Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Florianopolis, Brazil- The Beach! And more troubles with accommodations...

Ola Everyone,
We have safely arrived in Florianopolis, Brazil.  The whole area is referred to as Florianopolis although that is the main city on the island.  Technically, we are on Santa Catarina Island in a smaller town called Lago Conceicao.  We arrived last night, but unfortunately, we learned that the hostel didn't have any internet or running water.  Uuuugh!  Today the internet and running water seem to be fixed for now although both appear to be temperamental.
We went to Mole Beach (Praia Mole) today which is the closest beach to the hostel and also the most popular.  The island is large though, and there are many beaches and places where you can feel alone even during the busy holidays.  The traffic on the island is bad.  The only have single lane roads and they have to navigate some mountainous terrain.  With the holiday traffic, it is especially bad.  The island still has a undeveloped feel to it though because of the mountains and lush vegetation.  It is a pretty place as long as you can get to where you want to go.
It was overcast today so the weather was not the best for the beach.  However, it was still crowded because of the holidays and Ozell and I enjoyed our time outside.  This particular beach has some huts and buildings along the dunes which serve as bars and gathering places.  We walked down the beach a little bit and soon found the "gay" area.  It was pleasant enough and there was a mix of hot and average guys.  We know we are in Brazil because most of the guys wear either Speedos or the small square pants bathing suits.  The beach is pretty with sizable dunes and vegetation on the landward side, light beige sand, and green blue water.  There are also some rocks flowing into the ocean which separate this beach from an adjoining beach to the north.  That beach happens to be the nude beach.
I am hungry now so I am going to grab something to eat.
We didn't bring the camera today so I don't have any pictures to post or attach to this post.  I will try to take some tomorrow.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Couchsurfing: Sometimes it isn't worth it...

Hello Everybody,
A few posts ago, I wrote a little explanation for why Ozell and I haven't couchsurfed very much on this trip.  In fact, we have not couchsurfed since we left our first stop in Toronto.  As we mentioned in one of our very first posts, we had an absolutely wonderful experience couchsurfing with Andrew in Toronto.  Ozell joked that we may have been spoiled, and I think Andrew is definitely in the uppermost percentile for quality hosts and places to stay.  And when we have hosted people in San Diego, many of them have independently commented that their experience with us was their best couchsurfing experience they have ever had.  This is usually attributed to us offering them a comfortable, clean, modern, and private living space and the fact that we lived along the Pacific Ocean in southern California.  We also are friendly with our guests, but we do not impose ourselves upon them.  We let them do what they want to do.  When I was hosting at my old place, I had a extra set of keys for guests to use.  When Ozell and I hosted at our last place, we had a keyless entry deadbolt lock that allowed both us and our guests to come and go as we pleased.  Last night, was not nearly as enjoyable...
I need to preface all of the following with the qualifier that our host last night was a nice guy, did open his home to us, and some things that made for an uncomfortable evening were outside of his control.  Having said that, couchsurfing last night was not worth the $30 we each saved by not having to pay for a hotel room.  And given some of my own personality traits, it was a frazzling evening for me.  Ozell did not enjoy the experience either.
I want to keep this brief so I am going to just bullet point some of the issues:
The place was not clean.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a super neat freak.  However, the place last night had excessive trash, an unkempt kitchen, and soiled furniture.  Our host was a professional and 30 years old.  He could and should be living a little better.  The place was equivalent to a messed up fraternity house.  For those of you thinking, "Sean, you lived in 1659 Bacon Street.  My how you have changed and become an elitist snob.", I would like to remind you that 1659 Bacon Street was a messed up hole before I ever moved in, and my roommates and I did keep it reasonably clean when it came to the things we had control over.
When Ozell and I were unfolding the sofa bed so we could go to sleep, at least one silverfish was crawling over the completely soiled mattress.  Given Ozell's inclinations towards bugs, I thought there was a chance he would react negatively to the sight of the silverfish.  He did not, and I brushed the bug to the floor.  We put the oily and dirty comforter over the mattress to buffer us from the unrecognizable stains.
Except for the oily and mottled comforter, there were no linens for us to use.  Ozell managed to just sleep in his shorts.  I used my travel towel as a small cover for my legs.
Ozell and I had to sleep out in the living room on the couch.  While I never would expect a private bedroom while couchsurfing, we were designated to the couch in the living room because the host two other German couchsurfers who showed up yesterday and were going to stay with him.  This was not mentioned to me during my previous communications with the host when we were arranging our stay.  I personally consider it appropriate to mention the sleeping arrangements guests will have and how many other couchsurfers will be present during their stay with us.  I now have learned to specifically ask these questions.  To crowd the apartment even more, the host's good friend had the water heater at his place catch fire and burn down two rooms in his apartment.  Thankfully, he was not hurt, but now he was homeless and was also going to crash in this apartment.  At one point in the evening, it looked like one of the girls who also lived in the apartment which caught fire was also going to stay the evening.  But, thankfully, that did not turn out to be the case.  For many people, this might have been only a minor inconvenience, but for me, that many people in the apartment started to agitate my social clausterphobia. 
The host did not have an extra set of keys, and you needed the keys to both enter and exit the apartment.  This really restricted our and the other couchsurfers' mobility.  This was exacerbated by the fact that the host on multiple occasions (actually every occasion) demonstrated that he had difficulty meeting us at the times he specified he would.  Some of this might have been directly due to the misfortune his friend had endured, but it also appeared that he just didn't think that updating us on his schedule changes was a priority.  This resulted in us and the other couchsurfers waiting a very long time last night stuck in the apartment unable to eat or do anything.  This in turn resulted in a very late dinner around midnight which then caused Ozell and I not to be able to go out to the club we wanted to check out that evening.  We ultimately also had no choice in where we went to dinner which was a pretty decent walk from the apartment.  We all just had to go to where the host wanted us to go.  Again, normally, this would not have been too bad, but the restaurant we ate at only served one dish which happen to be exactly the same thing Ozell and I had for lunch earlier that day.  Neither of us were in the mood for it again at midnight.
One of the German couchsurfers warned me about the shower this morning.  I had already decided that I was going to wait until we got to the hotel before I got a shower even though I could have really used one.  Anyways, he took one this morning and said the shower head had some electrical wires emanating from it which were not insulated.  When he went to adjust the shower head, he received a pretty good size electrical shock. 
Oh, and the apartment turned out to be full of smokers.  In fact, I was the only non-smoker there.  At least there was decent ventilation, but everyone knows cigarette smoke stinks and clings, and it was moderately nauseating to me.  Now this aspect, I only can only fault myself for not paying more attention to the host's couchsurfing profile because it typically says whether the apartment is smoking or non-smoking.
So all of these events contributed to a pretty uncomfortable couchsurfing experience last night.  And, I want to state again the host was nice enough and generous enough to let us stay at his place.  He has good references which is why I agreed to stay at his place in the first place.  Obviously, other couch surfers have had a positive experience with this host.  but for me, there were too many personality related conflicts (clean/unclean, punctual/late, independent/overly engaging, etc) present to make this an enjoyable and worthwhile couchsurfing experience.
We will see how the next one goes!
We are off to Florianopolis for some rest, relaxation, sunshine, waves, and New Years Eve!
Sean  :)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Eu não falo o português!

Greetings Everyone:
I'm happy to report that we have finally arrived in Brazil.  As Sean mentioned in the previous post, we took an overnight bus from Punta del Este, Uruguay to Porto Alegre, Brazil and arrived here about 8:30 a.m. local time Friday morning.  While the bus ride was 10 hours long, leaving at 10:30 pm made it easier to sleep.  Of course, I can sleep anywhere when I'm tired, but I think Sean was able to get some sleep as well.  We were able to check into our hotel early, despite the hotel not having a record of the reservation I made through Orbitz.  I requested a refund from Orbitz for the booking fee they charged me.  While it was less than $2, it's a matter of principle and there is nothing worse for me than a company offering services they can't deliver. 
Border Crossing:  I think we mentioned before, but US citizens have to obtain a visa, in advance, at a cost of about $150 USD in order to travel to Brazil.  Our visas cost us an additional $100 each because we had to expedite them since we only had two weeks in between the time we returned from Europe and the time we were scheduled to leave for this trip.  Once our visas were issued, we had 90 days to enter Brazil for the first time at which point the visas are validated.  This was one of the major drawbacks for our trip since the limitation restricted our ability to see some of the places we might otherwise have gone to, like Patagonia, because we had to arrive in Brazil by a specific date.  Nevertheless, after our first entry, the visa allows us to come and go for up to 90 days on each visit for the next five years. 
One interesting thing about the bus ride was the border crossing.  You would think that with the restriction of having to obtain a visa that immigration and customs would be a big hassle once we arrived in the country.  Not so.  There were only two bus companies offering international service from Punta del Este to Porto Alegre since, obviously, there are more regulations and licenses necessary to operate a business in two different countries.  Anyway, the company we used was very diligent about making sure we had our visas for Brazil before we even bought our tickets and again when we arrived to check in on the day of departure.  I thought they were doing this because of what I expected to be a stringent immigration process, if not an outright hassle, at the border.  When we boarded the bus, they gave us the typical immigration and customs forms to fill out for both Uruguay and Brazil, then they collected all the forms and our passports and pretty much gave them back to us after we were in Brazil, with the proper Uruguayan exit and Brazilian entry stamps inside.  We didn't have to get off the bus; we didn't have to talk to anyone, we didn't have to have our luggage inspected; nothing.  The bus company staff got off with all the documents for all the passengers and took care of everything.  I basically slept though the whole border crossing process.  Then we went on our merry way to Porto Alegre.
Portuguese: The next two months are going to be pretty difficult as far as communication goes because neither of us speaks Portuguese.  Even though my Spanish is not great, I have been able to get by pretty well in the other countries we've visited so far.  And while the pronunciation and some of the vocabulary has been different in each Spanish-speaking country, things like reading a menu or a sign were never much of a problem.  Brazil will be different.  From what I've read, most Brazilians simply don't speak any language other than Portuguese so you're pretty much screwed if you don't know any Portuguese.  For those Brazilians who do speak another language in addition to Portuguese, it's just as likely for them to speak English as it is Spanish.  The problem is finding those few who speak a second language.  We've been trying to pick up a few words and the guidebook we have has some basics, but even with the similarity to Spanish, the pronunciation is completely different so the only way to really learn is by listening.  I am going to try to download some Portuguese lessons to my iPod so I can get some practice that way.  I'll let you know how fast we progress.
Racial Diversity:  We've only been in Porto Alegre for a day now, but one of my first observations has been the racial diversity here and since we're not in a tourist city, most of the people we see are locals.  Just walking down the street, you see people who look as black as me, as white as Sean, or as Spanish or Latin as the people in other South American countries.  In Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, the majority of the people have a distinct Spanish look to them with thick, dark, often curly hair and fair to brownish skin.  It's very clear who they are descendants of and after a while you develop a picture in your mind of what a typical Chilean, Argentinean, or Uruguayan looks like.  Here, there is no distinct look; Brazilians come in all types, skin tones, hair textures and eye colors, with additional combinations of all of the above.  Yet they all share the same culture and speak the same language.  It's quite nice actually.  I just wish I could understand the language.
New Years: We're leaving Sunday night or Monday morning for Florianopolis where we'll spend the next week, including New Year's Eve.  We finally managed to find a hostel there with some availability.  It's not the most ideal lodging accommodation, but considering the difficulty in finding anything else, we were happy to take what we could get.  Florianopolis is know as as beach, surfing and party destination so we're looking forward to having a good time there.  Our next big task will be finding a place for Carnival and from what we're heard, we might already be out of luck.  We'll keep you posted.  In the meantime, I wish everyone back home a safe and happy New Year's!

