Saturday, January 31, 2009

Carioca Goodbyes

Part 3 of a 4-part series on my year-end jaunt through the Promised Land, aka Brazil.

Slightly sore from having crammed seven people, plus driver, into an overpriced taxicab from Copacabana to our truck parked uptown the night before, we stretched out at the beach in Barra for January 1. All day, January 1: we got there before noon and it was dark when we left the beach. Got some good dancing in, too (observe, Exhibits 1, 2, and 3 from our in-house paparazzo...guess which one's me!).

Now, if you've read this interview of me at Travellious (wink, nudge), you'd know that one of my most memorable meals was having sushi in São Paulo and sipping on guaraná soda (a fruity, almost ginger ale-ish flavor made from an energetic berry which grows in the Amazon...or at least, the original formula was made from that berry), while my girl Sade was playing over the sound system. Well, the night of January 1, we went to a sushi place in Rio and damn it if they weren't playing Janet Jackson. I mean, my man rollin' up the salmon-rice-and-seaweed was jammin' to the Janet. album. I told y'all Brazil was the lick. And yes, I had the guaraná.

The next day, I let the crew handle themselves on their own while I made some fundraising calls to the United States. I had a serious cash flow problem and was needing something like an advance on the next paycheck. It was also Roberto's last day of enjoyment in Brazil, as we were heading back to Sampa the next morning and he back to Colombia that evening, so they went hang-gliding over the beach while I caught up on some much-needed sleep. Sounds boring, I know, but as I've said before, I usually travel solo, and groups can be a lil too much. I hit the pool and the gym before heading into Ipanema for some reeeallly cheap postcards to take back as gifts (I said there was a cash flow problem*) and then to meet the group and the Colombian couple for dinner and samba at a downtown hotspot called Rio Scenarium.

Historic downtown Rio looks more French Quarter than City of God, with its packed sidewalk bars and its tipsy revelers draped over second-floor balustrades like clinging ivy. The thumps and plinks of competing drums and guitars emanated from each locale, serenaded by its own in-house samba band. As should have been indicated by the interminable line extending from the front door and guarded by a troop of besuited black men (I don't think there's a brother over six feet tall in Brazil who isn't a bouncer), Rio Scenarium was the main attraction of the neighborhood. The three-story warehouse-turned-dinner-and-dance hall sat lording over Rua do Lavradio like a dowager madame running a plush brothel: red velvet and fringe and cut-glass decorated the interiors, along with watercolor landscapes, oil portraits of society ladies, black-and-white prints of 1940s Brazilian pinup girls, scores of antique clocks, radios, and other random antique doodads. The mixture of heat and history and color and sound conjured up the energy of New Orleans, Havana, Kingston, Cartagena, of course Rio, and all the other tropical port cities in the hemisphere all at once, and at only 9pm, it was evident that our rather large group of seven would be standing for most of the night.

Photo by Overmundo.

Three bands played live samba that evening and the dancefloor bounced with a good cross-section of ages, if not economic levels. The crowd was clearly upscale Cariocas (as folk from Rio are called) and a smattering of foreigners, and most of the brown in the place was on stage, but watching older couples or groups of middle-aged women having a girls' night out getting their samba on was refreshing. And as the rhythm picked up, the drummers kicked out more energy, and the crowd swelled, Roberto and I got lost on the dance floor, dancing alternately with the tall and tan hotties our own age, as well as with some of the older ladies whose step might no longer have as much pep, but who were determined to be out there stepping anyway. At one point, as the entire place was singing along to an upbeat tune that I had never heard before, the woman I had been dancing with asked me, in Portuguese, why I wasn't singing. I responded that I wasn't Brazilian and didn't know the song. After a moment of vocal disbelief, she said, in Portuguese, "Well, you're here now, and you can samba,'re Brazilian to me." I'm sure I blushed.

