Saturday, January 31, 2009

A tequila and a trim, please

I am frequently amused by signage around town. For example, take this hair salon, err, saloon.

Wait, another one?

Now, the Portuguese identifiers for salon are salão, or estética, or cabeleireiro, but as I’ve previously mentioned, there seems to be a prevailing idea that English words somehow make your business more glamorous. Or not...

The letter K doesn’t even exist in the Portuguese alphabet (or, more accurately, didn’t exist until January 1st of this year when it was added, along with a lump of orthographic changes to the official language). So why, then, would this paint brand be called “Killing”?

I understand marketing your business by stamping your logo on pens, hats, bags, or the like. But Astra Plastics takes a more personal approach:

Presente em seu lar! “We’re there with you in your home [during your most intimate moments, apparently].”

It’s not just salons and hardware stores. The food and beverage people are eager to get in on the act too. You won’t find any of that whiny country music here:

Hey, that sounds good. It’s Saturday night. Vamos lá!!

Cheers! LG

Friday, January 30, 2009

Hello, City Slicker!

Last Friday I took a bus to Canela, situated in the mountains a couple hours north of Porto Alegre. I checked in to Pousada do Viajante, which was conveniently located next to the rodoviária (bus terminal), and offered comfortable, en-suite, private rooms for quite modest prices.

The weather was perfect for my excursion—sunny skies and a lovely breeze. I set out in the afternoon for a long ramble around. Heading past the charming stone cathedral, I aimed for one of the parques (nature preserves) that surround the village. With so much green space, ecotourism is a big industry here. I didn’t go rafting, trekking, or repelling this time, but I did visit a dude ranch. Olha só, I’m a city slicker all the way and I have never whispered with horses.

On Saturday, Fazenda Passo Alegre sent a gaúcho in his pickup truck to change that. Arriving at the fazenda, 10 km outside Canela, I was led into one of the farm’s facilities. Inside, I geared up: on long, wooden tables were dozens of velcro-on chaps and foam cowboy hats. To the right there was a large fireplace, presumably for big churrasco (barbecue) parties.

As I waited for another couple of adventurers to arrive, I sat on the stoop and admired the stunning landscape—not at all apprehensive about the trotting off across the horizon. No, the wave of intimidation didn’t sweep over me until I was perched on Alecrim, listening to a crash course in horse-operation in Portuguese. Next thing you know, I’m bouncing down a trail with the couple (who were Brazilian and experienced in this sort of caper) and a guide, simultaneously awakening to my own mortality and channeling my inner Mitch Robbins. After roughly an hour, we stopped in a valley for a rest. We hiked through the forest toward the river, scaled the rocks and sat, cooling our toes in the rapids, for a while before heading back to the lean-to where our guide had prepared a quick snack (toasted pinhão, sausages, and chimarrão).

Alecrim was a great horse, but I took out some extra insurance by giving him an ear and neck massage before starting the journey back to the fazenda. I think it was a combination of this and my increasing comfort level that made the second hour more enjoyable. Then, I was able to manage the reins and enjoy the spectacular scenery.

After safely de-boarding, I rewarded Alecrim with carrots.

I liked this sign, though it’s hard to translate for you:

The closest I can come is to say “Mas BAH Tchê!” is to a gaúcho what “Party on! Excellent!” was to Bill & Ted. (Incidentally, I recently realized that I have started inserting "Bah!" in routine speech. More Gauchinha every day!)

During our celebratory jigger of moonshine, I noted that a pin should be added to the map representing their first Chicago City Slicker!

My hosts then drove me back to the hostel, where I met a new arrival; the well-traveled Englishman, Charles, with whom I visited Parque do Caracol the next day for Round 2 of my nature adventures.

The 7km route to the park zig-zagged through lush woods and along streams, the road rising and falling in gentle rolls. The park has great infrastructure; various lookout structures, well-maintained trails, shops, restrooms, and a restaurant. The sign atop the cliff tried its best to dissuade people from descending the 927 steep, iron-grate steps to the base of the waterfall…

…but, of course, we were not the type to heed warnings. Charles and I practically skipped down, into the increasingly humid void. It was probably only 800 steps, or so, because the last few flights have been conquered by the forces of nature.


The climb back up, though, nearly conquered me! Still, the water rushing over the edge plummets 131 meters and, from the base, the views of the fall and surrounding canyon are well worth the muscle burn. I was relieved to take it easy Sunday night, on the bus carrying me back to my city life. Looking out the window as the scenery passed, however, I did toy with some ideas about a whitewater rafting expedition. (insert smirk)

The Canela outtakes—tips for living well.

“The young can and should drink coffee daily.”

Traveling is good for you.



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

For Kris

I just had a deliciously long phone chat with my (wicked, in a good way) stepmother, Kris. It has been a long time since we shared. She is my travel mentor and inspiration. She’s just fecking cool. I remember when my Dad first started dating her (after she turned him down a few times, of course), and he told me about a picture she had shown him. She was working on the roof. (He was in love, instantly.) She’s tough as nails, that one. Once, she launched a loaded baked potato across a long table at a company Christmas party. Once, she got stuck on a runaway horse in rural France. Once, she… well, it’s not my story to tell… but, trust me, she has many great stories.

Kris is the reason I started traveling.

Thank you, Kris. For that, and for all the stuff you’ve helped me work through—even when I’ve been a brat.

I vented to Kris tonight about the fruitless search for a kindred spirit...that awesome guy that wants to co-create a dream while hopping around the planet. Guy, if you’re reading this, I’ll meet you at the airport.

On to the recent happenings… I realize that this first item of business probably isn’t very exciting to the masses, but because I was so tickled, I’ll share. This...

…is breakfast. One hundred grams of mirtilos and a couple succulent red plums. While I have no right to complain (being in a tropical fruit wonderland), blueberries are my favorite fruit and there seemed none to be found in my first 9 months. The day I discovered them, an otherwise annoying morning, I felt awash with happiness. I didn’t care that the 100g package cost R$9 ($5). So imagine my delight when I found them this week for under R$2. Believe me, I am totally going to OD on the things before they go out of local fashion again.

Another fruity delight this week, personal-size watermelon and pineapple. The former is (courteously) seedless, and the latter—well, who knew there were 18 kinds of pineapple?—is the Torres species. Single-serving and sweet as can be.

You know what else make me disproportionately happy? My bus map.

Obviously there’s a story behind it. You see, I used to stop into the tourist office once every few weeks, upon my arrival, asking about a bus map. No dice. “There is no such thing,” they said. Discouraged but not defeated, I checked again one day in October, more or less. As I was forming the question, I spotted it on the wall. “That! I want that!”, I said, pointing. They informed me that the new map had been coordinated by the City and only 5,000 had been produced—as a popularity contest I suppose. Then I learned that the Tourist Information office was fresh out, but there was this place down the street that… Now, as I’m getting instructions, I detect another woman in the office eavesdropping. She bolts out before me, and I know she’s trying to beat me to the punch. Ohhhh No You Didn’t!!! In the comical race to Destination B, I lost. No matter though, they were fresh out of maps too. Me being me, I had a plan. I know all the remote Tourist Offices around town that tourists would never find, and locals never notice. I systematically hit three different stations and cajoled my way into possession of a dozen maps for myself and friends. I have one in each day-bag and one my wall. Ha! Take that, Eavesdropper. But really, the city should just print more maps.

On Friday night, needing a break from all the, ahem, consumption of late, I stayed home for Friday Night Kindergarten (the first in a series). I bought some paints, put on some Bossa Nova, poured a glass of red, and made a mess.

That’s my Brazilian flag. I ran out of green half way through the outer part (I only bought the primary colors, black, white, and silver). My attempt to recreate the same mix was, clearly, futile. But who cares? Good times.

On Saturday I headed to Santíssimo...

...which is decorated with Saints, like us, everywhere... meet Shelley, Ivan (the aforementioned Spanish electrical engineer/software programmer), Fifi, and Lisa. Shelley is a Porto Alegre newbie (more or less). She just moved here from Florida to be with her fiancé, Rafael.

Rafael e Shelley

Two goofs: Me and Ivan

caipirinhas with a nice sugar rim. All class.

We closed the night at a cool pub we found in Cidade Baixa called Mercatto d’Arte. It was a great night spot so we'll be back.

I managed to wake before noon on Sunday. It was sunny and very hot, but I went for a long walk. It’s about five miles to Praça Shiga, a Japanese garden that was designed and installed courtesy of the “sister-state” Shiga Province in Japan.

I bought some sushi just before I arrived at the park—it seemed appropriate.

Fifi and Lisa left today for Rio. Victoria is whooping it up in New Zealand for the next 4 weeks. Clair and Carlos are back in Europe for a month-long visit. That leaves me to…write. I have an idea for a book, and there’s a contest I’d like to enter. Don’t ask me—I don’t want to jinx it! But, suffice it to say, I have much work to do.

Oh, today was windy. Another one bit the dust…

Kris, I'm going to keep being me. What else is there? And, thank you.

Have a good week, peeps.