Fond Memories of Brazil 2009: Rio de Janeiro + Búzios (Part 2)

Yes, this is FINALLY the last Fond Memories of Brazil post! Last week’s post was about the first part of our stay in Rio de Janeiro, but this week focuses a bit more on Búzios, a fancy beach town that’s a three hour bus ride east of the city.

Bus from Rio to Búzios: map credit Rome2Rio

Bus from Rio to Búzios: map credit Rome2Rio

Despite some iffy weather and a bad case of food poisoning, we thought Búzios was pretty great. Just don’t try taking a late night bus there during a holiday weekend! Read why in Aaron’s email below:

Q: And Friday night you left for Búzios. Any mention of that word is going to unleash a linguistics rant, isn’t it?

A: Okay, here’s the thing about Portuguese as a language: it’s not fair if every character in your alphabet makes either the “h,” “ch,” or “sh” sound. That’s just cheating. For instance, here is a handy pronunciation guide for a few words.

  • Mate (the local drink, pronounced “mah-tay” anywhere else): “Mahhh-tchhh”
  • Lorraine (the name): “Lo-ha-ni”
  • Veinte (twenty): “Been-che”

And, in Rio, this lisping is incredibly strong. Ilana ordered a Sprite in a restaurant, and the waiter just laughed at her ignorant accent. “Oh, you mean a ‘Spree-tchhh.” No. No she does not mean that. Pretty sure there´s no “H” in that word.

Anyway, so we’re going to Búzios. As you will come to understand, Búzios is THE vacation destination for Rio citizens. It’s close by, easily accessible by bus, everyone goes there on holiday weekends. So, when people would ask us what we were doing for the weekend, we would tell them we were going to Búzios. We would pronounce it “Boo-zee-ohs,” as it looks. Blank stares. Nothing. Eventually, we would have to write it out, or describe where it was, or something, and finally they would get it.

“OHH!!! Booshhh-eee-ohhhssshhh!!!”

Now, first of all, there are no “H´s” in the name of the city. But secondly … and this is my bigger issue with the whole thing: Think of where you live. Now think of the biggest tourist/vacation spot near that place. Now think of how badly someone would have to mispronounce the name of that place before you would not be able to figure out what they were talking about? (Bergstrom Family: If someone told you they were going to “Dohh-Ahh” County, would you not realize they were talking about Door County?) What is your deal, population of Rio?

Also, much more hilariously, Brazilians add “E”s to the ends of American words, so it´s “Hippy-Hoppy,” “Pingy-pongy,” and “Biggie Mackie.” This never gets old.


We made it! Emily and me in beautiful Búzios

Q: Okay, let´s cut the rant short here. Impossible to pronounce or not, Búzios was one of your first “Places We Absolutely Have to Go in South America” places, first proposed as a destination by Ilana’s friend Emily, a University of Michigan grad now living in São Paulo. So Emily came up to Rio, and you all took the bus to Búzios. That sentence sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

A: Deceptively, deceptively simple. First of all, rain shuts down Rio de Janeiro worse than hail shuts down the Inner Richmond (though less hilariously). Second of all, “it’s a holiday weekend” can be used as an excuse for anything, and every weekend is a holiday weekend (Emily: “I don’t know, it’s probably some guy’s birthday … I gave up on keeping track of all of them). Let’s practice.

Q: Why did the cab ride to the bus station, which normally takes 12 minutes, take 87 (yes, 87)?

A: It’s a holiday weekend.

Q: Why was the bus station packed with so many people that it was literally difficult to find a place to put our bags down?

A: It’s a holiday weekend.

And so on and so forth. So, while we were supposed to get in to Búzios at around 10 PM, we got there at 3:45 AM.

Q: So explain how, even though you now had the advantage of traveling with a Portuguese speaker, you managed to get ripped off on a cab ride worse than anywhere else in South America.

A: Well, when you add people to your travel plans, you start to assume that someone else will take care of things like “finding out where you hostel is located.” So we got to the last bus stop in Búzios, got in a cab, watched him make a U-turn and stop, pretty literally across the street, and charge us R$12 ($6 US). We later learned that he was fully within his rights to do this, that in fact the minimum cab fare in Búzios was R$12, but wow … it sure seemed like a slap in the face at 4 AM.

Q: Everything seems like a slap in the face at 4 AM. Anyway, the next morning, you woke up to more gray skies in a beach town. So what did you do?

A: Well, we learned how to make our own caipirinhas, of course. We weren’t about to pay $4 for them in bars, so we bought all the ingredients to make about 25 of them, and it came to … about $4. And learning to make a tropical drink is a wonderful experience. Even if you don’t get any better at it, each one is tastier than the last. We experimented with different fruits (though traditional lime is the best), and suddenly the bad weather wasn’t such a problem.

buzios   buzios

We walked around town a little bit, met a girl carrying a very young puppy who claimed to have found it in the street (Ilana’s mind was BLOWN), tossed around the idea of renting a buggy for the next day (it was obvious we couldn’t afford taxis), and decided to give rodizio pizza another try.

street puppy   buzios

Rodizio pizza … what is there to say? David Foster Wallace´s thousand-page novel Infinite Jest is about, in part, a video so enjoyable that anyone who sees it only wants to watch it over and over again, and forgets about all necessary life processes, and eventually dies of too much pleasure. Rodizio pizza is kind of like that. Pizza is wonderful. And people just keep bringing it to you. More and more fresh slices, in wonderful new topping combinations. And … and you tell yourself you’ll stop when you’re full. But you can’t. Somehow, though, you make it back to your hostel. And you sleep for sixteen hours, with very few interruptions.

Q: Sunday, though, you woke up to sun. This gives you a chance to explain Búzios again, when seen the way it should be.

A: You know, when you see travel-channel video clips of Brazil, and there’s some kind of voice-over going, “Fabulous Rio de Janeiro, home of beautiful beaches … and even more beautiful people”? That’s Búzios. Once a quiet fishing village, someone found out that it has seventeen distinct incredible beaches nearby, and it became THE spot for the rich and pretty of Brazil. Until Búzios, I had thought the whole beautiful-people-of-Brazil thing was a myth, and I would have told you there were prettier girls in Colombia. Not anymore.


Holiday weekend in Búzios

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Fond Memories of Brazil 2009: Rio de Janeiro + Búzios (Part 1)

This is the second to the last post of my “Fond Memories of Brazil 2009” series. I wish I could say that we saved the best of our Brazil experience for last, but as you can probably guess from my overly enthusiastic posts about Jericoacoara and Salvador, those two places were the ones that really stole our hearts. But to be fair to Rio, we would’ve enjoyed our time there a lot more had Mother Nature played nice. All we wanted to do in Rio was go hang gliding and lay out on its world famous beaches, but, spoiler alert, we did neither.

Gorgeous Rio de Janeiro: photo credit Rodrigo Soldon

Gorgeous Rio de Janeiro: photo credit Rodrigo Soldon

We did, however, still get to watch a soccer match at Maracanã and visit Búzios, a posh nearby beach town, with one of my friends from college who was living in São Paulo at the time. I know that most of these “Fond Memories of Brazil 2009” post have little to do with honeymooning, which is admittedly a bit confusing as this is a honeymoon blog, but Búzios was definitely a worthy honeymoon destination. Part 1 has more to do with Rio, but come back next week for Part 2 to read why Búzios is great for honeymoons in Brazil.

Two hour flight from Salvador to Rio: map credit Rome2Rio

Two hour flight from Salvador to Rio: map credit Rome2Rio

In lieu of a 27+ hour bus ride from Salvador to Rio, we opted for a two hour flight, then took a taxi to our hostel in the Catete neighborhood (pronounced “kah-tetch”). Aaron’s email is below:

Q:  Before this trip, you told your parents that you wouldn’t go to Colombia and that you wouldn’t go to the favelas in Rio.  And you’ve broken both of those promises now, haven’t you?

A:  Well … yeah.  But when I said those things, I didn´t know that there were safe, well-organized, fascinating favela tours.

The favelas (again trying not to sound like a Wikipedia entry) are these huge shantytowns built into the hills, areas the government has basically given up on, areas with no infrastructure, areas controlled by drug dealers (our favela was run by a gang with the very un-gangsta sounding name “Friends of Friends,” which I guess does sound a little Mafia-like).  It sounds horrible and lawles, but really there is less petty crime in the favelas because the drug dealers won´t allow any non-drug-related crime (they don´t want the police to have an excuse to raid the favelas.

Since this kind of area is obviously fascinating, tours have sprung up recently, all of which work with the communities they visit, and give a lot of money back.  As a result, we felt very welcome the whole time we were there.  And safe.  Our guide even made fun of our disposable camera, thinking we considered it too dangerous to bring a digital one.  Of course, our digital was still broken, which is too bad, since every view in the favela has enough texture to be an award-winning photograph.

Anyway, our favela, Rocinha, was the largest in the city, with over 200,000 people, all of whom appeared to be siphoning electricity from one mid-sized generator at the top of the hill.  Since the favela is surrounded by rocky cliffs on one side and a national park on the other, there is no room to build but up.  As a result, there are no roads in the favela, just an endless series of tunnels and catacombs leading in all directions.

Favela da Rocinha: photo credit Scott Hadfield

Favela da Rocinha: photo credit Scott Hadfield

Q:  And, after months of bashing your head on pretty much every hanging thing in South America, were you finally able to use your freakish height for good in the favela?

A:  Surprisingly, yes.  Our tour spent a fair amount of time in the day care that the tour sponsors, where we played with the kids and generally smiled at everyone.  While there, I was able to reach a ball that was stuck between some wires.  So, y´know, I guess I wasn´t TOTALLY imposing on South American culture the ENTIRE time I was there.  Now someone bring me a caipirinha.

Q:  Um … there’s no one here.  Anyway, what’s up with the hang gliding?

A:  Soon, hopefully.  The cliffs around the city make for excellent hang gliding, with a view of the city, the ocean, and the jungles all at once.  We were supposed to go yesterday, but there was no wind, so we went to Copacabana Beach instead.  We rescheduled for this morning, but the clouds were too low, so we went up to the Christ the Redeemer statue instead.  Now, we hope to go tomorrow.

Q:  Copacabana?  Christ the Redeemer?  Those are some pretty solid backup plans.  Want to talk about them?

A:  Copacabana, despite being one of the most famous beaches in the world, was only average in terms of beach quality, though there were a series of incredibly complex sand sculptures commemorating the 2016 Olympics.  It was like Old Yankee Stadium … you go for the mystique, not the actual experience.  And, since we´re staying only three Metro stops away in the Catete neighborhood (first time on a South American subway … yeah!), it´s easy to stop by for an afternoon.

The Christ statue is probably even more famous, and you can tell by the dozens of camera-waving tourists all trying to pose for the exact same picture in front of it.  Still … huge statue on a cliff overlooking the city = cool thing to see.  Not much more to say about it, really.

We actually have a photo from this! (Taken on a disposable camera, ha!)

We actually have a photo from this! (Taken on a disposable camera, ha!)

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Fond Memories of Brazil 2009: Salvador

Ah, Salvador. Despite what you may hear about the city in terms of safety, we had an awesome experience in Salvador and it ended up being one of our absolute favorite destinations in South America. If you’re going to Brazil, do yourself a favor and spend a few days soaking in the culture of Salvador! The excerpt from Aaron’s 2009 email is below:

Our 6 hour bus ride from Macéio to Salvador. Map credit: map credit Rome2Rio

Our 6 hour bus ride from Macéio to Salvador. Map credit: map credit Rome2Rio

Q:  Let´s start at the beginning.  You guys got off the beaches and got cultural this week.  When we left off, you were about to get on the midnight bus to Salvador.  Take it from there.

