Friday, February 28, 2014

A Day of Truth and Opportunity

Hey all,

As you read this, I'll be in the middle of our move to Port Alegre, Brazil.  We're very much looking forward to this new city.  

While we've loved Rio for the beaches, food and view from our hotel, the rest hasn't been so good.  The cost, the distance into the city where all the main attractions are and the complete and total sucky internet here make me glad to leave.  I'd come back for another visit, but like the other towns we've stayed in, I now know how to make my stay here more enjoyable.

One of the things I'd do differently is volunteer my time.  Where you ask?  Somewhere I wouldn't have ever thought of doing two months ago.

The Rochina Favela.

I know, I know.  If you know what a favela is (if you don't, read up on what it is HERE) you think I'm crazy to do such a thing.  After all, don't the news reports say they are dangerous, and if a tourist goes in they will be attacked, robbed, beaten and a myriad of other horrible things?

We were told all those things when we first came into Rio.  Warned that going into a favela would be tantamount to signing your own death warrant.  And to be honest, it scared most of us to death.

But, you know me.  I'm nothing if not curious.  And since our hotel literally sat at the bottom of the biggest favelas in Rio (and Brazil), each time I walked outside and looked up at the thousands of unique homes on the hillside, I wondered if it really could be as horrible as everyone seemed to think.

So, I decided to find out for sure.  I did my research and found there were several tours to take you into a favela.  All of them touted how safe it would be.  Most promised vehicles and enough men (some even with weapons) to keep you protected on your journey.

But I didn't want to travel through the favela like it was a safari and the people of the community were animals to stare at.  That just seemed rude.  So I continued my searching and discovered a smaller tour run by Zezinho, an actual resident of the favela.  His website spoke of a different type of tour where you walked through the favela, exploring the alleys, streets, businesses and homes of the residents.

That seemed much more like what I wanted to do.  Really get to know the favela and find out the truth about the area as a whole.  I don't like being afraid of anything, and I hoped this tour would show me the reality about this community of 300,000 people.

So, I contacted Zezinho (pictured here) and together with several of my Cirque friends, we girded our loins and traveled into the heart of Rochina.

I have to admit, I expected at least a little of what I'd read about.  Horrible housing conditions and poverty, drug dealers on every corner, cops and machine guns in the streets and nasty mean people waiting to rob, rape and kill outsiders. 

But that isn't what I saw.  While the homes aren't what we may be used to, they are usually clean and as well cared for as possible.  They are unique and most aren't the horrible shacks of the news reports, just small cottages or huts without all the frills and decorations a Westerner might think necessary.  Some are in better shape than others, but most of them fit together in an interesting and almost artistic way.

We saw no obvious drug dealers or crime while we were there, and in all honesty, I was more afraid of the mean looking cops wandering around with their big guns than the residents.  Actually, the people I walked by or were introduced to were some of the nicest I've met since I came to Rio.

Now, before everyone thinks I believe it's all roses and lollipops there, they do have some serious problems.  They may lose electricity for days on end or the water supply may suddenly disappear.  There are garbage problems and a few open sewers.  Schools are overcrowded and children must be bused outside the community to get an education.

There is poverty and the monthly wage earned by a native of Rochina is FAR less than someone who lives out of the area.    Rent may be A LOT cheaper there, but since you don't make as much, it balances out.  And from what I heard (and researched) the government treats the community like a poor orphaned step-child.  They receive little if any money for special programs and what little they have is often taken away at the drop of a hat. 

Is it any wonder there is a flourishing drug industry in the favela?

A couple of days before I visited, there was a shootout between drug dealers and the military police.  There were deaths and a transformer was shot out in the melee.  And yes, that is scary.  But most of the residents have a live and let live policy.  They look at drugs as another business and while they may not like it as much as the neighborhood pharmacy, those who sell drugs often contribute to the community.  I was told that there are more drug sales going on outside the favela in Copagabana or Ipanema beach than in the favela itself.  Perhaps all of this is why the drug industry is, in a way, accepted.

