About time, Bucharest

I’ve been to Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires but never in my 22 years had I stepped foot in the capital of our neighbours across the river. ‘Bout time.

After a day of farewells, packing and cleaning my entire flat “to a professional standard”; after getting lost biking in the pouring rain (and smashing into the sidewalk) to return my keys to the landlords only to then realise I had locked myself out of the building with my suitcase still in front of my door; after waiting outside (still in the rain) for one of the neighbours to answer my hysterical ringing at 7am when I had 20 minutes to drag my 20++ kilogram suitcase down three flights of stairs and all the way to the bus station; after dragging said suitcase through the cracked streets of Partick (did I mention the merciless rain?) I managed to catch that God damned bus and not miss my flight.

To Bucharest. Right. So on my way back to Bulgaria this time I went straight to see my granny in Silistra, a town on the Northeast border of the country and just a 2 hour drive from Bucharest. I managed to find cheap flights directly from Glasgow and justify a quick trip to check out the place and it was so great! Look!

I also got a new camera as a gift for my graduation/birthday so I hope you enjoy close-ups of buildings as much as I do!

I didn’t get to do much but I did get a taste of the city and even joined their free walking tour accidentally on their last stop. Seemed cool. After a final ferryboat ride across the Danube I made it to my granny’s place in one piece – physically, at least and now enjoying some much needed cozy grandma vibes. ‘Bout time, indeed.

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Chewing-gum, Cluelessness and Culminations

The streets of Ouro Preto, portuguese for “Black Gold”, the historic city built on hilltop upon hilltop of winding cobblestone street, seemed far less charming now as the two of us were trying to make our way out, hiking uphill through the city center, hunched-over with everything we own in a backpack. Or three. In plastic sacks in each hand, a giant blanket under one arm and a pristine bottle of de luxe Cachaça alcohol in its own fancy little baroque case.

We were trying to get out of Ouro Preto, out of the state of Minas Gerais, and continue our trip from the familiar São Paulo. After having seen every museum, market and vegan establishment Belo Horizonte had to offer,

after having hitched a ride every-freaking-where, even to and from Inhotim, the biggest outdoor modern art museum in South America,

after meeting artists and photographers bursting with inspiration or conspiracy theories, and animals that I could only have imagined in my wildest dreams,

after spending days eating bread with lettuce and ketchup, sustaining ourselves primarily on luxurious lanscapes for free,

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after seeing drunk adolescents with guns casually hanging in their sweatpants pocket, yet still feeling comfortable enough to drop all our stuff at the bus station lockers to spend the night out on the town (because we didn’t quite like the vibes at our hostel), only to meet the 23 year-old owner of a vegan/feminist/lesbian restaurant who took us out to karaoke, opened up her shop at 3am to make us burgers for free, and let us spend the night at her 23rd floor apartment, even though she brought a girl home from the bar,

No, after all this, after getting lost more times than we went outside, after brushing our teeth at gas-station bathrooms, after the two of us had spent every waking moment together save the sacred privacy of the toilet (and even that only lasted until we got to Rio), having hardly slept, tensions high, we pushed on up Ouro Preto’s streets, rivalled in fairytale picturesqueness only by their hellacious steepness,

sweating, trying not to cry because my foot was itchy, and grumbling curses at the otherwise heart-swelling bucolic views,

with people staring at us as we struggled on up carrying twice our size and weight and at least 10 days worth of emotional baggage – when suddenly – something dropped.

We stopped dead in our tracks. Slowly, with the last remnants of energy we could summon, we turned our necks back and down at the escaped object one of us would have to sacrifice some vitality to reclaim –

chewing-gum. It was a pack of chewing-gum.

We looked at each other with the same articulate expression that communicated with mutual clarity: “No. Fucking. Way”

