Saturday, March 21, 2015

Brazil Trip Wrapup

Rio to São Paulo to Washington DC to Chicago and finally to Fargo. 24 hours later and we were reunited with our kiddos. They had a wonderful time with Grandma and Grandpa. They all had some new clothes and lots to talk about.  We still cannot believe that they were willing to take them for 10 days--that is a TON of work!  They are amazing, and we are so grateful to them!!!

They met us at the airport with a sign...

 and were really excited to get cool stuff from Brazil, including new footwear from Kenia! Hannah in particular grabs them and brings them to us yelling FLEEP-FLOP, FLEEP-FLOP!

We decided that we wanted to get home right away, so after dinner we packed up the kids and drove back to Minneapolis, getting home at about 12:30 that night. Our trip was over.


Next time, the kids will come

It was fun to get away, but we sure missed the little guys. The first night home Hannah (almost 2 years old) woke up in the middle of the night crying for us and asked to snuggle us. In her sleepy little voice she just said "Mommy. Daddy. Home.". 

Next time we travel we'll be bringing the kids. Hannah is partly potty-trained and they're all getting old enough to listen and be helpful. 

Maybe we'll start with an easy trip though. Like to Canada or something. 

Azul Airlines

Azul Airlines is a regional Brazilian airline. Their service is amazing. We took 5 flights with them and they were all great. Every plane was comfortable and clean. The flight attendants were all cheerful and friendly. There were not drink or food carts. Instead for drinks they took your order down on a notepad and then brought the drinks on a big tray. It was so fast and they didn't have to block the aisles! I don't know why more airlines don't do it like that.  

They also had 4 different kinds of snacks (and not just dry pretzels) and if you hesitated to pick one, they'd just give you all 4!

Seriously, after flying Azul and then having to fly on United Airlines back to the US, having the crummy food and mediocre was disapointing

Brazilian Food

I love Brazilian food. Stroganoff, rice and beans, Brazilian style lasagna, all the fruits, cheeses and fresh juices. It's just terrific. I'll have to do some more cooking at home and try to make them.

The Brazilian Economy

For us, for this vacation the Brazilian Real was very weak and it made our money go farther. But I sincerely wish that the economy there was doing better so my friends from Brazil could come and visit me. Minneapolis is no Rio de Janeiro, but we like to get visitors too. 

Friends Forever

Finally, my favorite part of the trip was seeing old friends. I hadn't seen people from my mission for 12 years, and people from Sacramento for more than 15. When I saw them though, that same friendship that we had before was still there. 

It was so wonderful to see the people that I love and care about doing well, with good families and kids and jobs. I'm sad that I could only see each friend for a couple of days and I'm sorry that there were so many others that I didn't even get to see. We'll have to get back again before another 10 years pass. 

Brazil, Day 9: Goodbye Brazil!

Sunday morning we woke up early and got started on waffles. Rodrigo had a brand new waffle maker! I don't think they're terribly common in Brazil, but there it was. So we made waffles instead of pancakes.

After breakfast Rodrigo headed off to church, Lídia stayed home with Levi, who was feeling sick, and Caroline and I played a little bit of hooky and went to see the Christ statue. The Christ statue is located within the Tijuca national forest, and lucky for us official Tijuca national forest vans have a station just two blocks from Rodrigo's house.

It probably took the van about 1/2 an hour to drive from the station up to the base of the Christ where we walked up the couple flights of stairs.

It was probably about 8:30 at this point and the sun was right in front of Christ's head (since the stairs lead up behind him).

A little higher up and you can see it more easily.

Hello lizard.

On a clear day there are fantastic views of the city, the beach and Copacabana. We got little views of the city through the morning fog (which was beautiful too) but we would've had to stay all morning for the sun to clear it all out.

Another view of the Christ statue.


Caroline used her mad German skills to ask a German tourist to take a picture of us.

After a while at the Christ statue we headed back down the vans, back down to the city (saw a monkey hanging out in a tree on the way!) and finally down to the subway. At some point we got hungry and stopped to get some pão de quijo, and it just so happened to be the absolute most delicious pão de quijo in the entire world, according to Caroline.  We took the subway to church where we made it just in time for sacrament meeting. It was so hot. Rio is a hot city, and it was like a hot day (for us at least!).

