Traveling in Brazil has been one amazing experience. I recently returned form another journey to a more general area, the south of Brazil. With the same tour agency that took me to the Amazon I now have a taste of all of Brazil (if you happen to have a map of Brazil, take a look). We started in Recife, went on to Salvador, Belo Horizonte, Iguazu Falls, made stops in Paraguay and Argentina, Gramado, Canela, Florianpolis, Curitiba, Morrets, Sao Paulo, Angra dos Reis, Rio de Janeiro, Ouro Preto, and then came back through Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, and finally returned to Recife. Three weeks and these are only the places we spent the night in! There were various other stops, and with 107 exchange students, it was indescribably fun.
Two weeks after the trip to the Amazon, the 25 exchange students from the northeast of Brazil left for Salvador-Bahia, a state/city full of music color and dance. I believe I've mentioned this area before - it is known for Caporia (a foot fighting dance), a predominately African population, and richly flavored sea food. From here it was on to Belo Horizonte, a pretty city and my first sight of a pine tree in almost a year, but this was just a stop on our way to Iguazu Falls. It was at least an eight hour bus trip to the falls, where we were greeted by 82 more exchange students to complete our group. I won't lie - Iguazu Falls is one of the most breathtaking sites a person can ever look upon. There are two sides: the Brazilian and Argentinean. In my opinion the Argentina side is prettier because you're looking up at the falls and from the Brazilian side you look down them, but on the Brazilian side you have the option of taking a boat right up under the falls which can't be explained in words or pictures.
I won't ramble on about each one of the amazing stops we made, but just touch on a few observations. Yes, the falls are beautiful but during this stop I also saw the full-blown face of dirty poor, so many without homes clothes or food willing to do anything for money. I can't say that Paraguay is a horrible and dirty place because I saw so little of it, but from what I did see I don't feel like going back any time soon. There was just so much red dirt on everything and a pungent smell like old dirty socks that you couldn't get away from even inside. What Paraguay does have is a full supply of overstocked and falsified goods, all for more than fair prices if you know what I mean. Like a giant black market, all sales are definitely final, and I found a pair of ADIDAS socks with the "Just do it" Nike slogan on the package.
Getting back to Brazil, the south is like a different country. The northeast is what I think people would typically have in mind when asked what Brazil is like: beaches and palm trees. The south is, well, Americanized: they have almost everything we have and take for granted in the U.S., but that not what surprised me. I was fairly shocked at three stops we made surrounding the cities of Gramado and Canela. It was like being in old Germany - not only the architecture of every building; the fact was that I couldn't understand anyone. Now you have to understand that here in Brazil everyone speaks Portuguese, and there is an abundance of English speakers, but in this area the ones of us who felt most at home were from Austria and Germany. Everything was in German: street signs, everything. It was strange, but I was one happy camper when I had my first waffle in 10 months.
There were so many beautiful places and things I saw. When you're with a group like I was it just makes it even better, not just this trip, but the Amazon, too. If any of you ever plan on doing a little trip I'd say that this has to be the place; you have everything from the Amazon jungle to the desert to the white sand beaches to the big cities. I also now have a taste of what it will be like to come home, after spending a month with a group of exchange students (a month seems like a lot longer because everyone is so open and there is no period of easing into friendship its just, bam, we met, now we're friends). Being back in Recife it is sad-even depressing - but then all I have to do is remember, and there are so many good times and good things that I just forget all the other stuff. So now I've still got time and I'm just waiting to see what my next adventure to tell will be.
Editor's note: Sam Both is a Wallowa County Rotary exchange student who is winding up a year in Brazil. This is the ninth article in a series of articles that he is writing to fulfill graduation requirements at Wallowa High School.