Sunday, March 29, 2009

One more thing

The bus driver saw my bills because I had to pull them out to pay him. I gave him one and he gave me 3,300 pesos back.

I sat down in the front seat and offered him some Brasilian cheetos in the hope that he doesn't rob me later because I'm such a nice guy.

I'm just kidding about the mugging part. He seems like a super nice guy. I really did give him the cheetos anyway though.

ATM surprise

I just tried to pull out money from an ATM machine at the airport in a rush to pay for the last cheap bus into downtown.

I asked for $150, which I thought wasn't a lot because I heard that Chile is pretty expensive (and I paid $131 just to pass immigration), but then the machine counted bills for about 20 seconds before it spit out like 30 5000 peso bills at me. I just grabbed it and ran to the bus but I think this might be a lot of freakin cash to hold at one time. It's making me nervous, hehe.

Made it to Chile

I had to pay a "reciprocity fee" of $131 to enter as an American. Haha + ouch

I guess I'm going to starve tomorrow.

Por kilo

On the bus trip back to Rio, we stopped for dinner at a rest stop and found that they had a por kilo (literally means per kilogram) inside. A por kilo is a buffet type setting where you pick up what you want to eat on a plate and then weigh it on a scale and then they charge you per kg. In Salvador I ate at one that was as low as $6 per kg, but in Rio I ate at one that was $13 per kg as well, so it depends on where you go and the restaurant.

The one at the rest stop was $6 for all you can eat, so I just opted for that and went crazy on the food. Veronica and I hadn't taken the time to eat much food that day, so were quite hungry by this time.

They had a stove serving steaks but they were too salty.

One nice thing about Brazilian food is that they love meat, but they also love their veggie dishes as well. There were quite a few in the selection today.

Some of the dishes I enjoyed were:
A green chili (like peppercinis unsliced) and vinegar salad
A red beet, cabbage, and vinegar salad
A bell pepper and vinegar salad (my fav)
Breaded and fried cheese squares with some hot sauce on top

The girl at the weight machine gave Veronica free bananas too. They were nice for a snack later in the bus.

It was the best bus stop food I've ever had, hands down.


I was surprised to find that the word for tea in Portuguese is "Cha" which is coincidentally similar to the word for tea in Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, and probably other languages. I wonder if there is any direct relation?

Swimming in the river

On the last day of Puerto Iguazu, before heading back toward Rio, Vero and I really wanted to swim again. The night before, while we had been searching for a hostel with a pool, she had heard from someone at Hostel Bambu that there was a place nearby that hostel where we could jump into the river. The river's name is Rio Iguazu.

After doing some research online, given our short time limits (we wanted to start our bus trip back that evening), we thought that would be the best idea for the afternoon.

When we got to the hostel, the very nice owner actually directed us by walking down the street together until the small hiking path down the side of the hill to the river started. We were glad he came because it didn't look like any kind of path at all by itself. She and I would probably have never found it ourselves. I was still surprised that he walked all the way there himself though. Considering we never even stayed at that hostel, he's one of the nicest owners I've ever met. He mentioned to us that the water there can get pretty gross sometimes, but we decided to go down and take a look anyway.

We walked down the path to the river. The "swim area" turned out to be just a small area to take off your clothes, leave your stuff, and dive in off small rocks. There were some Argentinian kids from the area already swimming there, as well as an older couple doing some fishing. I didn't know what to say other than "hola". I didn't know if they felt like we were invading or what.

Veronica got talking to them immediately with her charm. Things felt more comfortable after that. The kids enjoyed her banter. She dived in first and chatted with the boys. I dived in soon after and we were floating and swimming for a couple hours. The water felt great, and didn't seem dirty.

A police patrol boat sped by at some point, and the locals asked us to swim closer to shore when they did. I didn't know why, but I did anyway. When we looked at them, they were waving one finger side to side as if to give a "no-no" sign to us. I didn't know why, and when Veronica asked the local guy, he didn't give us a straight answer. So we still don't know exactly why the police didn't approve but later we found out the other side of the easily swimmable 150 meter wide river was Brasil. I realized it was true once they mentioned it, so technically we could have swam across the border if we wanted to try it. Either the police wanted us to stay away from the other side or they just didn't want us to get hurt by boats passing by.

The spot was perfect for swimming. It was just open river with a deep diving edge off rocks on shore, and there was even a boulder coming up sharply from the bottom in the middle that allowed you to get up and stand at the surface of the water for a more water level dive platform. Vero did some yoga poses on this rock and I took pics. What a showoff :)

I took about 10 dives off the bigger rock about 2m above the water surface, trying to reduce my splash with each consecutive dive for fun, while Vero tried to judge my form. I was glad my shorts weren't falling off. I really need to get new ones.

After a couple of hours, we walked back up the small hill and asked the hostel if we could use their shower to get the river water off our bodies. They were really nice again. We thanked them and then we were off to get more ice cream before heading to the bus station to find our back to Brasil and the bus to Rio.

I would recommend that hostel to anybody going to Puerto Iguazu. Super cool staff, nice facilities, and the rooms looked nice with a/c.

Bilingual menu

The LAN in-flight menu is only in Spanish and English. I guess they assume that the Brazilians can figure it out from one or the other or both.

I didn't even notice this when I flew up from Buenos Aires, but now that I've been in Brazil for a while I noticed it immediately when I glanced at the menu. Portuguese also keeps flying out of my mouth and it looks like I'm going to have to make an effort to flip back to Spanish again when I land.

I know, poor me.
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Proof that phones don't really affect airplanes

If you sit in business class, they don't tell you to turn them off, even during takeoff and landing.

That's an annoying fact to know.
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Saturday, March 28, 2009


On the Argentinian side of Iguazu falls, there were quite a few butterflies flying around. Because I had eczema, I have quite a bit more dead skin on my body than most people (not visible), and it seems the butterflies like to munch on that stuff, so they were landing on me while I was walking on the path out to the main part of the falls. I think at one point I had 3 butterflies on my arm, all different species.

Veronica took a bunch of pictures of me with the butterflies, including some close ups. When people were walking by they would also see, point, laugh, and take pictures in awe. I felt like some host on a National Geographic show because I was showing everyone who wanted to get closeup views.

There was even a tour guide that was showing a Japanese couple a single butterfly he had caught on his hand when I walked by with 3 and the couple looked at me instead. I chuckled.

The butterflies were beautiful.
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Pee your pants funny

After visiting Iguazu in Argentina, the 3 of us had finished dinner with a couple of beers in a asian fusion restaurant in Puerto Iguazu. (Which I was surprised to see in that town but they probably do get quite a few asian tourists)

We were back at the bus station picking up our backpacks from storage so that we could find a hostel for the night. While we were getting our bags, Alon was talking me about something, but I had a sudden urge to dance. Well really, it was to stretch my body, but to do it, I pretty much started dancing. Not like hip hop dancing, but like extending my leg and twirling dancing.

I don't remember the details exactly, but the combination of me turning in circles with my arms stretched and the conversation with Alon made Veronica start laughing, and she couldn't stop. She had been saying she had to pee for a little while but had been waiting until we found a hostel to do so. I wish you guys could hear her laugh. It makes me feel so comfortable.

When I heard her laughing, I just kept on going, even though normally I would feel embarassed, that night I felt powerful. Twirling in circles even though the locals weren't even looking at me. Maybe they just thought it was waayyyy too weird to even stare at. The employees were just going about their everyday business. I probably looked like a dying ballet dancer.

So yeah, eventually she laughed so hard she peed a little in her pants. She said she had peed her pants but was laughing so hard I thought she was joking, until I eventually stopped and she got some relief. When she could finally talk again she said I had made her pee her pants. I was like, what? Alon was also surprised.

Veronica had her legs crossed. She parts her legs slightly and there's a wet spot between her legs. That was SO funny. I was in disbelief and started hooting and laughing at the same time. I think that may have been the first time I actually made someone pee themselves. I think I could have gotten a picture because she was still a bit paralyzed from laughing but I decided not to. Sometimes the story is better than the picture.
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K-food in São Paulo


It's not the best but it still tastes good after 5 months of missing out.
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Friday, March 27, 2009

Argentina 1 more time!

Puerto Iguazu was the name of the city that we stayed in in Argentina to view the falls. It was a delight for me to be back in that country and out of Brazil. Right when we had passed the border and we were sitting in an Argentinian bus I felt my stress level go down about 50%. I don't even really know why. It just did. Brazil just does something unhealthy to me.

We had ice cream (a combination of scoop and popsicles) about 5 times while we were there for 2 days. Since Veronica and I both love ice cream it worked out well.

I got probably the biggest serving of ice cream I've ever had in my life in one sitting for like $2 at an ice cream store.

I also had what will probably be my last Qilmes beer for a very long time while I was there. When I had some I remembered the taste. It reminded me of Buenos Aires and El Calafate.
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Iguazu Falls

We decided to cross the border into Argentina because we had the time to do so that evening and we had been told that you need a full day to enjoy the Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls.

I secretly really wanted to go there asap also because I prefer the Spanish and also I just like Argentina better than Brazil. I didn't say this out loud to Veronica or Alon but I was thinking it. Also since Veronica is a native Spanish speaker I knew it would be easier getting along on that side.

Crossing the border turned out to be not the easiest task in the world. We avoided a taxi driver who wanted to scam us at the exit to the Brazilian falls and took a public bus to the bus stop where we caught the border bus. It took us to the Brazilian border checkpoint for $1.50 each, where we got stamps on our passports to exit. When we left that bus we were given little tickets that would allow us to catch the next one coming through without paying again, but the next bus that came through said it was a different company so we ended up paying $1 again. I had a feeling that was a scam, but we didn't mind that much since it was only $1 and we were worn out from the day of walking and the 24 hour bus ride.

That bus took us to the Argentinian checkpoint where I got my passport stamped again to enter. (I have so many stamps in my passport now)

On the 2nd day of Iguazu, we woke up and headed off to the park from the city's bus station. If the Brazilian falls is a backyard, the Argentinian side is like a city park. There's a lot more walking to be done, and a jet boat ride that not only takes you to the waterfalls, but also goes *in* them. Not the biggest ones of course, because you'd probably get hurt, but it completely covered the boat no problem.

I took a video of the boat going through a fall using my waterproof bag. It's trippy watching it afterwards.

Veronica and I opted to do the long boat ride, which ended up being a mistake. It wasn't worth the money over the short one. It was one of those cases where the salesman tells you what you want to hear and purposely neglects to tell you what you don't want to hear, and by the time you figure it out it's too late, because he didn't technically lie, he just didn't give you all the info you should have received.

I think normally I would have caught the trick there but because I was with Veronica I was a lot more relaxed and content with what was going on. It annoyed me that I had been scammed but we didn't have time to complain. Veronica wanted to go back to the ticket to let the guy know that what he did was wrong. I smiled at that idea. It didn't stress me out because she's got this way of complaining that isn't angry, it's more guilt trippy and allows the wrongdoer to correct what was wrong for the sake of good karma. It's cute.

After the boat ride we walked 2.2km at the top to walk out to the grandest part of the falls, called Devil's catwalk. From there the waterfall looked like how Niagara looks up close. Just millions of gallons of water going over the edge and hitting the ground with such force that the air is misty everywhere and rainbows are aplenty.

The view was majestic. Standing there was amazing. I could have done it all day long. I could have fallen into a trance looking at all that water.

The hostel we stayed at during our 2 nights in Iguazu was excellent, except for the breakfast, which was like 2 pieces of bread and a coffee. It's sad that they call that breakfast. The beds were clean and very comfortable. On the 2nd night, Veronica and I floated and chatted in the swimming pool until 4am while looking at the stars. That was *so* relaxing. We had walked around for nearly 2 hours that evening looking for the right hostel that would allow us to swim that night, and it was worth it.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009 email

I haven't been able to check my email for a couple days due to technical issues, so it's just a heads up if you wrote me and was expecting a quick response.
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Monday, March 23, 2009

Foz do Iguaçu

Veronica and I arrived to Foz do Iguaçu around 1pm from the bus, so from there we headed straight to the park on the Brazilian side. It took a couple of city busses but we were there by 2pm, just enough time to put our bags in the public lockers and look around the park.

We had heard the Brazilian side had a lot less to do but was still worth seeing, so we didn~t expect to spend that much time there. Less than half a day was going to be ok even though ideally most people recommend half a day there.

We met an Israeli guy on the bus from Rio to Iguaçu named Alon and he came with us to the park. Alon is a good person too. He really enjoyed conversations on serious topics (politics, religion, military, defense, physics, engineering), which was good for chatting but tough to do with him during the day when all I wanted to do was stare at the waterfalls and the nature around us. We enjoyed a lot of laughs, which was great. Alon is looking to attend an American University for his undergrad. He just made it into UCLA (impressive) but since UCLA doesn~t have very good financial support for international students, he thinks he~s probably not going to attend.

One thing that we talked about together is at the top of my mind today. He mentioned to me that he had already served in the Israeli military (his duty) and in the beginning he really hated it, but told me that by the end he felt that military service would be beneficial for almost everybody. Of course to this, I responded with my standard, "not for me", and that started our next debate, which was intense and interesting at the same time. I guess what I remember is that I found it interesting that he had had a change of heart after coming out of the military.

The waterfalls were definitely beautiful. Comparing them to Niagara makes Niagara seem lame. The waterfalls in Iguazu are in the middle of nature. It~s not a big commercial tourist center like Niagara is. Niagara might have more gallons of water per second, though I~m not sure of this. The falls here in Iguazu are so much wider though. It~s really a line up of many waterfalls next to eachother, almost like a hanging gardens. That~s what I thought of when I first saw them.

By the way, I keep interchanging Iguazu and Iguaçu because the first is Spanish and the second is Portuguese.

Bravo Bravo!

On my first full day of Rio (the 11th) Gary took me out in the evening to Lapa to see the Brazilian Symphonic Orchestra in concert. They were awesome. A world famous pianist named Maria Joao Pires helped them play Beethoven's 4th symphony for piano and orchestra, and because of her recognition, the prices were higher than normal, but still very affordable compared to American prices at $30 a person.

It was an orchestra like any other, but to see it in Rio, that was pretty cool. One thing that was different about the whole thing was that the production was much more informal that it would have been in the states. When they were going to move the piano out to the front of the stage, they manually had 2 guys moving chairs and stands around to roll the concert grand out. It was sort of funny to watch while sitting in our chairs in somewhat of a silence because it took nearly 15 minutes. It wasn't an intermission even though it felt like it should have been one. Also, the orchestra members exited the stage in the rear, but not all the way, so there were members sticking their heads out from the back looking at the audience. That was pretty funny. They didn't care that we could see their heads. You just wouldn't see that kind of relaxed atmosphere in an American performance.

Gary loved the performance so much. I think he had the loudest and most number of "Bravos!" that I could tell in the audience. I was happy for him. I mean I enjoyed it too, but I could tell he enjoyed it more.

Gary and I were definitely the most underdressed though. I was still dressed in backpacker style, wearing a t-shirt and my convertible light pants from North Face. Gary was wearing camo army pants and a t-shirt as well. The Brazilians in this concert were definitely from a higher class than what I was used to previously. They wore very nice expensive looking clothes just like they would fit right in on Broadway in NYC. When they would get out of their taxis, there were about 30 security guards standing outside escorting them into the music hall. I didn't even know why. It wasn't like there are hundreds of poor people standing there trying to rob them, but maybe they are worried about it because they are so much richer than the poor here.

