The log of one man's quest for wind and sunshine


So you want to learn Portuguese?

I’m on my second trip to Brazil in just over a year, and I frequently get compliments on my Portuguese from Brazilians.  My fellow foreign travelers just throw up their hands in disbelief that I have yet to take a class.  Portuguese is not an easy language to learn, but with some applied effort and immersion it is possible to get quite fluent quickly.  With a little autodidact spirit, and the help of the internet you’ll be jiving with some cariocas before you know it — here’s how I did it more or less in chronological order:

  1. Determination.  Before I arrived in Brazil in the Spring of 2010, I decided I would learn Portuguese.  This changed my mindset for the trip, and I started to look for Portuguese language before I left.  Just make up your mind that you will learn.
  2. Music.  I love Brazilian music (who doesn’t?), and I downloaded a few albums to start bobbing my head to while still in the States commuting to my job and back.  I later found this website: has excellent translation, and usually a linked video though it may not play in all countries depending the DRM.
  3. iPhone/iPod Touch.  Any touch screen device with iOS or Android will do, but this is one of the primary tools I use dozens of times a day.  Further below is a list of podcasts and apps I use/used below.  This is a HUGE resource you must use.  If you don’t have a fancy device, at least download some of the (free) podcasts.
  4. Translation websites.  Of course Google translate is quite useful, but be careful, the translations usually are only an approximation, and verb conjugations are frequently entirely wrong.  I recently found a website I quite like that has a database of actually translated documents (by humans):  This is a useful resource when you are writing business documents, and need to translate jargon.  The fact that you see the translation in context beats Google translate by a mile.  A useful verb conjugation website is
  5. Movies and television.   This one is kind of a no-brainer, but watching Brazilian movies with English (at first) and Portuguese (later) subtitles greatly speeds up learning.  I loved  A Mulher Invisível, and Tropa de Elite (1 and 2) has much acclaim over here as well.
  6. Brazilians!  Last ingredient in the mix is of course the wonderful people of Brazil.  You’ll never meet a more affable and inclusive crowd who will go out of their way to be helpful and hospitable.  Don’t just hang out with your gringo friends!  I see this frequently in hostels and think it’s really too bad.  Meeting a Brazilian girlfriend/boyfriend can be a tremendous help as well, as long as they don’t speak too much English of course.

So let’s chat some more about the iOS apps and podcasts out there.  The Podcasts work on any mp3 player.  I’m not sure if the apps are available on Android as well.

  1. Podcast “Ta Falado”.  This podcast is published by a professor of Portuguese at the University of Texas, Austin, and I think is extremely well done.  It is titled as a Portuguese lessons for Spanish speakers, but even if you don’t have much Spanish this podcast will help you (and maybe you’ll learn some Spanish at the same time). it’s the only podcast I can recommend strongly.  There are others out there, but they are usually to short, and spend half the podcast with some introduction you don’t care about promoting their website.
  2. App “Portuguese-English Dictionary by Ultralingua”.  I actually wish I could recommend a different dictionary app like those by French publisher LaRousse which are excellent, but Ultralingua is in fact the best one out there, and they know it allowing them to charge $20 for this app (Larousse does not currently publish a pt-en dictionary though they have a pt-fr one).  Of course you probably wouldn’t hesitate twice in the bookstore to spend that kind of money, so get it if you’re serious about learning Portuguese.  The fact that you will always have your phone on you, means you also have a dictionary and full verb conjugations in your pocket at all times.  This is a very powerful tool and a must-have!
  3. App “Byki Brazilian Portuguese”.  This is a great app to get you going even back in the homeland with all kinds of survival phrases and words with pronunciation and flashcard test.  This app really shows how language learning has changed through touch devices.  It’s like a mini rosetta stone for much less money.
  4. App “Amazon Kindle”.   I haven’t switched to iBooks, and they may offer this feature  as well:  Whenever you’re reading a book in the kindle app, if you hold down on the word, the app flashes a quick dictionary definition without editing the book.  Here’s the kicker…it also does this with books in Portuguese!  This is huge.  Once you are at a level when you want to try to read a book in portuguese being able to look up words greatly reduces the pain of learning.

