Sunday, March 29, 2009

WE ARE OKAY- But sickened...

Hey Everyone,

Like I mentioned, neither of us is in a particularly good mood today.  In short, we stayed in and slept Friday night because we arrive so late into town.  Last night, we decided to go out to a club because that is the main reason we stopped in Port Elizabeth which is a city of 1.4 million and the last city we will be in until we reach Durban.  The "Wild Coast" will be towns of 2000 people or less.

The club was fun enough, and by the end Ozell and I were both having some fun and in a good mood.  However, when we left, Ozell was approached by three guys (who were not in the club and just hanging around outside) for a cigarrette.  Ozell, being sick of having to give cigarrettes away to people who don't even ask for them but rather demand them, told the guys "No." forcefully.  Well, we didn't realize at the time, but they were never really interested in a cigarrette.  They were interested in determining whether we were locals which they immediately realized that we were not because of our accents and because we could not speak Xhosa.  They continued to verbally harrass Ozell and me, but Ozell more so.  All we wanted was to go home.  While Ozell was verbally arguing back and forth with them, we were also looking for a taxi.  There were NONE around.  This was a big disappointment for us.  The whole situation could have been avoided if there was just a taxi there.  We tried to extricate ourselves from these three guys.  At this time we were still close to the club.  A little before we were accosted by these guys, Ozell tried to use a phone inside the club to call a taxi from the company whose number we were smart enough to bring.  Again to our amazement, the club did not have any sort of public phone, and they did not want to call a taxi for us.

Now we needed a taxi.  I don't think either of us felt at this point that we were endangered of being physically assaulted.  It just felt like these guys wanted to fuck with us.  That was our mistake and naivety.  I can't explain it or our decision to then walk about a block down from the club (but within site of it) and use the only public phones we saw to call a taxi.  They followed behind us.  When Ozell tried to make a call, one of them started to physically push him.  Another started to get into it with me.  The one guy engaging Ozell started to get even more physical and throw punches.  Ozell and I were still just trying to get out of the situation.  I don't exactly remember the full details of what happened next.  No, i didn't black out.  Everything just happened so fast.  Ozell was fending off punches and strikes from one guy.  I was engaged with the other.  Then I broke away from my guy and tried to grab the guy fucking with Ozell.  Then that guy turned his attention towards me and struck me on the side of the head once.  This at least allowed Ozell to get away from this guy.  I was able to back away also, but now the guys started picking up rocks and throwing them at us.  Actually, I think Ozell got struck by a rock before he was able to get away from the one guy.  I didn't get hit with a rock until we were at least not in arm's length of any of them.  I got struck by one rock in the throat and have a mild bruise and abrasion.  I also caught hit with a rock in the back of my left shoulder when we had turned to start running back to the club.  That has left a cut and bruise.  I was scratched on the side of my face by the one punch which landed on me.  In general, I came away from this with minor injuries.  I may have a couple of small scars depending on how my cuts heal.

Unfortunately, Ozell suffered more severe (although not life or limb threathening) injuries.  In the grand scheme of things, his injuries are also minor, but they will take a longer time to heal and get fixed.  Plus one of his injuries will cost us some money to get fixed.  The most aggressive guy took on Ozell so Ozell suffered more landed punches.  Unfortunately, one of those was up against the side of his head and most likely busted his ear drum.  :(  That will take a couple of weeks to get his hearing back to normal.  And we may need to see a doctor if it does not improve by the time we reach Durban.  But the worst injury was when Ozell took a rock to the mouth.  This chipped one of his front teeth and cut his lip pretty badly.  We got the bleeding to stop when we got home, but the tooth will need fixing.  I think that even though it is chipped badly, it is not down to the nearve or anything so he should not have to fear decay or infection.  But besides his pride in his great smile, there is the comfort issue or having a jagged tooth in your mouth.  We hope to maybe find a dentist in Johannesburg that can fix it.  The problem is that it will require a cap or crown which means that they will have to send a mold away to make the new tooth.  This is most likely delay our travel plans significantly.

And these guys didn't want or take anything.  Never demanded our money or anything else besides the intial cigarrette which was only their foray to determine whether we were local or not.  All they wanted to do was to beat some people up.  Very disgusting.  :(

On top of that, we were able to get away from these guys because the only taxi we saw all night happened to turn the corner right when we were running away.  We were able to get into the taxi and get home, but it was unmetered (we didn't care at the time), and he charged us double what it cost us to get there!  Then, when I actually expressed my disgust to him and declared that he ripped us off, he called me a liar and said that this is why we got beaten up!  What a fucking asshole.  Prick.

So, we are going to be happy to move on out of this city.  Unfortunately, this experience can only feed our disappointment with some of the locals we meet.  It really makes it difficult not to see only the worst in any stranger we meet.


Bye for now,


Plettensburg Bay and Port Elizabeth

Hello Everyone,

This shitty computer just lost everything I typed for this message.  I am in too bad of a mood to retype it so it is just going to be a lost post.

I tried to state a little about the last two towns we were/are in and how we are looking forward to traveling to the "Wild Coast" tomorrow.  As the name of this area implies, it could be a while (until we reach Durban) before we have good internet access again.  However, this will begin a stretch of traveling in which we will hopefully see the parts of Africa that we came to see the most.

I wish this computer didn't lose my message, but it did.  So that will have to be it for posterity.

There wasn't anything special about these two towns.

Last night was an awful night, but I will explain in the next post...


Friday, March 27, 2009

Heading to Port Elizabeth...

Hey Everybody,
Ozell and I left Cape Town a few days ago.  We are using a backpacker's bus service to make our way along the coast up to Durban and then to Johannesburg.  It is called Baz Bus.  It is very similar to a bus service I used when I was in New Zealand.   We have spent the last couple of days in Plettensburg Bay.  This evening we will head to Port Elizabeth for the weekend.  Then we are looking forward to going to the Wild Coast and Sunshine Coast where Xhosas and Zulus still live a more traditional lifestyle.
Will upload pictures as soon as we can.  The internet access still sucks right now.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

South Africa: Come for the food; stay for the wine!

Gastronomical Greetings Everyone,
This is just a short post to let you know the biggest and most pleasant surprise that I have encountered in South Africa so far has been the cost and quality of the food and wine.  The quality is top notch.  Overall, this is the best food and wine I have had on this trip.  Peru had some pretty awesome seafood, and Chile and Argentina had some good wine.  But when you combine South African quality with price, then I have not been to a place on this earth that is any better.  You can get glasses of wine that would cost you $8-$15 for $2.50.  You can get bottles that would cost you in the States $20-$100 for $8-$30.  We have had wine every meal we have had- both at lunch and dinner. 
The food is as equally delicious and cheap.  I have never had as much seafood in my life as I have had the last week.  Nearly every meal I have had for lunch or dinner has been high quality and generous portions of seafood.  I have had some chicken and a veggie burger which have been equally as satisfying.  Some of the examples of meals I have had for between $5-$10 have been:
5 King prawns in lemon butter sauce with mashed potatoes and appropriate garnishes...
A huge filet of Yellow Tail Tuna (grilled) with mixed vegetables...
A huge Kingclip filet with two Queen Prawns with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables...
Prawn and Chorizo Jambalaya with rice and corn-on-the-cob...
Tiger Prawn and Avocado Salad....
And I am a little bit drunk and can't remember the rest.  There were at least another three or four dishes...
Here is a pic of the seaside lunch Ozell and I had in Simon's Town.   He had the Swordfish, and I had the Kingclip with two Queen Prawns and Peri-Peri Sauce....  again, for under $14 with wine.  And this is just typical.  I did not take a picture of this meal because it was special.  Rather, I realized that the consistency and cheapness of our meals was becoming ridiculous and deserved visual recordation...
Father, Mother, Molly, Michael, and Megan... if you like seafood, then you need to come to South Africa.  You can eat the best, or close to it, for as much as a McDonald's combo meal would cost you at home.
Oh and the wine!....  Have a glass with every meal.  It thins the blood and lifts the spirits.  I am almost ready to say that a chilled Chenin/Sauvignon Blanc/Voignier is as good as an afternoon joint.  Well, maybe two glasses.   Hahahaha 

The Indian Ocean: Our first glance!

Hello Everyone.  We hope you are all well.
Yesterday, Ozell and I took a train trip down the eastern side of the Cape peninsula on our way to Simon's Town and what we thought was going to be the tip of the Cape of Good Hope.  We didn't make it down to the tip of the Cape because there were nothing but Con artists operation shuttles from Simon's Town to the tip.  They wanted a pirate's ransom for a 12 km trip.  We were also in a time crunch.  We opted to have a nice leisurely lunch and drink at one of the seaside restaurants in Simon's Town before catching the train back to Cape Town.
Along the train ride, we caught our first glimpse of the Indian Ocean!  This part of the Indian Ocean is called False Bay.  The water is still extremely cold and the seas are choppy due to the high winds.  This pic was taken looking east across False Bay to the mainland on the other side.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens...

