Monday, April 30, 2012

Travel Review: Imbassai and Praia do Forte

After getting back from the islands, we spent another couple of days in Salvador before heading about an hour up the coast to Imbassaí. It is a gorgeous place, no doubt about it, but of course with a very different feel from the islands.

In this situation, Imbassaí is to Boipeba as Praia do Forte is to Morro de Sao Paolo. Imbassaí has more pousadas than Boipeba, to be sure, but it is still very behind its neighbor when it comes to construction and things to do. On the beach there are a few shacks lined up with things to eat and at night you need a flashlight to see your feet, which can be a little eerie unless total relaxation in nature is exactly what you're going for. Get ready for a few more lizards, mosquitos and ants than you would meet on the islands, but that is what comes with the stunning tropical nature along with the troops of little primates occasionally flying past.

Unlike Boipeba, I had a freaking blast in the ocean of Imbassaí for one simple reason: there are always waves, the fun kind. Surfers take note this is a great place to practice. Of course it is not a place I would advise to those who are not strong swimmers. We are talking open ocean here and there are no lifeguards around to keep an eye out for you (at least not off-season), but if you know what you're doing and you stay on the shore-side of the point break you'll be fine.

A little lesson in tropical currents just in case: they are very fucking scary, but you have to stay calm. If you do go out to far and one grabs a hold of you and you can't cut out of it, stop trying. It may seem like they're taking you far out, but the currents there are not a straight shot to Africa. They're weird and they swerve in and out, if you lie on your back and let it take you along eventually it will spit you back towards the shore. You may be a good way away from where you got in, which is tiring and inconvenient, but at least you'll be alive. Anyway if you are ever unsure and you don't see people in the water, ask a local, they know all about the currents in their waters. If you see a bunch of people in the water one beach down from you and none on your beach there is most likely a reason.

Luckily, for those less inclined to swim in potentially dangerous waters there is an excellent alternative in Imbassaí. Running parallel to the ocean and then swerving right into it is the calmest, safest little river you'll ever hope to find. Families with children go there so that their kids can have a swim in the bathtub-warm water without having to worry about anything dangerous.

Also, while having lunch in one of the little shacks along the beach we met this little guy. and how cute is he

Praia do Forte, on the other hand, is an entirely different place. It is far more expensive, but even in the off season you're still going to find some people, some music and a place to hang out after dinner. It is more lively and there is not an inch left to build on.

I had far less fun swimming in Praia do Forte because of the fact that the coral reef protects the shore from the waves that I find to be so much fun. Also the tides there vary drastically, and when the tide is in there are many places where there is barely any sand left at all. However, there is one thing that Praia do Forte has that Imbassaí does not, and that is Projeto Tamar.

I got to hang out at the beach with some amazing creatures, far more impressive in real life than they are on film I can assure you. I also managed to talk to a researcher there, weighing my options for a potential post-PhD project. For me this was the absolute highlight of Praia do Forte, along with getting to see the hatching and the release of a whole lot of little baby turtles (the zoologist in me melts)

What else can I say? I loved it, I loved it all. One last travel review of Salvador coming up, then sadly I have completed my recount of my first (but definitely not last) trip to Bahia.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Travel Review: Boipeba

Although we were based in Morro de Sao Paulo, we were able to take a quick day trip to the nearby island of Boipeba. While Morro de Sao Paulo seems to finally be getting a little attention from Brazilian tourists, Bahians especially tend to opt for Boipeba instead.
While the Bahian locals scorn Morro for being too touristy, Boipeba has been built on far less, but with water that is no less clear and food that is no less gorgeous. So, which do I prefer? It’s hard to say.

Whatchu looking at? Hm?

While Morro de Sao Paulo might have a more beautiful shoreline, Boipeba has some amazing nature paths. For a very small fee, a local will bring you on a little tour around the island (only in Portuguese though), through the jungle, past the blue land crabs, ending on the gorgeous beaches near the town. 

Here’s a fun fact: It is in fact an Italian man that owns 40% of Morro de Sao Paulo and 30% of Boipeba, and that is of the whole island, including the parts that are uninhabitable (which makes his effective ownership a far larger portion). However, it turns out that for once the European didn’t fuck over the locals, and to their delight he has not destroyed the island to build big eyesore hotels. He has preserved the beautiful nature, began harvesting coconuts and stimulated the island economy through tourism enough that there is even a University (don’t get too excited, I wanted to look into it too, but it turns out they only offer two courses: tourism and pedagogy).

