Tonight I write this blog post with a very heavy heart. This past weekend my parents informed me that my dear dog and faithful friend of the past 15+ years Cookie passed away. Throughout the multitude of changes in my life over the past many years he has been a constant and it’s tough to imagine that when I return home in December he won’t be there to greet me at the door. When I left for Brazil in February I made sure to give him a good kiss on the head and belly rub before I left because I couldn’t be sure if I’d see him again. Nonetheless, a very large part of me wishes I had been home so that I could have said a proper goodbye to such an important part of my childhood. It’s never easy to say goodbye forever and it is a good bit harder to say goodbye from such a distance. The frailty and randomness of life assures that we seldom get the goodbyes we want and this is yet another instance of that difficult reality. To Cookie: Thank you for all the foot cleanings, tail-wagging greetings, loyalty, and unconditional love over the past 15 years. Even though you were supposedly the “runt” of the litter, you proved to be the absolute best of the bunch. You were truly one of a kind. Goodbye Diggy Doggy.
Onto news from the Amazon…
Food…VALUE, VALUE, VALUE:
I like a good food deal. In fact, I love a good food deal. Few things make my day more than getting a solid meal in for a reasonable price. Hence, during my last three years in college I was a big fan of Subway’s famous Five Dollar Foot Long (maybe it’s not a “solid” meal…but it kept my internal organs functioning at a great price). Anyways, I’m thrilled to announce that the Five Dollar Foot long finally has some company. Its name you ask? Churrascinha. It’s like a typical Brazilian churrasco…but smaller. Basically, throughout Santarém you can find little hole in the wall restaurants on every corner that will serve you grilled meat (usually chicken, beef, or sausage), rice, beans, salad and farinha (the crunchy delicious starch that people put on everything here to add texture to their food) for an amazingly low price. What is the price you ask? Tonight I ate a typical churrascinha for a grand total of 3.50 reais (that’s about $2.00). Awesome. Wonderful. Splediferous (so what if that’s not a real word?…this is my blog and I’m excited). I never thought I’d say this, but Brazilian churrascinha puts Subway to shame. I’m not going to lie…during the week I think I’m going to be pounding down a lot of churrascinha. Value, value, value…and I love every minute of it.
While I certainly plan on eating lots of churrascinha over the next nine months, rest assured that I definitely intend on branching out when I can. I’ve never been in the Amazon before and I want to try as many of the unique foods that this region offers as possible. My first such experience was yesterday when I finally consumed a bowl of Açai pulp (Donovan kept talking about it…so we decided to trek 30 minutes in the midday sun to finally get some). My limited understanding of this strange berry is that it is basically one of the healthiest fruits in the world (the pulp is loaded with all sorts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants). Even though the mass-produced version is served in drinks at health food stores back home (I guess there was an Açai craze in the U.S not long ago)…you can’t find Açai pulp outside of the Amazon because the berry goes bad after no more than a day and it only grows in the Amazon. That said, my first spoonful of Açai was absolutely, completely, and totally terrible. Worse than terrible in fact…borderline inedible…one of the most awful things I’ve ever tasted. However, I quickly learned that you don’t just eat Açai pulp by itself. Most people dump a “bleep” ton of sugar and tapioca into it to make it taste delicious. After figuring this out, I can now happily report that I enjoyed my first bowl of Açai down to the very last spoonful. Healthy and delectable…what’s not to like?
Overall, I think I’ve been pretty adventurous on the food front. I’ve never been into fish but I’ve begun dabbling in river fish from time to time. Despite the presentation (you get the WHOLE fish)…there’s a lot of really tasty stuff being pulled out of the river every day and I think I’d be severely limiting myself here if I wasn’t eating it. I’m still not totally into scooping out and eating the guts of the fish (as is commonly done)…but I certainly think progress has finally been made! It’s about time…
…oh did I mention that I’ve begun eating salad now?…Miracle? Maturity? Miracurity? (again…it’s my blog) Somewhere I know my grandmother Anyu is smiling…and it didn’t even take a 20-dollar bribe. The boy who once fed lettuce to his pet guinea pig with oven mitts is now eating salad. Whodathunkit?
No longer homeless:
Jose Luis has been a saint over the past week-plus. Whenever Donovan or I needed something he came through. He’s introduced us to lots of cool people, offered to lend us all sorts of things during our stay in Santarém, and just generally showed us the ropes of life in the Amazon. Always ready to lend a helping hand, I truly don’t know what I would have done without JL. Even though the title of this section is “No longer homeless,” because of the incredible hospitality that we’ve been shown since we arrived in Santarém there has never been a moment when I actually felt homeless.
Nonetheless, it was definitely time that we got out of JL’s hair (metaphorically…given his totally shaved head) and I am thrilled to say that we locked down a great place near the center of the city. We managed to rent a two-bedroom house one block from the riverfront for a grand total of 292 reias/person/month (that’s 170 dollars!). It’s unfurnished so we will have to buy a fridge, stovetop, and beds (although it looks like we’re both planning on getting hammocks to save a few hundred bucks for traveling…every room comes with hooks on the wall to hang a hammock)…all in all it’s a truly incredible deal. Given the fact that I paid $500/month to live in a total s*** hole in Chicago with four roommates (although it was our s*** hole…and I had a blast living there), I definitely feel like I’m moving up in the world with this place. Safe location. Friendly neighbors. Close to all sorts of good stuff. Check + all around.
So how’s the Portuguese coming along you ask? Quite well actually. The last two weeks have been a lot like the first run of a ski season. Rough and a little uncertain at first…but as you get towards the bottom of the hill you begin to feel a whole lot more comfortable and confident. During my first week in São Paulo I was a bit hesitant to use my Portuguese and found myself stumbling on words at times. However, since arriving in Santarém I can definitely say that I’ve put aside my inhibitions, spread my wings, and finally flown. I now feel like I can confidently carry on a conversation and everyday I find myself adding new words, phrases, and idioms to my Portuguese lexicon. The only thing that I find a bit frustrating is the fact that many of the conversations I have with people still exist at surface level. Without full fluency it’s really hard to have a conversation that has real depth to it (and I definitely like a good, thought-provoking conversation). One thing that should push the envelope a bit is the fact that Donovan and I have agreed to have three days a week committed to Portuguese-only conversation. As much as it’s nice having somebody who speaks English around, I think forcing myself to speak Portuguese as much possible is basically what I need to get to that next level of communication. Anyways, it should be interesting to see how my language abilities develop in the months ahead and I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
Loses his wallet…but learns a lesson or two:
It took me all of five days to leave my wallet on a bench in the Paraíso mall (my dad just shook it head and my mom just gasped…remember…I don’t tell you about my foolishness until after the fact) Stupid. Thoughtless. Naïve. You could probably call me any and all of these adjectives and you’d be spot on. I certainly wouldn’t disagree with any of them. Given the fact that my credit card and both of my debit cards were in my wallet at the time (and given my current location in the world), if I hadn’t gotten my wallet back I would have been truly F…U…See…Kay’d. The good news is I did and I’m not. The even better news is that I learned two great lessons.
First, when you’re in the Amazon don’t carry all of your cards around…ever. It’s hot here, you might be on an anti-malarial, you’re probably sunburned…big lapses of judgment happen (ok so maybe that’s not “great’ lesson, but I promise the next one is). Second, I’m a product of where I grew up and I can honestly say that throughout my life I’ve been taught to expect the worst in people…and it sucks. I won’t lie, after realizing I lost my wallet I absolutely thought to myself, “well…no chance I get the money back…maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll leave my wallet and cards.” It’s pretty damn depressing to me that I initially assumed that all my cash would be gone because I expected the worst in whoever found my wallet (I was literally shocked when each and every real was in my wallet and accounted for when I got it back). It took me all of one minute after realizing that I lost my wallet to make peace with losing my cash. Some people might call my response being a realist. Moreover, it could be argued that you need this mentality to protect yourself. I certainly can’t disagree with many aspects of that analysis. However, there is something to be said about having a little faith that other people will “do the right thing.” At least for me, it was really nice to hear the security officer who gave me back my wallet say, “Somebody just turned it in. That was really nice of them. Be more careful next time.” Amen…it was really nice of them. Many people who read this blog know that in most circumstances I’m an unapologetic optimist. In this situation I obviously wasn’t and as such I thought it was worth reflecting on a bit. Hopefully as I move forward events like this will remind me about the second half of the old adage, “Expect the worst, but HOPE FOR THE BEST.” There are a lot of trustworthy people out there and I don’t want to ever lose sight of that.
…I should probably say something about not losing my wallet again…meh.
…just kidding…I’ve started leaving my wallet at home and begun traveling around with just cash and a debit card. Not worth the risk of leaving it somewhere (like I said it’s hot here and bad decisions happen). You can breathe now Dad…seriously.
- I went to my first Brazilian soccer game earlier this week. São Reimundo (Santarém’s “big” team) played a team from Belem to a 1-1 draw. Even though São Reimundo is in Brazil’s third division, you can still feel an almost obsessive passion for the team. One of the most bizarre aspects São Reimundo’s stadium is that the field is surrounded on all sides by a 20-foot deep moat filled with water. I guess the moat exists to prevent fans from invading the field and stirring up trouble. Talk about intense.
- Got some of my first futebol in on Thursday. It was a full 11 v 11 game with guys ranging from 15 to 50 years old. Loads of fun. It was also amazing to see guys well into their 40’s still have the hips to pull off some of the moves they were throwing down on the field (the oldest guy on the field pulled off a bicycle kick with complete ease…no joke). Just a great experience overall and the perfect way to meet people. Also, all of my teammates refer to me as “Gringo” when we play. Both hilarious and fitting.
- First dance class is tomorrow night…awesomeness. More in next week’s post.
- It rained all day last Friday. It was the first day of weather that I’ve truly enjoyed here. How messed up is that? Bem-vindos a vida Santarena! #Amazon Problems
- Hammock is officially purchased. Should be an interesting way to sleep for the next nine months.
- I’m not sunburned yet.