Viva Brasil!

Carnival is five-day party

Carnival is five-day party

CARNIVAL: Ellie’s favourite ‘bloco’ during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
Fruit at a market in Sao Paulo.
Aretusa, Regina and some of the flower shop and funeral parlour owners went to see Ellie off at the bus station.
The Carnival team with Ellie at far right.
Hidden away from the carnival crowds, Praia Sossio Beach near Niteroi.
Ellie out for a beer with medical students Pedro and Rafael in Niteroi, overlooking downtown Rio.
Ellie riding the horse of a cowboy she found at a petrol station while hitching a ride (through a Facebook rideshare) to Araxa.
Street festival.
Partying on Igor’s rooftop in Rio.

AFTER numerous gap years and changing from a law conjoint degree, I completed my environmental engineering degree from the University of Auckland at the end of 2015.

Then I went travelling in South America for three months, returning home last month to take up my first real job.

I went to Brazil to fulfil a long-held goal to learn Portuguese. My inspiration to learn the language came from the Brazilian friends I made during my high school exchange year to Switzerland in 2008.

During my three months away I based myself in a small mining town in the interior called Araxa in Minhas Gerais (in the state of Milk, above the state of Sao Paulo Brazil).

My host parents were Amaro and Eva Gomes (parents of Isabela, my best friend from my high school exchange to Switzerland).

They were well-connected and by the second day I had three jobs lined up.

English is hard to escape in Brazil so I left the big cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro until the end of my trip when I had a good grasp of the language.

I experienced incredible hospitality in Araxa — people were always welcoming and ensured that I was well-fed, in fact over-fed. I also had many over-welcoming experiences too — one day a local dragged me on a walk and presented me to every open shop and also her physiotherapist appointment.

The flower shop and funeral parlour owners for whom I worked — Pedro, Regina and their daughters, Aretusa and Karina — became a second family for me in Araxa and drowned me in kind gestures.

At times I felt uncomfortable about receiving so much kindness but I learned it was a sign that people liked me. Trips with the flower shop crew included bike riding, a coffee plantation visit, book launch, a weekend in Ribeirao Preto, mineral baths and a family ranch which had a wall-free Tarzan-like house covered in hanging vines next to a river used for fishing.

Helping with funeral preparations

The most interesting experience that my second Araxian family gave me was watching and helping with the funeral preparation for a 65-year-old lady who had died two hours earlier. I observed the removal of blood and replacement with chemicals, cutting clothes at the back and placing them on the body, make-up, jewellery and hairstyle in a way requested by the family and finally covering the box with a flower arrangement.

Life in Araxa was very different from New Zealand — fireworks go off at any time of the day, first cousin-to-cousin marriages are well-accepted, continual reference to God in general conversation, the slow bureaucratic procedure of getting anything done, the acceptance of drink-driving, buying and collecting but not drinking wine, washing dishes with cold water, people coming inside restaurants and knocking on house doors to sell anything from brooms to Brazilian lottery tickets, and very late starts to meals with friends — we were invited to one lunch at noon and did not eat till 4pm.

When I left Araxa, all the flower shop workers turned up at the bus station at 1am with a commercially-printed banner and flowers to send me off.

After an overnight bus and a flight from Belo Horizonte I arrived in hot, happening Rio de Janeiro. What an awesome airport — situated in the centre of the city, aeroplanes fly low, just inches off touching moving boats in the Rio inlet.

I headed off with my host Rafael (a friend of a Kiwi friend) on the Niteroi ferry which had wonderful views. Rafael’s apartment, 50m from the main beach, was full of people including two travelling Lithuanians. I ate freshly-baked carrot cake while Rafael and his Brazilian friends jammed (played musical instruments) for three hours.

Later that night we drank beers from a rocky beach-side bar and then headed to a crowded park and restaurant area for dinner. Groups of people were clapping rhythms with dancers in the middle of circles and there was also a samba school band. Every second person seemed to be involved with a samba school either on drums or a brass instrument. Brazilian culture is rich in music, dance and happiness.

Happy in the favelas

There may be a lot of poverty in Brazil but that does not mean people are sad. In fact some people say that the happiest people are in the favelas, the Brazilian slums. Middle class people actually sometimes choose to live in the slums. Electricity is stolen, rent is free and there are only the water bills to pay.

Back at the house, I slept without a cover. During my whole week in Rio the sun shone, temperatures were 33 degrees plus and the humidity was high.

One day we went for lunch to Rafael’s flatmate Johnnie’s parents’ house nearby. The beachfront apartment in Niteroi was on the 6th floor with amazing sea views and artwork.

The feast cooked by a maid was divine and included two mains and three desserts. We were spoilt for food choice and quality in this international city.

With full tummies we headed to Praia Sossio, a small, exclusive beach with white sand and trees. We hired an umbrella and at the end of the day bought an octopus from a local fisherman.

On the way home we had a real movie-like experience — a motorbike followed by a police car swerved around our car and the police pulled out guns. John, our driver, hit the accelerator to get past.

Crowd modelling for Rio 2016 Olympics

The firm I work for now (Beca, New Zealand’s largest employee-owned engineering consultancy) is doing crowd modelling for the Rio 2016 Olympics and another super-cool thing I did in Rio was to meet up with our senior transportation engineer, Martin Peat, to have a tour of the Rio Olympics office.

The Pao de Acucar gondola to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain has incredible views but the city has many high locations with great views of sea and city at no cost.

I went to a friend Igor´s house in Santa Teresa which was accessed by very steep, winding cobble-stoned roads. I would be terrified to ascend them in the rain.

The house was wicked. The front area was rented out as a car park and the building was 70s-styled. We sat on cushions on the flat rooftop drinking, eating a Brazilian barbecue and singing and playing Brazilian music all night. There were 360 views of Rio, including the statue of Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado mountain.

We also tried to find a street parade but it had been closed down due to a shooting. Interestingly enough, I felt safe in Rio. Everywhere I went, I had no trouble. I often walked alone in the city, day and night.

I was in Rio for Carnival time which is very famous in Brazil. It’s traditionally a Christian holiday (51 days before Easter), but Brazilian Carnival is five days of partying. My preconception of Rio Carnival was watching an expensive giant float parade with famous singers performing. In reality, carnival is on the streets (samba de bloco). There are 100s of them with many different music styles, themes and crowds following them, from a couple of hundred to a record 5 million in 2012.

At each parade we danced, walked for miles among the big sweaty crowds and admired the incredible costumes.

My favourite bloco started at 8am and went until to midnight. The best part was under the bridges. The whole city shuts down to car traffic and sings to the drum beat.

Drugs seem to be in common use here and marijuana, although illegal, is openly smoked among the crowds. But during the week I was there I saw no violence or any property defaced.

In terms of food, although the city shuts down for carnival, many luncheonettes or snack bars stay open and poor people walk around with carts selling water, beer, alcohol shots and food. They also like to collect empty bottles and cans as they get money back from them.

Going to the toilet was a problem. Where do you go when there are no public toilets? One day I paid $2 to wait in a 50-minute line for the KFC toilets. But all other times it was in side streets. Viva Carnival!

After a day with friends at Itacoatiara, an incredible beach with exciting dumping waves, I left Rio and headed back to New Zealand for my next adventure — working life in Wellington. I have a graduate role in Beca’s transport team.

I am super-stoked to be back in this beautiful country I call home and believe I made a great choice in moving to the capital.

AFTER numerous gap years and changing from a law conjoint degree, I completed my environmental engineering degree from the University of Auckland at the end of 2015.

Then I went travelling in South America for three months, returning home last month to take up my first real job.

I went to Brazil to fulfil a long-held goal to learn Portuguese. My inspiration to learn the language came from the Brazilian friends I made during my high school exchange year to Switzerland in 2008.

During my three months away I based myself in a small mining town in the interior called Araxa in Minhas Gerais (in the state of Milk, above the state of Sao Paulo Brazil).

My host parents were Amaro and Eva Gomes (parents of Isabela, my best friend from my high school exchange to Switzerland).

They were well-connected and by the second day I had three jobs lined up.

English is hard to escape in Brazil so I left the big cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro until the end of my trip when I had a good grasp of the language.

I experienced incredible hospitality in Araxa — people were always welcoming and ensured that I was well-fed, in fact over-fed. I also had many over-welcoming experiences too — one day a local dragged me on a walk and presented me to every open shop and also her physiotherapist appointment.

The flower shop and funeral parlour owners for whom I worked — Pedro, Regina and their daughters, Aretusa and Karina — became a second family for me in Araxa and drowned me in kind gestures.

At times I felt uncomfortable about receiving so much kindness but I learned it was a sign that people liked me. Trips with the flower shop crew included bike riding, a coffee plantation visit, book launch, a weekend in Ribeirao Preto, mineral baths and a family ranch which had a wall-free Tarzan-like house covered in hanging vines next to a river used for fishing.

Helping with funeral preparations

The most interesting experience that my second Araxian family gave me was watching and helping with the funeral preparation for a 65-year-old lady who had died two hours earlier. I observed the removal of blood and replacement with chemicals, cutting clothes at the back and placing them on the body, make-up, jewellery and hairstyle in a way requested by the family and finally covering the box with a flower arrangement.

Life in Araxa was very different from New Zealand — fireworks go off at any time of the day, first cousin-to-cousin marriages are well-accepted, continual reference to God in general conversation, the slow bureaucratic procedure of getting anything done, the acceptance of drink-driving, buying and collecting but not drinking wine, washing dishes with cold water, people coming inside restaurants and knocking on house doors to sell anything from brooms to Brazilian lottery tickets, and very late starts to meals with friends — we were invited to one lunch at noon and did not eat till 4pm.

When I left Araxa, all the flower shop workers turned up at the bus station at 1am with a commercially-printed banner and flowers to send me off.

After an overnight bus and a flight from Belo Horizonte I arrived in hot, happening Rio de Janeiro. What an awesome airport — situated in the centre of the city, aeroplanes fly low, just inches off touching moving boats in the Rio inlet.

I headed off with my host Rafael (a friend of a Kiwi friend) on the Niteroi ferry which had wonderful views. Rafael’s apartment, 50m from the main beach, was full of people including two travelling Lithuanians. I ate freshly-baked carrot cake while Rafael and his Brazilian friends jammed (played musical instruments) for three hours.

Later that night we drank beers from a rocky beach-side bar and then headed to a crowded park and restaurant area for dinner. Groups of people were clapping rhythms with dancers in the middle of circles and there was also a samba school band. Every second person seemed to be involved with a samba school either on drums or a brass instrument. Brazilian culture is rich in music, dance and happiness.

Happy in the favelas

There may be a lot of poverty in Brazil but that does not mean people are sad. In fact some people say that the happiest people are in the favelas, the Brazilian slums. Middle class people actually sometimes choose to live in the slums. Electricity is stolen, rent is free and there are only the water bills to pay.

Back at the house, I slept without a cover. During my whole week in Rio the sun shone, temperatures were 33 degrees plus and the humidity was high.

One day we went for lunch to Rafael’s flatmate Johnnie’s parents’ house nearby. The beachfront apartment in Niteroi was on the 6th floor with amazing sea views and artwork.

The feast cooked by a maid was divine and included two mains and three desserts. We were spoilt for food choice and quality in this international city.

With full tummies we headed to Praia Sossio, a small, exclusive beach with white sand and trees. We hired an umbrella and at the end of the day bought an octopus from a local fisherman.

On the way home we had a real movie-like experience — a motorbike followed by a police car swerved around our car and the police pulled out guns. John, our driver, hit the accelerator to get past.

Crowd modelling for Rio 2016 Olympics

The firm I work for now (Beca, New Zealand’s largest employee-owned engineering consultancy) is doing crowd modelling for the Rio 2016 Olympics and another super-cool thing I did in Rio was to meet up with our senior transportation engineer, Martin Peat, to have a tour of the Rio Olympics office.

The Pao de Acucar gondola to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain has incredible views but the city has many high locations with great views of sea and city at no cost.

I went to a friend Igor´s house in Santa Teresa which was accessed by very steep, winding cobble-stoned roads. I would be terrified to ascend them in the rain.

The house was wicked. The front area was rented out as a car park and the building was 70s-styled. We sat on cushions on the flat rooftop drinking, eating a Brazilian barbecue and singing and playing Brazilian music all night. There were 360 views of Rio, including the statue of Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado mountain.

We also tried to find a street parade but it had been closed down due to a shooting. Interestingly enough, I felt safe in Rio. Everywhere I went, I had no trouble. I often walked alone in the city, day and night.

I was in Rio for Carnival time which is very famous in Brazil. It’s traditionally a Christian holiday (51 days before Easter), but Brazilian Carnival is five days of partying. My preconception of Rio Carnival was watching an expensive giant float parade with famous singers performing. In reality, carnival is on the streets (samba de bloco). There are 100s of them with many different music styles, themes and crowds following them, from a couple of hundred to a record 5 million in 2012.

At each parade we danced, walked for miles among the big sweaty crowds and admired the incredible costumes.

My favourite bloco started at 8am and went until to midnight. The best part was under the bridges. The whole city shuts down to car traffic and sings to the drum beat.

Drugs seem to be in common use here and marijuana, although illegal, is openly smoked among the crowds. But during the week I was there I saw no violence or any property defaced.

In terms of food, although the city shuts down for carnival, many luncheonettes or snack bars stay open and poor people walk around with carts selling water, beer, alcohol shots and food. They also like to collect empty bottles and cans as they get money back from them.

Going to the toilet was a problem. Where do you go when there are no public toilets? One day I paid $2 to wait in a 50-minute line for the KFC toilets. But all other times it was in side streets. Viva Carnival!

After a day with friends at Itacoatiara, an incredible beach with exciting dumping waves, I left Rio and headed back to New Zealand for my next adventure — working life in Wellington. I have a graduate role in Beca’s transport team.

I am super-stoked to be back in this beautiful country I call home and believe I made a great choice in moving to the capital.

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