Archive for February, 2014




I’ve never had the patience for details so by default I’m a
big picture kindof girl. As far as traveling goes, this part of my personality
allows me to dream big and do great things while having very little
expectations.  And as far as expectations
of the Inca Trail went I had none. And hot damn if the Inca Trail didn’t
provide the most gorgeous scenery I have ever had the privilege to see.  I’m not sure why I’m surprised, and maybe I’m
not, I just didn’t think about it.

The Inca Trail is a well-traveled 4-day hike and almost
every day of the year about 400 travelers, guides, and porters start the
journey from the beautiful mountain town of Cusco.

I arrived in Cusco at 1pm the day before I left for the trek
where I spent the day gasping for air, feeling flu-like symptoms and other tell
tale signs of mild altitude sickness. I suppose if I even thought of a guidebook
I would have planned my trip differently to allow time for acclimatization.

No, I wouldn’t have.  

My trip was perfect, ass kickin’ and all.

The first day on the Inca Trail was spent hiking a gradual
incline through a deep and narrow valley surrounded by edifices so staggeringly
high and lush green it was hard to believe I was still on planet Earth. 

I very randomly met three of Max Gordon’s friends along the
trail.  It took four sentences to figure
out that they were 26 years old and from Burlington, Vermont.

“Do you know Max Gordon?’ and the rest is history.

I hiked with a company called Weiki Treks which made us all
feel like we were some kindof royalty who enjoyed things like three course
lunches and dinners, birthday parties, pancakes, mango flan, ceviche, and happy
hours atop mountain peaks.

The six other people who I was serendipitously paired with
for the hike were truly the funniest, coolest people I’ve met in a long time
and the friendships were instant.  I
didn’t just laugh every day; I crawled on all fours in laughter every day.  My crew quickly devolved into a bunch of
people trying to make each other laugh while we feasted in our portable dining
room. The exhausting and beautiful walks in between meals seemed like something
to endure so we could sit down and start laughing over popcorn and powdered
milk mochas. 

 

Day Two of the trek is aptly named Dead Woman’s Pass.  Our guide literally said to us, ‘There are
many challenges in life. Today will be one of them.” (!?!?) It took us six
hours to ascend the 4,000 meter mountain pass in the pouring rain followed by
bright sun and increasingly less oxygen every step. You’ll be shocked to hear
that I didn’t pack well because I did zero planning and zero research.   My camera gear alone weighed 15 pounds and
that was just what was hanging around my neck. 
On my back you could find a change of clothes for each and every day, a
couple of books, my journal, and a cure and ointment for every possible malady
that would never arise.  Besides a rather
humbling experience, Day Two offered hour after hour of getting to know all my
new friends. We each told our life story, one by one, and I fell in love with
everyone.  It’s also worth noting that I
dominated that evening in both charades and the four hands of Bullshit we
played while crammed inside a one-man tent with three other people. 

 

Day Three was called The Gringo Killer, and I’ll surely
reference this day when talking nostalgically about my healthy knees. We
ascended and descended 3,000 ancient stone steps in the cold and spitting rain
for ten hours.  My body hurt, I was
cranky, I got my period, and I was thirsty. 
I laughed at lunch, but eventually had to sit down and cry for about 10
seconds.  The tightness in my calves
rendered me unable to bend at the ankle which felt as weird as it sounds.  My new friend Abe aptly named his calves
Donzel Washington and I couldn’t agree more though I’m pretty pissed I didn’t
think of the moniker first.

 

Day Four had us up and at ’em at the non-hour of
3:30am.  We had our first glimpse of what
we were told was Machu Picchu, but we wouldn’t know because it was 6am and the
morning fog still had hours before burning off. 
We took many a tourist photo in front of a thick white wall of clouds which
we found absolutely hilarious.  We spent
the next three hours making fun of ourselves until the fog cleared.

 

Machu Picchu proved to be so mind blowing and magnificent no
camera could ever do it justice.  In
fact, I couldn’t believe I was actually looking at it. The ancient city never
found by the Spanish conquistadors is perched high amongst the giant fangs of
the green Andes and is truly breath taking.  We spent the morning hanging around Machu
Picchu and I took something like 400 photographs.  I doubt even one will do it justice.

