Monday, August 17, 2009

Vacations in Brazil pt. 6

AOG, Praia do Forte

After we left the Baianas, we were led uphill through some of the oldest streets in Bahia. To the right we soon came upon the old Faculty of Medicine, in all its XIX century Neo Classical splendour. And the color! Peach! You gotta love that.

At present it is undergoing a massive facelift sponsored by, as the sign on the door informed us, Spain’s Foreign Cooperation Agency. It turns out that Spain is a big investor in Brazil too (aside from the rest of South America).

Our guide quickly led us past a local arts school and a crafts center to take us into a regular and boring commercial shop filled with non-descript t-shirts and high-end tourist articles. As soon as we could we left that place and walked back towards the local crafts center. It was great!

I wish we had gone there instead, though I’m sure the reasons for the visit to the other place are obvious. Commission by its owners. I don’t think that is the right way to promote the local culture.

The craft center was in fact three rooms. One, the main room which faced the street, was large and displayed all the crafts made there. Dolls, porcelain, even a sofa and armchair made out of recycled coca cola bottles.

The larger room, where we were not allowed in, was were the local residents made their wares. It was a feature of the place that no men were present in the creative area. Macho culture all the way, of course. Women and children were discussing different aspects of design, color, shapes, etc.

The smaller room, up a few steps, held some looms and the fabric produced there.

It all faced a school where uniformed teens waved at us and, mostly, went about the business of being a teenager in a hot country.

We went back to the shop after taking a few pictures and seeing a local man being taken away by an armed policeman.

No handcuffs, he just walked behind him and occasionally took him by the collar. Not aggressive or forceful, but very much in command.

When we got back to the classy store, the salesgirls were dancing for us visitors. They looked happy enough, but I didn’t like that. It was too colonial for me.

Imagine how ridiculous it would be for you to go into a store in New York’s 5th Avenue, or Soho, and for the salesgirls to suddenly break into dance when a group of tourists arrived. Odd feeling.

Saint Francis Church

We left the shop and went up a street towards the famous church and convent of St Francis. It is one of Brazil’s most important colonial Baroque churches.

The most important characteristic of the church is its exuberant inner decoration, mostly executed in the first half of the XVIII century.

All surfaces inside - walls, pillars, vaults and ceilings - are covered by golden sculptured gilt woodwork and paintings. It is a gold leaf paradise.

The altarpieces display the typical Solomonic columns and concentric arches decorated with golden foliage, angels and birds, while the vaults of the aisles are covered by wooden panels with paintings.

Classical Portuguese blue-white tile (azulejo) panels, by Bartolomeu Antunes de Jesus and imported from Lisbon, cover the lower parts of the walls of the main chapel and transept and depict scenes of the life of St Francis of Assisi.

The decoration of the church is considered one of the most complete and imposing in Portuguese-Brazilian Baroque gilt woodwork art, being a perfect example of the "golden church" (igreja dourada).

The guide told us that they used about 18 tons of gold to decorate it, and that it was mostly the Portuguese Royal family and Aristocracy who paid for it.

Jesus loves you...unless you are a slave...

Of course, as we all know, all sorts of people go to church. Even slaves. So a small area to the right of the main entrance was reserved for them.

No pews, no space, and no gold. The walls were white washed and that’s it. They didn’t even get to see the altar, only the side chapels in their gilded glory.

It was also mentioned that most of the cherubs in the church came replete with gonads and that some of them had been altered throughout their lifetime. Nothing like good old fashion censorship and prudery to destroy art.

When we left the church, our vendors were waiting for us. We walked a couple of streets before being led into a local jewellers.

They offered us cold water, which most of us had, then we split. We had about 25 minutes to kill before getting back on the tour. We were then on the Terreiro de Jesus Square.

We were then on the Terreiro de Jesus Square. A small boy came over to us, I’m not sure why. We asked why he wasn’t in school and got a strange small boy reply. Something about his father. I think he wanted money, or candy, or some sort of treat as young children often do.

The square itself is flanked by the School of Medicine, and two more churches including Bahia´s Cathedral, the Catedral Basilica.

This 17th century Basilica dominates the Terreiro de Jesus square at the west end and after a thorough restoration in 1996, it now looks as good as it did when it was first erected by the Jesuits in 1672. On its steps we saw a slice of Brazilian life.

