On Sunday morning I arrived in Vitoria. I took a bus from Cataguases, which was about an 8 hour bumpy ride (overnight). I didn't sleep much, so I was able to watch the sunrise as we drove along the beach. Taciana picked me up from the bus station and we drove through the city. Vitoria is very beautiful. Unlike Rio, the city is much newer, and it seems to be cleaner too. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the beautiful aquamarine ocean that it resides on. Like Houston, Vitoria is a major port for ships in Brazil. You can see dozens of ships not far off the coast at any time of the day. With these ships comes a great deal of pollution in both the air and the water. Mix this with the area being a center for petrochemical facilities and oil and gas refineries. Really, didn't realize it at the time, but I think I'm living in the Houston of the Southern Hemisphere. The beach that we live so close to is one that you don't want to swim in, but we did go to a nearby beach (to the south, i.e. downstream) that was much cleaner and wow was the sun strong! I needed SPF 1000.
On Monday I had my interview at UFES, the University I will be attending for my PhD. I was definitely nervous to meet my professors and the head of the department here, but they were very nice and intrigued about my choice to come to Brazil to do my PhD. Actually, intrigued is an understatement. They were puzzled! Brazilians want so badly to live the American life that they can't understand why an American would choose to live in Brazil. But I assured them that I do want to be here and that I have good reason to be. Everyone here in the atmospheric group of the environmental engineering department has been warm and welcoming. I like it here already
Yesterday, Elizabeth and Luiz, my Brazilian grandparents, came and picked me up from Miriam's apartment in Rio. I was sad to say goodbye to Miriam, Wagner, Paula, and Carolina, and of course Rio, but I was also very excited to see Elizabeth and Luiz and finally get to visit their hometown of Cataguases. The drive was a long one, but we chatted and listened to samba music, and stopped to eat pastels. Mine was filled with cheese and banana slices. It was delicious!
Cataguases is a small town in the state of Minas Gerais, with about 65,000 people. From what I could see last night, there were plenty of local shops, which is what I imagine the U.S. was like about 50 years ago. You have a bakery where you pick up your bread, and pharmacy for medicine, a small grocery store for other supplies, etc. I'm excited to see how it is to live this way. Elizabeth is having a bike fixed up that I can use to ride around town. Her family lives in a very nice neighborhood, and her house is beautiful. When I arrived she showed me to my room, and everything inside of it and my bathroom was labeled in Portuguese so I could learn all of the words for things like 'bed' (cama) and 'closet' (prateleira). There are many friends and family in and out of the house at all times, so there definitely will never be a dull moment. I spent most of today unpacking and getting settled, but tomorrow we will venture outside the house and see the town.
One of the most eye-opening things I have seen in Brazil has not been the million-dollar mansions next to the beach, but the massive shanty towns called favelas that are right next to the housing for the very rich. Over 11 million people in Brazil live in these slums, many of them in Rio De Janeiro. Recently, the favelas have come under immense scrutiny from the federal police because of the upcoming world cup (in 2 years) and summer olympics (in 4 years). The police have been storming into the favelas and taking them over in an attempt to remove drugs, drug dealers, and weapons. Just google "Rio favelas" and tons of news articles come up on the subject.
Although in the past many of the favelas were without running water, electricity, sewage or waste removal, they have recently been adding these amenities to them in hopes of cleaning them up. The family I stayed with in Rio assured me that amidst the drug addicts and criminals that live in favelas, there are many very talented, hard working, good people. I just can't imagine what it must be like to live in these conditions. It was indeed an astonishing site to see.
Rio has been such a blast! I really love it here. Not sure if I could get used to the extreme amount of people, but really, what a cool place. We have gone to the beach twice now (first time I got a little too much sun) and it's quite an experience. There are vendors constantly walking by selling clothing, tapestries, jewelry, snacks, drinks, anything you can possibly think of, etc. It gets to be annoying after a while, but it comes with the territory. We enjoyed "Biscoitos Globo" which were donut-shaped snacks that somewhat resemble a wafer mixed with a funyun. We had both sweet and salty Globos and washed them down with Matte (pronounced Ma+ch) tea, which is a slightly more flavorful version of sweet tea. Paula is a big fan of Matte! We also enjoyed agua de coco (coconut water you drink right out of the coconut). There are so many shops in Ipanema. I've spotted a couple of McDonalds, KFCs, Subways, and even Dominos. But thankfully, most of the restaurants and shops are not gross American fast food and there have been so many new things to try! On our walk back from the beach we drank Suco de Milho (corn juice), which I was very skeptical of but I ended up really liking it.
