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.