Friday, June 21, 2013

A Brazilian Awakening

If you read my last post, you likely became a little more intrigued about the current situation here in Brazil from my last point made about the protests.

I wanted to wait a few days since the first protest to let some news accumulate before writing this post because I wanted some great content to link to this page but also because I wanted to become educated myself about what's happening so that I'm giving an accurate account.

Two weeks ago, this country was business as usual.  Shortly thereafter, news broke that there would be a slight increase in public transportation fares that spread nationwide due to "rising costs".  A concentrated group of protesters began to speak out against the raised fares.  To no surprise though, the group's longstanding purpose has been to lobby for free transportation throughout the city and country, thus such protests made sense.

However, there seemed to be a little more steam behind such manifestations and I understood why.  Brazil, a country plentiful in beauty and natural resources, carnival and soccer, beautiful beaches and energetic people is also plagued with some of the most deficient public services in the world, frightening levels of poverty, horrendous health and education systems, and a tax burden that is one of the worst in the world.  Effective transportation, regardless of which societal class you are in, is fundamental to every citizen's life.  So while wages haven't been increasing and scares of high levels of inflation simmer, the concept of raising transportation fees is generally viewed as regressive in nature as these fees are unavoidable as people need to get around the city to work and live, but also as unfair because they simply take more money out of the pockets who have less to give.

Now as you can imagine, that previous paragraph makes a lot of sense and for most places around the world, would tick a few people off.  But for the grand total of 20 centavos (about 9 cents USD), I doubt there would be as much of an uprising as there has been here.  However, this uprising is more than justified, as we must gain a better understanding of the macroeconomics to paint the larger picture.

Soccer and Brazil are synonymous.  The soccer gods of Pele, Ronaldo, Neymar around the world are household names.  Soccer is a cultural identity here, glorified in a way that is cult-like and vicious.  And there's simply no doubt that Brazil will long reign king in this sport, so it only makes sense that the World Cup finals would be played at an awe-inspiring place such as Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.  Brazil has welcomed the glamour of being put in the global spotlight, securing successful bids to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.  And however "cool" this may seem, the economics behind it just don't seem justified.  Allow this video to help paint the picture why.

Ahhh, yes.  Now, we are starting to get a better idea about why tensions are getting so high.  Even worse is the basic math equation that Brazilian citizens are doing.  Government says no public funds would be used for World Cup/Olympic preparation.  That lasted about a whole minute.  Line item budgets from both health and education have been used to build stadiums, plow down neighborhoods, pacify favelas (slums), etc.  The slum pacification project deserves a post on its most believe this is a simple band-aid for a much bigger problem and that post-games, the slums will go back just to the way they were beforehand.  Even worse, they're building stadiums in places that will never be used again.  Most stadiums built in cities like Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, etc at least will be used again in the future.  But they're building a stadium in the Amazon Jungle, for millions of dollars, that will literally be used for a few games for the simple fact that it sounds cool to have a World Cup game in the Amazon.  After the game, it will likely be abandoned forever.  There goes millions of dollars, not to mention destruction of the world's most robust landmass of biodiversity.

So, Brazilians are connecting the dots...and starting to question this corrupt activity.  How can it be that Brazil is so rich and wealthy, abundant with natural resources, with such a high tax can it be that we're spending billions and billions on stadiums when there's a parallel decrease in the amount of investment being made in public health, transportation, education, pension support, infrastructure, etc?!  This is what has set the scene for these protests.

Corruption runs rampant, taxes are astronomical, and quality of life is appalling.  Only 17% of Brazilians have a degree of higher education.  Some twenty years ago that number sat at just 5%.  And that's a pure nominal number...we haven't even begun to discuss the qualitative aspects of that education.  With a tax burden that's some 36% of GDP, it is estimated that nearly 70% of your income goes to the government here in Brazil.  Brazil's tax system is so regressive that it is ranked one of the worst in the world.  It's the only system in the world that has a consumption tax with collection based at origin, which de-incentivizes economic growth outside major metropolitan areas, drives population congestion, and makes the cost of living for the impoverished unbearable.  The poorer you are, the more of the burden you pay relative to your income.  And corruption underscores it all.  Many economists agree that Brazil generates enough wealth to solve its issues surrounding health, education, transportation, etc.  But until a shift in principle and practice occur, the gap continues to widen.

Brazil is a constitutional and representative democracy.  It's President, Dilma Rouseff, was a rebel during Brazil's dictatorship in the 80's, tortured by the military in a fight for human rights.  Most question why things are the way they are under her leadership.  National slogans proclaim: Brazil - Um pais rico e sem pobreza (A rich country without poverty).

And as these protests continue...most are simply saying the following: What kind of democracy is this?!

These protests started small, and against a raise in bus fares.  Now, they're becoming a social movement...the largest since the dictatorship.  Brazilians are fed-up with corruption, high taxes, poor education, insufficient health care.  They want change and they're going to the streets to demand it.  Efforts to disperse these large crowds have only amplified tensions as non-violent protests have been met with violent police forces, impeding the democratic right to peacefully protest, with stun grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets.  Innocent people, like this reporter who was shot in the eye, are convincing other citizens that if they don't speak out, they're passively allowing this country to regress to an unprecedented stage of crime, poverty, and pain.  You need not speak Portuguese to understand this video and only need to watch the first 2 minutes to get the idea.

These actions have called the attention of millions.  Just how much?  1 million took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro yesterday.  Some 100 protests around the country lasted through the night, including one in the capital (Brasilia) where protesters rushed the National Congress building successfully making their way to its roof (shown below).  And this all happened after most city governments revoked the increase in transportation fares, Sao Paulo included.  The images are impressive.  The people are impressive.  It's an awakening of a country like I've never seen.  A demand for change...and nearly all agree that it needs to happen.

I have never been involved in a protest personally.  I've never marched in the streets against a policy shift made by a government.  I've never seen the anger and passion by a people so inspired to change the status-quo, that millions take to the streets to make their plea, exhibit their pride, and reaffirm their commitment to their country, brothers, and communities.

It, indeed, is impressive and despite the fact that it makes going out and enjoying this country a little more difficult during my last week here...I couldn't think of a better way to be leaving it.  To all my Brazilian friends who read this post...sou orgulho ser o seu amigo.  O mundo está torcendo pelas mudanças que todos vocês estejam demandando.  Espero que vocês vençam e estejam certos que, não obstante qualquer demora entre as demandas e os resultados, que a civilidade, o respeito mutual, e a luta pelos direitos humanos sempre valerão a pena.

If you're interested in reading more about these protests, I've copied a few more article and video links below.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Final Weeks

Well fellow bloggers, my time is nearing its end here and I'm under two weeks.

Things have been so crazy this semester and still are, that I haven't really begun the full reflection process about all the things I've learned and the new Kyle that I'm taking back to the United States.  But there will certainly be a post about that.

This semester has been so dramatically different from the last.  My first six months was all about acclimation.  It was all about traveling.  It was all about being a foreigner, a tourist, a spender.  And I took advantage of it!  Having said that though, coming back for the next six months was entirely different.  I already knew a lot of the language, already had Brazilian friends, already knew my Brazilian family, I knew where school was, how the system works, what bus to catch, the good spots to grab a quiet coffee and a good meal.  This semester has been way more about life.  I spent so much time reflecting on how I've changed, focusing on what are my next steps, understanding how everything fits together in my greater plan, and ultimately living like a Brazilian.

I really should highlight some of the main points of this semester.  I'm planning on writing separate posts about some of them to get more in depth.  I have a little more time now that things are winding down and I only have a few exams left!

