun(icular) if they didn’t cost so much, and the opportunity to go bungy jumping, sky diving and jet boating. Whether you’re poor as a dog’s foot or have cash falling out your anus, there’s no reason to be bored in Interlaken.

A word of warning, Interlaken is more expensive than a Filipino mail order bride, and even a night in a bog-standard hotel costs as much as buying a three-bedroom house in Wyong. Luckily, there’s a cheaper option – the less-than-salubrious Balmers Tent Village. The beds aren’t comfortable, the toilets aren’t clean, and the whole shebang feels like its going to blow away in anything more than a gentle breeze, but at least it’s in the price range of your average drunken Aussie. The fact the old birds I was sharing my tent with brought me breakfast in bed each morning didn’t hurt, either (even if it left me wondering whether they’d been sucking me off in my sleep).

Interlaken is the heart of the rugged Bernese Oberland region, but there are lots of great little villages surrounding it, and they’re all worth checking out. I caught the train to Grindelwald – which is sure to put a grin on anyone’s face – and was astonished by how beautiful it was. The mountains are so enormous and imposing they even put the Andes to shame, and as the sun peeked through the clouds and shone off the verdant green pastures and eternal glaciers, I really felt like I was somewhere special.

There’s a cable car to the 2166m-high First summit, but it costs $90, so being a work-shy deadshit budget-conscious backpacker I decided to hike it instead. It’s not a particularly tough trip, and the views are unreal, but it is pretty bloody dangerous. Not because of avalanches or rockslides, but because the path up the hill is shared with Asians scooting back down on go-karts. Our little Oriental mates aren’t great drivers at the best of times, and their skills don’t magically get better when hooning down the side of an astonishingly steep mountain at 150km/h.

When I made it to the top I looked out in wonder at the magnificent landscape in front of me, then got the hell out of there before anyone could ask me to join the search party for the half-a-dozen Chinamen who zoomed off the cliff to their deaths that afternoon. All in all, not a bad way to check out the Swiss Alps, but now it was time to fly over them…

The Rise and Fall of Ricardo Q. Hamster, Esq.

Our time in Annecy flowed along like water down the majestic Thiou River. Hamster and I flew our paragliders over the Alps all day and drank all night with Marque, Gaz and the other legends, soaking in their knowledge of the sport and the surrounds. Our skills and confidence improved as we pushed our limits and tackled tough conditions with our new friends. But things could never remain calm with Hamster around. One night, while a silvery moon lit up the world, our sleep was shattered when Pierre, the owner of the hippie farm we were staying at, burst into our tipi.

“You fucked my scarecrow, you piece of shit,” he screamed, and when Hamster and I crawled out of our sleeping bags we could see that Pierre had tears rolling down his crimson cheeks. “You fucked my scarecrow so hard you broke him in two! Benoit will never be the same again!”

“You’ve only got yourself to blame,” replied Hamster, plucking straw from his underpants and dropping it at Pierre’s feet. “You’re the one who built it to look like the girl who works at the fish and chip shop down the road from my house. The one who smells like mackerel even on her days off and has the man hands. How was I supposed to resist?”

Pierre whistled and a posse of smelly hippies, their lentil-encrusted beards and fishermen pants flapping in the breeze, encircled us. Although emaciated from eating nothing but vegetables and legumes, they had a meanness in their Gallic eyes that told me they’d killed before (people, of course, not animals) and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. One of the tree-huggers was carrying a large, intricately decorated gourd that he was ready to swing at our heads, so we threw a plate of sausages at them and escaped into the night as they recoiled in horror.

“Can’t we have one holiday where you don’t root a scarecrow?” I asked Hamster.

“I would’ve stayed home if I knew that was a rule,” he replied, picking bits of straw from his teeth. “Right, I guess we’re going to have to stay with Gaz, then.”

Gaz, or Gabrielle as his mother knows him, is a pioneer of paragliding and one of the most knowledgeable pilots on the planet. What this bloke doesn’t know about flying ain’t worth knowing, and he’d taken us under his wing. Each night, in a dark corner of L’Auberge Du Boucanier, Gaz would discuss the intricacies of paragliding with us, providing a flying masterclass as the pints of Kronenbourg slid down our throats. Each day when we soared into the skies, he’d watch us with eagle eyes to make sure we’d been listening. We thanked him by knocking on his door at 4am.

Gaz’s life partner Bernard answered, wearing little more than a smile, and ushered us inside. That night, as Gaz sipped Cognac from an ornate skull-shaped glass whilst his balls dangled between the spread legs of his nightie, we were told of the true history of paragliding. Only a handful of people will ever learn of the mystical beginnings of this magical sport, and it was an honour to be entrusted with this knowledge. I promised Gaz that I wouldn’t reveal anything that happened inside his house that morning, and I’ll go to my grave with the secrets he told me, but it’s safe to say Hamster and I now understand paragliding in a way few ever will.

The next afternoon, with our hangovers fading away with our excitement, we flew further than we’d ever flown before. With a more meaningful understanding of paragliding we soared deeper into the bosom of Annecy, skirting around the edges of the pristine lake with our new friends with us every thermal of the way.

A full lap around Annecy is around 50km, and it’s hard work because there aren’t a lot of safe landing options and the terrain can be difficult to handle. I’d like to say Hammy and I made it all the way around, but bad weather approaching meant that we didn’t quite go the whole way, but we were both proud of our efforts. It was great to undertake the journey with such a top bunch of people. By the time we touched down in Doussard and got on the cans, Da Hamsta and I were more than pleased with the time we spent in the blue, blue skies of France.

Doussard is a cracker of a town, and about as traditionally French as a croissant wearing a beret. There are winding cobblestone alleys, baguette vendors on every corner, astonishing views of the Alps and pretty girls on every corner. It’s not only a top place to go paragliding, or a great place to get really drunk, but it’s an astonishing place for anybody to spend a few lazy days.

Unfortunately, later that night Hamster was severely beaten up by a throng of French people who were sick and tired of his antics, and was left brain damaged and in a vegetative state. Fortunately, his wife and children didn’t notice any difference when he got home, so happy days!

The Tour of Annecy

“Put your clothes on and get the fuck out of my house! And please remove my turnip strainer from your anus!”

Just another day in the home on paragliding, Annecy, France. I opened my eyes to see a very bashful, very naked Hamster hurriedly throwing his clothes into his bag. His arms and legs were heavily bruised, and he had bite marks on his abdomen. The owner of the slum we were staying in, Adrian, was waving a carving knife around violently.

“We have to leave right now,” Hamster wept. “I think I’ve made a social faux pas.”

The apartment looked worse than I remembered, which is saying something. Empty beer bottles, blood in the walls, a TV-shaped hole in one of the windows, that sort of thing. I couldn’t really blame Adrian for kicking up a stink. I had a crushing hangover and felt like Antifa had spent the night kicking my head in, but when Hamster says we should vamos, we vamos, so that’s what we did.

I thought we might have to suck dicks in exchange for accommodation but Hamster, as always, had a plan up his sleeve.

“I met a bloke last night who has a tent we can sleep in,” he slurred, and I put plans for prostitution on hold. “He was wearing pants made out of hemp and had a man bun, but how bad can his place be?”

And that’s how Hamster and I ended up sleeping in a tipi in the middle of a hippie commune.

The farm ended up being absolutely wonderful, with wide open fields far below the peaks of the Alps. Accommodation is bloody expensive in this part of the world, so camping is definitely the way to go unless you’re made of money. After settling into the tipi and struggling through a sun worshipping ceremony and 90-minute yoga session, I was keen as mustard to get up the hill and go flying, but Hamster had other things on his mind.

“I’d like to harvest some carrots and then cook a vegan casserole,” he told me, already inspired by his new surroundings. “And Pierre has an interpretive dance workshop that I’d hate to miss, so can we put a pin in the paragliding thingy for now?”

Hamster has a history turning into a hippie for no real reason, so I know the only way to snap him out of it. I slipped a few shots of rum into his kale and quinoa smoothie while he was hugging a tree, and soon he was pulling out man buns left, right and centre and munching sausages in front of horrified vegetarians, so I chucked him in the car and took him up to launch.

The conditions were even better than the day before, and our luck got even better when paragliding guru Marque and the gang rocked up. I’m telling you, the paragliding community is so warm and inclusive, and there are plenty of people willing to share their time and knowledge without expecting anything in return. There were hugs all round, then Marque took us aside with a serious expression on his face.

“I truly believe that you two have what it takes to be legendary gods of the sky,” he said honestly. “Perhaps it is the way you take to the heavens with confidence and skill. Perhaps it’s the way you can drink cheap vodka upside down without vomiting. But today you will take the next step in your training, by completing the Petit Tour du Lac.

The Petit Tour du Lac is the beginner’s circuit around the bottom half of Lake Annecy, and provides a good challenge without the complications that come with going the whole way. It’s not an easy task, but with Marque’s smooth voice wafting through our radios, Hamster and I launched towards our destinies.

I’m telling you, it was rough as guts up there, but we were soon getting great height as we climbed towards the 50 or 60 gliders above us. Once we pulled in 1800 metres of height we jumped over to the next mountain range, and I was close to filling my pants as I sunk out, got thrown around, and generally had a tough time of it. But I made it, Hamster made it, Marque made it, and the view was unreal.

We thermalled up to 2100 metres and then cut across the lake, and that big, blue bugger looks beautiful from a couple of kilometres up. We made it across easily, and soon we were riding above ancient castles and cobblestone streets, before racing along a steep ridge. The view from the top of Doussard was superb, and soon we were spiralling down into the valley, thirsty for an ice cold French beer or 18.

Of course, Marque and the gang got us roaring drunk, and when we were at the point of starting fights with pot plants, the big man took us to the side once more.

“You boys really proved yourselves up there today,” he slurred whilst holding onto the bar to prevent himself falling over. “I think it’s time for you to meet Gabrielle.”

“Sure thing,” I chirped. “Does she have big tits?”

“No, but feel free to give them a squeeze if you want,” said a handsome man with a shock of white hair. “My name is Gabrielle. Or as my friends call me, The Eagle of Annecy.”

It’s not every day you meet perhaps the greatest paraglider pilot of all time, so I might save that story for next time!

Anarchy in Annecy

Wild horses couldn’t have dragged me away from Brazil’s welcoming bosom, but there was one thing that could lure me away – the promise of a few weeks of sublime paragliding above the Alps with Hamster. So I packed my G-string away, skolled my last bottle of Brahma, and hopped on a plane to France. Shit, this unemployment thing can be tough!

The picturesque resort village of Annecy is where paragliding was born 50 years ago, so it’s a place I’ve wanted to visit ever since I first took to the skies, with tears in my eyes and wee running down my legs. As the name suggests, paragliding was invented by a mad Parramatta Eels fan, Pierre LeCoq, who realised it was a good way to escape if his mates ever came home feom work early while he was porking their wives. These days paragliding is loved by pilots around the world, whether they cut their mates’ grass or not.

I was relaxing in the lush Jardins de l’Europe park, drinking a bottle of Kronenbourg and admiring the views, when a high-pitched scream shattered the tranquility. I thought there’d been a terrorist attack, but when I looked up I saw a group of young ladies fleeing in disgust from the clutches of a pervert. The creep was holding a large baguette in front of his crotch like an oversized penis, and was thrusting it at anyone who looked his way. Children were crying, dogs were howling; I’ll tell you what, Hamster sure knows how to make an entrance!

He smelled strongly of faeces, although it was impossible to tell whether it was human or animal. I made him rinse off in one of Annecy’s ancient canals, with the crystal clear water turning a deep shade of brown the moment he slipped in. Despite the commotion this caused, I couldn’t help noticing have magical Annecy is, with its stunning buildings and bright blue lake, nestled in amongst the imposing mountains. If it wasn’t for the thousands of Chinese tourists swarming around, it would feel like it was plucked straight from a fairy tale.

“Right, we’re here for one thing, so let’s do it,” said Hamster, as I reached for my glider and he swaggered into the nearest pub. You’ve gotta respect a bloke who’s got his priorities in order! We spent the first night knocking back delicious local beer in a 400-year-old tavern nestled in the hills above Annecy, talking shit and barely remaining upright. Our outlandish behaviour caught the attention of a gaggle of local pilots, who were at first bemused by our behaviour, but were soon won over when Hamster started farting the French national anthem.

Paragliding instructors, acro madmen, comp pilots and even a world championship runner-up. When I focused my blurry vision, I could recognise each and every one of them from videos I’d watched on YouTube. The most notable figure was Marque, one of the first men to ever fly at Annacy, who rarely speaks to ‘newbies’ but saw something in Hamster and I that caused him to open up and saturate us with his wisdom. The group of pilots sat back and listened with awe at my story of flying 51 kilometres in Manila… or maybe they were just being nice because we bought them a round of drinks. Either way, as we all slipped into drunken comas, they shared wisdom that I will never remember, and promised to take Hammy and I out flying the next day.

The next morning I woke up in the shower, covered in vomit and marinated in a thick broth of shame. I could barely move, let alone think about flying, but a few hours later that was exactly what I was preparing to do. The launch at Col De La Forclaz is 1240m above sea level and the view out over the lake is truly unforgettable. After an inspirational pep talk from Marque, Hamster and I launched in unison, and soared out over that jaw-dropping landscape. I’ve never experienced anything as amazing as those first few moments flying above Annecy.

We spent two blissful hours dancing high above the lake, climbing to 2000m before spiralling towards the pine trees far below. Only the setting sun could bring us down, and when we reluctantly landed in the peaceful village of Doussard, Marque met us with a toothy grin and ice cold beers, his way of welcoming us into ‘Club de Annecy’. After a life-changing experience such as flying over the Alps, those beers tasted like angels were pissing on my tonsils.

We stashed our gliders and rolled into the nearest pub to smash overpriced beers and tell stories about how we’d pretty much flown across Europe that arvo. Hamster dragged the tone down by asking anyone who looked his way if they wanted to ‘pull his reserve’ – until an attractive young lass told him she’d rather fall to her doom than pull his limp noodle. After Marque and the gang passed out in the garden, we met a gap-toothed fortune teller, who told me some very interesting news.”

“Tomorrow, you will fly higher and further than ever before,” she said between hits of her crack pipe. “And your friend, he is going to be thrown out very soon.”

Within seconds, Hamster was chucked out for filling a pot plant with his piss, which filled me with confidence that I’d have a good flight in the morning. Fuck yeah, how good is Annecy!

Salvador! (Not to be confused with the country of El Salvador, or that weird-moustached painting dude Salvador Dali)

Brazil is a bloody big country – you couldn’t walk across it in a day, that’s for sure – and boasts a diverse range of environments and cultures. With time running out on my South American adventure (this leg of it, anyway, because it looks like I’ll be back there before anyone has a chance to miss me) I flew far up the coast from Rio to Salvador, the capital of Bahia. On its golden beaches I found a very different Brazil – wilder, noisier and rawer. The sun beats down, the drums beat loud and you could be forgiven for beating yourself off on the beach because there are so many bikini babes around. I didn’t do that, though, in case any Brazilian mobs are reading.

Unlike Floripa, which is relatively modern and western, Salvador feels like it’s straight out of Africa. As the beating heart of Bahia, where the descendents of Brazil’s black slaves are the overwhelming majority, Salvador feels a long way from the western world. After travelling through Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, which all wear their European histories with pride, it was a culture shock to jump into a city that’s as far removed from Madrid or Lisbon as you could possibly imagine.

Salvador’s Old Town is truly beautiful – at least from a distance. Brightly-coloured towers cling to the rugged cliffs, overlooking the glittering Atlantic Ocean. People scurry through the streets, selling fruit and vegetables. The crumbling Portuguese architecture shines under brilliant blue skies. There’s no doubt that it’s pretty, but Salvador is drenched in the ever-present feeling of danger, because it’s one of the most dangerous cities on the planet. If you want to rock up and take heaps of selfies, don’t be surprised if some dude in a Neymar soccer shirt snatches your brand new iPhone out of your hand and kicks you into the gutter.

The bizarre Elevador Lacerda is the most curious thing to see in the Old Town, joining the upper and lower sections via an 85 meter elevator (just in case the name didn’t give it away). It was built way back in 1873, but I honestly don’t know what the point of it is, since a decent set of stairs would do the job better. As it is, locals line up around the block to travel up and down, and a trip in it is the best way to experience the overwhelming stench of 45 sweaty Brazilians at one time.

Salvador is famous for it’s beaches, and the best of them are a decent bus ride from the inner city. With the standard of buses in this part of the country, I decided to save myself the hassle and check out a couple near my hostel. Praia do Porto is the most famous, and is crawling with tourists, locals and beach vendors flogging everything from sunscreen to cocaine. I’d never considered taking up a crack habit, but I was bored and the bloke selling it had a winning smile and a charismatic attitude, so now I’ve been forced into prostitution to cover my $1200-a-day habit.

The strangest thing that happened to me during my trip to Salvador occurred within hours of arriving. I scraped into my hostel around 1am, tired and grumpy after two days of travelling, and dreaming of 12 hours sleep. Fernando, the little bloke who checked me in took a shine to me, however, and strung out his tour of the hostel as long as possible, including an in-depth seminar on the cultural history of Salvador. When he showed me to my room, he lingered for a while, looking at me shyly. I thought it was a bit weird, but was glad when he finally gave me my key and fucked off. That wasn’t the end of it, though.

As I was undressing, there was a knock on the door, and when I opened it Fernando was standing in the moonlight with his hands in his pockets. He flashed me a toothless smile, and spat something dark and slimy onto the ground.

“I finish at two,” he whispered. “After that I’ll be in room 16.” With that, he flittered into the night.

I was relieved to finally have a chance to pull myself off sleep, but as my head hit the pillow there was another knock on the door. When I opened it, Fernando was there again, flashing me an impish grin.

“Would you like some chocolate?” he asked softly. When I told him I was on a diet he looked crushed.

“I wasn’t talking about that kind of chocolate…” he said sadly, caressing his dark skin, before disappearing into the moonlight.

It wasn’t until the next morning, when the sun was up and I wasn’t three-quarters asleep, that I noticed the rainbow flags and erotic male-on-male posters decorating the hostel. Turns out the Delicioso Doodle Hostel caters to a certain demographic, and turning up there as a staunchly heterosexual man was like waving a juicy steak in front of a hungry vegan. Oh well, Fernando, I’m sure someone will want a an arse and a half of your full-cream dairy milk!

I Go To Rio

Travel blog-writing wankers with sticks up their arses will tell you that you can’t experience everything Rio de Janeiro has to offer in just five hours, but they’re wrong – very fucking wrong. With my bus from Floripa taking six hours longer than it should have, and a flight to the northeast of Brazil booked for the same night I arrived, I had barely any time in Cidade Maravilhosa (roughly translated as… I dunno, something about cicadas), but I saw it all. Every last bit of it.

So bloody well take that.

Yes, just like dancing gay champion Peter Allen did several decades ago, I gave in to the rhythm and let my feet follow the beat of my heart as I strutted down the streets of one of the world’s biggest cities. Unlike poor old Pete, I didn’t go around shaking other blokes’ maracas, so I might escape his tragic fate.

Here’s some of the cliche sights I saw during those 300 minutes. Big-arsed sheilas in tiny bikinis:

Some dude taking a shit in the street:

Dickheads dancing the Macarena:

A street- wise youth gang busting a groove in a favella:

I even visited the world famous Copacabana Beach, and thought it was a pretty bloody nice place indeed:

All of that stuff was great, but while in Rio I really wanted to see the city’s Big Thing. Coffs Harbour has the Big Banana, Nambour has the Big Pineapple, and Rio has the Big Christian. I knew he was on top of a hill that could be reached by cable car, so when I saw one, I hopped on. The ride to the top of the Sugar Loaf (if there’s a better name for a hill anywhere, I’ll eat my undies) is truly spectacular, and Rio is one of the most incredible and unique cities around. Massive mountains climb out of the rambling buildings, with golden beaches providing breathtaking decoration.

When I got to the top, I eagerly looked around for the Big Christian, but couldn’t find him anywhere. He’s 30m tall, so it’s not like he was hidden behind a palm tree or something, so I asked a little bloke who works there where the statue was.

“Estúpido gringo,” he laughed. “You’ve come to the incorrect hill. Christ the Redeemer stands proudly atop Corcovado, several kilometres from here. If you look behind you, you’ll see him. He is quite majestic.” And then he shoved an empanada in his gob and sauntered off.

But when I looked around, the Big Christian wasn’t where he was supposed to be. There were just clouds. The weather had fucked me again! I was devastated, and lined up with hundreds of other to take a selfie in front of a whole lot of nothin’.

While I was doing that, some self-obsessed creep who was hoping for the perfect Instagram snap started going berserk, ranting about the weather and knocking food off people’s tables. He was so enraged that he almost stepped on a marmoset! He was coming my way, waving his selfie stick around carrying on like a pork chop, but as I turned to run I slipped on a banana peel and went sprawling on the ground. I scraped my knee and started crying, when a fat little brown bloke with a gap-toothed smile and a goofy haircut trotted over to me.

“Such grace! Such courage! Such ability to fall over for no reason and pretend you’re hurt! You’re exactly what the Brazilian soccer team needs to win the next World Cup! Are you available over the next two months or so?”

“Who the fuck are you?”

“Why… I’m Ronaldo! The world’s greatest soccer man! I’m famous!”

“Yeah, yeah, maybe in Brazil. But in Australia people would walk right past you to get an autograph off Super Hubert. Look, I don’t have time to join your pub soccer team. You’ll just have to go and win your World Cup thingie without me.

Praia do Rosa: It’s bloomin’ good!

Santa Catarina, in the luscious south of Brazil, has so many beaches that you’d go mad if you tried to drink a beer on even a quarter of them in your lifetime. So when it came to organising a romantic weekend away, I allowed my Brazilian lady friend to choose the destination. She has fantastic taste in men, and also proved to have fantastic taste in beaches, and thus we ended up in Praia do Rosa.

The beach is just 80km from Florianopolis and its million inhabitants, but it really feels like it’s a world away from the city (and not just because the journey takes hours by bus). Praia do Rosa is incredibly rural, with chickens and cows roaming the dirt tracks. It’s a place where time moves slowly, and that’s a good thing because the views are pretty bloody good.

Like many places along Santa Catarina’s coast, Praia do Rosa is like a little slice of Bali. There are Buddhas all over the place, bamboo shacks, and beer that’s every bit as cheap and refreshing as Bintang. Hell, I even found a bar called Lombok (nobody was getting their arms hacked off with machetes, though, as far as I could tell). If I had little blokes racing up to me every five seconds trying to sell me pirated X-Men DVDs and dodgy Rip Curl shirts I would’ve forgotten where I was.

If you’re staying in Praia do Rosa, make sure you get a place overlooking the ocean, otherwise you’re wasting your time (right, that’s my travel blog advice for 2018, see you next year). The sunrises are spectacular, and if you’re back from the beach you’ll feel like you’re camping in a farm. There are also a few other beaches within walking distance, such as Vermelha and Luz, and I can say from experience that the trek is much more pleasant if you bring along a woman with a nice bottom and ask her to walk in front at all times (two bits of travel blog advice in one year. I might need to have a lie down).

So that’s it. I had a top time in Praia do Rosa, saw some awesome places, spent most of the time drunk, ate grouse food that cost less than a packet of chips back in Australia, lay around in hammocks with a pretty lady to keep me company, and basically continued my quest to never act like a responsible adult. Sometimes life can suck balls, but if that’s the case, just head to Praia do Rosa and have a caipirinha on the sand, it’ll sort your shit out quick smart.