[trancoso]

Trancoso. Known to Europeans as the St. Tropez of Brazil and Americans as that place Diane Von Furstenberg sojourns, this historic, deep tropical Bahian village has become an aristocratic hotspot with a graceful balance of old tradition and new wave culture. But the majority of the year is the much less talked about and much more accessible version of Trancoso – the one we came to explore for ourselves.

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This place is gorgeous.

We peeled ourselves out of the cramped local transport van and caught our first glimpse of our surroundings. In front of us revealed the brochure images we had become so familiar with in our research: a large grass field lined with small colorful cottages, huge tamarind and cashew trees lining the square, and a prominent white colonial church capping the end. This is way better than the pictures.

A short walk along the square and Google maps claimed that we were standing right in front of our hotel. Are we in the right place? A friendly man nearby recognized our obvious confusion and confirmed our location. Apparently, the rustic, colorful houses we were loitering in front of were, in fact, part of the UXUA Casa Hotel and Spa, our Trancoso home to be. We had just arrived through the back door. It wasn't the first time.

Within a minute, Carlos, the concierge, greeted us like old friends and casually led us towards our “casa” as they call them. Sporting a designer t-shirt, shorts, and aviators he wasn’t in the typical concierge ensemble, but his genuine demeanor and no-stress vibe immediately revealed the type of experience we were to have at UXUA and Trancoso as a whole. As we followed, Carlos passionately painted the picture of this historic locale and his enthusiasm for the place was infectious. That grass field we had just walked through actually had a name, the Quadrado, the communal town square and heart of Trancoso dating back 500 years to some of the earliest Portuguese missionaries. That simple blue house we had passed also had a name, Seu Ireno, originally a fisherman's home and now a restored and artfully updated house that would be the home for our stay. It was gorgeous.

Seu Ireno is one of several classic ‘casas’ at UXUA facing the Quadrado, gracefully integrating its original details with an understated ‘rustic modernism’ of a boutique hotel. The devil is in the details of all of UXUA’s casas where the confluence of traditional and modern design give birth to a new type of luxury not often found. The spaces feel authentic, yet original; traditional, yet unique; bold, yet comfortable. Everything is meticulously designed and yet nothing stands out as ostentatious or unnecessary. We quickly realized that this wasn’t your typical boutique hotel. It was obvious someone had put a lot of energy into this place to preserve and honor the history Trancoso is famous for. And as we discovered a few days later, we were correct.

That evening we walked around the Quadrado to take in it’s historic presence and see what Trancoso had to offer.  We quickly pump into Carlos and some of his colleagues sitting on stools eating tapioca sandwiches from the local food stand (Delicia da Praca, the best tapioca we had in all Brazil).  It was this casual encounter where we first met the owner and designer of UXUA, Wilbert Das. Das carried a relaxed and approachable manner, but his fairer complexion and distinct Dutch features means he definitely didn’t blend in physically with the locals. But in every other way he did. Just by looking at his posture you could tell he was in his element. He was comfortable and familiar with the place. While we sat there stuffing tapioca sandwiches into our face, not a local passed by without saying hello or he greeting them in fluent Portuguese. He almost seemed like the unofficial mayor.

Das’ history informs the story behind UXUA. Unsurprisingly, it’s all about his passion for the town, it’s history, and the people there. What started as a project to design and build his own home, evolved into the beginning phases of what is now UXUA. As the former creative director for Diesel, he leaned on his design background to begin building out and expanding it into a luxury hotel, but it was also his work in fashion that he was reacting against with the hotel.

“I had this guilt in me when I was working in the fashion industry. In the end, I felt very guilty asking people to buy things that they absolutely don’t need. I wanted to make something...that would last for a long time and absolutely didn’t have anything that was trendy.“

Without much previous experience in the hospitality industry, Das explained that his process was as organic and intentional as UXUA itself. Sustainability and collaboration with the locals became major themes of his process.

“I tried to use as little as possible of new materials. As many antiques and as much dead wood as possible that had already fallen down, and make something that would last for a long time.”

He went on to explain the partnerships he formed with local communities in and around the surrounding areas for fresh produce and speciality items like handmade soap made by the local Pataxò indians. He even created a program to bring in artists from all over the world to create art and furniture for UXUA, making it an ever evolving organism.

“The luxury is, in the end, the space you have, the environment, the nature that’s completely intertwined with the buildings and a sense of material in the end. “

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It was Friday night in Trancoso when we found ourselves at a local open air venue off the Quadrado where unfamiliar rhythms were already pumping and the dance floor was crowded with flowing couples. So this is “forro”. Everyone was there: locals young and old, the UXUA staff, their guests, the local capoeira teacher, and a couple expats. Das explained further about how forro is part of what he loves so much about Trancoso. It’s a time where everyone: locals, expats, wanderers… all come together regularly to celebrate life. Even at 1am in the morning. This is the Trancoso that many of it’s typical tourists would miss without insider knowledge.  Before we knew it, we were swept away by a few Brazilians to learn the traditional dance and we made proper fools of ourselves.

Our week at UXUA was full of these lesser known Trancoso experiences. Sure, we hit the beaches (which were lovely) and tried some of the many other delicious restaurants in town, but it was our time with the friends we made from UXUA and their openness and passion for Trancoso that really made our stay special. Instead of schmoozing with the European fashion world elites at a private villa, we sat in town and learned about it’s history, took an excursion to the mud baths several miles down the beach, learned how to cook the traditional Bahian stew of moqueca, and just sat in front of our casa and watched with the locals as children played football as the sun went down. It didn’t feel manicured.

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Maybe it was our access, or maybe it was our luck, but this more tranquil, off-season side of Trancoso that has held strong to its Brazilian roots has maintained an independent identity in spite of strong outside influences. This innate beauty and resilience combined with the intimacy and authenticity of UXUA made us fall in love with the other Trancoso. Or maybe it’s the real Trancoso.


