Budget Breakdown: Peru

I have gotten a positive response on these budget breakdowns so I’ll keep them going.

I had a really great time in Peru and I think it was because I mixed a lot of down time with world class attractions. In Cusco and Lima people often recommended various sites that I never heard of. I didn’t go. I’m not saying just because I haven’t heard of it, it can’t be good. What I am saying is when you are traveling long term you can’t pack everyday with sightseeing. I’ve done 1-4 week trips were you have a packed itinerary and by the time you get home you need a vacation from your vacation. My time is unlimited and I’m trying not to burn out.

This take it easy approach is not only good for your mental and physical health but your budget as well. So here is what I spent during my 18 days in Peru.

For the second time on this trip the top cost was food (Bolivia). I heard good things about the Peruvian food before I arrived and it lived up to the billing. Some days when I was laying low I would just walk around and eat, and in Peru, that can be better than sightseeing. I’m a creature of habit even when I have no schedule, once I found a place I liked I kept going back. I went to three different places three times each. I spent $80 on dinner ($4.44 per day (PD)), $45 on lunch ($2.50 PD) and $6 on breakfast ($.33 PD) for a total of $131 or $7.27 per day. That was the second most per day on this trip after Brazil.

Accommodation was another big cost, I spent $107 on 16 nights in a hostel for an average of $5.94 per night. I was able to save a little with two overnight bus rides.

I moved around Peru a good bit and spent a pretty penny on buses. On four long haul bus rides I spent a total of $98 ($5.44 PD). I traveled a total of 1,843 miles across Peru, seeing a good bit of the country. I took a much nicer bus, which was about 40% of the total bus cost, for the long trip to the Ecuador border. I’ve learned to take better buses to the borders because there will be other English speakers on those buses and it will help in the crossing. In country, I still go for the cheap buses that the locals take.

I spent $64 ($3.55 PD) on beer. Most of that was in Lima on back-to-back days. I found an American style sports bar so I posted up and watched football all day Saturday and Sunday, after all, you can’t just sit there and not buy anything. It was my first games of the year on TV, I was in heaven. The beers in Peru are around $2-$3 per bottle.

I dropped $61 on tours ($3.38 per day), most of it on the Machu Picchu trip. My package including transport, three meals and lodging but for the purposes of my budget I broke it up. I estimate $56 of the total price was for admission to the site, admission to Machu Picchu Mountain and a tour guide (for an hour and a half). I spent a few other bucks on a hot spring, the Nazca Lines observation tower and a museum in Nazca.

To get to Machu Picchu I took a shuttle from Cusco to the hydroelectric plant (in the middle of nowhere) where the road ends. From there it was about an eight mile walk to Aguas Calientes where I spent the night. The shuttle ride was hellish, windy, dusty mountain dirt roads. For much of it we were feet from certain death hugging the side of the mountain with no guard rails. This cost $26 ($1.44 PD) but better that than the train which will run you at minimum $60. I then walked to Machu Picchu the next day which saved a further $24 over the lazy people who took the bus.

I also spent $19 ($1.05 PD) on other which included renting towels as I lost mine somewhere in Cusco. It also covered $10 in gambling losses in Lima. I won some and lost some, in the end it was hours of fun for cheap. Only $10 ($.55 PD) was spent on cabs as I felt good walking around. In addition, I spent $5 ($.27) on gifts, $4 ($.22) on water, $2 ($.11) on local buses, and $2 ($.11) on snacks.

Overall, 18 days in Peru cost me $529 or $29.38 per day.

 

One Night in Lima

Everyone who knows me knows I love The Ohio State University, particularly its football team. I happened to be in Lima, Peru for THE GAME. If you don’t know, that is Ohio State v. Michigan (the biggest and most hated rival). I made sure I was up at the crack of 11:45 a.m. and turned on my computer to watch the bloodbath. Naturally, the previously reliable WIFI signal was in the toilet and I couldn’t get the stream.

In a panic, I Googled sports bars in the area fully not expecting to find one. After all, I hadn’t seen a bar yet in South America that played college football. By the grace of Woody Hayes, there was one. I ran out to the curb and hailed a cab to The Corner Sports Bar and Grill.

