Thursday, August 20, 2009

Prainha - The Most Beautiful Beach in the World

We have a little bit of a cross post because while Grover was typing his last post on *ahem* my computer, I was writing mine by hand while drinking Brahmas like Spider drinks the community water in our apartment, i.e. guzzling.

Prainha, or "Little Beach," is the most beautiful beach in the world, and a short drive from where we are staying in Barra Da Tiuca. Our first trip there on a Saturday afternoon brought us past spectacular beachfront. When traffic started backing up, and the cab meter continued to run, we considered just stopping and ditching Prainha altogether, but indecisiveness won out, and when we eventually rounded the bend on a narrow, two-lane road, there was no question that we had arrived. Everyone in the cab, including the driver, muttered things like, "Wow," "Ohhhhhhhh," and "Polla" (poe-HA) under our breaths. The beach is nestled snugly in the loving arms of a lush and mountainous region. The waves come in regular sets breaking on a sandbar in the backdrop of a rocky cliff.

Just off the beach, there are a couple of places to sit and relax with a fresh coconut, the tops of which are hacked off with machetes, a hole bored into the top, and straw inserted. It is nature's Gatoraid sold for about $1 USD. Surfboard rentals are reasonably priced and rented by men who are a little too quick to laugh, even by Carioca standards, and have bloodshot eyes and move in a languor reminiscent of the hookah-smoking Caterpillar.

The sand was so clean compared to Los Angeles, and my drying swimsuit did not smell like raw sewage, which takes a while to get used to. The men and women of Rio are widely regarded as the most beautiful (and exhibitionistic) people in the world. Confirmed.

The only thing I can imagine improving upon would be little monkey butlers in red velvet suits serving the coconuts, and a sign at the entrance reading "NO ERWINS ALLOWED."

That first day we headed to the beach, people who shall remain nameless, but whose names rhyme with "Lider Guard" and "Swimmy," were unable to be coaxed away from their gorging on like ten gallons of Acai, and so we didn't arrive until late afternoon, but we knew we would return as we watched the low winter sun drop below the surrounding mountains.

On our second trip, we were joined by Gerson, his wife, and their baby daughter Sophia. Chimmy joined us after serving a time out and loss of privileges for neglecting his chores (Bad Chimmy! Very bad Chimmy!). Spider stayed home as he is originally from Hawaii and couldn't stand that Prainha was more beautiful than the spits of sand they call beaches in our 50th state. I endeavored to drag everyone out of bed early (at 9:30am) and we arrived something like two hours later due to many unforeseen circumstances. (A quick aside - Like a lot of developing countries in the world, it seems to take an awfully long time to do awfully simple things, and this was compounded by seven people with competing interests, and one of us needing to be breast-fed. If we had only been here a week, we'd be going nuts. Thankfully, we've had time to get to do just about everything we wanted to do)

Chimmy, Grover and I grabbed a few surfboards and paddled out. Chimmy defied the laws of physics, Grover caught some great rides, and I repeatedly stood up early and fell off. Much like fishing without bait, or playing golf without keeping score, some activities are deeply fulfilling without tracking a metric for success, such as number of waves ridden (0), or number of failed attempts (10-15), or number of times small children pointed and laughed (countless), and as such I promise you I emerged from the water as Chimmy (who is some kind of man-boy favored by the gods and given the power to ride the ocean like Poseidon) with a sense of spiritual fulfillment. The day was too perfect, and when our host family suggested leaving, we used "Gerson's Law" to our advantage, and ordered some food at a rustic beach side restaurant before they could refuse.

We ordered fresh fish, two cokes for Grover and I, and a coconut for Chimmy. Shortly after ordering, I regretted my decision as a natural sugar coke, while an equally sublime drinking experience, did not sound as good as coconut. But this is Prainha beach, so when the waiter brought out a coconut for me, I wasn't the least bit surprised. This place is sometimes like the Lost island, without the time travel, frustrating plot, and rotten acting. Speaking of which, does Matthew Fox's range include any emotion other than "angry"? And why don't the "Losties" ever ask "the Others" in season 2 some basic questions like, "What are you people doing on this island? How did you get here? How long have you been here? Why do you say cryptic things to us, and then walk away leaving us shouting as your back at the end of every scene?"

We (I) ate the heck out of the fresh fish when it arrived, along with fish stew, and french fries, and some coconut flavored dessert. We all relaxed and watched the waves and Grover ran away from the table when a few friendly bees joined us for a bit. Grover and I agreed to return. I was under the impression that if I didn't catch a wave prior to returning home, the whole trip would somehow be ruined for all of us.

