“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Day 5: The Girl from Ipanema

The title writes itself. It was an overcast day but I'll be damned if I wasn't going to fit in one more day at the beach before I left, and clouds weren't going to stop me. Turns out, when you're this close to the equator, clouds are insignificant. My sunburn is lovely but will turn a lovely toasty color in a few hours. I had to visit Rio's two famous beaches, and Ipanema was next on the list.

The waves were epic. We could stand at the waterfront, but any further beyond our waist and the lifeguards would signal people to get back. Definitely too dangerous to swim. Since part of the subway line to Ipanema is closed for construction, there was a subway-to-bus transfer, so I checked first to figure out how to ask for a dual ticket. I noticed that each beach has its own tiled pattern walkway: Copacabana looks like waves, and Ipanema looks Iike bubbles. I camped out between posts 8 and 9, near a less-crowded section of beach near a Rastafarian kiosk. I waved off the vendor that asked if I wanted a chair or umbrella, since I just wanted to spread out my sarong a lay on the ground. I bought a coke and a kibe from a few vendors and passed a couple hours watching the waves,

I really had no more plans for the day, so I picked up to wander the shopping district in Ipanema, full of some great little stores and restaurants. I found Beach Sucos, which is a juice and lunch bar I had read about in The Frugal Traveler. This place had menus in English if requested, and I pointed out a grilled cheese and asked for guava juice, then had a seat at a sidewalk table and relaxed. Afterward I managed to find the express bus back to Copacabana and wandered around a bit longer in and out of some shops, finding a lovely cheap summer dress with a rainforest pattern. Upon returning to Botafogo, when I emerged at street level from the subway, I noticed more street vendors, namely one selling açai. I hadn't tried it yet and have heard so much about it. The B&B owners highly recommended it a few times, and told me about the different way it is served up. I figured this was my last chance to try it before leaving Brazil, so I ordered the smallest size. It's a dark purple-brown color with the consistency of a Frosty or a McDonald's shake that you eat with a spoon. Often it is served with granola on top, but I opted without. I was a cold delicious treat, and I wandered the streets toward home while licking my spoon.

I have less than 24 hours left in Rio. I have to be out of my room by noon, which isn't a problem. Will pack and leave my suitcase in the foyer, and perhaps wander down to Centro for some sightseeing and photography, and a long lunch. When I return by 6 I will just freshen up before my car comes. It's a late flight to New York, overnight, where hopefully they'll keep my itinerary as planned and I'll spend my layover in Saturday with Dad and Mary, to return to Chicago Saturday night. I've had a relaxing week, with some challenges (not too crazy), am proud of myself for accomplishing as much as I did (I was much lazier last time I traveled solo), but also missed a few things that I wanted to see. I wanted to take in some nightlife, late drinks at a boteca, and some samba, but I also didn't want to be out late alone. This was my only hindrance.

I definitely have grown older and wiser since the Dubai trip, by leaps and bounds. Compared to some friends, I'm still a novice traveler, but I believe I may have graduated through a few ranks. Fears have been faced this week, not without a little anxiety, but I've enjoyed the challenge of battling myself and finding out what I really am made of. It would have been nice to have a travel companion here (I get tired of thinking for myself and making decisions), someone to talk to and socialize with, to collaborate with and share the adventure and wonderment, but I also think I needed to do this alone, at least once every few years, to test the soul.

Day 4: Jardim Botanico and the Brazilian Life

I write this so late because Richard (one of the B&B owners) and I were sitting out by the pool talking about Rio culture, life, politics, crime, economy, language, and about some of the guests that have passed through these gates. For three hours we chatted as time flew by and we swapped stories.