A:  The midnight bus to Salvador was the best of our many overnight trips, thanks to some coma-inducing cough syrup we picked up in Macéio.  The world looks better when you sleep.  Upon arriving at our hostel, we met Russell, the owner, who would prove to be, without a doubt, the most informative and helpful person in all of South America.  Within an hour of meeting him, we had carefully labeled maps of all important parts of the city, a list of good nearby restaurants, and a pretty much complete schedule for our three days in Salvador.  Also, he had a beagle named Snoopy.  And the hostel offered one free caipirinha per day.  We loved Russell, and everything about that hostel.

Pelourinho, Salvador: photo credit Tatiana Coutinho

Pelourinho, Salvador: photo credit Tatiana Coutinho

We also met a fascinating cast of characters at the hostel, and soon we were doing almost everything together.  They included a nineteen-year-old guy from New Zealand currently living in Buenos Aires (bear in mind that at nineteen I don´t think I could cross the street without adult supervision), a guy from Rhode Island in the process of moving to Salvador to work on his Ph.D dissertation in Ethnomusicology, and two girls from Boise, Idaho, one of whom had a job selling plants which apparently allowed her to work three months out of the year and take the rest of the year off, the other an artist who worked mostly in the medium of teapots, her most famous work being titled “Sneaky Jesus.”

Q:  “Sneaky Jesus”?

A:  Apparently this was a teapot sculpted to look like a statue of Jesus, and in said statue He is trying to conceal the fact that he is eating a hot dog.  The inscription on the inside of the pot reads “Hey now, is that kosher?”

And again, this is a teapot.

After meeting these two (the plant seller also seemed to know quite a bit about the Boise break-dancing scene), I am now convinced that Idaho is the most creative, independent-thinking place on Earth.  Also, the Boise State football field is blue.  Go Broncos!

Cool Idahoan friends in Salvador

Cool Idahoan friends in Salvador

Q:  And with this crew, you explored basically the whole of Salvador, or at least all the places Russell said you should go.  What kind of city is Salvador?

A:  I guess the key adjective is “Afro-Brazilian.”  Salvador was the first part of Brazil discovered by Europeans, so it became the first capitol and also the main slave trading port.  Without reading like an encyclopedia entry on Brazil, here are a few of the cool historical things we checked out:

Bahia Lighthouse: photo credit Jota Freitas

Bahia Lighthouse: photo credit Jota Freitas

  • The First Lighthouse Ever Built in South America – dating to the 1550s, the lighthouse also holds a maritime museum, which was interesting in that it´s fun to try to imagine a world in which Portugal, Holland, and Belgium were major world powers, as they were in the sixteenth century when they fought for control of Salvador.
  • The Church of Sao Francisco – huge, gaudy, gold-embossed cathedral whose spiritual value was mostly overshadowed by the fact that it was built by slaves.  The slaves, apparently masters of the passive-aggressive practical joke, got back at their Catholic masters by occasionally sculpting pregnant angels into the architecture.  I´d say that pretty much evened the score. There are also a series of paintings illustrating parables, though their explanations made no sense.  For example, there would be an illustration of a woman spilling what appeared to be a basket of buttons, and the translated parable would read, “The middle road is the wisest.”  We spent most of our time at the church making up our own explanations, all of which seemed hilarious at the time, but now just seem equally ridiculous.
  • Afro-Brazilian Museum – a place we went to for roughly fifteen minutes on our last day because we were out of time and had a plane to catch.  Looked cool, though.
Beautiful Salvador: photo credit Rafael Ramires

Beautiful Salvador: photo credit Rafael Ramires

Q:  And, at one point, did you see a guy light himself on fire?

A:  Yup.  The coolest cultural thing we did was attending a traditional dance show, which was so much fun that it gets its own paragraph.  Normally, “traditional dance show” would sound kind of lame, but we´ve learned that the prefix “Afro” makes everything cool.  It started out with a lot of trancelike shaking and yelling, which was interesting just for how weird it was, but then a guy came out dancing with bowls of fire in his hands, and another balanced on his head, while we sat in the front row of the crowd, close enough to feel the heat.  He then proceeded to reach into the bowl, grab the substance that was on fire, and rub it all over his body.  He also put it in his mouth.  Seriously, I have no idea how he is still alive.

The show then moved into a demonstration of capoeira.  Now, even though capoiera is decently well-known (in fact, at least on person on this email list has taken capoiera lessons in San Francisco), I´m still going to talk about it at some length because I´m fascinated by it.  Capoiera started out as a traditional form of martial arts in Africa, but it was banned by the slave owners in Brazil.  The slaves still wanted to do it, but they knew that if they hit each other in combat, it would leave marks, and the slave masters would know they had been practicing capoeira.  So they kept everything the same, except they eliminated all touching.  So they still kick each other in the face, but train their feet to stop millimeters before impact.

Think about how much trust that requires:  “I´m going to come at you, and I want you to come as close as you possibly can to kicking me in the face, knowing that if your foot does accidentally make contact, my master may kill me.”  Now that is intense.

Anyway, the show was incredible.

Pelourinho, Salvador

Pelourinho, Salvador

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Fond Memories of Brazil 2009: Natal + Maceió

FIFA World Cup 2014 starts tomorrow! In its honor, today’s post is about our stays in Natal (one of the host cities) and Maceió. Enjoy!

After several incredibly relaxing days in laid-back Jericoacoara, Aaron and I eventually decided it was time to leave paradise and continue our journey down the Brazilian coast. Our destination by default became Natal, the next large coastal city with beautiful beaches. We hopped on an overnight bus ride headed south, and arrived in Natal about 8 hours after departing from Fortaleza.

Our route from Jeri to Natal: map credit Rome2Rio

Our route from Jeri to Natal: map credit Rome2Rio

Fortunately, we were much more impressed with Natal’s city beaches than we were with Fortaleza’s, so rather than make the trek to nearby Praia da Pipa (which is apparently awesome and very similar to Jeri), we decided to stay in the main part of the city. But if you have time to kill in Natal between World Cup matches, I’d definitely recommend a quick Pipa trip!

