Monday, November 26, 2007

My Cinderella Story (backwards)

So here I am today playing Cinderella. I know, everyone thinks I've been playing Cinderella all along - marrying my Prince Charming, wearing the 'princess' wedding dress, being whisked away to some land far, far, away, getting the royal treatment with my weekly manicure and biweekly pedicures, you know, a typical princess life really . . .

But my Cinderella story continues today (in reverse.) So far, my day has mostly consisted of scrubbing floors, cleaning toilets, and degreasing a kitchen. (Insert heavy sigh here.) But, I must admit that I am kind of excited about it. Not because I have missed house work that much, but because this means that we got the keys to our apartment this morning! YEA!!!

We decided exactly 4 weeks ago today that we wanted this apartment and started the process of renting it (it's the one I posted pictures of back in October.) And it has taken this long to get all the paperwork in order and the keys handed over to us. I thought maybe it took extra long because we are foreigners or maybe because the lawyers at CNH had to approve the contract. But no, I am told 1 month is typical for getting an apartment here!

So, I spent the first part of the day at the apartment to start the cleaning process and receive the appliances that were being delivered today. And when I say that I started the cleaning process, that is exactly what I mean - this is going to take awhile! While we love the place, boy is it dirty! There is a thick layer of dust covering everything from the floors, to the built in shelves, and even the bathtub. The kitchen has a nice layer of grease protecting all surfaces. The bathrooms are, well, let's just go with very dirty. And even the walls need to be scrubbed throughout the place. We questioned the owner about the dirty condition and asked if it would be cleaned before we moved in. He said no and to just not worry about cleaning it when we leave. Hmmm...sounds nice I guess, but seriously, I have no idea how we could ever get it so dirty, much less leave it in that condition!!! (I come from a long line of people who believe in the 'leave it cleaner than you found it' school of thinking. I have a lot of memories of camping trips with my family: as Dad would pull the camper out of our spot, my brothers and I were responsible for cleaning up the site. Inevitably, Dad would come inspect and find a gum wrapper or little piece of paper towel we had left behind. As we would start complaining that the wrapper was half deteriorated and we obviously didn't leave it there, Dad would pull out the ole 'we leave things cleaner than we found them' line. Apparently, the last occupant of this apartment didn't have such home training!!!)

I went though an awful lot of buckets of dirty mop water as I swept and then twice mopped all the floors. I scrubbed down the kitchen surfaces and tried to get everything clean where the appliances would be installed. (Our refrigerator, stove, and washing machine were all delivered today.) Later in the afternoon, once I drank too much diet sprite, I cleaned one of the bathrooms out of necessity too. :)

All the shelves still need washed down and the walls need cleaning. I think I am going to have to mop everything once more before they meet my specs as well! And I have a couple more bathrooms that need my attention. At one point today, I was remembering a comment someone here made about how cheap maids were and how shocked they were that we wouldn't be hiring one. I almost considered rethinking that decision and then I thought of how hard it would be to get someone to clean how I want things cleaned! So, I guess it is a few more days of the Cinderella life (pre-prince) for me. (I know I am not getting any sympathy from anyone . . . one too many posts about pedicures and laying by the pool, I know!) ;)

I am going to have to convince my Prince Charming to manage one task at home for me though. I have a small problem at the apartment that I am not too sure how to handle. We have built in window boxes on a couple big windows in our living room. They need some serious attention after I get done with all my cleaning (everything planted in them right now is dead!) But, a pigeon decided to make my window box her home and decided to have a baby there! I have been a hunter for the better part of my life and I also don't have any trouble shooting a nuisance animal. But, what do you do when shooting is not an option??? I've considered poison, but then will I have 2 dead birds in my window box to deal with? Carcasses aren't really my specialty either. So, my conclusion today was that I make my husband dearest handle this problem, and then not tell me what he did. I'm pretty sure I won't want to know!

So, I am feeling a little grimy at the moment and I think my nose is full of dust, so I will close now and head for the shower! As soon as I get things a little cleaner around the house, I will take some more pictures to show off our new digs! :) And if Santa Claus happens to be keeping up with my blog, I could sure use some heavy duty Mr. Clean Magic Erasers in my stocking this year. I am seriously missing my cleaning supplies of choice and I am quite certain some things just aren't going to come clean until I have my Mr. Clean miracle product in hand!!!

