Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mini vacation in Paradise, Brasil

Well, I'm back home in the states, sweltering in the summer heat here! Although it's nice to be home, I do miss Brazil. Tonight I'm making feijoada (traditional bean-pork stew) for dinner, and I baked pão de queijo (cheese bread) for breakfast. Yum!

My last week in Brazil was wonderful. After breakfasting on tapioca at the weekly sunday market in Glória I headed to the bus station and spent four uneventful hours on the ride to Paraty. The hostel I had booked was right next to the bus station, so it was easy to get to. I spent the evening on Sunday there, since I had arrived after dark.

Monday was spent exploring the beautiful colonial town of Paraty. It was a big change from Rio—much smaller, and quite quaint, with a beautiful harbor. Paraty is known for having a very well-preserved historic center: it is filled with colorful colonial buildings and rough cobbled streets that are only accessible by foot, bike, or horse (and there are many horse-drawn carriages). I relaxed by the beautiful harbour, had lunch at a buffet à kilo full of signs advertising Jesus (a proselytizing cafeteria?) and saw the cultural museum. I also checked out some of the shops and restaurants.

Paraty is very walkable in a day, so the next day I decided to do something different, and took a kayak tour. That was a great experience—we kayaked all around the harbour, stopping at some beautiful beaches where I took on my mermaid persona and spent a wonderful time in the water (not as cold as Ipanema!). I was in a group with portuguese, spanish, and french speakers (no native english speakers), so I had a great time trying to practice my french which the other frenchies, while speaking portuguese with the guide.

That evening, I changed out of my bathing suit and hopped on a bus to Trindade, a small beach village around 40 minutes away that had been recommended to me by one of my friends back in Rio. When the bus arrived in the town it was like a roller coaster ride—a narrow windy street that even passed over a brook at one point. My hostel was nice—in the jungle, with some nice other guests I got to know. That evening the owner of the hostel (from England), made sashimi for us from fish that had just been caught and hauled up onto the beach a few hundred yards away. Mmmmm fresh fish.

The next day I spent relaxing on the beach (Trindade is known for its beautiful beaches) and exploring the little town. My real adventure came the day after that, when I embarked with the owner and guests (2 canadians, 2 south africans, 2 english) from the hostel on an overnight trek to Ponta Negra, a fishing village even smaller than Trindade. We started off in motorboats from Trindade, and spotted some dolphins on our way to the first beach! From there we hiked most of the way, stopping off at other beaches for swimming, bathing, and at one point, rock jumping off a pretty crazy high rock. We also stopped at a nice (yet chilly waterfall) to rinse off from all our dips in the ocean.

We got to Ponta Negra in the evening and set up our stuff in the house where we stayed the night. Ponta Negra has no electricity and no roads leading in to it—all arrivals are on foot or by boat. They do have gas and solar power, so we did have electric lights and running water, but it was still quite basic. It was a wonderful vacation—physically and mentally. We had (can you guess?) fish for dinner—wonderfully cooked, with rice and beans, and enjoyed watching fishing boats come in with their catches and teenagers playing soccer on the beach.

The next day was a beach day—I alternated between sunbathing, swimming, and jumping off rocks (sometimes getting scraped up—I got a lot of cuts and scrapes and bug bites on that trip!). We had another wonderful fish lunch, then took a boat back to Trindade (no dolphins this time). Later that evening, I took another bus back to Paraty with the 2 canadians, had a quick dinner in Paraty, then took the 4-hour bus ride back to Rio, arriving around 1 AM. It was a long day—from a tiny fishing village back to Rio de Janeiro—but wonderful.

The next day I mainly spent packing—though I did get to have a nice lunch with a friend of my record teacher from home. It was nice to meet another "local," and it was nice to be back in Rio, if only for a day. That evening I said goodbye to my friends at the hostel and headed to the airport to catch my flight back to the states. 10 hours to Charlotte, 1 hour 40 minutes to Boston, and I was home, exhausted, but not too exhausted—no jet lag from Brazil!

