Dear Blog Readers,
I am very sorry for absence the past couple of weeks. I hope that you will understand that I too am surprised that almost three weeks have passed already! I take that as a good sign that I’m really enjoying Rio and taking advantage of every moment to add value to my experience here. To make it up to you, I made this post a lot longer and comprised of smaller posts put together.
Futebol de Areia aka Beach Soccer
One of the buses I take home from PUC to Copacabana goes along the beaches in Zona Sul starting with Leblon, followed by Ipanema, and finally Copacabana. Cariocas cover these beaches with many sports including beach soccer, beach volleyball, and Futevôlei, which combines both soccer and volleyball and was invented right here in Rio. During the first week of class, I began to scan the beaches for a place to learn to play soccer. Given that Brazil is a soccer passionate country and that my own interest in soccer has been growing since the World Cup 2010, I knew I wanted to play and improve my skills during my exchange in Rio. What better way to enjoy the beach, immerse myself in the Carioca way of life, get some great exercise, and practice my Portuguese? That week I stumbled upon an area on Copacabana beach where people of all age groups, male and female, were playing volleyball and soccer. I talked with the coach who said that I could start that very day if I wanted. Since then I have been practicing with the Geração girls’ team everyday Monday through Friday.
The Brazilian government provides these programs for free in order to encourage sports, especially for girls. I have only ever played soccer with friends recreationally. I’ve never been on an official team nor have I ever been coached so this is a great opportunity for me! The first week was quite a challenge (and it continues to be) for two main reasons among many others. Firstly, EVERYTHING is harder in the sand so I was even worse than I thought. Secondly, it’s all in Portuguese and soccer training vocab like chutar, disparar, zagueiro, and colete just didn’t make the cut in my college textbook. Attempting to do the drills is difficult enough, but comprehending how to do them in the first place makes my head spin sometimes. It took me two practices to understand finally that the word for “cone” in Portuguese is the same as in English, just with the Portuguese accent. I have to laugh at myself every time something like that happens because I am truly enjoying the learning process of both Portuguese and Soccer. After two weeks of practice, I can already see some improvement, which motivates me even more!
My roommate Paul and I decided to take a trip to Teresópolis to go hiking in Parque Nacional Serra dos Órgãos, which is an amazing national park with great views and wildlife. God’s finger (Dedo de Deus), a rock that shoots up 5,550 feet into the sky, is one of the highlights. The landscape was once a plateau and was formed when plate tectonics separated South America and Africa. We wanted to do an 11km hike to Pedra do Sino. It’s 4-6 hour hike to the top with incredible views because it’s the highest point in the park. Due to some difficulty with navigating Rio, we didn’t arrive in Teresópolis with enough to do that hike. Our main difficulty stemmed from the fact that we are still getting used to the Rio transportation system and learning things like what time the metro opens and how to long it takes to go get to the central bus station. When we finally arrived at the national park, we talked with a guide in the visitors’ center to see if we had enough time to complete the hike. We still had our hopes up until she asked, “Did you bring a flashlight?” I responded, “Well…, we have our iphones…” It turns out that the 4-6 hours the website referred to was actually just to get to the top and didn’t include the time down. We laughed about it and decided to make the best of the rest of the national park anyway. We ended up doing several other smaller trails that led to natural water pools where people were swimming, viewpoints of Dedo de Deus and Teresópolis, and small waterfalls. Despite not hiking the Pedra do Sino I had a great time. The views are magnificent and I am already planning my return. The next time, we will know to stay the night before to get there early enough and I will definitely bring bathing suit to join the locals in the natural water pools!
Oh, você é gringa!
January has been a whirlwind of constant activity. Most of my time during the day was dedicated to my Portuguese class from 8:30am to 1:00pm everyday plus the rollercoaster bus ride to get there and back. With traffic, it takes almost 40 minutes in the morning and at least an hour on the way home. When I told my parents that I was exhausted from class all day, they laughed because to most people it doesn’t seem like very much. For us, though, it was and it felt like high school all over again. Despite all of that, I’m happy I did this “Portuguese Summer Camp.” I liked my class and the professors, and I learned so much Portuguese, and more importantly, so much about Brazilian and Carioca culture. In addition to class, I have learned so much outside of class. In every interaction with a Brazilian, I learn something new. A particular common phrase here is, “oh, você é gringa” translating to “oh, you are gringo.” The first time I heard this I was slightly offended because in the U.S. it can have a negative connotation, but I was confused because the tone wasn’t very negative. It was more like a general comment like “oh, it’s raining today.” After hearing it about 15 more times at local markets, on the beach, and anywhere on the street, I finally discovered that here gringo is equivalent to foreigner, and while I can be negative, it usually is not. Rio is very accustomed to us “foreigners.” Now, I just smile, laugh, and respond with “isso!!” when anyone who calls me that. In fact, I’m happy to report that now people have started to say “oh, I thought you were Brazilian!” Don’t get your hopes up though, this is still very rare, but it’s often enough to keep me smiling. : )
Besides classes, I’ve kept myself busy with traveling, soccer, exploring the nightlife, and what I’d refer to as “to do list” things. In addition to Teresópolis, I visited the Imperial city of Petropolis along with a couple other tourist must see places in Rio such as Pão de Açúcar, the Maracanã stadium, and the Tijuca rainforest.
I love to see all of these destinations especially the ones with great scenic views, but the best way to adapt fully to Brazilian life is to live it and spend time with Cariocas. I feel very fortunate to have met some great friends here. Surprising, it’s not very difficult to meet people when you go out, have fun, and make an effort to speak Portuguese. A couple of my American friends and I met some extraordinarily welcoming locals at various bars. Our new friends have gone above and beyond to help and teach us about Brazil. One of them invited us to his home and cooked dinner for us while another girl took us to a Samba practice and continues to invite us to local events. These are just a few examples of the friendliness that I have witnessed. It continues to surprise me and the best part is that it is all just getting started! It is difficult to believe that one month has already passed, but there is still plenty of time left to keep exploring and meet even more great people.
Of course, I have been completing those “to do list” items as well. The most important one was visiting the Federal Police. Brazil requires that anyone on long-term visas needs to report to the Polícia Federal within 30 days. I was a little nervous to go because I had heard how difficult it could be, but it actually went quite smooth. I had to wait a lot, but I passed the time reading a Forbes’s article about the top 100 Brazilian celebrities. After several hours, I had been fingerprinted and given all the necessary documents, and I left with my official Brazilian ID protocol. Check that one off the list!
Now, I am enjoying my week off before the official semester starts and I am actually looking forward to classes starting next week!
Beijos (kisses) for everyone!