Friday, November 27, 2009


I’d like to apologize, again, for making you all wait for this blog entry. Life is hectic down here in Rio de Janeiro. Way too much has happened since my spring break trip to write this post in my normal flowing prose, so instead I’m gonna bust it out in list form. The following are highlights and memories from this past month in Brazil. Enjoy.

* On my first day back to classes after traveling, my professors returned all midterms and papers. I was thrilled to receive three perfect scores and one 9 out of 10. I’m not entirely sure those scores were merited, but I’m not complaining. My literature teacher read my paper in front of the class of Brazilian natives as an example of an A+ essay. Haha.

* The next day, Wednesday, I decided to move out of my homestay in Leblon. It was a mutual decision, as my host mother was obviously tired of being a host and therefore I felt uncomfortable living in her house. That weekend I moved into another homestay in Copacabana, farther from PUC but closer to the beach, friends, and cheap food. I adore this new chapter of my Brazilian experience. SO MUCH.

* The following Saturday I took the metro early in the morning and explored the Cinêlandia district of Rio, famous for its cinemas and theaters. I visited the Museum of Modern Art, the Municipal Theater, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Imperial Palace and Flamengo Beach. There are few things I love more than having the free time to get lost by myself someplace beautiful.

* At 10:37pm on Tuesday, November 10, the power went out in my apartment. I was on the phone with my parents and Skyping with my best friend Martín, who was writing from Italy. The phone connection dropped, as well as Internet. I looked out my window and saw that power was out in the apartment building next door as well. And then my host mom and I learned that it was also out along the beach, and in all of Zona Sul, and downtown and in the entire state of Rio de Janeiro. Radio broadcasters quickly announced that power, phone lines, and Internet were out in seventeen other states in Brazil, as well as in Paraguay, Uruguay, and parts of Argentina and Chile. My host was really scared that it was sabotage, and she kept repeating how awful it must be for everyone trapped in elevators. She lit candles and placed them all around the apartment as I ate half of the block of cheese I had just purchased from the supermarket (no sense in wasting it, right?). I played some guitar for her and showed her pictures from my Italy trip on my laptop, which ultimately led to some nice bonding. At 1:30am, still in the dark and no longer with candles, I tried to fall asleep in the 95-degree heat of my unventilated room. Fifteen minutes later I heard tons of cheering outside my window, as if Flamengo had just scored a goal, and I knew that the power was back. Sure enough, I turned on my fan and it began to spin, sending a much-needed breeze my way. We never found out exactly what caused the blackout (“blecaute” in Portuguese), but authorities claimed that a failure at the Itaipu dam had triggered the chaos. My host mom still thinks it was terrorism. You just never know what you’re gonna get here in South America…

* The following weekend I almost went to the movies with a Brazilian girl from my literature class. We were trying to see “2012” in Copacabana, but all showings were sold out when we arrived, so instead we walked along the beach and watched a soccer game at an outdoor restaurant with over a hundred crazy fans. It was a wonderful afternoon and evening, and marked the first time since I arrived in Brazil that I hung out with a Brazilian classmate outside of class.

* My first GlobalPost article was published, the one about the last Fla-Flu. It's not the first time I've been published online, but the feeling of seeing my name and writing and a picture I took on the web never gets old. Another article will be published this week, and I expect to write one more before I leave Brazil. Watch out.

* Last Thursday night my friend Martina arrived in Rio from Italy. She is a 24-year-old hostel owner from Praia, in Calabria, and was the sweetest, most amazing person I met during my two months writing for Let's Go Italy during summer 2008. She is crazy fun, has traveled through 49 countries, and speaks every language that I'm learning, only unbelievably fluently. On Friday we spent five hours together on the beach in Ipanema, and on Saturday we went to a samba/funk concert on the Ilha do Governador, an island around an hour from my apartment. Grupo Revelação, a famous samba group, was the headliner and put on an amazing show at the crowded União da Ilha samba school. On Monday night, just as I was getting ready for bed, Martina called and invited me to a boat party. I reminded her that I had class the next day from 9am until 7pm, then she reminded me it was her last night in Rio, so at midnight we were setting sail into the Brazilian bay to the sounds of funk and reggaeton. We had tons of fun dancing and laughing at all the gringos around us (it was a hostel excursion, so everyone there was just traveling and partying it up in Rio, which explains why the boat was packed on a Monday night). Martina confused lots of people with her nationality, telling Italians she was Brazilian and Argentines she was Cuban and Brazilians she was Australian. Lucky for me, she brought me into these stories as well, which ultimately led to a 20-minute cab ride home at 5am with two Spanish-speaking Italians who wanted to know everything about my "hometown"... Mexico City. Haha, lots of memories were made that night...