Black Baiana women in costume, beggars, children, men with nothing to do scratching their butts. We even saw some wheeling and dealing here and there. In short, although a colonial center, it is very much a lived in area.

I read somewhere that Bahia has about 365 churches, one for each day of the year.

We took photographs of a local delivery man, a shoe shine, the odd policeman, and walked unto the adjacent square.

There we saw men who had waist-high carts which eschewed music and refreshments in the shape of trains or buses.

Many sleeping dogs; beggars sleeping on doorways; small groups of policemen and women; street vendors; people in suits to-ing and fro-ing; children; laybouts; old men sitting and talking; younger men sitting and plotting.

A few shops lined this new square which was dominated on one side by an old, ancient, Art Deco cinema, and a 7 or 8 story high, glass skyscraper from the 1960s which had definitely seen better days. All styles mix effortlessly.

There even was a small crafts market where nobody bothered to look. So many wares on display and such little interest.

I saw on one side a couple of, yes, you guessed it, music shops. How can one go to Bahia and not take an interest in its music?

We were told time and again how it was the music capital of Brazil. One of them even had, on display and for sale, old records! The kind of music heard about 20 years ago.

I was surprised to see this outside a DJ shop in London or New York. But no, here in Brazil, all eras, ages and technologies co-exist.

At some point we decided to get back and, after walking past the Ibiza Hotel, located on a side street, we almost took a wrong turn into a different World. Suddenly, all the colonial glamour of the area dissipated as we peered, right around the corner, into what I can only describe as an urban slum.

There were a couple of men who looked very jittery when they saw us. Suddenly, there was a different feeling in the air. Here was poverty, and crime, and struggle, and God knows what else.

It was amazing that this underworld lived but one block away from a square so grand, so beau monde and picturesque. But it did and we almost came face to face with it, Canon cameras in hand.

We decided to quickly make our way up the street and rejoin our group. I wanted to take a picture of this demi monde as a memento, but a very self-important hippie kept getting in the picture and hiding his face which made me think he actually wanted to be in the picture.

I did notice he was gesturing at some men about our presence and the cameras. I honestly did not like witnessing that. I could have done without it.

Once back, we all walked towards the La Cerda elevator , located on the Tomé de Souza square, which joins the upper and lower city in all its Art Deco glory.

From the view point we could see down on the lower city and harbor. I have to say that although the view was great, the condition of many buildings was not.

The ones right on the hill were mostly derelict; their roofs caved-in, and the walls bare and falling apart. Greenery everywhere stood as a testament to the life force of the country.

The La Cerda elevator, with its 4 cabins, is the tallest in the world at 72 meters, separating the Tomé de Souza Square from the Praça Cayru in the lower city.

It carries about 28,000 passangers everyday, and was inaugurated in 1873.

On the square you can also see the Rio Branco palace. It was built in 1569 by Brazilian colonial general governor Tomé de Souza, and it was the first house of Brazilian government.

However the building there today is not the original one, since it has undergone various reincarnations throughout its history.

From there we all took a 10 minute walk back towards the bus and off we went to eat.

Finally! We were all starving.

The street vendors who had followed us relentlessly throughout the day slowly began to fade away, only to be replaced by newer, less "official" vendors. Also, a bit more agressive.

Vacations in Brazil pt. 5

AOG, Praia do Forte

Before there was Brazil, there was Bahia. It was the country's first capital and remained so until Rio de Janeiro took over in 1763-only to be itself taken over by Brasilia in 1960 as the nation's seat of Government.

The entrance into Bahia is a mixture of tropical glamor and developing-nation social strife. From the highway, and at great speed, you see shanty towns to the left and right, with their red brick walls and partially painted and plastered walls standing proud against modernity and wealth. You soon begin to wonder how much do Brazil's poor participate in the country's wealth. Here is an article from an American journalist written in 1874 dealing with the city in all its racist XIX century glory. Fascinating read!

It is a feature of the city that towers resembling social housing pepper the skyline too.

They are taller than the buildings in the favelas, but much shorter than the towering middle class and rich miniature skyscrapers in the distance.

I notice that most tower blocks in this country have balconies, and that they favor light colors, especially white. Often, these buildings have a dramatic splash of contrasting accent colors. Be they electric yellow, acidic blue, or even purple or black. Bahia, if nothing else, is a colourful city.

The drive into the old part of the city, where we will be spending most of the day, is slow. Traffic is chaotic and it moves very slowly.

Although Bahia is built along a triangular peninsula, the old part is built on two levels, the Cidade Baixa, or lower city, which is where port is, and the Cidade Alta, or upper city, where administration, churches, and stately homes are located.

The peninsula sits on a spit of land sticking south-southwest into the Atlantic Ocean overlooking the inmense All-Saints Bay, where the place gets its name in Portuguese Bahia de Todos os Santos.


We drive all along the port before making a sharp turn right and up a hill into the "Pelourinho" neighbourhood, the heart of Bahia’s old town. The name itself is a testimony to Brazil's slave-owning past.

"Pelourinho" means pillory. And Salvador's pelourinho last stood at the top of the sloping Largo do Pelourinho, final point in a journey which began in the city's first open market in the Praça da Feira (today known as Praça Municipal -the open square at the top of the Elevador Lacerda).

The pelourinho stood at the market's center and it was where slaves would be whipped, often to death, to show the other slaves a lesson.

Keep in mind that an estimated 1.3 million slaves were imported into Bahia before slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888; that is double the number imported into the entire United States of America.

Then sometime between 1602 and 1607 the pelourinho was moved by governor's decree to the Terreio de Jesus, where the Jesuit's church and school were located.

Unsurprisingly, the screams and groans of the slaves interfered with church services and teaching. So it was removed again and repositioned at the bottom of the Ladeira de São Bento (where Praça Castro Alves is now located).

Again it was removed, for the penultimate time, in 1807, and taken to the largo which would come to bear its name. It would stand there for another 28 years. Today it is nowhere to be found, but it named the main tourist area of the city.

As befits a city built on a peninsula, Bahia is hilly. The bus parks on a slope and we are let out. The guide, after mentioning the day’s schedule, giving us "free" water to drink on the bus, and reminding us not to eat since we’ll be eating later (though hours from then), lets us out and starts towards one of Bahia’s best known views.

Baroque relics

Along the way I see many a decrepit, yet once stately, buildings lived in by what I can only describe as local people of little or no wealth. I suppose that in a modern city, the old part of town is where the poor would live.

Many of the colourful buildings are in complete disrepair. It is heartbreaking to see such beauty allowed to fade and crumble. XIX century neo classical façades stand door-to-door with Baroque churches.

Decrepit Art Deco homes are left to fall apart, their paint chipping away with every season. Cars line the slightly tortuous cobblestoned streets. Not fancy cars. In many ways I wish they weren’t there. Aside from spoiling many a photograph, they spoil the feel of the neighbourhood. A few stores pepper the route.

I stopped at one which had old books for sale. Of course, here a "store" usually means somebody’s home. Outside their front door they leave a little stand with a few trinkets underneath their front window.

The lady, or gentleman, of the house stands guard either inside or across the street where she is chatting to a neighbor. I begin to wonder what the original owners of these mini-palaces and townhomes would make of having the descendants of their slaves living there.

Soon enough, street vendors fall upon us like hot custard. They will not leave us until we get on the bus to leave Pelourinho…over two hours later.

We walk past Baroque church after Baroque church. Uphill, downhill, to side, to the other. The street vendors, politely some, forcefully others, accompany our group throughout. None speak English. In fact, I will leave Brasil thinking that most Brazilians don't speak English, or even have a basic knowledge of the language.

Part of what makes our tour a slight bother is the presence of wave after wave of street vendors. I completely understand that they are poor people who really need the money. But from my egoistical point of view, I want to take photographs, enjoy the views, and not be pestered by vendor. But they do pester you. Alas, it is part of Brazil, so I try to make the best of it.

I don't want to seem cruel, but it does not help that what they sell is not beautiful to my eyes. I wish it were. I would have bought a necklace or something, but the things they produce, or that they are given to sell, are mostly laced-seed or rock/stone necklaces. And the predominant color is brown. I do feel sorry for some of them who have to carry hundreds of necklaces under the sun for a living.

Fat chicks in costume

We slowly follow our group into the Largo do Pelourinho square, where a marble slab marks the place where the whipping post stood.

As soon as we get there, a group of women wearing typical "Baiana" folk costume descend upon us.

They will gladly pose for the camera, in their full costume, whether you want them to or not.

This is how they make their living, but they do take a liberty by assuming you want to take their photograph.

One of them approached me after I did my best to avoid making any eye contact. I did not really want a picture of her, I rather capture the images of the city around me, polluted as it was, with tourists

The first thing she does is accuse me of having taken clandestinely her picture. I was taken aback and I showed her the last images I took, she was not on any of them.

Soon enough her guise is up and just starts to pose for my partner who has seen the whole farce and has turned it into an improptu photo op.

She smiles, gladly, and tells me very quickly that now she poses, and afterwards she wants the "contribuçao", the contribution.

This interest spoilt the moment a bit. "Nice for pay", I've never liked.

Of course, as soon as her friends see that one of them has caught a live one, they all flock, and I mean, flock to me to have their picture taken as well. They flirt and tell me how beautiful and sexy I am, etc.

I very quicly felt the slight undercurrent of prostitution in the air, and told them that the person taking my picture was, in fact, my partner.

At first they could not believe it. But then they laughed and flocked to him for me to take their picture.

Which I did, after making the chicks pose for the camera! (It was all very tropical Naomi Campbell).

No middle of the road images for me honey, you want cash? You work for it! And of course, they loved it.

I guess these women normally don't get so much attention from the tourists. Unless they want something else.

Afterwards came the haggling, something they told us about in the hotel. Everyone in this country haggles.

I am crap at haggling. I once left an Atlas of Cuba behind in Havana because the owner wanted to haggle.

The "models" wanted 50 Reals a piece. We said no. Then 50 for all 4. We still said no. I think in the end we gave them 30 Reals, about 12 Euros or 17 Dollars US.

Then we left the girls and headed up the hill to continue on our tour or the Cidade Alta with the rest of the group.

Vacations in Brazil pt. 4

AOG, Praia do Forte

Today we got up really early to go and see the city of Salvador de Bahia, or simply Bahia. Out of all of Brazil's cities, this one has always been my favorite- eventhough I'd never been here before. Blame Disney and The Three Caballeros.

I still remember the song the Brazilian girl, Aurora Miranda, sister of Carmen, sung during the movie: Quindins de Yaya....memories!

(Coconut Cupcakes in case you are wondering).
Even today I hum the tune now and then. Childhood is such a powerful thing.

God, how I loved that song!

And this one, the opening tune. There is something so romantic and sophisticated about it.

And today, I was going to that very same city, finally! I couldn't wait to see the old homes, the streets, the sound of the place.

We left the hotel lobby inside a large, and thank God, air conditioned bus, with the rest of the day's fellow travelers.

The tour guide, named Felix, was a local who came across as a very friendly person. He told us all about the day's events, where we would be taken, what we'd be doing, etc. After about 30 minutes of speaking, he allowed us to travel and admire the views.

I would like to say that he allowed us to do this in silence.

Unfortunately, somebody thinks that tourists must love the singer Carlinhos Brown so much that they would enjoy traveling in a bus for about an hour and a half with him and his racket playing non-stop until we got to Bahia. Wrong.

Thank God for iPods, I say.

Road to Bahia...

The road into Salvador de Bahia goes from being two lanes outside Praia do Forte, to a proper 4 line highway as we approach the city. It is called the Linhea Verde, or Green Line, and it goes all the way up to the Brazilian state of Aracaju.

Along the way the Brazilian countryside is a mixture of virgin jungle (known as the Mata Atlantica or Atlantic Rain Forest), palm trees, stray dogs, rich private comunities, and poverty.

Poor homes, half built, half painted, half lived in, dot the road all the way into Bahia.

There is a well known Spanish photographer named Dionisio Gonzalez who was inspired by this type of housing.

I think this because his work so closely resembles what I could see from the window on the bus.

I really like his work. The photograph here is one of his. It is called "Heliopolis". I find it extremly beautiful. It closely mimics the roadside homes I saw on the way to Salvador.

As the bus passes by these small towns (do three homes and a store make up a town? Two homes and a dog?) by the side of the road, which have no apparent name, I wonder what their lives must be like.

Often you can see inside their homes. Most of them have the television on. You can see the walls, decrepit as they are. Sometimes dirty.

You can see the clothes hanging out to dry. So much color, always the realm of tropical poverty, color. European wealth being so monochrome. I wonder why this is?

In some of the houses, small children are outside, playing. Some have a woman or two, sitting on a chair, guarding their home.

Perhaps they wait for their sons or husbands to return. Or their daughters. Sometimes you can make out a chicken, or a rooster.