[rio]

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'Santa'

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Looking back, Santa Teresa felt like a small bubble of familiarity pocketed in an immense and foreign city. It sits perched high in the hills overlooking the madness of Rio, almost as a spiritual refuge from the chaos. It’s specialness was it’s architecture – we felt surrounded by the stories of it’s past. Rundown Portuguese mansions wound up the mountainous cobblestone roads with little or no orientation. Roads seemed to split like tributaries in a river, flowing up and down at random. We found it disorienting, often confusing our sense of direction. Does this road take you down or up? No matter what time of day, there always seemed to be action happening along the main drag. Spells of tourists and ‘Cariocas’ (Rio natives) spilled out of the neighborhood bars onto the streets, sharing beers and wearing their patriotic colors. With the World Cup in it’s last few days, fans we’re still holding on to every moment.

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We pieced together from various locals the history of this interesting neighborhood. ‘Santa’ (as the locals call it) was originally a refuge for escaped slaves. During the turn of the 20th century when Rio started to bask in the same economic boom from coffee as Sao Paulo did, newly found aristocrats moved in and built stunning Portuguese style mansions. It was an upperclass borough until a dictatorship in the 30’s brought economic hardship and poverty to Santa, where three dangerous favelas up the road began developing. It remained abandoned for decades until artists and bohemians revived it in the 60’s. Of course. We could sense this history walking through the place, a special almost spiritual feel. It was particularly enjoyable to us as it bore the same qualities as early movements in places we resonate with, including Silverlake, Venice Beach, Williamsburg and Shoreditch.

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Santa Teresa, for us, was about exploration, meandering in and out of neighborhood hangouts with samba playing, popping into shops selling indigenous handicrafts and trying new food from fried cod balls to pao de quejo. The latter being cheesy tapioca bread which Blake immediately took a liking to, claiming he could eat 50 of them. And tried to.

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Lapa. Looking for samba and finding something else.

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“Lapa is the center of samba” the guidebook read, and from our brief interactions with locals and other tourists it was the neighborhood’s claim to fame. Our first night in Rio landed on a Friday night so we eager to explore the city and hopefully find some amazing Samba. Not knowing much of the city yet, and having heard the rumors of  how dangerous Rio can be, we spent a good 15 minutes deciding whether or not to even bring our phone. Obviously, with only one phone left, we were trying to be very careful. Screw it, let’s live a little dangerously and bring it!

On a Friday night, Lapa is a party. A giant white aqueduct marks the beginning of the area and as soon as you walk through it, you start to see and hear the chaos. The streets were a maze packed with thousands of tourists, locals and street vendors hawking drinks from their makeshift bars.  The avenues had become sidewalks and the river of people made traffic come to a standstill. It felt familiar in a way. With the old coloful Portuguese facades and onlookers from balconies, it reminded Blake of a Friday night in New Orleans, minus the beads and boobs.

With the legit establishments charging excessive couverts (cover charges), it was difficult to justify, so we parked ourselves at the corner of the madness and ordered a couple of 20 ounce cevejas from an upscale botecca. Just watching the chaos unfolding in front of us became entertainment enough. The first friend to approach and make conversation was an older German dude drinking a Smirnoff Ice from one of the makeshift bars. Stereotypically, when you see a German, you expect them to be drinking a pilsner of sort, perhaps hefeweizen or a strong, dark spirit thats difficult to pronounce. But this German’s drink of choice was apparently Smirnoff Ice. Go figure. Being the avid conversationalists that we are, we gladly invited our interesting German onlooker to join the table and inquired into his story. After a short grace period of tuning into his accent, we learned that his group of friends, all Smirnoff Ice drinkers, had been all over Brazil watching Germany play in the World Cup. The kicker: they’d been to every World Cup since 1990! Their strategy was to just buy team tickets, leave their families for a month, go broke, and watch every Germany game as long as they lasted in the tournament. This time was clearly their lucky year. After a few “Brosts”, they left us to find more Smirnoff Ice, and we continued our search for samba.  

We grabbed a bootleg capirahna from a roadside vendor and proceeded down the streets trying to judge the interior scenes by their street-facing appearance. The lines for the recommended samba clubs were impossibly long and we quickly realized our chances of getting into one were becoming slim. Still, the street was a party and we became content with absorbing the atmosphere from the outside and engaging in an active game of people watching. As we combed the streets, we passed by an open, concrete space with an unfamiliar sound emanating from the inside. This sounds interesting. We ducked into the place and a melodic rhythmic of drums surrounded us.

By accident, we had stumbled into a local, afro-Brazilian crowd getting down to a marching band style ensemble. The fast paced, hard hitting style was awesome.  It wasn’t samba but it was an unexpected and tantalizing new discovery, reminding us of what this trip is all about. Accidents. By this time, it was late. And we had a new adventure of trying to get back up the hill to Santa...


Getting Our Tourist On

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As much as we always try to do the local thing, you can’t visit a place without seeing what its globally known for. When you think of Rio, you think of two things: Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer. As the two most popular tourists spots (and arguably the most beautiful), visiting Rio without experiencing these places would be a big fat mistake.

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Sugarloaf mountain is the conicular volcanic peak that you see in all the postcards. Right on the edge of the city, it seemingly emerges straight from out of the ocean, and creates the unrivaled view of the horizon/cityscape of Rio. Visitors ride an old cable car to each mountaintop, allowing for a complete 360 degree view of Rio. It was breathtaking. You can see for miles in every direction. There are so few cities in the world with such a dynamic natural landscape; where the topography of mountains and beaches intermix with skyscrapers and favelas. You can literally see the entire city: Centro, Copacabana, Ipenema, Christ the Redeemer–everything. 

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As we snapped our obligatory photos (and selfies), we literally looked down as planes approached Rio’s domestic airport. We were literally that high. What a special place.

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The next day it was time to check another spot of the the list: Christ the Redeemer, a massive stone statue of Jesus built almost 100 years ago on the tallest visible point in Rio. Trying to time it correctly, we harnessed our inner Disney World child and scaled up the mountain via a railcar/tram (originally built just to transport the statue) to catch the sunset at the top. What we didn’t anticipate were the hundreds of other tourists with the exact same idea.

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Regardless of the crowd, it was hard not to feel the powerful presence of this place. The views from here are literally insane. You are so incredibly high up, you feel almost god-like, as if you are Jesus himself looking down on all the children of men. Then you understand why, with arms open, the statue was placed here for all the city to see, and be seen. But with the hundreds of tourists snapping photos gigabytes of photos every minute and positioning themselves for the perfect selfie, it’s hard not to notice the irony of this place; built as an auspicious monument to a revered religious figure, it’s now become more of a mecca for vanity as visitors care more about taking a picture of themselves then contemplating the real significance of this site. But with that realization attainted, we promptly steered through the crowd to get own own perfect cliche selfie.

