Saturday, November 22, 2008

Experience Life in the People You Meet

Our first days in BA, we were in for a good year...
Maybe it has yet to sink in, I am back on US soil sitting here in San Diego doing my best to stir up my memory bank to recount the last year of my life in South America. I spent much the time on my long flight home- between connections in Lima, Peru and San Salvador, El Salvador before arriving at LAX 20 hours later- reviewing what I might have learned by living abroad for and extended period of time. Besides the obvious of adding a new language to my toolbelt, I struggled to put into words what I have learned. Maybe it's not all that practical or maybe it's too practical that I just haven't noticed. I find these days to be very interesting because it feels like I just went into a time warp for a year and WHAM, here I am back in San Diego, just one year later. It was this same time of year just nearly one year ago when I departed to Argentina with my good amigo Mikey to discover a new world eternally and internally.

I will never forget how Mike and I were feeling when we first arrived in Buenos Aires, everything was new and we had all of one contact that we hadn't even met yet. Uncomfort was at a high level for both of us and we were not sure what to expect on a daily basis. We felt like we were just passing through and traveling instead of our new residence for the first month or so. My Spanish was sorely lacking which created even more discomfort. I think, looking back on it, Mike and I depended a lot on each other, much more than we really knew at the time, to get accustomed to our new home. Time was in slow motion all until we moved into the Salta house aka Casa de Eduardo. It's a huge international residence where we met about 10 new friends all at once, many of whom we are still in touch with. This is when our full residence of Argentina began, we were in a rough neighborhood of Monseraat, which made us feel really into the mix. The landlored, dueno, of the house is a middleaged man named Eduardo who is a character to the fullest. He is really hard to describe in one sentence but he always makes people unsure whether they should love him or hate him. It was at this house that we developed some great friendships and true learning process launched into full swing.

Fast forward nearly 9 months later and I was at the point of departure from South America having to say my goodbyes, or better yet 'hasta luego's' to all of the great friendships that I was fortunate enough to have developed. I think it was in the last week of my time in Buenos Aires when I just began to realize that my experience was fully based on the people I met. It's all about the people... whether it was a crazy landlord named Eduardo or Pamela- the Uruguayan landlord who we lived with the last 6 months in San Telmo- or it was a great profesora named Julieta who has an impeccable sense of humor. Then was my Bomba del Tiempo buddies Brian and Lucho. If you're asking what the hell is Bomba del Tiempo, I write my next blog about this. Then there was my good buddy Rodrigo, who is one of the most intelligent young men I've met who studies his brains out and enjoys a good porro at any available moment. How can I forget the best Argentine futbol player we played with, Marcelo who was like a field general and made Mike and I better every game we played with him. How can I forget my three favorite students who made English Teaching a sincere pleasure; Leandro, Emilio and Rodolfo. These three individuals opened my eyes to seeing that they are much like adults in the States, just doing what they can to provide more for their family in a volatile economy. I wish Leandro much luck in his goal of going to the US or Australia to start a new life.
Representing Argentina with Lucho

Last Bomba del Tiempo, l to r: John, Mikey, Brian, me

My favorite students l to r: Leandro, me, Rodolfo, Emilio

I was also able to meet many great people from other countries around the world; Sophie from France who was like our mom at the big international house; Timm from Germany who was a polite Adrien Brody look-a-like; Sam from the UK who was a melancholy young man but always provided a very blunt point of view of how the world works; Andy from Scotland who is very opinionated and will let you know what he thinks whether you like it or not; Keegar from Ireland who could run past 5 defenders with ease and score a goal with a Guiness in his hand; Pauline from France who was a doll-faced housemate the last several months in San Telmo; Jenny from Australia who was also a housemate for four months in San Telmo and one of the nicest girls I have ever met; Isaac from Brazil aka the big goofy Brazilian who had the most unique dancing style at our Bomba de Tiempo outings; Dave from England who also became a great friend from the futbol field and is one I hope to keep in touch with down the road. This blog wouldn't be complete without mentioning one of my new best friends, Barry from Cuba who has been a citizen of Argentina for 12 years and produces music for a living. He is one of the most admirable people I have ever met for the way he lives his life and treats other people. Barry laughs and smiles more than anyone else I've ever met, his positivity is truly contagious and his athletic lifestyle has him looking like he is 30 years old even though he's really 44. We met him on the futbol field and he became a workout partner and he even challenged me to a wrestling match after my last futbol game. I took the big guy down before he flipped me over on to my head and gave me a nice scar on my forehead to come home with. That is my Barry scar and a constant reminder not to wrestle big Cuban guys but more a reminder of the great friend he is to me. All of these friends I hope to keep in touch with and have stimulated my interest in visiting their countries to take a peek at their lifestlye.

Final day toast, l to r: Barry, me, BJ, Mikey

Barry showing off the scar he gave me, one strong dude!

the infamous 10 vs. 10 game, the futbol crew!

Buenos Aires is home to the largest ex-pat (US citizen) community outside of the US in the Western Hemisphere so I formed a ton of relationships with fellow yankees as well. Jessie from New Jersey who became my best girlfriend in BA, she was the most hospitable person I knew and I wish her the best of luck with her big goofy Brasilian hubby, Isaac; Josh Wolpe, a fellow Coloradoan who was a housemate in the international house before he moved on to Israel and eventually back to Denver. He was well known for his gigantic salads, Wolpe Salads, that is now a part of my cooking regimen as well; Alan from Las Vegas who is another opinionated SOB and drew a laugh from me many times with his curt personality; Carlos the big man from Houston who was like a big teddy bear and became a friend to anyone he passed in the street; Sarah from San Diego who was actually our first and only contact when we arrived to Buenos Aires, it all started from her; John from LA who was actually born in Argentina but lived most his life in LA then moved back to BA, he was with us everyday and it felt like we had been friends for years; Nate from Pennsylvania who represented for Americans on the futbol field with his physical play and hustle that could match anyone's talent; Kyle who was my fellow red head brother from San Diego and actually lived in the same apartment complex as I my second year of college, yet I didn't meet him until we played futbol together in Argentina, go figure; Eric Olsen who is from Aspen and worked with my brother then moved to Argentina with his girlfriend (Argentine), he was one of our great buddies on the trek through Torres del Paine and can light up any room with his outgoing energy; then there's William Alan Whittle Jr. or BJ as we call him who was my roommated all through college and is basically my brother from another mother. I consider him family and he made his own move down to Argentina in September and will be staying at least until April. I am truly proud of him for making the move and sticking with it. It was a sincere pleasuer walking the streets of Argentina with this 6'4 blonde-hair, blue-eyed California kid because he drew the most interesting looks from the people and was even likened to Nick Carter, the famous Backstreet Boys singer by some of the locals. It was classic! Remember BJ, you're not a tourist, you live there; And finally one of my best friends who went through the experience with me step by step and is practically full Argentine now, Michael Cando aka Chinito since he is Phillipino and all Argentines call any people of Asian descent Chino. Mikey is one of the most positive people I know and kept my experience in Argentina from ever being dull, he always had something exciting going on and kept me in the excitement and I owe Mike nothing but my full thanks and appreciation for sparking the idea in my head to move to Argentina with him, one of the best things I've done in my life and he has continually sparked my interest in seeing other parts of the world that I will someday see. Thank you Mikey, good luck with the rest of your time in Argentina.... who knows if you'll be back to the States :) .

last night with the Argentines, l to r: Rodrigo, Mike, Brian, me, Luchoht

ke, Brian, Me, Lmom's last night in BA, first row: Mom, Jessi, Isaac. Second row: Me, BJ, Mike, Simone, Pauline, Jenny

This is a blog posting about many strangers to most of your readers but this is all I can think about when I think of my experience in Argentina, it was about the people who shaped my experience. It would not have been the best year of my life without any of these people mentioned and the many others that weren't mentioned. When I was struggling with a way to put a closing to the experience on my last day in Argentina, I had to follow the advice from Barry and put all of the memories into my heart, not my head. I will forever store this experience in my heart because thats where it belongs and that is where these people belong. I am now back in the States and still struggle to sum up my experience abroad so I feel a bit lost in my transition but the best way for me to sum up the experience is remember the PEOPLE who made it what it is, the greatest year of my life yet.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Tudo Bom in Rio de Janiero

Bem Vindo a Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

All of those amazing photographs of that you see of that city placed on the beautiful Brasilian coastline are real! Trust me, my mother and I had do some of our own little investigation to see if that dangerous, yet lavishly designed city called Rio de Janeiro really did exist. I remember the first time I saw a photo of the Christ the Redeemer- one of the 7 wonders by the way- overlooking that beautiful coastal city with the bay and Sugar loaf in the background, I had a long conversation in my head about how I would get there and when. Well, that long convo in my head was negated when my mom mentioned she would be going there to visit her friend Carla, whom worked with her through an exchange program at Monarch Ski Area in Colorado several years back. Great, I´ll just tag along with ma and get some free room and board with our friend Carla and her amazing parents, who speak very limited English, not a bad gig eh?

Copacabana Beach

We arrived on Tuesday, November 4th around 10pm. It was election day for the United States of America so you could sense this relief in everyone around the world. A relief that signified the end of that phony Bush Administration, whew!!! That was a long 8 years wasn´t it?? Anyways, Carla was there to greet us at the airport and get us on the next bus heading into the city where she lives, Copacabana. We arrived at Copacabana Palace, right on the beach and I suddenly thought it was all too good to be true, ¨no way, we´re gonna be staying in the palace.¨ She immediately crushed my all of the sudden high maintenance hopes by saying its only a one block walk behind the palace. The heavy ocean air blanketed us on our short walk and the smell of the salty Atlantic Ocean just 20 meters away filled the air. Carla´s parents were there to greet us and help us with our bags. Her mother is a very nice, polite Japanese woman named Bette and her father is a big Brasilian man named Carlos whose English vocabulary is limited to ¨I love you.¨ So that meant a loving, accomodating household and good family fun. As soon as we walked in he was watching the election day coverage in Portuguese which he immediately switched to English coverage for us. Just 90 minutes later, the screen was displaying what I never thought I would see this early in my lifetime. Barack Obama is the next President of the United States. I send out my congratulations to Obama and look forward to what him and his administration have in store for such crucial time for our economy, country and the world at large. By the time people in the U.S. had whiped their tears from the historic election it was 3:30am in Rio and the perfect time for me to discover my shampoo had exploded everywhere in my bag. I enjoy cleaning shampoo out of my luggage at odd hours of the morning I don´t know about you...

Acaí bowls, love ´em!

The next day, Carla took us for a walk along the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. We stopped about every hour or so to taste some of the Brasilian flavors. Our first stop we had Guarana, the Brasilian natural energy drink. Then in Ipanema I had my first Acaí bowl in quite some time, I love Acaí!! In the states, it´s a bit more expensive since it is imported, yet in Brasil it comes at such a reasonable price. Walking along the Ipanema beach was amazing as I had the famous Brasilian bossanova song stuck in my head ¨Girl from Ipanema.¨ The sounds of Portuguese being spoken at all angles was like music to the ears anyways. On paper, Portuguese is very similar to Spanish but phoenetically it´s a stark contrast. Another interesting contrast from Argentina and Brasil is the health lifestyle. Argentines typically smoke cigarettes much more and the Brasilians are really keen on working out and staying fit to maintain their beach bodies, its like everyone in Rio was queuing up for South America´s Next Top Model, which they could easily be in any country... Brasilians are beautiful people. There was a gym everywhere you looked and even a gym right on the beach in Ipanema, Muscle Beach, a nice imitation of Muscle Beach in California. They definitely work hard for the beauty they strut, but alot of it still comes natural, damn them!waves crashing at Ipanema beach

cloudy day on Ipanema Beach

Evening time came and Carla had to study for an exam so her parents took my mother and I out to dinner at their club which sits right on Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon which sits in between the Christ the Redeemer and Ipanema beach, it is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The club had it all, swimming pools, spas, tennis courts, futbol fields, volleyball/basketball courts and one of the best restaurants in Rio. They treated us to a fine meal that consisted of rice, an assortment of seafood in a yummy sauce, vegetables and a caipirniha to complement the meal. In the seafood, I later found out we had eaten shrimp, octopus, crab, lobster and a bunch of others that we couldn´t exactly translate. Caipirinha is Brasil´s alcoholic drink of choice which can be made with Cachaça-a rum made of sugarcane-cut up limes, sugar and ice. They aren´t made to fool you or sneak up on you, because you clearly taste the alcohol to the fullest. We were also serenated by Carlos who, when discovered I speak decent Spanish, began singing his favorites from Carlos Gardel, a famous Argentine tango singer. It was classic, our conversation was limited and we both had Portuguese/English dictionaries in hand in search for our next sentence. Though, with some Portunol (Portuguese, Espanol), we were able to communicate a bit more. The meal was fantastic, one of the best I´ve had in South America.

Christ Redeemer: 13 stories high, one of the 7 Wonders

Mom and I trying to measure up to the Christ; our photographer couldn´t fit it all

Day 3 we went to Christ the Redeemer with guided by Carla´s mom who was so patient with us and our lack of Portuguese. We took the train up Corcovado hill which supports the 13-story Christ emblem and holds it nearly 2,500 feet above sea level, which is just several kilometers away. There is no wonder it is one of the 7 Wonders, it is massive and quite an accomplishment for man to get it up on that hill overlooking the city. Another interesting fact is that it is in Tijuca National Park, the only national park that is inside a metropolitan city such as Rio. The train ride up apparently took us through jungles and we saw all forms of birds, fruits and plants. A group of Brasilian samba artists also graced us with their presence and made the ride really feel like we were in the heart of Brasil.

view from the Christ Redeemer over Rio, Sugar Loaf in the distance

After a nice buffet lunch that consisted of more seafood and caiprinhas, Bette took us across the bridge to another town called Nimeroi where the Museum of Modern Arts placed on a cliff overlooking the bay back to Rio awaited us. The Musem itself from the outside was impressive, built like a spaceship by the famous Brasilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who also built the capital of Brasilia! The inside didn´t have much in the way of quantity but exceptional quality. Our return back across the bridge to Rio was hampered much of the way with rush hour traffic and a sudden rain storm. We were able to see a slight sunset before the showers unleashed, however.

Museum of Modern Art created by Oscar Niemeyer

view of the museum with Sugar Loaf in the background nearing sunset

Our final day in Rio, we rose early once again to visit the famous Pão de Açúcar, Sugar Loaf. Sugar Loaf is that beautiful upright hill that you see in most Rio photos. It appears as if its an island perking out of the bay from the distance but is actually connected to land. We took the cable car through the air up to the top of Sugar Loaf which once again magnified the beauty of the city, even on a cloudy day. I realized the importance of how lucky I was when we sat atop Sugar Loaf, since I was seeing decisively the most beautiful city I´ve laid my eyes on, not to discount the many other great cities I´ve come across. The only one that may compare is San Francisco. Rio, besides its danger and favellas-shantytowns- is city with infrastructure placed on and all around incredibly beautiful Brasilian coastline. Sporadic green hills reach to the sky along the coast and inland which provides borders to the different areas of the city, the lagoons and beaches are second to none I´ve ever seen and the locals are as equally funky as the cityskape they inhabit.
View from Sugar Loaf, Christ in top left corner and Copacabana Beach on the far left

It´s no question why I feel so fortunate for the last 6 weeks of travel. I´ve seen some of the most incredible natural (Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Iguazu Falls) and manmade (Machu Picchu, Christ the Redeemer) wonders there is to see in South America and the world. Not to mention the most beautiful city, Rio de Janeiro. As I write this, I am nesting on the island of Florianopolis, Brasil which is in the southern part of the country. To give you an idea of my continued but soon to be ending travelling fortune, this is an island with 42 beaches. Stay tuned for more on the next posting which will also be wrapping up the South American travels. Until then, find a way to get to Rio.... ask your madre, perhaps?

P.S. A big thanks to Carla and her family for feeding us, giving us shelter and tipping us off as to where to avoid and when. Rio is a dangerous city for tourists and if it weren´t for their kind hospitality, my mother and I might had become City of God´s newest residents.