Last hike: beach and rainforest of Niteroi

Last hike: beach and rainforest of Niteroi

Every day of my trip, I fell a little more in love with Brazil, mostly because of the amazing people I met every step of the way.  My last day ended up being perfect- Rogerio picked me up early to head back to Niteroi for a hiking and sunny adventure at his favorite beach.  He took me to Parque Estadual da Serra da Tiririca, a beautiful state park… one of it’s claims to fame is that “even Darwin was here”.  I was told that we’d start the day with a quick 40 minute “hike”. Hiking/rock climbing I didn’t expect to be scaling rock faces but I am glad I brought my sneakers!  The view from the top was spectacular! View from the top A beautiful view of the beach, surrounding mountains and Rio across the way.  We also encountered adorable little monkeys, lots of lizards and even some cactus.  After our hike, we hit the beach- the waves were “dangerously high” and so we enjoyed watching the surfers and getting wet but it wasn’t the best conditions for swimming.  He purposefully took me to the beach early during the day so I wouldn’t boil into a red shrimp… I did get a little burnt but it was all so relaxing- perfect end to a fast-paced trip: the beach was beautiful, we drank ice-cold mate (Brazilian ice tea) and listening to the roaring surf. On the beach!  He’s in the middle of exams so he had to transfer me to Raquel at the base of Sugarloaf mountain for the rest of the afternoon. Raquel was such a sweetheart- the only couchsurfing girl who offered to show me around this whole time.  She’s 20 and works as a receptionist while trying to improve her English to get in a better public university to finish her biology degree.  We went on a nice walk through town to get to the park- meandering by a beach and a bridge with a good view of the sea and colorful fishing boats.  Then we hiked up Urca mountain which was the first stop of my cable car on the Sugarloaf mountain tour.  It was interesting how Pao de Acucar was my first and last activity in Rio- it was infinitely better to hike through the forest to get there with a new friend instead of immersed in a tourist throng.  So that was an excellent hike- also pretty steep- people were surprised to see Raquel and I attempting it in flip-flops. Raquel and I, flip-flop hiking queens!  She brought bananas and we fed the tiny, cute monkeys and made friends with a couple of Italian boys. So many monkeys- can you see three in the tree? We went back to her place, I took the best shower of my life, watched some futebol (I looked for Vitor, the professional futebol player that I met last night but without success) and her mom made us a lovely dinner.  I couldn’t have had a better time in Brazil- everything went so smoothly, I met such generous amazing people and hopefully I’ll be back.  Everywhere I went, people invited me to come back. Currently, I’m in the Dallas airport, listening to a samba station on songza and not wanting to go back to reality…  I have a report to write for the American Physical Society International column, data to analyze, a class to teach… oh dear, not going to think about that...

Niteroi: Another day in paradise!

Niteroi: Another day in paradise!

Renata was an accounting acquaintance of my aunt who showed her friend and I around today.  We started off at a market that sold flowers, Portuguese food and assorted other things, drove by the stadium which will host the finals for the World Cup then went across the bridge to Niteroi, Rogerio’s town, which surpassed my expectations (although I didn’t have many expectations haha).   One of the many beautiful views… the church on the hill in the background is supposed to be full of secrets haha There were gorgeous views of the bay, people playing on the beach in their thong bikinis and speedos and interesting old buildings.  We went to the Contemporary Art Museum, a spaceship-shaped work of Oscar Niemeyer.  The art inside was pretty strange but you couldn’t beat the views!  We ate lunch in a very nice restaurant underneath it, looking out at the sailboats in the wind. Me at the Contemporary Art museum After that, we went up a verrry steep hill with hairpin turns up to the Parque da Cidade where parachuters jump.  We saw three people jump and glide through the sky.  It looks more fun that skydiving but I don’t know how much training is required. Parachuter in the sky, one getting ready for lift-off After that, we stopped at a church that’s a popular wedding spot for its excellent views.  And she pointed some sights out on the way back- the samba school, site of Carnival, her workplace, etc. and she dropped me so I could get ready to meet Vitor, my professional futebol playing CS-friend.  Time to go meet...

