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Travel Gear Review - What Worked and What FAILED

Updated - May 2019 - Technology has changed. One thing I would do is ALWAYS get local sim cards and use local 3G, 4G or LTE, and often you can use hotel or restaurant or bar wi-fi by just asking for the password. Unlike the USA they are happy for you to use it.  Newer phone apps are far superior to those available in 2013, making whatever investment in a local data plan totally worth it.  You could get an emergency international plan from your provider, (or a cheap T-mobile phone and international plan if your provider sucks), but I would not bother. You can always pretty much get WiFi in an emergency and use Skype or FaceTime or LocalPhone or whatever.

2013 reviews with 2019 updates:
As I review my packing list I am astounded at all the stuff we lugged around for six weeks.  All of it fit into our two carry-on bags, plus a small backpack for me and a small gym bag for K.  Because I take a lot of vitamins and supplements, the bags were pretty heavy starting out, but lightened week by week as we consumed things.  Read onward for my reviews of things we took with us.  Keep in mind that the links embedded below are to provide product information.  Nearly everything was purchased for WAY less than retail from eBay or Amazon.  Do your own research.

Tumi Luggage - Alpha Travel large satchel, T-Tech Forge Lambert medium satchel, and a small Tumi backpack - this stuff is durable, versatile, and easy to live with. Mr. D was right.  And you can find this stuff new and used on eBay.  Used along with Tumi combination luggage locks to make your own hotel safe right inside your room!  My rating 10/10. (2019 update unchanged)

Black Wigwam Merino/Silk Scout socks (4 pairs) - Warm when cool, breathable merino wool when hot, easy to wash and fairly quick to dry.  My rating 8/10 (2019 update unchanged)

Wickers Men's Moisture-Wicking Mesh Stretch Brief underwear (5 pairs) - comfortable, easy to wash, fast to dry.  My rating 10/10
(2019 update - Sadly this company went out of business. Suggested substitute: Duluth Trading Buck Naked series underwear 8/10 )

Woolrich long-sleeve dress shirt - Very high quality stuff that takes a beating and hangs out flat, as if fresh from the cleaners.  Made for active people - durable and always looking nice.   My rating 10/10 (2019 update unchanged)

Outdoor Research Men's shirts (one long sleeve, one short sleeve) - made for travel, action and adventure.  These shirts are nice enough to wear to a nice restaurant and tough enough to wear mountain climbing, hiking, etc.  Easy to wash and very fast to dry.  The two models I used are out of production, but they always have something interesting coming out new.  My rating 9/10 (2019 update unchanged)

Columbia Men's outdoor shirt - Had good ratings on the internet, but always looked rumpled, got a "run" in the hem like a pair of pantyhose, and pilled up around the waistline.  Total garbage.  My rating 1/10 (2019 update unchanged)

Cushe Men's Manuka Sandals - lightweight, comfortable, and durable. Wear with or without socks.  These became my primary footwear for the majority of the six week trip, including many miles of walking, hiking, and climbing - mostly due to the failure of the Cushe shoes I took (see below).  My rating 9/10 (2019 update, still wearing them!)

Cushe M Men's Moccasin Loafers - ultralightweight, and theoretically comfortable and easy to wear.  In my case my second toe is longer than my great toe, and this location is where these particular shoes came together in a 3 way seam.  Shoes seemed lightweight and comfy for a while, but after an hour the minor pressure against the second toe became agony.  Just as uncomfortable to wear while riding the bus as while walking.  Used steam and a broom handle to expand them slightly every 2-3 days before finally consigning them to the lixo (garbage) in Såo Paulo.  Even when they "fit" without pain, the soles are too thin and walking on trails or cobblestone streets was painful.  My rating 2/10 (2019 update unchanged)

MacBook Air MC965LL/A (July, 2011) laptop computer - the only solution for a lightweight travel computer.  We did most of our planning on the fly, usually in our apartment/hotel/B&B room, and always with the MacBook Air.  Incredibly thin, incredibly light, incredibly capable.  No moving parts - hard drive is flash memory.  Not a lot of drive space for tons of movies, but we took half a dozen standard def movies and a couple hundred hours of music on it and had plenty of room left over for apps.  One blu-ray movie would have maxed it out.  I got the older model, used, off eBay.  Still using it today for any travel - work or pleasure.  Not a big/strong enough PC to do serious programming or run a business, but plenty good for household activities, email, web-surfing, etc.  Ironically the charger and cable takes more space and weighs as much as the PC.  I only wish I had bit the bullet and gotten the newer model with retina display.  My rating 9/10  (retina display would make it a 10) (2019 update unchanged)

Apple iPhone 3GS - I bought three of these older iPhones from friends who had upgraded, one for me, one for K, and one backup if one or both got stolen.  No need to worry on that count - nearly everyone we saw had better/newer phones.  Really useful for web surfing and email anywhere there was free Wi-Fi, which is nearly every restaurant and coffee shop in South America.  These were so capable I could leave the MacBook Air secured in the room.  Apps for anything you needed, rated separately (see below).  Worked flawlessly with sim cards procured relatively cheaply in every country, except Argentina - that was the fault of the Argentinian phone company, not the iPhone.  My rating 8/10 (2019 update - upgraded to iPhone 6Plus, still love it. Bought it when it came out and still using it in favor of newer iPhones)

Kenu Highline iPhone bungee leash - keeps slippery iPhone from escaping, and also deters "snatch and run" thievery.  One end ties to your beltloop or a button, and the other goes in the iPhone charging port.  Very slick.  I used it most of the time.  My rating 8/10 (2019 update - phones have changed and these have evolved from leashes to cases with leash - still a great product)

National Geographic international SIM card by Cellular Abroad - DO NOT BUY THIS!!!! The most famous name in travel magazines has linked up with some fly-by-night ripoff artists to take your money and provide nothing of value.  Purportedly a SIM card that works anywhere by finding a local phone company and hooking up for a high premium.  I got it for emergency use and to make emergency calls, either to home or to each other.  Ideally we would never have used it.  But since we had so much trouble with the local phone company (Personal) in Argentina, I did not get a Personal SIM card for K's phone.  Her Brazilian SIM did not work in Argentina for phone calls, but the iPhone worked fine on Wi-Fi.  No worries while we were together, but when I was sick in bed for 3 days and K ventured out alone, I wanted her to have cell service for emergencies.  This NatGeo SIM card was completely useless.  Could not make a call.  Could not receive a call.  I had tested it in the USA, and it worked OK.  Their website's support email, contacted on a Friday, returned an auto-reply that emails were queued for 48 hours before being evaluated, and that we should call the international toll-free number instead.  Of course this was impossible, because the SIM card would not permit any calls.  Since it was Friday, the email was queued until the following WEDNESDAY, when I got an email that my problem was under review.  Since then, NO CONTACT from them even until this present day.  $60 completely wasted and pissed away.  I see now the price has dropped to $30.  Don't be fooled.  Run away!  I tried to put a short, polite version of this negative review on their website, but it was not accepted.  DO NOT BUY THIS!!!!  My rating zero/10 (2019 update unchanged)

This SIM card is so annoying, that it receives my coveted EPIC FAIL award!

iPhone App - LocalPhone VOIP telephone - I was able to call the USA for half a penny per minute from anywhere with good Wi-Fi.  Slight lag in speech, but generally clear as a bell.  Great service and great app.  I had a complex setup where all my USA phones were forwarded through Google Voice and on to a LocalPhone rented number (US$1/month) and from there to my South American cell number.  Worked fine, with greater delay in speech lag (making 2 internet hops to get to the cell), but caller ID always indicated local numbers.  So I had a couple of telemarketer calls to deal with, but no biggie.  For friends/family, we would call them back.  Was anywhere from 8-40 cents per minute to receive calls (depending on country), but always half a penny per minute to call back.  Google voice speech to text forwarded to my email when we did not answer.  Pretty handy,  but mostly indecipherable text from Google Voice.  As for LocalPhone, it was just like using the phone normally, only MUCH less expensive.  My rating 9/10 (2019 update unchanged)