Brazil is really coming into its own. One can clearly see around the city the improvements they are making to plan for the near- and long-term. The power had gone out for an hour this evening but it was still dusk so we had some light. I picked up some fruit for dinner and sat outside eating when Richard walked by to turn the lights back on after the power came back. He explained that the city is upgraded its electrical infrastructure ahead of all the major events it will be hosting in coming years. So every so often a neighborhood will go through a a blackout while the city is making repairs and upgrading. Growing pains. This is also why I travel with a flashlight. The newly-arrived Canadian bird-watching couple seemed perturbed and asked me what was going on. I said to give it time, as the lights also flickered off the other night, too. Richard said he could tell this couple might be a handful because they demanded to switch rooms to the only room that had a safe. This is their home, their housekeepers have all been here at least 10 years. If you can't trust one another, you shouldn't be staying at B&Bs. Richard went on to tell stories about other difficult guests. And how you can always spot an American tourist. And other helpful hints he's provided to other guests to keep them safe from harm or incident.

We also went on to talk about crime. Listen, if you can live smart in Chicago or New York, you have the street sense to visit here. I mean, extra street smarts. I know people back home who are very diligent and play safe in Chicago, and I know some people that aren't quite as aware of their surroundings, but have fared well. Blending in and making it difficult to be a target has kept me safe here. But really, it isn't any different than how I live in Chicago. This city is 4x bigger than Chicago, but operates by some of the same rules. Actually, maybe a bit friendlier.

I learned a few lessons this week and from our conversation. The Brazilian Way is to take along only what you need, and pick up the rest later. Pack lightly, if going on vacation or just to the beach. The world will provide.

I also learned about the far corners of this country and how diverse it is. As I sit in this city of 12 million people, I can hardly believe that elsewhere north of here, in the same country, are tribes that have never had contact with modern civilization. Brazil is striving to preserve that culture and respect the native way of life and their surroundings. From recycling, to conservation, to preserving and appreciating the most precious real estate in the world, the Amazon, this country has both surprised me and amazed me.

I visited the botanic gardens this morning. This is a fantastic climate for some amazing greenery to thrive, including a section devoted to preserving rare species of plants. There was giant bamboo, palm trees, lily ponds, Japanese gardens, tropical flowers, stunning Amazonian trees with rock-hard and smooth trunks, willows, vines, and a plethora of other greenery that I can't possibly remember. It was a gorgeous few hours in the quite tranquil of a park situated at the base of a mountain, in the only neighborhood that doesn't have a favela sneaking up the sides of the cliffs.

I took another bus there this morning, and I knew that somewhere at the end of the line was a connection to another bus that looped back through Ipanema. But since I wasn't familiar with the bus terminal and these buses didn't all announce their stops, I wasn't about to press my luck in an unfamiliar neighborhood. So I headed back to Botafogo and picked up a street snack. I didn't have much of an appetite and was exhausted from the day at the gardens, so later I stopped in a grocery story to pick up some mangos and grapefruit for dinner. Also at 1am last night my delicious fried dinner didn't agree with me and made an uncomfortable exit. I've been eating so much fruit and juice and healthy food for days that I think I shocked my g/i system. I also didn't feel like the hassle of a restaurant again, nor climbing those 174 steps... Twice. To waste a little time I stopped in a shopping mall that I heard had an 8th floor veranda with a great view of Praia Botafogo, and it didn't disappoint. On the way back down I spotted exercise equipment in a nearby park. I was color-coded according to age and ability. I saw some older people on some equipment doing some gentle exercise. I've seen this in quite a few places, gyms in parks and along the beaches. I asked Richard about this, and he said that yes, this is a health-conscious city, and the government helps promote it by making workout equipment available and free. Insert your own comparisons here with American culture. Would we work out more if we had chance encounters and opportunities to do so, for free?

What I do appreciate about the public transit system here is that it is also undergoing some renovations to improve it for the World Cup and the Olympics. Where there is construction and re-routing, transit employees with bright yellow shirts and with words "I can help" written on the front hand out flyers, give directions, and have megaphones telling people where to go. When the Blue Line shuts down in Chicago (it always seems to be the blue line) and there are shuttle buses instead, could you imagine the CTA doing this? Their employees hardly know their own names.

This city and economy is growing, and there's also a conscious social effort to make sure that everyone feels it. They don't want to leave the poor behind. They want to bring millions more out of poverty, and have successfully done so with 28 million in this country in the past 10 years. They want progress to happen together. You can also see this happening in the favelas as the cops take the neighborhoods back from the gang leaders.

This city certainly has its growing pains, but it's also thinking ahead. Mandarin may be the latest hot language to learn, but Portuguese may be next.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Day 3: Corcovado and Rio Cultural Thoughts

I knew this adventure could take up at least half my day, and with all the walking I've done, I wasn't about to crowd the day with more activities. Corcovado is the mountain on which the Cristo Redentor statue sits. A couple here at the B&B from England said they went yesterday and their guide had never seen it so crowded. I was the first one at breakfast promptly at 8 with plans to get up there early. When Rob (owner/guide) told me at 8:45 that I best get going to avoid the crowds, I hustled. Again I decided to walk since the B&B is situated near it, and was there in less than a half hour, wandering up and down hills, in and out of neighborhoods. I also discovered that Google Maps works even when I didn't have the cell, data, or wifi on.

When I arrived at the train station at the bottom of the mountain it was already swarming with tour groups and cruise passengers. I heard nightmares about arriving and the next available train being 4 hours later. When I bought my ticket was told the next available train was an hour away, I was delighted. An hour I can handle. So I sat in a park nearby on a swing set, when a kid of about 10 came over to talk to me. I pretended not to understand and told him I didn't speak Portuguese, but I could clearly understand that he was asking me for money to get up Corcovado.

This was also my first interaction with tourists since I arrived. Khakis, t-shirts, sneakers or socks with sandals, cameras around the neck, and fanny packs. English, American, German, you can spot them all. I also spied a fellow female solo traveler. I guess we're easy to spot, too, because most people travel in pairs. The train ride was uneventful, and about halfway up it stopped and a little samba band got on and performed. I recognized one of the songs. In another song, the locals on the train sang along. Although this was planned, I have noticed some spontaneous music breaking out around the city, and people are quick to participate.

At the top of the mountain, at the base of the statue, people were posing in the typical arms-out fashion, which also blocked the stairs to get from one viewing area to the next. My impatience broke out when I decided to ramble through people's photos. Okay, call it photo-bombing. The view from Corcovado was spectacular, and although slightly hazy, all points of Rio could be seen. For as high up as it was, it wasn't any cooler, maybe because it's closer to the sun?? I stayed maybe 20 minutes up there, then went down a level to grab a snack, Coke, and water for the walk back. I found a little cafe on a side street and popped in for a light lunch, then came back to the B&B to relax.

As I stepped inside, a brief rain fell. I've just sat here for the day in the hammock, exploring options for tomorrow, letting yesterday's sunburn fade, and think about dinner. It's overcast now and the temp is fantastic. Although after two days, I've learned my lesson and have to put on bug spray if I'm going to sit outside. If I could charge Mosquitos for what they're feasting on me, I could afford a return trip. Now I'm hearing thunder, so I'm considering heading down the hill for a comfortable dinner and a drink, and call it an early night. I'm not certain what tomorrow will bring. It's supposed to storm. Richard (other owner) suggested I explore Centro, which is the business and historic district. He gave me a map and marked off some interesting sights. I may also opt to visit the botanical garden where I hear there are toucans and parrots and sloths. And here comes the rain. Good thing I brought an umbrella if I venture out.


A few hours have passed, and now two storms. The first was epic. Wind, rain, amazing lightening. After a bit it passed and as soon as it trickled to a drizzle, I headed out for dinner. My biggest barrier here is language. I asked for a menu in English or Spanish, and they brought me an English one with no prices. After a cross-check, I ordered chicken, Cuban style. I figured hey, I like chicken, I like Cuban food. And a caipirinha. Oh, that was so good. So much lime, sugar, and alcohol goodness. The air was fresh from the rain, a cool breeze was blowing, and the drink was cold as I sat at the sidewalk table. When my dinner arrived, it was a chicken pounded flag like a cutlet, breaded, and fried. It was huge. A separate platter was heaped with peas, onion, shredded ham, crispy onion, a hard-boiled egg breaded and fried, a plantain breaded and fried (!), and a heart of palm... You guessed it... Breaded and fried. It was good. I may not have ordered it knowing it was all fried, but it wasn't heavy. And this was my first seated meal in days. I devoured it. Nearly to the end of my chicken, I discovered a round breaded and fried disc on the far end of the platter. I bit into it. Pineapple! This made my night. Chicken, ham, and pineapple. On any normal day, I hate pineapple. But stick it in salsa, or grill it, or in this case, fry it, and I love it. I just can't eat it raw.