I get caught by flashbacks of this memory at unexpected moments every now and then, and find myself choking on toothpaste in sudden bursts of laughter while brushing my teeth.

~~~

Leaving the town was much harder than we expected, it got dark, we got desperate, someone picked us up, drove us around to their house, showed us photos of their dogs, then drove us back to the exact same place we were waiting at. God knows how long we waited before, finally, a young taxi-driver (after having tried to buy us both bus tickets before he even spoke to us) offered to drive us to the capital Belo Horizonte, about an hour-and-a-half away, for free. This was not the only time we were rescued by a kind taxi-driver on our trip, and since both our dads happen to be taxi-drivers, it felt like more than luck. It was magic.

When you travel without much money, you kind of start to rely on magic instead.

Hitching & Hiking/ 1/ Get out of here!

We had hitched a ride to and from the waterfall in São Thomé, because there was literally no other way to get there. In high spirits after being picked up within minutes and meeting some friendly people who even gave us tips and contacts for the rest of our trip, we never wanted to pay for a ride again! Ready to get out and move on to Belo Horizonte, we were thinking – why should we?

Why should we have to pay, when we could meet some great people and have an exciting experience that money can’t buy? We could spend that money on so many other things- on so much food! So we got to the point of the road that everyone who was going anywhere had to pass and we stuck out our thumbs.

 

…then that giddy feeling passed. After 40 minutes it had pretty much completely turned into frustration, exhaustion and, well, boredom. Hardly anyone even looked at us, those who did signalled with their hands that their car, their 6 person car with 2 people inside, was “too full”, or the really great ones, that were few and far between, were simply going in the opposite direction.

Finally, finally!, we were picked up by a lady and her two friends from São Paulo (which is where we originally came from) who offered to drop us off at the nearest big-ish town. We climbed in and chatted and listened to some awesome rock music with all the windows down and my hair victoriously blowing as we rode into the sunset. They dropped us off at a gas station in Tres Coracoes, where we pitched ourselves on the side of the freeway, dropped our bags, stuck out our thumbs and, hearts-racing as the dark of night steadily approached, we waited.

We waited for a about 3 minutes before someone swiftly stopped the car and opened the doors. It was a man who looked like an accountant with three sons and a collection of ships in a bottle. At least he did to me. My friend seemed convinced that he was a serial rapist with a collection of fingernail clippings or something. She was absolutely terrified and refused to entertain the guy who was telling us all about how he used to hitchhike all the time when he was travelling as a musician, and how now he just sings and plays guitar at weddings. He played us his album and some of the music from his son’s band, and he tried out my ukulele for a bit, just before he left us forever at the tank station Graal, where we had no choice but to spend the night, less than half the way to Belo Horizonte.

At Least the Sunsets are free

Known among the more esoteric Brazilians (so, I guess, most of them) as a mystical, life-changing place, São Thomé das Letras is a small town built on and practically carved out of quartz crystal. I had heard stories of people who had gone on a weekend trip to Sao Thome and never came back, leaving their past behind and taking on a new route in life, travelling and exploring and discovering Brazil and, of course, themselves. That is exactly what my friend/flatmate/travel-buddy went looking for when we set out on our way there.

The plan was that she would join me for a long-weekend trip before I went on travelling and eventually came home to Europe. The day before we were meant to leave, she sent me a text saying “What if I didn’t come back?”

A few hours later she had quit her job, posted an ad to rent out the room she had just moved into 2 months ago, and started packing her bags. Before we knew it we were on our way out of the state of Sao Paulo and into the Minas Gerais state of mind.

 

We saw quirky shops selling witch hats and crystals and alien memorabilia, there were dreamcatchers hanging from every ledge that could be hanged on, restaurants with live shows from the poster-children musicians of this town. My friend was devastated.

To her, every last drop of authenticy the town had left had been bottled up and put up for sale. And I admit, even without the life-shaking expectations she had, I felt it too. The city was crammed with restaurants and bars and markets and shops all catering to the huge amount of tourists all looking for the same otherworldly experience.

We managed to get out of the crazy consumer center and explore some of the nearby natural pools and waterfalls, which incredibly, or perhaps disappointingly predictably, also had an entry fee.

 

We were planning on spending almost a week there, but by the second day, my friend was begging me to leave. She couldn’t take it anymore. I on the other hand, with my neutral expectations and wide-eyed naivety, was loving it.

And how could I not?

Living in a Hostel/ 3/ The People

Spending a month working, eating, partying and sleeping in a place with a constantly fluctuating and consistently unpredictable population doesn’t get boring quickly. The hostel itself offered yoga twice a week, art nights featuring independent musicians and theatre groups and, last but not least, a smart TV. But without a doubt the coolest part was getting to meet some crazy interesting people.

Couldn’t include the actual people so have some actors from our art nights

Some of my favourite real-life characters include:

Wlodek, the 70 year-old journalist from Poland, who travels the world living with indegenous tribes and understanding their cultures and lifestyles. He stayed only a few days but we managed to discuss everything from feminism to how he met (and missed) his late wife. He let me have his giant guidebook to Brazil and I kind of wish I had made him sign it, but I still get his email updates with photos of whichever remote village he has just explored.

Maia, the 21 year old dancer/actress/yoga-instructor-in-training from New York City, who took me to the oldest (or the only?) Buddhist Zen temple in Rio de Janeiro. It just so happened this temple was at the bottom of one of Rio’s favelas (in 3 words: ghettos on hills). The lady in charge gave us a tour of the temple and didn’t forget to point out the bullet holes on the outside walls and how up until not long enough ago, the temple was forced to hide the gangs’ guns in the attic.

The Belgian/Polish guy who’s name I can’t remember, but I remember he had not heard of Batman (or some equally unavoidable pop-culture symbol). Appaled, I asked him “What, did you grow up in a cave?” to which he seriously, but calmly responded “Actually, I grew up in a cult.” Oops. He proceeded to tell me about his experience in a Jewish cult in Belgium which he had separated from at the age of 18 and was still catching up with contemporary culture. In exchange for my expertise, I asked him to teach me the Hebrew alphabet, as I had always been kind of suspicious it was fake because all the letters look the same and they don’t have vowels and it looks really hard ok. I still have the paper he wrote me with all the symbols and a few fun words like mazel tov, shalom and Darina (or in Hebrew writing, Drn), but the most important thing I learned was that my Mom’s family name literally means Turtle-hat in Hebrew and life will never be the same again.

 

Living in a Hostel/ 2 / The Job

We agreed on 8 hours, 4 days a week, with varied shifts.

I liked the night shift because I always feel best at night and all,mostly it was quiet, I got to watch a ton of movies and listen to music for hours. It also helped that lots of the guests would buy me drinks and tell me stories. There was the occassional late night check-in to do, but mostly it was very chilled. Although, even for me, 7am is too late to go to bed.

The morning shift started way too early and went on way too long for me, but it definitely got the most action. Setting up breakfast was always a chaotic race against the clock, or at least against the first guest to wake up, especially when you have no idea how to make coffee.

And the afternoon shift was just a pain in the ass. You lose out on most of the day, there’s not that much going on in the hostel to make up for it, because, obviously, everyone is out enjoying Rio.

Luckily, I had an awesome team of people from around the universe to share the work with. One of my closest friends at the hostel was an Argentinian chef, who worked and lived in Tijuana, Mexico, and tought me how to cut onions without crying and cutting myself. It was great. The best part of the job was definitely the people – the staff, as well as the guests.

Did I mention I lived with a professional chef?

Living in a Hostel / 1 / The Hunt

I showed up in Rio de Janeiro with my entire life packed into a backpack (and a half) and planning on getting a job working at a hostel in exchange for a place to sleep and some food, maybe. When I announced this, most people reacted with a scoff or a laugh or a “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen”, because I was naive enough to show up two days before the second biggest event of the year, namely New Years Eve.

That’s fine that’s cool, I thought, I’ll just enjoy myself until the peak season passes and then give it a shot. “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen”, because the new year starts with January and January is the month before February and February is the biggest event of the year, namely Carnaval! Well fuck, that’s fine, a couple of days after NYE I packed my stuff, paid the hostel and set off on my ambitious little quest anyway.

And on the third door I knocked, I met a magical mermaid woman called Brisa with a voice like a breeze and a kind of peaceful Zen to her that made me feel like I needed to keep my crazy under control to get this job. Either I’m much better at acting cool than I know or she was really very desperate for someone who was up for working for free, or some beautiful balance of those two, but I got the gig and I got to start the next day!

Waiting in Lines in Brazil

Life in Brazil is slow, laid-back, chilled, calm, slow everyone is REALLY slow.

And by everyone I mean people providing services. Not just that, but bureaucracy just creeps in to everything from the doctors to public festivals and even house parties. In my time in Brazil, I’ve had to wait in a lot of queues, for a lot of different, often absurd things, but I’m still getting used to it and working on my patience, so at least there’s that…

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“Please take a number.” – Waiting in line at the printers

Waiting in line at the bank was more than an hour of shivering and goosebumps, as I was foolishly dressed to accommodate myself to the 30+ degrees outside, while the air-conditioner inside the bank was set to about 19° to accommodate the tuxedo-suit people. It just wouldn’t be right to handle money in a t-shirt, now, would it?

Waiting in line at the doctors when I got Zika was the most pointless 2 hours of my life. The process is ridiculous: you wait in a queue to get a form, then another queue to fill out and hand in the form, so you can wait in a room with 60 people until a loudspeaker calls out at full volume DARINA RUMENOVA KOKOHOBA (because they read the Cyrillic part of your ID…), then you enter a room where a doctor gives you a coloured wristband, which decides which doctor you get in line for your medication…I wish I was exaggerating.

Actually, at one point the mind-numbing monotony was interrupted for a moment by two police men and a boy in handcuffs. Probably less than 20 years old, he had a few scrapes and scratches that looked like he had just been in a fight, so I assumed that was why he was being taken to the emergency room by the police. A policeman walked him to the water-cooler, which was at the front of the waiting room, in front of an audience of five rows packed full of patients waiting in silence – watching in silence- as the policeman filled a cup of water and began pouring it into the boy’s mouth, the boy with his hands cuffed behind his back, bruised, barefoot, shirtless, in dirty shorts, and, obviously, black. No one was chatting anymore.

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“Life is what happens when you’re busy waiting in line” – Not John Lennon

In a sunnier part of Brazil, waiting in line to catch the metro in Rio during Carnaval was squishy and sweaty and endless, but everyone was in such a great mood that it was actually kind of fun. People were drinking beer, throwing around confetti and glitter, singing, dancing, hopping in one place. And when someone starts singing Baile de Favela, everyone loses it and it’s like the queue for the metro is the queue to a giant festival, which now that I think about it, in a way it is, since the parties are all in the streets.

 The most notorious song in Brazil, in one of the coolest places in Rio

As someone who is used to doing everything in the last possible moment and still making it on time – No. That does not work here. I might think I don’t need to wait for anything, or that I don’t depend on anyone or that 15 minutes are more than enough to buy a banana before I catch the bus – They are not.

But it did make me realize that I am constantly rushing, constantly late and constantly stressing about both of these. I’m trying to chill out more.

Still getting over it

This is a list of things people in Brazil take for granted.

The Food

I have never even imagined so many different extraterrestrial fruits were edible, but there’s a board on campus with a list of about 30 different fruits from guava to acerola to açaí that you can get juiced for less than a Euro. I don’t know how I ever survived without this.

The Trees

Trees in Brazil make me question reality. Also mango trees just grow on the sidewalk, what the hell.

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Average tree in a random little park in Rio. Most unconvincing dream ever

People are nice ???

The people are so nice, wow. I tried to be upset a few times but it’s impossible, people are so helpful and kind and warm it just doesn’t work.

Birds!

I hadn’t really thought about it, but I guess deep down I was never convinced that Hummingbirds are real? Because it’s been two months and every time I see one up close I actually gasp out loud and can’t keep making eye-contact or words. Also there’s parrots in the trees, just hanging out like they’re pigeons I’m pretty sure none of this is real.

The Sky

The sky is totally different!!

When I first realized the sky is ridiculously clear and vivid at night, I was so excited to use my minimal knowledge of constellations, but I looked up… and I recognized nothing. Where the hell was the North Star? That was my whole starting point! Where was the Big Dipper? What’s going on? After heplessly staring at the sky in confusion for a few minutes, I finally found the Big Dipper…upside down. That was when I realized there was no North Star in the South Sky and the Big Dipper is upside down and that’s why the Moon waxes and wanes in reverse and I am a tiny fleck of person sitting on a slightly bigger fleck of Earth, hurtling through the universe and life is a magical mystery. Of course, it all made perfect sense, but before I came to the southern hemisphere, I had never really thought about what people see when they look up at the sky at night.

Before I came to Brazil I had never even seen the Milky Way, now I stare at it every night before I go to bed.

Still getting used to it

This is a list of things I used to take for granted before coming to Brazil

Oxygen

I can feel my life-expectancy dropping every time I end up at the local bus terminal. Vehicles on this continent are inevitably followed by a toxic black cloud of lung cancer and there is nowhere to hide. On the bright side, at this point I have developed excellent breathing technique and finally stand a chance at achieving my childhood dream of being able to hold my breath underwater for a really long time .

Food

Before I came to Brazil I hadn’t heard a word about their food except that they eat a lot of meat (so unique). Brazilians aren’t really big on the spices or herbs or flavouring, but they are VERY BIG on sugar. I always thought I had an issue with eating too much sugar, mostly because everyone in my life seemed to think so, but Christ almighty, please let me return to the Land of Quality Dental Care with most of my teeth intact…

(also vegan food in shops and restaurants. but that’s not just in Brazil)

Recycling and wasting

Or lack thereof. Today, I was buying an avocado and the guy at the supermarket put the single avocado in a plastic bag so he could weigh and slap a sticker on it, and then put it in a bigger plastic bag…so I could put it in my backpack? Insane. Only thing that baffles me more is how they use airconditioners. It was 25° and raining, really not that insufferably hot, and the airconditioner was still on…set to 26°. It’s ridiculous and it drives me crazy.

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Heatwave 1 – Dog 0

Dogs

Going to someone’s house and finding out they have a dog I didn’t know about is always the best part of life, but here, more often than not, it’s also really sad…I don’t know why so many people are so bad at taking care of their dogs, but people will leave their dogs behind for weeks and weeks, never walk them, never play with them, God it makes me sad.

Talking to guys

Oh man, where do I begin? Actually, this one is so bad it probably deserves it’s own post…

Yeah, enough about the downsides for now. At the end of the day though, there’s a lot more stuff that Brazilians take for granted that I still can’t get over.

Definitely worth not breathing for a few months