Monday, September 7, 2009

Short and Soju

So I got to Seoul on Saturday evening in time to have dinner with the ESPN crew and go out to Itaewon, a popular bar, restaurant, and shopping area. The camera guys, producer, and I ventured out to the Seoul Pub where there were numerous GIs, foreigners, and Koreans alike. I was able to do what may turn out to be my most important job of the trip, and that was to pull an older obnoxious gentleman away from a couple of Korean girls the crew wanted to talk to. After entertaining this man with my witty banter (ok, I really just bought him a beer) and after the Korean girls had to "leave unexpectedly", we went to another bar before going home.

Sunday we went to a K-League football match and filmed one of our main subjects, a player named Ahn Young Hak who plays professionally for a team from Suwon, a city near Seoul, but who also plays for the North Korean National Team. While there we also interviewed fans about the possible joint North and South Korean cheering section that has been proposed for the 2010 World Cup. Monday we interviewed Ahn, who was raised in Tokyo by his Korean parents and grandparents, and had the option of playing for the Japanese, South Korean, or North Korean National Football teams; I was reminded of when I had the option of playing for Oregon or, well, just Oregon. Ahn is a really genuine guy and expressed his true sadness at the heightened tension between the two nations. He believes that his national team, who haven't qualified for the World Cup since 1966, could have a good chance at showing the world that there is more to the controversial nation and that perhaps there could even be improved relations between North and South as a result of both their involvement in the tournament. Let's hope...

In between all this hard work (ok, it's not really that hard for a PA like me), we've been able to do a bit of shopping for cheap knock-offs and souvenirs. I especially like the fake purses with backwards designer emblems similar to what one could find in downtown LA.

My favorite thing to do thus far, however, has been to sample the Korean cuisine. I LOVE kimchi, but those I speak to after eating kimchi don't love me (too much garlic). I've also had some very good bibimbap, an assortment of "healthy food" aka vegetables, rice, an egg, and sometimes raw meat, which is served in a pre-heated stone pot so that everything is cooked as it is served to you (think portable, individualized Benihana's). Aside from these two dishes, beer is beer, and then there's a drink called Soju (spelling?), which is similar to both vodka and sake but a bit sweeter. Very good, but very dangerous!

Anywho, I'm off with the crew to do a couple more interviews, one with the President of the Korean Football Association and one with the Chairman of the 2022 World Cup Bidding Committee, and then to sample some more Soju! Best til next time...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Long Time No See

So I never officially signed off this blog, and it doesn't look like I'll be doing that anytime soon! After South America I returned home and was able to land an internship with a digital photography and graphic design company in Los Angeles called Digital Fusion working as an assistant to the Production Manager. I worked my ass off for just over two months and it finally paid off as they have decided to hire me full time as the Production Coordinator; it will be made official after a quick trip to Asia...

Yes, Asia. South Korea and Japan to be exact. ESPN has hired me as a production assistant for a few features they are doing over there. One is for a Veterans' Day Special airing on their program Outside the Lines, and two are for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. We'll be in Seoul from the 5th to the 12th and Tokyo from the 12th to the 15th before returning home.

I'll be blogging again about my time over there so stay tuned!

All the best...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mis manos no trabajan

I have cement in my hair, more knots in my back than verterbrae, dirt in places where the sun don´t shine, and I can´t grip anything without looking like a new patient at the Betty Ford Clinic. This is the hardest work I´ve ever done outside of soccer and I´m actually enjoying it. I´ve used pick axes, shovels, sledge hammers, wheelbarrows, and they even let me run the cement mixer for a bit. Work typically starts around 9:30 in the morning and goes til around 1:30 when we have a delicious Peruvian lunch made for us by the respective families we are helping. Today we actually had grilled stingray, something I´ve never even heard of eating before. We then work til around 4 before going home and either hopping in the shower or diving in the ocean to clean off the mess accumluated throughout the day. Dinner is promptly at 6, unless there´s a soccer game, in which case everyone goes to cheer the team on against the nasty tour guides and then dinner is afterward. The night is then spent playing cards, having a few beers, and exchanging stories. For me, however, the night is usually over just after dinner as I crawl into my bed, which happens to be about as hard as the concrete we hammer, and I struggle to keep my eyes open reading a book.

I´ve made the strongest bonds of my trip thus far because, as you can imagine, all of us volunteers are constantly around each other. My ¨partner¨ has been the 21-year-old, professional soccer player/model, Jhonatan, cousin of the founder of the organization. Fortunately, we´ve been able to work together every day as he is a constant example for myself and everyone else; he´ll work tirelessly all day digging four and five-foot trenches and still have enough energy to play with the little kids surrounding our worksite yelling at us gringos to either give them money or give them wheelbarrow rides. We usually choose the latter.

Besides Jhonatan, I´ve also been lucky to become close with Harold, the founder, Harold´s brother, Edwin, and Harold´s sister, Carolina. Their family´s house didn´t succumb to the actual tremors of the earthquake a year-and-a-half ago, but it did burn down a couple days later and they lost nearly everything. A few of their family members died as well, but they all have been selflessly working nonstop to fix the damage as best they can.

