Saturday, December 30, 2006

Africa: Paradise at last!

In Blantyre, I woke up at 5AM to catch the morning bus to Mzuzu. Apparently there is no more morning bus, and I would have to take another overnight bus. More defeat and frustration. One guy recommended that I take a minibus to Lilongwe, then another minibus to Mzuzu. Minibusses are vans, a little bigger than a normal van, where 30 people squeeze in like sardines. It's truly unbelieveable. A van that should fit 8 people fits 30. They leave all afternoon, but won't leave until completely stuffed full. I was desperate enough to get to Nakhata bay by nightfall so I did it. Lucky I was by a window. The man next to me was a but chubby, so it was a nice cushion. I kept thinking of that early 90s dance song to myself "Hey fat boy!! come stay with me for awhile... hey fat boy, I wanna make you smile!" catchy song. We were sealed together, shoulder to knee. Actually the minibus wasn't bad. Again, I was the only foreigner but I felt fine. I was on a mission. At Lilongwe used the nastiest bathroom, I thought about putting the picture here but decided not to, and got on another minibus. The bus was empty when I got to it so we had to wait a good hour. In that time, dozens of guys tried to sell me everything under the sun through the window. kitchen knives, muffins, firecrackers, cell phone covers, mothballs (!) and drinks. All kinds of RANDOM stuff. It was sweltering outside and my clothes were soaked, but luckily I was in the front so no squeezing. We drove through the Malawian countyside, which is very pretty, lush, almost like Costa rica at times, sometimes reminding me of northern Michigan. Every 60 miles or so we had to go through a police checkpoint for some reason. I finally got to listen to my ipod. I listened to Sean Paul, then Kaskade, which put me in a great mood. I also listened to "boogie on reggae woman" and "do I do" by Stevie Wonder, which will now always remind me of Africa.

At Mzuzu I wondered, do I trust these taxi drivers? Its dark and I really have no choice. I picked the most trustworthy looking one. Isaac took me up the 45 minute ride to Nakhata bay. He was actually playing a tape of coutnry music in the car! Slow, 1970s ballady stuff. where I checked into my very own cozy hut, pictured above, and hit the bar for a much needed beer. I drank with some peace corps girls and some local guys, one of whom had dreadlocks and was dancing around to Michael Jackson's "I'm bad". It was funny, I took a video with my camera. In the dark, the series of huts and backpacker places were lovely, they reminded me of Thailand. I went over to the guesthouse next door, Mayoka Vilage to check in for the remander of the week. It was so much fun - a pool table, friendly people everywhere, dogs sleeping on the floor, fun music playing.. Waves from Lake Malawi crashed below and tropical plants are everywhere. There are hammocks and pillows to lounge on. I was so happy. It was a hard earned journey to get here but all worth it. I slept for 12 hours.

Oh, and Saddam Hussein was hung? And Gerald Ford and James Brown dead? I've missed a lot of news.

well, in honor of James Brown, I feel good! may he r.i.p.

above - my hut, my hut interior (not sure why the pic is small?), women selling fruit through the minibus window

Africa: The 36 hour bus experience - oh yeah

I woke up at the Idube guest house in Melville and taxi'd over the bus station. Simon, my taxi driver, nicely escorted me over to where I was supposed to wait. I had to wait outside, in a line of 100 or so people with enourmous bags of stuff - the same plaid plastic zip bags they use all over Asia. Simon had explained to me that a lot of Zimbabweans come to South Africa to buy goods, and sell it there. I saw boxes of TVs, a refrigerator, huge bags of clothing... all things that people were taking on public transportation.

I looked around for other backpackers. They must not be here yet, I thought. I was a bit early - 8:30AM for my 9AM bus from Joburg all the way to Blantyre, Malawi, a 20 hour bus ride taking me through Zimbabwe and Mozambique along the way. My Dad and coworkers had heard me complain for a week about my last minute freak-out, I had to fed ex my passport to the Moz embassy in D.C. for a last minute visa. The bus company told me that they might not wait for me at the border if I didn't, but only after I called to ask.

I surveyed the people. I couldn't help but notice, I really stand out. I'm the only white person in the whole waiting area of hundreds of people. I did see an old Aussie lady in the bathroom, but that's it. Usually I wouldn't think of it, but being the only foreigner around is an isolating experience, a little bit scary. Even in Asia, there was always another traveller around, or someone who looked like me. I looked in people's faces. Can I trust everyone here? What are they thinking of me? People were reasonably dressed, I thought. There were no bums hanging around. Nobody was hassling me. (except for a teenage boy who kept hissing at me from above the balcony). OK, I thought. I'm not going to make an issue of this until it IS an issue. I wandered over to a couple - Lestor and Juliana. They made small talk to me between sitting on eachother's laps and kissing. I read my book, "no touch monkey", trying to keep the cover out of view to lessen my freakishness to the line of people! 9AM came and went. Oh well, this is Africa. I'll give it another hour. 10AM came and went. I asked someone if the bus was usually this late. One lady said (picture in a miss cleo accent) Oh, don't wooorry darling! This is City to City busses! It will come. It's always late!" The City to City bus company guards didn't know when it would come either. 11AM came, went. Noon, then at 12:30 I can't believe my eyes, the bus is here!

OK, let's get this show on the road, people! I ran over to the door, to ensure getting a seat by the driver. Passports were checked and they started loading all of the smuggled shit in the back of the trailer. Chaos an confusion for another two hours. Shouting, arguing, some people had the balls to put their stuff on the trailer and THEN go inside to buy a ticket. And it was clear that the bus was giong to be full. I sat on the curb in the sun, reading my book, trying to tune it all out. My patience is really wearing thin and I have nobody to comisserate with. Thank god for my funny book. The author, Ayun Halliday, reminded me of myself in some of the stories so it was like I did have some sort of company. I have renamed the City to City bus comany "Shitty to Shitty" in my mind. But there's nobody to share the joke with.

1PM came and went. 2PM, still there is arguing about loading the trailer. 3PM, it looks like people are getting in the bus! At 3:30, 6 AND A HALF HOURS LATE we get on the bus and it starts rolling through the station. We get to a gate and no... It can't be....we are stopping for another 20 minutes. Dear God. Finally. FINALLY we get on the road. I'm a little worried because the bus is making a tremendously loud sound. RRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! A loud, high pitched whine and the sound of metal parts grinding together. If this bus breaks down, I thought... I am going to lose my mind. 30 minutes later. Yes! It breaks down. We pull over at a gas station and wait for a mechanic to come "in 10 minutes!" 30 mintues later a mechanic comes. He works on the bus for awhile and we get back in. Apparently the bus is fixed but it is still making a deafining sound, and I couldn't help but notice that the floorboards under my feet were very warm. I moved my camera equipment, luna bars, and anything heat sensitive off the floor. It's kind of like the van in little miss sunshine. Like we might have to get out and push at some point.

At 4:30 we finally hit the road. I lucked out, I had a seat in front so I could stretch my legs. I still couldn't shake that total isolated foreigner, pasty white girl feeling. I can't ride 20 hours and not talk to anyone. I need someone on my side at border crossings, someone I can ask questions to if I need to. So I did what I always do. Make small talk with people and force them to like me. Next to me was a young guy in dreads named Geffrey and on the aisle was a nice girl named Jefunda. I read my book and the hours turned dark. Hours and hours went by. I couldn't help but notice that the funk on this bus is starting to get to me. But by this time, I stink too so I just embraced it. No a/c on this bus. I'm a little worried about the Zimbabwe border crossing, which we'll pass sometime near midnight. I'm the only non-African on the bus, the only one who will need a visa. I had reserearched this and apparently you can just get a visa at the border. But paranoid me didn't stop worrying. It looked pretty desolate out there.

At about midnight we stopped at the border, along with several other busses to some crowded, cinder block buildings in the dark. I exited south Africa and was so confused in the crowd. I found some people on my bus and stuck to them. We had to get to the Zim border and more confusion. A wave of panic and loneliness hit me like never before. I sat on the curb and just put my head in my hands, trying not to cry. I had just been such a trooper all day, for weeks, all the stress of this trip and this bus ride just overwhelmed me. I thought, why am I here? I could be home going out with my friends, I could be sitting on my couch watching little people, big world, or I could be in the grafton having a black and tan. I could even be at work planning what to have for lunch with my beloved coworkers. I thought about how much I missed my friends and home.

And for the first time since 5th grade camp, I experienced homesickness. Usually I have the kind of wanderlust that says "go anywhere, who cares, you can always go home later! hit the road, girl!" but I felt so beaten down. A woman on the bus came over, sensing that I was sad, and patted me on the back and said "it's going to be OK, what's wrong?" Her name was Charity (pronounced in that choppy, African way Cha-lit-tee) and I was so grateful. She, it turns out, is from Nkhata bay, Malawi, my final destination after all of this. She told me about it and comforted me and I felt so much better. I found some people I recognized and the whole bus went through Zim customs together. It turned out, my visa took only 5 minutes and it was very easy. But I will never forget how isolated and sad I felt at that moment, and how Charity talked to me. Sometimes you'll find that women look out for eachother. It was like the moment in Vietnam when I was so freaked out, couldn't cross the big, busy street of motorbikes (who do not stop - you have to walk into traffic and they swerve around) and yes, and old lady helped me across the street! That's an embarrasing thing to admit but it's true. But I will always remember the kindness in the old woman's face and how scary that was.

I keep having conversations with myself on this bus - whiny Sara and ballsy traveler Sara:

"I wanna go home....waaaaaa! This is hell! Why did I decide to come here? Is this even safe? waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!"

"Shut up dumbass. You wanted to see the REAL Africa, here it is. Stop complaining and just realize how amazing this all is."

"I'm hungry and homesick I all I have is a luna bar...waaaaaaaaa"

Zimbabwe looked like a scrubby desert at night, and in the morning we stopped to go to the bathroom and buy water. We also went through Hirare, the capital. Zimbabwe in general looks like it was having a going out of business sale. Lines for gasoline 30, 40 cars long. The stores were barren like there once was merchandise, and someone had cleaned them out. I changed a few South African rand into some very strange money (the bills say "this check is payable for 1000 dollars to payee) and bought some water and crackers. Zimbabwe is going through an economic crisis. The president has been accused of human rights offenses and a lot of companies have boycotted Zimbabwe. There is a huge black market and no more than three people can congrigate on the street or is it officially a protest and you can be arrested. The difference betwen South Africa and Zimbabwe was shocking. Africa in general is just mind blowing to me.

