Thursday, May 3, 2012

Final Carnival

Text: Brazil and La Plata: the Personal Record of a Cruise by Charles Samuel Stewart

The city of Rio, from Brazil and La Plata.
“The first impression made on an intelligent stranger on landing at Rio would, probably, arise from the numbers, evident difference in condition, the variety of employments, dress, and undress, almost to nakedness, of the negro and slave population.  Such figures, such groupings, such costumes, as are exhibited by these on every side, would be difficult to picture or describe.” Pg 72

The city of Rio de Janeiro teems with populations of all kinds, as everyone comes together to celebrate the famous Carnival.  Since the arrival of Christianity here in Brazil, the beginning of Lent has been celebrated by the huge blowout of costumes, music, parades, and festivities.  We were so lucky to spend our final destination in Rio just in time for the world famous Carnival.  The morning began before the sun rose, with the distant beat of steel drums and rhythm instruments woke us, and we rushed to the main boulevards for the parades. Women in various stages of undress flaunt their bodies in rhythmic dances through the streets, leaving little regard for customary modesty.  Samba troupes parade through in spectacular shows of talent.  On the side roads, there are many smaller parades in which the general public is invited to dance and participate.  The elaborate costumes of the professional dancers include feathers, beads, sparkles, headdresses, and skirts of epic proportions.  Many of the samba schools prepare for the event year round. The party occupies the entire city for a whole week, and goes late into the night before starting up again before sunrise.  We were able to wander and watch for hours, fighting through the cheering crowds to see the most celebrated dance troupes as well as experiencing some of the smaller parades and parties away from the main one. 
The magic of Carnival.

There is a grandiose amount of consumption throughout Carnival, as locals and tourists alike see it as a time to entirely cut loose before the limited practices of Lent, when meat and other indulgences are not allowed.  We ate roasted lamb, spicy rice, freshly caught fish, and the traditional meat dish of feijoada. Pastries called bolos are stuffed with meat, fruit, custard, and other fillings depending on personal preference, and bolos carts line the streets.  We gave no regard to mealtimes or hunger, and simply tasted anything desirable throughout the celebration of carnival.  The dancing and cheering is so exhausting, anyway, that the excessive amounts of food are almost necessary and serve as a welcome break from the festival. 

Exploring the city of Rio during Carnival is not exactly easy, since the millions of residents are all crowded into the main streets and the corner pockets of the city are all but deserted.  Exploring as much as we could in our spare time away from Carnival, we saw a colorful and diverse city, built into the hillsides to accommodate its rapidly growing population.  The informal sector of both employment and housing is huge here, which creates problems for the government but gives the city its living feel, as under ever bridge or around any corner is a thriving little slum village, its own world away from the city and the Carnival itself.

Leaving Rio, we will return to America by plane and complete our tour of the world.  We began in the frigid glaciers of Alaska and explored every climate, language, religion, culture, and history imaginable.  I will never again learn so much as I have in the past year, and will never forget the memories made on this trip.  My experiences will be my guide for the rest of my life, opening my eyes to the unimaginable realm of possibilities before me in this amazing world.

Playtime Down Under

Following the Equator, A Journey Around the World by Mark Twain, Vol. 1, 1903.

“Presently, a quarter of a mile away you would see a blinding splash or explosion of light on the water—a flash so sudden and so astonishingly brilliant that it would make you catch your breath; then that blotch of light would instantly extend itself and take the corkscrew shape and imposing length of the fabled sea-serpent…it was porpoises, porpoises aglow with phosphorescent light. “ Pg 107
Inscription in Mark Twain's Following the Equator.
Sydney Harbor: “It was shaped somewhat like an oak-leaf—a roomy sheet of lovely blue water, with narrow off-shoots of water running up into the country on both sides between long fingers of land, high wooden ridges with sides sloped like graves.” Pg 112
“He said that the kangaroo had pockets, and carried its young in them when it couldn’t get apples.  And he said that the emu was as big as an ostrich, and looked like one, and had an amorphous appetite and would eat bricks.  Also, that the dingo was not a dingo at all, but just a wild dog…” page 101

Porpoises love to play in the wake of
boats as they come into the harbor.
We went south from Indonesia to the old English colony of Australia, known for pristine beaches, exotic wildlife, and a recreational mentality that pervades the entire country.  It is a perfect place to relax and adventure through the various ecosystems they have to offer. I am most drawn to the opportunities afforded by the ocean, which in addition to swimming include snorkeling and fish watching, fishing, diving, sailing, and surfing.  The crystal blue ocean floor is covered with miles of teeming coral reefs, tiny worlds full of fish, crustaceans, plants, and more.  Larger ocean mammals, such as dolphins, whales, sharks, and big fish also lurk under the water’s surface, coming up to feed or play as needed.  On our ride in, we were accompanied by dolphins, which love to swim in the wake of the big ships that come into the Sydney Harbor.  These dolphins followed us in, diving and twisting at the bow of the boat, never missing a beat or falling behind, despite our speeds.  It was a fantastic way to be introduced to the playful culture here in Australia, as the entire crew stopped arrival preparations to enjoy the presence of the smart, cunning water creatures.

From the white sand beaches of Sydney, a visitor is within arm’s reach of any recreational activity imaginable.  Aboriginal natives walk the shores, touting tours, surf lessons, dive equipment, and more, for extremely low prices.  We rented long wooden surfboards, and floated amongst the small waves close to shore attempting to balance and ride a wave into the shore, as many of the young Australians do with grace and ease.  While surfing was not my special talent, I spent many hours kicking above the fragile and beautiful coral reefs with a mask and snorkel rented for a few cents on the beach.  The variety of colors and creatures right below my eyes was incredible. 

The unique wildlife of the Australian continent is not confined to the ocean, of course.  Just a few hours past Sydney is the “Outback,” a remote landscape that covers much of interior Australia.  Kangaroos, dingoes, koalas, emus, and other animals run freely here, which causes some danger to the traveler.  Even seemingly sweet kangaroos will get angry and defensive, and use their powerful hopping legs to deliver a mighty blow to any person or animal who disturbs their habitat.  We were careful to keep a safe distance when observing these unique creatures in the wild.

Australia is a unique, confined ecosystem where recreation rules and people, plants, and animals coexist in a mutually beneficial balance that exists nowhere else in the world.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Recuperation in Java, Indonesia

Text: Life in Java, with sketches of the Javanese by William Barrington d'Almeida, 1864.
The Javanese, Life in Java
As the road was broader now and more even, we proceeded at a much more rapid rate, passing through jungles of lofty umbrageous forest trees, their sides and branches covered with lovely parasites and creepers, under which, in some parts, were coffee plantations; their white flowers something like those of the Jessamine at a distance, impregnating the air with delicious perfume.” Page 138-139 

As we near the Pacific Ocean once again, we’ve nearly come full circle on our own exploration of this world.  The experiences have been one in a lifetime, and we’ve done and seen things that we never even imagined could exist.  After all these months of planes, trains, and automobiles, not to mention horse, ship, or foot, we are feeling quite exhausted as we make our way through the last legs of our trip.  We journeyed over to the island nation of Indonesia, stayed in the dirty, crowded city of Jakarta for a few days before escaping to the relative quiet of the Java Island.  What better way to rejuvenate, we thought, then a stay on the famous coffee plantations of the island?
Javanese coffee beans after harvest and treatment.

Java coffee is world famous for pioneering the world coffee industry and for its strong, sweet distinctive flavor.  Some of the larger plantations, which have been in operation since the days of Dutch colonialization, offer tours and stays for visitors such as ourselves, who want to see where their treasured coffee comes from.  The plantations are huge, and employ hundreds of native Indonesians for the backbreaking labor they require.  Harvest of the coffee beans, called berries, is done in the late summer months and then begins the months-long process of drying, husking, storing, and finally packaging.  The coffee is shipped to international ports all over the world, and is Indonesia’s chief export. The plantation had several buildings of rudimentary machinery, such as a threshing and husking machine and storage silos, but much of the work is still done by hand to maintain the pristine reputation of this variety.

Rainforest occupants include the
Sumatran Orangutan
In addition to coffee exportation, Indonesia is also home to a wonderful rainforest filled with all kinds of exotic flora and fauna.  Growth of the coffee industry, as well as logging and mining, is starting to threaten some of the areas of rainforest, so our tour of Bali’s wildlife preserve was very cautious, so as not to disturb the revegetation there. In well-equipped forest buggies, we caravanned through an old mining trail, stopping to observe orangutans swinging in the canopy, poisonous frogs darting up trees, screaming monkeys, snakes longer and thicker than a grown man’s arm, and so much more.  Wild boars especially cross the path frequently, paying little attention to the human presence. The many-layered rainforest never sleeps, as something is always moving, shrieking, growing, or eating.  The diverse plant life comes alive in itself, with vivid colors and scents that perfume the forest.

The tropical journey was a spectacular one, and the colors, smells, and sounds of the jungle will stay with us for years when we think of the price of habitat destruction there for the simple luxuries offered at home.