Brazil – Last Stop in South America


The day before we learned of a taxi strike in Montevideo and decided not to risk it and got an uber. Our driver was great, spoke pretty good English and made jokes all the way to the airport.

He was on the heavier side and when we saw some joggers on the street, he exclaimed in confusion: “why do skinny people run all day?” Coming from him it sounded more of a sencere question than anything else.

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On the way to the airport you drive along the river and once in a while see people trying to surf or swim. Once we saw a beautiful little island with picture perfect yellow sand and trees, something out of the Caribbean. Our driver exclaimed that Argentina has claimed this island as theirs, and since it is a disputed territory Uruguayans can’t build on it. Hmmmm, sounds like Argentina alright. He nodded in agreement, I tried to ask how to say arrogant in Spanish. He proudly announced that they have a special word that explains arrogance and Argentina – forro, roughly translated as condom. We laughed and got to the airport, got out and said good-bye. Since he knew we were flying Argentina Airlines, he wished us a safe journey on the forroplane. Nice one, couldn’t agree more.

I honestly hope that this will conclude our conversation about Argentina. Everything written here is not the objective truth but a glimpse on the complex world through the eyes of two travelers. If I hurt your feelings…get over it.

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We are calling this our first official flight, we did a little crop duster flight in Peru but that was more of an attraction rather than a method of transportation.

The traumatizing Nazca flight has probably ruined flying for us for some time. We felt queezy, tired and nauseous. Still managed to snap a cool night view as we were landing in Sao Paulo.

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Wow, real backpackers. No more security of the car, now we have to carefully plan what we need to bring with us…since we now carry it ourselves. At the same time it feels nice not to worry about parking in a big city or possible vandalism and theft.

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Bright and early, around 11am, we managed to crawl out of bed to have some breakfast and start exploring this huge city. I’m gonna state this right away…there is no freaking way that we can explore the whole city and see everything there is here.

Impossible, Sao Paulo metro area has a population of 21 million people. So we chose whatever we felt like doing without worrying about missing out on anything.

Travelers on a budget, we decided to splurge for a private room with a private bathroom. Since we are not made of money we went for the bunk version instead of one large bed, which was a whopping 3 dollars more expensive. When you have no job to go back to, every dollar counts.

After being in a country for a while you get to feel the value of things, you no longer need to convert back to dollars and compare what you would spend back in the states on an equivalent product or service. I remember we had the most insane argument in Colombia. It was really hot and our room did not have an AC or a private bathroom, which normally would be fine. But that day it was especially stuffy and we needed to use the restroom more often. The more expensive room which included all of these luxurious amenities was a whole 20,000 pesos more…so we argued and it got heated…over basically $6. I apologized for being toooo frugal, but the nickname of “6 bucks” persists to this day. In my defense, you could buy a whole lot of beer in Colombia for 20,000 pesos, drink it all and then pass out on the bed…AC or not. Lesson learned, we move on.

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Right next to our hostel is Sao Paulo’s famous park – Ibirapuero Park. And of course on the way to the park you can hit up a market and try the local meat in dough thingies. I swear, every country we visited had some form of this…here they are called pastella, pronounced pasteja. Obviously we tried them and they are good, but its hard to mess up something that is deep-fried. They were also selling sugar cane and lime juice…that’s a first for me and a definite repeat in the future.

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Saw an art museum on the way to the park, asked if we want to go in. You probably know the response already – “Babe, only if it’s free.”
Crazy that we can’t spare a few bucks on art…but then again… 6 bucks.

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Yes, the museum was free which was great for me, I desperately needed to wash my sticky hands from the greasy food and sugary drinks.
Of course I washed them before touching that huge pussy cat.

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Jesus, just look at the size of it, it’s like a whale. Yet, even if it was real I do not feel a sense of threat, is it the eyes?
This sculpture was crafted in 2010 or 2011, so there is a possibility that our friends Marianne and Augusto have also taken a photo with it.

