Thursday, February 26, 2009

The company of Mr. Chris Laughlin...

Hello Everyone,
We are currently in Rio de Janeiro.  Chris and I arrived today and met up with Ozell and Marcin.  The beach was crowded this afternoon.  I am not sure we would have been able to find Ozell and Marcin even if they were there, but it turns out we must have passed them on the street.
I just wanted to mention that it has been very nice to have my friend Chris meet us on this trip.  I am glad to share some time with him when we were in Florianopolis.  He is intelligent and fun.  And he puts up with my shit.  Which is very nice.  Lol
I also want to give a shout out to Samuel Vega and Brian Walk with whom I have had some very rewarding conversations over the last couple of days.  It was nice to talk to some people, and I appreciate their listening.
Here is a pic of Chris and Rodrigo.  Rodrigo was a very cool guy we met in Floripa.  He is friends with Bruno and also works for Emirate Airlines...  He is handsome and very charming.  I wish he and Bruno were going to be in Sao Paulo when we are there in a week or so...
Cheers for now,

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

There's a Bug's Leg on the Floor

Hey Everyone,
So Marcin and I went out again last night with some local Brazilians.  Marcin met a Brazilian guy named Paulo last year when he was in Ireland so he gave him a call to let him know he was in Brazil.  Paulo actually just returned to Brazil Sunday after spending six months in Europe.  Paulo is a really nice 25-year old guy who obviously has a little bit of money.  Marcin thinks his mother is some type of politician, perhaps a mayor or something.  Anyway, we met Paulo, his boyfriend, Leandro, and a couple of their friends (whose names I can't remember) at the metro station and first went out for a drink at a local restaurant a block away from our hotel.  I say restaurant because they have a full menu, but this place is really more like a gay bar since the vast majority of the patrons are gay and most people just go there to drink.  It's also VERY cruisy.  On the weekend, there are groups of people just standing around drinking outside of the restaurant because the few tables they have are always taken, especially the ones outside.  The crowds spill out into the street and it's impossible to pass by on the sidewalk.  We had caipirinhas and chatted a bit and decided we would go out to a club later in the evening.  Since it's Carnival, most clubs and bars that would normally be closed on Monday were open and packed. 
After a drink at the restaurant, we stopped at the hotel to change, then went to grab a quick bite to eat at McDonalds before heading out to the club.  We went to a place called Blue Space, located in the Barra Funda neighborhood.  Barra Funda is just north of the city center and is more of an industrial area so a lot of clubs are located there.  Luckily, Paulo has a (very nice) car so he drove.  Marcin and I rode with Paulo and Leandro, while the other two guys just took the metro.  We all met up again outside the club.  Blue Space is probably one of the largest clubs I've been to here in Brazil.  Downstairs, they had a large lounge area for chatting or cruising, plus a separate dance area playing electronic and house.  They also had a darkroom downstairs, but we didn't check it out.  Upstairs, they had another large dance floor playing Brazilian music, which I can only describe as a mixture of Reggae and Happy Fag Folk Music.  There was also a large stage set just above the dance floor and another level upstairs that overlooked the dance floor.  This room was the most popular at the beginning of the night and it was quite interesting to see the Brazilians singing and dancing to the music.  It's like every song had a dance or, more often, hand movements that everyone knew.  It was similar to the way a crowd breaks out with the Electric Slide or the Hustle in the sense that everyone seemed to know the moves and the moves were different for every song. 
Paulo and his friends were very cool and fun to hang out with, especially the two who didn't speak English, both of whom actually do drag regularly.  One of the guys, the most fun of the group, showed us a video clip on his cell phone of himself performing.  He's actually really good and I would have loved to see him perform live.  He was also funny because he was queeny without it being forced or exaggerated.  For instance, when we were having a bite to eat before going out, there was something on the floor near our table and he pointed out, in all gay seriousness, to the security guard that there was a bug's leg on the floor.  I'm still not quite sure if it really was a bug's leg (if it was, it would have had to have been a very big bug), but the whole scene was quite hilarious, especially the expression on security guards face.  The security guard, not quite knowing how to take such a comment or what the guy actually wanted him to do about the bug's leg, simply responded that it's hot so there are many bugs that come in from outside. 
At the club, we spent a lot of time upstairs with the Brazilian music, but eventually all headed down to the other dance floor where I haven't enjoyed the music so much since I was in Rosario.  I danced, with my shirt off of course, sweated till I was glistening, and had a great time.  Marcin had a couple of caipirinhas so by the end of the night he was a bit tipsy and certainly had a good time.  The best part was when we were standing near the bar and some old man came up and started grinding up against him and dancing.  I was standing just a foot away and watching and could only smile as Marcin had a "Help Me, Save Me" look on his face.  I let him endure the torture for a minute before I interrupted and politely led the guy away, but the guy was a bit pushy and didn't want to let go of Marcin... these Brazilian guys can be aggressive sometimes.  Later, we went to pay our bills and I didn't get any sort of local discount; they charged me for every beer I had, in addition to the R$17 cover.  Oh well, I guess you can't be lucky all the time.  We then all piled into Paulo's car, all six of us, and he was very nice to drive us back to our hotel.  So even though the club wasn't the cheapest of places, we really saved a lot by not having to take a taxi. 
I'm quite happy we went out a couple times while here so I could experience the nightlife of Sao Paulo.  It's not the most exciting city to visit in general, but the nightlife is the one thing most people talk about when they mention the city and now I can understand why.  It can be expensive, especially if you have to take taxis, but at least the Brazilians know how to party. 

Tourist Prices and Discrimination

I've mentioned a few times that I seem to receive "special" treatment quite often in Brazil, especially when I'm alone, because I am assumed to be Brazilian.  I believe this happens for two reasons.  First, I speak Portuguese whenever I can, not just because the locals rarely speak English, but because I think it's appreciated when you make an effort to speak the local language when traveling.  I've picked up enough Portuguese over the past two months to easily get by ordering food at a restaurant or drinks at a bar, or when buying something in a store.  And while it's not very difficult to order a beer in Portuguese, I think the loudness of the club makes it even more difficult for anyone to realize I'm not Brazilian since the noise helps to mask my accent.  Secondly, and probably more significantly, I am Black and easily blend in with the local population, especially if I speak Portuguese.  Brazil, like the United States, has a significant Black population and Blacks in Brazil look very much like Blacks in the US in the sense that there has obviously been a lot of mixing with other races over the past few hundred years so that Blacks in Brazil and the US look distinct from Blacks in Africa, although there is certainly a lot more variation in skin tones and hair here in Brazil.  One more reason I am often assumed to be Brazilian is because there are very few Blacks in other South American countries and Blacks from the US rarely travel, especially to South America.  Even when I was traveling in Argentina and Chile, many people's first assumption was that I was Brazilian. 
As I mentioned in my previous post, Marcin and I went out to a club Saturday night.  As with many clubs in South America, especially in Brazil, the bartenders do not handle cash.  Either you purchase drink tickets from a cashier which you then exchange for drinks at the bar, or you receive a single sheet or card upon entry on which the bartender records your drinks each time you order.  When you leave, you present your sheet to the cashier to pay your bill.  This club operated with sheets, so Marcin and I both received our own sheet upon arriving at the club.  The interesting thing about these sheets, however, is that there was a space to indicate the number of beers, as well as scratch off amounts to indicate the cost.  The R$25 entrance fee was also indicated on the sheet.  We both ordered our own drink the first time from bartender #1 who only had Brahma beer, which were R$7 each for a can (the most expensive of any club I've been to in Brazil).  After finishing the first beer, I went to bartender #2 to order the second round and put them both on my sheet.  This time, the cost was R$7 each for cans of Bohemia beer, which I like better.  Marcin went to order the third round from the bartender #2 and was again charged R$7 for Brahma cans.  When I noticed, I asked the bartender for Bohemia instead and he explained they were more expensive.  I said whatever and to just charge me the difference, so he added R$1 to my sheet, meaning the Bohemia now cost R$8 per can.  The next time I got a round from bartender #2, he charged me R$8 each for Bohemia cans.  Those were the last beers we bought. 
Now, if you add everything up, Marcin had three beers on his sheet: the first Brahma (R$7) from bartender #1 and two Brahma's from bartender #2 (R$7 each).  This brings his beer tab to R$21.  I bought a total of five beers: the first Brahma (R$7) from bartender #1, the two Bohemias from bartender #2 (R$7 each), the R$1 difference to exchange the Brahma Marcin bought for a Bohemia, then the last two Bohemias for R$8 each.  This brings my beer tab to R$38.  The total number of beers and amounts were all correctly indicated on our respective sheets.  Marcin was in line in front of me for the cashier so he paid his tab first.  Adding in the R$25 entrance fee, his total was R$46, which is what he was charged.  Adds up correctly; no problem.  When it was my turn to pay, the cashier only charged me R$40 for what should have been a R$63 bill (R$38 for beer plus the R$25 entrance fee).  So basically, even though I bought two beers more than Marcin, my total bill was less than his. 
I don't know how or why, but I certainly didn't ask questions.  Perhaps I still paid the same entrance fee and only R$3 for each beer, which would be the normal amount you would pay for beer at any other bar or club.  As I said, the sheet indicates the total number of beers and has a separate area to indicate the amounts.  When we first arrived, I couldn't understand why they would need both ways of recording drinks, but now I wonder if they go by one (number of drinks) for locals and another (scratch off amounts) for tourists, allowing them to charge a lower price for locals without it being obvious to tourists.  Like I said, I usually order my drinks in Portuguese, so there was no way for the bartender to know I wasn't Brazilian until Marcin went up and ordered the next round in English.  From that moment on, we were charged higher prices.  When we went to the cashier, however, if he was going by looks, as people tend to do, then he would have assumed I was Brazilian and just charged me according to the number of drinks I had.  We were told by a couple of Brazilians before we even arrived in the country that many places have two different sets of prices, with some restaurants going so far as to have separate menus.  It's not uncommon for cities and countries to have tourist prices... handicraft markets in most places charge tourists more than locals all the time.  I can't come up with any other explanation and with the frequency of these sorts of experiences, it's hard to believe they're just mistakes or coincidences.  All I know is I paid half the price Marcin did for the beer I bought.  And he's still pissed about it. 
I can't think of any other time in my life when being Black was actually an advantage over being White, so while I don't agree with the practice of charging tourists higher prices, I can't help but laugh at the shocked reaction and complaints of discrimination from White people (Sean and Marcin) when they are discriminated against.  Just remember, discrimination is the other way around in most parts of the world.   

