a year abroad: 2018 adventures

2018 marks the first full year Dave and I have lived abroad. And what a parade of adventures it has been!

Of course, my plan was to blog extensively about each and every one. But alas, time–and a stupid Iphone photo configuration issue {GRRRRR}–has prevented that. But as I look back on the year and get excited for the next, I can’t help but revisit the places we’ve…well…visited.

We spent January in Rio learning Portuguese. I wrote about that here and here.

For carnaval in February, we road tripped through Curitiba (cool little Brazilian city) to Florianopolis (Brazilian island) to Blumenau (mountain town known for Oktoberfest).

Mid-March, we zipped over to our favorite quick beach getaway town: Guarujá. The end of March brought us jam sessions at Lollapalooza.

Early April, we fell in love with the mountain town of Campos do Jordão. When can we go back?!

The last weekend of April, we found ourselves on chilling on Boiçucanga Beach with a friend. I did my first open water swim there in training for a triathlon.

June and July took us home to friends and family in Colorado. We camped, hiked, spent 6 nights at a silent retreat, reconnected with friends, and visited with Dave’s family in the mountains. Oh yeah, and I completed my first sprint triathlon!

In September, I traveled with our senior class to Pernambuco. I swam in Recife waters, where some of the most deadly shark attacks are prevalent!

In October, we rented an AirBnB with some of our friends in Guarujá. We also attended one helluva Halloween party.

One Saturday in November, we attended one of the best beer festivals ever! We can’t wait for next year.

For November, we also drank a lot of wine and enjoyed stunning scenery in the beautiful Mendoza valley of Argentina.

And in two days, Santa is bringing us friends with whom we’ll ring in the New Year and do some more exploring of Brazil.

And then we start 2019 off right with a dream trip to Patagonia!

As I finish this post, I cannot help but think of one of my favorite Scriptures, Psalm 16:6:

photo journal of our trip to Rio

It’s a tough life to constantly be several posts behind on the trips we’ve taken.

But I’ll take it!

We spent the first weeks of 2018 in Rio to study at Caminhos Language School.

The mornings we spent several hours in classes. And then some afternoons, we had private lessons; most of those were about and about exploring Rio, and one was even at a bar. My kind of learning! Here are a few glimpses of that world.

Of course, our favorite thing was the beach. Our go-to beach was Leblon, and we stayed away from the “popular” beaches as much as possible. We couldn’t get enough of the sunsets, rainbows, sports, people (especially beautiful and/or “enhanced” people) watching, cold drinks, and squeaky cheese. We even saw a whale one day!

We did all the touristy things in a whirlwind day tour. The best, despite the crowds, was Christ the Redeemer.

On that same tour, we also hit the Chinese Vista, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro

Sugarloaf Mountain…

Parque Nacional da TijucaSanta Teresa

and Escadaria Selarón.

We spent New Year’s Eve on the beach celebrating a Brazilian tradition. We wore white, sat under a captivating full moon, watched the fireworks reflect in the waves, and offered flowers to the sea.

But my favorite pictures from Rio come from the hike we took to Pedra do Telegrafo. It was this crazy urban walk straight up LOTS of stairs at first, then became an uphill hike through the rainforest. It’s a rock suspended in midair…or at least that’s how it appears. You can imagine all the selfies! But, the location was complete with an acai stand and professional photography. And the view…breathtaking. Speaking of breathtaking: pretty sure there was a collective sigh when I got down from the rock after finishing my “stunts.”

my compass and North Star

I grew up taking road trips in vans. You know the kind. Long, bulky, with a back seat that served simultaneously as a trampoline for no more monkeys jumping in the bed and a torture chamber for big brothers to pick on their siblings. There wasn’t a road trip we went on where we didn’t lay that back seat down and camp out there.

No matter the budget, my Mom made sure we traveled. We left before the sun rose, just like she worked. And our trips were always fully stocked. She was sure to pack a cooler with ice-cold beverages and several bags of goodies–salty (for her) and sweet (for my Dad). (Both for me.) Not that this meant we didn’t stop at gas stations to get our favorite treats. We did. (And promptly left brothers-in-law behind.) However, when we didn’t have that luxury, you can bet this 8-year old was learning to pee in a Mountain Dew can.

Our destinations were all over the United States. We drove West, South, North, and East. I will always treasure visiting the Badlands, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Glenwood Springs, Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug with my parents; trips carved on the map of memory. Most often our destination was my Mom’s hills of West Virginia, where now she rests in peace. Or part of her does.

Much of her rests in me.

