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.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I'm Back Baby!

In those immortal words of Frank Costanza, "I'm back baby!"  Sometimes "they" say the best part of traveling is coming home and although it was a definitely a fun time it is nice to finally sleep in a bed that fits me.  Even though Buenos Aires is not technically my home either, it has become familiar,comfortable and by now, feels like home sweet home to me. 

Apologies to all for such a long absence.  I had limited internet access and did not want to upload all my pics to other stranger computers for the sake of my blog.  All that means, is I have a lot of catching up to do which I promise to do in the coming days.  It's been an adventurous couple of weeks to say the least.  In the last 2 weeks I have:

Starred in my version of Vicky Cristina Buenos Aires (this was before I even left)
Attempted 2 red eye trips on flights that were far too short get anything more than a long siesta
Got to the biggest party in the world and tried to party like it's 1999
My body after the 3rd day not so subtly reminded me that it's actually 2010 and I can't do that anymore. 
Saw fights and amazing athletic feats on the beach resembling some version of soccer (football).
Realized I don't know Portuguese all that well, but that it's fun and rhythmic to hear it spoken.  
Sweated through a 100+ degree day & slept without AC one night.
Met a girl who was mortally terrified of pigeons
Found myself homeless, unslept and frigid for a few hours and was saved by the generosity of strangers. 
Hung out with good friends for tasty meals and fun times.
Thought intensely about trades that can make money.
Saw and danced to some Deep Dish by the water.
Got my butt kicked by a casino, but came back with a vengeance.
Have had one and possibly both parents threaten to disown me (with good reason).

I also heard there was a speech by Tiger but that he was robotic.  That there is some Winter sporting event going on in Vancouver (another Xgames?) but haven't seen any footage yet unfortunately.  I obviously have some catching up to do and pictures to upload.  I will get to it pronto....

Monday, February 8, 2010

Surf and turf

Thanks to my favorite TV show and last weekend's getaway I've been negligent in keeping up with my Buenos Aires happenings.  We haven't had any blizzards or floods here like my poor friends back north, but things have definitely been wetter with a storm of some kind almost daily.  I've been keeping up my yoga (I'm getting better but a headstand pose almost killed me) and tango.  Both continue to be works in progress.

A couple weekends ago, my pal Pedro organized a rowing excursion for us on a 6 man boat off the coast of Buenos Aires.  He brought along his girlfriend and 2 French buddies who were in town as a stop on their whirlwind tour of the globe.  I give these guys credit, they weren't just traveling to see places, but doing so by the seat of their pants.  They are both in their early 20s and started by leaving for Brazil from France by BOAT.  Yep, they got onto a large sailboat with crew and sailed across the Atlantic till they got to the Northern Brazil.  From there, they switched boats and went down the entire Amazon, criss-crossing Brazil until they came to Buenos Aires.  When I met them, they were in the process of buying a cheap used car to drive south to Patagonia and then back up the Western side of Argentina/Chile, returning to Buenos Aires before they go to the US then Asia.  Maybe not the best idea to buy cheap, used car and then drive it hundreds of miles in the middle of nowhere, but I give them credit for ambition.

Here we are getting mentally prepared for our rowing trip:
My buddy Pedro on the right and the Brazilian looking ambiguously gay duo are the French guys.  

We might look relaxed but it was the calm before the storm.   Once we got out there we were a well oiled machine with Pedro leading in the front seat and one of the Frenchies counting 16 strokes then switch sides.

From my days of Outward Bound as a 9th grader, my rowing was rusty at best.  Unfortunately, the girl behind me (gf of Pedro's girlfriend) bore the brunt of it as I unknowingly splashed her multiple times. 

After 20 minutes of rowing, we got out to where we could see downtown Buenos Aires.  A really good view of the city:

 It looked better in person than the picture.  

We swam a bit and then "surfed" a few waves back to base camp. We brought the boat ashore and felt like we accomplished something even though we only made a big circle in the sea.  

A good job by all and thanks again to Pedro and Nicolas for organizing it all.  I would have made a hell of a coxswain in another life. 

On a different day in the not too distant past, I found myself wandering Palermo after a daytime yoga class.  Palermo here is like a cheaper version of Soho in NYC, with cute little shops and restaurants around most corners.  One of the guys from a previous yoga class told me about the best steakhouse in Buenos Aires called La Cabrera.  I told him that was a high bar to meet, as the steaks at most places around here are excellent quality.  He assured me this one was the top and in my wanderings I stumbled upon it.  I heard it was a madhouse at night, but during the day it was only 3/4 full so I decided to spontaneously give it a try.  

Upon entering, the place was ornately decorated and somewhat formal.  The waiters gave me strange looks as I was more dressed to run a 5km race than dine in a fine establishment, but once they heard my broken spanish I think they just figured I was another confused gringo.  I stuck myself in the corner so as not to offend any of the patrons and ordered the chorizo steak which is their signature porterhouse.

  Apologies to my sister and any other vegetarians reading as this part will be graphic for you.  They had this poster in a few different spots of the restaurant.  

 They don't waste much in Argentina.  

After a very satisfying empanada out came my steak with about 12 different sauces and accompaniments.  In an effort to make things mildly healthy I ordered a salad too which was delicious.  

Mmmm, now we're talking.  I'm drooling on my keyboard as I write this so dom"t m!nd if eo$^3.sTe@k...

Parts of the steak were a little fatty for me, but all in all it was a solid meal.  On my way back I came across this in front of one of the apartment buildings:

Not sure what it's supposed to be, but one of those random pieces of art when you are not expecting it.  That's what makes wandering around a new city fun and unpredictable.  

Congrats to the Saints and all their long suffering fans.  I am very happy for them and that city.  Miami has not had near the recent adversity of New Orleans, but dammit, if the Dolphins ever get their act together and win a title, I will cry like a little boy.  

On that note, I am off on a 5 day trip to Rio for Carnival on Thursday.  If I can get around without getting my camera stolen I promise to have bright and festive pictures of the fiesta grande. 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Brazilian paradise

Last weekend I took my first trip since coming here to a little island spot called Florianopolis in Brazil.  It's roughly halfway up the coast between the southern Brazilian border with Uruguay and Rio de Janiero.  Before I get into the trip, let me say that it took me around 8 hours to book the hotel and flight for this little weekend getaway.  Eight hours may seem like a lot to some, and is.  As is expected when traveling internationally, things don't always work the same efficient way as they do in the US or Europe.  Finding a room was complicated by the fact that almost nobody lists prices or availability.  If you like a place, you have to email them.  I'm pretty sure this leads to them determining how much to charge based on how many rooms are left (like an airline) and also how bad your spanish or portuguese is.  Once you settle on a price, almost noone takes a credit card.  You have to wire half of the total before arriving to reserve and pay the rest upon leaving.  This becomes exponentially more difficult without a brazilian bank account which I don't have.  Many thanks to my brazilian friend Karla, who helped me with a lot of the above, otherwise the trip and this blog would not have come to pass. I only learned after the fact, that there are a few American travel agencies that will handle a lot of this brain damage for you so if you want to visit Floripa (the nickname) don't be deterred but the above.  Just use one of them and you'll be fine. 

Here's what the island looks like.  We stayed on the Northward facing West beach called Jurere.  I met up with Bruno, a buddy from Rio and one of his pals Rehan. They stayed in the popular resort and I took a little risk and tried a Pousada which had more of a time share feel to it.  It was called Pousada Casa Sin Nombre (House without a name) which sounds eerie but don't let the name scare you.  The owners turned out to be really nice guys and helpful in everyway possible. 

We went out the first night there to a downtown restaurant/club called Ill Divino. I was psyched that they had Strogonoff there because I had been thinking about it the whole plane ride.  Brazilian strogonoff (meat in a sauce with rice) reminds me of a dish my mom used to make for me when I was little and it's delicious!  We ate, drank + did some dancing.  I was blown away by the attractiveness of the girls and also how young some of them seemed.  A few were tall and looked like supermodels in training.  Everyone was dressed stylishly and most of the music was stuff you'd hear at clubs in the states.  Many didn't speak English, but didn't miss a beat singing along with Lady Gaga or Beyonce. 

Rehan, myself and Bruno

We wandered along the beach the next day and found a fun restaurant called Cafe de la Musique.  Good food and tunes.  At night we got tickets to one of the big clubs there called POSH.  We showed up at midnight and were way too early.  Nobody was inside and the few that were there were socializing/drinking in the parking lot.  That's where we met these girls:

Once inside, it was more of the same from the previous night as everyone was dressed to the nines.  Everyone was in great spirits and looked the part.  I haven't traveled everywhere but after that night, I say with confidence I've never seen more beautiful women anywhere else in the world.  Miami, NY, Vegas, La, Stockholm, Paris, Barcelona, Rome all can make strong cases but Florianopolis wins the prize.  We danced till the sun came up that night and when we got out to the parking lot, these guys were chilling by the cars:

Those are baby owls in case you can't tell.  They were NOT too happy about the scores of drunken dancers streaming out into the parking lot.  I'm glad I took a picture of it because that's one of the random things I would have forgotten. 

The next day we hit a pool party at the end of the beach we were staying at.  It reminded me a lot of a Vegas pool like Hard Rock during the day. 

 Since Floripa is not too far from Uruguay and Argentina, most people understand Spanish.  It's a good thing because my Portuguese is less than mediocre.  I do think Portuguese sounds more fun to speak compared to Spanish (or English for that matter).  It's almost like the mouth is half dancing when they talk.  


The next night we went to Pacha which was right next to POSH.  It was a lot bigger space including an outdoor area where you can hear yourself think which I always like.  

I look like a goofball in that picture, but believe it or not, that was the best one.  We similarly danced till late that night, but here were no owls waiting for us when we left.  The next day we hung out one final time on the beach and went our separate ways.  I highly recommend Florianopolis as a weekend destination for a fun time in the Ibiza or Vegas mold if you can get a hotel room booked....

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nothing is irreversible


except for death and maybe gravity.  Even that might not be true in LOST world.  I managed to see the first two episodes with help from my Buenos Aires mentor, Dom (many thanks!) and after downloading them overnight.   I apologize to my readers who don't watch the show, as this is the 2nd LOST post in a row.   After seeing the premieres of the final season I can't help myself.  I promise to get back to my S. American adventures including my weekend trip to Florianopolis.  It won't happen again.  

The first thing that struck me about the first 2 episodes is how things were slightly amiss in the LAX timeline.  Everything seemed somewhat plausible, Jack saving Charlie's life, Kate escaping like a manic, Jin reverting to his old pigheaded husband role, etc.  However, there were a bunch of small inconsistencies that any astute LOST watcher will pick up on:

- What is Desmond doing on the plane?  If the island was sunk 27 years prior then he would have never landed on the island and completed his voyage around the world.  It's possible but still highly coincidental for him to be on that plane from Sydney to LAX.  

- Hurley says "he's the luckiest guy in the world".  Even before he got to the island he thought the numbers were cursed as his business got hit by a meteor, his relative died, mom's house burned down....

- Sawyer warning Hurley about being taken advantage of rather than trying to con him.  

- What is the spot of blood on Jack's neck?  Is it stress related just getting on the flight and his father's death or something more?

- Speaking of Jack's father, where is his coffin and his body?  The coffin at least was seen on the island when they crashed.  

- I remember Bernard sitting in the tail section, NOT next to Rose.  

- Lastly, where is Shannon??  She was obviously on the flight that crashed.  

All of these discrepancies that reality is not exactly the same as if they had never crashed at all.  It's an alternate alternate reality.  
Now that we've confirmed that Jacob's nemesis is, in fact, the smoke monster, it seems like he is a truly bad dude.  Everyone is terrified of him + after killing most of Jacob's bodyguards he beats up Ricardus and carries him off.  He mentions something about Richard being in chains, perhaps a reference to him being enslaved on the Black Rock way back when?  

Given what we've seen, I don't think there are two parallel realities going on.  They are not exactly parallel anyway as one is 3 years before the other.  Juliet also states post humously that "It worked."  My theory is that the plane landing at LAX is the future of our Hbomb survivors in the future.  That means the past is the future for those in the future?  Does your head hurt yet?  The landing at LAX is a sort of flash forward for them.  They need to do more than just blow up the Hbomb to get to that reality.  Time, indeed, will tell.