Rodrigo had a few meetings after church so we caught the subway back to his house to hang out with Lídia some more. There's this thing with Brazilians where if they speak English well, they'll say that they don't speak it well. I think those who honestly don't speak it well just don't admit to speaking it at all. Lídia and Rodrigo both said that they didn't speak it well, but they spoke English really really well, especially Lídia. She and Caroline just talked-talked-talked.

We got lunch ready, and Rodrigo got home, and we ate. And finished packing.

And took pictures.

And said sad good-byes.

And left.

There were protests in all of Brazil that day, about 1.5 million protesters in São Paulo, and others in every large city. We didn't hear of any problems getting around in Rio, but we went to the airport early just to be sure.

Our round-trip tickers were out of São Paulo, so we first few to the Guarulhos airport on a regional plane and then had a few hours of layover.

Guess who we got to see one last time! IT'S LOLA AGAIN! She works at the airport and we messaged her when we got in. Things were hectic for her, but she made it to our gate about 5 minutes before we had to board. Just in time for one last selfie!

Finally we settled into our seats for the long and uncomfortable ride back to real life.

Brazil, Day 8: Back to Rio, Copacabana

We felt bad that Lídia was back at home alone with Levi, so we decided to head back first thing in the morning. So we woke up at about 7 AM and packed up, and got ready for the 8 AM breakfast buffet at the Pousada. Fresh pineapple, mango and papaya, crusty french bread with ham and cheese, and a couple of different kinds of juice.

After that we headed down to the dock and bought tickets for the next schooner back to the main land.

Here's Rodrigo and I on the dock headed to the schooner.

Caroline and I with Vila de Abraão behind us.

More shots behind us.

We took the beach route back from Conceção de Jacareí to Rio. We passed Praia do Recreio, Barra da Tijuca, Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana. The closer we got to Rio the busier and fuller the beaches were. Rodrigo said that they like to go down to Barra da Tijuca to get away from the crowds of Copacabana.

When we got back to Rodrigo's we tried to go to Christ the Redemer, but the guy at the ticket stand advised against it because there wasn't good visibility. So instead we bought some esfihas (kind of an arabic empanada) for a late lunch, then went to the grocery store to get some stuff to bring home for the kids and to make waffles for Rodrigo and Lídia in the morning.

Then we went back to Rodrigo's house and just hung out for a while, chatting and catching up and playing with Levi. We made maple syrup and then headed out to the market at Copacabana. We bought some paintings, and some other souvenirs and walked around. Caroline finally found the hat she had been looking for! Lola had lent her a sort of white straw fedora on our 2nd day in Brazil and Caroline had been on the lookout for a similar hat ever since. We had seen them in a couple of places, but they were a bit pricey. Caroline found it for about 1/2 of what we'd seen it for elsewhere.

Once we were done there we went to a restaurant for one more Brazilian dinner with Rodrigo & Lídia. We had picanha (top sirloin), rice, beans, farofa and guarana and it was a really great last meal. 

Stuffed to the gills , and with some reluctance on everone's part, we went to cross off one last thing from our Brazil todo list. We went out for açai for desert. Caroline and I split one and Rodrigo and Lídia split one.

Here's Caroline enjoying the açai with her new hat!

We went to bed with some reluctance, knowing that Sunday was the last day of our wonderful vacation.

Brazil, Day 7: Ilha Grande (near Rio)

Saturday morning we woke up early, did some laundry and hung it to dry on Rodrigo and Lídia's patio, and then headed out to Ilha Grande. Unfortunately Lídia and Levi couldn't come. She had just barely started a new job only a block from her apartment and Levi likes to see his mom at night. Rodrigo was a great sport though and came anyways, and we did our best to not make him a third wheel!

Ilha Grande is an island about 2 hours south of Rio, and it's a popular tourist destination. Easily over half of the people we saw on the island were from Argentina, and there were a ton of Brazilians on vacation. There were a small handful of Americans there, but not many.

On the way down we got to experience the joys of Rio traffic. Not as bad as São Paulo traffic, but it took a long time to get through some of the tighter areas. Rio has lots of mountains so there aren't always multiple routes when getting between mountains.

Eventually we got to a little town called Conceição de Jacareí where Rodrigo had arranged for parking.

View Larger Map

We were just in time for a schooner, which took 45 minutes to get to Ilha Grande. The other option was to take a fast boat. The fast boat would've taken 15 minutes to get to the island, but wouldn't leave for 25 minutes. We decided to take the slower, cheaper boat that was leaving immediately. When we were pulling up to the dock in Ilha Grande the fast boat was just behind us.

Schooner Selfie!

Just a shot of the islands in the bay.

Rodrigo and I!

Caroline and I!

Ilha grande has some really nice beaches and some nice hiking trails. The main beach in Vila Do Abraãois pretty busy since that's where the town is, so we planned to go on a short hike to a near by beach, Praia das Palmas.

Once we arrived at Ilha Grande we checked into our Pousada, bought some hot-ham-and-cheese empanadas and water and struck out to find the trail.

Here's a nice boat with a nice Brazil paint job we saw on our way to find the trail head.  

The trail was only 6 km (3.7 miles) but it felt like it was straight up and down.

Caroline and I love hiking, but this trail felt pretty intense to us. Rodrigo seemed to hardly break a sweat. The trails were all clay, I can't imagine trying to hike it in the rain without cleats or something.

We had been hearing rustling in the forest as we were hiking and shortly after this bamboo stand Caroline said "There's a cat!". An instant later a cat-sized thing scurried out of the trees, crossed the trail and headed back into the trees on the other side.

I'm pretty sure it was a Tegu lizard, but I'm not a lizard expert so it could've been a something else.

After reaching what we though was the top several times we finally reached what was actually the top. Despite being out of breath, the views were beautiful.

The trail up wasn't terribly steep, and wound all over. The trail down was steep and almost like switchbacks. Finally at end of the trail there was this big rock we had to climb down, which someone had fastened a big fat rope to.

We staked out a spot on the beach, laid out our towels and went for a little swim.

Side note: Ever since I was a teenager I'd wear contacts when swimming, because my eyes are really bad. Contacts while swimming are a pain because if water gets in your eyes the contacts slide around and can fall out more easily. For this trip I bought a pair or prescription swim goggles. They. Were. Amazing. They weren't even that expensive, only like $35. I should've bought some a long time ago.

After cooling off and playing the waves we bought some coconut waters and ate some snacks.

Coconut selfie!

When we went to Florida in 2009 we bought 2 sets of snorkels. We've only used them one time since then, but we brought them with us on this trip. We only saw a handful of fish, all this 4-5 inch translucent blue fish, but bringing them was definitely worth it.

You see, Rodrigo had never used a snorkel in his life! He had a blast learning to use it, searching for fish and swimming around. Caroline also had a blast watching him. Every time he'd dunk the snorkle underwater and come up surprised Caroline would laugh and laugh and laugh.

Since Rodrigo enjoyed it so much and since we use them so infrequently we ended up leaving the snorkels with Rodrigo when we left.

While Rodrigo and I were snorkeling Caroline walked up and down the beach and took some more photos.

We spent most of the afternoon there and eventually decided to head back to the Pousada. We decided to take the water taxi from Praia das Palmas back to Vila do Abraão. It was a great choice. The water taxi was a speed boat and we got to see the beautiful coast and blue-green water around the edge of the island. The speed boat was terrific fun. Rodrigo managed to convince one slightly tipsy Brazilian lady on the boat that I was actually from Minas Gerais, then eventually revealed that I wasn't. The lady almost stood up in the boat and started shouting "I KNEW IT! I KNEW HE WAS A FOREIGNER!". She was pretty funny. Then she asked Caroline to pass her flip-flops up to the front of the boat. The flip flops were the only thing at the back of the boat and Caroline passed them up, then the lady started yelling "SHE UNDERSTOOD! SHE UNDERSTANDS!!!".

Back at the Pousada we cleaned up and then headed out to find dinner. We ended up at a pizzaria (did I mention that I love Brazilian pizza yet? It's really really true.). The three of us polished of all but one slice of 2 pizzas, and a 2 liter of Guarana soda.

After dinner we went to check out the stores in town. We found some post cards and Rodrigo found a little maraca for Levi. We also saw a nice big crab on the beach and chased it for a few minutes.

Eventually we decided to turn in and we all headed back to the Pousada.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Brazil, Day 6: Sacramento to Rio!

Thursday was our last day in Sacramento, already. It went by too fast. We started by heading to the post office. We had bought a couple of things at an art/souvenir store that we wanted to mail. The post office people were nice and let us borrow a box to bring to the paper store so we could buy the right amount of paper to stuff the box with.With the box packed we went back to the post office and shipped the package.

At Maria Licia & Alvair's, Dr. Pedro was waiting to pick us up. He had invited us to come have café at his house (which actually means a full spread of bread, cake, rolls, cheese and fruit...and coffee if you're into that). So we headed up there and Caroline got a tour of his place.

At 11:00 Carla came and picked us up to bring us to the local private school where Kenia teaches English. She had asked us to come talk with the kids about the exchange program. There were about 200 super excited kids in the room. I gave a quick overview and then turned it over to questions. One kid named Danilo in particular had a lot of questions and invited himself to come live at our house. We'll see if THAT actually happens, but he and everyone we met there were very nice.

After the school we went back to Maria Licia and Alvair's and had our last lunch and then just hung out talking for a little while and then headed back to Uberaba to catch our flight to Rio. Here's a final photo in the garage at Alvair and Maria Licia's house, in the shirts they got for us. I miss them a ton!

Maria Licia and Caroline were in the back seat on the way to Uberaba and they both fell asleep so Kenia and I got to chat just the two of us the whole way up there. It was like when I was an exchange student again. Kenia and I used to talk all the time. She'd explain stuff about Brazil and I'd explain stuff about the US. Except I was 16 at the time and I probably told her all the wrong answers. She was a great host sister and I had missed her a ton! We agreed that when our kids are older we'd swap them for a year.

Rio de Janeiro!

We got to Rio right on time (about 9 PM) and Rodrigo was there waiting to pick us up. Rodrigo was in the same mission district as I for quite a while and we got to be good friends. I was very excited to see him again! We flew into the airport close to his apartment so our ride home wasn't very long. There we met his wife Lígia and their son Levi. They have a very nice apartment in Rio not terribly far from Copacabana. Best of all, they have air conditioning!

After chatting for a while and having another snack we headed to bed. 

Brazil, Day 5: Sacramento!

We decided that Wednesday morning we were going to get out and walk around town. It had been raining a little bit most afternoons, and it sounded like our afternoon was going to be busy.  So we enjoyed a lovely breakfast with Maria Licia and headed out after that.  One of Caroline's favorite things she understood in Portuguese was when a customer of Maria Licia's stopped by during breakfast.  The conversation went like this:

Customer: Who is this?
Maria Licia:  This is my son!
Customer gives a dubious look.
Maria Licia: He's my American son!

It was really sweet!

Sacramento isn't very big, and we quickly found our way from Maria Licia and Alvair's house to the center. We wandered down to the church. I think it's full name is Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Patrocínio do Santíssimo Sacramento, but everyone calls it the Igreja Matriz. It's currently under renovations in preparation to become a basilica. There's a big plaza next to the chuch where events are sometimes held.

We also stopped by Kenia's clothing store, and a grocery store and just wandered around for a while.

After a bit we made it to the CNA English school Kenia had taught at when I was an exchange student and we dropped in to see Maria Luiza who runs it. It was really nice to see her again! I used to go to the CNA school to use the dial-up internet and talk with people when I first came to Brazil. The CNA schools are doing something pretty cool these days. They've started a partnership with some retirement communities in the US where the Brazilian students video chat with the people in the retirement homes. You can check out their video here.

After lunch we headed to the potato machine! Juninho is Gustavo and Carla's friend, and he works at (owns part of?) this potato place. They have some of their own farms, but also clean potatoes for others. Semis pull up and dump potatoes in a bin where they get a first wash with water to get the big chunks of dirt off, then they go through several washings, two automatic sortings to separate them by size, and to get rid of mushy ones.

Then there's a final manual sort line where any with small defects are picked out and then they're put into these big bags and shipped off to the market!

They end up in markets in São Paulo and other places the very next day. The potato machine was really cool and we are really grateful to Juninho and Gustavo for taking the time to show it to us!

Across the street from the potato processing was a small stable Gustavo, Juninho and some other people keep some horses. Gustavo said they go ride them sometimes, riding all day and then meeting the women at a rancho for a BBQ or something at night. The horses are Mangalarga Marchador horses which are known for their smooth gait.

The horses were beautiful and were the only thing that gave us any problem at customs on the way home! There were two separate questions on the immigration form: if we had been to a farm and if we had been in close proximity to livestock, such as touching or handling.

