Wednesday, April 23, 2008

2008: A South American Odyssey

Question: How do we know that 2001: A Space Odyssey is fiction?
Answer: Because a computer takes over the world.

A computer could never take over the world because it would break, JUST LIKE MY COMPUTER. Or the battery would go from charging great one day to not working at all, JUST LIKE MY COMPUTER.

Yes folks, the reason I haven't been blogging is my computer, aged only 9 months, has died the death of deaths--the hard drive caput suicide mamba of phooey-ness.

Oh Karen, you may ask, not with ALL YOUR PICTURES FROM SOUTH AMERICA ON IT?

I can't even type the answer. I hope, I hope, I hope that I can get this baby fixed enough back in Texas to eke out my photos. The good news: A few photos Krista had saved to her iPod; a few I had sent to various students; a few were posted on the blog. Those thoughts are helping me not cry my eyes out right now.

I was taking fewer pictures than before, by the way, because MY CAMERA DIED TOO. Yep.

A computer will take over the world? Ha. Hal Schmal.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


In September, I posted a map of countries I've visited. Now that I've visited six more, I thought an update was in order.
So, where have you been? If you follow the link, you can fill in a U.S. map or other places as well as this particular version.

create your own visited country map
or check our Venice travel guide


Monday, April 14, 2008

Learning Spanish - by Krista Cukrowski

Hi. This is Krista. Uhhhh…I just thought I'd tell y'all a little bit about our learning Spanish in South America. Our teacher's name is Amelia. My first thought when I saw Amelia was that she reminded me of the little bat (my favorite character) in the Disney movie ANASTASIA. She hops around the classroom, acts out "los verbos" for us, and on occasion will choose some lucky students to help her out.

On a normal day, she'll make us go around the room and conjugate verbs to different forms for about 30 minutes.

An example of conjugation in class:

Amelia: Hiciste?

Krista: Pues...uhhhhmmm….Si, yo….hico?? Possiblemente?

Amelia: MUY BUEN!!!!!!!!!!!!

To me, there are lots of Spanish words that seem made up. One of the best is "hablaba" (which means "I was speaking"). Hablaba looks like gibberish—kind of like the English word "suing," which also looks like gibberish.
OH! And you can't leave out "desafortunadamente" (which ironically means "unfortunately"). I usually forget a few syllables, which in turn makes people give me this *Aw-look-at-the-pathetic-mental-child-trying-to-speak* look. Sometimes we have contests to see who can say it the fastest. It usually doesn't end well.

For those of you who were wondering what we do for that remaining hour, it is my pleasure to inform you that we go over the 'Chapter of the Week,' and sing. Yes, I typed that correctly. We sing. In Spanish. Badly. Actually, the singing is my favorite part, mainly because I'm the one who gets to find the songs, purchase them, bring speakers to class, oh, and listen to the song a few times beforehand. It's kind of nice, really.

I really am grateful for Amelia, and her diligence in teaching us the "Uruguayo" way to speak Español. It really is fun! =)

Music in South America, Part II

As a follow-up to the blog entry Krista wrote about her impressions of South American music, Karen will rebut.

Here's what I think: much like music in the States, I love some of it, I hate some of it, and I "appreciate" some of it, although it's not to my taste.

When we were in Peru, they played a cool multiple-stick flute thing; Krista bought one, and it's fun to try to play. Hers came with a little booklet so you'd know which notes to play, and our favorite is "Hey Hude" by the Beatles (no, that's not a typo; that's yet another amusing little pronunciation thing, since in Spanish the J is pronounced as an H).

We heard some native guaraní people singing and using rain sticks as instruments at the National park. They didn't sound very good, but they were sweet. [Sad fact: there are only about 900 Guaraní people left in the world now, as their society gets more and more engulfed and more and more of them choose to join the outside world.]

I despise anything that sounds like a mariachi band. I want to like it, but I don't. I appreciate the heritage, but it bugs the heck out of me. This is how I feel, by the way, about opera: I TRY to like it; I know I'm supposed to; I appreciate what it's doing; but I don't like it.

In Paraguay, we heard a cool trio, including a guy who could make a harp sound like celestial music, a train, a piano, a bass fiddle, well, anything. A lot of the music sounded mariachi-ish, but I appreciated their talent very much. And I really loved the train song.

Then there's the good stuff. Anything with a good drum beat, like the African-based candombe sounds, is thrilling and appealing to me.

For example, we went to a way cool concert at the absolutely gorgeous Solis Theater here in Montevideo (think the Paramount on steroids) and heard Chico Cesar, a Brazilian who sings of women's rights, the homeless, and others who have little voice in today's world. He is the youngest of seven children from a poor family in the sticks of Brazil, and he's never forgotten his roots. The only song I had ever (barely) heard was "Mama Africa!" which you can hear (or lots of his others) by going on youtube at

Now, having said all that about South American music, I haven't by any means left my favorites from the past: the Stones, CCR, Elton John, etc. But I have learned some appreciation for a whole 'nuther culture's rhythms and sounds.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Annotated Brazilian Trip Quiz

Since Kenny liked the Peru quiz, I have decided 
to follow up with a Q&A over our week-long excursion to Brazil. Good luck as you take this oh-so-important test.

