The weekend after the Halloween party was our first Marine Ball. The Marine Ball is a traditional, formal event that happens every year at all embassies (and some consulates) in which the Marines plan a ball to commensurate their founding. There are formal presentations, ceremonies, and traditions. Then the dinner and dancing commence. It was so much fun! They held it at the Navy Club this year, and it was absolutely beautiful. Needless to say, after our Halloween experience, we were still on the sober bandwagon but we were out very late all the same.
Prom Picture! :)
Our friend Garry.
The week and a half directly following the Marine Ball was spent traveling around Brazil! Sarah and the Regional Medical Officer (RMO) are in charge of the other 3 consulates in Brazil: Recife, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. The RMO's name is Yuri, and he is based out of Lima, Peru. Yuri and Sarah joined State at the same time, and attended all of the same training, so it was nice to travel with a familiar face!
Recife was definitely the favorite place for Sarah and I. We're not so much about the HUGE cities with big crowds, but we love more laid back vacations. I say vacation, but Sarah was working. I was on vacation! :) We spent a lot of time on the beach, which was wonderful! There are vendors who push carts up and down the waterline, while other vendors stay in one place and put out free chairs and umbrellas for people to sit in. So the only thing you ever need to leave your chair for is to get rid of the cerveja and caiperinas! :)
View from our room in Recife.
Relaxing on the beach.
Recife has one of the highest numbers of shark attacks in Brazil.
The beach at night.
This vendor is carrying fresh oysters on ice in the bucket which she will serve to beach-goers by opening them with a pocket knife and pouring oil, salt, and hot sauce on. They're delicious!
On a day that Sarah and Yuri were working, I visited a cachasaria. Cachasa is a traditional Brazilian liquor made with sugar cane. It is used to make the national drink, which is called a caiperina. Caiperinas are cachasa, sugar, and mashed up limes and are delicious!
Olinda is a small Dutch colony just outside of Recife settled in the mid 1700's. It was the best place of our entire trip. It was a small town filled with grand churches up on magnificent hills with the old city overlooking the skyscrapers of the new one. It was filled with pastel yellows, oranges, blues, and had kind of a "Mexico" laid back feeling. Sarah and I would love to come back and stay in Olinda.
Old Olinda Church
Streets of Olinda
Overlooking the tropical trees, ancient church, and ocean.
Old Olinda with the new Recife in the background.
Old and new.
After 3 days in Recife, we left for Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, the weather in Rio was rainy and cold, so we didn't spend much time on the beach. I was also feeling kind of sick for part of the trip, so we took it pretty easy in Rio and Sao Paulo. We did make the trek up to the Christ Statue, which was amazing! As the most famous monument in Brazil, it stands at one of the highest points of the mountainous city and overlooks both the coast and the lake borders of Rio. You got a view of the beautiful homes with the poor favelas (slums) right next to them. You may have seen the favelas in the news recently, as there has been much violence while the military police are raiding them in advance to the World Cup and Olympics coming to Rio. Favelas are typically lawless shanty-towns run by drug lords and guarded by teenagers with fully automatic weapons. They have been devoid of law enforcement except for the occasional post for years, and have been overridden with drugs and violence in many places. Brazil will be hosting the World Cup in 2014, then Rio will hold the Olympics in 2016. They are trying to get a handle on the crime before they arrive.
Anyway, back to our Rio experience. :) Here are a couple of pictures from Rio.
This is at the bottom of the Christ Statue mountain. We took a tram up, but had to wait about 3 hours after we bought our tickets. We ventured around and explored for a while, and almost walked into a dangerous favela on accident. :)
Everyone who visits has to take this picture, right?
From Rio, we went to Sao Paulo for a couple of days. Sao Paulo was tough because it's the largest city in Brazil, but it definitely isn't a tourist destination like Rio or Recife so we couldn't find much to do for fun. I still wasn't feeling 100% either, but we did make it out a few times. The most fun thing that we did was visit the Mercado Central, which is an indoor market in the center of the city. It is in a beautiful old building with stained glass windows and filled with vendors of all kinds. There were fruits, meats, and vegetables of which we'd never heard of and the entire area was bustling with activity.
This is a view from the second floor looking down at the vendors and across at the stained glass.
Yuri and I were offered some fruit to try.
The week that we returned, our UAB arrived! That is our first "unaccompanied air baggage" shipment that was 450 lbs., so just a small portion of our things. The best part about it arriving is that we had packed all of our Thanksgiving supplies in there, so we were able to host a "night before thanksgiving" feast at our house, because many of our friends were going out of town the next day. I wish I had pictures, because we really had a great time hosting our first party. There were only 6 of us total, but we had two (small) turkeys, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, fruit salad, roasted pecans, pumpkin pie, and pecan pie. It was delicious! It was also great to celebrate Thanksgiving with good friends, as we definitely missed our families.
That may actually be a reason that it took so long to blog again. Missing home... There are stages that we were told that each person goes through when moving to a new culture. We were largely in the "tourist" stage for the first month, making it easy to want to share our experiences. After that first month, things started to get more difficult, and reality set in. We've really been missing home, and are continually frustrated at our inability to communicate with Brazilians. Just the communication barrier makes every trip outside of our house or embassy somewhat of a difficult hassle, and eventually it gets old. We started questioning our motives for being here, and really missing home. We still feel this way to an extent, but I think we've turned a corner and decided not to focus on the negatives. It's getting better. After all, it's almost Christmas! When did that happen? We have our Christmas decorations up (bought from the Brazilian Wal-Mart) and our presents under the tree!
Charlie Brown would be proud. :)
Anyway, Merry Christmas to all around the world, and I'll try very hard not to wait as long to blog next time. Happy Holidays!