Thursday, June 26, 2008

The 1950's Terminal, And More!

Ever notice how when certain products are advertised, there's often that added tag, "and more!" What exactly is the "more?" For instance, if you see an advertisement for, say, a set of fancy pens, you may hear the ad-person say, "For $19.95, you'll receive six pens, a set of stationery, and more!" More? More what? What if all I want are the pens and paper, and I'm just paying extra for an unnecessary ad-on? Okay, this has nothing to do with what I was meaning to write.

So we landed in Rio de Janeiro. Everyone that's heard about this city has preconceived notions of what it's like: Glamorous, beautiful, beautiful people, big, perhaps violent. I pictured it as beautiful beaches and people, with big rocks and the Christ statue. In fact, I was planning on feeling pretty out of place.

Upon landing, I put on my bug repellent. I make a point to be as nerdy as possible sometimes. Whatever the case, it felt good to finally be there. I stood up and grabbed my two backpacks and computer case, checked for the millionth time to make sure my passport was in my purse-esque wallet thing strapped across my chest, and walked into the terminal and eventually to customs and immigration. I took in my surroundings. So far, nothing looked flashy and glamorous. It just looked old, like, 1950's old. That's not a bad thing; it just showed that this particular place had some years behind it. Getting through all the entry stuff was easy. You have to apply for a visa at the Consulate General in the States before coming to Brazil, so they didn't ask any questions or anything, just stamped and let me move on. I was in Brazil officially. I arrived at night, which Francisco (The Brazilian gentleman with whom I'd be working and with whom I'd been communicating for a while) told me not to do here. In my defense, I was originally scheduled to arrive in the morning. You know the story.

So I walked to the exit area of the airport. I didn't really know what to do at this juncture. A fellow at the hostel where I'd be staying told me I could get there by taking a bus from the airport, but seeing as it was dark and it would be more difficult to see where we were going, I figured a taxi would be the better option. There was also nobody to ask. There was no tourist kiosk or anything like that, although I was in the most touristy place in the country. I also had almost no cash, so, with bags in hand and on back, I staggered to and fro, across and back on this floor of the airport, trying to at least find a cash machine. I found nothing, so I finally talked to a random cab driver standing by the door who spoke a little English. This might have been my first mistake. I literally told him I would take a cab, but I had "no money." He kindly took me to the third floor, where the ATM's were conveniently located. After trying two machines with no success, I believe the third was a charm. Little did I know, however, that the cab ride from the airport to Copacabana was going to cost me ninety-two reais. Now, I wasn't, and am still not, an expert on the Brazilian currency, but I did know that that was a ridiculous gringo ripoff. I accepted it anyway and hopped in his buddy's cab. At least I was going somewhere.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I can feel it, coming in the air (sweet Phil Collins)

Okay, so it's been a few days since I wrote my last (or should I say first?) entry. I figure if I'm going to write a true blog, I should write more than one. It would also be a good idea, I suppose, to actually write a thing or two about where I'm going. That was the idea from the beginning, and so far, I've only written about pre-departure. Okay, here goes.

Where did I leave off? Oh, right, Mom taking me to the airport. Things went well at this point. I was feeling better after a little rest. I got my boarding passes, one from San Antonio to Atlanta and one from Atlanta to Rio, with no problems and got through security with less trouble than I expected, although I did have to give up my only toothpaste and a small Swiss Army knife that was included in a "Survivor Kit" given to me by a friend. I didn't know it was part of the kit, though I probably wouldn't have known any better anyway.

I got to Atlanta fine. Nothing happened, and I had plenty of time to waste in Atlanta before my next, longer flight. So I walked around and just coasted through the time, waiting to board my next plane. Before I knew it, I had a missed call from Mom. I called her, and she told me she was called by Delta because my flight was delayed. I was unaware, since I'd been walking around, and the other folks waiting to board the same plane were still sitting there like nothing was going on. ANYWHO, I got off the phone with Mom and asked a gentleman if our flight had been delayed. He told me something along the lines of the plane not being suitable for flight and that they ('they?' Who's 'they?' I'm really not sure. I guess the people who fix planes.) were going to need to fix the plane. He said we were scheduled to leave around midnight, as opposed to eight thirty, the original scheduled time.

