Monday, May 3, 2010

Home sweet home

Chapter II - After my month long hiatus in organizing my US life anew, I am back!  Even though I don't like the word, I missed "blogging" as I do with most of my activities in South America.  It is nice to see my friends, sleep in my own bed, return to all the wonderful technological and American conveniences, but I yearn (and I don't often yearn) for my days south of the equator.  Things here are familiar and while that is always nice, the feeling of every day excitement has subsided.  The fervor and enthusiasm at the outset of every day when in South America has been replaced with the normality and commonplaceness of my life in NY.  It's weird to say that, as New York City is anything but common and predictable.  However, I've lived here for 9 years so even the most dynamic of places becomes the norm if you live there long enough.

In deciding whether or not to continue my blog, I have been thinking about what form I want it to take.  My first crack at it was a learning experience and kept my camera pinned to me most of the time.  I am expecting this chapter will have less pictures and storytelling.  Instead it will be more introspective and focus on thoughts and feelings since returning to the US and leaving the paradise that was Buenos Aires and the other cities I visited.  I am hopeful it will continue to be interesting and entertaining to those that are nice enough to take time out and read my posts.    

In addition, to the chagrin of those that don't watch the show, I will be writing about my favorite show of all time, LOST as the show nears its conclusion.  There are only 4 episodes left in the 6 roller coaster seasons it has been on the air so my goal is to capture my sentiments and ideas as they unravel the last mysteries of the show.  I'll only get one crack at this and I'm expecting big things as it ends once and for all.

My new blog will be viewable on a different address, same domain at  This is the first entry of it.  Thanks again to everyone that followed my first one.

Hope everyone has had a good winter and is enjoying an even better spring!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Last Tango in Buenos Aires

I'm officially back stateside with my family in South Florida.   I bet you thought I wouldn't write one last blog on Argentina before calling it a trip.  Or maybe you didn't think anything like that because you have more important things going on in your lives, but nonetheless here I am.  It's bittersweet to be home as it is great to see my family and friends again and also to have all the modern conveniences back at my disposal.  However, I sorely miss the atmosphere and richness of Buenos Aires and all the new friends I had made South of the Equator.  On that note, I decided to make a list (not a Top Ten one) of things I will miss and things I won't from my favorite South American city:

Let's start with the things I WON'T miss (this is a shorter list!):

- SMOKING!!  Almost everyone smokes down there all the time.  Clubs, restaurants, buses, on the street, underwater.  I forgot how awful it is at the end of the night you almost need a shower.  And kissing a smoker is like kissing an ashtray, not that I know anything about that. 

- The pollution.  They have lots of buses that are not exactly the green ones we now have in NY.  Hoping this will change over time. 

- Very few things starting on time when they are supposed to.  I guess that's part of the charm too.

- having to download LOST every Tuesday night after midnight.  I potentially have 10 viruses on my computer (don't worry they can't come through this blog).

- Red clay bounces during tennis.  Made me feel like a beginner sometimes.  I see why the Americans can't win in Paris every year.

- Argentinian sushi (cream cheese in all the roles...Yuck!)

and....onto the things I WILL MISS MOST about Buenos Aires:

- The silly thing  I will miss the most is EMPANADAS!!!  I had one as an appetizer (and sometimes the main course too) with every meal I could.  Those little meat filled pastries don't seem to be as tasty outside of Argentina.

- Tango!
Learning and watching it was a lot of fun.   I am still a work in progress when it comes to my own version, but I definitely now have a greater appreciation for that dance and how difficult it is to make it look so beautiful and effortless.

- The serious answer is the warm people and weather.  Almost everyone down there was extremely helpful and amicable.  I am still not used to it.  As for summer, who doesn't like that?  (Eskimos?)

- Seeing new constellations and old ones like Orion appear upside down.

- Smiling every time I watched the water spiraling in the opposite direction in the shower or sink.  It was cool.

- 30 cent subway and bus.

~ 2 hour shifted later schedule.  Peak dinnertime was 1030pm and peak going out time was after midnight, weekdays too!

- Speaking Spanish all the time.  Life just seemed more interesting in another language.  I liked the challenge.

- Watching my Spanish improve while my English got worser.

- Slower pace of life. I believe it fosters creativity and is one reason there is so much creative talent in BA.

- Playing tennis (sometimes badly) on the red clay.  Thanks to Pedro for kicking my butt a few times.

- Amazingly tasty (and inexpensive) steaks.

- Walking past this statue every night:

     I'm not sure what she's doing but those look like fingers on the ground and I can swear she's smiling. 

- My cheap phone that took me 10 minutes to text one sentence.

- Relearning the art of conversation even if most of the time it was in another language.

- Seeing random cars from the 90s on the street with other normal cars like the Z328 or a Toyota Celica.

and lastly,

- that feeling of excitement waking up every morning even though I didn't know how the day was going to go.  Can't put a price on that one. 

Now that my adventures south of the equator have come to a close, I am undecided as to whether I will continue writing a blog.  If you have an opinion one way or the other feel free to share it with me by commenting or sending me an email privately (if it's "Stop you are terrible!" I'd prefer a private one).  Thanks to everyone who signed up and read these posts regularly or gave me feedback.  I had a special time down there and hope to keep the good vibes going in the northern hemisphere!

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Earlier this week I spent 2 days in the Iguazu national parks in northern Argentina.  They are almost 2 hours due north of Buenos Aires by plane.  Like anyone, I appreciate natural beauty when I can and have always thought the Grand Canyon was the most impressive natural spectacle I've been to.  I may have to slide the canyon down a notch however, after seeing the waterfalls of Iguazu.  Without question, they are one of the most impressive and enchanting things I've ever been to. 

My hotel package at a quaint 2 star hotel included a tour both days I was there.  The first day was a tour of the Argentinian side of the waterfalls.  This side puts you right on top of things.  Our first stop was literally the middle of the falls.  It is called La Garganta del Diablo (The Devil's Throat).  To get there one must take a short train ride and then walk on platforms over the top of the rivers that feed the waterfalls. 

 View from the metal platforms

Starting to hear some rumbling.  Mist in the distance.  Wait for it...

Now we are getting somewhere...


See that grin?  I was dumbfounded by the power and size of it all.  It's like Six Flags times sixty.  It left me speechless to tell the truth because I've never seen anything quite like it.  Maybe if I had been to Niagra at some point I would have known what to expect but this was breathtaking.  The sounds of all that water violently rushing and crashing over the cliffs are completely unique.  I felt like I did the first time I went to DisneyWorld for this and other reasons I'll mention soon. 

We left the Devil's Throat to tour the rest of the top or superior side of the waterfalls.  As impressive as the Throat was, there is so much more to the waterfalls than just that spot.  It is definitely the center and if you travel and only have time to see one thing, that would be it, but the waterfalls are vast much like the Grand Canyon.  

A view of some of the waterfalls that lead up to the Garganta del Diablo.  Those 2 on the right are called Dos Hermanas or 2 sisters.  As our guide, Mirian, told us it's not because two sisters died falling over the edge, it's because they are similar in size and shape an right next to each other.  

The left side is Brazil and the right is Argentina.  After a bite, I opted for a boat tour on the inferior part or the bottom of the waterfalls.  After a 6 km boat ride up the river you come up close and personal.  From there you can get great shots of them.  

After the pics are taken, all electronics are stowed in waterproof bags and the boat driver charges into 2 different waterfalls multiple times soaking everyone on board.  Again, it felt like DisneyWorld...

A water-logged and happy version of me after the boat trip.  If you look hard you can even see my Mirian tour group label hanging around my neck.  If I'm going to be a tourist I'm gonna do it 100%!

During the hikes, we ran into a few different animals some cute, some not so much.  It is a rainforest after all.

It's hard to see, but if you look close you can make out a monkey on the right side, reaching into the river hanging down from branches using his tail and back legs.  

A family of these little racoon type animals that reminded me of Red Pandas. Very friendly but apparently will turn vicious if you show them food.  

There were LOTS of these guys!  I tried taking pictures of them in their webs which hover about a foot or less above some of the paths we walked in but my camera couldn't pick them up.  They were about as big as my hand and scared the hell out of me since I was the tallest in our group and had the best chance of running face first into a low lying web.  Right as I was taking this, Mirian ran up to me and told me to get away as this particular one had red on its back indicating it's poisonous.  She said one bite will mess up your nervous system potentially for the rest of your life.  Wish she had told me that before I got so close to take a pic, but I escaped, nervous system intact. 

The next day we went to the Brazilian side of the waterfalls.  They offered a more panoramic view of things as most of the action is on the Argentinian side.  

They were a lot of rainbows that day as we walked up the side.  If you add all the butterflies that were circling around wherever we went you again get the sensation of being in a surreal fantasy land or DisneyWorld.  

I have tons more waterfall pics like this which I uploaded onto Facebook, but I will spare the rest of them here.  After the Brazilian side was done (it's much shorter), I had an afternoon to kill so I took a selva or jungle tour.  We charged into the rainforest and after 30 minutes were surrounded by lush vegetation  (and more spiders).  

Yours truly rappelling down a cliff with waterfalls on both sides.  In about 10 seconds I would be drenched and unable to see my feet through the rushing water.  I've never done anything quite like that.  Was definitely a rush!

We also "flew" over the green trees on 800 meters of zip lines tied to massive very old trees.  After the first 5 seconds of being super nervous, but was such a thrill.  I went first and again was looking out for things looking to bite me.   Exhilarating!

Afterwards I was exhausted but still had an hour to kill so I walked to a famous point where you can see 3 countries all next to each other.  

Paraguay behind me, Brazil on the right and of course I'm standing in Argentina.

I returned to Buenos Aires spent and amazed at all the natural beauty in Iguazu.  I highly recommend it to anyone sightseeing in South America.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Last Days of Summer

As the days shorten and the temperature drops from hot to comfortable (and cold at night), I find myself starting to miss Buenos Aires even though I still have a week left.  While I am excited to return to the US to see my friends and family, I have had such a fabulous time here and have been genuinely impressed with the quality of people in Argentina and in South America in general.  Obviously, I have run into some problems as evidenced by my previous posts, but they have been more the exception than the rule.  I've been doing my best to stick to my routine of tennis, yoga and tango (in roughly that order) and, of course, work too.  On the tennis front, I've been especially fortunate recently to meet some of the most famous that Argentina has to offer in both past and present.

I wasn't going to write anymore about tennis for fear of boring my audience to tears.  However, a couple weeks ago I was getting ready to play a match with a new friend, Carla on the main court at Club Vilas, when we got bumped by the man himself:

The unwritten rule is that whenever Guillermo Vilas shows up to his club (he's not the owner anymore), he gets court 1.  He was dressed in black like a ninja, and was nice enough to pose for pics with us and chat with me a little bit about New York.  Embarrassingly, I did not realize how accomplished he was at the time.  He owns 4 Grand Slam titles and also 4 Grand Slam finals (losing to Borg 2x at the French Open).   He still owns the longest all surface consecutive win streak at 46 and had the longest clay win streak at 53 before some guy named Rafa came along in 2006.  His career record on the tour was 923-284 which is ummm....better than mine.  Definitely a thrill for a tennis loving junkie like myself.  Many thanks to Carla for having her camera and getting Vilas to pose with a strange American for a few moments. 

The only other Argentine tennis player I was secretly hoping to meet was Juan Martin del Potro who won the US Open last year beating Roger in an exciting 5 set final.  Argentina is a big country, so I wasn't holding my breath, also understanding that the tour is global, requiring a lot of travel for the players especially the top ones.   But, as luck would have it, Delpo as he's affectionately called by fans turned up in the weight room at the same club!

I'm not the shortest guy + he's a good bit taller than me.  Thanks again to Carla for getting him to pose with me (she's well connected there).  I'll be rooting for him in Miami next week when the action starts on key biscayne. 

As for tango, I've been doing as much watching as learning recently.  Last night, I played supreme tourist and checked out a tango spectacular in a fun little area of town called Puerto Madero.  It's similar to a Broadway show, except there's no dialog or unifying plot and you get to eat a tasty Argentine dinner with wine while the show unfolds.

They were practicing "modern" tango which combines the old style with contemporary moves and, at times, electronic music. 

The costume changes were great and the dancers reminded me of the pros on Dancing with the Stars.  

This was the final scene with all dancers on stage and the two singers on either side.  

It is definitely a touristy thing to do, but fun and well choreographed.  I'd recommend it to anyone who comes down this way.  

For all my LOST watchers, I haven't forgotten about you.  I certainly have some thoughts and theories on the wackiness that is that show but I will save those for a later post.  Right now, I'll say that I'm glad they did a Ben Linus episode as I was starting to miss him.  I find it interesting that Jacob has this somewhat convoluted, indirect way of communicating with people, whereas the Lockness monster is very straightforward and honest.  Even when he kills the masses, he gives them a warning and a choice beforehand.  I'm not saying he's the good guy here, but for now, there seems to be a method to his madness.  We'll see where things go and if he delivers on some of what he's promised (I doubt it, he did lie to claire about Erin being in the temple).  Regardless, it is the most entertaining hour of television presently and every week I can't wait.  

I am off to Iguazu falls tomorrow for 2 days to see if it's as beautiful and spectacular as everyone says it is. Good luck to Vandy; please don't lose in the first round again.   Have a great week! 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Out of the Frying Pan...

If I was a betting man (and I am), and you asked me whether last weekend's fistacuffs with the bouncer would be my scariest confrontation here I would have taken that bet without hesitation. 

.....I would have lost.  Last weekend I found myself in much more terrifying circumstances, however it didn't seem that way at first....

Katja unexpectedly returned early from her Uruguay trip on Saturday morning and asked me if I wanted to see some soccer.  Her hotel had a package with tickets, lunch and transportation to the game.  Seeing some "futbol" was on my imaginary list of things to do while in South America so I said YES without hesitating.  Unfortunately, things with the hotel did not work out soooo, like Coldplay we decided to head down to the stadium to buy tickets there.  In retrospect, perhaps that should have been my first clue that this was a risky proposition.  Running into trouble going to a stadium event the first time w/o tickets, shame on them.....running into trouble going to a stadium event w/o tickets a second time, shame on me.

We did get some good info from the nice people on the subway, including how much we should expect to pay and that there are a lot of fakes out there.  The way to tell if you have a real ticket?  Swipe it with your nail and see if there is black underneath the scratch.  We bought two 1.5 hours before the game for what seemed like a good price when we chatted with some of the other turistas and the tickets did indeed pass the black scratch test.  Our tickets were for the general section behind the goal which seemed like the fun place to be.  The 2nd clue that this may have been a hazardous idea was when the gate people looked at Katja and checked her ticket to make sure she was, in fact, going into the general section.  One guy showed it to his buddy and they both laughed and let us be on our way.  Hmmmm.......

We went to the 2nd of 3 levels where the "seats" were just bright yellow concrete steps.  Blue and yellow were the home colors of  La Boca Juniors who were playing vs. a team called Racing.  Boca Juniors are one of the most famous teams in Argentina and have represented South America numerous times when they play against the best teams from Europe.  We were there early so seats were plentiful, but it was hard to know where to sit, as most people were avoiding the middle where there were conspicuously a lot of empty seats but also a lot of long flags tied to poles.  Here was our view:

 You can see one of those flags just to the left of us.  When Boca Junior sprinted out from a hole in the pitch everybody rose up and started singing.  The flags were raised and just as the game started, a monster flag that spanned the whole 2nd level was dropped by the level above us so nobody on our floor could see the pitch.  It was a little claustrophobic for the 5 minutes it was there, but according to my friends it looks great on tv.

The singing and dancing continued especially when Boca Junior scored a goal 20 minutes in.  One odd thing was that there was no scoreboard nor clock anywhere I could see.  You just had to keep track of it yourself.

These show some of the chanting, flag waving and general revelry that went on the entire game.  They didn't stop even when Racing scored a goal to tie nor their second goal to go ahead of Boca 2-1.  I swear some of the fans barely knew there was a game going on as they were only standing, staring at the crowd trying to get everyone to sing. 

Day turned to night and with 5 minutes left to go in the game the home team had a good opportunity with a free kick:

It's a little blurry, but if you look hard you can even see the ball dipping down after going over the wall, but alas, it sailed over the crossbar.  At that point, we decided to leave to beat the rush of the unhappy fans. 

As we made our way through the crowded rows, we were informed by one guy that we wouldn't be able to get out.  You see, they lock the whole section in for 30-45 minutes after the game ends so that they won't go out to the street to fight with the opposing team's fans.  Gotta love South American futbol (actually I think fights between soccer supporters is a global thing).  Anyway, he told us we were trapped and his son was next to him grabbing my sunglasses that were hanging off my shirt.  He then began telling me to be careful with my camera as people there will stab me for it while he made a stabbing motion with his hand and poked me in the stomach.  No doubt, I started getting nervous at this point and told Katja let's keep walking.  He got in front of us and cleared a path to a few steps below the gate telling me how people there would kill for things like phones and other electronics.  By this point I was legitimately fearful for Katja and I, and when we couldn't get closer to the gate he asked us for money for helping us.  I did NOT want to take my wallet out in that situation so I declined and just stared at the ground using the dumb tourist and armadillo/ostrich defense of not understanding and ignoring him and his son.  They were persistent and said some nasty things in Spanish.  Katja did an exemplary job of getting them to shoo off and they just poked both of us once and went back into the crowd.  I told her we should get out of that spot in case he returns with friends or a weapon and some nicer people made a lane for us to get to the gates where 10 cops were keeping everyone from leaving.

We chatted with the cops and they confirmed our fears that bringing cameras and phones to that part of the stadium was not a good idea.  Even being female and going to that section was not the best idea as it must've been 95% male.  We were made to wait for 40 nerve-wracking minutes in which we befriended a German tourist and decided to band together once we hit the streets in case we encountered more trouble downstairs for we had no idea what awaited us below.  Once we were finally freed from our confinement, we darted down the stars where everyone was pushing and got to the street.  In our frantic escape we noticed about 15 guys in riot gear marching in single file toward the gate we had just left with shields, helmets and batons.  Katja went to reach for her phone to take a pic of them and they briefly stopped and raised their shields in her direction thinking she would pull something else out.  When she saw that, she stopped and held up her empty hands and they continued marching straight faced.  With a big exhale we got to the main street 4 blocks away and found a bus that took us home.

Because I am lucky to be living in Dom's apartment in a fun, safe part of the city, I sometimes forget that there are some less savory parts not too far away.  We were lucky to not only escape unscathed, but also to get some unbelievable footage in that section.  Katja took two videos of the craziness, one of which is on my facebook page if you are curious.  Escaping from a situation where one's well-being genuinely feels threatened makes you appreciate all the things you have and also makes you realize that 90% of the things that one stresses over, day to day, are not nearly as important as they are made out to be. 

After the match, we met up with Pedro and friends for an asado or Argentinian BBQ.  No one there could believe that we went into that section.   They said it is too much for them and also couldn't fathom that we were dumb enough to bring our electronic gadgets with us (hitting my head on the table).

The asado was fun and always good to meet new people.  I definitely needed a beer or three after the day's roller coaster.  I will bet big $$$ that the soccer match will be the most treacherous occurrence while down here and hope, for my sake, that I am not again blogging in a week that I would have lost that bet...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Punta del Este

After 5 days of untold damage to my system, I steathily left Rio and Carnival in the middle of the night and headed back to Punta del Este in Uruguay.  I had visited Punta 3.5 years prior in October, 2 months before the peak time of New Years.  Now I was roughly 2 months too late, but I did not let that deter me from some R+R on the beach to recover from my Brazilian fun.

I arrived in Montevideo at 5:30am and took a 2 hour bus ride to Punta.  I was set up to stay in a friend's mom's apartment that was supposed to be empty and waiting for me.  However, when I got there the doormen didn't recognize the address as being in the right building and after running around they couldn't reconcile neither the address nor the keys I had.  Sooo, I walked to 2 nearby hotels which were both full.  This left me in a pickle as I was exhausted and not sure where to go.  I remembered a hotel recommendation from a former coworker of mine, Ashley,  who had been there a month earlier and hopped in a cab.  It was on the other end of the city, and sure enough, they were full too.  At this point I was getting desperate, but the hotel owner, Hugo, took pity on this american and drove me to the middle of town (about 4 miles) where there are plenty of hotels.  Without him, I would have been stuck and I am eternally grateful for his kindness.  I went back my last day there to personally thank him as he saved my life at that point.

Hugo and I in the lobby of his posh hotel.

In my moment of weakness, I settled on the hotel americana because they were close, knew they'd speak english and had started a good smelling breakfast (it was 8am at this point).  As it turned out it was central and close to all the things you'd want to see in Punta.  One of them is the hand in the sand aka "Los Dedos" or translated literally = The Fingers. 

Everyone who comes to Punta has a picture like this. 

As you can see the beach is nice and toasty.  One day, while walking back from it, I spotted a statue of a bull in the distance.  It reminded me of the famous bull on Wall Street so I decided to get closer for a better look.  As I approached, it became clear that this bull was different since it was carrying a person on it's back.  As it turned out, this bull was better than the Wall St version as that person was a naked woman!

I did a take two when I realized and had to check out the other side for verification purposes of course.

Yep, definitely a woman and she's naked.  In front, there was a sign that talked about the statue.  To my delight it was a Greek mythology representation (I love those Greeks).  This was another example of Zeus turning himself into an animal to seduce a woman. 
Maybe things were different in BC times, but I don't understand how women were more likely to be seduced by a bull or swan rather than the shirtless human version of the king of the gods.  Still, I liked the statue....

I met some Chileans at the local dive bar called Moby Dicks.  This was days before the earthquake and thankfully they are ok but their work is a little messed up at the moment.  They were nice and relaxed.  

I also went to the famous Conrad Hotel and Casino.  Given my luck that first morning and my dad's rule of never gambling the day you arrive or leave a resort I should have stayed away that first night.   But, I was eager so I went and blackjack creamed me.  I did run into a waitress I had met and dated 3 years ago which was nice.  She was still working there and now had a film maker boyfriend who takes her all over the world.  A slight punch to the gut but nothing like a punch to the face.  

I returned to the scene of my losses 2 nights later ready to get my revenge.  I stayed away from blackjack this time and headed straight to the craps table.  When I got there a dubious looking character was leaning on the table starting his roll.  The people next to me were whispering in Spanish that he is someone's grandfather + he was deadly focused on what he was doing.  I pulled up alongside him and he immediately hit the point so I got involved and put some chips down.  As it turned out, this guy was the most amazing craps roller I've ever seen.  He would shoot the dice down to the other end, one time barely missing another player's eye as the dice hopped of the table and went 15 feet down the room.  Every time he rolled and DIDN'T hit the point he would bang the table hard and everyone's stacks of chips on our half would topple over.  The craps dealers rolled with it though and adjusted those stacks every time.  When the waitress came with his drink he wouldn't talk or even look at her for fear of disrupting his streak.  He rolled like this for 45 minutes without crapping out once.  There were a few people trying to play the don't pass bar but they lost all their $$$ quickly and soon came over to the good side.  When he finally did roll a 7 everyone clapped.  He cashed out and walked off, barely cracking a smile.  I, however, was very happy, recouping my earlier losses with enough to pay for my hotel.

Happy with ummm...$5 chips.  
I stayed in Punta for 2 more days enduring some nasty, rainy weather at times and was very happy to get back to Buenos Aires and in a bed that fit me after 11 days on the road. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Three Concerts and a Jackass

I cheated on Buenos Aires cuisine last night.  My buddy, Dom, recommended a restaurant about 6 blocks away called Kansas and as I was eager to try something new, I gave it a shot.  Turns out it more resembled Houstons or one of those big US bistros, with booths, marble counter tops and a large menu.  They even had an NBA game going at the bar.  I ordered BBQ ribs with fries and, man, did it hit the spot.  I love Argentine food, but it was great to take a pequeno break for a night.  Scratched me right where I itch.

Last weekend unexpectedly turned out to be the most fun and exciting in Buenos Aires thus far.  Initially, I was  looking forward to getting back to my local hangouts as I had been away the previous 2 weekends.  Coldplay was coming to town on Friday and the invite I got flaked on me so I wasn't planning to go at all.  On Thursday, I took my usual tango class and there met a spunky Russian/Dutch traveler who was taking her first tango lesson ever.  She didn't speak much Spanish so I took a welcome break and spoke a little English, explaining to her what little I know about tango.  Her name was Kate and we kept in touch after the class.

As her friends had all left to go home a few days prior, she told me she was going to try to get into Coldplay by herself even though she hadn't bought a ticket yet.  Now, Coldplay is not my favorite band, but I know and enjoy a lot of their songs and was lucky to have 2nd row tix to them at MSG 6 years ago through work (way before any credit crisis).  That show was fun, high energy and since concerts in foreign countries are never a bad idea I resolved to go with her. The show started at 7pm with opening acts but we rocked up at 930pm on a tip from a friend that Coldplay would go on around then.  We got to the front gates of the stadium (holds somewhere between 70-80k but no consensus anywhere) and there were the usual sketchy dudes offering tickets.  Stupidly, we didn't shop and went with the first one that talked to us.  Coldplay had just started playing + we got caught up in the excitement and ran to the gates.  I gave the guy some pesos and expected him to fork over some tickets.  That would have been far too straightforward apparently.  He barked some things in Spanish too fast for me to understand and waved for us to follow him.  We were then joined by 6 other people and his buddy who were in charge of getting us all in.  They led us around to a few different gates, having us pause for minutes at a time.  It was then when we ascertained we overpaid for the tickets by about double vs. what the others in our group paid.  Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug.  

In a bizarre sequence, we waited in front of a preliminary gate for the security guys there to quit.  They were 3 songs into Coldplay's set at this point.  Sure enough, the security guys turned around, walked off and we ran to the front gates along with a bunch of other teenagers.  At this gate it was chaos as the security guards there were still very much working and shouting at everyone to hold up their ticket in their left hand.  Of course, nobody had one so nobody did.  I was standing, staring at the guys we had paid to see what the next move was, when the apparent boss of security, shoves me violently into everyone behind me, including Kate, and we all tumble like bowling pins onto the concrete floor.  I stare up at him, shouting things in English I can't repeat here, more angry that he knocked over Kate than anything.  Two guys helped us up while I clamored at him in Spanish how uncool that was, half expecting an apology.  This idiot focused on me in the crowd because of this and while I was yelling, out of nowhere, WHAM!!!!...........punched me in the face!

If I wasn't ready for the shove, I certainly wasn't prepared for the right hook to the head. Lucky for me there was a person or two between the two of us and he didn't get a clean shot.  After that episode we were hustled out of there and led to another part of the stadium gates.  The guys we paid, apologized to me, talked to different security guys and within minutes we were on the floor of the stadium listening to coldplay.

My adrenaline was pumping since, aside from my spirited tae kwon do lessons when I was 10, I've never been punched in the face.  Between overpaying for tickets and getting socked I was not in the happiest of moods but once we were on the floor todo was forgotten.  All in all, it ended up adding to the experience and the show was a great one.

Afterward, I talked to Pedro who was in line for a different kind of concert.  He told us to hustle if we wanted to get in with him so we hopped in a cab and made it just as they were opening the doors....again. This time it was a drum and beat concert complete with about 12 different types of drummers/percussionists including special guests accordionist and an electric guitar and key boarder.  They were all dressed in bright orange uniforms with a conductor who had developed 200 different hand signals for his band.

It was a ton of fun and the crowd really got into it.  A happy mosh pit developed near the stage and even though I felt ready to start a Fight Club after my bouncer incident, I steered clear.

Kate, myself and Pedro enjoying the drummers.  
Pedro looks lost but that is about right for him.  We stayed for a couple hours and that was all the excitement I could handle for one night + went home.  

The next night, Paul Van Dyk was in town spinning at an open air venue that Crobar owns.  Kate was down for going, so this time we went the more boring route of buying and picking up tickets before the event.  We again got there late, but PVD didn't get on till 2am so we didn't miss the start of his show.  It was absolutely packed and everyone was in a positive happy mood.  The energy was great and we stayed for most of his set before calling it a night.  

That night I woke up to go to the bathroom and when I got back into bed, got the most vicious calf cramp of my life.  I was paralyzed for a good 2 minutes and didn't know what to do.  It finally subsided, but it's 2 days later and I still feel it when I stretch.  Too much dancing, walking, old age I don't know, but despite me feeling beat up come Sunday, it was a solid and satisfying weekend of live music. 

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Carnival! (Part II)

Sorry again for the delay.  This weekend has been a fun roller coaster packed with 3 concerts including Coldplay and Paul Van Dyk, getting punched for the 1st time in my life, shopping for clothes (which I do about 2x a year) and a lot of running/walking around with new friends.  I will elaborate on it soon, but for now I am keeping this Rio party going. 

One of my initial nights in Rio, I escaped the area I was staying to finally meet up with Dominic, my ex KBC coworker from 6 years ago whose apartment I've been staying in this whole time in Rio.  We met for dinner at a churrascaria in Copacabana with his lovely fiancee Fabiana.  Brazil and especially Rio are known for their churrascarias and if you live in a major city and like meat I highly recommend finding one near you.  While they have a buffet with salads and fish/sushi the main attraction is the waiters coming by with huge skewers of many types of meat every 2 minutes.

I know I needed flash on that one but you get the idea.  They give you a circle that is green on one side (more meat!) and red on the other (I've had enough).

Dom and Fabi.  The ones making my BA adventures possible.  

I went to two such places in my 5 days in Rio with strogonoff on other nights.  Like Buenos Aires, Rio is not exactly a vegetarian's dream but the meat is plentiful, delicious and a fraction of what you'd pay for similar in the US. 

Of course one of the most popular things about Rio is the beach.  The 3 most famous ones are Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon.  They stretch for miles and around Carnival time they are intensely packed with locals and tourists alike. 

This is Leblon beach, one of the fancier ones.  It's hard to make out but those guys are playing soccer volleyball with the dense beach goers behind.  On the long list of sports I would be terrible at, this one is near the top.  They are basically playing volleyball rules, on a volleyball size court and net only you can't use your arms or hands for anything (but can pass to your teammate 2x like volleyball).  There's a lot of games like this up and down the beach and they are all super impressive.  For the record, I like Brazil's chances to win the World Cup this summer.

View of Leblon and Ipanema beaches from the tip of Leblon.  

Between the parades, beaches, tennis, carnivorous diet and excessive temperatures, it's no wonder my body started breaking down after the 3rd day (the beers didn't help either). Age catches up to everyone, and according to my older friends, it doesn't get any better the older you get.  As always, the key is sleep and that was hard to come by with drum intensive parades going off around the apartment most mornings.

