Last days of Carnaval in Salvador

February 27, 2006

Saturday night I went to another bloco party, that lasted for a long time, and ended up with an additional 3km hike to find an unoccupied cab. We arrived home exhausted and happy… a state that was getting very familiar. The bloco was for Cocobambu, and I managed to snag a last minute deal on my abada for R$180. To be honest, I don't remember much specifically about the band… but the music was familiar, and we danced for hours on end. Many of the same songs are played in all the blocos (new songs each year, and almost all of axe music.) By Saturday, I knew most of the lyrics, (or more accurately, the sounds), and now that I'm back in Rio… hearing them is already nostalgic. The first attempted robbery occurred Saturday night… and to the largest (6'1" 240lbs?) member of our group. He was alone, outside the bloco, after accompanying some girls in the group to the bathrooms… someone cut him slightly on his left arm with an knife, and while he was distracted by this they cut his shorts twice, ripped the entire pocket out, and took off. (Luckly, we all carry our valuables in pouches in front, behind the beltbuckle.) Here is the result:

Sunday I woke up late, and went to find my friends who had just left for the paderia (bakery) for breakfast. I realized upon returning to the apartment, that the bloco for Sunday (at least the one my friends were attending) was in a different part of town. This was incredulous to me because it meant that the same madness I'd experienced with over a million people during the previous three days was happening in multiple locations around the city of Salvador. In fact, I later learned that the bloco for Sunday was Copo Grande, which was original: both bigger and longer! It started early, around 3 (no recovery time as I'd slept at 5 and woken at 11), and instead of 4 hours, it went on for 6, which meant we didn't get home until nearly midnight. Insane.
It's really tough to describe Carnaval, but last night after getting home from my last bloco I started to get that feeling you get when you are at the end of a great vacation. I know that I will return to Salvador at some point, but with the situation I was in, the atmosphere, the blocos, my 15 new friends in a small apartment… some things will be hard to repeat.

Two other things of note:

  • Sunday morning, I didn't find my friends for breakfast, but met another group of girls while waiting for my food, who invited me to join them, and later invited me to visit them in Sao Paulo. Later that day, I met some sisters during the bloco, who stayed with the group and invited me to visit them in Port Alegre. Meeting people in Brazil is exceptionally easy… I am constantly amazed. People are so quick to invite you to join them, doing whatever. I wish hospitality was like this in the US. My new friends from the apartment have invited me to go out with them in Rio (all live there or in Niteroi), and to use vacation houses in other parts of Brazil.
  • After getting back last night, I went out again, this time alone, to see some of the late night blocos. At 2am, some were just getting started, and I realized that there were many more than I had initially realized, and there were also many more variants in terms of pricing. The ones I saw late last night were much cheaper, which was evident from appearence of the people who had abadas and were inside the ropes. There seemed to be a gradation of blocos, and you buy the one you can afford, and therefore party with people in your socioeconomic class. The cheapest of course is to faz pipoca, which is to stay outside the bloco for free. I initially thought this to be a bit separatist… but then life is like that right? We buy houses in neighborhoods where we can afford them, and live amongst people in our socioeconomic class. The contrast was quite apparent in this situation though. The people on top of the trioelectricas (moving trucks with bands) were throwing free bandanas to the camorote who were watching from the rich hotels lining the street. If someone didn't catch it, it fell into the pipoca, where people were grabbing for what seemed like the scraps.

