Saturday, August 29, 2009

Soules Bahia

The Soules family of Salvador keeps a busy schedule. Whether it's Camila working the graveyard shift at a fancy hotel before going to college or Catarina spending three hours on the bus to and from work or Linda commuting all over town teaching English to Brazilian doctors. Luckily for us they made time in their jam-packed week to show us around their beautiful city. We quickly adapted to the Brazilian way of life as they fed us delicious fare and made room for us in their warm and loving home. Whenever they could, they took us around town, to the historic fort, the local beach, and their favorite restaurant. We enjoyed the great views outside their apartment of the beautiful Bahía de Todos Los Santos. We began to feel a part of their family, joining in their constant laughing and teasing of one another while lounging in the living room. We even started to get into the wildly popular Brazilian soap operas.

Both girls were so nice to introduce us to their friends who were all very welcoming and fun. Even after their long days, the girls took us out to live concerts, dance performances and reggae clubs. Our last day was Sunday when all three Soules' had the day off so the five of us took a day trip to Praia de Forte with Camila's friend Jaime and Catarina's friend Leo. We hung out on the beach, had a great lunch and checked out a sea turtle conservancy.

After such an incredible time it was hard to say goodbye but we were glad to give Camila her room back. We can't imagine our trip to Salvador without these three wise women to guide us around and we can't wait to head back for Carnival to party in the streets with Linda.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Forbidden Fruit

Back in May, I got an email from my food lovin' Japan livin' cousin Zack. The subject read "Urgent: Please Eat Cashew Apples." We were in Bolivia at the time and there were no cashew apples to be found but we told him we'd keep our eye out for them.

Flash forward to Natal, Brazil, home of the world's largest cashew tree. One morning at breakfast, Temple was perusing the fruit bowl and came across an odd looking fruit. Holding it up to show everyone, I quickly realized that it was the cashew apple we'd been looking for. The apple part looked more like a red bell pepper and the skin was very tender. I ran back to the room to get the camera so I could show Zack our discovery. I took some nice still lifes and left it safely in the fruit basket.

Later that day I saw Zack online and told him we'd found the cashew apple. His first question was, "What does it taste like?" I ran downstairs to ask the guys in the kitchen if the apple was still there. It was. Then I asked them if it was safe to eat. Smiling, they said yes. I went back to the room so we could fully document the event for Zack. I first bit the apple part, it was very juicy and tasted like peppery apple juice. Not wanting to hog the deliciousness, I shared it with Temple.

After we had our fill of the odd flavored juice we turned our attention to the nut on top. Temple tried to pull it off but couldn't. Then I tried to bite it off. As I did, the protective oil from the cashew nut got all over my lips and they began to tingle. Suddenly, I recalled a description of the raw cashew nut. The oil is the same as is found in poison ivy. Pretty soon the tingle turned into a burning. I quickly chugged 2 liters of water. I went back down to the kitchen to ask them what was happening. They were all laughing as I told them my mouth was on fire. Nicely, they cut up some bread for me to chew on. The bread helped the pain but my lips were swollen and white. Soon the top layer of my lip skin would begin to peel off. A few days later, a rash appeared on my left hand, swelling my fingers so that you couldn't see my knuckles, while my eyes also started to puff up.

Two weeks after eating the cashew apple my lips and fingers are back to normal. If you ever find yourself in front of a fruit basket with a funny looking apple with a nut on top, please roast the cashew to neutralize the poison before eating.

Com Emoção

When Dad and Mary came to visit us in northeastern Brazil we were all ready for an adventure. On the first day of travel we read about the "must-do" dune buggy ride on the sand dunes of Natal. Mary called to book the trip for the following morning. Our guidebooks explained that the drivers could guide you through the dunes "sem emoção", without emotion (aka in a calm, safe manner) or they could drive ferociously and very fast, "con emoção" or with emotion. I was ready to request "sem emoção" for my parents' sake thinking it would be fun either way. That night we discussed the plans for the next day. "Surely they'll pick us up in a car to transport us to the dunes. They won't pick us up in one of those buggies, right?" Mary asked me. "No, I'm sure there will be a car or van" I answered.

At 7:30 the next morning Clay and I walked out of the hotel where a miniature open-air blue dune buggy sat awaiting us. We looked at each other, then turned around to see the looks on Dad and Mary's faces. Priceless. We had no choice but to squeeze into the buggy, Mary in the front passenger seat with our jovial driver Marcos, who liked to joke that this was his first tour. Dad, Clay and I were in the back apprehensively looking up at rain clouds while holding on to the large metal bar in front of us, the only safety guard we had. I leaned over to Marcos and said, "Por favor, without emotion." Marcos replied, "Without emotion, without life!" and sped off.

Soon we were next to vans and trucks on a two-lane highway in what felt very similar to a golf cart. We drove over a large bridge while the rain pegged our faces. We first climbed up some dunes with some beautiful small lagoons between them. Then we crossed a river on a small wooden raft pushed by a man with a large stick. It was a small river. As the sun came out, Marcos took us to the Genipabu dunes where we sat on planks of wood resembling snowboards and slid down a large dune. Dad and Mary let the adventurous spirit move them and tried sandboarding themselves. Clay and I slide down into a small pool of water at a different locale and the best ride was saved for last: the aerobunda, a swing on a zip cord that whizzes you down and into a big lagoon.

