Sunday, April 17, 2016

Rio de Janeiro Pt. 1


I woke up at 6am and said goodbye to Lorena.  Her uncle had to drive into Sao Paulo for work so he offered to drop me off at the airport.  At the airport, they changed the gate on me at the last minute so I was a little concerned I might miss my flight but I got there in time.  First solo travel challenge in South America complete!  It is a little difficult figuring things out here because a lot of people don’t speak English at all, but everyone always tries to be as helpful as they can be.

Got to Rio (SDU airport) and opted for a taxi (75BRL) instead of the bus or a prepaid taxi.  Got to our apartment in Leblon [CASA ORELLAS] and was greeted by Gloria, who rents out the apartment.  The room wasn’t ready when I arrived, so I left my things there and went for a run down the beach (through Leblon and Ipanema).  Everything felt very safe, I even brought my iPhone out with me so I could listen to music and never felt like it was a problem to have it out.

I went to the supermarket to pick up fruit for breakfast for a few days and headed to bed early at the apartment.



In the morning I took an Uber to the Botanical Garden (9BRL) and walked around there for a few hours, really beautiful.  My first solo activity and I actually felt really content being alone.  After that, I walked to Parque Lage, where there’s a beautiful building with a mountain backdrop.  I took a taxi back to the apartment in the afternoon.


Lorena had bought tickets for us to go to Sugarloaf but I didn’t realize they were only valid for one day so I had to buy a new ticket (75BRL).  The trip was a little nerve racking – you take two gondolas up very high, but it was very safe and had awesome views from the top.  Definitely worth it to go but not as amazing as I had anticipated.  Left right before sunset to avoid the crowds.

Took a taxi back to the apartment and wanted for Thaiza (Lorena’s friend) to arrive.  We had only met twice in Santos and hadn’t really spoke, so I was a little unsure how well we’d get along of if we’d be able to communicate fluently.  She seems like she has a lot of connections in Brazil, so we ended up standing in line (for TWO HOURS) for passes to a party that night.  I was a happy participant but no party is worth that much time waiting in line for me.

After we got the tickets, we met two of Thaiza’s friends at Demonte bar for drinks.  In Brazil is it customary to buy a large beer and bring cups for the whole group – I really love this about Brazilian culture, very fun and engaging.  After a drink or two there, Thaiza and I left to get ready for the party.  We left our apartment at 1am and could not find the party on the first trip.  We drove around for an hour and had to come back to the apartment to get Thaiza’s phone.  After another very long taxi ride we finally got to the Circus party at 4am and stayed for an hour and a half.  It was okay – not worth the struggle it was to get the tickets and to get to the party.



In the morning we went to a hotel to pick up Carnaval tickets for later that day.  We went up to the hotel’s rooftop pool where I met a group of guys from New Jersey.  After almost two weeks of being surrounded by Portuguese speakers it was a welcome break to speak English without any translation problems.  We all went to Leblon beach together and drank a lot of caipirinhas.

That night we got ready at the apartment and went to the Parade of Champions.  Thaiza works for a mayor and he got her some VIP tickets so that whole experience was pretty surreal.  Open bar, free food everywhere, they even served breakfast at 6am when the festival was over.



Thaiza and I woke up around noon and went to the beach with her two other girlfriends.  After a few hours there, I decided to walk down to Ipanema to go to a craft fair (bought three earrings, a ring and necklace, plus a painting of favelas).


Went to drinks again with the girls that night but I was pretty tired so went home early to pack.  The Leblon area of Rio is very hip and very safe, I felt extremely comfortable walking around town on my own even at night.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The First Days in Brazil - Sao Paulo/Santos

Sincere apologies to my wonderful family for the tardiness of my blog posts.  Things have slowed down considerably since I arrived in Brazil over a month ago and slowly but surely I will upload memories from my travels so far.

Arrived in Sao Paulo at 11am and greeted by Lorena and Christine (Lorena’s mom).  Always so great to have someone at the airport to pick you up, especially in a city you’re unfamiliar with.  As a little background, Lorena and I met back in 2011 when we were both living in Barcelona.  We met in the gym at our residencia, got to be pretty good friends and stayed in touch for 5+ years.  I had also met Christine while she was visiting Barcelona so I think that made her more comfortable to let me stay with their family.  Christine headed back to Santos and Lorena and I went to a friend’s apartment in Sao Paulo.

She has a swimsuit line and had a small event in the city at night.  I went for a bit but after the 16+ hours of travel I headed back early and went to sleep.



Lorena, Luiza and I went to breakfast together then Lorena and I spent the day driving around SP delivering bikinis and checking out a few different neighborhoods.  Later in the day, Lorena and I headed to Santos, a beach town about 1.5 hours from SP.  Lorena’s family lives in an apartment on the beach so the view was pretty amazing.



Lorena and I woke up and headed to Tijcopaea, where Lorena’s grandfather has a beach house in a very exclusive area – we’re talking the Hamptons of Brazil.  The house is this cute little yellow building with an outdoor pool and about 50 feet from the water.  Unfortunately the family was renting the house in February so we couldn’t go in, but we walked down the beach and looked at all the amazing properties.  At the far end of the property there was a small restaurant and a small waterfall to walk through.

Heading back to Santos, we stopped to get acai at D'Boa (18BRL/~5USD), a sushi restaurant that serves the most amazing fruit smoothie dish.

At night we went to Cinza, a new bar in Santos that Lorena’s friend runs.  It was pretty uncomfortable for me because most people didn’t speak much English and I felt bad making them struggle through what they do know.  Later in the night I met a few people who spoke fluently so that made things much easier.



In the morning Lorena and I went to the gym (50BRL/$14USD) and I got a pretty good workout in.  After that we went to the beach at Canal 3. Even though Lorena lives near Canal 1 she prefers to go to the beach further down because she thinks the atmosphere/people are better there.  I don’t really care either way – just happy to be by the water.  She also doesn’t go in the water because she says it’s polluted but again, I don’t really care.

At the beach they have food carts where they sell pastels and cha mate (pineapple/lemon tea) for 5BRL each.  When we got back from the beach, Lorena’s mother and housekeeper had prepared a traditional Brazilian lunch – brisket, rice, beans and farofa.

Later in the day the whole family and I went to dinner at the Ibis Hotel.  The restaurant, Mercury, had an Italian night which turned out to be pretty loud and the food wasn’t great, I felt pretty bad for Christine because everyone was being a little rude about her restaurant choice but I made sure to know I was grateful regardless.



After breakfast at Lorena’s house (which always includes scrambled eggs, toast, fruit and fresh squeezed juice), Lorena and I picked up Luisa and headed to her mother’s home in Boicucanga (Rua Hilariao Crisologo de Mattos, 113 – Boicucanga, Sao Sebastiao, SP).  The house was “simple” as Lorena put it but very cute.  Bright white with blue trim and a blue picket fence with bougainvillea hanging from the top.  The best part – a three minute walk to the beach.

We spent some time at the beach but I wasn’t feeling well so I headed back to Luisa’s.  Memories of how ill I was in Southeast Asia always get me a little concerned but so far no serious problems, I think in part because I’m pretty careful about what I eat/drink and the daily probiotic use.

We got ready for the small town’s Carnaval festivities and headed to the town square.  Men were dresses as women and women as men, and everyone was throwing confetti and spaying foam canisters everywhere.  It started to rain pretty heavily but nobody cared.  The party followed a big truck that was playing music, and we walked through the town and down to the beach where everyone jumped in the water.  The waves were pretty intense and I had been drinking so I opted out.  The party continued pretty late into the night but we turned in a little early.




After breakfast and thanking the family for letting us stay there for the night, Lorena, Luisa and I packed up and headed to Barra Do Sahy (the islands).  We took a boat to a nearby island (100 BRL for the three of us) and lounged on the beach.  We also explored some nearby rocks and a little underestimating of how strong the waves would be got us in an unfortunate situation.  Video available upon request :)

We headed to Gulero (in Juguehy) for lunch where I had filet mignon w/ farofa, squash and rice.  The drive back was a little brutal, taking over four hours because of pretty heavy traffic.  Had a great time with the girls though.


After sleeping in and getting some grad school apps done, Lorena’s family and I headed to a BBQ spot for lunch.  The restaurant is run but a friend of Lorena’s and the food was very good.  Starter was spiced onions in olive oil that you eat with French bread – so good. 

Later that night Lorena headed to Cinza to meet some friends and I went to a different, local hangout spot with Luisa for caipirinhas.  I tried bolina de bacalau, which is a pretty popular fried fish ball here.  It was not my favorite dish but I don’t like seafood so that was expected.


In the late morning Lorena and I headed to the beach to meet a few of her friends.  My gringa skin did not need any more sun so I stayed in the shade for the majority of the time.  In the afternoon Christine and Eduardo (Lorena’s brother) took me to the mall to do some shopping.  When we got back at 8pm Lorena was feeling pretty bad so she went to the doctor, turns out she had a bacterial infection and wouldn’t be able to make it to Rio.  I had a pizza dinner with Eduardo and Lorena’s dad.
It was a very interesting experience staying with Lorena's family and I am extremely grateful for their hospitality.  As I was preparing to leave, Christine said that she would miss me because I was always smiling.  Got me thinking about how differently People's perceptions of you can be - maybe need to do some reflecting as to why my friends and family back home probably wouldn't describe me as the same.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hoi An

March 14 – Met CJ and Scott at Sunflower Hostel, walked around the market, checked in to our rooms, napped, and headed into town for the Full Moon Lantern Festival.  I thought I was going to be in awe of all the lanterns lighting up the town, but I was a little disappointed at how crowded yet unimpressive the town seemed.  Bought a candle and set it in the river, a tradition that’s supposed to grant good luck.