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Hot, Busy Weekend

Marcin and I are staying in a hotel in the Bela Vista neighborhood right off Paulista Ave, the famous street in Sao Paulo that's supposed to be lined with "sky scrapers", but in reality, the buildings are only 15-20 stories high at most... and people actually compare this street to 5th Avenue in New York.  Anyway, it's a great location, one of the safest areas of the city and also one of the gay neighborhoods.  And the cost is the same as what Sean and I paid for dorm beds in the hostel we stayed in last month when we were in Sao Paulo.  I passed by the hotel the last time I was here and made a note to check it out if I returned to the city.  The rooms are quite small, but it's a very nice place otherwise.  It's very clean and they even have a convenience store in the lobby.  The only problem is that they charge for internet access, which is not cheap and only available in the lobby. 
We didn't do much after checking in Thursday night, so after having breakfast/lunch Friday morning, we decided to check out the Sao Paulo Zoo, something I didn't do the last time I was here.  While the zoo was nice and had some decent exhibits, I'm learning that I'm quite spoiled by the World Famous San Diego Zoo.  I also learned that Marcin and I share a love of the same animals, chimps and monkeys, so we spent a lot of time just sitting and watching them.  Otherwise, the zoo has all the other typical animals one would find at a zoo, but there were two interesting things about our time there that stood out.  1) We seemed to be touring the birds of prey exhibit during feeding time so we got to watch vultures, hawks, and other large birds eating, not freshly prepared, sliced, raw meat, but whole rats and birds.  Skin, feathers, legs, heads, blood, guts and all.  It was pretty disgusting.  It would be like the zoo feeding the tigers a fresh gazelle.  I can watch it on Animal Planet, but up close and in person is a little much.  The other interesting thing was the number of bees circling the trash cans and especially the tables and area surrounding the food stands.  As most of you should know by now, there is something strange going on causing bees worldwide to just die off and scientists are baffled as to why.  For as long as I can remember, I haven't seen so many bees, especially bees that were so active and all in one area.  Imagine flies on a garbage can on a hot summer day but replace the flies with bees.  That's how many there were.  We couldn't even sit down to eat because the bees were everywhere and especially attracted to anything sweet like soda.  It looked like one of those 1980's horror movies with all the bees swarming around.  You will all be happy to know, I didn't attempt to kill any of them and didn't even swat at them.  As much as I hate bees, I'm a little concerned about their survival. 
Saturday, we went to Parque Ibirapuera and the Afro-Brazilian Museum.  This is one of the things Sean and I did when we were in Sao Paulo, but the park and museum were so nice, I wanted to take Marcin there as well.  The museum also has so many pieces, you get tired after a couple hours so it's hard to see everything in one visit anyway.  We've mentioned this in some of our previous posts, but again, my only complaint with the museum is the lack of English descriptions and explanations of the various pieces.  I really feel like I would get so much more out of it if I understood Portuguese.  The weather was also not completely cooperative so we had a little drizzle, but it was still a nice enough day to walk around the lakes and paths and watch the kids, families and skaters. 
On Saturday night, we decided to check out one of the local clubs, something Sean and I didn't do when we were in Sao Paulo.  Sean and I were staying in a different area farther away from the bar and club scene so going out would have required taking a taxi which just makes everything that much more expensive.  Anyway, one of the most popular clubs here is called "A Lôca" and is literally a block away and on the same street as our hotel.  That kind of made the decision for us on where to go.  The club wasn't very big, but it was decently crowded.  They were playing electronic music, which I like, but Marcin doesn't, so we only danced for a little while.  We mostly sat, chatted, drank and checked out guys.  The most interesting thing about the night was that I was charged a lower price than Marcin and this time the difference as pretty significant.  Again, I can only assume this happens because I'm assumed to be Brazilian and before we even came to Brazil, people told us that places often have different prices for locals and tourists.  I didn't necessarily believe it at first, but I'm now convinced.  This post is long enough as it is, so I'll explain the whole story in a separate post.  Let's just say, Marcin is still pissed off about the whole thing.
Anyway, after getting to bed pretty late, we slept in Sunday morning and decided to go to Japan Town to check out the street market during the afternoon.  As I mentioned in a previous post, Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan and the Sunday street market is not only popular, it's hard to find a busier place in the whole city on the weekend.  It was a nice day for the street market, although at 93 degrees (34 degrees Celsius), it was hard to walk around for too long.  Marcin, who just arrived a few days ago from below freezing temperatures in Germany, is already complaining about the heat.  I've gotten somewhat used to it over the last few months, but it's still a lot to be walking around in crowds.  We took a lunch break and had Japanese food at a local restaurant.  My chicken teppan yaki was awesome, but Marcin was not too happy with his meal.  Nevertheless, it was nice to have something different considering there isn't much variety in Brazilian food and even I get sick of McDonalds sometimes.  After lunch, we walked to another part of town to check out the Catedral de Sé and Praca Sé.  Unfortunately, a mass was starting right after we walked into the church so we didn't really have a chance to see everything.  We then walked to another part of town and checked out the Sao Bento Monastery, but again, since it's Sunday, we arrived right in the middle of mass and while the chanting by the monks was very peaceful and nice to listen to, I'm not a big fan of Catholic services so we didn't stay.  We just took the subway back to the hotel to relax and listen to music in the pleasant air-conditioned calmness of our room. 
It's been a great weekend.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Look for the "Made in Brazil" label...

Well, as Ozell and I have mentioned, we have found the men in Brazil a little disappointing overall.  Things started to pick up in Belo Horizonte, Ipanema beach in Rio, and now here in Floripa.  :)  There is a wide range of men here of course- everything from ugly to average to almost unnaturally perfect.
I am not one who goes around snapping pics of people who may not wish to have their pics taken.  I would find it creepy if different guys were snapping pictures of me from afar while hiding behind beach umbrellas and without the guts to say hello to me.  Unfortunately, I do not think I have to worry about too many pictures being snapped of me when there are so many more desirable guys around.  Hahahaha
Speaking of some very attractive and nice Brazilian guys, we have been befriended by Jean Paul (who was traveling with a New Yorker who left today) and Bruno and Rodrigo who work for Emirates Airlines and are here on vacation.  All three are originally from Sao Paulo.  Bruno and I have hit it off and are enjoying each other's company.  :)  So I say, "Proudly look for the 'Made in the Brazil' label!  It is assures high quality and style worthy of the international community.  Hahahaha...
In the attached pic, Bruno is on the left (my right), and Jean Paul is on the right side of the pic.
I will post a pic of Rodrigo and Chris in the next post...

Sand dunes and bushes- The sunniest "dark room" in the world...

Hey Everyone,
This pic is of Praia Galheta which is the nude beach around the corner from Praia Mole.  If you cut across the rock outcropping you see in some of the pictures of Praia Mole, this is the view you see.  It is a short walk to get to this beach, but Praia Galheta is pretty long- at least a few kilometers.  I didn't walk all the way to it back in January, but I made the trip down to its far end on this time in Floripa.
Since it is adjacent to the gay beach at Praia Mole and because it is a clothing optional beach, Praia Galheta serves as the sex beach of Floripa.  AND it is not just the gays going there to hook up!  Plenty of straight people were heading there over the last couple of days too, and why not?  With the beautiful sunshine, thick vegetation, sand dunes, and fresh air, everyone should enjoy an outdoor sex session there.  You just have to be prepared for a few observers if you don't hide yourself well.  Chris pointed out that every nude beach also has the "Sentinel" who is always an old, out of shape, and nude man who positions himself at the entrance to the nude beach.  His intent is probably a mixture of wanting to check out the people coming to the beach and also to display himself to as many eyes (willing and unwilling) as possible.  It is often best not to make eye contact with this unapologetic naturalist.  Lol
Praia Galheta, however, is a thing of pristine, undeveloped beauty....

