Tourism's Effect on a Cultural Experience

Florianopolis Travel Blog

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I have been quite surprised on this trip by certain characteristics of the places we've visited. The amount of english speaking people, vendors that accept american dollars, and prices that are in dollars, have been things I have not experienced in my previous trips to Brazil. I believe these characteristics are more a sign of the affect of tourism in these places, and less a sign of globalization. In my past trips to Brazil, I have been in places far less touched by foreign, mostly american, tourism. Buenos Aires has a booming tourism industry, which is evident in the number of low level employees that speak english in shops, cafe's, and other establishments that would surely hire near minimum wage in the states. When I visited the weekend open-air markets in Buenos Aires, they were more than glad to take my American Dollars. They even offered me the price in dollars, doing the exchange rate themselves, and rounding up when necessary. This was helpful when I ran out of Argentine Pesos one day, but still had some dollars left over, but hardly made for a good sense of emerson or legitimate culture. I met other American's far more than I expected, or wanted. One day while walking down Borges, I walked by two sets of people speaking english with american accents, and since I probably passed no more than ten people, that was rather significant. On another occasion, I went to Plaza Francia, in Recolletta, and I felt like between a half, and a third of the people there were americans. I spoke to some, but in many situations, I remained silent and solemn, my best attempt at looking like a Porteno alone in public. In Colonia, Uruguay, a city that not only is full of tourism, but probably survives on it, both south american, and global. I found an english speaker in most places I went. The girl at the front desk of the Hotel we stayed at possibly spoke better english than me. The bartender at the one club in town was surprisingly fluent. Standing outside a bar in town, an american started talking to myself and several others from my team. Within the bar, listening to a band playing songs in english, we met some members of another group of americans staying in Buenos Aires. Felipe, one of our teachers and a Uruguayan, even said that in Colonia, people refer to him as the Uruguayan, because all the other people there are argentine or american. I went into shops and thought I had found exceptionally good prices, since the exchange rate is 23 to 1 there, until I was told that the prices were in American Dollars. Even when I saw prices in Uruguayan Pesos, they were such large amounts that the exchange rate did not compensate, and they were probably more expensive than similar items in the U.S. In Colonia, I even payed at a market in Uruguayan, Argentine, and American Currency. Here in Florianopolis, Brazil, The number of english speakers already surprises me. In the cafe near where we're staying, there was a girl who was fluent today and at least one guy who knows a little both working there. Another patron next to me was also fluent. The two Professors that spoke today were fluent, and several of the students spoke quite well. The prices I've seen in shops here seem more comparable to those in the States, than those I've seen in other cities in Brazil. I don't know if they would take American Dollars here, because I haven't asked, but I know that in the other cities I've been in Brazil they wouldn't. When I ride in cars around and walk the streets, I know I'm in Brazil. It is familiar, far more so than Buenos Aires and Colonia, but it is different, more different than the other cities I've been to in brazil were from each other.
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On the first night in Florianopolis, after having dinner at an arabic restaurant with belly dancing, Ivan and I went to Sohmer's room (the one adjacent to ours) where Sohmer and Rachel were watching T.V. We all were talking, and I went to get my computer to show Sohmer the pictures I had taken of myself with a mustache and no go-tee. Rachel said the mustache was cute, and Sohmer agreed after examination, but I felt it was ridiculous. After showing the pictures, Ivan and I told Sohmer and Rachel about the Arabic restaurant and the belly dancing. I went back to get my camera and cradle to upload the belly dancing pictures. I proceeded to load pictures, and we all continued to talk a bit loudly. The T.V. was still on, and playing at a pretty high volume. Sohmer was by the bar, closest to the door, and farthest from the windows that were open to the street. Rachel was at the table, the next farthest person from the street. Ivan sat facing the T.V., on the end of the bed that was farthest from the windows that were opon to the street, in the living room where we all were. I sat on the other end of the bed, with my computer and camera to my right, and the window three feet to my left. While turned toward my computer, I heard a shushing sound from behind me, which at that point is where the window was. I turned as everyone else in the room did, to see a Brazilian male, about the age of 22, with medium to short black hair, medium to dark tan skin, a clean blue t-shirt with what i think was a white logo, and a black wind breaker nylon jacket with a silver sewn on logo that said "Delta," but was not that of the airline. He continued to shush us, and I thought he was someone that worked here, and that he was telling us to be quiet because we were being a disturbance. He spoke quietly, with an obvious effort to keep his volume down but also harshly with an obvious effort to intimidate. He started to make it clear that he wanted money, saying words like "money" and "dinero" and motioning to give them to him. I said nothing. Sohmer laughed at him quite quickly, questioning him "what, do you work for delta? what is this?" He continued to command that we give him money, and he brandished his pistol within feet from my head. With the sight of the pistol, I was pretty much ready to give the guy a piece of paper and a pencil and have him make a shopping list of things he wanted. At that moment he gave me a feeling that I may never have felt before. I had no fear of death in my car accident. I can't think of any other particularly dangerous situations I've been in. I've been in plenty of situations that people told me were dangerous, but I doubt I've ever been in any that I perceived as such a real threat as that one. My first thought was probably to hand him the computer right away, if anything, hope that he hadn't seen the camera. Sohmer more or less dialogued with the individual holding a gun, at this point, about three feet from my head. He was standing outside the window, leaning in, and I was sitting at the end of the bed. Sohmer told him unabashedly and firmly "we don't have any money!" He continued to ask and she continued to tell him of our lack of cash, and added "why don't you just get out of here? leave!" I remember Rachel in a more explanatory tone, but with little to no fear evident saying "we really don't have any money." Both of them seemed to care little that he was holding a gun, a point that was still more firm in my mind. Ivan sat there, I believe verbally agreeing with what the girls were saying but I'm not sure. He was completely still as I could tell, as was I. The last thing I wanted was to startle the guy and have the gun go off by accident. Had it done so, I was most likely to be hit because I was closest to him and he pointed the gun at me about half the time he was there. After a little while of hearing Sohmer's blatant courage, as I perceived it, or possibly slight stupidity, as it might have been for none of us to oblige this armed assailant, I felt empowered. I told the man that we really had no money. We all told him that we had just arrived, and had no money to give him, which was all true. He continued to speak to us, mostly in portuguese, but with bits of english thrown in. He something about being "loco" and did a spinning motion with his finger beside his head. He was very frightened. I kind of doubt he did that kind of thing often, but whether or not he had done it before, I doubt he expected Sohmer to laugh at him during the whole process. After even more time with our excuse of not having money, he motioned toward my computer and said something that resembled "notebook." It sounded like "noch-booke." I interpreted it as him wanting me to give him my computer, and some of the other interpreted it as "how can you not have money with that computer." Either way, Sohmer's laughter, and our groups defiance had left me feeling empowered enough to move my computer towards the side of the bed where Ivan was sitting and turn with my back towards it showing protection of my property. He seemed rather perturbed and he cocked his gun in my face. the gun was a stainless steal and black pistol. It was also rather large. It most closely resembled a Glock by my near non-exsistent knowledge of guns. It looked just like something out of my Grandfather or Uncle's gun magazines. When he cocked it, it sounded quite real, and any doubt in my mind about the reality of that gun was almost completely gone. My hope was just that it wasn't loaded, or that he was smart enough not to use it. He pointed it in my face a great deal of the time and eventually Sohmer went to close the window on the opposite side of the same wall as the one he was leaning in. I believe this startled him a bit, and for the first time I remember he pointed the gun, neither at me or the wall, but at her. I didn't think that was a good change in the situation. byh that point, we were all telling him to leave, and that we had no money, so he might as well go, and Sohmer and I assured him that he was not getting our computers. In a moment, he left. None of us moved. We were silent for a moment, then began to speak. After a few words, Sohmer went to close the window. Ivan and I didn't move for a little while. We discussed whether the gun was real. Sohmer noted that she had previously not noticed that the window faced the street. Following our little recap. They all went out to tell the other member of our team around. I sat on the same bed and finished what I had been doing with my pictures. I then got up to collaborate and tell my view of the story, the view staring down the barrel of the gun. Everyone around entered our room for brief reenactments and discussion. They all said how we needed to tell the management of this place, and the police. I didn't view either as particularly necessary, but I could see reasons. They went to tell the story and I stayed behind, citing the ability of the other three in telling the story as my reason for not accompanying. A little later Ivan and I went to our room. He went straight to sleep, and I layed in bed for a couple minutes then got my I-pod to calm my nerves and help me sleep. A few minutes later I heard knocking. I wasn't sure if it was on our door or Sohmer's, but I didn't really want to answer and I let the knocking continue. After a few knocks, Ivan woke up and said "is that knocking on our door," to which I replied "I don't know, but I kind of don't think so, and I don't want to answer it." The next knock was followed by the words "it's Sohmer." Ivan and I answered the door. She told us that the police were there and that we should come help tell them the story. We went and after a moment of trying to use an internet translator, Nicole's friend Jessica came by, and translated our description and account of the events. When the police were content, they left, and we went back to our rooms and went to sleep, I with my i-pod playing electronic tango, Gotan Project and Bajo Fundo Tango Club, to stop the flow of thoughts through my mind.