I also saw towns peep out from the jungle. Some homes have two or three stories. Usually the third story is unfinished. It reminds me of the images one sees of Beirut, a city of once-legendary beauty, now destroyed and falling apart because of war.

So these villages, with their own conflicts with the modern world, their own wars, even if they are only social, peer out unto a road which leads to Bahia, a city, I would later find out, caught between modernity and its past. Wealth and poverty.

As you approach the great equatorial metropolis, the small towns cluster together, resembling larger towns.

Wealth also begins to seep through. It is very easy to spot.

Modern life is so innanely similar these days, we see the same things, we buy the same products. So global and boring at the same time.

The number of gas stations increases; so do a few restaurants; furniture shops.

And many pool stores with their upstanding blue monoliths as an expression of wealth and first-worldism.

Traffic also gets heavier. Modern cars are still not seen in great numbers. In fact, I have to say, most of the cars I see in Bahia are a bit old. Tattered. And pedestrian models.

No jazzy Lincolns or Mercedes are seen in great numbers (though in some neighborhoods, like Barra, Mercedes and Audis did seem to congregate along street parking lots).

Mostly VW and Ford and many many Japanese cars. Some Chevrolets; some Fiats. Our consummerist world also begins to grow as you approach Bahia.

Here and there, the stores get larger; shopping centers, though humble, pop up unannounced, with their customers as suburban furniture on a tired road.

Of course, life in this country is relative to life in Europe and the developed world. Although it may sound crazy, I do envy the space some poor people have.

Although humble, their half built homes, many with a satellite dish, are larger than my flat in Madrid. If they hear their neighbors, it is because they are on the street making some noise, not because their televisions are on too loud next door. Or the upstairs washing machine is on spin cycle.

All is relative.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vacations in Brazil pt. 3

AOG, Praia do Forte

We got up and had breakfast, enjoying some very good weather. Then, after being pestered by a Spanish restaurant owner who was visiting to pick up some customers, we sat through an introduction which was half positive and half negative. Our rep started off by telling us what “All inclusive” did not include.

Phone calls, drinks at the disco, and a couple of other things, which I’ve forgotten, were not included.

He then gave us a quick, and condescending, lesson on Brazilian geography. Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are about 5 hours away; Manaus about 8 –almost as far away as Madrid. No one had asked him about this, but I suppose he gets questions of that sort all the time.

He spent an awful long time explaining the different ways in which you can enjoy a Caipirinha- something you can have in the mornings.

Then there was the Caipiroska, which you have with vodka. And the Caipirissima, which seems to be an XXL Caipirinha recommended for clubbing and other types of adult entertainment.

He then went on to tell us about all the different tours we could take during our stay. We settled on 3: Bahia, Whale watching, and the River Pojuca tour.

The hotel has 3 restaurants and we are allowed to have dinner three times in either or all of them. One is Mediterranean, one Japanese, and the other is a Steakhouse. We are having dinner at the Japanese first, then the Mediterranean, then, on our last night, we will dine at the Steakhouse.

Afterwards we went to spend the day at the beach. It was wonderful. The hotel’s grounds and amenities are wonderful. The staff, nice.

What I found most interesting is the hotel’s game room and library, composed, as it is, of three bulky colonial Portuguese tables and chairs, one bulky sofa, the day’s Salvador de Bahia papers, and this was the interesting part, the books the guests have left behind. There’s a lot of Dutch and German books, some French and a few Italian titles.

Hardly any books in Spanish; and the bulk of the collection, no surprises there, is books in English. Surprisingly, not all are brand new titles. There were books which were printed in the 1970s, complete with curling covers and yellow, sandpaper-like pages. These were my favorites to leaf through.

However, I’d brought my own, which accompanied me to the beach and pool daily. But it was nice to see other books.

The hotel also has an internet room and public toilets everywhere.

Praia do Forte

The rep had offered us to go to Praia do Forte town (our hotel is about a 10 minute drive from it, located as it is on virgin jungle territory) that afternoon for a measly 10 reales.

We thought it would be a good idea, but having been warned about crime in Brazil, we leave the camera’s at the room’s safe. Mistake!

At around 4pm, we and some other guests gathered at the entrance hall and get carted unto a van which will take us to the town. What we thought was just a journey there is in fact a stealth tour. Our tour guide is awaiting us there and is intent on us going to visit the Tamar Project Sea Turtle reservation.

My partner and I are horrified at the prospect of being in a large group of people touring a small town like a herd. Nobody had mentioned the Tour guide. In theory, the turtles get fed at 5, and then something funny happened.

Hardly anyone had any Reales with them. The tour guide was very sceptical about anyone leaving the group or doing anything on their own, yet at the same time, about 80% of us had to go and exchange some money.

He was very reluctant to let anyone leave but then, in the end, common sense kicked in and people just started wandering off toward the bureau de change with a few Real-carrying guests accompanying him to the Tamar Project.

We saw our chance and we took it. We walked around the small town for about 20 minutes, popping in on the occasional art and trinket shop before heading towards turtle city.

The cool thing about this place was, first of all, the shape of the public toilets. It was straight out of a Gaudi fantasy. Shaped like giant seashells, and covered in broken tile mosaics, they would not have looked out of place in Barcelona.

The second cool thing about this place, turtles aside, was how close you could get to the animals.

There was a shark pool with evil looking sharks lurking at the bottom, and small Manta Rays minus the sting on very shallow pools at eye level.

This is what impressed us most. Manta Rays, in case you were wondering, have human-looking eyes. It was like looking at a person in fish form. Probably not the best explanation, but accurate.

They were so close to us that you could see them looking at you. Scary and thrilling at the same time.

The shark pool was very impressive too. They were taking turns swimming around the pool walls, with the rest remaining at the bottom of the pool until it was their turn.

The creepy thing was that you never saw them coming until they were right there in front of you. Probably something similar happens in nature with these animals. They were huge, solemn and elegant. Death often is.

Then there was the sponge and Sea Urchin pool (not many visitors), and various pools with many different sort of fish swimming inside of them.

When we left the Turtle sanctuary, we went back to see the town. We stopped at one supermarket to buy some talc and other toiletries. We marvelled at the local products.

My partner mentioned that some of the things on sale were no longer available in Spain. We also bought some aspirin and had our first cold coconut for 2 Reales, less than one Euro.

Here and there we saw one missed photo opportunity after another. We thought the people were friendly enough and wished we had not been so paranoid about taking our cameras with us.

Praia do Forte is safe enough and merited a second visit, cameras in hand. Especially when we took a turn away from the main commercial strip and discovered the picturesque streets which one only finds in tropical climates. Beautiful and calling out for more protagonism.

We were definitely coming back, oh yeah.

After wandering around for a while and half booking a driver to take us to Bahia some time in the future, we get back to the group.

They take us all back and we arrive very tired. It is only around 8pm, and we get to bed right after dinner. They close the pools at 7 by the way. This is rather inconvenient for us.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Vacations in Brazil pt. 2

AOG, Praia do Forte

After a 9 hour flight we arrived in Bahia. We discovered that the back of the plane was not too crowded and although we had chosen window and isle, we actually flew separately most of the way, across the isle, with at least one spare seat next to us for extra comfort.

It took about an hour to cross through customs and immigration. All the passengers were quite shocked at the slow speed of the process and complained from the start. Me included.

We left the baggage hall and were greeted by representatives from our tour operator. There was a girl dressed in full Bahiaiana gear smiling and waving at people. Too bad we were all tired, hungry, and fed up with waiting to reciprocate her niceness.

We got on the bus and were told that because there were two groups, we would be unloading the first group at their hotel first. This meant that the journey would take even longer. And it did.

The drive from the outskirts of Bahia airport to Praia do Forte was slow, although our driver did swerve about 3 times to avoid an accident, and uneventful. The Tour rep tried his best to be nice and friendly, but failed miserably.

He offered to exchange our euros for reales explaining that he would give us a better rate than the hotel would: 2.50 to the hotel’s 2.40.

My partner changed some money and told me when he got back that the guy’s niceness disappeared as soon as he turned the mic off. The mask has fallen off, were the words used.

Not an easy job to do, I agreed, but then, why not hire someone who is actually nice, and not just pretending to be nice? My partner agreed.

The first surprise of the day was the fact that it is Winter in Brazil, which means it gets dark around 5pm.

We finally got to the hotel after being on the bus long enough to snooze for a while, tired, depleted of energy, and hungry.

They told us to leave the luggage, tag it with our room number, and scoot over asap to the restaurant before it closes.

Second surprise of the journey. Surely this happens with enough regularity that the restaurant should stay open a bit longer?

Regardless, we get to the restaurant where the remnants of the evening’s dinner were awaiting our hungry mouths.