iPhone App - Jibbigo Offline Translator (Spanish-English) - Great in theory, useless in practice.  Theory was that you speak into the app in English, and it translates and both displays and speaks the Spanish.  Also works in reverse for the person answering you back.  In reality, the speech grabber was 20% accurate, and even when you did get the right input, there was a 2 minute delay to get the output.  Even with a friendly local and plenty of time (Sebastian in Buenos Aires), it was easier to just do without and work within our limited vocabularies.  There are dozens of apps that do something similar when online, but this is the only one that works offline.  VERY slowly.  It is slightly better than nothing.  My rating 1/10 (2019 update unchanged. There are much better apps available now.  If you have an internet connection, SayHi, iphone only, no android, is awesome)

iPhone App - AirBnB - Useful to check and verify existing stuff, but a bit fiddly to research and find new places.  Macbook Air with Firefox browser was much better for that.  My rating 5/10 (2019 update unchanged)

iPhone App - United Airlines - Useful to get flight status, notifications, electronic boarding passes, etc.  It can only be as good as the info the airline feeds it, which is highly variable.  My rating 7/10 (2019 update unchanged)

iPhone App - MapsWithMe - This app removed the fear of walking around strange cities.  You download the entire country (in most cases) and there are detailed street maps of the big cities.  Press a button and location services find you on the map.  Zoom in and around to see where you are and want to go.  Database of restaurants, etc. better than nothing, but not very complete.  No whipping out a paper map on a crowded street and looking like a tourist.  Huddle over the smartphone and look like a local.  I wish I had known about it when we were in Beunos Aires.  Uses a lot of battery to keep it running, so I had to turn it off and on.  My rating 8/10 (2019 update unchanged)

Clothing Arts P3 Pick-Pocket-Proof Men's Pants - Travel pants made with double secure pockets - zip and button.  Very secure, if not very handy.  Heavy duty cloth, water resistant finish.  Difficult to wash and took FOREVER to dry.  I had 3 pairs - Adventure Pants, Business Pants, and Business Shorts.  They were pretty secure, but the several hidden pockets would not survive a patdown from a mugger.  I would have preferred the Adventure shorts, but they were out of my size.  In future I would get something less secure but easier to wash and dry.  My rating 6/10 (2019 update - I still wear these and they are nice and durable and still very secure.  Hard to wash and dry by hand, but company has released some new models that are supposedly better - I have not tested them. Upgrading score to 8/10 for the old models)

Olight T15 AA flashlight - Major lumens from only a single AA battery.  Low is plenty bright for wandering around a dark apartment at midnight, and High will blind anyone in its path.  Really awesome to play with outside at night.  Small and lightweight - never leave home without it.  A bit "fiddly" to switch between high, low, and strobe modes.  My rating 9/10 (2019 update Get a Cree flashlight from Amazon for a fraction of the price and 80% of the performance.  So cheap you can get 2 or 3)

Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 Camera - Small, light, and powerful point and shoot camera.  Small size makes it easy to stick in a pocket and take everywhere.  You saw the pictures here, in a lower-res version for uploading.  Awesome camera, if not professional quality.  It's always better to have a lesser camera with you than a really nice one locked in your room when you are out and about and see the perfect photo opp.  My rating 10/10 (2019 update unchanged, but iPhone cameras so good now you may not want even a small one like this)

 Bestek Universal Travel Adapter - We had two of these, one each.  It plugs into the wall socket for pretty much any country in the world and accepts US and other plugs.  Truly universal on both ends.  It also has a 5v USB output, so it can charge a phone or other device, but not an iPad (which requires 9v).  We had the cheaper model that did not do power inversion, but it does have handy lights to indicate power is on and flowing.  Seemed a bit large for what it was, but worked flawlessly.  The only device I took that used a standard US plug was the MacBook charger, and the fine print on it told me that it would accept 220v inputs, so no power inverting necessary.  More than one USB charger port would have been nice, but I had another device with two more.  Never needed more than 3 at a time. My rating 8/10 (due to bulky size).  The power inverting model is the same size, and that would be justification for its bulk. (2019 update unchanged)

