Thursday, February 28, 2008

Oh Rio...Oh Rio...

I got back to Rio de Janeiro on Monday the 18th, just in time for always, a great time in Laranjeiras. I met Marie-Charlotte and Amelie that night, absolutely crazy coincidences that have brought me to these French sisters and the next couple days I hung out with them. Lovely lovely girls.

Tuesday beach with Tahnee, Julio, and the sisters...talked with Tahnee about my dilemma about staying in Rio, how I had fallen in love with the city...she´s a totally special friend too...

Tuesday night I went for some more forro with Sebastien, the crazy Parisian, and met up with the French sisters as well.

Wednesday was tranquilo, some time with Cristiana, Luciano, and Julio in Copacabana.

Thursday I went to Leblon to see Cahe, then more Copa...

Friday...Ipanema with Spencer...jazz at The Maze, a mansion on top of a favela with live jazz on Fridays with a MARAVILLOSA view over Rio...surreal...Punto Latino...Yannick and I dancing in Lapa til way past sunrise...

Saturday...quality time with Danilo, gourmet kilo restaurant, movie at Catete Palace, salsa dancing at night, lovely Ipanema...

Sunday...Copa, Ipanema...

Monday...Ipanema, Catete, and finish it all off with my mini-goodbye deal at forro in Laranjeiras...

Tuesday a mad rush running around before catching my flight.

Conclusion: I am in love with Rio de Janeiro and I am going back as soon as I can make it work. Why do we need visas?!?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Wrapping it up...Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (Feb 14-Feb 17)

They told me the bus would be 24 hours. So I figured 26. Well, 32 hours later I got off the bus in Sao Paulo. Brasil Brasil Brasil...

How absolutely wonderful to see Dani!!! Her family instantly took me in with open arms and I was thrown into the melee of lots and lots of people. Her grandparents are so cute. So are her aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. Wow.

Friday was a shopping mall day - aghhhh...just comparing what is being sold in the malls with what people make outside is shocking...but that's Sao Paulo I suppose...I got to go to Liberdade and get more Japanese food, then we went to Dani's niece's birthday party. I went to meet Adri, Carla, and Tati in Consolacao for a drink, and went back to Adri's that night.

Saturday was full full full! My first real churrasco rodizio experience in Brasil...all you can eat meat that comes around to your have a round slip of paper on the table that has a green side and a red side...when it's on the green, the waiters come around with giant pieces of meat on metal sticks and carve off pieces onto your plate. When it's on red, you're taking a break and they don't bring the meat around. We went to Fogo de Chao, considered the best churrascaria in Sao Paulo, which would imply the best churrascaria in Brasil, and my was amazing. To top it off, there is a decadent salad bar ranging from sun-dried tomatoes, hearts of palm, grilled shiitake mushrooms, mozzarella, spinach, green beans, steamed asparagus, broccoli, salami,'s just unreal. Oh, and they bring fresh Pao de Queijo (my now favorite Brasilian snack, little bread rolls with cheese baked into them) all through the meal. And grilled mozzarella. And fried banana. And....of course, the meat. Picanha, which (I think) is the rear top part of the cow, which instantly became my favorite cut. And filet mignon, and tri-tip, and...and...a lot of meat. And pork, and chicken. Ahh...

After you've eaten so much that you feel like you can't move, dessert...papaya cream with cassis liquer. I don't know if I can imagine a better dessert in the world. Really.

Then, that night was the wedding. A surprisingly quick church ceremony, followed by a huge party, with plenty of yummy hors d'oeurves (sorry can't spell), and lots of alcohol being circulated. I wasn't feeling great, had managed to get a cold in the summer in I'm didn't dance much but had a good time nevertheless.

Sunday was a rest day for me, I spent the morning organizing photos and such. In the afternoon we went to Vila Madalena where there was a whole assortment of Dani's friends, ranging from elementary school to graduate school. Lots of delicious food and overall good times.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Whirlwind after Carnaval: Brasilia, Cuiaba, Pantanal (Did I mention DAYS in buses??) - feb 6 to 12

Stubbornness, stupidity, frugality, laziness...all those contributed to me taking buses instead of flying.

I decided that I was going to the Pantanal because I refused to skip out on Brasil's two big nature highlights - Amazon or Pantanal. Carla's dad in Sampa warned me about the floods in the Amazon this time of year so I decided to go to the Pantanal.

