Monday, May 31, 2010

All Settled In

Well, I have been here in SP for about a week now, and I am feeling all settled in. Everyone here has done plenty to make me feel very welcome and at home!

I am currently living quite some way from the CDI office here and am without transportation. Sao Paulo is huge and not the easiest to get around in without a car. So I am doing my work from home, currently, and I really don't mind that at all. Alejandro did suggest that it wouldn't be too expensive to get to some places by taxi, though, so I might try that. After all, if I go see a movie in Portuguese it counts as studying, right?

I did actually see a movie this weekend - Javier, Monique, and I saw Sex and the City 2. It was in English with Portuguese subtitles, so I tried to follow along with the subtitles as often as I could; it was pretty funny. Some of the things just don't quite translate so well - things that are really funny in English fall a little flat in Portuguese, I think, because of the way it is translated or written. But my grasp of the language is not perfect, so I could be wrong!

On Saturday night, I went to dinner with Javier and his friend Luis Carlos. We had really good pizza and even better conversation. It is nice that as my Portuguese comes along I can more meaningfully participate in conversations, even if I am not understanding 100% of everything that is said. It really helps that everyone here is so patient with my language skills!

On Sunday I got to spend some time with my friend Mariana, which was fantastic! We haven't seen each other in over 3 years (since Christmas during my 1L year). Let me back up for those who don't know. When I was a senior at U of I, Mariana was an exchange student in high school and stayed with Todd and Gail (my Aunt and Uncle). Mariana is the daughter of Gail's Brazilian sister Flavia. It really is one huge Brazilian-American family we have here! Since I lived so close I was able to get to know Mariana and she has since been like a sister to me. When we visited Brazil 3.5 years ago, we stayed with Mariana's family. She came and picked me up and we had a really nice time at her house talking, catching up, and then eating lunch with Flavia. It is so nice to know that I have a a good friend so close by to hang out with while I am here!

Mari loves having her picture taken :)

Seriously happy that I get to spend time with this woman!

When I talked to my mom on Sunday night, I realized that it was the first time in almost a week that I had spoken an entire English sentence out loud. Weird! One great thing about all of this Portuguese is that I am completely exhausted by holding conversations and I sleep like a rock!

The only downside to São Paulo appears to be my allergies. In Rio they pretty much disappeared, save one or two random occasions. Here, though, they seem to be in full force. It is likely because there is a lot more pollution here or at home than there is in Rio?

So I am planning this week to try to find some ways to get out a little more and see some things both by myself and with the help of friends. I am also planning a little trip to see my friend who is living in Buenos Aires, so I am really looking forward to that.

I hope everyone is having a good Memorial Day - I will admit, I am a bit jealous of the boating/cookouting/general summer holiday fun everyone is likely having today :)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Moving to São Paulo

I think most of you know this already, but for those who do not - tomorrow I am moving to São Paulo.

You may remember that I visited there about a month or so ago. You may also remember that I really loved it. So after some thinking, I decided it was the best decision for me to go there for the remainder of my time in Brazil.

Originally, I had planned to stay in Rio for just one month before moving on to São Paulo - but I liked Rio so much that I stayed. But just because one place is great doesn't mean that another isn't also!

While I love Rio de Janeiro, going to São Paulo is just the better fit for me right now. I am so looking forward to spending more time with Monica and Javier's family, learning a new city and culture, really working on my Portuguese (they don't speak English to me at all in São Paulo), and enjoying my last couple of months in this country.

So what am I going to miss the most? The water...

Goodbye Copacabana Beach - just 4 blocks from my house!

Goodbye Ipanema Beach - where I spent many afternoons at Barraca do Joel soaking up sun and caipirinhas!

Goodbye Lagoa - this one is the hardest for me...this is where I learned to run. Each turn around this beautiful lake made me love running a little more.

Goodbye Floppy -- though he is a dog and not water, I will miss this little guy, too.

So I am all packed and ready to go - I'll catch up with you in São Paulo :)

Just pretend like this is me giving a cheers goodbye to Rio (I think I am actually giving a cheers to an impromptu afternoon happy hour with mom)!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Mom Edition - Part 3, Salvador da Bahia

The theme of this leg of the trip may have skewed a little bit toward being exhausted! Nevertheless, we really enjoyed Salvador da Bahia. It is a really historical town with an impressively rich African culture. It was so neat to see all of the different art and architecture.

