Saturday, December 24, 2005

Strange how time seems out

Strange how time seems out of control and I often lack motivation at night. Coincides with not going to yoga. Hmm...

Friday, December 23, 2005

Swing-and-a-miss...Strike Three!

HE struck-him-out (said in a Bill King voice)! Finally, the strike is over with.
I have to admit that it was a little bit fun, but I was getting tired of it
yesterday when I had to walk both to and from work in the frigid morning and
evening. The exercise was nice, but when I stop feeling my face, it's not quite
as much fun. And I was worried about how I was going to get to the airport today
without the $5 airtrain trip. That could have been a really expensive trip, if I
could even find a car to take me there!

I'm heading back to California for Christmas and my sister's birthday and I look
forward to seeing everyone. I wish everyone happy holidays!

J. Riley, the subway was nice and peaceful today

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Swing-and-a-miss...Strike Two!

The end of the first day of the strike came and I had to decide what route I was
going to take home. Do I dare try the buses again? Do I walk to midtown and try
to catch a different bus there? I left at about 4:00, an hour after most other
people left because they wanted to get on the buses early since they started
running again at 3:00. I went downstairs to catch one at 4:00 and people in
line said that no buses had showed up yet, so I guess the wrinkles hadn't been
ironed out yet. I was annoyed and fed up, so I decided to try walking home. It
turns out that it only took me an hour to walk home! That's roughly twice as
long as my commute, but that's still not too bad in my opinion. It was actually
kinda nice to get out and stretch my legs at the end of the shortened day and
listen to everyone on the street talk about the whole event. It made it
somewhat adventurous.

Day two of the strike came and again I had decisions to make. Rollerblades?
Buses? Walking? I was going to rollerblade, but the idea of going up a few
steep hills before arriving at work didn't sound hygenically friendly, so I
decided to try some permutations of my plans and headed up to 96th Street,
where cars were being checked to make sure they had four people in the car
before being allowed to enter the city. I heard that people were offering free
rides to other people if they would get in the car so that they would have the
four people necessary to pass. I thought this would be an easy way to get to
the bridge and I could make the 1/2 hour walk from there. As I got closer, I
noticed that there was a giant bus from my employer there, so that was even
better. I climbed aboard and thought maybe everything was running smoothly and
I could get a ride all the way to the office after making a bus connection in
mid-town. Things were going well until I hit 70th St. (I live on 91st) and the
traffic <b>stopped</b>. I dozed off a few times and woke up for good when we
neared the bridge at 59th St. It had taken an <b>hour</b> just to get there
because the traffic was so bad. I coulda been at work if I had walked! Some of
the other employees convinced the driver to let us off and it was another 1/2
walk over the bridge. But still much better than the previous day.

For the ride home, again, more permutations. There was a bus waiting out front
going to mid-town that I figured I'd take. Should be a quick ride over the
bridge, right? Wrong. The bus, for some unknown reason, decided the fastest way
to get to 53rd St. was to drive to the other side of Queens and take the Midtown
tunnel across the river to 34th St. and then drive up in massive congestion to
53rd St. rather than driving two blocks to the bridge, crossing it, and
entering Manhattan at 59th St, just a few blocks from 53rd! Good lord. So I
wasted about 30-40 minutes on that trip and ended up getting off early on 42nd
St. and walking home from there, which took me another hour. At this point, I
wasn't going to mess with traffic or the streets, my legs be damned! It was
coooold last night, too, which didn't make things too fun...

J. Riley, This is still an adventurous experience, but I'm getting worried about
finding my way to the airport on Friday....

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Swing-and-a-miss...Strike One!

Today New York's public transit came to a halt, creating chaos and madness everywhere. I left my apartment at 8:20 this morning and didn't get to work until 10:45. My client, a large bank, had rented buses and vans and had routes around the city to pick people up and drop them off at the large buildings that we work in, including the one I'm at in Queens, across the river.

So, with the temperatures hovering around 20 degrees (not including the wind chill), I walked down to the pickup location (not far from my apartment). After waiting in the weather for 20 minutes, a small van with our logo pulled up. Uhh...what about the huge coach buses that were supposedly going to pick us up? There were about twice as many people waiting for this bus as there was space for, so half of us, myself included, had to wait. Another ten minutes went by, and with no sign of another van or bus coming (they stopped running at 9:30), I decided to get a ride with some nice people that were taking the day off work and driving people around, asking only for gas money. 15 minutes later, I was at my next connection point at 53rd and 3rd Avenue (one of the offices), where we had buses and vans that were taking people into Queens. Or so I thought.

15 minutes of waiting there went by and the 100 people that were waiting were grumbling because they had only seen small vans coming by, and they were all full from people at the mass transit pickup spots, especially Penn Station (where New Jersey trains and buses come in. They were still running). Still no giant buses! Word on the street was that all the buses were stuck in Queens. In order to get into Manhattan, every vehicle had to have at least 4 people on board. Well, someone screwed up on our logistics and all the buses were stuck in Queens because after dropping everyone off, they didn't have the required people to get back into the city to get more people! Arrgghhh....

With no options really available, a coworker and I decided it would be faster to walk to work. So we left 53rd Street and walked up to 59th, crossed the Queensborough Bridge and got to work. It took about 40 minutes to walk and the weather was very nice and warm on the bridge (surprisingly enough).

I am not sure yet how I'm going to get home, but hopefully they have something figured out by then. And tomorrow? I might have to bust out the rollerblades and arrive at work all sweaty and freezing cold....

J. Riley, very few people at work today....

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Mass Transit

You gotta love mass transit - until the greedy unions decide that they want more money and go on strike. If they don't resolve their differences with the government organization that runs NYC's mass transit by midnight tonight, they will go on strike and life as I know it will stop. Not only will it inconvenience me, but it will also inconvenience the millions of other people in the city as well as people from outside the city that come in to work. People like grocery cashiers, laundry operators, etc. etc. All of this just because the union thinks that the starting salary of $50k per year is too low and that their workers deserve a raise of 8% per year for the next three years....

J. Riley, Guess I should stock up on food tonight.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Day 8 - Cabonga

Friday was the last full day (that didn't involve airports) that we would spend in Brazil. It started off with a bit of stress because we thought that we missed the bus in the morning - hey, the week was wearing on us! After rolling out of bed down to the breakfast area and munching on more exotic fruit juices (like cashew-fruit and peace-fruit juice), we were warned by Csilla that the bus was there and we'd better get downstairs. We rushed down and there was no bus waiting for us. Scheisse, that would suck if we missed the bus on the last day, even if we were all getting worn out with the long trips. We hung out for fifteen minutes hopig that they would circle around to the other hotels and then come back and get us. My contingency planning mind kicked into gear trying to think about what we'd do that day instead of going on our trip. Well, there were some beaches in town we could check out. We could hang out at the hotel pool. We could....sleep :o\ .... Luckily, up pulled our bus about 20 minutes late. They hadn't been by, Csilla, in her haste to get us slow eaters downstairs (well, there was at least one slow eater ;o), misidentified the driver I guess...

So we spent Friday by a giant pool and didn't go into the ocean for the first time in days. This was another resort-style place, which isn't my favorite. It really felt more distant from the local Brazil that we had gotten used to over the past two days. It wasn't all bad, of course, because they had some activities in the pool for everyone to participate in, like cardio classes in the pool. It was more just for everyone to go and get some exercise and have some cool music and act silly for a while. We did things like some partner dancing, some group stuff with everyone else in the pool (which was pretty much everyone there). And drank rum and cokes.

I had an interesting conversation with Daniel about Brazil's history from my observations of the country after a week of being there. One thing that really stuck out is that they have many different regions of the country, each one being very unique. Of course, we have different regions in the US and each is unique in it's own way, but the heritage of the people in the different areas of Brazil are different. So it was interesting to hear about how they have such-and-such dancing in this part of Brazil but not this other part, and how the people in the south are more light skinned and beautiful and the people in the north are much darker with more of an African influence. We got to discussing slavery in Brazil versus the US and how Brazil had accepted a lot of the culture of the slaves into their country's culture, things like dance (including capoeira), food (fejoida), and even some of the language. It seems like in America racism is much more prevalent (even if we don't realize it) then it is down there, although Daniel said that there is still some people that are racist down in Brazil. But, even more interesting was Daniel's observation on the attitudes of the English settlers in America versus the Portuguese settlers in Brazil. Both countries were discovered and colonized in the same era, yet America has surged ahead of Brazil in terms of standards of living and wealth. He thinks that it's because when people immigrated to America, they were leaving because of persecution and they wanted to start over in a new land. The Portuguese, on the other hand, came to Brazil looking to get really rich and to return to Portugal with all of their wealth. Because of this, their long term plans and development were hindered. Of course this affects a country's culture and their attitudes towards work and life. I like these kinds of history/social/culture discussions with the natives, it opens your eyes quite a bit!

On the way home that day, the bus stopped at a mega-marketplace that was about five stories high and sold everything from cashews to soccer jerseys to carved trinkets. We spent some time wandering the floors and giving Daniel hell because he was going to have to spend the next two days wandering these places with his wife because he'd promised her he'd take her shopping. The look on his face when he was telling us this was classic, like he's already surrendered to the fact that this will become the norm for the future. And it probably will be, judging by Kelly's ability to disappear and reappear every few minutes with a new table cloth or something like that. But he's a gentleman, we all know he's more than happy to spend time making her happy :o) ! We eventually bought like 10 kilos of cashews for export to Sao Paulo, New York, and California, since this was one of the products that this area was famous for. I bought just 1/2 kilo because I was pretty sure that I wouldn't be able to eat them due to my braces. But I figured what the heck, for 4 bucks I might as well try. Turns out that these cashews are very, very sweet, I haven't tasted any like these before. Very yummy...

So it was our last night in town and we wanted to go out in style. We went to the downtown area that we'd visited that was packed with people our age on Monday night to have dinner and see what's going on. We found that the area was packed with a lot of girls, but most of them were working for the restaurants, luring the tourists into their places to eat. There were a lot of places to settle into for a few hours with outdoor seating and a nice festive atmosphere. We chose an Italian place that we'd seen earlier in the week that looked like they had fresh food and the owner was a jovial Italian guy who spoke English, Italian, Portuguese, and even knew a few words in Slovak for Roland and Csilla. He was very friendly and took good care of his customers.
Stefan was in love with this place because it had Italian stuff all over the place, including pictures and jerseys and items like that. I swear, the way he was talking about how good the food looked and how amazing this place was, you'd have thought he hadn't eaten Italian food in years :o). It was a pretty good place, though. We had a little wine with our meal and did lots of people watching and talked to our neighbors, who were two Swedish guys who were studying in Boston and came down for Thanksgiving break. They were basically the first people that we'd met all week in Fortaleza that spoke English, so it was nice talking to them and finding out where the hot spots down in this part of town were on nights like this.

After dinner, the couples went back to the hotel and Stefan and I decided to go check out what was going on around town on our last night there. We walked down towards where some clubs were to check them out and thought they looked a little too touristy for our tastes - we were looking for the locals. Girls working for the clubs were standing outside and tried to get friendly with us to try to get us in the clubs, but we just kept walking. We ended up finding a pier that went out into the ocean, but the only people hanging out there were locals alright - local high school and junior highers!

So, back to town we headed. We went down a different street and noticed a bar/club type of place at the end of the block so we checked it out. There were beautiful women everywhere! That was more like it! We decided to stop for a drink there and ordered up some mojitos and take a look around. We couldn't believe how many girls there were. And how few guys there were. And how the guys were all older guys :-? . And it was also strange how all the girls were looking at us and smiling. And how they would touch our arms when we walked by. Stefan, who has been to Asia many times, immediately concluded exactly what this place was - a place to pick up prostitutes. We just sat back to see what was going on and it was totally obvious. It was pretty entertaining and I learned something about prostitutes. Normally, when I think of them, I think of skanky, crackhead, nasty ladies like the ones that I see on COPS or in NYC. But these girls were definitely different. They were very clean, well kept girls who looked like your average girls out on the town having fun, dancing with each other, talking, laughing, etc. They were very normal girls as far as we could tell.

The federal police came in after about fifteen minutes there and started checking girls' IDs. Daniel had told us that we should carry our passports everywhere because there were a lot of illegal immigrants in the area and we could be arrested if we didn't have IDs showing our tourist visas. Of course, I forgot mine that night. Oops. In any case, the police seemed to be checking to make sure the girls were old enough to be in a bar (18), but we didn't want to risk anything, so we decided to bug out and leave. It was quite an interesting experience though....

We went back to where the clubs were just to have one more drink and we found one that had no cover charge and had just a one-drink minimum, so we went in. After ordering a beer, we went to check out the dance floor and see what was up there and we found that it was exactly the same thing, only with a bigger dance floor and more emphasis on the dancing than the bar scene. But the same thing, the girls seemed to just be having fun. Stefan and I sat around for a bit sipping our beers and admiring the scene and then decided to walk around. Stefan was enamored with one girl, so I suggested that we go out to the dancefloor since we could at least find girls to dance with us (unlike in the U.S.!) . So he danced with the girl he was obsessed with and I found a girl to dance with as well. They played some pretty fun, awesome electronic type music just like the clubs in Europe, along with some American style hip-hop music. We both had fun there and agreed we'd have some stories for everyone the next day!

Justinho, We went out with a blast!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Day 7 - Morro Branco and Praia das Fontes

Thanksgiving was upon us and we met up with the crew as usual for breakfast. Roland and Csilla told us about their terrible night with Csilla sick and we told them about our terrible night watching dancing, eating, and drinking rum and cokes :o\ . Thankfully, Csilla was feeling much better after she had some Brazilian medication (she's braver than me!)

The usual business followed after our tropical breakfast, board the bus dead-tired, plug in my headphones, turn on the iPod to my "Music to Sleep To" playlist, pass out, and wake up a few hours later at the next beach. Today's beach was going to be really awesome because the first half of the day was going to be spent in buggies flying around the dunes next to the ocean. We paired up again and spent a good couple hours on the dunes, taking a few small breaks to take scenic pictures and do some swimming in the ocean with the rest of the group. Our driver wasn't as confidence inspiring as the one from a few days earlier, he was more mellow ("without emotion") and didn't push his dune buggies to the brink of blowing the motor like the one a few days earlier. I can't imagine why - I mean, he probably owns it himself and it's his sole livelihood , but that's no excuse, is it ;o) ? In addition, the dune buggies kept stalling at certain points when we were going downhill. I was just waiting for us to be stranded in the middle of the Saharan Desert of Brazil! Everytime we stopped, he would tinker with the motor to make it run better. Good old VW motors :o) !

We went deeper inland and had some pretty nice views on this trip. I felt like I was in Iraq because there was a river running through the dunes and there was lush grass, bushes, and palm trees around. Well, of course there weren't mortars floating overhead and blown up buildings courtesy of Napolean W. Bush, but that's what I always imagined something like the Fertile Crescent looking like - stark contrasts between the dessert sand and the fertile riverbeds. We had the option of sand surfing again, but we just drove down the hill instead since we had already experienced something similar on Tuesday.

There was another lagoon back inland that we drove to and had the option of eating and drinking something and going swimming, but we declined this as well and just took some nice pictures there before heading to the area that we would spend the rest of the day at. Unfortunately, the water activities were centered around pools rather than the beach. It was much more resort-like, which didn't feel as local and authentic as the other places that we'd been to, but we could still have fun there. They also had cafeteria-style eating where you picked what you wanted and you paid by weight. I thought it was mildly amusing that the American gringos (that would be me and Stefan) had loaded our plates up with food to the point of suffocation, while the Euros and South Americans had moderate portions. Talk about over-indulgence! No wonder us Americans are so fat! Oh well, I was starving :o).

The "scenery" at this location was significantly better than at other beaches we'd been to, not that I could complain about the other beaches. There were fewer honeymooners (the percentage of honeymooners to singles was probably down to 75% or so) and there were definitely some girls who belonged in swimsuits laying out by the pool. It was strange that the population here was so different than the other beaches. Maybe it was just more consolidated here.

After lunch, we were entertained by a show that the local transvestite put on for the crowd. He brought up five or six couples to the stage and played something like the game Newlyweds, only a bit more graphic ;o). Actually, I don't think it was like the game Newlyweds, judging by their actions (since we couldn't understand what they were saying). The first challenge was to have each girl run into the crowd and kiss as many boys as she could in a minute and then the boys did the same with girls in the crowd. One of the girls who was on stage first ran to another guy on the stage who was helping to run the show (or so it seemed) who was a flaming homosexual. He had been dancing to the music prior to the show and it was quite obvious that he wasn't hiding anything. When the girl went up and kissed him, the tranny (who was counting each one out loud) said "he's a queer, he only counts as a 1/2 of a man!" and then as the tranny kept counting, he kept using the half "5 and a half, 6 and a half, seven and a half, ....." . It was pretty funny. The tranny was hilarious. The next game involved having the men make donkey ("asno!") sounds to their partners. It was pretty funny to us since "asno!" was one of the words of the week. They had a couple more little games that were funny, but the show was pretty short.

After the show, it was time for Roland, Stefan, and Csilla's graphic show - in the kiddie pool, no less. It started innocently enough with Stefan acting his age by going down the kiddie water slide - which was actually pretty fun, I admit ;o) . The lifeguard then came and told Stefan that he had to pay 8 reais to use it, so we stopped (until he left again). When Roland took a picture of Csilla laying on an above-water turtle's back, Stefan got his dirty mind in action and realized that it's mouth was his waist's height and of course he did some posing with the camera. I was so embarrased - and laughing hysterically - and thankful that there were only a handful of kids around to see this. Not to be outdone, Roland spotted the cannon that was his waist's height and he and Csilla did some more posing for the camera. I almost fell off the chair I was laughing so hard at this point. Stefan and Roland I can definitely see doing these poses, but the fact that Csilla was in on it was just too funny.

After eating some ice cream, it was time to go. We went to pay and found out that all of the food and drinks that we'd had that day ended up costing us just 25 or so reais each, by far our cheapest day yet. They clearly had missed someone's lunch or something, because there's no way it should have been that cheap. But we weren't complaining! Climbing aboard the bus, we noticed that a couple of the cute things from next to the pool were on our bus. How was it possible that we missed that?? We spent a good couple minutes discussing and debating whether that really was the hot girl in the yellow bikini from earlier in the day. I didn't think so, but I was clearly out-voted. Oh well, it was time for me to pass out and catch up on my sleep anyway!

For Thanksgiving dinner, we went to the place that Kelly had been to when she came to Fortaleza a few years back and was raving about. Daniel said that this place was one of the reasons why they had come to Fortaleza in the first place. They picked our destination based on food - how appropriate! No complaints from me :o). The place specialized in flavored caiparinhas and crepes filled with some seriously tasty goods. I don't even remember what was in mine ( memory is failing me!), but it was something like cheese, beef, and bolognese sauce or something like that. Stefan ordered his (cream cheese and....???) and Roland, who had ordered a pizza and spent several minutes detailing exactly what he wanted on it and how it was to be cooked, immediately changed his order, "I'll just have what he ordered too". Poor waiter! We found that our kiwi caiparinhas weren't too kiwi-like (Stefan ordered a mandarine caiparinha and determined that, even with mandarine, these drinks were disgusting; I thought he woulda figured that out already!).

We were pretty beat from the day, so we took it easy that night, i.e. another night of playing poker at the hotel with rum and cokes and Vas's yuppy cognac :o) . This time, he got the real deal XO cognac, though it didn't bring him any additional luck as Stefan was the match winner for the night. Once again, I was out second-to-last (what happened to my horseshoe?), but I was almost thankful because I was so beat and needed to get some sleep. This time I didn't stick around, I headed upstairs and watched some soccer (on TV 24/7 it seemed) and passed out....

Justinho, Why are the details foggy after just two weeks?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Day 6 - Canoa Quebrada

After out late night playing poker, it was back to bed and waking up a few hours later for another early morning trip (and nap) to a new beach - Canoa Quebrada. I was dead tired that morning and was not very pleased when the tour guide on the bus decided that everyone should wake up and do introductions while I was in the middle of a deep sleep. Apparently the things that some people were saying were pretty funny, because everyone was laughing quite a bit (and making me grumble every time). I decided that from that day on, I would bring my iPod every day to make sure that no one would disturb my beauty sleep from that day on (lord knows I need as much of that as I can get ;o). Daniel asked us if we wanted to introduce ourselves and for some reason (lack of sleep, probably), I agreed to go up there and make a fool of my self by trying to say a few things in Portuguese. So Daniel and Kelly made their introduction to themselves, told everyone they were on their honeymoon (like most of the other passengers on the bus) and that they had gringo friends from USA and Slovakia on the bus (I'm assuming that everyone had already figured this out because Stefan isn't exactly quiet when he talks) and that one of them (me!) was going to say hello and represent the rest of the gringos.

Then it was my turn. For some odd reason, I had spent the last 15 minutes of my semi-consciousness watching everyone introduce themselves (and not understanding them) and I hadn't even thought about what I was going to say when I got to the front of the bus in front of 50 Brazilians. So Daniel tells me to go up to the front and I walk in a trance, suddenly wondering what the hell I was doing and telling myself not to screw up. And then I started thinking about what to say when I was about five feet from the microphone. Not exactly enough time for me to go through my not-so-extensive Portuguese vocabulary and come up with something coherent. But, I was going to do it. So I stood there in front of the world and got terrible stage fright and got really nervous. I quickly said "I am Justin and I am from New York. I am with my friends Daniel and Kelly" (in accent-free Portuguese of course ;o) and I quickly gave the microphone back to the tour guide and headed back to my safety zone in the back of the bus with the other gringos. But, to my surprise, everyone started applauding and that was pretty special to me. But I was so nervous and embarrased that I didn't look at anyone while I walked. Of course, as I sat there afterwards (and over the next few days as well) I thought of a few things that I could say in Portuguese that would have added some humor, things like "I like Brazilian barbeque, Brazilian beer, and caiparinhas" and some more things. I would have been much more comfortable if I'd planned my thoughts instead of just sitting there half asleep!

Anyway, the introductions finished and then they started playing some game on the bus, but I was still tired so I passed out again and slept off and on while they laughed and yelled answers all over the bus!

The buses dropped us off in town and we got free trips down near the beach from some dune buggies that were nearby. This beach was different than any of the others because of the fact that it was surrounded by cliffs made from sandstone or some type of red clay that was severely impacted by erosion from the wind and the occassional rain. The terrain changed every year because the dirt was so easily shaped by the elements. It was terribly hot out, so I was pretty sure that we'd get fried that day while we wandered through the canyons from the tops of the cliffs down to the beach. We had a local boy who was our tour guide and he told us (well, really Daniel and Kelly ;o) about how the area had changed and and how it was now protected because of its fragility. The scenes from this beach were absolutely breath-taking, as the pictures show. While we were walking around with all the other tourists, we heard someone call it the Grand Canyon and us gringos laughed because it was pretty much the first English we'd heard for a while from someone other than Daniel :o).

Once we got to the bottom, we were at another beach restaurant where we could sit back, eat lobster and shrimp, and drink a few beers while taking sun breaks to go swimming. I don't think that there were many waves at this beach, however, so it was more relaxing. There were some of the usual trinket-peddlers, including a guy selling coconuts that were carved in the shape of monkeys. This guy was trying hard to sell them to our table and he and Stefan shared some laughs as Stefan bartered back and forth with the guy throughout the day, telling the guy that when the price got to 15 reais, he'd buy one. The guy responded with jokes like "all the money goes to charity - my kids" and other wisecracks. It was pretty funny and Stefan eventually got his price at the end of the day. Csilla was also heavily involved in the trinket-purchase business, and one minute she was asking Roland "why the hell do these guys always come up to me" and the next minute she was checking out all of the nut necklaces that they were selling :o) .

We headed back up to the buses early that day so that we could shop in the town's tourist shops. We bought a few postcards and a few other trinkets before packing it up and heading back. Apparently we were shopping a bit longer than we were supposed to and Daniel came running after us and said the whole bus was waiting for us so that we could leave. Great, now we were the loud AND annoyingly late gringos!

That night we were going to go see a show that had traditional Brazilian dances, and lord knows they have a lot of them so that was something we were definitely willing to pay $5 to go see. Unfortunately, Csilla wasn't feeling well that day and got really sick that night (possibly from something at the barbeque the day before) and her and Roland never made it. She ended up having to get medicine from the front desk and after that she felt better, but she was in bad shape that night we found out the next day.

But the dance show was amazing. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. They had various types of samba dances, some traditional Portuguese dances, some traditional African dances (from the slaves), some capoeira dancing, and about thirty more dances, all performed by the same cast of dancers who would dance, then run back and change and be out for the next dances. There was also a live band that was playing the music. The food at the restaurant was cafeteria/buffet style and was actually pretty decent. You paid for the food by weight and they had a nice variety of items to choose from. Here are some of the dance videos:
Samba from the 50s

Another important discovery was made that night that would alter our expenditures and experience for the rest of the week. Daniel, who works in the restaurant business himself, noticed that when you order a Cuba Libre (Rum, Coke, and Limes), they bring you a can of coke and a glass of rum and then they poor them together to make the tasty concoction. But then you're stuck with 2/3 of a coke left to drink. A Cuba Libre was 10 reais, but a rum over ice + a coke was about 7 reais. So, if you ordered three rums over ice and a coke, you were looking at paying about 15 reais vs. the 30 reais that three Cuba Libres would cost - my numbers are off a little, but it was a significant savings. We couldn't afford not to drink more since we were saving so much, so we drank quite a few more rum and cokes that night and the days that followed!

Justinho, Only two days left :o(

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Day 5 - Cumbuco

After a late Monday night out on the town, we were certainly less than pleased to have to wake up bright and early on Tuesday at around 7:30am. Little did we know that this would become a trend all week - going to bed late, waking up early. Suffice to say that I quickly learned how to sleep on the bus, both to and from the beaches! Some of the beaches were as much as two hours away, so we had quite a bit of napping time.

Cumbuco was one such beach, several hours away in a remote area. The tour guide explained to everyone (while us non-Portuguese speakers slept ;o) that there were options on things we could do at the beach, such as renting dune buggy rides, sand surfing on the dunes, and going out on a boat. We signed up for a package that included all three options for 33 reais each, which is like $12 (talk about a steal). When Daniel was telling us about these things, he kept calling the buggys "boogies" and saying that each "boogie" fit four people on it and I was totally confused, probably because I was in a foggy state of mind after sleeping for a few hours on the bus. I equate "boogie" with boogie (or body) boards, you know, the things we rode on waves as kids with. So I was envisioning four people riding on a boogie board down some steep sand hills and it sounded kind of strange to me. I didn't realize that he was talking about buggies until a few minutes later, and then it was clear. Hey, I'm not a morning person - anymore!

So first up, we took a boat ride out into the ocean. It looked and sounded pretty fun, going sailing in the beautiful ocean where the water was nice and warm (it was probably around 75 degrees). My mind drifted back to sailing with catamarans on Lake Tahoe and stuff, so that sounded pretty cool to me. Then we saw the sailors and the boat and realized that this wasn't going to be a luxury trip on the boat. Very rustic boats with hardened, seasoned sailors on it. Unfortunately, since there was nowhere to store our things, we had to leave the cameras behind so we couldn't capture how rustic these things were.

When we finally got lined up on the boat (these things are TINY, couldn't hardly fit all six of us, especially with Stefan ;o), they had to wait for waves to come up so that we could push off. While we were riding out, Daniel was talking to the sailors and telling us their situation. These people were clearly very poor and we realized how the tour companies were taking advantage of them. But, they were happy just to have the opportunity to make some extra money. For every 10 reais that the tourists paid, the sailors got 0.30 reais of the money. The restaurant, tour company, and the agents took the remaining 9.70 reais. This wasn't even enough money for the sailors to live on, so every month they would go out for three or four times for three days on this tiny boat and catch fish to feed themselves. This isn't a canoe-like boat, it's basically got a flat deck on it and, like I said, we had to finagle and rearrange so that six of us could sit down. There isn't any kind of holding tank for the fish, so they would go on cages on the deck. In order to sleep, the sailors would have to sleep standing up, sort of like the comatose sleep I do on the subway. Except they're in the middle of the ocean, hundreds of km from land.

Anyway, they took us out to the ocean and we all go to go swimming for a few minutes and then climb back onboard and haul ass back to land. The wind was so strong everyday at the beach, it's no wonder windmills are popular ways to make energy out there. Once we got back, it was time for lunch (lobster, shrimp, fish, and veggies were our staples for the week's lunches) and afterwards, dune "boogie" time.

Stefan, Daniel, and Kelly hopped onto one buggy and Roland, Csilla, and I jumped on the other one with Vas and I sitting on the back in Csilla in the front seat. Daniel told us that the driver can take us "with emotion" (meaning driving like a maniac) or "without emotion". I know that these guys are professional drivers and all, but we had no idea how crazy they would be, so we developed a hand signal, thumbs up for driving more crazy and thumb down for chilling out a little bit. The drivers took us up into the dunes and, after driving off a cliff that scared the crap out of us, took us to the top of the hill so that we could go sand surfing.

There was a lagoon (probably more like a cesspool ;o) at the bottom of the steep hill and they had wooden boards that they waxed up for us to sit on and ride down the hill. You had to use your hands behind you to control your speed, balance, and steer. It sounded pretty easy, but was actually quite difficult. I finally made it to the cesspool on the third try after Daniel and Roland had each made it in at least once. Of course, the hardest part about the rides was having to climb back up the hill, lugging the board behind you. They had a snowboard-like device for the hill as well but I didn't dare push my luck with that. There was a Brazilian kid who was the son of one of the guys who rode it very well though. Funny to think that he's never seen snow before but he could snowboard very well....

After the sand surfing, it was back to the dune "boogies" for an awesome trip across the dunes, flying down sandy trails and tearing up the dunes and stopping for pictures. It was quite exhilirating and we only had to give the drive a thumbs up once for more "emotion" and high speed passing of the other dune buggies. It was totally awesome!

Afterwards, we hung out at the beach for a bit longer, body surfing as usual and soaking up the scenery and the sun. Honestly, I spent most of the trip under umbrellas which explains my lack of tan - and sunburn. The sun was vicious that close to the equator and I'd rather be a whitey than have a burn. There were some donkeys that were dressed up and available for rides. We didn't ride them, but since Daniel referred to them as jackasses (he was being serious when he said that word), Stefan immediately clung to the Portuguese word (asno) and used it whenever he could, even though you don't call someone an "asno" (like we call Stefan jackass). Asno became one of our top-10 terms of the trip, though, especially with Kelly and her imitation of one.

After lounging all day, it was back on the bus and nappy-nappy time for us. Once we got back, we cleaned up for the evening and were planning a mellow night after a busy couple of days. We decided that this would be the glutonous night, so we headed to Sal E Brasa, a traditional Brazilian churrascaria (barbeque restaurant). This basically involved gorging ourselves on as much meat and side items as humanly possible for the price of about $15. There's a full salad bar with various casseroles and salad items to munch on beforehand (including things like olives, cheese, hearts of palm, sushi, etc.) and once you finish that, it's meat time. You have a coaster that is red on one side and green on the other, and once you flip that thing to green, you are bombarded by waiters carrying skewers of different kinds of meat and asking you if you would like this meat or that meat. They come by one at a time the whole night and you can pick and choose if you want prime rib, chicken hearts, chicken marinated in champagne, filet mignon, lamb, etc. Yes please!

After fiilling our bellies with caiparinhas and pounds of meat, it was time to work off a few of those calories, so we went to the street markets to do some shopping. Well, the girls did some shopping anyway. Kelly apparently had been practicing and we found that she was very good with her new fulltime job - spending Daniel's money. Daniel, demonstrating his proficiency in using English cuss words, summed it up pretty well, "I'm f**ked" ;o) . It's hilarious hanging out with people like him and Roland who don't speak English as a first language because, despite having a few grammatical errors when they speak, they have absolutely no issues when it comes to using cuss words. They always use them grammatically correctly and at appropriate spots in their sentences. I think they hung out with Stefan too much ;o)

After walking around and shopping at the street markets, we tried to round everybody up to head back to the hotel but we couldn't find Roland and Csilla. But we weren't in any major hurry, so Stefan and I lacksidasically walked back to the hotel after looking for them, stopping to watch some crazy Brazilian soccer game being played on concrete and admiring people playing a mix of volleyball-soccer, which is like playing volleyball, except you can't use your hands. Feet, chest, legs, and head are used to block, bump, pass, and dink the ball over the net. These guys are amazing.

We arrived at the hotel to find everyone in the normal location at the hotel - the corner poker table that was baptized as our poker-playing spot. Vas had his chips out and stacked and ready to rumble. Daniel joined the party and we got our caiparinhas or Guarana (Brazilian soda) and Vas transformed into the yuppy that we all know and love by ordering a glass of cognac (yuck) and busting out his Cohiba Siglo III cigars from the duty free store for us to chew on and smoke. He recently became a fan of the expensive cognac and so he ordered the best stuff they had, supposedly something called XO cognac (I guess that's a ranking). He milked that glass that night, as cognac should be milked. We found out the next day that the stuff he got was actually the lowest "ranking" cognac (VS? VSOP? Something like that) that the hotel had since they were out of the XO stuff. No wonder it was only $8 a glass :o).

Roland ended up being poker champion that night, once we finished at around 2:00am. I was ready to pass out and ended up in fourth (out of five) place, pretty embarrasing. I stuck around and shuffled cards to see who would win. And, more importantly, I got to see Daniel fold a straight when the river was turned over. He had two 3's in hand and didn't notice the straight, so he showed his cards and folded to Roland, handing a sizable chunk of change over to the eventual winner and leading him to victory - for the night ;o)

Justinho, will I ever finish this week?

My Pictures
Stefan's Picture Archive (new pictures added!)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Day 4 - Beach Park & Pirata

Monday morning was just what we expected - bright and sunny outside, temperature somewhere in the 80's on 90's. We had purchased a tour package through Daniel that included, in addition to the 5-star hotel and flight to and from Sao Paulo, a trip to a beach outside of the city called Beach Park. We debated about whether or not to take the tour bus or to rent our own driver and not rush in the morning, but in the end we opted to take advantage of the bus since it wasn't arriving until 10:00am that day. And it was free :-D

So we met at the breakfast room at 9:00 and our eyes lit up when we saw the food they had waiting for us. They had tropical fruit galore, items like coconuts with holes and straws in them, mango, papaya, fruits I'd never seen or heard of (like peace-fruit and star fruit), a selection of about 8 fruit juices (like cashew!), cold cuts, fresh bread, little sausages with a spicy sauce and onions, eggs, custom omelettes (which required us to talk to the lady cooking them, which wasn't going to happen), waffles, cheeses, etc. etc. It was pretty cool trying all this food out. Daniel and Kelly got a kick out of Stefan when he came back with a plate of potatoes, fruit, and lunch meat because I guess it's not normal to mix such different items on your plate. I laughed at him as well (he's easy to laugh at ;o), but then a few minutes later I came back with a plate of sausages, cheese, and papaya and they laughed even harder because I outdid Stefan with my mix. Oops!

The ginormous tour bus pulled up to our hotel on time and we were ready for the beach. We were a bit disappointed that the beach in front of our hotel wasn't good for swimming because there was a large port nearby and the water was polluted, but there were other beaches nearby, so it wouldn't be a problem.

The beach we were going to was called Beach Park and it was pretty well-known because it also had a water park (like Raging Waters) that we could go to if we wanted to pay 75 reais (about $25). It was very resort-like there with a few small stores, restaurants, bungy jumping, and tables and chairs on the beach. On the way in, there were a set of gorilla statues and they even had a mascot who walked around and took pictures with the kids - and Stefan. True to their reputations, Stefan and Roland wasted no time in molesting the gorilla statues in front of the camera. Yes, there were women and children around and, yes, I was embarrased to know them but I was also laughing hysterically.

I was stoked to be at the beach and there were plenty of rough waves there, so most of us just hung out at the beach all day. Daniel and Kelly wanted to check out the water park, so they paid their dues but were really disappointed and came to the beach with us by lunch time. Being a beach city, Fortaleza was very well known for their seafood, so we started our lunchtime seafood binge eating with some breaded and fried crab. Roland and Csilla got a massive red snapper that was covered in some kind of garlic and parsley sauce (it was too strong for Vas's refined taste buds) and Stefan and I each got a bowl of crab risotto that had too many pieces of crab shell in it. Naturally it was washed down by some beers that were kept cold by these plastic thermos things, which was nice since it was easily over 90 degrees that day.

We spent plenty of time in the rough surf that day. There were some waves to be body-surfed and get destroyed by. Roland ended getting tossed and his leg almost touched his back. Stefan got pile-driven into the sand. I drank a few gallons of sea water and skinned up my back on the sand. Yet we weren't phased and repeatedly went back out for more!

I tried out my snorkel and goggles but the water was too rough and I couldn't even see the bottom of the ocean from the shallow water, so it wasn't worthwhile. I had watched a special on shark attacks in Florida right near the coast a few weeks back, so I was a bit paranoid for the first day or two about getting attacked. Which is funny because I've always lives next to the ocean and I never worry about it. Obviously it didn't deter me out of the water, but it was on my mind a lot.

Daniel and Kelly went back to the beach park waterslides to check them out one more time and they actually found some decent rides, so they were satisfied with the experience afterall. Roland went to the bungy-ride-jump thing and got his ass kicked while doing sommersaults on it. He came back and was dripping with sweat from jumping around on it. I've never done that thing before but I guess it takes quite a bit of muscle and strength to do it, so it probably wouldn't be worth it for me. I'd rather do something that takes no muscle at all, like bungy jump or sky dive....

The bus was going to take us back at 4:30, so Roland, Csilla, Stefan, and I headed to the buses at 4:15 or so, hoping to find Daniel and Kelly on their way back from the water park. We couldn't find them anywhere though and we were really worried about missing our bus since our translators weren't around and we didn't know which bus we were supposed to get on. We finally found a tour guide that spoke English (a rarity in these areas!) and he couldn't help us find our bus despite asking around. I was worried that it had already left without us, but I knew (or hoped ;o) that Daniel and Kelly wouldn't abandon us, no matter how annoying Stefan was. Finally the tour guide said that his boss would be there in 10 minutes and could tell us which bus it was. 10 minutes? It had to be at least 5:00 by now and we were supposed to leave at 4:30. Csilla, are you sure that you turned your watch back an hour since we were in a new time zone? Oh, whoops, that was the OTHER watch that she set. Nice one ;o) ! We walked back to the Beach Park and found Daniel and Kelly hanging out with our tour guide.

After our ride back to the hotel, we decided to pay 135 reais each (like $60) to get rides to a new beach every day on the bus. We toyed with the idea of getting our own van and driver but it wasn't worth it in the end because we'd had the same structured schedule that the tour buses had.

After showering and cleaning up, we were off to dinner and to check out a huge party at a place that was called Pirata (Pirate) that was only open on Monday nights. We ended up walking at least a mile to find a restaurant that we all agreed on (no BBQ, no Italian, no.....ooh, let's eat Seafood!). We had nice outdoor seating and had a caiparinha and some water and ordered lobster, shrimp, and some filet mignon medallions. Yummy! The non-Amis hadn't had lobster before, and it was plentiful and cheap down in Fortaleza so they tried it out and the boys were hooked. The girls stuck with safe things to eat, but we ended up ordering lobster at every lunch from then on.

Then we were off to Pirata, right down the street. This area of town was hopping and there were young folks everywhere. We found out as the week went by that this was the biggest party in Fortaleza and the reason why it was so busy in this area. Pirata used to be a big outdoor casino but they had converted it into a place to party with drinks, bands, and dancing. We had heard that Fortaleza was home to a style of Brazilian music called Forro (pronounced Fow-Hoa). Everyone had told us this so I was looking forward to getting private lessons from some cute Brazilian girls. We were a little timid at first with the other 3000+ people there and kinda hung out in the back having caiparinhas and beer. Kelly taught us some basic Forro steps and rhythm (I'm way to white to be able to do it). Then the band started playing music that was described as "Karnival Music". It was much easier to dance to, everyone just started jumping around. I did some derivative of swing dancing with Kelly to the delight of some ladies at a table nearby. They applauded us (or maybe my effort ;o) afterwards which was nice. Too bad they were old enough to be my parents ;o).

But with such fun music, there was nothing to do but head towards the stage and get in the middle of the massive crowd. Everyone was jumping around, sweating, and having fun with the Karnival tunes. It was one of those times of serious cultural authenticity that serious tourists thrive on, so we had a great time. Daniel kept telling us bachelors that he was jealous of us and that he should have gone there when he was single because there were young-20's girls all over the place.

A new band came up and they started playing Brazilian Axe (pronounced osh-eh) music, which is a more simple rhythm and everyone in the crowd moves their arms in sync, kinda like the Macarena dance. The girls were delighted when buff male dancers in boxers came up on the stage but I was busy looking at the girls in the crowd. Unfortunately, Axe music leaves no individuality so it wasn't as fun and Daniel, Kelly, Roland, and Csilla got bored and decided to go home at around 1:30 or 2:00. Stefan and I stuck around for a while though as the crowd thinned out a bit. Once they started playing Forro music again, I struck out when I asked a few girls to teach me to dance and resolved to just dance alone for the rest of the night, which was fine. I turned around and Stefan was freaking a tall, slender girl that had been dancing near us for a while. I thought she was very pretty and we both agreed that she had a nice set

He seemed pretty happy and danced with her for a while when a fight suddenly broke out in front of us. Out of nowhere, security guards rushed the brawlers and took them down. I had no idea that there was even security at this event, but they definitely took care of business and eventually wrestled the guys to the door and kicked them out. The crowd was definitely a bit unsettled by it and people were edgy for a while. The band played some mellow music to get people back in the groove, which worked in Stefan's favor. But, for some reason, he wanted to LEAVE! I don't know what his deal was but we left about 15 minutes later. We gave the girl our room number at the hotel and she was supposed to call Stefan that week, but we realized the next day that we had given her the wrong room. Oops! We finally left Pirata probably around 3:00 and Stefan had plenty of lipstick smeared all over his mouth :o) ...

We had to get up at around 7:15 the next morning, and thus began our string of getting little sleep in the hotel and sleeping to and from the beaches in the bus! A good recipe for getting sick, but definitely maximizing our time down in South America!

Justinho, Pirata was a highlight of the trip

My Pictures
Stefan's Pictures (lots of good ones)