Thursday, December 17, 2009

Good Morning and Welcome to the United States of America

I keep turning around reflexively when I hear people speak English, expecting to know them. Except that I'm in the Atlanta airport right now, so English isn't exactly uncommon. A young woman with a foreign accent just came up to me to ask how to connect to the internet, and I explained it to her -- I'm so much more helpful in English! I'm sitting right next to a coffee shop with bagels and muffins and big cups of coffee, waiting for my flight to Portland in about five hours. Since it hasn't sunk in yet that I've actually left Brazil (I still haven't felt the cold Atlanta air, much less the cold Maine air), I'm excited to be back in the United States.

While I had pumped myself up over the past few weeks about my return home by reminding myself of what would be awaiting me back in Maine (my family, friends, the cold, Christmas, food), the past few days were spent thinking about what I would be leaving behind in Brazil. There was a lot of eating and not a lot of sleeping (I would estimate about 15 hours total over the past four nights). By 6:30 pm yesterday, when I got the call from my doorman that the taxi was waiting outside, I was quite sure I didn't want to leave.

My last full day in Brazil was Tuesday, and I took a hike to a lookout point for one last view of the city I had called home for the past 23 and a half weeks. I ended up covered in mud and sweat, with a bruised tailbone and mosquito bites dotting my ankles and shins, but it was definitely worth it. Rio has many problems, some significant, but nobody can deny that it was kind of an ingenious place to put a city. It will be a change going back to boring old Providence; even Maine pales in comparison to these mountains lining the beaches.

Next on the list of last-day activities was watching the sunset at the Arpoador, which, as I mentioned in my last post, is one of my favorite places in Rio. Although we were doubtful it would be a good one, as the sky was cloudy, the sun managed to poke out near the horizon, and the clouds only made the colors more vibrant.

Our plan was to spend one last night out on the town and return in time for the sunrise and a morning swim. The night would also serve as a last chance to eat and drink some of my favorite foods and drinks. As I sipped my last Brazilian caipirinha at Rio Scenarium I already was planning for my next one back in the United States. I have a feeling the cold lime, sugar, and cachaça won't taste quite as good in the snow, but I've brought back some mortars and pestles so I'm determined to use them.

Back in Copacabana, we stopped by the hot dog van for a last cachorro quente completo -- complete with peas, corn, raisins, potato sticks, a quail egg, and of course ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. My last água de coco came at a stand on the beach, where we also shared some final fried manioc (and discussed how weird it is to use the English word "manioc" instead of mandioca or aipim, two of several Portuguese words for the same tuber). 

By this time some of the weaker members of our group were starting to yawn. We returned to Sarah's apartment to crash on her couches (unfortunately the hammock had been taken down) for about an hour and a half, and then I put on my best camp counselor/mom voice and woke my reluctant friends back up just before dawn. We were a little more lively once we got a good look at the sky over the beach and saw that it had started to change color. 

The sunrise was as beautiful as the sunset had been the evening before, and it marked the first time I had watched the two consecutively. The waves were huge and the beach still empty, and we took advantage of the abnormally warm water to throw ourselves into the surf.

There's so much more to say about Brazil, and I'm planning on continuing to blog so that I can say it. I'm sure I'll have a lot more free time now that I'm home Also, I'm convinced the 80-degree temperature drop and my general exhaustion is going to seriously hinder my efforts in avoiding catching swine flu from my mom, so I might be house-bound for a while if I succumb to it. Keep reading, I'll keep writing, and I will see many of you very soon!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ó Mar Salgado

I think we probably can all agree that I've come a long way since this picture was taken:

But the reason I dug up that picture is not to prove what a bathing beauty I used to be (although we all can be glad that I did not grow up in Brazil, where my fat little baby-self would have been stuffed in a miniscule bikini with no demure ruffles to hide my chubby hips).

The real reason is because I've been thinking about the ocean a lot lately, and my relationship with it goes back a long way. The first place I lived was an apartment in Portland not much farther from the water than my apartment in Rio is. For many years of my life, it was inconceivable to me that anyone could bear living more than half an hour from the ocean. This was one of the reasons I was excited to come to Rio, where the beach is a way of life.

I've gone to the beach quite a bit here, and my swimsuit tan can prove it. However, there have many more days when it's been too rainy or quite simply too hot for me to go to the beach. The super-hot days when I do manage to go, I simply lie on my kanga, sweat soaking through it, and when it gets to be too much I go wade into the ocean -- along with the tens of thousands of other people at the beach that day.

I do like the beach here. I really do. I like that it's so accessible and open to everyone, that it's perfectly to acceptable to go to the beach in all your spare time, that you can get whatever you want to eat and drink without even having to do so much as stand up.

I don't think I realized, however, to what extent I missed the kind of ocean I had grown up with until I traveled with the Brown-in-Brazil group to Ilha Grande last weekend. As its name suggests, Ilha Grande is a big island off the coast a couple of hours south of Rio. And, of course, we needed to take a boat to get there. The morning we left was brisk and cloudy, with bursts of rain every now and then. It didn't look like a great day for the beach, but it was a great day for a boat ride.

For me it was, at least. The old wooden boat took about two hours to lurch its way to the island, and several people ended up getting sick (including on my face, but that's a story for another day...). I enjoyed myself immensely, though. It reminded me in some ways of zipping around Casco Bay in a motor boat and letting myself be thrown in the air as the boat sped over the waves.

The next day was a lot nicer and we spent the day at what is now one of my favorite beaches. After being tossed about by some huge waves and showing my skills at beach soccer, some of us went over to climb on the rocks that formed the edge of the beach.

The rocks were a blast to climb on, and the view was amazing (unfortunately I didn't bring my camera for that part of the adventure). The waves crashing against the rocks reminded me of one of my favorite places in Rio: the Arpoador.

The Arpoador juts out between Copacabana and Ipanema, and at its tip is a huge rock that's always a bit cooler than the rest of the city, as it gets some of the best wind. In the past couple of months I started going up there to read and to sometimes watch the sunset -- it's definitely one of the best places in Rio for doing so.

I'm leaving Brazil in two days, and there are plenty of things I'm going to miss and that can never be recreated in the States. For example, I walked past a group of monkeys while I was coming back from the beach at Ilha Grande. That just doesn't happen in New England. However, there's a reason I like sitting on the rocks at the Arpoador so much.

I can stand on top and to my left is Ipanema Beach, to my right is my home of Copacabana, and in between them I can see the Cristo looking down at all of us. It's so Rio it's ridiculous. But then I can turn around and look out at the open ocean with its white-capped waves on windy days, and feel like I've suddenly found myself in a Winslow Homer painting.

I'm going to miss Brazil; I'm sure of it. But I'm pretty excited to go back home to Maine.

P.S. The title of this post comes from a great poem by Fernando Pessoa called "Mar Português". Oh salty sea, how much of your salt/ Is the tears of Portugal!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

770 mL Day And Other Accomplishments

Today was a day I had looked forward to for a long time. Today was my final Portuguese test, which symbolically, if not actually, marked the end of my Portuguese studies. I finished level five, and there are only five levels -- so I should speak perfect Portuguese, right? Ha. Yeah right. It mostly means that I know every Portuguese tense known to man -- and there are a lot. 

Anyway, the real reason that I was looking forward to today was that it was 770 mL açaí day. (That's pronounced ah-sigh-ee for all you gringos out there.) I know you've all heard about this magical berry from the Amazon, with more antioxidants than blueberries; you've probably even had it in iced tea or some other flavored drink. But until you've come to Rio -- and for some reason it doesn't seem to exist in this form in other states -- you've never had açaí as it was meant to be eaten. That is, frozen, mixed with guaraná syrup, and covered with your choice of toppings.

I actually wasn't a huge fan of açaí upon my first bite five months ago. However, as with many other foods in Brazil that didn't seem very appetizing at first glance -- suco de abacate, farofa, cachorro quente completo (that is, avocado smoothie, manioc flour sprinkled on beans and rice, and hot dogs with ALL the toppings (including corn, mayonnaise, quail eggs, peas, etc.)) -- it quickly won me over. If it's possible to be addicted to açaí, I'm pretty sure I am.

Tuesdays and Thursdays I have (or had, I guess I should say now) an awkward two-hour break between my translation class and my Portuguese class. Since it's from 3-5, no one is ever around except for my friend Stephanie, who is also in those two classes with me. We were always looking for ways to occupy ourselves, sometimes getting açaí while we killed some time. This quickly turned into a habit, and eventually we would leave our translation class and head straight for the açaí stand without even having to discuss it. I worked my way up to 400 mL as the semester wore on (com paçoca no meio e em cima -- sweet peanut butter powder in the middle and on top), but to celebrate the end of both of our classes, we decided that today was the day to go all out and get the biggest açaí offered. That's 770 mL.

I was thinking the other day about how I don't eat much ice cream here. Those of you who know me well know that I'm obsessed with ice cream. In my essay writing class senior year of high school, I wrote my persuasive essay on how amazing ice cream was. So yeah, I like ice cream. And it's consistently 90 degrees Fahrenheit here. Today it was at least 97. Perfect ice cream weather. But here's the thing: açaí has replaced ice cream in my life. I never would have guessed anything was capable of that.

And yeah, 770 mL of açaí is as big as my face:

Apart from the açaí, today was rather stressful; besides the Portuguese test, I also had a translation and a revised translation due, as well as a third of a paper that I had forgotten about until I was reminded at 9:30 this morning. Twelve hours later, I am done with 4/5 of my academic classes, with only a short paper left for my Brazilian Literature class.

My iTunes must know that things are ending soon, since it just started playing "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Seriously, it just did. You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last. But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast. I wish I could keep açaí; unfortunately, I don't think it would travel very well. I wonder what I will take away from this experience that will last. Great memories, photos, and friends, of course. 

I just hope that many months from now I will also still remember how to use the future perfect subjunctive and the simple pluperfect indicative.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Boas Festas!

Thanksgiving dinner outdoors is not something I ever expected to experience. However, the spring night with temperatures in the 80s turned out to be a perfect setting for a feast. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but the fact that I was sweating off all the liquid I consumed made me feel like I had more room for solid food, and the light summer dress I wore certainly rid me of the need to loosen my belt or unbutton my pants. 

I wasn't expecting much from this Thanksgiving, but the fact that it didn't actually feel like it should be Thanksgiving helped me forget that I was missing out. There were hints of it, though. When I Skyped with my family I noticed that they were all wearing sweaters and that there were no leaves left on the trees -- it actually did feel like Thanksgiving in that part of the world. When I made the green beans I was bringing to yesterday's potluck, I remembered how at home the job somehow always falls to me to cut off the ends, though I usually get away with doing it in front of the parade or football game. So maybe it felt like Thanksgiving, if only a little bit, since my green beans were about three times the size they are at home. They didn't even fit on the cutting board.

In any case, my green beans and my Thanksgiving turned out wonderfully, though like no other Thanksgiving I had experienced with my family, where we always have the necessities and only the necessities (turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, pumpkin pie, apple pie) and where my brother and I get quizzed on Thanksgiving history. This feast included quesadillas with avocado, two different kinds of rice, lentils, açai sauce, and Korean BBQ-ed beef. However, there was stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, and apple crisp, among many other delicious dishes, and we all said what we were thankful for before digging in, and there was even a hand-turkey drawing contest, so it was about as Thanksgiving-y as we could manage. I left stuffed, after seconds of both dinner and dessert, and that's really what Thanksgiving is all about, right?

When I finally waddled back into my apartment building last night, I noticed that there was a small, lit-up Christmas tree in the lobby that I could swear wasn't there when I left that evening. I would say that this signified the beginning of the Christmas season and the arrival of my holiday spirit if I hadn't already been bombarded by Christmas decorations for a month now. Whoever complains that Americans start advertising for holidays too early has never been to Brazil. With no Halloween or Thanksgiving to pace them (though we have had plenty of other days off, for holidays that no one seems to celebrate), Brazilians just leap right into Christmas in October.

I love Christmas. I love Christmas songs, and Christmas movies, and Christmas lights, and Christmas trees, and Christmas-themed hot drinks, and everything to do with Christmas. So I should love that stores were proclaiming that "Christmas has already arrived" as early as last month, right? Well, no. It just doesn't feel like Christmas when it's the sunscreen advertisement in a store window that is decked out in Christmas paraphernalia.

Or when the Celsius temperature could just as easily be in Fahrenheit near a similar display of Santa and snow back at home. (There are kids building a snowman farther down on the display. Many people here have never seen snow before and probably would have no idea how to go about building a snowman.)

Oh, and that was taken just after I had been discussing with my friends how it was a cool day. A cool, 86 degree F spring day.

I haven't listened to any of the Christmas songs in my iTunes library yet, nor do I have any desire to, and it hasn't even crossed my mind to watch Love Actually. All that will be saved for as soon as I step out of the airplane in Portland on December 17 and feel like my plane has been rerouted to the North Pole. I will pack the following week as full of Christmas spirit as I can, since I certainly am not feeling any here. Although I won't be able to go to the beach on Christmas at home, at least it will feel like Christmas.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Theater, Film, Literature -- Look How Cultured I Am!

I'm a very thrifty person -- sometimes to a fault. This can lead to my mother complaining that I am not eating enough, or that I'm walking too much instead of taking a bus or a taxi, or anything else about my lifestyle that she can think of from 5000 miles away. However, last week I saw a play and two Brazilian movies for a grand total of 5 reais (almost 3 dollars), and I don't think there's anything worth complaining about in that.

The play was called Além do Arco-Íris, or "Over the Rainbow." Despite the fact that I am taking a translation class and learn for about four hours per week how words are polysemic, I was translating this in my head as "Beyond the Rainbow." It wasn't until the first notes of the song started playing that the beginning of the play that it all came together for me. 

Nothing to do with Dorothy and Toto, this play was about a woman whose husband has just died. For much of it, she just sat around on stage and told us how sad she was, and reenacted their first meeting, and sniffed his shirts. Pretty cliché stuff. I thought I wasn't going to be able to take it anymore when the stage went mostly dark and she started reciting "Funeral Blues" ("Stop all the clocks...") -- in Portuguese, of course. 

But then the pieces started coming together. There was the revelation of a secret abortion, an affair, and of course some fraud. If you think that's melodramatic, you ain't heard nothing yet. The big kicker came right at the end. We figured it out right as the main (and mostly only) character did (spoiler alert): she's actually dead too! Yeah, I didn't see that one coming. Unfortunately any mystery the play still held was quickly destroyed when the other character, who had been mostly clearing out the apartment until now, answered the telephone and said, "Unfortunately, the lady of the house died yesterday in a car accident." So that was a little abrupt.

I did enjoy it; it really wasn't as bad as I'm making it out to seem. The actress was quite good, and I was proud of myself for being able to laugh at the Rio-specific jokes. Plus we brought cookies.

The next day a Brazilian cinema chain was having a special day for national films, with each playing for only two reais. I skipped both of my classes (ok, I guess there's something for my mom to object to -- but it's not like I missed anything important!) and went straight to the theater.

The first film I saw was called Tempos de Paz, and it was about a Polish actor who comes to Brazil in 1945 hoping for peace, but who instead is almost sent back on the next boat by an immigration agent who suspects him of being a Nazi. It all takes place within a couple of hours, with the actor learning that things aren't so idyllic in Brazil and the agent learning about the importance of theater. And me learning about Eastern European immigration to Brazil during and after the Second World War.

I really liked the film -- though I distrusted the fact that the actor spoke such grammatically correct and fluent, though accented, Portuguese, despite never having been to Brazil before. I left the theater impressed and went to buy some chocolate before my next showing.

The next film was Besouro, about capoeira in 1920s Bahia, less than 40 years after slavery was abolished and before capoeira was legalized. The movie seemed to me to be kind of a Brazilian version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There was a little bit of flying involved. While very beautifully and fantastically made, I thought the characters could have been developed a little more. The love story was settled and over, as was the film, before I even realized what was happening (though I guess I did manage to finish my whole chocolate bar...).

After that I decided not to go home right away because the air-conditioning in the mall was heavenly. So I did some shopping! I haven't bought any Brazilian clothing yet, besides bikinis and my Flamengo shirt, of course, so I thought I'd look for some souvenirs. Brazilian clothing tends to be kind of weird though, with lots of flowy shirts with weird straps and no backs, so I didn't end up getting anything.

Instead I went to the bookstore. I was looking for a book by Fernando Pessoa, which I didn't find, but I ended up buying O evangelho segundo Jesus Cristo (The Gospel According to Jesus Christ) by José Saramago, a contemporary Portguese author who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998. Harold Bloom called him "the most gifted novelist alive in the world today," so I figured I might as well try to read one of his novels, although they are known for being extremely difficult. Paragraphs are an average of a page or two long (the first chapter is all one paragraph) and individual sentences aren't much shorter. I haven't gotten very far yet, and it's definitely hard, but I found that if I read very, very slowly, I can kind of get the gist of what's going on!

The reason I haven't gotten very far is this: the next book I bought was Harry Potter e as relíquias da morte... aka Harry Potter number 7!  I haven't read it since the week it came out over two years ago, and it's really fun to read in Portuguese. When else would I learn a word like "The Burrow?" (A Toca). I'm not even a quarter of the way through, though, and I'm already sad knowing that it will end soon. We will see if I cry as much at the end as I did when reading it in English.

Books in Brazil are kind of expensive (and people here don't really read! It's a vicious cycle....), but I think my mom will be glad to know that even if I end up spending my last month surviving on fried eggs and pasta and walking the 3.5 miles to school every day, at least I will be reading.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


"O Brasil Apagou," read the headline of a newspaper I saw this morning, a picture of a single candle in the darkness taking up almost the whole page. Brazil turned off. It was slightly overdramatic, but the melodrama about the blackout that affected much of the country last night wasn't limited to the media. In my Portuguese literature class, the professor was talking this morning about the rise of the bourgeoisie and the materialism that was a part of bourgeois culture. The girl sitting next to me started to say something but stopped short. "Go ahead," my professor said. The student hesitated, saying that it had nothing to do with the short story we were discussing, nor with literature at all, for that matter. "Go ahead," my professor told her again.

"Well, the power outage last night," she began. "It really makes you think. We have all of these things, but when you really think about it, they're nothing." She stared wistfully off into the distance, perhaps contemplating ridding herself of at least one of her cell phones (tons of Brazilians have several, weirdly enough) or maybe her laptop. "Nothing," she repeated.

I won't say that last night's blackout changed me so profoundly. However, it was fun to compare it to any of the many power outages I have survived in Maine (email from my mom: "hope you told everyone that you live through much longer power outages in Cumberland all of the time").

It started a little after 10 o'clock. I was sitting at my desk when suddenly my computer shut off (I didn't have the battery in it) and my light started flickering and dimming. I went to the door and found my host mother, Glória, fumbling around for one of her cell phones (she has at least three) in total darkness. The light in my room was completely out by then but I nevertheless found my (singular) cell phone and turned on its flashlight to help Glória. That's right, it has a flashlight! "Tá ótimo, o seu celular," she and Ariadne, the other woman I live with, kept repeating all night. Damn right my cell phone is awesome -- the cheapest one in the store, its light still managed to beat all of Glória's super chique phones... combined.

Ariadne had been in the shower (I was planning to go after her, so thank goodness she didn't finish just a little bit earlier!) and was still soapy when she came to stand next to me and Glória at the window that looks out onto the street. I tried to get some info on what was going on and why, but once it was clear that they didn't have any answers, we just stared down at the street and observed.

There was still some light on the streets, since cars were passing, but the lack of street lights was eerie. Even the lights at the Copacabana Fort were out. "Os bandidos vão aproveitar," Glória kept repeating (She's big on repeating things -- usually it's "That's just how life is."). The criminals are going to take advantage of this. And that was the first difference between a power outage in Rio and one in Cumberland.

The next was that we didn't have any candles! Or flashlights! Completely unprepared, we were relying on just our cell phones and therefore did not do anything the whole night besides stand by the window and chat.

I tried to tell stories about Maine winter power outages, such as the epic ice storm of '98, but I think I fell short in describing the real extent of the situation when I couldn't remember the word for "heating" (and why would I have used that word here?). Or "fireplace." Or "ice storm" (tempestade de gelo?). It's amazing what Portuguese vocabulary I lack simply based on the weather here. And vice versa -- for example, I know all about surfing in Portuguese.

"Do you think anyone is trapped in the elevator?" Glória suddenly asked. Ahh! I hadn't even thought of that. It never was a problem on Field Road. "The doorman is going to have to stand at the door all night," Ariadne pointed out, since the door-opening button requires electricity. Another power-outage casualty that had never crossed my mind. Glória then told me a horrific story of a girl getting trapped in an elevator for a week while her parents were on vacation; it was only when they returned that they found her dead. So I was not only glad that I hadn't been on the streets or in the shower, I was also very thankful I hadn't been in one of the several elevators in my building.

Some things I learned during the blackout:
  • The description of what to do when in a car accident in Rio that we discussed in my Portuguese class back in July was pretty much right on target. At one point last night there was a loud crash: a taxi and another car had crashed in the intersection we were staring down at (No traffic signals! Glad I wasn't in a moving vehicle! Or the metro! I didn't even think of that at the time.). There was a lot of screaming and honking, one car drove off (no information exchanged, of course), and the taxi driver pushed his cab to the side of the road and made a lot of angry phone calls. No one, not even one of the many police cars who sped by, stopped to help him.
  • There are tons of bats who live in the trees right under my window. This doesn't have to do with blackouts at all; I'm just saying. I have had enough experience with bats in my bedroom for one lifetime.
  • My host mother is a compulsive liar. She got several phone calls from friends, and she tried to convince each one that we still had light. The story began that our whole neighborhood had light, and by the last friend she talked to, she was saying that it was just our building that still had light because we were chiques and it was only the poor people who were left in darkness. She even told this friend that the door that the friend always came in was actually the service entrance and that the social entrance was a lot nicer and around the corner. While this sounds exactly like something I would have tried to get away with, I'm suddenly worried that I have been putting too much faith into what she tells me.
  • Fish can survive in aquariums without a electricity for the filter or oxygen circulation for up to five hours. The thing Glória said she was most worried about was her "peixinhos," and she made me hold my cell-phone flashlight up to the aquarium for her so she could make sure all her little fish were alive. Thankfully, one of her friends told her they had five hours (though I'm guessing that was just an arbitrary number, as I had been thinking of making up my own prognosis just to get Glória to stop worrying about them). After that, however, we should just fry them up.
  • "Blackout" is spelled "blecaute" in Brazil. I loved being able to say "blackout" with a Brazilian accent the whole night and this morning, and hearing others use the word always makes me laugh. I didn't actually learn how it was spelled, though, until this afternoon when I was able to use the internet again and finally read the news.
  • Which brings me to one thing I didn't learn: why? OK, there are some explanations (it all started with a hydro-electric dam on the border with Paraguay) but I'm not going to lie, I'm still a bit suspicious, and nobody seems to be giving clear answers. I'm no conspiracy theorist, but if people can't seem to agree on where and when it was raining yesterday....
Anyway, after over an hour of standing at the window, we all decided to go to bed. I stayed up for a little longer and started the seventh Harry Potter book, which I had just bought in Portuguese. I was sweating without my fan, not shivering by the fire, and I was reading by the light of a cell phone and not a candle, and there was no Central Maine Power outage line to call for information, nor a hand-cranked shortwave radio for access to the outside world, but in the end, as I read about Voldemort and the Death Eaters in the dark, it didn't feel all that different from a power outage at home.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

You Look Lost.

I figured I had better finish up this chapter of my adventures before I go off on too many more. (I realized yesterday though that six weeks from right now I will be on my way back home. Crazy! I will have to stuff in my last batch of adventures.

After a wonderfully calm morning at the beach in front of our pousada, Sarah and I went to the front desk to check out and to make sure the bus back to Recife came by when we thought it did. The man there told us that it came by around noon at the square where all the vans leave from. We hurried up there.

That was when things go confusing. First of all, we had read that the bus left Maceió at 11 so it couldn't possibly get to Maragogi by noon. Also, we doubted it came through the town center, which was made up of a jumble of narrow streets.

However, no one was much of a help. Everyone we asked gave us different answers to our questions. The van drivers told us that we would have to take a van to Barreiros and catch the bus there, but we weren't sure if they just wanted us to pay for their vans. After much standing around in the sun and lugging our stuff from place to place, we made it up to a main road, where there was an actual bus stop. There, a trustworthy-looking young man told us that the bus did indeed pass by, but maybe not for a while, and it would be faster just to take the van to Barrieros where more buses come through.

So we finally did. In the van, we sat up front with the driver, who played us Eminem and told us how happy we was to live in such a paradise. He dropped us off at the bottom of the hill leading to Barrieros and told us we could either get a bus or a just slightly more expensive car there.

We sat in the shade with another young man who asked us questions until he suddenly sat up straight and whistled. A bus was coming by, and we ran to it, got on, and I promptly closed my eyes. It had take about a dozen people to get us on the bus to Recife, but we had done it.

We had plans to stay in Recife with Carolina and her family, whom we had found on We planned to go straight to her apartment from the bus station, but guess what? The bus didn't take us to the bus station. We go out in some unknown corner of Recife and had no idea where to go. I guess we must have looked lost, though, since someone came up to us and gave directions without us even needing to ask. This happened again when we got off the city bus in Carolina's neighborhood but didn't know where to go from there. It's a fool-proof technique: just look lost, tired, and sweaty, and someone will come help you!

Carolina wasn't home yet, but her mother and sister welcomed us into their apartment and gave us some water and snacks. While talking to them, we finally understood what we had slowly been realizing over the course of the week: in the Northeast, people's accents were next to impossible for us to understand! We had no idea where we were going, but we soon got into a car with Carolina's brother, who neither looked old enough to drive nor seemed to care about the basic laws of physics (there was a lot of needless acceleration and some screeching tires).

After a nice evening with Carolina and her friend in Recife Antigo (which is where we finally ended up), I was happy to go back and get into bed.

The next day, after a delicious breakfast, Sarah and I headed off to Olinda, a small colonial town right next to Recife. We went to about a billion churches and I took way too make pictures of colorful buildings. The views from the tops of the hills were gorgeous, though, and we found our way up to a lighthouse identical to the one we had visited earlier that week. The one actually had a padlock on the gate, unfortunately, and someone was guarding the entrance.

Mysteriously, after a much needed coconut water, we made it to the Museum of the Man of the Northeast, which we had tried twice to visit earlier in the week but had failed. It was very interesting and worth the trouble and confusion it took to get there (I think I asked more people for help and directions on this one trip than I have in the whole rest of my life).

Back at Carolina's apartment, we met up with some of her friends and siblings to go to a sushi rodízio. First of all, rodízios are the best thing ever: all-you-can-eat food. I had been dying to try a sushi one, and the restaurant we went to was absolutely delicious. I especially couldn't get enough for the strawberry sushi. i just ate lunch, but I'm getting hungry again just thinking about it now.

The next day we had been planning to visit a city in the interior, but our plans didn't work out. instead we visited a random castle in Recife, with an even more random collection of medieval armor, as well as a collection of art from the Dutch-influenced period of Brazilian history. Both the art and the museum itself were beautiful, and I learned some stuff about Brazil that I had never heard about before.

After a final dinner at a restaurant with foods typical of the region, we headed to bed for a few hours before our flight back to Rio.

That night, however, happened to be the night when Brazil moves to summer hours. BUT not all of Brazil, which we hadn't realized -- just the southern half, so Recife wouldn't be staying in the same time zone as Rio. What we didn't know was whether our flight would be leaving on Recife time or Rio time. After some clever research on the airline's website, we figured it out. And the flight wasn't even late! We soon made it back to Rio, where the sun was miraculously shining (though not for long).

And that was my trip. Recently in Rio, the sun has been shining quite consistently, but I'm about ready for some rain again. I tried to go to the beach yesterday and only lasted 30 minutes. You don't want to hear about the quantity of sweat I produced just lying there, reading my book, so I'll stop here....