My Polish Boyfriend

Hey Everyone,
I've had a great weekend so far with Marcin, but it just occurred to me that when I mentioned him in my last post, many of you probably had no idea who I was talking about.  So let's see; it all started on a cool winter evening just after New Year's in 2007.  I was originally traveling in East Germany with my best friend Carsten and we decided to go to Prague next.  The day after we arrived, Carsten made plans to meet a guy so I made plans to meet Marcin, someone I had been chatting with online.  Marcin is Polish and was attending university in Germany, but was living in Prague for a year as part of an exchange program through school.  We decided to meet at a church near his flat, then we went to a quiet bar for a drink and to chat.  We ended up going to a club afterward and by the time I returned to the hostel later that evening, I had a "Dear John" note from Carsten saying he had received some bad news and decided to go back home to Germany.  Yeah, he actually took the car and left me in Prague!  I understood what was going on and it really was no big deal since, now that I was traveling alone, I could spend as much time as I wanted with Marcin.  But I still tease Carsten today about leaving me stranded in a foreign country. 
Anyway, Marcin and I had almost a week to get to know each other in Prague before I had to leave to meet Carsten again in Germany.  We had an amazing time together and when we were saying goodbye at the train station, the reality that we live on two different continents finally set in and made for a sad and difficult goodbye.  Nevertheless, we kept in touch and met again in Cancun in February 2008.  Marcin was traveling to Mexico and Guatemala then and since San Diego is right next door to Mexico, I decided to fly down and meet him and enjoy a nice winter vacation.  Sean actually joined me on that trip and the three of us had a good time.  Then I saw Marcin again later the same year when we went to Europe this past September 2008.  Sean and I caught up with Marcin in Berlin, although Sean ended up spending more time with Marcin in Berlin than I did; I had other objectives in my favorite city.  But Marcin and I did take a side trip to Poland for four days while Sean stayed in Berlin.  Poland was awesome and traveling with someone who actually speaks the language allowed me to get so much more out of the trip than I otherwise would have. 
After returning from Europe, Sean and I obviously left to start our around the world trip a few weeks later.  When Marcin decided he wanted to take a month-long trip to South America, we coordinated dates and plans to be able to meet up together here in Brazil.  The main reason why I really wanted to coordinate is because after I finally return home from this trip, who knows how long it will be before I can make it to Europe again, and since the US makes it quite difficult for people from Poland to visit the States, we figured this would be the last chance to see each other for a long while.  So here we are, together in Sao Paulo. 
Marcin is very special to me and we've grown very close over the last two years so I'm very happy to have some one-on-one time with him.  The funny thing we were talking about yesterday is that, for all the time we've spent together, we've never seen where each other lives.  Marcin has never been to the States and while I have been to many cities in Germany, I have never been to Hannover where he lives.  It's kind of fun to always meet and spend time together in foreign cities.  It kind of makes me feel like some kind of James Bond, jet setter with an international love affair... without the money and lavish lifestyle, of course.
So that's the story of my Polish boyfriend.  I'll write more about our time here in Sao Paulo later. 

Bar Bo Deco at Praia Mole...

Here is a pic a little closer to the action.  This is again the "gay section" of the beach which is anchored by Bar Bo Deca.  It is not my "perfect" beachside bar, but it is pretty damn close- at least on weekends like this weekend.  LOL
I'll be uploading more pics tonight...

Now today is what it is suppose to be all about!!

Bom Noite Everyone!
It is now about 10:30pm here on Sunday evening-  Domingo if you prefer.  And it was definitely the "Lord's Day" today!
We woke up to blue skies for the first time since we have been here.  That was a great sign because it is usually cloudy where we are staying and hazing out at the coast until the sun burns through.  Today, there was nothing but the occasional puffy white marshmallow in the sky.  :)
We tried to get out to the beach as quickly as possible, but we had to say goodbye to Larry who is the New Yorker who first befriended us on the beach.  He headed back today.  It was very crowded on the buses heading to the beach so we did not get there until about 2pm.  Larry's Brazilian friend, Jean Paul, stayed behind for an extra day and headed out to the beach with us.  Jean Paul is a friendly guy who seems to charm most everyone he meets.  He has introduced us to a few more people at the party and the beach even though he just met them himself.  He currently lives and works in Washington, D.C.
There are also two other Brazilians who work for Emirate Airlines who have befriended us...  Bruno and Rodrigo.  They have met us out at the beach the last couple of days too.  Both are really nice guys and worldly.  They have been everywhere with their jobs.  And I sort of have a thing going with Bruno which makes me very happy.  More on that later...
Anyways, the beach was absolutely packed today!!  Much more so than when Ozell and I were here for New Years and more so than any of the previous days.  I am having the most fun by far at the beach compared to the parties in the evening.  The have music playing all day.  The temperature has been perfect.  The water has been a little chilly but definitely refreshing.  There have been lots of attractive men and women on the beach (plenty of average looking people too).  There has been an afternoon joint to smoke while gazing out at the water.  And the beers are only R$2.50 each-  that is $1.20!!!  This is the price beers normally go for, but the fact you can get them at the beach on a holiday weekend for this price is fantastic!! 
More posts soon.  I will upload the pics to the Blog as soon as I can.  Here is but a taste...  The pic attached shows Praia Mole which is the beach we go to because it is popular and is the easiest to reach.  The "gay section" is on the right hand side of the picture.  You can see we know how to throw a could party compared to the less popular "straight section" of the beach down the middle.  Even the straight people were trying to set up there stuff in the gay section so they could be part of the scene-  just like what has happened to the "gay" neighborhoods back home.  Lol
Sean  :)  OH!  And I finally have what can be considered my first legitimate tan in probably 8 years!!  LOL

Ah... Capirinhas- the perfect beach drink!

Hello Everyone,
I mentioned the Capirinha drink before.  I am also probably spelling it incorrectly, but some of that is due to the fact I have seen it spelled at least three different ways.  The Capirinha is a refreshing drink consisting of scoops of sugar (yes, I said scoops), crushed limes, and Charrassa (sp) a local Brazilian liquor (vodka can be used also). 
Capirinhas also mysteriously tend to taste much better when the sun is shining, and the sun has been shining in Floripa!!  The first couple of days were not very nice, but since then Praia Mole has basked in the sun.  Most of the time the rest of the island has remained pretty cloudy all day long, but the Bacchanalian Gods must be favoring the gays because the skies clear right above our beach!  It has been hot and sunny the last couple of days, and today looks like the best day yet!!
I have also met a very handsome Brazilian who flies for the Emirates Airlines of the UAE.  He has a French mom and a black father.  I will share more about the beach and the one party we have attended in another future post...
It is time for the beach!!!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Flat Tire and Early Flight to Avoid Carnival