1. The Amazon trip was certainly once in a lifetime and if you haven't done so already, read my post about it!

2. I also had my first visitors in Brazil!  Two of my best friends from college came to visit me.  I can't tell you all how much I cherished every moment with them.  You have to understand that roughly one year ago I arrived at the Sao Paulo airport and exited customs knowing no one, speaking none of the language, not knowing who I was going to be living with, who my friends would be, how I could call someone, or who the heck I was supposed to be looking for at the airport to pick me up to even start life.  And despite all the confusion, I knew I was going to call this place "home" for a year.

Speaking of years, we always say they go by fast.  Well, I disagree. haha.  Yes, in retrospect they do all aggregate together and you say, "where did the time go?!"  But when you're living that year day-by-day in a place where you only have you yourself to look to for anything, to depend on, to communicate, to understand, to figure out, to talk, etc...well those 365 days become a lot lot longer.  You talk to yourself, you question your existence (not morbidly lol), you start to learn what it is you love and why it is that you love it.  I don't care how many of my photos you've seen and how much fun it appears I'm having (it was a lot of fun), there is still a sense of loneliness that makes just even the slightest bit of you feel somewhat incomplete.

Even more frightening is the feeling of returning to your home country feeling misunderstood.  Living abroad has been such a transformational experience for me and having the opportunity to finally share bits and pieces of my life here, however small or big, was such an incredibly rewarding experience.  My friends have been such a great support network for me here and the fact that a few of them came to really find out what my life was like was so special.  I know that upon my return I can talk with them about it and I know they'll have some "skin" in the game.  For when I'm talking about my host parents or school or bus ride or beach, etc, they'll know exactly who and what I'm referring to.  It's not just some distant far off experience that I lived in the past.  My friends will be great resources to continually reflect with because they helped me live this year abroad too.

We had lots of catching up to do and more exciting was seeing their reactions of what Brazil was really like and all the ways I have changed.  Perhaps I'll have them write their reactions and post them all for you!

3. School!  FGV round two has been even more challenging.  I decided to take all my classes in Portuguese so that I would maximize my language learning opportunities.  Once again, I suffered!  Yet, it was so so so rewarding and I learned so so so much!  Now that I'm down to my last exam I can successfully call myself absolutely crazy.  I laugh almost thinking about me being all excited and gung-hoe (is that how you spell it?!) about signing up for college level courses in a language I knew none of.  I registered thinking, "it won't be that bad!"  And then I showed up to class and well, there's no forgiveness.  That group project, have to find a group and work in another language and complete it.  That paper, can't write that puppy in English.  That professor, nope...he will not translate everything for you.  That grade, get one and there's no bonus points for being a foreigner and giving effort!  My back was against the wall and the pressure I put on myself to be successful was the thing that kept me going.  Even better, it was one of the best challenges I've ever self-initiated in my life.  I knew it would be difficult, but I outperformed even my own expectations and couldn't be more pleased with my decision to take all my courses in Portuguese and even seeing my grades in these classes after the fact is something I'm proud of!

4. Relationship building.  I really didn't find the desire to do all the traveling that I did last semester.  1) Because I hit a lot of my spots that I wanted to see already, 2) Those that I didn't...well you have to save some trips for later on in life!, 3) I spent most all of my budget the last 6 months haha, and 4) I had established a life here in Sao Paulo, with friends and my host family.  I wanted to take advantage of my time with them and build deeper relationships.  Plus, Sao Paulo is such a buzzing, bustling, incredible place to live that there's so much to see and do that I was never bored if I didn't travel!

5. Love.  Yes, it's true.  I fell in love.  I didn't come here with the goal of doing so, but they do say that love finds you when you least expect it.  I guess I fell victim to this common saying!  For sake of privacy, no need to give details.  However, I will say this.  Anybody who falls in love learns a lot about life.  They learn a lot about themselves and a lot about people.  They learn about what they love and why they love it.  They get that giddy type of happiness that keeps you up at night and they find more sunny moments during the day than not.  This has certainly been the case for me, but I have learned more than I could have ever expected and I think it has to do with it being a cross-cultural relationship.  Imagine the type of cultural exchange you get simply interacting with another culture.  Then imagine the type of things you would learn if someone from that culture became your life partner.  You start to become some of that culture, connect more with society, understand better how it is to live there, eat there, go to school there, work there, etc.  Just as much as I have received, I have given and learning to love (aside from cultural differences) has been one of the most rewarding things I've experienced in my life.