Good Evening Everyone,
Two days ago, Ozell and I went to Cape Town's botanical gardens called Kirstenbosch after the first superintendent of the gardens.  The land was bought by one of the Dutch city fathers in the late 1800's to prevent urban development on the back side of Table Mountain.  It is a large area, but only about half or so is open to the public.  They other half is used for conservation and research purposes.  It was a pretty place.  It was also unlike other British colonial botanical gardens that I have seen in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand because the climate is much different.  I enjoyed the place though because it was large, open, and even though it was shaped by the hand of man, it still looked very natural.  I like ordered, manufactured gardens that you may see on palace grounds with plenty of colorful flowers and geometric designs, but I prefer the more natural and subtle gardens.
Anyways, when we get a chance to post more pics we will.  Until then, here is one...

A quality hostel: Cape Town Deco Lodge

Hello Everyone,
Well, we have only stayed in one place in South Africa so far, and it has been a top notch hostel.  The place's name is Cape Town Deco Lodge.  The "Deco" comes from the art deco architectural design of the exterior.  It is run by a great business partnership of Hannas and Robyn.  The attached picture is of our bedroom after we messed it up for 5 days.  I should have taken a picture when we first arrived then you would have been able to see the original presentation of the room.  I think it is safe to say that this hostel is more of a bed and breakfast than a hostel.  At least it should qualify as one.  It has a large porch, a pool, and gardens all interior to a perimeter wall which provides privacy and security.  It is also cheap.  Our private room with double bed is only costing us $18 each a night.  They also have a nicely stocked bar with cheap drinks.
The nice thing is that we have heard the hostels in South Africa are a cut above most of the international community's.  They have a strict rating and review system administered by the government.  So I really hope that we have nothing but pleasant experiences here.
I will try to take some pics of the place before we leave tomorrow.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Africa: First Impressions

Greetings from South Africa!
We've already been here a week now so there's much to write about, but I want to start at the beginning and describe some of my first impressions upon arriving here in Africa. 
We left Brazil last Monday, 16 March.  After arriving at the Sao Paulo airport three and a half hours before our flight, we successfully worked out a problem with our e-tickets and checked in, then got through immigration without issue, even though we didn't have the immigration cards everyone is supposed to turn in upon departure, but which we didn't receive upon entry.  Then we waited in a surprisingly empty airport for our eight and a half hour flight to Johannesburg where we went through the fastest and most hassle free immigration process ever.  They actually did ask for our yellow fever vaccination cards but barely even looked at them upon presentation.  We then had breakfast during our four and a half hour layover before boarding our two hour flight to Cape Town, which took off and arrived on time, landing us in our first African destination at 2:10 p.m. local time.  We are currently nine hours ahead of California time and six hours ahead of East Coast time, which I think puts us in the GMT+1 time zone.
While I have to give South African Airways credit for taking care of the problem we had with our e-tickets and for their flights being on time and on schedule (the first flight actually arrived 25 minutes early), I was not impressed with their planes at all.  We had none of the comforts and amenities one would usually expect on an international flight.  I have more leg room on a Southwest flight from San Diego to San Francisco.  There were no individual monitors on the back of the seats in front of you, just the larger monitors set above the middle row of the plane.  At least two of the television monitors were not working so we had to strain to see the next one up.  The staff was very friendly and the food was decent.  We actually had real silverware as opposed to plastic utensils.
Some of my first impressions of South Africa:
Cars: While I realize they drive on the left side of the road in the UK and figured it would be the same here in South Africa, I have never actually been to the UK or any other country where this is the case so I never had the opportunity to see it for myself.  It's a simple thing, but quite strange upon first seeing it and I still don't think I'm used to it.  When we arrived in Johannesburg, I went outside to have a cigarette and just watched as the cars drove by on the "wrong" side of the road.  Even knowing this is just the way things are in some countries, one of the things I never thought about until we were in our shuttle on the way to the hostel is that, you have to use your left hand to operate the stick shift... and as in most countries outside of the US, most, if not all cars have manual transmissions.  It's hard enough for me to eat with my left hand; I can't imagine using my left hand to operate the stick.  And for someone like me with certain OCD issues, I just cannot accept the dashboard setup and lane stripping here.  They have single broken white lines to separate lanes for traffic in one direction, and also have single broken white lines to separate lanes on two-way streets.  For someone not used to such things, it would be very easy to end up on the wrong side of the road.  I think the US approach of using white stripping to denote one way traffic and yellow stripping to denote two way traffic is much more logical and safer.  I also have to force myself to pay extra careful attention when crossing the street since I'm still not used to traffic coming from the opposite direction. 
Languages: Everyone speaks English in South Africa.  Obviously, I knew this and part of me was looking forward to being able to use English again after five months in South America.  The interesting thing, however, is that there are so many more languages spoken regularly here that English is almost never heard amongst locals speaking to themselves.  In restaurants or in shops, we are greeted in English, we have English menus, but when the staff speaks to each other, it is always in another language.  When you see people on the street conversing, it is rarely in English.  I was expecting to hear a lot of Afrikaans, but that is usually only spoken by white locals.  The Blacks generally speak one of at least five other native languages with Zulu and Xhosa seeming to be most common.  The other funny thing is that being here has reinforced something else about language I knew previously: I have a hard time understanding native English speakers if they do not speak American English and a much easier time understanding people who learn English as a second language.  For example, we were in a restaurant with two Germans from our hostel and were served an interesting, but tasty vegetable with our meal.  We asked the waitress what it was and she said it was called "batanot".  She repeated it several times and we repeated it after her, but still had no clue what it actually was.  She explained that it was similar to a pumpkin, so we figured it was some strange vegetable from the squash family.  It wasn't until the German guy we were having dinner with translated and explained to his girlfriend (whose English was not as good) what it was that I finally understood the waitress was saying "butternut", as in butternut squash.  The German's pronunciation was a hell of a lot closer to the American pronunciation and as soon as he said it, I immediately understood.  We all laughed and I just had to concede, I'm not a native English speaker. 
Cape Town: Since we left the airport in Johannesburg, it's almost like I have to remind myself that I'm in Africa.  Cape Town is very white, very segregated and very European, especially in areas where tourists go.  In restaurants, I am often the only Black person dining, yet most of the staff is Black.  It's the same in the bars and clubs.  Everyone is still very friendly, and I haven't felt unwelcome or like I was treated any differently at any of these places; it's more my personal awareness of and discomfort with the fact that I'm in Africa, yet I'm surrounded by even more white people than I typically am at home in San Diego.  I'll write a separate blog post about this issue because it is one that has been at the forefront of my mind since I arrived in South Africa.  I also want to talk about the difference between the terms Black and Coloured here in Southern Africa. 
Surprisingly Inexpensive: South Africa has been surprisingly cheap compared to other places we've been.  Our hostel is one of the nicest and cheapest we've stayed in and food, even in the most touristy areas, is just ridiculously cheap.  I've had seafood almost everyday because I can have a fish or shrimp dinner in a nice restaurant for $5-7 USD and a nice bottle of South African wine for under $8.  The quality of the food is great, the portions are more than generous and the wine from this country is among the best.  You may be able to find cheaper food in some places in South America, but you will never match the quality for these prices.  We haven't really had to buy anything else so we're not sure how prices of other good compare to other places, but so far, I'm thinking our money will go a long way here. 
That's it for now.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Chicago the "Windy City" may ass: Part II

Okay, let's now look at this picture showing the trees on the opposite side of the street.  They are obviously much taller, but see how they actually bend back towards the ocean?  Our audio guide on the city bus tour said this is because the high winds off the ocean hit the buildings across the street, and then bounce off the buildings.  The winds bouncing off the buildings are still so strong and have not been dissipated that they actually will force these trees to grow towards the ocean.
I have never seen anything like that before in my life.  I have seen plenty of wind blown trees on mountains or along the ocean, but I have never seen wind blown trees as the result of reflected high winds that grow back into the dominant wind direction.
Now that is windy!

Chicago the "Windy City" my ass! Cape Town takes that honor...

Howdy All,
I know that Chicago is suppose to be the "Windy City", and it can definitely be windy there.  However, Cape Town is the windiest city that I call recall visiting.  The five days we have been here have all be windy with pretty large gusts.  Have I experienced higher winds in my life?  Sure, plenty of times.  But have I experienced five days of constant wind of this caliber before?  No, I do not think so.
As visual evidence of this, please look at the pics attached to this post and the following post.  Please note the trees in each picture.  The two pics are taken at the same location just of the opposite sides of the street.  In the pic attached to this post, you can see the trees along the edge of the parking lot and ocean are very stunted in height and are growing nearly parallel to the ground due to the wind coming off the water.
Now let's look at the next post and picture...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A better overall view of Camp Bay and the Twelve Apostles...


Camp Bay: the La Jolla of Cape Town

This is a pic of the ocean boulevard along Camp Bay in Cape Town.  Cape Bay is the 'place to see and be seen' as our tour bus audio guide told us.  It is beautiful.  It is also the wealthy enclave of Cape Town nestled in a small cove on the other side of Lion's Head and Table Mountain. 
Think of it as La Jolla in San Diego but much nicer in my opinion.  It was a great day, and Ozell and I stopped to have a cocktail and some mussels and salmon sashimi at the restaurant on the far right of the pic.
The rock out-croppings along the far right are part of the 12 Apostles which I mentioned in an earlier post.

Cape Town- on a clearer day...

Here is a pic of Cape Town from the base of Table Mountain.  It is closer to the city, and the pic was taken on a clearer day than the previous post...

Just me...

Here's a pic of me riding the city tour bus today.  I am only including it because I look so sexy.  Even I would fuck me...  LOL
Sean  :)

View of Table Mountain...

Hey Everybody,
Ozell and I were out on a tour of the town today.  We took a lot of pictures to record the beauty of this city.  The weather was clearer today also.  Not much smoke and particulates in the air. 
Unfortunately, the way that the internet seems to work in this town is that you pay per Megabyte you upload and download.  For casual internet surfing, this is a reasonable deal compared to paying per the hour which has always been the way that I have done it before.  But when it comes to uploading our pictures or downloading the most recent LOST episode, this method is very expensive.  Therefore, we may not post all of the pics to the blog for a little while.  We hope this changes in the next town we visit.
However, I wanted to share a few of the pics with you to give you a better idea of the city...
Here is Table Mountain- now you can see how it got its name...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cape Town- From the top of Table Mountain...

Hello Everyone,
Our first few days on the African continent have been good ones.  We met our German friend Carsten and his mom who is traveling with him.  He was very, very happy to see Ozell who is a very good friend of his and vice versa.  He says that traveling with his mother has been frustrating at times because she does not speak English and demands that Carsten do immediate translations for her.  Carsten is fluent in a few languages and proficient at a couple of others, but his mind has a hard time switching back and forth between languages in the middle of a conversation.  In fact, when we were with them for dinner last night, he asked us to please try to converse in German.  Our German sucks so he finally had to do a fair amount of translating which I thought he handled pretty well.
We went to the top of Table Mountain yesterday via cable car.  Table Mountain is a UN World Heritage Site and an iconic back drop to this city.  It is very recognizable because it looks like its name suggests- a table top.  It is also a South African national park because it is thought to be one of the oldest mountains in the world- they claim something like 3 times older than the Himalayas and 6 times older than the Rockies.  I know the Rockies were young, but I thought I had read or was told that the Appalachians were the oldest or very old mountains.  They were once higher than the Rockies in their youth, but their rounded hills and lower height has been due to tens of millions of years worth of erosion.  Anyways, Table Mountain is iconic and the view from the top is fantastic!
The ride up the cable car was also neat because floor of the car rotates 360 degrees as you go up or come down.  This allows everyone in the car to see all of the different views.  The floor can rotate because the cars are circular in the horizontal and elliptical in the vertical.  This very rounded shape is for aerodynamic purposes because of the high winds that are often experienced here on the Cape.  In fact, this has been the windiest place we have been on our trip by far.  Even though the weather has been very clear each day, the winds are very gusty and always present. 
At first we didn't know if Cape Town was a polluted city or not.  It is home to 3 million people so it is large enough to have a fair amount of car or industrial pollution, but I do not think that is it.  The skies are pretty clear, but it has been hazy which you could definitely see from the top of the mountain.  However, I think it the haze is due to mainly dirt and smoke.  The landscape is similar to southern California, but even more deserty.  With the high winds, there is a lot of sand and dirt in the air.  Also like California, they had to contend with brush fires the last few days.  In fact, the mountain was closed two days ago because of the fires on the backside.  You can see a localized fire in the pics from the top of Table Mountain attached to this blog.  There has also been a fair amount of smoke in the air.  So even though the air quality has not been the best here, I do not think it is due to car or industrial pollution.
The top of the mountain is allegedly one of the most diverse areas of plant life for the size of the area on earth.  At first, I did not believe that claim since as we were walking around, I thought most of the plants consisted of a handful of types.  Upon closer inspection, however, I did notice much more diversity.  I still don't think I believe the claim, but there were many interesting plants that I had not seen before.  We made a loop walk/hike around the top of the mountain.  Off the back side you can see the "Twelve Apostles" which are faces of a long rock ridge which heads down the cape peninsula.  You could also see multiple towns and bays on either side of the ridge.  We had dinner at one of the bays near Cape Town called Camp Bay.  It was a very wealthy conclave of Cape Town that is ten times nicer than La Jolla in San Diego.  Dinner can be for another post...
We then headed out to the other end of Table Mountain to a spot called McClear's Beacon.  It is a pile of rocks that served as a fire beacon once but mainly was a geodetic survey point for the first English surveyor to survey the Cape.  Unfortunately, we heard the 'high wind warning' siren coming from the cable car station.  We were instructed that you should immediately return to the station if you want the cable car down to the lower station because they would be closing the station due to high winds.  It is possible to hike up and down the mountain, but mainly off the backside far from town.  Ozell and I were not prepared for that type of hike.  Plus, I am not sure what the trail would be like and whether it would have been something Ozell could have managed.  In fact, we took the other leg of the loop trail back to the station, and there were definitely some parts that literally hugged the vertical ridge of the mountain with sheer drop-offs of over 2000 feet.  We did make it back to the station in time to catch the last cable car down. 
Speaking of the high winds, they say the weather on top of the mountain can change in a matter of minutes- not unlike other mountainous areas I have been.  The weather stayed pretty clear until the end, but the winds were fierce the entire time.  We both had jackets with us, but those did little to protect our ears and faces.  It was a good 20 degrees cooler on the top of the mountain also.
But the views of Cape Town were spectacular.  If it were as green as Rio instead of arid, then I would say the spot for this city is as pretty as I have seen.  (I used Rio as an example because they are similar in how mountains rise out of the see.  I have seen other beautiful settings for cities like La Paz, Bolivia were the city fills and lines the gorge carved into a flat plain.)
Check out the pics when we have the chance to upload them.  The one attached will have to suffice for now.

Brazil's COE

Since we've spent so much time in one country, I almost forgot about the Cost of Essentials I listed for previous places we've visited.  I also looked back and realized I didn't include the COE for Uruguay.  So here are the COE's for the last two countries we've visited:
Brazil COE:
Pack of Cigarettes: $1.25
McDonalds Combo Meal: $5.00
Domestic Beer (can) at a bar: $2.00
Domestic Beer (12-pack cans) at the Grocery: $7.00
Brazil can also be a cheap place to eat if you like the local food.  Many restaurants are buffet style and give you a choice of paying a flat fee or per kilo for all you can eat.  It works out best to pay the flat fee if you eat a lot; otherwise, it's smarter to pay per kilo.  Unfortunately, you have to decide how you want to be charged before you eat.  Throughout Brazil, most small restaurants serve the same dishes or meals.  For example, you can get a Prato Executivo almost anywhere, which consists of meat, rice, beans, french fries and salad.  The cost usually ranges from $3-4 depending on the city and neighborhood you're in.  I got sick of it after three months, but I know I will soon grow to miss my File de Frango meal for R$10. 
Uruguay COE:
Pack of Cigarettes: $2.00
McDonalds Combo Meal: $6.00
Liter of Domestic Beer at the Grocery: $1.50
Liter of Imported Beer at the Grocery: $2.00

