Saturday, May 15, 2010

This blog is like an abandoned mattress

"No one loves meeeeee anymore!!!" sobbed the blog.

"No one lovessss meeeeeeeeeee either!!!!" sobbed the old soiled mattress even harder.



Hold tight, peeps. I'll be back.

For now, read this.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Culture Shock/ Things That Make You Go Hmmmm

I just sat down to what seems like the World's Largest Medium Cappuccino. I'm back in my hometown of Media, PA, mooching off the wi-fi at the Coffee Club, and wondering, "was a medium always so large??" It's the largest cappuccino I've seen in a long time. Actually, it's the first time I've had to specify a size in a long time. And I'm enjoying it here in the café-- in a paper cup?? With a paper sleeve? What planet am I on?!

My hometown, Media, PA (whose motto is "Everbody's Hometown!") is a cute-as-a-button town just outside Philadelphia. I was born and raised here, then fled to boarding school at age 14, Oregon at age 18, and the rest of the world after that... I generally come back about once or twice a year for a visit to my dad and niece and the few friends and family members I have left here, and I always have the same conflicting feelings-- I'm from here, and it's my hometown (ahem, and everybody's) and I love it, but I'm also a stranger here in many ways. I run into people on the street that I haven't seen since middle school, and it's just, well, WEIRD!

Anyway, what a funny place to go through my culture shock. I arrived in Philly yesterday, after an uneventful and surprisingly pleasant 15 hour journey from Buenos Aires. Unlike the trip down to Argentina, when I sat next to an obese Texan who spent a solid 6 hours lopping over his seat into mine and dissing my political opinions (which I never told him but he assumed from my appearance), this time I was seated for the first leg next to a beautiful 65 year old tango dancer from Key West, a fellow aries and firey woman who treated me to a couple bottles of wine while we chatted, and then I had the whole row to myself on the second leg of the journey. I didn't sleep more than a couple hours total the whole time, but at least it was relatively pleasant. Seeing my dad waiting for me at the airport brought a genuine smile to my face, and my reunion with my beautiful, almost-12-year-old niece, Natalia, last night made me realize all over again just how lucky I am. Since that moment I've been happily surprised to feel totally comfortable with my return, totally ready for this change, and totally open to whatever happens next. I'm not, basically, suffering, homesick, or wishing things were different. I'm just happy to be here and enjoying the moment!

But let's go backward a second-- When I finally hit American soil in Miami yesterday at 4:30am, for the first time in 15 months, I ended up spending my first moments (aka my 4 hour layover) sitting at an airport cafe drinking coffee and eating Cuban-style homefries. First things I noticed: salt AND pepper on the table (the Argentines think black pepper is too spicy, because they have wimpy palettes, and you rarely if ever see the stuff on the table), napkins that are absorbent (no more wax-coated napkins! woo hoo!), and even more mind-blowing, the waiter brought me a free glass of iced water, without me even asking! I literally almost sent it back, thinking maybe he'd confused me with someone else. But then it hit me-- no, I'm in the US, a magical land in which tap water at a restaurant is free.

Of course it's always strange and wonderful and scary all at the same time, to come back to the United States after a long time away. The infinite varieties of everything at the average grocery store, for example, are nothing short of mesmerizing, and I keep saying "Hola, que tal?" when I enter a place, and "Chau" when I leave. But my culture shock is minimal this time, because this is the 4th time I have come back to the States after a long time away, and I'm starting to figure out how it works. Plus, I know that this was the right time to come back (I can just feel it) and I'm happy to be here, and that certainly helps.

Life is a-okay: I'm well-rested (slept 12 hours last night), well-loved (the look on Natalia's face when I walked into her house to surprise her almost brought me to my knees), and well-nourished (bagels with cream cheese, chicken noodle soup, soft pretzels with spicy mustard, and dad's cooking!).

On tonight's agenda: eating my dad's shrimp scampi for dinner, followed by a sleepover with Natalia. Tomorrow: gardening with dad, and maybe a night out on the town with old Media friends. My future: unkown. And what could be cooler than that?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Back to the USA!

I am in my hotel room in Recoleta finishing up the last bit of packing, enjoying my final café doble cortado, and tying up any last loose ends before I head home. My taxi will be here in 4 hours to pick me up and take me to the airport. Unbelievable! I am going home today.

When I thought about this moment before, I always imagined I'd be incredibly stressed out, sad, worried, or filled with a lot of those sorts of emotions. But the funny thing is, although I am sad in a lot of ways that this chapter of my life is ending, I am also ready for this change and excited about it. I'm looking forward to whatever new adventure awaits me. Everyone asks me, "What are you going to do when you get home?" and believe me, I wish I had the answer. But in a way, not knowing is what makes it feel like an adventure, and is what leaves me open for finding something truly rewarding.

So chau and hasta luego, my beloved Buenos Aires and my wonderful, life-long friends I've made here in Argentina. Chau bife de lomo, tostados de jamón y queso, and facturas. Chau Quilmes, café con leche, and Malbec. Chau colectivos and monedas, chau San Telmo feria, chau long walks through Palermo. Chau to lazy Sunday mornings at El Federal, and to late nights at la Puerta Roja and Guebara. Chau all you amazing things that made my experience in Buenos Aires so unforgetable. Me gustaría poder llevarte conmigo, pero yo sé que nos veremos de nuevo algun día.

DALE, LISTO, BUENISIMO, UN BESO, CHAU!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Che, boludo, mirá!

Have I mentioned that I love Buenos Aires? Or was I always too busy whining about work and other crap? Well just in case-- I love Buenos Aires! I loved the city before, but was always also dwelling on the annoyances that come with living in a new, disorganized place-- lack of money, flaky people, loneliness, blah blah blah. Well now, I have had my proverbial attitude adjustment. And though I'd be genuinely happy to be back in this city and reunited with friends no matter what, the truth is that I can credit a large part of my extreme happiness and carefree attitude to:

1) my glorious (but hopefully temporary) unemployment. I absolutely <3 free time, window shopping, and just generally not having to be anywhere, ever.
2) the fact that I am thinking in dollars. Man, when I'm not making a pathetic Argentine salary in pesos and am back to thinking like a dirty American, this city is SO CHEAP! It's funny how I never even noticed that before. LOVE IT.
3) the fact that these are my last 2 weeks of vacation before I re-enter not only the US, but also reality... and I have every intention of enjoying them!

I'm staying at Claire's house in Palermo for now which has been cozy and perfect , and I will also be crashing with some other friends over the next couple weeks. In fact, there is actually a possibility of getting to stay at my old apartment for a few days, since they appear to have an empty room, so that's kind of exciting too! I miss San Telmo so much. Wow, I missed everything, and I didn't even realize it. The city is beautiful, exciting, and full of things to do! I've already taken a couple long walks, and never seem to run out of places to explore.

I also have started going to the gym with Ali. She's not only a workout superstar (and my deep fried tour of South America needs to stop NOW if I plan on fitting into the airplane seat), but she's also a member of the nicest gym in Buenos Aires, Megatlon, and was able to finagle me a free 5 days pass. I'm on day 2 and loving it. This weekend when it expires, I plan to do some running in the gorgeous parks in Palermo. Man, I love warm weather.

I'm feeling generally positive, and just happy and excited about everything. Since when am I so darn positive?? I mean, even the idea of leaving and moving home and being broke and unemployed.. I don't know, it's so easy to see the down sides, but I've really been focusing the up sides lately. Instead of viewing my return to MA as a bad thing, I see it as an opportunity to spend some time with my family, eat and live healthier along with my parents, go back to my jewelry making and sewing and other creative projects I haven't done in a while, hopefully find an interesting job, learn some Portuguese (since I'll be living in a very Portuguese community), and developing myself in general. Maybe living outside of a city, filled with temptations and parties and drinking, isn't such a bad thing. Being outside, being with family, reading, cooking, kayaking, writing, being creative, and being relaxed all sound like pretty good substitutes.

Anyway life is good! I am going to enjoy these last 2 weeks in Buenos Aires as much as possible. As sad as I will be to leave, I am thankful to have this time now to have one last hurrah here!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Travel superlatives

In the past 100 days I've been traveling around Peru, Colombia, and Brasil, I have had so many incredible experiences, seen a ton of unforgettable places, taken many worthwhile risks, and met endless fascinating characters. I decided to compile these "best of" lists to share with you, because of all the things I've seen and done, these are the ones that stick out the most in my memory. If you're planning to travel to any of these countries, these are not to be missed.

Key: (Peru-P, Colombia-C, Brasil-B)

BEST BEACH:
P: I'm torn between Máncora, a pretty and lively surfing and party town, and Huanchaco, whose beach isn't as pretty, but whose locals are so cool and whose nightly beach bonfires so fun that they make up for it.
C: Hands down, Cabo San Juan, located in Parque Nacional Tayrona. Tan by day, swing in your hammock by night.
B: Despite being overrun by Israelis, the island of Morro de Sao Paulo just might be the most beautiful place I've ever been.

