Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day 31

The end is nigh... of the trip, that is. Today is our last day in Brazil. We are heading to the airport after lunch to catch our flights home, except for Brenda who is spending a few days in Sao Paulo with a former exchange student from Brazil.

As for Laurie, Keith and myself, we are heading back to Canada but not before a solid 24 hours of flying time.

We have all enjoyed our time in Brazil, the wonderful hospitality of the people we have met and the opportunity to meet with Rotary Clubs.

I didn't have a picture of just the four of us for this blog post. I seemed to forgot my camera existed over this trip and didn't take that many photos. However, Laurie was a shutterbug and I will have to grab some from her camera.

Bon voyage!


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 30

"I wish I could wax my chest hair." Keith G. Fonstad.

Last full day in Brazil! We began the trip with a tour of a unique school in Fortaleza. Edisca combines dance, theatre and education for free to disadvantaged students. Students attend the school either before or after going to their regular schools.

The school provides tutorial services, dance, theatre, medical care and meals to students. Additionally, they provide the opportunity for student's parents to learn skills, such as sewing for costumes that they can parlay into an chance to earn income.

We watched part of a student performance from a previous year. I am a huge fan of the arts, including dance. I really enjoyed the video of the performance; such an interesting take on contemporary dance.

We then hit the beach for our last afternoon. Laurie found the perfect relaxation spot on a giant bean bag. Keith, decided to try his luck at surfing. Here is something I learned about surfing, the board is covered with glue so that surfers can grip better. Here is something Keith learned about surfing... glue sticks to your chest hair.

Late in the afternoon, we packed up and headed to our respective families.

Now... to attempt to pack all my stuff. Where did I put my shrink ray gun?


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 29

We have done a few touristy trips here, but today was very touristy - we went to a place called Beach Park - a huge water park - includes three significant little kids water parks, a river float (Laurie's fav), wave pool (small waves by ocean and West Ed standards), a 41 metre screamer and a couple smaller ones, multiple slides for just riders, and with tubes and mats...there were even a sauna and hot tub (seldom used - can't imagine why as the location of Beach Park is in a city where 25 celsius is a cold day...). As the name suggests, the Beach Park is located on a beach (appropriate :) ) and once you pay to go the park, you can get a pass to go in and out of the park to the beach. We arrived around 12 and after getting set up by our Rotary host, we headed off for some river floating followed by a couple of the water slides. The sun was out today (finally) so we all had to be aware of sunscreen use and sun exposure - didn't appear to be any lobsters in the group today...After the slides, it was the wave pool. After bobbing for while, lunch was calling our name - so he headed to the restuarant and had the most expensive meal we have had yet (apparently amusement parks are excessively expensive all over the world...). After lunch, the girls peer pressured/coerced/manipulated me to do the Insano - the 41 metre screamer...well, okay I kinda volunteered to take one for the team so we could say someone did it...or as Laurie put it, "being a man" any regards, I successfully survived the insano experience and moved on to making sure I rode all the other adult slides in the park (all those open anyways...), which some rivaled the insano for worst/best ride...all in all, it was a very good day and much thanks goes to our Rotary hosts for arranging for the trip!!

We are all now back at our hosts houses recuperating and preparing for our last full day in Brazil...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 28

Today we were picked up at home at 6am Brazilian by the time we actually got everyone and hit the road it was 7:30.  We had a 3 hour drive to our destination so we all settled in for the ride and attempted to have a nap on the bus.  The roads here are not exactly 'nap friendly'.  There are several reasons for this, the first and most prominent is the pot hole issue.  Pot holes are everywhere and they are not filled, nor are they marked so when you are flying down the highway it is necessary to slam on the brakes and swerve often to avoid a flat tire, or in some cases having your vehicle swallowed up by the hole.  On top of the pot hole issue there are also random donkeys, dogs and various farm animals including cows the size of cars that cause more swerving and braking.  And the final factor in the nap free roads are the other crazy drivers who keep our drivers on their toes at all times.  Despite all this we made it to Limoeiro do Norte City after a short stop to have some juice and breakfast along the way.
Upon arriving we went to the district governors house for a snack of fresh fruit and bread and then off to an irrigation agricultural farm where we saw 4 types of bananas, limes, oranges, pears and apples being grown.  The manager of the farm gave us a tour and explained that banana trees are cut after they produce a crop and another tree grows next to the initial tree and the new tree grows the next crop.  
We also saw one of three pump houses on the property, and the manager explained how fertilizers and pesticides were injected into the water based on the needs of each fruit tree and then the correct mixture was sent through the irrigation system to the trees.
After the tour we headed back to the district governors house for lunch, we had a BBQ outside and relaxed at his house for a while afterwards.  We then boarded the bus for another bumpy ride home.
We were sad to say goodbye to our friend Marcelo at the end of the ride.  Marcelo is heading to Canada next week on the Brazilian GSE team so we will see him again soon.  We spent 10 days with him in Sao Luis and now 5 in Fortaleza, since he has been with us for half of the trip we have inducted him as an honorary member of our team! We would not have survived without his great translating skills!!
We are all now at our respective hosts houses and getting ready for Beach park tomorrow. Our days in Brazil are numbered now so I thought I would share a few things that I have noticed about this country over the past few weeks:
1. At restaurants it is automatic that they bring you beer, you have to ask for water
2.  Eating 6 to 8 types of meat in one meal is totally normal
3.  Stop signs are just suggestions and roundabouts are racetracks
4.  Pot holes create driver training simulations
5.  Cake, even chocolate cake is a breakfast food
6.  Work seems to be optional in the afternoon for most people
7.  Everyone speaks some English even if they claim not too
8.  Ketchup and mayo are for pizza not hotdogs
9.  Whisky bottles must be emptied completely as soon as possible if opened
10.  It is acceptable and apparently legal to carry your entire family across town on either a bicycle or motor bike
11.  They eat food family style....enough food as though there were 4 families (we have yet to even come close to finishing the food that is served to us, despite Keiths efforts)
12.  Happy hour can start anytime after 8am
13.  Soccer (football) is a religion, there are more soccer fields than churches, and brazil is the most catholic country in the world
14.  'Jesus' comes in a bottle here and tastes like cotton's a bright pink coca cola product
15.  Hammock hooks are built into the walls of every house, inside and out.  Genius!
16.  Jeans are warn everywhere....even the government buildings, they are acceptable but shorts are forbidden  
17. And in Brazil always LOCK THE DOOR!

Day 27

Day 27 came very early... too early for me.

We begun the day with an early wake up call and hopped in a few cars to head to the city of Aracati. The father of my host family is from this town and they own a beach house there as well. Before heading to the beach house, we stopped and had a quick taste of the local industry; shrimp farming. We then headed to the farm to see where shrimp are raise. Imagine, if you will, giant ponds for all the eyes can see. This is how shrimp are raised and farmed in this part of Ceara. They use salt water for the holding ponds from the sea. Since it was Sunday, the farm was very quite however, it was interesting to see how ‘livestock’ are raised in this part of Brazil.

We then had a wonderful lunch at Ivan and Lucina’s beach house. After a quick change, the team headed to the beach to test our strength again the ocean’s waves. It was rather overcast but my fair skin enjoyed the break from the sun's rays. Keith and I spent the entire time in the ocean where the water is always around 27 degrees Celsius. Lauire tried to work on her tan a bit and Marcelo eventually came in the water although he was slightly concerned that the tide would pull him out (he can’t swim). No worries, Keith was practicing his defense against the waves and Laurie has the pictures to prove it!

After a long, rainy drive back to Fortaleza, we all hit the hay for a good night’s rest.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Days 25 and 26

With a small agenda change (for the positive) we had to make our presentation to the conference on Friday at 12:30 - everything went really well and should be our last presentation for the trip. Once the presentation and lunch was over, we had the rest of the day off - our Sao Luis friends (mine and Jenny's hosts and Marcelo from the Brazilian GSE team) made arrangements to meet us at a beach bar called Croco Beach - it is a pretty large bar complex with something for all ages. First, we made an executive decision to get a hotel room for the team (except Brenda who could more easily get to and from her hosts) as we weren't sure on how late the night would be and we wanted to be at the beach in the morning - hotel rooms are reasonable and with the Canadian dollar stronger right now, it made lots of sense - it also allowed us somewhere to store our suits from the presentation while we went to the beach - after some emergency purchases of toiletries, we headed off to the beach - after some cervejas, our Sao Luis friends showed up for a quick visit before the bar closed for the day - since the visit wasn't long enough, we made arrangements to meet for supper back downtown - the team and Marcelo were able to do some minor shopping at the ocean side market before supper, and then we enjoyed a night of visiting, eating, and yes, drinking (how were the caipiroska's girls?) - we finished visting at the restuarant late enough that we didn't have time to go to the conference hotel where a forro dance had been going on (although we learned the next day that it likely was still going - the sleep ended up being a good choice though...).

Saturday morning we awoke to head back to the beach bar to meet Brenda at ten for our day off, relaxing at the beach - however Marcelo received a message that he needed to go to the conference hotel to get some supplies for his GSE trip, we needed to go to the bank, then Marcelo found out he was going to stay with us till Monday and come to the dinner Saturday night (instead of returning to Sao Luis) so he headed off with Carlos to get some clothes for the extended stay - upon his return, waited for him to get ready (a consistent theme for the next two days....) and we arrived at the beach at noon - luckily Brenda is now climatized to Brazilian time and didn''t worry too much about us and she did an excellent job reserving a beach front table - from this table, we spent the rest of the day swimming in the large waves, watching the surfers (in the late afternoon rain shower), playing cards, having fruit puree drinks, ice cream based drinks, cerveja, and a really disgusting cheeseburger and fries from the kids menu (should have known better...) Other than the clouds and the late afternoon rain shower, the day was really good, although we all could have used a hammock for an afternoon siesta.

We returned to the hotel to get ready for the evening dinner - the conference wind-up event - the team got dressed up in our suit/dresses for what we thought was a gala event - waited for Marcelo to get ready (the ladies even went and got their hair done, but apparently something was lost in translation as they ended up paying for getting their hair dried and Laurie's bangs were teased and partially trimmed, but Jenny's cost more even though it was only dried - neither got any product, curling, straightening, etc....still looked beautiful though ladies!! well, presentable anyways...) While walking to the conference hotel, Marcelo then informed us that the event is semi-casual, that 's why he didn't have a tie and jacket...thanks for the heads it was, there were a wide variety of dress so my tie wasn't out of place and the ladies in Brazil always seem to dress up, so the ladies on the team were not out of place either...we arrived at the scheduled time of 8 - there were about 20 people there of the expected couple hundred, there were more waiters than people although the waiters weren't serving anything...more people arrived as the time passed, yet no drinks were served - again, a culturual difference noted by our team, especially since we had spent most of the day wetting the whistle and our whistles were now bone dry....finally at 9:30 someone instructed the waiters to begin - whiskey and cerveja were the choices (surprise, surprise) - at 10:30 a local dance group came in and provided a show of a local dance - very entertaining - at 11:10 the buffet opened and a live band began playing. We spent the night with our Sao Luis and Pedro II friends, visiting with many others, a little bit of dancing, and lots of laughter - my host 'mom' from Sao Luis has a gift - after two glasses of whiskey, she is basically fluent in english which is quite amazing since she doesn't really know much english...a very enjoyable evening, although it had a sad ending as this would be our last chance to visit with our hosts from the other parts of the district - after lots of hugs and offers to visit, we returned home for our early morning pick-up for Sunday's activities.

Day 24

This morning we had to be at the hotel early to be picked up for a trip to a cashew farm - Gilnei, one of the Brazilian GSE team members works for a large cashew producer and was to be our guide for the day. He picked us up in what has to be the oldest truck on the road - an early 80's model chevy extended cab - it is in this beast that we travled the 135 km to the cashew farm. The farm is enormous (consists of various properties) - approx 100,000 acres and 3,000,000 trees - during harvest season (sept - nov) it employs 5,000 workers - during the rest of the year 350. The farm is really a decent size town - there is housing for employees, approx 500 houses total, a school, two churches (catholic and protestant), supermarket, butcher, multiple football fields, etc. - in the production area that we toured, there were these large storage areas for approx 5 million tonnes of cashew nuts. The cashew nut grows out of the cashew fruit and when harvested, the worker picks the fruit off the tree, twists the nut off and throws the fruit on the ground - only about 5 - 10% of the fruit is used for juice or other purposes and 100% of the nuts are used - apparently the juice market is limited and the shelf life is too short for export - they are researching additional uses for the fruit (dried fruit is crushed and mixed with corn for feed for the local cattle on the farm, but not done commercially, as well as they are beginning production of a cashew burger - a hamburger made out of cashew fruit and nuts - Jenny and Laurie did the taste test and it exceeded their expectations - as a meatatarian in Brazil, I felt it was against my beliefs to partake...) The farm has a bunch of new equipment and if the crop is good, they will process the nuts there, but currently all the processing is being done in Fortaleza at the factory, which we traveled to after an excellent lunch, a nap in a hammock, and a quick visit to the local farm (which had cattle (milk and beef), goats, pigs, and chickens - the pig barns were even set up for proper drainage with two holding tanks that were emptied into portable spreader tanks for fertilizer).

Most of the factories (and other businesses) we have visited have been very labour intensive - many jobs most people wouldn't chose to do - but the cashew factory topped the list of jobs I wouldn't want - most of the cashews are sorted by hand - ladies (apparently men aren't consistent enough so they only use ladies) sit at the side of a conveyor belt with a bucket beside them and pick out the appropriate sized cashew - 9 hours a day, 5 days a week - for minimum wage (makes you wonder if the men are smarter by being 'inconsistent' so they have to do different jobs......nah, attention to detail just typically isn't our thing....) - there is some automated sorting done, but only for whole cashews...the employees at all the facilities we visited are treated very well - this company had housing for most of its employees, all facilities had on site medical for employee and their family, and other benefits including cross training and rotating jobs where applicable. Most of these factories, including the cashew factory today had very low employee turnover and high levels of loyalty - the employees we talked to at the cashew company were very loyal to the owner, whom they all respectfully called president. Given the lifestyle and jobs of many other people we have seen and talked to (beach vendors, people living in the rural areas) the repetitive job duties don't actually seem that bad (trying to say that even though I described it previously as jobs I wouldn't want, they are still better than a lot of other jobs and situatinos that still exist here in Brazil - even though there is a growing middle class, the lower class is still huge and struggling - the richer are getting richer and most of the poor are getting poorer - there is a huge problem with the political system and corruption here, but I will save that discussion for another blog...). Gilnei works at the factory as a food engineer (for processing and research/quality control) and so he provided a very thorough and informative tour - you could tell he was very proud of the company and the work they did.

After the cashew factory visit, we returned to our homes to get ready for the opening of the conference - the schedule indicated a cocktail party at 8 - we were instructed that it was dressy - so we dressed up in cocktail dresses (mine was pants, dress shirt and tie...a nice ensemble) and arrived to find that it was actually the opening ceremonies which included 2 hours of speeches in portuguese, followed by a short social with way too many people and not enough waiters...the best part was reuniting with all our new friends from previous locations and getting to say hi. See the following blog for more on the conference...