Friday, October 30, 2009

Parque Nacional da Serra Geral

After the cold, foggy day before, we were excited to wake up to sunny skies on Sunday. We gobbled down breakfast and drove out to Parque Nacional da Serra Geral. We started feeling slightly less giddy as we approached the canyons there and saw a wall of clouds!

The most famous canyon in this national park is Cânion da Fortaleza which is 8 km long and drops 900 meters. The fog came and went all morning, and we ended up spending the majority of our day there. We did lots of hiking and exploring and had a really fabulous time! The pictures mostly speak for themselves, so I won't have a lot to say here.

We met a group of people along the first trail, but after that we pretty much had the place to ourselves for most of the day.

This was one of the many moments I spent asking Eric to please not stand quite so close to the edge of the canyon. Granted, you can't see how far it drops, but that doesn't make a 900 m fall any more pleasant . . . or survivable. My hubby makes me nervous in these situations. I eventually told him if he wanted my support in his edge-clinging, he was going to have to increase his life insurance coverage. ;)

Taking a break from the BabyBjörn to fly a bit, and giggle uncontrollably.

Think she might have a future as a cheerleader? Look at that form!

One of several streams we hopped stone-to-stone across throughout the day.

We got so excited every time there was a gap in the fog and we could see more of the canyon!

To get this view, it was necessary to do some pretty major rock-hopping across the top of the waterfall. Eric felt like Gabs threw his balance off just enough that is might not be wise to attempt it with her strapped to him. I agreed and kindly took over the baby-wearing duties while he went to check it out and take some pictures for me. (You can just barely see Gabriela and me through the fog on top of the waterfall.)

Eric said he needed to document me carrying Gabs for once. I reminded him of the 9 months (and the 10 days past her due date) that I got to haul her around and then I threw in that part about how I have to walk around making milk for her all day everyday. He didn't have much more to say after that. HA! (And I promise the sun was out and bright for a minute - I actually did need my sunglasses at a few points during the day!)

The fog was really rolling in thick by the time we left that afternoon. We ran into a professor with a group of students there in the park, and he told us that it is unusual for the mornings to be foggy. I guess visibility usually decreases in the afternoons, but we just happened to be there during a weird time when the mornings were foggy too.

There wasn't much left to do around Cambará do Sul, so about 4:00 that afternoon we drove down to Canela/Gramado. It was a really pretty drive.

And the road was good.

And we could drive fast and make good time.

Until we came around a corner to discover this:

We continued along a nice long stretch of road that went back and forth between almost perfectly smooth to completely busted up and full of car-sized pot holes that caused us to slam on the brakes and try to find a patch of asphalt to drive on.

But it made us feel a lot less bad about Minas Gerais Roads!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Parque Nacional de Aparados da Serra

At the same time I happened upon the super-sale fares to Maceió, I also booked tickets to Porto Alegre. I wasn't sure at the time what we'd do there, but the tickets were cheap and we'd never been to Rio Grande do Sul (the southern-most state in Brasil), so we decided we had time to figure out something fun. And boy, oh boy, did we ever!!!

A little bit North of Porto Alegre are the mountains of the Serra Gaúcha. The area was settled originally by German and Italian immigrants and the region has a decided different feel to it than the other parts of Brasil we've visited. It is a land full of national and local parks, lots of beautiful waterfalls, alpine villages, and cooler temperatures. It is about the last thing most people think of when they imagine Brasil, but it was spectacular! It will take me a few posts to get though everything we packed into our 3-day weekend!

We got into Porto Alegre late Friday night, October 16, and spent the night there at the Novotel. The next morning we took off driving our rental car towards Cambará do Sul. Unfortunately, the 2-1/2 hour drive turned into something quite a bit longer. About halfway there, we were informed by a nice gentleman stationed at the road barricade that part of RS-020 had fallen off the side of the mountain and we would have to detour a couple hours over to Gramado and then up to Cambará do Sul. It was a bit of an inconvenience, but better than falling off the side of a mountain, I suppose!

Once we finally made it to our destination we went immediately to Parque Nacional de Aparados da Serra. This national park is home to Cânion do Itaimbezinho, a narrow canyon measuring 5800 meters long and 720 meters deep, along with a couple waterfalls. Unfortunately, it was super foggy in the canyon that day, so we couldn't see a whole lot. But, it was a beautiful place and we enjoyed a few hours of hiking that afternoon!

