The Road to Nickerie

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On Tuesday, I departed Paramaribo for only the second time journeying out on just one of two main roads outside of the nation’s capital. The destination was Nieuw Nickerie, Suriname’s second largest city, which much more closely resembles a sleepy farming town than a bustling city. The route to Nickerie is an adventure in itself, traveling through vast swaths of rainforest threatening to reclaim lands that humans attempt to inhabit. In the midst of swerving around potholes and slowing for drempels or speed bumps, one can experience the lush tropical rainforest that Suriname is famous for. Large manors and tiny tin cottages dot the horizon often appearing abandoned at first glance, until you spot a clothes line heavy with drying clothes or bikes littering the front yard. The Surinamese jungle doesn’t hesitate to remind human’s of its dominance and its ability to overtake their belongings- cars, entwined with vines become part of the forest never to be driven again.

Close to Nickerie (pronounced Knee-carry) the forest gives way to acres of grassland and rice paddies. In this open space, crop dusters zoom overhead spraying fields with multitudes of unknown pesticides. Grassland and rainforest mix openly in Nickerie, creating a series of canals and swamplands that can make navigating Nickerie slightly difficult. Dirt roads quickly turn to mud under Suriname’s incessant rains and bright pink and purple lotus flowers abound in the muddy canals. The town could easily be considered a scaled down version of Paramaribo, filled similarly with Chinese stores, a variety of restaurants, several schools, and houses- but Nickerie is its own town, free of the stresses of a larger city, and almost eerily empty in comparison.

For lovers of nature and small towns, visiting Nickerie is a no-brainer. For others, who knows, Nickerie could very well change your mind.

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Suriname: Land of Diversity

I’ve been in Paramaribo, Suriname for a week now, enough to just begin to scratch the surface in understanding the depths of diversity that exist in this multicultural society. Society in Suriname is composed of various different ethnic groups including the Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Dutch, and Maroon populations to name a few. For those of you who don’t know, Suriname is a small Dutch-speaking (primarily, though local languages like Sranan-Togo abound) country in Northeastern South America.

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The nation contrasts greatly with its South American counterparts, and identifies much more strongly with the Caribbean nations, as a member of CARICOM (the Caribbean Community and Common Market) itself. Most Surinamers live either in the capital city of Paramaribo or in the town of Niew Nickerie which borders Guyana. Others dot the interior of the nation often working on mining enterprises or promoting tourism to the Amazon.

In the relatively small city of Paramaribo, Chinese grocery stores thrive. There is one on seemingly every corner, each boasting the best prices and a variety of fresh goods. Smaller fruit and vegetable markets and butcher shops are crucial to complement the goods available at the supermarkets. Restaurants flourish, each with their own unique cooking style. Fairly common are roti shops which sell an Indian curry sandwich. The city teems with local Chinese and Indonesian restaurants but also plays host to several American fast food joints.

Not to be forgotten is the small but mighty contingency of Brazilians who are primarily gold miners in the interior, but who spend time in a section of Paramaribo fondly known as Little Brazil. This neighborhood treats guests to small churrascarias and mercadinhos which transport me back to my time in Brazil. Upon entering Little Brazil, one struggles to know what language is appropriate to use; English? Dutch? Portuguese?, a common challenge faced in Suriname.

Undoubtedly, one of the most notable traits of Suriname in June is the rain. Almost like clockwork, the rain settles in between about 12 and 1 and again around 4 or 5 in the afternoon. These tropical rains make for lush flora and an extremely green and diverse landscape.

In one week, I feel as though I have just barely begun to know this beautiful nation. I thoroughly look forward to delving deeper into Surinamese society and eventually exploring not only Paramaribo, but the rural regions of the interior.

It’s All About the Music

My body is here in Tucson, but sometimes my head is still in South America. Life is weird like that. My biggest worry with being back in the US is that I might lose some of the language skills that I picked up while abroad. It’s relatively easy to find people to speak Spanish with here in Tucson, but practicing Portuguese is extremely difficult. I am currently taking Advanced Portuguese Grammar, which certainly helps, but I lack that daily conversational aspect! So in that regards, I listen to a lot of Spanish and Portuguese music. Actually it’s mostly what I listen to. So I decided I would share my Portuñol (Español and Português) playlist with all of you incase you want to check out some great songs!