BEST STREET FOOD:
P: Ceviche! Obviously. It's even better than you thought it would be.
C: Oh its a tie between the refreshing fresh juice smoothies (made from maracuya, lulo, or mango) or the delicious arepas, filled with cheese or meat and smothered in butter
B: Acai bowls-- frozen acai berry sorbet, topped with fresh fruit, honey and granola.

BEST LOCAL FOOD TO TRY EVEN THOUGH ITS GROSS:
P: It's not easy to decide, because Peru has a lot of really gross foods, in my opinion. But the top choice is definitely cuy, guinnea pig, the plate of food that smiles at your creepily while you eat it. Runner up is anticucho, grilled beef heart on a stick, with a potato on the end. It actually tastes okay-- I'd choose it over cuy any day, to be fair.
C: Hormigas culonas, aka toasted ants. They are a super popular snack food in Bucaramanga, but I really can't figure out why. Careful, they are believed to be an aphrodisiac!
B: In Salvador de Bahia, try the typical Afro-Brasilian street food acarajé. It's made with a deep fried dough made of black eyed peas, which is then stuffed with unidentifiable vegetable and/or meat goos, and topped off with whole shrimps still with their shells and feet and faces. Maybe you'll love it, but I hated it.

BEST EXCURSION TO SPLURGE ON:
P: The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Everyone says that the alternate trails are just as good, and maybe they are. Buuuut I doubt it. Splurge on the real one if you can! Those were 4 of the most fun, challenging, and rewarding days of my life.
C: Trek to the Ciudad Perdida. You will sweat like a beast, but the scenery is unbeatable, the local culture is so interesting and worth learning about, and arriving at the city itself is a total high.
B: Wellll... I didn't really do any. But if I had it to do over, I would take a boat tour through the Amazonian jungle! I hear the trips are absolutely amazing.

BEST CITY FOR NIGHTLIFE:
P: Cusco!
C: Bogotá!
B: Rio de Janeiro!! Though Sao Paulo is great too... just a tad more expensive.

BEST PLACE TO GO WITH YOUR LOVE:
P: Cusco. It's a magical city. Explore it together.
C: Cartagena! The only city I wished I had a boyfriend in, because it's practically constructed for holding hands and walking around.
B: Rio de Janeiro. Because then your big strong man can hopefully protect you from getting beat up and robbed. (Tasteless joke?)

BEST PLACE TO BE SINGLE:
P: Huanchaco. The locals are very friendly beach bums! Too bad Peruvians are so short.
C: Santa Marta. Hang on the beach and you'll be scooped right up. Usually not in a creepy way.
B: Everywhere, especially during Carnaval. All those caipirinhas and all that heat make things quite flirtatious!

BEST WORD TO USE TO SOUND LOCAL AND COOL:
P: Huevón! A funny way to call someone an idiot. It's kind of like Argentina's boludo.
C: Chévere! Or... bacano! (both mean ¨cool¨)
B: Legal! (Pronounced "legau"'-- means ¨cool¨). Also, beleza! (means anything from ¨right on¨ to ¨hello¨)

BEST PLACE TO EXPERIENCE A TOTALLY DIFFERENT CULTURE:
P: Peru is a country full of native people and ancient ruins, and I probably barely scratched the surface. A good starting point, though, is in the outskirts of Cusco. Start by hiking into the surrounding hills for an afternoon, and get lost. Even better, venture by bus to the spiritually-rich Sacred Valley to visit the many old villages and archeological ruins.
C: Learn about the Wayuu culture in La Guajira by venturing off the beaten path into the desert. Head first to the capitalof Riohacha and then to Uribia to see the daily indigenous market. Then find a guide and make your way to Cabo de la Vela, a remote fishing village way out in the desert. (Get one of the gorgeous handwoven mochilas!) If possible, try visiting a rancheria, a traditional Wayuu community.
B: Head to Salvador de Bahia, the center of Afro-Brazilian culture, and experience some of the country's best music, dancing, and food! Just be careful-- this beautiful colonial city is one of the country's poorest and most dangerous. Hold on to your wallet, and go anyway.

BEST VIEW:
P: Other than the obvious Machu Picchu, try heading to Tucume Pyramids in the Lambayeque Valley (outside Chiclayo) and climbing up to the highest viewpoint overlooking the adobe pyramids, built by the Sican people around 1100 AD. If you're lucky, it will just be you, alone with your thoughts... and a few vultures.
C: Take a drive from Manizales to Pereira in the Zona Cafetera, for stunning views of the coffee and banana trees growing in the mountains.
B: Visit Christ the Redeemer, the massive Jesus statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro. Not only is the statue itself impressively massive, but you'll enjoy outstanding views of the entire city, beach, and beyond.

If I think of more, I will add them. And if YOU, dear blog reader, think of a category you'd like me to add, leave it for me in a comment and I will do my best!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cordoba, and my empanada reunion

As it turns out, the city of Cordoba is great, and the surrounding mountain towns are even better! It's been a blast exploring with Claire, being together again after so much time, and getting back into the Argentine groove (albeit, with a cordobes accent). I am also thankful for being reunited with (possibly in this order):

1. empanadas de carne (chau, vegetarianism)
2. piropos and the strange tipos that tirar them
3. the word boludo

The 22 hour bus ride from Iguazu to Cordoba actally wasn't so bad, because I splurged on a cama class seat on the bus, which is essentially an enormous leather chair that goes all the way back. Plus, it came with a delicious mystery meat dinner and coffee and a slightly stale medialuna for breakfast... practically perfect! Besides, I was too doped up on dramamine (should I start buying their stock??) to care whether or not I had been sleeping for 5 hours or 22 hours or 100. I slept almost the entire time... basically, I'm Rip Van Winkle with less facial hair.



Sundays in the city of Cordoba, I can assure you, are worth skipping, as the city essentially shuts down. Claire and I were still happy because we had both each other and approximately a million things to catch up on, so the day passed quickly, despite the closed store fronts and quiet streets. We're back now, and looking forward to a day of mid-week city exploration tomorrow, followed by a mate and asado reunion with my cordobes Scout friends I met in Machu Picchu! Can't wait.

(Here's an actual picture of the asado! Because I'm a late picture poster.)


We spent Monday and Tuesday exploring some of the surrounding areas. First we headed to the adorable Villa General Belgrano, a 1.5 hours bus ride from Cordoba (on a bus called Lep, which I would not stop serenading with "to the lep! to the lep!" because not only am I a Beyonce fan, but I am also my father's daughter and never miss a chance for a terrible joke), and home of Oktoberfest and about 10 microbreweries. Needless to say, it was a tiny little slice of small town paradise, and Claire and I had a perfect afternoon strolling the kitschy-but-still-cute streets, popping into shops, sampling some beers, dipping our toes in the river, and climbing 98 stairs of a tower for a nice city view. I would love to get back there someday for their famous Oktoberfest, which I hear is a great one.



We then took another bus about 20 minutes to the nearby Santa Rosa, where we planned to explore and spend the night. The town is also cute, though without half the character and charm of the first. Though we're sure they receive tourism, the spectacle of two redheads walking down the street with backpacks drew a lot of stares, and made for an interesting walk to the tourist office. Turns out, we really should have booked something in advance, and we ended up in a kind of even-when-its-clean-its-dirty type hotel room with a monster truck parked outside (couldn't make that up if I tried) and the smell of mold wafting lazily through the air. No matter, we had dinner, wandered a bit, and got some sleep. Sadly, in the morning, after putting on our bathing suits and planning to head to the river for a dip, it got really cold and started to rain, so we ended up in a cafe drinking coffee and scheming.

We eventually headed to our final destination, La Cumbrecita, another highly recommended town of dirt roads and a no-cars-allowed policy. The plan was to climb Cerro Wank (Wank Hill), or at least take our picture next to the sign (because the name RULES) but we arrived and it was raining torrentially by that point. We tried exploring, but although the town looked adorable, it was really not a rainy day spot, and we heard it would be raining for a couple days, most likely. We ended up enjoying some lunch and beers and heading back to Cordoba early. Though admitedly it is a total bummer that we didn't get to explore the hiking trails as planned, it honestly but still a great little getaway out of the city for us girls, and was not at all time lost.

Should be in Rosario by Thursday and Buenos Aires by Saturday! Can't wait for some more sweeet reunions.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Iguazu Falls, take 2

I have been lugging around Lonely Planet´s 18-pound, half-rate guidebook, South America on a Shoestring, for over 3 months now. Though most days I only use it for weight training and/or imaginary target practice (seriously-- invest in Rough Guide or Time Out, but not this poorly-researched and rarely-updated junk), it does have the occasional gem. And even though I hate to do it, I am now willing to admit that this flowery snippet about Iguazu Falls, which I originally squawked at, is downright accurate:

"People who doubt the theory that 'negative ions generated by waterfalls make people happier' mights have to reconsider after visiting the Iguazu Falls. Moods just seem to improve the closer you get, until eventually people degenerate into giggling, shrieking messes...and this is grown men we are talking about."