As Dave and I spend our ninth month in a foreign country, I can’t help but feel I inherited my Mom’s travel bug. In our short time here, we have already traveled around to several beaches and mountain towns in Brazil, not to mention internationally to Argentina. Our trip to Patagonia is reserved, and we’re figuring out Mendoza and Machu Picchu.

I guess she’s not resting that much after all.

Yesterday, she would have turned 78. But she didn’t. She’s gone. Too soon, and too brutally. But what loss isn’t? I am left with grief, a constant companion.

But I am also left with her, the ever-present sailor at the helm pointing onward to new shores. Actually, she hated water; she would hate that metaphor. I can hear her “no,” which sounds more like a creek-hollar-“knnnnewwwwwwww.”

But I am left with her, the wandering compass and the North Star: adventure and home, map and mailbox, there and here.

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Thanksgiving trip to Buenos Aires

I know, I know. I am trips behind in blogging. Such is the way of the writing life when there is just too much living happening.

And I’m ok with that.

But before I lose the pictures, and more accurately the memories, I want to share about our trip to Buenos Aires for Thanksgiving of 2017. It was our first intercontinental, international South America adventure. Such easy and quick access to another country was surreal and awed us again with this blessed life we are living.

For the most part, we ate and drank our way through town–as is our usual mojo; good thing we did a ton of walking! We arrived late on Thursday night to our hotel by way of taxi. Uber is illegal in Buenos Aires, so most of our transportation was the flagging-down-type. By the end, we felt like such New Yorkers. Thursday night we hit some dive bar next to our hotel in Palermo where we bellied up next to college kids and other late-night hipsters. The food was terrible, but we had our first experience with how weighty the dollar is to the peso…wow, the best bottle of wine on the menu was under $10. It was crazy!

One of our days we spent strolling through La Recoleta Cemetery, which was hauntingly beautiful at first, then abundant in spiders (everywhere, ewww) and redundancy. It was odd to see how much money people spend on something that eventually becomes someone else’s tourist attraction. Naturally, afterward, we quenched our thirst at a nearby brewery. The sunshine was warm and the beer was cold.

On the other day, we toured open-air markets. We bought these really cool gemstone wire baskets to hold crystals. They also serve as a meditation mandala-like tool. It honestly was one of the most unique items we’ve ever seen at a market and we were glad to snatch up a few of these handiworks. Down the street from the market was the world’s most del.i.cious French bakery that I would go back to in a heartbeat.

In general, we loved Buenos Aires–though it ate up our cash (few places accept credit cards). It was a beautiful town with cobblestone streets and colonial buildings juxtaposed with street art (that Dave was constantly stopping to photograph) and urban vibes. We ate well, and late. Craft beer (!) was everywhere. And…the streets were on a grid! No spaghetti-esc scattering of streets like in Sampa. The best part was… SPANISH! It felt so good to be in a foreign country that didn’t feel so foreign. Dave and I felt right at home butchering our Spanish, and it was a small victory after so many difficulties learning Portuguese.

It is still hard to believe that our flight from “home” to Buenos Aires was the same duration as a flight from Colorado to Illinois.

This life of adventure rocks.

Here are some pics:

 

 

 

 

 

 

wonder

Tonight was a miracle.

Dave and I sat on the world famous Ipanema beach, eating acai with granola and bananas. In every echo of our ears, there were the accented voices of vendors:

Aguuuuuuuua, cervejjjjjjjja.

Queijo, queijo, queijjjjjjo coalho.

Limonada, mate, Globoooooos.

cammmmmmmarão.

Hola Heineken. Longe neckeeeees.

Later, we met up with colleagues from Caminhoes Language School to play volleyball.

There we were, covered in sol and sand,

while the setting sun painted streaks of magenta stripes across the sky,

a sly hide-and-go-seek with Pedra da Gávea,

ocean rippling lava and light.

In the north sky,

lightning danced the illuminated story

of jagged exclamation points and question marks.

In our hands were Caipis,

beneath our toes brown sugar sand,

in our hearts joy.

And then, there, in the distance,

a whale meandered through the waves,

along the coast.

Arching and dipping,

a liquid serpentine volcano.

A whale.

What is this life we are living?!

A life of wonder.

Wonder.

road trip to Guarujá

 

The middle of November brought a three-day weekend due to the Brazilian holiday of Dia da Consciência Negra. So, naturally, this little adventure-seeking-couple headed to the beach!

After less than three hours in the car, we arrived at the coastal town of Guarujá.

 

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 the scenic drive

 

It is a long stretch of beach dotted with colorful umbrellas, open-air restaurants, and hotels. We stayed in one of those where we could literally walk out the front door, across the street, and onto the beach. Perfect location!

