24 September 2007

South America

I've been back for a week and a half, but now I finally have all the photos I need to tell stories. I'll try to be succinct here. MT, John, Kacy and I traveled to Brazil and Colombia for some work /meetings. I had never been to either country, so I was really excited.

São Paulo was awesome. Our hotel had - among three million other awesome things - circular windows in all of the rooms.

[looks like a fish-eye lomo, right?]

There was a long rectangular pool on the roof, paved with red mosaic tiles. We called it the Blood Pool and - since we weren't really allowed to leave our hotel aside from our meetings (we had a long-running "ATM Stickup" joke going) - spent most of our (working (ha)) time there. We had a 360° view of the city from the roof too, which was beautiful.

MT on an hour-long conference call
[MT on a conference call]

Kacy working
[Kacy working in the Blood Pool]

Okay, the real adventures began after this. We decided - upon our client's suggestion - to visit the beach at Maresias, "a two to two and a half hour drive from São Paulo." I put that in quotes because guess how long our drive took. Yes you guessed right - six and a half hours. This was one of the most maddening journeys ever, because our driver spoke no English. Kacy was able to speak to him in French a tiny bit, but his French wasn't very terrific at all. To top it off, the most terrible Brazilian pop radio station was playing in John's ear the entire time. I think he was close to jumping out of the van.

At one point, we were starving and needed to use the bathroom. The driver pulled over to the first available place, in the middle-of-nowhere rural Brazil. This place was equal parts fish farm, pool hall, tikki bar and outdoor restaurant. It was fascinating, and we never would have gotten this taste of local flavor had we taken our originally-planned helicopter to the beach (the fog over the mountains ended up being bad that day).

motorcycles and people eating

The next day (at the hotel in Maresias, finally) was my 25th birthday. It was the best birthday of my life. We spent the entire day on this beach, where mountains jutted out of the sea. I climbed some rocks at the end of the beach and thought about Puerto Rico the whole time.

happy birthday to me.


Now let me tell you about the drive back. It took less time than the drive there, but was more terrifying. Very terrifying. Long story short, it was looking impossible to get back to the city. Problems with the helicopter again, our hotel hadn't sent a driver, there was only one driver at the beach resort with a tiny car, etc. He ended up calling his friend to drive as well, so we had two cars and enough room for our luggage.

This was a bad idea. But we were so desperate to get back to São Paulo that we really weren't thinking clearly. Kacy and I ended up getting into this two-door, teal tin can Fiat. The ceiling was practically rotting onto us, and there were blankets and newspapers covering the floor. The "driver" was a huge man with a huge scar on one side of his face. He was not a driver. He was just the resort's driver's buddy, who happened to have a car. MT and John later told us that their guy was driving on the shoulder of the highway the entire time, and sometimes on the wrong side of the road (just to pass cars). Neither driver spoke English.

At one point, our driver started cursing and pulled over to the side of the highway. He said something to the effect of "one minute" in Portuguese dialect /slang, and ran out of the car, away from us.

Here is the house we were parked next to. There were wild roosters running around, and a strange man that walked right behind our car (from the strange house? We have no idea) and came inches from the driver's side. Kacy and I thought he was going to get in and drive us away to kill us somewhere, so we lunged forward and slammed down on the locks. Turns out he was just taking a stroll down the highway, walking around our car (on the traffic side?) instead of at the edge of the road.

We still don't know why our guy ran away from the car. He went to talk to a group of bikers for 15 minutes. Kacy guessed that he was either in the market for a bike and wanted to ask them about it, was lost, was buying drugs, or was friends with the guys and "just wanted to say hi."

Needless to say, we all kissed the floors of our circle-windowed, blood-pool-on-the-roof hotel when we finally got back.

Our final dinner in Brazil was at a restaurant built around a 200 year-old fig tree. Best meal of the trip thus far.

I loved Bogotá. I kind of thought that it would be a "this could be any city" metropolis, because my parents lived there for 3.5 years in the 1970s when my father was the Colombia Head of Operations for an international bank. I guess I thought that it was a bustling business city. Well, it is, but it's beautiful. It has such an old-style, provincial feel to it. Downtown Bogotá has gotten very safe lately - we were able to walk around freely without feeling scared at all.

Everybody is beautifully dressed in Bogotá. The women look impeccable and the men are all wearing suits everywhere and carrying themselves so well.

We also noticed this amazing juice-drinking phenomenon. At lunches and dinners filled with businessmen and politicians, everybody is ordering tropical fruit juices to have with their meals. One of the clients ordered us glasses of feijoa juice - a fruit I had never even heard of - and it was delicious. He told us that a fun thing to do is to go to a restaurant and order every single juice on the menu. I wish we had known that sooner. This just means we'll have to return ASAP to try it out.

This trip was incredible. amazing. I can't even believe I got to be a part of it. Between the hard work, long meetings, longer drives and scary adventures... wouldn't have changed a thing. Not even our friend ScarFace.

[photos by Kacy and me]
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