1. When Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro climb up some major big waterfalls in the wonderful movie THE MISSION, where are they?

2. Which three countries were involved in Karen's birthday this year?

3. Which currency cannot be used in Ciudad de la Este, Paraguay?
a) the Paraguayan guarani
 b) the Brazilian real 
c) the Argentine peso 
d) the U.S. dollar
e) Merchants only take credit cards there.

4. Name that flag. The following are the flags of the six countries we have visited during this trip to South America:
Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil,
Argentina, Chile, Peru. Which
 is which?


Which dam/hydroelectric plant supplies 25% of Brazil's power and 75% of Paraguay's and inspired our group to tell many, many "dam" jokes?

6. What is the favorite soft drink of Brazil? _______

7. What game did we play daily with the cleaning lady at the hotel in Brazil?
a. Duck, Duck, Goose
b. hide and seek
c. kick the can
d. Operation
e. steal the passport

8. How poor are Paraguayans?
a. a little bit poor
b. a lot poor
c. seriously poor
d. quite poor
e. all of the above

9. Short answer. Describe just how good Brazilian mangoes and guavas are.

10.  How long was the trip to, during, and from Iguazu Falls, Brazil?

Annotated Answers

1. Iguazú Falls (alternately spelled Iguaçu, Iguassu, Iguasu, and probably some other ways too). These falls (actually over 250 different falls) are bona-fide magnificent,2.7 kilometers wide and up to 75 meters high. Beautiful. Good job, God. [Pictured is a Jesuit
mission, much like the one(s) depicted in the movie, which I recommend highly, as well.]

2. We visited the Falls on both the Brazilian and Argentine sides, and we also went on my birthday for a few hours to
Paraguay! The picture shows where the three countries meet 
(well, actually they meet in the river smack-dab in the middle). Strangely enough, this is not the first time I have visited multiple countries on my birthday, but it's the first 24-hour long cumpleaños I have. When I turned fifteen, my family and I were in Japan on April 7; then we boarded a plane, crossed the International Dateline, landed in Los Angeles, and went to Disneyland on the next day, which was still April 7th, my birthday! Cool, eh?! (Of course, the downside is that that may make me one year OLDER than I already am!)

3. You cannot use Paraguayan currency in the Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este. Yup. Good to know. As a doctor who came to treat one of our students for a throat infection (she's doing better) said, "I prefer green [dollars]; I'll take plastic or yellow [credit card or Brazilian real]; but it takes about a million of these [shows Paraguayan guarani] to make even one dollar."

4. The flags Argentina and Uruguay look similar: the big blue-and-white stripe with the small sun is Argentina, and the multiple stripes with the large sun is Uruguay. The "Texas flag" is Chile's; the red-white-red one is Peru; the red, white, blue one with the emblem in the middle is Paraguay; and finally, the green-and-yellow one is Brazil's. Now you're one step closer to being ready for Jeopardy. You're welcome.

5. The Itaipu Dam is dam HUGE, eight dam full kilometers wide. We had a dam tour of the facility on the Paraguay dam side, listened to some remarkable native music, most notably unusual harp music, and saw a dam video that reminded me strongly of the Dharma Project propaganda videos in the TV series LOST.

6. Guarana, which tastes kind of like apple juice meets ginger ale and is very good (but nothing, in my opinion, compared to Uruguay's Paso de Los Toros or, in my family's opinion, to the Peruvian soda Inca Kola).

7. b. The game in which we were unwitting participants was Hide the Bedspread. Every day we would leave our hotel room, bedspread decidedly on the bed,  (in the picture, you can see one on the extra bed) and 
would return to find it had moved to a shelf in the closet, or a spot by the door, or wherever other non-bed-spot she decided it should be. Beats "Steal the Passport" any day, but it was kind of strange nonetheless!

8. e. Very poor indeed. In the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance (1865-70) — among Paraguay and Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay — Paraguay lost TWO-THIRDS (yes, you read that horrible fact correctly) of all adult males and much of its territory. Since then, what with natural disasters, bad management, military dictatorships, and perhaps worse, lack of dictatorship, things have not improved.

9. SO good. I ate good guavas for the first time since I left the Philippines in 1980, and last night for dinner, I had sayote, which is a tasteless squash-like plant that has great texture and that my mom used to cook for both a vegetable dish and/or for a mock-apple pie. And the pineapples and mangoes in Brazil were great too. Actually all the food was really tasty, with the possible exceptions of grilled chicken hearts, oxtail, and the humpback of a cebu (that's what they called it, for real). It was kind of like I was daring myself to try those things; it's amazing how much one's mind controls how a food will taste. I used to eat anything in the Philippines: bugs, dog, whatever. Now I really have to convince myself to eat something non-standard, like guinea pig. I had no trouble convincing myself to eat flan every night, however, in my quest for the most perfect custard. My mom still makes the very best, but some of these came close.

10. 24-ish hours each way on a bus (OK, it was a GREAT bus, a double-decker with a game room downstairs and a decent little bathroom, but it was still a bus and no bedroom) and a week-long trip altogether. However, we made great use of the time on the bus. I, for example, slept a lot of the way to Brazil, and, on the way back, I relearned how to do the Rubik's cube and worked on Christmas cards (it's a long story). So, at least that was time well spent! Ha!