Hope that helps — comment with any questions and boa sorte!

É Carnaval!

Rio de Janeiro — a Cidade Maravilhosa — a city without comparison, and with a draw so strong that anyone who leaves is full of saudades and wants to return.  I returned here one more time, just to double check if I really liked this place that much, and the answer is a resounding yes.  It’s also almost February and that means one thing for Rio: Carnival!   This year, the official carnival starts on the 17th of February and lasts until Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras) on the 21st.   If you’re going, you should plan on getting there a week early or so to enjoy the bloco practices, where each neighborhood has its own carnival parade with its own song and practices on a regular basis to make sure to put on a good show during the four days of the actual carnival (starting February 17 this year).

In preparation for carnival, I have been reading a book  recommended to me by a Brazilian friend.  It’s called Carnival no Fogo or Carnival under Fire in English by Ruy Castro.  Castro’s writing is witty and funny and gives the reader a history of Rio from the years of the first discovery by the western world until today, as well as the historical and cultural background of the famous carnival.  I highly recommend it  for any Riophiles or anyone planning on going there.

Jeri, Jericoacoara

Jericoacoara is not the most practical place to live by western standards.  There’s no ATM in town.  Gasoline comes out of a two-liter Coke bottle.  Any distance covered on foot is an automatic workout as you have to tread through ankle-deep soft-sand.  But you can get everything you need — the sun is plentiful, cold agua de coco is on hand just about any where you need it,  açaí is available most times of day, and you can shake a leg pretty much every night of the week.  I could keep going on, but I think you’ll get the picture…

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O que faz meu coração bater

Or: What makes my heart beat…

Jerí is not known as a kite spot per se — the wind is off-shore and the local windsurfers don’t like the kiters there.   But starting around July every year the wind blows so hard it turns the beach into a sand blaster and makes the palm trees bend toward the ground.  It’s hard to resist.

Most days, I kited at a beach called Praia Malhada.  It has a little bit of a funky launch with a rotor coming off a hill, and sharp rocks camouflaged as sand that claimed both considerable skin from my right big toe and rip-stop nylon from both my kites, but other than that, it’s a fantastic spot to kite.

My typical daily routine would be to hit the beach around three pm and kite for about three hours until sunset.  Then I would wonder on down the beach and grab an açaí on the Rua Principal, or a beer at Club Ventos.  The town is small enough to know everybody after a few weeks, so you always have a friend to talk to (and practice Portuguese!).

On many occasions I went for downwinders with my buddies Marko and Zé (and Rob earlier in the trip) either from Preá back to Jeri, or from Jeri to a river about 12km down.  Pedra Furada as seen from the ocean at sunset is quite spectacular.

Many thanks to Erik Almklov for this footage:

Not your grandma’s capoeira

I’m sure you’ve heard of capoeira — it’s the dancy, singy ‘martial’ art of Brazil.  Originally developed by the African slaves as a masked form of combat training, as they were not allowed to practice an actual martial art by their masters.  I had watched it on numerous occasions in the US always admiring the choregraphy and athleticism of the players, but it never ‘really’ appeared a martial art.  I never saw contact or any sparring for that matter — just some people dancing around each other.

Enter Tribo Jeri, the local capoeira group here in Jeri.  In the last two weeks I have seen: one stone-cold knockout, one full contact fight resulting in a swollen face, and a foot with two broken bones.  Not your grandma’s capoeira.

Every evening at sunset, a roda de capoeira (capoeira circle) forms on the beach, and as the light fades the level of play picks up, and the kids make way for the more expert fighters to show their stuff performing amazing moves, jumps, and frequently drawing contact.  The spectacle is exhilarating and makes you high with adrenaline even if you are not fighting.  I don’t have very many photos of the good fights because flash photography is a no-no when it’s dark, as a split-second of blindness can result in a knock-out.

