Where I Have Been Map

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sick in Belem

Well I never thought I would spend a day in Brazil sitting in my hotel room watching youtube and eating baby food. But the sad fact is I am sick. One thing traveling can do is exhaust you without you even realize it! We have walked so much in blazing heat these last couple of days that my cold was bound to get worse. So when I almost got a pillow to the face last night from waking up my sister for the 800th time with my consistent hacking cough, I decided today might be a good day to rest up and get better.

Oh but before I continue I should probably expand on the baby food comment. Before my mom left with the rest of the group to visit a near by college, I asked her to bring me back some food for lunch. In my head I was thinking like some bread, maybe some ham, you know... normal people food. She walks back into my room twenty minutes later with a huge grin on her face and a bag of goodies. I was confused as soon as I heard the "Cling" of glass coming from the bag. She pulled out a bottle of gatorade, bag of chocolate covered nuts, and 3 jars of baby food. My initial thought was if there was any hope of me getting over my sickness my lunch will quickly rectify that. But actually after you get over the thick, slimy texture it's not that bad! I'm almost done with my first jar, banana flavored... yum.

The city I am missing out on exploring today is called Belem, and it is very different from anywhere I have visited yet these last couple of months. Belem is the closest city to the dock where we will take a boat out to the small town of Gurupa, so the city is centered around the docks. However the docks are the only part of the entire city that look extremely well kept. This city is poorer than any other we have visited, and although I've seen it before... it is still a shock every time I stare poverty in the face.

The day it really hit hard was when we were walking back from watching a movie at the mall. My dad was completely right about the warning he gave us at the beginning of our trip about watching movies. We sat in the theater and escaped into a world of "Transformers" for two hours, and when we stepped back outside... I was completely confused about where I was. I had to remind myself that I was in Brazil... and while walking down the streets, it was hard to cope with this fact.

My dad chose to go the most direct way back to our hotel, and that way was through the streets also used as the central market area. When we turned the corner onto this street, I felt as if I had walked out of one movie and stepped into another. We stumbled through the darkness and instantly smelled trash and urine. We tried to walk around the rocks jutting out from the broken sidewalk, but by avoiding those we would step in puddles of water and trash. It was easier to see when we entered an area that was lit by a giant spotlight so the street cleaners could see easier, but the lighting made the area seem even more eerie than it was. I felt as if I was walking in ground zero in an abandoned city after a it had just been attacked by something. The only thing missing was hearing an odd siren in the distance, breaking the silence. I said to my dad, "This area seems really shaddy... I feel like am going to see someone jump through a window any second after robbing a store." And he told me "I would completely agree with you if I didn't know where we are."

We successfully made it back to our hotel, but I couldn't help feeling weird about knowing that normal people have to work in that sort of area every day of their lives. But then again at the same time my whole perspective on things was shifted when the very next morning we walked to the market and were surprised to see a HUGE parade coming down that same street! The parade was for a festival called Sao Joao where Brazilians dress up as their version of "Country" which includes wearing tacky dresses and pig tails for the girls and painting on freckles. Parades in Brazil are different than parades back home, because instead of sitting along side of the road and watching the parade go by, Brazilian spectators actually get up and JOIN the parade! They walk with it all over the city and drink and dance until it ends.

So after all discovering all these sites of this new city we are in, I hope I can soak it all in and get better before tomorrow! Because being on a boat on the Amazon river while being sick is not the best idea. I hear that piranhas can sense when someone is sick or wounded...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Copa... Copacabana!!!

If you can imagine one city completely unlike any other in the world, it would be Rio de Janeiro. It's not that every big city doesn't have it's unique characteristics... New York is famous for its shopping, Tokyo for its technology, and Paris for its romance. But Rio de Janeiro is unique in the fact that it is not just known for one thing, but for three.

Number One: The BIG CITY life

The moment we stepped out of the taxi, we knew we were not in Fortaleza anymore. The smog hovering in the air triggered most of our allergies almost instantaneously, and the noise of city- honking cars, squeaking brakes, people yelling (in Portuguese)- was enough to snap us out of our jet lagged daze and force us to be aware of our surroundings once again. The best way to explain a common day in Rio is that during the day the city feels rushed at every hour and the nightlife consists of nothing but excitement and liveliness. Rio is known to be a party city... with the biggest party being, of course, something called Carnival. Carnival is a four day long Brazilian festival with a world famous parade that consists of extravagant costumes and dancing. The parade begins in Rio de Janeiro. One day while we were in Rio we actually got to go to the arena where the parade starts and try on the costumes of carnival!

Another distinctive trait of Rio is the number of tourists you come across. It was a big shock to walk down the streets and run into someone who spoke English, but it happened more than once, and with languages from all over the globe. One huge event going on in Rio was a Hell's Angel World Tour. At one point in the day we saw more bikers coasting down the famous sidewalk of Copacabana than Brazilians. One night we made the mistake of writing a note to another room of students with random Portuguese words on it and signed it "love, Dr. Pace". After we slide the note under the door we realized later that night that it was the wrong door. Pretty sure the next day I saw a Hell's Angel come out of that same room.

Number Two: The Beaches

Rio de Janeiro has two of the most famous beaches in the world, both of which have songs written about them... Copacabana and Ipanema. Our hotel was only a block down from Copacabana, so we spend most our days walking down the busy streets until we run into the most famous sidewalk in Brazil.

Once we cross the Copacabana sidewalk and our feet sink into the warm sand the noisy city life grows fainter and fainter until we reach the coast. At that point, besides the tall buildings in the distance, it's hard to image we were ever in a city to begin with. The honking from the cars is completely muffled by the sound of the waves. Not quit as relaxing as you might be imagining, because the waves have so much force that from 20 feet away you can still feel the splashes of water from the crash of the wave. One pleasantly plump old man decided to be brave and try and body serve in Rio's intimidating waves. After about 3 or 4 waves crashed over him and drug him back to shore, he stood up feeling accomplished... yet had lost his speedo.

Number Three: The Mountains

This characteristic of Rio is what I think is the most distinct factor, and it is also my absolute favorite part of the famous city. There are two main mountains in Rio that you can climb up to, Corcovado and Pao de Acucar. Corcovado, or "Hunch back" in Portuguese, is where a giant Christ statue stands and looks down on all of Rio de Janeiro. The story the Brazilians tell of the Christ Statue is that since the people of Rio are considered the "partiers" of the country, the Christ statue looks down on Rio in search for someone working hard. When he finds that Brazilians he will put his hands together and applaud!

Here we are doing the YMCA! Jesus is, of course, our "Y"

The other mountain, Pao de Acucar, has no famous statues on it, yet it is by far my favorite mountain to look out to the city of Rio on. You have to ride a cable car to get to the peek of the mountain. This cable car fits at least 60 people, and it is terrifying to walk on to from the platform because it sways back and fourth with the wind! So you just have to jump on and hope you don't trip and fall through the crack between the cable car and the platform!

But the risk is worth it because once you are on the mountain you see the most breathtaking view of the city imaginable. And while we waited for the best moment on Pao de acucar, when the sun sets, we explored the mountain's rainforest! We walked down the path until we were stopped by a bunch of marmosets that swung down to our path. These little monkeys were so use to tourists would come right up to you and grab whatever was in your hand! I tricked these sneaky little creatures by pretending I had food in my hand, and when the marmoset grabbed it away from me he was disappointed to see that he had just grabbed a leaf. But soon after he stole a little boys popcorn so he was happy once again.

All together these three characteristics are what makes Rio a pretty remarkable city! And if the Hell's Angels thought this city was great enough to be apart of their world tour, then there is really no way around it..."os anjos abençoaram esta cidade"... which means "Angels have blessed this city!" ... kinda.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"What is this PDA???"

I have never been the one to talk openly about my relationships. Most of my friends and family know that if you want to know about someone I am dating... you pretty much have to pry it out of me. I had met a boy in Fortaleza and maybe only two or so of my closest friends back home knew anything about it. When my mom finally figured out that we had started dating, she begged me to write about it on my blog. My initial response was "No way jose", however after awhile she finally convinced me. You see, not only am I shy to talking about my relationships, I am also shy to showing people that I am in a relationship. This fear is of course known as the coined phrase "showing PDA" or public display of affection. In Brazilian culture, they know of no such thing. They are so much more open to public affection that you see it 24/7 around every corner. It occurs in the streets of the city, in the shopping malls, in the grocery stores... heck I even saw one couple all over each other at a crowded McDonalds, and no other Brazilian thought of it as strange at all. So if you take one very affectionate Brazilian named David and put him together with me, you can see where many stories could come out of this! So my mother told me to write this blog, if anything to at least let people know about the culture differences between Americans and Brazilians when it comes to relationships. So this blog is purely for research purposes... at least that's what I tell myself to be able to keep writing this!

If you were to ask me how David and I first met, I would have to say he just showed up on my doorstep one day. Mary and I had made friends with a bunch of the kids in our apartment complex, and every night they would run up to our apartment, ring the doorbell, and ask if we could come downstairs to play. We both loved these kids, but they would come up to our apartment so much that eventually we would have to tell them we were too tired to play. So one evening we were relaxing in our apartment when the doorbell rang. We knew it was our little friends again, so i got up to answer the door in my t-shirt and unbrushed, wet hair... only to find a very attractive Brazilian boy on the other side. I was caught off guard and just stood there awkwardly for a minute as I realized how much like a five year old I probably looked at that moment with a mouth full of cookies I just stuffed in at the last second and my clothes wrinkled from laying on the couch all day.

He broke the silence first and asked in a heavy Portuguese accent, "Do you want hang out in lobby?"

I just nodded my head and slowly closed the door, then once the door clicked shut I ran to my room to make myself look somewhat decent.

Mary and I both hung out with him that night, and played this game similar to pool, but called Snooker, in the lobby with some other kids. That was the first night of a number of consistent nights in a row hanging out with David. The more I hung out with him, the more I got to know about him. Since he spoke English much better than I spoke Portuguese, we would speak (very slowly at first) in English. He told me that he was studying to become a lawyer in Brazil and his ultimate goal was to be a defense attorney and defend all the poor people in Brazil. Since Brazil is heavily stratified when it comes class separation and the huge gap between the rich and poor in Brazil, with the poor being the overwhelming majority of almost 80%... this job would be a huge task. It said a lot about his character that he would be willing to take on this task, with little reward.

David and I hung out as friends, until one random night when we snuck up to the roof of our apartment complex. The view of Fortaleza from 22 stories up at night was unbelievable. It was pitch black up there, yet the whole roof was somehow lit by all the city lights in the distance.

David was trying to teach me some words in Portuguese, and I was trying to teach him how to pronounce some words in English. He could NOT get the "th" sound for the life of him. I was trying to show him how to say "Thursday" and not "Tursday" when he all of a sudden kissed me, and at that moment fireworks went off. No, I am not trying to be romantic and cheesy... fireworks literally went off. I think a neighbor had set them off down the street, either that or it was multiple gun shots that we heard! But I'll stick with the initial thought.

After that moment it became known that we both liked one another. But when we would walk down the streets with the rest of the group, he would try to hold my hand, hug me, and kiss me... and I would step back. It was odd for me, even though we both knew we like each other, to show the rest of the world only a day after we discovered this. Then one day when we walked to the mall he asked me "Are all Americans this cold?". I laughed out loud at this and tried to explain that there is a culture difference. Even when you are not in a relationship, Brazilians are a lot more friendly and touchy. When you first meet a Brazilian you are suppose to kiss both their cheeks, instead of the American way of just shaking hands or something along those lines.

David understood the culture difference (but didn't like it), but what he still couldn't grasp was my OWN fear of public affection added on to that culture difference. This didn't really become a problem until our group traveled to Jericoacoara beach for the weekend, and he got to come along for the trip! One day while on the trip he was getting to close for my comfort in front of a lot of people and I yelled "PDA PDA!!!!!" He looked really confused and asked "What is this PDA??" I unsuccessfully tried to explain it, but in the end he thought is was something bad because I would yell it when he would try to show affection. So he decided he didn't like this American "PDA".

The days went by and we became more and more frustrated with one another trying to find a balance between the two cultures. He would get mad at me and start going off in Portuguese and I had no idea what he was saying. Then I would get frustrated with him and just go to my room for the rest of the night. It seemed like our relationship was going to be over before it even really started. But then that same night I took the advice of a friend and decided to work harder on my end of showing PDA. Almost immediately I think David saw my effort, but at the same time he wanted to make sure I was really trying harder and not just saying it.

So the test came when we spend the whole day together then ended up sitting in a hammock at a very crowded area of the beach. He asked me to kiss him in front of all these people if I really was trying to get over my fear, so even though this was the last thing I wanted to do, I turned around.... And the hammock SNAPPED! We were thrown on our butts on the sand and had to run out of the area before the worker ran out to yell at us! I could not have asked for more perfect timing!

The last week back in Fortaleza was perfect because we had finally found our balance. He was no longer as intense about public affection and I was working on not caring whether he was or wasn't. It was time for me to leave Fortaleza sooner than we both realized. Although it was hard to say good bye, because we both knew that his life was in Brazil and mine in America.. and we didn't know if we would ever see each other again or what the future would bring... I learned so much from him. I actually kissed him goodbye in front of people at the airport before I got on the plane, and THAT was a huge step! It is weird that it took going out of the country and meeting someone with a completely different culture to make me view relationships differently. But I guess that is the strangest part about traveling! It not only opens your eyes to a new world, it also makes you appreciate your world back home more and lets you see it through someone else's perspective.

Oh and the very last day before I left David finally understood what PDA really meant.
Now if you ask, he will say, "PDA? I love PDA!"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Stuart's Story

Let me introduce you to my poor buddy, Stuart.

Now, the reason I say "poor buddy" is because Stuart has quite a story. Stuart came to Brazil the same as the rest of the Study Abroad TnCis group... excited and ready to see the beautiful beaches and lively culture of Brazil. He didn't realize, however, how MUCH of the culture he would actually be experiencing.

The very first week of our trip, Stuart was one of the students who got robbed at gun point. Now you would think, how unlucky for ALL the students... however poor Stuart was the only one who not only had $150 reis stolen from him, but his camera was taken as well. Since that was at the beginning of the trip, after the incident every time we saw a picture perfect sun set or landscape, poor Stuart would say "WOW I have to take a picture..... waaaaait."

However people get robbed all the time, both when traveling and at home. The story that sets poor Stuart apart from any other unlucky person is one that is so unfortunate that anyone would feel nothing but pure remorse for his poor soul after they heard it.

Here is his story...

Everyone knows that one thing Brazil is famous for are Brazilian nuts, and the best nut here is the Cashew. At every market you can smell from miles away the heavenly scent of the Brazilian Cashew nut stand. The smell draws you right to the piles of Cashew mounds. Some are plain and taste both salty and buttery at the same time, and some are sugar coated in caramel sugar and taste sweet like candy, and they serve all these flavors of cashews warm.. so it only leaves you craving more.

So Dasha, Stuart, and some other people from our group were walking down the streets of Fortaleza when Dasha gave into the mouthwatering smell of the Cashew stands and bought a bag. She couldn't wait until she got home so she held the bag in one arm and started popping them into her mouth with the other.

Now something you have to know about Stuart is that he likes to do everything he is not suppose to do. He will be the one to sit on the moving conveyor belt when everyone is trying to get their luggage, kick sand on you when you are trying to lay out, and he is NOT shy to eating things off the floor or other weird places.

So when Stuart saw that Dasha had dropped one of her cashews on her arm, he grabbed her arm and licked off the cashew in a matter of seconds. All of a sudden the group noticed both Dasha and Stuart stopped walking and were looking at one another with wide eyes and shocked looks frozen on both their faces.

Apparently bird poop looks a lot like Cashew nuts.

Poor Stuart had yet another bad experience in Brazil, and accidentally eating bird poop has to top even the worse experiences. However even though bad luck seems to find him in every city, Stuart has been a good sport about everything and therefore has still had an amazing trip. I can just imagine what the Brazilians who witnessed this cashew incident thought of Stuart. I'm sure his legend will live on forever in the city of Foraleza. Years from today parents will tell their children stories of the poor American named Stuart. They might even make up a song for him to sing to brighten their days.

If he ever did have a song for his legend, it would be this...

(to the tune of yankee doodle)

Stuart the Americano
Thought he ate a cashew
When his face turned to a frown
He realized it was bird poo

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Our little animal friends in Brazil

This little sucker snuck into my room at night.

Our class pet!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Jeri Creature

When we were told we were going to the ninth most beautiful beach in the world, we expected to see gorgeous coastlines, breathtaking sunsets, the clearest night skies imaginable... which were all understatements compared to the beauty we actually witnessed! However, none of us were prepared for the horrible creature that haunts the beaches of Jericoacoara. Five of us stared this creature in the face, and we all are still trying to repress the terrifying memories of this beast coming at an accelerated rate right towards us with nothing but destruction revealed on its evil little face.

The beach of Jericoacoara, or "Jeri" as it is called by local Brazilians, covers up the existence of this creature so well by distracting you with its beautiful characteristics. The first of which are the picturesque sunsets. The very first day we were there, we climbed a giant white sand dune right next to the coast. As we sat on the sand and looked out to the ocean we were at first disappointed with all the clouds we saw in the sky. It had rained earlier that day; so, the only sunset we were seeing was the cast of lightened clouds were the sun would be. But just as the sun was about to disappear, the clouds separated right at the horizon, and there was a blast of light that at first dazzled us by it's brightness, and then by its beauty. The sun warmed us both physically and on the inside as it reflected like a million diamonds on the ocean's surface. As the bright gold light fell closer to the horizon, the sky turned shades of purple and pink, and the light brightening the sand dune started to dim. That is when we discovered our next adventure... how to get down the sand dune the quickest way?

We had learned from our earlier adventures of "Butt skiing" that steep sand dunes were nothing to fear. However, we had never been on a sand dune that was that steep, and none of us had boards to slide down on. So we tried our luck, ran at full speed, and jumped off the edge of the dune. At first it felt as if you were just running extremely fast, but then as you gained speed you started to prance like a deer with long strides, and eventually you gained so much speed you ended up sliding on your feet like a professional ice hockey player skidding to a stop. When you finally reached the bottom, your whole body was still moving forward until you ran right into the ocean, and the current finally forced you to slow down.

By that time we finished the battle of racing back up the dune just to run down over and over again until our energy winded down to zero, the sun had gone and all of a sudden we found ourselves in darkness. As our eyes adjusted to the night, we began to see the outline of people and objects as the stars started to come out and dimly light the dune. We climbed back up the dune to lay on our backs and view the whole starry night sky. When I first looked up, I noticed a huge cloud that covered up most of the sky. I thought it was just a cloud from the rain, but then I was told it was actually the Milky Way Galaxy. Sure enough, as I looked closer I saw that the entire giant cloud was twinkling with a million stars. We continued to look up, and we realized how clear the sky was. Some of us lost count of how many shooting stars we saw that night.

After star gazing, we decided to play a game of tag on the sand dune. Even though the numerous stars began to brighten the darkness more and more, we still could not see more than ten feet in front of us, therefore when we started to play our game... my heart dropped a hundred feet every single time someone would appear running towards me since I couldn't even see them coming. I was wearing a white shirt that reflected all light... so I lost. This fun, yet somewhat eerie scene would have been a perfect opportunity for the Jeri creature to attack, right when we were almost blinded by the darkness and vulnerable. Yet this creature was so disturbed, it waited for the middle of the day to make its attack.

During the days, we would go to the beach for hours until we absolutely could not bear the intense sun anymore. We played an extreme game of ultimate frisbee, which had it's share of injuries... as Simon's limp from a swollen toe revealed later on that day. And when we would wade into the ocean to cool off, we were surprised to feel how calm the waves were. The usual roar of an ocean was muffled to sound more like a babbling creak at this beach... and you could wade in for almost a mile, and the water level would still only be at your shoulders. Stuart and I waded as far out as we could go at one point and just floated as the relaxing waves slowly pushed us back to shore. During this part of our swim, Stuart yelled out in pain and dragged his leg back to shore. Later that day Neil had almost the same experience in the ocean, and right after Neil... I felt the immense pain as well.

It felt as if an angry porcupine had just smacked its tail right against my leg. I could feel shooting pain pound in my leg, then move up to make my stomach feel nauseous and eventually pound in my head. I limped out of the water and laid down on my towel as the pain still throbbed. It was when we got back to the hotel that we confirmed what had stung us all was a jellyfish. It took me three hours (not being as tough as the guys, who only had pain for maybe one hour) to get over the intensity of the sting, and even after that at random times, pains of electricity would shoot up my leg again. As awful as that experience was, a little jellyfish sting didn't at all compare to the terror I felt from the Jeri creature.

Our encounter with the creature occurred as five of us were exploring the dunes of Jericoacoara. We walked farther than we had ever gone before down the coastline and climbed a dune where the sand was perfectly smooth... so we knew no one had walked on that dune. We didn't realize why no one had dared climbed it until we got about halfway up the dune.

Mary Alice, Titus, David, Randy and I were the victims of this attack. We had experienced such a relaxing day; we were so carefree about everything that it was no wonder we would stumble right onto the most dangerous part of the beach. As we were climbing up the dune, joking about almost stepping in donkey poop on the journey to this isolated area, it all of a sudden became strangely silent except for our occasional laughs, which started to die out as we all began to take notice to this silence. For a moment, we heard in the distance a faint sound of an animal skretch. We stopped walking when we noticed that this skretching sound was coming closer and closer by the instant. Our hearts began to race faster and faster as the shrill noise became louder and louder until it was almost deafening. At the last possible second when we knew this creature was about to be right on us, we looked up to the sky and saw nothing but a bird flying towards us. The bird swooped down towards us, and David shooed it away with his flip flops he was carrying in his hand.

right before the attack

We all began to laugh and breathe easier when we discovered this little bird had given us such a scare... but that's when we noticed the bird had changed its direction, picked up speed, and had an evil look in its eye. The bird had suddenly changed into this evil creature we had never seen before, angry and determined to attack one, if not all of us. It flew down like a torpedo towards David first, to get revenge. It's beak suddenly looked sharper as its pointed edge glissened in the sun. David crouched down just in time to avoid getting sliced by this deeply disturbed bird that just barely missed his neck as it flew back up for a second shot at another victim... Randy. Before it had another chance to swoop down to attack, we figured out that we were by the creature's nest, and it was trying to protect its eggs. As soon as we discovered this, we booked it to the top of the dune to get away from the nest. The creature sensed that we were trying to run away from it and fiercely dove right at Randy, who fell flat on his stomach as the creature learned to attack lower and lower. Knowing that it was either Titus, Mary Alice, or me that would be its next victim... none of us of which are extremely short or flexible, and therefore, knowing disaster was about to strike... we sprinted up the remainder of the sand dune and dove head first into the first flat area we saw until the vicious creature finally gave up looking for us and returned back to its nest.

Worn out and completely out of breath, we walked as far away from that area as we could until we finally reached the sand dune we had first climbed during our first day in Jeri. It was right by the coastline, where the beauty of Jericoacoara was overpowering, and the memories of the terrifying Jeri Creature began to fade away as the sun set once again.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Crazy Flips + Fighting + Keeping beat with music = disaster for Americans

One experience I can never forget occurred the very first time I had ever gone to Brazil, and I was around the age of ten. I remember walking down a stone path with my parents in the small town where we were staying. In the distance, I heard the beat of a drum, and when I looked to where the sound had come from I saw a large group of people crowding around something. As my parents and I started to walked toward the group, the drum got louder and louder, and I began to hear the people shouting and cheering. That was before my growth spurt; so I could see nothing over the group of people, but it was when I found a nearby bench and climbed on top of it that my eyes widened, and my face revealed shock and horror.

I looked on as two guys were in the most intense fight I had ever seen before. They were kicking each other, swinging their arms and feet at one another, flipping backward and forwards trying to kill one another. I could not understand why everyone surrounding them did nothing to stop the fight, but instead cheered on and clapped with the music. It was then that I realized the two guys had never actually hit one another while they were fighting. They were dodging each others attacks so gracefully that it almost looked practiced, and they were flipping and kicking to the beat of the music that it looked as if they were dancing.

Dancing was, in fact, exactly what they were doing. That was the first time I had ever witnessed the extreme Brazilian dance called Capoeira. (attached is a link from the Brazilian movie about Capoeira called "Only the Strong")

Capoiera is a mix between break dance and martial arts. The two people act as if they are fighting one another while a drum, bedumbow, and other instruments create a beat. After the two people really start to get going the audience begins to clap and sing along with the beat. If the two people are really good at Capoeira, they will begin to do back flips, side kicks, and even flips using no hands... it seems impossible for them to barely miss hitting the other person. You realize how good these people have to be to not get seriously hurt... and this dangerous dance is what, ten years later from my first experience, we were about to try for ourselves.

We initially thought we were just going to watch a Capoeira performance in the Plaza of Fortaleza, but it was when the instructor turned to our group of Americans and asked for volunteers that we all looked around at one another speechlessly. Randy (AKA Mr. Brazil) was the first one to step out into the middle of the plaza ready for the challenge. The rest of us were still a little apprehensive but followed his lead.

The instructor started off by getting us all to do some basic stretches. At that point I realized these "basic" stretches were very difficult and making me sore already... and we had not even started the dance. I think from the lack of flexibility our instructor may have noticed from these stretches (mainly from me), may have caused him to be easier on us when we started to actually learn the dance. We began with simple cart wheels.

We were separated into two lines, and we each had a dancing/fighting partner. He would call out a number, and if your number was called you and your partner would do cart wheels across the floor along side one another, which symbolized the beginning of the fight. Everyone going before us made it look very easy. But it was after me and my partner, Natalie, cart wheeled across the floor... or TRIED to cart wheel across the floor... that I switched to playing the cow bell.

Some of our group had practically mastered this dance by the end of the lesson, and Abbey actually ripped her shorts because she was getting so into the cart wheels. In the end I wonder what other Brazilians walking by the plaza thought of our group... some might have been impressed by our attempts to dance Capoeira, some might have laughed hysterically at our cart wheels, and some might have thought we were suffering some sort of epidemic and convulsing on the dance floor. Either way, we can all at least say we survived dancing Capoeira. (This link is another professional Capoeira dance group. Just kidding its our attempt!)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Three Essentials: Sand, Surfing, and SPEEDOS.

We have had our share of not so amazing days in Brazil... the never ending rainy days when you wake up and realize your clothes are hanging outside to dry, and you are going to smell like mold for the next couple of days, the test days where your dad/professor "thinks" you have read the WHOLE book but really on the last chapter you got tired and just skimmed it and of course that ONE question about that chapter shows up on the test, and last but not least that one day where you got robbed... enough said. However, it's the little discoveries and experiences on those days that makes even the seemingly worst day filled with adventure and intrigue. And not only that, but days like we experienced yesterday make you sit back and remember "Wow. I am in Brazil."

If you think about the craziest driver you have ever met in your life, put him behind the wheel of a dune buggy with a powerful engine, add in a couple of extremely steep sand dunes and bumpy paths, and finally throw in a couple of Americanos on the back of the dune buggy clinging for their lives... you have a normal day on the Cumboco beach of Brazil. I had never ridden on the back of a dune buggy before, and by the way we were driving, I'm surprised I can live to say I would LOVE nothing more than to do it again!!!!

The dune buggy

Three people fit on the back of the dune buggy, and there was a small bar on the roof of the car to hang on to... or actually CLING on to. As the dune buggy started to drive off, it was a bumpy yet slow ride. However, once my mom, dad, and other witnesses disappeared over the white sand dune horizon... the driver pumped up the volume on his Brazilian rap CD, put the stick shift into high gear, and gunned it. We rode up steep dunes and could see nothing on the other side, which only meant one thing, a straight drop down. On the first steep dune we conquered, Mary and my butts were no longer on the seat, then they SLAMMED back down with full force. Titus, on the other hand, was standing up on the back of the dune buggy and singing along to the Brazilian rap like P-Diddy filming a music video... he somehow managed to ride over all the bumps like a champion.

When the dune buggy finally slid to a stop, we realized the real adventure had yet to come. We looked out to the scenic view, a deep blue lake contrasted with white sand and palm trees swaying in the light breeze and a screaming kid running past us then jumping onto a long wooden board last second before sliding down a giant sand dune gaining speed until he splashes face first into the lake... ah yes, peaceful indeed. This little adventure we had stumbled upon is called "esqui bunda" in Poruguese... translated literally as "butt skiing". It only cost the equivalent of a little over $2 to rent a wooden board and slide down the giant sand dune on your butt, sometimes praying not to fall off as you gain speed or else suffer some MAJOR sand burns. But that wasn't even the best part, not only could you butt ski, but you could also sand surf down the dune.

Many of our group tried this difficult sport, and there were many wipe outs... myself being no exception. Even though I have never been snow boarding, I would assume that sand surfing is very similar to this. The board was identical to a snow board, and so I just slipped my feet in and scooted off. Although fighting to keep my balance was difficult, the first hill was a success. However, the second, much steeper hill, left me with a mouthful of sand and a body covered in sand from the 360 flip. Titus, Stuart, and Dasha all really got the hang of it by the end, and I'm thinking they should start a new olympic game when we get back to the States!!! Earning a gold metal in "Butt Skiing"... now that's a dream come true.

When our time was up, we hauled it back. On the way, we made pit stops at some beautiful scenic views. During one of these stops, we made a friend named Leo. Leo was the chillest donkey I have ever met; he let us ride him and take pictures with him. We wished we could take him back as a class pet... however, for some reason, I doubt my dad would have been too happy with a donkey stealing all his mojo in class.

The last scenic view snuck up on us. We were riding down the sand dunes, seeing nothing but white sand, when all of a sudden we drove over a dune and saw a gorgeous view of the ocean that almost took our breath away... but we needed our breath because passing out while clinging onto a moving buggy was NOT the best idea. We speed down the coast line with the bluest ocean ever on our left and palm trees scattered about on our right.

When we got back to the main beach, we all ate a big lunch and then headed for the ocean. But before we got in, Dasha, Mary Alice, Titus, and I saw that they were giving horse rides; so, we hopped on the back of one and rode down the coast line. My guide, however, thought he would give me an experience... he whipped the horse, and it galloped down the beach at full speed. It was the most fun/painful time of my life!!! Unfortunately, my bathing suit still contained some sand from the butt skiing, and therefore, it felt a bit like I was galloping on sand paper... don't be fooled though... I would do it again in an instant!

Before we left, one more big adventure occurred. This one could be classified as the most terrifying experience any one of us students has ever had to go through. It took the most unimaginable amount bravery to even CONSIDER this adventure. Only the two manliest guys in our group had enough strength to pull it off... literally.

Randy and Stuart decided to buy and wear speedos on the beach. Since this is what most Brazilian men wear, they decided to be culturally open and experience Brazil as a Brazilian would. After stretching the tiny pieces of material on, they walked around the beach with confidence and successfully looked like Brazilians! Randy tied his Brazilian flag beach towel around his neck and became "Mr. Brazil" complete with cape, speedo, and macho-ness while he saved people from getting robbed and taught spoiled children a lesson!

I guess my dad was right; the best way to learn a culture is to try it on for size.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What do you call two blondes in Brazil?

The answer to this question is not a punch line. However, I was laughing out loud when I found out. We have come to find that Brazilians have a very different way of looking at people. You don't really have a race in Brazil, and they pride themselves in the fact that racism does not exist in the least. Nevertheless, they do prioritize your class standing. It doesn't matter if you are black or white in Brazil. The only thing that classifies you are things such as how you dress, where you live, and your income. And if you are in a higher class, no matter what you look like, they see you differently.

This was made evident when Mary Alice and I went to the mall with our new friend, Aline, the other day. We met Aline at the English School, and she is only 18 yet speaks English almost flawlessly. She actually just interviewed for an internship at Disney World to be the Brazil representative!

Aline was telling us that she was talking to her other friend about our group of Americans. Her friend said that he had met the two blonde girls that live together. Mary Alice and I were so confused because there are no two blondes on our trip. That's when Aline explained that they were talking about me and Mary Alice!!! Mary Alice is very blonde, but my hair is brown... actually closer to dark brown! But what they had done in Brazilian culture is lighten my hair because I live with an upper class home stay in Brazil. If Mary Alice and I had been put with a lower class home stay, they would have called us both "morenas" or dark haired.

This kind of thinking is so different from back home. Both ways of thinking seem to have advantages and disadvantages. Back in America, even if you were a minority in the upper class or had a really respectable job... you would still be considered a "Chinese Doctor" or a "Black President". This might mean that even though a minority can reach the higher class, they might never fully be accepted in that class. In Brazil... they do not have any main stereotype based on race. However, there is a HUGE separation between the upper class and lower class. In certain home stays, for example, they hire a maid. These maids tend to be bossed around a lot from the people who hire them. If these maids changed their clothes, moved into a nicer area, and got a better job, their standing would immediately change, and they would be treated as upper class. But does that fact make up for how poorly some maids get treated now? Is this better than how America deals with class and race? I honestly have no idea!

What I DO know for a fact is something I found out last Sunday... Brazilians must not have a fear of heights... or dying for that matter! Our neighbors took us to a water park where the water slides were EXTREMELY dangerous! And we did not find this out until after we had ridden all of them!

There was this one ride called "Insaneo" or insane in English. The slide was practically 90 degrees and fell straight down. Let me explain what my experience was like on this slide.

We walked up stair, after stair, AFTER STAIR... what felt like 20 stories up until we finally reached the top of the slide, gasping for air. The line was short, probably because most Brazilians were smart enough to know not chance your luck and try this monster more than once or twice. Mary Alice looked at me with worried eyes and said "I am NOT going first." So, I took a deep breath and stepped up to the edge. I looked over and saw about 10 feet of slide before it completely disappeared.

The Brazilian lifeguard motioned for me to sit down in the slide. She then told me safety instructions... in Portuguese. I looked at her confused, and I was about to say "I don't speak Portuguese" before she yelled "BORA BORA BORA" or "GO GO GO!!!" I pushed off and started sliding down thinking... oh crap.

The slide was relaxing at first. The water felt cool in the heat wave we were experiencing, and the flow was pushing me forward slowly. Then, all of a sudden, I noticed my feet were no longer visible. For a split second as my feet dangled off the drop... my life flashed before my eyes... I knew that the rest of my body was about to follow.

I screamed at first as I fell at the speed of gravity. But then the shock of it all and the butterfly feeling in my stomach overtook all reactions. I was falling so fast that I was actually going faster than the water flow, and the effect was that the water began to splash upwards from my feet and onto my face. I held my breath, too afraid that I might drown if I tried to breathe... yet at the same time having the time of my life. When I finally fell into the pool at the bottom, I swam up, gasped for air, and realized I had THE WORST wedgie I had ever had.

We ended up not riding Insaneo again that day... but for the first time we understood why Brazilian thong bathing suits are seen as acceptable in public. If Brazilians have a habit of riding as many water slides as we had that day... this style would be inevitable.