Belly full and brain slightly buzzed from the caipirinha, I wanted a second one but didn't dare since I had to keep my wits about me to walk back up the hill. The night started to heat up again, but as I made it back home, the retired couple from England just returned with their guide from an excursion in the jungle. Later they'll fly to Iguaçu Falls, then into the Amazon for 2 weeks. Where do they get the means to do this?

Rio Observations

On the way down the hill, instead of taking the switchback road, there's a stairwell that cuts through the houses that cling to the hill. At the top of the stairs, across the street, is a wide patch of sidewalk with vegetation hanging over it. There are a few plastic chairs, a shelf hammered to the cement retaining wall, and a small tv on a crate. This is the neighborhood "living room." Many a time I've witnessed entire families out there, and women calling from their windows over to the men across the street on the sidewalk. They sit and watch soccer, smoke, and watch the goings-on in the hood. The stairwell winds like an outdoor hallway through the neighborhood. I walk past a door, and 2 feet inside is someone on a sofa watching TV, or cooking dinner, or hanging out. I literally feel like I'm walking through their home. Like walking through many homes. Stairs and halls intersect with other halls. This is also how the favelas are built, but these aren't quite as poor as the favelas. But some certainly do appear makeshift.

A very visible note about Brazilian life is the recycling effort. First I heard some statistic about Brazil being the #1 producer of ethanol and user of clean fuel. Next I watched the documentary Waste Land about a garbage dump on the outskirts of Rio, and how the people that scavenge it for recyclables keep tons of garbage out of the landfill every day. Without the garbage pickers, Rio would be overwhelmed. I highly recommend it. Anyway, there are notices about recycling everywhere. Separate bins for plastic, metal, paper, and regular trash. I feel nearly paranoid about throwing a can in the wrong bin. It feels like so much a part of the culture. Recycling? Clean fuel? Ethanol? Water conservation? Where the hell is the US in this system? Why isn't our culture more attuned to this? Why doesn't our public government push these efforts with PR? No wonder Brazil is one of the four big developing economies. They are clearly thinking way ahead of us for a sustainable and adaptable future.

I like Rio. It's hot. There's a beach. Could I live here? I don't know. I might have the largest bug zapper that would brighten the skyline. But it's a nice city. Old. Modern. Cosmopolitan. Fast. I like.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Day 2: Copacabana Beach and Sugarloaf

Also, thoughts on traveling alone, fruit juices, fresh markets, and the bus system.

I have been looking forward to taking this trip alone because I wanted to see what I was made of. How much have I grown since my last solo trip abroad 4 years ago? Am I older and wiser? Dubai was a cinch. I pretty much just laid around the pool with maybe two excursions by taxi, and mostly around English-speaking westerners. This time, Rio is a whole new ball game. And when I stopped to think about it, this is easy. There is no fear. A little hesitation, but I wait out any doubts by getting comfortable in my surroundings. So often to I do my own sightseeing and run errands alone in Chicago that in used to being alone navigating a city. This feels like much of the same. I've taken the subway, ordered food, finally took the bus (more on that later), held my own at the beach, gone shopping, and found my way back "home."

All the while speaking something that can only be called Enspanguese. My Spanish is definitely helping here, and I only know a few Portuguese words, but sometimes they come out with Spanish pronunciations. And when I'm stuck, I pepper a sentence with English. Maybe I can start my own commune down here and we can make it our official language. Half the time I just point and nod, and that seems to be working.

Over breakfast this morning I met another couple staying here who are also from Chicago. I swears we're all over the world! Always a Chicago connection somewhere. They have a couple more days here so maybe I will ask them to have a drink down the hill before they go. Afterward I headed out to Copacabana beach. Bathing suit on, cover-up, flip flops, and my small bag. On the way to the metro I passed a side street with a farmer's market selling everything from fruits and veggies to fresh meat and fish. Locals would bring their little carts down and do their entire day's shopping. I spotted some strawberries and bought them to bring to be beach. They were delicious! I couldn't tell you what half the other fruits were since many were Amazonian. Next I stopped at a newsstand and picked up 2 bottles of water and was on my way.

