Sunday, December 30, 2007

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

From Sao Paulo, I traveled to Rio de Janeiro on a bus. The bus was surprisingly nice. It had a bathroom aboard, and a leg-rest like I'd never seen before. It folded down from the foward seat, hinged at the bottom, and was a place to rest one's calves. Since I'm unnaturally large, it didn't fit me just right, but it was a nice idea!

The bus trip was very pretty, lots of rolling green hillsides and interesting buildings. On the bus, I met a lovely lady by the name of Ann whose parents were English and Brazilian. She was a lovely bus-mate and helped direct me to the right bus once I got to town. It was my first experience with Brazilian hospitality.

Rio has a well-earned reputation for beautiful beaches. This one is the world-famous Ipanema. The hostel was a 4-block walk from the beach (Ipanema, Brazil)

A Rio de Janeiro signature: The boardwalks along the beach are like this. They're huge and detailed and beautiful. I got a beach blanket with this pattern because I liked it so much. They have other patterns around the city too, but this one seems to only be on Ipanema and Botofogo beaches (Ipanema, Brazil)

The world-famous Oscar Niemeyer-designed Niterói Contemporary Art Museum (Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói). The day I went, it was CLOSED! But I had to see the building anyway. Under the UFO-shaped building is a reflecting pool. Beneath THAT is a cafe. Since the museum was closed, I went into the cafe and had a drink. I met a Dutch man who was on vacation in Rio from Buenos Aires. Since I was headed to Buenos Aires, I asked him for some information on BA, and he was very happy to help me out! (Niteroi, Brazil)

The cafe under the art gallery had a rather cool modern interior. I could tell they had original "modern" style elements and had added some new ones too. It looked great inside, and one of the highlights was actually the ribbon window on the left. It is perfectly leveled so that when you sit at your table, you have a great view across the bay. (Niterói, Brazil)

Sleek modern highrise apartment tower in (Niterói, Brazil)

Near the Museum of modern art in Niterói, there is a park where more Oscar Niemeyer buildings are currently under construction. This is one building in big performing arts complex. (Niterói, Brazil)

As I was leaving the modern art museum, I was about to board the bus back to the main part of Niterói. As I was bording, there was a standing man yelling in English at another seated man. He sounded British, and the man he was yelling at wasn't saying anything. The British man kept yelling "give me back my money" and finally grabbed the man by his shirt. The man moved his shirt, and some money slid down onto his lap. He then grabbed the money and threw it on the floor, so that the British man would grab the money instead of him.

The British man grabbed the money and left the bus, leaving the pickpocket behind. The pickpocket, visibly shaken, he moved to a different seat at the back of the bus. At the next stop, he exited the bus, free to take the NEXT bus in the opposite direction, ready to pickpocket again.

The pickpocket looked like so many other people, blue collar, worn backpack, slightly weathered face. Around 50 years old.

I have heard a number of stories about pickpockets before, but had never seen one happen right in front of me.

Rio has more than its share of modern architecture. This building seems to have a love/hate following. Some people describe the building as "Rubiks' Cube-with-some-pieces-missing" building. It belongs to the company Petrobrás, which is a very common name in Rio. It is an oil company and rich, rich, rich (Rio de Janiero, Brazil)

Rio de Janerio's famous Metropolitan Cathedral. The Petrobras building is in the upper-left-hand corner (Rio de Janerio, Brazil)

Cool sculpture in the plaza in front of the local airport in downtown (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Iconic of Rio: Graffiti on the building in the background. Notice that every balcony has some graffiti on it, and that it's small. In general, something I noticed about the graffiti in Brazil is that it isn't large-scale. For the most part, there is NOT a big swath of graffiti, merely a small "signature" or short message. There may be MANY of them, but they're usually not very big.

Also Iconic of Rio: The little "oi" ("Hello") phone enclosures are everywhere on the street. The shape protects the talker from the rain and provides a little bit of privacy. (Niterói, Brazil)

At night in Ipanema. The neon lights are to a "Suco" shop. Brazilians love fresh juices, and juice shops like this are all over the place. It would be unusual for a block to have less than 2 on each side. This one was particularly big and delicious. Also on the left of the photo is an outrageous display of holiday festiveness on the front of a bank. There were Christmas trees, animatronic Santas, reindeer... The Works! (Ipanema, Brazil)

Art! Love it! This was really pretty and I admired it. When I got closer, I realized that it had been created out of old plastic bowls and Christmas lights. Very cool! (Ipanema, Brazil)

A very yummy lunch in Centro. I had a shake with carmel flecks, a few chicken fingers ("Frango"), and a toasted sandwich with white bread, cinnamon and sugar goo, bananas, and cheese. It was amazingly good. This fast food restaurant is called "Bob's" and is a fixture in Rio. (Rio de Janerio, Brazil)

This picture is for dad. You may have to enlarge it to see the detail, but this is a DRY CLEANER! You can see the presses on the left, and the finished clothes hanging on the automated rack on the right. The place was actually very tidy.. Nicely kept and very attractive. The store personnel wore uniforms--very impressive! (Ipanema, Brazil)

Another example of the graffiti in Brazil... Lots of it, but all in small bits (Rio de Janerio, Brazil)

This is my first attempt at a video, so I hope it works. Ipanema is a city on a strip of land between the world-famous beach and a lagoon. In the lagoon was assembled this 20 meter automated tree. The clip isn't amazing, but check it out! These people take Christmas seriously! (Ipanema, Brazil)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

It´s already done (in my head)

After a fierce fight between the forces in my head, I finally reached a decision....

I did it... I committed to sailing (On a 7 passenger, 60´ yacht) from Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica for 23 days starting on the 26th of January, 2008.

I don´t have confirmation that there is space on the vessel, but if there is, I´m GOING!!!!! I´m stoked!

Myopia in the crystal ball--Brasilia, Brazil

I went to Brazil´s fascinating capital, Brasilia ("A Vision Of The Future" or "Urban planning without consideration of the human element"). It is a result of collaborative effort of Oscar Niemeyer, his mentor Lúcio Costa, and the president at the time Juscelino Kubitschek. On a plot of land in the middle of nowhere (and I DO mean 'NOWHERE') JK decided to move the capital HERE (from Rio).

The city was designed in the shape of an airplane, with curved wings. Each 'sector' had its particular purpose, and the buildings were all to have a particular (Modern) look. It would unify the look and function of the city. The layout of the city would group like functioning buildings together. For instance, hotels and shopping are in the same sector. And you will NEVER find a grocery store in that zone, because zoning prohibits it.

Down to the footprint of the hotel (how wide and tall the hotel can be) , all was planned by Niemeyer and Costa. It´s a bit big-brothery, it´s very industrial, it´s not at all human-scale, it IS meant to impress (as most capitals ARE), and it does deliver.

The following photos are mostly from a FANTASTIC architecture tour of the city:

Me in front of one of my favorite sculptures, “Os Candangos”, by Bruno Giorgi, created to honor the workers who created the city (Brasilia, Brazil)

Taken from the observation platform of the TV Tower, looking up (Brasilia, Brazil)

Brasilia is becoming a victim of its own success. It was designed "looking toward the future". In that future, Niemeyer envisioned that everyone would have cars, and hence walking spaces would be unnecessary. A few results of this strategy a) everyone DOES have cars and congestion is worse in Brasilia than anywhere else in Brazil, b) Being a pedestrian is DANGEROUS. The roads are huge--WIDE AND STRAIGHT, which means HIGH speed limits. AND, there are virtually NO stoplights (traffic circles, cloverleaves, yields so that cars only must slow, rarely stop). c) There are huge grassy areas over which pedestrians MUST trod (because so few people can actually afford cars), and this results in huge dirt trails all over the place. (Brasilia, Brazil)

Yours truly in front of the National Cathedral. Over my R shoulder are Mark, Luke, and John (Matthew is camera-shy) (Brasilia, Brazil)

Not even the bus stop enclosures could avoid being "designed" in a modern way. (Brasilia, Brazil)

Dom Bosco Church (Brasilia, Brazil)

I have complained about them before, and I´m likely to complain about the again... And maybe even NOW. These are the clever little devices the Brazilians use to keep people from getting on a bus without paying the manditory $US 35c fare. It also keeps anyone from CONVENIENTLY getting on the bus that´s carrying luggage. It also keeps people from being able to exit the bus safely if there´s a fire. Have I mentioned I hate these turnstiles? (Brasilia, Brazil)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Today (the 25th) I get on a bus headed toward Ushuaia. Tomorrow (the 26th) at 8am I get to Rio Gallegos where I change buses. The second bus will take me from Rio Gallegos into Chile, then back OUT of Chile back into Argentina to Ushuaia. I have a reservation for two nights stay in Ushuaia, and hopefully I will be able to catch a boat to Antarctica quickly.

This has been an unusual holiday for me (to say the least), but know you are all in my thoughts! Love you!

Bidet, Mate!

Let me start by saying that prior to my visit to Brazil, I had never used a bidet in my life. I had always looked at them with my head tilted, thinking "Why would anyone do that?". In Rio, I stayed in a hostel that had these hoses hooked up to the plumbing under the toilet. They could be used for a rinse. I always felt it seemed like a crowded proposition to put me, my waste, my fixtures, and the house's fixtures all down in there together. Plus, the floor always seemed to be wet, which to me meant someone's backside got drenched and so did the floor. No thank you. At the time I was sharing the bathroom with an Aussie, and I mentioned to him the odd spraying devices. He said, "you should try it--It´s so CLEAN".

Then I went to Brasilia "A Vision Of The Future". The city is really fascinating. It is a collaborative effort of Oscar Niemeyer, his mentor Lúcio Costa, and the president at the time Juscelino Kubitschek. On a plot of land in the middle of nowhere (and I DO mean 'NOWHERE') JK decided to move the capital HERE (from Rio).

The city was designed in the shape of an airplane, with curved wings. Each 'sector' had its particular purpose, and the buildings were all to have a particular (Modern) look. It would unify the look and function of the city. The layout of the city would group like functioning buildings together. For instance, hotels and shopping are in the same sector. And you will NEVER find a grocery store in that zone, because zoning prohibits it.

Down to the footprint of the hotel (how wide and tall the hotel can be), all was planned by Niemeyer and Costa. Which is to say there was probably a plan somewhere at some point which dictated that my room, room 802 at the Hotel das Americas, was to have a bidet in the bathroom.

And so there it sits. In the privacy of my own hotel room, I felt a new freedom to try out the new device and experience any new sort of horribly humiliating experiences that I wouldn´t actually have to divulge to anyone, because nobody I knew could hear my screams.

As it turns out, once you figure out which knobs to turn (and which NOT to turn--to turn your Bidet into a sprinkler for your ENTIRE bathroom), it´s actually kind of nice. Brasilia turned out to be a lot more educational than I ever thought it would be!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Iguazu Falls, Argentina (And Curitiba, Brazil)

Church in the Largo da Ordem [cobbled historic quarter] (Curitiba, Brazil)
NOTE: Sit back with a cup of java for this entry... It´s long. I´ve included Curitiba, Brazil along with Foz do Iguazu (the town), and Iguazu Falls itself.

I originally created PART of this blog entry and then skipped it. The reason was that it almost felt like CHEATING the falls to put together a blog entry that would in only a very small way capture them. I have had a little more time to think now, and I hope that these pictures and text will give at least a small idea of what it was like.
Iguazu falls was absolutely, completely, totally amazing. If you are ever "marginal" about going to visit Iguazu Falls, please give me a call and I will convince you to go. It is not just a pretty view or breathtakingly scenic: it´s an experience that´s difficult to put into words.
But before I got to Iguazu, I was in Curitiba, Brazil...
Curitiba is known for it´s eco-friendly design, historic buildings, and good urban planning. I found it to be a very charming city, and enjoyed my 3 days here.
I arrived in Curitiba in the middle of the night and asked the very friendly gentleman at the rental car agency about buses, what taxis should cost, etc. He wound up giving me ride into town. Brazilians were consistenly surprising me with their desire to help me out!

