Category Archives: Brazil

10 Experiences that make me want to go back to Brazil – ASAP

1. The Hospitality from the Meija family. Wow. My friend Julia really hooked me up with some wonderful people. Never mind the fact that I met Julia only twice before, she and her family took me in like I was a lifelong friend. They fed me and provided me with places to stay in Sao Paulo, La Costa Verde, and El Salvador. They have left me with a wonderful impression of the people and communities of Brazil.

2. Dancing Forro in El Clube dos Democraticos. El Clube dos Democraticos, located in the Lapa District of Rio is a music hall institution. Founded in 1867, it upkeeps its old school dance hall atmosphere, akin to the swing halls of New York. Big bands play here from Thursday to Sunday, and feature some of the greatest forro music in the country. There’s no elitist Tango-snobs here either; and the attitude of the place is that you can ask anyone to dance. After indulging in the Friday night Lapa street party I came inside for a look at 11 pm. I met wonderful people willing to show me some forro basic steps, was mesmerized by the band, and five hours blew by fast in this historic joint.

Jim at his best

3. Jim displaying his game at a chic Sao Paulo club. I was reunited with my childhood friend and he took me out to the swankiest club I had ever been to. Does the photo need any more description?

4. Swaying in a hammock on an Amazonian Riverboat. Traveling via a Brazilian riverboat is so much better than sitting through a bus. The food is decent, the scenery is great, and the family atmosphere can’t be beat. Having now traversed the mouth of the Amazon, I think the next venture would be a six day float down the Amazon connecting Colombia to Santarem, Brazil. Any takers?

See my blog entry for more details

5. Drinking flojes along the Amazon waterfront in Macapa. The main riverfront avenue of Macapa is a great place for hanging out at night. People come down to sit, take in the Amazon breeze, people watch, and indulge in the local favorite drink, the floje. A floje consists of blended ice, milk, sugar, passion fruit (or any other local variety), and cachaca (the cane-based national liquor of choice). Served in a mug, it looks more like a milkshake than an alcoholic beverage, and at a dollar a pop, they go down fast! With chairs and tables accompanying each floje stand, I soon found a favorite and the vendors became my first good friends from Macapa.

The Best Dance Club I've ever been to (after the late great Platinum in Corvallis of course)

6. Forro in Alphorria, El Salvador. El Salvador runs at a different pace than do the cities to the south, and its music is no exception. I went to check out some live forro bands in one of the “edgier” neighborhoods of the city at a small brick-basement club called Alphorria. Both the music and the dancers were the best I have seen in all of Brazil, and the ambiance was better than any club I have ever been to. It is so good there, that by itself it’s a compelling reason to visit Salvador.

7. Taking a motor boat into Iguazu falls. Touristy and expensive, but well worth it. The falls of Iguazu are magnificent and the motor boats that take you to their base get a lot closer than I had I imagined. The driver literally butts you into the base of these falls, and the spray is so powerful that it hurts to open your eyes.

My Macapa family... This crew could dance!

8. Kid’s Samba Party in Macapa. My new friend Any invited me to her family’s home in a small neighborhood in Macapa. It was there that I finally found the pumping, rhythmic streets of Brazil, where children would let loose in the street and dance around. I brought pizza for all of Any’s nieces and nephews, and they provided the entertainment. It was an all out toddler-dance party. We finished the gala at midnight. I was exhauseted, but even though the kids had to get up at six for school, they wanted to keep going.

9. Attending a football match in Maracana. Not only is it the largest soccer stadium in the world, but it’s probably the international center of the sport. Here Pele wowed 200,000 spectators in his last game in 1970 and in four years it will host yet another World Cup championship. I had the lucky chance of being in town for a classico, a rival game between two Rio teams, Botofogo and Fluminesce. The cheap admission was worth just the chance to get a glimpse inside the stadium, where Olympic champions are soon to be crowned.

Rio!!!

