Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday's Travel Tip - walk - don't walk

 One of the largest brain adjustments when I change my surroundings is actually while I am out for a walk or hitting the town for a little shopping.  I know sometimes the adjustment is the difference between hello and oi, but that is not major because if I mess up it won't hurt me.   Today's travel tip is talking about being a pedestrian on the streets of Brazil compared to the United States.  Almost everywhere you go in the US the little old pedestrian has the right of way (not that it guarantees the driver will see you).  When I head back south I always have to make sure and change the brain switch to "don't walk" when I arrive in Brazil.  Drivers in Brazil won't be stopping or even pausing for the average pedestrian crossing the street let alone taking their first step into the cross walks.  When the little red man at the stop light turns green, the color green for is for go
 instead of white as in the USA,  that really should be yellow as you have to proceed with caution.  Always keeping your eyes open for any cars or motorcycles in the near vicinity.  Realizing that they often ignore the red light or decide the light is too long and since no one is coming proceed anyway.  Vehicles who are turning also pose a threat as they will not slow down allowing you to cross the street even if there are those white lines guiding you to safety.  As a kid in the US I was taught to look both ways.  When I am in Brazil I have had to retrain myself to look both ways but then keep on looking.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Scenic Sunday - Rio

I did not spend much time in Rio before it became my second favorite city in the world.  With so many wonderful things to see and beeches to enjoy.  How could one not love this city.  One of the great things to do is take the trolley up to the Christ Statue and enjoy the city view.  This weeks Scenic Sunday is dedicated to Rio as the videos are shot from the Christ Statue overlooking the city.  Enjoy 

 I would love to know what your favorite city in the world is and can you guess what city out ranks Rio de Janiero for me?  Leave a comment...


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Parque Zoologico de Goiania

Goiania is a city with a population of over three million people.  There are plenty of things to do and over the past year or two we have driven by the Parque Zoologico de Goiania (a large park in the wealthy Setor Oeste neighborhood) in anticipation of it reopening.  In 2008 the major attraction to the park - its zoo - was closed for renovations and in May of this year those renovation were complete.  Visitors were once again welcome to explore and enjoy the over one thousand animals which call the park home.
A little history before we purchase our tickets and begin to explore.  The park was created in 1946 and like I stated above contains over one thousand animals representing approximately one hundred and ninety three species.   Within the boundaries of the park lie four lakes - Lake of Roses - Monkey Lake - Lake of the Birds and Swan Lake.  These lakes are supported by five streams which find their sources within the park's boundaries.  It has been a place to gather and enjoy nature right in the heart of the city since it was built.  Enough with the history lesson let's see what the park has to offer. (thanks wikipedia)
It is once again a wonderful blue sky filled day and since we have been waiting for the park to open, we decide it is time to go take a look.  Parking is a little bit of an issue with the area designated for the parks visitors is really too small to support the crowds and as you can imagine the overflow streams into the surrounding neighborhood.  We drive around a while and find a spot on the side which is opposite the zoo.  It is nice out so an enjoyable walk in through the tree filled outer park is a great way to begin our journey.  As we near the front entrance,  the sidewalk is lined with vendors
 selling waters, sodas and little toys for boys and girls.  The closer we get to the front gate the more people there are gathered together waiting to enter.  However, there is no line and we immediately purchase our R$2,00 ticket (wow quite cheap for Brazil), hand it to the gatekeeper and enter the park .
Right away animal life grabs our attention as three hippos are eating their mid afternoon snack.   The pen seems a little small for the three XXL animals and it is probably a rarity that they are out of the pond which lies in the middle, but then again it is snack time.  We linger to watch a while and  soon it is time to move on to the wild pigs and iguana next door.
OK,  I am not going to go pen by pen and share with you what animals we see but I will share some photos and say that the zoo was filled with visitors on this particular day.  The animals were all your typical suspects found in zoos across the world.  Like the other zoos their living quarters seem to be a little small, but only the tiger seemed stressed by it as he/she paced the edge of the cage.  Some of the different habitats are breathtaking among the tall buildings of the neighborhood around. Besides the bear who seemed to be injured and the missing giraffe who recently died,  the animals seeme happy and healthy.
Of course the zoo has a large collection of unique birds including several species of macaws.  They have taken this bird watching one step further with the recently completed addition of a large netted bird cage filled with vegetation and several birds.   Guests are guided through this area by zoo employees and educated on the habits and characteristics of the birds found within.  Of course the toucano is one of the birds found here along with peacocks, and macaws.  They only give these guided tours at certain times of the day and we are fortunate to be here at the right time so we
proceed to stand in line.  Through the hanging chains we sneak as not to disturb the birds on the other side.  We walk around the small loop inside enjoying the colorful beauty of these magnificent birds.   Our guide shares some of the birds habits and what my brain is not translating,  Luiz attempts to translate for me.  As we exit the large bird cage  arriving just outside the netting we are treated to a full display by one of the peacocks.  Almost as to thank us for visiting.
Next we stroll through the museum which is filled with information about the wildlife of Brazil along with the stuffed remains of a large crocodile which called the zoo home for years along with other local animals.  After this the only thing left is to walk around Monkey Lake and watch the monkeys play on their island habitats in the middle of the lake.  These little critters are surely entertaining and we find a nice shaded place to sit and watch for a while.  It has been a enjoyable afternoon and little did I know,  my favorite part of it was still left to come.   After a few minutes or resting it is time to continue our journey around the lake towards the car.  As we walked along,  there is a large squawking noise coming from the middle of the lake.  We notice a pair of ducks eating monkey food on one of the islands.  Soon one of the black monkeys runs towards the fowl as he waives his arms up in the air.   The birds respond with a loud squawk, hiss, and jab of their beaks in his direction.  We stop to watch and soon it seems as if they are playing a game of tag.  The monkey flies around the island, waiving his arms, and dashing towards the pair.  They
respond with a quick little chase and some loud noise.  Most of the time the monkey runs away, grabs a tree and swings around the island before his inevitable return.  Once and  a while the monkey seems to win and the ducks retreat to the water where they are safe only to return to the island once again.  Seemingly egged on by the monkey who appears at the waterfront near the ducks.  I begin to wonder what is so specific about this island for the birds.  There are others and they have food on them as well.  Maybe they have built a nest here or are thinking it would be a good place to call home.  We stand and watch this back and forth for over a half an hour.  Several times I find it hilarious enough to let out a chuckle and actually just have a great time watching the battle of Monkey Island.  The birds finally swim away so we move towards the gates.  As we get to
the entrance the hippos are now submerged in the pond and behind us we hear the squawking of the ducks again and turn around.  We can see the pair have returned to stake their claim on the island but it is time for us to leave and enjoy the rest of our day outside the zoo walls.

You knew there would be a photo of a Toucan! 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tuesday's Travel Tip

If you find yourself traveling in Brazil you may stay at someones home or maybe an off the beat and path hotel like we often do.  You find the accommodations to be suitable and happy to have a place to lay your head.  The morning comes and after breakfast is served  it is time to get ready for the day with a nice warm shower.  You brush your teeth, get undressed and step into the shower.  (no bathtubs here - most showers are walk in only)  You look around to turn the water on and suddenly you are confused .. only one knob.  Your first thought is that the water must run at a nice warm temperature that everyone would enjoy. That has got to be it so you give it a turn and water starts to come out.  But ... it's all cold.  You turn it some more as maybe there is a happy medium somewhere when the water begins to get warmer.  To your dismay although the pressure increases the water is still cold. You look around and notice an odd looking shower head with wires connecting it to the wall.  There is a little tube with and end that looks like a mini shower hanging from the shower
head.  Not sure what it is for,  but after you examine it closer, you come to the conclusion it has nothing to do with water temperature but maybe the pressure (you are correct).  You discover a switch on the front of the shower head which is on inverno which must mean inferno or heat (later when you start learning Portuguese you find out it means winter so you were kind of on the right track but then again quite far off).  There is nothing left to help you find a solution here so you give up, grab your towel and head out to ask for assistance.  Well,  the assistance given is that you first turn the water on and once you have a good flow of water turn the knob slightly back - this will kick in the warm water and if you want it warmer,  just continue turning it towards the off position.  Unfortunately, with a lot of them, if you want a really warm shower you will have to be satisfied with a trickle of water.
You my friend are experiencing the most common shower system in Brazil  and it took me a while to understand.  Oh heck,  I still don't always get warm water when I am at a new place using a new shower.  Like when we were in southern Brazil and it was freezing cold.  All I wanted was a nice warm shower after a frigged cold night, but I was not able to get the water temperature above cool.  But back to the Tuesday Travel Tips.  This type of shower head is most common in Brazil and those wires connected to the wall are electrical so watch out.   There have been times (especially in those out of the way hotels) when you see black residue from an obvious spark and wires that seem to be exposed.  These situations do not seem to bother my Brazilian friends but there have been times when I start wondering if I will die in a hotel shower.  However, the lure of some refreshing water encourages you to turn the knob and step in.  Obviously others have showered here safely before you.  Fortunately the shower in our apartment was installed by a trustworthy electrician and I don't have to worry about this on a daily basis.  I don't always get water as warm as I would like but our shower has turned from enemy to friend once again.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Scenic Sunday - Triple Falls Trail

The last time I was in the United States I visited some friends in South Carolina and one afternoon we headed the short distance to  North Carolina for a day of hiking and enjoying nature. There were quite a few people enjoying the trail as the day was beautiful but the farther we hiked the less we had to share the scenery.  We walked for quite a long time and I mean long time.  In the end there were plenty of wonderful scenes and sounds to enjoy during the day.  Hope you enjoy!

I understand that if you receive this via email the video may not be able to be viewed.  Please click the link to watch the video:  http://youtu.be/egkxqw_FW_M

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Wow -- close call ? ? ? I've got to learn this Portuguese!

As many of my posts start out, the day was wonderful with blue skies and plenty of sun to go around for everyone.  I am not sure I have shared before that Luiz works for the Federal University of Brazil or that the day before I arrived this time they went on strike.  To be quite honest I am not sure why they are striking but it probably has to do with wages and benefits like most strikes.   I do know that this strike is nationwide and involves thousands of federal employees.  The timing could not have been better for me as it allowed us to spend more time with each other literally.  Since we are apart half the year it was sure a welcome surprise upon my arrival.  Every week they check in to see what is happening on the negotiating front and I don't think there has been much movement.  I have also thought how I would hate to be a college student,  waiting for the strike to end so I can begin classes again. The best universities in Brazil are those ran by the government so when the employees strike,  classes come to a halt.  But, this post is not about the strike so I better get back on track.
The handout at the rally
On this wonderful day with blue skies Luiz invites me to participate in a strike rally.  The university employees along with other striking federal workers were gathering in town and parading by car to the central square where all the government buildings are.  As the cars proceed to the square, the plan was to make noise by honk their horns and disrupting traffic in order to gain attention for their cause.   This is how we were planning to participate and I figured it would be a new experience so why not.
Leaving the apartment at 8:35 sharp as the rally was to begin at 9:00, we drive to the gathering spot which is a large square near a University campus in the city. (There are several campuses within Goiania) Upon arriving we find a parking spot and walk across the square to join the group of people gathering.  There are two obvious groups identified by their flags, banners and the color of their t shirts.  One group is the educators all wearing blue and red and then there are the civil police
wearing black even though I think there were a few other organization mixed in as well.  They are all part of the same demonstration so we find a place to stand near a monument on top of a small hill.  A great viewpoint.  I snap a few photos and take a short video as I wait for Luiz to return.  He has grabbed a banner and headed back to the car to tape it on.  The banner will acknowledge our participation in the rally as we drive through the streets.  The people watching is great as
a couple of buses filled with participants arrive and cars with flags hanging out their windows continue to enter the small parking area.  The media is present and it becomes obvious who the leaders of the group are as they position themselves in front of banners for interviews.   There are some participants who have dressed up wearing red sparkly  wigs and crazy clothes and then the rest are just wearing the specific colors of support.  Unknowingly I have worn a red shirt today and although it does not say anything supporting the cause, at least it is the right color.
The crowd grows and soon the parking area is filled with cars all displaying the necessary identification.  From our hill top perch, we can see the crowd growing and getting ready to march. As the group becomes more compact we are surrounded by the civil police who begin to hand out snacks and since I did not eat breakfast it is a welcome surprise.  In the distance there is a loud speaker and someone begins making announcements.  ( in Portuguese of course)  I am not one hundred  percent sure what they were saying but from a word or two I did understand I believe he was giving instructions.   At this time the small parking area is filled with cars.  Participants begin to park along both sides of the street restricting traffic flow around the square.  A car carrying a coffin slowly maneuvers by and stops along the road just in front of a small truck.  Oh the back of the truck are two large speakers which are connected to the intercom system where the instructions are being delivered. The speakers have a large banner on the side which says something about the President of Brazil and her lack of willingness to negotiate with the government employees.  It is
soon 9:40 and everyone standing around begins to gather closer to the car with the coffin as more instructions continue coming from the speakers on the back of the truck.  At this point Luiz translates that there will be a group of people marching the short distance to the square. The procession will include the car with the coffin followed by the truck with speakers, the marchers, and then the rest of the vehicles honking their horns and waiving  their flags.  Remember the whole idea behind the morning is to slow down traffic and get attention and support from the community.
The protesters begin their march and as our car is on the other side of the park we head in that direction.   Luiz decides to change our plans and drive to the central square and walk to meet them instead of being a part of the driving procession.  He does offer me the opportunity to walk along with the marchers but I decline - maybe in hind sight I should have walked along?   It takes us little time to drive to the square but once we pass the congestion created by the march we arrive in no time.  We begin walking back down the street about 10 blocks until we hear the protesters chanting in the distance.  I of course get my camera out to continue taking photos and cross the boulevard to the center
grassy area for a better angle.  The coffin goes by and then some marchers and soon the civil police in black are in front of me.  I snap a photo and one of the guys says something to me.  Of course with my limited Portuguese,  I do not understand and give him my " ah what? - I can't really hear you??" look which normally gets me off the hook when someone speaks to me on the street.  This time however,  the gentleman keeps looking at
me which is a little strange but then again I have no idea what he said and Luiz is across the street and did not hear.  We wait for the second large truck which has the protesters who dressed up with colorful hair on top.  They are using a second loud speakers to share their message with anyone who will listen.  Once they pass by we decide to walk to the square with them, however we remain on the sidewalk.
Like I said earlier it is a nice afternoon and the weather is perfect.  I take some more photos of some of the downtown buildings as well as the procession of protesters.  Soon I notice someone throwing confetti out a window of one of the buildings along the route.  I am not sure this was planned or spontaneous but it sure grabs the attention of several people milling around.   Shortly after this I notice one of the civil police men taking a photo in my direction.  I look around to see if there is something worth photographing behind me.  Maybe someone throwing more confetti, but I cannot figure it out.  I turn back and feel like he is taking a photo of me.  I briefly think to myself "I wonder if he realizes I am an American and is taking a photo of me" but that is crazy.   He soon continues walking and I forget about it.  A
short time later Luiz and I are on the corner by the central square.  The procession begins to make one loop around the square before holding a small demonstration in front of the band shell.  At this point we are not sure what the specific plans are so we stand on the corner for a minute or two trying to figure out what we are going to do.  As we ponder, a group of six or seven guys dressed in black come across the street with cameras in hand and begin to talk to Luiz and I.  I again am not sure what they are saying but they begin to take photos of us and state something about Facebook.   Luiz seems to get frustrated and pulls out his identification handing it to them and trying to explain who we are. (at
least that is what I have since gathered he was trying to explain)  The guys in black ignore him and scurry back across the street disappearing into the crowd of people.  Luiz fills me in that because we were walking along the rally, a group of the civil police thought we were some supervisory group who were taking notes and spying on them.  (I guess paranoia about the government is common in Brazil)    They were going to take our photos and put them on Facebook to further their cause.  Luiz was frustrated that they would not listen to him or even for a minute consider that they may be wrong on their assumptions

