Friday, November 28, 2008

The Tropical Paradise-Maragogi

Yes you can have a dream tropical vacation, compelte with fresh local seafood, your own beach, genuine service and locals who haven't been exposed to too many Americans, and lodging at one of the most quaint places on earth for just over $200. I kid you not. We stayed at Pousada Barra Villa,
one of the most unique-shaped buildings that added to the richness of this exprience. Since its only late spring there and the locals come out on the weekends, we got the pleasure of full attention by the very awesome staff and the owner Lulu, each side struggling with the language and swapping speaking lessons.
We did it all-explore all 14 beaches on sand buggies, went looking for a manatee and made friends with one, snorkled, scuba-dived, explored the local villages, got rescued by a boat full of hot scuba-instructors, swam, ate, swam, and ate some more! This is where I truly started feeling relaxed and on vacation, not a thing to worry about, and each day brought forth new adventures. The locals really made an impression on me, with their care-free way of living, regardless of their income, still able to enjoy the beauty of their country and just taking it one day at a time.
One of my traveling buddies, Taryn, gave me an idea to my new mantra: pura vida, or pure life. In order to live what you believe a pure life should entail, it all starts with your approach and outlook on life in general. Just keep in mind that the world is greater than you and the problems that might seen huge at first glance, are really just minute and transient compared to what the rest of the world has to offer. I just take myself back to the underwater and the fish once I feel the pressures of modern life closing in on me, and dismiss it as not worthy of my stress.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

For the typical tourist (who loves sight-seeing)

The last day in Rio consisted of touring the famous marks, the Cristo statue and the Sugar Loaf (on the left) mountain. Yes they are as impressive and as worthy of seeing as the tourist agencies make it out to be. Be prepared to be totally and utterly amazed at the views of the city. This is where I fell in love with Rio. Words don't do justice, so you will just have to look at the albums once they are posted.

There is so much to observe and to take in, can be a little over-whelming at first. My preference was to hike up the Corcovado mountain to see Christ the Reedemer statue, but no one else was excited over the idea. But how can one not get giddy over a steep Tijuca atlantic rain forest to the mountain-top panoramic vantage point. Next time I will not pass this up.

The statue is Art Deco-style, 125 feet tall. A little history behind this is quite amusing. The idea came around 1850 to a Catholic priest Pedro Maria Boss who requested funds from Princess Isabel, who didn't think too much of it, thus dismissing the idea. When Brazil became a Republic in 1889 a second proposal was put in 1921 by the Archdiocese of Rio, and a local engineer Heitor da Silva Costa was chosen to oversee this ordeal, and a French monumental sculptor Paul Landowski was the designer. Reinforced concrete was chosen as the media, and the out layer was out of soapstone due to its malleability and good weather resistance. The monument was inaugurated on October 12, 1931 by the president in a posh ceremony. It has been vowing the world ever since.

The Sugar Loaf or Pao de Acucar mountain is amazing in its own right, being 600 million year old. After a battle between the French and the Portuguese, it was named during the time of sugar cane export, where the finished product was packed into bread loaf-like shapes. The Portuguese chose this as a landmark for a settling location for the magnitude of visibility from the sea. Today a session of 2 cable cars take a tourist first up the 700 foot Urca Hill, and then 1300 feet to the top, where a view of the city from the other point awaits. For the very avid hiker, a rugged trail exists but once get to the top no one to climb down, so just ride the cable car like everyone else! Both of these views made a lasting impression of endless beauty never to be forgotten.

Why One Should Go Hang-gliding

If you hate having large amounts of blood rushed to your brain within seconds, you most likely will not like bungee jumping. Any fear of hights and/or planes will most likely stop you from sky-diving. Well one is left for one to do when you want to experiene a rush of all kinds of goody endorphins w/out the use of drugs? Hang-gliding is the answer for the rest of us. Jumping off a 1500 foot cliff does wonders for a person. You're attached to a pro who navigates the sails, so all you have to do is let your limbs loose, enjoy a view, and maybe a shed a tear because it's all just so wonderful. If you look on your left, thats the platform you run off. (See how pasty white I am?) Instructions are simple. You hold on, run fast and jump. And then you experience all kinds of new emotions and feelings that you didn't know existed! I highly recommend going to Brazil for your first experience of course. Pedro Bonita peak, 1,640 feet tall, in Tijuca National Park, overlooking Rio's biggest favela, Sao Conrado, Leblon, Ipanema beaches is a must for everyone. The rush was nice, landing smooth, experience un-forgettable. Once on ground, we treated ourself to a nice frosty acai berry smoothie.

