Archive for the ‘TRAVELING LOGISTICS’ Category

My Head Hurts

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

I made my way from St. Barths at around noon last Saturday. In order to get a flight out of town and to Brasilia I had to take four flights: to Saint Maarten, to San Juan, to Miami, and then to Brasilia. Neither the flight to St. Maarten nor the flight to San Juan left anywhere near on time and I was very very nervous about that.

Here is a shot from the 6-seater airplane landing in St. Maarten.

However, it worked out and I arrived in Miami with time to spare, right in front of a Cuban cafeteria there. I had a delicious meal: a Cuban Sandwich, a plate of plantains and a Materva yerba mate soda. The Cuban was a little dry, but I wasn’t complaining. The plantains were delicious and the Materva tasted like some sort of ridiculous bubble gum carbonated thing (not like mate, but good anyway).

Delicious dinner last Saturday looked like this:

When I made it to the gate I found out they were offering a handsome sum to anybody who would consider changing their flight. I turned out to be the only American to take it, which was something that the Brazilians noticed very quickly. To me, it was most of the cost of a return flight, so I couldn’t say no. I got on a flight two hours later to Sao Paulo with a connecting flight to Brasilia about 6.5 hours after arriving there. I was willing to put up with that inconvenience because I didn’t have a fixed schedule Sunday to deal with. I did have to get a hold of my host because I was worried about an errant trip to the airport. He may have gone, and I don’t know.

I arrived in Sao Paulo exhausted and, to my surprise, without luggage. I didn’t find out till later that my luggage had already made it to Brasilia. So I spent about an hour and a half dealing with that and left the concourse to find out that it was about $120R each way to take a cab into Sao Paulo proper from this suburban airport – which was something that I couldn’t afford. Plus the traffic there is legendarily unpredictable and I couldn’t be sure that I could get back if I went. I just found out last night about some sort of incredible record bazaar that is offered in the middle of town. I am pretty annoyed that I missed that, but am also fairly comfortable with the choice I made: I went to get a SIM card at a suburban Sao Paulo mall, which helped smooth over my arrival greatly.

I spent another hour dealing with my luggage in Brasilia, but they found it rather quickly and I had it by 10:30 Monday. Afterward I went to an industry news organization (kind of like Bloomberg) and hung out in my host’s office digging around with emails and telling my bank at home to chill out re: purchases I made in St. Barth (gift for Jess, mailing academic stuff back to PGH), Sao Paulo (internet), and Miami (internet). All of these were unscheduled stops in my trip. Welcome, but unscheduled.

My host doesn’t have the internet, so I found several ways to get a plan. Unfortunately none had panned out until yesterday. All of the options were incredibly expensive except for getting a monthly rate.

First I tried to get a data plan for the BlackBerry I borrowed for this trip. I used the service provider Tim, which appeared at first to be very flexible. They offered me a prepaid plan for $36R (about $20) and a data plan for $.50R per day. However then they took it away from me because they don’t let BlackBerries use prepaid wireless. I found this out the hard way when I tried to communicate with Jess via email on the 2nd day of having the service. My email wouldn’t send. They explained the problem when I took it to the the Tim Store to try to deal with it. I made the lady explain the problem three times not because I didn’t understand, but by the end, because I was so annoyed at their inflexibility and wanted to be inflexible myself.

I don’t have a Brazilian social security number here and they wouldn’t let me use my passport number like I could in Venezuela. It was killing me. For the reasons above I couldn’t get a prepaid data plan with a BlackBerry and I couldn’t get a billing-style plan that would accommodate a BlackBerry because I don’t have an SSN. I can’t get my own internet plan with any company because I lack an SSN and I can’t get even a prepaid plan without one. I shopped for a wireless modem for almost an entire afternoon, and the only one that is offered prepaid also requires an SSN.

For 20 miraculous minutes Monday night I was able to get my phone to tether and serve internet to my computer. During that time I was (barely) able to send Jess an email telling her that I am alive and OK. It hasn’t worked since.

I went Tuesday to try to get a prepaid plan and my friend and I went to the wrong store (an authorized reseller). They couldn’t help me get a prepaid plan there because they weren’t a real store. By the time I went to the correct mall, the real store was closed because it is a local religious holiday. I accepted my loss and went with a friend for a caipirinha (it was huge, too) at a Lebanese restaurant. We also had some kibbe, kufta, and hummus. That helped greatly.

