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6th dispatch from the Southern Hemisphere

This one will be shorter, I promise. I have about ten minutes until the eco-tour people pick me up for a drive through the Tijuca rainforest, and I have fun things to share.

First of all, a trivia question: How does papaya grow? On a tree, like a fruit, or on the ground, like a melon? I was assuming on a tree, but then this morning, it suddenly ocurred to me that it may grow on the ground, like a melon. I am embarrassed that I don't know. Either way, it is totally delicious, and I have been eating two slices every morning that I've been in a hotel in Brazil (six morning so far). I think it may be the first true rival of mango for my favorite fruit of all time. (Poor English, each time I learn a word in Portuguese I seem to forget a bit of English.) For some reason, I thought it was passionfruit for the first bunch of days that I ate it, but I was corrected this morning.

More about Brazilian food: Did I tell you about the national soda? It's called Guarana (accent on final A), and the first time I had it, it tasted very strange to me, and I couldn't tell if I liked it or not. Since then, it has grown on me, and in my current hotel, they serve "natural guarana," which is juice, and may imply that the soda is totally artificial. The soda reminds me of root beer, but is also fruity, and has a slightly sour taste. It's very good. It rivals Coca Cola here, so Coca Cola introduced their own brand of guarana soda, called "Kuat." But because it's Portuguese, you pronounce it "Kwatch." And when it's diet, it's called "Dietch Kwatch." But I've mostly only seen the regular, Brazilian brand of Guarana soda here (called simply "Guarana").

The tour came to pick me up, and now it's this evening...

The jeep tour through the Tijuca forest was fantastic. I saw (wild) monkeys, more coatis, lots of butterflies, flowers, and plants. I have two new favorite plants: umba-umba, which has whitish leaves and which the tour guide said has medicinal properties that cause wounds to close, and this other plant that the native tribes used to use to brush their teeth--it's very rough and funny feeling! I don't remember what it was called. I had hoped to do a more intensive, hiking tour, but that didn't work out for various reasons, and in the end, I'm glad I did this, since I am getting more blisters.

After that, the jeep dropped me off at the botanical gardens, where I spent far too much time and apparently got sunburned. (It was very shady--many tall trees--I'm not sure how I got such a bad sunburn. It's not bad by normal standards--i.e., doesn't hurt at all--but is very red for me.) It was very nice. I saw gorgeous orchids and other fantastic things, most of which were Brazilian (they also had Asian and African plants and trees there).

Something I learned in the botanical gardens: Brazil is the only country named after a tree! I think it's called the pau-brasil, and the Portuguese valued it for it's red insides, which they used to make red dye. Basically, they came and chopped almost all of them down. There are only two pau-brasils left in the entire Tijuca nature preserve, and several more in the botanical gardens. It's very sad. It's a nice looking tree!

After that, I intended to take a bus back to Ipanema, where my hotel is, and then head to the beach. But, typical of me, I got off the bus WAY too early, so I got an unintentional tour of Leblon (the next neighborhood over). It was fine, but I was tired after walking around the botanical gardens for a few hours.

So, the beach. I didn't get there until 4:40, but that was fine, since I was already sunburned. It was very fun. It was 29 degrees Celsius when I got there. (How do I always know the temperature? Every block here has a clock and outdoor thermometer, with an ad inside.) I played around in the water and lay in the sand. I also drank coconut water (like I had at the Hebraica club in Sao Paolo), but straight out of a coconut! Just like in the movies! I didn't stay for too long, though. For one thing, it began to get dark around 5:30-ish, and for another, I got bored pretty quickly. But I had fun playing in the surf for awhile--the water was a perfect temperature, the sand was small-grained, and the waves were very strong. I don't think I've had this much fun at the beach since I was a little kid. (Okay, so I've hardly been to the beach since I was a little kid.)

At the beach, I met some nice Americans who are going on a 33 day cruise around South America. How cool is that! But they spent $800 just go to to Foz do Iguacu, and I did it for, um, less than $200 (airfare, hotel, local buses to get around the area, and entrance fees for the parks). It's a good thing I don't have $600 to waste--their cruise trip sounds like fun!

I hung out at the beach until the sun started to go down, and then I left. I went back to my room to watch TV. I don't really have a TV at home, and normally go to the gym to watch TV, so this has been fun. They dub an awful lot here, and it's a tossup whether it's funnier to watch Homer Simpson speak Portuguese, or Donald Trump. Donald Trump was funnier, I think. I don't spend much time watching the dubbed stuff, since I don't understand it. I've been watching mostly bad movies and "Lei & Ordem." Also, I saw Friends tonight. I'm also watching a lot of the BBC. For some reason, they consider Brazil to be part of Asia--when they announce that there's going to be a show about "your part of the world," it's always about Asia!

Anyway, that's all for now.


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