Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rio - abridged

We awoke at 5:45am to find we had arrived at the bus station and in my sleepy hast I left my beloved hoodie behind in my seat. Dodging persistent cab drivers we made our way to the taxi booth to obtain the loathed taxi voucher which states how much you should pay for your journey and we're escorted to an unmarked car with no meter. After some trouble finding our street he dropped us at the guard station where we walked to the end where underneath the trees sits the cozy, colorful yet poorly organized business wise, hostel where we originally planned to stay for the rest of our stay. Our arrival at 6 en la manana would be our only solo encounter with the common area as it was always packed with people. The attendant was especially nice that morning, and a little bothered the next. They had a cat that I bothered and little monkeys that hung out in the trees outside. With our room not ready we left our bags and went out to wander to who knows where. Upon returning we were escorted to a small room with a large window and slanted roof. The rest of the day we sat around adjusting to our new surroundings reading, watching TV, using the not-free internet and eavesdropping into others conversations as the common area is quite cozy and frequently packed. For dinner we ate at the only decent option we cared to venture to, a dive frequented by old men and prostitutes - not tourists and certainly not other young women except maybe to stop in for cigarettes.

The next day we moved into a dorm, as for some reason this place is constantly packed, popular, and on the internet even though where they advertise and make online reservations is not linked to their in house system. The people who worked there were vaguely nice to you when something was going wrong and annoyed and irritated with you any other time you needed to interact with them - like their job is so hard and stressful. That day we went out to the centro sights which took up a decent amount of time. We wandered upon the best parque which was more like a zoo. Upon entering a man had spread plastic sheets of cat food and water bottles for the dozens of cat to eat along with some ugly rodent creatures that would sneak in only to be chased away. Along with all the cats and rodent like things were more little tree monkeys, peacocks, chickens, ducks, geese, and more.

After a night in an all male dorm, our roommates changed to some weird kid who spoke to no one and this nice English couple who were on a year, round the world ticket. We started opening up to the other travelers as they were the best part about the place. Still, with the money and the gross bathrooms y previously stated problems we went out to the Flamengo/Gloria 'hood and end up checking out a few hostels where we put money down for a reservation at a cheaper place with decent rooms and private semi-clean (but def cleaner) bathrooms. From there we walked through a long park by the ocean and I almost got hit by a car crossing the highway to get over to it. From there we switched to walking on the Flamengo beach which was wave less and full of runners, not sun-bathers. We went back to the hostel to relax and found Curtis, the kid from the Rio bus station layover sitting on the couch. At some point there was us and the guys from the room leaving and they caught (on video) the cat catching a baby monkey. They saved it but the monkey's were pissed and spent the next half hour all screaming from the trees. Occasionally one would climb down the branch to bar it's teeth and scream specifically at the cat. The tiny baby climbed onto it's tiny mothers back and fled to safety. Although we planned to drink and play 45's at the hostel with fellow Bostonians they were no shows so we befriended two brothers, one who was cool and one who was lame and muy emotional y moody. We took them y Curtis to our hole in the wall - I splashed beer at Curtis and he left, Nate spilled his beer all over me, emo bro cried over his cheating "girlfriend" and the other brother got drunk with a quickness like I've never seen. I then befriended locals who led us all over creation looking for a party and we went home.

Nate kept the English up all night with an apparent episode of epic drunk snoring which I slept through being passed out myself. Having the last thing I remember being Nate saying he couldn't sleep in the room because it was too hot, I woke up at 5am and not seeing him in the room went looking all over the hostel for him, hoping to identify him by his sleeping bag. Unsuccessful and worried I went back to our room and saw he was in the bunk above me. We made plans with the Bostonians y Curtis to go to the soccer game and waited around forever for our new room. Pissed and worried we wouldn't get tickets or meet up with them, I woke Curtis up who took his good 'ole time getting ready. We got there in no time, got cheap general admission tickets and met up with the Bostonians like clockwork and set out to find a bar to drink at. Men were selling beer out of their backpacks around the stadium but the whole thing was shady so we didn't. We went to the first place we saw with a nice older barista and pulled up a table and chairs to hang out. There was some law that you couldn't have more than 2 beers, or drink 2 hours before the game but as long as we kept the beer under the table she kept serving us. The 1,000 of police that walked by and in didn't seem to care but this scared Nervous Curtis who stopped drinking. At one point when we were drunk that it was extra exciting, 2 guys came running into the bar followed by 2 cops with guns drawn  who caught them but did nothing except smack them a few times on their heads with their bats and they ran off. Off to the game where you can't drink at was very fun and as the passionate crowd screamed it make me realize just maybe why they enforce the no drinking rule. I was happy we went and it was a hurried, scattered mess leaving but we all made it back and finally played 45's.