Tying his shoes and getting ready to hike (while also pleading with Gabs to please stop kicking her right foot - she is long enough now that her legs dangle at a rather inopportune height for her dear Papai!)

This is me in front of the impressive canyon . . . that we couldn't see. :(

Eric mocking Gabriela's open-mouth grin she displays every time the camera is turned on.

The fog did thin out just enough for a moment that we could catch a glimpse of the very top of one of the waterfalls!

This area is full of these trees that look like they are straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. They are called pinheiro-do-paraná or pinheiro-brasileiro (latin name: Araucaria angustifolia) and I am totally in love with them!

We hiked around both sides of the canyon enjoying the cool, refreshing air and foggy, ethereal scenes around us.

As the afternoon continued on, it started getting down right cold! The damp fog didn't help matters either! After Gabriela's little cheeks had flushed a lovely shade of rose and her nose was quite cold, we headed back into town to find a place to stay for the night.

We ended up choosing an adorable little chalé at Pousada Oliveira. After going out for yummy fondue that night, we came back and built a roaring fire in our little fireplace. We put Gabs down to sleep for the night and then spent the next couple hours cuddled up on a blanket on the floor chatting and sipping wine in front of the warm fire. (And then made a quick run from there to underneath the covers. In usual Brasil fashion, there was no insulation and no heater - you could actually feel a breeze coming through the place. It dropped down close to freezing that night, so the room was quite chilly!)

Bundled up before going out to supper

The couple who owns Pousada Oliveira are two of the sweetest, friendliest people we've ever met, and they fell head over heels in love with our kiddo. The next morning when we got up for breakfast (which was served in a little room in their home next to the chalés), the lady immediately asked to hold Gabriela while we ate. We were planning to feed her some banana and papaya first, but after that we handed her over. The lady took her around the house and looked out windows and told her about everything they were looking at.

Later on she came back in the breakfast room, handed Gabs back to me, and chatted with us some more. She and her husband commented on how great it was that we were feeding Gabriela fruit. They said their daughter only wanted bottles of cafe com leite (coffee with milk) at that age and that she was very picky - it had to be just the right mixture of coffee and milk and sugar. I had to work really hard not to let my jaw hit the table.

Trying to change the subject a bit, I rattled off the list of things my 6-month-old is eating these days (avocado, banana, pumpkin . . .) And then, the lady went on to cut a piece of frosted chocolate cake and bring it over to me. She said that you know, a little sweet doesn't hurt anything and, here, let Gabriela try this cake. As my mind was racing as to how I could tactfully explain, in Portuguese no less, that I really wasn't comfortable with her having CAKE, the lady walked out of the room and so I gobbled down the cake myself. (It was yummy! But really? For an infant?)

That morning it was sunny and beautiful, so we were looking forward to checking out another park in the area!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tio Justin Chegou!

Eric has asked that I please announce for future reference that the airport shuttle is going to have an extra surcharge when forced to operate during hours deemed inappropriate. Yesterday's 4:30 am arrival of my little brother probably qualifies. ;)

Justin arrived in Belo Horizonte all safe and sound, as did the box full of goodies I asked him to smuggle in. You know, corn tortillas, infant gas drops, cranberry sauce, that kind of stuff. His suitcase, containing everything for him, however . . . not here. It seems Copa Air lost pretty much 1/2 of everyone's checked luggage on the entire plane. Justin waited in line in BH for 2 hours before he was even able to speak to the agents about his missing suitcase. Which also meant that after arriving at the airport at 5:00 am, we waited an additional 2 hours and 15 minutes for him. We did at least know what was going on, as everyone coming through the gate was upset and announcing Copa had lost the luggage of every single person on that plane.

Gabriela couldn't be more excited about seeing her Uncle Justin. It's been a long 3 months since we were in Georgia and she's changed a lot! Uncle Justin seems pretty pleased to be in her company too, especially since she can't talk yet. (I've been trying to convince her she needs to call him Tio Dedinho (Uncle Little-Finger). He got into a slight altercation with a sawmill recently and his left index finger was shortened a bit and Tio Dedinho just has a really nice ring to it. While I'm glad it is healing and doesn't look like ground beef anymore, he's just hoping I forget the nickname before Gabs is speaking.)

Anyway, since we are leaving Brasil the end of this year now, Eric is taking his remaining Brasilian vacation days while Justin is here. And Eric's good college friend, Jimmy, is flying into Rio today, so we are heading down there to meet him right now. Our agenda is looking a little something like this:

October 26-28 Rio de Janeiro
October 28-30 Ilha Grande
October 30-November 1 Belo Horizonte/Minas Gerais
November 1 Jimmy leaves, rest of us fly to Campo Grande
November 2-5 Passo do Lontra, THE PANTANAL!
November 5-7 Bonito, Mato Grosso do Sul
November 7 Return to BH
November 9 Justin leaves

It should be a great time for all involved! We're looking forward to hanging out with Justin and Jimmy while getting to do some more fun stuff around Brasil!

I'll try not to let it get too quiet in blog-land though. After several weeks of him working extra late (as in getting home at 8:00 or 8:30, or even 9:07), I told Eric I really wanted a Mommy's-Day-Off on Saturday. He readily agreed, but then asked how much exactly it was going to cost him. Since he was expecting me to request a spa day or day of shopping or something, you can imagine his delighted surprise when I told him I just wanted a day to stay in my PJ's, cuddle up with my computer, uninterrupted, and catch up on some writing and posting.

So thanks to one great Daddy who stepped up and took over for a day, I have posts scheduled for the next two weeks while we're traveling! Check back on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays this week and next.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Goodbye Brasil (Too Soon)

I've already tried throwing myself on the floor, pounding my fists, and wailing, "But I don't waaaaanna! Não queeeeeero!"

It was quite the sight.

And it didn't work.

December. Iowa. {Insert Pouty Face.}

Our Big Brasilian Adventure will be drawing to an end soon. And we will be returning to the land of all things frozen and cold. (Can Brasilians, especially those of the infant variety who are quite the budding little nudists, even survive in such a habitat?!?)

We've known most of this year that the chances of us staying a third year, as we were hoping for, were slim. With the economy in the US and Europe not so super stellar, companies are looking to save money where they can. Expats are expensive. And despite the fact that we are way at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to expats of the world, it is definitely more expensive for the company to have Eric in Brasil than in the US. We were holding out and hoping that maybe something would change and we wouldn't have to return quite yet. There is still so much we want to see and do in Brasil and South America! (And not to mention so many exciting things happening here economy-wise, etc.) Two years has passed so quickly!

As of last week though, it pretty much became official and sometime around December 23 we are being repatriated.

I am a great big believer in your attitude determining your reality. So by the time December rolls around, I will suck it up and focus on the many, many positive aspects of moving back (family, friends, Mexican food, Chik-fil-A, sales at Kohl's . . .) and try to ignore the fact that the outdoor temperature is colder than the temperature inside my freezer. But don't think for a minute I'm not going to pout a little first. ;)

I've been a real big fan of our lifestyle in Brasil and all the wonderful friends we've made. I'm going to miss year-round pool weather. I'm going to miss being just 5 hours from the beach. I'm going to miss our weekends being completely ours. I'm going to miss caipirinhas and picanha and beijos. And lawsy mercy, I'm going to miss my maid!

I think Gabriela sums it all up better than I can:

But meanwhile, we do have a couple months left. And we certainly plan on living it up!!! More details about our remaining days in our tropical paradise coming soon . . .

Friday, October 23, 2009

"Gravestones in English of People We Don't Know"

Ever since before moving to Brasil, I have been intrigued by Americana, São Paulo (or actually the town 7 km away called Santa Bárbara d'Oeste). A couple hours north of São Paulo city is a town molded by immigrants from the United States. After the Civil War, Dom Pedro II offered cheap land in Brasil to the Confederates. Hoping to appeal to those who weren't thrilled about living under the newly re-established United States of America, he thought Brasil could benefit from the farming technology that would be brought by the Southerners. No one seems to know for sure, but it is estimated that as many as 10,000 people moved from the US (mostly Southern states) to Brasil to take the emperor up on his offer. Many of them settled in the state of São Paulo in Santa Bárbara d'Oeste.

Today there isn't a lot left of those original settlers. But there is a Baptist Church, cemetery, and memorial along with what I hear to be a good museum. And there is an organization of American descendants, Associação Descendência Americana, who host the Festa Confederada and other events to honor their heritage. (There is a really great article with more information here, I recommend giving it a read if you're interested.)

I would love to attend the Festa Confederada in April and see the place transformed into the Old South: girls in hoop dresses, men in Confederate Uniforms, fried chicken, peach pie, and sweet tea all around . . . but, as it was, I was a bit preoccupied with giving birth and what-not this year.

So when we decided to make our random 3-day road trip through Southern Minas and São Paulo, I really wanted to make a visit to this oh-so-interesting place. Eric was a bit skeptical, but I think that was only because he was worried how folks would take to a Yankee wandering around those parts! I promised I wouldn't let anyone shoot him, and so he agreed to go.

We started off driving straight to Santa Bárbara d'Oeste to find the Museu da Imigração (Immigration Museum). We only had to stop and ask one person to get directed right to the Museum. We arrived just in time to see the lady locking the door. (I thought they were open until 4:00 on Sundays, turns out they close at 1:00.) We did ask her for directions to "O Cemitério do Campo" (the cemetery) though. She told us it was not in town and was too difficult to tell us how to get there and turned to walk away. We pressed her a bit more, explained we had a car, and asked if she could at least give us an idea of how to drive there. She told us to drive down Bandeirantes Highway.

I had the GPS coordinates, but the GPS didn't show the dirt roads that lead to the point, so we kindly accepted her directions. A couple hours later and after talking to several different people (most of whom had no idea what we were talking about), we found the cemetery. It actually is very easy to find and has lots of big signs directing you there . . . if you are on the highway to Piracicaba and not Bandeirantes Highway (which is a limited-access tollway that doesn't give access to the road to the cemetery) like the not-at-all-helpful lady from the Museum told us!!!

We drove lots of dirt roads through fields of sugar cane heading in the direction of the cemetery. We kept getting close, but not having roads to lead us all the way there. It was a fun adventure though!

Finally found the cemetery!

The area has a monument to the original settlers, a Baptist Church, the cemetery, and a small museum with a collection of items donated by the descendants of the Americans who moved here.

Around the base of the monument were the family names of the immigrants. It included:
Ayees, Baird, Bankston, Barnsley, Barr, Bentley, Bookwalter, Bowen, Broadnax, Britt, Bryant, Buford, Burton, Capps, Carlton, Carr, Clark, Cole, Coulter, Crawley, Crisp, Cullen, Currie, Daniel, Demaret, Drain, Domm, Dumas, Easton, Ellis, Ezelle, Ferguson, Fenley, Gill, Grady, Green, Hall, Hardeman, Harris, Hawthorne, Hogan, Holland, Jones, Keese, Kennerly, King, Lloyd, Mathews, McAlpine, McFadden, McIntyre, McKnight, McMullan, Meriwether, Miller, Mills, Minchin, Moore, Morrison, Newman, Norris, Northrup, Oliver, Peacock, Perkins, Prestridge, Provost, Pyles, Quillen, Radcliff, Rowe, Sanders, Seawright, Scurlock, Smith, Steagall, Strong, Tanner, Tarver, Terrell, Thatcher, Thomas, Townsend, Trigg, Vaughan, Ward, Whitaker, Whitehead, Williamson, Weissinger, Wright, Yancey

So many of these are familiar names to me. People from my hometown, folks I went to school with, Primitive Baptist preachers I know . . .

Tucked back among pine trees and palms (which I felt was most appropriate!) is a little church.

Inside, it felt much like the little churches in Cades Cove, Tennessee

This memorial to the First Baptists in Brasil reads:
Here, on September 10th, 1871, it was organized the first Baptist Church in Brazil. The founder members of that church came from the South of the United States of America, after Civil War. Their first pastor was Richard Ratcliff from the State of Louisiana. That church promoted the ordination of the first Brazilian Baptist minister, Antônio Teixeira de Albuquerque in 1880. It was a missionary church. They requested and received missionaries to Brazil, the families Bagby and Taylor, who thereafter went to Salvador, Bahia. Although they do not exist as a church anymore, the seed planted by those pioneer Baptists produced and still produces fruits for the honor and glory of God.

We wandered around the cemetery reading gravestones for quite a while.

I loved the combination of English and Portuguese on many of them!

And the simplicity (and funny wording, "aged 71 years") of some.

And the spell-it-like-they-pronounce-it mistakes (Lauisiana, U.S.A.)