Rock Table and Hard Rock

The countdown can officially begin now! We will be back in the United States in 11 days! Which leaves us not a lot of time in Brasil to get a lot done before we leave for a couple weeks.
Saturday morning, we got up and went to one of the malls in Belo Horizonte that has nothing but furniture stores in it. Eric and I had been trying to make up our minds on a dining room table for more than 2 weeks. There were 2 gorgeous tables that we fell in love with and couldn't decide between them. I had emailed pictures to my little brother, Justin, who just finished defending his master's thesis in Forestry with an emphasis in wood properties (or something along those lines.) And actually, his research was done down here in Brasil last summer. So, between that and his love/knowledge of all things tree, wood, and construction related, we were trusting him to give us some insight into the durability and quality of the two tables. His opinion: both were great options and he gave me a whole long list of the pros/cons of each piece of furniture. So, off we went to look one more time and try to decide and purchase one of the tables. After looking again at both, we ran across a marble topped table out in a display of a Christmas table setting in the middle of the mall. We both fell in love with the table and about an hour later, we had made the purchase! On December 28, our new dining room table gets delivered. Now all we have to do is find and buy some chairs (we didn't see any we liked on Saturday) and then we will be ready for a dinner party! Well, I guess I probably will have to wait on my shipment of kitchen goods from the US first . . . hard to serve guests dinner when you don't have anything to prep/cook with!!! (Sorry if we broke your heart Justin, I know you are more a wood man than rock lover these days!)

A closer shot of the wood and marble

There is one building that is visible and stands out throughout much of BH. Up on top of a mountain near the South end of the city is a tall blue tower. We were told that Hard Rock Cafe was in that building and we decided to go check it out on Saturday night. There are a couple restaurants in the top of the tower, but Hard Rock is actually in the building that is under the tower (although it also has a great view of the city.) We went up in the tower to get a good look around before we came down and had supper. The funniest part of it all was that at 9:30 pm, Eric and I were eating supper at Hard Rock Cafe and there was only one other group of people in the whole place! When we left at 10:30, people were just starting to arrive. Where can you go in the US where on a Saturday night no one is at Hard Rock Cafe at 9:30 pm!!!

A view at sunset over the mountains and into the city from high up in the tower

The CNH Christmas Party was on Sunday afternoon. It was a really fun family event. They had it at a Clube in a neighboring town. It was quite the event! They had tons of inflatables and games for the kids. They served sticks (think wooden kabob spears) of filet mignon, chicken breast, chicken hearts, and cheese cooked over fire. They had pizza cooking nonstop and tons of coke and beer flowing from the taps. There were 3 different bands that played throughout the afternoon with lots of people dancing and then they gave away tons of prizes (everything from new refrigerators, microwaves, digital cameras, and even a brand new car!) I think a good time was had by everyone - including us! We were just wishing that Eric was a CNH Latin America employee already so that he could be entered in all those drawings!!! (Better luck next year, I suppose.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

And a Happy Thanksgiving it was!

We had decided earlier in the week that we wanted to go to Xapuri for our Thanksgiving supper. Eric got home about 6:30 last night and we got ready to go out. Xapuri is an open air restaurant here in BH that serves typical Minas Gerais food family style. We figured it was about the closest thing we could get to a Thanksgiving dinner! (And not to mention that we do really love this type of food!!!)

So, here it is folks, Thanksgiving . . . Brasil style!

So we ordered frango com quiabo in the big black pot (chicken with okra), couve in the cast iron skillet (sort of like collard greens), in the small silver pots starting at the top left and going clockwise: chuchu (a green veggie sort of like cucumber), arroz (white rice), angu (think grits with a smoother texture), and feijão (red beans), and in the red dish, vinegarette (chopped tomatoes, onions, and peppers). Oh, and I guess I shouldn't leave out the bottle of Riesling grown and bottled in Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil.

My thought here was something along the lines of "hurry up and take the picture-this smells awesome and I am hungry!"

Enjoying our after dinner espresso (very common here)

One content fella - he's got his belly full (and he's so good looking too!!!)

We really wanted dessert, because, well, it was Thanksgiving and no matter how full you are you HAVE to have some dessert. We decided against it at the restaurant though because we were seriously stuffed. However, we stopped at the store on our way home and bought a 2-liter carton of sorvette de coco e abacaxi (coconut and pineapple ice cream ). We sat down at the table, each grabbed a spoon, and dug in! And let me tell you something, the Brazilians are serious about their ice cream and man is it good! We were then presented with a minor issue: the ice cream carton was too big to fit in the freezer of our mini fridge. I suggested that we would just have to finish it all off, you know, cause you hate to have it go to waste! ;) Eric wasn't up to the challenge though. So, I am sitting here now having some very, very soft ice cream out of our refrigerator. And yes, I realize that the time gets put at the bottom of my post and I am busted eating ice cream for breakfast, BUT it is fruit ice cream (which makes it healthy) and women need their calcium!!! :)

So, it was a fun Thanksgiving for us, even if it didn't quite feel like Thanksgiving Day! We had an awesome meal and a lot to be thankful for. I've already started thinking about next year though and since I will have a kitchen then, noodles, mashed potatoes and turkey are coming back on the menu for 2008! Maybe we will even invite some friends over and introduce the Brazilians to Thanksgiving Tyson/Zieser style!

Good luck on the After Thanksgiving sales today . . . we looked online at a bunch of the sales papers yesterday, and, I must admit, I am a wee bit jealous! I may have to go get a $4 pedicure or layout by the pool and enjoy the 80 degree weather today to remind myself that I don't have it so bad here. hehehe ;)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Feliz Dia de Ação de Graças!

Yes, that is the best Portuguese translation available of Happy Thanksgiving! (I just confirmed it with my tutor about an hour ago!)

This is our first major American holiday outside of the good ole US of A. It is kind of weird that Eric got up and went to work this morning. We both have been talking this week about what we wanted to do to celebrate Thanksgiving tonight, and, then somehow this morning, we both forgot it was here already.

This might be the first time since we moved that a little twinge of homesickness is upon us (well, I guess I can't speak for my husband, but for me at least . . .) All afternoon the only thing I can think of is how hungry I am for some of Grandma's homemade noodles with mashed potatoes, a slice of turkey, cornbread dressing, sweet potato souffle, greenbean casserole, some pumpkin pie . . . Yeah, this is pretty much torture right now typing this! ;) And actually, all my family is probably gathering around right now snitching little pieces of turkey and ham anxiously awaiting the rolls to come out of the oven so Grandad can ask the blessing and everyone can start piling their plates full. My brother, Travis, is probably making some awful pun or telling an 'ughhhh' joke and my cousin, Lindsey, is no doubt ready to fill her plate above the rim with nothing but noodles. These are the moments that make living in Brasil not quite paradise - it's hard to be so far away from the people we love (especially during the holidays!)

BUT, we have an awful lot to be thankful for this year and no longing for a chunk of gobbler can diminish that! This year: I married the most incredible man in the world who also happens to be my best friend, I got to wear my wedding dress twice!, we are making wonderful new friends in Brasil, the paperwork is almost finalized and we will get our apartment here real soon, we have been kept safe and healthy, we have the most incredible friends back home, we spent a relaxing week in Jamaica on our honeymoon, our families have been so supportive of our move, we were given this wonderful opportunity to come to Brasil, we are learning Portuguese fast enough to get around, our families have been blessed with good health (even though some have required a little attention to keep them that way), we have many good friends who have given birth to healthy babies (even if a couple of them did come too early!), we have been surrounded by lots of family and friends, our relationship and now our marriage has grown stronger with each passing day, I survived my first Iowa winter, I don't have to go through another winter for awhile ;), we got our house rented and all vehicles sold before we moved to Brasil, I got to retire! hehe, I finally got to take the cake decorating classes I have been wanting to take for a long time, we got to help our 2 nieces celebrate their 3rd and 1st birthdays, oh, I could go on forever and still not be able to count all the things I am thankful for this year . . .

Maybe the one thing that stands out in my mind as the greatest blessing for me this year though, and for what I am most thankful, is the wonderful peace that the Lord has given me this year. I started off the year a little disappointed 1. because I felt certain Eric would propose to me sometime before Valentine's Day, but he didn't and 2. because I was searching really hard for a permanent job (I was in a temporary, grant position) and was not having much luck finding something in my area. But as frustrating as those two things were for me from time to time, I felt some amount of peace about it all, like everything was going to be okay. And then, as the year progressed, Eric and I made the biggest 2 decisions of our lives to date: he (finally!) proposed and we decided to accept the offer to come down to Brasil. And have I mentioned that because of the latter decision I only had 4 months to plan our wedding??? In a matter of about 48 hours we made 2 huge decisions that would play a pretty big part in everything that comes later . . . and I never once had a doubt that it was exactly the right thing to do. I never got cold feet or wondered if I was marrying the right man, I didn't question the ability to plan a wedding in 4 months, I never wondered if Brasil was the right place for us to be going, I didn't even freak out when 5 weeks before we were supposed to go to Brasil we hadn't sold a single vehicle or got our house rented. (And then there is the part where everything has happened with such perfect timing this year, even when we didn't know it at the time, but anyway . . .)

All of my life, I have had to have control of every situation and this year, for the first time ever, I feel like I haven't had a lot of control of much. Normally, that would totally freak me out. But I believe that God has had a hand in everything that has happened this year and He has given me such peace about it all. Ever since I was a little girl, I've prayed for all the things I want and think I need, and then I'd finish with, "but Your will be done." To be totally honest, I am not really sure how much I always meant that last part though. What I really wanted to say was "please let my will be Your will and let that be done." But for the first time this year I think I've really meant it when I've asked for Him to guide my life. And strangely enough, ;) I have felt really good about everything happening in my life this year. Not to mention how smoothly things have gone!

So, yes, I have an awful lot to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving, but more than anything else, I praise the Lord for the peace that He has given me. I hope everyone has a wonderful day, please eat some turkey for me, and be thankful for all the many blessings!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Galo, Galo, Galoooo!

Oh, Brasil . . . where futebol is practically a religion all of it's own! I have been dying to write this post, but I was waiting for pictures from the big day. Now I have them, so here you have it: Eric and Emily's very first Brazilian soccer experience!

It is important to know first off that there are two professional teams here in Belo Horizonte and everyone in the city is passionate about both. Everyone passionately loves one team and passionately despises the other! Ever since our very first visit people have asked us which team we will pull for, and they then proceed to tell us why their team of choice is the best. We have maintained all along that we will have to attend one of each team's games and then decide who will be 'our' team.

Our first opportunity came on Sunday, November 11. A co-worker of Eric's invited us to attend a Galo game. When word got around that the Americans were attending their first futebol game, a bunch of the other Galo fans at the office decided to come too. We were given few, but simple instructions on Friday before the game: don't take your wallet, don't take your purse, don't wear any jewelry, don't wear a watch, put a little bit of cash in your pocket, and dress down (jeans and a t-shirt were suggested.)

I wasn't real sure what type of place we were going to when given that set of instructions, but we both were excited to get our first taste of futebol. It also helped knowing that we all bought the 'expensive' tickets; I was hoping that might put us in a safer part of the stands! And by expensive, I mean that we paid about $18 each for the tickets, while the cheap seats sell for $3 each. Felipe and his girlfriend (who is actually an avid fan of the other BH team and only went to the game because Eric and I were going) picked us up at the hotel and we headed to the stadium to meet everyone else.

Before the game, everyone hangs around outside the stadium. There are tons of little vendors selling everything from popsicles to beef kabobs right off the grill. Tons of people were selling cokes and juices and then there were the people with small 'lunchbox size' coolers who were "illegally" selling beer. (Apparently, in an effort to keep people a little less rowdy, they banned beer in the stadium a few years back and also made it illegal to sell beer outside. It is still ok to drink beer, you just aren't supposed to sell it. And by illegal, it really just means you have to hide it in a little cooler. That way everyone knows you have beer to sell and the police are content because you have it covered . . .)

While we were 'tailgating' everyone informed me that my t-shirt of choice for the day wasn't acceptable. No one had bothered to tell us the team colors, and honestly, it never even crossed our minds. I had inadvertantly worn Cruziero's (the other team in BH) color: blue. OOPS! I felt like I was getting the evil eye from an awful lot of people in the crowd, so I decided to buy one of the bootleg Galo shirts for sale on the street. Everyone agreed that was much better!

About 45 minutes before gametime, we headed into the stadium to try and find some of the other people who were going to the game with us. I have to include this video clip here. This is one of the guys trying to get our attention as we entered through the gate . . . you finally get to hear my husband's name pronounced in Brazilian Portuguese. The really funny thing is that he has started introducing himself as "Earrikee" now, so people understand his name and how to spell it. Also, you might notice that on the left side of the screen there are 2 police officers. One is male, to frisk the men coming into the stadium and the other is female, to check the women for weapons. We were warned pregame that this would happen. Unfortunately, it wasn't caught on film, but as we entered the stadium, I walked up to the lady cop. She let me by and then Eric stood in front of her. Everyone was yelling and trying to tell Eric he had to go to the male cop, but he didn't even notice until the female officer looked at him, shook her head no, and pointed over to where all the men were being checked. By that point we were all cracking up, and Eric just shrugged his shoulders and said, "She was better looking than him . . . I wanted her to frisk me." It was quite humorous!

If you can't get the video to work here, try this link:

Once in the stands, we observed the stadium as it began to fill up with people and then as the crowd got more and more excited. I spent the better majority of the game trying to figure out how to describe the experience. The best I could come up with is this: It has all the enthusiasm of a Georgia football game between the hedges in Sanford Stadium on a Saturday night against Auburn MINUS any amount of refinement and sophistication. It was an intense 2+ hours as everyone in the stadium was chanting, singing, taking off their shirts (ok, mostly just the men) and swinging them around their heads, and yelling everything from the famous "GOOOOOOL" to all sorts of Portuguese profanity directed at the other team, specific players, and the officials. Despite that Galo was in the lead the entire game, if someone missed a good shot or a pass, everyone in the stadium experienced what looked like gut wrenching pain and misery. Then, something good would happen and everyone went right back to their chanting, setting off fireworks in the stands (yeah, really), and jumping up and down continuously. (Eric and I also spent a bit of time discussing the structural stability of concrete and our concerns given the construction techniques we have been observing down here lately. With like 50,000 people all jumping at the same time, your strength of materials classes are replayed in your head as you try to remember what exactly you determined was the failure point in that one problem . . . and then you decide you'd be better off not thinking about it. Eric finally looked at me and said- "Just remember the safety factor!") I don't know a better way to describe the action than with a video. Please note that this was before the game even started, the crowd was just warming up here.

If you can't get this video to work here, try this link:

A few of us just as we got to our seats

A couple other observations we had that may be 'blog worthy':

In this picture, you will see a large moat around the field. It was probably 10+ feet wide and even deeper. While it lacks water with hungry crocodiles and piranhas, it was built to keep the fans off the field we were told. Eric later questioned the presence of the drug dogs on the field with all the police. "Oh," someone told us, "those aren't for finding drugs, they are trained to attack anyone from the crowd who might run onto the field." At that point, Eric was like, but there is a huge moat??? To which our friend replied, "Yeah, but Brazilians are crazy enough to try and jump it . . . and some of them make it onto the field." I would suggest that maybe the crocs would be a good idea, but I guess that if the risk of a hard fall onto concrete doesn't intimidate you, nor does the dog on the other side waiting to make you his lunch, then flesh eating water creatures probably don't phase you either!

We also decided that paying for the pricier tickets was probably worth it. The stadium is divided into 4 sections : one on each side of the field, and then one on each end behind the goals. The cheap seats behind the goals are divinded from the better side seats by 12' tall fences with spikes at the top. (With the spikes directed towards the cheap seats.) You enter through different gates depending on your section and there is nowhere to cross between sections. The loudest, most energetic and rowdy fans with the most fireworks came from those cheaper end areas. I was pretty content just to be surrounded by shirtless men and a chanting crowd. I just don't really need sparklers being thrown around me to enjoy the game, ya know?

The food inside the stadium was new for us too. Not actually what we were eating, as it was very normal Minas Gerais stuff. But to be eating a plate full of pork loin, rice, fried pork skins, farofa, vinagarette, fried egg and greens was a bit different than your hotdogs, nachos, and peanuts in the USA. It was nice though, especially since we got an entire meal for less than what you'd expect to pay for a coke.

And, I thought this would be a final score shot of the scoreboard. Then, Galo scored one more goal in the last minute of the game. But anyway, they won, 4-1!

Oh yeah, and one more thing . . . listen to the chanting on this video. I swear it is to the tune of "Popeye the Sailor Man"! See what you think because Eric thinks I'm crazy!!!

Again, you may have to follow this link to get the video:

For a little more information about the teams in our city, here is a blurb from Wikipedia:

"As in the rest of Brazil, football is the most popular sport among locals. Belo Horizonte has two of the most successful teams in the country, and the city also has one of the biggest football stadiums in the world, the Mineirão, opened in 1965.

The older Independência Stadium hosted a legendary victory of the United States World Cup Team 1950 in a 1-0 triumph over England. See England v United States (1950) and [1]

Atlético Mineiro, which is also called by its nickname and mascot "Galo" (rooster) is one of the oldest football clubs in the city and was founded in 1908. Atlético Mineiro was the first Brazilian champion, in 1971, and has also won two CONMEBOL Cups (nowadays called Copa Sudamericana) and 39 State Championships. In spite of so much tradition, the team has suffered through very difficult times recently and was relegated to the Brazilian Série B. However, the club won the championship in 2006 and is back to Série A in 2007.

Cruzeiro was founded in 1921 by the members of the local Italian community. Cruzeiro has been one of Brazil´s most successful clubs in the 1990s and early 2000s, winning 4 National Cups, 1 National League, 2 Copa Libertadores, and 2 Supercopa Libertadores, and is also the winner of Taça Brasil in 1966 and 34 State Championships."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Another Weekend Ends :(

Our 4 day weekend is drawing near an end, sadly enough. It has flown by, as all of our time here has, but we got a lot done and played some too!
After I blogged last night, we went to a small party that Xavier (one of the guys that went with us to the waterfalls) and his family was hosting. There were about 13 of us there. He grilled a bunch of different meats and his wife made rice, farofa, vinagrette, and mandioca. We ate too much, as usual, but we had no regrets . . . it was way yummy!

I got a free Portuguese lesson while I was there too. Xavier's ten year old daughter brought out a bunch of children's books in Portuguese and tested my vocabulary. It's amazing how many words you don't know when you first start learning a new language. And really funny how if you asked a 2 year old Brazilian kid, they would know the words for things like butterfly, grass, caterpillar, gosling, etc. I failed my test pretty miserably, so she sent the books home with me so I could study! Last night Eric was sitting on the couch looking over the Portuguese version of Pinocchio when he looked up at me and said, this has hard words in it! All I could do was agree. With any luck though we'll be reading at a 1st grade level before too long. ;)

a few of us from the party last night

Yesterday Eric and I got a feel for just how laid back Brazilians are here . . . While the appliances we purchased are going to be delivered to our apartment once we take possession, the Sony Wega we bought was actually a floor model, so we had to take it with us. We were discussing how funny it was going to look to go walking into the hotel with a 29" television (and maybe how much more suspicious it was going to be to check out with it!) When we entered the lobby, one of the very English-fluent staff members, a guy with a great sense of humor and jokes with us a lot, was working the front desk. As Eric was toting the tv towards the elevator, he looked up and told the guy "We broke the TV in our room, so we just bought a new one." The guy looks at Eric and the TV, said, "OK, no problem" and then went back to looking at something on the computer screen. That wasn't quite the response Eric thought he'd get! It was pretty funny though! Eric laughed and let the guy know he was just kidding and that we were actually buying a few things for our apartment. But, it didn't really seem to matter to the guy one way or another. This is why Brazilians tell us we'll live longer if we adapt their attitude and disposition: no worries!

