One More City, One More S.A. Travel Blog, and Highlights


Intro video for my column with Forget the Box back in November. Wow, how things have changed in 4 months!

When I set off on this South American tour four months ago I promised that I would meet amazing people. You know where I have met the most amazing people? Transportation ie. the bus! The first time was on my first flight to Peru, unfortunately the woman got arrested before she could help me. Then, on a tumultuous first journey from Lima, Peru, to La Paz, Bolivia I met a wonderful Peruvian woman who helped me get to La Paz and across the Bolivian border without speaking a word of English. Later, I met Bruno on a bus in Florianopolis, Brazil, which meant that I could make my Carnaval video, take some photos of Brazil because he leant me his camera, go directly to Morro de Sao Paulo and survive the scrupulous Portuguese accent on many occasions.

On the last leg of my journey, I was again helped on the bus, this time by a local Paulista (person from Sao Paulo). I simply said hello and introduced myself to the guy and 30 seconds later he offered to pay my bus fare to enter the city. On the bus he told me he worked in TV and offered me a tour of the TV station he worked at! I said ok and he organized the tour for a couple days later. Leonardo paid for my metro too then we shook hands and I was off.

It happened a couple more times in Sao Paulo where I was trying to find somewhere and the person went out of their way to help me. Since Rio I have been thinking non-stop about open vs. closed cultures and have had many conversations about this in the process. An American I met who has moved to Sao Paulo told me he agrees 100% that Brazil is a more open culture and Brazilians are generally more warm. He told me that he recognizes his closed American culture when he is being introduced to new people – and he doesn’t like it. I too feel closed on occasion and blame my English culture.

Still, Brazil is not perfect. This excellent National Geographic video on Rio during Carnaval this year shows the scams and underground criminal activity associated with Carnaval. This might explain some of the fear associated with Brazil…

The two wonderful Uruguyans that saved my computer said they feel rejected by Bahian Brazilians in Salvador. They have been condescended and called gringos even though they aren’t gringos.

I definitely did not feel this with the Bahian I stayed with in Sao Paulo. Indra, a Bahian studying in Sao Paulo, offered me her couch for my final five days. She met my brother in Palestine when they were teaching capoeira together.

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The day after I arrived, Indra was speaking at the University of Sao Paulo for a conference. The thing I noticed about the campus is that is pretty much exactly like most other universities I’ve ever been to – there were cliques, people dressed the same as any young people, public hall make outs etc. Sometimes we think we are so different at a specific place or especially at a specific university. We forget that other students are doing the same thing and acting the same way at many other universities all over the world.

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The only tourist site I saw was the Sé Cathedral, a massive twentieth century cathedral.

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I built my own tourism by visiting TV Cultura thanks to Leonardo. His friend Vanessa showed me around the TV sets and newsroom. I also got a chance to sit in on the screening of a political talk show featuring four panelists that talked about International politics. While I understood probably 5% of the conversation because it was all in Portuguese it felt special to be in a professional studio and it re-sparked my desire to work in TV. After the show I approached the two American panelists and asked them what it takes to work in Brazil. One came here 13 years ago without any Portuguese searching for a freelance job. He found a few and then landed a two-year gig as a foreign correspondent in Brazil for the illustrious New York Times. Now he is a correspondent for Reuters. The other was a business correspondent for another major US news magazine.

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At first when I told them about my desire to work in Brazil they gave me the speech about how it’s hard to get a job in journalism blah blah blah… After that, however, they said that the key to getting a job in a foreign country is speaking the language and if you open up to learning new languages and taking chances there are jobs. Enough with the fucking negativity and more with the positivity ok journalists? I’m tired of your whining about no jobs when there are so many jobs out there. I know that negativity awaits me when I return home, just look at the newspapers or online to see the daily if not weekly article about how there are no jobs for young people or journalists. Dare to challenge this negativity! I will!

On my last day before leaving Brazil I made sure to try eating at a churrascuria – a buffet where fresh meat is brought to your team, a carnivore’s delight!

And now here I am back in snowy Ottawa, Canada.

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Instead of looking back at particular events, intending to blog about them, I am now looking back at my entire trip in hind site.

What an amazing trip! I did all I wanted and much, much more.

Here are some of the highlights.

Best photo: La Paz at night HDR – End of the World. Tough one because I feel like I captured so many magnificent things on this trip, but this photo taken on one of my first days in Bolivia is one that I am most proud of. It was featured across two pages in the issue of the Bolivian Express that I wrote for.  

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Best city: Rio de JaneiroThis city is absolutely as it sounds, beach, beauty, kindness, culture, fun. One day I will return, I have to!

Best tour: Pampas tour in the Bolivian Amazon. Puma, our tour guide, was part man, part eagle, part dolphin and part puma. An unbelievable experience that put my sheltered western life into question.

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Best spontaneous decision: Playa de los Hippies in Cordoba, Argentina. Without any idea where I was going, I found myself on a crystal clear river beach surrounded by mountains in the company of great people.

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Best blog/article: Celebrating the end of the world on Lake Titicaca” for Vice. The article as well as the circumstances in which I wrote my first ever published freelance article made it something I can be extremely proud of.

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Best purchase: My Michael Jackson towel from the Feria de El Alto, of course!

20120104-SAM_0236 Best party (other than Carnaval): Tarija, Bolivia. Singani, Fernet and beer and good friends led to a wild night off the gringo trail with the gang from the Bolivian Express.

Best meal: La Comédie, La Paz Bolivia. This French meal with fresh local lamb and French cheeses was spectacular! And it was on the BX’s tab :P.

Best street food: Saltena, Bolivia. This delicious empanada meat pastry is a perfect breakfast, but only if you make it there before it closes at 11am.

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Worst sickness: Salar de Uyuni. Altitude sickness is no joke – I felt like death. I recommend coca leaves!

Worst meal: Bull soup in Bolivia. Bull looks like a sliced orange, but it is white and gelatinous. It is a combination of touch cartilage and fatty gelatin. Absolutely horrific.

Worst bus ride: Tarija to La Paz: 27 hours. Despite taking a bus for 32 hours in Brazil, this horrific bus ride featured blaring music, off-roading, painful seats and nearly 0 stops.

Worst crisis: Purchased non-functional iPod in Bolivia and returned it. I have never complained and screamed like I did to fight to return something, but this time fortunately it worked!

It’s been fun and very worthwhile writing these posts. Now I have a record of what happened and you have been able to join in on the stories.

Keep up with this blog, as more stories will be coming soon!

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Mind Blown by Brazil: Part 5 – Bahia

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The state of Bahia in Brazil is know for its culture – the religion of Candomblé, reggae-inspired music, distinct food and for being the most relaxed and chilled-out place imaginable.

When I arrived in Salvador on a ferry from Morro de Sao Paulo Bruno and I checked into a hostel called Che Lagarto. Bruno left the next morning and for the first time in my trip, traveling alone actually affected me poorly. Mostly because the hostel I stayed in sucked! In every other hostel I have been in, I met people within a couple hours and proceeded to travel with them. In this hostel, everyone was either a couple on vacation with no desire to speak to others, old, or just not willing to communicate. The only people I did end up getting to talk to were three Argentinean girls who albeit kind were unwilling to do much of anything especially at night out of fear.

It is true that Salvador is dangerous and you must be careful especially when out at night, but there is little danger when traveling in groups. If they are going to rob you, they will do just that – rob you. It sucks, but you aren’t going to die and they won’t take much if you aren’t carrying much. Plus, what are you traveling for if you are just going to stay in the hostel the whole time? To their defense, they were on “vacation” not travelling – they only left work for 13 days with the aim to tan and enjoy the beach. So, one day I went to the beach with them.

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Praia do Forte, but not my paradise beach

Up the coast, 45 minutes north of Salvador we went to a popular beach town called Praia do Forte. Built around the beach was a quaint little town with restaurants, hostels and tours – kind of like Morro de Sao Paulo, but on the mainland. There, the Argentinian girls and I sat on the beach, and they tanned. I have been spoiled with great beaches, but this one really was pretty crappy mainly because the waves were so small and the water near the beach was extremely rocky and the girls knew it. They were complaining a lot about it so I suggested to them that I would go for a run up the coast to see if there were any nicer beaches.

Running in the sand with my iPod I breathed deeply, taking in the blue sky, palm trees, tiny crabs scurrying along the sand and the increasingly heavy waves. After about 30 minutes I arrived.

Paradise.

Allow me to explain: The white sand swept deeply up the coast and was almost completely untouched save for my footprints. The waves crashed onto the shore in a steady and powerful pace – unsafe for swimming according to a sign. The palm trees lined the coast bending towards to the awesome ocean horizon.

I stretched and pondered. I took in the cool ocean air and promised to live on this beach forever. I wanted to be there forever – sleep there, make love there, get married there, have babies there.

I guess that all the tourists stay by the town instead of coming to this because they are lazy.

Looking back it sounds funny, but there is certainly some magic to being on a beautiful beach alone. Now I saw what people were saying about the power of quiet beaches in comparison with beaches like Ipanema or Morro de Sao Paulo. The problem is that these people are not willing to walk to the quieter parts.

Speaking of people, I promised the Argentineans I would return and tell them about the beach. I did, and I regretted it. Honestly, they just didn’t care about what I wanted and I guess that’s ok – they had a mission to tan and I was some guy.

As soon as I got back one needed to eat at that very second. Not when we walked through the town, not when I was gone, NOW. So we went and she ate. Then about an hour later we headed towards paradise beach, but not without one of them whining “are we there yet” every two minutes. Because of the delay it was getting later and the tide was rising. This caused them to complain more and want to turn back.

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I was committed to getting back there so we easily walked along the grass above the sand towards the beach. More complaining and 20 minutes later I just decided to say that one of the beaches was paradise beach when it wasn’t – I couldn’t deal with their whining anymore. We stopped there, took some photos and then they wanted to leave so we left. Tip: never travel with a pack of girls on “vacation,” especially pretty ones that are used to getting what they want.

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On our way back we ran into a huge crowd of people – A local tortoise shelter called Projeto TAMAR was releasing newborn turtle babies into the ocean. Very cute.

We toured TAMAR and saw the biggest turtle I’ve ever seen! The species is like 15 million years old, it is a dinosaur.

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With a tiny (admittedly not heartfelt) goodbye to the Argentineans I went back to Salvador.

The next day I said to myself, fuck it, might as well go alone. So I boarded the bus to go to the main historic centre Pelourinho. Being alone doesn’t mean you can’t meet people right? So, I approached two Israeli tourists who were going to Pelourinho and we decided to join forces.

My priority? Seeing stuff. Their priority: Havaiana flip flops. Ask any Israeli girl, their goal in South America is to bring as many Havaiana flip flops home as they can because they are too expensive in Israeli. Seriously, I met an Israeli who bought 11 pairs.

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I waited for about a half an hour as they bought their Havaianas. Then finally we went to the local artisan market and I went crazy buying stuff because I love Brazil.

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Pelourinho. Google Images

We then went up the famous elevator to the historical centre of Pelourinho, which was nothing special, just an elevator. Pelourinho was pretty awesome though. The colourful buildings are beautiful to look at and being there really feels special. Pelourinho is where Michael Jackson filmed the other half of the video “They Don’t Care About Us” (I also went to the favela in Rio where he filmed the other half).

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Google Images

My brother told me about a capoeira school called Filhos de Bimba in Pelourinho, so I went and signed up for a class later that day.

Two Americans and I (I had already met one in the club in Morro de Sao Paulo) took part in a capoeira class led by a cool instructor who had taught in London. He played some music and first taught us the ginga – the basis for capoeira.

My brother plays capoeira so I know how to ginga, but not much else. Our teacher then taught us a bunch of moves like queixada (roundhouse kick) and aú (cartwheel) from a ginga position. I limped away with a massive blister on both toes due to playing on the stone tile floor in bare feet, but I limped away happy. I highly recommend trying capoeira!

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Ginga to the sunset

After a couple more low-key days in Salvador I was ready to move on to Lencois and the beautiful Chapada Diamantina, so I bought a bus ticket for 1pm on my 5th day in Salvador, but after my morning run all changed…my laptop was stolen!

If you haven’t read this yet please do yourself a favour and read the incredible story on Forget the Box about how my laptop was stolen and rescued by a Uruguayan couple:Faith in humanity restored: how an outstanding couple saved my computer.

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It has been really flattering to see the reception I have been getting from people about this story! The post about it being lost and then the picture where it was found both have over 100 likes on Facebook and the comments are filled with people who have been inspired by the story and those that think it was good karma because I am a good person. Thanks everybody!

After hanging out with the Veronica and Nicolas and promising to see them again, I took a bus to nearby Lencois overnight and slept the entire way.

As soon as I got there this German guy named Christian and I were essentially attacked by this local tour guide who wanted us to go on his tours and stay in a hostel that he recommended. I did plan to stay in this hostel I had heard was good, but he told me it was too expensive, which it was, so I went with him to a cheaper one.

Although Jaja, our tour guide, was pushy, he had the best price for tours that I could find, so we went with him.

The first day of our trek involved a lot of hours hiking up and down mountains, which I didn’t expect because I wasn’t told much of anything about the tour before I went on it. We had to carry our own sleeping bags and also the food for the next few days, which wasn’t told to us beforehand either. I was ok with it, but there is no way someone physically unfit, old, or too fat could have done it.

Our trip included three German girls, the German I was with, as well as two guys from Sao Paulo. I am grateful and don’t take it for granted that among all the different languages, the common denominator was English. I am very fortunate to speak it!

We continued hiking, bouncing from rock to rock. It’s incredible how huge and dangerous leaps become robotic when you are hiking.

Finally we came to the main canyon that gives our tour its name: Maxilla.

This lush canyon with it’s incredible scent and strong shades of green was lined with astonishingly straight layered mountain rock. At one point, there was the choice: swim or climb. I chose to scale the mountain wall and it was amazing! I love to be challenged physically. Life just isn’t that hard, but sports and physical activity is!

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A short time later we arrived at the Mecca…the Maxilla waterfall! This place is beyond words. Sights like this make you believe in G-d! Water crashed down the green-layered rock, bouncing from one to the other until it united to fall in the massive pool beneath. Next to the crashing waterfall, was another stream of water, but with slower water. I kept thinking: what is better to spend my limited time staring at? Fast or slow? Both were so insane! I stared so long that my neck hurt for days after.

I jumped off a huge rock into the water and splashed down into the cool fresh spring. Heavenly.

That night we slept on a nearly dried out river on the rocks under the stars without a tent. It was peaceful and refreshing and a little uncomfortable due to the angular nature of the rocks that caused me to keep sliding down.

I woke up near dawn and we had an incredible breakfast of milky oatmeal, scrambled eggs with veggies, fruit salad (mango, apple, melon), baguette, cheese, banana, guava jam and juice. This was the second best breakfast I’ve had in South America, the other was in Loki Hostel in Cusco, Peru.

This was a pretty good breakfast, but it’s pretty disgraceful at the same time that the breakfast I had while hiking was better than any other one I’ve had on this trip. I love South America, I really do, but the breakfasts suck from coast to coast- especially Brazil’s breakfast. It has all the sugar, none of the protein. For instance, in Che Lagarto hostel in Salvador, breakfast everyday was white bread with jam, three kinds of cakes, cookies, fruit and juice. The only protein available was the milk for your coffee (which I don’t drink)! I cannot wait for a huge breakfast when I go back to Canada (L’Avenue or Station des Sports in Montreal, Tucker’s Marketplace or Eggspectations in Ottawa)!

The next day we went on a tour to see some diverse attractions in the national park including a huge waterfall, a river with crystal clear blue water and fish, and a cave with white spikey rocks. Thanks to Chapada I want to pick up mountain climbing and scuba diving – I guess I’ll just throw it on the to do list :P.

Back in Lencois I met up with my good friend Niall who I met in Bolivia. He has been volunteering at a children’s daycare called Casa Grande in Lencois. I went to help out one day and played games like “duck, duck, goose” and “Simon says” with the kids.

While Lencois appears to be like any tourist town, the tourism is simply a mask over the poverty. Men lie drunk on the streets in the middle of the day and children run around (usually naked) without adult supervision. There is no money for toys  and Niall told me that kids do whatever they can to make games – sometimes inventing games out of broken glass or flat soccer balls. Very sad.

In the morning I attended a capoeira class with Niall at 7am. The teacher, an large athletic smooth talking contra-mestre, was both kind and challenging in the class. I really enjoyed it. As I looked up at the walls of the capoeira studio I noticed a poster for a movie, “Besouro,” the capoeira movie my brother showed me 6 months ago. I looked over at the teacher, then back at the poster. Could it be?! Could this be BESOURO!?

Yes! I took a class with the actor who played the capoeira legend Besouro in the movie!

Besouro doesn’t walk, he glides and flips effortlessly. Definitely a man on par with the great Puma from earlier in my trip. I want to be them both.

That night I went to the group’s roda (capoeira circle) in the middle of the townsquare in front of the locals and tourists. The roda was mostly women and children as it was International Women’s Day, but after the women got to play, Niall and I jumped in and played. Some people go to rodas and don’t play, but where’s the fun in that!?

Afterwards some people in the group were not too pleased that gringos like Niall and I got to play, but Besouro shut them up.

I headed back to Salvador that night and said goodbye to Niall. I promised to see him again, I really hope I do.

Back in Salvador I headed straight for Nicolas and Veronica’s apartment to take them up on their invitation to stay there.

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There, I spent a relaxing 4 days writing, talking, eating great food, watching movies and surfing. Surfing is obviously really tough and I want to learn to get up on my board one day…another thing for the list!

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Veronica and Nicolas are truly great people and I wish them all the best!

I caught a flight from Salvador to Sao Paulo, my last stop before heading home!

Final travel blog coming up next…

Mind Blown by Brazil: Part 4 – Ilha Grande & Morro de Sao Paulo Vacaciones

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The word vacation is wildly misunderstood. In Spanish, people often ask why I am in South America for 4 months. No job? I must be on vacaciones (vacation) or on holiday. I’m not on vacation, I’m travelling! The difference? Travelling is fucking hard! As my blog depicts, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Carnaval gave me a serious culture shock and I fell into a pretty deep sadness afterwards. I felt fatigued from being in a dark cloud of self-doubt, anger and sadness. It’s impossible to pinpoint what was causing me to be so down, but I am sure that the spike in endorphins and body-draining partying was a big part of it.

Unlike other bumps in the positivity path I couldn’t shake this one. I had to leave Rio, even if I didn’t really want to.

I heard Ilha Grande was a must see, so I set off from my hostel after 12 nights there and embarked on one of the most touristy excursions I could have ever imagined.

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Ferry to Ilha Grande was like refugee ship carrying gringos in search of a vacation

But, touristy doesn’t mean bad!

I’ve learned to hate the word touristy. People can be good! For instance, Ipanema beach – it was good because of the people watching.

Since Carnaval, I admittedly got a little testy when people were negative about Brazil. So when people said they hated places like Ipanema or Ilha Grande because they were too touristy I pried and asked why? What is wrong with people on a beach? The answer: They don’t like people walking or talking around them.

It’s not like we are at an amusement park here people, no one is that loud at the beach. And usually if you walk a little up the beach there is a quieter area. But, omg ewww walking!

At the same time, tourists can really suck and I can understand the upside of a chilled out tranquil place. I could list all the annoying tourist attributes, but that’s as easy as poking a beetle who is stuck on it’s back. Everyone travels for their own reasons. Some just want to tan on the beach for a week, some want to practice the local language and learn the culture, others want to snort coke and party. All are fine if that is what you want.

When a place is sucked of it’s culture and conforms only to what tourists want (or what they think tourists want) it is pretty sad. On the other hand it is a good short-term way for locals to profit from their astonishing natural resources.

Ilha Grande was certainly built with the tourist in mind – every building was a tour agency, hostel or restaurant and the restaurants served gringo delights like pizza and sushi for astronomical prices. But, it was actually quite a treat to be honest. The service was great, people really cater to you and you feel like you are on a magical vacation as you walk through the tiny streets, on the boardwalk, or along any of the hiking trails. If I was in a long-term relationship or on a cruise ship I would love to spend a romantic week in Ilha Grande.

Sorry no photos, DSLR malfunctioned a while ago and the digital camera Bruno gave me also stopped working…

Yet, unlike in the past when I met people instantly, I was still sad and angry at other travellers for not being as cool as the Brazilians I met on the street in Carnaval. To clear my head I went for a run, alone, in my Toms shoes for about 2 hours both ways in the blazing heat to a small waterfall on the island. On the way, I heard a steady growl along with the occasional baah! I inched closer to the sound as it continued for a solid 3 or 4 minutes, but I couldn’t reach it. I am assuming that this was a large cat like a puma or jaguar eating some mammal like a capybara (huge rat-thing), but I can’t be sure. Still, it was an amazing thing to be so close to and it motivated me on my run – kinda sadistic eh?

At night, making sure to go early as to not have to pay cover, I went out to a hostel on the beach called Aquarius for this big party I had heard about on the ferry ride there. On the boat they told me that Aquarius was a drunken gringo orgy. How could I refuse? But if not for the beautiful views and clear open sky, the club could have been like any night at home in Canada. The bar was full of gringos, mostly the partier/snorting coke ones from Australia or England. The DJ played the same standard gringo club playlist of Avicii, David Guetta etc. to which the gringos fist pumped the shit out of. I went sober cause I had given up drinking since Carnaval, which was a good thing cause the drinks were insanely overpriced.

You might say it was a bullshit touristy gringo party, but then again, you are probably a bullshit tourist gringo, just like me, so let people travel and do as they please, jerk ;).

After Aquarius, gringos would flock to the beach for a campfire where locals were playing drums and singing reggae music. As cliché as reggae under the stars in Brazil sounds, it was just awesome! But I also love clichés if you haven’t already noticed.

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Lopez Mendes beach, Ilha Grande – Google Images

The next day I ran/hiked 2 hours across several beaches to the island’s most famous beach Lopez Mendes. Imagine, white sand so fine, so immaculate that when you walk on the sand it literally squeaks! There, I meditated, did yoga and cleared my mind of the negative thoughts percolating into my consciousness every few breaths.

One of the things I wanted to accomplish on this trip was to learn how to be alone without needing people. As Christopher McCandless portrayed in the must-see traveller’s movie “Into the Wild” realized, we need people to survive, but on Ilha Grande I really felt that I remedied myself without help from anyone else.

That’s a lie, the music on my iPod helped a lot! Big ups Macklemore and company!

As I returned on the boat to Rio for one night on my way to Salvador I felt rejuvenated. So, what better thing to disturb my dancing on clouds feeling than a fucking 32-hour bus.

Why Joel why!?

Sigh… I thought I could go to the airport and get a last minute flight and get a good deal, but that doesn’t work in Brazil like it does in Europe. Here, the last seat is the most expensive even if it is minutes before take off. Also, when I bought the ticket it said 26 hours, but in reality it was 32 hours. No one, ever, has gone go to Salvador from Rio in 26 hours as I found out later. There was no urgency in the driver or any of the staff to get their on time. This wouldn’t have been a problem if my Brazilian friend Bruno wasn’t waiting for me at the bus station in Salvador!

When I got there he had waited 8 hours at the bus station for me and looked like hell. What a hero! Most people would have left, but not this guy.

I felt it important to man-up and go straight to Morro de Sao Paulo as to not waste a day of his short 4 days off of work.

But, and there’s so often a but, the last ferry had already passed. So thanks to Bruno’s Portuguese ability he negotiated with a tour agency to get us there, but for twice the price of a normal trip.

Things like this are why I have no money left, but it had to be done. We made it there after a spooky 1.5 hour drive across an island in a strange car and a 10 minute ocean-soaked ferry-ride with 9 rowdy screaming Argentinians.

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Wet night ferry to Morro

Morro de Sao Paulo is like the Ilha Grande of the northeast. The island is dedicated to the tourist, but it’s size makes it feel less cozy than Ilha Grande. The first sign is that there are no vehicle taxis – your luggage can be wheel barreled to your hostel for a hefty fee

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The long pedestrian tourist street is populated with fancy restaurants and tourist shops. Walking till the end will bring you to a boardwalk on the beach that is lined on the sides with delicious fruit stands where they make you mixed drinks or juice with the fruit of your choosing.

I cannot stress anymore how awesome this is!

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Craving an acerola (tiny sweet orange fruit)/ jack fruit (massive prickly melon) / strawberry vodka mix? Go for it! There were so many fruits that I have absolutely never heard of and couldn’t relate the names to, but that for me was the best part of Morro de Sao Paulo.

Bruno and I walked along this boardwalk, drinking juice and introducing ourselves to people, as we do best. We met this Argentinean girl Juliette and her and I hit it off, but she had a boyfriend L. I do know, though, that my future wife will look something like her…

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The beaches were pretty nice, but the sand wasn’t as nice and it didn’t feel as much on an exotic holiday as I did in Ilha Grande. The water, however, was so warm it was like a Jacuzzi or piss-filled kiddy pool if you prefer. Rock formations created a natural swimming pool because the waves don’t crash into the beach.

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But you can always count on the Brazilian beaches for their wonderful bikini attire.

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One of the big arguments against the bikini by non-Latin Americans is that their ass isn’t good enough for the bikini.

If this woman doesn’t give a shit what are you worried about!?

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When I think back to Morro de Sao Paulo, I don’t think about the beaches, I think about Israelis and Argentineans. That’s because the beach town was absolutely flooded with them! You could call Morro de Sao Paulo Little Tel Aviv or Little Buenos Aires if you like.

I was told that many Israelis “go by the book” and tend to travel to the same places in South America and Morro de Sao Paulo is one of them. It is tradition that Israelis travel after military service and many go to South America in large groups to get as fucked up as possible on whatever they can get their hands on.

In my experience, Israelis are not the most popular traveler to say the least. A fruit stand vendor asked me if I was Israeli because I look like one. When I told him I wasn’t, he began to discuss how much he hates the loud Israelis and jokingly said he wants to shoot them all. My tour guide in Bolivia for the Salt Flats tour expressed similar anti-Israeli tourist sentiments.

I know what you are thinking, but these people are not anti-Semitic. Instead, they dislike Israelis for their loud, obnoxious I don’t give a fuck style of travelling and I understand that, but there is a massive misunderstanding here. Israelis are misunderstood because their language and attitude is generally louder and more in your face than other cultures. Israelis misunderstand the locals because they think they are in danger just because they are Jews, but no one really cares about those politics here. It’s a sad situation.

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Israelis even brought their own cuisine, but I opted for a local dish called moqueca:

20120104-SAM_0139It rained for most of the time we were in Morro de Sao Paulo, so that probably skewed how I felt about it, but I was generally unimpressed.

We did go out to a club one night to a foam party and it was surprisingly fun. I met a cool girl from America who works in New York and we had plenty to talk about. Americans get a bad wrap travelling – they aren’t as bad as Australians or English in terms of ignorant tourists.

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The next day, I went back to Salvador and Bruno puked on the ferry.

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Up next: Salvador, Lencois and Chapada Diamantina

Mind Blown by Brazil: Part 3 – CARNAVAL

Remember the craziest party you’ve ever been to? Now times that by at x500 and you can start to get an idea of Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. Watch my video and get an idea, then come back and read this blog.

As soon as the champagne stains the carpet on New Years, anticipation begins for Carnaval. Parties, blocos (block parties) and random acts of crazy happen everywhere that Carnaval happens. Rio de Janeiro and Salvador are undoubtedly the most famous and craziest Carnavals, but the huge party takes place all over the world.

In Bolivia, kids go around throwing water balloons in anticipation of their Carnaval (one of which hit my friend and broke his phone). Block parties like Berbigao do Boca in Florianopolis also happen, but the craziest time is definitely saved for Carnaval.


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On February 8th, Carnaval finally popped off and I found myself with millions of other wild people in Rio de Janeiro. Dream come true!

The first bloco that I went to took place in a magnificent artsy neighbourhood on a mountain above the lapa steps called Santa Teresa, but blocos were happening all the time all over the city.

“The only rule at Carnaval is that you can do what you want,” some distant memory of a Brazilian told me. So incredibly true!

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People dress up in ludicrous costumes including the presence of many men in mini skirts, wedding gowns and tiny dresses. Costumes need not a theme, and no one needs to defend what they are wearing like people do during Halloween back home. If your costume is an Indian/ Vampire/ Batman then all power to you!

For instance, if you are a 10 year old boy, go ahead and wear that massive fake penis!

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One of my favourites was the Spartan warriors stopping traffic who you can see in my video above.

Partying and blocos literally go on all day and all night and they are scheduled to do so – in Rio there were 496 blocos registered during Carnaval and in the weeks before. Sleeping is for the weak. Beer vendors, cocktail bartenders and tequila shooter dudes are open 24 hours a day.

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Tequila shot anyone?

In the bloco on Santa Teresa they sold freezies with vodka in them called sacolé de vodka. Heavenly, especially the mango flavour. That night, we bought a bottle of vodka and took it around making mixed drinks for ourselves. I still can’t get used to the fact that you can ask for a mixed drink on the side of the road and walk around drinking it on the streets. Long live public intoxication!

If you have to pee, people were quite diligent with using the public toilets. When they didn’t kids with water pistols and buckets of water could come up and soak you for watering their city walls!

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Lapa at night

On the first night we went to Lapa – the party area with all the clubs. There, we entered an awesome club with local Forro music and viewed the incredibly co-ordinated dance mating rituals of the locals. Here’s an example:

Lapa is cool with the music and clubs and caiprinhas and street food, but I found my heaven – Ipanema beach.

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All day, thousands embark to Ipanema’s shores to bask in the sun, relax under an umbrella, play volleball or footvolley (use your feet and body instead of hands), eat a delicious acai with granola and banana, paddle surf or simply people watch.

And oh, the people watching… No matter how many days I took the metro from Botafogo down to Ipanema beach, my mind was blown every single time. So much beauty, life, culture and joy!

And then there is the clothing. On the beach in Brazil, men wear tiny speedos and girls wear thong bikinis. While it is up to you what you wear, many English-speakers I spoke to completely condescended the women for wearing these clothes and would never consider wearing a bikini like that. That is because it is engrained in our society that skin = slut. The difference between a thong bikini and a normal bikini (called granny panties by a Brazilian I met) is only a few inches. I saw very obese women wearing tiny bikinis, beautiful girls (I’d say 1/3 girls at Carnaval were gorgeous), and even teens were wearing small bikinis and no one cares! People also go out in cute comfortable clothes with little makeup and look amazing.

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“But Brazilians are just more beautiful,” you say! Possibly, but I think there is something else happening here… Yes, there were insanely gorgeous Brazilians, I probably fell in love every 5 seconds, but maybe is more that they are comfortable in the clothes and the skin that they are in. You can approach them and talk to them with a simple hello. In general, the way that they carry themselves is just more sexy.

I often started the day shy, and then evolved when I realized that any Brazilian I talked to would do their best to have a conversation with me! Regardless if I spoke Portuguese or not! They will ask their cousins, cousin’s dog until they find the right directions for you if you ask. I genuinely tried to speak their language, and I improved a lot, but actually many preferred when I spoke English as they were eager to practice with a real native speaker.

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Met a group of friendly Brazilians on the beach. We were chained in love baha

The amount of joy and warmth absolutely blew my mind. Everyone talked to everyone. They smiled at you, you embraced. Sometimes, you even kissed!

It first started when a Dutch guy I met in the hostel was grabbed and kissed by a Brazilian for a while, but it continued on from there. On the first day of Carnaval I went up to a very cute Brazilian who like 99% of everyone else there only spoke Portuguese. I then said the pickup line “beleza gatinha” (beautiful girl) provided to me by my Brazilian friend Bruno and 10 seconds later I was kissing her. Then, I moved on. All in good fun!

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I am mentioning this because it is alarming for me that people make out with strangers in the middle of the street in the day, but that is because of the culture I come from. It is not nearly as alarming for Brazilians. Brazilians just go for it – guy or girl will aggressively pursue you and make out with you. No violence. No bro-ey showdowns. No slaps in the face. No screaming. It is just a warmer society.

All throughout Carnaval I generally removed myself from the hostel bubble where English and Australians tend to travel in packs and never speak to locals. Instead, I strictly talked to locals! Approaching them on the street, in the metro, in the hostel even. It is so fascinating to talk to someone with a completely different cultural basis, attempt to work out similarities and make a connection through a broken concoction of languages. It’s like a massive puzzle that you don’t have all the pieces for.

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Bruno and I ran into a group of cross dressers and had a hilarious time partying in the street.

Recently, a group of Argentinians asked me how many kisses we give on the cheek in Canada. Haha! Fuck kisses, we don’t even touch each other!

A French friend of mine from Quebec once told me that I was the most open English person he’d ever met – other English people he has met are always more closed. I don’t know for sure, but I just feel that English culture is more closed than Spanish, Portuguse and Italian culture. Perhaps I only know Brazilians on the surface level. There is probably a lot of negative aspects to their culture that I have yet to uncover. I just know my culture, and I know how closed it can be, and it bothers me. I want to live in Rio or somewhere like it.

On the third night of Carnaval I took an Australian out of his bubble and brought him into my world of making friends on the street. He was reluctant the entire time, but he told me that he had one of the best nights of his life! Two of the many many people we talked to on Ipanema beach that night were a couple of girls who were dressed like an angel and a devil. At first, they were apprehensive with me because of my accent, but then they warmed up when they realized I could communicate with them in Portuguese. We danced, laughed and hit it off until one point when they had something to say and I didn’t understand the word. As I would do, and many people who speak another language would do, I would try a different word or explain in a different way, but they didn’t do that. They wouldn’t let this word go and finally we had to depart in frustration because of the language barrier. I wish they could have explained, but its ok – there were tons of other people to talk to.

Ipanema beach is also the gay area of Carnaval. Pride flags mark the territory where gay people can feel comfortable to party alongside straight. It was very inclusive and fun to see gay and straight people partying in a non-segregated way – even if I had to tell every second guy that I’m not gay.

Beach, music, drinks and fun = the perfect life for me and it was all free (except the drinks, of course). I know now that my favourite place to party is on the street talking to strangers. It happened in Halifax when I raged for 5 days at St. Francis Xavier Homecoming, it happened in Montreal on St. Paddy’s day, and it happens on Canada day in Ottawa. I also partied in the street when the Montreal Canadians advanced in the playoffs, when Sydney Crosby scored and Canada won the gold in the 2010 Olympics and even on the streets of the holy city of Jerusalem when I went there a couple years ago. All were fun, but the best time has been in Carnaval. Clubs and bars are often too crowded, aggressive, loud and expensive for my taste. It’s best just to party on the street! Where’s the next street party? I’ll be there! ☺

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Photo by Vincent Twint because I didn’t go. One day…

There was the Sambadrome, but I couldn’t afford it and didn’t wanna take time away from street conversations.

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Carnaval was so awesome I got sad about everything after

Following Carnaval I got pretty depressed. I still have not fully recovered as I have felt very introspective and in my head since Feb 11th. I could not believe what I saw! Millions of people having fun with eachother, with no violence or conflict to be found!

I’ve questioned my priorities, my culture, what I like/dislike and of course my future. I so badly want to find a way to continue exploring, meeting new people, speaking new languages, learning new cultures and partying in the streets when I can. I don’t see the point of going out and blowing over $100 on drinks, cover and cabfare to go out in Ottawa for two hours (bars close at 2am). Might as well save up to go to Carnaval again, or just simply to live in a new place.

I don’t understand why people don’t want to meet others and want to be isolated in the same group of people in the same town. Why not explore and put yourself out there? What are you afraid of? With that, I’ve realized that my curiousity, craving for new things and willingness to move places is why I am a journalist and it is how I want to live my life. But, it is not for everyone. Everyone has their own priorities and things that they want. I am so fortunate that I know what I want to do with my life.

With a lot of soul searching I have decided to drastically limit my drinking. To get fitter, eat healthier, improve my second, third and fourth languages and save up money to move away from Canada to continue meeting new people.

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Getting my ass kicked in football on Ipanema beach by Brazilians made me want to get super fit!

I’ve thought for a long time about making a change and getting back in control of a stricter and fitter lifestyle, but this was finally solidified after a particularly wild night on Ipanema with my friend Niall, and a few other guys. We talked to a thousand people it seemed and had plenty of tequila shots.

20130216-DSCN9413I realized that I didn’t need the shots and can easily just talk to people without it, so I stopped taking them.

Since February 16th, I have only been drunk twice – a vast improvement from this alcohol soaked voyage. Someone who tried to get me to drink said: “why don’t you drink? You are not on vacation!?”

I am NOT on vacation! I am travelling, it is completely different. Travelling is way harder! Look at any one of my blog posts for proof!

In a cloud of introspection I left Rio a week after Carnaval for a beach resort called Ilha Grande – a vacation from my vacation. I was extremely sad to leave Rio and all it had to offer, even after Carnaval. With it’s beautiful sights, nature, beach, good people and large city feel Rio may very well be the city I want to live in longterm. I will always think about how I can move back there.

A la prochaine Rio!

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At Botafogo v. Flamengo

Mind Blown by Brazil: Part 2 – Rio de Janeiro Tourism

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I have always wanted to go to Brazil and specifically to Rio de Janeiro since I watched the cheesy nineties film “Only the Strong” with my brother. He got very deep into the movie’s bad guy ass-kicking Brazilian dance/fighting style called capoeira and is still into it today.


I just wanted to see what all the hype was and get a taste of the culture. So, when I decided that I wanted to travel after university, going to Rio and Carnaval was at the top of my list (and the list of places I want to see is long and getting longer…). I added Bolivia, Peru and Argentina later on just because I felt like seeing more places, and I am glad I did. But as I expected, Rio was my favourite place and a place I could now see myself living.

Evidently, a lot of other people kinda dig Rio too. During Carnaval week 98% of the hotels and hostels were booked to suit the over 1.1 million foreigners expected to siege the city streets. That could sound like A LOT of gringo tourists, and there were, but it didn’t really feel like that except when sitting on Copacabana beach.

While foreigners came aplenty, many of the nearly 200 million Brazilians go to Rio or Salvador for Carnaval, especially from nearby Sao Paulo, who’s 20 million people do not have a major Carnaval celebration to call their own.

I arrived three days before Carnaval to get settled and see some sights. First, I went to the famous Pao de Azucar (Sugar Loaf) Mountain where you can take spectacular photos of the city.

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Instead of paying the 55 Reales to go on a lazy cable car, I teamed up with a Dutch guy, a Brit and a friendly Canadian couple to tackle the first mountain beside Sugar Loaf on foot. It took probably 30 minutes, which included feeding a pack of monkeys – contrary to park law (don’t tell anyone!) to walk up. The site was beautiful and I didn’t feel it necessary to pay extra.

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Next on the tourist trail a look at some of the world’s most infamous slums! Weird I know!

Check out my impressions of going in to Santa Marta favela before entering:

Fortunately, my Brazilian friend that I met in Florianopolis was with us, so we were easily able to find our way without a local guide.

Bruno showed us local fruit and explained the situation going on with the favelas in Rio. In case you don’t know, I’ll bring you up to speed: Since 2008 the Brazilian government has implemented a Pacifying Police Unit in certain urban favelas as well as social programs to clean up in advance of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

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Going into a world-renowned slum was something I wanted to do, but to do it in light of these militant changes seemed very bizarre to me. As a gringo walking through this mountain village with Bruno’s camera I couldn’t help but feel that I was going to see something like the zoo – except that these people are human beings!

Gringos are encouraged to go in. In fact, you are asked to hashtag the fact that you are there.

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The people in the favelas didn’t look at me with detest or anger, but  rather they seemed rather welcoming. A few street children followed us around for a while, not looking for money, but simply wanting to play with us.

Up the cable car and through the windy alleys we made it to the Michael Jackson monument where he and Spike Lee filmed half of the music video “They Don’t Care About Us” – the other half in Pelourinho, Salvador, Bahia.

It was told that M.J. used the gangs as his security instead of police. A lot has changed since then. With the pacification and police presence, those gangs are disarmed and powerless.

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Michael’s presence in this favela is probably one of the reasons it was pacified. Simply by going somewhere, Michael created a tourist industry and altered the lives of the locals forever. What power!

I was pretty shaken up by the whole favela experience. Not because I was felt threatened, just because it was surreal. Yes it was poor, but it also looked like a united community and a positive place to live.

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Another cool tourist attraction in Rio is the Lapa steps also known as Escadaria Selaron. Created in 1990 by a Chilean artist Jorge Selaron, the steps are an incredibly tall piece of interactive artwork that has tiles from people from all over the world. On this day in Rio, it was covered with people.

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Actually, Snoop Dogg filmed his video for “Beautiful” on the Lapa steps.

 

Tourist attractions aside, I was ready for the biggest party of my life! Up next! CARNAVAL.
Watch this 5 minute video I made for a teaser: