BRAZIL....Speedos, Crabs and Victor Lopes!!!
Trip Start Feb 22, 2007
27Trip End Aug 22, 2007
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A little housekeeping before we begin. Congratulations to Aaron and Ange on their wedding, and more importantly, to Kris Millett, who kept the tradition of banging slutty bridesmaids alive and well. Even before it was glorified in the Wedding Crashers, I felt like the only guy who´s never accomplished this feat.
Sara´s attempt at cheering me up: ¨Well, I´m the bridesmaid for my sister´s wedding in December, so maybe you´ll finally get some.¨
Let´s face it, that´s not the same. It doesn´t even count. I´m still bummed out.
A lot of people ask me, ¨Steve, how is it dating an older lady?¨ and I say ¨It´s not for everyone, but....¨
Sorry, Sara´s interrupting me.
¨What are you writing there? I´m not 30, you asshole, I´m only 28. Stop saying I´m 30!!!¨
Nevertheless, happy birthday darling.
Now to the business at hand - evaluating Brazil, easily the most common tourist destination in South America. But how does it stack up? Well, in order to make it easier for you (and having nothing to do with giving me yet another silly concept to base a blog on), I´ve decided to break it down by category.
Brazil is the only country in South America that requires Canadians to obtain an entry visa. While citizens of other Western nations need only their passports, Sara and I heard the process was very difficult for North Americans.
Therefore, we weren´t overly confident about our first visit to the Brazilian Consulate in Buenos Aires. Within minutes of getting in line, an old man walked out muttering, ¨It´s impossible, absolutely impossible,¨ two guys told us, ¨You´ll have to come back at least one more time,¨ and we witnessed the greatest public meltdown of all time that didn´t involve Tom Cruise.
A young American girl, who had just told me this was to be her third attempt, approached the window with an air of optimism. Within thirty seconds I heard arguing, then complaining, then in a high-pitched squeal...
¨Do you not want me to get in?¨
(lady behind window shrugs)
¨You know what, fuck Brazil, fuck Brazil!!!¨
Well, we had a much easier time. After providing the consulate with three months worth of bank statements, tickets both in and out of the country, the address of where we´d be staying, $50 each and a passport photo, we got processed on our second visit.
I wish I could find that girl for no other reason than to rub this in.
That´s right guys, fasten your seatbelts, time to discuss Brazilian women.
When Brazil was revealed as our next destination, the e-mails started pouring in (or these 2 did anyway):
From the message board, Jamie House requests, ¨Take a lot of pictures of the 'scenery' in Rio.¨
And look at this one, printed here in actual font size:
I NEED TO KNOW HOW THE WOMEN IN BRASIL LOOK!!!!! LOTSA PICS!!!!!!!
Because this guy´s moving into a brand new house with his girlfriend in a couple months, I´ll protect his identity by referring to him only as M. Lafleur. No, no, no, to be safe, let´s go with Matt L..
Anyway, without further adieu, pictures from the world famous Copacabana beach:
I know, not what I was expecting either. While there´s still a lot of scenery (I bought new shades for this very reason), there´s a whole lot more to try and avoid. In Canada, for instance, if you´re fat, old or just plain flabby, you´d probably opt for a one piece bikini. In Brazil, the women are buried in a two-piece.
And to make the ¨eye candy¨ percentage even worse, you have to factor in the dudes in speedos. These guys make Europeans look shy.
Of course, they´re amazing, but I´m not here to make you jealous, so I´ll continue to focus on the drawbacks.
Lying on the Copacabana isn´t as relaxing as you´d think. Sure, there´s a 4.5 km beach of golden sand, 26-degree weather and the Atlantic Ocean to swim in (okay, now I´m trying to make you jealous), but there´s also hordes of venders asking you to buy something every 30 seconds.
And these guys don´t ask if you want something once, they come back again, and again and again.
-- ¨Sunglasses, sunglasses, sunglasses.¨
-- ¨No thank you.¨
-- ¨Very cheap.¨
-- ¨But we´re both wearing sunglasses. Are we really your target customer?¨
-- (blank stare)...¨Very cheap.¨
Activities That Could Kill You
After being too fat to skydive in Argentina, I was pleased to find out that hang gliding was on the menu in Rio. I was told as long as we had a good take-off, my weight would not be an issue. If we had a poor take-off, we´d end up in the trees on the side of the mountain.
So, I waited for the count of three and took off in stride with my attached guide, running about eight fast steps down a declining ramp before dropping right off the edge.
For a millisecond I felt that ¨falling¨ sensation, then the wind grabbed me and before I knew it I was flying higher than Lebowski, looking over the buildings and beaches of Rio.
The ride felt incredibly smooth, although quite short. The take-off was impeccable, now I just had to land.
I followed my guide´s instructions carefully (he was strapped to my left shoulder): 1) Release my right leg from the harness--check 2) Straighten my body--check 3) Put my left arm over my guide´s left shoulder--check.
So far so good, but we were still going pretty fast and the ground was only getting closer. Approaching the sandy beach, I felt like the pilot. Unfortunately, I was actually the plane and my legs were the landing gear.
I imagined hitting the ground and slowly running to a stop. However, when the moment of truth came, I took a step, but instead of running, I did a face-plant right into the hang glilder´s aluminum bar.
Black eye # 2 (as you may recall, #1 occurred in the Galapagos).
While we were laying in the sand, the guide quickly noticed my swelling eye.
¨Our take-off went much better,¨ he said.
Victor gave me more backstory on exactly how he ended up 12 hours north of Winnipeg for a whole year. Apparently, the agency handling the exchange didn´t tell him where he´d be going until one week prior to his departure. Eager for information on his new home, Victor bought a Canadian atlas. One problem, Leaf Rapids wasn´t on that map or any other map for that matter. Talk about a surprise.
(For current and former citizens of my little town, I´ve attached a video of Victor Lopes. He´s obviously been heartbroken since he left and is struggling to maintain the will to live.)
When Sara and I arrived at the Salvador airport, Victor and his lovely fiance, Gabriela, were waiting with a rental car. Victor was my best friend in grade 11 and we picked up right where we left off. ¨You haven´t changed a bit,¨ he said. ¨Exactly the same...well, except with less hair.¨
We then starting catching up on each other´s lives and not surprisingly, a lot has changed for the both of us in the past ten years. We´ve done a lot of growing up. Let´s compare:
Victor: owns car
Victor: lives in a penthouse apartment/used to live on the beach
Steve: lives out of a bag/used to live underneath gay bar Zippers
Victor: partnered in a successful music promotion company
Steve: partnered in this blog
Victor: dating his girlfriend for 5 years/getting married in January
Steve: dating his girlfriend for 7 years/any year now
Victor: opening up a new bar and a new restaurant in the upcoming months/will be rich
Steve: going back to school in the upcoming months/will mooch off Sara
Yeah, pretty much identical resumes.
After learning about each other´s new lives, I then had to get to the bottom of something.
-- (imagine in Portugese accent) ¨Speedo, what is that?¨
-- ¨You know, really short, tight swim trunks.¨
-- ¨Ahh speedo. Everyone in Brazil wears this. I have speedo.¨
-- ¨No Vic, not you too?¨
-- ¨Yes, and I brought one for you.¨
-- (laughter all around)
-- ¨You think I´m joking, but I brought for you, I did.¨
When we got back to the hotel, Victor, true to his word, produced a baby blue speedo for me to try on. However, I suspected it was his back-up speedo and flatly refused. ¨I will never wear a speedo,¨ I said.
Like all of South America, the majority of Brazilians are Catholic. But, because the Portugese practically invented slavery (3.5 million slaves from 1550 to 1888) there are many spiritual Afro-Brazilian religions as well.
I read about the Igreja Sao Francisco in the Lonely Planet, the same place I copied all those stats about slaves from. Apparently, African slave artisans were forced to build the church while being prohibited from practicing their own religion. They responded through their work, carving both pregnant angels and angels with huge sex organs on the wall. My kind of church.
One problem, while the four of us were exploring the city, I forgot the name of the church and wasn´t completely sure it was even in Salvador.
--¨Victor, is that church where the angels have dicks here in Salvador?¨
After explaining myself, Victor still hadn´t heard of it, so we headed for the tourism office.
