Wednesday, January 30, 2008

hitching to salvador

totally upset, realized my portuguese was wrong and i deleted the post about our 3 day hitchhike up to salvador. gotta keep this short as i have to leave the house, but basically 3 days with a truck driver headed to Natal delivering beer, was a very different side of Brasil, with lots of gas stations, friendly people, and a very informative guy who told us about the farming and differences throughout the country. great experience. will try to elaborate more on it later.

Salvador, Bahia, Brasil

I am too tired from being in Salvador to write but since I'm headed north and don't know when I'll have some free time to catch up on writing, better to get it done now.

Salvador is 80% black, descendants of slaves, old colonial city, music pulsing through all forms of life here. Free concerts, capoeira (Brasilian martial performance art), spicy West African food, coconuts in cooking, all sorts of things...

We got here Friday night late and I'm headed north tomorrow, Wednesday.

Saturday was a day around Pelourinho, the historical center, a jazz concert, followed by Rio Vermelho, a nice nightlife area. Sunday was a 11am concert in Parque da Cidade, then Olodum at 2pm, a percussion bloco, school, that strode through the cobblestone streets banging on all sorts of percussion with people dancing and watching in front, behind, and to the sides. They ended in the Largo de Pelourinho, with sweaty bodies, beer, caipirinha. Carnaval is nearly here.

Monday was a total rest day, cooking Italian, Japanese, fruit salad, and a lot of sleep.

Tuesday Ben, an Australian also staying with us, and I got up at 6.30am thinking that would be early enough to avoid the heat (we were oh-so-wrong, it's scorching hot by 6.30am here) and went to the beach at Barra, over to Pelourinho to take pictures (most noteworthy place for me is the slave pens under the main market, you go down in suffocating stale air that has about 5cm of stank water always on the ground, now there's footing for tourists, but this is where the slaves were kept when they had crossed the Atlantic. I've now been to the last place for them leaving Africa, in Ile-de Goree, Senegal, and to the first place they'll live out their slavedom is they survive the journey, Salvador da Bahia, Brasil. Creepy.)

And so it goes.

It's a totally different vibe here, with a lot more African roots for sure, and it's hotter, or my body's just shutting down from the constant heat. Ahh.

Lots of thoughts about Brasil to come. It's a complex country with multiple realities, many problems, many beauties, and many horrors. I'll think about it on my hopefully 10 hour journey, could be longer if we don't get a ride, to Recife tomorrow.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rio de Janeiro Part II

So the Friday night standing around in Lapa went til about 3am, then I went home with Eduardo. Saturday, we got up around noon, and it was football day at the Maracana.

Brasil has a reputation for football, and it is very rightly deserved. We went to meet Sao-Mai and Nadja at 2pm at Saens Pena, we walked over with Giuseppe to Maracana for the Fluminense vs A. Corea game...Fluminense, the tri-colors, the green-red-white, has a fan base that is so energetic, so into the game, with a mesmerizing musical backup full of all sorts of percussion, fans that don't stop shaking for the entire 2 and a half hours (plus before and after), it was actually refreshing and surprising to see how non-violent the crowd was (although I will admit that if I needed any sort of lesson in Portuguese palavrao - big words - curse words - I had come to the right's funny isn't it, in any football passionate country how the people go absolutely nuts and talk to the players as if they were in the same room, able to understand and hear what the fans were advising them to do...endless source of humor for me...) Anyway, it was an awesome experience, and in the last 15 minutes or so of the game it started pouring rain, but hard-core Rio de Janeiro summer style, pounding down, but not affecting the thousands of fans who were now dancing in the rain, drenched, singing, cheering, jumping up and down...ahh this is Brasil's energy.

After the game, I was planning to go to Leblon to get my stuff, but realized that it was going to be a tight fit heading there and going back to Tijuca in the dark, so instead decided to head back to Eduardo's. So Sao-Mai and Nadja walked with me in the rain and we finally got back, they went back to Leblon, I went with Eduardo. After a nap, I somehow convinced Eduardo to go to Democraticos with me, an old-school club in Lapa with lots of traditional Brasilian music. That night it was garfieira, samba that's danced to by couples. Gabriela, Joyce, and an Italian named Dario were also there. I have to admit that samba really isn't my strong point, but it was a lot of fun. That night I went back to Leblon and thought everyone would be sleeping when I arrived at 3.30am, but there the crew was, awake on the couch. They drifted off to sleep shortly thereafter but Cahe and I stayed up talking til past 6am.

One of the most enlightening conversations I've had in Brasil, we discussed everything from favelas to the Brasilian mindset to Japan and fantasies and who knows what else. Some highlights, also so that I don't forget...

Cahe was raised in Ipanema, always having come from a family with money. His mother passed away when he was young, and the woman who helped in the house essentially was a second mother. She was from a favela, so Cahe and his brother often went to the favela to play, it was no big deal. The favelas are generally not dangerous, the problem is that they become the proposed territory of druglords, and then the police come in to take action, then shootouts happen, then innocent people are shot. There's a lot of cocaine and marijuana, the cocaine comes from Brasil as well as Colombia and Bolivia...Pernambuco state in northeast Brasil (where I'm headed in a few days for Carnaval) is the center of marijuana production.

We talked about the education system, which is technically provided gratis through secondary education, but one cannot enter the secondary school until they pass an exam, so if they were not blessed enough to have gone to one of the better free elementary schools, they will have a very hard time getting once again it becomes a question of economic status.

We talked about the Brasilian mentality of pure individualism because they have always been kept under, first by the Portuguese, then currently a strange form of neo-colonialism by North American corporations as well as Brasilian ones, so each person will do whatever they can for personal gain. Which makes it crazy, as employers have such little faith in their workers, so they must constantly be vigilant as to what is happening in their businesses.

And so on and so on.

The following morning, Sunday, I went with Sao-Mai, Nadja, Humberto and Laura to a waterfall in Floresta da Tijuca, the national park located within the city; did I mention that Rio de Janeiro is called cidade maravilhosa, the marvelous city, and nature-wise, yes, it is...the coastline, the cliffs, and yes, a national park with tropical forest WITHIN the city...ahh...anyway, we walked to a little waterfall, the walk was really pretty, with monkeys scrambling around on jackfruit trees.

Afterwards, it was a Sunday afternoon at the house in Leblon, which means a giant vegan feast (stroganoff, which I hadn't had in years, possibly...fantastic) and passion fruit mousse. No meat, no dairy, lots of satisfied taste buds. I was determined to get back to Tijuca before dark this time, so I gave my beijos to everyone and off I went.

Sunday night I was starting to feel pretty wrecked from the very inconsistent sleeping patterns, but I didn't want to miss out...strange feeling, to be exhausted, wanting to go to bed, but I just couldn't...haha. So Iris had finished her exams and was free to go out, so we ended up going to a house of a friend of theirs, in Copacabana...where Julio, the Argentinean I had met on Friday was staying. It turned out there was a nice little crowd there, 2 Argentines, a Peruvian, Eduardo, Iris, Manuela from Portugal, me, and 4 Uruguayans arrived...2 guitars being passed around, beautiful voices, beautiful guitar, I was in heaven. A great switch from the full-on partying of the previous nights. We stuck around til about 4.30am, and went home.

Monday, my body was finished. I slept til about 3pm (waking up for food and bathroom) and then Iris and I went down Rua de Conde Bonfim to buy some Japanese ingredients at Cha Verde, because I was planning to cook that night. Manuela and Chen, her friend from China, as well as Danilo, and Eduardo and Iris, and me, had a regular little cook-fest which was fantastic. Various shapes and forms of sushi, way too salty miso (I didn't taste it first, not realizing that Brasilian miso, like Brasilian cheese and various other such things, would be about 20x saltier than their international equivalent...) It was a big success though, I loved it.