We arrived in Salvador really late and upon being collected by our guide and subsequently dropped at our hotel - we collected ourselves and dropped into bed! The one perk was that this was a pretty nice hotel, which was very welcome after our basic lodging in the Amazon!

Our full day in Salvador began with a half-day tour of the city with our guide. He was really knowledgeable in the history, which made for an incredibly interesting tour. To get the tour started, we went for a capoeira class. Capoeira is an afro-brazilian sort of dance/martial art/really awesome. For a long time it was banned in Brazil because they were afraid the slaves would use it to fight. So slaves went off and practiced in secret - but they didn't to it in preparation of a fight; they practiced capoeira as a way to stay incredibly fit so they could escape should the opportunity present itself.

Here we are practicing capoeira at our class. Just kidding. Mom took pictures but I refuse to let people see them. Although really fun, it was pretty sweaty and embarrassing. So just pretend like this is us, OK?

I decided that I love capoeira, and I am really looking forward to finding a class to take before I come home (and maybe even back in the Chi, too). The big problem with this class, though, was that we didn't really know about it. I looked really cute that day, too - My hair looked nice, and I had on a cute tank top and white shorts. Then I got incredibly sweaty playing a sport in a basement that could've doubled as an oven. So I had to walk around the rest of the day in white shorts that were basically see-through because I was sweating. Gross. And I apologize for telling you that, but come is pretty funny.

We visited all of the old part of the city and it was so beautiful!

The city has a really old European feel to it - the stone streets and building style. Salvador is also the most colorful city I have seen, by far. EVERYTHING is painted a vibrant color.

This baroque style church - Igreja de Sao Francisco was stunning. It was built by African slaves who, subsequently, were not allowed into the church. It was built so ornately to remind people why they should be good - to get to paradise.

Casa de Jorge Amado. This building, which sits at the head of a large square, was originally a slave market. Now it is the site of a foundation by Jorge Amado, a famous Bahian author.

Salvador is set on a little peninsula, and it has a gorgeous Sea.

Now the pictures have gone all tiny-like on me and I don't know why.

Salvador is built in two parts - one is up high and one is down low. And there are a few elevators around the city, like this one, that connect the upper and lower parts of the city. This is really cool.

After all of our touring we spent the rest of our day here. And pretty much the next day until our flight, too.

Yes, there was a ton more to see in Salvador. But we were really tired. And it was quite nice to stay by the pool!

We did have one really nice dinner out - we went to a traditional Bahian restaurant. Poor mom had to order a steak because it was pretty much the only thing on the menu that didn't at one point live in the sea (that's for you, Gail). But she was a good sport going there with me so I could partake.

This is what I had for dinner - and it was beyond ridiculously good. There aren't any words. Well, there are...but I am going to save them for a later post dedicated solely to this dish!

Us at dinner. If you ever find yourself in Bahia, I suggest you go to Yemenjá, this restaurant. Delish.

I feel like I have left out a MILLION things, so I am going to throw up another post here soon. No words, though - this one is going to be a photo-essay. OK, so there will be some words, but I promise to try to keep it to a minimum!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Mom Edition - Part 2, The Amazon

For our trip to the Amazon we flew from Rio to Manaus and managed to score an exit row. For each of us! We were collected at the airport, put into a van, and driven to a dock. Waiting at the dock was a tiny little wooden speedboat to get us to the lodge. I thought Mom might freak out, but she actually did OK! Outside of Manaus, there is 1 road in the Amazon - they use the rivers as roadways.
Upon arrival, the most important part of the trip occurred -- I met Iurys. Iurys is a native Brazilian Indian - he grew up in a tribe but left at the age of 24. He had the most AMAZING stories to tell us about his life, including the ceremonial contest he had to pass as an initiation at the age of 19. Also, I fell in love with him. It was a pretty intense crush and I am certain he returned the sentiments. Mom was embarrassed of me.

Here he is putting fire ants of some sort onto himself. They do this and then rub it all over so that they smell like nature and other people and animals can't smell them coming. I am pretty sure he made this demonstration to show me his strength, though. Le sigh.

Also, he has a machete. And I now have an inordinate amount of pictures that look just like this. I mean I might even be a little embarrassed about how big of a crush I have on him.

We jumped into activities at the resort right away with Pirana fishing.

Look at those teeth - vicious! Interesting fact: The word pirana in portuguese is piranha. Piranha is also slang for prostitute.

Nobody besides our guides caught any pirana, but we did manage to catch an alligator (sort of). Apparently one alligator knows where Iurys takes people fishing regularly.

Iurys called him over just like you would call a dog over and held a Pirana above his head. [At this point I was paralyzed with fear as it was about 1 foot away from me and I was dangling a fishing pole with raw meat on it right in front of his face.] Iurys then told him to jump and the gator flew up out of the water, grabbed the pirana, and swam off to eat it.

I became un-fear paralyzed to snap photos, though! This guy sat and waited until he was told to jump before he grabbed the pirana. Now I want an alligator and I want to teach it tricks, too. Please mom?

After dinner that night mom and I headed down to the little ourselves. We had NO idea where everyone was, and we actually started to get a little worried that we had 4 days of staring at each other as our only entertainment in store. This place was remote so it wasn't as though we could go find a restaurant or anything else. As it turns out, we did have pretty much nothing to do each night - but only because we did so much each day we were pretty exhausted and wanted to sleep! We ate dinner each night (the food was actually horrible here) and played pool (which we are both horrible at) before crashing fairly early.

We did a hike through the forest which was beautiful. We learned a lot about different plants and wildlife. Iurys taught us how shoot a bow and arrow and a blow dart. And we just got to be out in the beautiful jungle!

SO green and lush! It actually rained during the entire hike, but with the canopy you couldn't really even tell. I came home really muddy, though!

We also visited a native village and at night we went in a canoe ride to look for alligators. The paddle canoe put us level with the water and if someone even thought about moving the boat would rock a ton. Once I got past the whole dark/alligator/I could fall in feeling, it was actually amazing. The little canoe got us back into parts of the river I would have thought to be inaccessible, but that were absolutely beautiful and so serene.

One day we took a day-trip to the meeting of the waters. It is the point where the Rio Negro (Black River) and the Rio Amazona (Amazon River) meet. Because the rivers are different colors, PHs, temperatures, and speeds, the water from the 2 don't mix. It is actually really neat to see. We stuck our hands in on the way back (we took a speedboat tour back) and you could feel the difference in the water immediately as you crossed over.

On the way to the meeting of the waters one of the tour guides grabbed a Boa out of the water and proceeded to let everyone hold it and pass it around. I was the only person who could not get over the fact that we had just snatched a snake out of the Amazon River and it was completely normal and an OK thing to do!

Pretty neat, huh? And it is even cooler in real life.

I may or may not have tried to steal this dog (and maybe a really cute baby, too. nbw.) - He was precious.

The houses all float and everyone has a canoe. Iurys told us that in these water villages the first thing you learn is how to swim and the second thing is to paddle a canoe. We saw a kid no more than 4 driving a little motor-powered canoe. Crazy. Iurys also said that you have to keep your chickens up in high cages because anacondas like chickens. We then saw small children swimming around underneath the chicken cages. Safe, no?

Iurys basically just ate the whole time - everywhere we went he was plucking berries and seeds and whatnot from plants and popping them in his mouth. He never stopped eating. And he just kept telling me to try it all, too. Some of it tasted horrible! But this was actually really nice - tasted like the fruit version of a sweettart! Samantha you would LOVE it (and I even said that to mom when I was eating it)!

Because I love him, I ate everything he told me to try - it is no small wonder that I did not end up in the hospital with some sort of poisoning. But his mother is a healer back in his tribe so I would have been OK. I swear I am not making this stuff up.

Our last day brought the most exciting of our adventures - MONKEYS! Just across the river is a reserve that was part of our resort - the Manaus zoo was apparently FULL of monkeys and the situation wasn't safe or healthy for them. So the owner said hey, I have this place and I want to rehabilitate these guys to the wild. The zoo said yes and now we have a monkey reserve. They feed the monkeys 20% of their daily food and they are left to forage for the rest like regular monkeys. Oh, also, they are adorable.
See, pretty stinking adorable, right? This is Patricia. All of the monkeys had weird American names like Amanda and Tony. Patricia just liked attention - you would give her a nut and she would sit there and let you pet her while she nibbled on it. But honestly, if someone gave me a jar of peanut butter and I was allowed to sit there and eat it I would let them pet me too.

Iurys told us that this little girl isn't very polite - she just kept trying to climb up me and they had to pry her off with the stick. Here's the thing, I didn't mind!

They fed the monkeys while we were there. They all ran over but took their time starting to eat - they eat in a hierarchy with the Alpha Male (Tony, he is the fat one on the right here) going first and the red-faced monkey (there is only 1 and they semi-adopted him into their little monkey family) last. See the baby? 3 months old :)

Moms isn't so down with the wildlife - so instead of touching the monkey for a photo she opted to be in the general vicinity of the monkey for a photo.

After the monkey visit we headed straight to the airport. I said a sad goodbye to Iurys and since our flight wasn't for several hours, she taught me how to play rummy. And we played rummy all the way to Salvador!

This is us sad to be leaving the Amazon. This was our third attempt at a sad picture. If you think this one is bad you really should see the first two.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Mom Edition - Part 1, Rio de Janeiro

Because these posts end up long enough as it is (I need to remember how to write concisely before I have to go be a lawyer and whatnot), it is best to break the trip up by destination. As such, The Mom Edition of the blog will come to you in three parts. Here is part 1, Rio de Janeiro.

I couldn't have been more excited when my mom arrived! We walked around and got her a little acclimated, got ourselves a little pedicure, and then got a little lunch. She had a hot dog. Naturally. We took a stroll down Ipanema beach and back, but it was ridiculously hot so we decided to head back to the hotel and go to the pool. Except as it turns out our hotel didn't have a pool like we thought. Back to the beach, where we sat at a stand and had some beers and watched the waves :)

We spent her first night here at one of the nicest restaurants in Rio with Paulo and Claudia - I don't even have the words to describe it. I ordered lamb which came on the bone...but I just looked at it wrong and it fell off. awesome. It came with roasted artichokes. double awesome. One of the best restaurants I have been to, hands down (Sam, you would adore it!).

We did our touristy stuff on her second day here. Which also happened to be the cloudiest and haziest day she was here. Which was awesome since the touristy stuff also doubles as the "really sweet views of Rio" stuff. But we made the most of it!

I inherited my love of self pics from my mom. I did not inherit my incredibly large head from her. Honestly, look at how huge my head is. Weird. Anyway, here we are starting a day of touristing.

The hazy/cloudy cable car ride up to Sugar Loaf Mountain.

The monkey I found at Sugar Loaf. This is peanuts compared to the monkey pictures that will come with the Amazon post. In fact, maybe I should do a post dedicated entirely to monkey photos...

Us visiting the Christ statue. I figured you would rather look at us than at another picture of the Big Guy covered in scaffolding.

Afterward, we hit up the beach for a bit and had an impromptu happy hour at the bar next to the hotel. Then we went to Pizzaria Guanabara (a famous pizza place in Rio that has incredibly tasty pizza and stays open all night). Seriously so good :)

On our last full day in Rio we took a long walk on the lake. I had to pretty much drag Mom away from the dock where you can get a duck boat. Afterwards, we headed downtown to catch the red bull air show that was in town at the Flamengo beach. We ran into some of my friends and had lunch first - at Subway. Rest assured, it pretty much tastes the same here. We got to the show right after it ended, so that didn't really work out. We ended up taking a walk and then hitting up the bar next to our hotel (see this becoming a theme?).

We ended this leg of our trip with a Mexican fiesta. I had mentioned to Paulo and Claudia that my mom loves (understatement of the year) Mexican food. So of course they threw a Mexican fiesta for her! Mexican food is really uncommon here in Brazil. In fact, I overheard one of Claudia's friends, tortilla in hand, asking how to make one of these tacos. When she was done, her husband asked her, "what is that?" Sigh, I have so much to teach these people.

Ready to hit up the Mexican food - which included 7-layer dip made entirely from scratch :)

And the next morning we got up early and boarded a plane to Manaus to begin our tour in the Amazon!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

I Survived The Amazon!

Just a quick note to let you know that I am, in fact, still alive here.

My mom was here for 10 days and we did some travelling in Brazil (Rio, Amazon/Manaus, Salvador, Rio again).

We had so much fun and didn't really have any time for emailing, facebooking, or blogging. But I have recaps to come of what was the best vacation I have ever taken! Thanks for coming, was amazing!

To tide you over, here is a picture of me and a monkey :) (and possibly my future husband...but more on that later....)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Steinborn Edition

Last week my friend Jenny came to visit!

Here we are on top of Corcovado - in the background is the mountains called Dos Irmaos (Two Brothers). A random french men said he would take a picture of us and it pretty much turned into an ANTM photo shoot with us sitting and posing on a ledge. This is our best fierce.

Jenny is my friend from Chicago (we met in college, she is a DG too) and it was SO nice to have her here. She is fun to hang out with, she is easy to please (all she wanted was a tan), and - most importantly - she brought me things. Things like some clothes that I bought online and had shipped to her house, a new iPod, and - again, most importantly - some peanut butter!

We did a lot and also made a lot of time for relaxing :) She arrived on a Thursday, and Paulo and Claudia were so amazing to take me to the airport to get her - yay no cab fare! They took us home the long way so Jenny got an impromptu tour of the city - we even went into the city center and stopped at a beautiful monastery. After getting checked into our hotel we went to the beach! And then the next day, we went to the beach!

Us at Ipanema beach. With caipirinhas. We might have had more than one. And we might have ended up pretty sunburnt. But we for sure had a really great time!

It did rain a bit on Saturday, so we ended up spending the day shopping! Sunday was spent by the pool on our hotel's roof, and Monday we did all of our sightseeing.

We saw Christ the Redeemer at the top of Corcovado -- he is getting a facelift, thus the scaffolding. Don't worry though, they put a picture of Christ's face over his actual face so it is pretty much the same thing, haha (and yes, I took a picture of myself being the Christ statue in front of the Christ statue, but it is on Jenny's camera - I might post it later!)

We saw the tiled steps of Lapa - they really are very cool. The artist - Selaron - has collected tiles from all over the world and created this beautiful work of art. But it is probably best known for being featured in the Snoop Dogg and Pharell video - Beautiful.

And we saw other things that day - the cathedral, a small waterfall, the Tijuca forest, among others - but pictures of everything would make this post even longer than I know it will be! It was a fun day but really long! And our tour guide was basically the craziest driver in the world - Jenny had at least 1 heart attack and I think I still feel nauseous!

On Tuesday we got up early and flew to Foz do Iguassu - home of the Iguassu Falls. The falls, or cataratas (a fun word to say in Portuguese), are located on the river that serves as the border of Brazil and Argentina (Paraguay is right there, too, and we actually saw (but forgot to photograph) the place where 2 rivers and 3 countries all meet - pretty neat! The falls are massive - I have never been to Niagra, so I can't compare, but I ended up pretty impressed. Actually, the falls are a series of 275 individual waterfalls spread out over 2.7 Km. Normally, the river is about 25 meters deep - but because it had rained SO much the week before we were there, the river was up to 60 meters deep (I know, I know, I don't get the metric system either...but you can appreciate, at least, that the river was over double what it normally is). Because of this the falls were VERY full and VERY powerful - I think that was the most impressive part.

But, because the falls were so full, a lot of the normal walkways were closed off because the falls had overtaken them! Although it meant a slightly limited viewing (normally you can walk a bridge out to the middle of the river and be nearly surrounded by the falls) it gave us the opportunity to make it through the parks quicker - which meant we had time see both sides! We saw the Brazilian side on Tuesday afternoon, and on Thursday morning we headed over (with a lovely driver named Pablo who helped us with all of our immigration procedures!) to Argentina to see the falls from that side! I can't say that I have a favorite side, they were equally impressive but in very different ways. Brazil offers a more panoramic look, while Argentina puts you right in the middle of the falls - up close and personal!

A view from Brazil

Again, Brazil

Us in Brazil

One trail in Argentina - we were walking over to those falls and I saw this rainbow

So it was a fantastic trip - but I only have a week to recover and rest up because my mom arrives on Thursday! We have a fantastic vacation planned, plus I am really excited to see her and spend time with her!