Friday, May 5, 2017

Aging Sucks!

I know this is my first post in a while but I have been dealing with some health Issues. 

About 4 months ago I started questioning my health.  I haven’t treated my body very well. In 2010 I noticed my health changing. I started gaining weight and losing my fitness levels. But it’s only been within the last 6 months that I have noticed my health getting worse. Things like chronic fatigue (no energy) and weight gain.

So, about 5 months ago I stopped drinking any kind of soft drinks and substituted with water. I drink a lot of water now. I started doing research online about natural aids to help lose weight. I have about 30 kilos to lose. Every evening I am researching about foods and spices that aid in weight loss naturally.

In the beginning of April I also decided it was good to get a check up, so off to the doctor I went. There is the clinic here inside Rocinha, but to get blood tests you need to return another day and I didn’t want to do that. Just outside of Rocinha is a cinic. You need to pay but for what you get, its very reasonably priced. I got full blood screens, Chest X-Ray and ECG all for about 300 reais.

A week later I got all the results back. Chest X-Ray - No problems, ECG - No problems. Blood tests some problems: 1.) High Cholestrol   2.) Thyroid problem.

So, I went online and researched everything I could for about 1 week solid on how to improve the cholesterol problem and how to get my thyroid functioning normal again through natural means. I do NOT want to be on drugs the rest of my life!

First thing I did was to empty out cabinets full of any kind of food that’s in a bag, a box or a can. And substituted it with healthy foods.

My cabinet in my kitchen is filled with glass containers (plastic is not good) with spices such as Turmeric, Ginger, Ginseng, Cayenne Pepper, Black Pepper, Coconut Oil. Supplements I have added like Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium, Omega 3’s, Selenium, B12. These are just some of the things that exist in my cabinets.

Every morning I make this concoction that consists of green tea (I soak the green tea in water before), Turmeric, Cayenne Pepper and Ginger. I make sure the drink is warm and mix it with tablespoon of coconut oil.  In the last 6 weeks I have lost about 8 kilos.

How I lost the 8 kilos
- Absolutely NO Sugar (including fruits)
- Eating a lot less Carbohydrates (not quite a Keto Diet but getting there)
- NO eating after 7:00pm at night
- Getting out and walking every day
- Just started Jiu Jitsu class last week

Fitness Changes

I bought a fit bit watch from a friend. This watch keeps tracks of how many steps you take, heart rate, distance walked, calories burned and how many flights of stairs.
It’s nice to set some goals. My fitness is going slow but steady. I have had the fit bit for about 10 days. Here are my averages.

Steps Taken: 4828
Resting Heart Rate:  58
Exercising Heart Rate: 120
Distance: 2.78 miles
Flights of stairs: 18

Not bad as I know I can improve on my numbers. My heart rates are fine. I have always had a strong heart. I don’t drink or use drugs so this is good. What I want to improve in the next 2 months is:

Steps Taken: 6000
Distance: 4 miles a day
Flights of Stairs: 25

These are my goals for the next 2 months.

Back to Jiu Jitsu

I originally started training in Judo in 1985 stopped in 1993. I then took up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in 1996 started training at Carlson Gracie's academy when they had a school on the corner of Wilshire and La Cienega Boulevard in West Los Angeles California. Those were the days when Carlson had all his young fighters there. I remember meeting a 19 year old Vitor Belfort, Murilo Bustamante, Carlos Barreto and Mario Sperry. From 1996 until about 2009 I had always been involved in Jiu Jitsu in some way. 

So after all of the years exposed to this art, I felt drawn back to it. So, I joined a Jiu Jitsu school. I used to train Jiu Jitsu but stopped in 2009 because of work and no time. Everybody knows me here in Rocinha. I used to teach a No Gi class here so everybody knows what my ability used to be. This time I want to take my Jiu Jitsu training slow with no pressure. And I want to be in a new environment. Getting older sucks and movement and flexibility have changed a lot.