One nice thing about Rio and most cites I've been to down here, is that women are cool with drinking beer.  Since I love beer and don't drink too much else I found that refreshing.  What I did not find nearly as invigorating was the male behavior towards women down here.  Granted, everyone is in different states of sobriety throughout the day, but the men were very aggressive, grabbing strange women as they passed by and generally being almost frat boyish.  Of course, this is nothing new but what was interesting was how the women were willing to put up with it. They would talk nicely to guys who chased them down the street whistling at them.  One friend in our group one night talked to a guy who she had no interest in for 1.5 hours. I think she looked at him once the whole time, but he was massively persistent.  In the US, women are more vocal when they are not interested or their friends will rescue them. I also think American men will give up after a few minutes if the body language is not there, but in Rio the men are relentless.  The interplay between the sexes and how it changes from country to country is always fascinating to me. 

All in all, I had a fabulous time at Carnival and I highly recommend it to everyone at least once in their life.  Just make sure you can find a quiet room where the morning drums can't find you and get lots of sleep.....

Friday, February 26, 2010

Carnival!!! (Part I)

With all due respect to the Love Parade, Oktoberfest, La Tomatina (tomato throwing in Spain), Burning Man, Glastonbury, Ibiza, Mikonos, etc, I've always heard since my college days, that the only bigger party in the world than Mardi Gras is Carnival in Brazil.  Although there are many different versions and intensities throughout the massive country, the brightest and most well known is in Rio.  Even though I'm 5-10 years past my drinking prime, better late than never I figure, and off I went.

I arrived in the dead of morning on Friday the 1st day and my friend Bruno whom I stayed with the entire time, was nice enough to wake up and let me in.  That first night we met up with some of Bruno's friends including a pair of nutty Dutchmen.  They were plenty nice, but made us watch a music video on youtube of a popular song in Amsterdam that would be banned on MTV.  I wish I had those 5 minutes of my life back, but after a few drinks, we eventually went out to dinner. After wading through the drunken revelers on the street we found a nice corner table and I got some much awaited strogonoff (my favorite brazilian dish)!

The conversation turned to politics and healthcare.  As I was the only American at the table, I remember thinking it's always interesting to get other international viewpoints on those topics, esp ones where the US is clearly lagging the rest of the world.   Anyway, enough philosophizing, let's get to the drunken fiestas:

 This is a bad picture of what we walked through after dinner.  Reminded me an awful lot of Bourbon street without that familiar smell thankfully.

The next day Bruno and I motivated + played some tennis at his club.  I again had strogonoff for lunch (one of my annoying habits is that I'm a creature of habit when I find something I like)

Afterwards we went to a daytime parade near Bruno's apt.  I was in a picture taking mood so I took lots.  Here are the better ones:

As you can see most people had a costume of some sort or at least made an attempt to put on a wig or devil horns or a silly hat.  Bruno and I, of course had nothing, but that didn't stop me from getting into the Carnival spirit!

American dork, front and center feeling the flow.  In the distance we could hear drums and people singing on a Megaphone.  Over the next hour those sounds got louder as the float and party approached.  That is one difference between the street parties in Nawlins and in Rio.  The parades for Mardi Gras normally consisted of many ornate floats whereas most of the street parties in Rio only had one with lots of people in front and behind it (also there are no beads, sorry fellas there's more skin in Rio, but none of "that"). There are also a lot of extremely ornate "professional" parades from different neighborhoods that compete for an award at the end of Carnival.  You might have seen pictures with fancy headresses and elaborate costumes. They are very impressive, take place at night,  and in some cases difficult to get tickets to see.  I did not go to any.  I regret that, but it gives me something to shoot for if I ever make it back to Rio.

Back to the daytime street fun:


Instead this idea of ornate is two Batmen and other good stuff.  

There's some of the skin I was talking about.  On this day it was close to 90 degrees + a few days later it would go over 100.

Ohh, look!  Here come the drummers.  That means the float is not far behind....

You have to love that the band are on top of a huge beer can with speakers built into the sides of it.  At least I did, but by that point I had had a few beers similar to that one and by the way, it was devil hot out....

The float moves about a cm every 10 minutes, but that's fine with everyone since it gives them time to dance and the vendors time to move their beverages along with the float.  About 4 hours later (+/- 2 hours):


The float went about another 1/4 mile beyond this and then it was all over.  Time to find another parade.  I saw this girl in the street + thought she had the best costume so had to get a picture with her:

Sorry for the boxers shot, but I didn't even realize at that point.  As you can see there's a tennis player behind me so maybe I WAS in a costume all along.

I hadn't planned to make this a II part blog, but I think that's a good first taste of the locura that is Rio and Carnival.  I will follow up with rest of the dias de fiesta shortly.