Yes, I Could Live Here

Hello Everyone!
Now that we've completed our tour of South America, which city would I say is my favorite?  Sean and I have talked about this question every once in a while over the past few months and the answers have been pretty consistent throughout, even with the addition of new cities and towns to our itinerary.  However, since we've now seen all that we will see of South America on this trip, we can now answer the question with more certainty.  After 23 cities in six countries, not including Toronto, it is clear that some cities are definitely better than others, while some cities that aren't necessarily favorites still have things that others don't.  For the most part, ranking them all depends on what you're most interested in and what's most important to you.  One can also love visiting a city or vacationing there, but would not necessarily want to live there.  That has been the case for a few cities on this trip; but for me, I cannot call a city my favorite unless I can actually see myself living there.  Most people who know me know that Berlin is my favorite city in the world, by far, and that has been the case since I first visited Berlin in 2004.  I can still say that none of the cities we've visited on this trip have surpassed Berlin's status in my mind, but one city can at least consider itself in the same league.  This city stands out, for me, above all the others we've now visited on this trip, and even most European cities I've visited.  For this reason, I have decided that São Paulo is my favorite city in South America. 
As you know, São Paulo is one of the largest cities in the world.  Most estimates say it's population is about 11 million within the city and 20 million in it's metro area.  The city has a very international feel and is very diverse, mostly due to the huge diversity among Brazilians, but also because of the international corporations with offices and employees there.  São Paulo is a business center and has a large, very well educated population of professionals.  Of course, like any city, you have people working in retail or food service, but these people work in support of the people who have professional jobs in business, engineering, computers, art, healthcare, etc.  São Paulo has culture.  From the museums like the MASP, one of the best art museums I've even been to, to the many street markets and urban parks, to Japan Town in the Liberdade neighborhood, there is always something to do in the city.  As mentioned in previous posts, São Paulo has an amazing nightlife scene with lots of great clubs and bars and we couldn't even check out half of them.  São Paulo is also relatively safe compared to other cities in South America.  Unlike Rio where one out of four people live in a favella, São Paulo doesn't even have favellas in the city.  I don't know if I ever felt threatened or unsafe.  Sure, there are more risky and dangerous areas and crowded street markets can make me nervous about pickpockets given our experiences here in South America; but unlike other cities in South America, and especially in Brazil, you don't ever have to go to the dangerous areas of the city because everything you need or want to see is located somewhere else.  If not gay-friendly, São Paulo is definitely gay-tolerant.  Even when touring parts of the city outside of the relatively gay area our hotel was located in, there was never an issue with being affectionate on the the subway or guys giving each other a kiss in the restaurant.  Sao Paulo has a large gay community, which is important not just because I like sex so much, but because it's nice to feel like you have a community.  Even the language would not be so difficult for me to learn and pick up if I were to actually live there.  After spending more time in São Paulo than any other city in South America, I can confidently say that it was my favorite.  I would like to go back someday and see more and if circumstances were right, yes, I could actually live in São Paulo.  So if I never find a way to move to Berlin, then São Paulo would be next in line. 
If you had asked me before we started this trip, which city I thought would be my favorite, I might have thought Buenos Aires, or perhaps Rio de Janeiro.  Perhaps because our hopes and ideas about cities are always shaped by what we read and hear from others before we actually see for ourselves.  That's when you realize that everyone is different and again, looking for different things.  There are other cities I would put at the top of the list if I had to rank the places we've been in South America.  Each had a certain quality or atmosphere that I enjoyed, but still lacked something, however minor, that would make it difficult to say the city was my favorite given the other places I've now been.  But since those places did spark something in me and I will miss them, I thought it would be nice to mention them all on the blog so I could always look back and remember.  And years from now, when I'm decided where to go on a future trip to South America, I will have a reference to go by and hopefully be able to return to some of these places. 
Montevideo, Uruguay
Whenever I think of a calm, laid-back, relaxing city, I will always think of Montevideo, the only city we've visited in South America where pedestrians are not mere obstacles and targets for cars but actually have the right of way at crossings.  In Montevideo, cars will stop to let you cross even if you don't have the right of way!  But that's minor on my list of reasons why I like this city.  As the first city with a sexual diversity monument, the first city we saw a gay couple holding hands and making out in public, Montevideo is all about letting each other enjoy life in whatever way they choose.  People are friendly, open minded and always willing to help out.  It's not the largest city, but it has beautiful beaches and nice weather.  They also take their mate seriously and they take it wherever they go.  And I love mate. 
Santiago, Chile
I would definitely have to have a trick room if I lived in Santiago, or at least a hotel room if I ever go back.  Beyond that, Santiago still has the best drag shows of any city in South America, and we've now been to most of the largest cities.  The nightlife is great and relatively cheap.  The city is clean and surrounded by a beautiful backdrop of mountains.  They have really nice urban parks to relax and enjoy a lazy afternoon.  And the city is only 90 minutes away from the Pacific ocean, close enough for a weekend getaway whenever the urge strikes.  The only problem with Santiago is the language. I'm still not sure what happened to the Spanish there, but if I can learn to get by in Portuguese without ever having taken a class or lesson, with a little more time, I'm sure I could get used to Chilean Spanish.
Rosario, Argentina
The best thing about Rosario is the people.  Everyone in the city is friendly, cheerful and laid-back.  I love Argentinean Spanish and their common way of greeting people in Rosario with "Hola Chicos" or "Hola Chicas".  They seem to have a pretty active live music scene and a nice, though somewhat underground, club scene.  Rosario had one of the nicest hostels we've stayed in on the trip and the weather was great, if not a little too hot while we were there.  It helps that I met a really nice guy in Rosario, the only guy I've met on the trip that I actually had a chance to spend time with and get to know personally.  While Sean may complain about his tendency to have more quality dates versus my tendency to have more impersonal sexual encounters, I reminded him recently that the grass is always greener on the other side.  It's unfortunate that Federico and I don't talk anymore; I really enjoyed the time we spent together and would have liked to get to know him even better.  Unfortunately, he was offended by my comments about our experience in Buenos Aires and I was disappointed that he could not see my point.  I guess when you do actually get to know someone, oftentimes you realize you're too different or just don't see eye to eye.  Such problems don't exist in purely sexual encounters, but that doesn't necessarily make random sexual encounters better or more preferable to personal or emotional interations. 
Toronto, Canada
Not part of South America, but Toronto was still the first official stop on our round the world trip and Toronto was a great city to visit.  Toronto really is an international city and the best part is that they all speak English!  We had a great time going out in the city and we also had one of the best couch surfing hosts ever.  Our neighbors to the North have always been very friendly I would love to go back and spend more time there.
So those are my favorites so far, but São Paulo definitely tops them all.  Some of you might notice that Rio, one of the biggest and most well-known cities we've visited wasn't included in my list.  Well, as much as I enjoyed the beach and the weather in Rio, there really isn't too much else to enjoy there.  They have lots of good-looking men and the bars and clubs are fun, but beyond the beach, there isn't much in Rio that I can't find in other cities.  The most unfortunately aspect and biggest reason why I didn't like Rio is that you have to be aware and on guard constantly; petty crime is just rampant.  That gets annoying after a while because you can never really relax, especially in the one place where you really want to, on the beach.  So Rio was a big disappointment, but I still had a good time there.  The only city we visited that I hated and wouldn't recommend anyone wasting their time visiting was Valparaiso, Chile.  You can go back and read my blog post if you don't remember the details of why, but basically, it was a filthy, ugly, cramped town with disgusting beaches and sidewalks covered in dog shit.  Valparaiso also has the distinction of being the only city in South America where I was personally robbed.  Yes, Sean was robbed in other places and I could have easily been robbed in other places as well, but the reality of the experience happening to me in Valparaiso does add a little to my disdain for the city. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Safe in Cape Town, South Africa!

Hello Everyone,
Just a short note to friends and family to say that we arrived safely in Cape Town, South Africa yesterday afternoon.  Our inter-continental flight was from Sao Paulo to Johannesburg, but then we flew to Cape Town on a separate ticket in order to save a travel day and meet up with Carsten our German friend.
Because of the flights, we have had time to update the travel blog with many more entries than you probably care to read.  So please check out the new posts and pictures even if they do not show up on the front page anymore.  I think we have at least 7 new posts which just came online yesterday and today.
More about Africa to come...

Brazilian Clubs

Let's Go Clubbing!
I wanted to take a moment to write a bit about the club scene in Brazil.  We didn't really do a lot of clubbing in other cities here in Brazil other than one club in Salvador, one club in Belo Horizonte and a few bars here and there in other cities.  Rio was the first place we really went out and did a lot of clubbing in Brazil.  Having Chris there was certainly a factor.  It's always nice to go out with a group of friends and Chris is great fun to go out with.  He and I actually went out more together than I did with Sean or Marcin, so I guess you could call us the experts on where to go and what to skip.  Normally, I think I've reached a point in my "old age" where it's hard for clubs to maintain my interest.  I'm more a bar type of guy.  Give me a few beers, some chill music and a nice crowd and I'm happy.  Clubs are great here and there, but I'm finding more and more that I'm getting over the scene.  The fact that I don't do any party drugs is one factor; it's hard to have fun when everyone around you is in a completely different world created by what I like to refer to as the alphabet drugs.  Nevertheless, there's always beer and with a few (or ten) of those, I can have just as much fun in a club as the next guy... as long as the music is good.  If not, the club better have a darkroom if they ever want me to come back. 
Rio de Janiero
Rio has a decent club scene, although certain places seem to be crowded with tourists.  Rio, like most of Brazil, is also more about street parties.  Why spend $15-20 on cover and $3 on beers when you can buy $1.50 beers from street vendors and just party outside?  The clubs are still worth checking out; you just have to be prepared and know what to expect.  We checked out a few of the more popular places while we were there, both before and after Carnival and here is what we observed. 
Le Boy
Our most frequented club in Rio and the only one open every night of the week, Le Boy, located in Copacabana, had decent music and reasonable drink prices.  It was usually R$25 to get in, which is a little more than $10 USD and their drink prices were pretty standard for a club in Brazil: R$5 for a beer, R$12 for a caiparinha.  There is a small bar and lounge area when you first walk in and a small room with a dance floor off to the side on the first floor.  The main dance floor is downstairs and has one of the most extensive laser light systems and the largest disco ball I've ever seen.  They have a small stage fronting the dance floor and we actually had a chance to see a drag show on one of the nights we were there.  It was nothing compared to the shows in Santiago, but there was one performer who really stood out; she really knew how to shake her ass!  Le Boy also has a dark room, which is a small area above the stage with stairs leading to it on either side of the dance floor.  The interesting thing about Le Boy is that you cannot smoke inside until after about 2:00 a.m.  Don't ask me why, but before that time, they make you go out to a small alley way between the club and the building next door, which is a small bar they also own.  Le Boy also has a sauna, accessible from inside the club and they offer discounts on entry for club patrons.  Finally, they have another bar on the same block called Le Girl, which is obviously for Lesbians.  We didn't check that one out for obvious reasons. 
Our most frequented bar in Rio and one of the most popular for just standing on the street and drinking.  This place is located in the heart of Ipanema on the same street that leads to the gay section of the beach.  It's actually a full service restaurant and is busy most nights, but rather than ordering food, most people just stand around drinking on the sidewalk in front of the bar since the small outdoor seating area only has about five tables.  They also have club/dance music playing, which can be heard from a block away.  During busy times, they actually have a keg set up outside and sell beer to people on the street, but if you're smart, you'll just buy your beer from one of the street vendors that linger around and will sell it to you for half of what the bar is charging.  This is a good place to meet people and everyone is pretty friendly.  A lot of guys seem to pre-party here, but on weekday nights, this is just where they hang out for a few drinks.  It can get pretty crowded and one night, there was a street party going on and the whole block was closed off.  Definitely worth checking out on a night you don't want the expense or hassle of a club. 
The Week - Rio
This is Barbie Land.  Sean or I may have mentioned it before, but Barbies is the term most commonly used in Rio to describe what gay guys back home call Muscle Mary's.  And Rio is FULL of them.  The Barbies are usually more attractive than the guys back home, but they are still just pumped up, drugged up bodies with no personality to go along with them, so they end up just taking up too much space with all their muscles.  Their sole purpose in life is to look their best, whether it's hanging on the beach of partying in the club.  The gay section of the beach in Ipanema is full of them, and while some can be nice to look at, it can get a bit annoying after a while.  Sometimes, you just want to be surrounded by normal people, and there is such a thing as "too much".  Anyway, The Week International is a franchise in Brazil and has locations in Rio, São Paulo and Florianopolis.  They are known as the most upscale nightclub with valet parking, international DJ's, extensive VIP areas, etc.  Again, for those of you familiar with San Diego clubs, think On Broadway, but full of cracked out magazine models.  I was expecting much more out of this place since it's known as THE place to be on Saturday nights.  In fact, I don't know if they are open any other night of the week.  The club however, was essentially one big rectangular room with a long bar on each side.  They had VIP sections upstairs overlooking the dance floor, but from what we could see, no one was up there.  They also had a smaller room to one side which looked like a private room judging by the security guard standing outside the door, but you could see inside and no one was in there the entire night.  The music was good, not the best given the international DJ line up, but I could at least dance to it.  The sound system was great, although all the speakers were at the front of the room next to and above the DJ booth, which was set up on a stage above the dance floor.  This was where all the Barbies danced.  The Week also has the most staff of any club I've ever seen.  They have at least four different lines to get in: one for regular entry, one for members or those with passes, one for VIP, and who knows what the other one was for.  It was only R$45 to get in, which is not too bad, and the drinks were only a little more expensive the most places, but not the most expensive club we've been to.  Each entry line had at least five or six people checking ID and giving out cards, which were used to order your drinks and such.  Then there were tons of security, even guards posted at each bathroom, obviously keeping an eye out for drugs, sex, etc.  There was no darkroom, which was a big disappointment for me in the sense that, at least if I can't have fun with the crowd, I can get a little action to keep my entertained. 
Expensive and tiny, yet supposedly one of the most popular.  The first time we tried to check this place out, it was so crowded they had reached capacity and were only letting people in as others left.  There was no point in waiting around given the line, so we ended up at Le Boy.  Chris and I, curious to check out a club where people stood in line waiting to get in, decided to check it out another night and were completely confused as to why anyone would even bother.  For those of you familiar with San Diego bars, this place was smaller than Flicks... much smaller.  There was a small upstairs area overlooking the dance floor and where the cashier was also located, but the ceiling was so low, I was able to touch it with my head just by standing on my tippy toes.  There was enough room upstairs for about 20 people max.  Downstairs, you may be able to squeeze 100 people in, but they wouldn't be able to move around much.  The music sucked, big time.  I don't even know how to describe it other than unrecognizable 80's music that was never even popular.  Perhaps it was just the DJ or the night, but I certainly wouldn't take a chance on it again, especially given the cover charge.  The drinks were also very expensive compared to other places.  I have no idea why this place is popular.  Yes, it's in Ipanema, but there are so many other places to go if you want to have a good time. 
São Paulo
Think of Sao Paulo as the New York or Miami of South America.  This is where the real partying and clubbing begins and ends.  It can be a little expensive going out since most places charge a cover of about R$45, which is about $20 USD, and you usually have to take a taxi to get back and forth from the club.  Drinks are not so bad if you stick to beer, but with any other kind of alcohol, things start to add up pretty quickly.  The Consolacão neighborhood, which is where our hotel was located, is a great central area for clubbing since it's more in the center of the city and the clubs are somewhat spread out, as opposed to all being in the same neighborhood.  I already mentioned two of the clubs in Sao Paulo that Marcin and I checked out when we were there during Carnival, one of which I went back to on my birthday with Sean and Chris.  A Loca and Blue Space are both great clubs and definitely worth checking out. 
BuBu Lounge
The Friday night spot.  We took a taxi to BuBu the first Friday we returned to São Paulo.  The club was pretty large, with a large lounge and sitting area when you first walk in, a main dance floor on the first floor with balconies overlooking it on three sides, plus another decent-sized dance floor in a room upstairs.  The music was pretty good on the night we went and the crowd was pretty nice as well.  Very mixed as far as age, but fewer Barbies, although most people still seemed to be on one party drug or another.  The guys were much friendlier and it was easier to meet people, or at least find someone to dance with or make out with, compared to other clubs.  Sean didn't stay very long the night we went, but Chris and I stayed for a while and had a great time.
The Week - São Paulo
The Saturday night staple.  Since we weren't so impressed with The Week in Rio, we had to check out the São Paulo version since it's supposed to be bigger and better.  São Paulo is the original location and also the largest nightclub in South America.  It was definitely the largest nightclub I've ever been in.  Like it's Rio counterpart, there were at least four different entry lines and dozens of staff just to manage the hoards of people coming in.  The lines were pretty quick though so I have to give them credit for pushing people through.  When you first walk in, there is a huge outdoor area with a couple of bars, seating areas, and even a pool (yes, there was a pool in the nightclub).  This area alone is larger than most nightclubs, but was only the beginning of The Week in São Paulo.  Adjacent to the outdoor area was the main dance floor which was about the size of The Week in Rio.  It had a similar set up with a bar along one side and the DJ stage up front.  They also had VIP areas upstairs overlooking the dance floor, but there seemed to be much more people up there compared to the VIP area in Rio.  On the other side of the club, separated by a long hallway, was another room with a large dance floor, a couple of bars and a small sitting area.  Again, this room was a full club by itself and larger than many clubs I've been to.  The music in both rooms was pretty good most of the time and alternated throughout the night between electronic/house, happy fag pop, and other familiar club beats, depending on which room you were in.  In the outdoor area, there was a section separated from the main area which consisted of a long hall with men's urinals on the exterior wall of the building.  There was also a small corner past the urinals which served as the dark room.  Overall, the club was very well designed and they obviously put a lot of money into it and into maintaining it.  I was impressed and had a good time with Chris.  And, it was the first time in South America that I stayed at a club until closing... at 8:00 a.m.  The crowd obviously started to thin out once the sun started coming up since such a large part of it was outdoors and even if you were indoors, you could see outside how late (or early) it was.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night in São Paulo and a completely different experience from The Week in Rio. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Private Villa in a Tropical Paradise