We spent this morning at the feria (the big market Eric wrote about a few weeks ago) to try to do a little Christmas shopping. Then, we made a trip out to the single Wal-Mart and Sam's Club in this town of 5 million occupants. (Yeah, seriously, Athens, GA has 2 Wal-Marts and we only have one in all of the greater Belo Horizonte area. And even more disturbing . . . no Target!) You don't realize how much you take those places for granted until you don't have them at your disposal. There are just some things that I don't know where else to buy them if not some giant superstore! There are a few things that we need cheap versions of just to get us by until our air shipment arrives with our 'good' apartment things we wanted from the US (which will be sometime in late December probably.) Where else can you find a cheapo sauce pan so you can do some sort of cooking until your Calphalon arrives???

This afternoon we spent some much needed time laying out by the pool at the hotel. We have spent the better majority of the last 4 days running around and have spent a bunch of time on our feet, so it felt pretty good to just lay around for a little bit! We came in a little while ago, got showers, and now I think we are going to order room service and watch a movie tonight (Mission Impossible III is on tv in English with Portuguese subtitles.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Updating on the Last Week and a Half

I am getting in trouble for not posting anything for the last week and a half . . . oops! Eric says with my busy schedule (insert sarcastic tone here) it's no wonder I haven't gotten around to updating our blog (insert punch to his shoulder here.) ;)

We have been enjoying Brasil as usual and even handling a bit of business over the last several days. The week of November 5, we got to hang out at night with some other Americans for the first time since we moved here. Two CNH guys (Larry and Hank) were in town, so we went out to supper with them each night. Eric's boss here in Brasil, Humberto, had a bunch of us over to his house for supper on that Thursday night and we had a real good time.

Last Saturday night, we were invited to a party at a friend's (Marco, a coworker of Eric's here) mother-in-law's home. Did you follow all that?? Marco warned us that no one else there would speak ANY English. We thought it might be good practice for us - force us to speak some Portuguese and not be surrounded by people eager to practice their English. It was quite the experience as roughly 20 people cycled through the house that night. We felt like the main attraction- hey, look, real live Americans! I found I could sit next to the 5 year old little girl and have something resembling a conversation, sort of. We had a blast, but we left the party early at 1:00 am because we could barely stay awake any longer. Marco said the last people left after 3:00 that morning.

This last week was a short one for Eric. Thursday was Republic Day here in Brasil and they also took Friday off to bridge it into a 4 day weekend. We looked into taking a trip to the beach, but our first choice in locations (Ilha Grande) was all booked up. We decided to stay back here in BH instead and take care of some apartment things instead.

But before we did too much work, we took a trip on Thursday to some waterfalls about an hour and a half from here. We went with 3 other couples (two of the guys work with Eric) and the 3 kids of one of the couples. It was a beautiful day, the scenery was gorgeous, and we got to do some swimming/sunbathing. I have several pictures that we took Thursday, but I will save those for the end of my post here.

The trip was made especially fun by having the 17 year old boy and 10 year old girl ride with the Americans. Fernando (the boy) has been studying English and is very fluent. He wanted to practice his English, so he rode with us on the way to the waterfalls. His little sister is super cute and she is just learning English. Her brothers say she loves to talk, so when we drove to lunch and then sight seeing, she jumped in the car with us too so she could try out her English. They are great kids and they made the drive a lot of fun.

Next week, we are supposed to do a walk through of the apartment and sign the papers so we can take possession. It is hard to say whether all of that will go as planned or not, but Eric and I decided to take advantage of him having a weekday off and did some shopping for the apartment. As I have mentioned before, apartments here come without any appliances at all. (Some even are lacking light fixtures, showerheads, door handles . . .) We spent all day Friday shopping for furniture and pricing appliances. Then, we went back today and made ourselves the proud owners of a new stove, refrigerator, washing machine, and television. I was pretty excited about it all, since I am getting the stainless stove and fridge that I have been dying for! Eric is feeling a little left out since he didn't get the LCD TV he wanted . . . but I am pretty sure I would have needed a defibrillator for my hubby had we put anything more expensive on the bill. In all seriousness though, we felt good about our purchases. They had a bunch of floor models marked way down and we ended up getting new in the box stuff delivered for an even slightly lower price. Our Brazilian-style negotiating skills are improving. :)

So for some pictures now from Thursday:

This is the group we were with (minus yours truly - the photographer). This is a statue of Juquinha, a man who was very famous in the area near the waterfalls-although I am still unsure of what he did or why he was so well known.

This is the waterfall we hiked to. It was really pretty and the most famous waterfall in the area. Notice the people walking across the top of it. We also had to make the somewhat treacherous journey across the top of the falls walking on algae covered rocks and wading through rushing water so we could get down to the swimming area. It was one of those things I am pretty certain my mother would have forbid my brothers and me from doing as kids (or even now for that matter!)This is a shot downstream of the waterfall. It was really quiet, peaceful, and absolutely beautiful. The landscape is very different than the waterfalls I am used to visiting in the mountains of North Georgia and Tennessee. Although maybe it was just the lack of Deliverance music in the background . . . who's to say?? ;) (Don't you northern folks just hate it when I beat you to the punch and make the Southerner joke before you get the chance?!? hehe)
This is just a landscape shot from a lookout along the way. Beautiful scenery!

This is a cattle pasture. I love that they have palm trees in their pastures! You will notice one area that has been plowed up as part of pasture renovation. The farmer planted some grass seed and, of course, some young palm trees.

And these last two . . . well, I thought maybe you would like some clarification on an earlier comment about Eric and I standing out as very American in our swimsuits. These are typical (and maybe even on the modest end of things.) We are still trying to get brave enough to conform . . .

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Transportation in Brasil

Alright, yesterday I promised some more pictures. Taking our weekend drive of 16 hours, we saw a lot of interesting things. I had to keep my camera ready at all times . . . I didn't want you to miss this stuff!

We like to call these guys Kamikaze Bikers (and don't think they drive more conservative just because they have 2 tanks of flammable material strapped on). You might also notice how great it is to be on a motorcycle: see how the guys behind Mr. Kamikaze can bypass the traffic?

On our way home, we got stuck in some traffic for a while. Once we came around this curve, we saw why:
This guy, assuming the crash didn't kill him, got really lucky! On the other side of the guard rail that he busted up is a no less than 40' drop off- straight down!

Apparently, before he flipped over, he ran into this dump truck full of sand.

A little further down the road, we were slowed by the 2nd of 3 trucks we saw that had flipped over. The truck here had already been pulled up by a wrecker, but his cargo (crates of mangoes wrapped in paper) were still on the edge of the road. Luckily, all these nice people stopped to help pick up his cargo . . .

. . . and load it into their cars??? Hey guys, free mangoes just lying on the side of the road!!!

But we can't quite figure out how the trucks manage to flip over when they are so carefully loaded. (This guy actually almost ran us into oncoming traffic when we passed him. Once we got around him, we realized that he was scrubbing the side of the mountain on that curve!) Geez, talk about top heavy! I'm pretty sure we would have seen a 4th truck flipped on it's side if we had stayed behind this guy a little longer!

Some of you might remember that Eric bought a 7.3 liter powerstroke diesel F-250 just 2 weeks before he was offered the job in Brasil. We had to sell it along with our other 3 vehicles before we moved down here. But, eat your heart out powerstroke fans (Jared!) We can buy a big beast of a truck down here too . . . sort of.

But, in case you can't handle the power of a 2.8 liter engine, you can always drop the horse power down to a single horse. Yes, we are on a major highway here.

My apologies for the sarcasm dripping from this entry! We were pretty entertained though by the things we saw on our drive. It made the 8 hours go a lot faster! I read in a book written about Brazilians that they generally don't place much value on human life (even their own). By the looks of the things we saw on the road this weekend, I would dare agree with that statement!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Vitória it is!

Apparently, the Brazilians are rubbing off on us! Eric and I had been sort of complaining to each other last week how no one would really make firm plans for the 3-day weekend, although we had several invitations to do things and go places. We went to bed Thursday night not knowing what we would be doing over the extended weekend, but when we woke up Friday morning, Eric looked at me and said "Let's go to Vitória." We did about an hour of investigating and decided to take off driving towards the coast. We had no hotel room reserved, no real idea of how long it would take us to get there, and no good map of the area. But what the heck! When in Rome (or Brasil) . . .

Who needs a plan, right? Geez, this was so totally out of character for both of us. You should see our notebook when we take a trip: copies of hotel reservations, maps of the destination city and of all the states we will be passing through on the way, information about all the things we have looked up and want to do while we are there, and not to mention the plethera of snacks and cooler of drinks. So the two people who are obsessive over planners, are in a foreign country, barely speak the language, have never travelled the highways, and have absolutely no plan take off with a small suitcase of clothes, our credit card and some cash.

We did look up the route on Google Earth and it said we should expect a 6 hour trip. Awesome! We would be at the beach before sunset! Well, it didn't quite go that way . . .

First off, we had to get out of Belo Horizonte. It just so happens that they were doing massive construction around where we needed to get onto our highway to Vitória and they didn't really bother to post signs to point you in the right direction or anything. But after about 30 minutes of cruising the area, we found a path that we thought was right and eventually we saw a sign for our destination city - yea! The road itself was actually in pretty good shape: no huge potholes or busted up pavement. But it was a winding 2 lane highway (which we learned Brazilians will make a 3-4 lane road) through the mountains the entire way there. And then there was our poor little rental car: a 1.0 liter VW Gol (similar to the VW Golf in the US). Let's just say that you need a little more than 1 liter to make it up some of those hills! We found that if we dropped it down to fourth (and sometimes third) gear we could make it without losing all of our speed. The 'powerful' 2.0 liter 'sports cars' were still passing us like we were rolling backwards though. We had her wrapped out at 4000+ rpm's the entire trip ( seriously, I'm not over exaggerating here!) Our hopes of making it before dark didn't really work out so well either. The 6 hours is really more like 8 on those mountain roads. And then we found that street signs are kind of non-existent on the streets of Vitória. We did do enough research before we left to know what roads we needed to take to get to the beach . . . but it is a little tough to do when the streets aren't labelled! So we saw some rather intriguing places, had no idea at any given time where the heck we were or if we were even going in the right direction, but somehow we ended up on the street that runs along the coast! (Even after consulting a good map, we have no idea how we got to the beach.) We stopped at a nice looking hotel right there on the beach, they had a room available, and all of a sudden our adventurous spirit was paying off. We were at the beach!!!

We had decided to go to Vila Velha which is just to the south of Vitória and is supposed to have the better beaches. Boy were we not disappointed! The beaches are wide and covered with beautiful coral colored sand. The sand and the water were super clean-no trash, seaweed, or even shells to impede your walking-along-the-beach pleasure! The were areas of the beach that had rock outcroppings to break waves and provide calm waters for swimming, or you could do like us and choose to go to the less protected areas and play in some great waves. The people were super friendly and nice. There was an awesome super wide sidewalk and bike trail between the street and beach that was always full of people. The entire beach and sidewalk area was really well lit so you could safely enjoy it at night. It was really nice too that there are no buildings right on the beach. They are all on the other side of the road, leaving wide open beaches.

We spent Friday night eating supper and then walking the beach that night. Saturday was spent playing/getting beat up by some great waves, drinking the water from coconuts, walking along the beach, and checking out the beachside vendors and restaurants. We got up on Sunday and spent some more time at the beach in the water before we packed up and made the 8 hour journey back home. The whole way home we kept looking at each other and saying, "This was totally worth it!"

We had such a great time! We have both been dying to get to the beach - it's hard to be in Brasil and not be on the coast! Although next time, I think we will make our plans at least the night before, get up early, and take off driving first thing in the morning instead of at noon!

Here are a few pictures from Praia da Costa (the beach we were at) in Vila Velha. They were mostly taken from our hotel window or the hotel pool which also had a view of the ocean. The city isn't touristy at all, just locals were there. In fact, all along the beach, there were tons of apartment buildings, but we only counted 5 hotels and none if them were busy on this holiday weekend. There usually isn't much tourist crime down here in cities without tourism (like BH) but we still wanted to play it safe and not carry around the digital camera looking like tourists with money!

During the Day:

And at night:

Coming up tomorrow: pictures from the drive and a few thoughts on transportation in Brasil!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Hope everyone had a great Halloween! Coming down here, we weren't sure if they celebrated Halloween or not, but as it turns out it is just starting to become popular. I found a store, named Lojas Americanas no less, that sold some costumes, so I picked up a couple things for us to wear out to TGIFridays last night. (You might as well go to an American restaurant to celebrate an American holiday, you know?) They had it all decorated and all the wait staff was dressed up. We had fun even though we got some weird looks on the street on our way to eat! (And not to mention the explaining we had to do when we walked down to the lobby and ran into a group of CNH higher-ups that were from all over the globe!!! We got some real strange looks and some questions from those guys!)

So, Eric and I are excited to have another 3 day weekend! Tomorrow is a national holiday (All Souls Day). We are not real sure what we are going to do yet, but we've talked to a few friends about plans. One guy wants to take us to Ouro Preta, a beautiful and very historical city not too far from here. Someone else mentioned going to a great waterfall that's pretty close, and we've been invited to attend a big soccer game on Sunday. We are finding though that Brazilians don't seem to like to make firm plans. Right now it is all just "we'll call you this weekend." It is a little tough for Eric and me since we are both habitual over planners! :) But, we are learning to just go with it and enjoy the spontaneity.

For today, I am about to go have some lunch, meet with my Portuguese tutor, and then go get a manicure and pedicure this afternoon. By the way, have I mentioned how great the salons are here? I can get a mani/pedi, have 2 ladies working on me for about an hour, and all for the price of R$15 (or roughly $8.50 in USD.) At that price, not even Eric can complain much . . . but he still tries! ;)