Beach-less attractions in Rio de Janeiro

Beach-less attractions in Rio de Janeiro

Never underestimate the awesomeness of traveling with locals!  Before fun explorations with Rogerio, I did do something science-y to justify my expenses here for my fellowship.   I meet with some chemistry education people at did go to the  “Universidad de Cuidad” of Rio de Janeiro to and discuss what they were doing and share what I was doing.  This university was the first in the city and it seems like one of the best.  Recently, companies (General Electric and some more local ones) have been moving there so it seemed similar to NCSU’s Centennial Campus.  The Chem Ed group was also focused mostly on secondary education but they have pretty expansive facilities that they plan to further expand.  Now they’ve got some great classrooms and computer labs where they can bring high school students in for experiments.  They enjoyed what I had to say and are contemplating adding a SCALE-UP classroom when they fill in the hole in the middle of their building and expand.  In general, the professors understood the importance of active learning but they said their students were incredibly resistant to working collaboratively and I agreed that getting students exposed at earlier stages in their education was essential.  They also asked a bunch of questions about how to deal with students in the favela (slums) who have no quiet place to study and often have other jobs.  I gave some suggestions but we’re lucky that we don’t have to deal with this level of poverty in Raleigh.  After lunch with the group, I headed to the city of the center to meet Rogerio.  Traveling around, people were wishing me “Feliz Dia Internacional da Mulher” and giving me free things.  I never noticed this celebrated in the US. This afternoon, Rogerio lead me on a walking tour of the city, one of the highlights of my entire trip.  Rogerio is currently studying engineering at the University, an avid language learner (he traveled to Canada and Germany to work on his English and German, respectively) and a guitar and ukele player.  He can easily make a career as a tour guide if he gets bored of engineering but he wants to do that in Germany so he probably won’t get bored.  We met at the Municipal Theater, a gorgeous example of European architecture in the cinema section of the city center and wandered by the city’s famous aqueducts (party central on weekend nights).   The next stop were the “Stairs of Madness”, a project of a Chilean who moved to Brazil and loved it.  He collected tiles from all countries and visitors to create several flights of stairs completely covered in these mosaics, featuring the colors of Brazil.  It’s in the Saint Teresa district so the houses are adorable and pastel colored.  The artist lived here up until last year (when he might have committed suicide) but was known for his friendliness- always wanting to show tourists tiles from their country or ones he thought they’d like.  It was created as a continuous work in progress so I hope people still add to it. Rogerio and I on the landing of the mosaic stairs The stairs go on forever and the houses are so cute! Then, we went to the Confeitaria Colombo, a fancy schamcy Portuguese bakery.  I didn’t have much of an appetite with the heat of the afternoon but I did make sure to try the bridgadeiro during another stop of our walking tour.  Fernando recommended this chocolate condensed milk dessert.  He said when he watches American movies, girls always stuff themselves with ice cream and he said this was the Brazilian’s indulgent guilty break-up food (also often served at children’s birthday parties).  We walked by a Starbucks and Rogerio recalled how he visited Starbucks on his first day in Vancouver.  It was the middle of winter, snowing like crazy and his teeth were chattering, he was so cold.  He was looking forward to a nice warm drink, chose a vanilla something and it turned out to be a frozen beverage. He just remembers walking down the snowy street with his hands with this icy drink.  This story made me feel better about being a clueless traveler here because whenever I go anywhere by myself, I feel like I struggle with the most obvious things but at least I make people laugh… We saw a lot- the bank of Brazil’s cultural center and the current exhibition on animated movie clips.  We stopped by some pretty churches, historic squares, cute and crazy shopping streets, the place the Portuguese first landed in the city and this amazing library, which literally felt straight out of Beauty and the Beast.  You’d...

Tourist time: Rio de Janeiro attractions that everyone has to see

Tourist time: Rio de Janeiro attractions that everyone has to see

So it seems like every trip should have at least one huge-tour-group experience to remind me how lucky I’ve been to be able to avoid the crowds during most of my travels.  The tour was certainly an efficient way to see the must-hit Rio de Janeiro attractions but it’s hard to feel intimately acquainted with anything when you are part of the picture-taking mob.  So I was the only one on the morning tour bus under the age of 50 (the vast majority were post-retirement SKIPpers “Spend the Kid’s Inheritance in Paradise” as I learned from folks today).  But they ended up being fun to talk to- most of the morning, I spent with two Australian couples- one from Perth and one from Brisbane, which made me think of Jimmy’s semester abroad on the Gold Coast.  Sugarloaf Mountain was the first stop.  You take skytrams up to Morro da Urca (Urca Mountain) and Pao de Acucar for spectacular views of the city and the Bay.  I learned that “Rio de Janiero” translates to “River of January” because the Portuguese landed on the first of January and they mistakenly thought the bay was a river.  View from Sugarloaf The next portion was a (mostly) driving tour around the city with a stop at their Metropolitan Cathedral, another interesting example of modern architecture.  It was actually designed to look like a Mayan temple and it’s so massive, our tour guide compared it to a nuclear power plant.  The inauguration of the new pope in June is actually going to happen in this Cathedral for World Youth week.  So many global events happening in Brazil these days!  I look forward to exploring the city in more detail tomorrow afternoon with a walking tour with a CS friend- the Portuguese/European influence is much more obvious here than the past two cities.  After that, we had a lunch break and they swapped up the tour groups slightly then went to the oh-so-famous “Christ the Redeemer” on Corcovado “hunchback” mountain.  Originally they were going to name it “the Pinnacle of Temptation” which is interesting.  Here, we took a cog railroad through the Tijuca Forest National Park to get up to the monument.  Apparently, several decades ago, all that forest had been destroyed to make way for coffee plantations but that caused the city’s water supply to dry up and so they decided to replant and were surprisingly successful, thus leading to the nickname “miracle forest”.  It’s amazing how you can see the monument no matter where you are in the city- it’s even most of my Sugarloaf pictures.  So that was fun to see- once again, there were beautiful views of the city. At Christo… the photographer told me I look like an angel haha During that part of the tour, I met a Davidson graduate who worked with Disney for twelve years but currently she’s the manager of the Jonas Brothers so she follows them around the world (she’s here since they play in Rio Tuesday and Sao Paulo Sunday).  After the tour, they dropped me at Cococabana Palace “the most famous hotel in Rio which hosted celebrities from Stevie Wonder to the Rolling Stones” just in time to watch the sunset while walking the beach.  It was a very nice beach with many Brazilian men in speedos, people playing sports informally and there’s a stadium where teams compete in “futevolei” (a cross between beach volleyball and soccer) among other things. Then just kinda crashed at my hotel.  Ideally, I wanted to go to the Rio weekly couchsurfing meeting but the internet’s been too inconsistent to figure out to get there.  I got on the wrong tour bus for awhile this morning and befriended this awesome guy from London who was telling me how to navigate the various sections of Copacabana- kid’s section, gay section, nudist section- among other things.  He hadn’t heard of CS but was excited about checking it out tonight… however, I had to switch buses suddenly without exchanging contact information so he probably won’t be able to find it either. Copacabana at sunset Looking forward to talking to some chemistry education people tomorrow morning at the University of Rio then a walking tour of the downtown and hopefully going out on the town.  However Lucio who may be taking me out just came back from a vacation in Uruguay where he “ate too much meat” so I don’t know if he’s still recovering.  Another benefit about being a vegetarian is I don’t run into that!  Boa...

Another packed day in Sao Paulo!

Another packed day in Sao Paulo!

I met Andre (the professor who wrote the SCALE-UP grant) at the USP (University of Sao Paulo) relatively early this morning and was definitely impressed by the beauty of the campus.  UnB was a huge university, sprawling all over the city and not too well contained.  However, USP had a relatively secluded, very green campus… you won’t even know it was in the middle of the crazy city.  I learned that physics is a huge program- over 140 faculty members in 6 disciplines/buildings.  Unfortunately the SCALE-UP grant didn’t get funded this round and he thinks the size and traditionally-minded instructors will make it difficult to adopt SCALE-UP.  So we had a nice chat and four other physics professors joined us for lunch at the campus cafeteria (I wish my college food was that good!).  Fortunately for exhausted me, lunch was followed by coffee.  Brazilians are crazy about their coffee (even though I’ve met a surprising number of Brazilians who don’t drink it).  Here, they served your shot of espresso with a shot of mineral water “to cleanse the palate” and a crystallized orange rind.  I took a picture because it was so elaborate but then I deleted it by accident… My talk went well and it’s nice to be done giving talks for awhile.  It was the smallest attendance so far (~20-30 but it didn’t seem well-advertised either) but everyone stayed and asked questions for 20-30 minutes afterwards.  One graduate student is currently studying condensed matter but he said my talk made him want to do Scientists without Borders in the US and spend a year with my research group, which is cool. After that, Ivan and David met me at my hotel and we hit up the last major attraction I wanted to see in Sao Paulo- Parque Ibirapuera… which is a huge park with a river, ponds, fountains and some museums.  All the museums were closed by the time we got there but it was a nice walk, nice chat and nice to get fresh air before we spent 90 minutes in traffic getting out of the city.  David actually lives with two American missionaries so his English was great and he’s hoping to work on a cruise ship.  He thought I was hilarious, especially when I tried to speak Portuguese.  I taught them the word “stuffy” and they loved that word.  They taught me “What’s up, brother?” so I could be cool when I got to Rio but I already forgot.  And supposedly the accent in Rio is really strange which I’m not looking forward to- I already noticed dramatic differences in the pronunciation between Sao Paulo and Brasilia.  I asked the two of them where they would travel anywhere in the world and by the end of our time together, David was convinced he wanted to go to “North Caroline” to visit me even though I told him Raleigh was a nice place to visit but a boring place to live.  So it was an absolute pleasure to spend my last few hours with them.  The fun cab ride back stood in sharp contrast to when the cab driver first picked me up- 90 minutes of awkward silence as I listened to “sexual healing” and other awkward soft rock tunes on the radio. Ivan and I Boys being awkward in front of Estatua dos Bandeirantes David and I in front of a lion in the park Ok, I’ve gotta head out soon.  I had an easy flight to Rio but I booked a hotel in a random place far away.  Interesting architecture and historic building but it’s in the middle of nowhere, slow internet that you need to pay for and no hot water in the shower!  So I will have had one nice, warm shower in the 16 days I spent in Brazil.  Today is my tour to all of Rio’s most famous sights but I told them the wrong hotel for some reason so I have to get to this other place… Wish me...

Sao Paulo: “Brazil’s New York City”

Sao Paulo: “Brazil’s New York City”

Got to Sao Paulo, “the New York City of Brazil”.  As predicted by some Brasilia friends, I don’t think it’s my favorite place in Brazil but it’s probably a more exciting place to live than Brasilia.  I did meet a lot of nice people and had a great day walking around the city with Tales, who Henrique connected me with. However, I would not recommend going out of your way to travel to Sao Paulo if you come to Brazil (a sentiment that was echoed by people who grew up here). Flying into the city at sunrise  Tuesday was action-packed- my flight left Brasilia at 5 AM and so I got to Sao Paulo just in time to experience its infamous morning rush hour (the city is notorious for having some of the worst traffic jams in the world).  After an adventure trying to hunt down coffee and an even more annoying adventure of trying to get my internet to work in the hotel lobby, Tales rescued me from my frustration at 10 AM.  He’s Sao Paulo born and bred but he spent a year in Ireland (and subsequently did some extensive travels around Europe) and he was a great tour guide.  We share a lot of interests- music, love of traveling, appreciation of Asian culture (he’s into Buddhism), he’s a vegetarian so we had plenty to talk about in the almost 12 hours we spent together.  His goal with the day was to show me the “real Sao Paulo”, the grungier, crowded chaotic side because he said the pretty parts of the city where just like any other. We started by walking the Avenida Paulista, the “Wall Street” of Sao Paulo and saw one of the famous art museums (but didn’t go inside because it’s mostly European art that you can see anywhere).  We went to the city center, saw the city cathedral (much more traditional-looking architecture than in Brasilia), the “zero-point” of the city and enjoyed being submerged in a sea of people with street musicians, living statues as well as a significant amount of homeless people.  The ethnic diversity of Brazilians was especially dramatic in Sao Paulo- you see Brazilian Japanese, Black-Japanese, Indigenous Brazilians, aesthetic Jews, German descendents (at the couch surfing meeting, we talked to a Brazilian from the South which is the German part- pale with strawberry-blonde hair)… there’s definitely no one consistent image of what a Brazilian looks like.  Not too many natural blondes though- people still stare at me.  You probably have an idea of that if you’ve been seeing pictures of the people I’ve been meeting during this trip.  We went to the municipal theater, Japan-town, this crazy shopping street famous for selling costumes and cheap imported stuff… My favorite spot was definitely the municipal market- a huge building of various food shops and restaurants (kind of reminded me of Faneuil Hall).  We sampled exotic fruits- passion fruit, dragon fruit (the mysterious looking one from the Farmer’s market), this delicious fruit that looked like a potato, the fruit from cashew trees and more fruit you can’t find in the US.   Tales sampling exotic fruits at the Marketplace For lunch, we ate at a restaurant that Anthony Bourdain featured on No Reservations for giant boloney sandwiches.  We split pastel, which is a fried pastry that could be filled with anything but we had palmello stuffing.  This was another must-eat dish in Sao Paulo (where they get as big as pillows!) but apparently it is Chinese in origin.  We met some Czech people and convinced them to join us for a 360-degree view of the city from the top of an Italian circle building.  Tales was right- Sao Paulo is filled with buildings as far as the eye can see. View of the city from the top of the tall building After that, we went to a richer, nicer part of town to see the “Museo do Futebol” which is below the current stadium.  It was a really fun museum- lots of interactive exhibits (we played foosball, electronic football, shot a goal to see how fast we could do it) and saw all the goofy uniforms, soccer balls and crazy things Brazilians play soccer with (from baby heads to crushed soccer cans to coconuts to bottle caps).  Brazil’s the only country that’s played in every World Cup and they’ve won most often (five times).  They are already getting pumped for the 2014 World Cup. Tales and I at the soccer stadium- Museo do Futebol is below us After that, we stopped for some caipirinhas at a fancy bar looking at a park- I had a passionfruit one and he...