Tuesday, July 29, 2014

as the journey begins to end....

In eight hours our first flight will lift off from Porto Alegre... was it only a week ago that we were landing here, feeling apprehensive and a bit scared of this new adventure we embarked on? Can it really be just that short of time.  A week ago, it felt like today was very far away, it felt like we were never leaving and home was not going to be seen again for a very long time... over the last two days I have heard so many times can't we stay another week, do we really have to leave on Tuesday.

The past three days (wow, has it only been three days?) has been a whirlwind.  Saturday morning we boarded a bus for a two hour trip into the mountains here in Rio Grande Do Sul, we were headed to the camp in Canela, RS, it was definitely Brazil, but so very different from Porto Alegre.

My European heart fell completely in love with the mountains, the architecture, the feeling up there in those chilly (okay - that is definitely an understatement... brutal cold).  Our hosts were so charming and wonderful. They combined a healthy dose of YMCA mission and work, with a complete cultural immersion of Canela.

I am going to break my own rule... but Louiza and Joao (forgive me for not knowing where to get to my accent marks on this computer) made sure that we experienced all we could absorb.  First it was a game with the kids at the ACM class rooms in Canela. It was a tie!

Then another short bus ride a bit out of town to the most beautiful camp setting.  Our home away from Hostel was in a breath taking setting, tucked up in the mountains.  A quick dropping off of our bags and a nice lunch with our host Secretary Jesus (pronounced Jay - zues) and his family, we were ready to tackle Canela...

Then we were off to Chocolate Land (At least that was the roughest form of translation) not knowing what to expect, we can only say we were surprised! I am fairly positive the last thing any of us was expecting was a kind of fairy tale park.  For lack of a better description.

There were chocolate fountains, giant slides, aliens, Jesus and Mary, cartoon characters, dinosaurs, and trolls to name just a few of the things we found in an hour and a half.  Chasing the sun, to avoid the chill we didn't slow down. Our biggest surprise there was probably the hot chocolate that Louiza promised us.  I believe all of us were expecting a small cup of steamy hot chocolate (cocoa) which would have been perfect to chase the chill.  So the true cup of hot chocolate - your choice white, milk or dark - was mind boggling.  It was so sweet.  Several of us mixed our white and milk to balance out the sweetness, none of us even considered not finishing it.  It was definitely a treat.

The sight seeing trip to Canela took us into a beautiful chapel, through a large selection of stores for souvenirs, we managed to find a German flavored festival - complete with Umpa music with a South American flair (that was unique).  One of the girls decided to get a small loaf of fresh baked bread to share with everyone.  Again I was in another hemisphere, thousands of miles away.   We went to the umbrella park and enjoyed the snowmen and all the other small bits that made up that wonderful city tucked into the mountains.  So much to love there.

It is winter here in Brazil... darkness falls quickly and early.  That didn't stop us.  Again we returned to the camp.  For dinner and a night of games.  We've discovered here in this magical spot, night doesn't start until well after many of us are sleeping in our beds normally.  We are just starting to adjust to dinners that start at or after 8 pm and games and fun that wouldn't dare start until after 9 or 10 at night.

The games were new and funny to us.  We laughed and made friends with the youth group at camp from Porto Alegre.  Chocolate was eaten, fun and laughter were evident...

That was probably the coldest night I can remember since camping in early March in Germany in the mountains.  Brrrrrr.... yeah, that sums it up.  We slept, bundled like cocoons in everything we'd brought with us.  We definitely were not prepared for that experience.  But we survived and faced another morning of pure beauty, a very cold breakfast, a wild intense football (soccer) game, a lesson from one of the teens about a tree that only grows here and the fruit (?) it bears, how to cook and eat it, a sharing of games (hysterically funny and strange to us). After lunch we headed back down the mountain to Porto Alegre - all too soon...

It was time for the Gremio game... and we were in for quite an experience.  It was a beautiful stadium, great fans, and a good time all around.  It was almost the same as any sporting event in the US, the only major differences we spotted were the fact that alcohol is not allowed in the stadium and there seemed to be about 75% men to 25% women.  We even saw quite a spat happen when someone at the game decided to cheer for the teams rival (who was not even playing).  The rivalry between Gremio and International is more intense than the one between the Cardinals and Cubs. Gremio lost in the last 20 seconds of the game.  It didn't dampen our spirits, but it definitely made the rest of the fans a bit sad.  It was a quiet ride back to the ACM.

Yesterday was a day of differences.  It was a trip to the shopping district, the Public Market, City Hall, International Stadium (some of the World Cup games were played there), and finally dinner at Galpoa Crioulo - a Churrascaria (steak house is the best translation I can explain). One of our teens was selected to come to the stage and be part of the show.  Participating as they demonstrated their skills!  He did awesome!  One of the girls got it on video, I didn't have enough battery left.

The experience was rich and almost indescribable.

As we get packed, run to the store for some last minute treats that we want to bring home, and get ready to leave.  I know that we've changed.  I have been so blessed by this amazing group of young adults.  I firmly believe that if they represent our future then we will truly be okay.  I have had the wonderful opportunity to watch them grow, watch them make friends, I've seen them over come language barriers, seen them smile at young children and take selfies with children, street performers and each other.  I've heard laughter and seen kindness that is unimaginable.

My life is richer for the experience I have had with these wonderful teens!  For the amazing people I have met here in Brazil.  I will miss the genuine warmth and friendship, the meaningful hugs and true positive feelings we have encountered from everyone we have met. I am blessed!