Rules of the beach: don't bring anything you don't NEED. I didn't need credit cards or all my cash. I didn't need my good camera, the point-and-shoot was just fine. Do NOT bring a beach towel. You will be marked as a tourist. Do not bring food; the beach provideth. Vendors walk the beach endlessly selling water, soda, caipirinhas, hot food (more kibbe!), sandwiches, bathing suits, sarongs (buy or bring a sarong and use it like a beach towel), sunscreen, hats, jewelry, and the list goes on. I walked up to a beach kiosk and they set up my chair and umbrella. The beach gopher boys will keep patrons in their area stocked with water, beer, and soda in coozies, then settle the tab at the end of the day. The beach is like a social club or a bar. Every few dozen feet are kiosks that monitor their little patch of sand. I spent a good three hours there doing nothing. Twice in the water, and the rest of the time just people-watching. When I got hungry, I flagged down what I successfully guessed to be a food vendor. Near the end of the day I haggled with a vendor for a sarong that looks like the Brazilian flag. After a decent layer of sunburn (not bad, I still used sunblock), I showered off the sand and headed out for some light shopping. Since I was sopping wet I just wrapped my sarong around me and floated in and out of stores.

This is a beach culture. Wearing half-dressed beachwear in public is no big deal. And I appreciate that body image is quite different here than in the US. People seem to embrace who they are and wear it just fine. I feel better here, whereas I'd be so self-conscious at home. This was also true in Peru, so I'm thinking its a South America thing. I found a bin full of bathing suits a some inexpensive clothing store and picked up an obligatory suit, probably only suitable for my pool and maybe the beach at my house if I'm brave. But I AM brave, dammit, I'll just pretend I'm in Rio instead of Chicago. America can take its body image issues and shove it.

Back at the B&B I rested a bit, then decided I should probably head to Sugarloaf if I were to catch it at sunset, which I heard was the best time. I'm not made of money, so I researched the bus system online, read my guidebook, and talked to Patty the house manager. When I was walking back from the beach I noticed a bus heading to Urca, and I knew that's where Sugarloaf was located. Okay, so maybe I can take the bus and save a few bucks. It adds up. First I made a pit stop at my bank (yay, a branch here!) and got a rock star exchange rate, so good, I'm stocked up for the week. I found a bus stop and stood there observing how people flagged down buses, what they did when they got on, how they paid, etc. When my 107 bus to Urca/Pão de Açucar showed up, someone flagged it, I followed him on, watched how people paid, and I did the same. There's a cashier that sits near the door, then you go through a narrow turnstile. I like. No freeloaders like in Chicago (there are also bus passes). I found a seat, then wondered how in the world to get OFF the bus and signal it to stop. There were no ropes to pull or buttons to press. At some point I noticed a lot of people get off at one stop. I stayed seated and pulled out my iPad and checked the map. I passed the stop by a block, so I stood up and went to the exit door. The bus stopped Let some guy off ahead of me and I followed. 1 block later I was at Sugarloaf. Okay, success. I'll worry about how to get home later.

I reached Sugarloaf after sunset, but there was still a hint of color in the sky. I managed a few great pictures from the peaks that I can't wait to post later. This wasn't an excursion I was planning on, but one of the owners said it was definitely worth it at dusk. It was really neat to see the city at night with Cristo Redentor lit up in white seemingly hovering over the city. Copacabana beach was awash in light. The moon was full and reflected off the ocean. The city lights glistened under the hot night air. Yes, beautiful. And I got to test the new camera at work at night and it seemed to perform like a dream in low light.

