3.29.2005

7th dispatch from the Southern Hemisphere: odds and ends

Odds and ends...I'm back in Sao Paulo, with my cousins, and have a bit more time to write now.

I'm not sure my earlier description of the agutis that I saw on the Argentinian side of the Iguacu waterfalls did them justice. So, here it is... First I heard a rustling in the underbrush, and it sounded like a kind of large animal. I mean, larger than a bird or a lizard. I looked into the woods, and I saw a streak of brown fur run by. Then another! I saw them twice like that, but I couldn't see what they were at all, although I got a general sense of the size. Then they ran right across the path in front of me, and I realized that one was chasing the other! It was so funny! They were running in a circle, so I saw them cross the path one more time before they disappeared. It didn't even occur to me to try to take a picture, since the whole thing was so suprising, funny, and quick.

I'm kind of glad I didn't--one thing that I learned at the Iguacu waterfalls is that you really *can't* take it with you. What with the rain, and the enormity of the waterfalls, there was no way to even attempt to capture the grandeur of it all on film, so after awhile (of taking photos, before it rained), I contented myself with enjoying the experience itself. In many ways, of course, it was much better that way! Being there was so powerful... I said whatever appropriate brachot (blessings) I could remember to thank God for creating this wonderous world, and for endowing (at least some) people with the wisdom to both preserve it and provide access to it (for people like me, who prefer walking on metal walkways to scaling slippery boulders!), but I quickly ran out and began to compose my own. I don't think I mentioned this before, but when I was waiting for the bus back to Foz do Iguacu after my long, wet day in Argentina, it stopped raining and the sun came out a bit. I thought to myself, "These are perfect rainbow conditions!" I looked around, but didn't see one. Then, a minute later, I saw a HUGE one, stretching across the horizon, with a second, less bright rainbow outside it. It was truly awesome (in the not "awesome, dude!" sense), and the perfect end to a wonderful day!

(Grandmas, don't read this part: Then this tourist of unidentiable origen started weirding me out. He said he was from Morrocco but spent the past twenty years in Australia, but he didn't have an Australian accent at all and he didn't look like he was more than thirty. So I got away from him and spoke for awhile with a very nice woman from France, who spoke excellent English and was in Argentina on business--I think she said that she did marketing for Nestle.)

In more news on the wildlife front, I saw a rather large lizard at the botanical gardens yesterday. It looked like it was about a foot long, or maybe a foot and a half. It was at least ten feet away from me on the path, though, and when I walked quietly towards it, it quickly ran off into the woods. It was all green (or looked all green from that distance), without the brown spotiness of the smaller lizards that I saw all over Igazu. I don't know why, but when it was running, it looked very weird--like it was floating or hovering over the path. I think it lifted its right front and left rear legs at the same time or something. It ran in a kind of light, fluttering motion. So odd!

I also saw two kind of unusual (to my eye) birds at the botanical gardens. They were both the size and shape of a sparrow, I think. One was mostly white with black lines near its eyes, and was very cute. I saw those all over the place. I took a few photos, but don't know if they'll come out. The second was mostly brown, and was slightly larger (more sparrow-like than the white and black bird). It had a bright yellow chest and stomach, though. Like a robin, but instead of red, it was yellow. It was also smaller than a robin.

Re. the Tijuca nature preserve/forest. I had wanted to take this ecological, minimal-impact kind of hiking tour (2.5 hour hike inside the forest) with a group called "Rio Hiking," but they originally didn't think they were going to run a tour on Monday, the day I wanted to go. Instead, I signed up with a jeep tour (also called eco-something, but less hiking than the Rio Hiking people, which would have been my ideal). On Sunday night, the front-desk guy at the hotel said that Rio Hiking had called to say that they were running a group, but it was the same guy who had messed up my previous tour booking (for Sunday afternoon), so I decided to keep it the way it was, rather than risk not getting to go at all.

I'm glad that I did the one I did--I got to see some monkeys and a lot of plants and the tour leader was knowledgeable enough (she didn't know the names of some of the plants, or any of the rocks we saw, but otherwise, was very good--she asked if I was a biologist because I was asking so many questions!). Also, the Rio Hiking tour cost twice as much money and lasted 5 hours, whereas this one was only 3 hours. I was able to spend two hours at the botanical gardens, get off the bus far too early, and still have nearly an hour at the beach. So it probably worked out for the best in the end. Also, I realized on Monday morning that I was getting blisters in new places, and taking a 2.5 hour hike in sneakers (I left my hiking boots in Sao Paulo), would probably have been at least somewhat miserable.

I wanted to buy a book, in English, about the plants, animals, and birds of Brazil, but haven't been able to find one. I have a pretty good one about the plants, animals, and birds from the Igazu area, but that's it. I guess what I would want is one about the plants, etc. of the Atlantic forest region, which includes Rio (and the Tijuca forest, etc.).

So far, since I've been here, I've been asked three, "So, you're an American--can you answer this?" kinds of questions. Unfortunately, I only remember the first and the last one, not the middle one.

(1) The day I arrived, on Friday, 3/18, I was walking back from shul with Chaim, his friend Benny, Benny's friend Eliyahu, and Eliyahu's two kids. I attempted to strike up a conversation with Eliyahu's daughter, who looked like she was in the 7-9 year old range. I spoke Hebrew to her, which she seemed to understand, but she couldn't really speak back, and I hadn't picked up ANY Portuguese yet, so we had some difficulty communicating. I asked her how old she was, and she didn't know how to say the number in Hebrew, so she showed me with her fingers that she was 8. Then she asked me something which sounded like, "Yesh lach ben?" meaning, "Do you have a son?" and I thought maybe she was asking how old I was (you would say "ben kammah atah?" to a male, and maybe she didn't have her gendered Hebrew straight), so I told her I was 25, but that wasn't what she was asking, so then I said no, I didn't have a son, and she wasn't asking that either. So I don't know what she was asking. Anyway, she shyly asked her father something in Portuguese, and he turned to me, and I thought he said, "Halacht b'Pesach l'chayrut?" which means, "Did you go into freedom on Passover?" which made some sense in some philosophical realm, but not in this conversation. I was confused, so he said, "Statue of Liberty" and I realized he had asked, "Halacht b'pessel hachayrut?" So that was the little girl's burning question. I said that yes, I had, in fact, when I was eight years old. She was satisfied. Also, very sweet.

(2) I think the two women I met on the bus from Sao Paulo to Rio asked me some sort of interesting question about life in the United States, but I don't know what it was. If I remember, I will share. I don't think I told you about the bus ride--it was fantastic. My cousins convinced me to spend a bit more and take the first class bus, which has seats that FULLY recline, and also has a refrigerator with bottled water, and fresh coffee in it. Also, they had out a bag of food (including a container of mango juice!) and a magazine when you get on. And the seats each come equipped with a VERY nice pillow (better than my pillow at home, definitely put airplane pillows to shame), and a comfortable blanket. All plastic-wrapped and clean. And there are footrests. It was so comfortable that the 6 hour journey to Rio and the 5 hour journey back passed very quickly.

(3) A man I was sitting next to at the Purim seudah in Rio asked me a question on behalf of his brother, who was sitting at the same table. He asked if, in America, they have separate lines for old people and pregnant women. I was shocked, and said, "No." He said that they did in Brazil, and his brother had been sure they must have the same thing in America. I later understood what he meant. It is one of the few very smart things I have seen in Brazil. When you go to the post office here, or, for that matter, the Brazilian consulate in New York, you get a number and then you sit in a comfortable chair and wait for your number to come up on a screen. Then you get up and take care of whatever. If you're old or pregnant, you get a different kind of number, so you get called up earlier. Smart, no? It makes waiting on line at the post office downright pleasant! This man had a very, very cute daughter, who I found out was 4.5 years old. She didn't speak Hebrew or English though, only Portuguese, and we had a hard time communicating.

Something else funny. I was speaking (English) with the Argentinian people I met at the Corcovado (the ones who helped me find the bus to take to Sugarloaf Mountain). I was talking about my trip in general, and about Foz do Iguacu more specifically. The woman with whom I was speaking said that in Argentina, people say in reference to the different experiences of the waterfalls from the Argentinian side and the Brazilian side: "Argentina makes the show and Brazil puts out the chairs." I concurred.

By the way, when I say that I've "picked up some Portuguese," you might mistakenly be impressed with my language skills. Please, do not! I now understand most numbers from 1-10, I can ask where the bathroom is, for the bus back to a specific place, or how much something costs (but if it costs more than 10 reals, I am kind of lost, and they show me on their fingers!). I can ask for mango juice--just mango, no sugar added! I also know how to say cousin--primero.

One more funny thing about Portuguese, which I can't believe I haven't mentioned yet! They pronounce the letter D like a soft J--like the "s" in "pleasure." So Adina becomes "Adjina," kind of (like Adjeena). I have to say my name is "Adjeena" at the hotels and stuff, or they don't understand that I'm trying to say "Adina." It's quite odd. The word for health is "salud," like in Spanish, but they say "saludj." (Maybe they drop the L, too. I'm not sure. One of the mango-juice sellers asked me if I wanted a sucos do mango salud, which means that they add milk, vitamins, and other stuff--I said no.) An X is pronounced "sh." And "ao" is kind of like "on," except I think they pronounce it "ao." If I'm trying to understand a written word, I substitute "on" for the "ao" and it makes almost perfect sense. I think that there are other things, too. Portuguese looks something like Spanish, kind of, but to me, it sounds a lot like French and Russian. (I think that the Russian is because it has a lot of "tch" sounds in it--most T's are pronounced "tch.") Sometimes it sounds like an Asian language. It has a lot of diphthongs in it.

I think that's it for now. I am very tired (despite having slept for most of the 5 hour bus ride back to Sao Paulo today), and have a lot of (re)packing to do before I leave tomorrow night. Tomorrow, I am going to see Chaim and Peggy's store, Tennis Point (http://www.tennispoint.com.br/, my cousin Chaim/Jayme is the person on the right side in this photo: http://www.tennispoint.com.br/quemsomos.htm), and then we're going out to lunch at a glatt kosher restaurant, the finest in Sao Paulo, according to Chaim. He is also very proud of a place where they import good kosher chocolate from Belgium, so he's taking me there. Maybe in the afternoon, we will go to a park or I will take a nap and/or pack.

Love,
ALG

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