Hoian is one of those towns that I like to refer to as a “black hole”.   Almost a full week was dedicated to shopping, drinking, and eating the local favorite called cao lao.

March 19 – Moved to “home stay” for the night since Sunflower was booked, slept in, biked to beach with Sam and met Jake and Tim from Nha Trang.  

The bike ride and time at the beach made Sam and I really upset that we’d been spending our time for the last week in the worst ways.  To make it worse, I was reading Thoreau and his words are so incredibly powerful.  Fittingly, he discusses that you should not feel the need for new clothes until you can say you are a new person inside.  I feel really horrible about how materialistic this town has made me feel, but for the sake of record I’ll divulge my purchases: two tailored dresses, one kimono, two leather shoes, three lanterns, two sets of chopsticks, and one hand painted scroll.  I wasn't completely pleased with the clothing purchases, but the shoes are really amazing.  If I ever go back I'll have to stop back in to say hello to Hin at the shoe shop called "Be Be" (578 Cua Dai St).

The scroll I don't feel bad about at all - paid a man on the street 150,000 dong/$7 to hand paint bamboo and the phrase "nothing whatsoever should be grasped at or clung to" (one of my favorite lines from the meditation retreat on Koh Samui).

March 20 – Paid for and picked up all of our goods and headed out at 1pm for the overnight bus to Hanoi.  

Nha Trang

March 11 – Our first full day in Nha Trang I went for a run in the morning down along the beach, then headed to the beach with Sam, Flore, Jake, Corey and Gabe.  Later in the day all of us went to the mud bath (120,000 dong/$6) and then to Nha Hang Yen which is ranked as the best restaurant in NT.

March 12 – Woke up pretty early in time to get on the bus for our “booze cruise”, but when we all got on the boat we thought it was going to be a pretty boring day.  The boat was full of older Asian passengers who were judging pretty hard when we got on the boat with our rum and cases of beer.  Went to two different islands and swam around, but after they gave us lunch, two other boats all piled onto ours and they did a international karaoke party which was awesome.  

Flore also surprised everyone by playing the drums like a pro.  

Jumped off the top of the boat and swam to a "floating bar" to share a drink with everyone.

Got back to the hostel and got ready to go out to Why Not Bar for the night.

March 13 – The whole gang in Nha Trang, which ended up being quite a few people all decided to motorbike to the waterfall out of town.  I rode with CJ, my amazing Canadian friend that we met on the slow boat.  

Once we got there though I felt really ill and had to sit at the front while everyone else explored the area.  Grabbed a kebab for dinner and then headed for the overnight bus to Hoian.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Da Lat

March 7 – Arrived in Da Lat at 4am and thankfully Paradise Hostel let us get a few hours of rest in the dorms.   Nothing else exciting worth sharing during the day I don’t think (the problem with procrastinating for two weeks about writing down details of the trip).
March 8 – Spent day walking around Da Lat with Sam and had dinner with Mark and Ivan, two half Vietnamese half Mexican brothers that grew up in Italy and now live in Southern California.  Nice to have them with us as they were able to translate menus and teach us a few words.  Dinner at a local restaurant and then dessert at some small hole in the wall that served fried bananas covered in a sweet sauce.
March 9 – Went abseiling in Dalanta with an organized group and it ended up being one of the most challenging and rewarding days I’ve had in a very long time.  To be honest I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when I agreed to do it with Sam, but I absolutely loved it.  Got harnessed up, did a few trial runs and then got into abseiling down four different ledges.  The first two were relatively easy, but when we got to the third everyone started getting a little nervous.  This was seriously a monster of a waterfall and they were asking us to gracefully climb down it.  I went towards the end of the line, so I saw some real horrors (people slipping and not able to get up), but I was determined to do it.  Had a little chit chat with the guy that was holding the safety rope and really felt comfortable taking directions from him.  I think the secret was not looking down because I think I would have actually had a heart attack looking down 25 meters through a rapid waterfall.  Took my time, didn’t slip, let go and fell about 4 meters to the water, and was thankful that I was alive to tell the tale.  

I was so proud of myself for completing that and I really would have been happy for that to be the end of the day, but they told us there was one more waterfall to abseil down that they called “The Washing Machine”.  Note to self: do not abseil down waterfalls named after kitchen appliances.  Absolutely horrified being lowered into a rapid waterfall and having them tell you you’re going to be sucked under, just hold your breath for a few seconds.  I was happy to do that one once but never again.  

