When most people think of Brazil, they think of soccer, beautiful models, and the Amazon River. This summer, five other teenagers and I spent two weeks in Puraquequara, Brazil, a small town along the Amazon, home to a boarding school for missionary kids. Our group had come to help paint school buildings. But more than just painting, this trip forced me to break out of my shell by forming new friendships and experiences that have changed my outlook on life.
After traveling for twenty-four hours straight, we were picked up at the Manaus Airport. A harrowing drive thorugh the streets of Manaus sent us to the river's edge where I was shocked to see a tiny canoe–I didn't believe it could hold all ten of us and our massive amount of luggage. That night I learned the importance of traveling light!
There are no streetlights along the Amazon, so to check for river traffic, the boat driver would occasionally stop and shine his little flashlight to look for oncoming boats. After an hour, we finally made it to Puraquequara. Using flashlights to watch our steps, we carried our luggage from the boat across small planks to reach land. On the way to our lodging, it seemed that there were giant mud puddles everywhere. To complicate matters, the mosquitoes found us to be extra tasty with none of that "repellant" aftertaste!
I shared a screened-in dorm room with two other girls. With no electricity, we tried to get ready for bed by candlelight, slathering ourselves with insect repellent and hoping for the best. We soon discovered that we were not alone–a bat was living in the rafters above my bed. Fernando, as we came to call him, flew around the room every night. I quickly learned the wisdom of always sleeping under a mosquito net!
That first morning, I awoke to jungle sounds. I decided to shower before the other girls awoke. Everything was great until I looked down and saw what looked like a black blob. Upon second glance, I saw that it was a scorpion! I grabbed my towel, and ran screaming out of the shower; immediately the other girls came running. By this time the scorpion's tail was up, and we knew he wasn't happy. One of the girls found a broom and bravely dispatched the enemy.
One evening, after a tiring day of painting, a group of us decided to go alligator hunting. The ten of us, including some resident missionary kids, carried a canoe over our heads like ants carrying a new-found treasure. We followed an overgrown path into the jungle toward the murky alligator swamp. Slowly and quietly, we packed into the canoe, carefully balancing our weight.
Most of the alligators dove at the sight of our group, but some of the braver ones stared us down with their gleaming ruby eyes. The "hunters" would balance precariously on the front edge of the canoe, waiting for an alligator to swim by. When an alligator was near, a quick swipe to clench the alligator's jaws together in the water landed a small alligator in our boat. After examining the alligators up close, we released them back into their habitat.
Before this trip, I was afraid to try new thing and hated humidity. In Brazil, I was forced to come out of my comfort zone, making new friends and having new experiences that developed a toughness in myself that I didn't have before. The missionaries in Brazil showed me that life without air-conditioning is possible, and living in the jungle can be a real adventure.
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