 

 

IMG_1899

 the scenic driveIt is a long stretch of beach dotted with colorful umbrellas, open-air restaurants, and hotels. We stayed in one of those where we could literally walk out the front door, across the street, and onto the beach. Perfect location!

 

Friday night, we headed to a delicious Thai restaurant. So much so we returned there Sunday night for dinner. We ate on a quiet patio, overlooking the ocean, bathed in the subtle shifting light of sunset.

Saturday was an absolutely perfect day for the beach. Clear sky, warm sun, gentle breeze. Families played, dogs frolicked, birds squawked, and salty air renewed. We spent most of the day lounging, optimizing the chair service of food, drinks and views. We also enjoyed the tableside service of grilled cheese. No, not with bread. I’m talking Brazilian style, crispy on the outside chewy on the inside, delicious, addictive grilled queijo coalho.  Beach-walking servers come to your real estate on the sand, take your order, place the cheese sticks on their portable grill, and then whip it around in the air. It tastes like magic.

Sunday was rainy, but we still took advantage of the beach. To our surprise, there was a triathlon happening that morning right outside our hotel. We watched that for quite awhile, inspiration rising within us both.

Since we’ve come back, Dave and I look at our trip to Guarujá as a turning point. Though Ilhabela was an adventure, it wasn’t quite the beach life of Brazil we were expecting. And the brutal commute didn’t help. But this road trip was relaxing and rejuvenating. We felt more comfortable in our skin in this foreign land.

We might just be getting the hang of this expat life.

first Brazilian road trip: Ilhabela

October 12 in Brazil was a holiday, Nossa Senhora Aparecida, resulting in a four day weekend.

Seeing as we live in South America (that still feels cool to type), a trip to the coast was in order!

So Dave and I planned our first Brazilian road trip! Our destination was Ilhabela, a small island reachable by ferry from the coastal city of São Sebastião. We left São Paulo bright and early on Thursday in an attempt to beat the massive migration from the city to the beaches that occurs every holiday weekend (think I-70 in ski traffic). Armed with breakfast from our local padaria, translations for emergency cellphone-less situations (“help, our car broke down”), and gallons of bug spray (we were warned countless times about the atrocious borrachudo bites), off we went!

It was very much like a typical road trip on any highway back in the states. That is, until we got off in some raw, podunk town only to get right back on to the highway a few miles later. (Cool side trip bonus: we did pass a small religious parade that had half of the road closed down.) Just when we were prompted to do that again, we realized we had the no-toll option on Google maps: whoops!

Once we got out of the city, the drive was beautiful. Rolling hills eventually gave way to a rather aggressive winding road dropping down the mountainside to the sea. (I guess we have a little bit of Colorado here!) Just as we started that descent, we hit the traffic we had been expecting the whole way: not too bad in the scheme of things.

After about an hour-long cue for the ferry, we were on the water! We could see Ilhabela in the distance, vertical and verdant. Even though I’ve never been there, it reminded me so much of Hawaii.

On the island, we drove the one main road that runs along the Western side of the island (the developed side) to Hotel Maison Joly, where we were staying. To our left were the Atlantic-fed waters of Canal de São Sebastião. To our right were small neighborhood streets jutting up to the wild Parque Estadual de Ilhabela. All along the streets walked couples, families and other groups of people, mostly in wet swimsuits. Sunbathers lined the beaches. Runners dripped in the humidity. Dogs frolicked in the sea.

After dropping off our luggage, we visited a beach recommended by our hotel staff: Praia Portinho. Parking, as to be expected, was crazy; we barely managed to squeeze into a spot in front of the bar on the beach. Score! Plastic chairs with umbrellas shaded picnickers, and soon us. Sadly, as it’s still spring here (oh right), the water was super cold. However, we did enjoy people watching (and by people, I mean swimwear watching–what little there is of it). We explored the rocks and watched the sky. We felt small.

After a long commute capping a long week, we stopped for some pizza on the way back from the beach (the Brazilian go-to dinner…who woulda thunk it?!). Day 1 in Ilhabela in the books.

The next day, we sat on the patio of the hotel to enjoy a delicious breakfast with a sea view: fresh squeezed juices, an overeasy egg cooked in a heart-shaped hole in toast (how cute is that!), fruits, assorted breads and pastries. While finishing up, the owner of the hotel came over to chat with us. He was delightful. He suggested activities for us to do on the island, and checked in to make sure our stay was up to his standards.

Friday consisted of spending the morning at the beach: Praia Pereque. Then we explored the one road to the Southern end of the island. Because we were planning on hitting up dinner late (it doesn’t open until 8pm, oh Brazil), we napped. Good thing. The highly rated Thai restaurant on the island didn’t seat us until almost 11. (What is that?!) But the view was beautiful (the outdoor garden area and the people watching), and that curry was del.ic.ious.

