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Courtney’s Vicarious Voyage... BRAZIL!

By Courtney DeSchepper

Hello from Manaus, Brazil! I spent from January 31 to February 3 in the city of Manaus. The temperature here is very warm with highs in the low hundreds and very humid. These temperatures are very common being so close to the equator. While we were traveling up the Amazon one evening our Assistant Dean came over the ship P.A. just to inform us that we would be eating dinner on the equator! Although it did not seem any different than every other night, it was a neat experience to know that we ate dinner at 0 degrees latitude and 0 degrees longitude.

Once we arrived in Manaus we were instantly greeted by Manaus’s 1,832,423 people. I was not sure what to expect once I arrived, but what I saw was not anything I would have ever anticipated seeing. Manaus is a rather large city full of a vibrant life style. At every corner there is native music, bright colors, a multitude of shops, and many residents with welcome arms to tourists. While wandering down town I found it difficult to communicate with anyone. I know very little Portuguese (only the few words they taught us on the ship), and most of them knew no English. Most of the communication with the local people was through acting out what I was asking and pointing to places on the map. This was definitely a new experience for me. It was very frustrating to want to ask something and have no one to ask, but it was a very good experience for me also. I often take for granted that I can so easily communicate to anyone I wish to in America.    

One day I decided to just walk around the city of Manaus and get a feel for what it had to offer. One of my favorite places was the Opera House. This building was absolutely magnificent. The Opera House was built in the 1800’s with many European influences in building material. The ceiling in the auditorium was painted in the same style as the Sistine Chapel. It was simply beautiful. While I was there I got to listen to the orchestra prepare for their upcoming concerts; which was almost as lovely as the scene they were performing in. Right outside the Opera House there was an amazing monument called the Plaza of St. Sebastion. This beautiful monument was made to symbolize the meeting of the waters-- where the Negro River’s dark water and the Solimões River’s muddy brown water meet in the Amazon River. It was yet again a magnificent area in Manaus to help symbolize another aspect of this great place. I also got to visit a museum that showed the history of Manaus. It was really interesting to see the number of changes the city has gone through just to be where it is today.

In Manaus I got to spend some time doing some things that I am passionate about. First, I got to take a few dance classes from a local instructor. It was a great experience! I think my favorite part was when I got to take an Amazon Tribal Dance workshop. Here I got to learn two complete tribal dances. The instructor was so friendly. Even though he could speak no English and I could speak no Portuguese we got to connect on a very personal level just through dancing together. We were able to communicate through body language, facial expressions, and most importantly through the music. I never understood what my dance teacher, Barb Rethlake, meant by dancing could be a world language. Now, however, I do; I was able to form a great friendship simply through the movement of our bodies.

On the last day in Manaus, I was able to visit a school for the deaf. It was truly one of the most inspiring experiences in my life. Since it is still summer the students are not yet in school. I went with two of my new found friends on the ship Destiny, who is deaf, and Kara her interpreter. We got to interact with several teachers from the school. It was incredible to watch and interact with the Kara, Destiny, and the teachers we met. Two of the teachers were deaf, one knew only Portuguese sign, while the other was fluent in Portuguese but knew a little American sign. At first it was difficult for any of us to interact, but it was amazing to see how hard we all worked in order to communicate. Once we understood some of each other’s native signs it was much easier to have a more regular conversation. While at the school the teachers gave us a tour, which used to be an old office building, told us about school life for the 200 students it served, and about daily life for people who are deaf in Brazil. It was very interesting to hear how similar and yet how different life was for people who are deaf in Brazil versus that of America. Going on this visit reaffirmed my passion for sign and really encouraged me to continue to practice and take classes to hopefully become an interpreter one day.

Overall, Brazil was an opportunity to struggle. I know that on this voyage I will encounter other times when there will be a language or culture barrier, but this will be one of the toughest places that this will occur. I know that this is definitely one place that I will return to. Semester at Sea as already given me so many opportunities to grow as a person and as a traveler and I cannot wait to see what lies ahead.

I will be arriving in our next port, Accra, Ghana on February 13th. Until then, feel free to check out my blog at:

Bon Voyage ☺


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