 

After the hike was over and we made our way to the mountain
town in the valley the afternoon and evening were spent either in a bar
congratulating ourselves or remembering the good old days of four days ago when
our knees worked.   We played drinking
games on the train home and horrified every English speaker within earshot of
our Never Have I Ever game.

I hope I never forget those four days on the Inca Trail and
how much fun we had and how hard we laughed. 
It ranks in the top experiences of my life and I never saw it coming.
Three cheers for not planning!

A hot shower, laundered clothes, a good sleep, a day off,
and a night out with friends had me ready for the next phase of my journey.

Off to the jungle I went. 

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A rickshaw picked me up from the hot and sweaty airport in
Iquitos, Peru; A moto-rickshaw to be exact. 
We buzzed through the chaos of the city and through little villages
where families kept cool and squealed in joy while playing in river waters
browner than they were.  I was giddy with
the thrill of travel and being in a land so totally unfamiliar.  I hung off the side of the rickshaw taking
photos saying aloud, ‘This is SO FUCKING AWESOME!’ again and again.  

 

The shamanic center of Nihue Rao is on a big plot of sandy land
in the middle of the jungle where mosquitoes fight for supremacy with termites and
spread malaria with force.  The center
itself is a scattering of Smurfs-Meet-Tarzan huts futily wrapped in mosquito
netting.  There is a cafeteria hut, a
living room hut, one hut for ceremonies called the Miloka, and many private
bedroom huts each with it’s own sweet hammock and bed enclosed in yet another
layer of netting.

 

I found Nihue Rao through my dear friend, Flora, who has
turned the pages of my life story in many ways. 
Her soul mate, Cvita, is one of the owners here and without one second
of research or even a second thought, I was signing up for a week in the jungle
with her.

 

The first order of business when someone arrives at NR is to
take a vomitivo which is exactly what it sounds like.  It’s a liter of a room temperature liquid
that smells and tastes like fermented onion though it’s made from boiling down
some plant I’ve never heard of.  I was
told to drink it as fast as I could and then wait for 15 minutes until I
cleared my system. This apparently makes for an easier time for the ayahuasca
to work.  I drank it, I gagged, I puked,
I puked again, I had diarrhea, I was glad it was over.

 

I slept more in my first two days at NR than I have since I
was a newborn baby.  Eleven hour slumbers
followed by two daily naps in my hammock totaled somewhere around 15 hours of
sleep a day. The rest of my first days, when my eyes were actually open, were
spent doing yoga, sweating to death, being eaten alive by mosquitoes, struggling
with WiF, taking delicious cold outdoor showers, eating bland white food,
dreaming about salt, and talking with the other handful of folks at the center.

 

People from all over the world come to NR to find insight
from ayahuasca. There were many countries represented, many languages spoken,
and without exception everyone was an extremely nice person.   There was, however, a noticeable lack of
laughter which was sorely missed after my time on the Inca Trail.  I spent the first few days trying to remember
why I even came and I wanted to be back with people who laughed easily and didn’t
take life too seriously.  I was later
reminded that it wasn’t a hotel and that we all came there for a reason.  People came to Nihue Rao to heal.

 

Ceremonies are held on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday
nights so I was there for almost two days before I went into ceremony.  Monday night’s ceremony was a bit of a
disaster and the ayahuasca didn’t work on me. I just sat in the miloka  and waited.  
I listened to other people either puke or freak out for three hours, and
the only sign of ayahuasca in my body was the fact that I threw up in the
bushes outside which is as miserable as it sounds.

 

An 18 year old girl arrived the day after I got there who
looked like she was 13 and seemed terribly depressed, shy, and anxious. When I
first saw her I think I audibly gasped.  
She told me that she was there with her own money and her parents
blessing to find a way out of the depression she has been suffering with since
she was 13. She claimed she had tried everything else and ayahuasca was her
last resort.  She seemed quirky and
sweet, naïve and scared, and way out of her comfort zone.   That evening’s ceremony, her first time ever
with ayahuasca, she got up off her mat around 10pm, ran outside and was either
auditioning for Exorcist II or was seriously being possessed.  We all listened to blood curdling screams from
a little girl running back and forth, back and forth, through the jungle.  It was not unlike a living hell and/or the
worst possible scenario I could imagine. 
That was before she came back inside to remind us all that ‘WE’RE ALL
DOOMED! EVERYBODY IS DOOOOOMED!!” and when the shaman sang she yelled, ‘MAKE
THE DEMON STOP!!”  That was while the
girl next to me writhed in agony for an hour whispering fuckkkk fuckkkk fuckkk
over and over.   

And all this could be yours for the low, low price of $100 a
day.

I endured the pleasantries of the miloka until 11pm when I
went back to my hut and went to sleep just as the soft rain started to fall.  I was happy to be in peace and quiet again
and there’s nothing quite like the sound of the rain on a thatched roof deep in
Jurrassic Park.  Sure beats overhearing a
psychotic break.

 

The rest of my time at Nihue Rao was a trip in every sense
of the word.  The ayahuasca ended up
working in so far as I hallucinated somewhere between ‘Well, this is cool!’ to
‘Holy shit, I’m starring in Avatar.’ 
What it never brought me was the kind of clarity or insight that ayahuasca
gets it’s medicinal reputation for and what I experienced in LA two years ago.  I still believe that I was a bit freaked out
by the utter exorcism of a teenager, and I think I tried hard to keep my wits
about me.  Every time any of my visuals
became dark I stared at them in my mind and willed them to change; A valuable
lesson in the power of the mind, no doubt.   The
only intentions I ever set for ceremony were ‘show me whatever I need to see’
and other vague cop-outs.   For whatever
it’s worth, the staff at Nihue Rao never let the teenager drink ayahusaca
again.  She stayed for a week and left a
week earlier than she originally planned.  Zoloft to the rescue!

 

My deepest questions may not have been answered, or even
asked to be honest, but the next three ceremonies provided some of the coolest
visuals I have ever imagined. Whether my eyes were open or closed I saw layers
upon waves upon tides of swirling patterns, fluorescent pink and orange drippy
castles, pinwheel lollipop amusement parks, deep blue galaxies, fields of
bulbous white flowers that blossomed into heart balloons, mask upon mask upon
mask of gods and monkeys and wolves and serpents, topsy-turvey tunnels with brightly
colored stalagmites, and whole worlds I could never find words for.   I did see all my best friends and their
daughters and I scooped them up for a group hug and burst into tears of love.

 

Every night in ceremony each one of us is called up from our
mats to sit in front of one of the shamans to be sung to directly.  I find this a particularly special experience
and one night I was truly overcome by the beauty of life.  There I was sitting in a hut in the middle of
the jungle in a town in Peru that neither me nor anyone I know has ever even
heard of.  A song was being sung to me
that has been learned not from books, but from the wisdom of plants.  This very song has been sung millions of
times across hundreds of years with the intention of healing people.  And now this song was being sung to me so
that I might find peace in my heart.  I sat
there cross-legged with my hands in prayer at my forehead bawling my eyes
out.  With tears streaming down my face I
whispered thank you over and over and over again.

 

Friday night’s ceremony provided one of those cliché
hallucinations where I swore I would be lost forever in a strange mix of
Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and the most nauseating carnival ride Tim
Burton could imagine.  I worked hard to
soothe  myself, but the freaky
upside-down, round and round nature of my experience had me hurling my guts
out.  Throwing up is a very common side
effect of ayahuasca and it happens to me every single time I drink it.  However, once the vomiting is over the fun
visuals usually start so it’s not a highlight, but a necessary evil.

 

After an hour or so of me barely hanging on to my shit on
Friday night, the last twenty minutes of my final ceremony was spent sitting
knee to knee with Cvita as she sang to me on my mat.  She sang the most beautiful prayers for my
life and cleaned up some bad juju she saw floating around me.  Then she wrapped me tight in an energetic bubble
made up of some kind of shamanic Care Bear Stare to keep me safe and
happy.  As she sung to me, nose to nose, Flora
showed up like a little fairy looking down on her two friends in such a
beautiful moment together.  She poured
glitter all over us and then wrapped us up tight in a saran wrap-like cocoon
made up of many shades of green.  The only
smile bigger than mine in that moment was Flora’s.

 

All that I learned during the ceremonies was practically
eclipsed by what I learned from my time outside of ceremony with the other
people at Nihue Rao.

In each one of those soulful people I saw reflections of
myself: the parts I don’t like, the parts I’m terrified of, and the parts I do like.
Every person there was trying to be a better version of themselves, this I know
for sure.

In the end, as I rode a wooden boat across a swampy river
away from the center and onto my next journey, I felt like a new chapter had
been started.  I sit here writing this
story and I feel happy and light, open and safe.  I feel free and excited.  I feel alive. 

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Whoops,  should’ve purchased
a guidebook.  

I heard Bolivia was one of the greatest countries in South
America so when I was dreaming up my trip I wanted to be sure I made it there.   The #1 recommended thing to see in Bolivia is
Salar De Uyuni, the salt flats in the town of Uyuni, a town in the middle of
nowhere.   I looked at some gorgeous
photos of the place and knew I wanted to see it myself.   I
googled, ‘what’s the closest airport to Uyuni?’ and the internet told me that
Calama, Chile was the closest airport so I booked my flight(s) to get there
from Iquitos.   

What I didn’t understand was that though Calama is technically
the closest airport to Uyuni there are NO FUCKING ROADS between the two
places.   Calama to Uyuni is an 8-hour off-roading
experience through the volcanic waste land of Northern Chile and the moon.  A long and frustrating story short, I was picked
up by one driver in Calama and driven to the border of Bolivia where he handed
me off to another driver.   This amazing
feat was all coordinated by the hotel I chose in Uyuni for the prohibitively
expensive price of I-can’t-tell-you.    The
driver who picked me up in Calama had lost his mind long ago, poor thing.  He navigated the three-hour experience
without taking his eyes off…me in the backseat.   This was while he stuffed piles of coka
leaves in his cheek and told me stories of how other travelers were scared by
his driving.   Still floating from
ayahuasca I couldn’t have cared less.  I
thought his craziness was entertaining and every time he decided to glance at
the ‘road’ I shook my head with a smile and whispered ‘fucking tapped’ as I
looked out the window at the passing active volcanoes.   The guy who picked me up on the Bolivian
side of the border was a kind and gentle man. 
He got me to my hotel safely, spoke no English, and kept me out of
Bolivian jail.   There we were at the shanty
hut that is the Bolivian border control where I was told that I needed to buy a
tourist visa for $135 USD.  This wouldn’t
have been an issue if I had more than $80 on me or had ever even heard of
needing a travel visa for Bolivia.  I
showed him my credit card with a fake tear in my eye and he gesticulated
passionately and waxed on in Spanish.  I
bet he was congratulating me on my planning skills and attention to
detail.   Somehow my driver and the
immigration guy settled on a plan to let me through if I pinky promised to go
to the immigration office as soon as I reached Uyuni, the nearest town and the
nearest ATM machine, five hours later.  Cvita told me that she wrapped me in a
protective bubble for Bolivia. I give her all the credit for this.

 

I arrived at my hotel that I, not surprisingly, booked in
haste.  I thought if I booked a fancy-ish
hotel they’d be able to organize that ridiculous transfer which was exactly
what happened. The hotel overlooked Salar De Uyuni and was made entirely of
salt.  Salt floors, salt walls, salt
furniture, you get the point.  It is an
absolutely gorgeous space and chock full of Bolivian kindness, inconvenience,
and culinary failure.   Because they deal with rich folk, the hotel only
books private tours to see the salt flats. 
This is in contrast to the usual way people see the flats: with six
other really fun people drinking beers and taking pictures and having a
blast.   So there I was at a really nice
hotel for the sole purpose of needing to book the transfer from Calama and I was
on the rich kid solo track.  Boo.

Salar De Uyuni is an impressive geological site and it’s hard
to believe such a thing even exists. It’s over 400 sq miles of a white salt
crust that was once a prehistoric salt lake. My afternoon on the flats was
spent with my guide, Francisco, who was kind and crazy and tried hard to make
our afternoon as fun as he could.  He let
me drive the truck over the flats, he sung my name most of the afternoon, and insisted
I photograph him posing near his truck. 
All the while Land Rovers teeming with laughing people sped by us as Francisco
and I tried to pantomime normal conversation.  I focused on the photography and made the best
of it.  Later on, as the sun set over the
salt flats, the ridiculous struggle and expense of getting there all made
sense.  I was awe struck by the beauty,
the endless reflective expanse, and the deep pink, red, and blue that reflected
off the salt.  If you know me you know I
never say this, but I love my photos of that evening.  In the end I’m very happy I was there.

 

As soon as I landed in Calama I knew I couldn’t make the
return trip to catch my flight back to Lima so I immediately started making
alternate plans.   The only possible way
out of Uyuni, which is actually on another planet, is by either prop plane (fuck
off) or an overnight bus to LaPaz.  Bus
trip it was. Every single person on that bus was tossed like a rag doll for 11
hours as we traversed non roads to LaPaz through the middle of the night.  I was sitting in my hotel room in LaPaz still
hammered on Tylenol PMs at 5:45am.   I
had no idea where I was.

I was thrilled to finally be staying in the heart of a city
and I loved LaPaz immediately.   In fact, I love Bolivia.  I love the people, the style, the hats, the shawls,
and the skirts the women wear.  I love
what Bolivians look like and how they treat travelers.  I love the landscape and it’s other worldly
beauty.  Any struggle I had in this
country was entirely my fault and again and again I was met with kindness and
grace in spite of my stupidity.    I spent
my day in LaPaz walking the city from one end to the other, visiting museums,
buying things I loved, and feeling the altitude. I watched the sun set over the
city from the rooftop restaurant of my hotel. I ordered the llama medium rare. 

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I landed at dawn in Rio and my mind exploded in a
kaleidoscope of green and yellow.  It was
oppressively hot, extremely bright, and overflowing with beautiful people, not a
single one looking like another.  I immediately
felt more alive and energized than I had my entire trip and I knew Rio would be
my favorite city of all time.  I felt
like I belonged.

 I was staying in the coolest neighborhood in Rio called
Santa Tereza; Combine New Orleans and San Francisco and drop it in the middle
of Rio De Janeiro and you have Santa Tereza.
 
The streets are steep and cobblestoned, every vertical surface is
adorned with beautiful street art, and most of the homes have the New Orleans
style architecture. There are only two places for visitors to stay in Santa
Tereza, and the rest of the neighborhood is artists, new families, and young
beautiful people that fill every adorable bar and cafe.
 I was staying at a Bed and Breakfast called
Casa Cool Beans (CCB): a three story, open air, colorful home run by Lance, an insanely
vibrant guy from San Diego, and his manager, Sergio.
  Lance worked for The Four Seasons most of his
life and he brings incredible service to a super chill spot.
 Lance and I hit it off immediately and I was
inspired and enraptured by 7am.
  

After a napped in the shade, swam in the rooftop pool, and
then got a Brazilian wax. When In Rome!

Marco, the airport driver/tour guide extraordinaire arrived
at CCB at 3pm to take me on a half-day tour of Rio, and thanks to Marco I am
now a historical and ethnographic expert on Brazil.  I saw every corner of the city, quickly had my
favorite neighborhoods, and had my face pressed against the car window for five
hours.  Just as the sun was setting and
turning Rio into pink majesty, we arrived at the famous Christ Redeemer statue
that overlooks the city. I looked down over Rio with it’s staggering mountains
bursting out of the endless ocean and I was overwhelmed with the beauty in front
of me.  Tears fell in spite of my effort
to hold them back.

 

Marco dropped me off at CCB and as I was changing into the
prettiest dress I own, I heard what sounded like the first 20 seconds of The
Obvious Child by Paul Simon right outside my window

It was time to head out.

I walked around the corner into the heart of an enormous
block party with hundreds of people dancing to a 20-piece band banging on
drums. 

 ‘This is so fucking
awesome!!!!’  I yelled to no one. 

Everybody was either dancing, singing, drinking, laughing, talking,
playing an instrument, or selling something. 
I approached a guy making caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail, on a makeshift bar made of milk
crates and ordered ‘one, please’ in Spanish.  The guy standing next to me saw that I was an
English speaker trying to speak Spanish to a Portuguese guy and asked me in
perfect English, ‘You want a drink?’.  His
name is Thiago and our friendship was instant, he immediately asked if I wanted
to hang out with him and his two brothers.  He reminded me so much of my friend, Brian
Edson, and I loved him instantly.  He was
hilariously funny, really enthusiastic, his English was perfect, and he was
effusive with his friendship toward me.  I
felt really lucky to have met him.

Thiago’s younger brother was sweet,  but his older brother, Bruno, melted me.  Bruno is 34, attentive and kind, funny and
cool, deep, generous, and gorgeous.  We did
not leave each other’s side or stop talking for five hours.  We talked about Rio, being business owners, California
(he lived in San Diego for three years), and how we both had been to Burning
Man.  We talked about having children and
what it feels like to watch our parents age. 
He bought us beers and street food and we made plans for the next
day.  He was so excited to show me his
Rio, starting the day with his favorite hike to a waterfall, then to a market
where he buys all his fresh fish, and then to the beach near his house. We
talked extensively about our love of outdoor showers, and he insisted his was
the best.   He asked for my number, and
instead I gave him CCB’s business card. 
We decided that 11am was a perfect starting time for our big day, and we
had a great kiss and an easy goodbye. I walked back to my hotel with stars in
my eyes.  I begged myself to fall asleep
but couldn’t wipe my smile off my face. 

God, I love Rio.

 

The next morning I was giddy.  I was
on the sidewalk at 11:05 like a kid on Christmas day.   

I waited until noon. 

He never showed up.

 

I went upstairs and changed and asked Lance and Sergio to help me plan my
day.  I was crushed.

 

All day I wondered why I didn’t get his number or what could have
happened.  I tried fruitlessly to shake
the gnawing feeling in my heart. I begged myself not to cry.

 

I spent the afternoon on a tour of enormous favelas, the Brazilian shanty
towns made famous in the movie City of God.  
It was an incredibly interesting tour and the favelas were fascinating
and nothing like I imagined.  I loved
every second, and for the gagillionth time during my trip I was overwhelmed by
the beauty of life.

 

I spent the rest of the day semi-catatonic in disappointment. I ate
dinner alone and watched the sun set over an incredible city from a glass cable
car.  There is a big difference between
being alone and being lonely.

 

I got home to CCB and walked directly into the shower.  There are six rooms in the inn and not a soul
was there.  Lance and Sergio leave at 2pm
every day and a code is needed to get in the front gate.  While I was in the shower the bell rang three
times. No one who normally does business with this inn was ringing the bell;
they know better, and no one else was there.  When I finally got to the window I watched two
people in a black car drive away.  I still
wonder if it was Bruno ringing the bell. 
I also still wonder why we didn’t exchange information when he asked me
to.

 

Moving on.

 

It was Saturday night and high time I changed the channel. I walked down
to the very same corner bar as I did the night before hoping for the best.

 

When I asked the bartender for a caipirinha he asked me something back in
Portuguese and I’m sure I looked stunned. 
Again, the guy next to me saved the day, ‘He wants to know if you want
something to eat.” he chimed in.  I
didn’t, but I immediately wanted to talk with this guy who is the Brazilian
version of my dear friend, Dod. I hadn’t spoken more then ten words in English
all day and I was hungry for conversation.  Hugo and I were friends immediately and bonded
and laughed over every single thing we said. We talked about love and life and
Rio and politics and heartbreak, and his three year old son, Teo.   We ventured outside of the bar and further
explored Santa Tereza.  Hugo was trying
to get over a recent breakup with his girlfriend and he needed the company as
much as I did.

We went to a neighborhood samba party and ended the night at a little bar
listening to five talented guys play instruments I’ve never heard of (though
Hugo swears one of them was the flute. 
J)

 

Hugo walked me to my door, gave me a great kiss, and said he’d pick me up
at 10am the next morning for breakfast. 
He gave me his business card and friended me on facebook.  I hadn’t told him anything about the night
before.

 

 

It was 10:01am on Sunday morning when I heard Hugo honk his horn lightly
outside CCB to let me know he was there. 

I smiled and ran downstairs.  

 

Hugo is a funny, smart, cool, generous, sexy, laidback guy full of very
kind and generous things to say to me. We endured Rio’s record-breaking heat
over breakfast, fresh juice, crepes, air conditioning, waterfalls, traffic
jams, inside jokes, city views, botanical gardens, and hilarious laughter.   Our chemistry built over the day, and our
friendship was obvious and very special. 
He was, and is, a friend I want to be around all the time.  He’s the guy you miss five minutes after he
leaves.  

He asked me what Americans call the male Brazilian bathing suits and I told
him ball huggers.  He laughed so hard he
almost drove off the road.  

We played in the crowded waters of Impanema beach at sunset and he kissed
me on my neck. Over sushi, with the reality of our day coming to a close, we
thanked each other profusely for a beautiful day.  Our absolutely perfect day ended in a steamy
goodbye outside of CCB, and we promised to see each other again one day.  His ex was calling him as I opened the car
door.


Leaving Rio the next morning felt like torture and I could barely get the
words out to thank Lance and Sergio for all they had done for me.  

I promised I’d be back.  I cried in
the taxi.  

(For the record:  Hugo and his girl reconciled and were officially dating again by Tuesday. All is well. )

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People said:  Salvador has a heavy
Afro-Brazilian influence.

I heard:  Salvador is full of hot
black dudes.

I went through AirBnB.com for my accommodations in Salvador and stayed
with a very cool woman named Liliana who lives in a sweet little apartment in a
residential neighborhood near the beach. 
Lili retired from her advertising career at 50, and spends her time with
her friends, exercising, relaxing, and being an extremely kind host.  

The first thing to do upon arrival in Salvador, I was told, is to go to
the beach and eat street food.   The beach was perfect: a warm breeze, calm
water, top rate people watching, and delicious street food.   I watched the sun set behind men bouncing
soccer balls off their heads and reflecting golden diminishing light off their
genetic perfection.

 

On my walk home along the beach a man in his late 50s jogged by me, then
turned around and stopped right in front of my face. He was speaking
enthusiastically in Portuguese, then in Spanish.  

This is what he said:

“What you’re seeing here on this coast is beautiful, sure, but it’s even
more beautiful further down the coast near my house.  I live in a beautiful home on the coast.  I have a car here and I could show you.  Would you like to go in my car to see the
beautiful view from my house?”

 

I was walking down
the street amongst hundreds of people.

He was jogging.

We’re strangers.

 

With a grin I said no thank you and he jogged on unaffected. 

I laughed the whole way home talking to myself, ‘Do I wanna get in your
car to see the view from your house? Ya, dude. 
That sounds gorgeous.  Where’d ya
park?”

 

That night Lili and her friends and I went next door for dinner: a delicious
outdoor café strewn along the parking lot of a Shell gas station.  I ate meat and cheese on sticks, drank some
beers, and sat knee to bumper with people filling their tanks.

 

The next morning I was in no hurry to see Salvador and took my time
getting out of the house.  Rio is a tough
act to follow. 

Lili and I were walking to lunch when a man hung out of his car window to
his waist and aggressively cat called me while he was driving.

I asked Lili what the fuck was going on with the dudes in this town and
the mystery was solved.

Apparently men chasing women is the
sport in Salvador.   It’s a game everyone participates in and
enjoys whether you’re the hunted or the hunter.  

I was told to get into it.

 

After a delicious lunch with Lili and her wonderfully smart friends, I
parted ways and headed to the oldest part of the city called Pelhorino: the
beautiful, old, cobblestoned, colorful, colonial, really touristy part of the
city.

I walked up on a group of guys doing capoireta, the Brazilian martial
art, and the drummer caught my eye immediately.   We exchanged a smile, he stopped drumming
and approached me.

Robinson is a 6’2″ black, tattooed, lean, strong, drummer, surfer, capoireta
guy.  (!!!)  He spoke as much English as I spoke Portuguese
and we somehow communicated all day in Spanish.

 

Robinson showed me around the old city, eventually holding my hand, then
kissing me, then literally parading me around the town like I was his new white
fleshy toy.  We had drinks, then some
food, then smoked a little pot.  This
combination turned Robinson into an extremely annoying man-gone-octopus.  I made the most of it, listened to a bunch of
live music, and eventually told him I was heading home and needed a taxi. 

No problem, he assured me, he’d bring me to a taxi.  

One dark alley after another soon had us not at a taxi stand, but standing
under a neon sign advertising in three different languages: Love Motel by the Hour.

He held my hand and walked me into the lobby.

I pulled away.

He insisted. 

We exchanged words.  J

I eventually found my own cab, which he immediately jumped in with me,
but soon  got the message and I drove
away without him.  It’s important to note
that he was never aggressive and I never felt in danger.

On my way home, I remembered something I asked him earlier that day and laughed
at myself for spending the day with him. 
When I met him I pointed to the ring on his left ring finger, ‘Married?”
I asked him.  No, he assured me, he wore
that ring–the undisputed sign of marriage in every corner of the world– to
give him strength while drumming.

Whoops.

 

I spent sunrise during my last full day in Salvador doing yoga on the
beach, swimming in the warm ocean water, and sucking water through a straw from
a coconut.   I was ready to leave.

I napped, I wrote, I packed my bags early, I went to lunch at the mall with
Lili and her friend.  Later, she
graciously took me to the local fruit and vegetable market so we could take
some photographs.  Lili truly did
everything she could to make me feel comfortable and welcome and I deeply
appreciated everything she did for me.

That evening we smoked a joint and washed delicious African food down
with two large beers.   She’s a gem.

On our way home we walked by a hostel on the beach crowded with travelers
from all over the world having a great time, making friends, and speaking many
languages.  My heart sank.  I obviously enjoyed staying with Lili and I
loved living the life of a regular Salvadorian woman for a few days, but I
wondered if I made the right decision by not staying in a hotel.  Maybe I would have enjoyed Salvador more if I
met some people doing the same things I was doing. 

Who’s to know, I guess.  I do know
that Lili was incredibly gracious and her attitude and lifestyle has deeply
inspired me.

I’m happy to call her a friend.

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Everyone I talked to in Brazil told me Ilha Grande was paradise:
beautiful remote beaches on an island with no roads or cars made up entirely of
mountainous jungle and nature reserve.
  
I was really looking forward to spending the final five nights of my
trip at a Bed and Breakfast on a hammock overlooking the harbor.

 I spent most of the daylight hours hiking in the jungle from one remote
beach to another amongst deafening cicadas, howler monkeys, and psychedelic
butterflies.
  I absolutely loved hiking
for hours in my bathing suit and emerging from the jungle to these cool little
beaches with restaurant shacks, a few people, and little else.
   It
really was a very cool place.

 Ihla Grande is a nature reserve with a big nightlife and restaurant scene
so my evenings, after those great days, were spent all dressed up and eating absolutely
delicious food by candlelight at a table in the sand.
 

 I loved it… until I didn’t.  Five
nights can be too long to stay even in Paradise.

 Going to Ilha Grande alone, staying in an overpriced hotel, and not being
able to speak Portugese is a perfect way to meet no one.
 Frustration with language paired well with
increasing loneliness and a monsoon with power outages and Ihla Grande was not
so fun for me after a few days.
   

Somewhere in that loneliness I vowed to make the rest of the trip a
hiking, yoga, and meditation retreat for myself and I absolutely loved it.   I danced around my room, did some yoga, hiked
and swam, meditated, wrote, and took photos. 
I went out to dinner, I made out with my waiter, met a few nice couples.  

The 55-day drought that Brazil was experiencing came to a screeching halt
with a ceaseless monsoon that lasted for days. 
The storm wiped out the electricity and water source for the island, nothing
was open, the humidity was disgusting, and I began counting the hours until my
departure. 

Ihla Grande is a good place to go for the weekend, not the week.  Poor me.

I’m writing these final words from Puerto Rico where I’m going to shoot a
wedding on Saturday.  I’m not sure I can
even comprehend what just happened.  Did
all this just happen?  Am I lying?  Are the photos I just edited mine?
 

You guys, thank you so much for giving a shit about me.  Writing this story to you kept me company and
kept my spirit afloat.   If you’re
reading this sentence I love you very much and I’m so grateful to have your
support. 

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