Feliz Natal!

Trip Start Aug 09, 2006
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Saturday, December 30, 2006

You´d think I would have learned my lesson by now and started updating this thing more so I didn´t have to sit here forever trying to re-think stuff that happened.  You may want to use the bathroom and grab a snack before reading this one.  The plane from Manaus to São Paulo was the coolest plane I´ve ever been on.  Food, drinks, tons of space, had a middle column where I sat, and TV screen in the seat where you could watch movies for free (usually have to pay - I saw The Illusionist in French with Portuguese subtitles).  The Manuas airport was surprisingly small (just like the bus station - guessing its because of all the boat traffic) and had enormous lines.  Left late and would have missed the connection to Rio, but they held the plane because there were like 20 of us coming from Manaus.  Got into the hostel in Copacabana pretty late.
 
Rio is amazing.  Absolutely amazing.  All the hype this city gets is well earned.  So much fun to be had in such a gorgeous setting.  Mountains just coming right out of the water.  Now is up there with Baldwin as one of my favorite places on the planet.  A few other nice perks - finally got to sleep in a bed, finally got to wash clothes (jungle and boat stank), and finally had hot shower water (can´t even remember the last time - months).  On previous excursions, Chapada dos Veadeiros and Itacaré, I had hung with folks from Rio who had said to get in touch when I came by.  So thats what I did the first couple nights.  Got taken around to all sorts of things...Lapa (Samba clubs), Santa Teresa (B-Day party), Escadaria, old aquaduct, just tons of stuff they took me around to party and see.  Many "saideiras".  So much fun!  The subways here are surprisingly clean.  Too bad they stop running at 11 or 12.  There is a huge lagoon/lake near Ipanema that I walked around.  Lots of people excercising.  It gives some of the best views of the city - looking at mountains, the sky, Christ, the world´s largest floating Christmas tree, and stuff.  It is I think 7.5 km around, which would be larger than the Prospect Park route we used to run.  Really glad I came here in the Christmas season too, because it is even more beautiful - the whole city is really lit up.  Went around the Botanical Gardens (will have to in later).  Parque Lage was super pretty.  Saw monkey just running around.
 
A "must do" when going to Rio is to visit one of the samba schools.  There are like 14 and during Carnaval they compete in the Sambadrome dancing, singing, mania basically.  But they have "rehearsal"´s all the time up until Carnaval, preparing for it.  It is really misleading calling it a "school" or "rehearsal" when you go there though.  Just a huge samba party is what it really is.  We went to Villa Isabel, who happened to win last year.  When we showed up, just people everywhere in the streets waiting for it to open up.  Sorta gaudy entrance.  Then inside, it was a huge open area with a stage, all half inside, half outside.  Some crappy opener band was playing but when they finished, we moved near to the front.  Back in Manaus, if I had had to leave Brazil, I would have been satisfied with my trip.  Even not having gone to Rio.  I feel like I´ve done quite a bit here.  And to be honest, samba was not a part of anybody´s life, my entire trip, unlike how we may think back home.  All that changed after arriving here.  This was a "Whoa" experience.  Really have to be there...But the curtains are closed and you just here one drummer hitting away at beats for maybe 3 minutes.  You get used to hearing it.  And then all of a sudden, in unison come 100 (One.  Hundred.) more drummers BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM.  Holy crap.  Back to the single drummer going with a little more spirit.  The crowd is definitely stirred.  Same thing happens again BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM.  The curtains open, and there is the bateria (the drum section) going insane playing as loud as possible.  Guys joined in singing, a couple guys started on some small string instruments, and everybody lost their minds with dancing and singing along.  I swear that the place was actually shaking.  Goose bumps.  And samba dancing is really an energetic dance.  You could really feel the power of it all.  And during Carnaval they have around 300 members in the bateria!  Man!  I think I really would have missed out on a big aspect of Brazil had I not come to Rio and had a samba experience.
 