CORRECT. I, for one, was a giggling, shrieking mess all morning long, as I finished up day two of the "Erica Does Iguazu" extravaganza.



After yesterday´s tour of both the Garganta del Diablo and the Circuito Superior, I decided to spend today visiting the Circuito Inferior and to take a boat ride under the falls. I headed over this morning with a girl I met in my hostel. (Hostel note: My hostel, called Hostel Inn, is easily one of the most attractice hostels I have ever seen, and from the outside it feels like a manicured resort with an enormous pool. But don´t be totally fooled; cheap luxury has its price. Both the food and service suck, and I have yet to find one functioning lightbulb on the entire first floor.) It was nice to finally have some company while wandering around. She hadn´t been to the falls yet, so we planned to spend the morning together and then she´d continue on while I went off to catch my bus. Over breakfast this morning I said to her, ¨I think the parts I did yesterday were probably the best parts, so I hope today is worth it. I mean, I can´t imagine seeing views that are any better than the ones I saw yesterday.¨ And now I am eating my words! Could it be that today´s were better? Or at least equally as good? How can you compare one paradise to another?



We entered the park around 9:00am this morning and headed down the stairs to the Lower Circuit... and there ahead was a view of the Salto San Miguel portion of the falls, an enormous cascading wonderland in the distance, shrouded with misty rainbows. MORE RAINBOWS! They are everywhere you turn, blooming out of each and every river and fall. I walked along, diligently taking the requisite 5 million photographs, and after a short while realized that each shot just got better and better... until the metal bridge we were walking along finally pointed us to a view more spectacular than any I have ever seen. In the distance was a horseshoe of falls so large I couldn´t believe my eyes. I snapped photos in amazement, still wondering which was better, the exciting day 1, or the equisite day 2. And that´s when it happened. I headed to the end of the path, and it dead-ended into something so fantastic I think I literally let out my first real shriek of the day-- towering above me, DIRECTLY above me, were the enormous Salto Bosseti and Salto Dos Hermanas, two massive waterfalls. The bridge (kudos to the engineers, btw) was built in such a way that you can walk nearly under the falls and get soaking wet. They loom so far above you that it is just unreal. I don´t know if I´ve ever smiled so wide in my life!!! I stood there for a long time enjoying the mist on my face, feeling completely alive.



Officially blissed out, we then headed further down the stairs for an overpriced-but-worth-it boat ride. We put on our fashion-forward life preservers and piled onto the inflatable boat with about 15 others and went jetting forward into the falls. First they bring you close to the falls so you can snap pictures. Then they tell everyone to hide their valuables (they gave each of us a super special waterproof bag for our belongings) and then they steer the boat full speed ahead under the falls, soaking us to the bone! What a rush! I was drenched, could barely open my eyes from all the water pouring down on me, and we all just screamed and laughed and enjoyed the bath. As Lonely Planet alluded, it´s impossible not to be happy with the energy of 10 billion negative ions seeping into your pores.

I look ridiculous here, so enjoy this photo at my expense:

and this one:


I´m back at the hostel, still smiling ear to ear, and planning to jump into the pool before I start my eternal bus ride to Córdoba this afternoon. I am so, so happy I came to Iguazu. I originally didn´t plan to come, as I figured I´d seen enough waterfalls in my life. But this is so much more than just a waterfall. Iguazu deserves a spot on the NEW New 7 wonders of the world list. My opinion matters, because I´ve now seen 4 of the 7 winners! (I know, brag brag.) But seriously, come on, Rio de Janeiro´s massive Jesus statue Christ the Redeemer beat out Iguazu? Yawn. Were the voters drunk?!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Back in the Homeland

Honestly, if you had told me 3 months ago that I would be this happy to be back in Argentina, I would have laughed in your face. I was so excited to get out and do something different at the time. Now I´ve had this incredible trip, have experienced so many beautiful and different things, and frankly, it feels so good to be back in a country I know. Argentina might be insane and disorganized and have a billion problems, but it´s also a country that is a part of me. I settled here for a long and important part of my life, and it makes me laugh how crossing that border from Brasil back here made me smile, because I really did feel like I´d come home. And I´m not even in Buenos Aires!

No, I´m in Iguazu! And it is as good as I´d hoped. After a 15 hour bus ride from Florianopolis, I arrived on the Brasilian side of Iguazu arund 8:30 this morning. It took me 3.5 hours to get from there to my hostel on the Argentine side, as of course they make everything as complicated and disorganized as possible. First I had to buy a bus ticket for tomorrow to Cordoba, but naturally they only accept cash, and the only 2 banks in the entire town each had lines for their one worknig ATM that had about 40-50 people in them, so I waited for over an hour in the hot sun to get cash. Then I took one bus from the central bus terminal to another terminal. Then I took a bus to the Brasilian border, where I had to get off an get a stamp from customs to leave Brasil. The bus had left so I had to wait for another, which I then had to take to the Argentine border to get an entry stamp and visa. Then I got back on the bus, got to the Argentine side´s terminal, and then got another bus to the hostel. Confused? Yeah, me too. Anyway, I made it.

Oh, but the best thing happened! So Argentina apparently has finally gotten their act together and is now officially charging a US $131 visa fee (good for 10 years) upon entry into the country. They´ve been talking about doing this since like January of 2009, but in true Argentine style, it appears the guy who processes the paperwork fell asleep. Anyway, he finally woke up. Not sure which countries this effects, but it´s definitely for Americans. I found this out from several travelers along the way who´d had to pay the fee upon entry, and was quite unpleasantly surprised, as I´ve been entering for free for the past year. I don´t want to suddenly pay now, after so long! But then a beautiful thing happened-- the guy at customs never asked me for any money! And naturally I didn´t offer any. Not sure why or how this fluke happened, but I´m not asking questions. $131 saved, yay.

Anyway I arrived at the hostel in time to throw my things down and head over to the falls for a half day. I hopped on yet another bus, and afte paying my AR$85 entry fee, spent about 3 hours at Iguazu Falls today. They did not disappoint! They are just as magnificent as described! I walked/ trained out to Garganta del Diablo Devil´s Throat), which is the biggest and most impressive area of the falls, where water is just rushing everywhere from such icredible heights, and you just cannot believe your eyes or your ears. I also took walks to some of the smaller falls, which are all also HUGE. And every single one of them had its own rainbow. It was simply stunning, magical. I can´t wait to go back again tomorrow morning (for an additional AR$45, but who´s counting?) and take a boat ride under the falls!!

Once again, stupid blogspot won't upload my cool video of the water at Garganta del Diablo (maybe when I get back to the 1st world, these problems will just melt away), so here's some pictures instead:







After spending tomorrow morning and early afternoon enjoying the falls again, I will be hopping on a 21 hour bus to Cordoba, a city I´ve been meaning to visit forever and never did. And the best part is, my dear friend Claire is meeting me there! Colo reunion! I absolutely cannot wait. We´ll check out Cordoba and Rosario together and then head back to Buenos Aires probably by next weekend. I´m disturbingly stoked about it. I don´t even have a house of my own when I get there, and yet I still feel like I´m on my way home. :-)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sandboarding Fail

There´s so many extreme and different sport options in South America. You can go hang gliding or SCUBA diving or swim with dolphins or really whatever you want, especially if you have cash to spend. I´ve kept it kind of tame, really just opting for lots of hiking/trekking and some snorkeling. But the one thing I REALLY wanted to do before I finished off this trip was sand boarding.. it´s like snow boarding (which I love), but on the sand! How cool is that! So I missed a variety of opportunities to go in Peru and other parts of Brasil, and decided that here in Florianopolis, for my final days on the beach, I would finally go. So yesterday I packed up my beach bag and headed out to catch the bus and... it started raining. And it rained all afternoon. And after a sunny morning, I packed my beach bag again today and headed out to the bus again and... it started raining. AGAIN.

SAND BOARDING FAIL. It rained my last 2 beach days. Grrrrr WHYYYYY???!!!

So this remains something pending that I need to do in my life. I want! Does anyone know if there are places to go on the east coast in the US? If so, I´m on it when I get back. If not, I´ll just add it to the list of things to do for my next South America trip... a surprisingly long list, considering how long I´ve been here and how much I´ve done!

This should have been me, but wasn´t. Enjoy.



Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Last beach days... can this be real?

I arrived in Florianopolis this morning after a 12 hour overnight bus from Sao Paulo. I´m so used to these insane bus rides that they don´t even phase me anymore. In fact, 12 hours feels like nothing. I am taking a 16 hour one this Thursday night to Iguazu Falls, and even that just makes me shrug my shoulders... and pop a Dramamine!