Anyway, I'm not sure why I'm going into such detail with this aspect of the trip. To make a long story short, we had to change gates and wait a little longer before they told us our flight was cancelled altogether. Great. Then we waited at a service area to receive a hotel and meal vouchers. I eventually received these things and waited in the crazy 'shuttle area' for the Red Roof Inn shuttle. That's right, Red Roof Inn. I can't complain, though. It could've been worse, like the Milner in Detroit (no offense, Milner.). It wasn't a bad night, not at all.

I got to the airport at about seven the next morning for my nine o'clock departure to Rio. Yea. I got through security with nothing confiscated. Double yea. Then I got an amazing Steak, Egg, and Cheese Bagel at McDonald's and soon boarded the plane. It felt good to finally be on a plane headed out of the country.

The ride felt longer than it actually was. Fortunately, I sat next to a nice girl from Holland who was pleasant company, and I was able to watch The Bucket List with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman...for free! Sweeet! That's what happens when you're a...well...high roller.

The rest of my time on the plane consisted of me struggling to sleep and getting pains in my neck. Oh well, guess that's flying for you. It was cool to look at the monitor tracking our progress. I must say it's wild to look out the window and notice you're flying over the northern coast of Venezuela. I mean, for the most part, it just looks like Part of you thinks these exciting new places you're flying over will look more exotic or something. That might just be me, though. It was also kind of weird flying over what was supposed to be my final destination: Brasilia. I mean, we went RIGHT over it. The Dutch girl and I agreed that it might've been a good idea to request a drop off, perhaps a parachute.

So we descended into Rio, the city featured on E!’s ‘Wild On’ with Brooke Burke that looks especially large at night. You can't see much of what Rio's known for (except for crime, perhaps, although I didn't see that, either.) when it's dark. A feeling of excitement and nervousness, along with the urge to put on bug repellent, to protect myself from dengue (Yeah, I'm a tool.) took over. I knew where I had a reservation for the night, although I didn't know how I was going to get there. I had no transportation reserved to get me to Brasilia. Basically, I was running on the assumption that things would work out. Would they?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Before Everything

Hello, welcome to my ''blog.'' Now, ''blog,'' that's no word anyone would self-apply where I come from, but I guess the world's changing, and, in order to adapt, I suppose I'll have to throw a few words every now and then into this thing or, at least, write a little something when interesting things happen. I hope I don't insult anybody or any culture, although your greatest risk of reading this blog will be boredom. The entries could very well be long and uninteresting. If, at any point, you lose interest, just click ''back'' and return to YouTube, CollegeHumor, or any other websites of a more inappropriate nature. You could also try reading a book or going outside.

Last spring (That's American spring, not South American spring, which is...some other time.), I took a job and received the funding for an internship at the International Poverty Centre in Brasilia, Brazil. Never mind what I'm doing at ''IPC.'' The name of the place implies nifty anti-poverty stuff, to which I'll hopefully make a good contribution. From the time I got the job, I was totally psyched about flying down to the Southern Hemisphere where I'd surely have South America in the palm of my hand in no time. Whether or not that's happened yet...well...I'll get to that later. How long I'll actually end up staying in South America and what countries I'll visit are up in the air.

I made minimal preparations for this trip. At the beginning of the school year, I cracked away at a ''Teach Yourself Portuguese'' book every day for...a few days. I haven't looked at that book in...well...a few months. It wasn't until shortly before my departure date that I nonchalantly mentioned to my mom, ''Um, Mom, you think I should maybe, uh, get some immunizations or malaria pills or something before I leave?'' Fortunately, we were able to schedule an appointment at the travel clinic in Austin, where I was prescribed ninety days' worth of those pills that hopefully won't make me crazy (although seeing Cindy Crawford in my dreams wouldn't be SO bad), some antibiotics (for when the diarrhea gets a little chronic), and I received vaccinations for yellow fever and typhoid, which gave me yellow fever and typhoid-like symptoms that same night, right before I was about to leave for another trip up north with Shep and Harcourt (my homeboys from college). I was also told that, in order to avoid health risks in South America, I shouldn' anything. We'll see how that pans out.

I still went on that trip. It was worth it. We tackled five cities in eight days, including Detroit and Milwaukee. Why'd we go there? Because they're awesome. AND, I came home...sick...again. Great. I was determined to go anyway, even with a 100.6 fever, and, yes, I did go. I packed up my two backpacks, weighing, in all, about three thousand pounds, completed the Peace Corps medical forms I should have completed about a decade ago, sent them off, and Mom drove me to San Antonio, where the first leg of my flight to Rio de Janeiro would begin. What happened after that will wait until next time.

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