Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Week 2 in Brazil

Well, I’ve had an eventful second week.  Moved to Vitoria by bus, which was a hellish 8-hour bus ride, with the woman in front of me reclining in my lap…  Apparently, in Brazil, they do not have the same concept of personal space as we do in the U. S.A.  The seats were made to recline, and recline bem mesmo!  I literally could have rested my arm on the top of her head, as it is, I used the top of her seat (thus providing shade for the top of her head which rested upon my lap) as a book prop!  I was unable to move, because any shift in movement resulted in my driving a knee into her back (and receiving a disgruntled look as a result).  It was quite interesting I must say…

I arrived at the bus station, where my family was waiting for me, and immediately received a huge hug from my little “sister,” Mariana, who is 8.  I have a “mother” who is 3 years younger than me, a “father,” two younger sisters (Mariana and Darah, who is five) and two younger brothers (whom I haven’t met yet, but who are 10 and 14).  Darah and the boys are off traveling with relatives, but will be arriving on Sunday, so the house should be exploding with people in another week.

And speaking of the house… I have my own room with own bathroom (!), a large bed that is not a mattress on the floor (so I’m feeling quite privileged here) and plenty of space for the tiny amount of clothing that I brought (in comparison to the other women I traveled in Rio with, who each brought a minimum of three giant suitcases/duffle bags/etc.)  Actually, every room in the house has its own bathroom, which means that there are SEVEN bathrooms total, and there’s a swimming pool!  Plus, I’m a couple blocks from the beach.  I’m living right, yes, I am.

This weekend, we had our first excursion.  Went to Biriricas in the mountains, stayed in cabins in the woods, and went on an unbelievably adventurous river rafting trip Saturday morning and afternoon.  More about that in a separate email later, when I have more time to describe the incredible events of the day (a warning to all those who might be disturbed by images of Amy almost drowning in the rapids of Brazil:  don’t read that email!)  Sunday we had a crappy day of too much sun and too much sickness (envision no less than 3 girls at any given time puking out the windows of our bus as we rocketed down the mountain at nauseating speeds) and late Sunday night was convinced I was dying of some dread Third World disease, as my system expelled everything it has consumed all weekend long and my legs went up in flames due to the thousands (okay, maybe 30) of mosquito bites they had suffered.

Basically, it’s been fun!  Classes start this week and they’re intense as well.

I hope all is well with everyone else.  Just a word of warning:  if you ever travel to Brazil… take PLENTY of bug spray along and use it LIBERALLY!

River Rafting in Rio da Montanha

Well, here it is, the description of my river rafting experience at Rio da Montanha in Biriricas.  We began our trip in the morning.  There were five of us in my group (myself, Noel, Jenny, Tandi and Matt) plus the guide, Neninho.  I was seated in the middle (lucky me — the prime spot to get squished between two people or knocked out of the raft by any wayward oar) and was already a little nervous, not being the strongest of swimmers and even worse, most decidedly NOT the most coordinated person in the world.  All that “Para frente, para atras, frente com forca, frente esquerda, atras esquerda, frente direita and atras direita” was a little much for me (front, back, front with strength, front left, back left, front right and back right).  I could barely get it all down in English, let alone in Portuguese!  It also didn’t help that our rather hot guide was directly behind me observing my every uncoordinated movement!

In any case, there we were and all was going seemingly well until exactly 2.9 minutes into our 3 hour rafting experience when our boat sprang a leak.  It was a slow leak mind you, but ten minutes down the river and we were sitting in 3 inches of water.  We were able to continue rowing, but everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) was more difficult (and more dangerous) as a result.  Jenny and I (being the lucky individuals seated in the middle) were told to pay attention and be especially careful because the water made it especially difficult for us to brace ourselves in the boat.

Now, I realize that most people go river rafting for the whole “rapids experience” but I think rafting in a pool (commonly called sunbathing) would have been a better choice for our time!  Every time we hit a terribly turbulent spot (which was always accompanied by enormous boulders and sharp rocks), our guide had to get out of the boat and literally expend “muita forca” to pull us over the rocks, as we got stuck.  This was caused by a combination of our riding low due to the amount of water in our boat and the river being low at this time of year.  But we continued on.  Eventually, the water level rose and that’s when the real fun began.  We began to rocket over these ridiculous rapids, with rocks banging us every which way, the guide’s shouts in our ears about front, back, this way, that way, every which way but the way we were going, and suddenly…

We came to an enormous waterfall (which was really just a small drop, but appeared quite enormous to my inexperienced eyes), went flying over it at a speed that left my stomach 20 yards behind us, dropped what seemed to be a mile, crashing into turbulent waters that soaked us all, at which point something that felt like a giant boulder fell on my back (it turned out to be my guide, who lost his balance as we rocketed down that cliff).  I, of course, slammed into Tandi, thus making us a human sandwich for a couple of minutes.  In the confusion, I lost my oar (the boat immediately in front of us managed to grab it for me and pass it back — damn them!)

So, on we went on our wild ride from hell.  I was certain at any moment I was going to be swept overboard and eaten by some giant Brazilian piranha (not that I heard that there were any piranhas in this river, but you never know) when suddenly Jenny was swept overboard.  Everyone panicked of course, including her.  She reached for the side of the boat and our guide, exhibiting an unbelievable amount of strength, grabbed her by the life jacket and in one swift movement, hauled her back on board.  And on we went.

Finally, we stopped for what I thought was a break, but which actually turned out to be the insane portion of our trip (insane up until that moment, that is).  The guides told us it was too difficult to ride the rafts through this, the most turbulent part of the river, so we had two choices.  We could walk along the rocks or we could float down the river.  FLOAT DOWN THE RIVER.  With only our life jackets and the river god keeping us safe.  And so, because I experienced a moment of complete and utter insanity, I “floated” down the river.  Let me tell you:  If a Brazilian guide ever tells you to just “float” down some rapids, you tell him HELL NO and get the hell out of there.

So… I floated.  If floating can be considered this weird experience where you sucked down a gallon of dirty river water, your entire body flipped around, you almost lost your glasses (which is what caused all that body flipping in the first place), you scraped your legs along the bottom of a river and missed by mere inches being slammed up against a boulder the size of Texas.  Yeah, great fun.  Floating.

So, back in the boat and on through more rapids than I ever want to see again in my lifetime.  But we were nearing the end.  Oh, hallelujah!  I could see the boat in front of us … they were on dry land next to the trucks come to take us home.  We had survived!

But wait… there was just one more thing we had to do.  Go down a tiny bit of rapids and then we’re home free.  Oh, and avoid that cliff of to the left.  AVOID THE CLIFF OFF TO THE LEFT!  What cliff?  What?  OH, SHIT!

And so that is how I ended up staring at the river rushing toward me at an awesome speed, knowing with every ounce of my being that our boat was going to flip, watching the body of our guide flying over my head, and … hitting the water.  For a tiny fraction of a second (or a millennium, who knows) I was trapped under the boat and then… I was free.

Now, we all like to think that in these situations, everyone will be all about helping your fellow man.  But let me tell you.  When you’re in the water and you’re gulping down gallons of nasty river water and you’re literally fighting your way to the surface for any chance at air, well… the rest of the world is just shit out of luck, because it’s every freaking person for themselves!  Sure, after I had saved myself, I tried to count bodies, but it was a little difficult trying to stay afloat and count and … the hell with it.  I made my way to shore and hoped that everyone else found their way as well.

Later I found out that Tandi had been trapped under the boat for a while and that the witnesses on land were freaking out counting bodies and coming up one short.  Luckily, she had found the air pocket under the boat and when the raft was lifted up, there she was quite safe and sound.  I was also told that our crash was worthy of sports recording history, that it was quite a “spectacular” sight to see.  I’m so happy we managed to entertain the masses.

And so, we were all safe.  We climbed aboard the truck, headed back, soaking wet, to our cabins.  But alas, halfway there… our truck broke down.

So, the guides radio’d the other truck to ask for help.  Guess what they said?  “We’re broke down too.” And that is how, I ended up riding back to our little cabin in the woods along tiny roads deep in the mountains, standing up in the back of a pickup truck, hanging onto some weird contraption, thinking to myself… if I survive this experience, it will be a miracle.

But I survived.  And guess what?  I think maybe I want to go river rafting in Colorado sometime.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Week 1 in Brazil

Well, I have survived my first week in Rio.  I haven't had much luck with my research so far, but I've given it the effort it requires!  I have attempted to contact my organization, including stopping by personally a couple times (no one seems to ever actually be in the office!) but I'm not too worried as the bulk of my research actually takes place in Vitoria (where I'm headed on Wednesday).

I've been to the beach several times, I'd forgotten how much I miss the beach living in Kansas. It's especially beautiful in Rio surrounded by hills and mountains.  I'm taking an endless number of photos, of course.

I also found myself incapable of visiting a foreign city without visiting a local movie theatre, which is how I am able to tell you with absolute certainty that Rio de Janeiro has absolutely the most comfortable movie theatre I have ever had the pleasure of sitting in, bar none.  The seats were so comfortable, it was like sitting in an armchair in your own home (although the aisles were extremely close, the chairs were high enough, you could actually stretch out with your feet under the chair in front of you).  Even more amazing, at the front of the theatre directly to the right of the movie screen was… a women's bathroom!  The men's was located at the back of the theatre.  I only visited the women's of course (out of pure curiosity) and it was like walking behind the stage.  The door led to some stairs that led up to another door which opened into one of the cleanest movie restrooms I've ever seen (with several stalls).

Everywhere I go people ask me “voce e portuguesa?” (are you Portuguese?)  I have to laugh and explain.  Maybe it's a compliment, maybe not, I'm not really sure!  All I know is everyone knows I am most definitely NOT Brazilian (they do such weird things to their vowels!)

Amazingly enough, I am not having any problems remaining vegetarian here.  Yes, their meats are supposedly a specialty, but they also have the most amazing veggies and fruits. I'm eating quite well (perhaps better than in the U.S.!) and am loving their food.

I visited several street fairs with the most amazing crafts, wood work and clothing.  I am of course resisting all temptation (although the used bookstores are especially hard to resist — I actually found Artemis Fowl in Portuguese!)  So far I've resisted the Lord of the Rings in Portuguese (after all, they're hard enough to get through in English!)

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

First day in Brazil!

Well, I've made it safe and sound to Rio.  I arrived around 11 a.m. this morning (or about 9 a.m. K.C. time) and met up with my friend Noel in the airport.  We then called a couple hotels from the airport, found the best deal, and caught a bus to Copacabana.  We had to walk a couple blocks from the bus stop (gotta love those suitcases on wheels) but are now staying in a lovely (though extremely small) room at Hotel Canada, which is two blocks away from the beach. The room is about $16 a night per person and really does qualify as a hotel room (rather than a hostel) as it is equipped with a full bath, fridge, a/c, etc.  In fact, it’s quite a bit nicer than the $300 plus room in NYC Mark and Lynnette treated me to on our last hurrah before I left them for greener pastures in KS.

I’ve already explored the area, purchased a watch from a street vendor for approximately $3.50 and found this lovely internet shop which offers a full hour of internet access for 4 Reais (about $1.33).  I’ve also found the local bookstore (only a block away from our hotel) and am already in trouble.  You wouldn’t believe how many wonderful books there are available in Portuguese!  Well, maybe you would, but it was like walking into heaven.  An entire store of foreign language books (not that they’re foreign here, but you get the idea).  I already had to resist purchasing the entire Harry Potter series in Portuguese (although I did allow myself to buy the first one), not to mention the Lemony Snicket and Junie B. Jones series — I never even made it to the adult section.  I decided the kids’ section was more than enough temptation for one afternoon! I’m thinking I may be able to read the newest HP book before going back home after all.

What else can I tell you?  Tomorrow I will embark upon my quest to make contact with the children’s organization here in Rio (seeing as I’m now required to fulfill those research commitments I made in order to receive the grant money that brought me here!)