Finally Made it to Casa da Árvore!

Here are a some pictures from my first few days at A Casa da Árvore (or as my dad would say, “Tallgrass of the South”)!
Being here is like a dream. I get the pleasure of being in a new place and meeting new people, but at the same time I don’t feel the need to avoid talking about my work in the U.S., something that I am so passionate about. On the contrary, I get to talk about it and learn about it all day, every day if I want, or at least as much as much as my language skills with allow.
At this point it’s really really really hard for me to speak in Portuguese all day, especially when I get excited about something(which has happened a lot since I got here). Pretty much all the Portuguese that I know I have learned from either my sister, Capoeira class or Brazilian music. I have very little formal training. Therefore, I have a pretty good range of vocabulary, but I rely a lot on my Spanish for grammar and I know that in many cases, Portuguese grammar is very different from Spanish. Luckily, the people that I have been hanging out with lately have the patience of saints, showing no signs of frustration while I slowly and painfully try to spit out my grammatically incorrect sentences that are probably at least 30% Spanish at this point. I also really appreciate everyone’s willingness to correct me and point out when I am in fact speaking in Portuñol. By the time I leave Brazil I hope to have a good understanding of the differences between Spanish and Portuguese and to be able to have basic conversations in 100% Portuguese without sounding like a robot or Sertanejo artist. Surprisingly, as someone who sometimes has the habit of just being quiet when (for whatever reason)talking seems too hard, my desire to converse with people here and learn about their experiences and points of view has proven to be great motivation for me to let go of any inhibitions and just talk. I figure I have nothing to lose except my dignity, but I lost that a long time ago!
It’s like Tallgrass, except everything is in Portuguese.

 

Sign to show whether or not there will be Judicial Commitee. And hey, those books look familiar!

18620139_10212668320687410_8131222456197745731_n John Holt in Portuguese!!

Can you spot me in the Casa da Árvore promotional video? 😎

A German Town in Brazil

The third city that I visited in Brazil was Blumenau, Santa Catarina. It is known for being one of the most German cities in Brazil. While I was there, I visited the “German village”, which hosts the biggest Oktoberfest in the country. The town even has a Beer Museum, but I decided to skip that attraction considering I am not a big fan of beer. I did however check out some of the nearby beaches which were just a short drive from the city. I visited 3 or 4 different beaches, but only saw a handful of people throughout the day. I guess 85 degrees and sunny is considered too cold for most Brazilians to spend a day at the beach. It was absolutely perfect for me though and I was happy to spend the day relaxing in paradise without having to worry about big crowds. Thank you so much for hosting me, Deborah! Good luck finishing up your degree and remember to come visit us in Minnesota soon!

 

 

 

Brazil has the most diverse vegetation of any country that I have visited. It is not uncommon to see a pine tree next to a palm tree here!

 

 

 

 

 

New Friends Along the Way

During my time on the road, I experienced all different kinds of housing. Luckily, I was able to stay with friends most of the time, but I am also grateful to have had the experiences of camping, staying in hotels and hostels, and more recently of Couch Surfing. When I first began my journey, I was a little bit more particular about my sleeping arrangements. I was very weary about staying in hostel dorms with strangers or camping by myself, but by the end, I had come to the conclusion that after an easy day of riding, a safe place with an open area to set up a tent was sufficient and after a long, hard day of riding, I was grateful for any kind of building with a bed and a roof on it. The first time that I stayed in a hostel dorm room was in Punta del Este, Uruguay. I had just experienced another white-knuckle day of riding. The wind speeds were the highest I had ever driven in and during the last half hour of the trip, it had also started raining sideways. Punta del Este is a very popular and crowded beach town during the summers in South America. However, during the off season, it’s pretty dead. I will never forget arriving to the town during what felt like a hurricane. The main road is just meters from the ocean. The waves were roaring and splashing at me from one side and heavy winds and rain were blasting at me from the other. With no obvious hotels or hostels in sight, I stopped the motorcycle, and pulled out my phone to see if I could find a place on the map where I might be able to take shelter. Just then a huge gust of wind flew by and almost knocked me off my bike. I noticed that the closest thing that came up on the map was El Viajero Hostel. I knew that no matter what, that was where I would be spending the night. When I arrived, the receptionist told me that they only had shared dorm rooms available. “I’ll take it.” I said without hesitation. There were only a few restaurants open in town so I decided to try Uruguayan sushi. That ended up being a great life decision.-So yummy! After that I went back to the hostel and was in bed by 9. I slept like a rock and didn’t even notice that I was in a room full of complete strangers. After that night I stayed in hostel dorm rooms 2 or 3 more times during my trip. They were all good experiences.
Another new experience for me during my travels was Couch Surfing. This was also something that I was very weary about at the beginning, but it ended up being one of the highlights of my trip. My first time was in Foz do Iguazú, the first Brazilian city that I stopped in. I had arranged to stay with a couple and their son. Before arriving, I was very nervous. I had always stayed with either friends, friends of friends or with some kind of family through a work exchange. This seemed very different. The people who I would be staying with were not expecting anything in exchange for me being there. On my way there I wondered how I would greet them. A handshake? A hug? A kiss? Would I have to have to look for food once I got there(Couch Surfing hosts are not obligated to provide food)? How well would I be able to get by communicating with them in Portuñol? What would we talk about?
When I finally arrived to Foz I was tired, hungry and disoriented because of the time and language difference. I pulled up to my hosts’ house, was greeted by Elizabete and was given one of the biggest, most genuine hugs I have ever received. I feel like that was a very defining moment of my trip. We had never met before, but I knew right away that she was a good person and would be willing to help me with whatever I needed. During the next 3 days, I shared lots of great conversations and meals with Elizabete and her family. I am very grateful to have met them and have no doubt that we will stay in contact for years to come.
My next stop was Guarapuava, where I would also be Couch Surfing, this time with João and his family. My experience with them was equally as pleasant. They not only provided me with my own room and lots of yummy food, but they also went out of their way to invite me to join in on their evening activities and drive me around town to get some things that I desperately needed for my motorcycle. In the morning João left early for work and I had breakfast with his mother. After breakfast, she packed me a lunch for the road. As I saw her putting my sandwich in a plastic Tupperware, I stopped her and said that that wouldn’t be necessary because I might not have any way to return the Tupperware afterwards. She insisted that I take it anyway because she didn’t want me to have to eat a squished sandwich. She didn’t know that I had probably eaten hundreds of squished sandwiches over the past couple of months, but something makes me think that she wouldn’t have cared either way. “It’s a mom thing.” She said. “Everything has to be packed with care.”
Before this trip, the idea of couch surfing or of simply relying on complete strangers to not only not murder me, but to provide me with a safe, comfortable place to stay was pretty out of my realm of possibilities. I have constantly been blown away by the amount of kindness and hospitality that I have received from strangers over the past 6 months. I only hope that I can pass on the kindness once I get back home and settled in.
woman motorcycle rider

Visit to Asuncion, Paraguay

A few pictures from my visit to Asunción. After my tough experience on the border, I was so happy to be able to spend a few days with some dear friends who are really more like family to me. Some of the highlights were Ana’s driving tour of all of her favorite trees in the neighborhood, washing dishes after dinner with my Brazilian brother, Diego while listening to him recount memories from his year at my house, and watching Brazilian T.V. in the living room with the whole family in the evenings. ❤️
 
 
american in paraguay
asuncion trip

 

female motorcycle rider

 

asuncion trip motorcycle

 

woman motorcycle paraguay

The Less-Glamorous Side of Riding a Motorcycle in Brazil

The last hour of my ride today was rough. It was getting close to sunset and the roads were full of slow, stinky trucks. I had been driving for about 8 hours already. My whole body was aching and all my luggage had somehow managed to shift to one side of the bike and was ready to fall off at any moment. Suddenly, a bug flew into my eye. And I’m not just talking about a gnat or a mosquito or something. I’m talking a full-grown beetle that somehow managed to fly under my helmet guard, get under my eyelid and to the back of my eye ball all within a matter of a few seconds. It was extremely painful and uncomfortable until I was able to get it out after bobbing my head up and down and poking at my eyeball like a freak on the side of the road for about 5 minutes. I kept driving until I got to a toll on the road. I really think these tolls in Brazil will be the death of me. Luckily, this is the first and only country I have traveled to where motorcyclists have to pay tolls. Can you even imagine how much of a hassle it is to have to pay a toll while on a motorcycle? It takes forever to take off my gloves, take out my money and make sure I am giving the right change(or just keep handing over big bills until I have accumulated about $50 of change in my pocket). Sometimes I have to take off my helmet because I can’t even see into my own pocket. This evening I reached into my pocket and tried to pull out a few coins, but instead a bunch of bills and coins went flying onto the ground. I then had to get off my bike and pick them up off the ground, all while the line of people behind me were watching and waiting impatiently for me to get out of the way. After the toll I have to hurriedly move forward to get to the side of the road where I can put all my gear and money away calmly. By the time I started riding again, the sun had pretty much set already. Riding in the dark is not only scary, but significantly more dangerous. This road in particular was uneven and full of potholes and detours. And to top it all off, just as I was about to arrive to my destination it started pouring rain. Thank you for listening to my angry rant. Long distance motorcycle riding is not always fun, people. That is all.

Crossing International Borders on a Motorcycle

What is it like crossing an international border on a motorcycle? If you are interested, here is a pretty detailed description of my experience at the Argentina-Paraguay border:
My drive from Paraná to Corrientes was long, but beautiful. Unexpected landscapes of flooded fields of grass and palm trees with huge cows SWIMMING across them. I don’t know why, but I thought that was so interesting that I felt compelled to turn my bike around at one point to snap some pictures and watch from the side of the road while snacking on my Oreos. As I was driving through that area, I also found the people to be particularly friendly. Every time I stopped at a red light or on the side of the road, people would stop and congratulate me, ask if I needed help or just shout VIVA PERU as they drove past. (My license plate is from Peru. Therefore, people think I am Peruvian. I am ok with this. )
When I got to the border, I decided to drive into the town of Clorinda(on the Argentine side) to see if I could find some lunch and maybe a place to exchange some money before crossing over to Paraguay. Nada. The town was completely dead. And not only that, but I got a sketchy vibe as I drove through, probably the first time that has happened since I began my trip. Once making it to the end of the town, which was only about 8 blocks long, I decided to turn around and book it back to the border in order to get to my friends in Asunción before dark.
The border was quiet. “Looks pretty straightforward…,” I thought to myself. I exited Argentina just fine, turning in all my customs papers for the motorcycle and getting the “salida” stamp on my passport. On to the Paraguay immigration office. I approached the glass window and handed over my passport. The guy on the other side looked through it slowly, examining all the visas and stamps from the 12 other countries that I had visited.
“You need a visa to get into Paraguay.” he said.
“Great!” I responded. “What do I need to do to get it?”
From the research I had done beforehand, I had come to the understanding that the process to get a visa for Paraguay was the same as it is for Bolivia and Argentina; arrive at the border, pay $160, get a grungy picture taken after having driven 500km through the desert, wait for the visa to process and go on my way.
“You’re not going to be able to get it today.” he responded.
“What?” Anxiety began building up inside of me.
“You have to get the visa in Clorinda and the office is closed today because it is a holiday. You will have to stay in Argentina tonight and get the visa tomorrow first thing in the morning.” he replied.
“What do you mean the office is closed on a holiday?” I thought to myself. “How can they just CLOSE the BORDER??”
After a few minutes of begging and pleading to see if there was any way for me to get across just for the night, I realized that the guy wasn’t going to budge. At that point I took a deep breathe, and began thinking about what my next steps would be in order to survive a night in Clorinda by myself.
As I walked away feeling rejected and uncertain about the future, what appeared to be a news reporter with a microphone and camera man behind him jumped in front of me and began asking me questions about where I was coming from, why I was rejected, what my plan was, etc. I calmly explained my situation to him and his camera man buddy. They were intrigued when I told them that I was traveling through South America by myself on a motorcycle. As I drove away, I saw the camera guy filming me from behind the customs building. Hopefully they make a good documentary or something out of that!
On the way back through Argentine customs, the confusion began. I did my best to explain why I had left Argentina about 15 minutes ago and was now wanting to get back in. They were very nice and understanding, but told me that I would have to go back to the Paraguay side to get my customs form back for my motorcycle. Back to Paraguay I went. More explaining and confusion. Back to Argentina. After driving around Clorinda for a while, I found ONE run down hostel where I was able to get a room. I wasn’t able to find even one place that sold food because the few restaurants in town were closed for the holiday. I ate leftover Oreos and Gatorade for dinner and I can’t say I slept all that well that night.
I woke up at 6am the next day, eager to get out of Clorinda and into Asunción. I went to the immigration offices where the employees there sent me back and forth between each other for about an hour before finally informing me that I would have to get my visa in the next closest city, which was four hours back into Argentina. My desperation was building and my patience was running low at this point. Instead of driving four hours back into Argentina, I decided to head back to the border to talk to the Paraguay immigration officers again. The Argentine officers just waved at me as I drove by. We were pretty much on a first name basis at this point. After some clarification from another immigration officer on the Paraguay side, I headed to the Paraguayan CONSULATE(not the immigration offices) in Clorinda to get my visa. After just a few minutes at the Paraguayan consulate, I was pretty much feeling like a celebrity. The visa process took longer than I was expecting, not because they didn’t want to let me in, but rather because once the consul general found out what I was traveling around South America on a motorcycle, he and all the other employees in the office wanted to show me pictures of their motorcycles, invite me to try their Argentine asado, and ask me like 700 questions. After a couple hours spent mostly socializing with the Paraguayan consuls, I headed back to the border, Paraguayan visa in hand. By that time a new shift of immigration officers had come in. More explaining and more confusion ensued, but in the end, I got all my papers in order for both myself and the motorcycle. Just as I was about to drive away after about 20 hours of immigration struggles, a Paraguayan customs officer noticed my Peru license plate, ran over to congratulate me and ask me another hundred questions. Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE talking about motorcycles and about my experiences, but when I am trying to get out of a place where I don’t necessarily feel comfortable, I sometimes feel the need to cut things short. I tried my best to wrap things up with the officer and headed on my way. It was about time for me to get to Asunción where my friends had patiently been waiting those 20 hours. And boy, was I happy when I finally pulled up to their apartment!
crossing border south america motorcycle

Tourist for the day at Iguazu Falls

Tourist for the day and I didn’t hate it! I started by taking a ride in a big inflatable speed boat down the Iguazú River. Obviously, the best part was getting to drive under the actual waterfalls! Then I walked up the trail towards the Devil’s Throat, almost got eaten by an angry mob of coatis(giant, long-nosed, rodents) and took in the views. No, I didn’t go swimming, but that’s only because it was prohibited everywhere in the park(trust me, I asked)!

female motorcycle rider south america

 

iguazu falls

 

iguazu falls

 

female motorcycle rider

 

iguazu falls trip

 

iguazu falls