Sunday, February 28, 2010

There are three places you do not want to be during a massive earthquake:
1) On a unicycle
2) Inside Home Depot (seriously, imagine that!)
3) At the base of an active volcano

Reece and I had the misfortune of finding ourselves in position #3 during the magnitude 8.8 earthquake that hit Chile yesterday. To make matters more interesting, we were scheduled to climb to the peak of said volcano that same morning. Here is a detailed account of our experience. Not to be dramatic or anything, but it was fucking scary! I can't imagine what it must have been like closer to the epicenter... It felt comparable to the Northridge quake for us, a few hundred miles away.

Here goes.

Somewhere in the vicinity of 3:00am - Wake up having to pee, with no idea what time it is. Curse the fact that I have to disrupt my very few available hours of sleep by getting out of bed. Try to ignore it and go back to sleep.

3:10am - Give up. Go pee.

3:15am - Stress out that I am awake and wonder how close it is to our 5:30am alarm.

3:25am - Begin to drift back off to sleep.

3:34am - The walls/ceiling creak, and I think our volcano guide must be upstairs getting ready for our trek (he was partying with our hostel hosts the evening before and was rumored to be sleeping in the empty dorm). The moon shining through our window is so bright, I assume it's the sun rising.

3:34:05am - Creaking becomes a little extreme, and I wonder what the hell that guy is doing up th...

3:34:07am - OH SHIT IT'S AN EARTHQUAKE!!!!!! Frantically shake Reece to turn on a light (which he of course can't do, cause the power is already out). Flail about wildly while trying to find clothes in my backpack. Not sure where I think I am going to go once I find them. Shaking continues and gets more violent. Holy crap this is a really long earthquake. In a moment of absolute terror, I think that maybe it's not an earthquake, but a volcano eruption. I totally panic.

3:35am - Pretty sure by this time shaking still has not stopped. With every second that passes, the fear grips me that it's going to get bigger. It's surreal experiencing something like this so far away from home. I'm desperately willing it to stop.

3:36am - Shaking has finally ceased, and I hear the girls stirring in the room beside us. I trip over the fallen coat rack in the darkness as I reach to open our door. The girls come pouring into our room frantically asking "What WAS that?!” They are from Canada and have never felt an earthquake before.

One girl peaks out our window and sees two puffs of red smoke on the direction of the volcano. We rush out the front door, dreadfully expecting to see lava oozing from the peak above us. Luckily, we don’t. Yet we do see people are getting into their cars and we all wonder nervously where they are going and why. The next ten minutes are spent sitting on the front porch, running over the play by play of each of our respective experience. The girls have a barrage of questions for the “California folks”, as we are clearly the resident earthquake experts. We assure them that what they just felt was no minor tremor. Reece decides he wants to go back to bed, worried he won’t get enough sleep for the volcano ascent in a few hours. Are you fucking kidding me?? We are not going NEAR that thing! I think he is crazy to believe they would still take us up there at a time like this. He thinks I am overreacting.

Over the next hour or so, we ride out some pretty sizeable aftershocks. Wearing headlamps, we clean up all of the broken glass on the kitchen floor. The Canadian girls walk to and from the town center (about 2 blocks away) in attempts to collect information. The young American girl who works at our hostel tries to reach the owners with no luck. Rumors have it that it was based in either Santiago or Conception. That gives us a small amount of relief, knowing it was completely unrelated to the volcano. Of course, that does not guarantee it won’t have an effect on the volcano...

Around 5:00am, people start to go back to bed. I lay restless, unable to stop re-playing it in my head. I pray that the trekking company is not in fact still planning to take us up there, cause then I’d have to be the one to say we aren’t going. I tell Reece, “If we DIE cause that thing erupts while we're hiking it, people will forever say – Why the HELL were they climbing a VOLCANO three hours after a massive EARTHQUAKE?! I am not going to go down in eternity as an idiot.”

6:00am - We walk up the block to confirm with the tour operator that there will be no ascent today. The full moon has been swallowed by thick clouds, and the town is pitch black. As we wait outside the empty office, we can see a smoldering red glow and thick smoke along the rim of the volcano. It’s too far in the distance to photograph, but it’s unlike anything I have ever seen before.

6:15am - We deem it safe to assume we’re cleared from the day's scheduled activites. We head back and finally drift off to a few hours of sleep. My headlamp is tied around my wrist, just in case.

Around 10:30am I wake up, immediately doing the math on how long it will be before my family hears about it. Five hours ahead of California, I think we safely have until noon before I have to worry about them worrying. I have what I think is a smart idea, to plug my computer directly into the router upstairs (since wireless is down). Obviously, with no power, that is still a dumb idea.

I pull out the instructions that came with our global SIM card to try to call home. Clearly, none of the mobile providers are functioning. I ask around if there may be an international calling center closeby, but everyone speculates it likely won’t be working either.

I wake Reece up to venture into town. On our way out, one of the Canadian girls has just returned. She had tried to use a payphone and it ate her credit card. Good to know. We visit all three bus terminals, to see if we can still get a ticket out for the following day as planned. With no power, they are all closed. We learn that they will not be scheduling any more busses until the electricity is back. So, we’re stuck here indefinitely. Interesting.