Through the day we drove, the bus so loud (and floorboards hot) that I couldn't even hear my ipod on the highest volume. I've been really sneaky with the ipod and camera, I don't want anyone to see it. Hence, my pictures of the bus ride aren't that great.

I noticed that more people on the bus were talking to me at the stops (6 border entries/exits all in all) and I realized that we were all in this hellish trip together, and I was just the strange white girl reading a book, with all the dumb questions, kind of like a pet on the bus. We shared snacks and chatted more. I noticed a flirtation growing between Geffrey and Jefunda. It was cute. The scenery got more lush and green - and hilly - and traditionally "African". Lots of women carrying things on their heads, lots of the round mud, beehive huts, children playing, more rural. Finally we reached Malawi and at around 11PM we rolled into Blantyre. I went straight to Doogles hostel from my guidebook, tried to use the internet and failed, drank a beer called "kuche kuche" and went to bed for 4 hours. So by the end of the bus ride, I just felt like everyone else on the bus - just someone trying to get to their destination. The bus ride kind of broke me down for awhile, but left me feeling good. I wished terribly that there had been another backpacker on the bus, but in the end it forced me to talk to people more, the Malawians, and get to know them a little. Had there been someone like me on the bus we would have stuck together and bitched the whole time, gaining nothing in the end. I got through it, it was an accomplishment - After it was all done, I felt good about the whole thing. Africa is just a series of little challenges and rewards. I have to just break it down into little segments. OK, just get to this border crossing, just get to Blantyre, just get to the bus station - if you think of it all at once it overwhelms.

On a side note, my theory on beer that sounds like a womans' body part being skunky holds true - kuche kuche beer tasted only a little worse than Vergina beer we drank in greektown. Can anyone think of any other gross beer in this category?

Anyhow, thanks for reading - if you comment anonymously, please remember to sign your name!

above - the joburg bus station and the south Africa countryside

Kathy - please read - hotmail is down

I'm soooo sorry, I haven't been able to get on the internet in days and hotmail is down - I know you arrive in Joburg today. I am at Mayoka Village now.

When you get to Lilongwe, if you can get to the bus station early enough, say by 2PM - go to the minibusses and get one to Mzuzu. I know the book says to use Shire bus lines but I found minivans/busses to be faster. You have to squeeze in a van with 28 or so other people - try to sit by a window or in the front and you'll be fine. It's definitely an "experience" but you'll be OK. Try to make friends with a woman or an older person in the minibus/van if you can and hopefully she will look out for you. There are always minibusses coming to Mzuzu, all afternoon. You will be one of the only tourists you'll see and it's really gross there but I found it to be safe during the day but hold on to your stuff.

Once you get to Mzuzu there will be taxis andyou can come to Nkhakta bay. Ask for Isaac if you can - he was very honest and played, believe it or not, country music in the taxi. Insist that he drop you off at Mayoka village entrance. It is VERY hard to find on your own if it's dark. At the back of town up a hill there are like 4 or 5 traveller-hut type places. I got you a double room of your own with your own bathroom on January first - I'm in the dorm. I figured you will need your own room after the trip. IF you can get here on the 31st, try to let me know via the blog and I'll get you a room at the butterfly lodge, which is right next door. I'm so sorry I haven't been able to communicate. Be safe and I can't wait till you get here!! It's hard travel, I know. I'm a bus expert by now...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Africa: New Continent & Hello Summer!

At the Madrid airport, I met up again with Selvy who had spent the day sleeping in a hotel. I watched the flight to Tel Aviv board, including 5 guys in black hats and robes with two braids on each side. I was too loopy and wired to worry about openly staring at people. We lined up and I had that excited, new continent feeling. A few Aussie girls in line must have felt the same way, because one of them burst out to her friend "Oh, I am just SO exciyyted!"

The lady at the gate told me my seat had been changed. I was secretly a little panicked, because if I don't get an aisle seat, I can't crack my knee and that makes me feel very paniced and claustrophobic. Either a terrible mistake had been made or Iberia was impressed with my mileage because they put me in first class for the 10 hour flight. I couldn't believe it. I was such an idiot. Really? REAlly!? Oh my gosh! really!? Selvy laughed at me. He pointed back to coach and said "I'll be back there in the projects".

I sat in my extremely large and spacious seat, bursting with happiness. I played with the seat adjustment that lets you recline 10 different ways. I activated the seat massage. Keep in mind that I had been awake for far too long, and this just overwhelmed me that I was actually sitting in first class for an overnight flight. The lights were dim, and smooth jazz christmas music played. I got to choose between different types of cava (spanish champagne). I got to choose between several decent dinners. I had some nice white wine and some bailey's to conk me out. For the first time in my entire life, I might actually fall asleep on an airplane! And you know what, I DID!! And to think that some people get to do this all the time??! (KATHY) It was unbelieveable. Coach is fine and dandy if you are flying a few hours, but those 10 hour (or 13 hour) overnight flights are so bad.

Time spent in coach:

2003 - 43 hours (Greece and Peru)
2004 - 52 hours (Costa Rica and SE Asia)
2005 - 20 hours (Brazil)

so in case you can't tell - I was happy, really happy.

Sitting next to me was 50-something Dan, who did not share my dorky enthusiasm for first class. I think he flys it a lot. Dan, from London by way of California, was flying to Africa to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and go to the Serengetti. We did the travel talk again - where have you gone, what do you do... He had also been to Cusco, Peru and got so altitude sick he thought something was seriously wrong. So he was now on altitude pills and we talked about that, and about how English people like to play cricket, and how the game goes on for days, and how cricket players have to stop for tea... He was another stellar seat-mate. I like to think that fights to Africa are pre-screened for interesting people. I slept and the flight seemed to take only a few hours.

Humidity hit me at the Joburg airport. Humidity, the smell of b.o. combined with Oklahoma sweetgrass. South Africa really did have sort of an Oklahoma smell. I always really notice the smell of a new place. The Joburg airport was like a cross section of the world - people in every color, from Muslims to white backpackers, to people with features I couldn't place. It was calm but buzzing. I exited and looked for a sign with my name since my guesthouse was picking me up. A man was holding a sign "Sahar Shiehrmer" and I thought, that's my guy! I love the spelling of my name. You can just call me Sahar from now on. Tony (pictured above) was very nice and even took me to downtown Joburg right away to sort out my bus ticket to Malawi. He didn't have to do that, it was so far out of his way. He pointed out interesting sights along the way and tried to teach me some words in Zulu and Africaans, which exited my brain immediately. I asked him about where he was from, Soweto, and his family. He even escorted me into the downtown Joburg bus station so that I'd be safe and not get confused. When he dropped me off at the guesthouse, I gave him a big fat tip. He seemed surprised and happy.

I took a much needed shower and laid down in my nice room with a private sitting area with skylight at the 33 on first guesthouse. Thunder crackled in the distance and I woke up to the most vicious thunderstorm I had seen in years, with sheets of rain pounding so hard against the glass I thought it might break. I lounged in my sitting area, reading a new book (no touch Monkey!) and waited for the storm to pass. I wandered into town to one of the only open places, the cat's pyjamas, where I had two black label beers and some delicious spicy couscous (above). I was too tired to be social with anyone and just enjoyed another thunderstorm passing next to me on the balcony. It's summer here, so the air is humid and warm, everything is green. I went back to bed and fell asleep to "footballers wives" and enjoyed South African commercials. There is one I really like, for something called WTG, that has the Mary J Blige remix in it I like "baby put your hands up!! hands ups! dum dum dum!" It gets me fired up. They play that song on my internet dance music station I listen to at work.

I wote up in the middle of the night in a complete panic about my bus trip on the 27th. Do I have my visas all squared away, Is it going to be OK? what am I doing taking a 20 hour bus (well, it's shorter that 30, anyway) from a shady, extremely smelly bus station where I clearly do not resemble anyone there? What if the Zimbabwe border crossing does not go OK? It may have been the malaria pills that made me paranoid (and gave me a wierd dry mouth) or just typical travel panic but I managed to go back to sleep and had some really odd dreams. At least I am better off than I was last year. Nobody lost my backpack. My wierd sore throat went away. Bring it on, translux bus company, bring it on Malawi.

You will hopefully hear from me next from Malawi in a few days. I called the bus company again to calm my fears about the Zimbabwe crossing, and today I'm going to try to squeeze as much fun out of Melville as I can on a public holiday. I saw an indian restaurant and a few promising-looking places. In fact I might wander around, Yanni-style...

wish me luck on that bus, I will need it.

Africa: Hola, Madrid!

Finally, the day had come. I rushed off to OHare and started the "hurry up and wait" game. My flight to Madrid filled the waiting area with Spaniards and their families going home for the holidays. I love watching the spaniards. I always say that they are some of the suavest, most attractive people. I enjoyed being in what was clearly the coolest crowd at a gate in the H wing of terminal three. Two other americans were waiting for the flight, a guido-looking New York guy and his girlfriend. While the girlfriend walked around, guido talked to his buddy on the phone:

"yeah, yeah man. me and Lisa last night - wooeee......yeah haha. I'm just tryin to keep up wit you! She's ovulatin'......yeah, man, I'm tryin'. "

To pass the time, I started to read one of my six books, "Indecent", about the life of a call girl/peep show worker. The book was a lot racier than I thought, with the "P" word used in profusion, the p-word referring to both men and women. I looked around to see if anyone might notice or be offended that I was reading such smutty words. They were all spanish and didn't seem to read over my shoulder, so I just kept on reading.

On the flight, I had a great seat-mate, Selvy from D.C. He was on both my Madrid flight, had the same 15 hour layover, and the same flight to South Africa. He used to be a travel agent and now teaches drama to kids. Selvy had made many trips to Africa over the years, and was so enthusiastic about it. We talked about how SA has changed since 1993, when one of his friends was arrested for a year, for distributing pro-mandela flyers. He was so happy when he talked about Africa, and showed me photos of his capetown friends on his laptop, and a little girl he wanted to adopt. I learned all about islands where slaves had passed through, and about how SA reacted during the Mandela election, and how his 1970s college friends were still close because they all used to protest for black rights. It was so interesting to hear his stories. He had also travelled to Asia and Saudi Arabia, so we talked about places we had each travelled and how important it was to each of us. He told me that I had convinced him to go to Vietnam.

