Beware! The hippies will drink your beer!

So one day in Arembepe, we finally went to the hippie village. This fishing village was a hippie haven in the 1960s. In its heyday, it attracted the likes of Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger, and Roman Polanski.

There was a direct route by road, but the person I was with took me on the scenic route, which was beautiful, but I should really have worn other types of shoes. I was in the one pair of flats I brought to South America.We walked 1km through some grassy patches, then another kilometer over a swamp/seasonal river (that was sort of in season), then another kilometer down a dirt road and finally 2km along the beach. Clearly I should not blame my shoes for being completely torn after the trip. I had to throw them away.....which in retrospect is ok because it gave me a good excuse to buy some amazing cheap flats in Bolivia later on. 

We got to the village and it was such a different place. I had no idea what to expect,but when I got there, we found people farming, some washing clothes by hand etc. Basically I think most of us Kenyans are hippies, if that's what being a hippie means. My friend had told me that in the village they don't use money, but we definitely paid for our beers with money - so i'm not quite sure how it works. There was a little arts and crafts market in the village where a few old people were selling stuff. They were quite high, and still smoking up. It is so strange, you know there is a smell of someone who is drunk, but there is a more distinct smell of a drunkard. In the same way, there is a smell of someone smoking up, and a more distinct smell of someone who smokes up all the time. That is the smell I will take with me. For some of the old hippies, the pungent smell of weed is forever going to remain with them - in their hair, in their clothes, in their breath etc. Everyone was really nice though - that's the one thing that should be said about potheads - not at all dangerous, but barely functional. Although my Portuguese was less than basic, I could notice the slurring and the slow speech of most of the hippies - especially the older ones. 

After looking at the various ornaments on sale, we heard some drumbeats and followed the sound. We got to the outside part of the bar where a group of 5 or so people were gathered making music. One person was on the drums, one on the guitar, a few singing and one with the shakers. It was very impromptu and quite beautiful. People kept on joining, some leaving, some singing, some dancing etc. At some point I was given the shaker, and I joined. I think I was a bit crap at the shaker, because someone came and took them from me after 15 minutes or so, but I felt so happy when I was playing. I began to see what the magic was about this place - the easy sort of joy. Not anything extravagant. Not anything big. Just the peace of sitting in a village making music with complete strangers. There were lots of mosquitoes around, but even that didn't bug me too long.

At some point, I asked if there were any English songs we could do. I sang a few Bob Marley songs. I had such a great time. One of the guitarists then invited me to do an improvisation act. I would sing whatever I want, and he would figure out how to play it - even if he didn't know the song. It worked so well. I don't know how we managed to be in sync. It was as if music was another language that we could communicate by. He knew the next notes I was going to hit even before I knew them myself. I did a mash up of Anjelique Kidjo's "Bahia", Brenda Fassie's "Nomankanjani" and threw in some Fadhili Williams "Malaika" because everyone really wanted to hear something African. It was so much fun. 

The one irritating thing though was how my beers were distributed to the masses. In Brazil, the culture is very collective. Everywhere I had been, I realized it was good manners to share a beer, rather than buy two beers at a time. I had gotten used to this reciprical nature - I buy a beer, and distribute it, then the next person does the same and we are all happy in the end. I think another reason Brazillians do it, is because they hate warm beers. I always got the impression that a warm beer was frowned upon more than an expired beer would be. I observed people pour out beer with a look of disgust on their faces, if it had gotten warm in their glass. Sharing a beer helps you avoid the beer getting warm. In the hippie village, I ordered 3 beers, but they were to come one at a time. The price was better if you got the 3 beers. The bar owner and her friend were sitting next to me. She brought out the first beer, poured some for me, poured some for her friend and then poured some for herself.....I was thinking, "Uhhhhhm, there best be a discount, now that you are all helping yourselves to my beer." They did that even with the next two - and there was no discounted price at the end....That I did not like. Beware - the hippies will mooch off your beer.

