This week began a couple of days early as we arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Friday. We were fortunate enough to connect with a cousin that has an apartment on Copacabana beach and we made ready for friends from the United States that were coming to travel with us for a couple of weeks.
Maria Luisa, a cousin from Gerson's mother's side of the family, provided us with an awesome apartment that overlooked the Copacabana beach and plenty of room for what would be seven of us. Dodging a thunderous rainstorm, we were able to stock the apartment and enjoy some time with Maria Luisa.
Another reason for arriving in Rio a few days before our friends were to arrive, was to visit with a family member that left Gerson's life long, long ago. Gerson's father, Luiz Alberto de Souza e Silva, left his first family when Gerson was just four years old. I cannot point fingers at any one person for the cause of the lengthy absence as much turmoil occurred among the adults present at the time; however, I will note that the last time Gerson saw his father was in 1977, almost 30 years ago (Gerson will be 42 this year).
A little background: Gerson and I had discussed the possibility of contacting his father during our travels to Brasil and specifically when visiting Rio de Janeiro, the city where Luiz was last known to reside. Gerson left the matter in my hands, and those of you who know me well, know that I usually find a way to achieve my goals.
I enlisted the assistance of Luis Renato, a good friend of Gerson's and an attorney (as Luiz was also an attorney) and he located several possible name and phone number matches in and around Rio. The day before we were to leave for Rio, I again garnered the help from another friend of Gerson's (the other Gerson shown on a previous page), and he made the telephone calls to the numbers I had on my list.
The first call was not the correct Luiz Alberto de Souza e Silva. The second call resulted in no answer. The third call, well, as they say "the third time is the charm" we found the correct residence. Verifying that Luiz spoke English, Gerson turned the phone over to me and the result was a a very interesting conversation.
Luiz was very "pleased" that I had located him and wanted to see Gerson and me when we went to Rio. I explained Gerson's state of mind as there were many unanswered questions and Luiz stated that he "completely understood". So, with the comfortable call completed, we arranged for me to call Gerson's father a few days before we arrived in Rio (as we were going to Bahia first).
A day or two before arriving in Rio, I called Luiz and we agreed to meet for lunch. Upon entering the hotel/restaurant, Gerson recognized his father immediately and not surprisingly, Luiz did not seem to recognize his third child and youngest son from his first family. Accompanying Luiz was his second wife, a truly delightful Carmen who is the mother of Luiz's second family, two sons named Edward (35) and Henry (33) (their names could be incorrectly spelled).
We decided to take a drive along the beaches and we had a rather pleasant lunch together. I will not bore you with the details; however, I can state that many questions (most of them hard and poignant) were answered and forgotten memories were reawakened in Gerson. All in all, it was an enjoyable lunch that gave Gerson a chance to see his father and see the decisions made some 35+ years ago from the eyes of Gerson, the adult and not Gerson, the child being told what to think by the adults surrounding him.
On an interesting note, Gerson's father received a Fulbright scholarship and actually met then President, John F. Kennedy. He has lectured at Brown University and is now a professor at the Federal University in Rio.
My only misgiving on the day was when Luiz, without hesitation, answered my question if his other sons knew of their half-siblings. Luiz and Carmen both said "no" but they intimated that that "dishonesty" was going to end soon. I responded that I thought that they owed the other sons the truth and that I felt their omission was "dead wrong". Can you imagine being in your mid-thirties and having your parents tell you "oh, by the way, you have three half-siblings..."
It was nice to meet Luiz and Carmen and I do believe, maybe a bit pollyannishly, that Luiz and Carmen will open their son's lives up to the truth. But, as Gerson and I both said to Luiz and Carmen, we would not want anything in the past to be changed and definitely would not have wanted Luiz to have been more of a part of Gerson's life. Had something been altered, Gerson and I would not be living this extraordinary life we are living today.
We spent the following day soaking in the visit with Gerson's father as Gerson was recalling many memories that he did not realize he still retained. Luiz and Carmen have our website and thus, our email, so we will wait to see if we ever receive an email from Gerson's brothers.
By the end of the day, we were starting to feel our excitement heighten as we were picking up Gerson's cousin, Carlos, and our friends, the Staleys, at the airport the next day.
Sheri, Dan, Daniel and Robert flew in from their home in Shelton, Washington and Carlos flew in from Curitiba. We treated Carlos to a once-in-a-lifetime trip as he was about the same age as Daniel and Robert and we knew they would all enjoy each other's company. All flights were on time with no hassles and after familiarizing ourselves with the apartment sleeping arrangements, it was off to the beach.
