This is post #3 in my Brazil Travel series. If you haven’t kept up from the start, you can check that out here.
Graffiti has a big role to play in MURDERED. In fact, taking a picture of a graffiti mural is the whole reason your tourist character leaves a public street and becomes forever embroiled in a murder mystery. While the mural I describe in the book exists solely in my mind, the real street art of Rio inspired my imagination:
“In the preview on the LCD screen, you notice there’s the beginning of a graffiti mural sticking out from the adjoining alley. You peek around the corner to see the full image. It’s an angel, larger than life and in stunning detail. His hair is long and his face is placid, much like a beardless Christ. Yet this is a dark angel; his wings, not feathered, are formed from two AK-47 machine guns divided in broad symmetry. Two snakes wrap around his legs, originating from behind his ankles and enveloping his lower half like the caduceus, their heads biting his wrists and spreading his arms. A nuclear mushroom cloud which serves as his halo bursts forth from behind his flowing mane. In stylized calligraphy, the caption above reads, ‘Vou testemunhar.’“
It’s called anything from vandalism to street art, but no matter what you call it, tagging can be a powerful method of expression in large cities, specifically by its poorer citizens. While I don’t think this justifies someone putting their initials or callsign wherever they can, I do think that some graffiti transcends into art. Here are a few examples that stuck out to me during my travels. Unless otherwise noted, all pictures are from Rio de Janeiro.
Good one to end it on? Sure, good as any. The point is, it’s not like I asked a cab driver to take me around to all the best graffiti in the city. The stuff is just everywhere! These are all designs I just happened to see as I explored. In face, over half were taken from moving taxi windows. In my humble opinion, it adds character to the city. A certain depth and color, both literally and figuratively.
This is topic #2 in my Brazil Travel series. If you want to start at the beginning with the intro post, you can check that out here.
It’s impossible to think of Rio de Janeiro, and Brazil as a whole, without thinking of the beaches. And seeing as how we left Colorado in December, it’s one of the parts I was most looking forward to. Here’s a picture taken the day before we flew out.
And here is the view we found after landing:
I’ve mentioned that Manaus is a port city, but what you might not have known is that it’s solely a river port. And these are river beaches. In fact, the area of the Rio Negro where we visited is the largest freshwater archipelago in the world. That’s how big the rivers are down here!
The water is full of predators, as small as bacteria or parasites, famous like the anaconda or flesh-eating piranha, large and aggressive like caimen, or dangerously stealthy like the river stingrays lurking at the bottom. In MURDERED, I mentioned that the biggest bull sharks are known to swim upriver to hunt in fresh water.
But the absolute worst thing down here is the candiru, a parasitic fish that seeks out the smell of urine and will swim up your urethra if you pee. Plus, it has barbed fins so it can’t be easily pulled back out.
So, of course, we decided to go swimming in the river.
Since my mom is probably reading this, I will say we swam by a sandbar, which is safer because the animals are attracted to vegetation and a sandbar is essentially the desert of the river. Didn’t stomp around on the bottom, didn’t wiggle my toes, didn’t swim near anything that looked like a log, and definitely didn’t pee in the river.
The real beaches, however, are those famed spots found in Rio de Janeiro.
Good luck going to Ipanema without this song in your head.
This place is a world-renowned paradise. They have a wonderful beachfront walkway, including a sepearate bike path. During peak daylight hours, the whole side of traffic nearest to the beach is closed off for pedestrian use. People walk along, tan themselves on the beach, play volleyball or soccer (or a mix of both) and generally enjoy life. It’s legal to consume alcohol in public in Rio, so many enjoy drinks on the beach as well. Check out the view for yourself:
There are, of course, a few downsides. Crowds, for one. Another biggie is the poorwater quality. According to the Associated Press, the bacteria and virus levels are about as high as swimming in raw sewage. While we saw quite a few people in the water, we skipped this swim. Remember that urethra fish? Yeah, we would rather swim around that guy than go in the ocean in Rio. A fact that is made all the more painful by how oppressively hot it is down here. And I mean hot:
So, there’s a lot of sweating involved. Yet the perfect solution is waiting for you every quarter mile in the form of snack & drink stands. The perfect treat for my money was “Coco Verde”–a green coconut split open with a machete, ready for you to plunge a straw inside and taste the sweet, cool coconut water within. The first I tried was probably one of the most refreshing experiences in my entire life.
Connected just down the road from Ipanema, but if you’re not careful, you won’t even notice the transition.
