Saturday, September 27, 2008

Best and Worst of Brazil in 30 Days - Karen's List of Superlatives + Friend Photo Gallery

Today, I arrived in Lima, Peru. And there just happened to be a contest between traditional schools of dance!
I am in El Tambo Hotel in an area called Miraflores. My 11-day mountain bike tour with Sacred Rides in the Andes officially begins tomorrow.

Part of my heart is still in Brazil! I had a wonderful month there in Santa Catarina, Sao Paulo, Rio, Porto Velho, Manaus and the Amazon jungle. For closure, here are some highs, lows, oddities and new friends I met during my first visit to Brazil.

BEST YOUTH HOSTEL: Tie between Hostel Misti in Rio (owned by an Argentine, German) and Hostel Manaus, owned by an Australian, Alex, in Manaus, the gateway to the Amazon.

WORST HOTEL: The sex motel in Manaus, which will remain nameless for its own protection. I learned that motels in Brazil are a different beast than in the U.S. (See previous blog posting).

BEST JOB: This award goes to professional juggler and former trapeze artist Olivier Sourty of Paris, whom I met at the Rio youth hostel. Check out his current circus cabaret show in Paris.

BEST ADVENTURE TALE: Pavel Toropov! This British citizen of Russian heritage recently completed a grueling, solo, 9,000-kilometer bike tour from the tip of South America, Ushuaia, Argentina, to the Brazilian city of Manaus. I met him while he was recovering at the youth hostel in Manaus.

I was riveted by his tales of biking through the Amazon, surviving stretches of jungle infamous for jaguars, venomous snakes, spiders and heavily armed militia. He endured endless sand pits that forced him to push his fully loaded touring bike for hours at a time and suffered devastating heat. He believes no one has completed this same south to north route (and I can tell why!) A trained biologist, Pavel, 32, funded his 8-month journey by teaching English in Seoul, South Korea, where he plans to return. YES, FULL STORY TO FOLLOW!

BEST HAIR: Facundo, de Argentina, whose wild red-tinted mane looks like a lion's. He says he got it from his Italian father. (See photo, below). Runner up: Ricardo of the Amazon.

WORST DAY: Yesterday! I left the Manaus youth hostel and was almost at the airport via taxi. Realized I had forgotten camera charger, so had to pay another taxi fare (and stress about time crunch). Returned to hostel and back to airport again. Then, after 5 hour flight, I missed connection from Sao Paulo to Lima due to late flight. Was told I had to wait 9 hours until 6 a.m. flight the next day. Also had to admit to myself I have some sort of bronchitis.

BEST DANCING: For fear of theft, I did not take my camera to Rio's Favela Funk Party, a late-night dance club of sorts housed in a huge warehouse in a favela, a poor neighborhood. I will forever regret not having film footage of the most gorgeous dancers I have ever seen. No, they were not women - but young men in a trio, performing a combo of samba and MTV-style hip hop steps in perfect synch. The audience was mesmerized by the pro-quality of their dancing.

Photo Gallery of Guardian Angels (in reverse chronological order)
Percy Silva Luciano of Lima was extremely kind to me when I needed it most. I had a massive meltdown at the airport when I learned about the missed flight to Peru and resulting 9-hour layover in Sao Paulo Airport. He helped translate the Portuguese and explained to me (in Spanish) what was going on. We bonded again at 3 a.m. at the check-in for the flight. He watched over me to make sure I got through customs, etc. before meeting his wife and son.
SAO PAULO AIRPORT Therezina Warmling Alberton. A little bit of shopping therapy helped my mood considerably at the Sao Paulo airport during my 9-hour delay. But I also felt better due to the warmth of this shop owner, Therezina, an artist who makes lovely scarves out of found materials, including fishermen's nets. I bought a green scarf from her (similar to the red one she was wearing). I was especially happy to make the purchase when I discovered she was working on her birthday! Her store, HomemArte, features handmade works.

Sam, of London, Susan of Switzerland and Amazon tour guide, Francisco, all made my life much easier by speaking English and being very caring when I was sick (with bronchitis) and had to skip parts of the jungle tour.