So we came back a few days later. The forecast called for rain, clouds, and a cold front, but the weather turned to our favor - a little overcast, but still warm, and so Grover commandeered the car, and drove only somewhat more herky-jerky that Gerson or Corina, to the most beautiful beach in the world.

We arrived and it was virtually empty. A few surfers, a few slow moving men hanging out at the surf rental area, and a few Cariocas refusing to believe that Prainha could offer up anything short of heaven on earth.

We grabbed a couple of boards and paddled out, the water even warmer than before. The sesh began with a promising beginning. Grover caught some great rides and I finally learned some patience - standing up when appropriate prior to losing my balance and falling spectacularly into the ocean.

After an hour and a half or so, a particularly promising set rolled in. I paddled until the back of the board began to rise, and stood up and lost my stomach a bit as I fell down the face of the wave, still feet on top of the board. I looked over and saw Grover out of the corner of my eye and realized I had completely cut him off, but knew he wanted me to ride this wave perhaps even more than I did, and I involuntarily let out a whoop of joy, and turned into the face of the wave, and rode that swell until the energy petered out, and I fell face first into the ocean, my smile kissing the water with the knowledge that Prainha had once again delivered a small maricle.

The King has spoken, bra!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Spider Gets a Nickname, Judo Happens, and The (ugh) King Catches His White Whale

About 10 hours after we got off the plane (and several adult beverages deep) one of my travel companions noted that trips like this seem to break down into three phases: the beginning (I know - shocker, but bear with me here), where the destination is new and you run around with seemingly boundless energy; the middle, where you get complaicent (probably because you didn't sleep enough in Phase 1) and underacomplish as an explorer; and the end, where you realize that you are out of time and need to cram in as much as possible. We've been living in the first phase for the last two weeks (with one or two days where we've all collapsed and couldn't do anything): it's been a freefall of BJJ, surfing, shopping, eating, staying out until 6 am, and sightseeing. We've all got multiple little injuries (sprained fingers, pulled shoulders, bruises, mat burn, sun burn, and I think Spider has heart burn) but no one is ready to leave (Chimmy is, however, ready for the next party)

Some beach views from the last couple of weeks:

Copacabana -

...and more Copacabana (the guy on the right clearly works out) -

Spider, King, and Chimmy have been rolling well over here. Spider so well, in fact, that the locals at our school (did I mention it's about 100 paces away from the front of our apartment) have affectionately dubbed him Monstro (translation: delicate sensitive gentleman) and I'm really hoping this sticks when we get back.

Last night the four of us trained at Gerson's (our BJJ professeur) Judo academy, with the man who guided him through to his black belt. It was a wonderful experience, much more formal than a jiujitsu session, and so much fun. Gerson was clearly being appraised by our performance as we lined up in front of the class and grip fought with every student (about 15 - 16 of them...exhausting!), then each took a couple of turns sparring with the higher belts. This was my first judo experience, and the rest of our crew are novices at best. Things did not end well for us. At the end of the session the head of the school lined us up and (through a translater) told us that we were all tough, humble, and a part of the school now (there may have been more, but my head was still ringing after getting tossed around like a rag doll. I think I brisued my spleen. Seriously.) It was a fine moment, and I think we represented our school and instructors well.

About three months before we left for this trip King and I decided it'd be a shame to visit Rio and not surf. We figured that the issue of us having limited to no surf experience was a trifle and set about teaching ourselves in the pristine Venice Beach shore break. Between 2 -3 three times a week, for the past three months, both of us have been getting beaten, twisted, and nearly drowned in an effort to ride the ellusive wave. Today it all paid off. After commandeering the car, I drove (an adventure in its own right) us to the local surf spot - Prainha (or something of that nature, I'm not a natural "speller"); Here's a shot of the water just beyond the break. It was a perfect day for us, the waves were 1 - 4 feet high, fair conditions, and about four other guys in the water. We were out for a little over an hour when a chest high wave came at us and we started pulling. At this point (as far as I'm ocncerned) it's every man for themselves and I tune K out, but as I get up I hear K yelling like a kid in short pants and see him tearing down to the left of me. I gracefully exit stage right. After popping my head up out of the water, I see the wave but no K. Thinking he fell, I chuckeled to myself (I DO love a good King fail) and started to paddle out again, then see K out of the corner of my eye screaming out of a bottom turn and make one more over the crest of the wave and then look over to make sure I had taken it all in, before falling into the water with his hands raised in triumph. It was another fine moment, and great to see some hard work pay off. We got out shortly after, took a picture to commerate the occasion, drank two coconuts, and scrambled back to the gym for an unbelievable two hour semi private lesson with the rest of the crew.