about us and wanted to set the record straight.  By this time the procession of people and cars had begun heading around the square, so we followed looking for someone from the university who could help us clear things up.   About half way around he ran into the head of the university employees and explained to her what had happened.   She invited us to hop into her car to finish the journey around the square.
Once the procession came to the band shell everyone stopped as people jumped out of their cars to gather and take part in
the demonstration.  The truck with the loud speaker was parked there and people were giving more instructions.  The head of the university employees took the micro phone and asked Luiz and I to come to the font.  She made an announcement introducing us and letting everyone know that we were with the cause.  That Luiz was a federal employee who was striking with them and I was his american friend. I am sure part of her request involved not posting our photos on Facebook or continuing with this charade.  Luiz thanked her and we joined the crowded to observe the rest of the rally.
The demonstration seemed a little unorganized as they carried the coffin into the middle of the street.  On the top of the coffin was a photo of the Brazilian President and some words.  A man doused it and ignited it with a lighter.  I don't think they practiced this
ahead of time as the coffin barely produced any flame.  After a while some of the protesters approached the coffin,  ripped it open and set it on fire again.  This time it burned good and more people spoke and cheers sounded.  After a while we decided to leave and head home.
As we drove home,  I thought about the events of the day and wondered if the misunderstanding all started with Luiz and I standing in the middle of the civil police that morning.  I wondered where and who started the first conversation about us and how that snowballed until they were confronting us at the corner by the square.  Although I did not know exactly what they were saying,  I am surprised by how they (being civil police) handled the situation and really escalated it without us playing a single part.  I really don't think we were in any danger but I also realized just how quickly a group of people can become a mob acting off of emotion and not reality.  At the end of the day  I was just glad to be home!  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Olympics - I know it is about time...

I know.. I know.. I am a little behind the times writing a post about the Olympics the day after the closing ceremony.  But as I enjoyed this years closing ceremony I realized just how different my Olympic experience was being in Brazil and not in the United States.  I realized there are actually other countries participating both in sports that the US does not send anyone to compete in and when the US is not competing *sarcasm*.  I remember watching hours of coverage and it always seemed to have someone from the USA competing.  This year,  I found myself watching a Korean man play a Chinese man in ping pong, Italy play Japan in women's volleyball and Russia play Serbia in water polo just to name a few.  The coverage here is surely more rounded and there doesn't have to be an American or Brazilian participating to have the competition shown.  Maybe that is because I never paid for the million channel cable package or the fact that Brazil only
sent around 270 athletes to London compared to just over 600 athletes from the United States.  The television stations prime responsibility to their viewers here is to cover Brazilian athletes and so when there is no Brazilian competing, they are allowed to show other countries.  In the USA it is hard to find a time when there is not an athlete representing the US competing for the coveted medal.   I also got to watch a lot of the Brazilian teams and athletes compete.  I felt some pride when they did their best and were awarded gold for their efforts. (Yeah Arthur Zanetti - gold medal in gymnastic rings)  I can see where the Olympic Games bring about pride and support for a nation.
On the down side,   I was only frustrated a couple of times when I wanted to watch the US men's soccer or US women's volleyball team play and could not find a station covering it.  Most of the time I was satisfied with what I found. It was also a little rougher to watch the Olympics when a USA team played Brasil.  Since I am only one and often found myself in a room full of Brazilians I had to keep my excitement to a minimum.  I quickly learned this after the threat of getting thrown out the window was muttered a couple of times.  (it was said in Portuguese and they laughed as they said it so I know they were not too seriously - kkkkkk).   I also found that watching soccer and volleyball with Brazilians is the hardest because they are so passionate about these two sports. It really did not matter who they were playing,  it was always loud and tense.  
Well,  as I am all for discovering more about Brazil, I decided to do a little digging to learn about this countries Olympic history.  They first competed in the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games where Guillermo Paraense won the countries first gold in the 25 metre rapid fire pistol.  (not really sure what the sport is but congrats Guillermo)  They have sent athletes to every summer Olympics since except Amsterdam in 1928. However, after Guillermo's gold no one representing Brazil reached the center podium until 1952 when Adhemar Ferreira da Silva took home the gold in the triple jump. Since the '52 Games,  athletes from Brazil have won a total of 22 gold 29 silver and 54 bronze medals.  Not to
mention Vanderiei Cordeiro de Lima winning the 2004 Pierre de Coubertin Medal which is given to one athlete who demonstrates the spirit of sportsmanship as each Olympic Games.   With Brazil's international history one may guess that the countries most notable sport at the Olympics would be soccer (fotebal), However, Brazilian sailing and volleyball competitors have taken home more gold medals then any other sport and the Olympic gold medal for soccer so far has eluded the Brazilian national team.
Enough with the history lesson and now that the London Games are over I am excited as the 2016 Olympic Games will be hosted by Brazil's own Rio de Janiero.  We are already making some initial plans to be in Rio for this occasion and I hope my passion for blogging is still strong so you can come along.  It will be the first time the Olympics will be hosted by a South American country and I cannot wait to see how Brazil welcomes the world to this great city.

Thanks wikipedia and if you would like to learn about the United States Olympic history -