On the way back down the cable car I was contemplating taking a taxi. But that, plus the cost of dinner I wasn't prepared to cough up just yet. I had to be back by 10 when the B&B locks up and I didn't want to press my luck being out that late. I figured if the bus brought me here, it had to bring me back. I waited with some others at a bus stop and had a few coins ready. When the 107 showed up (buses operate so frequently!) I asked the driver "Ir Praia Botafogo?" Spanguese. Yes, he confirmed (because the bus sign only read Centro, which I knew was past my neighborhood). Okay, so now that is was on the bus, at night, how would I know exactly where to get off? And HOW to alert the driver to stop?? This sits where a few things came in handy: before ever leaving, I studied the maps of my neighborhood and the one I was visiting, and the route between. I kept my sense of direction, and noticed street signs as we passed. Yesterday and today I made note of landmarks and stores. So when the bus went up, around, down and did a loopy, I knew where I was. When I thought I was in the right place, I stood up and walked to the exit door and saw a button on a pole. I figured if it worked that by in Chicago, maybe it worked like that here. I pressed the button, saw a bus stop ahead, the drive slowed and pulled over, the light over the exit door went on and the doors opened! I jumped out, looked around, realized I was in the exact right place, and was so excited that I pumped my fist and yelled Yes! This was the first time I ever took a bus in a foreign country and its not as easy to navigate as a subway. I may do this again!

Since it was already 8:30, I spotted a stand-up burger bar on the corner and stopped in for a cheeseburger. Cheap and quick as I wanted to be back by 9. I could still walk back to the B&B. I made it safely, as this is an upscale residential neighborhood and known to be safe. Still, I'm going to ensure I'm back by 8 on further nights, if I'm even out. I have nowhere else on my list to be or see that is at sunset, so this should work.

Since the forecast for tomorrow is just as pleasant, I plan on going up to Corcovado before the your buses get there. Maybe Ipanema beach later on. And take it easy.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Day 1: En Route, er, RE-Route to Rio

The day began simple enough. Caught 2 buses and the el with no waiting time, and arrived at O'Hare with plenty of time to spare. This was planned because I knew I'd likely run into an issue with my passport. I never updated my passport after my divorce so my last name is still different on it than what is on my license... And notably, than the name on my FF account with the airline. Long story short, it was never an issue flying internationally before because I haven't flown overseas yet on American, where my FF account is. Until today. First they couldn't locate my reservation based on my passport, but could under my locator number. I brought along my birth certificate, old wedding license, and copy of divorce decree just in case. The counter agent understood, as she also went through a name change, so we had a good laugh. My visa was already in order, which needed to be checked for Brazil PRIOR to boarding, so I received my boarding passes and was on my way. A strange slight delay and double-looks at me in the security line, but they let me thorough. The security check station said to manually recheck my pass. Odd, but they waved me through.

I hit up Starbucks as usual and waited for my flight to JFK. I purposefully chose to connect there since Dad and Mary live right by the airport, so they were going to pick me up and we'd have dinner during my layover. Suddenly, I was paged by the gate agent. Huh? This never happened. I overheard that the flight into JFK was over-booked, but I wasn't about to volunteer to change flights.

I went to the desk to find out what they wanted from me. Since not enough people volunteered to give up their seats, and since I was connecting to Rio and checked no luggage, I was the easiest person to move off the flight. I explained that I preferred not to since I was meeting my parents for dinner, but the gate agent pleaded. I relented, and she went to work finding me a new configuration. Through Miami? Dear lord, that place can be a nightmare for international connections. How about Dallas? A little better. What's the weather like? Don't send me anywhere where there might be delays. Secondly, my driver is supposed to meet me tomorrow morning. At least routing through Dallas would get me into Rio 20 minutes before my original schedule. Better than a little later than the Miami connection. I was also trying to get an upgrade in the process on the overnight leg, but seeing as she wasn't pushing to put me in business class, we gave me a few options with some space. Apparently she could put me in a center seat and block out the seats around me so I could lie down, but I didn't want to chance that if she could do that, maybe someone could over-ride her. So I went for the exit row window seat. More room and a place to rest my head while I sleep. Nicely done. As she was handing me my new tickets, she said she would also be give a $300 voucher for my trouble. Score! Sadly I wouldn't have dinner with Dad and Mary, but I connect in New York on the way back so we'll get together then.

