Hogar Unidos por Cristo

My wife and I went to a charity benefit dinner at Club Centenario on behalf of the Hogar Unidos por Cristo ("United for Christ Home") a children’s home in nearby San Lorenzo.  I posted some photos from the event.  Over 190 children live at the home founded six years ago by Patricia Bozzano, a devout Catholic.  What started as a small sanctuary for abandoned children grew and grew, and now the home is seeking donations to build a school. Patricia lined up an impressive group of sponsors, including Club Centenario, Asuncion’s most exclusive club, which donated space to host the event.  The event was excellent.  Some of the children performed two songs, and we were treated to a buffet dinner.  We had never visited Club Centenario and were glad to have had a chance to attend an event at the club.

Thanks, Google and Apple

After over two weeks of watching my investment portfolio get pummeled, I decided to take matters into my own hands and try some market timing.  I sold six "safe" — actually, lousy — mutual funds that had been trounced in the market, and ploughed the money into Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL).  The funds were attempts to hedge against the domestic financial market, all 5-star Morningstar rated funds with moderate risk, high return ratings.  Some were international funds and hedge-type funds. They lost over 40 percent collectively since I bought them last fall.  Forget about being cautious.  I decided to go back to my tried and true friend, Google, and pick up some shares of Apple.  I’ve won with Google twice, the first time being when I picked up shares at IPO ($85) and made a killing.  Google dropped from $707 per share last year to almost $320 last week.  I picked up shares of both on the bounce.  While the financial markets will probably be volatile for the foreseeable future, these two companies are undersold.  My gut tells me to ride them on the bounce until they recoup my loss and then jump off.  I think it’s a good contrarian move.  While it’s not always a good idea to concentrate in a limited number of stocks in a volatile sector such as technology, there’s one rule that trumps this adage — sometimes it’s better to go with your gut.

Exploring the Amazon Rainforest

My wife and I collaborated on this travel article about our July trip to the Brazilian Amazon. I also posted photos of our trip in a photo album. I was finally able to post them at last because I can finally access Spaces. Enjoy!

We spent five days in July visiting the Amazon Rainforest at the confluence of the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões, the two tributaries that form the Amazon River. Our experience was nothing short of amazing. We were astounded by the vastness and diversity of the Amazon Basin. At the same time, we developed a healthy respect for the Amazon’s treasures – and perils.

We launched our Amazon excursion from Manaus, a gritty, industrial city carved out of the jungle on the banks of the Rio Negro. Manaus is a four-hour flight from São Paulo with a stop in Brasilia. If you plan to stay the night in Manaus and tour the city, be sure to stay at the Tropical Hotel, the best hotel in town. Manaus itself is an easy day tour; one can walk around the center and tour the historic Theater of the Amazons and São Sebastião Church, the Indigenous Museum, and the wharf. The Manaus has a couple free-for-all markets that sell a wide assortment of kitschy and knock-off goods. Nevertheless, we ended our Amazon tour wishing we had spent more time in the jungle and less time visiting the city.

We stayed four days and three nights at the all-inclusive EcoPark Resort located 20 minutes upriver from Manaus. The resort is only accessible by boat and is completely unplugged. Television? No. Internet? No. Telephone? Nope. Bring any electronics you might miss with you. The resort has plenty of amenities, including clean but spartan rooms, a cocktail bar, and plenty of ecotourist activities led by native and English-speaking guides to keep you occupied. Our activities included a two-hour hike in the Amazon rainforest, where our guides showed us wildlife and foliage with medicinal and other useful properties; a cruise to the “meeting of the waters,” where the black waters of the Rio Negro converge with the brown waters of the Rio Solimões; a visit to an indigenous village; a trip to a “Monkey Sanctuary” where monkeys roam freely and even crawl on your shoulders; piranha fishing (piranhas are tasty); and the best of all, caiman “hunting” on the Rio Negro at night. Our guide somehow caught a baby caiman – a relative of the alligator – after jumping from our boat in a murky alcove spookier than any Disneyland ride and catching it in the dark. Sitting at night on the dock at the resort, gazing up at the full moon illuminating the still black waters of the river, listening to the music of the wildlife wafting from every part of the jungle, will leave you in awe.

We left the Amazon with some amazing memories, and the nagging feeling that we had barely scratched the surface of this immense wilderness. We also realized that we experienced the ecotourist version of the Amazon. After spending a few days in the midst of wildlife and foliage armed with defense mechanisms that epitomize the phrase “survival of the fittest,” we were thankful our guides kept them at bay. Although our trip was expensive, it was worth it. Few people ever have the chance to experience the Amazon up close and personal. If you’re looking for an unforgettable travel destination, try spending a few days in the heart of the jungle.