This past weekend there was a two-day event called Batizado where new player receive their cords (like a belt in Karate) and others change cords (troca das cordas).  My buddy Chibiu was one of the players getting an upgrade, and as part of the tradition, they have to fight the more expert players in the group, who heckle them and try to take the person getting his or her chord changed down a notch.  Wesley, who became mestre, broke his foot when mestre Avila, one of the founders of Tribo Jeri, baptized him with the ground….


This post is a slight flashback in time to May 15th when I went to Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro with some folks from the hostel to watch Flamengo take on Universidad de Chile.  Maracanã is one of the most famous Brazilian soccer stadiums with room for about 82,000 (officially).  I was surprised to find out that this is the largest soccer stadium in South America at this capacity, as, for example, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at the University of Florida(aka The Swamp) holds close to 90,000 spectators.

The game was great with lots of chanting and cursing when things weren’t going well for Flamengo.  Unfortunately Flamengo lost 3-2, but we had a good time all the same.

Here’s a video I put together (with iMovie — I broke Final Cut somehow…).  The chant you hear is:

Dá-lhe, dá-lhe, ô (3x)
Mengão do meu coração
Dá-lhe, dá-lhe, ô (3x)
Mengão do meu coração

which means something like:

Let’s go, Let’s go

Flamengo of my heart

(more or less…Dá-lhe is one of those expressions you can use for many things….)

These jerseys got us a free Caipirinha from Nino, and lots of approving looks on the street

Jeri life

After much effort and with pain in my heart, I unstuck my butt from Rio de Janeiro and flew north to Fortaleza in the state of Ceará.  I spent little time in this picturesque yet scary city and got on the bus to Jericoacoara with no delay.  Up until this point I had been in cities, always near about 10 million people or so, and I was looking forward to some nature and peace.

Jericoacoara is the place.  I first heard of this small fishing village from my buddy Ace who told me about it when we were discussing kiteboarding spots for my trip.  Ace has spent quite a few seasons here improving his windsurfing skills, meeting his wife, etc.  Jeri (for short) has grown quite a bit in popularity in the last decade or so, and is now a tourist destination of sorts for Brazilians, but primarily, it remains a mecca for wind- and kitesurfing.  It is located at 2.8º South and enjoys steady trades for most the year with the windier months sporting 30-40 knot winds.

The town is about as quaint as you can find them.  There is not a single paved road within miles, and the only way to get around town is with a horse or dune buggy due to the soft-sand roads.  There’s a giant dune everyone goes to for sunset, and after sunset, a capoeira circle forms on the beach.  Every day except for Sunday the fishermen go out in their jangadas — a fishing vessel that hasn’t changed for the last five centuries or so.  They come back with all kinds of fish, mostly for local consumption.  If you want, you can sit on the beach under an umbrella drinking an ‘agua de coco’ straight from the coconut (it’s got electrolytes!) and pick out a fresh fish for R15 or so (~$8).  You then have a guy grill it for you right there — plenty of food for two…

Currently, I am splitting my time between kiting and watching the world cup.  As I mentioned, it’s a big deal here when Brazil plays.  The last game I watched with Rob, a fellow kiter from Ireland, at Z-Chopp.  We joined the crowd congregated in the street around a lone flatscreen TV.  After every Brazil goal, a round of artillery-grade fireworks would go off at about 30 feet distance from where I was sitting which, surprisingly, didn’t startle the small children or dogs that were all around.  Brazil plays Holland in the quarter final on Friday, and hopefully they will continue on because I have a feeling the party will only get crazier as Brazil keeps winning.

Big in Brazil

One day at Lemon Spirit hostel, some guy rolled up on a bicycle and said he worked for Globo TV — the biggest tv station in Brazil — and was looking for people from other countries to be on a comedic show about the world cup hosted by Thiago, a popular presentator/comedian.  This show was going to be on during the world cup every night at eleven as a post game commentary.  The format was a little unclear to me, but I volunteered all the same.  We also got Andy — an English supporter — signed up, so at least I wouldn’t be going alone.