It was a wonderful trip, and I think the experience really taught me a lot. I suppose I thought "I've traveled so much, there won't be any surprises here" but I do think that my trip to Brazil stretched my boundaries and opened my mind and helped me grow. So I'll finish up by saying: obrigada pela experiência fantástica, Brasil! Thanks for the fantastic experience.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The library, the bazaar, and my last day at the circus

Hello all—

Today was my last day at my project—I can't believe my six weeks there are over! It was a challenging, wonderful experience and I learned so much. I'm going to miss my circus kids and my fellow coaches. I'll see them down the road :)

I continue to be pretty busy, and it's hard to remember what I've done this past week! On Tuesday after project I baked an apple crisp for my friends at the hostel, just for fun. I've enjoyed having the chance to cook here.

On Wednesday I FINALLY got a tour of the National Library. It was beautiful, but not as nice as the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura. I also visited the fine arts museum, which is conveniently right next to the library. I tried to take a tour of the National Theater, but couldn't find the entrance for the tours (it turns out you can't just walk in the front doors where they have the "guided tours" sign). Frustrating yet comical, especially as I am the daughter of a travel writer who makes his living helping smooth out the bumps and obstacles for tourists.

Yesterday (Friday) I spent part of the afternoon giving a new volunteer (from France) a preliminary tour of the center of Rio and making a visit to the exchange office. Next, an American friend and I walked to Saara, an area of town that looks quite similar to traditional middle eastern bazaars (except it's full of brazilian products). I bought a few souvenirs, and mostly enjoyed the bazaar atmosphere. Afterwards, we tried again to get a tour of the national theater, but this time it was sold out!

Last night we had a group dinner at my pousada (hostel), which was fun. It's always nice to get all the volunteers together for dinner. I made a giant M & M cookie (to be cut into bars), but not for my fellow volunteers...

As you may be able to guess, the cookie was devoured by my circus kids today—it was a sort of going-away present. I thought it might be good to bring something typically american to my last circus class.

One interesting incident did happen at the end of class—after most of the kids had left, I was helping put some unicycles away and managed to gash my head on a metal window shutter. It wasn't serious, but I did start bleeding everywhere until one of the other coaches could run and grab some paper towels. Grand finale?

Today it's dreary outside, so I'll be working on packing and preparing for my mini-vacation this week. Next stop, Paraty!

Monday, July 18, 2011

New York, a palace, and a whirlwind weekend

Hey all!

I've been quite busy the past couple days. My good friend Will came to visit! But for now, I'll start last Wednesday, when I went to New York City Center...

Gotcha? New York City Center is actually a shopping-mall-type-place in Barra da Tijuca, an area along the southern coast near Rio. I decided to check it out because a friend had described it as quite similar to the US, so I thought it would be an interesting cultural experience. I started out by taking a bus to São Conrado, an area of Rio with lots of very expensive apartments, that is ironically situated right next to Rocinha, the largest favela ("slum") in Brazil. After walking along a highway lined by expensive-looking apartment buildings, I decided I had seen enough of São Conrado, and hopped on a bus to Barra da Tijuca.

Barra was, as expected, not much different from some areas of America. After passing by the beach and more expensive apartment buildings, I got off at New York City Center, a shopping area complete with a Statue of Liberty. I spent the afternoon walking around the giant mall, immersing myself in the international culture of consumerism.

On Friday, I took the metro out to the Quinta da Boa Vista, a park containing a palace where the royal family in Brazil lived in the 1800s. The palace now holds a somewhat out-of-date archeology/natural history/ethnographical museum, with a potpourri of exhibits ranging from extinct sea creatures in antarctica to greek pottery to brazilian indigenous peoples. Nevertheless, I enjoyed strolling around the museum and the park, which, like many places I have discovered in Brazil, contained a circus tent (no shows at the time).

Next came an adventure. I gave myself around 2 hours to make it from the park to the international airport, where Will's flight would come in. According to google maps, the trip would take around 45 minutes. I boarded the right bus, and rode it until the end... I still don't know where I was when I got off. I wandered around the area, asking for directions, when I discovered that I needed to take a different version of the same bus (same number even). I hopped on that bus and rode for 45 minutes or so, past some landmarks I had already seen and through some semi-sketchy areas of Rio. Finally, I was able to arrive at the airport (after catching one other bus, without problems), where I wandered around more, trying to find Will according to text-message directions we sent to each other.

Finally, I met up with Will, and the adventure ended! We took a much better bus back home, and, after a quick tour of Santa Teresa, headed to Lapa to meet up with some more friends, Samara and Georgina. We had a nice tapas-style at a botequim (place to get drinks and things like meat pastries or fried cassava root). We wandered a bit around Lapa afterwards, watching the neighborhood come alive for the night—Lapa is a big nightlife destination on Friday nights. We didn't stay, though, because the next morning was an early one for all of us—I went to the circus, and Will went to sugar loaf/pão de açúcar. We joined Sam and Georgina for lunch in the old colonial center, then took a boat across the harbor to Niterói, which holds the contemporary art museum, housed in a fantastic flying saucer-shaped building by Oscar Niemeyer, a famous Brazilian architect.

The next morning we had a wonderful tapioca and açaí breakfast at the weekly market in Glória, then met up in Cosme Velho to try to take the train up to see the Christ the Redeemer statue. It was absolutely packed, so we gave up on that idea and headed to the Parque Lage, a beautiful tropical park that holds an art school in a beautiful old mansion. Afterwards we took a bus to Leblon, and walked along the beach from the edge of Leblon, through Ipanema, to Copacabana. Will and I stopped for chocolate pizza (on his to-do list) and ice cream, then made a quick visit to the Copacabana Palace. This weekend the Palace had a special guest—Tom Felton, the actor who plays Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films. We paused to take pictures in front of the palace and noticed a few dozen fans sitting outside, holding copies of Harry Potter books, waiting for a glimpse or an autograph from "Draco." Security, of course, had been upped since I visited the hotel last week. I wonder how often the Palace hosts famous guests?

That evening Will and I made dinner at home, complete with a (mostly-succesful) attempt at pão de queijo—traditional brazilian cheese bread, made with cassava root flour.

Today we managed to make it up to see Christ, and I didn't mind going a second time because the top of the statue was shrouded in clouds, and it felt like the top of the world! We got a few glimpses of the ground, but otherwise we were "in heaven." We had lunch at my favorite kilo buffet, then went to see the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura, a beautiful hall full of books (sort of a library, I guess). We had a wonderful snack of coffee and sweets at Colombo, Rio's gorgeous and famous café and sweet shop. The afternoon came to a close, and I saw Will off at the airport. It was a wonderful whirlwind weekend, and now I'm planning on an early night. Tchau!

Monday, July 11, 2011

A quick post about a great weekend

I had such a great Sunday and Monday, I just thought I had to share. Sunday was "Arte de Portas Abertas" in Santa Teresa—essentially an open-house for all the cool bohemian artists in the neighborhood. I spent the afternoon wandering around this beautiful area, wandering into artists' houses and studios and checking out their work. All the restaurants were packed with people, and I even found one that specializes in gluten-free fare! There were stands all over the neighborhood selling handicrafts, and street performers on the corners. I spent a long time wandering around, exploring places I had never seen. I found a shop selling traditional portuguese food, and met a french artist named Lydia.
On my way back home, I enjoyed a caipirinha made with passionfruit, kiwi, strawberry, and lime, and stopped to sip and hear some street jazz. My sunday afternoon was one experience that everyone in Rio should have!

Today a friend and I from my guesthouse went to Ipanema. I guess there's not much to chronicle about that, but as usual, it was beautiful. We bought overpriced popsickles and enjoyed the warm winter sun (heh).

Just a quick post for now. I'll try to put some pictures up on facebook soon!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Feijoada and a Drink in a Palace

Hi all!

And the Brazilian adventures continue... The Fourth of July celebration was great fun—we made burgers (frozen—in true American style) with fries, corn on the cob, apple crisp, and ice cream. Americans and non-Americans alike had a good time.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were all rainy, stay-inside kinds of days. Therefore, Wednesday was a cooking day! I went to Copacabana and took a Brazilian cooking class. The chef was humorous and a great teacher: we made feijoada (VERY traditional beans and pork dish) with rice, greens, farofa (not going to try to explain that), fried cassava root, and caipirinhas (Brazil's national drink). The only other participants were a couple from Florida (though the woman was born in Rio), so it was nice to have a small class. I look forward to cooking Brazilian food when I get home; I am rapidly finding my favorite dishes!

After the cooking class, I wandered around Copacabana. You would picture sun, palm trees, people lying on the beach in bikinis, right? Well winter has finally arrived in Rio, so you can picture me walking along a cloudy, empty copacabana beach wearing a sweatshirt and long pants. I enjoyed the walk nonetheless.

Tuesday and Thursday, of course, I went to my circus project. Now that the show is over, we have gone back to a normal schedule, with three groups of kids rotating between aerials, mini-tramp, and stilts/unicycle. During my time here I've been discovering how I can help out the most, and as I keep saying, I'm getting so much out of my work there.

Friday was a wonderful, full day. A volunteer friend (Louise from Denmark) and I had an açaí (smoothie made of a berry from the amazon) for breakfast, then took a 2-hour boat tour around Rio's harbor. The harbor is said to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world (I'm sceptical of the number of "wonders" there are...), and it's beautiful. We had some great views of sugarloaf mountain, as well as Niterói, the city across the bay from Rio de Janeiro.

After the boat tour we wandered around the old historic center of Rio, which has some really nice colonial-style buildings. We explored the Candelária church, and peeked in the Casa França Brasil, which has an eclectic mix of art, dining, and books. We enjoyed our cheapest and most-satisfying buffet-a-kilo (R$1.59/100g! so good!) and had a nice coffee before heading back home to dress up classy.
Once "classy-fied," we took a bus to Botafogo beach, where we saw somewhat of a sunset over Sugar Loaf (not the most dramatic, but it was nice). After a nice yet reasonably-priced dinner in Botafogo, we headed to Copacabana for dessert, and then the "crown jewel" of the evening: a drink at the Copacabana Palace. The Palace opened in the 1920s, and has hosted many of the rich and famous visitors coming to Rio. Louise and I shared a Piña Colada (not too sweet) and a Manhatten, and snacked on nuts while enjoying our table by the pool and the service by the immaculately dressed waiters. It was a lot of fun, sipping our drinks (R$22 each = $14), and trying to look classy while taking blurry pictures of everything around us.

This morning I had a wonderful time at the circus. The class seemed amazingly calm, and I had a lot of fun coaching trapeze, chatting with some of the older kids about Cirque de Soleil shows we like, and helping kids walk on stilts. The coaches and kids at the circus are becoming my friends, and I'm going to miss them a lot when I leave in two weeks.

This weekend the artists in Santa Teresa are having a sort of open-house, so I plan to explore that tomorrow to check out what my "bohemian" neighborhood has to offer. Tchau!

Monday, July 4, 2011

The kids put on a circus show, and I get touristy

Oi (Brazilian "hi")! I've been pretty busy in the week since I last posted. I have been quite touristy, and have now seen two of Rio's most famous landmarks—the Christ Statue and Sugar Loaf Mountain.

First, though, my circus kids had their show! I went to the circus Tuesday and Wednesday to help prepare, and then they put on the show on Thursday afternoon, for an audience of parents, school children and friends. I heard that it went very well, though I didn't get to watch any! I spent my time backstage, trying to help the kids go onstage at the right time, and making futile attempts to prevent them from watching the show through the curtains. It was a very energetic, exciting, and chaotic afternoon, and I now have much more respect for my coaches, counselors, and staff from Smirkus camp and tour.

I'm really valuing this opportunity to work with the kids. It's challenging, but it's great for me to be able to see what things are like from the "other side"—having always been a performer, now I get to see what it's like to take a leadership role as a coach. It's also interesting comparing and contrasting the circus here with my time at Smirkus—especially Smirkus camp, which in some ways is quite like the social circus program here in Rio.

I was exhausted after the show, and had a relaxing Friday morning. That afternoon, a volunteer friend and I took the cog train up Corcovado to see Rio's trademark—the big Christ Statue. It was swarming with tourists, but still had a great view, and the train ride through the jungle was cool. We had açaí smoothies at the top and enjoyed the nice sunny view. My favorite part was seeing the mountains that surround Rio—they look so different from anything I've seen before.

Saturday I had work at the circus, then spent the afternoon at a beautiful market in Lapa, the neighborhood next to the one where I'm staying. It stretched a long way down a street full of antique stores, and had stands selling clothes, jewelry, decorations, dishes, and even juggling equipment! I had a tamale-like snack and wandered around the market, "window shopping" and enjoying the samba music that appeared every few blocks.

Yesterday was touristy day #2—two volunteer friends and I bussed to the neighborhood of Urca, and took the cable car up to Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açúcar in portuguese). The first stop was Morro da Urca, a smaller hill with a couple souvenir shops, cafés, and exhibits, and a nice patio-like area. Sugar Loaf is much taller, and has some wonderful jungle paths, to my surprise! (You wouldn't expect it, since most of the mountain is bare rock). We enjoyed the beautiful view of the city and the ocean, wandered around the paths, and then headed back to Morro da Urca (nicknamed "sugar cookie" by us) for a snack and to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, it was too hazy to see even a tinge of pink in the sky (sad!). Nevertheless, we waited to watch the lights come out in the city, and then headed home.

Today it's cold and drizzly, so I haven't left the house. The three other Americans and I will be preparing an American dinner (burgers, salad, and apple crisp) for our friends here at the hostel in honor of the 4th of July. It's my second 4th of July out of the US (last summer was in Oslo), but it'll be fun to have a little ex-pat celebration, even if we don't get any fireworks. :)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Morro de Prazeres, a Brazilian afternoon, and the Botanical Gardens

Hey all!

I've been having quite a variety of experiences these past couple days. On Thursday I went to visit Morro de Prazeres, a favela (slum) on a hill not too far from the area where I'm staying. Some of the young people from the favela guided us around the steep, windy staircases that lead all throughout the concrete houses that make up the favela. Near the top of the hill, MTV had re-vamped a soccer field for something they filmed there, and the field was being put to good use! We also were shown two short films made in conjunction with people from Prazeres, which won some awards in Brazil and Europe. It was an eye-opening experience, mostly, I think, for the fact that it seemed so normal. Favelas have this image of being full of crime, and grime, and misery. This favela was pacified—the drug-lords replaced by peaceful police officers, and now it's just the home of very normal daily life. I don't know much about the relative socioeconomic status of the residents, but I felt no divide between my privileged life in the US, and that of the guides or the kids playing soccer. We chatted with them, talked about our likes and dislikes, and enjoyed the view. Although I did feel a little strange taking a tour of someone's neighborhood, it was a good experience.

On Friday I met up with Sam, a brazilian friend of one of my friends from college. We had lunch at a nice restaurant, toured around the historical center, and then went to Leblon—one of the most upscale neighborhoods—to wander around a mall there and then see a brazilian movie. It was great to speak portuguese with Sam and talk about some of the differences between our languages. Seeing the brazilian film was also great fun, though it was hard for me to understand many of the jokes and puns. The film was made in Rio, so it was great to recognize some of the filming locations. We even passed by one on the bus on the way home! By the end of the day, my brain was tired from working in portuguese all day, but it was wonderful to be able to speak portuguese all afternoon!

Saturday I went to the circus and helped out as usual, though my help was needed more than usual, since one of the coaches was away for the week. After helping out with rehearsals for the upcoming show (this Thursday), I got a haircut, trying hard to remember any haircut related vocabulary in Portuguese :).

Yesterday I took a trip to the Botanical Gardens, which were beautiful, as expected. I took a stroll around Lagoa, the big lake in Rio, and then headed back to Leblon for lunch.

Today it's rainy and overcast, so I'll probably just take it easy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

More kids, more beaches, and some other adventures

Life as a Carioca (person who lives in Rio) continues to be nice. I've been back to Ipanema (on Monday... my fourth time there, already?), but have yet to go swimming. That will change, over the course of my stay here.
The soccer game on Sunday was certainly an experience. I found that most of the time it was more fun to watch the crazy crowds or the landscape visible through the stadium than to watch the game (no one scored). Nevertheless, it was good fun. The director of my volunteering program is a big fan of the Botafogo team, so we all wore black and white and sat in the Botafogo fan stands (they were playing Flamengo, another one of the big Rio teams).

On Tuesday morning I went to the grocery store, where I have been discovering more interesting Brazilian food (they have more than just guava paste!). I also had the pleasure of seeing a cockatiel grocery shopping (on the shoulder of its owner). I wonder what people in the US would think if I took Mel shopping with me?

Later I went to the circus. The kids will be putting on a show in a week, so we've been working on their acts. The structure of rehearsals has lessened the craziness a bit... but not too much, of course. I'm really enjoying getting to know some of the kids—the little ones are quite cute, and I think they're getting to know me better. Yesterday there was a meeting with the parents (mostly moms) of some of the kids, so I got to spend some time with them. I didn't have a chance to talk with them much, but it was good to meet them briefly. Whenever I'm working with the kids, I often wonder what their home lives are like.

Yesterday morning I took a short walk around Santa Teresa, the neighborhood where I'm staying, and visited the Parque das Ruínas. It's a small park at the top of the hill, centered on a ruined house that used to belong to a carioca socialite at the beginning of the 1900s. It was nice to walk around the ramps in the house and picture it full of guests dancing or eating or chatting. The roof also has a beautiful panoramic view of Rio! In addition, right next to the house is a small circus rig, put there in memory of a famous Rio circus artist. I love how much circus there is in this city!

Later, I had a nice lunch with two other girls staying in my house (from the US and South Africa), and then wandered around Saara, the "bazaar" area in Rio. It's made up of narrow streets that are packed on either side with stores selling anything and everything—food, bags, shoes, etc. I didn't buy anything, but it was enjoyable just to walk through it.

Ps. I apologize for the title. Can't think of anything more interesting at the moment :)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Some reflections after a week in beautiful Rio

Things I love about Rio:

-monkeys (they live in the tree in my guesthouse)
-the tree the monkeys climb in is an avocado tree, with avocados the size of my head
-new tropical fruits (and the paste-stuff made from them)
-living in portuguese (trying to figure out the brazilian accent)
-beautiful majestic old buildings, many of them in a decrepit state that turns them even more romantic
-walking past cafés yesterday, with people sitting and playing music
-cute stray cats and capybaras (I believe) in a park
-rice and beans
-cooking in my pousada, in a kitchen on a terrace
-cute kids at my program asking how to say things in english
-watching the professional program's end-of-semester circus show
-áqua de coco (stick a straw in a coconut and drink)
-the beach at Ipanema
-caipirinhas (in moderation)
-warm sun, even in winter
-kiosks and carts on the street selling anything you might need (nail clippers and mittens, anyone?)
-wandering around Rio, sipping an açaí smoothie
-o bonde (tram that comes up to Santa Teresa, the neighborhood where I live)
-The Praça Floriana, where I catch the metro to the circus. It is bordered by the beautiful national library, national theater, city hall, and Odeon cinema.
-women-only metro cars during rush hour (that's just kind of funny)
-buffet à quilo (mentioned before—fill your plate at a buffet, pay by weight—in the business district near my metro stop, it's really cheap)

Yesterday, to celebrate my stay of a week in Rio, I was a film star! Ok, kidding, but I was in a short film. My circus program usually has practice on Saturday mornings, but yesterday practice was cancelled so a small crew could come in and film a clown performing a routine. The kids from my program were dressed in colorful clothing, hats, and jewelry, and were given popcorn to chew (or devour), and then we were filmed as the "audience" watching the clown act. We were filmed separately, so the clown told us when to laugh or clap. I hope my debut in brazilian film turned out ok! (I didn't learn what the point of the film was, or what it was to be used for).

Afterwards, I sat in on a coaches meeting, where they discussed how to deal with the chaos mentioned before. It's definitely a different environment from Smirkus camp, and difficult for me, since I was always a student and never a teacher. But I'm trying to think of activities that I enjoyed while a circus student that could be applied with my noticeably crazier brazilian kids. It'll be a challenge, but a good one.

Today I'm off to a football (futebol) game! I promise not to get trampled; I hear they get pretty rowdy.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

First day at the circus: Bem-vinda ao caos (Welcome to chaos)

Tuesday, after a morning of lazing around the guesthouse, I headed down to the Praça Floriano, a nice square near the center of town that is surrounded by the majestic National Library, National Theater and City Hall of Rio de Janeiro. I stopped for lunch in a "buffet a quilo"—a type of cafeteria where you serve yourself a plate of food, buffet-style, and then pay by the kilo. I've certainly added that to my list of things I love about Rio. Along with the guava paste I had at lunch.

After enjoying my lunch in the square I hopped on the metro, and rode a couple stops to my program site—a circus tent in the middle of Rio. The tent is relatively large and oval, and contained some rough-looking mats, a trampoline, and aerial equipment surrounded by bleachers. A few kids were running and tumbling on the mats, but most of the kids hadn't arrived yet.

I met the coaches—there are three coaches for around thirty children (seems like an ok number, right? Wrong.), who range in age from about 5 to 20. One of them toured with Ringling in the states for 6 years, so it's quite possible that I saw him in one of their shows.

Anyway, the kids arrived, and chaos began. They are all quite cute, but full of energy and very loud. We formed a semblance of a circle, and then I was introduced, though my introduction was often cut off by the kids' chatter.

For the rest of the afternoon I wandered around, trying to help the coaches keep the kids in control as they worked on acrobatics, trapeze, fabric, stiltwalking and unicycle. Most of the time, I was just trying to prevent them from landing on their heads or each other.

Despite the fact that I was trying to herd cats, I did enjoy it. Many of the kids are quite talented, and it's fun to watch them having fun. They called me "tia" (aunt—which is what they call all the volunteers) and asked me about where I was from, what my t-shirt meant (it said Macalester) and tried out their knowledge of a few english phrases (that was certainly fun to try to decipher).

Near the end, when the kids had abandoned their stations and were running around the tent (this culminated in some giant fluorescent lights falling from the ceiling...) one of the coaches turned to me and said "Bem-vinda ao caos" (welcome to chaos). It's true, but that's why I'm here to help. Hopefully over time I'll get to know the coaches better, and can become part of the team.

Yesterday I had a day off, so I wandered around the center a bit, and went grocery shopping. I went into the national library hoping to sit there and write in my journal, but it's only open for guided tours and people who need to check out books. I'd better think of a book to check out... my nerdy side was absolutely heartbroken.

Last night we had a pizza dinner with all the other volunteers (I made polenta, since I don't eat wheat), and then headed to Glória for a night out. We ended up in a square that was full of people surrounding a jazz band. The music was fine but the band was hidden from view by the hoards of people. I ended up trying a caipirinha—Brazil's national drink, made out of cachaça (sugar-cane alcohol), sugar, and lime. After drinking about a third of a cupfull, I had had enough—it was quite tasty, but it's pure alcohol that goes straight to your head! I handed my drink off to another one of the volunteers who had joined us; one third of a caipirinha was definitely enough for me.

In half an hour I will head out to my second day under the big top. Looking forward to it!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The [American] Girl [in] Ipanema

Well, I have been in Rio for two days, and I have already been to Ipanema twice. How's that for a start?

My voyage across the equator began with a short flight from Boston to Charlotte, NC, and then a 10 hour flight to Rio. Rio is only one time zone away from the East Coast, so it was somewhat strange for me to fly all night, and not get stuck with much jetlag. After a quick drive through Rio, I reached the house where I'll be staying for my 7-week stay. I'm in a dorm-style room with 4 other girls, all American except one Canadian. The other volunteers I've met are from Ireland, Germany, Norway, Denmark, and Puerto Rico. It's a nice group; most of the volunteers are slightly older than I am. The guesthouse is located in Santa Teresa, which is a hill near the center of the city best known for its trams, which woke me up a good number of times last night as they rattled by.

After a bit of unpacking, I went out with a few of the other girls from the house, and we took the metro to Ipanema. The beach was beautiful—the water is a beautiful shade of greenish-blue, and there is a great view of sugar loaf (the famous mountain) and some of the islands. At Ipanema we strolled along the beach and enjoyed some fruit smoothies; Rio is full of stands selling fruit juice, many times made out of tropical fruits I've hardly heard of.

That evening I collapsed into bed around 7:30, and, as I am known to do after long plane rides, slept 12 hours.

Today I went grocery shopping (eating yesterday was difficult, as I didn't have any food...), then had a brief meeting with the volunteer coordinator from my program, who will take the six new volunteers to our volunteer placements tomorrow. Next, we took a super long bus ride (albeit with nice views of the city) to Ipanema, where sat on the beach for a while. The beach seems to be perpetually crowded, and there are lots of soccer balls flying around. There are also stands every hundred yards or so selling drinks (picture a straw stuck into a coconut) and snacks; I ended up trying a sort of sweet cornmeal folded in a cornhusk.

Since then, we took a shorter bus back home, and now I'm hanging at the dining room table at the guesthouse. I'll probably cook a bit of the food I bought this morning and call it a night. It's already getting dark at 5:40 here, since of course on this side of the equator, it's wintertime! (Still beach weather in Rio, though).