Current Date: Thursday, April 8, 2004 12:15 p.m. (Buenos Aires)

Current Itinerary: Planning to stay here for awhile so I'm trying to find an apartment and somewhere to work. If nothing comes up soon I'll head to a different city here in Argentina. Time will tell.

Note: I wish a happy Easter to all! A huge load of new pictures will be posted in the next few days so be sure to check the website. For now, continuing on with journals from my trip over the Xmas holidays. Only 2 more until I get to the new stuff.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Got up pretty early and was on the train from Curitiba to Morretes just before it left at 8. I forgot to mention that the previous day, I was a little bummed out; the lonely planet and Doug McLean had said sitting on the left side of the train was critical to the enjoyment of the train ride. When I bought my ticket, there were no more window seats on that side so I was forced to take an aisle seat on the left side. When I boarded the train on this day, I took my seat but I noticed that the two seats in front of me were both empty. I casually slipped in thinking it was all going to work out pretty well as the train was only minutes from leaving. From my new window seat I had a clear view of the spot where passengers came onto the platform to board the train. 7:57...nobody, 7:58...nobody, 7:59...nobody, 8:00...STILL nobody, 8:01...alright, let's get this train moving!!! 8:02...yes! We're moving, I'm gonna get this window seat! 8:02 and 30 seconds...a couple comes running onto the platform. 8:02 and 40 seconds...they STOP THE DAMN TRAIN. 8:03...I do the walk of shame back to my original seat. I get that "you tried to get away with one" look from all the other passengers and dutifully avoid eye contact. Dammit.

It was a bummer to lose that window seat but it did not take away from the beauty of this train ride. It was absolutely spectacular winding through the sierra, crossing several bridges and going through tunnels. Being on the train, I actually became part of the picturesque mountain views that I was used to marveling from afar during my bus rides. Any travelers in this region...this is a must do. The only downside for me was that the day was rather overcast and it was raining off and on. Since you reach a pretty high altitude, the view was sometimes obscured by the low hanging clouds. Another worry with the rain was that I wanted to do a hike in a place called Marumbi state park. I knew that the weather conditions would probably force me to change that plan...and I was right, but it was for the better.

Around 11 I arrived in Morretes but I was at the trainstation. My first order of business was to go to the bus station to find out about getting to Ihla do Mel (Honey Island) the next day, but more importantly, try to hammer down how I was going to get to Florianapolis, my eventual destination where I was meeting friends for a week of partying for the new year.

Morretes is a tiny little town and very beautiful. It sort of reminded me of Tiradentes in Minas Gerais. When I got to the bus station, my suspicions were confirmed...it was too small a town to be able to get a direct bus to Floripa. I also learned that the trails in the park were closed...so it left me with a decision about what I was going to do that day...move towards Ihla do Mel or stay and see a few of these little towns. There was a woman explaining something about the buses that enter and leave Morretes to another couple just next to me. She was talking in English and seemed to know what she was talking about, so I decided to ask her about buses. She explained that I could get both a boat to Ihla do Mel AND a bus to Floripa from the next city, Paranagua (where I was originally going to take the train to but could not do to construction on the tracks). Since it was a rainy day, I decided heading to the island just then probably wasn't the best idea and even better, the woman had a pousada where I could stay and she told me her husband could take me for a jungle hike on their land. I was sold. She told me her pousada was 7km. away and she could give me a ride there but first had to run some errands. That was perfect for me because I wanted to get some lunch anyway...she suggested a nearby place and we decided to meet up an hour later at the bus station.

On the drive over to pousada, I learned the woman's name was Maria. She was a Spanish woman of about 37 I'd say who had come to Brazil with her husband 10 years earlier. They had both their children here in Brazil, one 8 and the other almost 2. They were somewhat travelers themselves and I would later learn a bit of their great travels. She was an extremely pleasant person to talk with and I liked her right away.

When we got to her pousada I was absolutely overwhelmed with it's beauty. I had certainly made the right decision. They had a really large piece of land out in the forest. Just up the hill from their home, her husband had built a few small cabanas that served as the pousada. It was very tranquil out there and exactly what I needed. A perfect place to get away.

I met her husband, Nicolas, and we decided we would go on a hike through the forest after lunch. That was cool with me because I took that time to chill out in my room and bury myself in Papillon. It was a great setting to sit and read anyway.

Afterwards we went on the hike around their land. It was a nice one, mostly because we had a great talk about where we had each traveled to. We didn't hike for very long though...maybe about an hour and a half...the paths in the forest weren't the greatest. It also didn't help that it was raining pretty hard most of the time. I didn't mind though...it was still great to be outdoors and it was exactly what I wanted for the day.

Afterwards we returned to the house and Maria told me she was going to go to another nearby town, Antonina, to run some errands. I decided to go with her just to walk around a bit. I cleaned up from my muddy hike and we headed into town. Antonina is a very small town also but doesn't have the quaintness of Morretes. It is more representative of many of the small towns in Brazil...slightly run down the poverty is evident. We went from store to store chatting while she picked up a few things. While walking down the street we passed an ice cream shop...I'm a pretty big fan so I offered to buy us some ice cream. I got two big scoops because I'm a pig and Maria got one. I was seriously expecting it to be about 6 reals, but it came out to just more than two! That is the difference between these places and living in Sao Paulo. You can really tell the difference and understand why people consider it so expensive there.

We took a really nice walk out to a little fishing pier. We were there looking out towards the sea and Maria began to talk about how she could never live far from it. It was an interesting comment to me and I can completely understand. I only bring it up now for this reason...my parents have never even seen the sea. They have no idea what it is like to see the ocean waves splashing up on shore with the cool, unmistakable ocean breeze in your face. They don't know what it smells like, or tastes like, or how it feels to walk with you feet in the wet sand as the light surf splashes your feet. There hasn't been a single time I have gone to the ocean that I have not thought about that. I'm serious, not a one. I hope that one day, I can give them this gift. I have been lucky to visit the ocean countless times in my days, especially many of the beautiful beaches here in Brazil. It is a dream of mine to help them see some of these places and appreciate their beauty...somthing probably more amazing than they have seen in their lives.

Eventually we headed back to the pousada and I was able to rest for a couple hours before dinner...and of course continue reading Papillon. Nicolas came to get me around 9 and I went up to their house for dinner.

Their house was full of interesting items one might expect to find in the home of a couple who had travelled extesively together. I spent sometime showing their older child some maps of the US and where I was from. He was extremely curious and wouldn't stop asking questions. I imagine that one day, he might go off on an adventure of his own.

Dinner was spectacular...not just for the food, which was of course delicious, but it was one of typical spanish fashion...we must have sat there for 3 and a half hours just eating, talking, and drinking wine. I even mentioned how much I was enjoying our time there at the dinner table and when I asked them what was the thing they missed most about Spain, they replied, "the conversation". It is true, and something I had forgotten about...the Spanish are extremely social people (atleast in my experience). The Brazilians are also this way in general, but much more so in the north. Down here, people are a little more closed...albeit, not much when making a comparison to the US, but there certainly is a difference. However, it can't compare to what things are like in Spain and it is one of my favorite aspects of the culture there.

Anyway, they had many exciting tales to tell, but for the sake of space and the holes in my memory, I'll only share one here. About 15 years ago, they decided they were going to go and live on a deserted island...and spend their lives there. I can't remember where it was...somewhere in Indonesia. Anyway, they went there with absolutely nothing...only a knife, some fishing hooks and line, and the clothes on their backs. That's it. They paid a fisherman to take them to this island, 200 miles away from the mainland, and there they stayed with no conceivable way to contact the world or return. There were some wild pigs on the island that Nicolas would chase and kill for food. They found a fresh water source and also had plenty of coconuts and fruits to sustain them. They lived there alone, for 2 whole months before Maria fell extremely ill. With no way to contact civilazation they became worried but one day, a deep sea fishing boat passed close enough to the island and they were saved. They returned to the mainland and she got treatment...but the scare was enough and they aborted the idea of returning. Still, they had this incredible story about living on a deserted island, true survivor style. Talk about guts. I told Nicolas that he certainly never had to question if Maria loved him after agreeing to go with him there. When I asked her about how he convinced her she said, "It was sometime after we had fallen in love...I told him that I would go to the end of the earth for him, and that's exactly where he took me!" Pretty crazy story and just a great reminder of the interesting people you meet when traveling.

Anyway, we sat out on there porch, drinking wine and talking until about 1 a.m. Finally I went to bed, with nothing but the sounds of the forest to lull me to sleep.

I want to say something else about Maria. It is strange sometimes when you travel, but sometimes you get a sense of an honest, good person right away. So often in the bus stations you get people trying to get you to stay in their pousadas/hostels...I must tell you that I often ignore these folks because more often than not they are crooks just looking to feed off of the gringos who come to their cities. I could tell instantly that Maria was not of this category and her calm manner and good-natured way were the reason I decided to stay in her pousada in the first place. When I asked her how much to stay in her pousada, she was even hesitant about saying a price as you could see she felt a sort of guilt factor asking people for their money. She qouted me 30, then agreed to 20 reals. I never felt she was looking to rip me off in anyway and I could tell she didn't want to...she was merely an honest woman, out there trying to bring people to her pousada, of course, for the money she needed for herself and her beautiful family, but also because she geniunely wants to share with people her lovely piece of land and for them to enjoy it as they do. When I left, I paid her 50 reals and thanked her for a wonderful experience.

Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2003

Before writing anything esle about this day, I must say, Happy 50th birthday to my wonderful mother!! I love you an I miss you!!

Woke up at 9:00 and had a fabulous breakfast while chatting with Maria. I said goodbye to her family and she took me to the bus station where I immediately caught the (very packed) bus to Paranagua. I was there around noon and immediately bought my bus ticket for Floripa that would leave the next day. I made my way down to the docks to see about boats to Ihla do Mel. The next was leaving in an hour so I went out in search of internet and a place to call my Mom for her b-day. I was successful on both counts although the internet was ridiculously expensive. I quickly sent some important messages and got back to the dock to catch my boat. On the boat I met these two guys, Fernando and Alexandre...they were cool. They were heading to the island for a few days and were going to camp there. I was sort of planning on trying to rent a tent myself. Here in Brazil, many, many people flock to the beaches during this time of year (remember it's summer for them) so I was a bit worried about accomodation...specifically how much it was going to cost. Anyway, Fernando, Ale, and I became friends on the ride over and I decided I would camp with them and try to find somewhere to rent a tent. I also met a couple guys from Holland on the boat ride, Samuel and Sala. They, were heading to Floripa for the New year so I invited them to come and party with us down there.

The boat ride was a couple hours so it was 3 by the time we got to Ihla do Mel. With very little effort we found a camp ground with space...in fact we were the only ones there, but we did not find a tent for me, nor a place to rent one. Inside the campground, there was a sort of half finished building so I decided if worse came to worse, I could always crash inside it on the floor.

That all being taken care of, we headed out to the beach for the essentials...beer and food. The island was emptier than I had expected but still pretty pleasant. While on the beach we saw a band that was going to play bringing their equipment off the boat. They showed us where they would be playing that night so we decided that would be the plan.

We went back to the campground to shower (there was a small bathroom with running water) and we drank some wine that they had brought over on the boat with them...the good stuff that comes in a 5 liter jug. Only high class for me down here!

Back on the beach, things were relatively quite. We walked a long way and then went to the bar where the band was playing which was fairly packed. There we welcomed Christmas day...it was cool...a bunch of people hanging out dancing. There were a few families there and everyone was hugging/kissing and wishing Xmas wishes to everyone. It was actually great and indictitive of how the Brazilians welcome anyone and everyone and treats them all like family. That was good for me as I was missing my family a bit that day...not that I was sad or anything...I mean, I was sitting in paradise. But they were certainly in my thoughts and I said a silent prayer for them.

Around 2:30 I headed back to the campground, but sleep didn't come easy...it was a little chilly and the ground was pretty hard...but the mosquitos were merciless.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

I was up and at 'em pretty early after a pretty restless night. I discovered I was not the only one using that shelter that evening...a small poodle had made her home in the corner opposite mine and was nursing a pretty large brood of newly born puppies. Someone had left a small blanket for the dog and there was a water dish so someone had clearly discovered her and was attempting to help. I'm not sure if I mentioned this before but they have got a serious dog problem down here...especially in the beach towns. Nobody fixes their pets here and the result is many, many, strays in the streets and on the beaches. Bob Barker would have a heart attack if he saw the over rampant population in Brazil. Anyway, I couldn't help but to laugh at the fact that the dog had a better bed than I did!

The guys woke up pretty early and around 10 we headed out to walk around the island. I was absoltely blown away by the beauty of ihla do mel. The island is very well preserved...there are no paved roads and the only buildings are a handfull of pousadas where people can stay and a few bars/restaurants along each of the beaches. It is much smaller than Morro do Sao Paulo (island near Salvador) and there is much more greenery. We spent the next 4 hours hiking around a good percentage of the island (it's not very big) and taking pictures and talking. It was fantastic...I wish I could have stayed longer, but at 2:00 I boarded a boat that was headed back to Paranagua. I had bus to catch.

At 5:00 I boarded my bus for Florianapolis, heading into what would promise to be a week of serious partying and where I would close out an amazing 2003.

AC

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