6. Protests.  This is a recent development but it has given way to a much larger discussion about life here in Brazil.  About a week ago, there was an increase in public transit fees which started a small protest.  However, the way in which these protests have grown and in some cases, into dangerous riots has begun to shed light on more serious issues about social justice and human rights here in Brazil.  These protests are not going away anytime soon.  They are turning into large-scale demonstrations and manifestations.  They are turning violent, uncovering corruption and governmental crime.  They are eliciting serious answers to serious questions about the direction of the country.  Some consider the gravity of the situation to approach a similar level to the dictatorship back in the 80's.  Stay tuned to international news.  These protests are no longer about the bus fares increasing some 10 cents...these protests are about Brazilian citizens being fed up with deficient public resources, corruption, and ineffective government.  You can rest assured that I will be writing a full post about these recent events.

I hope this post gave you a quick glimpse as to the things I've been thinking about as my final 10 ten days come to a close.  I look forward to sharing more over my last week!

On the Road: BRAZIL

For those interested in more information on Brazil.  CNN has a special section going on right now on their website called ON THE ROAD: BRAZIL!

Lot's of really good articles, stats, information, videos, etc.  Some might be of interest to you!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Interesting Read

Interesting read for my American followers...

Not necessarily a positive article but I wouldn't consider it negative either.

I agreed with some and others not...the video near the end is worth watching whether or not you believe what it says!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Brazilian Cost

I've long wanted to write a post explaining why things are so expensive here in Brazil.

Well I waited long enough and someone else did the work!  Enjoy this article that explains most of the main issues.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Perhaps one of the topics that I have had the most reflection on while I've been in Brazil has been...VIOLENCE.

Allow me to tell you what most people's initial reactions were when they heard I was going to Brazil.

"Good lord, why would you ever study there?!"
"My uncle once did business there, he had to hire three body guards to go to lunch in Sao Paulo."
"My dad did business there once, he got robbed in his taxi on the first day."
"Haven't you seen the movie "City of God", it's just an impoverished and drug ridden country."

Even worse, read the following description about Sao Paulo & Rio de Janeiro from the US State Department website and tell me if you have any interest in coming to Brazil or the two cities I've spent the most time in.

CRIME: Brazilian police and media report that the crime rate remains high in most urban centers, including the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and is also growing in rural areas within those states. Brazil’s murder rate is more than four times higher than that of the United States, and rates for other crimes are similarly high.
Street crime remains a problem for visitors and local residents alike. Foreign tourists, including U.S. citizens, are often targets, especially in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Recife. While the risk is greater during the evening and at night, street crime also occurs during the day, and safer areas of cities are not immune. Incidents of theft on city buses are frequent. You should keep a copy of your passport with you while in public and keep your passport in a hotel safe or other secure place. You should also carry proof of your health insurance with you.
The incidence of crime against tourists is greater in areas surrounding beaches, hotels, discotheques, bars, nightclubs, and other tourist destinations. It is especially prevalent prior to and during Carnival (Brazilian Mardi Gras), but also occurs throughout the year. Several Brazilian cities have established specialized tourist police units to patrol areas frequented by tourists.
Use caution when traveling through rural areas and satellite cities due to reported incidents of roadside robberies that randomly target passing vehicles. Robberies and “quicknappings” outside of banks and ATMs occur regularly. In a “quicknapping,” criminals abduct victims for a short time in order to receive a quick payoff from the family, business, or the victim’s ATM card. Some victims have been beaten and/or raped. You should also take precautions to avoid being carjacked, especially in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, and other cities.
In airports, hotel lobbies, bus stations, and other public places, pick pocketing and the theft of hand-carried luggage and laptop computers is common. You should "dress down" when in public and avoid carrying valuables or wearing jewelry or expensive watches. "Good Samaritan" scams are common. If a tourist looks lost or seems to be having trouble communicating, a seemingly innocent bystander offering help may actually be a participant in a scam. Take care at and around banks and ATMs which accept U.S. credit or debit cards. Travelers using personal ATM or credit cards sometimes receive billing statements with unauthorized charges after returning from a visit to Brazil, or discover that their cards were cloned or duplicated without their knowledge. If you use such payment methods, carefully monitor your bank records for the duration of your visit.

Sao Paulo: All areas of Greater Sao Paulo have a high rate of armed robbery of pedestrians and drivers at stoplights and during rush hour traffic. The "red light districts" of Sao Paulo, located on Rua Augusta north of Avenida Paulista and the Estacao de Luz metro area, are especially dangerous. There are regular reports of young women slipping various drugs into men's drinks and robbing them of all their belongings while they are unconscious. Armed holdups of pedestrians and motorists by young men on motorcycles (“motoboys”) are a common occurrence in Sao Paulo. Criminals have also begun targeting restaurants throughout the city including, but not limited to, establishments in the upscale neighborhoods of Jardins, Itaim Bibi, Campo Belo, Morumbi and Moema. Victims who resist run the risk of violent attack. Laptop computers, other electronics, and luxury watches are the targets of choice for criminals in Sao Paulo.
Throughout 2012, armed groups in Sao Paulo targeted restaurants, robbing patrons during the peak business hours of 2100 to 2400. These criminal events are not isolated to one area of the city and target both rich and poor neighborhoods.
Efforts of incarcerated drug lords to exert their power outside of their jail cells have resulted in sporadic disruptions in the city, violence directed at the authorities, bus burnings, and vandalism at ATM machines, including the use of explosives. Be aware of your surroundings and exercise caution at all times. Respect police roadblocks and be aware that some municipal services may be disrupted. 
As in Rio de Janeiro, favela tours have recently become popular among foreign tourists in Sao Paulo. We advise you to avoid Sao Paulo’s favelas as neither the tour company nor the city police can guarantee your safety when entering favelas.

Rio de Janeiro: The city continues to experience high incidences of crime. Tourists are particularly vulnerable to street thefts and robberies in the evening and at night especially in areas adjacent to major tourist attractions. There have been attacks, including shootings, along trails leading to the famous Corcovado Mountain and in other parts of the Tijuca Forest. If robbed, do not attempt to resist or fight back, but rather relinquish your personal belongings. At all times, pay close attention to your surroundings and the behavior of those nearby. There have been reports of thieves and rapists slipping incapacitating drugs into drinks at bars, hotel rooms, and street parties. While crime occurs throughout the year, it is more frequent during Carnival and the weeks prior.
Choose lodging carefully considering location, security, and the availability of a safe to store valuables. Do not answer your hotel room door until you positively confirm who is on the other side. Look out the peephole or call the front desk to confirm the visitor. There have been several recent incidents where mass holdups of guests have occurred at hotels and hostels in the city. 
Rio de Janeiro’s favelas are a subject of curiosity for many U.S. travelers. A favela pacification program, instituted in 2008, installed police stations in some favelas, primarily in the Zona Sul area. However, most favelas exist outside the control of city officials and police. Travelers are urged to exercise caution when entering any “pacified” favelas and should not go into favelas that are not “pacified” by the state government. Even in some “pacified” favelas, the ability of police to provide assistance, especially at night, may be limited. Several local companies offer “favela jeep tours” targeted at foreign tourists. Be aware that neither the tour company nor the city police can guarantee your safety when entering favelas.
Be vigilant while on the roads, especially at night. There have been shootings and carjackings on the Linha Vermelha that links the airport to the Southern Zone of the city. In Rio de Janeiro, motorists should be especially vigilant at stoplights and when stuck in traffic. Carjackings and holdups can occur at intersections, especially at night. Incidents of crime on public transportation are frequent, and at times have involved violent crimes. When traveling by yellow taxi, tourists are recommended only to use taxis openly displaying company information and phone numbers as well as red license plates. Tourists are also advised not to use public vans.
Visitors should also remain alert to the possibility of manhole cover explosions. There have been multiple manhole cover explosions in Rio de Janeiro in the past few years, with a higher incidence in the Centro and Copacabana neighborhoods.