So now here´s the pitch I assume some of you have been expecting: this cause has become very close to my heart as I have literally put not only the cliche of blood, sweat, and tears into it, but nearly every other bodily function as well (don´t drink the tap water). If you haven´t looked at the website yet, please do so:
I know that this time in the world is not a time to be asking for money for people in foreign countries when it is so desperately needed at home, so all I ask is that you promote the cause by telling other potential volunteers about it and keep it in mind for the future. The people here are some of the best I´ve ever met, and although I could have easily donated money and saved myself a lot of pain and discomfort, I take much pride in my ability to attempt to do something I´ve never done before and I will always be thankful for the experience I´ve had here and for the friends I´ve made.

Note: Please feel free to pass this on to whomever in an email or otherwise. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pisco Sweet

My birthday in Buenos Aires was an absolute delight. We had a barbeque at the hostel I stayed at and all the friends I made in the past week and a half were in full force putting up signs and buying me drinks. The hostel even bought a cake (which was made with dulce de leche, the national sweet flavor, delicious) with a candle and everyone sang before heading out to a club to dance all night. It was definitely one of the more memorable birthdays not only because of the location but because of the heartwarming gestures made by everyone who I´d only just met days or even hours before. The next day was spent lounging around, packing, and getting ready for my next little adventure: Peru.
This was an unexpected stop on my trip but so far has proven to be well worth another airplane ticket. About a year and a half ago there was a very bad earthquake in Pisco, Peru, home of the Pisco Sour, that killed hundreds of people and destroyed almost thousands of homes. I found out from other travelers about something called Pisco Sin Fronteras, a group of volunteers dedicated to rebuilding homes, schools, and other community service projects around the area. I checked out the organization online ( and found that it was something I really wanted to be a part of. So Friday I flew from Buenos Aires to Lima and took a four hour bus ride to Pisco where I found the headquarters and will be staying for the next couple weeks. We´ve got about 20 people now digging trenches, laying bricks, going to schools, and rebuilding furniture all out of the goodness of their hearts. The past few days I have been doing more manual labor than I have ever done before, and though I´m exhausted and completely out of shape, the looks on the faces of the families we´re helping more than compensates for it. I even got to play soccer last night with some of the guys who live and work here against some nasty tour guides. We lost unfortunately, but surprisingly enough I put up a somewhat impressive performance for not playing in two months, or at least I wasn´t embarrassed off the hard court. I´ll write more about the projects as we go along, but I invite anyone reading to please look at the website and check it out. It´s definitely worth a look...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I'm retired from the Tango

Just wanted to write a tidbit on my short-lived Tango career. I went with the American guy and two Dutch girls I met in Uruguay to a Moulin Rouge-looking tango club called La Catedral where they have a half-hour lesson before the club becomes a club. So I found myself on the dance floor in a circle with about 30 other people and two teachers in the middle in my Tango dress and sandals (one, I didn't bring my dancing shoes, two, I was already worried about falling on my face and didn't need the extra inches of a high heel). As I was having flashbacks of my failed hip-hop team tryouts in 7th grade, we started slowly doing some individual footwork going backwards and forwards, and then they made us get into partners. The one Dutch girl and I were both solo so we just grabbed the first two guys we saw and made them dance with us. Imagine my surprise when I found out my partner was the one and only Professor Javier, Tango teacher and extraordinnaire. He's not actually famous, but he was pretty good and I apologized in advance for being "muy mal". He didn't speak much English but he attempted to instruct me in my movements and was very patient. While I was cursing at myself under my breath he was saying, "Tranqilo, tranqilo" and telling me to breathe, which suddenly became very difficult under the circumstances. In a way he was a really good partner to have because I suppose he is used to uncoordinated beginners such as myself, but I also felt so much pressure to do well that I don't think I enjoyed it as much. We'd get into a bit of a rhythm and I'd think, "Yeah, I've got the hang of this!" but then since he was leading he'd try to take me somewhere else and I would either trip on my feet, step on his, or not budge at all. My theory is that playing center back in soccer forced me to be sort of an unmoveable being (one reason I usually remained standing after a collision and am still third all-time at Oregon in yellow cards, woo!) and I'm not really able to relinquish control of my body to someone else just to have them swing me around. I tried to explain this to him and he just kind of looked at me puzzled, as if thinking, "How can this gringa play soccer and not have good feet?"

Well, oh, well. I'm really happy I did it, but I was so relieved when it was over that when I went back to the couch to sit with my friends I downed a glass of bad wine and sprawled on the couch as if I had just finished playing a half of soccer. At midnight we all cheers'd for my birthday and exchanged the kisses on the cheek that I love and the Dutch girls bought me a piece of Tiramisu. It was very sweet...