I must say, I have had an excellent birthday week and certainly one of the most memorable ones ever.  Just being in another country for my birthday was one thing, but spending time with friends in an ocean-front villa and then partying it up in Sao Paulo must be what they call living in style. 
I really have to thank João Paulo, one of the guys Sean and Chris met in Floripa during Carnival, for all the work he did in making the past week so amazing.  He lives in São Paulo so we were able to meet up with him over the weekend after returning from Rio.  After a weekend of clubbing in the city, it was time for a few days of recovery and relaxation.  J.P. convinced us to check out Ihlabela, an island off the coast of Brazil just a few hours east of São Paulo.  He has a friend who owns a series of private villas on the island and his friend offered to let us stay there at a really great rate.  J.P. seems to have lots of connections by the way and everywhere we go, he runs into people he knows.  He's an amazing guy with a great personality, a healthy ego, and great charisma. The whole experience of Ihlabela would have been completely different had we booked something on our own.  It was also nice to sit back and let someone else take care of all the logistics and planning. 
Anyway, the four of us took a bus to São Sebastian Monday afternoon, then took a short ferry ride to the island, a tropical paradise covered in lush vegetation.  The island is stunningly beautiful, with mountains that seem to just rise from the sea, coconut trees and banana plants everywhere you turn, all surrounded by a blue-green ocean that was clear enough to see the clown fish swimming around near the shore.  I've never seen clown fish outside of an aquarium.  The villa was amazing and probably one of the nicest places I've ever stayed.  We had a three-bedroom, three-bath place set on a hill above the ocean.  It had a big kitchen stocked with all the necessary utensils, a huge outdoor deck overlooking the water, and the natural, tropical, landscape provided enough privacy to feel like you were far away from anything and anyone else.
Since it was already late by the time we arrived, we just ate dinner in town the first night at a really nice restaurant right on the water where there was a fireworks show going on when we arrived.  After dinner, we stopped and picked up beers on the way home.  The next day, we went grocery shopping and J.P. made an amazing pasta dinner, which we enjoyed over candlelight on the balcony of our villa overlooking the water.  Add in a couple bottles of wine and some music and we all had a great evening.  J.P. is a great cook and it was so nice of him to make dinner.
We went for a hike on a Wednesday to see a waterfall on a different part of the island.  The hike turned out to be much longer than what we were told: 40-60 minutes turned out to be more like an hour and a half and it's not like we were going that slow or stopping to see too much.  Nevertheless, the hike turned out to be worth it once we reached the waterfall.  There were a few people there when we arrived, but they left soon after and we were then all alone.  Since it was late in the afternoon, we didn't even have to worry about others coming in and invading our space since most people, including us, would prefer to hike back out of the park before nightfall, so we had the place to ourselves for a good hour or so.  The waterfall was small, but quite beautiful, with a series of pools at different levels for wading or swimming and even a natural rock water slide, which everyone except me tried out a few times.  I admit, even though the water in the pool at the base of the slide was not that deep and one could easily stand up in it, I still have a certain fear and hesitancy with such things so I was content waiting at the bottom and watching everyone else bruise their coccyx bones. 
After the hike back, which went much faster since the sun was going down and the mosquitoes were coming out, we stopped and had a couple beers at a little bar/restaurant near the bus stop, then took the bus back to our villa.  J.P cooked dinner again, which we enjoyed to more music while just relaxing and enjoying the view.  We even spent some time that night discussing different styles of music and giving each other dance lessons.  J.P. may have the Latin in his blood, but I think I can confidently say I can keep up with him in the hips department.  It was one of the best nights of our time here in Brazil and it wouldn't have been the same without the company of friends.  The only bad thing about Ihlabela was the mosquitoes.  By far, the worst bites I have had in my life, complete with swelling and oozing and itching beyond belief.  Luckily the bites were limited to my calves and back rather than my forehead.  And this time, I wasn't the only one to be eaten alive.  Chris and Sean had their fair share of bites also, although I think I have the worst reaction to them by far. 
We woke up early on Thursday to leave Ihlabela and make our way back to Sao Paulo.  The funny thing about the day was, I got up at 8:30 a.m., we showered and packed up, cleaned the place, then J.P.'s friend, the owner of the villa, gave us a ride to the ferry terminal.  We took the ferry back to the mainland and had to wait about an hour for the bus back to Sao Paulo.  It wasn't until I got my ticket from the bus driver and looked at the date on it and realized, a full three hours after waking up, "Oh, today is my birthday!"  I guess that's what happens when you get old.  Even though I had thought about it the night before, I had completely forgotten when I woke up in the morning, probably because of the rush to get things together and get moving.   
Once we arrived back in Sao Paulo, we checked back into the same hotel and relaxed for while.  That night, we went out to A Loca, the club that's only a block away from our hotel.  Thursday is supposed to be their busiest night and it was certainly packed with people and had decent music.  I don't quite remember what time I came home but the sun was up.  I definitely had my share of drinks that night and eventually got lost in the darkroom, although dark hallway would be a more accurate description.  I have learned not to even worry about the time when you're out in Brazil because the party never stops.  I had a great night for the 10th anniversary of my 21st birthday and that's all that matters.  I guess I do still know how to party!

The nightlife in Sao Paulo...

Cheers to you All,
We went to Ihla Bela for a few days during the middle of this week, but last weekend and this weekend, we are in Sao Paulo.  This is one of the largest cities in the world and definitely the largest that I have ever been to.  Depending on the source, Sao Paulo has about 20 million people living in its immediate vicinity.
In both Rio and Sao Paulo, Chris and Ozell experienced a greater variety of the nightlife than me so hopefully Ozell will write something about it.  I really only went to two bars/clubs in Sao Paulo: BUBU and A Loca.  I had a good time at BUBU the first Friday night we were in town.  The club is set up pretty well with an uncrowded lounge room where you could sit, talk, listen, get a drink at the bar, and hear some decent house music.  The main floor was a large rectangle with VIP booths on the sides and balconies lining the perimeter at the top.  The music here was electronic dance music, and it was pretty crowded.  You could move your way around, but as is typical, you don't have enough room to really dance.  There was a separate room of pretty good size up on the second floor.  It also had a bar and balcony and mainly played more pop dance music.  The crowd at BUBU was attractive and 20-35 or so.  Almost all the patrons were on drugs.  I had a good enough time there that I would definitely go back.  Maybe next time I will have some drugs.  Lol
The only other place I went to was A Loca which is a small club right down the street from the hotel in which we stayed.  I really liked the place because it did live up to the descriptions other people have given me previously- it draws an alternative crowd.  I wish it was a large club so it could hold more people.  It definitely can get crowded.  But at least the patrons were not muscled, circuit queens.  They were guys and girls with tattoos, piercings, facial hair, and non-trendy aesthetics.  Think of Ocean Beach skater guys or the Haight District homos.  They were my type of people.  I even made out for the first time with a guy who had large plugs in his ears.  It was cool.
Outside the club, there was a Rastafarian hot dog vendor.  I had a few of his hot dogs in the early morning.  By the way, you can get all kind of toppings and sauces on a hot dog down here in South America- especially Argentina and Brazil.  Ketchup, mustard, and relish are probably some of the least common.  Chipotle sauce, mayo, peas, corn, mashed potatoes, potato chips, corn meal, bacon, and many more toppings are far more popular.  People also just party in the streets at night in Brazil.  Usually, specific streets or intersections tend to serve as consistent party spots.  There was one in Ipanema, and the Lapa neighborhood in Rio has large street parties every night of the week.  In Sao Paulo, the street our hotel was on, Rua Frei Caneca, tended to host a little street party as well.  People just buy there beers at the local restaurants or storefronts and then drink them on the sidewalks and streets.  It is a very fun and cheap way to go out for the evening.  The hot dog vendor was in the heart of the street party scene, and I met some friendly and interesting people on the street after leaving A Loca each of the nights that I went.
I also spent a couple of my nights with a great couple in Sao Paulo.  That will be in a blog post soon...

Sao Paulo and Joao Paul...

