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BRAZIL | Wednesday, 29 April 2009 | Views [2132]

January 12, 2009 - April 27, 2009

After a 20 hour bus ride from Montevideo, Uruguay, to the fifth largest country in the world and one of the smoothest border crossings yet, we finally arrived Florianopolis, Brazil.  Our couch surfer, Conrado was waiting for us at the bus terminal and gave both Adam and I a ride to his house on Monday, January 12.  He was an 18 year old guy who lived with his mom and dad.  They were another very warm-hearted family who definitely went out of their way to make sure we felt at home.  On our first day he took us to our first beach in Brazil, Praia Mole.  It was one of 42 pristine beaches of Ilha de Santa Catarina.  

It was very frustrating after finally learning the Spanish language well enough to conversate with the families in the last few countries, but now struggling to speak any Portuguese to my new family in Brazil.  The two languages have so many similar words, but yet have so many differences in pronunciations and the Brazilians speak with a distinctive nasal sound.  

Conrad’s mother cooked us some amazing Brazilian meals (some of the best I have had), and could not have asked for a better host.  Their aunt and uncle had us over a couple times for dinner as well, and they also cooked up some excellent meals, and one of the days they took us to a beach called Palmas to hang out and do some fishing…we were definitely spoiled with our first host family in Brazil.  

Conrad lived in an apartment complex that had a basketball hoop, pool, and a gym as well.  So, I was able to continue with some running each day (my only pair of shoes that I have are my all purpose skechers, and they have had to get some repairs from the wear and tear), and also playing some hoops with his cousin and uncle.  I was also able to hit up the gym quite a bit while at Conrad’s place.  He also took us to two different beach type clubs called P12 and Taiko on Jurere Internacional beach that were some of the coolest places I have seen so far and also another club called El Divino.  P 12 is open during the day when the weather is nice and closes down at 10 pm.  It has an enormous pool and just a sweet layout with nice cushioned beds, couches, dance area, soft sand, great music, and beautiful women in bikinis.  It would definitely be my ideal bar to own one day.

Florianópolis (nicknamed Floripa) is the capital city of Santa Catarina State in southern Brazil. It is composed of one main island, the Island of Santa Catarina (Ilha de Santa Catarina), a continental part and the surrounding small islands. It was a beautiful city (407,000) and would have been one of my favorites if it hadn’t rained almost every day that I was there.  The economy of Florianópolis is heavily based on tourism and services. The city has 42 pristine beaches and is a center of surfing activity. Newsweek put Florianópolis in the "Ten most dynamic cities of the world" list. Veja magazine, a Brazilian publication, named the city as "the best place to live in Brazil." As a result of this publicity, Florianópolis is growing as a second home destination for many Paulistas, Argentines, U.S. citizens and Europeans.

Everything seemed to be really spread out in this city, so a car was definitely necessary.  We had Conrad’s car to use, but the first night he accidentally backed up into a metal garbage basket that was sticking out, and shattered the back window.  Unfortunately, the glass for the window did not arrive for four weeks, but we were able to get some rides from other people and his mother and father as well while staying at his place for the two and a half weeks.  

On Friday, January 30, Adam and I said goodbye to Conrad and his wonderful family.  We took a 1.5 hour bus ride (17 reals=$7.36   ) to Balneario Camboriu.  This city is one of Southern Brazil’s major tourism hubs.  Its resident population is 100,000, but in the summer time it welcomes up to 1 million tourists.  It is a beautiful city with small and friendly vibe and some lively night life as well.  It’s major event is for New Year’s Eve, with fireworks busting all along its shoreline.   

We were invited to a couchsurfing party on Saturday with about 30 people by a couchsurfer named Eddy in this beautiful small town.  Once we arrived the town Eddy came to the bus terminal to pick us up with his friend.  We then went back to his apartment where he lives with his wife and adorable 5 year old daughter.  He lived only 2 blocks from Camboriu Beach, so once we dropped our stuff off we went walking with he and his friend Jean along the beach to check out the city.  His friend really took a liking to Adam and I, and invited us over for dinner at his house to have his mother cook for us.  Jean’s mother, father, and brother were all very nice people and told us we could stay at their place anytime we wanted.  His mother cooked us up a great meal on Friday night, and then also invited us to come back on Saturday night for dinner before the couchsurfing meeting.  During the day Jean’s brother drove us to a really nice beach as well.  Afterwards, we got showered up at Eddy’s place and had another excellent meal at Jean’s parents house.  When we were done with dinner we went to the couchsurfing meeting at a small little restaurant/bar.  We met a lot of very nice people and had a great time.