It's so apparently obvious sometimes how different the rich and the poor are here. The prices of the blocos during Carnaval and the orchestra are just major examples. The football game tickets are like $2.50 because if they were any higher the majority of Brazilians that would attend football games wouldn't go.

Before we headed to the orchestra hall, we walked around Lapa a bit and had some amazing pizza at a place called Carioca de Gemma. Carioca is the word used to describe people who are born in Rio. During dinner there was a 15 minute bout of crazy rain, and I mean *crazy* because during that time the street flooded to knee high level. It was fun to watch from the 2nd floor until we went downstairs and realized we would have to walk through it as well to get to the orchestra hall. I was fortunately able to just take off the bottom half of my convertible pants and walk through the water in my sandals. That made it easier.

Speaking of rich and poor, after the orchestra, we walked outside like 50 meters to the left and joined the Friday night street party. It was like we entered a different world in a 1 minute span of time. Nobody wearing anything fancy. All t-shirts and jeans and shorts, and some women wearing some fancier lighter options. People dancing on the street. Music blaring everywhere from every food and drink cart. Guys walking around selling beers for $1. Just a straight up chilled out venue with no cover charge just to hang out and talk and meet others. That's what it was. It felt like Carnaval but without the blocos.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


The ride to Iguazu was 23 hours long, which was about the same as my bus from Salvador to Brasilia a couple of weeks ago, except the bus wasn't as nice as the 2 that I had taken before. A change was expected, because I have been taking different companies for each bus ride, which meant different busses as well.

Since I knew hardly anything about Veronica except that we're both on the Oneworld RTW ticket, she and I talked for hours on the first part of the ride, which also made it go very quickly. She's a yoga and ballet instructor in Prince George, BC in Canada. She moved up to experience something new after high school and found a husband, with whom she is now separated from. A trip around the world has been her dream, and now she is living that dream.

She speaks fluent English and is perfectly fluent in Spanish as well. She's got a super positive personality (but not annoying) and has one of the most spirit brightening laughs I've ever heard in my life. Her laugh sounds soooo Mexican to me. It reminds of my childhood days when I used to have more Mexican friends.

She started her trip by spending the first 4 months in Mexico visiting and playing with her family. She wasn't going to stay there that long because she only has a year to use this ticket, but loved being there so much she changed her ticket twice to stay 2 extra months. She found a new boyfriend she loves there, so that might have had *something* to do with it. Haha

She uses no makeup. She eats healthy. She loves her fruits and vegetables. But she likes to secretly eat ice cream like me. I like that.

She said she found it hard to leave Mexico and her boyfriend, but had to because this trip was her personal dream. She plans to return to Mexico after the trip is over to live near her family again. She told me if it was meant to be, then when she returns to Mexico she and her boyfriend will be together.

I am so glad I talked to her on the Rio day trip. I wasn't going to, but felt compelled for some reason when I saw her. It's changed my life. She's really inspiring. I feel like a better happier person just by being around her.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Day trip

On (what I thought was) my last full day of Rio, the 16th, I took a day trip offered by a travel agency that worked with several hostels near me, including mine.

This day trip took me through the main sights of Rio, including the Cristo do Retentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue at the top of the hill, Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf) rock, the sambadromo, and the Cathdral.

I took some really nice pictures, which I will share with you guys eventually.

I met a girl on this day trip named Veronica who is a Mexican who lived in Canada for the last 13 years and has dual nationality. She was thinking about heading to see Iguazu Falls but wasn't sure if she really wanted to spend time for it. She is also on the RTW ticket from Oneworld and was planning on only spending a week and a half or so in Brazil and then moving on to Spain because she has people to stay with other countries.

I told her that I was planning to bus it to Iguazu Falls the next day and when she heard that it excited her because she wouldn't have to travel alone. We made plans to contact eachother and on the next morning I met her at her hostel and together we headed for the bus station to get to one of the largest waterfalls in the world.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rio scenarium

On my first night in Rio, a friend from Argentina that I had met in Manaus at the hostel invited me out to meet him and his friends in at a Samba club in Lapa called the Rio Scenarium.

This place was physically huge. I mean massive. But it wasn't packed on the Friday. They told me on Saturday it's packed.

I didn't quite figure out how to dance to Samba, but I tried my best. I did figure out it had something to do with 2 steps with each leg and then the other leg.

Samba music is cool. It's relaxed and upbeat which I liked, but after an hour it felt repetitive and boring. Even Juan, my friend felt the same way about it.

The venue is upscale and nice. A good place to bring out of town guests to impress them.


The last 2 nights I had in Rio, I followed the crew from the hostel to a bar in Ipanema called Emporio. Ipanema is a more populr beach than Copacabana, and so there are higher class hotels there and therefore more foreigners on vacation. When we got to this bar, I could tell it was going to be fun.

It was a nice looking place combined with a low key atmosphere. The drinks were medium priced. There were a lot of feoreigners there. I would dare say that most people spoke some english. There was a live DJ both nights, playing American rock music with a beat. I found out later on a day trip I took that Rio people like international music more than Brazilian music, so this is a common thing.

I danced most of the night on the small dance floor with 2 canadian girls that were from our hostel, since they enjoyed dancing as much as I do.

We liked this place so much we went back the next night.

At the end of the first night though, we walked out to the beach when the bar started dying down and I watched a couple people take off everything but their underwear and jump into the ocean. I wanted to but I didn't feel like getting salt water on my skin in case it might dry up and get itchy.

Ipanema beach is lit up so well you can see everything on the sand. It would be tough to witness any crime I think. I felt pretty safe there even in the middle of the night.

We took a cab home when the sun started coming up. I wanted to stay to see the sunrise but the rest didn't, not sure why.

40 degrees

I went to the churascaria with Gary. The food was super. Just like what I had imagined for only $18 a person ($22 including wine and water). They just bring spit after spit of food continuously until you give up and can't eat anymore. There's also a salad, pasta, and sushi bar there for you to chow on too. That was the last time I saw Gary.

Afterwards I went back to the hostel and found out a lot of the people were heading out to Lapa for a night out of dancing, and they weren't leaving until 1am so that left me plenty of time to take a break and then get ready to go out with them.

A few drinks later at about 2am we headed out as a group of 12 in 3 taxis to an area of Rio called Lapa. It's the place where Gary took me to the night before but this night we headed to a multi-level bar/club called Lapa 40 degrees. It ended up being a fun place, though expensive for Brazilian prices.

There was a rock band playing multiple American song covers and the band on the top floor was a fun Brazilian band including 3 performers/singers so they put on a show to the music. That was the room where most of the women were, so you can imagine what kind of music it was. That was a mix of American and Brazilian music too.

We ended up coming back at around 5am and crashed.


For a long time now, I've been trying to figure out why I fall asleep so easily in moving vehicles. They work for me like light sleeping pills would affect a body.

Once the vehicle gets moving, I start getting drowsy if I'm not in the middle of conversation. I think it's because once I get in the vehicle I'm not going to be doing anything for a while and so my mind begins to relax about what I'm going to do and I don't feel the need to be so aware of what's going on around me.

As I begin to relax and clear my mind to think of nothing but stare outside, my brain relaxes to a comfortable position ideal for taking a nap, and that's when it happens.

This is in line with the fact that when I'm driving, I think of things I forgot about at other times of my day. Because I'm concentrating on driving, my brain has the opportunity to allow other thoughts in. They just pop up into my brain when I'm at the wheel, so I keep a notepad and pen in my car at all times to write down these ideas that I discover while driving.

