Friday, January 20, 2012

Last Day In Brazil

I'm getting ready to head out in a little bit to catch my plane back home. It's weird to think that in less than 24 hours I will be back in the good ol' USA. In some ways it seems I've been here for a long time and in some ways it doesn't seem long at all.

Yesterday I walked around Rio for around 4 1/2 hours. I walked up a trail up the mountain beside Sugar Loaf called Urca. It took around 15-20 minutes but I had already been walking close to 2 hours by that time and was worn slap out. Then I walked to Copacabana and bought a few souvenirs for my youngest nephews and then took the metro back. After 4 1/2 hours, there was no way I was going to walk back an hour back to the apt.

Thankfully two of my good friends from church let me stay with them these last few days in Rio. One of the guys lived in Gadsden, Alabama and did an exchange program at Gadsden State a few years back. Such a small world. He talks about how much he loved the people in Alabama. He actually bought me a couple of shirts as souvenirs to take back. One is a Brazil shirt and the colors are like Falkville colors, blue and yellow which I think is cool. The other is a shirt for a soccer team that I pulled for here.

Kind of sad and excited at the same time. I'm very excited about seeing my family and friends when I get back. I've made some good friends that I will miss as well as seeing beautiful latin girls everywhere. I've been asked what I will excited about the most when I go home and my immediate answer is peanut butter. I didn't realize how much a big part of my meal plan it was until it was gone. Seeing peanut butter here is like having a bald eagle sighting, not a real common occurrence.

Seeing Sugar Loaf one more time today was really special. I walked to the area that I first lived in Rio and thought about when I came here. I think about that if I had just stayed where I was I would have missed out on a lot this past year. I'm definitely glad I did it even though things were different than I expected, that's just life. I've learned a lot about myself which has been invaluable.

I really want this to be just the beginning of my travels. I learned a lot of what I want to do more of next time and things I don't want to do. I discovered that risks, although very uncomfortable, aren't as scary once you take them. I have some ideas for my next step. I always have a plan but ultimately God will show me the best path. I appreciate those that have prayed for me. God has really protected me in so many ways of which I am very thankful. My blessing for you is my favorite scripture:

The Lord bless you and protect you;
The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance on you and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26

Um abraco amigos!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Iguacu Falls

This was my last stop before heading back to Rio. From Curitiba to Iguacu Falls it was around 9 hours.

The falls are supposed to be bigger than Niagara Falls. The falls actually border 3 countries - Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. I heard the view from the Argentina side is prettier but with an expired passport I wasn~t able to go over there.

I had pretty much one day to see everything. The first night a young couple from Liverpool, England is staying in my room. They were really, really nice. They were leaving the next day so I didn~t get to talk to them very much.

The next day I go to the bus station to wait for the bus. It took about 30 minutes for the bus to arrive and it was so packed. We kept stopping and adding more people and I really don~t know how. I felt like it was a clown bus where people kept being added and no one leaving. I thought maybe we were going for some kind of guinness record.

I get there and there is a huge line for the ticket. It took about 45 minutes to get the ticket and so I am expecting to buy the ticket and go in. No way Jose! There~s another line after you buy your ticket that you have to get in. It went back further than the line to buy tickets. Thankfully it only took about 20 minutes or so to get through. Then I had to wait in line to get on a bus that would take us to different points in the park. From the time I left the hostel, it took about two hours to enter the park.

It was really cool and I got some good pictures. I met some ladies that were on the bus trip from Curitiba to Iguacu Falls that were nice. I saw them at the park and they invited me to go on a boat ride around the lake. I really didn~t want to do the ride but the ladies were so nice and friendly I decided to go.

There was also a bird park that I heard was cool. It was pretty neat but not something I would really go out of my way to see. It was beside the falls so I went. I saw some cool parrots, a toucan but he didn't have an Froot Loops with him. At the end they had an enclose place where they had a bunch of parrots flying free so you could get pretty close. Right before you leave, they had a guy with a snake where you could have it on you and get a picture. I like taking risks but that is one I didn't want to do. I hate snakes!

When I got back another couple from England had moved in. They were from London and very friendly as well. We went to eat along with another guy they met from the hostel from England as well. When we came back to the hostel we sat outside and met a couple from Holland. They were really nice as well. A lot of good people there. This couple has been travelling for around 9 months and were gonna go back to England but they have a friend getting married in Birmingham, Alabama and are gonna travel until then and then go to Bham for the wedding. It's a small world isn't it.

The guy from Holland was a big Pittsburg Steelers fan too. We talked football for a little bit. It was really neat.

That last night there was a Chinese kid in our room snoring up a storm. Joe, the guy from London, woke up because of the snoring and said really loud to the kid - hey, your snoring is really loud. It wasn~t like the kid understood or could stop but it was kind of funny except for the fact that he woke me up around 3 am.

The next day I left on an airplane - Hallelujah! The bus ride would have taken 24 hours and only cost about $R50 more which is around $30 US but I figured by the time you stop every 4 hours at little lanchonettes for food it would have cost about the same. The airplane ride was only 2 hours. I was so tired of being on a bus, the airplane was so much better. I just love being on an airplane.

It was a good experience. I~m glad I did it. If I come back to Brazil, I~ll go to the northeast and see the beaches there and see the Amazon. Now I'm spending the rest of week in Rio with some friends and relaxing before I come back home on Saturday. It was a lot of fun and I still want to do some more travel but another country now. Now I need to learn some Spanish.


I had heard that Curitiba is one of the most developed cities in Brazil. The cities in the south have more of a European feel to them. A lot of people from Europe migrated to the south of Brazil and you can tell by the way they look. I thought the people from Curitiba almost had a middle eastern look to them for than a typical European look. Some still speak Italian and German I am told. The bus ride from Porto Alegre to Curitiba was about 10 or 11 hours, I don~t remember now.

Curitiba didn~t even seem like a city in South America. It looked very European, clean and organized. I was also told the people were more closed and not as easy to make friends. The weather was colder there than Porto Alegre and I liked it.

I met some nice guys in my room at the hostel and they invited me to do some stuff with them. I basically had one full day to do everything in Curitiba. I went to a Botanical garden, went into a tower with a panoramic view of the city, went to a park, went to a closed architecture museum and got lost a lot. I was tired but it was a good time. They had a train ride that I would have liked to have taken but I didn~t have time for it.

Overall it was a good experience.

Porto Alegre

This was my least favorite place that I visited. I don~t know why I visited here except somebody said the girls were pretty here but its Brazil, the girls are pretty everywhere. The bus ride from Florianopolis to Porto Alegre was around 9 or 10 hours I think.

It didn~t have a lot to do except look at the architecture of the city and see the sun set over the lake, which was cool. I was there for three nights. It was so stinking hot too. I thought south Brazil would be cooler because I heard in the winter time it is cooler. Nope, summer is just as hot here as anywhere else.

The hostel wasn~t that great and the first night they made a mistake and put me in a room by myself which was nice but outside the window people were talking until 2 or 3 o clock in the morning. The next day they put me in a room that didn~t have a window so it was really hot.

The people who worked there were really nice though. I met a nice guy from Belgium and a nice girl from Brasilia, other than that I didn~t really click with any people. I took a bus tour which just whipped around town and showed the architecture of the buildings which was pretty neat. They only had it in Portuguese so I had no idea what we were looking at. On the tour, you didn~t get a chance to get out. It was only a drive by tour. I would see something I wanted to take a picture of and it was like, Here it comes...there it goes. Never mind...I~ll get a picture of the next one.

I did get interviewed for something on TV which was cool. The people that worked at the hostel said I was a nice person and asked me to do an interview. I misunderstood what they said because I was thinking they wanted me to wait around and have lunch. Next thing I know a guy with a microphone and TV camera show up. They interviewed me and Gunter, the guy from Belgium about why we chose to stay in a hostel. I spoke in my broken Portuguese and had the uncomfortable look of staring at the microphone at first and then started looking at the camera. Somewhere, people in Porto Alegre are wondering why in the world that gringo is staring at the microphone and wondering what language I was speaking.

Oh well, it was a good experience and I met a few nice people and had a great buffet there so it was okay, just no Floripa.


I just got back from my journey to south of Brazil and didn~t have much time while traveling to update and put pictures up.

My first stop was Florianopolis. This is one of the places that I really wanted to visit because they have 42 beaches there. I have to say this was my favorite place of all that I visited. I think it was more because of the people that I met in my hostel.

To top it off the bus ride was 18 hours from Rio, yes...18 hours. When I saw the schedule at the station it said around 9 hours. I left around 2 or 3 pm on a Thursday and arrived around 9 am the next morning. I was so tired of being on that bus. Even though the seats recline, still it was 18 hours on a bus. It stopped every 3 or 4 hours to eat so at least it gave me a break.

This whole travel down South was a new experience for me. I wanted to try out hostels because a lot of people I have met in Brazil from other countries have used hostels for cheap stays. For those of you that don~t know like I never knew before, a hostel is a house with several rooms that someone rents out. Usually they~ll put 2 or 4 beds in a room and you share with strangers. I thought it would be an interesting experience and it really was.

The hostel in Floripa (nickname for Florianopolis) had a ton of great reviews so I booked it online. The guys in my room were really nice. One guy was kind of arrogant but he was a nice guy. The hostel was beside a lake so there was a place to take windsurfing classes. Man, it was exhausting falling down and getting back up. It was a lot of fun though. By the end of the class I was doing decent. It was only $R20 for the class which wasn~t bad but if you wanted another class it was going to be $R80. Nah, that~s okay. I liked it but not that much.

The next day I went with some friends to a beach and took surf lessons for about an hour and a half. It was a lot of fun, I enjoyed this much more than the windsurfing. By the end of class I felt like a pro.

After surfing, we went to these sand dunes and did sandboarding because it was right beside where we parked the car. I had heard about it and wanted to try it. You basically have a snowboard with straps for your feet and you climb up these sand dunes and strap on the board and do down. I wiped out a few times but made it all the way down several times as well. Climbing back up was the worst part. You rent the boards for an hour, they won~t let you rent for less than that. After 30 minutes, I was ready to go. We stayed close to an hour but my trips up the dune were fewer the last 30 minutes.

We went to some place one night where a band was playing songs from the US. They played Achey Breakey Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus. I thought, you have to be joking with me. I~m in Brazil and listening to this, something is wrong with this picture.

We also went to a place another night where they were playing samba music and it was a lot of fun. I made some good friends there, it was really sad to leave. Some people you just make a good connection with. One girl said that it felt like we were a family. One of my roommates was a guy named Chris from France. He was funny because he didn~t like other people from France, especially from the bigger cities.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Years in Coronel Fabriciano

left to right

my teachers in Rio (Vera & Fernando), coconut tree at the orphanage, me in front of a banana tree, the people I stayed with for New Years.

I had an invitation from a lady that I had met at a wedding a couple of weeks ago in a smaller town called Vicosa. I had met her son and his wife at an engagement party of a friend a few months back. She thought I was a pretty cool guy and invited me for New Years eve which is called Reveillon and New Years.

The bus trip from Sao Paulo to Col. Fabriciano was supposed to be 12 hours but turned into 15. There was some kind of issue with the toilet and it stunk to high heaven. They stopped off at some place and had it replaced. For me it was worth the extra time to get that smell out of the bus.

In Sao Paulo it had been pretty cool but when I got to Col. Fabriciano it was pretty hot. It ended up raining a lot over the next few days. I am so tired of rain right now. I can understand when they talk about the rainy season.

We spent New Years Eve at their church and then went to a country club for the rest of the time. Church ended around 11 30 and finished the time until midnight at the country club.

The guy that I had met at the engagement party was so nice and made me feel welcome. The whole family was great. No one spoke English but Jonathas and his wife Renate did their best to help explain by using words I knew and using body language.

They had some mango trees at the house but they were smaller and called mangitos. They are sweeter than regular mangos. Mangos are my favorite fruit so I was in hog heaven or mango heaven I guess.

His dads side of the family had a churrasca (barbecue) at one of the uncles farms where he has an orphanage for about 20 kids. They had banana trees, mangos, passion fruit and some kind of fruit that Indians put on as war paint.

We went to church that night and it was good too. The next day I left back for Belo Horizonte to get my bags and then go to Rio for a few more weeks. The trip to Belo was supposed to be 4 hours but it was close to 6 and a half or 7 hours. The traffic was really bad. I thing for a few reasons. A lot of people were coming home from the holidays, it was raining and the roads were bad because of so much rain that mud was on the roads and had slid down.

Now I am in Rio and going to Florianopolis tomorrow for another 14 hour bus ride (I hope its not longer) which is south. They have a lot of beautiful beaches and a lot of pretty girls. It~s a place that I wanted to visit before I left. After Floripa I will go to Porto Alegre and then to Curitiba and then to Foz do Iguacu which is a huge waterfall place and bigger than Niagara Falls. After that I~ll be back to Rio for a few days.

Christmas in Sao Paulo

I went to hang out with fellow teacher that I met in Rio. She moved to Sao Paulo and her birthday is actually on Christmas. She~s from London and since both of us were away from home for Christmas for the first time we made a pact to hang out for Christmas.

She had a friend that invited her to spend Christmas with him and his family. The bus ride from Belo to Sao Paulo was supposed to be about 8 hours but it ended up being about 9 or 9 and a half. The bus broke down and we had to get a new bus. I heard these guys talking in the back and I thought they were arguing. Next thing I notice the bus is going really slow and parks on the side of the road. Another bus pulls around us and stops too. People start getting off and I~m waiting for the driver to say something, like I would understand anyway.

Finally he comes on and I basically understand that the bus that pulled over is going to Sao Paulo too and has room for 4 or 5 more people. Another bus would be coming shortly. I decide to wait a little bit and let the others have the other bus. The other bus comes in about 15 or 20 minutes and I have a lot more room. The bus isn~t near as packed as the one I was on.

I meet my friend at the bus station and we use the metro to go back to the apartment. The metro is so huge and complicated, I~m glad I don~t live there. I think they have 23 lines of metro and train where Rio has 2. 2 is better and simpler for me.

We meet her friend on the way to the apt and he is ready to drive us to his family which is about an hour and a half from where we are and is still Sao Paulo. We get there and his family is super nice. He speaks English but no one else in his family does. Well, his wife speaks a little bit but not much.

The tradition is to wait to eat dinner until midnight, officially on Christmas day. I eat a lot, I mean alot. They were glad to feed to me and I was glad to eat. Kids opened presents, there were no presents for the adults. Then we went to sleep. I had a mattress on the floor which was comfortable. I found out the guy and his family are Christians. His dad is an Assembly of God pastor. Pretty cool.

The next day we eat breakfast and then go to the wife~s family and eat lunch, which I~m still full but as I feel it is my duty I go ahead and eat anyway. The wife~s dad has some Christian music which I listen to and I recognize one guy and then he says he loves Jimmy Swaggart~s music. Haven~t heard that name in a long time. He has a ton of songs from Jimmy Swaggart. So interesting to hear Jimmy Swaggart on Christmas in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Just not something I would have expected.

I get back to the apt Christmas night and am really tired and full. My London friend and I kept joking, Did you know today was Christmas. Because we really didn~t feel like it was Christmas at all being away from family. It was really good but really different.

While in Sao Paulo I went to some museums: soccer, art and the Portuguese language. I~m all cultured I guess now. They still had some Christmas lights up which were pretty cool. We met another friend of my friend and she brought along a friend. We ended up eating at a pizza buffet the next night. I think I ate around 20-25 pieces of pizza, including dessert pieces. Needless to say, everyone in attendance was impressed with my eating skills. I didn~t feel so well afterward though.

My next post will be about New Year and another long bus ride.