* This past Wednesday I went back to Niteroi (the city across the bay with the spaceship art museum, memmer?) with some friends and played five hours of soccer on the empty beach. When the thunder and lightening came, we decided to take some sweet pictures and then sprinted to the bus stop and caught a two-hour ride back to Rio, where we had a free program dinner waiting for us with the director. He was happy to see that David and I have become Brazilian, not only because of our dark tans but also because of our wet swimsuit shorts, flip flops, soccer ball and sandy faces. I can't believe we're getting school credit for spending six months in this paradise.

* Tonight I'm going to a concert with a bunch of friends from my Brazilian Culture class. We're gonna see Exaltasamba, a famous pagode group with countless hits. They're going to be so surprised and thrilled that I know the words to most of the songs, haha. Hopefully they bring cameras so we can get good pictures, since my camera screen was destroyed on my trip... I'll let you know how it goes.

AUGHHH!!! Fewer than three weeks until I fly home! I'm excited to see family and friends, but I DON'T WANT TO LEAVE RIOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I've got it bad, so bad...

We were supposed to stay one more day in Uruguay, but we changed our itinerary a bit in order to attend a "Bomba del Tiempo" performance in Buenos Aires. This crazy drum show/party happens every Monday night, and it's quite an experience. Basically there's a group of twelve guys (and one girl) on a stage with African drums, a conductor in front, and hundreds of drunken Argentines and gringos gyrating and moshing below the stage. Like I said, it's an experience. The drummers are amazing, and as far as I could tell it was all improvised after the opening rhythm. David and I were honored that night by the surprise guest appearance of Pinche Juan, aka Anonimo Intransingente e Intolerante, aka Cone Cahuitl, best known as Rubén Albarrán, or the lead singer from the Mexican band Café Tacuba (who was in town for a huge music festival the weekend prior). He's kind of a weird dude, to say the least. Anyone who has heard Café Tacuba would recognize his unique voice immediately (if the braided pigtails, purple shirt and lime green pants didn't set him apart already). For almost two hours he invented mindlessly profound lyrics to the beat of the drums, jumping around the stage like someone possessed. Alien sociologists would mistake it for a religious experience. I had fun, but attending once in my life was more than enough.

On Tuesday David and I explored the Recoleta neighborhood on foot, visiting the Fine Arts Museum and the Recoleta Cemetery, where Evita is buried. Necessary tourist stuff for the most part, but interesting regardless. That night we went out to dinner with Emily at a divine restaurant called Cumana. I ordered the "spicy" mondongo argentino (Argentine "spicy" is like the mild hot sauce at Taco Bell) and it was without a doubt the best stew I've ever eaten. Chickpeas, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, corn and red pepper, plus some delicious mystery meat (steak?). Ahh, my mouth is watering...

We woke up to pouring rain on Wednesday, which dampened our desire to do anything at all outside. Since we'd seen most of the city already though, playing pool in the hostel was fine with me. In the late afternoon we went to the movies with a German girl from the hostel named Sarah. David and I were planning on watching the thrilling "Orphan" film, but Sarah put her foot down and we ended up watching "My Life in Ruins", a romantic comedy. It was better than I expected, but my expectations were extremely low.

