Mai Yamani

Brazil trip diary 2004

Well, I'm back, and here's my trip diary. Coming up next: pictures. And then I'll even link relevant pictures in the diary.

Sao Paolo, Monday, 5 January 2004, 11:15 AM

We are stuck in Sao Paolo briefly because we missed our connection to Salvador because we were being molested by immigration and customs. There is now a separate line for Americans to wait in to have a picture and a thumbprint taken, to reciprocate the United States' policy of doing likewise to foreigners entering our borders, with a bunch of gleeful Brazilian and British and German and whatever people gleefully getting in line ahead of us and splitting up our group (thirty-one people). Not the end of the world, but I can see why people coming to the U.S. now find it tiresome and offensive.

Having had ample opportunity to stare at it, I feel compelled to observe to you that the eagle on my passport is ugly, anatomically incorrect, and completely incapable of flight, which renders it somewhat laughable. Also, the words "E pluribus unum" are illegible. I am not impressed with my nation of birth's collective sense of graphic design.

We were supposed to go on a walking tour immediately upon arriving in Salvador. Ha. Who planned this? We stagger off the plane having had little to no sleep, and then go on a walking tour? Right. Whatever.

Salvador da Bahia, Thursday, 8 January 2004, 9:15 AM

No internet in Salvador, in spite of the Monte Pascoal's promises of "Internet Easy and Free Access." The instructions, which had clearly been translated from Portuguese using Babelfish or similar and had been drawn up originally by someone who had no particularly sound understanding of what they were doing in the first place, ran, in part, like this:

"Create a new dial-Up access and nominate it as Hotel (Connect using: HPS56 AUDIOMODEM RISER);

Typing on the Next and choose number 71 for Area Code and 3500 for Phone number:;

Once finished the new connection go to the properties and select Connecting using: HSP56 MicroModem; then go to the connection file and clean the first option to apply calls rules;

Also on properties: Server options: PPP: Internet, Windows NT Server, Windows 98 Advanced options: Activate Software computation Net configurations allowed: TCP/IP"

I followed these instructions, although admittedly not to the letter, but was rewarded in all instances not with internet access, but with a busy signal. Nor have I located an internet café in Salvador. I suppose I will wait until we get to Rio tomorrow, where our hotel did not actually promise internet that I am aware of. We shall see.

Upon arrival, we did, indeed take a walking tour, and if I am ever talking to a travel agent who is not actually responsible for arranging the intimate details of my life, I will ask them why the heck they always think it is a good idea to book a walking tour for persons who have just arrived at their destination, especially when that arrival involves much flying and no sleep. The only remotely logical motivation I can conceive of is to enable us to walk around by ourselves immediately after arrival, which I do not particularly think is worth the trade-off that you are stumbling around in a state of extreme fatigue and scarcely interested in anything around you.

It doesn't actually help that much here anyway, since we are by the beach but pretty much anything worth seeing or doing is elsewhere, so we'd have to take a taxi if we wanted to get back to the historical center we were walking around. Oh well. I have pictures and stuff.

Our tour guide, Simone, is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about Salvador and the rest of the Bahia region, although I must admit I was fantastically amused when Michael Dinwiddie was making fun of her that night at dinner. "That cactus was planted in 1724, by the slaves, who carried it with their bare hands ... the color of my placemat indicates that I am a man, yours that you are a woman, and yours ... that you are undecided ..."

It was a good thing I was amused, since dinner was wretched. The service was abominable, even for Bahia, where slow is in fact the norm. The only thing they fed the vegetarians or vegans were the most anemic and unappealing salads (really, grated carrots on yellow lettuce leaves with rings of raw onion and a few olives), although Rob was able to get some french fries by dint of paying extra for them (on top of the entire meal Gallatin paid for, of course). I didn't actually eat anything either, except the olives out of Danielle's salad, because everything else was unappealing by virtue of consisting of seafood laced with onions and cilantro. Tragically, my dietary aversions cannot be described in a single word, and so are even less likely to be respected, not that the veggies are making out terribly well in a place where food that contains neither meat nor seafood is tenuously grasped at best. We get by.

I am accustomed to drinks not being included with school subsidized meals, but not to "drinks" including "water". I also usually drink gallons of water in my hotel room. Selling bottle water to dehydrated tourists must not be such a bad racket, actually. At least we get it free with breakfast, along with a bunch of fresh juice, fruit, cakes, et cetera. Not that I usually eat breakfast, but here I definitely make an exception.

On Tuesday we went with Simone and our bus out into the countryside of Bahia.