Brazil!- at least Porto Alegre...

Ola Everybody,
We have safely made it to Brazil!  We took an overnight bus from Punta del Este, Uruguay to Porto Alegre, Brazil.  Porto Alegre is a large city (around 1.6 million people), but it doesn't have many characteristics that make it a tourist destination.  We just wanted to break up our trip to Florianopolis, and Porto Alegre is a little over half way there. 
We were able to find accommodations in Florianopolis just yesterday which is HUGE.  We were having a very difficult time because of the New Year Eve holiday.  This is summer time down here, and Florianopolis is a beach town/island.  So imagine trying to find hostel accommodations in the beach neighborhoods of San Diego on a large 4th of July or Labor Day weekend.  That is what we were running into.
Ozell and I did go to one bar last night.  It was the first bar that I have been to where the waiters and go go dancers were naked.  That was a nice touch for this classy joint.  Lol-  it wasn't that classy, but half the staff were pretty hot. 
Well, I need to take a nap now so I will keep this short...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Merry Xmas and Happy Holidays!
Ozell and I are spending our Xmas waiting at the hostel for our overnight bus to Porto Alegre, Brazil.  We leave at 9:50pm tonight and should arrive somewhere around 8am tomorrow morning.  We couldn't find any hostels in Porto Alegre so we are staying in a hotel tomorrow night.  It wasn't that all of the hostels were fully booked.  There just don't seem to be any hostels in PA which is quite strange since the city has 1.6 million people.  It isn't a big tourist destination, but it is the largest city in southern Brazil.  We will be staying with a couch surfer on Saturday and Sunday night.  It will be only our second stay with a couch surfer since we started this trip.
Someone asked me recently why we haven't stayed with more couch surfers so far.  There are a few reasons... sometimes we think the social atmosphere of a hostel is nice, sometimes we want to have our own room (which is not guaranteed with a couch surfer, if fact it is relatively rare), we almost always want to be within walking distance of the center city, main attractions, and the nightlife, and we are openly queer.  The combination of all those factors sometimes makes the pool of potential couch surfers a little small.  We do hope to do it a little more often when we can because it does save a chunk of money.
Staying here in Punta del Este for a couple extra days turned out to be fine.  It was nothing but sunshine yesterday so we spent a great Christmas Eve afternoon on the beach!  Even in San Diego, it is too chilly to layout on the beach this time of year- at least usually.  I'm trying to get some more sun before spending the majority of the next two months along the Brazilian coast.  The hostel was full yesterday and is again today.  There was a group dinner last night.  Unfortunately, Ozell and I didn't eat very much because we were trying to be polite and make sure everyone got something to eat.  We didn't drink the provided liquor either.  Then, we find out that the dinner cost $12!  so we should have eaten much more than we got.  I thought the hostel workers were just putting together a nice Christmas Eve dinner for the guests.  We didn't hear anything about money until it was all done.  Lol
This hostel is a little bit unique.  I have stayed in one or two which have a similar feel, but that is it.  It is owned and operated by a couple of young surfers.  I think they just wanted to live close to the ocean and surf so they use their house as a hostel.  And it is just that...  a residential house.  It is a little cramped but homey and welcoming.  It is what you would think a young, male surfer's house would be like.  Maybe we should take some pics before we leave.
Well, I want to take a walk and see if I can find some food even though I suspect everything is closed today.
Chat more later...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Website Changes

Hey folks. I made a slight change to the travel blog.  On the Main Menu, under the link for Itinerary & Map, you will now see our current location and the total miles traveled since we left San Diego.  If you click on the current location city, a Google map will open showing where we are in the world.  This information was available before on the main page, but the link was buried at the bottom of the Main Menu under Contact Information, so I'm not sure many people ever noticed it.  I always update our location whenever we arrive in a new city, so you can always check here to see where we are at any given moment.  As before, the same page also shows our current travel itinerary, which I update as we go whenever we figure out or decide where we're going next.  I encourage everyone to check it out sometime when you have a chance.
As of now, we are still in Punta del Este, Uruguay.  It looks like we'll be spending Christmas here, mostly because there aren't too many options for leaving town right now due to the holiday.  We were able to find an overnight bus from here to Porto Alegre, Brazil at 10pm on Christmas day, so we'll arrive in Brazil by Friday morning.  I will try to blog again about Uruguay before then, but just in case I don't, I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and hope you're enjoying your time off from work, time with family, or whatever it is you're doing for the holiday. 

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Honoring Diversity is Honoring Life

Happy Solstice Everyone,
While today is the first day of Winter for most of you reading this, it is the first day of Summer for us down here in the Southern Hemisphere.  We've been in Montevideo almost a week now and have had a pretty relaxing time.  While Sean hasn't been feeling his best this week, I've enjoyed just relaxing and having some down time.  The weather has been really nice all week with highs in the low to mid 80's and plenty of sunshine.  Today is actually the first day it's been cloudy.  Even though Montevideo is a city of about 1.3 million people, it really feels much smaller because it not nearly as busy and congested as other big cities I've been to.  From the casual dress to the pedestrian-friendly drivers, people in Montevideo are much more laid back than other South America countries.  Flip flips are much more common here, people like to just hang out with friends just drinking in the plaza, and traffic actually stops to let you cross the street, even at uncontrolled intersections.  People are also more friendly, especially coming from Buenos Aires, and are more patient with you trying to speak Spanish, even though a lot of people seem to speak basic English quite well.  Perhaps their pleasant nature is due to all the mate, which is more of a national obsession than a national drink.  People literally carry their mate gourds and thermoses everywhere.  In Argentina, you would see people sitting in the park, or workers in a shop, drinking mate, but not drinking it just walking down the street, day or night, the way you see here.  It's quite nice though. I've enjoyed the city, the beaches are nice, and they have a really popular boardwalk that wraps around a large part of the waterfront. 
Motorcycles: Montevideo has a very different motorcycles-to-scooter ratio than other cities we've visited in South America.  Most cities are dominated by scooters, but here, motorcycles are much more common, although you still see more of both than you would in a typical American city.  The motorcycles are cruiser style bikes, mostly with 100 and 125cc engines, so still pretty small compared to the most common bikes back home.  Most of the scooters here seem to have about the same size engine as the motorcycles so I think having a motorcycle versus a scooter is just more of a style preference.  For comparison, especially for those of you who don't know much about bikes, my first bike, a Suzuki GS500, had a 500cc engine, whereas my second bike, a Kawasaki Ninja 650R had a 650cc engine.  I was actually quite surprised and impressed yesterday to see a couple of guys riding the kind of sport bikes you usually see back home.  One had a CBR 600 and the other an R6, both 600cc Japanese sport bikes that cost about $10,000 back in the States.  So if the cost of Japanese bikes are anything like the cost of Japanese cameras here in Uruguay, I don't even want to know what these guys paid for their bikes. 
Buildings & Architecture: Our hostel is located on Plaza Independencia, which borders the Cuidad Vieja, which is the city's Old Town.  Cuidad Vieja is full of all these really old impressive buildings, some of them huge, with all sorts of intricate architectural details but sadly in various states of crumbling and disrepair.  A lot of the old buildings are abandoned and just looking at them, one can just imagine what the city must have looked like a hundred years ago.  We've walked around this section of the city a few times and have taken pictures of some of the buildings and plazas which you can see in the Photo Album.  The one attached to this posting is the front entrance of the old, abandoned train station near the port.  Being from Detroit, I'm quite used to seeing beautiful old abandoned buildings that are just too expensive to tear down.  I think the Hudson's Building in downtown Detroit sat abandoned for 15 years before they finally brought it down, which you can actually watch on video by clicking the link.  It costs a lot of money to maintain older buildings, more money to restore and retrofit them, and sometimes even more money to tear them down.  And every time you tear one of these old buildings down, you're destroying a bit of history, which is often another obstacle to tearing them down in the first place.  How long will my old, abandoned high school building, Cass Tech, remain before they tear it down? 
Black Population: Making up about 9% of the population, I believe Uruguay has the largest percentage of people of Black/African descent of all the countries we've visited so far.  Back in it's early history, the Spanish Crown gave Montevideo the right to be the only slave port in the Viceroyalty of la Plata, an area that roughly included present day Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina.  So like the States, many, but not all, of the Blacks here are descendants of slaves.  I definitely see more Blacks here just walking down the street and have also noticed quite a few interracial couples and interracial kids.  Most notably, I don't get stares and strange looks here the way I have in other countries simply because there are already plenty of people here who look just like me.  No more zoological exhibit!
No Smoking:  Unlike other countries we've visited in South America, smoking is not allowed in any public buildings in Uruguay, including bars and restaurants.  I think this is the first country I've been to outside of the States where you can't even smoke in bars or clubs.  They even had signs at the port when we arrived welcoming you to Uruguay and their smoke-free air.  Argentina had a similar law, but I think bars and clubs were legally exempt there.  Nevertheless, as with Argentina, there are still places here in Montevideo where the staff will ignore the law so long as you smoke in a designated area beyond their view.  Otherwise, going to the bar is just like going to bars in California where you have a lot of people outside smoking, just without the official smoking patio or area.  The nice thing about Montevideo is you can drink alcohol in public on the street.  When I was standing outside the club last night, which is located right on the plaza, there were people who didn't seem to actually be club patrons at all (because the club doesn't allow you to take your drinks outside) standing outside drinking and socializing with other people in front of the club.  Why pay cover and inflated drink prices?  Just stop at the grocery, buy a couple liters and hang out with your friends in front of the club or on the plaza where there are plenty of other people hanging out anyway and you can still hear the music coming from the club.
I know most of you find these types of no-smoking laws quite pleasant and think they're a great idea, but I'm sure most of you also know my opinion about such laws and the overreaching hand of governments that focus so much effort on trying to regulate social behavior in order to make you believe they're actually doing something good, but while you happily celebrate how much Daddy Government cares about public health, they squander the wealth taxpayers have entrusted them with, our treasury is raped by their corporate friends and our unregulated financial system collapses.  This is what will ultimately lead to the demise of our republic: people who really, truly, honestly believe the government gives a shit about public health because they enact no-smoking laws, or that the government cares about family because they banned alcohol on the beach, or that the government cares about kids because they won't allow gay marriage or gay adoption.  Do these issues really affect you, your family or your kids in any significant way at all?  Do they affect you, your family and your kids the way losing your job does?  How about losing your home?  Your pension or 41% of your 401K?  Or do these issues just give the government the cover they need to fuck us all over because we're not paying attention, because we're too busy fighting amongst ourselves about stuff that, in the grand scheme of things and considering all that's wrong with the world and with governments especially, just doesn't matter.  None of us have gained anything for quite a long time and we've all lost a hell of a lot during the same time period.  But we're angry, and actually MOTIVATED TO ACT by signing petitions, protesting, volunteering, contacting our elected representatives and getting others out to vote because the bar allows people to smoke inside or the state recognizes gay marriage.  It's sad. 
Politics & Religion: I would like to note that in 2007, Uruguay became the first Latin America country to recognize same-sex civil unions at the national level.  Behind Canada, they are only the second country in all of the Americas to do so.  Montevideo also has the first monument in Latin America in honor of sexual diversity with an inscription that reads, "Honoring Diversity is Honoring Life.  Montevideo for the respect of all genders, sexual identities and orientations".  We also saw, for the first time in South America, a gay couple making out on a park bench right in the main plaza.  And I saw a male couple spoon-feeding their dog a McDonalds soft serve ice cream cone; you can't get any gayer than that.  While church and state have been officially separate since 1919 in Uruguay, the same is supposed to be true in the United States where we still have a long way to go when it comes to progressive social and human rights issues.  Perhaps Uruguayans are so ahead of everyone else in this area because 23% of Uruguayans "believe in God but without religion" and another 17% consider themselves Atheist or Agnostic.  We are supposed to have a wall of separation between church and state back in the States, but with things like DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) at the national level and California's Prop 8 on the State level, we continue to have serious issues with discrimination, bigotry, injustice and flat out tyranny in our country, all justified by the ridiculous notion that someone else's religious beliefs are somehow threatened by two men wanting to spend their lives together and have the same basic protections that straight couples have.  Unfortunately, with all their tax-exempt money funding various political issues, the Church is still one of the most powerful lobby's in our country and the situation will not change until someone decides to enforce the law and stop them from exploiting their tax-exempt status.  It would also help if, as I said above, we stopped fighting and wasting our time on these issues which are clear and obvious once you remove personal prejudice and religion, and instead focus more of our energy on the real problems our society is facing, the things that really will affect our very way of life and our future as a nation. 
Just a few things to think about this holiday season.
Fiat Lux!