Transient
Transient
Transient
Transient
Transient
Transient
Transient
Transient

Bank and flight drama in Arembepe

I had a few wasted days in Arembepe. Having cancelled my bus ticket out of Salvador de Bahia, I had booked a flight online. When I got to Arembepe, I didn't have wifi there, but at times my phone's internet connection through the data plan was good enough to receive emails. When in Arembepe, I received an email from the website I booked my flight with, letting me know that my card had been declined. With my poor phone internet, I tried several times to skype my bank in the US and find out what was going on - unsuccessfully.  I began to get nervous because I started thinking that perhaps my bank marked this booking as fraudulent activities and would immediately cancel my credit and debit cards, when I am in the middle of South America. That would be really bad. Anyway thankfully after a few days and communication challenges (no net, bad skype connections, pending emails etc), I was able to finally get my ticket to Peru booked.

I did a bit of sightseeing everyday in Arembepe. It was really beautiful. One evening we went to the beach and I enjoyed taking pictures of the boats at sunset - and also using them as photo props:-) In the evenings, we almost always ate acaraje at Cachitas. One thing I kept on wondering about is why no one had different flavours of acaraje. I wondered if I was the first person who had inquired about chicken acaraje. All the ladies sold the same type of acaraje - an option with shrimp and one without. For me it really told me a lot about the culture in Bahia. Culture is extremely important there, and they have maintained their culture for centuries. Acaraje has been made in the same way for generations, and perhaps the thought of even changing the formula, will somehow be a betrayal of culture......Who knows...Maybe I am overthinking it. Maybe chicken really is much more expensive an ingredient than shrimp or maybe chicken just doesn't go well with okra.....

There was a full moon when I was in Arembepe, and everyone kept on telling us about the "luau" party that would happen on the night of the full moon. It would be in the hippie village. I began to get really excited about it, but on the day of, it rained cats and dogs. I have never seen torrential rain like that. It was really beautiful to watch from indoors. 

Anyway, the day after the "luau" party that never happened, I got to go the hippie village. That was an experience and a half. More about that in my next post. 

Transient
Transient
Transient

Moving to Arembepe, Bahia!

At some point I realized that if I was to stay in Bahia longer, I needed to move somewhere cheaper. I decided to move to a town called Arembepe. Packing my backpack was a trial. I am not the neatest person in the world, and in the one week of staying in my own room at the hostel, I had thrown everything everywhere. I really wonder how everything made it into the backpack - that was nothing short of a miracle. As I waited for my friend to take me to Arembepe, I decided to find a nice quiet place with wifi where I could blog. I found a cafe in Pelourinho called "Cubanos". I wanted to order something cheap to sip on then stay therefor hours and use their wifi. I ordered a drink called "green coconut" and what showed up on my table was a humoungous green coconut, with a straw. Not exactly what I had in mind to while the time away - especially given the coconut could not stand on its own. Finally I left for Arembepe, and my backpack nearly killed me. I had forgotten how heavy that bag was. 

On my first day in Arembepe, we walked for half an hour to get to a very beautiful river and went swimming there. At some point I was getting carried away by the euphoria (and maybe the cachaca in my system too), and swam out further. My friends stopped me and told me not to go too far because of the snakes and the plants whose tendrils could entangle someone. I asked, "What? There are snakes in this river?" and my friends responded, "Yeah, but at this time they probably won't bite. They have already eaten." I didn't get the logic of it, but at that point I limited my swimming close to the shore. The day was so hot that at some point we passed a dead frog on the road that must have died from heat exhaustion - at least that's what I think. 

In the evening we explored the town and ate the most amazing acaraje in the city center from a lady called "Cachita". She has had her stand there for over 20 years. Yummmy! We then joined some friend's of my friend's friend for drinks. 

It was an early night after all the traveling. 

 

Transient
Transient
Transient
Transient
 Cachita!

Cachita!

Islands and birthday parties.......!!