The next morning I was nervous to leave and face the hostel employee so I hung back and said goodbye to our new friends while Nate handled the situation. In true fashion of this hostel she didn't even care or ask why we were leaving early and we made a clean break. The new hostel had a nice roof patio and 2 cats. The room wasn't as big as the one she showed up and was mildewy but had a hot shower, DVD player and I got used to it. I think our time would have been different if we stayed at the other place but what can you do?

The next day was raining but I heard the waves were better in storms so we went to walk up and down Copacabana. The waves were dramatic but not ginormous and we sat and watched them for some time and walked the entire length of the beach. On the way back to the metro a man with poop all down his leg and down into his shoe was walking in front of me and I almost ran right into him. I talked about it for days. We saw the famous Copacabana Palace and checked out the old pictures from when it was the first hotel and largest structure on the block of old mansions that use to line the ocean front - it's not terrible and packed with skyscraper hotels.

Our activity the next day was exploring Santa Theresa and the only way to get there is by rickety street car. It juts and jolts, is old and nerve wracking as the locals hang off the side of this thing barely clearing walls, cars y overgrown foliage and hop off while it's still moving. We could have got off on one of the many cobblestone side streets to walk around but didn't and I don't know why. Most of our afternoons were spent watching DVDs and I'm sure it's what we probably did that afternoon as well. 

We went back to Copacabana on a hot, sunny day to drink on the beach - which we couldn't do but could sit at a bar on the boardwalk and felt like we were part of the action. We sat and drank and talked awhile, turning down wandering beach vendors left and right until we had a decent buss and decided to take a dip. I don't know why we didn't leave our stuff at the bar but we left our stuff on the beach and Nate's pants were stolen along with 50 reals of this, the expensive sun tan lotion y our subway passed. I was more upset than he was but the waves were rough and he stayed out and got slammed while I waited in the shallow end after getting pummeled by one wave and one wave only before I opted out. With our plan ruined due to lack of immediate funds, Nate put his combat boots back on and walked home in this swim trunks. We got more beer and got wasted at the hostel where we danced to MJ and I went nervously and drunkenly out to Lapa with the pretty front desk girls who brought me home safely. 

next day, hungover, watched tv

The next day we walked across the city to go see the Jesus the Redeemer, "symbol of the city" that I could have cared about but went with Nate for $18USD into a mass of tourists. It was alright at the top be it crowded and the one good picture I thought I took turned out crappy and was off center - it was hilarious when we got back down to the bottom. We had lunch at a good local place with the plate of noodles, rice and beans to go along with your carne.

The next day we went to the Ipanema Hippie Fair where we walked thoroughly around twice and I bought hammocks which I had to lug around until Nate helped me. We sat on the Ipanema beach and people watched for a while and went back to watch more movies. 

Back to Copacabana I layed in the sun and was keeper of the clothing as I watched Nate play in the ocean. We walked the beach and went back to relax in front of the TV.

The next day it rained and we tried to go to the parque but it was too wet. Later that night we came across a street fair full of food vendors but it was too late as we were already munching on our KFC snackers. I can't resist when I see fast food in South America apparently.

The following day it did not rain and we walked through the park which was much nicer in the sun and through a neighborhood to a purpose built stadium for a food and craft market. Nothing was really open so we walked around and around watching them clean up from the obvious madness that happened the night before. It is said that it stays open from Friday morning through Sunday late night and we would believe it's a lot of fun. From there we went to the zoo where we spent a few hours - even though it was a bit dumpy. The turtles and the monkeys held our attention the most.

The next day we took the ferry over to an island and right back for the sake of taking a boat ride. The rest of the day we drank up on the roof terrace.


As we were about to walk out the door the guy wanted to officially check us out and after checking the records said we still owed for a night and I started arguing. For 1: we didn't have any money left and 2: they said we needed to pay everything up front on the first day and that it was $700 reals  - if they figured it out wrong on the first day it wasn't our fault and on & on until he finally just said ok - and let us go. Victorious, we left and caught the bus to the airport. Our flight was quiet and as I looked out the window down on the last bit of South America I felt sad but knew I would one day return.


En la manana we awoke at relatively the same time and went to the bus station to buy a bus ticket to Rio that night and a bus ticket to the caves that day. Happily, the bus attendant understood me when I requested us to be let off at the caves on the way to Sete Lagos and they dropped us off on the highway across from the entrance. We sat around in the heat trying to befriend a scrappy dog while we waited for the next tour. Beforehand our lady tour guide was concerning herself that we didn't speak the same languages until I figured out and told her we didn't care and just wanted to see them. Inside, we climbed down deeper and deeper into the caves where a decent amount of visual activity was to be seen all around us. It was brief but pretty cool and took up our morning and in a few hours we were back hitching it roadside waiting for a bus to stop and pick us up - which they are always happy to do. Back at the bus station we let a locker and crammed everything into one and returned to the market where everyone had the same awesome plate of the day in front of them and we ordered the same. The rest of the day we spent passing time and goofing around at the bus station waiting for our final overnight bus to Rio.

Belo Horizonte, Brasil

Not sure what to do next, we hopped a bus to Belo Horizonte the next morning. Off the bus we walked the hot, crowded streets to find more outrageously priced hotels. A few tries in we came upon a hostel with separate men and women dorms - however it was only $10US so we took it. We left our belongings in the dorm and went out in the heat to take our time exploring the city. After checking out numerous exteriors of buildings we spent a good amount of time in the huge central park outfitted with a kiddy amusement park and all. For the middle of mining nowhere there lies a decent, busy city that manages to maintain a laid back feel. For lunch we ate at an amazing little lunch pit stop in the mercado and had the daily special of ox tail soup con asado of lo mein, rice, beans y lechuga. After our long, slow day out we sat in the common area of the hostel (of which they almost didn't let us back in because of the language barrier) where dinner was being served to regulars and what appeared to be men off the street - but the hostel was so big they all could have lived there. After, we parted ways to bed where thankfully I slept with nice girls my age who also read and fell asleep pretty early.

Ouro Preto, Brasil

Two days later I woke up before dawn to the comforting sound of a heavy rain through our wide open window. The fan whirled fast above our heads pulling cool air into the room. I snuggled deeper into bed happy I didn't have to wake up just yet. After dawn we had a nice, hot shower, bought provisions at the grocery store and hopped aboard a bus to Rio. The scenery from the high, mountain roads was unbelievable and we hoped and prayed the weather would get better when we returned to the uninhabited coast to camp. We arrived at the Rio bus terminal and walked into a mad house. People rushing by in every direction, stopping in front of you, cutting in line - we finally got our tickets and claimed a few seats preparing to wait for the next 12hours until our bus boarded at midnight. Our afternoon was broken up at one point when a nice boy from Oregon chatted with us for a few hours. Our talks about travel turned into him giving us a briefing of all the news we had missed over the last 2 months.

After another uncomfortable and short nights sleep on a bus we awoke in a daze in Ouro Preto at 6 en la manana. The early morning air was still cool and fresh as the mist rose up out of the hills. We walked quietly down the cobblestone streets taking in the numerous Baroque churchs that punctuated each hill top. We soon discovered that the historic center is built on a network of very old, very steep paths turned modern day cobble routes as we worked up a sweat traversing from one expensive pousada to the next, all the while trying to dodge an early rising bum who was hard at work bothering us. We finally settled on a nice, colonial pousada who knocked her price down $20 reais after we rejected the first room. I went straight to the bothersome task of washing most of my clothes in the shared bathroom sink. When I finished, a woman who worked there was trying to tell me something which I of course didn't understand, smiled and left her to lay my clothes out in the room.

Being awake enough we headed out. The lovely town straight out of the past aside from the cars the whizzed by only to get stuck in their automatics on the steep, skinny roads, was just waking up. We hiked from church to church and then over to a mine that's run straight out of this family's home right in town. The guided tour was a hard hat and a 7 year old kid who spoke no Ingles but led the way. Claustrophobic and barely lit, we ducked our way to the end of one tunnel, turned back and headed down the last one. The boy, who walked perfectly upright the whole way, skipped ahead and climbed through a tiny hole which Nate declined but I went for. With just me and the kid and two raggedy paths that headed up, I pointed if you could go up there and he nodded. Feeling a little hot and panicked I disappointingly turned back but gave the kid a reais for a tip which he seemed surprised and happy about. He ran out of the cave, jumped into his father's lap and showed him the reais. Blushing, he was congratulated and praised.

After a long previous day and a brief and bad nights sleep on the bus, we went back to the room to 'read and watch TV' but passed out hard on top of our belongings with the door wide open for the rest of the afternoon. When I finally awoke and went downstairs I was confronted again by the laundry lady who seemed irritated. Luckily, a man who spoke broken English translated that it was "impossible!" for me to lay the clothes in the room and that they had a clothes line. We were kinda irked that they went into our room when we were gone and couldn't make the effort to walk me back to the clothesline when it is so obvious that I have no idea what anyone is saying. So with no problem, I walked through rows of bright white sheets to hang my dirty, black clothing at the end. In the evening we headed out and sat in the central plaza people watching and eating corn on the cob from a street cart. Tough like corn on the cob you feed farm animals and wrapped in a sheet of husk to keep your hands clean - he has a big sal shaker and butter brush for you to apply as he adds vanilla to the water, enhancing the smell of corn. For dinner we had big, cheap, delicious sandwiches that are all over Brasil and went to bed after Woody Woodpeckers episodes with the cool air blowing in our wide open window.

Party in Paraty, Brazil

The rolling hillsides of green give way to mountainsides of jungle which plummet down to the ocean's edge. The white beaches, clear blue water and dramatic mountains along Brazilian Route 101 just may be the most amazing road I've been down, tied with the Chile/Argentina Route 215/231 for sentimental reasons. We arrive to warm, humid, Florida-like weather and are soon escorted to a hostel by a prowling representative. Settled in, we set out to walk up and down the historic, cobblestone streets. Only years later, after it's historic heyday as a port for the gold rush followed by the coffee boom did tourism become it's main source of income. While it sat all those years the blocks and blocks of continuous, white colonial buildings were perfectly preserved and maintained, for us now to enjoy and meander through. Once passed the streets that flood during high tide, a long, wooden pier harbors hundreds of brightly painted wooden boats waiting for you to hop aboard and put through the blue, blue bay.

After some debate we decided we would stay 2 nights instead of 1 to see if the weather would improve as we were to camp at our next planned destination. This left our schedule open to go to the bar and at 5 o'clock, got right to it. Sometime between 5pm and 2am we befriended some locals who spoke English well enough and I went from drinking beer to drinking a powerful, sour cocktail consisting of cachuaca, a distilled fermented sugarcane juice that got me too drunk for my own good. After the first place closed the locals took us bar hopping to numerous places that are inconspicuous within the historic center. The rest of the night, we can't agree or remember what exactly happened. All I know for sure is I turned around just in time to see Nate get hit by a car only to get right back up again drunkenly unphased.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sao Paulo, Brazil