Now let me be honest, all of the above is certainly true, otherwise they wouldn't write about it.

I, for one, have experienced some violence during my time abroad...including witnessing a complete gangster operation where they carjacked a woman, kidnapped her child, held people hostage at gunpoint, and then forced the woman to rob a jewelry store with a bomb attached to her in case she didn't.  The other instance I made a post about in late November about my time in Argentina and the kniving murderer I had to run away from after a soccer game.

On another note, if you haven't seen the movie "City of God" or "Elite Squad I and II" then you're missing out on some great cinematic productions that will have you on the edge of your seat about this country.

Yet, let me note that none of the above is my norm.  I don't walk around with body guards, I don't feel consistently threatened, I don't live my life in fear here, nor have I been robbed (only the credit card cloned...$14,000 at Tommy Hilfiger...nice purchase eh?!).  If I truly felt in danger, I would have been gone a long time ago.

One of the things that has been incredibly shocking has been the "violence parallels" that I've drawn upon as things have occurred in the US.

The week I arrived, the US was shocked with a brutal Colorado shooting in a Denver cinema, months later I was again taken aback by the gruesome slaughtering of many children in a Connecticut elementary school. hasn't stopped there, the recent Boston terrorist bombing and the explosion in Texas continually have put into perspective the concept of violence as I continue to live abroad in a "violent" country.


Sure, the types of violence are different.  But they should all serve as warnings that there's really no way to fully mitigate your risk to violence.

People in Brazil are equally scared of the types of violence in the US as Americans are of the violence here.  In fact, due to the random terror that is more prone to attack the US, Brazilians might even be more scared, from my perspective.  I understand this type of fear.  Once I found the fact that I wore a money belt as an inconvenience and no way to live, but now I view it as a consistent reminder that I must always remain vigilant, whether walking to class in Sao Paulo or running a marathon in Boston.  While some would say that living in constant vigilance is draining, I would say that the moment I let my guard down may be the moment I wish I hadn't.  I almost like the keeps me sharp.

If I've formed any opinion about crime, it's been the following: You can't live in fear...but you can play your cards right.  Life will be no fun if you always think something bad is going to happen.  You simply cannot be negative or lock yourself in your house for fear that something might go wrong.  Go out and live your life.  Give all of yourself to the world.  When your time is up, it's up...and you'll have no say in the matter.  What you can do though, is take a look around where you are, have a plan, take a second to locate an exit, learn an emergency number, or stay calm in a tough situation.  And provided you're not throwing yourself in an extremely dangerous setting, then I like the chances.

I write this post knocking on wood...and I hope that my advice even serves me well.

The Amazon

Greetings blog followers!

I'm back with one of my latest adventures, and might I say that it was easily one of the coolest of my life...a week-long trip to the AMAZON JUNGLE!

So, let me say that my knowledge of the Amazon was probably equivalent to most Americans who once saw an episode on the History Channel, once read an article in National Geographic, or once viewed the movie Anaconda.  Thankfully, those few instances were enough to peak my interest in booking a trip, and thank god I took advantage of it!

