I've been lucky enough this year to take two trips out of the country (and one hyper-local "stay-cation" for my anniversary organized by my wife). I enjoyed them all and learned many things, including checking off many items from my "do-before-I-die" list. Below are some of my favorite lessons and memories from these travels. (I also just saw Rio, which I really liked, and which reminded me of all the wonderful experiences I had in South America. I'm also reading Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, and apparently the famous physicist also loved visiting Brazil and even played the frigideira for a winning samba school.)
1. Rio is sort of like the movie. The samba is loud (got to see a samba show with good music but slightly cheesy/touristy dancing), the people are crazy about Carnival, and the sights are beautiful. (The movie's Rio is definitely cleaner and has prettier birds, though.)
2. The cable car ride up to the Sugarloaf mountain is wild -- such a nice view!
3. The Christ statue at the top of Corcovado is much bigger than it looks. You can take some really fun perspective photos from up there, though.
4. Spanish and Portuguese are close enough. I found Portuguese to be like a melodic version of Spanish; I could get by just turning some ción's into ção's and talking about samba and Carnival (though clearly I'm kidding and there's a lot more to the language). It would definitely be fun to learn it more closely some day.
5. The beaches are beautiful, and they are the spot to be seen during the Christmas holidays. My favorite beach for swimming was in Buzios, a sleepy, less developed part of Brazil (the original home, apparently, of some pirrrrrrates). The busiest beach I've ever seen was in Santos on Christmas Day; it was no less than 10,000 people literally walking up and down the miles-long coastline, sporting their wares (some better than others). It was truly a cultural moment to experience that.
6. Doing tango in a century-old tango studio in Buenos Aires was epic. The creaking wood floor, the raspy Argentine tango record playing in the background with melancholy... it was like I was in a movie. (Having some yummy parilla afterwards is what's required to hit the spot.)
7. Flying is everything I thought it would be. I always dreamed of becoming a commercial airline pilot when I was little, and I got to start towards fulfilling that dream in July. I flew a Cessna from Santa Monica to Point Dume and back with Justice Aviation for a one-hour demo flight (my instructor was named Max too!), and it was truly awesome.
8. Be appreciative for every raspberry you eat; picking them by hand is quite a difficult undertaking. I know: I tried to do it at Underwood Farms, and got so annoyed with it after 20 minutes. Each raspberry has to be picked off by hand, and it has to be ripened just so in order to taste good. I no longer take these little berries for granted. (Another fun thing at Underwood is feeding carrots to the horses and trapeze-artist goats -- no joke!)
9. Biking on July 4th at the beach can be fun and dangerous. We did a bike ride from Venice to Manhattan Beach, which was really enjoyable, except for when the bike path was filled with barbecuing, boombox-toting pedestrians. There was even a section that featured a row of parked Chevy '64s with various "interesting" decorative elements. It was all cool; talk about LA diversity!
Other fun stuff from the weekend included seeing the Houdini exhibit (and learning about the history of magic) and eating yummy food at Larchmont Bungalow, Red O, and Geoffrey's.
10. Manatees are the sweetest marine animal weighing close to a ton, and they're in extreme risk of extinction. (Turtles are the sweetest marine animal weighing closer to tens or hundreds of pounds.) I had the pleasure of swimming with (and kissing on the lips!) a manatee, dolphin, and sea lion in Mexico, and it was amazing. Learning about these creatures and watching how smart they can be was really inspiring. It was very sad to learn that 60% of manatee deaths are due to human causes like pollution or plastic bags getting eaten by them and poisoning them (they're dying less from natural deaths than from us!). I also learned manatees don't really have teeth and don't really bite; their color, size, and demeanor reminded me of my previous Neapolitan Mastiff, Marcello. (I also got the chance to swim with stingrays and a nurse shark with apparently no teeth as well -- not sure I believe all these "no teeth" tourist stories, but I'm thankful to have gotten out of there alive.)