Getting some perspective

I noticed while hanging out with Gary that because he was so easygoing, it made it a little frustrating for me to do things with him. And I'm sure that's how some people feel with me, because I'm willing to pay more than most backpackers as well.

He was willing to pay more for the same things. He wouldn't refuse if the price was a little higher than it should be like I would. Not only that, but he was willing to take a more luxurious option because hehas some age and it takes a toll on him to wait around for something cheaper. I remember feeling like I should just do what he wanted because I felt bad for him too.

Just overall, he was happier with mediocrity than I was. He would tell me that something was amazing, when it wasn't when I got there. Things like food would be the biggest example. He would tell me something is so cheap and good but it was expensive compared to Brazilian value. It was only cheap compared to American prices, which I very rarely if ever use to compare. If that was the case, you might as well buy hotdogs in China for $3 instead of 30 cents.

Transportation was another one. Instead of waiting and taking a bus for $1 he opted to pay $10 saying that it was such a cheap taxi. I guess it's cheap compared to NYC but I'd rather have taken the bus. There's other things you get from a bus than from a taxi than just saved money. I agreed on the taxi though since it came out to $4 more each and I didn't want to exhaust the old man with walking and getting on/off the bus.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cc at your table

Here in Brazil there have been a flock of credit card scams and so when you go to a decent restaurant and pay with a credit card, they bring out a handheld scanner device to your table and charge your credit cards there. I'm guessing this is restaurant managements attempt to reduce fraud by the service staff just in case customers are worried about it happening there.

This also makes splitting the bill very easily because you can just hand your card over to the waiter and ask him to charge a specific amount of money which is your part of the table's bill.

Even in Salvador when I was there, there were 3 people in the hostel that had about $2500 stolen from their accounts. They were not sure how it even happened, because one of them only used it at an ATM and never at a point of sale. I used the same ATM as that person as well but never had a problem.

He said that he had a daily limit of $600 but somehow they got 4 times that amount out of the account in the span of 2 hours. Whoever is doing that stuff knows exactly what they're doing.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Taxi? Bus? Try a van!

In Rio they have these passenger vans with about 15 seats (think Ford Econolines) in them that are driving around all over the place where people need to go. They work like busses. When you see one pass by, you hail it, they stop, you tell them where you need to go, and if it happens to be the right one, you get in. There may or may not be people in them already when you get on. So they're like public shared ride vans.

So they're really cool. They only cost 80 cents just like busses, but they're smaller than busses and go to where you need to go. You only share with a handful of people most times, and so they're almost like a taxi too. They're the best of both worlds.

You get off when the van gets to your destination. I think LA could use some of this kind of unofficial metro carpooling.


This is the name of the largest amazon fish that I~ve eaten about a half dozen times while I was in Manaus and in the jungle. I thought it just tasted like bass or halibut. It's hard to tell because of all the spices and veggies that go into the dishes. It's a pretty big fish. A cut about a square foot on one side can feed 5 people for dinner. I picked out a nice pretty picture for you guys to see that I found online.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

So you want to lick the cup?

I was eating ice cream in front of the Pelourinho elevator in Salvador one day during Carnaval. There's a little ice cream shop conveniently located there.

I was just finishing up my cup and I was just about to take the last bite when one of the street kids came up to me and asked me for a bite of ice cream. I think he wanted the last one.

I felt slightly bad like I usually do when it involves kids but I said no like the hardened bastard I've become over 10 months of urban survival. I ate the last bite, walked over to the trash and threw the cup away like any person would.

The kid comes up behind me and reaches into the shallow trash can (shallow only because it's half filled with trash) and pulls out my cup and spoon, then proceeds to lick the cup of ice cream liquid until it's got pretty much nothing left in it.

I watched all of it. I was genuinely surprised. I think I even chuckled, but I also felt bad too. The kid did not look that hungry or malnutritioned. I mean we're not talking about those kids you see on tv from africa.

I don't know what my conclusion is on this one. I told some foreigners this story and they thought the kid was probably just trying to make me feel sorry for him to give him money or buy him another one. That didn't work though, because I've turned into an unemotional bastard. (some people will argue that I was one before I started traveling :) )

Purple berry

This is what a typical Açai drink looks like here. It's very cold as it's blended with ice or it's been in the freezer for a while.

My portuguese is getting better

Yesterday a lady walked by me selling "sanduiche natural" and I understood her. It was a silently proud moment for me.

But then I started worrying that my Spanish is getting worse again. Oh well. Maybe Portuguese is helping my Spanish at the same time?

The phone rings

There are no pay phones in this country so far that take cash. You have to buy a phone card from a convenience store to use the phones.

I bought one in Brasilia to call Daniella with, so I've been using it to call Gary here in Rio. I noticed that if you hang up and leave the phonecard in the phone, it rings at you to remind you that you left the phonecard. What a smart idea.

I really noticed the ring too, because it sounds like a phone. Everyone knows traditional phone sounds and if you hear it on the street you know something is up. It works way better than the chime at the ATM when you leave your card. I never hear that one right away.

Dark clouds came in

We left the beach because of rain coming in. It was good timing. I would have gotten up in about 2 more minutes and told Gary I was going to the regular beach and sit alone for a while, hopefully staring at girl's asses without relent just to get the nausea to go away.

He invited me to come out later to go to a Churrascaria with him for dinner. That's one of the Brazilian all you can eat meat and salad bars where they bring the 100 kinds of meat to your table and slice it for you if you want some. Like fogo de chau in the states.

I'm considering doing that and internally using that event as a marker to say goodbye to Gary. My body doesn't feel good when I'm hanging out with him anymore. Subconsciously, I can't really take it and I'm not enjoying myself.

Gary has been suggesting I stay longer in Rio and take trips to different places in the area, like Ilha Grande, which is a carless island that really is supposed to be beautiful. I don't know if he's implying that he wants to take me there or not, but fortunately I don't want to stay in Rio much longer so I don't have to find out and tell him that I don't want him to come with me anyway.


Gary and I were having a discussion last night about his life, and I happened to ask him if he was ever married. He said no, because he was gay. He then asked, "didn't you know?" and I said, "nope I had no idea."

I was fine for a while, but then the feeling of nausea started building through the rest of the night. Just to make things clear to the people who don't know me, I have no problem with gay people or people being gay or whatever. I don't think they're any less of a person.

Here's what happened:
1. I stayed in a private room with Gary for 4 nights in Manaus. There was no problem but now I wonder if the hostel staff thought something funny was going on
2. I found out James (gary's friend in manaus) and his roommate in Rio was gay too, which I didn't notice either. I wonder if James thought something that I didn't.
3. I saw 2 guys heavily making out in the middle of the street , which grossed me out. My stomach can't take stuff that is so explicit and in your face.
4. Gary told me guys were checking me out last night. I didn't notice of course. Then he told me it's because I'm the only good looking asian guy there. That was too much.
5. Gary went home with some guy he met on the street last night. Yeah, I'm serious here. Not a joke. I took the bus home myself. Thinking about what he did with that guy has been making me gag all morning.
6. Before he left, he was joking with a friend asking him to set me up with a boy or a girl. I said girls only please. He said, "are you sure?" and laughed. I realize he was joking but I think I threw up a little in my mouth because I wasn't 100% sure he was joking.

I have also realized why Gary seems to only make guy friends the whole time. I had a funny feeling about that earlier last week. I also now realize why Gary likes Rio and LA so much. I was trying to figure out and now I can see a major part of it. This place is completely accepting of gay culture and it's very comfortable here for gay people.

I also realize why everytime I asked him "did you see that girl's body?" or "did you see what she was wearing?" he hadn't noticed. He never did. That makes me laugh thinking about it.

