Hey Buckeye Nation!!
It has been one week since I boarded a plane in Columbus and headed to Brazil with my 16 other fellow travelers!

I am traveling with some fantastic fellow Buckeye athletes: Tina Hollowell (women's ice hockey), Kris Done (men's gymnastics), and Andy McDonald (men's fencing).

I would like to share with you some of the events that have occurred in the past seven exciting days. I will also try to keep you updated on my travels twice a week if the Wi-Fi connection holds up as we continue our travels.

Photo Gallery

Thursday, May 2
Our group of 17 students and our Profesor Lucia (or as I like to call her ,"Professora Madrè" because she looks like a mother hen with all of her little ducklings following behind her), departed from Columbus and landed in Miami. After a long flight we were able to grab a quick dinner at Wendy's (for me: 3 quarter pounders and a large fries) that our strength coach Brian Unverferth would surely be proud of!!

The flight from Miami to São Paulo was not nearly as calm as our earlier tour of the skies. It felt like we were flying through the Bermuda Triangle while on a Cedar Point roller coaster! After far too many stomach drops, and a few passengers breathing into bags, we finally managed to fall asleep.

Friday, May 3
After our 10-hour flight, we were greeted at the São Paulo airport by the very nice Professora Giselle, who teaches at a university in San Jose do Rio Preto (UNESP). Our group then boarded a bus and rode for 8 hours from São Paulo to Rio Preto. The scenery was gorgeous along the ride: rolling hills and green landscapes painted beautiful backgrounds as we carved our way through the hills, taking periodic naps along the way.

Once we arrived at the hotel, everyone took much needed showers and regrouped before dinner at a local pizza joint, "Pizzaria Luna". Taimur and I split a grande steak pizza. Our group seemed to be getting along well, which is great because we definitely didn't want to be on the next MTV real world drama documentary.

Saturday, May 4
After sleeping soundly in our child-sized beds at the Grand Rio Hotel, we were greeted by a wonderful breakfast of freshly squeezed juices and fruits which Brazil is famous for, along with other pastries and eggs.

Later, we had a history lesson about the colonization of Brazil. We learned Brazil was the last South American country to abolish slavery, and about the impact this has had on individuals throughout the country.

After our history lesson we toured the city, a local market, and a municipal building. Rio Preto is not a tourist town so many locals were fascinated to see us and ask us questions. Portuguese is the language spoken here, but some individuals speak English, including Professora Madrè and 3 other members of the group! Ordering food and having conversations is not complete without a game of charades, but the local people have greeted us with open arms and are very patient. It seems hospitality and patience are two great traits of most of the Brazilians we have encountered on our journey.

Sunday, May 5

Today we woke up early and took a bus for an hour to a gigantic water park! We floated around in the lazy river, tried to surf, and ripped down the slides. The biggest thing that I took away from my experience (other than a massive sunburn) was the fact that rules are minimal in Brazil. Lifeguards were rarely seen, except at the tops of giant slides, and pretty much anything was okay as long as you didn't get hurt or endanger others. Let's just say common sense is used instead of whistles.

We were exhausted after 8 hours in the sun, and took the bus back to the hotel. Andy McDonald and I and a few others went to a burger joint for dinner. After that, we were all extremely tired from our fun day in the sun, so we called it a night.

Monday, May 6
Today we were able to head to the local university, UNESP, which is a very highly regarded institution in Brazil. It has a very small campus, not much larger than my own high school campus, but it has branches which spread out across Brazil. The university is free for students because the Brazilian government supports the university.

We learned that most elementary and high schools here are private and expensive, and are much better than the public schools. This creates a divide in the education system, where the wealthy receive an excellent education and have more opportunities because they can afford to send their children to private high schools. To try to equalize the society, new legislation has been enacted in the last two years to take steps toward affirmative action. This will allow more opportunities for the poorer people, who have traditionally not been able to attend universities.

After our lecture we went to lunch at a cafeteria-style restaurant where people are charged by weight of the food on the plate. Needless to say, some of us stocked up on a pile of fantastic meat and fresh fruits. The beef industry is large here in Brazil, and I could taste the freshness and flavor in each bite.

Lunch was delicious, and our next stop was a local IT company that specializes in software for radio stations. The IT industry is booming with the economic growth of Brazil, and is being boosted by the upcoming Olympic games and the World Cup for soccer. Our speaker was very impressive. He told us the story of his life, beginning with a difficult childhood: he was orphaned and he raised his younger sister. He is truly a remarkable human being and an absolute success story!

Upon getting back to the hotel, Andy, Dylan, and I took a taxi to a local lake and chased some capivarras around. I am kidding, these capivarras are the worlds largest rodents, and should not be fooled with. They look like a cross between a rat and a horse that grew up a bit too close to the nuclear plant, and they know how to swim too!

After playing charades with the locals to figure out how to get back to our hotel on a city bus, we went out to dinner with the group. We had some amazing chicken and rice, and shared stories of our day!

Brazil is really growing on me. The food, the culture, and the overall atmosphere is wonderful! The people are friendly and hospitable, and the 85-90 degree weather in their winter season is not too shabby!

Tuesday, May 7
We began the day as usual, with a huge breakfast at the hotel with fresh watermelon juice, mango juice, orange juice, and of course a smorgasbord of other delicious food. We then discussed some chapters of the book we have been reading about Brazil, "The Once and Future Country," by Marshall C. Eakin.

Our group then boarded our bus to UNESP, where we met the dean and vice-dean of the university. We had a discussion with them about the university offerings and their views on the policies and foreign exchange programs.

We then went to an authentic Brazilian Steak house. I really don't have words to describe the experience, other than that it really was heaven on earth. Skewers of sizzzling, juicy meat were brought around to each table, and the waiters cut off slices of perfectly caramelized beast onto our plates. All-you-can-eat filet mignon, strip steaks, quail, salmon, chicken hearts, octopus, and bacon-wrapped tenderloins from any animal you can think of (and some that you hadn't considered!)

We all ate a little too much because everything was so delicious. After consuming about 5 pounds of meat I was pretty full, but with the help of my groups' cheers, I forced myself to polish off another steak just for good measure. They had to roll me out of the restaurant and on to the bus!

The next stop we made was to an ethanol plant. The company, Nobel Bioenergia, is a gigantic corporation with plants in many different countries across the globe, specializing in sugar and ethanol production. In Brazil, they harvest the plentiful sugar cane crop. They turn the cane into sugar for eating, and ethanol to power many vehicles. The plant was massive. We took a bus from different stations in the mill to see the many different processes. The tour was very interesting and educational for us, and this was was also the first time we had ever eaten sugar cane.

After our tour we went back to UNESP, where we meet up with students who were majoring in English. We discussed the differences between the societies of Brazil and the United States. Many of them were very shy about speaking English, but we encouraged them and they popped right our of their shells. It was a fun and interesting afternoon.

Next we headed to our hotel with Raffi, who a Brazilian student at UNESP, majoring in English translation. He goes everywhere with us and offers assistance when we need it. He is part of our group - Raffi is the man! We were joined by other UNESP English majors. We all went to Vila Dionisio which is a local rock and roll bar. We all had a fun time enjoying the music, the local fare, and playing charades and speaking broken Portuguese while making new friends.

