First day in Bahia/last day of Carnival

After my hectic departure from Rio at 6am, I had a peaceful flight to Bahia. I arrived in Bahia around 2pm, and was looking for a bus to my hostel, but buses were not working that route during Carnival. I paid through my nose for a taxi, but really did not have any other option. I got to the hostel which was perfectly located in the historic center of Salvador. It was called "Pousada do Indio Asa Branca," and was run by the nicest family ever. I got to my room, freshened up and then I heard the guitar playing. That was my cue to go wherever the music was. I went downstairs to the hostel bar, and the whole family and some friends were there singing along as one of their relatives played the guitar. I loved the atmosphere. I joined them and drank what I believe are the most amazing caipirinhas I have ever tasted. Some were made with cashew fruit, others with pineapple and others just with sugar and lime. Delicious!

Two of the family's friends spoke English and they mentioned they would be passing by Carnival. I happily joined them. After my last misadventures with losing money in Rio, I stashed a bit of cash in my shoe. To my shock and amazement, it was not there once we got to the festivities. I have had the worst luck with money at Carnival. Me and my companions walked around a bit and it was amazing. On every street, there was a different marching band beating drums loudly, dancing, singing etc and they were all dressed in the most amazing clothes. I later came to realize that their outfits were particular to Bahia and its very African roots.

My companions eventually went home and I started feeling like going home too - especially considering I no longer had money. I passed by the largest Carnival party - which was thousands and thousands of people on the street, then finally started heading home. I was halfway back when I met a guy and a girl who invited me to join them partying. In my limited Portuguese, I was trying to explain I had no cash but they insisted we carry on partying. They were both really nice. The guy was a Capoiera teacher and the girl was his sister in law. They didn't really speak any English but we were somehow able to communicate. We went to very many different streets and parties, and the girl kept on buying me beers. I felt guilty accepting them given I couldn't reciprocate, but she wouldn't let me say no. People in Bahia are really kind. I'm not sure I would be buying drinks for a random stranger in Nairobi:-)

Some of the parties we went to were a really hot mess. There was this one reggae club where quite a few people had passed out - stone cold on the roadside or in the bar. The one major moment of culture shock I had that day was when I saw people peeing outside. There were too many people at carnival and not enough loos, but I have never in my life seen men and women pee in the same place - in public. It wasn't "Ok, this tree is now designated as the ladies and this other one is designated as the gents." You would turn round and see men peeing and women squatting next to them and peeing too ---and no one was staring awkwardly - except for me. The world over, I have seen men stop and pee wherever they want, but I have never seen women do it openly. It is always a very covert affair - one where someone seeks privacy of the highest order.....It was strange to me, but I always accept that culture is very dependent on where you are and is not a constant.

By the end of the night I really wanted to get the girl's number so I could treat her to drinks the next day to thank her for her generosity. Unfortunately her phone was dead so the only number I got was her brother in law's. He had very stalkerish tendencies so I decided not to call him, but felt really guilty that I wouldn't get a chance to thank his sister in law. It's amazing when you meet complete strangers and they are so nice to you. I have been really lucky during my travels to always meet nice people.

My melodramatic departure from Brazil (visas will be the end of me)

I am writing this from the airport in Sao Paolo at 5:30am. I am here on transit from Bahia to my Peru flight. My flight left Bahia around 9:30pm. There were a few mishaps during the day that made me nervous I would miss my flight. I had been told that the bus to the airport would take one hour, but it ended up taking two. I made it to the airport just in time. For some strange reason my backpack now weighs 17.2 kg, and I left Nairobi when it was 14.5kg....Is someone stashing drugs in my bag? Who knows? Anyway, the flight was uneventful. It was 2.5 hours and I was lucky that the airline lady in Bahia told me to get my bag in Sao Paolo and check it in again. I had assumed that my bag was checked in all the way to Cusco, Peru. I got to Sao Paolo at midnight and wanted to immediately check in for my 6am flight to Lima, Peru, but there was no one at the counter. It turned out to be good luck though cause I got a chance to change out of my summer clothing. The AC is really really high at the airport. I am now in jeans, a top, heavy sweater and a scarf...Around 3:30am I went to the counter to check in and that's when the drama started.

In Kenya I had been told that the only visas I could apply for were Brazil, Chile and Argentina - because the rest of the countries I was going to don't have embassies in Kenya. I made various calls and was notified that for the rest of the countries, I would be easily able to get a visa on arrival. When I got to the counter, they asked me for my Peruvian visa and I explained my situation. On their end however though, the information they have says that a Kenyan citizen needs to have a visa in advance. They had to cancel my ticket, and I can't get on the flight to Peru. Obviously by this point, I am beginning to stress out. What will I do? I can't stay in Sao Paolo indefinitely. I need to leave Brazil - it's getting too expensive. Will I have to buy another ticket? Oh, gosh, how much?

I went over to the airline office and I almost hugged the woman when she told me I can change my flight for one to Bolivia that leaves tomorrow. I don't even mind the 10 hour layover. The fact that I will not be charged for a new flight was enough to make me break into song and dance. So, for now I am siting at the airport awaiting 8am, when she can hopefully be able to issue me my ticket. After this long drama, I feel like treating myself and staying in a hotel close to the airport....if the prices are not too crazy, that is.

Anyway if all works out I am off to Bolivia - which was meant to be my destination after Peru, and where I can definitely get a visa on arrival, and hopefully find the Peruvian embassy and apply for a visa there - fingers crossed!

The end of Carnival in Rio (the blur...)

Jumping back to my last days of Carnival in Rio, before I left for Bahia....I can only refer to it as the blur. As evidenced in my post on the first day of carnival in Rio, these people go hard.....Waking up early, not really eating, drinking way too many beers, walking for miles as you follow the large trucks and the was chaotic. I still have no idea why the trucks have to move. That part was annoying. Why can't the party just stay stagnant.....all that uneccessary exercise in that hectic crowd. 

So on the second day of Carnival, we left the house at 9am. We went to different Carnival parties for a few hours. After that my friend, his girlfriend and I decided to go to the beach. It's a bit of a sucky story. As I mentioned, you can't really go for Carnival with a bag. You have to store everything on your self. The first day I had put my money in a certain place, and when I got home I kind of forgot about it until it fell out. I thought to myself, "Oh! Bad idea. That is how you will lose it at Carnival." I moved the money elsewhere. The new location though also housed my phone. I got nervous that if I pulled out my phone to take a picture, I might drop my money. Finally I moved the money to my sock. I thought to myself, "When will I ever have to take off my socks at Carnival" When we got close to the beach, we obviously took off our shoes and socks. I only realized the error of my ways when I was already at the beach. I retraced my steps and frantically searched for the money I had dropped, but of course it was long gone.....sigh....stupid! 

Feeling bummed out, I decided to go home and plan my departure to Bahia. I had planned on taking the bus and thought it would be an easy process......was the longest thing ever. Brazilian websites all want you to be truthfully and faithfully committed to them - for life! The bus company's website was crap. It must have been made on MS DOS or something. The page wouldn't translate, would keep hanging or having data validation issues. I had to create a profile that included my home address data, lots of biographical information buy a bus ticket. Finally an hour or so later, I had completed the form. The website had an error message along the lines of "Oh snap! Did you just say you're international? Ahhhhh. Ok. You can't buy the ticket online.....please call us on this toll free number (which for kicks can't be called from cellphones, yep....look for a landline! Fun, fun!")

After all this drama, it was an easy decision to buy a flight ticket online....which I also needed to fill in loads of information for, but that at least worked also for internationals. It was Sunday night, and my ticket was booked for Tuesday morning. I knew I had to go hard on Monday.

Monday we left the house at 10am for the Carnival parties. I was very ambitious in the whole going hard thing.....I have patchy memories of dancing, drinking, taking pictures, dancing, drinking, taking pictures.....rotate. We all got home at 7pm.....The night has to end early when you start partying at 10am. I got home and started panicking "Oh gosh! I need to be at the airport at 6am. I haven't packed. I can't pack in this state.....I think I will oversleep and miss my flight." My friend is a real sweetheart. He packed my bags as I kept on micromanaging him in between the few bouts of consciousness I had. "Oh! Don't forget my shoes!" "Did you check under the bed?" My poor poor friend. I really do owe it to him that I made it to my flight.....that was a poor state I was in on that Monday night. 

The one issue that kept on disturbing me in Rio was the thought of "Where are all the black people?" Brazil is the country that has the largest population of black people - second only to Nigeria. I had seen a few black people during Carnival but very few among the revellers. There were lots of black people selling beer to the crowds, lots of black people picking up trash, lots of black people selling souvenirs, but very few black people enjoying carnival. I asked my friend about the lack of black people, and he agreed that race issues are still a major problem in Brazil. It really felt sad to see this form of economic slavery. He told me a lot of black people in Rio live in the favelas. The situation reminded me of one time I went to remote parts of Tennessee and Mississipi. It felt so depressing to see that even though there were some really beautiful places, black people were on the periphery. Nice restaurants - no black patrons, just black waiters. Nice hotels - black cleaners..

Brazil really is a place that makes me reflect a lot on race. It's hard not to think about it - especially when here in Bahia, which was the entry point for over 30% of all the slaves that were taken from Africa.....Anyway, will write more later. 


Sugar loaf mountain (I swear this name has nothing to do with Charlie and the Chocolate factory....or candy crush)

Having gone to Cristo Redentor on Wednesday, Thursday's plan was to go to Rio's other super famous site - Sugar loaf mountain (Pao de Acucar.) I am a bit embarassed to admit I had never heard of it before getting to Rio. So if you are reading this and wondering what the hell sugar loaf mountain is, you are not alone. It is a mountain in Rio that looks like a loaf of bread and from whose peak you can get stunning views of the city.

My friend and his girlfriend got back into Rio from Sao Paolo early in the morning, and in the early afternoon we went off to run errands. The previous day I had tried to use my US debit card at an ATM only to realize I had forgotten my pin (I never use this card in Kenya). I had a few hours of panic when I was emailing the bank to find out if there was a fast way to get a new pin (which of course there wasn't), only to remember my pin in the middle of the night. I tried out my card at the ATM before heading off to Sugar loaf and I was thoroughly relieved to find out that the pin I remembered, was indeed the right one. Phewks! The drama that you don't want when traveling ....running out of cash and/or not being able to get your cash. I still remember a few years back when I went to either Ghana or Nigeria, and my CFC stanbic card wouldn't work. Such drama! You can easily become the person on the street with a signboard "Please assist me. I came here from Kenya and need some money to get back home or contact my family." There was also another time when I almost had to be sent cash via Western Union to Sicily, but that is another story for another time......and in all honesty, that was when I was young and dumb. I went there with barely enough money and obviously everything ended up costing much more than I had budgeted - as it usually does when traveling.

In the morning we went for breakfast to this super amazing castle called Parque Lage. The place was beautiful. Before you get to the castle, you walk through an amazing garden with tall beautiful palm trees. In the background you can see the statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) in all its majesty. There is a long wide staircase leading up into the castle - made me think of a staircase to Heaven. The breakfast was good, but I believe those people were trying to starve us in the beginning. Everything we ordered off the menu was not available, and they would only find this out after disappearing for 10 minutes. At some point we just took the menu and asked them "Ok. What is actually available?" I use the term "we" loosely. Everyone speaks Portuguese here. Very few people speak any English. So "we" is actually my friend and his girlfriend as I gave encouraging nods:-) My friend is a trooper. The poor guy had to play the role of a translator for many days between me and his girlfriend, me and waiters, me and everyone really...

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After breakfast we went off to discover this magical "asayi" smoothie my friend kept on referring to. He had said you could get it in any juice place, but I had repeatedly looked for signs reading "asayi" and had found none. Finally we got to the place and he pointed it out on the menu, and I said "Oh! Acai!" Who would have known that it was not actually pronounced as a-ka-i. Wonders never cease.

We finally got to Sugar loaf mountain. We hopped into the cable car, and I suddenly remembered I have a terrible fear of heights (I does one usually forget that, until you are about to go up somewhere really really high, and in a cable car for that matter.) We got to the first peak, got off, and the view was just breathtaking. From one side you could see the ocean and all the beautiful boats. You could also see most of the city. From the other side you could see Cristo Redentor atop Mt. Corcovado, and also see a bunch of other hills. In the distance you could see the favelas. It struck me as quite strange that favelas are on the mountainside. That is really prime property and there is no other place where I have seen slums on prime property. It is sad but poor people are generally relegated to the dodgiest parts of towns - swampy areas, uncultivable land etc. I really hoped to go to the favelas before leaving Rio, but time ran out. My first introduction to Rio favelas was from the movie "City of God." Brilliant movie that really highlighted the tough lives of the have-nots in Rio.

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We got back into the cable car and went to the second peak of sugar loaf. My friend told me there was an old James Bond movie where there was a stunt at this venue involving jumping off the cable cars. There were even more magical views from this second peak. After Sugar Loaf, we decided to go to Ipanema beach for the rest of the day. This is where you get to see the most amazing Rio sunset. I really wanted to buy some shorts and kept on wondering when we would come across some hawkers. Rio is really really expensive, so I was not about to attempt to buy them in a shop. Within the first 24 hours of being in Rio, I realized why everyone wears so little here. It is crazy crazy hot. It can get up to 40 degrees celcius on some days and the humidity is even more than in Mombasa. I realized that my jeans would not be worn again (until maybe I am in Bolivia, Chile or Argentina) and I needed some shorts.

I finally found some hawkers selling shorts at the beach. The prices weren't great, but they were much cheaper than in the shops. I negotiated in my limited Portuguese:

"Eu so chi Kenya" - I am from Kenya
"Eu so teu amiga" - I am your friend

The prices didn't really budge. After 10 minutes I finally bought them. When my friend's girlfriend saw them, she loved them. We went back for her to buy a pair. Within 2 minutes she had gotten them at a price 25% lower than mine. This led me to my conclusion. Wherever you are in the world, you will always get screwed over on prices if you are 1. A foreigner and 2. Unable to speak the languge. It is a universal rule.

We went back to the beach and other hawkers came selling bikinis. There must be a law in Rio against having a fully covered derrier. Every single bikini was made to intentionally leave your butt exposed! All of them, I tell you. I bought a really pretty bikini that has to get full mileage in South America because it just won't fly in Kenya:-)

The beaches in Rio are amazing. You can come straight from work and get sorted. Hawkers selling bikinis, people renting out umbrellas and chairs. People selling kangas. Beers and caipirinhas brought directly to you. You can literally go to the beach, stay there all day, do not lift a finger and you will be well fed, refreshed and liquored up. It is very addictive.

We watched the amazing sunset then left for home. On our way home we went and bought lots of beer to welcome our new housemates who would be in town for Carnival. We got home, freshened up, had some gimlets then got ready to go out clubbing. I was initially going to wear a small dress and some stockings, but my friend's girlfriend told me I was overdressed. She insisted I take off the stockings. I later thanked her for that because the place we went was so packed and so hot, that I am sure my stockings would have bored the hell out of me and eventually have gotten torn. We went to a street close to our house and the pre Carnival party was crazy. Thousands of people on the street. We never quite made it inside the bar though we were infront of it. There were people selling beers out of their cars of from iceboxes. I really wonder how the clubs make money if all of us were buying drinks from outside (at pretty much the same price they sell them at in the bar.) Entreprising individuals:-)

We staggered home around 1am singing loudly in the streets. On getting home, the elevator was not working. Those were the longest six flights of stairs I have ever gone up.


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