Monster To Go MP OTG300 LTOP - When combined with the Bestek adapter (see above), you get a total of three standard USA power outlets (at 220v or inverted to 110 if you get the Bestek inverter model), plus 3 USB 5v charging ports.  Sweet!  I will be using this device (by itself) extensively in my domestic travels.  Compact, but a bit inflexible non-pivoting arrangement to insert the male plug end - making it impossible to use in some domestic hotel USA power sockets (in lampstands and such).  My rating 10/10 for foreign travel, 7/10 for domestic travel. (2019 update unchanged)

Mini TP-Link TL-WR700N 150Mbps Wi-Fi Wireless AP Router - This handy device converts a corded internet access port  (LAN cable) into your own, private Wi-Fi hotspot.  Useful for places that have wired, but not wireless, internet.  Worked like a charm, but I got the Chinese version from eBay (very cheap) with complete instructions for setup and usage in Chinese.  Thanks to the internet for a translation, combined with some cut and paste into Google Translate for menu choices not specifically covered in the instructions.  Once you get the thing set up, you don't need the Chinese anymore, unless you forget the password - so don't forget!  I will also use this handy device in domestic travel for cheap hotels that have only wired internet.  My rating 9/10 (2019 update unchanged, but I simply never use this. Great product, but totally unnecessary)

Plantronics DSP 400 USB headset - These USB digital, folding headsets were procured to use the LocalPhone software on the MacBook Air.  I had some idea we would be sitting in a noisy coffee shop somewhere and calling home using the MacBook and headset.  The need for these was obviated by the existence of the excellent iPhone LocalPhone app (see above), so we both could use our phones to call family and friends.  That said, this headset worked flawlessly, but is a bit bulky - even when folded up.  My rating 8/10 for performance, but I would not take it with me next time. (2019 update unchanged)

Travelon Security-Friendly Money Belt - This webbing belt is another one of Mr. D's excellent recommendations, and we each wore one constantly.  One could easily place 15 US $100 bills in each and never have to worry about discovery or exposure.  All nylon design means no taking it off for airport security, either.  We had these emergency cash reserves at hand for the entire trip, and thankfully never needed any of it.  Looks like a cheap and uninteresting belt.  Even in a patdown, nobody would discover the secret stash.  My rating 10/10 (2019 update unchanged)

Flat leather fannypacks - Each of us also wore one of these, when moving locations and flying, under our clothing, below the waistline, with the pack at the back.  Completely invisible, although one needed an un-tucked shirt to be long in the back when bending over.  These held our passports and main cash sources (eventually in several currencies) and also copies of our identification documents.  Handy and reasonably comfortable.  When not traveling, these were locked securely in the room safe or Tumi luggage. These things are made in various sweatshops in Asia and the design, size, and finish is pretty variable. My rating 8/10 (2019 update unchanged, with the caveat that hypersensitive airport scanners like in Santiago, Chile will trip on these even with no metal in them, so best to stash them inside carryons for those times)

Since it is impossible to keep eBay links up to date, I have enclosed photos of the two we used.  I preferred the thinner one with the bungee strap (left photo), while K used the bigger one with regular webbing straps (right photo).  Both of these have another single zipper compartment on the other side.

Spare AA Batteries & AAA Batteries (5 each) - These add some weight but don't take up much space.  Very handy when you need them!  Take both even if you don't have devices that need both.  We used some to replace bad/missing batteries in remotes, etc. in some of the places we stayed.

Sturdy hotel laundry bag (plastic) - This folded down to nothing, and was very handy for transporting laundry to and from the machines or the laundromat.  I also had a smaller nylon drawstring bag which we also used for laundry.  These also serve to isolate your clean clothes from dirty laundry inside your luggage while traveling.  

3M Earplugs - The only way to sleep in noisy downtown apartments.  High quality, comfortable, and easy to carry. (2019 update unchanged)

Franklin Speaking Spanish/English translator - Cool as heck, easy to use, and really handy - whether you are reading a label in a store, or just trying to communicate with a local.  Much faster than the iPhone app (although the Wi-Fi ones would have been much faster), and saved our bacon more than once.   My rating 9/10  (2019 update unchanged, but internet connectivity and iPhone app like SayHi is far superior. Good product, totally obsolete)

We tried to find a similar gadget for Portuguese, but nothing in the same price range, so we went low-tech and old school with a paper book Portuguese/English dictionary.  Cheap and easy to use, but the print is VERY tiny.  My rating 6/10 (2019 update unchanged, but would not carry one now. iPhone apps are superior)

K also took some specific women's clothing and underwear, and perhaps she will provide reviews for them in another posting some time.

