Archive for Bumming around South America

Story of the Day: Comfort

Here’s the Story of the Day: Comfort

Whenever I go on a trip,

I think about all the homes I’ve had

& I remember how little has changed

about what comforts* me.

* = my old worn out feather pillow that mom un-stuffed by hand for just the right level of fluffiness ::  coffee, but good, freshly ground strong fair trade organic coffee in a very large mug with vanilla soymilk & cinnamon :: full, whole body, real hugs in which you can breath in the goodness :: plain organic yogurt :: the crease at the corner of your big brown eyes when you smile :: pigeon pose @ yoga :: wine with mom & lu after a long journey :: cherry red :: long walks outside on a cold or warm day, as long as the sun is on my face :: travel & discovery & long scenic bus rides :: corn tortillas fresh from the comal :: the thought of having a garden full of fresh herbs one day :: loitering all day long at the coffee shop ::  stella & humphrey :: dad’s salt & pepper ‘stash :: enjoying kim crawford savignon blanc :: lenine + jorge drexler + laura’s famous music mixes :: wrapping up in my paisely indian scarf on long rides ::


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Brazilian 10Ks and 10K of rain in Minas

The last week has been a whirlwind… starting last Friday with my colleagues calling me into the office for a special, urgent meeting, of which I had less than an hour to get from my house to get to in Recife´s morning traffic jam. Moreover I´d spent the week finishing up grad school applications, my final Fulbright report, and final report for work, and had been running on no-sleep and all-caffeine.

I arrive, and my colleague Sofia calmly says ´lets go get a coffee?´ I was too exhausted to process what was going on, but next thing I know the whole staff of Diaconia is in the kitchen with a spread of fruits and cake, wishing me a warm Brazilian farewell with hugs & kisses, a prayer, lots of food, and a beautiful card.  Which pretty much sums up the sweet experience that I have had working with this wonderful organization over the past six months.  I then ran home, cleaned my room in anticipation of my dad´s visit, and packed for the upcoming trip to Minas Gerais.

The morning before travelling to Minas my roommates and I ran a 10K in Recife. Originally scheduled for an afternoon along the ocean, for some reason the run was re-routed to start inland at the Jaqueria Park, my favorite local spot to jog, and was to wind through some closed off, main roads around the neighborhoods of Espinheiro, Casa Forte, and back to the park. Well, being organized in a very Recifan style, in the 8am, 90 degree heat we snaked our way around the neighborhood, running in the left lane of a busy street, skirting city buses and Sunday morning traffic, gulping down lungfulls of car exhaust, only to make it an hour later back to the park to down a few liters of water and agua-de-coco because the run only supplied 1 cup of water around the route! It was a fun accomplishment, however, as it was my first race since Chicago´s also sweltering 88 degree marathon in 2007.

Maybe I could make my next career jump to running in overly hot, uncomfortable race conditions.  I did meet a dude who ran the marathon in Madagascar´s heat, no rest stops or water stations, and being one of a few runners he even placed in his age class.

Post-race, post-hydration and carb loading, my dad and I jumped a plane to Minas, arriving in Belo Horizonte on Sunday evening and here in the stunning colonial town of Ouro Preto on Monday morning.  We´ve visited ex-slave-owned gold mines and incredible baroque style churches, and have been staying at a pousada (bed and breakfast) which has hosted the likes of Brazilian composer Vinicius de Moraes (he wrote Girl from Ipanema), who hid out here during the dictatorship, to US poet Elizabeth Bishop and her Brazilian girlfriend, to Henry Kissinger (Nixon´s Secretary of State) over 20 years later.   Unfortunately we´ve been hit up by tons of rain, resulting in a re-routing our trip from the National Park of Caraça to another mining town, Tiradentes,  but my dad is a wonderfully relaxed travel companion and is up for anything.

More to come… I can hardly believe that this has all been in the past 5 days!

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Travel Tips to Brazil from a local-ized gringo in Olinda

Here’s an article from the traveler’s notebook, written by a friend of mine who has lived in Olinda for long enough to publish some damn good tips on Brazil.

– the traveler’s notebook –

10 Tips to Improve Any Trip to Brazil

Posted By ernesto-machado On November 29, 2008 @ 3:39 pm

Brazil is different from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and its other neighbors. Besides the language differences between Spanish-speaking South America and Portuguese-speaking Brazil, a noticeable cultural divide exists.

