Sunday, July 12, 2009
How Not To Be A Gringo
This past week, I went on a trip with my program to Paraty, a small historical town about four hours south of Rio de Janeiro (as you can see from the map, we didn't even get very far -- Brazil is an enormous country). The drive there was almost as interesting as the time spent in Paraty. The first hour or so was spent just getting out of the city -- favela after favela, horse-drawn carts on the highway, buildings in various states of construction and decay. It still amazes me how many people live in this city; it's by far the biggest place I've ever lived.
Finally we made it out to the coast again and it was as if we had entered paradise. Each beachtown we passed, nestled between rolling green mountains, seemed more beautiful than the last. I took some pictures from the bus which, though they are of bad quality, give a good idea of what the scenery looked like for several straight hours.
Paraty was historically an important port, first for the gold
trade, then for slaves, and finally for coffee. Cachaça, Brazil's famous sugar-cane distilled alcohol, has been an important export throughout that evolution. In fact, we visited a distillery outside the town and got to see both the stalks of sugar cane and the final result in bottles (which we also got to taste).
One of my favorite things about Brazil so far is the amount of places that sell food by weight -- even ice cream! One day in Paraty I had a large serving of ice cream (four different flavors, since you scoop them yourself) after lunch and then a smaller serving of fruit sorbets after dinner. I'm looking forward to starting a similar ice cream shop at home.
The town was beautiful (white houses with brightly colored trim) but we also spent a lot of time exploring the bay and the islands in it. We spent a whole day on a boat, stopping at beaches, swimming with fish, and eating lunch on an island. The next day we slid down a natural waterslide made of rock andthen took another boat to yet another island for more fresh fish. None of us could believe that this was a program actually sponsored by our school -- and that we are getting credit for doing this (among other things, of course... eventually).
I am already loving Brazil very much, and I kind of never want to leave. However, I haven't quite mastered the art of fitting in with the Brazilians yet (and my slowly-improving Portuguese isn't helping much). However, our tour guide in Paraty gave us all a leg up with a lesson on how not to be a gringo when going to the beach. Apparently, Brazilians don't bring towels, water, or books (all things I had been planning on bringing) to the beach. After having been to the beach several times, I'm not quite sure yet what you are supposed to do without any of these items -- besides drink beer, of course.
However, so far I have succeeded at one very important thing: I haven't gotten sunburned. I had to lather myself with sunscreen like a gringo to do so, though.