We had our Spring Break at the end of last month, and much to your possible dislike of what I'm about to say: I was tired of beaches.  Beaches to Brazil are like Walgreen's or Starbucks to cities...they're at every corner.  I've taken advantage of plenty of beach time and thus, was inspired to be a little more adventurous and see another side of Brazil that I had not yet gotten to know.  Insert 6 day boat trip through the Amazon Jungle as the perfect fix.

We flew to the west side of the country, landing in Manaus, right along the Rio Negro (Black River) and the Amazon River.  The city of about 3 million is a bustling port town that embraces its robust indigenous culture and sprawling natural resources.  Our stay there was short though, simply stopping at the market to pick up some snacks before boarding our boat and hitting the water.

"Rustic" had a new definition when it comes to our trip.  We boarded our two-story wooden cruiser and were off in a heartbeat.  The main level housed a mini-kitchen where all of our meals were cooked, two simple toilets for guys and gals, and a shower head that pumped water from the river to stay relatively clean for the week.  Towards the front was a table for us to eat and then the captain's quarters.  Upstairs was a mini-veranda for taking in the sun and then a covered deck where we hung our hammocks to sleep at night.

At first, I wasn't sure what we were going to get ourselves into and didn't know if the trip would be an absolute blast or if we'd have way too much down time with nothing to do.  I was, indeed, excited about disconnecting from phone/internet for a week despite what time we might have to kill.  It quickly became evident though that our time in the world's most rich area of wildlife was going to be the trip of a lifetime.  After making a quick stop at the meeting of the waters (where the two rivers divide impressively in distinct colors due to acidity differences), we made our first stop for a quick jungle hike where we saw a number of lizards, monkeys, sloths, and a few Cayman (essentially alligators) in their natural environment.  I was impressed...and there was a level of extreme coolness factor to the fact that you saw the animals (at first bringing you back to your childhood days at the zoo) to only realize that you're in the Amazon Jungle and that these animals are not being held captive in some glass container, but rather are living their lives the way they should be.  At the same time, you then realize that you don't have a glass window protecting you from these animals in the odd chance they would want to attack you.  This brought a new level of excitement to the trip.

The scenery was ABSOLUTELY BREATHTAKING.  And the natural peace and quiet was refreshing.  We would cruise along the river for hours and I found myself simply staring at the pure beauty of this incredible place.  We would dock in little nooks along the riverside at night to avoid potential storms and would enjoy the most magnificent sunsets/moonrises highlighted with a backdrop of shining stars and the sound of thousands of species of nocturnal animals making their appearances known to their counterparts.  It was quite simply, the most awesome and peaceful evenings I've had in my life.

During the days we would cruise again along the river to our destinations while simultaneously spotting incredible wildlife.  I was thoroughly impressed with our guide.  A 16 year veteran of the Amazon, this man not only spoke beautiful English, his talent at his work was superb.  His ability to spot these animals amidst the dense forest was mind boggling...and he could identify species from far away.  His stories were priceless and it was evident that he was the best in the business and in the area as we encountered local communities that treated him like a treasured friend.  We took a few piranha fishing trips during our days, which was probably one of my favorite things.  We took out our old cane poles and attached fresh meat to rudimentary'd place the line in the water and these vicious savages would attack your cane ruthlessly!  We even caught one that was so big and powerful that the guide held it up to a thick tree branch and the piranha snapped it in half...a clean break.

At night, we would take out our canoes and flashlights and went night hunting for nocturnal animals.  Our favorite was searching for the Caymans.  You could spot their eyes along the waterline, and we were even lucky enough to catch a few and hold them in the boat.  Check out the pictures at the end of this post.

Other trips included stops to local indigenous communities where we viewed special rituals and learned about their way of life.  We were enlightened with such rudimentary living styles and it put into perspective, again, the type of life I'm living in the bustling city of Sao Paulo, home to some 18-24 million depending on how you count.

Pictures really do tell the story in this one, so look away!

And if you ever have the chance to take a tour to the Amazong, GO!  IT WILL BE ONE OF THE COOLEST THINGS YOU EVER DO!