10. First View of Rio. I am convinced that Rio is the most beautiful city in the world (although I am told that I need to see Cape Town before making that assertion), and my first jog down Copacabana Beach was just a shocker. As an outdoor lover, it has everything you could possibly want, merged into one magnificent city. I’m still in awe.

Brazilian Waxing 101

“I have to go make my legs look pretty,” my friend said as she turned toward the avenue with the salon.  “I need to go get them waxed.”  Oh yes, the notorious waxes of Brazil, I thought, and I chuckled at the thought of me going to have one myself.  When people think of waxing, they think of the infamous “Brazilian Wax Job,” but in reality many women here go to salons to get their legs waxed in lieu of shaving them.  It results in much smoother cut, and akin to de-rooting a weed instead of trimming it, a wax promotes much slower after-growth of body hair.

I can’t say I’m the best-kept traveler.  To preserve space in my backpack, I carry just one small bar of soap saved from the last hotel I stayed at.  I use that for shaving, shampoo, and laundry.  I try to shower everyday but in these tropical areas, my clothes are always a bit mildewy.  It was time to change my ways, time to make up for my slothfulness, and what better way than a “dipulacion completa” or full brazilian wax job.  I didn’t just want to get the legs, I wanted to do the whole shebang, one step closer to being like a Brazilian stud from Copacabana.  Being in the waxing capital of the world, I figured bring it on! Carpe diem!

So here I am in Macapa, probably the last city in my travels that would do a waxing.  Embarrassment and faulty Portuguese had stood in my way from getting one so far, but I knew it was now or never.  I approached the receptionist at my hotel and in Portuguese I asked her something that sounded like this:  “Wax legs, body, everything….where can I?”

She giggled.  “You want to wax your legs?”

“I want everything!  Legs, chest, face…I want the full experience.”

“No…what pain!!!!  NOOOO!”  This was not the response I was anticipating.  I guess this sounded a bit crazy, even for a Brazilian.  By this point it didn’t matter.  Getting a wax was all I wanted, it had become an obsession, and if I left the Brazilian border without a waxing experience I would look back on my trip as a failure.

I convinced her to at least give me directions, and I promised that if the workers at the salon discouraged it, then I would retire to the hotel for the evening.  Armed with a map and address, I zigzagged around puddles for eleven dark blocks, until I found what I was looking for.  I looked in to the salon’s window to see what I was up against.  No wax in sight, just a bunch of women getting their hair done and feet pedicure.  I knocked on the locked door, and they let in the wet, desperate gringo.

“So do you give waxes here?”  I asked the man who looked like was in charge.

“We sure do.  What would you like?”

“I want it all.”

Silence filled the room, scissors stopped trimming, and clients turned their heads to see this burly, pain-tolerant man in their presence.

“Wow. Yes, we can do that.”  Looking around this chic establishment, I for the first time realized that this probably wasn’t going to be cheap.  I asked how much, and he showed me a number that converted to well over a hundred dollars!  No, I screamed inside my brain.  Suddenly I felt that I would never achieve my dream.  I had to compromise.

“Ok, how about just the chest?”  And within minutes a cauldron of wax was heating up in the back.

I walked into the back room to meet my “waxing technician,” a native of Macapa, who greeted me with a smile and a setup that ironically looked more like a massage table than the torture chamber that I was anticipating.

“First time?” she asked.  Apparently my smile and discomfort with the whole situation revealed my naiveté in the world of Brazilian salons.  I ripped off my shirt, displayed my soon-not-to-be hairy chest, and lied down on the table.  She pulled out a giant chop stick and dipped it into the fiery cauldron of wax.  I closed my eyes; I hadn’t felt so much tension in my body since a session of colonic hydrotherapy.

Despite her innocent smile, Jessica loved to put me through pain

1-2-3…She laid on the hot wax in a strip across my left sternum.  Ah…ah…ah…wait, that wasn’t bad at all, a pain no worse than submersing one’s chest in a hot tub.  I laughed at all my friends who told that a chest wax would be too much agony.  She layered another strip on my other side.  I laughed again at the sight of two brown strips across my chest; they looked exactly like the dried banana strips I used to buy at Trader Joe’s.

She quickly pulled off the first strip. “F_$#@!$*!”  An unexpected bullet of pain shook my body.  What the hell was this?  I thought a wax meant that they put wax on you, and they slowly scrape it off your bare chest.  This was more like the duct tape scene from Forty Year Old Virgin.  She just ripped it off like it was child’s play, and revealed a whole mess of chest hair.  That really hurt, and the fact that it was just one of a whole lot more to come didn’t make things easier.

Evidence of the damage done

The agony continued.  The first round of waxing is the worst because that’s when the biggest quantities are pulled off – we’re talking 16 years of hair growth here.  I needed a distraction.  “So what’s your name?” I asked her.

“Jessica.”

“No way!  That’s the name of my high school girlfriend.”  Apparently there was some miscommunication, because Jessica immediately flashed her wedding ring, and told me that she wasn’t interested.  I didn’t want a girlfriend.  I just wanted someone to hold my hand through this process, and in an instant I lost my only ally in the room.  “Be gentle,” I pled as she ripped off another wax strip off of my nipple.

As she finished the first round of waxes, I knew I was home free.  The rest was just waxing the little hairs that were missed in the initial treatment.  Furthermore my entire chest and stomach had earned a state of numbness that would tolerate a slap from Queen Latifah.  Nothing would stop me now.

As Jessica pulled away the last strip, I put my hand on my chest, which was bare for the first time in 16 years.  What a weird sensation.  It was like licking your front teeth after having your braces off, or stroking your cheek after shaving for the first time in months.

My sensitive red chest is telling me Never Again!

I stood up and looked in the mirror at this new man and his numb chest, lobster-red from all the wax removals.  Proud to have persisted through this experience, I also had a feeling of “what the hell am I doing here?” as I looked at the stylish environment around me.  I thought of all my friends back in the States and all the harassment I will receive when I get home for doing this.  And then I thought, screw that, I’m going to go out and lie beneath the sun.  I’m in Brazil after all.

Riverboating Across the Amazon

Dusk on the mouth of the Amazon River

For a variety of reasons (mostly economic) I had to get to The Guianas, just north of Brazil.  I wasn’t complaining.  Cheap airfare out of Georgetown, Guyana coupled with the challenge of traveling across the Amazon Basin was just too enticing. The only true concern was that Brazil is a big country, half the total size of South America, and I wasn’t finding any last-minute deals on flights to the cities up north.

Epic bus rides were on my horizon, and although I had done them before, I promised myself that next time I’m in Brazil I’ll research domestic flights beforehand.  Brazilian buses just plain out suck for the following reasons:

  1. They are expensive for what you get.  Brazilian bus tickets are the most expensive overland fares in all of South America.  In Argentina, you pay 2/3 of the price and you get a seat that reclines into a bed, ongoing movies, an attendant in a bow tie, and full meals followed with champagne (no lie).  In Brazil, the only love you get on a bus is the blubber from the overweight woman sitting next to you, which rubs into your space because the seats are too small.
  1. They stop for breaks every three hours so they take 20% longer than they should.
  1. They break down.  In the northern Amazon basin, I was on a 12-hour bus that blew out a tire three hours into the journey.  They couldn’t get the jack to work, so the driver hitched a ride all the way back to the city to get help.  The bus was just too hot to bear so I spent the next seven hours sleeping on asphalt before the driver returned.
  1. There is always one guy on the bus who thinks he’s Eddie Murphy, and tries to keep the bus entertained for 24 hours at a time, yelling and cracking obscene jokes.  Always.  One particular Eddie, aided by a little pre-dawn vodka, did a stand-up routine at six in the morning.  He must have assumed that everyone on the bus would prefer to hear his rampage instead of sleep.  No one complained.  No one ever does.  And I’m sure Eddy’s legacy will live on through all the future overnight buses of Brazil.