So, I'm sure you are all wondering how my returning to training went. I used to train in the community where I live. I also taught No Gi classes too. Everybody knows me where I live. They keep asking when I am going to return. I will return when I am back in the flow and I am in better shape. The awesome thing about training where I live is there are 3 jiu jitsu schools. They charge 70 reais a month. I trained here but Carlson Gracie (in Copacabana) was my instructor and original school. Here in Rio you need be careful because schools can get very territorial. Here loyalty to your school is very important. Since Carlson died I have been visiting and training at different places but keeping a low profile. 
Where I live, I did "some training" but they are a very competitive ranked school in Rio. Their training is very hardcore competition based. And the students are in the 17-35 year old range. I am in my 50’s. I don't mind getting my ass beat, but I at least want to be able to put up a good fight and right now I am NOT in that kind of shape. I cannot afford to get hurt.
Ok, so this is how it went down at the new school. The new school is located in a neighboring area but not a favela. I went first to watch a class last week (Thursday) and the head instructor was there. I just sat and watched. The head instructor asked me my name. He asked if I had trained before. I told him I had. He said ok, welcome to the class and I just was quiet. I just sat and observed the class. At the end the instructor asked me if I was interested. I told him that I will come back next week.
Last Saturday I had to work and Sunday there was no class. Monday was workers holiday here so no class.
I went in yesterday (Tuesday) brought my Gi (uniform) with me. I used to wear A3, but now I’m wearing A4 because of the weight gain. I still have the A3 and the brown belt. But even the belt didn't fit. So, I wore a white belt, but hold on, let me explain...I paid for 4 months. Prices here are more expensive than the favela schools.
So, I got on the mat started stretching out 15 minutes before the class. Another professor arrived took me aside and asked me my name, asked if I trained and I told him the WHOLE story of my history. He asked about my rank, I showed him my brown as I brought it with me in my bag, but explained that the belt was too small because of my weight gain. He said fine. He didn't say anything about the white belt.
I also explained that I haven't been on the mats training in about 7 or 8 years. When we were warming up for about 20 minutes I was able to do the warm up for about 10 minutes (I'm so f'n out of shape), but I know it will get better. I was able to do all the stretches with some small limitations. Need to work on the flexibility.
The major problem I noticed was being on my knees. I could only be in this position for about 5 minutes before I started feeling pain in my kneecaps. Lying on my back with people in my guard, no problem. Side control top position some pain in the knees. Me in someone’s guard, problem if more than 5 minutes on my knees.
One thing I did notice is they would constantly ask me if I knew "such and such" a position. All the positions, sweeps, attacks, submissions and escapes I had seen before. I didn't lie or exaggerate anything. I know my limitations. I just told them the truth. They were very respectful of my fat ass lol. I did not roll as I prefer to observe until I can at least feel comfortable being on my knees for a longer period of time. (My mind was telling me to roll but my body was saying, I'm not ready yet). My body won out on that decision.
I enjoyed the function of the class. The breakdown was 15-20 minutes warm up, 40 minutes techniques (all techniques were related either a submission, defense or a counter, nice flow). For example we did 4 techniques drilling yesterday and today we did 5 techniques. Then, about 25-30 minutes of rolling. Over all I feel welcome in the school. Every partner that I trained with was respectful and chill. No anti-partners in this school. And there are no spazzes in the classes. And the average age of the students is around 35-40 years old. A mature group with no egos. So at least I know, I made the right choice in where I am training.
Yesterday I went to the 7:30-9:00pm class, Today I went to the 4:30-6:0pm class. I am really tired but they have a 7:00am class that I want to try as well, just to meet all the different instructors. There are classes 3X a day so I have a lot of choice when to train.
Ok, I am laying down now as I type this and I can feel slight soreness in my hips but the big soreness is my abs.. Getting old sucks! I am on my way back.
I go back in June to the doctor to get more blood tests done to see if my diet and exercise program is working.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Loyal Friend

I wanted to separate this post from the last one as Freddy deserves his own space without any negativity. With all the challenges of running a tourism agency, one person who has always been HONEST, LOYAL and has shown the utmost RESPECT and INTEGRITY has been Freddy Gomes.

This is my good friend Freddy Gomes. I have known Freddy since 2009 when he first contacted me through email about wanting to come stay and live in Rocinha. I helped him find a place and get settled. He was able to make his own set of friends that are like family to him. But he always kept in contacts with me. He has worked on and off as a guide with Favela Adventures and always provided top notch service.