We're having a barbeque tonight and then going out after. I'm not too sure where yet, but I can almost guarantee it won't be a tango club. Who knows, maybe I'll pull a Brett Favre or Michael Jordan and come out of retirement. Unlike them, however, I can't get much worse so it'd most likely be an improvement!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It's called a "trip" for a reason

A week in Buenos Aires feels like two with all that I've done. Before I arrived I knew that there was one district I wanted to visit above all others (no, not the red light district): San Telmo. It's the sort of artisans hub with many galleries, hippie jewelry, and vintage and antique shops, or as they so originally call them here, old things (cosas viejas). I spent a day walking around that area looking in some of the galleries and shops where there is some really unique art and clothing. I've really enjoyed observing the women's fashion here with its very loose, flowing lines and usually eccentric patterns or graphic designs. A common style for women is wearing pants that somewhat resemble, and please excuse the reference, MC Hammer's parachute pants, though not quite as extreme. They don't look as bad as you might imagine, however, and after buying a pair for the hell of it I found them very comfortable. I also spent Sunday in the same area where the biggest and best street market in the city is found. The main street is blocked off from cars so that hippies, designers, artists, and street performers who come from all over can sell their merchandise and their talents.

I went to the MALBA last week as well, which is the Museum of Latinamericano Art in Buenos Aires, and that was quite a treat. The work ranged from film to painting to sculpture and mixed media and most of it was done in the past century, so it was anything but boring. My favorite piece was a sculpture designed exclusively for the space meaning it would have to be completely modified if there were any hoping of moving it. It was a set of wooden benches on multiple floors whose ends extended into vines that wound up multiple floors into other benches. The craftsmanship was really quite incredible, if you want to see it you can look on and you'll see it on the right side of the page.

I spent another couple of days doing something I never would have done had I not gone with other people: walking tours. Ugh, they just sound horrible. I don't like tours. I'd much rather discover things on my own, but since they were free I decided to submit myself to them. And they weren't too bad. We walked from the Congreso to the Casa Rosada where Eva Perone aka Madonna gave her famous speech to the people. Our 27-year-old Argentinian male tour guide was very informative, funny, and not bad to look at, all good qualities to have for three hours of walking.

Everything at night doesn't start til around 1AM and usually goes til 6 or 7AM, so that's what I mean by one week feeling like two. The hours that I would have spent sleeping were instead spent at various clubs dancing and jumping around. I've had more good luck with meeting really fun people at this hostel I'm staying at, so each night has presented new kinds of entertainment. One English guy here is in love with Salsa dancing, so even when there is techno or hip hop on he'll grab one of the girls and just start swinging her around with the moves he's learned in only a few weeks. He's actually quite good, and has been complimented by various locals.

Last night we went to a drum show called La Bumba where there were about 20 different percussion instruments and musicians standing in a choir-like form playing such good beats that it was impossible to stand still. The audience was mostly tourists, but it was a show not to be missed. Beers were huge and the air was filled with smoke, giving the city a run for its name.

Tomorrow is my birthday and there are quite a bit of people rallying around it which is really nice, especially being away from home. Not too sure what we're doing yet, but it's sure to last into the wee hours of the morning. Tonight I'm going Tango dancing where I'm bound to make a fool of myself, but I vowed I would try so I'll plunge headfirst into that embarrassment. One valuable thing I've learned from this trip is that it's inevitable that I'll make so many mistakes and look entirely stupid at times, but it's only temporary and I just have to get over it as best I can. I gotta take it in stride, roll with it, and hope that I'll come out with a lesson or at least have a good laugh in the process!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Too much caffeine

Just a quick little note about my few days in Montevideo...I stayed a really great hostel which was small and had an amazing staff so I met some good people. The staff consists of about six guys and one girl who all had an idea to start a hostel together after backpacking through Europe a few years back. The cool thing is that they're all under 25 and have really put their hearts and souls into the running of the thing. They made me feel so welcome the minute I got there, and that combined with the friendships I made with a couple of Dutch girls, an American guy, and a Columbian guy, made for a really pleasant and heartwarming stay. We went out one night to a bar with samba dancing and one of the little blonde Dutch girls was getting so much attention she couldn't walk three feet without being grabbed by someone wanting to dance with her. I made it my duty to be her personal bodyguard and pushed our way through the crowd to our friends who were of course in the middle of the dance floor; there was no escaping the Uruguayan men who all seemed to be rocking mullets. Spent the days walking around the Old City or Ciudad Vieja and some other street markets looking at crafts, jewelry, clothing, art, and other useless Uruguayan shit. Everyone there drinks Mate, which is a tea that is brewed for days on end before actually drinking. The idea behind it is that it's a sort of communal drink which is passed around a group of friends like a hookah, but I couldn't walk down the street without seeing someone with a Mate cup and a thermos whether they were in a group or not. I went to the Uruguay versus Paraguay match on Saturday in which Paraguay was favored, but Uruguay actually dominated and won two nil. Paraguay looked really sluggish, but maybe it had to do with all the Uruguayan fans chanting something like "Paraguay means 'bitch' in Spanish". It was a really good few days there and I hope to go back someday, especially with an extended invitation from the hostel staff. I took a bus to Colonia yesterday before boarding a ferry for Buenos Aires and I cannot emphasize enough how excited I am to be here! After hearing so many great things about it I finally get to experience it for myself, and it has promise to be a longer trip than expected. The Dutch girls and I are planning on meeting up for Tango lessons, and the American guy is planning on being here around my birthday and since his is just a few days later, we might celebrate together with all his friends he made while taking Spanish classes here. Maybe it's the good night's rest I got or the couple cups of coffee I had this morning, but I feel such a real energy and a positive vibe about this place that I can hardly contain myself. Of course now that I say that I'll probably be mugged in the street or something. Knock on wood.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Party capital of the world - 1: Dylann - 0

