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Having spent 3 months in South America, we had come across a veritable menagerie of animals. I thought it would be a good idea to share my favorite combinations of interesting creatures & interesting photographs.

Here are the top 10:

#10. Amazon Tree Frog

Nellu Mazilu, Amazon, tree frog

A cute little Amazonian tree frog, which secretes a neurotoxin when threatened.

#9. Amazon Stick Insect

Nellu Mazilu, Amazon, stick insect

I nearly walked past this little creature, mistaking it for a branch.

#8. Colombian Leaf Insect

Nellu Mazilu

I thought I had leaves stuck in the insect net of my hammock at El Cabo in Tayrona Park….. it wasn’t.

#7. Tarantulas (many of them)

Nellu Mazilu, tarantula,

The Amazon was full of them. This photo was the best of the lot, showing a tarantula hiding/guarding it’s nest in a palm tree hole.

#6. Butterflies….also many.

Nellu Mazilu, butterfly

One of many butterflies, but was the only one who stayed still long enough for a photo. I wish I could remember what kind it is….

#5. Giant Amazonian Moth

Nellu Mazilu, moth

Encountered a couple of giant moths feeding on some stale fruit during one of our night treks.

#4. Tractor Millipede

Nellu Mazilu

It’s fun watching them crawl all over you. No really.. it is.

#3) Weevil

Nellu Mazilu, weevils

Weevils wobble, but they don’t fall down. This one did….

#2. Spiders…. so, so many of them.

Nellu Mazilu, spider

Upside-down transparent, orange daddy long-legs?

#1) Praying Mantis

Nellu Mazilu, praying mantis

What’s more bad-ass than a mantis up close??

Click here to see all the candidates for the top 10.

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One of my goals on this trip was to work on a few pieces of digital video journalism. It’s been a little bit more of a process than I anticipated but tonight I would like to debut the premiere Life Offtrack DJ interview! Lance Horsley, co-owner of Casa Cool Beans, graciously granted me my first interview on the road. (Full disclosure: Nellu and I stayed at Casa Cool Beans during our time in Rio de Janiero and loved every minute of it.)

Taking on the Cidade Maravilhosa

Just over five months ago, Lance, his partner David, and their dog Mousse set off for the Cidade Maravilhosa, or Marvelous City as Rio is often called. The plan: transform an existing pousada into the Casa Cool Beans. Already a successful business owner in the United States, the opening of this guesthouse was the realization of a 25-year old dream for Lance. While the timing of their move had little to do with the city’s move to the international stage (World Cup 2014, Olympics 2016), the booming Brazilian economy certainly encouraged them to take on Rio.

But enough from me, I’ll let Lance tell you his story:

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It’s customary for journalists, at the end of an interview, to ask if the interviewee has anything to add, mostly to make sure you’re not missing a critical part of the story. When I asked Lance, he gave me a response that needed to stand on its own. (If you’re a budding entrepreneur, you might want to keep this video close at hand and listen to it every morning you need a pep talk.)

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One unexpected advantage in the whole process: While Lance and David had originally planned to close the guesthouse to renovate, its previous owner encouraged them to buy out bookings already on the calendar. Five months in and Casa Cool Beans has been at full capacity the whole time. Lance says its been nice having income coming in, “But even more important is the ability we’ve had to meet people, which at the end of the day is the reason I got into this business and why we got the pousada. It’s been a fabulous blessing.”

~ Molly

Before I left on this trip, I told people that one of the things I would write about is the food and drinks I would encounter along the way. As an avid fan of Zane Lamprey (‘Three Sheets’ & ‘Drinking Made Easy with Zane Lamprey’) and Kevin Brauch (The Thirsty Traveler), I had become educated in much of the world’s beverages, without actually tasting many of them. I thought Brazil would be the start of the great rectification. Sadly, Brazil did not have much that I hadn’t seen before. The cervejas, while delicious on a hot tropical day, didn’t add any new taste that dozens of other beers had to offer. That’s right, I’m staring at you Bintang.

Molly already addressed our acai addiction, so Brazil’s other well known libations would revolve around cachaça, which is basically rum except instead of being distilled from molasses (a byproduct of sugar refinement) like rum, it is instead distilled and fermented from fresh sugarcane. It is also the main ingredient in Brazil’s most famous cocktail, the caipirinha, which I have often described as Brazil’s answer to the mojito. I had never tried straight cachaça before, but it tastes very much like good rum. As for caipirinhas, I had tried on previous occasions at various churrascos in the states and found them to be typical cocktails chock full of sugar and a hangover in waiting if you have more than 3. Nonetheless I did try a “special” caipirinha at the Santa Teresa Hotel to see what was possible :

A strawberry & chocolate mess (Photo by Jack Zalium)

What sounded initially delicious turned out to be a pulpy & somewhat disgusting mess (think of a smoothie with large chunks of mashed fruit floating in, on & around ice cubes). I am not sure Molly’s red-fruit caipirinha was any better.

Lance makes a caipirinha while recounting stories of stray dogs. (Photo by Jack Zalium)

Thankfully our host (Lance) at the Casa Cool Beans taught me how to make a traditional and quite “fierce”, as he would call it, caipirinha. Brazil, for all its good parts, was lacking any outstanding alcoholic beverages (or one that I did not encounter). Argentina would fare a little better.

While Brazil seemed to flourish in cervejas and caipirinhas, Argentina has Fernet, yerba mate and red wine. The red wines of which the Mendoza region is famous for Malbecs and Cabernet Sauvignons, I had sampled at various wine tastings in the states. My surprise was the cost & quality. We easily found wines less than $40 pesos (~$10 USD) that were exceptionally delicious and smooth. There were definitely much more expensive wines as well, but sadly our budget did not permit that sort of luxury. Perhaps on a return trip.

Fernet Branca I had also sampled before, thanks to Zane Lamprey’s trip to Argentina. Though it is Italian in origin, the Argentinians have embraced it as a national beverage. Ordering it, would be a more complicated matter. It is commonly served here over the rocks in a tall glass; 1 part Fernet to 2-3 parts soda. My first attempt came at a nearby parrilla, as we were attempting to kill some time and waiting for the rain to pass. I had cleverly asked for all the main ingredients in the drink: 1 part fernet to 2 parts soda and some ice. I received Fernet in a tall glass, a 16 ounce bottle of Pepsi and a bowl full of ice and tongs. It took a trip to the tango club and a look at a menu, to realize they refer to the concoction as ‘fernet cola’.

Fernet Cola: a refreshing mix of bitter and sweet. (Photo by Jack Zalium)

On a trip to Tigre’s Puerto de Frutos (an artisanal market mostly known for furniture, decorations and paper flowers), I found a nice and relative inexpensive bottle of locally made artesanal Fernet (about half the price of the commercially and Italian made Fernet Branca). I wanted to taste the difference and was willing to risk blindness to do it. Thankfully, I can report my sight has not diminished and even our host, Norman, enjoyed a glass of it. I would describe it as smoother and less bitter than the Fernet Branca I had tried before and well worth the price.

Delicioso! (Photo by Jack Zalium)

Speaking of bitterness, you have probably already seen one of my earlier pictures of the first souvenir of the trip : a guampa (hollowed out gourd), the accompanying bombilla (metal straw) and bag of Rosa Monte yerba mate. These were all needed to prepare the traditional infusion of yerba mate, which you will see on just about any street here in Argentina and was initially described by Molly as smelling like “minty green tea”. It is a drink and a social outing all in one, but do not expect to get the experience in any store or coffee shop. This is a personal experience shared with friends & family unless you have your own guampa, which I now do.

My guampa and me (Photo by Jack Zalium)

The process is a little different than your run-of-the-mill tea preparation. Instead of creating a device to hold the leaves and yanking that out of the water when done, the traditional yerba mate infusion is done in reverse with the straw being the strainer itself. Since my gourd (some of which are made of wood, metal, stone and now even synthetic) is made out of a plant, it needed to be cured to remove any odd tastes. This was accomplished by filling the gourd with yerba mate and cold water, with the material being sufficiently moist and leaving it for two days. The gourd would be emptied and scrubbed. This process would be repeated twice more. I was happy with the results after day four.

Argentinian Preparation

There are variations on the actual preparation (just like any beverage), but I used this site for reference. Stick the bombilla inside the gourd and fill it approximately 3/4 full with yerba mate and then add some water (either cold or lukewarm & never boiling), to moisten the leaves. Wait for the water to be absorbed and then add more water, incrementally increasing the temperature (to a max of 70 degrees Celsius, or ~158 degrees Fahrenheit). Once filled, then start drinking immediately. If one waits too long or the temperature gets too high, the water will infuse with too much yerba mate and it will taste quite bitter. My first attempt, I believe I either used too much material, had the temperature too high or infused the material for too long. It was quite, quite bitter. My second attempt was to give Molly a taste several days later and sadly resulted in much of the same.

I had given up on yerba mate, when I remembered that the housekeeper/cleaning lady/cook here, Roxana, drank yerba mate regularly. Using Google translate, I proceeded to ask her for her assistance in this endeavor. Strangely enough, my procedure was generally correct, except she used boiling water. She also revealed the great rectifier… that some people add sugar and that you can basically go back and add more water and re-infuse almost indefinitely. Armed with that information, I can say I have gone through 70% of the bag of yerba mate and have drank it consecutively for three days in a row.

Next stop Chile. See you soon, gourd- in-hand, somewhere in the Americas.

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