Walked up a huge hill to get back to the road and saw a girl who was really badly scrapped up.  Earlier in the day we’d had the opportunity to cliff jump off from either 7 or 11 meters high.  I, as a ration human being (with no health insurance I should mention), opted out of this challenge.  Apparently, this poor girl had gone for the 11m jump but hadn’t cleared it, so she tore up the whole side of her leg and went head first into the water. 
Got dropped off back at our hostel and agreed to have dinner together with a few of the abseiling crew.  Went to the same local restaurant and dessert place and then headed back to the hostel to get ready for a night out with Ben, the owner of the hostel who’d invited us out to see “Vietnam’s best DJ”.  Went to Rain Nightclub, which was actually surprisingly swanky for such a small town, and had a great night dancing with the group from the hostel as well as a few locals.

March 10 – Went to Crazy House (which is really a horrible tourist trap) with Sam and Flore, a Dutch girl we’d met abseiling, and then headed back to catch the bus to Nha Trang.  

Got to Mojzo Inn and got put in a dorm with Flore, Sam, Gabe, Jake from England and Corey from SF.  We all went out to dinner together and then the boys and I bought some beers and sat on the beach for most of the night.  Went for a little midnight swim which was awesome as well.

Ho Chi Minh

March 3 – Arrived in Ho Chi Minh where we were greeted by Pia.  We dropped our things off at Khoi Hostel, the three of us went to lunch at Mumtaz Indian Restaurant and then a visit to the War Museum.  On our way back we saw Simon and Joshe, two German guys we had taken the slow boat with, and then Pia and I went out for the night and saw Frank, who Sam and I met on the bus up to Pai, and we spent the night drinking with him and his two friends.

March 4/5 – Walked around town and went to the post office which is actually a really nice and efficient building.  Walked home along the river and ate at a kebab restaurant around the corner.  Traffic in HCM is absolutely insane - got a shot crossing right before the rush hour crowd came by.

March 6 – Spent pretty much the whole day applying for jobs (none of which I’ve heard back from).  Hoping to find work for a few months so I can travel to South America in December before I start working full time.   Took the night bus from HCM to Da Lat.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Koh Rong/Sihanoukville

February 23 – Going out for a late night of drinking and dancing is probably never a good idea when you need to get on a minibus at 7am.  Rushingly I threw all my things into my bags and ran outside to catch our bus to Sihanoukville.  Got there around 12pm and rushed to get on the 1pm ferry to Koh Rong.  That’s about the time I realized I’d either lost the GoPro or it had been taken when I was in Phnom Penh.  Got on the very shaky ferry over to Koh Rong feeling hungover and depressed about my recent loss, looked around for a place for the night and found two double beds for $6.50 each/night.  Walked down the beach and had dinner at Coco’s (bacon wrapped chicken and cabbage), where we would eat most nights on Koh Rong.
February 24 – $1 soup for breakfast, $1 smoothie for lunch, spent a few hours lying on the beach, dinner again at Coco’s (pumpkin soup) and quiz night there.
February 25 – Moved things over to Paradise Bungalows ($35/night).  Spent a few hours on the beach, napped, ate at Coco’s again.

February 26/27 – Pretty much dead to the world.  Spent a full 48 hours without leaving my little beach bungalow.  Worst part was that I didn’t even sleep during the day, I just laid there awake, wallowing in my misery.  It’s scary how mentally out of it I was though.  When you’re staring at the wall for 10 hours but you never get bored you know something’s wrong.  Started another round of Cipro and started feeling a bit better.  Most exciting thing that happened for me those two days was walking into the bungalow and seeing a huge monkey eating the Pringles Sam had left in the room.
February 28 – Seeing as I’d lost my GoPro on the way to Koh Rong and got deathly ill while there, I was in a bit of a rush to get off the island.  Pia and I took the speed boat back to Sihanoukville ($15) and stayed at Stone Boutique Hotel with Pia for the night.  She went with me to the Vietnam Embassy to get visas for Sam and I and then we biked around town.  It was hot and exhausting and I hadn’t really eaten anything in the last 72 hours but it was so nice to get out and do something active.  Spent the night relaxing in our hotel room watching BBC news (cmon Ukraine get It together).

March 1 – Walked Pia to the bus station in the morning and then picked up our Vietnam visas ($60).  Spent most of the day watching movies and then went downtown with Sam once she got over to the hotel.

March 2 – Biked to Sokha Beach with Sam and spent a few hours there, grabbed some pizza downtown, checked out and got to bus station.  Sleeping bus to Ho Chi Minh and transfer to VIP bus.  I have no idea how to explain the concept of this sleeping bus.  It’s rows of tiny cubbies that if happen to be traveling alone, you’d be sharing comfortably with a stranger.  Probably would have preferred taking that all the way to HCM, because the VIP bus only reclines 70% and the airconditioning was spotty.