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 me...it´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 lately...my 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.