Monday, June 11, 2007

Gary’s Note: Okay, Brazil-Blog-Readers... you haven't heard from me in almost a week and I arrived back in the United States late yesterday afternoon. You have already heard about my loosing battle with the shifty luggage and the resulting lower back torture, but I want to continue this blog by highlighting some of the things we did and saw after leaving Fortaleza.

Fortaleza to Belo Horizonte:

We had survived the constant heat and humidity 24/7 in the Amazon and the coastal city of Fortaleza before boarding our flight to the mountainous city of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. Of course, to get to almost anywhere in Brazil these days, you have to pass through their capital city called Brasilia. One of the CCF sponsors on the trip dubbed Brasilia "the Atlanta of Brazil"-- you don't go any place or anywhere unless you pass through the city of Brasilia. Actually, Brasilia was just a huge area of dust and shrubs out in the middle of Brazil almost 60 years ago. In the 1950's, the Brazilian President decided to move the capital of Brazil from Rio de Janeiro to this remote outpost in what Brazilians considered the jungle. The outcry from Brazilians was tremendous and the President was called names we can not print in this blog. Fortunately, that Brazilian President was a futurist; thinker and planner when he decreed that the bureaucrats must leave the comforts of Copacabana Beach and trek on out to the interior of Brazil and establish the right to life, liberty and happiness in the interior!

Brasilia is now a beautiful, bustling city of several million people and an Atlanta-type airport; many terminals, overcrowded, understaffed, and forget trying to find a decent place to eat in this airport. We had a short turnaround in Brasilia before boarding our flight to beautiful and COOL Belo Horizonte (Beautiful Horizon). Our CCF sponsor group again demonstrated their fortitude and determination despite my best efforts to thoroughly exhaust them from early wake-up calls to late nights of various activities. Have I also mentioned that I convinced TAM Airlines to feed them only hot ham and cheese sandwiches on huge rolls on every in-country flight? There was one exception when we were served a sandwich given the name of 'mystery meat mixture' by one of the CCF sponsors. Hey, I still like TAM Airlines since they always serve candy, drinks are free, and the flight attendants always respectfully smile at my struggling attempts to speak Portuguese.

Because of air traffic delays over the skies of booming Brasilia, our flight was delayed and we did not arrive in Belo Horizonte until after 8 p.m. Our hearty CCF group of sponsors gathered their luggage after we landed before walking outside into the terminal where they were enthusiastically greeted by our national CCF staff, children singing and dancing, joyful music coming from a children's band, and a BIG welcome sign. If anyone was tired at that moment, their exhaustion immediately faded as smiles, clapping and dancing took hold of the sponsors responding to these wonderful first moments in Belo Horizonte. It was a stunning display of warmth and hospitality as other Brazilian onlookers at the airport joined in on this celebration of the 'norteamericanos' who had suddenly landed in the state of Minas Gerais (General Mines). It wasn’t until later our group realized that Brazilians were wearing coats, sweaters, and warm hats to protect them from the 'cold' 58 degree night. Ah, finally, we can be cold again and not sweat during every waking moment of our daily activities!

After a 25 minute drive into town from the airport, we check into a beautiful downtown hotel which had prepared a 'late-night snack' for us, honestly, there is no such thing as a snack in Brazil, our tables were filled with little sandwiches, cookies, candies, fruit, etc. which was a welcomed alternative to the delicious hot ham and cheese sandwich we had just eaten on our flight down to Belo from Brasilia. After a short briefing by me and the National CCF staff in Brazil, the sponsors were off to their rooms where they found more special treats awaiting them courtesy of our Brazilian staff... I am beginning to think that Brazilians think we do not eat enough and they are determined to fatten us up before we return to the States.

At this point, I should mention a nebulous and charming character from Belo Horizonte who first appeared at the airport when we landed at 1 a.m. in the Amazon almost a week ago and has not left our side for one minute. His name is Dalton (hey, there are people in Brazil named Jefferson, Elvis and Madonna too!), but many of us began to call him Bobbi from a cartoon character or O Cara which means 'The Man!' in Portuguese. Bobbi O Cara is actually the comedic Jim Carrey of Brazil and a wonderful young man who works very hard for CCF-Brazil. He is Brazilian, speaks fluent English, and has an engaging personality and wonderful sense of humor. Even our tough-as-nails sponsor in this group from Texas (Cowboy Don) admitted to liking Dalton. Dalton was there to make sure that things went right, to answer our questions about CCF in Brazil, and to entertain us with wonderful impressions and astute observations. Let's just say he did a wonderful job, everybody loved him, and we hope he continues to work for CCF-Brazil for many years to come! Dalton has been immortalized in a painting Scott, CCF staff, purchased from a street artist in Fortaleza, but that's another story.

Tomorrow, we meet more sponsored children and families in a park called Vale Verde or 'Green Valley'. It is a lush forested area of native trees, plants, and a large collection of tropical birds. It also has huge mechanical swans on a lake for children to ride, a dashing zip-line that crosses the lake, a nice restaurant and a legal cachaca (moonshine) still for producing sugarcane liquor. Only in Brazil would you find a children's park with moonshine ...but there is more in this story that I will post tomorrow.

1 comment:

Marcia Slosser said...

Gary - I am sitting here teary-eyed in Norfolk, VA., sharing your trip and your visit to the sponsored children. I can picture everything you say and am so thankful that I could enjoy this Study Tour a year ago and meet my Joao, whom I had sponsored for 10 years. This was indeed the trip of a lifetime - until I visit my other sponsored child in Guatemala!
Marcia Slosser