Now everytime he touches me on the arm or shoulder while talking I notice. Stuff that wouldn't even make me flinch if I knew he was straight. I'm not offended by it, but this is a new environment for me so I'm just learning about what's going on around me. I'm like super hyperaware of everything going on and it's kind of driving me nuts. Even his name, Gary, reminds me of the word gay. Lol I really am going crazy.

Gary invited me to sit on the gay part of Ipanema Beach today. While I've been slightly nauseous still for the last hour I've been doing it. Just taking it like a man, I guess you could say. This trip is a learning experience for me and I figure I have something to learn by all this as well.

Here's what I've noticed so far:
1. There's a lot of guys on this beach
2. Everyone's really friendly
3. Guys are trying to meet eyes with me, which I'm avoiding like the plague. This could be the same as always, but I'm hyperaware as I stated earlier, and there's like 90% guys in the area.
4. Some of the women look kinda masculine
5. There are also some hetero couples in the same area, or at least I think they're hetero. Haha

I'm going to have to get up and leave soon. My body can't take too much more of this. I've had to close my eyes a couple of times and try to think of something else.

Public display of affection?

I just saw a man and a woman licking eachothers faces while making out hardcore lying on a beach towel together side by side.


Check out this sandcastle

Holy crap!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Today's lesson from the jungle

If it's pretty, it's poisonous. Bugs, mushrooms, frogs, snakes, butterflies, women etc.

Boat day

The day after I had the lightning event, Gary was headed across the Rio Negro with his friend James (the guy who lives in Manaus).
James had asked a friend who owns a small boat if they would drive us around the river and they had offered to do so.

The friends turned out to be an 18-ish year old boy and a 12 year-ish old boy who were siblings. They were using one of their dad's boats. They were very friendly, even though I couldn't speak to them. I could tell throughout the day they were enjoying themselves.

When we got in the boat we had to fill up on gas first. Gary and I shared the cost of the gas price. It turned out to be about $20 each. No problem considering we're not paying for the boat ride itself.

What I didn't expect was that we filled up gas at a floating gas station on the way out to the river. It was a laugh to see it. You can imagine a small Texaco station just floating in the water with 2 attendants and some long hoses to fill up boats alongside.

We went across the river to a lake area that had light brown water instead of black because it was filled with water from Rio Solimöes and not the Negro. There they took us to a popular lunchtime restaurant on the water where we were going to have lunch.

Behind the restaurant was a small raised platform walkway that took us into the jungle. We walked back there in hopes of finding a resting alligator in the swamp and we found a small one (~1.5m). That's the one I took a picture of last week and put on my blog.

We went back to the boat and they drove us to this house on the river that was quite large and had the family show us their pet anaconda. It was a baby but it was still like 3m long. A little boy brought it out and for some reason I felt safe picking it up. We took some pictures of me with it. Gary didn't even want to touch it. Haha. He stood behind me as we took a picture. I thought that he would have at least touched it's scales but after they took it away I asked him about it and he said it creeped him out too much.

James told me I was very brave to pick up a wild anaconda. *He* didn't even want to hold it. When I heard that I realized that yes, it was not domesticated. A feeling of "oh shit!" dawned over me. I could have been strangled if the snake got pissed. Yikes! That was kind of dumb of me. I had held an anaconda before at a zoo, and that was why I felt safe picking this one up, but who knows what kind of history this snake has had. Definitely not controlled from the looks of this family who was using it just to make money from tourists. They charged us $5 to see the snake.

I put the snake down just in time too, because then it started pissing yellow gooey stuff from it's lower orifice, which was pretty nasty looking and it would have sucked to get that on me.

The buffet lunch was good. And after that we were planning to go swimming but there was a huge storm where the beach was and so we decided to head back toward town first. On the way to town the kids went in the wrong direction and we entered a swamp that had a lot of weeds in it that damaged the engine of the boat, so then we really had to go back home.

They took us back across the river in the small storm and choppy waves and from there we took a taxi home.

Because of my inherent mistrust of people, I questioned secretly if the whole thing was a scam to get a free lunch and to get their gas tank filled. James seems like an innocent guy though so I think he wasn't in on it and he also probably didn't see it coming. But we paid together $75 (+ $10 tip) for the lunch and the snake and the gas, and we got a 4 hour personal boat ride out of it, which still isn't bad but for $50 I could have gone with a professional company and done a full day of activities with them in a tour group style.

I was not convinced that the engine was damaged. That was the other thing. I had a feeling the kids were faking it so that we might tip them more because we felt bad. I didn't have a chance to look at it and I don't know much about boat engines anyway, and they probably knew that too.

The activities we did, I enjoyed. I just assume most people are trying to scam me most of the time though.

Nature at work

At these rest stops on the long bus rides, I've noticed that when they let us out, the men walk straight to the bathroom and the women don't. I've been thinking about this phenomenon and I think I know what's going on now.

Guys find it easy to urinate because they have a directional fire hose, so they load up on drinks whenever they feel like it. Women on the other hand, find it a chore to have to use the toilet seats, which may or may not be clean, usable, or free, so they refrain from drinking as much as possible and slightly dehydrate themselves.

So when a rest stop hits, the men are all clamming to go to the bathroom before they do anything else and the women are just hanging out, adjusting themselves in their seats, getting a smoke in, and maybe getting a bite to eat if they feel like it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The old man

As I've mentioned earlier, my hostel roommates name is Gary, a nickname for Gerd and he's 67 years old.

He was born during World War II. His dad was in the German army. His family was in Austria at the time of the war. He was just a baby/small child. He told me he had to go into a bomb shelter at some point when his city was being bombed and during that time he lost his hearing in his right ear.

He's also a cancer survivor. He had spinal cancer. Through chemo and radiation he beat it. Now he takes meds to regulate his body.

As a cancer survivor he feels like he has nothing to lose anymore. Every day is a treat.
He's just living life the way he wants to do it. He lives in Rio and in LA. He's been trying to decide which of those 2 places he should move to permanently.

In LA he said he was a private school administrator, but he wasn't enjoying his job anymore so he quit a couple years back.

He's a really nice guy. He speaks a little bit of Portuguese. He's very sociable and was doing a great job connecting people together in the hostel everyday even though this was the first time he stayed in one. He was so enthusiastic about going places and doing things everyday. He has a friend in Manaus that he met in Rio named James. James took Gary all over the place to see things in Manaus and sometimes I went with them.

It's been a privilege to meet Gary. I'm glad that he's enjoying his life.

The Açai

So there's this berry here that grows on a palm tree. It looks a lot like a blackberry or a blueberry. It's called Açai and the Brazilians keep telling it's all the rage right now in other parts of the world because it's considered some kind of superfood or something. I remembering hearing something about Oprah.

I don't remember if I ever heard of it when I was in the states but apparently it only grows here in the Amazon and so all over Brazil you can get ice drinks made with Açai for like $2 when it's probably $10 for the same thing in the states, if you can even find such a thing.

It's one of those "secret" homeopathic health foods that the native indians eat to prevent disease and maintain good health that the first has now discovered and is going crazy for it. Again, I don't know if this is for sure. It's just what the Brazilians tell me.

A quick search for it's benefits mentions high omega fats, and so I've been trying to get as much of it as I can while I'm here in the hotspot, hoping that maybe it would be good for my skin. Who knows if it is, but I might as well try eating it. It probably isn't making it any worse. *crosses fingers*

Just for laughs

My favorite song as of late:
Bette Midler - The Rose

A song I don't like lately:
Justin Timberlake - Sexy Back
(sorry heather)

Off to Rio, Land of the Bikini

It's 8:45pm local time. I have now embarked on my 17 hour bus ride from Brasilia to Rio. Gary is still with me and we make one of the oddest traveling pairs.

A 67 year old German American caucasian man who speaks some Portuguese and a 31 year old Korean American man who speaks no Portuguese, both from LA.

It's great.

Expect many blog updates until I fall asleep.


Daniella gave me an awesome tour of Brasilia in one day, including all the government buildings and the cathedral and even at the end of the day took me to a park where we viewed an amazing sunset in the beautiful Brasilian sky. I really appreciate all the thought she put into everything.

She had to borrow her sister's car to do it too. (Which I didn't know or else I would have rented a car or something)

That was also the same day she took me out to lunch with her friends also found a hotel for me to stay at (and moved me there) for the rest of stay in the city.

This is a girl that I met during 3 days of NYE in Barc and I probably spoke maybe 200 words to her in total over those 3 days because we had a big group of people and she was one of the quiet ones :)

Daniella just has great pride in her city and especially her country and wanted to make sure I enjoyed myself here.

She even gave me a much needed pronunciation lesson in Portuguese and even told me that Portuguese is a "hard" language which I secretly loved hearing because I've been feeling really incompetent lately because everyone says Portuguese is easy if you know some Spanish (but it's not that easy).

One of her friends, named Lucas, was also very cool as well. He's lived in Brasilia his entire life as well.

In the evening we went to what they call a "pub", which Lucas told me meant an indoor bar with live music. The inside turned out to be a lot like an indie rock band music venue with a bar and a stage like several I had seen in Seattle. What a comfortable environment it was for me. The band that night played some Brazilian and some english rock music covers as well. I got to do some headbanging and some dancing at this place. It was freeing.

The 2nd night we were out they took me to a nice restaurant area on the lake edge. The area reminded me of a nice area you would see in Newport Beach or Manhattan Beach near the water. After that they took me out to get a milkshake at a place called Bob's burgers. The place looked a lot like what Rudy's diner would look like if it was built today.

In the morning of my flight, Lucas came out of class (uni) early to escort me to the airport by bus, which ended up costing me $1 rather than $15 by taxi. It wasn't even slow either! He didn't have to do that but he told me he didn't mind getting out of school early sometimes *cough*

Brasilia was a lovely city (I wrote a previous post about the city itself) and Daniella and Lucas were everything that I could have hoped for in a new city and new country. If they come visit me in LA I have a high standard that I'm going to have to meet, so I hope they never visit.

J/k of course.

Hoho Brasilia

Flight was good. I'm in Brasilia for 2 hours :)

I am blowing kisses to Lucas and saluting Daniella. Oh wait. I meant the other way around.

This one time, in Thailand

I was in Lamai beach on Koh Samui (island).

I had been keeping an eye out for cheap swim trunks because the one I have from Hawaii is a bit too cheesy and stands out too much, and is also big enough that it sometimes starts falling off while I'm swimming. Let's just say I'm careful when I'm jumping into water :)

I found a place that was selling fake Billabong swimsuits on the street. I asked the lady how much one was because I liked the way it looked and it's utility with multiple pockets.

The thai lady told me $20. I said, I'll pay $15. I thought that it wasn't that cheap but I was in a heavy tourist area and the shorts looked pretty good so I was considering it. She said, "no I give you for $17" and I was like, "nah $15 only" and then she said $16.

I was looking at the pants closer while we were bargaining and I began to change my mind about them. They didn't seem as nice as I had thought and I didn't want to buy from the first store, so then I felt like I didn't want them at all.

I said "no thank you" and started walking away to the shop next door where they probably sold the same shorts anyway. She suddenly says "$15 ok". I laughed. But I had really changed my mind, so I said, "no sorry I changed my mind". She says "$13". I shook my head in guilt. (Remember thailand was my first 3rd world country that I visited so I was innocent and not sure about what goes on)

She says "$11 ok?" I said no. Shook my head. I was looking for her to take my apology so I could move on with a clear conscience. She says, "ok $9 final price". I shook my head again and felt bad but said I must check other stores. Maybe they have a style I like more and then I would have lost out if I bought this one. (It turned out later on there wasn't, and I couldn't find this price for this item again at any other store, so it was a loss for me)

I walked away down the street. She yelled out "come on... $9" I shook my head without even turning around anymore. I had given up on her forgiving me. Then I heard a loud yell behind me, "man... Fuck you man! You waste my time and then you buy nothing! Fuck you!"

I turned around for that with a guilty smile on my face and walked out of there to the next shop, where I was unsuccessful in procuring a pair of cheap shorts that I liked. She was really pissed, pointing fingers and everything at me.

So even to this day I still wear my tacky Hawaii bought swim shorts when I go into the ocean. And let me tell you, I fit *right* in in Brazil with the men and their boy short swimwear. Not. But at least my shorts have a zipper pocket for coin change and a small inside fold up pocket to hide bills in, which have worked out beautifully for me in Brazil so far.

"Japanese" styled peanuts?

For some reason, the peanuts here are called "Japanese style" even though they're just roasted, salted, and sugar coated like any country does it. I found it strange.


On my Oceanair flight just now, the pilot came out of the pilot's cabin to serve us food from the cart.

That was cute and scary. Cute because he's a man of many jobs and skills and doesn't mind doing it all, and scary because it means there's no copilot in the flight deck, so if the pilot has a heart attack we're dead for sure, no question.

*uncomfortable chuckle*

Edit: never mind I was wrong. The guy dressed like a pilot is actually some kind of cabin officer. There are still 2 pilots up front. (I peeked when they opened the door briefly)

This one time, in Egypt

I was walking down the street alone in the bright daytime in Sharm El-Sheikh. This egyptian man saw me walking, and approached me like I've always been approached as a tourist. I was walking on the median of a big street with no cars (I've actually found that I feel safer in the middle of the street than on the sidewalk), so he actually had to walk out to the middle of the street to meet me.

I kept on walking until he said "hello friend." From the way he looked and walked I could tell he was a touter of some sort. I didn't feel like he was going to beg for money.

I said "hello" but continued to walk, although a bit slower just because of curiosity. The man asked me "where you from?" like usual. I responded with "korea" like usual. He smiled at my response. Then he put out his hand for a handshake.

I've not realized this until traveling to these other countries, but when someone pulls out their hand for handshake, it's natural instinct to pull out your own to complete the gesture.

Something felt weird about the man or the situation though that day. I pulled out my hand instinctively but then I decided not to while my hand was moving there. So I pulled back, looked at him in the face and said "sorry". I gave a shrug, looked forward again and kept walking away. He had stopped walking because of my apparent rejection.

I felt weird and also was unsure if what I did was necessary but I moved on emotionally very quickly. The guy yelled out at me, "what the hell man? You can't even shake my hand?" and then a couple seconds later added, "why do you have to be an asshole?" I grinned after hearing that.

I felt bad but I also felt even more justified after hearing that. I don't want to deal with people like that on the street. I'm more choosy about handshakes now and I don't feel weird about it.

I found (at least) one

It's sad that I don't trust Brazilians (in general), but Salvador has ruined me because it was the first impression and I've found it difficult to change, even after being in Brasilia and Manaus with wonderful people.

There are honest people in this country though. I found some last night.

I was eating dinner in the public square where the teatro amazonas is located with 2 people from my jungle trip. I went up to the counter of the burger joint to pay our bill.

Then we walked outside to go back to the hostel to get our malaria pills. We had all forgotten our pills and you have to take one every day until 2-4 weeks after you have left the infected zone.

So we got our pills and I put on my leg extensions because we were supposedly going to try heading into the free opera show on sunday nights at the teatro. (This is the coolest thing by the way. Ever heard of a free opera show at the most famous opera house in the country before?)

We were walking back to the square when I noticed I didn't have my phone on me. Part of me went "oh shit" and another part of me went "I probably left it in the room while changing". I was leaning on the latter so I shrugged it off and kept going.

We tried the opera house. We were too late to go in, so we headed back to the hostel to possibly watch a movie or something. On the way back we passed the burger place and the waitress motioned to me about something with her hands. Then I looked at her and she was making a gesture with her hand that signified a telephone. My eyes popped and I said, "telefono!" She headed inside. I followed her and inside the cash register man was holding my phone in his hand showing it to me.

I was SO grateful that I got it back. They could have EASILY kept it and sold it. I would have been really unhappy about losing it. I went back and gave them reward money later. Not a lot, but something because they made my day..

I'm headed back to Brasilia

Just for a couple hours :) to make a transfer from the airport to a long distance bus to head to Rio. I am traveling with the old man from my room at the hostel. His name is Gary. Our travel schedules happened to merge. He needs to go back to Rio to go take care of an apt he has there. I'm moving into a hostel near the beach for a few days.

I'm at the airport in Manaus now. The plane leaves in one hour.

I am doing the flight to and bus from Brasilia because it's half the price of a direct Manaus to Rio flight.

Orange flavored tictacs

I've developed an addiction.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I made it out with all my fingers and toes

More posts to come later. I have to finish some of them up :)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Headed into the jungle

I'm headed into the jungle for 5 days with Amazon riders. My guide's name is Tarzan.

See you in 5 days. (Tuesday night)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I keep having to tell myself it's not rude

This is how you get someone's attention in Brazil:

Make some kind of noise. Any noise. It can be a cat call, a whistle, an "oi!", a "hey!", a cough, a yell, or whatever else you want it to be. Once you get their attention just by the sheer fact that you made noise on the street or in the room, you just talk to them like normal.

Never mind the fact that you just made everyone else look at you too. It doesn't matter at all. Just ignore everyone else, it's their problem that they have ears.

Alligator spotted!

We're out on the river in a small boat today and we saw this behind a restaurant.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I'm glad I'm in the hostel

It's raining so hard outside right now I can't hear people talking next to me over the sound of the drops hitting the roof and the lightning splitting through the sky. It was perfectly dry outside 3 minutes ago.

Oh Amazon you dirty little devil

Homeless parking attendants

In Brasilia, there was this thing that was funny to see but I couldn't really understand either. A very strange phenomenon, if I may quote Daniella. She even thinks it's strange.

In every parking area (street or lot) that people have desire to park in, there are these "homeless" people walking around watching people park their cars. They pretend like they are "helping" but really, how much help do you need to park a honda civic size car in a parking space? They supposedly "watch" your car so that nothing happens to it either while it's parked, like some mafia is going to come and spray paint your vehicle if they don't watch it.

They're considered homeless, but they wear decent clothes like everyone else, which is also strange.

So what happens is, you park your car. This dude comes and says hello and if he gets there in time, tries to direct you into your spot (which you found without help of course) by using a couple hand motions.

You get out of your car and you go about your business.

After you're done (eating, shopping, whatever else), you come back to your car, you pull out of the spot. The guy is magically at your car with you. He again pretends to help you pull your car out. Then you open your window and you're expected to tip this guy and say thank you before you leave.

Does that make sense??? I chuckled whenever it happened but I still thought it was weird.

It's just like those guys in LA that run up to your car and start squeegee wiping your windshields without asking you if you want it and then expect you to tip them afterwards even though the whole time you were telling them to stop. Personally I hate these people partially because I am frugal, but also because they are probably damaging the windshield too. I'd almost pay them something if they just don't touch my car at all. I don't, but I can say that. Usually I just yell at them to get away.

In Brasilia's case, Daniella told me people pay because of the fear of them damaging your car the next time you come and park there if you don't tip them this time. She says they have excellent license plate memories. The whole process is some kind of poor man's extortion or something.

My excuse for beer

I notice I've been drinking beer frequently lately, but it's not because I'm a raging alcoholic (well ok I was during Carnaval).

Everytime I go out to eat I find myself ordering a beer. Do you know why? Because these damn countries charge you for water at the table. And even if they offered me tap water in Morocco I wouldn't accept it because of sanitary reasons. I would have taken it in Portugal, Spain, and select places in Brazil and Argentina though. Of course they would gladly force me to pay 2 euros for a 500ml bottled water in Spain that comes in a fancy glass bottle.

I really miss the world of free tap water in the states.

The fact that I want to stay healthier costs so much that I would rather pay for a beer than pay for completely overpriced water, and that's the reason.

Random hair growths

I've noiced that a few Brazilian women have random hair growths on their bodies. Maybe guys do too but I just haven't noticed.

I'm talking about patches on their necks, or the shoulder, on the arm, or the upper back. It's kind of funky looking. I think it surprises me when I see it but it's not gross.

I wonder if this is normal for Brazilians or if it's the same everywhere but in other places people pay a lot to get them removed for cosmetic reasons.

For men only

If you are a woman, don't read this one because you may scoff or gag or roll your eyes so far back your eyesight may diminish.

I was using a urinal at a public bathroom at the mall today. There were 6 urinals with nobody on them when I walked in. Exercising exceptional male etiquette, I used the urinal furthest to the right, on the end.

A brazilian man walked in behind me, and to my surprise, pulled himself up to the urinal next to me, and began to go about his business. I was like, "eh?". There were 4 urinals open on the other side! Why did he choose the one next to me?

But it's one of those situations where it's also weird to say anything, so I tried to ignore it, quickly finish, and get moving forward with my life.

Maybe they don't give a shit about urinal spacing in Brazil?

P.s. This post is not a joke

P.p.s. Ok it sort of is

Butt fillers

We were walking through the streets of Manaus today on the way back from a mall and I saw a small stand that was selling swimsuits. These are Brazilian of course, which means very small bikinis and speedo like boy shorts for men.

At the bottom of the stand I saw what looked like a butt, and upon closer inspection I figured out it was a butt cheek filler to make your ass look bigger and rounder when you put on pants. I wasn't sure if they were for women only or unisex, but I couldn't ask either because I don't know enough Portuguese. I didn't realize it was *that* important to have a curvy ass here.

We were walking through the street at a brisk pace and when I saw this I came to a sudden stop that could only be expained by a phenomenon such as this.

Toilet seats that won't stay up on their own

I hate them.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Another one more thing

There were a bunch of chickens near us. One happened to be near the beer fridge. When the lightning hit nearby, the chicken fell over on it's side. Like literally on it's side. It was still breathing.

We all thought it was going to die. But then about 30 minutes later it stood up. But then it didn't move until we left, at least another 30 minutes. Maybe it was paralyzed? Who knows. I should have checked, but I was still too involved thinking about the lightning.

P.s. Renee, the title has bad grammar. Don't learn from it.

Oh yeah

I'd also like to add that there were crazy Brazilians swimming in the river the whole storm. Crazy bastards! (There are trees sticking out of the water. It would probably be instant death)


I'd like to interrupt today's program to bring you important news.

I went north today to this area called Ponta Negra in the northern part of Manaus to go swimming on a beach on the river where it's quiet.

A thunderstorm started that got really bad so Andy (Argentinian) and I went under a covering (an outdoor restaurant) to wait out the heavy rain and lightning.

Well I was standing next to one of the speakers in the corner and watching the crazy lightning when the next jolt hit the ground near us and we saw the lightning bolt flash across the ground and did something with the speaker. There was some kind of reaction there even though the speakers were turned off deliberately.

Either way, I felt the jolt of energy run through my feet and up my body. It was crazy. It was painless. It just felt like I was on a bed of jello and someone was lightly shaking my feet.

I wasn't hurt but seriously I was contemplating what had just happened for like the next 2 hours. I couldn't believe it. This was the craziest lightning storm I've ever seen or heard with my eyes. It sounded like people were shooting desert eagle .50s about 3 feet from my ears.