Anyway, Floripa, as they call it, is an island off the southern coast of Brasil. It´s gorgeous, hot, and kind of expensive, but also feels safe, so maybe it´s worth it. I´m staying in an area called Lagoa, which as its name suggests is right on an enormous lake. Its stunning, and a short and cheap bus ride to the beach. I spent a couple hours this afternoon lounging on the beach in Barra de Lagoa and then stopped by another beach called Praia Mole... both not only beautiful, but also packed with surfers and kite surfers. who are always entertaining to watch. I enjoyed my usual beach açai bowl (this time blended with bananas and granola), swam in the perfectly warmish (but still refreshing) water, and then made my way back leisurely, by way of the shopping district. Somehow got out without buying myself any presents! Plus, the views are just stunning. Anyone who is lucky enough to own property on this massive lake really has it made. It´s a sailing, kite surfing, water skiing, photography, and lounging paradise.

Anyway, just thought I´d check in and say greetings from my final beach destination! I won´t be seeing any beaches again for a while, until summer comes in Massachusetts! Or, until I get the job in Ecuador! Aghhhh!!! I can´t stop thinking about that. I find out by Friday if I have an interview or not, so continue sending the good vibes!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Capoeira

Capoeira is a Brasilian martial art/ dance that is just incredible to watch. It is practiced between two "fighters" who maintain a constant rocking movement called the ginga while facing each other, and use a series of kicks, sweeps, and some fairly acrobatic moves like handstands and cartwheels. The focus is not so much on hurting the opponent, but rather on precise movements and skill. It is performed to music made primarily by a single-stringed instrument called a berimbau, along with other simple percussion instruments, hand clapping, and some singing. In Brasil you see a lot of groups of young people out on the street or in parks or plazas practicing Capoeira in a circle. It's really fun and impressive to watch.

I took a really fun video of an amazing Capoeira group while in Morro de Sao Paulo for you to enjoy, but I can't seem to get it to upload. For now, here is a picture, and I recommend checking out that wikipedia link I posted. And for the truly ambitious, I know there are Capoeira schools all over the place in the US-- try taking a class! Then you could have a body that looks like these boys. :-)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Back in Sao Paulo... and soon, back in the US!

I'm in Sao Paulo again, this time with my friend Paul, and I'm soooo happy to be here. Things are finally improving. Man, I didn't realize how much I needed to be with friends. After Marisa and I split up when she went back to England and I went to Salvador, I was in such need to be around people. I met some really amazing people in Salvador and Morro in the hostels, but it just isn't the same as being with friends who really know you. I also had a hard time having to tell the story of my attack over and over again when people asked (my face was still really purple when I got there), and as much as I wanted to be funny and witty about it and make up cool stories, I just hadn't quite gotten to the point mentally where I could see the humor in things... I was mostly just miserable, self-conscious, and lonely. BUT, now my eyes are looking better every day, and I think within a couple days I'll be back to my old self. I'm even starting to find the attacked-by-an-angry-band-of-midgets version of my story hilarious!! I'm with Paul which makes me so happy, and I'm in his comfortable house, where I have my own room and can just relax. Oh, and let's not forget that he makes the BEST jumbo caipirinhas. Even better, my friend Marie, the French reporter I met in Rio, is here in SP, so it is like a big reunion!

Last night the 3 of us tried going out to a place called The Week, which is supposedly the "world's best gay bar." (No, really.) We had some caipirinhas and pizza in the house, got all dolled up, and met up with some of Paul's friends, who drove us out to the spot. Thousands of fashionable looking boys and the occasional girl were pouring in from all directions- the place seemed hip. But the fees, oh the fees! I forgot I'm in Sao Paulo, the world's most expensive city. Forget NYC, Tokyo, and London. It's seriously more expensive here! The fee to get in was R$40 for boys (US $25ish) and for girls it was... dun dun dun dun... R$65 (US $40)!! Finally, a place where the girls pay more! I thought it would never happen. Anyway, the cost comes with nothing but the pleasure of seeing and being seen. No free beer. Probably not even toilet paper. The three of us looked around, decided that mayyyybe if it was that much to go in, we might be even more unpleasantly surprised by the drink prices, and we happily skipped off to more mellow Vila Madalena, a hip part of town that's much more up my alley anyway. So sorry, kids. No pics of the world's best gay bar.

It's a lazy, rainy Sunday in SP, perfect for lounging, trip planning, and job hunting. I know my trip is ending soon, especially since I've made the executive decision to cut out a couple parts and end a couple weeks early. I'm out of money, my backpack is getting heavier, and something about knowing I'll be home soon makes me really eager to just get there! So I'm skipping Bolivia and northern Argentina, both areas I do really, really want to see, but will just have to do on another trip. I've been gone now for 13 months, which is quite a long time, so I feel like I've accomplished my goals and been successful here, and I have no shame in feeling ready to see my family and friends back home again after so much time. South America will still be here when I am ready to travel again-- which hopefully is soon!

So it's official-- I will be back in Buenos Aires by mid-March, and back in Philadelphia by the end of the month! Then I will be in Massachusetts around April 12th. So get ready. :-)

But enough about that. I'm still traveling and have plenty more amazing things to see before I am home. Tomorrow (or Tuesday?) I will head for the beautiful southern Brasilian beach town of Florianopolis for a few days. Then I plan to visit the world famous Iguazu Falls, located on the border of Brasil, Paraguay, and Argentina. Everyone I know who has been there says they are absolutely stunning, and some even say their visit to Iguazu was the best part of their trip! So I'm excited to see those. And then I plan to cross back into Argentina there, and head to Cordoba to visit my Machu Picchu friends (remember, I did the Inca Trail with 12 Argentines!! Seems like ages ago..), then a quick visit to Rosario (birthplace of Che Guevara and overall cool city), and then back to Buenos Aires. And you know, not only will it be great to see my friends back in BsAs, but it will also be fun to just enjoy the city and not have to work! Finally!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Greetings from Israel

Hi, I´m in Israel!

Oh wait, no I´m not! Im just on a small hippie island in Brazil where there is NO ONE BUT ISRAELIS. All of the signs are in Hebrew and everyone is speaking in Hebrew, and my pronunciation of the word hummus has been put into serious question. I didnt realize it was a word that originated so completely from the throat.

In general, there are a ton of Israelis in South America, kind of like there are a ton of Australians in London or a ton of Americans euro-railing around Europe. Its just that place that they go. They are required to complete 2 or 3 years of military service (depending on if they are female or male, respectively) and then afterward a large number of them come to South America to travel. So not only are there 5 million of them, but they are also alllllll 23 years old. Exactly.

The island is called Morro de Sau Paulo, and it is oe of the most stunning places I have ever seen. It is simply breathtaking, and I dare to say it gives Colombias amazing Parque Tayrona a run for its money! The beaches are perfect, with white sand and clear water. There are fruit juices and açai (the best food EVER) bowls covered in fruit and honey everywhere, and the local hotties play a terrific version of beach volleyball with their feet. This is not just here on the island, but all over Brazil. Unlike hitting the ball with their hands, they can use anything BUT their hands (head, feet, knees, chest), and they serve the ball by kicking it. Its a hoot to watch. Great football practice, too!

Anyway, its simply a paradise. An overpriced paradise overrun by Israelis, that is. I am NOT trying to disriminate at all here, but I mean honestly I feel ridiculous... I searched and searched and simply could not find a hostel that was both social and not 100% Israeli. It was one or the other. So for all I know, they are all just talking about the crazy non-Jewish redhead with the two black eyes, all the while sipping their vodka. Damn I should have studied Hebrew.

Ive befriended lots of the people, despite the fact that everyone is a lot younger than me, and am having fun reglardless. I took the 2.5 hour boat ride from Salvador this morning, and spent the day lounging on the beach, wandering around looking at funky artisan stuff and jewelry, and slurping my açai-banana-granola bowl while reading my book. Tonight there is some big beach dance electronica party I plan to check out. I mean, why not? :-)

I will be here until Friday morning. I wish I could stay longer, as this place really is the very epitome of RELAX... I should have budgeted more time here. Man, the sand feels good betwee my toes, and Ive discovered I look great in white dresses when tan. And when else will I wear one??? I simply must stay forever. However Friday afternoon, I have a flight back to Sao Paulo to visit my friend Paul for the weekend, and yay!!! I am happy about that too!

Overall Brazil has been a bizarre and totally bittersweet experience. I hope I am able to remember it positively. It has been tough staying positive, because I have now been the creepy girl with the two black eyes for over a week now, and Im getting sick of having people stare at me on the street, and then telling the story of my attack over and over and over... Im suffering from some sort of self-depracacting paranoia, where Im convinced everyone is staring at me all the time, and so the second they look at my eyes, rather than worry that they are thinking I got a nose job or just suck at putting on eye makeup, I immediately blurt out "I was attacked at Carnaval! I didnt get a noce job, and I do suck at putting on makeup, but Im not this bad!" Im becoming quite the hostel celebrity, especially since Im either the girl with the black eyes, or the girl wearing one of the pairs of flambouyant sunglasses I bought myself as feel-better gifts. Basically, I have officially grown into my title of "hot mess".