Our days in Natal were spent eating açai bowls on the beach, watching a local surf competition, and walking around the coastal Ponta Negra neighborhood. All in all, we may not have had any culturally important experiences during our short stay in Natal, but we were certainly happy to be there. Oh, and we treated ourselves to a delicious rodizio shrimp dinner on our last night in town… which also happened to be Yom Kippur. (Sorry, Mom!)

Praia de Ponta Negra: photo credit Leandro Neumann Ciuffo

Praia de Ponta Negra: photo credit Leandro Neumann Ciuffo

Our next stop after Natal was Maceió, home to some of the absolutely most beautiful city beaches that I’ve ever seen. Why did we decide to stop there? Do a quick Google Images search for “Maceió” and the color of its water will speak for itself. We jumped on another overnight bus in Natal and arrived in Maceió about 9 1/2 hours later.

Another overnight bus ride from Natal to Maceió: map credit Rome2Rio

Another overnight bus ride from Natal to Maceió: map credit Rome2Rio

Because our digital camera stopped working while we were in Natal, our days in Maceió were spent between 1) looking for a camera-repair shop, 2) looking for an internet cafe to search for said camera-repair shop address, and 3) making exclamations about the gorgeous turquoise water.

Despite its beautiful municipal beaches, Maceió was, at least in 2009, definitely not set up to be a tourist destination, which really caught Aaron and me off guard. All of the tourist-friendly things that we’d come to expect (plentiful hostels/hotels, internet cafes, various day-tours, etc.) were missing. We hardly saw any other travelers around, let alone any Americans. It was actually pretty mind-boggling to us that a city with such incredible beaches could attract so few foreigners. We thought must have just visited during an off-season, because surely Maceió had to be popular with backpackers heading down the coast of Brazil; we just must have missed them… right? But several weeks later in Rio, when we mentioned our stay in Maceió to a Brazilian who was from there, he was absolutely shocked that we Americans visited his hometown.

Praia de Pajuçara boardwalk, Maceió: photo credit Dario Sanches

Praia de Pajuçara boardwalk, Maceió: photo credit Dario Sanches

Despite the lack of tourism infrastructure, I ‘m still glad that we stopped in Maceió. Especially in retrospect, I think it’s pretty cool that we were able to experience a city that so few Americans choose to visit. It’s also really crazy to think about how dependent we once were on internet cafes back then! What are we, dinosaurs? Alright, alright, enough blabbing from me. I’ll let Aaron’s email take it from here.

Q: Tell us about the drive from Fortaleza to Natal.

A: The drive, if I had to describe it in one hyphenated adjective, is: trash-strewn. Honestly, every plastic bag mankind has ever used, all throughout history, winds up on the side of the road in northern Brazil. With the incredible beaches and the beautiful people and the soccer dominance and whatnot, you can forget how much of Brazil is a poor and dirty place. I know all countries are like that, too a point, but wow … when you see it, you understand.

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Fond Memories of Brazil 2009: Fortaleza + Jericoacoara

The second installment of my “Fond Memories of Brazil 2009″ series is all about Fortaleza! Okay fine, not so much about Fortaleza as it is about one of the greatest places we’ve ever visited: Jericoacoara.

Paradise Lagoon in Jericoacoara: photo credit Jonathan Hood

Paradise Lagoon in Jericoacoara: photo credit Jonathan Hood

After our interesting Amazon river experience, Aaron and I were eager to get back on the Gringo Trail and relax on a beach. We’re not saying that we deserved a vacation or anything, but being on a crowded hammock boat for an unknown amount of time with minimal food surrounded by people we could hardly communicate with was a bit stressful. Oh, that combined with the fact that some scary witch lady in Belém ripped a necklace off of my neck while I was walking down a busy street in broad daylight. (It was pretty freaky.)

So, yes, relaxing beach time felt necessary. Looking at our map, Fortaleza was the next big beach town south of Belém, so that became our destination by default. But don’t let maps of Brazil fool you. It may look like two destinations are relatively close to each other, but in reality those “short” distances are almost always a 24+ hour bus ride (approximately $80). We opted for a $200 five hour flight instead.

Map credit Rome2rio

Map credit Rome2rio

I think we had originally planned to do a few days in Fortaleza before heading to either Jericoacoara or somewhere south, but it became quickly apparent that the city beaches were not as idyllic as we had hoped. So rather than spending a few days wishing we were somewhere else, we only stayed in Fortaleza one night before starting the trek to Jeri. 

Praia do Mucuripe, Fortaleza: photo credit  Rafael Ramos and David Andrade

Praia do Mucuripe, Fortaleza: photo credit Rafael Ramos and David Andrade

If there’s one thing that you take away from this blog post, if you’re anywhere near Fortaleza GO TO JERICOACOARA! I’ll let Aaron’s email explain how awesome it was:

Q: You landed in Fortaleza and stayed there about six hours before heading North to the small beach town of Jericoacoara. Big cities, small towns, South, North … I have to ask: How do you guys choose your destinations?

A: I gotta say, it´s almost totally random. We have two guidebooks, so those are somewhat useful. A personal recommendation by a fellow traveler goes a long way. Mostly though, we´re doing it on instinct, and it´s amazing we´ve had as much luck as we have.

Basically, we arrived in Fortaleza, and it looked way too much like Belém for our liking. Though no one we knew personally had ever been to Jericoacoara, most people had positive things to say about it, and it was on a list of “Brazil´s Best Beaches” Ilana found online. So that´s it. We were on the bus.

Q: And, when the historians ask, you´ll tell them your trip´s low point was right about here, right?

A: I think so, yeah. The bus trip was billed as five hours, with a sixth hour in some kind of 4 wheel drive vehicle over some sand dunes to the town itself, but after six and a half hours, we were still on the first bus. We try to take direct buses when possible, at least buses that advertise that they make very few stops. At night, this works out okay. During the day, however, “direct bus” means that the driver picks up every person who looks like they could maybe use a lift anywhere. And there are no freeways in Brazil, so we´re constantly passing through towns, slowing for speed bumps and intersections, and literally picking people up, taking them three blocks and then dropping them off. Do these people have tickets? Do they have to pay at all?!?

