Journal 26 - April 29, 2003

Across the Pond » Go Back

Journal 26
Manhattan was incredible as always. I visited several friends from the trip, ran errands, relaxed in the park, shopped, and stuffed my face with a bunch of fattening American food. It was awesome. First I visited a friend I met during my last trip to New York in September, Jovana, an art student here in New York, then I went out with my friend Tomer, an Israeli bro I met in Buenos Aires, then I met up with my friend Nitsan, one of the Israeli girls I traveled with in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. I also had breakfast with my wonderful cousin Day, she being the last family member I had seen back in October. During the first few nights I had so much fun running around and enjoying the city, I forgot about my preparations to leave for Nepal.

Finally, after several days of fun, I realized I had a lot to do before leaving. A visa for India, trekking gear, some new books, all in a city I don't know very well, so everything takes four times longer than it should. After a few days of running around I was ready to go, off to the airport only to be told when I arrived that I wouldn't be able to get to my intended destination due to new restrictions on the pass I was using, thus prompting the aforementioned dilemma. But instead of going back to Brazil I booked a room for the weekend and took some time to think about my itinerary, thus my arrival in Brussels a few days ago. So far Europe is off to a good start, the sports section in the paper, which I can't read, has cycling news and pictures on the front page, very cool. And when I sat down to breakfast my first morning and stuffed a delicious chocolate croissant in my face, I thought to myself, "this is Europe."

In New York the weather was cool, but with blue skies it was warm enough in the sun for me to head straight to Central Park my first day to read and nap the afternoon away. It's as if the New York weather committee knows when I visit, so far during both trips, first in September and October, and then again in April, the weather has been great, good enough to make me think I would enjoy living in New York. The sights and sounds were as fascinating as ever, even after my trip through South America. There were many tourists crowding the streets, each as obviously from out of town as I was obviously a gringo in South America. They walk around with maps in hand, head pointed skyward, marveling at the amazing sights that too many of the New Yorkers forget to acknowledge during their stressed-out, Starbucks-in-hand, speed-walk through the city on their way to work.

Of all the amazing things to see in the city, one of my favorites is the street performers, for whom Michael Jackson remains the preferred background music while performing their routines. The shows in the subway are the best. With their massive mid-eighties ghetto blasters pumped to full volume, they perform with the synchronization of the Rockets to "Billy Jean", "Thriller," and "Beat It." The way these guys move is incredible, I'm always a sucker for a good break dancing show, and I'm always happy to shell out a few bucks to watch these guys perform.

One of the constants in New York, even more apparent after arriving from happy Brazil, was everyone's reluctance to smile. Even making eye contact was difficult, which made receiving a smile a monumental event. But fortunately for me I was busy enough running around not to be too bothered by this.

My last night in the city was particularly interesting. After getting bumped off my flight I took the bus downtown and headed to the internet cafe to get online and book a room. Earlier in the day, while I was at the cafe checking my emails, the guy sitting next to me had stolen a woman's purse, right in front of my eyes. When I walked in the cafe that night, there he was again, on the prowl. I sat down and kept an eye on him, a little worried he would recognize me after a minor confrontation we had earlier in the day. Two minutes later I see him sprinting out the door being chased by a couple of cops. A few moments later one of the detectives walks in and says, "e got him" to a colleague. As she walked by I got her attention and told her I had seen him steal a purse earlier and had filed a police report with the victim. When she heard this her eyes lit up and she told me she'd take me out to dinner if I'd come down to the station and write a statement. Me write a statement? Ten pages and two hours later in the Mid-Town South Precinct, I had a turkey sandwich and the offer of a place to stay for the night, on a cot in the station. I politely declined and checked in to the Best Western down the street, happy to have helped identify a thief who had stolen dozens of purses and backpacks from the internet cafe, almost all of which were stolen from tourists.

Brussels being the easiest destination and most available flight, I hopped the next plane for Belgium. Arriving in the motherland after a six-hour flight had my head spinning after no sleep and a new time zone. I immediately checked in to a hotel and proceeded to sleep for fifteen hours. Feeling good the next day I found a hostel and officially began my new travels as a backpacker in Europe. My second day here I had dinner with a friend I initially met in Cusco back in November, a Belgian journalist who recently returned from Brazil herself, and is slowly making the transition back into the reality I'll continue to avoid as long as possible.

From Brussels I flew to magical Barcelona, where I stayed for a couple of days before flying to the Canary Islands. From here I'll fly back to Barcelona and from there to Athens, hopefully dropping into Turkey to explore some beaches and ancient ruins. It's great to be back in a Spanish speaking country for now, with many new languages and cultures to come.

Chau,

Justin