Part of me wishes I had friends with me right now... silly me, I was a bit more broken by this attack experience than Id like to admit, and I would love to have people around that I know and trust. But part of me is so, so proud of myself for not giving up. I hear over and over from people that if this had happened to them, they would have packed up and gone home, and I think to myself, "yeah, maybe I am kind of amazing for sticking this out." I refuse to have a defeatist attitude. Thats just letting them win. I want to go home filled with happy memories of my incredible year+ in South America, not on a sour note with a couple black eyes. So for now, on I go, truck truck trucking, drinking vodka with the Israelis, learning to correctly pronounce all my favorite Middle Eastern foods, soaking up some serious rays, and reveling in my expert portuñol, which is becoming more and more convincing by the day, especially now that Im on my own and forced to speak.

Plenty of time to reflect. Plenty of time to fantasize about the dream job in Ecuador I just applied for (fingers crossed PLEASE!!!). Plenty of time to just enjoy life, and remember each day how lucky I am, despite some ups and downs, to have this opportunity to know the world and more importantly, to know myself.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

4 haikus (to catch you up)

1) On reporting my robbery and attack to the Rio de Janeiro Tourist Police yesterday:

Filed a report
and was hit on by the cops.
Brazil is sketchy.

2) On being interviewed by the French television reporters (Story will appear in April... links posted when available):

Finally famous
black eyes, but still positive.
Hope my teeth were clean.

3) On receiving my acceptance letter from SIT Graduate Institute's program in International Education (dream program, only $40K per year! what a steal!):

Grad school acceptance
bittersweet without money.
Better off abroad!

4) On applying for an amazing dream job coordinating volunteer ESL teachers in Ecuador:

Hoping to get paid
for doing what I love most
while getting a tan.

/Fin.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Irony!... and fame

My new friend Marie, a reporter from France that Marisa met here in Rio, did an interview with me on Saturday about my opinion of Carnaval. I go on and on about how amazing it is, how happy and smiley everyone is, and how it's all just about music and dance and dressing up in crazy costumes! I'm glad she caught me before my "incident!"

You can listen to it HERE, sort of, but it's translated into French, so you have to be a French wiz to understand it. Good practice for all you ex-French studies people on hiatus. I'm the second interview, after the into. (I'm the one who yells "super fun!" haha)

I have another opportunity to be interviewed, this time about violence during Carnaval, and this time on TV... so it's a big decision for me to decide if I want to do the internview or not, and if I want to show my face. I mean, I do, in the sense that I think it's important for people to know that the rumors are true, that it IS important to be careful here and that it IS dangerous, while simultaneously not scaring them away. I think I can do that. But my face is.. well, it's in a condition I'm sort of embarassed by, and honestly my shallow side is not sure I want it on national television. Even if the nation is France.

I need to decide right away, aka tomorrow. I have finally decided to file a police report, after poo-pooing the idea all week. I just felt tired and upset, and the idea of sitting in a police station for hours re-living the whole thing, battling the likely crowds of others reporting Carnaval crimes, all for a bag I will most likely not get back and criminals I cannot even describe (luckily... I don't want to be dreaming of their faces) just seemed like too much for me. But now, days later, I can handle it, and Marie has informed me that there is actually a tourist police station I can go to. So that's the plan for tomorrow.

Now get this-- she wants to bring the entire camera crew and film me filing the police report as part of the story. Eeeek! It's actually a brilliant plan, because showing up with a camera crew will force them to be nice to me and give me faster service... buuut it's also kind of scary! Then afterward, we would do an actual interview where I can talk about the incident and my general impressions of crime at Carnaval...

...which, for the record, are:
1) Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro can be very dangerous. Be very careful, stay in groups, don't walk around in poorly lit or abandoned areas, and try not to carry bags or expensive items with you whenever possible.
2) Lots of places in the world, at all times of year, are also dangerous. You can get robbed on your suburban street in Wisconsin. Let's not forget that.
3) Don't decide not to come just because of crime! Just be smart. Smarter than me. Learn from my mistakes, and have fun!

Anyway, should I do this? I am nervously leaning toward yes. I know I'm not the spokesperson for crime in Rio or anything, but frankly these particular reporters haven't interviewed any victims yet, and I think their story needs a little dose of reality. Not, like I said, to scare people, just to inform them of real risks.

To bed.. and then to decide... too bad it'll be dubbed over in French!

"It's just stuff"

I think it's time I told my blog readers what happened to me on Sunday night.. I've been putting it off, but I think it's important to share the good and the bad! After all, you all heard about my vomiting incident in Peru (still to date, the grossest thing ever), and so now you will hear the tale of me being robbed and assaulted at Rio's Carnaval... and how I was thus, forevermore, converted into a stastistic.

I will start off by telling you I'M OKAY. I have no permanent injuries, I'm alive, and my spirits are getting better by the day! So I'm not writing this to scare anyone, just to inform you of what's going on with me, and possibly warn you if you ever come to Rio de Janeiro that this is a VERY dangerous country, and the proper precautions should be taken. I certainly learned several lessons. But don't fret, I have ever intention of returning first the Buenos Aires and then to the USA in one big fabulous piece. :-)

As the story goes... On Sunday night, my friends and I (Marisa and our housemates, plus some other friends they know from various parts of the world), about 8 people in all, went to a street party in a neighborhood of Rio called Santa Teresa. It's a grgeous neighborhood up on a hill, known for its cobblestone streets, cute restaurants and trolley cars, but unfortunately is known also to be unsafe at night. We were at a huge party and had a ton of fun dancing, having a couple beers, and enjoying the music that the DJ was playing from a souond system he'd rigged in his car. It really was a great party, actually, and we all had a great time.

Around midnight the party was basically over and Marisa and I were tired (losers, I know) and ready to go home, and the rest in our group wanted to go to a club in Lapa, which is a neighborhood just a short walk down the hill. So we decided to all walk down together, where then they would go out and M and I would get a taxi. So... in retrospect stupidly (hindsight is absolutely 20/20!!) we started down the road, where there weren't many other people around. We had a large group of us, about 10 at this point, but some people walked faster ahead and others lagged behind, and I ended up walking with 2 others, Marisa and our other housemate Simon-- not a small guy, mind you.

Before I knew it, I felt someone tugging really hard on my bag trying to rip it off me. My first instinct was to tug back, because I had no idea what was going on. That's when the guy started dragging me by my bag and ran in front of me, and I saw he had a broken glass bottle in his hand and was waving it at me. Suddenly it hit me that I was being robbed, and all the advice I've ever heard ("Just give them what they want!") flashed into my head, and I took of my bag and handed it to him. You'd think that was good enough, but it wasn't. He hit me really hard and I crash down onto the pavement directly onto my head and hit it super hard. I tried scrambling up, and as I stood, a second guy came from behind me a smashed another glass bottle onto me, and then they both ran off. Actually that bottle didn't really hurt, but my head was killing me. We theorize that they just hit me to try to distract me so we wouldn't chase them.

I just kind of stood there for a couple minutes until it hit me, and then I realized I was bleeding from my head and had a huge lump. Marisa was there right away to comfort me, which was amazing. I don't honestly know what I would have done without her. I still was in shock and hadn't digested anything. Our friends caught up to us from behind and hadn't seen anything, and were surprised when they saw the scene. That's when I think it started to hit me and I burst into tears. Of course, after shock, I was just angry. In my bag, I'd had my camera, my cell phone, and my wallet, with credit card, some money, and an ID. I'd also had some sentimental items like the bag from Colombia, a couple trinkets from Peru, and a journal I carry with me. Obviously it sucks really bad that I lost all of those things... but as Marisa keeps reminding me, and she's so right, it's JUST STUFF. And I'm okay. I didn't get killed or even stabbed or slashed with the glass. I am lucky to be alive and okay.

I decided not to go to the hospital (much to the dismay of everyone around me) because I could tell I didn't have a concussion, and I don't have insurance to cover a hospital visit. So Marisa and I just headed home, and the others went out to a club... where, by the way, they witnessed another robbery, were threatened a second time with a glass bottle, and were nearly pickpocketed. Basically, it was a dangerouos night to be out in Lapa!

That first night, I had a scratched forehead, and a rapidly growing lump that was looking creepier by the second. It looked like this:



The swelling just grew and grew, but we didn't have any ice in the house, so I just sat with some jelly on my head while I canceled my credit cards, and tried to collect my brain.



I was incredibly shaken up, and I still am. At first, I couldn't stop feeling angry about losing all my things. My camera! My ID! And the credit card companies never make things easy, especially when you are abroad. But the good news is, I am feeling much better about the stuff (after all, "it's just stuff") and am trying to focus on the positives, like that I'm okay. I'm okay, I'm okay, I'm okay. A little beat up, a little traumatized, but it will all heal in time.

However, apparently I hit my head REALLY HARD because each day it just gets a bit worse. So while I started off mostly upset about losing things, I've now recovered from the losses, and am focusing on the bruises, which are multiplying by the second. The second day, I started developing some bruises around my eyes...



And today, I woke up, looked in the mirror, and cried. My eyes are swollen and surrounded by thick purple bruises. I'm not totally sure why they are bruising, but I think it's just blood kind of draining from my head injury..? I don't really know.