I had been praying for sunshine during our Thursday trip to La Plata, and He came through marvelously. La Plata is the capital city of the province of Buenos Aires, around one hour outside of the metropolis. It's famous for its architecture and for being the home of Club Estudiantes de La Plata, one of Argentina's famous soccer teams. We arrived around 3pm and walked around the entire city in three hours, visiting cultural centers, theaters, museums, churches and plazas. I absolutely fell in love with the neo-gothic Catedral de La Plata, an enormous church with intricate architecture and soaring spires. We made it back by 7pm and I spontaneously invited Emily to see a play, since it was my last night in Buenos Aires and I wanted to do something to celebrate her birthday. We tried to see Phantom of the Opera, which had come straight from Broadway a few weeks earlier, but that theater was having a private event so we went to see Othello next door. It was my first time ever at a live play, and I was awestruck by the talented singers and the elaborate sets. I'm definitely gonna watch more plays when I get the chance. After the play we ate some midnight dinner and I walked her home. We saw another labor protest (at midnight?! Really?) and were serenaded by some gunshots from a passing motorcyclist. It was kinda frightening, actually. But God was watching over us, so we made it home safe and sound.

Our third and final bus ride of the trip left at noon on Friday. It would take roughly 21 hours from Buenos Aires to Porto Alegre, but we were ready to dominate it like the two before. This time we were shocked to be served lunch (we even took pictures) and watch three different films along the way (Get Smart, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Righteous Kill). The Argentine buses are definitely the most luxurious. Even so, I couldn't sleep this time for some reason. We pulled into the station at 9am and took a taxi in the rain to our hotel (there are no hostels in Porto Alegre, which is an indication of how touristy it is, or isn't). We napped for several hours, explored the city on foot, and grabbed some lunch. Then we went back to the hotel and napped again, planning to wake up at 8pm for dinner but instead sleeping until 10pm. We were tired, ok? For dinner we splurged at a restaurant recommended to us by the dude in the tourist office called "Tudo Pelo Social". I guess it wasn't really a splurge, at $5 each for all we could eat. Delicious. Then we walked around the nightlife center of Porto Alegre- it was Saturday night, after all- and chose a club with live MPB (Brazilian pop). I love live music. Love it. Unfortunately nausea hit me really fast and we had to go back to the hotel early, around 2am. Maybe it was all that greasy food.

On Sunday David and I had been planning to go to the soccer stadium and watch the match between Grêmio and Internacional, Porto Alegre's two biggest teams. But the hotel staff told us that it was sold out, and since we didn't have the kind of money the scalpers would be demanding, we decided to explore everything the city had to offer that morning and then end up at a lively bar where we could watch the game with the locals. We did just that, and it was fantastic. Once again, like in Montevideo, it was rather refreshing to visit a non-touristy city. We didn't hear any English at all, and that's the way I like it in a foreign country.

Our flight left at 6pm on Monday, but we had to check out of the hotel by noon. After our lazy morning of stuffing ourselves at the continental breakfast and watching soccer on the TV in our room, we packed our bags and headed out. First we sat on the steps in a main plaza for a bit, people-watching behind our Paraguayan Ray-Ban shades and simply enjoying the sun. Then we realized that people-watching for four hours is a little too much, so we found a theater and paid $2 to watch "District 9", an American film about aliens in South Africa. It wasn't my favorite, but I can't say it was a waste of money. We caught our flight with no difficulties (besides playing Snake on our cell phones and not hearing the first three times we were invited to board), and after a normal 30-minute delay we were off. The flight itself felt so short after all our bus rides; we were actually wishing it were longer. Alas, at 8pm we witnessed the spectacular panorama of Rio at night and landed softly on the tarmac. By 8:30pm we had caught our airporter bus for $4 ("No thank you, Mr. Taxi Driver, $45 for a ride home is not a good price."), and by 10pm I was back in my room, showered and ready to sleep.

It's funny, because the moment I got home I just wanted to leave again. Not because things with my host were not going well (which they weren't), and not because it was still raining in Rio (which it was). Traveling is just crazy that way. The more I travel, the worse my addiction. They call it a "bug", and I am most certainly infected with the strongest strain. I hope I'm never cured.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Whirlwind Uruguayan Weekend

The "three-hour ferry ride" we boarded at 9:30am that Saturday arrived in Montevideo at 5:30pm. There's only a one-hour time difference. Hmm. We never figured out how that happened, because we were in transit the entire day, no stops or mishaps. It's a mystery, but I'm content leaving it at that.

Right when we arrived at the Red Hostel we met two Swiss girls, Juliette and Delfina, and invited them to grab some dinner with us. The soft-spoken Uruguayan dude at the front-desk recommended a nearby pizzeria, so we took him up on that and dined amazingly well for only around $160 each.

