I am writing now from the plane from Rio de Janeiro back to the U.S. Today was my last day in Brazil. Just as it took a long time to sink in that I was actually in the country of Brazil, it still hasn’t sunk in that I’m going home. Being in Rio for the past week has been amazing and beautiful, but what I am really thinking about now is all the people I met in Brasilia and how much I will miss them. When I first arrived in Brasilia, it seemed so foreign and I felt like an outsider, and for a while I was not very fond of the city as a whole; now, I don’t even know what to say except that it’s totally different for me. That place is an area of comfort now, where I met some of the kindest, funniest, and most truthful people I have ever come across. It has become solidified in my mind that I want to travel and see as much of the world as I possibly can. I once heard someone say that “The more you see of the world, the more you will know of yourself,” or something like that. I know it’s corny of me to even bring that up, but I know now that it’s true. I would do this exchange program all over again in a heartbeat.
At this point, I will again catch you up on everything that has happened since my last post. Everything seems to be happening at such a rapid pace now that my stay here in Brazil is drawing to an end. I am writing now from a hostel in the north side São Paulo; Jake and I just arrived here today.
First thing’s first. I have to describe our trip into the Amazon Rain Forest. I was obsessed with the Amazon when I was a small child, and the obsession never really faded away. (My mom has hoarded all the children’s books that fueled the fire of obsession.) Taking a tour through the jungle hadn’t even crossed my mind until two of my Belgian friends, that I got to know at Chapada dos Veadeiros, mentioned to me that they were doing just that. My first thought was “You can do that?;” my second thought was “I need to do that.” Long story short, after saying a final goodbye to our roommate Omar, Jake and I flew to Manaus (the capitol of the state of Amazonas) earlier this month, and the next morning we took a van ride and a speedboat ride to a lodge on the Urubu River (a branch of the Amazon River) and began the adventure. I will try to keep it short.
The first day we went dolphin spotting, piranha fishing (which we then ate back at the lodge), and searching for caimans (similar to alligators). I got to hold a baby one, not to mention see the most beautiful view of the stars I have ever seen. The next day we woke up at 5:30 and took a canoe ride out to watch the sunrise. We then embarked on a three-night trip into the jungle with only what we could carry on our backs. We slept in hammocks in two different campsites. Our company consisted of Jake and me, a Belgian family of six, and our two Brazilian guides. The next day we took an eight-hour total hike and saw more wildlife than I imagined we would. We saw a bunch of macaws, a big spider monkey (which comically did a double-take when it saw us), frogs, some very large ants, and a stick bug. At one point we came up to a tree that was completely covered in tiny ants; our guide said you could squish them on your hands to make a natural bug repellant. I think we all thought he was joking, until he actually did it… He put his hand up against the tree and was immediately covered in ants. He then quickly smashed them all over his hands and arms, with a sly “See?” Some of us, including myself, tried it too; it was one of the strangest sensations I have ever felt. Although, I didn’t kill them all quickly enough and got some bites in between my fingers.
I will try and wrap it up here. The next few days included seeing an even larger group of macaws, a huge tarantula, and a small monkey; more canoe rides through the flooded forests; and getting chased by the largest cloud of bees I have ever seen. Yes, I loved every minute of it. We even made our own blowpipes that work surprisingly well. I cannot explain in words what it feels like to be in a place like that, to lay in a hammock in pitch darkness and be enveloped by the sounds of the jungle. It made me feel more human than I ever have before.
After returning to Brasilia and spending only one night there, Jake and I were off to the other end of the country to the city of Foz do Iguaçu. The city itself was pretty “touristy,” but it was all worth it once we witnessed the waterfalls. There are many ways to measure the “size” of waterfalls, but based on width, the Iguaçu falls are the fourth largest in the world. I have never seen anything like them. For the three days that we were there, we went into the national park to see the falls every single day. Walking along the Cataratas Trail (over a kilometer long parallel to the falls) is breathtaking already, but once you reach the Garganta do Diabo (or Devil’s Throat), you really understand the depth and power of the falls. Also, you get soaking wet. All the time there were coatis scampering around through the crowds of people. I had never seen wild animals more accustomed to humans before.
The highlight of my time in Foz do Iguaçu was a powerboat ride that was on par with the dune buggy ride in Natal. It was like the same thing but on water. Jake and I were strategically placed in the very front of the boat, so we got the bumpiest ride. We were steered right up to the waterfalls on the Argentinian side of the Iguaçu River. It was like staring into the sun; we could hardly open our eyes because the spray was so powerful. The boat drivers seemed quite skilled in giving us a wild ride and getting us, yet again, soaking wet.
Now for the bitter sweet part. Yesterday was our last day in Brasilia, so we had to say goodbye to all the Brazilians and other exchange students that we have bonded with. Jake and I went to Agua Mineral (a natural swimming pool in Brasilia) with two of our Mexican friends, played at Pinella with Jon, Bruno, and Eudes for the last time, and had a farewell party. It is a strange experience—getting so attached to so many people, and then never knowing if you will ever see them again.
For this post I am going to try to catch up on everything that has happened since my last post. First of all, way back in June on Ashley’s last day visiting in Brasilia, we met up with my drummer friend in the music department, Renan, and his girlfriend, and the four of us drove to the Poço Azul waterfalls. It was about an hour and a half drive from my apartment into Brazlândia. Once we got to the entrance, we had to walk about two more kilometers to the waterfalls. At the start of the trail, we saw three people approaching us and greeted them in Portuguese just like normal. I then saw the same look of panic and confusion that I was so accustomed to at the beginning of my time in this country. They were, indeed, Americans. It was the most Americans I had seen in one area since I arrived here. We had a great rest of the day hiking and swimming in the freezing cold water.
Secondly, about two weeks ago, Jake and I were fortunate enough to sit in with Bruno Gafanhoto’s group, Funqqestra, at a jazz festival in downtown Brasilia. He was scheduled to play in between each of the main acts, which included three huge names in MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira)—Raul de Souza, Spok Quinteto, and João Bosco. Raul de Souza is one of the most-revered trombonists in Brazilian history. Although he is getting quite old now, it was great to see him play. Jake and I played with Bruno’s group in a Dixieland kind of setup, slowly moving the crowd back and forth from the main stage to our stage. We were the two American guys trying to pretend like we knew the old Brazilian standards that everyone in the crowd seemed to know by heart. It was awesome.
Last but not least, the semester is over now. Last Friday, I play my last recital (coincidentally, a Brazilian piece for cello), and that was my last day of school. Since the university is on strike (and has been for quite some time), many of my weekends leading up to the last weeks of recitals were spent practicing outside; the music department had fewer hours of operation. It may sound strange, but there is something very calming and meditative about practicing alone outside surrounded by nature. The act of putting your own acoustic sound into the already existing sounds of the trees, birds, and insects is very rewarding and (it seems to me) more revealing as to what you really sound like. On the other hand, it’s a little distracting due to all of the big lizards running around on campus.
I would not be truthful if I said that I loved every aspect of UnB, but I can say that I am very glad that I studied here. The relationships that I have made and the things I have learned through experience are priceless. Being in a situation like this so far away from home can really help you hone into what kind of a musician you want to be and how you want to teach.
Jake and I are heading into the Amazon Rain Forest in a few days. That’s right.
I am writing now from the beautiful city of Natal. It is located on the northeast coast in the state of Rio Grande do Norte. Mike has come down for the saxophone conference here and Jake and I went with him; Ashley is also here visiting. It has been a wild ride here so far. First of all, the day before yesterday I had violent food poisoning during the plane ride from Brasilia, the van ride from the airport, and the entire evening at our friend Anderson Pessoa’s house. I spent the night on the couch with a bucket; let’s just put it that way. Luckily though I made a quick recovery by the next morning was able to experience an insane dune buggy ride. Our driver picked us up at about 9:00am, and Mike, Jake, Ashley, and I piled into the buggy. We then embarked on a six-hour tour approximately. We rode as fast and as ridiculously that the buggy could manage through the vast deserts of dunes. The stark contrast of color between the deep blue sky and the bright, light-colored sand was a sight that I will never forget. We also intermittently stopped at various beaches to take breaks and swim.
Jake, Ashley, and I are now situated in a hotel right in front of a beach. I think we will go there no less than every day. So far this area of the beach has been almost completely abandoned. I can already tell that I am not going to want to leave this place.
Needless to say, the semester here at UnB is well underway. I would say that my favorite part about going to school here is meeting the people and developing relationships. I have noticed that the people in this city are typically more relaxed than what we are used to in the U.S. The students will always take the time to catch up with one another before class starts, even if that means showing up fifteen minutes late. Most of the professors have the same attitude. This makes for getting to know people better, but I think this kind of thing can be sometimes good and sometimes bad. For example, as far as I’m concerned, the friendliness is always welcome. There is something special about always letting a person know that you are happy to see them. There is never any ‘passing each other in the hallway and barely acknowledging each other business’ that seems to be more common in the U.S. However, the culture (at least within the music school) can sometimes be so community-based that it can impede individual practice/study. For example, my trombone professor, Alciomar Oliveira, gives spare office keys to all his students. (There are only three of us.) This situation is great because there are no practice rooms, but occasionally several students will come in and hang out and/or want to practice as well. This was a bit of a cultural adjustment for me.
I am really enjoying the relationship that has formed (and is forming) between the large group of foreign exchange students that Jake and I know. There is a mutual understanding of what it is like to live in a foreign country. (Many of them have even done separate exchanges before this one.) Ever since our camping trip to Chapada dos Veadeiros, they have really gotten me out of my box as far as really experiencing things. For that I am grateful to them.
Yesterday I arrived back in Brasilia from Chapada dos Veadeiros, a beautiful area in the state of Goiás that is home to over 200 waterfalls. I am quite sunburnt, but I have made more friends already than I ever expected. On the three-day camping trip, there were exchange students from Belgium, France, Spain, Mexico, Chile, and also a few Brazilians of course. We spent the days hiking until we couldn’t hike anymore, eventually reaching several magnificent waterfalls. We spent the nights getting to know each other and drinking caipirinhas. By the end of the trip, I was overwhelmed by the kindness with which I was welcomed into this group of people. Even when the language barrier stunted our conversing, I never felt like an outsider. It is a wonderful thing to be put outside of your comfort zone and find that you are really not so unlike many other people from around the world.
The second night there was the most fun I’ve had in Brazil so far. We made a campfire and the whole group came to hang out. I eventually brought out a nylon-string guitar that I am borrowing from a friend at UnB; I was delighted to find out that practically everyone could sing along with so many Pink Floyd and Beatles tunes. After that, one of the guides for the campsite walked us up a hill to another campfire where we could see the whole sky full of stars. The towns in that area of Goiás are very small, and most of the mountains are uninhabited; there was hardly any light interference, so the view was incredible.
What is interesting is that all of this happened because of a chance meeting with a Belgian girl from our Portuguese class. Jake and I were getting lunch at the RU (Restaurante Universidade) several days beforehand, and she came up to us and invited to go camping. If we hadn’t have been getting lunch at the same time, I would not have met this group of interesting people that I really hope to remain in touch with.
Also, I have my first Brazilian gig coming up this week with an incredible piano and bass duo at a restaurant called Limoncello.