On my first Saturday in Bahia, my friend invited me for his uncle's 60th birthday party. It was lovely! His family were really great and the food was amazing. I couldn't eat as much as I was still having contractions from that herbal cough remedy. I did have some little dough coated cheese and shrimp delights. The cake was beautiful, and was surrounded by hundreds of cute little chocolates. I think it's a birthday tradition because the next birthday party I went to also had a cake surrounded by little chocolates. I had the most interesting discussions with his cousin's and siblings about race in Brazil. They said that even though Bahia is predominantly black, there is still quite a bit of discrimination against blacks with most of them being economically disenfranchised and many times being passed over for jobs in favor of hiring whites. There are quite a few Indian native tribes in Bahia, and the situation was said to not be any better for them. It was a very thought provoking discussion because I wondered how it works for those who are of mixed ethnicities. Of course I had seen many black people who completely looked like Africans, and I had seen white people who looked European, but I had also seen dark black people with green eyes or naturally blond hair or white people with tough afros or black people with Indian hair. I have always thought racism is such a stupid thing, and a lot of work too. To think that in South Africa, they had Black, White, Indian and then Colored (which I guess was the catch-all for mixed). In Brazil you even have more permutations of what people could be. Why is skin color such an important thing? It is so arbitrary. Discrimination could even have been along the lines of hair color for all you know. It would be a world of dark haired against brown haired, against blondes etc. What would happen if you grow old and your hair turned from black to white? Would you then move to the group? Anyway, my basic logic is that racism = stupidity. They also did highlight a bit that class issues are quite serious in Brazil. To quote one of the cousins "The poor people, we all get along/intermarry/work together/mix whether Black, White or Indigenous, but the higher social classes are the ones who discriminate against us."

Later that evening, we went back to the Old town and went out to a Samba club in the area. It was lots of fun dancing - it is all about shaking your hips and butt, which I can do. I was happy it had nothing to do with leg-hand coordination - of which I have none. The next day we left for the lovely island of Vera Cruz. Specifically we were going to a part called Nazare to visit my friend's sister. On our way out of Salvador, we passed by the large Bahiana woman statue, and we also took the Elevador Lacerda - the elevator connecting the lower part of the city to the upper part. If I am not wrong, I think Salvador must be the only town that has an elevator for public transportation. Salvador is unique in that the city is split into two parts by an escarpment with the top part of the city being close to 300 feet above the lower part. Since 1873 there has been an elevator linking both parts together.

We got on the boat to Vera Cruz and instantly people came on the boat selling cold beers. I could tell this day was going to be a fun one. It was a 45 minute boat ride to the island then a 1.5 hour cab ride to get to Nazare.

The first thing that struck me in Nazare were the horses. There were horses everywhere, and not just the Karen types like in Kenya. These were functional horses, skinny horses, worn horses. It was a strange sight. All the horses I have seen in Kenya are mostly ornamental/for show. No one actually gets around town on a horse, but in Nazare that was one of the forms of transportation. We got to my friend's sister's place and drank feijoada. Instead of the usually thick meal, this was a lighter version that you drank from a cup "to prevent you from falling asleep." It is crazy but true, Brazil is so hot that any time I have had a heavy meal for lunch, I have wanted to pass out.

We then left the house and walked along a lovely river and crossed a bridge. From there we got a lift to a birthday party my friend's family had been invited to. Yes, I know. I am a major poxer. Showing up at a 15 year old's birthday party when I don't know them:-) 15 year birthday parties are a big deal in Brazil for girls. I was told it is the equivalent of 18 year old birthday parties the world over. The party was great. Lots of nice people, lots of food and drinks. The music was so fascinating. It was zouk/kizomba. I could have closed my eyes and been in Angola or Cape Verde. It was really fascinating how African the music was. The other fascinating thing was how people dance. The birthday had people of all ages, but there was quite a bit of booty-shaking - even by the older people. I tried to picture a similar party in Kenya and most likely there would be two parts. One part where the older folks drank tea/pretended to drink tea as they were actually getting smashed and the other part where the younger people would be - probably with some booty shaking......but definitely no bootys would be shaking infront of the older crowd:-) It's a different culture I guess. I always say that culture is not a constant. What might seem normal to me based on my culture, might be completely strange to someone else based on theirs.

Another thing that fascinates me about Brazil is how old people are very flirtatious. I remember an older lady in booty shorts at the party telling a young guy that she wishes she was younger so she could take him. I was so amused. It is the same with guys. I have been hit on by really old guys, and I remember a friend of mine saying that guys even in their 80s still think they have a chance. They are quite confident though, and you have to give them marks in Brazil for all keeping themselves looking good even when much older. I definitely did get shown a family photo album in Bahia with grandparents kissing passionately....the things you will never find in Kenyan family photo albums....Hell, you might not even find one of grandparents holding hands, let alone standing closer than 1m apart....always have to have a tree or a chair in between them for decency's sake:-)