Honestly, it´s about as much fun as picking up the 38 bus at 6th and Clement and taking it to, I dunno, Fresno.

Then we got on the dune travel vehicle, which looks like part of the ride from Disney´s Safari Adventure, and that thing takes off, bumping around like crazy, and we´re actually going BACK DOWN the road we´d just traveled by bus, and a little bit of my soul died. I thought back on the last two weeks, all the time since we´d entered Brazil, and all I could see was: Mototaxi-Plane-Bus-Taxi-Boat-Taxi-Bus-Bus-Boat-Taxi-Plane-Bus-Disney´s-Safari-Adventure-Vehicle. It was like we´d signed up for some kind of survey course on Modes of Transportation in Brazil, and I wondered if all this traveling was even leading somewhere, if we´d ever get to a place where we wanted to stay …

Q: And the couple in front of you weren´t helping anything, were they?

A: Oh lord. No. No they were not. Where to start? Well, they were some kind of nondescipt European, the guy hideously dessicated, like his skin had to be painfully stretched out to cover his face, the girl just homely, doughy, and pale. She was out of his league, just by not being freakishly ugly. And they just made out, hardcore, the entire time. Sloppy, slobbering makeout sessions, even as we traveled over some of the roughest terrain. Honestly, they pretty much destroyed my concept of romantic love forever. If Ilana is ever distant with me for any reason, I assume that she just can´t get the image of these two out of her head. Honestly. Physical intimacy is gross, isn´t it? And so I sat there, sleep-deprived and bouncing against a hard metal seat, and I tried not to look, but of course I couldn´t stop. This was the low point.

Q: And then … Jericoacoara?

A: And then Jericoacoara. And then, all of the sudden, I had nothing to complain about. After 90 minutes traversing huge sand dunes with nothing man-made as far as the eye can see, we came over a dune and there it was, shimmering like a mirage in the night, an impossible collection of everything I wanted a Brazilian beach town to be.

Ah, Jericoacoara: photo credit Jamie McIntyre

Ah, Jericoacoara: photo credit Jamie McIntyre

In Jeri, there are no roads. It is literally built on the sand dunes. Even in the businesses, there are no floors, only sand. Twenty years ago, this was apparently just another fishing village, like Alter Do Chao, with pristine beaches but nothing to do. At some point, though, it became a windsurfing and kitesurfing mecca, and so a town grew up out of nowhere in a three square block area, cheap hostels and restaurants with soft-lit patios and live acoustic music, beach shops and bars and internet cafes. I´m still not sure if it was real. I mean, there are no roads. How did all that stuff get out there? Just the basic building materials … it seems impossible.

We checked into an incredible hostel with wireless internet and free huge breakfasts and air conditioning and an owner who spoke English, and we paid less than half of what we paid to sleep in a hole in Belém. Our neighbors across the hall were x-ray technicians from Seattle, breaking our streak of 11 days without meeting a native English speaker. We went out for huge portions of pineapple shrimp, and I felt truly happy to be traveling for the first time in about a week. This was a place we could stay.

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Fond Memories of Brazil 2009: Manaus + The Amazon

Welcome to the first many “Fond Memories of Brazil 2009” posts, just in time for the World Cup! I’ll start each of these posts with some of my own thoughts on the city, then I’m going to include excerpts from my husband Aaron’s weekly emails to our friends and family that he wrote during the trip. To make these emails a bit more engaging, he wrote all of them in a mock Q&A format. (In other words, he just interviewed himself… which confused my grandparents a lot.)

One more quick programming note before we get started: At the end of our South America trip, we actually lost one of our digital camera memory cards. It. Was. Devastating. Especially so because we had already missed a few weeks of photos when our camera stopped working midway through Brazil and we found out the hard way that electronics in Brazil are outrageously overpriced. So that explains the lack of amazing photos to go along with these blog posts. Sorry about that!

Alright, how did we end up visiting Manaus in the first place? That’s easy to explain. My friend’s older brother had once told me that the ONE thing that he wanted to do next time he went to South America was take a hammock boat from Manaus to Belém. Because this friend of mine goes to South America a lot and seemed to know his stuff, we assumed that this was a “can’t-miss” activity. (Spoiler alert: we may have been wrong about that.) So we flew into Manaus with no plans other than to get ourselves on one of those hammock boats headed east.

Little did we know, this is what the hammock boats looked like  mik_p

Little did we know, this is what the hammock boats looked like: photo credit mik_p

Upon arrival at our hostel, we were happy to learn that they could secure hammock boat tickets for us the very next morning, so we only ended up spending one night in Manaus. Most of the time we just wandered around the city buying supplies for the boat trip and trying the local street food.

Aerial view of Manaus: photo credit Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Aerial view of Manaus: photo credit Neil Palmer (CIAT)

From what I recall of our quick Manaus experience, it just seemed like a typical big city… that just happened to be in the middle of the Amazon. Like if I hadn’t flown in and seen with my own eyes how much jungle and wilderness surrounded the city, I wouldn’t have been able to believe it myself.

Meeting of the waters: via Mariordo

The “meeting of the waters,” where the black Rio Negro meets the sandy Amazon: photo credit Mariordo

But unless you’re going for either 1) an Amazonian adventure, or 2) the World Cup, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going out of your way to visit Manaus. I’m sure the city had a lot more to offer than what we saw during our short time there, but there were so many other cities in Brazil that we liked a lot better. And as for the “can’t-miss” hammock boat adventure down the Amazon? Well, I’ll let Aaron’s email explain our experience, then you can decide for yourself whether you’d be up for it:

Q: So you flew into Manaus, the capital of the Amazon region, a surprisingly big city. What will be your main enduring memory of Manaus?