I felt a little embarrased to take out the call-girl book around Selvy, so I read the entire book, the Bell Jar, instead. The story of Sylvia Plath's mental breakdown, start to finish. (although I do recommend "Indecent" to everyone I know! go out and buy it - I promise you'll learn some new things)

Iberia airlines was taking their own sweet time serving us and removing our trays. I think our trays sat on our seats for over an hour, then we endured some interesting turbulence. It was such a looooong, uncomfortable flight.

I was tired but I knew I had to power through, put my pack in storage and wander around Madrid again. I was there in 2000 so I knew my way around. Since it was Christmas eve, a lot of the stores were closed so I spent my day wandering around, coffee shop to restaurant, sampling all my favorite tapas and shivering in the cold. To my surprise, the Prado museum was open so I once again looked at all the Goyas, Rubens, and de Rivera. I had that old slap-happy jetlagged feeling, jacked up on way too many cafe con leches. My favorite painting was one of a family of frogs, but painted in that dark, ominous, ancient spanish catholic style. It made me laugh. The painting of a man breast-feeding a baby also made me laugh.

I started to feel like the Michigan Avenue Yanni of Madrid - aimlessly wandering, pretending I was going somewhere in particular, peeing in public restaurants, not quite dressed like everyone else....Finally, I caved and went to Starbucks. They may not be very european but they have comfortable chairs where I could finish reading my call girl book, undisturbed. I wandered some more in the dark, and found a cute little restaurant to sit at the bar for some tortilla espanola. It was nice to sit in the warm yellow glow, listening to the spaniards chit-chat. It was time to stop pounding the pavement, Yanni-style. None of them were shouting on their cell phones, nobody was punching away in a blackberry, just pure holiday cheer and the sounds of an espresso machine and groups of friends talking. I sat in there for two hours, just soaking up the atmosphere and reading. The bartender handed me a beer and said "feliz navidad! where are you from?"

Finally it was time to get back on the metro and go to the airport. I was a little sad and nostalgic to leave Madrid. It was kind of like hanging out with an old friend. By this time, the Spaniards were all out in groups, celebrating Christmas eve in the festive lights. A lot of young people were wearing brightly colored wigs, for reasons unknown. I got back on the train, ready for journey part #2 to South Africa.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Friday, February 24, 2006

archive from Jan 05 SE ASIA: Finding a little bit of West Virginia in Ko Chang

Archives from my Dec 2004/Jan 2005 Asia trip - this was originally sent January 2 2005.

Bangkok- Chiang Mai - Hanoi - Hoi An - Ko Chang - Luang Prabang - Vientiene - Bangkok. I didn't have a blog then, these are my mass e-mails.

another long one, sorry. I can't open my e-mails but it looks like i can send them out. Maybe when I get to Laos I can answer whatever e-mails you guys have sent me.

I'm back in Bangkok for the night. From what I've seen, I really do like it. It has a sleazy, fun feel to it. I'm staying off Khao San Road, which isn't the "real" Thailand, it's a big street where all the travellers go. So many things competing for your attention. cheap bootleg CDs and videos, pad thai and bug vendors, all kinds of shops, music blaring from everywhere.. I'm happy to hear that "you promise me" by In Grid is very big here. That song follows me everywhere. I even got to see the video, the singer bounds and gags a guy and takes him off in a speedboat to dump him in the ocean, it's funny. What an awesome song. Also lots of the old beach vacation classic, Beyonce's "crazy in love" (uh oh, uh oh, a-ohh-ooh!) and some thai song by some young Thai Briney Spears called "dhoom, dhoom mataley". You can hear those three songs at any moment. I am staying in the same guest house as before, the sawasadee. My room overlooks the huge bar/restaurant with pillows to lay on and they play great loungey music. The rooms are pretty grungy but not as bad as expected. My room has baby cockroaches running around but I'm choosing to ignore that. Last time I sat down for dinner outside and watched the parade of people outside. Two shaved bald British guys, maybe 37-38, from Kent, England sat down at my table, Dave and Chris. We had a good time talking and drinking beer. At one point we almost jumped in a cab to see a ping pong show in the red light district but it was too late. I looked up and it was 2:30 AM. The guesthouse lounge was still hopping. I think I was the first person to go to bed and it felt so early. I never have to even leave the guesthouse, there is so much entertainment there. I love the vibe in Bangkok.

I went to the island of Ko Chang on New Years eve day. I already knew where I wanted to stay. There is a "legendary" beach there called Lonely Beach. I had done a lot of research months before I left and I kept coming across great reviews of it, and gathered that it was sort of a cultish place where time stands still with a beautiful beach. Supposedly there was a huge, huge wooden complex over the water called the treehouse resort. I asked about it on some message boards and I kept hearing that it has burned down. That's what people say to keep you from going there. Let's go guide called it "the stuff of backpacker legends" with pillows, black lights and hammocks all over and rustic huts to rent. I wanted to see if the reviews and rumors were true. I caught the standard taxi there (riding in the back of a pickup truck) and hiked down a rocky trail. Holy sh*t, they weren't kidding. This was one of the craziest places I've ever seen. huts all over the place and hippies frolicking everywhere. Literally frolicking with their clothes and hair flowing. (Three of the six people in the "taxi" going to this beach had also been to Montezuma, Costa Rica and we all loved it. I think there are some similarities between Lonely beach and Montezuma.) Every place - full, full, full. full, full, full, full. A few places were setting up little tents for people to sleep in. I got the last tent! I was actually pretty excited. Camping in a tent in this crazy place on New Years eve. They have outdoor showers surrounded by wood and bushes and a communal water tap. That sounded really fun. You know how I love camping. I started to put my stuff in the tent and the thai woman came over and grabbed my arm. I didn't understand for a few minutes - then it dawned on me. Three girls had come right after me. They were willing to pay 3X what I was paying to stay in my tent, and she would rather have that. I was kicked out of the last tent on lonely beach. I walked away, shaking my head and saying

oh no SHE Diiii-IIIIIINT!

I can't believe she did that to me. I was SETTLING for the tent, and I was kicked out. So I hopped in the back of another pickup truck and went back to the main town, white sand beach. Another couple was searching for hotels at the same places - a man in sarong and his haggard, 40-something girlfriend in cornrows. they kept going into the nicest hotels and saying "we are looking for basic hut accomodation". I kept saying "I'll take anything, I'll pay anything".

I finally found a room in a pretty nice hotel. I had my own porch and view of the ocean. The hotel had a frosty feel to it after some of the places I've been staying. When I looked in the room and saw some signs in German, I knew why. This was a hotel for older, and seemingly unfriendly Germans. Still relieved to have a room, I walked down the hill to see the free New Year's eve lady boy show with all the Germans. The lady boys were cute but they have nothing on the talent at the Kit Kat in Chicago. I know good drag when I see it and this was not it. They were kind of going through the motions of the standard drag songs like "its raining men" and "oops I did it again". Exhausted, I laid down to take a nap and woke up in the middle of the night. I missed New years eve completely. I meant to go out and fond something fun to do but I missed it. Oh well! A drag show with some geriatric Germans. That was my New Year's.

The next morning I got up early and feeling better than I have on New Years day since I was 11 years old, changed to the hotel next door and went back to lonely beach. I went to the treehouse resort and it is EVERYTHING they say. It's not a "resort" resort, like we know it. Let's call it what it is, a commune. Massive, over the water, pillows everywhere, signs like "book borrow center - do not steal or you will have bad karma forever!!" and all sorts of vegetarian stuff. I have never seen more lethargic, hungover people in my life. Everyone was laying on the floor or in hammocks, sleeping or moaning. I loved the reggae they were playing. It was the slowest reggae ever, hillarious. Instead of "dum dum dink! dum dum dink!" and Bob Marley singing about freedom, it was like 4 seconds of bass followed by a "dink!" no words, just beats. I should get a CD like that for when I'm hungover.

I waited for my mango shake and laid down in a hammock myself and tried to act like I was a hungover hippie. The hammock smelled exactly like you would expect it to - moldy canvas that some guy slept in for 4 days straight. I listened to some conversations around me. From what I gather, a lot of people slept in the bar on the pillows and there was some insane party, but the details were fuzzy for everyone.

I took my shake (in a plastic baggie with a straw) down some paths to the beach. I walked past the "Tibetan tae bo healing center" and past some wreaths of flowers around a small, non-descript rock with some photocopied pictures of some guy with long braids and a message that made no sense. "this is the philosopher's stone. the earth and mind are one. The philosopher's stone carries the energy of consiousness". Something like that. I read it three times and had no idea what they were talking about. I wonder what my dad, the retired community college philosophy instructor, would think about the philosopher's stone. I think he would get a good laugh out of it. Lonely Beach? 1967 called and it wants it's hippie commune back. You know, I would totally stay there if they had room for me. It looks fun.

The beach was beautiful, clean and soft white sand. The water was warm like bathwater. I read my book and tried to picture spending my remaining time there but something was bothering me. If I had just arrived in Ko Chang two weeks ago, I would be fine but I kept missing Vietnam. I was actually kind of bored, like "I've had this vacation before". I have. I've had it in Costa Rica and Greece and I'll have it again, the do nothing on the beach vacation. I love the beach vacation but for some reason I felt like I had to do something else. I'm sure it would be pleasant but I had an urge to actually see something new. I wanted what I had in 'Nam. And the other people in Ko Chang were annoying me for no real reason. I wasn't loving the "vibe". There were too many drunken tourists and my favorite, the big fat men who can't get laid in their own country so they come over and find a teeny little thai girlfriend. They are EVERYWHERE. I was sad to leave the beach, and I can't believe I left, but I decided to leave the next day and go to Cambodia or Laos. I'll go back to the beach another time. That's the great thing about travelling alone on the sprur of the moment with no plans. If I want to go to Laos tomorrow, then I can do it without screwing anyone else up.

