Sunday, March 1, 2009

Random photos and thoughts

I've done my sharing of complaining about Salvador, but as my time here is coming to a close, I've been reflecting about the things that I love about this city. Like everything else in life there are 2 sides: the positive and the negative. So I would like to leave here thinking more about the positive and taking the life lessons I have learned from the negative. Here are some last photos for you all to enjoy.
O amor da minha vida!

I am determined to make my graffiti photography project a reality!

I love parakeets!

I never get tired of this view. I think it will be burned into my memory forever.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


I don't think that I've mentioned this, but I am going back to the United States next week. On Thursday to be exact. The reasons are many, but the main one is that I have a house in Portland that needs some work done and I need to be there while it's going on. All of my students are asking me to come back to Salvador after the work is finished, but it's hard for me to say if this will happen or not.

There's a lot more stuff going on, but I don't really want to get into it on my blog. I'll just say that I won't be writing any more stuff about Brazil after next week, unless I decide to move back here again.

So thanks for reading, I hope my adventures here have been of interest. I'll try to post something more, but can't promise anything since I'm going to be pretty busy getting ready to go back. Best wishes to everyone!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Quarta-feira de cinzas (Ash Wednesday)

Well another Carnaval has come and gone and I made it through with little hassle and stress and some fun to boot. But I was pretty shocked on Wednesday when I took the bus from the edge of one of the Carnaval routes through the other Carnaval route to my student's house. It looked almost like a war zone!

Imagine what you would feel like if you had spent the last 6 days drinking beer non-stop, not eating much, drinking little water, possibly ingesting other illegal substances, standing on your feet and/or dancing for several hours per night, then being in the super hot sun all day, then not having money to get home and having no place to sleep.

Now imagine a large group of people all in the same situation who all decide to lie on the sidewalk for about a quarter of a mile along the Carnaval parade route, some sleeping, some just sitting there, some appearing dead. That's the sight I saw from the bus yesterday. The bus came around the corner and I almost couldn't believe my eyes...I had never seen anything like that before, and frankly I was scared and very glad to be on the bus and not walking around out there. It was almost like a scene out of "Night of the Living Dead" or something. Except that it was during the day.

Then the bus passed this area of beach where the Carnaval party had decided to continue and was filled with mostly drunk, shirtless men, drinking beer and yelling to each other. I was really hoping that the bus would quickly pass this area when 2 drunk guys stood in front of the bus, motioning it to stop. About 8 guys all got on in the part of the bus reserved for older people where you don't have to pay, despite being well under the age of free bus transport. The driver didn't say anything, I'm sure out of fear of getting hit. The worst case scenario was going through my mind that they were going to pull out guns and rob the bus, but luckily they just wanted a ride and didn't bother me or any of the other passengers, both on the bus and as folks got off the bus. I was so thankful to get off the bus and to get inside my student's apartment! What a relief!

The newspaper today was boasting about how the crime rate for Carnaval this year had dropped almost 8% and that there were no homicides in the area of the Carnaval parade routes during the 6 days of the festival. However, 55 people were killed in other parts of the city during the same time frame. I think all the cops were in the Carnaval areas trying to cut down on crime and protect the party-goers.

All I can say now is that I'm glad that Carnaval is over and I hope that there will be a little more peace on the streets, at least until the lead up to São João in June!

Friday, February 20, 2009


Well last night Vilma's sister gave her a free "abada" to go to a camarote for the first night of Carnaval. For those of you who aren't familiar with Salvador's Carnaval, an abada is a t-shirt that you buy and which acts as your "ticket" to go into either a bloco or camarote. Last year I only went out for one night of Carnaval, and we just hung out on the street. Vilma decided that she wanted me to go into the Camarote and that she would stay down on the street since it would be safer for me to be in an area with security.

When I've daydreamed about spending a lot of money at Carnaval, I always thought I would prefer a camarote to a bloco. When you are in a camarote, you get to see the whole Carnaval parade go by. Plus you are up high and can look down on the crowd, giving you a great vantage point for fights and other madness that goes on. Blocos are the groups that follow the individual bands as they make their way along the parade route. The bands are up on this big truck/stage and there is an area that is roped off (the ropes are held by people who walk along and act as security) that the bloco folks hang out in to dance, etc. There's also another truck that goes along behind that has a bathroom and a bar selling drinks. Blocos are good if you like a specific band a lot, but a camarote gives you the chance to see all the bands.

So off I went into the camarote, with Vilma down below waving at me. I felt kind of awkward about this, as I wanted her to be with me. But we didn't want to pony up the R$170 it would have cost for another abada. So when the trio-electricos went by, I went upstairs for the view and safety, but when there was an interval I went out to the street to hang out with Vilma.

