Friday, March 20, 2015

Brazil, Day 4: Sacramento!

This is Michael again!

When I was 16 I was an exchange student for 1 year in the town of Sacramento, Minas Gerais in Brazil. I lived with three different host families and made so many friends there. It really isn't fair that we could only spend 2 1/2 days there on this trip. I didn't get to see everyone I wanted to, but it was a good start.

We stayed at Maria Licia and Alvair's house. They were my 3rd host family, and I stayed there the longest. They have two daughters, Kenia and Carla who are just a bit older than me.  Since leaving Sacramento 15 years ago Kenia and Carla both got married and have two kids.

Here's Sacramento:

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We slept in a little bit, and spent the morning talking with Maria Licia (my 3rd host mom) and other family members who stopped in. One of my goals for this trip was to learn to make some Brazilian foods that I just haven't mastered. This morning Maria Licia was making Brazilian Beef Stroganoff. I made sure Caroline was on hand to learn too.

At some point in the morning we met Maria Julia and Henrique, Kenia's kids. They were adorable and fun. Maria Julia is 8 and Enrique is 4. Kenia's house is right next to her parents, and they connect through the back so Maria Julia and Enrique come over quite a bit.

Later that afternoon Kenia, Jonas (her husband) and Maria Licia took us to visit the Gruta dos Palhares. Gruta means grotto or cavern. It's the largest sandstone cave in Latin America.

In the parking lot there were some small coconut trees. The coconuts were the size of large cherries and you chew the outside and then spit out the seed. We ate a couple of those and then headed inside.

We got there right when they were opening. There used to be a natural waterfall coming over the top of the cave, but they channeled it so it wouldn't get people wet as they come into the cave and now they can turn it on and off.

There's a big primary cave and then it supposedly spiders off into a bunch of tunnels. Since my brother James wasn't with us we stuck to the safe tourist area.

There were a bunch of bats in the cave. Most of them took off to the tunnels as soon as we walked in, but this one swooped around and then went back to the ceiling in the main chamber. It's right in the center, if you want to zoom in.

The Gruta has several religious features, including these chairs for Gabriel, Michael and Raphael, and candles that I think are for the 12 apostles.

Here's a shot from the inside of the grotto.

On the way out we saw this owl. Kenia was scared of it, but said it only eats bugs.

Gruta selfie!

Kenia and Jonas!

Caroline and I!

The whole group!

After the gruta we went directly to a rancho. A rancho is more or less like "the cabin" in Minnesota. It's out of the city, it's just for relaxing and there's lots of greenery.

This is a young Jabuticaba plant. They end up about the size of apple trees when fully grown. They grow small fruits about the size of grapes or cherries right on the trunks and branches. On mature plants the trunks are just covered with fruits.

I have been telling Caroline about Jabuticaba for ages and so when we saw this one at the rancho I got excited and had Caroline pose with it.
Me: Caroline! What is this!
Caroline: Chupacabra! Wait. No. That's the other thing. Jabuticaba!

There were a whole bunch of other fruits at the rancho too.

Here's a group photo down on the trail to the dock. We ate acerola, guavas, tangerines and  pitanga (surinam cherry?) off the tree. It was a really beautiful place. I don't have photos here, but there was also a house for staying the weekend, with a nice big BBQ area too.

Coconut tree!

After the gruta we headed back to Maria Licia and Alvair's house where I re-learned to make beans and rice, visited with the family and eventually ate dinner.

I haven't mentioned it specifically, but this makes about the 5th time we'd eaten today, if you DON'T count the 1 AM pasta dish! There was breakfast, morning café, lunch, afternoon café and now dinner. Lola had warned us that we would eat and eat and eat in Minas and she was right.

Of course, dinner was just a warm up, because for real dinner was actually at Carla and Gustavo's house! We headed over there at about 8 to celebrate Carla's birthday. They had a terrific cheesy mashed potato dish, steaks and good salads. And of course, cake. The whole family was there, as well as Carla and Gustavo's friends Juninho and Ana Maria.

At the party we met Enzo (2) and Valentina (2 weeks old), Carla and Gustavos kids. They were just adorable.

Perhaps the highlight of Caroline's evening, and maybe the pinnacle of her Portuguese learning on the whole trip happened this night. Juninho, Gustavo, Carla and Kenia were in a heated debate about something with plenty of loud voices and hand waving, and Caroline kept hearing the words Maquina and Batata. After several minutes Caroline turned to me and said "They're not really arguing about a potato machine, right?

It turns out that they, in fact, were arguing about a potato machine! Juninho works at a potato processing plant, where they've got a big machine for washing and packaging potatoes. I missed the first part of the conversation, but the jist of it was that Juninho and Gustavo wanted us to come see it, Kenia wanted to go see it too, but her schedule wasn't going to work or something, and I think maybe Carla thought we should go do something else? I wasn't paying complete attention.

In the end, we were invited to go see the potato machine on the following day!

Everyone hung out at Carla and Gustavo's until about midnight then headed home and hit the hay!

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