Brazil: Sightseeing (Part 2)

Brazil Travel post #7: Sightseeing 2 (intro post is here).

Today, let’s head back into the Atlantic Rainforest for some super amazing views.

This isn’t even the view we’re shooting for; we’re just getting started!

Tijuca National Park

It’s likely that some of you noticed the lush and verdant Rio scenery and after yesterday’s post thought, “That’s only 10% of the original forest? Whoa.”

Whoa, indeed. But that’s because what you’re looking at isn’t the original forest. The Brazilian government actually brought the jungle back, replanting nearly 12 square miles of forest, thereby creating a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s one of the largest and oldest man-made forests, having been restored in the late 1800s after concerns that the massive deforested farm lands were sucking the area dry of drinking water.

We enjoyed this restored rainforest with a guided jungle hike up a storied trail, all the way up the mountainside to the best view in the city. I must say, if I hadn’t been told, I wouldn’t have known this was “new” jungle.

You know, there just aren’t enough hiking maps made into tile mosaics these days.
The aptly-named Tijuca Falls.
One of many trail markers.
The cicadas were very active, singing and molting.
Bizarre relative of the banana tree.
The trail was clear and wide for the most part, but you still had to watch your step.
And watch your handholds too…
Cicada sighting.
Near the top, our guide said these steps were put in to impress the visiting King of Norway, who loved climbing mountains.
Not for the faint of heart (like me!).
Success.
Now thats a panoramic view!

Escadaria Selarón — The Tile Steps

After a late lunch we went to the famed tile steps, known as the Escadaria Selarón. The steps are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who began by simply repairing the steps in front of his own home with brightly colored, ceramic tile. The project eventually consumed the artist and continued to grow, expanding even to this day.

It was difficult to get a shot that wasn’t socked-in with other onlookers.

There are literally thousands of tiles, brought in from all over the world, so here you’ll see a small selection of those pieces that caught our eye.

Arches National Park — weve been there!
The project began in 1990, but I suspect some of the tiles are much older.
Though his neighbors originally mocked the idea, the stairs are now a source of national pride.
When I said brought in from “all over the world” I meant it!
Must be interesting to call this your front steps.
Chat Noir.
“Eclectic” doesn’t even begin to describe the style.
Buncha kids.

That’s it for today!

Tomorrow? Let’s finish up our Rio sightseeing tour with a grand finale….

Click to continue: Brazil: Cristo Redentor–Wonder of the World.

I know where we’re headed, and we’re so close!

Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Which of the two seems like your kind of climb?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

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Brazil: Sightseeing (Part 1)

Brazil Travel post #6: Sightseeing 1 (intro post is here).

From the outset, I can tell you I’m going to have to split this topic into multiple parts. There were sooooo many sights to see, especially with a “MURDERED Bucket List” in my back pocket.

Jardim Botãnico — The Botanic Garden

Rio de Janeiro was once home to the expansive Atlantic Rainforest, a different type of jungle than its more famous Amazonian cousin. Once Rio was declared the capital of Brazil, the city flourished and the rainforest dwindled to roughly 10% of its original size. This was largely intentional, as Brazil became an important produce exporter, and as demand grew, so did the demand for farmland.

The botanic garden was founded in 1808 by King John VI of Portugal (Brazil was in the Portuguese empire at the time) who decreed that a garden should be built to see which foreign plants might best thrive in Brazil’s climate. Thus, the botanic gardens were born, and once that job was completed in 1822 they became a public site.

Today it is a beautiful park full of exotic flora, including 900 varietals of palm, as well as wild monkeys and hundreds of jungle birds. Here are a few of the fantastic images we captured:

Shall we?
Shall we?
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A beautiful spot for locals and tourists alike.
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Dr. Seuss would be proud.
Monkey in a jackfruit tree.
Monkey in a jackfruit tree.
Ready?
Ready?
Leap!
Leap!
Just one of a billion flower photos Michaela took.
Just one of a billion flower photos Michaela took.
Serenity before lunch.
Serenity before lunch.
See the statue on the hillside? I'll give you three guesses what the last stop on our sightseeing tour will be....
See the statue on the hillside? I’ll give you three guesses what the last stop on our sightseeing tour will be….

MAR — Museu de Arte do Rio

From natural beauty to created beauty. The MAR holds some of Brazil’s most impressive artistic pieces. Let’s see a few.

Shall we?
Shall we?
#CIDADEOLYMPICA
Hashtag seen in real life. #CIDADEOLYMPICA
Theres something about a painting I dont understand captioned in a language I dont understand.
A painting I don’t understand captioned in a language I don’t understand.
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Slice of life from 1940s Brazil.
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Perspective.
Powerful perspective.
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Disney’s short-lived Brazilian character, Jose Carioca, which roughly translates to “Rio Joe.”
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These were actually TV shots of monkeys arranging bananas, meant to look like they were spelling…something.
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Quite stunning.
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Brazil’s take on “The Thinker.” It’s a monkey contemplating a turtle.
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Impressive.
Not creepy. At all.
Patently bad-ass.
Ostrich selfie?
Does this guy trot? Because that would be amazing.
Does this guy trot? Because that would be amazing.
Umm…science?
Presumably found in a serial killers basement.
Presumably found in a serial killer’s basement.

Click to continue to: Sightseeing Part 2.


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Are you more a museum type or a garden type?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Brazil: Graffiti

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.