I am now either 2 million brain cells stupider or developing superpowers but I feel great! Heh

Monday, March 2, 2009

A choice of 3 hostels

The selection of hostels in Manaus wasn't so hot either but I decided to just check out the best one on hostelworld anyway. Worst thing that could happen would be I just get up and move to a hotel nearby anyway.

This one is only ranked at 80% which is pretty low for the highest ranked hostel in a city. Usually I don't go below 88%. But so far it's ok. The bed seems ok. It has air conditioning and a fan in the room, and the floor seems clean. For $12 a night for a 8 person dorm it's going to work out. The staff doesn't speak any english again but I've learned to get around that using Spanish and some body language.

I only have 1 roommate tonight. He's like a 65 year old man traveling through Brazil alone. He's German, but lives in LA. He knows a little Portuguese. Very impressive. He showed me a place to get dinner where I tried a random Amazon river grilled fish that turned out to be amazing.

He told me the dollar jumped to 2.45 reals today, so thank you to Mr. Obama for making life a little easier for me. It was only 2.3 when I started Brazil 2 weeks ago. The fish turned out to be only $8 even though it was in the middle of the tourist area. It came with mashed potatoes, salad, and rice.

I've been bitten about 6 times by mosquitos already, but that's ok. For some reason my skin is very underreactive to mosquitos. I haven't started my malaria pills yet, but I will before I head into the jungle.

The humidity is pretty strong here. According to Daniella, it's supposed to be the worst, but today it was ok. About the same as in Salvador.

The guy in my room says he wants to take a bunch of the guys in the hostel to a beach up the river tomorrow to go swimming and get fish foer lunch at super cheap prices. I'm excited for that. I'm calling him "the guy in my room" because I forgot his name. :) I'll ask him again tomorrow for it.

I can't wait to fish for pirahna. :) I heard you can do that here.

Gum = chiclet

Daniella took me to a restaurant with her friends that had a buffet of food from Minas Gervais (a Brazilian state) which had spectacular food. They had a spicy sausage appetizer that was amazing. I could have eaten just that continuously for lunch and been happy.

She and her friends speak english very well. I am really impressed by them. They told me their english was not good but it's like 10000% better than my Spanish so I think they're being a bit hard on themselves. I spoke some broken Spanish to them and used whatever Portuguese I knew as well (almost nothing).

I tried really hard to listen and decipher some Portuguese when they talked to eachother, but I didn't get too far with that. They tried to translate most of the conversations into english for me, which was something they didn't have to do at all of course. I don't like making people have to work that hard. It's my own problem if I'm in a country and I don't understand the local language.

We finished the meal, and afterwards Daniella pulled out some trident gum and asked me if I wanted a chiclet. When I saw that the gum was trident and not chiclet, I realized that they use the word Chiclet to mean gum. I asked Daniella and she confirmed. Chiclet was the first gum in Brazil and so the name brand stuck like kleenex did for tissue paper in the states.

50% urine 50% rainwater

That would be the approximate concentration of the watery like liquid that was on the ground in Salvador during Carnaval.

There were port-o-potties in locations throughout the party and parade areas, but not nearly enough to handle the amount of alcohol consumed by that many people, and so guys especially were just peeing everywhere. You could see about 3 guys at any given time pissing on the wall at the side of the street. Even women were just kneeling down, lifting their skirts, and just peeing on the ground on the sides.

In fact, at one point, as I was walking in the parade path, some guy just kneeled down, pulled out his penis from his pants and just started pissing all over the ground, while the parade of people were moving around him and his friend watched his back. He was so casual about it that I didn't even notice at first even though he was 5 ft away from me in front. I was too busy watching the parade of people coming. I saw him and started laughing. He smiled back in slight embarassment.

The women and children would splash, jump, and dance in this fluid as well. It was horrifying yet mildly humorous. Every night after I came home I had to wash my legs, and this is also partially why I declared my shoes dead today, because well, I just didn't want to touch them anymore.

Moved to a hotel

There was only 1 hostel in Brasilia. I searched for it online before I got there. I asked Daniella about it, she hadn't even heard of it before. That wasn't a good sign but it wasn't necessarily bad either.

It was called the Brasilia hostel and it was in a sort of convenient area, but it was just a building off a big roadspace area that had no character and almost no life either. The building looks like a big mental ward. A dorm bed was $12. There were 2 guys in my room when I got there that had just gotten off the bus before me and were trying to catch up on sleep. That was pretty much it as far people I could socialize with. But that wasn't the problem.

After about 10 minutes of lying in the bed on the first night, I felt itchy all over my body already. That was a bad sign but it was 11pm and there was nothing I could really do about it. I just decided to live through it for the night.

The next day I met up with Daniella and at the end of our day, she took me to a hotel district (s hoteleira norte) and was nice enough to go into several of them with me to ask about prices and availability. Then once we found one, she drove me to the hostel to pick up my stuff and I moved into the hotel of my choice. It was $40 a night and well worth it. I slept really well there. (It also had a/c which is like heaven on earth for me)

I stayed there my last 2 nights.


I made it Manaus today by plane, and so now I'm officially in the Amazon! But it's not like I'm in the jungle or something. This city feels quite large, much bigger than I thought it would be actually.

I've got several things to do here so far:
1. I need schedule an outing in the forest somehow. I'll probably need to book with a travel agency nearby. Either a trek or a multiple day cruise.

2. I need to buy new shoes. The old ones I had are completely dead now. In fact, instead of packing them this morning at the airport, I just took pictures of them and then threw them away. Officially RIP after a week of Carnaval. They were good while they lasted though. They officially lasted 270 days minus about 50 days in the keen sandals, so 220 days of wear for $150. Not bad right? I'll show you guys the pics when I get them uploaded.

I needed new shoes soon for Macchu Picchu anyway. I wasn't going to hike 5 days in holey worn out leather with holes in the rubber.

This time I'm going to try to find some actual high top hiking shoes and see if that takes me out to the end of the trip. For everything else I'll use my sandals.

3. I need to book a flight back to Rio. I'm not sure when yet though. It depends on how long I want to stay here in the Amazon.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A bowl and a dome

Brasilia is a beautiful city. It's the center of Brazilian government. Daniella tells me everyone here has somebody working for the government, and government work is the best jobs in Brazil.

This city was completely designed in the the 60s to be the capitol of Brazil, and so it's layout is amazingly planned. It feels like something out of Alduous Huxley's Brave New World, except not so dark. Remember that movie Gattaca? Sort of like that.

Many of the buildings look like they're from the 60s but the layout feels like the year 2250. The buildings are aligned, the lines are square, the buildings look symmetric, and everything has it's place. There's a banking district, residential districts, commercial districts, and shopping districts. The roads are wide, there's a world famous bridge with diagonal arches that looks amazing. You need a car to get around. The roads are massive. Even the lake here is man made, planned to the hilt, and the president's house is on it. There's no fence around the president's house. I guess nobody feels the need to harm the Brazilian leader.

There's a cathedral here where you enter from underground and the part you see above ground is only the roof. In the picture above is the congress building, but just the roof of it because the actual building is underground.

Oh yeah something I almost forgot to mention is that the governmental structure in Brazil is very much like the states, with 3 branches just like us, but with a lot more corruption (hard to believe I know) according to Daniella. There's a big "mall" of grass in the middle of the government buildings, a lot like Wash DC. I don't know if that's just a coincidence or on purpose.

Daniella told me they moved the capitol here from Rio in 1960 because this city is much more central within the country borders and therefore more convenient of a location to lead the country from.

Although the sun is incomprehensibly hot, it's much less humid here than it was in Salvador, so I've been walking around, admiring the buildings and the long fields of grass