Tuesday, February 17, 2009


On January 26, I took an overnight bus from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu. Iguazu Falls is an incredible waterfall on the border of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. There are parks on the Argentina side and the Brazil side. On January 28 I went to see the Argentina side of the falls. I’ve seen Niagara Falls before and really enjoyed them. It was October (off season) and I spent a lot of time looking at the falls and being reflective. I was kind of hoping that I would get some time to see the falls and be reflective about life, how old the world is, how small we are, etc. But it was way too hot and way too crowded at the park to have any kind of thoughts like that. On January 29, I went to the Brazil side. I didn’t get up in time to see the Brazil side for very long. I only had about 30 minutes at the park before I had to leave and catch a flight to Rio de Janeiro.

I made it into Rio on January 29. The plane was approaching the runway and was just about to land when the pilot changed his mind, fired up the engines and lifted back up. I've been on one other flight where this happened. He said the winds were too strong and he wanted to make another approach.

Brazil is my first non-Spanish speaking country to visit. I found that Engish was not widely spoken. I guess it's that way all over South America, I just didn't notice it as much in other countries because I (sort of) speak Spanish. Portuguese is similar in writing to Spanish, but speaking sounds quite different. When speaking to locals, I usually spoke in Spanish. I know it's not their language, but since I don't speak it anyway, I figured Spanish would be closer than English.

Rio is a beautiful city crammed between mountains and beaches. Beaches in Brazil are exactly what you would expect. Amazing and filled with beautiful people. The bikinis are skimpier than those in Argentina. Lots of volleyball and soccer. Although about half of the men wear Speedos, which I could have done without.

Most visitors stay in either Copacabana or Ipanema.

Copacabana Beach.

I went to the Lapa district one night. Lapa is an entertainment district in an older area near downtown Rio by the aqueduct. Nightlife in Rio is similar to Buenos Aires.

On Sunday, February 1, I watched the Super Bowl at the hostel. As the only American, it took some convincing to get the TV changed over to the Super Bowl. A blonde from Sweden wanted to watch a movie and the guys were wavering. But finally McGregor, a Scot and Ricardo, a Brazilian turned my way and then a couple of Israelis joined in and voted for the game. She left. In the battle between sports and women, sports won this round. The Swede left, but that was OK. Blondes from Sweden are a dime a dozen on the backpacker trail. The Super Bowl only happens once a year. I really didn’t care who won. I was marginally for Pittsburgh. Once I said I was for Pittsburgh, everyone else started cheering for Arizona. Great game! I thought the halftime show was great as well. I liked seeing that the Boss was not above getting cheesy. I really enjoyed the game, although the commentary was in Portuguese and the commercials were Brazilian. There was one Volkswagen commercial featuring a man and his dogfish pet (top half fish, bottom half dog) that kept playing over and over.


Corcovado & Cristo Redentor.


In addition to beaches, Corcovado, and Sugar Loaf, another tourist thing to go on an organized favela tour. Favelas are slums in Rio, usually located on a hill. They are located quite close to the wealthy parts of town. The rich and the poor live in close proximity to each other, but the delineation between the rich and poor areas are fairly well defined. The borders to the favelas are well marked and it would be very difficult to just wander into a favela. The order is kept by the drug dealers. The police rarely enter the favelas and if they do, it can be a potentially violent situation because it disrupts the drug trade. I went on a tour of the Rocina favela, one of the largest in RIo.

On February 4, I took an overnight bus to Porto Seguro. A small beach town between Rio and Salvador. Not much was going on in Porto Seguro. Which was fine with me after six days in RIo.

On February 7, I took an overnight bus from Porto Seguro to Salvador. Salvador has an old town that is reminiscent of a brightly colored New Orleans.

Sao Francisco Church. The inside is totally decked out in gold from top to bottom. It was quite the sight. No pictures as cameras were not allowed inside.

Elevator linking upper town and lower town. Originally built in 1873. Cost 5 Real cents to ride (about 2 US cents).

I got about 90% of my taxes knocked out while I was in Salvador.As perverse as it sounds, I really enjoyed doing my taxes. Not because I’m getting a pretty fat refund back this year, but I just enjoyed diving into a project. Although I have to admit while I was working on them, I was on a patio overlooking the ocean and drinking a coconut.

The pre-celebrations for Carnaval are in full swing. A bunch of us went to the Pelourinho (historic center) one night to a concert and then a couple of bars. I’m really kind of digging Brazilian music. The beats are pretty infectious. It is heavily drum based. I had a really good time dancing and drinking capirinas while in Salvador.

I had 6 days before catching a flight from Salvador back to Rio. When I got to Salvador, it became pretty apparent that it was not worth spending 6 days. But it seems to get to anywhere in Brazil it is a 20+ hour bus ride or an expensive plane ticket. It's a rerally big country. My second day in Salvador I got a tip about an island about a two hour boat ride away from Salvador. It sounded perfect.

On February 11 I took a two hour boat ride to Morro de Sao Paulo. It is a small island off the coast of Brazil. There are no cars. The taxis are men with wheelbarrows to carry luggage. I’ve seen a lot of good beaches and as a jaded traveler, it takes a lot to impress me. But I though this place was pretty close to paradise.

A few random thoughts on Latin America.

I’m struck by how we are much more similar than different. The differences are quite small. But below are some that struck me:

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the kiss on the cheek greeting. I never know when it is appropriate to go in. When I got to Brazil they mixed it up with the double kiss. We never really do it in my culture. It’s kind of awkward and honestly, I’d prefer to not even do it. In Argentina the men often kiss each other on the cheek to say goodbye.

Mothers are much more likely to breast feed their babies in public.

Latin Americans, especially Brazilians, are much more open with public displays of affection. You'll be on a bus, an elevator, in a mall, or any other public place, and people right next to you will be making out. And I'm talking loud, smacking kisses. I don't think I'll ever get used to that.

Coca-cola has insane worldwide market coverage. I don’t think there is anywhere in the world you can go and not be able to get a Coke. McDonald's is pretty ubiquitous as well, but not in remote places. McDonald's and Burger King tend to cost a bit more than they do in the states. They are usually found in the more affluent areas of town and are considered a fairly expensive treat rather than a staple.

Cities and towns are built around the concept of people living close to one another and walking or taking public transportation. In the US, cities are built around people living far apart and driving everywhere. I haven’t driven a car in six months. I haven't missed it.

Midway point.

I’m getting a little reflective about the trip. I’m probably a little more than halfway through it. When I’m at home, I don’t often meet new friends. Here, that’s about all I do. I meet people daily. I've maid some some really great friends and had some good times, but I find myself missing the kind of friendships that takes more than a few days (or even a few hours) to cultivate. Similarly, when I’m at home, I usually seek out the unusual. Now that I’ve been out of the country for six months, I find myself at times yearning for the familiar.

I had a physical in August 2008 before I left and I weighed 283 pounds. I saw a free scale in a drugstore in Porto Seguro so I weighed myself. The scale at the drugstore read 110 kilograms, which converts to 243 pounds. So, assuming accuracy of both scales, I have lost exactly 40 pounds since I left the states without really trying.

On February 15 at 3:00pm I am flying from Rio to Sydney, Australia, with stops in Sao Paulo, Santiago (Chile), and Auckland (New Zealand). When I get there it will be 7:00am on February 16. I'm skipping a day since I'm crossing the international dateline. If I was still working and planning a two-week vacation, Australia would probably be one of the last places I would go. 25 hours is a long time to travel to go to a place that looks like and is culturally very similar to my own country. But, I have to admit, I'm really looking forward to spending a few weeks in a first world, English speaking country.