Fountain in the Largo do Ordem. Very cool (Curitiba, Brazil)

I REALLY liked my hotel in Curitiba. It was very old and maybe not maintained the best, but iI found it charming and the staff very accomodating. (they even found me a tango lesson IN BRAZIL from an Argentine teacher!)... And their breakfast was GREAT! This picture is of the desk/telephone and seat in my hotel room. SUPACOOL??? I LOVE THE DESIGN! It´s really old, but it´s simple, simple, and modern/awesome! (Curitiba, Brazil)

View from my room at the Golden Hotel (Curitiba, Brazil)

Outside the front of the Golden Hotel was the plaza Triadentes (Curitiba, Brazil)

Two really cool buildings: Both with curves (Curitiba, Brazil)

I thought this building was totally cool! (Curitiba, Brazil)

This photo really didn´t come out well, but this building was REALLY cool looking. Interesting combination of finished & painted and exposed brickwork, but not square or boring at all. Interesting roofline, curvaceous! (Curitiba, Brazil)

Note: This special "Bathrooms of Brazil" subsection is especially for Dad...

This is Brazil´s solution to the problem of wasting water while waiting for the water to get warm: An electrical showerhead. And if you think it looks dangerous, you´re right. Over the period of time I used these devices (in central america and Brazil too), they´re usually not grounded correctly. So that means if your head happens to be tall (like mine), and your head gets into the squirty section of the spray (before it turns to droplets), you actually get a bit of a shock. (Genius Plumbing, Curitiba, Brazil)

This one seemed like it MIGHT be a good idea. If your drain gets plugged, don´t call the plumber, just SQUEEZE it! (Genius plumbing, Curitiba, Brazil)

No toilet tank to have problems, no levers... No service calls! Sheer simplicity! Lovely! (Genius plumbing, Curitiba, Brazil

Special "Bathrooms of Brazil" subsection over...

I was very surprised to find that McDonald´s is EXTREMELY popular. This is the line to get inside (Curitiba, Brazil)

Curitiba is known for it´s eco-friendliness, and these are the tubes where people queue up to get on the buses. Seemed like a good idea to me! Note once again the beautiful design of mosaic on the sidewalk! (Curitiba, Brazil)

Mosaic sidewalk in Curitiba, Brazil. The artwork is of the Aracaria tree, native and iconic of this region (Curitiba, Brazil)

In one of the parks in town was this wonderful Aracaria tree (Curitiba, Brazil)

PS: I also saw a REALLY COOL art exhibit in Curitiba! If you´re ever curious, buy me a cup o´coffee, and I´ll tell you about it!
After my time in Curitiba, I took a bus to Foz do Iguazu.

The town Foz do Iguassu was nice--but somewhat unremarkable--and the hostel was quite a distance from the center of town. In fact, being at the hostel was almost like being on a farm. The hostel is on acerage outside of the city, and all its neighbors WERE farms. Because of the remote location of the hostel, there was a bus (paid for by the farmers and the hostel) which would pick you up and take you to the main road, where you could catch a public bus into the city. (Foz do Iguacu, Brazil)

One of the things I liked about Brazil was their love of MEAT. This photo shows the prices for the "Meat Parade" buffet, where the meat comes directly from the rotisserie to your table on a giant spike. The $12 reis equates to about $6.50US, and for what we got, it was a great value! The closest thing to this buffet in America is a very upscale restaurant I know of in Ahwatukee, and plates there cost $45US. (Foz do Iguazu, Brazil)

This photo shows the plates of food, and two waiters bringing Meat On Stakes (tm) to our table (Iguazu Falls, Brazil)

Iguazu Falls is located on the river forming the border between Brazil and Argentina. It is accessible from both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides. The Brazilian side provides a view of the entire falls that cannot be seen from the Argentine side. The Argentine side has many more vantage points, and the opportunity to stand at the edge of "Garganta do Diablo"--an amazing experience. Many say that to REALLY see Iguazu falls, you must go to both sides. Given my limited time and budget, I chose to just do the Argentine side.

On the way to see the falls. I´m standing on the bridge over the Rio Iguazu, with one foot in Brazil, one foot in Argentina. The bus ride was kind of fun. We had a few others from our hostel, and the driver was a bit crazy. He was singing songs in Portugese, and waving a Portugese flag out the window to all his Argentine friends because Brazil had just won an important soccer match (On the way to Iguazu Falls)

The Left half of the map of the falls

Right half of the same map

I was very impressed with the park. The signage was great, the walkways were stable, and the staff was all trilingual and very helpful and professional. Kudos, Argentina!

