24 October 2010

Rhinoceros Beetle

Along with the little June bugs, these rhinoceros beetles have been flying at night since the rains began. I found this one in the pool along. A week later, I picked up the carcasses of 17 beetles, male and female (without the horns), in a courtyard at the church. These beetles are about 2 inches long and large. They are super cool.

Week 9: One week after the first rains

One week and three heavy storms later, the grass was turning green and much less crunchy. We even got the Halloween decorations up.

Along with the rains we have also had a burst of insect activity. The cicadas are out and filling the air with their buzzing. There's also some sort of bug that sits on in the bushes near the back porch and calls between 6PM and 8PM every evening. It sounds just like a buzzing electrical transformer that is about to go out. It can be difficult to tell the difference between bug noises and electrical noises here.

We've also had a burst of activities from beetles that look very much like the June bugs in the U.S. Every night, these beetles fly around the lights in near the pool, and the Jacob gets removes about 50 or so that drowned in the pool from the night before.

Week 8: First Rain

On October 2nd, the first major rain of the rainy season reached our home. This photo shows a portion of our back yard and what it looked like after four months without rain. It was very dry, and there had been several brush fires, large and small, in the area, even quite a few on the margins of town along the roads. Smoke, dust and ash had filled the air, and got on everything leaving a constant layer of reddish dust with black flecks on everything. There were definitely paths through the dust on floors were we walked more often.

The air during the dry season is very dry too, down below 20% humidity most of the time. The medical office at the embassy suggests drinking about a pint or so of water every hour. At school, the kids carried water bottles, and outdoor physical activity was limited. We were told that the Federal District state government actually closed schools for due to the dry weather for a couple of days last year, just like a snow day back in the U.S.

Despite the dryness, the leaves on the hedges were still green and the mango trees were growing fruit. There were even trees with leaves. One nice thing about the dry (o seco) was the lack of mosquitos. And the beautiful sunny days.

17 October 2010

Week 4: After the Parade

Following the parade, the Brazilian Air Force stunt flying team performed. Brazil is a major manufacturer of prop airplanes, and they supply military and commercial fleets around the world. The pilots who flew during this show were expcetionally good and the show was quite entertaining. I especially like the stall and free-fall stunts and the close flying formations.

Near us was an ice cream vendor, and he was having a promotion (sale) of only one "real" (Brazilian dollar) per container. That ice cream was the best and least expensive ice cream we have had so far in Brasilia. The flavors were strawberry, strawberry/chocolate, mango, pineapple and maracuja (passion fruit). It was totally worth seeing the parade just for the ice cream. By the way, ice cream sold in the supermarket runs for about R$13 to R$17 per liter, and it's tastes old. We also have a frozen yogurt stand near our home, but the price there is about R$7 for the size we got at the parade.

There were several types of vendors at the parade: agua de coco (coconut water), hats, cotton candy, pastels, popcorn, jewelry, and even the enterprising folks with coolers of water and beer.

There were no receptacles for garbage on the parade grounds. The entire area was covered with plastic bottles, political flyers, cans and other trash. Everyone just used their container and dropped it on the ground when done. Joseph, Emma and I couldn't stand to just leave our trash on the ground, so I picked up an empty plastic bag and hauled our trash to an overflowing receptacle near the cathedral.

We walked from the parade site to the US Embassy trying to find a taxi to take us home. We decided that it would be easier for us to explain to a taxi driver to get us at the embassy than try to describe where we were on the Planalto. I tried to wave a couple of taxis down while were walking, but was denied. It was a hot, dry and sunny day. I got very sunburned because I forgot sunscreen and let Sam wear my hat. Besides, walking a few blocks only added to the adventure, thrill and misery of the day.

At the embassy, I called for two cars. Soon after I called, a single taxi arrived. I thought I had been clear that we needed two cars. Then I looked inside and saw that the driver already had two passengers. He told us that he could take us home, then told his passengers to get out (I think they may have been family members). I feebly asked where the other car was, and then we loaded all eight of us and the stroller into a car that's about the size of a Toyota Corolla. On the way home, we passed the two taxis I had ordered. It was a very fast drive home, and I felt a little bad for not waiting for the other taxis, but I guess that's life for taxi drivers.
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Week 4: Brazil Independence Day Parade

We took a couple of taxis to get to the parade from our house because we didn't have a car. Also, it probably would have been difficult to find a place to park. It certainly was difficult to find a place to watch the parade and get a decent view. The city did set up a several bleachers that held about a couple of thousand people, but we did not arrive early enough, nor did we have the right credentials to be able to sit in that area.

We ended up being with the people and got to practice our Portuguese. The city also set up a row of fences in order to prevent people from stepping out into the parade route. They also posted military police officers every 20 feet or so along the parade route to remind us to stay on our side of the fence. One of the unfortunate consequences of the fence is that it didn't allow for anyone in the front to sit, so there was no good way to get a good view unless you were in the front, climbed a tree, or we're over six feet tall. I managed to find a small bump to stand on by the side walk and hold my camera up to see the parade through the view screen.

None of use qualified in that way, but little children have a way a getting to the front in Brazil. Our parade viewing neighbors grabbed our smallest children, commenting on their beauty, and passed them up to the fence and then over to the other side of the fence where they were able to sit on the road and watch. My kids were a little hesitant to leave us, but it was a better view. They were a little disappointed that no one threw candy from the tanks.
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Week 4: Brazil Independence Day Parade

The day after the US Labor Day, we went to Brasilia to watch their Independence Day Parade. It was very much like any US parade with marching bands, bagpipe bands, people dressed in native clothing, school kids marching, and representatives from every branch of the military services. There were even a few fly-bys from Brazil's Air Force. The parade also included various military vehicles, fire trucks and finished with a host of horses and riders from the Palace Guard.

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The Determined Turtle and the Alligator

We visited the National Zoo of Brasilia yesterday, and one of the pens was full of turtles (tartarugas) and two alligators (jacare). The alligators did not move for the 15 minutes or so that we stood and watched them. Jacob was pretty sure that they were fake, but then the jacare blinked. One turtle was determined to get on top of this living log, tried from the tail and failed, and then went for the approach behind the head. We did not see the little turtle climb on top of the gator before we moved on to another pen with a very large crocodile.

Week 4: Brazilian Political Campaigns

Not found in the official parade were politicians, but their were several unofficial parades on the mall and even up and down the road that ran parallel to the official parade route with supporters of political candidates displaying flags, kites, and giant paper mache caricatures. In Brazil, all the voting is done electronically. The numbers are punched in by voters to select their candidates. There are about 30 official political parties, the largest being that of the current president, the Partido de Trabalhadores (PT, Worker's Party). These numbers are as important as the names of the candidates, if not more so. The first two numbers indicate which party and link them to the presidential candidates: 13 = PT, Dilma Rouseff, for example. I enjoy the political fervor Brazilians have. They are also required by law to vote, and do so on the first Sunday in October, a day when most people would not have to work. Signs with numbers on them and friendly faces are everywhere, including the back windows of cars. Most of the roadside displays have people waving flags. They also seem to be portable, because the displays get removed by the campaigners and a different group will be in the same place the next day.
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12 October 2010

Inside the Lago Sul Ward Chapel

The chapel has a rostrum that is very much like other LDS chapels. I like all of the natural light that the windows bring into the room during our morning meetings, though I'm told that it get pretty hot if you happen to sit on the east side of the chapel in the direct sunlight. The chapel does have central A/C, but the large windows also can be opened to let the breezes through on cooler days. None of the benches are attached to floor and so this room doubles as a cultural center for dinners, dances and other events, and the rostrum can be a turned into a little stage for performances.

LDS Chapel, Lago Sul

This is where we attend church on Sundays with the other members of the Lago Sul Ward. It's a nice little building with some very functional features for this climate. All of the windows are large and can be opened in order to allow cross breezes. Also, the flooring is all tile making it very easy to clean. That's especially important considering how dusty it is around here during the dry season. And probably is helpful for cleaning up the mud during the rainy season. It is painted a light green (sea foam green in Crayola colors), and has a tile roof. The detailing inside is wood and granite. Unlike the LDS chapels in the USA, it does not have a steeple. About 150 people attend church here on Sundays.

10 October 2010

Week 4: Rock Climbing at Itiquira Falls

Swimming below the falls wasn't good enough for my kids, so they decided to try and climb rocks up and approach the main falls from the river. Jacob started it, then Sam had to try too. And Lillian and Emma. And then I decided I had better keep up with them just to make sure we, err, they could stay safe. (OK, I like to climb rocks, too.)
We managed to get up three terraces before the rocks got steeper and the climbs higher. I called them off the attempt, and then we tried to figure out the safest way to come back down. The trail along the river was a bit too far, and there was quite a bit of underbrush and scrubby trees. I was the only one wearing sandals, so it didn't look like a comfortable hike.
We decided to go back the way we came, with the exception that we would lower the kids down to me on the face of the rocks. The current was little strong, and the rocks were quite slippery by going the way the water was moving. We all made it back to the swimming. I lept in since it was more fun that way.
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Week 4: Swimming at Itiquira Falls

Freezing cold and having a blast. The water was cold enough that even though the outside air temperature was in the 90's F, I would continue to shiver for several minutes. I was still shivering even after drying off.
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Week 4: Cliff jumping at Itiquira Falls

Jacob and I discovered that the swimming hole was at least eight feet deep. I swam out to the middle and went down until it was too cold to stay. Then he climbed up the wall and jumped in. Then I did. Then Joseph. And Sam wanted to try too, so I threw him in. I have never seen Sam swim so fast before, and he did quite well for his age group competing on the swim team this past summer. Between the current and the cold water, we all swam just a little faster.

Jacob and I also tried to swim up to the little water fall at the head of the pool. Jacob made it, but my older, out-of-shape for the kind of intense swimming couldn't make it there directly. I can now understand how people can get exercise in those current-based lap pools. It was fun trying to challenge myself against the current. After two or three attempts, I managed to approach the falls from the side, and then rush forward with the current downstream.
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Week 4: Swimming below Itiquira Falls

Just downstream from the falls, there are several pools of freezing cold water that we were able to swim in. The water was slow and deep and clear. There were even a few fish darting around despite the invasion of humans into their territory.

We all had a fun time swimming and climbing on the rocks around the pool. Emma was learning about rocks in her science class at school, so when she found interesting rocks, she would show them to me.

The park had a couple of shelters for changing near the swimming holes, so we were able to change our clothes before and after the swim, though the air was dry enough that we probably would have been completely dry before we reached our cars. It was about a 500 meter walk from the parking lot to the falls.
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Week 4: Itiquira Falls

On the US Labor Day, we made our first trip outside of Brasilia and the Distrito Federal state. We went with a couple of other families in our ward to see Salto de Itiquira near the town of Formosa. The falls are supposed to be the second tallest in Brazil, and they are quite pretty. The Cerrado in general is fairly flat, and the area surrounding the falls is agricultural, with large soybean farms and cattle ranches. At this time, everything is very dry since it hasn't rained since May. There are have been hundreds of brush fires, and the cows looked like they haven't had anything to eat or drink in months.

The falls were quite pretty, and impressive, set in a little park not too far off the main road. There were several Brazilian families who had come up from Sao Paulo sharing the cool, moist breezes coming off the falls as well.
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This is probably one of the more unusual fruits that we have encountered in Brazil, the caju (KAW-joo). It is the fruit that accompanies the cashew nut. Apparently, it's too delicate and perishable for shipping, so it's one of those tropical fruits that you need to be on location to try.

The green knob on the end is the cashew nut, but it is poisonous until it's cooked. The fruit part has soft, spongy texture, with a sweet, fruity flavor. It has a slightly bitter after-taste and leaves a film on the tongue. The skin is very thin, soft and a bit waxy. We did not eat the skin.

We first encountered the fruit in juice form at the hotel we stayed at in Sao Paulo. When we saw the fruit at the store, Joseph insisted that we purchased it to sample. I prefer the juice to the fruit, though it's not the kids' favorite juice.
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03 October 2010

Brazilian Products: Sucrilhos

Tony the Tiger has a presence in Brazil, but I don't know if he's called Tony here. His Frosted Flakes are called Sucrilhos (Sue-CREE-lows), and they taste pretty much the same as the ones made and distributed in the US, but cost about $1.50 more for the large box. Also, on the box this size, there label is also in Braille, on the front side near Tony's right cheek. Our sponsor included this box of cereal and a few boxes of milk in our welcome kit. The kids enjoyed having the sugary cereal, which is about the only kind of cereal one can get here.
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Week 2: Botanical Gardens Flowers

Despite the dryness, there are still several trees and other plants with flowers. There are even mangoes and papayas growing on the trees. It's like they weren't told that plants aren't supposed to grow and reproduce when it hasn't rained in three months.
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Ants of Brazil: The Big Head No Butt Ant

There are a lot of different kinds of ants here, so here is the first in the continuing series "Ants of Brazil". I have no idea what kind of ant is pictured here. I saw it crossing the gravel, noticed that it has a huge head and a tiny abdomen, and I thought it looked cool. This one was about the size of a nickel, but it's legs would extend to edges of a quarter.
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Week 2: Nipple Tree

Before coming to Brazil, I had done some research on the flora and fauna of the Pantanal, and I read about a tree called the nipple tree, but I could not find a photo. A Google image search did not result in relevant pictures. For those of you searching, this is a nipple tree, and it has fruit the size of cannonballs.

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