At this rate I am having so much fun I don't know if they will ever get rid of me in Brazil unless they deport me! The people here are fantastic and the food and culture is second to none!

Wednesday, May 8
Today was one of the most rewarding days of the trip thus far! Our group went to a school in an at-risk neighborhood which has a program to help protect poorer children; it is an after-school program to keep the children off of the streets and educate them. The children are 6-15 and they are wonderful. I immediately feel in love with them. The school had an art room, a music room, a computer lab, and my favorite, an outdoor soccer field.

You might be thinking that these kids have it good, with such a fine program, but the building is old, the computers might have been running on Windows 95, and the "soccer field" is a concrete driveway with chain link fencing to keep the balls in play.

We had the most fun playing soccer with them for hours! Our group of college students were getting schooled by these 8-year-old kids and their teacher! Most of the kids were playing with bare feet on the hard cement, dribbling the soccer ball around us and making us look foolish! It was unbelievable and I have no doubt some of these kids may go on to be professional soccer players some day. The only way I could stop them was to grab one child, pick him up, and put him on my shoulders, which made the kids giggle and laugh. Of course, then they all jumped on my back and tackled me! It was an incredible experience!

The kids danced the Sombra for us, and gave us a music lesson and performed for us as well. The little 10-year-olds were amazing with all the percussion instruments and drums. They tried to teach us their rhythmic ways, but I am pretty sure we sounded "off beat" to them!

We also received an art lesson from one of the teachers. (Most of the teachers and workers are volunteers because the program doesn't get very much funding). We learned about graffiti art. The teacher's name is Stan Bellini, you can find him and his fantastic work on Facebook. He is a famous graffiti artist, is paid very well for his street art.

Seeing these kids and interacting with them was a humbling experience. To witness the happiness of the children and the patience of the volunteers was inspiring. I think spending the day with them was beneficial for the kids and for our group. I was truly touched by today's events, and can see myself visiting this place multiple times in my life. I would like to someday be able to come back and build a new school or create a real soccer field for these children.

Hey Buckeye Nation - we have been in Brazil for our second week. I can't believe that our trip is at the halfway point!! The pace had been incredibly fast and filled with so many unbelievable adventures.

Thursday, May 9
Rio Preto is a wonderful city, but after all of the jam-packed days, we were given the morning off from school. We sat by the pool and enjoyed the sun. Our gang split up and grabbed lunch in various places around the city, then jumped on a bus that took us to FATEC. FATEC is a technical school Brazilian students attend, but it differs from technical colleges in the United States because upon graduation, a student can pursue an advanced degree, a Masters, or even a PhD. We met with a group of high school students who attend classes in a special program called Peacar, which is a unique program for underprivileged youth. It allows them to attend classes to gain a better education. This seems to be a constant theme in Brazil: the fact individuals need additional education to better their lives and stay off the streets, but the lack of government funding makes it very difficult for underprivileged kids to have any opportunities. We also continued to learn about the differences between the Brazilian regions, and the children at the school (14-16 year-olds) put on a show of many different cultural dances! We ate with them and chatted in broken Portuguese and charades while they tried to add us on Facebook.

Our group then walked to a different classroom where Giselle's (our native Brazilian Professor) husband, Waldmir, gave us a lecture on Brazil and his area of expertise, agribusiness. Waldmir is the dean of the college, is fluent in English and Portuguese, and is an excellent speaker. The lecture was very interesting and highlighted the fact Brazil still has so much land to develop internally in the county, and is already the world leader in producing many agricultural products. The presentation was very enlightening and it sounds like Brazil has a bright future as it continues to develop!

Our group then headed back to the hotel where we were surprised to find out Giselle had pulled some strings and had gotten our group tickets to the biggest soccer game in Brazil on Sunday in São Paulo. It is a championship playoff game between Santos and the Corinthians. Our group was ecstatic. Soccer is not just a sport here for these fans, it is a way of life, and we had heard stories of individuals who were murdered for wearing the wrong colors to games! (We were explicitly told to wear black and white and cheer only for the Corinthians). We can't wait to see the atmosphere inside the stadium, and most everyone is hoping the military and police can control the crowds and prevent any troubles during our visit. We can't wait to see Brazilian soccer!

Friday, May 10
Our group woke up for our last day in Rio Preto before we would be embarking on a journey back to see the city of São Paulo. After another amazing breakfast at the hotel, we jumped on a bus and headed to UNESP for a day at school. We read some journals and then watched a famous Brazilian movie, Broken April. It was in Portuguese, but the subtitles saved us. It was a sad story about a family feud that almost left yours truly in tears. It was a good movie, but I would suggest not showing it to exhausted students. (I am pretty sure Ryan and Andrea were nodding off throughout the movie.) After the movie we ate at the local cafeteria, an authentic dish of carne, beans, rice, and an unknown vegetable which was delicious. In Brazil there is no such thing as mystery meat. You are served beautiful slabs of fresh meat (normally beef - carne) everywhere, even at the local cafeteria.

After lunch our group was interviewed by the local newspaper. Ashley, Cameron, and Kelly did most of the talking because they are very good at Portuguese and have been our language-saviors throughout the trip. They have made the language barrier a bit less painful, but Dylan, Andy, Taimur, and I have enjoyed playing charades and laughing with countless kind locals and patient waiters. Our group finally arrived back to the hotel and most of us went to the pool for a quick dip, but Chris, Taimur, and Ryan wandered off. Keep your eyes on the lookout for one of the funniest viral videos of the year. Taimur might even get nominated for an Oscar award, or more realistically, he'll be seen on an episode of Tosh.0!!

After another wonderful buffet of endless fantastic food, Dylan, Andy, and I met up with Diego and Lanie (friends from FATEC), and went to a local bar, Radiolaria, to watch our music teacher from Escola Viva play a Bob Marley tribute with his band. It was incredible! Next, we headed to another local club, Pink Elephant, to meet up with the rest of our group. The club was playing Brazilian hip-hop, and the lasers and lights were pretty cool. As the night wore on, I think the Brazilians were taking dancing lessons from us! At around 4 am, we called it quits, which is early because the club closes at 5 or 6. A late night snack of street meat was waiting for us on the walk home, and we filled up on Brazilian hot dogs from a street vendor.

Our group has had an unbelievable time in Rio Preto. We have made so many new friends that I am sure we will stay in touch with via Facebook. The city was hospitable and the locals truly welcomed us with open arms! A big shout out goes to Raphael, who has been there for our group since day one! Being able to have so many new experiences in such a short time (9 days) is phenomenal. Going to UNESP and FATEC have been truly rewarding experiences, and it amazes me how people can have find ways to connect without the ability to verbally communicate: through sports, music, dance, and charades! I will miss this city, and can picture myself visiting in the future, but tomorrow we are off to São Paulo for 3 days and we will have an opportunity to watch a world class game of soccer - Go Corinthians.

