I got pretty sick once while I was in Bocas Del Toro, Panama. An “ill”-advised bit of teeth cleaning at the border with some tap water was most likely the culprit. I took one bite of my chicken and rice dish at a local food joint and I had to throw in the towel, as my stomach was the first organ to checkout on whatever schedule I had planned for my weakening body that day. I noticed this little boy who was standing there looking at me with a curious and innocent grin, so I invited him to join me and help me finish my plate (when I say “help me finish”, I really meant “please get this greasy pile of Caribbean grindage away from my face before the waitress is gonna have to call for a mop and some sanitizer at table #12”). Bad shape. This kid eagerly accepted my invitation and kept me great company while I battled fatigue, nausea and frustration with the fact that the only “tropical paradise” I would see for the next 24 hours was a fading logo on his soiled t-shirt. Nonetheless, I made a local friend that day and he got treated to a great meal. That’s all you need sometimes to make your day.
Posts Tagged With: paradise
This Foto Friday is for all my peoples in the Midwest and East Coast USA (and most other parts of the Northern Hemisphere) freezing their cracker jacks and hams off right now. Or like the Aussie’s say, “It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a billiard table!” That’s what I hear anyway. Here in the thick of winter in Southern California it’s been a disgusting-ly perfect 77° and I’ll be tempted to wear socks if it were to dare dip below 72°. (My inbox is open to any hate mail that may be slung in my direction right about now.) Hey, I don’t control the weather…I just happen to live in a place where it doesn’t have much shift in personality. (Though we are currently in a drought, so my “Hollywood showers” may be trimmed down to 30 minutes or less any day now.) Most importantly, please know that I’m thinking of all of you around the globe right now who may be wrapped up like a hypothermic Nicaraguan at the finish line of the Iditarod race. This is a shot from Maui’s east side taken a few months ago. I hope it acts as a mental blanket and helps get you through the day…or at least through the face-numbing walk back to your car after work 🙂 Have a great weekend all! – DJ
Ok, so I’m a few weeks late on kicking off this “Foto Friday” thing I committed to doing every Friday of 2014. I blame the Nyquil hangover (since I didn’t have any other shots on NYE). So, like my fellow gringo hip hoppers the Beastie Boys say…Let’s Kick It! This is an image from one my favorite places in the world…Laguna Bacalar, Mexico. I keep telling people, “wait ’til you see that water…wait ’til you see that water. It’ll make the Caribbean jealous!” This is a lagoon. White sand bottom. Warm like momma’s bathwater. An uber-chill spot on the globe that is still very much beyond the travel radar. And I’m just fine to keep it that way 🙂
For me, traveling to Australia was a BIG deal mates. BIG country, BIG planning, BIG airplane, BIG fella sitting next to me on the plane stealing all my elbow space, etc. I had a long list of things that I wanted to do and see on this trip. There was the obvious, of course: see the Sydney Harbor, try a Vegemite sandwich, guzzle cold Aussie beer at some pubs, avoid severe sunburn, see some kangaroos. Of all those, the latter was the most important on my list. I mean c’mon, who hasn’t watched Jack Hanna or Steve Irwin play with the ‘roos on TV and not thought that would be the coolest thing ever?? I wanted to see some ‘roos. Plain and simple. You can’t go to Australia and not see the ‘roos. It’s like going to Chicago and not eating a Polish dog…or seeing a Polish person for that matter. And I’m not talking about seeing them in the Sydney zoo man. They’ve got ‘roos at the San Diego Zoo an hour and a half drive south of me. I don’t need to fly 7500 miles to view a wallaby in a playpen. I’m talking in the wild…untamed, free-roaming, curious…the way nature was meant to be enjoyed! So I booked a side trip to a remote place off the coast of South Australia called Kangaroo Island. Not that a place’s nomenclature necessarily guarantees the existence of its particular reference (the “Island of Women” near Cancun is a perfect example. But hey, whatever draws tourists), but it sounded intriguing. I did my research, like the savvy traveler I am. This was the place to see and be seen (if you’re a kangaroo looking for a good time, that is :P). Besides the surging population of ‘roos, I heard this island was one of the most wildly beautiful places on the entire continent. Sounded like a hot ticket…book it!