We see there are some people successfully using pay phones. We wait in line for one of them, then insert all the change we can scrounge up. It dawns on me I have no idea how to get an outside line to the US. We try everything we can think of, including the operator for a collect call, with no luck.

Across the street, we see our hostel owners chatting with the volcano tour operators. We stop by and find out that (sorry Reece), treks up the volcano are canceled indefinitely. As are visits to the hot springs, and just about anything else we could have wanted to do in this town. Opinions on how long the power will be out range from a day to a few weeks. We learn that most of the country is without electricity.

It slowly hits me how many things are affected by the lack of power. We pass the grocery store and it’s an absolute madhouse. We decide we should probably stock up on a few essentials, with no idea how long we may be stuck here. Lacking refrigeration, we look forward to lots and lots of peanut butter sandwiches, spaghetti, and instant mac & cheese (which we were SO excited to find!). We are incredibly grateful that we just happened to make a large ATM withdrawal the previous day, so we have a nice little stash of cash.

We go to the tourist information office, and find out how to dial out on a payphone. One of the three local cell phone carriers has begun working, and the man offers to send a text for me. He types “Sabrina okay.” I don’t know if my family will have heard about the earthquake yet, so I ask him to add that there was an earthquake, we have no electricity, and I will email them as soon as I can. He writes, “Earthquake. No hydro. Will email.” I don't think they'll no what hydro means (I don't). I try to sneak a “Happy Birthday” in to my sister, but I don't get the chance. The text isn’t going through, so he assures me he will keep trying until it does. I leave, thinking the cryptic message will probably worry them more.

A visit to the international calling center confirms what we expected. Walking through town, we see just how strong the quake was, fallen shelves and broken glass littering storefronts. Back at the hostel, we unsuccessfully try to pick up the one working signal on our global SIM card again. With all else failed, we decide to go back to the beach. What was once crystal clear waters were now thick with debris from the lake floor. We can see, several yards from shore, just how far the waves had splashed up hours before. I was restless, wondering how long it would be until we’d have contact with our families. Reece was convinced his family wouldn’t have any idea about what happened.

And, that’s about it. To make a really long story not quite so long, we got power back later that evening and were able to call home. Reece was, to put it lightly, wrong about his family. We finally had some access to news coverage, and began to wrap our heads around how big of a deal it really was. We were overwhelmed and touched by all of the facebook traffic about our well being. And, we have enough peanut butter to last us indefinitely.

Friday, February 26, 2010

This is what most street corners look like in Pucon.

See that snow capped peak in the distance? That’s a volcano. An active volcano.

If you look very closely, you can see sulfuric smoke billowing out of it. Smoke! Billowing out of a VOLCANO!!

Tomorrow, we are going to strap on our snow shoes and ice axes, climb to the tippy top, and peer over the edge at the boiling hot MAGMA inside!

(*Written pre country-wide natural disaster. Glad we never got a closer look at that magma!)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

There is an overwhelmingly amazing amount of things to do in Pucón. White water rafting, volcano climbing, wind surfing, horseback riding, waterfall repelling, paintballing, mountain biking, ziplining, spelunking, skydiving, hot spring-ing... you name it. Unfortunately, I've fallen victim to a hell of a stomach bug, so can only participate in activities that take place within walking distance of a toilet.

Luckily, Pucón also boasts a cool, crytal clear lake with a black sand beach. So much of our time here has looked like this:

REALLY hoping to feel well enough to strap on our adventure sandals soon. Until then, well, there could be worse ways to spend our days.

Valparaiso, Chile

(and Viña del Mar)

The bohemian town had plenty for us to photograph. For pictures, click HERE.

Bonus points if you can guess which three are from Viña. I'll give you a hint - It's the wealthy, seaside resort town a mere 10 minute bus rude away.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Accommodations #14

Hostal NuevaMente
Valparaiso, Chile
14,000 Chilean Pesos (approx $26)/night

Upon our arrival to this place, our outlook was not so good. We were warned it was a 20 minute walk from the center of town. Being one of the only two options we could find in our budget, we went for it. What it was in reality, was a 40 minute walk away from the nice part of town and into the hood. It's a blessing we arrived early in the morning, cause this wasn't the type of street you want to walk down carrying all of your belongings after dark.

Inside however, the place was great. It appears to be an old house that's been converted to a hostel, hardwood floors and cute rooms with window balconies. The owner was nice as could be and super helpful, the kind of guy you can tell loves his job. The bathrooms/showers and "breakfast" left a little to be desired, but we could not have been made to feel more at home. And for the price, we could afford to take cabs home every evening.

The first night, a private double was not available, so we got five beds to ourself instead. We made sure to sleep on all of them.

Reece soakin up some sunshine.

Our matrimonial room.

I would have taken photos of the outside too, but this wasn't the type of neighborhood you go whipping out a $750 camera in.

But the view from above is lovely.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Some hills and a bay, does not a San Francisco make.

We've often heard that Valparaiso is the "San Francisco of South America". Whoever came up with that, apparently only visited the Tenderloin.

Valparaiso is what would happen if the Haight and Venice had a child out of wedlock, and put it up for adoption to be raised in foster care in Queens. I have never actually been to Queens, nor know anything about it. But it sounds like an appropriate comparison.

Granted, there is a very small touristy area that is absolutely adorable. Narrow streets winding through charming hills packed with cute cafes and bars (three times the price of their neighboring counterparts). If someone stayed at a hotel in this part of town and never left, perhaps it feels a little like SF.

Admittedly, Valparaiso really started to grow on us after a few days. We learned to navigate the busses and trollies. We found parts of town that aren't overly touristy yet lack the grime of the rest of the city. We accepted the missed photo ops in places where it was too sketch to pull out a camera. And overall, we are really glad we decided to make the trip. Love it or hate it, it's totally a unique place that's worth checking out.

But, I still don't buy the San Francisco comparison.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Santiago, Chile

Santiago gets a bad rap. We've repeatedly heard that it's not good for much other than arrival at it's international airport, and a few days is more than enough time to spend on it. We opted to get in and out pretty quickly, to allow more time in Valparaiso.

I've gotta say, we found Santiago quite lovely. Perhaps we are biased cause it gave us the gift of a Panasonic Lumix LX3. But we had a really nice time there and could have easily stayed longer. For photos, click HERE.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Amazing Race

On our flight to Santiago, Reece and I watched one of our favorite shows, The Amazing Race (purchased on iTunes). All teams were departing Los Angeles (taking the same flyaway to the airport that we did) for Santiago, Chile. They then continued to Valparaiso, where we happen to be right now. I think we shall continue to follow their route around the world.

In the spirit of The Race, we had our own race-around-the-city challenge upon our arrival to Chile: Find Reece's camera. Not the one that gotten stolen of course. But an exact replica, more difficult to locate than you would think. Reece apparently has very particular taste, and we had a snowball's chance in hell of finding this thing.

Our back-up (aka more likely) option is to order it online and have it sent to my mom, who is coming to meet us in a month. But that means one month without REALLY good pictures, including our time in Patagonia. A serious bummer. (You may not be able to tell on facebook posts, but the photos on my camera pale in sad, sad comparison to the ones we can capture on Reece's.)

Reece did some research online, and wrote down directions to the "largest camera store" in Santaigo, along with some major department stores that may carry it. The camera store was just a few blocks from our hostel, which felt like an incredible stroke of luck and we started to get a good feeling about finding it there. Imagine our disappointment when we arrived, and it was basically an Apple store. They carried a few cameras behind one small case, and looked at us like morons when we asked where the rest were. If THIS is the "biggest camera store in Santiago", we're in trouble.

The guy there directed us to a Kodak store, which of course carried only Kodak products. From there, we were pointed to a department store called Ripleys who actually carried Panasonic Lumix, but not the right model. Believe it or not, there is a big difference between all of the models. I did however start to notice that the price point on electronics here are much higher than they are in the US. I began to wonder what the max is that we should be willing to pay, if we actually did ever find it.

The woman at Ripleys sent us to another Ripleys location, who also did not have it. The kids behind the counter started discussing it between themselves, then informed us that there was a Panasonic store in a mall just outside the city. He tried to show us on our map, but it was too far to be on it. He wrote down directions for us, and we set off on a half hour subway ride.

We were told when we got off at the station, to ask around and anybody could point us towards the mall. We asked around, and around, and around. Everybody gave us a different direction to walk, some said to take a bus, some said to get back on the subway. We were starting to get really tired and frustrated. Knowing that we probably weren't going to find it, we were disappointed about wasting a whole day on a wild goose chase into the suburbs.

After 30 minutes of walking and many stops along the way for further directions, we found the mall. The adrenaline started to kick in as we ran around looking for the Panasonic store. What if they ACTUALLY have it?! We approached the store anxiously, knowing that this was the closest we would ever get to a Panasonic Lumix LX3.

When we asked the woman if they carried it, she knew exactly what we were talking about. We got excited. "No." We were crushed. We asked her if ANY other store might carry it, and she started making some phone calls. We were hopeful. I offered that we'd be willing to go to ANY store in the entire country (south of here at least). After all, we have no plans for our journey south, and it's such a narrow country, how far out of the way could any city be?! She hung up the phone and went in the back. Reece and I held our breaths, imagining the possibility of her walking out with one. She came back empty handed. Another phone call. This time we couldn't understand what she was saying, but her tone sounded promising. Another trip to the back. At this point our desire for it was overwhelming. And she walked back out, box in hand! They have it! ONE left!!!

My next question of course, was the price. Nearly twice as much as it is in the US. A devastating SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS. I almost passed out. We stepped aside and weighed our options. While it is currently selling on Amazon for $400, we originally paid $500, which is what our insurance company will (hopefully) be reimbursing us. So that means an additional $250 out of our pockets. We went way over budget in Brazil, and are really trying to get back on track, and that won't help us any. Reece looked at a few more (cheaper) Lumix models, but I knew we would never be as happy with any of them.