Saying yes to that made us go through two extra lines on the way back into the US, but in the end they just wanted to spray disinfectant on our shoes in case there were microorganisms lurking there. They didn't even open our bags.

After the potato machine and horses we headed back to Maria Licia's where we made cookies for Carla's birthday. Chocolate chip cookies aren't really a thing there, so they were a hit! After they were made everyone kept snitching them, but there were plenty so Carla got a plateful when she came by later on.

After cookies we took a nap to the sound of the afternoon rain storm. After a while we got up to get ready for a newspaper interview. I was the first exchange student to come to Sacramento and at the time it was kind of a big deal. I'm pretty easy going and made lots of friends, including with the head of the school I attended. He also worked at the newspaper and still does. He interviewed me when I was going home back in 1999, and so when he heard I was in town he wanted to interview me again. It was nice to see him again and it was fun to hear some of the answers I had given 15 years ago.

Caroline wants to interject here:)

Hi, it's Caroline!  I just have to tell part of the interview in my own words.  So we're sitting around Maria Licia's house and this booming voice from outside heading inside says. "MICHAEL RICHARD MOORE!" in a very Brazillian accent but like a radio announcer voice.  And it was like this guy had known Michael forever!  After asking Michael a few questions, he asked me, "So what's it like living with this crazy guy we all know and love???"  I just laughed the whole time, it was just so delightful!  I never knew that the official Michael Moore Fan Club all lived in a teeny tiny town in Brazil!  Okay, back to Michael!

After the interview it was time to get ready for the Churrasco! Churrasco is a Brazilian institution. It's a barbecue, but it's not burgers and brats. It's real meat. Usually steak. Often pork sausages, chicken (including hearts, mmmm) and sometimes lamb.

Alvair has a dairy farm with almost 200 cows on it, and he had slaughtered one not too long before we came, so all the freezers at his and Kenia's house were packed tight with beef. They also killed a sheep for the occasion.

(Okay, Caroline interjecting one more time.  Guys, it was like the prodigal son returning home.  That it exactly what it was like!  They killed the fatted calf AND a bonus sheep and invited their friends to make merry and celebrate his return!  It was so sweet and so amazing to see how much they all loved and missed him, even after 15 years!!) (Michael again: I'm really pretty sure they didn't kill the cow just for me. I'm pretty sure they just kill cows sometimes because meat is yummy.)

Alvair had invited the entire rotary club to come, and I got to see many familiar faces and old friends that night and to introduce them to Caroline.

And now I get to introduce them to you!

First off, here me, Dr. Pedro and Ana Edina.

I lived at Ana Edina's house when I first came to Brazil. My first host dad, her husband, José Carlos, passed away a few years ago and my first host siblings both work in other cities. They all put up with me while I figured out Portuguese and while I figured out how to fit in in Brazil.

Dr. Pedro was my second host dad. He and I always had a great time talking about all sorts of things, including politics, religion and whatever else we found interesting.

Gustavo manned the grill all night long. Here I think he's working on the lamb marinade. The fire is usually eucalyptus charcoal. It makes a delicious smelling smoke. We had picanha (top sirloin), delicious sausages (calabresa, I think), and the lamb. The lamb was delicious.  

Caroline thought it was extremely funny when Gustavo was trying to let her know that he was now slicing up the lamb.  He didn't know the English word, so he just started saying "BAAAAAA!!!!! BAAAAAAA!!!!" as he slliced :)

Here's Caroline and I with all my host parents who were there that night. Ana Edina, Dr. Pedro, Me, Caroline, Maria Licia and Alvair.

Another of Dr. Pedro and I.

Gustavo cutting up meat while chatting with Carla and Juninho.

My host sisters Kenia and Carla with Caroline in the middle.

My host sisters and I with our spouses. Kenia+Jonas, Caroline+I, Carla+Gustavo.

Gustavo and Carla gave us this nice knife set...

... so we got a photo of all the men in the family holding knives.

Maria Julia really liked Caroline (and vice versa)!

Most of Maria Licia and Alvair's family. We're missing Enzo who was sleeping. Can't blame the guy, this photo was at 12:30 or so at night as the party was wrapping up.

Kenia and Jonas' family along with Caroline.

There were a bunch of people I wanted to see and visit in Sacramento, but I just didn't have enough time. I think the only thing to do is to go back again soon.