Tag Archives: Travel

A farewell to Maracanã

Today we headed to our third and final match at the iconic Maracana stadium to watch Belgium play Russia.

While I didn’t really have a dog in this fight as Professor Hamakawa would say, it was still another amazing opportunity in Maracana. While sitting in the stands we were surrounded by Belgian fans and one offered to paint my face with their flag, so of course I had to say yes! 20140622-210946-76186903.jpg
With their flag on my face I quickly caught Belgian fever (if that’s a thing). Most of the game went scoreless until the 85th minute when Belgium scored and won 1-0!! I got high gives from Belgians all around me and they embraced me as their own!

It was a great way to say goodbye see you later to Estadio do Maracanã!

On our way home from the match we stopped at a giant festival celebrating Brazilian culture. We had more delicious Brazilian food, heard Brazilian music and saw a little Brazilian dancing!


We finished off the day by watching the US vs Portugal game back in our hotel where we hoped to see the US secure a spot in the round of 16 with a win over Ronaldo and his Portugal squad. Admittedly, I did not have much faith in the US to get past Portugal, and they almost proved me wrong. The match was back and forth with the US and Portugal trading goals. Then Clint Dempsey put the US ahead 2-1 and the clock was winding down. The ref added 5 minutes of stoppage time and at about 44:30 it looked like the US was about to pull out the upset. Then Ronaldo got the ball and he did what he has done time after time, made a great play. With one of the most beautiful crosses I’ve ever seen he set up his teammate for a goal as time expired. It was deflating for US fans but at the same time, nobody can deny the perfection of that pass. It’s not called the group of death for nothing…

Tomorrow is our last full day in Rio, and I have to stop typing their so my tears don’t damage my keyboard.


Living in the past

Today was one of my favorite days because we spent the day learning about Brazil’s history and I am a huge history buff!

We spent the day in Petropolis, the imperial city, which stands for Peter’s city, who was the emperor of Brazil in the 17th century. We started the day in the former imperial palace turned museum.


Unfortunately we could not take pictures inside the museum but it was absolutely beautiful! Learning the history of Brazil was great, and as a political science major, comparing the imperial history to that of other countries was especially rewarding and eye opening for me.

As we walked through Petropolis it looked as if the town hadn’t been touched since the 17th century. Even a house we walked by that was having construction done on it looked straight out of the imperial period. You could see the Brazilian people had a strong and proud connection to their history; something you don’t see a lot in the United States.

Next was a quick stop at another cathedral, a typical French style cathedral but beautiful nonetheless. Here, don’t take my word for it



Our next stop was lunch where we had some authentic food once again! Those who know me know that I love to eat and I love food. Those that know me well know my favorite food is Shepard’s Pie and today I had the Brazilian version and it was delicious! Now it’s not grams Shepard’s pie but it did the job today!

Our final stop was at the Bohemia Cervejaria (brewery) where we learned about the history of beer and alcohol both in Brazil and the world. Did you know the Egyptians introduced the world to beer? Maybe that should be one of the 7 wonders of the world instead of the pyramids (just kidding). It was an extremely interactive your with games and photo opportunities the whole way. At the end we got to taste two types of Bohemian beers, a Pilsen and a Confraria. Now I’m not much of a beer person (at least I’m assuming so because I am not 21 so I’ve OBVIOUSLY neeeever had alcohol) but the Pilsen was pretty good!


Another great day in Brazil in the (history) books. Hope you’re enjoying following my journey half as much as I’m enjoying having it!

Totally a tourist

So today we completely played the part of tourist and went all around Rio on a cultural tour and visited some pretty cool places of interest.

Our first stop was the site where Carnival is held each year. We saw the area where as many as 2 million people gather to dance and listen to traditional Brazilian music. We had the opportunity to try on some traditional samba costumes so of course I jumped at the opportunity! 20140617-220000-79200317.jpg
Personally I think I look great! And let me tell you, after five minutes I was sweating so I couldn’t imagine what it’s like for the dancers in the summer heat!