Our first tourist stop was to visit the Cristo Redentor or better known as The Redeemer or better yet, that really big statue of Jesus Christ that overlooks Rio. Ducking and sliding in between the many other tourists, we were gifted with terrific views of Rio de Janeiro and even a peek at Copacabana beach. I think the most remarkable thing for me was just to stand in one place and take note of all the languages being spoken around me. Truly an international meeting place.
After being redeemed, we ventured off to a historic cathedral that was closed for lunch. Not wanting to wait, we hired two taxis and were hoping to catch the "bonde", a small tram that takes you up into the historic neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Unfortunately, the bonde drivers were on strike and alas, we were again without a destination. A quick lunch, and we were off in the direction of Pao de Acucar (pown day ah-zoo-car) which means "bread of sugar" or "sugarloaf".
Gerson and I took this gondola trip last year and this year was no less impressive. We caught a glimpse of Copacabana beach and of The Redeemer as well as sweeping views of blue skies and blue water.
Just a quick and wonderful side note here: Daniel, the oldest son of Sheri and Dan, has fought and won a battle with aplastic anemia, a rare, life-threatening disease that necessitated a bone marrow transplant. As a result, Daniel knows firsthand what it is like to lose all of his hair because of chemotherapy. If you noticed Daniel's rather lengthy blondish locks, it was not because he was reliving hippie days, but rather, he was growing out his hair so that he could donate the long tresses to an organization called "Locks of Love". This worthwhile organization takes the donated human hair and makes wigs for the children that lose their hair as a result of their life-threatening illnesses. A very noble gesture indeed!
After our run around Rio, we made our way to dinner at a famous churrascaria called "Porcao" (big pig - and yes, we lived up to that name). Having dinner at this restaurant also gave us the opportunity to meet up with a dear friend, Judy, and her traveling companion, Dick. Judy and Dick, visiting from the Los Angeles, California area, were criss-crossing the Staleys vacation itinerary and it was great to enjoy this exceptional dinner with them.
Our last day in Rio was spent playing in the surf and a little souvenir shopping. We had a short day as we flew out of Rio and across the country to land in that fairy-tale place of Foz do Iguassu. If you have been following this site, I am certain that you will remember my pictorial of the spectacular waterfalls and National Parks that make up the Foz experience. If you need a refresher, please click here and then come back to this page.
Now, before we get to Foz, we happened upon a little incident that was not so bad for us as it was probably horrible for another person. With all the commotion of getting off the bus from the Rio airport (at our Copacabana apartment), we did not notice an additional piece of luggage being carried by one of the boys. Everyone assumed the unrecognized luggage was someone else's in the party. For three days, the luggage sat in a corner in the living room and it was not until we were actually checking in at the airport to leave for Foz, did we all realize that not one of us was making claim of the suitcase.
We opened up the small case and found
clothes, a passport and several other documents relating to a woman that
appeared to reside in the State of Bahia. Once we figured out how we got
the luggage, we found a security person and explained what happened. Not
having time to fill out all the paperwork, we were told the airport holds the
luggage for 90 days, giving us enough time to write to the woman and explain
where she can find her belongings. We felt absolutely terrible.
Finally flying into Foz, we were greeted by a familiar face as we had contacted Giovanni from the tour group we used last year. With Gio and his Uncle Moreno guiding us, we got into Foz with just enough time to enjoy a typical Bahian restaurant and a delicious Muqueca de Camarao (a shrimp stew). Not only did the Staleys discover a new way to prepare seafood (as they are avid seafood eaters), Dan found a new best friend called "Caipirinha" (keye-per-een-ya). This lime, cachaca (ka-shah-sa), sugar, cachaca, ice and cachaca drink is a slow-sipper and a quick-hitter right between the eyes. The drink, made with a Brazilian sugarcane rum is oh-so-good and refreshing at anytime of the day.
Our hotel in Foz was outstanding and we could not resist poolside time before retiring for the night. Early the next day, Gio and Moreno guided us to the walk of the Brazilian side of the waterfalls and to begin the love affair with Foz all over again. Even though I have hundreds of pictures from last year, I just could not resist taking more. Just a superb day with super people.
We wandered along the Brazilian side of the Iguassu river and up into the falls themselves. Enjoying the cool mist at the end of the trek, we welcomed our brief dousing in the heat of the sun.
We completed our trek in a couple of hours and were especially looking forward to the Macuco boat ride. Gerson and I had taken this same trip last year and without a doubt, it was a do-over and over. Of course, it does not hurt that Gerson tells the boat captain that we are good tippers and that we want to get wet, and I mean, really wet!
After a short train ride and quick walk through the sub-tropical forest, we made our way to the dock, all the time whetting our appetite for the excursion to come. We took off our shoes, strapped on our life jackets and settled into the back of the boat. With a big grin on his face, the boat's captain shot away from the dock and up river we sped.
A few stops were made so that the vict...oops, I mean the tourists, can take some great pictures with several of the falls in the background. Then it was off we go, up through some very serious rapids and cresting over some very angry waves.
The first couple of passes created a drizzle of waterfall across the boat; however, that was just not enough. Wildly gesturing to Gerson and Dan, the captain pointed them, Carlos and Daniel to sit up at the very front of the boat. Once Sheri and I caught on to what was happening, we followed the Captain's direction and moved further up front while remaining along the side of the boat. What we did not realize was by our repositioning our weight, the Captain was able to better maneuver us directly into the waterfall.
Within seconds, we were obliterated in a wet white wall of water and the only thing by which we could distinguish each other was our smiles. At one time, the force of the water was so immense, that it knocked a woman out of her seat and thumped Sheri, Robert and I to such an extent that we felt we had whiplash. The pain was easily forgotten within the hysterical laughing brought on by the intense rush of adrenaline. Heck, I am grinning from ear-to-ear while writing this. It was an unbelievably exhilarating experience.
We laid about in the sun and dried out somewhat, regaling in our heroics on the river. Being pressed for time, we dripped back to the shuttle and to the awaiting Gio and Moreno wherein they whisked us off to the Helicopter tour. Gerson and I took this tour last year so we enjoyed watching the other first-timers' expressions of wonder.
Staying close to home, we had dinner in the hotel and a relatively easy night. Early the next morning, Gerson, Dan, Sheri and Robert embarked on a fishing trip down the Parana river. This river divides Brasil, Argentina and Paraguay and supports the second largest river basin (outside of the Amazon) in South America.
Because of limited space on the small boat, I chose to let the true "ofishianados" enjoy the river trip. Unfortunately, that also meant that two other people would have to join me in this sacrifice. We asked Carlos to stay with me for the morning and in his usual altruistic manner, he said "no problem". Once it was established that Carlos was staying behind, Daniel quickly volunteered to stay with Carlos because he wanted Carlos to have some fun as well.
So, off went Gerson, Dan, Sheri and Robert and Sheri's pictures tell a story of a fun, fish-filled day.
Carlos, Daniel and I had Gio and Moreno at our beck-and-call so we ventured into town to take care of a little financial business (as we needed more Reais), a little personal business (internet), a quick walk around and a stop in a over-indulgent ice cream place. Daniel and Carlos enjoyed choosing from 30 different ice creams, 20 different liquid toppings and 20 different candy toppings. Let me see, fish or ice cream...hmmmmm
The three of us met up with our fisherpersons and wherein they did all the work, we enjoyed the spoils. The fried and sashimi-ed piapara fish was delicious and we still had enough fish left over to give to Moreno. Gerson basked in the recognition of catching the first "keepable" fish; however, Robert actually "caught" the first fish, although too small to keep.
From there, we made a quick trip to the "Tres Fronteiras" (three frontiers). This is the point where Brasil, Argentina and Paraguay converge. We had fun with a few photos and some shopping and then back to the hotel for a little pool time.
Gio recommended a churrascaria that also included a show of typical South American music and dances. We were very excited about the show and it did not disappoint.
We saw musicians and dancers from Brasil, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and even Mexico. Our hands were sore from clapping, our voice hoarse from yelling and our bodies tired from dancing in our chairs.
What was great about the show was how the performers interacted with the audience. From a bird-man walking around on stilts to a bottle dance being performed in between the tables to the dancers acknowledging the rousing applause being received, it all felt very personal.
At one point, the Capoeira dancers went through the audience and they chose Daniel to come up on stage with them. They had him fashion a typical Capoeira stance and even maneuvered him into various positions. He was a great sport and his grin was huge.
Oh, I forgot to mention another part of the body that got sore during the show, well, at least on the younger, no, let's say on the "male" members of our group - their necks. As soon as the samba dancers pranced onto the stage, Gerson, Dan, Carlos, Daniel and Robert did their best giraffe imitation and craned their necks as high as they could possibly go in order to better "appreciate" the scantily clad women's (ahem) talents.
As the samba dancers shaked, shimmied and shone on the stage, they formed a conga line and danced along the front tables. Robert jumped up and joined the line and subsequently got a kiss from what he called a "hot chick".
After the incredible night of food, music and fun, we made ready for our departure the next day. Fortunately, our flight left later in the day so we had time to enjoy more of the waterfalls.