Afterwards, and yes, we overate, we walked to our rooms, passing by the hotel’s disco, blasting as it was, dance music and drunken guests. We hoped our room was nowhere near that racket, and swore to demand a different room if it was.

Luckily for us, it wasn’t. it was on a the first floor, and we could hear the sea from the balcony. I think for me the vacation started that moment, looking out into the palm-strewn golf park outside our balcony, with the moon shining over a slightly overcast sky.

Since we could hear the sea, we wanted to see how close to it we were. We left the room and went on a mini evening excursion of the hotel’s grounds.

The beach was a two minute walk from the room. As we got closer, the sea got louder.

There is something very romantic about the sound of the sea at night. Also dangerous. Who knows what sea creatures are out in force at night. I really liked our first experience of Brazil.

We went to sleep as soon as we got back to the room. We had an appointment with the Tour rep at 10 AM the next day, and we needed to have breakfast first.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Vacations in Brazil pt. 1

AOG, Praia de Forte, Brazil

After much arguing, discussing and just plain ignoring the issue, my partner and I finally got our acts together and decided to leave Spain for a few days and go on vacation somewhere. The problem all along had been the destination.

Greece? Turkey? Rome? Mexico? Russia? Southeast Asia?


It was mostly other for a long time. My partner was not feeling too well after a bout of pneumonia and was dreading a long flight. I, on the other hand, wanted somewhere not too hot.

For days we perused, combed and searched the internet in the hope that we would find a good offer. Never mind that we had the added handicap of having to leave preferably from Barcelona, but that most flights left from Madrid. It was like an episode of Designing Women (minus the designer budget); the travel Gods were against us.

Finally we decided to go to a travel agent in search of inspiration. The first one we went to was a complete disaster. Lack of interest.

He kept shaking his head and making negative sounds. Tsk tsk...

Honestly, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. It looked more like he was doing us a favour than his job. I really dislike people like that.

We gave it one last try and went to see another travel agent.


After suggesting Santorini, Istanbul and Lybia, the magic question: have you considered the tropics? Instantly we said yes, thinking about Cuba or Puerto Rico, even Jamaica.

Imagine our surprise when the travel agent lady suggested Brazil!

"A new offer has just entered the system. The flight leaves tomorrow at 3pm from Madrid. Seven days in a 5 star resort one hour from Bahia", she said.

We looked at each other slightly in disbelief.

How could we say no? We would take the high speed train to Madrid at 7:30 the next day; make a quick stopover at my place, then rush to the airport.

As luck would have it, we arrived with a couple of hours to spare. Things were looking up.

Friday, August 07, 2009

John Hughes Dead: Director Dies Suddenly At 59

AOG, Madrid

The Breakfast Club. This movie will define a part of me for ever. If nothing else, it will be forever tied to my youth, to high school, friends and growing up. To finding your place in the world and figuring out who you are, and, most importantly, who you are not.

John Hughes managed to capture a certain essence about youth back then, perhaps unknowingly, and it is something which always hits me whenever I revisit that film.

It is a loss that he is gone, but it was a loss which began years ago when he fell out of favor with the public.

Our loss.

Don't you forget about him.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Destruction of the Black Middle Class

AOG, Madrid

I am not black. Reading this article in The Huffington Post scares the hell out of me. I will always be amazed at the fact that the whole country chose to look away from the plight of its citizens in Louisiana when hurricane Katrina stuck only 4 years ago. And that it voted Bush back into the White House for another 4 years only provided for the icing on the cake. I was surprised and saddened that day.

A friend of mine from Chile once said that the US is a third world country, only dressed well. Up until 2005 I had disagreed with her.

It is not enough that only some people live well, and have unthinkable opportunities that they would not have in other countries. It is to America's pride that its economy is what it is. But it is to our shame that participation in that economy, and that the redistrinbution of the huge wealth it creates, is tantamount to that of a banana republic.

I hope this changes one day.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Monday, August 03, 2009

Unemployed Woman Sues College For Tuition

I think she is doing the right thing in taking her College to Court. Many Colleges sell you a degree with the promise of jobs, qualifications needed in the workforce, etc. And then, when you graduate, you are on your own.

No, they can't promise you a job, and they don't, and she is not suing them for breaking that promise, she seems to be suing them for not providing her "with the leads and career advice it promises".

Until further notice, I'm siding with her. The College can do more, I'm sure, in helping its alumni find a job.

See this:
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost