Update from Brasil

Bom Dia (pronounced bong-gia – in the Rio slang) – Good Day.

For those of you who didn’t know, I’m writing from lovely Rio de Janeiro, Brazil! I’m down here for a study abroad program (4 weeks long) and I’m officially half way through. I am taking two courses while I am here and just finished the first one (Comparative Environmental Law: Urban Issues) and starting the second one tomorrow (Environmental Health Law and Policy). Each course is worth 3 credits; therefore, life has been busy packing in lots of class, homework, and of course being a tourist.

To share some of my experiences with you all, I thought I give you an idea of how my typical day unfolds:

I start the day by stepping out onto the balcony of our apartment, which happens to have an amazing view—I scored one of the best apartments in the program J -- to see what the weather will be for the day. Its winter here in Rio (imagine winter in Miami) and despite this being the dry season, it’s been an unusually wet season. So if it makes any of you less jealous, we have had several rainy days. Then, if I don’t make my own breakfast I head over to one of the many juice bars right around the corner. I have come to like one of the local, popular fruits called Acai. I don’t know all that much about it, but it’s pretty sweet and comes from the Amazon (I think), and is really thick and hearty. It’s supposed to have a high amount of calories per serving and many vitamins and minerals. The locals (cairocas) love their bread pastries filled with cheese and meat (usually). I haven’t warmed up to that heavy start to my day, but choose toast and jam instead. The unique feature of the juice bars (besides the fact that many are open 24 hours/day) is that they feature a bar that everyone stands at and drinks/eats their food. At first, my US tendency was to think, “why isn’t this line moving along”. Now I kind of like the idea of standing there enjoying my drink, rather than just taking it on the go. It’s a hybrid of getting sitting down to enjoy your coffee and ordering to-go.

From the juice bar, I have to play frogger across the streets as people drive crazy around here and traffic lights and lanes and pedestrian signals seem to be mere suggestions rather than rules. I jump in a metro bus and quickly learn why Brazil has produced several formula one champions—the bus drivers literally weave in and out of traffic like a sports car. The bus takes us right to our school: PUC (pronounced: Puki), which is a private Jesuit school (like Seattle U). The campus is tucked right up against the largest urban tropical rainforest in the world and needless to say is very beautiful. In fact there are two huge groves of bamboo forming an arch, right at the entrance.

We have three, consecutive 70 minute sessions of class (unless we are on a field trip – at least one a week). Class is usually pretty interesting as we have had many guest lecturers and good discussions involving several Brazilian law students who have attended many of our courses. Hearing their viewpoints on issues we all care about have been one of the highlights of my trip. Maybe the most interesting moments was when our professor said that last year during the program the popular newspaper printed a headline that read: 70% of Brazilians Think That the United States Will Someday Invade the Amazon. Many of the US students laughed like it might have been an Enquirer headline, while the Brazilian students all shook their heads in agreement.

Even though class has been engaging, at the first break, I usually head for the food court to get a cafezinho, the caffeine drink of choice here—it’s like a shot glass of really strong coffee…close to an espresso shot, but a slightly different type of coffee (Robusta versus Arabica). Many of the locals put in this weird “zero-cal” liquid sweetener, but I think it’s pretty nasty and completely overpowers the flavor of the coffee. If I need more caffeine at the 2nd break, I go for a Guarana Juice….it is a fruit, but has twice as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.

After class is over, we all usually head back to Ipanema (where we are staying). By this time I am usually starving. The city is very dense; therefore, there is an abundance of choices within a block or two. The newest discovery is a wood-fired pizza cafĂ© in the back of the main grocery store. They have lunch specials with good toppings. The pizzas here are very thin crusted and usually don’t have a marinara sauce. And the toppings range from the traditional to Tuna or Hearts of Palm. Meat and Cheese are very popular staples here to the diet. After the first couple days, finding vegetables became the challenge for even the people who like to eat meat regularly.

If it’s a clear day, its off to the beach! We live one block off of Ipanema beach….yeah, it ain’t so bad. And the famous Copacabana Beach is only a short walk away. For being located in one of the more dense and populated cities of the world, the beaches here are quite clean and nice….living up to Brazil’s reputation for their beaches. Once lunch settles, I try to go for a surf. I was really excited to live on the beach for over a month and bought a surfboard as soon as I got down here. But as of lately there is a huge swell that I have not had the courage to paddle out into. While I would rather be out in the water, it was fun and impressive to watch some of the locals ripping it up. I saw a guy surf the biggest wave I have ever seen in person today….I am guessing it was at least 20-25 feet tall. As I said, its winter here, and Ipanema faces south (remember is the southern hemisphere) so the sun goes down quickly. By six, its completely dark.

The night time seems to be different on any given night. But the Brazilians do not go to bed early. 9pm is a common dinner time, and Kilo restaurants are very popular for both lunch and dinner. They are huge (and actually high quality) buffets where they weigh your food. After dinner, nighttime activities have ranged from Movie Nights to a soccer game (at the world’s largest stadium) to samba dancing to Portuguese classes (two nights a week … and might I add this language is difficult, especially with the Rio dialect) to just hanging out and yes studying—like I said, its an intensive program so there is plenty of reading and writing assignments.

Well, by now I have probably bored many of you with my routine in Rio. I’ll try to send off another email in a week or so about some of the field trips and special events that have occurred on the trip. I will be in this program for another two weeks, then traveling around other parts of Brazil for an additional 10 days. Then back home to Jen and Rado. I hope this finds you all well.

Also, I want to say congratulations to Topher and Emily who tied the knot this past weekend … Wishing you two the best, sorry I wasn’t able to join in the celebration!