We stopped off by the road one place where this girl, who was maybe eight, and her brother, perhaps ten, hacked open some fresh sugar cane for us. (Very fibery, and not terribly sweet.) We spent a long time (an excessive period of time, in my opinion, and most of us were just standing around the entire time, so I presume they concurred) at a market in one little town, where some of the smokers sampled tobacco, and we all tried something called a jackfruit which tasted of sour apple candy, and little boys asked us for pens. Krystal gave them some lotion instead, which seemed to amuse them, at least.

After a good deal more standing around, we got back on the gloriously-air conditioned bus. Although I have to say, if you have never changed a tampon on a moving bus with its window cracked open driving through the streets of a rural town, you have not lived.

Our next stop was at a settlement, part of the movement of landless peasants, where what had once been land owned by some rich person who was doing nothing with it, and had then been settled precariously with black plastic tents, was now a rather encouraging-looking cacao plantation. I assure you that none of the posh chocolates the world over hold a candle to the stuff made from freshly-ground cacao powder and fresh sugar cane sugar, and the chocolate liqueur made from the same is nothing to sneeze at, either. I bought some of both.

From thence to Cachoeira, our final destination, a little colonial town on the river. We stopped while people shopped, at length, for wood-carved figurines and sea turtles, but finally made our way to the former convent where we were having lunch so we could wait even longer for lunch. Having anything served to you in Brazil seems to take a prodigiously long time, and it is best to accept this as soon as possible. Easier said than done, however, when you are ravenously starving. In the meantime, we amused ourselves by looking at the catacombs that had been transformed into a TV-watching room.

Lunch was a great success in terms of the amount of onions (none) and cilantro (minimal, and easily removed). I had a very nice steak. Others had fish, and still others were informed that there was no chicken and they would have to choose between the former two. The vegetarians, sick of being treated like vegans, got omelets, and the vegans ate french fries. Can I just say that I'm a little unnerved by the prospect of vegans who say they don't particularly like vegetables, and not in the sense of "haha, I don't like them, so I feel no compunction about consuming them!" Vegetarians can get away with that, but I have no idea how vegans can do that, whether or not they are in Brazil.

We also visited this sorority of African-Brazilian women dating back to days of slavery before we left Cachoeira.

The evening was free. I took advantage of this by taking some more Excedrin, lying down, and watching an episode of Angel subbed in Portuguese before falling asleep, but I counted the evening a success, so you may, as well.

Yesterday we went out into the slums, which in Brazil take the form of a sea of tiny rooms precariously perched on the hills that had been uninhabited when slavery was abolished. They are, of course, interleaved with wealthier areas everywhere, but previously we had only driven by them. We visited a percussion troupe that does good work in their neighborhood, which was moderately interesting to me but I did like peering out the windows of their new, spacious headquarters at the rest of the neighborhood. I took a picture of a poodle sleeping on a desk in the room next door.

After that, we visited a compound where the Condomble religion is practiced, in its more unadulterated form, as opposed to the form which has been syncretised with Catholicism for hundreds of years now. A rather serious young man named Alex guided us from house to house and told us, through Simone, about the spirits who inhabit each of them, while we asked him about their practices. He seemed pretty dubious at first, but he warmed up to us as we went on. We just warmed up. In the oppressive sun, that is. Fascinating as it was, I think we were all thinking, "Please, God, not another house!" At least, I was. And we all ran onto the bus. So, I'm assuming agreement here.

I have found a form of Brazilian dining that I like -- charrasciura! Uh, at least, I think that's how it was spelt. They had a large buffet of side dishes -- I was particularly taken with the gorgonzola cheese, which was like little cubes of moldy heaven at this point -- and while you were eating, waiters paraded about with meat spitted on large knives, which they offered to you, cutting off a slice if you accepted. No onions or cilantro, either. Fabulous.

Soporific, though. I got back to my room, lay down for a minute, and next thing I knew ... it was 7:30. My roommate woke me up and we went to a restaurant on the shore near the beach. I had one of those cocktails with the limes and the sugar cane and the alcohol of some sort, and part of a pizza italiana. From there, more uncharacteristically still, I went with Dee and two other girls to some club to hear live music and drink a small bottle of overpriced water, as I was rather dehydrated again by that point. It was a longish taxi ride, and our taxi driver waited outside the club for us for free, and then didn't put the ride back on his meter, which, combined with our heavy tip because it was easier to each put in R$ 10, we suppose made it all worth it.

Besides drinking a bottle of water, I consented to dance. Once. The Brazilian man who took pity on me and attempted to dance with me had clearly never been so amused, and I suppose I cannot grudge him that. It was very amusing.

I woke up with a nasty sore throat, though. Got some medication from Dee and decided to sit around writing for a while because hey, take the opportunities you get, right?

This morning when I went down to breakfast, one of the boys was sitting in the lobby with pen in hand, crumpled sheets of paper scattered about him, writing poetry. Too cute. Too lovelorn, most likely. I was terribly amused.

Salvador, Thursday, 8 January 2004, 8:41 PM

A bunch of us went to the Mercado Modelo -- great big souvenir market -- and I got a couple of necklaces for my family, a hat to try keep the damn sun off and a pair of fabulous earrings shaped like flip flips made from shell and beads.

I refused to do any haggling, although some other people did. For one thing, even I have so much more money than these vendors anyway. For another, I just hate haggling anyway.

We took the bus there, which was quite the experience, but we couldn't find the right bus to get back -- although there were tonnes of other busses, just not the one we wanted -- so we took a taxi back.

We have this Fox channel that shows pretty much all the English content on TV here. The live-action shows, like Angel and Buffy and Boston Public, are subbed, but tragically, the Simpsons and other cartoons are dubbed. Earlier today I saw the same damn episode of Boston Public I saw the last time I saw any part of Boston Public. Right now I'm glancing occasionally at this silly One Tree Hill show. And I have my hat on. I love my hat.

Tomorrow, we check out of here and go to Rio. Whee! Good times, good times.

Rio de Janeiro, Friday, 9 January 2004, 8:08 PM

Sitting in the hotel in Rio now. Carolyn and I are roommates now, which is cool because we can be sick together. Also even cooler because she went out to find food for us, muah.

I like this hotel better than our last one, although they have these bizarre keys that are like metal chips that fit into the doorknobs and they only give you one, so you have to leave it at the desk when you leave, which is very odd. There's a wooden shelf-thing all along the wall behind our beds with an old-school-looking radio built into it, which very cleverly has no tuning mechanism, so you get whatever this one radio station they saw fit to provide, but it's still kinda cool. It also has better cable, so we watched La Femme Nikita and Friends and Cold Case subbed in Portuguese. Best of all, they gave us caperenias for welcome drinks, plus these excellent fresh potato chips.

Our flight to Rio was rather nasty. I thought my head was going to explode. I also thought the plane had gotten really, really quiet, but that was just me going deaf.

We stopped briefly at the Carmen Miranda museum, which was a funny little circular concrete building filled with, like, her old fruit-covered hats and eight-inch heels and stuff. After that, we ascended Sugar Loaf in the spiffy little cable cars, and while we were up there, the nice friendly (although not so good for pictures) cloud cover turned into an flat-out rain, which continues still. We all huddled in the gift shop until we could get on another cable car down. Besides the gift shops, they have a bunch of really cool terraced paths up there, not to mention the animals that are the size of squirrels and have squirrel-like tails but are actually tiny monkeys, with tiny monkey faces and all. Adorable. I want one.

Tomorrow, apparently, we're doing some kind of community service project after we visit the famous Jesus statue. This is me with my eyebrows raised, seeing as how our new guide, Roberto, totally sprung this on us in the bus on the way to the hotel. He was all, wear old jeans and sneakers. I was all, dude, I only have one pair of shoes with me, and they're kind of nice clogs. Thanks so much for the warning. We'll see.

Rio de Janeiro, Sunday, 11 January 2004, 10:30 PM

My birthday was really great yesterday, although I'm trying not to be too bitter about the rafting debacle today.

In the morning, we got in three vans and drove up to the top of the mountain with the statue of Christ on it. (Actually, we drove up to the elevator that took us to the escalators, but you know what I mean.) It was cloudy, but up there we were above the clouds, which was sort of interesting, if not exactly a spectacular view. It's really hard to take pictures of Christ when you're being blinded by the sun and the light reflecting off the clouds, but I made an effort.

Then we loaded up into Jeeps -- ours was the partying, kareokeing Jeep -- and drove into the favela where we helped clear garbage from a little strip of land on the hill that's going to be a park. We did this for, like, 45 minutes, which was terribly helpful and strenuous. We were going to work a little longer, but ironically, we had to stop early because the people in the neighborhood had made us some food and if we were to get in back in time, we had to finish eating by 1:00.