Ricardo, Rico for short, (pronounced "Hico,") became my guide in the Amazon jungle after I said farewell to Francisco and the gals. Later, we returned to Manaus by bus and he showed me to a great restaurant for soup to help my congested lungs. Here, Rico talks to a woman who lives near the Manaus youth hostel.
Fabio Flores, from southern Brazil, was an amazing help to me. I arrived in Manaus from Porto Velho quite exhausted, perhaps from the tropical heat. Upon my arrival at the Maunaus youth hostel, he just happened to be outside in the street. He helped me with my luggage, translated Portuguese to English, then helped me find a nearby motel since the hostel was booked. After that, he walked with me to the famous opera house and we had a drink of fresh juice in the plaza. He headed to Belem at 5 a.m. that morning to stay with his biologist aunt.
Geraldo introduced me to his sister, Gloria, below. Thanks to Gloria, I had a lovely lunch out on my final day in Porto Velho. More about them on my blog.

Miguel, a Brazilian with German heritage (and his daughter) had never met me and was kind enough to take me out to a traditional Amazonian meal and even drove me to the airport at the end of my stay in Porto Velho. More about Miguel on my blog.

Facundo Ventresca, Best Hair Winner, is from Buenos Aires, Argentina, but has decided to move to Rio. I met him at the Rio youth hostel. Despite a steady downpour he showed me some of the best sites in Rio.

Marilyn Diggs, artist and writer, Sao Paulo. Though we had only met recently, online, through, Marilyn gave me such a warm welcome in at her home that I immediately felt like we were old friends!

And of course HUGE THANKS to my family, especially, Mom, Dad, Brenda, Kathryn and Joy, for loving emails and to my Dear Friends in Santa Cruz, California, and elsewhere who have stayed in touch during my trip! I also thank all of you who have read and commented on my blog!

Friday, September 26, 2008

3 compelling comments generated from my travel blog and emails sent to me on Amazon boat journey, tropical food and sex motels in Manaus!

I am on the airplane today, ten hours to Lima, Peru, from Manaus, Brazil, with a stop in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Update: I missed my connection to Lima, Peru, and am now stuck in Sao Paulo airport. (My TAM airlines flight was late so it was their fault). I now have a 9-hour wait here until my 3 a.m. boarding for the 6 a.m. flight to Peru. Part of the adventure (ugh!) TAM did offer a hotel, but with the shuttle and traffic, I figure it is easier to stay put. Plus, I don't fully trust them to get me back in time for my flight!

Here are comments I paricularly enjoyed:
1. From: Scribetrotter
RE: River boat trip from Porto Velho

I did take an Amazon boat journey - and being a woman alone was not much fun. The boat was a 'working boat' ferrying men to a camp upriver and I was one of very few women on board. I didn't feel safe, and the lack of decent sanitary facilities made this a memorable trip - but not in the way I'd like.

One town I enjoyed in that part of Brazil was the town of Rio Branco in the state of Acre, which is next door to Rhondonia. It had (but this was a number of years ago) a cowboy feel to it, and I spent several weeks in the rainforest with rubber tappers - definitely and experience, especially if you don't mind hot, wet and not much food. We had to kill a caiman for food once, and subsisted mostly on mangoes. Still, it was a wonderful trip with plenty of magnificent memories.

I love that whole area of Brazil - I'm a little envious!

2. From: Marilyn Diggs in Sao Paulo - excerpt from her email
RE: Food in the Amazon region

I hope you try piranha soup. It is delicious. ( But of course you are talking to a person who eats chicken hearts, with gusto!). You are next door to a state ( Pará) that cooks Pato ao tucupi. Duck with yellow manioca. It is cooked with a plant that looks like algae and it numbs your mouth a bit. Indians use it for tooth aches. I think it is very savory. I´m an adventerous gourmand. Manaus is famous for regional fruit ice-cream. If they have cupuaçu, try it! (That is from Pará, also, but who is to die for.)
I´m very happy you are going to Manaus. Be sure to see the Meeting of the Waters. Remember that the black-water system is bug free due to minerals in the water. It is always wise to stay on that system when looking for lodgings.

3. Roberto Mello comment on blog post "Top 10 Ways to Survive a Nasty Motel - Made it to ..."
RE: Motels in Brazil

It's worth mentioning to the English-speaking public that a motel in Brazil is quite different from what the average person from America is used to.

Motels in Brazil inherit the same "motorized hotel" theme of their American counterparts, but that's where similarities end.

Motels in Brazil are not places to just spend the night while you're traveling from place to place. They're not an inexpensive, no-frills version of a hotel. Motels in Brazil are places where you go to have sex, and that's pretty much it.