A: Sadly, it will be the bus station. Let´s explain. Crossing into Brazil, I feel a constant, blinding, drowning sense of helplessness. I know I poke fun at our lack of Spanish skills, but we know enough to get around, to bargain, to ask questions, to instruct a cab driver, etc. In a Spanish-speaking country, I know we will not simply die in the streets. In Brazil, it´s not so much of a given. Everyone who tells you Portuguese is just like Spanish is LYING TO YOU. They may look similar on paper, but you will not understand one word anyone is saying, and they will not understand your Spanish. At all.

So we got off the plane in Manaus, and succeeded in getting on a bus from the airport to the main bus terminal, where we hoped to transfer to another bus that would take us to our hostel. We got off at the bus terminal … and stepped into … something. There was one huge line, leading up some stairs and into a building … and this line NEVER MOVED. We were there for at least ten minutes, standing in the same place. Buses constantly stopped, and people got off, but no one ever got on. And the people who got off just got in our line and stood there. WHERE WAS THIS LINE GOING TO?!? Some of the buses appeared to be heading where we wanted go, but the drivers were emphatic that we could not get on. I don´t want to be the ugly American traveler, but if there was ever one time I wanted to yell “Does anyone here speak English?!? Can anyone tell me what´s going on?!?”, it was this moment.

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Coming Soon: Lots of Posts About Brazil

Back in 2009, Aaron and I spent 2 1/2 glorious months backpacking all over South America. Because we spent the months leading up to our trip studying for the California bar exam, we didn’t have a lot of spare time to do any travel research in advance – all we had were flights into Peru in August and out of Argentina in October.

Boca Juniors v. River Plate at La Bombonera, Buenos Aires

Superclasico 2009: Boca Juniors v. River Plate at La Bombonera, Buenos Aires

Looking back on it, I can’t believe how unlike me it was to go into such a big trip practically blind! I remember emailing some friends who had been to South America before to see if they had any recommendations for us, but Aaron and I just figured that we’d make decisions for the most part on the fly once we arrived. This uber-casual spontaneous travel strategy worked out for the most part, but we probably could have saved a lot of money if we had made some of the major decisions in advance.

One of the things that we knew before our trip was that we wanted to spend a lot of time in Brazil. Americans need to get travel visas in advance to visit Brazil, so Aaron and I made a few trips to the Brazil Consulate in San Francisco with our bar books in tow.

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Wanderlusting: The 10 Countries I Most Want to Visit in the Near Future

My last blog post about travel envy was kind of a bummer, so I decided that I needed to write something a bit more positive before the week was over. Instead of dwelling on the fact that I’m not going to Istanbul with Aaron, I started thinking about the 10 countries I’d most want to visit. My only criteria for the list was that 1) I had to include countries that I’ve never been to before, and 2) they had to be places I’d want to visit in the near future (i.e. in the next 10 years or so – not when I’m much older and less adventurous/active), which was pretty easy because I haven’t been everywhere… yet.

Below is the list that I came up with, with the countries listed in alphabetical order:


Up until very recently, Cambodia was totally at the top of my must-see list. Throughout our honeymoon in Bali & Vietnam, we met several other couples who just raved about the food, beaches, friendliness, and cheapness of Cambodia, not to mention the complete awe of experiencing Angkor Wat. However, another travel blogger that I highly admire recently wrote about why she thinks that Cambodia has recently changed, and not for the better. Kate really knows her stuff, so I believe her when she says that she didn’t love her latest experience there. I’m hoping though that things will turn back around for Cambodia, so I can get enthusiastic again about visiting it.


Cambodia – thanks for the pics, Alice!


Aaron and I had so much fun backpacking around South America in 2009, but we felt a bit amiss that we didn’t make it to Chile. Ideally, our trip there will include experiencing cosmopolitan Santiago, snowboarding in Portillo, surfing in Pichilemu, and a few days exploring Easter Island.


Aside from wanting to see the Galapagos Islands, I’d never thought too much about visiting Ecuador; that is until my friend Jen came back from a trip there last year and had the best time ever. She promised that she’d one day write a blog post about her trip (right, Jen?), so I’ll leave it to her to tell you why she fell in love with the country.


Ecuador – thanks for the pics, Jen!


The Blue Lagoon, live music, Northern Lights, Einstock beer – what’s not to like? If there were direct flights from Reykjavík to Dublin, we would have combined Iceland with our Ireland trip last summer.


My family friend visited Mauritius during her Semester at Sea, and as soon as I saw the photos of the perfect turquoise water and bleached white sand, I knew that I’d have to go there some day. It was definitely in the running as one of our own honeymoon destinations, but we’d like to combine it with a few weeks in South Africa as well, and we didn’t think we’d be able to do all of that right after the wedding. I guess it will just have to be the destination for a special anniversary trip, right?


Mauritius – thanks for the pics, Hana!


As soon as I can find the time to spend a week in Marrakech, I’m going to make it happen. My friend Daniel was lucky enough to spend this past NYE at this insanely beautiful estate, and said that he just thought the whole area was really beautiful and interesting. Also, my mom and sisters got to ride camels near Tangier a few years ago which looked really fun.


Morocco – thanks for the pics, Rachel and Nicole!


One of my friends from college has lived in a handful of foreign countries since grad school, and although she’s currently living in Kabul, she is supposed to head back to Yangon soon. Only recently a tourist destination, she says that traveling around Burma is like going back in time. Aaron and I want to see what that’s like before everything becomes too modernized.

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Amanda & Justin’s Real RTW Trip: Part 2

Amanda and Justin’s RTW trip was too awesome to confine to one blog post, so you can read part 1 here, and below is part 2 – enjoy!

What were your three favorite places that you visited on this trip?

It’s so hard to narrow down our favorite places from a trip this long; there were so many amazing places! From a high level, our favorite countries were:

Argentina: Justin’s sister lives in Buenos Aires, so we got a real taste of the local culture in the area and got to meet several of her friends. BA is an extremely fun city and it’s impossible to beat the steak dinners and incredible wine at cheap prices. Bariloche is a ski gem, the Lake Tahoe of Argentina: fun little town, incredible natural beauty, good skiing/snowboarding, and lots more amazing food and homemade chocolate. Mendoza has amazing wine and also unparalleled natural beauty.