I hope no one has been holding his breath while waiting for another blog from´s going to be happening less frequently now since I´ll be on the move for the rest of my trip, three days here, four there, etcetera. I´m just over halfway through my trip and only now can I safely say I´ve finally gotten in the swing of things. By this I mean the initial bouts of homesickness have worn off and I´m busy enough not to notice the days or weeks going by.

I had a fabulous time in Florianopolis, which I found out after I left was voted the party capital of the world last year by some big magazine, I can´t remember which one. I stayed for four days and nights and laughed the most I have laughed my trip thus far. I met two guys, one from Utah, who every time he introduces himself says, ¨Hi, I´m Nick, I´m from Utah and I´m not Mormon,¨ and another from South Africa who is a professional river guide working his southern hemisphere summers in Patagonia and his northern hemisphere summers in Switzerland. They both had recently gotten out of long-term relationships and spending the days at the beach with them was extremely entertaining. I probably could have been blind and listened to their descriptions of the women and would have had a clear picture of what exactly they were looking at. Upon seeing one girl with a very nice, ahem, gluteous maximus, Nick proclaimed,¨I would grill a steak on that ass.¨ So you see what I mean. They said watching all the women with postage stamp-sized bikinis (I often felt overdressed in my standard American bikini) sauntering around was like being in heaven and hell: wonderful to look at but torture not to interact with.

Now you might think I was offended listening to some of their banter, but I told them early on I didn´t care, that it was nice for them to appreciate the female figure in any and all forms. We marvelled at how all of the men and women flaunted their bodies with such self-confidence that it did not matter how fit they were, and how men and women with the same bodies in other parts of the world would be self-conscious and cover themselves up. It was quite refreshing, especially from a woman´s point of view, to see how genuinely happy and care-free people could be with themselves. Now it might be ignorant of us to assume that everyone thought of themselves as models and works of art, but from our beach chairs that´s what it seemed like and that´s what we liked to think.

The hostel we stayed at was literally right on the beach, with the rooms in the back and the bar and cafe in the front on the water. We were in a somewhat remote part of the island where there was only one other bar besides the one in the hostel which was open to locals and tourists alike until midnight. Three of the four nights I stayed there was outstanding live music, with the one oddball being a somewhat interpretive dance and performance in which the woman squawked like a bird. Saturday night there was a really good reggae band, Sunday a really good blues band, and Monday a duet of a guitar player and drummer covering really good rock and Brazilian songs. With the locals being allowed in the bar it was quite fun getting to know a few of them, especially for my friends since many of the women who showed up were gorgeous. The guys who came weren´t too bad either, most of them being surfers who wore nothing but board shorts. There was another guy whose job it was to meet all the tourists and ask if they wanted alcohol, weed, or cocaine, but who really impressed us by playing the bongos on that Monday night; he was multi-talented.

I´m pretty sure my body hates me after those four days, so after taking a 15-hour overnight bus I´m happy to be Montevideo, Uruguay, where I can let myself recover before heading to Buenos Aires sometime this weekend. I´m trying to make it to the Uruguay versus Paraguay soccer match on Saturday, but I´ll hopefully be able to update either just before or after that. Adios for now.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Happy Belated St. Patrick´s Day

After 23 hours on a bus from Rio to Foz do Iguaçu, and two more buses to cross the border, and two more stamps on my passport (an exit from Brazil, entrance to Argentina), I finally made it into Argentina. But only for a couple days. On the bus I met a girl from Denmark and we got to talking and we found ourselves planning to tour the waterfalls together. As I said before, the falls are on the border of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, and apparently the Argentinean side is best, and since her hostel happened to be in Argentina, I went with her and booked a couple nights there to make things easier.

We spent the whole day yesterday with a couple from Sweden walking around the national park that contains the falls. We were constantly moving for about five hours going from trail to trail and across the Iguaçu River to get better views of a few of the 275 waterfalls in the park. Besides the falls there were also great views of the surrounding environment including dozens of species of birds, lizards, iguanas, and some kind of rodent called a coatite (spelling?). We saw a couple iguanas about the size of a poodle or terrier as they crossed our paths with no regard for us, sticking out their tongues to smell their way.

The falls were massive. From afar we could get a panoramic view of rows and rows of them, but we also got close enough to be in the spray of the whitewater. The largest waterfall was about 100 yards wide and probably more than double that in depth, though it was difficult to tell because we couldn´t see the bottom because of the cloudiness of the whitewater. It was such an awesome sight to see, I couldn´t help being a bit frightened as I stared down in the midst of the deafening roar. But then I looked at all the little old Japanese people in their tour group and I was pulled back to reality. I bought a disposable camera finally, so I took plenty of pictures...for safety purposes no one is allowed to go swimming near the falls, let alone jump or dive off of one, though I would have loved to do it.

This evening I´m taking another bus for 15 hours to the Brazilian island of Florianopolis where the beaches and town are being raved about by some fellow travelers. From there I´ll probably head down to Uruguay, but plans could change at any moment considering yesterday I was thinking about taking a 40 hour bus ride to Chile. The only place I absolutely, positively have to be on a certain date is Buenos Aires on May 5th, so anything could happen before then. Hope everyone had a good St. Patrick´s Day with a Guinness or some Irish whiskey...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Kiss, Kiss

Okay, so I've been lagging on the blog apologies. I ended up staying in Buzios a couple days longer than expected because it was so lovely. After enjoying my time there I came back to Rio where I'm currently staying with a girl named Joanna and her mother in a part of the city called Tijuca. It's near lots of restaurants, bars, and shopping, and is only about a 10 minute walk to Maracana Stadium where the finals of the 2014 World Cup will be played. The other day I went for a run around the stadium and was somewhat startled when I arrived to see it surrounded by as many police and military as there would be at a BCS Championship game. Apparently there was to be a game played there that night by two of the city's rival teams and it was going to get crazy, so I ran for a bit and watched as the fans started showing up in their black and white striped jerseys and as the police monitored would-be hooligans. I say would-be because the city passed a law making it illegal to sell beer within two kilometers of the stadium in hopes of discouraging alcohol-related incidents in fighting, heckling, etcetera. This isn't to say, however, that fighting and heckling don't occur without beer (the chants of "punta" and vulgar hand gestures are neverending in the stadium and directed toward referees and opposing players constantly, or to anyone who might cross the wrong-person's path), but the lack of beer vendors has supposedly improved the nature of the fans and decreased the number of violent outbreaks. While I would have enjoyed going to the game, Joanna and I had other plans to attend a birthday dinner for one of her friends at a nearby restaurant.
I love the Brazilian way of greeting people: a gentle embrace and a kiss on both cheeks starting with the right side. This is the way to greet everyone, even me! So that night I must have exchanged kisses with at least 20 different guys and girls who accepted me immediately. Those who spoke English spoke to me, those who didn't went through Joanna, who happens to speak Portuguese (duh), English, German, Spanish, and is currently learning French (boy, do I feel like an underachiever in the language department). Joanna is extremely nice and patient and welcoming, and she and I have formed a fast friendship. She is planning on going to either South Africa or Australia at the end of the year to practice her English and I have already said I will be visiting her in either place. Tonight we are going to a Samba school where her dad owns a bar and she works as a bartender, so perhaps I'll be able to learn some new moves :)
Sunday I leave for Foz do Iguacu, a place on the border of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay where there are waterfalls said to put Niagara to shame. I'll be hiking around there for a few days before deciding where to go next; I recently had the idea to visit Uruguay as well, so I may head straight there or go to the island of Florianopolis in the southernmost part of Brazil first. Oh, decisions, decisions...
Hope this Friday the 13th is working out for everyone!

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I got in the water! I have spent the last few days at a restaurant on the beach reading and swimming and relaxing. The restaurant is literally on the beach, as in the tables and chairs are in the sand 10 feet from the water, and they play music that sounds like Jimmy Buffet in Portuguese and cook fresh shrimp and fish caught only minutes before. Only 20 yards into the water are dozens of sailboats and rowboats which people can easily swim to and take a break from the water if need be.
The town itself is lovely and quaint, sort of a combination of Santa Barbara, California, Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, and Bend, Oregon. Two cruise ships have docked since I´ve been here, and tourists and locals alike line the cobblestone streets venturing into shops and restaurants that, while expensive by Brazilian standards, are still reasonably priced. Men walk around in little more than board shorts or speedos carrying beer and women don sarongs and bikinis flitting from boutique to boutique. Maybe because I´m traveling alone I notice this more, but Buzios is definitely a couple and family-friendly town. I walked in to have dinner last night at a seafood place and they proceeded to take me to a table that seated six people. I told them it was too big, and found a nice two-person table in the corner instead, just big enough for me and my purse.
Yesterday I made friends with some Brazilian fishermen and lifeguards who invited me to sit with them even though only one of them spoke minimal English and the others spoke none at all. But through hand gestures (not rude ones, come on), one guy´s broken English and my broken Portuguese, we were able to establish a friendship. Once again they were all surprised that I was traveling alone and impressed that I played soccer at university. They asked me how I liked Buzios compared to Rio, and I said it was much more quiet and peaceful, and the word they repeated over and over about it was ´tranqilo´, so I´ve adopted that word for this weekend. It also might be ´indulge´since that seems to be all I´m doing; I mean, really, who eats empanadas vanilla ice cream with a fudge-filled brownie for breakfast?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Brazilians like Obama

I´ve now been here for just over two weeks and I think I have a grasp on daily occurrences as well as the culture. The sounds of the city are often in tune with one another; from the banging tools of construction workers to the sweeping brooms of the cleaners to the brushing and polishing of the shoe shiners, everyone has a rhythm. It´s very easy to find yourself tapping your feet to no artificial sound at all. Men and women even walk to the beat, oftentimes looking as though they´re dancing down the sidewalk as they sway their hips and dodge passersby. Recently there have been many young men and women who paint their bodies and faces and walk around the city asking for money from people for college, and though initially you might think it´s a scam, they really are raising money for journalism, medical, and trade school (I donate coins maybe once or twice a day). Every street is lined with lanches, or mini cafes, and other vendors selling fruit, candy, coconut milk, pastries with meat and cheese (sounds odd but really good), sunglasses, watches, and sometimes even old knickknacks or used shoes. Outside the lanches there are always plastic chairs and tables where you can find people sipping coffee or sharing a bottle of beer at all hours of the day. And no matter where you go or how little Portuguese you speak, a smile and a bit of effort go a long way.
Last night I stopped at one of the lanches for a three dollar dinner while I finished another book (four on this trip so far, which is about how many I read in my four years at college), and I happened to meet the owner´s son who spoke English fairly well. He was very eager to meet a native English speaker, so I asked him to sit down with me and we talked for a couple hours about life in the states and life here. Besides praising me for America´s newly-elected president, one of the things he said which was somewhat funny was that Brazilians believe everyone and everywhere in America is all about sex and how casual it must be there. I laughed and told him that while there are stereotypes for a reason, this wasn´t applicable to all places. When I told him I was traveling alone, he was very surprised and called me crazy, and really couldn´t understand why I hadn´t bothered to learn any Portuguese before coming. I said I had learned a bit, but that I mainly came because I love the city and the people. And maybe you can get a slight understanding of why I love it so much from my description above. I am meeting with him again tonight at the same place to help him practice his English in exchange for company and maybe even a bit of help with my Portuguese.
Tomorrow I´m traveling to Buzios, a resort town about three hours north of here, for a weekend getaway (right, as if I need to `get away`). I´ve heard that the beaches are the best in the country, so it should be lovely. Maybe I´ll even get in the water...

Monday, March 2, 2009

The fans say ´fuck you´ to the refs before the games even start

I am not a big fan of dancing, and I´m not very good at it.By dancing I mean the hip-gyrating, pelvic-thrusting, and basically sex-mocking that is popular today. In seventh grade I went to the hip-hop team tryout and only lasted an hour before calling my mom in tears and telling her to pick me up because there was no way I was coordinated enough to do what Coach/Miss Gourdine was asking. Samba dancing is different, however, and while it can sometimes encompass the same idea of hip-hop, it also can be done without a partner and is different in footwork. Anyone who has ever worked with a foot-speed ladder can do the samba, and since I had to work with one to help me in soccer, I am not half-bad at it and I even like it a bit. Friday and Saturday nights a couple friends and I went to two blocos, one in an area called Lapa in the middle of the city and one in a favela, or slum, where we danced with the natives to live Samba bands. I danced by myself, I danced with guys, I danced with girls, and generally enjoyed myself like I haven´t been able to before. So take that Miss Gourdine.
Sunday we were fortunate enough to get tickets to a soccer final between a team from Rio and someone else (it doesn´t really matter who because the team from Rio was much better). We took the subway filled with Rio´s team´s fans who were singing and banging drums all the way there only to find even more fans singing and banging drums. Inside the stadium the visitor´s side was nearly empty and we were struggling for standing room in the cheap seats. It was so much fun to see the enthusiasm which all the fans had, with the songs and drums and waving flags. The game itself wasn´t very exciting; I thought both teams looked rather flat, and I bet if the fans had been put on the field they would have at least made up for their lack of skill with energy and attitude.
Last night I had another one of the purely happy moments (I feel very lucky to have had two in the past week!), when a friend and I took a gondola up to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain where there is a 360 degree view of the city. It was sunset, and the colors of the sky couldn´t have been more perfect even if they been painted. It was the best money I´ve spent since being here, and though I didn´t bring a camera, I managed to get my friend to take a picture of me.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Think about it...

Have you ever had one of those moments when you realize that you are exactly where you want to be, doing exactly what you want to do, with exactly who you want to be with at that exact moment (lots of exactly´s, but necessary for my point)? I´ve had a couple of those moments in the past few years, but they happened to be when I was spending time with good friends. This isn´t to say I haven´t been happy the past few years, because I have, but in the back of my mind I always had thoughts of what I still had to get done, or where I had to be the next day, or who I had to speak to. These thoughts of responsibility didn´t ever keep me from having a good time, but they were an ever-present reminder of obligation. Last night I had one of these rare, purely happy moments. After having changed locations yesterday, I was sitting by myself at a cafe in the early evening, reading a book called Eat, Pray, Love (one about pleasure, spirituality, and the combination of the two), sporadically watching the people go by, and I realized that this was one of those rare moments. I was genuinely happy to be alone in the midst of the city hustle and bustle reading a book and people watching. While this isn´t the first time I´ve done something of this nature (as in sitting and reading at a cafe), it is the first time in a long time that I have felt no obligation to do anything I didn´t feel like doing. And I was alone. Don´t get me wrong, I love my friends and family and often wish for their company, but I was perfectly content with my own company. I heard a friend of mine say once that ´if you´re not your own favorite person, you´re not trying hard enough.´I suppose that is one thing that this trip is about for me: becoming my own favorite person. I will always have other favorite people, of course, but I should be first and foremost dammit! Anyway, not much has happened in the past few days by way of action, so I thought I´d share this bit of self-reflective information with you. Maybe it will make you reflect as well...

Monday, February 23, 2009

And on the eighth day, we rest

Thank gosh. The past two days of blockos have been extremely fun, but after 8 hours each day in 90 degree weather, accidentally rubbing arms against other sweaty, dancing robots, and getting five different burn lines despite applying and reapplying sunscreen, I was ready for a bit of a break. So we stayed at home today and I read one of my books, wrote a little, and chilled out. I even got to do some laundry. But enough of this uneventful day, you want the good stuff...
Yesterday we were in downtown Rio by 830am and my host took me to see the famous steps of Lapa. A Chilean artist has been working since 1990 on building tile into around 180 steps. It started with the tiles being only the colors of the Brazilian flag, but has since evolved into tiles from all over the world. My description isn't doing it justice, so google it: "the Selaron Stairway". We walked up and down and even met the artist, who happened to be doing paintings of the stairway...He asked where I was from and when I told him Los Angeles, he asked in Portuguese whether I knew of Snoop Dogg, who had called his stairs "beautiful".
We went on to a bloco which was pretty similar to the herd of cattle from the day before, but with less marching and with more people hanging and dancing on buildings. From there we went to Ipanema Beach for another bloco, and this one stretched for at least 3 miles along the strand. We were dancing and singing (I was basically just mouthing sound) when a hole parted in the crowd and these two statuesque and busty Brazilian women started samba-ing like crazy. Standing nearly six feet tall and wearing incredibly skimpy clothing, they were spinning like a pinwheels so aggressively I wondered if they were on acid. Noticing strange looks around me I started to examine them more closely, and (wouldn't you know it) under their heavily made-up faces and Rapunzel-like hair was the significant presence of Adam's apples. My friend told me they were "he-shes", and they were getting looks from everyone. It was hard not to, really, since they were dancing so relentlessly, tossing their heads back like elephants waving their trunks (no phallic reference intended). They were truly mesmerizing, especially when one's nipple became exposed without his-her knowing it, but he-she continued to dance. Why should it matter I guess? It's like a man having his shirt off, right...??

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tranny Cattle

It's almost 7pm here and I'm watching the Wayans Brothers television show dubbed in Portuguese at my host's house. It just isn't as funny when you can't understand it, though I never thought it was very funny in English either. My host and his family are very nice and live in an apartment outside of the city in a town called Iraja. It's pretty run-down, sort of like being in East LA, but I've got a bed and a roof. My host speaks a bit of English too, so we've been helping each other with our respective languages. His English is much better than my Portuguese, however, and when he and his parents are speaking I get the feeling they might be laughing at my ineptness. They're trying to teach me a few things though, and with the help of my host's English-Portuguese dictionary and my new phrase book (!), I have learned a little.

Today we took the bus and the subway to the downtown area of Rio to meet up with some other couch surfers and hosts and go to the blocos aka street parties. Everyone was dressed up in something, whether it be a subtle mask (like me) or a full-on outfit. There were fairies, brides, flappers, and those were just the men! Women dressed in similar garb, though some were dressed as men as well. We drank a few cheap beers and then marched the streets of Santa Teresa dancing to the samba drums and whistles and chants. There were so many people, and since everyone was a part of this ongoing parade, it was as if we were being herded like cattle; transvesite, drag queen cattle. With all the bodies around us it was basically an orgy without all the sex, though I'm sure there probably was at some point. We finally made it out of there and moved on to another street where we were much closer to the samba band and actually got a chance to move around rather than march the whole time. It all reminded me of tailgating with no game to attend, and just dancing for the helluvit. While it was all very fun and crazy and eye-opening, I'm happy to be back at my host's home in the "safety"of East LA (at least for now, because it starts all over again in about 12 hours). Wish me luck...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A lovers´quarrel is the same in any language

I had to walk over a mile through many hoardes of construction workers to get to this Internet Cafe so that should tell you how committed I am to updating this...