After a week traveling the amazing East Coast of Australia (where I hadn’t seen one stinkin’ ‘roo the entire time, wth??), it was time to punch my ticket to the island. The ferry ride over from Cape Jervis was a beautiful and relaxing 45-minute voyage to a remote piece of land in the Indian Ocean, far enough removed from the mainland to validate its “wild” reputation. My first impression upon seeing the rugged coastline and piercing blue waters: “Yeah baby, it’s on! I’m gonna go buckwild photographing this place!”. I guess that doesn’t really say a whole lot, since I have the same reaction when I arrive to a family reunion or a local chili cook-off. But lemme tell ya, this place is special…and you can sense it before you even get off the boat. The port town of Penneshaw is very accommodating. I was treated to an upgrade 4WD SUV vehicle when I arrived at the rental agency, as my reservation had been lost in cyberspace, which worked out to be perfect since it would serve as my hotel during this 2-day excursion. It was also an ideal vehicle to have while driving along the many dirt roads that make up the island’s transit terrain.
At first sight, the island seemed like a bushman and fisherman’s dream. It’s craggy interior and over 340 miles of pristine coastline creates such a dramatic contrast that I was salivating to get my camera out and start going photo bonkers. I took the first unpaved road I saw and began to explore the unspoiled wonders of this vast adventure-seeker’s paradise. I saw landscapes here straight out of the imagination of a fine-art painter’s dream portfolio. Things just look different here. The ultra-golden hues produced by the sun created colors that were indescribable. The terrain is so diverse and raw. The trees are wicked-crazy looking. The colors of the dirt roads are a deep hue of reddish-orange. The sky and sun seem more intense. The beaches are awe-inspiring. You’ll see bizarre things like the Remarkable Rocks, huge naturally-carved boulders over-looking the sea that look like something out of a Tim Burton movie. Animals roam freely about the land and the roads wind like a maze through the thick vegetation and hilly island turf. It is “wild” as advertised, and you won’t see many people once you leave the arrival port of Penneshaw. As a matter of fact, the further you get away from the coastal towns, the more you get that feeling that you are all alone on an isolated island full of insane beauty and teeming wildlife, just teasing you to be explored at every turn. It would be wise to stock up on gas, water and Peanut M&M’s at one of the towns near the eastern end of the island (Kingscote, Penneshaw or American River), as it’s just you, the native wallabies and the birds & the bees for the majority of your drive throughout the island. (Not the birds & the bees your mom told you about in the 3rd grade. Kangaroo Island is a bird refuge and is famous for its Ligurian bees, which produce some of the finest honey in the world. But feel free to get as kinky as you want over there.)
The coastline is definitely one of Kangaroo Island’s highlights. The azure ocean crashes against the rugged, rocky shores at some points and gently glosses over stunning white sand beaches at others. As I hopped from beach to beach (pun intended), I was blown away by how different each was from one to the next. Some harbored wide stretches of soft sand and pellucid blue waters which seemed quite inviting for snorkelers and swimmers. Others were formed by intensely colored red rocks and jagged cliffs which greeted the crashing waves head on. The one common feature of all these stretches of coastline: no people. If you want a sequestered beach all to yourself, you’ve come to the right place. On the southern end of the island, you’ll find massive sand dunes that trickle down to the sea. This area, called Little Sahara, is popular for sand boarding, one of many outdoors activities that Kangaroo Island has to offer. Australian Sea Lions and New Zealand Fur Seals may be your only companions out there as you explore the untinged coast of this fascinating island paradise.