Skiing in Bariloche, Argentina

Turkey: this country blew us both away, both by the outdoor activities, insanely beautiful landscapes, amazing food, history, culture, and fun. Our first stop was Selcuk – it’s has a great coastline and beaches, and the world-famous Ephesus ruins which were very impressive. Then we went to Pamukkale, which consists of an absolutely gorgeous mountain of hot springs, “travertines,” and waterfalls. This place is impossible to describe, so we’ll let the pictures do the talking. Then we went to Cappadocia for a sunrise hot air balloon ride, exploring the impressive landscapes, and amazing food. Finally, we spent 5 days exploring Istanbul, one of our favorite cities on the whole trip.


Pammukale, Turkey


Cappadocia, Turkey

Indonesia: We spent 5 incredible days relaxing and enjoying resort life in Seminyak, Bali. We spent some time exploring the island and seeing the rice paddies, but most of the time decompressing from our hectic travel schedule, enjoying the beach, pool, and being in one place for a change. We then went to the Komodo Islands and did a 3-day liveaboard diving trip, which turned out to be by far the best diving either of us had ever done. The quality, quantity, and size (both HUGE and incredibly tiny and beautiful) of the marine life was unmatched, and the liveaboard experience was unbeatable, including delicious home-cooked Indonesian food for every meal. We also had the opportunity to go on land to see the famous Komodo Dragons – the only place in the world they exist! Finally, we relaxed on beautiful Gili Trawangan, which has no cars, good diving, and great beaches.

One of the most beautiful, rare, and poisonous creatures in the sea: the blue ring octopus. This little beauty was only about 1.5 inches long.

One of the most beautiful, rare, and poisonous creatures in the sea: the blue ring octopus. This little beauty was only about 1.5 inches long.

Komodo dragon!

Komodo dragon!

Also worth of honorable mention as the two best surprises of the trip:

Bruges, Belgium: Maybe it’s just because we didn’t know much about this town before we got there, or because the day we showed up there was a city-wide festival of music, arts, and games going on, but this place stole our hearts. Really, the only word to describe it is adorable. Charming architecture, fun small-town feel, INCREDIBLE selection of Belgian beers for cheap prices, amazing food (so many mussels…) and great Belgian chocolate. We could have spent much more time here.

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

Singapore: We had heard a lot of negative things about the city-state, but we both loved it. We’ve heard it described as “sterile,” but for us it was just modern and fun. Lots of cool places to wander, stuff to see, great views from the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, and some of the best street food we ate on the entire trip (the dumplings are too die for!). They have a few areas where they set up dozens of food hawker stalls that allows you to eat any kind of Asian food you can imagine: Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Filipino, Thai, etc…all for cheap prices. The street food there is pretty hard to top.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore

Were there any places you wish you had skipped?

Yes, but really the only places we didn’t love are places that we used for transit and didn’t plan on spending any time. These cities include Lima (Peru), Zagreb (Croatia), Podgorica (Montenegro), and Vientiane (Laos). I don’t think we regretted and of the places where we actually spent time – we did lots of research and only visited places we knew we would enjoy.

Do you have any tips for other couples who are considering going on a RTW trip?

  • First, just do it. There are always a million excuses why you can’t do a trip longer than 2-3 weeks, but you won’t regret doing it. It is a lifetime of memories that are invaluable.
  • Kindles and iPads are an absolute must for a trip like this. Both are great for long flights, bus rides, transportation of any kind really. iPads allowed us to easily download shows and movies, and we also bought lightweight USB keyboards so we could write emails to friends and family without having to hunt and peck on an iPad.
  • Facebook can be a very useful tool to get recommendations for specific places – don’t be afraid to use it as long as you’re not being too general.
  • Information is key!! Before you go to a new country or city, inform yourself about how much taxis should cost, whether using the meter is a custom, and what the exchange rate is to avoid being ripped off. Nothing worse than finding out later you paid way too much for a taxi ride. The exchange rate app XE was very useful for us. In general, don’t trust taxi drivers, especially at airports and bus stations! Make sure you have the name of the place you are staying on your phone (we took screen shots) to show the taxi driver. Also, try to google map how far the distance is to your accommodation so you have a general idea of what you are in for.
  • Tripadvisor is your friend: we relied on it heavily for restaurants, activities, and places to stay.
  • If you’ve got hotel points or airline miles, this is the time to use them – but do so in places where your points will go the furthest, and where other accommodations may be less appealing.
  • Try to space out when you stay in nice hotels – it is something to look forward to but also critical in reenergizing for the rest of the trip. If we were moving around a lot, we would then plan to stay in a place for 4 – 5 nights (and sometimes in a hotel) so we could take a breather and regroup for the next journey.
  • Buy a travel backpack. Don’t even think about doing this with a rollerboard or standard suitcase. We both used Osprey backpacks which held up great!
  • Don’t take yourself or anything too seriously because, let’s face it, traveling can be stressful. There will be times that things don’t go your way or you are tested, but always remember that you are a team, in this together, and don’t hold onto the frustration. It’s okay to be frustrated at times but look, it’s all part of the adventure. Just shake it off as best and as quickly as possible. You don’t want it to ruin the trip or your partner’s experience!

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Amanda & Justin’s Real RTW Trip: Part 1

My friend Justin is one of the best-traveled people I know, so when he told me that he was going on a round the world (RTW) trip with his girlfriend Amanda after they graduated from business school, I couldn’t wait to hear about their travel plans because I knew they’d be ridiculously impressive.  Six months and 20+ countries later, I was not disappointed one bit. And since they have so many beautiful photos and thoughtful RTW trip recommendations, I decided to split their post into a two-part series. Here’s part 1 – enjoy!

How long was your RTW trip, and how did you find the time to go?

