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Croatia Coastal Time…

Friday, July 23rd, 2010
Good morning to you all, as I sip my lovely cappuccino delivered with a smile in the foam.  How can you not start the day off with a smile???  I am sitting in a lovely courtyard off this great little pension in the heart of Old Town Zagreb, Croatia.  I have beautiful flowers spilling out of their window boxes next to me and the waterfall just kicked into gear as did my coffee.  I am catching the 3:45 p.m. train to Vienna, Austria today and will be meeting up with a sweet TEFL classmate, Kathi, who just returned to her hometown of Vienna after living in Argentina the past year.  I’m sure we will have some fantastic catching up to do!!  But wait–I’m still in Croatia for the day and want to share about my time here in this country.

I arrived here after just a few days in Veronna and Venice, Italy.  It was a great way to begin my “water therapy” time after having spent the past 2 months or so in desert climates of Northern Africa and Israel.  I took the ferry from Venice to Pula, Croatia which is on the Istrian Peninsula area of northern Croatia.  The town is known for it’s old Roman colosseum ruins that overlook the harbor.  Nice point of entry and plenty of other ferry options to continue going south hopping into harbors of towns along the way. 

I must admit a bit of disappointment though when I got my first look at the “beaches” there….all rock.  Unique yes, it’s what the geography of the area is, that make up these islands, but for this tropical island gal it just was a bit of a let down.  On the positive side though the water was fabulous!  The Adriatic is a very inviting place to swim in.  I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had been diving in off of a sailing vessel instead!  Okay, I will state the obvious–spoiled to my island ways of life I’ve left behind just a little bit? =)

The towns were all gorgeous with cobblestone streets and fantastic ruins.  Arriving into the towns via water, on the ferries was a great way to get my perspective, along with a feel of the area before deciding to stay or move on.   I did this for Pula, Zadar, Split and then finally landed in Bol, where I stayed the longest.  It had just what this tired traveler was looking for, a village.  Not a town, nor a city.  And one of the most lovely stretches of beach these islands have to offer, Zlatni Rat.

Zlatni Rat Morning

I had met a really sweet couple on the ferry to Zadar who I ran into the morning I arrived in Bol, travelers from Ottawa, Canada, Lyne and Ghislain.  We made plans to meet up the next day for dinner and wound up spending another day going to Hvar Town together.  They heading on–me doing a day excursion and a “recon” investigation of Hvar Town, which after said inspection, this exhausted body said stay put!  Which I did.  I spent a couple more days on Bol,  from which I did another day excursion to Jelsa and Vabroska, beautiful little towns too.  I decided at that point to continue heading on south to more islands and towns which were beginning to look the same to this weary soul, that what I needed was to a change of scenery and to be with some friends that I could connect with beyond the chance travelers, even though those random folks you meet along the road is what this journey is about too.  

Pula Harbor

Lyne & GhislainBol Harbor View

 

Change of scenery is just what I got when I headed off to Plitvice National Park!  It’s forested, lush, waterfalls from travertine terraces forming beautiful lakes that are pristine in every sense of the word.  Visitors to the park are not allowed to swim in the waters and it’s fantastic to see lakes and marine life in an beautifully preserved environment.  I spent yesterday morning hiking through the park for several hours and did it ever give me the recharge I was so desperately needing and a chance to refocus.  I will miss the ocean for sure, I already do–wishing I could take a dive in the water again.  But good friends await me and new cities to explore.  In less than a month I will no longer be traveling the countryside of Eastern Europe’s great cities…I’ll begin two weeks in India finishing in Katmandu.  Wow!!

Plitvice Lake

Brazilian Interlude

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Again my friends, I am writing after the experiences instead of in the moment.  But the time I spent in Brazil was simply fantastic on so many levels that I cannot let the feelings and impressions this country left on me slip by another day.  And so I will bring you up to speed as I sit in my dear sister’s home in Dayton, Ohio.

Brazil–what an amazing country, people, culture, music, food, time on the water, in the water–now you know why I must share it with you.  Where to begin?  I guess I will try to start where I left off in Florianopolis or really the island of Santa Catarina in a little town called “Lagoa” for short.  Five days turned into ten days, ten days turned into two weeks.  I didn’t want to leave this sweet little surfer town that reminded me so much of my Hawaiian hometown, Haleiwa in so many ways.  A typical mellow “surfer vibe”, equally beautiful ocean to play in, and gorgeous beaches to lounge on.  Also a very safe town by Brazilian standards and I knew that Rio de Janerio awaited with it’s masses of population, something around 15 million, it’s crime and it’s allure. 

I finally got on the bus for the 20 hour ride north to Rio after my two weeks of beach nirvana….

Rio "The Marvelous City"

Rio "The Marvelous City"

 

Rio de Janerio is a city worthy of, every bit of it’s amazing reputation.  I stayed on Copacabana, which is supposedly worse for tourist-related crime, but it’s also the least expensive compared to Ipanema.  My first 24 hours were quite funny now in hindsight, but my entry into the city wasn’t a warm welcome by any means. 

 

 For the first time I hadn’t done my “homework” as to knowing what type of cabs to trust, but it worked out.  Unfortunately when I arrived at the hotel, the front desk was swamped and subsequently very rude as well. They basically told me to walk the streets for 3 or 4 hours till a room was ready, it was cloudy, overcast and I was not a happy camper by this point.  But when I got to the boardwalk of Copacabana, in the rain and mist, looked at the view and said to myself, “I’m standing on a beach people dream about seeing–amazing!” 

By the end of the day, checked into my room , coming back from the city tourism office for some information, I decide to walk back up Copacabana’s boardwalk.  It’s nearing sunset and you really shouldn’t be walking around Copacabana after dark, especially alone.  As I start strolling up the street I notice an outdoor-type of bar with lots of people and some live music, so I decide it’s a good time to stop for a beer.  As I sit down at the bar, take a look around at the crowd and the women are dressed–well, pretty hot.  I’m thinking to myself, “I know Brazilian women are pretty uninhibited but these women just don’t seem right.”

I decide to chat with the two guys sitting next to me at the bar, they are English and we get to talking a little bit.  Well after sharing my observations with them about the crowd at the bar and the women, they inform me the place is a well known spot where all the prostitutes meet up with their “dates” after a hard day of work!

I just start laughing to myself about my first day in Rio…. =) 

I spent an entire week in Rio and it flew by.  I toured favelas, sad but an enlightening experience really.  Favelas by the way are the slums of the city.  Unfortunately Brazil’s government does not provide much in the way of social services to their less fortunate people.  Brazilians are a very happy people regardless.  They are also very connected to family ties, as is the case in most South American cultures, so they stay living in the favelas due to a sense of community that has been created over time.  There are a variety of businesses in the favelas, retail shops, grocery shops, and there is also drug dealing, the “biggest business” of all.  Interesting enough in Rio the drug dealers only deal in marijuana and cocaine.  They don’t deal in the seriously addictive drugs like heroine and meth.  I was told the reason why is they want their customers to be able to continue using over a long period of time without the other problems that come with major addiction.

Rio’s scenery is the most breathtaking scenery I’ve come across next to Hawaii’s.  There is something special when you have dramatic mountains next to beautiful blue ocean waters, just like Hawaii does.  It creates a special kind of energy.  People from these places know what I am talking about when I describe the feeling it gives you.

Yet more beauty awaited at my next destination, Paraty.  So, onward I went again.

A colonial harbor town with some sixty islands off it’s coast.  And another 365 islands up the coast to Rio.  An island a day.  Yes, I played on the water in Paraty plenty.  First day was via sailboat, next day in waterfalls in the mountain streams running down to this beautiful little town, next day via schooners to other islands and finally in one of their traditional-type motor boats you can hire to take you to where you want.  I joined a couple to share the cost and we had fantastic final day hopping islands, watching all kinds of folks in various forms of water transport and water toys. The couple and I just spent time talking, jumping off our boat into the beautiful waters, sipping beers and soaking up sun.  They spoke to me in Brazilian Portuguese me to them in Spanish and we understood each other just fine. 

A traditional Brazilian vessel

A traditional Brazilian vessel

 

 

Paraty will always hold a special place in my heart.  And something tells me I will return there one day to see how many of those 365 islands I can set foot on.  There definitely are plenty of vessel forms to choose from…

 

 

Unfortunately time was starting to run down on my time left in S. America and I had booked a flight out of Salvador de Bahia, which was either a 28 hour bus ride north or a 2 hour flight.  The cost of the flight and the bus were close to the same price so I decided to fly up north.  Talk about a difference between the two Brazilian states.  But a wonderful difference in every way as well.

Salvador, the first major port of the slave routes from Africa.  Approximately 5 million slaves came through this port during that era.  It’s hard to imagine that many slaves, but what it resulted in was a fantastic culture that is still very alive in it’s African heritage and traditions, as well as it’s religous beliefs, music and some fantastic food.  I only had 4 days here to try and glimpse a taste of it and again Brazil did not disappoint me at all.

Brazilian Eyes

Brazilian Eyes

 

I arrived very late on a Monday night and awoke the next day to beautiful blue skies and the “big” day of the week when they have their weekly free concert on Tuesday night.  My timing was great!  I had a room that overlooked the concert spot (travel karma)!  Did the crowd know how to dance to the music or what?! =)  Salvador is much closer to the equator therefore it’s a lot hotter there than where I was down south.  But these folks just moved and moved.  It was so much fun.  Amazingly the next day  everything was completely cleaned up, no rubbish lying around at all and believe me those streets were littered with beer cans everywhere.  Sadly again, I think the situation is that the folks that have so little find it worthwhile to pick up the cans & garbage as a way of getting money.  I guess the government is giving them enough in recycling money to deem it worthwhile.

I stayed in the old historical part of Salvador called “The Pelorino” which means “The Whipping Post”.  This area is again and old colonial part of the city where the slaves were brought to be traded from the ships arriving from Africa.  Another fact I found fascinating is the lighthouse here in Salvador was the first lighthouse in South America.  It’s been in existance since the 1500′s.  Really fascinating nautical museum there as well.

I also witnessed a candomble ceremony, which is a religious ceremony steeped in African tradition and prayer to their gods or “orishas” as they are known.  Pretty interesting stuff, and then on my last day I went to a local market where there was everything from voodoo dolls, fresh produce, and live lambs and chickens in wheelbarrows for the upcoming Easter weekend.  Yes, live for the time being.

I guess what I want to end this very long post/blog with is the feeling I left Brazil with.  A sense of appreciation for the fact the people there are not racist, nor have they lost their essence.  Their culture is a beautiful mix of the African slaves brought there, the settlers that came via Portugal, Italy, Spain, or the native indians that were there to begin with and have made these beautiful people.  Yes, they have their share of problems like every country on the planet, some worse some not.  But the people there are so happy.  They also see so much physical beauty in scenery and in their people–that what they look at when they meet you, is the person. 

And I left Brazil in love.

With me. 

Isso, Brazil…(that’s right).

Lagoa es Legao (Awesome!)

Monday, March 15th, 2010
I write again,  from my sweet little pousada I’ve enjoyed for the past two weeks, in the beach town commonly called “Lagoa” but in reality it is Lagoa de Concenciao on the Island of Santa Catarina off the Brazilian coast.  It reminds me so much of Haleiwa in many ways, but it is definitely Brazilian in ways that just put a smile on this face of mine. 
Life in Lagoa

Life in Lagoa

Let me see where to begin…

I saw my fifth rainbow this week, went to the beach or was on or next to the water 7 out of 7 days.  And this picture I am inserting here kind of sums it up… In Hawaii you can’t just have someone bring you a  chilled coconut to drink the coconut milk from.  Why is that?  I know the answer as do my American friends, things like–sanitary??? environmental preservation??! on and on…but they do, do it here in Lagoa in a very clean, esthetically pleasing and environmentally correct manner.  Leaving it all the more to be enjoyed.

It’s amazing here spending a day at the beach.  They have beautiful pristine beaches just like Hawaii, but then to add to the setting having someone serve you a chilled coconuts like this, cervesas, capirinas, or if you are hungry they bring around shrimp on a stick, or a pastel/empanada, or just about whatever you want from the restaurant above without it intruding  on the vibe and energy of just being on the beach.  Yes, you can bring your own cooler and do it “local style” too.  But it just makes for great entertainment, watching it all transpire around you while you are working on that ultimate Brazilian tan.  Which brings up the next subject…Brazilian bikinis.

I just love the way the women here are so comfortable in their own skin.  Yes, there are those drop dead gorgeous model-type bodies everywhere, but there are also those bodies not as perfect, and they are equally comfortable and confident in wearing equally revealing bathing suits and you know what? It makes for a sense of no inhibitions about one’s body, be it the perfect “10″ or the perfect whatever…it leaves you confident in your own figure, even if it isn’t a “10″.  What that leads to then is a kind of seduction of the senses, between the beautiful and the pretty and the real.  And that in itself is more sensual than you can imagine.  Connect that with this mellow, easy lifestyle on Lagoa and you have the makings for lots of happy smiles.  Or as they say here too, “Tudo bom!”

Then you end the day at the restaurant that is set back from the beach (done quite tastefully without compromising the natural beauty of the beach and much differently than what they did initially on other parts of the island and have ruined it) sit back and watch all the gorgeous beauty around you, be it the ocean or the people sitting next to you and feel seduced all over again.

Here is a little video clip of the setting, which I’ve put on Facebook already but for those of you who I don’t do that with I hope you will enjoy it.  The music is just their “house” music.

Lagoa Beachlife

Rio de Janeiro you have a tall order to fill!! =)