I broke up my visit to the falls: First I would visit the lower catwalks. Then I would go on the special hike to a hidden, isolated waterfall. Then, I would go take the train to see Garganta...


This beautiful creature is perched on some of the trees above the falls. I have been told by my bird-happy buddy Craig that it is the Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) (Iguazu Falls, Argentina)

The camera cannot do justice to the falls! (Iguazu Falls, Argentina)

Sweeping view from straight down to across the gorge (Iguazu Falls, Argentina)

Although there was plenty of spray coming off of the falls, the reason I´m "glistening" is because it was also QUITE WARM! (Iguazu Falls, Brazil)

The view from the lower catwalk up towards the upper catwalk (Iguazu Falls, Argentina)

On the upper catwalk looking across the falls (Iguazu Falls, Argentina)


In addition to the typical falls tours, there was also a hike available. It was a 6km hike on a well-trodden path into the jungle. At the end of the hike, you can climb down a waterfall and go for a swim.

A "Strangle Vine" on the way to the hidden waterfall. (Iguazu Falls, Brazil)

This photo is of the waterfall that feeds the pool just below. It was like swimming into a movie. It was absolutely AMAZING. (Hidden Waterfall, Iguazu Falls, Argentina)


To get to garganta, one must take a train ride for about 20 minutes, then walk another 20 minutes on catwalks above the river, until finally... You´re suspended on the very edge of Garganga del Diablo--Throat of the Devil

Reminder to stay ON the catwalk... there ARE snakes (Iguazu Falls, Argentina)

I´m not sure if this bird read the above sign or not, but you can see just a LITTLE in this image that there is snake hanging out of the bird´s mouth. We watched the bird eat the snake right there in front of us! (Iguazu Falls, Argentina)

Beautiful sky, calm waters. This is above Garganta. At this point in the river, it would be easy to imagine explorers heading downriver, completely unaware of what they were about to find (and nearly be killed by!)
No photo I have taken has really "captured" the amazing Iguazu Falls. It is so big, its majesty so great, my tiny lens can only recreate the smallest snippet of an amazing scene. Iguazu falls is so big and powerful it is nearly overwhelming.

Garganta del diablo--Devil´s Throat--the biggest single part of the falls--is so powerful that you can feel the energy of the falls in your lungs and heart. The roar is loud and powerful, and the energy builds as you approach. It is absolutely, breathtakingly amazing.

Vertigo! (Iguazu Falls, Argentina)

Iguazu Falls is not just water falling over a bunch of rocks. It is an enormous, pulsating, powerful organism. It´s not just a waterfall: everything about it is so, SO gorgeous! There are thousands of birds swooping and soaring, there is the enormous mist that rises up from the pounding water, and there are millions of beautiful plants that have taken up residence where they can live in the presence of Iguazu Falls. (Iguazu Falls, Argentina)

Garganta Catwalk. I don´t LOOK like I´m in awe [sort of a mixture of trying to look cool and squint in the sun]. But I am! :) (Iguazu Falls, Argentina)

A couple of notable things in this photo: First is the sheer size of the falls. Next, note the black blotches in the images. Those are the birds that swoop and dip through the mist of the falls to catch insects in the air. (Iguazu Falls, Argentina)

I was and remain completely in awe of the falls. The energy of the place is at the same time frenetic and meditative. There is an electricity in the air. Everyone at the falls feels it. It is weighty and causes one to be reverential when under its influence.

A view down, then up and across Garganta (Iguazu Falls, Argentina)

A view from Garganta. The mist changes: at times it is isolated around the foot of the falls. At other times, it inhabits all the surrounding air, depositing little droplets of water on you. (Iguazu Falls, Argentina)

Alternative spellings (From Wikipedia) Iguazu Falls, Iguassu Falls (Portuguese: Cataratas do Iguaçu, Spanish: Cataratas del Iguazú) 12/24/07 9:16am