I have to say that it was really fun and the camarote that I was in had the added bonus of an ocean view on the other side of the structure. I had the chance to see about 4 bands pass by before I got tired and we decided to go home. We picked a good time to go home too, because when we got to the bottom of the hill leading up to our apartment, a downpour started. We ran up the hill, got kind of wet and were in bed by around 12:30. I saw 2 guys get taken away by the cops, and Vilma saw 2 guys running who looked like they had just stolen something, but overall it was a super mellow first night to Carnaval and I'm glad I went out.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Carnaval starts tomorrow night. The party that so many folks have been waiting for is finally almost here! And the preparations are in FULL swing to be ready to go by the start of the first parade in Barra/Ondina. Here are some things that have been going on:

*Trimming of trees and grass along the parade routes.

*Putting up extra street lights. At night during Carnaval along the parade route it looks like it's daytime because of all the lights.

*Putting up lights along the telephone wires...these almost look like Christmas lights but are bigger. Vilma pointed out to me last night that on the hill going up to our apartment someone has already broken a row of these lights to make it darker. Preparation for robbing? Hard to say, but is the likely answer.

*Camarote building. Camarotes are structures that are located along the parade route. They are basically raised platforms that have been made into clubs/bars. You can hang out inside and look down as the parade goes by. This is the safest option to watch Carnaval, as you have to pay to enter and there is security to make sure that the people inside are safe. I wish I had some pictures to post of these structures because some of them are amazing! But I don't want to take my camera out on the street in these days leading up to Carnaval because there is a lot more crime happening right now.

*Tons of tourists arriving. Everywhere you look you see folks walking around who are not from here. The influx will continue for the next few days.

*Prices rising. Everything doubles or triples in value during Carnaval. I think that some folks make all their money for the year during this week.

*Vendors sleeping on the streets to reserve their places to sell stuff. This started about a week ago. I saw a bunch of folks with coolers, chairs, etc sleeping on the sidewalks in Barra. They have to stay there or someone else claims their spot. And Vilma said that there is definitely fighting that happens in the race to claim the best location to sell beer, etc.

*More cops. I'm surprised that the police are actually trying to make their presence known, but I have seen more of them patrolling around. Does it make a difference? I don't think it makes much of a dent in the crime problem leading up to and during Carnaval.

*More robbers. See above.

*More traffic jams. The neighborhoods where Carnaval will take place are filled with big trucks hauling supplies, which slows down the rest of the normal traffic. I hear lots of horn honking going on.

*More stress. Salvador is known for those t-shirts that say "No Stress". Well I think that is for all the other weeks of the year besides Carnaval. Everyone is stressed out by all of the stuff I've listed above.

The question...will I be participating in any Carnaval activities this year? Well, I might go out tomorrow night on the street by my house. The first night is the mellowest, and I went out last year. But after that I am not going out. I don't want to pay money for a Camarote or Bloco and it's not safe to stay on the street (in the "pipoca" as they call it). Let the festivities begin and I'll be enjoying a chill week relaxing at home.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Well as I mentioned in my last post, I went to see Manu Chao last Friday. I found out about the show kind of by accident. Every now and again I like to read the online version of the Salvador newspaper, but it's not a regular event, it happens pretty randomly. So I just so happened to look at the website last week and saw that Manu Chao would be coming to Salvador and that the show would be a "trade your receipts for a ticket" show. Apparently this has gone on in the past and now they are bringing this phenomenon back.

I was so happy to see that he was coming and that he would be here when my American friend would also be in town visiting. I've been a fan of Manu Chao for several years, but have never seen him play as he doesn't come to the US that often. I immediately started collecting receipts so that I would have enough and then also went about finding out information as to where I had to go and get the tickets.

The receipt collecting was kind of hilarious in and of itself. I started in our house, hunting through old grocery store bags. The receipts could be from any store and in any amount, it just had to say "Cupon fiscal" on it. After exhausting the house supply, I then went down to the little market and pharmacy near my house to see if they had any old receipts lying around that folks had left behind. I scored a few at both places, and also found some on the ground. Several visits later, I had 40 receipts...enough for 4 tickets.

The day the tickets were going to be released came and Vilma went to the mall to wait in line. She got there around 9AM and the line was already super long, extending out of the parking garage! She patiently waited until about 11AM when I arrived. I ended up cancelling a couple of my classes so that I could stay there, and she had to leave at 1:30PM to go to the dentist. I finally made it to the front of the line and scored 2 tickets at about 3PM.

Let me say that the line situation was rather organized, but odd. The main part of the line extended from one door, around the parking garage and then outside. When you got to the front of this line, you were then sent to a second, shorter line that led up to the ticket window. There were three tellers in the ticket window. Two were dealing with the "regular" line, and one was dealing with the "old people" line. It's common in Brazil that banks, grocery stores, and other establishments that have lines have a "fila de idosos", or "old people line". And sure enough they had one for this show too. Needless to say, the line moved VERY slowly, although when I got up to the front it seemed to go more quickly.