One family proudly invited us into their house to use their bathroom to wash up and to look around. They had a tiny living room, a couple of bedrooms, and some crazy crooked stairs up to a laundry room and some other space, all of it with very clean bare concrete walls. They only had a few things, but they had obviously worked hard and made their purchases count -- a nice large TV with a sizable stereo, a Playstation, a washing machine. A lot of people were really shocked and kind of bothered, but it made a lot of sense, really -- spend your money on something that's going to last, instead of frittering a lot away going out and such. Of course, they had to have that money in the first place. There is definitely a certain economic range contained within the homogenous-looking favelas.

When we left, we returned to our vans, but only long enough to connect with the ancient trams that are still running, although they require the combined efforts of two tram operators and a lot of back and forth and stick that thing in here to do so. Our group had a tram car all to ourselves through the Saint Tereza neighborhood, and then we connected to the subway, which brought us within a few blocks of our hotel. Since we were free until dinner, I showed my pictures to my roommate, who had stayed home since she was feeling much sicker than was I, and crashed until dinner.

For dinner we went to a very posh churrasciura. They had a truly fabulous buffet section, where I was in cheese and bread heaven, particularly. I also had a very nice passionfruit caperhena. Passionfruit are delicious and have interesting edible seeds, somewhat like a pomegranate. I had a very nice birthday cake -- layers of ladyfingers and something creamy with chocolate on top -- presented with a sparkler stuck on the side and a round of Happy Birthday, which was very nice. I ended up being given three pieces and had to take some back with me.

Then I went to sleep, because I'm boring and tired and sick like that.

The next day was the infamous rafting trip that none of us were expecting exactly. I mean, Dee had requested something like the walking and waterfall-swimming that they had done on their last trip to Brazil, so that was what was on our itinerary. But then, our tour guides definitely indicated that there was also some kind of rafting. They definitely told us to wear comfortable walking shoes, for which I will be eternally bitter, as there was no walking involved. We turned up -- after a nice long drive through very nice countryside, with all sorts of dramatic hills and greenery and such -- and were immediately herded onto rafts after a quick lesson on how to say "left", "right", "forward" and "back" in Portuguese, and being given lifevests and helmets and instructed to take off our shoes.

The only one of these words we ended up using was "forward" ("frente" [FREHN-CHE]). As in "Frente! Frente! Frente! Don't stop rowing just because your raft is being tossed like an idle plaything, silly inexperienced Americans!"

The first thing we did was get stuck in the first rapids we came to. Allegedly, this is because we stopped paddling. I think it was because we got stuck on something in the rapids. Anyway, our guide got out and unstuck us, which sent us careening off where we lost two people overboard. One of them was our interpreter/other rafting guide, which just goes to show you what we were up against here. I, prudently, did not keep paddling, but instead hurled myself into the raft, and did not go overboard.

We handled all the other rapids better -- really, we could hardly have done worse, could we have done? -- but the damn things just went on, and on, and on. Two and a half hours of constant rowing, not so much my idea of a good time, especially after the sun really came out. Although the rapids were certainly the fun bits. Hey, I even prefer the turbulence in airplanes. Anyway, by the time we got to our final destination, where we had lunch, I was prepared to take desperate measures to get the heck off that raft and just about anywhere else.

I noted with displeasure a few freckles that put in appearance on my shoulders, and my nose has so many freckles now they're all going to grow together, I swear. But that was only the beginning (ominous music) ...

That evening, I went and purchased many cool souvenirs at the hippie fair, which was simply enormous and packed with stuff. I got more presents, lost all track of the people I meant to share a taxi with, and then, because I had spent a lot of the money I brought for that particular shopping trip and I have clearly been living in New York too long, I decided hey, I'd walk home, or partway home, or whatever, as it wasn't very far away as I remembered.

It was a very nice stroll on the avenue between Ipanema beach and the posh Ipanema neighborhood. Except that, like, I did not seem to be getting anywhere in particular and I was thinking, hmm, perhaps I should have been actually paying attention on the bus ride or something. Also, my knee hurt. A lot, Not my knee itself, but the skin. Also my arms ... gah, sunburn! Really bad sunburn! That was really the last straw.

So, I decided to get a taxi. Except ... no, not enough money. This was not good. I sought out my friendly local Portuguese-speaking policeman. We gesticulated at each other for a while, but did not really get anywhere, so he flagged down the couple walking their two black and white furry mops past us, and lo! English did they speak, and from Chicago they had actually just gotten back, and they figured that the easiest thing to do would be to just go grab their car and drive me back to my hotel.

It goes without saying that they were the nicest people ever. Their dogs were also about as sweet and friendly as could be. It was definitely a good thing that they drove me back, as then I had to contend with the Incredible Raging Sunburn o' Doom.

Lobster-red patches on my arms and thighs, especially my left arm and left thigh, which are just a mess still. I found Dee and she nursed me with cold cloths and aloe vera gel obtained from Christine (PSA: Go buy some 100% aloe vera gel now. Look at your friendly local healthy stuff store. Don't ask questions, just do it.), but still, ugh. I don't believe in tanning (skin damage, rebranded!), especially in me tanning because I'm so white and it only goes downhill from here, and besides it's all goofy and uneven and wah! There's even this great white stripe in the middle of my left thigh where my sunscreen, which of course I was wearing even though I wasn't entirely prepared for this rafting trip that was sprung upon us, evidently failed to go AWOL. It's just lovely, let me tell you.

Anyway. Yeah. Stupid sunburn.

New York, Wednesday, 14 January 2004, 7:49 PM

Right, the rest of the trip I never got a chance to write about. Monday: free day. Great planning there, since all the museums were closed. Instead, my choices of activities included sleeping in, oh incredible luxury, and then rounding up some other people for an obligatory trip to the beach. Not that we were any of us beach people, really, but you all would die of incredulous horror if we came back and said we'd been staying a block away from the beach in Rio and never actually been, so we figured we'd go in the afternoon to avoid the worst of the sun.

We took a taxi to Ipanema, just because, and rented three beach chairs, which we established by the water. Rob and I went in for a dip, while Danielle watched our stuff, and then we traded off, but pretty soon we just ended up sitting around talking about the Lord of the Rings and Kill Bill. We kept it up until it was actually raining on us.

On the beaches in Rio you can just sit there and get everything done for you scarcely moving at all -- people set up your chairs, come up selling all manner of drinks and sweets, even roasting slabs of cheese right before your very eyes. I can certainly see where they would be a good place to hang out. There's always the sun, of course; but then, there are always umbrellas (which they are happy to set up for you, naturally).

Our final day, we stopped at the headquarters of the Mangueira samba school, where everything is painted in their colors -- forest green and pink -- and they have a variety of impressive social programs in addition to sponsoring a samba team at Carnaval. There weren't a lot of people around, but those who were played soccer or danced the samba with those of us who were willing. (I, of course, took pictures and little jerky silent movies of everyone else instead.) Some really young boys roughhoused with the guys in our group for the longest time -- little boys of all ages are the same, I tell you. After that, we had our last lunch and that was it for the Brazil trip, pretty much -- except for all the waiting around and flying afterwards.

Which, like, I don't even want to think about again. I sort of slept on the plane, except that the activity in which I was engaging doesn't really deserve to be dignified with the name of sleep.

I still haven't slept; I unpacked, sort of, and engaged in setting up my new iBook instead. I could go on doing, but I thought I really ought to get this posted, so here it is.
  • Current Mood: hot hot
  • Current Music: Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect - The Decemberists - Castaways and Cutouts (yes, the entire time.
*sigh* See Richard, see Richard be envious. Envy, Richard. Envy.

Sorry, was bouncing around the New York diaries and had to say hello. Sounds like you had quite the adventure. I love adventures *le sigh*

Oh well, this city is adventure enough on its own some nights. TTFN!
Oh yeah, it was great fun and all, but there's nothing wrong with being back in NYC. Well, aside from the fact that it's too cold even for me and I nearly froze to death in my pathetically inadequate clothing coming back from the airport. :D
Oh no, nothing wrong with NYC at all. I've had a very productive night in the city, career wise, so I'm certainly not complaining. Nothing like actually living in the adventure capital of the Western Hemisphere.

Even if it does involve watching your breath freeze and shatter upon impact with the ground some nights.
Actually dude, gotta contradict - the veggie food in Ghana was really pretty awesome. It didn't necessarily vary that much, but it was GOOD.

And um, the tampon thing, Meghan? Yeah. Dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, Ghana. Oh yeah.

(Now I need to find some way to go to the presentations without having done anything myself. erm, hmm.)

Anyway, glad it was not Of The Suck. (Wasn't, right?)
Well, good, I'm glad someone liked the veggie food in Ghana, because all I heard was complaining, complaining, complaining. That could just be because people like to complain. Human nature and all. :D

Overall, it was very much so Of The Good. Especially retrospectively, when you immediately start to forget anything you didn't like. That never hurts.
People whined about the food in China and it really wasn't that bad, either. Should be noted that I'm fairly fond of stirfried veggies-du-jour, so that might have something to do with it. But the food in Ghana was amazing some days, especially breakfast. omg breakfast. *stomachgrowl*

And yeah, I know what you mean about retrospect. Like, swimming at the waterfall kinda cancelled out the extreme bashing of knees on the second night.