We arrived in Sao Paulo nice and early and right in the middle of rush hour. The cars arriving at the metro stop beneath the bus station were packed and we had to wait 3 or 4 trains until we could squeeze our bulky selves onto one. Off the metro y caminando around, it took the usual three tries to find a hotel that wasn´t abandoned or wicked expensive. Our hotel for $25.00 each for 2 nights was on the corner of pedestrianized streets and had 3 corner windows for us to lean out and people watch on the streets below. Our first day of sightseeing consisted of walking through a beautiful plaza, checking out the few remaining historic buildings the city holds, checking out a 360* view of the lego land looking city from the top of a skyscraper and walking passed many smelly homeless encampments to one of the biggest markets I have ever seen. Just as Tony (Anthony Bourdain - No Reservations!) had ventured before, we too ventured to the busiest vendor for the ginormous y local favorite Mortadella Sandwich (yes, I capitalized it.) Previous visual encounters of mortadella made me anticipate passing on this experience until I saw sandwich after greasy sandwich pass by as we fought our way to the front to place our order. Stuffed between a baguette with cheddar, shredded lettuce y bacon is 2.5inches of thinly sliced, delicious Mortadella. We stood shoulder to shoulder at the bar to eat and sadly could only finish half. We waddled out of the market passed stalls of fruit, dried cod, cheese wheels, suckling pigs hanging by their feet, ears y testicles and spent the rest of the afternoon getting lost. We walked around the crowded streets in the hot, hot sun looking for the immigrant museum we never found. Exhausted and hot we ate dinner at a sidewalk meat stand, places we would eat at for 4 meals during our 2 day stay due in part to how delicious and inexpensive they were (2 for $1.50US!) Pork y peppers are thickly layered and stabbed to cook slowly all day on a vertical spit as the chef spins it round and shaves off a little from each side with each customer. Shoved into a crispy roll and topped with a fresh salsa of tomato y onion, he hands it over for you to add the condiments. Mayo, salt y salsa picante are your first choice but after one bite you learn all that´s required is the homemade hot sauce. Unbelievably hot, worth the burn. To bed we went after some spying and muted Woody Woodpecker cartoons. Just as we begin to snooze a band strikes up below our window. Tired, we fall asleep anyway listening to the singer belt out his off key tunes.

I awake bright eyed and bushy tailed at 6:00AM after 11 hours of needed rest. Grumpy here soon follows suit and I let him ease into his day while I opt for a cold shower. Ready for the day at 7:30 we forget about previous days rush hour and obliviously head straight back in. This go around is much worse as we get on where 2 lines cross. It´s ridiculous and we hold the line up ever more snapping photos of the sea of people. Being crammed turns into being shoved up against the people in front of us as the train approaches and a wave of pressure swells up from the back. This happens over and over until you´re finally near the doors where people press firmly against the train to avoid being shoved to where there is no room or onto the track. Alive after that experience we walk down Ave Paulista which isn´t all it´s cracked up to be but does house a thick, tropical jungle park to hide out in, wander around some more, eat more sandwiches and by noon find ourselves done way to early. We opt to journey in search of the immigrant museum once more and success awaits us this go around. After, we wander some more, hide out at a tenador libre while the sky turns black yellow and pours down rain, and go to bed - but not before listening to the neighborhood band jam out another night.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Asuncion, Paraguay

In a few days we neared the end of our time in Paraguay. After a 5hr bus through green hillsides dotted with white oxen of some breed we arrived in Asuncion on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Taking the guide books advice we opted for a taxi instead of walking to our hostel where upon exiting we were bombarded with a man who wanted a tip for opening my door, and a dirty woman and her baby begging me for the change the cab driver handed over. Our fortress of a hostel had grand, high ceilings, tile floors, huge rooms and a large common area that was half outside, half inside. I wondered why anyone would stay in hotels when you have the opportunity to stay in countless, neat, old mansions. Wanting to eat before dark we set out for the diner a few streets down and walked by a plaza turned homeless shantytown with skinny walkways between numerous plastic bag tents and dirty clothes drying on knotted together string lines. We ate at the diner where the food was amazing, as we´re finding all Paraguay food to be, and went back to watch La Lea y Orden and go to bed, grateful I had bed, room and blanket instead of a plastic bag tent.

We awoke extra early the next morning due to the time change we weren´t aware of and slowly got ready to head out. With nothing in particular we wanted to do we wandered from plaza to plaza and in and out of hammock and lace stores (of which I wanted to buy every last piece however heavy they would be to carry, but resisted and kept my fingers crossed that Rio would be full of similar treasures.) We frequently the diner again for lunch which was busy once again and had delicious regional soups of meat and fish with heavy, fresh bread. The whole afternoon was sat people watching in the plaza until dinner at the diner where we enjoyed our last Paraguayan meal, sad to be leaving the cuisine behind.