Saturday, July 28, 2007

on the road again

Another moment to take a breath here so thought I would jot down some more thoughts. Usually I'm composing emails in my head as we tour around but I think this crazy existence is starting to feel a bit too much like normal life and I really have to think for inspiration! I've got my travel diary beside me so I can remember all we've been up to. Let me do another quick count - yes we're now in town number 10 and it must be about day 19 - half way through already!

The last few towns have all seemed very similar. Basic formula for a Brazilian country town is a central square which might have a fountain or bit of garden with a place for locals to gather, flanked by a church/cathedral and the prefeitura or town hall. Probably a police station close by too. Shops and houses are quite mixed up - the nicest houses are just out of the centre of town and the poor areas surround each town, usually climbing high up the hills.

Alem Paraiba

Everyone (other than the very poor) has some kind of security - the houses a wrought iron gate with intercom to announce visitors and the apartments a burly security guard who has to buzz you through. We visited one closed community with its own gatehouse and guards.

The roads are mostly cobbled which we found charming at first but they get a bit wearing! Mechanics and suspension specialists do pretty well I reckon. They have speed bumps everywhere including on the highways. We travelled 45 km in about 1.5 hrs on the federal highway from Viçosa to Visconde do Rio Branco where the road has fallen away in places due to landslips, and the potholes are more like manholes - add to this the fact that this is a busy manufacturing/agricultural area and they did away with the railway system about 20 years ago - makes for some hairy commuting. All the cars have a modification which locks all the doors as you start to drive and all the (electric) windows automatically wind up when you take the keys out and lock up.

The road to Vicosa

We arrived today in Mariana and it's the first time we have seen tourists! It's a beautiful city, the oldest in the state. It was founded around 1700 during a gold rush and has heaps of amazing colonial architecture. The region is an archdiocese and the insides of the cathedral are crusted with pure gold leaf. It's the cultural centre of the region too so while we're here it's all museums, history, music and culture - not complaining.


Vocational visits continue to be fascinating and challenging. We tend to attend the visits as a team so I've seen plenty of schools, council offices, physical activity programs, farms and abbotoirs as well as universities, hospitals and charities but many of our interests overlap so it's been enlighening for all of us.

Yes you read that correctly - abbotoirs - well meat processing plants - both chicken and pork - two days ago at "Saudali Alimentos" we dressed in white tracksuits and gumboots and witnessed the pork production line right from the little squealers to the smoked bacon and sausages. A very clean, modern, humane and hygenic facility - similar I imagine to large plants in Australia. VERY challenging but I am actually glad I saw it - not quite enough to turn me vegetarian (though we declined the product samples right afterwards) but definitely good to think about where our food comes from.

Had a good stay in Viçosa which is a university town about the same size as Launceston. The public Federal University there is one of the best in Brazil and has 15000 students - there are 30 applications for every place. It's a beautiful campus on 300 acres and has its own hotel, restaurant, school, supermarket and rainforest reserve. My host is a professor in the Food Science department working in the area of probiotics - so Yakult for breakfast each morning. Nice to stay for three days this time in a cool apartment with hosts who speak good english - I'm all about the cultural experience but sigh - sometimes its nice to be understood.

In the garden of the Hotel Parque Nacional do Caparaó

Ok, will see if I can get some more pics off my camera - sorry the file size is a bit big but I can't resize them here. Have taken about 500 so far (yes in 19 days) so hands up who wants to come round for the slide night when I get home?!


Monday, July 16, 2007

same same but different

Wow this is a slow process - just added another bunch of photos to my flickr set. I have a good excuse for the lack of updates - we had a beautiful weekend away in Bridport complete with beaches, pelicans, platypus and a proposal. So it looks like the next big adventure is getting married. Wahoo!

Ola amigos,

Now in Manuminin, our 6th city in 10 days or thereabouts. We're heading more towards the mountains now, today went to an amazing national park 'Parque Nacional do Caparaó' and drove to the top of a mopuntain maybe 2000 m tall - bella vista over the coffee and eucalypt plantations and national park below.

Parque Nacional do Caparaó

A day of nice views, waterfalls (cachoerias), forest (floresta) and beautiful gardens (umm..... bem gardinarios?!?) was just what I needed after the last few days - kind of hit the wall yesterday with a day of nine vocational visits in a row (W and his pedometer said we walked 10 km - in one place they seriously showed us everything including the disabled toilets and storage rooms), trying to speak portuguese all day, having to pack up and move after one night, stress of a dodgy home hosts (not mine thankfully), heat, fatigue, etc. Pretty sorry for myself and missing home. Oh well it's all part of the experience eh! And today was better.

We have had some very interesting tours in the last few days. Yesterday we visited a coffee plantation and processing facility called Santa Clara (coffee club at work will be happy to hear we were given some factory-direct coffee - though I might want to drink it myself after getting a taste for it here for five weeks). They export to Australia so you might even be able to buy it there in Woolies.