A word about the old people line. In this situation, the name of this line should have been the "old people and other random people who were getting paid by the scalpers plus the scalpers themselves line". Vilma told me that the scalpers either had friends who were the security guys, or they paid the security guys, or both for the privilege of using this line. At one point there was actually a fight when a guy from the normal line saw all the shadiness going on with the scalpers using the old people line, got mad, and tried to fight the scalpers and security. He got put in his place and things just continued on as they were, with the Manu Chao fans waiting hours while the scalpers just sat back and collected tickets that they would later sell for R$30-50 each.

At one point I went up to the front to check out the scene and saw a line of about 10 old people who I'm sure had absolutely no idea who Manu Chao is, waiting patiently for their turn. Then there was a line of scalpers, or "cambistas" in Portuguese, waiting to receive the tickets from them after they got to the front.

Was all of this worth it? Well, I loved the show and had a great time. The music rocked and the crowd was really fun. But I couldn't help but look around a couple of times, note the huge number of people there and think of how much money those cambistas made on the tickets that were basically free. And yes, I did see one older guy there, but the rest of the "idosos" were nowhere to be seen.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Manu Chao

Last night I saw one of the best shows I've seen in years! Manu Chao played at Teatro Castro Alves' outdoor arena to a packed crowd of people loving it! Here's a little clip that was posted after the show. I'll see if anyone else posts longer videos later today to post here.

The scene was super chill and it was the first time in a long time here in Salvador that I felt safe in a crowd of people. The opening band was really good, a mostly percussion group that included a guy playing berimbau! Manu Chao had a ton of energy, and was a great entertainer. He really knew how to get the audience totally involved in the music. He played some songs that I knew and some that I didn't, but I enjoyed every song and didn't want the show to end. He even came out for a second encore!

Getting the tickets was another story altogether and I'll post later today or tomorrow about the process. I will say that the concert was "free" in that you had to trade in 10 receipts from any store to receive one ticket. But you could only get 2 tickets per person and we ended up buying 2 more from a scalper so that we could go with our friends. It was all worth it though after I saw the show. I'm still feeling the good vibes this morning!

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Brazilians are a lot less strict about following copyright laws than we are in the US. Everything from music to books can be (pretty much) freely copied or purchased with little to no restrictions. A good example is the books I use for teaching English. Most of my students don't want to spend the money on new books, so they just make a photocopy of my book and have it bound. Voila, just as good as the original (well except that there's no color).

On practically every street corner you can find guys selling pirated DVDs. They usually have them laid out on a sheet or some kind of plastic, and someone once told me that it's so they can snatch it up really fast and run if needed, although the police don't seem to give these guys a second look. In fact, a sight I have burned into my memory is of 2 cops looking at a bunch of pirated DVDs and buying one from a vendor.

I think the funniest pirated DVD story I know is about this woman I used to be friends with who runs a pirated DVD rental place out of her apartment window. She lives on the ground floor of an apartment complex, and has a whole display of DVDs to rent. So other residents come by, look them over through the window and then rent them out for like R$1 or R$2 per night. She's smart in that she doesn't actually make the copies at her house, she makes them at her mother's house. I guess on some level she's worried about being caught, but not enough to shut down the operation. And from what I saw she does a pretty decent business...when she's home she just opens up the window and people start showing up to rent out a movie for the night.

The only pirated movies I have bought, I guiltily purchased because I had an eight hour layover in the São Paulo airport and I wanted to have something to do. It was kind of a last minute decision and so I was at the mercy of what the vendors had on sale. Sometimes they have kind of bizarre choices, things like "Anaconda 2". I ended up with Miami Vice and Shakira unplugged. I actually enjoyed both of them a lot!

Anyway, I sometimes feel guilty when I break copyright laws here, but not enough to not do it. But then again, everyone else is doing it too.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A real problem

I've been thinking about this for some time now, and after today it really came to a head for me. There is a HUGE problem of violence against women here in Salvador. Of course, all over the world there are problems with violence against women, but I'm seeing so many examples of it here, it's really hit me hard how much it sucks to be a woman in this city.