Brazil, a place where batucada and jazz, beach and jungle, and bikinis and Jesus coexist peacefully, seems to lie on a planet of its own.

Here are some tips for every traveler who intends to spend any amount of time in this, the largest country in South America. In fact, let’s start with that simple fact…

It’s a big country!

It’s easy to forget that Brazil occupies a large chunk of real estate, with the majority of the population and the tourist hotspots concentrated along the coast.

You won’t be able to “do” Brazil in just a few weeks (though it’s certainly possible to “do” some Brazilians in that time span).

Unless you have a lifetime to travel the country, you’ll always miss somewhere interesting. It’s always a challenge to decide which places to visit and which to skip, no matter where you travel, but in a country as large as Brazil you must think about distances. Assume that you’ll visit, at most, two places per week.

Keep in mind, though, that…

Bus travel isn’t perfect.

Don’t assume that buses will take you everywhere you want to go and don’t assume they’ll be on time. Be open-minded towards alternatives like vans (usually called “kombi”), private cars (called “lotação”, a sort of long distance taxi), and motorcycle taxis.

In places where rivers are more common than asphalt, you’ll need to consider boats of all shapes and sizes. Keep in mind that long distance buses often skip over the most interesting places you could visit, while overnight buses are often the target of crime, giving you two good reasons to avoid these long, overnight trips. Opt for shorter legs.

In spite of these long distances, you should definitely…

Leave the southeast.

Visiting the Iguaçu Falls, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro is the equivalent of going to Niagara Falls, New York City, and Miami: everyone and their mother visits these places.

Don’t get me wrong; all these locales are worthy of a visit. But it’s logical that large cities and popular tourist attractions are not the place to meet the “natives”, since locals are usually too busy to concern themselves with you, one in a long line of foreign visitors.

The “heart” of the country lies elsewhere; strive to find it.

Start by trying to…

Photo by [3] babasteve

Skip the hostels.

Though this piece of advice could apply to anyone who wants to get away from the hordes of backpackers in any country, there is another reason to avoid hostels in Brazil.

This appealing option is called a “pousada”, cozy and affordable accommodations usually run by families. Pousadas give you a real chance to connect with the locals, while avoiding loud hostels and expensive hotels.

Don’t pay attention to fancy things like signs, though. I have stayed in some great family-run pousadas that depended exclusively on word of mouth. I’d wake up the next morning to a clean load of laundry, a fantastic breakfast, and a tab smaller than the price of a hostel bed.

Wherever you choose to stay, you must…

Protect yourself.

And no, I’m not just talking about condoms, though I am talking about sex.

The advice here is quite simple: don’t take new love interests to your hotel, hostel or pousada. Brazilians don’t take them home; they go to motels, and so should you. Even if it means an extra expense, at least your belongings will be safe, and he/she/they won’t be able to track you down the next day.

Think of it as part of the Brazilian cultural experience: pay for the three hours and enjoy the motel room sex. And though a casual sexual experience is relatively easy to find in Brazil, a more meaningful relationship with the locals requires that you…

Learn some Portuguese.

Don’t assume that the average Brazilian knows English.

Only two types of Brazilians do: those who have attended the best schools due to their privileged financial situation, and those who work in the tourist industry. Of course, that second category includes all types of people, including some who are earning a decent living (like waiters and tour guides) and some shady characters you’ll want to avoid (like prostitutes and scammers).

In addition, don’t think that your high school or college-level Spanish will be enough.

Portuguese, though relatively similar to Spanish, sounds very different when uttered from the mouth of a Brazilian. Unless you are a native speaker of one of the romance languages, the recommendation is clear: try to learn some Portuguese. It will be the most valuable tool in your arsenal, more so than a guidebook, especially if you wish to interact with the locals (in ways that do not involve you getting ripped off).

Another way to avoid the touts, the thieves and the hookers is to…

Avoid urban beaches.

Except for Copacabana and Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro and, perhaps, Barra in Salvador, you shouldn’t budget time in your itinerary for city beaches. After all, the urbanized coastlines of Natal and Fortaleza and Recife pale in comparison to the charming, nearby towns of Praia da Pipa and Canoa Quebrada and Porto de Galinhas, respectively.

