Sunday, June 27, 2004

it's like i'm in a painting

this last week in brazil has been so varied and so incredible. we left our now-familiar rio de janeiro, of the tropical beaches and the urban crowds, and flew to manaus, a city in the middle of the amazon rainforest. it takes two hours by plane to simply fly over the amazon; it is that vast. as we neared manaus i could see where the rio negro meets the amazon river- black water meeting light brown and continuing on for 8 km without mixing. it was breathtaking.

at the airport we got onto a small van and headed for the port, where we got onto a boat and traveled 50 minutes along the rio negro towards our jungle lodge. in the van, it suddenly began to rain. and then stopped. in the boat, it suddenly began to rain. and then stopped. ahh, okay. the amazon rainforest.

that first day, we took a boat from the lodge to an island called the monkey island, where a lot of monkeys gather each day to eat. we went in a tiny canoe through the floating forest, which is a forest in the river. trees, a forest full of them, under 30 feet of water. only the very tops of the trees were visible to us as we paddled by in our canoe. imagine. at times we got stuck in branches and it struck us as pretty incredible that our little canoe was stuck in the top branches of a tree. in three months, the dry season will be here and the 30 feet of water will be all dried up. it will be a "normal" forest. but most of the year, it is submerged. as we navigated among the tree tops i peered down into the water and imagined scuba diving down there. instead of coral and fish and colors, i would see a forest. trees and leaves and branches and grass.

our second day in the amazon we took a larger boat out to see the meeting of the waters- the meeting of the two rivers i had seen from the plane. up close it was even more unbelievable. i was staring at water only a few feet from me, that was divided in a perfect line between black and light brown. the rio negro, the black water, moves slowly and is cold. the amazon is faster and warmer. because of the differnces in temperature, velocity and density, the two rivers do not mix as soon as they meet. i will never tire of going places and witnessing firsthand that which seems impossible.

something else that happened that day, less miraculous to everyone else but completely incredible to me, is that i caught three piranhas and a catfish with little bits of raw meat hooked onto bamboo poles! i have never fished before, and i have heard scary things about piranhas. but i was handed a pole and so i fished, and amazingly i had better luck than most of the people on that little boat. the guide threw them back, but not before i made taher take a picture of me with each one!

our second-to-last day, we set out early in the morning for a jungle hike, with a guide. it was a difficult walk- two and a half hours in the humid jungle, where, it seemed, mosquitos were invented- but i learned a lot. a tiny insignificant fraction of what there is to know about the rainforest, of course, but still a lot to take in in such a short amount of time. i learned which plants natives use for homes, and how to rub yourself with biting ants in order to disguise your scent. it is awe inspiring that there are so many, countless, trees and plants just casually standing about in the rainforest, that contain miraculous medicinal properties. one tree's bark is quinine- if you put this in tea and drink it, you can both cure and prevent malaria. the rainforest seems infinite to me in its mysterious healing powers.

the amazon experience was, on the whole, very peaceful. we didn't camp in the jungle for three weeks and see panthers- but we did eat breakfast among huge red and blue macaws; we did nap in hammocks; we did take pictures of three-toed sloths; we did go on a night trip by boat to hunt for alligators; we only tasted the amazon experience, but it was, even in its brevity, an intense adventure.

and now we are in foz de iguacu, our last stop before returning to sao paulo and then to chicago. foz de iguacu hosts one of the natural wonders of the world- a series of 257 waterfalls that dwarf niagara falls easily. we went to see them today and were dumbstruck. i have been to niagara falls more than once- it really doesn't compare. these waterfalls are violent and sublime and endless; they stretch along for over 3 km- it took us thirty minutes to just walk along them.

this blog, and this trip, has been a series of "this was amazing and then this was amazing and then we did this and it was amazing!" we came to brazil hoping for a good time but not really knowing what we were in for (that's the best kind of trip, isn't it?) i am shocked by and thankful for how much i've seen and how often i've had an incredible, inspiring day in the last three weeks. someday, if i figure out how to upload photos onto this blog, i will put up a few of this trip. in the meantime, if anyone wants to go to brazil, you can borrow our guidebook- i've dog-eared the good stuff ;)

Friday, June 18, 2004

suspended lights

we~ve now been in rio for ten days. we~re becoming so comfortable here-it~s strange that that can happen, in a foreign country, with a foreign language, in only ten days. this morning we went to the corner for our daily fresh fruit smoothies, and the guy behind the counter got my order wrong- and the woman who is there every single day went up to him and told him, no, no, this girl gets strawberry with no milk. it was an amazing feeling to realize that she knows me. is used to me. expects me there every morning. here in rio de janiero taher and i are beginning to feel like we are carving out the tiniest of niches. it~s mind-blowing to think that while home is one specific city, ´at home´ is a feeling i am learning to take with me on my travels.

we~ve been busy the last few days- earlier this week, we went hanggliding. this is something i have always wanted to do. and it was great. we stood on a platform on a cliff (called sao corvado), and looked over the cliffs and the city to the ocean. then we actually ran at full speed towards the end of the platform, and even when our feet left the platform, we continued to run on air. and suddenly- flight. it was so much fun. i wanted to stay up there for hours. i was in a tandem flight with a pilot, who said he once did a marathon flight on a hangglider for 8 hours. i can only imagine how amazing that would have been. just floating through the air, high enough to understand what a bird~s eye view really is. and having enough time to gaze and think and daydream. i totally loved it. the pilot did some tricks, too- such as pushing the bar far out in front of him, so the glider soared upwards, and then pulling it back quickly so it did a sudden nose-dive. oh! it was awesome. seemingly headed straight into the water and then SWOOP! up again. i loved every minute of it.

the next day we hired a big, wide jeep and were taken deep into the tijuca forest. we just hiked around, breathing in the unmistakeable smell of forest and enjoying the scenery. rio is so multi-faceted; forests and cliffs and beaches and city. it is, to put it simply, fun to explore. my favorite part of the tijuca forest was the spleunking-we had to hike up up up to get to this cave, and then squeeze through this tiny black opening to get inside the cave itself. but stepping through, i found the cave to be immense- huge and high and cavernous. it was so sheltering- i felt like sitting down and building a fire and setting up camp.

yesterday, we took a boat to the ilha grande- big island. basically, this place was paradise. outside of rio, it~s just ocean and islands and gorgeous backdrops of cliffs and greenery. of course, the water was a dark blue. of course, the sun was shining. of course, there were idyllic little homes on the islands, sheltered by trees, that caused taher and i to seriously ponder giving it all up and living in paradise. i am quickly running out of words to describe the vistas i have been taking in the last two weeks.

it~s so strange. we~re finally getting the hang of it and we will have to leave soon. not that we have it all figured out- not at all. there are still a thousand surprises a day. on the bus last night, driving past the neighborhoods built on the sides of cliffs, the lights from the houses were on, but the cliffs themselves were not visible. all we could see were thousands and thousands of suspended lights, rising high above the ground. the kind of thing you can never capture in a photograph- something magical for us to just take in and appreciate, a little gift as we sit on a bus like any other, on a night like any other.

Saturday, June 12, 2004


that~s thank you in portugese. it seems that the first word i inevitably learn in a new country is the one for `thank you´. in turkey it was tesukkerler. in hong kong it was m´goi sai. in egypt it was shukrun (which also meant ´no thanks´ - proved pretty useful!)

anyway. we~re in brazil on our honeymoon and after only five days here, i highly recommend both brazil and honeymoons ;) we~ll be here for the whole month, which is actually not that much time, considering how vast brazil is and how little of it we~ve covered so far.

we flew into sao paulo and noticed right away that brazilians seem to encompass many ethnicities. some look european. others, african. others, very latin. others, almost arab. taher and i fit right in; anyone would. people assume we~re brazilian first, and so we~re picking up more portugese than we would if we were being molly-coddled with tentative english. indeed, we ask where something is or how much this costs and are bombarded with verbal paragraphs of which we understand perhaps five words. it~s great fun :)

in sao paulo my favorite experience was the tile guy. taher and i were strolling on the sidewalk, aimlessly (the best way to see a city is, of course, to wander aimlessly through it), and taher noticed a guy sitting on the ground, painting tiles with his fingers. at first glance he looked, as taher put it, like a wannabe-hippie from berkeley, in his torn jeans and green knit hat- upon closer inspection it became clear that he was a genuine artist and that the paintings he was making on these small white tiles were actually gorgeous mini-landscapes. Hegis (for that is his name) was using his fingers and little bits of rolled tissue, and with broad strokes creating waterfalls and mountains and oceans and sunsets. it was amazing. they were worth far more than the 5 reals ($1.60) he was asking. we commissioned one from him and were so enthralled with the result that we walked back to our hostel to stow it safely somewhere where it could dry in peace.

we stayed in sao paulo for two days before moving on to rio de janeiro- we~ve been in rio now for almost four days and aren~t planning on leaving quite yet. it~s gorgeous here. we live in a hotel that opens onto a main road, in an area called catete (pronounced ca-chettay). it~s bustling and wonderful in the usual city ways- vendors on the street selling everything and anything. it~s eye candy. we~ve already found a familiar groove for ourselves- a rhythm of sorts. i am consuming large amounts of mint tea and even larger amounts of fresh strawberry smoothies. taher eats filet mignon on an almost daily basis. we~re catching on to the popularity of flashing a thumbs-up as a catch-all means of communication.

of course, we~ve done more than stroll around on the sidewalks. we~ve also caught a cable car to the highest cliffs and then strolled around up there. and taken a ride up to the Christ the Redeemer statue and strolled around it. (it~s famous- you~ve seen it in movies, a huge statue of christ with his arms spread wide.) and yesterday we hit the beach at copacabana and after lying on the sand and remarking to each other several times about the blueness of the water, we strolled from there to ipanema (more beaches). ãll this walking hopefully means we come back fit and tanned!

today the plan is to go hanggliding. this is something i~ve always wanted to do, next to skydiving. it~s very gentle, basically just a nice little float through the air and a beach landing. i~ll be sure to tell you about it next time i blog...

after rio we plan on going to salvador and from there, the amazon rainforest. stay tuned! maybe my next blog will be written entirely in portugese :)

Thursday, June 03, 2004

our first place

this weekend, we moved out of our first apartment- we only had it for two months, just a little stint in the city before our whirlwind summer began. it was a tiny, tiny studio- and yet obnoxiously cute. and it delivered the kind of lifestyle that we will, in coming years, look back upon fondly as we tell people about "our first place": how our dining table was a folding breakfast tray; how we could wash our hands in the kitchen and dry them in the bathroom without actually having to move very far; how the hallway exuded a strange funk for which we felt the need to apologize profusely to all guests...

it's been a great two months- this month in brazil has a lot to live up to! (stay tuned for lots of posts in the coming months! i promise to write.)