The small pleasures... The ones that make the difference.

Hola Chicos and Chicas,
So let's see.  I wanted to list some of the small stuff that I have enjoyed on this trip.  The things that provide some local color, personal insight, or just bring a smile to my face.  I am just going to write in a stream of consciousness style so bear with me if there is improper grammar or nonsensical phrasings...
I like walking down the streets of Rosario at 6am after a recent downpour with the smell of the rain still in the air and the sights and sounds of a city just beginning to wake up for a new day.
I like the light mobile on the wall of our hostel room in Montevideo each morning.  I still haven't been able to figure out what is causing this piece of art to form and move each day.  If I could capture it and recreate it, I am sure that I could have it installed in a modern art museum somewhere.
I like the fact we are chasing summer around the globe.  It is warm and light.  The weather has been mainly sunny and the sun doesn't go down until at least 9pm.
I like that besides Cusco, La Paz, and now Montevideo, I have met at least one wonderful local guy to spend some time with and get to know on a non-superficial level.  To enjoy his smile, eyes, and kindness.  To see a local site that I may have missed if he didn't offer to take me there.
I like that the peoples of South America seem to enjoy music and drums on nearly daily frequency.  There is some group somewhere marching, dancing, singing, etc.
I like the small cars and trucks that have large speakers mounted to their roofs and which blast out advertisements as they travel down the streets at 100 decibels.  I would probably find them annoying if I understood what they were saying, but since I don't, it usually amuses me because of the intonation and lyricism of their speech.
I like that I received a hair cut yesterday for $6 US in a stylish hair salon for men which included a wet bar with brandy and liquor for the clientele's enjoyment.
I like feeling the air move with the wind and the different smells that come with it.  I could do without the dust and litter that also tags along.
I like the buses in Peru and Bolivia which are nothing more than VW or regular vans which operate with both a driver and a teenage boy or girl hanging out the door yelling the various destinations that bus is going because they do not have signs or numbers to distinguish them.  I like that many of those buses are hand painted with various designs or personal creativity since it appears that each is individually owned and operated.
I like the horse drawn carts that work their way along the roads of most cities stopping to collect the cardboard and plastic discarded by businesses and residences.  I like that the drivers give their horses a little personality with hats, garlands, or flowers around their heads.  We saw one just yesterday which was wearing a baseball hat with holes cut out for its ears.
I like some of the various foods and wish we knew more Spanish so I could be more adventurous when I am ordering.
I like that all of these countries speak a different form of Spanish.  There are many inconsistencies with vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.
I like the indigenous people and their colorful native garbs.  The bowler hats of the Peruvian and Bolivian cultures are my favorite.
I like riding on the back of a scooter without a helmet around the city holding on to the waist of the guy who was taking me on a date in Cordoba.  
I like watching the Latins dance.  Even the men know how to move their bodies.  Even the straight men.  The notable exception would be the Chileans.  They don't seem to know how to dance any better than the straight white men back in the States.
I like picking up my food daily from the local small vegetable shops and markets.
I like the stars I have seen so far.  Admittedly, those have not been numerous because we have mainly been inside larger cities so far on this trip.
I like people watching on the streets.
I like walking long distances through the cities and down random streets.  To paraphrase Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, "The only thing by Subway is Subway."  (the movie says "interstate" instead of "subway".)
I like the mixture of abandoned & dilapidated buildings, colorful buildings, and modern buildings all juxtaposed next to each other.
I like the good electronica dance music clubs when we come upon them.  Admittedly, that is rarer than I had hoped.
I like that you can buy most medications without a prescription at the pharmacies. 
I like THE TREES!  Trees are by far my favorite members of the Plantae Kingdom.  They have some of the same trees here as we do in the States, but they also have many that we do not.  I have touched, hugged, and kissed tens of trees on this trip- usually when Ozell is not around because I think it would embarrass him.
I like the numerous green spaces and plazas most cities have interspersed throughout.  Most are small but provide nice resting areas and gathering spots.  Many could definitely use less litter and trash which is a disappointment.
I like that Ozell is around to share some of these experiences with me, and I like that many of these experiences are just for me alone.
Ciao for now,

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Yes, I appear to be a little "thin"...

Good Evening Everyone,
One of our German friends was recently chatting with Ozell online and commented that, "Sean is looking thin."  I think he would have chosen "emaciated" if his English vocabulary allowed.  He was most likely looking at the picture attached to this post which is part of the Montevideo photo album.
And yes, I would be very curious to know what I weigh currently.  When I was back in San Diego I was holding steady between 175-180 lbs.  I am between 6'2" and 6'3" (189 cm or so).  When we started the trip in Toronto our couch surfing host had a scale.  I stepped on it, and it read 163 lbs one day and then 161 lbs the last day.  I claimed that the scale was not very accurate, but the host testified that it was accurate.  Ozell then also used the scale and got the weight that he was expecting for himself.  His weight has barely fluctuated over the last decade.  So I was pretty pleased that I was getting in shape.
I do think I am currently in the best cardiovascular shape that I have been in since I quit playing college club volleyball.  There has been practically no weed on this trip and no snack food.  A little bit of both once in a great while.  My stomach is flat and even has some abs including the lower ones coming through.  Unfortunately, in the attached picture, this is not as prevalent as it usually is because my lower belly was storing 3 days worth of food at the time since I was not able to shit for that duration.  I look a little bloated.  However, the disappointing part has been that the exercise I am getting is almost all from walking.  My legs are pretty solid and tight, but none of my other muscles get much of a workout.  I have been trying to do some pushups and dips every couple or few days to keep some muscle tone in the upper body, but it does not seem to be working.  As you can see from the pic, you can see my breast bone and ribs in between my atrophied pecs.  I don't really like that.  I will try to work a little harder with the push ups.
So, yes, I feel really good with the lungs and heart.  I would like to know what my blood pressure is now.  That would be interesting.  But I am really curious to know what I weigh.  If I had to guess, I must be down to 155lbs or so which I have not weighed since I graduated from undergrad at Ohio State.  I am not taking pride in this.  I would like to get my weight up to 165lbs with more muscle ideally.
There will be another post soon which discusses some of the things I have really liked on this trip- the small stuff that makes the difference and provides all the color...
Ciao for now,

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Montevideo, Uruguay: Out of Argentina at last!!!

Hello Everyone,
I see the Xmas holiday is almost here.  If you are traveling during the season, then I wish you a happy and safe trip.  I, for one, am very happy to be out of the shit hole of Buenos Aires and Argentina in general.  We are now in Montevideo, Uruguay.  We will be making our way northwards up the coast and into Brazil by the New Year.  I like the city of Montevideo so far.  The picture attached to this post is from our balcony at the hostel which is on the main square- Plaza Indepencia.  It seems that every South American city has a main square called either Plaza De Armas or Plaza Indepencia.  There is a historical reason for this, of course.
Anyways, this is just a short post to let you know we are safe and sound.  No more robberies.  I am however having some minor medical issues- at least I hope they are minor.  I shit like clock work and multiple times a day, but for the last week or so, I have been having some problems.  I will spare you the details.  I guess I am growing up some because typically I would have relished the opportunity to write about my irregularity and crapping out puss.  I guess I just did.  LOL  God, that gave me the giggles!!!  heheheheheheheheheheh!
Ciao for now,

Saturday, December 13, 2008

74.215.252.xxx is at the top of our list

Greetings Loyal Readers!!
I am constantly surprised by some of the emails I get from people in response to our travel blog, especially from people I didn't even realize were keeping up with our travels.  It's very nice to know we're not just writing for our own benefit and historical record, but also so other people are able to share in our experiences.  Yesterday, I decided to review the site statistics for the website, which include visitor and traffic reports for the travel blog as well as my main website, www.xiante.com.  My hosting provider provides a number of useful tools for administering the website, including the ability to generate reports on the number of unique visitors to the site; whether those visitors accessed the site via direct link, bookmark, or through a search engine; the most viewed pages on the site; the most common keywords used when the site appears in search engine results; even the type of operating system and browser visitors are using when viewing the site.  I hadn't reviewed the site stats in a long time so I was curious to see how they had changed since we embarked on our trip.
My first impression of the stats is that we actually have a lot more readers than I suspected, which I feel very honored by.  I hope our posts about some of the wonderful places we've visited will inspire some of you to also visit this part of the world or at least motivate you to get out and travel somewhere.  Equally significant, however, is my hope that news of our negative experiences, from my disaster with trying to ship something using DHL to our being robbed in Lima, Valparaiso and Buenos Aires, will spread and make people think twice about putting themselves through the same misery and frustration.  By writing about these experiences on our blog, given our broad readership, I feel some vindication in the sense that our experiences and recommendations will have a greater likelihood of influencing other people's decisions, especially when we urge you to consider alternatives.  Negative publicity hurts businesses and it hurts tourism simply because bad news travels a hell of a lot faster than good news, especially over the internet.  And nothing is more important to the success of a business, city, or country than it's image and reputation.
For instance, had DHL acknowledged their complete and utter failure on any one of multiple levels when I used them to ship something; had they attempted to rectify the situation as promised or at the very least, refunded my money when they ultimately cost me a hell of a lot more than the $75 for the failed shipment, I would have accepted their failures and maybe even considered using them again; but, because of the way they blew me off, I will use every method, venue and opportunity available to let other people know not to use them, especially since they are discontinuing their domestic services and focusing only on international shipping.  If you actually expect your shipment to reach it's intended international destination, just use FedEx.  I think Sean and I have both adequately expressed our disdain for Buenos Aires already.  Like DHL, my recommendation is to bypass Buenos Aires completely if you plan to make your way down to South America.  There are nicer places to visit where people actually go out of their way to make sure you leave with a positive impression of their city and country.  Go somewhere where you will be made to feel welcome and where the money you spend will be appreciated.  Okay, I'll step off the soap box for now. 
Back to the site statistics, I would like to share some of the more interesting pieces of information I've found for those of you who might be interested.  Since we're only halfway through December, I'll give you November's stats since that is the last full month for which I have data.
Unique Visitors:  378
Number of Visits:  1036 (2.74 visits per visitor)
Pages Visited:  9086 (8.77 pages per visit)
Top Five Visitors
Are you one of the Top Five???  Click here for a simply way to see your IP address [link].  P.S. We already know who #1 is. 
Days with Most Visitors
November 26th  (64 visits)
November 11th  (61 visits)
November 4th  (58 visits)
November 5th  (57 visits)
November 2nd  (55 visits)
Note: In general, weekends see about half as many visitors as weekdays so a lot of you are clearly reading the blog at work, LOL!
Visit Duration
5-15 minutes: 40 (3.8%)
15-30 minutes: 34 (3.2)
30-60 minutes: 41 (3.9%)
60+ minutes: 22 (2.1%)
Average Length of All Visits: 271 seconds (about 5 minutes)
Operating Systems & Browsers
Windows:  91.3%
Macintosh:  2.7%
Internet Explorer:  53.5%
Firefox:  37.9%
Note: Why are more than half of you still using Internet Explorer?  Firefox is such a far more superior browser!
Connect to Site From
96.4% connect to the site through a direct link or bookmark
2.1% connect through a search engine (Google is most popular)
1.3% connect through a link from another webpage (i.e. facebook, couchsurfing)
Note: 34.5% of visitors add our site to their favorites or bookmarks.
Top Search Keyphrases
san diego slut
price of coke per gram
gave head coke
darkroom public zurich
coke price per gram
Note: These are for the 2.1% of times people are connecting to our blog through a search engine.  It's interesting to see what people are searching for online, and especially interesting to see the search keywords and keyphrases they use for the results to produce a link to our blog.  The keyphrases listed above are just some of the more interesting ones. 
That's all for now, but before I sign off, I'd really like to express my sincerest thanks to all of you for traveling with us by following along on the blog.  Even if you just visit our site to look at the pictures, it makes me feel a lot better about taking the time to put the site together and maintaining it while we travel.  We'll try to keep the posts interesting to make your visits worthwhile.  We'll also try to continue posting regularly to give you a reason to keep coming back often.  As always, please feel free to comment, respond, or email us anytime. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The only means of implementing justice on an individual level anymore is with your wallet...