Greetings Everyone:
Happy Carnival Everyone!!  It's Carnival weekend in Brazil and while the parties and parades started last night, I won't be experiencing any of it.  Why?  Because, as I have been trying to explain to people (especially locals) for the past few months, I am not rich and I cannot afford Carnival.  I am on a very limited budget, which is the only way an around the world trip like this is even possible.  During Carnival, every hotel, hostel and apartment raises their prices 300-400%.  So where a dorm bed in a hostel might normally cost $15 per night on a regular night, the price for the same dorm bed during Carnival will average $100 per night.  You won't find a hotel room for less than $400 per night; but, at least that's the same price for up to two people.  Lodging places also require a minimum stay of five to seven nights and most only sell packages for Carnival.  Needless to say, there is no way I could afford to spend that much money for five days and still be able to continue on this trip.  So while I would have loved to have spent Carnival in Salvador or Rio, the cost was just too prohibitive.  To make matters worse, since Carnival is a national holiday, many Brazilians also go on vacation during the long weekend, so anywhere even remotely similar to a vacation spot will raise it's prices and operate with Carnival packages.  This makes it very difficult to be a tourist in the country during Carnival.  Without money to participate in Carnival or go on vacation, locals have the option of just staying home.  Unfortunately for me, I don't exactly have a home and can't just leave the country for a week just to avoid Carnival.  So after searching dozens of cities and locations, the only place I could find that was not charging Carnival prices was Sao Paulo, which is not only a less than exciting and still expensive city, but I just spent eight days in Sao Paulo last month.  The only upside is that I get to spend the entire time here with my "Polish boyfriend" who was arriving in Sao Paulo from Germany at the same time and is also traveling in South America but also trying to avoid paying Carnival prices.  
I hadn't seen Marcin since we parted ways in Berlin last September after spending four days together in Poland so we were both really excited to see each other again.  We made plans on where and how to meet in Sao Paulo before I left Rio.  The plan was for me to take the bus to Sao Paulo and arrive early enough to get to the hotel and check in, then head back out to the airport to meet him at the gate by the time he got through customs and immigration.  I left Rio on Thursday morning at 10:50 AM for what should have been a six-hour bus ride to Sao Paulo, meaning I should have arrived just before 5:00 PM.  Marcin's flight was due to arrive at 6:25 PM so after the customs process, I was expecting him to come out of the secure area around 7:00 PM.  That was the plan. 
Well, two hours into the bus ride, as is customary, we made a rest stop.  Now, I have been on plenty of bus trips over the last few months and I know how this works.  The stop was only supposed to be for 20 minutes, as the driver even said before he opened the door to let people get off the bus.  I have a habit of checking my watch whenever we stop so I know how much time I have in case I want to smoke one last cigarette.  Well, 20 minutes somehow turned into 40; thus, we were already behind schedule.  Once we finally did get back on the road, we were only 15 minutes into the journey when one of the tires blew on the bus.  I kid you not!!  We got a flat tire!!  We heard a loud pop, then a rumbling and felt the bus start to shake and vibrate the same way it would feel if you got a flat in your car.  There were never any safety concerns and I was quite surprised at how well the driver handled the situation, especially since I would think I blow out on a bus would be much more dangerous than in a car just due to the weight and higher center of gravity, but I suppose they design things to handle appropriately because after pulling over to check the tire, the driver was still able to drive half a kilometer to a gas station where there was someone on hand to change the tire.  Add another 30 minutes to the already delayed journey.  When we finally reached the outskirts of Sao Paulo, it was a little after 5:00 PM... rush hour.  Traffic was a crawl for most of the way to the bus station so we didn't pull in until just after 6:00 PM. 
I had already decided after the flat tire there was no way I would have time to go to the hotel and check in first, so upon arriving at the bus station, I immediately went to buy a shuttle ticket to the airport.  The next shuttle didn't leave until 6:35 PM and the trip is usually 40 minutes without traffic.  Marcin was obviously going to get through customs before I arrived so I was just hoping the entire time he would be smart enough to wait for me.  The traffic wasn't so bad going to the airport; I guess everyone was going the opposite direction.  The shuttle arrived about 7:30 and I rushed with my bags to find the International Arrivals.  I had no idea where to go and was only vaguely sure I was even in the right terminal.   It's amazing how many things you overlook when you're rushing, even when you walk right past them, which I realized after checking at the information desk only to learn that Marcin's flight arrived early, at 6:00 PM.  Shit.  By the time I finally got to the International Arrivals, which I had walked right past upon first entering the airport, there was Marcin, sitting patiently waiting with a smile.   
Instant Relief.  I wanted to immediately hug and kiss him, then explain and apologize for being late, but before I had the chance, some old man that was sitting nearby interrupted trying to ask Marcin something.  He only spoke Portuguese and Marcin explained we did not understand.  He asked what language Marcin speaks, to which he replied, "Polish" (in addition to at least four other languages).  The guy continued trying to explain that he was waiting for his daughter to come out and he would introduce them.  Marcin asked, "Does your daughter speak English?"  "No, but I will introduce you."  "Why?"  We were so utterly confused.  We kept asking, why do you want us to wait for your daughter?  Do you need help or information?  But he seemed to want nothing other than to introduce Marcin to his daughter.  We could only assume he was trying to play matchmaker, so we told him we were tired and didn't have time to wait, then politely, but firmly, excused ourselves to leave.  Then I finally had the chance to get my kiss and we were on our way to spend the week together in Sao Paulo, the city with the worst Carnival in Brazil, as one local put it. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

No Regular Internet Access -- Again

Hey Folks.  Just to let everyone know, I'll be without regular internet access for the next week while I'm in Sao Paulo.  The hotel charges R$4.00 per hour so I'm not sure how often I'll be willing to pay that, especially since it only works in the lobby anyway.  I'm getting so spoiled.  I'll try to check email and voicemail at least once a day, but I won't make any promises.  I'm here with Marcin and we're having fun so far.  We'll be here in Sao Paulo until the 25th and then we head to Rio to meet up with Sean and Chris again.  More news and updates to come soon. 

A Spiritual Experience

Hello Everyone,
I just wanted to let everyone know I arrived in Sao Paulo again last night and met up with my friend Marcin who was arriving from Germany.  It was quite the experience getting here, but I'll save that for the next post.  For now, I wanted to share a little bit about my experience being alone for the first time in over four months.  As mentioned, Sean and Chris left for Floripa early Monday morning while I stayed in Rio de Janeiro by myself.  I was able to extend my stay at the same hostel without paying a higher price so luckily I didn't have to move. 
Since we've been traveling, Sean and I haven't spent more than half a day apart so neither of us has really had any alone time, which we both tend to make time for when we're home.  Not that it hasn't been nice having someone to travel with; I can't imagine taking such an amazing trip and seeing so many wonderful things without someone special to share it with, but as I've tried to explain to some of my friends, the logistics of traveling for such a long time can often be stressful and frustrating in general so the added dynamic of a travel partner can be tough sometimes.  There are bad days, bad moods, illness, boredom or just being tired and cranky, and no matter how much you love someone, it's nice to have a break from each other every once in a while, even if it's just for a few days.
That's one of the reasons it was so nice to spend some time alone this week.  I could get up early or sleep in if I wanted.  I could talk to other people or I could go out alone and ignore the world.  I could eat where I wanted and not have to worry about anyone else's tastes or cravings.  Plus, I had plenty of time to think, reflect and relax without feeling guilty about wasting the day away doing nothing.  I forgot until this week that back home, I used to take a couple weekend trips a year by myself for this very reason.  Sometimes, you just need your own space and time to rejuvenate your soul.  It's a spiritual experience and one I find to be very helpful and necessary. 
A couple interesting things about this particular experience were the setting and environment.  As opposed to going to LA, Phoenix, or San Francisco for a weekend getaway, I had three days alone in Rio, the week before Carnival.  The city is already overrun with tourists, and in Ipanema, where I was staying, the only people you saw around were tourists and the locals working to serve them, whether in restaurants and shops or on the beach selling crap.  At times, it actually felt more like Tijuana or Cancun than Brazil.  Nevertheless, I was quite amazed at how different my experience was being alone that it has been with Sean, or with Sean and Chris just a few days before.  We've been in Brazil since Christmas so I realized a while ago that I can blend in a lot easier than Sean can because I'm Black; but I was really surprised at how well I seem to blend in when I'm alone.  And it's not just the occasional random person who approaches me and starts speaking Portuguese, or the person asking me for directions.  Considering all the tourists and my desire to have some alone time, it was absolutely wonderful to be able to blend in and be perceived as a local.  Not only did I escape people trying to sell me stuff, I could also ignore and separate myself from the tourists as well, since like tourists anywhere, they tend to get pretty annoying after a few days.  A few of the experiences traveling alone this week included:
Flyers:  Whenever you walk down main streets, there are always people trying to hand you flyers.  Some of the flyers are for sales at a local store, some are for parties or discounted entry at clubs, some are for services, etc.  Just like cities back home, I assume the people are paid to hand them out; but, just like cities back home, the people are trained to only hand them out to certain people.  When I'm with Sean, I usually just ignore and refuse any flyers people try to stick in my hands, which is constant.  When I was alone this week, not one person tried to hand me a flyer and I walked past plenty of them.  During the busy part of the day, you pass one on every corner, but I could look the people straight in the eye and they still would ignore me.  The funny thing about this whole thing is that the flyers are usually in Portuguese anyway, so if they're targeting tourists, it seems like they would find someone to translate them.
Beach Beer:  On the beach, there are vendors walking around selling everything from beer and snacks to sarongs and jewelry.  The prices for most things have been pretty universal no matter who you buy from.  When I went to the beach alone this week, I was charged a lower price (R$2.50 versus R$3.00) twice, out of the five or six beers I bought.  At first I thought, well maybe this guy is just charging a different price, but I watched him sell to someone else and they paid more. 
Restaurants: When you go out to eat in Brazil, there is usually a 10% service charge added to your bill; this is the tip.  This has been the case almost every time we went out to each in Brazil, regardless of the city.  This week, I went to the same restaurant I had been to previously with Sean and Chris, but when I went alone, they did not add the service charge to my bill... twice.
Bus Station:  When I was at the bus station, I went to buy a water and a Fanta (a type of soda).  When I ordered these (in Portuguese) from the girl at the counter, she asked something that I couldn't understand so I looked at her with a blank face and said I don't understand (in Portuguese).  She repeated, but I still didn't get it, so I just shook my head "no".  Then she got a little attitude and just walked away and grabbed the water and the Fanta and it wasn't until she handed them to me that I figured out what she was trying to ask.  Feeling silly, I just said thank you (in Portuguese) to which she looked at me with an annoyed look and replied, "so you do speak Portuguese".  I couldn't help but smile.  Oh, all she asked is if I wanted orange or grape Fanta. 
These are just a few of the interesting experiences I had being alone in Rio de Janeiro.  I enjoyed myself mostly just being alone, but it was also just nice being left alone, especially considering there were plenty of other tourists in the area for the locals to harass... in more ways than one.  I even made my way to a sauna in the Botafogo area of town Wednesday night and felt completely safe doing so.  I walked to Copacabana, which is where the nearest subway stop is to Ipanema, then took the subway to Botafogo.  On the way to the subway station, on one of the streets I walked down, I actually passed the entrance to a favella, but I never felt threatened or unsafe in any way.  There are favellas on the hills overlooking Ipanema and Copacabana anyway so it's not like you're ever really far away from them.  On the way home, I took a local bus and actually chose the correct one based on the destination on the front window, which is good considering I didn't research the bus options before I left.  No problems, no issues.  One of the guys I met at the sauna even asked how I found the place and why I came there instead of one of the saunas in Ipanema or Copacabana.  I explained that the ones by the beach are full of tourists and they're too expensive (this one was less than half the cost of one I went to in Ipanema).  The guy smiled and nodded in agreement.  Ah, it's nice to feel like a local sometimes. 
Cheers for now,

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Floripa- a little slice of sunshine on the island...

Ola Everyone,
Chris and I made it out to Lagoa Conceicao and Praia Mole today.  Here is a pic.  I will upload more to to the blog soon.
Unfortunately, the weather has been shitty so far.  We did meet another "elder" american who is staying in our hotel with his "rent boy" from Sao Paulo.  The senior is nice enough and gave us a ride from the beach, and the "rent boy" was pretty handsome.  They are staying just a few rooms down.  Lol
More to come,

Monday, February 16, 2009

In Florianopolis, and it is raining... Just like last time.

Hey Everyone,
After a pretty hectic early morning dash to the airport, Chris and I did make our 5 am flight and arrived in Florianopolis this morning.  Of course, the weather has picked up right where it left off.  It is dark, cloudy, and rainy- all day.  :(
Hopefully the weather will turn for the better tomorrow.  I will write more then and I am not feeling well this evening.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Code Blue!!! Three drunk guys with a Swiss Army knife!!!

Hello Everyone,
As Ozell said in his post,  we are in RIO and so is our friend CHRIS!!  Unfortunately, the sun has not come out for even a second while we have been here.  It has been nothing but rain the first two days- sometimes soft rain; sometimes hard rain.
It is really nice to have Chris here.  It does add a whole new dynamic.  We all laughed and had some drinks yesterday afternoon.  Ozell and I get tired of only being able to talk to each other so having Chris here makes conversations fresh again.
We were drinking at a bar here in Ipanema (which is where we are staying).  Chris and I were having Caprihinas which is a local mixed drink of limes, sugar, and a Brazilian liquor.  It is like a mojito except there is not any mint.  They were expensive at this bar, but they were strong.  Chris and I each had three, and Ozell kept up with his four or so beers.  We then returned back to the hostel after picking up some can beer along the way.
As we neared the hostel, Chris put his arm around my shoulder as a nice show of affection.  Unfortunately, his hand moved over the large, raised skin mole I have on my left shoulder and ripped it almost all the way off!!  It started bleeding through my shirt.  Maybe the stain will make me look more Brazilian.  Anyways, when we reached the hostel, I took a look at it.  I was debating whether to try to patch it up and just band-aid it or whether to rip it all the way off.  This was a mole that I had wanted removed for years.  I asked my doctors about it every couple of years or so, and they told me that it was not cancerous and they would not remove it for me for purely aesthetic reasons.
So after consulting my new medical team (We aren't doctors, but we did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night!), we decided to operate!  Paging Dr. Xiante and Dr. Laughlin to surgery.  Paging Dr. Xiante and Dr. Laughlin to surgery.  Hahahaha.  So the three of us huddled in the hostel's bathroom.  Ozell took his Bic lighter and sterilized the blade of his Swiss Army knife.  Chris was my anaesthesiologist since he generously supplied me with the three caprihinas.  Other people in the hostel were wondering what the hell the three of us were doing.  A Norwegian poked his head into the doorway.  I looked away, and then Ozell sliced off the remaining portion of the mole which was still attached to my skin.  I think he did a decent job.  The hole left in my skin was much smaller than the mole was.  I just hope it doesn't grow back.  I hate raised moles!!!!  Flat ones are okay.  
I wish I had a picture of the excised mole, but Ozell flush it down the toilet before I thought of taking a picture of it.  So all I have is the hole left in my skin.  Check it out...

It's Raining on the Boy From Ipanema

Greetings Everyone:
Happy Valentines Day!  I hope you all went out and bought lots of flowers, cards and chocolates to help stimulate the economy and save jobs. 
Anyway, Sean and I finally arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Thursday night.  With a population of over seven million (almost 14 million in the metro area), Rio is the second largest and most famous (i.e. touristy) city in Brazil.  While we both have plans to re-visit a couple of places during our remaining time in Brazil, this is probably the last new city we will visit in Brazil and in South America.  Unfortunately for us, we seem to be experiencing a repeat of Florianopolis as it has been raining here in Rio since we arrived.  We're staying in a hostel in Ipanema (see our location on the itinerary map), which, along with Copacabana, is one of the most popular tourists neighborhoods.  And it certainly feels that way.  Just walking around the neighborhood, you see more tourists than locals and sometimes, it seems like there is more English spoken on the street than Portuguese.  Ipanema also seems to draw a fair amount of gay tourists, although a lot of the ones we've seen have been the stereotypical old, fat, white men... the ones who can afford to vacation in tropical cities, stay in luxury apartments and rent boys for "companionship" during their stay.  Hmm, maybe I need to just break down and find one of these old men to finance the rest of my trip. 
Chris, our friend from back home, arrived on Friday morning and will spend the weekend here with us before he and Sean take off to Floripa on Monday.  I, on the other hand, will stay behind and probably head to Sao Paulo to meet my friend Marcin, who is arriving from Germany next Thursday.  The four of us will all meet up again in Rio after Carnival around the 25th.  Sadly, the weather forecast is predicting rain and/or clouds for much of the next week both here in Rio and in Floripa so who knows what the weather will be like for the official five days of Carnival.  Again, it sucks to be in a city known for its beautiful beaches and not be able to enjoy them due to the rain, but I guess that's the only good thing to come out of not being able to afford to stay in Rio for Carnival.  I would be really pissed if I spent $100 a night for a dorm bed in a hostel, which is what the rates are like for Carnival, only to be stuck indoors for five days and not being able to enjoy the beach.  Sure there are lots of parties and great nightlife and I'm sure Carnival will go on despite the rain, but all those activities and festivities are expensive and I can only party so much and for so long.  The beach is free and I enjoy it just as much, if not more, than any nightclub, so if I were to stay in Rio for Carnival, that's what my plan would be.  The weather in Sao Paulo looks like it will be a little better next week, so perhaps it won't be bad to stay there for Carnival after all.
Anyway, for now it looks like we'll just spend the weekend in Rio drinking and catching up with Chris.  It's so nice to have a friend from back home visit us on this trip.  After four months of just the two of us, additional company is a welcome change.  The extra person adds a new dynamic to conversations and Chris has always been good to talk to about politics and such.  Plus, I like living the kind of lifestyle where I can meet my friends in exotic cities and locations all over the world.  Sean and I also haven't gone out to bars and clubs much lately so it will be nice to check out the scene here in Rio.  They are supposed to be known for the music and I know a lot of international DJ's come from Rio; I'll let you know if they are any good.  It would be nice to do some sight-seeing, like see the Christ the Redeemer statue, but things like that are best appreciated on a clear day, which it doesn't look like we'll have this weekend.  I guess we'll leave that for the return trip after Carnival. 

Friday, February 13, 2009

Check out the previous Blogs for more posts also...

Hey Everyone,
Because of the way a message is date stamped when it goes to our 'outboxes', some of the blog posts which have piled up are actually a little further down the list...   You can find posts for Porto Seguro, Arraial D'juda, and a beachside bar on the second page...

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Note:  This blog post was written more than four days ago.  For some reason it remained stuck in my "outbox" even after the other posts had been sent to the blog.  So do not think that I am unhappy at the moment.  I am in Rio and waiting for my friend Chris to arrive in 14 hours!....
I am getting tired of being unhappy and alone.  If you don't think that I am alone, then you indirectly stumbled upon one of the underlying causes of my unhappiness.  Don't worry, my melancholy passes once I am distracted again.  I was hoping it would just evaporate with time like all other previous periods of sadness I have had.  Those have been pretty rare experiences for me.  I can recall being sad for more than a day when I realized that some of my college roommates went ahead and got a place to live for the next year without me because I was incommunicado in North Carolina working at an internship, when I realized how unnecessarily mean I was to a fellow intern at the University of California Santa Barbara, when I was battling the recreation center staff and Dean at the University of Florida for what I considered unfair treatment, when I was close to losing my tuition assistance for grad school, and when my first roommate in San Diego and I were fighting every day.  That's about it.  I've been pretty content since then. 
I've had reoccurring periods of melancholy for about a year now.  I don't like that my dream trip is being affected by it.  I don't like that I can only talk to walls and myself.  Hence, why I am blogging about it.  For those of you who were recipients of my travel e-mails from my previous trips, you may have thought that I do not share nearly as much as myself and my thoughts on this blog as I did when I wrote my e-mails from Europe and New Zealand.  I think that would be a fair assessment.  I guess I was travelling alone then and had a smaller audience and don't want to expose myself as much to everyone who reads this blog.  The audience for this blog is much larger than my previous travel e-mail distribution list.  I was comfortable being pretty intimate with the people on my e-mail list because they were all good friends or people I knew well.  That isn't quite the same now.
During the last Skype phone call to my parents, my mother asked me if everything was okay.  She said that she felt that I might be down from the last time we had talked, and I presume she still intuitively could sense something was bothering me talking to me then.  You may want to call that Mother's intuition, and considering my mother really knows very little about me as an adult, I guess it could only be intuition.  She has knowledge of very few details of my daily life.  I wasn't particularly sad the day we were most recently talking so I sincerely replied to her inquiry that I was fine.  But after I got off the phone, I was simultaneously heartened and disappointed.  I thought it was nice that a person who does not really know much about me could sense some sort of underlying sadness and then express sincere concern and empathy for me.  I thought it was sad that it was coming from a person who really doesn't know me.  And that is not a criticism of her.  Nobody really knows me.  I tend to keep my thoughts to myself- at least the personal ones.  I spew out my political and religious opinions for all to read and hear even if you don't want to.  Hahahaha.  And those are the topics most people keep to themselves.  I guess I am just ass backwards. Lol
You may be saying to yourself, "Well, Ozell knows you."  That is true and false.  It is true that Ozell knows me probably more than anybody else currently.  He knows lots of factoids about me, my mannerisms and behaviors, my topical opinions, etc.  He is an astute observer.  He doesn't know a lot of the things which cannot be observed.  I don't talk to him either.  Some of my close friends will know a little bit about a particular personal thought or feeling I have because I have discussed it with them.  This happens when I reach a point when I finally want to talk to someone about a topic.  But this is rare and limited.  I do not have a regular "sounding board".  Why don't I talk to Ozell?  Well, that is complicated and personal so I am not going to talk about it with you!  hahahaha
My good friend Chris is meeting us shortly.  I am looking forward to that.  He may look like Vangough when he leaves if I talk his ear off.  Lol  See, I am still capable of laughing...  :)
Again, I feel a little better after writing.  I think I will go downtown today and walk around.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Comments to the Blog

Hey Folks,

After a few emails from people, I finally remembered to check the blog settings for posting comments. When I first set up the blog, I didn't realize there were options for determining who could post comments. Long story short, I changed the settings and anyone should be able to comment now without registering or having a google account, etc. Feel free to comment away to any of our blog posts!!

Also, as Sean mentioned, we'll arrive in Rio tomorrow night and will have regular email access again.

Cheers for now!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New Blog Posts Soon!

Hey Everyone,

I just wanted to say that we will have new blog posts soon. We are staying with a friend in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and he does not have internet access at his home. I am currently in a cafe.

I have blog posts starting to stack up on my lap top, but until i can get some place with WIFI, i cannot post them.

When we get to Rio in a couple of days, i should be able to post them then...



Eighteen to the Third or Fourth

On Friday morning, we arrived in Belo Horizonte from Porto Seguro after an unexpectedly long bus trip.  When we bought the bus tickets, the guy at the counter did not speak English so there was a little bit of confusion over the length of the journey.  I asked how long the bus ride was and we thought he said eight hours.  It wasn't until later that we realized he said it arrived at 08:00 hours.  Since the bus left Porto Seguro at 2pm, the misunderstanding was the difference between an eight-hour bus ride and the 18-hour bus ride it turned out to be, making it the second-longest bus ride we've had so far on this trip.  I think one of the things that ultimately made the ride so long, especially given the distance, was the fact that it made so many stops, not only in small towns to pick up more people, bus breaks so the passengers could get food, smoke, or just stretch their legs.  Nevertheless, we arrived at last Friday morning and were able to check into our hostel early. 
The hostel was pretty bad by the way and I'm glad we only stayed for one night.  It was probably one of the smallest hostels we've stayed in and everything was very cramped and not very clean.  The reception desk doubled as a breakfast counter; the dining room doubled as a library and TV room.  The bathrooms were disgusting and there weren't nearly enough of them for the number of people staying there.  Luckily, we have a private room so we had a little space to ourselves, but we didn't have a private bathroom.   I'm just glad we didn't have to stay in a dorm room because the number of bunks I saw crammed into the small spaces was beyond ridiculous.  I really wonder what goes through people's minds when they decide to open up a hostel.  If anyone is interested in moving to Belo Horizonte and starting a business, the hostels could definitely use some competition. 
Belo Horizonte is the third or fourth largest city in the country, depending on who you ask.  People in Belo say they're the third largest; people in Salvador say they are.  Even our Lonely Planet guidebook lists both Belo and Salvador as the third largest.  You would think they would just acknowledge that the cities are very close in population size and it's difficult to tell.  Nevertheless, while Belo is not a tourist destination like Rio, or a business hub like Sao Paulo, so far, I've encountered more people here who speak English than in any other city we've visited in Brazil.  It's a little unexpected for a city I had never even heard of before we arrived in this country.
Before we arrived, we contacted Fabio, the really nice Brazilian guy we met and hung out with in Florianopolis for New Years.  He lives in Belo and spent most of his life here.  He had invited us to come out if our plans allowed, so we decided to take him up on the offer when we were trying to decide where to stop between Porto Seguro and Rio.  After one night in the dirty hostel, it was great knowing that we had somewhere else to stay.  And while the couch surfing experience in Porto Alegre was pretty bad considering the guys apartment was dirty, had bugs and a shower that shocked you, I was pretty confident that Fabio would not live in such conditions.  He is gay after all, and even the messiest of gay guys tend to wash dishes and pick up after themselves every once in a while.  As suspected, Fabio has a really nice three-bedroom, two bath apartment just north of the city in the Pampuhla area.  The apartment building is only eight years old so it's very modern and updated.  He just moved in a couple months ago and is still getting things settled, which he is taking his time with since he usually stays with a friend during the week where he has his own room, an easier commute to work, and someone else around to keep from getting lonely. 
He doesn't have internet access at his apartment so we've had to rely on a local internet cafe the last few days.  Otherwise, we've just enjoyed ourselves relaxing.  Like most people, Fabio has to work during the day so we spent time with him over the weekend and during the evening after work.  It is definitely nice to have this little break before we arrive to the madness of Rio. 

Belo Horizonte, Brazil...

Hello Everyone,
We are in Belo Horizonte, Brazil and have been the last few days.  Ozell and I needed to work our way south towards Rio to meet up with Chris and Marcin.  We did not know where to go from Porto Seguro.  We had two practical choices: Vitoria and Belo Horizonte.  Vitoria is along the coast, but since our guide book does not even mention it anywhere and since we have not met any other travelers who have passed through that city, we were not keen on going there.  Belo Horizonte was not really on our itinerary either, but it is a large city (3rd or 4th largest of Brazil depending on the source) and also on the way to Rio.  What tipped the scales in favor of BH is the fact that the Brazilian who befriended us in Florianopolis lives here.
We were able to contact Fabio just prior to our arrival, and he was kind enough to offer to let us stay at his place.  After enduring an 18-hour bus ride from Porto Seguro (a bus trip we thought was only going to take 8 hours due to a big communication error when we bought our tickets), we arrived the morning after we told Fabio we were going to arrive.  We were tired and dirty and needed a place to go immediately so we went to the hostel we booked for the previous night.  It was in a reputable area of town, but the hostel was not very nice.  We at least had a room to ourselves, but the rest of the amenities were below average including the bathrooms- again.  Thankfully, the hostel was not at full capacity.  That would have made the two rundown bathrooms completely inadequate.
We did meet up with Fabio that evening and we went to get a bite to eat and then to a bar called Andaluz near our hostel.  I liked the bar.  It did have a disco area too, but I guess most of the locals refer to it as a bar.  I liked it because the disco area was completely separated from the lounge area and the lounge area had sufficient seating.  There was a large glass window and soundproof door which divided the two areas.  This kept the noise level of the lounge area at a level conducive for conversation.  I spent most of the time in the lounge area.  The disco area was too crowded for me.  The music was reasonably good electronica interrupted by periods of crappy pop.
Belo Horizonte has the best looking guys in Brazil so far.  Both Ozell and I agree on that.  Even though most Brazilians we have said that too seemed to be pretty surprised by our opinion.  Of course, we have not been to Rio de Janeiro yet.  The main thing that makes the guys better looking in BH is that a much higher percentage of them are in shape.  I am not saying they are all buff and worked out (which isn't my favorite type anyways).  They are just height and weight proportionate, and more of them are toned instead of soft and fat.  Sean Walstead: Where is Felipe from in Brazil, and where does he think the best looking guys are from? I am just curious.
It appears that being a tall, white guy with blue eyes brings some attention my way.  That is nice.  Of course, I do not do a good job capitalizing on it because I am not very socially astute.  And the attention is often not from people I would find remotely desirable.  At the club, Ozell got pulled away by a couple of androgynous guys with long hair (think a slightly more feminized version of Kenny G- who is already pretty feminine in my opinion) who chatted him up for a while on the dance floor.  I thought to myself I was glad they were not into me, and I wondered how horny Ozell must have been to be into these two guys.  I thought maybe this was his of gradually working his way up to having sex with a woman!  Hahahaha  Well, it turns out that these guys were not into Ozell at all, and Ozell was doing his best to get away from them.  They were, however, very interested in me!  Thankfully, I did not learn of this until we had left the dance floor and went back to the lounge area where Ozell told me about my "fan club".  ;)
Fabio found someone into him that both Ozell and I thought was very handsome and who we noticed first.  When we first mentioned the guy to Fabio, he said he was too short and that he preferred tall guys.  But a few minutes later, I saw them making out on the dance floor. Lol  For those of you who watch LOST on TV, this guy was the spitting image of Richard (the main "Other" who does not age at all) only ten years younger and shorter.
It's not a secret that my age range for guys is younger than Ozell's.  Ozell tends to go for guys who are older than him and very rarely goes for guys younger than 25-27.  I tend to find myself with guys who are younger than me and very rarely go for guys older than 35.  Of course, my age window shifts as I grow older myself, but since guys in their 20's still seem to find me attractive, I do not turn them away because of their immaturity.  Hahahaha.  And that is the key... the young ones come and approach me.  I am shy enough that I do not usually approach any strange guys, but I would be more comfortable approaching a guy who is near my own age than one who is ten years younger.  If they come up to me, then I do not feel like a creepy, old man.  ;)  And, if any of you are rolling your eyes at home in self-righteous indignation, check yourself , because even you women have got in on the action with the entire "Cougar", "Jaguar", and "Puma" phenomenon, and I know the guys out there (gay, straight, married, single, 20's, 60's) would fuck a hard bodied  20 year old in a heartbeat.  LOL  Well, a young guy took an interest in me at the club.  He is 23 and a really nice guy.  I noticed him looking at me on the dance floor, and when I walked by on my way to the lounge, he grabbed my arm and stopped me.  I thought that was pretty ballsy, and when I told him, "Desculpa, Eu nao falo Portuguese." (which is probably incorrect Portuguese anyways especially the way I pronounce it), he replied back in pretty good English.  Eureka!- someone who speaks English!  Now my interest was peaked.  We went to the lounge area and started talking.  That is when I learned that he was 23 (although he looks younger because he is not 'hard bodied but rather thin), works at the modern art museum while studying history at University, lives a neighborhood close to Fabio's place, and has an interest in historical buildings.  We hung out the remaining hour of the night, and I told him I would call him in a day or two.
To break off this story because I am just rambling and killing time since Fabio's place does not have TV or internet access, we have gone out on a couple dates the last couple days.  Yesterday, we walked around the downtown area, and he pointed out different buildings to me and explained their history and what they are being used for now.  I am suppose to meet him today for a little fun time.  :)  So this appears to be another experience that will fit the pattern I wrote about when I was sexually frustrated in Cordoba, Argentina... When I travel, I tend to meet nice, quality guys and enjoy real dates with them sometimes with sex and sometimes without.  I also have been staying in touch with them and intend to do so for quite a while.  And I have come to like this.  Sometimes, I wish that I could be more like Ozell (and our Brazilian host Fabio) and have fun at the local saunas- which they did for nearly four hours the other evening, Lol.  But, I suspect Ozell might say that he wishes he good meet local guys and go on rewarding dates with them.  The grass is always greener on the other side I guess.
Well, I need to get a shower and drink my tea....

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A reminder of an old but still current dream: A beach side bar...

Hey Everyone,
It's not that we haven't seen some beachfront bars on our journey yet.  We have, but they have been very few.  There have been plenty of bars within a block of two of the beach, but anything that is not right on the ocean typically takes on the atmosphere of any other bar.  It's the beachside cantinas which have always held a place in my heart.  Some beach resorts have their tiki huts sitting out oceanside, but they just cater to the guests of the hotel.  In Floripa, Praia Mole had some little bars along its dunes.  These were pleasant enough although many were not much more than a shack to serve some cold refreshments- which I didn't mind since the rest of the beach was undeveloped.  The shacks fit with the character of the beach.  I had such high hopes for The Wave House when it first opened in Mission Beach, San Diego.  I thought I was going to ride my bike each Saturday afternoon to Mission Beach and sip the sunshine away at this beachside bar with gas fire pits, hammocks, and relaxed ambience.  Unfortunately, all those ideas were dashed when I showed up for the first time and they were charging $10 just to get inside.  Charging a cover charge to enter a beachside bar is just so blasphemous and antithetical to my personalized view of what a beachside bar should be that I never went back to the Wave House in the four years since.  I have come across very few beachside bars which match with the romanticized goal I have had since I was in college (in fact, it is even mentioned in the "About the Author" section of my masters thesis)...  To own a beachside bar where the patrons could swap stories, play cards, drink beer, and otherwise gain wisdom from the grizzled, gray haired, weathered man at the end of the bar if you bought him a beer.  (Ideally, the grizzled, gray haired, weathered man at the end of the bar would be me. Lol).
Well, as Ozell and I were walking along the 4km stretch of beach from Arraial D'Ajuda to the ferry, we happened upon a place that reminded me of my dream.  It was just a comfortable wooden deck with some open air, thatched huts for shade, simple but yet comfortable furniture, and some good house/lounge music playing through the speakers.  It was not exactly what I want for my ideal bar, but it was the close enough to trigger the feel good and relaxing vibes that a beach bar should have.  I wish I had some better pictures, but I don't because I wasn't really thinking about taking any.  They are under the Arraial D'Ajuda photo album at the end.
The one attached to this post is just a self-portrait of me being sublimely happy- which is happening on this trip a few times without the assistance of good weed!  Lol
Sean  :)

Arraial D'Ajuda: A little bit of OB in Brazil...

Bom Dia,
While we were in Porto Seguro for a few days, I wanted to check out the small town across the river and down the coast and few kilometers away.  Ozell was up for the trip so we took the ferry across the river and then a bus to the town of Arraial D'Ajuda.  The limited literature we had read about this town described it as a laid back enclave of 8000 people with brightly colored houses and shops on top of a coastal bluff.  If it was in Southern California, it would have been a surfer and hippie type of community.  Hence, why I compare it to OB.  They were your typical shops and local businesses along with artist workshops.  The biggest similarity with OB though was the small cottage style buildings.  This has been dying out in OB long before I even moved there 8 years ago, but you can still see the remnants of tiny houses and surf bungalows scattered throughout the lower areas.  I think Arraial D'Ajuda looks like OB did 50 years ago. 
We walked around the town and took some pictures.  We stumble upon a local festival which seemed to be reason enough for the townspeople to drink beer and eat Brazilian BBQ on a Tuesday afternoon.  We had lunch at a local restaurant along with a couple of cold beers under the shade of a large tree.  This town was also very vegetated and had plenty of old trees- yet another reason I liked it.  For as much as Porto Seguro had turned into a tacky Myrtle Beach, Panama City Beach, or Ocean City (although without the condo towers of those places), Arraial D'Ajuda seems to have hung on as a town of the locals and for the locals.  The town has a few hostels and pousadas for travelers and backpackers, but I would hazard a guess that most of the travelers who choose to stay in this hilltop town have the same carefree, live-and-let-live disposition of the locals.  Those travelers seeking a beach vacation and more comfortable accommodations would most likely stay in the more upscale pousadas along the beachfront at the bottom of the bluff.  There were plenty of those.
After a few hours in the town, we walked down to the coast ourselves and then strolled the 4km stretch of beach back to the ferry to return to Porto Seguro.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Porto Seguro, Brazil: "Old Town" San Diego?

Hey Everyone,
We arrived in Porto Seguro, Brazil last Monday after a 10-hour overnight bus.  Porto Seguro is a small coastal river port town.  However, like our guide book says, the colonial charm of Porto Seguro has given way to the commercialism of cheap T-shirt stands and packaged vacations for the Brazilian middle class.  It does hold the historical significance of being the location of the first Portuguese landfall in Brazil.
The town that was originally founded sat on top of a hill overlooking the ocean and natural reef breakwater a couple hundred yards out.  On our first day in Porto Seguro, I went to take a walk and check out the "Old Town".  They actually refer to it as the "High Town" (Alta Cidade) presumably because it sits above the surrounding landscape.  It is pretty much like "Old Town" San Diego except that it is at least 200 years older.  There are colorful small colonial buildings, three churches (for a church to building ratio of 1:8), a small lighthouse, and the marble stone marker set by the original Portuguese explorers.  It is not quite as commercialized as San Diego's Old Town, but it is close- just on a smaller scale.  It does have pretty enough views and would have been a nice place to live back in the day.
Charming but not anything spectacular.
I liked the next town better...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Elephant Man

Just to show everyone that I'm not exaggerating about the mosquitoes, I thought I would post a current picture of myself, taken about 15 minutes ago.  As I have mentioned before, I have to spray myself down with Off every night at sundown or else wake up with mosquito bites everywhere.  They especially love my ankles, elbows and knees, but my forehead seems to be pretty popular too and they've proven they'll feed on whatever exposed skin they can.  Given my acute sense of smell, I don't particularly care for the smell of Off, so I have abstained from using it a night here and there just to get a break from it, especially if I'm not outside at night or feel like I'm in a reasonably mosquito-free environment.  Unfortunately, every time I skip a night of my Off regimen, I pay for it with new mosquito bites.  Last night, I wasn't really outside after dark and the hotel we're staying in has air conditioning so we can keep the windows closed.  You would think I would be okay without spraying down, but not so. 
This morning I woke up to a score of mosquito bites, mostly concentrated on my forehead, but also on my neck and back.  I just don't get it.  Why my forehead?  Now I look like the Elephant Man and have had to wear a hat all day just to hide my face!  The worst part is the reaction I get from the bites.  As you can see, the bites swell up pretty big and they not only itch, but they hurt, especially in areas where the skin is so taut.  They go away after a couple days, but throughout that time, the itching gets pretty severe and annoying.  For whatever reason, mosquitoes are always more attracted to me than other people I'm around so I'm Sean's natural mosquito repellant.  Sucks for me.  And seeing as my blood is so tasty and delicious compared to Sean's, if either of us ends up with malaria or dengue fever, you know who it will be.   

ID Theft for over $2000!!!!

Hello Everyone,
Today, I tried to get some money out of an ATM.  This was the first time I have tried to get money out since we left Salvador on Monday.  Ozell and I were getting ready to buy bus tickets to Belo Horizonte so we stopped at Banco de Brazil's ATM here in Porto Seguro.  Ozell was able to get money out.  I was not able to get any money after trying two different machines.  Of course, the error messages were in Portuguese so I couldn't tell exactly what they said.  We were able to get our bus tickets because Ozell had enough money.  On the way back to the hotel, I tried two other banks.  The last was an HSBC which is a bank we have used throughout our trip.  I was unsuccessful again- first when I requested $R400 and then when I requested an even more meager $R200.  HSBC's ATMs do state their error messages in English, and it told me my daily limit had been exceeded.  Since I had not attempted to pull any money out since Feb 2nd, I started to get pretty concerned.
When we returned to the hotel, I got online and checked my checking account.  I knew that I should have had about $6000 in it because I just transferred $4000 from my savings account to get me to $6000 and had only taken out about $200 since then.  I was shocked to see that I was down to about $4100!!!!
Besides a debit by the US Department of Education on Feb 3rd which I authorized for my student loan payment, there were at least 7 or more ATM transactions for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th all made in Salvador, Brazil which we left on the 2nd.  I made none of the ATM transactions except for the very first one on the 2nd.  But what was more disturbing is that my card was not stolen.  I have my card.  And my PIN number is in my head.  I have also been pretty damn diligent about covering up when I type in my PIN so I don't know how this happened.  Also, the person withdrawing my funds was able to pull out more than $1000 in a day!  Even if I wanted to pull out that much money, my bank would not let me.  I am supposed to have a daily limit.  I thought I personally told the bank that I wanted my limit to be $400/day when I set up the account, but even if I didn't, the lady from Washington Mutual's Fraud Division told me that all of the MasterCard debit card holders have a maximum daily limit of $500/day.  So again, I do not know how the thief was able to pull this shit off and either did she!!
I am still very frazzled over all of this.  $2000 is a lot of fucking money- except to those Wall Street executives!  Cocksuckers.  The good news is that the lady from the Fraud Division shut down my ATM card so no more activity could take place, filed a claim with the bank, told me that my lost money would be deposited back into my account within 5 business days, is sending me a new card to my San Diego address, and told me that I will need to sign an affidavit for the claim.  Besides the headache of signing an affidavit for the claim when I am traveling through South America, I am much more relieved.  The bank could catch this person if they wanted to.  The dates and times of the transactions are known.  There are cameras at all of the ATMs which must have recorded the thief's face.  But I am sure it is not worth their time for the $2000 lost so this Brazilian scumbag will get away with it all.
So even though I was not physically molested or accosted with this theft, Brazil has beaten all of the other South American countries combined, and has stolen over $2000 from me and Washington Mutual.  Fucking cocksuckers!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Cachoeira da Fumaca- The Smoke Waterfall...

Bom Noite,
Ozell and I were in Lencois about a week ago now, but we haven't written a post about the trek we took when we were there.  The reason Lencois is still an economically viable town today is because it has switched from mining diamonds to servicing eco-tourism.  It is outside the Chapada Diamantina national park.  Visitors can hike, kayak, or climb along with many other activities inside the park and surrounding areas.  There are many tour companies offering guides and equipment.  We decided to take a day trek to Cachoeria da Fumaca with a company affiliated with our hostel.
The trail head was 70 km or so from Lencois.  We rode in a bare bones Land Rover- 50 km on paved roads; then another 20 km on dirt roads.  On the way there, I rode in the back with the guide.  Ozell was kind enough to switch places with me on the return trip.  I couldn't see anything from the back of the Land Rover because of the covering and the height of the seats compared to the windshield.  We picked up a hitch hiker and then dropped him off down the road.  We arrived at the trail head in a little over an hour.
The trail head is near another small town- very small.  I don't remember the name, and it is in the middle of nowhere.  Allegedly, it is some of the most expensive real estate in Bahia.  Our guide said that you could buy a house and property in the Lencois area for $5-$10 per square meter.  Here is this little town, the same would cost you $50 or more.  The reason is that the little village has made a name for itself in the international outdoor enthusiast community.  It draws nature lovers and hippies along with some artists and artisans.  It is remote enough that it is self policing and out of reach of formal law enforcement.  It has a utopian commune vibe to it, and that is what draws people to live there.  And I think it has to be the community itself which draws the people because in my humble opinion Chapada Diamantina is pretty, but not all that spectacular.  I have seen plenty more beautiful natural areas in my opinion.  The region does have its merits of course.  The Smoke Waterfall is one of them.
The trek to Cachoeira da Fumaca (Waterfall of Smoke) was rewarding itself.  It was nice to breathe the clean air.  The hike was pretty rigorous especially the first hour which was spent walking steeply uphill.  At the top, there was a flatter plain contained within two ridge lines.  The vegetation was not unlike native vegetation in San Diego with semi-arid scrub brush and grasses.  One thing that both Ozell and I noticed right away was very little amount of soil at the top.  There was bedrock exposed everywhere.  This explained why this relatively small drainage basin could generate enough water to produce a waterfall.  There was no place for the rain that did fall to seep into the ground.  In fact, we saw many standing pools and trickles of water during our hike.  Most were just enough to keep the sandy soil moist in their vicinity.
After about another half hour of walking, we reached the opposite ridge from the one we ascended.  This is where the only veritable stream in the area flowed straight off a cliff.  And what a cliff it was!  The drop is about 420 meters (1300 feet).  This is the highest waterfall that I have seen live.  What made the view of the waterfall even more interesting is that the only way to get a good view was the lie down at the edge of the 1300 feet drop and stick your head over the precipice.  It was a great view.  And when I looked straight down long enough, it started to play with my head.  Very nice.  Like doing a nitrous hit but without frying the neurons.  Ozell took a look too.
They call it the "Smoke Waterfall" because the drop is so large that the water tends to atomize and form a smoky mist before ever hitting the bottom.  This mist is blown about by the wind and updrafts.  It forms really cool rainbows.  It also forms very neat vortices, stream lines, and turbulent flows that only a fluid dynamics dork like myself would find sublimely appealing.
After eating lunch with the view of the deep valley as our backdrop, we heading over to the other side of the waterfall to catch the view from there.  Then is was time to head back the 1.5 hours on the trail.  It was hot all day and we expended a fair amount of sweat so our treat was to go to another nearby waterfall.  This waterfall was much more typical in scale and had a nice swimmin' hole to along with it.  We cooled off in the dark water there before riding back into Lencois in the later afternoon.
Check out the Fumaca Waterfall picture album for the photos of the hike and waterfall.