After a Brazilian BBQ feast and a few coconut waters, we thought we'd had a very exciting and full day. "We have one more stop," Marcos said. After driving through backroads we arrived at the Parque Das Dunas, an ecological park of pristine sand dunes that looks like a desert. We were enjoying the view of the city and the solitude of the dunes when Marcos sped up heading straight for a sheer drop and we all screamed as we plummeted down! The buggy seemed ready to capsize but slid sideways down the dune before we sped up again. We went up a huge side of a dune, took a sharp left turn and fell straight down, still on our wheels, though barely. The "emoção" had just begun. Marcos took us on a rollercoaster ride up and down the dunes. When we thought we'd ridden the scariest possible dune he'd shoot us down the side of another one. We were all screaming with laughter and holding on for dear life! It proved to be worth it and the surprise factor made it all the more exciting. Dad and Mary were thrilled with the experience, to my relief, and soon we were all yelling for more. We laughed all the way back to the hotel.

The next two days in Natal weren't a roller coaster ride, but definitely fun. We went to Pipa Beach where we took a boat into the turquoise water to spot dolphins. Then we walked along the beautiful cliffs above the beach. We went to an ecological park where our wonderful guide Eddie taught Clay how to snack on termites. We spotted sea turtles and enjoyed the views. The next day we went for a snorkeling adventure at Praia de Maracajaú where we saw a lot of fish, some eels and an octopus! We had fabulous seafood and fruit during our entire stay and were sad to leave Natal. In Fortaleza, we enjoyed walking along the main stretch to see the markets, boats, volleyball, and capoeira dances along the beach. We loved Morro Branco where stunning fiery rock walls jut out overlooking the beach. We had an amazing time with Dad and Mary and want to thank them again for giving us an incredible adventure con emoção!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Amazon Beauty

With so many great pictures from our Amazon experience we made a bonus slideshow.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Ver-O-Peso fish market takes place every morning in Belém, Brazil. At the mouth of the Amazon, the river shows its size and diversity in each daily catch.

Port of Santarém

At the confluence of Rio Amazonas and Rio Tapajós is the city of Santarém. Lying halfway between Manaus and Belém, its entire river front serves as a port for the various boats passing by on their way up or downriver. You can walk for a mile along the boardwalk and see boats covering every inch of shore. During the day, people are in constant motion loading and unloading goods and preparing for the next voyage.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Big River

Our hammocks were strung up on the second deck of the San Marino for a two day journey from Manaus down the Amazon to Santarém.

Monday, August 10, 2009

An Evening at Teatro Amazonas

It's not what you expect to find in the middle of the rainforest but it's there. When you walk into the great hall, it feels like you are stepping out of the Amazon and back in time. Built in 1896 during Manaus' rubber boom, the opera house is an opulent reminder of past glory days. Over the years Teatro Amazonas had fallen into disuse and disrepair. But in 2001 plans were underway to restore and reopen. Ever since, it has been hosting concerts, operas, plays and more. On the night we attended, there was a free modern dance performance but it was the building that stole the show.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Mighty Jungle

We headed out to the Amazon in search of beauty, wildlife, and adventure. On the first night as we swam in the river turned orange by the setting sun, we knew we had found all three. And there was more to come...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Un Pequeño Paraíso

Normally, you take a ferry to Playa Blanca from Cartagena's harbor. It's very straight forward; you get on the ferry, you get off at the beach. But they don't run on Sunday. On Sundays you have to take a bus to Pasacaballos, then a ferry across the Rio Magdelena, then a taxi across Isla Baru.

As we're walking down the street looking for the bus stop, Temple sees a red bus with Pasacaballos on the windshield and waves it down. It's a 1960's era bus and we're the only ones on it. As we weave through the outskirts of town we get a tour of market day here: everything's for sale and everyone's in the street. We stop in the middle of the madness. The bus fills with passengers and vendors, selling lemonade and snacks. I share my seat with two little kids. As we pull away a guitar player jumps on board and serenades the bus with popular tunes. Everyone sings along.

After riding for a while we arrive in a small town where a sign reads Ferry Turistico. We hop off the bus and are greeted by a man with a sign reading Playa Blanca. He leads us to the river and points to a large wooden canoe. "Dos mil pesos" to cross he says. One dollar. A shirtless old man with a long pole pushes us slowly to the other side where a fleet of motorcycles are waiting. Turns out the taxis we need to take are mototaxis. Before I get out of the boat Temple is already sitting on the back of one with her huge backpack on. I jump on another. I think my driver is jealous of his friend's luck. The ride is long, dusty, and bumpy, but we can't help laughing as we speed along side by side across Isla Baru.

When the road ends, our drivers point down the hill. We walk down and see Playa Blanca. It is worth the trip. We walk along the beach to find D&E Hammocks, a simple structure with hanging hammocks covered in mosquito nets. We claim two hammocks and the palm leafed cabana closest to the water. We basically have the place to ourselves. We spend the next few days reading, swimming, snorkeling, eating fresh fish, and enjoying sunsets.

Walls of Cartagena

When the Spanish ruled the Caribbean, Cartagena de Indias was the jewel of the empire. All the silver from Peru and gold from Mexico came through the port on its way to Spain. With all these riches it was a pirates dream, but also feared because it was known as one of the most impenetrable fortresses, defended by huge fleets. Very few buccaneers dared challenge its walls and firepower. But famously, Sir Francis Drake with backing from the Queen of England, sacked the city in 1586, holding it for a month before receiving a ransom of 200 million dollars. Today, the pirates and treasures are gone but you can see why someone would fight over it.

The people, the buildings, and the wall around city are reminders of Cartagena's long past. The wall which once kept people out is now where locals come to watch the sunset, fly a kite, play futbol, or just to be with friends.