Wow, time sure has passed by fast.
It seemed not too long ago I was first starting out on this trip and now, as of the time of writing this, I have four days left in South America. That´s not to say that my trip is ending, its just changing, as I´ll heading to Guatemala to work work work :) for AIDG (The Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group).
So, it makes about a month and a half ago now that I wrote from another transition point in my trip Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. At that point, I was struck by how I had travelled there from the equator, almost entirely in bus, slowly making my way south through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. As I went, I more or less was a tourist. Going from thing to do to other thing to do, always with an ever changing group of fellow travellers.
Ushuaia marked the end of that. From there, I flew to Buenos Aires and started what I would call phase 2 of my trip, Big City Life. In Buenos Aires, I more or less just lived. I did my laundry, got groceries, "worked" recording music, hung out with friends, and went out at night. Sure I spent a few days seeing the sights, but my time was more spent just absorbing the life of a "porteño". It was a refreshing break from the months of moutains and natural desolation in Patagonia.
When I left Buenos Aires, I had a brief respite of laid back beach life in Florianopolis for a few days before catching my bus to my new home for the next few weeks, Rio de Janiero.
So what did I do when I got there? What have I been doing all this time? Lying on the beach sipping cocktails?
Well.... a little bit.
But not as much as I could have or probably should have. I´ve actually been working quite a lot. And while I´m not being paid (on the contrary I´ve paid quite a lot), I feel like its really been paying off. I came to Rio with a pretty directed mission, to learn Samba and to learn Portugese, and that has shaped my whole experience of the city. I haven´t gone to the touristy things like Pão de Azucar or Corcovado, although I did go to a Futebol match at Maracana, the largest soccer stadium in the world, and I haven´t spent as much time on the beach I could have, but instead I´ve been taking Portugese lessons, and Guitar lessons, and Pandeiro lesson, and practicing my butt off, much like I do at home.
To give a taste of my day to day life, I´m going to describe my day today.
Today I woke up around noon, after going to sleep at 4 yesterday, and ran out from my hostel in Copacabana (about a block from the beach). I walked up to Rua Barrata Ribiera, grabbing a pastry for breakfast on the way, and hopped in a public van (R$2 ~1 dollar) headed for PUC, the catholic university that all the IHouse Brazilians went to, which is located in Gavea, past Ipanema and Leblon. A walked around the campus for a little while before meeting up with Juliana, my friend from IHouse way back in the day. It was great to see her and we caught up on all our IHouse gossip as she gave me a tour of the campus (Rochak! We´re talking about you, Mr. Wedding in November!). I also met one of her friends, Edson, who is going to come to Berkeley in Fall and I´m make sure to look up and hang out with when he gets there.
Juliana had a dentist appointment, so we parted ways and I darted across the city to my guitar lesson with Luis Brazil. The lesson was at his apartment in Cosmo Velhmo, and I took the long way to get there involving two buses and a metro! Luis is the director of Na Roda, a school of teachers, players really, who have formed together to provide quality to lessons for serious musicians who come to Rio looking to learn. He is a FANTASTIC guitarist, of many genres, not just Bossa and Samba, and has played and orchestrated for Caetano Veloso for 10 years. I´ve been taking lessons with him for the past two weeks, and with Clarice a Pandeiro (Brazilian Tamborine) player, to work on my rythem. I felt very proud of the lesson today, because it was sort of a marker of my achievement in more ways than one. I spoke Portugese throughout the whole lesson, and on guitar I was right with him the whole time, playing the rythems I´ve been learning comfortably and competently, which is to say that it just felt natural. I just felt like I was sitting out on the porch, playing music, without attention to the fact that I was playing Samba or speaking Portugese.
Thinking back on the lesson on the bus ride home to Copacabana, I realized that´s all I had wanted before coming to this city. So, yah, I felt a bit proud. Its not to say that I have mastery, after three weeks I would more say that I can play a basic samba and speak a decent "Portugñol". Functional really.
Arriving back to the Hostel in Copacabana, I put on my only pair of shoes and went for a run down the beach just after the sun set. I wasn´t alone, as the beach sidewalk was filled with walkers and runners of all shapes and sizes. If there´s anything "Carioca" really pay attention to it´s fitness. Every block is another Academia(Gym), and the beaches on a good day are jam packed with people that just, well, just have immaculate bodies. Men and Women alike, people don´t look the way they do by accident, they work for it. So, in honor of my new home city, that´s what I was doing, working for it.
After a good run, I decided I deserved a treat, so I bought an ice cold Coconut from a beach kiosk and ate it up right there on the street. The vendor gave it a few machete hacks to make a hole and the top and gave me a straw. A few observations:
1. Coconuts have a suprisingly large amount of milk. Really quite alot... and sweet :)
2. After drinking all the refreshing juice, he chopped it in half revealing the tasty white insides. He chopped off a little corner of the thick shell for me to use as a scoop to extract said tasty white insides.
3. While effective, such a scoop requires skill to remove said insides without scraping off all your fingers.
But it was a good experience, and I managed to get a good portion of the meat out without killing myself or making it so I couldn´t play guitar ever again. Also, I was suprised to find that real coco meat is actually quite good and not anything like that white powdery stuff they sell in stores.
After that ordeal, I decided I was deserving of a real meal, so I showered, and went out to my local fruit shop, picked up some apples, oranges, and mangos, and went to my local Churrascaria, and picked up a whole bucket of barbecued meat, took em home and ate them all. Just following my cravings, but unintentionally following the atkins diet :). Just taking a short break from all the beans, rice, and farrofa (manioc).
With dinner out of the way, I put in my mandatory couple hours of practice, playing the song "Chega de Saudade" that I learned in my lesson. By the time I tore myself away from that, it was time to go out. Today is Wednesday(Cuatra Feira) So I decided not to go all the way to Lapa with its big Samba clubs, and instead headed around the corner to Bip Bip.
Bip Bip is a little bar located less than a block than my hostel. That´s not a coincidence, as I moved hostels just to be close, and so I could walk home late at night without having to walk a real long ways. Its just a small bar. Not even, more a hole in the wall, a kiosk, down a walking only street, next to the beach. But despite its small stature, its an institution of Rio music. Each night, musicians from around the city crowd into the small club, and play a mixture of Samba, Choro, and Bossa Nova, while everyone sits on the street enjoying Chopps (Beer). I probably go to Bip Bip every other night and if I´ve learned anything about Brazilian music, its been there. Last night, I actually finally got up the nerve to pick up a guitar (well first I played Surdo...) and play with everyone and it was a truly great experience.
What Bip Bip has taught me about Samba, besides the basics of all the instruments, and the way they interlock, is that the heart of the music is not in the rythem, its in the lyrics and the songs. And boy are there a lot of them! I pretentiously came to Rio thinking I´m going to "learn Samba", to find that there are hundreds upon hundreds of songs, all with really poetic lyrics and beautiful melodies. Hell, single artists like Chico Buarque or Gilberto Gil have hundreds of songs just by themselves.
Why is this where the heart is? Because Everyone sings Everyword to Everysong. Its wonderful and strangely amazing at the same time. They´ve just been learning songs since birth and they´re all stored up in there. Not to take too much of a tangent, but this highlights an interesting cultural point I´ve found, which is that Brazilians seem to have amazing memories. In Brasil, services come first and you pay after. If you go to a kiosk, you sit there eating, ordering more, eating more, and so on until you´re done, and without a piece of paper, the atendent comes to you and tells you exactly what you ordered, despite the fact that he´s also had to keep track of 10 other people. When you hop in a van, you don´t pay as you get in. You ride along, sometimes for a half hour, untill you decide to get out at which point the fare collecter remembers whether or not you, among the 15 other continuously rotating people has paid him yet. When you put the fact that at a night in Bip Bip, we can go for 3 hours straight singing from song to song, no stops, and everyone sings everyword, and I think you´ve got a good case for the memory argument.... I´m just saying...
So tonight was Bossa Nova night, which means two great guitarists and 7 great female singers, doing four part harmony on the spot with just a look. I´ve taken to singing along even though I don´t know the words. It´s a bit like singing hebrew in synagouge when I was a kid :).
And after all that, I closed my day by coming back to my hostel, which is also a internet cafe (an EXPENSIVE one at that) and wrote this. Also typical of my experiences over the past weeks, as I´ve drowned many a good dollar at the altar of the Internet connection.
I don´t feel like a tourist, but I don´t feel like a "carioca", more like a wierd halfway that lives in a tourist house yet dosen´t do toursity things. Some of the most fun I´ve had is seeing old Ihouse friends. I´ve spent time with Juliana, Vivian, Mikhael (Janda, his Brazilian girlfriend is the one giving me Portugese lessons), Camila, and LuLu. Also I´ve met some great other travelers in my hostels over the past weeks. In my first hostel, some guys from Spain and girls from France, and here some guys from Colombia and girls from Brazil. Its my favorite combination, where not everyone speaks portugese, but no one speaks english.
And at the begining I said that this time is now coming to an end, Phase 2, Big city life, and its true for in 4 days I fly to Guatemala. I was pleased to find that, just by sheer coincedence, I´ll be flying on the same flight as Mikhael´s family which is in the country visiting, so that´s nice. I´ve been spending the past month and a half living up city life, city culture, seeking out music. But I´m already looking on to Phase 3, volunteering in Guatemala. I recieved an email from Benny Lee, the director of interns for AIDG today and it got me really excited for Guatemala. It´s going to be so different from everything I´ve done up until now.
First off, its a developing third world nation, and to be honest, I´ve been travelling pretty much in the first world since I left Bolivia, 3 1/2 months ago. I´m also slowly realizing that whatever I do there, is going to be pretty much up to me. I´ve been assigned to test, develop, and distribute two different technologies: Water Filtration Systems and Water Pumps. I requested to work on these and I´m really psyched and everything I´m going to have to learn to get going on them. And learn fast! I´ve really been more and more aware that clean drinking water is such a basic and necessary resource for everyone, and I´m going to be inspired and proud to be working to help some people have clean water to drink.
Anyways, that´s all for the next entry, everything now is just speculation. I think one of the best parts of the experience will be being part of the team of 5 interns that is currently working with AIDG, other grads from colleges around the US, including berkeley, who should be a great community to be apart of.
Ok, its 4 in the morning, so I´ll have to sign off if I want to get up tomorrow before lunchtime (lunch meeting in the center with Vivian!).
Much Love to Everyone!