Blame it on the MIL

Fair friends
The original duo
The cute couple
This can just be a teaser for a future post

What, are we even on this trip? Funny how my first 5 days I blogged 4 times. Now I'm all sorts of back-logged. Blame it on bad internet or faulty Apple-Google interaction. But really, I should probably blame it on my Mother-in-Law, Trish.

She's just too much fun. And because she flies free, we got to enjoy her company twice in Brazil, once in Salvador and again in the South. In both places, we drove (in a car!), we ate (street food for her first time!) we laughed (at Porter, quite a bit). I have the greatest mother-in-law there is. It makes it tough to have time to blog.

My favorite things about her?

*She's up for adventure. Two trips to South America in a month is nothing. She's been just near everywhere and isn't sick of going yet. Whether it's a cruise around a continent, moving to San Antonio on a (romantic) whim 35 years ago, or digging up dinosaur bones in Eastern WA (for she and Jeff's anniversary last year, how cute is that), she drums up fun adventure anywhere.

*She's a doer. Flight nurse in the Navy, MBA, owned a travel agency (back when people used them), neo-natal nurse. No need to review her full résumé but I'm constantly learning and impressed by her interest and ability to take on a challenge and get 'er done.

*She is secretly really crafty. She'd never brag about it but she's got a knack for scrap booking and baking and gardening (that's in the crafty category, right?)

*She's a hoot. Really funny, and silly (especially around her girlfriends. I'm secretly trying to get myself invited to one of their girls' weekends). I stayed with she and Jeff in Canada and they are a hoot together too. Jeff came down for the last few days for Iguazu. They're a fun couple to play with.

*She's a babe. Fitter than I am (I'm not even kidding) with a good sense for when to whip out the curling iron and lipstick and when is a hat day.

*She raised my Porter man, pretty much all alone (Porter's dad died when he was young) and she did a phenomenal job. So many wonderful things he is, he is because of her.

Like I said, best mother-in-law around.


The End of the World

Here we are in Ushuaia, the end of the world. They've really latched onto the catchphrase- the end of the world- with shirts, postcards, and ads for the likes of the Train at the End of the World and the Duty Free Shop at the End of the World. We're really only at 54 degrees south latitude (out of 90 possible). Seattle's at 47 degrees (or so), Juneau (which is really barely north enough in Alaska to count as impressive) is at 58. Anchorage is at 61. There are cities as north as 70+ degrees. Lonyearbyen, Norway takes the cake for really at the end of the world at 78 degrees north latitude http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longyearbyen http://www.johnnyjet.com/2012/04/12-facts-you-never-knew-about-longyearbyen-the-worlds-northernmost-city/ (there are at least 2000 people who think 3 months without daylight and an annual high of 43 degrees Fahrenheit as acceptable conditions and, at least by the last census, not killed themselves).

Still, it's 10:20 pm and not entirely dark yet, and the only thing south of us is ocean (and Port Williams, slight south and across the bay in Chile, not that anyone goes there, or cares, since they don't have a Duty Free shop) so I don't balk at the claim. It's beautiful and bustling, and just cold enough that everyone is all bundled up like it's the middle of winter. Most people come here to trek, or to catch a cruise to Antarctica (3 days and 4 grand away from here) so the only coats, beanies, and durable shoes packed are worn even thought it's probably 60 degrees and long sleeves would do just fine. You can tell from the number of high end boutiques and 15 chocolaterias in as many blocks the people with money come here. And backpackers like us who have time to spare.

We're only here for a day, actually. We chose to spend our hiking time in the other touristy mountain town in Argentina, but there was a flight with a 24 hour layover here, and I'm a sucker for an extended layover for a sneak peek of a town or bragging rights like 'the End of the World'.