Today I was riding the bus to go teach a class and was running late. I called my student to tell her that I would be about 5-10 minutes behind schedule and she asked to cancel our class. Turns out that yesterday at about 6:30PM her sister was out with her boyfriend at this beach that is a well known tourist area. There were a ton of people around and she was drinking a coconut water with her boyfriend. Suddenly, 2 guys showed up, one with a gun and told her to get into a car. I didn't get all the details of what happened, but it was what is called here "sequestro relampago" or "lightning kidnapping". This usually involves someone getting kidnapped for a short time, during which the robbers take the person to various ATMs to withdraw as much money as they can and/or extract money in other ways. I don't know if my student's family had to pay some money or if they took her to a bunch of banks, but I do know that she showed up at the house in the middle of the night, shoeless, dirty and with a broken arm. Shit like this a) scares the hell out of me and b) makes me super f***ing angry.

I recently read a newspaper story in the local paper about the increase in assaults on cars here. Robbers will hang out at traffic lights, break the window of the car with a big rock and steal purses or whatever they can. The targets? Women and older people who are driving alone.

When I lived in the US I once went to a take back the night rally. I remember feeling empowered to be out and about with a huge group of women at night and was glad to have a chance to speak out about violence. But violence there seems like nothing compared to what it's like it here. I feel like I'm in the middle of a war-zone and that being a foreign woman just puts a huge target on my back.

How can these men sleep at night?

By the way...the banner above says "Where there's violence, everyone loses".

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The 25 things phenomenon

Well, I'm bending to Facebook's peer pressure and have created this list of 25 random facts about me that I thought I would share with you. Here goes:

1. I was born in Portland, Maine and have lived in North Carolina, Vermont, Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Salvador, Brazil. Some places I've lived longer than others, but I've learned something from every place I've lived.

2. I was a social worker for 10 years.

3. I came out when I was about 27.

4. I'm addicted to coffee.

5. I'm allergic to cats, horses, dust, pollen, almonds and various types of fruit.

6. When I was 10 years old, I got alopecia areata, which is a disease that causes your hair to fall out. This disease changed my life and has made me the person I am today.

7. I saw 42 Grateful Dead concerts when I was between the ages of 17-21.

8. I don't know how many times I've seen the band Phish play, but it's well over 100. My first show was in 1987.

9. When I was 22-23 I worked at a ski resort cleaning condos. My friend and I would spit on the fur coats that we found in people's rooms.

10. I was a vegetarian for 17 years. Now I eat meat.

11. I'm an avid reader. When I was a child my mother had to pry books out of my hands at the dinner table. That said, living in Brazil has been interesting for me because I've had to rely on cast-off books from other travelers. English books here are really expensive! Because of this, I've read some really interesting books that I never would have read.

12. I'm a serial hobbyist. I get really really into something, almost to the point of obsession, keep at it for a number of years and then move onto something else. I sometime wonder if this means I have commitment issues.

13. One of the most beautiful natural sights I have ever seen is the waterfalls of Foz de Iguacu, which is located on the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

14. I'm fluent in Portuguese and want to learn Spanish.

15. I've had three dogs in my life (Homer, Jack and Ruckus) and consistently had dogs from age 20-37. It's been three years now since I've had a dog and while I miss the companionship, I wonder if I'm really ready to commit to a dog again.

16. I don't wear makeup but I'm really picky about the health and beauty products that I use. I was sad to hear when Clorox bought Burt's Bees, but I'm still using their lip balm, deodorant, and baby oil.

17. My favorite movie of all time is "Harold and Maude".

18. I didn't vote in the last election because I didn't get my shit together in time with the absentee ballot. I feel guilty because I can't participate in the "I voted for Obama" euphoria, but I'm really glad he won.

19. I would do almost anything to help a friend and I have.

20. I walked on fire once. It was part of a workshop that I attended about experiential education and it was pretty mind blowing.

21. On that note, I used to be a fire dancer. I sometimes wonder how good I would be now if I had kept at it.

22. I love chocolate and have kind of an out of control sweet tooth.

23. When I lived in the US I didn't watch TV. Now I find myself watching pretty stupid American reality shows (A Double Shot at Love anyone?!). I think it's an attempt to stay in tune with American culture. I hope I can stop again when I go back to the US.

24. My best friend committed suicide when we were both 29. I still miss her.

25. I've been trying all my life to be a happy person and have been moderately successful at this.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Money making secret

My time here in Salvador is coming to a close, so I thought I would share with all of you ex-pats, foreigners, etc who are trying to eek out a living here one of my secrets to making some extra money while in Brazil. Two words: Victoria's Secret.

Brazilian women are crazy for beauty products from Victoria's Secret, specifically the Secret Garden collection's body lotion. It could be that there are no VS shops in Brazil, so having access to this lotion is kind of a status symbol...demonstrating that the person has either traveled to the USA, has a relative living in the US who sends the stuff here, or has access to someone who has traveled there. At any rate, there are some stores here that sell the stuff without the consent of VS, but they charge super high prices for it, like it's gold or something. I've seen it for sale at the mall for like R$80 for ONE bottle. With the current exchange rate, that´s about $35US. Crazy!