On Sunday, February 1st, we just relaxed and walked around the beach, and in the evening I played  “Guess Who” (my favorite game as a kid) with Eddy’s daughter Sara.  Eddy and his wife Steph are both Brazilian, but speak English very well.  They are trying to teach their daughter to speak both languages as well, so they definitely liked having Adam and I around to help her speak in English.  Sara also has a few games that she plays to help her learn as well.  I wish I would have had the opportunity to learn another language at a young age like her.  It is the best time to learn!  She also is a big fan of Michael Jackson, so she would play Michael Jackson music videos on the computer through youtube and dance to them as well.  She is the cutest and most well behaved five-year old daughter I have ever been around, and always has a glowing smile on her face.

On Wednesday, February 4, I went and played paint ball with Eddy and seven of his friends in the rain.  We had a blast playing, and had a few bumps on my arms from the balls hitting me.  Then the following day I went and played some soccer with he and his friends as well.  We had an excellent time hanging out with Eddy and his family.  Unfortunately, on Friday, February 6, I continued north and caught a bus to Curitiba at 7:45 am (29 reals=$12.55) and arrived there at 11:30 am.  Barbara picked me up from the bus terminal after her class and took me back to her apartment.

I had met Barbara in Florianópolis where she was visiting her parents and little brother, but she lives in Curitiba.  After talking with her and keeping in touch via internet; I converted her to a couchsurfer and went to stay with her before I continued north to Sao Paulo.  It took a little time for her dad to give in on the
couchsurfing concept, but eventually he did because Barbara wanted to learn about couchsurfing and was eager to invite me into her home.  I try to spread the word and tell everyone about it (www.couchsurfing.com) because it is an amazing way to build a worldwide network of friends and make traveling so much better when you are meeting local people and learning about the local cuisine.  

Barbara normally just lives with her brother (who is in the states for 5 months), but her youngest brother and mother were visiting from Florianópolis for a week.  Barbara’s mother cooked us some “mouth watering meals” (all the homemade food seems to be awesome in Brazil) and definitely made me feel at home.  Her mother was always making sure I was comfortable, well fed, and constantly trying to get me to eat more (I might have gained 10 pounds).

Barbara toured me around the city, took me out to a few clubs on the weekends, and also took me to a friends birthday BBQ that was a lot of fun with some great food as well.  

She is currently studying physical therapy and is finishing up her last year, so she was keeping busy with her studies, but seemed to really like having me around.  When she was busy, I played ping pong, pool, studied Portuguese, or went running with her little 15 year old brother Felipe.  Her littler brother was an awesome guy, and always so friendly, polite, and making sure I felt comfortable.  He said he liked having my company and also liked practicing his English.  He is actually going to France soon for 6 months or a year to learn French…I am so happy for such a young guy to have such a great experience like that.  I know it will be an experience of his lifetime.

On Thursday, February 12, a couchsurfer by the name of Gustavo contacted me and wanted to meet up with me.  He contacted me when I was in Florianópolis, but we never ended up meeting, but he lives right next to Barbara, so we finally met up, and he took me to his gym to work out.  It is always nice when couchsurfers can get you into their gym because it is difficult to keep up with the exercise when traveling.  He said it was the best gym in town, and I definitely believe it.  It was huge and had everything you wanted.  After working out for a couple hours we did a hour spin class as well.  Earlier in the day I had gone for a 3 mile run with Barbara’s little brother as well, so the day turned into an “exercise only” day.  It felt good to just have a full day of exercise, a couple meals, and a little studying of Portuguese.

Barbara’s father arrived on Friday to visit until Tuesday, and took us all out for a nice dinner on Saturday, Feb 14, at a Japanese restaurant called Batel Grill that was very classy and delicious.  It was an awesome place where they came to your table giving you all the fresh meat, desserts, or whatever you wanted and you basically just end up “stuffing your face” at this amazing all-you-can-eat restaurant.  The sushi there was incredible (love hot filadelfia rolls), and the service was outstanding.  I hadn’t had sushi for at least a year and a half, and this was some of the best that I have had.    

It was neat to hang out with their family during the day as well because both her little 15 year old brother Felipe and father play the guitar very well and they were playing a bunch of Brazilian songs inside the apartment smiling, singing, laughing, and making me feel like I was a part of their family.  Right when her father arrived he told me he was happy to have me visit and to make myself at home.  This is a very unique family, and is so nice to see the love that they have for each other.  I have been very fortunate with my first three families I have stayed with here in Brazil!  Words can’t express how nice it is to have these families make me feel so welcome in their homes when I have not seen my family for a year now.  Couchsurfing has been the most amazing experience of my life.

I did not plan on staying as long as I did in Curitiba, but Barbara and her family were awesome, and I loved being around them all.  I was planning on going north to Rio for the week long Carnival celebration, but Barbara and her family invited me to go back down to Florianópolis to stay at her parents place and celebrate the carnival down there.  She had some friends that were going to be there as well, and her other brother Ciao was actually coming back from the states too, so they all wanted to give him a warm welcome back to Brazil.  So, on Friday, February 20, Barbara, a few of her friends, and I drove down to Florianópolis until Tuesday when we made our way back to Curitiba.  The carnival was a great time, and I had a lot of fun hanging out with her family as well during that time period.  

Barbara had to get back to school on Wednesday, February 25, so we headed back on Tuesday to Curitiba and then returned back to Florianópolis (3.5 or 4 hours in car) for the weekend to hang with her parents one last time, and her brother Ciao finally arrived from the states as well.  We had a nice brazillian BBQ and some other excellent meals along with some of the best desserts that I have had in a long time.  Her mother was the dessert master (I need her keylime pie recipe)!  We also went to the beach to hang out and relax on our last day.

On Sunday, I had to say good bye to Barbara’s family because I was leaving to São Paulo on Monday, and we were heading back to Curitiba (3.5 or 4 hours from Florianópolis) with Barbara and her brother Ciao.  I really enjoyed being around her family and I had become attached to them.  They were also a little sad to see me leave.  I never thought I would have become so close to a family in such a short period of time, but it was DEFINITELY hard to leave them!

On Monday, March 2, Barbara took me to the bus terminal to catch my bus to São Paulo at 2 pm (6 hours/55 reals = $23.81) where my next couch surfer Vicente will be picking me up at the bus terminal upon my arrival.  I really had a tough time saying good-bye to Barbara because we really became connected with one another, and had created a special bond.  She is a very sweet and attractive girl with a lot of drive in her studies, and I know she will be very successful.  I look forward to her visiting the states hopefully after she graduates in December.

Staying at Vicente and Andre’s place in São Paulo was great.  Vicente is still looking for a job, so he had a lot of time to spend with us.  He was extremely kind and helped me with all the necessary things I needed to do to have my visa extended in Brazil for another 90 days (67 reals=$29) because my visa expires on March 11.  They were both such warm hearted people and toured Claudio and I all around town on the subway.  The days in São Paulo were a little tiring because it was quite warm, and we spent a lot of time walking and taking the subway to get to all of our destinations in the largest city in Brazil and South America, and among the seven largest metropolitan regions of the world (11,105,249 residents).

On Saturday, March 8, Andres took me to my second soccer game of my trip “Santos vs. Oeste Paulista.”  Santos was the favorite and usually a very good team.  They ended up winning and  it was pretty neat to see what die hard fans they were and to hear the constant chanting of their theme song during and after the game on the subway ride home.  Soccer is the main sport in South America, so I figured I needed to check out a game in Brazil because they are supposed to have some of the best players in the world.

On Sunday, March 8, I took a 6 hour bus to Rio de Janeiro (58.50 reals =$25.32) at 9 am with another couch surfer Claudio that I met while staying with Andres and Vicente.  He actually arrived in São Paulo the day before I did, and was planning to leave to Rio as his next destination as well.  He was a young (20 year old) from Germany who plans to travel for at least a year as well, and he had a friend that we both could stay with in Rio.  