Our trip was 6 months long and the timing was perfect for us as we had just graduated from business school in June, 2013. We both had jobs lined up and were offered a late start date (February 2014) – the opportunity to travel for that length of time was too good to pass up.

Justin and Amanda in Bali

Justin and Amanda in Bali

Where did you go (and how much time did you stay in each place)?

The rough breakdown is as follows:

~6 weeks in South America:
• Ecuador (Galapagos Islands, Quito, and Banos)
• Peru (Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, and Cuzco)
• Argentina (Buenos Aires, Bariloche, and Mendoza)

~8 weeks in Europe:
• Spain (Barcelona, Mallorca, and San Sebastian)
• France (Saint Emilion, and Paris)
• Belgium (Bruges)
• Netherlands (Amsterdam)
• Germany (Munich for Oktoberfest)
• Austria (Vienna)
• Slovenia (Ljubljana and Lake Bled)
• Croatia (Zagreb, Plitvice National Park, Zadar (coastal drive), Split, Hvar and Korcula (islands) and Dubrovnik)
• Montenegro (Kotor)
• Turkey (Ephesus, Pamukkale, Capadoccia, and Istanbul)

~3 weeks in the Middle East:
• Jordan (Petra, Wadi Rum desert, Aqaba, and Amman)
• Israel (Eilat, Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Bethlehem)

~6 weeks in Southeast Asia:
• Thailand (Bangkok, Krabi, and Chiang Mai)
• Laos (Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane)
• Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur)
• Indonesia (Bali, Komodo Islands, and the Gili Islands)

~3 weeks in New Zealand (Amanda went home for the holidays as she had already been to NZ, so Justin pushed on solo):
• Auckland
• Whitianga
• Tongoriro Crossing / Lake Taupo
• Rotorua
• Queenstown
• Wanaka
• Franz Josef glacier
• Milford Sound


Hot air balloon in Cappadocia, Turkey

Did you have a set itinerary from the start, or did you play things by ear?

We booked the long flights through American Airline’s RTW ticket desk (this consisted of about 10 – 12 segments), and then played everything else by ear. Once we were booked, the cities were set in stone but the dates were changeable for free (luckily, we never had to change anything). For example, we knew we were flying into Buenos Aires on a specific date, and we would generally plan the activities that we did in that area as we went along. One condition of the RTW tickets was that we had to fly into and out of the same city (we were allowed one exception to this rule, which we used in Europe: flew into Barcelona and out of Istanbul). Therefore, we also knew what date we had to be back in Buenos Aires to fly out. How early we planned things depended on where we were: in Europe it was very easy to just make decisions and hop on a train or bus, whereas in Indonesia we had to book flights to get from island to island – so that part required more advanced planning.


Justin and Amanda in Pamukkale, Turkey

Our greatest resources for recommendations for each location were suggestions from previous friends that have traveled there, tripadvisor (we used this A LOT for everything ranging from activities to restaurants to hotels), and posting on FB for recommendations. These resources all were an important part to the planning process. Also, don’t underestimate the time it takes to plan! We would take a day here and there to just do research and plan our next move – you want to make sure you put thought into what you do so you can finish the trip with no regrets which is what we did!

View from the top of the Marina Sands Hotel in Singapore

View from the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore

How hard was it to pack for a RTW trip?    

The answer to this question varies significantly depending on who you ask – packing was much easier for Justin.
For Justin, the thought of packing for this trip sounded daunting at first (6 months, countless cities and countries, and multiple climates in both summer and winter), but at the end of the day he just simplified and packed light. When it was cold he layered up. He packed mostly things he didn’t care too much about, expecting stuff to get lost or ruined – no real science to it. Amanda put much more thought into her packing…

From Amanda’s perspective, this was a very overwhelming trip to even think about packing for because she didn’t want to forgo her fashion sense for total utility so she worked hard to strike a balance. She wishes she had some advice while packing therefore she has provided some key things / recommendations that she would make to girls packing for a RTW including:

  • Get a backpack that you can easily get into and out of so you don’t feel like you have to repack every time you want to get a shirt – I LOVED my backpack which was the Osprey Waypoint 65L which was great because it had a daypack attached to it (very convenient) and it zips open like a suitcase which was very helpful. Have your backpack fitted to you as well so it is more comfortable (they can do it in any travel or outdoorsy store).
  • Scarves are your best friend – I brought 4 on the trip and bought more while traveling. They are not only great to add warmth and layers, but they can easily change up an outfit to make you feel like you have more clothes than you do!
  • Roll everything you pack – it takes up way less space so you can squeeze more things into your back pack
  • Only pack lightweight things and focus on layering – I brought a lot of solid colored tank tops that I could layer with each other or under sweaters. This is also a great way to change up the look of outfits.
  • Buy space compressible bags to pack bulky items in! I had one from EagleCreek and it was life saving – I could put 6 sweaters in it and compress them to take up the space of half that.
  •  Try to pack things that are one color scheme so every piece goes with everything else – I took a lot of black and white items so then I could add a colorful scarf, tank top or necklace to make many outfits out of a few items
  • Don’t underestimate the amount of active clothing you will need (work out pants / shirts, etc.) – that is one thing I wish I would have brought more of because if they get sweaty, you can’t re-wear them!
  • Find a great crossbody purse that is neutral in color and zips up so you don’t lose all of your valuables. I got a Marc by Marc Jacobs beige canvas bag which was perfect. I could easily clean it, it went with everything, was large and had a zip pocket that I could safely put my wallet and passport so I would not get pick-pocketed.
  • Don’t pack anything you are attached to – I took only inexpensive items and did have some things ruined during the course of the trip. I had to throw them out but it was no big deal since they weren’t expensive!
  • Have a great pair or two of sunglasses – the best accessory to make you look great in pictures when you may feel “not at your best” after camping for 3 nights and not showering, just for example…
An island in Indonesia

An island in Indonesia


Come back tomorrow to read the second part of Amanda and Justin’s amazing round the world trip, including thoughts on their favorite and least favorite places, and lots of incredibly helpful tips for other couples considering going on a RTW voyage.