Santa Clara coffee processing plant

The vocational side of things is looking up - we have visited two very impressive universities which specialise in health education, both less than five years old with some really modern equipment and facilities. I met a guy who is employed in a role very similar to mine and even better, eight years ago he was an exchange student in Moree so we could actually share a bit of information we could both understand!! One of them called 'Faminas' is beside a new cancer hospital which is the second biggest facility in Brazil. Huge contrast to the terrible facility we visited in Cataguases. But contrast is a very appropriate and frequently used word in this country!

On a professional level, my traffic policeman friends would be either horrified or having a field day with the traffic here (probably both). For a start Brazilians drive on the wrong side of the road. Or I should say they opposite side to Australia - though even with that disclaimer they are still often driving on the wrong side!! Double lines mean nothing. You pass people wherever you like and usually tailgate them as a warning you're about to pass. At least you know you're going in a straight line when you are driving in the emergency lane. Watch out for stray dogs and the occasional stray horse, plus the bicycles, motorcycles, horse and cart and pedestrians who walk wherever they like. They laugh at us when we put on our seatbelts! One of our hosts conducted four or five mobile conversations while navigating the traffic in the CBD. When I said 'oh in Australia you are not allowed to talk and drive' he said 'oh yes same here!' while dialing another number. The only time he put on his seatbelt was when passing the police station - then took it off again 5 mins down the road. Ah fun. Never a dull moment!

Coffee plantations

The food is still good - though we've all had a few interesting gastro-moments. The speciality here is Pão de queijo, a yummy cheese-bread which has a normal crust and the middle is all like melted cheese. One great dessert (and there are many) is a slab of white cheese (very young, a bit like sweet fetta), this fruity jelly-jam kind of stuff and a big glob of caramel sticky sauce - one of our hosts said when you put them together it was like Shakespeare - 'like Romeo and Juliet'!!!

Pão de queijo (cheese bread mmmm)

Interesting food experiences include marinated BBQ chicken hearts, big slabs of pig skin in the fejoada and... wait for it... KFC frog. Well not really - we had dinner at a seafood restaurant (which had us worried to start with as the sea is a very long way from Muriaé) and frog is apparently a speciality. It was grilled and some was battered with secret herbs and spices - kind of like chicken but I didn't eat much.

Anyway that's probably enough for today! We move again tomorrow - on the road again - things are good and it's lots of fun.


Jill :-)

PS. Apparently anyone who has been to Thailand will know the title of this post - when in a restaurant asking 'is this chicken?' the reply is 'same same......... but different'. This phrase is getting a good run here in Brasil.............

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Monday, July 09, 2007

tu da bem

Another letter from the other side of the world....

Ola amigos,

Wow (nossa) where do I start? This place and this program is like nothing else I could ever imagine.

We officially started the exchange in Alem Paraiba on Monday (I think - time is weird and we are chaufferred everywhere so no need to know the time or date really) and we're now at our second town of Cataguases - two nights at each.

Alem Paraiba is a smallish country town, about 34000 people. The first night we were there they organised for us a mini-Carneval, complete with a deafening 'bateria' of 50 men with drums of various sizes, fantastic costumes, 'mulattas' or samba-dancing girls wearing strategically placed sequins and not much else, singers and students of the local 'samba school' - the Carneval in Rio is essentially many different samba schools competing aginst each other - most small towns have their own samba school and carneval every year.

Queen of the Carneval

There were speeches and a million photos, as the guests of honour we had to dance the samba for the first time in front of practically the whole town. The boys tried 'capoeira' (a dance-like martial art originating from the time of slaves in Brazil) and were also invited to join the bateria (I would have like to try that but no girls allowed). Far out, I can't even describe it adequately. It totally blew us away and this was just the first night of the exchange program. The photos in no way do it justice.


Since then it's been a blur of vocational and cultural activities. In Alem Paraiba we visited a historic horse farm with a big mansion dating back to colonial times. Yesterday in Cataguases we visited two foundations for the less fortunate in the city, one entirely funded by the hydro-electric company here is a Cultural Centre where children can learn traditional dance for free; another had an amazing range of programs including puppet making, recycled art, computers where kids can do their homework, clown doctors, weaving, something like U3A, all funded by a large textile company in the town. We actually went to the factory today which was amazing too, seeing the transformation of raw cotton into thread then fabric just like you would buy in Spotlight. Maybe we do? We also went to the hospital here which is in pitiful condition. We think that our health system is bad - no way. Last stop was a nursery school for children who live in the poor areas - very cute but sad to hear of their family situation.

The social side of things is pretty huge too. On our last day in Alem Paraiba we we were hosted for a Brazilian BBQ or 'churrasco' at a cattle farm - another huge lavish house with swimming pool etc..... our hosts are not all serious - they admitted the next day that they were trying to get us drunk on cerveja (beer), cacaça (42% alcohol - like vodka distilled from sugar cane) and capirinia (lime and cacaça) so that we would be more entertaining when giving our formal presentation to the club that night but they were the ones who ended up too drunk to attend the meeting! The presentation went well actually - everyone could understand our portuguese which was surprising.


Last time I spent some time emailing here in this little room in the hotel I walked out and had a quick jolt 'oh that's right I'm in Brazil!'. Some things have been pretty confronting but we are really being looked after so well, and have each other for support and a sounding board, it's just an amazing experience. Next stop we are being hosted in families we've been told - but things change all the time so we just take it as it comes. Two mottos so far - 'go with the flow' and more importantly 'it's all part of the experience'!!

It seems to be getting hotter each city we visit. Today was around 28 or so but also quite humid. In summer it is more like 45 so glad we didn't come then.

'Tu da bem' is everyone's favourite saying here - it's all good. The portuguese is going ok. I can read more than I understand people speaking. It's my bad memory that gets in the way of being able to speak more. We have translators in Catagueses but they have helped us to learn a few more words too.

Better go - another presentation tonight then off to Muriae tomorrow. These places are all on Wikipedia if you want to see more.

Tchau for now

Jill xo

PS. My new futeball team is Flamengo - Vive Flamengo!!!


Sunday, July 08, 2007


I thought I might cheat a bit and recycle the emails I sent home from Brazil. That way you really get the on-the-ground, up-to-the-minute emotion and feel of the experience hey? It's not just because I'm lazy no no no....... is this the face of someone who would avoid the mundane return to an ordinary existence?
[This is actually the face of someone who has no idea she is about to drink a lot more beer (cerveja) than she has ever drunk in her life over an extended number of days - that's every day for at least the first 30 days in a row!]

Ola amigos,

I made it to Brazil! The flight was loooooong.... We left Hobart at 7am on Friday and arrived in Rio about 2am on Saturday - doesn´t sound too bad but it was about 30 hours worth, including stops in Auckland, Santiago (Chile) and Sao Paulo. Less said about the flight the better - though in my strange half-awake time-wierd world I spent quite a lot of time reflecting on how bizarrely easy it is to get on a plane and end up on the other side of the world without too much effort at all. At times the little map on our mini TV screens said we were travelling at 1000 km/hr and more than 10 km above the crust. Nossa! (new word for today - wow)

View from on high

We were met at the airport by a fellow who is helping to coordinate the exchange, Jose, and Wellington who we met in Hobart a couple of months ago (useful guy to have around as he´s an English teacher). Jose has been hanging out with us over the last couple of days. We´re staying in a hotel to get over the jet lag and get used to the way things work here before the exchange officially starts tomorrow.

Teresopolis is about an hour out of Rio, up in the mountains. It was a shame we didn´t get to see any of Rio at all before heading up here but we have a few days at the end to check out the touristy bits and pieces. So far it´s all about the food - lunch is the biggest meal of the day and dinner is usually light - but when it´s a special occasion (like hosting 'important guests' from Australia) you will also have a big dinner - which means I am going to come back the size of a house!

Main Street, Teresopolis

It's all very tasty, lots of rich dishes with pork or beef, lots of casserole type things, sausages/salami, lots of fried or creamy or cheesy. Not many veggies! The ubiquitous rice and beans appear at every meal, must admit I haven't tried the beans yet. Every meal also has dessert, super-sweet cakes and custard type things. Breakfast is fruit then bread rolls with cheese and sliced meats, plus CAKE (bolo)! We have been a bit excited about trying everything so far but I think I'll need to pace myself a bit so I don't have to buy a whole new set of clothes :-)

Today we toured the facility where the Brazilian futebol team is selected and trains. The gun-toting security guard showed us through - they have their own barber, small-scale cinema, accommodation and special room for strategy and game plans. The Brazilian 'feminin' team was actually there for selection today though we left before we got to see them training. Very cool anyway. We also visited the 'Parque Nacional da Serra dos Orgaos' which is a preserved patch of Atlantic rainforest. The Orgaos bit is because the rocks look like organ pipes! The mountains are crazy spectacular.... and this is all before we have even officially started our exchange.

Confederacao Brasileira de Futebol

Another exciting thing from today was my first purchase using 'reals' - Quanto custa? How much is it? The tricky bit is understanding the answer. All good so far.

Anyway tomorrow we head to Alem Paraiba, about 2.5 hrs drive, to meet our first home stay families. Alem Pariabanos are famous for making the best 'feijoada' which is Brazil's national dish - pork with rice and beans. Hmm.

Well that's it from this Australiano for now.

Boa tarde

Jill xoxoxoxo

PS. A few more photos on Flickr