And these are but three examples; the same applies to every coastal capital between Uruguay and the mouth of the Amazon River. Unless you consider gawking at prostitutes an interesting cultural experience… unless you enjoy being the target of hawkers… you don’t have much to gain from metropolitan beaches.

Of course, to visit any beach you need to…

Get some sandals.

But don’t assume that flip flops belong exclusively on the sand.

Brazilians have made wearing flip flops an everyday routine, even though it might seem excessively casual in the eyes of other cultures. The mere variety of sandals for sale in Brazil speaks to this fact.

Wearing tennis shoes with shorts will immediately make you stand out as a foreigner. Men especially should try to avoid shoes unless planning a hike or a fancy evening out on the town. Flip flops are the norm, so head into any store and grab a pair of the local havaianas.

Of course, wearing sandals with socks is a stereotypical gringo ritual. But there is another common fashion faux pas that will teach foreigners that…

Futebol is king.

Travelers should not wear the replica shirts of local clubs unless they are able to hold their own in a conversation.

It’s a simple fact: though Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world, church takes a back seat to futebol on Sundays (and, in fact, all week). Brazilians love to talk about futebol, and any related paraphernalia is a lure for meeting strangers. It’s a fun way to get to know the locals, but they’ll quickly know to move on if you can’t converse about the nation’s favorite topic.

Naturally, once you’re done “making friends”, you’ll need to…

Stay in touch.

No gringo should travel in Brazil without an MSN Messenger account and/or an Orkut profile. Though you may be used to Facebook and MySpace, Brazilians have fallen in love with a different networking website.

Most Brazilians you meet age 35 and younger will probably have one or the other… or both. If you want to stay in touch with the people you meet, you’ll want to have accounts as well.

Simply e-mailing the people you meet is not a good strategy. I have learned, through almost two years of experience, that Brazilians are notoriously bad at keeping in touch via email.

These tips by no means cover every situation you encounter, but with these in mind you’ll be better prepared to handle yourself when Brazil presents you with a challenge. And, believe me, it will.

[7] Ernesto Machado

[8] Ernesto Machado is a native of Puerto Rico. After living in the US and Argentina, he found a home in Northeastern Brazil. He has reason to believe he’s not quite a gringo, though most Brazilians would disagree.

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Article printed from the traveler’s notebook:

URL to article:

URLs in this post:
[3] babasteve:
[6] 10 Best Venues and Shows in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil:
[7] Ernesto Machado: Machado
[8] Ernesto Machado:

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Brazil´s South

I´m in the city of Porto Alegre, located in Brazil´s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul.  It´s hard to believe that just a week ago I was in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil´s northernmost state, a mere 2,368 miles away… it’s equivalent to the the distance between Boston and LA, with no direct flights in site and at least a half day to arrive by air travel.

See map here:
Exibir mapa ampliado

There are some striking differences between Brazil’s north and south.  Down south they they say Rua and poRta using a strong, american-english-like R, where as up north the r is pronouced as an h, so it’s hoo-ah and po-h-ta.  Porto Alegre here was buzzing when I got here on Sunday, between the local parks, city streets, and main tourist sites, in contrast to Recife which is essentially abandoned on Sundays and your options are the beach, the park or the shopping mall.  The sun sets here after 8pm, and it’s a SPECTACULAR sunset over the lake, whereas in Recife the sun rises at 5am and sets at 5.30pm day in and day out, leaving the seasons lost in the monotony of the sun’s path.

And most visually noticable, the German & Italian influence here is obvious, as blond hair and blue eyes area frequent site.  People look much more European, and are in fact classified as ‘gaucho’ (a common Argentinian/Uruguayan/ Southern Brazilian cowboy culture).  They have other gaucho habits here, too, like carrying around a liter of hot water and a gourd filled with mate tea, prepared for a mate break anytime of day.  Brazil’s northeast, on the other hand, offers a visual diversity, given its indigenous, African, and European influences.

Despite these differences, there are marked similarities which remind me that I am, indeed, still in Brazil.  The cars still want to run me over and dont stop for pedestrians, even when they have a stop sign or red light. There is fantastic grafiti on decrepid city buildings, and on Sunday afternoon friends were out sharing liter beers at the neighborhood bars out of a common plastic-cooler bottle.  And people are endlessly warm and helpful, a signature Brazilian characteristic that I found often lost in Argentina.