(conversation held in Portugese)
Victor: ¨Where´s the big church?¨
Tourism official: ¨Just go straight, then take a left at the end of the plaza, it´ll be right there.¨
Victor: ¨Thanks.¨ (turns to leave)
Steve (in english): ¨Whoa, whoa, whoa. Did you ask him if the angels have cocks?¨
Victor (shakes head at me, pauses, then reluctantly agrees): ¨Do the angels have penises?¨
T.O. (gives Vic one of the strangest looks I´ve ever seen): ¨I don´t know about that, man.¨
Well, while we found the Igreja Sao Francisco, I´m sad to report the angels were not packing. Unfortunately, the priests didn´t like the carvings and had them removed many years ago.
If the Lonely Planet would´ve mentioned that part, a whole lot of trouble (and embarrassment on Victor´s side) could´ve been avoided.
Food & Drink
My favourite category.
I didn´t think anything could top Argentina´s mammoth steaks, but in Brazil, I found true love. Ever since I first tasted one in Newfoundland, I´ve always dreamt of eating fresh, affordable crab, and lucky for me, being in Brazil is like living in a Red Lobster.
And that was just fine with me. Even better, he always ordered in Portugese, so I never knew the food was coming. It was like magic. One minute there was nothing, the next, I´m downing fried shrimps and drinking from a coconut. I´m convinced Victor Lopes is a magician. A very hungry magician.
After the beach, we´d return to Victor´s house only to eat another crab or shrimp dish, followed by a late-afternoon nap. When we awoke, off we went to another restaurant for more tasty, Brazilian delicacies.
So, forget the beaches, the amazing beer, the laughter I shared with an old friend, this is how I´ll remember Brazil years from now:
(Memories start flooding back to me in succession. In each of them, I´m smiling ear to ear, furiously shoveling crab meat into my mouth. Every shot is in slow-motion to capture maximum joy. Meanwhile, tear-jerking music plays in the background-- I´m thinking either Sarah McLachlan´s ¨I Will Remember You¨ or Green Day´s ¨Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)¨)
Families are just closer in South America and Brazil is no exception. Kids don´t leave home until they´re married and even when they do wed, everyone still gets together for both lunch and dinner.
Me: ¨Victor, why do you do that?¨
Victor: ¨She likes it.¨
And judging by the grin on that old woman´s face, I´d have to agree, she liked it.
After spending yet another day, you guessed it, eating. Victor decided to give us a tour of Maceio. He showed us where he used to live, then took us to the construction sites of his new restaurant and bar, before finally swinging by the university he´s currently studying business in.
Upon sight of the school, Victor looked at his watch and yelled, ¨Shit, I have a test!¨
-- ¨7pm (clock reads 7:05pm). I missed it last week, but the professor said I could re-do it.¨
-- ¨So, if you didn´t take us on this tour, you would have missed it again and failed.¨
-- ¨Yes, I guess so.¨
-- ¨Good timing.¨
Inside the classroom. We had front row seats of Victor and four other students writing their exams. I don´t know who looked more bewildered when Victor waved us in, Sara, myself, or the professor.
Victor ended up completing only one section (multiple choice) of the five part exam. It took him about 15 minutes in all.
He said afterwards that because he has two businesses, the teacher (and the school) bend over backwards to graduate him, thereby giving themselves a valuable reference for their school. Almost, like an honourary degree.
Walking out of the class, Victor spouted his favourite motto, ¨In Brazil, you can do whatever you want.¨
During our stay, he also used this motto when snapping his fingers to get a waiter´s attention, telling us about how he used to bribe government officials for concert grants, and while parking in a handicapped space.
Words/Phrases associated with country
While travelling in Laos three years ago, we had a Dane tell us that to his knowledge, they didn´t eat danishes in Denmark.
Then, a couple months ago in Bolivia, I had the pleasure of explaining what a ¨Dutch Oven¨ was to a Dutch guy on our jungle tour.
Dutch Oven: ¨While laying in bed with a significant other, you fart, then pull the blankets over their head.¨
For the record, I have never done this.
Why do I get the feeling nobody believes me? I have never done this.
Anyway, so one day, I was wondering if Victor or Gabriela heard of a ¨Brazilian Wax¨ (don´t think I need the Urban Dictionary for this one). Neither of them had.
After explaining just what it was, Victor shouts (again funnier when imagined with a Portugese accent), ¨That is not Brazilian Wax. Why is that Brazilian Wax?¨
Granted, a strange category, but I think Brazil should be applauded for its cheap, plentiful and completely legal fireworks.
After drinking at the beach all day, Victor stopped at one of the eight fireworks stores lining the coast of Maceio and bought three firecrackers, each proving louder than the next.
While leaving the shop, two kids started asking for something in Portugese. Being Brazil, I assumed that something was money, refused and climbed into the car.
--¨What did those kids want, Vic?¨
-- ¨They just wanted money for fireworks.¨
-- ¨For fireworks? I assumed they were hungry or something. Here´s $10 kids.¨
Steven Dominey: Bringing joy to children all over the world. Suck on that Angelina Jolie.
Predictably, this isn´t a strong category in any South American location. Usually, the best you can hope to watch is a CSI (preferably the original) or one of the three Law & Orders (Dick Wolf has to be the richest man in the world). Therefore, I´ll only judge Brazil for its local television.
In Colombia, Sara and I watched a spanish telenovela where an actor played two parts. One, a doctor, the other, an evil genius with an eye patch. Yes, an eye patch. Then, in Ecuador, we saw a telenovela where the entire episode revolved around a girl hearing animals talk to her.
Granted, both are less cheesy than Two and a Half Men or any CBS sitcom for that matter, but not outstanding television nonetheless.
Telenovelas are also king on Brazilian TV, but we opted to watch the MTV show ¨Beija Sapo¨ or ¨Kiss Frog.¨ We looked on in amazement (and boredom) as three teenagers from the audience came up on stage and competed for the right to make out with a contestant dressed as a frog. The winner´s prize: a 30-second (or longer) french-kiss with the frog man or woman. The consolation prize for the losers: A 30-second (or longer) french-kiss with another audience member.
Victor later provided some background on the host of the show. Apparently, she´s an ex-model who was married to Ronaldo for about a month. After they broke up, she was then caught on camera having sex with another dude on the beach. I know, fascinating stuff.
Could I possibly continue my Cal Ripken-esque bowel movement story streak in Brazil? Sadly, no. All I can contribute to the `log` is this strange question posed to me by Victor´s mom at the dinner table:
Victor (translating for his mom): ¨She wants to know if you like Brazilian food.¨
Me: ¨Yes, very much.¨
Victor (translating): ¨You feel okay then? She says that because we cook with a lot of coconut juice, it can make you need to...well you know.¨
Steve: ¨Why, has the maid said something?¨
Brazil has a flourishing seedy motel business. You notice these places everywhere.
¨That´s for only 2 hours,¨ he replied.
¨Ahh, I understand... but what do you do for the next hour and 57 minutes? ¨
Cheap joke, I know. Anyway, the ¨Hotel Alibi¨ was only one of many great, seedy motel names. Others: The Shopping Motel (As in, ¨Honey, I´m going shopping.¨), the Kama Sutra (pretty weak actually) and the You Decide Motel (¨Where do you want to go tonight?¨...¨I don´t know, you decide.¨)
Victor´s mother and father barely speak a word of English and they couldn´t have been nicer. His sisters were also great. I just want to take this space to thank everyone for their hospitality, especially Victor and Gabriela, who chauffeured us around Brazil´s beaches and restaurants for almost two weeks straight.
The lesson: Always be nice to foreigners...especially wealthy Brazilian ones. You may visit their country one day.
For all the reasons listed above, Sara and I were sad to leave Maceio. We had grown accustomed to our new, million-dollar Brazilian lives. We had a cook (Victor´s mom), a driver (Victor), a maid (an actual maid), and all the food and beaches one could desire.
How could I pay Victor back for all of his generousity? I could think of only one thing to do for this proud Brazilian man.
On our last day at the beach, I removed the Brazilian soccer jersey Victor had just given me as a gift and then I ripped off my swimming trunks, revealing his gift: The tiniest red speedo I could find, adorned with Canadian flags.
Gabriela called it, ¨The best surprise ever.¨ Others would describe it as ¨disgusting.¨
But in Brazil, ¨you can do whatever you want.¨