Saturday, May 11
After a 7-hour bus ride full of picture-taking and periodic naps, we arrived in São Paulo, which is one of the world's largest cities. Our group unpacked at the hotel, and then decided to walk around the city (our guide Raffi led the way -- we will miss him when he heads back to UNESP with Giselle after our 3 days in this city). We immediately realized we were not in Kansas anymore! Huge buildings lined the streets, homeless people were numerous, graffiti was present, and oh wait, was that solicitation? Yes, all big cities have problems. I knew I wouldn't wander around downtown by myself at night here. The whole city is not like this. As we continued to walk, we felt safer and enjoyed the bustle of the night life scene. There were bars lining the streets, and I enjoyed the fantastic street art. The overall relaxed feeling reminded me of Montreal. After our 8 kilometer walk and mini-tour of this gigantic city, with a few pit stops to check out the local scene, we managed to find ourselves back at the hotel to get some rest so we could cheer on our Corinthians at the soccer game tomorrow!

Sunday, May 12
What an experience!!! Today was the day that we had been waiting for, a world class soccer game with 40,000 blood-thirsty Brazilian fans that lived, breathed, and died soccer! (Literally!)

The day began with our group visiting an Afro-Brazilian museum and checking out some very cool artwork. The museum didn't allow pictures, but besides artwork, the museum's 3 stories contained a slave ship. After spending a few hours soaking everything in, we headed for the subway.

Giselle kept everyone in line and made sure no one was left behind as she navigated the seas of people heading toward the game. Professor Madre was forced to stay behind with Laura because she was very ill. (Poor Laura - she was actually in tears about missing the soccer game). Since it was Mother's Day, I made sure to text the best mother in the world. Hi, Mom!

After grabbing lunch at a create-your-own pasta restaurant (think upscale Noodles and Company), we continued our trip on the subway to the game. As soon as we got to our exit and began walking toward the game, we were swarmed with street vendors trying to sell knock-off Nike jerseys and all sorts of Corinthians memorabilia. Some people jumped on the first vendors they saw, but I waited it out and ended up buying a very nice knockoff jersey and flag to drape over myself for pennies. I love deals, and it's amazing how fast they come down from 50 reais to 15 reais.

Now that our group was dressed appropriately in Corinthians apparel, we really fit in! People were yelling, chanting, and going wild the whole way to the stadium. Military personnel and police officers were present on each corner, and I knew they were serious because they were in their riot gear, with helmets and riot shields. Many of them were even on horseback.

We entered the stadium with Giselle's guidence and we were escorted to the front row on the 40 yard line!!! I could not have been more ecstatic! Giselle deserves all the credit and all the thanks in the world for getting our group these seats to a sold-out game, and for 50 American dollars, no less. She is superwoman!

Words can't explain the power of 40,000 fans going insane. Entire corners of the stadium would start chants and enormous flags would be dropped down from the upper decks to cover thousands of people at once and then as fast as they went down to show their pride, they would raise them back up in record time! We noticed that giant fences, barbed wire, and riot police separated the Santos fans from the rest of the stadium, this was no joking matter, since soccer seems to be a blood sport here.

After an incredible first half, my throat was raw from all the yelling. We were all dressed just like the die hards, sporting freshly purchased jerseys and flags! Our group joined right in, picking up the chants, and hurling curse words at the referees and Santo's best player, Neymar. I had an incredible time and the experience is hard to put into words. The Corinthians pulled out the victory 2-1, and as soon as the horn sounded we raced out of the stadium because the police were yelling and the fans were getting a little violent.

Monday, May 13
After waking up at the crack of dawn we could see the circles under everyone's eyes. The day was going to be a battle -- I think people were starting to get runny noses, sniffles, and watery eyes. We took the subway to a UNESP branch of art and had a wonderful lecture about Brazilian music, art, and of course, soccer!! We learned more about the Brazilian dance (samba), which Professora Madre can dance with her eyes closed. Our group had lots of fun dancing and singing along to a few Portuguese songs as the lecturer strummed his guitar.

We then boarded another subway and headed to the Cathedral of Saint Paul. We were shown amazing architecture, and then we cruised through the streets where the city originated! I felt like I was in a scene from a movie. I was completely blown away by the buildings, the cobblestone streets, and the sheer size of everything. The tour of the city was amazing, and of course it would not be complete without a buffet for lunch, Brazilian style, where we paid based on the weight of our plates. I am pretty sure my meals have been the most expensive so far on this trip! I seem to eat more than my fellow travelers.

We returned to UNESP for another interesting lecture. This was about international programs and included a question-and-answer session with one of the big wigs at the university who was fluent in English. It was very sad when the meeting ended because that was when Giselle had to head back to Rio Preto. She has been an amazing guide and friend, and she went above and beyond for all of us. I will surely stay in contact with her and her husband Waldmir! We all hugged her goodbye and then she boarded a bus.

It was Raffi's last night with us, too, so we all went to an outdoor cafe to have dinner with him and to thank him. He has also been an unbelievable host, travel guide, and friend. He took time out of every one of his school days, and skipped out on studying for his classes, to make sure our group had a fun time every night!!

We had an amazing 3 days in São Paulo, and I loved the size and bustle of the city. You could explore a city of this size for months and not see it all, but I enjoyed the artistic touches and sheer size of the parts I was able to explore!

Our group is now off to Salvador, where we hope for sunny days and smooth beaches!! We have been told to keep our valuables close, as we hear that the crime rates are a bit high in the city, but don't worry, our group sticks together and I doubt we will encounter any problems!

Tuesday, May 14
After an amazing time in the southwest of Brazil (Rio Preto and São Paulo), I am excited to see a change of scenery and explore the northwest of Brazil and see what Salvador has to offer!!

After a 6 am wake-up call and a sluggish bus ride to the airport, our group ran behind Professora Madre like a bunch of baby ducklings following their mother! Of course, there are always little glitches: Andrea had bought so many souvenirs her checked bag was 10 kilograms overweight, so being a gentleman, I I allowed her to put an extra 20 pounds of knick-knacks and whatever else our little Mary Poppins had procured along the way, into my carry-on and checked bags. We breezed through the so-called security (no need to take off shoes or jewelry - thank goodness for the minimal rules in Brazil). We then departed on a 2-hour flight in which Taimur would not stop saying arrivederci to anyone and everyone on the plane, and I could not wait to get some shut eye. We landed in Salvador, in the state of Bahia.

We were greeted by Clara, the program coordinator in Salvador. She is extremely energetic and funny, I know we will like her, but she will be measured by the very impressive standard that Giselle had set! Clara took us to the best all-you-can eat steak house in town, which was a great start! Of course I had to try a little of everything, but ended up being satisfied by a pitcher of freshly squeezed kiwi juice, and 6 filet mignons! Sushi isn't my thing, but Taimur was slamming down oysters, raw fish, and crayfish!

We headed to ACEBEU, the school where we will be studying during our time here. We will be taking daily Portuguese classes along with other lectures. Kris, Andy, and I were picked up by our host father, Valter, a single, middle-aged man who lives a block away from the school with his elderly mother. We have not met the mother yet, as she was visiting her other son today. Valter speaks English fairly well, which is very helpful. Some of the families don't speak any English, so good luck with your charades, boys and girls! Valter is very polite and kind. After a brief conversation I learned that he enjoys fine whiskey, classical music, and reading for pleasure. He is an agricultural engineer, but is studying to get his law degree to become a judge.

The home we are staying in is beautiful. It is a spacious apartment with marble everywhere, a spiral staircase, a panoramic view of the city, and gigantic sliding glass windows that open the apartment to the world! Valter has 7 dogs, woof, but 6 of them live on the rooftop terrace, because they would destroy the house. They are "Galgo Russo" which is like a Russian greyhound. The other dogis a 2-year-old ball of fur named Josinia, who goes to the bathroom wherever her little heart desires! Hilarious! The apartment is on the 8th and 9th floors of a sky rise that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. (Can you say spoiled? We are feeling spoiled rotten!) Not only that, but our breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be prepared for us by his maid, Eliana, who has worked for him for quite some time. She is an amazing cook! He also has a retired maid, Francisca, who lives in the closet off of the kitchen, but she doesn't really leave her quarters. She has a 7-inch TV that is super fuzzy, and not much else. I will have to ask Valter about her role in the household later. We asked Clara about the situation and she said it is common for people to have maids and housekeepers who work 50 hours a week, and some maids stay with the family. Could this phenomena stem back to the fact that Brazil was the last country to abolish slavery?

I am looking forward to the next two weeks here. It's hard to believe the trip is halfway over, but we have accomplished so much in such a short time as well. I will keep you posted!

Wednesday May 15
After our first night sleeping in Valter's house, waking up at 8am left me craving more sleep, but we had things to do. Andy, Chris, and I were pleasantly surprised to walk downstairs to find the table set perfectly, with tons of fruit, bread, cheese, and of course fresh juice, waiting for us. Valter asked if we liked eggs, and asked the maid, Eleana, to prepare fried eggs for us. We talked to Valter throughout breakfast, and Chris used Google Translate to clear up some uncertainties. We were treated like royalty. Valter seemed surprised when we offered to bring our dishes from the table to the kitchen sink for Eleana to wash. We were told to never help with the dishes.

We finally found out about the maid situation. Eleana is his maid who works 8 hours each weekday, and 4 hours on Saturdays. She gets paid roughly 750 reias per month, which is about 11 American dollars per day. Fransica, the elderly woman who lives in a small cubby off of the kitchen, is a retired maid Valter took in after she had finished working for his great-grandmother. It is sad to think about the disparity of wealth and the enormous cultural divide between the classes here, and it is so apparent that the history of this country is to blame for this, but many people here have been living like this since they can remember.

Andy, Chris, and I walked to ACBEU for our 9am lecture about affirmative action with Professor Fernando. Fernando had grown up in the ghetto (favela), but used education to climb his way out of poverty. He said he was a rare exception. We talked more about the history of Brazil, the divide of wealth, the presence of violence, and treatment of gays and women in the past and even the present. He talked about the fact Brazil was spending boatloads of money on police and military to clear up the favelas, to fight the crime and drugs. This is great, he said, but he was emphatic in pointing out that this was not enough. Stopping the gangs and violence is the first step, but he made sure we knew that the government was NOT taking the necessary second step, which was putting money into schools and education programs which would allow for more development of the youth and the county. It was an eye-opening talk that made many of us scared to walk home from the school, but he assured us that it was just like us being in New York City; you need to be careful and keep your belongings close. We knew we were not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

After our lecture, Andy, Chris and I, the three amigos, walked home for lunch. We could smell the food as the elevator stopped on the eighth floor of Valter's penthouse. We were greeted with a big hug by Valter -- He was calling us his "sons". Again, the kitchen table overflowed with food. There was everything you could think of: chicken, pork, steak, vegetables, rice, beans, and, of course, freshly squeezed juice. Delicious! We were spoiled and we knew it, because after hearing about many of the other host families we realized we had won the lotto with Valter being our Brazilian dad!

Portuguese class began at 1, so we raced the two blocks back to ACBEU to learn some survival Portuguese from our new Portuguese teacher, Carlos. He was a good teacher. I think the whole group wished that we could have had these classes at the beginning of our trip instead of the halfway point, but still we're happy to be learning new phrases.

After our brains were finished dissecting a different language, we a boarded a bus and took a tour of the city with our tour guide, Simone. She was very good at speaking English, and stood at the front of the bus with a microphone as we weaved our way through the city and along the kilometers of ocean shores. The tour was excellent because Simone had been doing this for years, and knew everything about everything in the city. We stopped multiple times to get out and take pictures of the ocean, the lighthouse, a church. We learned about the history of Salvador. At each stop we would be bombarded by steer vendors trying to sell their necklaces and knicknacks. We quickly learned that they were hard-pressed to take no for an answer, and steadily decreased their asking price until you were almost obligated to say yes. I am sure many friends and family members will be getting souvenirs from the students in our group that have trouble saying no to a good deal. We finished our tour with a stop for ice cream, which was in every fruit flavor you could fathom. After sampling a few different options, I chose kiwi. Delicious!

The evening was ours to enjoy, and so our group headed out to check out the night life of Salvador, and proceeded to get soaked by a torrential downpour after walking a mile toward the beach. We ended up calling it a night fairly early. Of course, to add excitement, as we got a taxi home, our cab driver was drinking a beer he had stowed in the glove compartment and rolled through red lights (again - no rules in this country), but we still felt moderately safe.

Thursday May 16
Being treated like kings might get old, but right now I feel like I could get used to this. We were greeted with another enormous breakfast, and a big hug was given by Valter to each of his sons. We also met his elderly mother; she was this cute little lady who loves her dog Josinia, but she didn't speak a lick of English. Smiles and hugs were really all that were needed!

Instead of a lecture in the morning, we all jumped on a bus at ACBEU and headed to another school, Escola Aberta Do Calabrar, in an underprivileged area. I knew we were entering a rough neighborhood. As we were driving, we could see that the police/military personnel were strapped up. Each GI-Joe looking guy had a fully automatic assault rifle slung across his chest and a pistol on his hip, as well as full body armor. I felt like I was in the movie Black Hawk Down, but people were smiling as we walked toward the school. They knew we were there with only good intentions. This reinforced the point Fernando made earlier about the money going to police, but not to the schools.

The school was run by 3 amazing women, each of whom volunteered their time and energy to give these kids an opportunity, or at least a fighting chance to become educated. The school had no A/C and was a hot box, but all the children were so cute with big smiles spread across their faces. We sat down in a giant circle and exchanged names, and the children each told the group what they wanted to be when they grew up: soccer player, chef, nurse, doctor.... It made me smile, but at the same time made me feel helpless because I knew that these children needed so much more and they would not have nearly the opportunities my classmates and I did when we were growing up.

Our group then split up, and each one of us went with a different student. Luis Felipe chose me to be his "buddy" and we drew pictures together. He was the cutest kid ever. The language barrier was difficult but we each had huge smiles on our faces so that's all that mattered. We talked about sports and rushed through our drawing so we could play a little soccer and a game of catch without getting into too much trouble.

The children then demonstrated capoeira for us, which is a type of fighting done in a dance form. Luis Felipe was an amazing athlete and acrobat, walking on his hands, and doing the capoeira movements incredibly well for a 10-year-old! The kids were very impressed when Kris put his gymnast skills to work and spun and flipped. I hope the kids don't try this after we leave because they have no mats and only concrete floors everywhere. Upon leaving, many American students bought shirts from the school as a sort of fundraiser. The school gets no assistance from the Brazilian government and relies on outside money, which is very difficult to come by sometimes. We think we were told that Switzerland donated money, but sometimes things get lost in Professora Madre's translations.