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You know you’re in the Brazilian ‘sertão’ when…

… the woman sitting next to you in the minivan out of Recife tells you that she has 9 children, who live all over the state of Pernambuco, and you think ‘wow, what a job, raising 9 kids!’ Then another passenger gets in the bus who has just arrived from Rio, and she’s tells you that she’s just so antsy because she is going back home to see her mom for the first time in a year… as well as to visit a few of her 15 BROTHERS and SISTERS. And the kicker- her mom is only 55 years old!

…while purchasing headache medicine at the local pharmacy in Afogados da Ingazeira (pop: 34,000), the pharmacist says that the computers are out and so there is be no way for you to pay today for your medicine. Instead of telling you that you’re out of luck, he simply tells you to take the box of medicine and come back to pay tomorrow!

…dinnertime, which is the equivalent of lunch in the US (they even call it to lanchar, pronounced lunch-R, which comes from the english word lunch). Lanche includes the ‘lie-chee’, or light Brazilian fair: ham and cheese sandwich, eggs and bread, corn based cous-cous, crackers, a burger. You’re hoping for a Brazilian tapioca, a salty manioc-flower based quesadilla of sorts, but no luck. So opening the menu at this outdoor ‘lanchonnete,’ you find around 30 burger options, including burger with corn & mayo, burger with egg and ham and crunchy potato chips on top, burger with lettuce, tomato, and cheese, etc. You ask for a vegetarian selection and are pointed to ‘the american’ burger… a ‘burgerless burger’ with egg, ham, cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Gotta love rural concepts of vegetarianism.

More sertão-isms to come. In the meantime, here’s to two wonderful weeks of travel, celebrating rural food day (today!) with local agroecological activities, interviewing local farmers for my research project, being hosted at fabulous colleagues’ homes, eating vegetarian ham, and straight up rural hospitality in Brazil’s sertão (semi-arid region of the countryside).

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My dad’s reflections & first impressions of Brazil

My dad has written some reflections on our recent family trip, which I thank him for because I have barely begun to digest the entirety of our journey through Brazil & Argentina. Enjoy!


For your blog:
If you’re lucky, a profound breakout moment occurs, that you know will be a part of your life forever.

Collectively, there were the shared moment of the Kennedy assasination, and Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, the Social Unrest followed by the Riots Nationally, and for me, the Chicago Riots, Vietnam & Nixon’s resignation (Thank God!).  Horrible as these things were, they bound together my generation, at the twilight of my adolescence.

I am deeply aware of how blessed I’ve been, to have met my “soul provider”, my wonderful, beautiful wife of 30 years, and the two amazing daughter’s that sprang forward from our love.

The times, and trips together have been the most awesome, hysterical, dramatic, deeply moving moments of my life-underscored by our “one-ness”, as the days unfolded.

Well, this time, after 24 years of these moments as a family, most past trips has been beaten!

Maybe it’s because of Shayna’s thoughtful preparation & careful research of locations to explore, safe, but still with a degree of “wildness”, maybe it’s the fact that the four of us haven’t been together for about a year.

Maybe it’s the added flavor of Shayna’s boyfriend, Noe, whose quiet, intelligence, gentle concern, and most un-Harris like respect (Hello Sir-to me, or Hello Mam, to Tarie…which involuntarily caused us to look over our shoulders!).  I think, in the early moments after returning home to Chicago, the uniqueness of our feelings this time, was that we’re not getting younger, and each of these family trips becomes more precious.

Having said all that, I’ll try to mention some brief feelings about the places we saw, so special because of the people we met & became friends with.

(Excuse me for not mentioning a lot of names, which I would probably misspell & even misname!).

Tarie & I first landed in Sao Paolo, to stay for a few days by ourselves, as we departed earlier than planned-due to the imminent Hurricane that was to hit our departure airport-Miami!

Shayna set us up to meet with 6 of the Fullbright women in Sao Paolo.

It was great to see their energy & chatting with Tarie rapidly, while we ate at this wonderful vegetarian “all you can eat” buffet, while I stuffed myself.  At the end of the meal, I started chatting with the young Brazilian owner of the restaurant, about the wonderful art that he had in the shop.  30 minutes after everyone was ready to leave, I finally gave in, and we continued on our journey!  The patio style boutique “hotel”, in a former 10 room or so home’s charm, was only exceeded by the warm accommodating staff & wonderful breakfast!

We walked alot-and the center of Sao Paulo is hilly, as it is void of solid sidewalks (we attempted to stay clear of pot-holes, but lost most of the time).

I think the highlight of the 4 days in Sao Paulo was going thru the Afro-Brazilian Museum.

It was a very emotional journey, as it traced what the African slaves went thru, from being taken from their native lands, being stripped of their identities, to be chattel property, or actually livestock, shipped to the new world.  It was simply amazing, that they were able to retain anything of their lives, let alone adapt & mold it with the new world, just remarkable.  We spent 4 hours there, and we could have spent another 4 hours there.  This will always be a part of my memory.

Since we hadn’t seen Shayna for about 9 months, the excitement & emotion to fly to Recife, Brazil, couldn’t have been more intense.

We entered her world, in Recife, with trepidation, as we drove thru the economically void miles, from the airport to her apartment.  And as we looked out the cab window, our imaginations ran wild, seeing the amazing range of grafitti on all the buildings.  Some were just non-legible words, but much were fantastic drawings-some of the culture, some like alien drawings-but all had passion!

We entered Shayna’s gated apartment building (all of the buildings have a guard in a tinted glass room behind the security fence.  We were welcomed by one of Shayna’s neighbors, who seemed to be older than Tarie & I, but was probably younger.  She saw Tarie & said “K Lindo”!  (how beautiful).  When she said this, the woman’s face lit up, as Tarie’s turned pink with embarrassment.  This was my first window into the soul & compassion of the Brazilian’s!

I’ll add more later.

Love you,


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Blog entry on borrow- “Por favor, Meeester Bush!”

I haven’t posted new content in a few weeks, and now, what’s worse, I’m ‘blog borrowing.’  I’m not too hip on blog etiquette, so here’s hoping it’s kosher (and promising some fresh content in the near future).

I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed browsing other people’s blogs these days, as opposed to pinning down my own recent thoughts & experiences, perhaps becaue I have too much time to think and in my over-analyses I’m tending to be quite moody, ie. not fun blog content for you readers.

But this entry is fun!  While browsing through the blog archives of a fellow traveler that I met in Paraguay, I landed on “Por favor, Meeester Bush.”  I’m not the laugh-out-loud-while-staring-at-a-screen-type (Seinfeld being the sole exception), but this one definitely brought out a chuckle and the post is worth a read; particularly because in one iteration or another I’ve had this exact experience while traveling over the past eight years (Morocco, Mexico, Japan, Brazil all have their Bush anecdotes).  And sometimes, you just get tired of defending your personal integrity as an American despite the current administration (“but who actually elected him, then, comes the frequent response to my I sure as hell didn’t!“), and in response, have to simply smile and laugh.

Por favor, Meeester Bush!

I don’t want to politicize this blog, I just wanted to relate this little tale briefly, because it was a major event in the course of my travels.

My roommate and I went down to a field near our house to play some pickup soccer. We got there to find a bunch of guys in their late 20s and early 30s playing a very impressive match. They let us join in with the usual jeers and everybody had a good time.

We were taking a (much needed) break between 10 minute halves, sitting around on the sidelines just chatting, when they asked us where we were from. “Estadounidenses, somos.” I responded – we’re Americans.

“Estados Unidos?” they repeated, reasonably shocked (they don’t get many American visitors…the entry visa process is a real pain). There was a microsecond pause as they coordinated telepathically, launching into the same joke simultaneously.

“OOoohhh Meeester Bush! No me tires. Boom! No me mates! jajajaja cuidado las bombas! jajaja no me golpes! BOOM! jajaja”

As if you need a translation:

“Oh Mister Bush! Don’t shoot me (some put hands in the air, others mime holding a machine gun)! Boom! Don’t kill me! hahah lol! watch out for the bombs, guys! haha don’t blow me up! BOOM! (mime being blown apart from the chest) hahaha! lolz!”

It was no big deal to them. It really was just a joke to them. They still let us play, they treated us the same as they had before, and invited us to play again with them next time.
But to be honest, the whole exchange made me sick to my stomach. It wasn’t their fault – they were just purveyors of the cultural humor with which everybody else has been too polite to entertain.

This needs to end.

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