Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Raegan and I are in Northern Brazil and like my candidate for president, we´ve been flip-flopping a lot lately. Our flip-flop tan-lines are coming in nicely. Tonight we will be on the road once again to Lençois, an inland area with lots of hikes to waterfalls. Though this ride will not be as long as our last, we´re leaving a little sooner than we´d like -- it seems we could never have enought time to see this huge country.

On our last night in Rio, Raegan and I hung out once again with our parallel traveler Jonathan Udkow (from Oakland). He´s rented an apartment on Ipanima and as usual it was great to spend some nights with him. On that last night we were driven around by a wonderful couple, Clarisse and Rafael, to a few places only a local could know. They generously devoted an evening to ensure we got a good impression of their city (though they gave us a hard time for the brevity of our visit) and they succeeded. Our only regret in leaving Rio was not being able to spend more time with them.

Raegan and I have spent the last few days on the beach north of Salvador. The town, Praia do Forte moves about as fast as the palm trees sway and it´s been a nice reprieve from the somewhat more hectic Salvador. Yesterday we had a full day on the beach, our first since arriving in Brazil, and only got off the sand to swim or to buy roasted cashews to monch or a coconut to sip from. It was such a great way to pass the day we didn´t even mind our new lobster-colored skin.

Besides from being a sleepy fishing village slowly transforming into a beach resort, Praia do Forte is home to Brazil´s Tamar Project, a international organization devoted to saving sea turtles. This means you can buy every variety of turltle-related souveneirs you could imagine, oh, and you can also visit a center full of rehabilitaing turtles. They´re pretty neat.

Back to Salvador. This city, due to its unfortunate slavery-related history is blessed with amazing colonial architecture and a fascinating culture. The colonial center of town is a maze of coblestone streets lined with colorfully painted buildings. At night the streets smell of wonderful Bahian food and are filled with live music coming from whichever direction. Raegan and I stayed right it the thick of it. As wonderful as this area was, it was also full of tourist hawks.

As Raegan and I walked the streets at night we were usually asked every few paces to consider some good or service. The most depressing, and latter annoying were the children whos work was to collect empty beer cans. After Raegan and I watched a drum troupe in the streets for a bit, I bought a few beers and collected my change. The beer can boy wanted that change so he followed me from the sale over to Raegan. His tactic was to annoy, so after asking a few times he began to tap, tap, tap my shoulder. He walked beside me for a few blocks taking turns tap tap tapping my and Raegan´s shoulders. By this point it was a battle of wills and I explained repeatedly as I initially had, that I would give him my can when empty but he would not get one cent of that change. I meant that. Raegan and I sat down for a conversation, but the boy didn´t tire. I shoved him off and he returned with a rock, his threat for when I tried to shove him off again. After waiting him out for another minute Fabio and Flavia came to the rescue.

With the same words, but with more swagger, they managed to get the boy to leave us alone as they invited us to drink a few beers with them. Their sole motivation was to share our company, two foreigners they didn´t know, and to ensure we enjoyed ourselves in their city. In most parts of our country hospitality is an industry, here it´s a cultural attribute. We spent a few hours together struggling with each others language, but making up for our difficulty with a laugh or a thumbs-up (the Brazilian national symbol) .

Two days ago, Fabio and Flavia came to our Hostal and picked us up. They drove us up the coast and we carried on where we left off in our English, Portugese and sign language conversation. We visited Flavia´s house where we met her family and dog. She showed us some pictures of her and her friends. After adding another friend to our crew, we pilled back in the car and they took us the rest of the way (about 1.5hrs) to Praia do Forte. When we arrived they made sure we could check in to our hostal and they began their drive home. They had a concert to attend that evening. Providing our company for the ride wasn´t nearly enough to repay them for their kindness, but they didn´t seem concerned. I hope someday I´ll get the opportunity to ensure they enjoy my hometown.

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Sunday, September 12, 2004

Well we are in Rio, the only city I have been to so far in the world where it is perfectly acceptable for grown men to walk around city streets in a speedo and flip flops. More power to em. Brazil is fabulous. We like it a lot, people are loud, nice and easy going. The diversity is incredible and from what we can tell so far, way more intergrated than in our own country. We DO NOT have enough time here or for that matter enough money needed to get to know this massive country bigger than our own. Coming here has peeked my interest and I hope to learn a lot more about Brazil, a lot more Portuguese and come back some day for a lot more time.

So we are in this land of stunning beaches and it has been cloudy everyday. Such is life. After spending our last night in Curitiba with some ruckus social workers from Sao Paolo, listening to a live Brazilian rock band and trying to communicate, we awoke four hours later for our trip to Ilha do Mel, involving a train ride, a bus and a ferry. (This is the story of travel for us in Brazil, long distances and many connections)

Ilha do Mel is one of many islands off of Brazils coast, a gathering place for young surfers and hippies with great beaches. Well, it was cloudy but nice anyway. We ate seafood and took long walks. For me it was thrilling despite bad weather cause I havent had much exposure to the beach-island life and wandering around bungalows barefoot is still a novelty. (Although my patience is wearing a little four days later, I would like to get rid of this winter skin glow)

Another ferry-bus-13hr bus-bus-metro ride later we were in Rio. In the middle of the night we stopped at the typical Brazilian truck stop, a massive lit up montrosity the size of a Super Target with gaudy souveneirs, a buffet (of course), snacks, etc. Landing there at 2 am felt like landing on Mars. Upon entering they give you a paper ticket that you mark your food on to pay later. Since we didnt buy anything Jacob just set his ticket on the counter and walked out, only to be followed by truck stop security five minutes later asking him to give up his slip. oops. This is a common practice, giving you a piece of paper when you walk into a bar or restaurant that you use to pay at the end of the night.

Rio de Janeiro is fascinating. We are staying in Copacabana and the beach is really nice. I drank my first lopped off coconut yesterday beach side watching the surfers and city joggers, ahhh. Our first night we went to the Lapa street party, a grouping of streets near downtown where people just set up shop making Caparinhas (Brazilian firewater, lime and sugar), sell beer and play music. The streets were packed with all kinds and went into the wee hours.

Today we took a train up into one of the neighborhoods in the hills. Old rambling colonial houses mixed with favelas (the infamous ghettos of Brazil with makeshift housing where the poor live). Narrow streets and tons of colors, yellow, pink, green from the colonial houses and even more from the flowers. Sidewalks made out of black and white mosaic. There were lots of people hanging out, playing cards and enjoying the street. We stopped and ate fejoia, a meal of black beans stewed with meat, rice, kale, manioc flour and oranges. Yum. Our senses were overwhelmed.

It is nice to be in a tropical country after winter. All of a sudden most of what is in our backpack seems like dead weight. Nice to see so much skin and feel this incredibly lively yet relaxed vibe. We are really looking forward to seeing and learning more even though we have to race a bit. We are gearing up for a 28 hour bus ride to Bahia (yikes) on Thursday.

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Saturday, September 04, 2004

On the road again....
Raegan and I have resumed our travels and are now writing from country number 6, Brazil. It´s been a little strange to strap on the backpacks once again, and we´ve had a few minor hiccups, but we´re adjusting.

Tuesday night we left our apartment baren with our security deposit in hand and headed to the bus station. It was hard to believe that the items we had strewn throughout our apartment would neatly fit back into our backpacks, but they did. We opted for the fancy bus for our long ride up north. What does that mean?: each seat on the bus nearly reclined to a full bed, we were served drinks, dinner with wine, and our choice of champagne or whisky as the movie began. Our attendant was at our side to ensure our pillows were fluffed and our glasses full. When we arrived we weren´t exactly refreshed, but were a lot less road-weary than we would have thought.