Good evening Everyone,
I am sitting in the apartment currently waiting on Ozell to return.  I thought he returned home a little while ago, but I was getting a shower with the one guy I have met in Buenos Aires who has been a positive experience.  We have been able to meet up a few times already for dates, and he is a great human being.  We weren't going to see each other today, but I wanted to see him to help rid the after effects of being robbed yesterday.  At least there is one person in this city who is a respectable human being.  We should be able to see each other one last time on Saturday before he goes to work at the same club where I was first robbed in this town. 
I want to thank Ozell for bringing light to a couple of important points in his blog post which I did not mention in mine.  He and I were on completely opposite sleep schedules last night.  I was angry and needed to get started on venting my anger, and therefore, I stayed up until 2am writing on the blog and responding to the Argentine's e-mail and watching Family Guy in Spanish.  I believe Ozell was equally as disgusted with me being robbed and began his reconciliation process by listening to his music via his IPod and then going to bed by 9pm and sleeping until 2 am.  We pretty much switched places at 2 am when I went to bed and when Ozell started writing his blog post.  He was up until after sunrise.  We then caught a few hours sleep together in the mid morning before I got up again...
Anyways, one important point that Ozell brought up was the fact that the people who robbed me in BA (and in fact, everyone who has robbed us on this trip) are not poor.  They have their basic necessities and most common luxury items from what we can tell.  For example, the one guy whom I saw bump me yesterday was dressed in baggy but new clothes and was listening to his IPod.  He had a Hip-hop look to him.  The unknown people in the club who robbed me five days ago could all afford to go out to a club where the entrance fee was $18 USD (which is pretty expensive for Argentina), pay for the drinks at the club, and wear stylish clothes.  The point is that these people are not stealing in order to feed themselves.  They are stealing for the sake of stealing.  It is a game to them.  It is not a survival necessity.
The other point Ozell made which is worth noting again is the fact the vast majority of the population in the cities we have visited have as good a standard of living as most of us do in the USA.  Yes, there are people who do live in mud huts with dirt floors and in slums.  But these have mainly been the indigenous peoples, and as I mentioned in my post, they seem to have a much greater appreciation for ethics and personal integrity than the people who have been robbing us.  It is the lower middle class and middle class which are the offenders.
Now to the subject heading for this blog post...  "The only means of implementing justice on an individual level anymore is with your wallet."  This is a conclusion I arrived at during the last 7-8 years under the Bush Crime Family's reign of terror.  Our nation is not governed by laws.  Policy is not dictated by facts or science.  The USA (along with most countries) is governed by corporations and their narrow interests.  There is no such thing as the "public good" anymore.  If you hear that term or related ones like "in the best interest of the public" or "for national security", you would be better served to replace those phrases with "in the best interests of corporations/banks" if you want to gain a better understanding of our present state of affairs.  But my point is that we have ceased being a democracy some time ago.  All vestiges of the American Republic have been obliterated within the last 8 years.  And your voice during the period when our Republic was operational- your Vote- is absolutely meaningless.  Sorry to fuck up your delusions Obama supporters...
The only way a person can hope to implement their vision for a better society currently is with their money/meal tickets.  That is your only "vote".  This will probably not last long either.  In fact, the current financial crisis is designed (yes it was designed and implemented by human beings) to eliminate this means of expressing yourself also.  But for the time being, you can only hope to express your beliefs by choosing where to spend your money and to whom you give it.  You don't like multinational corporation store chains in your neighborhood?- shop at the independent stores even if it costs you more.  You want a particular political candidate to win (even though you are foolish to think there are any differences between the major parties' ultimate objectives), you would be much better off contributing your money to that candidate than pulling the lever at the voting booth.
This can be applied across the life experience spectrum- as sad as that may be.  In my case, it is the only way I can express my disgust with the Argentine society and my experiences here.  You want to steal from me or make apologies for your fellow citizens who do?- then all I can do is to minimize the amount of my money that I give to your country.  I cannot go to the police.  I do not speak the language.  Theft is so rampant that they would do nothing about it.  In fact, the people here seem to tacitly endorse it as long as it is mainly directed to foreigners and not the local population.  The police are often corrupt.  And the perpetrators will never be caught.  All I am left with is attempting to hurt them where it counts most... in the pocketbook and on the balance sheet.  My money and the money of others is my vote.
Therefore, I will not be getting my haircut here in BA.  I will wait until Uruguay.  Ozell and I will not be going out for a nice dinner at an Argentine steakhouse.  We will wait until Uruguay.  We will not take in a tango show in one of the famed local halls.  We will catch a show of traditional dancing in Uruguay.  I will not be going out to a bar/club tonight, Friday night, Saturday night, or Sunday night.  I will stay in the apartment, split a bottle of wine with Ozell, and play a game of chess.  I will not eat at any restaurant the remaining time we are here in BA.  I will by the basic food necessities at the grocery store and make my own food.  As small as all of this is, it will easily cover the losses of my cash, my wallet, and my camera.  Furthermore, I will tell anyone who listens what a disgusting place Buenos Aires is and to do my best to convince people throughout my lifetime never to visit Buenos Aires or Argentina.  Most likely, this will cost the Argentine people multi-thousands of dollars over the coming decades.  Yes, in the grand scheme of things all of this is a drop in the bucket, but it is the only way to effectively voice your opinions anymore.
It is unfortunate that I do not speak or write Spanish.  But even with that handicap, I think I am going to write a letter to the major newspapers of Buenos Aires and express my displeasure and disgust with their city- politely and civilly of course.  The main emphasis will be on the only thing anyone understands or values anymore- money and the loss of tourism dollars.  I also intend on expressing my disgust with the property management agency when we check out on Monday.  Again emphasizing how I intend to disparage Buenos Aires to anyone who will listen back home and abroad on the rest of my travels and eliminate as much tourism money as I can from coming into this city.  Why?  Because I am not foolish enough to believe anyone here will listen to some "uppity gringo Yankee", but the authorities will start listening if enough local people/businesses start complaining about the city's negative image abroad.
You have to vote with your money...

How Poor Is Your Country?

Traveling always opens your eyes and broadens your perspective about the world we live in; but, while awareness is always preferable to ignorance, reality can often bit a bitter pill to swallow.  I think I'm starting to understand the reasons behind the rampant theft in South America and it saddens to me to realize that this aspect of their culture is part of the reason why the countries here, and their people, will never reach their full potential.  It's not just the theft itself, but the lack of morals and values within the culture that allows people to steal from others that is the greatest problem.  What kind of society produces so many people who believe it's acceptable to steal from others?  What kind of society doesn't teach their children that the way to succeed is by working hard; that taking what doesn't belong to you will never solve your problems.  Perhaps I'm just a delusional American or I've just experienced a fairy tale my entire life, but working hard seemed to work for me.  Here in South America, you have a large percentage of the population who feel no guilt about stealing from other people even when the small monetary gain does absolutely nothing to help them.  We're not talking about homeless people and starving children.  We're talking about people who already have everything they need but have such a warped sense of morality that their greed and selfishness motivates them to steal.  The wallet or camera is not stolen so they can feed their kids; it's stolen so they can go buy a new pair of shoes, a flashy cell phone or a few drinks out at the bar.  The worst part is, while I'm sure the majority of the population isn't out there pick pocketing and shortchanging other people, even those who don't steal will justify and excuse the actions of the thieves because of their "lack of opportunities" in life.  I say "BULLSHIT".  That's why your country is second-world to begin with, because of a culture that excuses theft and allows people to go through life thinking it's possible for people to get something for nothing rather than a culture that fosters hard work and dedication. 
This is one aspect of American culture that has made the United States what it is, and what I'm starting to realize other countries STILL don't understand about America.  While current reality may be changing, throughout most of our history, the States has always been a country where success, to a large degree, was determined by how hard one was willing to work.  That's not to say that everyone can be Bill Gates or Warren Buffet; success can come in different forms, escaping poverty, for instance.  The point is, few people who really put effort into it and work hard will end up on the street or in a soup kitchen line.  That's what opportunity in our country means; the chance to be rewarded for your efforts and the chance to earn a decent living.  The caveat is, you have to really want it and you have to be willing to work, not just to get it, but also to maintain it.  People in South America can't seem to separate reality from myth, legend and what they see on TV when it comes to American wealth.  They especially fail to separate American corporations and corporate wealth from the American people, the vast majority of whom are no more wealthy than the people in South America.  The picture I posted shows the percentage of people living below the national poverty line in various countries.  The actual percentages for Argentina: 23.4%, Chile: 13.7%, United States: 12.6%.  I find these types of statistics to be a better measure of reality simply because poverty is determined by factors within each respective country.  Yes, a higher percentage of Argentineans live in poverty than in the States but not a higher number of people.  Out of a population of 300 million people, we have 37.8 million people living below the poverty line, a number almost equal to Argentina's entire population of 40 million people. 
What people in South America don't seem to realize is that most Americans go to work every day for years, throughout generations of families, and still live paycheck-co-paycheck.  We don't get profit-sharing checks just because we live in the same country as these corporate giants, and while other countries may pay more in taxes than we do, we don't have the social welfare system of even some developing countries.  I didn't get a free college education; I still pay $215 a month for a degree I don't have, a degree I couldn't finish because it's a little difficult to focus your effort on school when you have to work to put a roof over your head.  Since I no longer have a job, I no longer have health insurance, but even with the insurance I had, it still cost me more money to get a tooth filled back in San Diego than it did without insurance here in South America.  Don't even get me started on infrastructure like roads and bridges because I've still seen much worse back home than I have in most cities we've been to here.  I grew up in a city where the government doesn't have the money to tear down all the abandoned and condemned houses and other buildings so they're turned into crack houses and or taken over by the homeless.  We played flag football on a gravel field in middle school because there wasn't any grass.  Our football team in high school didn't even have a home field while I was in school.  Yet here in South America, I see parks and green spaces (with real grass), public sports fields and play areas scattered throughout every city.  And yet, Americans are so rich.
Sure, Americans drive nice cars and live in big houses, but they also shop at Wal-Mart.  Cars, like most things a country produces for itself, are cheap.  Houses are big because they're only as expensive as the land they sit on and since we live in the third largest country on earth by land area there's still enough space to spread out.  But beyond cars and houses, the "stuff" people have back home isn't that much different from what South Americans have.  Yet, I look at the hundreds of high end clothing, shoes and electronic shops down here and I can't figure it out who the hell is shopping there and how they can afford to while at the same time, people are swearing to me these countries are so much poorer than we are.  I couldn't afford these prices even if I were still working.  I'm wearing a $10 pair of Target shorts and a $5 Gap T-shirt because that's where I normally shop.  I don't have a D&G t-shirt, let alone a pair of D&G jeans or shoes, yet this is what I see locals wearing.  Here I am getting robbed in countries where people have more than I do. 
I had a conversation about these misconceptions of American wealth with Fede back in Rosario, although I'm still not sure he fully understood my perspective.  Yes, countries in South America are, by GDP or whatever arbitrary definition, poorer countries than the United States, but this designation has little to do with the individual wealth or standard of living for most citizens within each respective country.  As I've said recently and as I've said in the past, I see far more homeless people on a daily basis back home than I have in any country here in South America.  I see more people digging through trashcans for food back home, not just recyclables as they do here.  And I see just as many people begging for change on the streets of San Diego as I do here in South America.  You just cannot convince me that people here are so much worse off than people in the United States, especially if you've never been to the United States.  And for any of your foreigners reading who have been to the States and think you know so much, let me remind you that California and New York are two of 50 States and do not represent the country as a whole.  The bottom line is, I hear too many excuses as justification for a culture that simply doesn't place a high enough priority on having a strong work ethic and a decent set of morals.  I don't want to hear about corrupt governments; my government is one of the most corrupt governments in the world and does very little to help the American people.  I thought the world learned this with the news coverage of Katrina.  How many of you paid attention to the way people in New Orleans lived BEFORE the hurricane?  I also don't want to hear about economic collapses; finances work the same way at the government level as they do on an individual level: when you can't generate enough or simply mismanage your revenue, you end up over-spending and over-borrowing, you then default, your credit is screwed, it sucks for a while, but you suffer through it and you work your way out of it.  Trust me, I have personal experience in this area.  I just wish people would stop making excuses, stop expecting hand-outs, stop robbing people and just WORK to get what you need and want.  I'm not so ignorant to believe that hard work alone will always pay off; I recognize that discrimination and racism exist everywhere and that the indigenous people in South America, or those who look more indigenous, have it worse than others.  But as a Black man growing up in a country with one of the darkest histories of racism, a country that has yet to formally apologize for slavery, I do not want to combine the two distinct issues of "the effects of discrimination" and "the reasons for such high rates of petty theft".  One is not justification for the other and to suggest so is even more disgusting than robbery alone.  I hate to say it, but a lot of people here are just ignorant savages acting impulsively for immediate gain or gratification.  They're too lazy to work, or simply to stupid to consider and plan for their future or take steps to actually direct or impact that future in a positive way, so instead they blame their economic status or situation on anyone and anything but themselves. 
Frankly, I'm tired of the assumptions and generalizations people have about me personally as an American traveling in their country.  I'm not wealthy and I don't come from a wealthy family.  Everything I have, which isn't much these days, I have because I worked my ass off to get it.  I've been through a lot of shit and by some standards I've had a more disadvantaged life than many of the people here, especially compared to some people in Chile and Argentina, but I don't use any unfortunate circumstances of my past or experiences in life to justify doing something I know is immoral.  I'm no stranger to hard work so I get a little bit pissy when people assume I just skated through with a silver spoon in my mouth or assume I had the slightest fucking advantage over them just because I was born the States.  Fuck you!  I know what it's like to work for minimum wage, to survive on tips, to choose between food and gas money and what it feels like to go to bed hungry.  I've washed dishes, bussed tables, worked in a video store and a bookstore.  I've worked in a soup kitchen, delivered Meals-on-Wheels and worked in a post office warehouse during the busy holiday season.  I even worked in a restaurant where I had to stand on tables and sing and dance to the Macarena, YMCA and the Chicken Dance, and I proudly danced my ass off and made a complete fool of myself every night I worked.  Why?  Because I made good money doing it, which helped to pay the bills, and I would rather be a dancing waiter and earn my living honestly than steal from other people who probably have to work just as hard. 
People assume that because I'm traveling around the world, I have money to give to every person on the street who asks and that I can afford to be robbed every now and then, when in reality, I have less than what most of the people here have and I don't have any income coming in.  I have no home.  I have no car.  I don't even have a fucking job!  What I do have is a little bit of money that I worked very hard to save by making a lot of sacrifices in life; but all that money I've saved still wouldn't be enough to buy a car, or put up a down-payment on a home, or buy any number of things even people in South America have and I don't.  My hope is that my savings will last until I can find another job and get back to where I was financially before I started this trip, a point at which I still had no home and no car.  It sucks sometimes, but I place a higher priority on traveling at this point in my life so those are the sacrifices I make.  I get frustrated enough when people back home don't understand this, but the sacrifice part is especially a foreign concept down here.  This trip wasn't a spur of the moment, I'm going to drop everything and travel for a while just because I can sort of thing; this is something I've planned for years and something I still had to save for and do on a budget.  How long did I ride a bicycle around San Diego because I didn't want the expense of a car?  For how many years did I take the bus and the train to work, a 90-minute commute each way, because a monthly bus pass was a fraction of the cost of owning a car?  Even when I bought my motorcycle, partly because it was cheaper than taking the bus and train, I bought one that I could later sell without losing much through depreciation.  I've been wearing some of the same clothes for ten years and I typically wear the same shoes until the soles disappear or simply detach from wear.  I ate McDonald's or Jack-in-the-Box a few times a week, not just because I love french fries, but because fast food (while not healthy) is about the cheapest thing you can eat back home.  I lived in a 440 square foot studio apartment for over five years and only considered moving when they kept increasing my rent.  But most significantly, I have been able to save money because I DO NOT HAVE KIDS!  Most people who know me know I want kids, but adoption is still years away from now because I can't afford to raise kids and still do things like travel around the world.  People seem to forget how expensive kids are, even when they have them. 
Whatever the case, sacrifice not only allowed me to save money before the trip, but I have even more sacrifice to look forward to when I get home.  I sold whatever I could to add to my savings for this trip.  I donated most of my clothes, dishes, and other household goods to charity.  Everything left that I own fit in a 8' x 5' x 7' storage container, with room to spare.  The insurance settlement I got for my motorcycle, which was totaled back in August, added to the financing for this trip so I won't have money to buy a new one when I get home and will be back to taking public transportation.  We all know the job market is not good and without the money I'm now spending, I will have to take the first job I am offered just in order to survive.  It's not a very happy life to look forward to when I get home, which is why I'd rather focus on enjoying my trip while I'm taking it.   But it's hard to enjoy your trip when you're constantly being targeted because people have fucked up and erroneous assumptions about you and your wealth, when your budget is being blown because you have to replace losses.  It pisses me off when I'm robbed and taken advantage of as a traveler when I could just stay at home like most people.  I could just remain ignorant of other countries and cultures and spend my life living in a bubble.  It would definitely be a lot easier, but it's not what I chose to do.  I'm not going home yet and I will deal with whatever unfortunate events happen throughout the rest of this trip, but I will not excuse theft or similar offenses as acceptable under any circumstances.
When I was in Berlin a few months ago, I met a really nice Croatian guy who told me about the wonderfully creative swear words and expressions they have in his country.  Thanks, Karlo, for giving me the words to express myself right now, which I've modified to suit the occasion.  To all you thieving bastards in South America, I shit on your Daily Bread and piss in the Cup you don't deserve to drink from anyway!  Evil begets evil.  May your souls burn in the raging fires of the most vicious Evangelical Christian Hell for all eternity!
I curse you thieves and then I move on. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A more productive and accurate descritpion on the purging of negative emotions....

