This is the blog for the Elmira College travel class to Brazil in May 2010.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Last Day

We leave Brazil this afternoon, and I think we are all pretty sad that our time here has come to an end. This class has been an amazing and memorable experience, with so many new and different things to see and do. We have to be packed and out of our rooms by 3:00 this afternoon, so everyone is getting in their last bits of shopping and beach or pool time. Our hotel has a small pool on the second floor, with glass walls that look out over the street and the beach, so it´s a pretty nice place to spend time floating in the water and watching the surfers in the waves.

The past couple days have been busy with research projects, the beach, walking around the Pelourinho (the beautiful old part of town), buying last-minute presents for people back home, and watching the people here. We also got to see some of the cultural forms of dancing at a really wonderful dance performance. The show started with the earliest dance forms--with the mix of African and Portuguese and Indigenous, moving to the more formal Candomblé, and then the really interesting fire dancing. The fire dance had a man carrying a large flaming platter on his head and whirling flaming torches. At one point, he jumped in the fire and his feet briefly flamed as he danced around. He rubbed the torches right on his face and torso, all the while with the drums and chanting really building the intensity. We also saw a performance of the machete dance, which, along with Capoiera, is a highly stylized form of combat that only looks like a dance. Historically, it had to be sneaked under the gaze of the slave owners, and the performers move slowly and purposefully, with smiles on their faces, as they circle and jump and kick and when they actually clash their machetes, they hit so hard that sparks fly from them. It was pretty intense. We also got to see Capoiera performed by some of the top artists, and it was incredible! These men were so flexible and fierce, and their flips and kicks and punches and whirls seemed almost to defy gravity and pretty much all the laws of physics. They were so coordinated that they were kicking at each other´s heads at the rate of several kicks per person per second and they never actually hit each other once during the performace. The audience literally gasped out loud. It was incredible! (We´ve also been seeing Capoiera practitioners in the mornings on the beach, just practicing informally out in the sun and rocks and waves. Not all of them are so good, but it is really interesting to watch).

We´ll be back home tomorrow afternoon after a long flight. We have to transfer planes in Rio, which means we´ll be adding about 4 extra hours to our flight home. Then comes the long ride back by bus to campus, and then it is research project time for the students. We´ll have a public presentation of our work and then, sad to say, our amazing class on Brazil will be over. It´s been a truly terrific class and a truly terrific experience. We´ve had such a great group of students, and our experiences have been so rich and full, it has been a real pleasure to be able to do this class.

We´ll see you all back in New York!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Salvador de Bahia

This final leg of our class is here in Salvador. This is Brazil´s oldest city and first capitol, as well as its major historical slave port. The city is built at the mouth of a huge ocean bay, and it faces the water in seemingly all directions. We see many more ´pretos´here (or ´browns´as they call themselves). The African cultural mix as well as ancestral mix is quite present here, and it is a whole other Brazil!

Yesterday, we had the chance to take a tour of the city. The original Portuguese settlers built up on the cliffs and hills high above the ocean, and some of their beautiful old homes and buildings are still here. The view and real-estate being what it is, though, it means that a large number of incredibly rich and luxuriuous apartment towers have been built up on the hills overlooking the ocean as well. It is a very interesting mix. The oldest part of the town (the Pelhourino) is gorgeous, built with tiny cobblestone streets and squares, with 17th century Portuguese style stucco 2 story brightly painted (pastel) buildings lining the streets. It is quite hilly, even though the whole neighborhood is high up on a cliff above the lower beachy part of town.