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100,000 Argentineans

We timed our trip so that we’d be in Rio for the finals of the World Cup. We knew getting tickets was an expensive and slim possibility, but we knew just being there was sure to be an experience in itself. We hoped, as did 200 million others, that Brazil would be in the finals and we’d see history as Brazil won on home turf. With that fantasy rudely destroyed, the next best option would be to see another South American country instead, hopefully Argentina. As they slowly inched their way to the finals, and we saw the throngs of passionate Argentina fans in Sao Paulo, we knew the finals in Rio was going to be crazy.

Our plan was to head to the Fan Fest  on Copacabana beach and watch the game on one of their jumbotrons and basque in a revelry with the thousands of other Argentina fans that had made any attempt they could to come to Rio to support their team.

The subway platform was surprisingly empty given the [something] of the day. Expecting to see throngs on blue and white jerseys and to hear the songs of those annoying vuvuzelas, we saw only a few scattered people, none of whom appeared to be going to the game. Weird. And a little disappointing. Well, maybe this isn’t a big subway stop or something.

The train entered the station and car after car rolled by with only a few people in each. Just as we were beginning to lose hope, a train car rolled by us absolutely backed with Argentina fans. Yes! Exactly what we’re looking for. The doors opened and we raced two cars up to make sure were got in that train. We couldn’t have anticipated what that ride was going to be like. But let’s just say, this sums it up.

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As we poured out of the subway stop at Copacabana beach, the atmosphere was electric. With the high afternoon sun blaring down on everyone, the singing and chanting coming from all around you, you could feel the revelry in the air. We made on way onto the beach and saw, for the first time, she sheer immensity of people there to watch the game. Holy shit, this is crazy! There were literally tens of thousands of Argentina fans in every conceivable direction. We quickly decided not to enter the official Fan Fest, and go to the beach side where we could still see the jumbotron but also make a fast escape if things started to go badly.

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As the game neared kickoff, every little piece of beach space filled with sweaty, sunburt Argentinas, all drunk as hell and waiting for their team to attain glory. One particularly awesome song that we’d been hearing for a few days, was a song making fun of Brazil and their team. It was hilarious and even the Brazilian fans found it funny. Listen to it below.

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The game started and by now we were part of the surrounding tribe. The game was slow and without much excitement, but every little chance for Argentina was felt like a wave of anticipation quickly crashing over you. With everyone well and hammered, including us, and the game nearing it’s end, Germany scored and everyone quickly realized it was over. Fearing for what would happen next, we excited toward the ocean, relieved ourselves in the water with about a thousand other people doing the same thing, and made our way to go eat something for the first time in what felt like days. The better team won, but we could only have imagined what would have happened if it had gone the other way. Next time.


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Rocinha By Rocinha

A tour of a favela seemed like a very inauthentic idea to begin with – like touring projects in Harlem or something – but we really did want to experience one of these self created cities. From almost anywhere in Rio, when you gaze up into the mountains, you can see these improvised towns snuggled in often impossible places. Having heard so much about them before, and seeing movies which depicted these shanty towns in so many colorful ways, we really wanted to visit one. A favela is typically a low income neighborhood completely created by the residents. Everything from the individual houses, schools and businesses to the electric and water systems, all created without any help from the government. This aspect fascinated us. Believing that genuine innovation is born out of necessity, we wanted to learn more about a community that could build such infrastructure with basically nothing.

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Rocina by Rocina is a newly created local tour company to help give visitors a real sense of what a favela is all about. Our guide was a friendly guy named Eric Martins, born and raised in Rocinha with a serious passion for its future development. His startup is a true testament to how technology can enable anyone with a passion to set up for success – especially someone from a Favela. With a website, Tripadvisor profile and an iPhone, they can market themselves and accept credit card payments. Amazing. The donation based walking tour began with Leo (Eric’s cousin) picking us up at our hotel and taking us on a  local bus for the 35 minute ride to his neighborhood. We jumped off the bus into a sprawling flea market selling every kind of good you can imagine, and then packed into a 12 seater van to climb up the steep street to the top of the favela. Leo explained how transportation works in Rocina, that this van and “moto" taxis were how everyone gets around. As more and more locals jammed into the small van and stared at the white foreign faces, we realized we were getting a genuine, local experience. Our initial apprehension started to ease. We weren’t observing the neighborhood from afar but doing a typical daily walk through with someone who lives here.

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Under the veins of electrical wires and corrugated roofs we weaved through the alleys, sometimes being told when we could pull our cameras out for photos and when it was best just to pass through and not linger. We felt an overwhelming feeling of humility after seeing what this community has created out of nothing. Their positivity affected us - it would have affected anyone. At one point we stopped on a roof deck overlooking the entire city. Looking out, it makes you realize what you really need to survive and, again, how inventive humans can be.

At one point, we sat down with Eric to ask questions and he explained his point of view on the pacification movement currently happening in Favelas all around the country. It’s a very hot topic currently in Brazil and it was interesting to hear his perspective on it. Basically, the government is sending in the military and police force in an attempt to create security in these neighborhoods. In theory, it’s sounds great, but given the complexity of application, there are many issues that come with it. It seems the police act with impunity in these places and we heard stories of people going missing, people being murdered, and people being moved to other neighborhoods against their will. Here’s a great read on both sides of pacification.

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Since Eric and Leo had grown up in the favela before the pacification – when drug lords were the ruling force – they offered great insight into what it was like before and after the new government intervention. Some of the benefits mentioned were that the community was no longer controlled by drug lords and that certain municipal services thought it was now safe enough to service these areas.  Drugs and guns aren’t openingly displayed on the streets anymore and some crimes are actually being investigated. To the outside, it might appear to be a safer place, but there are cons that come with this strategy as well. One of the most fascinating was that now that the drug lords weren’t in charge as much, they don’t fund as many public facing projects (like football fields) to gain good will with the people, and, there is actually more crime because the people there no longer fear retribution from the drug lords. As we listened to Eric speak about all these totally foreign issues, the overwhelming sentiment was that he was very passionate about this place and he had a lot of hope for its future. And after experiencing Rochinha with our own eyes, so did we.

