Three Days in Mexico — Part Two: Finding Glory

IMG_3548Read Part One here.

The crack of dawn occurred after Rogue Priest, Pixi, and I had woken up and took to the road in search of breakfast. The Hotel La Turbina advertised a restaurant that didn’t actually exist, and, Sabinas Hidalgo being a relatively small town, most eating places didn’t open on Sundays until seven (in principle), but not really until about 7:15 or 7:30 (in practice). For the second time on the trip, we ended up at a restaurant with a severe dearth of cars in the parking lot. This time, though, we were on the town’s main drag and didn’t expect to have our pictures on milk cartons this time.

The Restaurant Acira (all restaurants in northern Mexico seemed to use the English version of the word, though they still seemed to pronounce it restaurante. I guess dropping the final “e” lent a place a certain je ne sais quois) served up traditional Mexican breakfasts in what was, if you bothered to look past its crusted-over, forlorn ambience, a surprisingly attractive, mid-century Modern roadside diner. The parking lot’s rusty awning probably shielded snazzy drive-in customers from the fierce Mexican sun when served in their 1955 Chevy Bel Airs. Along the northern wall glittered a giant, intricate tile mosaic depicting cows and cowboys locked in their historic and essential wrangle. The restaurant’s Jetsons-style sign, in desert pastels, perched almost demurely at the edge of the parking lot and, like most of the other impressive design elements of the place, outshined by gaudy, artless kitsch, required keen eyes to appreciate. Even the waiter had a classic air about him, with his elegant mustache and diction, that seemed to belong to an era of service long dead and buried. And the breakfast was pretty good, too.

After filling our bellies, Rogue, Pixi, and I stocked up on provisions and hit the road, saying our private goodbyes to lovely Sabinas Hidalgo as we passed tree-shaded yards and whitewashed houses en route to the verdant hills ahead of us.

As the arid carpet of northern Mexico unrolled ahead of us, we continued adelante, emboldened by the previous day’s triumph of reaching our first stopping point without incident. Rogue and Pixi biked briskly, maintaining a steady pace as the sun, and the land itself it seemed, rose steadily higher.

It was here, in the midst of the fluttering Monarch butterflies, bright yellow wildflowers, and sturdy cacti that lined our route, that I soon began to ponder my own path. Where, indeed, was I going to?

The previous few months had meant leaving my teaching job and apartment in Miami to focus on my PhD, my writing, and my relationship in Germany. The relationship—five years and almost married—ended suddenly, but not without good reason, just as I’d visited South Africa for the first time on a press trip that I’d put off for two years. And now, here I was: traipsing through Mexico with only a few freelancing gigs and my part-time airline job for money, my doctoral studies on indefinite pause, the solid relationship I had counted on no longer in existence, and an intense and unexpected romance in South Africa suddenly interrupted by fear and uncertainty.

To be honest, for the past several weeks, I’d been struggling greatly with all the great existential issues that plague the aimlessly intellectual and creative: why am I here? For what purpose? What is happening to me? Why didn’t my relationship work out? Why isn’t this new one working out? Why isn’t the love of my family and friends enough? Why is my bank account perpetually empty? What happens now? Where am I going to? Where am I going to?

And as I tossed these things about in my head, silently rejoicing about the awesomeness of the trip but a bit more loudly despairing of my life situation at that moment, I heard Janelle Monae sing: “To be victorious, you must find glory in the little things.”

And this refrain, undergirded by the gentle yet unrelenting reminders of numerous friends, family members, the universe really, of how wonderful and one-of-a-kind every single moment of my life was, took on a greater significance.

How many other people had the time and ability to fly down to Mexico and help a good friend realize his life goal? Or help a new friend realize how far beyond her limits she could push herself? How many other people were freezing up in colder climes while I was able to drive through some of God’s most thrilling countryside ‘neath nuclear skies, where most people don’t even fly over, let alone experience by land? And despite my physical remoteness, I was still in contact with my familiars around the world—in Brazil and Sweden and the US and South Africa—checking in on me, thinking about me, praying for me, loving me. All these little things.

“To be victorious, you must find glory in the little things.”

There is more to the story. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving.

Snaps from the road:

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Select sounds from Day Two:

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Three Days in Mexico – Part One

Antique Mexico mapAt the spur of the moment, and in what I would consider to be a bit of cosmic planning, I found myself with some unexpected free time with which to head down Mexico way and drive the support car for my buddy Rogue Priest and friend as they cycled through the dry and dangerous northern borderlands between the Rio Grande and Monterrey.

Rogue’s epic journey—to bicycle the length of the Americas—combines adventure, danger, courage, spirituality, and heroism. His embodiment of these virtues (well, danger isn’t a virtue, but…) and his neverending quest for knowledge of all kinds are the reasons why I admire him, and why I agreed, offered, really, to be his support driver. Rogue opened up the Mexican portion of his quest―called The Fellowship of the Wheel―to the public and had a few interested parties sign on. Some backed out because of safety concerns; others agreed to join at points further down the road. But this first three-day stretch, with its forbidding terrain and criminal notoriety, required someone who understood the importance of the quest and who wouldn’t allow fear to interfere.

And so it was that I followed Rogue and Pixi south from Texas, crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico by foot from Laredo, a 10-minute jaunt for which the US Government charged 75 cents. Rogue met me in Nuevo Laredo with a smile and a hug, unable to look anything other than hopelessly American with his bicycle, and dashing my hopes of neutralizing our obvious foreignness with a little faux Dominican-ness of my own. The soggy, gray clouds lay thick and humid over the city as we trudged through the mildewed and crestfallen blocks of the old central business district looking for a rental car agency that was not where Google Maps said it would be, and I began my role as official translator when Rogue handed me the iPhone he waved about so liberally to confirm the exact address of the place (“What good is having a phone if not to donate it to those less virtuous than us?”).

Because of the complex nature of US-Mexico border relations, rental cars fall under a strange set of rules: only a select few rented in Texas can cross into Mexico, and even then, must stay within a certain distance from the border. Since we were taking the car just south of Monterrey, and therefore past the border threshold, we had to rent the car in Mexico, opting for returning the car to Nuevo Laredo rather than the more expensive one-way rental which would have allowed me to fly out of Monterrey three days later. But we were adventure seekers, and what kind of adventure would this have been without some sort of return dash north to La Frontera?

Car rented, I got directions to our CouchSurfing host’s house from Rogue and drove on ahead, getting accustomed to our silver Chevrolet Aveo and covering the distance in about 8 minutes that it took Rogue to cover in 15. In no time, he appeared and we stepped through a pair of wrought iron gates and past three cats and a dog into the house of sushi restauranteur and gentle giant, Scotch (who, at that very moment, was away managing one of his restaurants). There, among the visual noise of a modest Mexican homestead, I met quiet, reserved Pixi, who, like Rogue, hailed from the stoic wilds of the Upper Midwest (Minneapolis, to be exact…Rogue’s from ‘scahnsin). We then piled into the Aveo for trip provisions and a late lunch, as Scotch had promised a hearty dinner that evening.

The thing many people who don’t travel abroad fail to realize is just how Americanized life has become in many places around the world. Mexicans and Brazilians and South Africans and Malaysians and Germans all pull into the parking lots of big-box retailers in their SUVs to purchase American-inspired, Chinese-made groceries and household items. Disaffected teenagers swipe through Instagram on their smart phones while parents mull over which revamped Ninja Turtle toy to buy the kids. Sure, there are and will always be significant cultural differences, but in early November, in Mexico, leftover Halloween candy was still in the clearance bin and the Christmas decorations―replete with a rosy-cheeked Santa and fake snow―were being set up at the front of the H.E.B. supermarket in a strip mall in Nuevo Laredo. We stocked up on water, bananas, bran crackers, and tuna (with veggies!) for the road, then went to the Chinese take-out joint next door and ate greasy, plastic chicken and lo mein that sunk like the Hesperus in my stomach.

We capped off the night in Scotch’s dining room with scrumdiddlyumptious bowls of beef and rice stew, along with heaps of laughs and mostly-English conversation with his family about travel, music, and the general safety and sanity issues raised by a bicycle trip through northern Mexico: an arid and inhospitable hinterland pockmarked by gangs of drug- and human-traffickers, some even masquerading as “legitimate” law enforcement and setting up roadblocks to rob motorists, a most useful factoid on the eve of our excursion into said hinterland.