After two adventurous nights in the poorly named Mellow Yellow Hostel, I moved to a much more mellow hostel in the Urca area of the city. Both nights at the previous place I was out with my dorm-mates til about 3 in the morning. It was fun, but that is not exactly what I want this trip to be about, so I was very happy to move to the place I was at last night and will be tonight as well. It is located in a more suburban neighborhood and is much less commercial than the other area. It actually reminds me a lot of San Pedro because there are many fishermen and sailboats in the bay right across from the building. The fact that it is less touristy is something I like too, yet this also has made it more difficult to communicate, so I´ve been pretty quiet the past couple days.
I went to an outdoor cafe last night for an early dinner and pointed to the only thing on the menu that I understood: pizza. It was actually very good and apparently I made friends with the waiters because when I saw them today in a completely different location, they came up and said hello to me. As I was sitting there last night looking at a lovely view of the bay at sunset, I saw couple obviously having an argument. I tried to judge by the body language what they were saying, and I think it went something like this:

Man: I hate how you are always flirting with other guys!
Woman: I can´t help it if I´m gorgeous and they want to talk to me!
Man: Well then I can´t be with you anymore.
Woman: No, please don´t say that!
Man: It´s me or them.
Woman: after a long pause...You I guess.
Then they kissed and made up.

So you see what I resort to when I can´t really communicate with anyone? I think I might need to buy a Portuguese dictionary or a phrasebook...

I´m moving to someone´s couch tomorrow so hopefully I´ll be able to update a bit more often. Carnival aka Mardi Gras starts today and lasts through next Wednesday, so there are sure to be some interesting stories to come...Bon dia!

Monday, February 16, 2009

There are lots of middle-aged men with beer bellies wearing bikini bottoms

Well I arrived this morning around 830 after 18 hours in the air, so I was a little beat but I´ve managed not to crash just yet. The taxi driver from the airport to my hostel was pretty cool, and even though he did change his shirt while he was driving, he was very nice and patient as we tried to speak broken Spanish to each other. I asked him about soccer and he told me what teams he liked, and I tried to tell him I played in the US but I don´t think it made quite an impact on him...we then discussed the weather and the traffic while listening to Marvin Gaye, so really it wasn´t too big of a stretch from being out of LA.
These first couple of nights I´m staying in a hostel called the Mellow Yellow Hostel and it´s pretty foreign to me considering I´ve never stayed in one. I´m in a 10 bed mixed dorm with a couple guys from New Zealand, one other girl and some other guys I have yet to meet, and with the exception of exchanging idle ´´hellos´´ we haven´t interacted much. I´ll have to come out of my shell a bit I think...
I took a walk down to the famous Copacabana Beach and strolled along the strip until I stumbled upon a boys´soccer team practicing in the sand. They were doing speed and agility and skill work in this 85 degree weather, so naturally I sat down to watch them while having my first Caipirhina (similar to a mojito but without mint and made from sugarcane rum). I marveled at their level of skill since a lot of what they were doing was stuff I didn´t learn til my last year in high school and even in college. Soccer is different down here.
I´m possibly meeting up with a man who owns his own production company down here to pick his brain about the business. He produces mainly documentary films, which is something I´m very interested in, so I hope he can spark some ideas and maybe even help me get my foot in the door. If nothing else he´s a good contact to have and will be a friend to me if I need anything.
Anyway, I´ll do my best to update this frequently and thanks to all who helped me get here. Now we´ll just have to wait and see what happens...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Leavin on a Jet Plane

So this is my blog for the next few months while I'm in Brazil and Argentina. I leave Los Angeles on Sunday morning and arrive on Monday morning in Rio de Janeiro where I'll be until the end of March. From there I'll be traveling to Buenos Aires, the "Paris of South America". I figured this would be the most efficient way to communicate with everyone about the goings-on of my trip, and it will also give me a chance to work on writing a bit. Being an art major obviously doesn't require a heck of a lot of writing, so I'm somewhat out of practice. I hope to get better as I go along...
I'm really excited to finally go off on my own, but for this reason I'm also a bit nervous. Two-and-a-half months all by my lonesome is pretty heavy to take in right now, but I know I'll make some friends along the way. At this point my Spanish is rusty and my Portuguese is limited (I really only know how to order a shot of rum, which is "uma doce de hum" just in case you needed to know), but I'll be around a lot of native speakers where I'm staying so I'm sure I'll pick up some stuff. For the time I'm in Rio I'll be "couch surfing"; for those who don't know what this means, is a website that combines social networking similar to facebook and myspace and couches or places to stay while abroad. The hosts are generally natives looking to make friends and offer hospitality to travelers in exchange for learning more about other cultures and languages. From what I understand, it is a great way to travel not only for the friends and experiences, but also for the price (it's free), though this fact is definitely not the main reason to do it. It is actually stressed on the website that if someone is just looking for a cheap place to stay, then couch surfing is not the best option; the friendships and cultural exchange are what make it so special. So I'll be staying with about 5-6 different hosts, men and women, throughout the 6 weeks I'm in Rio. When I get to Buenos Aires I might stay in an apartment, but if I find my couch surfing experiences in Rio to be amazing, I might just do that in BA as well. On that note, I hope all is well for those who are reading and that this doesn't bore you too much...I'll try to keep the blog as entertaining as possible. Happy Valentine's Day to all, and for those of you who are single, do something that makes you happy. My best Valentine's to date was with my best friend Allison in Oregon when we got Chinese food, a bottle of red wine, and a chick flick. So simple yet so satisfying...adios y abracos.