The Corner is your typical American sports bar, including a full menu of fare found in sports pubs across the nation. It is owned by an American guy and it was something I really needed after not seeing a single game on TV all year. I’m thankful to watch online, but it is just not the same.

As I walk in I immediately spot four Michigan fans and they tell me they don’t want me sitting near them. (As if I wanted to sit with those bottom feeders.) So I go to the bar and sit down and start chatting with the guy next to me. Ken is from Montana but is an Ole Miss fan and just likes watching football and drinking beer. We become fast friends, the kind of friendships that happen when you are both traveling alone. He mentions he met two other Ohio State fans the night before and they are coming to watch the game also.

Soon Neil and AJ (former roommates at Ohio State) show up and invite us to join their table. The beers are flowing like the Olentangy River after a rainstorm. We bond over Ezeakiel Elliott’s 214-yard game. Hearty OH-IO chants echo around Lima’s Miraflores neighborhood. Ohio State wins!

We meet more Americans, three guys from Iowa, and they morph into our group. We stick around The Corner and watch the next set of games. The food and drinks continue. Neil, now living in San Francisco, is a high roller. He gets whatever he wants, and a lot of it. It seems AJ, and the two Peruvian girls that joined them, are along for the ride. By the time we leave, our table’s tab is north of $400 USD.

It is about 7 p.m. now but we are just getting started. Someone suggests we go continue to drink at the casino. We head to the Fiesta, where Ken is staying. It is Ken, AJ, Neil, Layla (Peru), Emma (Peru) and Kyle (Iowa) and myself.

Soon the group bellies up to the bar inside the Fiesta but Emma has disappeared. I don’t think anything of it, people come and go so fast from my life these days. She returns about an hour later with a large amount of cocaine, eight grams I’m told. The street value in the US is about $800, in Peru it was $32.

Ken, the girls, and I don’t want any part of it. The other guys head to the bathroom together, and here you thought only girls go to bathroom in packs. I thought about leaving, surely these guys going to bathroom together, and frequently, would be suspicious. It wasn’t a great mystery what was happening. The last thing I wanted was to end up in the Peruvian slam. Layla told me to stay, she explained that this was Peru. It’s normal. No one cares. Sure enough, no one did.

Neil is a card shark and a master of black jack. He heads to the table and bets the max most every hand. I just watch. I don’t have money to lose, or snort, for that matter. He plays for hours and I am fixated. He wins most of the time. It was like watching TV. Every once in a while I’d offer a high five or some motivation. Before I knew it, I was his unofficial good luck charm. I indicated I was getting tired and might take off as I had stopped drinking hours ago. He bought my drinks and then gave me $200 in chips to play alongside him.

Soon he was sitting on $7,000 in chips. I was shocked. I’d never seen anything like it. However, the card gods turned. Next thing I knew he was down to $200, which at that point I gave him back all the chips I was playing with.

Unfazed he kept playing, and kept winning. The pot grew 1 k, 2, 3, 4 and so on. He built it all the way back to $14,000. I advised quitting and he agreed to set 10 k aside. He kept playing with the rest, with intermittent cocaine breaks, and eventually lost it. I swear this was some kind of movie.

By this time it was 4 a.m. and the group, minus Ken who went to bed, needed a change of venue. So we headed to a nightclub. True to form Neil got a table and bought bottles of liquor for everyone spending hundreds of more dollars. The music was loud and we danced the night away with some of the most beautiful people in South America.

Eventually the crowd started to die down. We decided to leave and when we emerged from the windowless and clock-less club it was 7 a.m. and the sun was out. I was completely done. I said I was going home. We exchanged handshakes and nothing else. The last I saw of them was when they piled five people in a small cab. I walked back to my hostel.

I love to travel for things like Iguassu Falls and Machu Picchu but the best times are unplanned. Like the time I partied for 19-consecutive hours in Lima with my 19-hour best friends.

Budget Breakdown: Panama

I know I haven’t posted these in order, but I am caught up now. So when looking at the Panama expenditures it is important to note that it was my first country of the trip. As the first place on a long term trip I was especially careful, okay fanatical, with the budget.

Panama uses the USD as its currency so there is no crazy exchange rate. Also, Panama seems to have made it on to the radar of mainstream travelers from the US. For whatever reason, Belize, Costa Rica, and to a lesser extent, Panama are the destinations in Latin America for travelers from the U.S. Most of these visitors have a week or two, and more importantly, a wad of cash. Because of this prices have gone up across the board.

I saved money by staying in one place and quite frankly going without in some situations. I was in Panama for the shortest time any country with a total of only eight days and I stayed in Panama City the whole time. Let’s look at the breakdown:

I spent the most on accommodation, naturally. I spent $78 on six nights in the hostel but saved with two nights sleeping on planes. The hostel was actual very expensive compared to what awaited me in South America. Overall, I averaged $9.75 per day on housing.

A side note on my hostel philosophy, I go for the cheapest hostel with decent reviews. I look for the least expensive room with at least a 7/10 rating on hostleworld.com. I don’t care about how many people are in the room, the more the cheaper it is. I’ve gone as high as 15-bed dorms on this trip. I look for two main things in the reviews: hot water and WIFI. Sometimes it works out, sometimes I can’t be picky.

I spent $31 on lunch ($3.87 per day (PD)) and $8 on dinner ($1 PD) for a total of $38 on food or $4.87 per day. While food is a good bargain in Panama, if you go local, it is worth noting that during the two days that I was on planes I did not buy any food. There was no way I was going to blow the budget on obscenely priced airport food. I am not opposed to a little fasting. Thanks to my friend Mark who took me out to lunch during a layover.

Frighteningly, I spent almost as much on cabs as I did food. I dropped $36 ($4.50 PD) on taxis, most of that came on the ride from the airport to the hostel. That is another reason I don’t like to fly if I can help it. Bus stations are typically in the heart of the city and much closer to where you are going.

Fresh off of quitting my job, I enjoyed some beers. I spent $21 or $2.62 per day. The beers ranged anywhere from $3-$5, not much different from the U.S.

The Panama Canal was the only tourist activity that I paid for which cost me $15 ($1.87 PD). I found Panama City quite walkable and enjoyed exploring on foot for free.

I also spent $10 ($1.25 PD) on an airport shuttle and $13 ($1.62 PD) on other. In this case other included a switch blade knife ($6) which is illegal in the U.S. but perfectly okay to have in Panama. I just couldn’t resist.

In the end, I spent $212 over eight days in Panama for an average of $26.50 per day.

Budget Breakdown: Bolivia

In my last blog post I talked about my budget in Brazil, some people were surprised on how cheap it was. Fact is, Brazil is one of the most, if not the most, expensive countries in South America. However, the USD is at an all-time high vs. the Real so that certainly helped my cause. But on to Bolivia:

I only spent nine days in Bolivia due mostly to the fact that I spent so long in Brazil. I guess I shouldn’t say “only” nine days, there has been years were I have taken less vacation. Anyway, I spent the night in nine different places and was constantly on the move. I saw a lot of the country though, traveling 1,864 miles from Santa Cruz to the borders with Chile and Argentina to La Paz. Point being, when you are on the move so much your expenses go way up.

Fair warning, while tremendously beautiful Bolivia is not for the faint of heart. It is the poorest country in South American, and that is saying something. Dirt roads are common and electricity is at a premium is some parts of the country. WIFI and Internet? If you are my age think back to that first dial up modem you had. It’s like that, just less reliable. All this adds up to savings for the budget-minded traveler. Let’s dive into the numbers.

The biggest expense was tours as my trip to Salar de Uyuni wasn’t cheap. I spent a total of $83 on that three-day trip which accounted for my only real tourist activity. Over the nine days it averaged out to $9.22 per day. I walked around Santa Cruz and La Paz and took in the sights but it was my favorite price range, free.

As always, food was big slice of the budget pie, pun intended. I spent $34 on lunch ($3.77 per day (PD)), $42 on dinner ($4.66 PD) and $4 on breakfast ($.44 PD). In total my stomach cost me $80 or $8.88 per day. This cost could be less if you wanted it to be. Most hostels have kitchens and many people buy food and then cook for themselves. That is not me. I’m not much of a cook and I hate doing dishes so I eat out every meal, just like I did stateside.

I stayed five nights at hostels and another four on overnight buses or trains so the savings there was big. I spent a total of $40 on accommodation ($4.44 PD).

Beer was remarkably expensive with prices in the $2.50-$3.00 range per bottle. I didn’t drink much, spending $19 or $2.11 per day. Although, I did trade a book I had finished reading for two beers. Bartering is not, however, included in the budget breakdown.

Another big plus for Bolivia is how cheap the buses are. They are not top of the line by any means but they are cheap. I spent just $36 ($4 PD) on long haul buses or trains.

I did spend almost as much on cabs ($31 or $3.44 PD) but it is just not worth it to risk walking around at night. It kills me because I love to walk. I also sensed a bit of a Gringo surcharge on the cabs but what can you do? You can negotiate prices in Bolivia but sometimes it doesn’t seem worth the argument for a few cents. Besides, these people need the more way more than I do.

Other than that I spent $13 ($1.44 PD) on other, which ranged from Coca leaves to WIFI. I also spent $6 ($.66 PD) on water and another $3 ($.33) on snacks.

All told, I spent $311 in Bolivia over nine days for an average of $34.50 per day.

Budget Breakdown: Brazil

When traveling, two of the comments I constantly get are: “wow, you must be rich.” Or, “I’d love to travel like that but I don’t have money.” I am far, far from rich and yes, you mostly likely do.

Yes, you can spend boatloads of money. The Marriott and Hilton aren’t cheap. Five star restaurants will hurt the wallet. Flying first class will put you in debt. However, to me, traveling isn’t about these things. To me it is about the sights, meeting the people, and trying the food and drink. This can be done for cheap.

When I was planning my around-the-world trip it was hard to find actual budgets. So I decided to keep track of everything I’ve spent to hopefully help you plan.

Of course, everyone is different. Some are willing to rough it more than others. Some want to spend more on activates than lodging or food or transport, others would switch that order up.

Here is my breakdown of my 56 days in Brazil.

The biggest expenditure was housing. I spent $568 or an average of $10.14 a night. It was quite the mix, I Couchsurfed in four places, stayed in many hostels and even a few nice hotels. In fact, $388 of that came in six days in four-star accommodations. If I really wanted to I could have spent under $300.

Now we get into the food. I am not a foodie. I like to try different things but it is not the focus of my day. I spent $215 on lunch ($3.83 per day), $198 on dinner (S3.53 per day), and $67 on breakfast ($1.19) per day. Overall, I dropped $480 or $8.57 per day. I could have done it for less but at times I broke down and had to get some “western” foods. It is also worth noting that most hostels and hotels include breakfast.

The next biggest expense was tours or tourist activates. I spent $382 or an average of $6.82 per day. Most of that was on my quest to see a jaguar, I dropped $254 on guides but it was worth it to me in the end.

Brazil is a huge country and I had to get around. I took eight bus trips of six hours or more, six were 15 or more. That totaled $310 or $5.53 per day. I took one “VIP” bus but other than that I did this about as cheaply as possible, taking the cheapest buses that the locals rode.

I am a guy who enjoys a cold one. Especially when it’s a beer that I’ve never tried. I spent $172 on beer ($3.07 per day (PD)). This varies a lot per person, maybe you don’t drink at all. Maybe you are an alcoholic. How many beers did I have? The cheapest I found was 50 cents and the most expensive was $2.50.

Those were the major expenses. I also spent $102 ($1.82 PD) on other. That is anything from a lock to a cell phone case to medicine. I also dropped $88 on cabs ($1.57 PD), $67 ($1.19 PD) on gifts for people that helped me, $62 ($1.10 PD) on shuttles, $39 on snacks ($.69 PD), $34 ($.60 PD) on local buses/metro, and $25 on water ($.44 PD).

All told, I spent $2,329 in everyday life or just $41.58 per day. If you break it down, I bet you spend more than that between your rent, car payment, food and recreation in your “regular” life. Think about it.

*Disclaimer: this does not include getting to Brazil or the visa if you are from a country that needs one.

Drama on the Border

Undoubtedly one of the worst parts of traveling is crossing borders; particularly, if you are from the United States. In general, border towns are full of con artists and thieves; it takes one’s full attention to not get taken advantage of. Many times the people working for the government are just as crooked as any two bit hustler on the corner.

