B2, Blog, story, travel tips

My first impressions of Sao Paulo 

We landed in Sao Paulo at 9:30pm. After a five-hour flight I was ready and excited to get to know a new city. Unlike the process to get into other countries, like the USA, passing through security and immigrations was incredibly smooth. I wasn’t even asked the reason for my trip or where I would be staying. The immigration officer just looked at me, made sure my face matched the photo on my passport and that was it.

By 10:15pm Chris and I were ordering an Uber. By 11pm we were still waiting for an Uber.
Here’s how the conversation went.

As you can see, we didn’t want to cancel. It’s the person who doesn’t want the service the one who should cancel, right? But he kept saying that he wasn’t able to do it and that there was no fee for me if I did it. Of course there’s a fee! I’ve canceled before and been charged a penalty for it. We kept playing this game for 15 minutes. I even thought about having dinner at the airport to kill time until he canceled… But he never did, we had to cancel.


Then we got another Uber… Or so I’d thought until he asked “which neighborhood are you going to?”. Wait a second, didn’t the first driver ask the same question? Don’t they know where they’re taking you before they accept the ride? A thought crossed my mind, maybe the neighborhood we’re going to is dangerous, that’s why nobody wants to take us there. I decided not to reply-I didn’t want to risk losing this ride too-so I waited. Fortunately, our driver arrived.

We drove past a park full of tents. Are they camping? What’s going on here? A man on bear foot emerged from one of the tents, he was scruffy and looked like he hadn’t had a shower in a long time. They weren’t camping, they were living in the tents. A few blocks away I saw the not so lucky people who didn’t have tents and were sleeping on mattresses on the street. Who would have thought, there is also a social status in the homeless community. The high class homeless people own a mattress, a tent and some even enjoy luxuries like stoves, radios and pillows! The middle class only own a mattress, sometimes a shopping cart and the poor ones don’t even own shoes and sleep on the floor.


Our driver took us to our apartment, which we booked through Airbnb, and my first thought was “I’m going to get robbed in this neighborhood”. Shady people everywhere! The receptionist of the complex didn’t let us in right away. He was asking questions through the intercom and we don’t speak a word of Portuguese “no falo Portuguese, do you speak English? Spanish?” . Deep down I was praying to different gods that he open the door soon. There was a shady individual  scanning us as we waited by the gate with our luggage. I was ready to put my hands up and say “please take everything, don’t hurt us”. Later that night my husband confessed he was having similar thoughts, even though he looked calm at the time. He did a great job pretending!


There was a buzz and the door opened. We walked in and waited for the second door to open. Yes, there’s a second door that only opens when the first door closes. I loved the security measures! I was relieved, only for a second before I came to the realization that there’s only this kind of security in a place where it’s needed.
Well, this is my first impression. I am sure I have a lot to explore to have an objective opinion about Sao Paulo.

New vocabulary

  • fee: an amount of money that you pay to do something or that you pay to a professional person for their work
  • mattress: the soft part of a bed that you lie on
  • ride: a journey in a vehicle, when you are not driving
  • shady: probably dishonest or illegal SYN suspicious
  • scruffy: dirty and untidy
  • tent: a shelter consisting of a sheet of cloth supported by poles and ropes, used especially for camping
travel tips

Cenotes tour

Hi there!

This is not an English lesson but I thought I could share a little about one of my favorite places in Mexico.

Have you ever heard of Cenotes?

A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater. The regional term is specifically associated with the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico and that’s where I was staying for 6 months!

There are “thousands” of cenotes but I only went to three, now I regret not visiting more… Anyway, I thought I could share some information about the two cenotes that I liked the most The third cenote, “Cenote Calavera”, I won’t really talk about in the video. It’s OK I guess, although it’s smaller and kind of dark, more like a cave with hundreds of bats 🦇🦇 in it! Not that I don’t like bats, I think they’re cute 🙂

Well, here you have a couple of options to explore the amazing Riviera Maya:

  • Cenotes in Chemuyil: (more private) 40USD for the bike tour, includes bikes, equipment (snorkel) and LOTS of photos
  • Cenote azul: 6USD, doesn’t include snorkel but you can rent one for 6USD

More details in the video!

Blog, travel tips

Dining in the dark

I should have written this the day after it happened when the textures and flavors were still imprinted on my mind but it’s never too late to tell you about my best culinary experience in Malaysia.

He didn’t tell me where we were going, every time he looked at his phone for directions to guide the taxi driver, he was careful not to show me the name of the restaurant. It was a surprise!

He was anxious, he thought we weren’t going to make it—we had a reservation for 7 o’clock—we were only 5 minutes late, though. Did I mention he’s British? Time is important to him, five minutes late to a Peruvian is “only five minutes late”, to a Brit it’s “OMG we’re already five minutes late!”

We arrived and I walked in without reading the name of the restaurant. I found out what it was called once we were inside, “Dining in the dark”. The place was dark as advertised, “a romantic dinner with dim lights”, I thought. Little did I know…

We were greeted by our host, who explained to us what the procedures were… procedures?

While most restaurants try to overwhelm you with sensory stimulation, this one does the total opposite, it requires you to temporarily lose your sight to be able to explore your other senses.

When you go to a regular restaurant, you know pretty much what your dish is going to taste like by reading the description on the menu and looking at the photos, which help you avoid foods you don’t like.

For example, I don’t like cauliflower, so I wouldn’t order any dishes that have cauliflower in the photos, it makes sense. Why would I order cauliflower if I know I don’t like it? to see if I still don’t like it? After all, however it is cooked, it will still taste like cauliflower, right?

Well, this was no ordinary restaurant, there was no menu, food descriptions, or photos that could warn me against ordering something with cauliflower.

After a test that involved blindfolding us to try to find three paper clips in a bowl of rice, we were introduced to our “darkness expert” and led to a pitch-black room that made it impossible to make out any shapes with the naked eye. Having your eyes open and not being able to see anything triggers your imagination. You wonder what color the tables are, who is sitting next to you, what the foods look like…

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Before entering the pitch-black room

Akay, our darkness expert, walked us through the procedures for the night and made sure we felt comfortable and ready to explore our sense of taste. He is a great conversationalist—I bet the job requires waiters to have good people skills to help customers reduce anxiety. He told us how a few people don’t make it to the main course and leave the room because they can’t handle the darkness.

He brought the starters, four different foods with different flavors and textures.

The dishes were four little bowls that fit in a tray like a jigsaw puzzle—to avoid accidents I suppose—so it was easy to grab them and create a tactile memory of where they were placed.

Akay told us to start clockwise and, since we weren’t allowed to know the name of the dishes, we labeled them with numbers. The first starter was kind of bland, it tasted like a pastry with a mystery herb I couldn’t recognize. Starter number two was salad-like, I could have sworn I was eating fish with onions and parsley, maybe tuna? Number three tasted like the Peruvian Jalea, fried seafood. Yes, it was seafood, I could taste the crunch of the fried squid and shrimp.

Next, we were served two soups, a cold one and a hot one. The cold one had the distinctive flavor of beetroot, it tasted like an extract my mom would make me drink as a child. It was OK, I guess, but poor beetroot soup was no match for the delicious, hot soup next to it. I’d never had anything more delicious in my life.

– Asparagus?

– No, it tastes like something else, it’s got to be a vegetable…

–  Mushrooms!

The main course blew up my mind. Mashed potatoes with a meat I couldn’t guess, it wasn’t chicken, it wasn’t pork, it definitely wasn’t turkey—it would have been a bit dry. It wasn’t lamb because there was a side dish with the distinctive flavor of lamb and the meat on top of the mashed potatoes didn’t taste anything like it. “Could it be rabbit?”, I thought to myself. The thought of it scared me a little, I probably have no right to feel sorry for rabbits when I eat other animals, but still…I think of the pet rabbit I had when I was a child, all I picture when I think of a rabbit is cute long-eared Daisy having alfalfa :/

Maybe it was goat, I’d had Curry goat once (a famous Jamaican dish) but it was hard to remember the taste of the meat when it came soaked in an overwhelming curry sauce. Maybe the meat was an animal from Malaysia I’d never heard of? I gave up and ate the meat praying to God, “please don’t be rabbit”.

I was already kind of full but there’s always room for dessert so that was next. The desserts kept me guessing for a while, Akay would laugh at our inaccurate guesses every time we told him we had finally guessed what we were eating.

– Akay, we know what this is! It’s lemon ice cream!

– Haha it does taste like lemon, doesn’t it? Sorry, keep guessing.

It tasted like lemon—or vanilla or something white. It’s funny how even though I couldn’t see anything, I was so sure the ice cream was white. Maybe I was biased by the chocolate mousse next to it. Who eats chocolate mousse with dark-looking ice cream? It had to be white.

We left the dark room with a dozen questions about the foods we’d eaten. Our host led us to another table—this one in a well-lit room—and asked questions about our experience. We said we absolutely loved challenging our taste buds and that we couldn’t wait to see whether we were right about our guesses.

She left us with the menu. I carefully opened it and… What???

The first starter was a Mushroom quiche and the mystery herb turned out to be thyme. The second one was Salmon tartare with cucumber, celery and shallots… Wait, no onions? But I tasted onions! No, Ayleen, you did not.

I turned to the next page to see starter number three. What I thought was crunchy fried seafood was actually broccoli! Deep fried broccoli with cheddar fritter. I couldn’t believe what my eyes were reading.

It was time to see the soups. I was right about the first one, it had beetroot, yay! I finally got one right. However, it was the second soup that made me realize I had unfairly labeled a vegetable as “bland and boring”. Cauliflower cream! What! No, it couldn’t be. “You must have that wrong, I don’t like cauliflower and that soup was mouthwatering. These people are teasing me, they’re lying to me.” —I was in denial.

Or… had I been living a lie all my life and cauliflower was actually delicious? I almost felt ashamed of having advertised my hatred to cauliflower all these years. That soup was one of the tastiest I’d had in my entire life. The main ingredient, “cauliflower.”

The meat that came on top of the mashed potatoes was duck!

Time to reveal the desserts. I got the color of the ice cream right, it was white! But my taste buds failed miserably, it turned out to be Olive oil ice cream! But wait, isn’t olive oil, a kind of “oil” that you use for salad dressings? Isn’t ice cream made with fruits or nuts? Not at this restaurant.

This experience helped me realize how we categorize foods unfairly. If you ate something once and didn’t like it, if your parents made you eat it as a child and you didn’t like it, guess what! There’s a chance you could actually like that food. Having tried it once or twice is not enough to ban it from your diet forever. Maybe they were not good at the restaurants where you had them. Let’s be honest, the fact that you didn’t like it as a child only means you didn’t like the way your parents prepared it for you. I adore my mother but boiling the cauliflower did very little in her attempt to make me like it—sorry mom, no hurt feelings.

The chefs at Dining in the dark tease your senses by cooking foods in an unconventional way. For example, not many people like broccoli, so they fry it to give it a crunchy texture and make you believe you’re eating something else, a few people I know don’t consume olive oil because its flavor is too strong, but they would surely have eaten that ice cream!

Giving in your sense of sight can really make you “see” the world in a different way. If you are visiting Malaysia, I highly recommend you visit this restaurant.

Level: B2

Vocabulary

  • Imprinted on my mind (literary) to become fixed in your mind or memory so that you never forget

imprint something on your mind/memory/brain etc

The sight of Joe’s dead body was imprinted on his mind forever.

  • Overwhelm /ˌəʊvəˈwelm $ ˌoʊvər-/ ●○○ verb [transitive]

1 EMOTION if someone is overwhelmed by an emotion, they feel it so strongly that they cannot think clearly

be overwhelmed by something

Harriet was overwhelmed by a feeling of homesickness.

  • procedure /prəˈsiːdʒə-ər/ noun

[countable, uncountable] the official or accepted way of doing something, especially something that is done often

We have hired an accounting firm to evaluate our audit procedures.

  • ˌpitch-ˈblack adjective completely black or dark

The lights were off and it was pitch-black.

  • jigsaw puzzle /ˈdʒɪɡsɔː $ -sɒː/ ●●○ noun [countable]

a picture cut up into many pieces that you try to fit together

  • boil [intransitive, transitive] to cook something in boiling water

a boiled egg

  • mouth-watering adjective, food that is mouth-watering looks or smells extremely good

a mouth-watering aroma coming from the kitchen

 

 

 

advice, Blog, story, travel tips

Public transportation in Dubai Vs. Public transportation in Peru

We had one day to explore Dubai before flying to Thailand -Dubai was a one-day stopover- and decided to go to a mall, not too far from the airport. We got on the train a little unsure whether we’d jumped on the right line, so my fiance asks ‘Does this train take you to the mall?’ Everybody looks at him, nobody answers. He asks again, ‘can someone tell me if this is the train to the mall?’ Silence.

They were all staring at him, so they did acknowledge his presence but didn’t respond. After the doors closed behind us, a woman says ‘yes, this line takes you to the mall.’ I was thinking ‘has the cat got their tongues?’ Maybe they just don’t understand any English…

We kept speculating about the reasons why they didn’t respond and were still staring at him. Well, the answer had been in front of our noses the whole time. There was a sign that read “Are you in the right cabin? 100 Dirhms fine.”
It turned out we were in the women and children cabin, where, of course, men are not allowed. According to the sign if a man were found in the wrong cabin, he would have to pay 100 Dirhms (about USD 27). These women were staring at him and looked shocked because he wasn’t supposed to be there, he was an intruder.


Almost immediately after realizing he was in the wrong cabin, the same -and only- woman who gave us information said ‘you are in the wrong cabin, men go over there’, pointing at the adjacent cabin.

Everything made sense. These women must have felt their space was being invaded by an intruder who didn’t know the rules. My fiance went to the men cabin, which does allow women (at last we have more choices than them!)
I wonder why men and women can’t be together, religious reasons? Dubai is a Muslim city, so could it be an Islamic thing?

I don’t know the reasons but I love the fact that cabins are separated. So far Dubai has been the one city where I’ve felt really uncomfortable because of men looking at women as if they were a piece of meat. It would be unfair to generalize -I’m not judging or blaming the entire population in this city- but many men on the streets show this kind of offensive behavior.

This blog compares cultures and for me it hurts to admit that this behavior is comparable to the one observed in my country, Peru, where this occurs mainly because of the fact that Peru is a chauvinistic country whose culture lets men engage in this action and get away with it.

Unfortunately, outrage of modesty and street harassment is something every Peruvian women, teenager and child has to deal with when using public transportation. According to the Peruvian newspaper Perú 21, seven out of ten women have been harassed on public transportation. Nevertheless, the law is still lenient with offenders.

Only after Peruvian actress Magaly Solier was a victim of this outrage of modesty on Metropolitano, did street harassment make it to the headlines and called for a new law to be passed. Unfortunately, according to the Ombudsman’s office, to this date six regional governments and three ministries still haven’t approved the regulations for these cases. Out of 21 cases reported to Regional governments, the Judiciary and the Ministry of Public affairs, only two culprits were punished.

We would feel safer if there were assigned cabins for men and women (I speak for all my female friends and relatives). Now I’m not in my country but would love to see some sort of solution or at least an attempt to tackle this problem in a near future.

Vocabulary

  • Outrage of modesty: a term commonly seen in the papers – for example, where a man gropes a woman inappropriately
  • Dirhm: currency in Dubai

References (material in Spanish)

https://peru21.pe/peru/dos-casos-acoso-sexual-han-sancionado-2016-informe-405963-noticia/

https://busquedas.elperuano.pe/normaslegales/ley-para-prevenir-y-sancionar-el-acoso-sexual-en-espacios-pu-ley-n-30314-1216945-2/

Blog, story, travel tips

I discovered this interesting fact in Barcelona…

Today I found out that La Barceloneta beach, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Barcelona is, in fact, man-made. The fact that it’s not a natural beach doesn’t make it less beautiful, though. Locals and tourists come here to sunbathe, play beach volleyball, go for a swim , go bike riding, roller-skating or just people-watch. You can also come visit it for lunch or dinner, there are countless restaurants that offer fish and seafood dishes and of course, the popular Tapas.

When I asked my tour guide about the history of this beach, she said the sand was imported from arab countries and that the area used to be full of rudimentary houses and factories. It was the Olympic games in 1992 what triggered development in this area. In an attempt to increase the city’s popularity with tourists, the Spanish government took up the challenge of turning Barcelona into a must-visit touristic destination in Spain by dramatically transforming it into a beach town that offered a laid-back lifestyle to complement the already bohemian Barcelona.

As advertised, I enjoyed a nice walk and the most delicious Paella in one of the many restaurants along the beach.

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Eating Paella at a local restaurant by La Barceloneta

Now, this isn’t a travel blog but an English learning blog which uses my travel experiences to explain vocabulary and grammar, so let’s go over the definition of the new word introduced in this story. As you read in the first sentence, La Barceloneta is “man-made.”

This word has two definitions, the first refers to the materials or substances that are not natural. For example I like cotton because it’s natural, I don’t like man-made fabrics.

The second definition refers to something made by people rather than by natural processes. For example The Barceloneta is a man-made beach. We can also say the beach is “artificial”, that would be a synonym.

This interesting fact reminded me of another man-made feature in my country. For instance, Oasis Huacachina in Perú had once a natural lagoon but it started to sink due to underwater consumption, today we can say that the lagoon is man-made. Well,  it’s “almost entirely” man-made since at least 70% of the water is pumped into the lagoon regularly to keep it from drying up.

What are some man-made features in your country?

If you are interested in learning English with real examples taken from my trips around the world, join me on social media. I am on Instagram and Facebook as @wespeakonline.english and on Twitter as @wespeak_online

To watch this lesson on Instagram in video format please click here

Blog, story, travel tips

Teacher gone wild ;)

I have wanted to visit Texas for so long, for many reasons: my best friend, food, bats and the dry hot sunny weather. I am not a big fan of art exhibitions but this graffiti park is no ordinary gallery.

Teacher gone wild

This controversial Graffiti Park  is a popular attraction in the live music capital of the world. It is a pity that many argue it does not provide any historical value; apparently that was reason enough for the Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission to approve its demolition this year. However, the gallery will be thoroughly documented, with records preserved and archived by the Austin History Center. An example of this is the decision to relocate one of the concrete slabs from the old park to a location in East Austin just north of the airport near Carson Creek Ranch.

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On the concrete slabs you can see street art depicting American and latin artists. There was one that particularly caught my attention and reminded me of one of my  favorite childhood Mexican TV shows, “El Chavo del 8”. Art here is constantly changing since part of this gallery’s beauty is the fact that it allows artists to paint over and over. See my artistic talent?

Loved it 🙂