I just finished a long, FULL day!  I left about 8:30 this morning for a city orientation about Manaus.  It is half-way up the Amazon and was built by rubber barons in the late 1800s though white people first made their way to Manaus in the mid 1500s.  We went to an INCREDIBLE opera house. I totally felt like I was in Europe again which was the point of the original designers: the rubber barons.  They had so much money that they had everything shipped in from Europe except for a little bit of wood which was from the Amazon and the streets outside which were made completely of rubber bricks.  The wealth of these guys blows me away…they were literally creating ways to spend their unlimited wealth.  They prefabricated the Customs House for the port and had it shipped to Manaus 100+ years ago.  They also shipped in 36,000 ceramic tiles to make the dome of the opera house!  We got to hear the Manaus Philharmonic Orchestra which just happened to be practicing while we were there! (We saw a huge model of the opera house made of 30,000 legos 🙂  We also when to a museum on the natives as well as the NEATEST fish market!  It was a huge dome absolutely full of fresh fish.  I was filming when I noticed a girl about 17 or 18 that was watching me.  We both cracked up and I started “talking” with her (a whole lot of Spanish-ish and gestures).  We laughed so much and I got a pic with her at the end –we sure laughed a ton.  After meeting her I was completely in love with the Brazilian people and from that point on, my perspective was different.
My next trip was going to a Children’s Rescue village out in the Amazon forest.  It took us about 1 hour drive to arrive, deep in the forest, dirt roads, etc.  We entered the shelter area and heard about these children.  All of them (about 30) were abused or extremely malnourished and were completely removed from their parents’ “care” by removing them out to the Amazon.  There were a few children from different parts of the Amazon forest as well.  Anyway, they sat quietly while the director spoke with us and we were wanting so badly to meet them.  When we were allowed to interact with them, EVERYTHING changed.  Same language did not matter and we had a BLAST for 2 solid hours.  My goodness, what a life-changing experience.  For many of them it took some time and hugs before they would trust us.  Some were mentally unable to be normal kids but by the end even they were giving hugs, smiling, playing.  I got so many videos of the children that changed my life.  Leo was Kara’s bud
and Talia was mine.  She ran up to me before the teacher even finished
and we just kept hugging.  She is 12 but she, like the rest
of the children, were very small for their age. 😦  We instantly
connected, she used her couple of English phrases again and again 🙂 and
from that point on the next 2 hours was a blur of fun.  We all had
stickers, games, toys, etc. for the children.  Some of the SAS students
pulled out crayons and paper (no need for communication), others
bracelets and sticker earings, I had stickers and a bouncy ball.  Well,
the bouncy ball was a HIT!  (Thanks for packing them, Mom!)  I played
with them, kicking, hitting, head-butting the bouncy ball to keep it
going.  Then a massive soccer game began in the field nearby: girls
against boys.  Oh my goodness, I haven’t had that much fun in so long!
There we were in this little clearing in the rainforest, sweating like
none other, playing hard with these barefooted kids, with the biggest
smiles on all the faces of those involved.  We cheered, laughed and just
had a blast with these sweet children.  After about 45 mins, we had to
leave.  We got a huge group photo (including an 8 foot baby Anaconda
owned by one of the boys :), and then all the children ran out to first
touch the bus and then line up along the dirt road.  We walked by them
to get on the bus, getting hundreds of hugs, and somehow got on our
bus.  It killed me to leave but at the same time I can’t think of the
last time that I have felt that HAPPY.  After locating the one stow-away
(Leo, who had climbed on to hug Kara again :), we drove away with the
kids waving as long as they could see us.  I had to just search my
heart: what is joy?  Is it really seeing the world?  Honestly, I had
more joy being with those children than the rest of my SAS trip so far.
What an incredible experience…  One more thing, I had brought a
picture of brothers and I to help the kids relate (like in the mission),
but as I pulled it out, and looked at these kids who had no family, I [felt I needed to] say they were “mis amigos”…  It was interesting though because these kids truly were family to each other.  The gifts they received  were communal.  If one got a bracelet, they would grab a few more and hand them out to their “siblings”.  On our ride back we got to see the Manaus temple!  It was BEAUTIFUL and right up against the Amazon river in the center of the Amazon forest–absolutely incredible!  It won’t be dedicated for some time, but
it was so neat and wonderful to see a temple!  Kara and I cheered
outloud as we took pics and videos 🙂  I’m sure the other people in the
bus were confused that we would get so excited over such a nice [modern] building 😉  Oh, and since I’m not quite sure where this fits in, did you know the Amazon River starts in Peru???  So the silt we have been traveling through for three days now is from the Pacific side of Brazil!
We then came back to the ship, took power naps, ate, and left for our Alligator Trip!

Again, how can I even describe the incredible things we saw!  We got on an “original” riverboat (meaning it was restored) and made our way to the floating indigenous villages.  The Amazon here will raise 30-35 feet during the rain season.  These homes and buildings are either
made to float, or some have 30 foot tall stilts!  We’re in the rainy season, so we floated right past the houses on eye level.  We then got into little motorized canoe things and went Alligator hunting!  It was absolutely incredible!  We were clear of the city lights, but the lights
lit up the distant sky slightly which made the views gorgeous!  The
river was like glass, nothing disturbing it.  We weaved through the
floating grasses and trees.  Kara and I just kept looking at each other,
totally shocked that we can honestly be here on the Amazon, the longest
river in the world, at night, hunting for alligators.  It was a surreal
“moment” that lasted about an hour.  Right off the bat, one of the
natives steering our canoe saw the red eyes of an alligator, reached
down and caught it!!!  He pulled it out of the water and we each got to
get pictures holding these alligators!  Oh my goodness, it was AWESOME!
I think I was too busy helping Kara not to freak out (she has been more
and more nervous since arriving in Manaus) that I wasn’t really nervous,
until I saw the picture afterwards and it hit me! 😀  Kara did great and we had one of the most amazing nights ever–I know I’m going to be saying that for the rest of the trip, but I really feel like everyday couldn’t possibly be better than the last port day, but I’m totally wrong–they’re ALL better than the day before!  I’m SO blessed–on our ride back in the riverboat, Kara and I again talked about how we can’t wait to see what this world trip will mean in our
futures.  Why are we here?  Why do we have such an INCREDIBLE
opportunity to see the world?  It can’t be just to “get around” or “open
our eyes”: Kara and I both agree that it will be exciting to see why
we’re here in Brazil at this time in our lives. MAN, today was perfect!!!  Tomorrow is my overnight river trip so  I’ll [write more] probably Friday evening as we leave Manaus.



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