Our flight down was actually quite exciting. In short, when we got to the airport, they had no record of our reservation, nor of the flight even existing (surprise!). When we furnished our booking confirmation, they scratched their heads, apologized (sort of) and booked us on their competitors' flight, leaving roughly around the same time as our originally booked, nonexistent flight. First class. I've never lucked out from a mistake like this before. Cha-Ching! We didn't know it til we boarded (surprise!). The transformer bed came in handy recovering from the last few nights of late nights and early mornings. And apparently ham and Brie cheese sandwiches are the upgrade meal for the regular ham and cheese offered on most flights (and most mornings. [if I never eat ham again it will be too soon!]). I'll take it.


The Diamond Highlands - by Porter

Back in 2009, I did Ironman Brazil down in Florianopolis and I wanted to make a vacation of it, so I took a whole 3 weeks off from work (funny how that seemed like a lot back then, haha) and researched where I wanted to go.  One of the places that greatly attracted me, but in the end was unable to visit, is Chapada Diamantina, or the Diamond Highlands.

Imagine the Grand Canyon, shrink it a little bit, and make it green and lush, and that's what it looks like.  The area is about the size of Holland, and Brazil has gone so far as to make a national park out of a good chunk of it.  As there were already several towns established before the park existed, the park borders are a bit torturous in areas to keep the towns outside the park.

We had GRAND plans to go on a multiple day hike inside the park, especially the much-vaunted Valley of Paty.  Prior to arriving, I tried to do as much research as possible on routes, even going so far as to download GPS tracks and the like.  I found the lack of information frustrating, and I kept coming across the advice that you "can't/shouldn't/would be stupid to hike without a guide" inside the park.  This I most certainly wanted to avoid--how could I be a self-respecting lover of the outdoors and require a guide for some non-technical hiking on established trails??

When we got there, it quickly became apparent that:

--there is no place to rent gear, like sleeping bags, tents etc, unless yougo with a guide service, which for 2 people, was generally about $100-$150 per day
--The allocation of man power is very lop sided--not very many park rangers and wayyy too many guides.  
-- The whole guide service is mis-matched.  We heard stories of guides mis-marking trails and in general, making things difficult for folks who don't know the way, while at the same time, we heard that they don't actually receive all that much of the money charged for tours.
--Funds!  There is no park entrance fee, yet you need to pay tons f

In short, we decided that it was not worth the $550 it would've been for a 3 day hiking trip.  Instead, we did a one-day guided trip to see a few caves and crazy pools of water, with our soon to be Brazilian buddies, Pedro e Fernando, both of whom happened to speak pretty great English.  Some memorable exchanges were:

-Fernando LOVES the germans and meditation.  He finds them very strong.  He invited us and Pedro to meditate with him.  
-Pedro believes that cities are noisy, the smaller the better.  This is Pedro below.

We also did two short day trips to some easier to find places--including a way cool natural rock slide.  Even though these places were barely even an hour's walk, there were no signs at all, which made for a lot of direction-asking.

All in all, I would not call it a bust, per se, but it definitely was disappointing, and reminded me of how enormously grateful we should be for our fantastic national park system.


I didn't realize it, but before Christmas, I had an almost pre-written blog post written in my head about how pure Christmas is outside the US, where the season is often more stressful and expensive than the rest of the year combined. Not about Jesus, or even giving, but rather fulfilling obligations and making the appearance of merry through meaningless traditions. I was sure the traditions in Brazil would be only meaningful and Christ centered. 

I wasn't entirely off. I mean, I do think Christmas cheer has gone off the deep end even since my childhood. But that opinion wasn't reinforced in Sobral, so I have to write a different blog post.

We spent Christmas with Porter's best and only mission companion with whom he still keeps in touch. Joao Paulo is pretty great. A big guy with a real smile, who went out of his way the entire 4 days we were there include me in conversations in Portuguese that I would be otherwise left out of because I translate too slow and zone out when my brain gets tired. 