In any case, the good news is, the swelling on my forehead is going down a bit, and it doesn't hurt anymore. So I'd say I'm on the road to recovery.

Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. I shouldn't have been walking down that road, shouldn't have had valuable possessions on me, shouldn't have tugged back when they guy tried to rob me. It's amazing how clear everything seems AFTERWARD. But this happened, it was horrible, and I've learned some valuable lessons the hard way. The way I see it, I've been traveling in Latin America for many years, and this was my first violent attack and real street robbery (other than that time I got my camera jacked-- and then jacked it back!-- in Buenos Aires!), and in a sort of ironic way, it may have just been statistically "my turn." I will be more cautious, and... I also have almost nothing left to steal! So in a funny way, that's also good. Or something.

So yes, I've gone from looking like E.T. (first night) to looking like a zombie (today), and I will not be landing any hot Brasilian men with this face... grrr... but maybe that's a good thing? Brasilian men, especially in Carnaval-mode, have not exactly impressed me with their personalities. Just their looks. :-)

Though I'm taking it easy now, I've agreed to go out this weekend to celebrate my last weekend in Rio-- I leave Sunday for Salvador, alone. (Mildly nervous, but not going to let this take away my confidence.) I'm going to have Marisa and her friend Marie do my hair and makeup and will not let this stop me from enjoying Brasil! Besides, even if I look like a freak from the eyes up, I see no reason why I shouldn't be fabulous from the nose down.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tweet?

About 6 months ago, I decided that Twitter was lame, and I cancelled my account. I've now come crawling back with my tail between my legs.

Come follow me.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sambodromo and Samba!

The Carnaval parade at the Sambodromo last night was nothing short of spectacular! We really had the best time. We had a group of 7 of us (Marisa and I, one of her friends from Portuguese class, and 3 of her visitors from England who are living with us) all went, thanks to Marisa's skills at getting us cheap tickets! I guess supposedly Sunday and Monday are the best nights, and so Saturday is cheaper.. however, for a group of gringos that don't know the difference between the dance schools, it honestly is fun no matter what day you go! And the price difference was... several hundred dollars.



Basically, the Sambodromo is a huge, long stadium with seating on both sides, and elaborate Carnaval parades, put on my different dance schools, march down them with their elaborate floats, dance moves, and costumes. Each school has a queen, who is always a fabulous curvacious woman with a big booty and amazing samba moves, and huge drag queen-esque feathers and sparkles and everything else you can imagine. Yes, I believe the best word for the entire event is simply fabulous.



Probably the highlight of my night was the gorgeous, bootylicious black woman dancing behind me, who adopted me and was teaching me some of her dance moves! I had so much fun dancing with her and the man behind us. I don't think what I was doing technically classifies as samba, probably more just fast leg movements and general gyrating, but it was a great time anyway, and we made quite a spectacle of ourselves.. which you know I love to do!



There also were no sneak beijo attacks at the Sambodromo, which was a welcome change. It was a very positive, happy atmosphere, with people dancing and cheering from their seats, many of the fans in costumes, and I felt pretty safe. As a result, I had one of my best nights so far... I know that going to the Sambodromo is the "touristy" thing to do at Carnaval, but honestly, Carnaval lasts 4 days, and I see no reason not to spend one of them there. It's totally worth it, so I say whatever to the haters!

(Just a note-- don't spend hundreds of dollars on your tickets. I met a guy who paid something crazy like $300 for the same seats we had-- don't get ripped off. Go directly to the ticket window, and avoid going through a travel agent if at all possible.)

I am sort of embarassed to say that we only stayed to watch 3 schools perform.. each one performs for over an hour and is MASSIVE, I mean thousands and thousands of people, and we were all exhausted from dancing and cheering and drinking. I have no voice left! We ended up leaving and taking the Metro home... and were totally amused to be riding the Metro with people in their parade costumes. It's hilarious to see people dressed as enormous fish or covered in fuscia feathers on the subway-- love it!

In fact, that's probably my favorite part of Carnaval-- the costumes. Well, and the dancing. Samba is a crazy dance-- how do their legs move so fast?? And people are so in the spirit of things! Men often dress as women-- really good looking ones!-- and many people wear wigs, head dresses, masks, and day glo clothing. I have never seen so many hot pink tube tops in my entire life, and frankly, I think I need one. It would suit me, right?

Today has been mellow, because I've been feeling sick (too many caiparinhas?? perhaps). Alina and I still motivated over to the Sunday artisan market in Ipanema to check out the wares. I was feeling really crampy and nauseous, so she went and walked around while I sat on a bench with a group of 3 little old ladies. They chatted me up in their Portuguese, and I tried desperately to keep up in my very poor "portunol," as they call it (Espanol + Portuguese). I realized they were asking me if I was married or not, and I said no. They insisted that I find myself a Brasilian man and marry him, and I did my best to explain that maybe Carnaval, with its many beijo contests, might not be the best environment to begin a long-term relationship. They laughed, but I still think they wanted to set me up with their various grandsons.

Anyway, Alina finally came running up laughing and pointed to one of the street urinals for MEN ONLY, which is so annoying! I mean, where are women supposed to pee? They are these stand-up urinal things that men can use, but I see no female equivalent. How machista!! Anyway, she was laughing because there was a girl attempting to use the man's urinal. She had her friend holding the little door shut, but we and everyone could see her head and her legs and feet. We could all see that she was peeing all down her leg!! And her friend was laughing so hard he could barely stand up and hold the door, so it kept falling open! It was so, so funny! She finally finished and a bunch of people rushed up to her and poured beer all over her feet to clean them. Then she straighted herself up and kept on partying. CARNAVAL!!!

I didn't have my camera on me so this isn't my picture, but this is basically the idea of those men's urinals:


Right now I'm back at the house, trying desperately to think straight with the sound of Carnaval music (very particular-- I'll try to post a link so you can listen) blasting outside our window.. we have our very own bloco party right outside!!! I'm still not feeling great with this stomach thing, but I'm sure I can at least motivate myself downstairs to take part in our local bloco.

One other piece of news-- today I splurged and bought myself a plane ticket to Salvador! I am so excited. Salvador is supposed to be an incredible place, very different culturally and very well worth the visit. It's known for its music, food, a Carnaval that rivals (and some say is better) Rio's, and a heavily Afro-Brazilian culture. I didn't think I'd make it that far north, and I wouldn't do it by bus with my time limitations, but I found a good price on a place ticket and decided to go for it. I can't wait to check out the city, the surrounding beaches, and also Morro de São Paulo. I'll be in that area for 5 days, and then will be flying back to São Paulo to visit my dear friend Paul (whose family I stayed with when I was there last week, but he wasn't there). Then, I plan to head to Florinopolis to see some fabulous beaches, and then to Iguazu Falls, where I will then re-enter Argentina, and begin my descent back to Buenos Aires. I'm looking forward to each and every part, and think it's going to be an awesome trip!

PS. Happy Valentines... happpy they don't seem to celebrate it here, honestly!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Beijos??

Carnaval officially starts today, but we kicked things off yesterday by going to a pre-Carnaval bloco de carnaval, a moving street dance party playing carnaval music from big slow-moving trucks, and dancing, drinking beers, and enjoying our first taste of this epic festa. At night, we headed out to the Lapa neighborhood of Rio, where we had intended to go to a Carnaval Ball, but got so distracted by the streets parties that we never made it!! We had a blast meeting a million people in the street and dancing outside, went into a couple clubs briefly, and drinking caiparinhas... which, by the way, are extremely dangerouos!

So far I'm having an AMAZING time, and I have only one gripe... Yes, the Brasilian men (and women, obviously) have extremely good genes and are more than easy on the eyes. However, I now realize that the primary activity at Rio's Carnaval (as warned, but somehow it's far more intense than I could have ever imagined) is for drunk boys in packs to randomly assault-- I mean KISS (biejo) girls on the street while they take part in the festivities. I personally was attacked no fewer than 10 times by men of varying degrees of appealingness-- but although it seemed harmless at first, it rapidly deteriorated into me screaming NO at the top of my lungs, wrestling out of their grip, and running away.

Apparently, there is a numbers game the men play, where they have competitions between each other to see how many women each one can count. Fun for them, but for us??

So yeah... looking forward to going to the Sambodromo tonight with our posse and enjoying the parades, costumes, and general insanity! I think there won't be as many sneak-attacks in that sort of environment, and I am positive it's going to be a memorable experience. Someone teach me to samba!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Yay. :-)

This morning, I woke up to the view of Copacabana beach from our apartment...



Enjoyed a yummy acai berry frozen drink, and the spent the whole day on the beach in Ipanema...



Enjoyed the view...!





Hung with Marisa on the rocks, met some crazy strangers, enjoyed a cold beer, and watched the sunset...



Fresh fruit and ice cold yogurt? Yes, please!