Finally, at the end of the night (at least, before we left, soaked, wilted, beat, and ever-so-lightly toasted), the band played a samba with a refrain that everyone, including the non-Portuguese-talkin' furreners, could wave their hands in the air and sing along with:

La laaa la
La la la LAAA, la laaa la
La la la LAAA, la laaa la
La la la laaa, la laaa...

And that, capped off by some sweet Carioca Goodbyes (see "Brazilian Hello" in previous posts), was our last night in Rio.


*Part of this cash flow problem was caused because I had to buy a new pair of frames for my glasses. One night, at the club, tryna look sexy, I slipped the glasses into my jeans pocket and lost one of the arms. Somewhere. In the club. And new, plastic, rectangular frames in Brazil ranged in upwards of US$100 every place I checked. And I'm cheap enough to check a
lot of places first.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fly Brother Profiled at

The good people at, "advocates for the art of travel," interviewed me this month about some of my opinions, thoughts, feelings, and experiences while exploring Earth. Their mission, like mine, is to try and debunk some of the mystique of travel that keeps it conceptually out of many people's reach. "Travel like a rebel," Travellious encourages, and entices readers with sumptuous photography and intriguing profiles of independent globetrotters ;-)

In case you didn't get the hint, click here to see my interview. Then, click here to vote for Travellious as the 2009 Bloggie Awards' "Best Travel Weblog." Then smile because you've done something good for humanity.

Monday, January 26, 2009

From the AV Room: Beleza Pura!

As Carnival preparations are now in full swing - the blessed event starts February 21 - Rio's busy selecting this year's Carnival Muse, a dancer from one of the competing samba schools who will open the parade. This young lady right here, a 25-year-old professional dancer representing the very popular Mangueira samba school, put it on 'em: the interviewer can't stop complimenting her, the crowd loves her, and one of the judges (a drag queen, I think) even breaks protocol to praise the whole shebang. The short interview is book-ended by a bootylicious entrance and a winning show of her samba skills. All dude can say at the end is "pure beauty." One time for the sistas!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Year's End in Rio

Part 2 of a 4-part series on my year-end jaunt through the Promised Land, aka Brazil.

Rio de Janeiro shielded herself from us on a rainy Saturday evening. We landed through clouds at Santos Dumont airport, built back in the day for biplanes and puddle-jumpers and perched on a tiny patch of land jutting into the bay, LaGuardia-style. After several aborted attempts to get cash from non-cooperative ATMs (none operated with the Cirrus network my bank uses), we charged the $45 cab fare out to our rental apartment in the far-flung neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca, home of Ronaldo and other upscale Brazilians, three tunnels away from all the action at Ipanema and Copacabana. At US$2500 for the week (in a city where $15 hostel beds in Ipanema were going for $75 a pop during New Years), the two-bedroom, air-conditioned flat sat across the road from the beach in a boxy, California-style complex with pool, fitness center, restaurants, and black-suited security staff. Being short of the requisite funds, we convinced the kindly old landlord to take the cash we had on hand, plus Roberto's passport as collateral until the rest of the group arrived with the rest of the money on Monday.

The next morning, we soaked up sun and surf out on the endless expanse of Barra, fighting huge waves and monster currents, sipping icy purple açaí smoothies, and fellowshipping with the Colombian couple who found us the apartment and their crazy/cool in-laws visiting from the States. The others got sunburned - I didn't. Later that day, however, it became apparent that, as a typically-independent traveler, I wasn't going to do all that well with the group thing. Transpo into town proved difficult as taxis were scarce and inexpensive, and the buses infrequent (it was a Sunday night, after all). We didn't eat until two hours after we initially set out for food and I had a headache. After scouring the seedy streets of Copacabana-After-Dark for a 24-hour pharmacy, I felt my spirit rise and wanted to head to a nightclub for some Brazilian Hellos (see post below). Roberto and the rest of the group were tired, so...I did me.

And of course, that threw an organizational wrench in our group, as my timetable was thrown off from everyone else's. For me, that's okay - the optimal group trip in my opinion is when we all take little breaks from each other regularly, convening for meals and such but having our own periods of individual experience. But that individualism caused a fissure to form in our group's energy that only widened as the week passed.

