Wednesday, April 27, 2011


flying into rio
the capitol of the island that shall remain nameless to rio de janeiro, brazil
flying over rio, i thought i was going to love the city. the green mountains and valleys surrounding the city are magical.

i grabbed a taxi, too tired to try to figure out what bus i should take to get to my hostel. the driver was clearly a fan of ayrton senna and was practicing for the day when he would get to race formula one. when i wasn’t gripping the seat in panic, i was trying to take in the city. at one point i saw some large heads being created for carnival and i had a moment of love and enchantment, i was going to try to find these again and take photos (never happened and i am still sad).
i survived the trip to the hostel.
it was a dive.
i didn’t want to touch anything.
but i was relieved to find my friend v (who was going to travel with me for a couple of weeks) and we set about making a plan for my first day in rio.
we walked, a lot. i began to feel the first signs of disillusionment. the map was crap, a block on the map could represent one or twelve in the real world. lunch was expensive but mediocre. portugese completely eluded me and my attempts to speak it only baffled the locals. the city was dirty, compact and crowded. any time i took my camera out, well meaning folk would say sternly “cuidado” (careful). i became paranoid about being robbed in some violent manner, as my beloved camera is so securely strapped to my person when i am out and about they'd have to knock me out to get it, so the only way i wasn’t being careful with it was having it out at all. since i am all about my photos, this was really frustrating.
we tried to go to the cemetery, it was locked. who locks the cemetery during the day???
the only graffiti i managed to see was ugly tagging. the litter was extensive, but it was kind of amusing to watch v pick up bits here and there and walk them to trash cans close at hand, muttering about the idiots too lazy to hang on to their rubbish a few steps more.
on this first unhappy day, the one delight was the catedral de sao sebastiao
ceiling of the catedral

a peaceful space, with an interior similar to the lotus temple in delhi. a nice american fella from somewhere in the midwest started a conversation with us. he'd been away from home for a long time and missed the ease of a conversation where you didn't have to edit yourself or try to figure out a way to translate your meaning. i could understand, having been in that place many times myself.
we tried to find a place for dinner around 6pm, but nothing was open. i was hungry, tired and frustrated with this place i had been prepared to fall in love with.
by the end of the day i told v i didn’t like rio and i’d be ready to leave after we went to see Christo. i wanted out.
she had been there for several days before i arrived, so she was fine with moving on.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


capitol of the island that shall remain nameless to rio, brazil
the night before c left, she asked me to go to this fancy coffee place, cafe el escorial, and get a bag of their coffee beans for her. they are part of a collective that grows, processes and roasts the beans then serves the coffee - kind of neat that it all happens under one roof, so to speak. it seemed like a simple enough request, so i said i'd do it.
steam and coffee beans pouring out of the single roaster

i went every day for a week and struck out every time. i'd usually show up around 2pm, and they would just say 'mañana'. on the 5th try, the guy added, 'come early'. okay. so the following day i arrived at 11am -
gah! i got smart with only one more day to succeed at the seemingly simple task - 
'what time do you open tomorrow?' 
'excellent, i'll be here at 9:30!'
i arrived at 9:30 to see a long line already formed outside of the cafe. i used the ultimo trick (see 'ultimo' post) and sat on the front steps for over an hour, watching stilted people prepare to entertain the tourists.
while waiting, anxiety and a fear that despite my early arrival i'd still leave empty handed ate at me right until it was my turn to place my order. i am happy to say i got the coffee (and sent it from brazil - when all was said and done, those beans, not including my time, cost about $60 for a kg! but c assures me they were worth it!).

from there i wandered over to the presidential palace with the idea of going in to see the revolutionary museum that is housed there. i never found it. i still cannot figure out where it was, must have come within a couple blocks of it a dozen times, but according to my map, it wasn't where it was supposed to be and i never got to 'the palace that wasn't there' as i began to call it.

i had to settle for this vintage postcard.

after spending several more hours happily wandering the streets, i headed back to candy's to pack my bags and head to the airport.
my taxi driver told me about how he had a masters degree in computer engineering, but that he makes more money driving a taxi. i had gotten glimpses of the frustration that these highly educated people experienced when they were unable to make a decent living in their area of expertise, but this was the first time i was able to ask questions. it was interesting to see the negative side of unlimited access to higher education. 
fidel has offered the people as much knowledge as they want but has maintained communist limits on how much money can be earned, regardless of education. i was told that the street cleaners make about the same as doctors. there is something disconcerting about this, a job that requires no training and no skill earns the same as one that requires years of learning and skill - it begs the question why bother to try?

i tipped big and entered the airport with a little apprehension. the lines were long - even by cuban standards. i couldn't figure out where to pay my exit tax. i had to wait in several lines twice. but eventually i made it to my plane. i am seriously glad i gave myself 4 hours for the airport because it took over three to get to the gate.
while waiting to take off, i felt a huge lump of sadness. on the one hand i know i'll return - i have to, i liked the island much to much to stay away, and having only seen the capitol, there is still so much left to explore. but i always want to return to places that i've loved, and when there are so many places in the world yet to be seen, i sometimes struggle to make it happen...

after catching a couple of fitful hours of sleep on the long flight, i woke to pretty views of a sunrise over the outlying area of rio!

Friday, April 22, 2011

cha cha heels

capitol of the island that shall remain nameless
i've mentioned how important music is to the islanders, but i think i forgot to talk about the dancing. everyone you meet can salsa with the best of them. it's like if you are born here you are gifted with this incredible ability to shake your ass in time with music and do it effortlessly while attached to another person.
i have always had difficulty finding and keeping the beat. it used to drive my mother, a musician, absolutely crazy that her daughter had no ability to hear what was so obvious to everyone else. someone once told me i hear the down beat. i'm cool with that. anything to explain how i can start off clapping in time with the crowd but be off in mere seconds.
so dancing lessons have always had a level of frustration that made it more work than joy - although when i do manage to get something, like the lindy hop, i am beyond thrilled to do the dance all night long!
gato's wife, yudi, is a semi-retired professional dancer, who offered to give me some salsa lessons. while i knew it might be a fool's errand, i was still hopeful that i could come out of her company with some slinky skills.
my dancing shoes

the first lesson was with c&e, a mistake. c, meaning well, was constantly correcting me, which would only make me more self conscious and frustrated, and eventually a little too defensive to learn anything. my second lesson, yes, i went back for more, was hilarious, mostly because yudi doesn't speak english and i didn't speak spanish, so communication on what i was doing wrong and occasionally what i was doing right, was painful. but she was patient, and in the end, there were a few times she told me my moves were sexy - i'm not sure i agreed with her, there was a full sized mirror in front of me, so i could see what i was doing, but i wasn't going to contradict her, as it was such a great feeling to get some of the moves down. not to mention, i did find the beat every now and then and managed to hold it for an entire song, SUCCESS!
she told me i would have to take samba lessons in rio and tango lessons in buenos aires. i didn't, but i will revisit salsa in cusco...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

metal head

capitol of the island that shall remain nameless
c assured me that i would weary of photographing the old cars. i'm afraid i'd need to be there much longer for that to happen...


any time i saw a car with the hood up, i asked if i could take a picture of the engine. they usually looked at me like i was a little loony, but they generally said yes. i don't know that much about cars, but even i could tell that some of the parts didn't belong on those engine blocks...

Monday, April 18, 2011


capitol of the island that shall remain nameless
sunday is a swell day to walk around the city. seems like everyone is enjoying a mellow day.
kids are playing baseball.
grandmas are gossiping together in the park. knives are being sharpened on a bicycle.
dogs are lolling.
teen girls are showing off their silly bandz.

there are mini carnivals, complete with carnies and rides that look like death traps.

to ride the "mortifica" or not?
yes, it's a swell day to be out and about.

c decided we would take a machina (pronounced mah-keenah), one of the vintage cars used as local public transportation, to vedado, a neighborhood inhabited by spanish colonial mansions that have been converted into a sort of tenement housing.
i took a gazillion photos, but the sun was so bright, most ended up being a bit blown out, i am sad to say. i wished i had used my filters - rookie mistake!
the machina are beautiful. the cars are mostly beat up and being held together with rubber bands, spit and pride, but they are still gorgeous - maybe even more than the mint condition ones you see in car shows because they are still being used every day, all day long. mostly they run on specific routes, kind of like buses. you stick out your hand, they pull over, you say where you are going and usually you hop in. they are not meant for tourists. you pay with the cuban money meant only for cubans. i don’t know if it is legal to ride in them. i don’t know if it is legal to have the pesos nationales. but when i am with c, i live on the edge.
we flagged down a real cherry - it was red with just a touch of sparkle and appeared to be in perfect condition. the young man behind the wheel looked like he ought to be going to a hot rod convention. c and i climbed in the back and e got in front. we drove about two blocks when the driver decided to negotiate for cucs instead of pesos nationales. the ride should cost around 40 cents each. he wanted $3 each. c said no, he kicked us to the curb. undaunted, c flagged down another. this car was blue and had been repainted numerous times with paint that has no business being anywhere near metal. it looked beaten down by the life it had led. i was thrilled.
noisy, rumbly, spacious, old. i love vintage. i love the machina!

Sunday, April 17, 2011


capitol of the island that shall remain nameless
one day, while walking with c&e, i surreptitiously grabbed a quick (slightly out of focus) photo of this guy:
as we walked away i jokingly said, 'i just took a photo of a guy trimming his rooster and that isn't a euphemism.' what followed was a slightly blue conversation about what 'trimming your rooster' could be a euphemism for...these are the moments that will still make me laugh in 30 years.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


capitol of the island that shall remain nameless

here are some shots i took of random people that piqued my interest...

street musician

bottle seller

hair ties


matching date

pedicab I

pedicab II


black market tomato sauce