Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bahia Paradise of Moreré

Salvador is a huge city. It’s got traffic, it’s got Favelas. It’s got stress.

But it’s in Bahia, as Mestre Acordeon says, “The center of the Universe.” (If you are a Capoeira, do yourself a favor and read Mestre's article) Apparently, the center of the universe comes with a shit-ton of beaches and palm trees to drink Caipirinhas under. So, it would be somewhat of a crime against humanity not to GTFO of town every weekend, and you don't even need a worm hole to get there. Which is what we have been doing since I arrived here.

First weekend we went to an island called Ilha de Boipeba (pronounce: elyah Boepaebah) You might as well start picking up some sexy, slovenly Salvadorian Portuguese while reading my blog. Ilha de Boipeba is south of Ilha de Tinharé both of which are two hours south of Salvador. Well, it would be two hours if this was Europe or the USA, countries that give a shit about FoMo, or the stress levels their transportation systems inflict on people. Sexy, slovenly Salvador is a little different.

So, on a lovely Saturday morning, we got up at 5.30AM  and took a taxi (hell no, there ain’t no bus at that hour) to Mercado Modelo where the ferry to Mar Grande leaves. We had to be early because it’s a long weekend and everybody and their dog is trying to GTFO of town. No matter how early it is though, there is still a huge line in front of the tiny, sexy, slovenly Ferry Boate (pronounce: fehi bowchy) but luckily I had a wily Lebanese girl with me who mandinga'd us to the front of the line. Hell no, I won’t tell you how. You don’t have the balls anyway.

Ok, it may have involved an old lady, or her dog, or a big smile and bigger heart. The Fehy Bowchy jetted in record slow time over to Mar Grande where we hopped on a two hour hair raising (you ignore this) mini bus ride to Valenca, then on a local chicken (you ignore this) bus for another two hours to arrive at a lonely jetty to nowhere in the middle of a mangrove swamp. There we fought a bunch of impatient GTFO-of-towners to get on a speed boat which dropped us off thirty minutes (if the tide is up) later at Boipeba.

Boipeba, after a week in Salvador, was my real introduction to Bahia. No cars. No stress. The GTFO-of-town masses dispersed. But lots of calm beaches and palm trees. A few lazy little bars, seafood joints, and daily multi-colored sunsets. A small Spanish Pousada that serves the best Gazpacho west of the Azores. And the best chocolatier (Fernando) south of Vienna. Here I discovered beautiful Bahia on a tractor ride across a sleepy, deserted island.

This beach on the south side of the island, next to Moreré, is where I would have tried to go if I was a run-away slave. Would have called it Quilombo do Paraiso instead of dos Palmaras. Because, fuck if I’d not try to grab my piece of Paradise instead of fighting mosquitoes and anacondas in the jungle while leaving all the coastal pristine beauty to the asshole Portuguese. You can’t get further away and still be in paradise than Moreré,

Here you watch the palm trees grow to drop their fruit in your lap. You build footeball (foodgeeball, yes really) goals in the flats, the gringo tourists will wonder why you have pull up bars in the middle of the bay until the tide goes out and you have a sandy flat to play a soccer tournament on.

A whole new dimension of alluvial lifestyle. Watch out for the Portuguese Man ’o War (good thing the Brits don’t tend to exaggeration at all) though. Here you saunter down a lonely beach and build a little palapa for you and your wily Lebanese.

Here the universe makes love to you. One perfect sand corn at a time, one perfect sunset at a time, one perfect sexy, slovenly samba at a time. Here is a video of us leaving Boipeba. Wish it wasn't so. Isn't Renée (Hené) the cutest though? (Music: Percussao - Giacomo Bondi)

Of course on the return journey from paradise there is that, I-shit-you-not, mile long line of cars, or three hour long wait for pedestrians to the ferry from Itaparica to Salvador. It’s like all of Austria’s peasants return from Hausmasterstrand Pipi-Ohne in Italy at the same time. But it’s Brazil, so it’s worse. But, also, since it’s Brazil nothing is set in stone and you could, if you wanted to, pull out a little mandinga.

You could, if you wanted to, walk up to a car somewhere at the front of that mile long line and ask them in your broken Portuguese if they have you room for you. You smile, you apologize for mangling their sexy, slovenly language, you offer them a little money and pray that you look innocent and foolishly foreign enough not to be mistaken for a violent crackhead. Looking like Jesus also works.

If you do not fit that bill, you may be shit out of luck, or hopefully traveling with a wily Lebanese. Although I wouldn't recommend practicing active queuing at this ferry boate because the three hour pedestrian line, as witnessed twenty minutes later from the comfortable air-conditioned interior of Maria’s hatchback, was close to mob rage. Most people were drunk and it was amazing, and sad, to see how many of them stumbled around while bitching at their confused kids.

We grabbed some food while waiting and saw an iron gate holding people back from getting to the Ferry. As I bit into my, hopefully gluten-free coxinha (coshenya) people in the crowd behind the gate started whistling and hollering semi-good-naturedly. They basically asked to open the poxa (bohah, means semen - don't ask, I'm just the translator) gate. I didn't think it would take much to light a match to that riot a-waiting. Once the gates lifted a literal stampede broke out. I hoped nobody would fall down because nobody could stop the deluge of drunken people.

What an epic little insight into things Brasilero at the end of a fantastically relaxing weekend. You can take this shit in stride, or you can get mad at the world. Not un-obviously, the first one will do you better. I think part of the reason why I keep on moving continents is that it’s easier to take things in stride when it’s all fresh. If this were my fifth long weekend In Salvador I might have lost patience with the impatient FoMo egos who drunk-yell at their kids instead of fixing their inefficient systems.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Real Rio de Janeiro

In Portuguese de novo (je nofoo) means again, which is the line you hear most often in any capoeira gym, or cheap beer commercials. Do it one more diime. Two weeks ago I found myself at the foot of famed Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro - de novo.

Last time it took me a year of riding cycle to arrive in Rio de Janeiro. Still, it seemed more final now. Like I was about to give up my Greencard. Yikes!!! Mariano, Bebum, my two closest buddies on the epic adventure, and I had always talked about how we would never stop.


We wanted to keep riding forever. We'd combine our bro-losophical interpretation of The Power of Now with the teachings of the Capoeira roda and share the fantastic result with the world. The roda, any Capoeiristas’ Stonehenge, is our focal point and, to us, a perfect representation of life (Mestre Acordeon says so). In the roda only the truth remains. In the roda we engage in ritualistic combat. We laugh, we cry, and we face our fears and insecurities. In a circle of friends we must Be in the Now, the way Buddha and Eckhart Tolle tell us to strive for enlightenment.

But here I am, back in Rio. I wasn't riding to Argentina or Chile with my brothers. Gone were our dreams of life on the road, of sharing our bro-losophy with the world. Mariano is starting his PHD, Bebum is selling art in Colorado. And I? I followed a beautiful Levantine girl to Brazil. Might as well write about it, right?

Rio, the marvelous city, the shiniest pearl in Brazil’s necklace of glorious tropical beach life, is sort of readying itself to host the 2016 Olympics. I say sort of, because while the Germans seem equally corrupt when it comes to bringing the World Cup home, they are somewhat more efficient about it. So Rio is renovating turn of the century faux French and Austrian architecture here and there, tearing up roads for a tram line to nowhere, and adding overpasses like stairways to heaven - as such, also to nowhere - to the dedicated Airport bus lane.

Small pockets of the faux architecture have somehow survived between an invasion of supremely ugly technocratic 70s structures. A far cry from the fancy-full Jetsons Niemeyer architecture of Brasilia.

Concrete is apparently patient. Even under the onslaught of tropical mold and latin laissez-faire, which is more laissez than fair. All of which leaves zero room for public transport systems in the already too narrow Gotham like canyons of the overpopulated megalopolis's L-shape. The sea in front and the abruptly vertical peaks in back barely leave half a mile of sweaty, Blade Runner Marvelous. It creates a Victorian corset, the fish bone kind, requiring a torture contraption to tighten Rio into a waif. She is so skinny, she only needs one Subway line but fairly bursts from both ends like a Samba dancer’s ample bosom and bunda. Sadly, in the case of Rio the only thing bursting is marvelous amounts of refuse and mold.

I spend a week in Rio. A week that doesn't fit on that perfect Rio postcard everyone sends to their jealous friends. I stay in the Favela of Santo Christo, right next to the oldest Favela in the world – Providencia. It’s where my B2B peeps Amber and Juanjo live. It’s not where I would choose to live. I’d be up on a hill Favela, with the cheapest best view in the known universe.

A gondola runs from the Central Metro Station up to the top of Providencia. I wonder if the gondola was built by Austrians – ski lifts and gondolas are our second most muscular export. After Arnold Schwarzenegger.

On the day of my arrival I go to the local Favela clinic with Amber. Amber is seven month pregnant and has a meeting to set up a meeting about how the birth thing is going to go down. Brazil is on a drive to institute better pre/post natal care in its public hospitals. This requires intense communication strategies because low income people have a low information level about personal health care. Amber partakes in these because as an unofficial resident she goes to the Favela Clinics.

