I have just returned from one of the most magnificent places on the Earth, the Amazon.  I really embraced the Amazon.  It was an expedition I will never forget.  The friends I made and the experiences I had are some that I would have never had another opportunity to make up for had I missed out on this trip.  Going to the Amazon as a tourist with a bunch of other foreigners is independent and adventurous.  But going on a mini cruise with 54 other students from around the world going through the exact same thing you are caused us to create such a strong bond, I felt so at home with these people who had their minds on the same level as mine but at the same time, were still normal teenagers who just had different goals from most young kids our age.  When they told us they were going to put 55 of us on 2 boats to sleep on hammocks in the middle of the Rio Negro, I felt like the whole trip would be a disaster and I would never never stop hearing German (too many Germans on the trip).  But it didn’t turn out that way.  We all immediately connected, more or less, and we actually spoke Portuguese as if it were natural for us to do so.  Even the Japanese kid- Gatsuke- and the Thai kids spoke in Portuguese with each other.

The weather was muggy, humid, and unbearably hot, like we had all expected.  Manaus is a poor industrial city but it thrives in the middle of the Amazon, which created its entire character.  We saw all the best parts of the city, and also some of the worst.  The favelas in Manaus are some of the worst conditions I’ve ever been exposed to.  They didn’t want to lie to us and show us the pretty parts of the city like typical tourists staying in a 5 star resort in a third world country, which I liked.  With my bad camera, I wasn’t able to take any powerful photos of these places, unfortunately.

For the rest of the trip, we were on 2 small “cruise” boats.  They divided us into two groups and put us on a boat in which we would have to sleep in hammocks.  There was also a restaurant that was on another boat which we would all eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together.  The food wasn’t all that good, especially because by the time we had to leave more than half of us were throwing up and/or with diarrhea, including the people who had appeared to have a strong stomach throughout most of the trip, including me.  The staff said that probably it was the water from the river but I think it was the food that they gave us because I didn’t even go in the water the last day.  We might be the last AFS group to ever go on this trip because so many people got sick, some of them even went to the hospital for overnight stays.  I managed to get sick the night after I got back, thankfully it wasn’t on the plane like the majority of AFSers.  The Amazon is a tough environment to live in, even for Brazilians.  Adventurous travelers still have limits and I guess the majority of us are still discovering them.

I had an unforgettable experience in the Amazon that will always be close to my heart.

As of today, I have 36 days left in Brazil.  36 days to do everything I think I missed out on during my time here, 36 days left with my best friends and family I have cultivated here.  There are definitely things I’ll miss here, and some things
I won’t really miss.  Being here has definitely made me have a different perspective on the world, people, and different cultures.  It’s what I needed before I head to college in the biggest city in the US.  My values, goals, and opinions have changed drastically here since I’ve been exposed to life in another country as a local.  Even though it’s a huge roller coaster and I’ve come across emotions here that I’ve never experienced in my life such as building strong relationships with people from different corners of the Earth and not knowing when you’ll be able to see them next.  But now I can’t imagine my life without this experience and the people I’ve met throughout it.


One week ago when I chatted on facebook with my sister, I found myself crying for the first time this year.  My grandpa went to the hospital after falling and hitting his head.  I contemplated on going home there, on the spot.  Once in a while, exchange students go through crises.  Mine happens once a month more or less- probably during PMS, but it still counts.  I doubted everything I had gone through on my exchange, whether all of the great moments I had here outweighed the terrible ones, and whether my exchange would progress any further these next 3 months I have to endure.  Endure sounds harsh, but at times, I honestly feel like that’s what I’m doing here, enduring.

Exchange is a whole lot of being bored out of your mind, tolerating people because you really have to, and doing things because you have to.  For example, my host-father is recently retired and he enjoys sharing everything Ouro Branco has to offer because God forbid the American exchange student miss something here and say Brazil is just a bunch of indios!  Last Friday, he took me to a vegetable and fruit market and explained all of the different species of potatoes, okras, beets, and pears that exist here.  I realized for the first time how tolerable I’ve become here; I have so much more patience than ever.  I listened to him talk, actively asked questions because I was semi-interested for the entire 50 minutes while the rest of the people in the market stared in amazement and sympathy.  It’s little self-recognitions like this that demonstrate how much living in another environment can really help one better themselves.

When I think about why I was put into a town like Ouro Branco with a population of 35,000 narrow-minded and provincial people and no mall or movie theater, I convince myself that one day in the great scheme of things, I’ll completely understand the purpose Ouro Branco had on me.  Sometimes I think that this entire exchange has been mundane and uneventful, that I would have achieved so much more progress and knowledge by staying in Orlando and taking up 5 AP classes.  But in those warm moments I have here with the great, simple, humble people I’ve met here always make me realize “Oh, this is why I’m here!!” and it occurs to me like an epiphany.  Ouro Branco isn’t Rio de Janeiro or Florionópolis, for sure.  It’s not a destination tourists want to visit and it’s not necessarily the ideal city for young adults and adults to live in since nothing really happens here.  But it’s still a place.  It was that random town I was placed into and that random Catholic school I now am considered a part of with those random classmates who frequent my school who are now my closest friends.  It’s a place with people I’m going to miss so much more than I know now when I’m missing my family and friends in Orlando.  It’s completely normal because what’s taking place is you’re splitting your heart in two places, or planting some of your roots or leaving some of your seeds there so you have another established home there, wherever they’re placed. But you won’t be able to ever be over there to care for the tree (life) that grew and continues to grow there, so it gradually dies.  It’s not easy to just pick up and go from an exchange since you know if you ever happen to come back, you’ll never have the same situation you had.  This whole life you create on another part of the world just comes and goes, and it’s really fast once the majority of it has past.

I have done something not even 2,000 American students participate in per year.  I went out of my way to get extra credits in order to come to a school in a foreign country where I would be instructed in a foreign language and expected to do tests in that language.  I had time to really reflect and discover new layers of myself I would have never cultivated had I stayed in my comfort zone.  This all accounts for the experience.

Last weekend was a weekend that made me think “I want to stay here forever,” because I really did love being in secluded waterfalls and forests.  These kinds of moments make me just marvel at how beautiful this country really is, and how much of it is preserved.  I can say that even though I’m completely miserable with all of these brutal bug bites that have been all over me for over a week.  I have no idea what awaits me in the amazon.
My American friend from UPittsburgh is doing university study abroad at UniCampinas in São Paulo.  He decided to visit me for a weekend to grace me with his presence.  No, he actually just wanted to see some waterfalls. haha


Carnaval was like a week of a porky pig’s fest.  Not that it’s a bad thing or anything. I’m just figuring out that partying just might be the #1 national interest (well, maybe after beer) of these people and after 8 months of being here, that kind of makes me sick.

Buuuut in all its glory, I heard classic Carnaval songs that play every.single.year as well as saw a parade of the famous Recife “bunhecas” or dolls.  I took a picture with one which you can see below.

It occurred to me that Brazilian men love heels, dresses, and makeup.  They actually wait the entire year to dress up as a beautified woman for the 4 days of Carnaval.  They look like this.

We were able to see 2 neighboring beach towns one being called Buzios and the other Arrail do Cabo.  Both of them didn’t have carnaval.  Buzios is an artisan tourist town that was full of Europeans and Argentinans.  It’s really charming and there are great restaurants and boutiques to shop in.  Arrail do Cabo is known for the beautiful beaches with freezing water.  Thank God we went there on the only sunny day we had.

The rest was just everything I expected.  The first two days of carnaval, people are already drunk, adults and teenagers already loose some of their integrity, guys are already assaulting girls for a kiss, people are selling all kinds of things to rip you off, but that’s Brazil… even more-so, Cariocas.  It’s great for the first few hours because all of the music is new.  But if you’re unlucky to be with someone who never gets tired and doesn’t think that the parties are dragging at all, you would have gotten tired like I did.  That’s why going to Buzios and Arrail do Cabo were ideal for me since they were a lot more peaceful.  The last days were just monotonous to me and the city was so revolting I didn’t even want to wear my shoes on the sidewalk.

I met some really nice kids that I still keep in touch with via facebook (like the guys who were our neighbors below).  I’m expecting a lot of visitors in Nyc since everyone here has found a place to stay and leech off of (just kidding).  I jumped off of some rocks into the deeper part of the sea and that was fun regardless of how many times I cut my hands trying to get back on the rocks.

More Pictures >>


Last weekend I spent Pre-Carnaval here in my host town with a friend.  My host family left for Sao Geraldo because of a loss in the family (the grandfather) who was suffering and sick.  I had already gone there to see the corpse and burial and decided to stay in Ouro Branco and miss the 7-days mass which is the tradition here.  I stayed at the house of my friend Thais and it was the first time I’ve ever seen Ouro Branco’s main avenue so packed with people from all of the neighboring cities.

Carnaval is probably the most important thing on the Brazilian calendar.  You can imagine what goes on during Carnaval…

Thais and me

Thais, Camila, me

Thais wanted to cut herself out.. =p


Since last month, many things have happened.  I’ve switched families, I now live with my biology professor and her daughter, traveled to Sao Geraldo, a town of 10,000 people that still has people who travel by horses and carriages, and started school again, actually having to do the work.

I moved to the Fagundes’ house about 4weeks ago and have caught up on lots of things I should have done the first 6 months of my exchange.  I hiked up the mountain range that Ouro Branco is known for, eaten tradition Mineiro food in little neighboring cities such as Itatiaia, Itavera, and Ouro Preto, and am heading to Cabo Frio for Carnaval next Friday.  I’m excited to see the beach, not too excited to be around drunk people for an entire weekend but that’s okay!

This is Cabo Frio in the state of Rio de Janeiro, where I’ll be spending Carnaval… I’ll let you know how accurate the photo is 😉

Before Carnaval, there are tons of parties to prep up for actual Carnaval.  The most common Carnaval music that’s called Axe, is being heard 24/7.  However, also the more “favelada” or ghetto music that is probably the equivalent to Reggaeton in the States is commonly heard in my little host town.  I really like the “favelada” music 🙂  Even though the people here in Ouro Branco are rather well to do, they still drink and act like modest, humble Brazilians.  Maybe that’s just how Mineiro’s are…

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5l-YrxXAuc]

an example of funk that was created in the favelas of Rio.

In Ouro Preto, I went in a cave that was used for mining during the era of slavery.  There is still lots of gold in there- I kept some of it however, I don’t think it will be worth anything when I go back to the US..

pieces of gold…

My host family

 

The waterfall inside the mine.

 

A church in Ouro Preto.  Me & my host sister Veronica.


I visited Varginha which is pretty much the equivalent to the Roswell, New Mexico of Brazil. It’s located in the southeastern region of Minas and has just a population of approximately 120,000 people.  It’s “famous” for UFO sightings but I really think it’s all a lie to draw tourists to the city.

I wasn’t visiting Varginha because of the “UFO” sightings.  I went there to visit the other American exchange student, Joelle, who was doing a semester program and therefore was graduating since the academic year ends in December.  The formatura (graduation party) was huge with a lot of good finger food and live music.

Joelle’s host brother

I was also able to meet up with the Italian exchange student (Gianfranco), the 2 German girls, and the French exchange student who all are hosted in Varginha. I ate acai, the best berry in the world.  We shopped, since I don’t have a real mall here in my host town, and we went to a barbeque at the German girl, Lisi’s, host family’s house with some of her Brazilian classmates and all of the exchange students.  It was a good weekend in the interior of Minas.  The accent is pretty ugly though, in my opinion.  They speak Portuguese with a heavy English R.

Joelle and Gianfranco

so life in Varginha revolves around acai, pretty much.

My camera was stolen in Varginha, unfortunately.  So right now all I have is my instant polaroid camera.  I’ll probably start scanning the polaroids to upload onto my blog from now on.

 

Oh, and I was accepted to NYU class of 2015!  I’m going to NYC next fall.  🙂


Satisfying the Brazilian palate isn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.
I am on summer vacation as of yesterday.  So this morning I woke up, not wanting to eat beans and rice for the 125th day in a row (but I still like beans and rice).  I decided to cook summer pasta that my mom taught me how to make which is really simple.  I wasn’t satisfied with the result but my entire family liked it, unless they were lying.  😀 haha

My mom would be happy to hear I cooked for 6 people on my own.  I love to eat but I’m lazy to cook.  So being here in Brazil during summer vacations is teaching me things I would have never learned had I stayed in Orlando for my senior year.

 

What should I try next?? Cocovan?? Escargot?? 😀