Last night I found a cool bar that plays movies and has live music everynight. Now, usually you just take what you can get with the live music. For example, In Chaing Mai I saw some guys in a bar playing an eagles song. They didn't know the words, they were just mouthing the sounds. "you cannnn hiide you ryin' eyes".. it was funny. But this band was fantastic. They guy, a thai man with round John Denver glasses who sounded EXACTLY like Eric Clapton. Really! They were a little thai blues band. they must have been mouthing the syllables too because the thai John Denver could hardly speak english. But he took a liking to me, he kept smiling and winking. I know good blues when I hear it and this WAS. He played a rousing, knee-slapping (I knew you'd like that description) rendition of Lay down Sally and some Allman brothers. It was wierd to hear that music in Thailand. I liked that bar a lot. Dark, candles, pool table and a big confederate flag on the wall. It reminds me of a bar in West Virginia we always went to on rafting trips. I met David from Holland and his friends. They left and an Australian guy named Tim joined me for awhile. (pronounced Teeem in that accent) He told me all about Laos and we played pool for a while and I went home. It was one of the best nights out I've had so far. It really made up for missing New Year's. And my new hotel was a hut with a view of the beach - thought with running water and a bathroom. It reminded me of a little Appalacian mountain hut, kind of slummy and wooden. I loved it! It was so cozy. I think it might be one of the best places I've ever stayed. Little rickety wooden huts are so under-rated. I could hear the ocean all night.

Today I took a bus to Bangkok and the bus was great - they handed out wierd snacks and played music videos. My two favorites were one of a guy wearing a panda bear costume and anther that featured people shooting blow darts at monkeys. Yes, these were pop music videos. I had to stifle my laughter because I was the only non-thai person on the whole bus.

I leave for Luang Prabang, Laos in the morning if all goes well getting the visa. This is actually a good idea because the islands are extra crowded. Everyone who WAS going to go to the damaged islands (and there were a lot of them) are now going to the others, making them chaotic and very crowded. There is a feel of chaos and sadness in the air. The timing probably wasn't right for me to see the islands. That's not why I left, but it was a small factor. I met a nice Swedish family today who were a bit down about the tragedy. A friend of the family lost their little 8 year old daughter the other day. The tsunami hit an island that a lot of swedish people go to and the Swedes lost more tourists than any other country. They told me that they have been very depressed about their friends. It's all very sad. I don't know much about Luang Prabang except that there are a lot of monks, temples and outdoor activities, among them white water rafting. I just had my 6th massage of the trip, as if I really need one. It's getting to be a nightly occurance.

archive from Dec 04 SE ASIA: - I squeezed the sweaty Vietnamese man tight

This was originally sent December 30, 2004 from Bangkok


get your mind out of the gutter. I hired a motorbike! I haven't really been able to use the internet for days, Hoi An didn'treally have any good internet connections. Actually, the electricity goes out once in awhile too. But don't get me wrong, Hoi An was a classy little town. Trendy little lounges with candles and real art for sale. It did have a really rustic vietnamese part to it, though. The first night I stayed in my usual slum-style hotel. After I arrived I explored the town and walked across the river to some fancy bungalows for $40 a night. TV, swimming pool, my own back deck facing theriver... I decided to splurge.

The best restaurant ever

The first night I wandered the town, then ate at a tiny restaurant Lonely Planet recommended (cafe des amis). A place where there is no menu, just what the chef Mr Kim feels like making that day. You have a choice between vegetarian and seafood. Nice little rickety tables by the river and street. Let me tell you, Mr Kim is a genious. Lots of fresh stuff, lemongrass, ginger, vegetables right from the market a block away. Mr Kim even walks around and makes sure you like it and are dipping things in the right sauces. He takes your chopstick out of your hand and makes sure you do it right. A pushy host, I can appreciate that. With 2 glasses of wine it came to 6 dollars. The food in 'Nam was soooo good. In Hoi An there was a woman selling deep fried, breaded pineapple slices. Those were so good. I'm going to try to make them at home. Later wandered into a bar because they were playing one of my favorite new CDs really loud, Thievery corporation. I wrote in my journal and met a swiss guy also travelling solo named Jurg. We drank some beer, swapped stories and agreed to play pool the next night.

Next day went to the beach 5 km away - I rented a rickety bike that was really uncomfortable, my legs are too long for their bikes. The beach,though - it was awesome. Clean, tropical, virtually empty. Women with black/red teeth (from chewing betel nut) walk around in those conical rice-picking hats and sell tropical fruit. I had a mango and the woman noticed my 15-20 scabby mosquito bites. She sold me some brown liquid to put on them for like 50 cents. It really did stop the itching! Later, had a 2 hour cooking class and got to make some vietnamese food like spring rolls, stuffed fish and squid. I hung out with Hillary andPauline from Scotland. Later I met Jurg for pool and I actually beat him once. I was tired so I called it a night and walked back across town (thank god I had a flashlight because there are no street lights! very safe though and not far to walk.) and passed the "Peace Bar" near my hotel. I talked to some more swiss people and had a beer with them.I talked to this one guy, really cute, for awhile. He was on a tour andwasn't too thrilled about it. We compared 'Nam stories. I asked if his life at home was one big Ricola commerical. He was with an old guy from his tour and the bar was closing so we went our separate ways.

Next day, dark and cloudy but I wanted to go to the beach again anyway. I figured I could just read in a hammock in the palm tree grove, which I did. I thought about the bike again and how much it sucked so I hired amotorbike driver. It was scary but enjoyable. You have nothing to hang on to but him and no helmet. He was a bit sweaty. We got really"close" on the ride. It was funny, He kept saying "it ok! it ok"because I kept sqealing and grimacing. We passed all the tourists suffering on the bicycles. To every one I shouted "suckaaa!"

I got back and ran into the hot, smiley swiss guy again, I never did get his name. He said he was sorry he couldn't stay another day. He told me that he went across the river to the poor part of town for a look and that it was interesting. I decided to do the same. The streets were dirt and I walked around the houses with open doors and chickens running around. You can see the trendy area from across theriver, it's like night and day. I walked past an open shelter area withabout 5 young guys watching music videos. They waved me in. I ended uphaving coffee with them. Win, who called me over, is 23 and his friendnext to him was wearing a ski cap. I asked him why, it's not cold! He lifted it up to show me his cut-up head from a motorbike accident.yikes! I talked to them for awhile, then wandered down the street some more. A woman who looked about 40, named Phouc, started talking to me. She invited me into her house. I was like, OK, why not. She lived in one room with her two kids. They had a cooking area outside and a bathroom. She thought I was 22. Turns out we are the same age, 34. It was very interesting to talk to her. I don't think many tourists ever wander over there. I'm glad I did. It was a great experience. I don't thinkI will forget about Phoc and Win for a long time.

Vietnam itself was a great experience. I can't believe more people don't go there. It is easier to travel through than Greece. The food is to die for and the people are NICE and honest. I had many people back home make a face and ask me if it was really safe to go there alone and the answer is an absolute YES. I am so glad I took a chance and went there for a week. Traffic in Hanoi made me insane and the country itself was like an assault on the senses at first but Hanoi itself wasn't so bad. In the nice hotel I get BBC news and I finally got to see the extent ofthe damage from the tsunami. I was absolutely shocked. Wow! And I was surprised that people were worried about me, from all the e-mails. I was just sitting around eating mangoes in Vietnam having a good old time and all this was going on. My friend Eva from the trek was still in Chiang Mai and said that they could feel the earthquake up there. I flew to Bangkok today to decide where to go next, because Bangkok is kind of a crossroads and you can get a ticket to anywhere. I didn'twant to give up on my dream of hammock on the beach for a week so I decided at the travel office (after kicking away a dead cockroach on thefloor) to go to Ko Chang tomorrow. It is a thai island but if you lookon the map, it is waay far away from the tsunami area, just off Cambodia. There is a beach there called "Lonely beach" that is rumored to be a laid-back backpacker place with lounges with pillows. That's all I really know about it, but that's where i'm going to try to go. I hope I get a place to stay because it is new years eve, afterall. Tonight I'm staying on Khao san road in Bangkok where all the western travellers go. My hotel, the Sawasdee guest house, is playing loud music constantly and there are sunburned people walking around with dreadlocks drinking beer. So this will be my one night in Bangkok, we'll see how it goes. I had the song in my head today. It's a good one.

same same but DEEFRENT!

One thing about Thailand and Nam that I have been pondering since I got here - I keep hearing the phrase "same, same.... but different!" you see it on restaurant signs and people keep saying it to me randomly when they try to sell me things. I didn't really notice until I woke up in the middle of the night thinking "same, same.... but different!" It keeps popping in my head. I walk down the street muttering "same, same... but deefrent!" (you have to do it in a thai accent) for no reason. There is ever a "same same but different guesthouse" I heard of somewhere. It's on food stall signs. It's like my own version of what is the sound of one hand clapping or what is the sound of a tree when it falls and no one hears. same, same... but different! What the heck does that mean?!?! same as what?! so today on the street I saw a shirt in Bangkok that said "same same" on the front and you turn it over and it says "but different". Is this some colossal joke that I just don't get? Am I going to have to buy that shirt?

Happy New Year! I hope 2005 is same, same... but different!

archive from Dec 04 SE ASIA: When massages go wrong

This is from December 27, 2004, from my SE Asia trip


"they are a quicker people" the old Austalian man told me when we waited at baggage claim and we were laughing about how the Vietnamese all unclicked their seatbelts and stood up before the plane stopped moving, when it was still braking really hard. It was like the plane was on fire and they all had to race off. He compared the thai to the vietnamese. The thai people move slower and I think he's right.

The taxi ride into town was interesting. Instead of palm trees there were boxy commie looking buildings, grey sky and more motorbikes than I have ever seen. NO traffic rules, no stop lights. Everyone keeps going in a continuous flow and people beep their horns constantly in a way that says "I'm here, don't hit me". I went right to the corner that I found in Lonely Planet that had a lot of cheap hotels. As soon as I got out, I started to panic because I didn't know how I was ever going to cross the street. Motorbikes came at me in every direction and exhaust fumes were really stinky. Everyone seems calm and smiley but Hanoi really got on my nerves at first. It makes me really jumpy and panicky. I found a little hotel in an alley that had little old people with black teeth making soup and grilling meat inches from the curb. They all sit on little chairs just a few inches from the ground. My hotel was nothing special - for $8 a night it wasn't horrible. Every place I've stayed had a hose attached to the wall for a shower, no stall, just a drain on the bathroom floor so the floor is ALWAYS wet. I didn't mind in Chiang Mai because the place was so homey and fun. But this lobby had no charm. Charming lobby and I can overlook a lack of shower stall. My room had big spots of dirt on the wall and I tried to imagine how they got there. I decided that a dirty guy had slapped his feet on the wall, perhaps he had a prostitute over. I did have a cute little french balcony though. And the alley I was in had great little hole in the wall restaurants. Literally, holes in the wall where they all squat by the street and eat noodles. I wandered around and figured the best way to cross the street was to wait until some Vietnamese people had to cross, then cross with them and look down. If you look up, you see no less than 10 motorbikes coming at you. They swerve just in time. It's crazy. You have to un-learn everything you learned about crossing the street. They have a lot of great little clothing/art shops in Hanoi too, it's nice and not slummy for the most part. I had dinner, then walked past a massage place and said why not?

Now, I've become quite a massage conniseur. I get them at work, in Chicago and I had a few in Thailand that were fantastic. In thailand they were $5 an hour. $5!! You may have a dog sleeping in the corner, or a lizard on the wall and it's a little grungy but that's part ofthe fun. Both times in Thailand they give you a clean cotton outfit to wear and they were very businesslike and knew exactly what they were doing. I walked in to this place and asked for the hour massage. The place had a sleazy, colored florescent feel to it and I could hear some guy grunting in another room but I figured it was all good. I went into a little room that had a window looking into the lobby. No outfit to change into. huh. OK, so I left my underwear on and got under the sheet. An 80 pound, maybe 20 year old Vietnamese girl came in and poured baby oil on me. That's not what normally happens! She looked at me like "I know you made mistake by coming in here, so I will try to give you a half-assed massage even though you not normal client". I could see guys coming in the lobby, all guys,and something just wasn't..right... I kid you not, I think people get things other than massages in there. It was just so wierd. The Vietnamese lady tried to pull off my underwear and I said "oh! no! I leave it on!" haha. So I got a half-assed massage by a vietnamese lady who is used to giving "other" massages. This was Christmas eve so in the background they played loud Christmas songs sung by Asians with bad synthesizer in the background."Iiiiiiiiim deeming of a whiiii Chrit-mit!".... that would be a medley with"jingle bell! jingle bell! Jingle all da way!" with a cheesy synthesizer beat in the background. It was like when I used to play my Grandma's organ and press the "bossa nova" button.I left the massage oily and a little more stressed out than when I walked in. I used the bathroom and set my bag on some tile by the sink. I picked it up and saw that it was wet and smelled it. Oh yes! I had just put it in the urinal. Luckily it was a disposable bag but it had some important papers in it.

Later I went into an irish bar for some christmas eve fun and talked to some irish guys for awhile and hung out with them. At midnight everyone toasted to Christmas. Christmas is a big party inVietnam and Thailand, .like St Patricks day. Just a normal day but an excuse to drink. I seem to hang out with a lot of irish people on this trip.

I booked my 2 day trip to Halong bay and left early the next morning on a bus with about 10 other people. Aussies, germans, some italians. Our guide was "Tinh", a cute tiny little Vietnamese guy. He gave us a speech on the bus, welcoming us to Vietnam, telling us about the boat and the trip.

"you will haf many fun and comforts on da boat fo you. At night we have Carole King on da boat"

"Carole King?" I asked

"yes! Carole King."

"Carole the 1970s singer? huh?"

"I think he means "karaeoking" the Australian guy suggested.


We boarded a big boat with sleeping cabins and a nice louge. Cheng, a Taiawnese/Austalian girl was my cabin-mate. To make a long story short, we all ate a lot, compared travel stories, drank beer, kayaked and napped on the roof. typical excursion. At night for Carole King, Tinh sang some off-key Asian songs and the rest of us found songs and sang. Actually, I took a nap and missed most of it. There were bad songs - Richard Marx, some oldies and that stupid titanic Celine Dion song. Everyone else sang and drank but I went to bed early and slept more than I have slept in a month. I was in a rare antisocial mood and enjoyed sleeping very much -the boat rocked and the bed was really comfortable. Of course they had "Last Christmas" by George Michael. That is Vietnam's favorite Christmas song. I heard it at least 7 times in 2 days. On the plane, on the street,on the boat. I could hear my boat-mates singing it and jumping up and down upstairs.On the way home we made a pop and food stop at the "Handicapped children''s factory" where little girls sit in rows stitching cloth and we stood around buying snacks. There was a sign on the wall saying that all profits go to familes affected by agent orange.

I decided to leave Hanoi. I didn''t even see the most famous things there- Ho Chi Minh's body under glass, the Hanoi hilton and the anti-american film. I just wanted to leave town and go somewhere more chilled out. I will probably regret it later but dammit, I''m on vacation and I don''t need to run around and see everything. I know the history already and I''d rather do things like drink coffee (vietnamese coffee is so good! espresso with tons of sweet syrup in it) and take cooking classes and drink beer and be lazy. Oh well.

Now I am in Hoi An, a beautiful little tropical french colonial town with alot of art galleries and cool stuff to buy. I''m moving south so it's finally hot. Tomorrow night I take another cooking class and today I am just going to sit at a cafe and read a book about the famous photo of the burned running girl from the war.Well, my dad informed me that a tsunami has hit the thai islands and that's where I go next. I hope it's done by the 30th because that's where I wanted to go! I have not read a paper, or seen any news since the 16th so I have no idea what''s going on. I guess I need to check on that. I must say the Vietnamese are super nice though. They take no for an answer the first time and don't hassle you about buying things. They almost run you over with their motorbikes, but they are very polite about almost killing you. There have been a few occasions when they could have over-charged me or taken advantage of my confusion but they haven''t. I did have a guy say to me "america!" (rat-tat-tat-insert mock machine gun gesture here) But he was just joking around. Another funny thing - I''ve been catching myself talking in broken english. "how.. late.. you.. open?" I come back in ten meenute!" "i buyteeket?"

hope you had a Mehlly Chrit-mat!

archive from Dec 04 SE ASIA - Cockadoodledoo!!

This is from December 22, 2004 - My SE Asia trip

I just got back from our 3 day, 2 night trek to the hillside villages. It was great! There were 8 of us. I liked everybody a lot, we had a great mix of people:

Eva, 66 year old lady from Ireland. She had great stories and has done some really ballsy things in her life. A wierd fact - she is a good friend of Frank Mc Court, the guy who wrote Angelas ashes. She had some good scoop about him - her sister dated him and he wrote about her in "Tis", his other book. I knew exactly who she was! I could ask her anything about all the characters in the books - crazy. I loved Angelas ashes. She travels solo extensively.

Jacob - older guy from Norway who really likes fish and was stung by a scorpion while we were sitting by the fire the second night. He was quiet but had a good sense of humor.

Oscar - 77 year old guy from Belgium but has lived everywhere. He is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Crazy, crazy stoies. In addition to that, he kept pretending to hit on Eva and some of the older hilltribe women. Like when we saw an old woman at the side of the road when we were riding elephants he would say 'hey sweetheart! you want a date? you got black teeth?" He got married in Vegas a few years ago and they want to go back to Vegas now to get a divorce, then take a road trip.

Alan and Mike - guys from Australia who had funny stories about snakes and animals, toilets, we had hillarious conversations. They teased me about being such a wimp. Yes, I was the biggest wimp on the trip. These people were hard-core.

Slevin and Dimiti - cute young couple from France - they didn't speak english very well - I wish I knew more french. Three of us shared an elephant on the elephant ride.

Our guide was Noom, a thai guy with a fu man chu facial hair thing.

And me, who was called "yuppie" and "city person" and "wimp"..haha. I didn't have a little bag for my camera so I used my coach purse. Oscar said "you going to the opera?"

We had to get up really, really early so I did what any reasonable person should do - play pool until 2AM at the corner bar with an English guy and an Irish guy so that I would be really tired for the next day. (One of them cheats at pool really bad and I told them that was NOT how I was taught at home by my friends Mike and Turck!)

So we left Monday morning - we all had to pile in the back of a truck and drove for 2-3 hours out to the Burmese/Thai border in the middle of nowhere, where there were checkpoints with military guys. Oscar and another thai guy threw up off the back of the truck because we were so carsick. We hiked to the first village - it was so cute, wooden houses on stilts and farm animals running everywhere. We all slept together in a big treehouse under mosquito nets. It was the massive treehouse you dream of as a kid - I loved it. Not comfortable, but fun. We all passed out as soon as we got there and I joked that I was so tired that I would pay someone to bring me a bedpan because I was too tired to go to the bathroom. The bathroom was in a little wooden shack, I have a picture of it, the toilet of your worst nightmare. I won't even tell you about it now, it will take too long.

The village people cooked mild thai food for dinner, it was very good and we all ate at a big communal table. We had interesting conversations. These people like to talk about toilets as much as I do! I was the most boring person there. Everybody had some story like "when I was at Everst base camp..." or "when I drove from Alaska to Argentina, I..." "when I was at elephant camp and learned how to slide down an elephants trunk..." Mike the Aussie told us about how he was on some trek where there were crabs in the toilet. Then they were served crab for dinner. Funny stuff. After dinner, the village children ran to our table and sold us handicrafts like hats and bags, woven stuff. It was all like 50 cents or a dollar. I liked my hat so much that I wore it for 3 days and it's in every picture. It's going to be hard not to wear it in Chicago. The village people observed us and we watched them. It was kind of strange. None of them knew a word of english, none, so we talked about them and we could tell that they were doing the same. This particular tribe was from Burma.

The next morning we woke up to sounds of the farm. It was SO loud.

the chickens and roosters would beat their wings FLAP FLAP FLAP

they were all a couple of feet from the treehouse.

It started before dawn and went on for about 4 hours. It was insane. The loudest morning ever. EVER. Waking up at a cubs game would be quieter. It was awful.

Next day we hiked more then rafted down a river on bamboo rafts. I got soaked. Good scenery. Kind of like West Virginia, only jungle-y. It was a blast. Everyone stood on the rafts and some people paddled with long bamboo sticks.

Next night, new tribal village. This tribe was from China. They had Chinese features and colorful clothes. They were way more outgoing than the other one. Lots of them had black teeth from chewing betel nuts. One older tribe woman had a thing for Oscar and we teased him non-stop about it. Again, none of them spoke english. There was one mosquito net short that night so Oscar had to share one with Eva. They joked about how they were going to get busy under it. I told them what happens under the mosquito net stays in the mosquito net and not to worry. That night, phenomenal thai food for dinner. I had 3 bowls of red curry soup. YUM. They sold us more handicrafts and we sat on logs by the fire where Jacob got bitten by a big brown scorpion. He was in agony all night, poor guy. The village people had already gone to bed and we were on our own.


Next morning, elephant ride. Our elephant was huge. We called him Babar.

