Saturday, October 4, 2014


September 26 was my birthday. It also happened to be o dia dos surdos, Deaf Day, in Brazil. It also was the weekend leading into a presentation I was to give at UFMT in Cuiabá.

After flying to Campo Grande and taking a bus to Bonito, Jake and I had 1.5 days to enjoy Bonito.

We started with Bóia Cross, tubing over waterfalls.
Yes, he ran into me...
Then, as we waiting for part two, we met an emu.
Once it was dark, we head into the trees to do arvorismo. We did a high ropes course with little light, as a storm rolled in. 
We climbed over and through things. And at the end, there were two ziplines. The second went into the water. We decided to go for it as the thunder and lightning picked up. As I hit the water, I realized my fear of fish. I was thrashing in the water and my adrenaline was pumping. The guide said I should worry more about the crocodile. But, not to worry to much because it was small, only 3 meters long. Even though it was a joke, I was still too focused on those fish to think about it. The down pour hit as soon as we got back to the lodge and inside. 
After a night of hanging out with some great new Irish friends, we headed out at 7:30am to go horse back riding. Lagoa Misteriosa was closed, so we had to change to this, but it ended up being a lot of fun. Of four passeios, three were just the two of us. 
After horseback riding, we went snorkeling down Rio da Prata. It is like a giant aquarium. The river is in a private reserve that no one is allowed in without special permission. We were told we could not even touch the ground, as in stand up, during the river flotation trip.  

As soon as I got in the water, I was bit on the lip by a tiny fish. I might have contemplated leaving the tour, but the cost made me stay. My original snorkel took in water, making me sound like Darth Vader. However, I was able to switch it out, making the trip amazing. 

The fish are not scared of you. They come up to you and swim away last second. Here are some of them.
We had twenty minutes when we returned to the hostel to pack our bags, go to the bank, pay for everything, buy bus tickets, and be on the bus. Miraculously, we made it. We sat next to a Brazilian who was Deaf, and we had a great conversation in Brazilian Sign Language. Well, tried to.  But, I was able to cross off having a conversation in LIBRAS from my "Before I Leave Brazil" Bucket List. Jake and I even ended up with sign names!

When we got back to Campo Grande, we had to switch buses half way for some reason, it was about 11pm. We ended up in front of the hostel for 20+ minutes trying to get in. Because nothing that was supposed to be set up was set up, we waited there for a while will the lady tried to figure stuff out. Finally, we got to bed and had a few hours of sleep before the 5am taxi to the airport.

Getting to Cuiabá was easy. However, it was determined that we were going to wait for the bus to take us to the other ETA's house. Two hours later, we walked into the airport, took money out and took a taxi. We ended up at a basketball tournament later that day and went to the mall to get out of the heat: like 100°F weather.

The last two days of our trip consisted of attending a class that taught Deaf students at UFMT English, me working on my presentation, watching another ETA's presentation on Affirmative Action, and presenting on American Sign Language and Deaf culture in the US in Portuguese. The experience was amazing! The students were great, and a professor from Gallaudet had a skype conversation with everyone.
Some of the professors, students, and ETA's after the presentation.
The worst part was the return. Jake and I left at 11:30pm to go to the airport. We ended up being there a little early, so we went to the microbrewery in front of the airport. Then, we hopped on a two hour flight to São Paulo, a two hour flight to Porto Alegre, and then waited for four hours until our 1 hour flight to Pelotas. Jake and I might have curled up in the airport on benches that have metal, non-moving armrests, and slept for an hour, only being woken up by my phone alarm, which I did not realize was going off in my pocket. I awoke to someone checking my pockets, and then realized it was him. Somehow, we made it home and stayed awake throughout the afternoon. But, it was great to finally sleep that night!

Definitely, the best birthday weekend ever!

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Rest of August

After writing up some of my August travels, things got hectic fast.

After Lençois, we all headed back to Salvador. The day we were there, we decided to go to some beach on some island with a group of American students studying abroad in Rio de Janeiro.  We took a rickety boat across the ocean for about 30-45 minutes, and then the students decided to take a taxi ride to this “tourist” beach. Once the car stopped, down some hidden path, we found out we had to cross a river in a boat (short trip, like 2 minutes rowing). We ended up on some beach with hammocks, seashore, etc., but were told we needed to eat the R$30 lunch. It also looked like a storm was coming in, and the wind was so strong we had trouble enjoying it. A few of us were really uncomfortable with the situation, because we felt trapped. We ended up making our way in the rain, walking across the river (which came up to my waist), and getting on a ferry (those that carry people and cars). Starving, cold, irritated, we walked back to the hotel, which was about an hour walk away. (We had decided to walk because we were told it was about 20 min away. It also started raining on the walk.)
Us getting in the boat to cross the river

Us on the boat heading back to Salvador

The storm we were caught in

Anyway, fast forward to the next leg of the trip: Rio de Janeiro. We explored Santa Teresea, Lapa, Copacabana, and Ipanema. Here is the story through pictures:
Overlooking Rio de Janeiro from the ruins in Santa Teresa

The Selarón Steps in Lapa

A waterfall in the Tijuca Forest. The Tijuca Forest is a forest in the center of Rio,
 and the forest that houses Christ the Reedemer. 

One of our friends
And here He is.

Another friend
Christ the Redeemer as seen from Pão de Açúcar

We ate "squeaky beach cheese," as someone called it, on Ipanema Beach.
They grill the cheese on coals they carry around in a pot.
Another view of the Selarón Steps.
We ate at Colombo, a ridiculously fancy bakery in Rio.
The mirrors are imported from Belgium, and Queen Elizabeth ate there when she was in Rio.

Next, we hopped on a bus and headed south to Paraty. We were couchsurfing once again, and found out we were staying about a 10 min drive out of town. We ended up staying in this house, with our own room, over looking a waterfall. Here is the story through pictures:
The cachaça distillery 10 min walk through the woods and over the river from the house we were staying at.
Cachaça is a liquor made from sugar cane. We tried all sorts of artisan cachaça.
The best was Gabriela: cachaça with nutmeg and cinnamon.

A rickety plank bridge that can only hold 2 people at a time.

Some type of fruit that know one remembers the name of.

At one point, Jake and I went on a walk through the woods around the house. This little puppy decided to follow us, and became our guide. We made our way to a rock, near the mouth of the river. We thought we were at the top, but then the puppy disappeared and we followed him through this small, barely visible path. Then, Jake and I weren't sure how to get back. Next thing we know, the puppy has run off in another direction. We end up at a path going two different directions: one going to a road and one leading into the woods. As Jake and I are discussing where to go, we head towards the road. The puppy sat down, and refused to follow us. So, we turned around and followed him. We ended up right in front of the house. Such a great guide!

First thing day 2, Jake and I headed to town. When we started walking around, we ran into a group of Americans. They invited us over for dinner that night. Jake and I decided to go to another distillery that seemed close. It ended up being a kilometer walk  uphill in the rain. Suffice it to say, the walk wasn't great. However, that night we ended up at their house and taught them how to do churrasco, make quentão, squeaky beach cheese, and they made a great pasta. 

The one not rainy day, we ended up going on a snorkeling trip. Here is Paraty from the boat.

At the first location, we both went snorkeling. All of a sudden, I end up getting called over to the boat and screamed. I forgot how much I am scared of fish. Let's just say that I didn't swim the rest of the time.

Jake snorkeling

One of the islands we visited

Our lookout with the Brazilian flag.

Most of the time, we just relaxed at the house, mostly in the hammock. 

The natural slide in Paraty was a giant smooth rock.
Some of the guys were doing crazy stunts over the slippery rocks.

This is one of the tanagers that were found in the area.
This one was found outside of the house.

I ended up getting fairly sick at the end of this trip. So, we stayed an extra two days before heading to São Paulo for my mid-year seminar. São Paulo ended up being a great time to see and talk to other ETAs, hear their experiences and connect with the ETAs in Uruguay and Argentina. All of our experiences have been quite different. Additionally, as important people are talking to us, those of us from Rio Grand do Sul start tomando chimarrão. Afterwards, not knowing if it was rude or not in São Paulo, one of the Fulbright guys from Rio Grande do Sul tells us next time, we have to let him know. He just wanted some too. Nevertheless, I was excited to get back to Rio Grande, and start the next semester.

However, only a few short, uncharacteristically warm days later, we headed back to Porto Alegre for a Linguistics conference. The thing no one realized was that it was more of students presenting their doctorate level research, assuming everyone in the audience understood very specific terminology and processes. Suffice it to say, it was not what we expected. But being that far north, we decided to take a weekend trip up to Gramado, a very European style town. It is also known for chocolate adn wine. The best part: the food! 
Here is the waterfall in Canela

We went to a crystal factory and watched them make a crystal vase. 

Here is the mascot of Gramado

Jake became a witch of chocolate.

We even found an Iphone.
Gramado is well known for their sequence of fondue. First, we were given a plate of hors d'oeurves of pickled things and bread. Then, we got cheese fondue with potatoes, and other yummy food. Next came this lovely thing. A stone, raw meat, and 10+ different types of sauces. Here we are grilling our meat. The last was chocolate fondue with a bunch of fruit.
Besides the Fondue Sequence, Gramado is known for their café colonial. Here is a picture of eating it. What isn't shone is the dessert buffet. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Never before in Brazil had I heard the speech we were given before heading to Lençois. The gist of it: 1) it is required that everyone on the trip has a seguro ticket, meaning your life is insured on the trip, 2) nothing has happened before, and if God is with us, nothing should happen on this trip, and 3) there are five emergency exits, know which one is closest to you. After hearing about an overnight bus being robbed at gunpoint in the Northeast months before, we were all a little apprehensive of the trip. We chose seats in the middle of the bus, and I think each of us had a plan on what valuables we would be quick to hide (i.e. passports, phones, etc.). Luckily, the trip ended without incident, minus the fact we almost missed our stop. Apparently, Lençois was a stop on the way to another city around Chapada Diamantinha. Catherine thought she heard the driver say it was Lençois, but no one else heard him. She was right.

When we got off the bus, we were bombarded by people trying to get us to stay at their pousadas. It was a nightmare, especially at 5am. I had made a reservation, and we found the guy who was there with our Pousada. However, when we arrived, apparently, I had made the reservation for the night before, and we did not have a room. The owner was kind of a pain in the ass. He was trying to sell us day trips and get us to stay at his pousada at 6am. We ended up agreeing to stay at his mom’s pousada a little way up the road. We were offered breakfast there (which they charged us for as we were leaving the last day), and waited for our guide to come get us for our first day trip:

Stop 1: A waterfall. This is me getting ready to zipline into the water over the waterfall. 
Here is the waterfall I went over into the freezing cold water. 

The next place we went were a set of caves. 
Stop 3: There were snorkeling lessons that went into the cave, but we didn't go.
The other side of the cave above

Last stop: The mountains where we watched the sunset

Here is the sunset from onto of the mountains
After rowing down the river, we walked a little ways to this area.  
The second day we were not sure if we had a trip planned or not. We had talked to the owner of the hostel the day before about wanting to go to Mini Pontanal, but no one confirmed anything. The next morning he said it would be better if we went the next day instead, but we were set on going. We walked into a travel agency, and 30 minutes of phone calls later, we were on our way. It was crazy; our guide was a 20-year-old son of an actual guide. When we arrived, our driver could not find any actual guides to take us down the river and asked if he would do it, to which he agreed. To make up for our lost time, we helped him paddle the boat. We also bought lunch because we did not know if the restaurant would still be open when we arrived. The restaurant was open, but they did not have fish (which was supposed to be from the river we were rowing down), so we ate the lunch we packed. However, our guide seemed to be hungry and we told him to eat. We realized as we were eating that he was not going to eat at the restaurant. We think that he got a free meal if we ate there and nothing if we did not. We had not planned for that, but we were able to give him a sandwich and a banana (that was all we had brought: 2 bananas each and 2 sandwiches each, and we were already halfway done when we realized this). Overall, we were glad we did the day trip, freeing up the third day.
The rock formations were amazing as well.

 The third day was another crazy day. We changed our trip to go to Poço Encantado. However, the owner of the pousada could not take us there because he did not have a driver’s license (but he was driving us everywhere else). So, he had a friend take us. The problem was that the car was automatic and the guy only knew how to drive a manual. He kept shifting us from drive to park to neutral. All of us were trying to tell him how to drive and to not touch the stick. Then, he went around a corner and blew a tire. We were on the side of the road for a while; we could not find the required tools to change the tire in the car and had a bunch of people stop to help us. (The guide ended up finding it later under one of the seats, along with all of the seat belts, for which we were grateful.)

There were so many holes in this tire!
After that, we went to Poço Encantado, which I had come across on Pinterest and had wanted to see. But, the best part was the second place we stopped: Poço Azul.

Poço Encantado, or the Enchanted Well, was found by a hunter on accident. It is a pool/well within a cave with a ray of natural light hitting the water. For ten years, during the mid to late 1900’s, people were allowed to swim there. However, the water changes so slowly, that the dirt and body oils left a film on top of the water. For this reason, people are no longer allowed to swim in it.
Poço Azul is similar to Poço Encantado, but people are allowed to swim in it. Well, float in it. People must rinse off before descending into the cave, and there each person is given a life jacket and a snorkeling mask and snorkel. The history of it is crazy too. They have found the remains of giant prehistoric sloths and saber tooth tigers in the cave. There is a special about it available on youtube. The water is also extremely warm, especially for being in a cave. I think 22-24 degrees Celsius.

Overall, the trip was amazing and full of crazy stories, but the owner of the pousada was someone we are all glad we never have to deal with again. We do think we got better prices then going through an agency, but it was fairly sketchy. Anyway, once again we decided on an overnight bus to skip paying for a hostel another night, and headed back to Salvador.