After our arrival, Claudio and I caught a taxi to Silvio’s house in Copacabana 3 blocks from the beach.  When the taxi dropped us off at our address that we gave him he told us to keep our “eyes open” in this area.  Just as we were getting out of the taxi a little black boy was begging us for money.  We both told him we did not have any money and continued walking passed him.  We each looked back shortly after, and realized that the little boy was throwing stones at us.  Luckily we were right next to the entry of Silvio‘s place.  We then hopped inside the apartment building to drop off our bags and wandered around with our new host Silvio along the beach.  

Silvio also lives 3 blocks from a favela.  A favela is a Portuguese word for shanty town. The majority have electricity, but in most cases it is illegally tapped from the public grid.  Favelas are constructed from a variety of materials, ranging from bricks to garbage.  Many favelas are very close and very cramped. They are plagued by sewage, crime and hygiene problems. Many of the most infamous are located in Rio de Janeiro. In Rio one in every four cariocas (as Rio's inhabitants are called) lives in a favela.

The following day we went to the famous Christ the Redeemer Statue.  The massive statue of Jesus Christ stands 120 feet tall (38 meters) weighs 635 tons, and is located at the peak of the 2,300 ft (700 meters) Corcovado mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park overlooking the city. It is the second tallest of its kind in the world.

To get to the statue we took a bus from outside our place in Copacabana and then from there you either take the train (36 reals=$15.58) or else you can take a car ride all the way up (40 reals=$17.31).  We decided to take the car route where he let us off two different times to take pictures and then once you get near the top you are transferred into a van where they take you all the way up to see the statue.  Once we finally reached the top it was an amazing view of the beautiful city of Rio.  There was definitely many tourists though, and after doing this I remembered why I don’t do the tourist things anymore.  Just too many people for me, and everyone taking all of the same pictures.

On Wednesday, Claudio and I met Silvio after he was done with work to climb to the top of the Sugarloaf mountain (Pão de Açúcar) at 5:30 pm before the sun went down.  Sugarloaf Mountain is a peak from the mouth of Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean.  Rising 1,299 feet (396 meters) above sea-level, its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of concentrated refined loaf sugar. However, it is believed by some that the name actually derives from Pau-nh-acuqua (“high hill”) in the Tupi-Guarani language, as used by the indigenous Tamoios.
Silvio is an avid climber and had some extra equipment for Claudio and I, so he told us he would help us climb the mountain.  If we climbed the mountain we also did not have to pay to go up there by the cable cars.  After about an hour and forty-five minutes we made it to the top just as it was getting dark.  It was an amazing view from the top of the mountain to look out and see all the lights of the big city, Rio de Janeiro. 

Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city of Brazil and South America, behind Sao Paulo, and the third largest metropolitan area in South America, behind Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires.  Rio is known as the cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city).  It is definitely a beautiful city with gorgeous mountains and white-sand beaches.  Coming from the south I did not see many poor people, but in Rio there are lots of poor people begging you for money and also sad to see many people sleeping on the streets.  This is the first city I have been to in Brazil with a huge separation of poor and wealthy people, and also one of the most dangerous cities.  Despite its charm and beauty, Rio is reputed to be one of the most violent cities in the world and motivated movies such as Bus 174, City of God, and Elite Squad,  portraying severe social issues. Much of the violent crime is concentrated in the favelas or shantytowns but it also spills into middle- and upper-income neighborhoods. In Rio, unlike other major cities, many of the slums are directly adjacent to some of the wealthiest areas of the city.
Rio and Sao Paulo are also two cities that I have seen the most gay people in my life.  To me it was quite funny to see two gay guys (28 years old or so) on the beach in Rio flirting with each other by kicking sand at each other and playing games with each other in the water.  When you go to the beach in Rio you will see big flags up in the air with rainbows to let you know where the gay people are, but I think they are everywhere you walk.

On Sunday, March 15, I took a taxi to the bus terminal and caught my 27 hour bus to Salvador, Brazil (215 reals=$93.07).  Upon my arrival on Monday at 1 pm, a friend of Barbara’s (Tracy) picked me up at the bus station and gave me a ride back to her house.  After we arrived to her house I changed my clothes and we walked by the beach.  Then we went to another beach to hang out with a few of her friends.  I lucked out again because Tracy only lives four blocks from the beach, and she also had a separate little apartment downstairs for me to sleep in that sometimes they rent out.  I had my own little kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom, and an amazing house keeper that washed my clothes and cooked up some excellent lunches.

Tracy and I went to Pelourinho which is an area in the “old city of Salvador on a Tuesday night, and they had all different types of  live music all around the street.  I guess in the summer time there the streets are always packed with people and live music everywhere.  It was fun to sit back and see everyone dancing and listening to the excellent music.  It is always nice as well to watch the girls work their hips and “Bunda=butt” dancing samba.

On Wednesday, we had lunch when Tracy arrived from school around 1 pm.  The housekeeper cooked up one of my favorite dishes called “Strgonoff” (I think a French dish) which is an amazing tasting sauce on top of chicken or beef along with rice.  After indulging and eating too much food we relaxed for awhile and then hung out at the beach with her sister and caught the sunset.  It was extremely warm but it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen on the trip at Porto da Barra beach.

On Friday we went to Stella Maris beach and hung out at a little beach bar/restaurant that a friend of Tracy and her sister owned right on the beach and I got some information on how much it cost her to start the place there etc.  I guess her friend had lived in Spain for three years, and then when she came back her dad bought her the place on the beach and she said it would sell for about 80,000 reals ($34,632) and the license to sell food and alcohol is 130 reals ($56.27) per month.  I thought Brazil would be expensive place to own a bar on the beach, but I guess it definitely is not in Salvador.  We also had Caranguejo which are like clams or something….and they were excellent!   

On Saturday…my last day in Salvador we went to Flamengo beach and hung out at another beach/restaurant bar called Marguerita Bar that a couple of Tracy’s friends own to get some more bar ideas and some information on possibly starting something.  I ruled out Brazil for starting a bar, but have found out that up in the north it would be quite a reasonable price to get something started in the north.

Salvador is a very nice city with an 85% black population and lots of culture.  It used to be very common in Brazil for everyone to have house keepers, but now it is getting a little more expensive in the southern parts of Brazil.  In Salvador, there is a high black population because many years ago they came over as slaves, and as a result, there are many housekeepers that work at houses for the minimum wage ($200/month for an 8 hour day).  The housekeeper at Tracy’s house cooked us up some nice lunches, cleaned and ironed the clothes, and of course cleaned the house, and she even washed their cars. 

On Sunday, March 22, I said good-bye to Tracy and her family and caught my first flight in over a year back to Curitiba (279 reals=$   ) at 9:20 am to spend some more time with Barbara.  I had stayed up all night so I could sleep on the flight, so when I arrived to the airport I was quite tired while waiting in line.  I waited in line for about an hour, and never heard anyone call out my flight.  Once I was at the front of the line and ready to check in it was 15 minutes before my flight, and I was told I could not board the plane.  I then had to go talk with someone about getting another flight.  After I told the first guy my thoughts on the situation he came back saying he was going to charge me $50 to take the next flight that left at 12:20 pm.  I flipped on the guy and told him it was not my fault.  He came back saying he talked with his manager and that I didn’t need to pay, so I waited in the airport for my flight very tired.  After I checked my bag in I could not find a place to lay down, so I set my watch alarm and laid myself right on the floor of the airport to sleep.  About 20 minutes before my flight was ready to take off I felt a little tap on my shoulder and it was a girl asking me if this was my flight that was boarding.  It was really ironic that she was kind enough to wake me up for my flight, and she happened to be assigned to the seat right next to me on the plane as well.  My watch alarm never went off, and she was a kind angel who saved me from missing another flight.  I eventually made it to Curitiba and Barbara was there to pick me up. 

After being in Curitiba for a few days, and not being able to find a volunteering position teaching kids English, I decided to buy a gym membership for a few weeks.  I started working out for a few hours in the morning and then going back in the evening to do spin (bike) class.

