Today's Stamp: 1st time in Brasil

NOTE:  This is a 'retro' story from a few years ago, and at that time, I was hesitant to take my high end photography and video gear while traveling alone. All photos here are taken with my Canon G12 point and shoot. I've since overcome that anxiety and will return to Brasil with full photo gear in tow :).  For a showcase of the work that I currently produce, feel free to view other posts in this blog (www.brownpassport.com  scroll down for previous blog posts)
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At the base of Christo De Redentor (Christ The Redeemer statue in the Tijuca forest, Rio De Janeiro)

At the base of Christo De Redentor (Christ The Redeemer statue in the Tijuca forest, Rio De Janeiro)

    After a few years of training Capoeira*, I decided to head down to it's birthplace; Brasil, or as people not from there spell it, Brazil. 

     "......When I mentioned.......my portuguese was primarily limited to capoeira terms...... he said "Oh, don't worry you gonna learn a lot... hahahaa".... and there began the journey........"  

     There are some truths to the preconceived notions of what Brasil 'is'.  Warm smiling faces, incredible landscape, beautiful language, rich culture full of diversity are among them.  I'll get back to the 'diversity' part a bit later.  

     I landed in Rio, and arranged to stay with my friend's father and little brother in a suburb of the city.  They picked me up from the airport, and with the help of both my translator app, as well as Aline's ("Aleen-ee") english speaking (little) brother, off we went.  Riding along the coast not far past (west of) Barra De Tijuca, west of the cidade (City), was the warm friendly community called tijuquinha ("chee-zshu-keen-ya"---"Little Tijuca") where I would be staying. When I mentioned to Diogo (Aline's brother) that my portuguese was primarily limited to capoeira terms and pimsleur's portuguese 2, he said "Oh, don't worry you gonna learn a lot... hahahaa".... and there began the journey.  

View from my room at the 1st place where I stayed in Tijuquinha

View from my room at the 1st place where I stayed in Tijuquinha

 ".....to my surprise in a predominantly BLACK city of Brasil...perhaps the most 'black' cities of Brasil we were the ONLY blacks sitting at a table in an extremely crowded (LARGE) restaurant.  The only other 'brown' people in the entire place were the servers......"
Pão De Açucar

Pão De Açucar

     We arrive in a village/neighborhood with tiny roads, full of people out and about.   We get to Meneses' home (Aline's father) then take my stuff up the narrow steps to the room where I would be staying.  It was a perfect warm sunny day (my favorite), but no need to open the windows since the side of the room facing the street didn't have a fully closed in wall.  It was more a room with large windows always open (no glass).  Completely protected from weather (rain), and likely one of my most comfortable rooms in the house.  

View from my window looking left along the wall of my room onto the neighborhood. 

View from my window looking left along the wall of my room onto the neighborhood. 

     The next day at a local kitchen (with tele-novellas* playing in the background), I went off alone to go find the local capoeira group to take a class. Remember, this is a small community, not Ipanema.  No one I ran into spoke any English.  If you don't know the language, then at least carry a modest translating device (instead of an expensive phone with an app), learn some simple phrases (before you get there), learn how to say them, then with the help of this modest translation device you are on your way :) This device in the photo below only cost about $40 USD.......

  Found this device on ebay.  There are several affordable options (so you don't have to flash your expensive phone while traveling).   

  Found this device on ebay.  There are several affordable options (so you don't have to flash your expensive phone while traveling).   

     Note:  I don't recommend flashing expensive devices in certain unknown areas.  do your research prior to your travels.  This way you can familiarize yourself with any known issues regarding carrying things like expensive cameras, or flashy phones etc.  Personally I do not dress 'flashy' while on the road, traveling may not be the time to sport your manolo blahniks (if you own such expensive things).  Observe how local dress, do the same so you don't stand out nor draw unnecessary attention. Research the culture prior to going, so you have a better understanding of how to act as well as dress while out and about.  

Diogo & Yours Truly  near Barra De Tijuca

Diogo & Yours Truly  near Barra De Tijuca

....."It was at that moment, even though I was sold all these stories about Brasil being such a cultural melting pot, it (Brasil) still had some progress yer to be made regarding the racial divide."
Yours Truly at Pão De Açucar (aka Sugarloaf Mountain)

Yours Truly at Pão De Açucar (aka Sugarloaf Mountain)

About that diversity

     A few days after staying in Tijucinha, I caught a local flight to Salvador Da Bahia, Home of my capoeira group, and the main port city where slaves were brought in by the portuguese from directly across the Atlantic (primarily from Angola, Africa).  It's in Salvador, where I was truly shocked by what seemed to be a noticeable racial divide.  

Pelourino, Salvador 

Pelourino, Salvador 

     Initially I stayed with my friend Lidiane (friend through the capoeira community) in an area just Northeast of the cidade centro called Itapua.  My friend Lidiane connected me with someone who could take me to Lagoa Do Abaete.  To thank him, I offered to take him to a nice restaurant.  Mind you, I had yet to go to a nice (local's) restaurant.  So, I was more than ready to try something really nice and NOT in a tourist area.  

Lidiane, Itapua, Salvador

Lidiane, Itapua, Salvador

     I found what seemed to be a really nice area with a couple of mid range restaurants, but the guy showing me around didn't seem to want to go in.  He didn't speak ANY english, so I though perhaps his reluctance to go in there had to do with his inability to pay.  I said to him "Eu Pagar pra voçe" (I pay for you), but he still seemed nervous.  We went in and sat down.....to my surprise in a predominantly BLACK city (Salvador) in the 'melting pot' of Brasil... we were the ONLY brown faces sitting at a table in an extremely crowded (LARGE) restaurant. It felt to me like I was dining in suburban Mobile Alabama! 

     It was at that moment, even though I was sold all these stories about Brasil being such a cultural melting pot, it (Brasil) still had some progress yet to be made regarding the racial divide.*

Farol Da Barra, Salvador

Farol Da Barra, Salvador

".....When we turned the corner I saw a few guys holding a ton of large guns......one of them looked to me like a bazooka..."     
Rocinha (favela), Rio De Janeiro 

Rocinha (favela), Rio De Janeiro 

     After my time in Salvador, I went back to Rio and this time, stayed in the center of town with a friend Graziele (In Santa Teresa), as well as a couple of nights in a hotel in Ipanema (tourist central).    

Rocinha (favela), Rio de Janeiro

Rocinha (favela), Rio de Janeiro

     One of my friends back in NY introduced me (through email) to a friend of his (Gabe) teaching in a favela.  So, I took the Onibus down to the entrance of Rocinha.  Remember that opening commentary when I mentioned I didn't bring my 'big' camera gear?  Well, I started to put my point and shoot (Canon G12) in a grocery bag, the Gabe said: "you don't have to worry about your camera....." (no one is going to steal it)...."but when I say for you to put your camera away, please do....there are people that do NOT wish to be photographed..."  About 3 minutes later Gabe asked me to put the camera away.  When we turned the corner I saw a few guys holding a ton of large guns......one of them looked to me like a bazooka (sorry no photos.....).

    The Wrap UP

     Learn some of the language (translations devices are KING!), attempt to have conversations with people besides those with whom you travel.  Go out some days on your own.  Engage with people who live there and exchange your culture with one another.  Yes, be a tourist & see the sights, but DON'T get caught up in the tourist only zone/s.  Spend at least a few nights in a homestay and exchange one another's culture. 

New friends Georgiana (from England) & Luigi (from Peru) met them at a Hostel in Ipanema...our trip to Corcavodo. 

New friends Georgiana (from England) & Luigi (from Peru) met them at a Hostel in Ipanema...our trip to Corcavodo. 

With Eva (from Rio....met her in Ipanema)

With Eva (from Rio....met her in Ipanema)

Alex (Baltimore), Georgiana (England) , Luigi (Peru) & Margot (Baltimore)....hangin out in Lapa (Rio De janeiro)

Alex (Baltimore), Georgiana (England) , Luigi (Peru) & Margot (Baltimore)....hangin out in Lapa (Rio De janeiro)

     

*Capoeira:  http://www.capoeira-world.com/about-capoeira/what-is-capoeira/

*Telenovella: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telenovela

*'racial divide':  I was utterly shocked at that experience in a nice restaurant (in Salvador). I can't pretend that one experience is a good judgement on an entire city, let alone a country.  Yet I really didn't expect anything like that in an area I perceived as 100% equal.  Since then I've mentioned this experience to my Brasilian friends and though it does seem to be quite a multicultural environment, they did share stories of racial tension at times.  So, even in a land so culturally diverse, we (as humans) still have a long way to go.  

As a 'brown-traveler' in Brasil, I will say I felt I had an advantage blending in.  That's not to discourage my non-brown traveling friends though....just learn as much of the language as you can, don't be 'flashy' & perhaps team up with a (new) local friend or friends then galavant OUTside the tourist zone.  

Today's Stamp: The Hike, Machu Picchu Part 2

Why don't you see 'us' on the trail?

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Your's Truly, 1st day on the Inca Trail

Your's Truly, 1st day on the Inca Trail

“.....don't 'clown' on me, but sad to say much like the stereotype, my 'brown-ass' did not grow up hiking, I did not have extensive hiking experience let alone on back country hikes”     ...expert from prior blog post "The Inca Trail, Machu Picchu Part 1"....
Exploring just outside Cusco 2 days before the big hike

Exploring just outside Cusco 2 days before the big hike

     In my prior blog post (Inca Trail, Machu Picchu Part 1),   I briefly referred the the stereotype "Black People don't hike". Obviously, many 'black' people DO hike*, but it's safe to say not in as large a number as those of European descent. 

     I wasn't kidding (ref: Machu Picchu part 1) when I said I didn't grow up hiking, but to be fair, it wasn't just my father  (Creole: Black, Cherokee & French) who didn't take us on hikes, my mother of 100% European descent, didn't take us hiking either.   For my mother, growing up (in) inner city Trenton, NJ as part of an extremely poor 'white' 2nd generation immigrant family, they barely left the block, let alone ever leaving Trenton for nature hikes.  My father grew up (in) inner city Mobile, Alabama, and to be honest, leisure activity was one of the furthest things from their minds.  For them, a lower middle class 'black' family in 1930's Alabama, survival on a daily basis was more the task at hand. 

     Now, about that stereotype. Any commentary I have on the subject would of course be speculation, based on my personal experience and the stories of those I surround myself with.  That said, I do believe there is some truth in the following three points:  #1. Money #2. safety  #3.  Conditioning.  

"That's a white people thing"
View from the homestay in Cusco, two days before the hike

View from the homestay in Cusco, two days before the hike

     Let's start with #1.  As I write this in Jan 2017, there are far more families of color doing well enough to be able to afford some hiking supplies (shoes, raingear, nice backpacks etc) than say in the days my father was coming up (1930's).  That being said, money can play an important role in a family's decision to go hiking.  If you can't afford decent shoes for the trail, some (at least) mediocre raingear, perhaps a compass or some trail supplies ('trail food'/canteens etc) you will not be hitting up the trail.  Having the (financial) means to go on a hike is not a race issue.  Though I will state of decades prior, considerably less families of color happened to have these (financial) means. If said family did not go hiking, never talked about hiking, and little to no advertising was showing families of color on hikes, it's very likely once these kids have grown up, hiking is not an activity that's on their radar (bringing us to point #3).

     You may find that if you ask a person of color (who did not grow up hiking) about hitting up the trail, you may find some of them to say "That's a white people thing". This person may not even have a clue as to why they think that. It's highly likely this person is saying that just because they aren't around any people of color who even talk about hiking let alone actually going (hiking).  

"Even though as time progresses and families of color no longer have to run from white hooded men (though some might question my statement rightfully so), the legacy of this fear lives on through generations"
Neighborhood street near my homestay

Neighborhood street near my homestay

     The other big one on my list is point #2: Safety.  Many families of color (though of course not all) had run from one thing or another facilitating the idea that life itself is dangerous day to day, so the very last thing you would do on your day off would be to potentially put yourself in more danger.  Think about it.  Let's use my father as an example.  He grew up in 1930's Alabama as a black man.  Pretty much every single day of his life was loaded with some level of fear.  From something as simple as fear of snakes (of which there were many in Mobile at that time), to something far more of imminent danger like being shot at by 'racist white folks' on his way home from working as a pinsetter at the bowling alley, or having a dog 'sicked' on him (badly bitten) while he was delivering the newspaper*. If on the daily you live in fear (as a child), once you grow up you very well may raise your family to always be in the safest environment possible.  There is NO WAY you would even chance putting yourself in any kind of 'dangerous' situation. 

     Even though as time progresses and families of color no longer have to run from white hooded men (though some might question my statement rightfully so), the legacy of this fear lives on through generations*.  Hiking on trails is considered 'safe' yet on certain trails you have bears, wild cats, snakes, slippery narrow trails near steep drop offs, all of which could be frightening to someone who considers life itself to be scary & dangerous.  

     You can have person A (of whatever color/creed) who came from a family stressed out by fear (WWII survivors, refugees, ppl from other dangerous environments) and they may not assume to be safe in many situations or most of the time.  Then you have person B (of whatever color/creed) whose family for generations did well, may not be rich, but def not poor, never wanting/needing.  This person's family for generations may have had the same (family) business for over a century, showing to the children a long history of success.  This family may have never gone through extreme danger on a daily basis.  Therefore, person B may have the outlook on life that they will always turn out on the upside, never end up truly broke or destitute, they might fall and scrape a knee but they don't worry about that fall being fatal.  Hence, person B may be more apt to try skiing, hiking, boating, and other things deemed scary or unsafe by person A.  

Day 2, Inca Trail

Day 2, Inca Trail

    Now, that we have some perspective on perhaps why it seems diversity is in low numbers out on the trails, let's get back down to Peru.  Here I am 1st time backcountry hiking.  My first time camping at the end of a long day of hiking and waking up on the trail.  We reach the highest peak on our 4 day trek (about 4 thousand meters).  I look up and see an Andean condor, look out and see snow caps on higher peaks of the Andes, turn around and see the trail continue to get more narrow and seemingly more rugged.  My guide then says to me, OK, how are you feeling, because once we pass this section there is not turning back.  There are no towns, now way to reach help if you feel you can't continue, and if someone gets hurt, there is only a helicopter that can take you off the trail (which we had no radio or phone signal to call for one even if sh$% did actually hit the fan).  I said, I'm great, let's go! 

     We descend from the 4,000 meter peak and the trail proceeded to get more windy, narrow, slippery (as it began to rain).  I was proud of my brand new merrill's, thinking I did my research and finally bought the right shoes, only to realize the model of show I bought had very slippery soles, making me feel like I was wearing ice skates on the wet terrain.  

Day 3 Inca Trail

Day 3 Inca Trail

     Beautiful doesn't even begin to describe what I saw, yet at some point even the beauty could no longer camouflage my fear.  as the trails kept getting more narrow, seeming to me not possible to have 2peoplee walk side by side 'safely', I begin to panic.  All I could 'see' beyond the beauty was my 'brown a$$' slipping and falling off the very steep cliff, or getting blown off by the wind.  I somehow couldn't assume I would be OK.  I kept thinking I was surely going to fall off.  And so began the tears.  I was so frightened I stopped at points on the trek, leaning up against the rock furthest from the edge and crying, just thinking 'this is it... I'm going to die up here'.  Now, there is now way it was 'that' scary or 'that' dangerous.  I seemed to be the only person freaking out.  At the time of that trek, I was unaware of research/studies done to prove that fear/trauma can be passed down through one's genomic makeup. Unaware that perhaps a combination of subconscious conditioning by my family and genetic inheritance could be the root of such a paranoia. Once we are aware of these things that is when we can begin to consciously break barriers and move through them past them.  

Day 3 Inca Trail

Day 3 Inca Trail

     Day 4, crossing the sun gate and descending to Machu Picchu. The Sun gate is the home stretch of this 4 day hike.  The views are spectacular, well as least that's what they tell me, since it was raining, I still felt like I was wearing ice skates, and just at the sun gate it's very steep, windy and NARROW.  So, yes, once again, I began to cry.  This time i was able to push through it a bit better than the day before as by this point it wasn't the 1st time I had seen such a windy narrow trail on the edge of a cliff 2-3 thousand meters up.  My guide helped talk me through, letting me know I was going to be OK.  

Day 4 Inca Trail

Day 4 Inca Trail

     I am happy to report, that not much later I did indeed finally make it to the end of our trail.  And also happy to report, that tears aside, I would be happy to do this hike again. 

*https://www.meetup.com/Black-People-Who-Love-Outdoors-and-Adventure/

*True Story: my father was delivering the paper to a family. there was a dog on the porch, and my father was hesitant to walk any closer.  The man on the porch said " don't worry 'boy' it's ok.  So, my father then approached the porch to deliver the paper, only to have the owner command the dog to bite/attack my father (for being black). 

*http://tinyurl.com/l2r9bm4

References: http://tinyurl.com/honlu4x , http://tinyurl.com/l2r9bm4

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Today's Stamp: The Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Peru Part 1

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Yours Truly, Machu Picchu, Peru

Yours Truly, Machu Picchu, Peru

“.....don't 'clown' on me, but sad to say much like the stereotype, my 'brown-ass' did not grow up hiking, I did not have extensive hiking experience let alone on back country hikes”     ...insert, Machu Picchu....

View from 2nd Day on the Inca Trail

View from 2nd Day on the Inca Trail

     Deep in the longest mountain range (above water) in the world lies an abandoned civilization known to us now as Machu Picchu.  There are more ways than one to get there, yet perhaps the most famous known as the Inca Trail.  

    Concern about erosion due to overuse lead the Peruvian government to limit the amount of trekkers per day.  One needs to obtain a permit prior to arrival which is checked upon entering what's known as the (official) Inca trail.  Only approximately 200 trekkers per day are allowed.  I had to book over 4 months in advance as with shorter notice everyday was already booked.  I have read (and have been told by tour operators) at times one needs to book up to 6 months in advance.

    It's required by the Peruvian government, for you to have a guide. I thought at first this might be just a way to keep people working (which to be honest is a good idea), but after having done a 4 day hike, I would not recommend going without a guide (if that were allowed). I made sure I was in tip top shape prior to going (trained capoeira 3 days a week, rode a bike on average 10 miles a day).  

     I wouldn't say everyone going needs to train as if entering a triathlon, but it is a good idea to be in some sort of decent shape. As well as having a guide, it's recommended you hire a porter per person.  I thought to myself ... " a porter? really? I'm in good shape I can do this". If you are an avid hiker, and have extensive experience with back country hikes, prepared with food and water for multiple days in remote back country with limited to no access to drinking water, accustomed to high altitudes, then perhaps you 'might' be a good candidate to not hire a porter.  

     Now, don't 'clown' on me, but sad to say much like the stereotype, my 'brown-ass' did not grow up hiking*, I did not have extensive hiking experience let alone on back country hikes, and I had a heavy backpack full of camera gear which did not include my tent, thermal sleeping bag, food & water. So, yes, I hired a porter. (*more on this in Machu Picchu PART 2)

Huinay Huayna

Huinay Huayna

     "..Along the trek it goes without saying the beauty is beyond breathtaking.  Just as 'breathtaking' for me, was the very personal dialog with my guide.."

Day 4, Inca Trail

Day 4, Inca Trail

     After having done the trail, to be honest, even if you are an experienced hiker (don't laugh), I would 100% recommend hiring a porter and not consider this to be 'booshy'.  If you plan on carrying a decent camera with a lens or two, OR if you would like to enjoy the hike, and get there in 4-5 days, all the while eating & sleeping when needed, this is the way to go.  Otherwise, it could triple your trekking time (which would be fine except for the permit you have is only for a certain amount of days paid in advance). I hired a personal guide, not a tour group guide.  1 guide for every two people, and in my 'group' there were only 4 trekkers and 2 guides.  I love this extremely personal experience which brings me to the next paragraph.

     Along the trek it goes without saying the beauty is beyond breathtaking.  Just as 'breathtaking' for me, was the very personal dialog with my guide.  As the hours and eventually a couple of days progressed, the conversations went from 'isn't that pretty', and 'did you see that Andean condor!..' to discussions regarding the treatment of Native Americans in the United States.  My guide was of Native (Peruvian) Indian descent.

    At first we were discussing my background (racially/culturally) and as I began to explain the overall mix (mom's side = German & Irish; Dad's side = African American, French & Cherokee).  He didn't seem to recognize "Cherokee" so I explained what little I know about my Cherokee heritage.  He then asked questions, “where do they (the Cherokee) live?... etc.  

    Only then did it dawn on me that he didn't know about the decimation of the Native Americans during the 'building' of what's now the United States.  Not long after he and I began discussing this, the other guide came over to join the conversation.  They began to share with me that many indigenous groups/tribes of Peru were still very much alive and active within their culture. They (the guides) were completely in shock when I went more in depth about how Native Americans were treated and the state of many Native American reservations and culture within the United States.  

    We (the guides/meself) spoke beyond sunset on the treatment of native people by non native run governments.  I felt as though this dialog ignited a torch in each of us to research (after our trek) on the subject.  This knowledge would help each of us living in a ‘democracy’ to be more prepared regarding how we vote/for whom and how to take action when there are potential threats to the lives of disenfranchised citizens. For example, in 2012 the Peruvian government approved more gas exploration in an area close to native tribal land (The Camisea Expansion*).  As of 2014, they were pushing for the expansion of this exploration which would potentially threaten the lives of native people (residing nearby)*. Sound familiar? (DAPL*).

View from my Tent (2nd campsite)

View from my Tent (2nd campsite)

    Eventually as the sunset, and the cool air came upon us, we thanked each other for the wealth of information shared, smiled then retired to our tents in preparation for the next morning's (approximately 20km) trek. 

Read more about the hike, it’s challenges and discussion regarding the lack of African American’s in ‘numbers’ on hiking trails in part 2 of Machu Picchu, Inca Trail

*The Camisea Expansionhttp://www.survivalinternational.org/about/Camisea

*DAPL: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/09/dakota-access-pipeline-protest-timeline-sioux-standing-rock-jill-stein