1. Balada Boa- Gusttavo Lima

2. Cuando me Enamoro- Enrique Iglesias

3. Déjate Llevar- Reik

4. Dímelo- Enrique Iglesias

5. Escapar- Enrique Iglesias

6. Espacio Sideral- Jesse y Joy

7. Diz Pra Mim- Gusttavo Lima

8. Inolvídable- Reik

9. Invíerno- Reik

10. La Camisa Negra- Juanes

11. La Vída es un Ratico- Juanes

12. Loca- Shakira

13. Mala Gente- Juanes

14. Más- Nelly Furtado

15. Me Enamora- Juanes

16. Me Voy- Julieta Venegas

17. Nada Fue un Error- Coti

18. Ni Una Sola Palabra- Paulina Rubio

19. Que Vida La Mia- Reik

20. Show das Poderosas- Anitta

21. Suerte- Shakira

22. Mozão- Lucas Lucco

23. Tô Solta Na Night- Gusttavo Lima

24. Espalhe Amor- Maria Cecília and Rodolfo

25. La Luz- Juanes

26. Mil Pedazos- Juanes

27. Darte un Beso- Prince Royce

28. Voy a Beber- Nicky Jam

29. País do Futebol- Mc Guime

30. Dar um Jeito- Santana and Wyclef

31. Bailando- Enrique Iglesias

32. Fui Fiel- Gusttavo Lima

33. Logo Eu- Jorge e Mateus

34. Caraca, Muleke!- Thiaguinho

35. Lagardinho- Cláudia Leite

36. Cê Topa- Luan Santana

37. Os 10 Mandamentos do Amor- Eduardo Costa

38. Flor- Jorge e Mateus

39. A Hora É Agora- Jorge e Mateus

40. Ai Se Eu Te Pego- Michel Teló

I hope you all check out these songs as they are fantastic and display a wide variety of genres that make me feel like I am once again in South America! Also, please share any other songs you may find with me!

Adapting

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I’ve been back in the US for about a week now and it still feels surreal. Everything is different. I’ve forgotten how to function in a society where I only need to speak English. In the US I have my own car, something completely foreign to me for the past almost eight months. The use of public transportation here is limited and if I need to go somewhere, I drive or bike. In the US you can flush things down the toilet and you can have hot showers. In the US water is free to drink because the tap water is safe. In the US you can go on a walk at night and not be scared of being mugged or killed. In the US I can see my family and friends. So of course there is plenty to be grateful for. I am seeing my country with a different set of eyes, and I am in awe of the beauty around me. Being back to school at U of A is exciting and fun, but so extremely weird. There are parts of me that feel like I never left, and parts that feel that they will never be the same. Today I start my new job, working for the Office of Global Initiatives (a fancy way to say study abroad) a the University of Arizona. I am super excited to help other students discover their opportunity to study abroad and to find the right program for each of them. I am hoping that this new chapter will help keep me from going crazy about not being traveling, and to help me save up some money for some future travels! So slowly but surely I am adapting to my new situation. Humans were made to adapt, and just as I did while in South America, I plan to adapt well to my new circumstances and hopefully, to once again thrive here in Tucson. But I have to be careful. I don’t want to lose this new part of me that I discovered abroad. As easy as it may be to adapt, it’s even easier to fall into old ways and to lose your newfound perspective. For this reason, I have to approach life in Tucson as my next adventure, one full of opportunity and incredible experiences just waiting to be unearthed.

Adventure Awaits

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So this is it. Last night I started packing, and tomorrow at 8 AM I take my first flight towards leaving South America and Tuesday morning I will land in Cali. Can I start crying yet? These past seven months have been the most incredible and life-changing months of my life. People always ask me what my favorite country is and what I liked most when I was traveling, and the problem is that there just isn’t an answer to that. Last summer I would have said point blank Brazil was my favorite, but as much as I still absolutely love Brazil, Chile and Ecuador now hold a special place in my heart. In each country I lived in, I have grown as a person and I am certainly a different girl today than I was when I left the US in January. I want to thank each and every person who helped to make my travels possible and to make them so eye-opening and exhilarating! Thank you to all of you who put up with my Spanish and Portuguese while I worked on increasing fluency (or in Chile, attempting to learn Chilean). Thank you to all of my travel buddies, without all of you I would never have been able to see some of the coolest places in the world (Baños, Atacames, La Serena, Pucón, Buenos Aires, Jericoacoara, and Paracuru to name a few). To all of the Ecuadorians, Chileans, and Brazilians that I became friends with, THANK YOU! Probably one of the biggest thanks goes to all of you for welcoming me into your country, and sharing special cultural experiences with me! It is because of my local friends that I have gotten to know South America so well and that I truly feel that I have a home here. If you are ever in the US, please come see me!

