Cities are Psychedelics

People in this metropolis move on a schedule, they listen to a melting clock that keeps on ticking, and they ride a subway that’s so brand new it hasn’t even developed it’s own unique stench. It just smells like freshly printed plastic. I’ve been sucked into the  toxic bloodstream of South America’s largest city. I wake up, put one foot out the door, and am swept away in a river of new cars, old people, middle aged office buildings, and aging infrastructure.


I have overcome the language barrier by becoming a very good actor. Basically everyone I have spoken to in the last month is convinced that I understood them very well; in fact so am I and that’s really all that matters. I should get an Oscar for my performance in “Paying for Dinner” and “Asking for Directions to the Night Club:Part 4″.It’s really amazing how much you can say by not saying anything at all. A smile convinces someone that you agree with even the most ridiculous notion, a head nod here and there will encourage someone to go on, even a grunt does wonders for making your partner go into detail about some experience years ago under a moon you will never see.

Even though I don’t understand a damn word these Paulistas* speak, I play my part perfectly. Laughing when a joke is implied, and frowning when a question is asked. Every now and then I pretend to think really hard about the answer. I’ll mutter things like “tuna sandwich” and “gasoline monkey” until they figure it out themselves, then everyone laughs, smokes a cigarette and has a fantastic evening dancing to whatever is playing. A Brazilian likes someone who will listen, and trust me, I can listen. I’ve made a lot of buddies down here, all with only a handful of words, and some choice herbs.

IMG_9738In between beers and bars where classic rock lives on, I have started teaching English in downtown São Paulo, right off of  Paulista Avenue, the Broadway of Brazil. I’ve got experience teaching people how to speak English from my last job, although, this time, I’m not helping a drunk guy pronounce his girlfriends name properly after closing the bill with  her card. I’m helping a Brazilian say the day of the week, and I like things much more this way.

The days that I work are irregular, I cover the teachers that are sick, or on vacation for the weekend. I have heard great things from my students. They seem to like our videos of protests and my lame jokes about American politicians who get caught in scandals. I’m doing my best to make sure when they travel to the USA, they can make fun of the right people, and hey, who doesn’t love a foreigner who can laugh with you about corruption? The next generation of Brazilian students are going to speak great English, refer to everyone and their grandmother as dude, and will  know why the air smells so funny when the clock strikes 20 minutes past 4 in California.


São Paulo is a city where you can find anything you want, for half the price; unless your lazy and you went somewhere expensive.  Break that comfort zone, or break the bank; whichever your more comfortable with.  Go to places with lots of ethnic diversity, venture down those dirty alleys that are leading you downhill where the shadows are drinking and laughing at you.  If you want to really experience this city, you’ve got to chase everyones demons, and try everyones vices. Who knows, maybe you’ll pick up a few new ones.

Liberdade, Republica, Centro; these are all neighborhoods where Asians, Italians, Jewish,  and Lebanese people have settled and mixed so beautifully with Brazilian culture. Have you ever seen a Japanese person whip up some fantastic Ramen, and then cuss profusely in Portuguese because he’s so damn busy? I have, and now I want to live in Japan, make Ramen and cuss in Portuguese. Traveling makes you want to do weird things like that. Every time I go to a new neighborhood in this city, I want to trip somewhere else in the world.

There are many kinds of trips we take in life. The trip to the store, the trip that leaves a mark on your face, the trip with your friends to south america, the trip to cabo with the girls, and, if you’re lucky, the trip from a potent portion of something someone made in a lab (you hope it was a lab at least).


I didn’t realize this until I lived in São Paulo for a month, but there is a new kind of trip that we’re all on. If you’re living in a big city, you’re hooked on a drug, and you’re tripping as we speak. If you’re laying in bed and you can hear rubber tires squeaking on asphalt,  if you see grime clogging up the gears of trains on their way to work, if you have an appointment at 5 and you leave by 3:30 because of traffic, if you see graffiti on nearly every empty surface, if homeless people sleeping in front of banks is a normal fixture of your neighborhood, if concrete is comfortable; you, my fortuitous friend are on a sneaky little psychedelic named after whatever metropolis you are currently dosing yourself with.