He contacted me last year about coming back to Rocinha and I told him that he would be welcome. I rehired him as a guide and he quickly got back into things. He worked before during and after the Olympics and Paralympics. Here are just a few photos of Freddy, Rocinha tour guide.

                   This was Freddy's last tour with the guys from Finland!

Freddy is leaving tomorrow on to the next phase of his life. He is going on an amazing adventure. He has decided to bike from Rio de Janeiro to Colombia. He has a blog where he will be writing about his experiences. I wish him all the best and he knows he will always have a place here in Rocinha!

To follow Freddy's wild Adventure you can read his blog here.

Me, my Bike & a Hike

Problems finding loyal guides who are not greedy!

Working in tourism in Rio, its very difficult to find loyal, honest and people with integrity. I been working in Rocinha as a tour guide since 2007. I have employed people to work with me and give opportunities to people.

This biggest problem I have had is guides who have no sense of loyalty or respect. In the last year I have had to let go two guides because of stealing clients or self promotion behind my back. As a tour operator, I pay better than most. I am not stupid, eventually I find out things from other guides or I get emails directly from clients that tell me whats going on. Clients, especially see the type of work that I am trying to do. So, when they see a guide who is working for me undercutting the hard work I do, they tell me.

Recently I found out from a good friend who has a tour company that the same thing was happening to him. He would give the local guide a tour with "X" amount of guests and later he found out that the guide had told the guests "Hey, if you have friends that want to do a tour, just have them contact me". Therefore cutting out the tour operator. This is not creating good relations between guide and operator. The tour operator let me know that the same was going on behind my back. Basically using my name and reputation of 9 years to make money, not cool. And the people that have done this to me are people that I have helped a lot.
So much for friendship or respect?

I have taken on two new guides who are eager to work and show the Rocinha community to the world. I am hoping this will be a different experience.

Daniel has worked with us before as a helper when we had big groups. And is now studying tourism. So he will be working part time as a guide and going to school.

Jucara who is 20 years old is also studying tourism too. She is a little shy so it might take her a little longer to get into doing tours by herself.

Jose, who has worked with us before will hopefully return after his Christmas job as well.

I also have another guy who is interested. I am hoping that these people will be the new face for showing our awesome community to the world! Can't wait to see how 2017 goes.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Community in Action

Rocinha is the biggest favela in Brazil with aproximately 300,000 people. Favelas are the poor working class areas that can be seen on the hillsides of Rio. There are many here who struggle to earn a basic living, especially considering the minimum wage of about 800 reais a month. So its not surprising to see many initiatives taking place here.  The community helps itself especially around christmas time. This is just one of many things going on inside the favela.

A friend of mine told me about this event happening at the bottom of Rocinha. There was this event called Acao Social "Guerreiros de Corte" (Social Action Warrior Cutters). The event was held at the Pracinha da Roupa Suja where they usually have sports like football, basketball and volleyball. They also hold music shows and other community events there.

The event took place last week. But I have been so busy with other things. This hair cutting event was to help those in need. Bring a kilo of rice, beans, flour or some other dry food and receive a free haircut. I really needed a haircut and this was the perfect opportunity to also help out.

I brought 3 kilos of food since I thought this was more of the value of a hair cut. Normally in Rocinha haircuts at a barber cost anywhere from 12-20 reais. So I spent about this amount on my 3 kilos of food.

This was my barber "Bruce da Sabotagem" who I found out has a barber shop about 10 minutes walk from my house.

Bruce working on my hair. After he cut my hair I offered a tip and he refused and said, "No, Zezinho, this is a community project, so no money". I was impressed by these young men!

There was a line of 3 people before me so I waited and walked around taking photos of all the barbers and the particpants. It was nice to see so much support but I see this often during holidays. The community creating events that support those less fortunate.

Here are some photos from the event.

One of the organizers decided to film the barbers in action.

For the younger kids, Spiderman made an appearance.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Pedro Lucas' Birthday Party

Pedro Lucas with Grandmother Luciana

If you ever decide to live in Brazil or Rio, you will enjoy the festive environment. Everybody loves music and parties. Every month there is always some holiday (even if the day is not important) and that means a day off from work. A day off means Party! Any type of party.