Throughout my stay in Buenos Aires, I often made use of the Wi-Fi internet access available at Martinez Cafe, on the corner of Uriarte and Santa Fe. The cafe was less than 3 blocks from my residencia and I could sip an agua sin gas, while doing homework, or keeping in touch with friends and family. After I had been to Martinez cafe a few times, I had become rather comfortable there, and on my second week in Buenos Aires I decided to sit outside the cafe, at one of the supplied tables. I usually came to Martinez right after class, and was sitting there by 3:30 or 4 p.m. It would be bright out and the streets would be alive with a million different people going about their business in the usual Buenos Aires fashion. On the second or third day that I chose to sit at one of the tables on the outside of the cafe, I arrived with a good deal of light left in the day. There were people all about as usual, and I was sitting at the table nearest to the door. I had a good view of Santa Fe, as I was facing it, and I could see most of Uriarte as well. I sat there for a few moments, then ordered my usual agua sin gas when the waitress came. I sat for a few hours, then my Peruvian friend from the Uriarte Residencia came and sat behind me with a blond girl who was probably either american or finnish. My friend commented on the fact that I had my camera out on the table. I was loading pictures to my computer (which was also out on the table). I told him I had my hand on the camera. He made a comment questioning whether that was enough, and I carried on with my business. A moment later, he and the girl went inside the cafe. I had been there for several hours when it began to become dark. The crowds walking the streets dwindled to a normal evening drizzle of traffic up and down the streets. I hardly noticed either. Martinez was full of people speaking loudly and carrying on as they did until the doors closed every day at 10:30 p.m. I was uploading a video I had taken with my camera to my Myspace.com page, when two teenage boys walked towards me, and one sat down at the seat beside me. He was thin, between the ages of 14 and 16, and smaller than me. His friend was larger, taller, and kept a bit of distance from me. They both were dressed in slightly dirty clothes with dark dirty skin, and the thin one beside me licked an ice cream as he began to speak to me. The boys presence was "shady," or "sketchy," to say the least. He spoke quickly and incessantly . I first said "I don't speak spanish" then "no hablar espanol" then "I don't understand you" then "yo no intendo." I repeated these and similar phrases with alternate prenunciations. I was pretty sure that he understood me, but was ignoring my attempts. I also assumed that he was asking me for money and possibly giving me some resemblance of a "sob story," but whatever he was saying, I doubted its direct relevance to why he was there. As he continued to speak, I removed my computer from the table, placing it upon my lap, and made glances toward the glass wall to my right, hoping that someone inside would see that their loyal american patron was being harassed. As the boy sat, he glanced quite often to my nearly empty glass bottle of agua sin gas that rested upon the table in front of me. Eventually his friend came close and walked towards my back left. This was not something i wanted and I stuck out my hand and said forcefully "no, go away." I had no desire to have 4 hands to watch for or to be surrounded or even just to have this larger boy so close by. His smaller friend handed off the ice cream to him, and he left down Uriarte towards the direction of the residencias. I was glad to have the one boy gone, but not happy that now the other had two free hands. I was quite perturbed by now and the boy continued to talk. I now commanded "leave," "go," "now stop, go." He didn't even slow but more often glanced upon the bottle and inched his hand toward it. At that point, I moved the bottle farther from him and placed my hand on his chest and applied pressure, pointing with my free hand at him then where his friend had gone. i repeated my earlier commands. He put his hand up and pressed his middle finger, fore finger and thumb together to symbolize money and said "dinero, money." To which i replied "NO." Then he started to rise and grasped the bottle quickly. With my left hand still on his chest, I reached out my right hand and batted the bottle to the ground where it shattered at my feet. As I did this, He reached around my body towards my computer, which I closed under my right arm while shoving him away with my left. He proceeded to sprint down Uriarte, empty handed. At the sounds of the broken bottle several individuals came out to help me. First, a man in a grey fleece sweater and black running shorts, that had been diagonally behind me through the glass, ran out and checked if i was okay, and asked (mostly in motions) whether the boy had gotten anything. He was followed by three of the male employees of Martinez. I assured them that I was fine and they attempted to help me carry my book bag inside. My adrenaline was pumping and i carried all my own things without any assistance, despite their attempts to aid. I took a seat at a table near the man who had come out to help. One of the waiters who had come out asked if I wanted another water, but i refused because I was planning on leaving soon, and had already drank nearly the entire other one, and didn't want a free drink out of the event. A girl in her catholic school uniform was staring at me, and the most attractive waitress motioned to ask if there was a gun. They both had mouths wide open, and I motioned that there was no gun (speaking the words as i motioned). I told them about the bottle and acted out the series of events, with emphasis upon my thwarting of the violent attempt. Both females seemed quite in awe of my bravery and heroic escape from the attempted blunt object aided robbery. After my heart stopped beating so hardly, I stood up and walked over to my Peruvian friend who was seated at a tall table by the front of the cafe. I placed my hand upon his shoulder a bit firmly and startled him. He told me that I should watch it because I had frightened him. I told him that he had "no room to talk" because I had just been the victim of an attempted robbery. He blamed it upon me for sitting out side and making an obvious target of myself. I accepted the blame and bid him farewell as I planned to go rest behind the cast iron door of the residencia. I walked home, but walked a block down Santa Fe to Thames, then past Guemes and Charcas to Paraguay, then another block down Paraguay to my residencia on nearly the corner of Uriarte and Paraguay. I left then without paying. My mind was really in places other than on the 4 pesos I owed for my agua sin gas. The next day I tried to pay for 2 agua sin gas when i ordered 1. the waitress taking my order had been the same one asking about the robbery after it had happened the night before, and she refused me paying after the incident. I continued to go to Martinez nearly every other day for the rest of my time in Buenos Aires. I often ordered the exact same agua sin gas, but never sat outside again.
1,237 km (769 miles) traveled
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Florianopolis
photo by: Vagabondatheart