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The growing line of impatient kids wanting to take a picture with the kitty made us feel uncomfortable so we got on with our walk to the park. Not sure what I expected out of this city, but the neighborhood where we are staying is beautiful. The roads are smooth and lined with the most manicured lawns and trees we have seen since La Jolla. After all we are in Brazil, the home of the renowned depilation technique.

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Park is crowded, wait what day of the week is it? Oh, right. It’s Sunday. Another thing you lose track of – days of the week.

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People running, walking, biking, skating and here we are just walking and not paying attention to any of it because we are debating the latest topic of our interest.

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Finally, stopped the debate to enjoy some live music.

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Okay enough with the park, it’s good but still just a park. Instead let’s go get some food and drinks. Yeah, you excited? So are we.

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We heard that there is a large Japanese diaspora in Sao Paulo that means there is little Tokyo somewhere with all the delicious Japanese food.

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The area is called Liberdade and you can get there on the subway with a namesake station. Hyein was really excited when she saw the subway tickets, apparently they had the same ones in Seoul but like a million years ago…

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The subway cars are as wide as Seoul’s metro and the widest we have seen so far. Completely understandable in a city of 20 million.

They are very short though, Hyein is no giant and was easily able to touch the ceiling. Another win for the smaller humans, not only do you live longer, and have more leg room on the plane…you can actually fit inside Sao Paulo’s subway car.

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Short train ride, not even switching lines. I’m sure we could have walked it from the park but the heat was too much for our weak and not-so-slim bodies.

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The name of the area Liberdade, is pronounced as liberda-ge according to the subway announcer lady. Portuguese sure is different. After 5 months in Spanish-speaking countries we have become comfortable that we will be understood and we will understand the other people, given that everyone is willing. Now for the first time we are in a country with a different language. Some people say that Portuguese sounds like Russian to outsiders and I can see that, it’s all the hard “d”, “dge”, “sh” and “je” sounds.

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Ah, we are here. Sorry, got distracted.  Notice the stylized street lamps and crosswalk lights. We walked around for a bit, mostly just gawking at shop windows, trying street food and looking for a place for dinner.

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While trying to decide which juice we should get a couple of guys saw our struggles with Portuguese and chimed in to help. Recommended a place to get some good food at down to earth prices…it’s like they know us. Found the restaurant, Bento House, to be for the people – no frills, good food, cold beer and decent prices.

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Through the grape-vine we heard that Brazilians do like to party…I’m not discovering America here for anyone. Got directions on where to party from a hotel reception in Liberdade.

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Knowing the late night culture of Latin America, where dinners start after 9pm, we took our time and walked around the area.

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I want to expand on the topic of Portuguese a bit more. After a few days in Sao Paulo you start to notice that some people really do sound like they are speaking Russian, but not everybody. Probably just regional variation in accents.
Still if you know a bit of Spanish and listen closely you will be able to see how similar the languages are. Our “foreign language” has been Spanish for the past 5 months, so we instinctively tried to speak in it. Surprisingly people understood us so much that by the end of our time in Brazil I began every conversation by apologizing that I only now Spanish and then just saying what I want to say. It worked like 80% of the time. Except I messed up EVERY TIME and said: “Gracias….shit, ah…Obrigado!”

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We learned a few days before coming to Brazil that the country is going through some hard times economically and politically. Recent corruption scandals are driving people to the streets to protest.

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I expected major protest and marches…and I guess those do happen. But we only saw a few people next to the subway station camping out, walking around with signs and politely trying to persuade the public to pay attention. All very organized and peaceful. Police present for everyone’s protection, but just uniformed cops…no riot gear.

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Walked to Rua Augusta, this area has a lot of little bars, restaurants and coffee shops. In good weather the thing to do is to get a table on the sidewalk, order a few caipirinhas and kick it with you friends.

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The local poison of choice is cachaca, pronounced kashasa, is a clear liquor similar to moonshine. A tad strong for out taste buds, but had to try it.

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Went with passion fruit and strawberry flavors…i regret nothing!

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Actually, after the first sip it’s not bad…the fruity flavors come up some of the harshness of cachacas.

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Next morning, decided to explore a bit of central Sao Paulo. We were here on a Sunday, so I don’t know what it looks like during the week, but it looks like a scene from “I Am Legend”.

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Rolled down metal security doors on all the shop, homeless people instead of zombies, beautiful buildings and no cars. Creepy and nauseating from all the smells of human excrements. Not going to lie, this was strange to see right in the center.

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We didnt enjoy the walk and decide to head to the bus station…oh I forgot to tell you…we are going to a soccer game…YEAH IN BRAAAAAAZIL.

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Just outside of the subway station saw a little market and people practicing capoeira.

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The only game that day that we could see Santos vs Sao Paulo held in Santos. The city is located on the Atlantic cost an hour ride from Sao Paulo. Also it is a huge port city that our Hodori will visit on the way to Korea. As far as I know it was in Buenos Aires last time I checked.

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Got to Santos without the tickets, read online that they rarely sellout completely out for a season game. Would have sucked to come all the way here just to see the outside of the stadium.

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On the bus we met a couple of American guys, CJ and Turner, who are doing a short work program in Brazil. Watching the game is always better together so with 4 tickets in hand we went to the nearest watering hole to get a few refreshments.

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Hyein wasn’t feeling well from the bus ride so instead of drinking she went out for a walk. The first five minutes I enjoyed chatting with the guys, feeling a bit of home in this far away land. After ten minutes I started to get uneasy, looking around to see if Hyein is somewhere nearby…another five minutes and I realized that I have full-blown separation anxiety. The absolutely irrational fear that something terrible has gone wrong. Together 24/7 for 5 months will screw up your perception of privacy and private time, separation becomes unbearable.

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Phew, she is back and with presents. Check out our new gear, decided to go with the home team: “Santos! Santos! Santos!”.

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We still looked like complete tourists but the shirts disarmed the people and everyone wanted to wave to the camera.

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We were having such a good time drinking, eating and walking around that we almost missed the beginning of the game. Oh a the security wouldn’t let me in with the selfie stick for the GoPro, had to go give it to the barkeep lady. Being her best customers for the day she happily took it for the game.

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Omg, omg, omg we are at a futbol…yeah can’t say soccer in Brazil, not allowed..game. We were in the general seating area for fans of both teams, but this being a home game we were surrounded by Santos fans.

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Tried to sit at our sits but the stupid protective glass was constantly in the way. I got no issues with security, but wash the damn glass so I can watch the game.

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Climbed up just a few steps – better view, but standing only…also close to the beer, food and bathrooms. Yeah, I don’t mind standing now.

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This is also Hyein’s first futbol game ever, how cool is that? It’s like being baptized by the Pope in the Vatican. Also this is a Sunday game, so it’s basically like going to church.

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Our rag tag crew, from left to right: me, Hyein, CJ and turner. Btw CJ, Turner we have a ton of photos and videos from that day, let me know your emails and I’ll send them to you.

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The game and the crowd was everything that you would hope to see. The teams were matched pretty evenly so the pace of the game was fast, with the ball changing possession constantly. People say, mostly in the US, that soccer is boring – come to Brazil, you will not be disappointed.
Santos built up the tension with a few beautiful but failed attempts at scoring. The crowd growing louder and louder with each successive attack. Finally, the ball ended up in the net and the crowd, already on the brink of orgasm, exploded in screams, whistles and body flailing. We were a part of this as much as the diehard fans. The jubilation continued on for a few minutes spurring on the players of Santos to gather once again for the ambush of the other team. The comfort of a 1-0 lead and the loudest support from the fans yet, gave courage to the players to try fancy footwork, crowd screaming ever louder as the ball passed between the legs of a Sao Paulo’s player. Then came the bicycle kick, the crowd cheered louder for this than for the actual goal. It was a beauty. What a first game for Hyein…

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Can’t make a cake without breaking some noses…this Santos player took it like a man, walked off the field called for a medic while profusely bleeding all over, and was clapped of the field.