I hope you had to read that last line twice, because we definitely did a double take at the menu that first meal. The conversion is roughly 20 Uruguayan pesos to every US dollar, but that didn't make things cheaper down there. The math was just harder. So that meal was around USD $8 each, which is relatively cheap but not Thailand-cheap. After dinner Emily, David and I walked around Montevideo a little bit. For a Saturday night it was extremely quiet, which was refreshing after Rio and Buenos Aires. We would come to find that Uruguay is just a quieter country in general. The three of us made it to the port right exactly at sunset and managed to take some gorgeous pictures (including the one above).

That night we met up with my friend Lucia, a Uruguayan girl I met at a hostel in Washington DC last Thanksgiving. In April she came to visit me and explore Boston, so I'm glad I got to reciprocate. Our next meeting will be in Italy next spring- we already have our tickets! She took us to a bar in the "nightlife center" of Montevideo, basically one street with a bunch of restaurants. It was nice to relax and catch up with her, but all three of us travelers were exhausted from not sleeping much the night before, so we went back to the hostel around 2am and hit the sack.

At 9:30am on Sunday Lucia picked me and David up from the hostel (Emily had to go back to BsAs) and drove us two and a half hours to Punta del Este, a ritzy beach town with lots of tourists and a Las Vegas-style casino called the Conrad, whose signage was entirely in English and whose gambling was entirely in US dollars. We walked around the port a little bit, took pictures by a sweet "Hand in the Stand" statue, ate chivitos and helados and churros, and made it back to our hostel around 11pm.

The next morning David and I explored the historic center of the city for a couple hours before our 12:30pm ferry back to Buenos Aires. We arrived at 3:30pm. Don't ask me how.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

BsAs FuN

Ahh, Buenos Aires. I knew I would make it there someday, and that day was October 14, 2009. Through the dirty plastic of a bus window, downtown Buenos Aires is the spitting image of Washington DC: bustling businessmen in dark suits carrying leather briefcases, elegant brunettes in black pea coats and Coach purses, and an enormous obelisk monument in the middle of an eight-lane thoroughfare. I stepped off the bus and felt the same biting chill I felt last Thanksgiving in our nation's capital. But then I heard a street musician playing tango on an accordion, saw a vendor hawking hundreds of Argentine flags, smelled fresh churros rellenos ("reshenos") and empanadas de pollo ("poysho"), and knew my BsAs experience would be refreshingly unique.

The night we arrived was the Argentina-Uruguay World Cup qualifier, and Argentina HAD to win. David and I grabbed some pizza near the hostel and then returned to cheer for Argentina (don't tell any Brazilians, por favor!). We won, 1-0, and celebrated into the wee hours of the morning with the crazy/beautiful hostel staff and a fantastic DJ in the sister hostel a few blocks away. Both of us were delighted to run into eight PUC students we knew from Rio who were also at that dance (the more I travel, the smaller this world becomes!).

The next day we went on a hostel tour to La Boca, the birthplace of Argentine tango and home of the Boca Jrs soccer team. Kinda cool, really touristy. That night David and I met up for dinner with two friends from Harvard and Brown studying abroad in Buenos Aires. All four of us ate at a delicious parrilla ("parrisha", haha that never gets old!) and caught each other up on our South American adventures. I adored seeing Emily, one of my sweetest friends and a neighbor last year in Claverly Hall of Adams House.

On Friday David and I explored the city center and San Telmo neighborhood by foot, getting purposely lost and taking pictures of all our discoveries. We watched outdoor tango, found an antique market with old toys and soccer jerseys, prayed in extravagant churches and tried calling Emily on every public phone we saw (nope, our cell phones didn't work in Argentina...). Eventually old technology proved successful and we met up with Emily to party at the hostel downtown. Between the Milhouse Hostel, where we stayed, and its sister Milhouse Avenue Hostel, there was a free party for guests every single night of the week, complete with DJ and drunken British dance partners, if desired. We had tons of fun bustin' moves to American and Brazilian hits (are there Argentine dance hits? --> if so, I never heard them...), and went to bed around 3am. Early, yes, but only because all three of us were catching the 9:30am ferry later that morning to Montevideo, Uruguay!