The Pelhourino is also home to a very large number of Catholic orders, all using Salvador as their original foothold into Brazil 300 years ago. The Portuguese Catholic leadership believed that the indigenous peoples of Brazil were innocent souls to be saved (unlike the Spanish, who were split on the matter). Each church seems larger and richer than the last, with the most opulent and gold covered church being the church dedicated to St. Francis (which is ironic, given that his whole mission was to give onself over to helping the poor). It turns out that during Salvador´s days as Brazil´s capital, the church of St. Francis was the most rich and powerful church here, and it attracted all of the nobility and top merchants as parishioners. The Bishops were quite smart, and created a sort of seating chart for the church, with the most powerful people of status getting the part closest to the alter. Quite an interesting story came out of this church, and it actually had quite an important part to play in the creation of Brazil´s unique racial structure. It seems that unlike the British, the Portuguese settlers were mainly men who did not come with families. So when they arrived, they had relationships (and sometimes marriages) with local indigenous women, and later African women imported as or descended from slaves). This meant that quite a few very rich and powerful men had children who were racially mixed. At first, like in Europe, the Catholic church was very unhappy with this situation and did not believe that these mixed children should be baptised or could be saved. But as the generations passed, many of Salvador´s most wealthy families were becoming browner and browner, and because they were systematically excluded from the church, there was a growing sense of a problem among the Catholic leadership. So after about 100 years, the church of St. Francis decided to recognize the mixed race children and baptise them in the church. But then they had to be sure that the children all came from legal marriages, so the Church found itself in the position of being the only church in the world encouraging mixed race marriages. Of course the payoff to the church of St. Francis is that as a result, the wealthiest families of Salvador became members, and donated incredible amounts of money and gold to decorate the church. (Believe me, it shows! The church is like a cave made out of gold with a few frescoes and some fancy blue and white delft tile thrown in. Apparently, only the Vatican and the main cathederal of Mexico City have more gold by weight). For Brazil, the consequences of this interracial marriage policy have been amazing, in that unlike the US, where racial categories were separated and policed, in Brazil, for more than 200 years, they haven´t had the strict separation of races. And they have a much more fluid idea of race as a result; it´s not seen as necessarily a biological fact, it´s more based on appearance and social class than ancestry. A brother and sister with the same parents might be considered different races, or a person might change races as his or her fortunes change over their lifetime. It´s all very interesting!

Yesterday, we ate at a Brazilian barbecue restaurant, and it was quite an experience. There is a huge buffet with all kinds of side dishes, from sushi to empanadas. The waiters circulate to tables carrying huge skewers of all different kinds of meat, and you can take anything you want. So you might have a skewer of little sausages presented to you, then two minutes later, slices of prime rib, then pork ribs, then chicken, etc. And everything was top quality and delicious, so it was hard to stop eating (and in fact, several people really went for it!).

Our hotel is right across from a beach cove, but it turns out that it is really a surfing beach and not a swimming one (which we discovered after getting chided by a very good-looking Brazilian life guard). So yesterday some of the students swam in the hotel pool and then went out to watch the soccer game with Brazilians. The report is that it was quite fun.

Today we spent our day outside of Salvador, in the countryside. We visited a cocoa plantation, which is one of the main crops besides sugar cane in the region. We got to try the cocoa fruit (each bean is covered by a fruit that is a little like a small lychee), and the fruit was quite yummy. We had to be careful, though, not to bite down into the bean, which is quite bitter before it gets roasted. We learned that cocoa trees like to live in great humidity, but also in the shade, so the plantation was planted with tall palms and acaí trees as well as the smaller cocoa trees (which were slightly larger than apple trees, with bigger leaves). While we were walking around, several students discovered (or perhaps were discovered by) a humongous toad. It was literally the size of a large rotisserie chicken, and it was black and gray, and it didn´t seem the least bit afraid of us. I´ve never seen anything like it!

We also visited the small town of Santa Amaro, and we walked through the market place sampling fruits and coconuts and spices and hand-rolled tobacco in molasses ropes (OK, only a few students tried the tobacco, but it was very interesting to see). We also tried some home made camphor, which is apparently made right here. Some students are bringing home small bottles. This is also a tobacco growing area, so there were some hand-rolled cigars available in the market as well (and some are coming home as gifts, I might add). This was not in any way a tourist market, it was filled with local products and smells (some of which weren´t great). A cow had been slaughtered that morning, so several stalls and stores had beef parts hanging unrefrigerated right from the ceilings. There were unrefrigerated fish and crabs out in baskets. A chicken and several rather skinny dogs were wandering about. The spices were clearly hand-harvested and packed for sale by the sellers. An bent little old man with a machete hacked open some coconuts for us to drink the water. He had just dumped a pile of coconuts (hand picked?) right in the street and his entire business was hacking off the tops of the nuts and selling them.

The high point of the day (and one of the high points of the trip so far!) came at this market. In the distance, we heard some drums starting. As we walked over, we saw that a crowd had gathered in an open-sided covered kind of a pavilion or market area. It was a Candomblé ceremony! Today is the anniversary of the declaration of the end of slavery in Brazil, and it is especially celebrated in this region. Candomblé is the special animist religion of the region, similar (and from similar conditions) as voodoo in Haiti. The slaves who were brought to Brazil brought with them their animist religion, with the gods called Orixas. Each Orixa has dominion over a certain part of nature, animals, water, weather, plants, harvests and hunts, etc. Each person is dominated by a particular Orixa that gives them special strengths. A person might be visited by an Orixa who controls some part of them (this can be a problem as things like domestic violence get explained as being a temporary possession by an angry Orixa). The animism of Western African tradition mixed slightly with Catholicism here, as it had to be hidden and kept from slave masters. So many of the Orixas also have some of the powers and even the looks of the Saints, and unlike in the African version, people here can pray to an Orixa, much like praying to a saint, for intercession and help. Candomblé is very female dominated, and passes its priestships matrilineally.

Because of the importance of the day today, the ceremony we got to see was presided over by the highest priestess in the area, a very old lady who is directly descended from one of the original founders of Candomblé here in the state of Bahia. There were three large drums being played by men off to the side. There were women dressed in very large cotton dresses with a kind of special petticoat underneath that make the skirt sort of bell-shaped at the top but loose and floaty at the bottom. The women were wearing mostly white, with bright colored scarves and shawls and head wraps, and they had lots and lots of necklaces. They were dancing and singing in a circle around an alter in the center. There were several men in traditional African garb who were dancing as well. The songs sounded much like a sung chanting. There were clearly specific steps and moves, so this wasn´t just freeform dancing. At several points, they would change direction, or the drum beats would change patterns. Sometimes they would dance together, sometimes they would twirl in circles. They occaisionally lifted a large wood bowl filled with fruits and vegetables out towards the crowd or up towards the alter. Most of the dancers were middle aged or older, with the high priest being a very tiny old lady. On the alter in the center was a carved figure of a mermaid with a flesh colored tail. She was painted just like a carved saint in a church might look (except of course she was a mermaid). She was inside a kind of carved niche that also had a kind of Catholic look to it. There were fresh flowers around her, and some small bowls and small objects that we couldn´t identify from where we were standing. It was an amazing experience to have gotten to see this, and it was SO interesting!

We also got to visit the city of Cachoiera, which was once a very rich city and the center of the agricultural trade from all the nearby plantations. This is an amazingly beautiful city, in a mountain valley with a winding river at the bottom. The mountains are low and rolling with lot of curves, and the city has beautiful tiny colorful stucco houses backing up the mountainside on impossibly steep and winding cobblestone roads. Just upriver, they have built a huge modern dam, and when we were high enough up the side of the mountain, we could see the shining lake on the other side (looking awfully close to the top of the dam, I might add!). There is only one bridge across the river, and it is a one lane cast-iron bridge with a wooden plank floor. We had to wait for traffic crossing from the other side, then we crossed in our large bus across the planks. We had lunch up at the very top of a mountain, looking down on the city and the river and the dam. The ranch where we ate was 200 years old and kept by the same family that whole time. The view was incredible, and the house was built in the colonial style, with a huge veranda all the way around (where we sat and ate). There was a tile swimming pool and a lovely garden and lots of fruit trees including papaya and the largest mango tree I have ever seen (it could have fit the Swiss Family Robinson´s house, and it was dropping mangoes out onto the lawn even as we watched). There was a very friendly boxer there, and the students gravitated towards that dog and made such good friends that when it came time to leave, the dog got on the bus with us and didn´t want to get off.

We are back at the hotel now, and students have been night swimming in the pool. It is very hot and humid here (although not as much as the Amazon!). Swimming feels good. I think it is going to be a quiet night at the hotel for the most part as we got such an early start this morning. Everyone seems tired. We have much of the day free tomorrow for students to do research on their projects, although I suspect that some walking around in the Pelhourino and/or a trip to the very large and famous handicraft market might also be on the agenda for some students. Tomorrow night we get to see a cultural show that will hopefully include some capoiera, or the Brazilian martial art that was developed by the slaves here, and unless you know how deadly it is, it looks like a dance.

We have been so busy and learning so many new things, it´s hard to realize that we only have a few more days in Brazil before we return to campus....

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

More on our Amazon Adventures

Our stay in the Eco Lodge was really wonderful. There were no roads there, so we had to take a river boat to reach it. We were located in a nature preserve dedicated to rehabilitating monkeys (and soon, to rehabilitating turtles) back into the wild. In fact, the lodge itself was built to support the work of the rehabilitation, so our first thing we did upon arrival was to take a boat further up the river to the rehabilitation center. The monkeys were all free, and were fed some fruit at two different times a day (and were learning to forage for the rest of their food). Since there were no cages, one of the ways they tracked the success of the rehabilitation was when monkeys stopped showing up as frequently for the feedings. There were probably 15 monkey around when we visited, and we were watching them and trying to find them in the trees, when suddenly one of the monkeys walked right up to Kasey and started hugging her leg. The staff told us to be very quiet, and the monkey just kept hugging, and then slowly climbed up to Kasey´s neck and sat on her shoulders. The staff told us that this monkey was very gentle and had been raised as a pet, and sometimes still wanted that human interaction. Several other students got to hold her as the staff was trying to set her down, and it was really fun to see.

The lodge had a main reception room with open walls, a snack bar with a pool table, several safari-style sofas, and some tables and chairs made out of giant tree trunks that had been cut and polished up. A bit of a walk away was an open-sided pavillion structure with a number of hammocks in it. There was a larger open-sided meal center (with delicious foods every day, including many local fishes and fruits). We stayed in small bungalows interspersed in pathways throughout the grounds. There was a natural swimming pool filled with spring water the color of dark tea (and like tea, it was very refreshing!). And there was a sandy beach-front along the river with some tables and chairs and shade umbrellas. We were not staying on the Amazon River itself, but rather on a tributary to the Negra River. Although this tributary was probably 5 times the size of the Chemung River in Elmira, it is considered only a `canoe-way´because it is apparently so minor. I guess the fact that the height of the river varies by 50 feet every year between the rainy season and the summer probably also figures into that. The river was up 35 feet since January, and we could tell. The local eco-system is called the ´flooded-forrest´because of the varience in water levels. Trees have adapted to being half flooded or even completely submerged for part of the year. Because the water was high while we were there, we could see hundreds of tree tops partially coming out of the water all around us. It made the shores seem incredibly solidly green when viewed from afar, since there was no peek of soil or bank or shore. It was just a carpet of green rising straight out of the river and up the banks.

We had the opportunity to visit some actual indigenous people who lived near the preserve where we were staying. These people still live in the traditional mobile way, and just came to live there a few years ago. They will probably move on in a few more years. They have agreed to meet guests of the lodge and show us some of their cultural practices, but this is not of course a group of primitive people by any measure. They have built their traditional open-sided village structures out of fronds and wood, and they cook in their communal cooking hut, but they live in wooden houses that they built not much different from other houses in the region. They wore traditional clothes for our visit--with palm frond skirts and jewelry and decorations made of local seeds and wood, and they wore body paint, but they consider this their job, to meet visitors and share some of their culture with us. They also sell jewelry and carvings that they have made by hand. When they get off work, they change into shorts and tee-shirts. They only speak a little portuguese, and mostly use their native indigenous language, but the children have started to take the river boat to go to school, and are now becoming fluent in portuguese. The littlest kids just stared at us and played with us, which was really fun. We got to learn a traditional house dance that we found out later was actually a wedding dance. We think Melinda might actually have gotten herself married. Brendan and Katy as well....

We also had the opportunity to visit some of the tiny river communities of the Cabaclos, or the mixed peoples. Technically, the term Cabaclo means a mix between the indigenous and the early Portuguese from colonial times, but now it has come to mean peoples who are mostly indigenous by ancestry but who are living more Westernized lives. These tiny river communities, mostly in the small byways and tributaries of the Amazon, were fascinating. Because the level of the water rises and falls so dramatically between the seasons, these river houses are built high up on stilts. We would see maybe 6 or 8 houses built high up and close together, and there would also always be one church and one sort of store or community center with a kind of porch on it. These houses couldn´t have been more than 1 or 2 rooms, and they each had a tiny little open porch with stairs going down. When the river reaches its full height, they use boards to link the porches of their homes. We are still several months of rain away from that, so we could see that each little settlement had a kind of common lawn, not large, but grassy, where there were tables where people gathered. These communities had no roads to connect them, and were really scattered and isolated.

Even more isolated were the floating homes. We saw any number of tiny one room barges, for lack of a better word. These barges floated on giant logs of balsa wood, and were basically a shack with a small deck all the way around it. Some had floating chicken coops. Dogs and kids sat on the decks and watched us go by. These people have a subsistence living from the river and from the forest around them. It was very clear that these were very poor people, and we learned that it was just recently that the government decided that they would create a system of school ´bus´boats that would take the kids every day to school. Some of the floating houses were so isolated that the kids spent hours every day on the school boats, but it is still seen as a way for kids to have a chance at something larger in their lives.

We were so lucky to see some amazing animals while in our little bit of the Amazon! We were extremely lucky to see not just one but three separate pink freshwater river dolphins! And we also saw the smaller gray freshwater river dolphins, including a pair that was doing synchronized leaps out of the water. We saw some amazing wild birds, including toucans, vultures, storks, hummingbirds, and many other bright colored birds that we couldn´t identify. We saw mantises, including a bright pink one. We saw giant carmel colored spiders the size of a large human hand, including one with an irridescent egg sac the size of an apricot! We saw a big blue butterfly the size of a salad plate. We saw a wild sloth with a baby on its back, way up in a tree. We also saw a sloth in capitivity, brought out to our boat by a Cabaclo boy about 8 years old. He saw our boat and grabbed the sloth from inside the floating house, and before we even realized what was going on, he was handing the sloth inside our boat. I guess this was a way his family made money, and he held out his hand to each of us as the sloth was passed around. While it was a really amazing experience the see a sloth up close, it was a little disturbing to think about it more deeply. The same with a giant anaconda also shown to us by a Cabaclo family. This family was selling photos with the ananconca, and many of the students had photos with the anaconda around their necks. Again, a very cool thing to experience, but the larger picture....

In the water near our lodge, we went out by boat to fish for piranhas and look for caiman. We were split into two small narrow speed boats, and our guides Tuco and Melo brought us out into the floating forest near the shore. We could hear the giant splash of big reptile bodies lurching into the water, and one of our boats got to see a huge caiman about the size of a large german shephard, but longer, and with a hard a pointy head, of course! We were fishing with pieces of chicken, and I think they could smell the meat in the water. Only one student managed to catch a piranha (Ashley) and she actually caught two of them. The guides lured in a caiman close, and then fed them the piranha, and it was amazing to see the caiman thrash and lunge suddenly for food. They were mostly quite and lurking, with just their horned eye-ridges and golden eyes above the water. They are really quite creepy, and of course, I had just been swimming and floating in this same river not far away just an hour before. I didn´t swim in the river again, and I noticed the students didn´t either...!

We did go hunting for caiman at night, trying to find the reflection of their eyes with our lights. One boat of students saw quite a few lurking caiman. The other boat didn´t get to see any at all. It was still interesting to be out on the water at night. The frogs and insects are really loud, calling and creaking and chirping. There was no actual light visible besides our own, and only a small part of the sky reflected some of the city light of Manaus. When we turned off the motors and just floated, it was peaceful and somehow powerful.

Early one morning while we were there, we had the chance to go on a kind of nature walk in the preserve around us. There had been a big storm and lots of rain the night before (it is the rainforest!) and the jungle was steamy hot and dripping wet. We walked single file, with our main guide Wedson along with Tuca and Melo told us about different plants and some of the practices of the indigenous peoples. All three of them had been raised close to the traditions of indigenous peoples, and had grown up as kids harvesting food and using plants as medicine. They showed us how to make the traditional foot loop for climbing trees and they let us try it (none of us were very successful). They also showed us the quinine tree (and told us how they were raised drinking tea made from the bark a couple times a week, made by their grandmothers, and this was the traditional way to prevent getting malaria). We saw many ants and termites, and they showed us how to use smoke to get to the ants that might be a protein source if really hungry. They also showed us how to identify a termite nest and then carve into a tree to find a termite path--again, another protein source if hungry enough. They showed us a tree that dripped a natural kind of wax that could hold a light for a long time, and they made a torch with a stick and a blob of this wax. Then they used the torch to show us how to make a kind of natural fireworks from the sap of another tree (they burned it, let it drip onto a large leaf, let it dry, rolled it into a powder, then dropped the powder into the flame, and it exploded and sparkled, much like a 4th of July sparkler). The indigenous people use this powder in some of their most important ceremonies. Every now and then, Wedson would tell us not to touch a particular plant or tree as it was poisonous. There´s nothing like a little drama!

The walk through the rain forest was really interesting. The path itself was hardly a path; at some points we were walking on leaves that sunk past the tops of our shoes. We were walking over and on top of tree roots, stepping over and under branches, walking through small water trickles or puddles, or right through mud. And it was steamy hot, and because of the bugs, we had to wear long pants tucked into our shoes, and long sleeves. We were soaking wet and completely overheated by the time we were done, but it was wonderful. The guides seemed quite taken with all of our beautiful girls (and they teased our one guy, Brendan, quite a bit). At one point they showed us how the heart of palm frond looks like a very sharp spear, and they gave Brendan a machete and told him to see if he could defend himself against the traditional jaguar spear, and then they told him he might need two machetes, and they worked us all up, and then instead of attacking Brendan, Wedson shook out the palm spear and suddenly a huge number of palm fronds popped out, turning it from a ´spear´into a giant palm branch. We all were laughing and laughing, and later as we were walking, Tuca and Melo made traditional headpieces for the girls out of the fronds. They made Brendan a big pair of Harry Potter glasses. It was pretty funny.

When we were returning from piranha fishing, they invited us to come play soccer with some of the guys who worked at the lodge. Of course, Wedson had already told us that football was not a sport but a religion in Brazil, and when we saw these guys, we knew it to be true. They had basically carved a soccer field out of the forrest. They had built handmade nets, and the field was made of sand. It was like beach soccer, and all the more strenuous because of it. They basically took it pretty easy against us, letting us change teams after two goals. Both Brendan and Meesh did manage to score, and Brendan was good enough that they actually gave him a nickname: Vermillion (or Big Red) because of his rather red-looking tan. Of course the girls immediately started calling him Little Red, but basically, it was really fun to play with them (some of the guys were on the regional championship team, and believe me, they were really really good). We got our little fix of football in Brazil. (Actually, even as I´m writing here in Salvador, some students are making plans to go out tonight in order to watch one of the semi-final national championship matches on TV with local Brazilians. The game isn´t being played locally, but Brazillians seem to like to gather in the streets and watch the game on screens outside little shops. There´s a real cameraderie, and lots and lots of shouting and celebrating.)

Right before we left the Amazon, we had the chance to take an early morning canoe trip for an hour. It had been raining, and some of the students weren´t packed yet, so only a few of us came. It was so beautiful and peaceful, gliding deep and quietly into the floating forest, with half submerged trees and vines all around us, the occaisional sudden flower or bright colored bird or the splash of a startled caiman. A large iguana high up in a tree watched us for a while. It was an amazing and touching experience.

We got to Salvador just fine, after almost a full day in transit. We are staying in the Monte Pascoal Hotel, which is right across the road from the beach and in a nice area for walking around. We´ve had a busy day already, but I´ll have to catch up the blog about it all later. So far, Salvador is lovely and interesting, and we should learn a lot here. So far, this has been a terrific class with amazing experiences with wonderful students. So far, so good.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Amazon

We are in the Manaus airport right now, waiting for our 6 hour flight to Salvador, back on the coast. We have just spent the last four days at an Eco Lodge in the Amazon, and it was amazing! Every day, we saw new and gorgeous things, and we had so many powerful experiences. While there is only a few minutes before we start boarding the plane, I wanted to start telling about our experiences here.

We arrived in Manaus 4 days ago, and we had the opportunity to see some of the city. Manaus used to be the rubber capital of the world, and it was built big and powerful by the rubber barons of the late 1800s. There are some incredible old buildings here, baroque in their opulence. The opera hall is fantastic, with gold leaf and hand painted frescos. Interestingly, because the level of the river here fluctuates so much, the old part of the city is built up and away from the river. In fact, you can barely see the river at all from there. Manaus is built at the confluence of the Negra River and the Amazon, and it is the point of the famous *meeting of the waters.* The Negra river is miles across at this point, and the water is warm and dark and moving fairly slowly. The Amazon is colder and faster, and a light cappucino color. The two rivers keep their water separate but in the same river channel for miles. It is an amazing thing to see, and we had the opportunity to go out in boats to actually touch the water. We could feel the difference in the temperature just with our hands! It looked like a coffee cup with dark coffee and milk being mixed in.

We also had the opportunity to visit the river market in Manaus, which is built along the river shore so that boats can come up the river and bring the latest fish and animals and produce to sell. The market buildings were long halls with art nouveau roofs. Inside there were small booths with local people selling everything from fish and meat, to live birds, to hand carved beads and seeds, jewery, empanadas and fritters, bottles of wine and liquor, herbs and spices, live animals and birds, basically, just about anything anyone might want to buy. This was not much of a tourist market, but it was all the more interesting because of it. We did have several studens buy blow dart guns here, which the local people were happy to demonstrate quite decisively. Those blow guns really do work!

More later!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Free Time in Rio

We had the day free today, and of course, being in a city with such beautiful beaches, you would have expected that the students would have headed straight there. But instead, they organized several trips for themselves. One group spent the morning at the famous Botanical Gardens, with all the amazing flowers and trees and orchids. The bird life and the monkeys were really interesting, reportedly. The other group of students organized a trip to the major soccer stadium here (Maraconda Stadium) and took a tour of the place. They got to walk through the stands and go down almost on the field. I think they got a lot of great photos, or so I heard.

Many of the group headed for the beach in the afternoon. Some of us rented chairs and umbrellas from one of the beach concessions, and we sat in the sun (or shade as the case may be), and swam in the ocean, or slept or read. It was a gorgeous day, with bright sun and blue skies, with a gently cooling breeze coming in off the ocean. All around us on the beach were the incredibly tan people of Rio, most of them wearing the tiniest bathing suits imaginable. There are quite a few organized sports on the beach, with whole areas roped off for playing beach soccer, or volleyball, or the amazingly difficult sport of volley football (which is a combination of volleyball and soccer, where the general rules of volleyball apply, but only the feet and heads of the players are used instead of the hands). It´s pretty intense to watch it (and probably more intense to play it!).

Tonight we have a group lesson at one of the local Samba Schools. Samba is such an important social and cultural force here that I think this will give us even more of a feel for the culture of Brazil.

We´ve been eating some amazing food here, with most of the students trying quite a lot of local food. I think the group favorite so far is the guarana soda, which is absolutely delicious--not too sweet, but very refreshing. It´s a bit like ginger-ale, but not nearly as heavy. I think some of the students were talking about lobbying the Elmira College Dining Services to start carrying this soda on campus. It´s really that good! A lot of the food here is fried, so we have been eating empanadas and fritters, even fried bananas. Lots of rice and lots of salads. Today for lunch there was a mango and cucumber salad that was amazing. Another typical salad has a little bit of shredded chicken mixed with corn and shopped carrots and onions. For dessert, there are lots of sweet cakes and little tarts, as well as a lot of fruit. Not only are we eating some Amazonian fruits, we are getting fresh mango, passionfruit, watermelon, and pineapple for breakfast each morning. And papaya too. The pineapple here is skinnier and longer, but the bananas here are all shorter and stubbier. Acai drinks are everywhere, as well as the coconut water from the center of the green coconuts. Even though we are surrounded by all this delicious food, we still have a number of students curious about the translation of American fast food to Brazil, so we had a group of students head out to KFC last night. And: the potatoes are yellower! They don´t serve biscuits! The chicken tastes a little different! But otherwise, right down to the Colonel´s face, it´s pretty much the same.

We leave for the Amazon tomorrow, with a 4 AM ride to the airport and a 4 hour flight to Manaus. Of course, the moment we touch down we start right into the class with a cultural and historical tour and overview of the history of Manaus. Bright and early the day after we arrive, we head out to the Eco-lodge where we will be staying for 3 days. We aren´t certain if we will have access to the internet while in the Amazon, so we may not be able to update the blog for some number of days. Don´t worry if that´s the case, we´ll update with details as soon as we can.