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The heart of Rio

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As we sat on a gigantic rock formation at the end of the famous Ipanema beach, rays warming our skin, waves slowly penetrating every orifice of the rocks in front of us and the city highrises in the background fading away under a layer of fog, the foreign starts to become familiar. It’s in this moment where we stop comparing Rio to LA, Miami, South of France and realize its…Rio. It has its own identity, it is its own place.

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The people here are unique; Latin for sure but with their own sophistication. Beach life is expressed in a multitude of forms: the sexy and small bikinis walking down the boardwalk of patterned stone; the surfers, short boarders, boogie boarders and swimmers all catching waves in unison (no territories here, it’s everyone’s playground); the capiranhas are abundant and delicious… and sugary; discarded coconuts litter the ground next to every beach stall. Generally cities make you feel more insular and focused, but Rio’s grandeur allows your mind to drift away. The topography is unlike any other place we’ve ever been. Its uneven and dynamic with no rhyme or reason. The city grew where it’s inhabitants deemed necessary and their social status determined the neighborhood. But one thing is for sure, the beach is everyone’s and you can see all the peoples of Rio here.

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The textures of Rio

A few more photos of Rio, no story attached.

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a taste of [são paulo]

Theresa, Our apartment swap’s housekeeper, first introduced us to Feijoada, Brazil’s national dish. Traditionally this dish takes advantage of all parts of the hog (trotters, ears etc). Here’s our slightly healthier twist on the delicious recipe. It’s pretty heavy so best to serve at lunchtime to allow some time for digestion!

 

Time: Roughly three hours with prep and cooking time

4-6 people

 

Dried Foods

8 ounce package dry black beans, soaked overnight and drained

2 cups of rice 

 

Meat

3 thick slices smoked bacon, medium diced 

3/4 lbs spicy pork sausage - I think its best to use a variety and mix it up! If you can find linguica use this with chorizo, andouille, smoked kielbasa or another spicy sausage of your choice. (Sliced)

2 ounces beef jerky (chopped)

3/4 pound smoked pork chops (chopped)

 

Veggies

½ medium yellow onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 bunches of kale

 

Condiments

1 3/4 quarts of water

2 bay leaves

1 Tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

8 teaspoon cumin

⅛ teaspoon ground coriander*

1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley (optional)

1/2 tablespoon cooking oil (I use coconut but you can use olive oil, avocado oil etc)

I dried chile


First step, soak the beans overnight! Next, smoke the pork chops by following this recipe. 

Even though there are a lot of ingredients to the recipe, the actual cooking is very simple.

Heat the oil in a casserole pan on low heat. Add onions first and then garlic until onions are translucent (about five minutes). Stir in the drained beans and add the water. Raise to high heat and bring to a boil. Once it's begun to boil, reduce to low heat and let the beans simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally.

After the beans have simmered for one hour add all the meat products, spices, vinegar, chile and bay leaves to the mix. Simmer for another hour. 

During this time you can prepare your rice (follow the instructions on the packet of rice) and you can prepare your kale. The kale is very simple to prepare. In a cast iron skillet heat the oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, add 1 tablespoon of sliced garlic and then add your collard greens. Cook until wilted. 

Once all the meat is cooked, and the beans have formed a somewhat soupy consistency, you are ready to go! Serve over rice with your collard greens on the side. 

Enjoy!

Adapted from Eric Ripert’s recipe, Denise Browning’s recipe and Maria’s Cookbook

a sense of [são paulo]

 

July 28th, 2014

When we asked people to give us advice about going to Brazil, everyone always mentioned Rio de Janeiro. “Rio is so beautiful,” they said, “It’s so laid back and fun. Rio is the best.” Just go to Rio. But no one really said much about São Paulo. By all accounts, it seemed like the forgotten city of Brazil . As our cab weaved through traffic in São Paulo’s city center, our virgin eyeballs took in the first impressions of this rarely recommended city.

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The immediate overwhelming feeling was bigness. Unlike other cities, it doesn’t have a beautiful harbor, nearby mountains, or any other natural distinguishing features that generally creates a dynamic city vista; just a monotonous city horizon that seemingly spans forever. Twenty minutes into our ride and we’d seen hundreds of similar 25 story apartment buildings littered in all directions, massive favelas, and a peculiar type of graffiti (known as “pixacao”) plastered on every conceivable surface. It was not a pretty city, that was immediately apparent, but we were eager to discover why 20 million people call this place home.

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It was winter in São Paulo and the frigid 75 degrees fahrenheit made us appreciate being here during the winter. A quick left and the cab crossed an imaginary line and boom -- we hit Beverly Hills; palm trees, Gucci, Prada, high heels, bodyguards outside every establishment, and fancy high rise apartments. It was gorgeously manicured and hard to believe we were still in the same city we just drove through to get there. This area is Jardins, the safe, high end shopping district of São Paulo and home to some of the top real estate in the city. And thanks to our extremely fortuitous apartment swap deal, it meant we were staying right smack dab in the center of this place. We’d be lying if we didn’t breathe a little sigh of relief.


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First Contact

Our first trek to the local store was a cultural experience to say the least. Galeria Dos Paes is a 24-hour delectable market with every variety of bread, cake, chocolate truffle, cheese, meat, and vegetable one could imagine. The only problem was how we actually order any of it.

We casually strolled in, trying to blend in as much as possible, when we were greeted by a lady who promptly handed us each a plastic card and shimmied us through a turnstile. If the nervousness wasn’t already apparent on our faces, the confusion definitely was! What the hell do you do with this plastic card? We were already confused just trying to remember the correct words to say in Portuguese, continuously rehearsing in our head the few phrases we had practiced before heading out. Nao falo Portuguese. Voce fala Ingles? We don’t know the language and the process of ordering is different? This isn’t good.