Accounts were settled with the landlord on Monday when the other members of the group arrived from Colombia, increasing the population of our apartment to the planned five. After a pleasant-enough breakfast, I headed into town to grab some beach time at Ipanema with another set of friends from São Paulo. The rest of the group...very...eventually...found their way to a flea market in Copacabana. The plan, then, was to meet up with my friends Downtown at 9pm and hit a samba school practice, to dance and drink and sweat and sing with thousands of people in anticipation of Carnival, a rare treat since practices were suspended between Christmas and New Years. We arrived at midnight. There were a few hundred folk still gathered around the remnants of the event, funk carioca playing over huge speakers and kids jerking and whirling their lil scrawny waists like at a Liberty City block party. The practice was over.

I had to let the kids play on their own the next day, because the night before had been a fiasco. I did the beach thing at Barra while the other four hit the sights I still haven't managed to get to after three visits to Rio: Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf (I reckon, until I've seen these icons up close and personal, there's always a reason to return to Rio).

Finally, the Big Day rolled around, and we knew organization was crucial, since the entrances to both Copacabana and Ipanema would be blocked to all vehicles except taxis and buses at 4pm, and commuting time from Barra into town on December 31 was estimated at 3-to-4 hours. The plan for wearing all white in traditional New Year's homage to the Yoruba sea goddess Iemanjá (Yemayá in Spanish) was scuttled when my t-shirt got stained and then got locked up in the dry cleaners when they shut down early for the holiday. Still, I had a nice, crisp light blue shirt as backup, and since Iemanjá's colors are blue and white, she and I were still cool. Luckily, our lovely Colombian couple decided that we'd all pack into their SUV and take the back way through the mountains on the breathtaking Linha Amarela expressway into Downtown, then hop the subway down to Copa, and since they were organizing the transportation, the whole crew left on time!

The night was balmy with low-hanging clouds as we piled out of the truck in a shopping center parking lot and hiked over to the subway station. The whole of Brazil snaked out of the entrance, dressed up, dressed down, in all-white, all-green, linen, lamé, old, young, black, white, brown, polka-dot. With every passing train, we inched closer and closer to the platform. Then we squeezed ourselves into the first available train car, the temperature rising along with spirits as groups of people started singing and swaying with infectious laughter, my midsection gradually warming a decreasingly cold bottle of champagne that I sneaked onto the train. Fifteen stops and a train change later, we exited the station in light drizzle. Nobody cared - the expectation of being soaked by champagne, sweat, and/or seawater roundly anticipated. We had an hour to wrestle through the crowd of millions packed on the sand between Avenida Atlantica and the South Atlantic. We squeezed through the folk, o povo, "the people" in Portuguese, arms brushing arms, eyes meeting, the whole society from top to bottom converged on one arc of sand. Finally we settled into bubble large enough for the seven of us, right next to a group of boisterous, bounteous, bodacious black women gettin they drink and New Years' swerve on. And the countdown - dez, nove, oito, sete, seis, cinco, quatro, tres, dois, um...Feliz Ano Novo!

I reeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaallllllllllllllyyyyyyy hope I can get the footage up soon.

Bottles popped, fireworks exploded, hugs and smiles and renewed energy swept the crowd. Roberto and I stripped down to our skivvies and dove into an inky black ocean lined with sparkling cruise liners, at once crazy and thankful and raucous and humbled. The music started on stage - the three winning samba schools from last year's Carnival enticed with hips and sequins and drumsticks and tambourines - and we joined the povo in the sand, kicking up swirls as we samba'd ourselves senseless, again and again, celebrating with our bodies the start of another lap around the Sun.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

There Are 20 Million Stories in the Naked City...Here's One

Part 1 of a 4-part series on my year-end jaunt through the Promised Land, aka Brazil.