Equally famed, this part of Rio does get it’s own earworm worthy song too:
During our visit, Copacabana beach was getting ready for the New Year celebration, which included some great sand castle art like the shot below:
Yet it isn’t all fun-and-games and sight-seeing. Rio can still be a dangerous city, even with the massive police crackdown that’s been going on since the World Cup and has ramped up for the Olympics. Opportunistic thieves are still prevalent in popular areas, and with so many people, the police often have to deal with violent outbreaks.
One such day, as we were walking on Ipanema beach, riot police stormed down to the shore. I couldn’t see what was going on, but a helicopter circled above with militarized police hanging out the sides, machine guns drawn.
We chose to keep walking without exploring the scene. What ever happened? I’m not sure, and I can’t find anything about it in the news either. Who knows, maybe I passed up a chance to work with Rio cops and DSS agents to try and solve a murder….
For the first post in my Brazil Travel series, we’re going to talk about lodgings. If you missed yesterday’s intro post, you can check that out here.
These are the places we stayed: A resort, a hostel, a palace, and a guestroom. As mentioned, we also stayed on a boat for a week, but that’s a post for another day.
Eco-Resort Hotel Tropical
Before we embarked on said boat, we stayed at a resort. When we flew into Brazil, our first stop was the port town of Manaus. The boat trip met at the lobby of this particular hotel, so we decided we should splurge and stay here. It’s unfortunate that Brazil’s economy isn’t doing so great right now, but as a result, this resort cost about as much as an average night in a chain-hotel in the United States. And here’s what we got:
What a fantastic way to end 22 hours of travel (three flights, each with layovers that required us to exit the terminal and go through security again at a new part of the airport. Not fun. I’m calling you out, Miami and Brasilia!). Everything was reasonably priced and they do mean “resort.” Three restaurants, two bars, tennis courts, massive swimming pool, private beach, and a mini-mall on site. This place even has its own zoo!
If you ever end up in Manaus, stay here. Just don’t use the taxis parked out front. Once in Rio de Janeiro, we quickly realized that the Manaus resort taxis were probably charging 3x what the city taxis would have cost.
Because we stayed in Rio from December 26th through the 31st (one of the most popular travel times in Brazil, matching up the holidays with summer in the southern hemisphere) the hotel situation was rather difficult. I wanted to stay where “you” stay in MURDERED, and I managed this to a point, but we couldn’t stay there the whole time due to the location’s massive popularity. We were forced to move around, which ended up being a lot of fun once we embraced it.
Hostel Che Lagarto Ipanema
Here’s where your American tourist character is staying with friends at the start of the book. Back when I was doing research, I picked this location because it’s a popular spot for young, unattached travelers, and it’s a location in the thick of things. It’s also recommended in the Lonely Planet tourist guidebook I consulted, so it seemed likely your character might have done the same.
As you can see in the hostel’s Facebook post above, I told the staff that I wrote a book featuring their location and they were very appreciative. The manager didn’t believe me at first, but once I showed him in the text, he flipped out. In a great way. He started off by showing all the workers on duty, then he moved on to showing all the guests who were present in the main lounge. That skin tone is due in part to the tropical heat, but mostly because it was a little embarrassing.
The hostel itself does what it says on the tin, and they’re quite good at it. They host events that change every day, ranging from parties to sight seeing. Each evening, there’s a “happy hour” where you get as many free drinks as you can down in half an hour (Caipirinhas, specifically. They’re the sugarcane-rum-based national cocktail). That, of course, is only the beginning of the party.
We’re a few years older than the target demographic, so we opted for a private room rather than sharing a communal area of bunkbeds and showers that is the signature of hostel lodging. If you decide to visit, bring earplugs. And ask to see the book!
PS — If you so choose, in MURDERED you can end up back at your hostel on the first night and meet the bartender at this very location.
The Copacabana Palace
Here’s how the next hotel is described in the book:
“The government SUV pulls up to the city’s most famous hotel, the Copacabana Palace. Only three miles up the road from your old hostel in Ipanema but three times the price for a room, you’re greeted with all the pomp and circumstance of a visiting rock star. The white façade is something out of the 1920s, and to be quite honest, it looks more like a presidential home than a hotel.”
Your other lodging choice in the book is getting set up at this luxurious hotel located directly on Copacabana beach. The center-stage for the New Year’s celebration known as “Réveillon” was set up on the beach directly in front of the hotel and a private archway was constructed so guests could move to and from the party. The rates for the holiday (New Years is huge in Brazil) were higher than the already normally pricey rooms.
Turns out…we didn’t actually stay here. It was way too expensive for us–BUT, we did manage to come for the poolside breakfast, and if you get the chance, I would highly recommend doing so yourself. A smorgasbord of fruits, pastries, and other exotic treats awaits.
If you’re able to afford it, I’d recommend you not miss this spot. And if you stop by to visit, they have a signed book too, so ask to see it!
Airbnb by the Sea
For our final lodging, we found a diamond in the rough. And by rough, I mean we rented a spare room in an affluent neighborhood right next to the ocean. Check out this view!
Go ahead, zoom in on that last picture. Just across the bay…it’s the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue! How amazing is that? We picked this place because it’s (a bit) out of the way, and because we could check out the other half of the city. The room is called Urca with beautiful view!!! and the deal is impossible to beat. Clean, and beautiful indeed, with a great price to boot. If you go, tell Cissa we said hi! She has a copy of the book too.
I’m back from spending the holidays with my wife in Brazil! As promised, I’m going to tell you all about it.
The trip was split into two parts. First, we took a riverboat deep into the Amazon jungle. The Amazon river itself is far too settled for a true rainforest experience, with industry and cities crowding her mighty banks. Instead, we went on the adjoining Rio Negro, living on the boat for a week. During this time we took day excursions into the jungle on foot and explored the islands, inlets, and archipelagos with smaller watercraft.
It was a magical, crazy experience that included fishing for (and eating!) piranha, seeing our guide “charm” an enormous, bird-eating tarantula bigger than my hand out of its burrow, watching giant river otter chase a large caiman alligator onto land, and much, much more. I’ll blog about these stories (with pictures!) day-by-day as we go along.
For the second half, we journeyed to Rio de Janeiro, a vibrant city home to more than 12 million people, and the setting for the vast majority of the events featured in MURDERED. Here we saw the sights, ate like locals, strolled the beaches — and found adventure as well.
Each day, I’m going to share with you pictures and stories from the trip, as well as highlight those experiences that you can live for yourself in MURDERED.
I’m not going to present all the photos and stories chronologically, lest I risk turning this into a family vacation slideshow. Instead, I’m going to share my experiences in Brazil by subject. I’ll show the people, the places, graffiti, food, the jungle, and more. Because my book begins in Rio and moves out to the jungle, so will this blog. Each day will be something new.
How many days? I’m not sure yet, but I hope you’ll join me in reliving this truly epic journey.
In a few days, my wife and I are headed on the trip of a lifetime. A bucket-list trip, if you will. We’re going to Brazil, first to take a boat down the Amazon, see the jungle, and then head to Rio de Janeiro to see the sites like the one above.
I know what you’re thinking–didn’t I release MURDERED two years ago?
Sure did, and I made the setting as authentic as I could–for someone who had never visited Brazil. And in doing that research, I created a travel guide of sorts that I now aim to follow.
Originally, I thought I’d blog about the trip as I went, but after some thought I’ve decided to delay that until the return. I don’t want to have to rush to an internet cafe everyday and I don’t even think it would be feasible for my river/jungle portion. Instead, I’m going to blog each day as it happens, day by day, then publish it when I get back in daily episodes as if the whole thing were only on a delayed timer.
So when I get back, I’ll tell you all about it.
I’m going to stay in the hostel your character is staying in at the start of the book. Eat at the same Copacabana Palace you can eat at in the book. Ride the cog train up to the Christ statue. I’ll even head into the favelas! During the day, of course. I know the consequences…
I hope you all enjoy your Christmas break as much as I will and I’ll catch you in the new year!
Congratulations to Eddie, the first reader to successfully solve the case in MURDERED!
The Amateur Detective Contest is now “Case Closed” but if you haven’t solved it yet, don’t worry. This book was meant to be lingered over and enjoyed. Take the time to smell the poisonous jungle flowers. There’s a lot more to the story than simply winning! Keep trying, and challenge your friends. See who’s got what it takes.
3 Unique Storylines. Over 50 Possible Endings. Just one question… Could YOU Solve a Murder?
MURDERED is a mystery novel unlike any other — YOU are the main character. Follow clues, interrogate suspects, and piece together the puzzle before the killer gets away! It’s up to you to solve the case in this action-packed, dark and humorous thriller. Each link represents a choice, and the story evolves based on your decisions.
You’re in a dark alley, a lost tourist in Brazil, when you stumble across a woman’s body and a revolver atop a grisly note which reads, “PICK ME UP.” That’s when you realize you’re not alone….
What starts as an exotic vacation ends up as the opportunity of a lifetime when you inadvertently witness a man fleeing the scene of a murder. Work side-by-side with US Diplomatic Security agents (DSS) and Brazilian Police Officers inside the lawless slums of Rio de Janeiro — but choose wisely, no one is who they truly seem to be.