...tomorrow we are heading to our first (of many) bloco de carnaval... then on Saturday, Carnaval officially starts! ...carnaval... Carnaval... CARNAVAL IS COMING!!! :-)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

LIVING THE DREAM!

I am finally in Rio de Janeiro!! Fulfilling the dream I have had forever of one day being here for Carnaval! I cannot tell you how happy I am to be here. I arrived this afternoon by bus (6 hours from Sao Paulo) and came immediately to the apartment I am sharing with Marisa ON THE BEACH IN COPACABANA! Yes, we can see the ocean from our window. We have a fabuous, comfortable one bedroom place, and it's perfect. Three more of her friends arrive tomorrow, and will be here through Carnaval next Tuesday and then we'll have the place too ourselves again.. I plan to stay through next weekend, to get a feel for both Carnaval (officially celebrated the 13th through the 16th this year) and the post-Carnaval. I cannot wait. It is beautiful here, and I love it already. I know I am going to have an incredible time, and am so happy to be reunited with Marisa! Just wish the rest of our Buenos Aires lady crew could be here with us.

Tonight we're headed out for a bite to eat, and my first taste of Rio nightlife.. we'll see how it stands up to Sao Paulo's. (Lesson learned in Sao Paulo: no more than 2 caiparinhas in one night. Those things are deadly.)

Tomorrow we plan to explore Ipanema, where all the beautiful people are... ahhhh, life is good. :-)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cheguei no Brasil!

I don't actually speak Portuguese, so don't be fooled by the perfectly written title! Google Translate for life!! Hahaha yes learning Portuguese is at the top of my list of things to do over the next few weeks...

But anyway, I arrived in Sao Paulo this morning! I'm happily settled in at my friend Paul's house, unfortunately sans Paul himself, who is back in the States on a poorly timed visit home (for me). I'm here with his dad Armando and his brother Andrew in their phenomenal 14th floor apartment in the Jardin Paulista neighborhood, overlooking the city. I'm cozy and feel lucky to have them here to host me. I'm excited to see what this city has to offer! Supposedly it has some of the best nightlife on the continent... I'll be sure to report back on that. ;-) I plan to stay here through the weekend, and then Monday I will head to Rio to live with my lovely Marisa and some other ladies and celebrate CARNAVAL!!!! Can't wait.

As I sit here, the clouds just suddenly rolled in (after a sunny and hot afternoon) and it is POURING. According to Armando, this happens every afternoon lately, and there have been major floods in SP this year... in fact 70 people have died! Crazy. It is absolutely torrentially pouring! And me with only flip flops and no umbrella... so much for my plans to explore. Looks like it's time to curl up with a book.

Tchau!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bucara-whahhh?? and other reflections.

I´m in Bucaramanga. It´s not that cool... it´s sort of just a big commercial city full of shopping centers. I tried hard to enjoy it today, but genuinely couldn´t find anything really to do (except one thing-- I tried the toasted ants! hormigas! yes, ants are the popular snackfood of choice here in Bucaramanga, although I was promised they would taste like peanuts, and they most certainly did not... blah), so I´m enjoying the luxury of taking it easy, something I haven´t done much of lately. I´m staying in an actual hotel, since they don´t appear to have hostels here, and enjoying free internet (notice the miraculous appearance of a couple blog posts I´d had half-written that are now finished and posted). Tomorrow I´m heading to Bogotá to stay again with Gustavo, Diana´s friend there (who is now my friend) for my last night. I´m hoping to arrive in time to have one final hurrah in Bogotá before taking off on Thursday.

Colombia. What a cool country. I´ve met so many of the nicest people here. It´s not at all what the sterotypes say, filled with nothing but cocaine and coffee. The security has been greatly improved in the past few years due to the current president´s reforms, and everywhere you look there are armed military men patroling the roads. There´s no need to be scared-- they are there for our protection, and frankly I feel very safe here. People are generally friendly, open, hospitable, and super fun. There is a rich sense of culture and community here, and such spirit in the air-- music, art, and dance are everywhere. The climate is great (well, Bogotá is a bit chilly...). And I have been so well received that I feel forever indebted.

As usual... my mind is racing about what to do next. Typical Erica, I know, still not clear on the life plan. I´m clear that Argentina is not right for me, and I´m clear that I need some time at home. I miss my family and friends so, so much, and am just dying to see everyone. So much has changed in the past year I´ve been gone, and I want to be a part of it again. But... there is still that tick tick ticking inside me that says... travel... go... explore... it´s just who I am I suppose, and why not just accept that about myself rather than try to resist it?

I´ve been considering teaching in Asia, where the pay is a lot better. I´ve thought a lot about trying to find an internationally-related job back home. Grad school at SIT is a definite possibility, although the money factor scares me to death. And a big part of me wants to put all I can into finding an American company with offices in Latin America to work for, so I can make money in dollars but live here. Idealist.org is calling me. Any job offers, ideas, or pieces of advice are welcome. I wouldn´t say I´m lost, per se, just in a serious period of reflection. I´m looking forward to the moment when I make a decision, and know in my gut that it´s right.

For now, I´m genuinely enjoying this adventure I have been blessed with. Who knows if I will ever have this opportunity again?? I am going flat broke, but going broke has never been so much fun, and I believe getting to know the world, challenging myself, and having these new experiences is 100% worth it. I just hope that this period of time will help me understand myself and the world better, and will help steer me in the right direction...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Out of the desert

I spent 4 days in Cartagena last week, and really loved the city. It´s a great place to just wander around and people-watch, enjoy the narrow streets lined with balconies and flowers, sip some fresh lemonade, and just soak it all in. I was also lucky enough to meet up with German, a local cartagenero I know through an old roommate in Argentina, and he showed me around the city a lot and introduced me to some of his friends. I suppose you could take taxis, but I found the city totally walkable (except the excessive heat, which lowers motivation quite a bit) and ended up walking the entire city from the historic center all the way through Boca Grande and then to the very tip at Laguito. There´s so much to see outside that I skipped all of the museums and opted to walk along the historic murallas, big stone walls that surround the city, built originally in the 16th century to protect the city from pirate attacks (since the Spanish stored the gold and jewels they were pilaging from the indigenous people there before shipping it all to Spain, it was a popular target). The one touristy thing I did was wander up to the Castillo San Felipe to see the views of the city and wander through its labryth-esque tunnels... truly an impressive sight to see.

The best part of my experience in Cartagena was staying with my two little old lady hosts, Ena and Tarcila. In general during my time on the Colombian coast, I have been so lucky to have family hosts in every city, all thanks to my friend Rafa, an ex student of mine. I stayed with his aunt and uncle in Santa Marta (where I am now... they have been so amazing, letting me leave my backpack here as I travel and use their house as a home base), his parents in Barranquilla, and then these aunts of his mom´s in Cartagena. I originally was planning to stay in a hostel there, but after calling 9 different places and finding them all fully booked, I asked Rafa if he had any suggestions. Next thing I knew, his mom was on the phone arranging for me to stay with her family. And what a family!! Ena and Tarcila are 80 and 84 years old, two wonderful sisters living in an apartment just outside the city center of Cartagena. They were kind enough to not only take me in, but also give me a set of house keys and tell me to come and go as I pleased. I adored them and listening to their stories and looking at their family pictures, and hope I can someday repay them somehow. After all this, I feel like a member of Rafa´s family (afterall, I know almost everyone now), and can´t wait to come back and visit them all ASAP.

Friday arrived, German left for the weekend, and I felt like I had essentially seen what the city had to offer. I also bought myself several presents, and Cartagena was turning into a dangerous blackhole for my money, so I planned my escape. It also suddenly ocurred to me that I had less than a week left in Colombia, and several more things I wanted to do, namely make it up to the northernmost part of the country, La Guajira, and visit a remote desert beach town called Cabo de la Vela. It´s not in my guidebook, but has been recommended to me by many of my Colombian friends, and I had to give it a try. So I took a night bus to Santa Marta Friday night, slept for just a couple hours, grabbed my sleeping bag, and headed to La Guajira.

I´d been told that Cabo de la Vela is difficult to get to, and also that it´s a bad idea to go alone as a woman. As usual, I disregarded this sound advice, and for one of the first times in a long time, I am willing to admit that yes, this was something I should not have done alone and without plans.

Okay, so all I knew is that I needed to first go to Riohacha, the capital of La Guajira, and that somehow I could then find transport to Cabo de la Vela. So with no guidebook or clue, I went to Riohacha, confident as usual that I would figure it out. I arrived fine, and when I got off the bus, the usual entourage of people swarmed me offering bus tickets and information. I was told by a couple people that what I needed to do was go to another town called Cuatro Villas, where I would then be able to get a colectivo, a shared car, to Cabo. It went against my instinct, but I did it anyway. 30 minutes later, a bus dumped me on the side of the road, where there was literally nothing but a phone call stand, one guy selling arepas, and a group of men offering rides. And of course, they all said, oh no, you can´t go directly to Cabo from here, you first need to go to Uribia. So... I started hopping into a car to Uribia, wherever that is, when I suddenly recalled that Rafa had given me the phone number of a friend of a friend of a cousin, something like that, who he said may be able to give me advice on arriving to Cabo. Since Rafa´s connections until that point had been so hospitable and helpful, I figured I´d give it a shot.