As I wandered around snapping pictures and taking it all in, Eric looked at me, shook his head, and asked, "Really? We came all this way to read gravestones in English of people we don't know?" "But look, all the pine trees! The little country church! We could be in Georgia", I replied. With a sly little grin, my husband added, "My point exactly." Alas, I didn't expect my Darling Dearest Yankee would get it . . . he didn't.

After thanking my hubby profusely for not giving up on the cemetery search and burning a lot of expensive fuel on my behalf, I told him he could make the plans for the rest of the day. It took him 2.57 seconds to decide we would drive over to Piracicaba and admire heavy machinery. Specifically, the oh-so-fun-to-look-at Case sugarcane harvesters!

We would LOVE to see one of these babies in action! They're such funny-looking contraptions!

After that, we headed over to Campinas, had some supper, and spent the night there. The next day we made the journey back to Belo Horizonte.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

6 Months

My Dear Sweet Gabriela,

Half of a year has passed since the day you made your grand entrance into the world. Some days it doesn't seem possible that you're already 6 months old, but at the same time it feels like you have always been a part of our life. (I've already forgotten what it was like to leave the house without a car seat or stroller and 20 pounds of stuff.)

It has been another great month, and one that has passed very quickly. We've done lots of traveling (as usual), you started eating solid foods, and your little personality is developing more every day.

We were going to wait until 6 months to start you on solids, but since your Uncle Justin is arriving this weekend and we'll be traveling a lot with him, we decided to get started a couple weeks early. You started off with avocado, and we've been introducing a new food every four days or so. So far you've been enjoying avocado, banana, pumpkin, papaya, and green beans. You seem to prefer the fruits, but I'm not sure if that is because of the taste or because you prefer some texture over the purees. You've been doing great with it though and enjoy the two real-food meals per day in addition to your usual four nursing/bottle sessions.

Going in for a beijinho for Mamãe

Our travels this month have included a road trip through southern Minas Gerais and part of São Paulo and a trip down to Rio Grande do Sul. Our road trip took us to the cities of Poços de Caldas, Andradas, Santa Bárbara d'Oeste, Americana, Piracicaba, and Campinas. And this last weekend we visited the Serra Gaúcha towns of Cambará do Sul, Canela, and Gramado (and the surrounding local and national parks) after flying into Porto Alegre. You're still a trooper on trips, but you have taken to really fighting naps when there is something else going on; you're just afraid of missing out on something I suppose.

You are becoming more of a ham every day. You can be tired and cranky with your Papai and me, but the second we pull out a camera or a stranger glances your way, your mood changes immediately! You have a giant open mouth smile you plaster on the second you hear the camera turn on. And whenever you pass people on the street, get into a crowded elevator, or pretty much any other situation that puts you in contact with other humans, you start grinning like crazy, blowing raspberries, and giggling until you have put a smile on everyone's face. I have not been able to go anywhere in a hurry for the last several weeks because you're so busy flirting with everyone that I have to stop and let them fuss over you for a while before I am able to continue on my way. If only I had a dime for every time I heard "Fofinha de mais!" or "Uma bonequinha!" or "Uma coisa linda!" or just "Nossa, olha" . . . well, it'd be enough to put you through college. You are quite the little charmer!

Along with getting more beautiful by the minute, you are also getting stronger and more mobile. Although you still can't get yourself into the position, if I help you sit up you will stay there playing for a little while until you loose interest and fling yourself sideways. You aren't exactly crawling, but that doesn't mean you can't move 15 feet across a room. You combine rolling, spinning 360 degrees on your belly, and pushing yourself backwards to make it incredible distances and get into stuff I thought you were plenty far away from. Every time I think you are about to crawl forward, you end up going in reverse - usually much to your own chagrin and frustration as you are trying to get to a toy in front of you!

Your balance isn't so good yet, but if you have something to hold onto you can push yourself up into a standing position and stay there for several minutes (until you forget and let go of whatever you're using for balance and fall over!) And I say pushing up and not pulling up, because you don't use your arms at all, just those chubby little legs of yours. It's funny to see such a tiny little thing standing up all on her own!

Your doctor is on vacation this month, so you won't have a 6-month well baby visit. But according to our home scale you are up to 14.5 pounds (which keeps you in about the 25th percentile).

You continue to keep your Papai and me amazed that we could have created something so perfect and thank God everyday for blessing us to be your parents. You bring immeasurable joy to our lives and to everyone you encounter.

I love you so much, minha querida!