Unfortunately, a lot of the poor treatment of Americans is due to how we treat foreigners when they come state side. Being from a money grubbing country is good at times, but travel is not one of them. Many counties in South America have reciprocity visas. This means if their citizens need a visa to enter the USA then citizens of the USA must get a visa to visit their country. The fees are also identical. That greedy whore Uncle Sam charges Brazilians and Bolivians $160 to come to the USA with tons of documentation. It is maddening to see my traveling peers from advanced countries like Germany, England, France, Canada and others just waltz by me with no check of papers or fees charged.

Brazil was no problem, other than the $160 fee, as I sent away for the visa ahead of time. Of course this service cost me another $115, but at least there was no headache or frustration. That was not the case in Bolivia.

I did my research, or so I thought, to make an easy cross overland into Bolivia. However, in the back of my head I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I’ve had to much trouble at borders over the years to truly expect smooth sailing.

From the Brazilian town of Corumba I took a taxi to the border. After waiting in line at the federal police station I got my exit stamp from Brazil without incident. I then walked the couple hundred yards to Bolivia. Once in the immigration office I asked the women how to get a visa. I explained that I don’t speak Spanish and she told me I can’t get a visa if I don’t speak Spanish as no one on staff speaks English.

Surely, I can’t be the only person in history to enter Bolivia without knowing Spanish. I don’t care about language barriers. I got along fine in Brazil without Portuguese. I managed in places like China, Morocco, rural Italy and other places where no one speaks English. So I sat down and tried to collect my thoughts on how I was going to pull this off. I then saw a German guy (who knew Spanish) and asked for his help. He talked with the customs agents and I produced the documents that were needed.

I was required to submit a copy of my passport, a copy of my Yellow Fever vaccination certificate, a plane ticket out of the country, a hotel reservation for my entire stay, two passport photographs, a bank statement, a visa application and $160. I handed over everything and profusely thanked the German guy as he left.

The border guy wasn’t happy with my efforts. He informed me that I need to have a passport photo with a red background. What? I thought it was joke. Who takes pictures with a red background? Is this Russia? Further, my pic was 4×3 cm and he wanted 4×4. I also enlarged my passport copy to make it easier to see, logical, right? No, they wanted the original size. For no reason that I could understand, my bank statement also wasn’t accepted. They now wanted a copy of my credit card, front and back. Even my money wasn’t good enough, one of the $20s I gave them was “wrinkled.”

I struggled not to go postal. I was tempted to just go back to Brazil, but I already got my exit stamp. I feared they would charge me again.

The border agent gave me a temporary pass to go into the town of Quijarro. He told me that when I returned with my documentation he would call the hostel to make sure I had a reservation. Crap! The print out I handed over had already been canceled. I had no idea where or when I was going to be in different cities in Bolivia so making reservations was impossible. I made a booking and then quickly canceled it as not to get charged. If the hostel said I canceled, and the border guard knew I was committing fraud, I would get thrown out on my ear, if not worse.

So I headed into Quijarro where I made copies of my credit card, passport, and Yellow Fever vaccination certificate. I also got new pictures taken, when I walked into the shop a red background was already set up. I still had the issue of the fake reservation to deal with, luckily I found an Internet café and made a new reservation and printed it out (which I canceled the next day).

I trudged back to the border with a fist full of documents. When the border agent put everything on the desk I picked it all up and said I wanted my bank statement and original passport copy back. At the same time I grabbed the passport copy and bank statement I switched the hostel reservations without him noticing. He then disappeared and came back 20 minutes later and said I was good to go!

The whole ordeal took over four hours and cost me an additional $15. Later I met some Americans who crossed at the Peru border and they had to bribe the official an extra $20 but there was no mention of pictures with a red background or bank statement. It is obvious that Bolivia has no real control over its borders. Whatever that particular agent wants, goes.

The Bolivian currency is abbreviated as Bs, never has an abbreviation been more fitting for a country.

On the Trail of Onza (Jaguar)

It started on a dimly lit street outside a bar in Sao Paulo’s Vila Madalena neighborhood. I met a friend of a friend named Edu. I got into the habit of asking the people on the ground about what to do in their country rather than lug around a Lonely Planet. While most people recommend Rio or the beaches of the northeast, Edu told me of jaguars. I, of course, knew there were Jaguars in Brazil but I wasn’t quite sure how to find them.

Edu told me that the Pantanal was home to the largest population of jaguars in the world. The world’s third biggest cat used to roam from Argentina to Arizona but the population has steadily declined over the years. There is only an estimated 15,000 left of which 50%-60% are in the Pantanal. The Pantanal is huge, the world largest tropical wetland, spanning an estimated 75,000 square miles. Edu said that most of the cats were in the north near the city of Cuiaba.

Cuiaba is nowhere near Sao Paulo, a 35-hour bus ride to be exact. I was in no rush so I planned to work my way there. I stopped in Foz do Iguacu to see Iguaçu Falls and at that hostel there was signs for Pantanal tours, with pictures of Jaguars on them. It wasn’t outside Cuiaba but near Campo Grande. That isn’t what Edu said, but apparently there are jaguars there too. The guy from the tour company told me they see seven or eight per month. So I booked a three-night package, and if you do the math, that gave me a pretty good chance of seeing one.

Once there I asked the other people at the lodge what they had seen. Tons of animals, no jaguars. The Pantanal is one of the premier places in the world to see wildlife of all varieties and while that was cool, I came for one reason. I asked my guide when the last time he saw a jaguar was, he couldn’t remember. The other guide said he saw one 15 days ago. I had been had by the salesman!

I did meet two people who did see jaguars in the north, near Cuiaba. However, the price difference was staggering. A night at the lodge and a day tour in the south was about $53, in the north it was $261 for the same thing. Not to mention another $35 and 15 hours on the bus. After the three day tour was over, I pressed my luck and stayed two more nights. I had a marvelous time, but no jag.

I thought about cutting bait and heading to Bolivia, my next destination. However, I felt quite empty inside. I couldn’t come all this way and not see one. The Northeast Ohio in me wouldn’t let me quit. But I also couldn’t afford the $700-$1,000 for a tour package in the north. Not knowing what awaited me, I pressed on.

Cuiaba turned out to be one of the most dangerous places on earth with the 16th highest murder rate in the world; higher than anyplace in the U.S. Robberies were commonplace, I met a guy who had been robed eight times. My rough plan was to take a bus to the dusty outpost of Pocone and then try to hitchhike the Transpantaneira “Highway” (a 91-mile dirt road with 147 wooden bridges) to Porto Jofre. Once in Porto Jofre I would try to slide into an already existing tour. However, the temperature was hovering near 111 (44 C) and there was no shade on the road. If I didn’t get picked up and ran out of water, I was dead. I don’t think I could carry enough food and water for a 91-mile hike. Not to mention the Transpantaneira is crawling with predators, of the two, four, eight and zero legged variety. There is no cell service. Everyone in Cuiaba told me to scrub this plan, it was too dangerous. It looked like there would be no jaguar after all.

By chance, I met a co-worker of my host. Sandy, a Brazilian born women of Japanese descent, took it upon herself to make sure my dream came true. She burned up the phone lines, calling every tour company she could think of. It really helped to have a Portuguese speaking local person make the calls instead of some damn gringo. After several days, and cost prohibitive offers, she found a guy would take me out for one day for $350. That is a ton of money for me and there was no guarantee I’d see one. If I didn’t, that was it. Game over. I decided to take one more shot.

We left the lodge dark-and-early at 5 a.m. and made it to Porto Jofre by 7. Once on the river, I was grinning from ear-to-ear. I knew this was my best, and last, chance. The best, and safest, way is to see a jaguar is by boat. Remember, these cats grow up to 250 pounds and kill in an ambush style with one skull crushing bite to the head. You’d never see it coming. Not place to be traipsing around in the woods.

It was hotter than hades and there was no shade on the small aluminum boat. It was a clear and sunny day and the air reeked of sunscreen and bug spray. I was locked in, staring at the bank and every tree. As the hours wore on my SPF 50 and enthusiasm began to fade. Eight o’clock, nine, ten, 11, pessimism began to creep in. I wasn’t going to see one. I wasted 12 days budget for nothing. I was sweating profusely just sitting and the bugs were swarming. I was over it. Defeated, by noon, I closed my eyes all together to catch a cat nap, pun intended.

Around 1:30, I heard the crackle of the radio, the boat leapt to life at full throttle. Whatever was said (in Portuguese) caused our captain to slam on the gas. Soon we saw another small boat anchored near the bank. At first, I didn’t see anything and then, there it was. Two jaguars, a male and a female (it is mating season), lying under a tree. They seemed to be embraced, taking it easy in the shade. We sat there for hours, watching. The cats would occasionally look our way but they couldn’t care less that we were there. Eventually, we left them alone, hopefully to make some more jaguars and retuned to our lodge.

It was a long and difficult odyssey to find a jaguar but when I made eye contact with the big male (over 200 pounds) it was all worth it. I’d do it all over again any day.

In the next year or two I hope to see the other two big cats (lion and tiger) in the wild. It would be quite the trifecta, but the first is always special.

 

Unofficial Ambassador

Never will I be an ambassador, in any official capacity anyway. However, it turns out that when in certain places in the world it is not a job you are appointed to, but a job you inherit. You get the job out of necessity because there is no one else.

I’m not talking about Toronto or London or even Sydney. A fair amount of Americans travel there and the locals can form opinions on our country based on the many interactions they have. However, imagine you’ve never met an American before, or just a few. Where do you get your opinion? The news? TV and movies? No wonder many people don’t like us.

People still bring up George Bush to me on a regular basis. I didn’t vote for Bush, I think he is an imbecilic too. But because I’m American, I get grouped with him. So when traveling off the beaten path I try extra hard to leave a good impression.

In over a month in Brazil I have met a total of three Americans. The sad fact is that most Americans don’t travel and the ones that do are afraid of South America, let’s just be honest. Still, people in Rio probably meet their share of Americans, anywhere else in this huge country, forget it. A small village on a dirt road may very well have never seen an American.

Let me give you an example. I was fishing in a remote part of Brazil, in between Campo Grande and Corumba, about an hour down a dirt road from Buraco Das Piranhas. A place that isn’t on the map. A place that doesn’t have cell service.

On the river I met two Brazilian guys and they asked where I was from. I said the United States. They roared with laughter. I could pick out the words Americano, gringo and puta (bitch) in between their laugher. They bragged about their fishing ability to the guy I was with. I tried not to let it bother me and started fishing. The fish began jumping in the boat. I was averaging about 10 fish an hour. Whenever I looked over at these guys they weren’t catching much.

Soon they ran out of bait and tried to trade cigarettes for some of mine. I wanted to tell them to go fuck themselves, but I didn’t. I refused the cigarettes and gave them half my bait anyway.

By the time I had 24 fish my bucket the bugs were getting bad and it was getting hot so I called it quits. We headed back to camp and there were three maintenance workers painting a fence in the heat of the day. I gave them all my fish. They were both shocked and grateful. They hurriedly started cleaning the fish.

Maybe everyone thinks I’m still a gringo bitch or maybe they have a new view of Americans. I don’t know. But I tried to be an ambassador for my great country and it turns out the white boy can fish.

 

Quick Hits: Rio and Sao Paulo

-The traffic is interesting. I’ve seen worse drivers in other places but a few things stick out. There a lot of motorcycles and they drive in between the lanes, zipping in and out of traffic. In fact, most of the bikes have modified handlebars to make it easier to slip by. Also, red lights and stop signs are more of suggestions than rules. In Rio, I had a cab driver who just flat out ran the red lights if he didn’t see a car coming. We’re not talking about rolling a stop sign, acceleration, if anything.

-Walking in such big cities has the same vibe as the traffic. There is very little personal space. Occasionally back home you are walking towards someone and you move right and they move the same way, then you move left and they follow leading to an brief awkward dance with a stranger. That has never happened in the history of Brazil. People walk in straight lines and will not stop, if you run into someone, so be it. I had several collisions but kinda enjoyed it, a slow version of football. After you run into someone there is no “excuse me” or anything, just go on with your day.

-I’ve heard from many guys that Brazilian girls are the hottest in the world. That argument can certainly be made. The bodies here are unbelievable, in particular. However, I don’t know if I can declare it a fact. Czech Republic, Turkey, Israel, and the girls in Hawaii don’t take a backseat to anyone. I had several girls approach me in parties or bars (probably due to the gringo factor) but with no ability to speak Portuguese it didn’t go far.

-Much to my delight Brazil loves meat and they do it very well! At some restaurants a server comes to your table with a giant spit of meat (all kinds) and cuts you a piece. This continues with every type a meat you can think of and it is unlimited! I did this several times and it costs about $10. On the street corners guys are grilling kabobs of beef or chicken. I loved grabbing a stick of meat while heading to the metro. The private BBQs are just as good. Brazilians celebrate everything with a BBQ. Going away? Got promoted? Having a baby? Anything? Have a BBQ! I was lucky enough to attend one and it was tremendous. I am not a foodie, but I could eat here the rest of my life.

-Public displays of affection are another strong suit of Rio and Sao Paulo. No one has ever yelled “get a room” here! People are full on making out, and groping, anywhere and anytime.

-Some of those people making out might not be what they appears. I have never seen so many lady boys as I have here. The funny part is many of them look great! Unless you are really looking, you’d never know. I don’t care either way, do you, I just didn’t expect it.

-The funniest thing about Brazil is the flag. It has “Ordem e Progresso” (Order and Progress) scrawled across it. I haven’t been to Brazil before so I can’t speak to the progress, but I can tell you there is little to no order! When I was told what it said, I literally laughed out loud.

-I have now moved out of the city to Foz do Iguacu and the Pantal. I’ll write about it soon.

Brazil is Football

I ended up staying longer in the city of Rio de Janeiro than I originally planned for one specific reason, which was to attend a pro football (soccer) game. It was definitely was worth it.

I have had the good fortune of attending hundreds of professional sporting events, in many cities, in every sport. That list includes big events such as the Final Four, World Series, UFC title fights, WWE pay-per-views, the Summer Olympics and college football with over 100,000 in attendance. So I think that gives me some credibility when I say that per fan I have never seen people more passionate. This, for a regular season match between two teams that aren’t very good.

In Brazil, fans of opposing teams cannot sit together, or even remotely near each other. Fans of Team A sit in one end zone and fans of Team B sit in the other. They are separated by tall steel fences, cops in riot gear and attack dogs. This isn’t Ohio State v. Michigan, North Carolina v. Duke or Yankees v. Red Sox. These fans will literally kill each other if given the chance. Fans of the visiting team also cannot enter or exit the stadium at the same time. With tensions so high, riots can even break out among supporters of the same team.

There is a section for tourists and others who can watch the game without being in the middle of it. Of course, I didn’t sit there. I hate, in general, guided tours. I wanted to sit with the people and see and feel what they did. The hostel I was staying at offered a tour that included tickets in the neutral area and a ride to and from the game. We were advised to take the tour. Whatever.

I went with a girl I met at the hostel, we took the metro to Maracana Stadium. The stadium itself was a treat: home to two World Cups and it will be the site of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies next year. When it opened it held 200,000 people making it the biggest in the world, now it holds close to 80,000. Outside of sports, everyone from Pope John Paul II to Guns and Roses to Madonna to the New Kids on the Block to Prince to Paul McCartney to the Backstreet Boys have had events there.

We had to get tickets like everyone else so we stood in a long line. We kept looking at our phones as the minutes ticked till kickoff. We wondered aloud if we would make it in time. While in line, a guy pushes me out of the way and heads towards the front. Incensed, I look behind and see his three buddies doing the same thing. When they got to me I moved over and dropped my shoulder and elbow into the guy to prevent him from passing. I was pissed. I wasn’t going to stand for this. Then the guy looked at me, it was a demonic stare, I quickly backed off and let him pass. I even apologized.

After getting the tickets for 40 reals (the tour was 130) we had to go through security. It was your typical pat down, under the armpits and down to the quads. Then it got weird, the security guard patted down my groin area and continued to actually grab my balls. I was shocked but could do nothing but walk in the stadium. For the record, that is the second time I have had my privates handled by another man (Turkey being the other). How horrible of a job is that? That guy must grab 5,000 dicks a day. Or maybe that was the gringo special?

Once inside I looked for an usher or someone working at the stadium to show us where our seats were. Forget it. We asked another fan, he laughed. Although the ticket had a section, row and seat on it people just sat wherever they wanted. So we did too.

Vasco da Gama (our team) scored quickly and the small crowd erupted. The chants, songs and flag waving was nonstop. Vasco made it 2-0 early in the second half on a PK and closed out Atletico-PR for the shutout win.

Everyone went home happy, including me. Thrilled to see the world’s game played in another country in a historic venue.