Basically the same thing happened Wednesday – then my phone signal died when I was in the mall and I couldn’t get a hold of my friend until it was way too late. However by then I was resigned to being patient. I found several internet kiosks including a shack near the house. The folks there were super helpful and even told me about how to navigate the bus system.

The “communicating with family, friends, and colleagues” aspect of the trip has been frustrating. However, I have had interviews and am finally getting somewhere on that front.

I changed wireless carriers yesterday. My host and my friend joined me for lunch. We went to the mall an in about an hour and a half I had the best possible phone plan and the best possible internet plan. They’re both regular monthly billing plans. My host generously vouched for me. However, unlike the US they are “sem fidelidade” which means you don’t get penalized for cancellation. I will cancel my monthly plan at the airport on the last day I’m here in Brazil. I split the cost of the wireless modem that I’m using with my host. He’ll keep it after I take off. He’ll also keep the plan, but I’m pretty sure he can cancel it if he doesn’t want it. Total cost of switching everything over ran to about about $240 Reais, which is $150. Total communications cost to date on this trip is about $175.

Meanwhile, this is what I get to see every day when I make my way past the capital buildings. The block buildings at the sides are government ministries. The building at the end is the national congress building.

Brazil is great but every step of the trip here has been truly complicated. Fortunately my Portuguese only benefitted from using very similar words and grammar in Venezuela last month. I am pretty comfortable speaking and thinking in it right now. Of course people are very patient too. They keep asking me “where did you learn to speak Portuguese?” like it’s an anomaly. It is, but with close to 190,000,000 people living here, there’s plenty of reasons to study this thing.

I’ve got a bunch of food pictures coming. I’m really stoked to show them to you. I also want to talk about some of the cool food things that I haven’t yet photographed so I will get to work on that.

Tonight there is a samba show on the big yard between the ministries. It was National Samba Day this week and the celebration in the capital is this weekend. STOKED

This Is Just Like Living in Paradise

Friday, November 26th, 2010

WEDNESDAY
I woke up Wednesday in Curacao ready for a flight to Saint Maarten and a battle with Winair, a local-to-St. Barth’s airline there to change my ticket to the day after I’d originally intended to show. It turns out that the best factor working in my favor was timing, as I’d landed so early as to get onto one of their relatively empty early planes. The planes fill up in the late afternoon as the major airlines show up full of passengers ready to head to the neighboring islands of Anguilla, Saba, St. Bartholomew, and St. Eustatius (aka Statia). It cost about $30 to change my flight and the staff was very accommodating. I was fortunate as none of the anxiety of the previous day entered into this venture.

I landed at 12:20 in St. Barths after a particularly interesting flight. The weather was windy that day and while the pilots didn’t appear to be nervous, I was a little. Here are a few views from the plane.

This is not a big plane:

Here is a view of St Barth’s:

Here is a view of the outer harbor:

The descent into St. Barth’s airport involves a trip over a hill before landing. To do this properly, a pilot has to dip the nose of the airplane and dive into the ground a little bit. Some buzzer usually comes on (more or less the YOU’RE GOING TO DIE IF YOU DON’T STOP WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING buzzer), and the whole thing is really, totally, awesome.

Here is what it looks like through the cockpit window when the pilots are pointing the nose of the plane over the hill.

Here is a shot from the plane of the hill on the one side of the runway. Runways are usually flat on the side where you land!

My mom and Aaron were waiting for me at the other side of the immigration booth. It was totally a surprise, because I didn’t pay for internet when I had the chance in the St. Maarten airport. They called Winair who told them I was on an arriving flight and when to show up. Totally awesome. We regrouped, went to the house and then to the beach. Here is a view from the villa.

It is one of the highest villas on the hill where we’re staying. You can see many of the originally volcanic hills in the foreground, Lorient beach (where the waves are breaking), some uninhabited islands, and on the horizon below the clouds, St. Maarten. We hit the beach but left after a little while. I was wiped out.