We were exhausted after playing with the kids all morning, so Portuguese class was a struggle for some of us. After class we were lectured for a few hours about Afro-Brazilian religion (candomblè) by Professor Luis. It was very interesting, and kind of reminded me of witchcraft, even though we were told many times that it was not. We would be visiting a place of candomblè practices on Friday, so the lecture was useful.

We were treated to a nice dinner (typically smaller than the massive lunches here in Brazil, but still epic at Casa do Valter), and then headed out as a group. We took a bus toward the main beach and settled on an outdoor bar in Rio Vermihlia. The boys and yours truly sat on one end of a massive table and laughed and joked about life while checking out the local scenery, while the girls most likely talked about going shopping and barbie dolls at their end.

A little girl kept delivering peanuts to our table. Soon we realized that this 8-year-old girl, under the instruction of her street vending mother, was trying to charge us 10 reias for each peanut delivered to our jurisdiction. After some negotiating of our own, Taimur eloquently paid the 5 dollar bill. (Taimur is very smooth so the transaction was calm, cool, and collected). After a few drinks and the constant barrage of street vendors (selling everything from necklaces and old coffee makers- joking) we decided to dip our toes in the water at the beach. We grabbed a late night snack at a burger place, which allowed our sandy bodies to sit inside, and then called a cab driver from "Need for Speed," who drove us home at Mach 1.

Friday, May 17
Another 8am alarm made me growl as I struggled to get out of bed. Of course, as you could have guessed, another elegant breakfast with cake and scrumptious food awaited 3 hungry young men. Eleana cooked up a storm! Valter gave his sons the usual hugs (Brazilians are pretty touchy-feely) and we left toward ACBEU and the field trip that awaited us.

Our group napped on the bus as we headed to a place of Candomblè practices, with our great tour guide Simone. The trip was interesting. We saw a little museum and were shown a bit more about the Candomblè practices. I think most students were paying attention to all the malnourished dogs running around and the chicken tied up to a tree, to be honest. We went home for another amazing lunch at Valter's home, I can't believe that he eats like this and is not 150 kilos (2.2 kilograms in a pound for all of you non-drug traffickers).

We then made it back to school just before Portuguese class began. Carlos did an excellent job of keeping the group's attention and teaching us important phrases and going over the basics, which Andy, Kris, and I are able to reinforce with Valter. We then had a 2 hour dance class!!! The teacher spoke no English, but the music and dance moves crossed the language barrier without a hitch (sports, music, and art seem to be best at this). Cameron showed off his killer dance moves even with his hurt knee, while Ryan shook his booty, and Andrea had a few flashes of brilliance. There was no doubt in anyone's mind Professora Madre stole the show, though. She can Samba like no other! I just hope one day she can save the last dance for me.

Everyone was a hot sweaty mess, so we went to a dock at Professora Madre's hotel to take a quick dip and enjoy the ocean! Of course, to get from the hotel down the cliff side to the dock, you need to get inside this rickety old box attached to a makeshift zipline that scales the 500 meters between life and death. Four people at a time, and the patrons press the button to make the voyage begin. No seat belts, no supervision, and no locks on the doors to prevent you from plummeting to your guaranteed death!!! No rules in Brazil, baby. After rinsing salt out of our eyes, the three of us spent our evening with Valter. We began talking about philosophy with the help of Kris and his ever-present deep thoughts. Eventually we switched subjects to music, and even though Valter is a lover of classical music and a good glass of whiskey, he enjoys his techno music even more. He ran upstairs to find a Fat Boy Slim video and told us amazing stories of Carnival and how we will have to come stay with him to enjoy one of the biggest parties and music festivals in the world.

Saturday, May 18

After much anticipation and hearing great stories about LENÇÒIS from everyone we talked to, we were excited for our weekend getaway for the next 3 days!

Of course, long talks with Valter left us feeling well slept as we rolled out of bed at 6 am to race through breakfast and jump on the bus at ACBEU with the rest of the group at 7am sharp!

I rotated between napping, chatting with Andy, Dylan, and Taimur, and watching the City of God (movie about the favelas and how children fight wars in these communities). During 6 hours of driving we could see beautiful scenery and enormous rock formations that had been underwater millions of years ago. Before arriving at the hotel we were told we would be doing some hiking, so everyone strapped up their tennis shoes and we were eager to see what awaited us.

The bus stopped, and we all got out to meet our tour guide and take a look at an enormous rock formation that would put our group on the top of the world. Professora Madre is not one to miss any experience, and she was passing us as we climbed up the steep boulders! I'm not exaggerating either; she is in amazing shape for her age! After what seemed like an hour, with pit stops for photo ops, we arrived at our destination, a view of God's country that was breathtakingly majestic (Easy killer, don't start getting soft…). As I was saying, the view was cool. Check out the pictures. But in all honesty, they don't do justice. Professora Madre has been keeping me on a short leash - - she told Taimur, Andy, and Dylan to make sure I don't get too close to the edge. Of course, we all ended up taking turns snapping pictures with our legs dangling in the wind as we looked off into the horizon.

We then boarded the bus and rode to our next destination, a very shallow river. The water flow had an orange tint to it due to the iron that was in the rocks. Let me set the scene: local women were hand washing their clothes in pools of water as their young ones splashed around, Tina and Andrea were chasing around an emaciated horse and tried to feed it Oreos as it wandered around aimlessly, and Professora Madre could be heard somewhere off in the distance instructing Taimur to pay attention to the guide because what he said was very important (even though it was in Portuguese and she was needed to translate it).

We hiked along the river and passed some mini-waterfalls and giant holes. The holes were eerie, as the river was shallow but you could see round holes that were about 5 feet in diameter and looked like the home of the Loch Ness monster. After getting the thumbs up from our guide, I stripped down to my skivvies and jumped in. Luckily nothing bit me and I came back with all of my digits intact.

We continued the hike that led us into some small caves filled with boulders. I was fascinated that this place was once under water! The guide told us about the fact that there have been diamonds found in the rocks before, causing Taimur to scrummage around trying to find some shiny stuff.

We continued our journey and eventually hiked our way to the hotel where the bus awaited us with all of our belongings. The hotel was amazing, and looked like a honeymooners' retreat. The place was decked out: huge pool, lounging area, hot tub, bar, massage tables, and it was secluded from the rest of the tiny city by nature. The honeymooning feel was perfect For The Boys (FTB) of room 104. We had drawn the short straw and had to bunk 4 in our room. Andy, Dylan, Taimur and I each had a crib-sized bed to call our own, but we weren't worried because we always make the best out of every situation. This is a great group to travel with.