Greetings All,
Happy St. Patrick's Day to you!  Happy Birthdays to my niece, Katelyn, and my nephew, Patrick.  Katelyn, or "Princess" as she has been known to call herself (you have a rival Trish!) was born on St. Patrick's Day while Patrick's birthday was last week.
I am plugging away at these blog posts so let's keep them coming...
Our friend, Joao Paul, also made a tremendous difference on the quality of our stay in Sao Paulo.  Because of him, we had an inside track on what was good to do on each particular evening.  He also took Ozell and me to a weekly craft fair/farmer's market  held on Saturdays.  The thing about this craft fair / Farmer's Market is that it turns into a gay street party starting about 5pm in the afternoon.  It was very crowded!  Ozell and I have both been curious to know the size of the gay community in a city of 20 million people.  Ozell and I joked that maybe we could live in Sao Paulo because neither of us thinks we could sleep through the entire pool of eligible men.  Actually, I guess was Ozell was more ambitious in his assessment because he phrased his question, "How looooong would it take for me to sleep my way through Sao Paulo?"  Hahahahah-  As big a slut as I am, I did not even consider it a possibility.  If this Farmer's market was any indication of the number of gay guys in Sao Paulo, then it would take a very long time indeed.  Imagine a crowded Ocean Beach Wednesday Farmer's Market.  Now double the number of people there, make them all gay men from age 22 to 40, and then realize that only a very small percentage of the city's gays actually go to this event on any particular weekend.  It is a pretty deep pool to go swimming in...  LOL  We also met a handful of friendly and interesting guys at the market who were friends of Joao Paul.  There was even a Dutch-Dutch-Brazilian triad with whom we talked.  I think Ozell is going to mention something about the number of "triads" (three person relationship) and functionally "open" relationships we came across in our short time in Sao Paulo so I will let him discuss that...
Joao Paul also told us about a club called "Blue Space" and their annual drag queen soccer match.  He had a friend who recently bought an apartment near the club and who was hosting a party to coincide with the soccer match.  After meeting even more friends of Joao Paul's at the party, we all headed down the block and watched drag queens, some of which where actually in heels, play a soccer game in the street against other drag queens and a few gay boys.  Well, I was told it was going to be a soccer game, but it seems that the drag queens can pretty much move the ball any way they see fit.  So in reality, the soccer match was more of a combination of soccer, American football, rugby, handball, and basketball.  It was pretty fun to watch even though the crowd made it difficult to see anything more than the shoulders and heads of the players.  I did see a really good Amy Winehouse playing in the game!  There were also a handful of TV cameras filming the event.  I presume for the local news stations.  They even had surprisingly good quality halftime entertainment.  A local samba band which won top honors in the youth division in this year's Sao Paulo's Carnival played during halftime. 
This is just yet another example of how ridiculous and hypocritical the USA is at times.  First, and many of you heard me say this before, we claim that we "are the Land of the Free and the home of the Brave."  That is a bunch of horseshit.  Our Bill of Rights have been shredded into the trash can with the most harm coming just in the last 8 years and on our watch.  So think how you are going to explain away your roles and responsibility for this travesty to your children and grandchildren.  Oh wait!  I forgot!  I bet not a single person reading this blog post can even name the 10 Bill of Rights!!!  (I don't want to sound too preachy, so I will admit I can only come up with 8 of the 10 off the top of my head).   And those are the rights that we used to have that many people in this world do not.  Now let's move on to the every-day-living freedoms in which Americans think they once again exceed all other nations...  Here is just one, stupid, little law that makes such a quality of life difference- public drinking.  I know there are places in Europe and almost everywhere in South America, you can take your fucking beer with you everywhere.  Inexpensive street parties are possible which means that bars and clubs have competition.  There are more people who are willing to use public transportation to get to and from their nightly activities so drunk driving is reduced.  I can buy a beer from a street vendor and walk down the boulevard on a hot, sunny day and enjoy one of the simple pleasures in life.  And in all of these "less sophisticated and less free" countries, I do not see any evidence of all the bogus reasons given in the States for why public consumption of alcohol needs to be illegal:  fighting, trash/litter, vandalism, etc.  Fighting was the primary reason cited in San Diego's   The only activity I will admit that there appears to be an increase in is public urination.  That is just something you have to expect when you have street parties like they do here in Brazil.  But for the example of just me when I am walking through the city park with my beer, I am most likely not going to urinate in public.  It is when you get hundreds or thousands of people drinking beer after beer that you are going to have large scale public urination.  And hell, it all goes into the local storm drains anyways.   Hahahaha.  That is just one, single, tiny example of how in many cases daily life it much more readily enjoyed and more personal freedoms available outside of the great ole' USA.
So back to the youth samba band and my point there...  another reason why I think many of the world's nations are more developed than our own.  Here is the "Youth Champion Samba Band" from Sao Paulo's Carnival playing at a drag queen soccer match with a bunch of gay guys and lesbians all crowded around.  I do not understand Portuguese, but I doubt the drag queen who was MC'ing the event censored her raunchy language so as not to offend the ears of the children.  So you have a bunch of innocent, impressionable, fragile children performing their samba routine in front of a bunch of homos and drag queens.   I can't believe someone didn't cry out, "Won't someone please think of the children!!!"  And to think that the local news media filmed this corruption of the youth for their nightly newscasts!  Everyone had a good time.  The audience was very appreciative and supportive of the drum school, and the kids got to perform their routine one more time that they spent the last year practicing.  No moral fiber was corroded.  No new homosexuals were converted.  The family unit and society did not collapse.  All that happened was that some fun was had, some feet were dancing, and more than a few smiles were seen.
So thanks to Joao Paul, Ozell and I got to see a little more of Sao Paulo than we might as well not have seen.  And the other nice thing is that Chris and Joao Paul got to spend some time together and enjoy each other's company.  I think both of them are happy about that...
Sorry for my mini rant.  You know I couldn't go a whole trip without a few!!!!

Ihla Bela and Joao Paul...

Hello Everybody!
I am sitting in the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa waiting to board our flight to Cape Town!  It is very nice to be in Africa.  It is my first time here and our second continent of the trip.  I am trying to get caught up on the blog posts that have been pretty sparse the last two weeks.
You may recall that Chris and I met a Brazilian named Joao Paul when we were in Floripa for Carnival.  Joao Paul lives in Sao Paulo, and we met up with him again our first weekend in Sao Paulo after leaving Rio.  Joao Paul is a charming and generous guy.  He is also very popular and seems to have multitudes of connections.  I don't doubt that I will be somewhere in Australia in a few months, and someone will know Joao Paul-  he has the Joe Ro syndrome.  Lol  ;)
We were thinking about going to the coast near Sao Paulo for a couple of days during the week.  After learning of this, Joao Paul told us he knew of a guy who owns a pousada overlooking the straight between the island of Ihla Bela and the mainland.  We decided to take him up on his offer and invitation.  Chris, Ozell, and I joined Joao Paul and traveled to Ihla Bela.  The pousada was very nice and had 3 bedrooms with 3 baths, kitchen, WIFI, and a 60 foot long balcony with dining table and sitting areas.  All of this overlooked the lush vegetated hillsides and the water.  Because of Joao Paul, we did not pay anymore for this fantastic place than we have been typically paying for a dorm bed in a hostel.
The weather was not perfect, but we did hike to a tropical island waterfall, have a great candlelit dinner, drank beer, and had fun watching Ozell and Joao Paul have a mini (black versus Latin) dance off while also trying to teach Chris and I how to move different parts of our body to different rythms.  Lol
Chris and Joao Paul also hit it off and enjoyed each other's company.
The pic attached is from the dinner we had on the balcony which Joao Paul cooked for us...  Check out the other pics in the photo album for Ihla Bela.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Preparing to head to Africa...

Hey Everyone,
Ozell and I are getting ready to fly to South Africa on Monday.  Sorry for the lack of blog posts this past week, but it has been pretty hectic even though we have been relaxing for part of the time on an island to the south of Sao Paulo called Ihla Bela.  We will backfill with some additional blog posts about this past week.
We are eager to move on to the second continent of our trip- Africa.  We do not really have a plan for once we get there.  Neither of us has been very eager to do the homework and research required to pin down the logistics of traveling in Africa.  Once again, we would like to assure all of you that when you are traveling for such an extended period of time, it is not always a vacation and party.  Besides regular life tasks (like completing and paying our income taxes), a lot of time has to be devoted to figuring out where you are staying next and how you are going to get there.  Having said that, of course I would rather be traveling than working.  I do not deny that.
We fly into Johannesburg, South Africa on Monday- actually it will probably be Tuesday when we arrive.  We have not heard very nice things about Johannesburg so we intend to make our way immediately to Cape Town where we hope to meet up with Carsten, our German friend and his mom.  He is traveling through South Africa for his vacation.
We don't know what we will do after that.  We have both decided for various reasons to limit our time in Africa.  Unfortunately, this will require not seeing many of the sites Africa has to offer.  Sacrifices have to be made.  I am really looking forward to going to Africa though.  I am also looking forward to being able to speak English again even though there are many other languages spoken in South Africa.
Our friend, Chris, just left to head back to San Francisco.  It was very satisfying to spend time with him the last three weeks.  Since he moved to San Francisco a couple of years ago, we have not seen each other as nearly as often as when he lived in San Diego.  I really enjoyed my time with him in Floripa, and I know that Ozell really enjoyed his company in Rio and Sao Paulo.  We will miss him and hope he can join us again later in this trip when we are in Australia.  :)
More blog posts to follow...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Back in Sao Paulo!

Hello Everyone,
I just wanted to let everyone know that we arrived safely in Sao Paulo last night.  We went out to a club called BUBU and had a pretty good time even though everyone was drugged out.
More later....
Sean  :)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wisdom Through Reflection