Then we were off to forro...ahhh I've found my new love. I knew that forro was a couples dance, and when I had walked by a place in Sao Paulo playing it, I'm not quite sure why, but I got the impression that it sounded like country music...which didn't interest me much. But it was free if you brought 1kg of black beans to be distributed to the poor, so our group of 7 went, and there were about 10 others that we knew there. I was watching the people dancing and the basic step is very similar to salsa, but I wasn't sure...finally I went to the very very gentille Brasilian guy who was patiently dancing with all the ladies that were lost, and we danced, and it was all fine. Then Raphael, who I had met at a samba in Lapa previously, showed up and it was absolutely fantastic. I don't know if I've written on this blog about dancing in's like you leave your body and the music just takes over and your body is an instrument of the music...well, that's what happened, and I'm hooked. I was really not feeling it with the samba in this country (it's just too fast and complicated and I'm so clumsy I'd trip over my own feet, not to mention whoever the poor victim is that's dancing with me) I'm ecstatic about this new discovery.

Tuesday morning, I was up early for my day at the favelas. Tahnee, the Ozzy who lives in Rocinha, had agreed to take me around the largest favela in the Americas. So I arrived, scared off my ass, but quickly felt at ease. It's funny how the media and even the locals contribute to give ghettos and slums, favelas, whatever you want to call them, horrible attention so that people are scared to go there, think of them, even speak of's actually quite tragic. I suppose part of it is that Brasil has such huge Leblon or Ipanema, beautiful restaurants, clubs, palm-tree lined streets...and then you go to Rocinha. But it's really not that bad. Compare it to any African nation, or as a matter of fact, a huge part of Asia, and it's not any different, really. There's a cool energy there, I actually felt that people were really friendly, they are living in much closer quarters but as a result you get the sensation that everyone knows everybody and there isn't any overwhelming sense of fear or danger. So we had some pizza, took moto-taxis to a gorgeous lookout (it's actually ironic, I have more photos from inside the favela then the rest of Rio combined because I wasn't comfortable with my camera anywhere else) and then visited her house. Tahnee is first-class, amazing girl, her down-to-earthness, trusting and trustworthy nature, she's a winner.

I rushed to Barra da Tijuca where I was meeting Marcelo, Alexandre's friend who took me through Cidade de Deus. Same deal, yeah, they are poorer, but the grand majority are people trying to make a living, carrying out their lives just like the rest of us. I went to his house in Barra for lunch, then rushed back to Tijuca to get my stuff.

I said bye to Eduardo and Rua dos Araujos, and realized even as I was doing so that I've fallen in love with Rio de Janeiro...we'll see what happens from here on...

I got to the bus station an hour before my bus, but as January is festival time and everything is jam-packed, my bus was sold out, I ended up having to take one to Cabo Frio, it was pouring rain, switched to a local line for Buzios, asked a really nice man how the hell I could get to my meeting point with Nikolas, the Argentinean, and he basically took me there. Soooo nice.

So I met up with my new travel buddy that I had acquired in Rio. He was staying with an Argentinean woman in Buzios, who has a bakery, and it was great to see a familiar face. We had basically only known each other one day in Rio (met through Danilo), but had agreed to try to hitch up to Salvador.

So Wednesday morning, we had a delicious breakfast, then off we went into the full-on rain to try our luck. Dripping wet, we got into the car of a guy who was delivering sodas, and he took us a bit further, where we got in with a construction worker, who took us to a gas station, where we found a hilarious guy who sells baby clothes in Rio das Ostras. He took us to a gas station on the highway, but it was going in the other direction, hence most of the people staying there were headed south to Rio de Janeiro, not north to Vitoria, or Espirito Santo, and certainly not to Salvador da Bahia (It's about 1500km to Salvador from Rio...what on earth where we thinking, right??)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Rio de Janeiro part 1

Friday in Sao Paulo consisted of Paulo Tiago and I going to Liberdade to buy lots of Japanese groceries then cooking them for a very loud group of Brasilians. All good though. I got on a bus at 1:30am headed to Rio de Janeiro. When I woke up, we were passing through graffiti covered tunnels.

It was 7:30am, and Eduardo came to meet me at Rodoviaria. I was exhausted, so we got to his house and I took a nap. At around 11am I got up, and we headed to the beach on the bus to meet his wife Iris and a friend of hers, Gabriel.

Copacabana. It's possibly the most famous beach in the world. What immediately struck me about this beach is how crowded it was, yet it felt totally relaxed, unrushed, and just had a good overall vibe. Amazing, considering how we really had very little personal space. The beaches in Rio are great, because there are constant food and drink vendors patrolling the beach, selling beer, matte, water, Arabic pastries, baked cheese, sandwiches, really whatever you name. We spent the afternoon on the beach, and walked to Arpoador, which means Harpooner, and has great views over the ocean. Rio de Janeiro has a spectacular setting, with mountains jutting out of the ocean, high rock cliffs all around, beaches lining the city's known as the cidade maravilhosa, the marvelous city, and it really is.

That night, we went home and took a nap, then headed to Pagode de Ceara, a whole neighborhood of rock and metal. A whole lot of Brasilians decked out in all black, gothic clothes...a totally different scene from the posh samba scene I'd seen so far. Another face of Brasil.

Sunday, I met Danilo at his house in Catete, where we went with his two Carioca friends Fabiola and Priscilla, along with an Argentinean who was staying at his house, Nikolas, to the beach in Ipanema. We wandered around Ipanema, then Nikolas and I went to a CS meeting for feijoada and samba at Teatro Odisseia in Lapa. A friendly group of Cariocas, my first attempt to dance samba, failing miserably but having fun, a wonderful samba band...ahh. Another face of Brasil.

Afterwards, we went to Guanabana Pizza in Lapa, something of a local institution, open 24 hours and always crowded. A great night out with lots of friendly faces from all over the world - I was quickly falling in love with Rio.

On Monday, I went with 4 Argentinean girls I met the night before, along with a Brasilian guy and 3 Chilean guys, to climb up to Cristo Redentor, Christ the Redeemer. This soapstone statue has long been the icon of Rio de Janeiro, overlooking the city with outstretched arms. We started our hike in Parque Lage and climbed up a trail in the Floresta da Tijuca, gorgeous green, with small monkeys (mikos) and great views. From the top, you see a panorama of the city, and it is simply stunning. The beaches, the mountains, the Maracana football stadium...breathtaking. Another face of Brasil.

Monday evening I went to Mangaratiba, where I was going to meet Alexandre. His friend Marcelo was waiting at home, and we instantly got along, having a lanche (snack in Brasil, kinda funny) and started watching Cidade de Deus. He told me he lived really near there, and we talked about me visiting there. Alexandre got home late so we were off to bed quite quickly.

I slept in on Tuesday, then we spent some time at the beach in Mangaratiba just in front of Alexandre's house, and just had a quiet relaxing day. On Wednesday, Alexandre and I took a day trip to Paraty. Which is a gorgeous old colonial city with beautiful water, extremely high quality arts and crafts and has this bohemian stepping-back-through-centuries atmosphere...I LOVED it.

Thursday morning I headed back to Rio, this time to Leblon. After a nap to recover, I met Julio, a Carioca, for coffee and beach in Ipanema. Really friendly guy. That evening, Humberto and Laura took me to Copacabana for awhile, then I went to meet Gisele in Largo de Machado. We headed to Lapa to meet some other CSers, and this is how I met Tahnee. She's an Australian girl living in Rocinha, the largest favela in the Americas. I went back to Leblon that night...when I got back at about 1:30am, Cahe was on his way out the door to a club, and though I was exhausted, I decided to join him. So we were in a semi-posh totally weird club (FosFoBox) in Copacabana til 4am, and it was yet again another face of Brasil.

Friday I slept, and slept, then Sao Mai and Nadja came to the house in Leblon. Sao Mai is half Swedish, half Vietnamese, and Nadja half German/Canadian. They are both wonderful people, and I instantly got along with them and was really glad to meet them. They came with me to the Sambodromo for a practice of Mocidade samba school, a parade of 3-4 THOUSAND people, hundreds of percussionists - amazing. It was a good number of CSers, about 25, from Argentina, Peru, Italy, England, Israel, us 3 girls, and lots of Brasilians...after, we headed for Lapa, which is jam-packed on Friday nights with caipirinha stands, lots of beer, and lots of anything else you want to consume. People stand around on the streets "fazendo soc" - literally making socialization, and it's really one of the coolest party vibes I've ever seen.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Sao Paulo, Brasil (5 - 10 January 2008)

Well well well...