I headed to the phone call stand and called Yelis, and after a confusing conversation of trying to figure out who each other were, she said, ¨oh, I am on my way to cabo right now, I can pick you up! I´ll meet you in Uribia in 20 minutes!¨ What luck! What a coincidence! I hopped into the colectivo and arrived in Uribia, and was dumped on an even sketchier and more remote corner, where I was absolutely clear that if I didn´t keep myself looking occupied and confident, something terrible would happen. I busied myself with a bag of chips and a book, and waited. I was now in the middle of the desert, sand blowing in my face, and nothing to see for miles and miles...

Finally a car horn honked and I heard someone call my name. Yelis! I hopped into her car, and to my surprise there were 2 other men in the car and 2 kids, plus a loaded car of passengers following us. I thought not much of it at the time, just thankful for the ride. As we drove along, Yelis offered me her business card... a tour guide... and then explained that I was going to have to pay 100,000 pesos ($50 USD) for her services to Cabo and back... wait, what??? I had just recently turned down a ride in a truck for only 12,000 ($6). So I explained that I hadn´t had in mind a whole package deal, and really just needed a ride, and thought she was just on the way, but nope, BIG misunderstanding, she was a professional tour guide bringing a group of tourists and thought I wanted to buy a whole travel package. She then exclaimed, ¨So you just basically want a free ride?!¨ eeeeeek yes, the whole thing went to hell in a handbasket in that moment. I tried explaining that no, it wasn´t like that, there was just a big misunderstanding, but the damage was done. She told me to work it out with the other driver, pulled over, and sent me to the other car.

The other driver, Alex, turned out to be a doll, and told me not to worry about it, he´d charge me only 30,000 ($15) round trip if I promised not to tell the others. At that point, we were far into the desert on a sandy road with nothing but sand and cacti as far as the eye could see, so I apreciated any sort of offer, and made myself comfortable. The other travelers turned out to be a nice couple and their mothers, 4 in total, from Bogotá, having a nice family trip, and they didn´t seem to mind me tagging along.

In the end it all worked out, although it was quite confusing. We finally made it to Cabo in the late afternoon, in time for a swim and to enjoy the sunset. I rented a hammock at the same place the group was staying, and was thankful I´d made it there at all, even if it wasn´t what I´d expected.

Cabo de la Vela is TINY. There is nothing there but palm shacks along a sandy road, beaches, and indigenous women selling mochilas, gorgeous handwoven bags for which the area is famous. I enjoyed wandering lazily down the sand road, confirming that there was in fact NOTHING to do except enjoy the desert, bought a couple mochilas, and soaked up the sun. It´s an incredibly relaxing place. I finished an entire book and started another, to give you an idea of just how relaxing it is. You can also only get Pony beer there, which is Venezuelan, to give you an idea of its remote location in NE Colombia. The beaches and sunset views are spectacular, and the drive there was one of the most stunning I´ve ever seen. It´s just desert desert desert, with patches of nothing but flat sand as far as the eye can see, and other patches densely packed with cacti so big it feels like a cactus forest. I´ve never been anywhere so, well, deserty, before. I half expected to see camels, although in the end all I saw were a about a million goats and a couple of donkeys.

Thanks to the strange tour group fiasco, I made it back to Riohacha in one piece the following day. As it turns out, you have to book transport back in a Jeep in advance, and they only leave at 5am. Basically I´m an idiot, and probably would have been straned there for another 24 hours at least if I hadn´t met that group, so it was all for the best. It´s so remote, there is nothing... I don´t know how the Jeeps even navigate, as there is no road, just track marks in the sand that go in all different directions. However, when I arrived back in Riohacha, all buses back to Santa Marta were sold out, and I was shoved, literally, on a very sketchy looking discount bus that had only one seat left, the one in the very last row in the corner, where my head was touching the ceiling and my knees were against my chest. I was surrounded by 6 men drinking from a bottle of vodka. Within an hour they were trashed and started talking at me and trying to touch me and hit on me. They wouldn´t stop, and the only reason I didn´t go insane is due to my ipod. The bus was pulled over by the police at one point, and everyone had to get off the bus while the entire thing was inspected floor to ceiling for godknowswhat, and while outside the bus I was constantly harassed by the 6 drunks. It was pretty awful. When I finally, after a million years, made it back to Santa Marta, I felt more thankful than ever to just be there, alive and well, un-robbed, in one piece, and out of the desert. Amen.

So yes, Cabo de la Vela was gorgeous but a rather bittersweet adventure. If you ever decide to go, I advise planning your trip in advance and going as part of a group. I also advise ignoring the morons at the Riohacha bus station and finding a direct bus to Cabo. Don´t get left on various desert street corners like I was. Despite my obvious trauma though, it was cool to be out there, get a sense of the indigenous culture out there in the desert, eat some fresh fish, sleep in yet another hammock (hopefully my last for a while...that was day 10 of hammock sleeping), buy some beautiful artisan work, and have an adventure.

My time on the Colombian coast has now officially come to an end. Tonight, after taking Tio Andres and Tia Nelda (my adopted aunt and uncle here in Santa Marta) out for a shrimp dinner, I am heading to the bus station to go to Bucaramanga for one night, and then to Bogota. My flight to Brasil flies out of Bogotá on Thursday night, and Friday morning I will be in Sao Paulo!!! How amazing! It is such a strange sensation, because I am so looking forward to this next chapter, and yet so sad to go. Colombia has in many ways stolen my heart. It´s a special place, full of warm, hospitable people, great coffee, great beaches, and some of the best dancing in the world. I could see myself here, and I´m sad to go. But I´m so thankful for this experience, and I know it is here for me when I am ready to come back.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

It´s the little things...

I love the little details that make us who we are, as individuals and as a culture. Like how Americans are so used to tipping, and it seems so ridiculous to people here. Or how a lot (not all!) American men don´t dance because they don´t feel macho, and yet here you´re not macho unless you can dance. Or how a man with a bag in the US is looked at strange (I believe they are called ¨manbags¨or the ever-famous ¨murse¨...man + purse), but here it´s typical... men need to carry things too! How Americans like our meat served in such a way where we can completely disasociate it from the animal from which it came. But here, you get an entire fish or guinea pig (in Peru... Cui!) staring back at you from a plate, or an entire hoof in your ambiguously-named soup. You know, just those silly little things.

In both Colombia and Peru, typically food is served with potatoes or rice, and many times with both. That´s like, the first no-no rule I learned of dieting back home... don´t combine your carbs! But that´s a foreign concept here. You´ll never see a plate of food in Peru without potatoes and rice on it. Colombians also fry just about everything, and add sugar to just about everything, even their natural fruit juices (all hail the maracuyá!!!). Consequently, most of them have a barriga (a belly), and frankly, no one seems to mind. It´s refreshing to be in a culture that embraces people of all sizes, after a year of living among the Argentine anorexia/ body-obsessed community.

In Colombia, when you buy something, you say thank you to the person who sold it to you. In Argentina, when you buy something, they thank you. And forget what your Spanish teacher taught you about saying ¨you´re welcome¨in Spanish... you won´t hear many people saying ¨de nada.¨ In Argentina, they say, ¨no, por favor!!¨very animatedly, which always cracks me up. It´s sort of like saying, ¨oh please, it´s nothing!¨ In Peru they always, always say, ¨con mucho gusto,¨ which is super polite. And in Colombia they always, always say ¨a la orden,¨ which loosely translates to ¨at your service¨, which also sounds super polite. They also use ¨a la orden¨ when you first walk into a store, or even as you walk by a store... so there is constantly, all day long, a million people shouting it to me as I walk down the street. I feel so... serviced!

One more little tidbit, before I hang up my nerdiness for the afternoon. In Argentina, the porteños, the word for the Buenos Aires capital city natives, have a reputation for being the worst... as in, the most closed, unfriendly, sort of douchey in Argentina. People from outside the capital (from provincia) tend to view porteños negatively. Its funny, then, to be here in Colombia and realize it is just the same with the rolos, the word for people native to the capital city of Bogotá. The rolos themselves insist they are the best, while the rest of the country (namely the paisas, people from the coffee zone near Medellin, and the costeños, people from the coast) tends to hate rolos. Personally, I can´t tell the difference, but it´s funny how these sorts of stereotypes are universal, I suppose.

I think it´s these small anecdotes that make me love travel so much. I love saying buena onda and genial in Argentina when I like something, and chévere and bacano in Colombia. I love calling people boludo in Argentina and huevón in Peru and Colombia. I crack up every time someone asks me if I´m from Argentina (happens more than you´d think!) because of my porteño accent I just can´t seem to shake (Sho me shamo Erica!). And I love hearing people´s impressions of their own countries and of mine, and sharing stories. I feel like that´s what travel is all about... the little details from everyday life, that make us who we are.