After the party, we went to a bar close by. I have never seen such amazing dancing as I did from two girls outside the club. It was a mash up of full 100, twerking, doing a split etc. Do not try this at home unless you are ready to be carried out on a stretcher. Nazare was also my first time I heard this music called pagochi. It was love at first beat. It started off when we were on the boat. This group of 8-10 guys started playing drums and a one stringed instrument (random musical outbursts in Bahia are quite common:-) It was amazing! You couldn't help but dance. Later that night we went to a larger club. That was where I witnessed the funniest scene. Here is the excerpt from a whatsapp conversation I had with my sister the next day:

Thekenyanexplorer: Yesterday at the club, there were some thugtypes who were speeding off on horses....and they had guns in their pockets

My sister: What?

Thekenyanexplorer: Yeah, like it's a motorbike

My sister: Speeding off on horses with guns? Now that's a blog entry

Thekenyanexplorer: You know! They were kanyagaing (stepping on) the brakes last minute. So you hear "Clopp! Cloppp! Clopppp! Neeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiggggghhhh!"

My sister: lol!

Thekenyanexplorer: Yeah, it was even scarier than a matatu (minibus) pandaing (climbing) the curb behind you.

That was a fun and strange night. The next day the process of leaving the island was a tough one. I hadn't realized that the part of the island we were in didn't accept credit cards, and we were out of cash to leave the island. Yeah, I know it's kinda pathetic. My main memories were dying of thirst and at some point sitting on the floor of Banco Brazil as we waited for my friend to get some money transferred into his account so we could get back to the mainland. This reminds me of one time I was almost stuck in Sicily, but that's a story for another day. We finally got back to Salvador and the main item on my agenda, was to go to the bus station and cancel my ticket out of Bahia. I was having so much fun that I knew I just couldn't leave. It was a long process though. You would think I was revoking my citizenship instead of just canceling a bus ticket - had to fill in lots of documents asking me if I was really sure I wanted to cancel my bus ticket. I was even expecting them to chuck alcoblow for me - "M'aam, are you sure you are in the right frame of mind as you cancel this ticket?" [Translated to Portuguese of course:-) ] 

 

Transient
 Elevador Lacerda

Elevador Lacerda

 Horse, sufferer wa Jah

Horse, sufferer wa Jah

Transient
Transient
 Horsing around at the club

Horsing around at the club

First unsuccessful attempt to leave Bahia

My bus to Brasilia was to leave on Saturday morning. Friday morning I woke up and went on a city tour with my friend. It was amazing and I really started to wonder why I was in such a rush to leave Bahia for the great unknown. I had a bus booked to Brasilia, but from there I would have to figure out my way to get to Amazonas which was all the way in the other side of this massive country, and then get a boat to Peru. I was beginning to really enjoy myself in Bahia, and woke up with the suspicion that I might change my ticket. We started off by going to the church called "Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks" that was the first church that African slaves were able to go to. They were not allowed to worship in any of the churches, and they really wanted to have a place of worship. It took more than 100 years for them to build it, and they worked mostly at night because they had to be on the plantations all day. Seeing it filled me with a sense of awe. I cannot imagine how difficult their lives must have been, and it was just admirable that they would put in so much work to have a place where they could congregate, encourage each other, sing/dance to lift their spirits. The strength of the human spirit through adversity is really uplifting. To think that all day they would spend slaving away, toiling on the land for no pay, suffering cruel punishments, and that by night they would go and build their own church - brick by brick. To know that given it took over 100 years to build, some of those who worked so hard never actually got to worship in it. It's sad, but also very inspiring. Up to this day, there are still church services held here and they incorporate the beating of drums and a few other things that are uniquely African.

Transient

We then walked along the full length of Pelourinho which is the historic centre of Salvador. It's history is a sad one. The word pelourinho means "pillory" - a wooden device that was used to punish people by locking in one's hands, legs and head.  Pelourinho was where public whippings would be conducted. The architecture of the place is such that it is quite hilly with a deep valley. Slaves would be forced to watch the public whippings to discourage them from any revolt or any "bad" behaviour - where "bad" behaviour included anything as small as completing a task slowly, looking badly at the master etc. It is said that the valley on Pelourinho was always filled with streams of blood from the public whippings. One can only imagine how much pain and suffering slaves went through in this square. Historically, Salvador is extremely important when talking about slave history. About 40% of all slaves who were taken from Africa entered the Americas through the port of Salvador. Salvador was also the first colonial capital of Brazil and its economy was driven by the sugar trade. Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery - only abolishing it in 1888. Common literature states that Princess Isabella of Portugal was the one who finally emancipated slaves, but discussions in Bahia credit emancipation to Carlos do Patrocinio's influence on the Princess. He was a famous black writer, pharmacist, activist, orator, journalist etc who is said to either have been the princess's good friend or lover. 