So here's what I've done since being here. Every time I go to the US, I buy at least 10 bottles of the lotion. You can usually get 5 bottles for $30US. The most popular scents are Strawberries and Champagne (this is the absolute best seller), Love Spell, Vanilla, and Pear Glace. Then I tell all of my students who have money that I'm selling it, so that if they or their friends are interested they can buy it from me. I sell it for R$40 per bottle, which is much better than the mall and still enough for me to make a decent profit, so everyone's happy.

I've never tried having someone from the US send it, but I have a Brazilian friend in the US who sends the stuff down to his family to sell in southern Brazil. You might have to charge more because you have to spend money on postage too. It's more cost efficient if you bring it in your luggage. Also, last Christmas I bought a bunch of stuff on sale to bring back with me, including 2 purses and some kits that had like a lotion, soap, bath spray, etc. I sold these, but it took longer than selling the lotion, so I would recommend just sticking to the lotions. They are a sure sale.

The only thing you really need is access to people who have money. But if you're teaching English, you probably could sell these lotions to your students.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, but this has been a good little side money maker for me and now it could be for you too.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

President Obama's phone call

The big news of the day is the phone call that President Obama made yesterday to President Lula here in Brazil. Here's a copy of the article from the Salvador paper "A Tarde" about the call, plus the translation:

"Em um telefonema de surpresa, o presidente dos Estados Unidos, Barack Obama, disse no início da noite de ontem ao presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva que instruiu sua equipe econômica para aproximar posições com o Brasil antes da reunião do G-20 (em abril), informou o porta-voz do Palácio do Planalto, Marcelo Baumbach."

In a surprise phone call, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, said to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at the beginning of last night that he has instructed his economic team to position themselves closer to Brazil before the G-20 meeting (in April), reported the president's spokesperson, Marcelo Baumbach.

A conversa entre os dois presidentes ocorreu num clima ?agradável?, relatou um assessor. O telefonema começou às 18h15 e terminou às 18h40. Obama convidou Lula a visitá-lo em Washington. ?Vou estar em Nova York em março para um seminário com investidores?, disse Lula. ?Se você puder vir a Washington será bom, e quando eu puder, retribuo a visita?, afirmou Obama. Ficou acertado que Lula estará na Casa Branca em março e Obama virá ao Brasil ainda neste ano.

The conversation between the two presidents occurred in a pleasant manner, related an advisor. The phone call started at 6:15PM and ended at 6:40PM. Obama invited Lula to visit him in Washington. "I'll be in New York in March for an investement seminar", said Lula, "If you could visit Washington, that would be good, and when I can I'll return the visit." affirmed Obama. Be certain that Lula will be in the White House in March and Obama will come to Brazil this year.

Segundo Baumbach, Obama disse também que é necessário fomentar o comércio internacional para que haja melhores condições de combater a crise. ?Quero reiterar o apreço pelas relações entre os EUA e o Brasil?, disse o presidente americano. ?Desejo trabalhar de forma coordenada com você, Lula, para garantir a paz no continente (americano) e o fortalecimento das relações econômicas entre os dois países.?

According to Baumbach, Obama also said that it's necessary to promote international trade to have better conditions to fight the crisis. "I want to reiterate the appreciation for relations between the US and Brazil", said the American president. "I want to work to coordinate with you, Lula, to guarantee peace on the American continent and the strengthening of economic relations between the two countries."

Lula disse a Obama que sua eleição influenciará positivamente a imagem que a América Latina tem dos EUA. O porta-voz do Planalto informou ainda que Lula apresentou a Obama alguns pontos de uma agenda que pretende que seja comum aos dois países. Lula mencionou, entre outros pontos, uma política de biocombustíveis, o combate às mudanças climáticas, a relação com a África, a relação com os outros países da América Latina e o G-20. Obama, segundo Baumbach, acrescentou que considera importante a continuação das discussões da Rodada Doha para enfrentar a crise internacional.

Lula said to Obama that his election will positively influence the image that Latin America has of the US. The presidential spokesperson also reported that Lula presented to Obama some agenda items that he plans to have in common between the two countries. Lula mentioned, among other points, the politics of biofuels, the fight against global warming, relations with Africa, relations with other countries in Latin America, and the G-20 meeting. Obama, reported Baumbach, added that he considers it important to continue the discussions of "Rodada Doha" (I don't know what this is!) to face the international crisis.

Well...I'm not sure how great my translation is, but you get the idea! I really hope that we can have better relations between the US and Brazil. Not that they were super bad or anything, but I think that Bush did a great job of alienating the US and I think it's a great step in the right direction for President Obama to be "mending the friendships" that were in place before but were strained because of the idiot we had in the White House these past 8 years. I can't wait to see when President Lula visits Washington!