It all started with a 6 AM (Colombian time) flight out of Bogotá, two days before Christmas. Armed with distastefully warm chicken sandwiches and virtually no sleep, Roberto and I coasted down the spine of the Andes to Lima, then crossed over altiplano and forest toward the beckoning, green crests of the Brazilian Highlands. After being attacked by air pockets during a treacherous descent through a thick mass of afternoon storm clouds, we landed a little after 6 PM (Brazilian time) at Guarulhos, one-hundred-thousand miles outside of the city it serves, São Paulo. A slight, unseasonal chill accompanied the Venusian gloom of the sky, which looked ready to burst into a monsoon at any moment. We hit the ground running, thanks to the overly-air-conditioned Airport Bus Service, Roberto and I cracking jokes and snapping pictures of road signs and billboards and the federal prison and favelas (shantytowns, for the unlettered) that greet the visitor to Brazil's largest city. Soon, though, Roberto quieted in awe as rows and rows of skyscrapers sprouted behind one another with every highway curve, a shark's mouthful of concrete blocks housing over 20 million people in a metro area not even half the square mileage of Atlanta's. I'd seen it all twice before, but the sheer amount of human development in one physical location is incessantly impressive. Cars, trains, trucks, helicopters, motorcycles, airplanes, rats all whiz by over and around each other in a city whose only constant is flux - in the last fifty years, the city proper grew from 2.2 to 11 million people...and counting.

Based out of our centrally-located, US$22/night cubby hole-in-the-sky, Roberto and I recharged as we met with some of my old friends on Avenida Paulista, the ultra-post-modern financial heart of the country which was set ablaze by innumerable Christmas lights and displays. Near the São Paulo Art Museum (MASP), delighted kids watched a cartoon Santa's Workshop projected against a high-rise, while a rag-tag circle of street percussionists got some of the ancestral spirits moving underneath the elevated edifice of the museum. We spent Christmas Eve roaming aimlessly past shuttered storefronts in an attempt to soak up as much of the varied neighborhood vibes as we could right before the world's biggest holiday and ended up at one of São Paulo's gargantuan all-night mega-house clubs, tripping the light fantastic to tribal beats while practicing our Brazilian Hellos (full-frontal French kisses first, names afterward) with numerous and assorted Brazilian hotties. Needless to say, I can hardly remember Christmas Day; I think we slept for most of it.

The next couple of days included walks through Old Downtown (São Paulo has four downtowns, y'all) with its curvy, concrete, Jetsonian constructions of iconic architect Oscar Neimeyer, navigating the sightssoundsandsmells of the subway, whisking through the stately Pinacoteca art museum (see...we cultured!), meeting up with new friends (some club DJs, club groupies, expat bloggers, other random geeks and whores), and mixing it up again with the locals, this time at a samba/funk/hip-hop-n-r-n-b spot on the South Side called Kamaroty. I swear, I've never been to a place where the girls have been nicer about having their drinks accidentally spilled on them. Again, my bad, ladies; thanks for being so understanding. And all too soon, our first week in Brazil came to a close and we jetted off to Rio de Janeiro for US$49 each way for some hot New Years beach action. My only regret was that the Museu Afro-Brasil was closed until January; otherwise, despite being tempered for the holidays, Sampa did exactly what she was supposed to do: engulf, overwhelm, impact, incite, impress.

I'd be back.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Feliz 2009

Yesterday was the end of my three-week long Christmas vacation in Brazil. There was sun, sweat, sand, sex, song, and samba in varied combinations on various days. My buddy, Roberto, and I conquered the mean streets of that tropical urban behemoth, São Paulo, before jetting over to raucous Rio to ring in the New Year with millions of Brazilians on the beach at Copacabana. I resurrected old friendships, established new ones, soaked up the music and dance of my cultural cousins, renewed, refreshed, recharged, and gave it up to God, the Cosmos, Iemanjá, whatever you want to call it. Next week, I'll lay out the adventure with incriminating photos and juicy details in a three-part series guaranteed to titillate and inspire. Because that's what I do here at Fly Brother...titillate and inspire. ;-)