Sunday, December 28, 2008

Day 4

I am so happy! I have finally realized that I am here, listening to Brazilian Portuguese, to the music and interacting with people. I am already picking up on the pronunciation. I understand practically everything (when spoken to slowly) and I reply in Spanish – and this is how I have managed to maintain conversations. But now, my “no” is automatically “não” (pronounced somehow like the English ´now´). Little things are changing in my speech, I ´falla´ and not ´habla´ etc.

Last night I met Claudia´s mother for dinner and we later went out. Her mother speaks good French, and like many countries in the world – she loves the French language and dreams of going to Paris. So we spoke in French and it was great to see her recollect and find all those words she used to know, loving the sound of “abasjour” “ça me semble” and “toi”. She spoke so emotionally of France, nearly up to tears - just as I used to get overwhelmed when thinking of Brazil.

After applying make up on Claudia´s cousin – Natasha, we headed off to watch a live samba band. On a little stage there fit 9 people playing instruments, surrounded by a crowd dancing samba and shacking it! I precariously attempted a shake myself, digging deep into my Arabic instincts but nothing compared to what they manage to do! I couldn’t stand out anymore! Well, I did have flipflops on, which not only am I not used to wearing, but also it is not the best for dancing in!

Salutations here are one kiss and a mini one arm-one shoulder hug, accompanied by a “tudo bem” (“all good”). Even saying hi to someone passing by on the street is mostly accompanied by it. “Oi, tudo bem” sounds much better than a lonely “Oi”. Also their laughing sounds are “caca”. What I mean is that the equivalent of the English “haha” or the Spanish “jaja” is “caca”. I love all those little details. And the word for ‘cool’ is “legal” – pronounced “legao”.

On packets of cigarettes, a whole side is dedicated to medical health warnings. They have a big picture of either a person sitting down with amputated legs, or rotten gums and teeth, or black lungs and the like. But what happens is that nobody wants to see those horrible pictures, so the packet is always placed with the other side up – the side where there is the brand name and logo of the cigarettes. It is almost a guarantee that it will be known what cigarettes the person is smoking. I found it a good promotional technique and the health warning more impactful, compared with Europe.

Another thing I think they should learn from in Europe is electrical fans! In Claudia´s house there are colonial type ceiling fans with a light in the middle in every room. It works just as well as an AC minus the sinus headaches and brutal difference with outside temperatures. Besides, there is something sweetly tropical and holiday like about them. Or perhaps simply third world!
I am currently listening to a song by ‘Victor e Leo’ called “Tem Que Ser Você” and I am recognizing popular songs like one called “Oceano” by the band ‘Djaven’. And now I am listening to the band “Sensação”.

Got to run – it is Claudia´s mother´s birthday and they are celebrating it in her father´s office garden – where the toucan is!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

No Time To Lose

Airport - customs and I am out into the wild! Or so it seemed...
I don´t have a waist bag, bum bag, sac banane, whatever it is called. So I put all my important documents and money in a plastic zip bag and shuffle it under my jeans, exactly where that famous bum bag would go. I had to prepare myself for anything. After all the warning of robbery I imagined that walking out there was like a wild jungle - all eyes prepared to prey you, however, not for consumption.

I walk out and looked for my bus which would take me to Santos - a sea side town directly south from Sao Paulo. I missed it and had to wait another 3 hours for the next bus. I took the opportunity to buy a phone card and call home (and learn how phone calls work here).
I bought 75 units for 9 reales (4 euros). The phone card has no chip, but a barcode and you must begin all phone calls with 0 and a code, depending on which operator the public phone is. In this case it was Telefonica so the code was 15. Then you have a code for the region you are in. In this case the code of Sao Paulo, then you have the actual number of the person. So in total you have at least 10 numbers to dial and if you are in a different region, or on a different phone, those codes would change.

I strolled around and realised that I didnt need to hide my important belongings under my trousers whilst I am in the airport. I bought some water - which has a funny taste! The bottled water has 6 times more magnesium, twice as much nitrate and sodium than Italian water. Maybe thats why it taste different. Everything taste different. Outside the trees were obviously present. In fact there are trees and plants and vegetation absolutly everywhere possible. I could already see that there is a great variety that I never knew existed.

I took the Expresso Brazileiro from the Airport to Santos for 17,50 reales (8 euros) and 2 hours. It was a coach with big comfy seats that recline - much more confortable than the plane. In fact it would be the equivalent of a plane´s first class. The coach took me through part of the city to reach the motorway. From the little that I saw, the urban side was clearly poor, but not shockingly so. I found it hard to tell the difference between what was inhabited and what was abandonned. The majority was abandonned... or so I thought. They are inhabitated! They are simply not polished. I suppose they are basic and functional, nothing fancy.
The ride was quite hilly and between all this were tons of skyscrapers. From the motorway, the landscape was skyscrapers - and needless to say, green. It was a cloudy day and very foggy also. Approximately 23 degrees. It got foggier and foggier as we headed to the mountains. There I got preview of what their "countryside" looks like!

The mountains were overwhelmingly vegetated. No words nor photos could possibly express its magnitude. It is just incredibly dense and varied. The ride down the mountain to Santos (which I later discovered is actually an island) resembled those photos on the net. Big mountains with white transpiration coming off the trees in little smokes and endless vegetation. It seems to grow absolutely everywhere and does not stop. And thankfully, they are neither cut down more than is necessary for transportation. Beautiful little flowers appear here and there, pink, purple, orange, yellow - flowers for which I do not know the names!

I arrive in Santos bus station and here I start to keep my eye out for that famous theif which I am awaiting... But it is simply so clear that I am not from there that if it was to happen, I would be unlucky more than anything. So I did not think about it, and neither was there a threatning atmosphere. It would not be like in the centre of Sao Paulo, for example. Claudia picked me up with her father and I was driven straight to her grandmother´s house, where they were having their Christmas dinner. No time to shower, or refresh - just as I was in my green dress I was introduced to her family. There was about 25 people and her grandmother is a great character! She is young at heart and solid as a rock, with style. She put on her Santa hat and distributed presents to all her family and even gave me a present - a pink lipstick! I ate and had Claudia´s aunt´s chocolate and lemon tart mmmmmm and a glass of red wine, which also tasted different.

After an hour or so, I was then taken to Claudia´s cousin´s house - Fernanda. Fernanda is very lively and lots of fun. In her house I met more of their family and ate more cake. This time is was chocolate and strawberry and a Brazilian desert called Tapioca made of coconut and milk with a funny texture. That was very nice and I will definetly have it again! I was then taken to Claudia´s house where I showered and got ready to go to a bar by the sea where her sister plays guitar.
Before leaving though, I asked Claudia´s father where I could buy good chili sauce for Rena and having asked a fan of chili pepper, he immediately took me to his office. We went across the road and into a backgarden - and what a garden! Yet again, planta plants plants of all colours, shapes and sizes... a perfect garden barbeques and lunches. He turns a light on a behind a big cage is a toucan! A toucan! There is was and it came towards us bouncing from branch to branch and came close to us and stared at me with his blue eyes. His beak was huge and bright yellow and oh my god I just cant believe it!
Her father tells me to put my finger into the cage. I said "No way! you put yuour hand in there!" And he did and the toucan bit it playfully and it doesnt hurt. It was so cute! I just couldnt belive that within 6 hours of landing in Brazil I was with a toucan bitting my finger in a little hidden tropical garden.
He then takes me to his chili collection, this man is no joke. He shows me all the varieties that he has and how to preserve them. In Olive Oil if you want them hot as hell and in Apple Vinegar if you want them hot. And when we say hot, we are not talking about casual hot. After opening each bottle and making me sniff them all one by one he selects two from his special collection, places them into plastic bottles, ready to be taken back to Europe. My mission to collect chili frm every continent couldn´t be more accomplished up to date!

Upon entrance at the bar, and anywhere for that matter, you are given a "Cartão do Consumação". Every person who enters has a personal one where the waters note what you have consumed (food and drinks). Before the exit you have to pay your bill and hand over the "Pagado" stamped card to the bouncer at the door. If you loose your card, you have to pay 250 reales (over 100 euros). There we had beer, which taste like water but claims to have 5% alcohol in it. Here everyone shares beers, either as a "convivial" thing or to keep it fresh, I am not too sure. So everyone gets their small glasses (approx. 20cl - ok maybe 30cl) and a can or bottle of beer in the middle to top up everyone´s glass.
The impression I get is that the people here know that they are a third world country and are very anxious to get out of it. They want to develop and they want to prosper. They can be self critical of their own habits (eg: the Cartão system) and on TV I see governmental adverts claiming that they are investing in schools and education, creating jobs and the like. I think Brazil is an incredibly interesting country to follow in its developments. Between the richness of the people, the culture, the foods and its great resources, it is a shame to consider it a third country and even more so to witness the abject poverty that exists here.
In the bar-restaurant, food is being served up till midnight and perhaps even later. Seeing that it costs quite a little bit to eat there (and from what I saw it seemed to be tapas style greasy foods) we went back to Claudia´s sister´s place and had pizza instead!

On the hot rainy night, I slept like a baby.

The next day we had lunch and walked into town. We had a mission to get me flip flops. We went to Carrefour, where a pair of Havaianas cost 16 reales, but as they didnt have my size, we went to a local beach store where they were bought in turquoise blue for 12 reales (5-6 euros). We went to a perfumery to buy bathroom goods and I bought for 17 reales (8 euros) what would normally cost close to 20 euros in Spain. I think I will manage to stick to my budget!
We then went to a hairdressing salon where I had a manicure and pedicure for 22 reales (10 euros). And my bitten nails look much better. Claudia has challanged me to not bite them, at least until I leave, now that they look prettier!

We went home, had dinner and headed off to a club on the mountain in the town next door called São Vicente (pronounced Sau Vicenchi). From there you can see all view of Santos, the beach and its great waves and of course, the trees, the vegetation and the mountains. The club is called "Juá" which I think comes from the Arabic. Here there is a great influence from Lebanon. Various times I came across billboards advertising Kibe and Humous - there is even an "Esquina do Esphera" (Tete´s favourite). There are places by the beach where you can have tea and shisha.
In the club (where I lost the card that has prevented you all from seeing my picture, and prevented me from emptying my memory card) it was Noite do Flashback playing 60´s to 80´s and even 90´s music. People of all ages were there, including Claudia´s uncles and aunties! They made a public announcement of my arrival from Barcelona and welcomed me to Santos - but I didnt even realise nor hear it because it was in Portuguese! But it was very nice of them!

The club closes at 4am and we went down to the beach on the way home where there are "chiringuito" type huts dotted along the beach where cans of beer are sold for 50 centimes (thats about 25 euro centimes!). I took the opportunity to run to the beach and touch the water. The beach is long and the waves are good to surf.
Today was a lazy day and yet again it is raining, so no hurry to go outside. It is 7pm and I am now going to town and who knows of what comes next.

Transitional Travelings

Right I am here! YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
My arrival had its many twists and turns but finally I made it after a good 53 hours, comprising of 2 car rides, 2 trains, 2 metros, 3 buses & 2 planes. All this without music; I must say I am quite impressed with myself!

Within all this I had a day in Milan, Italy - my first trials as a tourist backpacker. Considering I had 10 hours to wait for my next flight, I took a bus into town to stroll around the "cittá". Walking down the streets with a backpack attracts much attention - especially from those preying upon tourist consumption. Simply said, you stand out. But I completely enjoyed it and embrassed it with a trusting camera. Most of the eyes were accompanied with smiles or expressions of curiosity as to what is this strange human-turtle specimen, but overall found that people were willing to help. There is quite a difference between a backpacker and a regular tourist because you are on the crossroads between tourist coming to consume a city and spend money and a homeless with no securities or backup (the turtle condition). But neither are you a nuissance because you are having to adapt to the situations around you. I am probably completely off the line but I am liking this "turtlelisation" and I think that after a couple of weeks my shell will harden. Oh! Here I have my metaphoric being - a turtle. Hopefully I will move around just as fast as well.

Back toi Milan, I came across a delicious organic bakery with a wood fire oven - it is called Princi on Via Speronari. Go there if you are ever in Milan, it is close to the Duomo. The Italians are very lively, friendly and smiley - I liked being there and made me wonder why I was not backpacking around Europe!?! But hey, I couldn´t possibly be in Italy much longer - I didnt have any sunglasses. Italy has something enchanting about it and feels very theatrically orientated and artistic. Everyday life seems to have an undercurrent of a timeless living fairytale. I concluded it´s a Pinocchio thing.

I went to Malpensa airport from the central train station for 7 euros and 1 hour. It was so incredibly foggy that I couldnt see a thing. The airport was equally as foggy. The plane was full and I was already addressed to as a Brazilian! It is true that Brazilians could ressemble anything. I did my stretches and it was time to board the plane. THEN did it strike me that I was boarding a huge aircraft, ready to fly at thousands of kilometers above the ground at a very high speed and over an incredible distance. Panic started flowing through my veins and I had to calm myself down and go on automatic pilot - find my seat, get confortable to sleep asap before I start thinking about it anymore.
In the process of doing so, an English couple behind me called Peter and Polly were conversing on this great flight. I overhear Peter say "Milan to Sao Paulo, thats almost TEN THOUSAND kilometers away - how does that make you feel?" I felt those nervous little chemicals build up again and tried to not listen, but they continued and I just stood up, turned around and pleaded "Please could you stop that I am going to flip!!!" They looked at me as if not understanding what was going on. I calmed down and realised that it was quite ironic of myself to ask them to shut up - I was on a plane there and it is for pure pleasure!
I slept the whole way through.

I began watching "A Beautiful Mind" up to the part where he got married to his pupil but I was distracted by the fact that I was 20 minutes away from landing and that for the first time I laid eyes upon the South American continent - which was equally as cloudy as Milan! As we got closer I could see the mountains and the super dense vegetation. So dense! The trees looked like brocoli from the plane - it was everywhere; If it it not a building or something purely urban, then it is huge trees.

The city of Sao Paulo is huge! It is city city city up to the horizon, all over the place. There is no end to the city. Erm... pardon me, the Metropolis! The plane landed perfectly smoothly to the point that I did not even feel it land and I stepped off the plane to enter summer semi tropical humidity.
It is 9am and it has just begun!

I can't post any pictures. I lost the card that holds the memory card into the card reader. Basically I have the memory card, I got the cable but I am missing the card in between. I lost it last night in a club on the mountain called "Juá". Sorry!

By the way, the photo down here of me looking gobsmacked was taken when I entered my kitchen to discover my sister and friends surprising me with a party!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pre Departure Diversions

Barcelona, Spain - December 2008

The month of December brought the onset of the realization that "Time does not wait", inevitably I must face what I gotten myself into - one of the best trips on the planet! 

- South America - Latin America - 

That mysterious exotic and endlessly intriguing continent, that seems rich in cultures, languages, history and the most incredible natural beauty. I am going to realize how small I am and how little of the world and life I actually know. 
But here I was, in Barcelona - a city that I love and adore, despite feeling it as being, at times, too "Barceloca" or "Carcelona" - those times when you realize that you have been living in a self-consuming Barcelonean bubble and that there are other things outside of it. Yet I could not think of a better place to live. And there I was, about to leave it, spending my last days, hours and memories there, before embarking on a voyage that could and probably would change my life forever. 
Will I return? Will I look back at Barcelona the same way? 
I felt strongly ambivalent, not knowing whether I will find the reasons to leave Barcelona, or the reasons to stay indefinitely. I was looking at it all for the last time, yet having not finished the endless enterprise of discovering the ever-moving and colorful Barcelona. To cut a long story short - it was very saddening saying good bye! 
And upon realization of this -  perpetual parties ensured... 

Two weeks, TWO SOLID WEEKS of partying and hangovers was the way out of this confusion!
Thank you all in Barcelona for having given me the most incredible hangovers and making me realize how much my body could endure! An average of 3 hours sleep a night and working hard at the office all day. I did not have a minute to think about my travels. Perfecto! I can now go relaxed and partied out. 

I packed my bags, my life - donated items of my life in collections to all whom appropriate and my material life was reduced to 40 kilos. 

I have not even left yet and I am writing so much - my mini-epitaph to Barcelona. 

Cannes, France 

What a difference! 
No pasa nada por aqui. But I won't bother talking about that. The only thing worth a detour round these parts are family and the french culinary talents. 

Plans were to be with family until my big D-Day but Alitalia decided otherwise. My plans were to catch my connecting flight straight from Milan, so that I could spend more time with my mama - but it turns out that if I do not catch the first flight from Barcelona to Milan, my connecting flight to Sao Paulo will be cancelled. Therefore, I must return to Barcelona! After all the emotion from despedeing myself!
Result is that my total travel time will be extended from 16 hours to 50 hours! 
No worries though... I'll consider it a warm up!