Transient

After this we walked further down to the tonnes of galleries in the old city. My favourite works there were 1. The dancing Bahianas and washerwomen paintings by my friend, 2. A painting of Jesus and the 12 disciples as rastafarians and 3. Various works of cubism by a 72 year old painter we called "Superboy". "Superboy" sometimes stayed in our hostel and he was simply amazing. He told me that when the spirit touches him, he can stay awake for days on end and do 2-3 paintings. Even at his advanced age, he is still a very keen painter, and has trained quite a few other painters on technique.

After this, we went downtown to eat some feijoada. It was delicious. It's a heavy meal that has rice, stewed beef and sausages, beans and a side of chilli. After this meal, all you want to do is sleep on the floor - food coma. I finally gave in to the temptation to change my ticket. I tried calling them a few times, but to no avail. Up to the point I left Brazil, I only learnt how to call out on the last day- and that's because I just called numbers with the full code included ..+55....It is a process. Apparently you have to include a number for your network to call out, and also include a number for the region you are calling out of/calling into. So when someone gives you their number, you have to realize that you will need to include 5 digits before it depending on who your service provider is, where you are and where the other person is.....Greek, I tell you! No idea why anyone would make it so difficult. My friend and I had a few stops before going to the bus station to change my ticket. We went to the local market where I bought a herbal remedy for my cough. No idea what was in this remedy, but it was more of a problem than a cure. It gave me painful stomach contractions later in the day. I decided I would rather take my chances with the cough than with the scary contractions. We then stopped in a different part of town and had a few drinks of "Mulher Barbada (The Bearded Woman.") It was sweet, but that was a scary bottle - why does the woman have a beard? We then went back to Pelourinho and had a few drinks with friends at which point I started getting nervous I would be too late to change my ticket. Brazil time is even crazier than African timing. I found myself to generally be in no sort of hurry when in Bahia. I would plan to be somewhere in an hour, then I would meet someone on the street and chat for 20 minutes then have a beer with them. I just could not hurry up, and neither could anybody else. We finally managed to get to the bus station and change my ticket. We then came back and passed through a really cool restaurant near Pelourinho whose name I unfortunately forgot. It was a very busy day.

Transient
Transient
Transient
Transient
Transient

Wait a minute.....Carnival is really over?

If I had known that the previous night was actually the last night of Carnival, I might have partied till 6am. I knew that officially Carnival ended on Tuesday, but I had been told that in Bahia there would still be random Carnival parties happening until Friday. I woke up very energetic on the Wednesday after Carnival, ready to party! I had an amazing breakfast at my hostel - lots of fruits, eggs, fresh juice etc. I then ventured out into the streets and was disappointed to find out that the only people on the streets were the many unconscious people outside....yes, it was around 1pm and yes, there were drunk people sleeping on the streets from the previous night - don't try this in Kenya:-) You will wake up with nothing...the thieves don't sleep.

I decided to do a little bit of sightseeing around the old parts of the town. Almost everything was closed, but it was a nice feeling walking through empty streets in broad daylight. In the evening, I went for dinner down the road to a place I will refer to as "The kissing restaurant." Tables were full of people kissing....instead of eating....Lord knows what that was about. I sat down, read my kindle and enjoyed my quiet meal.

The next day I woke up with a sense of purpose. It was to be my last night in Bahia, and I still had no idea how I was going to leave. I had tried looking online, but couldn't book a bus out of Bahia. I needed to find a physical location that sold bus tickets, but I was not too sure where to go. My plan was to take a bunch of buses to get me to Amazonia in Brazil, then take a boat to Ecuador. On doing further research, I decided to cut out the Ecuador part of my trip. My main reason for going there was to get to the Galapagos Island, but I realized that even once I got to Ecuador, it would cost at least USD 1000 just to get to the island because the only way there was to take a USD 500 flight from Ecuador then accomodation and food in the island for a few days would come up to another USD 500. It was sad, but I had to cut it out because I still needed to survive in South America for another 1.5 months and I could not risk spending all my travel money in the first few weeks. I therefore was looking for a way to get to Peru by bus then boats.

The owner of my hostel was extremely kind. I told him I was having problems getting a bus out of Bahia and he drove me at no cost to the main bus station and played the role of translator with the bus company employees. Me and the hostel owner communicated mostly through google translate - he also did not speak any English, but was very patient. I have no idea how I would have been able to book that bus ticket on my own. No one at the bus company spoke a word of English - and this was the main bus terminal for all of Salvador, Bahia. It makes me wonder how Brazil will manage with the huge influx of tourists who will come in a few months for World Cup. Many people I spoke to told me the main reason for most people not speaking English is because Brazil is so huge and such a developed economy that one can survive easily without ever leaving its borders and also that learning English is extremely expensive. It is generally not offered with the regular school curriculum or even at the university, but only through private courses. One could say it is a luxury to be able to learn English.

After successfully booking my bus ticket to Brasilia, I went out for dinner and drinks with some of my new friends. I drank something called Jurubeba, which was quite tasty, but was said to be an aphrodisiac....actually most of the local drinks are said to be aphrodisiacs, but I think that is just an excuse for bad behaviour:-) The one thing I have to say about Jurubeba is that it seriously raised body temperatures. I was sweating and fanning myself a lot as soon as I drank it. Afterwards we went out to a few places in the area. In the old town of Salvador, one simply follows the music and walks to wherever makes them tap their feet.

Earlier in the day I had the most refreshing drink - it was lime juice with a bit of coconut. It's sold by a guy who is at the square in front of Rue de Pelourinho in old town. That stuff was amazing and so refreshing in the crazy heat.

 

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 music....it 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 etc......to 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. 

 

Why am I still in Bahia?

I think I am in love (with a place). It's tough to explain, but this are the symptoms,

  • My lover is not perfect, but I take him as he is: Brazil is crazy expensive, and Bahia is no exception, but I just love it here. Really really love it. 
  • Separation anxiety: I was to leave Bahia on Saturday morning, and I had my ticket booked and all. On Friday I started to get really really nervous and sad. Oh gosh, 16 hours to go, 12 hours to go. Finally after a few drinks, I found myself frantically rushing to the bus station to change my ticket from Saturday to Tuesday. On Monday night, yet again I found myself back at the train station, this time canceling my bus ticket instead of changing the date......
  • I can't talk enough  about my lover: Bahia is amazing. The people, the culture, the food, the music, the art! Where else can you have a new family in a week, have made loads of friends, feel like you've always been.....even when they speak a completely different language from mine. ...There is something magical about this place.

Yes, yes. I know. You are thinking thekenyanexplorer should be out exploring and not settling. I promise to leave Bahia early next week and go off to Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. 

So what did my original itinerary look like? I was to stay in Rio for 8 nights, Bahia for 3 nights, 3 nights in Ecuador (Galapagos islands), 8 nights in Peru (mostly close to Machu Pichuu), 11 nights in Bolivia, 4 nights in Santiago (Chile) and 14 nights in Argentina (Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Bariloche). The plan was to get everywhere by bus and then get to Ecuador or Peru by boat on the Amazon river from Brazil. 

What does my new itinerary look like? Well, I did spend 8 nights in Rio. I ended up flying to Bahia from Rio because with Carnival season, flights and buses were both equally expensive...and the bus would have taken at least 24 hours.  If I leave Bahia next Tuesday, I will have been here exactly 2 weeks. I had originally planned to take buses from here till I got to Amazonia, then take a boat to Peru. I thought the boat to Peru would take 3 days, but it actually takes 9 days. I was able to get a bus to Brasilia from Bahia, but that would only get me quarter way to Amazonia and cost USD 120......and take 28 hours. Yes, Brazil is crazy expensive.  I can't imagine  bus from Nairobi to anywere costing even close to that....even a bus to Kigali is a fraction of the cost. From Brasilia I would somehow have to get a bus that got me to Amazonia. I anticipate it would cost me at least USD 300 and last 2-3 days. From Amazonia, I would have to get on a 9 day boat ride across the amazon river. I think the price of the boat ticket, the hammock (yes, you sleep on a hammock for 9 days) and rope would cost me another USD 300. It is sad that I won't get the whole Amazon experience, but I know I made the right decision. I will fly into Peru next week and I think it will cost me less than the other bus-boat plan. 

My sister always says, "never leave a happening club for another place." Bahia is my "happening" club. I have friends here - family in fact. 

Tomorrow I am off to another part Bahia to spend my remaining time here (Arembepe.) While there I will write more and let you know about why Bahia has stolen my heart. 

For now, I am almost done sipping on my bottle of Jurubeba, and I hear some amazing music down on the street. Free live music on Tuesdays! Ciao! Ciao! I leave you with some pictures. 

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...

2014-02-27 09.59.47.jpg
2014-02-27 10.53.06.jpg

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 know.....how 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.

2014-02-27 15.31.04.jpg
2014-02-27 15.29.55.jpg

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.

 

2014-02-27 16.58.05.jpg



Day one of Carnival in Rio - partying is a very hard job

I know it's been a few days since I blogged, so I will jump straight into Carnival stories and update you later about what I was doing before that. The night before Carnival started, my friend informed me, "We need to be up at 6am to go for the first Carnival party." My heart almost stopped. Anyone who knows me, knows that early mornings are to me, what Kryptonite is to superman. I wondered to myself, "What type of party starts that early?" He said one of the best troops would be starting to perform in another part of town at 7am and they were among the best. I slept and was promptly awake at 6am. It took us a while to get into costume - mine wasn't too complicated. I had a kitenge crop top that I got made by my amazing tailor in Nairobi and I was wearing some tiny shorts that I bought on the beach the previous day. My friend was going as the devil and his costume was pretty low maintenance (a speedo, horns, a cape and a tail), but he needed to be covered in red paint to really look the part. His girlfriend was not wearing a specific costume as she had not had time to buy one before Carnival.

We left the house by 6:45am. We hopped on the bus and that's when I realized I was hungry. We couldn't stop to eat, but thankfully we had carried quite a few beers. So I had a few for breakfast....on the bus. We made friends on the bus and the 30 minute bus ride felt short. My friend had warned me not to carry any bag. Anything we needed had to be discreetly stored on your body. It kind of felt like we were going to a reggae concert in Kenya....except the performers actually showed up (Tarrus Riley, anyone:-) We got to the carnival party and it was all sorts of chaos. Our first bus got us to the bottom of a hill (mountain?) and the carnival troupe was at the very top. A second bus got us to the next one. The waiting point at the bottom of the hill was full of very many, very happy and very drunk and very loud people (I really wish I spoke Portuguese..I am sure I missed some amazing stories.) We got to the top and there were thousands of people all lined up on a very narrow street. We were all moving forward very slowly to the source of music, but never quite made it.

2014-03-01 08.48.41.jpg

By around 9am, my friend, his girlfriend and I had finished the few beers we had brought with us and started buying some off the street peddlers. At some point we also had little cools of caipirinha - very much like the cools we used to have when we were kids except for the fact that instead of sugar, color and ice, they had rum and sugar. By around 10am, I began to feel overwhelmed by the heat, the drinks, the crowd, the drumbeats. I remember taking lots of pictures and getting anxious because my camera started acting up (and I didn't want to use my phone and have it die on me.)

2014-03-01 09.26.25.jpg

At 10:30am, my friend said there was another carnival party close to our house that we needed to go to. We went there and it was amazing! This one was less crowded so we could see the musicians and hear the drum beats. The music felt very African. Even though I didn't understand a word, I knew how to dance to it. We stayed there for an hour and danced to our heart's content. Around noon, my friend said we should go to the beach. I couldn't imagine dealing with any more heat. Rio is hot on a completely different level. Temperatures can rise up to 40 degrees celcius and the humidity is even crazier than Mombasa or Boston in the summer. My friend and his girlfriend went to the beach and I came home to recuperate.

2014-03-01 08.47.40.jpg

I got home and fiddled with my camera for an hour or more before finally getting it to work. Just when I was about to take a nap, my friend and his girlfriend came home. We chatted a bit, and again just as I was about to take a nap, our new roommates from Sao Paolo got in. They had lots of energy and we took some drinks to welcome them. Around 4pm I finally took a nap. My friend and his girlfriend had tickets to an official carnival procession that was taking place in the evening. I planned to party with our new roommates. Around 7pm one of them woke me up to say they were leaving. I told them I would meet them in an hour. I set my alarm but didn't hear it at all. I woke up around 12:30am when my new roommates were staggering back into the house.

Partying is a really really hard job:-) Especially when it starts at 6am. I have no idea how anyone manages to party from 6am to past midnight, but that is quite common here during carnival. I need to build my stamina.

2014-03-01 09.06.18.jpg

Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)

I had only one main plan yesterday - to get to the Iconic Rio monument of Christ - Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer). Most people have seen this monument when watching football games based in Rio, watching documentaries, Brazilian movies and soaps etc. You see Cristo Redentor and you know it is Rio. Kind of the same way you see the Taj Mahal and you know it's India. Cristo Redentor is the world's largest art deco statue and was completed in 1931 after 9 years of construction. Funding for it was mostly obtained from the local Catholic community. There had been plans to build some sort of monument on Mt. Corcovado from as early as the 1850s and requests had been made at the time to Princess Isabel of Brazil (known as Isabel the redemptress for signing the Golden law in 1888 that abolished slavery in Brazil), but none had been fruitful. Finally in 1931, Rio got the monument it had long wished for on the peak of Mt. Corcovado. 

IMG_20140226_180737.jpg

Cristo Redentor is primarily built of reinforced concrete inside and soapstone on the outside (I see all the Kisiis here thinking about building their own statue:-) I was not quite sure what the easiest way to get there was. I spent some time googling it and I found a bus that left from close to my apartment in Gavea, and took me to Largo Do Machado. From there it seemed I would be able to buy a $20 ticket from the base of Mt. Corcovado, and then take a train straight up to Cristo Redentor. With my limited (non-existent) Portuguese and unlimited hand symbols, I asked the conductor to let me know when we got to Largo Do Machado. A sweet old lady came and sat next to me on the bus and said "something.....something....photo." I thought she was asking me to take a photo of her, but instead she took out her phone and took a photo of me - then put her phone away. Quite similar to Kenya, a guy got on the bus and started selling sweets, biscuits and chewing gum. He was speaking in Portuguese and started giving out candy. I couldn't tell it it was free samples or some Hare Krishnaesque type of trade (now that I gave you that flower which you stupidly thought was a gift, give me money!) I chose to error on the side of caution and declined the candy offer. 

But candy would not let me be. The kind old lady who had taken my picture, opened her handbag, took out some candy and gave it to me. I need to confess that I am generally very trusting. During this trip I have promised to put on my skeptic hat to make sure I don't end up in any tricky situations. My first thought was "aaaah. Sweet lady giving me candy. Such hospitable people, these Brazilians." My second thought was, "Do you remember that documentary you watched with your cousin? The one about the South American drug that takes away free will? The one you find yourself taking someone to the ATM and withdrawing all your money? Then taking them to your house and helping them pack your stuff? Why did she take your picture? Is it part of some identification process? Yes, this is the one I drugged on the bus to Largo Do Machado. We will call her "number 4." 

As my brain was doing all this crazy things, she opened up her sweet and ate it. That gave me peace that it was safe to eat it. All of a sudden I noticed that in the midst of all this candy drama, I had not paid attention to where we were. I suddenly saw "Cristo Redentor" off in the far distance, and I had a suspicion we overshot it. I asked the conductor and she said in Portuguese, what I believe was along the lines of "Oh snap! I forgot to tell you when we got there! Ok. Get out now, cross the road and take the bus in the opposite direction.) I hopped off and went to look for a bus heading back in that direction. I was now in the city centre and none of the bus numbers were similar to the ones I had written down. I must have asked at least 10 bus drivers, "Cristo Redentor, Cristo Redentor......" I think I must even have once said, "Cristo Dementor (hopefully no Harry Potter fans here.) It really was a tongue twister. Finally I got there around 5:30pm and it was magical.......

Ate mais!

2014-02-26 18.37.13.jpg
2014-02-26 18.24.43-1.jpg
downloadfile-2.jpeg