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South America trip - Part 7 -Looking for Love in Brazil

No, I wasn’t looking for love in Brazil. And I don’t think my partner Greta was either. But this little guy was:

Saira-militar bird Itamambuca Beach Brazil

Saira-militar bird in Itamambuca Beach, Brazil on our rental car window He became preoccupied with our rental car that was parked in the driveway at the Home Exchange beach house where we stayed in Itamambuca Beach. He spent most of the daylight hours flitting from the rear-view mirror on the driver’s side to the passenger-side mirror. He constantly pecked at the glass, looking at his reflection. At times, he’d land and walk on the side window ledges and peck at that glass as well. We assumed he was looking for a mate, or was probably wondering why the mate he saw wouldn’t kiss him back. The type of bird: saira-militar. It made me sad when we left; I wondered if he wondered what happened to his fantasy lover. He was simply looking for love in all the wrong places, as Johnny Lee sang years ago. Sounds like some singles I know. What I’ve learned in the last 48 days of cruising--and visiting Brazil I know, last week’s eNewsletter was supposed to be the last one from South America. Technically, it was. On Tuesday, while on a Copa Airlines flight from Rio to Panama City, and then on to Los Angeles, I started thinking about today’s article, and what I was going to write about. I pondered the 48-day trip that Greta and I had been on, which was coming to an end later that night, when we would land at LAX. At that moment, Noel, a Copa flight attendant, arrived at our seats with plates of hot food. He had been busier than a cranberry at Thanksgiving ever since we boarded. I had heard him speak to passengers fluently in three different languages. “You are a busy man,” I said to Noel. “I am, but I’m happy,” he replied. And from Noel’s words, an article topic popped into my head: What have I learned on this trip? What Noel said is probably the most important thing I learned on this trip: that a person’s happiness, and having an enthusiastic, positive attitude, such as Noel, is up to each person. He was the best flight attendant I’ve ever seen—attention to detail, friendly, treating all passengers with great respect, and he had endless energy for seven hours. Greta and I had witnessed that type of trait in people throughout South America. We’d seen it on the beach, 100 yards from the house where we stayed for 12 days. One evening, a young man was playing fetch with his dog, “Amber,” on the sand. He’d either kick or toss a softball-sized red rubber ball and Amber would retrieve it. I’ve never seen a dog so fixated on a ball. The friendly young man introduced himself to us as Gustavo. “Americans, aren’t you?” he said to us. (By then, there were four of us. Greta's daughter Tammi, and son-in-law Stephen, had joined us for a week at the end of our trip)

Tom Blake, Greta Cohn and family in Brazil

Tom and Greta with Stephen Bell and Tammi Bell

“Yes, how could you tell?” We were curious to know. “I lived in San Diego a year and a half,” Gustavo said. “I loved it there. Love the Americans. “And now, I have the perfect life here. I surf these glorious waves, and I work four days a week as an architect in Sao Paulo. Living the dream life.”

Tammi listening to Gustavo, who stopped by the beach house two days after we had seen him on the beach We witnessed happiness in Lima when a very positive, pleasant, and gracious woman helped Greta and me get on the right bus so we could get back to our cruise ship. We saw it in Puerto Chiapas, Mexico, when the two women owners of a little restaurant were so friendly and happy that two people from North America had stopped in their store. They only spoke Spanish; we understood them. We saw a positive attitude and great restaurant awareness at Padaria Itamambuca, the bakery/deli we frequented often. Owners Simone and Francisco spent 14 ½ hours a day ensuring that every customer was being taken care of and that the quality of their food was top notch. One thing I learned on this trip was not to be shackled by my fears. When Greta booked the cruise from San Diego south to Mexico, Central America, and around Cape Horn, I had heard horror stories about the dangerous seas near Patagonia. “Forty-foot waves in the Falkland Islands,” someone told me. I did not want to go, even though I had served in the Navy for two years on a ship and had never been seasick. But, I reasoned, cruise ships go often around Cape Horn, so they know how to navigate those waters. So, we went. The seas were not even a factor. Don’t let your fears stop you from venturing out of your comfort zone and enjoying your life. We learned that tragedy can still strike in the United States whether we are home or on a trip. While gone, there was the Las Vegas shooting, the truck attack in NYC, and the Texas church shooting. We learned that our property in Sonoma County was threatened by the California fires for several days. There wasn’t a damn thing we could have done about any of these had we been at home. We learned that South America is large and diverse, its people awesome. Chile has great wines, penguins and alpacas. Argentina has Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world and Buenos Aires, one of the great, diverse, cities in the world, and in the heart of the jungle, the impressive Iguazu waterfalls. And yes, there is a city called Ubatuba in Brazil, a city of --I estimate--50,000 people, with an incredible beach, 18 miles from where we stayed. Brazil is fun but driving in Rio is crazy. Let me restate that. Avoid driving in Brazil altogether, if you can. There are more speed bumps there than giant termite mounds; we saw thousands of the latter while driving the countryside. I learned there are no printed road maps in Brazil, at least not at the Hertz counter, nor at gas stations, nor at a bookstore where we checked in Paraty, Brazil. We got a GPS from Hertz but it died on us after 30 minutes, about 150 miles from our destination. Asking for travel directions in a country where little English is spoken is fruitless. We put more than 1,000 miles on a Renault Duster mini SUV; it was like our own version of the 2004 movie, “The Motorcycle Diaries.” We learned in Brazil that our American devices—cell phones, laptops, electric tooth brushes, Fitbits, for example--that require electrical power--do not work or recharge on their 220-volt electricity. If you travel (to any foreign country for that matter), bring an electrical adapter so you can recharge all your stuff. I brought a power strip with us and found an adapter at our beach house, so we were able to recharge everything. A universal power adapter usually will do the trick. I learned that the best steak and salmon I’ve ever tasted was at a restaurant called Café Paraty, in the historic center of town, along the Brazilian Costa Verde, or Green Coast. Papaya and other fresh fruits coming from the rain forests of Brazil are rich and sumptuous. You can tell the difference when food is grown truly organically, which it is in most parts of Brazil. And, of course, a stay in Rio simply must include a visit to see one of the new seven wonders of the world, the Cristo Redento (Christ the Redeemer), the 125-foot tall (including its base) statue of Christ, completed in 1931, that overlooks all of Rio on Corcovado mountain. The four of us stayed at the Linz Hotel, which is located three minutes from the Rio Airport. To get to Cristo Redento, we hired a taxi. The driver’s name? Why, of course, “Amazon.” It took 45 minutes to get there. If I had been driving, it would have taken two hours, if we had been able to get there at all.

Greta Cohn, Tom Blake at Cristo Redento - Rio

Greta and Tom at Cristo Redento this past Monday Amazon waited an hour for us, and then delivered us to Ipanema Beach, where we strolled around looking for “The Girl from Ipanema” (the name of the Bossa Nova song that Astrud Gilberto and sax player Stan Getz made famous in 1964). Didn’t see anybody who looked like what the Ipanema girl may have looked like on the beach, but I will say that thongs are popular in Brazil. (See links to two versions of The Girl from Ipanema below) The language of Brazil is Portuguese. I learned two words of Portuguese: abrogator (thank you) and nao (no). If you know those words, you can get along so-so. But, otherwise, it is a difficult language to understand. And, I know one phrase: Mas que nada (much of nothing). I remembered that from the Samba song of the same name that the singing group Sergio Mendes & Brazil 66 made popular in 1962. As the four of us were walking through the Rio airport, heading toward our departure gate Tuesday morning, there was music coming from speakers overhead. I smiled when I heard “Mas Que Nada,” followed by Astrud Gilberto singing “The Girl from Ipanema.” It was as if we were being teased not to leave Brazil.

I chuckled and thought to myself, I’ve learned a thing or two on this trip. Videos of "The Girl from Ipanema)": The original 1962 version (5+ minutes) with Joao Gilberto and wife Astrud and Stan Getz on sax but no video just audio but it's a classic. The Portuguese is wonderful: The 1964 version (3 minutes) with Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz. This has video of Astrud singing and Getz playing sax. And if you still have time, while in that area on the youtube site, check out the video on of Mas Que Nada--a classic as well.

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