On Friday, March 27, I was invited by Barbara to go to one of her friends graduation parties.  It was a little different than what I expected, and I also did not have any dress clothes while traveling. I had to borrow some dress clothes from Barbara’s dad and one of her brother’s friends.  I went to the graduation with Barbara, her brother, mother, and her father met up with us at the actual party.  I did not realize that we were actually going to the graduation ceremony, but it was only a class with 24 graduates, so it went by quite quickly, and then we all met at the restaurant that the university rents out for the night to have the party.  They had some excellent food there, and also a live band playing.  Later on in the evening while the band was playing and everyone was dancing; they were passing out glow sticks, funny looking glasses, hats etc, for all of us to dress up in.  The party was a lot of fun, and we all had a good time.

On Friday, April 3, Barbara and I planned to go to an Island called Ilha do Mel (Honey Island), but all the buses were full, so we went at 7 am on Saturday morning .  It is an extraordinary place, with no cars, no roads nor power lines to the mainland, and miles of beautiful white sandy beaches.  It was a good thing I brought my head lamp flashlight because it was pitch black in certain areas at night, but also very peaceful! 

To reach Ilha do Mel we took a 40 minute boat ride (23 reals roundtrip =$10) from Pontal do Sul which was a 2 hour bus ride (19 reals =$8.26) from Curitiba.  We ended up camping one night on the island in an area called Brasilia, and then caught the boat back Sunday evening.  The Brasilia side we stayed on and the Encantadas side are supposed to be the best.  Barbara and I walked about an hour to the Encantadas side as well to check it out early Sunday morning, but it did not seem to have as many options for places to stay.  Although, I feel it had some nicer beaches over there.  The island was amazing and extremely peaceful.  We camped outside in this ladies backyard that was quite small, but I guess at times she has over 40 people camping there at a time.  Barbara and I were the only ones camping there on Saturday night, and it was nice little area with two bathrooms and showers outside, and the lady even gave us a mattress for our tent. 

This island was definitely one of my favorite places I have been to in Brazil, and was nice to see the beautiful sunset on Praia da Fora beach and spend some of the night laying out on the beach looking up at the moon and stars with only the sound of the waves crashing into the shoreline.  We could not have had better weather, and there were few clouds in the sky both days we were there.  We also got a little sunburn from the extremely hot sun, but could not have had a better time!

On Wednesday, April 8, Barbara, her brother, and I went down to Florianópolis again because she and her brother had a few days off from school, and returned back to Curitiba on Sunday.  Her parents were actually in Salvador at the time, so we did not get to hang out with them, but her grandma was down visiting from Fortaleza.  So we spent some time with her and also checked out two different beaches that I had never been to before called Campeche and Barra de lagoa.  They both were beautiful beaches.

On Friday, April 17, Barbara and I went down south to visit my couch surfing hosts Eddy and Steph that I had stayed with before.  We spent two nights at their place in Balneario, Camboriu, and then we invited them to go to Florianópolis with us as well.  We all packed into the car and cruised down to stay at Barbara’s parents place until Tuesday because there was a holiday so they all had Monday and Tuesday off.  It was great to meet up with Eddy and Steph again because they are such nice people, and it was great to see their beautiful daughter Sara as well.  

On Monday, April 27, it was a tough day because I had to say good-bye to Barbara after spending 60 excellent days with her.  She gave me a ride to the bus station to catch my bus to Sao Paulo at 7 am (6 hours 55 reals=$24.88; Cometa).  Before I boarded the bus we both shed some tears of sadness.  I think we both felt a special connection, and felt that we had known each other for a long time.  I look forward to seeing what happens when she comes to visit in the end of December and possibly do her masters in the U.S. 

When I arrived Sao Paulo at 1 pm I had a quick bite to eat, and then took a 30 minute airport bus (31.20 reals=$14.11; Passaro Marron) at 2:15 pm.  When I arrived the airport I had a lot of time because my flight to Guatemala City didn’t leave until 9:50 pm.  I had a ten hour flight from Sao Paulo to Atlanta with three seats next to each other all to myself, and was able to lay down and sleep.  We arrived in Atlanta at 6:40 am, and then my flight from Atlanta to Guatemala City left at 9:50 am.  I finally arrived Guatemala City at 11:45 am (3 hour flight with time change) on the 28th where my 45th host, Hiram, was there to pick me up from the airport with his United States T-shirt on so I could recognize him.

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