Another thing I was told I had to do is go to a favela funk party.  Again, had an awesome time here as well.  Favelas are the poorer neighborhoods that sneak up the hills of Rio, run by drug lords.  And this is definitely not your "Sly and the Family Stone" kind of funk.  Pretty raw agressive party music.  The lyrics, dancing, and the whole scene really is very sexually charged.  The place was very large as well, with a large dance floor, and an upper area (VIP).  Thats where they put all the gringos because the main floor can be dangerous (sure enough, it was), but we went down because it was more fun there.  One of the gringos I was with got called up on stage for a contest and won the thing - pretty cool.
 
The hostel is great and everybody who stays and works here is awesome.  Too much fun.  BBQ party there or night on the town every single night.  My sleeping schedule in the Amazon was getting up at 4:30-5ish and going to bed 7-7:30ish (pretty much dictated by the sun).  A complete reversal here.  In fact, the people are so cool here, they gave me the opportunity to stay and do barman work 2-3 nights a week in exchange for free bed, drinks, and internet for as long as I want to stay.  Sign me up.
 
Took a walk around downtown one day.  Along with the beautiful scenery of Rio (I haven´t mentioned yet that it is surrounded by Atlantic rain forest) and the party scene, Rio is a very cultural city as well.  Was the capital of Brazil for quite a long time.  Lots of cool looking old buildings and praças.  Art, theater, the works.  I am trying to open myself up to appreciating art a little more.  Considering I lived in NYC for 4 years and never went to the Moma or  Met, this is progress.  Everybody keeps making a fuss over it, so maybe there is something to it.  Anyway, so checked out a cool photography exhibit about Angola (in Africa, Brazil is most closely tied to Angola - another old Portuguese colony - so you do hear and learn a bunch about that country here).  Saw a convent, bla bla bla, cool architecture...ah, but the coolest thing of the day was the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura.  A book place straight out of Harry Potter.  Super old huge dusty books stacked to the ceiling, maybe 4 stories, wheely ladders, an old guy carefully copying text out of one...Random but cool.  The Cathedral Metropolitana was also a standout - one of the cooler cathedrals I´ve been too.  Super modern.  A dome-cone kind of shape, seats going circular, HUGE stained glass walls.  Just the amound of trapped open air in there was cool.  And of course I had to go to Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf).  The famous mountain that you take two trams to get to the top of.  Timed it so I could see the sunset from up there.  The most beautiful sight I have ever seen.  Can see a lot of Rio, and the landscape is gorgeous.  After dark there was lightening in the distance too, really cool looking.  Rio has to be the prettiest city in the world.
 
While I´m thinking of it, in Portuguese you pronounce Rio de Janeiro as "Hee-oh  Gee  Janiero".  They love their juices in Brazil, and I have easily tried 20 new juices and fruits I had never heard of before, but they take it to a new level here.  Juice stands everywhere.  And you can get them with water or milk.  Milk makes it taste like a shake.  Soooo gooood.....
 
Took one day just lay out on the beach with friends.  Catching jacaré (body surfing).  Sun was killer, didn´t feel any less hot than in the north.  But the water was freezing - and I don´t mean the cold that you get used to.  I mean the kind of cold in Maine or Lake Superior that makes you go numb or with pain.  The beach/water temperature difference is the most I´ve experienced.  Renata, my old surfing buddy who lives here, was right about the waves.  They are violent.  One night there was an employee boat party (there are 3 hostels here under the same company) and since I was gonna work there, I was now an employee!  Man, this was so cool.  Took off from the Guanabara Bay in Botofogo.  Just all kinds of boat-party kinds of fun all night.  Lots of folks.  So one week removed from the middle of Amazon jungle, I was on the water in Rio with all new friends.  Crazy.  Oh yeah, and Brazilians think it is hilarious to listen to 2 gringos talking Portuguese to each other.  From nearly all these sites I´ve been too in Rio, Christ the Redeemer is visible.  And at night it is even cooler because the sky and mountain are all black but then Christ is lit up white and visible.
 
Well eventually, the 22nd came and that meant time for me to move on.  The Coimbras and Dunn families were getting together for Christmas in Camburi and had invited me.  Camburi is a little beach spot near São Paulo.  But had to do a little homework to figure out how to get there.  Anyway, so went out to the station at around 11am to catch a bus to São Sebastião (transfer stop) only to find out the only busses left at 11pm and 11:05pm.  How stupid is that.  So I just threw my stuff in the Guarda Volumes and went back the hostel to play pool until night came.  Its really easy to get back and forth from the station to Copacabana.  Well, of course it didn´t leave until midnight, so then a transfer later I arrived in Camburi around 7am.  This bus trip was the prettiest bus trip I have taken.  All winding mountains and curves going along the coast.  Clouds hanging down really low in the valleys between mountains.  The Atlantic Rain Forest is really pretty.  Maybe moreso than even the Amazon - but the Amazon is more...idunno...overwhelming in size.   Doesn´t have the contrast in elevation though.  Weather was really wet.  Really it was raining or about to rain the entire time I was down there.  Nobody was up yet, but it was fun to catch up with everybody when I arrived.  Lots to hear from the US and lots that the Coimbras wanted to know about what I did in their country.  And yes, a new camera!  Anything from the Amazon boat trip, to the jungle, to all I´ve done and seen in Rio is all in my head and I have no pictures.  So now I have to get back into that picture taking mood.  Don´t have barely any from Camburi either. 
 
Well, this was the 3rd time I´d been there when these two families get together and it is just heavy partying.  Plain and simple.  Beach all day, party all night.  Lots of fun happened...hanging out in Maresias, in Camburi, visiting friends of friends on the beach, santa hats, Christmas log book, making fun of Chris´s side burns, catching more waves, fresco ball, the always fun making fun of other people´s attempt to speak another language (me to Portuguese and the Coimbras to English)...More stuff, too...Good to see Pam, Ken, Amy, Brett, Maria Elisa, Ruy, Lilian, Ruizinho, Vi, and Fer again.  One really bad thing happened though.  It was raining and lightening, and a surfer got struck.  Fernanda saw him and I it was pretty bad.  Clothes ripped and torn, his chest without skin.  He got the works.  CPR.  Called the hospital later that night though and he was okay.  And the previous day, someone had been pulled out of the water with people flipping out.  We were starting to wonder what was going to happen next.
 
Well, what was next was my LEAST favorite bus ride.  Sick, fever, headache, hungry, on a bus taking curves and starts and stops (Ken had puked on the way here), raining, traffic, police search.  Took like 4 hourse longer going back to Rio.  Very warm welcome back.  The atmosphere has definitely picked up.  The place is bumpin, everybody getting ready for Revillion (New Years).  Friend here has the best medicine ever, and it fixed me up pretty good.  All the employees got put into a room with 6 bunks for 10 people until people leave after New Years.  Sardines.  Last night was my first night working.  Thought I would be doing only bar stuff, but as it turns out I was doing bar and reception at the same time.  My first time and it was a Friday night.  Geez.  But there are a few really good things about the work here:  it is only for like 3 hours;  I am serving and helping my friends (so I´m not dealing with any of that crappy-customer stuff); the only thing people want to drink is a caiprinha, caiprioska, or beer. 
 
So now its the 30th, almost Revillion.  And it looks like I will be in Rio until I leave Brazil!  Originally, I had wanted to travel around further south because I didn´t want to miss on such a large part of Brazil.  But the opportunity to stay in Rio for free during New Years through Carnaval, with all these cool people, and I already had friends here from other places, limited work, close to São Paulo and rain forest, in a city that I still need to explore a lot...I couldn´t pass it up!  Hope you guys have a good New Years, and Nick don´t stress the work project too much!  I´ll see what I can do about getting pictures up, but like I said I only have a couple.  I´ll try to get some from Ken or something - he took a million.
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