Day/Night 41 - Time to Go Home - April 8, 2013

The next morning came all too soon.  We started to gather our things from around the apartment and decide what to pack, what to toss in the trash, and what to leave for the next resident.  I exchanged a few emails with Tarley, our landlord, who had come in that morning from Rio de Janiero.  He arranged a taxi to pick us up at 5PM for our 9PM flight.  The airport is only 35 minutes away, without traffic, but 5PM borders on the infamous Sáo Paulo rush hour.  Tarley also invited us to join him for lunch.  He met us at 1PM and we grabbed a taxi to go to his favorite restaurant.  "They have the BEST caipirinhas!" he told us.  Sadly, they were closed, but a few minutes more driving brought us to another place that specialized in the cuisine of his home state, Minas Gerais, to the north.  The food was bountiful and excellent, as were the caiprinhas.  We leaned that Tarley lived and worked in the fashion industry in Sáo Paulo, but had recently married and moved to Rio.  He is now working there 3 weeks per month and 1 week in Sáo Paulo.  He found Rio to be quite a bit hotter and more uncomfortable, but was determined to eventually live there full time.  He kindly picked up the tab and bade us farewell to go to the dentist.

We returned to the apartment to finish packing.  I decided to trash a pair of shoes and a shirt that had disappointed me (details in a later post), and we left some dulce de leche for Tarley to finish.  The taxi arrived early, at 4:40pm, and we sadly left our keys with the front desk and walked out of the place for the last time.  The driver encountered traffic jams right away, but employed some creative routing and got us to the airport in less than an hour.  Excellent work!  At the airport there was a huge line to check in, and no automated kiosks for United.  A helpful group of United employees told us we could use the electronic boarding passes on our iPhones and go straight through passport control and into the gate area.  We need only to verify our documents with any United employee inside.  We elected to do this rather than stand in the long line, and soon found comfortable seating.  A United security guy asked us the routine questions and put stickers on the outside of our passports.  I spent the next two hours buying water and trying to figure out how to dial a US number from a Brazilian cell phone.  The wifi coverage was too poor to use the VOIP phone.  I eventually figured it out, and two quick calls (one to my parents and one to our neighbor, Bob, who was picking us up) used up most of my prepaid credits.  We passed through the boarding line and agent checks to board the plane, only to find another set of independent security people inside the jetway, armed with electronic snoopers and asking the same security questions again.  They had a huge problem with our electronic boarding passes, so we stood for 10 minutes while someone ran out to print us paper ones.  Too bad, as I really did not want to leave!

Our flight departed on time, and we had a pretty uncomfortable ride in the very last row of the 767, which did not smooth out until we had crossed Venezuela and were over the Caribbean.  10 hours later, with very little sleep, we arrive in Houston on time at 5:15AM.  A couple of expensive airport burritos later, along with coffee for K and iced tea for me, we were good to go.  The Salt Lake flight left on time at 9:45, and we were soon back in Utah and 40 degree (5C) weather.  Surprisingly, it felt good, after being so warm for the last 6 weeks.  Bob greeted us and took us home to crash, with a quick stop along the way for minimal groceries.  The house had been set to 50 degrees (10C) and it was cold, so we unpacked and checked on things while the place warmed up.  An hour later we were ready to collapse into bed, only to learn that the sheets, insulated by the bedspread, were still 50 degrees!  Despite the cold, we were asleep within seconds.  

We arose around 6PM for more unpacking and a meal, then back to bed by 9PM for more blissful sleep.  It is nice to be back in our own house and our own bed, but we miss South America a lot.

Future posts will cover travel gear - what worked, what failed, and what was useful or not.  Stay tuned!