Children here are fussed over and cared for very well, even in favelas. I was invited to my friends grandson's birthday party. His name is Pedro Lucas and it is his 1st birthday. You read correctly, a big birthday party for a baby who is only 1 year old. Luciana is my friend who has the daycare that we support Refugio e Fortaleza that cares for 32 children.

Children's parties are huge with family and friends of all ages taking part. In North America children's parties don't usually start until the child is about 4-5 years old, when they actually understand what is going on. And the parties tend to be small with usually close friends being invited. The kids birthday parties in the US or Canada consist of about 10-15 kids with the birthday child. There's a cake and gifts given.

In Brazil, depending on the age its a big event. Pedro Lucas' parties had about 80 people there from babies to adults. See the following photos.

The birthday boy table with candy and cake. A big production for a 1 year old.

They even hired a Dj, Dj Novinho to play both children's songs and regular music.

The party was held on a rooftop of a house. In some photos you can see the water tanks that service the house below the rooftop. About 100 people took part in the party which started at 7:00pm until about 1:00am.

All ages were invited to this party.

The girl on the left was eating as I took this photo but she still insisted that I take the photo of them together.

My friends, Igor (Luciana's son) and Luciana's husband with nickname  "China".

This girl wanted me to take her photo. She told me that when she grows up she wants to be a model. At the bottom of the favela, there is a NGO that teaches boys and girls about modelling and clothing design. When she gets older she wants to take part. Right now she is only 9 years old.

The birthday boy Pedro Lucas

Kids here actually like when you take their picture. These kids are aged 9-11.

They even hired people to cater the party. They were from Rocinha too!

I arrived at around 9:00pm and stayed until 10:30 as I had to work early on Sunday morning. I made my rounds and said hello to everyone. I spent most of my time talking with "China and Igor as they are good friends. Everyone was having a good time and it was nice to get out and actually go to a party. Often I don't have time or I am busy doing something else. I was happy to go. I am trying to not work so much and participate more in activities here. People tell me that I work too much. I agree, I need to relax and enjoy the simple things more.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Meeting an Old friend (finally) Djing and B-Boys!

Life is about struggles, challenges that test you and make you grow. Today was a day of thanks and being grateful for stories of friendship and memories. These shape what we will be. Life is about connections, collaboration. As humans our interactions are vital on mutual collaboration. With technology, people tend now be less connected and "text" each other now instead of giving face time. Are we losing touch? We need to get back to more human interaction face to face and put down our technology. We need to connect again.

Talking about connection, a few months ago, a friend from my past contacted me. He told me that he was coming to Rio. Phi Pham was a guy I met online on a page called the "Hollerboard". This page was for mostly Dj's and producers. I was a member of the page and met Phi through conversing on the message boards. I cant exactly remember the details but we both started talking about starting a Dj School in Rocinha. I know I always wanted a Dj Project of some sort.  Since 2001 I have always wanted a Dj School. With the culture of Dj'ing and its popularity, it only made sense to start something. Also I often had people in Rocinha asking me to teach them but at the time I either didn't have the time or equipment.

Since 2001, I always had this idea of having a school to teach dj'ing but never really knew how I could do it. I didn't have the space and I didn't have the money. When I returned to Rocinha then ideas started taking shape. I started doing more research online and when I was in San Francisco I was more convinced that this was something I should do. One day while walking down Market Street near the intersection of 4th street, I passed a window in front of a huge building and noticed this girl behind some decks with a guy next to her. I stopped and observed then waited some time and eventually went inside to talk to the guy. He told me that he teaches Dj'ing. I took his card and never forgot that imagery in my head. It was like a confirmation. Now, how was I going to do this?

In 2007 I started working in tourism. I know it could be lucrative if I did things right and offered something different. I think in 2009 was when I was exchanging ideas about the Dj school with Phi. Through the "Hollerboard" we had gathered some others who were interested in joining forces to help us start something. One, was Harry Daley from Canada who planned on visiting Rio in 2010. We were able to save money to buy gear and through 2010 until about 2012 with the awesome help of Rick EchevarriaRyan Goode and Rita Michel, we were able to have equipment brought to us. And in August of 2011, we formally opened our Dj school "Spin Rocinha" and it still exists today.

Phi and I kind of lost contact as he was in New York and I was here in Rocinha. Both having our busy schedules but I did notice that he opened up his own school a few years after me. He started "Building Beats" a similar concept of teaching youth in at risk areas or places where one does not easily have access to a Dj school. I am happy to see that he decided to start his project.

Phi contacted me about a month ago to say that he would be visiting Rio. So we organized a meeting. He and his friend Alexandra wanted to see Rocinha and our Dj school. We met yesterday at the entrance of the Metro Station Sao Conrado/Rocinha which is at the bottom of the favela. I wanted to give them an idea of what we are doing here.

We took a van up to the highest point in Rocinha to an area called Laboriaux where you can see the Sugar Loaf Mountain, Christ Statue and the Beaches of Ipanema and Leblon. I explained a little about the social class separation and unequal distribution of wealth. As we started to walk down the hill, I decided that since Phi likes to Dj Hip Hop music that I would introduce him to a project called Rede Coletiva da Rocinha. Managed by Henrique Saggaz, it's a project for youth and young adults that offers classes of Break Dancing, BallRoom Dancing, Capoeira, Dj'ing with computers, Muay Thai Kick Boxing, Photography and Film Making. I suggest they also include English Classes. Rede Coletiva is also open to other projects that benefit the favela. Phi and Alexandra met some of the students and participants of the B-Boy group and they put on a little demonstration. Phi took photos and is interested in helping to promote a cross culture with New York and Rocinha. Phi happens to live in Brooklyn, the birthplace of Hip Hop and Break Dancing. So we hope to collaborate with some projects soon. Below are some photos of the B-Boys doing their thing!

After the B Boys we continued the visit where I explained how the favela functions.  After sampling some Acai at a little shop we made a visit to the library. Alexandra being a library it was only natural to show her our lbrary. Whiile there Phi and Alexandra had the opportunity to meet with visiting Astronaut Chris Cassidy who was giving a presentation at the library to youth.
They were able to get a photo with him.

 After we stopped off at our Dj School so they could see how far we had come since our first contact!  Here is a photo of them with one of the Olympic torches used in the relay. After grabbing some drinks and some street food and 6 hours later they were tired and had to leave. We will collaborate on some projects and I will be sure to write on the blog what we will be doing in Rocinha with our Brooklyn contacts!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Tijl Vandamme: "My volunteer Experience in Rocinha"

Tijl who is from Belgium who graduated from University in Engineering. He first contacted me about volunteering and staying in Rocinha back in the beginning of October. This was when we were just starting to get our guesthouse up and running. And Tijl ended up being our first guest.
I enjoy interviewing people from other countries about their impressions of Rocinha. So here goes:

1.) Tijl, why did you first come to Brazil?
I decided on Brazil because I had learned some Portuguese and I really enjoy nature. I enjoy travelling and Brazil is such a big place to explore. The best thing was that I didn't need a visa to come here. 

2.) When you arrived in Brazil, where did you go and what did you do?
I first came to Rio and did all the touristy things but really didn't like the city too much. Towards the end of my stay in Rio, I went on a visit to a favela, Rocinha and something inside me told me that I would return here.
But first I already had made plans to volunteer on a farm in Minas Gerais.
I worked in exchange for room and board. I was helping out with milking cows and gardening type work. I enjoyed my stay there and the people were really nice.

3.) After your volunteer work on the farm, what did you do?
I decided to return to Rio to because I was amazed with the favela and the creativity of the people being able with so little to do so much. After the tour, I knew I wanted to explore more about Rocinha. 

4.) How did you end up returning to Rocinha?
I sent of numerous emails to many volunteering type agencies. I found a blog written by this local guy Zezinho about how he had contacts with projects that I could help. And the best thing being that I wouldn't need to pay. After sending the email to Zezinho, he responded right away and after that we were in regular communications and he set everything up for me. He organized the project I would be working and found me housing in the Rocinha Fighter House. I was met at the bottom of the favela and brought directly to the guest house to get settled and within 2 days I was working as a volunteer. 

5.) What exactly are you doing in Rocinha?
Currently I am teaching English at Garagem das Letras, teaching Drumming at Escola de Musica da Rocinha and I am training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with Rocinha Jiu Jitsu. I also am helping out with the guest house as it's a new place. I am also making so many friends. I think I am falling in love with this place!

6.) What were your first impressions of Rocinha?
At first I noticed the favela is dirty, chaotic, but people were very friendly. 

7.) And now that you have been here for some time?
The people are still friendly :) . I feel very safe here. I am accepted as I am and I don't feel people judge me. The favela, there is a positive vibe and so much creativity in how people live. This place has a community, family feel to it. 

8.) What do you like about Rocinha?
As I said before, the people are really friendly. I like the different views in the community. There are so many opportunities here both for work and just everything people do. Its not a boring place and there's always something going on. People here have so little but make do with what they have and they are not stressed out.

9.) What don't you like about Rocinha?
Parts of the favela can be dirty. There could be better or more pick up of the garbage by the city. There are places with open sewers. Too much heavy guns here both the police and the dealers. Rocinha presents a problem if you are still learning Portuguese because there are different accents. Sometimes I have a difficult time understanding what people are saying. But I know the longer I am here that I will eventually improve and recognize the accents.

10.) What information would you give others thinking about staying or volunteering in Rocinha?
Just do it! Don't believe all the media stereotypes. The biggest problem is conflicts between police and dealers but not the locals. I can walk all hours here without fear. Rocinha is a nice community that will welcome you. I advise people to stay or volunteer at least one month to get a better understanding of favela life. One thing thats kind of surprising is that since I have been here, I have not seen any violence or drug addicts. Outside the favela in places like downtown or Copacabana you regularly can see this. 

11.) Tell us a little about where you are staying?
I am staying in the RFH. Its a pretty big place. Its newly remodelled and is very clean. When you enter the building there's a small entryway into a living room area. Then you go up stairs to the first floor where theres a room with 4 beds, a good size kitchen kitchen and a bathroom. The second floor where I stay has one room with two beds and another private room with a queen size bed. Some of the rooms have mini fridges and air conditioning. 
My room has a bean bag chair so I can sit and read. Theres a mini fridge so I can put my fruit or drinks inside. The floor is newly tiled and its comfortable. The bed and linens are all new. The third floor is a good size rooftop with tables and chairs, stereo system to play music. There's a bathroom with a shower and a BBQ. But the view from the Rooftop is awesome! 

Theres WiFi on 3 floors in the house and it works well.
Right now there's me, a guy from the US, and a Guy from the Netherlands with his girlfriend staying here. So there's 4 of us, plenty of room and everybody is involved in Jiu Jitsu or Volunteering with some project.

I have gotten to know one of my neighbors and I often hang out with him. We watch tv and he helps me with my portuguese. The house is centrally located and close to everything. The jiu jitsu school is about a 5-7 minutes walk from the house. I can get to the beach in about 15 minutes. There's everything in the favela, even places to eat that are open 24hours.  

12.) What are the prices like in Rocinha?
As many people know, Rio can be expensive. Rocinha is nice because everything is cheaper in price. So, it is very affordable to live here. I do not come from wealthy family. In Belgium my family is working middle class. So, coming and staying in the favela is where I prefer as outside, I would not be able to afford to live. The guesthouse is very reasonable and affordable for people on a budget.   

13.) Do you have plans to return to Rocinha?
I do. I really like it here and I have made so many friends. I will travel some as I have a friend to visit in Uruguay but after I will return home to Belgium then work and save money to return. I would like to stay for long term next time I come. But when I am here I want to live, work and contribute something to the community.

14.) When you return to Rocinha, what are your plans or goals?
I want to work teaching in some capacity. Maybe work on an oil rig as the pay is excellent but I could save a lot in a short time and live in Rocinha. I want to help with the community center that Zezinho plans to start soon. I want to be able to invest time and money into projects in the favela. 

15.) Anything else you would like to say?
I think I have said enough. I am enjoying this experience and will be back to continue it! I'm just getting started.

Thank you Tijl

To find out more information about staying in Rocinha or Volunteer opportunities,  please contact Zezinho at: 

Tijl in Spin Rocinha Dj School holding one of the Olympic torches used in the relay.

To contact Tijl directly to learn more about his experience you can message him through his Facebook Page at: