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Gags

Posted: January 12, 2004

DAY 84:  One of the “Things to See and Do” mentioned in the Lonely Planet book was to visit San Pedro prison by ignoring all guards and police, nonchalantly walking into the prison and asking for someone to take you around for a fee.  Lara, Tim and I had planned to do this, but after a night of partying hard amongst the Bolivians, we non-Bolivians needed a day to just rest.  For most of the day, that’s just what we did.  We learned that the prison visits were no longer available anyway.

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Dangerous Curves

Posted: January 13, 2004

DAY 85: It has been called the “World’s Most Dangerous Road.”  This route through the Yungas mountain range between La Paz and the little village of Yolosi starts at the peak of one of the mountains at 15,322 ft ASL and dramatically descends down to 4,460 ft ASL over the course of 63 km.  The single lane dirt road hugs the mountains for vehicles to travel on — that is, if they’re careful enough not to fall off the edge and down deep into the valley. 

It’s one thing to ride in a bus along this route, but its another to ride down it on a mountain bike.  The trip, offered by about a dozen adventure tour companies in La Paz, had been highly recommended to me from travelers I had met on the road, from Heidi to Sergei the Hamburger (from the Galapagos trip) who called it “the best thing he’s done in South America.”

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Leaving La Paz

Posted: January 19, 2004

DAY 86:  It had been over a week since I arrived in La Paz, and with my Brazilian visa slated to be ready, it was about time to move on.  Tim looked on his visa pick-up slip and saw that his was to be ready on the 13th as well, despite that the guy said it wouldn’t be ready until the 14th.  He tagged along with me on the way back to the Brazilian embassy in Sopacachi.

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Stand By Me In Uyuni

Posted: January 19, 2004

DAY 87: In Stand By Me, the 1986 Rob Reiner movie about four boys who bond together during a two-day hike along train tracks in search of the corpse of a dead kid, the narrator (played by Richard Dreyfuss) says this:  “Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant.”  This statement also rings true for people on the backpacker trail; you never know when someone you met before will suddenly be in your life again.

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Now Entering Dali World

Posted: January 19, 2004

DAY 88:  Surrealist master Salvador Dali once visited the Bolivian deserts and salt flats, which inspired him in many of his paintings.  Before my trip to South America, I had seen pictures of the surreal landscape that he and thousands of other tourists had visited, and the salt flats became one of the reasons — if not the reason — for me to visit Bolivia in the first place.  However, I didn’t know until my own visit that it wasn’t just the visual landscape that had a surreal element to it.

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Surreal People

Posted: January 19, 2004

DAY 89: After breakfast, we loaded up all the jeeps and went one by one into the surreal combination of the Bolivian desert landscape and 80s pop music.  Each jeep was full of different characters which, over the course of the day, inevitably got secret nicknames from the characters of our jeep.

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Goodbye, Mary Poppins

Posted: January 19, 2004

DAY 90: Our wake-up knock on the door came about half an hour before dawn — at an hour the girls appropriately called “stupid o’clock.”  The point of waking at such an hour was to catch the sunrise, and we were disappointed when we discovered it was too cloudy to see it — but we were already up and it was too late to slip back into bed.

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Back to Reality

Posted: January 19, 2004

DAY 91: “Hey, check out the flavor of shampoo,” I instructed Sam in the bathroom of the hostel.  I was referring to the packet of shampoo someone had previously left.  Sam looked over and read it: “placenta.”  We figured it was for that fresh “newborn” feeling in the morning.

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Hard to Get High

Posted: January 20, 2004

DAY 92: Potosi, the highest city in the world at 13,353 ft. ASL, was supposed to be a “five hour” ride according to the woman I bought my bus ticket from that morning in Uyuni.  However I discovered by the end of the day that getting that high wasn’t as easy as she said.

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High and On-Line

Posted: January 20, 2004

DAY 93: I woke up on a cold, southern hemisphere summer day in my Potosi hostel.  Being in the highest city in the world at 13,353 ft. ASL, mornings are cold year round.  With no real agenda for the day but to chill out, I just stayed under my three llama wool blankets in my room.

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Erik Trinidad and The Bolivian Temple of Doom

Posted: January 21, 2004

DAY 94:  Potosi isn’t just the world’s highest city; at one point in history it used to be the richest city in Latin America.  Its wealth came from the abundance of silver discovered in the Cerro Rico, the big mountain overlooking the town.  Mines were created in the 1500’s to extract the silver and other valuable metals, to process them and export them.  Back in the day, many of the people in the mine worked as slaves that lived under poor conditions, including children — much like in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the 1984 Steven Spielberg classic where Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) encounters a secret Thuggee cult financially supported by underground mines.

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Loogeys in Potosi

Posted: January 22, 2004

DAY 95:  In the late summer of 2003, Bolivians just about had it with their president.  In protest of their leader, they went on strikes, set up road blocks in the countryside and protested, sometimes violently in the city streets — only to be dealt with the National Police. 

Since the changing of presidents in October 2003, peace came back to the country (allowing tourists like me to get in) and without the protests, the National Police put down their “brass” of arms and picked up another type of “brass” — tubas, trumpets and trombones — for the National Police Musical Band.

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Down to Warmth

Posted: January 24, 2004

DAY 96: At 13,353 ft. ASL, Potosi not only has its cold nights, it has its cold days too.  As I typed away in an internet cafe after my complimentary breakfast, it was so cold I had to wear my woolen hat indoors — I wished I had some gloves.

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Kids in the Park

Posted: January 25, 2004

DAY 97: ”?Puedo tenir un Desayuno de Ch’aqui?” I ordered to the waitress in the Joyride cafe at a table with Sam and Zoe.  The “Hangover breakfast” — an open-faced egg and ham sandwich — came after a few minutes and it really hit the spot at nine in the morning.  It was a very “grown-up” start to what would otherwise be a very juvenile day.

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Another Day in The Trinidad Show

Posted: January 26, 2004

DAY 98:  The thing to do on a Sunday morning in Sucre is to leave the city for the day and go to Tarabuco, a smaller town with its lively Sunday markets.  Zoe, Sam and I hopped on a bus to these markets, a one-hour drive away.  The “Moody Jacksons,” the family musical band we saw perform the day before at the Cafe Gourmet Mirador, was also on the bus ride.  Again, the kids played unhappily while their father laughed like Tigger in Disney’s Winnie the Pooh at certain parts of the song.

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Suckers in Sucre

Posted: January 26, 2004

DAY 99: After a late night in the “party dorm,” Zoe, Sam and I just slept in until we had to get up for our check-out time at noon.  We got our gear together, sorted out our laundry to bring to a laundromat and went back yet again to the Joyride Cafe for much needed “Desayunos de Ch’aqui”, the “Hangover breakfasts.”

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Keeping Cool in Santa Cruz

Posted: January 27, 2004

DAY 100: My night bus from Sucre drove along a bumpy dirt road through the night, under the desert moonlight that made the shapes of cacti look like ghosts in the desert.  As the darkness of morning turned into dawn, the ambient light revealed a change of scenery — we had made it out of the desert and into the lush, tropical green landscape of the jungle.  The bus made it to the Santa Cruz terminal one hour ahead of schedule on a sunny morning of what would be a scorcher of a day.

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Money Matters in the Mountains

Posted: January 28, 2004

DAY 101:  After a quick breakfast of empanadas de pollo, Zolly and I split a taxi to the bus station for our day-trip to the nearby mountain town of Samaipata, a popular weekend getaway town for Santa Cruzians.  It was possible to get there and its surrounding highlights on a bus tour, but we decided to wing it with public transportation.  However, when we got to the bus terminal, we found that no public bus went to Samaipata.

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Use The Force, Gringo

Posted: February 01, 2004

DAY 102:  Lonely Planet’s South America On A Shoestring, which covers all the countries in South America in an abridged form, is a brick, weighing maybe two pounds.  Lugging it around had become a burden for me — I already had the burden of lugging around cameras and electronics — and so early in my trip I took the suggestion of many travel gurus out there:  rip out the sections that you need, as needed.  At first I hated the notion of ripping out pages in my neatly bound book, but after the first rip, there was no stopping me — it was just easier.  Ripping was a great idea as I could just fold 3-4 pages conveniently into my pocket, but it wasn’t such a good idea when I lost the pages I needed:  the section about taking the train from Santa Cruz, Bolivia through the small tropical highland towns to the Brazilian border.

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Random Thoughts While Waiting and Walking

Posted: February 01, 2004

DAY 103:  It’s funny the things from your childhood that resurge in your mind out of nowhere when you’re alone on the backpacker trail.  I woke up in my San Jose de Chiquitos hostel room singing the words to the theme of “Teeny Little Super Guy,” the stop-motion animated series of shorts that were shown on Sesame Street in the 70s and 80s.  This random thought that was one of the more exciting things of a relatively boring day of waiting and walking in the Jesuit mission town.

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Oi, Corumba!

Posted: February 01, 2004

DAY 104: The sun rose and woke me up around six in the morning, only after a mere three-hour slumber.  What the sun revealed was worth the rude awakening though; we were well into the Bolivian side of The Pantanal, with its marshy, tropical vegetation and impressive rocky cliff formations.  The girl next to me wasn’t so impressed; tired, she just kept on sleeping, often falling and leaning on my shoulder until she’d suddenly wake up embarrassed.  When another two-seater opened up after a stop, she snatched it to sleep in peace.

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COPS in The Pantanal

Posted: February 01, 2004

DAY 105:  I woke up that Sunday morning early and got in dressed in my Sunday best — I was off to the Federal Police station for my entry visa stamp, obligatory mugshot and fingerprints for being American, since I couldn’t get them the day before at the border.  I wore my nerdy Poindexter glasses in attempts to look less of a criminal, or perhaps just a white collar one.

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The Sims

Posted: February 02, 2004

DAY 106:  “The C Phase,” a phrase I coined (or at least I think I did) is that inevitable period of time when a non-Spanish speaker first enters Latin America and, confused with the language, just says “si” (“yes”) to everything. 

“[Would you like me to charge you more money than I normally do to a local?]”

“Si.”

The C Phase got me in many predicaments, like on a mountain bike ride through the Ecuadorean countryside and on a cargo boat trip through Peru, until I eventually got the hang of Spanish and started to understand the gist of what people were saying.  However, in Brazil, the only Portuguese-speaking country in South America where “yes” translates to “sim,” I was back to square one.

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Eight Hours to Nowhere

Posted: February 06, 2004

DAY 107:  There was a Brazilian morning show on television called Mais Você hosted by a sassy middle-aged woman and — although targeted for adults — a talking parrot puppet.  I figured the Brazilians needed to spice up their mornings with a soft-spoken character that could spontaneously explode into loud outbursts, the way Americans did with Regis Philbin.

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Caimans and Big Cats

Posted: February 06, 2004

DAY 108:  The one thing about wilderness safaris is that, unlike a visit to the zoo, animals aren’t presented in convenient, sectioned off areas.  The one guarantee about safaris is that there is no guarantee you’ll see anything good.  I had come to the Pantanal in hopes of seeing big cats — pumas or jaguars — but was disheartened when I heard that one Croatian girl who had been there a month working in the camp hadn’t seen a big cat yet.

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The Last American Cowboy

Posted: February 06, 2004

DAY 109:  Frodo, who fleed like a girl when the caiman got temporarily loose the day before, had the same sort of reaction when he had to de-hook the piranha he caught from the bridge where we were fishing for our early morning activity.  He was too scared to handle the “man-eating” fish until it eventually got loose, fell through the bridge planks and back into the creek.

I shouldn’t have laughed because if I were in his shoes, I would have probably acted the same way — that is, if I had caught anything.  I had no fish to contribute to the group pile.  Meanwhile, Mika, an aspiring tennis star from Holland, was master of the fish with a catch of four.

