Sunday, August 21, 2016

Rio: More Travel and Olympic Highlights

The past two months in Rio have been terrific. I met a wonderful woman and stayed in the lovely neighborhood of Ipanema, just 4 blocks from the beach and 2 blocks from the lake where they held the Olympic rowing events. Great location. Here's a couple street shots to show the greenery about. The left photo shows orchids that have been grafted onto a tree. Pretty gorgeous. They do this in many places in the area.

At the western end of Ipanema beach stands a beautiful mountain called Deus Irmaus, or Two Brothers. What a beautiful site to behold every morning when I ran along this beach.

And here I am on top of it. That's Ipanema beach on the right and all the way to the left you can see the famous statue of Jesus Christ on top of the mountain.


My two favorite sandwiches in all of South America (where mostly the sandwiches totally suck):
The one on the left is filet mignon, cheese and pineapple. So delicious I had it twice. Here's me eating it late one night:


The final Olympic games I attended were the women's soccer gold medal game and track & field featuring the men's 4x100 final and Usain Bolt. The soccer game was held at Maracana stadium, which is one of the more famous soccer stadiums in the world. It was really beautiful all decked out for international visitors:
Germany beat Sweden 2-1 for the gold medal.

This photo from track & field shows the running of the women's 5000m gold medal race as well as the women's pole vault finals. Luckily our seats were right next to the pole vault area. Usain Bolt famously won a gold medal in the 4x100. In 3 Olympics he won gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m. Unprecedented.

And finally, as we bid farewell to Rio 2016, we welcom PyeongChang, South Korea as the host of the 2018 Winter Games. I just filled out an application to volunteer there. Care to join me?
 (l to r: Soohorang, Kirk, Debora, Bondabi)


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Rio: 2016 Olympics Update #2

While the proletariat was busy watching their televisions and eating their macaroni and cheese, or whatever it is they do, I was leveraging my elite social connections to score free tickets to Olympic Equestrian Jumping. Alas, I was forced to ride public transport to the event like so many commoners.

You there! Boy! Bring me another mimosa!

Equestrian Jumping
The equestrian event was actually super fun. It was a gorgeous day and the general admission seating paid dividends for an early riser like me. The setting reminded me a little bit of watching live golf -- gorgeous setting, outside, quiet, and olfactory stimulation. Plus, I could hear the horses breathing as they approached and went over this jump.

It was also like golf in that each jump is a little moment of excitement and tension followed by a moment of calm. The stadium remains completely quiet during each 75-second long run.



Beach Volleyball
Later that night I capped off my most fun day at the Games so far by seeing an exciting women's beach volleyball match between Brazil and Switzerland. Each of the games was settled by the minimum 2 points and it went to a third game tiebreaker. The Brazilian crowd was fun and loud and it made for a great atmosphere.
This was Brazil's #1 team and they won the match, but would lose to USA in the Bronze medal game.

Badminton
The next night I was at badminton. I watched men's and women's singles matches as well as the mixed-doubles semifinals. The highlight of the night was Malaysia beating China in mixed doubles. Malaysia would lose in the Gold medal match to Indonesia.

Two weeks ago I met a Malaysian mother and daughter who were visiting for the Olympics. When I asked them what sport they were most looking forward to seeing, they replied: Badminton. The Malaysian crowd was the largest of the night and so I sat amongst them and cheered along. 

It's interesting to me how each nation watches a totally different Olympics because they each focus on the sports they are best at. The Malaysians cared the most about badminton. The Chinese are in love with Ma Long, table tennis master, like Americans are in love with Michael Phelps and Simone Biles. Hondurans and Nigerians are watching lots of soccer. Russians were vocal at fencing.

Track and Field
Yesterday I benefited from more social connections when I was invited with Debora and her family to track and field. We witnessed history as an Olympic record was set in the men's steeplechase and an American took silver. Also saw the first day of the men's Decathlon and some qualifying heats for women's 800m and men's hammer throw.
The crowd was sparse at 9:30am when I took this photo during the first Decathlon 100m dash, but it filled in well as the morning progressed.

Olympic Attendance
If you've been watching the Olympics you have probably noticed that the attendance has been on the low side. I attribute this to two key factors:

  1. Not many Brazilians can afford the tickets which are often more than $100 for the more popular events
  2. Many global news leaders rejoiced in negativity in the months leading up to the Olympics. All you heard about was Zika and murders and polluted water and athletes accommodations that were broken. That's similar to what the news talks about before every Olympics.
Rant
Please stop watching and listening to these large news outlets. Their job is to get you to watch the news, not to inform you. They are for-profit businesses. Period.

What's Next
Friday night I'm going to track and field again to see me some Bolt! I decided to spring for some expensive tickets to see the Gold medal finals of:
  • men's 4x100 relay
  • women's 4x100 relay
  • women's pole vault
  • men's hammer throw
  • women's 5k

Immediately after the Olympics I'm flying to Peru to continue my travels. It's been an amazing time in Rio and I look forward to returning. But I must move on, visa travel restrictions being what they are. I'm going to do some trekking in the Cordillera Huayhuash, said to be the most spectacular mountain setting outside of the Himalaya. Then I'm up to Ecuador for a week on the legendary Galapagos Islands. After that, it's Colombia where I will reunite with friends from Brazil and the States.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

More Great Music in Rio

Previously I wrote about the best music experience in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Here are a couple more great options.

For jazz, I've really enjoyed Tuesday nights at Assis Garrafaria in the Cosme Velho neighborhood. It is a bistro with a large craft beer selection, but the jazz is the highlight for me (the craft beer in Rio often costs over 30 Brazilian Reals which is almost ten bucks).
The only downer about this night was that the bass player was playing one of those minimalist electronic stand-up basses. I hate those things. Guitars and stand-up basses are beautiful pieces of art and I enjoy drooling over a finely crafted instrument as much as the music coming from it.

But the most enjoyable music experience I had was delivered by the 88-year old grandma of my friend Debora. Here she is jamming out some traditional numbers on her accordion.

The video is interrupted when the author couldn't resist a dance with his videographer.

And then she moved to the piano, like a modern day Jobim.

Good times in Rio.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Best Music Experience in Rio: Bip Bip

Looking for the best music experience in Rio?

Then look no further than the Bip Bip near Copacabana beach. My first experience was described here, and now there's a handy infographic! Everybody loves infographics, right?


1. Feel right at home at the Bip Bip by helping yourself to a beer in the fridge at the back of the room. There are a few different kinds of light pilsner swill to choose from. A can will set you back 5 Brazilian Reals which, at the time of this writing, is about a buck fifty.

2. The proprietor is the gentleman sitting on 3 stacked plastic chairs at the table out front of the establishment. Tell him your name and how many beers you took. He'll jot it down in his notebook and you can pay when you leave.

3. Now find yourself a comfortable place to stand on the sidewalk outside the Bip Bip. As you can see, all the chairs inside are taken up by the band. The band plays hootenanny style and you may see band members changing instruments and different players joining and leaving throughout the night. The band is not mic'd and can be a little quiet, so you'll want to shut your fat trap and listen to the music. People making too much noise (e.g. light conversation) are subject to being shooshed or reprimanded by the proprietor.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Rio: 2016 Olympics Update #1

Debora and I were sitting at a nice cafe in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, looking back at amazing Copacabana beach, it's high-rise condos and the favela perched on the hillside beyond. Look! A stand-up paddleboarder!

Then the call came in: Debora's mother phoned to say that the Olympic torch was running along nearby Ipanema beach and would soon reach us. We grabbed the check and hurried back to the road to get a good viewing spot -- in the front row with our hands on the barrier separating the torch and its parade from the sidewalk and us non-torch bearers.

Silly me to think that a clearly barricade barrier would keep the locals away from their beloved torch!

Later that night we went to an Opening Ceremony party at a friends place. Here I am proudly displaying not just the Stars and Stripes, but none other than The King of Beers, itself. The most American and freedom of all the major international beer brands. America! Fuck yeah!

Oh. But what's that you say? Not American? Budweiser?
Why if we weren't such close friends I'd stick this bottle right up your communist kiester for even hinting at such blasphemy!

Alas, I was informed by my new friend Mario that Budweiser is actually now owned by Brazilians. It's true. AB Inbev is a Brazilian-Belgian multinational beverage corporation that now owns our tried and true.

Fortunately, the Olympics are all about peace, love and sportsmanship between nations, so we can table this controversy for now.

There's world class fencing, cycling and table tennis to be contested!

Similarly to the table tennis matches I watched a couple days prior, the viewing arrangement at fencing was excellent for spectators. In each there were four matches taking place at one time. In table tennis each match lasted about 30 minutes. In fencing they lasted less than 10 minutes. Even though the event was pretty much sold out, many of the tickets were unused because they were sold as part of package deals last year to people who also wanted to see the popular sports like gymnastics and swimming. That made it easy for guys like me to bounce around to near front-row seats for each contest that I was particularly interested in. When it came to fencing, I was excited to see Muslim American Ibitahaj Muhammad be the first American to wear a hijab during an Olympic contest. She won the first match in the round of 32, but then lost the next round to a French woman. The Russians and French are the best in the world at women's sabre fencing, I learned.

It was a fun day and the ticket only cost about $20. Table tennis was priced similarly.

On Sunday the women's cycling road race was held. It was an out-and-back race of about 130km. I was able to cheer them on here just 3km into the race and then again with only 3km left. The race went by just 4 blocks from my apartment.
Perhaps you heard the story about the horrible crash suffered by a Dutch cyclist and the American who was then overtaken near the finish by three pursuers, after being made easier to catch because she didn't have the benefit of drafting off another.


On a lighter note, the Olympics are great fun for the whole family. Each Olympics has cute mascots that help them sell merchandise to children. I only had to wait in line for about 55 mnutes to get this once-in-a-lifetime photo op with Tom, the Official 2016 Paralympic Games Mascot.

Tom was named after legendary Brazilian songwriter Tom Jobim and his name sounds much funnier and mascoty when pronounced with a Portugeuse accent. He is a magical creature, a fusion of all the plants in the Brazilian rainforest. Not pictured is my left hand trying to get a hold of some of the ayahuasca from the tip of his tail.

All Tom knows is "there's nothing better than playing, making friends, and relaxing in the forest".

Tom's got his shit together! He has clearly benefited from all the work with his therapist in recent years.

Read more about him here.


But What About Zika and Terrorists and Raw Sewage in the Water?
So far, from a spectator's perspective, the Olympics have been fantastic. The new subway opened up just in time. It still has that new subway smell. The signs and directions to the events have been clear and easy to follow. And many volunteers are available everywhere for any questions. The volunteers and workers are cheerful and helpful.

The only glitch that's bothered me was on Day One at the table tennis event when they ran out of all the food except for microwave pasta. But other than that things have been great.

Lots more amazing competition over the next 12 days. Tonight I'm going to see the torch burning downtown and check out the hub of action that they've set up. Should be fun.

And so now I'll leave you with this moment of zen...



Monday, August 1, 2016

Rio Olympics Preview: Summer (Winter) 2016!

I'm privileged to be in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Wint...er...Summer Olympics! August is winter here and the weather is frigid -- almost unbearable -- highs in the Fahrenheit 70s and lows, if you can imagine, even colder than that. Fortunately, the warmth of the Brazilian people sustains my life force.

Here's a candid shot of me braving the elements while I contemplate the worthiness of survival during another cold, dark winter's night.

But it's not the winter Olympics that are here during the winter. Like some cruel jest from the gods, Rio is hosting what the northern hemisphere calls the Summer Olympics. In winter.

In Brazil they are simply known as the Olympics because the existence of bobsleigh and freestyle ballet on skis only exist in some sort of Stanley Kubrick 1980s futuristic nightmare cinema.

As luck would have it, my apartment is 4 blocks away from the Danish beach pavilion which will feature hip Scandinavian design, bicycles, techno pop and LEGOs!

I can't wait to jump on a practical urban bicycle of Danish design and roll along the harbor, my toe-headed children gamely pedaling 10% more than their share of the socialist load.
Because this is the embodiment of the Olympic Ideal:

  • Athleticism
  • Grace
  • Teamwork
  • Wide-eyed wonderment
  • Bear-inspired fuzzy onesie
But let's not forget about the true reason for the Olympics: The Partying.

17 days.
10,500 athletes
450,000 condoms.

This is not a misprint.

I'm quoting now from The Guardian, esteemed British pillar of the press:
After Beijing 2008, an Olympic table-tennis player divulged the secrets of the “sex fest” and the “volcanic release of pent-up hedonism” 
A table-tennis player. Ping-pong players are having a sex fest at the Olympics. And that was in China. This if fucking Rio.

That's why there's 42 condoms per athlete. I think that's what the kids are calling Pokemon Go.

But for the non-competitive athletes like me, there will be more than 30 country and corporate houses in Rio for the Olympics, each showing off the benefits of their nation, their athletes, and their ability to party. Cuz ain't no party people like Rio party people.

In addition to Denmark, I will also be within stumbling distance of the techno-pop party houses of Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain, France, Netherlands and... yawn, but wait for it... Jamaica! 

Thank God for Jamaica!

So keep the dial tuned here for the duration of the games. Party on.

EVENTS I'M SCHEDULED TO ATTEND

  • Table Tennis 1st & 2nd rounds
  • Track & Field - Finals of 4x100 for men and women
  • Beach Volleyball - Quarterfinals for women
  • Fencing - Women's Sabre
  • Badminton - Men's and Women's Singles, Mixed Doubles


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rio Getaway -- Paraty, Brazil

A four hour bus ride west of Rio brings one to Paraty, Brazil. It is an old colonial town that first boomed due to gold, then coffee. Now it's main business is tourism.

Debora and I were there last weekend and it's a lovely, charming town that's great for a weekend. It's quite photogenic, too.

In one sense it's very walkable -- no motorized vehicles are allowed in the historic part of town. But the cobblestones are large and old and it can be dangerous to take one's eyes off of one's next step, lest one turn an ankle.

This house is owned by the Brazilian royal family. I didn't realize Brazil had a royal family, but when it was run by the Portugeuse it had an emperor until the mid-19th century. They switched to a democracy, but the lineage of the royal family lives on. They have zero power and are not in the tabloids like in the UK, but they are still quite wealthy and are apparently trying to regain the throne.

Rusty bicycle still in use

On Saturday we went on a jeep tour to visit four waterfalls and two cachaca distilleries. Cachaca is the national hooch that they make from sugar cane. It is the basis for the caipirinha, my new favorite summertime cocktail. Here's our tour guide showing us a distillery. They grow the sugar cane right outside this building.


Some monkeys were hanging out near one of the waterfalls. Note the long tail and crazy white plumes of hair on its head. Kind of an Einstein look.




Thursday, July 21, 2016

Rio Getaway - Niteroi & Itacoatiara

Rio de Janeiro sits at the mouth of Guanabara Bay and Ipanema beach faces south on the Atlantic ocean. Directly east across the bay from downtown Rio sits the city of Niteroi. It is full of towering beach condos, just like Rio, and has the added benefit of enjoying a beautiful view of Rio. Beyond Niteroi are many more beaches separated by jutting mountains that rise several hundred feed above the sand.

Some of these beaches access relatively clean water and some of them look just as beautiful but are never used because the water is too polluted. During the 2016 Olympics you will hear a lot about the polluted water conditions here. It's quite sad. Rio has this amazing resource of beaches and ocean, but they've been pouring sewage directly into it for years and the health hazard is now quite high. It's weird to see these huge, long, beautiful beaches right in the city with zero people using them.

Last week Debora and I took a few days to visit friends of hers who own a Bed & Breakfast in the charming beach community of Itacoatiara. The scenic route took us about 90 minutes to drive in light traffic from Ipanema (the blue dot on the map) to the red pin placed at Itacoatiara.

Niteroi, Brazil

Me enjoying the view of Niteroi from the plaza of the contemporary art museum.

Debora and I outside the museum

The surf was quite strong and turbulent when we arrived at Itacoatiara. I've seen bigger waves before (north shore of Oahu, Hawaii), but have never seen waves this intense. I felt like I could have sat and watched/listened to them all day long. This photo is Itacoatiara beach. You can hike to the top of the mountain or rock formation on the right.

Here's a photo from on top of that mountain/rock formation. Just as I got up there this paraglider was getting ready to take off. That's Itacoatiara beach below.

It was a chill coupla days for Debora and I -- lounging at the beach, walking along the beach, checking out a couple other beaches nearby, and hanging out with our wonderful hosts, Laura and Rodrigo. Alas, I forgot to get a photo of them or their nice B&B. This is the next beach over, a fishing beach.

Beyond the fishing beach is another beach that's more built up with fancy houses and small beach-side restaurants. It was also very enjoyable to walk along and just sit and watch the waves roll in. Does it ever get old to stare at the surf?

NEXT UP:
Tomorrow Debora and I are heading for another weekend getaway, this time to Paraty, Brazil. Paraty is a cool, colonial city four hours from Rio by bus. 
And in two weeks the Olympics will be here. I have tickets for table tennis and track & field (the day when they do the 4x100 finals for both men and women). Once the schedules come out and I know what teams are actually playing on what days, I'll probably also go see some volleyball and maybe some cycling. It turns out I'm really not that interested in the actual contests of the summer games. Winter Olympics are more my style and I had the pleasure of witnessing them in Salt Lake City in 2002. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

One Night in Rio: Bip Bip

There were only six chairs in the tiny establishment, each filled by one of the six women playing music -- two acoustic guitars, two tambourines, one bongo drum and one Garfunkel. They were playing mellow Brazilian samba songs which I didn't know, but enjoyed. After a song the people listening snapped their fingers to show their appreciation. Do the neighbors get pissed if there's too much noise? That would seem odd for Rio.


If you wanted to listen you grabbed a chair outside or stood on the sidewalk (the empty chair you see on the right of the photo was, along with me, on the sidewalk). The musicians didn't give a shit if there were people there or not, never looking out at the audience of 10-20 people while I was there. They were there for themselves. They were there for the music.

If you wanted a beer, you could help yourself to the selection of five different local swill brews in the fridge back behind the counter. Just make sure to let the owner know -- he's the chubby short guy with the grey beard and the unbuttoned shirt sitting just outside the bar next to the adding machine and the baskets of change.

I paid three dollars for two cans of beer and one hour of sweet music in a kickass local setting. I guess this sorta thing happens at the Bip Bip most weekend nights. I shall return.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Rio Redux

If you've been following along with my travels in South America than you may remember that I visited Rio de Janeiro, Brazil back in May. 

Well, I'm back in Rio for the next couple months, and not just for the caipirinhas or the Olympics.

I'm back for a girl. We met the last night I was here in May and only had time for a few drinks. But we really hit it off and now I'm back so we can get to know each other a little better (if you know what I mean). She's smart and funny and beautiful, just like me. 

Last week we spent three nights down at Ilha Grande, an island a few hours southwest of Rio. It's a fun getaway island that has one small town with sand streets and maybe 1,000 residents. There are nice hiking trails that climb over the mountainous interior to beaches and waterfalls.

Me at the beach after a few caipirinhas:

Me at the waterfall, eagerly anticipating my next caipirinha:

Debora, my new special lady friend, at happy hour one afternoon:

WHAT'S NEXT
My plan right now is to stay in Rio with Debora at her condo near famous Ipanema beach through the Olympics in August. Then I'll go back to travel in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia for a few months and we'll connect again for a time either back in Rio or maybe she will join me elsewhere. We shall see.

Obligatory "Girl from Ipanema" reference