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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Real Honeymoon: Brazil

I was totally happy to get another Real Honeymoon submission from South America, and the very first honeymoon in Brazil!  The post made me even more excited about the possibility of going back to Brazil for the FIFA World Cup 2014.  (Shhh… don’t tell my mom quite yet ; ) – I think we’ll find out whether we get tickets at the end of next month or early November.)  Anyway, read all about Lacey and Travis’ awesome honeymoon in Rio below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

We honeymooned in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June of 2013.

Rio honeymoon

How long was your trip?

We stayed 5 nights and 6 days.


How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

We wanted to go somewhere with beautiful beaches and interesting culture to explore. Rio de Janeiro was on both of our travel wish lists so it was a perfect place to pick for our honeymoon.

Trem do Corcovado

The best part about our honeymoon was…

Either the day we saw the Christ the Redeemer statue and took the gondolas (yes two) to the top of Sugar Loaf mountain, or the day we spent relaxing at the pool and the beach since we never have time to relax! We also had a great time exploring the over 200 year old Jardim Botanico where we saw wild monkeys.


If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

We would probably stay one or two less days in Rio de Janeiro and see another city in Brazil. You can do all of the must see sights in about three days so the remaining time is spent enjoying the beach and nightlife.Rio honeymoon

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Where You Should Honeymoon in September

Once Labor Day Weekend is over, September can be one of the best months for travel, namely because many families stop traveling after their kids go back to school which makes the prices go down a bit.  So what are the best September honeymoon destinations?  Although you’ll probably want to avoid the Caribbean due to hurricane season, there are lots of other great places to visit in Europe, the Americas, and Oceania.

Here’s a run-down of Lonely Planet’s four destination recommendations for September with, of course, plenty of additional commentary from yours truly.


Barcelona is one of those cities that truly has it all: tons of culture, great nightlife, amazing food, and, oh yeah, a beach!  Barcelona is still plenty warm in September, so you can spend your honeymoon sightseeing in the mornings, taking a daily siesta on the playa in the afternoons, and then eating paella and drinking sangria all night long.  I also recommend signing up for a bike tour to get a good feel for the city.  However, as wonderful as Barcelona is, the city does have a reputation for petty crime, so just remember to be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded touristy areas like Las Ramblas.

Barcelona Playa

The beach in Barcelona

parc guell

Park Güell in Barcelona

To make your September honeymoon even better, consider combining Barcelona with another cool city in Spain, such as the beach town of San Sebastian (5.5 hour train ride from Barcelona) or the gorgeous Balearic Islands (one hour flight from Barcelona).


Once the busy summer tourist season dies down, Croatia is a wonderful honeymoon destination for early fall.  While the water may cool off a bit, you can still enjoy warm weather in the seaside towns of Dubrovnik and Rovinj, and finding accommodations on the islands of Hvar and Dugi otok will be much easier.

If you do decide to honeymoon in Croatia, don’t forget to spend a day visiting one of my favorite places in the entire world: Plitvice Lakes National Park.  The beautiful scenery will just blow you away.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park


Hvar, Croatia


Of course I am biased towards my home state, but even Lonely Planet thinks it’s a great September destination!  Because we tend to get a late Indian Summer each year, September/October are definitely the best months for visiting San Francisco, and it’s also a great time for relaxing in Wine Country or driving down the coast to Big Sur, San Luis Obispo, or Santa Barbara.  The beach towns in Southern California (e.g. Malibu, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, etc.) are fantastic honeymoon destinations, too.  If you want any specific recommendations of where to go/what to do in California, feel free to message me directly.

McWay Falls in Big Sur

McWay Falls in Big Sur

The views of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco never get old

The views of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco never get old

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Our Next Big Trip: Brazil 2014?

In 2009, it was backpacking around South America for 2 1/2 months.

In 2011, it was visiting my sisters in Denmark and Spain.

In 2012, it was our honeymoon in Asia.

In 2013, it was our friends’ wedding in Ireland.

But as of right now, it’s the first time in awhile* that Aaron and I haven’t planned our “next big trip,” and it’s starting to freak me us out!

One of the ideas that we’ve been kicking around (yes, pun intended) is going back to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.  Aaron and I spent a little over a month in Brazil in 2009 and covered nearly everywhere that we had wanted to go: Manaus in the Amazon, the hammock boat trip to Belém, Jericoacoara, Natal, Maceió, Salvador, Rio, Búzios, and finally Foz do Iguaçu.

Brazil 2009

Brazil 2009

However, we didn’t have the greatest weather while we were in Rio, so we knew that we’d have to go back some day.  And really, what better time is there to visit Brazil, the country that absolutely worships soccer, than while it hosts the World Cup?

Okay, okay, yes, there are plenty of better times to visit Brazil, we know.  We are aware that the price of everything there will surge.  We know that the host cities are going to be extremely crowded.  We’ve read about (and experienced**) street crime and other potential dangers.  The first round of matches will take place in June, when it will be winter down in the Southern Hemisphere.

But despite all of the negatives, we still can’t help but be intrigued!  I used to play soccer growing up and was lucky enough to go to a World Cup game in 1994 at nearby Stanford, but Aaron has turned into quite the soccer fan himself recently and I think that he’s even more enthusiastic about the possibility of going to a World Cup match in Brazil than I am!

So by no means are we going to go through with this idea for sure, but I did just want to mention that starting today you can register online to apply for tickets.  And if you want more information about the ticketing process, check out this page.

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