Wednesday, January 30, 2008

First Day Synopsis

A few months ago, I posted a question at a travel forum regarding using professional photo gear in Rio. A fellow named Fabio responded with some good advice. He's a cariaoca—a native born Rio de Janeiroite. We've since become friends. I brought down some camera gear that he ordered from B&H in New York and had sent to my house (both cheaper and faster for him), and he picked me up at the airport. Later, I went for a stroll around Copacabana and Ipanema and had lunch at a buffet-style restaurant which had chicken, roast, potatoes, chicken cordeau bleu (not nearly as good as Arby's), mango, papaya, and loads of other stuff. To end the day, I went to Samba/Salsa dance classes with Fabio that he takes weekly. I just watched and took a few photos.

Hostel life at el misti hostel in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval, 2008 The hostel where I'm staying is mellow and boring, as one would expect a hostel to be in Rio during Carnaval. Not! It's full, noisy, and rowdy. In my room are a Dane, three Swedes, and a Brit—and the American dude. I've also met a gal from Virginia and another from England/Scotland. Not sure who everyone is, but I do detect some additional foreign accents and languages.

To get an idea of the melodies emanating from the house, listen to this audio clip. Apparently, there is some additional benefit with which I am not familiar derived by having to yell to the person next to you to be able to communicate...ergo, the loud music.

It's somewhat hot and muggy here, but tolerable. Off to bed.

The Beginning of the Beginning

At 6:00 AM this morning, GoldStar Towncar (a company I used to travel with when I worked as a consultant with Avanade) arrived at the house to take me to SeaTac International Airport. They actually arrived a few minutes early, which is good since my flight got delayed from 8:35 AM to 3:00 PM. I know that sounds strange, but here's the reason it's good.

The American Airlines ticketing agent managed to get me on a United Airlines flight leaving at 7:35 AM. That left me less than one hour to check my bags, go through security, hop the tram to the satellite, and catch the flight. I felt like O.J. Simpson as I sprinted with my bags through the airport—except that I'm fat and out of shape, white, haven't murdered anyone recently, and wasn't leading the cops on a lengthy low-speed chase down the interstate.

After getting pushed back from the gate, the captain started the left engine. Smoke came billowing out the business end. Just some extra lubricant donated by the ground crew, I presume. A few moments later, I could smell the smoke, as the right engine then proceeded to belch its own cloud and the pre-recorded safety guy on the television monitors said "United Airlines is a smoke-free airline."

I ended up stuck next to one of those unfriendly Indians—how redundant is that! Can't believe those people. Always stepping on your toes, bumping into you, cutting in line, never apologizing for anything.

His name was Sodhi, a Sikh, who was headed home to visit his parents in Delhi. They're getting up in years and he's retired, so he goes back to visit them each year for three weeks. As it turns out, he had lived in South America for seven years, working for the World Bank. He recommended some places to visit and told of some of his adventures, with fondness.

As the Captain pulled back on the yoke and Bernoulli lifted the Boeing 757 up into the crisp Northwest winter air, the most stressful period of my life came to an end.

Over the past month-and-a-half, I planned a relatively significant trip, found renters for my house, began termination of one of those renters—rather, began termination of his lease—tried to buy another house, terminated a marriage, terminated a job, got my car repaired, and did a zillion other little things.

By the time evening rolled around on the eve of my trip, I felt like I was going to implode. And I might have imploded, too, if it hadn't been for a phone call from a dear friend of mine—Matt Powell. We chatted for about an hour. It was a breath of fresh air. We hadn't talked in a long time, so we quickly caught up on the past and briefly discussed the future. That call was a welcome stress reliever.

After saying goodbye, I finished another half-dozen tasks as I began watching Rambo III at around 11:00 PM. I was in bed by 1:00 AM with only my toothpaste and hairbrush left to pack when I got up later in the morning. I quickly passed out when my head hit the pillow.

Only four hours later, my alarm sounded, and thus began the beginning of the beginning. I'm off to Latin America.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Demise

I am heading to Rio de Janeiro next week and will then proceed to march around much of Latin America. I am taking a laptop computer and expensive camera gear.

I stand only a 50/50 chance of coming back with my equipment. I will get robbed, mugged, shot, or stabbed. I am a fool to take expensive things to poor places. The impoverished will want my stuff and will probably take it—by force, in all likelihood.

If I swim in the Amazon River, a Candiru, or "willy fish," will swim up my urethra, since I will pee in the river and they swim toward warm water sources. The locals will have to chop "it" off because there won't be a good hospital nearby. That will be a shame.

I have to take lots of socks or I'll get a severe case of trench foot. Wearing sandals won't help.

I'm going to get really sick since I'm not used to the food in Latin America.

Guerrillas will kidnap me while I'm in Colombia. Since people don't like me, no one will pay the ransom.

In general, I am an optimist, but this is a list of the things people have told me may—or will—happen to me. Not everyone is so optimistic.

Please tune in over the coming weeks and—maybe—months for all the excitement.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Passport to Latin America

What could have been a royal pain in the neck, nay, a catastrophe, turned out to be no problem at all...just one step closer to the commencement of my journey.

When I stepped outside the front door this morning to head off to my soon-to-be x-job, I noticed something peeking out from beneath the door mat. It was an envelope that had apparently been delivered yesterday. It was from FedEx and contained my passport.

There are two countries I'll be visiting that require visas—Brazil and Suriname. I sent my passport to Ambassador Passport and Visa a few weeks ago and was desperately hoping to get it back by the 28th, which is the day before my departure. If I didn't get my passport back or if there was a problem getting a visa for Brazil, my trip would be over before it started.

I excitedly thumbed through my brand new fancy schmancy electronic passport. I got to the page containing the Brazil visa. One down, one to go. As I kept flipping, the remaining pages reduced in number until I got to the thick cardboard back cover. After carefully checking the passport a couple more times, I came to the realization that there was no Suriname visa in my passport.

After calling the passport and visa service, I realized that there had been some miscommunication. When I had sent my passport to them, I had printed and filled out some paperwork for the Brazil visa, but not for the Suriname visa. I had merely done what I had been instructed to do by the people on the other end of the line. Maybe I should've figured it out on my own.

As it turns out, I had gotten the visa that counts. When I arrive in Rio, I'll go to the Suriname consulate or embassy and get the scoop on a Suriname visa. It's not uncommon to have to enter a country within 90 days of receiving the visa. If that's the case with Suriname, then the acquisition of a Suriname visa would have been premature, anyway, as I probably won't arrive there until sometime after the coming 90 days. My tentative plan is to get the Suriname visa in Lima, Peru, depending on what I find out in Rio.

Game on.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

My Drug Habit

Over the past month, or so, I have really developed a habit for the needle and I've thrown in a few varieties of pills for good measure.

It all started on December 20th of 2007. Not being one to beat around the bush, I started with the hard stuff...a Rabies shot (it's not cheap either...couple hundred bucks a pop), Hepatitis B, and TDAP (Tetanus, Diphtheria Pertussis). Within a few days, I was popping Typhoid pills, too (street name Vivotif Berna). I couldn't believe it...those are great. If you ever have the chance, you have got to try them. The only downside is that you have to schedule them around meals to get the full effect...pretty lame.

A week later, another Rabies injection and one of Yellow Fever gave me my fix.

I've scheduled a meet for Thursday, the 17th of January, to get another Rabies shot...can't get enough of those. This will be my third one. A Hepatitis A and another Hepatitis B should tide me over for awhile. I'm pretty sure I'm gonna want another Hep A and Hep B later on, though.

Over the next several months, I'm planning on trying a couple different kinds of malaria pills, too. I hear they're great. I'm pretty sure I'll be taking a lot of them, because where I'm going, you can get them real cheap. If I learn of any new meds you might be interested in, I'll definitely pass the word along.