There is no question about it: Boipeba is more authentic, more natural. Consequently, there are fewer “activities” available for you to do. Of course this makes sense for the Bahian people that only live a couple hours away: they’re not going to the islands to zip line or snorkel, they’re going to relax in a gorgeous location, the fewer loud tourists the better. When it comes to us furiners though, it depends on what it is we are looking for. Do you want to cram as many sports, activities and parties into your vacation as possible, or do you want to hang out on the beach, take a stroll through nature, away from all that noise? Me, I love it all, so island hopping was definitely the best way to go.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Book Review: Before I Go To Sleep

I am thoroughly embarrassed that I actually have so few books that I've finished after such a long vacation, especially considering the number of books I carted around the world with me to begin with. Turns out I did much less lounging by the seaside and far more sleeping on the plane than I expected, and after finishing reading Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson, I'm sorry that this rare book review is going to have to be lukewarm.

The premise is one that has been visited before in movies from the superficial rom-com (50 First Dates), the much more interesting thriller (Memento) and even a slapstick Italian comedy (La Legenda di Al John e Jack). In case you live under a rock and have not heard of any of those movies, the premise is that a person suffers brain damage and thus wakes up every morning not remembering anything that happened since a period of time before the accident. They are incapable of converting short term memories into long term ones in their sleep, and thus every morning they wake up not knowing where they are or what has happened to them since. It is a decent premise with which to work, but unfortunately I don't think this book took full advantage of it.

It was certainly evident that this was the writer's first novel. The tone of the book felt very much like an idea was there but extra pages were needed to make it a real novel, so the entire middle portion of the book is, in my opinion, quite bland. It was clear that the idea was there and the end was written first, but when it came to develop on that idea, throwing clues in the narrative and weaving a story that brings you to the "thrilling" end, the author had a little trouble. The only thing I was really surprised to discover is that the author was a man, as I did find the first person tone of a woman very convincing. Unfortunately, I also thought the author was a woman due to the superficiality of some of the elements of the plot which I found to be in common with other blah British thrillers that I've read before.

I guess I'd say good first effort to the author, but it didn't quite do it for me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Travel Review: Morro de Sao Paulo

I'm finally finally back, and ready to blog along about the wonderfully fantastic trip that I've had until I'm blue in the face. In case any of you forgot or are new arrivals, I just got back from an amazing 2-week holiday in Bahia, Brazil. We used Salvador as a base, but were able to visit a couple of places around the area. The first place we went was Morro de Sao Paulo, a two and a half hour catamaran ride from Salvador. As you can infer from the picture, it was absolutely beautiful.

I'm not going to lie, it's a little touristy. When you step off the boat and walk through the little town it definitely has the tourist-village feel. However, in this case the tourists were definitely not stupid, and there is a very good reason why so many of them flock to this place. I was there very much off-season, and yet it was still full of life. Why not? It was the dead of autumn staring at winter, and it was 30+ degrees.

What I really loved about it was that there was something for everyone. Are you the type of person that likes the fancy tropical paradise hotels, lounging on the beach during the day and parties at night, head on down to the second beach, more expensive but perfect for those tastes. Want to get away from the tourist village, see real beaches and hang out at a local islander's shack for a piece of fish and a coconut? Take a long walk down the fourth beach, where a horse-and-cart will bring you back if you don't feel like walking anymore. Are you more of an adventurous type? Jump off a zip line over the gorgeous water, go banana boating around the island, scuba diving or kayak out to the little rocky tide-islands for some amazing snorkeling. Love fish? Take a boat ride around the islands and stop at the little shacks literally floating on the sea, one that serves clams and the other oysters, where when they run out they just dive off the side and go get more. Feel like an all-natural spa day? Take a walk across the island to the other side, where there is a natural clay right under the sand. Cover your body with it, dry out in the sun and then dive into the cool water for the best free body mask you'll ever hope to have. Shopaholic? Walk through the town especially in the evening where there are local artists making everything from jewelery to hammocks to coconut bongs, and many of the shops are very decently priced. There is something for everyone so I cannot possibly see how anyone can get bored.

Sure if you are one of those people that are patently allergic to anything touristy, first impressions will not be very good. However, looking past the feel of the center of town you realize that the place actually has an amazing amount to offer, and most of the island has been remarkably well preserved. This is no Club Med trying to trick you into thinking that you're having a better time than you should be in an average location, this one of the most beautiful places I have ever laid eyes on, which is exactly why so many people want to go.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Travel Review: Lisbon Aquarium

Greetings greetings from the summery paradise of Salvador Bahia. I have a bunch of material for quite a few travel reviews already, but lets take things one step at a time and start from the beginning.
On Easter Sunday my boyfriend and I took the red eye flight to Lisbon, where we had an eight and a half layover before getting on a flight to Salvador, Brazil. The Lisbon airport is a little small and doesn't have much to offer, my boyfriend's brother only lives an hour away from it and he just had a new baby, so why not have him come over and visit a little bit to pass the time? He arrived with a gorgeous two month old darling and his Spanish girlfriend, which made for an interesting language conundrum: I spoke to my boyfriend in Italian, he translated for his brother in Romanian, he translated to his girlfriend in Spanish. Phew! Anyway once we said hi all around my boyfriend's brother suggests: why not go to the Lisbon Aquarium to pass some time before your flight? Boy I love you already. Best layover idea ever!

We get the full ticket to see both the "temporary" exhibit and the "permanent" one, and I am extremely excited. There are TURTLES! We go straight up to the temporary exhibit which is the one that was supposed to be all about turtles. I saw one turtle. It was cool, it swam under my feet, but all in all the temporary exhibit was mostly information and very few actual animals to see. I was a little disappointed, so we moved on to the permanent portion of the aquarium.

This part was far, far better. It is very cleverly designed, revolving around one gigantic tank with a manta ray and some huge sharks, but I cannot say that you don't get some pretty awesome value for money. They have puffins! and OTTERS! having (relatively) recently been to the aquarium in Barcellona, it was fun to see some completely different animals from the ones that were chilling over there. Not to mention the funniest spaz of a puffin I've ever seen.

All in all I can't say that the aquarium in Lisbon is better than the one in Barcellona, I still think the latter wins out certain levels, but it definitely comes close to it. Also it is not too far away from the airport and right on the sea, so it makes for a lovely little walk and, as I said before, the best layover I have ever had in my life!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Happy Easter Everyone! Bubye

Well tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn I am taking two weeks off, going to be on a plane to Brazil. Booyah.

Of course that means that my presence on this blog will be patchy at best. I have no idea how much internet access I will be having and either way the next few posts will most likely be book and travel reviews.

So with that I'll be off, hope you all have a fun and chocolate-filled Easter after a Lent I'm sure none of you actually took part in, and I'll see you when I get back :)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book Review: Malcolm X, A Life Of Reinvention

The last time I found myself in Rome I had only brought two books to cover me for the weekend, silly me, so come Sunday I found myself browsing the English section in the bookshop for something to keep me company on the train ride back. I stumbled upon this new biography of Malcolm X by Manning Marable and I thought great, why not. As I only ever took one year of US history in my life in high school, and we only made it to the 1920s I knew absolutely nothing about Malcolm X, except that he was a big name in the African American struggle for civil rights and he was murdered in the 1960s. Shameful, I know, so I decided to buy the book.

First thoughts: I was extremely impressed with the quality of this biography. I found it to be extremely interesting, containing some information that I felt outright stupid for not knowing (Malcolm X had red hair?! o.O? And yes, I had to Google Images "zoot suit") as well as being full of extremely interesting insights into the inner workings of some American sub-cultures that I had been completely unaware of. The peculiar theology of the Nation of Islam, for example, that apart from the name could not possibly be further from the original religion it apparently stemmed from. The bizarre story of Yacub's history and the fact that they could be so blasphemous as to suggest that Allah took a human form, walked and preached around the US, and that therefore there was another new prophet after Muhammad.

The sheer amount of research that went into this book was astounding. Every day he tracks, every detail he goes over is backed up, especially when what really happens seems to differ from what Malcolm X said in his autobiography. But that is exactly what I most enjoyed about the book. There is no building up a martyr and ignoring anything that makes him look bad. There is no embellishment or fanciful descriptions of things the biographer could not have known. When the evidence is scarce or ambiguous he tells you, presents the evidence available, and lets you make up your own mind as to what might have happened. While some might find that kind of writing a little dry, to me it was the best aspect of the book and exactly why I enjoyed it so much.

Manning Marable certainly pulls no punches. He goes over every single detail of Malcolm X's life, from revealing some potentially embarrassing details (such as his probable episodes of homosexuality-for-hire or stealing from his family to feed his drug habit) to the flaws in his ideology (like his misogyny or his erratic anti-Semitic comments) to the unequivocal awe that he inspired in even the most unlikely of people ("He is a MAN, whom it is impossible not to admire, even when blasting the White Race for its mishandling of the Black Man", now how many black men get that kind of praise from leaders of the fucking Nazi Party?!). Only once does the voice of Manning Marable step in to criticize the history he is retelling:

To sit down with white supremacists to negotiate common interests, at a moment in black history when the KKK was harassing, victimizing, and even killing civil rights workers and ordinary black citizens, as despicable. Malcolm's apologetics and negotiating with with white racists were insufficient.

Having said that, at no point do you walk away from this book thinking badly about Malcolm X. His presence, his strength radiates out of this book, and you feel it not in spite of, but perhaps because of the honesty of its telling. He was human, and humans make mistakes, learn from them and grow in their ideology and philosophy as they become more educated in life. It is the way that Malcolm never shut himself off from this growth to sit and get fat in a comfortable position within the Nation, despite the inconvenience and outright danger this caused him, makes you respect him enormously. If you try to portray someone as 100% perfect from the start, the amazing courage it takes to revisit and restructure the way you look at life as you grow as an individual is completely lost.

I could go on for hours about every little aspect of the history, chapter by chapter, but for the purposes of this review I don't think it is relevant. At the end I have to say that, although the middle portion of the book can get a little confusing to follow (not by fault of the writer, it mostly has to do with the fact that they all have similar names, and then they keep changing their names as they enter into the Nation of Islam), it is a fascinating book, and it saddens me that the life of such a visionary was cut short. During the time that I was reading book I was constantly asking myself "What would Malcolm X think about that?" or "What would he say about Obama's presidency, or the Black Republicans like Allen West?" in a way that it felt like Malcolm X's speeches and words had really affected me, despite the fact that I had never had the privilege of seeing him in the flesh and listen to him speak. It is definitely worth the read, and I highly recommend it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Oops, My Bad Breanna

I'm sure by now every single one of you has heard about Wikileakes and PFC Manning, who is still in jail, has suffered horrible treatment at the hands of the US government while awaiting to even be charged, and might spend an amount of time in jail that is unprecedented for a whistle-blower.

Here's something that you may not have heard about PFC Manning, which I only found out thanks to one of our favorite FreeThought Bloggers Natalie Reed

It turns out that PFC Manning is most likely a transgendered woman, who is finding it extremely troublesome that her face is being plastered all over the place and that she might go down in history with everyone remembering her as a boy.

“ I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me… plastered all over the world press… as boy…”

o.O?! Why have I not heard about this before?!! I find it horrificly tragic that this was chosen to be kept a secret for fear that there would be far less support for her had people known about this.

Wired then followed this up a year later in published the full chat logs in which Manning very clearly states that she is trans, frets about accessing transitioning treatment and talks about being discharged as “adjustment disorder” rather than GID under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Finally, she gives us a female name for herself: Breanna, stating that she’d set up a Twitter and Youtube account.

So let me say, my bad Breanna. I am sure that many of those protesters with your face and the signs "I am Bradley Manning" meant no harm by it, and while they seem to have royally shoved their collective foot into their collective mouth while they were trying to show support, I honestly hope that they support you because you are a human being, and your human rights are being violated, not because they thought you were a man.

If all of this is true, I would really love for this story to become more widely known, and for a new rally to be held with the slogan "I am Breanna Manning" instead, to demonstrate support for her regardless of her gender.

It saddens me to know that there would be less people at that rally than at the previous one. Think not? Prove me wrong, and start organizing one!