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Five Midshipmen Experience Brazilian Culture

Posted on: September 04, 2013 08:00 EDT by Midshipman 2nd Class Michael Ebeling

Midshipmen 1st Class Max Dunn and Mary Jordan and Midshipmen 2nd Class Michael Ebeling, Bryan Hunt, and Amber Lowman traveled to Brazil this summer. Here they share their story:

As our plane made its descent, we gazed out upon the landscape. Steep, lush hills overlooked the deceptively serene Guanabara Bay, and nestled between the two we began to make out the dense and bustling city of Rio de Janeiro.

With its massive skyscrapers, traffic jams and throngs of people, Rio appears almost out of place in this peaceful tropical landscape. The city itself is beautiful, with its modern architecture dominated by the ever-fashionable curves of Oscar Niemeyer’s designs. We marveled not only at picturesque views of Sugar Loaf and Christ the Redeemer, but of the massive construction projects and crowded freeways in this truly wondrous city. 

Our group of five midshipmen, led by Lt. Cmdr. Marcus Silva of the Brazilian Navy, had the great fortune of staying at Brazil’s Escola Naval, their nation’s naval academy. This gave us a tremendous opportunity to see what our counterparts, the aspirantes or “aspirers,” went through on a daily basis. 

Upon arrival, we met a group of 10 Brazilian midshipmen whose abilities to translate between English and Portuguese made us quick friends. It was here we experienced our first taste of Brazilian hospitality. Everyone from the superintendent down to the first-year students welcomed us with open arms.

Life at Escola Naval is actually not very different from life at the U.S. Naval Academy. Although there are no accredited majors, their curriculum consists of many similar subjects such as navigation, naval history, and various practical classes that are also found at Annapolis.

After class, the Brazilian midshipmen also have a sports period, drill, and various other activities. Their first year students even have their own rite of passage as they are forced to run and deliver messages for upperclassmen.

Our time at Escola Naval taught us that, though smaller, their school is much like our own four-year institution. Of course, with Sugar Loaf on one side, the statue of Christ the Redeemer on the other, and a spectacular view of Guanabara Bay, we have to concede they’ve got the better location.

After a few days spent with the midshipmen, we finally ventured out to discover the city of Rio de Janeiro. Walking through the city streets, where a bustling downtown center could at any time give way to a pristine beach of white sand amazed us.

Even with new projects under construction and all the high-rise buildings, Rio still preserves its rich and extensive history. This was illustrated in the Naval Museum we visited, where a spirited tour guide showed us the proud origins of the Brazilian Fleet as we toured buildings built a few hundred years ago. Then, of course, there were the inspired views from Sugar Loaf and the peak of Corcovado, upon which rests the statue of Christ the Redeemer.

Though Rio could have kept us occupied for more than a few weeks, Brazil is such a complex and diverse country that it required extensive exploring. So we drove, first three hours south to experience the colonial town of Paraty and Collegio Naval (a three year naval high school that most midshipmen attend) followed by a day driving through the heart of the country.

What began with rolling green hills quickly transitioned to flat land reminiscent of the American Midwest. Our road trip took us to a small town along the Bolivian border called Corumba. It was here that we admired the Pantanal, a famous wetland area with a tremendous diversity of wildlife and plants.

We again had the good fortune of riding with the Brazilian Navy on our tour of this spectacular preserve. Boarding the riverboats Poti and Potengi, we joined the crew as they patrolled up and down the Paraguay River. At night, as the sailors tied up to a tree, we got in even smaller boats and scoured the shores in search of the elusive caiman. So elusive, in fact, that we didn’t find them until the drive back, at a huge pool off the highway.

Our travels then took us to Bonito, literally translated as “pretty.” It was certainly deserving of the title. With dense jungle, crystal clear rivers and waterfalls, Bonito exposed us to the natural beauty of Brazil. During the few days we were there, we went scuba diving in a small lagoon, swam in freshwater springs, watched a local man call monkeys from the trees and feed them, and even kissed a macaw.

The most shocking encounter was the anaconda we “bumped into” as we were drifting down a freshwater river. Taking our cue from the locals, though, we remained calm as the 10-foot beast wound its way up to the surface. With plenty of pictures and a sigh of relief, we meandered down past tropical fish along the Rio da Prata.

Our time in Brazil taught us many lessons. We learned from watching the way Brazilian midshipmen interact that, to quote one of our good friends, “Midshipman are midshipman,” no matter their nationality. We learned about hospitality, particularly at a ball held at Escola Naval that we were all immediately invited to upon arrival.

The Brazilian people lived up to their reputation for kindness. We walked away with many gifts and many friends. Our travels also showed us the natural beauty Brazil responsibly maintains and defends. Though it was only shortly after we left that the large protests began, we were also able to see a Brazil that is beginning to standup and become a more involved nation in the world.

Their Navy seems excited about its development of more “blue water” capable ships. And though the infamous slums, or favelas, were rampant, investments in infrastructure could be seen in gondola lifts that took people to work and a larger police presence. At the very least, our trip gave us a much better understanding of this emerging nation, and we are more than thankful for what it had to offer us.  

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