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We sheepishly meandered around the store, trying to avoid ordering from the tempting meat and cheese counters while covertly observing the behaviors of frequent shoppers and their use of the fabled plastic card. This tactic is a primal instinct that, as travelers, you find yourself relying on more often than not; aka, the monkey see, monkey do technique. After careful observation, the card’s utility revealed itself. It was essentially your charge card while shopping. One small victory down but many obstacles were quickly approaching. Next was ordering breakfast. With our broken Portuguese falling out our mouths -- we must have sounded like a drunk Borat speaking English -- we attempted to order a croissant with cheese. How hard can that be? Instead, we received a shredded chicken salad stuffed croissant that, after one bite, Blake claimed tasted like a tuna salad croissant. Feeling mildly ill after our morning experiment with digestion and overtly conscious of the ignorant American stereotype, we made our way to the checkout counter to pay.

Hoping to get through this next experience as quickly and painlessly as possible, we handed over a credit card with the plastic charge card and prayed the lady behind the register didn’t try to strike up a conversation with us. We mumbled “good evening” in broken Portuguese and the lady smiled and turned to to talk to the cashier next to her. The only word at this point that we understood was “Americano” as she jovially mentioned us in her conversation with the other cashier.

Needless to say, we dreaded our inevitable return to the Galeria dos Paes.


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Feeling Much Obliged

Theresa, our apartment owner’s housekeeper, spoke not a word of English and our Portuguese at this time didn't really go beyond “Oi”, “Bom Dia” and “Obrigado” (the latter being the word Abby used 90% of the time for everything). Theresa was a welcome presence during our time in Sao Paulo. Every couple of days she would come to the apartment and speak very fast Portuguese to us and we’d occasionally mumble “entendo” if we understood maybe one word in her sentence. She made us coffee in the morning, washed our clothes and even showed us how to work the ingenious clothes drying apparatus she’d built. One thing is for sure, our experience with Theresa proved that nonverbal communication goes a long way!

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Our favorite moment with her was the day she made us the famous traditional Brazilian dish called feijoada. It consists of a black bean stew over rice, collard greens, and topped with farofa. The morning Theresa prepared the dish, Abby had just finished a breakfast of fruit and granola when she was beckoned to the kitchen. Theresa went on to show her how to reheat the meal she had just prepared, dish by dish, still speaking in rapid Portuguese that we did not understand. Abby, comprehending Theresa’s motions, nodded and gestured her approval. Part of the explanation included being spoon fed a heaping mouthful of farofa - cassava flour mixed with hardboiled eggs - that is never something you want to eat after a light breakfast. Not being one to offend a cook, Abby willfully swallowed it down and replied “muito bem, obrigada”. Maybe this will be a lesson in how she can learn to gracefully say no in the future.


20,000 Brazilians and One Missing iPhone

We cautiously walked up to the barricade manned by the Police Militar (Brazil’s military police), anticipating an easy process. Hope they don’t know about that one time in Vegas. Only checking bags, the Police presence was actually a welcome relief before entering what we heard would be Brazilian football chaos. Vila Madalena is a neighborhood where bohemians and frat boys roam. During football matches, many of the most popular streets in the area are closed to cars and open to football fan craziness. Excitement overcame us as we approached the pedestrian streets that were slowly beginning to populate with figures colored in hues of yellow and green. This was going to be our first Brazil match, in Brazil, and we were psyched. Earlier, Abby had voiced that perhaps we wear Brazil colors, employing the “When in Rome” concept, but Blake argued that it may come across as inauthentic. We later realized our fatal mistake.

We arrived about an hour before the first game, France vs. Germany, hoping we would have enough time to familiarize ourselves with the area and grab a delicious bite of Brazilian cuisine. Most of the small restaurants and bars had bellowing lines that circled their buildings and we saw that each bar was charging an absurd “couvert” for the chance to catch a glimpse of the game. This practice is pretty normal for bars in Brazil even when the Copa (World Cup), isn’t happening on home turf.

We settle on a subpar place to watch the first game which resembled a cheap Mexican restaurant in the States. We stared at the foreign menu like zombies, trying our best to translate the different items. We settle on croquettes. We know what croquettes are. How can you go wrong? Here’s how: when they are stuffed with an unidentified creamy beef hash (or what you hope to be beef) and you receive ten of them. Ok, we’re learning.

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Germany wins and we exit the bar to a handful of proud, celebrating German fans. Now it’s time for the real match. By this time in the afternoon the streets had exploded with people and we quickly came to the conclusion that the best experience for the game would be to watch with the masses in the streets. The atmosphere was electric: green and yellow jerseys everywhere, people waving flags and chanting, booze flowing, and it was still a few hours before kick off. This is a party! There must have been 20,000 people and under thirty of us gringos. It was very obvious that open container laws do not exist in Brazil and everywhere you looked you could see young entrepreneurs hawking cheap beers to the hoards. After a few street beers, we began to take on the persona of two overconfident travelers enthusiastically mixing with the local fans and absorbing the passion this culture has for football.

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We settled to watch the game along a street with a huge portable screen setup at the end. Beers in hand, we found a safe spot to the side, still cautious of filming and snapping photos of the environment, but caring less and less after each additional beer. After a raucous Brazilian national anthem, the game began and we saw what Brazilian fans are really like. Here we go!

To put it in perspective, there’s really nothing to compare the experience to in the States. Sure, Americans are passionate about Baseball and American Football, but they just don’t show the type of raw passion that the Brazilian fans do for their only real national sport: Football. We were in the heart of Brazil football culture and it felt amazing. As hectic as the streets became, we relished in the fact that we were properly experiencing Brazil as locals, or so we thought.

Brazil scored a goal within the first three minutes and the crowd absolutely erupted.  Chants began, beer flew through the air, and we couldn’t help but look at each other and smile -- this night was going to be epic if they won. This night is already epic! The game continued and Brazil’s future got brighter and brighter. As our false sense of security grew, we stopped listening to everyone’s advice about keeping our cameras and phones in our bags and started documenting everything. It was too hard not to. We wanted to capture this experience no matter what.

As suspected, Brazil won the game. We hugged each other and smiled at those around us, trying our best to mimic words of support they were exchanging with each other. This is about the time when Blake took his last iPhone picture of the Brazilians celebrating. As we exited the area with the crowd, Brasileros shouted “gringo!”, pointing at us and having fun in their drunken revelry. We weren’t sure if “gringo” was derogatory, but it felt like an orderly cheer and seemed pretty innocuous, which it is. It couldn’t have been more than three minutes later when Blake realized that his iPhone wasn’t in his pocket. Oh, no. The feeling of excitement quickly turned into despair as we instantly realized it was long gone. There was nothing we could do. Stupid f-ing gringo. With everyone celebrating around us, frustration overcame all of our emotions as it dawned on us how overly confident we had been. Later that night, feeling like the gringo he was, Blake brooded about his foolishness and promptly went into the bathroom and shaved his beard. We weren’t in Brooklyn anymore.


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Brooklyn Flea in Sao Paulo

You can tell a lot about a place by its various markets.  Farmers markets -- with their exotic fruits, meats, fish, and spices -- all provide great insight into local daily life. Likewise, craft and flea markets give you a glimpse into the local gems and coveted items that hoarders, masked as vendors, have stowed away for years. Benedito Calixto, Sao Paulo’s small, but acclaimed flea market is no different. Anticipating the artifacts we may find, we packed light hoping to come back with a few unique Brazilian treasures. Unfortunately, most of what we found resembled the same old things we could find at the Brooklyn flea market back home. Slightly bummed that we couldn’t find anything interesting, it was still cool to see the hodgepodge of vendors, local people, tourists and loiters enjoying the energetic ambiance. We couldn’t help but notice the similarity between the Paulistas in awe of vintage sunglasses just as much as our hipsters would be back home in Brooklyn.


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Coffee Time

Something we were both very unaware of was the importance of coffee to Brazil’s history. Brazil is by far the largest coffee exporter globally and has been for roughly the last 150 years. It produces an astounding 30% of coffee worldwide. With this new found knowledge in hand, we realized that it would be a sin not to go find a cup of Brazil’s finest. We settled on Santo Grao, which literally translates to “holy grail”. The setting is a bit trendier than what we were looking for, but it provided a delicious cup of strong, dark roasted coffee. Santo Grao prides themselves as being a pioneer in the gourmet coffee movement in Sao Paulo and sends its tasters all over Brazil to find the perfect beans to roast. You could literally get your coffee prepared in anyway you see fit here, from espresso, to plain “cafe com leite”, to coffee with amaretto and coffee that’s more like a dessert than actual coffee. They even had our first sighted iced coffee in town. The more we travel, the more we realize the infrequency that iced coffee is offered outside the US. Opting for a more traditional cup and an organic espresso shot, we sat and watched the Paulistas go about their day.


Photo by Luna

Photo by Luna

Friends in Foreign Places

Our extremely fortuitous apartment swap came with a very unexpected, yet amazing connection to a couple that bore a strange and familiar resemblance to our friends in Brooklyn. Luna and Ga (Luna being the sister of the guy we swapped apartments with) are two radiant beings who took us under their wings as if we were life-long friends. Meeting them introduced us to a side of Sao Paulo we never would have seen. They invited us to a house party where we danced to Brazilian music late into the night, showed us to a cool dinner spot with eclectic modern cuisine, and took us a cool new underground bar that operated out of a record store after hours and spilled smoking hipster Paulistas into the hallways of a mall. One of the best parts of meeting these guys was learning a ton about Sao Paulo life, it’s culture, politics, and music.

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One of the last nights in the city, we had one of our most memorable experiences in Sao Paulo.  Luna and Ga invited us to Casa De Francisco, a charming and intriguing turn of the century building that in recent years was converted into an intimate little music venue and vegetarian restaurant. Some of the best Paulista musicians the city has to offer come through this joint and we were excited to finally get a taste of authentic Brazilian music.

Photo by http://skindoleleskindolala.blogspot.com.br/

Photo by http://skindoleleskindolala.blogspot.com.br/

We entered through an unassuming door on a residential street that, without local knowledge, we definitely would not have found. It had the vibe of a speakeasy in East Village only with a more refined, yet subdued atmosphere. We settled into one of the ten or so tables that all pointed towards the small floor-level stage at the front, and ordered our food and drinks. This is going to be sweet. Ga is a musician and had played the venue a few times giving us a little insider knowledge about the joint. His main tip was that you had to order everything before the music started so as to not disrupt the focus on the music after it begins. With that in mind, we anticipated our beer order and waited for the musicians to take the stage. An hour later, we were lost in the tranquil and captivating rhythms of the trio in front of us. With less than 50 people in the room, the venue felt like it became smaller and smaller until we were all a close family listening to our friends serenading us. It was an evening that made us reflect on, in the moment, what we were experiencing and why we are doing this trip in the first place. It is these types of moments that the power of travel allows you to see the world as you may never have before. What a night.


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The quest for a ticket

“I’ve been here for three weeks. I’ve seen like three games already”, explained our recent subway acquaintance, a New Yorker who could have passed for a Brazilian if it weren’t for his Yankees cap. We were already thirty minutes outside the center of Sao Paulo, and by the looks of it, the sprawl of the city wasn’t about to end anytime soon. As the subway worked its way towards the last stop on the line — the World Cup Stadium — we noticed the infrastructure of the city becoming worse and worse. High rise apartments and malls transitioned to favelas and narrow streets. In the week since we’d arrived, we hadn’t spent much time outside the center of Sao Paulo and now we were finally witnessing how the majority of people live around here.

“So you guys have tickets for today, yeah?”, Blake inquired. Everyone around us did.

We came down to Brazil during the World Cup to catch the excitement and experience the fever that is “La Copa”. It wasn’t the only reason, but we timed it so we’d be there for the last two weeks. Of course we wanted to see a game; but without any tickets, and few leads, we knew it would be a longshot. But that didn’t stop us from heading out to the stadium anyway to see if we could get lucky.  We’ve both been to enough concerts and festivals to know that there’s always a chance, especially when you put out good intentions and don’t worry too much either way about how it ends up. At the very least, we’d see the stadium, get some good people watching in, and see a different part of the city.

The subway doors opened at the last stop and we were in it. Thousands of excited people everywhere. We didn’t really know where to go, all we could do was rely on the instinctual drive to get out of the mess of people to where we could actually breathe. As we funneled towards the subway station exit it became a claustrophobic nightmare; people so packed together that any sense of personal space dissolved. Hmm, this might get a bit out of control. Even if we wanted to turn back, there was no way we could. The herd of people were moving forward and so were we. Ten long minutes later, we finally found the space to take more than a few steps and took our first deep breath in what felt like hours. We smiled at each other, thankful that strangers were no longer our human jackets, and continued on our quest.

