Good Ol’ Mate

Drinking yerba mate is such an ingrained culture in the Mercosur region of South America. Starbucks in Brazil sells ice cold mate tea. Surprisingly, mate is absent in the Argentinian Starbucks. In Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, you would see people walking around with their mate cup, thermos, and bombilla (the metal straw). When we were visiting Iguassu Falls, we see people bringing their mate cup and thermos, and some design of the thermos even comes with a space to put the cup. Our guide for the Jungle Jeep safari is even funnier. We were traveling in the jeep and we would go down to make stops to look at some plants (for like 2 minutes from the jeep), and he would hold his thermos all the time! In and out of the jeep! The thermos is attached to his arm!

The Thermos Is His Baby

The Thermos Is His Baby

Mate is so prevalent that even trendy gift shops in these countries would have various designs of mate cups and matching thermos (luxurious ones from high quality leather to funkier newer designs from silicon on the outer part).

Trendy Matching Thermos and Mate Cup

Trendy Matching Thermos and Mate Cup

Trendy Mate Cup

Trendy Mate Cup

And they share the mate with everyone and anyone, even strangers. When we visited some offices, they would just have the mate cup and thermos at the reception desks and anyone can just fill it up and drink from it. It is a bit of questionable hygiene standard, but I suppose they have had no epidemic outbreak, so all is good. I did share mate with one of my local contact, forgetting about my flu. The next day he got pretty sick, worse than me. Whooops! This time around I quite like the flavor of the mate. I suppose it is an acquired taste. Eight years ago, I loved my coffee sweet (with sugar or sweeteners). These days I can drink them black with no sugar.

Mate and Thermos To Last The Long Day At Iguassu Park Entrance, Argentina

Ready to Roll: Mate and Thermos To Last The Long Day At Iguassu Park Entrance, Argentina

In Paraguay, they drink their mate cold due to the hot and humid weather. They add lemon to the mate. It tastes milder and very refreshing. In the other countries, they drink it hot. And on one of our road trips, we made a stop at one of the gas stations to prepare our mate. And they have a machine that sells hot water for mate.

Mate Amigo (Mate Friend) - Hot Water Machine To Prepare Our Mate For The Road

Mate Amigo (Mate Friend) – Hot Water Machine To Prepare Our Mate For The Road

Mate Amigo (Mate Friend) - Hot Water Machine To Prepare Our Mate For The Road

Mate Amigo (Mate Friend) – Hot Water Machine To Prepare Our Mate For The Road

They also sell mate everywhere! In the supermarkets, you can see various brands and blends of mate. I saw one for the “nervios” (nerves) and one that is blended with gingko biloba. I suppose the connoisseurs of mate would be able to tell the difference.

Mate For The Nerves???

Mate For The Nerves???

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Mate With Gingko Biloba

In Asia, yerba mate has been promoted as one of the drink for weight loss. I say losing weight always comes down to what you eat and how much you move. I still see many obese people in Brazil. And many guys in Argentina and Uruguay have massive bellies/beer paunches. And these people drink mate every day. So you decide whether this is for real or a fad.

There is one regret I have from the trip: I did not buy any yerba mate to bring back!!!

 

Categories: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Traveling, Uruguay | Leave a comment

Good Samaritans

Flying into Guarulhos can be pretty intense. I had to return to SP to catch my flights home.

It got worse once the plane safely touched down after being held in the air in a holding pattern for at least 15 minutes. Taxiing to the gate took 45 minutes. And after that it was one line after another.

So I thought I would do my good deeds for the day – being an a good samaritan that I am – and lay out some tips to make your trip to Sao Paulo a little bit manageable for those have not been here – literally or figuratively.

Tip no 1:  Do not connect international in GRU with tight connection. We got off the jetway and saw a crowded hallway. Three staffs (the first two of course were cute but BLUR to the max!) being questioned later, we found out the line was for international connection. We were supposed to weave our way through those people to immigration and baggage claim.

Line Blocking Our Jetway For International Connection

Line Blocking Our Jetway For International Connection

Tip no 2: Make yourself eligible for priority line at the immigration (bring your little kids, crutches, pregnant wife, or your grandpa to pass the priority line), or bring anything to distract thyself. I just spent over an hour at crazy immigration line.  People here is hmmm — interestingly, unsurprisingly unproductive. Each immigration booth has two staffs (one to enter passport details to a PC and one to chop the passport). And they were still very slow. And to the lady who directed people at immigration:: we were in the foreigners’ line. I think it is safe to say that once you said “22” in portuguese three times at the top of your lungs, and no one went there, it is because we are foreigners and we do not understand portuguese. So there is no need to start screaming at us. You are such a dumbass, girl!!! And not, trying to be OCD, but how can federal agents of Brazil (aka immigration people) show up to work in their own casual clothes!!! Maybe if they get a proper uniform, they would take their job seriously!  (NOTE: I just passed the outgoing immigration. They wore a uniform – though it was a polo t-shirt style and they were fast and friendly.

Horrid Immigration Line at Guarulhos Airport

Horrid Immigration Line at Guarulhos Airport

A Typical Sign Showing Groups With Priorities To Board or Queue (It's a LAW!)

A Typical Sign Showing Groups With Priorities To Board or Queue (It’s a LAW!)

Tip no 3: Stay in a hotel who will arrange a private car and driver for USD100. I did that first time round and it was painless! This time I chose a small boutique hotel who does not arrange that. I queued 15 min to pay for official taxi (USD60). Then I had to queue for another 20 min to take the taxi. This will be the most well-spent USD40 after a long haul flight and crazy immigration.

Line for Official Taxi

Line for Official Taxi

Last but not least: Come prepared with tons of patience and positive attitude. Remember your attitude is the only determinant whether you are having an ordeal or an adventure.

Wishing you loads of fun and safe travels.

Categories: Brazil, Traveling | Leave a comment

12 Things About Paraguay

Here is a list of things I noticed on my four-day stay in Paraguay:

1. The typical locals are polite and speak softly. They are not very alert in general. They get flustered when someone ask them questions (even if they are easy questions).

2. Asuncion is like jakarta 30 yrs ago. Some areas remind me of Menteng. There are few tall buildings.

3. People really rolls their “R” and speak with weird accent. It is hard to understand their spanish.

4. Paraguay is a very young country in the context of demographic profile – it will boom in 10-25 years (half of the population is below 15 y/o). One can already see the beginning of the growth: apartments, restaurants, local consumption (gdp growth last year at 12 percent). Despite the large socio economic gap, in the last eight years, there is growth in low to middle class. In a few years, there will be growth in middle to upper class.

5. Papaya served with seeds (also in argentina, uruguay, and brazil). Random I know! But papaya seeds are always the first thing we remove at home!!!

6. In Ciudad del Este (near Brazil border and Iguassu Falls),  it feels like mini brazil. There are a lot of brazilian companies and workers. Even the paraguayan workers would speak portuguese first until they realize you do not speak it then switch to spanish laced with portuguese accent. Also I was told in the east there are many more chinese and arabic descent population. Ciudad del Este is also where all the electronics are. There is a saying: if it is not in the Ciudad del Este, it either does not exist or you are not looking at the right places. I have this silly fear of going there – that someone will steal my iPhone 5s and I will have to buy it back from them. LOL. It is a joke! Most things being sold there are new.

7. Local typical food is rice and meat (comfort food cooked at home). A lot of the local, cheap, streetside eating places serve lomitos (sandwich with meat and lettuce and tomatoes and eggs) – similar to Uruguayan chivito.  I was also invited to another asado at home. It was great!  Similar to the one I had in Uruguay (posts on this is coming).

Guiso of Meet and Rice - Usually Comfort Food At Home (I stupidly ordered overpriced version in a restaurant LOL)

Guiso of Meet and Rice – Usually Comfort Food At Home (I stupidly ordered overpriced version in a restaurant LOL)

8. Complicated country: The War of the Three Alliance (1865-1870) demolished rich paraguay (when Brazil/Uruguay/Argentine colluded and attacked paraguay, it was the end of their wealth and demolished half of their population). These days the social issues are a little bit different. Outside the old train station, we saw hundreds of Guarani Indians living in stations asking for land. Also, military ruling in more recent history demolished a lot of the colonial buildings (they were not concerned about restoring or maintaining any buildings). I am showing you some of the photos of the gems left.

Government's Palace in Asuncion

Government’s Palace in Asuncion

 

Cathedral in Asuncion

Cathedral in Asuncion

9. Possibly the “safest” place in South America. My local contact would leave the car unlocked and window opened as we fill in gas and went inside the store – with our luggages and backpack in the car. We would be sitting in the patio and he would just throw the wallet on the sofa and  the sofa is right off the street. In Europe, it would have been stolen in two minutes.

10. But the worse drivers on Earth. We almost got into an accident and got hit by a big truck. Though it did not stop me from enjoying the sunset.

Dusk in Paraguayan Countryside

Dusk in Paraguayan Countryside

Dusk in Paraguayan Countryside

Dusk in Paraguayan Countryside

11. Kidnappings by “revolutionaries” still happened every now and then. A 16 year old boy was just kidnapped a few days before I arrived. That was why there were many police on the highway. We were stopped and searched. They opened my luggage too. These “revolutionaries” are also criminals and marijuana farmers.

12. Surprisingly, from the legal enforcement and political stability point of view, Paraguay is probably the BEST in the MercoSur region (apart from Chile).

Hope this short list intrigues you a little bit on Paraguay, possibly a country often ignored for the purpose of tourism.

Food for thoughts! Nothing more!

Categories: Paraguay, Traveling | Leave a comment

Eight Years Later

It is a nice surprise to know that this time around my experience in Buenos Aires is so much more pleasant! The people are kind, friendly, and polite (except at Tegui Restaurant! But that’s another story!).   I really enjoyed my time in Argentina this time, both in Iguassu Falls and Buenos Aires. And I also felt so much safer in Argentina! I guess after ten days in Brazil with constant alertness, it is nice to relax a little bit. Also, it surprised me how I can easily understand their spanish this time round, even with the “che”, “ta”, and the use of “vos” and its conjugation.

On a side note regarding the language, I also like how my Uruguayan contacts speak. I plan to pick up their habits of saying “impeccable” when something is great and when someone asks me how I am doing, I would want to say “todo bien, por suerte” (loosely translated to “all very well, luckily”).

Argentina is a complicated country at the moment with its economic and political situation. There is never a place where cash is definitely KING! When you come to Argentina, bring loads of USD and exchange it at the so-called blue rate. You get 20% more in purchasing power at least. Sometimes there will be places where you can pay in dollar exchanged at better rate than official rates and you will receive your change as such. Credit card purchases will be done at official rates.

City wise, nothing has changed much in Buenos Aires, as eight years ago. I still remember some of the buildings from my last trip. Perhaps the traffic is slightly worse these days.  9th of July Avenue and Florida Street still look the same as eight years ago.

 

Avenida 9 de Julio, Buenos Aires

Avenida 9 de Julio, Buenos Aires

Florida Street

Florida Street

Avenida de Libertador seems to have more constructions in office buildings in recent years.

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Avenida de Libertador – Business District of Buenos Aires

 

Montevideo has not changed one bit also. Montevideo is a very chill city. I went to their best shopping mall and it was boring as hell! Most of the brands are from Argentina.  I did not spend much time in the city centre and I did not take any new photos, unfortunately.  The casino hotel and the beach in the peaceful, upscale Carrasco neighborhood in Montevideo still look the same.

Hotel/Casino in Carrasco, Montevideo

Hotel/Casino in Carrasco, Montevideo

For shopping Argentina is definitely the best. I pick up an amazing leather jacket. And across from my hotel of Alvear Art on Suipacha (a luxury hotel for cheaper rate than our so-so Rio de Janeiro hotel), there was a shop “de autor” – meaning everything in there is of special design and the talents are all from Argentina. I bought a really super-duper cool necklace and a ring. (Side note: I prefer to stay in Microcentre still, just off the Avenida 9 de Julho than specific neighborhood. Taxi is cheap in Buenos Aires. I prefer to be in the centre, where I have the hotel options. Even if you stay in Palermo, chances are you’d still be taking taxis at night).

Tienda "De Autor" on Suipacha Road, Buenos Aires

Tienda AUTORIA “De Autor” on Suipacha Road, Buenos Aires

 

One of my best memories of Buenos Aires is also the giant tree in front of La Biela café in Recoleta (across from the Recoleta Cemetery where Evita Peron is buried). I walked around to find it again! It might sound silly, but I was quite excited to see it again. It made me feel like I know Buenos Aires.

The Giant Tree Outside La Biela Cafe/Recoleta Cemetery

The Giant Tree Outside La Biela Cafe/Recoleta Cemetery

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The Branches Are Huge That An Adult Can Sit Comfortably

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And So Big and Heavy That They Needed Additional Support

Recoleta Cemetery Where Evita Peron Is Buried (I did not go in again as I did so eight years ago)

Recoleta Cemetery Where Evita Peron Is Buried (I did not go in again as I did so eight years ago)

 

Knowing a local person is also great! I would have gone to Don Julio for parrilla in Palermo (listed as one of the top restaurants in The Guardian UK newspaper. But a local friend took me to El Primo in Las Cañitas neighborhood and everyone there was local. The food and wine and atmosphere were great!!!!

El Primo

El Primo

Grilled Sweetbreads at El Primo

Grilled Sweetbreads at El Primo

Special Beef Cut at El Primo (Anna, please remind me the name again???)

Special Beef Cut at El Primo (Anna, please remind me the name again???)

Our Dinner Spread at El Primo

Our Dinner Spread at El Primo

Noisy, lively, very local ambience at El Primo

Noisy, lively, very local ambience at El Primo

Noisy, lively, very local ambience at El Primo

Noisy, lively, very local ambience at El Primo (Patio)

Las Canitas Neighborhood

Las Canitas Neighborhood

 

My trip in Montevideo is also quite chill. I met up with an old friend whom I have known for 15 years back in the school days. He has now settled and lived in Montevideo for over ten years. We did asados at home with his family and close friends. The best asado! He is truly an expert. I ate so much and so well. Something very typically Uruguayan is the provolone cheese with oregano. I also love the tripe (stomach) and the sweetbreads and the chorizos! Omigod, everything was to die for.

 

Best Asado!  With Awesome Company!

Best Asado! With Awesome Company!

Chorizo and Tripe Asado

Sweetbreads and Tripes

Chorizo and Murcilla Dulce (Sweet Blood Sausage)

Chorizo and Murcilla Dulce (Sweet Blood Sausage)

Costillas (Beef Ribs)

Costillas (Beef Ribs)

He also took me to a milanesa place (homey and a bit run down in Malvinas neighborhood) and it tasted like home. The breading tasted like how Mom used to do it with her fried fish. I totally enjoyed it!!! Thanks, FT!

La Doble Milanesa Place in Malvinas Neighborhood

La Doble Milanesa Place in Malvinas Neighborhood

Interior of La Doble

Interior of La Doble

To-Die-For Carne (Beef) Milanesa at La Doble

To-Die-For Carne (Beef) Milanesa at La Doble

Oh, I forgot to mention, I managed to make it to Colonia del Sacramento this trip. Unfortunately it was raining and raining. I had some amazing photos and I managed to climb up the lighthouse before the  weather turned nastier. I can see it is a quaint, beautiful colonial town, but I could not really enjoy it unfortunately.

 

Lighthouse of Colonial del Sacramento

Lighthouse of Colonial del Sacramento

Ruins of Bastion de San Miguel and Colonial Buildings, Colonia del Sacramento

Ruins of Bastion de San Miguel and Colonial Buildings, Colonia del Sacramento

Calle de Los Suspiros, Colonia del Sacramento

Calle de Los Suspiros, Colonia del Sacramento

Colonial Church of Colonia del Sacramento

Colonial Church of Colonia del Sacramento

Rancho Portugues from the year of 1690

Rancho Portugues from the year of 1690

For lunch and to escape the rain, I decided to eat a full parilla at one of the restaurants. I was told by friends afterwards that one does not order full parilla because it is usually leftovers or meat that is dry or overcooked. I did have that experience. I did not enjoy full parilla.

When I was in Colonia due to the rain, I was cooped up in the hotel. Luckily it was a full service, large hotel (though located away from the Old Town). And one guy I met, told me that I speak Spanish like a “GRINGO” (like an American and a British person speaking Spanish) due to my “R”. Excuse me???? That is like the biggest insult of the trip.  I was quite offended. No tengo ni accento de gringo ni nada, y por lo menos, vocalizo bien. İQue burro!

One interesting thing about Uruguay is that they refund VAT for foreigners for food and beverages, if we pay by foreign credit cards. So, fellow travelers, remember to pay your meal with credit card in Uruguay (even in hotel restaurants- not all hotel reception can separate the transaction and process the VAT refund). I think the amount is at least 10% of total bill. And you usually add 10% to the credit card anyways for tips.

I enjoyed my trips in Buenos Aires and Montevideo and Colonia, though I spent most of my time for work, but I loved interacting with the people. I really did get to practice my Spanish. I loved it!! I loved it!! I did not end up having time for city tour or biking tour in any of the places, but it would have been great. Please do it if you ever visit these places and let the world know how it goes!

—————-

On a side note though or after thought rather: Eight years ago, I also missed visiting Tigre area in Buenos Aires (which is off the river de La Plata and where many people have their summer homes). I decided to do it this trip with a tour company. I do not think it was worth it. Not for USD85 trip. Perhaps if one goes on one’s own and take the time to stay in one of the homes there to enjoy the river and try rowing, it would have been a better experience.

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Rowing is a popular sport in Argentina

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The Most Beautiful Building in Tigre – Now A Museum – Used to Be Social Clubhouse of the Rich

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Rio de la Plata

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Floating Supermarket at Your Doorstep

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One of the Vacation Homes on the Riverbank

 

 

What is interesting is that we drove by San Isidro neighborhood on the way to Tigre. And San Isidro is a happening zone for people to live and enjoy life.

San Isidro Neighborhood in Buenos Aires

San Isidro Neighborhood in Buenos Aires

San Isidro Neighborhood in Buenos Aires

San Isidro Neighborhood in Buenos Aires

San Isidro Neighborhood in Buenos Aires

San Isidro Neighborhood in Buenos Aires

San Isidro Cathedral

San Isidro Cathedral

 

 

 

 

Categories: Argentina, Traveling, Uruguay | Leave a comment

Falling in Love with Iguassu Falls

What is there to write about the Iguassu Falls? It is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of The World. We came in early May when it just rained a lot a few days prior to our arrival. The water level is higher and the sediments on the river banks are being washed away with the high water flow. The color of the weather is coppery at this time. One just has to be there to experience Iguassu Falls with one’s own eyes and ears and the feel of the water mist on one’s skin.

Devil's Throat - Brazil

Devil’s Throat – Brazil

Devil's Throat - Argentina

Devil’s Throat – Argentina

And if one dares, then one should get on one of the boat rides available and get drenched by the water! We chose Macuco Safari on Brazil side, which includes electric car rides and a short walk through the jungle. However, similar trip is also available on the Argentina side. On the boat ride, one will get quite near to one of the smaller section of the Falls to feel the hard water on one’s body and also during the speeding portion of the boat ride, one can easily get drenched by the water and get the water in one’s mouth. It tasted sweet LOL. Damn me for sitting in the front part of the boat. It was fun though. I had not screamed while having fun for a while. I felt like a kid again.

Macuco Safari

Macuco Safari

For those who would like a more chill experience, the walkways to see the Falls on both Brazilian and Argentinian sides are both equally amazing. You see different part of the Falls. Just one word of caution: the coatis! They are hazardous! There is a reason why we see many of these signs around the park.

Warning Against Monkeys and Coatis

Warning Against Monkeys and Coatis

While waiting for our train on Argentinian side to the Devil’s Throat, we are first-hand witness of coatis stealing crackers from a woman’s tote and devoured them right there and then. One coati jumped on the poor woman’s legs and she bent down to pet it. He stuck his nose into her tote and found the crackers. It happened so fast. I did not have time to take out the camera. The moment the coati got the crackers on the ground, his fellas came along and a few almost got into fights!

Coatis the Menace - Cracker Stealers

Coatis the Menace – Cracker Thieves

We also did the Jeep Jungle Safari on Argentina side (Safari en la Selva). It was fun, though we did it early Monday morning, and it seemed that even the animals are having Monday blues. We saw puma and jaguar’s fresh footsteps from the night before but the kings of the jungle were nowhere to be found. We saw guati (a type of rodent), humongous fire ants, some birds such as tucans, and a lot of plants. Some of the plants are unfortunately not native to Argentina and some are now overtaking the natural habitants of the jungle. We saw giant ferns that are in danger zone for being cut off – to wrap orchids! Can you imagine??? This plant has probably been growing and alive for hundreds of years. It is heartening to see that the Argentinian government is trying to protect the natural jungle that is left. However, not enough resources are being put into the projects. For example, they only have sixty rangers for the whole park. Many buses come through the road speeding, and at night, there was always an animal being hit by motor vehicles. We had fun in the safari though we did not see much. It feels good to know that some of our funds will be used to further protect the park and the company employs people passionate about protecting the forest and educating the masses. Also one of the interesting part of the jeep safari is that we actually drove on an old jungle trail that used the road to go to the Falls back in the day. The brick structure showing the park’s name and direction to Route 12 and Route 101 is still standing. It was built in the 1930s. Imagine back in the day when one has to come in old cars with no cellphones and no GPS. And the trail fits only one car each time. Even the journey to the park would have been an adventure!!! We also passed by a well, where these people could rest and get water and get help from the park rangers. One of the notable rangers is Benito Mendez. He was shot by illegal hunters. There is a poem and a waterfall dedicated for him on the Argentinian side (you can see it on the Upper Trail).

Jungle Safari on Jeep

Jungle Safari on Jeep

Our Jungle Trail

Our Jungle Trail

Iguassu Falls Park Sign From 1934

Iguassu Falls Park Sign From 1934

Fresh Jaguar Tracks

Fresh Jaguar Tracks

Guati - Type of Rodent

Guati – Type of Rodent

No amount of words can do Iguassu Falls justice. Pictures speak a thousand words. Videos makes a poetry out of these words. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as we have.

 

Many Smaller Falls Made Up The Iguassu Falls - Argentina

Many Smaller Falls Made Up The Iguassu Falls – Argentina

Iguassu Falls from The Plane

Iguassu Falls Seen from The Plane

Iguassu Falls - Argentina  The high level of water is caused by heavy rain. San Martin Island has to be closed due to the high water level.  And the water color is especially red due to the sediments on riverbanks that got washed off.

Iguassu Falls – Argentina
The high level of water is caused by heavy rain. San Martin Island has to be closed due to the high water level.
And the water color is especially red due to the sediments on riverbanks that got washed off.

 

Perfect Rainbow Everyday

Perfect Rainbow Everyday

 

Categories: Argentina, Brazil, Traveling | Leave a comment

The Girl From Ipanema (In Tanga Bikini)

I am not giving Rio de Janeiro a fair chance and a fair treatment. There are really good things about Rio, but I suppose it is just not my cup of tea. First and foremost, all the warnings on the crime in Rio already put me on edge/alert mode. Though, thankfully nothing happened to us (which I believe was also because we had been warned and we were careful).

And at some point, I was feeling a little bit disappointed for not planning better. Boys and Girls, please book your Corcovado train in advance online (the train ticket will take you straight to the Jesus the Redeemer statue). It took us three tries to get up there. The first time, it was not our fault. We got there at 5PM (stated closing time 8PM), but due to the weather, they closed the attraction and stopped the train. The second time, we arrived late around 10.30am and at that point, the ticket on sale was for 13.20. We decided to do the minibus route, thinking it would save us time. Big mistake! The minibus is fast, but it only took you around the corner to buy a ticket. Then you wait in line for another minibus to take you up. This will take you up to the ticket booth to the Jesus the Redeemer. The line was about 30-45 minutes long at that point. Then we had to wait again for the shuttle to take us up to the Statue. You cannot start waiting unless you have a ticket. At this point, the wait was about 1km long. I did not even bother to find out the end of the line. I immediately told my companion to cut it out and just came back down. And it was hot! The guys selling water and umbrellas were definitely making a fortune. Luckily we came back down. At that point, the Corvocado train ticket was for 17.40. We decided to go for it.

Jesus the Redeemer Statue From Below (Where The Long Line Was)

Jesus the Redeemer Statue From Below (Where The Long Line Was)

Unending Line To See Jesus the Redeemer Statue

Unending Line To See Jesus the Redeemer Statue

Mini Vans Waiting For Passengers

Mini Vans Waiting For Passengers

And in between, we went to Aprazivel, a preciously located and romantic restaurant with a great view of Rio de Janeiro and a killer Caipirinha and delicious beer (exclusively brewed for the restaurant). The food was expensive and so-so.

Aprazivel Restaurant

Aprazivel Restaurant

Exclusively Brewed Beer At Aprazivel Restaurant

Exclusively Brewed Beer At Aprazivel Restaurant

View From Aprazivel Restaurant

View From Aprazivel Restaurant

 

After that we decided to rush to the Ipanema Beach to play around a bit. We could not go to Rio and not go to the Beach, couldn’t we??? Even though, it was not great . It was not good soft sand. The waves were not bad. We saw some cute girls in their tanga bikinis and fit dudes playing football. One enterprising ice cream seller decided to give my change in a second ice cream. Enterprising chap. I gave the ice cream to a little boy. We saw someone filming a music video clip. No idea who the girl was. Or I suppose she could be a nobody and they are filming an advertisement. We did not really have time for Copacabana beach and Leblon, but Ipanema was honestly enough.

Girl In Tanga Bikini

Girl In Tanga Bikini

Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach

Beach Football

Beach Football

 

After that we went back to the Corvocado. It turned out to be a grand plan (though it was almost upset by the tunnel traffic). And going up during the sunset/dusk is quite a precious experience.

Corcovado Train To See Jesus the Redeemer Statue

Corcovado Train To See Jesus the Redeemer Statue

Jesus The Redeemer at Dusk

Jesus The Redeemer at Dusk

View of Rio de Janeiro From Jesus the Redeemer Statue

View of Rio de Janeiro From Jesus the Redeemer Statue

Honestly, I only did it because I was already in Rio. I would not go to Rio just to see the Statue. It was constructed during modern times with modern technology. I do not see what is so marvelous about it to make it to the 7 wonders of the world. On the other hand, the grand ancient pyramids and temples are truly amazing, as they were created during the times where the machines were not available, and the human mind was forced to really use what nature had provided to help them. I recently read that the Egyptians wet the sand to be able to roll the large stones for the Pyramids. The answer was quite obvious and yet was only recently realized by the Egyptologists.

The other popular attraction, the Sugar Loaf mountain provides an almost 360 degree view of Rio de Janeiro.

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Sugar Loaf Mountain and its Cable Car

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View From Sugarloaf Mountain

 

We were thinking of doing the Favela tour, but I was told by a local Brazilian friend that favelas are dangerous, and in recent months, there have been conflicts between the narcos and the Police and there have been unintended victims. And each incident resulted in riots by the residents. One recent one actually brought the residents down into the Copacabana area and some places/hotels had to be closed. The Government’s claim that favelas have been “pacified” is apparently quite false. There is no such thing. And Rio Police is also apparently less trustworthy than let’s say Sao Paulo. Another very-trusted friend and confidant is also of the opinion that favela tour is quite demeaning to the residents. I agree with him, but I had to say I was quite curious to do it. Anyways, it was a moot point. Since we went to Paraty and we actually wasted one morning trying to go up the Corcovado, we actually did not even have enough time.

 

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Favelas Everywhere You Look

 

Nothing in Rio really impressed me. I was not impressed by the food. We had rodizio (the all you can eat dinner where they come to your table with the meat and you use the sim/nao card to indicate if you would like a piece or not). Carretao in Copacabana was quite good. Then we went to the Ipanema Carretao. It was horrible.

SIM! Keep the meat coming!!!

SIM! Keep the meat coming!!!

ARGH! I still have a lot of my plate but I ate too much already!

ARGH! I still have a lot of my plate but I ate too much already!

We went to a place in Lapa, the supposedly downtown and party place. We had soup and empanadas and pizzas, which were good, but not amazing. I did not have amazing food in Rio. I also tried a bunch of Brazilian wines. Not bad, but not amazing. The Rio part of trip is quite a blah for me to be honest. We also walked by Rio Scenarium, the popular dancing place. I had no desire to queue to go in. And, don’t even get me started on the hotels in Rio. It is relatively very expensive what for what one gets.

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The So-Called Happening Lapa and Rio Scenarium – It’s NOT!

 

So at the end, I had to stay I did not have much good impression on Rio de Janeiro. Leaving for Iguassu Falls was very much anticipated. Though, one disclaimer, I might go back to Rio de Janeiro with a good and fun friend for the Carnaval experience, especially after a friend who lives in Sao Paulo told me that you can actually pay one of the Samba Schools to join in the parade! How exotic! Anyone game????

 

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Escape to Paraty

Our decision to go to Paraty for two days and one night was probably one of the best decisions we made this trip. After arriving in Rio de Janeiro and seeing what is going on, we concluded that spending four days in Rio is just too long! (Note: Rio will refer to Rio de Janeiro and RJ as Rio de Janeiro state).

The bus ride was great with Costa Verde (reclining seat that is wide enough, secure, and clean), though it was a little long (almost five hours). The price is affordable too.

 

Costa Verde Bus - Our Ride to Paraty

Costa Verde Bus – Our Ride to Paraty

Paraty historical centre is very quaint and pretty and tranquil. We chose one of the best hotels in Paraty – Pousada Pardieri. It is wonderful, quaint, and peaceful, just like the town itself. The owners are friendly. The staffs are great too! And it was way cheaper that our three-star hotel in Rio. The rooms are also beautifully decorated. My room is smaller and has a hammock inside. My friend’s room is larger, and it has a sofa. The building style of the Pousada and the buildings in the centre of Paraty is of colonial style – white walls and colorful windows that can be halfway opened for air circulation. The streets are still of cobblestones. It was a a little bit hard to walk in havaianas, but we made do.

Pousada Pardieri Courtyard

Pousada Pardieri Courtyard

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Superior Room At Pousada Pardieri (More Charming Than The More Expensive Deluxe Room) – Anything for a Hammock!

Superior Room At Pousada Pardieri (More Charming Than The More Expensive Deluxe Room) - Anything for a Hammock!

Reception At Pousada Pardieri

Another Cute Hidden Corners of Pousada Pardieri

Another Cute Hidden Corners of Pousada Pardieri

Colonial Paraty

Colonial Paraty

Church of Colonial Paraty

Church of Colonial Paraty

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Rua Do Comercio – Paraty

The food is Paraty is delicious (mainly seafood and fish) and each order usually serves two people. Our first lunch of grilled fish, seafood, rice, and cassava at Galeria do Engenho could even feed three to four people and it set us back USD50. The pasta at Vitoriano Grill was delicious, too and set us back only USD23 for two. Breakfast at the Pousada was great, too. I finally had fresh fruits of papaya, mango, and honeydew melon. We also went out to Paraty 33 – best place for live music and dance. It was fun, although it was a little dead the night we went. We enjoyed the music a lot. It started with chill samba live music by a soloist, then it was followed by some dancing house music and live rock music. I suppose the music would depend on the program of the day.

Our Massive Lunch For Two That Can Feed Four at Galeria

Our Massive Lunch For Two That Can Feed Four at Galeria do Engenho

The highlight of Paraty is of course a boat ride around the Paraty Bay and to visit the islands and their beaches. Our boat ride set us back USD120 for a private ride of three hours (we could not join the cheap group trip of USD15 per person due to timing). It was still affordable and it was quite fun! I was a little bit disappointed though. The water is NOT clear. It is green and murky. After going to Cancun for my last beach holiday, I find it a little disappointing. In general, I find people upsell us on the beach quality. Though we still enjoyed it, we both agree that our Brazil experience so far is “been there, done that, and there is no need to come back again”. The husband and wife team who owns the Alvorada boat-Amanda and Leandro were fun and good, laidback people. They just chill and talk to each other on the boat while we swam around. I cannot imagine such a sleepy life. I would go crazy! Haha! But I suppose, they earn better than most Brazilians and they get to do what they love to earn their living. So some would say they are few of the lucky ones.

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Canal in Paraty

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Boats Waiting For Tourists – Paraty Pier

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View of Paraty Bay

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View of Paraty Bay

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Avid Kayakers on Paraty Bay

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One of Our Island and Beach Stop – Sleepy Day

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One of the “Private” Island on Paraty Bay

Beach on One of The Habited Island on Paraty Bay

Beach on One of The Habited Island on Paraty Bay

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View of Paraty From The Paraty Bay

While spending time in Paraty, I was starting to thaw against Brazil in general and I could imagine recommending Paraty to friends. I was just starting to think that there are hidden gems in Brazil after all (apart from cheap havaianas ans melissa shoes). The people in Paraty are super-duper wonderful and friendly. And we met a couple free-spirited souls, who came from oversea and fell in love with the place.

This good, loving feeling did not last long however. I was writing this blog as I sit on the wonderful Costa Verde bus on the way back to Rio de Janeiro. It was a smooth trip for 170km and bang! Dead stop when we had just 100km more to go. We sat in the stationary bus for about 1.5 hours. There was a bloody labor strike that blocked the road and the end was not in sight. It was another adventure, another taste of the local experience. It was damn frustrating and I wrote a pretty negative piece of Blog which I think should only be seen privately. I suppose a resilient traveler should have an open mind to face any roadblocks and change of plans. It comes with the territories! As a matter of fact, I saw a recent sign on a boat that took me to Tigre in Buenos Aires, which states:  “ATTITUDE – A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN ORDEAL AND AN ADVENTURE”.  It cannot be further than the truth!!! Though, I could not help but wonder what would happen during the World Cup when people would demonstrate to raise Brazilian issues in the eyes of the World. I wish all my friends going to watch the World Cup live the best of luck, abundance of patience, and an empty bladder for all the drinking that is to come to drown all the frustrations. At least, Brazil will be one huge party animal.

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Sao Paulo in Retrospect

I am glad I gave Sao Paolo a second chance. I signed up for USD150 city tour with one awesome guide and three hour of immersion on life as Paulitanos. Fair enough, if you have money, Sao Paulo is not a bad place to live (with money everywhere is good I suppose!). I dined in a fancy, amazing and to die-for Japanese Peruvian fusion restaurant called Osaka and a white table linen so-so Italian, Tre Bicchieri. I also swiped my credit card a few times along Oscar Freire for some great buys of leather boots, Melissa shoes, and some havaianas from a nearby store. The airport transfer through the hotel sets me backs USD120 each way (including tips) – to ensure of my safety in case I fell asleep on the way to Guarulhos airport. Who am I to judge anyways? I was born and grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia – a country as corrupt and resource-rich-but-cursed – disorganized and overpopulated, like Sao Paulo. We have our own problems for sure.

Sushi Roll With Quinoa and Avocado - Japanese and Peruvian Influence

Sushi Roll With Shrimp Tempura and Quinoa – a Japanese and Peruvian Influenced Dish – OSAKA, Sao Paulo

 

Sao Paolo is the most cosmopolitan city in the South American continent. It is also the most expensive. Traffic wise it is not no worse than Jakarta, my hometown. How the people lives (those who have enough resources) are similar to those in Indonesia. The income gap in the country is tremendous, similar to Indonesia. Sao Paulo is actually quite safe so long one exercises common sense, of not walking alone at night through park and quiet places. One does not use camera and mobile phones on the streets. One does not wear expensive jewelries outside walking. Taxis are pretty comfortable and safe and affordable (same cannot be said about Indonesia, except for Silver Bird and Blue Bird companies). Sao Paulo interestingly has the largest communities of Japanese outside Japan, Spanish outside Spain, and Portuguese outside Portugal. It also has a large community of Lebanese people. It is a melting pot. It is a melting pot of five main cultures. Sao Paulo is not the place to go for tourism in my point of view, but it is definitely visitable when one is on a short business trip. I was giving many safety warnings prior to my arrival, and exercising some of them kept me safe.

Sao Paulo's Japanese Town

Sao Paulo’s Japanese Town

 

There are just areas to be avoided, such as the old downtown, where there are many homeless people – most drug addicts or alcoholics. The new mayor of Sao Paulo (he has been in office for two years) apparently now “upholds” the human rights of these people, and thus the Police cannot even touch them and round them up to the shelters or force them into public rehab (even if the families agree to it, but if the person does not agree to it, there is nothing anyone can do). The Mayor is a bloody idiot in my point of view. But then, he probably comes to his office in the helicopter, so what does he see anyways? All is good in his castle in the sky. The situation has gotten so bad that my tour guide cuts short the walking tour route in downtown to avoid the Cathedral areas, where we can actually get harassed for money or food. And these people do not take no for an answer. No Paulistanos (people from the city of Sao Paulo) come to the Downtown on weekends. On weekdays, it is still bustling with lawyers and other professionals. (Note: Paulisto/a refers to those from the states of Sao Paulo).

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Beautiful Sao Paulo Cathedral in Ugly Sao Paulo Downtown

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Beautiful Colonial Buildings Were Gutted Out To Become Parking Spaces Once People Abandoned Downtown Sao Paulo As A Place To Live

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Reconstructed Jesuit Mission Church in Sao Paulo

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Homeless Outside of the Jesuit MIssion Church

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Downtown Sao Paulo

Mercado Municipal (the market) can also be skipped. There is nothing recommendable of the Mortadella Sandwich and Bacalao pastel (and I went to the busiest place there in the market – full of locals). And do not walk outside of the market building. There are a lot of drug dealers in that area. Take a cab there and back (there’s a taxi point outside one of the doors) if you really have to go see it. I do not think the market is special. Yeah there were a couple interesting fruits from Brazil and Colombia, but most fruits are common in Asia. Plus, you will be overcharged buying fruits in the Mercado Municipal. Go there, taste as much as you want for free, but do not buy anything! A lot of the products are from Portugal and Spain (ham/sausage/olive oils/cheese). I see very few Brazil products in these categories. I suppose since I was just spending ten days in Spain, I found the market very boring.

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One of the Stained Glass Entrance of Mercado Municipal

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One of the Fruit Stalls in Mercado Municipal – Feel Free To Try But Buy At Your Own Risk (Overprice!). When You Buy, You Subsidize Those Who Came and Try Without Buying :)

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One of The Dried Provision Merchandise in Mercado Municipal

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Mercado Municipal View From Second Floor

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The Famous Mortadella Sandwhich – The Verdict: Not A Must Try

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Another Not A Must Try: Bacalhao Pastel

Anyhow, I also managed to hit Sao Paulo Art Museum (MASP) on Paulista Avenue. It was alright. I love Renoir’s paintings with all the curvy women. I also took a brief walk in Trianon Park (atlantic rainforest virgin park on Paulista Avenue. On weekends, Paulista Ave is full of stalls of artesanias (at park entrance) and antiques (below MASP).

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Weekend Antique Market Below MASP (Museum of Art of Sao Paulo)

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Weekend Artesania Market on Avenida Paulista At The Entrance of Trianon Park

Also, since I am not into Brazilian music (samba, bossa nova, etc), I did not really get to the places that play great music, except Bar Samba in Vila Madalena. And even then I lasted less than one hour with a friend. Luckily the music that night was just too loud to have a conversation. Thus I had an excuse to ask to move to a café where there is no music. The samba music that night was different. Slower. The band was apparently from Bahia. Been there, done that! Checked!

Bar Samba in Vila Madalena

Bar Samba in Vila Madalena

What impressed me about Brazil is the beef! I went to a beef shop/barbeque shop in Itaim Bibi, and the selection was amazing. I love beef (it is very un-Buddhist of me), but that is my only vice in this context. I strive to be a nice person. Does that count???? The two cuts that I love are picanhas (rump steak) and melt-in-your-mouth cupi.

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Available Cuts of Beef at Intermezzo in Itaim, Sao Paulo

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Available Cuts of Beef at Intermezzo in Itaim, Sao Paulo

The domestic flights on TAM also were great. The whole experience was quite smooth sailing. One hiccup was that I was allowed to select emergency exit seat, when the Brazilian law clearly requires passengers on emergency exit rows to be able to speak and understand Portuguese. Fair enough. Quick tip: buy your ticket online and choose a country outside of Brazil as your online store. Apparently tickets are cheaper outside Brazil. If you do not travel light like me, TAM does not make a big deal that my luggage is 24.7kg instead of the maximum 23kg. However, you might as well choose Flex or Top fare in the beginning. Furthermore, Top fare allows better seats and priority check in and boarding. Though I traveled on the cheapest fare and the wait and check-in process was fast and tolerable. The ground staff is not very knowledgeable on all intricacies though. Case in point: the lady did not realize I had emergency seat at Sao Paulo airport and let me through (the change had to be done on flight by asking people to change seats with me).  Anyhow, these are small matters that do not need to ruin anyone’s trip. All dealt with quickly and smoothly.

To be honest, for tourism purposes, Sao Paulo does not have much to offer, but I definitely do not mind stopping by every now and then to have more gastronomic experience and shopping!!!

 

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Sao Paulo: First Impression and Second Chances

After going through a frustrating day today running errands in Sao Paulo (SP), I was really starting to get fed up at the surprisingly difficult language barrier. Surprising because I have always thought it is easier for Portuguese and Spanish speakers to understand one another. I was hoping to just wing it here with my Spanish — bad move!

Just had a discussion with my lovely concierge here at the Intercon. I believe it should be easy for Portuguese speaker to understand Spanish and vice versa. She actually thinks that it is easier to learn English and understand English. Because latin languages are hard in grammar and too many false friends. I actually think the similar grammar structure and latin word roots would make it easier. I welcome your comment and thoughts on this.

Side Note: Demi Lovato is apparently staying at the same hotel this week. Here’s photo of her fans outside the hotel everyday – screaming her name!

Demi Lovato's Fans Outside Intercon

Demi Lovato’s Fans Outside Intercon

First of all, let me backtrack a little bit. I posted this on my Facebook today after a frustrating day at TAM Airlines and Vivo (Mobile Phone provider), and grabbing lunch.

Quote +++++

I dislike Sao Paulo. I cannot wait to get out of here!!!

1. It is quite expensive – a bottle of water USD2, in Barcelona it is USD1.50. Lunch (crappy taste) was USD18 – all charged by weight (expensive vegies). With USD18, I can have higher quality food in Barcelona. Wished I had bought McDonald’s.

2. I walked around on Avenida Paulista – a lot of homeless around. This avenue is like Jakarta’s Sudirman. I did not feel that unsafe, but I did not feel great either. Definitely leave your valuables in the hotel and bring only what you need.

3. Very few people understands Spanish, let alone English. Even Portunyol does not help today. I am exhausted! Though I did manage to be saved by a few people who speaks excellent english at crucial moment. Surprisingly, this includes people in TAM Airlines office (zero english!).

4. I am feeling ripped of by TAM Airlines – they wanted to charge me USD1,115 extra for changing my first leg of ticket (of two). Apparently, April 29 departure is considered last minute and I can only be charged full economy fare. And apparently buying inside Brazil is more expensive. So make sure when you buy online, you do not choose Brazil store. It is still cheaper for me to buy new tickets online and let my original ticket unused.

5. There are only private city tours. The cheapest I found is one recommended by the hotel – USD150 for three hours. I wonder if it is even worth it??? But if I do not do it, what will I do tomorrow???

That is it so far. In regards to SP being a crazy city traffic wise, Jakarta is as bad, if not worse. Thank God I did not skimp on the hotel. It is my haven!

+++++ Unquote

I feel better now though. Chilling a little bit in the hotel room and plans to go out on a nice dinner with a friends help a lot. I feel a bit more positive. I decided to pay for the city tour, as I do would like to learn about Sao Paulo. And my concierge here, Renata, is so amazing in sharing her experiences and knowledge about Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. I, once again, feel much more positive. Things are definitely looking up! After all, after a heart to heart with a friend last week in Spain, a conclusion has been drawn that some things and some people deserve second chances. So here we go!!!!

I consider myself lucky in my opportunities to travel a lot. Usually I am quite excited to see a new place. However I believe that Brazil’s notorious reputation is dampening that excitement. I actually felt apprehensive about going (when I told people about going to Brazil, most mentioned only of the negative stuffs and how they so do not like Brazil or they have friends / relatives who have been robbed in Brazil). So arriving with that mind frame, I found out that it is not that bad. Actually Avenida Paulista (business centre), Jardim, and Itaim areas are quite safe. (Disclaimer: common sense and alertness are still required!!! Avoid walking through parks even during the day alone. Choose busy streets to walk on).

I am staying near Avenida Paulista (on Santos which is one block away). I like it for the convenience, but I still try to walk on Paulista mostly. I had a million errands to run today and everything is here and I walked everywhere. I was alert. No phones were used on the street. Camera usage was quite discreet. I brought only minimal valuables. I did not at all feel threatened. There are a lot of Asians here (the biggest Japanese community outside Japan is here in SP). I could have been a local minding my own business.

The Guarulhos airport is a big disorganized maze like Manila Airport in grander scale. Compared to Guarulhos, Jakarta Cengkareng airport is like Changi. And Changi is paradise. :)

The traffic is not as bad or as bad as Jakarta.

Sao Paulo Highway From Guarulhos Airport at 5PM in the Afternoon

Sao Paulo Highway From Guarulhos Airport at 5PM in the Afternoon

SP also has no proper city planning. The city is messy like Jakarta. The only difference is that building here are much older. It is an old outdated city in appearance of the buildings that I have seen so far. Even the shopping centres on Avenida Paulista – the main business area of SP – look like ITC and Mangga Dua wholesale centres in Jakarta. Huh??!

Chinese Area of Sao Paolo - OTW from Airport To Paulista

Chinese Area of Sao Paolo – OTW from Airport To Paulista

Old Buildings on Paulista

Old Buildings on Paulista

But then again, I was told that Paulista no longer has the economic importance as it used to. It seemed that there is a new area where a lot of the multinational companies go to these days near Jardins.  Thus Paulista is left with a lot of government office and a lot of people comes to work from Comunidades.  Thus Paulista is a mix of people from all walk of life.  It would not be a place where you see many hot, groomed women. One interesting building on Paulista is the MASP building (contemporary art museum).

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MASP Building

What did I learn about SP and Brazilians so far???

1. Real Estate is expensive. It is difficult for people to afford a place in the good areas. The further out of SP, an area is, the closer it gets to favelas (or diplomatically referred to here as “comunidades”). Some upscale areas per square meter is more expensive that New York Central Park properties. Sounds like Singapore if you ask me. :)

2. Brazilians leave home only when they marry.

3. Public Schools are of very poor quality, and private schools are unaffordable to most. Thus, not many people know other languages. Personal note: considering my Spanish is only about intermediate level, and I could understand some Portuguese given the context, I think the lay people are just too lazy to try to understand it. But perhaps, I am being too harsh in making such judgement.

4. I think World Cup here will be chaos. Avoid Brazil unless die-die you must be here and watch it live…LOL (oops my Singlish is coming out).

5. Brazilians are not very hospitable, except for one lady here who really went out of her way to ensure of my well-being unfortunately. She is in Rio de Janeiro while I am in SP. One person, without any consideration and offer for a backup plan, just cancelled on our meeting after I run around to change my air ticket and even bought a new expensive ticket. Now I have to scramble to see if I can get a refund (which turned out to be 30% of what I paid – robbery! I am really starting to hate TAM Airlines right now. I will be flying GOL for the next of my trip. Anyone is familiar with GOL? What a bad taste in the mouth to do any business with such person.

That is about it I guess for the first 24 hour here….the sun will be brighter tomorrow I am sure after a glass of Caipirinha of lychee, paprika, and basil at Unique Hotel Sky Bar and its amazing view to Paulista.

Caipirinha Special One at Sky Bar of Unique Hotel in Jardins

Caipirinha Special One at Sky Bar of Unique Hotel in Jardins

View of Paulista From the Sky Bar of Unique Hotel

View of Paulista From the Sky Bar of Unique Hotel

And this is after an amazing dinner at A Figueira Rubaiyat under an amazing tree and eating an amazing Picanha (rump) steak.

Rump Steak at A Figueira Rubayat

Summus Rump Steak at A Figueira Rubayat (a specialty of the Rubaiyat Farm)

The famous Figueira tree of A Figueira Rubayat

The famous Figueira tree of A Figueira Rubayat

Categories: Brazil, Traveling | 1 Comment

Once in a Lifetime Semana Santa

Semana Santa (Week of the Saints) is once in a lifetime event, one must see, regardless of one’s faith. I am a Buddhist (born and bred and now in my adulthood, by choice). I grew up in a Baptist school mostly, added by one year of Catholic, and one year of Anglican school.   I used to know the Bible story quite well. Now I vaguely remember the details. I just knew Jesus came to save all of the Christians and Catholics, crucified by the Romans on a Friday and died, and was resurrected on Sunday, and Semana Santa represent Jesus’ week prior to Crucifixion and Resurrection. After that it was all a blur. However, it did not stop me from feeling the passion and the commitment of those who participated in the Semana Santa processions. The Spanish word that best describes the atmosphere of the people is FERVOR. To be honest, I barely read about Semana Santa prior to my trip. I have heard about. It intrigued me, and then I went to Sevilla (PS. I also managed to catch the important procession in Zaragoza and one in Cordoba). I downloaded the iPhone application: iCofrade to muddle through the schedules and locations of the processions, added by talking to people and hotel staffs. So I know the name of the cofrade (brotherhood), but I barely know what they are all about. After seeing a few, you sort of figure out what is coming. First, came the “brothers” in caipirote (conical cap) and the marching band, followed by Jesus (in different scenes of the week prior to his Crucification), more “brothers” (I put brothers in quotation mark, because girls and women do walk as well), and then the Virgin Mary, and followed by another marching band. I am showing you the photos of on procession by Cofrade (Brotherhood) El Cerro del Aguila.  This procession was highly anticipated, as they could not do it in the last three years due to weather.

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

El Cerro del Aguila Procession on Martes Santo (In Order of Appearance)

I might sound callous in describing the whole experience (I do not mean any disrespect to my Catholic friends), but really one just has to be there to feel the fervor and the passion. And it is very addictive, after seeing one, you will always want to see more – up to the fourth day, when we just called it quits. It just gets too much to see that many. We even missed the interesting La Madruga in lieu of sleep. In Sevilla, there were processions about 8 during the day and in addition, on Thursday, they have “La Madruga” which starts at or after midnight (another six processions).* Every cofrade has different bands/music, different designs and colors. It is quite amazing to see a few. My friend and I made a comment of how many musicians there are in Sevilla, but then we found out a band that actually came from Cadiz. :) I also love the smell of the incense being burnt in the botufumeiro. I love this incense burner! I love the design too. In Zaragoza, the incense burner is on a stick.

Botifumeiro Incense Burner - Processiones Are Really Feast of The Senses

Botifumeiro Incense Burner – Processiones Are Really Feast of The Senses

From the perspective of some of the spectators, honestly, Semana Santa just seems to be an excuse to dress up, go up, and to drink a lot for many people. Some families do bring out their little ones and the kids do seem to enjoy the processions. They try to collect stamps of different images of the Virgin Mary or Jesus (usually kept as amulets). Or they make balls from the candle wax.

Collecting Wax From the Procession Candles in Sevilla

Collecting Wax From the Procession Candles in Sevilla

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Ball of Wax From Procession Candle in Sevilla

One kind little girl walking the procession gave me a candy, which I still treasure. One girl watching a procession tried to collect all kind of stamps. When she had some repeat picture, she gave us some (very generous of her). One teenage boy made a comment that this year the Virgen’s cape is too short and not pretty enough. This shows that there are those who care deeply and uphold the tradition and proud to be part of it. We were told that the ones who do not care about Semana Santa had all gone to the Beach for the holidays. It is true, people wise, I actually expected something worse. The only frustrating moment happened once when we had to rush back to the hotel for our flamenco show. Otherwise, if you arrive in time and you do not move around that much, it is quite comfortable. Invest also in foldable chairs (made in china for EUR3). It won’t last, but it would last long enough for the week. And anyhow, if one watches the procession during the weekday and during the day, it is not that busy. We can get pretty close to the processions (I even did a selfie with one guy) and we could touch the Jesus and Virgen Mary. Also for a practical advise: if you do want to catch as many processions as possible, come early and choose a spot on the “CARRERA OFFICIAL”, this is a route where ALL processions MUST pass (every city has this).  It is best to stay there, so be prepared with food/drinks/chairs/shawl or extra clothing to keep warm.

Who are amazing are those committed and participated in the processions. I suppose the whole point of them is to recreate the suffering that Jesus had gone through. The participants walked for hours in a robe and a cap (Sevilla is still hot, even in April). Some walked barefood in asphalt in 37 degress Celsius day. They had to pour water on their feet.

La Cigarera Procession in Sevilla - Walking Barefoot on Asphalt in a 37 Degrees Celsius Day

La Cigarera Procession in Sevilla – Walking Barefoot on Asphalt in a 37 Degrees Celsius Day

Those carrying Jesus and Virgin Mary on their shoulders had to walk and move in one coordination, and at times on their knees.

Carrying Jesus - Sevilla

Carrying Jesus – Sevilla

The band had to carry heavy musical instruments in thick uniform. As a matter of fact, one guy had a heat stroke in Cordoba and had to leave the band. By the way, the Cordoba procession is similar to Sevilla (and thus is not being discussed much). We got to the start of La Pasion procession on Miercoles Santo (Wednesday). What was interesting is that it was a small street, so you feel the fervor even more, and one can feel a tad claustrophobic as well. I really appreciate my friend enduring all these with me (you know who you are!). (Video below)

Semana Santa is really a must-see for experience. I got lucky, too. When I got to Zaragoza for the next leg of my trip. I arrived on a Friday afternoon, when the big procession has started (Good Friday is when all the brotherhood joins the procession). As a matter of fact, the taxi driver (he was being an ASS but that is not worthy of any discussion) left me near the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de La Pilar and wished me good luck. It took me two calls to the Hotel to figure out how to walk pass the procession madness to my hotel – one of my mini adventures this trip. I was literally walking pushing my luggage in one hand, big backpack, and a camera on the other hand – literally pointing and shooting (the camera that is). It was mad, but it was also fun. In the hour it took me to get to my hotel (two blocks from where I got off the taxi), I received the help and kindness from many Zaragozan (they are called Mañicos in Spain). My hotel, Catalonia El Pilar, is actually located next to Santa Isabel Church where the processions started and ended. I had the perfect view from my balcony, but also imagine the chaos that day. The procession that I saw in Zaragoza seems a little bit less of a suffering. :) The routes are shorter. Jesus and Virgin Mary are put on a carriage with wheels being pushed, instead of carried on the shoulders of many men. In Zaragoza, the music is also more of percussions/tambourines, compared to a full band in Sevilla. It is still interesting to see nonetheless. As a matter of fact, my hotel receptionist has told me that Semana Santa in Zaragoza has just been declared an International attraction for next year, and not only National attraction. Like usual, I got a stroke of good luck of having seeing it first! HA! I did not even plan for it.

Procession of Viernes Santo in Zaragoza - in Plaze del Pilar

Procession of Viernes Santo in Zaragoza – in Plaze del Pilar

Plaza del Pilar During Viernes Santo Procession

Plaza del Pilar During Viernes Santo Procession

Santa Isabel Church Where Processions Start and End - Next to My Hotel Catalonia El Pilar

Santa Isabel Church Where Processions Start and End – Next to My Hotel Catalonia El Pilar

Tambourines Are Main Musical Instruments in Zaragozan Processions

Tambourines Are Main Musical Instruments in Zaragozan Processions

*Side note: by skipping La Madruga (though the Macarena procession was supposedly amazing) and sleeping properly, we managed to go to the Cathedral on the Friday morning and climbed the tower “La Giralda”. We also managed to squeeze in a visit to San Salvador Church where a few processions ended and started. Not only it was a treasure of a Church, but we also managed to the see Jesus and Virgin Mary closed up.

Virgen Mary From Montesion Procession on Thursday Evening Inside the San Salvador Church

Virgen Mary From Montesion Procession on Thursday Evening Inside the San Salvador Church

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Jesus From Montesion Procession on Thursday Evening Inside the San Salvador Church

**Another side note: I was told that in Tudela, Navarra, one of the custom is to have a boy (representing an angel) out of the windown in one of the townhall building on a rope to the pavilion in the middle of the Plaza, where the boy meets Virgen Mary at that spot.

Tudela Main Square - The Gazebo Is Where The Virgin Meets The Angel

Tudela Main Square – The Gazebo Is Where The Virgin Meets The Angel and The Blue Hole Is Where The Angel Emerges

 

I hope the video collections of Semana Santa in Sevilla, Cordoba, and Zaragoza can shed some light the ambience of the week:

  – San Esteban Procession in Sevilla on Martes Santo

– Cautivo San Pablo Procession in Sevilla on Lunes Santo

– La Pasion Procesion in Cordoba on Miercoles Santo

– Viernes Santo Procesion in Zaragoza – Participated By All Cofrades

– Sabado Santo Procesion in Zaragoza – The Virgen Is In Mourning

 

My Semana Santa week has been amazing in all the places: Sevilla, Cordoba, and Zaragoza. Will I do it again? Maybe in another town**. Maybe when I have kids and I would like them to experience it. For me personally, I have experienced enough and ended with a very high note. I would like to keep it that way.

 

Glossary:
Cofrade – Brotherhood
Santo(s) – Saint(s)
Lunes – Monday
Martes – Tuesday
Miercoles – Wednesday
Jueves – Thursday
Viernes – Friday
Sabado – Saturday
Domingo – Sunday
La Madruga – Processions that start after Midnight
Virgen – Refers to Virgin Mary
Macarena – One Representation of the Virgin Mary

 

Categories: Spain, Traveling | Leave a comment

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