Visitors and a Witness

March 23, 2006

Today ends a string of visitors, and tomorrow I will go back to a more tranquil Brazilian life here in Niteroi. Katie was here for three weeks and we fit quite a bit in, but managed to keep it decently low key so she could get a chance to see what my life is like over here. We fit in a few more churrascos before she left, along with a quick trip to Teresopolis, a game at Maracanã, a trip to Porcão (churrascaria) and a good bye lunch with all her new friends.

Katie enjoyed the National Park…
…I enjoyed the pool at her friend's massive house outside the park.

The same day that Katie left, Bijal and Kavita, some friends of my sister arrived. They were only here for two days, but we managed to fit in Pão de Açucar, Ipanema, Copacabana, Fortaleza de Santa Cruz, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and another game at Maracanã. Whew!
The Fort was amazing… the treatment of prisoners during war time was atrocious. They were put in prisons without light and air holes the size of straws… some prison cells were to small to stand, and after moving them to progressively smaller cells, they were hanged, but instead of the normal Hollywood version, were made to stand on a small pedestal in the sun until they fell off and hung themselves.

I've managed to set up regular voluntary work at the daycare in the favela near Rodrigo's house, so now that normal life will resume, I'm anxious to start there again. The kids are beautiful.

Unfortunately, last night, I had the unfortunate experience of witnessing a mugging right outside my friends' building. We were leaving at about 10pm to get some pizza down the street, and I heard a women shriek across the street. Three men were around her and I saw one pick up her cell phone and the others grabbed some shopping bags she was carrying. I must not quite be Brazilian yet, because my instincts caused me to turn toward her, while my friends took the opportunity to run. I took a step and was promptly yelled at by my friends, so I turned and caught up with them. We hurried into the pizza place and watched the men run off. I felt terribly bad for not helping, but everyone convinced me that there was nothing to be done… we weren't the only ones to witness the crime, and I guess everyone realizes it's just safer to leave the stuff and take off. I didn't see any guns, but in all probability they had a few. The lady mugged was not physically hurt in any way, she just lost some belongings. Sadly, it is almost certain the men live in the favela where I work (it's very close by). I've been there 4 times now, and I can almost understand their desperation. If there were not other honest hardworking people living in the same conditions, I could almost sympathize with them.

Here's a photo from the doorstep of my friends building. The lady was mugged near the white pole.



March 14, 2006

Last weekend was marked with two parties, both churrascos in Steve's Mirante do Atlantico house near Itacoatiara beach. Friday night was mostly the friends I've met through Rodrigo, and we had Sally (Rodrigo as well, buy known by his last name… pronounced "Sah-lee") making his specialty on the grill.

The night included dancing, drinking and lots of grilled meat and cheese… so it was a typical brazilian party. (and a few balloons, by popular request).

Everyone enjoyed the amazing view from Steve's house, and a few used the pool. Again, if you ever come to Rio… stay in one of Steve's houses. If you're in a group, even better, you can't beat the price, or the experience of Brazil.

This is a shot that was ordered by skin color. Rodrigo was ecstatic to not be on the end.

Saturday night was a bit smaller, and a lot of the friends I met in Salvador during Carnaval came, and I got a look at a bunch of the pictures everyone had taken. Again, there was much dancing, meat and drinking, and as Katie would say "a good time was had by all."

On Monday, we took another trip into the favela near Rodrigo's house. After nearly two months of asking about voluntary work, I got through to the head lady of the daycare that sits atop of the Morro. It is paid for by the government, and provided free of charge for kids too young for school, who have working parents. We arrived a bit late, but made some balloons for kids eating lunch, and watched as the rest of the kids were put to sleep. It was adorable, and I was struck again by how similar kids are at that young age, no matter what the environmental conditions are. It's sad to think of the lack of options they will experience as they grow older. It's almost certain that some will turn to drugs and crime… at yet at the current time, they are as innocent as can be. I can't wait to go back. I'm going to look into what materials are most needed and then donate some money, if anyone reading this is interested in donating, please let me know.

More pictures from the churrasco.

More pictures from Morro do Cavalão.

Back in Rio

March 8, 2006

Katie arrived last week, and we have been moving around a bit, exploring Rio. It's interesting to see it again through her eyes… I've almost forgotten what it's like to be here and not speak the language. My Portuguese has taken another jump, and I find myself understanding alot more in the last few days. Partly because I think I'm forced to really understand everything so I can translate.
We attended the Parade of Champions on Saturday, which is the best of the Samba parades in one night, the Saturday after Carnaval. It was beautifully extravagant, and a different energy than in Salvador. Carnaval in each city is very different, and I'm glad I got to experience a bit of Rio as well. I once again, must mention how well things work out for me over here, thanks to my amazing friends. We stayed at the Sheraton for the first two nights when Katie arrived, since I had free nights there through my credit card, and I wanted to stay in Rio for a while. While there, I asked the concierge about the Parade of Champions and I was quoted R$300 for nosebleed seats, meanwhile, a friend of mine picked up much better seats for me for R$85.
After wandering around Rio, then staying with Rodrigo's family for a bit, we are now staying in a beautiful house in São Francisco, owned by my friend Steve who runs a company called Rio Holiday. ( If you ever come to this part of the planet, forget the Sheraton… stay in one of Steve's houses instead (see the view in the picture above). It's placed much better, is a much better deal, and gives a much more Brazilian experience. It's funny how different things seem when I'm hosting, compared to when I'm exploring them for myself. It really gives me a sense of feeling at home here.

Katie has started a blog as well, (under no influence of mine, I swear)… and she recently wrote about her first week here:

Here are pictures from her first week…

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.