Another carsick ride back. We went past a golf course and everyone said at the same time "ya know, I kind of hate golf..." I knew I liked these people!

Tomorrow I'm taking an all day cooking class. I like the Libra guest house. They do laundry, treks, internet, cooking school, they got me my visa and it's only $5 a night. Kind of grungy but really homey. Even the bedbug that bit me didn't bite that hard. There are big communal tables and strangers eat together. I recognize people already like one of my pool buddies. I wonder what I'm going to do in Vietnam. I feel really comfortable here, I have people to do things with. I hope I find the same sort of situation in 'Nam.

Thanks for reading my rambling! I hope you all have a good week! I'll try to have some good stories for you later.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

BRAZIL: Bye Bye Brazil

Last night our hostel had organized an excusion to see one of the samba schools practice for Carnivale. There are many schools in Brazil - each school competes during Carnivale. Our school was called Viradoro. Carnivale is in February but I guess they practice for months ahead. We got on a bus at 11PM and went way, way across Rio in the dark to some sketchy neighborhood. It was in a big gymnasium/dance hall type of place and a few thousand Brazilians were all dancing. the band started and everyone had to get out of the way. Kathy and I wandered upstairs and found some box seats, (owned by different groups of people, I guess, just like at a baseball park) . I asked one of them if we could come in and they let us. We got the best view of the band and the dancers. It was so loud, lots of percussion to accompany the one song they practiced over and over and over. After hearing it about 20 times (with corresponding hand movements), we could sort of sing along:

...Brasil! Terra de encantos Mil
Em Que a miscigenacao,
Alterando os conceitos, incentiva a criacao,
Vindos de alem-mar, nao poderiam imaginar...

No, I didn´t memorize the words. They passed out sheet music.

Eventually they let everyone else join in and it was a big dance party with cheap beer and frightening food for sale (I had some meat on a stick! yum) You would think I had learned my lesson with the scary street food but I don´t care any more.

the people in our box were nice and insisted that we be in front for the best view. They tried to teach us to dance a little bit. I´m really bad at samba. I try to copy people but Kathy says that I end up looking like I am doing the running man. Anyways, I hope that Viradouro has a chance at taking away the title from beija flor this year! (When carnivale comes, I can look it up on the internet). I bought a ghetto-looking Viradoro tank top too that has their symbol on it, a crown with two people shaking hands.

We got home at 4AM.

Today I just messed around the hostel and went to the beach one last time. It was so hot, I think the hottest day yet. Once again I played in the waves with little teenage boys trying to body surf.

OK, now for my Brazil recap!

Funny things about Brazil

teeny, tiny waxy napkins
thin, crinkly plastic cups
men in speedos and a t-shirt, walking around
the thumbs up sign everyone does
having people laugh at me when I say "no falo portuguese"
lots of cutting in line. you snooze, you lose.
the lispy way people talk with the "sh" sound

Things I love about Brazil

people seem so happy
the strong drinks
People are stylish and suave, even when they are wearing crazy clothes
Bossa Nova
Brazilian pop music!
The unexpected rain forests and beauty of the country
Chicken pastels at the beach in Morro, even though they made me sick.
Mangoes and Pineapple
cold Brahma chopp, our favorite beer
the sun
the mosaic tile all over the beaches in Rio with the mod designs. Lots of cool mosaic sidewalks in all Brazilian towns

My favorite beaches

Ipanema beach
Morro de sao paulo beach #2
Mendes Lopez beach if it hadn´t rained

Brazil, I´ll miss you!


Saturday, January 07, 2006

BRAZIL: pounding two beers and jumping off a cliff

I´m not coming home. Nope, I´m staying here. I was worried about Rio not fulfilling my expectations but it really has. I really think it is what they say.

Yesterday, after having a nice dinner by myself and waiting for my sick roommates to feel better, Kate was able to go out to see some bossa nova in a neighborhood called Lapa. After a crazy, winding taxi ride down Avenue Atlantico (just like Michigan avenue at home - tall buildings on one side, the beach on the other), we arrived in Lapa which was a little sketchy but very happening. The recommended place had a line down the block so we went to the place next door. Still full, but had great music. We watched the band for awhile and got a table. I am still enamored by Brazilian music. There are so many different types - the cheesy pop (I always love foreign pop music), the bossa nova, the samba (I think it´s faster, it´s what they dance to during carnivale). The lady I met on the salvador ferry explained another type to me, I forget which but I have the name somewhere. In the hostel bar last night, they were playing a CD that we really liked - Jorge Ben - When I get home I´ll have to get his greatest hits on amazon.

This morning the sun was out! And it was hot! and bright! We walked two blocks to ipanema beach and it was exactly what I had always dreamed of. I played in the big waves and drank coconut juice out of a coconut. The beach is actually clean, for a city beach. Kate saw a guy wearing a hot pink speedo with movie star faces on it. Marylyn Monroe, the cast of casablanca... It was fun to play in the waves until I had a minor jellyfish sting. There have been little jellyfish at a few beaches but they are mostly harmless. If they sting you, it only hurts for about an hour. Still unsettling to see them floating around.

I signed up for hang gliding (well, Kathy signed up for me when she ran back to the hotel to put our cameras away to keep them away from beach thieves.) I have been talking about hang gliding for months but when it came time to actually sign up I got really nervous. K & K left to go see Christo the redeemer (the giant Christ on the hill that overlooks the city, I´m going to see him tomorrow) and I waited for the hang gliding guys to come get me. Thankfully another guy had signed up at the hostel, Brett from Birmingham, England. So I had someone to be nervous with. Well, actually he didn´t act nervous, just me. I w├úsn´t bad at all until we go up there and had to look over the cliff and see where we would be jumping off. Huge, huge cliff overlooking Rio. I thought we would be running down a flat surface, but noticed that the jump off point was a slanted wood plank, down at an angle. That bothered me A LOT. My knees were shaking and my heart was racing. I met a funny woman from Detroit who wasn´t nervous at all and I asked her "why are you not scared and shaking like me?" She had a bunch of caiaparnias beforehand. Then I noticed there was a little bar at the top. Thank God. I figured that one Michigander knows what´s best for another (former) Michigander, so Brett and I ran over to the bar and pounded a beer while taking pictures of eachother. I had to drink one more, then it was time for me to go. My flight instructor, Marcel (I think! prounounced in that lispy portuguese way) counted down and we ran down the slanted boards. If you don´t run really, really fast, you will drop much faster so it was an incentive for me to not screw it up. We jumped off, dropped really fast, I screamed, then all was very calm and I could take in the amazing view of Rio. It felt like 3 minutes but was actually 15. They had an automatic picture-taker so I have a roll of film from the hang gliding. I can´t imagine a more perfect place to try it. Rio is such an incredibly beautiful city. I want to do it again tomorrow. I´m not sure the website works but this is it

Well, Kate leaves in an hour, I´ll be sad to see her go - Tomorrow night, Kathy and I leave. I don´t wanna go! I´m sure I´ll write one more blog though.


Friday, January 06, 2006

BRAZIL: what a meat pie can do to you

The good thing about travelling for three weeks (a drop in the bucket for other nationalities, an eternity for Americans) is that if you have bad weather, or get sick for a few days - hey, you have 2.5 more weeks to spread your fun around. It puts less pressure on each day. You start to just live normally. When you take a 5 day vacation, every day better be damn good or you are sort of disappointed. So that´s why I don´t feel bad when I say that all three of us have puked our guts out on this trip, and not once from alcohol.

Every country has its one street food that you come back to again and again - for the quick breakfast, lunch or dinner. You combine it with the local pop (here, "guarana") and it´s a meal for just a few dollars. In Greece, it´s the chicken gyro. In Costa Rica, rice & beans. In Italy, the panini. In Asia, some variation of fried rice. In Belgium, the waffle. In France, the crepe. In Spain, the tortilla espanola. You are trying to catch a train, a bus, hungry when walking down the street. When you have to eat every single meal at a restaurant or take out from a store for three weeks, you figure out what´s cheap and trustworthy. In Brazil, it´s the meat pie. Either a pastel (fried dough with meat inside) or the empanada/empada (flaky biscuit with meat inside.)

After arriving in Rio, we checked into our little hostel, the Ipanema beach house (2 blocks from ipanema beach!), and wandered around. For a little late lunch we stopped at a cute little meat pie fast food place with a trustworthy-looking grandma face on the sign. Now how can abuela steer you wrong? Kate and Kathy had some meat pie and I had some other pre-wrapped thing and a bizzare-tasting fruit shake that I picked by just pointing to the portuguese menu. Later, went out for a thai dinner, happy to be in Rio, even though none of us were 100%. At dinner, Kate had the familiar symptoms that I had on new years day. nausea, heartburn... We planned on having a night out in Leblon, which is the district next to Ipanema with some good nightlife, etc. Kate felt sick at dinner and we went to drop her off at home. All of the sudden, she violently puked in the taxi. I know the feeling well, because I violently puked in the crepe restauant in Buzios. Poor Kate threw up so much all of the sudden that we had to stop the taxi all of the sudden and she even threw up a little bit on me. The taxi driver must have thought we were drinking, but we weren't, I tried to explain to him. 20 reals and he stopped complaining and drove away.

The cruel irony in all this is that I am completely, unbelievably sick of ham and cheese or meat pies. Even when they don´t give me a.b. And what is the only thing waiting for me in my freezer at home? Why, Ham and cheese hot pockets!

Kate went to bed so Kathy and I decided to try one of the bars near the hostel. Being early (10PM), we had a few chopps (the ice-cold lite draft beer) it was kind of dead so we decided to call it a night. Early this morning, poor Kathy got sick and threw up a few times. It must have been the meat pie, or something the two of them ate. they were both illin´so today I took the favela tour advertised in the hostel.

Favela means slum. A few years ago, a couple of places in Rio began offering tours of the slums. Apparently the movie "City of God" gives a good example of the slums but I haven´t seen it. The tour guide, Luiz, picked me up at the hostel and I joined an Australian couple, a danish guy and a guy from L.A.

