Janet C. Buckner, PhD
In this blog I describe my start in Brazil and give some context for the decision to come here for my dissertation work.
My very first time in Brazil was a study abroad course in the Pantanal. I was 20 years old and it was my first trip out of english-speaking North America. It lasted only 10 days and went by incredibly fast.The course was conducted in English and admittedly, I was a little disappointed not to be immersed in a cloud of Portuguese but it was probably for the best. Although I had studied a year of Portuguese, I wasn't very good at comprehending yet (and I was incredibly shy) so I didn't practice it much that time around. However, it would be the first time I heard native speakers of Brazilian Portuguese. You can read more about the course itself on my research page.
That trip in January 2011 was the start to a year that would be a turning point for me. It was my first international trip, my first time doing field work abroad, my first time truly isolated in a wilderness – it was my first adventure. Ok, pretty mild for an adventure but for me it was an incredible experience and the closest I had come so far to fulfilling a dream. The Pantanal was a magical place full of wild and exotic species, nothing like I'd ever seen before. It would be the measure by which I judged every other wilderness from then on. It was my gateway wild.
The Pantanal was as beautiful and interesting as ever, and yet so different. There was much more exposed land. The first time it had been the wet season, but this time around it was the dry season and there were noticeable differences. It was cooler (and drier of course) and although the abundance of birds and mammals hadn't changed much (I even saw bats this time!), there were noticeably fewer reptiles and amphibians (at least they weren't as easy to find). In January, there had been caiman in every direction. And it was quieter – the first time I had been in the Pantanal the nights were filled with a cacophony of singing frogs all looking for mates. It had been breeding season.
And the new experience of living in a Brazilian city was interesting as well. We stayed at Hotel Paradise where we were always greeted by the ever interesting Portañol man (the receptionist that spoke a mix of Portuguese and Español). The girls and I were two to a room and I bunked with my now very good friend Hannah. It was pretty standard living. The hotel was nice enough to let us use their kitchen to cook, although for some reason eating in Brazil always proved challenging for us. Except when eating out or being fed by Brazilians. Then the eating was only good.
While in the city Hannah and I worked on a phenology project with Vanda Ferreira at UFMS (see research page for more!). But when we weren't working, we were out experiencing the city with friends. We had amazing guides that showed us the must-sees:
Music: we of course were shepherded around to music venues on various occasions. I was introduced to Brazilian music and artists I'd never heard of. These are the places that I remember the most. There was a bar called Rockers that had live bands that played mostly rock and occasionally reggae. Another bar called VooDoo I remember being very dark but lots of fun because our friends band was always playing there when we went. But my favorites were two improvised venues that were relatively small but packed with people: one for samba, and the other blues. These last two places were low key and I don't remember either of them officially having names. But the blues singing was amazing and the samba place featured the most beautiful flute playing I'd ever seen (I grew up playing the flute so I really appreciated that experience!).
Food: Eating was another of our favorite pastimes in Campo Grande. We ate at our friends homes, at the university and at various restaurants. I learned that self-service restaurants (where you pay for food by weight) are very popular in Brazil. I had all you can eat sushi for the first time and I ate my first Brazilian Pizza which is markedly different from the pizza at home. No offense to Brazil but my native pizza still has my heart. We were constantly taking breaks throughout the work day to eat Brazilian snacks and have fresh exotic juices while chatting with friends. Brazil was much more balanced in the sense of work-life balance than I was used to.
We were welcomed into the everyday lives of our friends. We celebrated birthdays, went to Festas Juninas, we hung out everyday after work to relax, play pool, go to museums, to the movies - whatever random things we could think of. And in the process, we solidified friendships that have lasted to this day, so that every time I am in Brazil, I make time to visit Campo Grande. It was no wonder that at the time I was already thinking of focusing my dissertation work in Brazil. Wildlife and good vibes were more than enough motivation for me.