The highlight of our trip came Saturday: a speed boat trip to the east side of the island. We visited three beaches: Praia Fome, Eustáquio and Castelhanos. It was amazing to ride the waves alongside birds diving into the ocean for fish. And on the open sea, we couldn’t help thinking about our friends who lived and traveled on a boat; clearly their courageous and adventurous spirits inspired us more than we realized at the time.

Here is a video of our boat-trip-slash-roller-coaster.

 

Sunday. Oh Sunday. It was a 12 hour commute to get home. It was brutal. It agitated the underlying sense of culture shock I’ve (we’ve) been feeling lately. So I’ll save that for another post.

Here are some pictures from our first Brazilian road trip!

Next up on the Team-Possum-Always-Have-A-Ticket-In-Your-Pocket-Adventure-Agenda:

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November 2017: Guarujá and Buenos Aires

December 2017: Illinois

January 2018: Rio

February 2018: Southern Brazil road trip

March 2018: Lollapalooza and Campos do Jordão

 

 

 

 

photo journal of field trip to Belem

Day 1: Travel and arrival to Belém

Day 2: Travel and exploration of Marajó

Day 3: Travel from Marajó back to Belém

Day 4: Boa Vista, Para

Day 5: Belém to Sampa

cww trip journal: days 1-2

Each year, Graded organizes a trip for all of our students to experience learning beyond the confine of desks, chairs and computers: CWW, aka Classroom Without Walls. I am fortunate enough to be on the 11th grade trip to Belem, Brazil.

Our arrival to Belem took a four hour plan ride. Taking the bus through town I saw: barefoot, sun-browned skin kiddos playing soccer in a field of dirt, wild dogs scratching fleas, countless pairs of people chatting on their “porches” in plastic chairs, shanty towns adorned with graffiti, more bare chests than I see at a typical beach, Bible thumpers carrying their “sword” while walking the streets, trash burning and trash piling, sidewalks ready to swallow any unsuspected flip-flop wearing pedestrian, clotheslines strung creatively on all kinds of makeshift hooks, thin-leaved acai trees, locals sitting on their roofs glued to their smartphones, more barefoot sun-browned skin kiddos playing futsal on sandy concrete, countless churches full with futile fans (of the circulation variety, I think) and relentless reverends, and a tiny local boy’s hand waving back at me from a neighboring bus.

Today we left the hotel at 6am to take a bus to take a boat to take a bus to take a ferry to the islands of Marajo (2000 of them). Let me tell you that my doTERRA peppermint oil and deep breathing exercises have never come in so handy as they did on that boat. The water was choppy and at one point the people next to me were above me :/ Luckily, only a few kiddos upchucked. We arrived to the land of pineapple trees, toured a buffalo tannery, ate at a local restaurant (local fish and buffalo all around; I tried the fish: filhote but not the buffalo), then finished off at a buffalo dairy farm where I ate buffalo cheese, rode a horse (#dailydoseofsouljoy), AND I rode a water buffalo. And by rode I mean I sat on it and petted it. As you can tell, the buffalo are critical to the economy here. After all, the population of people is around 300000 but the water buffalo number around 500000. Today I saw the most beautiful flowers (viuvinha) and felt the best kind of buffalo leather (the ball sack, in case you’re wondering), and saw an actual cashew fruit from the tree (it looks like a pepper)! And, everyone here rides motorcycles without helmets but with flip flops. Safety first!

I sit on Marajo island as I type this. My hair blows in the salt-wind coming from the Amazon-Atlantic-Para hybrid water. Earlier today, I floated in the mouth of the Amazon River beneath a crescent moon rising during sunset.


What is this world I am living in?!

Included is a picture of the mouth of the Amazon; I’ll do more later when I can upload them.

 

 

arrival journal: days five through seven

It’s hard to believe today marks one week we’ve been living in Brazil! The past few days have been a whirlwind of continued professional introductions to the school’s systems as well as more delicious wining and dining.

Wednesday’s orientation provided time for a Portuguese 101 class with one of the school’s most charismatic Brazilian teachers. Her wide smile lights up a room and her warmth makes anyone feel at ease. She taught us through lively action made even sweeter by a table of delicious local candies. I also had my “appointment” with the school’s doctor to make sure I was fit to enter the country; good thing there was no mental exam because I might have failed (“gringa louca”). The PD session focused on feedback which is definitely something that has been on my teacher mind a lot: what will the students’ writing be like here? will I adequately know how to move them? how do I train them to give each other meaningful feedback? That night we ate at a delicious Brazilian restaurant which catered to my vegetarian preferences. For appetizers, more fried cheese on a toothpick (who are they kidding, can I just get a shovel please?!). Then, I had some kind of delicious rice dish with the palm hearts in it, yum! Oh yeah, and tons of wine and conversation with new colleagues.

The most hilarious part about Wednesday is that I came home to a, wait for it, made bed. For all of our friends and family, you also will be laughing at that. While I was at work, Dave actually made our bed (and nobody was coming to see the house and no guests were arriving)! What IS this world we live in?


Thursday’s schedule was built with more autonomous time. The sessions we were together for introduced us to the school’s Google ecosystem and supports for students with special needs [less than 10% of the school’s population (!)]; finally, two things in my wheelhouse. The best part of that latter session was hearing this:

We have to stop loving kids to death.

YES! I have a post unpublished because I can’t figure out how to say it all in the right way, but in essence that is my biggest complaint as of the last year or two. In the US urban school system, we seem to be so afraid of what kids can’t do that we just run right over them with well-intentioned-overcompensation. It infuriates me how little we believe in them.

Anyhoot (sorry to my non-teacher readers about that rant), back to the schedule. Thursday afternoon, we had a personal guide, Jo, show us the ins and outs of apartment living in Brazil, specifically ours. It was crazy helpful. We learned where the garbage goes (we had been piling it in the corner) and that we don’t take the guest elevator with groceries (we take the service elevator) and we saw our parking spot and personal storage space (I guess we don’t have to stock our bins in the fourth bathroom (!) we don’t use anyway) and that you never flush toilet paper in Brazil (!) (well we learned that earlier but I just had to throw it in–no pun intended). Thursday night Dave and I cooked for the first time in our own apartment. We’ve been loving sitting on our porches: the air is crisp and the birds are singing and the sun in shining and the city lights are twinkling.

Friday we spent the morning at the Federal Police Department taking more mug shots (seriously though, I look like a criminal in every one of these legal pictures–every single one. In fact, the one I actually was OK with that the school took, the Brazilian government was not OK with and I had to go take another mug shot, ugh).  We have heard some horror stories about how long this process could take, but we were back in time for the customary Friday lunch of feijoada–a Brazilian dish of stewed beans and meats, though of course they have a vegetarian option at the school. Soon, I’ll do a post about the #outofbounds food down here. We closed the orientation for newbies week in a staff circle of reflections and praise and laughter. Friday night was a more fancy party at the superintendent’s stunning home, complete with catered food, and open bar (by the end of the night, the bartender knew me by my winking smile and empty wine glass; he’d pick up the bottle as soon as he saw me coming) and a live Samba band (is there such thing as a dead Samba band?!). You can bet I was on that dance floor soon enough.

I’ll finish this (long, sorry) post (filled with parenthetical commentary [!]) with some reflections.

  1. One of the hardest parts of a transition to a new school (anywhere) is not knowing the curriculum and thus not being able to plan adequately. This current transition’s woes have been compounded because our entire English department is new, except for the head of the department, who unfortunately has not been able to be here to get us up and running. I like to be planned, a lot. It helps me be a better teacher. So as you can imagine, this component is stressing me out.
  2. The teacher culture here is different. There is a lot of assertive expression of “this is how I’ve done it” or “this is what has worked before.” Everyone seems so confident, so at ease. It is the same experience as going to an AP institute or an IB training. I, of course, feel out of my league. Maybe it’s because I’m not used to working with this abundant level of experienced teachers (years and countries of experience, oh my). But the more and more I’ve been reflecting, the more and more I wonder if it’s actually about my experience in urban education. I am a good teacher. I know that. However, no matter how good I have been in the last decade, it cannot and does not overcome students’ gaps of six or seven or ten years; it cannot and does not overcome the crippling effects of abuse and poverty and racism and systemic oppression; it cannot and does not overcome a pervasive sense of underachievement and hopelessness. When so many needs are in one school, it is nearly impossible to meet them all–no matter how good you are. And so, success is always relative (but no less beautiful). And so, my self-efficacy has never risen to the level of my current colleagues. (I welcome any comments on this, as I am still chewing on it…)
  3. Dave and I feel absolutely ruined by Graded. How can we go to another international school when we’ve been so completely cared for by our first one?! We prayed so much for the best, and we feel it’s been answered, thank you God. The transition has been so delicately planned out with so many of our needs thought through with the help of companies who have just the right expertise with all kinds of staff who have been working tirelessly on our behalf, it is overwhelming in a glorious way. We are grateful.

 

 

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