As in the West, Brazil's private hospitals push the Caesarian variant while public hospitals don’t. I am told this is because public healthcare has no profit motive. Brazil : USA = 1:0
Being a unofficial resident Amber still receives free health care. Brazil : USA = 2:0
We arrive at the clinic. It’s a nice, little low-slung building with a long corridor and two large openings at either end. People walk slowly. They talk to each other. I get a feeling that here care is actually a part of health care. Compare this to the frenzy in any public clinic in the USA. Brazil : USA = 3:0
It’s a good thing too. Brazil needs a solid win after my German bros beat their ass like a steel drum in the World Cup.

I spend days walking around Copacabana and Ipanema. As impressed as I am with Brazil’s efforts to better the lives of their poor I remain unimpressed by the marvelous city. I go to that lake under that dude holding his arms up on a hill like he’s got Walla-Pit (Going to have to buy my book to find out what sort of nastiness exactly that involves).

He blesses all the white sheep at his feet and turns his back on all the black ones living up in the hills behind in the City of God. No matter where you walk though, the streets are always dirty and so are the buildings. Even in white people land of Zona Sul. The really funny thing about writing this article is to learn that in supposedly none-racist Brazil the census form asks people of Asian descent to check the yellow box. Hear that Chinese/Japanese/Vietnamese/Indonesian/Thai/etc Americans? Ya'all are lucky!

Back to cracker land, which instead of mold and dirt also has no parks. It’s a total concrete jungle. Moldy high-risers obstruct your view of the impressive tropical cliffs and the perfect, rather exclusive beaches. The food is crap, everything is fried and overpriced. And it rains all the time. The only time the sun is out reliably is in fall. Exactly four months before the Olympics. I like the Favelas better and can't wait to go to Salvador. Somehow poorer problems are more honest problems.

To get around I take the subway with its advertisements to advertise because “Rio’s most interesting people take the subway.” Rio’s most interesting people are all white. The bus, which I also like to take, is 70 centavos cheaper. There is no air-condition on the bus.

The upper class people are still incredible rude getting on the subway. Apparently, fuck noblesse oblige when its about getting on that train. Even though the arrows painted on the ground in front of every door tell embarking passengers to wait on the side of the doors for people to exit they stand right in front of the door and literally sprint into the subway as soon as the door opens a slit. Leading to this:

I long for my days in Tokyo with those white-gloved Subway administrators apologizing (Sumimasen) as they gently push me and the crowds into the trains. The Rio subway rugby scrums, on the other hand, are the only opportunity in my life to pretend that I am the All Black, mostly because I am a head a taller than all these rude, little, upper class assholes. The contest does not end well for most of them, especially not when I am pulling two full suitcases.

Marvelously, once they are on the subway, they turn back to being the perfectly polite Latin Americans, giving each other space, taking each other’s purses and bags as they sit down so that the standing person doesn't have to carry it. Offering even me a chair to sit on - because of those two suitcases. This noblesse oblige lasts thirty seconds, or until the next stop. Then their exit/entry Mr. Hyde returns with a vengeance. I notice people's inability to wait their turn everywhere. It’s like the whole country has a massive case of FoMo, of not being with it, of not being fast and modern enough. Yet they walk slower than Hawaiians.

Though it is too rainy to go to the beach I still ask Cariocas (Rio natives) what beaches mean to them. I feel like it must be a center of their lives, lasting childhood memories are surely made there, tasty coconuts, memorable footeball games, perfect asses. They tell me that they never go. Which makes me wonder what the hell the point of the marvelous city is. Other than providing post card jealousy of course. If all you do is fight on the subways, walk through moldy concrete jungles, eat shitty fried food and live in fear of Favela muggings where exactly lies your happiness?

I found mine on the flight out. Rio has two airports. The “modern” one, which is two hours outside of town, and, you guessed it, undergoing its obligatory Olympic face-lift, and Santos Dumont. Santos is right smack in the middle of town, ten minutes’ walk from the Subway station Cinelandia. Saunter past the museum of modern art, buy yourself a bag of delicious tropical fruit for a very small amount of cheap Reais and walk right onto your flight. A flight that will remind you of Goldfinger and The Girl from Ipanema. Beautiful, luxurious and completely fake entertainment icons, that, just like the Sound of Music, make you think the place is the perfect masterwork of  the supreme being of your choice. Since they can’t all be the supreme being's masterwork it’s obviously bullshit.

From the air though, slowly rising through the mists of Botafogo and over the Sugarloaf, drinking cheap peach juice instead of a shaken Martini, I admire Copacabana’s and Ipanema’s endless yellow expanse, and the city, miraculously, becomes marvelous again.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sao Paulo

On Tuesday I arrive at Sao Paulo’s largest bus station, Tiete. It is also the largest bus station in the known universe. After having spent a weekend at Mestre Ra’s quiet horse ranch in Jundiai arriving here is like a slap in the face. I feel like I am in Total Recall, and I am the one with the guttural accent. Large, concrete - in spirit and form - 80’s architecture dominates.People scurrying around at, for Latin America, high speeds and twerking at antique yet oddly honorable tasks in modern times like being a porter.

One of many Tiete bus terminals,

While it took only 50 minutes to cover the 50km from Jundiai to the northern part of Sao Paulo, it takes me two hours to reach my couch surfing host’s house in the southern part of the Megalopolis. This is not because of traffic, bad public transport or slow driving. On that Wednesday there are not as many cars on the street as I expected, buses go to every corner of the city and the bus drivers are all nephews of Ayrton Senna. No, Sao Paulo is just that big. Twenty million people perched precariously on a steep plateau 50 kilomerts from the Atlantic coast. The place just completely blew my my little Austrian mind - the whole of Austria has roughly nine million inhabitants compared to Sao Paulo's twenty.

I mostly trained capoeira in this city. Every day I would go to another amazing Mestre's academia to learn from the source. My idea that these various capoeira schools mix and meet much more often than the schools in the USA because they are in close proximity to each other is complete bogus. They might as well be on different planets for all the time it would take to get from one to the other. 

What a treat to train with Mestre Catitu in his home town.

OMG I am actually training at Mestre Suassuna's academia!

I kid you not, it took at least 2 hours to get anywhere. During traffic even longer. While it was an easy burden because I was fulfilling many a capoeiristas dream I spent at least 5 hours a day riding an efficient, quick and well organized public transport system. Sao Paulo sits on top of these endless formerly green rolling hills. Now they are endless rolling waves of highrisers.

Sao Paulo

Everytime you catch a glimpse of the horizon you see highrisers stretching into the distance. The concrete jungle simply never ends. I am sure Paulistas would become agoraphobic if you dropped them into the Baja California desert.

Avenida Paulista

Horizons have been defeated

Historically speaking, a city needs certain geographical characteristics, like being next to a large river or easy access to the sea to grow to a world metropolis, especially if you focus on industry and export of raw materials. Sao Paulo doesn’t have any of that. The road to the coast is like a slightly wider than normal, paved Inca Trail. I have no idea why the monster grew from its humble origins in the 1530s to be the largest city in Latin America.

One day I drove to the beach and immediately wished I hadn’t donated my bike to Projeto Kirimuré because riding down this downhihll racetrack of a road that was hewn into jungly cliffs would have been heartattack-inducing, car-overtaking, momma-scaring stuff, Q.E.D. - perfect. Aside from providing a joy ride for this Austrian (downhill + speed = happiness) cycling Capoeira vagabundo this road must have been a complete bitch to transport stuff up and down on in 1920, because, guess what, it still is for the 18 wheelers of modern day. There were at least ten of them pulled over cooling their breaks on the way down.

Want. This. Racetrack.

And don’t for one second think that Sao Paulo’s 18 wheelers are antiquated third world diesel monsters. This is the souther, modern part of Brazil, the developed part, where 80 % of the population gets around town without a car, where there is hardly any trash, no man-sized holes in the road and sewers that work. So when people, even rightfully, say that the world cup was a red card in the face of the poor of Brazil, it may do better to concentrate on the constant southward concentration of wealth instead. It is shocking to walk around towns that make you feel like you are anywhere in Europe or the US while the north and northeast of Brazil resemble Honduras or El Salvador. The disparity in infrastrucutre, cleanliness, maintenance and availability of services, doctors, shops and plain old vegetables is huge. I can not tell you how many times I tried to buy vegetables in a Mercadino after a day of riding in the north to only find onions, tomatoes and carrots. Without my sack of sub-continental Indian spices I would have hated my own cooking after a week.

A sadly depleted sack of spices

I wanted to hate Sao Paulo. I wanted to hate it for its anonymity, for its uniformity, for its formidability. Yet I don’t seem to possess that sort of passion any longer. The last time I had intense third world to Megalopolis culture shock was in 2008 when I went to Hong Kong after a month in Burma. Instead today, I attempt to do that human thing and grow, and desist comparing and judging those who make the free choice to live on an exciting, human anthill vs. those who live in an idyllic, boring small town. 

And there is always wall tattooing going on.

As bikers we develop an affinity for the safety and tranquility of small country town with nice, shadowy squares and gentle Boa Tardes. But riding bike for that long also means that we have seen as many life style choices as people. And that is beautiful. You think out there in the countryside its too boring, with not enough action and you love the speed and frantic nature of the anthill? Or you think in there its too claustrophobic, somehow un-human and you love the slow evenings and the sounds of nature? It's all fair, as long as we accept other people's choices. Making a judgment about either the backwardness or franticness of others lets us believe that we are different faces of the same coin. And yet it should be obvious that there is no coin, no face and definitely no spoon. Only all of us with the same fears and desires living in different environments. Environments, to which we adapt as best we can. 

So  let us all stop and consider, instead of judging and comparing. Let us admire our common persistence, our hope for a better future. Whether it is the future of an ant or that of a snail. In teh grand sceme of things most of us are not more than that. Let’s drop our need to feel special and think that our way is the best one. 

I personally have no idea how I will reconcile my new found desire to play flute in churches and hang out in small friendly towns with my previous preference for large, exciting cities with lots of action and cultural melting happening. Another ambivalence I am hopefully becoming better at tolerating - Axé Capoeira.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


So I decided to go on this crazy year long bicycle journey to Brazil with Mestre Acordeon 2 weeks before the thing started. Yes, I know it may have been better to plan this a little longer. Or not. If you are new to this blog you can check the ridicolous chain of events here and here. The first inkling of what I was getting myself into was an excel sheet that I received from Bebum - "why do today if you can do it tomorrow". It was a monster of an equipment list that the B2B crew had put together to ride to Brazil. I also needed to get a bike.

Clearly a bike that only a guy standing on his head would think is fit to ride to Brasil.

It was, in one word, intimidating. I stopped counting at 200, and started thinking of what I could do tomorrow. But it had to be done so I'd go to four different shops and buy… exactly none of the items. Insect repellent, biodegradable soap, water purification methods. Stove, pot, which fuel to use? 500 and one things for a medical emergency (!) kit, clothes, sleeping bag, tools, patch kit, replacement parts. Bear spray, dog whistles, bike bell, reflectors, pepto bismol. It had no end. Though at least it did not recommend diapers for Montezuma's revenge.

I don’t know how (thank you, helpful friends), but two weeks later as I lined up on the first day of my new lives with all the other crazy riders I managed to have everything packed in my panniers and strapped to my ridicolous Recumbent Bike. I was prepared! Nothing could harm me or my trusted steelhorse from here on out.

Sorry, not authorized to go to Brasil!

Of course on that same first day Bebum and I camp out on the beach in San Francisco and the rest, especially Bebum’s bike, and gear and half of my stuff were, as they say, history. I still wonder what the bum did with my greencard. I mean, if he is one thing, he is legal to be a bum in the USA.

So after being robbed of all our stuff Bebum had nothing but his tent, sleeping bag, Chapul's Cricket Bars and some cash left while I had been liberated of my wallet including some cash and all my cards, my clothes, sleeping bag and bike stuff. Fate is an ironic bitch. On the day we left Bebum probably had as much stuff as fellow B2B rider Tora. A day later, not so much. You can read how we stayed positive throughout that crazy second day here. We did not have access to any real resources until my replacement cards came, which was four weeks later in Los Angeles. We could not buy clothes, gear, or tons of food. The little money that Bebum had was spent on a bike for him and fixing it. So we made do. And making do we learned that we didn’t need most of the stuff that was on that monster list. For a month a used Trader Joe's re-usable plastic shopping bag was my second panier. It was a pain in the ass. It worked. I also went shopping with my big ol' five Dollars at Goodwill.

Didn't buy this ridicolous hat.

This one seemed much more stylish at the time.
M. Mago clearly approves.

Before I left my swankily located yet sparsely inventoried apartment to sit my butt on a bike for a year I did not own a lot of stuff either. I had been moving around the world since high school, twenty years by now. Naturally, if you are moving from Austria to Australia as I did, you don’t bring more than what Quantas allows. When I moved to LA a six years later I had two medium sized bags to my name. Another twelve years, five cities, endless road and world trips later I packed up all the belongings that I wanted to keep after the year I was planning to be riding bike. Everything else I gave away.

I remained with two bags of clothes, a bunch of books and a blender. I seem to have an essentially functional relationship with stuff. I need to wear stuff, I like to read stuff and I blend stuff since I recently found out that I can’t eat most things normal in a western diet.

How much stuff someone needs to be happy varies widely from person to person. Some of us need more stuff to be comfortable, some of us need less stuff. Since it was me, not a horse, not a dog, not a woman or a slave carrying my stuff, I was rather sensitive about how much stuff I had. And yet, over the course of a year of riding bike stuff accumulated, again. It's as if stuff, like mana, magically appeares out of thin air. Periodically, I would have to go through my stuff and, you guess right, give stuff away. If you are tired of reading the word "stuff" a lot, you can stuff it.

That fourth t-shirt that a really nice capoeirista gave you in San Salvador? Sorry, donate it, you only end up wearing one to three shirts. Remember him in your heart instead. The biodegradable soap? Donate it, its lighter to use normal soap. Stop washing your hair. The third pair of sports undies? Donate them to Sondermüll. The headlamp? Donate it, you have a bike lamp that miraculously gives light too. Toss the cutting board, are you kidding me? Toss the tent, get a hammock. Keep the knife, stove, pot and your girlfriend’s spices. Keep the sleeping bag. Keep two of every clothing item. Keep your bike tools, a sowing kit and electric device chargers/adapters. Go ride. Still getting to many flats because your bike is too heavy? Throw some stuff out.

The lighter I got the easier I felt.  Bike riding is not only a gloriously meditative and healthy see and smell the world activity. It’s also a direct feedback loop on why possessions are bullshit. Because, like you, I ask myself: Other than clothes, food and a place to sleep what do I really need on a bike? And to take this to a logical conclusion, is my normal life any different?

So, get rid of stuff. Move into a smaller house. Be Dutch. Channel your inner Japanese. Live small. Do what you love, instead of wasting time on work so that you can buy stuff you think will make you happy but that you never use because you have to work so much to pay for it. Work 30 hours instead of 50 and hang out with your kids more.

For those of you who already do this >> great stuff. For those of you, who want to tell me fuck it, I like stuff, that's cool too. Everyone is different. Tora had every item under they sun, just in case. He spent two hours every day organizing his stuff - and it made him happy. I on the other hand did not have so much, went for many swims, did unnecessary bouldering, played flute, wrote some crap that nobody wants to read and watched that grass grow or that small mexican city plaza flow - and it made me happy. Bebum had a didge. And two bikes more than all of us.

I am not the keeper of your spare time and Tora is not the judge of your effectiveness. I can not tell if that 20th pair of jeans really made you happy and Tora doesn't know if that snake venom remover kit should have been in my bags after all. We all are the makers of our own happiness.

That being said. Get rid of some stuff. One day you might have to carry it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

one year later

In one week it will be one year since Mestre Acordeon, Mestra Suelly and the B2B crew left Berkeley, California for Salvador, Bahia. Clean chains reflected the California sun. Way too much gear made their bikes heavy. Muscles screamed, not accustomed to the daily strain. They thought it would be a long journey but they did not know what it meant to be on the road for over a year. Wet behind the ears, yet eyes brimming with hopes and dreams.

Today, 120 km from Recife and 1000 km from Salvador anyone who takes a minute to look – and many can’t help but do - knows the B2B crew carries with them the hardships of a road less traveled. Long distance riders in the Americas stick to the coasts, avoiding the mountains in the center, but B2B had to cross the central mountain ranges of Mexico, Central and South America several times. Try riding up and down two to six thousand meters of steep, badly maintained mountain roads six times in five months and you will know what these road warriors went through. But up there on those high plateaus is where the cities are, where the capoeira is. And this is a capoeira journey.

They slept in strange places - fields, gas stations, ice cream parlors, on roofs, in really cramped quarters and restaurants or fire stations. They rode in any condition that this good green earth can possible throw at them. Their bikes are dirty, handlebar tape thread-bare, gears creak along and replacement tires are worn out. Their bodies are in no better shape than their bikes and any of them can name you at least three areas that are in need of immediate care or at least very long rest.

Yet that light in their eyes shines on. And as they come closer and closer to their goal it is brighter every day. Salvador is not only their Mestre’s and Capoeira’s home land, it is their promised land. It is what they have been striving for, the final and ultimate reason for why they rode 14.000 km and shot terabytes of film. They work long hours, select and edit material, write story lines and perfect sound conditions. They try not to fall asleep after a long day of riding while their Mestre gives untold numbers of workshops to hungry Capoeiristas. And every day they force their weary bones up from hard floors at 5 am to follow him down the road.

The ever present road, shimmering in the heat, carrying pain and gain in equal measure. Out here, their shadows remain their only constant companion. And as they ride further away from the equator those shadows grow longer and longer, and they suddenly realize that the final moments of this journey of a life time are upon them. Mixed emotions of elation, a sense of accomplishment, gratefulness and gladness for the light at the end of a long tunnel compete for limited space in their toughened hearts. After a year together most everything is limited for them. Emotional capacity, physical endurance and the desire to move forward are all hanging by a bare thread. 

Now their Mestre’s will power keeps them going, helps them reach their goal and finish what they started. A man, only a few days from his 71st birthday, himself suffering from nightly leg cramps and constant back pain, braving various other physical, emotional and spiritual hardships, carries this ragtag group of capoeira cyclists on his tough shoulders through the final month of an epic journey. It could only end this way.

Axé Capoeira

Friday, June 20, 2014

adventures of a cycling hunter-gatherer tribe

Quietly he sneaks up on the little hamlet on a dirt track just of the main road. It helps to have your gear tied down and oiled up when you want to be quiet. You never know if you should let the potential host know you are coming, or be prepared to quietly escape from a bad situation. What will be the better strategy? All we need is a space out of sight so we can sleep in peace and not worry about our bikes too much. If we are able to cook some of us usually go vegetable hunting. Others would rather gut a goat.

All of us had expectations when we started the B2B journey. We thought we would become capoeira super heroes  – sorry, nope.  We thought we would learn how to compose Berimbau Symphonies – not likely. We thought it would be a grand honor and lifetime opportunity to ride with a Capoeira legend like Mestre Acordeon – ok, of course. Impressions of lands and peoples are countless. Any of us could probably go on for hours about all the things we have seen. Some of these expectations were over rated, some of them were true, and some other things we just did not expect at all. As we say in German “Erstens kommt es anders, und zweitens als man denkt”.

For example what it means to live in a modern day hunter gatherer tribe. Not an experience most of us expected to make. Let me describe our normal to you.

After having found save sleeping quarters, cooked and eaten whatever food we managed to find we sleep until just before sunrise. Often we are in a large shared room, at a fire station, at a municipal building, in a gym or in a jail. I miss sleeping on the beach.


 It’s hot in Central America, we sleep on the hard floor with a sarong as a blanket or in a hammock, most of us have gotten rid of mats, tents or sleeping bags. We rise from our makeshift beds and start making one or another type of breakfast, packing and cooking simultaneously. Usually there are groups of twos or more that share cooking. Depending on mood and availability we share our different foods. Everybody keeps an eye on Mestre’s progress - that’s how we know when we leave. When we move our steel-horses out on the road we tie down our saddle bags, check the hoofs and the lube and start riding out into the very early morning. Usually, we are the first ones on the road riding through fog and wood fire smoke, past slowly waking up fields and animals. Picture this quiet caravan, gently rolling through verdant landscapes. We ride all day and only take breaks during the heat of mid-day.

We have been doing this for nine months. We have shared food, bedding, hardship and the risks of the road less traveled 24/7. We all know each other’s habits like who you can chat to before they have had their cup of coffee and who is functional at what time of the day. How fast and far we can ride and who does better in the heat or in the cold. For better or worse we are as close to a modern hunter gatherer tribe as you can find. One with service-less cell phones and sporadic internet connections.

What does it all mean? Do we groom each other's pelts and munch on each other’s fleas? (uhm, only a couple of us) Do we have a dominant male and everyone else tries to take his place? (yes and no) We don't fight over our two females, they are in good hands. How do group dynamics function and do we display changed behavioral patterns compared to our previous US west-coast background? 

This changed way of life changes us. Almost naturally our emotional connections have taken on a subconscious strength. We more and more resemble cultures with less individualistic points of view. Because of our shared capoeira back ground we may take to this group life more naturally. We also always try to flow with the circumstance, stay present. We don’t know dates or days of the week. Sometimes we are even in the wrong month. When we are confronted with the real world’s schedules and deadlines we are startled.  We wonder why it all doesn’t just flow in a common and sense making rhythm, hopefully according to seasons and the moon.

When we meet other bicycle touring people they are often surprised that we manage to keep the peace amongst so many of us. They are used to either being loners or democratic ways, majority rule for all decisions. We don’t have this problem. Mestre Acordeon looks for our input but in the end makes the decisions alone. Why is it so easy to accept this? None of us seem to have an issue with not having any real say about where we go, how long we stay or other common travel conflict points. All we care about is food, sleep, capoeira and keeping moving towards our shared goals. This is a marked difference to our daily existence back home where our days are filled with indivuality and constant decision making processes.

I personally did not think it would be so beautiful, easy and even peaceful to fall back into pack mode. To know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. To move as one and rely on each other. Are these instincts so close to our emotional surface, still, after all these millennia of civilization? Would we be happier to live this way even today instead of in our highly individualized cultures? In a tribe of our choosing, of a good size and with not too much gossip?

Do you miss your tribe without knowing it?

Monday, May 19, 2014


You live in the best country in the world, right? In your country you feel at home. There are special places there, places that you can't find anywhere else, that you feel emotionally attached to. Your food is completly tasty (ok, not if you're a Brit) and you would never visit a doctor in a foreign country unless you had to. Even if you suffer corrupt leaders or environmental degradation it is hard for you to imagine a better place to call home.

Have you asked why?

We are all subject to a constant stream of patriotic image creation. Your country's government directs this strategy early on in school (pledge of allegiance) and media outlets all over the world happily continue to feed the nationalistic beast. One or another entity constantly spoon feeds us how we are supposed to think about our selves, our neighbors, our homeland - sometimes the spoon is golden, sometimes its a ladel, sometimes a cudgel. Plenty of historical memes help us interpret our reality. It is easy to base our understanding of our place in the world, our selves and how we relate to people in other countries on these thought patterns.

We all think we come from the best place in the solar system, and the sun specifically shines her rays on our dog's ass.

In the USA people are convinced that they have the best life style in the world. The richest, most developed and monied place in the world. Yet, the USA just kicked off the worst economic crises since below. The healthcare system is a joke and a significant part of the population is excluded from this wealth-creating, resource-consuming machine.

In Austria we base our self image on a long, storied history. We are small now, but we used to be big. Vienna was the original melting pot of the world long before New York or London. Just look at a Viennese phonebook, you will hardly find any german names in there. We used to create art that the world appreciates to this day. We live in a grand, golden past and struggle with the present.

It is difficult for us humans to see this reality because we are group animals. We are used to rolling in a pack. All packs have rules and in exchange for following these we receive the benefits of being part of a group - protection, support and social interaction. I have only discovered one way to counteract this, leaving my leetle Austrian pack. As opposed to The Terminator, I probably won't be back.

I have been silly enough to move myself from one continent to another three times. From Austria to Australia, then to Japan and finally to the USA. Silly, because only people who don't know any better keep doing this. Each time you must build a new life, find a new pack. For some reason I have enjoyed this so far.

Now, because I am following a crazy old man, I get to ride through a string of countries on my bicycle. B2B, Mestre Acordeon's project to document the development of Capoeira in the Americas, affords us insights into countries, societies and cultures that I never dreamed of.

Panama is one of those countries. A nation at the mercy of international politics for centuries and one that, like all the other Central and South American countries, suffered Spanish Conquistadores and the consequences of being a colony. A small country can only fall in line with the powers that be. After having supported Panama's secession from Colombia the USA obviously made sure to keep its strong influence here in order to control the Panama Canal.

The country lies at the skinniest part of the two Americas, forming a thin connective tissue between two continents. This alone produces a meme of connectedness and international relations.  The Canal only adds to this creation myth. Now Panama is not just the hugely important north-south connection, in fact it is the entire world that flows through her gates. The only other place that has similar powers of inspiration would be the land bridge of the Bering Straight. But who would want to deal with the temperatures of an ice age? You'd probably have to hunt Mammoths and fight Saber Tooth Kittens too.

Panama built an image of itself as a connector between worlds, cultures and trade. Panamanians appreciate their melting pot way of life. I can't count the times that I saw a Panamarica/Interamerica store of all varieties or an America Import store while riding. Of course this country imports things from all the Americas, even if its just coming from Costa Rica or Nicaragua.

Whats that say on the bottom right?

Before the recent US-brokered freetade agreement Panama did not trade very much with Colombia. The two states have a complicated history. In a Politics 101 nutshell: once Panama realized that they can make a good living on their own with the about-to-be-built canal they split like hell from Colombia and started their own little fiesta, with the support and protection of the USA. This of course is quite the quit pro quo, hence being beholden to the powers that be. You can imagine that Colombia is none too pleased about losing control of this cash cow.

Awesome Panama Canal

Perhaps as a consequence of the complicated history no roads connect Panama and Colombia. The Darien Gap, a stinking reptile and drug dealer infested mud hole makes it impossible to pass on a bike, on foot or by car - still the preferred mode of transportation. Except if you are this guy (I can't recommend enough for you to watch this grainy video, its true explorer stuff). The country that thinks of itself as the connective tissue between two continents is physically cut off from one of them.

But that's no biggy, you can just run a bunch of ships. Tons of them. Just like you are used to doing anyway with that other gigantic global umbilical cord - The Canal. Oh, you dont do that? Really? No ferries, no freight ships, no joy rides? Nada? Nunca? Only random private boats that ship lost backpackers and crazy cyclists through the San Blas Islands from one country to the other. If you have a car, or OMG, you are trying to ship some Bananas from one side to the other you are, as they say, rather far up the shitty creek. Which happens to be island paradise. Not that we at B2B are complaining. Tranquilo.

Lost sail boats and the rather authentic Kuna populate the San Blas

So, if you have an impassable piece of real estate on your southern border and there are no scheduled ships going around it, how can you consider yourself the world's top continent connector? Containing multitudes. A land bridge containing and communicating multi-cultural influences and tastes. An istmus even. A hot international property in the process of tossing off theUSA's yoke for good.

This makes Panama a fairly straight forward example of why it is important to travel so that we may understand our patriotic assumptions for what they really are. Assumptions. Propaganda. Or as Pirata would say - Bullshit. It is easy to defend your opinions about the USA or about China. So many factors influence the images of these countries that, as with some religious texts, there is much room for interpretation. This is more difficult for Panama. You either connect, communicate and melt in a pot, or you don't.

So let us all happily profit and learn from Panama and try to examine our assumptions about our patriotism, about our countries' good and bad sides. Maybe we would discover a bit of humanity under all the vulgar propaganda. The stuff that connects rather than seperates us. Like a land bridge. An istmus even.