By Brandon Whitt
An extremely early morning awaited the PAL class as we gathered in the hotel lobby to make the trek from São Paulo to the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro, and the group was anxious to visit another part of the country and take in the rich and diverse culture that awaited us.
Travel always seems much easier to me when done with a group, and this proved true on our journey this particular morning, as we quickly learned our English-speaking skills would be of no help in navigating the completely Portuguese-speaking local airport. Relying heavily on our native Brazilian tour guide, Ray, we made it through check-in, security and of course airport breakfast in a timely manner to arrive at our gate. On the short flight to Rio, I could already see that this city was going to offer some amazing sights for our group.
Upon arriving in Rio, we loaded a bus to begin our sightseeing journey in and through the city. As was the case throughout most of Brazil, the class divide became very apparent very quickly. Brazil has a very small middle class compared to America; you are either rich or quite poor. In the inner city of Rio, we saw many neighborhoods full of block structures that were used as government housing. We also saw a good deal of construction of infrastructure to prepare for the World Cup later this year and the summer Olympics in 2016. Leaving the downtown area and making our way closer to the coast, we quickly saw the housing improve and businesses that catered to a higher-end lifestyle, as well as the stadium for Carnival. The stadium itself holds more than 70,000 people who have a bird’s-eye view of the dance and float competition that takes place over the four day weekend leading up to Ash Wednesday.
During our bus journey, we took in the breathtaking view of the harbor and beach down the coast of Rio de Janeiro from the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain. Most likely, if you were to Google the city of Rio, this view is the first image you would see. Seeing this landscape view of the city with my own eyes was absolutely amazing. I have traveled to and seen many beautiful places in the world, but this had to be one of the very best! While indulging in the local cuisine for lunch, we learned about “rooftop roast,” which is a beef roast that has actually been sun-dried up on the rooftop. The outer edge had a crispiness to it like nothing I had ever tasted, only to find the center was as juicy and tender as if it had been slow cooked in a crock pot.
After lunch we made our way to see the Cristo Redentor, also known as “the big Jesus statue on the hill.” We waited with hundreds of people to board the train that would take us to the top of the hill before climbing a long flight of steps to actually reach the top. Known for keeping watch over the city below, I couldn’t help but ponder just how valuable this monument was to the people who visited it, as hundreds of them posed to have their pictures taken with the statue in the background. I was quickly reminded of just how important Christ is in my own life. I enjoyed having the chance to visit the chapel inside the statue, pausing for a moment to praise God for all of the blessings in my own life and for the opportunity to see a broader vision of how important my job is to not only American families, but also to families all over the world.
The week was a great adventure, and we were constantly reminded of the struggles and turmoil we face within agriculture – how to dispel the doubts, fight the pests, raise the yields to meet an ever increasing demand – and, at the end of the day, how to balance it all and meet the needs of my own family.
Our week in Brazil as 10 PALs encouraged to build a better tomorrow through agriculture was certainly an eye opening experience. Each and every day was valuable in its own way, but having the opportunity to step away and see the rich diversity and culture that Brazil has to offer helped to personally bring the message home of why I choose to farm for a living. Although we live in a world where we seem to face undying scrutiny from activists, relentless weather from Mother Nature and an unsure economy at times, I was reminded that what I do matters, and I will never stop trying to make this world a better place to live.
I have to extend my deepest gratitude to each and every person who helped to make this trip possible. The fine folks of American Farm Bureau, Monsanto and Farm Credit, in my book, went all out to ensure that PAL Class 7 gained a valuable vision of global agriculture and the significant role that each participant plays.
Brandon Whitt is a member of PAL Class 7 blogging about his experiences in Brazil with the PAL class. Brandon is an eighth generation row crop, hay and hog farmer from Tennessee.