After unpacking and getting settled, I noticed we were not alone in our room! There was a small lizard/gecko on our ceiling. Yours truly doesn't particularly like reptiles so I screamed like a little girl. I have seen a lot of Animal Planet in my life, so I had a good idea of what we were up against! Taimur apparently had seen some of the same episodes and sprang into action. He grabbed a drinking glass from the bathroom and leapt onto the bed with his eyes fixated on his prey, but the little lizard scurried across the ceiling. Taimur looked like a ravenous (or rabid) dog chasing a wild beast, and almost decapitated himself on the ceiling fan. I am sure the whole hotel could hear us screaming as we tried to triangulate the beast and capture it. After using impeccable technique, Taimur apprehended the reptile in his first attempt, and after much conversation about letting the little critter wreak havoc on our lovely girlie neighbors, we decided the lizard would be better off in the woods.

We all went to a local restaurant where of course we were treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet, which stills seems like a treat even though it has become nearly a daily occurrence here. Andrea and Tina donated their meals to the homeless and flea-bitten dogs that seemed to follow our group everywhere. These girls might want to open a rescue shelter for animals. I have no doubt they will have 20 dogs living under their porches when they are older. They have very big hearts for their four-legged friends. After dinner we wandered around the city and poked our noses into all the little shops.

After a great day we hit the hay. We were super excited about the next 2 days of our trip and the zip lining that awaited us.

Sunday, May 19
Our group woke up early and smashed a delicious breakfast to get ready for our active day of hiking and zip lining. Our tour guide met us at the hotel and took us on the bus to our destination.

We began our hike which led us to the entrance of an enormous cave. The "cave of wonders" was pitch black and we were given flashlights to guide our steps. Stalagmites and stalactites surrounded us! We were told to keep our voices to a whisper to prevent avalanches. Taimur and I looked at each other and laughed, but we were able to hold it together while in the cave. After some shadow puppet shows and cool scenery, we were all told to sit down and turn our flashlights off.

The silence was overwhelming and it engulfed me. It was so strange to feel my eyes straining to find any light in the darkest place I have ever been. I was unable to see my fingers in front of my face. It made me think about how fortunate we are to be able to see, and how some individuals are in the dark due to blindness for their entire lives.

Two hours later, the crew exited the cave and gave back our flashlights. We bought some snacks at the cave store, jumped on the bus, and headed to the waterhole and zip lining destination. Once there, we hiked for about 20 minutes while snapping pictures alongside the water. The views were breathtaking! We were on top of a waterfall overlooking a big body of water the zip line spanned. We played in the water and took pictures as we waited for things to get set up. After a short time we paid 20 reias. For just 10 American dollars and a smile, we could risk our lives and get a thrill.

I ran and jumped off the cliff face. Suddenly, the rope snapped and I plummeted 100 feet into the water...

That's what I envisioned happening, but it was totally worth the risk. The rope and harness held me and I flew down the line and slammed into the water upside down! What a blast!

After the zip line we were able to splash around and explore on our own. I decided to climb some rocks, and ended up at the top of a cliff face. After getting the thumbs up from our guide, I jumped off the rock and smiled as I freefell 20 feet into the water. Dylan, Taimur, and some others followed my lead. Andy slipped when he was walking up a small waterfall and went over a 5-foot drop on his butt, but miraculously didn't get cut up on the rocks.

After an amazing day of adventuring and exploring, we headed back to the hotel where we cleaned up before dinner. Waiting for 4 guys to shower got our appetites up. Dinner was at the hotel, you guessed it, a buffet again, which was incredibly tasty.

After dinner a surprise awaited us, a group of Capoeira (dance fighting) kids and instructors came to our hotel to put on a show! We sat in a circle and watched as they began playing drums and berimbus (a native instrument that has one string and a rock is used to apply pressure to change the pitch). The little kids were adorable, but the adults, who were masters of the art form, were phenomenal. They were flying through the air, doing flips and kicks that meshed with the music! It was amazing to watch their gravity-defying skills.

We talked with the kids afterward and gave them gifts of books, colored pencils, toys and notebooks we had brought. It was a fantastic experience. We told the older Capoeira guys we would meet them out for a drink later.

Our group must have been feeling the musical vibes after our new friends left. Dylan began playing the piano, which was next to the hotel bar. Our group began howling out a few bars from "Can You Feel the Love " by Elton John and "Drops of Jupiter" by Train. Dylan was jamming those ivories!

After a few drinks and not enough songs, we headed down the narrow brick-laid streets toward the local bar where the Capoeira guys were hanging out. We chatted about MMA, the culture, and made some new friends. LENÇÒIS was turning into a great trip and we still had half of a day to enjoy more activities!

Monday, May 20
The group woke up at 8 as usual and had breakfast. Professora Madre gave us the option of going shopping or going to a natural water slide in a water fall. Andy, Taimur, Dylan, Ryan Cameron and I all jumped on the adventure.

Our guide took us men on a fun hike, and we moved at a quick pace. We didn't stop for water breaks or picture ops. When we finished our hour long hike, we could see what all the hype was about! An enormous slanted rockface with rushing water was a beautiful sight for our sweaty bodies. We jumped off of a rock face into the cool water to our guide's delight. We then carefully climbed to the top of the natural slide which was smooth and slick!

We took turns flying down the slide as the guide snapped a few pictures. Taimur slipped when he was clowning around and almost knocked the guide and Andy's camera into the deep blue. Taimur never ceases to impress me - he was going to go down head first, but a fear of chaffed nipples changed his mind. What a pansy. A few hours and a few bumps and bruises later, we were tuckered out and ready for the hour long trek back. Dylan kept us entertained by jumping between his endless repertoire of voices, which include the southerner, Scottish, British, Chong from Cheech and Chong, Forrest Gump, and many others that always bring smiles to our faces. We had an amazing time. It really was a once in a lifetime opportunity!

After cleaning up and packing, we all were ready for the 6-hour trip back to Salvador. The bus ride was pretty uneventful except for the fact that Reena successfully managed to fit herself into the one of the overhead storage bins where our luggage was stowed. Crazy! We made one quick pit stop for juice and a snack, and I wandered down the street into a store. There, they were selling cachaca (a Brazilian rum made of sugar cane) out of a 55-gallon drum. I bought 2 liters, which were poured into a used coke bottle, for 4 American dollars. The FDA, ATF, and my parents would have had a few comments to offer if they had seen this transaction occur!

The weekend was amazing! What an opportunity! And then it was great to get home and get a good night of sleep!

Tuesday, May 21
I can't believe this is our last week in Brazil! We have been having the time of our lives each and every day, but it's amazing how fast the time has flown!

We have been wanting to enjoy the beaches of Salvador, so we were given the next three mornings free to play in the sand. Our group went to the beach and we were immediately swarmed by vendors of all kinds. It was like a bunch of hungry vultures trying to lay claim to our money and attention. They were offering to rent us chairs, umbrellas, and anything you could think of for beach lounging.

One vendor, Bruno, spoke English, so he became our go-to-guy for the next three days. For 2 reias we could rent a chair from him, and he would bring us cold drinks and anything else we needed.

The beach was relaxing, but the sun's rays snuck up on us; Lindsey, Laura, and I found out how it felt to get roasted, Brazilian style! We enjoyed the waves and watched the locals play volleyball, except they didn't use their hands. They played soccer style, with only their feet, chests, and heads. We watched in awe as they rallied back and forth!

After the beach, our group headed to Portuguese class as usual, and then went on another field trip to a local school in a favela. The school was called Bagunçaço. We were told that gang violence had led to the deaths of 30 young children who were in the gangs over the past two months. Hearing this news made my heart sink, and reaffirmed my thoughts that these kids needed more help and better educations if they were ever going to improve their situations. We received lessons on capoeira and had fun interacting with the children. The kids played their percussion instruments, and then taught us how to do the same.

After sharing a snack with the kids, it was time to leave. Every time we leave a school I am reminded of how fortunate we are to have such a good educational system, and how sad it is to see these kids struggling. They always have smiles on their faces, but I really would like to someday make a difference in their lives by helping to give them more opportunities to succeed. It makes me realize I have nothing to complain about in my life, and helps me to "find the good, and praise it" and not to focus on the negatives.

Wednesday May 22
Another early morning on the beach where we enjoyed the sun, sand, and waves! After the beach and Portuguese class, we were taken on a tour of Pelourinho by Simone. The history of the churches, the architecture, and the colors amazed me. We visited the church of St. Francis, which was jaw-dropping. It was built in 1708, and the inside of the church is meticulously hand-carved by artisans, and then decorously painted with gold leaf paint. Simone said that over 600 pounds of gold were used to paint the ceilings and walls; it was breathtaking! She said the overwhelming beauty and size caused many people to become Catholic, even though they could not understand the church services.

We continued our exploration, poking into African art museums, and enjoyed the many sights. We ventured into the Jorge Amado (a famous Brazilian writer) museum. Simone was very knowledgeable, and you could tell she had given this tour a few times in her day! The sweltering heat was affecting the group. The lack of air conditioning and an increase in walking up hills caused the group's morale to sink, but we pushed on and encouraged one another!

We then entered the Steve Biko Institute, which was a program that helped underprivileged children prepare for their college entrance exams (the vestibulars). The students there studied some English and could communicate fairly well with us! Their ages varied from 16-18 years old, and we chatted about misconceptions between the two countries and life goals. These kids seemed to know what they wanted, and had received a good foundation to achieve their goals at this school.

We then waited outside of a theater for the 8 o'clock ballet/capoeira performance, and we were hounded by a guy collecting cans. He yelled at us in Portuguese, and then yelled at us some more in broken English for not giving him any money. A few minutes later, we witnessed a robbery and saw the police swoop in and proceed to apprehend the robber violently. When the ballet finally began, I enjoyed the music and fast-paced action of the capoeira movements! The dancers also incorporated the Candomblè religion and the different gods we had learned about.

After a long day of walking, we were treated to another amazing meal at Casa De Valter. Truly, Valter has been our amazing Brazilian father, and we're so lucky to have landed in his home.

Thursday May 23
Another fantastic morning on the beach! Instead of just playing in the sand and waves, Dylan, Andy and I rented paddle boards to cruise around! The paddle boards are big surf boards that you stand up on, and carefully balance yourself while you row along with a paddle. It was fun, but the balance was a little tricky at first, until we got the hang of it!

We then raced to Portuguese class again, where we were gently guided by Professor Carlos, who is very patient.

After class our group boarded a bus and headed back to Pelourinho, which we had explored with Simone yesterday. Today, we were given time to explore more on our own and to shop. There were tons of different vendors, each selling everything you could imagine. The streets are lined with tiny shops that contain art, jewelry, souvenirs, and much more. We each wandered around and looked at the goods and bargained with the vendors. The poverty is sometimes so sad to see, with homeless people sleeping on side streets, and little kids begging for money. One little kid convinced Andrea and Tina to buy him baby formula and diapers because they wouldn't give him money, but the clever 8-year-old outsmarted these college girls by promptly returning the goods for money. It is a funny story until you realize that he is probably going to buy drugs with that money.

After buying a few souvenirs, we jumped back onto the bus and Professora Madre told the bus driver to head to Rio Vermihliio so we could try a famous local dish called acaraje. It was basically a mash of beans encrusted in a deep fried shell. We could smell the palm oil as the ladies prepared our food. We then could add tomatoes, shrimp, or hot sauce overtop of the delicacy. Professora Madre was having trouble with the heat of the homemade hot sauce, so her students eagerly poured her a cold beverage to help!

We then returned to ACBEU at 7 p.m. to meet up with a classroom of Brazilian adults learning English! The teacher was thrilled we had shown up because it was optional, but I think our visit brightened everyone's day! The adults were very proficient with the language and it was fun to carry on conversations with them.

We all went home to pack for our last trip, a voyage to the island of Morro de São Paulo. After hearing great stories from Valter about the island that allows no cars and is only accessible by boat, our imaginations were running wild.

But before we could go to sleep, Andy and I went downstairs to watch some guys play soccer at the base of our building. They are poor, but live right next to Valter's penthouse. They play soccer on a bridge that straddles the street. Each night they bring their own little nets, and play 3 on 3 in the poorly lit street arena, without shoes or shirts. If they make an errant shot or pass, the ball goes over the ledge and rolls down into the street below, forcing one of the players to run to retrieve it. We communicated with them by showing them pictures and playing charades. They smiled at pictures of sports, fast cars, motorcycles, and girls. It made everyone laugh that guys are guys in every language and culture. Even though we didn't share the same language, we still enjoyed the same things. Sometimes explanations are not necessary. Andy and I thought it was hilarious that certain things just don't change, no matter where you live.

Friday May 24
After much anticipation, we woke up at 6 a.m. for our trip to Morro de São Paulo. This was our last weekend in Brazil and we wanted to go out with a bang!

After a short bus ride, we got onto a ferry, which took us to another a bus, and then to a boat, which finally took us to our island destination. After the 4 hours of travel, we were truly in paradise. No cars are allowed on the island, and everything was beautiful. Our hotel was quaint. I was rooming with my boy, Andy, at this incredible beach resort with picturesque views. I am almost certain that his girlfriend was jealous!

We met up with our amazing tour guide, Sandro, who showed us around the island. We hiked along and saw forts, cannons, and the highest peak of the island, which holds a lighthouse. What interested me the most was the 300-meter zip line into the ocean! Cameron, Dylan, Andy, Kelly and I went last, so there was a long wait, but the zip line ride was worth the wait!

We then explored the beach and watched Taimur play a game in the waves where he would close his eyes and try not to drown as the incoming waves smashed into him and tossed him about in the surf. It was quite entertaining for the spectators. We also met the owner of Evolve, a tattoo parlor on High Street - - what a small world!

After watching the sunset, the mood was set for.....a wonderful dinner at a luxurious pizza place! Kris and I split two massive pizzas which left us both satisfied. Of course Taimur thought that he could handle more hot sauce (pementa) than Kris, but was quickly cooled off when his whole face began to turn red, while beads of sweat dropped down his brow. Sorry Taimur, but Kris drinks Valter's hot sauce and laughs, so I had no problem with egging you on in an unconquerable feat! Our group then went back to the hotel and played some games of euchre. Andrea and I are the undefeated champs!

Our group had a great day in paradise and is looking forward to another amazing day with our guide, Sandro, tomorrow.

Saturday May 25
Today was so much fun! We met up with Sandro after our hotel breakfast, and headed to the beach! We rented snorkel gear from a local, and climbed aboard a big wooden boat. The huge speaker was probably the most expensive item on the boat, and the captain had a Lady Gaga fetish, so we were cruising in style. The gang snorkeled and saw some wonderfully colorful fish, coral, and other things. Tina has a waterproof camera. She took some interesting photos, but she swam away like a little baby when she saw a small eel in the coral. We drove the boat to a different beach for a mud bath in the clay. I loved the way the natural minerals and lightly abrasive clay nurtured my skin and gently exfoliated and purified my pores. Easy, Killer! I meant to explain that I looked like a stone-cold killing caveman with mud smeared all over my body! I have never felt a baby's bottom before, but I would guess I was much smoother than that. Maybe I'll get back to you on that comparison in the next decade or so....

After our group played around in the mud, we rinsed off and headed to another island to lounge around and enjoy the waves. We continued island-hopping for a while, and we were able to see 3 dolphins up close because they kept circling our boat! After a long day in the sun, it was time to eat. We had placed our food orders earlier in the day, so when we pulled our boat up to the restaurant, our meals were already prepared. Ryan, Laura, and I had planned to split a few plates of food, but because Laura wasn't feeling well from the boat ride, Ryan and I were forced to eat it all. Darn.

After a great day on the water and in the sun, we headed back to the hotel to clean up and relax before a late dinner. Professora Madre had made an amazing meal for us! She helped the hotel staff to create a mountain of mouthwatering food. She's like Wonder Woman -- there is nothing she can't do! And through everything, she smiles for everyone, and has an amazingly positive attitude.

The evening was ours and many of us headed down to a bar that overlooks the water and had some very deep conversations over a few drinks.

Sunday May 26
We were all planning on waking up at 5 am to watch the sunrise, but of course there was a torrential downpour that left us cowering in the hotel. I think Dylan may have braved the storm to try to go to the beach to catch a glimpse, but not sure if he saw the light or not.

We checked out a few tourist shops for souvenirs, and then packed our bags for the 2pm departure.

After 4 hours of vans and ferries, we were finally back to Salvador and Valter's home!

Monday May 27
I can't believe our trip is finally winding down. Today was our last full day in Brazil before we fly to the U.S. from Salvador, and you could tell the feeling of the ending was starting to sink in for all of us.

Our day started with our normal breakfast with our Brazilian dad, Valter, and our usual amazing conversations with him. He has helped improve our Portuguese immensely by being patient and working with us during meals. We then hugged him goodbye and said we would see him later because all the host parents would be coming to a lunch with the students later.

After preparing our speeches during the past week, we were finally expected to give presentations about what we had learned as we reflected on our time in Brazil. The speeches were very deep and heartfelt, and you could tell this trip really made a difference in all of the students' lives. I talked about how this study abroad was a life-changing experience. It opened my eyes to different cultural practices and customs, and I encountered people who embraced a general patience with life. I talked about the fact that I have taken away many lessons from my time here, but being more patient and more accepting are probably the most important. Cameron pointed out an important observation. We may all be from different countries, but we are all part of mankind. We are all linked.

I also mentioned the fact that I noticed stark contrasts and some similarities between the US and Brazil. We noticed that in Brazil, there is a lack of rules and rule enforcement, a need for more funding for lower education, a conservation of energy, and an overall infrastructure that is still developing if it ever can change this third world country into a first world power. Being outside of my comfort zone, with a lack of communication skills, was a valuable experience. It helped me think on my feet and it forced me to work hard to learn as much Portuguese as I could. The study abroad helped me grow as a person and learn about myself in many ways. Helping the kids at each school we visited was so moving for me. Just being around the kids and seeing them smile as they played soccer, music, or created art was inspirational. They loved being around us and just had playful fun being kids! These children are so poor, they have nothing, but they were so happy! I believe that I will one day make a difference in the lives of many young impoverished children by building schools for them. I really want to give back! I am so fortunate for the opportunity The Ohio State Athletics Department has given me. I could not be any more grateful for this chance to study in Brazil. I have no doubt that this trip's benefits far outweigh the costs. I have made new friendships that will last a lifetime and memories that will never fade. This experience is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity I am so lucky to have been involved with.

I want to send a huge thank you to Professora Madre (Lucia Costigan) for being the finest study abroad professor in the world! I know I scared you a few times by getting too close to the edges of mountains or trying to dance too close to you during Samba, but you made this experience unbelievably enriching and entertaining. Thank you for all of your never-ending patience and kindness.

I also want to thank Valter, my host father. You made the trip in Salvador amazing! Without you, it would not have been nearly as educational, enlightening, or delicious. I am so grateful you opened your home to me and you are so interesting and thoughtful! You are such a cool father, and the other kids are jealous because you are the best host dad. There is no doubt I will try to come back for Carnival to spend time with you. We will enjoy life!

Giselle and Clara devoted a lot of time and energy to make our experiences phenomenal. I couldn't list all of the amazing things these women did to make our trip special, but here are a few. Giselle made our trip in São Jose So Rio Preto and São Paulo unbelievable. She took us under her wing, kept us safe and secure, and made sure we were always taken care of. Her husband, Waldmir, is also a first class act! Giselle somehow bought us front row tickets to a sold out playoff soccer game in São Paulo. She made our time there a magical experience. Clara pampered us during the second leg of the trip by making our experiences completely stress-free. She organized everything and planned our trips so that things moved seamlessly. She took us to amazing steakhouses and sent us on trips to weekend getaways in Lençòis and tropical island adventures in Morro De São Paulo.

I also want to thank all the members of the group; Andrea, Andy, Ashley, Cameron, Dylan, Erika, Kelly, Tina, Kris, Laura, Lindsey, Morgan, Reena, Ryan, Sasha, and Taimur. I have enjoyed getting to know all of you, and I am grateful that you have shown me such patience and kindness for the past month. I am truly blessed to you wonderful people as part my life and I'm glad to call you friends!

Tuesday May 28
Last night, a few members of the group came over to enjoy Valter's company because we needed to celebrate our time in Brazil, and because they wanted to meet the coolest dad in the world and give a toast to our experiences here. So we were quite tired at 4 a.m. when we woke up to get on the bus to the airport. There may have been some tears exchanged when we said goodbye to our dad, Valter, and jumped on the bus.

After sitting in the airport for hours, we boarded our flight from Salvador to Miami. The flight was exceptionally smooth, probably the best flight of my life. Flying over the Bermuda Triangle caused some turbulence, but we were able to ride it out with a smile.

Upon arriving in Miami, the TSA's German Shepherd took a keen liking to me, causing a 1-hour detour in which all of my belongings were raided. I had nothing to hide, and I don't know exactly what they were looking for, but I have never seen a more thorough inspection. Since I had a four hour layover anyway, I enjoyed answering the kindly Mr. Rich's questions about my belongings as he took apart my shoes and unfolded my neatly-packed clothes. Thanks for keeping us safe TSA, and I'm flattered your dog thinks I smell so good (Dove for Men).

Our group was tired of traveling. A day that started at 5 a.m. finally finished at midnight as we landed in Columbus. We were plane-weary, but happy to be home. After some hugs and quick goodbyes, we went our separate ways. I have no doubt that I will be getting together with many members of this group in the future, and that this experience has created many new friendships that will continue here at OSU and beyond.