Kids are the only source of enjoyment on a Brazilian bus

Excuse my digressive venting about buses.  I just had to get it out.  Perhaps I am the one who should change my attitude, maybe even sneak a few shots of Smirnoff’s the next time I’m on board myself. Let me steer back to the focus of this blog entry.  It isn’t meant to be about traveling by buses, it’s meant to describe traveling across places where buses can’t venture, like the delta of the Amazon.

Thirty-seven hours of travel from El Salvador north across the horn of Brazil left me at a run-in with the Amazon River.  The Amazon, as many of you know, is the world’s largest river by volume, comprising one-fifth of the Earth’s total river flow.  And with little relief between the Eastern edge of the Andes and the Atlantic Ocean, the Amazon flows ever so slowly to the East, picking up the flow of hundreds of tributaries on the way.  Its slow velocity and high volume make the river spectacularly wide (up to 120 miles!) and because there are no major cities to the north, there is no budget to construct Amazonian bridges.  Right now the only way to cross the river or access many of the small towns up-basin is by boat, and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon.

It was April 21st when I arrived in Belem, a major port city that sits beside the Para River, the southern arm of the mouth of the Amazon.  Here, at the mouth, convoluted channels connect the Para with the main branch of the Amazon.  In between the two rivers sits Marajo, a river island the size of Switzerland. A passenger river boat takes 24 hours to complete the voyage across the 210 mile-wide outlet to the sea, and I soon realized that this too would be my means to connect to the North.  I’ve often fantasized about traveling the Amazon by riverboat, and suddenly I had an immediate reason.

Leaving the Port City of Belem

Sick of big cities, I wasted no time in Belem, and found a passenger boat leaving the same morning I arrived.  I checked my bags, went for a jog to see the river market, bought a hammock, and arrived back at the docks at 10 am, sweaty, and anxious to get on board.  Hammock space on the deck went for a surprisingly steep seventy bucks, hard on my wallet, and I’m sure quite difficult for many of the migrant workers who were also boarding that day.

As 200 passengers boarded the boat, there was a mad dash to claim hammock space.  Hammocks were erected faster than the eye could see.  In the end, it really didn’t matter, because we were clustered like farm animals; some passengers had hammocks to their left, right, above, and below.  I was pushed to the periphery of the deck, which was fine by me.  I had lots of people on one side, and the Amazon breeze on the other.  Within fifteen minutes of our arrival, the upper deck of the boat looked more like a hammock stall of an outdoor market than it did a river vessel.

Hammock space was a little cramped

What to do with my pack was another question.  Everyone placed their luggage beneath their hammocks and left it unsupervised for the entirety of the trip.  I am always paranoid about robbery (I sleep on buses with my bag tied to me), and I was initially uneasy about this.  I soon came to realize that my trip would be miserable if` I didn’t just release my anxiety, so I soon gave in, and threw my bag, including some cash, a laptop, and cameras, in the nearest pile.

As we motored away from Belem, an unappealing blemish to the Amazon coastline, I made my way around the boat to explore our accommodations.  It included six bathrooms with showerheads installed above the toilets, an outdoor deck with a snack and beer bar, viewing space on the bough, and a small space for munching on the crew-prepared meals.  There was more space than I anticipated, and I no longer feared that 24 hours on board would impose the same claustrophobia I experienced on other vessels.

I walked out to the bough to enjoy the breeze and the views of the delta.  There I met Augusto, who was on his tenth voyage across the Amazon.  He and his 70-year-old mother were making the 3-day trek to Cayenna, French Guiana to see his brother.  French Guiana, technically part of France, uses the euro so many Brazilians migrate there in search of a better salary.  Several other passengers on board, primarily men, were doing the same, while other workers were returning to Macapa, the only Brazilian city north of the Amazon, after visiting family in Belem.

Augusto had a passion for the open water.  I think he spent 20 of the 24 hours onboard, standing at the bough, admiring the river views.  I wondered if for many of the passengers, this was their only time all year to relax and appreciate their landscape.  Augusto was excited to show me all of the towns that we passed by, their history, and the various channels that we encountered.  Whenever I was utterly clueless as to where we were on my pathetic 5 x 7 inch map, I would just have to walk forward and consult my trusty friend stationed at the bough.

The towns we passed were impressive.  They were accessible only by boat, and because the coastline is so wet, there were no trails or roads that connected the houses, only footbridges.  Sadly we passed them so fast, and our only interaction was a brief wave with the children playing on the docks.  I thought of waterproofing my backpack and jumping overboard.  I’m sure I could find a place to stay with these lovely people.  It was just a matter of securing a boat to set on my way once more.  Maybe one day when I have more time, I will do just that.

A town connected by footbridges

As the evening sky turned a pale blue that connected without interruption to the wake behind us, it became social time on the river.  Dusk marked the hour when children, occasionally accompanied by their families, paddled their wooden dug-out canoes into the evening waters.  There they would stroll to meet up with friends and watch the riverboats flow by.  Many of the children paddled anxiously to our rear, in an attempt to catch some surf action in our wake.  One ambitious duo paddled out so quickly that our alarmed captain steered the boat away from them.  When they arrived to the stern, the paddler up front leapt from his canoe, rope in hand, and tried to attach his craft to our riverboat.  The speed of our boat was just too much; he lost his grip and his free ride.  Frustrated, he screamed and splashed water at his friend in the canoe.

A young canoeist playing in our wake

A healthy plate of beans, rice, beef, and salad filled my stomach, and I joined the rest of the passengers on the deck above.  Darkness had turned the deck into a disco, led by loud Brega music playing on the video screen next to the bar.  I chatted with Nelsis, who was in transit to the border town of Oiapoque for an “unknown” amount of time.  It was her first time making the journey, and I think she was heading north to take a shot at prostitution.

After two cans of Guarana, the local Amazonian berry soda, I found myself back in my swaying hammock.  Despite the cramped quarters, nine hours of breezy darkness gave me the most peaceful sleep of my entire journey through Brazil.  I and 200 other hammock sleepers awoke to first light and watched the sun rise above the remote channels behind us.  Families beside me greeted me with warm smiles.

I slept so well on my hammock

I looked to my right to see my bags still there.  This riverboat, in just a matter of one day, became a trusting community, where people looked out for each other.  In no place in my travels would I have left my bags unattended, but here I felt quite comfortable.  The riverboat was everyone’s home, and for 24 hours we lived together as if we were lifelong neighbors.  I don’t think that my experience was unique; I think that typically communities naturally grow on any boat trip through the Amazon.

Morning light on the coast

The hours passed quickly in the quiet morning, and the rising temperatures soon reminded me of where I was.  A few more turns in the river channel and a couple of small villages later, we arrived in Porto Santana, our last stop.  For the first time in my trip I was sad to leave my vehicle of travel.  I hugged my neighbors, retrieved my pack, and took the first bus out to Macapa.

I was now in the state of Amapa, a smaller Brazilian state of just 500,000 people.  Sitting alongside the Amazon, its capital Macapa had been a destination I had in mind for a long time.  As a small, isolated and unspoiled city with no tourists, I figured Macapa had the recipe for good, friendly people, so I found myself a modest hotel room and settled in for a week.

Water Buffalo near Macapa

My expectations were soon confirmed by the locals.  Macapa is full of warm and curious people.  Corruption and delinquency that seemed so rampant in Belem and El Salvador had failed to cross the vast Amazon River mouth.  Macapa is isolated by ocean to the east, jungle to the north and west, and the endless Amazonian waters to the south.  The only way for its people to leave is by expensive flights or by reversing the epic journey I had just taken.  It is no surprise that when you ask most people from Macapa where they have traveled to, they only mention neighboring towns in the jungle.

Northern Hemisphere on the right...Southern on the left. Macapa is the only Brazilian city that coincides with the equator.

In Macapa, I could walk the streets by myself in the wee hours of the morning, strike up a conversation with just about any local, and get myself invited into a family’s home for dinner.  At night I would walk to the riverfront, where dozens of vendors sold mixed drinks, coconut milk, and churrasco.  I made good friends with a family of vendors, and returned to visit them each night of my stay.  Macapa had the Brazil that I was looking for.  Kids danced samba in the streets, old happy men walked bare-chested along the Amazon, and the locals seemed darn well content with where they were.  It’s a random place to visit, and I’m not sure if I will budget the time to return there once again, but it will be hard to forget the warm friends I met in this remote Amazonian city.

My crew in Macapa

Rio!!!

Remnant waves from a massive surge on Copacabana Beach

Remnant waves from a surge on Copacapana Beach

This place is ridiculous. I have been here for just three days, and it’s so good that I have to leave.  If I don’t leave now, I might not ever part with Rio de Janeiro.  I fear that I’ve found paradise, perhaps my future home, and I’m too scared of the “S” word right now.  Settling.

My first morning in Rio, I went for a run down the infamous Copacabana Beach.  I was welcomed with 15-foot waves that pounded into Avenida Atlantica.  In some parts of the road the waves deposited sand up to 3 feet deep, and sections of this four-lane highway were closed for the entire workday.  I forded through 100-foot-wide sections of beach that were completely inundated.

A confused Carioca on a flooded Copacapa Beach

All week there had been record amounts of rain, flooding streets and wrecking havoc throughout Rio.  Landslides swept through steep-sided “favelas” (urban slums), causing more than 200 deaths and the burial of more than sixty houses.  During these rains I was on the coast just south of Rio, sleeping in a small “pousada” (Brazilian bed and breakfast), snoozing beneath a leaky roof.  For the first time in my travels, I was carrying an umbrella and a backpack lined with waterproof plastic bags.  To get to the grocery store, I had to ford through knee-deep puddles.  Schools were closed and bus trips were canceled.  My voyage to Rio was actually delayed because of the risk of landslides on the route.  Between these rains and the surging seas, it was all so obvious…extraordinary things are happening in Rio.

I ran to end of Copacabana beach where I slowed to a walk so I could more properly appreciate my surroundings.  I stepped to the edge of a flooded walkway.  In the distance I saw big-wave surfers.  On my left was a granite rock tower 400 feet high, and sure enough there were several bolted climbing routes to the top.  Behind the high-rise hotels of Copacabana, favelas descended to the sea.  It is here where some of the world’s greatest music was born.  I ran back along the beach, and considered that surely on this street, six years from now, the world’s greatest runners will be running the world’s greatest race, the Olympic Marathon.

The random placement of favelas throughout the city defies urban geographic models. Instead of solely being on the outskirts of the city, these slums are also scattered on hill slopes throughout the city center, constantly displaying a sobering contrast between the rich and the poor.

The next day, I would run in a national park just a 20-minute jog from my hostel.  As I gazed at massive granite climbing walls in the distance, I was certain of one thing.  Rio is the greatest city in the world for outdoor enthusiasts.  With world-class running, competitive beach sports, 15-pitch rock climbs scattered along its coast, accessible diving, sailing, and surfing, this is the city that my climbing friends and I have always dreamed of.  And unlike the outdoor capitals of the U.S. like Boulder, Bellingham, Santa Cruz, and Jackson, there is some real music and diverse culture going on here.

That night I went to Lapa, the old social center of Rio.  I was greeted by masses of Cariocas (Rio locals) in the street, playing drums in samba circles, and drinking cheap beer from street vendors.  Hours flew by as I partook in the revelry, and at around midnight I joined the parade of those who had a little bit of extra cash to cover the door charge at the plethora of local clubs.  I chose Clube Dos Democraticos, a dance hall founded in 1867 (see site), purchased a caipirinha and integrated myself into a table of dancers from Recife.  Four hours of live music later, and I was in a dollar-fifty collectivo back to my bed.  Public transportation is so easy here.  I just had a great night out, some nine hours of fun, all for under twenty bucks.

Botafogo promenade with Pao de Azucar on the left

Rio is without doubt, the most beautiful city I have ever seen.  Imagine a combination of Yosemite, Hawaii, and New York, congregated in the tropics.  With a booming economy, arguably the world’s greatest Carnaval, and a host to the upcoming World Cup and Olympics, it’s time for the giant cities of the west to admit their inferiority.  Rio de Janeiro is the new capital of the world.

A rivaly match at Maracana, the largest

A rivalry match at Maracana. Having hosted 200,000 fans in Pele´s last game, it is the largest soccer stadium in the world. Surely the World Cup finals and the Olympic Track events will be held here.

Alive and Well in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sao Paulo, Latin America's biggest and most cosmopolitan city

The last week has been an absolute whirlwind of traveling efficiency.  But I’m happy to say that I’m alive in well in Sao Paulo, just a little bit out of breath from crossing overland through four international borders in the last three days.

On Friday, I bid farewell to Bariloche, and the morning of my last day of work was followed with an overnight bus to Buenos Aires.  I had spent more than four months in Argentina, and a visit to the elegant capital was long overdue.  On the plate for my short visit in Buenos Aires was a Brazilian visa application, a football game, and some tango.

Claimed to be the widest avenue in the world, Avenida 9 de Julio, Buenos Aires

My experience in Buenos Aires was a bit humdrum.  I wasn’t exactly inspired by the tango scene, nor the architecture of the city.  I’m not saying I don’t like the capital; I was there for too short of a time to critique it.  Experiences are what I appreciate in my travels, not the places.  And with no friends or warm welcomes, and a potentially 2-week wait for a Brazilian visa, I was ready to move on.

Feeling lonely in Colonia, Uruguay...the mouth of La Plata River

I made a quick visit to see Uruguay and its beautiful colonial center, Colonia.  With just a few days I wanted to seek out the subtle differences between Uruguay and Argentina.  My barber told me not many, and that perhaps Uruguayans drink more mate (how could that be possible I thought?) and their women are a bit less beautiful, but only a bit.  Good enough for me.  I guess I just needed a few days in Uruguay then and I hopped on the next high-speed 30-knot commuter boat 28 miles across the mouth of the La Plata River, and back to Argentina.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Next up, Iguazu Falls!  I bought a first-class “full cama” bus (champagne-included) and 16 hours later I was face to face with the most beautiful waterfalls I had ever seen.  I could understand where Eleanor Roosevelt was coming from, when upon her arrival to Iguazu, she proclaimed “Poor Niagra!”  While enjoying the falls, a Brazilian consulate processed my visa, and I was good to cross the border.

Iguazu Falls, Brazil

The Brazilian side of Iguazu proved to be just as beautiful, and during my visit I also crossed the border to see Ciudade Del Este, Paraguay.  This was the easiest border crossing I had done in years.  I negotiated a moto-taxi for 3 bucks (so good to be on one of those again), and we weaved through traffic and blew by customs.  I spent a few illegal hours in seldom-visited Paraguay and was back in Brazil again to catch yet another overnight bus, this time to Sao Paulo.

Moto-taxi into Ciudad del Este. These guys know how to cruise.

So after three overnight buses, and four countries in 48 overland hours of travel, I was in the Latin America’s biggest, most cosmopolitan city.  For the first time in six months of travel, I was greeted by a familiar face…Julia!  Julia is the girlfriend of my great college bud Rob and now a great friend of mine too.  She and her family took me in for a week of fun and relaxation in Sao Paulo, and now I’m off to spend the Easter weekend at their beach house.  I can’t do it justice enough to write what a wonderful family has hosted me here, so open-minded, thoughtful, and community-oriented.  Every family should be like this one.  Akin to my time in Buenos Aires, I was reminded that it’s not the places that make a trip, but the experiences you have.  Had I come to Sao Paulo solo, I would have departed within a few hours.  But because of the wonderful people I have shared time with here, I’m not ready to leave!

I audited a Race and Equity Law class. Enjoying pizza with the crew in Sao Paulo, home of the best pizza in South America.