In some respects traveling by bus, especially the comfy kind, is not all that different than traveling by plane. You step aboard and a few hours later you step off in a completely time and place. In this case we stepped on in winter in a huge city and stepped off in a dinky tropical town. Colorful birds were chirping from the palms, orchids were in bloom and the air was humid and creeping closer to 100 degrees by the minute. When we stepped into our room we fired up the fan full-blast. As fast as I could I threw my sweater off and in the process threw my hand into the blades of the fan. Hiccup. When I pulled my hand down blood was gushing out of more holes than I had the stomach to notice. After nearly passing out -- I´m really wimpy when it comes to my own blood -- we finally put our first aid kit, which we´ve been lugging around for thousands of miles, to good use. In the last few days our bandaid supply has been depleted, but the swelling has gone down, and the fact that I´m typing this note signifies that a full recovery is not to far off.

The next morning we went to the Iguazu falls. If these falls are not one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, then I´m starting a petition to whatever person or comittee designates the seven. The falls empty a river as wide and fast as the Mississippi. They´re in an S-shape and are nearly 2 miles long. Unreal. In some parts the (10million litres of water per second) fall 100 ft to a landing, then another 100ft, and in others 200ft straight away. The ammount of water creates a permanent cloud aover the falls and the increased humidiy supports different plants and animals (including toucans, monkeys, and few others you wouldn´t recognise by sight or name) than are in the surrounding area. Besides the sights, the sounds were amaizing. There were the sounds of the of the animals and the sound of every possible decible water can make from a trinkle to a deafaning roar. We spent about 8 hours exploring the falls and saw about 80% of them.

The next day, with a swollen arm from some tropical bug bite (hiccup), we crossed into Brazil. Quickly we realized how much we´ve taken our ability to speak for granted. Portugese is wierd. We´d thought that because we can read a lot of what we´ve seen in the language (as it´s quite similar to spanish) that we´d be able to pick up the basics fairly quickly. Wrong. Hiccup. Thankfully Brazilians so far have are very good-natured and seem to understand that outsiders can´t make out their language. In many of the spanish-speaking countries we´ve visited, when you don´t understand something, the speaker will repeat it louder and faster with a few more words thrown in. In Brazil, thankfully, this is not the case.

After getting lost not long after we arrived a policeman walked up and said somthing or other. Once he figured we weren´t from around there, he pulled out a tourist map and his cell phone, dialed the tourist office and handed us the phone. He let us place another call to a hostal, he said something or other and he smiled as we walked away. The more conversations we´ve had, and many have been just like this, the more we´ve been able to pick out. Once in our hostal we visite the Brazilian side of the falls, which were different but just as impressive as the Argentinian. That night we went to our first biergarten. It is certainly fitting to have a cold one when it´s so damn hot, but who knew that brazilians frequent biergartens? No complaints.

A few days ago we arrived in Curitiba and by now we know the biergartens well. We also know that when you order a plate in a resteraunt it´s meant for 2 or 3 people, not one. We´ve also learned a few important phrases, and that Brazil is filled with the unlikely combo of Portugese colonial and extremely modern architecture. We´re going to like it here. Tommorow we head by rail toward the coast through the largest strand of Atlantic rainforest, and then by boat to a little island. I hope they have a biergarten there.

Comments-[ comments.]
On the road again....
Raegan and I have resumed our travels and are now writing from country number 6, Brazil. It´s been a little strange to strap on the backpacks once again, and we´ve had a few minor hicups, but we´re adjusting.

Tuesday night we left our apartment baren with our security deposit in hand and headed to the bus station. It was hard to believe that the items we had strewn throughout our apartment would neatly fit back into our backpacks, but they did. We opted for the fancy bus for our long ride up north. What does that mean?: each seat on the bus nearly reclined to a full bed, we were served drinks, dinner with wine, and our choice of champagne or whisky as the movie began.

Comments-[ comments.]

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