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Standing Room Only

Posted: February 08, 2004

DAY 110:  I don’t know if it was from the horseback riding or the fact that I slept in a hammock that had sunk low from everyone’s drunken swinging, but I woke up with every muscle in my body sore.  Perhaps it was a combination of the two.

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Eat Your Heart Out

Posted: February 08, 2004

DAY 111: On my first day in Campo Grande, I was totally confused with the Portuguese language and just said “sim” (“yes”) to everything.  Being in the Pantanal for three days with mostly English-speaking tourists, I didn’t get to practice much of the new language, so when I got back to Campo Grande, not much had changed.

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An Episode of E.R.

Posted: February 08, 2004

DAY 112:  Behind the scenes, the producers of “The Trinidad Show” (me) had been emailing certain former cast members in hopes they would return for another appearance.  Like the returns of Diane on Cheers and Lilith on Frasier, Lara — who I met in Lima, spent Christmas in Cusco with, partied with in La Paz, and toured the Bolivian salt flats with — came back for some more episodes.

Little did we know that her comeback would be on an episode similar to one of the medical drama E.R.

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When Quatis Attack!

Posted: February 10, 2004

DAY 113:  Iguaçu/Iguazu [Brazilian/Spanish spelling] Falls, one of the world’s greatest natural wonders and a UNESCO site as of 1986, is a massive collection of 275 waterfalls at the borders of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, where gravity pulls down millions of gallons of water in a great spectacle that looks great on a postcard.

I had been recommended by everyone who had already been there to visit the Brazilian side first for an overview of the falls before seeing it up close in Argentina.  I passed this recommendation onto Lara and so we went off on our own to the national park just 3 km. away and accessible by public bus.

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Great Adventure

Posted: February 13, 2004

DAY 114:  When Lara and I signed up for a tour of the Argentine side of Iguazu Falls with the Hostelling International office, we spent the extra 10 real on a tour called “Gran Aventura” that included both a truck and boat ride.  Like the Six Flags theme park with the English translation of the tour name, the tour included a wet and wild ride through the roaring rapids of the Rio Iguazu.

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Dumb and Dumber Day

Posted: February 13, 2004

DAY 115:  I don’t know if was the daze and confusion of a slight hangover from partying the night before, but all day Lara and I just acted silly and stupid like Harry and Lloyd in 1994’s Dumb and Dumber.

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Race to Rio

Posted: February 13, 2004

DAY 116:  In CBS’s Emmy award-winning reality show The Amazing Race — coincidentally, a show I tried to get on with wheat — teams of two must get over their differences and work as a team to beat other teams to the finishing checkpoint in some city around the world.  Without being on the actual show, I had no definite finish line to get to.

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Welcome to Rio

Posted: February 15, 2004

DAY 117:  I woke up in my seat the middle of the night on my overnight bus from Foz do Iguaçu to Rio de Janeiro.  My eyes opened and saw that Lara wasn’t in her seat next to me.  I assume she moved to the two empty seats behind us to spread out and closed my eyes again.

I opened my eyes a couple of hours later and saw that in Lara’s chair was a big Brazilian man.

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Fantasies From The Thirteenth Floor

Posted: February 17, 2004

DAY 118:  For my first full day in Rio de Janeiro, the goal was to figure out the plan of attack for the rest of the stay through Carnaval.  Lara and I had two mission objectives:  1) to find a place to stay since our Botofogo hostel was already booked for Carnaval time — at three times the price of the regular rate — and 2) to try and figure out a way to join a samba school and actually march in the Carnaval parade rather than be a spectator.

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And The Crowd Goes Wild

Posted: February 18, 2004

DAY 119:  In the U.S.A., “football” refers to the classic American sport where teams of padded warriors duke it out under their coaches’ plays, so they can ultimately work their way to the Big Game where Janet Jackson gets her boob flashed on national television.  In the rest of the world, “football” refers to what Americans call “soccer,” and it is an international phenomenon which brings out the obsessed craziness in most people.  No where is football (soccer) more a part of national culture than in Brazil.

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Miscommunications

Posted: February 19, 2004

DAY 120:  The only task Lara and I had for the day was to try on our Beija-Flor costumes for when we marched in the Rio Carnaval and we were back at our tour agent in Copacabana in time for our 10 a.m. appointment.  A pet turtle on the floor walked by, foreshadowing what a slow process it would be to get our new clothes.

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New Neighbors

Posted: February 19, 2004

DAY 121:  It’s one thing to travel and live out of a bag, hostel to hostel to hostel.  It’s another to actually travel somewhere and live there for a while.  That morning, Lara and I checked out of our Botofogo hostel dorm to find out exactly how living in Rio felt like.  We packed our bags and took a cab to our agent Luis in Copacabana, who was all set to bring us to the apartment when we arrived. 

“Oh, you mean the one that overlooks Copacabana Beach?” Lara said yet again with a smirk.  It became her tag line for whenever we mentioned the new pad.

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The Girl From Ipanema

Posted: February 19, 2004

DAY 122:  Seeing the state of the dining room table the morning after a first night celebration of our new apartment, there was no explanation needed for the fact that Lara was pretty much sick and hungover all day.  I was feeling fairly okay — nothing that a little breakfast couldn’t cure.  Lara stayed in bed feeling rough while I went out to attend to Blog duties at an internet cafe and buy a couple of more groceries:  a fresh baguette for Lara and slices of cheese for my hangover breakfast, the good ol’ American grilled cheese sandwich.

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Before We Have Company

Posted: February 19, 2004

DAY 123:  Since both my roommate Lara and I had company coming from overseas to Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval, we were saving visits to the major tourist attractions for when they arrived.  Avoiding the famous Pâo de Açúcar rock formations and the towering Cristo Redentor statue overlooking the city, we simply decided to go on the walking tour of the central city as written in our Lonely Planet guide.

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Incoming!

Posted: February 25, 2004

DAY 124:  The Friday before Carnaval weekend in Rio de Janeiro, city of the world’s most famous party, was the day the city really geared up for the influx of tourists.  Men in costume and on stilts waited that morning in front of oceanfront hotels (picture above) for the lines of taxis that eventually pulled in all day.  By the late afternoon, the streets were full of even more people — many of which had the familiar accent from my homeland — and I said to myself, “Could there be any more Americans here?”

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Meanwhile, Back at the Airport

Posted: February 25, 2004

DAY 125:  Before the 10:30 meeting time with some of my friends from the New York area, I had a couple of errands to run.  Despite the round and rounds of beers, cuba libres and caipirinhas with our big group the night before, I was awake early and performed our morning ritual of going out to the supermarket with the in-store bakery for some fresh baguettes.  On the way back, I stopped off at a florist to get Lara a yellow rose, simply because I felt like it — her white one on our dining room table was about halfway dead.  The florist heard me stammering in Portuguese and thought I was Japanese until I said “Americano” and eventually “Filipino” to explain my Asian-looking eyes.  Hearing the latter, he immediately got excited, trying to explain to me something about volcanoes or something.  I kept on saying, “Sim, Pinatubo,” but he kept on trying to tell me something else — he even drew out a picture of a volcanic eruption on a piece of paper to explain himself, but I just didn’t get it.  I smiled and just said, “Sim, Pinatubo, Pinatubo,” again and just walked away.

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Fly Like An Eagle

Posted: February 26, 2004

DAY 126 (PART 1):  Lara was buttering another fresh baguette in the morning, before spreading on a layer of her favorite spread Marmite, which she excitedly received the day before when her friends Ester and Pago brought it over from home.  We sat over breakfast and waited around for people to come over at 9:30 so we could all try and go hand-gliding together.  First to arrive were Esther and Pago and I leaned out the window to see if anyone was coming around.  Suddenly I recognized a familiar wavy hairstyle on a guy walking around, looking fairly confused.

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The Chaperone

Posted: February 26, 2004

DAY 126 (PART 2):  A taxi took us to the apartment in Santa Teresa, which was situated on a dead end street called Rua Murtinho Nobe that most cab drivers didn’t know the location of.  With the help of CB radio, we eventually made it to the three-bedroom place on the third floor of a five-story building.  We sat around, beerless, wondering what to do before going to the Sambadrome for the first night of Carnaval after midnight.  Sharon went off into the other room and come back with a smile.

“I have a date.”

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Enter The Sambadrome

Posted: February 26, 2004

DAY 127:  Carnaval, like New Orleans’ Mardi Gras and the U.K.‘s Pancake Day, is the celebration just before Ash Wednesday and the Christian season of Lent.  During Lent you are supposed to give up your vices and pleasantries and suffer for forty days in preparation of Easter, and so, Carnaval was designed as a way to party your ass off before having to give it all up.  In Rio, partying is done in the form of samba, where you party your ass off by shaking it as fast as you can.

Samba parades in Rio de Janeiro began in 1932 and over the decades, evolved into a huge spectacle that attracted people from around the world.  By the early 1980s, there were so many people coming down to Rio for the festival and so, in 1984, a huge venue known as the Sambadrome was created in order to contain the masses.  With the 20th anniversary of the Sambadrome, to be in the Carnaval parade was only the more special; as touristy as it was, I couldn’t wait to be down there in costume, marching the parade route.  However, experiencing the touristy Sambadrome that night would have to come after seeing another tourist attraction in the day.

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Fun With Foam

Posted: February 28, 2004

DAY 128:  “Fat Tuesday” — known by the French as “mardi gras” — is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and the Christian season of Lent where you are to chill out with all your comforts in preparation of Easter.  Therefore, Fat Tuesday is the one last chance to party before the forty days and forty nights of “suffering,” so you’d better make it good.  Little did I know on Fat Tuesday morning that in Rio de Janeiro, “Fat Tuesday” should actually be called “Foam Tuesday.”

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And The Winner Is…

Posted: February 28, 2004

DAY 129: With Carnaval officially over, it was time to stop being a non-stop party monster and just be a tourist again.  For Terence’s, Paul’s and Mark’s last day in Rio de Janeiro, that’s just what we did.

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The Nerd of Copacabana

Posted: February 28, 2004

DAY 130:  By the time I woke up in the morning in my Copacabana apartment, Terence, Mark and Paul had already arrived at JFK International in New York City.  With my company gone, it was time to keep a promise I’d made to myself and my audience:  to stay in all day and catch up on Blog duties.

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Reaching the Threshold in Rio

Posted: February 29, 2004

DAY 131:  It was only about ten in the morning when the doorbell rang.  Lara and I were still half asleep.  I opened the door and on the other side was Luis, the designated English-speaker at Angramar Turismo, the guys that got us costumes and tickets in the Rio Sambadrome Carnaval and the apartment we were living in.  Luis wasn’t his usual mild-mannered self that morning; in fact, he came in really pissed off about something.

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Bye, Bye Brazil

Posted: February 29, 2004

DAY 132:  Lara was up all set for her last opportunity for our daily morning cheese, Gilmore Girls and Touched By An Angel.  It being Saturday, The Warner Channel on our satellite TV was running cartoons instead, and so the only thing to do was pack our bags and clean out the apartment.  Lara was still pretty angry that Luis yelled at us the morning before with false accusations instead of approaching it professionally — especially after all the problems we had with them that we let slide — and didn’t want Angramar Turismo to get any more satisfaction out of us.  She made sure she packed the fairly heavy bottle of tomato sauce in her bag instead of just leaving it behind for the owner to have.

“I know it’s childish, but fuck them, I’m going to be childish.”

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SIXTEEN MONTHS AROUND THE WORLD (in chronological order):

PROLOGUE:

SOUTH AMERICA:

AFRICA:

EUROPE & RUSSIA:

ASIA:

NORTH AMERICA:

EPILOGUE:



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