In the end, we looked at it this way - What is a few day's budget compared to one month worth of pictures? One...five...hell, twenty years from now, when we look back on the photos from the trip, are we more likely to wish that we had been able to adequately capture the rest of South America, or that we had an extra $250 in the bank? We plan to make photo books, blow up prints to frame in our house, etc. and I knew we would always regret "the month that got away". Oh, did I mention the camera was an open box, and thus $100 off the regular price of $850??

We decided that we were not led on this path through the city, to a Panasonic store in a mall we never would have found on our own, to the very last camera on stock, discounted $100, to go home empty handed!

Accommodations #13

Oh. Right. THIS is how we usually roll. I had gotten reallllly spoiled with our Rio apartment. Back to budget, folks.

Santa Lucia Green House
Santiago, Chile
13,000 Chilean Pesos (approx $25)/night

A room with a dusty comforter. A shared, incredibly stinky bathroom. Unreliable internet. Fairly shady (and I don't mean from trees) neigborhood.

Very gracious, kind and welcoming hosts. Small and quiet. Really convenient to the metro. Right on BUDGET!!

Rio de Janiero, Brazil

For photos of Rio, click HERE.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Scala Gay

I'd like to first recognize the chain of events that lead to last night...

If Reece's camera had never gotten stolen, we would have never visited the tourist police station. If we had never visited the tourist police station, we would have never known where Club Scala was located. If we had never known where Scala was, we would have never decided to stop by on a whim the following day to see how much tickets to the Carnival Ball were. And if we had never stopped by on a whim, I would have never tripped on the red carpet in front of a thousand roaring fans.

Last night, we made up big time for not seeing the Samba Parade. Scala, a giant club in the upscale neighborhood of Leblon, hosts marvelous Carnival Balls every year. Each Ball has a theme, from red & black (representing the local futbol team) to bottomless beer. The largest and most popular of them all, buzzing with celebrities, paparazzi and TV reporters, is the Big Gay Scala Ball. Gay and straight, men and women, tranny and otherwise, the most ostentatious of the city come out in their Carnival best for a night of no-holds-barred extravagance. Tickets online were way out of our budget, as were those from local agencies. Luckily, fate and his friends led us to the box office, where we got them for half the quoted price.

We arrived within the first hour of the doors opening, worried we may not actually be allowed in. The streets were already total mahem, city blocks packed with thousands of people. We realized that there was a wide runway in the midst of it all, a red carpet of sorts about two blocks long. Crystal studded, head-dress wearing, over the top characters strolled the length of the walkway as fans screamed and cameras flashed. These people must be famous and/or serious socialites in the city, the way the crowd was crawling over one another to get a better view.

We were confused as to how we would get in, and managed to shove through far enough to show our ticket to a security guard. You better believe it, that red carpet was our entrance. Reece and I shared astonished, nervous looks with one another before sheepishly starting the long walk to the club. I fumbled with my camera, attempting to capture the scene that lay ahead. Distracted, I tripped over a bump in the road and stumbled (catching myself before hitting the ground), and the crowd ROARED. Before that moment, I had no idea that anybody was even looking in my direction. I was dressed pretty tame compared everybody else, and I am after all, um, nobody. I completely thought we could cruise by unnoticed. But in that instant a thousand eyes were on me, walking down a red carpet on the final night of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I couldn't even register embarrassement, it was such a surreal moment. I wish I could have seen my own face. Ha!

The Ball itself was a great time - a massive live samba band, tequila shots, midgets, half-naked guys dancing on pedestals. We had a really good time, and are delighted that we finally rang in Carnival right. The next morning while cleaning up, checking out, and traveling to Santiago, we were not quite so delighted. But it was totally worth it. And way better than that lame old Sambadrome, I'm sure.

What would you do?

We've realized there have, and will be, many times on this trip when we are torn between what we WANT to do, and what we feel like we SHOULD do. For example:

As you know, the camera theft incident ruined our first attempt to get into the Sambadrome to witness the world-famous Carnival parade. So we opted to plan on coming back the next day, with the ability to photograph the event.

Well, the theft incident also managed to turn the night into quite an impromptu party, and keep us up till sunrise.

The next day was spent waiting, filling out forms, waiting, faxing forms, waiting, and waiting some more in a tourist police station. It was also spent incredibly, painfully, disgustingly hungover. By the time all business was attended to, it was time to hit the streets and head towards the Sambadrome again if we were to find ourselves tickets. Ugh. SOOO not what we felt like doing. We wished and prayed that there may be one more night of the parade. Nope, this was the last. We watched some of it on TV and debated the merits of the better view we had from our bed anyway. We wondered how many people went to Rio for Carnival and DIDN'T see the parade.

We finally decided we had to get our asses in gear, grudgingly got dressed and walked to the metro station. Closed. A police officer directed us to another station that may be open. CLOSED. Turns out the metro was no longer running for some ungodly reason. We walked to the nearest bus stop and asked several locals if any busses went to the Sambadrome. Because we pronounce it slightly differently than they do, nobody know what the hell we were talking about. We finally learned that there was no such bus. We waved our arms in the air at passing cabs, along with 20 other people on the same block. Come on guys, at what point is it acceptable for us to give up?