Monday, January 26, 2009


Yesterday Vilma and I went to check out a restaurant that I had never been to, and that specializes in one of my favorite Bahian dishes- moqueca. The name of the restaurant is spelled phonetically...kind of like how in the US we misspell food words to use in restaurant names in order to make it more "cute" (or something). Anyway, I think it was the most delicious moqueca I have eaten here. And believe me I have done my share of trying out this dish at various restaurants!

Moqueca is a seafood stew, the most well known and loved being the moqueca de camarão or shrimp stew. You can get other kinds of fish or seafood in the moquecas, but I always get the shrimp. The trademark ingredient which makes it a true Bahia dish is the dende oil. This is oil from some kind of palm tree and it has a very distinctive flavor and smell. It's also super strong and fattening, so eating food with dende is something you should only do once in a while. But I decided to splurge a little yesterday and go for eating the moqueca, dende and all.

Here I am post-moqueca...full belly and satisfied look on my face from putting a bit of Bahian style heaven into my mouth.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Observations on driving

One of my students decided to take a vacation for 16 days this month and was kind enough to lend me his car (or rather the car that his driver uses...his car is a super expensive SUV that I wouldn't want to drive here). This has really been a blessing and has helped me out a lot, both by saving time getting from place to place, but also by allowing me to avoid taking the bus or walking around on the street. In this month leading up to Carnaval when street crime increases a lot, I am grateful to be driving around and not having to hold my breath as I walk from my house to the bus stop and then on the bus as I go from place to place. About a week ago 2 tourists were shot on a bus going to the airport as 3 robbers came on the bus, tried to rob everyone and these 2 men resisted. They didn't die, but were seriously injured.

Anyway, driving here is definitely very different from any place I've ever driven in the USA, so I thought I would write a little about what I've seen here:

-Lanes are a relative thing here. Sometimes there is paint on the road to indicate which lane is which and sometimes not. Sometimes there are conflicting paint marks so you don't really know which lane is which. Sometimes people drive in the lane and sometimes in the middle of 2 lanes. And the most frustrating thing to me is that there are no signs indicating when lanes are merging or ending so you'll be driving along and suddenly your lane is gone!
-Turn signals don't have any meaning. When someone puts on their right turn signal it could mean they are turning right at the next road or possibly the next 2 or 3 roads away. It could also mean that they are not going to turn, or turn left. And of course many people don't use turn signals at all. You have to stay really alert and be ready for anything on the roads here.
-After 10PM you can run stoplights. Well you do have to slow down if it's red and make sure there are no cars coming the other way, but you can run the light. This is because of carjackings and assaults on drivers. The other night I came home about 11PM and I didn't stop once!
-There are a lot more pedestrians, bikes, people pulling carts, and sometimes even people on horses so you have to be prepared to go around them. Sometimes they don't stay on the side of the road either.
-Bus drivers are maniacs.
-Horns are ok to use. In fact you have to use them as way of signaling people that you are passing or that they shouldn't come into your lane. I often think of polite Portlanders who never use their horns and I laugh because I had to learn to use mine, and I am making full use of it here.
-It's every man or woman for him or herself. Drivers here don't wait, don't let people in and are generally pretty damn rude. I find myself becoming an asshole when I get behind the wheel here.

I'm sure there's more that I'm forgetting, but you get the idea. I guess the biggest thing for me is that you have to stay super alert and pay attention at all times. In Portland sometimes I would find myself kind of spacing out, but you can't do that here.

The bummer is that my student returns from his trip on Monday so I have to give the car back. That means that I have roughly three weeks until Carnaval where I have to return to walking and riding the bus. I've thought about renting a car, but it's pretty expensive to do this, so I think I'll just have to suck it up. I'll probably take more taxis, but I can't afford to always take a taxi every time I have to go somewhere. Cars are something that I always took for granted in the US...but I sure don't take them for granted here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Praia do Forte

I didn't mention in my last post that on the way back from Imbassai, we stopped at Praia do Forte. Now I've been to Praia do Forte a number of times, and it has to be my absolute favorite place within an hour's drive from Salvador. It's so beautiful and peaceful there, you can really relax without all the stress of the city.

Some people think it's really "resort-y", and it kind of is I guess (higher prices, everything geared towards tourists), but I love it there. And there were 2 things that made this visit different than previous visits. First of all, I visited a new sandwich shop there and ate an actual bagel and cream cheese! The shop just opened a month ago and is owned by a couple- an American man and a Brazilian woman. The American used to be an executive chef in Germany, São Paulo, and then at one of the fancy-shmancy hotels in the Praia do Forte area. He and his wife decided to open up their own place (the owner told me that there are only like 3 places in Brazil that sell bagels, including his place), and apparently it's already doing very well! The guys makes everything from scratch, including the bagels, and has a frappucini-like frozen coffee drink that is just to die for. I had one, along with a plain bagel with sundried tomato cream cheese and felt like I was in a bagel shop in the US...well food-wise at least. It was incredible!

The other unusual event was some kind of pre-Carnaval kid activities that involved this parade.

And I didn't get a photo of the kids doing the other activity...but it basically consisted of them dressed up in costumes that included a mask, a black garbage bag worn as a kind of cloak, and palm leaves stuck up underneath the garbage bag. They then run around, scaring people and asking for money. They are called "Caretas" and it's a kind of Carnaval tradition.

I'm not sure if I'll get back up to Praia do Forte again before I leave, but I will always have fond memories of this lovely beach town.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Over the weekend Vilma and I went with 2 of her friends and her niece to this beach called Imbassai. It's located north of Salvador, about 65Km or so, and is one of the coolest places I have been to that's close to Salvador.

When you arrive, you park the car in a little village and walk to a bridge that crosses the river. At the bridge you can pay R$1.50 per person to go on this boat that takes you down to where the river meets the ocean (see above picture), or you can walk like 5-10 minutes to get to the same place. We walked.

At the point where the river meets the ocean, you can choose to sit at a beach bar (here they are called barracas, pronounced bah-ha-kahs) on the ocean side, or along the mouth of the river. We sat at the last barraca before the river meets the ocean, which was one of the most pleasant beach bar experiences I have ever had.

What's unique about this place is that because it's a river, there are no tides, and so the bars put their tables in the water. You can sit with your feet in the river, under an umbrella, and drink cold beer (or in my case agua de coco since I was driving), eat clams and acaraje, and watch all the folks doing crazy stuff in the river. Like this lady...
Here's a picture of one of the tables that is practically submerged!
And of course, what day at the beach would be complete without fried cheese:

And fresh, toasted cashews!

I had an amazing day of relaxation and respite from the city, and fully enjoyed the best of both worlds...river AND ocean!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tropical fruit of the week: Acerola

One of the benefits of living in a tropical climate is access to tropical fruit. And I'm not talking about bland, imported tropical fruit that was picked off the tree when it was still super green and unripe, then sat in a boat or on a plane for a couple of days before being put on the shelf at New Seasons or Whole Foods to then be sold for like $10 and that has almost no taste left. No...I'm talking about local fruit, just off the tree and cheap, or in the case of this acerola above, free, and amazingly delicious!

I had never had acerola before coming to Salvador, and I think the best way to describe it is that it's similar to cherries. As you can see it grows on a tree and is small and red like a cherry. The flavor is completely unique however, and this fruit can be eaten plain or you can use it to make juice. I'm a pretty big fan of acerola juice myself, and they say that it's packed with vitamin C.

Here's a picture of Vilma, my student and my student's daughter picking acerola at Fazenda Real. The trees were overflowing and we took advantage of the opportunity to get some fresh acerola.

I highly recommend trying acerola if you ever come to visit Brazil. And it's also fun to try some of the other tropical fruits that you've never heard of. Go to a juice shop, look at a menu, and pick out the strangest looking name of a fruit that you can find and try it. I can almost guarantee that you will love it!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fazenda Real

Yesterday two of my students who are a couple invited me to go with them to a place called Fazenda Real.  They said I could invite a friend so I invited Vilma to go along with me.  I was really excited when I got there to be in this super tranquil, relaxed, foresty place with a lake, tons of trees and no city noise.

Fazenda Real is about a 30 minute drive outside of Salvador and is going to be a gated community.  Now before you get a bad picture in your head with the words "gated community", let me explain more about this place.  It used to be a huge farm that was then sold to a developer.  The plan is to build a huge fence around the perimeter of the property, divide it into lots, but then also have a huge area of natural preservation that the residents can enjoy.  There is a huge, natural, fresh water lake, lots of virgin forest that will remain in place, and is being advertised as a place for environmentally minded folks to live.

Once completed there will be trails, a bike/horse/pedestrian path that goes around the lake (6KM), pools, a gym, a riding ring for horse-jumping, horses for anyone to ride, free fruits from all of the fruit trees there, and a lot more.  I'm not one for gated communities, but I was really impressed with this one.

In Brazil, well at least in Salvador, you have to live in a secure place.  People from the middle class and up live in buildings with 24 hour doormen and a security system to keep people safe.  So the idea of a gated community here is one of necessity, not luxury like in the US.

If I was going to stay here, I would definitely consider moving to Fazenda Real. It's going to be a little oasis for the folks who live there...a way to retreat from the craziness of the city.  