The night of the show, Thiago (the guy with the bike, not the presenter) came to pick us up at the hostel.  Since Germany had just played that day, and annihilated Australia 4-0, he asked whether there were any Germans at the hostel.  Sure enough there was a German fellow sitting at one of the computers checking facebook before going to bed.  Before he fully understood what was happening he was in a van on his way to the Globo TV studios.

The show was set up with a main stage for the three hosts and we were part of a small interactive audience — pretty much sitting front stage.  The whole thing was hilarious including some super-blinged out Brazilian star who lip-synched his latest hit at the end of the show.  Thiago, the presenter was a very funny and cool guy.  He spoke English quite well, and studied broadcast journalism at the University of Miami, so he didn’t like me being a gator too much…

This youtube clip shows a part where they ask Andy about the clumsy English goalkeeper Rob Green — they call him “frangero” now — a reference to trying to catch a chicken (and failing to do so).  I didn’t get to bust out any Portuguese on the show — probably a good thing as I don’t know much about soccer.  This link may go dead, as it has FIFA content, and they don’t like it being on Youtube, but it’s there for now.  I’m on the left, second row from the front.

Copa do Mundo

When I got back to Rio, I had only planned to stay for three days, but with all the world cup commotion and seeing all the old friendly faces, I ended up staying for nine days.

On Copacabana, FIFA has set up a Copa center with a gigantic TV screen, and pre and post game shows.  A great place to cheer your team (for me the US and Brazil) and have a few beers.  I stayed long enough for the first Brazil match vs North Korea, and after the victory they had live samba and everybody shook a leg.  I also watched the United States vs England match there with some English friends from the hostel who were much more serious about soccer than myself, but I represented the best I could.

In Brazil, as you might expect the place goes crazy for soccer.  For example, the game I watched was on at 3:30 pm, but by noon it was pretty much impossible to get anything done (like buy an airline ticket for the next day).  The beaches emptied out (except for Copacabana), and everybody watched the game.  Sort of like the super bowl, but bigger.  Mind you this was only the first game of the cup.

Vai Trabalhar Vagabundo!

This song has been the theme song of sorts for my stay in Brazil, so I thought it worthy of capturing on the blog.  It’s actually a song from the seventies, but was somehow on a Brazilian music CD I bought back in the States.  I never could make out the lyrics until they were written for me by Luciana (muito obrigado!).  All the Brazilians I’ve had listen to it think it’s cool, but they don’t know it  (because it’s kind of old I guess).


I was in a Samba circle

when the police came

Go to work bum!

the chief of police said

[[sent me away, sent you away

sent me away and sent you away]]2x

The chief does not understand

that Samba formed the nation

a poet can’t live without Samba

and Samba can’t live without the poet, no

He Sambas

He Sambas

Of course, things don’t translate all that well.  Marlene tells me “Ele guenta” means “he sambas without repose”, but I can’t think of a way to translate that.  The instrument heard with the woowoo sound (sort of like a mooing cow) is the cuíca often used in Samba and other Brazilian music.

Crank it and start shuffling your feet!

Santa Teresa

One of the more colorful spots in Rio I checked out is called Santa Teresa.  People compare it to Montmartre in Paris, with its steep cobble stone streets, and winding alleys that eventually take you a great views of the city.  The architecture is eclectic with colonial churches mixed with colorful buildings.  It is pretty much a street photographers dream for a photo crawl.  There’s one little problem though, Santa Teresa is close to some pretty bad favelas, and borders Lapa, another colorful but rundown neighborhood.

I’m not a huge fan of guidebooks, and have yet to buy one for this trip.  I prefer to ask people what their favorite spot is, or ask how to get somewhere so I can practice Portuguese in favor of looking at a map.  To get to Santa Teresa I took the subway to the Carioca Station in Centro, and then started walking in the general direction of the hill.  I passed through a great little furniture store street this way (Rua do Lavrádio) that I’m sure is not in the guide books (or maybe it is, but I wouldn’t know because I don’t read them).

I made it to the Arcos da Lapa — an old aquaduct that now serves as an overpass for the bonde trolley — when I busted out my blacked-out Nikon D-80 and started snapping a few photos.  Immediately I noticed two teenagers take a lot of interest in me (hey, isn’t it a school day?).  I make eye contact, and started climbing the hill up to Santa Teresa.  About a hundred yards up the street I turn around, and notice one of the kids has walked over and is looking down the street to see where I’m headed.  Shit, not so good.  This is a pretty quiet neighborhood with very little car or foot traffic.  I walk on hoping to spot some tourists, and I do eventually at the Selaron staircase —  a beautiful mosaic tile staircase.  At this point, the hoodlums have stopped following me, so I shoot some more photographs albeit with some unease.   I continue my climb, breaking a sweat at this point, as the stairs and streets are quite steep.  When the cobblestone street I’ve been walking crests, I turn around, and, sure enough, my new groupies are there.  At this point it is pretty clear what their intent is, so I put my camera away, and am delighted to hear the rumble of a air cooled VW kombi coming up the hill.  I flag the driver down, and hop into my extraction vehicle — whew — close call…

After the Kombi picked me up I was able to take a rest and enjoy the scenery.  A little bit further, I hopped off near the tram tracks of the historical Bonde — a San Francisco style trolley with wooden benches that goes about 10 mph tops, and screeches maddeningly loud at ever turn.  At one point, the trolley pole came of the electric wire, and left us stranded for about a minute while the conductor shook the pole around a bit.  The neighborhood is absolutely gorgeous, and not to be passed up, but it would be wise to go in group or guided tour, and keep your camera hidden when not taking a picture.

Here’s a video of the Bonde I found on the web.  You ride for free, if you hang off the sides, and the seats are 60 centavos (30¢).

Becoming Carioca

After a little over two weeks in Rio, I have become pretty used to my new city.  Whether it’s going to Uruguaiana to buy some cheap knock-off soccer jerseys, taking in the view from Pão de Açúcar, going to random Samba concerts at noon on Praça XV — there is always something fun to do.  One of my favorite routines is doing a beach run from Leblon to Arpoador which takes you along Leblon and Ipanema beaches.  On the way back I usually stop to do some pull-ups and jump in the ocean whenever it’s too hot. To finish it all off, I order a fresh coconut from one of the beach stands (it’s got electrolytes!), and enjoy the view.

Rio Botanical Garden

One of Rio’s many beautiful spots is the Jardim Botânico located at the base of the Tijuca National Park It was originally founded in 1808 to acclimate foreign species form the west indies and other parts of the world, and now sports mature trees and other plants from all over the world.  I was particularly interested to go check out the collection of orchids and carnivorous plants.  Dodging rain showers, and monkeys, I perambulated the park taking in the wonderful smells and views of the Atlantic forest and the garden.  The café provided a nice spot to read a book and drink some expresso.  Don’t skip this spot if you’re in Rio!

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Rio — first impressions

Last night, I came home from grabbing some chopps with Victor, and found two new roommates in my hostel room.  One was snoring, and had a little FM radio playing soft bossa nova, and as I laid down to sleep to the sound of rain and music, I had to smile.  My first four days in Rio de Janeiro have been nothing short of spectacular even though I have barely ventured from my beach neighborhood called Leblon.  The days have been filled with learning Portuguese with new Brazilian friends, going to the beach, and tasting anything that is food (to much amusement of the Brazilians).  Some of the more delicious discoveries include: Fruta de Conde, Tapioca pancakes, cups of frozen Açaí that are available on every street corner , and perhaps the caipirinhas as well.

The fabled beach culture here is very unique indeed, and different from anywhere I have been.  Many vendors cater to your every need, and on the weekend people play a lot of sports including foot volley — a type of beach volleyball where you cannot use your hands, but the rest of volleyball rules apply.  I haven’t taken my good camera out yet due in part to safety concerns, but mostly just laziness.  I will post some video too, taken with my new Flip camera.