Night 40 - Last Night in South America - April 7, 2013

We decided to take the Metro for one stop past our apartment and walk down Av. Paulista to backtrack.  This allowed us to see a few more new sights along the way, but nothing of particular note.  We prowled around the restaurants and bars a block from the apartment.  I had one more thing on the "must do" list for today.  After turning down several deals for buffet meals, we finally found it - Acai!  This was so good we devoured half of it before rembembering to take a photo.

This Acai came with banana on top and a cup of granola to sprinkle as you work your way down

Delicious stuff!  We walked slowly back to the apartment to take a rest and think about gathering our things to pack tomorrow.  A few hours later we went back to the same restaurant for a dinner of steak and beer, and it was good and reasonably priced.  The reason we always have beer in Brazil instead of wine is that all decent wine is imported with high tariffs, so the cost/value ratio is not favorable.  But Brazilian beer is good and plentiful.  We collapsed, exhausted, into bed for our last night's sleep in Brazil and South America.  

Day 40 - Symphony & Pastels in Sáo Paulo - April 7, 2013

The same building that on one end houses the downtown train station has the symphony hall on the other end.  We had noted the night before that the symphony was playing, only 400 Reais (US$200) per ticket.  But the same performance would be repeated on Sunday (today) at 11AM for free.  We agreed to meet Nina there at 11.  After a couple of transfers in the metro and a complicated walk over to the train, we ended up waiting about 25 minutes, watching one train pass by without stopping - maintenance or something.  So we were pretty late.  They symphony started about 11:15, and they would only allow Nina (who made it on time) to get one ticket.  She called us to let us know she was going in, but we could call when we arrived.  No problem.  Except that when we arrived, there were no tickets left at all.  With our near-total lack of Portuguese skills, there was not much we could do.  A quick call to Nina and she appeared.  Some discussion with the ticket agent and waving of hands in our direction ensued.  A couple of guys walked up to go inside, and they had one extra ticket.  The security guard, who had been watching all the drama in amusement, chimed in that he had a ticket as well, so problem solved!  We got box seats just in front of stage right, very nice!  Though we missed half of the performance, the remaining half was excellent.  The conductor and four string players (mandolin, 2 guitars, and a ukelele) were seasoned professionals, backed up by a full orchestra of youth players (college age).  The conductor (Regente Monica Giardini) had selected a medley of traditional Brazilian music and arranged it for the full symphony.  The mandolin took the lead for most of the songs, pausing on occasion for the full orchestra to repeat a refrain.  It was very beautiful and relaxing!  The audience was fully appreciative, and the group came back for an encore, but they told the crowd they must sing along.  Everyone did with enthusiasm.  A great spectacle for us.

We could not take pictures during the performance, so half the orchestra had departed the stage before this photo.

The performances are free every Sunday of the year!


Rick had to work today, so we were back to our agenda of parks and museums.  Right next door we found the Estacáo Pinacoteca, an annex to the Pinacoteca Museum, housed in another (former) train station next door, with displays of art on paper, some permanent fixtures, and Memorial da Resisténcia - a fascinating exhibit of protest art from the era of the military government persecution, which was very severe and happened only 40 years ago.

Pinacoteca Museum Annex - a former train station

Our very modest admission fee also included the original Pinacoteca Museum, a few blocks away across from the Estacáo Luz (Station of Light) train station.  This area has a reputation for being very sketchy, and everyone from our fellow symphony patrons to the museum annex workers warned us to be careful.  As it was Sunday, most of the troublemakers were asleep or otherwise absent, and we had no hassles or worries.   The station itself is quite beautiful, as is the park across from it.

Estacáo de Luz

We were a bit hungry, so Nina bought us huge pastels and soda from a street vendor outside the park.  Delicious!

Gentrification is slowly improving the Luz neighborhood.

At about 3PM, Nina had to return home to take care of her normal life.  We traveled together until we had to change trains, and said our goodbyes.  We made our way back to the apartment to take a rest before our final night in South America.

Night 39 - The Real City of Såo Paulo - April 6, 2013

After several hours in the park, we found the car and headed over to an enormous mall.  The idea was to park there and take the train down to the historic city center to see the colonial architecture there.  We found parking easily and restrooms as well, but then learned that the trains were shut down for maintenance.  Time for Plan B, to explore the mall.  Nina led the way to the big bookstore where she browsed books and Rick checked out the latest video games.  After wandering around the mall for a while in fruitless pursuit of an Itaipava t-shirt, we found ourselves at a loss for things to do.  The ever-patient Rick started to get annoyed.  He said Brazil is not about museums and art and parks and bookstores.  It is about football and video games and the beach.  (Nina interpreting for him).  He decided to take us over the footbridge to the train, to see if it was back in operation.  Success!  He then led us into the heart of the old city.  From Monday through Friday this area is teeming with more than 2 million people, all peddling various merchandise, most of it copies of the real thing, and little if any of it taxed.  It folds up on Saturday at 2PM and is completely quiet on Sunday.  This being late on Saturday afternoon, the streets were pretty much deserted and only a few shops (and McDonald's) were open.  But we did find a store with knockoff watches to replace my Wal-Mart special that was trashed in Santiago.  For only US$12.50 I now have a very stylish modern watch, bigger and nicer than the old one, at about the same price.  It even says "Tommy Hilfiger" and not "Tommy Hilgifer."  Now I can tell the time without digging the mobile out of my pocket.  Success!  The streets were far from clean, and the buildings all sported some informal decoration in graffiti.  But still the place had a gritty charm.  Rick really came to life here in the old city, narrating the history and some entrepreneurial things he does there on occasion, buying low and selling for a profit to his friends uptown.  We trudged for a couple of miles, stopping briefly at a chaotic street party - streets closed and mobbed with people.  Against Rick's judgement we walked quickly in and out again, just to have the local experience.  No problems for us, although we did not linger there.  We finally arrived at the historic train station.  I took a few twilight photos, and we grabbed a train back to the mall.  


K really liked the architecture and contrasting colors on this street.

Rick, buying our train tickets at the old station.  He was the perfect host and refused to let us pay for ANYTHING!


It took a while and a couple of trains to get back to the mall and the car, then Rick drove us all the way back to our apartment, a good distance in the wrong direction for him.  What a great guy he is!

We found a bar near the apartment and had a nightcap of pastels and beer before collapsing in exhaustion into our bed!

Day 39 - Såo Paulo Explorations - April 6, 2013

Today is Saturday, Rick's only day off this week, and Nina had enlisted him to drive us all around the city.  Fortunately the traffic was less crazy than weekdays, but still crazy.  They drove to the apartment and picked us up, then we continued downtown to a big central park called Parque do Ibirapuera.  K and I explored the enormous, covered skating center and had some fresh coconut water, which was inexpensive and readily available, while Rick and Nina found parking.  Next we went to a museum with a Vatican display, only to learn that yesterday was the final day.  We took a long walk around the park, seeing the lake and feeding some ducks and swans, taking lots of photos, and watching all the people.  Rick also found a stand serving açai, a wonderful thing, and bought us a couple of bowls of this delicious and healthy concoction.  Feeling refreshed and energized, we headed back across the park to another museum with an expo of local art by local artists.

There were mist machines along the jogging trails.  Press a button for cool refreshing mist!

Paulistas were out in force, enjoying the park and perfect weather.

Even a couple of foreigners fit right in given the diversity of the city!

I found the coconut juice business to be incredibly well organized.  There was an independent stand every 100 feet or so selling juice.  You could buy a coconut with a straw in it, or they had cored and poured the juice into giant steel containers with ice, so you could buy it by the cup or by the bottle, from sizes ranging from 250ml to a full liter.  The supply system and free market were working their magic and keeping each stand fully stocked.

Typical vendor and stand

Entrepeneurs pulled these carts from stand to stand, asking vendors if they need fresh supply.

The guy in the pickup was stocking the VW van, and he supplied coconuts to the metal cart guys.

The art expo was very large and diverse, and each one of us was able to find things that were appealing to our tastes.  All of it was for sale, but we all refrained from buying.  There is also a very good restaurant inside the museum, and Rick treated us all to a buffet where we were able to try feijoada, a famous stew from Brazil.  It was delicious and very filling, so we found some salad and fruit to add balance to our meals.   Here are a few arty pictures to wrap up the post...

This is a famous cartoon character in Brazi, made from Havaianas and Carnival headdresses.