First set of Carnaval Pictures…


The World’s Biggest Party

February 25, 2006

Absolute craziness. I truly am at a loss for words to describe my last two days of Carnaval in Salvador. However, it's extremely unlike me to be at a loss for words, so let me give it a try.
It's a bit strange for me to start thinking again, because I don't think I've had a non-carnaval thought pass through my head in the last 48 hours. On Thursday night, I went to the Ivete Sangalo (very famous singer here) bloco party. My friends and I waited for nearly two hours for her to arrive, and got some close up pictures as she got on the van. Unfortunately, Evelyn lost her camera during the parade, so I hope mine turn out. The parade started at 6pm, and Ivete's trailer was about 4th or so, so we actually got going at 9 or so. It was craziness from the start. Everyone with an abadá (tshirt) moved into the roped off area around the trucks, which probably stretched for about 400 meters, and took up 90% of the street. Still, we were packed in a huge moving mosh pit, and everyone jumping and shouting and singing. I knew her music, thanks to a dvd and some cd's I listened to, and everyone else seemed to know every word too. What really made the difference was the temperment of the people… It was SO tight, but everyone was there to have a good time, and unlike the mosh pits at home, where some jackass is always starting a fight, this one was good natured. Outside the roped-off area is called the "Pipioca" or "popcorn" which consists of the poorer crowd. It was a little rougher on the outside, and there were quite a few fights, and a number of people being taken away by the police.
On the sides of the street were the "Camarote" which is another pay-to-enter option, where you watch all the parades go by from a safe distance. You can see the stands and verandas in the picture above.
A highlight of the night was when Ivete stopped in front of Oceania, a hotel with a rich Camorote, and started playing "Vertigo" by U2. After a few minutes, we realized that U2 was staying in Oceania, after their concert earlier this week in Sao Paulo… and Ivete and Bono sang back and forth for a few songs. Gilberto Gil was there too, and also chimed in (he's one of the nation's most popular singers, … oh, and the Minister of Education). It was amazing… the best party I've been to, and U2 dropped in as well. The parade lasted for hours, and everyone was drinking and going wild the entire time…. there wasn't really the wax and wane of normal concerts. I was shielding Marcie and Evelyn from the herds of guys attempting to kiss them (no one asks questions, or listens to turn downs…). I all of a sudden became everyone's boyfriend of the moment, as it was the only excuse that worked. Sometimes I denied it, just to add some excitement. I also stopped a few times to make some balloons for some of the kids in the Pipioca.
Ivete's parade lasted until about 2:30am, at which point Evelyn and Marcie escaped to their hotel at the end of the route, and I had to make the 3+ miles trek back home, fighting the crowds of pipoca. Scary at first, but I got used to it. I have started to realize that with my build and skin color, other people are probably more scared of me than I am of them. You just have to keep an eye out to make sure you don't get caught inthe middle of a fight by mistake. Oh, and never look like you're lost, and always walk with confidence.
Yesterday, I tried to find a abadá for the bloco party my friends were going to, but was unsuccessful. However, the night was anything but lost. I pre-partied in the apartment, then joined the pipoca, dancing and going crazy on the other side of the rope. I finally stopped and made some balloon animals, which turned into a zoo, as usual, and I continued until I was out of balloons and my cheeks hurt. The kids were ecstatic, and I was invited back off the street to play around with them for a while. What started out as a silly hobby has really turned into an amazing asset when I'm traveling.
I was coming home, when I encountered Gilberto Gil's bloco, which is always free, so I joined that for a few hours… I finally made it home around midnight, and one of my friends was angry because everyone came home so early. (Their bloco started first, so went from 6-12pm) So a few of us washed up and then went out again. After much craziness we came home at around 4, and today I've been trying to nurse myself back to health.
I've also been told that the REAL carnaval starts today, Saturday,… so I bought another abadá for the bloco "Cocobambu", and everyone from my apartment is going. In fact… my açai is done, and it's about time to get ready…


February 23, 2006

So today is the first official day of Carnaval, and I’m in Salvador, Bahia. In the States, everyone thinks Rio is the capital of Carnaval, but that’s only because few people know of many other cities in Brazil. Here, everyone knows that Salvador has the best Carnaval, and last night I got my first taste of it.
I’m staying really close to the action… in a small, 1 bathroom, 2 bedroom, 600 sq ft apartment with approximately 15 Brazilians. It’s crazy to say the least. The number is approximate because new people seem to arrive every day, and others seem to disappear for hours/days. It’s a scant existance, sleeping on the floor, everyone using one shower, etc… but no one seems to mind too much, as everyone is focused on the blocos… the main event here, that starts today.
These parties are moving block parties, centered around a huge oversized semi-trailer that has a popular band playing on it. The party moves for about 3 miles, over the course of 4 or 5 hours, and to get in to the roped off area around the trailer, you have to buy an abadá, or special shirt that acts as your ticket. They are extremely expensive, ranging from US$75 to US$500 for each party, which includes entrance and your drinks. They start at around 5pm, and the trail of blocos goes for miles, with the last one ending at around 8am the next morning. Today is Thursday, and the first day of the real craziness that will continue until next Tuesday. I purchased an abadá for today (they get more expensive as you get closer to Tuesday) and will likely buy a Cambarote for Saturday, which is another shirt for the parties along side the street, where you can view all the blocos as they go by.
Last night, I went to a show, which was kind of a preview of the bloco parties starting today… there were 4 bands that played on a trailer that moved around a ground that was packed with people. Everyone is going crazy, drinking, jumping, dancing and trying to kiss each other. It’s truly like nothing I’ve ever seen. I was there for about 6 hours, at which point my feet felt like they were going to come off. I had almost 2 hours of sleep the night before… because with 15 people and everyone arriving, you can’t really sleep until everyone decides it’s time… which is okay with me, since it’s more exciting to stay awake. 🙂 We woke up just after 8am to go to a shopping center where the parking lot had turned into a huge black market for trading abadás. The abadás sell out immediately, almost a year in advance, and then can only be traded for and bought on the black market. In a country where a normal wage is $300-800 Reais per month, it’s crazy to see people spend $600 R for one day. People save all year for this, and today is like the uncorking of all that bottled up excitement…

I have some new photos online…
Engagement party and wedding of Filipe (1 week ago), a friend of Rodrigos:
Part of my trip to Espirito Santos, on the way to Salvador (Evelyn’s camera)

Traveling again

February 19, 2006

So I’m on my way to Salvador to experience the craziness that is Carnaval in Brazil. My friend Evelyn is traveling with me, and once again, I am amazed by the hospitality in this country. For the last three nights, we’ve been in Vitoria, which is in the state of Esprito Santos above Rio and below Bahia. We have stayed in a beautiful house close to the beach, the home of the Sergio, who is the brother of a friend of Evelyn’s back in the states. We showed up without ever having met Sergio or his mother before, but were welcomed like old friends. We’ve been going out every night with some other friends of mine that live here. The connection to them is as follows. Two years ago, during my last trip to Brasil, I met a girl during a bus ride into the city… Her twin sister teaches at a university in Niteroi, and about a month ago, introduced me to some of her students, who now live in Niteroi for school. They have holidays now, as it’s summer here, and invited me to visit them in their hometown… Vitoria.
Our first night here we went to a school of Samba, which has a party every weekend in the months preceding carnaval. The school practices for the parade, and rather than waste good music, they turn it into a huge party. My Samba steps need some serious work.

Life after Microsoft: Resources

February 8, 2006

On the subject of my life after I return, I’ve had some thoughts about where I want this blog to go. I started it a year ago, to record any substantial ideas I was having, in hopes of creating some timeless content (as opposed to the recent posts about my travels). I haven’t done anything to advertise the site, and until recently, very few people knew about it (and even fewer read it.) I’m considering posting more, and documenting more about my endeavors outside the stability of an wage. I believe a vast majority of corporate workers in the United States would love to leave their jobs to “do what they love,” but many don’t do it because of the fear of instability. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, in fact, it’s the opposite. But I am ‘lucky’ to not be risk-averse, and I am committed to making my career out of something I enjoy doing.

My current ideas and resources:

Public Speaking: I believe I have an aptitude for this, as unpolished and untrained as it might be. I also enjoy doing it, especially when I choose all the material. I plan on starting my career as a professional speaker with talks on Improving your Memory. I’ve been interested in this topic for nearly 10 years now, and I’m currently honing my own techniques, and will be refining a presentation which I’ve given at a few public schools in the past year.

Balloon Twisting: I learned to twist balloons during college, and volunteered with kids in the surrounding areas. Since then, I’ve raised money for charity by busking, volunteered with other charity organizations, and recently I took a few paying gigs at parties. Twisting balloons is obviously not the typical career path following Microsoft, but it pays well, is fun and easy, has very low overhead and flexible hours, and therefore, I plan on using it to pay some bills while I work on other endeavors.

HyperZen Think Tank: Just over two years ago, I had the idea to semi-formalize the conversations about business ideas that my friends and I were constantly having. We started meeting every week to discuss ideas and career moves, and since then have come up with some interesting ideas for entrepreneurial endeavors, in a number of fields. This is a huge resource, as I consider this group to be highly talented, and while business ideas are a dime a dozen, the fact that we formed a group is unique. Outside of the above attempts at making some money, I will spend the majority of my time working on projects associated with this group.

Sales position: I believe that the ability to sell is extremely important in any career. Or at least, the ones I will consider. In the very least, you are always selling yourself. If the above ideas are not enough, and I need a more formal job for some reason (like health insurance)… I will look for a sales position. I would consider it a great learning experience, and would keep the job as long as needed, while I continue to work on the above endeavors.

Visiting the Other Side

February 6, 2006

Yesterday, I visited a favela (slum). I am lucky to have met Rodrigo… as everything I want to do, he happens to know someone who can help. We’ve been working out in the evenings at the park near his house, and I met Jefferson, a friend of Rodrigo’s a few times. Jefferson is a charming guy from the moment you meet him. He has one of those quick smiles that spreads through his face, that makes you want to smile at whatever he’s talking about, even if you don’t understand. I trusted him immediately.
Jefferson works at a grocery store restocking goods, and because of the low wages (about US$200 a month) for such work, he lives in a favela with his wife. He’s intelligent, honest, and obviously hardworking. From what I understand, he had worked for 6 years with American Airlines, but was laid off a while back. He was all too happy to take Rodrigo and I into the favela and show us around. It is known to be slightly less dangerous than others in the surrounding area because after it’s drug lord was killed a few years back by the police, they set up a small police station at the top of the hill.
I think Jefferson understood why I wanted to see the favela… out of curiosity, if nothing else. I felt safe walking around with him. Between him and Rodrigo, we met tons of people they knew. I am continually impressed with how Rodrigo knows people in every walk of life here. Not very common, from what I can gather.
We entered the favela (situated on a hillside, with perhaps the best views of Niteroi I’ve seen as yet) and walked up a maze of haphazard staircases, with the open sewers right alongside. At the top of the hill, were a few open stands that sold food/snacks and beer, and seemed to be a general meeting place. It was insanely hot after walking up the stairs so we sat down and Jefferson brought us beer.
I’ve seen many slums before, on my trips to India, but I’ve never entered one. These were better off than the slums I’ve seen in India… the housing seemed more permanent and was constructed better, from what I remember. However, this experience was distinctly different for me because I could understand the language. In India, I think I always felt a separation from the slums because I viewed from a passing car, on the way home to my family’s comfortable housing. These were the same people that I passed on the street, the same people I was working out with. These were the same people I was scared of when walking around along at night. Rodrigo pointed out one man nearby with blue shorts on, who used to play soccer with him. A year ago Rodrigo was about to be robbed on the street when the guy with blue shorts recognized him, and stopped his friends. “No, not this one.”
We spent a few hours at the top, drinking beer (which I might add, Jefferson insisted on paying for… another reminder that generosity is a trait independent of others), watching the soccer game, and at the request of Jefferson, I made balloons for a few kids. This soon turned the place into a zoo, as word spread and more and more kids showed up. Meanwhile, the guys around were betting beers on who could blow up a balloon, but no one succeeded. 🙂
We then walked around, and visited Jefferson’s house, which he had constructed by hand three years ago. Two rooms, and a bedroom on top, a small grill and water tank around the back. It was surprisingly normal inside.
The whole experience was quite shocking. The difference between my life and his seems so arbitrary. Even the difference between his family and one of similar status back home makes my jaw drop. Jefferson laid the foundation, and constructed the whole house. Right down to laying the tile. In the States, with similar skill one could easily earn enough to support a family.
In comparison to the kids running around the favela, my life would look like the set of a Hollywood movie. In fact, I’m sure these kids have had exposure to my life, through television and movies. I wonder if they disassociate from it in the same way that I do when I finish an article about the 1000’s that died yesterday in (insert 3rd world country) and then go back to my bowl of cereal.
Until I learned about the changes Mohammed Yunus initiated with Grameen Bank, I used to look at situations like yesterday’s and shake my head with despair. But Dr. Yunus’s work with micro credit has bordered on magical over the last 30 years. There is a solution to the problems with drugs, violence and poverty in this country. In my short time here, I hope I can gain a further understanding of the problems. In the very least, I will endeavor to return with renewed appreciation for the cards I have been dealt.
More pictures from this trip are here.

Life after Microsoft: Money

February 3, 2006

On the subject of my life after I return, I’ve had some thoughts about where I want this blog to go. I started it nearly a year ago, to record any substantial ideas I was having, in hopes of creating some timeless content (as opposed to the recent posts about my travels). I haven’t done anything to advertise the site, and until recently, very few people knew about it (and even fewer read it.) I’m considering posting more, and documenting more about my endeavors outside the stability of an wage. I believe a vast majority of corporate workers in the United States would love to leave their jobs to “do what they love,” but most don’t do it because of the fear of instability. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, in fact, just the opposite. But I am ‘lucky’ enough not be risk-averse, and I am committed to making my career out of something I enjoy doing. I think the lack of answers (and therefore advice) might be what makes documenting my endeavors publicly interesting.

Going from a stable wage to wage-less makes you contemplate your priorities on how to spend money. Obviously, I have no trouble spending some on travel. 🙂 Here’s my 30-second take on money:

  • Save for the future, but don’t obsess over it. Concentrate on earning for the future by investing in myself. At this point, I believe my earning growth potential is much greater than the market growth potential.
  • Spend as little as possible on myself, without sacrificing health or happiness. (Thankfully, I don’t get a thrill from shopping.)
  • Spend on experiences and learning, but much less on things, unless it is a tool for the former.
  • No matter what my income, I always have money for friend and family related expenses.