Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On the road again and again

I'm making my way around the northeastern coast of Brazil, from Belem with a stop in Sao Luis and possibly Jericoacoara on route to Natal. There, I will see a dear fellow voyager with whom I shared an atmospheric bus arrival to Siem Riep and one very magic day in Angkor Wat.

One of my closest friends in Chicago, with whom I will be friends when I am old and gray, says this is the country where he could have been born, he feels at home here in a deep down way. I share that feeling.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Question and answers

Was I losing my compassion? I think no...

Here I can be less defensive as a baseline because again and again I find genuine warmth and openness. Here there is no misguided belief that tourists possess money trees nor merchants trying to extract ridiculous amounts from the foreigners ad nauseum. Here people share information, advice, food, and time, and I do the same. Here is a warmth of character and love and celebration of life. Here I feel joyful and inner peaceful with the knowing that even when I am struggling, all are pieces in myself.

4 (llooooooooooong) days

I just reached Belem, after taking a boat down the Amazon for 4 (llooooooooooong)days and nights...I enjoyed quite pleasant days of swinging in a hammock in the balmy Amazonian breeze.

I left Manaus too quickly (the same morning I arrived!) because I met other travelers heading down the Amazon by boat like my own plans who told me that after Friday the next boat was the following Wednesday. So, while I would have liked to have spent more time in Manaus, 6 days would have been too much and would have interfered with my onward plans in the scarce days I have left in Brazil. At least I saw Manaus' opera house which I wanted to see with my own eyes after seeing Werner Herzog's film, Fitzcarraldo!

For the trip, I bought a hammock near the harbor and hung mine amongst several dozen others. We boarded early enough to secure (what we thought was) a good spot -- away from the engine noise and bathrooms. Little did we know that the meal tables were on a panel along our side of the boat and close enough so that when breakfast began at 6:30am, we were in prime traffic and assured to get inadvertently bashed by stumbling or rushing diners. Sometimes the boat was so crowded, at times with 3 hammocks top to bottom in one space -- though most people, including in "our crew", were too good-natured and sleepy to mind!

We saw the confluence of the waters, when the Rio Negro on which Manaus is situated meets the upper Amazon river (called Solimoes in Brazil), a dawdling co-mingling of the brown black Rio Negro with the yellow brown Solimoes, a metaphor for the people of Brazil. Though it is summer here in the southern hemisphere and it is the rainy season in Amazonia, most nights were quite chilly.

Running water (toilets, sinks and showers) were river water... Though unappealing in appearance, the coldish showers felt divine after sunny, humid days though I have to admit at times I washed my face with bottled water. Because the bathrooms were also showers, they were clean enough.

Meal times were like prison feedings, we lined up for the bland but filling grub, the same everyday (meat and rice and beans and pasta), and we were required to eat as quickly as possible in site of the waiting diners because the food platters would be quickly whisked away. We didn't bother with breakfast after the first morning, because it was a flimsy white bun with butter/margarine and sugary milk in which the taste of coffee I could not detect.

One of our merchant marinesmen we joked loved his job (we never saw him smile once), I noticed discarded food remains from peoples' plates directly into the river. When I noticed another merchant marineswoman placing the leftover food onto a plate and taking it into the kitchen and a stew was served the next day, I ceased eating ship meals, which was no problem because of the many vendors at every port. At least half of "our crew" (fellow foreign travelers who spent the 4 days together), including myself, is now inflicted by GI problems.

Because much of the Amazon is quite wide, the chance of seeing wildlife along the way is almost nil, but some people spotted pink dolphins while in one of the smaller ports.

On board, we laughed and chatted with a bunch of people, including commuting Amazonians and fellow tourist travelers. When we couldn't communicate well with other Brazilians (because Spanish is not always a sufficient replacement for Portuguese) we used charades, and when that didn't work we just laughed more. My enjoyment of the people of Brazil continues with the warmth and friendliness I saw and experienced, including one grandfatherly man who was just happy to buy the kids ice cream whenever we were in port.

Other than travelers, the main cargo (and unofficial free snack) was Brazil nuts. Because the ones handed by a friendly Brazilian sharing the booty were the ones retrieved from the ground of the dock and because shelling the nuts without a nutcracker requires using ones teeth, I didn't sample the free snacks myself, but other travelers helped themselves to entire bowlfuls!

The last day felt particularly long, because we had heard conflicting accounts of the length of time of the journey, so some of us were expecting to arrive yesterday. And yet by that time to pass the 4 days on a hammock going down the Amazon I had perfected the art of doing nothing.


Hammock "class":

Prison feeding:

River life:

Vendor on the water:

Sunset on the Amazon River:


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Exasperation with myself


There will be no further pictures on my blog until I replace my camera that I lost with my own carelessness. I was rushing (which I have been since I arrived in Brazil -- this will not be a restful portion of my trip!), and I was distracted...I left it at the hotel internet cafe attached to a computer in order to post pictures on the blog! I called within 10 minutes after I left, but it was long gone...

Unfortunately, in Brazil digital cameras are priced at 250% of their worth due to low demand, so I'm not sure what I'll do.

I'm now in Salvador de Bahia, where the best carnival is of all Brazil! It's an amazing place -- with the crumbling colonial buildings still ornate and robed in tinted pastels and everyone's full energy and focus on Carnival. Many Brazilians are here; they say at any one time there are more than 2 million people dancing in the streets! Unfortunately, I'm rushing here and there to squeeze it all into an insufficient amount of time for Brazil. Tomorrow I board a 30-hour bus to Sao Paolo in order to catch my flight to Manaus in Amazonia.

SPECIAL THANKS: to the Sambodrom Sector 7 - Copa Hostal crew members Luisa, Lise and Pierre! I'm happy to have spent the time with you!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Lapa at night during Carnival

I have one word: wow.

Though pictures couldn't capture the night's festivities (which is hopping year 'round), here is the Lapa crew:

Next life

Depth and nothingness and surrender and forgiveness -- yours in the next life as friends. My love you already have.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

In my humble opinion...

Rio de Janeiro is the most beautiful city on this earth.

Of all the cities I've visited, on this trip and on all prior trips, even places renound to be the most beautiful (for example Cape Town), for the natural surroundings and what man has done in its wake, Rio is the most, most beautiful.


We went to Corcovado today from whose perch along side the giant statue of Jesus Christ we could see a panorama of all Rio. Bellissima!

Afterwards with an appetite augmented by the steep walk up, we went to eat at a churruscuria...meat, meat and more meat.

Portuguese is music to my ears, and so far getting by with Spanish has been okay.

Brazilians are lovely, generous of heart and spirit, kind, playful and joyful. It's obvious that I am one of the throngs of tourists here for Carnival (about 1 million tourists here at Carnival time, I'm told!) and I feel welcomed and touched by a gentle curiousity.

We made friends with our cab driver who became our kind and helpful companion. I didn't see an ulterior motive. Of course we paid him for the taxi, but he did much more than was the duty of a taxi driver.

I don't know why Brazil has the reputation it has (difficult, dangerous)...perhaps this is intentional in order to deny the revelation that another way of life exists and here people are productive, happy and fulfilled.

(Views from Sugarloaf Mountain:)


Saturday, February 17, 2007

In Rio, in Carnival

The buoyant energy of the brilliant sun and the lifeforce of the ocean here in beautiful Copacabana mixes with blood of the people of Europe, Africa and indigenous South America and ferments into a potent concoction that is the stuff of legends.

I landed late and the possibility of finding accomodations looked dubious, but as luck would have it and with some help of a friendly Brasilian, I found a place to stay in Copacabana for my 3 days here in Rio. Today I found (reasonably priced) tickets to the sambadrom! I'm on my way to one of the most famous shows on earth, a one-time occurence never to be identically reproduced -- it starts at 7pm and finishes at 6am -- how crazy is that?!?!!


Brazilians devote a huge part of their lives to the culture of celebration of Carnival. It is a spectacular display of music and dance with ornate parade floats and costumes around a central theme. It's like nothing I've ever seen; the beauty, the pagentry, the energy, the intricacy -- of the costumes, the music, the dancers, the whole night.

The rest of these are thanks to Luisa Pichardo!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Genius and a city who loves him

Antoni Gaudí was a genius, and Barcelona loves him and honors him by continuing to build his masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, over 80 years following his death in 1926. The first mass there will be held this year, 125 years after construction began.

It's breathtaking!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

España como puente, 2

¡Hola queridos!

Estoy en Barcelona con una amiga quien le conoci en Lhasa, Tibet! Me alegre de verle despues de unos meses y muchas millas.

Ayer viajamos a Girona, una hora por tren norte de Barcelona y acerca del costa. Creamos que el rio que corre por Girona se parece como Varanasi en India un poco.

In Girona, view of the Cathedral from afar:

A park along the way of the old city wall:

Postcard view of the ancient streets:

Another Varanasi:

Also yesterday we were both thinking about the lovely, long dinners, sometimes worry-ful, other times carefree, that we had at "our place" in Lhasa (the sister restaurant of the hotel where we stayed). And so, in the residential neighborhood called Gracia, we went looking for such a place to have dinner. We found a small Nepalese restaurant called Himalaya and for some moments I felt transported back to Lhasa.

I have many mixed feelings: upon leaving Morocco, happiness and great relief of having finished the African leg of my trip; toward Brazil, excitement and a little fear about going to carnival alone and the crazed affair it is renound to be. Hmmm...

For now I will continue to enjoy this colorful city and being here with someone with whom I shared a part of a special time and place, making some new places into "our places" here in Barcelona.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Casablanca last and first

Clocktower and entry to the medina, a local market with few tourists:

Mauresque (French-modernized Moorish architecture) of Casablanca:

This morning I said goodbye to fellow travelers (Bye Tom and Marlena and safe travels back to Poland! Thanks for your good company and see you in New York!!), and I ambled my way back on my delayed train from Marrekesh to Casablanca, to where I arrived to this country and from where I will depart tomorrow mid-day. Casablanca is not a touristic city, and it is so refreshing to be out of the tourist limelight.

I know there is a Moroccan hospitality underneath all of what I experienced, not at all what I experienced, that which has been completely snuffed out in persons having anything to do with the tourist industry. And so is the problem with so short a visit, no time to dive down, to go deeper, to make connections beyond those people seeking me (and all other visitors) based on the perceived abundance (of mine) of what the person needs and wants, i.e., money, which I think is less for greed and more for survival (I think).

I have come to appreciate Morocco for what it is not and what it is. It is not a restful, contemplative place to relax and recharge. It is a chaotic, engaging and at times outlandish mix of antiquity and modernity whose people are laboriously engrossed in the struggle of being and of life.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Sometimes I worry that with this trip I may be losing my compassion. Sometimes I am pushed beyond my limits, so far not in a physically dangerous way but in a way of dealing with evil, so these are things through which to sort when I have mindspace (which is not the case in Morocco as being here consumes every ounce of my psychic energy!); if not on this trip, when I return. Rather than a loss of compassion, I hope to return with a tested and an informed compassion.

Friday, February 09, 2007


I am in Marrekech, so far, happy to be here. There is a magnetism about its energy and being. The medina is sprawling with four-lane roads, so you get less of a sense of a walled-in city as compared to other Moroccan medinas that commonly have no cars within the walled, cobblestone streets.

Today the sky is bright and the main square is heavily peopled with more vendors and touts (people who are self-employed to annoy travelers) than tourists at this time of year. It is crazy here, like nothing else with the snake charmers, monkey handlers, musicians and many touts and beggars and horse- and donkey-drawn loads (carriages would much of the time be an overstatement).

The Koutoubia Minaret stands decorously in the distance. My Friday morning excursion was calmer than usual (Friday morning in Muslim countries is like Sunday morning in Christian countries), so I haven't yet experienced the full brunt of it.

One wonderful thing is the fresh fruit juice carts whose vendors juice oranges on site and hand you a glass for 3 dirhams or roughly 30 cents, yum! Sadly, I must report that the food has been a disappointing heap of tasteless stewed veggies or stewed veggies and meat with or without cous cous, not at all the fragrant, multi-sensation palate-pleasing tagine I've eaten in Paris, New York and, especially, Flensburg!

I went into a kitchen of a restaurant before choosing to eat there, and though it was clean and I didn't smell a bad smell, it was disconcerting that there was no smell! I wonder if they make it non-flavorful for the tourists? Or, perhaps it is just not possible to cook it in 15 minutes for a restaurant setting and for it to have those deep, rich flavors. If that is the case, I would think they could cook it ahead of time, especially the places that claim to specialize in tagine or cous cous (which is a bit odd, like if a restaurant in India were to claim to specialize in curry, but they don't make that claim because everyone serves curry!)

Inside the medina, one of the side streets leading to the Djemaa El Fna:

The Djemaa El Fna, the main open square, the pulsating heart of the medina:

Side view of the Djemaa El Fna:

Koutoubia Minaret:

Falling light inside the souqs (markets):

Yum, olives!

An orange tree grows in the hotel courtyard:

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Shades of Chefchaoun Blue

This is a beautiful place nestled in the mountains; now cold, yes, but gentle, charming, easy-going. The walls of the medina are painted various hues of blue, and the whole place has an airy feel. There are no hard sells here and few hassles.

View of the mountains from the main square within the medina (with the casbah to the right):

The streets of the medina:

My charming hotel:

This place reminds me of Jodhpur, India, a bit, where Brahmins paint their buildings and homes blue, but the streets and the skies here are much cleaner! While "Chaoun" is very low-key during the day, a churlish element comes out at night. It's all a part of the mix, and we, my fellow travelers and I, simultaneously laugh and commiserate.

Monday, February 05, 2007

In Fes

Fes, Morocco:

I am in now Fes, having mixed feelings. There is a very dark, sexual aggression here that is meant to belittle and humiliate just because you walk down the street. When declining a faux guide the response becomes abusive. Even when in male company, these predators are expert in doing it under their noses so only you notice. I know I have a choice. I can choose not to be offended, as well, I can choose to leave.

I have met some very nice travelers, and the days go away doing nothing very much. Fes is not renound for its historical sites other than the city itself being the old capital, but we pass the time drinking tea and talking and laughing. Since my fellow travelers came from Marrekech, they are prep'ing me on the tactics that the sellers in the souqs use, especially manipulations of verb forms. Typical conversation with a merchant: 'I don't want these shoes.' 'Okay, I know you don't want these shoes, but *if* you wanted these shoes, how much *would* you pay?'

From our hotel terrace, site of crazy happenings last night, including a concert by an unstudied accordian player and a side show of break-dancing:

Today, I'm heading to Chefchaoun for a few days, followed by a long train ride to Marrakech (8 hours is long for trains in Morocco).