The World is My Classroom

Sitting in a hammock, 130 am, overlooking the city of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. I guess life isn`t too bad. It`s my first night in the city and Lena and I went straight to look for Eddie and found him in the middle of a reggae concert nearby. Everyone in this town has dreads! The longest I`ve ever seen… We`ve just arrived here from a week in Rio and I have to recap that, since it was one incredible week.

Rio de Janeiro

It started out in such a rush…Lena and I packed the morning of and had Mario, our local Brazilan friend (yes, I do feel cool saying that) drive us to the airport. We had no plans, no friends, and no money. It`s becoming the theme of our trip, but we find each along the way. We headed straight for Copacabana and, Lena with her suitcase and me with my backpack, trudged around the neighborhood in search of food and shelter. After hours of aimlessly walking and following terrible directions from strangers, we found a hostel in the heart of Copacabana. It was bumping techno and was all guys with no shirts on. We had managed to find the gay hostel. But after a day of traveling, we decided to have a relaxing night and headed to see the movie Rio, such a trip! It`s a very accurate depiction of the city. The next day we went to Ipanema beach and wandered around…it was nice to know we had so much time to explore.

At night we went to a funk club. Actually, a funk event. It was almost like a rave, and had all the top names in Brazilan funk, which meant absolutely nothing to us but it was fun nonetheless! It was actually the crowd that somewhat killed it for us. I`ve noticed at a lot of clubs not many Brazilians dance…they just stand around and drink. I don`t know if it was the fact that Lena and I were dancing like crazy or maybe we really do just look like gringos but guys were grabbing at us non-stop. We were constantly moving away from a group of guys to another seemingly-safe area, only to have to leave again. We left happy to have seen the performance, but angry and confused at the same time…

Everyday we were homeless. We had to scramble to find a bed for the night. It might sound adventurous or freeing, but it was pretty much just a hassle. Luckily, we found Marcos. A 25-yr old Brazilian who lives with his mom (as most 25-yr old Brazilians do) and works in finance at the Sheraton Copacabana. CouchSurfing.com is a blessing! We were able to stay with him for two nights for free, while he cooked for us and drove us around. We met up with him at a nightclub the first night, but were too tired to accompany him so we just wandered around Barra de Tijuca in the meantime. We found ourselves asleep on a bench in a restaurant a couple hours later. Lena with her head between her knees and me with my canga wrapped around me to block the mosquitos, we looked completely homeless. It was only when the restaurant was starting to close that we woke up startled and ventured back to the club to meet up with Marcos.

We hiked Floresta de Tijuca the next day, it took us about an hour to get to the top and we were met with the most breathtaking view of Rio de Janeiro. I was hoping to see some animals or at least a monkey! But to no avail…

Praia de Tijuca is the prettiest beach in Rio. Do not miss it if you ever go! The water is crystal clear and there is a sandbar about 10 feet into the water, so you can go lay out there or play futbol. We lounged around for a few hours and then went to Barra Shopping Mall, the biggest mall in Latin America. Too bad everything in Brazil is amazingly overpriced, I don`t think I`ll go shopping for clothes once while I`m here. I know it`s a developing country, but it still has so much more room to grow, and I think the expensive-ness is stunting it. How does a country of such poor people expect them to buy these things when I`m not even willing to?

And then there is Santa Teresa. I love little towns like this, we took the bonde (a trolley that runs through the city`s old water ducts) there and wandered through the narrow streets filled with all sorts of murals along the walls and little shops filled with antiques and random articles. We had the best pizza I have ever had in my life.

 

It was here, however, that the feeling of not-belonging really started to get to me. The whole day we felt like outsiders, we must stick out because people turn to stare at us as soon as we walk into a room. I know enough Portuguese to understand when people are talking about me, but not enough to be able to stand up for myself, and it`s a very frustrating feeling. The worst was when we were taking the trolley back down to the metro station. It`s only 60 centavos to ride it, but if you stand on the side, just like in San Francisco, you don`t have to pay, and we wanted to stand on the bonde on the way down just for the fun of it, but a Brazilan woman on the trolley decided to throw a fit about us not paying and argued with the conductor for an embarrasingly long time. We explained that we don`t care about paying we just wanted to stand, but the woman wouldn`t stop bitching so to end it we just sat down. She kept mumbling in Portuguese and told us to “tranquilo”. I wanted to slap her. We left feeling embarrased and violated- being called out like that and not being able to retaliate.