On the 4th I headed to Sao Paulo, Brasil. The flights were fine, no problems at all. I arrived in Sao Paulo on the 5th at 5am and had the thrill of going somewhere totally different; new continent, new language. I went smoothly on the public bus to meet Saulo, and we arrived at his house after stopping for a Lebanese Esfiha. Yum. Saulo is a very open, welcoming Brasilian who speaks incredible English amongst other languages - he is a certified public translator. After a long nap, we went for my first Brasilian feijoada in Brazil. This dish, black beans stewed with all the parts of the pigs that people didn't want (historically it was a poor people's dish), is normally served in restaurants on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I had a caipirinha, Brasil's national drink which is made from cachaca, cane alcohol, and lots of limes, and pure sugar. Airton and Saulo patiently taught me all the names of what we were eating, and started my long-lasting lessons of how to swear in Portuguese.

Saturday evening, Saulo amazingly got us free tickets to a samba show with a young woman singer, Teresa Cristiana, I think, and it was great. Really nice to see how the Brasilians move to the music, even while sitting in theater seats. After, we went over to his neighbors' house, made caipirinhas, and snacked on treats. Long night, good fun.

Sunday I went to a CS cooking meeting at Virgilio's house where 3 people from South Africa were cooking...babuati was the main dish, tasty stuff.

On Monday, I went with Christina, an American girl who was also staying with Saulo, to walk around Trianon, then we walked several miles across the city, going to Praca da Se, Praca da Republica, and various other spots along the way. A man in a juice shop gave me a lesson about all the fruits available here in Brasil (and man oh man are there a lot of fruits here!), another man on the street gave me some jackfruit, and I tried a coxinha, a sort of croquette of corn and potato with chicken inside...yumm...

That afternoon we went to Liberdade, the Japanese area of Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, numbering 3 million. That's apparent anywhere in the city but especially in this part of town, where Japanese and Chinese markets abound. We had lunch, I had my first good ramen since I left Japan, and I went a bit nuts in the supermarket. That evening I cooked a 4 course Japanese meal for Paulo Tiago and his dad. It was great :)

Tuesday I had a doctor's appointment, which was quite the challenge, a mix of Portuguese, Spanish, and English. After that, I lazed away the day and in the afternoon, Christina, Paulo Tiago and I went to Parque Ibirapuera, checked out the impressive Afro-Brasilian museum, with breathtaking shots of Benin, and wandered around this enormous park. In the evening we met some others in Jardims.

Wednesday Christina and I went to the Mercado Municipal, an impressive market with such an extensive variety of fruits. Pitaya, Jackfruit, mangosteen, mangos, papayas, plums, cherries, apples, pears, apricots...basically everything you could ever imagine. What strikes me in particular is how it's not just the tropical stuff that's available, but also the more common things that you would see, say, in Japan or the U.S. The upstairs of the market is comprised of an array of small restaurants, ranging from Arabic to Japanese, and of course with plenty of Brasilian options.

In the evening I went to meet Carla, a Japanese descent girl and chatted with her lovely parents. It felt really nice to speak some Japanese. Then we went to meet 3 other girls at a cafe and I got to observe the Portuguese conversation. It's really encouraging, I actually notice everyday that I am able to understand more and produce more. The people I'm meeting are really international, having lived abroad or travelled extensively, speaking many different languages. It's great.

So today I got up early and went to meet Marcos, the Danish guy who was staying at Carla's house. He lived 2 years in Argentina and currently lives in Bolivia, so great conversation. We walked a lot around downtown and he's great company. We were invited to lunch at Carla's house and it was lovely.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Nicaragua to Costa Rica (19 Dec 2007 to 3 January 2008)

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve written so lots of random thoughts floating around my head…

Nicaragua was a good experience, the colonial town of Granada was beautiful, with its large yellow and red chapel dominating the skyline…all two blocks of the Historic Center. Wasn’t in the mood for photographing so I whiled away a few days on the lake, reading, chatting, daydreaming…

I journeyed on to Isla de Ometepe, so I took a bus towards Rivas, then jumped off to get on the ferry to Isla de Ometepe. This beautiful island has two active volcanoes on it, and is in the middle of Lago de Nicaragua, an enormous lake that appears as an ocean almost, because it is so huge and there always seem to be waves on it due to the wind. I had jumped into a taxi with a Swiss girl, Carole, and we went together to the boat. We both didn’t have much of a plan and we decided to stick together once we got on the island. A bumpy long ride over to Hacienda Merida where it was full of English speaking travelers, but a nice tranquil spot on the lake.

The next day we caught a bus over to Santa Cruz and walked to Balgue; a long, hot walk, but friendly people and nice views. We left really early the next morning with 2 Australians from Melbourne to go over to San Juan del Sur. This beach town was exactly what I needed, Carole and I wandered around from restaurant to café and did a whole lot of nothing on the beach.

On the 23rd of December we decided to go to San Jose, Costa Rica rather than waiting for the 24th because we had heard rumors of nightmarish accounts of crowded border crossings and buses full of robbers…well, I hope I never have to see what it’s like on the 24th.

We got a bus from San Juan del Sur to Rivas at 5.45am, waited about an hour to hop on the TicaBus at 8am, and all was smooth until the border. At Sapoa, the border town, we first had to get off the bus for 20 minutes (which turned out to be about 30) and wait – for no apparent reason (I’m sure there’s a good reason, but I’m still mystified as to what it was). Then we got back on, drove about 200m, got off, and got in a truly unmoving line to get our passports stamped. The first 30 minutes in this line we literally didn’t move a step. Then a few steps. It was hot, humid, lots of mosquitos, hundreds of people, a spattering of moneychangers, food vendors, and a good dosage of a feeling of chaos. After 2 hours, we finally were done with the stamps…so we went over to the bus to get our bags examined. This meant waiting until every single person got their passports stamped, then a mad free-for-all to get our bags, then we lined them up on benches so the customs inspector could come make sure we were good to go. Another half hour, and the inspector came over, didn’t even look at our stuff, and we got back on the bus. On the Costa Rican side, there was so much traffic we ended up finally getting to San Jose around 6pm. It was cold in San Jose, I had my fleece on but was still shivering.

Carole’s father lives in San Jose (in Escazu), and they were kind enough to invite me to stay with them, and for Christmas dinner the next night. So the 23rd we went to an Argentinean place, Wow, so great, and had an early night. On the 24th we went to run errands and had a marvelous dinner of raclette and grilled meats. The last time I had a proper raclette was in 2005 with Lucile in Macon in France, and I was thrilled.

On the 25th, we went to get my sister at the airport, and we went directly to Jaco. It was a bit of a strange situation, mildly humorous, because our contact in Jaco didn’t have cell phone reception so we couldn’t get in touch with him, so we ended up having to get a hotel, no big deal, and then we realized that it was not that close to Manuel Antonio, that it was probably crowded beyond our liking, hot, and overall not as appealing as we had thought at first. So the next morning we went to the beach that was burning hot by 8am, found out there wasn’t a bus to Manuel Antonio for at least another 2 ours, and called it quits. So retraced our steps to San Jose, then on to La Fortuna, where we had arranged to stay with a couple of CSers.

In La Fortuna, when we FINALLY arrived (traffic accidents mean pulling over on the side of the road for about 2 hours, literally), we met D’Angelo and Mike, an American gay couple that’s been living in Costa Rica for about 2 years. We went to Chelas Bar and had the giant meat platter, Cacique with Melocoton, and after way too many cocktails we went home.

The next morning we debated what to do, and very fortunately, over breakfast, I managed to strike up conversation with two American sisters who had a rent a car, and we were interested in doing similar things that day so we were able to join them. We went to the Hanging Bridges, walking over the canopy, then to a reserve of Arenal, and after these walks we were ridiculously exhausted.

The next day, we went on a tour to Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve, up near the Nicaraguan border. It was pouring rain, and about 10 minutes into the boat ride, it…broke. So we were sitting in pouring rain, the boat heading backwards because of the current, and there was no functioning motor. And yes, mosquitos. Then finally a replacement boat came, and that broke too. But let’s not focus on that; let’s remember that we saw lots of howler monkeys, white-faced capuchins, a green basilisk, lots of cormorants and anhingas, a ton of herons and egrets, so all in all it was a great day.

At night, we went to the Ecotermales hot springs and soaked in really hot water; it made me nostalgic for Japan, definitely. Afterwards, we went with the boys to El Establo where there was horrible Reggaeton complete with scantily clad dancers, both men and women, and their friends came along, an American girl and her Colombian boyfriend.

The following morning, the 4 of us went to the La Fortuna Waterfalls, which I was surprised by how much I liked. We made lunch, and headed back to San Jose, to go to Carole’s house. Had dinner, and off to bed because we were going early to Tortuguero.

Tortuguero is referred to as the mini-Amazon of Central America, and with good reason. Our 3 day trip was filled with wildlife sightings; toucans, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, a SWIMMING SLOTH, parrots, ibis, spoonbills, storks, herons, basilisks, lizards, caimans, an otter, hummingbirds, kingfishers, and probably lots more that I’m forgetting.

We got back to San Jose late on the 1st, and the past few days have been running errands (Brasilian embassy) and relaxing with the lovely family in Barva, thanks to Susana van Schie, a half Dutch, half Costa Rican girl who has been an absolute pleasure to be with.

So the random thoughts and musings…

Well, first, I should probably address Brasil. I started panicking as I was leaving Honduras, about what the hell I’m doing after Costa Rica. Costa Rica was the only fixed point in my life since I had my sister coming here; after that, the plan was either to go overland through Panama, Colombia, an Brasil to arrive in Argentina, or just to fly. I was having a hard time accepting that I might just stop traveling now; I felt like I had to ease out of it. Also, I had envisioned previously that in the first months of 2008 I’d make one of the following two dreams come true; Carnaval in Brasil, or a visit to Antarctica. Well, financially Antarctica would be a big mistake right now, and I felt like if I did the overland trip I wouldn’t make it to Brasil in time…so…well, why not just go to Brasil? It made sense. Except…the one way flights from Costa Rica were priced at 800USD. ONE WAY. Hmm. So I put a post in a CS group, and a kind young man from Hong Kong informed me of a great site called exito travel, that had fares for the same flights for 453USD. So I jumped on that fare, obviously.

However, I had been struggling with when to buy my flight for. The issue being that I need a visa to go to Brasil, and the embassy was having irregular hours due to the holidays, and of course I was coming and going from San Jose. On top of that, I had to make a deposit of the money for the visa in the bank before the visa could be issued, and of course, the banks had irregular hours too. It seems like everyone wants to be on holiday here…but that’s understandable. Anyway, I knew that my visa might take 2 days, and I wasn’t sure if it might take more. The point is, I was debating, then chose to risk it and bought my ticket for the 4th of January anyway.

The reason I’m describing this in so much detail is because I realized how ridiculous my dilemma was when I was speaking to the Colombian guy I met in La Fortuna. As a Colombian, it’s a lot harder to get visas to different places, and this guy had applied for a tourist visa to Costa Rica but had it denied. So, he came through Panama, illegally, and has overstayed. I, thankfully, will probably never know what it’s like to be in fear of being deported, fined, or simply being in a country where the situation is so bad that I want to leave so much that I would risk a lot of bad things to make that happen. So when I compare my petty musings of how early I can fly to Brasil, more or less in a matter of days, I just have to laugh at myself.

So this meeting with the Colombian guy, and a lot of other things lately have been making me think about Colombia and making me feel drawn there. I know, I’m so close to it right now, and I had even thought that I was going there; I had written to Colombian people I know telling them I was headed there. Then, for some unknown reason I felt/feel that now isn’t the time. However, I am sure that there will be Colombia in my future.

Then, more about Brasil…I feel like it’s a whole nother world, its own universe within itself, with an astounding variety of people, music, culture, landscapes, animals – I had always told myself that I wouldn’t go until I could spend a large chunk of time there. And, well, now, I don’t really know what my plans are (yes, I still have Argentina planned, though I am admittedly scared to get there with the prospect of finding housing, work, etc etc). so why not just head to Brasil? I am also thrilled to be in a country with a different language, in the past when I’ve had intensive time with Brasilians or Portuguese speakers I’ve managed to pick it up pretty quickly, so hopefully that will remain the case this time around. And Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, so it will be oh-so-wonderful to immerse myself in the 3 million strong community with Japanese supermarkets and all those wonderful things I miss about Japan. Who knows how things will work out there?

Anyway, those are my musings.