Current Date: May 2, 2003 3:45 p.m. (Pouso Alegre)

Current Itinerary: Leaving here on Monday or Tuesday for Sao Paulo. I will stay there for a week...and then most likely return to Belo Horizonte to find an apartment and a (gulp!) job.

Note: I debated for a long time whether to leave a portion of this journal as I had originally written it almost a month ago or make it a little less opinionated...then I figured, it's my journal, I can write whatever the hell I want:) Any comments/criticisms are more than welcome.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Stefan/Germany, Janet/England, and I woke up in Barreirinhas with just enough time to eat breakfast, pack everything, and hit the road. Kristie/England and Ruta/Canada were staying behind to go to the dunes that we had seen the day before. They were both heading towards the Amazon so we exchanged e-mails and decided to meet up in Sao Luis to travel to Belem together. We said goodbye to them and we literally got outside to wait for the bus with about 1 minute to spare. Man, that must be about the 5th time that I have just barely caught the bus I wanted to the next city. At some point, the luck has got to change. (note: I am currently knocking on wood)

The bus ride was great. Janet and I had a really good talk along the way and I told her my ENTIRE story about how I had decided to come on this trip and what it meant to me. She was only the second person that I really told the whole thing too...with all details, since I have been traveling. As I have said before, you can really form some strong bonds with people in a short amount of time. Some people though, you can really open up to. It is a special thing that you learn to value when traveling. It was really one of the reasons I liked traveling with Stefan but it was a different situation with Janet. I guess because in the beginning we did not hit it off too well, as I had said before, but anyway, I continued to enjoy her company and appreciated the chance to tell her my story.

We arrived in Sao Luis and guess what, it was pouring cats and dogs. Of course, I knew that it would be rainy in northern Brazil but after almost 2 solid weeks of it, I was really getting tired of it. Oh well, only about 3 weeks more and I will be back down south.

After a frustrating Taxi ride we finally made it to the pousada, checked in, and found Aimee/Australia there. Also, as we were getting things settled in the pousada, I happened to notice this VERY beautiful Brazilian girl that was there. She was in the hallway with a guy so I did not think much of it at the time. (note: that is my own subtle attempt at foreshadowing)

Sao Luis seemed like an okay city but I have to admit it was a bit depressing to be back in a big city after the 4 days we had spent in such nice, quiet, beautiful little towns where you felt 100% safe and the people were a bit friendlier. One advantage of being back in a city, however, INTERNET!! It is the vein that binds me to all of you folks and to information about what is happening in the world. I had been out of contact for quite awhile.

After a horrible by the kilo meal (a rarity) we went to the internet place where we ran into Tanya/Israel (from Salvador bus station and from Toyota we left Jeri in...remember she decided not to come with us and came straight to Sao Luis). We told her our whole story about the wonderful detour we had taken and about the fabulous dunes in Lencios de Maranhenses. She had actually done a day trip there so she got to see that part, but I think half the fun of seeing some places is the path you take to get there. Oh well. I shot back to the hostel for a quick nap and to meet up with Stefan. Afterwards we went to meet the girls at a nearby restaurant.

The pousada we stayed in was located basically in the center of the city. It has a very rustic style to it as many cities here in Brazil...narrow brick roads lined with shops and restaurants, although in Sao Luis it seemed that there were more businesses and apartments than most places. It was not near as pleasant asthetically as places like Pelourinho in Salvador and there were far fewer people in the streets. One very cool plaza near the pousada had many nice outdoor restaurants with live music playing.

We met the girls at one of the places near the main plaza. They had added another person to the group, Hillary/England. She was in her fifties and traveling alone. That's right. Read it again if you have to. I was sitting there at a table, with 4 women, all traveling alone, one in her twenties, one in her early thirties, one in her late thirties, and one in her fifties. I am telling you guys that ANYONE can do it. We weren't sure where we were going to go that night...we were thinking possibly a club so Stefan had to run back to the pousada since he was wearing shorts and as I have explained to him many times: Men wear pants.

After dinner we walked the center for a bit and I spotted a street drink stand (like the ones I described in Morro) and I decided to go for one of the delicious, cheap fresh fruit drinks instead of the pricey ones in a restaurant. The others sat at a sidewalk cafe and I joined them aftewards. Here is something else that I really love about Brazil. In the States, there is no way you could buy a drink/food in one restaurant and then take it into another. Here it is completely exceptable, so many times you can buy cheaper drinks out on the street and then take them into whatever bar you are in.

Over the next hour, I returned a few times to the drink stand and the guys got to know me. They would start making my drink without me even asking...even if there was a line of folks in front of me...sweet.

While sitting at the place, things seem to take a turn for the worse. The topic turned to the subject of keeping a travel journal...something that is very common for people to do when traveling. Of course, most don't keep journals to the extent that I am...and many think I am crazy (some are even SO shortsighted that they view keeping a journal as a waste of time...mind boggling). Fair enough...it is true it is a little over the top but I am certain it is worth it for several reasons which do not warrant getting into at the moment...but the bottom line is that is VERY important to me and it is not only for me but for all of you too. A way to share my experiences and just to say thanks for all you have done. In A LOT more words, I basically told everyone that that was the reason I was doing it.

Anyway, Hillary ended up making this comment of "How American!!"...in this tone that said, only an American would be stupid enough to speak like that. It really set me off. It was really annoying in light of all I had gone through with Janet over the previous four days and having to be constantly hit with anti-American statements. I had FINALLY broken her stereotypical views and then BAM, the next corner I turn I have to deal with the whole thing all over again. It really can get frustrating. Sometimes I just get sick of having to defend every little thing that I say or do. How long do I have to keep going through this crap? I just didn't have the energy that night so I called it an early night.

Back at the pousada I was asking Stefan about the whole thing and why he thought that Hillary said that. I mean, was it wrong for me to have such passion for what I am doing? It seems to me that for most folks that are out here it does not mean quite the same. I mean, we all share a common love for traveling and knowing places and people but I think in most cases of people from other countries it is more the norm than the exception. For this reason, it isn't a very big deal for them and most times they do not give up very much to travel...I however, am not in that boat...I have given up A LOT and it means a TON to me to be doing this. It isn't a vacation...this is my life for goodness sake. I just don't understand what is so wrong being excited about it and wanting to share that excitement with others. I, for one, think it is a positive thing to show people what happens when they strive towards a dream.

Anyway, Stefan explained to me that in most other cultures, people are not so open about their emotions and their dreams. It seems that it is very "American" to dream so big and believe with all conviction that you can obtain them. It is a concept that grows from the "American dream" that becomes instilled in us as we grow up in a society where it really IS possible to come from nothing and obtain almost anything you want. We are taught to believe in that from a very young age and I believe, in a sense, it is the REASON that it is possible. I think that what one makes of himself is a mixture of several things...part of it is who he is, part of it is the people in his life, part of it is a little luck, and the last piece of it is faith...the BELIEF that he can accomplish anything. Without that, the rest doesn't mean anything. But this concept is very American...it was something that I had not realized until that moment. You think you can go to a little kid from the Favelas of Rio and tell him he can make something of himself if he just puts his mind to it? Or you think you could go to an Arab nation and say to the women...what is wrong with you? Why don't you stand up for yourselves? See, it is beyond the concept of most of us in the States to understand what it means to have "no hope"...what it means to have no desire to push for your individual rights because for us it is one of our basic laws of society. To me, THIS is what makes the USA a great place to be from. It truly is one of the few places in the world that a person can actually come from nothing and obtain all the things he dreams of. Personal freedom is held high above almost everything else...and people dream big and go after what they believe in...but it is a double edged sword. The problem is that people tend to exploit this privelage. They become too greedy...they stop appreciating the freedoms that we have and they abuse it and before you know it some lady sues McDonald's for a million dollars because her coffee was too hot. The whole thing just becomes a big joke. See...THAT is exactly what I hate about the American way. That kind of crap. It was a weird lesson I learned that night...the very thing that I love about being from the USA and the thing that allowed me to even be in the position to do what I am doing is the very thing that breeds the things about the US that I hate. The conviction with which we belive our system causes us to look at other systems in disdain (sometimes we even start wars because we think our system is so much better...but I am saving that topic for another journal). There is an arrogance about it that you cannot see from the inside looking out...you have to perceive it from the perspective of living outside the US. I have to tell you, there have been many times on this journey where I have NOT been proud to be an American. There are many times when I have hung my head in shame at the actions of my fellow countrymen (whether they be prominent political figures or fellow travelers). We have a lot of growing up to do in my opinion...but the reason I was so pissed that night was that Hillary was mocking me for one of the positive things that comes out of our country. I mean to say; hate us because we are loud, or because we are close-minded, or the way we act in other countries, or because of the way we dress, or what the ever the hell else it is...but don't hate us because we dream big or that we have passion about what we do...faith is the building block of 'success' (I use the term loosely) This is one thing that we have figured out pretty damn good that MANY nations could learn a lesson from...and in THAT respect, I AM proud to be an American. So step off, b..ch!

Saturday, March 29, 2003

I got up pretty early and headed for the internet place to get some work done. It closed at 1, which was dissappointing, so I had to go back to the pousada. The city seemed pretty dead for some reason, there was virtually NO ONE on the street...maybe it was a holiday. The others weren't around and there was a slavery history museum I wanted to visit so I went in search of it. Much like everything else, it was closed. The streets were so empty I seriously felt like I was in the middle of an episode of the Twilight Zone. I found a small independent movie theatre with one screen and the movie, "La Comunidad" just happened to be in Spanish. Aside from a couple laughs it was absolutely atrocious. Two very big thumbs down.

On the way back to the pousada I ran into Kristie/England and Ruta/Canada. They had just arrived in Sao Luis from Barreirinhas and were searching for an internet place as Kristie was waiting to hear from another girl, Lisa/Australia that had said she was going to do the Amazon with her. It turned out to be the very same Lisa that I had met in the hostel in Natal...once again, it is a very small world in the Northeast part of Brazil because everyone is going the same direction. That was cool though, I had a few people for sure to do the Amazon with. Max (from the Morro house) had e-mailed me and bailed out because he decided to go from the other side, and Adam/Chicago (from the Dunes in Natal) sent me a message saying he broke his leg in some sort of boat accident and returned to Chicago.

Anyway, the three of us searched for another internet place but came up empty. We went back to the pousada to meet up with Stefan and then we all went to eat at a nearby restaurant. Somewhere during that meal, I decided that I didn't care too much for Ruta...she was incredibly rude and was just way too negative in general.

Back at the pousada we ran into Janet and she broke the sad news to us that she was leaving that night to head towards Belem. It is like that though...if you are in a place and nothing is happening, you have to move on. We all went to a nearby French bakery to enjoy her last hour with us. I was really sad to see her go. As I said, I had really grown quite fond of Janet. She was such a pleasure to travel with. She had pretty much traveled the whole world and had so many great stories and pieces of advice. The two of us had made a great connection and changed the views of each other a little bit. She had also been solely responsible for the entire detour and had really done mostly all the work when it came to figuring out how to get to the next place and where to stay. I figure I owe her a ton...she had a great influence on my travels. I will miss her greatly.

I took a nap afterwards and Stefan headed out to meet up with Kristie and the others. I went to search for them and found only Stefan and Hillary sitting at one of the sidewalk cafes. The centro was pretty dead for a Saturday night. While we were sitting there, the cute girl who I mentioned that I saw at the pousada the previous day came strolling into the plaza...and she appeared to be by herself. Hmmmmm. We all even had this little discussion about her and I was saying that I thought she looked great and I wanted to try to talk to her. It was moot point in the end, because the guy who I had seen her with at the pousada showed up.

I went back to the drink stand where I had gone many times the night before...the guys were happy to see me back. I figured they would be a good source of info so I asked them why the centro was so dead and where a good place to go was. They told me that everyone in town was at some show at a large complex where some quasi-famous guy was performing. That sounded good to me so I went back to Stefan to see if he wanted to go for it. We decided we would search for Kristie and the others and then go out to the show. We ended up finding them at another bar around the corner and they were with 4 others, Bob/Ireland, an English guy, an Italian, and a girl from France. Anyway, the Italian guy said that his friend knew a local girl that was going to take them to all to an area with good bars and a great Reggae club. I figured it would be better to go with them since we would have a bigger group. In the end, it was Ruta, Stefan, Bob, the Italian guy, the French girl, and myself all going to meet up with two others to go to this place. Well, in a strange twist of fate, it turned out that the local girl in question was the very SAME cute girl who I had seen at the pousada and then again in the street that night. The guy she was with was a friend of the Italian guy. I know that was a bit confusing...but stay with me here...it is worth it.

We grabbed taxis to get across town and ended up in this pretty cool area that was along what appeared to be a lake. The club we were interested in was still a bit empty so we walked along the waterfront in search of a place to sit and have a beer. Most places were pretty packed so it was tough to get a table but we finally managed it. I am not sure why, but the two Italian guys seemed to be a bit put out by the rest of us...no matter, that would later work to my advantage.

After 2 beers, we all went together up to the Reggae club. The place had a fair amount of people and the music was decent. I was sort of getting sick of Reggae by that point though...once you get to Salvador it is all you hear from that point north. It's funny because somewhere along the way somebody made a comment on how Sao Luis is the Reggae capital of Brazil...I think I heard that same comment in the last 4 cities! Anyway, you can imagine my delight when they played a couple salsa songs. From that point on, many subplots began to develop in the evening.

Bob/Ireland had met this girl but she spoke no English so I was there translating for him for awhile. I think the girl sort of liked me, but I wasn't really sure. Anyway, I was not going to translate all night so I left Bob on his own. Ruta went from drunk to wasted and became incredibly obnoxious...and left pretty early. The French girl hooked up with some guy and I never saw her again. Some girl was putting the moves on Stefan and he seemed to be enjoying it. The Italian guy who was with the local girl I had seen at the pousada (Hilda was her name I had found out by that point) was a stick in the mud so she began dancing with me. He became visibly upset by that whole episode so I played it cool to keep international relations at bay. She and I had talked for awhile though and I thought she seemed interested but I wasn't really sure. Anyway, about that time, things were taking a turn for the better with Stefan and the girl he was with...she had a friend with her so my card was up to jump on the grenade. I played wingman for about as long as I could take it...and then bailed out to find better entertainment. I ran into Bob/Ireland outside and he was getting nowhere with the girl he had been struggling to talk to a couple hours before. He told me he wanted to leave so she and I started talking, they put on another salsa song so we went and danced. I spent the last hour or so dancing with her and she was great...but the whole thing got killed by a classic "all her friends were leaving so she had to go too." I hate that. Anyway, it was getting pretty late, but the girl Stefan was with knew about a place for us to go for a sort of after hours (if there is such a thing in Brazil...everything closes so late here that after hours is more like the next morning). Of course, I was down since my prescence was critical as a wingman. Even if I had not wanted to go (which I did) that would not matter...that is the rule...if it is the end of the night and somebody has a chance, everyone must work together to do what is better for the team.

So the whole night culminated in Stefan and I going with these two girls to this random spot along the seawall that was actually pretty packed where there were about 3 kiosk type bars in a row. There were all these cars parked there with their doors and windows open, blasting their stereos...the problem was that everyone was playing different songs and different types of music. If the cars would have spaced out a bit more though, it would have been like a cool club with a bunch of different rooms...instead it was an incomprehensible mix of many different music styles. If you stayed in one spot, close to a car though, it was loud enough to drown out the others. Anyway, we sat there and had a couple beers while the sun came up. We finally went home around 6:45...a long night but I think Stefan would say it was worth it:)

Sunday, March 30, 2003

We woke up at 1 and had a good laugh about all the events of the previous night. I really think one of the best parts of going out is the recap with your friends the next day. It is always great to get all the holes filled in and see what made the highlight reel. That was a concept Tony and I came up with back in Houston...we decided that our goal when going out would be to try to make the highlight reel of everyone we encountered. If you make the next day discussion, it is a small victory for the team.

Well, I quickly found out that I had made Hilda's highlight reel because as we left out for food, the guy at the reception had a message for me...Hilda had called the pousada and left her number for me!! See how it all...well let's not get ahead of ourselves:)

Needless to say, I called her right away and we decided to meet at the pousada around 3. It really put a spin on my whole plan...I had been considering leaving for Belem that night but clearly there was cause for reconsideration. During lunch, Stefan and I ran into Kristie/England and she passed on the good news that Ruta had woke up that morning and decided not to do the Amazon and fly to Rio that very same day. Fine with me. She also said that she met a few other Germans who were going to the Amazon and they were on the bandwagon. One of them was with her at the restaurant, this guy Andy. We did not talk that much at that time. There was also another German girl with Krisie, Melanie, who was pretty cool. She was traveling south though and could not go with us. Anyway, they were all heading for a pretty cool beach that supposedly is packed on Sundays so I told them I would try to meet them later. Stefan was leaving for Belem that day so we had to go and figure out schedule, prices, and if there was space available.

Back at the pousada we chilled for awhile and finally Hilda showed up. She said that her and the Italian guy had gotten into a fight...as if I really cared. We ended up going with Stefan to the bus station. I told him I would leave Sao Luis the next night with Kristie and the Germans and I would meet him in Belem. Incidentally...as we walked through the centro to the kombi stop where we could get a ride to (well, near) the bus station...we discovered that Hilda knew an inordinate number of the folks who owned the pousadas. We began to expect that she might be in the "programa" as they call it down here...but too many pieces of the puzzle just didn't fit together well. Truth is, in the end, I guess I was never REALLY sure.

Anyway, Hilda and I left the busstation and headed back towards the place to catch a kombi back to the centro. We stopped in a cool little local bar and had a couple beers...during that time I started to think she was pretty strange and I was slowly becoming annoyed by her. I mean, she was nice enough, but seemed a little on the ditzy side...a very big negative in my book. Maybe it just seemed that way b/c she did not speak English and I wasn't understanding her Porteguese very well. She kept on telling this same stupid story over and over again about this trip she had taken to French Guyana.

Anyway, about an hour after dropping off Stefan, we got back to the pousada where we listen to tunes and goofed around. She wanted to go out dancing to a Forro place that night so she headed back home to change so we could go out. Truth is, I didn't really think she was going to come back and it didn't even bother me. I showered up and starting working on journals...just as I was getting into a writing groove, she showed up. Damn.

We headed out to the centro where the outside cafes are and ran into Kristie, the Germans, and many others. It turned out the two other Germans that were going to the Amazon were Anton and Marieke, who I had also met back at the hostel in Natal. Also at the table was another cool couple...Carlos/SP and Vivian/Sweden (I think). Carlos was super cool and spoke english, spanish, and porteguese perfectly. We got to talking about teaching in Sao Paulo and it turned out Vivian was doing exactly that down there. She told me she could help me get started which sounded great! I was really happy to meet them.

We ended up being a group of about 10 people going the Forro place. Bob/Ireland from the previous night was there so we had a good laugh about the girl he had passed off to me. I finally got sick of Hilda and her ditziness, plus she was trying to get me to pay for beer for a bunch of her friends (the whole story is much funnier than this), so I ended up joking around with Bob/Ireland and this guy from England for most of the night. Finally headed home around 3:30.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Very little happened on this day...I was at the internet place for all day. I figured it would be one of my last opportunities to have some serious computer time so I had to do my taxes. Wow, a whopping $43 dollar return...yippie skippie.

I met up with the Germans (Anton, Mereike, and Andy) at the hostel and we headed for the bus station to meet Kristie. We sat at the bus station and had our first meal of many together. Our core group for the Amazon trip was all set. We were all bubbling with excitement as we boarded the overnight bus to Belem...

AC

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