We next stopped at a catholic cathedral unlike any I had ever seen. When I hear cathedral I think typical cathedral like that in Italy or Spain. This was different because it was built in the shape of a cone, with inspiration from the Mayan Pyramids. It was definitely unique but really cool. It was designed to represent the people. A large base to represent all the people and narrow at the top to represent the small amount of people who made it into heaven.


The last stop was the Escadaria Selarón or Selarón’s Staircase. Which is a set of 215 steps in the middle of Rio where the artist spent 25 years decorating the stairs with artwork from all over the world!


Another great day topped off by FINALLY having authentic Brazilian food and it was delicious!!

Ain’t no mountain high…

I can certainly say I am exhausted after day 2 in Rio after climbing two mountains. Well, the train and cable car we took climbed the mountains but there were still stairs involved!

The first mountain was the famous Corcovado mountain! While most may not be familiar with Corcovado, they are certainly familiar with the figure that sits atop it, the iconic Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) or as I like to call him, Giant Jesus! If you’ve ever seen a movie that even mentions Brazil you’ve seen this giant statue and I got to see it up close and personal! 20140616-213146-77506390.jpg

Being up there was nothing short of amazing, after the fog cleared of course. And once it did we had amazing views of all of Rio!

Even up here soccer reigned supreme as chants broke out all over the place from the fans of Colombia, Algeria and the US! Then shortly after everyone would join together for a group pic, because even though we all want our team to win, we are also here to celebrate soccer and just have an amazing experience!

Then, as if this view wasn’t beautiful enough we then made our way to the top of Sugarloaf mountain for even more amazing sights, especially with the fog completely gone! Just check out this pic of the famous Copacabana (which I will be visiting later this week)


Yesterday I got to experience the beauty of the World Cup and today I got to witness the beauty of Rio and see why it is considered one of the most beautiful places in the world! This trip gets better everyday!!

Bem-vindo ao Rio de Janeiro

So my first official day in Rio has come to and end and I can say the bar has been set extremely high! Even if this was my only day here I would be happy, fortunately I still have many more. In just my first day here I’ve had the experience of a life time!

It all started with the drive from the airport. The first thing that was very evident was the vast gap between the classes. If you think there is a wealth gap in the US, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Rio. One minute we are looking at brand new stadiums and state of the art residential and business buildings and right next door are the favelas barely standing on their own. Can’t wait to explore this a little more!

Then came the moment I’ve dreamt about; watching Lionel Messi lead Argentina in their match against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Not only did I get to watch my favorite athlete in the world play I got to do it in the LEGENDARY Maracana Stadium, the temple of soccer. I am still in disbelief that I was able to watch it and be so close to the pitch!


Other than the fact that Argentina won 2-1, I got to see Messi score a goal in true Messi fashion, by making it look easy! At times I felt I could touch him he was so close, just look!


In tonight’s excitement I hugged strangers, jumped up and down with them and sang songs I didn’t even know the words to. Regardless of whether the people around me tonight were Hispanic, Brazilian or Bosnian, tonight’s only language was football. One day in and my dream has come true, can’t wait to see what’s in store from here on out!

Doing the best we can with what we got

So it has finally come, our last night in the amazing little town of Pulaski, VA and I can honestly say I will miss this place immensely. I have learned so many amazing things while I was here and met some of the most extraordinary people in the world. While it would be impossible to put everything I learned in this blog I will do my best to point out the most important.

1. It’s not always what you do that’s important, sometimes it’s how you do it. So many of the things we have done this week are not unique or special to Pulaski, they are things that happen everywhere. What is very unique to Pulaski though is the way in which they do these ordinary things. You can find a food pantry anywhere, but only in Pulaski will you find a food drive set up like a super market so that those that need it are more willing to ask for help and also give these people a sense of normalcy and humanity. Everywhere there is a natural disaster people will come to help rebuild, but only in Pulaski will you have people give up their career and professional life to serve their community full time and do it with a smile on their face. Service is great, but service with a smile changes a community.

2. Anybody can be great, because anybody can serve. Of course this is a paraphrase of Dr. King but my time here in Pulaski has really shown me the meaning of these words. When I said I met some of the most extraordinary people here this week I meant it. They were extraordinary not because they donated thousands of dollars, or invented something great, or because they are award winning scholars but simply, and amazingly because they have decided to devote their life to service. They are the most inspirational people I have ever met. And it’s true, anybody can do service as long as they realize that somewhere, someone needs them and are willing to act on that.

3. A kids smile can brighten up any room I was fortunate enough to step outside my comfort zone this week and work with kids; something that is not exactly my forte. I quickly realized how easy it is to make a kid smile and how easily that smile can brighten up even your darkest days. If you can make a kid feel like he matters, even if only for a few days, hours, minutes or even seconds then you will do anything to make that happen because kids deserve to smile. You can’t change their life situations, or upbringing, or most things for that matter but you can always make a kid smile, and if you have that opportunity then it must become a duty, a responsibility and most of all a privilege.

4. There’s a right thing to do and a popular thing. You can make the right thing popular, but the popular thing is not always right. This was imparted upon me by one of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, Bill. Bill was the most sarcastic, intelligent, wise and caring man you will ever meet. Bill has accomplished so much in his life and done so many amazing things for the town of Pulaski but takes no credit and wants no attention for it. He believes that to be in the public eye means to be bound by what is popular at the time, not what is right, and Bill’s only motivation in life is to do what is right for his community. He walked away from a very lucrative business so that he could devote all his time to tornado disaster relief and home rebuilds. So please, listen to Bill and work to make what is right into what is popular because if what’s popular isn’t what is right then people who desperately need help will never get it.

5. It takes a village to raise a village. No you did not read that wrong, I meant to say village twice. My time here in Pulaski has helped me realize one thing, only communities can solve community problems. Sadly, you cannot rely on the government to provide the support they should to struggling communities, but what you can rely on is one another. When you have people like the ones here in Pulaski, people willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who needs it and put themselves second or even last, then you have no option but to succeed. While Pulaski has been going through tough times, the only way this place will fail is if the people here let it. They love their community so much that they will help with anything they can if it means improving the community by even the slightest bit.

6. Patch Adams was right, laughter is the best medicine. If there is one thing my group likes to do it is laugh, and laugh loud. Some of the issues we deal with are some really complicated and frustrating issues so laughter really is needed to get through the week. However, the best laughter, and the one that truly rang through the loudest was that of the citizens of Pulaski. Even the people coming through the food line, with next to nothing in their possession would laugh, and they would make you laugh too. No matter the situation, there was always laughter in the air in Pulaski and a smile on everyone’s faces. If the people of this town can still laughter after what they have gone through and continue to go through then so can you! Nothing makes you smile more than seeing someone with almost nothing brighten up the room
with their personality and smile.

7. You do the best you can with what you got. This was another gem from Bill, but one that could be the official motto of Pulaski, VA. This is a poor town with not much but tornado damage so they don’t have a lot of material things but they sure so have a lot of heart. I never once heard a single person complain about not having enough, or what they want. The only thing I heard was gratitude for every little thing they received. That’s what this town is all about, not complaining about the situation they are in but instead figuring out what they have to work with and making the best out of every situation. This is probably the most important thing I learned from Pulaski, and something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

8. Square dancing is a lot more fun than you think. Really nothing tricky to this one. We went to this square dance and had a blast! While I was a little apprehensive at first, I had an amazing dance partner (shoutout to Bonnie) and I’m glad she got me out on the floor because I had an awesome time.

I wish I could tell you everything I learned this week but that is just too much and plus that might stop you from visiting this outstanding little town in Virginia. If you ever get a chance to visit, or you are looking for a life changing experience that will brighten your outlook on the world, come to Pulaski ASAP. I will be sad when I leave this place tomorrow and the people I have met but I know I will be back again because Pulaski will always have a place in my heart.

Thanks for everything Pulaski! Until next time,

Mark Martinez