The Motel business in Brazil is very good business. As it turns out, people like to have anonymous sex. There's a wide range of Motel prices, and consequently, quality of facilities and services.

At R$ 30 it's pretty clear you ended up at an extremely cheap place with terrible installations.

In short, for travellers heading to Manaus (or other Brazilian cities), don't go to a motel, unless that's really what you want to do. Manaus offers many inexpensive (and expensive) lodging options, as you noted.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Top 10 Ways to Survive a Nasty Motel - Made it to Manaus, Brazil, Gateway to the Amazon

Hello from the urban jungle of Manaus, Gateway to the Amazon. Arrived here in Sunday night from Porto Velho after an easy 1 hour, 10 min. flight.

This city of two million is a bustling metropolis with plenty of lodging options available.

Yet, on my first night here, I stumbled into a place so unsavory that I am inspired to share my Motel Survival Techniques.

I hope you won't need these techniques, but just in case, here is my Top 10 List - all of which I have tested.

1. Shower with your shoes on - the floor may be dirtier than your feet!

2. Drip dry instead of using the towel - if you can call that stained rag a towel...

3. Sleep with your clothes on - to limit contact with the bedding and get up in a hurry

4. Pack your toiletries tightly in plastic bag so bugs won't get to them

5. Close and secure any open windows - prevents thieves, mosquitoes and smoke from entering

6. Find a secure place to hide your valuables. Get creative!

7. Lock and barricade your door

8. Investigate mysterious sounds - cautiously!

There was such a ruckus in the hallway at 11 p.m. that I pressed my ear to the door to investigate. No real danger: it was just the couple down the hall loudly having sex.
That's when I got suspicious about the nature of my hotel and developed these new tips:

9. Review price structure of hotel - I was told if you leave by 8 a.m. the hotel costs $30 reales; leave by noon and it costs $50. I now believe this rate structure was designed for overnight business. And I don't mean clients for jungle tours!

10. Preview the room and analyze furnishings before paying - I always see the room before I book it. But in this case, even after viewing the room, I was too tired to notice at first the huge mirror over the bed was smeared with fingerprints and that the pillows were coated in thick rubber and covered with think pillow cases.

One of the joys of adventure travel is spontaneity, which is how I wound up at this particular place. The downside is, if you don't research your lodging in advance by reading books, websites and reviews, you could wind up needing these tips.

Of course, as lodging goes - this does not qualify as a true nightmare in any regard!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

New Friends from Porto Velho, Rondonia, in western state of Brazil, Thurs.-Sun., Sept. 21

Geraldo works at Agencia Parintins, a passenger ship company which offers trips down the Madeira River, which forms the western border of the city Porto Velho, where I am staying. I decided against going on a trip with his company, but he befriended me anyways. He speaks some English. We went for a pitcher of fresh orange juice on the waterfront where we met his friend, pictured here. Later, Geraldo introduced me to his sister, Gloria, who speaks English fluently.

Rotem Hershkovich of Eliat, Israel, was staying at Yara Hotel until yesterday, when he set sail down the Madeira River from Porto Velho to Manaus. I am looking forward to hearing about this three nights in a hammock and four days on the deck of the small boat. (See previous blog post). He spoke and cursed fluently in English.
Gloria is one of Geraldo's eight brothers and sisters. She is a Catholic missionary and has traveled the U.S. with an international group of missionaries. She learned English and upon return to Porto Velho, met her husband. Together, they launched Grupo Tucuma, which administers three non-profit programs in Porto Velho: a school for kids ages 3-13, a program for women and a program for teens.

Miguel Nenevé is originally from the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, (where I went whale-watching). He has worked at the University of Rondonia in the Porto Velho campus as a professor of literature for the past 20 years - almost as long as the university has been in existence. He has three daughters (Cinthia, 16, pictured above) and has traveled internationally for his job with stints in Canada and England, among other places.

I feel lucky to have met him thanks to James Hayes-Bohanan, a geography profesor whom I have never met in person, but have exchanged emails with recently. I discovered James while researching Rondonia and wrote to him for advice about traveling the region. He was very helpful and kindly provided Miguel as a contact in Porto Velho. Miguel took me to dinner at a riverfront restaurant specializing in Amazon cuisine, pictured below. Amazing power of online connections!

The broth, at left, contained hard boiled eggs, ribs, potatoes, onions, green peppers and large chunks of fish. The broth goes over white rice and can be seasoned with manioc flour (golden color) and a tomato salsa. I liked it!