Just about a year ago I decided that I wanted to sell my art to raise money to buy my way to Brazil. The money I would make to buy a ticket that would grant me the opportunity of seeing my sister whom I hadn’t seen in years, meeting her newly wed husband, Tiago, and seeing the life they have created together. I thought that this journey would be taken alone, but luckily my hard work and determination sparked desire in the rest of my family who decided to join me.
Many of you know the chaos that grew within these plans, such as driving in the middle of the night to Chicago to receive our Visas (which were only granted to us from the small window of 9am-11am–if we were lucky), along with the planning and preparation that went into this trip. There were so many steps to climb and obstacles to overcome in order to do the simple deed of reuniting us as a family again. It almost felt like it would be impossible, but we managed to get the job done.
Let me just say that seeing my sister, feeling her hug, while accompanying that with the grand gesture of being able to do the same with her husband was something that Skype will never be able to live up to. I always felt like I knew Tiago because of the many hours of our skype sessions spent throughout the 5 years that I have known him, but being able to actually physically hug him and speak to him without a bad internet connection was unbelievable.
In this blog entry, you will be thrown into the beautiful, messy and wonderful trip that I got to share with my family.
DAY ONE, December 24th
After reuniting with Kelli after 2 whole years and meeting my amazing brother in law, we all piled into a Scooby-Doo like van. Shortly after, we arrived at their home in Curitiba. Curitiba is known to be one of the safest and economically advanced places to live in Brazil. One thing to note is that when passing by all the colorful homes in Brazil, they are all gated, walled, and/or have an electric fence for protection. Their home is quaint, giving them enough space to live as a couple, but little enough to create havoc in the Ferguson family. Lets just say it’s made for 2, not 7. After our short visit to their home in Curitiba, we made our way to Rio Negro where some of Tiago’s family reside.
DAY ONE, December 24th
On our way to Rio Negro, we took in all the beautiful sights that Brazil had to offer. We drove for about 2 hours before we reached our destination. Tired from the 15 hours spent in the air, our family spent much of the drive to Rio Negro asleep, but we awoke for the entry into the cool little town. It’s a German town where much of the population are elderly citizens. It’s basically the equivalent to the State of Arizona. The drive in was beautiful. All the little details, like handmade christmas decorations, are what made this little town so special. Being Christmas Eve, we only had time to unpack at our hotel where we would then venture to Tiago’s Grandparents home to share a midnight dinner with their family.
We were later shocked to find out that we were going to be their first American guests. No one upon the hotel staff spoke a word of english. Kelli told us that the maids who heard of the news of our arrival were in a bit of panic worrying how they would be able to communicate with us. Thankfully my kind sister wrote a few key words in portuguese for us to work with such as, towel, water, check-out and help….
After settling in, we were picked up by Kelli and Tiago in our Scooby-Doo van with a little surprise in the back seat. Maria Eduarda, or “Duda”, came along for the ride! Duda is Tiago’s sister Gabi’s 4 year old daughter. We have skyped with her countless times and have fallen in love with her energetic personality. Duda was very skeptical before meeting us. Kelli had been telling her that we were going to come to play with her. Duda’s response? “I don’t know if I’ll like them.” Kelli told her that we were just like Kelli but still, “We’ll see” was her response.
We pulled through the gates of this gorgeous home. It had such a beautiful charm to it. We were greeted by Tiago’s family in the yard where they had Christmas eve dinner prepared for us outside. Before we ate, we joined hands and listened while they said the Lord’s prayer in portuguese. Then they listened while we said the Lord’s prayer in English. If you know my mom at all, you know she cried at this. Though to be quite honest, we were all touched by this. We ate a long table that to my understanding was borrowed from a church from the priest. It was just one of the coolest things. I loved that their tradition was eating dinner at midnight. Maybe we will carry that tradition home with us.
Another tradition that I found so different and interesting was that Papa Noel (Santa Clause) visits the homes of children in Brazil while they are eating their midnight dinner. After dinner, we spent time together opening gifts. I want to say that most American families have a tradition of opening each gift one by one.. one person at a time while the rest of us watch. But maybe that’s just my family. In Brazil everyone opens their gifts all at once. Most of the time I didn’t know who to thank or when because it was so chaotic! I still loved this idea though- it was fast and fun and got straight to the good stuff. Later, we enjoyed some of Grandma’s homemade ice cream. I’m a desserts gal, so this was one of my favorite things on the trip! She had a variety of fruity and chocolatey treats that I couldn’t get enough of. Needless to say, I went back for seconds and thirds.
DAY TWO, December 25th
Kelli and Tiago patiently waited while the Ferguson women got ready. Not an easy task for the Ferguson men I might add. We spent the whole day getting to know Taigo’s mother (Ceres), sister (Gabi), Duda, Grandma & Grandpa, along with cousins and his aunt & uncle. Their family was so humble and inviting while welcoming us into their home. For lunch we enjoyed a Churrasco which is a Brazilian barbecue. Lots of “Carne” was served at the table. Kelli mentioned that Brazil is known for their high end meats, and I’ve got to say you can taste the difference. It was my favorite meal of the trip. On day two we spent time with family, ate lots of food, visited Wilson’s workshop, went to the cemetery, and ended the day with lots of laughter.
Something that I found miraculous during this time was a part of the day where Duda approached my Dad and asked for his hand. She began to sing a song in portuguese that named all the fingers and their purposes.. this song triggered a memory that my dad had of his aunt (Zia in Italian). My Dad, excited, asked Kelli to translate. It was the exact song that Zia used to sing him as a little boy but in Italian. He hadn’t heard that song since he was just a boy and suddenly he knew all the words again.
It was a bitter sweet day because we had to say goodbye to all of our new friends that we had made but on the other hand we were heading to the beach house the next day to soak up some sun. As we packed in our Scooby-Doo van late that night, our new friends gathered around waving and sending kisses our way. The words that Grandma said was something I won’t forget, “Sleep with the angels my friends”. Something about Brazilians I love is the way that everyone greets each other. You greet each person with a hug and kiss on the cheek and you do the same when you leave. Kelli says that she enjoys that tradition as well, but it gets a little tired when you go to a party and you have to hug and kiss all the guests upon arrival and departure.
Some memorable quotes from day 2:
Duda: “Is’nt it true that you need to get on a plane instead of a car to go to the US?”
Duda: “Why are we at the cemetery? Why are we visiting the dead?”
Grandma (Wilma): “How can they understand each other speaking that weird language?”
Grandma (Wilma): “Sleep with the angels my friends.”
PONTAL DO PARANÁ
DAY THREE-TEN, December 26th-January 2nd
On day three the Gringos pilled into the Scooby-Doo van, yet again, to make our way to the beach house. The beach house is owned by Tiago’s grandparents who kindly let us stay there. The drive there was an extraordinary. While Minnesotans take their mini-vans through corn fields and hay bales, Brazilians travel in style through the rain forest. THE RAINFOREST PEOPLE! We took the only road that lead to the beach which went through the longest running rainforest in Brazil. On this drive Michael spent time learning some portuguese that he could use to sweet talk the ladies. He literally had us quiz him. Pure dedication. Once we arrived we got settled in, played some football and ended the night with some traditional Brazilian drinks, caipirinhas, while playing some Can-Can. It’s the basically the same thing as Uno. In this beach town we were notified that, again, we were the only Americans to ever step foot on their grounds. People turned left and right at the opening of our mouths.
We spent the next 6 days at the beach house where it consequently rained. Every single day. But that didn’t ruin our trip. We planned accordingly and had loads of fun! We tried to wake up each morning early enough so that we could catch the morning’s sun. The beach was 100% packed, rain or shine. It was a bit of a culture shock walking onto the beach in what was considered a very moderately covered suit. I was surrounded by speedos, and thong-like bottoms paired with little triangle tops. Even little old grandma’s were strutting their stuff in a bikini. To be honest, I liked their swim-suit mentality. I felt more comfortable on a beach in Brazil than I ever have at home. No matter how old or what your size is you are granted the opportunity of wearing a bikini. How refreshing it is to not have to be a size 0 or to work so meticulously hard in being so.
K&T teamed up as Mom and Dad while cooking us meals, driving us around, and tucking us in goodnight. It was definitely a weird thing to watch while my actual parents sat next to me through it all. I learned just how great of a team they are together. My favorite meal at the beach house was the Yellow Curry that Kelli prepared for us. We loved it so much we had an encore the next night.
Saturday night we spent getting ready for the churrasco where we would invite all of K&T’s friends. This time the rain was REALLY coming down hard. We had the Churrasco in the backyard under a picnic-like area that was thankfully roofed. Don’t worry though, we also had an umbrella system from the house to the backyard. Very efficient. Let me just say that Tiago is an amazing Churassco-er. Probably not the right terminology, but you get the gist. Though the one thing that I was hesitant to try were the chicken hearts… I couldn’t fathom the thought. So I didn’t. It was a mental thing. My Dad, Mike and Kelli chowed down on those no problem. It was interesting to watch!
While we stayed at the beach house, we were constantly hearing fireworks going off. They went off at all hours of the day and night. It was like it was the 4th of July every single day. On New Years Eve we all dressed in white and had a grand feast of the most delicious steak. After our dinner we hit the beach along with the whole state of Parana. The beach was filled with people joining together to ring in the New Year. There were fireworks going off absolutely everywhere. There wasn’t a part in the night’s sky that wasn’t lit up with a colorful explosion. It was truly the most amazing thing that I have ever witnessed in my life. Brazilians definitely celebrate the New Year better. Though I’ve got to say I was truly scared out of my mind that I was going to loose a leg. These fireworks were not being set off by professionals. They were being set off by people as young as 8 years old. So I think you can understand me when I said I was scared for my life. There were fireworks going off sideways straight into the crowds of people! It was also thrilling. After the grand finale of fireworks at the strike of midnight, we all drank some champaign and headed straight into the ocean where we jumped over seven waves to symbolize a new beginning.
Here’s a little video I took of NYE on the beach. Can you hear my excitement?! It’s a little embarrassing.
Some quotes from the beach house:
Jenna: “I feel like Kelli is my older sister.”
Mom: “I feel like Kelli is my mother.”
At the strike of midnight I looked over to my left and saw Duda Crouched down pottying. Michael said the funniest thing: “Most people have a New Years kiss, but Duda has a New Years piss.”
While we were at the beach Duda decided that she was going to overcome her fear of the ocean. She used to refuse to get in the water but after a few minutes in the waves she wouldn’t leave! While talking to her mom, Gabi, she says this: “Mom, if we don’t start cleaning up the beaches there will be no beach, and there will be no Jesus!”
RIO DE JANEIRO
DAY ELEVEN, January 3rd
Our first day in Rio was absolutely amazing. After many days of consecutive rain, the sun was in the sky and lots of people were scattered about. The condo that we stayed at was across the street from Copacabana, giving us the perfect opportunity to stash our stuff and head to soak up some sun on the beach. We took advantage of the weather while we had it…. unfortunately it was followed by 2 days of rain.
RIO DE JANEIRO
DAY TWELVE, January 4th
Our second rainy day in Rio was spent at the mall. While the boys weren’t in favor of this plan, they reluctantly followed. When night had fallen, we all got dressed in our sundays best and hit the town! We went to a club scene called Carloca Da Gema where we listened to live music, had a few drinks, and danced the night away. To enter into the club, you have to keep hold of a sheet of paper with your name included with the drinks/food you’ve ordered. You keep this so that when you leave you don’t have a fee of about R$500 for losing it.When I told the man at the door my name he wrote down “Rita”. So I was Rita for the night. I’m really bad at staying out late, though. I was doing the head bob by about 12:30 while my family was wide awake having a blast. To wake me up a bit, Tiago grabbed me to dance! What a guy right? The cab ride home was basically like a mario-cart ride. Makes life interesting.
RIO DE JANEIRO
DAY THIRTEEN, January 5th
On the tenth day of our travels, My Dad, Jenna, Michael, and I woke up as the sun rose. We made our way down the streets, finally a day with the sun in the sky, and found a cab driver who would drive us to the train station. To reiterate to the cab driver of the destination we would like to be brought to, my father proceeded to hold his arms out and yell “CHRISTO, CHRISTO?” For some reason, people like my Dad think that by speaking in a loud voice with a slight accent will break a language barrier.. why? Well I’m not sure, but it was funny to watch. We first took a cab to the train station. There we pilled into yet another van half way up the mountain. Half way up the mountain we waited in line for tickets to ANOTHER van and waited in another line for that to arrive… then we took an elevator and an escalator and stairs and there it was, the Christo Redentor. Quite a bit of steps to see this monumental landmark known to be one of the new seven wonders of the world. It was quite a sight. A lot different than from seeing it from the beach.
When we were finished taking in the sights, we decided to share a few Mango Sucos at the cafe before heading back. Definitely one of my favorite Brazilian treats. We finished our drinks and decided to head back down the mountain. We waited for about 45 minutes in the hot sun with the line not moving before we decided to walk down the mountain a bit to see what the hold up was. The traffic was stopped. Absolutely no cars were moving. Our instincts told us that this was going to be a problem for a long time… so we proceeded to walk down the mountain. We walked for about 30 minutes until we reached a part where the cars were cleared and hailed a cab down. We were lucky we got back by noon!
It’s a funny thing about vacation, because little time is really spent relaxing. There are so many things to do in so little time that most of the time is spent getting from place to place with little to no time in between to catch your breath. I didn’t mind though, it was all part of the adventure. Soon after arriving back at the condo, we were out the door again. This time we met our tour guide outside of the hotel where President Obama and his family stayed, the Copacabana Palace. There, we rode in a crowded, hot van….. This was probably my least favorite part about my trip!! I took a head count and there were 25 passengers in our van… My mom and Jenna were lucky to grab the last two seats while the rest of us hovered over… I was small enough where I didn’t need to crouch down. My height is finally coming in handy!!!
After a what seemed like a long trip, we finally got to stretch our legs at our destination. We arrived at the largest Favela in Rio, Rocinha, where we got to step inside the life of a truly different culture. We took a tour with a company called Favela Adventures who use their money that they make with this program to give back to their community. The people who operate the tours live in the Rocinha Favela, so who better than to stand behind and get the real information from than locals?? A lot of people are unsure of what a Favela is. It’s basically a Brazilian slum. Favela’s can be found all over Brazil, but the one we happend to visit was the largest favela in Brazil. As we walked through Rocinha, we saw the people who live there, the close spaces, and the different lifestyle. During part of the tour, we were brought to a rooftop where we all sat in a circle and learned the history of the Rocinha Favela. The Favela was run by a drug lord. The people who live in the favela respect and truly love the drug lords because they protect them. If someone steals your bike, you tell the drug lords and they will get you your bike back. There are rules within the favela that people must abide. You cannot beat women or children, steal, etc. The drug lords composed something called the Favela Justice which is something used when a person in the favela breaks one of their rules. For example, a man beat his daughter and the drug lords came to kill him, but the mother told him instead she’d like him to recieve the favela justice. Everywhere that man when he was attacked and kicked by the people living in the favela until he couldn’t walk or respond normally. The government and police do nothing to protect the people, so you can maybe better see why they respect the drug lords. It’s do or die. This particular favela has been “pacified” by the police and is no longer run by the drug lords.
To learn more about the Rocinha Favela, I will post the link to the Favela Adventure tours that we went on: http://favelatour.org/about/rocinha/
RIO DE JANEIRO
DAY FOURTEEN, January 6th
On our last day in Rio, my Mom, Dad, Kelli, Mike and I woke up early and walked down to a bike station to rent some bikes where we would travel to Sugar Loaf. Unfortunately we were unable to rent the bikes, so we split up- Mom and Dad taking a cab to Ipanema where my Dad later explained that he had been taken on “Barb’s death march”, while Kelli, Mike and I, determined, took a cab to Sugar Loaf. We took two cable cars up to Sugar loaf in search of some wild life. Specifically monkeys. It was a very hot day, but that didn’t stop us on our hunt for the furry. With our camera’s out, and our best monkey calls on deck, we ventured all over sugar loaf with some bread in our pockets. Because it was so packed with crowds of people that day, the monkeys must have been a little shy. The only creature we saw was a lizard that Michael named “Sam”. Even though we didn’t see any monkeys on our trip to Sugar Loaf, we had a really fun time together. Since it was our last, sunny day in Rio we all took advantage by spending the day at the beach with our feet in the sand. It was the most relaxing treat to an end of a chain of many events.
After a short relaxing period at the beach, we scurried back to our condo where we packed up for the airport. I showered and packed the fastest so that I could hurry back down to the tents outside our place. One of my favorite parts about Rio was tent shopping. Handmade items from truly amazing vendors. Although I couldn’t understand their kind words, their smile and attitudes were what made it come clearly across. That and Kelli translating……. She told me a lot of the people greeted us with “My daughter,” which I thought was so refreshing and sweet. After picking up a few last minute gifts for friends, it was time to head to the airport where we would soon land back in Curitiba.
CURITIBA/ MORRETES/ PARANAGUÁ
DAY FIFTEEN, January 7th
Our last full day in Brazil finally came. We were both sad and excited. We were sad to leave this beautiful place where we made so many wonderful memories and sad to have to say goodbye to Kelli and Tiago. We were happy to get back to our routine… but not the snow. I’m still in shock of the cold. Anyway, we spent this day waking up in a cool hostil in Curitiba and then making our way to Morretes to shop. Morretes is a cute little town not too far from Paranagua where Tiago grew up. The town, though small, had so much character and charm to it. It reminded me of a place back home, it was the Brazilian version of Stillwater! It was excruciatingly hot that day, so we enjoyed ourselves by cooling off with some mango sucos and shopping while the guys shared some cervejas.
After our fun filled time in Morretes, we took the fun to Tiago’s hometown of Paranaguá. Again, while the girls shopped the boys shared some more cervejas. It was even hotter in Paranaguá, so we took a break in an air conditioned café (which is very rare to find by the way) and had some lunch. I really feel for Kelli, I do, because this whole entire trip she has had to play the translator to a very impatient American family. After about ten minutes of indecisiveness on what to order and translating multiple times, we decided to just get what Kelli was getting. And it was very good!
Our last night was spent at Tiago’s mother, Ceres’, home. Much of the time I was there, I was playing with Duda. I can’t get enough of that little girl!! She is so creative and full of energy. We played a little hide and seek, but most of the time Duda wanted to play her own version of grown up “games”. So her idea of fun is sweeping and pretending to be maids. She was yelling at me in all sorts of portuguese saying, “Come on!” and “Lets get to work, maid!” It was really adorable. We had a nice last dinner there, and said our goodbyes. It was very sad to leave our new family. Duda and I had an especially hard time saying goodbye. she kept saying “Chia Doooodle, Chia Doodle!!” and crying. It kind of broke my heart a little bit. And it was adorable that she was calling me Chia Doodle since the majority of the trip I was “Chia Kachelyn”.
DAY SIXTEEN, January 8th
This day, out of all days, was most bizarre. We toured what a place that looked like the conservatory at Como Zoo and then went to the Municipal Market and ate some lunch. After doing some normal activities, we dropped Mom off at a nearby mall and headed to a tattoo parlor. Yes, a tattoo parlor. The whole trip we had been talking about getting family tattoos. It just seemed so right doing it on a trip like this in Brazil. It was almost like we had to do it. We spent many nights sketching up ideas and having conversations back and forth about what we should do. We wanted to incorporate family and faith in an artistic and beautiful way. Though we were all excited of the idea, Michael was most passionate about this out of all of us. at 1:30pm, we arrived to the Organic Tattoo in Curitiba where Tiago has had a few tattoos done. We found out that Tiago’s guy wasn’t able to get the job done, but there was someone else would might be able to. Michael handed over his sketched while Tiago and Kelli translated his idea, and he told us to come back in one hour when he would have a professional sketch completed.
When we arrived back, we saw the amazing design he had created. It said “Famila Fidelis” with the Christ Redeemer hovering over the words. It was beautiful and truly something that I don’t think anyone would regret getting. Michael was doing this for us. It was fun watching him get “tatted up”. I looked over and saw my Dad doing the head-bob. We asked him how he could be sleeping while his son was getting a tattoo and his response was, “the ZZ-ing of the gun lulled me to sleep”. Naturally, I took a picture of him sleeping. He can sleep anywhere, anytime, even when his son is getting a tattoo!! We only had 2 hours before we needed to head to the airport to catch our flight home.. When he finished we all took a look and were a little in shock of how large the tattoo had evolved after the shading was played in… but still, it was amazing. Just something to get used to. The fact that this was done 2.5 hours before we needed to be to the airport is pretty impressive.
Picking Mom up was the fun part. She got into the van, sitting right next to her son, and didn’t ask him about the tattoo out of fear for her little boy. Mike kissed her on the cheek and told her he loved her and revealed to her his surprise, only after telling her that it was a little bigger than he had anticipated. I’ll attach a video of the reaction soon:
Saying that this trip was amazing just doesn’t quite cover it all. It was the best trip of my life. All the things that I saw and did paired with sharing them all with my family is more than I could have ever asked for. After spending two weeks with Kelli and Tiago together in Brazil just showed us all a little insight as to their lifestyle. The good and the bad. But those two together are the definition of a love story. I love them both so much and cannot wait to kick some butt with a brand new lawyer to bring them home to the US.
Goodbyes are never easy, but at least we get to look forward to a new hello.
Oh.. and Chipotle was our first stop before we even got home. We missed burritos.
Hope you enjoyed! Stay tuned for some added photos and videos. If you would like to get email notifications for new posts and changes please follow my blog!
Now enjoy some Brazilian musica!