Good evening Everyone,
Well, just as good energy tends to breed good energy so does negative energy tends to breed negative energy.  This is a lessoned learned long ago but is still hard to remember to put into practice when under stress.  I received an e-mail from an Argentine in response to my earlier posting today about being robbed yet again.  If you are keeping score at home, this is the fourth time Ozell and I have been robbed in the two months we have been traveling.  While I believe the Argentine's post was sincere in stating they hope this does not happen to me again, it was also apparent that my negative energy probably affected him negatively (imagine that!) since he included my pretty vengeful statement of...
"They are nothing but low life scum, and I hope their economy collapses like it did in 2001 but only harder and more severely.  I wish they have to eat their dogs in order to feed the hungry mouths of their own litters of babies since they breed like cats in this Catholic country.
Fucking despicable people..."
Yeah,  that is some pretty harsh shit.  I knew it when I wrote it, and I wanted to write it.  I did not want to censor what I was feeling in that moment which was only a handful of minutes after actually being robbed.  To censor it, would be dishonest.  That is how I felt when I wrote it.  I knew that I would calm down afterwards, but writing it and posting it so other people can relate is part of what helped me get over this latest violation.  However, what I was not considering fully in the heat of the moment was that fact that the travel blog's audience is no longer made up of just our friends and family in the States.  They are in fact some Argentines who now read the blog along with other internationals whom we have met along the way.  Rightfully, the Argentines may be negatively affected when they see that you wish their country's economy would tailspin into collapse (which is a recent memory for them and why it was fresh in my own memory) and that they have to eat the stray dogs that shit all over their sidewalks for food.
Below was my personal reply to this said Argentine which includes a much more constructive phrasing that helps purge my negative emotions while at the same time stating why I do not have fond feelings for a significant portion of the people of South America and Buenos Aires in particular.  Most importantly, I wanted to apologize for spreading negative energy to people who did nothing wrong to me by including ill wishes to all of Argentina.  It would have been more truthful and fitting if I limited my vengefulness to just chopping off the hands of those who robbed me instead of the wishing the collapse of the entire Argentine economy.
Since, I use the travel blog to write what I feel without censorship, I feel it is appropriate to include this apology and more constructive description of my current opinions also on the blog.
Sean  :)
Hey X,
Thank you for your well wishes...
And I want to apologize to you and Y and some of the other very good and respectable Argentines we have met in Cordoba and Rosario.  My last blog post was very angry and vengeful, and I did not mean to take it out on all Argentines.  I know in reality there have only been 2-3 people who have wronged me and violated me as a human.  Obviously that is not all Argentines.  But I needed to begin the process of working through this second robbery in 4 days, and writing my frustrations for my friends at home to see is one way for me to begin to get this bad feeling out of my system.  I am sick of Buenos Aires and will not recommend anyone travel here.   There is no reason for foreigners to come and spend their hard earn money here helping the locals and local economy.  Until the people of BA and South America in general start to crack down and punish these thieves, I have a hard time caring about any hardships they may have.  I am not enlightened enough to just brush the rampant thievery aside.  Do they think I am rich because I am white?  I have very little wealth presently.  Ozell said it best when we got back from the subway today...  "This is why they will always be 3rd and 2nd world countries down here... because too large of a percentage of the population does not believe in hard work or earning their own living."  The girl Michelle who worked in the 24hr bakery right next to the hostel in Rosario told us about the two different types of poor people here.  The hardworking ones who do the best they can legitimately, and then the second group which proudly and without shame resorts to crime to earn their way.  Obviously, America and Europe have plenty of bad people too.   I do not dispute that.  But it does not appear they make up near as large a percentage of the population as they do on this continent of South America.  And we haven't even been to Brazil yet which we have heard is the worst of all for petty crime!
I will recommend to everyone back home that they do not travel to South America.  It is not worth it.  Admittedly, the total sum I have been robbed of is now about $500 US.  I will recover from that.  But what hurts more is the act of being robbed-  that has now happened to me 3 times and to Ozell once in two months!  and we are not being stupid.  we have been pretty damn careful since we first were robbed in Lima.  Coming here is not worth that.
And the other thing I will tell everybody is that South Americans are bigoted and hypocritical.  They all look down on Bolivians as the poorest and most Indian (indigenous) country on the continent.  They all try to tout their Spanish and European bloodlines while being racist towards the Indians in their own countries and towards the entire country of Bolivia.  They all have bullied Bolivia and beaten down the Bolivians in wars taking their territory and their natural resources.  And people in the States also have this idea that Bolivia is an unsafe and poor country run by drug cartels.  But you know what?...  I felt the absolute safest on this trip when I was in Bolivia.  Yes, it is the poorest country here.  But the people seem to have some fucking ethics and morals.  I'm sure there are bad people there too, but not nearly as many as there appear to be in Peru, Chile, and Argentina.  So while the Peruvians, Chileans, and Argentines all look down their noses at the Bolivians, I have nothing but respect for them.  I saw nothing but the hardest working people I have seen on this trip.  And they are still dirt poor, but they have smiles on their faces.  And they DO NOT STEAL.  It must be the Indian blood in them which the rest of the "white" people on this continent despise so much.  They could really learn some lessons from the Bolivians.  So far it is the only country I have any interest in seeing again, and it is the only country where I would recommend my friends back home come to visit.  Their people have character and integrity despite their hardships.  It is apparent the rest of South America uses their hardships to justify and rationalize stealing from foreigners who they think are better off than them.  Viva Bolivia!
So yes, I do not mean to subject all Argentines to my anger and malicious vengeful desire to see this country collapse.  That was written in a very heated moment.  I hope you did not take personal offense.  It was me venting my anger.  But I have had some other Argentines message me and tell me how sorry they are this happened to me and that they are ashamed of their fellow citizens here in Buenos Aires (this has been on online chats not the travel blog).  I thank them, and I know they mean well.  But I tell them, don't feel sorry for me and apologize on behalf of your fellow citizens who wronged me.  How about you fix your country and culture so that this isn't such a big problem and so stealing is not so rampant?  When you have a entire group of your fellow citizens who take pride in being thieves and who actually believe it is noble and something on which to build a sense of community to the point that they have their own fashion and cultural identity (as described by Michelle at the bakery in Rosario), then you have a fucked up part of your citizenry which needs to be confronted and corrected.
You know that I know there are plenty of wonderful people in Argentina.  Ozell and I were so fortunate to meet you and Y in *****.  So again, I personally apologize for lumping all Argentines together with my initial rant today.  That was my anger.  I am not "enlightened" enough yet to be free of anger when I feel I have been wronged.  I know I have some more ego busting to do.  I am flawed.  But since I am flawed and human, I hope you can empathize with why it is hard for me to currently have a favorable opinion of the people of Buenos Aires in particular and South America in general when Ozell and I who only had the sincere interest of visiting new places, peoples, and cultures so we could learn about them and their lives have been robbed four times in two months.  That is not a very favorable ratio.
I suspect you can empathize with that.
You are a fantastic man X.  Thank you for your well wishes that this does not happen to Ozell and me again.  I am sorry if I offended you personally with my angry post.  You and some others were obviously not included in my vengeful fit.  I assure you it has passed.  I have pretty much moved on from this robbery too.  Christians tend to strive for the "Forgive and forget." ideal.  I tend to subscribe more to the Sufi school of thought which is, "Forgive and do not hold judgment, but do not forget."
I really miss you and Y right now.  I could use and enjoy your company....
Ciao, mi amigo.

Robbed yet again in lovely Buenos Aires!!

Hey Everyone!
I am happy to report that I was robbed yet again in this fucking degenerate city of Buenos Aires!  :)  I have now grown to hate and despise all people of Buenos Aires.  Every time I see one, all I can think about is that they are nothing but disgusting thieves.  And as lenient as I usually am with many crimes, I have always thought that stealing is one of the very worst things a human being can do.  I am a firm supporter of Hammurabi's Code whereby someone who steals should have their hand chopped off.  It is a great way to let everyone else who come in contact with said thief to know that he/she is nothing but human scum.
In this particular instance, Ozell and I just had a long day walking around two different neighborhoods.  Since we were both hungry and exhausted, we decided to take the subway home.  It was rush hour and very crowded on the subway.  We were both very cognizant that this was a prime time to be victims of pick pockets.  I locked my wallet down in a buttoned cargo shorts pocket on one leg and locked my camera down in a similar pocket on the other leg.  The entire trip I kept my one free hand over the pocket my wallet was in.  My other hand was needed to hold onto the ceiling railing since there was standing room only.  I kept my eyes on the pocket with my camera in it.  Then as we got to our stop, Ozell was able to get off relatively easily.  I had to force my way through a couple of people and as I was doing this one guy came from behind and pushed me one way.  Another person (i don't know if it was a guy or girl), came from the opposite side and bumped and pushed me from that side almost causing me to fall as I was simultaneously stepping onto the platform.  I immediately checked my pockets and noticed my camera was gone.  My wallet was still there.  I turned around and got back on the train and started shouting, "Who took my fucking camera?!  Which one of you fucking people took my camera?!"  The one guy who bumped me as he was making his way to the door but who did not get off the train answered, "I didn't take anything!" and motioned at his pants as if he had nothing.  I am pretty sure he didn't take it because he is the one who bumped me first and from the other side from the camera.  But I damn well think he was responsible for this theft with his partner who I did not see and who bumped me secondly and on the camera side.  I knew it was a lost cause, and the doors were closing with Ozell unaware that any of this was going on.  I decided to get off the train and just eat this robbery as well. 
This all happened in the 15 second window where I quit looking at my pocket with the camera in it so I could look and see my way off the train.
Unfortunately, I will not be able to think of anything positive about Buenos Aires, and this has really soured my feelings towards Argentines in general.  They are nothing but low life scum, and I hope their economy collapses like it did in 2001 but only harder and more severely.  I wish they have to eat their dogs in order to feed the hungry mouths of their own litters of babies since they breed like cats in this Catholic country.
Fucking despicable people...
Sorry for such an angry post.  I am writing this within a handful of minutes of the actual robbery happening because I needed to start working it out of my system.
The only "good" thing that I can salvage at the moment is that I bought a $120 camera on purpose in case this very thing happened and that I only lost the pictures from our walking tour today since I have formed the habit of downloading pics from the camera as soon as I return home usually.
I hope the rest of you are well,

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Change??!! Change??!!

I love people watching back home because humans can often have such strange behaviors, both individually and collectively, which just makes people watching in a foreign country all the more fascinating.  It's also interesting to see how people handle various situations and what their customs are for dealing with particular things.  We've had quite a few interesting experiences so far on this trip, but I think Argentina tops the list so far when it comes to strange and/or inexplicable.  So after three weeks in this country and with one week still to go, I figured I would comment on some of the more interesting things I've noticed and experienced. 
Bus Stops: One of the interesting behavioral observations I've made here in Argentina is the orderly way people wait for and board public buses.  Since I know many of you back home don't use public transportation often (if at all), I'll first explain how it works in the States.  A posted sign will usually indicate where the bus stop is.  Many stops have benches or shelters near the post, especially at main intersections or terminals.  While people are waiting for the bus in the States, they typically stand somewhere in the vicinity of the bus stop, some sitting on the bench, some (like myself) standing away from the crowd so as not to bother people by smoking, others simply pacing back and forth.  When the bus arrives, it stops at or near the posted sign, then everyone crowds towards the door and pushes their way forward until they get on.  Sometimes people defer to women or the elderly, but more often, the passive and or weak get pushed aside and are last to board, and subsequently, last to get a seat. 
In Argentina, people wait for the bus by standing in a single-file line starting at the posted sign.  The first person to arrive stands at the sign and each person arriving afterward lines up behind the person arriving before them.  There are no benches or shelters, at least that I've seen, probably because the buses run often enough that you never have to wait too long.  When the bus arrives, people board in a civilized, orderly, efficient fashion, with the first person who arrived at the stop boarding first and so on.  There is no pushing, no deference to women or elderly, just first come, first board.  At busy stops, you'll often see ten or more people standing in a straight line along the sidewalk waiting for the bus.  It's a very logical process and seems perfectly natural here. 
I've considered many reasons for why something so simple and efficient doesn't happen at home.  Perhaps because our buses never run as often, it's difficult for people to stand in one spot for 30 or more minutes, especially if benches are available.  Perhaps it's because we are so particular about our personal space, we don't want to stand too close to other people when there is a large area for people to maintain a comfortable distance while waiting.  I know for sure people are particular about "their" air so the idea of someone standing in line smoking next to them would be an instant argument back home.  Whatever the reasons, when it comes waiting for and boarding a bus, the Argentineans are two steps ahead of us.  Now if they could just learn how to avoid other people and effectively navigate obstacles when walking down a busy sidewalk.  Maybe I'm just ignorant, but I thought all people understood that you walk on the same side of the sidewalk you would drive on if you were driving on a two-way street, but that seems to be a failed concept here, along with walking in a straight line.
Headlights:  Now this is probably the most bizarre and dangerous observation I've made since being in Argentina.  I've noticed it more so here in Buenos Aires, but I saw the same thing in Rosario and Cordoba.  At night, most taxis typically drive with their headlights OFF.  Most will usually have their parking lights on, but it's not uncommon to see one driving around with no front lights at all.  The public buses also seem to drive with their headlights off at night, although I have yet to see one without parking lights on.  This, quite obviously, makes it very difficult to see them at night when they're barreling down side streets at 40-50 mph, and I have no idea how they see anything in front of them, so one must be VERY careful when crossing the street at night, especially at intersections without a traffic light.  Some will flash their headlights when approaching uncontrolled intersections, but not all of them.  The strange thing is that every once in a while you see a taxi with their headlights ON so we've tried to find some type of pattern to determine why they do it, but nothing seems to hold true.  At first I thought, maybe they drive with the headlights off to make it easier to see the light indicating they're free.  If you have bad night vision like me, it can be difficult to see the "Libre" light in the front windshield if you're staring into headlights.  Nevertheless, this doesn't seem to be the case.  This is one I'll have to ask a local about because I can't figure it out for the life of me and there has to be an explanation, although I doubt it's a reasonable one.
Nightlife: Anyone who has traveled outside the States knows that the bars and clubs in most countries get going later than they do back home.  In Europe, people still go out around midnight, but most bars and clubs stay open until at least 4am.  In South America, the clubs in most countries don't really get busy until after 1am, but in Argentina, it's more like 2 or 3am, seriously, even during the week!  And they don't close until around 6am at the earliest.  We read about this before arriving so we tried to adjust, but starting in Cordoba, we arrived at one popular club, Zen, around 1am and it was dead, almost empty.  Once 2:30 rolled around, the place suddenly got packed and was still pumping when we left around 4am.  In Buenos Aires, most clubs don't even open until 1am, and they don't get busy until almost 3am.  I think we've gotten used to it now so we've learned to take a power nap around 11pm, sleep for a couple hours, then get dressed and head out to the club, arriving around 2am.  I just don't see how people do it and still maintain a normal 9-6 work schedule during the week.  It certainly teaches one how to take advantage of naps!
Money:  By far the most bizarre and definitely the most frustrating, this country has a severe problem with money in the sense that there just isn't enough of it, especially coins!!  It reminds me of the South Park episode where the homeless invade South Park and go around mindlessly screaming out "Change? Change? Can you spare any change?"  At first it was difficult breaking large bills because the ATM's typically give you $100 peso bills, which are almost impossible to break anywhere except a large store or restaurant.  Realize, $100 pesos is equivalent to $30 USD so I find it pretty ridiculous when a business can't break them, but we've learned to get around this in two ways.  First, we reserve our $100 pesos bills for whenever we have to make large purchases, such as at the grocery store or to pay cover at a club.  The second way around it we learned from one of the guidebooks; when getting money out of an ATM, we'll typically withdraw $290.  This will at least guarantee you a couple of $20 peso bills and a $50 peso bill, which are still tough to break, but a hell of a lot easier than a $100 peso bill.  The strangest thing is that when you purchase something, they will always ask if you have exact change and will huff and puff about having to give you change.  The $1 peso coins are especially coveted and vendors will often give you a hand full of 10 centavo coins before giving up their $1 peso coins.  I've even gone to stores to buy a soda for $3.50 pesos, given a $5 peso bill and had the cashier ask if I have something smaller!  You can't give me change for a $5 peso bill?  What the fuck? 
The grocery store is the most interesting because it is the only place where goods are priced in a way that the totals typically add up to odd amounts like $43.33; whereas, at most places, goods are priced to add up to more even amounts like $3.50 or $15.  The cashiers at the grocery store have as little change as anywhere else (the change trays in their tills are always empty!) so people will often round up and forego their change, or the cashier will sometimes round down and give you a little more money back than you are supposed to get.  Both types of change differences are carefully recorded on a little sheet that each cashier keeps at their register and I presume it comes out somewhat even at the end of the night.  For example, when I went to the grocery today, my total was $43.33 so I gave the cashier $50 pesos. She asked if I had 33 centavos, which I didn't, so after waiting for her to get some $2 peso bills from the main caja, she just gave me $7 pesos change and recorded the transaction on her sheet.  When I bought something at another place earlier this week, the total came up to something like $34.70 so the cashier, without asking, gave me $5 in change for the $40 I gave her. 
We've learned, like everyone else, to hoard our change, especially the $1 peso and 25 centavos coins, because those are the only coins the laundry machine in our apartment building accepts.  We actually couldn't do laundry for a couple of days because no one would give us change in $1 peso coins, even after buying something.  We've also learned you have a better chance of getting $1 peso coins if your purchase adds up to an amount where a $1 peso coin is the most logical denomination for change, although you still have to hope the merchant actually has $1 peso coins, which isn't always guaranteed.  For example, when I buy cigarettes, which cost $4.40 per pack, I typically buy one pack and pay with three $2 peso bills, or I buy two packs and pay with a $10 peso bill.   This makes my change either $1.60 or $1.20 giving me a good chance of getting a $1 peso coin in change.  I also learned the other day that the subway seems to have more than their fare share of $1 peso coins.  So if you pay for your $.90 centavos fare with a $2 peso bill, they will give you $1.10 in change, including a $1 peso coin!
It's a pretty fucked up system and neither of us could figure out why money, coins especially, seem to be in such short supply.  I asked Fede about it in Rosario and he explained that there is simply a shortage of certain bills and coins and it doesn't help that everyone always wants to pay in $100 peso bills.  In my mind, the logical and simply solution to such a problem is for the government to remove some of the $100 peso bills from circulation and replace them with smaller denomination bills and coins; but apparently, there are other issues involved and no one seems to be able to explain what those issues are.  Sean and I were thinking, perhaps the coins (and the metal they're made from) cost more to mint than the coins are actually worth, meaning the $1 peso coins might actually be worth more like $2-3 pesos.  But this doesn't explain the problem with bills; paper money doesn't cost much more than the paper it's printed on.  Whatever the reason, the money here, especially the shortage of CHANGE, is the most bizarre thing I've ever experienced traveling. 
Argentina COE:
Pack of Cigarettes: $1.50
McDonalds Combo Meal: $7.00
Liter of Domestic Beer at the Grocery: $1.00
Liter of Imported Beer at the Grocery: $1.50

Robbed again- Yippee!

Good Afternoon,
Well, Ozell and I went out to a club called Amerika last night.  It was a really large club that holds around 2500 people or so.  We were having a decent enough time until the end of the night.  We went to a really crowded 'dark area' to make a walk though and make out some before we left.  I have never had to fight so many hands off my genitals before.  This was a mixed club and was not exclusively gay.  People were getting blow jobs and some fucking was going on, but I don't know how because it was just a sea of people pushed up against each other.  In any case, I was wearing cargo pants which I felt were my most secure type of pants- much more so than my jeans.  I had my wallet with about 60 pesos and my California drivers license in one of cargo pockets.  Then I had a city map and a 100 peso bill in my opposite cargo pocket.   I have been purposely separating my money when I go out ever since I was robbed the first time.  Sometimes I keep my extra money in my sock, but tonight I did not.  Well, with being in this area for 5 minutes or so, and even with constant hand checking my pockets to ensure my stuff was still there, I was robbed.  I presume that fighting off so many hands from my dick served as an adequate distraction for someone else to open my cargo pockets and left out my wallet, map, and 100 peso bill.  :(
I was and still am very angry and disgusted since I thought I had made the appropriate changes since the first time I was robbed in Lima.  The 160 pesos is not a ridiculous amount of money.  It's about $50 US.  But that is a full day's budget and this has been an expensive city already because of the private apartment we are renting.  I am more concerned about my drivers license because now neither of us (Ozell's was stolen in Valparaiso) has a drivers license so even if we did want to rent a car at some point, we will not be able to.  But the more optimistic side is that my drivers license had the address of my residence two residences ago so it was outdated anyways.  I was going to have to get a new one when I returned and knew where I was going to live in the States.
Actually, the thing that may upset me the most is the lost of the wallet.  It was a good wallet, and I will probably have to spend $30-$40 US to replace it.  That is almost another day's budget. 
The worst part of it is just when I think we both had sort of lost the bad taste in our mouths about what a thieving group of people South Americans are, here we are hit with it again.  I know there are good people on this continent- I have met some of them.  But I can't help but think that all these countries also have the lowest of the low, scum bag, shit suckers that I have ever come across.  Stealing is rampant not just through the illegitimate acts of downright robbery and pick pocketing.  It is rampant in the legitimate services of taxis, stores, and companies like Peru Rail.
It sickens me.
Well, sleeping on it has made me feel better, and I can't ruin my time by dwelling on the past.  I can only try to be even more vigilant and cynical-  the latter of which is not a positive.
More about some of the other neighborhoods of Buenos Aires in a subsequent post.
Ciao for now,

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Other Side of the World

Sean has already described what our many of our experiences were like in Rosario so I won't spend too much time repeating him.  What I would like to discuss is his comment on the people you meet while traveling and how such meetings and experiences are an important part of why some people travel, including myself.  The people are a huge factor in whether or not you enjoy your time in any particular place so for me, traveling has always been more about the people than anything else.  Whether it's Germany (my favorite country still) or Argentina, the people, their customs, culture, attitudes and history are what separates one set of people from another.  Every country has museums, churches, parks and monuments and while they may be of varying degrees of quality or importance, they still only represent one aspect of that particular city or country.  I prefer to judge a place by the quality of their people rather than by the quality of their cultural or historical sites (i.e. wealth) and I especially love people and societies that are open, welcoming and inviting, eager to talk to foreigners, proud of their culture and history, and aware of what's going on in the rest of the world.  There's a reason why I've never been to Paris.  For now, I want to describe more of my experiences so far in Argentina. 
Federico: I don't know where to begin; Fede is simply an amazing guy.  At 24 years old, he's very worldly and aware of what's going on, not only in his own country, but also in other parts of the world.  He lived in Granada, Spain for a while, but has otherwise spent most of his life in Rosario.  Fede is very mature, intelligent, and talented.  He's very knowledgeable of art and music and is even a talented artist himself.  He showed me some of his sketches and I am always impressed and somewhat envious of people with such amazing talent.  He also has a very nice voice and was often singing, even while just cleaning up around the hostel.  I've mentioned before in my travels how I always meet these young people who seem so much more interesting and evolved than the young people back home, but whenever the experience repeats itself, I am always reminded of how sheltered, shallow and thus, disadvantaged our young people are back in the States.  We really need to focus more on education in our country.  And while most professionals and experts will acknowledge the continuing decline in our students math and science scores and abilities, funding for the arts has been declining for as long as I can remember and I believe the arts are equally important in a well-rounded education.  Whenever I travel, I am forced to realize that I received a substandard secondary education by international standards and it makes me sad and angry to know that it's even worse for kids growing up in the States now.  I'm not just talking about language classes that don't start until high school, I'm also talking about world history, geography, literature and comparative politics, among other things.  We like to blame our economic woes on cheap Chinese and Indian labor or big multi-national companies that ship jobs overseas, but that's ignoring the other half of the problem which is an education system that produces people with few skills and ridiculously high expectations; they demand more than what they're worth.  Anyway, enough of the rant.  We just need to do better. 
Fede is the one who actually received my online reservation before we arrived in Rosario so I had already communicated with him via email because of a question he had about my reservation.  When we arrived to check in, he was working the desk and welcomed us.  It was nice to put a face to the name and I was instantly curious about him.  He's quite an attractive guy, and I'm quite the flirt, so it didn't take long to establish that he was gay.  We were sitting around drinking and chatting our first night after his shift was over and he mentioned his ex-bf from San Francisco.  The funny thing is, even though part of our conversation that night involved the quality and difference between saunas in South America and Europe, I guess he wasn't sure if Sean and I were gay until the following night when we were trying to find out information on local gay bars and he, in a somewhat confused manner, asked if we were gay.  In his defense, there was also a "straight" Dutch guy participating in the gay sauna conversation, so I guess he initially thought we were just very open-minded, LOL.  I guess we are from California.  Anyway, as Sean mentioned, we spent a few evenings at the bar/club with Fede and his friend Jose and had a very enjoyable time together.  As I said, Fede is an amazing guy and I'm really glad we met. 
Mate: First of all, mate is a stimulant drink, like coffee or tea, made by steeping dried yerba mate leaves in hot water.  It's the national drink of many countries here in South America and drinking it is a common social practice with it's own culture and set of "rules".  There's an informative Wikipedia article about mate here [link].  When reading the guidebooks and other materials about Argentina, one of the things they always mention is mate and the culture surrounding it.  Much of what they say is true; you see people everywhere, in shops, parks, etc. with their gourds and thermoses and they sell a hundred different varieties of mate in the grocery stores.  Needless to say, it's an cultural experience I was curious to know more about.
I had my first experience with mate with Fede and his friends.  Sean and I tried mate de coca in Peru, but that's a completely different drink, more of a tea, made from cocoa leaves and useful for altitude sickness.  Anyway, after going to the bar Thanksgiving night, we ended up crashing at Jose's apartment.  When we woke up Friday morning after Thanksgiving, Sean had already left to return to the hostel so I stayed and hung out with Fede, Jose, his roommate Noelia and her boyfriend Bruno.  We shared mate and chatted for a while, although I didn't do too much chatting since it's hard for me to follow along in a conversation between native speakers.  It was more interesting for me to participate in the social experience of drinking mate with friends and it's at these moments when I truly enjoy traveling.  One of the museums in Buenos Aires has a collection of mate gourds and related items on exhibit, but you don't get the same type of experience seeing it in a museum, or reading about it in a guidebook, as you do from actually sharing mate with a group of Argentineans.  This alone made my visit to Rosario fantastic; but meeting and spending time with Fede made it simply amazing.  I know I've said it before, but I still find it odd, and often frustrating, that I have to travel to the other side of the world to meet such amazing guys who don't let the fact that I have a partner prevent them from getting to know me, spending time with me, and just enjoying the time that we do have with each other.  It's a very pleasant experience to meet people you connect with, on whatever level, even if it's just for a short period of time.  Why does this rarely happen at home?  After having mate, Fede and I went to the store to buy some vegetables and pasta and he made a really nice lunch for all of us.  I flipped through one of the national gossip magazines while the others went in and out of the kitchen, one cutting veggies, another doing dishes, but each doing their little part to contribute to making the lunch.  Again, it was really interesting just sitting back and being the observer and the lunch itself was excellent so I have to add cook to Fede's long list of talents. 
Michelle: On our last night in Rosario, we were sitting around talking to some of the other travelers and also waiting for Fede to get off work so I could spend a little time with him before we left town the next morning.  Since we were so busy chatting, we didn't get around to eating dinner and by the time Fede left to go home, everything was pretty much closed.  We learned from Manny, another really cool guy working at the hostel, that the bakery next door was open 24 hours and served sandwiches, so we ventured out to see what we could find to eat.  Nothing special about the sandwiches, but it was really fascinating taking to the girl who worked there.  Michelle was an American (by citizenship) girl in her early 20's, born in the Bronx to a Chinese mother and Argentinean father.  Although she was born in the States, she grew up and spent most of her life in Argentina.  She obviously doesn't run into other Americans too often so was really eager to talk to us.  Her English was quite good (she speaks English to her mother), but Spanish was clearly her stronger language.  She also had a peculiar accent that almost sounded like she was from New York.  It was quite interesting to hear of the discrimination she often faced, both in the States and in Argentina.  In the States, she was often teased as a child because she doesn't look like everyone else; here in Argentina, she has a hard time because of her American name, Michelle.  Even without her mentioning it, people automatically assume that she's from the States because of her name so, as with us, they assume she has money.  Rightly so, she gets even more upset with such assumptions than I do because, as she pointed out, here she is working the night shift in a damn bakery; what they hell makes anyone think she has any money.  She lives with her cousin in a not-so-nice part of town but is saving up to get her own place in a nicer area; a place she was very excited about because the already reasonable rent also included utilities.  What was really interesting to learn about from Michelle was the different classes of poor people in Argentina.  She was not shy or embarrassed about her status of being poor, but was very firm in stressing the difference between her and the other class of poor people.  In Argentina, as in most countries including America, you have the working poor, which are those hardworking, honest people who are just trying to get by given the circumstances they find themselves in.  And then you have the poor who make their living by stealing and robbing, like the ones who target tourists, and justify such actions because they are poor and they assume the people they steal from can afford to have a little less.  While careful not to over-generalize, Michelle described how you can tell which class of poor people you're dealing with just by how they dress.  The "bad" poor people tend to wear jerseys and similar sports gear of the popular futbol team here; kind of like the kids back home into the hip-hop style with their pants hanging off their ass (I know, not all kids with their pants hanging off their ass are bad kids who will steal from you, but as a comparison, you get the idea).  The tourist guide books are always careful to point out the dangers of certain areas and remind you to be careful of petty crime and opportunists.  But they never differentiate or even discuss this class of people Michelle described, who seem to be good, honest people with morals who would never think of robbing someone else, but instead just work hard at a shit job until they can pay for that next thing they need.  It's a nice difference to see and hear about, and knowing that even the locals recognize and acknowledge the difference makes me feel a little better about a culture where petty theft is so rampant.  Even if you have nothing, that is not justification for stealing from those who have a lot, and especially from those who only have a little bit more than you.  Yes, it would have been easier for me to steal and cheat my way to a better life, but instead I worked hard to get to where I am and to also do it with morals and standards.  I'm very glad to be reminded that there are poor people here who really do value honesty and hard work.  It's a wonderful quality for people to have in any country.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: A more aesthetically pleasing city...

Buenos Dias Todos,
We have arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  We arrived this past Monday evening.  We are staying for two weeks.  This will be our longest stint in one location so far, but we felt this would be a good place to pass some time.  We also splurged a little bit and have rented a private studio apartment for the duration.  It works out to about $21 per night for each of us so it isn't ridiculous and isn't that much more than we have paid for a private double room in some of the hostels we have stayed.  It is nice and in between two good neighborhoods- Barrio Norte and Recoleta.
Buenos Aires (BA for short) is the most aesthetically pleasing city we have visited so far.  It has a combination of narrow streets and broad Avenidas.  It has green spaces and plazas sprinkled throughout.  The buildings are a mixture of modern and 18th Century European.  They are, of course, the dilapidated structures also but not nearly as many as the other cities.  Admittedly, we have not been to the poorer neighborhoods yet.  But we also have not been to Palermo which is the parque/park and yuppie district.  We have only been here two and half days so we have only explored Recoleta and now the Centro neighborhoods.  I went to a great museum yesterday- Museum de Belle Artes- which every city seems to have one.  This was by far the best of them.  It had a wide range of art mediums and periods.  Sculptures, paintings, tapestries, porcelain, silver, photography from the 1300's thru modern day.  They had a pretty impressive collection of both Argentine art and the Dutch and French master painters including: Rubens, Rembrandt, Gauguin, Lutrecht, Monet, Manet, and others.  They also had Picassos and a great collection of Rodin sculptures.  My apologies if I misspelled those names.  I am not an art expert.
The first full day we were in town we explored the Recoleta neighborhood and walked through the famous cemetery there.  This is a wealthy district, and the cemetery is where all of the 'old rich' of BA build monuments and mausoleums to themselves.  Impressive and pretty, but also petty, egoistical, and wasteful.  Most of the well to do families have tombs there including the founding fathers, generals, and Eva Duarte's Peron "Evita".
Today, I walked around the Centro district.  It is where most of the pedestrian areas, shopping malls, monuments, and government buildings are located.  Check out the pictures.  Well, I need to exchange the laundry.  I know that Ozell is writing a lengthy message or messages to get got up on his perspectives.  He is including some information that I have left out of my previous posts.
I will write more when I can.  I just wanted to let everyone know we are safe in Buenos Aires. 
Sean  :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rosario, Argentina: The Epilogue

Hello Everybody,
I hope everyone has recovered from their bloated bellies and the 3 days of Thanksgiving leftovers.  Lol-  I don't miss that part of Thanksgiving. 
Well, I just wanted to write a little more about Rosario and the people we met there.  I think Ozell would agree that we have socialized more in this city than most others.  And it is the first time we have met locals who befriended us as much as they did in this city.  I think it is safe to say (but it is Ozell's story to tell if he wants) that he met his first "rewarding date" on this trip, and I was fortunate enough to also meet another fantastic guy.  You probably recall from the last post the basics of these friendships- mainly:  a great guy named Federico worked in our hostel and checked us in, Federico and Ozell hit it off and we spent some free time together with Federico, Federico invited one of his friends to go out to the bar with us, I was too socially inept to realize that this other guy, Jose, was interested in me, we learned the next day that Jose and I were interested in each other, we all hung out again the following night (Thanksgiving) and had a good time, and that is where I ended the story with the last post.
On Saturday evening, we met up with Federico and Jose again.  Ozell and I went to the gay club Gotika the night before and only had a so-so time.  The main highlight was the fact the gay club was built inside an old church (hence the name Gotika as in Gothic) so the layout was pretty cool and blasphemous.  And we all know how much I appreciate blasphemy!  Lol-  I am still waiting to hook up with a guy named Jesus so I can rightfully cry out, "Jesus fuck me!  Jesus fuck me!" like the possessed little girl in "The Exorcist".   Hahahaha  Anyways, Jose and Federico invited us out to this club that had a band from Buenos Aires playing that night.  They both liked the band, and after the band was finished, the club had DJs spinning some pretty damn good electronica dance music.  In fact, it probably was the best music I have heard on our trip.  It was also good to see Ozell dance.  He hasn't danced much in a while.  Even I tend to dance more than him on this trip.  I just don't think he has felt like really dancing until that night.  It was a combination of the music, the company, and some booze I guess.  Ozell is a great dancer, and I really like watching him when he is in his own world.
Well, I was also watching someone else that night- Jose.  My attraction to Jose evolved over the three times we were able to hang out.  At first, I viewed him as Federico's friend and "wingman".  When I first saw him, I was indifferent.  I thought he was physically attractive, but so what?  Then when he and Federico asked Ozell questions about his webpage and the his personal philosophy "Xiante", my interest started to increase.  Now I knew I was dealing with two guys who were what I tend to call "aware".  People interested in what I believe is a more veritable "reality" than what each of us tends to accept as "reality".  Those people are relatively rare, and meeting them starts to grab my attention.  But still, that first night at the bar, I didn't really see Jose as much more than a potential "trick".  Then on Thanksgiving night, after I was able to spend some time alone with him, I started to become more and more attracted to him on a personal level.  I was beginning to catch glimpses of his inner beauty and serenity.  His mannerisms and expressions started to make me smile and feel happy when I was around him. 
I liked watching him at the club on Saturday.  I stayed in the back of the room while the band was playing and watched Federico and Jose get into the music.  It was their band and their show to enjoy.  Ozell was with me too.  It was endearing to watch Jose sway and get drawn into the show.  Then when the electronica music started, we all danced towards the back of the room.  This was a straight club, and although it may be friendly, it is not as free spirited as most clubs in the USA.  Glances were made.  Subtle looks and touches happened.  It was fun to flirt like that.  I think Jose had at least one other suitor also.  Lol  We all went back to Jose's place again.  Ozell and Federico did their thing, and Jose and I retired to his room.  I had a wonderful evening with Jose.  The first night we spent together, he fucked me because once again, my plumbing didn't work after drinking too much.  That was highly unusual given the fact that Jose is mainly a bottom.  He told me that he hadn't topped in a long time, but he really enjoyed it.  There was plenty of evidence in the condom that he did.  lol  This night it was my turn to return the pleasure.  I purposely did not drink a bunch at the club in preparation for the after hours, and it definitely helped.  After a little encouragement, I was able to fulfill my duties and share with Jose a really nice time.  It was also nice to spend an evening in bed next to Jose.  Ozell got to enjoy that the last time, but I had to leave early so Jose could go to his study group.  I didn't mind at all at the time because I wasn't as attracted to Jose then.  It was rewarding to be by him this time though.  It capped a great evening and a very short mini-relationship.  Lol
The last great surprise was one of the best e-mails I have received.  Jose sent one to me the next day in reply to my sophomoric e-mail to him superficially thanking him for the invitation to see the band, the weed, and the good sex.  Jose's e-mail was much more meaningful and heartfelt.  It reinforced that he is far more evolved than his 22 years would indicate.  I sent him an e-mail back that was less superficial than my first, and thanked him.  I also stated that I wish I could have more time with him because he has a lot he could teach me.  I would like to think that he could also learn from me too.
The point is that this trip has been equally weighted between visiting historical and cultural sites and meeting some wonderful people. I think that is the normal for most people.  actually, I think most people probably are more weighted towards the unique people they meet.  but this is the exact opposite for me.  I have always been more drawn to the historical, natural, and cultural sites than the people I meet.  So in some ways, I am considering this trip a surprising success for my continued evolution and improvement on my own weaknesses.  I am happy and grateful.
I am really happy to be sharing this trip with the man I love and who supports me finding love with others.  Ozell is my soul mate.  :)  Thanks for the dinner tonight, Babe.
Cheers to you all,