The Road Goes Ever On…

I have been forever changed.

Never again will I be able to pretend or convince that the greatest problem in my world is the status of my most recent homework assignment, the time I have left in a day to squeeze in an elliptical work-out, the number of new dresses I have hanging in my closet, or any other manifestation of the state of my ego. For this, I am endlessly indebted to the hardships, poverty, refuse, disease, and detritus of Salvador’s city streets.

What a surreal moment.

I am writing my last Salvador de Bahia adventurer-blog-post-update. I have lived and traversed this city for 167 days. Tomorrow, around noon, I lug my lifetime’s worth of luggage on to a domestic flight to Minas Gerais, Brazil, where I will be employed as a field-research assistant on an on-going Muriqui Monkey Ecology project. I will return to the United States in just short of 24 days, arriving in my quaint and missed Omaha Airport late the night of July 10th.

It is time to say my goodbyes, despedidas, to the city that has been my home, entertainer of my escapades, my elation, my extreme frustration, and my vehicle for thrilling personal growth.

I am doing so with gobs of sweet aҫai for lunch, excessive consumption of agua de cocos, ocean swims despite the omnipresent “winter” rain, and reflection manifested in this blog post. For my final post, I was considering a list of “Brazilian-taught-lessons”, an all-inclusive inventory of how life abroad has changed me as an individual – a comic undertaking. As I begin pondering what this list would include, I suddenly imagined a catalogue of anecdotes, life philosophies, and paradigm-thought-shifts stretching to infinity… I fear even my most dedicated reader’s eyes would glaze over like a canned-ham long before the culmination (which admittedly, may never have come). So instead, I will do my best to encapsulate 6 months of transforming life experiences in a microcosmic and adventure-packed story of my recent trip to Chapada Diamantina, Brazil. Enjoy.

To The Land of Faeries and Back – Friendship, Adversity, and Now I CAN DO ANYTHING.

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A land of flowers, mountains, caves... oh my!

A land of flowers, mountains, caves… oh my!

You meet a lot of incredible, wild, exceptional people living abroad. Least of which, I’ve found, is Yourself.

Being stripped of every comfort, be it your language, familiar places, happily accepted understandings, or naïve perceptions of your globe, you are forced to stop and recollect. You sit with yourself.

You find out what you love, what you hate. You discover what you can and cannot take.

This grand expedition and short back-packing holiday with the gorgeous and audacious Sarah McGough was the perfect culmination to what I am, with great cliché, labeling my adventure-bred, Brazil-initiated, pain-and-ecstasy-borne Personal Growth Journey.

The trip began in fine Salvador style:

Sitting on a bumpy and chock-full city bus with half of my belongings, I was craving an escape from Salvador frustrations and bustlings. I was on my way to meet Sarah at the local Rodoviária to catch a 7-hour bus to Chapada Diamtina for a little fresh air. Though I had visited Chapada, a National Nature Reserve boasting beautiful mountains, plateaus, waterfalls, and few visitors, I was happy to be returning for some fresh-air and my first (although abbreviated) backpacking experience. I was surprised when, at a deserted bus stop far from Sarah’s apartment, I watched a familiar gringa climb onto my bus. “Sarah?!” The troubled look that greeted me was worry-provoking to say the least.

Sarah had just experienced the pinnacle of Salvadorian transport problems. She related with alarm her experience: her city bus had just been chased, frenzied and unassisted, through the traffic-packed streets by an armed gun-man. Poor Sarah, who now bravely related her story, had been caught in the midst of screaming passengers shouting terrors in a foreign language as her run-away bus clamored down alley-ways and unlit roads in attempt to escape before unceremoniously dumping all of its passengers on an unlit lane in the middle of nowhere and prompting them to run. Run my little gringa friend did, and my serendipity-or-something-so-sweet, she ended up on my bus. I did my best to comfort and understand, but Sarah, though a little discontented, was un-phased and brave. “Let’s get out of this city!” we concurred.

And so, we did.

The misadventures had only just begun.

We arrived in Lenҫois, Bahia at what we guessed was 4:00 a.m. To our sleep-deprived pleasure, we found the hostel employee who was to meet us at the bus stop had forgotten about us. After an hour of curb-sleeping and waiting, we decided to trust a local tour guide to give us a ride. Arriving at our hostel, we found it closed. Four hours of waiting later, we secured a key to our room and a breakfast of fresh-baked bread and dark organic coffee. Maybe it was the fresh mountain air, but neither of us minded the debacle that was our morning all that much. In fact, I relished the time outside without the noise of traffic or street vendors.

We passed our first day in Lenҫois catching up on lost sleep, lazily perusing artisan stores, and partaking in the best dinner of our lives (think cacao-pasta, tea from backyard leaves, homemade ricotta sauce, and magical, cardamom-infused, life-changing, mind-boggling, dark-chocolate-brownie-involving homemade ice-cream…) We relished the slow pace of life and chance to talk for hours. We also used the time to search for a guide for a camping/back-packing expedition. Enter serendipity once again…

The cheerful, generous man who we had tentatively accepted a ride from in the early hours of the morning was waiting at our hostel when we returned that night. As our hostel quoted ridiculous prices for Park Tours upon our expression of interest in hiking, he smiled. Danilo, as we learned he was called, stepped in to save us. “I’m a tour guide – we can do a three day hike for half that price…” Two desperate gringas signed up on the spot.

To follow? Three days traversing physical and emotional limitations, life philosophies, language barriers, mountain-top vistas, childhood dreams, lightless caverns, illnesses, and happiness. Every step was worth it and more.

I. was. here.

I. was. here.

We hiked. A lot.

Day One consisted of an early morning rise, more coffee and gulped down papaya, and a hot start to a walking-filled day. Strapped down with all of our gear, two Americans and a local tour-guide headed off into the vast hills and valleys of Chapada.

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Joy in the interesting ecology, beautiful views, and wonderful personality (and vegetarian-cooking abilities) of our hastily-chosen guide found Sarah and I blissful all day long. We both immediately felt renewed and free of city-worries and frustrations, with giddy expressions of “oooohs, aaahhhs” and “WHY CAN’T OUR HOST MOMS COOK LIKE THIS” as Danilo appeared from out of the brush with a beautiful plate of gourmet-level cooking. I am still perplexed and impressed.

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We were exhausted, well-worn, but likewise feeling idyllic when we arrived at our encampimento for the night. In this small local-home where we would over-night, we were greeted by an enthusiastic and eclectic community of Brazilian back-packers, over-appreciated TANG, an appreciated concrete floor mattress, quaint little church, bonfire, and most importantly, “naturally-filtered-spring-water.”

Brazil lesson that I will include here… DO NOT DRINK THE WATER.

Enter:

A miserable night’s sleep interrupted by constant races to the outhouse, images of being air-lifted out of the mountains, groans expressing terrifying stomach pains, and begging Sarah for a new garbage-can. I thought I would die. I knew I would die. This was unprecedented discomfort. I wanted my mom.

Luckily, I had the next best thing.

THIS girl - my sickness savior and stand-in mommy.

THIS girl – my sickness savior and stand-in mommy.

Being so terrifyingly ill, was totally absolutely worth it.

Sarah McGough is my doctor-sister-spirit-guide-queen. I cannot think of anyone who I would rather be ill with. In the darkest hours of that night, I was endlessly comforted by two realizations. One, Sarah was going to take care of me, with medicine and caring and real life looove. Two, though very far away, I had a support system that loved me and would not hesitate to send the United States Marine Corps to save me. I was not alone.

Another Brazil Lesson: I am THE LUCKIEST, most supported, loved, happy little girl.

The morning-after-illness dawned overcast and cool. News quickly spread around our small community that I was ill. The response by my new friends was nothing short of moving.

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I am fine, I swear!

I am fine, I swear!

My every belief in the good-of-all-humanity was restored as I was offered condolences, herbal remedies, mushed bananas, and every type of home brewed tea to improve my condition. By 9 a.m., despite my lack of sleep, I was so inspired and encouraged that I decided something a little crazy: I would in fact accompany Sarah and Danilo on our planned hike. This was no small challenge: we were to climb Morro do Costello, the highest plateau in Chapada.

And climb we did.

I tell you, not only do I now know I am capable of overcoming every physical limitation, but I know that pain and sickness and bad make life and love and accomplishment and goodso worth it. So “vale a pena.”

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Just a little bit worth the climb...

Just a little bit worth the climb…

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And so, for the next few days, we hiked. We breathed fresh mountain air and discussed religion, the glory of leaving comfort zones and the missings of home, our childhoods, and our motivations and dreams to change the world for the better. We learned about Danilo and his life as a guide, his 11 year old son, and adventures sky-diving and bungee jumping. His smile was priceless when we promised him that, in his honor, we would do the same.

80 kms in 3 days. Deeply fulfilled, exhausted, and rejuvenated.

Butterfly-sisters. CONSEGUIMOS.

Butterfly-sisters. CONSEGUIMOS.

Our return to Salvador was unfortunately as eventful as our arrival. International bank difficulties ended in multi-hour, trying debacles. Sarah got her turn in sickness as our bus home was pulling away. We held hands on the way “home” to our city, me anxiously praying I wouldn’t have to stop the bus and carry her to the nearest hospital with a bad case of appendicitis. Even snagging a taxi to our apartments was a small disaster when we rolled in to town at 5 a.m. We both arrived home so over-taxed and in disbelief of our experience. But what a life-changing, lesson-imbuing, whirl-wind story and adventure we were blessed with.

And here in lies my conclusive statement regarding my last 6 months.

Of course, living abroad for half a year is going to crack your world open. It ripped me from all semblances of comfort zones, brought me to the cusp of insanity, enabled me the most beautiful views of my life so far, and made me beg for home.

Just like my illness in Chapada, my experience in Brazil would have been nothing without the adversity and pain I faced. The realities of poverty and violence here have forever changed me, and I am so very glad. I am thrilled to find myself more gentle, more cognizant of little pleasures, and more thankful of my family, my beautiful and motivated friends, my language my education, my organic peanut butter, and the beauty that is life.

But of course, Salvador isn’t all problems and complaints. It is beautiful and rich, bubbling, warm, welcoming culture. It is friendly and selfless agua de coco vendors, rhymthic dance classes, capoeira in the streets. The dark things – poverty, drugs, governmental corruption – do not rob the joy and light and happiness provided by these things. Instead, they illuminate the joy of a casual soccer game on the beach, the support of a friend, and the value of simple acts of kindness.

I am overtaxed in trying to understand how my time here has changed me, and how it will inform my future. I do, however, know this:

Salvador reminded me of wonderful things I had forgotten: a good book can feel just like home, the fading sunset never gets old, and a phone call with your Mom has the capability of healing all wrongs.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I am blessed. I know beautiful people whose support and love I cannot live without. I have been given a unique, miraculous opportunity to inhabit this world. Now, I feel I have been granted the energy I need to give back to it. The vehicle that was poverty and adversity, the sicknesses in Salvador, revealed to me the value of acts of kindness and importance of motivated, pointed work for better.

Thank you, Salvador. I love you, Brasil. I will not forget the purpose, good, and lessons I have found here.

And thank YOU, for journeying with me, supporting me, and inspiring me.

As I’ve said a million times, I am one insanely blessed little girl.

I take my leave for the forests and my monkeys.

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today,
Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run
Towards the Moon or to the Sun.
- Andrew Lang
Posted in Adventure, Brazil, Conservation, Entertaining, Family, Fitness, Food, Friends, Inspiration, Outdoors, Philosophy, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Good, The Bad, The UGLY.

 

I wrote this little tidbit on an especially rough day a few weeks ago. Brazil, for me, has been 6 months of the highest-highs, lowest-lows, and most powerful lessons of my life, as I had hoped. I feel it would be cowardly and hypocritical to hide the bad from you few readers that are still following my adventures and mishaps loyally, so here is the other side of Brazil. As I round out my final 3 weeks in Salvador, look for a much more bright-sided post to come.

Dear Salvador… WHERE IS THE RAGE?!(A letter to this city)

“Porra!”

I hear for the thousandth time as I jog my way up and down Porto da Barra beach. Feet in the sand, sun on my back, little droplets of surf flinging onto my bikini clad, young body, and the wafting smells of beach-grilled cheese blocks, lime-juice-dripping shrimp, and fruity, tropical caipirinhas are overwhelming me.

“How could this not be heaven?” I think suddenly. But it’s not. In fact, in this bright, beachy moment I am fighting frustrations and working to burn off anger. Salvador, with all of its culture and history and splendor, has me currently… disenchanted.

Completely disenchanted.

“Porra! Aiiiiii.”

I hear again. Now the men leisurely bouncing a soccer ball over the beach-side volleyball net are in upheaval. Screaming, fighting, blaming – Boy, people here care about their futebol, in all forms. These men are fuming.

Whether you realize it or not, you all know how to effectively curse in Portuguese. Porra is the Brazilian go-to when it comes to expressing discontent in a slanderous and low-brow manner. At local futebol games, amongst friends, and in the stadium, it is inescapable. People. Get. Mad.

But a little cursing and anger over soccer games is not what has me feeling frustrated and fed-up. Or, perhaps, it is exactly what has me feeling ready to wave tchau to the sunny shores of one of Brazil’s largest cities. The people of Salvador are emotional, passionate, colorful, loud, and  angry – about all of the wrong things.

After nearly 5 months living in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, many components of life that I used to find “culturally interesting” are now sad daily realities. I cannot finish one day, let alone one bus trip, without being degraded or objectified as a white woman. I cannot walk 2 blocks of busy city streets without gingerly stepping over the emaciated bodies of crack-addicted homeless, surrounded by buzzing flies and sleeping under the scorching sun. Lives are jeopardized as motorists ignore traffic rules. My classes are cancelled without after hours of transport. Grocery store lines require 40 minutes of waiting. Every can of guzzled beer is thrown carelessly into side-streets, which the rain of winter now carries daily to the ocean.

No one seems to notice, let alone care.

In recent, passionate, and much needed discussions regarding this purveying sense of apathy here in Brazil with fellow exchange students, I have arrived at a few important conclusions. Acceptance is the name of the game here in Brazil. It manifests itself in all forms: from 10-year-old crack addicts living alone in the streets of the Pelourhino, deplorable race relations, environmental destruction, the recent murder of an identified gay college student, and governments on federal and local levels marked by corruption, to long waits in Pharmacy lines, lazy Sundays on the beach, the omnipresent adoration of night-time soap operas, and the success of Salvador’s carnival. Acceptance of life as the way it is, is everywhere.

And I am beyond sick of it.

So, Brazil, where is the rage?! Why is negative energy directed towards football-game fights and day-time parties? Where is the call for change for the ever-present poor, the inefficient systems of government, the lack of accountability, the stand against culturally dominant violence and racism? Why can I not leave my apartment without feeling the need to take each step mindfully – ever on guard for robbers, ill-meaning men, and heart-wrenching scenes of the decrepit and unfortunate poor.

The culture that has introduced me to rich and deeply religious candomble ceremonies, energetic and lively Afro-Brasilian dance, a strong community of poets, singers, and musical performers, and a deep and resounding love of life expressed in invitations to share meals, beers, and even stays in houses deserves more than this. 5-months has left me sick with pain for the stagnancy and lack motivation. Brazil, and this world, need people who care and get angry about what matters. Not football, not over-cooked churrascas, but rape, violence, poverty, and environmental obliteration.

I cried yesterday while Skyping with my parents. I cried because I wanted to go home. I cried because I want again the liberty of walking down the street with my iPod, unafraid. I want the independence of settling intomy humble, 10-year-old, Silver Ford Taurus and driving to the grocery store to wait in an efficient, 5-minute line to buy an exploding package of organic blueberries and 0% Fat Fage Greek Yogurt. I want to feel the right to be indignant if that line takes longer than 5 minutes to attend to my needs. I want to drive home with a steaming Starbucks, a 20 oz. grande instead of a cafezinho, and when I get home drink water out of the tap and bask in air-conditioning. I want to stop at red stop lights and let pedestrians pass and watch those pedestrians pick up their pampered pet’s poop in little plastic poopie bags.

I cried, most of all, because I can have all of that. The tears represented a deeper sadness. In a little less than 2 months, I will return to the pleasures and happy stresses of middle-class, efficient America – slightly more humbled, more aware of the little conveniences, but healthy, happy, and well supported by an endlessly loving family, network of friends, wonderfully efficient and motivated education system, and government that listens (most of the time) to my God-given rights and human needs.

Edison, the ten-year-old homeless boy helplessly addicted to crack-cocaine I pass nightly and in the Pelourhino, will not. Paula, the under-educated but life-loving 19 year-old who works in near slave conditions for my friend’s middle-class family 10 hours daily, for less than $200 a month, will not. Nor will the countless victims of rape, racism, sexism, or drug addiction I see here every single day. They have no opportunity, social movements, effective government, or family to turn to for help.

I am at a loss.

Trying to help individuals on the street or yell rude comments back at men usually just results in more negative attention for the “little white tourist” or increased turmoil. At very least, it renders crowd comments such as “tuda beleza” or “tranquilo” (everything is beautiful, calm down).

No, my dear Brazil, “tuda” is simply NOT “beleza.” And I will not “tranquilo.”

After a day of failed transportation due to bus strikes, three more cancelled classes, and an especially morbid scene of a homeless man seizing on the beach-side, I find my saving grace. It is in a long conversation with my father and a redeeming, hopeful educational discussion with a fellow exchange student. My dad peacefully but firmly reminds that I cannot save the whole world. My fellow classmates talk with bright eyes about their research into solving problems of human trafficking, grant proposals regarding holistic medicinal use in Brazil, and Environmental Science grad-school ponderings. Here is the will to better the world that I have been feeling so deprived of. Here is the hope, or at very least the drive, to end suffering of others in whatever way we can. Here, Brazil, is the effective channeling of the rage.

 

This is NOT human dignity
photo cred: http://www.barefooters.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the day, I have no advice. I am still overwhelmed by frustration and sadness at many aspects of life in Brazil. Perhaps I will leave you with the words of my colleague, sifting through the same daily problems as I am as we continue our semester in Salvador de Bahia. I cannot remember exactly how it went, but it sounded a little like this…

“I think we all just have to find what we are most passionate about, and dedicate ourselves to it. Fix the world in what little way you can, because you cannot fix it all…”

 

Posted in Adventure, Brazil, Conservation, Family, Philosophy, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Amazon.

“Do your grandparents ever talk about the way things used to be?” questions Francisco in his churlish Portuguese.  “My grandpa used to tell me that, when he was a boy, he couldn’t put his oar in this river without nearly hitting a fish this big.” He turns around to show Ale and I, his arms spread wide, accidentally flinging droplets of luke-warm water across our faces as his oar soars above his head. The canoe rocks, we all laugh. We’re sopping wet as it is from the daily downpour already, a little more Amazonian river water never hurt anyone… right?

Francisco paddles through murky, nutrient rich rivers

Francisco paddles through murky, nutrient rich rivers

This scene occurs on day two of what may be the most awe-inspiring camping trip of my life. I am gazing out across vast tracks of pristine Amazonian Rain Forest as our canoe glides silently through the brown waters of a tributary that feeds into the Rio Negro river, one of two rivers that combines at the world famous phenomenon Meeting of the Waters (Encontro dos Aguas). Day one in Manaus, Amazonias had us gazing into the turbulent mixing waters of the Rio Negro and Rio Salimoes, which due to density and constituent differences swirl in artistic arrays without combining for 11 km. Botas, pink dolphins endemic to the rivers of the Amazon, joined us to witness the phenomenon.
Francisco, Alejandra, and I are engrossed in conversation regarding the realities of daily life deep in the Amazon. Though my back is a little sore from hours of silence animal-watching in our wooden canoe, and my shoes slosh unpleasantly when I gingerly reposition my feet, wet socks and muscle aches do nothing to discourage my enthrallment. Francisco’s expertise has already granted us the opportunity to encounter a handful of giant snakes, hold a juvenile jacare (Caiman in English – small alligator like reptile), photograph vast numbers of wild monkeys, and identify hawks, eagles, water birds, and parrots. Now, I am finally learning how he came to develop the skills that have awed me for the past 48 hours.

Talk about fresh - I dig into Brasil Nuts straight from the tree for an afternoon snack

Talk about fresh – I dig into Brasil Nuts straight from the tree for an afternoon snack

Franciso is everything one may hope for in an Amazonian guide, and more. By day-two, I am accustomed to actions that dealt me a decent blow of shock the first time around. Peaceful glides through the water are punctuated by his rapid thrust of a spear into the murky river to catch our dinner, his trusty machete is always at hand to slash through underbrush or peel an orange, and within minutes he can construct a beautiful and highly functioning bow-and-arrow out of forest wood and palm fiber. He is patient with our questions, drinks water straight out of the river, and is comfortable enough in his Rainforest home to walk us in circles for hours pretending to be lost or feed us horrible tasting plants or insects just to raise a good laugh. 3 days of constant trekking, rowing, guiding, and short nights of sleep in hammocks punctuated by animal screams and insect bites has left him un-phased or diminished. He laughs at my constant “oohs” and “aahhhs” and unending streams of question. What is the greatest experience of my life is his day-to-day. He may be one of the most capable and wise human beings I have ever met.
But now, his gentle eyes framed by tell-tale wrinkles of life in the most biodiverse and pristine Rainforest on the globe, are filled with frustration. He is explaining the intense complications and injustices that affect his village, family, and forest.

Alejandra gets some quality time with the locals...

Alejandra gets some quality time with the locals…

As is the case in a vast majority of the Amazonas, Brasil, the land on which Franciso lives is privately owned. The caboclos (river people) in his village of Nossa Senhora de Fatima lead simple and often difficult lives. As Francisco puts it, “Survival is our rhythm.” As has been made evident by his incredible knowledge of the forest and its apparent unlimited resources, here in the Amazon, land, not money, is life. Here, families own a few cows and chickens (that often are taken advantage of by lucky Jaguars or other jungle cats), raise their own endemic crops, fish, hunt, and reuse. Lifestyles are sustainable and deeply linked with the environment because they must be. Though electricity arrived in Nossa Senhora de Fatima 4 years ago with the implementation of the Brazilan government’s “Luz Para Todos” program, life here is still steeped in natural functions. Houses are built by hand, food is gingerly harvested and prepared, and the value of family reigns supreme. Life is slower here, but to an outsider accustomed to the world of fast food, internet, and conversation, it is beautiful. So is the smile of Francisco’s baby girl.

Francisco's two young girls, enjoying our visit and "fancy camera"

Francisco’s two young girls, enjoying our visit and “fancy camera”

Canoeing through the village, we do not go unnoticed

Canoeing through the village, we do not go unnoticed

Now, Francisco and his community’s lifestyle is threatened by expanding city growth and agriculture. Removed private owners, without true understanding of the potential of the Amazon for research or resource harvesting, are burning vast tracks of land for unsustainable agriculture and leaving families and entire communities homeless. Francisco relates the story of two families whose homes were burned and now live in the streets of the Amazonian capital, Manaus. “Everything I know, everything we know, all of our abilities depend of the forest,” he laments. “I know nothing of city life. I cannot use the internet. I do not have business connections.” More conversation reveals that the guide agency Alejandra and I used to find Francisco and arrange our camping adventure, run by a childhood friend of Francisco, is highly exploiting his lack of applicable internet and networking skills. He is being paid next to nothing.

Manaus, the "New Amazon"

Manaus, the “New Amazon”

A large part of my motivation to study abroad in Brazil, learn Portuguese, and integrate myself into culture has always found its source in my passion for biodiversity conservation. The sights, sounds, and explosion of life that constituent the Amazon Rainforest are beyond my ability to describe. Housing more than 50% of the world’s known species, conservation here matters. As one ecologist I interviewed while in Manaus expressed, “Here is different, unique in all of the world. We still have huge areas of pristine, untouched land. We need to emphasis prevention over damage control and display the intrinsic value of biodiversity. If we do this [conservation] right, there is a glimmer of hope that it could be different here…”

Early morning great heron watching

Early morning great heron watching

Pirahna freshly caught, dinner will soon be served

Pirahna freshly caught, dinner will soon be served

For the sake of Francisco, his family and friends, and for the whole world – I hope he was right. Conservation is complicated, but necessary now more than ever before. Francisco did not love the forest. He spoke with agitation and occasional hate of several forest dwellers: wild boars, jaguars, caiman, and poisonous plants that threaten his crops, livestock, and children. Francisco was not part of a wild, uncontacted Amazonian tribe receiving government funding and protection. He wears t-shirts and camo-pants and was rarely without a cigarette in hand. But Francisco and hundreds of thousands of others inhabiting the Amazon basin need effective biodiversity conservation as much as any endangered animal species. As construction, destruction, and expansion draw ever nearer, they hold to what they know they are biologically and intrinsically bound to : the natural world and life-filled Amazon Rainforest.

As the light draws dim on day-two, we slide silently into camp for the night. Our hammocks and mosquito-nets are inviting, but Francisco walks off silently to collect dry brush for a fire. The deafening scream of the cicadas commences as the last rays of sun leak through the dense overhead canopy.

Tranquil waters teaming with life

Tranquil waters teaming with life

Posted in Adventure, Brazil, Conservation, Family, Food, Inspiration, Outdoors, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brazil Lesson #infinity: The Beauty of Family

Boa noite galera.

As usual, I hope my update finds you all happy and healthy. I am currently writing from a new wi-fi cafe, and this one boasts a DELICIOUS natural goiba (guava) juice. My hands are a little dry as my fingers fly across the keyboard, an effect of ocean salt after a long and deliciously exhausting day of surfing (yes, surfing) with friends on Praia Jaguaripe. I’d love to tell you all that I hung loose and caught some mad waves, but that would be a stretch. However, I managed to stand up and ride a few waves, so this gringo is obviously thrilled.

I always feel blessed by my opportunity to live and study here in Salvador, Brasil, but tonight I am feeling especially lucky. Not only am I healthy, well-fed, well-housed, enrolled in an incredible University, and fortunate enough to be living my wander-lust dreams, but I am gifted with a family SO WONDERFUL that my father and brother traversed 5000 perilous miles to come visit and check up on me.

The brought with them smiles, much needed hugs, curiousities, adorable gringo travel hats, and (literally, no exaggeration) a 50-pound suitcase STUFFED WITH SKIPPY PEANUT BUTTER. Be still, my heart!

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My gringos and I, enjoying some beach time.

What a wonderful week we had together!

Activities included but were not limited to: Crazy cab drives, introducing my ever-patient, wide-eyed, English speaking family to all of my Portuguese speaking friends, volunteering at a local orphanage, gorging on feijoada, moqueca, and “the best ice-cream” in all of Brazil, fresh fruit juice and morning coffee in artfully decorated hostels, morning runs, night swims, Brazilian dance classes, capoeira class, bridge diving in Porta da Barra beach, scuba diving in natural pools, visiting best friends from Belgium on the secluded and ever-charming Ilha de Boipeba, and on and on and on. My boys were expert travelers and troopers as I raced them around my city, wanting to expose them to my life here.

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I think there big smiles say it all. They may have been sunburnt and without language, but meus deus can these kids travel. They may share different stories, but I will quickly account for you the highlight of their visit:

We arrived on Ilha de Boipeba for a relaxing holy week together. After a travel day of two boat rides and two buses, we collapsed into our beautiful room at Abaquar Hostel. Peter and Fernanda (the owners) welcomed us with open arms, cold beer, and stories of their travels to Thailand and home country of Belgium, and an invitation to the “calling of the full moon” that night on the beach. After refueling with a variety of well-stocked traveler snacks and relaxing a little, we headed out to meet our new friends for this intriguing event.

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The view, beginning our journey…

With little information and a lot of adventuring spirit, we wandered out into the night to find the vague beach location where this “calling” would occur. After about 20 minutes of beachside walking under breath-taking stars, these three capable travelers found themselves in the middle of the Atlantic Rain forest, without any light whatsoever. Tripping over roots and under the watchful eyes of all sorts of insects and bats and god-knows-what, we stumbled in the general direction of what we perceived to be light. Finally, we returned to the oceanside and found vast expanses of… nothing (aside from skittering crabs). Luckily, Eckert’s never let up. We walked, and walked, and asked confused night fisherman for help, and walked more. Finally, we saw a fire in the distance and were washed by relief (as well as the rising tide.)

Our misadventures were well worth it. What followed was one of the most beautiful views of my life. The moon appeared on the ocean-horizon at about 6:30 p.m. Standing around a beach bonfire with our friends from the hostel, I pointed to a red sliver far out on the water and asked “Is that a glowing boat?!”. No, you silly girl, this is the nascimento da lua – the birth of the full moon. We watched bedazzled as the full, red, unbelievably giant moon rose above us. As she rose, we all swam and conversed and shared our wonderment at the beauty. We returned to our hostel as a group later that night, traversing Coconut farm land and running into cows, donkeys, and horses before hanging out in a local Creperie for some cerveja and good conversation.

Of course, I have many other many other highlights. (Did I mention that Ben got kicked in the face fighting a Master of Capoeira in an intense beach brawl?!). Overall, the week left me with an overwhelming sense of love and happiness.

I am so blessed. I am so so so blessed.

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A trip to the local orphanage where I volunteer reminded me just how blessed. DSC_0096 DSC_0305

These beautiful children were thrilled to interact with us, and so genuinely happy! Bringing Dad and Ben there was, of course, another highlight.

                                                                                                                                                             They both brought the kids so much joy, speaking the universal language of piggy-back rides, cool cameras, and the infamous Paul Eckert “airplane rides.”

I would like to thank my boys for visiting me, for sharing and partaking wholly and bravely in my life here, and for leaving me with enough peanut butter and oatmeal to make it through years here. I also want to thank my beautiful family for all of their love and support – I am capable of traveling and growing and studying and exploring only with their undying support, understanding, and constant care. My parents have gifted me with so much opportunity, I am humbled. Thank you all, too – family and friends – for your encouragement, friendship, company, and love over the years. I owe what I am to my time with all of you!

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Little Lauren and Little Paul, adventuring the world together.

For now, Chau. I await your replies with anticipation. And give your families extra-grande kisses tonight!

Love and thanks and a smidgeon of sun,

Lauren

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A Day in the Life

6:40 a.m. Rise. The sun is already streaming through my open apartment window, birds chattering, cars honking, the city is already awake and waiting for me to partake. I muster my strength and roll out of bed.

7:00 a.m. Ocean. Brazilian bikini, poorly secured sarong, and yellow Havaiana flip-flops flapping against my heels, I’m half-way to my favorite beach for my morning swim. Vendors along the way peddling tiny plastic cups of “cafezinho” coffees, I resist the urge to stop and make my way down a beaten stone staircase to my beach. Porto de Barra. The waves are warm and inviting, equatorial sun disguising the fact that it still can’t be past 7:00 a.m.

8:00 a.m. Cafe de Manha. One marvelous, glorious, refreshing swim in, stroking through always-warm waters. As I make my way back and forth along the beach, I occasionally switch direction for exiting fisherman in tiny wooden boats and tinier swim trunks, making their way out to catch the shrimp, lobster, tuna, and host of fish that will be served in various restaurants on the Barra tonight. Barefoot sand-run, stretch, return to the spot where I left my sarong, sandals, and keys. Every swim, someone happily accepts the responsibility of watching my things (Pode olhar minhas coisas? Eu quero nadar.) The climb back up to my apartment room is notably more demanding, but I’m rewarding with a semi-warm shower and a semi-godly breakfast of fresh papaya, mango, banana, and “iogurte”. More than satisfied.

9:30 a.m. Traveling. Walking rapidly to my first class of the day in LAPA, I’m immersed in mass of clothing vendors, fruit stands, taxis, and other early morning commuters. Alejandra and I are making our way to Applied Choral Theory, which is a fancy name for magical-singing-class. We’re trying to discuss her new dance class the night before, but its hard to hear anything of the bustle of the city’s hugely commercialized “Avenida Sete de Setembro.” I step in a puddle of lord-knows-what avoiding a man with a gigantic Jaca fruit, half the size of him, slung over his shoulders. It smells sweet and horrible and like omnibus fumes. I adore it all.

12:00 p.m. Lunch Break. After my morning exercise, hour-long walk, and 3 hour choral class, I’m ready for lunch, but proud of my new singing abilities (and newly gleaned Portuguese phrases for “I’m not a soprano” “that note is too high” and other valuable things). Alejandra and I stop in at “Minha Cantina”, her host-uncle’s restaurant, for a little salad and feijoada, plus conversation with her wonderful host mom. Updated on recent happenings of “Telenovelas”(prime-time soap operas) I part ways with Ale and her family and begin my journey home.

3:00 p.m. Success. What should have been a one-hour return voyage down the crowded streets of Avenue Set de Setembro turned into three. I’m entranced by the endless stands of unbearably adorable bright-colored tank tops, tempting skirts (that appear much more airy than my current pair of ripped-up jean shorts), hand-crafted Baina dresses, and road-side Guava. By some incredible power of will, I resist buying every pair of artisan leather sandals and feather earrings I pass, promising myself (and convincing salesmen) that I will return. Its hot, and I’m ready for the comfort of my apartment, but I need cash withdrawal. Today, that’s difficult. For whatever reason (I still am too out of the loop) most of the Banco Brasils are closed today. Lines of 30-40 Brasilians pile up at each as I pass in confusion. I finally fulfill my need for more reis at a Supermarket ATM, and leave with cash sufficient for making reservations at the cute yellow hostel closest to my apartment in anticipation of my dad and little brother’s visit (<3) as well as Guava and Capuacu pulp for juice-making (have I mentioned my passion for the fruit here).

4:40 p.m. Language Bolstering. Sprinting to catch an omnibus for my language class at a campus about an hours walk up the coast. I’m running late, so today I appreciate the fact that timeliness doesn’t really exist in Brazil. I’m ready for some verb conjugation practice, but aware that I’ll probably learn more language skills talking to the elderly Bahian man with his Hawaiin-style shirt and straw fedora to my right.

7:00 p.m. My hour of culture, and sweat. Cafezinho in hand, I’ve just caught yet another bus bound for Pelourhino. I’m praying the caffeine does me some good, because at 7:30 commences my new month of Afro-Brasileira dance classes under the inspiring guidance of my quite intense instructor, Tatiana Campelo. 5 minutes in and I’m a sweaty mess. I’m still pathetically floppy and inexperienced compared to my talented classmates (see link below), but I adore the learning process and we adore each others company. The energy in the room is absolutely palpable as we learn today’s movements and Tatiana bellows commands and screams that our arms are flopping like chickens… Why did I already exercise today?! But the constant drum beat is enough to keep me motivated. Class ends at 8:30 and, exhausted but blissful, I exit the Escola de Danca.

9:00 p.m. Return. I don’t know whether it is my exhaustion or the magic of Tuesday night in the city’s historic and cultural hub, the Pelohourino, but my walk back to the bus stop in slow and filled with ponderings. I pass the ancient and gold-studded Igreja de Sao Francisco, Cachaca bars, chattering young people filling up Samba and Reggae and New-Age Disco clubs, lines forming for live bands on 1500 year old staircases, homeless dogs and homeless people – side by side in Praca de Se. My nose is filled with the scent of stench and sugar cane and acaraje. I’m completely entranced by the wonder and beauty and views of deprivation and history and stimulation of this experience.

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Tonight, I’ll pass the bags of trash lining my bay-side street and return to my apartment. Hopefully I’ll read a little of my Brazilian Art History assignment (about Indigenous Body Paint) before crawling into bed (or onto bed, no covers for me here, please – far too hot still!). I’m deliciously tired but wonderfully content – aching to share my experiences with friends back home and wake up tomorrow for more!

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Adventuras de Salvador: Carnaval Chronicles

Good morning, “gente”! (I think this might be Salvadorians favorite word for referencing… any and all groups of people)

Alianca Frances

Poetry, dark liquid form.

I’m back, no surprise, for an update, ocean view, and powerful espresso – writing you all from my favorite wi-fi spot Café Terrasse, inside the lindissima Aliança Frances. It’s time for another update, and because I’ve lived the equivalent of what must be 3 lives in the last 2 weeks, expect many blog updates in the weeks to come.

This morning found me rolling out of bed at 7:30 a.m. Salvador time, salty-breeze rustling sheets that never quite block out the 5-am-sunrise against my amarelo apartment-room walls. Up and dressed for a morning run, I bounded happily along the winding, tile-studded Salvadorian streets for about an hour. By 8:00 am, equatorial Salvador is already sufficiently hot and humid, and I took relief under the shades of giant Mango and Jaca trees in the Campo Grande memorial park of Bahia before finishing my run along the Avenida Oceanicà. Agua de Coco, Calda de Cana (literally, sugar soup), and frutas frescas vendors were already pedaling their various wears, and I might have snagged a free siriguela fruit or two. With one mile left to return to my apartment, the skies opened up and releived their humidity, dumping tropical rain all over me. Forgive me for waxing poetic, but not much compares to a morning run, bathed at once in rain and sun, along the Atlantic ocean shores. Good morning, BAHIA!

Fresh mango, walnuts, and papaya quickly consumed for some nourishment, and now I’m more than prepared for sharing stories and some hard-core blogging. Once again, I’m overwhelmed with experiences to relate. Frankly, I would much rather share with you all stories of my recent travelings to INCREDIBLE Brazilian locals: The enchanting and antique Ilha de Boipeba, a fishing island without time, cars, or government,

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Sunset, first night on the Island.

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After reaching the top of the famous “Cachoeira de Fumaca”, second highest waterfall in Brazil.

or perhaps my transformative and incredible 21st birthday week in Vale do Capão, an “alternative-therapy-performing-circus-organic-food-yoga-health-movement-get-away” village tucked deep in the breathtaking, waterfall and cavern filled Chapada Diamantina Mountains (literally translates to land of Diamond Mountains).  I want to relate my serendipitous travel moments, quirky and exciting stories, new lessons and understanding in Brazilian culture. Upcoming themes: fine pockets of vegetarian cuisine, riding the omnibus, a day in the life of a Brazilian student, and with certainty I can dedicate whole posts to my love for Açaí Ice Cream here and also, the experience of waiting in endless Brazilian lines…

But, after that long-winded intro, I instead feel obligated to relate to you my Carnaval experience: You already have the history from last time, and pictures are few and far-between (due to the constant danger of robbers, it is suggested not to bring anything with you into the streets). Consider this the Lauren-Eckert-perspective of Salvador-style Carnaval. But disclaimer: the ways in which to celebrate Carnaval here in Brazil are as diverse and colorful as the country, culture, individuals, and fruit plates I adore.

Night 1:  Bloco Tranquilo, Fantasia

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Did I mention that clothes were few and far between? Ale and I with amigos Brasileiros during Bloco Fantasia.

Believe it or not, the week-long celebration of Carnaval actually began with a pre-party. Visiting the beautiful and historic Pelourhino by omnibus Tuesday night, I followed my first Trio Electrico. These “Trio Electricos” are the basis of Carnaval parades. Basically, the Trio is a giant, slow-moving truck (frequently pulled instead of driven). Hand-crafted on top of every gigantic heavily-decorated truck is a stage on which qualquer (whatever) type of band plays live music. Most popular in Brazil: Samba, Reggae, Axe (African-percussion), Electric (think club-style rage), and more calm, acoustic-styles (guitars, “cavaquinhos”, etc). The pre-party Carnaval was a fabulous and comparatively tranquil “mascarada fantasia“. Everyone dressed in absolutely incredible outfits (or body paint in place of outfits). Feathers and glitter and masks were everywhere as the “gente” followed the bloco, all dancing in a forward direction within ropes held around the moving concert.

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Okay, so I have a few pre-pictures. We are SO prepared.

As I already related, people of all ages, races, and sizes partook. After a few miles of dancing, the Bloco ended with a party on the steps of the San Antonio church. Think lots of food, beer, cachacha (local liquor), and of course more glitter, confetti, and dancing.

A little more louco, Bob Sinclair

On Friday Night of Carnaval, I Ale and I set off for a night of raw, extreme Carnaval. We had purchased entrance into BLOCO YES, a completely difference version of Trio Electrico. This gigantic truck, complete with moving bathrooms and beer vendors, followed the Barra-Ondina circuit, one of the busiest and most frequented parade circuits in the City. Surrounded by what I estimate was 300-400 adolescents and adults drinking, partying, screaming, sweating, and dancing heavily, we processed for about 4 hours along the streets of Barra. Notably, we all wore matching “abadas” that we purchased for exclusive entrance into the Bloco. Also important to note: if you don’t cut up and reform and stylize your abada uniquely, you might as well stay at home!

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We tried our best with our Abadas…

Gracas deus for good tennis shoes and the back of my hand. The main attraction to this Trio was world-famous DJ Bob Sinclair, riding above us and blasting wild club mixes, complete with fog machines and flashing lights. For a large majority of the time, I couldn’t see the sky above, ground beneath, or line of other Trios in front of me. I was utterly encompassed in a wave of sweaty bodies, and I think sometimes my feet left the cement as I was pushed and pulled and rubbed in the procession. I was completely swept up by the experience, but luckily still present enough to slap away the endless amount of men and boys that (quite literally) tried to grab qualquer girl and kiss her passionately in the heat of Carnaval and cachacha passion. Thank you, Notre Dame Club Boxing. You have gifted me valuable talents… Occasionally jumping out of the ropes of the parade for a breath of fresh-air in the (slightly) less crowded streets and beach shores, Ale and I were exhausted when we finally finished the journey through the crowds and vendors and partiers down every street to return to her house at 5 a.m. for a little sleep. (Up and at-em for the bus at 5:40 a.m. to Boipeba, but that’s another story).

The real Carnaval: My thoughts

The 7 nights and days of Carnaval followed a similar pattern. Luckily, Ale and I also got to experience a small and happy, peaceful Carnaval in the fishing village Boipeba, where I feel we experienced the heart of the celebration. Days of Carnaval were chalk full of activity as well: mostly tourists and locals filling the streets with more cerveja drinking, dancing practice, and, unfortunately, trash. Carnaval, in summary: a unique and probably indescribable experience. Good? Bad? Absolutely out of control? I think all of the above.

As a budding ecologist and hopeful conservationist, there were many aspects of Carnaval Salvador that deeply disturbed me. It was absolutely impossible to continue two inches without running into another screaming vendor. It was not possible to maneuver any side-streets or sidewalks due to the side-by-side vendors with alcohol, water, “Guarana Mix”, heavy oily energy food, decorative clothes, and everything else between. ALL of the Styrofoam, plastic, beer cups, (and most disgustingly, human waste) ended up in the oceans and streets. Besides a police force that unfortunately often took to extreme brutality in the streets, all services and productions (including trash clean-up) seemed to halt for Carnaval. I was floored when I visited a familiar super market for water and found it flooded with people eating food off the shelves, refrigerators disconnected and food rotting, and half-eaten chip bags littering the floor.

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My phone wasn’t capable of capturing the waste…

 

 

So much of what this celebration great: liberation of reservations, celebration of life and food and dance, etc, also results in attitudes of complete disrespect for others, cleanliness, and the environment. Unfortunately, Carnaval today is rapidly becoming a tourist trap, attracting upwards of 3 million visitors to Salvador from around the world. The extreme and desperate commercialism and waste that results was often overwhelming.

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Vendors and the aftermath: Barra.

When questioned, locals supply very different opinions regarding Carnaval. Many sing its praises with huge smiles, excitements, and offerings to teach crucial dance moves. Some offer parties, tips (eat beans for breakfast every day), or “good lucks”. Many flee the city for the peace of surrounding islands. My host mom DETESTS it. But whatever the attitude, every local here sees Carnaval as an opportunity to make an extra buck (and rightly so).  My host mom rented out my room to German tourists, women in the streets offer scissors for “reforming abadas” at price, even a brush of body paint is $1.50US. As the tourists flood in, the prices and occurrences of robberies and assaults sky-rockets and the city’s feeling of trust and culture degrades. Many friends in my program were robbed during celebrations, and the homeless crowded the streets along with the trash. I was lucky enough to have a beautiful, exciting, and unforgettable Carnaval experience, and I am truly thankful. But I also have hopes that Salvador is able to retain the routes of this beautiful festival: celebration of life, fabulous mascaradas and cultural Samba and Axe dancing, and familial happiness, in place of over commercialization and violence.

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Pictures of crowded streets can’t capture the moments, smells, feelings, sweat, and vibrance of Carnaval.

And now, I leave you all for a trip to the local Mercado Modelo, for a much needed new pair of leather sandals (Carnaval and recent travels have taken their toll) and adventures around the town with my newly acquired Salvador Map (I’m still at it with my americany green backpack). I’m determined to learn all I can about this city while I am here, and taking to the streets with a belly full of magic:

Acai Tigela, ice cream OF THE GODS

Acai Tigela, ice cream OF THE GODS

is just the way to do it.

As always, all my love and muitos beijos,

Your Laurinha

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Começando Uma Nova Vida (Coisas Lindas, Tudo Beleza)

As I sit in the sombra (shade) of what I believe is a Mango tree at the quaint and chique Cafeteria Alienca Frances, I am finally inspired to write you all again….

Alienca FrancesA vista incrivel!

How I wish I would’ve written you all sooner! There is no way I can share all of the wonderful experiences I’ve had here since I’ve last written. And I want to share it all with you, because in one month I’ve received so much happiness, understanding, and beauty from this place and its constantly pulsing, bright, alegre culture. I’ve commenced blogging, in place of e-mail updates, in hopes of sharing more. I hope you’re all able to keep up with my new commitments to writing. :)

But… Where to begin?!

I guess with my current state of mind. As you can imagine, I’m floating on cloud nine. I spent my morning running along the shores of Porto de Barro, passing Portuguese-Settlement-age Forts and Lighthouses, vendors screaming at the blonde “gringa” sprinting by that their “agua de coco” reigns supreme, and men on the beach trying to sell me what was undoubtedly a Pit Bull- Terrier – Mutt mix straight off the streets (that was still, of course, unapologetically adorable). I’ve finished my month of intensive language classes and commence my Universidade Catolica de Salvador-Bahia classes February 18th. I’m currently enjoying um Sorvete Simples and revelling in the fact that I, along with the entire city of Salvador, have absolutely nada I have to do. “CARNAVAL” is the word on (literally) everyone’s lips. Young, old, rich, poor, the celebration has already (unofficially) begun. Until my first “bloco” party last night, I don’t think I really appreciated what everyone was celebrating.

Carnaval, WHAT is this party?

The people of Salvador live busy, vivid, colorful, but… often difficult lives. Poverty remains a constant reality here, and work weeks are long and houses small. Internet, television, and many of the things that keep up so busy in the states are definitely present here, but less prominent (or, to my ire, efficient). Most people spend their spare time with family on the beach, playing music, partaking in artistic expression, or dancing. It seems, to me, that people here know what life is about. I had misconceptions about Carnaval. I imagined that it was in close conjunction with the Catholic church, similar to Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday in the states, except, of course, WILD AND CRAZY AND HUGE AND FOR AN ENTIRE WEEK. But practicing Catholics are not as prominent here as was expected, and Lent is sort of unheard of…

So wait, what is this country-wide, productivity-halting party for?!

Carnaval Brasileira actually takes its routes in Europe. Before Lent, in Portugal, it became tradition to proceed the 46 days of Lenten sacrifice with the partaking in sweet foods, heavy drinks, and wild parties. Portuguese settlers in Salvador (the original port of settlement and capital of the country) mixed this tradition with the heavy influences of ubiquitous Western African slaves and indigenous populations that they shared coastal Brazil with. By the 1800′s, the party had escalated to a blend of family parades, traditional African foods, and European/African/”New Age Dance”. By the 20th century, Samba Schools began preparing magnificent shows for the parades. With every change in the celebration, more individuals partook. Today, Carnaval is celebrated throughout the country in vast and very different styles. But one fact remains true: everyone participates, everyone dances, and EVERYONE is…. simply happy. (Um pouco more info: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/history-of-brazilian-carnival.html)

But the heart of carnaval in Bahia is something I had to experience (a little, much more to come!) to understand! People here do not need a religious reason to celebrate. Everyone is desperate to get together and celebrate LIFE. Realizing this in the mist of radically and liberally dressed (or un-dressed) crowds in the midst of the Historic Pelourhino District last night reminded me of a forgotten favorite poem:

“there are some hours where I am surprised
that there is no parade scheduled
simply because we all woke up and did it–
we were human!
today!
we were human!
yesterday! we were the same thing
and tomorrow–
again!
filled with blue mountain lust and skyscraper
we are skyscrapers
we are whatever is bigger than skyscrapers…”

(Every Day a Parade – Anis Mojgani)

Obviously, I cannot wait for Carnaval’s (real) commencement on Thursday and to share my wild coming adventures with you this week as I partake in the beleza celebration of LIVING. Stay tuned gente.

Language Development, Understanding More

Looking back at my e-mail one month past, I feel like a different human being. What a difference opening my mind and taking my time and stopping worrying makes! I am now… definitely proficient in Portuguese, living without paper-accepting toilets, and have discovered a small organic-vegetarian restaurant with: get this, PEANUT BUTTER (“manteiga de amendoim”) as well as a delicious all-you can eat home prepared buffet and an atmosphere bubbling with hip youngsters, yoga masters, Salvadorian locals, and veggie-starved foreigners. Along with discovering my favorite Sorveterias for a good bowl of ice cream (or, more Brasilian of me, DELICIOUS Acai na tigela) , learning how to cook traditional feijado with new friends, and making connections with (every) human I interact with, I am finding language comprehension, development, and home here.

Aiming to understand more every day has translated to SO MUCH MORE than language competency and classroom work. Instead, I am understanding the culture, places, people, and ways of Salvador. It’s only since I’ve begun to comprehend all of these components of the city and open my mind to the local… manner of thinking that I have developed my language skills. Classroom work?! Forget it. My teachers are the streets and my shameless attempts to talk to every child, street vendor, dance class instructor, artist, student, and person I meet.

And EVERYONE adores the interaction. I’ve had very few bad experiences and (fortunately!) too many good ones to relate. Everyone is so excited to connect with a traveler and a fellow person. They all give me affection, offer homes or food or knowledge or directions or free classes or jewelry or at very least a sloppy Brasilian kiss. I’ve overnighted in yoga-studio homes, hostels with professional Italian chefs and new Chilean friends, toured favelas with locals, participated in candomble ceremonies with practitioners, connected with Australians and Americans and Ghanians and Brazilians and Italians and people from every walk of life, been dragged around tiny island villas by half-drunken and overly excited local chemist-guides, and talked philosophy and universal-connectivity with young spoken-word poets over a bowl of amazon-root puree, cerveja, and a perfect view of the beach and the moon. After my Afro-Brasilian dance class last night (yes, try not to laugh, all the professionals in my class are polite enough to hold back as I flail to the drums.) a college-age girl named Jade at the bus stop gifted me her beautiful beaded candomble necklace simply because I told her I liked it. Everyone wants to GIVE. It is an incredible and redeeming life experience. Simply ask, and everyone throws their love and goodness at you.

Wow, talk about waxing poetic.

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Preparing traditional feijoada with my “pai Brasileiro”, Honey, and friends.

Coco vendor

My new coco-vendor pal, with an incredible life story and DELICIOUS sweet homemade coconut deserts (freshly shredded sugar cane included). Cachoeira Villa, Salvador.

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Boiling beans, salt, bone marrow, and a whole plethora of “fejoida carne” cow-cuts

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Ale and I, my new best Chilean Amiga and partner-in-adventure-and-crime.

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Mangoes, Feira

6 mangoes = $1. The only math that matters.

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Free Jaka fruit on the street. DOCE.

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Beautiful Views

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Home Sweet Home, My apartment window

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See above: Cachoiera, Bahia.
A historic village of art, antiquity, and photo inspiration :)

Offering Iamenja

Offering Gifts to Iamenja, capoeira-goddess-of-the-sea.

Ilha de Mare Cachoiera margipe  tree

I have so much more to relate: Still to come, journeys to Praia do Forte (petting baby sea turtles), Ilha de Imbassai (catching face-sized frogs and cooking the BEST PIZZA OF MY LIFE, eggs and tuna included, with an Italian chef in an eco-hostel), free reggae concerts and slam poetry, Gilberto Gill and other extradordinary venues, and stories on stories on stories. I’m off to “O Lado Bom da Vida” (Silver-Linings Playbook) with some amigas and after, more parties and blocos and exploring. Stay tuned, stay happy, and I love you all!

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With love and sun and new-found Brasilian ponderings,

Lauren <3

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