Right now I am bracing myself for going back to reality in the states. I start my junior year at U of A in about a week and I have an insane amount of things to take care of upon landing in California. But the truth of it is, that as this adventure in South America is ending, I know that I will experience all sorts of new adventures at home.

I have to say that this has been the hardest blog post to write. When I left Ecuador and Chile, I was sad, but I still had more travel ahead of me. Now I have 24 hours of travel ahead of me, but my destination is home. Leaving is one of the most bittersweet feelings I’ve ever felt. If you are reading this and want to travel, do it. Absolutely, 100%, seize any and every opportunity you get to travel and see the world. Visit places that you’ve never heard of and that are off the beaten path. Make friends from every country, learn a new language, and eat some extremely strange foods. And once you go, share your experiences, so that we can all live vicariously!

Thanks for the best 7 months South America!

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And then it was August

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When people say that “time flies when you’re having fun” they aren’t kidding. I left home in January and I have been having the time of my life traveling throughout South America, and the fact that I have to go back the United States this month is truly frightening and saddening.

Well anyways, my original intent with this post was to write about public transport and traffic here in Fortaleza, something I’ve done in every country I’ve stayed in. The traffic in Fortaleza is extremely unpredictable, and a drive that may sometimes take you just 20 minutes, could one day take an hour. To get to work every day I take the ônibus or bus for about 45 minutes to downtown Fortaleza. From there I have a 15 minute walk to the office. It is definitely a good thing that the office is casual dress, because it is just way too hot to wear suits and jackets especially on the bus. Sometimes the bus is super empty. These are my favorite, I get on pay and snag a seat for the whole ride. That is the best case scenario. Worst case scenario: I flag the bus and have to stand in the entrance section for about 20-30 minutes (maybe even the whole ride) before paying because the bus is overflowing with people. Those are the days that I arrive to work wishing that I could shower again. But the public transport is by and large pretty efficient, safe, and relatively inexpensive (it’s about $1 to go anywhere in the city.) Okay, so it’s not Ecuador cheap, but hey I can’t complain. In the evenings or days off if I want to do stuff, Ygor (my friend who I am staying with) and I tend to go in the car. He just learned to drive this year and drives pretty well, but sometimes it’s a bit crazy. People in Brazil (and the majority of South America) use their horns excessively. It is not just a warning that someone is about to hit you, it is a warning that someone is going through the intersection, like a friendly “hey watch out i’m coming through”. Making it through traffic without waiting forever is all about weaving in between cars, and sincerely wishing you could squeeze through the spaces that motorcycles make it through. And hey if the light is red but nobody is coming, the driver has no problem crossing that red light. (people even honk at you if you sit at a red light when no one is coming). So yeah, different.

Outside of maneuvering transportation in Brazil, I have been doing a lot of celebrating. The end of July/beginning of August seem to coincide with numerous birthdays of both friends and family. Tonight I’m headed to a Sweet 16 style party, but the majority of the others have been dinners or parties at clubs or bars. For those of you who don’t know Cachaça, a sugar cane based alcohol, is the national alcohol of Brazil. You honestly can’t come here without trying a caipirinha. Similar to leaving Chile or Peru without trying a Pisco Sour or leaving Argentina without drinking some Malbec, caipirinhas are a must try. Lime, sugar, ice, and cachaça are the four simple ingredients; but you can spice it up and make it a caipifruta with any fruit (my faves are passionfruit, kiwi, and caja).

Well, with that realization that I only have just under 3 weeks left in Brazil, I am planning to live it up and make the most of my time. I am very aware that as much as I might wish that I could go back to Ecuador and pretend it was January and I was just starting my trip that that is impossible, and so here 7 months later I have to start coming to terms with the fact that my trip in South America is winding down, but that I have so much to be grateful for and to look forward to when I do return to the US.

Carnaval in July

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It’s not like Christmas in July. Carnaval is an event that normally takes place in February and is similar to Mardi Gras in that it is a crazy  party full of dancing and drinking held just prior to Lent. Fortal is Fortaleza’s own off-season carnival that takes place in July. The party is styled in the theme of Carnaval from Salvador and is an absolute blast. This year i had the lucky bonus of having Fortal fall on my 20th birthday (Thursday the 24th)!

So we bought tickets to our block, Pirraça, where we would hear the band Jorge e Mateus sing. At Fortal you walk through the streets of Cidade do Fortal (Fortal City) with your block. Everyone wears the same shirts and it is crazy. There are about 3 or 4 different blocks every night and it is certainly a crazy and unique experience. The different blocks each have different singers and styles of music, ours was sertanejo a type of Brazilian country, but they also have axé, pop, and forro. Comfortable footwear is definitely a must, and make those shoes you don’t care to much about (they are going to end up super gross by the end). The blocks all leave at different times starting as early as 7:30 and ending around 10:00. That said it all runs on Brazilian time… our block was set to leave at 10:00 but left closer to 11:00! No problem, we all danced in the entrance area! Though I attended Fortal last summer, I have to say this year was even better. I am not sure if it was due to my birthday, a different style of music, or pure joy at returning to a much enjoyed event, but I had a blast. Our block finished up around 3:30 AM when we collapsed in exhaustion to eat a hot dog and drink lots of water. We got home around 4:00 AM and crashed. Friday I slept. A lot.

A guava a day keeps the doctor away

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Well it might….I’d like to think that guavas have some sort of magic powers. But anyways- I am about halfway into my time here in Brazil and I am ready to write about my day to day life/experiences here. This post is a collection of things that I’ve done/am doing here.

The premise for my trip to Brazil this summer is an internship with a local NGO.  The organization is called ‘O Pequeno Nazareno’ and they work with street children and their families in an effort to keep them out of the streets and in a safer environment. My job largely consists of researching potential grants for the organization (this is, I expect, leading to grant writing) and meeting foreign visitors to the organization. I have yet to visit the shelter, located about an hour away in Maranguape, where children aged 6-14 live- but I have plans to head there in August. So Monday through Thursday I spend the majority of my time either on the bus (it’s an hour each direction) or at work. This experience is really eye-opening, I have worked with non-profits and NGOs for almost my whole life, but mostly via volunteer work. This opportunity to work in the office is really helping me to understand what it takes to run an organization like this and if this is something I can really see myself doing in the future. And it is.

Yesterday I went with some friends to visit another organization that has a shelter for children who are victims of domestic violence or substance abuse and have been taken out of their homes. My visit to Casa do Menor was wonderful. We blew bubbles, did face painting, and played soccer. The kids were so happy to see us (something I’m sure had nothing to do with the amount of candy we brought) and gave some of the best hugs I’ve ever had!

I eat lots of good food here in Brazil. The food in the Northeast is usually the same every day, but it’s great. Brazilians eat lots of rice, beans, chicken, beef, farofa, fruits, and veggies. My favorite part of all this is the fruits. As I mentioned before guavas are heavenly and definitely one of my favorite fruits, but I love that when I go out to lunch I can have fresh tamarindo or passionfruit juice. For breakfast I can eat a green orange, or miniature varieties of apples and bananas. The fruits and veggies are fresh and locally grown, something I absolutely love.

And then there are the people. No trip anywhere is complete without meeting the locals. I have been spending a lot of time with students on a trip from my university, but they have all just returned to the states. So now I am meeting more Brazilians, speaking more Portuguese, and falling even more in love with this country.

So this post isn’t very cohesive, but I just wanted to provide some insight into my life here in Brazil. There were no big trips or events this week so it seemed like a good opportunity to share my daily life.

And hey, if you get the chance, test out my theory. Eat some guavas, it’ll do you some good! 🙂

Dancing in the sand, under the stars, and on the beach

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Jericoacoara is a beach paradise unlike any other beach in the world. Arriving at Jeri (as the locals call it) entails a four hour drive north of Fortaleza through a tropical forest. Upon emerging in Jijoca, you climb aboard trucks for an hour drive into the national park of Jeri. Driving through small towns and then sand dunes, you eventually end up in the sandy and sunny equatorial city of Jericoacoara. Below are a list of things that you can’t miss in Jeri…and if you are lucky you will spend more than the three days that we did there (I recommend a week).

1. Buggy to Tatajuba- Not just any buggy either…We became good friends with Eddy and Derrick, two bugeiros with amazing music that led to numerous dance parties throughout this five hour trip. On the way to Tatajuba you drive through miles of endless, untouched beaches. There are sand dunes which you can sled down and lots of cows, pigs, and donkeys. Upon arriving at Tatajuba, you will see a huge lagoon with hammocks in the water and numerous water activities such as kayaking, stand up paddle, and zip lining. This activity is about R$150 per buggy (fits 4 or 5 people) so US$25 a person. AMAZING!

2. Pôr -do-Sol at Pedra Furada- Slightly removed from the main town of Jeri, this stunning view of the sunset is definitely worth going to. The rock is located either an hour and a half walk, or a quick buggy ride followed by a 20 minute walk out of the city (buggy should cost about R$12 a person).

3. Drinks on the beach- Jeri is a very safe city, making it a great place to kick back on the beach and have some fun! Just down the street from the main plaza is a grouping of bar carts with a huge selection of alcoholic beverages. Nights in Brazil aren’t complete without caipirinhas and Jeri has some of the best around. But beware, if you walk through this gauntlet and don’t want a drink, keep your eyes down or you’ll be begged by each bartender to buy a drink from them!

4. Star gazing- As remote as Jeri is and as small as the city is, there is not much light pollution. Walking on the beach at night can lead to a great opportunity to see both the big dipper and the southern cross in the same sky and maybe even a shooting star. Better hope it isn’t cloudy…

5. Lagoa de Paraíso- A crystal clear lagoon on the way out of town, similar to Tatajuba this lagoon has hammocks in the water and is extremely sunny. Fair warning to all that travel to Jericoacoara, the sun is very strong and no matter how much sunscreen you apply, you will get burnt.

6. Pousada Hippopotamus- I have stayed here twice now, and I was satisfied both times. Hot showers, a pool, and a wonderful (included) breakfast. Located right where all the bugeiros hang out, it is a perfect location and a great place to stay!

Jeri offers much more than what I got to experience- kite surfing, sand boarding, and massages are all available in this beach town. I just got back, but I already can’t wait to plan my next trip to Jeri!

Brazil is Magical

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Describing travel to someone who doesn’t travel is next to impossible. Traveling is a magical adrenaline rush that fills you with happiness and hope. When traveling, waves of overwhelming happiness consume you at the most random moments. On the bus to Paracuru this weekend, a stunning and quaint beach town just north of Fortaleza, I almost burst into tears- overcome with the beauty of it all. It’s hard to describe- it’s as though I don’t feel whole or completely alive without being in a foreign country. People say that it’s just a travel bug, but I think it is different. Traveling in Ecuador and Chile was wonderful and certainly life-changing experiences, but here in Brazil I feel something different. Brazil feels like home to me, and flawed as the country may be, I can’t help but feel that I am extremely blessed to have found a place where I feel so welcome. Brazil is my adopted country, a place where I foresee myself returning to in years to come, and maybe eventually settling down in.
How do you explain why one country and one city are so important to you that the thought of leaving creates heartache? The people here are genuine, willing to deal with my rusty Portuguese, and beyond excited to learn about foreign cultures. Fortaleza in particular has stunning weather, staying between 70-90 degrees year round- and the only way you really know that it is winter is because the sun sets early. The food is delicious. I mean eating fresh passionfruit, guava, mango, and papaya is certainly something I will never turn down and there is never a shortage of “salgadinhos” or delicious cuts of “churrasco” (brazilian barbecue).
But my love of this country goes beyond all of that. Brazil has already opened so many doors for me for the future, and the thought of not knowing when I will return to this incredible country is truly heartbreaking. I am living in the moment, and taking advantage of the numerous opportunities that come my way, but I don’t know if I will ever have my fill of this country.
To put it simply- Eu sou Brasileiro, com muito orgulho, com muito amor (I am Brazilian with a lot of pride and love for my country)