The First Port

Trip Start Aug 26, 2008
Trip End Dec 14, 2008

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Bahia,
Thursday, September 11, 2008

So I returned from Iguacu Falls sometime mid day yesterday. It was such an amazing trip. I was a little hesitant going in because most of the people I've been hanging out with since getting onboard the ship were either going to Rio or heading to Lencois for hiking through the jungle. I knew one person, but quickly met a few more and had a core group of four people. It was me, Shawn, Laura-Flynn, and Sarah. We. Had. A. Blast. It was a four and a half hour flight to Igaucu and as soon as we got there we met our guide Carlos and headed off to the falls.
One thing I didn't realize until I got there was how many falls comprise 'Iguacu Falls.' It's actually miles of waterfalls, some small, most of them extraordinarily large. We started with dinner at the top of the main fall. We couldn't really see anything from our look out, but you could hear the water and you could see the formation of the falls. Then we started our hike about a mile away and every time we turned a corner we discovered another fall, each one with It's own unique beauty but at the same time progressively getting larger and more full. Turns out in 2005 there was a massive flood and all of the falls linked together to make one enormously large fall. I would have loved to have seen that.
The entire time we were hiking we were meeting new people which were cool.
When we got to the bottom of the main fall, which is called devil's throat, we all walked out on the platform for some more waterfall shot. On the hike up to devil's throat there was a man, a Japanese tourist, who seemed pretty fascinated with our student trip. He kept asking me questions and he spoke rather good English so as we hiked and took pictures I talked with him and his wife. Turns out he is from Tokyo, Japan and gave me his card. It was in Japanese so I can't read it, but I think I might try to find him when we get there so he can show us around. He was very friendly.
I literally took 600 pictures in the last 3 days. Many of them seem repetitive but each one is so awesome I can't bring myself to delete any of them. However, some of my favorite pictures came from the bottom of devil's throat. The water was actually super clear and there was one fall in particular connected to devil's throat that kept producing a rainbow at the bottom. It looked like something out of a movie, but as our journey progressed I probably got pictures of 20 falls all doing the same; this was just the first one.
After we got to the bottom of devil's throat our trip into the falls was done for the day. We rode an elevator up to the top, hopped on the bus, and headed to our hotel to check-in. The hotel was really nice and we each had a roommate except one of the life-long-learners that was on the trip with us. His name was Daniel and he was actually pretty awesome. He hung out with the kids each night before we went out and had a few beers with us and chatted. He also had a cooler/backpack that he brought with him the second day into the park so that we could each have a beer for the hike. Our chaperone was one of the nurse's onboard the ship and she was a blast. She was so much more laid back than most of the adults on the ship. As long as everyone was safe, she didn't care what we did. In fact she ripped a couple of shots with us at the pool at the hotel after dinner the first night.
Dinner the first night was basically one crazy party. All of us had a couple of drinks before we went out and then my group of four people drank six bottles of wine at dinner in addition to a few drinks that were included and a few more that Daniel got us. The food was amazing. It was a Brazillian barbeque restaurant, which is Brazil's famous restaurant style. Endless amounts of grilled meat and unique vegetables and tables and tables of desserts. As we ate the restaurant had a show of dancing and singing by each of the three countries neighboring Iguacu that represented their individual cultures. Brazil was a Samba routine, Argentina was the tango, and Paraguay had a mariachi band. So as we proceeded to party through dinner and gorge ourselves on delicious food we were also watching locals dancing and singing. Half way through the night I got a tap on my shoulder and turns out I happened to be sitting directly behind the Japanese tourist I bumped into on the falls! I couldn't believe it. We had a toast of wine and chatted a little more, but his party left early while we stayed for most of the night.
Shawn, Sarah, and Lara-Flynn were a blast to hang out with. I don't think I've laughed that hard in years. I definitely laughed more in the past three days than I have in a very long time. We were all dancing and joking through dinner and just having a blast because we're at school, but drinking at a local Brazilian grill in Iguacu, Brazil. It still doesn't feel real. After our dinner we headed back to the hotel to continue our party at the pool and invited all the SAS kids to join. It didn't last long because most of us were tired but it was great drinking with everyone and getting to know all these kids from all over the country.
The next morning was surprisingly easy to get moving. After six bottles of wine and an unnamed amount of beers and a local drink named camperinas (which tastes similar to a mojito but is made with local sugar cane liquor and used with lime and sugar and has been a huge hit with us SAS kids) I didn't think we would be alive to head back to the falls. But we got up to a ridiculous breakfast at our hotel and got moving around 8 AM. This time we traveled into the Argentinean side of the falls and headed into the jungle to get to some falls. The jungle trip was cool, we all got onto old Argentine army trucks and were driving through some old military trails to get to where our boat ride would begin. We all got onto these little hybrid speed/whitewater rafting boats and took off up Iguacu river towards the falls. We actually took the boat under the falls, like 10 times. It was so much fun. You couldn't hear or see anything because there was soo much water gushing into the boat and soaking everyone and everything. They have a guy who videotapes the trip and Shawn bought the DVD. I'm planning on burning it from him so everyone can see me get hammered by a waterfall. This is a picture of the waterfall that we went under so many times. You can see one of the little speed boats driving away from their trip under the water.
After getting soaked we hiked up the side of a few of the falls getting some amazing pictures. This is where my favorite rainbow/waterfall picture came from and it was just to the right of the waterfall that we ran the boat under. After hiking for quite awhile we got to an area to break for lunch and we had.... Brazilian barbecue. I didn't know it at the time but this was going to be a reoccurring theme for the entire trip because the bbq's were conveniently stationed along all the tourist areas we were and left little else to eat. They are expensive, but they are worth it. After lunch we took a train up to the top of devil's throat for the climax of the trip. I've never seen Niagra falls, but I don't even know if I want to after seeing the top of these falls. It was unbelievable. It was so loud it was difficult to talk casually because of all the water flow. There was so much mist in the air it was hard to see anything besides the waterfalls because the mist clouds all the scenery around the area. The river leading up to the falls is so placid and large, its hard to believe it turns into such a raging waterfall. The rock that's under the river and at the base of the waterfalls is a type of volcanic rock that is one of the hardest rocks on earth, which has allowed the falls to maintain their shape and water flow for so long, and will continue to do so in the future. A pretty cool feature I thought.
After staring in awe at devil's throat we went back to the bus and headed to one of the most impressing situations I've ever seen. We visited a local village of a native tribe which has been displaced since the government took over the jungle for national park. The name of the tribe was the Guarani and they were the most prevalent local tribe before Portuguese and Spanish influence in the area. It was extraordinarily disheartening pulling up to such a poverished group of people on a tour bus. I didn't feel right getting out of a luxury motorcoach with a bunch of white kids taking pictures of some ethnic tribe. To make matters worse the tour group had arranged for the children of the village to sing and play a traditional song for us once our tour concluded. Our guide is a native of the area, but does not belong to the tribe, yet he had befriended many of them and was helpful in me trying to speak with the locals since he spoke their dialect. After speaking with the locals a little bit and seeing some of their homes and watching the children play I began to change my perspective. I saw two of the local boys walking with their arms around each other on their way to play with the other kids and I rarely see kids in the states smile the way these kids did. The same seemed to be true in all the areas we saw of the tribe. There wasn't a high mortality rate, the men farmed a small plot of land and hunted for food or bought food from proceeds from selling crafts at the market. They had everything they needed and wanted. Most of them wore modern clothes and one family even had a tv but the vast majority seemed very traditional. I asked (through our tour guide) one of the locals who was showing us around about the structure of their society, their religious affiliation, and a few random questions about their culture. They have a council who governs the village composed of the shaman (their religious and spiritual leader) and the five eldest men of the tribe. All decisions whether it be cultural or civil dispute are settled by this council. The Guarani are famous for their knowledge of medicinal herbs so much that a university from Canada travels to this village to ask the shaman for herbal knowledge. They take the tribes suggestions to labs and test them for effectiveness and our guide Carlos said that something like 90% of their medicines have been or are being processed into medicines for mass production to the western public. This tribe is more medically advanced then most small cities in the states and they do so with nothing but natural herbs their ancestors have taught them how to use in the jungle.
They were poor by our standards, but rich in ways that most people don't understand or appreciate anymore. They've managed to remain relatively unimpacted by growing cities and western influence. The only thing that bothered me by the end of the visit was that since pharmacy availability is increasing and there is a pill for every ail these days our guide told us that the Guarani are loosing their medical knowledge and are expected to become fully reliant on western medicine in the future. Furthermore since tourism had increased they have seen more profit from crafts and are able to purchase food more and more frequently instead of hunting and farming. I don't anticipate they will ever stop completely, but they are loosing parts of their culture to this influence and after playing with the local children, watching them sing, shooting one of their bow and arrows (yeah I shot it, and yeah I would starve in the jungle - I'm a terrible shot) talking with the local guide about their government and religion it definitely bugged me to see them lose this. All in all though, the experience was very eye opening and will be the subject for at least two of my papers onboard the ship.
That night just Shawn, Laura-Flynn, and me went out to dinner to some local restaurant. It was one of the best meals I've ever had in my life. We didn't wasn't to do another barbecue (we ate at two more before the trip was through) so we asked our guide Carlos to recommend a local favorite to us. So we hopped in a cab and took off for some restaurant I can't pronounce the name of to eat food whose names I can't pronounce either. We had two bottles of my favorite wines; one of Malbec, one of Gewurtztraminer. Malbec is a wine from Argentina and I figured since we were so close to the border I had to try it. Shawn and Sarah didn't like red so I ordered Gewurtz for them even though they ended up loving the malbec so we all shared. We shared all of our food too. Sarah is fluent in Spanish and French and so she was able to decipher large parts of the Portuguese menu. We ate calamari, a local vegetable similar to potatoes, some unfreaking believable seafood queso dish and some form of fancy meat. The dinner with two bottles of wine was still less than a Brazilian barbeque alone and we had a blast while we were there.
The last two things we did while on the trip were to visit a local aviary and the world's largest hydro-electric dam. Both experiences weren't overwhelmingly awesome, but were still worth the trip. I don't have a ton to say about either of them, but I did get some amazing pictures of some of the birds and a couple pictures that should put the dam in perspective. I can't remember how large the dam was but this one damn completely powers the country of Paraguay and powers 75% or Brazil. I think we could learn a thing or two from the Brazilians.
After getting back to the ship last night the Igacu crew met up with all our other friends and headed out for our last night in Brazil. There had actually been quite a bit of security problems since we reached Salvador so most everyone was glad to be going out with a large group. Many students have been held up or mugged or robbed, one student even got bit by a kid trying to rob a girl he was with. Crazy city at night. We all headed to a touristy bar in the historic district and met up with a ton more SAS kids there. The entire place was just SAS kids and it was ok. I was pretty bored and wanted to do something more fun for the last night so me and laura-flynn and another guy we'd met decided to find a local samba bar for dancing. After talking with a couple of the locals we found one that was supposed to be safe for us and set off with a crew of about 14 by the end of it. We didn't get to the Samba bar until 1 but it was so much fun. There were a ton of locals all dancing to live music inside. A couple of the locals were trying to teach all the intoxicated, a-rhythmic, SAS kids how to dance. It was so much fun. I actually met a local who has lived in Salvador for the last 30 years but grew up on the north side of Indianapolis, literally three blocks from where I live at school. The world is a surprisingly small place. He thought it was hilarious and decided to buy me drinks for the rest of the night. So after a couple of beers with the Indianapolis native Terry and a few dances with the locals and SAS kids it was already time to go back.
The past five days have been a blur of just amazing experiences. I can't believe that this is what I get to call school for the next three months and that this is just the first port. I spent to much money but had more fun than I could have imagined. But now it's time to get back to schoolwork. I have two papers due and a ton of reading to do. Hope everyone is having as much fun as I am... but I doubt it ;)

P.S. I still can't upload pictures. Hopefully I can find an internet cafe in Africa or the internet on the ship gets better. Be patient cause they are worth it.

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jntcasey on

Sounds like a good time all the way around... I am hoping that you learned some of these dances so you can teach me...
Love, Mom

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