Saturday, September 20, 2008

Karen in Porto Velho, Rondonia, and not sure where to go next!

At 7:30 a.m. this morning, Rotem Hershkovich of Eilat, Israel, knocked on my door at Yara Hotel.

The night before, I had asked Rotem to wake me up for breakfast downstairs. I wanted to enjoy a final conversation with him in English over the buffet breakfast that is part of the price of our room. He and I had met in the lobby of our hotel Friday evening. He was ecstatic to find someone who could speak English after traveling solo with no one to talk to from Bolivia to Brazil.

Over a breakfast of pizza, white rolls, cheese, cold cuts, watermelon, papaya and vanilla cake, we discussed the details of his upcoming three-day boat trip from Porto Velho on River Madeira to Manaus, the Brazilian city of two million people that is the gateway to the Amazon.

All of yesterday, Friday, I had seriously considered joining him on this boat adventure. I decided not to for a variety of reasons:

1. Sleeping arrangements - I am not sure I could get a wink of sleep in a hammock (never tried). But with 18 people all swinging next to each other on the sweltering boat deck, it did not appeal to me for three nights.

2. No stops for three days - The boat is quite small, the passengers numerous and with 3 days on board thought I might get stir crazy.

3. Scenery. Researched accounts of this trip online and most said scenery was only so-so. I did read a few accounts of drama on the boat, but all pertained to robberies.

These workers have a hard, sweaty job loading the boat by walking up and down this steep hill.
I chose not to take the three-night boat ride from Porto Velho to Manaus because I did not think I could sleep in a hammock. This picture is at half-capacity of the passengers.

So I stay put in Porto Velho and am trying to figure out my next move!

I walked many blocks, dripping sweat in this tropical heat, to talk to a travel agent at VIP Tours in Porto Velho. After an hour together, I decided to buy a fairly expensive airline ticket to Manaus - which has an international airport to get me to Lima, Peru. (Porto Velho does not connect directly to Lima).

This very nice travel agent helped me figure out all travel details mostly thru pantomime, using the calendar and written words since she spoke no English or Spanish and I no Portuguese.

For reasons I am still not sure of. But good news: I found an ATM here that will give me dinero.

It was quite irritating but I decided to take it as a sign that I am not done yet in Porto Velho!

It's 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon and I am going to walk down to the docks where I met Geraldo yesterday. He sells boat tickets, speaks some English and has kindly befriended me. He introduced me to his sister, Gloria, who speaks some English and is a Catholic missionary and teacher here in Porto Velho.

See what happens... NEXT UP ON MY TRAVEL BLOG: went out to dinner last night with literature professor of University of Rondonia to taste traditional Amazonian food. Met him thru a friend of a friend on the internet.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Farewell Rio and the Dark Night of the Chicken Heart

El Misti Hostel, Rio

Tomorrow at 5:30 a.m., I will taxi to the Rio airport. I'm off to Rondonia, a western state of Brazil that borders Bolivia. I will arrive in Porto Velho, the capital, and don't know yet where I will stay or what I will do there.

I am excited about my trip tomorrow. But I am sad to leave Rio, where, despite the rain, I have had a wonderful week! Highlights of Rio, in photos, below:

Karen's strikes her signature pose, a la Saturday Night Fever disco movie, on her final day in Rio. The photo was taken at Sugar Loaf Mountain, overlooking Rio.

Facundo, whom I met at Hostel Misti, was a wonderful guide at the Botanical Garden and at this famous spot, Sugar Loaf Mountain. For my final day in Rio, we rode the cable car to the top for a fantastic, though overcast, view of Rio.

I was one of only a handful of tourists who braved pouring rain on Tuesday to tour the wonderful Jardim Botanico (Botanical Garden). This 200-year-old gem is home to monkeys, a variety of orchids and other tropic flora.

One of Beto's best nights of cooking included a huge variety of fresh salads.

One of the highlights of Hostel Misti in Rio was the Argentine chef, Beto, a friend of the owner's. Not only was his food amazing, but he had a wonderful radiance and smile! Here he prepares the evening barbecue. Each night, Beto cooks dinner at the hostel - optional extra fee to eat dinner.

Passionate public kissing is a favorite national pastime in Brazil, right behind soccer! Sidewalks, restaurants, elevators, street corners, anywhere goes for a long, long, long smooch! (This is not me by the way).
I did get one day of sun, last Friday. Here is a stretch of the famous Copacabana Beach.

A trip to the historical town of Santa Teresa was fun even in the rain because of the scenic ride uphill the hill on the cable car. This mural, depicting the dance/martial art form of Capoeira, was one of many on our self-guided tour.

Oh and the Dark Night of the Chicken Heart?
In the spirit of trying local foods, I decided to be gracious and taste the chicken heart that was offered to me on a platter. I put it on my plate (no photo, sorry) and had to force myself to cut into the dark, greenish-greyish organ. It was no bigger or longer than my thumb, but I felt repulsed by the idea. I finally gulped down a forkfull. My thoughts? Chewy, like octopus and a strong tangy flavor. I ate only half.

Peter, a German friend from the hostel ate FIVE chicken hearts!
He was used to eating them in Poland. I prefer the fresh banana milkshakes that are a specialty here!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Rio - Perfect place to start a vacation after a week of work in Sao Paulo!

Karen enjoys the wind and the sea of the famous beach in Rio, Copacabana. Here, she is at a scenic overlook above the beach.

Greetings from Rio! I have been mostly unplugged since my arrival in Rio Thursday night. Yes, I did have to wait eight hours in the Sao Paulo airport last Thursday to get here, but it was worth it. Everyone said Rio was worth visiting. In fact, my new Sao Paulo friend, writer and artist Marilyn Diggs, said if I did not visit Rio, it would be like going to France without seeing Paris. She is right. Off to the beach again today, Sunday. I will remain in Rio a few more days. Am enjoying my stay at this Argentine-owned youth hostel.

Anything goes in Rio. This is the beach walk next to Ipanema beach. It's not uncommon to see this same look in the city streets nearby the beach.