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April 18, 2007

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Rio de Janeiro

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I wrote this newsletter a few days ago but I just want to add that my heart and prayers go out to all those involved at Virginia Tech. I can not believe someone would do such a horrible thing. When is the government going to realize that being able to buy a gun at a moments notice is a bad thing?

Bom Dia (Good Morning) from Rio de Janeiro! We left off last week (here's the link) after a seven hour and forty minute flight to Sao Paulo (from Miami) and then a forty-minute hop to Rio. To say I was a bit nervous about arriving here would be an understatement. After all, everyone – my friends, family, the media, Internet message boards, even the Brazilian gate agent before I boarded the plane – put the fear of God into me. They all warned me to be very careful in Rio. I felt as though I were about to enter a war zone rather than a tropical vacation destination. If you want to find out if I got mugged or not, read on.

Before we get started, did you catch the May issue of Outside Magazine? Guess who's featured as having one of their 37 dream jobs? How cool is that? Here's a scan of the article but be sure to pick up a copy. While you are at the newsstand, also grab a copy of Real Simple's special travel issue – it's not only full of helpful travel info but I'm quoted in one of the Street Smart articles "Money Matters" as well! I'm on a roll and I need your support, so if you are a writer, blogger, producer, publisher, TV or radio host … you name it, please don't forget to throw me a bone!

Last week I failed to mention that while I was in L.A., I had to go down to the Brazilian Consulate and submit my forms and passport to obtain a Brazilian visa. All visitors to Brazil are required to get a visa. Huge negative! It needs to be done in person, costs $100 USD for American citizens (payable only by post office money order) and can take up to 10 days. This ordeal doesn't make it very easy or welcoming for Americans to visit Brazil. America started these strict rules long ago for Brazilians and Brazil reciprocated but fortunately, the Brazilians don't take it one step further as America does. Can you believe that the U.S. requires Brazilians to do an interview before entering the country? If I'd had to do that, I probably would've just said, "Forget it!" and gone somewhere else, like Argentina. But I've already been to Argentina and I have always dreamt of visiting Brazil. FYI: Not all nationalities have to pay $100 USD – it varies. For example, Canadians are charged only $40 USD while the Brits pay $155 USD.

These visa rules seem a little ridiculous plus, it's time consuming and costly. Can you believe that Kinko's charges $14 for a stupid 2x2 Polaroid mug shot that took all of two minutes? Next time a visa requires a picture, I'm buying my own Polaroid camera! The only good news is that the Brazilian Consulate in Los Angeles has a wonderful greeter who patiently and continuously informs each visitor with a smile and clear instructions on exactly what they need to do. On top of that, the lines moved quickly and I was in and out both times (drop-off and pick-up) within 15 minutes. Here's the link to the Brazilian Embassy to find the consulate closest to you. (Warning: the site is down about 50% of the time – what a joke, I know! But just keep checking back). If you live in or around L.A., here's the link. If you don't want to wait in line yourself, there are agencies that will apply for you but they do charge an additional fee. Usually, it's about $55 extra but it's money well spent, particularly if you're strapped for time.

As I mentioned earlier, everyone from my friends and family to the media, Internet message boards and even the Brazilian gate agent checking me in for my flight, put the fear of God in me about coming here to Rio. They confirmed to me that the worst four-letter word in the dictionary is indeed FEAR and because of them, I had a lot of it. Okay, I was still kind of a wuss before that; I'm also afraid of heights, snakes and getting my laptop stolen. But at least it didn't stop me from getting on the plane, because as you are about to see, that really would've been a mistake. Brazil is everything I imagined it to be and more.

The one positive thing to come out of all the negative hype is that it prepared me to leave most of my valuables at home. Not that I travel with many valuables, anyway. Come to think of it, I don't have any! But here's my one warning: If you're visiting Brazil, don't bring any jewelry (including wedding rings), don't walk around with lots of cash, or have your camera swinging from your neck. I heard all kinds of horror stories about how people got mugged during the day. I also read on that cameras were stolen from deluxe hotel rooms. I don't leave home without my laptop and even though I'm staying at a 5-star hotel, I locked it up as if it had been left in the middle of a favela (Rio's squatter settlements that are notorious for poverty and violence). It's a good thing that I got a laptop lock from my good pal Kevin Coffee (A.K.A. "The Scholar of Thievery") who's always on Oprah. Excuse me a moment while I just pick up the name I dropped.

To lock you in on the 411: I'm here on a media trip and when I landed, I met the rest of the group (four other writers who I would be touring around with) at baggage claim, as well as our tour guide and bus driver. They all seemed very cool so that was a relief. Big sigh. When I stepped out of the Galeão International Airport (airport code: GIG) it was 11pm and the humidity was so thick, I felt as though I could almost float. But the high temperatures were welcoming; I would always rather be somewhere hot than cold. Here's a link to Rio's 10-day weather forecast.

The ride to Copacabana Beach, where our hotel is located, was only 20 minutes. In heavy traffic, expect the ride to be about 40 minutes. Our guide, Bernardo Leão, knew we were exhausted but gave us a quick rundown of the city and country. First of all, Brazil is officially spelled Brasil! Why we in the English-speaking world don't spell it with an "s" is beyond me. The official language here is Portuguese. That's because the Portuguese were the first European settlers to arrive in Brazil in the 1500s. Rio de Janeiro means River of January because it was first seen by Europeans on January 1st, 1502 and Guanabara Bay which surrounds Rio was actually thought to be the mouth of a major river. (Here's a link for more on Brazil's history.) There are lots more fascinating facts, at least to me. For instance, I didn't realize that Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world in terms of land mass (3,265,075 sq miles) and population (186,112,800). FYI: Rio' population is 8 million, which makes it Brazil's second largest city after Sao Paulo. Rio used to be the capital but in 1960, it was moved to Brasília, located in the center of the country. I also didn't know that Brazil has ten countries touching its borders (here's a map) and that Brazil is the largest Roman Catholic country in the world (74% of the population here are Catholic). For more geography trivia, click here. If you want to hire Bernardo as your guide (here's a scan of his business card UPDATE: His email is now, his rates are just $20 USD an hour (for a minimum of three hours) and that's not per person but rather per tour so he's very reasonable. Oh yeah, and the guy is brilliant – he speaks seven languages fluently.

The first thing I did after clearing customs (and you should, too) is hit the ATM machine. Note: I couldn't find any in the Sao Paulo terminal. Brazilian currency is called Real (BRL) and 1 BRL = $0.49 USD. So if you withdraw $100 USD, it's the equivalent of 203 BRL. Basically, that means everything in Brazil is half-off, which makes it my kind of country!

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Pictures From

The Trip


Copacabana Beach


Outside Magazine


Real Simple Magazine


Sofitel Rio


Hotel Pool


View From My Room


Hotel Mini-Bar




Fresh Juices


A Favela


Locking Up Laptop


My Tour Guide


My Bed


Hotel Bathroom


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