I have always been fascinated by slums. As a kid I had a reoccuring nightmare of getting lost in my yard in Battle Creek, then ending up in the slums of New York. I had that same dream at least 20 times. A tour of the slums initially sounds like a bad idea - some people are opposed to it, thinking that it exploits the poor, puts them on display. I went out of curiosity. The little tour company works with the people in the favela, teaching them not to beg but to produce artwork. It educates tourists and exposes them to the problems in Rio. Luiz knows some people who live in the favela, and had a lot of inside information on the rules and social structure. We drove over past Leblon, past Ipanema, over a hill and into a bad neighborhood. We had to be taken to the top of the hill, one by one, on motorbikes. I had no idea we´d be taking motorbikes and held on to my guy tight - pretty much burying my face into this shoulder, squealing and crushing his ribcage with my hands. We sped up a hill, between cars, around moving busses, I was so scared that sometimes I couldn´t look. He knew I was scared because I would shriek NO NO NO NO NO!!!!! and he would laugh YES YES! It was kind of fun, but scary as hell with no helmet, darting around all these moving cars on a steep hill on an angle with no helmet. so much worse than the Vietnam motorbike ride. I knew I wasn´t that much of a wuss because the guys were a little shaken too at the top. The favelas are on very steep hills, pretty much vertical cities.

We started wandering througth the favela - Luiz was a great guide. At the entrance of the little narrow streets, he pointed out a guy with a walkie talkie and told us he was big drug dealer looking for police. When police are near, they set off firecrackers to warn everyone. It´s safe for us as tourists, but police would have trouble there.. 2 months ago there was a big raid and 5 people were killed. The drug lords run the favela. Luiz pointed out gang graffiti, pointed out bad people. There is little or no crime among people living in the favela - the drug mafia keeps them in line, they basically run the favela with an honor system. The people pay no taxes but get free electricity and gas. When we were walking, I heard firecrackers and pops three times. Probably the worst neighborhood I have wandered through for that long, but not shockingly bad. They have water and some little stores. The shocking thing was how the drug dealers run the community and the police and governement can´t change it. Kids and old ladies live there too, they are totally safe as long as the police don´t come, and they get out of the way when they do. There is terrible plumbing and garbage everywhere - horrible, horrible smells. We stopped in a meat shop and a man killed a live chicken for us (yuck! and sad!). I really regret wearing flip flops because it was raining and sewage was running down the street. we stopped in some guy´s house and I bought a small painting that I liked - an abstract painting of the favela. They had the paintings there for sale because of the tours teaching the people to make art instead of beg, that kind of thing. Down the street, some kids were selling some little paintings they had done on cardboard, and bracelets made out of electrical wire. I bought a tiny little crude cardboard painting of the favela with Christo the redeemer in the background. It´s so cute, just a child´s painting, I love it. The kids were cute and polite, it was 5 reals ($2.50) going to my little artist. We visited a day care center and played with the kids awhile. Wandered through the favela some more and got to peer into some houses. The whole thing was fascinating to me but I thought, some neighborhoods in Chicago or New York are like this too. Run by the drug lords. In Morro, Michiel was telling me that when he and Vishalini did the favela tour a few weeks ago, they weren´t all THAT impressed because they work with poverty in Africa every day. Few people really get to see that. The Rio favela had concrete and some (bad) plumbing, unlike parts of Africa. I´m still glad to see a little 4-person company making the most of it, helping the locals and that kind of thing. ( It was an interesting opportunity for me as a dumbass middle class Chicagoan but you have to remember that this kind of thing happens all over the world, not just in Rio. I´m really glad I did it, though.

I think Kate is feeling better and we may go to Lapa for some live music for her last night. I think Kathy is still illin´. They have been such great travel buddies. Kathy and I have been on many trips and have pretty much seen it all - having things stolen, looking for a room forever, taking loooooong bus rides, but this one really takes the cake for us all getting sick at different times. The three of us have had a really good easygoing, funny trip. Having good travel buddies is key.

I just had a great dinner of random BBQ meats and some middle eastern salad at a swanky restaurant around the corner of the hostel while K & K rested in the hostel. I´ll try to stir up some more trouble in Rio for you! XO, Schirmy

Thursday, January 05, 2006

BRAZIL: goose/man-wolf/possom on the roof

Our apartment in Ilha Grande was our own separate building, surrounded by trees and thick plants. It´s spooky. After coming home last night early (2A), We crawled up into our upstairs loft, I put my earplugs and eye mask, and went right to sleep. I kept hearing Kathy and Kate talking and laughing and panicking about some noise on the roof but I just drifted off to sleep. The last I heard was "doesn´t abuela hear it??!!" (They still only call me Abuela - my grandma camera, my swollen ankles, worrying about the rain...) At 4AM, when I was fast asleep, Kate started screaming bloody murder and screamed THERE´S SOMETHING IN OUR ROOM, IT GOT IN!!! This scared the living hell out of me and I jumped out of bed, screaming, grabbed the railing and tumbled/jumped down the stairs in the dark. Kathy was screaming too. I thought there was somebody or some animal in our room. But no, Kate had some nightmare. Now I have a bunch of bruises on me and I look like someone beat me up. Apparently, they had been hearing some loud animal for hours, some scraping and knocking and sliding around on the roof so loud they couldn´t sleep. It doesn´t sound scary now, but at the edge of a tiny jungle town, in the thick trees when you are alone in your own building it´s scary as hell. They were trying to look up in the lonely planet Brazil what it could be, and apparently there is some animal called a man-wolf (!) , or something. That´s what I secretly hope it was. In the morning, the pousada lady thought it might be geese taking refuge on our roof in the rain. I´m still hoping for man-wolf. Last night was kind of creepy and sinister with the rain. It was really hard to sleep after that, it felt like a horror movie. You know when you get that horrible feeling in your gut, like when I watch the Exorcist, it was like that. It´s been a long time since I was that scared.

For our last night in Ilha grande, we went out to one of the few restaurants in town we hadn´t yet been to for some pasta, then went to the two tiny bars in the main square (where else) to people-watch. We ran into our Argentinean friends, Santiago, Thomas, Frederico, I forget all their names. We had some beer with them, then all went to their place a few blocks away, partly out of curiousity to see how messy their place was. OK, we were bored. It was raining. And it didn´t disappoint. Mattresses pulled out on the floor, the couch taken apart, a certerfold of some magazine taped on the wall (of some lady named "Sabrina"), empty pot of spagetti on the stove, nothing but beer in the refrigerator, one bottle of hand lotion on the counter (which we teased Frederico about but he insisted he really used it as hand lotion). surfing stuff, the distinct smell of 4 or 5 guys all sharing an was funny. They had been invited to some party down the beach at the hostel but kind of needed us to get in, just so that they didn´t appear like 3 guys crashing the hostel party to hang out with the busty norweigan girls, haha. We went along anyway, figuring there might be caiaparinas and maybe some British boys for us. But there was neither so we left them there. They were fun to hang out with in Ilha Grande, our Argentinean posse, we have some pictures with them.

We are now in Rio, in Ipanema, in a cute little hostel with a nice pool and deck area. I hope I don´t snore and annoy the other people in my room. I hope Kate doesn´t wake up screaming. I hope we don´t annoy the other people in the room by singing "dragonstea din tei" by O-Zone. Remember the website/email that was sent around with that video of a fat dutch kid lip-synching that song? I have it on my ipod. We sing it pretty much every day. There is even a spanish or portuguese version that I have heard twice here. Its a euro-trash classic, look it up on and I´m sure you´ll recognize it, I dare you to get it out of your head. We had a nice bus ride today to Rio through green jungle-y scenery. I listened to Afterlife, Everything but the girl and some latin music, it was nice and fit the scenery. I still just love the new i-pod.

It´s still raining but we have high hopes for hang-gliding tomorrow. I have no idea what we´ll do tonight. It is so wierd being back in a big city again! The beach area is beautiful, even in the rain. I love the mosaic designs they have all over the beach-front, very 60s mod. Steep little mountains rise right near the city, it´s a cool and stunning sight. Rio must have one of the greatest skylines.

OK, what time is it? It´s caiaparina o´clock.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

BRAZIL: mistaken for a pothead

Remember on the first day, when my luggage was missing, how I bought that skirt with a Brazilian flag on it, and stripes with the colors of the flag? At the time, I wondered why it had a red stripe in it along with the green and yellow, and looked Jamaican. But never really thought about it again. Last night, when we were out, a guy gave me the thumbs up and said:

man: you like Jamaica, you like the weed?
me: uh, no, what are you talking about?
man: your skirt, you like the weed?
me: huh?"
man: you know what that means, don´t you?
me: huh? I had to buy this because American Airlines lost my backpack and I needed clothes.
man: (long laugh) Brazilians like Jamiaca, when they wear the colors, that means you like to smoke (mimes smoking a joint), you know...

So I have been wearing this skirt for two weeks that looks like I like Jamiaca, and I like the weed and the whole rasta thing. hahaha! I do like reggae music.. but not the other stuff! It has a Brazilian flag on it too. I guess when I get home I´ll have to wear it to Exodus 2 or the Wild Hare.

We are still in Ilha Grande. I had been looking forward to going to the beaches here, and today we took a 50 minute boat ride to what some consider to be the prettiest beach in Brazil, Lopes Mendes. And it was sprinkling! Actually, I really do think it was the most beautiful beach I´ve ever seen. Perfectly clear, warm, water. Surrounded by misty steep green hills and palm trees, just surreal. If it had been sunny, it would have been perfect. But I still enjoyed it and went swimming. Now it is pouring buckets outside - all there is to do it internet or watch novellas, kill some time before it´s time to go out for dinner.

We had a great time last night. I´m happy to be back in a small place where you see the same people over and over. We were watching people, having a beer in the main square - which is great because everyone in town goes to the same place at night. Sometimes people dance in the street, they mingle, it´s very social. We were laughing about this guy who was wearing a speedo with a long t-shirt and a knitted hat. Just out, without his pants on. We see that ALL the time. Brazilian men sometimes do not wear pants, even at 11PM when they are nowhere near a beach. Kate and Kathy have taken many photos of this phenomenon. Eventually he came over to meet us and told Kate that he wanted to go for a walk on the beach with her, which we have been laughing about all day. Later, we ran into our Argentinean friends and hung out with them for awhile. We are really starting to recognize everyone in town, and I´m sure they recognize us. The huge Swiss family with 6 blond, moppy-haired kids (we call the swiss family robinson), the Austrian Rick Steves-like solo tourist with the sensible hiking shoes and daypack, our Argentineans, the three other American girls in town who we´ve never talked to and like to refer to as "our rival gang"... The odd hippie woman who was doing hillarious sexually provacative stretching excersizes on the beach, the norweigan girls with breast implants, the guys with dreadlocks, the guy with one leg...