Here's the pic, I think they rented us the gringo boards, mine has a naked lady on it:

We had another teammate who was supposed to join us on this trip, but had to back out. J - we've been thinking of you and hope all is well, we'll do this again some day.

I'm off to make sure that Chimmy gets to bed on time, that Spider/Monstro doesn't finish the last of our drinking water, and that King takes his weekly shower. Out.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Some Random Impressions of Rio

Taxi drivers are proud of their country and love to explore some of the more indirect routes to places around town. Unfortunately, most do not speak English, which makes it difficult to appreciate why we often travel in circles to reach our intended destination.

People here make eye contact a lot more frequently then back home.

The Portuguese language is a more melodic than either English or Spanish, and the intonation reminds me of Italian. For example, cheese in Spanish is “queso,” pronounced kay-so, but in Portuguese it is spelled “quejo” and pronounced, “kaaaaaaaaaaayssshoooooww” with an impish smile.

Whenever someone poses at the Christ the Redeemer statue, they crudely mimic the statue’s pose in the foreground, often with a goofy look on their face.

People dress a lot like they do in coastal towns of southern California: Flip flops, jeans, t-shirts. We don’t stick out that much. It is not uncommon to be approached by someone speaking rapid-fire Portuguese assuming we are local.

People stand, rather than sit, on seats at soccer games.

While we're on the subject of soccer, people will start singing and chanting and clapping before the players arrive on the field, and will not stop until the players have left the field.

One of the things I like best about this country is that I am many thousand miles away from Erwin “Bene” Benedicto. I hate you Erwin! I hate you I hate you I hate you!

But damn! An acai shake really does his the spot after training. Seriously.

It is perfectly acceptable to run red lights after ten o’clock.

If you're not catching waves on the Venice Beach break, you probably will not catch them in Brasil.

Women love showing off their rear ends, no matter the shape or size, and where U.S. American women would cover their rear ends with a long shirt, or sarong, Brazilian women proudly expose their hindquarters to the world. This includes the beach, where swimsuits directly translate in English to, and I swear I'm not making this up, "Dental Floss." (Fio Dental)

When a car breaks down blocking a lane, the driver is expected to stand thirty yards ahead of his car making a “beat the gypsy” motion with his arm to indicate that the lane is blocked.

Watching some dude hack off both ends of a coconut, bore a hole, and insert a straw into the meat makes it taste awesome.

There may be more spectacular beaches than prainha, but I haven't seen them.

After training now at perhaps six or seven different academies in both U.S. America and Brazil, and after experiencing many different styles of teaching and learning, it really doesn’t make a damn bit of difference what you do to train. Some schools focus on live sparring, some have difficult warm ups, some focus on technique, but it seems that no matter where I go, people get better at roughly the same rate. The style here is different. People tend to favor slightly different techniques, I've encountered things I haven't elsewhere, but the end result is a wash, as you can tell that the Brazilians are unfamiliar with some of our techniques.

The King has jotted some stuff down, and called it a night without even making the effort into producing a decent and entertaining narrative, and feels somewhat sheepish.

Training Recap Week 1

The first week of our trip has come to an end, a lot faster than I expected or hoped. But it has been extremely fun. The nagging injuries from training hard everyday are starting to show up, but we are all doing our best to stick it out and represent GB Culver City!

There is a greater emphasis on live rolling here. I haven’t really learned some new magical moves that are only being taught in Brazil! The moves I have seen here have been taught to all of us before. There really is no secret to getting better at Jiu Jitsu, its just mat time and good rolling. With Rabicoa we have only done 1 class with techniques. All other classes have been king of the guard/hill type drills for about an hour (if you are doing good, it sometimes feels like you are in the middle forever!) then we get to the rolling section. Most rolls are 10 minutes long. This is really damn tiring! These guys don’t like to turn on the fan! It gets really hard to breathe after you have been training for an hour. But this emphasizes technique, patience, and pacing yourself. You really can’t blow your wad all at once. You need to be able to go from a 5 to a 10 in a heart beat, and not be going 10 all the time.

What has really impressed me overall about the fighters here is their transitioning from move to move. Fights are not a really grind out one move sort of fight. When they are passing or sweeping, they try to give you a variety of techniques and move from one to the next flawlessly. Even if they are rotating the same 3 sweeps over and over, you are not going to stop them all at once. They give you various looks and combinations and transfer from each technique flawlessly.

Also the mats we are on here are HARD. Guys, we can’t complain about our mats at home, EVER! The mats at this school feel like cork with a leather blanket over them!

Wish I could type more, but am really tired! Can’t think! See you guys soon!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dêem-me um beijo

One of the good and bad things about Novo Le Blon, where we are staying, is that it is just a few minutes away from three consecutive shopping malls. The good part is that we can get whatever we need quickly and easily, be it food, water, medical supplies, or acai. The bad part is that it is modeled directly after U.S. American shopping malls, which sometimes makes me forget that we are in another country. That is, until I try to talk with someone. Most people here speak very little English.

Yesterday, Chimmy was a little fussy after his nap, so we walked to one of the shopping areas next door for a meal. Spider Guard ordered a dish with beef, rice, vegetables, and French fries and Chimmy and I split a pizza with faux pepperoni. It was decent, decently priced, and served by a cute Brazilian waitress.

Chimmy and I have been studying the same Portuguese language tapes, so I was looking forward to having another person help to communicate with the locals. Unfortunately, no matter how much you study at home, your first few encounters leave you shell shocked – your mind goes completely blank, drool forms in the corners of your mouth, your eyes roll back into your head, and you crumple to the floor muttering things like “Eu so Peter Jones! Eu so Peter Jones!” I could tell Chimmy was eager to practice, so after the meal I said, “OK – Time to use your Portuguese. When the waitress stops by, ask her for the check by saying, ‘Dêem-me um beijo.’”

Chimmy flagged down the waitress and said, “Dêem-me um beijo,” a little timidly, so the waitress put her ear close to his mouth so she could understand him better. He repeated, “Dêem-me um beijo,” and she looked momentarily horrified, then stuck out her index finger and wagged it back and forth (the Portuguese hand gesture for “No,” or in this case, “Leave me alone, you freak!”)

“What did I just say?” Chimmy asked on the verge of tears, upon noticing that I was laughing harder than I have in several decades.

“Dêem-me um beijo means ‘Give me a kiss.’”

“You need to fix this,” he said, “Tell her I didn’t know! Tell her I didn’t know!” Spider Guard and I tried to talk him down, and assure him that his reputation in Gracie Barra was not forever tarnished. The waitress went back behind the counter, and told her friends who immediately giggled over the joke. I apologized, we tipped well, and I’ve been telling that story to whoever will listen to me every since.

The King has spoken.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Gerson dropped Grover and I off in downtown Gracie Barra last night (close to where Renzo Gracie used to own a restaraunt), and we walked around a little bit prior to spotting a place with live music. The line was short, and when we walked in, the band was tuning their instruments. We had a good feeling about the place, which was reinforced by the country music being played over the speakers:

Way down yonder in the Chattinoochee
Never realized what that muddy river meant to me
I learned how to swim, and I learned who I was
a lot about livin' and a little 'bout love

I asked a waiter in terrible Portuguese “What type of music they play” pointing to the band, and he responded, “Country.” We had found a country music bar in Rio! I’m not a huge fan, but I used to listen to Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr., and the Dixie Chicks before they trashed our president in a foreign country and appeared naked on a magazine cover with names that had been called written all over their bodies as though they were somehow victims. I was born in St. Louis, so country music is inextricably linked to my DNA. I can no more disown my country music-listening, narrow-gene pooled, nascar-loving relatives than I can my hip, urbanite friends of Los Angeles.

Out of nowhere, cowboy hats appeared - this was getting better and better! I spotted two dudes grab their belts and kick out their heels like a two-stepping cowboy after herding cattle. Grover speculated this may be influenced by the gaucho culture of Argentina. We waited for the music to start, and drank draft beer (“Choppa”) until the waiting didn’t bother us. Then we waited some more until the waiting started bothering us again. The crowd grew larger and larger, and still we waited. I wondered to myself if the electric slide was considered a line dance.

After an hour or so, and getting increasingly antsy, I tried to ask an enthusiastic young woman next to us “When music begin” in caveman Portuguese. She responded by asking me if I spoke Spanish, and so I switched to “Cro-Magnon” Espanol. From what I gathered, the band would begin playing when the place was full and all the VIPs had arrived. So Grover and I continued to wait, swapping stories of our other trips overseas, and trying to make the best of the situation.

After the second hour, I looked over, and noticed liquid streaming down Grover’s face, and realized that I had liquid running down my own face like a faucet. When I saw that it was coming from our eyes, I realized that we were literally bored to tears. My back was sore from standing, and we continued to drink Choppa long after the beer was doing nothing for us other than contributing to a hangover the next day. We challenged each other to freestyle rap. We took turns elbowing our way to the bathroom. (Incidentally, it is perfectly OK in Rio, when in a crowd and needing to get by a woman, to put your arm around her like a sideways hug indicating your intention to squeeze by.)

We stood and waited for nearly FOUR hours until the place would have been shut down due to fire code violations in the United States. The last couple of hours they stopped playing US and Portuguese country songs, and resumed playing the same five or six songs in a row that everyone knew the words to, and everyone clapped in time to, and raised their hands in the air at the same time to, which was a great cultural experience the first few cycles, but soon became overbearing. Every hour, someone would say “Prontos?” ("ready?") into the microphone.

“I’ve been prontos for hours,” I grumbled to Grover.

The band finally took the stage and....and....and....started playing those SAME STUPID PORTUGUESE SONGS WE HAD BEEN LISTENING TO FOR THE PAST TWO HOURS!!!!!! The crowd loved it, but Grover and I were about ready to draw straws to determine who would go last in the murder-suicide that would put us out of our misery.

As the band was not catering to our specific cultural ideals of what constitutes “good music,” we left after three songs, pressing through a thick crowd of people. I was briefly separated from Grover. Two women were yelling in my ear to continue moving forward. I looked ahead and saw an impenetrable wall of human beings packed like Japanese businessmen in subways. I felt a surge of pressure from behind, and somehow my body was being squeezing through people like a jutting rock in between two tectonic plates. I felt something cold in my swimsuit area. I looked over, and a women had spilled her drink down my back. Grover, towering over everyone, yelled at me to press forward. We finally found our way to the front, used our card to pay for our drinks, and made our way through the crowd of people waiting in line to get in.

We were a little giddy to have left with our sanity intact, and stopped by a Portuguese Roach Coach, an electric grill in the back of a minivan, that happened to have a bumper sticker affixed to their window, and ordered a couple of cheeseburgers. We talked to the couple selling food, and the older guy running the roach coach was from a Gracie Barra jiu jitsu school, which goes to show you that even if their music sucks, the Cariocas (residents of Rio) culture is not completely worthless.

We made our way back to the apartment, and slept through the early class the next day, waking only for the arrival of Chimmy, who trained with Spider Guard immediately upon arriving. After class, we put Chimmy down for a nap, and he fell fast asleep clutching a teddy bear under his arm.

Tonight, I look forward to sweating out this hangover at the academy, and trying not to get pwned by Rio for a second night in a row.

The King has spoken.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

First 2 Days of Training

Training Day 1:

Gerson took us to the main academy that we will be training at during our trip, Gordo Jiu Jitsu in Novo Leblon. The head black belt here is name “Rabicoa” and was actually a blue belt under Gerson before he came to the States. Class was run way differently than I expected. Maybe I was expecting a more structured class or a class that demystified the half guard (it is Gordos School! The half guard king!). This how the class went:

30 Minutes of King of the Hill essentially. You and a partner start standing and first to score wins – you can take down, pull guard sweep, etc. Winner stays in. Pretty cool concept, enjoyed it, a little hard to do as a warm up though! Needless to say I pulled guard each time! =)

Next was 30 Minutes of King of the Hill again, but this time it was passing guard.

We ended with rolling of 10 minutes rounds. Talk about exhausting! But it was extremely fun.

My takeaway’s from Gordo’s school:

These guys are EXTREMELY TECHNICAL! Just blew my mind. But they don’t push the pace the way we do in the states. This is probably due to the endless amounts of 10 minute rounds. Also these guys are very methodical. Due to their superior technique it seems that they have blue print to what they want to do.

Everyone here loved the deep half guard (think Sam on Steroids!). They were pulling it from everywhere.

These guys were a great group of guys and I am looking forward to training with them further.

Training Day 2:

Tonight Gerson took us to the main Gracie Barra. I was awed and humbled to have trained here. There is a lot of history and many champions that have gone through those mats. The class was HUGE! Easily 40 on the mat at once, we had to take turns rolling. Now Gracie Barra is more structured than Gordos, we actually did a positional technique here! But just one and then it was on to what seemed like an infinite amount of rolling for 10 minute rounds.

The head instructor here is Jefferson Moura. This man is an old school champion. He had success in the earlier editions of the mundials. Really good guard, in fact I think he recently did the positions section in Gracie Mag Magazine, I think a couple months back. Very very nice guy.

My takeaway’s from Gracie Barra:

More structured and intense! There was a larger sense of competition here. People rolled hard and fast, but no one was out to get you hurt. This was a great experience as it allowed me to test myself against peers and people above me.

Sorry so short, but I am tired. Would like to discuss more the rolling and positions, but my mind is gone! We are waking up early to see some museums in downtown Rio. Then in the afternoon we will be training at Tata’s school. We then end the day watching the Flamengo vs Flumenese game.