Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Simple Man

And be a simple kind of man.
Be something you love and understand.
Be a simple kind of man.
Wont you do this for me son,
If you can?
--Lynyrd Skynyrd
Last Friday was a day full of simple pleasures and it just makes you realize how much enjoyment you can get out of the smallest things. Here’s some highlights:
· Walking through the streets of Montevideo
· Sunshine on a cool fall day
· Kicking through fallen leaves on the sidewalk
· Cleaning and doing chores for someone
· Pork chops with home-made applesauce
· Peach cobbler and ice cream (I’m seeing a food trend here…)
· Fresh tortillas and breakfast burritos that a group of friends pitch in to make together
· Modeling mathematical systems on my computer (so what!?!, I’m a nerd…)
Try to go out today and find some small things that give you enjoyment or brighten your day even though they might seem insignificant if you weren’t looking for them.

Greet one another...

All the brothers here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
1 Corinthians 16:20
I can’t believe I’ve forgotten to mention one of the most defining cultural aspect of our trip down here: the kiss-on-the-cheek greeting. We were warned about it from the beginning, but it didn’t make it any easier to go cheek to cheek and make a kissing sound with someone you had never met before. It was especially interesting the first time we went to church, to get have to greet about 15 people as soon as you entered the door in this manner. But the cool thing about it is the fact that you have to put a lot into your greeting, instead of just sticking out your hand and nodding. You have to put your whole body into the greeting. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really miss a good, firm hand shake, but this is kind of growing on me, so don’t be surprised if you get an authentic Uruguay greeting the next time I see you… :) Another thing to note: in the U.S. it’s acceptable to go into a room and go off to do your own thing. Here, it’s customary to go around and greet everyone that you know. I’m going to try to make it a goal to be more Uruguayan in the future regarding this aspect, to show interest in people and not just my own agenda.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Viaje a Brasil, parta uno

Finally you get to hear about some of our recent week long trip to Brazil!
It seems the biggest mode of transportation here in South America is bus and because of this we took a bus all the way from Montevideo through the Misiones Region of Argentina (a thin little strip between Paraguay and Brazil that doesn’t look like it should belong to Argentina) and on to the Brazilian town of Foz do Iguaçu. In total it took us over 20 hours to reach our destination. We had a couple of cute little meals provided on the trip in true Uruguayan fashion: about half is ham and cheese items and the rest is covered or filled in dulce de leche, a sweetened condensed milk very common in desert type things. We had a little game room in the bottom of the bus (that’s right, it was a double decker!) so we were able to play cards and some games to keep us entertained. There was a TV/music system as well, so that we could zone out while watching a movie to help pass the time. Then, the bus had very comfortable seats but it was still long night of not much sleep.
Traveling through Argentina, we stopped at the house of an author who, I think, has his roots in Montevideo. His name was Horacio Quiroga and he had quite the interesting life filled with tragedy. He built a house in the middle of the jungle and raised his children in the home that he carved out of the forest. Most of his writings (including one that I’ve read, “The Decapitated Chicken”) are dark, yet raise moral questions of human relationships. From his property you can see the Paraná River and across into Paraguay. Quiroga became quite the jungle-man: building his own canoes, furniture, and practicing taxidermy of the animals in the area.
Then we moved on to see an old Jesuit Mission. If you’ve seen the movie “The Mission” you know a little bit about the history of these missions. The Jesuits came in an effort to convert the natives and therefore their missions became sanctuaries for the Guaraní people as they learned the ways of “civilized” culture and practiced Colonial Christianity. Even though the mission itself was crumbling, the architecture was very impressive. We also got to see Timbó trees which the natives used to make canoes and a live Yerba Mate tree. Later we went to a lunch with asado, Latin American BBQ and a geode showcase from the local mines next door.
When we finally got to our nice 4 Star Hotel, we were pretty exhausted. So most of us lounged around and relaxed for the rest of the day. Several of us watched the 1st Harry Potter movie in Portuguese, none of which I understood, but I had just finished reading the book so I had a pretty good idea what was going on. Following dinner we had the first of many late-night, epic soccer games out on the field next to the hotel.
The next day, Sunday, was the Argentina “Falls Day”. Cataratas del Iguazu (since Argentina speaks Spanish), know on some lists as a Wonder of the World, is split down the middle by the Argentine and Brazilian border, and the national park is therefore shared by the two countries. The majority of the falling water is found on the Argentina side and during the morning we walked all along the top of some average size water falls, taking pictures, sweating in the heat, and staring gape-mouthed at the gorgeous scenery. Then, some of us took a boat ride on the river that took us around the corner so that we could look up the river and the amazing Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) where most of the water drops over the basalt layer. It was so much fun to open up and actually get to act like a crazy tourist! Screaming and yelling, we were driven into some of the falls for a quick shower and then rocketed in the jet boat down a set of rapids and on another mile at full speed.
We were let off and hiked up a hill to a truck that was to take us back to the main visitor’s area for lunch. The truck had benches in the open air and we had a tour guide supposedly to point out the flora and fauna as we drove back. Well first, there was no “fauna” per se, which was expected from the noise of the truck. Second, the microphone didn’t really work and our guide had a heavy accent, so she was hard to understand. But we did get a 4x4 drive through the jungle and saw plenty of different types of trees, plants, and butterflies. The coolest of the plants were the hanging plants living in a symbiotic relationship with the trees, not being parasites but only using the trees to get high enough to get sunlight. Also, we got to see a huge Rosewood Tree, possibly one of the rarest, and therefore most expensive, woods in the world. There are so few of them left that I think they are protected.
After lunch, we got to take a train, which played “The Mission” soundtrack as it went along, up to a trail head that would take us out over the Devil’s Throat to look into the mist and witness the power of the waterfall. The “trail” itself consisted of a raised walkway that went over the water of the river above the falls. We continued seeing fish, butterflies, and even a caiman, a small alligator, along the way. When we reached the falls, I can’t begin to describe the emotions you have as you stare into this giant horseshoe of water throwing itself over the lip of the falls, splitting into a thousand tiny droplets, and descending amidst rainbows to the river below. It’s another one of those things that you can actually consider awesome without flippantly using the word. I took a lot of pictures, some of which you are seeing now, and some video to try to capture the feelings I had, but sadly it never will. I hope that I can view some of this documentation with you so that I can try to share some of my excitement.
We hiked back to the trailhead and then rode the train back to the main tourist area. Along the way back to the bus, we saw a lot of sellers of crafts and even a little music group of Guaraní children singing in traditional fashion. It was very pretty to watch and listen to. Then it was back to the hotel for some food and relaxation. We met later on in the evening for a mini communion service and sang some songs. It was really cool to reflect back on the power of God we saw in the falls and how that makes his method of saving us that much more poignant. Thus ends part one of Colter’s Brazil story…

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Uruguayan Labor Day

Today, May 1st, is the Uruguayan Labor Day. And when they take a day off for Labor Day, they take the day off. All the businesses close, no busses run, and there is about half the usual traffic on the road. I don’t understand why we can’t do that: take a day off completely and relax (or get out and enjoy nature or something). But no…in the US, our capitalistic ideals cause us to have Labor Day sales in stores where we can go out shopping and “save” money. People work because they know that some people are going to be out shopping and want to buy their product. Or we know that if we work when no one else does we can get a day ahead or catch up a day, whichever our case might be at the moment. It was also very refreshing to go out on a run today and see people outside having fun enjoying the cool fall weather: kids playing soccer with their friends, couples walking hand and hand through the park, and parents spending time with their son or daughter.

The only problem that I have with that, is that “we” don’t get to have a day off! Our first of two days of finals are today. I think they went pretty well, although it continues to signal the end of our wonderful journey here in Montevideo. Things are definitely winding down and most of us are torn between staying here and going home.

Another cool thing about today is that it’s my Grandmother Wagner’s Labor Day. That’s right, it’s my mom’s Birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!!!!! I love you.

Ser, o no ser... (To be, or not to be)

Éso es la pregunta.

So I’ve talked about some performances that I’ve been to at the Teatro Solís but not much about the theater itself. We took a tour of the building last week and here are some cool facts that I learned about it:

· 151 years old (opened in 1856) so that Uruguay would have a permanent theater

· 1998-2004 closed for most recent refurbishing

· 1250 person capacity with floor and box seating (5th floor box seating called “Paradise”)

· Ceiling of performance hall: painted on canvas (looks exactly like plaster sculpture!), 11 masks for 11 emotions, 11 names of writers and composers

· 3 chandeliers (big, medium, and small, in 3 different parts of the theater): made from 5k crystal in a factory in England that was bombed in WWII

· Horseshoe shape inspired from Italian Theater

· Stage/Platform directly in front of the stage that can be moved to 3 different positions: flush with the floor seating to add more seats, raised to the stage level to extend the stage, and lowered for a pit orchestra

· Backstage: 7 catwalks, 6 dressing rooms, state of the art sound and light system

Performances I’ve attended so far this semester (in the TS):

· Classical Guitarist

· Brazilian Rocker

· Argentine Ballet

o Performance of “Carmen” and several other numbers

o Big Band music with swing dance influenced dancing

o Final number was a Tango influenced ballet

o Really fun to see the influence of other styles of dance in the ballets

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Oh, to actually be famous...

This afternoon we went out and braved the smoke for a quick game of Frisbee golf. Ken had a few discs sent down in the mail and we thought we’d put them to good use. So, we walked to the park close by and played a “pick-up game,” where we just took turns pointing out the next tree or light pole that we would hit. To top it all off, there was a Nacional soccer game going on in the stadium located in the park where we were playing. Now, if you remember my soccer game entry and all the rabid fans, well, we could hear the deafening cheers across the park. It was so cool to step up to the “tee box” to the sound of cheers, screams, and fireworks. I knew that the crowd was loud, but not that loud. We discussed what if would be like to actually be at the center of the attention like that and perform to cheers and applause like that. We also thought that we could be running away from lions in the Roman coliseum, but it’s always a better dream to think about being victorious to the sound of a riotous crowd…


No, humo isn't short for humor or humorous. There's nothing funny about it actually. Humo means smoke in Spanish and I can't seem to escape it. Smoking cigarettes is very popular here in Uruguay and you can't walk down the streets without breathing someone's second hand cloud. Now, the sky has become hazy with smoke blowing in from Argentina. We spent what seemed like a solid month breathing smoke from forest fires back in Kalispell and it felt like such a relief when I got away from it. Except, you can't escape it: my eyes are itching again and I have to take my allergy medicine to combat it. The interesting thing about the fire is that it is coming from a forest blaze started by a group of farmers as a way of protesting something I don't really understand. But the fire has grown out of control and is now supposedly the biggest that Argentina has ever had. Lot's of forest and farmland is being burned, but hopefully no property or loss of life will occur because of a silly protest.