Frisbee Love is Universal

Day 7: Sunday, January 12th

The bus ride was great! I wish I could have looked out the window at the scenery, but sleep was too wonderful.

We arrived at our Sunday destination, a dingy waterpark called Parque Aventurah, at 10:30am. Everyone erupted with a chaotic jumble of questions. “Are we getting back on the bus before rafting?” “Can we take our bags into the park?” “How big are the lockers?” “Is the zipline free?” “Does someone have extra sunscreen?”

We had about an hour before our rafting trip, but due to the confusion we didn’t do much. I didn’t want to swim because I didn’t know if I’d have a chance to reapply sunscreen. Plus, the sky was overcast. I wish I’d taken out my camera and found some birds! Instead, I played on a decrepit see-saw and lollygagged by the pool

Then it was time for rafting. I hoped the trip would be better than my first rafting experience in Eastern Washington, when my lifejacket had been so tight I’d felt like I was suffocating the whole time.

We gathered on a grassy hill and donned moldy-smelling life jackets and colorful plastic helmets. I was in the yellow-helmet group with five other AZP students. We filed onto the rusty metal bus we had avoided earlier in the parking lot. I heard grumbles all around, but I was excited to finally experience the sensations of the world. We’ve spent the past week driving around the state of São Paulo in a cushy, air-conditioned charter bus with chilled water and drink holders. Today, I sat on a high, flat-backed aluminum bench and hung by head out the wide-open window. I felt every bump in the road and every fleck of dust in my eyes. I smelled oncoming rain and cow manure. I heard tweeting birds as we whizzed by trees and streams. That bus ride was the first time I felt alive all week.

By the time we arrived at the end of the dirt road, angry dark storm-clouds had gathered. We heard distant rumbling thunder. “In the States, we wouldn’t be allowed to step onto a soccer field in this weather,” I mused to a classmate.

“This is Brazil, baby!” he replied, grinning. Brazil it was.

The river rafting was my first encounter with Brazilian forest. I’m living in the country that contains over half of the world’s remaining tropical forest, and I hadn’t seen a wild patch of trees yet! We carried our paddles down a rickety flight of wooden steps to the muddy water. Tropical bushes with glossy, heart-shaped leaves draped over the water’s surface. Palms and other evergreens crowded the banks. We loaded the boats and practiced obeying basic Portuguese commands. My favorite was, “Piso!” for “Get down on the floor of the raft because we’re going over a waterfall!”

We drifted down the river for what felt like hours. We passed over occasional rapids and four true waterfalls, but most of the trip was smooth and calm. At one point, the banks were composed of steep, slick, solid black rock. I wondered about the geology. Was this riverbed the result of a volcanic eruption? I also grew curious about the trees. Was this a primary forest? Or had the surrounding pastures once encroached all the way to the river? Was the river now a protected park? Did it provide enough habitat to sustain many animal species? I knew that if I’d been on my Ecuador program, we would have been discussing these topics for the whole ride.

When we got back to the water park we were soaked. I felt much freer, and had a great time chasing friends up and down the water slide. We got creative: head first down the slide, five at a time, climbing back up through the water… Finally a park official wandered over and clarified the rules (all of which we had broken), but by then we were ready to hit the showers anyway.

I got out my camera to photograph the many songbirds and vultures I’d noticed around the park, but I only got the chance to take one photo before we had to leave!

At least it was a cool shot – this bird was bringing nesting material to its mud-cave.

Back in the plush, reclining seats of our bus, I couldn’t resist another nap, but I noticed a few things out the window: fields of sugarcane and plantations of eucalyptus, oranges, and pines.

Tropical palms dot a massive sugarcane field.

A patch of eucalyptus trees stands alone.

Our "small" city looks pretty large from this angle!

Welcome home!

I don't know how well they show up in this photo, but a hundred black vultures were circling above the city!

We finally got a free evening, hooray! I caught up on some bird analysis from my photos, updated my blog, e-mailed my family, and started a scholarship application. I even had time for a short neighborhood run with Holden and Christine. For dinner I split a hamburger with Rachael at a new sandwich shop. The burgers came in three sizes so we went for the grande, but when the plate came we realized we were each going to get a larger-than-edible meal. My half-burger was bigger than any hamburger I’ve ever seen!

I got ready for bed early, feeling refreshed from a day out of the classroom. I hung my wet clothes to dry, showered, brushed my teeth, and snuggled into bed wearing PJs. The clock read 10:30pm. Finally, I was going to get that early night!

I just wanted to finish my bird blog first. Then my boyfriend got on Facebook and we talked for the first time in way too long. My roommate was still journaling when I finally turned out my light at 1am. I am incapable of going to bed early. MUST TRY AGAIN TOMORROW.

Day 8: Monday, January 13th

Today was our last day of Brazilian history/economics with Professor Pedro, and it was the first day we got to choose our own lunch restaurants. People scattered, but Erin, Sejal and I decided to tag along with Juliana to a Japanese restaurant. Since there were only four of us, we got to ride in Juliana’s car!

Riding in a car doesn’t sound that exciting, but sitting shotgun in the hot, humid air with loud Brazilian music blaring and the window down was incredible. I felt like I was in a movie montage about the perfect high-school summer.

We all ordered sushi. Most of the menu items were seaweed cones, to be eaten like a burrito. Juliana and Erin got Philadelphia cones, which looked delicious. Sejal got a “simple salmon cone,” and I got salmon rolls like the ones in the States. Sejal’s looked great – absolutely packed with chunks of sake, raw salmon. I ordered green tea and got a can of sweetened diet tea – tasty, but not what I was expecting. I wasn’t full after my rolls so I ordered a simple salmon cone like Sejal’s. It was about four parts salmon to one part rice, amazing value but not the ideal ratio! It cost around $5.00. I managed to eat almost my whole cone, but had to leave some perfectly good salmon sashimi on my plate. Next time I want to go with three friends who love salmon so we can split the simple salmon cone with lots of extra rice.

As we walked back to Juliana’s car, the stormy skies which had been swirling all day reached a breaking point. Lightning and thunder cracked at the same time and palm trees whipped back and forth. We started driving down the road and noticed giant sheets of paper flying off the roof of a skyscraper. As the sheets got closer, I heard a weird metallic banging and realized they were huge sheets of tin! It was a thrilling moment until the light turned green and we drove out of harm’s way.

Suddenly the rain began. I hung my head out the window and let the water soak my hair. The rain was POUNDING! The gutters flooded and the windshield was obscured under a waterfall. We barely made it to school, where Juliana advised us to wait in the car. I was too excited and ended up dancing around in the rain. When I got back to the classroom, it looked like I had showered in my clothes. I pretty much had.

In the afternoon we began our second class which, it turns out, is also about Brazilian history and economics. We went through the same historical events, including Prince Henry the Navigator. I felt like it was a waste of time to revisit the same topics again, but at least this time they were in chronological order and were much easier to keep straight. Our new professor has a good sense of humor.

After class, we all followed Juliana on a round-about route to our planned soccer game against some Brazilian students. Most of us had been wearing our athletic clothes all day. I was so excited to get outside that I couldn’t keep still. I wanted to be goalie and dive in the grass. I also had a disc packed in case people wanted to play pick-up ultimate after the game.

We were all thoroughly disappointed when we realized that due to the afternoon rain, we would be playing in a gym. Nooooooo! I warmed up by tossing my disc with Erin. We had tons of fun before the game even started. I goal-kept a shutout game, then switched to forward and assisted a few goals. Pure luck, but it felt great to run around and be competitive.

Then a Brazilian girl pointed to my disc. “You want to play?” I asked. I’m sure my whole face lit up. A crew of eight of us – half Ohio, half Brazil – left the gym for a soccer field out back. We threw the disc in a circle, everyone cheering everyone else. These students had never played ultimate before, but they automatically embodied Spirit of the Game.

Through a mixture of Spanish, English, and Portuguese, I explained how to play ultimate and we all enthusiastically battled in a game to ten. I was so impressed by the effort, heart, and humor of everyone involved. People who had never thrown a disc tried hucks and got Ds. When the sun set, we were all sad to go home and immediately made plans to connect over Facebook and reconvene next week. “Every day!” cheered one of the women.

Our incredible frisbee crew!

“Can I keep the frisbee?” she asked in cautious English.

“Of course!” I replied. The disc had gotten cracked during the game, and I had another one in my suitcase.

We all signed the disc before we parted ways. “I’ll hang this on my wall,” the woman told me happily. “And I’ll keep you all in my heart!” We finally left after a group hug. Frisbee love is universal. <3