What seemed like a mere five hours later, just before 6am, we were up and out of the house, Rogue and Pixi on their bikes, peddling through the Saturday morning twilight at ten-to-fifteen miles per hour, me following behind in the Aveo, hugging the side of the road behind them with emergency flashers blinking and Janelle Monae hyping me up for the journey ahead. Initial fatigue aside, the excitement of supporting a good friend of mine on his life-quest, with the heightened sense of adventure associated with traveling through Narcolandia, kept me alert at the wheel. As the sun rose higher into the cloudless sky, I could sense the cosmic approval of this endeavor; we were going to be okay.

Not that our―or their, rather―safety was always readily apparent. On the multilane highway heading southwest from Nuevo Laredo, 18-wheelers flew by at astronomical speeds, often belching black clouds of exhaust and kicking up dust into Rogue’s and Pixi’s faces. Sometimes, the two had to ride single-file on the jagged edge of the road, dodging debris and potholes; I even had to keep a sharp eye out for abrupt slow-downs so as not to accidentally run over my own daring charges with the Aveo. Still, with me behind them, vehicles tended to give Rogue and Pixi a wider berth, often changing lanes completely and respectfully, with nary a beep or a toot. Typically, all heads in a passing vehicle or standing along the road turned in our direction, some spectators even waving, but all with a look on their faces that seemed to say “¿que carajo are these fools doing?”

The objective of the day was to get as far away from the border, and out of perceived danger, as quickly as possible, reaching the town of Sabinas Hidalgo―85 miles away―by afternoon’s end. The chosen route, the toll-free and therefore curvier and more-heavily-traveled version of Highway 85, spanned the fertile flatlands of the Rio Grande before the leafier, more vivid foliage gave way to paler greens and the spiky flora of the scrublands. By mid-morning, the sun burned hot overhead, a heat lamp quietly and deceitfully roasting the immediate environment while the actual air temperature remained mild, and every bird seemed, for a split second, to resemble a vulture. Yellow wildflowers clung boldly to the sides of the road and golden butterflies fluttered like confetti over the roadway, especially once the number of lanes dwindled to two.

Rogue and Pixi pedaled and pushed themselves along the route, their long-sleeved shirts shielding them from the sun and remaining virtually dry in the near-desert air, me rolling behind in relative luxury, South African house DJ Black Coffee’s rhythmic wizardry as much in place on the golden plains of Nuevo León as in the orange hills of KwaZulu-Natal. We stopped every hour along the route, chatting for a few minutes about their impressive progress while bladders were emptied and water bottles refilled. I respected them incredibly for their bravery and drive in this undertaking, and not for a single moment did I wish to be changing places with either of them at any time during the trip.

It was just before noon when we stopped at the first respectable-looking, and open, restaurant we came to along the route. While the front door gaped wide and the “Open” (yes, in English) sign was illuminated, not a solitary car occupied the muddy parking lot, but we decided to take a chance anyway. We’d settled around the table for totopos when the clock struck 12 and darnit if the place didn’t fill up with hungry truck drivers, relieving us of our apprehension about eating in a tiny diner in god-knows-where without any customers. But then, I guess it would have already been too late for us had there been any truly sinister shenanigans at that place.

Three full stomachs later, we hopped back onto the road, our sights set on Sabinas Hidalgo and an early arrival into town. About two hours later, though, as the afternoon sun beat down on the adventurers and the terrain started inching upwards, Pixi decided that she would join me in the cool, conditioned air of the Aveo, leaving Rogue to continue ahead of us on his own. Personally, I couldn’t blame Pixi―as I said, I had zero inclination to peddle even a tenth as far as she did…and this is due to falling off my bike in front of a bus at age 16…I’m scarred―and Rogue didn’t either; she had come over 60 miles of tough terrain and should be proud of the effort.

And so we pushed on, away from the US and ever deeper into Mexico. Shortly thereafter, weathered road signs welcomed us at last to Sabinas. At the leading edge of town, just as rain-heavy clouds closed in and the incline became ever steeper, we stopped for gas and snacks. I couldn’t resist a sliver of cheesecake in the freezer case labeled “Pay de Queso” (the “pay” pronounced “pie”), but I hadn’t been resisting much during the entire trip. I’m a grazer and had torn through half the box of bran crackers and at least five pouches of tuna during that day’s drive, and I hadn’t peddled an inch. But it seemed like every ten minutes, I was reaching to put something in my mouth. I vowed to stop the insanity after just that one slice of “pay.”

