24 March 2010

A tribute to Couchsurfing.org

It's time to look back on our trip (apart from also looking forward...) and time to write this post that has been in my head for a while now.
By now our regular readers should have heard of Couchsurfing. To cite their website: "CouchSurfing is a worldwide network for making connections between travelers and the local communities they visit".
And that's exactly what it was for us. Our trip would never have been the same without this wonderful project. Instead of staying in hostels and meeting the same beer-drinking travellers all over the world, we had the chance to meet locals, make friends and experience diverse lifestyles.

Without Couchsurfing, we would never have:
- learned that one can live without a fridge
- learned that one can live without a shower
- experienced the way people in St Petersburg and Moscow go to work every day
- had a bonfire and barbeque while watching the sunset at midnight
- experienced the limitless and unconditional hospitality of Russians
- seen a futuristic electronic housekey in South Korea
- seen Kuala Lumpurs nice sides
- participated in a Capoeira class in Arizona
- cohabited with a little dog with a dress in New Orleans
- walked into the most interesting buildings in downtown Chicago
- had a great time during the snowstorm in Washington
- stayed in a luxurious apartment in Rio
- made friends all around the world that we would like to see again.

Now many of you will ask: but is this SAFE? Well, we stayed with more than 30 people all over the world and yes, it was safe. Of course we didn't connect with everybody in the same way and some people are weird, but we never felt unsafe and all experiences were good and worth remembering.
Now that we are on our way back to a more "normal" life (but what is normal, anyway?) we are looking forward to giving back all this hospitality to other people travelling like we did.

For those who don't know how it works and are curious to know, go to www.couchsurfing.org

23 March 2010

Porto Alegre - Elinka e Alberto

At Porto Alegre we had Elinka and Alberto. She is a singer and musical consultant, he studied history but works as a computer programmer. Elinka during whole time she hosted us - four days - had to do a blog presenting a musical group. The whole time she spoke with us and on the phone and little did, even going to bed at 6am. They live not far from the center on the third and last floor of a building not very taken care of. Even if living together already for some time, they had several boxes around. At the lobby they had two TV sets which didn't work very well. The lobby connected to a long corridor with doors for four rooms, bathroom and passageway to the kitchen. Our room is the most organized: there is a sofa-bed to which Elinka added two wood pads and an extra mattress to make a real bed. In one of the rooms - the dining room - Elinka gives classes of voice and singing. In another room - the office - there was a desktop and two laptops on just two tables and lots of pandemonium. Their room is also a mess of clothes. The bathrooms has hot water in the shower, which is a box (like in São Paulo and Curitiba). The flush doesn't wok the first days, being necessary to manually lift the rubber in the water container. Also the ceiling light doesn't work and the only working light is necessary to turn on over a high closet. The kitchen was another disarray: lots of dishes and cutlery going around. When we arrive there is a huge pile of dishes to wash. For the rest of the days we don't give opportunity to repeat the situation. Finally, the washing machine leaks in the front, water that they collect in a basin not big enough for the amount of water coming out.

They have two cats - Lord and Prince - which made their business in their boxes by the kitchen every morning while we have breakfast.

Elinka and Alberto take us out couple of times and, even with all the mess, we are feeling well at their place. Of course they do not have a cleaning lady. They also do not have a car.

Ticket to our next stop

It took an hour and a half to get it printed at the travel agency!


18 March 2010

When a decision becomes an indecision...

It's sunny outside, warm, the beach is close. We are supposed to leave to Porto Alegre, our host is sleeping. We feel that we will regret moving away from here, at least while the weather is like this. But we decided, we are finishing this trip, put the final dot on going around.

Yesterday we showed some pictures to our host. We will repeat this process several times from our return. First to select the pictures, then to show them. We will again regret having decided to dot the sentence. But maybe is only a semi-colon. Hopefully so.

You always envy the life of the others. He took a boat from there to there, he plans to spend Easter there. The other got a indefinite contract elsewhere and we, we are here putting the final dot on a trip, going back to unknown settlement. Making our radius of movement decreasing to couple thousand kilometers. Well, it is not so bad. We'll be back to friends and family. We'll be back to dreaming about our nextstop.

Now, Porto Alegre.

17 March 2010

Internet at the beach

This was one of the beaches we visited in Ilha de Santa Catarina, called Matador. We bet everyone was surfing the internet there.

16 March 2010

Laziness by the beach before an end

We are in Florianópolis, South of Brazil. Couchsurfing in a big house, 10 minutes by foot from a waved see with the right temperature, neither hot that does not refresh, neither cold that makes it hard to get in. During the day we have the big house for us, there is shadow and breeze in the porch, right for reading while the sun is too strong to make it in the beach.

There's a computer with internet, but no mouse, taken by our host to use with her computer. In Brazil many things do not have explanation. They are just like that. Like on Sunday night when we were cooking and we run out of gas. Is just a no-problem, we phone and they deliver in 10 minutes. But no way to buy an extra bottle.

We are in Brazil and thinking the same way. We should move South, to Porto Alegre, but so far we are looking for a couch. For tomorrow, but here is so good that we will postpone to the day after our departure.

Our trip is near an end. Our head does not allow any more different beds to sleep, find timetables, find bus, find way home, find bed, find food, find what to do, find where to go. Our body does not want anymore to be seated 5 or more hours in a bus, adapt to a new bed, a new pillow. Is time to go home. Where's home? There is no home. Where will be home is a question that keeps us. What will be our new job. Looking for a job. No, we stay travelling. But then travelling would be no more than an escape of looking for a job, for a home.

There is no other sense now on traveling more, we need to find a ticket to Europe. Soon. This is the end.

Florianólis, Patricia and her two children

In Florianópolis the house is in Campeche, only five minutes by foot to the beach in a area of detached houses. Patrícia lives with her two children and a german shepherd in the garden. The children are 14 and 16years old and students. The younger one also plays videogames while the older one works. Patrícia is event organizer but she doesn't like the company where she is working. She is 45 years-old and not long ago she did her first solo trip to Patagonia. Her car is a Fiat. The house has two floors, with a open area on the ground floor with the dining room, living room, kitchen and a office in one of the corners. On the first floor, after climbing a cement staircase without handrail, there is Patrícia's room, the children room with two single beds and a bathroom. We sleep in the room of Vitor and Pedro and we use a bathroom on the ground floor. Again, hot water only in the showers. The kids sleep in the living room and use the bathroom upstairs.
There are few kitchen utensils and only a small frying pan where we prepare the onions and potatoes for the "bacalhau com natas". The gas stove runs out of gas while we cook, Sunday night. A short phone call and in less than ten minutes there is a motorbike arriving with a new bottle of gas. But in Brazil we never buy an extra bottle, in case.
Patrícia lends us two very shaky bicycles we use only once to go to the supermarket. She take us to visit semi-desert beaches like Matador or Lagoinha de Leste.

13 March 2010

Bacalhau com Natas

One of the things we cooked around the world was, when we find it (very seldom), bacalhau com natas. Portuguese recipe, but everyone seems to like it.

Shredded salted codfish (150g pp)
2 onions
6 potatoes
4 + 2 tablespoons butter
250ml cream
500ml milk
1 tablespoon flour
mustard, lemon juice, salt, pepper

Cook the cod in boiling water, strain and rinse
Fry potatoes in butter, sliced thin
Fry onion in 4 tablespoons butter
Melt 2 tablespoons butter, add flour, milk and seasoning to make a béchamel sauce
Add half the cream to the sauce still on the stove and the rest at the end
In a oven pan - layer potatoes, cod, onion
Pour the sauce and bake for 30minutes

10 March 2010

Curitiba, Milana and Dalmo

Milana and Dalmo are our hosts in Curitiba. Both journalists and studying for public worker examinations, in order to have a more stable future. They live not far from the center, walking distance from the "eye" of Niemeyer. Their large apartment is on the fifth floor on a quite recent building. The living with two sofas and a TV, a bar dividing the space of with the kitchen. There are three rooms, one of them transformed into a office, a toilet and a bathroom. Is the first apartment in Brazil we sleep with hot water plumbing, warmed by a boiler in the kitchen. Our room had a single bed and an extra mattress, which I use to sleep on the floor. The "office" is mostly used to hang the clothes to dry. They have a car, a Fiat, and a cleaning lady once a week.

08 March 2010

Le Brésil
Riche et Pauvre
Blanc et Noir
Ceux qui ont de l'argent doivent s'enfermer derrière des murs et des grilles, faire garder leurs maisons par des gardiens.
Les employées de maison - Noires, les patrons - Blancs.
Les employées de maison sont priées d'utiliser la porte latérale.
Le Pauvre montre un couteau et demande de l'argent, alors le Riche a peur du pauvre et doit s'enfermer encore plus.
Et il renvoie le Pauvre dans sa favela, loin du quartier où habite le Riche.

Les enfants des Riches vont dans les écoles des Riches, les enfants des Pauvres vont dans les écoles des Pauvres.
Et le cercle continue pour toujours.
Ou pas?...

07 March 2010

Problem solving - Brazilian way

Rio de Janeiro still has a tram - a very old one, called Bonde, that goes to the historic district of Santa Teresa. It's mostly used by tourists but we took it anyway. It rides up the steep hills, around curves, and has to stop from time to time and the driver has to step off and fix something with some big iron tool. But then there was a car parked and the tram couldn't pass, just because of a couple of centimeters. The driver rang his bell for some time, without effect. Then somebody got off the tram and hit the car, hoping this would set off the car alarm (but it didn't). The driver continued ringing the bell and somebody entertained the passengers by suggesting the tram pass over the car. Fifteen minutes passed without appearance of the car owner. The tram driver phoned someone (I guess the traffic police or so), until somebody had a brilliant idea: to rock the car until it would move the 2 or 3 centimeters it took to make space. All the men instantly jumped from the tram with a big "wooohooo!" and started rocking the car to and fro. In less than two minutes the problem was solved, the car moved a few centimeters down the hill, it was out of the way and the Bonde moved on through Santa Teresa.

Sao Paulo - Vlad e Vanessa

Alda from Boston introduced us to Vanessa and Vlad by email. Vanessa is accountant at C&A and Vlad is teacher of economics in a university. The apartment is at the city center, close to the university where Vlad teaches. On the 18th and last floor (in Brazil we always stay on the top floor) of a building with four apartments per floor. Downstairs it is necessary to cross two gates before crossing a security guard and continue to the elevators. Like in Rio de Janeiro. The apartment is small. The lobby is the living room. There is a small kitchen, a room and an office, where we sleep. The shower, like everywhere else in Brazil, warms the water electrically over our head. All other taps only serve cold water. The simple washing machine washes with at cold. We sleep in a air mattress. There are three cats - Bolacha, Biscoito and another one. They have a car, a renault clio.

06 March 2010

The Sheep Keeper

I'm a keeper of sheep.
The sheep are my thoughts
And my thoughts are all sensations.
I think with my eyes and ears
And with my hands and feet
And with my nose and mouth.

To think a flower is to see it and smell it
And to eat a fruit is to taste its meaning.

That's why on a hot day
When I ache from enjoying it so much,
And stretch out on the grass,
Closing my warm eyes,
I feel my whole body lying full length in reality,
I know the truth and I'm happy.

Sou um guardador de rebanhos.
O rebanho é os meus pensamentos
E os meus pensamentos são todos sensações.
Penso com os olhos e com os ouvidos
E com as mãos e os pés
E com o nariz e a boca.

Pensar uma flor é vê-la e cheirá-la
E comer um fruto é saber-lhe o sentido.

Por isso quando num dia de calor
Me sinto triste de gozá-lo tanto,
E me deito ao comprido na erva,
E fecho os olhos quentes,
Sinto todo o meu corpo deitado na realidade,
Sei a verdade e sou feliz.

Alberto Caeiro - O Guardador de Rebanhos


Alberto Caeiro

Mobile network in Brazil - a story

Like in several other countries we bought a SIM card to our mobile phone here in Brazil. Arrived to the airport in Belo Horizonte we asked a shop keeper where to buy and which network he recommended. We got a chip from Vivo.

We tried to call. Not possible, it was necessary to register the SIM card first. When tried, they asked for the "CPF".

Once we were with Lorenza, she phoned the hotline and managed to register the phone with her "CPF", which is the identity card number in Brazil. This already means no tourist can register on himself the SIM card. We try to call. No luck. Lorenza phones the hotline again and it seems that to buy the chip which includes 10reais in money is not enough, you need to buy extra credit.

We go to a kiosk and get the credit. The phone works now. A call costs 1.50reais, about 0.65euros.

Couple days pass, we go to Rio de Janeiro and the sim card does not work anymore. We go to a shop and they say to call the hotline from the phone inside the shop. In the hotline they say the phone is not registered. I say that it is, that we got already some credit in it and did some calls. The lady in the hotline asks me to call some assistant in the shop. The assistant is clever. Aleluia. She says that the problem is the phone, that only quad-band phones work with Vivo in Rio de Janeiro. She was right.

Next day we needed to buy more credit. To receive a phone call in Rio de Janeiro costs 1.30euros the 1st minute, plus 0.65euros the extra-minutes! This with a Brazilian sim card. We go to a kiosk but the machine to charge says our number is not valid. We go back to the Vivo shop. There is a guy selling paper cards for charging the phone. The Vivo shops are always super busy. He says that as our chip is from a different state, only cards sold in the shop work.

We travel more, arrive to São Paulo, we need more credit (would be cheaper for us to use our foreign mobile phones). We go directly to a Vivo shop, they sold us the magic card but it does not work, says again "invalid mobile phone number". The lady says again: "Yes, there's a problem with chips bought in Minas Gerais, we cannot put money on them here"... How can we do? Then she gives us back the money and says: "Well, if you go to the other side of the road, to the lottery shop, there they can put money on your sim card". And she was right, the official Vivo shop cannot put money on their own sim cards, but the lottery shop can!

Already in Minas Gerais we inquired other operator to see if things would be easier. First to go and she said that in their official shop they do not sell their own sim cards, one needs to go to a kiosk. We inquired about prices, state roaming. Five minutes later we come back with other question about prices and another seller says completely different from the first. We gave up.

The only advantage of having a Brazilian sim card is that internet access on the mobile phone is very cheap and that we would be able to receive sms from any Brazilian operator without problems. Even if in Brazil people do not seem so much fun of sms.

03 March 2010

Rio de Janeiro, the ghost Xiopan

Rio couchsurfing experience is bizarre. We are received by the house maid who take us to an apartment style loft, fully equiped where we stay. On the floor there is the air matress with satin bedsheets, silver color and brand 'playboy'. In the kitchen there is all kind of food for breakfast, except fruits. "I'll get them tomorrow" says the maid, "you don't need to buy anything". Her name is Lena and is a small women. The apartment has only one big living room without separation for the bedroom. It has two bathrooms, one of them big even with small jacuzzy and which entrance is one of the doors of the closet. The entrance of the apartment is to the kitchen, even though there is one door that goes to the living room. In the kitchen there is a door to a small veranda with the washing machine and dryer only for us and a small toilet for the maid. The apartment has television, sound system and wii console.
On the second day we expect a Turkish boy to join us which didn't come. The apartment is only for us and there is a freshly made carrot cake with chocolate sauce brought by Lena. In the big toilet there are 'playboy' magazines, in the TV cupboard erotical movies and in the fridge a lot of beers.
At the end of the third day the Turkish appears, also a small boy. Little after while he is still trying to explain for how long he has been in Brazil and what he does for living, while he is changing the story from 2 to 6 years and back, the apartment owner, Xiopan, appears. She takes a plastic orange, squeezes and it becomes a penis and she laughs. We go to her apartment with sea view. We meet her soons: a 17-year-old girl who is going to have dinner with us, white; two black younger boys, clearly adopted. Lena doesn't get out of the kitchen. Xiopan and the daugther do the service. At the end of the dinner a picture: "say sex", says Xiopan. She is lawyer for a court.
That night the Turkish leaves the light on when he goes to bed and, at 6am he turns on the dryer machine which wake us up.
We don't see Xiopan anymore. The next day we leave, telling Lena. Xiopan phone us saying she was sorry for not being more available for us and that she planned to do kayaking with us.