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A snapshot of Brazilians

Here's another video by Os Tribalistas that I think is amazing. It really shows a snapshot of a wide range of folks here in you an idea of the variety of people's lives. If you only watch one of these 2 videos, watch this one!

Amazing song

This is one of my favorite songs by a Brazilian band. It's a song about love and the band is made up of a group of folks who don't normally sing together, they just got together to record a couple of songs. They're called Os Tribalistas. I just love this woman's voice, and if you want to check out her solo stuff, her name is Marisa Monte.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Trying to stay sane

How does one stay sane amidst chaos? How can one be happy when there is so much craziness surrounding her? How can someone live life fully when she feels like she has no freedom?

These are some of the questions I have been asking myself recently. Do you have the answers?

Here are some statistics that I've seen in the news or heard about lately...
-50 murders have taken place in Salvador since January 1.
-There were over 2,000 murders that took place here last year.
-Every day at least 3 buses in Salvador are robbed. This means that robbers enter, armed, and steal money, cell phones and whatever else from everyone on the bus.
-Last Friday at 6:30AM on the hill by my house a woman was robbed by a couple. I walked down that hill on Friday at about 6:10AM.

I'm trying my damnedest to think positive, but it's becoming increasingly difficult when there is all this negativity around me. I'm going back to the US on March 5 and really want the rest of my time here to be spent in a positive manner, but it's been really hard on me. The only place I feel safe is in my apartment, and I feel like I'm experiencing symptoms of agoraphobia, not wanting to leave and go walk around outside.

I'm taking as many precautions as I can...taking more taxis, only walking with someone (usually Vilma), not staying out late, keeping to areas where there are lots of people around, and still I feel unsafe. The thing that is most frustrating is that you can never predict when some kind of crime or violence will occur. Any time of the day it could happen. I could get on any bus and that bus could be one of the three that day that get robbed. I could walk from the bus stop to my house and that could be the day that there is robber hanging around waiting for someone to rob. I hate the uncertainty of it all.

So if anyone has any suggestions, I would certainly appreciate it. I feel like I've tried everything I can think of and still feel really stressed out.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Goals for 2009

I don't like the words "New Years Resolutions" because they seem so black and white. Like you either do them and succeed or screw up and fail. Many a year I've promised myself to do all the cliche resolutions: lose weight, get more organized, save money, etc and have done ok for a couple of weeks and then just totally fell off the wagon. A few years ago I decided that I preferred to have goals for the new year. Things that I could work on and have in mind, but that if I mess up I don't just throw in the towel because I didn't fulfill the resolution. I like the idea of using the beginning of a new year as a new beginning to try to improve things about myself, I just don't want the pressure of a resolution to have to live up to.

That being are some goals I have for 2009 in no particular order of importance:

-Drink more water
-Eat healthier
-Lose weight
-Make some positive steps in the direction of figuring out what my next career move will be
-Start learning Spanish
-Exercise more
-Save money
-Spend more time with friends and family
-Focus on things that make me happy, avoid things that don't

I think that's good for a start. I don't want to put too much pressure on myself as then I won't work towards any of these goals.

Happy 2009 everyone!

Naked guy

Just when I think I've seen everything and that nothing more here could surprise me, I see something that is just unbelievable.

Today I left my house at about 6AM to go teach an early morning class. There is a hill from my house down to the bus stop that goes along the border of a favela (slum). I generally avoid this hill because of safety concerns, but will walk down it early morning since usually everyone is still sleeping.

Anyway, at the bottom of the hill there are two ways you can go to get to the bus stop. One way passes the entrance to the favela and the other goes around a building so that you can avoid the entrance. I usually go this way to avoid the favela entrance. Today though, I got to the bottom of the hill and was looking at both routes and noticed that the non-favela route had a naked guy standing on the corner. I was faced with the decision: favela entrance or passing the naked guy. Which is worse?! i chose the favela entrance route. I just didn't want to walk anywhere near the naked guy.

So I walked the favela entrance route with no problems, got to the bus stop and was waiting for my bus, when I saw the naked guy walking along the street that runs parallel to the street I was standing on. Now let me say that this guy was absolutely naked and carrying nothing. No shoes, no underwear, no backpack or bag, just walking along as if being naked on the street was a perfectly normal thing to do. He also looked like he was flying an invisible kite....he was making arm motions that suggested this.

I want to point out that while Brazilians are a very laid-back and relaxed people in general, they are pretty conservative about nudity. Foreigners who think it's all free love and partying on the beach and who take off their tops to go topless swimming are met with strong stares and usually someone who quickly goes over and tells them to put on their clothes. It's just not accepted here to be naked in public. And yet here was the naked guy walking along like he did it every day (maybe he does?!) and that it was no big deal.

He passed by and my bus came, so I don't know the fate of the naked guy. But it was certainly an interesting thing to wake up to.