Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bremerton, Washington, USA

Greetings! We are back in the States on a six-month leave from our boating adventure.

We last emailed you on August 21 from Goiania, Brazil. The next day we flew to Brasilia, where we changed planes. We had to show George’s birth certificate four times to get him out of the country! Then we flew to Atlanta, Georgia where our old friend Larry was waiting for us.

It was a hot and buggy time of year at their home in the eastern suburbs, where we occupied our old bedroom and got the Isuzu pickup running after two years dormancy. We soon realized that two adults and a child don’t fit on it’s small bench seat, so we sold it to a firm that has exported it to Egypt! We then bought a 1996 Volvo station wagon complete with advanced (for Steve) technology and countless luxury features, like airbags! Woo!

Having been out of the country for two years, we appreciated the little things we had missed like overflowing, cheap supermarkets, and plentiful cold water fountains. We bought a cell phone and prepared ourselves for our stay in the U.S. Larry has retired now and has many interesting ham radio and boat projects.

On September 8 we drove to St. Louis where we stayed with friends Lena, Jesse, and Violet. Violet, now a precocious and adorable five years old, eagerly played with George. After an all too brief 9 days, we got into the big cross-country drive, going across Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, sleeping in rest stops, abandoned lots, and unfenced farmland. Each night we moved our gear onto the roof of the Volvo and made up the bed for sleeping.

We arrived at Ginny’s mom and grandmother’s house in Los Angeles on September 26. Ginny and George stayed there while Steve backtracked to New Mexico then drove down through Chihuahua state to seek his best friend Jim Hogg, who hadn’t been heard from for over a year. Formal inquiries had produced no information, so Steve dropped down into the rugged Copper Canyon where Jim had been living. There he sought out the Catholic father in the mining town of Batopilas, who said Jim had died in April, 2012. He enumerated Jim’s many good works on behalf of the local community, to whom Jim had dedicated his life. Steve broke the sad news to Jim’s family in Seattle, then drove back to LA, stopping to repair a broken oil pan resulting from a bad road.


On October 19 we reached the Bremerton home of Steve’s mom (Bonnie) and dad (George, our son’s namesake). This has been our residence. Having been gone from the U.S. for so long there is much to do. We tended to the landscaping at Steve’s house in Pacific and worked on a little cottage for the caretaker of the twelve acres in Snohomish County. 
We have also helped Dad organize his shop and acquired various articles necessary for the next leg of our voyage, which will resume in February. We dug out old Ladd family home movies, got a projector to work, and watched the early days of David, Steve, Mike, and Susan. We have been visiting friends, but haven’t gotten around to everyone yet. We had a big family Thanksgiving and look forward to another get-together over Christmas.

Lots of love,
Steve, Ginny, & George

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Goiânia, Brazil - Mass Email #27

Dear friends and family

We last emailed you on July 15 from Presidente Epitacio, São Paulo State, Brazil. From there we continued up the next reservoir on the Paraná River. With no current to fight we ran the Honda 2HP slow and cruised for four hours on one liter of gas! We cut across the lake’s huge arms, navigating from point to point, threading through forests of dead standing trees. Weekend fishermen anchored their boats in the river and sat fishing under colorful umbrellas. We camped behind low islands and in secluded creek mouths, luxuriating in the quietude. The landscapes were open and watery, full of low greenery and wildlife, with farmland beyond and bright southern constellations overhead.

Steve read books about Brazil’s expansions in the 1700s and 1800s, aided by the fact that we had already travelled many of the waterways by which the country was opened up. He looked up unfamiliar words in a dictionary but, having found that he couldn’t remember from one time to the next the meanings, he made lists of synonyms. There are so many ways to say something in Portuguese! Similarly, when he tired of trying to remember the conjugations of the words for “to see” and “to come,” which are maddeningly similar (ver and vir), he made flash cards, one for each conjugation (I see, you see, we came, they came, etc.). We then drilled each other until we knew them all.

The reservoir narrowed, current increased. At the next dam up, the Jupiã, we caught a ride into the city of Tres Lagoas, Mato Grosso do Sul State. Our host was minister of a new congregation. “This area is growing like wildfire,” he enthused. “Soon we will have all the major fast-food chains!” The land was perfectly flat, the city widely spread. A pair of blue macaws sat cawing on the cross of yet another new church. We got a four-monthly vaccination for George and worked in a cyber café, then caught a bus that meandered through dusty new neighborhoods back to the fishing settlement where we had left Thurston.

That dam locked us through, for a rise of twenty meters. The next one up, Ilha Solteira, didn’t have a lock, but our Couch-Surfing host Vinicius in Sao Paulo had connected us with his friend Vicente there, who quickly got a truck and trailer together. When he pulled us out of the water Ginny and George were still in the cabin and Steve was sitting on the bow to put weight on the trailer hitch. We expected him to stop once we were out of the water but he just kept going, so we all carefully stayed put, with the wind in our hair, as he drove eight kilometers to the ramp above. Dam number six under our belts. Only one more to go!

With our visas running out on August 26th we needed to buy advance tickets back to the States. But where should we fly from? Projecting our progress we saw we wouldn’t reach Belém in time, so we bought tickets online for a flight leaving from Goiânia, the capital of Goias State.

A cold front hit. The southerlies were too cold and violent to sail with George aboard, so we rowed, the waves rocking Thurston as they passed under. The flatland gave way to low, rolling hills with few houses. It reminded Steve of the big Missouri River reservoirs in Montana except the grass was greener, often growing right down to the shore. The sun was blocked by flying grey clouds until it reached the horizon whereupon it peaked through a slit, firing to golden-red the trees growing interspersed among the pastures. Many were palms with small nuts growing in long clusters. As we veered left into a bay the waves diminished. We then steered into a the full protection of a small, north-facing cove.


The best thing about the way we cruise is the campsites. This cove was formed by a hook-shaped spit of pebbles the size of raisins and the color of peanut skins. After washing and hanging diapers we stepped from the bow directly into the colorful, crinkly gravel: no mud, no wading! Beyond a narrow belt of woods stretched pasture land of low, soft curvature. We hiked cow paths with George in his “wrap.” At one point we almost stepped on a big armadillo! His scales were yellow-brown with sparse, coarse hair. He played dead until we stooped down, then scuttled into a nearby hole. We also saw green parrots with patches of red on their shoulders and a flock of hopping emus, the South American ostrich. Here and there the land was split by tapering waterways where the bay divided, its armlets extending further into the land. The only sounds were of wind, waves, and birds.

On July 24 we arrived at the junction of the Paranaiba and Grande rivers, which together form the Paranã. We had followed the latter to its source but still had plenty of navigating to do. We continued up the Paranaiba, now with Minas Gerais State to our right. Then Mato Grosso do Sul State, to our left, gave way to Goias, the most central of Brazilian states.

We had chosen cotton diapers to avoid garbage and to be good citizens, but it wasn’t easy keeping up with all that laundry, not to mention the bottomless pile of clothes and blankets which needed to be washed as well. Ginny scrubbed and rinsed in the river a few hours every day. Steve wrung them and hung them on a line running overhead from bow to stern, with room for about fifteen articles. Fortunately, wintertime in central Brazil is extremely dry. On big days we filled up and emptied the clothes line three times! We missed out on some good sailing because the working of sails and booms was incompatible with clothes-hanging.

The days were hot and sunny, the nights cold and dewy. A new kind of no-see-um appeared, with butterfly-like wings, and a new mosquito that, when biting, aligned his body vertically, looking like a little thorn stuck in our flesh. One evening, as we relaxed by a brushy bank, a giant ant-eater strolled past, like the one we saw on the Orinoco!

On the 28th we reached the final dam, São Simão. Here we hung out at a boat ramp a couple days until the president of the local fishermen’s union loaded Thurston on his trailer and took us to the upper ramp.

This final reservoir was smaller. It took only two days to reach the mouth of the Rio Dos Bois (River of the Cows), whereupon we turned left. Steve, tired of rowing, turned the sliding seat over to Ginny. Per custom he then gave her a “Port!” or “Starboard!” order until she was on course, then said “Mark!” so she could row directly away from the landmark of her choice. Steve plucked his guitar until he noticed she was drifting off-course. “Port! Watch your mark!” he said.

“I was using a cow!” Ginny laughed. “I guess they move too much.” She went back to using hills or trees, and we stayed on course.

At first the Rio Dos Bois was impounded by the São Simão Dam. Then it became a river. A new species of tree now grew out over the river with long-extended branches, as if evolved to catch more sun than the others. The river corridor included long strips of marsh separated from the river by slender natural dikes. Where openings revealed these swamps we saw spongy waters full of floating grasses, lilies, and algal clusters. From our campsites we walked the fields. What we had taken for harvested corn was actually millet or sorghum, with hard, red seeds the size of baby peas.

On our second day on the Dos Bois we hit our first rapid. It was too shallow and fast for the Honda 2 HP outboard so we got out and pulled Thurston through. At the next rapid we switched to the 5.5 HP little-tail motor. This reduced our draft and increased our power. Even so we barely made it, Steve poling with a bamboo staff while Ginny wrestled the long little-tail tiller. There were rapids around every island, and sometimes in between as well. Our progress slowed.

On August 2 we turned left (northwest) onto the Rio Verdão. We had been studying the upcoming portage off-and-on since Manaus, when we decided to hop over into the Paranã basin. The transfer from Vila Bela, on the north-flowing Guaporé, to Caceres, on the south-flowing Paraguay, had gone well. Now we were a thousand kilometers ESE of that portage, ready to jump from a different tributary of the Paranã to a different tributary of the Amazon. As for the latter, the 2,000-kilometer-long Araguaia was the logical river. We could launch in the city of Barra do Garças.

The best place to pull ourselves out was less clear. The Verdão went in the right direction, but we didn’t know how high up we could navigate. Google Earth doesn’t show topography; so we didn’t know how tall the banks would be. There are no big cities on the Verdão, therefore fewer transport options. Only one town touches upon it, Maurilandia. But would we reach it? Would there be a place to pull out?

The river was 150 meters wide, lined with fist-sized stones, rarely more than waist-deep. Sharp rocks protruded here and there. We swerved left and right looking for at least a foot of depth. The rapids got more and more frequent. They would have been easy for a kayak, but for a sailboat they were nearly impossible. With a narrow stern (no planing surface) and nineteen feet of waterline length Thurston’s maximum hull speed is about 5.9 knots. “We’re not going to make this one,” Steve kept thinking, but we always kept creeping up, motor wide open, our GPS registering one or two kilometers per hour. We reached the critical spot, where the cold water bubbled over a shallow ledge, swirling white around the black rocks. Thurston’s bow lifted perceptibly; we stopped dead relative to the banks. Then we shifted a little to left or right, found a slower eddy, and inched through.

Eight kilometers before Maurilandia we stopped for the night at an island. Three interrelated families were vacationing at a rancho consisting of a kitchen, bunkhouse, and bathroom in separate cubicles of stuccoed brick. “Bem vindo, fica a vontade!” they said. (Welcome, make yourselves at home!) They had tents and coolers full of cold beer. While the men and boys went fishing in an aluminum boat the women and girls gushed over George. He loved the attention and the jumping they all gave him, their arms lifting, his legs pushing against their laps.

The next day the river was faster than ever. Once we hit a rock so hard that two floorboards clanged together, pinching Ginny’s toe! Each rapid had only one possible route. But the banks were low and here and there dirt roads touched down; so one way or another we would get Thurston out. Then, at 11:00 am, August 3, we reached Maurilandia.

It lay on the left (west) bank. A bridge entered town from the east. Under the bridge raged the worse rapid yet. We tried it but the current was too swift. No matter, just below the bridge on the east side was a little ranch with a smooth bank and shady trees. Seven months after heading back upstream in Uruguay we had reached the head of navigation! We were later told that only five people navigate the river up to Maurilandia, in aluminum skiffs with 15- or 40-horse outboards, and no one navigates above.  

The property consisted of a couple acres of bare red earth, well-scratched by chickens. Numerous mongrels barked but never bit. There were four houses of tubular red brick, each inhabited by a section of the Nortenseu clan. The oldest member, João, spoke softly if at all. He might be seen watering a dusty mango tree with a bucket, but mostly he sat in a shady spot in front of his house. Diego, a young truck-driver, his wife Evelyn and their 2 year old son Pedro also lived there. João’s stepson, Aldin lived across the way in a modern ranch style home with his wife Kelly and eighteen-year-old daughter Karen. Aldin dredged sand for a living. He was knowledgeable, hard-working and always grinning. “Maurilandia began right here,” he said. “My granddad came in 1945, mining diamonds from the riverbed. There used to be a ferry here before the bridge got built.”

We started walking across the bridge and were promptly enveloped in a cloud of dust as a huge truck loaded with sugar cane barreled past. Dust, the bane of Maurilandia! The truck-trailers haul cane from the fields all around the town to an alcohol plant near the Nortenseu place. The locals attribute their colds to the dust and the extreme dryness of the winter air. We learned to cover our noses and mouths with a cloth whenever trucks passed.

A water truck sprinkled the main street, settling the omniscient red dust. The town was five blocks wide and fifteen blocks long. The cyber café manager said we were the first foreigners he had ever seen there. A loudspeaker car slowly worked the street, detailing a new loan now available at the local bank. Another car with a loud sound system passed the other way blaring bizarre electronic music. In front of a construction materials outlet a guy tied a fistful of half-inch rebars to the tail of his motorcycle and zoomed off, the steel rods snaking behind him with a zingy sound. Everything was loud and dusty, but the people were the soul of hospitality. 

We looked for transport, but nothing economical fell into place. Meanwhile the Nortenseus offered to store Thurston for us, so we decided to leave her there and do the portage when we got back. Whenever we stopped by João’s or Aldin’s house they offered us a shower, or a meal if there was food in the kitchen. Lunch was their big meal of the day, with rice, beans, chicken or meat, and cucumber or cabbage salad.

On Sunday there was a birthday party for a five-year-old relative of Aldin’s who lived in town. Family members came from all over. Babies were compared. Everybody held and “jumped” George. It may have been his best day so far! Then we went for a long walk along a farm road where the cane fields butt up against the riverine scrub. Toucans flew from tree to tree, and small owls stood guard next to their burrows.

On August 15 our friend Douglas took us to a junk yard where we borrowed a chain-fall and some tubes suitable as rollers. Back at the Nortenseu place we used these implements to pull Thurston up the bank, beyond the rainy-season highwater mark. She now sits under a mango tree, which will cover her with mangos while we miss the mango season. Where’s the justice? We found a hole in the bow below the waterline, caused by a sharp Rio Verdão rock, perhaps when the floorboards pinched Ginny’s toe. It hadn’t leaked because the hull there is backed up by pour-in-place foam. We will repair it when we get back in six months.

On the 17th Aldin and Kelly drove us to a nearby city where we caught a bus to Goiânia, a city about the size of Seattle. Ginny had a Couch Surfing date with a sweet couple, Felipe and Waldeska, lined up in advance. We are at their house now enjoying their company and our last taste of Brasilian hospitality for awhile. In a few days we will be in Atlanta, Georgia.

Warning: we have encountered a real live Brazilian Wiggle Monster and are bringing him home with us! We call him Georgie, but he also answers to “Georgão” and “Gordinho” Wish us luck getting him through customs.

See our new photos starting with #215 at:

Lots of love,
Steve, Ginny, & George


Monday, July 15, 2013

Presidente Epitacio Mass Email

Dear friends and family,

We last emailed you on May 10 from Foz do Iguaçu, where George was born. After the month in the apartment we moved to the Lake Itaipu Yacht Club and worked on Thurston, sleeping in a bunkhouse behind the restaurant when the boat work was too disruptive to live aboard. George created a steady stream of dirty clothes and diapers. Ginny washed them in a sink with a built-in scrub-board in the camping area. The wi-fi reception was good there, so she often Skyped with her mother and grandmother, who were eager to see George. We dried the clothes on lines by the bunkhouse, taking them down during the cold rains, and at night when the dew was heavy.

On May 30 we started up Lake Itaipu, a reservoir on the Paraná River. Paraguay was still on the left (west) bank but now we had Brazil to our right. The reservoir was an inland sea with wooded shores. As in our two previous reservoir experiences they hadn’t removed the trees before filling the reservoir, so snags protruded wherever the lake was shallow. Sport fishermen fly-fished from aluminum skiffs, and commercial fishermen in planked boats tended nets. The Honda 2-horse outboard conked out, but we tracked the cause to the ignition cable, for which we had a spare. Ginny rowed for the first time since she was five months pregnant. The wind was rarely good for sailing.

George was fine with living aboard. As necessary we applied his life jacket, ear-protectors, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Ginny created a wrap for him whereby George is carried snugly on her chest leaving her hands free. We shared colds, always harder on George than on Steve or Ginny. During meals Steve read Brazilian history books, looking up the words he didn’t know in a Portuguese-English dictionary. We dried diapers on a line stretched between the masts.

On June 2 we reached Guaira, a small city where there used to be falls similar to Iguaçu, but the dam has drowned them. Somebody invited us into a creek, so we paddled in until we came to a long, ramshackle boatshed with fifteen or so long, slender, wooden fishing dories. We squeezed in among them. We stepped onto a low, grassy bank, crossed a street, and found ourselves in a neighborhood of new and in-process small homes inhabited by fishermen and their families. They were excited to meet us. They had us over for meals and took us on errands in their rattly cars. The local press interviewed us. Little girls brought ramen noodles, bottled water, candies. We were told, for the umpteenth time, of someone who some years before had kayaked the same stretch of river.

Leaving Guaira we were in current again. We weren’t in a hurry so we ran the long-tail motor slow. averaging seven kilometers per hour. Now both banks were Brazil, so the naval patrols dropped off. It took two and a half days to get past Ilha Grande, our longest riverine island to date at 130 kilometers. With the river undivided again it was three kilometers wide: big considering how far upstream we were.

Rather than take one long break at mid-day we tried stopping every couple hours for a quick stroll on a sand bank, a forest trail, or in a town. On June 9 we reached the mouth of the Paranapanema River. Thereafter São Paulo State lay on the east bank. The water became wonderfully clear as we approached the next dam, because it had settled out the sediment.

The Sergio Matto dam has a lock, but could we use it? The fishermen said it’s only for big boats. We put up our masts to look more like a sailboat, therefore deserving. We entered a canal chiseled down through bedrock and stopped within sight of the lock. We called for assistance on VHF Channel 16, afraid we wouldn’t understand the operator’s Portuguese, but we managed all right. Someone took our data, consulted their superior, and said to approach the lock. The operator was a tiny figure in a glass structure high over the downstream gate, which he now lifted. We paddled into the chamber, which was big enough for a hundred Thurstons, and tied to a floating bollard that slides vertically on a track. Creaks and groans echoed through the chamber, flowed by a gentle swirling as we rose about twenty feet. Then the upstream gate opened, this time vertically downwards. It was dark when we emerged into this new reservoir, but we soon found a cove to anchor in.

The next day was Steve’s 60th birthday. The sun shone brightly, the water was clear and cool. The sandy bottom lent itself to wading. In the following nights we camped in equally lovely coves. They were generally creek mouths, marshy at their heads, with forested banks and rising farmland beyond. We saw capybaras, otters, parrots, macaws, and tapir tracks five inches across, but so far no tapirs.

On June 14 we reached Presidente Epitacio, a small city on the east bank. We pulled into a lily-lined inlet and nosed up to a grassy bank among some other recreational boats. The land was park-like, gently rising. To our left a couple of steel boats were getting welded up. To our right was a restaurant with open-air seating. As in Guaira, people took an interest in us. Reporters arrived. The marina manager invited us to stay in a guest house. Downtown was a ten-minute walk away.

We needed to go to the U.S. consulate in São Paulo city to get George an American passport. Pleased with what we had seen of Presidente Epitacio we decided to leave Thurston here and catch a bus. We had heard of something called Couch Surfing, where people register themselves on a web site as being willing to put up travelers. We checked. It’s popular in Brazil and we soon got an invitation from a guy in São Paulo!

We packed light, using just our day packs. A fellow boat owner helped us secure Thurston and took us to the bus station. At 8 PM we caught a modern bus with reclinable seats and rolled off into the night.

Dawn found us in a huge São Paulo transit terminal. We took a subway to Praça da Sé (Plaza of the Old Cathedral), at the city’s core. The crowds included gold-buyers with special vests, policemen of varying uniforms, and homeless people snoozing under brown blankets. Nearby stood the former Jesuit school where the first mass was held in 1554, inaugurating Brazil’s first inland settlement, seventy kilometers from the coast and a cool 2,600 feet above sea level.

São Paulo grew as the jumping-off point for the bandeirante explorations, wherein hardy Portuguese canoed the rivers for years on end in search of gold and Indian slaves. Another new type of man, the gaúcho, ranged southward, adapting the plains to cattle herding. Here and in Paraguay everyone spoke a lingua franca based on Tupi-Guarani. In Paraguay Guarani remained the language of the people while in Brazil further European influxes caused Portuguese to prevail. The bandeirantes discovered gold in Ouro Preto (Black Gold). Coffee was introduced. Millions emigrated from Italy, Germany, Japan, and Eastern Europe. Now São Paulo, population twenty million, is the biggest city in South America, and in the Southern Hemisphere.

We obtained an atlas that broke the city up into 445 pages worth of maps, the minimum number capable of depicting all its 131,249 streets. São Paulo is actually a city of many centers, each a cluster of skyscrapers, the whole spreading over an area forty by sixty kilometers.

We found our amiable host, Vinicius, in a sub-city called Butantá, west of the Pinheiros River. He, his wife Fernanda and a couple friends, all recent graduates of the U. of São Paulo engineering school, inhabited a common-wall house in a hilly district. They gave us the bedroom of a roommate temporarily out of town, keys, and bicycles. Our hosts were leftists, active in the anti-corruption demonstrations then shaking the country. They spoke English, which facilitated communication. We soon developed close friendships with Vinicius and several others.

Next we found the U.S. Consulate, a bus ride and train ride away. A State Department official originally from Seattle interviewed us and approved George’s citizenship. On the public conveyances George inevitably made new friends, men and women of all ages who cooed at him phrases like, “Ay, que pequeninho tao bonitinho e branquinho.” (“My what a lovely little boy, so cute and white-skinned.”) George now smiles ecstatically in response to such entreaties. The other day we caught him befriending a cardboard cut out of a man in the grocery store!

In the following days we toured the Museum of the Portuguese Language, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Paulista Museum (a native of São Paulo state is a Paulista). We did a walking tour of downtown architecture. We found our way through subway stations four stories tall, interconnected with other caverns via conveyor-belt tunnels. The old financial district was entirely vehicle-free: streets curving in medieval patterns, paved with black and white stones, with fountains and street musicians. Here and there demonstrators marched with banners. Mounted policemen marshaled their forces in ranks of groomed horses and shiny black leather. Our new friends took us out to see places we may have never found ourselves. We toured an alley famous for its graffiti. At a street fair we sampled regional sweets and listened to a family performing folk classics on flute, clarinet, ukelele, guitar, and tambourine.

With time to kill pending the arrival of George’s passport, we got another Couch Surfing date and took an all-nighter to Ouro Preto, in the mountainous state of Minas Gerais (General Mines). In 1696 – a hundred and fifty years before the California Gold Rush! – bandeirantes found gold in these steep hills and the creeks draining them. Nobles and commoners, Europeans and creoles, African slaves and everyone else. rushed up from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to get rich (or help their masters do so). And before the problem of provisions was solved (the soil being inadequate for farming) many died with gold in their hands! 

With their new wealth the survivors built a city of steep cobblestone streets and two-story townhouses with mud-and-wattle walls. Those that occupied intersections often had alters like little false balconies set high in their salient corners in the hope that the saint represented therein would protect the residents from ghouls. The well-endowed brotherhoods of the day flooded the town with baroque and rococo churches such as are no longer seen in São Paulo, where the first generation of churches were demolished and rebuilt in newer styles. Their interiors are packed with primitive but colorful paintings, wooden statuary, carved soapstone, and gold-leaf. The most famous architect and sculptor, Aleijadinho (Little Cripple), was a leper who completed his final works with prosthetics attached to his limbs because he no longer had hands.

Our hosts were a young couple who spent their days trying to sell illustrated poetry in the streets. They were anarchists, simple in their lifestyle and pure in their beliefs. Their only furniture was scrounged mats and wooden crates found on the street after market day. We stayed three days with them in their rental house on top of a hill so tall that it was usually in the clouds, cold and misty.

To complete our side-trip we took a bus down to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s most beautiful city and long its capital. Set among sugarloaf mountains, scalloped bays, and luxurious beaches, the city rises from a commodious harbor to steep urbanized hillsides. When Napoleon occupied Portugal in 1808 King Joáo of Portugal moved his court there, promoting Brazil from colony to seat of a world-wide empire. When Joáo returned to Portugal his son remained to became Emperor of an independent Brazil. Various separatist movements were crushed, preserving Brazil as a single whole while Spain’s New World empire crumbled into eighteen separate countries, all relatively weak. This allowed Brazil to win the race for the interior of the continent, its settlers spreading out in the footsteps of the bandeirantes, protected by imperial soldiers.

Our Rio host was a friend of Vinicius, a chemical engineer with a demanding job and a new condo near the beach. In the city center, among more grandiose attractions, we discovered the Real Gabinete Portuguese de Leitura, or, roughly, “Royal Portuguese Reading Library.” A gem of arches and spires, it consists of little more than a three-story atrium filled, from floor to glass dome, with antique books, a sort of Gothic altar to the beautifully soft language of Portugal. 

Friday night fell as we meandered back, George in his wrap. We crossed a glittery theater district, then stopped in a scruffy back street with tall building fronts and hole-in-the-wall booze shops. Drinkers drank in the light emanating from the shops. Families sat on their steps. We bought a big rum drink for $1.50 and sat on the pavement, our backs against a dark wall. Skateboarders tooled around. Kids on bikes passed through. A drunk raved harmlessly.  A hippie jewelry vendor tended his wares, spread out on a cloth. He must have been charismatic, because a baseball-capped teenager brought him marijuana to smoke, and one young woman, then another, came and sat on his knee. Everyone just relaxed, as they must do every Friday night when the weather is nice.

Back at Vinicius’ place in São Paulo we celebrated our third wedding anniversary. Has it really been three years? Our friends Francisco and Berlane, from Manaus, were in town so we got together for a trip to Santos, the port city nearest São Paulo. What a treat to see old friends! George’s passport came, then a debit card to replace one that had expired. We bicycled to new neighborhoods. Kids flying kites were a common sight. If no park was nearby they flew them in the street, their first challenge being to get their little squares of paper and balsa up through a gap in the cables and power lines that filled the air overhead. Once the kite was up the boy had to stay put, but his kite was free to fly far and high, a brave symbol of joy.

On July 11 we caught another night bus back to Presidente Epitacio. Thurston was fine, our hosts still welcoming. We now plan to finish our ascent of the Paraná and a series of tributaries as far as they remain navigable. In upstream order these additional rivers will be the Paranaíba, the Dos Bois, and the Verdáo, the latter two in the state of Goiás. At some point we will arrange transport to Barra das Garzas on the Araguaia River. Around that time our visa will expire, so we will leave Thurston someplace and fly back to Atlanta. We plan to drive around visiting friends and relatives for six months, then return to Thurston and descend the Araguaia River to Belém at the mouth of the Amazon.

Lots of love,
Steve, Ginny, & George

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lago de Itaipu, Brazil

Dear friends and family,

We last emailed you on March 7 after having ascended the swift Paraná River, with Paraguay on the left (west) bank and Argentina on the right, to the mouth of the Iguaçu (or Iguassu or Iguazu) River, which joins on the right. Both rivers are set in deep, forested canyons. Puerto Iguazu, Argentina and Foz do (Mouth of the) Iguaçu, Brazil lie on the north and south sides respective of the Iguaçu River. Ciudad del Este lies on the Paraguayan side of the Paraná.

The meager Argentine and Brazilian port facilities face each other a kilometer upstream on the Iguaçu. We had decided to have our baby in Brazil, so after a week we crossed over and tied up at a facility for getting dredged sand up onto trucks. The bank was steep and muddy. The glossy, red-brown waters rose and fell dramatically for reasons unclear to us; both rivers had major dams upstream. Getting to shore was difficult, and getting from there to downtown Foz required a long uphill walk and a bus ride.

With a population of 250,000, Foz had a fair availability of goods and services. Ginny’s extended belly didn’t lend her to vigorous exploration, but Steve, with no such handicap, bought a used bicycle and a map of the city. The nights were hot and our solar-fed electrical system lacked capacity to run a fan, so we installed a second battery and a fan of lower amperage. The weather subsequently cooled with the onset of Southern Hemisphere autumn, but we would need the cooling capacity later as we re-approached the Equator. Playing on Brazilian strengths we ate mangoes and chocolate and drank beer from returnable liter bottles. There was little traffic. On weekends families came and set up chairs and umbrellas and fished at the foot of the boat ramp as if it were a beach.

Ginny’s mother, sister, and her sister’s boyfriend were scheduled to arrive around birthing time, so we found a small furnished apartment ten blocks east of downtown, near a shopping center. On March 15th we picked Mom (Lois) up at the airport and moved in. Normally talkative, she was so excited she switched from subject to subject like a hummingbird sniffing flowers, zigging and zagging. At the apartment she showered us with gifts, including peanut butter, hostess treats, and five (!) tiny magnifying glasses, not to mention a suitcase of things she had transported for us. Lois took one bedroom, we the other. Then we sat on the sofa and feasted on pizza and ice cream.

On March 19th , one day past the due date, Ginny woke up feeling “different somehow.” At 8:00 a.m. she started having contractions every five minutes, then every four. That being the indicated frequency, Steve called a taxi, but when we tried to leave the gate wouldn’t open! In our apartment block each landing led to a pair of apartments sharing a barred gate. We had never locked it before, nor had the neighbors, but this time they had locked it and left. And our key didn’t work! We were stuck inside with Ginny in labor! Ginny was calm, expecting labor to take all day anyway, but Lois and Steve were in a panic, yelling for help and trying to kick the gate down. Finally a neighbor, reaching his hand through the bars, got our key to work.

Ten minutes later we were in the lobby of the Hospital Cataratas, a small private institution. We had already purchased a birth plan. Staffers promptly examined Ginny. Pronouncing her “pronto!” (ready) they wheeled her away into the depths of the hospital where no one could hear her scream. Lois and Steve took care of paperwork, then tried to follow her. They wouldn’t let us into the birthing room! Steve remonstrated with increasing insistence until some nurses dressed him in scrubs and led him into the inner sanctum. 

Ginny was in full labor, screaming with pain, foaming at the mouth, thrashing on the table. The doctor was working calmly only taking time to occasionally give the impossible order “Tranquilo!”. A brawny, demonic nurse had her arm passed through the metal framework of the birthing bed from one side to the other in such a manner as to clamp Ginny down while also pressing her bulge vent-ward. “Push!” she commanded. “Stop, breathe deeply! Now push! Harder!” Steve, crying but calm, held Ginny’s hand and translated the commands. His presence helped Ginny feel more secure, but it didn’t relieve the primal agony.  
After a short, but unimaginably long 30 minutes the anguish was over! They snipped the cord and all too briefly showed us our baby, then took him away. During his forty-five years of practice Doctor Fava had done 28,000 births, so he knew his business. He was the only doctor we could find who did normal births as Brazil is notorious for having an astronomically high rate of C-sections, something like 90% in the private hospitals. In the big cities there is a move back towards normal, what they call “humane” births, but Foz is not so progressive. Their attitude seems to be that anyone who requests a natural birth must be poor or masochistic.

They rolled Ginny into a private room where Lois was waiting, content because she had previously been in the nursery holding the baby who then spent four hours in an incubator. Finally they brought George Iguassu Ladd to us, healthy and beautiful! Various doctors and nurses came and went asking this, injecting that. George was chubby and calm. He weighed 8 pounds, 11 ounces, much bigger than the doctor had expected. He began nursing right away. “Now we’re immortal,” said Ginny. Unable to sleep, she just stared at George all night.

We spent the night in the hospital room and in the morning took a taxi to the apartment. Ginny’s sister Carley and her boyfriend Matt had arrived during the night. We spent several happy days together. When Ginny wasn’t scrubbing diapers, nursing or just staring at George she was zoned out pondering the baby’s mysterious needs and wants. Lois kept us all well fed. When she wasn’t cooking she spent every possible moment holding and cooing to her first grandchild. Carley brought a huge bag of prizes for George, donated by kind friends. Matt, in taking a walk, discovered a favela (slum) lining a stream only a quarter mile from our relatively lush apartment complex. Steve studied guitar and Portuguese. It has even more verb forms than Spanish! And those devilish Xs can be pronounced four different ways: “sh”, “s”, “z”, or “cs”.

On George’s seventh day we all took a bus to Iguassu Falls, which occupies matching national parks on either side of the Brazilian/Argentine border. We followed a trail on the lip of the gorge with views of the countless individual falls, up to 270 feet tall, over a large area where the river plummets over a cliff that curves in plan view, and which in places is broken up into two steps of half that height. The trail had many vantage points, some immersed in swirling droplets due to proximity to one or another of the cataracts. We held George aloft in the mist that he might absorb power from his namesake. We also rented a car and explored the Brazilian state of Paraná. Corn blanketed the rolling hills, dotted with neat little towns, cleft with deep valleys.

The third leg of the stool, Ciudad del Este, is an infamous duty-free zone and smuggling center. Lois and Steve took a bus there to buy cameras and new clothes for Ginny. It was comparable in size to Foz, but poor and congested. Paraguay’s lack of import duties had created a retail boom necessitating a profusion of new six-story buildings. Typically the side facing the street was emblazoned with mega-graphics while the other three were of unfinished brick. In the canyons between the buildings overhead cables filled the air like vines in an Amazonian forest. But one rarely glimpsed such things, because stall-keepers had turned the sidewalks into congested tunnels of shoddy Chinese merchandise, while the streets were full of stalled traffic. Flyer-distributors tried to entice us into Lebanese- or Syrian-owned electronics stores. Ambulatory vendors sold phone chargers, hats, belts. When a rainstorm hit a little boy in shorts and flip-flops turned a discarded chunk of Styrofoam into a boat and floated it down an engorged gutter.

Carley and Matt went home all too soon, but Lois stayed over a month. Foz is a bland, automobile-oriented city, but we had plenty to do. We had Thurston transported from the river to a reservoir above the city, and got George a shiny new Brazilian passport. We made new friends and enjoyed a few musical get-togethers with them. A newborn necessitates a lot of idle time, but  we could always count on an American action movie dubbed in Portuguese to keep us entertained. 


On April 16th we sadly accompanied Lois to the airport. Our rental now expired, so we packed up our stuff and caught a bus to the boat. A few miles upstream of Foz on the Paraná River lies the mammoth Itaipu Dam. The Lake Itaipu Yacht Club had not only consented to accommodating Thurston, but had towed her there free of charge. An army of employees in matching blue T-shirts kept the grounds immaculate and launched and retrieved the members’ boats, which were kept on land, each on its own trailer. Thurston waited for us under a shady tree, on land to facilitate some boat work.

Except for the yacht club, the shore of Lake Itaipu is a wilderness reserve. A troupe of tufted capuchin monkeys sometimes comes to pick a big green fruit called guanábana (soursop) from a tree behind the club’s workshop. All the conveniences are available here, but we live aboard as usual. Ginny re-arranged the cabin to accommodate George, who sleeps beside her up forward. She has made up funny songs to sing while she feeds him, changes his diaper, etc. He gets fussy but Ginny is patient. In the morning Steve plays with George in the cockpit while she washes diapers. The nearest stores are a twenty-minute bike ride away in Tres Lagoas, a suburb of Foz. 

We made a new sail cover and are now building new hatches for the aft stowage compartment because the store-bought ones always leaked. We are also cutting the compartment’s forward edge down a little to allow a full rowing stroke even when the water is rough. (Waves necessitate lifting the oar blades higher, which in turn necessitates  a lower arc at the grips.) After learning guitar for two years with standard tuning, Steve has gone over to Major Thirds tuning, which gives the fretboard a symmetrical pattern of notes.

As eccentric travelers who had chosen that their adorable son be Brazilian instead of Argentine or Paraguayan, and had middle-named him for their waterfall, we enjoyed ideal public relations conditions. Besides the kind hospitality from the Iate Clube Lago de Itaipu new friends put us up in their posada for a spell, a TV crew filmed us (see the video here) , a newspaper reporter interviewed us, and the yacht club wrote us up in their glossy quarterly magazine. Too bad we didn’t have anything to sell!

When we get underway again we plan to ascend the Paraná and Paranaiba rivers into the state of Goias, transport to the Araguaia River, and descend it to Belém at the mouth of the Amazon. George has been asked to hurry up and learn how to row. Wherever we are in about four months we intend to fly back to the U.S. for a long visit.

Lots of love,
Steve & Ginny (and George!)