Pixi and I hopped back into the car and followed Rogue into town. The road became a city street, cross-streets and driveways depositing slow-moving small-town traffic onto the thoroughfare. We passed through the main commercial strip, banks and drugstores and gas stations and cocinas mexicanas on both sides. The local Church’s Chicken-cum-Subway stood proudly and colorfully as one of, if not the, newest buildings in town, a sign that modern globalization had not forgotten about little Sabinas Hidalgo.

Rogue peddled and I drove, exchanging glances with Pixi when Rogue seemed to be unsure of which route to take to our hotel, and unsure ourselves of the name and address of the place, necessary facts for any GPS search. Yet our trust in Fearless Leader unwavering, we ended up at the decrepit, yet still somehow cozy Hotel Las Turbinas, a small motor lodge located on the far end of town that glowed Dr. Seuss pink in the waning afternoon sunlight.

After a quick bed bug spot-check and verification of internet access at least somewhere on the premises, Day One was done.

To be continued…

Snaps from the road:
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60 Years After Brown, 20 Years After Apartheid

"Meal Time in the Girls' Hostel," South Africa  (Image source: http://murraymcgregor.wordpress.com/chapter-15-the-chaos-of-%E2%80%9Cbantu%E2%80%9D-education/)

“Meal Time in the Girls’ Hostel,” South Africa (Image source: http://murraymcgregor.wordpress.com)

Sixty years ago, the United States Supreme Court struck down racial segregation in American public schools. “[S]eperate educational facilities are inherently unequal” wrote the court. The case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, set the stage for the dismantling of legal segregation, culminating a decade later in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The year before Brown, literally halfway around the world in South Africa, the winds of change were blowing in the opposite direction. According to the mind-blowing biography Mandela by Martin Meredith, which I’m now reading, “natives” (i.e.: blacks) were no longer to be educated in a way that would cause them to have any expectations of life in “Europeanized,” urban environments.

Under the terms of the Bantu Education Act…introduced in 1953…[a]ll schools, whatever their status, would have to be registered by the government. No private schools would be allowed to exist without government approval. Control of schools would pass not to the Department of Education but to the Department of Native Affairs. Introducing the new legislation before parliament, [soon-to-be Prime Minister Hendrik] Verwoerd was forthright about its purpose: ‘Natives will be taught from childhood to realize that equality with Europeans is not for them.’

In fact, Verwoerd proved steadfast in his belief of African inferiority:

There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour … What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?

The Bantu child is an “it”?! Segregationist education policy, only one part of South Africa’s heinous Apartheid system, remained in place until 1994.

I am rapt by South African history and its relationship to American history. In 1953, my mother was 15 years old and my father, nine. Both of them would have been been educated under the Bantu system. Despite Brown, they both graduated from segregated high schools, as did I.

"Black Schoolroom," United States (Image source: http://readcontra.com/2014/05/why-white-people-matter-the-american-school-system/)

“Black Schoolroom,” United States (Image source: http://readcontra.com/2014/05/why-white-people-matter-the-american-school-system/)

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Maine Magic

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In Maine, in late summer, the cool breezes off the sapphire-blue Atlantic temper the warmth of a pale sun, the air free of the asphyxiating humidity of more southerly latitudes. Despite being a son of the South, and tethered naturally to the cultures and climates therein, I always find myself drawn to the northern parts of the globe in summer.

Maybe it’s some sort of symbolic retracing of the Great Migration, seeking respite ‘neath the warmth of other suns. Whatever the rhyme or the reason, my two days in Portland, largest city in Maine, proved invigorating and refreshing, not unlike a good breath mint.

I joined my good pal of 18 years (!), Rod, at his family’s summer cottage (!), driving around, scandalizing the locals with our belly laughs, watching movies, discovering music, frying chicken (!), and playing the dozens between doling out unsolicited advice as good friends are wont to do.

I returned to Florida having pinned a new city on my travel map and with fond memories of my two days in Maine. When a place stays with you, that’s magic.

