Brazil: My First Time in South America was INCREDIBLE.

Well my first time in South America was INCREDIBLE. I’m sure I will say this after every port, but I would love to go back at some point! Where to start…

We docked in Manaus, a huge city in Brazil. I didn’t get to explore around the city too much, but it was your typical huge city: lots of people, lots of crowds, lots of narrow pathways, and very dirty…not the biggest fan of big cities. The first day we spent exploring around the city, setting up camp on the riverboat, eating amazing Brazilian food, seeing the meeting of the rivers, and learning a lot about Brazil.

For everyone who thinks Portuguese is similar to Spanish…that is 100% false. This was the first country that I had ever been to that I really could not communicate well with the locals. When I was in Greece, everyone spoke English. In Nicaragua, everyone speaks Spanish and I could at least hold a conversation. In Dominica, everyone spoke English. It was a real challenge having a language barrier, but we worked through it and I learned some Portuguese words along the way! It is currently rainy season in Brazil and boy was it rainy, but it was awesome with all the humidity to have the temperature cool down once in a while. Rainy season also means MALARIA SEASON, yay! Surprisingly, I think I came back bug-bite-free! They have some HUGE insects in the Amazon…spiders bigger than my hand.

Our tour guide’s wife was our cook on the riverboat and she made some AMAZING food! For breakfast we had eggs, tapioca, cornbread, biscuits with ham and cheese, fresh fruit (watermelon, oranges, papaya, and pineapple- yum!), fried plantains, and freshly squeezed juice. For lunch we would have fried chicken or fish, rice, fresh vegetables, and spaghetti. For dinner we would have beef, chicken, or fish, rice, pasta, vegetables, and fruit. And we had some awesome desserts; flan and guava! The food was incredible, I ate like a Queen. They also mixed up their famous cocktails for us, caipirinhas. They are made with sugar cane rum, sugar, and limes…very tasty!

So our first night was spent on the riverboat, it had about 30 kids on it and we slept in hammocks at night…very comfy! The first day we went out to the meeting of the rivers…the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes. These rivers are both tributaries of the Amazon River. It was really interesting, the waters don’t mix because of different pH levels, the different directions of flow, the different temperatures, etc., and hence there is a distinct ‘line’ where the Rio Negro meets the Rio Solimoes. They run side by side without mixing for over 4 miles, wow! Then we went on a hike, saw some GIANT lily pads, and saw some caiman as well. They were pretty big, wouldn’t wanna fall into that water, that’s for sure.

The second day was spent sleeping in the Amazon Rainforest, an amazing experience. We took a 4 hour hike in the morning and learned so much about the different types of trees, plants, and animals. One of our guides, Manuel, was hysterical. He ran around the rainforest barefoot (he owns shoes, but refuses to wear them and says that the soles of his feet are super thick), used his machete to cut us a path, and out of nowhere would reach into the river and pull out a baby caiman…this guy could literally have his own show on the Discovery Channel.Manuel lives very far from Manaus, the nearest city, and he can only get there by boat, so he really has to fend for himself. Almost every plant we passed while hiking he stopped us and told us what it could be used for and how to use it, he taught us how to scare off a jaguar if we crossed paths with one, and he taught us how if you crush a certain type of ant all over your hands it becomes insect repellent.

The lifestyle of the local people that we encountered was amazing. Everything they eat is fresh and local, nothing is processed, all of their medicines come from the plants surrounding them, and they don’t waste anything. They have the most sustainable lifestyle I have ever seen. In the U.S. all we eat is processed this, that, and the other thing, it’s no wonder we are so obese! How many times in the past week have you taken Advil, Nyquil, Dayquil, Adderall, Tums, etc. I know it all helps, but we use it so excessively. Every medicine they need, they take from the trees and plants and these people are the healthiest looking people I have ever seen! It amazes me. So next time you head is pounding for a little, you can’t fall asleep for an hour, or you stub your toe, think about if you really want to be putting all that medicine and pills into your system. In other countries, people survive without 99% of the crap Americans put into their bodies. I am proud to say I have only taken Advil once and I don’t plan on taking it ever again!

We walked past one tree and our guide cut a V into it and out came this white, milk-like substance. He put it on my hand and because of my body temperature it instantly turned into rubber…and there ya have it, a rubber tree!

That afternoon we visited a local indigenous village for a few hours. We played soccer with the kids (5 year olds were kicking our buts, they are AMAZING athletes), we did arts and crafts with the girls, and we saw their school (they are taught Portuguese as well as their local language, which only they can understand…it is like a secret language, it is never written down, only spoken). Check this out…instead of school buses the kids ride school BOATS to school (still the same ugly, mustard, yellow color).

The night of the jungle: unsure why, but we decided to hike into the rainforest and set up camp after the sun had already gone down. We took a sort hike into the rainforest and started to set up our hammocks. I set mine up under a wood frame with no tarp over it because I wanted to see the stars. Well, as rainy season normally goes…it rained all night. The trees blocked most of the rain, but I got to sleep with a light drizzle coming down…it felt pretty nice and definitely kept me cool.

After we struggled with our set up, our guides built a fire, built a grill over the fire, and cooked us up some dinner! We had chicken and sausage, delicioso! We ate off of huge leaves that we ‘sanitized’ by putting them over the fire for a few seconds…questionable. We hung out by the fire all night, sang songs, played games…you know the whole camping deal. Nothing will ever compare to falling asleep in the Amazon Rainforest to the sounds of the rain and all of the surrounding animals, it was incredible. PS this is the part where Manuel casually walked up to the campsite holding a caiman in his hand and threw it on the fire, not big deal.

Overall it was an AMAZING night and I will never, ever forget how unbelievably lucky I was to have gotten the chance to do that. There was one point where I woke up in the middle of the night from a strange dream and was VERY confused as to where I was, what all of the sounds were, why it was raining, and what was going on…thank you malaria pills.

The next day it was back to the riverboat- we packed up our hammocks and headed out…at 6am (you rise when the sun rises). That day we got to swim with pink dolphins. One jumped out of the water and landed on my head…ow. It literally slapped me in the face, I hope you are all picturing this happening right now. Later that day we went fishing for Piranha in little canoes. No, I didn’t catch any 🙁 but a few others did and their teeth are SUPER sharp! Fun fact: we went swimming in piranha infested water; they are scared of humans and won’t bite you…unless you are bleeding.

After that we went on a night canoe ride to go catch some gator! The guide was unbelievable, he would be able to spot them from SO far away…I guess it is his job, but still! He would use a single flashlight and scan over the water, you can see them because their eyes reflect the light and you see two big red eyeballs (similar to getting red eyes in pictures). We would slowly move towards them and he would reach down and try to catch them…he got 2, pretty impressive! He said the largest one he has ever caught with just his hands was over 4 feet, but he has seen ones that are as big as 15 feet long, AH! That is almost 3 of me! That night we cooked up some Piranha, had a lovely dinner, and enjoyed our last night of sleeping in the hammocks.

Our last morning was spent visiting an indigenous tribe. They did some ritual dances for us and then we got to dance (or attempt to dance) with them, it was very fun! They only did bits and pieces of their ritual for us, but they said that sometimes they dance for 24 hours straight…their legs are pure muscle. It was really interesting to see their lifestyle. I always imagine what it would be like to take one of them back to Westchester, NY for a week and show them how I live. In a way I think I would be embarrassed…we are all so fortunate that we live such amazing lives, yet we take so much of it for granted. I mean, not all of us…but the majority of us, and I am guilty of it as well. Food for thought! I always feel uncomfortable going to a local village and flashing cameras in these people’s faces and taking pictures with all of them, it is such a weird concept to me. Imagine someone coming to your hometown, smiling and pointing at you, and just taking picture after picture as if you are some foreign artifact…weird.

All in all, Brazil was INCREDIBLE and I would love to return someday. I still can’t believe that I got to spend a night in the Amazon Rainforest and two nights sleeping on the Amazon River, I wouldn’t trade it for anything! And showerless for 4 days, who likes showers anyway? I was amazed at how much strenuous, physical labor the Brazilians  were doing. I know I only saw one part of Brazil and there is so much more out there, but every single person that I saw was hard at work doing things that you would never see someone in the U.S. doing. Back home we just hire new immigrants to do the hard, physical labor, you rarely ever see affluent Americans working as hard as these Brazilians were. The people we met, the guides we had, and everything else along the way was phenomenal. These people are so incredibly intelligent in such a unique way. They make do with what they have, they don’t complain about anything, and they enjoy every second of their lives…as we all should!

That’s all folks! Onto Ghana…

Submitted by Theresa, Abroad101 Global Ambassador on Semester at Sea