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Nor sleet, nor rain…just like the US Postal Service, futbol doesn’t stop. Plus this is Brazil the rain is sweet and warm.

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After the game we had the bright idea to go and meet the team…only to realize that the team bus is behind a fence with a bunch of security guys around…understandable. I just have to get to the head of security, then I’m sure I can talk my way in.
The security sees us waiving our hands and tells us to go around to the other side and meet them. Luckily their boss is there and I beg, hands together beg, and explain how much it would mean to us and that we have traveled far and wide…all in the most broken Spanish…not Portuguese. The guy eyes Hyein and I, smiles and let’s us in.

Hyein hanging out with Vladmir, the Santos goalkeeper.

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Yup, thats me casually shooting the shit with Caju. No big deal…

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We didnt even have markers to get the signatures, managed to get one from a very nice security guy.

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Got as many signatures as we could. Honestly, didnt know any of the players names, but will look up online.

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These are the guys who were awesome enough to let us in and meet the team.

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I’m pretty sure that he is also writing his phone number next to his signature….good luck buddy, she is mine!

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CJ, much more knowledgeable about the team and very excited to get his shirt signed. Turner is not in the photo, but we got his scarf signed, while he was doing the most important job of all – guarding our food and beers.

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So, this is what meeting the team looks like if you somehow didn’t magically talk your way inside. Or it could have been becuase we were tourists…I still say that it was the magic power of my jab.

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Now…we would have to go to the world cup to beat this game for Hyein. Amazing futbol and meeting the team…not a bad way to be introduced into a sport. Hyein actually asked me how long the game was…ugh about 2 hours. She didn’t believe me, said it was like the blink of an eye, like teenage sex – over before you know it.

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Seriously got lucky to get inside, not many chances for signatures or photos.

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Woah, easy there babe. You know, I’m still here, taking this photo.

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Didn’t want to miss our bus back to Sao Paulo, we had to say good bye to the team and jumped into the taxi. My favorite Sam Smith song, “Stay with me”, was blasting from the radio. So CJ, Hyein and I had an impromptu karaoke session…that we decided to film…one of those drunk decision. We had a blast, but watching it in the morning was a bit cringe inducing…so we are just posting the photo…and the video? Hm..we will keep it in a vault for a few years before we could brave showing it to anyone.

Besides hot women, soccer and Jesus Christ on a mountain, what else is Brazil known for? Wait…i thought Jesus was from the middle east? Yeah but they like him here too and put one up on a mountain. I realize that there are many other things that Brazil is famous for, but we are looking for one specific answer – Brazilian BBQ, or Churrascaria as they call them here.

We couldn’t imagine leaving this beautiful country without trying it out. After a quick consult with out Brazilian friends, Marianne and Augusto, we decided to visit Vento Haragano. I know its on the expensive side, YOLO! Its about $35 per person for ALL YOU CAN IT.

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The restaurant itself is really nice, main large dining area with a farm house feel to it. The center of the room is occupied by a self-serve buffet of appetizers, salads, cheese and other things that we didn’t come here to eat.

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Once you sit down you get a card with all the things that they have cooking tonight. See that green circle card? Turn it to the green side and waiter know to bring whatever delicious meats they are carrying to you.

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We didn’t eat since lunch and were completely ready for this. I think my mouth started watering while looking at yelp reviews of this place back in the hotel.
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We paced ourselves, whenever the waiter brought a new piece we would only ask for a little bit. That way we could try everything and enjoy it to the max.