We did figure out that we could take a bus downtown, then try to grab a cab from there. At this point, Reece and I started discussing how badly we really wanted to go. Both of us would much rather be in bed than fighting a crowd of thousands of beligerent partiers. But we felt intensely obligated to go, knowing this was our last opportunity. It became a question of, "Do we want to go to GO, or to be able to say that we went?" It was a question neither of us could really quite answer, but I was leaning towards the latter. I started wondering, how bad is it to miss the parade? Is it like going to San Francisco and not seeing Fisherman's Wharf, or is it like going to Cairo and not seeing the Pyramids??

In the end, we decided to call it quits. We went home and put on pajamas. We took care of the upcoming hostel bookings we needed to make. We watched live coverage on TV, and caught up on some much needed sleep. And I have to say, we were really glad that we did. Who knows, maybe a year from now I'll look back and regret it. But the following night at least, everything seemed to work itself out...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bathroom Humor - Brazil Edition

That's a pretty high expectation of your toilet paper.

My butt feels loved.

It takes one to know one.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Minha camera foi roubada.

Last night, Reece's camera got stolen. Later, this happened:

Way to turn things around, I'd say.

So, we always knew it would happen sooner or later. I guess for some reason I just didn't think it'd be quite SO soon. We had even perfected the pocket decoy, where Reece carries an empty beer can in his front pocket, concealing the camera and keeping it snuggly buried below.

Last night, we dropped the ball. Perhaps it was the sheer excitement as we approached the Sambadrome, home of THE infamous Carnival parades. Maybe it was the five sake bombs we did before we left the house. Whatever it was, within moments of stepping out of the cab, Reece looked at me with a stunned stare and said flatly, "My camera just got stolen."

He was so surprisingly calm about it, that it took me a solid five minutes to believe that he wasn't kidding. Moments later, Reece caught a second guy sneaking his grubby hands into his pocket. So this is the Rio everyone warns you about.

We debated briefly whether we still wanted to try to get in. It seemed like a real shame to drop a ton of cash for scalped tickets to a spectacle that we couldn't photograph. Many would disagree with my point of view, but I really didn't want to bother at that point. We could always come back tomorrow with our crappy back-up camera. We decided to head back to the apartment to contact our insurance company and collect ourselves for a bit.

STA Travel let us know that they require a police report in order to open a claim. Luckily there is a station around the corner from our apartment. Unluckily, Portuguese is SO FUCKING DIFFICULT to understand, we worried about the logistics of pulling off the task. One of us had the bright idea to look up the translation for the following phrase online, and write it in a note for the officers.

"My camera has been stolen. I need a police report for my insurance company."

Donned in Carnival glitter and ribbons, we walked to the station, only to learn that there is a special "tourist" station on the other end of town where such matters are attended to. We were able to communicate with one friendly officer who spoke a little bit of Spanish, and explained that he would drive us to the other station. Climbing into the back of his cop car, I was more upset than ever that we didn't have a camera to capture the moment.

After some discussion with his partner, he informed us that the station would be way too busy at that time (I'll bet), we'd likely be waiting for hours, and we'd be better off getting some sleep and coming back the following day. Works for me.

Back at home, Reece and I decided we weren't going to let this little fiasco ruin our night. Cranking some music and polishing off every remaining drop alcohol in our fridge, we had our own Carnival parade. Before long, we noticed it was starting to get light out. Quite a feat, considering Reece hates the idea of staying up late enough to watch night turn to day. We abruptly decided to run to the beach and catch the sunrise (crappy back-up camera in hand).

It was gorgeous. It was envigorating. It was possibly the best moment we have had on this trip yet. We frolicked in the sand (yup, I said frolicked). We splashed in the waves. We managed to capture a really unusual burst of light surrounding the sun that was only visible in photos. Maybe Crappy Cam isn't so bad after all.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tan Update #1

It's hard work going to the beach here. Seriously. The heat is like nothing I have felt on this earth. But, I think my diligence is quickly paying off.

I don't know whether I'm more impressed at what a few days of Brazilian sun can do, or at the fact that I spent three years in San Francisco THAT PALE.

Sem Alcool

If you don't know what that means, I will assure you that they are two words you never want to hear at a sporting event.

I make no secret of the fact that I hate sports. Having a die-hard football fan as a boyfriend, I have learned a few things about making them bearable. Well, one thing really. Nothing eases the pain of watching sports like drinking beer all afternoon. As I say at every Hurricans gamewatch he drags me to, "I hate football, but I love day drinking." They go together like Brazilians and bikinis.

Despite my sports loathing, I was excited to go to our first futbol game in Brazil. The stadium itself is meant to be a spectacle, the fans are out of control, and (don't tell Reece) at least soccer isn't QUITE as boring as football. It's such a giant part of the culture here, we couldn't leave without checking out a game. And lucky us, we happen to be here during the semi-finals.

Our adventure began three hours before the game was scheduled to start. We figured an hour of navigating the subway system to get there, and a two hour advance arrival to buy tickets.

I'll tell you, the ride there alone had me questioning if we were taking our life into our hands. It was packed like nothing I have ever seen before with an aggressive, rowdy crowd. Literally, there was an elbow or sweaty back or armpit inches from your face at all times. At each station, as another massive crowd tried to jam themselves onto the train, people would shout and shove and bang on the walls in fury. Stop after stop as we neared the stadium, each with a larger crowd than the last, near riots breaking out every time the doors opened. At one point a kid got shoved off the train as the doors were closing, and his mother had to scream at him from inside to stay there till she could come back for him. Insanity!

After getting off at wrong station to make our connection, we had to fight the crowds again to earn a spot on the following train. Eventually we made it to the stadium in one piece, the only casualty being my sunglasses. By now, two hours had passed since we left the house. A ticket booth was nowhere to be found, so we joined the masses of scalpers and tried to gather if any tickets were being sold for the maximum price we were hoping to pay, $100 Reals (about $25 per ticket). We mistakenlly tried to buy tickets from a guy who was only selling beers. We ran into a friend who told us they just bought two tickets for $300R. It wasn't looking good.

We were finally approached by a guy with two tickets. We haggled him down to our $100R goal (no small feat when we don't speak the language), which was the face value of the tickets. Either we just got totally scammed, or I have no idea how these guys make their money.

Making our way through the crowd again, we approached the entrance holding our breath with tickets in hand. Success!! We were in and to our seats (which we were very happy with) in no time. Time for some beer!!

"CERVEJA S.A." it read on the shirts of the vendors. "S.A."? What the hell is "S.A.?! Wait a minute... NON-ALCOHOL BEER??? They don't serve or allow any alcohol inside the staduim!! Why, in all of the research I have done about every freaking thing that we do, was I not aware of this very important detail?!

So, there I was. Sweating in the late afternoon heat. Approaching three hours of sports watching. With not a drop of beer. Outrageous.

There's not really much else to say.

Oh yeah, the game. It was fun. Best part was witnessing the crowd. Flags and fireworks (IN the stands!!), cheers and songs, balloons and confetti and and these GIANT banner/flag things that the crowd would pull up and over themselves, like waves washing ashore at the beach, covering entire sections of the stadium. Really cool to see.

Neither team scored a single goal, so it came down to a shoot out. Each team, with five chances, scored five goals. At that point it was sudden death, each team kicking once more before Fluminese missed a shot. As avid Vasco fans (aka we were seated in their section), we couldn't have been more pleased. The crowd...went...WILD. I suggested that they should have skipped all that running around and went straight to the shoot out, since that's all that mattered anyway. I get the sense nobody in Brazil would have agreed with me.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cristo Redentor

We went and saw Jesus this week. He's much taller in person.

The view from up there is also pretty fantastic.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Two Truths & A Lie - Rio Edition

- The bikinis are tiny.
- The skin is tan.
- The bodies are perfect.

You hear a lot of hype about Rio de Janeiro. So much so, that I have been nervous this entire trip about exposing my "I'm From SF" pale, "I (Used To) Sit At A Desk All Day" flabby body on the beach. I hoped that the month of travel leading up to Rio would help me shed the excess holiday pounds and be bikini ready. No such luck.

However, I am delighted to report the following:

The bikinis are in fact TINY. From the shockingly young to the startlingly old, men, women, pregnant women, entire happy families. Everybody wears very, very little on the beach. There is no such thing as a one piece. Certainly no board shorts. Thongs and speedos are definitely the norm. Brazilians are proud to show off as much as they can. This helps them achieve the next fact...

The skin is remarkably tan. There is no question that Cariocas live and breath the beach. I have never seen so many, SO TAN people in one place in my life. It's incredible.

As you've probably gathered by now, the next fact I feel it is my duty to report is that the bodies, my friend, are NOT perfect. Far from it in fact. A walk down Copacabana or Ipanema beach reveals far more "imperfect" bodies than you would find on any beach in Southern California. At the risk of sounding rude, we're talking like, "I can't find your bikini" imperfect.

The beautiful thing about it, is that they are proud and unashamed. Teeny tiny bikinis, deep dark skin, letting it ALL hang out. You don't see woman sucking it in here, or trying to disguise it with a sarong. There is not an ounce of self-consciousness to be found in this entire city.

It's pretty liberating, even for a sarong-wearer like myself. Between the caipirinhas, the churrascurias and the long lazy days on the beach, I am heavier now than when we left. But I've never felt more at ease in a bikini. Then tan doesn't hurt either :)

Monday, February 8, 2010


Whenever the subject of drunk food comes up, Reece speaks adoringly of a treat he and Nevin used to enjoy, called Cochinas. For years, I have countered with disbelief. There is no way that they are called "Cochinas"! For those of you who don't know, the literal Spanish translation of cochina is "female pig", but as a slang term it more closely refers to a "pig of a woman, typically with loose morals". Why on earth would any restaurant fry up and serve bite-sized balls of shredded chicken and cream cheese named after a filthy whore? Reece surely must have been too drunk to recall the actual name. But still, he insisted.

Having arrived in Brazi, the mystery has been solved. Every bar and street corner juice stand in Rio sells the infamous snack, and they are called "Coxinhas". Ah! It's in Portuguese, NOT Spanish! It all comes together.

I feel much better now about how many he used to eat every night in college.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Enjoying Rio

What more could you ask for on a blazing hot day than an ice cold beer and a view of the ocean? And since every day here is more blazingly hot that the last, well, we do alot of drinking at the beach. I'd like to report some interesting and culturally enriching sight-seeing that we have done, but it's pretty hard to tear ourselves away from this:

Oh yeah, and although Carnival hasn't officially started yet, there is already no shortage of this going on in the streets outside of our apartment:

Looks like it's time for another cold one.


Thanks to our melodious 23 hour bus ride, Reece and I have had this tender tune stuck in our heads for a week. Big time.

Catchy, isn't it?

Can someone please explain the video to me? Cause I am totally creeped out by it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Accommodations #12

Without further ado, it's time to share our sweet ass accommodations in Rio. The booking of which, made months ago, was the cause of our rush to arrive. The price of which, well, let's just say I reserved this long before I had any concept of what our budget would really be.

But getting to unpack our musty backpacks, not sharing space with other sandy, sweaty travelers, cooking and cleaning (yes, we're even excited about cleaning!), and having a peaceful, immaculate, air-conditioned space to retreat to... all make it well worth every penny. And with the OUTRAGEOUS prices during Carnival, we really aren't spending any more than we would in a hostel.

If you ever need a place to stay in Rio, I highy suggest getting in touch with these folks. We are in Copacabana, a half block from the beach. Our building is secured by a 24 hour doorman. Within one block we can walk to grocery stores and ATMs and just about anything else you could need.

We love this little place.

This is our view. Artfully shot to crop out the buildings on either side, of course ;)

Sim, por favor!

For our first night in Rio, we decided to go big and dine at the finest Brazilian steakhouse in town. Well, we didn't realize just HOW big till there was no turning back... Let's just say we'll be eating in for a while.

Anyhow, you know the drill - you're given a card that's red on one side and green on the other, to indicate to your waiter whether you want the meat to keep piling on your plate or if you need a breather. You may have been to Fogo de Chao and experienced similar delights.

Well, this place makes Fogo de Chao look like your local soup kitchen. The salad bar alone was a feast like you wouldn't believe. Every salad fixing you could imagine, a cheese selection with salami/nuts/honey/etc, a seafood buffet, a sushi bar, you name it.

The moment you sit down, you're greeted with blue cheese garlic bread, cheese empanadas, and some other cheesy doughy puffs. You know, just a few light little bites to cleanse the palate. You are then asked to select your favorite family-style sides: rice, fried bananas, onion rings, yuccas, etc. Um, all of them. Duh.

When it's time for the main event, it's like you've died and gone to meat heaven. I can't count how many options there were nor identify the cuts, but they were all amazing. Varying degrees of rare and tender and fatty, mouthwatering deliciousness. My favorite was the parmesan crusted something-or-other. Holy salty cheesy goodness. It was like cheese and crackers, only the cracker was meat. Reece's favorite was so rich it tasted like bacon. Tender, greasy, beefy bacon.

We became delirious - first with the meat sweats, then the meat giggles. I didn't know if I was drunk off the wine or the meat. When we couldn't possibly stomach another bite, our plates were cleared and we were given brand new ones. It's amazing how the presence of a clean, expmy plate boosts your ability to keep going! We. Are. Disgusting.

Days later, I think we have finally recovered from the meal. And you better believe we are ready for round two.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Copa, Copacabana!

We have arrived at the much anticipated Rio de Janeiro, Brazil!

When asked by Reece what I was most excited about, was my response "CARNIVAL"?! Well, it probably should have been. Sadly, my answer was, "Grocery shopping!!" Am I a nerd or WHAT?

We've got a studio apartment for the next two weeks, and I am delighted about having a kitchen! Filling a fridge full of snacks, enjoying a glass of wine while I cook dinner, sleeping in and eating breakfast on our own time. It's glorious.

Come on, be honest... Does this get your motor running or what??

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Accommodations #11

Hostel Paudimar Campestre
Foz de Iguacu, Brazil
85 Brazilian Reals (approx $45)/night, with our HI discount

You may be noticing a theme here. A theme I'd like to call, "Budget? What budget??"

Okay, so we're not doing so great keeping our accommodations affordable lately. I could rattle off many excuses for you...

- We've moving so quickly right now and doing things under such short notice, that availability is limited.
- We're dealing with so much other errand-tpe crap that we can't be bothered to do too much research.
- It's damn hot and I like a swimming pool, dammit.

I keep trying to convince Reece (or perhaps myself) that we will make up these costs in Africa and India, where surely our monthly expenses will be less than they are in South America. If we make it that far, of course. Looks like we will be doing some serious couch surfing in Chile.

Anyhow, check this place out. We had our own little private cabin. How cute is that?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Viva Brazil!

As some of you know, there was a bit of an issue surrounding my ability to get into Brazil. We had been receiving conflicting information for months surrounding our need for the official immunization card proving we had been vaccinated for yellow fever. Reece's doctor told him he MUST carry it with him. Mine did not. The woman who sold us our flight to Rio said we ABSOLUTELY must have it (she couldn't stress it enough). The woman at our hostel said we would not. I read somewhere you only needed it when coming from a yellow fever zone - Bolivia being one of them, Argentina not.

Since my healthcare professional had not informed me of any significance attached to this little yellow slip of paper, I left it at home. We decided we must do our best to get the thing into my possession. Knowing of course that if I had it, I probably wouldn't need it, and if I didn't, I most certainly would.

From Bolivia, we made a reservation at the final hostel we'd visit before crossing the border, on the date which we hoped to arrive. My sister came to the rescue and arranged to have it delivered via international FedEx. A whopping $68, and a guarantee that it would arrive by January 30th.

Well, you don't have to be a scientist to conclude that it did not in fact arrive on the 30th. Or the 31st (which is the day we arrived). Or the 1st. We were scheduled to cross the border on the 2nd, and had quite a little dilema on our hands. Do we stick around and wait for it, and risk missing our flight (from the Brazilian side of Iguazu) on the 3rd? Or do we attempt to cross the border without it, aware that if we were successful we'd never see that yellow card again?

I did a little research and found that we may need the card again in Africa. And I'll be damned if we're gonna waste the $68 my sister spent getting it to us, just to leave it behind. We tracked it, we Skyped FexEd, we interrogated everyone in reception. We were getting lots of conflicting bits of information about where it could possibly be, but nobody seemed to be able to pinpoint it. Then we did the last thing we possibly could do given the situation - sat by the pool and drank a bottle of wine.

The morning of the 2nd, I was pretty stressed out. The girl at reception still insisted it had not arrived. FedEx continued to insist that it had. I managed to get through to the international customer service folks, who said the package had been signed for by one "S. Shamma" on January 30th. That would have been pretty amazing, considering I was in Salta at the time. During one last frantic, outraged call, a man walked through the front doors holding what Reece identified from across the lobby as a FedEx envelope. Hooray!! FedEx may have lied to me, and I may have been uneccessarily harsh with some front desk girls, but now the card was MINE! We celebrated with a relaxing hour in the pool, then packed up and confidently headed for the border.


I would desperately love to report that the immigration officials carefully scrutinized my yellow immunization card. That they pulled me aside and checked it twice, just to make sure it was legit. That they called their colleages over to bear witness to the fact that I was fully vaccinated.

But alas, none of these things happened. I approached my turn in line like an eager college girl on her 21st birthday, anxiously waiting to be carded. And I was breezed through without the bat of an eye.

Perhaps I should have tried a fake ID. That used to work every time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Iguazu Falls

I would love to say that I was immediately blown away by Iguazu Falls. I mean, don't get me wrong. They are absolutely gorgeous. I am really glad we decided to take the route that we did and had the opportunity to see them.

What I didn't expect is how, well, how should I put this, organized the whole thing would be. Trains and paths and employees and boats and photographers and sandwiches. This place has some serious infrastructure.

It was nice for sure, made the visit very convenient. We got to get right up close to some massive waterfalls. We got great angles from which to photograph waterfalls. We got to take a speedboat INTO waterfalls. And do all of this without soiling the soles of my shoes.

I think what hindered a greater appreciation was the inabiility to wrap my head around the fact that they were REAL. The set-up felt alot like walking around Sea World, I expected an employee entrance hidden behind one of the waterfalls to open at any moment.

Looking back, I'm like, "Holy shit we saw saw some amazing fucking giant waterfalls!" I think I might want to go back ;)

For some photos of actual waterfalls, click HERE.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Accommodations #10b

Theoretically, the 10th place we slept was a "semi-cama" recliner on an Argentinian Flecha Bus. But here is the tenth, well, room we paid to sleep in on our trip.

Hostel Inn
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina
160 Pesos* (approx $42)/night

*With purchase of an HI Hostel card (about $15 bucks) which will grant us discounts at affiliated hostels worldwide.

Puerto Iguazu, Argentina's gateway to Iguazu Falls, does not have many options in our budget (which we've somewhat arbitrarily deemed to be about $25 a night). It has even fewer budget options that we were keen on staying in after what we thought would be a nightmarish 23 hour bus ride. Throw a measly one day advance notice in the mix, and pickins were slim.

Lonely Planet claims that Hostel Inn is "one of the best hostels in the country". Who wouldn't be a sucker for a superlative like that?? Previously a casino and set on a large, plush plot of land on the way to the falls, it boasts a nice pool, bar, travel agent, pool, laundry, free breakfast, wifi, a pool... pretty much everything a backpacker could need. Did I mention it has a POOL? They had me at, well, you know.

I forgot to take a picture of the room, but I did get... this shot.