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My program ended three weeks ago and its been a nonstop backpacking trip since then. However, I miss Brazil, its people, and portuguese a lot. I have been in Buenos Aires for the past few days and much colder here – the people are as well. This is why I miss Brazil. Every chance I have had to interact with a Bazilian has been a refreshing opportunity to interact with perhaps the people with biggest hearts on the planet. Just last night, my buddy and I bumped into a couple from Rio outside of dinner and a simple hi turned into a 20 minute conversation about randomess.

This has not even happened to me in Buenos Aires yet. The people and its culture are radically different than any other country I have been here. The stereotype of the stubborn Argentine is true but after a 5 minute history lesson on their culture I understood why. B.A is an amazing city and once you get beyond the attitude of its people its not bad. Argentines are cool and Buenos Aires is a beautiful city with a European twist to it. The women know how to dress really well and the men are always screaming about some soccer related news. Oh, and I have had the best steak of my life here.

Nevertheless, I cannot stop thinking about Brazil. After my trip, I went to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Rio was basically my vacation of the year because I was getting drinks and partying every night. Sao Paulo has been one of the higlights of my year long trip and I expected it to be. It is three times bigger the NYC and considered the cultural and economic capital of South America. I spent 4 days visiting musuems and photographing one of the coolest cities that I have ever been to in my life (I havent been to many though ahah). Maybe I will move there one day. My experience of living for 3 months in the Amazon also gave me a unique insight into Brazilian culture. Brazil is a super diverse country with any social issues that need to be urgently addressed as it becomes an economic superpower in the world. The problems of the Amazon, in my opinion, are focused too much on the wrong causes. The ¨problems¨ are not in the Amazon, they are largely a result of Brazil´s integration into he global economy. Of course, some problems stem from within the country itself but a look at the bigger picture reveals a whole other story. A story which is not being told and instead twisted to misinform the masses.

Tonight, I head for Patagonia on a 20 hour bus ride to photograph the Southern Right Whale…this is a huge deal! I am not prepared for the cold but its okay.



Gotta keep pushin’

I have to write a 25 page paper by tomorrow on the research I have done in the past 4 weeks. This ain’t easy. But it really helps when I start to talk or think about my post program plans. Here’s the list.

  1. 6 days in Rio de Janeiro – Capiranhas all day
  2. Sao Paulo/Porto Alegre for 7 days
  3. Montevideo (Uruguay) and Buenos Aires for 12 days
  4. Patagonia/Chile for 3 weeks
  5. Bolivia for 2 weeks
  6. Peru – Machu Picchu (again)
  7. All the cool shit Im gonna do in NYC when I get back!
  8. Moving into my apartment in Vermont, seeing the peeps I am living with, AND finally get my pet lizard after years and years.
It’s cool how am just as excited about NYC as I am about my travels in South America. I am always reading about the creative stuff that’s happening in NYC and it reminds me how it’s the greatest place in the world to me. I am excited about this new park called the high line, exploring ALL of Brooklyn, hitting up AMNH, and grubbing on some Halal food w/ whoever I am hanging out.
Okay reminding myself of all the cool shit I will and have been doing has gotten me excited like I wanted too. Now I can finish this paper because it’s what’s standing between me and my fun.

ALIFEstyle like no other.

Where Brooklyn at?

I am literally at the heart of the deforestation problem here in the Brazilian Amazon. As part of a 4 week independent study project, I am interviewing farmers on the alternative systems of production they have to cattle ranching in Sao Felix do Xingu (SFX). SFX is a municipality larger than the size of Panama in the southern part of Para state. 90% of deforestation here is a result of cattle ranching on private lands.

Its pretty cool to be in a town situated on the Xingu River. Now I have officially floated on 4 Amazon river tibutaries – The Napo (Ecuador), Trombetas (Brazil), Amazon (Brazil), and Xingu. A lot of people in this small city of 48,000+ cannot tell that I am from the United States even with my messed up Portuguese. They think I am from a nearby indigenous tribe. Its all in the eyes I think.

So here I am, very far from Brooklyn, and in a pretty difficult place to get to. Today I spent a large part of the day on a motorcycle cruising through the Amazonian countryside with cattle and deforestation everywhere. It was actually kinda pretty but at the same time sad. Sad because I know it was a rich biodiverse rainforest once and pretty because it looked like a relaxing country side when I did not think about the cattle. Its not the peoples fault that most of the rainforest is gone. Theyre just doing what they gotta do to feed themselves and their families.

From Brooklyn to the Amazon…never even thought about it happening.

I have never identified as “American.” I have always identified myself as a New Yorker, someone from the Crooklyn, Ecuadorian, a sneakerhead…but never as an American. Part of the reason, I think, is because I grew up in a very diverse neighborhood then went to college and faced what I thought was “American culture” aka white culture. I don’t know why I thought this given that I have always recognized how diverse the USA is.  I recently read a book on American culture that explained how Americans love to identify themselves from the region where they are and go on about how each part of the country is different. For example, the West is more laid back then the busy East Coast. The truth is, as I have come to realize through my interactions with Brazilians,  no matter what background you come from in the United States, some things we share are universal (for the most part).

“Americans don’t shower too much, they have a problem with time and need to know what they are doing, they don’t use perfume, and they are very direct.” These were the words of my Brazilian host mom as we laughed about it over lunch today. So many things that we do seem normal to us because we’ve done it repeatedly our whole lives. Living in another culture that is very different from your own helps you learn about yourself because what you once thought was normal back home isn’t here.  One of my most rewarding experiences in Ecuador and Brazil has been thinking about time in a radically different way. I no longer find myself needing to always be punctual or disappointed when an event doesn’t occur (Back at UVM, the calendar on my iphone dictated everything I did). Brazilians just aren’t slaves to time the way we are in America.

It’s all about living in the present and enjoying what you have now…take it easy mayne.

Dam I am super duper tired like an ant who has been carrying an apple around for 27 hours. I payed way too much dough to get to the airport so my pockets are crying right now. It feel’s weird being here. It has not hit me yet. I feel confused and strange because of the language barrier. The last time I faced this issue was when I was Germany for 2 months but I had someone taking care of me. This time I am at it alone. It’s incredible how beautiful Brazilian women are. After spending so many months in developing countries like Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia I can’t help but feel out of place. My home for the past 7 months has been spanish speaking countries where I could easily connect with the people and learn the culture. Obviously I face a new challenge now in Brazil. I have to    admit, I do not feel prepared. The good thing is that I don’t expect a huge culture shock. For some reason, I don’t feel excited. Here is why I think so.

  1. I am very very tired.
  2. I overpacked and do not like to do so.
  3. I regret not reading more on Brazil prior to coming or begining my Rosetta stone language program.
  4. Oh, and the two gifts I have for my family homestay broke!

I think I will feel better after getting some rest and giving some stuff away. I have way too much stuff…I like rolling light like a paper ball.

Maybe writing will help me feel better. Ive had a horrible day trying to get my brazilian visa and I lost my iphone this morning. Life is a bitch. Its okay though…Ill get through it. It sucks being so angry without having anywhere to vent. I fear that this will be a common issue until I have friends around me again (March).

So where do I begin on summarizing the past four months of my life here in Ecuador? For starters, I had a terrible study abroad experience. The program lacked a serious relationship with our local partner and that affected our research projects. There are other aspects of the program that were bad but that is the main one. I did make two good friends though and fell in love with the Andes.

Perhaps the best part of my four months here has been seeing the entire country and getting to know its people (and spending time with my family of course). In the beginning, I felt like a foreigner but now I comfortably call myself Ecuadorian. I read and heard all about the incredible biodiversity of the country and it exceeded my expectations. Aside from the biodiversity and rediscovering my culture, I spent a lot of time thinking about various subjects that are affecting the country and me personally as well. Here is the break down:

Tourism in Ecuador

Ecuador is a paradise for the typical foreigner who loves to recreate in nature and feels like planet earth is something god-like. I found this troubling because Ecuador is not a paradise. Yes it is extremely rich in biodiversity, you can watch the charismatic humpback whales off the coast, photograph an Andean condor soar 3000m above the sky, and even wake up the morning roars of the howler monkeys in the jungle. But by limiting yourself to such  specific experience you fail to see the bigger picture.  Ecuador has some serious environmental issues. People here are extremely dependent on their natural resources so they need to exploit the land in order to survive. I see nature and adventure tourism (supported by the countless Europeans and Americans that come here) as a threat to the country´s precious resources. You might argue, well doesn´t tourism bring in foreign money for people to support and conserve these areas? The answer is complicated. Most of the people who involve themselves in such activities go to big tour operators and pay for all-inclusive packages. They are buying tourist experiences. Bought experiences that are troubling because the tour operators make the big bucks, not the people who directly live and depend on the land. The government seems to be making some effort to incorporate community-based tourism but I found it extremely difficult to get involved in such opportunities. Community-based tourism and TRUE Ecotourism, I believe are the solutions. These two approaches support the people who are mostly benefit from the land and who can also be the best conservation leaders.

Economics and Social Justice

Ecuador has been dominated by corrupt governments and special interests for the past 10 to 20 years. A new president was elected in 2008 and the constitution was rewritten. I have hope. It was the first constitution by any government to give Nature rights. It also prohibited any form of discrimination.  The president, Rafael Correa, has a socialist agenda in which he plans to redistribute the majority of the counrty´s wealth which is concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority – the elites. The poor love him and the rich hate him. You cannot satisfy everyone. The gap between the rich and poor is extremely evident here. This is weird to experience because we have a middle class in the USA. The social and economic inequality became very clear to me as I traveled around the northwestern part of the Amazon. On my bus rides I would see oil pipelines along the side of the highway all deforested patches of land. I thought to myself, ¨How could it be that multinational corporations who make daily profits in the billions operate here and people are still living in extreme poverty?¨ This oro negro, petroleum, is a gift and a curse.  It allowed me to travel by airplane here and is what keeps American running…our addiction to oil.  It is also a curse because these corporations pollute the land and buy off the people with petty gifts to keep them on their side. But you know who is responsible? Us. We demand and consume.

Random stuff about life

Last year I begin to start accepting the idea that things happen for a reason and that we are all somehow connected. I always rejected this way of thinking because it meant I had no free will and my destiny would be set in stone. But the reality is that we sometimes just cannot predict  or plan for what life throws us our way. What matters is the decisions we make and not so much the game plan we come up with. My study abroad was very shitty (I planned for it to be a life changing experience) but instead of focusing on the negative, I thought about the positive which was the friends I made, seeing my family, and having the privilege to be able to travel. I planned but got something else. That is how life is or at least how my life has become and I am cool with it.

I am not a good writer. Writing this post I have realized that it takes me a lot of words to say something. Oh well. I should work on it though.

Carpe Diem.

Puma sighting

After settling down in the historic city of Cuenca, we finally went to
our camp site high (above 3500 meters!) in the paramo of the Andes to begin
our research project. We are working with our local Ecuadorian partner,
Fundacion Cordillera Tropical, to camera trap Margays and Oncillas. These
two secretive cats have not been known to exist at the elevation that we are
working in so it would be a groundbreaking discovery that we would be a part
of! I sprained my ankle as we began the camera trap projects so I was bummed
that I could not help us as much.

We were in for quite a surprise on the third day of camera trapping.
That evening we learned that a Puma killed five alpacas in the morning. A
young man who helps us out, Raul, suggested that we take one of the Alpacas
and cook some of the meat. This was extremely exciting news since I am a big
meat lover and most of dishes had been vegeterian for most of the week.

As the sun began to fall
over the Andean mountains and the weather began to get chilly we hiked over
to the site of the dead camelids. Seth walked further ahead and began to
scan the area with his headlamp. He suddenly stood still and screamed, “Hey
guys, Puma!!!!” By this time, it was almost completely dark. I ran over to
where he was standing and also began to wave my headlamp. Immediatly I saw
the Puma´s eyes looking directly at Seth and I. Here I was 100 feet from a
cat that had killed five alpacas earlier and could easily kill me. It was
probably the most wild experience of my life following the time when I
pulled out an anaconda from the Amazons just five weeks ago. It then
disappeared with all the commotion we were making. We stayed for an hour
more in the chilly paramo hoping it would come back. It never did but that
night I went to bed extremely scared but also excited that I had seen such a
rare cat.

I miss my uvm peeps hardbody

My study abroad program began exactly one week ago. We have not been doing much except getting to know the colonial city of Cuenca. It is a small group with 2 co leaders and 3 other class mates (not really classmates but more like cool friends). We met with our Ecuadorian NGO partner today, Fundacion Cordillera Tropical, and discussed the several projects assigned for us this semester. We will be using some camera traps to get some information on two elusive cats that have been discovered at our research site. They are the Margay and Oncilla. What makes this research project fascinating is that these wild cats have always thought to exist at lower elevations and never at the type of habitat that we will be generally working in. We will also be doing some macroinvertebrate research.

Our site is in the southern portion of Sangay National Park. It is part of the larger Tropical Andes area and is considered a world hotspot in terms of biodiversity. What I am mostly excited about it that we will be working in paramo grassland (common in the Andes) and biodiverse rich cloud forest just 30 minutes away from our campsite. I am super excited!

I miss home a lot. Way more than I thought I would. It all gravy though. 🙂

3 weeks in

I finally have some time to sit down and write a quality post. It has been 3 weeks since I left the states and I have seen a good chunk of Ecuador. Here are the highlights…

  1. Hiking Cotopaxi (one of the highest active volcanoes in the world)
  2. Birding in Mindo (I saw more birds in 2 days than I have ever in my whole life)
  3. Getting my laptop stolen
  4. Spending 5 days in the jungle of the Cuyabeno Reserve
  5. Pulling a 6.5 meter long Anaconda from a stream in the Amazons
  6. Whale watching off the coast

I have been astonished by how much bio and cultural diversity can be found within such a small country (the size of Nebraska). The accents of people, their customs, and way of dressing varies from location. I have traveled to the Coast, Highlands (Andes), and the Oriente (Amazons). My favorite part has been the Oriente because there are birds everywhere one travels.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the cheap food and hostels. Unfortunately, I did get my computer stolen but it´s okay. I also saw my father for the first time ever. It was not a big deal and I was completely indifferent. He cried a lot though.

My study abroad program begins in 7 days and I am super excited. Tomorrow I am going on a beautiful train ride south then I will bike El Chimborazo (the volcano which is the farthest point away from earth).