Rear of Rio

Day 1 started and ended with a bang. That is to say I drank too many caiprinhas at the carnival (who would have thought they're so damn strong?) and don't quite recall making it back to the hotel room, much less passing out. To my upmost horror I woke up at 10 am next day totally missing my first brazil sun-rise. So of course I jump out of bed, quickly throw on the bathing suit, and out to the beach I go. Considering that it's right across the street, at least no efforts were wasted. According to the locals, coconut water is a good way to recover, and when you add some sun, sand, and waves, I spend the day trying to establish a base tan. Copacabana turned out to be a pretty good beach, and though it was Sunday, not too crowded, friendly merchants (maybe a little too persuasive). Sergio and Jon got just a little too excited about a swim and almost didn't return to us! After a good lazy bake we later explored the famous Ipanema beach, which was packed with ass and briefs everywhere! Yes the rumors are true, the butts here are beautiful. I had the most interesting hot dog, topped with egg, green peas, relish, ketchup, mustard manoic root powder and other interesting combinations of foods that all made a pleasant taste together. After few more coconut waters and some mango ice-cream, I was finally released from the prison of a bad hang-over.

Friday, November 7, 2008

favorite things about brazil so far...

we are in the little village at our resort now, pousada barra velha. its day 6 i think, although im starting to loose track of days or time. so far everything is going beautifully. here is what i truly love about this country:

1. beaches. water is tropical warm and inviting here. rio had slightly colder water and huge waves that knock you out, so swimming here is much easier. we have such a variety of beaches, but best part is our own private beach at the resort. were the only ones here!!!

2. feeling of safety and peace. everyone was so concerned about our safety and i psyched myself out thinking someone would for sure rob us. in rio we just had to watch each others back but no attempts of any kind were made. in fact the tourists and locals walk around in lots of jewelry and flashing their stuff. here in the coastal village there is absolutely no crime, and people dont lock their doors. its a little primitie, a very simple lifestyle here.

3. the service. there is such unpretencious service and locals are truly nice. not in that overboard american way nice, but helpful and put up with our inability to speak portuguese and rowdiness. the staff at resort is just amazing, servicing on us hand and foot. never ever ever had such customer service satisfaction.

4. fresh seafood. we paid $5 each for lobsters, and each one of us got 3-4 lobsters. with side dishes and drinks, my meal last night came to $12.5. that includes dessert and alcoholic drinks. i mean WTF?!!!

5. coconut water. they punch a little hole in a coconut and you drink the water inside, then break coconut and scoop out the white tissue. second favorite drink is graviola, a fruit juice.

6. worry-free life. no ever here stresses about anything and life is very laid back. i finally let it all go and am truly relaxed!!! yes there is poverty here and yes there are economic hardships, but people manage to survive with out worrying about every little thing (like i do).

7. butts. yes its true, most beach-goers wear thongs and men wear speedos. and do they have ass! my theory is that the african origin influence plus all the meat they eat adds to the voluptous size of their butts. now of course not everyone is in superb shape but there is no hesitation to wear a thong no matter what size you are! i am still working up the courage to get into one.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rio Love

my first opportunity to blog and yes I have being dying to. today is day 4, and at the moment im listening to the atlantic waves in a remote village near town maragogi by the major city recife. rio days are behind me but have made a permanent impression on me and of course i will return and spend real time there. 3 days were enough to just get a bite of the city, a little glimpse. amusing thing is internet conneciton was a problem in the city but here, with no pavement for a road, just dirt and sand, internet works great.

so first site and smell of Rio: slums, smell and rain. i know, not what you thought. it was drizzly but warm and the airport is far from the main parts of the city. as you´re driving in, you get exposed to the slums of the city, which are by far worse than any ghetto in america that i´laid my eyes upon. imagine 200.000 residents in little square brick and cement homes, practically boxes, stacked upon one another, with no windows and some no doors, all just squashed together, with plastic serving as covering for doors. the smell comes from the wasteland near by. extremely sad and a dangerous place to get caught.

however once you recover from that sight and as you´re heading into the city, the real Rio exposes itself. its a combo of small sounds, hills and sprawling buildings for miles in every direciton possible. rio de janeiro literally means river of january, for the month when the city was established 500 some years ago. its surrounded by hills and water and is indeed the most gorgeous city ive seen by far. when we got into town, one can see how wealthy it actually is. we stayed in the relatively expensive but not over-the-top part of town, the capacabana beach. LOVE IT. our hotel was decent, and our view was the ocean and sand. can one ask for more? i think not. the little rain cleared as we got to the hotel and sun came out to greet us. we had an amazing lunch on the 30th floor of the hotel at the skylab, eating traditional meal buffet style consisting of beans, all types of meat, ox´s year, pig´s tongue, collar get the picture. such an assortment of foods and the caipirihnas kept coming. thats the most famous alcoholic drink, resembling a margarita, but better, sweeter, and smaller. all it has is cachaca, lime and sugar. all portions here are small actually. their grande coffee is our short size.

next was hang-gliding of the peak of a cliff. words wont do justice for this experience so i will just post a video of it. landed on the beach, smoothly. simply amazing.

that night we partied at the samba practice carnival. and thats just first day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

next stop Recife and Maragogi

After the 3 day stay in Rio, next will be a stop in Recife (pic on right), a coastal city more modest than Sao Paulo. Recife is the 5th largest metropolitan area and is located on the Atlantic, where Beberibe and Capibaribe Rivers unite. Recife means "reef" and it has a feel of a "Brazilian Venice". The stay here will be short however. Just enough time to take in to take in the wonders, hit the Boa Viagem beach and leave with a lasting impression of nearly naked Brazilians basking in the sun. This city brings the richest culture due to traces of native Indians, Portuguese settlers and black slaves, also the Dutch.

