Today I came up with a new way to fulfill my requirement to serve the U.S. government in a diplomatic capacity. I’m going to open a chain of cafés across the U.S. and Brazil that will only serve two items, which I have deemed the national food of each respective country: peanut butter/grape jelly sandwiches and açai na tigela. The cafés will play a select playlist of pagode, funk, and samba to rep Brazil and classic rock and old school hip hop to rep America. Brazilians and Americans will hang out there to chill, play chess, watch documentaries, and discuss foreign policy and cultural issues that are relevant to both countries (e.g. ways to encourage sustainability in the private/public sectors, the rise of plastic surgery, biofuels, consumerism/globalization, etc). People will share ideas, understand each other better, and fill their bellies with delicious food. There will also be Thursday dance parties. Get excited.
1200 Friday: Wake up. Have a samba dance party in my room, by myself, to start the day off right.
1400: Meet friends at artsy, historic movie theater to see “Lixo Extraordinario,” a documentary about a man who photographed trash pickers in the landfills of Rio and sculpted their portraits in garbage. Highly recommended.
1700: Walk over to an Indian fast food restaurant, enroute passing the most disturbing clown I have ever seen begging in the street.
1900: Photo shoot in secret underground passageway that has art exhibits and secondhood books for sale.
2000: Return home and discuss the possibility of running with host family on Sunday morning. Explain that a wakeup time before 11am is highly unlikely.
2230: Go to the São Paulo 2011 Carnaval Parade in the sambadrome. Dance in the stands as the giant floats pass, marvel at the glittering bodies straight out of a magazine, and buy dulce de leche churros at 3am.
Saturday 0730: Bus drops me off a few blocks from my house. As I pass a gas station, a worker wishes me a good morning. I respond in kind and he hands me half an orange, saying, “Here, take this for your hangover.” I am 100% sober.
0800: Arrive home. Sleep.
1200: Mother calls. Explain that unfortunately I can not talk as I am dying of tiredness. She asks what time I got home last night. I tell her and she says, “Child, I don’t even want to know.”
In keeping with the song title theme, I bring you Amazonas Part Two: Water Adventures. After our misadventures in the jungle, we decided to stick to the river. Our tiny native guide, Fabio, took us piranha fishing, alligator spotting, and sludge paddling. Fabio (pictured below) exemplifies my favorite Portuguese expression, “suave na nave” or, in English, chill bro chill.
Our first activity, piranha fishing, proved that Americans are better suited to producing chemically laden foodstuffs and thinking of clever ways to market them than catching real food in its natural habitat. While Fabio caught at least one fish every five minutes, it took me thirty minutes of losing my bait to catch a prized piranha.
I had to throw it back because it was too small, but that does not negate the fact that I caught a piranha, by myself, using raw chicken bait and a bamboo pole.
Elliot and Ricky also caught piranhas. Even though he was on anti-anxiety meds, Ricky still screamed when he caught one, and Fabio had to release it for him. We ran out of chicken bait, so Fabio unhooked Elliot’s piranha and cut it alive, explaining that piranhas are carnivorous and we could use one as bait to catch more. True story.
After we had our fill of fishing, we rowed to another island to watch the sunset.
During the North American winter, millions of bird migrate to the Amazon. Everyday at sunset, they fly from one island to another in a mass 30-minute migration. They flood the sky like locusts, and you can hear thousands of wings flapping in the wind like helicopters. It’s borderline terrifying and beautiful.
Click below to see an alligator and read about how we became the star attraction of the biggest Valentine’s Day transvestite drag show in Manaus. How’s that for a cliffhanger?
1. On my daily walk, I was singing “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” on a side street. Right as I passed by a parked car, I sang out “Give it to me baby! Uh HUH uh HUH” really enthusiastically. Then I noticed a guy sitting inside the car with the window down. I ran.
2. After saying tchau (bye) to a cute guy, I turned around to wave goodbye. In doing so, I walked straight into a payphone and slammed the side of my head, as he and his friends watched.
3. I was dancing to a Brazilian funk song “Ela balança mais não para” in the street, doing a mild version of the snake wave. An old man was watching me from his balcony and I looked up and saw him just as I was getting really into it. I waved at him and he smiled.
4. I was about to get on a bus, so I gave my Brazilian friend a goodbye air kiss on the cheek. I went to go for a second air kiss on the opposite cheek, but he moved his head and I missed and ended up kind of kissing him on the lips. Then I quickly jumped on the bus and laughed at my awkwardness.
5. I was walking down a hill, drinking a coconut juicebox, when “Whip My Hair” came on my iPod. I immediately started whipping my hair back and forth as instructed by the song. In the process, I ended up flinging coconut juice all over the front of my dress. Little did I know there was a guy in guardbooth across the street laughing hysterically at me.
Moral of the story: I should probably try to be a normal person in public. But then I listen to the chorus of this song, “Viver e não ter a vergonha de ser feliz” (To live and not be embarrassed to be happy) and keep on dancing…
When I was seven years old, I was obsessed with a computer game called Amazon Trail, which involved canoeing down the Amazon River and taking photos of exotic animals like capybaras and toucans. Ever since then, I’ve dreamed of visiting the Amazon Rainforest and living out the game. My dream came true in February, when I headed to the Manaus, the capital of Amazonas, Brazil, for a four day boat/jungle tour.
Upon arrival in Manaus, we hopped on a boat and traded this:
That picture is for real. We stayed in a floating jungle lodge, which is basically a giant log house with no electricity or lighting. The lodge floats up and down with the water level, which rises 14 meters higher during wet season (I’m finally learning the metric system!).
The above home is not the exact one we stayed at, but it is a close approximation. Each day, we would go on a tour of the rainforest or the river, returning to our rooms at night just to eat fish by candlelight.
We trekked through the forest, and I was attacked by fire ants despite my efforts to jump and tiptoe along the ground.
Our guide, José, showed us how to tap rubber from trees and explained the medicinal purposes of all the plants. He also showed us how to climb up an açai tree in 20 seconds. On the boat on the way to the forest, I sat next to José and he told me his life story about growing up in a village in the rainforest with only two other families. He left Brazil to become a drug trafficker in Colombia when he was 14. After a few years, he had to flee from FARC and escaped to Venezuela, where he lived with an indigenous tribe for six months. He eventually returned to Manaus to learn English and become a tour guide.
Among the animals we spotted (or rather, José spotted them for us): tarantula, anteater, monkeys, various birds, snakes (sadly no anacondas), and lizards.
This dog kept following us. I fell in love with the monkey riding on his back. Click below to read about how we almost died camping in the rainforest: