Still in Brasil!

Sunday, March 30, 2003
Hello Gringos! Well, I promised to tell you about Candomble, the religious ceremony I went to in Salvador. Here it is: In a way, it was like most religious ceremonies... kids whispering behind the backs of their parents, teenagers giggling, and then there's always the really really serious people too. Otherwise, it was entirely different than any religion I have ever witnessed. The alter was not front and center.... the congregation was. There is no "priest like" person. Each of the parishioners take over the ceremony with their chanting and dancing... all the while trying to work themselves into a trance! No joke! It really has more similarities to a very verbal aerobic workout rather than a Catholic mass. While I was in Salvador, I met this German who had just come back from the Pantanal. I had decided NOT to go there after my experience in the Amazon... but after an hour discussion about her trip there... I was sold. I had to go. The only problem was, it was really, really, really far away. A little over 50 hours by bus, with the capital city of Brasilia at the halfway mark. So, I bought a ticket to Brasilia and left the next evening. I spent a day in Brasilia, as kind of a layover. Did you know that the city was designed to be shaped like an airplane? I thought my guidebook was just sarcastically comparing the shape to a plane.... but no! My hotel was actually located in the fuselage section of the city/plane. Interesante, no? I took a tour of the city sites, learned a bit of history of Brazil, and discovered the Brasilia has no normal roads. Every road I saw in the city had five or six lanes and each seems to lead to a mall... where I promptly went to the movies. Thanks, Hollywood.

Anyway, I hopped on another bus heading to Campo Grande, gateway to the Pantanal and home of the cheap tour. I arrived at noon the next day and booked a tour leaving an hour later for the Pantanal! Nice! Did you know you can swim with piranas? As long as it is breeding season, the fish supply is plentiful and you don't have any bleeding cuts, that is. Fortunately, all the criteria was met and I went swimming! It was a little weird seeing a few of us swimming while the rest were catching piranas. I went horsebacking riding through swamps, saw loads of birds, and some wildlife too. There were more mosquitos there than I thought existed in the entire world! It was unbelievable. In the evening you literally had to RUN from your cabin to the dining hall. A great experience, and, believe it or not, worth the 50 hour bus ride.

I had a few more days before I was due in Ilha Grande for the Island Weekend with the hashers, so I took ANOTHER overnight bus ride to the Iguazu Falls in Argentina. I have been hearing about this place ever since I arrived in South America, so I really wanted to go. It was so good it actually lived up to 3 months of hype! Picture the Niagara Falls, but much wider, and with pathways at every possible varying height and location around the falls. One platform even took you out practically over the falls. Barrel anyone? Then I got to take this boat that sped under the falls again and again and again. It was amazing! They managed to turn a UNESCO World Heritage Site into a water park. I think the job of that boat driver was to get us as wet as possible. That evening I played my first ever 16 person card game using 3 decks of cards. And, fun fact, I spent less time in Argentina than in any other country on my trip: 6 hours. How's that for a record?

I just spent this weekend meeting up with the Rio Hashers in Ilha Grande. I had such a great time, and got invited to Sao Paulo by some of the people I met this weekend... and I'm going to try to make it to the Sao Paulo Formula One race! We will see, I don't actually have the tickets yet. Okay, I'm off to book a tour around the island tomorrow to go beach hopping! Hope everyone is doing fine...... and Happy 29th Marcia!!

Love, Alison

Brasil... home of the neverending Carnival!

Monday, March 17, 2003
Oi, amigos! I just got my photos from Carnival developed.... and a few from Ecuador. Most of the Carnival ones came out crappy, way too dark... what did I expect, it was the middle of the night! There's a couple of good ones though of people - Carla, Mark, Hugh and a GREAT one of everyone on the metro, in costume, completely soaking wet from the deluge of rain we endured! It's hilarious!

The last thing I did in Rio was mail four extra large Carnival costumes to my parents house (um, Mom and Dad, you should be expecting four large computer boxes filled with pink feathers any day now!! Forgot to mention that, sorry!). It better be worth it Hugh and Carla... it was the biggest project ever. Imagine trying to fit 3 large computer boxes with feathers sticking out the holes, 2 people, and 2 extra large backpacks all in one taxi. The first taxi wasn't big enough for everything, so we hailed a SECOND taxi as a replacement. At this point, the whole neighborhood was involved.... or at least laughing and pointing at us!! After an hour and half in the line, and a trip to the papeleria for some brown paper to cover the boxes, the costumes were safely on their way.

I had said in my last email that I was heading to the north of Brazil.... and here I am! I showed up unannounced at the airport (after the post office episode) hoping for a flight to Recife... which amazingly enough I managed to get almost immediately! Things were looking good til the sickness set in. I don't know whether it was food poisoning, bad water or WHAT, but mid-landing I had to duck into the bathroom practically knocking people over along the way. I felt like I would die right there on the plane.... but fortunately the airplane cleaning people told me to get out and die elsewhere. Which I did. I must have really looked bad, because these two really nice airport cops came and rescued me from the sidewalk. They started grilling me with questions, because as they told me later, they thought I had gotten beat up! A few days earlier I had tried to learn how to surf. I failed miserably and in the process managed to get a baseball sized bruise on my arm. Once I assured the police I had NOT been beat up, they brought me to the First Aid clinic for the duration of my 3 hour layover, and despite the doctor's disapproval, he let me sleep in the cot until my flight. At one point I woke up and the doctor wanted to inject me with something, god knows what.... and all I could say is, "Don't even come near me with that!". I managed to convince Doc that I was fine and just needed to sleep.

I managed to make it through my next flight unscathed and immediately went to bed upon arrival into Olinda. The whole next day it hurt my stomach even when I just walked around. Fortunately, my hostel had a bath tub sized pool for me to lounge next to and I promptly planted myself there for 24 hours. I finished both my books, and then I felt much better! Then, FINALLY, I got to see Olinda. Just in time too.... because even though it was then one week after Carnival, the streets were hopping! It appeared that no one had informed them that Carnival was over. There were street parades, costumes, girl drum bands, and people everywhere! Apparently, I found out the next day, it was the 700th (maybe 600th, who is counting really) anniversary of the city. Olinda is one of Brazil's oldest cities and it's beautiful. I had heard that Olinda and Recife (sister cities across the river from one another) are the best place to celebrate Carnival. I wasn't even there until the aftermath of the festivities and I would have to agree. It was exactly how you picture Carnival to be, and more. The festive ambience just seeps from the balconies and paper mache decorations hanging off of them. Each street in the Old Town are lit up like the stage of a theater. I walked around for hours and hours while I was there.... for those of you who have been to Rio for Carnival I would even suggest coming back to Olinda for their version of Carnival.

After Olinda and Recife I went even further north to Natal... home of a just a few of the 8000 kilometers of beachfront in Brazil. Incredible! I spent a little time there and left yesterday morning thinking I was heading to Aracuja. My mistake! I must have read the bus schedule wrong, but there was a 9 hour wait at the bus station for the rest of the journey there. I just couldn't bear to wait it out that long in the scorching heat. I decided I just really didn't want to go that bad.... so instead I took the overnight bus to Salvador do Bahia. If you have been to Rio and thought the women wore teensy weensy clothes and bathing suits, not when compared to Salvador! I tried on a GRANDE shirt today in one of the shops and I could hardly even squirm into it. The lovely sales lady seemed to think it looked great though.

Salvador is really interesting, it was founded by Amerigo Vespucci. It became an important city for Brazil mainly because of sugarcane and slaves. Salvador claims to retain their black culture more than anywhere else in the New World. And, I have only been here 12 hours, but I believe it! They have this Catholic/African religious ceremony called Candomble that involves animal sacrifice... and I found one to go to tonight. Guests are not allowed to wear black, got that? I'll let you know how it goes. Okay, off to get the rest of my film back from processing!!

Ciao for now! Alison

Oi from Rio!

Sunday, March 9, 2003
Well, Carnival came and went, and so did all those nights that I never slept! What a great festival. I joined in the parade with my very own costume.... and again when my samba school, Mangueira, came in second place and was included in the Carnival champions parade last night. I can not even begin to explain what it was like to parade in Carnival, the world´s biggest party... the Cariocas (as people from Rio are called) go absolutely crazy! They support their samba school with the same passion that they support their soccer team - which I also witnessed from the stands yesterday. I had heard that I should expect people to be throwing dead chickens at the opposition, but I never saw one.

It was also great to see some old friends who came out to to Rio for Carnival.... Jane, Lara, Hugh, Mark, Todd.... as well as meetingall those other new friends who we shared the apartments with and met at the hash. Thanks to Sarah and Caroline for organizing the desfilaring for us, it was an honor! I will see all you hashers again in Ilha Grande, thanks for the invite!

Had some great long nights checking out music and street parades, taking the cable cars up to Sugarloaf, and seeing Christ. Really, I saw Christ! If you have ever seen the skyline of Rio, you will notice that there is this GIANT sculpture of Christ who guards the city with open arms.

Now that practically everyone from the carnival crew of people has left for greener pastures, I´ll be heading up north to spend few more weeks traveling around Brazil before I head home. I decided the other day to cancel grad school for yet another year (who knows if I´ll ever go) and stay in Brazil a little longer before I head home! Great to hear from everyone and keep in touch!

Love, Alison