Manaus
Manaus traffic circle. Child with the colors of the Brazilian flag.
Manaus
Manaus traffic circle. Left unfinished by choice or circumstance.
A simple Merry Christmas, or deeper meaning?
A simple Merry Christmas, or perhaps a deeper meaning?
Favela stack design painted on an actual favela stack in Rocinha. So meta.
Favela stack design painted on an actual favela stack in Rocinha. So meta.
Rocinha. Great use of colors and perspective.
Rocinha. Great use of colors and perspective.
Taken in Rocinha. A deeper meaning might be gleaned by those who read Portuguese.
Rocinha. A deeper meaning might be gleaned by those who read Portuguese.
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The juxtaposition of Brazilian pride and abject poverty really spoke to me.
In some favelas, there are so many alleyways that they decided to give them street names. This "heart labyrinth" is beautiful.
This “heart labyrinth” is beautiful. Note: In some favelas, there are so many alleyways that they decided to give them street names.
Brazilian mascot for the World Cup.
Brazilian mascot for the World Cup.
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Love the expressions, and the use of color.
Its always interesting to me where youll find graffiti. Like this dirt lot on the other side of a neighborhood.
It’s always interesting to me where you’ll find graffiti. Like this dirt lot on the other side of a neighborhood.
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Looks inviting, right?
Mural Part One
Mural Part One.
Mural Part Two
Mural Part Two.
Full sign was "Money is Violence" but I like "Bus Violence." It s rare to see murals in English.
Full sign was “Money is Violence” but I like “Bus Violence.” It’s rare to see murals in English.
St Sebastion the Martyr is a common image, here re-imagined as a beach bum. The pattern on his board shorts is also recurring theme in Brazil.
St Sebastion the Martyr is a common image, here re-imagined as a beach bum. The patterns on his board shorts are also recurring theme in Brazil.
Michaela says she has seen this "oil angel" several places in South America.
Michaela says she saw this “oil angel” several places in Rio.
Dracula and zombies. Nuff said.
Dracula and zombies. Nuff said.

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.

Click to continue: Brazil: Into the Favelas!


Thanks for reading! Where do you stand on graffiti? Eye-sore or art?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Brazil: All about the Beaches

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.

The dog was warm, at least.
The dog was warm, at least.

And here is the view we found after landing:

Photo taken from outside the Tropical Resort.

River Beaches

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!

Meant to show scale, but if you look closely, you can see heron flying along the water and a caimen swimming as well.
If you click and zoom in, you can see a heron flying along the water and a caimen swimming center left.

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.

Aggressive river animals HATE selfies.

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.

Ipanema Beach

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:

That's a favela on the far hillside. A great irony here is that the poorest neighborhoods often have the best views.
That’s a favela on the far hillside. A great irony here is that the poorest neighborhoods often have the best views.

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.

R$6, or under $2 USD at the time of our visit.

Sweet nectar of life.

Copacabana Beach

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:

Christmas, New Years, Christ the Redeemer, and the Olympics–this sand castle had it all!

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.

Stock photo because I’m not brave enough to lift my camera when armed military police are running past. Sorry, not sorry.

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….

Click to check out the next topic: Graffiti.


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Should I have swam in the ocean? What about deciding to do so in the river?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Brazil: Resort, Hostel, Palace, Guestroom

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:

I didn’t take this photo, but it gives you a sense of the amazing location.

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.

"Behind the scenes" of that facebook post.
“Behind the scenes” of that facebook post. In addition to the photos and handshakes, I left a signed copy of the book at the hostel too.

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!

Heres the master at work.
Here’s the master at work. Needless to say, it’s a busy 30 minutes for the man.

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.”

Wanna come check out a friggin PALACE?! Yeah, me too.
Wanna come check out a friggin’ PALACE?! Yeah, me too.

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.

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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!

View from our window.
View from where that dude was standing.

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.

Click to continue to the next topic: All about the Beaches


Thanks for reading! Where would you most want to stay? Questions for me?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Art & a Script: MURDERED Trailer Update!

In case you missed it, I mentioned last week that a MURDERED trailer is on the horizon.

This week, I’m happy to share that Ellen (the writer-half of PixelTwister Studio) and I have come up with an amazing script. It’s meant to tease out the idea behind the book, so it shares part of the you find a body and a revolver with a “pick me up” note opening hook, but it’s also broad enough to get the entire concept across in only a minute or two. If you haven’t read the book/don’t know what I’m talking about, you can check out the first chapter for free using the amazon “look inside” function on the MURDERED product page.

The gist goes something like this:

You’re in Brazil for Carnival when you turn down the wrong alley on the wrong night…”

Meanwhile, Jeremy (the artist-half of PixelTwister) has been busy building the world of the trailer. As part of that, he sent me a sneak peek (which I’m also happy to share with you!) of the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue that watches over the iconic Rio de Janeiro skyline.

Without further ado:

Redeemer

Boom! Annnnd that’s now my desktop background.

Sorry to tease you all, but I had to share my excitement. The trailer is coming soon! So don’t forget to subscribe 😉

Mystery/Thriller Sale!

Starting now, MURDERED is on a Kindle Countdown Deal — so it’s $0.99 today, up to $1.99 on Friday, $2.99 on Sunday, before going back up to the original price of $3.99 next Monday.

On Sale 21-27 April
On Sale 21-27 April 2014, only on Amazon.

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.

Get MURDERED!

Test your detective skills in the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro's favelas.
Test your detective skills in the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

★★★★★ “I grew up with Choose Your own Adventure Novels, and I love how the Click Your Poison books take the conceit into the digital age. …a gripping mystery packed with action set against an exotic Brazilian backdrop. This is a novel that you control.” — William Massa, Hollywood screenwriter and Amazon bestselling author of Fear the Light: Who Murdered Dracula?

★★★★★ “MURDERED…solid writing, humor, mystery, thrills and…the opportunity to investigate and solve a murder…” — Zach Tyo, reviewer, indiebookreviewer.blogspot.com

If you’ve read the book, now would be a great time to leave a review on amazon or to share your thoughts on goodreads. Please tell your friends about the sale and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog (toolbar on left) for future sales and specials!