#13: The Green Turtle takes a break, and so do I
Things have been pretty quiet for the Turtle this past year. We’ve been out of the
US almost as much as we’ve been home, and with the way gas has been this past year,
the Turtle hasn’t wanted to go out much.
First we took the kids down to Brazil for the summer (The summer in the US, it’s
always summer in Santarem). It’s been 10 years since we were there. Most of Agilene’s
family hadn’t even seen Iago or Keesha, besides since I was freelancing I could
take my work with so we could spend a couple of months there.
The trip down was an adventure in its own right. The night before we left we found
out that we didn’t all have tickets. Worse the agent already knew, but of course
she ‘didn’t work on weekends’! Finally I had to fly on a different plane to the
kids and catch up with them in Miami . Agilene was double-booked which the TSA doesn’t
particularly like, so they signed us up for the deluxe security package, which amongst
other things included us sitting there for 10 minutes while they ran our egg-sandwiches
through the bomb scanner. After that we had problems with our tickets not being
valid for any of the flights, except for the last one – that was where they lost
our baggage (something that they’ve managed to do on our last three vacations. The
last time we went to South Africa we arrived on Christmas Eve and they’d lost the
most important suitcase – it had the swimsuits and all the presents. When we went
to Vegas last year it took them 4 weeks to find our luggage: I was stuck with one
t-shirt and Agilene had one pair of underwear). In Manaus the security guard asked
me casually if there might be some kids’ toys that look like guns in our carry on.
With alarms already going off in my head, I answered, noncommittally, that there
weren’t any that I knew of. Somehow the deluxe TSA check didn’t include this little
detail. Our last flight adventure was that they pulled us over in Salvador for carrying
more than 100ml of liquids, we had a 120 ml bottle of cough syrup even though it
only had about 30ml in it. There was no convincing them so Agilene and I dutifully
took the last of our medicine while everyone behind us patiently waited in line.
Even though we were in Brazil for 2 months the time just flew by. We hardly got
anything that we had planned done and must only have visited 379 of Agilene’s 3622
relatives. One of the things we needed to do was get birth certificates for the
children. Even though we, at least in theory, had arranged everything with the consulate
here, however this was an ordeal requiring a day in line and having to go before
a judge to have it approved and it still took the whole two months to actually get
them. Of course they turned out to have been issued incorrectly so we are going
to have to try again next time.
Most days I went down to Project Amazon’s
offices to work since they were kind enough to let me use their broadband internet
connection. Even better they had air-con which makes sitting at a desk all day bearable.
In the meantime Iago and Keesha were trying their hardest NOT to learn Portuguese
(Yuri as always did great at Portuguese). Iago decided that he would rather not
take a chance and walked around with his lips pursed to avoid something coming out
by mistake – he wouldn’t even risk talking to us in English. Keesha took a different
approach altogether – she assumed that since she appeared to be the centre of attention,
she would just talk English and everyone would have to change to suit her.
Fortunately, after a few weeks of this, they did give up and started to learn and
get along with the other kids and are actually speaking quite well now.
Ever since we met Agilene has wanted to take me to see a place with strange rock
formations near Alenquer called ‘Cidade
dos Deuses’ (‘City of the Gods’). She also wanted to visit a whole bunch
of relatives in Alenquer so we went across the river for the weekend.
Alenquer is a bit like the wild-west of Brazil, a land where the law is there only
if you feel like it. It is almost directly across the river from Santarem (though
this turns out to be quite a long way). There are two ways to get there: in a couple
of hours by jet boat or overnight on the river-boats. We chose the latter; the
slow boats are a much nicer way to see the river and it would let the kids see more,
this being their first time.
We visited countless relatives in Alenquer and the kids got to try out a whole bunch
of the different fruits they have in the Amazon (Cupuacu, Carambola (Star fruit),
Acerola, Coconut straight off the tree). Unfortunately the trip to the ‘Cidade dos
Deuses’ was a wash-out: the roads were impassable and full of deep ruts from the
rainy season so it looks like we’ll have to try again in another ten years. We also
went to visit the ‘Vale de Paraiso’ (Paradise Valley) to see the waterfalls. However
it was a bit of an anti-climax, it was a long dusty ride on the back of a pick-up
to get there and the waterfall just wasn’t worth the price (and most waterfalls
I have seen were free), though for Agilene’s sister it was the first time she had
seen a waterfall.
Back in Santarem , the boys loved having so many cousins to play with and there
was almost never a dull moment. They learned how to make and fly kites. Their favourite
thing was to go to one of the beaches (my favourite beach is Alter do Chao).
Going to the beach was always an undertaking, we inevitable had a couple of handfuls
of kids and many of them couldn’t swim so we both had to be full-time lifeguards
and we had to pull out a couple of sinking children.
For the girls, Keesha was the centre of attention. She had someone to give her a
shower, someone to do her hair, another to dry her off, and someone to get her dressed.
Then she could still choose from half a dozen relatives to sleep with (she never
gets invited for sleepovers here so she loved this and really took advantage). Unfortunately
now she believes she is a princess and can be impossible when things don’t go her
For the last week of our vacation we decided to go to Salvador in Bahia – it was
an unforgettable experience. We arrived late at night and had to drag our suitcases
over the cobbled streets, they never quite recovered from the experience. The bed
and breakfast we had booked was really terrible and cramped and we couldn’t afford
anything else. We toured the main tourist sites but in most cases there was very
little left to see apart from the dot on the map and when there was something it
was not well explained. Even worse getting around required dodging the hordes of
kids begging, not too mention a lot of unsafe looking streets. Spiritualism was
very evident everywhere we went, from the music, to the ‘churches’, to the ribbons
for ‘luck’ that they tried to tie on our wrists everywhere we went. I lived on savouries,
which has always been my favourite Brazilian food, but the rest of the food we tried
really wasn’t worth it. Salvador is definitely not on our list of places to visit
Despite it being a little chilly the best thing left to do was to go to the beach.
The kids also enjoyed the Praia do Forte Turtle Sanctuary an hour or so up the coast
After being back for just a couple of months we left for another 6 weeks in South
Africa starting with my dad’s birthday bash at the end of November (we decided that
there was no point in not staying for Christmas after that). Arriving in Knysna
we were expecting a relaxing weekend with a party somewhere in the middle, but it
was not to be. The birthday bash turned out to be a week long affair with at least
5 separate events, the first one being on the day we arrived.
We had already seen most of the sights the last time we were in Knysna so this time
we spent about half of the time at the beach and an awful lot of time just doing
nothing. This is the first vacation we have had in a long time where there was nothing
we had to do and nowhere that we had to go, no reservations, nothing. I actually
rather liked it.
When we were at the beach Yuri would stay in the water from the time we arrived
until we called him to leave a few hours later. Keesha was just the opposite and
would only go in for a couple of minutes. We thought about all our friends back
home in the cold USA . On the other days we relaxed, read, played games and went
to see some of the parks along the coast. By some miracle Agilene even let them
wrap a Boa Constrictor around her at the snake park. Since the kids were missing
three weeks of school there were also a few hours of homework to do each day.
We also arranged to spend a few days in the Kruger Park . The last time we went
Yuri was just a couple of years old. I’ve always been told that the rainy season
is not a good time to go to the park; it is hard to see the game and they don’t
stay near the watering holes. But a big bonus was that we saw babies of almost everything
which was quite cute, especially the baby warthogs running around with their tails
in the air and scattering every time they got startled. We were luckier than I have
ever been in the Kruger and apart from the ‘normal’ animals we see every time like
elephant, giraffe, zebra, impala, rhino, buffalo and hippos we also saw a pride
of cheetah and had a leopard lie down in the road right in front the car and then
proceed to stalk some impala that were in the bushes. Twice we had an elephant walk
down the middle of the road, as they love to do, forcing us to reverse up the road
– the first time we had to reverse over a mile and I had some very nervous passengers:
Iago was just about hiding under the backseat. They now tell our friends that the
elephant was chasing us. Fortunately they weren’t, I’ve had some much closer
encounters with elephants. The other story that the kids insist on telling everyone
is that we saw lions sleeping in the middle of the road. They somehow forget to
mention that this was in a park and not in the middle of a city and so they leave
everyone with a completely wrong opinion of what South Africa is really like.
The Kruger Park still has its wild side. One day, when we stopped for breakfast,
the baboons stole a mango off the table right in front of me and, when Iago picked
up another mango to move it to another table, they stole it right out if his hands
and then they started threatening Agilene while she was cutting the paw-paw which
is quite scary.
In between Knysna and the Kruger we managed to squeeze in the second tri-annual
Rohloff braai (barbecue). It was nearly a disaster; I had forgotten that all the
supermarkets close at 6 o’clock so we almost didn’t have anything to cook. We enjoyed
catching up with the people who came. Next time we hope more of you can make it
to this unmissable event.
Back home this has been the coldest winter we have had in Ohio . Temperatures were
down in the negatives (below -18øc) several times. On the coldest day Agilene got
called to work at midnight, when she returned to her car a few hours later it was
-8øf (-22øc) and the grapes she had brought along as a snack had frozen solid. My
worst experience was when the car had a flat tire and I had to change it, I definitely
wasn’t prepared and eventually gave up and just called triple-A. The fuses on the
hot-tub also tripped and by the time I noticed a few days later the pipes had frozen
The best thing about the cold is the snow. The kids got filmed by the local TV station
while they were sledding. We also went skiing for the kids first time. Yuri skied
like a pro, while Iago who is always the more adventurous decided to try snowboarding.
Unfortunately Iago can be just a little too adventurous. He fell off his bike doing
‘no-handers’ and got a bad graze, then just two days later did it again and got
the end of the handle-bar in his stomach so we had a visit to the ER (This isn’t
his first). Going to the emergency room is not something I relish. This time it
took us 8 hours, the last time I went for my kidney stones I waited for 2 hours,
they only began to pay attention when I started vomiting.
As part of our ongoing cultural experiment here the boys took up basketball (let
me tell you it’s not as simple as it looks but instead it’s a maze of not-so-obvious
rules). Yuri took to it like a real natural and surprised everybody, especially
since most of the boys in his team have been playing for years.Both the boys now
also have newspaper routes to get some pocket money. Yuri is growing up so quickly;
he is 12 and already up to Agilene’s shoulder.
Keesha, our little African-American-Indian, has not yet gotten over being spoilt
in Brazil . For her part in the cultural experiment she has been cheerleading at
the basketball games. She is glad that she now has a friend her age on the same
street as her; she also wants to learn the guitar.
We have just had Valentine’s Day, America ’s second weirdest holiday. I can’t get
used to the idea of the kids giving cards to everyone in their class. I mean where’s
the romance in that? When I went to school you only gave cards to people you actually
However the weirdest holiday here is Halloween. I cannot get used to this one either.
The idea of celebrating witches and ghosts just seems wrong, and everyone seems
to do it without concern, even the people from church; it must be because they grew
up doing it and no longer think about it.
I have been taking an involuntary work break. Ever since the middle of last year
I have had less and less work. Finally, in January, my last client ran out of money
and could not pay me (they weren’t the first either) so we are now pretty much on
the dole. Trying to get more work has been hopeless; it is close to impossible to
compete with people from India who are charging less than I could get flipping burgers,
no matter what the difference in the quality of the work. I have been trying to
find more work, but things are so bad that the agencies are not even bothering to
call me back. If you know of anything, even freelance work, I would appreciate any
For now we are deciding what our next step should be. Since I have had some spare
time I have been volunteering at the children’s schools, doing some writing and
messing around with some ideas I have for a website. Otherwise we are pretty much
on hold until things get back to ‘normal’.
Lots of love from us all
Marc, Agilene, Yuri, Iago, Keesha and the Green Turtle.
PS: We signed our kids up with a talent agency so we had lots of great photos aken
of them and we put them here.