We arrived on Christmas Eve afternoon, and I was admittedly out of it, after an early morning flight and bus ride on a highway HALF MADE OF DIRT. Seriously, Brazil. Sobral has a light rail, Expo center, the cleanest downtown of any city we've been to so far and it takes you 10 years to pave a highway? Get a life!
Paving the highway.
So by the time we arrived, preparations were already underway. I forget, often, that while I like to eat dinner at 6 or maaaybe 7 pm, Brazilians are on a totally different schedule. It's a zillion degrees during the day, so why cook while the sun is up?! Wait til 8 or 9 or 10. So Christmas Eve dinner was late, but delicious. Friends and family (or strangers, what do I know?) just kept showing up, I finally zonked just after midnight, and excused myself from even the kids who could stay up past my bedtime.

So it was with most things that week, really. Me, thinking we were going to do something (go to the pool, start a movie, sit down at a table at a restaurant) and we would eventually do it, And it would be enjoyable. Just slower-going than I would be expecting. 
So Christmas. Wasn't really Christmas as I have experienced it or was expecting it. Santa Claus gave Joaquim (Joao Paulo's still-growing-into-his-face 9 year old) a gift Christmas morning (a mini pool, well used by Joaquim and two of us, due to the zillion degrees and the waiting) but there was no other gift giving. No extra treats or traditions that I could recognize. I asked several times about traditions (anything, people, if only for my blogpost!) and was met with a confused face. We did go see one house that was decked out in Christmas lights, maybe 35 Santa Clauses, and a psychodelic full size nativity, so that's something.

Christmas Eve is the biggest festivity, with a fancy dinner of roasted chicken and fruit bouquets and a cucumber Christmas tree, all fastened together with toothpicks. I can get behind that!

More on Sobral from Porter-man.

My Heart Yearns for Jangada - by Porter

We had a few days in the capital of Ceará, which goes by the quite muscular name of Fortaleza (strength or force) between Christmas and our stupidly early 1:30am flight to the Brazilian south, so we decided to check out the much-hyped beach town of Canoa Quebrada (broken canoe). According to the saccharine tour guide during the van ride there, a bunch of blaised French moviemakers discovered and brought to light the once sleepy fishing village and today possesses a robustly tourist main street with the improbably name of Broadway.

We arrived at the beach and were neither over nor underwhelmed; the requisite beachside restaurants, lots of butt-crack swallowing bikinis, a very steady breeze, and on the water, on the beach, and in various sizes, conditions, and colors, Jangadas. Jangadas are a kind of sailboat unique to the northeast, curiously limited to a fairly specific stretch of coastline, with the largest concentration in and around Fortaleza. They are pretty ingenious; constructed without any nails, they have been used for hundreds of years, mostly for fishing. I asked at one point if today they are mostly used for tourism, and was pleased to hear that while many are indeed tourist-pleasure barges, a lot are still used for fishing (definitely saw this in action and watched some fishermen weigh their catch) and many folks own them just for fun.
Jangada under construction

We walked down the beach and plopped down to enjoy the sun. No sooner had my bum grazed the sand, that I saw a Brazilian youth cavorting in the waves, running after a MODEL JANGADA!
A jangada inspection
 I followed him for a time and observed the operation; most ingenious. I went to talk to him, and learned the following things:

1.) his boat is not for sale
2.) it took him 2 months to build
3.) there used to be some mini jangada or jangadinhas in Canoa Quebrada, but they are too much work to build and don't sell for enough to make it worthwhile
4.) there might be some still in Majorlandia, 4km down the beach

Another dude walked up and said that there might be one for sale, and said he would be back in 25 minutes with more information. He came back and whistled at me, so I walked up the dune and then we just walked over to his house, right on the beach. No such luck, he said, nobody had any to sale. I gathered that there are no stores that sell them, just dudes who make them for fun. He said that if I came back at 7 that evening, we could drive over to his friend's house (Little Hick the Fisherman). That wouldn't work, as we were leaving at 4 on our van with the incredibly peppy Patricia the Professional Tour Guide.

So. We resolved to get to Majorlandia on our own. After arriving at the bus stop, a car pulled up and offered us and the other two guys waiting a ride as far as Quixaba, another town. We weren't going to take the offer, but since the other two guys did, we embarked. I asked the guys in the car if such a thing as the location of mini jangadas would be within the limits of their ken. All enthusiastically replied that yes, they could be found in Quixaba and what's more, young Felipe would be happy to take us to the appropriate house.
Do YOU have any jangadas for sale?
30 minutes and 4 houses later, I'm sure Felipe was rueing his decision to act as an impromptu jangada tour guide, sans Patricia's effervescence. We viewed a few different jangadinhas, but none of them were the TRUE jangadinha that was now tacking it's way through the fancies of my imagination.
Not quite right...
So, bidding a fond farewell to Felipe, we headed down the beach with a vigorous march, knowing that time was limited for our quest; our pumpkin tour van was to leave in less than 2 hours.

Arriving there, this time without a callow youth to guide us in our quest, I boldly entered a noisy and smelly fishmonger area and inquired as to where I might buy a mini jangada. A man who overheard then asked if I wanted to buy his jangada, for fishing. I repeatedly stated that I wanted a small one, "about this big". A younger fellow sprung forth from the crates of fish and posited that George's house is where I wanted to go. How I was to get there was not so obvious. Having gained this nugget, nothing else was happening, so I left and went to ask around some more.

Soon thereafter, the same fishy youth flagged us down and told us he could take us there, that it was 'just right over there', which in Brazil, I have learned, can mean anything from 20 metres to several leagues. Up, left, left, right, down, A, B, B, A, our route seemed to resemble cheat codes from the Nintendo games of my youth. The fish boy kept telling me "Boy, you are just going to go CRAZY when you see these babes, they are super beautiful! You're really going to buy one, right? You're going to LOVE them!!"

We did arrive, finally. The youth went ahead to parlay on our behalf with the family of Sr. George, who proved to be about 17, and the oldest son of several children. They produced several jangadinhas of varying sizes, and with each one, my heart quickened its pace.
Not all of George's jangadas
How I longed that I could take them all home! All were resplendent, and fully functioning models! The family competed in mini jangada regattas, which were all made by George. The family seemed pretty wary but also quite interested in watching us, these two random americanos, who had come all the way to their home to buy some jangadas! Oh, what curious news we shall have to count to everyone tonight, whoo boy, they must have been thinking.
Getting it all put together
Ever seen Sophie's Choice? Perhaps a devout fan of the X-Files and Mulder's parent's decision? Choosing is such a hard thing. Kami is getting nervous about the time, and I just cannot decide. They are all so lovely! Finally, I elect to choose one in particular, on the merits of its slightly smaller size and the fact that its construction was as a replica; that is, the hull and all of its part were made exactly like a full-size jangada (the other hulls were just made out of a single piece of wood, carved to shape), which I found charming.
Oh, happy day! The only bummer is that I won't have a chance to actually use it on the beach in Brazil, but oh well. I absolutely love things like this; going to some random home to buy something that real significance, both for the seller and the purchaser. It is so perfect! It is JUST like a full size one. Something about that really delights me, and while I am guessing that most if not all of you who are reading this (bravo, for reading this far) will not understand the joy that something like a model boat can bring, I know that you understand what it means to be excited and happy. It will mean far more to me than any other purchase that I could have made, and will soon grace our home and the waters of Western Washington.

Soaking wet at Iguazu

Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls, if ya didn't cha know, is the biggest waterfall in the world. Not the highest (that's Victoria Falls in East Africa and I count it one of my few life regrets that I didn't spend the half day and few hundred dollars I could have spent to get there when I was relatively nearby. For future reference, the rational "I'm sure ill be in [insert faraway obscure place impossible and expensive to get to] again. I'll just take this once in a lifetime opportunity next time" is total crap and an awful way to miss out on real once in a lifetime experiences. They call then that for a reason. The same can be said for certain purchases (oh, vintage telephone from the Bientina, Italy antique street fair when I was 16! How I should have paid the $25 to bring you home!), but since there is so much regret in impulse buying, statistically speaking, it's harder to draw the line.)

No, Iguazu is the largest waterfall by volume (Okay Niagara is up there too). Some 500,000 cubit feet per second over a span of about 3 miles. If your baby dropped somehow over one of the catwalks winding through the falls, sayonara (this discussion, or argument rather, did not take place over the catwalks but rather over a 125 foot high bridge on the way to Paraguay. I said I'd jump after the baby. My heartless husband said death on impact. I harumphed and refused to discuss it further).  Legeng sais that a God was set to marry a woman, but was scorned when she canoed away with her lover. God split their getaway route, sending them into eternal freefall, and giving the rest of us a Wonder of the World to enjoy.

At the Devil's Throat, particularly, I had all sorts of vertigo induced flashes of falling into the abyss below. Talk about terrifying. I may have been a good thing for my brain that our view here was at hyper speed so we could catch our bus, and Trish and Jeff could catch their plane back. It was quite epic, our ascent to the Devils Throat. Slow train, stopped train for no reason (not like a real train, it's like a Disneyland train), making the route up on foot instead (just a little bitta mud and four refused hitchhiking attempts [boy do we suck at Hitchhiking When Porter and I were robbed outside Paraty we had to hitchhike back to town because the busses wouldn't let us on with no fare {for rude!} and it took like 20 minutes and lots o cars before we were obvious enough about hitchhiking that an old VW van driving 15 mph with the windows down stopped to take us.])
The world melting away... an inch every 10 years 
The 1 km catwalk was like Frogger. Passing photo takers and slow grandmas is a fun game in its own right, so by the time I got to the viewing platform it was especially mind blowing. Mist so strong you couldn't see ten feet down. It's like the world is melting from Iguazu out. Like you should have to run to solid ground to keep from being swallowed up, but instead you're on a hopefully very well fortified and regularly safety inspected metal grate catwalk just watching it all dump away. It's unreal.

The day before (two days, rather), we were on he Brazilian side, having a totally different experience- getting soaked.

First was on purpose, a tour that takes you up the river and into the falls (one of the itty bitty ones in comparison, but no lack of strength). They whip you through rapids on a zodiac (I was dislodged from my seat and rammed into the person behind me only once. So much for hand holds.) and tuck you right under. It's like that amusement park ride where you're in a round boat on a river and every once in a while someone gets wet. By here everyone is soaked to the bone, especially in the nose of the boat, where we were. I would recommend this tour to any and everyone.
Bad-ass falls adventurer

Wet and adorable
More cuteness
Seriously? My face.
That's more like it
After changing into dry clothes, we ascended again to see the falls from different angles. Blue skies turned gray, turned misty, turned downpour, and the rest of the afternoon was as wet as when we were shoved directly under the falls. We winded along the trails and across the catwalks. I kept rehearsing in my mind "Worst Case Scenario: slip and fall/deteriorating bridge/earthquake/bumped over the edge by a passerby. What do I do. What rock can I grab. How long can I hold on.

Good news, we made it alive, soaked to the bone, but giggling all the way.

There is water behind me. And all over 

Being a cheapskate doesn't always win

When we walked out the door to head to the ferry yesterday morning I thought to myself "you should take a taxi."

"Taxis are for pansies," I countered in my head, something I do often. "People who have no interest in Reallly seeing a city. And deep pockets."

Argument over. I'm a masochist.

3 hours, a missed ferry,
3 bus rides, and a full loop and a half around both the shady (3 very firm and abrupt warnings from strangers to change directions and be careful) not so shady ports, we were able to reschedule for evening, book a place in Uruguay for the night (onward plans thwarted by late arrival) and breath again.

The high speed ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia was otherwise a breeze. Open ocean outside AND the open ocean episode of Planet Earth on the big screen inside? Yes, please!

A sunset on the other side doesn't hurt either.



Working on not hating on Blogger via the iPad. Thoughts, photos and blogger love forthcoming.