Within a few short minutes it was apparent that our chance of finding a ticket was not going to be easy. Without a ticket, we couldn’t get past the first in a series of perimeter checkpoints designed to keep people exactly like us from crowding the area around the stadium. The plan was foiled. Time for a new plan! And since scalping was illegal and fake tickets were everywhere, we then relied on our good old friend Karma to guide us.

We parked ourselves about 50 feet from the subway entrance and promptly put our fingers up in the air. As streams of fans from Argentina and Holland rushed by, all decked out in their team’s jerseys anxious to get into the stadium, they looked peculiarly at the two Americans pointing towards the sky. Anyone who’s been to a Phish show or big festival in the states knows exactly what that means. Who’s got my miracle?! But in Brazil, the gesture might as well mean “Ask me a question!” Our first inquisitive prospector was, in fact, a policeman. Thinking we were about to get in some trouble, the officer, an older man with a gentle face, kindly asked us in Portuguese what we were doing. After openly explaining to him in English that we were looking for tickets, he pulled out a stack of them and warned us about the litany of fake tickets he’s seen. Even though he explained that scalping tickets was illegal, if we were going to buy any that we make sure that the number in the top left corner read “62”, the number of the day’s match. Even more deflated, we thanked him and moved on. This isn’t going to happen. After half a dozen more questions from people about the meaning of our extended fingers, and only 10 minutes to the game time, we realized the sad, but inevitable truth that today was not going to be our day.

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As the starting whistle blew in the stadium a few hundred meters away, our empty subway car passed by the game and we headed back to the center of Sao Paulo to find some place to watch the match.


We watched Brazil get destroyed in a gay club

It’s hard to find a good sports bar in the neighborhood of Jardins. Staying in this area was nice for it’s familiarity compared to New York, but it’s known more for its upscale restaurants and high-end fashion stores than a good place to watch a football match. The one good place we read about —O’Malley’s — had a line out the door a full hour before the heavily anticipated Brazil vs Germany semi-final match. Knowing the importance of the game for Brazil, and not wanting to repeat our experience in Vila Madalena, we wanted to a find a fun, safe, atmosphere to watch the game with other Brazileros.

We had been in the line for twenty minutes and it didn’t move an inch. When the face of the manager appeared and slowly explained to everyone that they were at capacity, we asked him about suggestions for another good spot nearby. Taking the advice of the local Irish bar manager seemed like a pretty reasonable idea to us!

On the way over to another nearby spot, we met up with an American guy in the same boat and decided to band together to figure out our plan of attack. Deep in cordial greetings with our new friend, we all barely noticed the swank establishment we were walking up to. After a two minute line and a $20 cover, we made our way up the plush wooden stairs and into the venue. We quickly realized that this definitely wasn’t a sports bar. The first sign was the thumping drum and bass coming from the massive speakers hanging from ceiling. Okay, not the type of music we expected, but we can deal. Second, a huge sheet was hanging against the back wall with a badly kerned and slightly out of focus projected picture of Brazil warming up for the game. With Blake’s background in video, you could see that we was visibly annoyed at the amateur setup, but we were just happy that we had found a place to watch the game with other Brazilians. The clientele was definitely upper class, with many of the guys wearing designer jeans and nice shirts and only a few wearing Brazilian jerseys or any yellow or blue memorabilia. Understanding that we were in a more fashion-conscious area of town, we didn’t think much of it. We carved out our little area to stand and ordered beers. Budweiser or Stella. Okay, so we’re in a club.

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The game started and the crowd in the makeshift sports bar started to come alive a bit. There were some whistles and vuvuzelas, and some passionate cheering, but it was entirely different energy compared to the last Brazil game we watched on the street. Even though their star player, Neymar, was out with a broken back, Brazil started out strong and there was hope that they might have a fighting chance against the methodic German team. Go Brazil! Hope quickly turned to despair when Thomas Muller from Germany scored the first goal in the 11th minute. Uh oh, this isn’t good. Visibly upset, the Brazil fans sank in their seats, praying that the goal was just a fluke. Above the despair, a crazy — or just stupid — German fan jumped up and down screaming, excited that her team was one goal closer to the finals.

With not enough alcohol in our systems to watch a blowout, Blake ventured to the bar to get another couple Buds for the American observers of this weird scene that was unfolding. As he was waiting at the bar, Germany scored another goal. Now, the crowd was almost silent, and the few jersey-wearing fans were visibly distraught. And the stupid German girl was just going ballistic.

One minute later, another goal. This is bad. It felt like someone sucked all the air out of the room and the energy went from hopeful to shocked. Everyone knew it was over and that same German girl was celebrating like she just won the lottery. By the time Blake got back with beers, Germany had scored a record four goals in six minutes and the game was essentially over even though 60 long minutes were left in the game.

It’s at this point in the game where we started focusing less on the spectacle that was the Brazil vs. Germany match and more on our surroundings. Many of the die hard Brazil fans left in disgust, and those that remained painted a much better picture of the establishment’s clientele. An overwhelming majority of them were males, very good looking, cleanly shaven, and wearing really nice clothes. The conversations being exchanged were overly flirty, with lots of hugging and even some kissing.  Still, it was a club and that didn’t really surprise us all that much. Then our new American friend returned from his experience in the bathroom and revealed the obvious, yet unrealized truth of our situation. We’re in a gay club. That makes so much more sense!

Not that gay clubs are bad in any respect, it was just not the place we expected to watch a football match in Brazil, let alone watch Brazil get embarrassed by their opponents. The whole thing was just entirely surreal and culturally very interesting. Little did we know, but at that very same time, hundreds of videos of the game were being uploaded to PornHub with similar titles like ‘Young Brazilians get f**ked by entire German soccer team’. How apropos.


The sense of...

It was about 3:30 in the morning when we gallantly returned to Gallery De Pais to get some late night munchies. What was first a scary and even a little embarrassing experience was now almost too easy. We anticipated the charge card from the lady, whizzed through the turnstyle and went straight to the counter to order chocolates, in confident Portuguese. Why yes we will have those delightful little treats. Abby’s sweet tooth is a thing to be matched and she wasn’t going to let a different language and a weird system of ordering get in her way. We stocked up on snacks and went to the cash register, making small talk to the the lady and, this time, not afraid of the outcome. We had come a long way.

After eleven days in São Paulo (or Sampa as we came to know it), we felt good about our time there and looked forward to returning. After one missing iPhone, two new friends and a host of fun experiences, we now had much better sense of what makes this city special for the 20 million Paulistas living here. Sometimes the more unattractive a place seems to outsiders, the more preserved it is for the people willing to give it a chance.



[the preface]

thepreface

This, is the preface. The pre-telling of the story that unfolds over the next year and more. The characters in this story will be Abby Morgan and Blake Whitman – heretofore shall be known as “We”. We are a curious couple with a penchant for exploration, adventure, and life in all it’s myriad forms. But, like many others, our lives have been consumed with a sense of duty towards the unwritten rules of the American Dream. Work. Work. And more work. A few weeks off a year to get a taste of something else — all the while glued to our phones and computers to make sure work is okay.

We’re not big fans of that.

There is more to life and we think the best way to figure out what that is is to get as far away from our familiar bubble as possible and travel around this crazy planet of ours for as long as we can. So with full hearts and open minds, we have decided to leave our home in Brooklyn and to kick open the door to a new life exploring this world for a while.

Today, we begin the first of many new chapters in our story. The setting for our stories will be the places we travel and, we hope, new characters will appear along the way. You, the reader of these stories, will get to know these new places and new characters over time. We invite you to explore with us and to learn with us as we travel around this big crazy planet of ours.

Enjoy.

Abby and Blake

a sense of [belize]

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This story originally appeared on CoolHunting.com - check it >

Any experienced scuba diver will have Belize on their shortlist of the best diving destinations in the world. It's home to the largest coral reef in the Western Hemisphere, there are hundreds of islands ("cayes," as they are called locally) that dot the 240-mile coastline and give visitors an abundance of diving opportunities. While there are picturesque white-sand beaches, luxury shopping and vibrant culture on land, there is just as much happening underwater.

For most traveling from the US, the best point of entry is to fly directly to Belize City and then head to one of Belize’s largest and most inhabited islands, Ambergris Caye. Ferries run frequently to the island, but one of the most spectacular ways to travel is by small plane. If you're comfortable in a smaller plane (14 seats to be exact) and don't mind the extra expense, this is by far the best and fastest way to travel around Belize.

Ambergris Caye

Ambergris is the largest and most popular of Belize’s islands and it's only town, San Pedro, offers plenty of accommodation and cultural delights, and the town’s close proximity to the barrier reef makes it perfect for scuba divers. Most of the dive sites off of the caye are shallow, colorful and teeming with marine life. Diving sites “Paradise Canyons” and “Shark Ray Alley” are popular spots and a quick boat ride from town and most resorts. If you aren’t yet SCUBA certified—a prerequisite for exploring the depths of the sea—many diving operations in San Pedro provide three-to-four-day courses.

Lodging options on Ambergris Caye are varied, so there's something for every kind of traveller and budget. Matachica Resort and Spa is a small, superbly run resort that makes you feel like you're on your own private island—highlights include a dock overlooking the reef and an infinity pool surrounded by trees and wildlife. Diving can be arranged with the concierge and there are free shuttles by boat to San Pedro if you wish to explore the eclectic island town.

St George’s Caye and the Blue Hole

After a few days on Ambergris, those looking to focus more on diving and less on luxury should venture to St George’s Caye—a 25-minute boat ride from Belize City. The St George's Caye Resort is laid-back and familial. It offers all-inclusive packages for lodging and food—meals are served at communal tables at the same time each day—with thatched bungalows that face the ocean or are located on a circular dock along an inlet. The resort shares the island with several mostly idle vacation homes; giving the island a slight ghost-town feeling. The resort is perfect for its proximity to the mainland and its access to Belize’s premier sites for diving: Turneff Atoll, Lighthouse Atoll, Glover’s Atoll and the infamous Blue Hole.

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Those looking to follow in the footsteps of Jacques Cousteau should not miss the day trip to one of his favorite diving sites: the Blue Hole. This famous diving destination is a two-hour boat ride from St George’s Caye, but the trip is well worth it. Totally other-worldly, this circular sinkhole extends down 400 feet in the middle of a shallow reef. Divers are able to explore deep into the Blue Hole’s abyss—weaving in and out of massive stalactites as they slowly dive up and down along its walls. What it lacks in color and diverse marine life, it surely makes up for in its grandeur and mystery. After the Blue Hole, explore other parts of the Lighthouse Reef, where you'll be surrounded by stunning colorful marine life, sea turtles and even dolphins.

Placencia

Located at the end of a thin peninsula in the southern region of Belize is the fishing turned tourist village of Placencia. The area has gone through big developmental changes over the years—both boom and bust—and is a reminder that Belize is an ever-evolving country. Along the only road meandering through the village are a smattering of restaurants and shops, with houses and shacks scattered in between. One of the best local spots is Omar’s, an open-air Creole joint with tasty coconut curries that comes highly recommended by many locals. A lot of the best places to stay are outside the main village, to the north, like the Turtle Inn. Certainly not cheap, this Balinese-inspired resort is one of Francis Ford Coppola’s resorts, and while it's luxurious, it's also unassuming. The entire resort is a thatched wooden paradise which creates an indoor/outdoor vibe throughout. Diving services are also operated out of Turtle Inn as well as other operators in and around Placencia.

Photo by Zhu - http://www.flickr.com/photos/xiaozhuli/6729289533/

Photo by Zhu - http://www.flickr.com/photos/xiaozhuli/6729289533/

When it comes to diving, Placencia is famous for its access to the Gladden Spit reef, which offers diving and snorkeling with majestic Whale Sharks during the spring months. Most of the diving is an hour offshore, with trips to small cayes that offer a base of operations for the day. The diving from these islands is particularly stunning due to the abundant sea life. One particularly special place is Ranguana Caye, which may lack certain amenities, but is entirely charming. With just three cabins and one communal dining area, it's the perfect destination to unplug from the rest of the world. With boats arriving almost daily, you can join diving or snorkeling trips and use the island as your own private diving center, or simply read a book on the white sand beach under that gently sloping palm tree you’ve seen in all the postcards.