Tomorrow we go to Rio for a few days. I admit, I´ve had high expectations of Rio and might be let down. I´ve always built it up in my mind as this exotic, sunny place with samba music and beaches. I know it´s loaded with slums and cime too, but that´s just never been part of the fantasy. We´ll see if it lives up to my Getz/Gilberto-esque expectations or if I just get mugged.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

BRAZIL: In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue

After a few days in Buzios, it was time to go somewhere new. We had no real plan, though. We have been really falling into a pattern of slack. New Years day night we treated ourselves to a nice dinner at a beautiful cuban restaurant for our last night in Buzios, went to bed absurdly early (1AM) and said "whoever wakes up first goes to buy bus tickets to Rio". Thank God Kate woke up at 9 and went to the bus station while I was still sleeping. We had an hour to pack and get ourselves out. That involved checking out with our pousada hosts, Karena and Danielo.

Karena is a piece of work. She is maybe 60ish. Frizzy brassy hair from too many attempts to make dark hair blonde. She wears a red muumuu, or something like a sarong that she wraps around her slightly flabby body in a very percarious way - like if it catches on something, the whole thing will fall off. It´s just one piece of cloth. Same one every day. When we arrived, she hugged us and sat on the terrace (with hammocks and couches) and told us about her 5 husbands and some of the random places she´s lived. How some of the towns around here gave her some good times in the 60s and 70s. Her voice is similar to a truck backfiring. A combination of broken muffler and Patty & Selma from the simpsons. Years of hard living have seasoned this woman. There are pictures of her in the lobby as a young, carefree woman in the 70s, with wild, crazy hair, posing with what we guessed to be the 5 husbands. We even found a photo collage of her with, I guess, all the different husbands. Husband number 5 and co-owner of the pousada, Danielo, is just a meek little old Grandpa. Karena clearly wears the muumuu in the family. I have been imitating her laugh for days. It´s kind of a raspy bark that she gives after chuckling and rolling her eyes. She would tell us something in a combination of spanish, english and porturguese, then, heh heh, heeeeaaagh! Picture Marge Simpson doing it. Now you got it. She made sure to charge us for every little ride they gave us in their car and every single thing we consumed out of the minibar for three days. (heh heh. heeeeagh!)

We thankfully got on the morning bus to Rio, ran around the bus station trying to get tickets to Angros do Rios (by writing it on a piece of paper in portuguese from my translation book) and ran on the bus 5 minutes before it left. Another 3 hour bus ride, then a 1.5 hour boat to Ilha grande. We arrived at 10PM but could see that it was a lush, tropical paradise. We are in the south of Brazil now, and the vegetation is very different from Salvador and our first week here.
Because it is the high season, we couldn´t find a room for awhile and thought we were going to have to sleep in the Christmas manger ouside the church. We went into one place that had no room, I gave my panicked pity-on-me-face, and the guy´s friend knew of a place and walked us there, with the beer he was already drinking and his girlfriend. Wasn´t that nice? N0w we have a two story little tiny apartment (bigger than some apartment´s I´ve lived in) where we sleep upstairs in a loft with a TV (novellas for Kathy and Kate). It´s great! Even a little kitchen for abuela. I doubt I´ll cook in it, out of laziness and fear of baratas, but it´s cute.

Nightlife in this town involves two open bars in the main square by the dock. It´s a small, quaint little town. I hate the word "quaint" but that is the only way to describe it. cobblestone streets, hand-painted signs and steep green mountains rising in the distance. We had some beer at the one bar (little 2-man live band with a guitar and bongo drums) and went across the street to the other bar. We were playing "guess the nationality" and met some young Argentenian guys. Very polite, very trustworthy. We were kind of making fun of one of them because he had a mullet and they came over to talk to us. They spoke great english and knew more about American pop culture than I did. They love the OC, Gilmore girls, Everybody loves Raymond, Friends, Seinfeld, E! Wild on, E! True Hollywood story, Best week ever. How do they have time for Argentenian TV too? They were telling us how they had to study English and American history for years in school. I was very impressed. One of them asked me when America was discovered. Now keep in mind, it´s been MANY years since I learned this and couldn´t think of the answer right away.

"uuh, 15-something? 1542..."

He laughed at me. My excuse was, and I had to think fast - "Well, it´s under debate!"

I am so stupid. Hello, 1492! I remember it now. But that was how some Argentenian boys made me feel stupid. And I fully deserve it. I deserve it for not knowing who the president of Argentina is or how to speak spanish better. Fellow Americans, we are so sheltered!

Today we went to a small, beautiful, wild beach near an abandoned prison. It reminded me of Costa Rica. Thick jungle and loud bird and insect noises. Absolutely beautiful.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

BRAZIL: New Year´s eve with our new Brazilian family

Brazilian families are mighty entertaining to watch. At the water park, A boy of about 15 was wearing shorts that had the words "sexo" and "mujeras" (sex and women) all over them, while his mother was fussing over him and putting sunscreen on him. The Grandma was there, the whole families go out together everywhere, from the water park to the beach to the bar at 4AM. The WHOLE family. The guys we have observed are charming, a lot of them are cute, but they sure are mama´s boys.

For our second night in Buzios, we didn´t really know what to do because it seemed like all the bars had packages and everyone had a big night planned. This isn´t like the little thai town I was in last year. Lots of New Year´s anticipation in the air. Buzios has a real mediterranean feel to it, with the italian architecture and the whole Bridgette Bardot thing (she hung out here in the sixties, there is a statue of her by the water). In Brazil, the tradition is to wear all white, gather by the sea and throw flowers in the water at midnight. Then stay out all night. We did the best we could to wear white - Kathy had a white skirt, Kate had a white top and I had some white on my halter top (I don´t wear white when travelling, or ever! I attract dirt like Charlie Brown´s pal Pigpen.)

We had a crepe at a crepe restaurant/dance bar, then went back to the only bar we really know, Mix bar. (The previous night, thousands of people were out - it was crazy. we just kind of hid in the little mix bar because we liked the music and the caiaparinas - they had some good hits from the 90s and electronic music you know but don´t know the names of. The little Mix bar is where we hang in Buzios.). I had been feeling a little sick on and off for days. I think my body does NOT like Brazil. Like Greece, (TMI ahead warning - TMI) I have a.b. every other day, at least. I must be getting sicker because I threw up right after dinner from both ends of my body. Not due to alcohol, but likely from all the street food I eat at the beach. Like room-temperature meat empanadas that are probably hours old, and the pile of tapioca and shredded coconut on a plate with sweetened milk on it. That´s what I eat every day. So anyway, I had explosive diahrrea ALL night. At least 5 or 6 times. But I was determined to not let it ruin my good time! I was in Brazil for New Year´s and a.b. be damned, I was going to have a good time.

We sat right on the water and watched other people filter in. A big Brazilian family came and sat at the table below us. Kathy, Kate and I like to speculate about stranger´s lives and tried to figure them out. Are the dad and mom getting along? Is that the brother´s girlfriend or just an affectionate sister? That must be the gay uncle. Oh yeah, it must be.. Look at that kid! He must be the bad seed. But he´s so charming!

One of the sons was about 17, we guessed, and such a little charmer. We couldn´t stop staring at him. He had huge brown eyes, floppy black hair and looked like a little teenage lady-killer. Kate jokingly said, as Kate does, "I´m gonna make out with him!" So we watched this family for over an hour and pretended to take pictures of the sea, but really took pictures of the family. (That sounds dumb but that´s why we are all friends.) Near midnight we all gathered on the beach and threw our flowers in the water and watched some scarily close, awesome fireworks. No safety code here! The burning embers were falling right by our heads and the fireworks were directly over. So loud but so good! Seeing everyone dressed in white with the flower ritutal was really pretty and it made New Years eve seem really official. Kathy and Kate have been calling me "abuela" (grandma) because I complained about the loudness of the fireworks and I like to clean up the empty pop and beer cans out of the room. Like a grandma.

We met the family on the beach and talked to the son. Turns out he really is 20. We lied about our ages. Kate was 23 and Kathy and I were 25. (It´s nice to be 25 again.) He was really charming as expected and spoke english so well. The whole family did. They are from Sao Paulo and come here for the holidays. He likes the O.C. and we talked about different kinds of music and pop culture. The family kind of adopted us. They took family photos with us in it, then we all went inside to dance. An hour later Kate was indeed full-on making out with Bernardo, in front of his dad, mom, 2 brothers, cousin and family friends. For hours. The parents didn´t even bat an eye. It was all so normal. Dancing to electronic dance hits with the Brazilian family in a circle while the son makes out with the american girl. The mom even hugged us when they left. She even gave Kate a kiss. What a nice gringa bar hook up for my son! After dancing with the family for awhile, Bernardo has a friend who wants to meet me, Andreo. He didn´t speak english except for the standard "I tink you are very beautiful" line. I figured it would be a good idea to make out with a Brazilian on New years, just to make it official and all, so I did. He even had a gold chain, a hairy chest and a half-open white shirt. Just my type! haha. Well, not really. But it sure was funny at the time. Bernardo had warned me that he was 31 years old, and that might be a little old, me being 25 and all. I said "oh, yeah, that might be a little old". Haha, I´m 4 years older than him. And recall that I threw up a few hours earlier. Classy.

Kathy and I left and Kate came home later. I was worried that she wouldn´t be able to get in and get stuck outside with her 20 year old Brazilian, so I buried the keys under a big leaf, put rocks on it and left a note in pig latin with how to find them. I´m sorry, but that´s how my mind works at 4AM. It made perfect sense to me at the time and I thought I was being so clever. Let´s think of a secret language that no-one will figure out! So I left a note on the door: "K8 - ook-lay under the eaf-lay to your right for the ey-kay." Luckily, someone let her in at 6AM and she didn´t even see my note or have to decipher it. This morning we just had a good laugh about it. At least I tried.

We have also been enjoying Brazilian TV. Kathy and Kate have a certain novella (overly dramatic evening brazilian soap operas) that they like, I think it´s called "bang bang". It´s a drama, supposedly set in the old west, with a priest who is sleeping with a prostitute. It all seems very low budget. K & K have somehow managed to follow the storyline. Usually I lay in the hammock at that hour. This morning, though, I watched an elvis impersonator show where the people all sung in heavy Latino accents. I highly recommend the Brazilian TV. If I worked in our Brazilian office, I could place spots on Futura network on highly rated "bang bang!"

Happy New year´s everyone!