Have a look at some of the sights and listen to some of the sounds I encountered in the great state of Maine:

Cape Elizabeth Maine Porches in Portland Portland City HallAtlantic Ocean at Cape Elizabeth Maine Enchanted Forest Maine

Rod and Fly

Me and Rod squinting into the sun because the light is better. #TeamOver35



I KNOW…SOUTH AFRICA POSTS COMING!!!

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Vintage Travel Posters: San Francisco

SF_UA0Arguably America’s must beautiful city, San Francisco has long lured travelers with its stunning scenery, fresh air, striking bridges, and – as these vintage travel posters indicate – the exotic delights of Chinatown. While the themes may be repetitive in this modest compendium, the charms of the City by the Bay never get old. When you go, don’t forget that flower.

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Miami is an Aviation Geek’s Dream

Lufthansa A380 at MIA. Photo courtesy of Aero Icarus via Flickr.

Lufthansa A380 from Frankfurt landing at MIA

Despite its setting amid a flat, wildly sprawling car-topia, Miami International Airport is an aviation geek’s dream. Airliners from places as far away as Moscow and Buenos Aires or as close as Key West and Nassau, cargo planes all the way from China, the Airbus A380 – the world’s largest passenger aircraft – riding heavy over Biscayne Bay on its way across the Atlantic; if you look in the sky long enough, you’ll see it all. And unlike most big-city airports relegated to the boondocks, MIA is right in the heart of town.

TAM departing for Brazil

TAM departing for Brazil

Vantage points are everywhere: you can catch the afternoon arrivals from Europe at the LA Fitness on Northwest 12th Street, the planes so low you can almost touch them – Iberia, Alitalia, Virgin, Swiss, and British all in a row. Commuters on the Dolphin Expressway course alongside the south runway, sometimes racing TAM to Brazil, LAN to Chile, or Copa to Panama. Delta and United and Avianca and TACA and FedEx and UPS skirt the towers of downtown Miami throughout the day. But all-day, everyday, it’s American – old American, new American, big American, small American – it could be to Tallahassee or Tegucigalpa, somebody’s going somewhere on American.

AA dominates MIA

AA dominates MIA. They’ve been slow at repainting with the new logo.

Nearby Fort Lauderdale might have the most dramatic landings in the region, jets just barely missing the tops of the semis speeding up and down I-95. But Miami’s got the most diverse range of aircraft, airlines, landing patterns, and striking silhouettes of any city I’ve ever lived in.

Swiss airliner at MIA

Swiss prepping for the return to Zurich

So if you’re driving past the airport and see someone creeping along on the expressway at 5 miles an hour trying to snap a shot of a departing AirBerlin jet on their phone, it’s probably me. I really have to stop that; it’s just not safe.

Terminal J at MIA from Dolphin Expressway

Terminal J at MIA from Dolphin Expressway

Oh…and is anybody else but me excited that Qatar Airways will be flying here come next June?! Nobody? Bueller?

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Montreal Love Fest

Montreal on high

Something’s in my eye. Oh, it’s Montreal!

This rambles, but…that’s the way love goes.

It may be gauche for an American to compare a distinctly non-American city to an American one, but indulge me for a moment, please. Imagine, if you will, New York in summer – without the iconic but overbearing skyscrapers or the ubiquitous scent of urine in the subways, but with the oft-stifling humidity. And the multiple, simultaneous music and cultural festivals happening any given weekend. And the walkable, energy-filled neighborhoods. And the intensely striking variation of skin tones and ethnic origins. And the taxed but generally efficient transport system connecting all the good stuff on offer. Comparing the place to New York would be the easiest, admittedly most half-hearted way to describe Canada’s second- and Quebec’s largest city, Montreal. So I’ll try to do better in the next paragraph.