Which meant 37 hours in the bus to Brasilia. Then I met Cesar, really didn't like the city but loved the people I was with, stayed 30 hours, then got on a bus for 18 hours to Cuiaba, the jumping off point for the Pantanal from the north...

Met Ire and her family, then we bargained the price of a pousada down to 100 reais a night, full board. It definitely helped that it's low season (hmm there's a reason for this...more to follow).

So Sunday morning I took a bus to Pocone which took 2 hours, then paid 80 reais for transport out to the pousada. It was HOT. Like scorchingly, brutally, cruelly hot. It was pretty amazing though, on the way out to the pousada there was already lots of wildlife to be seen. The stars of the Pantanal are the birds; immediately there are so many different types of birds - kiskadees, kingfishers, hawks, caracaras,'s astounding. On the drive out, we also saw various jacares (small caiman/crocodile types), and giant river otters.

Over the next two days when it wasn't pouring down buckets of rain, we saw capybaras (huge rodents that reminded me a lot of wombats, my favorite Australian animal), lots of jacares, lots and lots and lots of different birds, and howler and capuchin monkeys. And a big turtle, and various Pantanal deer. Oh, and about two million mosquitos. I don't remember any place else I've ever been where there were as many mosquitos. Possibly nowhere (but I still have scars on my legs from my time in the Amazon in 2003 so maybe I've decided to delete that out of my memory)

What I can comment on about the's not really like the wild, wild, jungle. It's a flat wetland, the vast majority has been cleared for cattle farming, and that's why it's so easy to spot wildlife; there's none of the dense greenery like in the jungle which prevents people from being able to see the animals. I would love to go back in the dry season as the bodies of water attract huge amounts of birds apparently, and there are no mosquitos (doubtful, in my case).

It was definitely a bit pricy but I don't think it was outrageous. In the dry season it's supposed to be easy to hitch a ride down the transpantaneira highway, and I would say you see plenty just from the road, so that might be an option for the future.

Got back to Cuiaba today and tomorrow morning will take a bus to Sao Paulo, where I'm meeting Dani :) :) A Paulista girl that I met in Borneo in 2006...I'm her date to a wedding Saturday night because her husband had to stay in London...can't wait to see what sort of anarchy takes place at weddings here!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

So what I really think about Brasil...

I think sometimes I try to censor what I'm writing in my blog because I'm worried what people that read it might think. Especially in the case of Brasil, where most of the people I've met speak good English and are so proud of their country. But, I'm going to give an honest account...

Sao Paulo really didn't do much for me, perhaps the most materialistic city I've seen in Latin America, where it was so clear how money dictated everything. Entrance fees to most places, ridiculously overpriced drinks could be found without any searching, and there was a definite emphasis on what you were wearing, where you lived, what you did for a living.

But then I fell in love with Rio de Janeiro. People are so laid-back, friendly, beautiful city.

Salvador's tourist scene seemed a bit contrived, although of course walking around and stumbling upon capoeira groups with glistening bodies and percussion groups with endless beats is not something to complain about.

Recife, unfortunately, I don't think I can say much about because I only know it from Carnaval. However, I was impressed by the friendliness of the people, and, how they reversed my first glaring observation of Brasilians...awareness and discussion of political issues. Namely, poverty and the obvious inequalities between Brasilians.

I found (of course I have been here for a very short time and with a very distinct group of people, all educated English speakers with internet access) that very few people want to talk about what is going on in the country regarding the staggering amount of poverty, unemployment (no, selling gum on the highway is not a real job), lack of education, and for me, perhaps most seriously, environmental issues. Why does the whole coastal route have beautiful rich red soil but on the surface it resembles pastureland in the UK? Why are there cows everywhere and no native birds? Why are there random enormous, gigantic ancient trees occasionally seen along the roads amidst short cut grass? Was that once part of a forest that no longer exists?

But, in Recife, people did want to talk. Granted, a lot of that talking is done over glasses of wine in an air-conditioned living room, but at least the dialogue is happening. Who knows.

The other thing I find interesting about Brasil is how people always seem to be...happy. There are very rare situations in which Brasilians aren't smiling, laughing, dancing...all this in the midst of some really grave what's going on? I wonder how much of it is left-over colonial mentality, the general populus of Brasil has always been under someone...the indios were treated horribly by the Portuguese, and obviously so were the African slaves...then Brasil has continuously been exploited by international and national corporations, corrupt's almost as if it's accepted that corruption, exploitation, and injustice are part of life. So since that's the case, just make the best of it and laugh and smile as much as possible? I have no idea if that's true, but I don't really understand the overall picture here.

It's also been interesting to me that Brasilians seem to think that living abroad will instantly and immediately solve all if poverty doesn't exist elsewhere. Yes, I am aware that average incomes are drastically higher in some other countries (a minimum monthly wage here is 380 reais, about 200USD), but the rich in Brasil Like way richer than a lot of people in ¨first world countries¨. So I don't know where they get this idea from. Maybe, though, wealth is hard to acquire by individuals in Brasil, i.e., if you weren't born into a wealthy family, it's harder to build your own wealth, whereas the US is seen as the land of opportunity where everyone can create their own life for themselves. Again, who knows.

The ironic thing is that now I seem to have fallen in love with Brasil. I kind of don't want to leave. I want to try living in Rio de Janeiro. I don't know if I've just gone completely insane, or if something else is going on. The carefree nature, the beautiful weather, the gorgeous music, tropical fruits (the thought of being in Argentina without mangoes and papayas is somewhat paralyzing...)'s gotten under my skin. So we'll see what ends up happening.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Carnaval, Recife/Olinda (Feb 1-5 2008)

When people think Brasil, people tend to think Carnaval (myself included). I'm not quite sure what exactly I expected, but it wasn't what I got...

Ben and I tried to hitch up to Recife from Salvador, but gave up after several hot hours on the side of the road and got a bus. Good decision.

We got to Recife at 2.30am on Thursday night and went to Barbara's house. Friday we went to Boa Viagem, met Liz, then in the evening went to Recife Antigo, saw Marisa Monte. Umm...way way way way wayyyyyy too many people for me. Recife and Olinda, Salvador, and Rio de Janeiro are considered to have the best Carnavals in Brasil, and me, following my silly ways of having to experience everything once, decided to go to Recife and Olinda. Which, of course, several million other people have the same idea of doing, both Brasilians and foreigners.

The next several days were spent with afternoons in Olinda, nights in Recife Antigo, a day escaping at the beach in Boa Viagem, and before I knew it the party was over.

The Couchsurfing house in Recife was jampacked with over 40 people, and of course in a group situation that size you can't get to know everyone but instead you select the few that become your group. So I social-butterflied between that house, a bit with Barbara's group, then the Ana Luiza goup, and Roos, the crazy Dutch girl who lives in Madrid, became a regular face. Then, I got to catch up with Ben at the end which was great.

I have to admit the first two days I basically hated Carnaval. Frevo, the music which characterizes Carnaval in Pernambuco, the northeast of Brasil, is a spastic, repetitive, multi-instrumental concoction. I admit I enjoy it in small hour or two at a time perhaps...ok, more like 10 minutes.

But then stuff started happening. The acquaintances became familiar faces, we found alternative stages, I was able to get up on balconies rather than being at street level being pushed around with beer spilling all over me...and of course that changed my opinion. A day escaping at the beach was also a very welcome relief.

So Carnaval in Olinda must be amazing for Brasilians, a week nonstop of free entertainment, big name musicians, blocos playing all the most familiar and loved music, just one enormous party. What I did love in Olinda was how people dressed up in costumes, some quite simple, and some really creative. There was a group of people, each one was a french fry, and they were enveloped in a big red box. And so much more...

What I didn't like was the total meat-market feel. Beautiful people (and some definitely not-so-beautiful) all showing as much skin as possible, all looking everyone up and down, keeping track (or losing count) of how many people they could give beijos to. LOTS and lots of kissing going on. Like some people would just kiss 20 different people in a row. Not my scene at all, never has been and I doubt it ever will be. It's good to see and experience different cultures, though, right?

The overall conclusion is that I'm glad I decided to go, I was in good company, and I feel that Brasilians really know how to party. But, I doubt I'll ever be going back to Carnaval in Brasil, and if I for some reason happen to be in Brasil during Carnaval, I'll much more likely to be found in the jungle or at some deserted beach. To each his own.