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.


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


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


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


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.


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. 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.