On Saturday, we were literally homeless. Homeless in Rio de Janeiro. For some reason we weren`t too afraid…luckily at this age staying up all night partying is a very considerable option, and it`s exactly what we did.

We started out at Nordestine Fair in Sao Cristavao, probably one of my favorite things we witnessed in Rio. Only Brazilians were to be seen as we walked down the windy pathways of this fair filled with shops with African statues and tribal faces, food stands with shish-kebab type things, and a hidden concert on every corner. Oh, and 3 real caipiroskas and a mechanical bull- a fun combination. We met up with Leticia, a girl we know from Floripa, and met all of her friends and we all went out to Lapa, the nightlife central of Rio. Of course we went straight to the funk club, where else? and left the club, soaking wet from the heat at about 6 am…then we all headed to one their houses to sleep for a couple hours. It was fun to really be out with a group of Brazilian kids. We awoke at 9AM to the family getting ready for Easter lunch, and Lena and I, dazed and confused, made our way to the metro and to a hostel in Botafogo to check in.

There was no way, despite our sleepless night, that we would take it easy the next day. I heard someone mention the words “soccer game” and pounced. It was the semi-finals for the Rio de Janeiro cup, and as soon as we got ready we headed to the stadium to buy tickets. In South America you buy tickets for the team you want to win, not for general admission, and since the guys we went with were rooting for Flamengo we just did the same. I won`t lie, I love soccer but had absolutely NO idea who these teams were, but like the total tourist I can be I bought a Flamengo shirt and pretended like I was by their side my whole life. Luckily they won. Menggooooo!!!!!

 

The day before we left we decided we couldn`t leave Rio without seeing one of the famous vista points. We headed to Pao do Acucar (Sugarloaf) mountain, and it was beautiful, although I appreciated the one we saw from our hike through Floresta da Tijuca more. While we were taking pictures on top of the mountain we met two guys from New York, one who worked in an orphanage in Santiago, Chile, and the other was his best friend who literally flew from New York to meet up in Rio for the long Easter weekend. I appreciate that type of spontaneity. Although his flight was leaving in a few hours, we convinced them both to come with us to see the infamous Aporador sunset. Of course, when we got there it was too cloudy and the sky was grey. Hopefully he still made his flight. Sorry Justin!

 

And finally, I couldn`t leave Rio without doing a favella tour, so I signed up for the morning of our last day, and I`m so glad I did. It was amazing to see the neighborhoods like Copacabana and Ipanema and then just up in the hills overlooking these infamous beaches are the most run-down neighborhoods I have ever seen. There are no streets because no one owns a car. There`s only little pathways to walk through, trash everywhere you could possibly imagine, and their electricity was out in the open, bundled together by bands above your head as you walked. We were taken up Hacienda, one of the more developed favellas, by motorbike. That in itself was an experience. Then we walked for about an hour through the favellas, past little shops (which I was very surprised to see) and children walking to school. I didn`t realize how self-sufficient the favellas were, and they go so high up the mountain that most people probably never leave. They have no way with no motorbike and walking could take a couple hours. Of course, Justin Bieber had made his way into a favella in Rio, I could hear the music playing as I wandered through.

This favella is run, like all favellas , by a group of drug dealers, but Hacienda has a story of its own. When picking the next ruler of a favella, they give 10 runner-ups golden guns to walk around with. The man who runs the favella now is 24 years old; when he was 19, he killed all 10 of these runner-ups, and became ruler himself. The dealers call themselves ADA -Amigo Dos Amigos: Friends of Friends. You can tell when you are about to come across them because “ADA” will be drawn on the wall. At these times we had to put our cameras away and there would be a man just sitting there holding a machine gun, calmly watching us walk by. I know the only way these tours happen is because we bring money to the favellas, we bought pastries, bracelets, artwork, etc. It`s an interesting system.

Salvador de Bahia is the next leg of our journey. Capoeira, Feijoada, Candomble, cultural heart of Brazil here we come!

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