This much anticipated post I will start with a most appropriate quote, Vonnegut:

‘Peculiar travel suggestions are gods dancing lessons.’

Now considering that I spent today working to take an 8 year old apricot tree out of the ground by the roots with a shovel, I think this quote couldn’t be more appropriate. For those of you wondering why I’m spending my precious month and a half traveling time ripping stubborn apricot trees from the ground: For part of my stay here I am taking part in a program called world wide opportunities for organic farmers or Wwoof and I have to admit, while I have only been here for 7 days it’s one of the most rewarding things I have done in America.

This experience was everything I needed, expected and so much more. I have done so many different things while here. Picked buckets of persimmons on a goat farm and then dried all the firmest ones in the dehydrator. I have learnt that some types of persimmon are only edible when they are really soft, eating them before will cause your taste buds to jump ship and run screaming in the other direction: kinda like a green banana and fresh olives combined.

I have learnt what a soil block is (no you don’t build with it) and planted countess seedling for late winter growing. The afore mentioned apricot tree eventually made it’s stubborn way out of the ground (it’s root clump weighs more than me) and in it’s place we put a young unassuming plum tree along with 4 more fruit trees in the other two orchards. We put some very sad looking snow peas on trellises in the community garden and unfortunately because of the unseasonal dry had to do a bit of watering.

When I first got here Mike made a sourdough starter and on Friday we made the dough for three different types of sourdough. It amounted to about 8kg of dough which we then put in the fridge to proof for another couple of days. Sunday was baking day. We fired up the outside woodfire oven on Saturday afternoon so it would be hot enough for our prodigious amounts of bread. Well it ended up being a bit too hot so there are 18 loaves of slightly over done bread but they do taste delicious. We also made crackers, one batch rosemary and peccorino and one cumin and caraway.

Today we are preparing for a hard frost over night, turning on faucets to get the water out so they don’t burst when it freezes and covering the citrus. And our reward? We lit up the woodfired hot tub and will have relaxing bathe under the stars this evening.

The theme of my american adventures has defiantly been EAT but the result of spending my last weeks on a farm with people who’s library collection reads like a who’s who of food politics/socialist writers means that my adventure goes further than taste deep (usually my sole interest in the food I eat). I am developing an awareness (or developing more of an awarness: yes Dad and Linda I do listen to you) for where my food is coming from and what it means to eat seasonally. Prepare for some high horse type soap box rants when I get home people!

I was going to post some photos to go along with this but… It has buggered up too many times and took to long so you lot’ll just have to wait until I get home!

I’m packing my bags! Getting out the trusty pack (which I still love by the way, I mean seriously, it has a raincoat! I don’t even have a raincoat). I’m leaving tomorrow… or the next day I’m still not sure. My organisational skills (if I had any to begin with) have disapeared in a haze of ‘yeah sure lets do that next tuesday’ and ‘oooh who wants to fly to Sao Paulo next weekend’. I”m not sure how many unfulfilled plans that I’ve made here in Brasil but I guarantee it’s been way more than days I have been here.

I handed in my last assignment today and am on an end of semester high although its not as good as it usually is… I’m not sure I have ever had such an easy semester study wise. I’m not sure I remember how to study! We’ll we shall see how I go when I get back next semester… 10 days before it starts. Well as Mum always says; I do it too myself.

My last week in Rio has been reasonably uneventful, or if not uneventful then at least not worth blogging about. I have been avoiding study and doing study but mostly studying.

They lit the light on the Christmas tree in the Lagoa (lake) on Saturday. It was a whole event that reminded me so much of the halabaloo that Brisbane Council make of River Fire that I almost thought I was at Southbank. We walked down from home and ended up missing the fire works but the tree was pretty spectacular. About 20 metres high and very brightly lit. Lots of money involved and absolutely tasteless but fun none the less. There were so many people down there that I really did feel like a twelve year old at the Australia day fireworks again. Families on blankets and teenagers getting drunk in anonymity of nighttime and loads of people.

A couple days later…

So we haven’t left Rio yet. That’s Monday (5th December) and we are off to Ilha Grande and Sao Paulo for a couple of days then I fly to New York in the wee hours of next Sunday morning. I’m not even sure where I’m going to go when I get there and I’m a bit nervous. However I just had a little dose of perspective. I was looking out my window just now there is a dude curled up underneath his blanket on the street casually reading his newspaper. He probably doesn’t know where he’s going to sleep next week either but he’s probably grateful he has a blanket.

The quote I’m going to begin with this time has absolutely no pertinence to the content of my entry, but it’s Douglas Adams so that’s kinda fitting:

‘Afterwards, the universe will explode for your pleasure’

Last week I was robbed twice. The first time to due to complacency and the second time…. well due to complacency as well I suppose. None of my instincts or behaviors honed through a lifetime of conditioning are designed to cope with this environment. Well that’s my excuse anyway. So Rio and I aren’t seeing eye to eye right now and honestly I’m ready to leave. I have learnt something: big cities stress me out. I feel like I have been balancing a knife edge for almost four months. I’m exhausted. I know this is comes across as negative commentary but it’s not meant to. I’m just being honest, accepting that while most travelers fall in love with this city I’m not one of them. I have nothing relaxing about this city, no calm vortex to breath in once in a while and even when I went regional and all the way to a different state and relaxed I was shocked out of my complacency by the second robbery. And was to learn later that we were lucky that all he did was take my camera. I don’t discount the many beauties of Brazil nor all the lessons I have learnt and will continue to learn as I continue to process my experiences but I realise that some many of my adventures here I have forced on myself in the name of ‘experience’. Which is not to say that experience has not been either fun or informative or important but rather few things come from a natural want in myself to venture out and show the world what’s what. What more this makes me feel ashamed, like I’m not going to live up to expectations: mine and everyone else’s. And yes I know what you (my audience: made up of mostly family) are thinking now. You all cry in the over-used plaintive ‘it doesn’t mater what anyone else thinks! Just be true to yourself!’ or some such crap but that’s not helpful. Not even slightly. I don’t care what most people think no, but I do care what my family thinks, what my friends think, what all the people I love think. I want people to be proud and impressed by me, I also want to be proud and impressed with myself, which in many ways I am not. I am coming to realise that I am person who validate herself through the people close to her. I feel so much less connected and grounded here, defiantly less confident without the assurance of the people I love around me. I wish I could be less pathetic about these feelings (and maybe slightly funnier) but I this is the most honest blog I have written and it is flowing like most of them don’t. Maybe its too personal for the internet but the freedom of internet publication is good: I don’t have to be anywhere near when people read it, in fact I’m as far away as possible. Less chance of knowing how underwhelmed my readership is.

I know especially will not be impressed by my blogging: my writing teachers! all ‘telling’ not ‘showing’, no sweeping descriptions of experience that show my feelings/ emotions/ learning subtly and implicitly. But I digress, I feel as though I hid through much of my time here and what sort of writer will I make if I can’t venture out into the world and make as many observations as possible? What sort of writer does that? What sort of person does that? Wait I can answer that: one that will never be brave enough…

I am looking forward to my solo journey of around America but also my behavior here haunts me. If I’m solo, there is no-one to bounce travel ideas off, no person encouraging some crazy, risky adventure. On the plus side, at least everyone speaks English. But these thoughts shatter all my illusions about my supposedly independent character. I have spent a life time creating a the image of myself in my head as a person who functions better as a lone ranger (especially when it comes to group work) and is comfortable with loneliness and doing things for myself. I don’t know if anyone else see’s that person but that’s how I have always imagined myself. The opposite is more accurate. I need people, especially people whose love is an anchor that prevents floating away on a cloud of your own illusions. Here my independence (along with my confidence) is bullshit I can’t even stomp off in a frustrated trapped rage by myself in the early evening because I’m scared about being mugged again.

Even my classes have lost a lot of their inspiration and flavor, I feel ashamed when I don’t explore every avenue of learning my teachers and fellow students offer to me as though the inequalities of this country (or any other), a subject I could wax lyrical (and probably pompously) about all day are no longer as important. What do I care? I’m going back to my safe suburban, middle class life, right? The truth is I feel selfish and full. Full of my own crap, that I can barely spare a compassionate thought for the inhabitants of a favela not 50 m from my door step. So occupied that I have barely ventured into that part of Rio, barely tried to do anything: there are countless volunteer programs here especially for estrangerios. And it’s not only the helping out side of things that I’m disappointed I never followed up but many of the cultural experiences as well: film festivals, music festivals, all the crap you do when you are trying to understand a foreign country. I feel like there is a promise I haven’t kept, a promise to myself.
Apparently I am all bluster.

There is really no point prefacing this opening quote except to say that It made me think and I’d wish I’d read it at the start of this exchange.

‘ The opportunity to learn about a different society can shatter one’s preconceived stereotypes, but many travelers cannot accept another society on it’s own terms. Simple exposure to another culture does not guarantee better intercultural communication.’

Further more

‘ …there are climates of the mind. “Some expatriates never arrive spiritually in the new land.” The light remains foreign, and the climate is perpetually measured by the standard of another geographic zone.’

I got these two phrases from a text I’m reading for my Brazilian culture class in the chapter entitled “what constitutes a culture” which talks about the boundaries encountered when Brazilians and North Americans interact.

If some one asked me what sort of traveler I was before I came to Brazil I certainly wouldn’t have thought I’d be the one asking ‘But why don’t they just all speak English?’. But now? I’m not so sure. Of course I have never been so crass as to say that but I can assure you I have thought it several times in the throws of frustration at my slow progress learning Portuguese. I don’t mean that of course but there are several other cultural intricacies that in my western superiority I have thought needed to be changed because they just made me a little too uncomfortable.

Every time a man says ‘Hello beautiful, I love you!’ or ‘Oi Gringa!’ as I walk past (or ride past, or drive past on the bus, or anywhere really), I cringe and shoot them a dirty look. Every time I’m in the checkout line at the supermarket and it takes more than 20 mins for the 1 person in front of me to buy their milk and butter, I tap my foot with impatience.

It’s a constant battle between how I think the every day social interactions should be carried out and what a actually occurs here. Whats more I have always considered myself an fairly accepting sort of person only to discover I’m inflexible and nauseatingly patriotic and an absolute fish out of water. Setting aside (or at least regarding them as ineffectual for the current circumstances) your preconceptions, all the learnt behaviors of your life, to try and view a new culture ‘through the eyes of a child’ is proving so much more difficult than I thought. I admire so much of how things are done here but there is so much that makes scales dry up.

One of these things is how traditional the social structure is here. I can assure you the feminist movement would have (or did, I’m not sure) died in the arse here. A considerable amount of woman are still compelled to by social expectations to become the Donna of a house hold once she is married. Children stay at home until they are are married, or have career. Families are closer and larger. The wider family and friends are much a part of the whole as children or brother and sister. And socially these family ties are often much stronger than dedication to an employer or any other outsider.

I know I come off as critical but I’m far from it. Who am I to say this is wrong or doesn’t function? I certainly thought I was in a position to judge when I arrive though (and to be perfectly honest up until quite recently) but I am clearly not.

So, in conclusion, I like all the crazy teas here but OH MY GOD am I need of a plain old black tea. White and one please.

I’m going to start with a quote agian. I am listening to Bill Bryson’s Down Under on audio book which may seem strange considering that a) I have already read it and b) I’m in Brazil and c) my traveling when I get home will consist of mum’s house to uni for at least a year.
However, Bill Bryson didn’t write a travel book about Brazil and I’m home sick and well he’s hilarious! So we went away this weekend and I listened to Bill Bryson on the bus, gigling to myself and freaking out the other passengers. My favorite passage being this:

‘what made this particularly interesting is that John Howard is by far the dullest man in Australia (this being his decision not to reside in Canberra). Imagine a very committed funeral home directer, someone whose burning ambition from the age of eleven was to become a funeral home directer…’

He goes on like that for a while. (sorry that was mainly for the Australians)

Anyway back to Brazil.
So: as previously mentioned before we went away this weekend but it was not the trip we intended to take.
For the last month I have been trying to take a weekend away to Paraty: a small historical beach sorta town about three hours south of Rio. A rainforest meets pristine beaches situation: or so I was told as I have yet to actually go there. So circumstances have stopped the trip several times in a row but this weekend was going to be it. We even got up at 7 after a reasonably boisterous evening out. But when we arose it was pissing down rain and the same was happening in Paraty and was said to continue all weekend. Most of the things that we would do there involved being outside so we decided not to go and instead looked into going to a different town close to Rio. We all finished our final mid-term assessment and needed to get out of the city so we weren’t willing to give up the idea of our weekend trip quite so readily. We scouted out Petropolis, a small town in the mountains bout an hour east of Rio, in the guide book and it sounded really nice and a little closer than Paraty. We looked for hostels and found none so then we scouted the list of pousadas and found one that had the most spectacular views (and price) with a sauna a couple of pools and a spa (and several other inviting sounding amenities. So we called up and got a quote for Sunday evening and decided it by three and decided it was worth it.
Spoiler alert: it was absolutely unequivocally worth every cent!
We left Sunday morning with dire warnings of death by bus-falling-of-slippery-rain-drenched-mountain-road ringing in our ears and with a fare amount of confusion about what the time was (daylight saving just kicked in here). But genuinely excited about getting out of the city and fully stocked in the champagne department.
6 hours, 4 buses, 3 terminals, a fairly hilly hike and one car ride later we got to our luxury mountain chalet. and at the risk of repeating myself: totally worth it.

All the important supplies for a weekend in the mountains

Our itinirary for the following 24 hours went like this: sauna, pool, spa and repeat; food; sauna, pool, spa and repeat. I was so relaxed by the time it came to leave this morning (Monday) I was liquid human.

We met two lovely ladies in the spa and low and behold I had managed to follow the conversation in poruguese and even answer the occasional question that was thrown my way. Hardly where I wanted to be by this stage in my language acquisition but as I had been relying all day on Amy and Christina to ask people directions and get us where we were going this minute speckle of independence was rather a nice boost.

We joined them for dinner after our strenuousness routine detailed above in the romantic setting of the chalet’s restaurant. The couple were lined up all in a row all sitting on the same side of the table sort of like a factory line for romance. The five of us girls giggle in the corner banished to the singles table all made fun of them… in a completely un-bitter sort of way (seriously!).

Sharing such a relaxed carefree weekend with Amy and Christina was a brilliant remedy to my city clostraphobia and I return to Rio with renewed vigor for adventure. So much more to see and the time speeds past me. It’s time to go catch up! Await the next account of my adventures.

Yesterday we went on a class excursion, my second since I got here. One of my classes is a look at Brazilian culture and part of that is our teacher taking us to events in Brazil that we made not have heard of or be able to get to as tourists. So yesterday my class and some hangers on went to the Salgueiro samba school. Its not a school were we went to learn samba; what we attended was the event that he school hosts the second Sunday of every month with food music and dancing for the public to come along, witness performances, do a lot of socialising (drinking) and do a little dancing themselves. I say public but what it really seemed like was the community supporting a club and that it was something of a ritual for most of the people there. Defiantly a crowd of regulars. All the ladies had made something out of their checked red and white feijoada salgueira t-shirts that we got on arrival, usually so it looked less like a the bag you get potatoes out of.

We got there and lined up for the feijoada portion of the afternoon. It was so tasty. Feijoada is a traditional Brazilian dish: black beans, rice, assorted meats, a green-leaf vegetable called couve (sorta like spinach but tougher and meatier) and manioc flour… This one also had little bits of pork crackle which was total bonus. I was so full after, I really didn’t trust my ability to get up and samba. With the help of a caiprinha with pineapple, anything is possible!

Samba is a hard dance. The music is lovely; very happy, bouncy, lots of fun diminutive instruments whose names I have forgotten but it is mostly played off beat and fast and the foot movements are really hard to follow so I just kinda make it up. The hip bit I get the foot bits are really quite mystifying.

So we all had a good go at dancing in samba with lots of help from all the people there. Everyone smiled encouragement and taught us steps and held our hands it was really lovely. There was a young girl, who reminded me so much of myself at that age, that was really enthusiastic (and really good) who danced with all of us… teaching us steps and being supportive.

Christina and Amy: cool cats

It was a really great afternoon; A truly Brazilian experience, not for the music or the food but because of the people.

Yesterday was adventure city! Amy, Christina and I embarked on a mission to find a tropical paradise beach away from the chaotic city that is Rio de Janeiro. Our expedition, lead by one Guilherme Machado: master navigator, began at a bus stop in Copacabana. We boarded a bus and made our way to the ferry at the ferry we learnt some world truths and bought our tickets to Niteroi (Rio’s little half cousin across the river that’s the butt of all the families jokes).

The world is difficult but smile

We then hoped on the ferry, got swooped by low flying planes, saw the rich pirate castle and then landed in Niteroi about 10 minutes later. We then boarded a bus to (the name of the beach that I can’t remember: the town was Itipiru). Okay so all this fairly mundane but I swear it gets better! Well it does after we spent an hour and a half on the bus being called ‘gringa!’. We got to the beach after a really pretty exciting ride through forest and over mountains, the topography of the coastline here is really quite incredible, really rugged and mountainous covered in tropical vegetation…. and cactus. Odd but really pretty. We finally got off the bus and arrived at the beach… this is the image that met us there.

Pretty spectacular, I think. We went down to the beach and had some fun running around the rocks and taking photos (several to get the jump shots right) and went for a wonderful (if crisp) swim in the spectacular blue ocean. After doing some more exploring I was informed it was time to go which I thought was a bit presumptuous considering it felt like we had just got there. But our all knowing tour guide said that if we wanted to see the sunset (and get back down before it got dark) so we proceeded to find the mountain path. The first 10 minutes was easy, not a steep grade and through rain forest, with defined pathways. Then we hit the mountain for real. Steep rock face here we come… so we proceeded to scale it, some of us (eg. Amy) with more confidence and ease than others. I got to a particularly steep bit and decided that was pretty much it for me, however with a little exploring I found a easier way an I’m glad I did. It was epic. I was speechless… I’m not usually speechless. It’s the highest I have ever been (well I’m actually sure of that but it looked pretty high). There were eagles wheeling around us and we could see both the sun and the moon as they swapped jobs for the day. It was really beautiful, If it had been clear we could have seen all of Rio, but as it was we could just see Christo (the christ) and Pao de Acuca (sugar loaf). It was a real shame that we couldn’t have made it down in the dark because the sun got more and more beautiful as went down. When we started our descent I was very glad of the light we had. It was an exhilarating day. Here are some pics:

This is the best of about 1000

The rock face

Still to come: What I did today!! part 2 of Leela’s weekend! (exhilarating titles yeah?)