After the beach we ate lunch a the apartment that was prepared by the maid. Yep, that's right, there is a live-in maid that lives here 5 days/week and does everything from making the bed to preparing meals. She also does all of my laundry, and of course cleans too. I could get used to this! Anyway, after lunch mau tia (chee-a) Miriam (=My aunt Miriam) and I went to Cristo Redentor (pictures below). Wow, what a spectacular view of the city. I wish a camera could capture the magnificence of it, but I'm afraid you have to see it in person. It really takes your breath away.
After a few other stops at historical sites and the famous botanical gardens here in Rio, we got some ice cream and headed home for dinner (also prepared by the maid). I'm definitely tired after this long day, but glad to have seen so many wonderful attractions. Tomorrow is my last full day in Rio, and Friday I will leave for Catagu
Surprisingly, I was able to sleep a few hours on the overnight flight from Charlotte to Rio thanks to my mask and earplugs, but I awoke at about 6am to a beautiful sunrise. After making it through customs at the airport, I was greeted by Miriam (tia) and Luiza Maria (vovo). We drove to where Miriam lives, Lagoa (Laguna), and during the drive I had my first view of the remarkable favelas (slums) that exist in Rio. It was stunning to see how many people live like this. I plan to see them again and post pictures on here.
I met so many nice people on my first day (see the first picture below) and we hung out, had a big (late) lunch, played games on the PlayStation, and drank beer. Needless to say, I felt right at home. I was so tired from all the traveling that when I laid down to take a nap around 6pm, I continued to sleep into the night and didn't wake up the next day until 8am! But it felt great to get some much-needed rest.
The second day was amazing. We went for a walk around Lagoa, which feels like L.A. or Miami, saw parrots, and drank coconut water. Then, after lunch, Miriam took me to Ipanema, then Leme beach. It was too cool to lay on the beach today, but we're hoping it will be warm enough later in the week (forecast is high 80s, low 90s). After the beach, we rode up Sugar Loaf Mountain in cable cars to an absolutely breathtaking view of the city. I can't believe how huge it is, over 6 million people! That's half the population of the entire state of Pennsylvania. Crazy.
After Sugar Loaf we met up with the rest of the gals at a giant shopping mall. One downside to Brazil, clothing (and pretty much everything else) is very expensive! I was shocked. Grandma insisted that we have McDonalds for dinner because she lives far from the city and never gets to have it, so we ate McDonalds. It was just as bad as it is in the U.S....
Long day! So great to have a wonderful family to take me around the city, though. I can't even for a minute forget how incredibly fortunate I am.
I am just two days away from departing the U.S. and landing in Rio De Janeiro. Thrilled as I am, I am also sad to be leaving so many of my friends and family. I'm so glad I was able to spend time with those closest to me before I left North Carolina, especially my sister, my best friend Emily, and my amazing coworkers at Squid's that I already miss like crazy. My sister, Emily, and fellow coworker Vanessa threw me an incredible going-away party that I will never forget.
The last two weeks have been full of goodbyes, and though goodbyes are never easy, I have been so touched by the kind and encouraging words I have been given. Everyone has been so positive and I just can't tell you how good it feels to know so many people support and believe in me. I really feel like I can accomplish anything!
So, after a brief stop in Winston-Salem to visit Emily and my cat Leo (she will be taking care of him while I'm in Brazil) now I'm back in Hermitage (the town I grew up in) and visiting with friends and family while running lots of errands and getting packed! I have spent a lot of time with one of my best friends from High School, Kyleigh, and her adorable baby daughter, Pearl. Tonight I'm awaiting the arrival of my boyfriend, Christopher, who is driving all the way from Chapel Hill to spend my last few days in town with me as well as take me to the airport on Friday. Even though we've both been trying to prepare ourselves for this goodbye for some time, it's not going to be an easy one. Chris and I have grown very close over the past few months especially, and he's been a huge support system for me getting ready for this adventure. Needless to say, I will miss him a whole lot.
That's all for today, will try to write again before I take off!