That’s what your rent is. It’s a bill for that trip you take when you put one foot out your door, and your swept around from 9 to 5, then shuttled back home in a little machine with wheels. Welcome to the modern day my friends, where drugs are legal, and cities are psychedelics.


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The Road to Zion

Camping on Ilha Grande, Brazil

Ilha Grande is a tropical island near Rio de Janeiro.


Upon arriving in by ferry in Vila Abrão – the largest settlement on the island packed with cool hostels and backpackers – we decided to hike 2.5 hours to Lopes Mendes.  It has been voted one of the best beaches in the world and it certainly did not disappoint, even though the hike was brutal with our packs.  


Our plan was to camp on Lopes Mendes, but a life guard warned us that it was illegal and not safe because of the corrupt guards. The southern part of the island is patrolled by the military because it is national park territory.

IMG_9715We took the lifeguards advice, walked to the closest beach, which was just outside the national park, waited for all the boats to leave and the sun to set before setting up camp.  The setting was simply spectacular.


There were no lights, so we could see the milky way by 7.30 pm.  We ate our remaining bananas, oranges and cookies while kicking it on a beach.  The sound of the ocean was quickly drowned out by the jungle.  A night of natural solitude was exactly what we needed after a month in Rio.  Walker was the only one with a sleeping bag and a mat, so the rest of us barely slept because of the cold, damp conditions.


We were ‘woken up’ at dawn by a troop of howler monkeys, hiked back to Lopes Mendes and passed out on the beach for hours.  We had amazing time, but the next day we were filthy and starving so we took a boat back and spend the following night in hostel.


Filmed and edited by: Nick Neumann
Music: Damian Marley – Road to Zion (EFIX & XKAEM Cover)
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World Cup Protest Turns Violent (Video)

Instead of watching the Argentina-Germany final, we were trapped in a square by 1000’s of military police. They began firing tear gas, stun grenades, and pepper spray, injuring dozens of people in the process.
Here is a short recap.

Followed by an extended version with all of the craziest footage.


Rio’s Top 5 Neighborhoods

There is not other way of putting it, Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s best cities. It’s equal parts first world and third world, part European, part Latin, and part African. It flows to the beat of Samba and Funky, and enjoys hands down the greatest setting of any city in the world. It is far from perfect, the crime rate is high, the poor are mistreated by the military and police, and the economic disparities are some of the most extreme on the planet, but it is those exact tensions and contrasts that make Rio endlessly fascinating.  At the end of the day, Cariocas (a resident of Rio) seem to put these differences aside in favor of white sand beaches, the warm Atlantic water and the vibrant nightlife.

#5 Urca

The upper middle class neighborhood of Urca is an unexpected delight. It has beautiful treelined streets with local neighborhood restaurants and bars (make sure to check out Bar Urca where you can sit on the sea wall overlooking of Rio and the Christ the Redeemer statue). But what makes this neighborhood great is its setting. It is situated on the end of a narrow peninsula between the iconic Pão de Açúcar/Sugarloaf mountain and the bay.

Things to see:
  • Pista Cláudio Coutinho
  • Praia Vermelha
  • Pão de Açúcar/Sugarloaf mountain
Praia Vermelha and Pão de Açúcar, Urca.

#4 Copacabana

This is the most typical of neighborhoods on this list, but it must be mentioned. This is what Rio de Janeiro is famous for; if you’ve seen this city in a movie or on a postcard, it was probably from Copacabana. Here lies one of the greatest stretches of urban beach anywhere in the world. One minute you are underground, packed like a sardine at rush hour on a crowded subway car, and the next minute you are riding waves in clear, warm water with white sands, palm trees and blue skies. An added bonus is that the people are beautiful, the juices are plentiful and otherworldly and the setting is spectacular. This is why people come to Rio, and I can understand why.

Copacabana Beach.

#3 Centro

For a city of 12.5 million, the downtown of Rio may seem disappointing at first (the skyline could be compared to a mid sized American city such as Cincinnati or Denver), but what it lacks in soulless skyscrapers, it makes up for with history and old world charm. This is the historical heart of Rio de Janeiro, and some might argue all of Brazil, but this isn’t like the tacky tourist joints of the North End in Boston, or Midtown Manhattan where teeshirt shops outnumber locals, these streets are rough, with homeless men smoking crack, people shuffling through garbage and the walls are covered in graffiti. But pause for a second and you will find over 400 years of Portuguese and Brazilian history all around you.

Things to see:
    • Mosteiro de São Bento
    • Centro Cultural Banco Do Brasil
    • Travessa do Comércio
Igreja de São Francisco de Paula, Centro.

#2 Lapa

If there is a crazier party strip in Latin America I’d like to see it. Lapa is where Cariocas of all walks of life come to party and be merry. The sounds of Samba flood into the street, strangers meet and begin dancing, people sip caipirinhas while chewing on grilled meat from migrants from Brazil’s Northeast, transsexuals sell themselves on street corners in skimpy dresses, and in the shadows crack dealers sell their goods. It’s a crazy mix that must be experienced, preferably with a sweet caipirinha in your hand.

Street Vendor, Lapa.

#1 Santa Teresa

This bohemian hood of narrow, 100 year old cobble stone streets is Rio’s crowned jewel. This is a neighborhood of poets, writers, artists, and those who inhabit crumbling, turn of the century mansions. This neighborhood would certainly take the cake as one of the worlds great neighborhoods. Make sure to check out Largo do Guimarães and Largo das Neves, two old squares with bohemian bars (Bar do Gomez) and restaurants (Bar do Mineiro). Our personal favorite is Largo das Letras, a wonderful place where music dances through a library like setting and caipirinhas flow freely.

Bar do Gomez, Santa Teresa.

Stay tuned for our neighborhood review of Sao Paulo.


The Dark Side of the World Cup

After many crowded days of watching World Cup games at the FIFA Fan Fest on Copacabana, I wanted to see what other Brazilians thought of the World Cup being hosted in their country. Back in June of 2013, Brazil came to a standstill as the largest protests in decades swept the country, with citizens expressing anger at the increasing cost of living and the governments decision to spend billions on FIFA stadiums while ignoring the basic needs of lower and middle class citizens. While these protests are largely over, there still exists a small minority who continue to express themselves, yet while the number of protesters are getting smaller, the response from the military police is becoming increasingly more violent. While I have only been here for 3 weeks, it seems that most Brazilians are quite content with the fact that the World Cup is here, in fact they seem so swept up with their daily lives that the World Cup is just an afterthought. That being said, the frustration of these protesters speaks volumes about the massive internal problems Brazil faces as a country. The violent military and police crackdown I saw on this night is no way of dealing with these problems, it is only sweeping it under the rug for another day. 




Paradox Lost

We hiked Dois Irmãos yesterday.  It is one thing to dream of heaven. It is another to walk above the clouds and live in it. It is an experience that will awaken an incredible sensation in your soul.  When you stand at the edge of a precipice that seems to hover above the earth. When you are suspended in flight, and below you the world is glowing with the artificial orange light cast by tall steel street lights numbering in the thousands. Dogs bark to one another across the favela. They share secrets, and  you are secretly listen in on every little story that is told. The sheer number of sounds shrinks your being into a small blue dot on a large black sheet.

Rocinha, the largest slum in South America.

Two hundred thousand souls survive in the streets below me. Two hundred thousand mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, aunts, and uncles. The list goes on with every generation, and this was a neighborhood as old as Rio itself.

I sat upon the edge of the world and was swallowed into it’s gaping maw. My mind was a pebble rolling down the mountain; there was nothing I could do to stop the momentum of my curiosity about the world below me. What lives in such a place? What culture grows in a crammed community, that never slept, and never ceased to make noise, for no reason other than for the sake of sound.

Lagoa and Ipanema.

When we passed the summit, the glorious, and legendary beach of Ipanema stretched before us The majestic lake of Lagoa was basking in her glory, spoiled with attention from hotel towers who surrounded her form; peddling a view of her for a ridiculous sum to the only the wealthiest patrons of society. The silence was deafening.

There is beauty in Ipanema, but there is no music. Money does not  sing in Ipanema, not like the people who dance in Rocinha do. There is Samba creeping  through the trees from the largest favela in Latin America into your body. The sounds reach in and grab you from your place on the mountain and thrust you into a whole new world. They shatter your perspective on life by showing you something you never thought existed.

Contemplating Leblon.

Lost in our moment of grand exposure to a new world, we forgot to keep track of time. The sun had set, and the sky was pitch black, and the air was thick. With no moon in sight, we began hiking through the trees; enveloped by jungle, and a thick shroud of darkness. We had lost sight of the trail, but had found our place in a paradox lost.


World Cup Update: Day 16

Its hard to believe that my time in Rio has reached the half way point.  I’ve been so preoccupied with the World Cup that I have yet to visit any of the classic tourist sites in Rio, which I’m totally okay with. Instead we’ve been catching the bus to Copacabana.  Our first stop is usually a cafe two blocks from the beach.


A delicious fresh fruit smoothie, coffee with milk, and tasty ham and cheese pastry is my go to breakfast.  The açaí and chocolate chip smoothie is my favorite, but you really can’t go wrong with any juice you choose.

Only in Brazil do the have protein powder prominently displayed at the local cafe.

Next we join throngs of fans from around the world headed to the beach to watch the games and soak up the warm winter sun.  The Argentinians are the most obnoxious and the Chileans are the loudest. Chanting chi chi chi le le le, viva Chile!, non stop.  Everyone, including myself has been really impressed by the number of USA fans in Rio.  Aside from the aforementioned teams, we have been the  loudest and biggest fan base, which makes watching USA games really exciting.  One of the coolest and most unique aspects of the World Cup is that it brings together people from all over the world.  Where else can you meet a bunch of Bosnians, Algerians, Colombians,  and Nigerians in a matter of minutes?

Copacabana Beach.

There is a giant walled Fifa Fan Fest at the start of Copacabana beach sporting  a giant screen, between game concerts and host of dumb activities to waste your money  on.  Fifa doesn’t allow soccer balls inside and the beer is way more expensive.  So the best option is to avoid going inside and walk around to the beach side.  There is nothing better than buying a Caipirinha from a makeshift rasta bar on the beach, and taking a dip in the warm Atlantic, all while watching soccer.

Fifa Fan Fest
Fifa Fan Fest in the distance.

Quick Travel Tip: We found our awesome place on AirBnb and could not be happier.  Many other people we talked to did the same and also highly recommend it.  If you are coming to Brazil definitely check AirBnb for your accommodation.

I’m not sure what the reporting has been like back in the States, but there have been very few protests here in Rio.  The majority of Brazilians appear to be really enjoying the cup so far.  Everyone is rocking Brazil jerseys, lots of Brazilians from all over the state of Rio show up at the Fan Fest cheering on other teams and party, restaurants are packed with people watching the games and there are Brazil flags everywhere.  However, there are plans to stage a protest at Maracana this Sunday to prepare for the big one on the day of the final, which takes place at Maracana.

That being said, the World Cup has done little to quell the brutality of the police.  It has simply directed attention elsewhere. The other day a little boy was shot in a favela near us.  He didn’t die, but Patrick fears that he will disappear tonight.   The same cops that shot him are working again and he thinks that they will attempt to get rid of the evidence.  While the pacification of Rio’s favelas has made a few safer, ultimately it has just pushed the violence to the once quiet and peaceful suburbs of Rio as the drug dealers flee the city.

Rio is so crazy because there are people living in Barra de Tijuca, suburban sprawl on Rio’s west side that is nicer than Miami, completely oblivious to brutality and unaccountability of the police on the north side.  Its as if you are traveling internationally between to vastly different countries when you take a bus from Barra to Maracana.  Never before have I experienced such stark contrasts,  astonishing inequality and immeasurable beauty.