Once landing in DFW, it occurred to me that this is the home of some quality BBQ. As attractive as a nearby wine bar appeared, I needed smoked brisket if I was to spend a couple hours here. Delicious. This isn't long enough of a connection for me to leave and have a meal with my cousins who live nearby, and with the anomaly in my passport I don't want to risk leaving and being delayed. So here I sit for a couple hours, charging the electronics and sipping on sweet tea. Thank goodness for the SeatGuru app because I learned that my window exit seat would be narrower than most. I asked to switch and they put me in the last available window seat: last row in front of the bathroom. You know what? The seat still reclines, and no one will kick my seat. After boarding was completed, seems no one else wanted to sit in front of the bathroom, so the seat next to me remained empty. Score again. Then I could stretch out and sleep and lean against the window after dinner. The flight is practically full and I have space to myself and don't have to climb over anyone if I want to get up. Then it turns out that my original flight out of New York was delayed 3 hours, and I get to leave Dallas on time. My own row, on time departure, and a flight voucher. I better not jinx things.

So far I have had a little practice with Portuguese. I've been learning on an iPad app, and in the airport and on the plane I can understand a little. We'll see how it goes when I get there. I love immersing in a local language so I'm happy to have an entire week to adjust and learn. In Europe last year I never spent more than 3 days in any country so I'm glad to have more immersion time this week.

I slept a light 4 hours on the plane but at least it was something. Arrival in Brazil was a breeze. Cleared passport control with no issues. My driver was already there to meet me and our conversation on the way was a hybrid of Portuguese, Spanish, and English. We passed the infamous Sambradromo where the Carnival parade was held just a couple weeks ago (its massive!). After resting for a bit and freshening up, It was after noon and I was getting hungry. The house mom gave me a detailed map of how to get back down the hill via shortcut stairs instead of the road switchbacks, then I was on my way. The tiny stairwells were difficult to find if you didn't have directions, and they wound down through people's courtyards and front doors. I felt Iike I was trespassing.

At the bottom in Botafogo, I headed toward the nearest waterfront overlooking Sugarloaf Mountain. Nearby I spotted a juice bar and popped in for some fresh-squeezed guava and a croissant. Walking further through the neighborhood, I found another sidewalk cafe that featured kibbe (and yakisoba), so I sat down with that and a Coke. Eventually I found my way to the metro station and decided to give it a run and I headed to Copacabana Beach. I hadn't worn a bathing suit or brought a sarong to lie on, but I did have a bathing suit top on underneath (as is my custom, if you me), kicked off my sandals, and walked down to the water. The beach was packed!! I do believe I figured out the system how to rent chairs, umbrellas, and get food. Not sure yet if I'm going to the beach tomorrow or Tuesday, but I do plan on spending a day, buying capraihinas, and whatever food comes along. I also tested out the vendors selling sarongs to get an initial price with which to haggle later (and priced against the shops, too). After an obligatory photo opp in front of Copacabana Palace Hotel, I was tired at this point.

I had considering going to the top of Sugarloaf at sunset, but my dogs were barking and I was begging for air conditioning by the time I found a shopping mall. I spotted a Havaianas store and picked up a cute pair, then headed back to the B&B. I promptly changed into a bathing suit and dipped into the little pool to cool off, but at this time the Mosquitos noticed I checked in and their dinner started. Do turtles eat Mosquitos? Because there's a pet turtle here. Maybe he can help a girl out.

About Rio, it's green. And hot. And everyone is dressed like they're going to or coming from the beach. Body image is a second thought and everyone wears the itsy bitsy bikinis. I'm no sure yet if tomorrow I'll go to the beach first, or to Corcovado. I'm exhausted, but tomorrow is supposed to be the best day of the week. How do I use that? I could see Corcovado from a few vantage points, and besides the beautiful day, it still saw a few clouds. I also haven't had dinner so I can't decide if I should walk down the hill for something (so tired!), ask the house mom to make me a sandwich, or order in. Likely one of the latter. The uneasy 4 hours of sleep on the plane is catching up with me and my body clock thinks its time for an afternoon nap.