This has been one of the longest weeks of my life; and it has nothing to do with not having internet access.  Actually, it's probably good that I've had a break from the blog, from Facebook, the news and every other distraction the internet provides.  I've had plenty of other issues to deal with and it has been tough.  Nevertheless, I have learned quite a few lessons over the past week and I am very thankful for that.  It has been great spending more time with Chris here in Rio.  He's a great listener and I've needed a good listener more than a few times this week.  Not only are some people just better listeners than others, listening is an art, and Chris is an artist.  If you have someone in your life who possesses the ability to really listen, you are quite fortunate.  If that person happens to also be a friend, keep that friend close and make sure they know how much you value their listening skills.  If shrinks are expensive, then true friendship is priceless. 
The biggest lesson I learned this week, which I guess is more of a reality, is that I'm getting old.  Most people see me as always being laid back and even-tempered; but, while my patience has grown tremendously since my days of getting banned from classes and suspended from school, I'm still quite capable of getting upset and offended.  I just express those emotions differently because it's usually not worth the effort of an elevated response.  Arguing produces few results and anger can lead you to do or say things you'll later regret.  Disappointment seems to be the most common emotion I experience now, especially in my interactions with people and especially this past week.  Even so, I tend to express my disappointment by shutting down or just taking a break, rather than becoming confrontational.  I have also grown more tolerant and less judgmental.  I try to understand others even when it's difficult.  And I rarely take things personal.  Of course, the fact that I rarely find others who are similar in these aspects often leads to more disappointment.
I still get tired of repeating myself or trying to explain myself.  I get frustrated and lose interest in people or things that don't progress or evolve, or if I can no longer see the point in continuing.  That's why I gave up on math, video games and sports.  Why continue to invest more effort into something that offers nothing in return?  Yet, even people who have known me for years come up with these strange ideas and perceptions of who I am, along with their own assumptions about my behavior or motivations.  I don't like having undue expectations placed upon me or having to justify and defend my actions to people who will develop and hold an opinion of me no matter what I say or do.  Once you put the effort into really getting to know me, then you can choose to either accept me for who I am or move on.  But focusing on a romanticized version of how you want me to be and expecting me to turn into that imaginary character is a waste of time and will ultimately end in disappointment, for everyone involved.  I'm not a very complicated person and there are few ways left that I am able, or even willing, to change.  At this point, it's enough for me to simply know who I am and what I want in life.  Besides, we are all different.  Sometimes those differences bring people closer together; sometimes they draw people apart.  It's important to recognize those differences for what they are and not try to ignore them or pretend they don't exist, especially if those differences are what ultimately make you incompatible with someone else. 
I have already spent too much of my life trying to accommodate other people or make other people feel comfortable, often at great expense.  Even if the same gestures are not extended in kind, it would be nice if my actions and sacrifices were at least acknowledged and not taken for granted.  I have a bad history of being used by other people and taking too long to figure it out.  I've learned that my inability to stop giving, even when I feel taken advantage of, is simply a flawed character trait of mine and one of the reasons I have to occasionally force myself to evaluate situations and question what's going on.  I hate selfishness and it bothers me when people I care about exhibit such behavioral traits or have such attitudes.  But, I can be selfish too and my selfishness is usually in response to my feeling threatened, ignored, or from just trying to protect myself from being disappointed. 
I have never claimed to be perfect; I am human.  I have no desire to be perfect because perfection is an impossible goal.  To become more enlightened is all I strive for.  I am content with knowing who I am and accepting who I am, regardless of whether other people know or accept me.  I do not hide who I am, or try to pretend to be someone I'm not.  I'm the most open and honest person I know.  And while some may disagree with my beliefs, my choices, or my actions, I will not change who I am just because someone else thinks doing so would make me a better person.  We all have flaws, issues, and bad habits.  I never want to have the illusion that I am somehow superior to everyone else.  I am Ozell Xianté.  It's as simple as that. 
It's much easier to find faults and flaws in other people, but much harder to look in the mirror and acknowledge your own shortcomings.  Apologizing when you don't know what you're apologizing for, or when you don't even believe your own apology, is counterproductive at best.  If you're unable to recognize your own mistakes, even when they're pointed out to you, then you have a long way to go on the road to humility, responsibility and maturity.  Such a critical handicap will always prevent true happiness and become a barrier to healthy relationships, romantic or otherwise.  Self reflection can be difficult, but it is useful and necessary.  It helps to spend more time with people who actually care enough about you to call you out when you cross boundaries, or when you exhibit too much pride or arrogance.  But if you completely dismiss criticism or advice because you find the person offering such advice to be flawed and you believe one who is flawed cannot be right, then perhaps there is little hope after all.  Just remember, the whore knows a lot about men by virtue of being a whore.
I've become very good at taking insults, being put down and accepting criticism, even when such criticism is not constructive.  I do not shame easily because I realized a long time ago that we all fall short at one point or another.  I've also learned that people tend to attack others, or lash out in general, when they feel threatened or insecure.  It's good to point out when someone has disappointed you or hurt your feelings, but communication is bilateral.  And if a person repeatedly fails to understand how they failed, if communication is constantly obstructed by ego, then perhaps it is best to move on, with confidence and without regret.
As they say, wisdom comes from age and experience.  Despite all the disappointment, I believe this past week has made me a little more wise.  At the very least, I know that sometimes, it takes negative circumstances or unfortunate events to remind you of how fortunate you really are.  Things could always be worse.  It definitely helps to have someone willing to stand by your side and support you, even if doing so requires conceding to others, being unfulfilled, or just getting the short end of the stick.  To love someone is to encourage and support their happiness, even when that happiness is not shared with you.  To be selfless is one of the most noble of all traits, which is why I don't know if I could ever truly express the full extent of my love and appreciation for Sean.
Fiat Lux!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Statue...

Here is a pic of the statue.  Sorry it is from the backside, but the sun was too bright from the front.  We have some pics of the front, but the statue is mainly silhouetted.  Those pics will be posted in the album.  It is the largest art deco statue in the world.  I learned that factoid today.

The amazing view of Rio from the Cristo Redemptor statue...

Ola Everyone,
This afternoon Chris, Marcin, Ozell, and I went to a few points of interest here in Rio.  The highlight was the famous view of Rio from atop the mountain where the statue "Cristo Redemptor" is located.  Unfortunately, I cannot upload the pictures we took from there because the internet connection is very slow here.  You will have to be patient with me and be satisfied with the pic attached to this blog post.
We also had a nice dinner here in Ipanema at a restaurant which actually served pale ales and IPAs.  This made Ozell very happy since it he can count on one hand the number of times he has been able to have a good beer on this trip.
I am feeling a little sick so I am going to cut this short.
Sean  :)

The dancing man at La Boy: Adam...

Hello Everyone,
We are here in Rio, and I wanted to mention that I met a really nice guy named Adam.  We first caught each other's eye at a club called La Boy here in Ipanema/Copacabana.  My friends went to a club called "The Week" on Saturday night, but it was on the other side of town.  I wanted to stay local, and I had a feeling of what to expect at "The Week" because they sponsored the parties in Floripa when Chris and I were there for Carnival.  I felt the club would have a bunch of the "Barbies" and drugged out guys.  I am not opposed to drugs.  I actually enjoy some of them.  But when I am not on them myself, I tend not to like to be surrounded by those who are.  Plus the muscle queens can be unfriendly to someone of my lanky physique.
I went to La Boy.  The crowd was older than the previous time I had been there.  Many of the guys were over 40.  The minority of 20-somethings seem to be dancing and marketing themselves in front of the 40-plus crowd.  I thought I showed up at the Boy Blue Bar in Berlin.  LOL  That was the bar that my friend Heiko and I went to and where the entire clientele was comprised of old men and teenage Romanian boys.   There was a young 20 year old who was very interested in me.  I danced and made out with him, but I always had it in the back of my mind that he might be "working" so I said good night to him after a while.  He was the best kisser that I have ever had.  I will give him that.
This bar does have a "dark room" which is more of a dark platform above the main dance floor.  I walked through there a couple of times, but I never saw anything I liked.  I went back out to the main dance floor and was happy to just dance for a bit.  That is when I saw Adam again.  I decided to move towards his direction and introduce myself.  It was clear that we were interested in each other even though we have a definite language barrier.  After spending the last hour or so together, I wanted to go home since the sun was up.  But we made the promise to meet each other at Ipanema Beach the next day at 3 in the afternoon.
True to his word, Adam was walking down the street towards the beach at the same time as me.  We met a couple of his friends at the beach and hung out for a little bit.  Then we went back to my hotel room for a little fun and privacy.  Afterwards, we headed back out to meet one of his friends from the beach for dinner.  I learned a little Portuguese, and they learned a little English.  We had a nice meal and some good beer for once!!  Then they walked me back to the square near my hotel and where they needed to catch the bus back home.
Adam is a really nice and genuine guy.  I appreciate the fact that he spent over an hour on the bus just to try to meet me at the beach.  I learned that he lived pretty far away.  He and his friend Thiago were very pleasant company at dinner.  And I had a blast with Adam when we were alone.  ;)
It was another great date.  I wish that I could spend more time with him and many of the guys I have met on this trip.  I hope I get to see him again before I leave Rio.  :)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Rio de Janeiro...

Hey Everyone,
Sorry that the posts have been lacking recently, but we have limited internet access again.  We also have two other friends traveling with us at the moment, Chris and Marcin, so we have been busier than we usually are also.  Ozell, Chris, and Marcin have seen a couple of the sites like the top of Sugar Loaf.  I have opted for Ipanema Beach and a nice date with a local guy I met.  Hopefully, Marcin will send us one of the pics he took from atop Sugar Loaf so we can post it to the blog.
We do not have a lot of photos of Rio yet (and I don't know if we will) because it is unwise to carry your camera pretty much anywhere outside of the neighborhood we are in- Ipanema.  I did manage to take my camera out for a few pics of Ipanema Beach  It was later in the afternoon, and the sun sets parallel to the beach so the pics are somewhat "whited-out".  One is attached to this post though...  I have never seen so many people on a beach at one time.
We will go up to Christ-the-Redeemer tomorrow.  I will be sure to take the camera there (even though that is a little risky also) because I have to get some aerial photographs of this beautiful city.
The guys here in Rio are different than the rest of Brazil and the rest of South America.  There are plenty of normal guys, but there are a lot of "Barbies" (a local term) who are these muscled statues.  They stand and posed and are mainly out to be seen.  They tend to only socialize with other "Barbies".  While they are nearly physically flawless, they appear to possess narcissistic character flaws.  There are plenty of other hot guys who are not out only to be seen.  I met one, and we had a great date yesterday.
It has been nice seeing Marcin again.  I had not seen him since we were in Berlin this past Fall.  Unfortunately, he had his shorts and a little bit of money stolen while he was on the beach his first day.  His stuff was right next to him while he was sunbathing on the beach.  That is how aware you have to been at all times in this town (and on this continent).
That is all for now.