THURSDAY
Thanksgiving morning after pastries we watched a bit of the Thanksgiving Day parade. I freaked out before leaving because I saw Takeshi Murakami and his two floats. However because he doesn’t advertise, they skipped over him before Aaron could see. It was incredible.

I went to Lorient beach for a few hours. Here’s the beach. You can see the end of the beach in the foreground, an uninhabited offshore island in the middle ground and between them, just a peek of St. Maarten:

To the other side you can see different villas dotting the landscape. The weren’t many people there. The weather was perfect. I got a bit of a tan. When I was leaving, I saw local lobster fishermen paddling a set of traps on their dinghy to get to a fishing boat. It looked like it was a giant pain in the ass to get over the surf with the traps.

Afterward we picked up Thanksgiving catering from Maya’s To Go, the take-out arm of a legendary restaurant here. On the way to picking up the food, we met a friend:

I really approved of the on-deck location of this unexpected Thanksgiving rendezvous:

This was the result: Mache salad with goat cheese, toasted pistachios and beets; snow peas; mashed potatoes and gravy; stuffing with apples; roast turkey (dark meat mostly for me); fennel with mandarin oranges and kalamata olives; cranberry sauce; bread; and of course beaujolais nouveau.

Holy hell this was delicious. There are enough Americans coming to the island during Thanksgiving that catering Thanksgiving turns out to be good business.

Here is a shot of my mom and Aaron on the deck of the villa. I simply couldn’t put them into a decent space to get the sun on them. They were happy anyway.

Thursday night we took care of some of my laundry and headed into St. Jean to do a bit of shopping. Then we returned home, watching football and ate leftovers. My chevre, butter, ham, turkey, cranberry, and mustard on baguette sandwich was perfectly American. The French ingredients made it excellent.

FRIDAY
I got up a bit late, and after pastries, mailed a box of books I’d accumulated in Venezuela to the US. I thought about doing this there but I never really gave myself the time to do it. This turned out to take a couple of hours because we had to find a place on the island that had tape. Shipping was expensive, but the overweight fees associated with moving the stuff from place to place had begun to mount, so I knew it was necessary. The postal service guy was super helpful and he said “I can’t handle that Americans get the impression that we’re all unhappy, so I want you to have a good experience with this.” All I could do was thank him.

Afterward we went to the beach. Here is a shot from the car of the outer bay and shipyard of Gustavia, the big town here:

One of the beaches we visited is called Gouverneur’s Beach, and for a while the area was owned by a Rockefeller. Here is a view of the beach area and the compound there, now owned by a retired tech billionaire. Everything in the foreground is a wooded compound. In front of that is the beach:

Here is a view of the beach. It was jam-packed:

Here are goats we found on the hill by one of the beach. Sorry the photo sucks:

Afterward we had a burger. It kicked ass to have a regular burger and from a location in St. Jean that I remembered distinctly from my other visit here:

Came loaded with sauces (good mustard, A+) and with bacon. Kicked Ass.

When we returned we found a friend who was making his way around the driveway of the villa:

Seriously the biggest box turtle I’ve ever seen.

We hit Gustavia for a little while as I shopped for a Christmas gift for Jess. I found one. This place is fancy. Then at the Hideway, which advertises “corked wine, bad beer, and a great view of the car park” I had an excellent dinner of Entrecote Frites, a mojito, and a plate of profiteroles with ice cream and chocolate sauce. I was sated.

Afterward I spent the evening with the folks and eventually moved outside to internerd in paradise. Here is a dusk view of the balcony. The night one doesn’t turn out so good with the exposure on my point and shoot:

That’s St. Maarten in the far distance, but if you follow the coastline to the right you can see two big double light groupings on Anguilla.

As I have been writing this, there have been goats that live on the hill behind the house who’ve descended onto the property and begun to eat the landlord’s garden. He hates this. I love it, because it’s incredible to see wild goats. They’re scared out of their mind of us as we’ve been playing a game of cat and mouse trying to catch a glimpse of them all night. They’ve been braying to each other and every once in a while that gives us a good bead on where to look for them. I’ve been shining the computer monitor in their direction to illuminate the area and see the space. Mixed results.

Here is what the moon looked like the other night:

Tomorrow (Saturday) I leave here and head for Brasilia for a little under three weeks of interviews and snowballing. I really look forward to it, but if it’s a little obvious that I’m going to be bummed to leave here, I’ll try not to show my hosts. This has been such a truly generous and wholly welcome three days of distraction. I love it here and hope that next time fewer than four years separates my visits!

International Travel Fail, or Porque Estoy Burro

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

I missed my flight out of town and showed up a day late to the Simon Bolivar International Airport at Maiquetia. Thank goodness my cab driver didn’t have a 50 Bs. F on him to make change for my 150 Bs. F trip. I wouldn’t want him to have suffered for getting up so early.

As it turns out my flight out of town (my ticket anyway) was for Monday. There was some miscommunication between me and the travel agent, and I never confirmed that the dates were the ones I needed. I showed up at 5am at the airport today to make my flight.

I became really confused because a flight of the same number leaves Caracas at noon on Tuesday. However, I waited seven hours and paid an extra $50 to make it onto the Tuesday flight. Because the flight from Curacao to St. Maarten (a stop on the way to St Barth, where I’m going) leaves at 9am every day. So I flew here and am waiting in a Dutch paradise for my flight to another Dutch paradise.

It has taken just shy of a couple hundred dollars and an overnight stay in Curacao to fix this problem, but it’s almost corrected. Believe it or not, this is what I thought I’d have to do to get to St Barth’s before I discovered this mythical flight I should have boarded.

Here is why they call it Blue Curacao:

Here is the oil refinery:

I landed here.

I headed through immigration. They said, “don’t you have a place to stay?”

I said “no, this was an emergency. I will find one as soon as you let me through. I couldn’t call before I left.”

They said “you’re not allowed to do that here, but we’ll let you slide,” and I said, “Believe me i don’t want to sleep in the street.”

Look at all these people who have hotels. Good for them.

Anyway I ended up at a Hilton because I liked the pictures of the waterfront, and I was really worried about a non-chain not taking a reservation I made with the free airport wi-fi minutes before arriving in a taxi.

Here in Curacao I don’t think the sand beaches are natural, but i wanted to go to one, so I did, and that is why I’m staying here.

There is also a restored fort on the property:

I asked the front desk what kind of food they thought was good and cheap, and here, they asked: “do you want something that is expensive and good or do you want something of lower quality that is cheap”

There isn’t cheap and good on this island?

So I walked on the beach/ rocks past the Hilton, then past the other Hilton, found this and chilled out a bit:

Then went past the Marriott, both very fancy places!

I was kind of walking aimlessly, until I found what used to be a trailer:

It had a grate in what used to be the window. Through the grate was a kitchen (in the van) Two people were hanging out on the other side of the trailer. I walked up to them and said “whatever you are cooking, I will eat.”

The thing about that was, they were talking amongst themselves in some sort of Dutch-Spanish combo language I later found out is called Papamientu. I had no idea how I was going to get across to them that I wanted whatever came out of that former van. I tried Spanish. That didn’t work.

I tried English. We agreed on the word “food.”

I had $6 on me (I had to count to make sure I could cover this), and they only wanted $5. Then they told me they’d give me chicken saté and batatas. While I waited, I was invited to take a seat. I photographed some friends who thought I’d feed them, and the inside of the van.

I followed rules #1 and #2 to great success. All the sauces they offered made their way to the plate. In addition to the fry toppings, there was a delicious peanut sauce waiting for that well-seasoned chicken. There was also a salad of white onion and tomato covered with lemon pepper.

It was really good. I sat on a public beach under a palm frond-covered picnic table and ate my cheap and good food. Here were the boats that I saw in the Sea:

Here is a shot from the walk back:

I then hung out and watched the sunset:

Dare I complain? It would have been nice to be hanging out with my folks. Here are a few night photos of Willemstad, Curacao:


Here is the other side of the inlet. Crossing the inlet is the Queen Emma Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge that pivots across the inlet when a big boat needs to go to the refinery. The one side of the bridge has an engine with a propeller and it literally pulls the bridge (the bridge is pivoting against the other shoreline) out of the inlet and to shore.

Church:

This reminded me of Leidzeplein in Amsterdam:

The above street/park food above was better than what I had for dinner, but I did get to have a Leffe Brown, and man did it taste good. I left those plantains on the plate.

Real Beer!