During one oh-so-short weekend, I trekked up to the summit of Mount Royal, only to trek back down again and cool off at the rooftop pool of a nearby gym (pools are big in landlocked Montreal) surrounded by dozens of sun worshippers soaking it all up while they could. I ate spicy Lebanese sausage and yellow Thai curry and chicken shawarma slathered in hummus and brick-oven pizza and organic bread with unprocessed butter (tasted funny) and a heaping plate of that local French fries/gravy/cheese curd combo called poutine. I discovered my summer anthem (by British electro phenoms Disclosure) and twisted my foot fooling around to a Romanian brass band at the Jazz Fest and recovered in time for a romp at the Piknic Électronik, followed by an all-night afterparty with a clutch of new friends in a three-story rowhouse with a wrought-iron balcony. I asked “Parlez-vous anglais?” to Middle Eastern first aid responders (my foot, remember?) and black convenience store cashiers and Chinese-Malagasy waitresses and sweet little old white ladies in souvenir shops and received a “yes” (or a reflexive “oui”) and a smile every single time. I discussed American politics and Brazilian politics and Quebecois politics and the Quebecois independence movement and the Quebecois fascination with wintering in South Florida and summering in New England. I spent an afternoon marveling at the city with a fellow Murkin travel writer who had just spent a month in Paris and proclaimed her love for Montreal within a week of arriving in the Western Hemisphere’s largest French-speaking city. I responded to her with my own profession of love for Montreal.

Before last weekend, I didn’t know much about Montreal. I didn’t know that the city was as multicultural as it is, with all types of French being spoken by folks with roots all over the globe. I didn’t know that Montreal’s particular brand of French was so appealingly full-bodied, brash, and funky. I didn’t know that its people would be so unfailingly attractive, with Old World style, New World swagger, and a visible profusion of good genes. I didn’t know that many Quebecois do still feel a deep disconnect from the rest of Anglophone Canada as a marginalized people (boy, how I can relate to that!). I didn’t know that I could walk down the street in Montreal and fit right into the mosaic as if I belonged. I didn’t know I’d feel as if I belonged in Montreal. But I did, and Montreal smiled.

Forget Paris. Montreal, je t’aime.

Poutine (with pepperoni)

Poutine (with pepperoni) and a Coke Zero. Avoid empty calories.

Coccinelle cider

Coccinelle cider. It refreshes!

First aid station

My foot hurts and you laughin’, MF?!

Old and New Montreal

Something old, something new.

Montreal subway swag

Montreal subway swag.

Shaky video of the Piknic Électronik:

The Fly Brother Summer Anthem 2013:

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Fly Brother’s New Hub: South Florida

Miami Skyline from West

I’m living in that flat, kinda boring part in the foreground.

“He’s baaaack!” Yes, good people: Fly Brother has emerged healthy and unscathed from that electronic limbo called “Taking A Break From The Internets.” After December’s quick and last-minute escape from Europe because of the 90-day tourist visa rule, I ended up back in Florida to await the processing for my student visa to Germany, where I’d be earning my PhD. Subsequently, I ended up helping a friend take care of her autistic 7-year-old and unexpectedly landing a full-time university teaching position in Miami, two situations that, along with my freelance writing commitments, demanded total and complete energy and attention. As a result, the blog suffered.

As much as I love traveling at moment’s notice, there’s much to be said for stability. Re-hubbing in South Florida, a cultural mishmash with amazing weather and hordes of cockroaches, means rebuilding my financial foundation, recommitting to an intense workout regimen, advancing professionally—which includes working on the PhD remotely—, and re-entering American society after seven years abroad. There is, indeed, a lot about the US that remains unattractive—race relations, consumerism, traffic—but it’s nice to be back on familiar soil as I reboot, regroup, reconnect with myself, my family and friends, and my country.

Right now, I’m sharing a house with my friend and her child in the sterile flats of Broward County, but I hope to move a few exits down into Miami, capital of Latin America, in a few months. The commute to work is shorter and I don’t get the suspicious looks in Miami the way I do up in the United States (by that, I mean Broward County). Make sure you all give me a shout whenever headed this way. In the meantime, I’ll be posting the travel- and culture-related musings you used to get regularly here at Fly Brother. So, as they say down here in “The Bottom:” Lehgo!

PS – Recently, I was asked what happened to my dream city of São Paulo. In a word: inflation. I still love that place more than any other on Earth, and I plan to always have a presence there. Right now, though, it’s more expensive than New York and it’s just not the time for us. One day, we shall be together again.

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What Visa Waivers for Brazilians Would Mean for Americans

Last week, representatives of the US and Brazilian governments agreed to research the feasibility of visa waivers for Brazilian citizens. The US Visa Waiver Program currently allows citizens of 36 different countries—mostly in Europe, Asia, and Oceania—to visit the States for up to 90 days for business or pleasure without obtaining a pre-arranged visa. Brazil could soon be added to the list, which could mean a mix of positive and negative changes for American travelers:

1. Sustained Boon to the US Economy
In 2010, Brazilians spent $5.9 billion, around $5,000 per person, while visiting the United States. This kind of spending—mainly on luxury goods, upscale condos in New York and Miami, and electronics and household staples that cost three times as much back in Brazil—creates jobs and makes up for the fact that many, many Americans are broke as hell and aren’t really spending the little money they do have on these items. And while the vast majority of Brazilians who apply for visas to the US get approved, eliminating the hassle of scheduling an appointment and trekking to one of only four consulates to be asked annoying, invasive personal questions will surely attract even more upper-class (not middle…upper-class and super-rich) Brazilians to come and spend their money in the States.

2. Visa-Free Travel to Brazil
Brazil’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program would not only mean that Brazilian citizens could merely buy a plane ticket at the last minute and jet off to the States for a wee bit of shopping, but US citizens would regain visa-free entry to Brazil as well (we used to have it a few years ago).

3. Higher, then Lower Airfares
Brazil’s biggest international gateways—São Paulo’s Guarulhos and Rio’s Galeão airports—are overtaxed and inefficient, and both are subject to regulations that limit the number of routes and flight frequencies airlines can fly to and from the US. This will change as the “Open Skies” bilateral treaty comes completely online in 2015, allowing airlines to plan routes and schedules according to market forces. If Brazil is accepted into the Visa Waiver Program before 2015, increased demand for a limited number of airplane seats will cause already high fares to skyrocket before increased competition and decreased regulation theoretically bring down prices. Of course, Olympic fever and rickety infrastructure incapable of handling more traffic could prove me wrong.

4. Increased Number of Douchebags on Ipanema
With less hoops to jump through, every Tom, Dick, and Harry who fancies himself Snoop Dogg will be saving up a couple paychecks to go whoremongering on the beaches in Rio and Salvador. True, this happens the world over, but the unfettered increase in the amount of losers heading down to Brazil who’d rather pay for poon than use their natural wit and charm to attract women just makes for an unattractive atmosphere, in my opinion.

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5 Target Destinations for the Next 6 Months

Between July and December 2012, I’ve got five specific destinations on my to-do list. Being on the list doesn’t mean that I’ll actually make it there by the end of the year, but I’m going to try my darnedest. All of these destinations are new for me and I’m definitely hyped about discovering each one for myself!

Bangkok, Thailand
The Bangkok ticket is already purchased and part of my upcoming Whirlwind Southeast Asia Grand Tour 2012. Though I’ve been to the region before, I’ve never been to Thailand and I’m looking forward to dipping my toes into the exhilarating chaos that is Bangkok. I love Thai food, so there’s a start right there!

Copenhagen, Denmark
The Danish capital has been calling me for a while, and since one of my very good friends from Brasília will be moving there for graduate school, I’ve got no reason to postpone a trip any longer. I have indeed spent a couple of hours changing planes at the cozy-yet-bustling airport and I’m eager to see how the city measures up to my favorite Scandinavian capital, Stockholm.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
I have only heard amazing things about Addis from my friends that have been there, and I’m definitely looking forward to snagging one of the under-500 euro airfares to Ethiopia during the second half of the year. As my Ghana trip recently fell through, this would then be my first sub-Saharan African destination. I’m stoked just thinking about the ridiculous music scene there.

Toronto, Canada
Oh, Canada. Despite knowing mad-cool peeps who hail from within your borders, I’ve never visited you. It is time. I’ll be swinging through “Tron-O” in a few weeks to meet up with a good buddy of mine from my Colombia days who’s since gone corporate and has a couple of rugrats. My girl Oneika the Traveller says the T is off the heezy…only time will tell.

Esmeraldas, Ecuador
As part of a lengthy writing excursion to Ecuador, I’ll be popping over to the Pacific Coast and the verdant region of Esmeraldas (literally, Emeralds). Not only does the place lay claim to black sand beaches and a breathtaking coastline, but Esmeraldas is also the center of the country’s Afro-Ecuadorian community. Yes, it’s where most of the brothers on the Ecuadorian soccer team come from.

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Images by: mr. Wood, hoangnt, Irene2005, Hanover Phist, and crocodile gena.