Now, about those ‘Roos. The entire time I was driving on the island, I had an eye peeled back looking for those bad boys. Where the heck were they?? I knew they were out there. I mean, I didn’t expect they’d be hanging out at the gas station bumming Funyuns or anything, but I was frustrated that I hadn’t seen one in a whole week in Oz, and especially within my first hour on an island named after the damn things! I saw a few dead ones on the side of the road, but that didn’t really satisfy my visual appetite (or actual appetite) if you know what I mean. But with scenery like that, it’s easy to forgive the island for not producing what I was obsessing over right off the bat. I had already seen an abundance of wildlife: sea lions, koalas, sheep, cows, rare birds, possums, fur seals, various reptiles, small wallabies…someone even mentioned seeing penguins somewhere. But I was after the ‘roos. My dedicated research should have reminded me that most kangaroo species are nocturnal, as well as being crepuscular (check out the vocab on this gringo ;)), meaning they are most active near dawn and dusk, often using these times for feeding. Ok…so I just had to wait until dusk I guess. No problem Jack.
I had some time to kill, so I decided to go on a little bushwalk (hike). With one-third of the island protected in conservation parks and Wilderness Protection Areas, you don’t have to go far to find a good route to stretch the legs. I came across what looked like a decent trail, packed my bag with water and electrolytes and hit the bush. Now, I’m not even kidding when I tell you this part of the story. My wildest expectations wouldn’t have prepared me for what was about to occur in the first few minutes into my hike. So I’m walking along this path, surveying the landscape to compose a photo. I decided to stray from the trail a bit in order to gain a better visual vantage point. I had to meander through what I remember to be a ramshackled and rusted barbed wire fence to get where I wanted to be. It was thick scrub here so my visibility was limited to whatever natural obstacle I had to maneuver around next. I carefully pass through some scraggy vegetation, turn a corner…and BAM! Big ‘ol kangaroo sitting right there! Less than 12 feet away! Ka-BOOM! Scared the pasty vegemite right out of me (almost literally)! The furry freak of nature grunted, leaped up and bolted out of there like a…well…like a scared kangaroo that had just been abruptly rolled up on from behind by a beef jerky scented bushwalker! It happened so quick I couldn’t even snap a decent photo, just this semi-blurry one (as my parasympathetic nervous system wouldn’t allow me to compose myself properly). We were both startled, and my jumpy little marsupial friend was long gone before I could even say G’day. Ladies and gentlemen, I had found my first ‘roo! 🙂 An extreme close-up encounter in the wild! Though brief and heart-jolting, it was awesome! My days of envying Jack Hanna would soon be a distant memory.
As sunset neared, I would get several more opportunities to see the local ‘roos that day, as they began to emerge from their mid-day shelters to explore the land and find food. They would even hang out on the side of the road near dusk, which makes for a very adventurous “video game-like” driving experience (remembering the roadkill I had seen earlier). I was able to get pretty close to a rather large one that evening. As the late Steve Irwin would say: “She was a beauty, mate!”. They are quite timid animals in the wild. It kept an eye on me with an equal amount of curiosity as I did with it, but remained calm and even let me approach within a surprisingly intimate distance. When you see a kangaroo close up, you realize how well these animals are equipped to seriously whoop some butt if they need to! With those hind leg muscles, 2-inch claws and a powerful tail as thick as an anaconda, you don’t need instincts to tell you to keep your distance, just eyes. In saying this, they seemed quite peaceful and gentle in my experience with them. They are a special creature to witness and interact with. I snapped my photos, set my camera down and hung out for a while, enjoying this amazing scene of one of Nature’s most exotic animals in its native habitat, allowing me to be an uninvited and trusted guest into its placid domain. This was an experience my mind could only wishfully imagine for prior to coming here. This was Kangaroo Island. I had come a long, long way to see it, as have many others…and another satisfied visitor was about to return home to share its wonderful story.
Here’s some more scenes from my 2 days on Kangaroo Island…
Mention Brazil to most people and their mind instantly conjures up images of bronzed beach bodies, soccer (futebol…oops), samba and Carnival. Yes, the aforementioned are definitively Brazilian…but there is so much more to this country than what the “mainstream/media” mentality suggests. First, they speak Portuguese in Brazil, not Spanish, so I’m happy to clear up that little misconception right off the bat (though I’m still considered a “gringo” in both languages). In addition to the stunning beaches and festive atmosphere that is widely promoted with the Brazilian label, there exists a bevy of cultural, historical and natural sights that every visitor would be keen to keep on their radar. Here’s a list of my Top 10 favorite places in Brazil (in no particular order, cuz they’re all awesome). I can only speak of the places I have been to, so please don’t get riled because I haven’t listed the Amazon on here (it’s on the bucketlist…I’m working on it).
When people speak of “wanting to get away from everything”, Jericoacoara is the place they are imagining. A remote village on Brazil’s northern coast, 150 miles from the closest big city and only accessible by bumpy dirt roads, Jericoacoara is a true “known little secret” on the Brazilian map of secluded and wildly beautiful places. Sand dunes and sea dominate the landscape here, with the wind constantly shaping the dunes like a sculptor under the sun. It’s topographical uniqueness, with massive sand dunes bordering the paradise-blue Atlantic Ocean for miles and miles, makes for a natural setting unlike any place you might imagine. Though Jeri has been on the radar of the independent traveler for some time now, it has retained its unspoiled village character and “getaway” vibe…with no paved roads, stoplights or high rises…nothing more than about six sandy streets filled with just enough cozy hotels & bungalows, restaurants, bars and shops to accommodate its visitors. Due to its unique geographic location, it is one of the few places in all of Brazil where you can see the sun set over the Atlantic, which has become a daily tradition, as everyone treks up to the top of Sunset Dune each evening to watch the last bit of sun fall behind the horizon. I’m from California (home of the perfect sunsets 😉 ), so typically it wouldn’t be a big deal to me…but in a place like Jericoacoara, every minute is a moment to remember. I knew I was in a different kind of place when a stray cow strolled right past my table while I was eating outside at a local pizzeria one night. Poor guy was probably on the menu the next day.
Between the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro lies perhaps the most beautiful stretch of coast in all of Brazil. Called the “Green Coast” for a reason, this lush and dramatically stunning slice of mountainous coastline travels through what remains of the original Atlantic Rainforest, passing along some of the best beaches in the country. The coastal road winds its way around verdant mountains, forest, quaint beach towns and dramatic views of the Atlantic for nearly the entire stretch…providing access to a host of tucked away beaches where one can stop and set up shop in the idyllic setting of their choice. Yup, this drive pretty much ruined it for all the beaches back home. Sorry Newport and Huntington, please don’t take it personal.
RIO DE JANEIRO
Home of the Carioca, samba, The Girl From Ipanema, Copacabana…Rio’s reputation surely proceeds itself. Brazil’s most popular city also has one of its most dramatic natural settings, and plenty of sights and sounds to keep you entertained for the duration of your time there. With world-renowned beaches like Ipanema and Copacabana, one doesn’t have to stray too far from the coast to enjoy the best of what Rio offers up to its visitors. There is a constant energy felt here…whether it’s the carefree and friendly beach vibe of the local Cariocas or the spirit of Carnival warming up for its grand appearance each February. Rio will keep you moving to its native beat, and invite you to sample more the longer you stay there. After touring the “must-see” sights like Christ The Redeemer and Sugar Loaf, I recommend ignoring your hotel receptionist’s inauspicious advice and take a tour into one of Rio’s many favelas (shanty towns) for an opportunity to experience the “other side” of the city. The day-to-day life in the favela provides a fascinating and raw contrast to the upscale, heavily-promoted tourist side of the city. In spite of the difficult living conditions you will find here, the people who live in the favela are extremely genuine and welcoming…retaining the same smile and hospitality that you will find throughout the entire country.
When I think of what makes Brazil unique to the rest of the world, one can’t deny that the African influence has shaped this culture more than anything else. Salvador is the place where it all began. As a former capital and center during the colonial slave trade era, Salvador has remained the heart and soul of Afro-Brazilian culture. The influence is profound in its music, dance, food, religious practices and physical make-up of its people. The roots of Capoeira (a Brazilian martial art form of dance which evolved from the slaves) were planted here, and many of Brazil’s most prominent artists and celebrities call Salvador their home. (This is Adriana Lima’s turf!) The city is vibrant and colorful, with beautiful colonial architecture found throughout its historic city center (Pelourinho) and plenty of beaches to escape to once the sight-seeing is done. Known as Brazil’s capital of happiness, the people of Salvador (and it’s state of Bahia) have a reputation of being relaxed, easygoing, and fun-loving…even by Brazillian standards. (When I say relaxed, I mean like 15 minutes to get a glass of water at a restaurant kind of “relaxed”. But you’ll get used to it. They always service with a smile.) 🙂 There is an infectious rhythm to the city, and you won’t go far without hearing it, feeling it or finding some sort of party that seems to be never-ending throughout the streets of Salvador. Speaking of parties, its Carnival is considered by most Brazilians to be the best and most authentic in the country…even better than that one down in Rio. One friendly eating tip: Just beware of that coconut oil that is traditionally used in many of the regional dishes here. As Tom Hanks discovered in the movie Cast Away, coconut can act as a natural laxative. 😛
This World Heritage Site is the colonial gem of Brazil (I haven’t been to Ouro Preto yet, so I’m gonna roll with this one). Olinda is filled with some of the finest 16th century buildings, churches, gardens, parks, plazas and photogenic streets of anywhere in the country. It’s setting is ideal, perched up on a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding tropical landscape. Olinda makes for a very inviting travel destination for those who wish to enjoy a combination of natural beauty and history. Time truly slows down here. Don’t go walking too fast down those cobblestone streets, as you might trip on an oversized stone or run over an old man with a cane who is simply enjoying his afternoon stroll. Olinda is also known for hosting a very colorful and lively Carnival celebration…and it’s free for everyone, unlike those in Salvador and Rio. This area of the coast has been known for having shark activity, so you might want to stick to enriching your knowledge of colonial history here rather than testing your surfing skills.
FOZ DO IGUAÇU
Recently voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, Iguazu Falls should be at the very top of your “must see” places in Brazil. An awe-inspiring sight to say the least, it is the widest waterfall in the world with the highest volume of water flowing through it. With one side in Brazil and one side in Argentina, you can appreciate the falls from different views in two different countries. Though the Argentine side offers the most intimate and close-up view, the Brazilian side gives you the full wide-angle perspective and allows you to walk out into the center of the falls and be surrounded by 360 degrees of nature’s power at it’s finest. If you’re like me and your bladder sensitivity is cued by running water, you might want to go to the bathroom before visiting the falls.
Sand, beach, sun, dunes, dune-buggies, camels, tropical scenery, wind-surfing, kite-surfing…yup, Natal is one big playground of outdoors fun! Lying 6 degrees south of the equator, the sun shines on Natal for over 3,000 hours per year. My math isn’t great…but that sounds like a heck of a lot of sunlight to compliment all those outdoors activities (spf-100 will do fine). The city itself is quite modern and interesting in its own right, but most people come here to hit the dunes and explore the coast. With that much sun, who wants to be indoors anyway?
One of the best preserved colonial towns in the country, Parati (or Paraty) is a lovely and charming place located near the southern end of the state of Rio. This historic coastal village, which thrived as a major port during the gold rush, is like a living museum, home to some of the best Portuguese colonial buildings in all of Brazil. It’s original cobbled streets, colorful architecture and attractive baroque churches can be enjoyed with a leisurely stroll through the Historic Center District, where no automobiles (except for taxis) are permitted to enter. The nearby forests, waterfalls, islands and emerald-green sea make for a beautiful setting in a very relaxed natural environment. Parati is also one of the major producers of Cachaça, the popular Brazilian spirit (similar to rum). If you haven’t tried it in Brazil’s national drink, the Caipirinha, please heed my expert and experienced advice and drink it slooooow! The morning-after effects can be quite unforgiving.
Ilhabela, situated 4 miles off the coast of the lovely state of São Paulo, is an archipelago made up of 6 islands. The largest and most visited island, São Sebastião, is typically referred to as Ilhabela. With only a few roads and over 40 beaches on the island, visitors will find it to be the perfect escape from the more heavily trafficked areas (I’m talking travelers, not drugs) between São Paulo and Rio. Translated in Portuguese as “beautiful island”, Ilhabela is a natural paradise of dense tropical jungle, volcanic peaks, uncrowded beaches and glimmering blue water. There are great hiking trails that lead to some of the remote areas of the island where road access is non-existent. Many of these trails will lead you to several of the 400+ waterfalls found on the island. If you’re driving on the island, don’t be afraid to continue on the main road once you reach its unpaved portion. It’s a bit bumpy without a 4WD, but I promise you that the best beaches and plenty of soft sand will be waiting for your tender buttocks at the end. 🙂
Florianopolis is one of those places you never want to leave. A diverse and developed island off the coast of Santa Catarina in the southern part of Brazil, “Floripa” (as the locals and “cool” tourists call it) has something for everyone. There are 42 scenic beaches that attract people from all over the world, some beaches with a “see and be seen” reputation, others more low-key and family oriented. Florianopolis is known for having a high quality of life. It is a University town, attracting many students from upper-middle class families from the mainland. The cosmopolitan downtown area of Florianopolis is quite modern, with large shopping malls, high-end restaurants and many glamorous bars and nightclubs. The seafood is awesome! I had some shrimp so succulent I almost bit my finger off.
As one of the surfing capitals of Brazil, Floripa invites sun-loving beach bods to gather on its white sand beaches throughout the summer, especially during the prime surfing season. Those who want to enjoy other outdoor activities can grab their sandboards and head over to Joaquina beach to hit the dunes or head to the inland lagoon to chill out on the water. The southern half of the island is more rustic and far less populated. Here you will find sleepy fisherman villages and a quiet countryside dotted with traditional Portuguese homes and red roof-tops in the style of the original Azorean settlers. Like I said…something for everyone, hard to pack up and leave. I had planned to go for two days, ended up staying for five. Would have stayed six months like the Australian tourists do if I could have, but that job thing always finds a way to ruin my extended travel plans. So keep your itinerary flexible. The tourist boom has already begun to shake in Foripa, but that’s no reason not to go and share in the good vibrations!
Ok, so I already listed my top 10. But I’d be doing an extreme injustice to the country if I didn’t promote one more region of Brazil, which is probably my favorite state as a whole: the state of Bahia. I mentioned Salvador, the capital, but there is SO much more to discover and enjoy in the state of Bahia that I just can’t resist to give it a “more than honorable mention” here. 🙂 Did I already note that the people in Bahia are among the friendliest you will ever meet? No? Well it’s true. Beaches…endless miles of them. 685 miles to be exact…the most of any state in Brazil. Islands – check. (Morro do São Paulo is a pretty sweet spot if you want a nice lil’ island hop from Salvador.) Bahia is home to a mélange of laid-back and inviting inland and seaside villages, amazing natural parks and miles upon miles of unspoiled coastline just salivating in its desire be explored! Need I say more?? Ok. Gorgeously pristine beaches, swaying palms, fresh coconuts, amazing seafood, smiling faces…no wonder all the people from Rio and São Paulo told me to go to Bahia! So now I’m telling you…you don’t know Brazil until you’ve been to Bahia. And now you know 😉