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My goal was to not eat anything but meat, that proved harder than i anticipated. Here is the problem, the meats are extremely salty to our taste and you need to drink a lot of water and eat some veggies to balance out the salty/fatty flavors of the meats. After a few plates of the meat i was CRAVING some greens. Luckily they got that…some arugula and we are good to go.

You are also served with various fillers, like french fries, bread, onion rings…cheese. It was a waste of good food, we didn’t touch a single one. Why would you?

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Lets be honest here for a second, you came here for all the useful travel and life advice, right? So, the meat is amazing, delicious, tender, fatty, rare…everything you want. But for some freaking reason they put sooooo much salt on it, that i was starting to feel unwell.

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Maybe its their way of limiting the amount that we eat…but to me that changes the actual product and i dont know if i would go back again. To combat this situation we started asking for pieces with the cooked outside already removed. The meat is very rare and thank god not salty.

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Went inside the kitchen to check out where the magic happens. I figured this out, so once the waiters come out and cut the meat for you, they expose the rare parts inside, go back in the kitchen, dunk them in a bucket of salt and cook them again on this awesome fire pit.

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I kid about the bucket, i honestly loved the place, just sad that i couldn’t enjoy it even more.

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We used the menu card to mark the things we have eaten and our simple review. The most common thing was – “soft” after a while i had to re-evaluate my threshold for what is soft. Most of the steaks we have ever eaten at home would be considered very hard by these standards. No. 21 – the “hump” was out of this world. It was the first time tried it and you honestly didn’t have to use your teeth. When i’m old and dont have teeth anymore…all i will be buying is the “hump”. Press it against the roof of your mouth with the tongue and it just disappears. It doesn’t melt…it just vanishes, leaving only the sweet, smoky taste behind.

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Outside the establishment, the restaurant showcases another one of our favorites of the night – beef ribs. They sure know how to do the right! Tender, fatty, delicious meat that barely hangs on the bone. Full of delicious food and disappointed that i could not eat more, we headed back to the hostel.

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Tonight is our last night in Brazil and in South America. Sao Paulo decided that we should experience a real thunderstorm before we left, took me 40 minutes to capture that lightning, so you guys better appreciate that photo and not just glance over it.

In a few days, we will be on the other side of the world and this part of the trip will seem like a dream. Almost to the day, 5 months were spent on the road. We started out without any Spanish and learned whatever we needed along the way, we learned to appreciate the hospitality of our old friends and new friends we made along the way. We were scared when we started, but the beautiful people of the Americas made us feel at home everywhere we went, except maybe Bolivia…they need to learn how to smile once in a while. We learned a lot about each other and how to be together…yes, just a simple thing of being together…how to enjoy each other’s company, what we love to do together, what keeps us together. Learned things not to do to each other. A married couple we met along the way has been together for over 30 years, raised 3 sons…the wife told me: “newlyweds dream of going around the world for their honeymoon, but that maybe the end of their relationship”. 30 years together and still it can be difficult. In Japan there is even a term for this “Narita Divorce”, when newlyweds come back from the honeymoon, get their bags in Narita Airport and go their separate ways forever.

Thank god I met a partner who is actual willing to be with me, work with me when i’m being difficult. And trust me this trip, I have been difficult once or twice.

“Hyein, thank you!”

okay…okay, enough with the tearjerkers…whats up next, ivan?

We are shipping the car to Korea and while it is sailing, we are going to Singapore for 4 days then onto Thailand for 3 weeks to hangout with Hyein’s cousin, who lives in Bangkok.

Will update as we go along!

Adios, Americas.

4 Comment

  1. Karen stermitz says: Reply

    Great write up . We leave in the fall to do what you did so would love your expense report

    1. irazinkov@gmail.com says: Reply

      Thank you!

  2. Hyein says: Reply

    Thanks Van! I feel the same here. Always feeling grateful we have each other and have this amazing experience together.

    1. irazinkov@gmail.com says: Reply

      Love you too

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