• GRATEFUL TO BE BROKE
• BRAZIL ARRIVAL AND COUCHSURFING FAIL
• THE HOSTEL EXPERIENCE
• RIO AND PURA VIDA
• OLIVER AND THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
• BYE-BYE BRAZIL
GRATEFUL TO BE BROKE
As you read in the first entry of this “On the Road” blog series, last summer I had a revelation in my kitchen and decided to go traveling for a year.
In that first entry, I talked about how imprisoned I was feeling by the fact that I now owned an apartment, and had to pay a big mortgage every month.
There’s more to the story.
When what is now being called the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2008, I had just bought my apartment AND rented an office, and my monthly expenses had more or less doubled. At almost the same time, or just shortly after, my business began to slow down. A LOT.
My expenses DOUBLED, and then BAM, my income dropped by HALF.
What that meant in practical terms was that suddenly my comfortable life became very UNcomfortable. It became more and more difficult to pay my bills. My income kept dropping, and my expenses stayed high.
Over the next 2-1/2 years I tried many things to revitalize my art sales, and sometimes they seemed to work, but nothing worked for long. Sales continued to decline, and my financial condition continued to deteriorate. I sold everything I could sell, went deeper into debt, and still the slide continued. The result is, I’ve been going through some very trying times, and it’s been a challenge not to beat myself up for all this, and to maintain my optimism.
It would be easy to blame the global financial crisis for what’s been going on with my business, but what good would that do? And besides, I’ve come to believe that on a deeper level, something entirely different is going on.
My “On the Road” experiment has now been going on for nearly six months and I have to say, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I love this life and its challenges and rewards. I’m growing, changing, getting stronger and more self-aware every day, in a way I simply wouldn’t have if I’d played it safe and stayed in Hawaii.
So when I look back at my decision from this vantage point, it’s pretty clear to me that if I hadn’t been going through such difficult times financially, if I hadn’t been feeling so up against the wall, I would never have made such a bold, outrageous decision.
The more clearly I see myself and my life (and I’m getting clearer fast out here on the tightrope), the more grateful I am for the trials and tribulations that kicked my ass out of my comfort zone!
At the same time, there are a lot of days when I just wish I had more money and I could pay all my debts right now. Because it’s one thing to be sitting in your apartment in Waikiki and feeling financial pressures. It’s another to be staying in a hostel in Brazil and not knowing how you’re going to pay for another week’s food and lodging! This is the kind of challenge I am now embracing in my life: seeing every trial as a gift.
There are no accidents. If my business had continued to grow and flourish, I wouldn’t now be on one of the greatest adventures of my life.
And the real adventure is not the travel or the daily challenges of living on the road. It’s discovering, over and over again, how powerful I am when I give up the need to control things or change them, and instead practice acceptance and gratitude.
And discovering that the more willing I am to have things stay exactly as they are, the faster they shift!
BRAZIL ARRIVAL AND COUCHSURFING FAIL
I flew to São Paulo on October 27.
It was my first time in Brazil in 3 years and I was pretty happy to be back. My Hawaii friend David Moyer now lives in São Paulo and kindly offered me a place to stay while I was there. My plan was to stay in São Paulo for about a week, then take off and explore some Brazilian places I hadn’t seen before—and find one or more hot new models to photograph.
Things didn’t quite work out that way.
I belong to a website called couchsurfing.org, and prior to taking off on this trip, I was hosting couchsurfers from all over the world in my Waikiki apartment for several months. I didn’t do this get couchsurfer “cred”, I did it because I thoroughly enjoyed it. But when I did get the idea to go traveling for a year it occurred to me that I could experience the other side of the couchsurfing experience. I was planning to explore more of Brazil by going where the couches were, and letting that help define my travels. So I spent a lot of time on the computer while staying at Dave’s in São Paulo, trying to set up some couches to surf. I was particularly interested in going to Paraty, a beautiful little colonial beach town halfway between São Paulo and Rio.
It was pretty frustrating. Either no response, or they would respond but they were traveling and couldn’t host, one thing after another. I realized that I should have started setting this up months before. I was in São Paulo for over 2 weeks before I realized I was going to have to find another solution.
I was functioning on very little income, so hotels simply weren’t an option. But one of the couchsurfers who hadn’t been able to host me in Paraty had suggested something else: a hostel.
I don’t think I had ever actually stayed in a hostel. I’ve stayed in pousadas, and bed and breakfast places, but I had never shared a single dorm room with 8 or 10 strangers. But I looked at the prices, and I thought, Why not? I’m on an adventure anyway—and I need to get out of São Paulo and start the next phase of this trip! So I booked a $17-a-night dorm room bed in a hostel in Paraty, and spent $40 for the 4-hour bus ride.
THE HOSTEL EXPERIENCE
This turns out to be another gift my financial issues have given me. Staying at the MistiChill Hostel in Paraty was an awesome experience.
Side note here: I was painfully shy when I was younger, and it took me a lot of years and a lot of work to teach myself to be more courageous socially. But I have learned. And one of the things I’ve trained myself to do when faced with a stranger is to march right up to him or her, extend my hand and say “Hi! I’m Douglas.” I do this almost without thinking now. Well, actually, I do it TOTALLY without thinking, because if I thought about it I wouldn’t be able to do it.
I bring this up because this is the perfect approach to hostel life. I walked into the MistiChill Hostel and was immediately confronted with about 10 new people, all milling around the rather small common area. So I did what I do. I introduced myself and learned all their names (remembering names is another thing I’ve trained myself to do). Now I was everybody’s new friend, and when a group began forming to go out to dinner, I was automatically included. Awesome!
(I can’t tell you how many times I’ve traveled alone and been in a hotel in a strange new city and wished I knew someone I could hang out with. Obviously this is not a problem in a hostel!)
I must admit that sleeping in a small room with 7 other people and a tiny bathroom has its challenges. I did not always get a good night’s sleep. But somewhat to my surprise, I handled this all pretty well. One of my goals on this trip is to get more flexible, and I saw this as another opportunity. I did not see it as my right to have a good night’s sleep. Instead, I began to look at a good night’s sleep as a gift that one sometimes gets, and when it happens, you appreciate it profoundly. And when you don’t, it’s really not that big a deal. (But I was happy I had my headphones and my iPod.)
I spent over a week in Paraty, and I had a new group to hang out with every night, and I enjoyed every night! However, I was a bit frustrated that I was not finding models. I had hoped that the Paraty beach scene would be something like the Rio beach scene, with gorgeous boys running around in speedos. Nope. I had an awesome time in Paraty but I did not find a model, or even get close to it.
I wasn’t sure where I was going to head next, either. I didn’t want to go to Rio because I’ve been there so many times, I was feeling like I was over it. But along came Daniela.
One morning I woke up to a new girl in the room where I was staying. She was in the lower bunk opposite me. “Hi,” she said, “I’m Daniela.”
Daniela is a tall, pretty girl born and raised in Rio de Janeiro who looked like she was from Germany or Holland. Her heritage was German and Italian, so that’s why. But she’s totally Brazilian, with all the expressiveness and extreme social energy that goes with that. As soon as I met her, my new-crowd-every-night thing stopped because we were instant best friends. I started hanging out with her and another girl I really liked a lot, Luciana, who was visiting from São Paulo.
They were a lot of fun, and Daniela solved my problem of where I should go next. “I’m going back to Rio day after tomorrow,” she said. “Why don’t you come with me? I know a great hostel right near where I live in Copacabana and I’ll call them and put in a good word for you.”
I’d been waiting for a sign from the universe and here it was. So two days later Daniela and I took the 4-hour bus ride from Paraty to Rio, and she took me to the hostel she had lined up for me, the Pura Vida Hostel in Copacabana.
RIO AND PURA VIDA
My first impression of the Pura Vida hostel was, Oh my god. It’s beautiful.
It’s up on a hill on a side street in Copacabana and it looks like a castle. I found out later it used to be the Polish Embassy in the 1920’s, back when Rio was still Brazil’s capital. And now it’s a hostel. Like the MistiChill, there was a constant parade of new people and my meeting-people skills were pressed into action once again.
I hadn’t been sure I even wanted to go to Rio, but once I was there, something wonderful and unexpected happened: I fell in love with Rio all over again. It was like running into an old boyfriend after many years and finding out that you’ve both grown and changed, but the old magic is still there, and it’s better now because you’re more relaxed with each other. I felt comfortable and at home in Rio. Yet that teasing flavor of the exotic was still there.
(Plus, and I don’t know why it is, but the men are definitely hotter in Rio. Lots of model material!)
But I went through some major challenges while in Rio. I was keeping in touch with my assistant via e-mail and Skype, and together we decided what bills we could pay and what we would have to put off. It was a never-ending juggling act. I made a mistake at this point, and I’ve done this before: I put paying bills ahead of my personal well-being. The result of this was, after 3 or 4 days in Rio, I found my pockets empty, and I couldn’t even go to the beach and rent a beach chair and umbrella.
I got pretty depressed at this point.
I went through a couple of pretty difficult days, and I realized something: if I don’t take care of myself first, I won’t be able to pay my bills anyway. I have to take care of myself or I can’t write or create art. Pretty basic, but I hadn’t gotten this yet. This was a good realization. So I stopped doing that.
It meant putting off another couple of bills, and that was uncomfortable, but I had to do it. Once again I was able to go to the beach, which was important, because that was one of the main places where I could scout for models.
OLIVER AND THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
One day on the gay beach in Ipanema I met a boy named Oliver, a tall, skinny black boy with a big afro and a bigger personality.
Oliver is a model and actor, and social butterfly, and very funny and entertaining. He and his friends were a lot of fun and I was really enjoying hanging out with them and trying to understand their rapid-fire Portuguese.
When the sun drops behind Pedra da Gávea, it’s time to head down Farme de Amoedo for after-beach drinks and socializing. So I joined Oliver and his friends and off we went to a place called Tô Nem Ai. This is a sidewalk bar-café where everybody goes after the beach. (Tô Nem Ai is a Brazilian Portuguese expression which basically means “I don’t give a shit” or “Who cares?”)
We had already been drinking at the beach, and we drank more at Tô Nem Ai. I was having a great time. At some point in the evening, and I don’t remember exactly when or how this happened, Oliver and I began kissing. I do remember exactly how his lips felt. This boy was an amazing kisser. Oh my god. I also found out he was 19 years old. Less than one-third my age. Guess what. Tô nem ai.
One of Oliver’s friends was named Eder. Eder was model material. I didn’t approach him that night for two reasons: 1, I was busy kissing Oliver. 2, I didn’t want to offer him a modeling job when I was drunk and then find out later that he wasn’t all that hot after all. So I held back.
The next day at the beach, I saw Eder again when I wasn’t drunk, and then I knew. Yes, he’s hot. I started talking to him about modeling.
Eder was one of those people who, when you’re talking to him, seldom looks at you. He was busy looking around at everyone else. This was not a good sign, but I chose to ignore it. He was beautiful and he had a great body, and my time in Brazil was growing short. I needed a model! (I did not have the money to pay him, but I decided to just trust that it would be there when I needed it.)
Eder and I made arrangements to email each other that evening and firm up arrangements for him to come to the hostel the next day where he and I could go over the model agreement and the arrangements for the photo shoot itself.
I emailed him that night. The next day I began checking early for his return email.
It never arrived.
The next day, I went to the beach and Oliver was there, with Eder, and they came up to me and Eder said immediately, “I never got your email.” I told him I’d sent it. At this point it started to become clear to me that this was not going to work out, because rather than engaging me about this and going ahead and planning a photo shoot anyway, Eder simply shrugged and walked away.
After many years of dancing the dance with potential models, I recognize the danger signs early. When you’re trying to put together a photo shoot with someone, things usually go one way or the other. Either things flow and fall into place nicely—or they don’t. And when they don’t, it’s a clear sign that nothing is going to be easy here, and it’s best to move on.
It was obvious things weren’t going to flow with Eder, and it was time to move on.
Unfortunately I only had a few more days in Rio, and to make matters worse, the weather was sucking. 3 out of every 4 days were rainy and/or cold and cloudy. I began to resign myself to the fact that I was going to have spent 6 weeks in Brazil and not found a model.
I began to think back on all the guys I’d seen on the street in Rio who were hot and might have made great models. I began to beat myself up for not chasing them down the street and stopping them and talking to them and giving them my card. Then I stopped myself. How long is it going to take before I learn to give myself a break and trust the way things are unfolding? If I’d been meant to find a model during this Brazil stay, it would have happened. It’s not the end of the world that I didn’t find one. It will happen when it happens. I’ve been through this before, and a great new model always surfaces. If I’ve learned anything by now, it’s that you can’t control this kind of thing. So I let go and gave myself a break.
I spent my final days in Rio just enjoying the place and allowing things to flow the way they flowed.
My final evening in Rio I spent with a friend from Hawaii in Ipanema, and we visited a sauna called G Spa filled with beautiful men (too bad it was my last night or I might’ve found a model!). I did find a new friend, Adriano, and he helped make my final evening in Rio memorable.
The next day I took the 6-hour bus ride to São Paulo where I hung out for a day at Dave Moyer’s, then went to the airport at Guarulhos to catch a midnight flight to Dallas.
I’m now staying at the home of my Hawaii friends Bud and James, who now live in Austin, Texas. I’m catching up on writing and drawing (hard to find space for that kind of thing in a hostel!). Missing Brazil already, but glad to be back in the U.S. too. What a joy to have my own room and bathroom with hot water—and real toilet paper! I am appreciating the little things like never before.
Next, Christmas with the family in Nebraska, and then back to Hawaii in early January. Eager to get back to my studio and do some painting before taking off on the next phase of the adventure.
And who knows? I may find a model in Texas. Or Nebraska. Anything could happen.