Monday, July 28, 2008

"Be Like Jim"

Sorry for the lack of updates-- my computer broke, as in, nothing happens when I turn it on anymore. Alexandre's comp had been having some internet connection problems, but we were too lazy to get it fixed and had just been sharing mine. So we didn't have internet at all for a few days until we had time to hang out at home and wait for the tech guy to come figure it out. But he came, and he did, so at least we have internet again! Alexadndre reflected upon the fact that we lived the first 13-14 years of our lives without internet, but how, now, we don't like going even a few days without it.

I know that I owe quite a few of you some emails! If you're waiting for an email from me, know that you're not alone in the waiting; I procrastinate against everyone equally. ;)

Anyhoo. There's been a bit of drama/annoyance in the work department. I made the apparently naive/American mistake of understanding my boss's statements such as "I am no longer going to be your boss; we're partners" and "starting in August, I want you to take over my classes and work full-time" and "I want you to be responsible for materials development" to mean exactly those things. How stupid of me! Jeez. Long story short, I'm still keeping a couple of classes at Job #2, and I'm not really receiving any kind of promotion at Job #1. He actually expected me to be doing all of the admin stuff for free. He tried to argue that I should do it because another teacher does it; "she doesn't care that she doesn't get paid for all of her prep because she's dedicated to our school; because she wants to see us succeed." Right.

He also talked about how he has a "vision" of "all the teachers making lots of prep work for their classes and then sharing their materials," except none of the other teachers prepare or share anything. As calmly as I could, I explained that every hour I spend making materials for him is an hour that I don't spend teaching at the other school, so I'm basically not willing to give that up.

With his attention span of a gnat and English- as- a- second-language skills, he didn't seem to hear or understand. When I said, "I guess I was just confused about my role here, but it's clear that I was thinking that I needed to be more involved than I actually do," he said, "no, no, I want you to be more involved. I value your input and your materials are always really helpful." I realized that my [clearly irrational!] American strategy of direct communication in an attempt to achieve clarity wasn't working, so I changed my tactic. I just said "really? Okay!" in an equally enthusiastic voice, and that worked to end the conversation. Jesus.

I was coming home in the afternoons ranting to Alexandre about all of this, unable to decide if it's simply a fault of my naïveté and my tendency to get over-involved in my work, or if it's just a cultural difference, or if it's the fault of my boss's managing style (or lack of one). I think it's a bit of all three. Alexandre's advice? We've been on an Office kick this week, downloading all the episodes from this great Brazilian website we found that has shows like The Office and Weeds with Portuguese subtitles and without torrent software. So he said, "sometimes, you have to be more like Jim. Just talk the big talk when your boss does; pretend you like him and pretend you agree with him, but don't actually work any more than you have to." Disappointing, but the way it is, I guess.

I never really understood why American business styles were so revered and respected, or why American MBA programs are so expensive, until now. I've had quite the track record in terms of jobs in the US (with such ends of the spectrum as fast-food employee, after-school program leader, loan processor, and dental receptionist), and, even with the worst bosses, I never had experiences that were as maddening as this one. Frustrating.

But otherwise, things are okay. This drama has really been a kick in the pants for me to get more involved in translation and private tutoring. A couple of Alexandre's friends/colleagues have mentioned ideas of private classes that we've never really followed up on, so I would really like to contact them directly and actually set a time for us to sit down and show them my material and discuss it. Also, one of my students at Job #2 is totally infatuated with me and my American-ness. She recommended me to one of her friends (they're both physical therapists), and he told his friends about me. I have a meeting with my student's friend and his friends tonight at the physical therapist's apartment to decide on our curriculum. They want weekly classes together, and I'll make 3-4 times per hour what I make at the schools.

Sorry for the people who are bored with all the detailed job-talk. What else is going on? We're still trying to move to a new apartment; we might get a new kitty next week; I went shopping with one of my students/friends yesterday and had a really nice time, as well as some much needed face-to-face girl talk. My grandma is the best and sent me Mexican spice packets, so we've been making a lot of burritos. Just living and learning and trying to balance the two.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Joey didn't make it. :'o(

The vet called us Sunday afternoon to tell us. She said she was staying with him for the day, but he was having seizures and was just too weak.

It has been a sad weekend. We've tried to keep ourselves busy-- you know, getting out of the house a bit. We went to a big used bookstore (always a comforting place, even when I can't read most of the books). I found a copy of Farewell to Arms in English. I have it at home, but, like about 60% of the books that I own, I never actually got around to reading it. But what's better is that this store had a big international books section, with lots of American authors translated into Portuguese. By some wonderful stroke of luck, I found one lone copy of All the King's Men translated into Portuguese. (Notice on that Amazon link... used copies for 87 cents!) In my opinion, it's the best book ever written in American English, so the Portuguese version can't be too far off. I was very pleased to buy it for Alexandre. He's still learning to trust my literary opinions. Although we both share a love for Kundera, and although we both believe that Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell both more or less got it right, and although I recently found a copy of a Michael Chabon novel translated and he bought it and read it and loved it, he doesn't always believe me. But then he was reading the Portuguese introduction of All the King's Men, and the editor described the book as an American version of Seara Vermelha, which is Alexandre's favorite book in Portuguese. Yay. We're so right for each other. (Also, I win.)

On Saturday night we went to a little bar that's popular with the young and old alike. We mostly wanted to get out of the apartment-- we didn't know that there would be a live Forro band (pronounced [fo'ho]). Lots of people were dancing. We also ran into a few of Alexandre's friends. I really wanted Alexandre to show me how to do the dance, but, unfortunately (just in this case), he is as uncomfortable dancing as I am. (I was only willing to dance in this case because he was with me! Sigh.) He said one of his friends could teach me. This lasted about 30 seconds before the friend completely gave up on me. I'm a lost cause. I'll bet that none of you are surprised. Here's an example of the dance/music style, mostly for Michelle. Here's another link.

So that's where we're at now. We're able to distract ourselves, but still very sad at the loss of our kitten. Alexandre put it best when he said, "nossa casa is kind of vacio." PortuSpanglish, of course.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bad News. :o(

When we woke up yesterday (Friday) morning, we thought our cat was dead. He was lying behind the stove and wasn't moving. There are no wires or anything that could've shocked him, so it was caused by whatever had been making him kind of sick during the week. We really thought he was already gone. Alexandre went to put him in a blanket so we could take him somewhere to bury him, but he started twitching a bit and let out a really weak meow. So we rushed him to the vet.

They didn't know what it was at first; they were just focused on stabilizing him. The vet kept saying, "muito mal," which obviously means "very bad" even if you don't speak Portuguese. They gave him an IV and warmed him and put him on oxygen. The vet was pretty sure he was going to die, and she didn't want us to stay there. In a very un-American way, they gently insisted that we leave and said they'd call us if he died. Otherwise, they said, come back around 4:30.

This was a shock. He had been kind of under the weather during the week, but seemed more or less better, aside from a bloated tummy. We figured he was still malnourished and was getting used to eating on a regular basis. We were planning on taking him to the vet that afternoon just to get him checked out.

The vet called in the afternoon to say that he was "melhorzinho" (a little better), but was dramatically anemic and was going to have a blood transfusion. She still wasn't sure what the problem was at this point, but said that the anemia was a symptom.

We went that afternoon, and after a torturous wait, they finally let us see Joey. He still had an IV in his arm, but he was walking around and mewing. When he saw us, he tried to crawl off the table and attach himself to our clothes. We really wanted to take him home, but she insisted that he stay overnight to be monitored, and also so they could try to figure out the underlying problem. They suspected the feline leukemia virus, which doesn't have a cure but with which cats can still live a good life for months or even a year or two. At this age, they typically received the virus from their mothers during pregnancy. She told us to come back Saturday morning (today).

When we went back this morning, he wasn't doing much better. He was eating and passing his food, but also throwing up. They shaved his stomach and discovered a big sac of liquid. This basically rules out the leukemia virus and makes her suspect a different virus that eats away at the stomach lining and surrounding mucus membranes, making it impossible for him to receive enough nutrients, and also causing stomach liquids to leak out into the body. This is worse than the kitty leukemia. Since he was still pretty weak, the vet said she wanted to keep him there until Monday so they could do tests and try to make him stable. However, it's very likely that he isn't going to recover or ever go back to being a happy, active, pain-free kitten. He was born with this and was doomed from the start. When we talked to the lady from the shelter yesterday, she said that his brother and sister died this week.

So, we're hopeful, but realistic. It's going to be a weekend of waiting, and likely a Monday with a sad decision to make. We have tried to be good kitty parents, but we can't compete with nature.


He's just a baby.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Haircut, &c &c

Sorry that there haven't been any posts for a few days. We spent the weekend at Alexandre's parents' house, which didn't amount to much because Alexandre's mom was out of town, and I spent ALL of Saturday (read: 12 hours straight) finishing that godforsaken translating project. It was almost 2 days late, but whatever. I'm supposed to get paid for all that this week (which in BrazilTime means next week or the week after), and I won't have to do any more for a couple of weeks, so I guess that's good.

I've been on vacation from Main Job this week, so it's been pretty relaxing. I'm on my own time schedule for the materials prep part of the job, so I can sleep in (yay!).

Today, I went to get my hair cut-- my first one since I left, because I don't have Nancy Pants here to do it for me. :o( Most hair salons here are just the living rooms of people's houses/apartments, with a sign on the front of the apartment complex listing the services and a phone number. At first, I was a bit uncomfortable with this, because it required me either making (to make?) phone calls in Portuguese, or walking (to walk?) into mysterious apartment complexes and knocking on strangers' front doors. Some of Alexandre's girl friends recommended a place for me that's somewhere in between living room and full-fledged store. It's only 10 reais (about 6 bucks), but it was closed yesterday. So I went to the giant American-style shopping center to try my luck. There was a "fancy" salon inside-- very SuperCuts-esque. I inquired about the price of a cut. It was 45 reais, and all the hair stylists had ugly hair, so I said I'd come back and didn't. Pleh.
I was walking home, dejected, defeated, and missing Nancy, and about 90 seconds from home, on a street I don't normally take, I passed an open salon. It was someone's apartment living room, but her front door was open and I could see her cutting hair from the street. So I walked in and had to make an appointment for today-- 15 reais, I could live with that.

When I went in today, there was a little boy hanging out in the salon. The stylist explained to me that someone-- aunt maybe? I didn't catch who-- lived upstairs, in one of the other apartments, and he and his brother were here visiting on vacation. The little boy was super excited that I was American. He was asking me all kinds of questions, most of which I didn't understand until the stylist told him, "you have to speak slowly for her. She doesn't understand little boys." He asked me if I spoke English well. I told him that it was my family's language-- he speaks Portuguese with his family, I speak English. I asked him how old he was, and he held up 10 fingers. He asked if I liked Portuguese, because he thought that English and Spanish are much prettier than Portuguese. I told him that every language is pretty, including Portuguese. He asked if I had visited Rio de Janiero, because all the Americans go to Rio de Janiero. I asked what his favorite subjects were in school. He said PE, and then, after a pause, added, "and English." I think he was trying to suck up. He told me my hair was really pretty. He asked what school I went to. I told him I already finished school, and that now I'm a teacher. I asked him if he knew what his shirt said-- many Brazilians wear shirts that have English slogans that they don't understand, and it's a great conversation starter for me. I translated "Beach Inn" for him, and he was thoroughly pleased.

He asked if it was hard for me to live in Brazil after living in the US. I knew what he was getting at, because I have gotten this question from almost all of the kids I've talked to here, who believe that America is the promised land of theme parks, video games, and 2-story houses. I told him that Brazil and America are very similar, and that the only thing I miss about America is my friends and family (doing my best to destroy the inferiority complex, one kid at a time). Then his face lit up. "My brother speaks English very well!" he said in Portuguese. "Let me get him. He can talk to you." He scampered off before I could answer. When he left, the stylist told me, "their family is very poor." I tried to explain that that was why I was trying to play down the cultural differences, but I don't think it came out right.

The little boy (he told me his name, but I couldn't pronounce it and therefore can't remember it now) and his brother came back a few minutes later. They sat in the waiting chairs and looked at me eagerly. The brother was about 12 or 13. I said to the older brother, "your brother tells me you speak English very well!" The older brother smiled shyly. "He's lying," he said.
"He's the first in his class, and he goes to a good school!" the little brother piped in.
"All lies! All lies. My English is really bad. I only know the basics." the hair stylist was laughing to herself.
In the end, I couldn't get the older brother to say one word of English to me. But I had a lovely chat with them about their favorite video games (anything with guns) and what they like about this city (the movie theatre), and I got a decent hair cut to boot. It's not Nancy's fine work, but it'll do. Tonight, I'm going to dye it. Oh, oh. I finally checked out this beauty supply store that I'd passed by a million times. It's wonderful! Like the big chains (Wal-Mart and CarreFour), they sell a lot of American products at jacked-up prices (Finesse hair spray for 18 dollars), but, unlike the chains, they also have some American products and many Brazilian products at reasonable prices! I FINALLY bought mousse (happy day), and also got some hair dye aptly named "Danielle Brown":
As I can't waste my money at bookstores anymore, this is probably where my extra income will go.

My original plan for today's entry was to make a list of small, funny differences between America and Brazil. So here it is:
1. At sushi restaurants, it's socially acceptable for adults to use those little kid trainer chopsticks. You know, the ones with the tape and cardboard that hold them together.
2. The school buses look like this (man, the kids are so lucky):

3. In Portuguese, people answer questions using whatever verb was used in the question. (English does this, but only with auxiliaries. "Can you?" "Yes, I can.") In Portuguese, questions are like this:
Q: Do you go to school?
A: I go.
Q: Do you have a dog?
A: I have.
Q: Do you want to go to dinner?
A: I want.

It's totally bizzarre and I always forget to do it. I just say "yes," and I think I sound like a robot. I also spend about 30% of my time with my students reminding them to use "Yes, I do" in English, or at least a direct object.
4. TV shows rarely start exactly at the hour or half-hour mark. Soooo Brazilian.
5. In 2-digit numbers, 6 is the half-way mark. When I'm giving people my phone number, and when I say "46-21" (since both Spanish and Portuguese divide phone numbers into 2-digit number sets), people ALWAYS correct me by saying "four and a half, twenty-one." Alexandre says it's logical, you know, because "6 is half of one dozen." No.
6. Since most people use alcohol in their cars instead of gasoline, gas stations and car exhaust smell like tamales.

PS: Even more props to Nancy, who was the 1,000th visitor to the blog. (Yay site trackers! I don't there's anyone else reading this in LA proper.)

Friday, July 11, 2008


Joey has a kitty cold. I'm a paranoid mother who's worried that it's a parasite. Alexandre did an abdominal exam and used his stethoscope to listen to Joey's kitty heart and kitty lungs because of his wheezy kitty breathing. (PRECIOUS... the boyfriend using a people stethoscope on a kitty, I mean-- not the wheezy kitty breathing.) His diagnosis (combined with some internet research) is a kitty viral infection. Joey is in kitty misery, finding every chance he can to curl up and mope in warm, dark places, like inside a bed-box (that we made) or under piles of blankets. He's still eating and drinking, and begging for food like a dog, so I guess he can't be too bad.

I'm supposed to be working on translations right now, but I took a break to keep my head from exploding. A while back, my boss got hooked up with this medical center that produces a medical journal in Portuguese and English. There are three of us involved in the translation process. My boss is in charge of the business side, and is the only person who communicates with the people from the journal. Some guy that I have only communicated with via email translates the first draft, and then sends it to me so I can clean up the English.
This is difficult on two fronts: 1. I don't know anything about medicine; and 2. Mystery Guy's translations SUCK. For those of you who speak or have studied a romance language, you have probably seen translations like this before. (Think BabbleFish.) Here are some examples:

The animals supported the each time more larger RV-PT gradientes during the protocol concomitantly to the process of hypertrophy/ventricular adaptation (Figure 2). From an initial value of RV/PT pressure gradient of 36,6 mmHg ± 9,3 mmHg, the ventricles reached values of 80,0 mmHg ± 13,0 mmHg at the end of 96 hours of intermittent overload.

The next example is even worse, because it's from a newspaper article about the medical center. That means it's regular journalism style, and the guy can't get away with all of the Latin medical terms that are often the same between English and Portuguese:

The peculiarity of the process is that almost everything happens afforded by the private initiative. The State – the city in a larger portion – participate as fomentation agencies: they offer infrastructure and care the support assistances, such as transportation, energy or means of occupation. The factors of atraction serve to motivate the companies – which have access to the lots of the park through a concurrence. Are considered in the proposals the environment factors, the criation of an original knowledge and new jobs; the possibility of market and the integration to the productive body.

khgslkghsgkshglskghslkhgslkhgshg. Now imagine looking at about 300 pages of this over the last month. I can't take it. Instead of plowing through the last 20 pages or so that I'm supposed to finish tonight, I wrote my boss a rant email about how I'm sure the other guy is very nice and very intelligent, but maybe my boss would prefer splitting the money with just me, and using the Google "translate this page" feature instead, because it's a helluva lot easier for me to work with. (Yes, I actually suggested that... in nicer terms, of course.) I don't think my boss even sees the first draft, because I send my versions to Mystery Guy so he can clear up any of my confusion, and then Mystery Guy sends MY version to the boss. So I went ahead and sent those examples to my boss, whose English is very good, and hopefully good enough for him to be grossed out.

Jesus. It's 1:00am here and I'm not done. I would be slightly closer to being done if I were working instead of writing this, but... then all of you beautiful people wouldn't get to share this memorable experience with me.

You're welcome.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Brazil Needs a New Lock and Key System

I'm supposed to be at work right now, but I'm not, because I'm trapped inside my apartment. I'd like to explain something about Brazilian doors. Yes, doors, as in, front doors of houses. They require a key on both the inside and the outside. There's no manual lock piece thing on the inside that allows you to lock (or unlock) the door from the inside.

Here's what I think happened. Alexandre saw key #1 in the door this morning when he left for school. He didn't see key #2 around anywhere, so he assumed it was in my purse. Maybe he was running late, and forgot that he was using the same jeans and messenger bag as the day before, one of which is likely housing key #2. He locked the door from the outside with key #1, and left!

I got up and got ready for work, blissfully unaware. I was running a bit late because I'm lazy and I hate waking up before 11am. I was rushing out the door, and realized that key #2 wasn't anywhere. Not on the little chair-turned-table by the door. Not in my purse. Not in yesterday's jeans. Not under the couch. Damn damn damn. Dread started to set in. I had to be at work in 6 minutes, which is exactly how long it takes me to walk there if I go at a brisk pace.

First I called work to have the receptionist warn my student that I'd be late. Then I called Alexandre's cell, which was turned off. Damn. Come on. That's what the vibrate feature is for. Then I used the intercom to call the guys at the front gate to see if they keep spare keys to the apartments. They don't. Why do we pay HOA dues that are a third of the price of the apartment? If all they do is open the gate for the cars, I'd rather just pay for a clicker.
Crabby crabby crabby.

We live on the second floor, so I wouldn't risk jumping off the balcony unless the apartment was on fire or something. This is ridiculously unnecessary and very Cinderella/Rapunzel-esque. I mean, come on. Those are the only times you hear about rooms that cannot be unlocked from the inside without a key.

Maybe I'll shred one of the sheets into a makeshift rope and tie it to the laundry line on the balcony and lower myself down. To hell with Rapunzel. That's Alias-style.

Or maybe I'll just sit here and brood until Alexandre gets home or turns his phone back on and gets my message, and then I'll try not to be too grouchy with him.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Our kitty came on Monday. His name is Joey. He came with his brother and sister, too, but we could only choose one. His brothers and sisters are black, but he is orange. The lady from the shelter explained that female cats can be pregnant simultaneously from different male cats (!?).

We named him Joey because he has a really strange meow. He is therefore named after Joanna Newsom, who Alexandre also loves. :o) (If you don't know who Joanna Newsom is, you can check her out here. I recommend "Emily" from that list.)

He's tiny! He's also very loving and affectionate. He's like a dog in that he follows us everywhere we go, and he tries to steal every opportunity he can to curl up in our laps. PRECIOUS OMGOMGOMG. Alexandre has been caught (by me!) on more than one occasion speaking to him in a very high-pitched baby voice in Portuguese.

Below is a video of Joey playing with his favorite toy... Alexandre's socks. The lighting's kind of bad, but he's there! You can even hear his meow if you listen closely. You can also hear Portuguese soccer game announcers on TV in the background (which is pretty much the soundtrack to my life, here).

Everything else is going swimmingly. I'm slowly transitioning into my new position at the Good Job, which will soon be the Only Job. I have my first teacher training on Friday, so I have to plan my agenda for that. I'm going to focus on ways to incorporate more speaking activities into the classroom. :o) I'm also in charge of developing a more cohesive and consistent grading system. I really love taking part in the administrative side of teaching.

That's it for now. I miss you guys! If you leave comments for Joey, I'll pass them along to him.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Our First Road Trip: Part IV

For our second full day, we again woke up early (mostly to make it to breakfast), and returned to the national park to see the other side of the waterfall. While the drive and then the hike to the front side was relatively short, we had to travel completely around a big mountain to get to the source of the waterfall. The national park people were super strict about bringing trash into the area, and made us clean out all the glass and plastic from our car before going in. But the older employee manning the gate was very nice, and even had a guitar to practice during the slow points of the day. :o)

I must salute here the fine people who made Alexandre's car, the Peoget. We took the thing on hours of rugged dirt roads and totally covered it in bright red mud and sand, and it drove like a charm. On our 2-hour auto-trek to the waterfall, we passed the source/starting point (word, Elena?) of the Rio Sao Francisco, which is one of the biggest rivers in Brazil (after the Amazon.... of course) and which provides all the water to the surrounding region, as well as all of the semi-desert cities in the impoverished North East. The source of the water is a series of small springs that seep up from under the ground. I absolutely do not understand this, but I still know that this area was important and symbolic. We hung around there for a while, and sacreligiously climbed up on the saint statue to take a picture with him! Haha. Then we were on our way.

The backside of the waterfall was made up of powerful rapids and many caves and rock formations. The hike was a bit precarious, but we slow-goed (slow-went it?) it and got some great pictures to boot! We couldn't actually get close enough to see the point where the water, you know, starts falling, but we could definitely hear it. There was a little and largely unbeaten trail off to the side of the rapids that led to the closest peak. From there, we could REALLY see the entire valley, could follow the river with a bird's-eye view, capture all of the little farms and villages at once. Breathtaking!

We went back down to the calmer part of the water, tried to avoid the obnoxious group of middle-schoolers on their field trip, and confused the little fish by dropping leaves onto the surface of the water. We took off our shoes and dipped our toes into the cold and clear stream. Here's a video of the area:

The whole thing was quite peaceful, save the melodramatic cries of preteen girls being splashed by their male counterparts. Sigh. The insolence of this age group spans both cultures and continents. We ate our small lunch and started the drive back to the posada/fazenda.

During the drive back, we saw a sign (courtesy of the national park) that said only “garagem de pedra: 12km.” Rock garage? Here? Though we were low on gas, we decided to explore. I'm happy to report that, along with my tendency to take copious amounts of pictures of birds, Alexandre also shares my nagging curiosity to always follow ambiguous signs and paths.

What a waste! That's really all it was-- a small garage area, made of rocks. “Maybe the first garage built by the Portuguese?” I asked. Nope. Not even any signs explaining why we just wasted part of our low supply of fuel and aged the car 6 months by driving on the rocky path. We decided to take some offensive pictures to feel better, and then we went directly back to our room.

It was almost 5:00pm by the time we returned, and after such an adventurous two days, we were pooped! We ate a huge meal, and then relaxed around the ranch, reading, taking pictures, feeding the monkeys more bananas, and giving the cat an addiction to doce de leite against my wishes. :oP We had a small dinner that evening, and realized that the monkeys had learned how to get into the kitchen! Sr. Soares psst psst-ed them and waved his arms to get them out. We talked about how they would probably be less cute if we had to shoo them away from our food all the time. We spent the evening drinking wine and watching more of The Office and Grey's Anatomy. Our trip was winding down.

Monday morning, we had our last breakfast on the ranch. Sr. Soares tried to get us to pay less for being such good guests, but we insisted on paying more for having such a good host. He gave us a plastic bag and insisted that we go over to his actual farm area to pick some fruit to take home. We took him up on his offer, then came back, said our last goodbyes, and started our trip back to our busy lives.

On our day-long drive back, we saw many of the Minas Gerias landscape that we had missed on our night-time drive in. We passed a huuuuuuuge dam and lake, so of course we stopped off to check it out. At this moment, as during many points in the weekend, I really wished my Elenita were there with us! The grandness of the dam probably would've made her cry. I tried to get some pictures so she could see it and maybe tell me if it's actually efficient or not. While walking around this area, we saw yet another small and mysterious sign with an arrow pointing to yet another strange road. We couldn't help ourselves! Down the road we went.

It led to a small campground that sat on the bank of the river and is apparently open year-round. A lone man was wandering the area doing maintenance, and was very, very happy to have visitors. He insisted that we come out of the car for awhile, look around, take some pictures, and he talked quickly about all the details of the campgrounds. He kept reminding us of the price-- only 5 reais a night!-- and offered to take us down to the water part to show us a little waterfall (yes, another one!).

Since the stop was so spontaneous and all, I really wasn't wearing the proper shoes to be jumping around wet rocks, so I let the man and Alexandre go on to see the extent of the river. We finished up our tour and promised the lonely man that we'd come back. The man gave us a hand-made business card to ensure our return.

As we were leaving this little area that included the dam and the campground, we passed an old man hitchhiking on the side of the road. The next city was over 30km. We were more worried about him walking that distance than of him hurting us in any way, so we pulled over and offered him a ride. He and Alexandre made small talk for most of the way. I was quiet on account of not my understanding rural elderly Portuguese and his not having many teeth. But he told us a little about his life and his family (they lived in the city, and he just wanted to travel to the dam/park area for the day), and he let me take his picture. He was very religious, but Alexandre's years of Catholic school made him well-versed in the type of name and phrase dropping required in these types of situations. :o) We left him on a street in the city, and they exchanged a round of goodbyes and god blesses.

We ate lunch in that city. There is at type of restaurant here that is really interesting. These restaurants have a buffet-style setup, and you can choose whatever you want, but you pay for the food by the weight-- usually about 12 dollars a pound. I think this is, psychologically, a great way to get people to eat less food and lose weight (poor people, at least). You find yourself choosing things that are the best combination of filling, cheap, healthy, and light.

The rest of the drive was relatively uneventful, aside from our being inspired by this effective sign. We made it home safely, and while the vacation was fantastic, it was great to be home.

Tomorrow, I'll go back to up-to-date...updates. I'll put up pictures of OUR KITTY, who came shortly after us on Monday night. If you play around on the Flickr site, you'll see pictures from the trip that didn't fit nicely into the story.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Our First Road Trip: Part III

If you haven't done so already, please check out part I and part II first to avoid confusion!

We came down from the trails on Saturday a little before sunset, and met up with Senhor Soares for the bird watching he promised us. We brought the camera, but it turned out to be too dark for pictures. He told us we could follow him on the relatively short trail to the cave/waterfall where the birds sleep at night. Sr. Soares must be in his sixties, and is slightly overweight, but in slacks, a long-sleeved shirt, and simple leather shoes, he completely out-hiked us. He skipped over the rocks in the fast-moving streams like an adventurous 7-year-old boy. He knew the trail like the inside of his wife's palm. He told us that he had owned the land for thirty years, and his love for it was obvious. He was eager to tell us about the animals in the area and the best times to see different ones, about the three hundred natural springs, about his sons' experiences growing up there. We could see in his eyes that none of this was boastful-- just sincere admiration for the piece of earth that he has spent most of his adult life exploring and maintaining.
The waterfall and the caves on each side of it were slightly barricaded by a giant rock. The rock made a natural bridge above the waterfall's bed and continuing stream. We arrived right at the cusp of sunset. Sr. Soares explained to us that the best way to see the birds would be to sit in the center of the giant rock, and that they would fly both above us (over the rock and into the caves) and below us (under the rock and back up again). He stood off to the side and told us some details about the birds, like how they lack the external claw that most other birds need to grip onto tree branches. This makes them more like bats in that they must always latch onto big rocks to rest.
The birds were few and scattered, and first. A little woosh of black here, a quiet flapping there. Then they started coming in groups, larger and ever larger. Soon, as the sun fell completely away, we were surrounded by hundreds of andorinhas returning home for the evening, soft black bullets zooming by at every angle. Though there was a sense of urgency to their arrival, the entire event was quiet and peaceful. Not a single one touched us. Sr. Soares shined (shone?) his flashlight into the side of the cave to show us how they perch themselves on the rock. When the light hit them, the andorinhas began squeaking and squawking persistently. “They don't like the flashlight much,” he said in Portuguese, with a smile, and turned it off. Then he told us that we had better head back before it got too dark. I didn't feel an iota of fear on this trail, largely because I knew that Sr. Soares knew exactly what he was doing. He knew what to listen for and how to react to any possible dangers. Also, he shone the flashlight at our feet anytime we had to cross something unstable. As we came back up the trail to the big house, the cat ran to greet us, meowing and running behind and then ahead to be sure we remembered the way.
After a dinner with more of the same delicious fresh food-- milk and meat from here, vegetables from here, orange juice from here, and bananas from here-- and a short rest in our room, Sr. Soares called in our window to ask if we still wanted to go to his observatory. We met him outside on the path, and the other guests, who had since arrived, were already waiting in the back of Sr. Soares's pickup truck. They were an older couple, late forties perhaps, in North-Face-esque jackets that suggested big-city residence and wealth. Sr. Soares offered us the choice between the back of the pickup or the cab, so Alexandre asked the couple, “Don't you want to sit inside?”
“No, we want the adventure,” said the woman, smiling.
“Okay then, can we join you? We do, too.” Alexandre didn't have to ask me. This was a California law that is fun to break once in a while.
So we hopped in and made ourselves comfortable on the tarp, and Sr. Soares started up the truck and headed up the mountain. We chatted with the couple, who were from Belo Horizante (one of the larger cities in Minas Gerias). The husband spoke some English, and was excited to try it out on me. He did what lots of Brazilians do-- carry on a complete conversation with Alexandre in Portuguese, and then think to translate a few of the nouns for me at the end: “gate!” “bad car!” I appreciate the gesture, but without, ya know... verbs, I can't really make sense of the story. It was okay, though. I enjoyed the drive in the cool night up the mountain. I wondered to myself if the observatory would have telescopes, but kept the question inside to avoid revealing such blatant American-ness.
I smelled the cows before I could see them or even have time to mention them. All at once we were approaching an oncoming herd on the top of the big hill, the saggy white cows brought to Brazil by way of India. They scattered dumbly and haphazardly to avoid the pickup. Sr. Soares parked close to the observatory so we could avoid stepping in manure. The “observatory” turned out to be a raised concrete circle constructed directly in the center of the mountaintop. It was a few feet off the ground to keep the cows off, and it was about 10 feet in diameter to allow for laying down.

In an area like that, so far from people and pollution, no fancy lenses were needed. The sky held more stars than I had ever seen in my life, even on the clearest desert night. It was so brilliant that, lying on that concrete slab, among the stomp and stink of cows, we could even see those thin strips of cloud that surround constellations in photos taken by very strong cameras. I saw a shooting star. We were all quiet for a while.
After some small talk, some jokes (most of which I missed), and Sr. Soares's gossip about all the other families in the area, we decided to head back. We drank champagne and used my laptop to watch The Office in our room, and slept well that night.

Check out Part IV here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Our First Road Trip: Part II

This is Part II. Please check out Part I first so that you're not confused! :o)

Part II

Saturday morning, we oh-so-strongly crawled out of the warm blankets to make it to breakfast at 8:30. The food was prepared for us by the woman in charge of the hotel part of the fazenda. She served us our bread, local cheese, and coffee, and we chatted a bit with her about the land. Then Senhor Soares met up with us, and he and Alexandre discussed the trails in the area. Sr. Soares's land (acres and acres of it) borders a national park that has a giant waterfall. He recommended the waterfall to us, and then offered to take us to two places in the evening: the first was a smaller waterfall on his property. He explained that, at sunset, hundreds of andorinhas that live in the area all fly from around the region to sleep in the caves next to this waterfall. The second was an observatory at the top of one of the little mountains, also on his property. He explained that other guests would be coming that day, and would likely join us at the observatory.
All of these plans sounded marvelous, and I had no idea about the extent of marvel was in store for me.
But first, the waterfall!
We drove on another dirt road (the poor car!) to the entrance to the state park. Another couple arrived just as we did-- they were staying at a different fazenda in the area. They were much older and we didn't want to spend the entire trail making small talk with them, so we let them go ahead, and we stayed around the entrance, taking pictures of the stream and the rocks. While this was beautiful and all, it also revealed the reckless adventure that overcomes Alexandre while he in nature. He was jumping around the risky rocks in the stream, trying to get good pictures. He only fell in once, and just one leg. Ha. It was during this time that I also saved us from the snake. Alexandre was talking about who knows what, and I looked down to see a medium-sized green devil just inches from our feet! I made a bunch of high-pitched noises in panic and yanked him away just as the snake... stayed completely still and didn't do anything.
“Woah, Da! You saved our lives!” Alexandre joked. “I wanna get some pictures of it.”
“No, NO!” I insisted. “You don't know anything about it. It's probably venomous. Also, it can go a lot faster than I can. He wins. I don't need to prove anything to him. Please. Let's go while it's staying still.”
“Come on,” Alexandre insisted, snapping pictures with his fancy Cannon. “Let me get a stick so I can move her better for the camera. [The Portuguese word for “snake” is “a cobra,” which turns all snakes into girls when Alexandre speaks English, giving them a false sense of sweet femininity.] She's not going to move because it's still early and she's cold! We're fine!”
He wasn't convincing me of anything. I started ahead toward the waterfall, muttering that I had the car keys in my pocket and that if he was stupid enough to get bit by a snake, I was gonna leave him there as punishment. Luckily, nature also graces him with a short attention span, so soon we were on our way.
The trail to the falls was beautiful. Though we were still far away from the water at points, its force was so strong that we were getting wet and Alexandre's glasses were fogging up. We ran into the couple again on their way back, and Alexandre offered to take a picture for them and send it by email. We chatted for a bit and then went in opposite directions.
The waterfall was amazing! Neither the pictures nor my words can capture it. Everything around it was so clean, and fresh, and dewed. The whole thing was quite majestic.
Back at the fazenda, we played some more with the resident kitty, who was very rambunctious and vocal and who liked to follow us on the trails, probably hoping we'd drop a finger or at least a piece of deliciously salty people food. The woman in charge made us a big lunch, complete with a variety of fresh vegetables, two types of meat, more local cheese, and homemade doce de leite to put on top of it. (Brazilians are so smart when it comes to food. They know all the right things to combine!) We ate so much that our plans to go back to the state park that afternoon were switched out for a post-meal nap.
After our nap, we ventured out to the main house to get some new ideas from Sr. Soares. We found him feeding bananas to little monkeys. Oh man. Oh man. (Sometimes I forget that I'm in Brazil, and then-- Bam! I remember.) Of course we got to join in on the fun, stealing a scratch behind an ear or two when the monkeys would allow for it. They're adorable and all, but feisty little critters. They're still mammals, and still close relatives. Though they're small, they're very aggressive. As a pet? Cruel for them and dangerous for us. But as cute little precious banana-eating entertainment? Perfect!
Since we had less time than we expected to have before sunset, we instead went on two short trails on the property. One led to yet another little waterfall, and the other passed through a deep canyon and led to the top of a large hill. During our hike on the second trail, though it was really a sight to behold (as Devendra says), I started freaking myself out a bit, which I guess happens when you're that far away from civilization on a continent that is opposite yours (in all definitions of the word) in a type of environment that you don't know anything about. I started asking questions like “what mammals live here?” and “why didn't we bring any weapons?” and “ohmygod what was that noise?!” Ya know, really panicking. Alexandre helped to calm me down so we could make it to the top and see the spectacular view. It got a bit better as we got further out of the canyon, into daylight and a more open trail. At the end of the trail, we could see down into the whole valley, with glimpses at a church on a hill in the distance, and a farmer corralling his cows for the afternoon.
I'd like to point out what I believe I've said before-- the natural colors in Brazil are so brilliant. I believe this is where Crayola came for inspiration, and I'm disappointed that, as an American, I know these colors only from wax in a cardboard box. The trees and grass are every shade of green, the sky is the clearest blue, the soil is bright red-- brick red, or burnt sienna, perhaps-- and at higher elevations, it changes to goldenrod, and red-orange, or rose, or sometimes bright white. Once in a while, when I'm lucky, the camera can capture it, but often, not. From the top of this little mountain, we were able to see all of these colors at once, scattered across the valley. I love Minas Gerias.

Check out Part III here.
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