A ride on the hotel bus will bring us to Maragogi, the tropical paradise complete with clam-wave beaches, huge natural pool Gales, coconuts and sunshine. Here I will spend a significant portion of my time being a beach bum, hanggliding, learning to flirt in Portuguese, and of course working on my tan. This will be my Caribbean/Brazilian adventure never to be forgotten. Loding will be right on the water! Can one ask for more?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

first city to be trampled upon

On Nov. 1, as the plane will be landing in Rio, I will be scoping out Christ the Redeemer and praying that he will keep us safe on this trip. As everyone knows, Rio has an extraordinary crime rates, and a tourist is susceptible to muggings, narcoterrorism, or random acts of violence. The murder rate for 2007 was 37.7 cases for every 100,000 people. One does have to take into account that the city population is about 12 million, so its no a surprise for such a metropolis. The police are not very prepared to take care of tourists and contribute to the crime as well. I knew I should have taken some self-defense classes! This will be my opportunity to test my kickboxing skills if the situation calls for it. All I ask is that I return with all my limbs intact. But I have all the faith that all will go well.

We will spend three days here while lodging at the Rio Othon Palace. And yes, 3 days is insufficient to truly take in this magnificent city, but good enough for initial exposure and a decision on weather I will ever return. Plus having a native Brazilian with me the whole time is bound to make life easier!

The best part will be the practice carnival held during our stay. As fantastic as it would be to observe the actual one in January, watching hot Brazilians parading around in exquisite outfits at the Sambadrome will be quite entertaining and memorable.

Monday, October 27, 2008

communicable diseases overview

from just a traveler's curiosity, while getting the vaccinations in order, one wonders what diseases torment the locals. the triple threat being malaria, yellow fever and typhoid. however from an aspiring/emerging epidemiologists's perspective, especially if you truly have a passion for such info, one naturally wants to know more. here is my quick middle-of the-night analysis.

factors contributing to epidemics:
1. climate change and El Nino have effects on vector-borne disease and rates of parasite and virus development in hosts in temp-dependent. aka watch out for those damn mosquitos! snails are also decent vectors. gross.

2. pervasive processes: urbanization, land and water resource developement, habitat fragmentation all increase pop density and bring wild mammals and birds into overlapping areas aka new diseases emerge. co-habitation doesn't always work!

3. high disturbance levels between two states of ecosystems. dont fuck around with chronotone disturbance!

4. migration rates, frequency and rapidity have huge affects on the spread and transmission AND (for all u geneticists) on the spread of genetic resistance to chemo agents.

5. globalization actually has adverse effects on infectious control. and we all thought globalizaiton is the greatest thing.

Now what are the most cool Brazil diseases?

1. HIV-who doesn't like AIDS? Unfortunately it reached epidemic proportions.

2. Chagas' disease (American trypanosomiasis). Named after Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas in 1909, caused my a parasite, transmitted by insect vectors called triatomine bug, that are found only in Americas. Not endemic in US, but I do remember admitting a kid w/this. Could lead to cardian and intestinal complications in the chronic phase.

3. Leprosy in high poverty areas. In 1996 on average a 100 new cases reported, and about half mil suffer from this now. This is just sad.

4. Bilharzia. First time I hear of this condition, so naturally I investigate. Caused by parasitic worms and become infected upon contact with contaminated freshwater snails that carry schistosomes. NOT found in US (thank goodness) but 200 mil around the world are infected. There goes snorkeling! This is when you love chlorine.

5. Rabies. I didn't get my shot because they're all out. The rabies virus is actually pretty awesome. ITs nonsegmented, with negative-stranded RNA genome, bullet shape. So what am I at risk for? If I encounter a mean bat, I would just shoot the sucker. But potentially I could suffer from encephalitis and outcome is almost always fatal. Transmission starts with mucous memberane penetration, and following primary infection, the virus enteres your CNS via retrograde axoplamic flow (basically through your neurons). This sounds horrid. I'll stop here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

what makes one a world traveler?

I have been pondering over this for some time now as I'm getting ready for my first South America trip. Most of us love to travel, and of those that travel outside of the US, most likely consider them-selves a world traveler to some extent. and yes its a very subjective definition, but what makes one a true world-traveler? How many languages would you have to be sufficient in? Which countries have visited? What length spent on each adventure? What remote villages have visited and how many natives be-friended? These are the thoughts occupying my cerebral cortex at this moment as I'm sitting here in the ER pretending I'm working when I'm really dreaming about becoming a solid world traveler. Develop my taste for particular cultures while allowing my perspicacious nature to be developed. Eventually I will get to that state. My experience so far is a good stepping stone and now being on the brink of a sweet adventure to fulfill a childhood dream, one can only smile and count the days down! The voracious spirit in me will be finally pleased!