But while the news reports may focus mainly on this problem, there is so much more to Rochina.  There is compassion and love and those working together for the greater good.  Community programs to teach children to succeed.  Specific schools so the kids can make something of themselves.  Food banks and neighbor helping neighbor.  Artists of all kinds.  Businesses, restaurants, medical centers.  It's a community of people with rules and regulations who want to govern themselves.  Who want to live and succeed and enjoy each day to the fullest. 

So just how is that any different than any other community or neighborhood in the world?

I learned a lot during my tour, and if I'm ever given the chance to visit Rio again with Cirque, I'll spend less of my time on the beach and at the pool, and more in this vibrant, interesting community.  I'll wander the alleys and streets and enjoy the people I meet.  I'll volunteer at the program center, the samba school or DJ school.  I'll teach English or help out at the vet's office.  So many things to do and look forward to.

All in a place I'd never expected to fall in love with.


Until Next Friday when I'll have a quick look at my newest city....Port Alegre!!!!

Hugs to all!

CJ England

Follow Your Dreams

Friday, February 21, 2014

Is It a Taxi Ride or the Indianapolis 500?

Hey all,

Today's blog is about risk.  That's right.  Risk.  What is life without it?  Monotonous, uninteresting, downright dull.  I believe life is an adventure and sometimes it takes a bit of risk to make it more exciting.

In fact, I've often thought a small daily dose of risk makes living more fun.  When you get up in the morning do you consider getting out of bed risky?  Or, are you on the other end of the scale and wonder whether your morning risky undertaking will be paragliding or diving with great white sharks?

Most of us play somewhere in the middle.  We choose when and where to take risks.  But I've learned that sometimes risks can't be planned.

Risks choose you.

Now as you know, I've traveled extensively.  And in traveling I've used planes, cars, trains and even scooters to get me where I want to go.  Yet overall, it's public transportation that I use the most.  And each time I do, I take my life into my hands.

Seriously.  I've used motorcycle taxis in Thailand and prayed I'd make it as the driver weaved drunkenly through the traffic.  

I've held on with both hands and choked back a silent scream as the bus drivers in Macau went around curves literally on two wheels.  

And I've ridden with my mouth open in shock as we bucked and farted through Cambodia on the back of a Tuk-Tuk.

When I was a young woman, I did a music tour through Europe and spent some time in Italy.  It was one of my first times out of the USA and since I was from a small town, I'd been in a taxi only a couple of times.  So NOTHING prepared me for the adventure of driving in a taxi down the small streets of Naples.

I was terrified.  All I can remember was grabbing on to my boyfriend Rick as the taxi went hurtling down one of the roads--aka--alleys.  The buildings were so close to my door that I could have reached out and touched them.  But that wouldn't have been so bad except the taxi was going at least fifty miles an hour at the time.

I'm not kidding.  And so one terrifying taxi ride was my yardstick against any other scary mode of transportation I'd undertaken.

Until now.
Brasilian taxi drivers are an experience.  An adventure.  In fact, I think that if you looked up extreme sports, you'd find "riding in a Brasilian taxi" one of the top ten.  :-)  And here in Rio de Janeiro, the taxi drivers are the best of the best (also known as the scariest of the scariest).

Each time--and I do mean each time--I get in a cab here, I know it's going to be terrifying.  I've decided Rio taxi drivers are either the best drivers on the planet...or the worst.  Defensive driving isn't in their vocabulary.  Offensive driving is the way of the world down here.

Weaving through other traffic, driving EXTREMELY fast, cutting each other off, driving EXTREMELY fast, passing on the right, driving EXTREMELY fast, using the sidewalk to get around a slower car ( happened), driving EXTREMELY fast, stopping in the middle of traffic to pick up a fare and oh, did I mention?  Driving EXTREMELY fast?

Riding in a taxi in Rio IS an extreme sport.  I've learned to close my eyes and dream, otherwise I'd be so stressed by the time I get there, I'd collapse on the pavement and kiss the ground in relief that I'd made it in one piece.  Honestly, I've never been so scared of doing something in my life.  And since the only other way to get there is on a bus (which takes FOREVER here) or walk, we don't have much choice.

Yet, I haven't seen any accidents involving taxis.  So I guess that means they ARE good at what they do.  But, no matter how good they are, I have to admit I'll be happy to leave here.

A person can take just so much risk in their lives.  And since I plan to go diving with great whites someday, I don't want to use up all my good karma before that happens!

Have an interesting story involving taxis?  Share it in the comments below!

Hugs and see you next Friday...

CJ England

Follow Your Dreams

Friday, February 14, 2014

50 Hot Valentine’s Day Date Night Ideas

Hey all,

Well, it's that special day!  One of my faves.  I'm always excited to find out what Jonathon has in store for me.  I'm easy to buy for.  I love jewelry, chocolate, clothes, chocolate, books, chocolate and a myriad of other things.  Especially chocolate.  :-)

He's not so easy.  I have to really pull out all the stops to make sure I find something for him that he'll be happy with.  I usually wind up getting all super creative and doing something different to tell my sweet baboo I love him.

Over the years I've searched out and found several fun ideas to make Valentine's Day special, so I thought I'd share my top ten favorites with my readers.  Some sweet...some sorta spicey.  So give them a shot.  And have a good time sharing them with your own sweet baboo (or babooette)!


1.  Watch the Sunrise.  Sure you’ve seen the sunset together, but have you checked out how spectacular a sunrise is in the winter? You’ll have to wake up early and bundle up, but it’s so worth it. Besides, you can always crawl back into bed and cuddle afterward.  (My favorite part.)

2.  Play A Game!  a) Truth or Dare.  Begin with each of you writing out five dares -- anything from trying on a sexy outfit to something naughty like stripping -- on separate pieces of paper. Place them in a bowl. Now take turns asking each other naughty questions such as, "What's the sexiest fantasy you've ever had?" or "What's the most unusual place you've ever wanted to have sex?" If you don't answer, you have to dip into the pot and select a dare.  
b) Play Three-Card Stud. You provide the stud. What’s the game? The loser bares all, and the winner sees all.  
e) Naked Twister.  It's a classic for a reason.  Pull out your naughty inner child and get limber with your honey. 
d) Play Three Things.  Each think of three sexual things you've always wanted to try and write them down on separate pieces of paper. These are folded, marked with your initials to identify them, and mixed up. Then take turns drawing out one of the other's wishes, agreeing in advance to at least give it a try.  You can do it over several days or weeks, but just get 'em done!  
c) Get Frisky. Try Forfeit: One of you has to correctly guess what the other is miming and pay a forfeit if you get it wrong. For example, she may appear to be miming oral sex, but she's actually miming sucking his finger. If he doesn't guess correctly, he has to pay a forfeit -- such as removing an item of clothing or performing a sex act that pleases only her -- forfeiting his own needs.

3.  Trade IOUs.  Create coupon books for each other with favors, whether it’s for a homemade dinner or a foot massage. The offers expire February 14, 2016.

4.  Get Wet.  Take a bubble bath together, or, if you're lucky enough to live near a remote pond or lake (in a warm climate…no hypothermia, please!), go skinny-dipping by moonlight.

5.  Rent a Romantic Movie.  A low-key Valentine’s Day can be every bit as special as an expensive dinner and roses. The rule: Each of you gets to pick a sexy flick and can’t veto the other’s choice.

6.  Be a Cover Model.  Take silly paparazzi portraits of yourselves and make a mock-up tabloid cover using your movie star name.  Or take it up a notch and get naughty.  Become a centerfold model and pose provocatively for your partner.  Let them choose the pose and get extra points!

7.  Build a Fort.  You remember how to do it -- construct it out of couch cushions, blankets, and pillows in your living room. Then, turn that fort into a love cave.  Not easy to do in a hotel room, but you'll have fun trying it in your own home.

8.  Build a Fire.  Take turns reading aloud from a sexy book in front of the blaze. The catch: You can’t touch each other until you’re done reading. May I suggest one of my stories to enjoy?  *grin*  How’s that for getting a fire started?

9.  Play Some Nighttime Paintball.  You’ve got the whole day, but darkness adds an air of intrigue to the game, and the postgame shower is not to be taken alone.

10.  Give Each Other Erotic Massages.  My very favorite of all.  I even wrote a book about it.  Make sure your hands are warm and you have plenty of massage oils on hand. Get naked and take turns giving each other rubdowns. If a happy ending is in order, so be it!  A perfect way to end a Valentine's Day!!!

***Super Bonus Idea***

Spell it Out.  Write a sultry clue on the mirror in the morning when your sweetie is in the shower, like, “Meet me in the kitchen” -- then surprise your Valentine with two mimosas…and you in the buff.   A GREAT way to start this special day.

Hope you enjoyed all those ideas.  Have one to share?  Put it in the comments below!

I'll see you next week when I'll share something about Rio I find terrifying!!!

Hugs to all!

CJ England

Follow Your Dreams

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Girl "AT" Ipanema

Hey all,

I'm back!  Refreshed and rejuvenated after a visit from my wonderful daughter, Jessaca.  She was here for about two weeks and we enjoyed every second of it.  In fact, we wrung the delight out of each day until we were totally exhausted!!!!  LOL

We'd been waiting to do all the "Rio Stuff" until she got here, so we finally were able to go up Sugar Loaf Mountain and visit Christ the Redeemer Statue, just to name a few.  We went on two day trips--one to the beautiful mountain city of Petropolis and the other to the equally unique beach town of Paraty.   We hiked along several trails in the forest and wandered the famous beaches of Rio.  We sipped at coconuts while lying in hammocks and relaxed by the pool as we listened to Carnival music being rehearsed.

Oh yeah.. it was a wonderful vacation.  And after talking until our throats were sore, I'm now content with the knowledge that my baby girl is happy, healthy and excited about her life.  And isn't that what every parent hopes and prays for?

So check out some of the things we did.  And if ever have a chance to go to Rio, let me know.  I'll point you in the right direction of all the coolest fun times to have!!!

This pic is of Jessaca and Jonathon in front of the beautiful Crystal Palace in Petropolis--The Imperial City.  It's a quaint colonial town with so much to see and do.  A day trip just wasn't enough!!!

Yup.  Here we are (along with several hundred of our *ahem* closest friends?) at the Christ the Redeemer Statue.  The view is amazing and we had a delicious lunch at the kiosk at the base.  It may be touristy, but we had a wonderful time doing it.  Go during the week and early if you plan to visit.  And by that I mean be there at 8:00am when the ticket office opens.  We walked right on the cable car and it wasn't nearly as crowded.

A totally different view that the Christ has, Sugar Loaf targets the beaches and harbor more than the entire city.  There are two mountains--this picture was taken from the lower one and looking at Sugar Loaf.  We watched the sunset at the top and it was gorgeous!

Jessaca sipping her very first coconut juice on the famous Copacabana Beach.  Something you just have to do.  Walk the beach AND sip coconut juice out of a coconut.

The quaint old town of Paraty.  We loved it here.  The architecture, the beaches, the hiking trails...all of it.  We even visited a Cachaca Distillery (Brasilian Rum) and then played in one of the waterfalls.  Awesome overnight trip!

One of our favorite things to do is hike and on the day this picture was taken we hiked up the trail to the highest point in Tijuca National Park.  It was called Pico da Tijuca and topped out at 1023 meters, which is over 3,300 feet!  And it was quite a view looking down on Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf.  Worth the difficult climb to get there.

On our last day together, we all went down to the beach and had drinks and nibbles as we lazed around in hammocks and people watched.  We chatted about all the things we hadn't remembered to talk about and just enjoyed each other.  Bittersweet, but a memory I'll hold dear to my heart.  And a perfect way to end our special visit.

So there you have it.  My wonderful time with a very special person.  Few women can count their daughter as their bestest friend, but I'm lucky enough to be able to do that.  Jessaca is more special to me than I can say, and I'll miss her so much now that she's back in Orlando doing her own thing.

But the memories and pictures I have of her time here will last a lifetime.  Thank you Jessaca for being who you are.  I miss you already.

And yes...I did cry buckets when you left for the airport.  I couldn't help it.  :-)

Until next Friday...

CJ England
Follow Your Dreams