Tag Archives: international experience

International Experience New Zealand Day 13 – Christchurch Botanic Garden with Jeremy Hawker

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We set out with the sun casting its warmth through the midst of the chilly morning breeze as we made our way towards the Christchurch Botanic Garden. We were greeted by the pleasantly warm and friendly Jeremy Hawker, who is the team leader for the Garden and Heritage Parks in Christchurch. Jeremy has an impressive fourteen years of horticulture and management experience for the Botanic Gardens such as Christchurch Botanic Garden; City Heritage Parks such as Hagley Park; and other Central Business District Parks that have been placed under his care. Some of these gardens and parks are currently undergoing major re-development due to the earthquake damage during 2010 and 2011.

IMG_2208Christchurch Botanic Garden has over 1.1 million annual visitors to its 17 hectares garden. It was established in 1963 and is in its 150th year anniversary this year. It is mostly funded by the City Council and held events such as musical concerts, a wine festival, changing plant displays for the Flower Festival, and public education for the schools and community. At any one time, these events attract about 100,000 visitors to the Garden. Christchurch Botanic Garden has suffered its pain through the horrendous earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and is painstakingly in the midst of recovery. During the tremors of the earthquakes, Jeremy had to relocate the staff who were left homeless and provide additional support and counseling for them. The visitor center had to be relocated to the entrance of the Botanic Garden, while the bus depot was relocated to another end of the Garden. A police recovery center was set up to provide assistance to anyone who seeks it.   

IMG_2197Jeremy recalled that all the electricity was cut off and he suggested that a hard-copy of important telephone numbers and documents should be kept since all the computers were down due to the electrical failure. Water supply was no longer available to the plants, which struggled through the strenuous period of the aftermath of the earthquakes. Capital funding was utilized to re-build damaged recreation facilities and infrastructure such as the tennis courts at Hagley Park. Underground sewage spilled into the river system that flowed through the Botanic Garden and remained a priority for repairs as the staff scrambled to remove the spills from the river. Jeremy described with awe that during the earthquake, the water in the shallow rivers was seen bubbling furiously as if in a volcano eruption and then suddenly disappeared into the grounds below. 

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Spontaneous pallet pavilion with bucket seats built immediately after the earthquakes of 2010 & 2011.

IMG_2254We left Christchurch Botanic Garden and walked around the city as Jeremy explained that the government is still in the midst of deciding whether to re-build the same damaged building or to replace the building with a brand new look. The damage around the city is being repaired and Jeremy estimated that the recovery for the entire Christchurch city would be within 25 – 30 years. Though the city looks devastating, the people of Christchurch lifted the dull and empty atmosphere with cheerful and creative art instruments, such as hand-made musical instruments made out of boards, brushes and pipes; enormous green and velvety furniture were erected and stand-up cafes were made out of shipping containers. The Christchurch city may be greatly damaged, but unity and love can definitely be seen and felt within each person’s heart. 

Blog by Felicia Chua, photos by Sara Helm Wallace

International Experience New Zealand Day 12: Into the wild

Dodging the early morning rain showers, we made our way to Tasman Glacier, which was a 20-minute drive from our hotel. Our intrepid driver, Colin, took us to our destination amid snowy mountains and fast moving rivers. The glacier is fairly large and feeds the Tasman Lake, which is a milky color due to the dissolved mineral content in the water.  After admiring the scenery and native flora, it was time to make our 5-hour journey to the east coast city of Christchurch.

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The drive included snowy mountain views, bright blue lakes, golden meadows and dark green pine forests. Our half way-point was the Astro Café, located at the top of a large grassy hill adjacent to an observatory. The views were spectacular, and really showcased the diverse beauty of New Zealand.

 

IMG_2785We arrived at Christchurch Botanic Garden (CBG) at around 4 pm where we met John Clemens, the Curator of CBG. This Garden has been in existence for 100 years and, interestingly, 2014 will be its 150th anniversary. The age of CBG can clearly be seen by the impressive stature of the fine tree specimens currently thriving there. Unfortunately, several trees were destroyed by the recent earthquakes and by a severe storm last year, however, enough large specimens remain to continue the ambiance of the garden.

IMG_2515A project that sparked my interest was the implementation of a purely Gondwanan Garden that will showcase plants that are relics from a prehistoric era.  One example, the Wollemi pine, was only recently discovered in a canyon in Australia. John seemed to be very passionate about this project, but stipulated that other projects need to be completed first. The CBG has also had to revamp its nursery and office areas, leaving current staff without proper working space – a difficult situation for any organization. These building will be more ‘’earthquake safe’’ than previous structures on the property.IMG_2801

After our brief introduction to Christchurch, we looked forward to more exploration over the next few days.

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International Experience New Zealand Day 10: Dunedin Chinese Garden and Dunedin Botanic Garden

We woke up to a brief glimpse of sunlight before the fog decided to obscure our view of the harbor. Preparing for a rainy day, we drove down the castle hill, and to our delight, the town below was dry and cool.
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After strolling through the ornate Chinese gate, Malcolm Wong, Chair of the Garden Trust, greeted us and showed us around the Dunedin Chinese Garden. Because of the architectural and landscape elements found in a traditional Chinese garden, we learned a lot about Chinese history and culture as well as their auspicious gardening style, which was new to most of us.

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The garden is modeled after the understated elegance of a scholar’s garden from the 1600s, between the Ming and Ching dynasties. Every piece of every element- brick, wood, stone, water, and plants- was installed with purpose. The concept of opposites pervades, such as mountain vs. water, and movement vs. stillness. It is a small garden, but feels large due to the winding paths and contemplative landscapes.

We then went on to the Dunedin Botanic Garden (DBG), the entrance of which is at the center of the steep, sloping lower garden.

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The colorful Mediterranean, xeric, and succulent plants are welcoming bursts of color among the terraced rocks. After lunch in the cafe, we met with the knowledgeable Barbara Wheeler, a former international intern at Longwood Gardens, who now oversees operations at DBG. She was joined by Alan Matchett, Director of DBG, and Tom Myers, Botanical Services Officer.
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We then walked up the hill to the upper garden, through the geographical collections which included plants from South Africa, Mexico, and North America. Also in the upper garden was an aviary, which houses many birds, one of which is the colorful golden pheasant.
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Throughout our entire trip, probably the most valuable item has been conversation with the directors, curators, and other administrators in the gardens. Their willingness to share and openness into the inner workings of New Zealand gardens has been tremendous in our education.

Blog by Sara Helm Wallace, photos by Felicia Chua

International Experience New Zealand Day 9: “Is it haunted?”

Before the arrival of the people who would become known as the Maori in the Thirteenth Century, there were no mammals endemic to the fauna of New Zealand. Birds filled most of the ecological niches of the islands. Although the natural history of the island has undergone dramatic changes over the last seven hundred years, there are still many birds. Unfortunately, this proved fatal this morning as several flew into the engines of the turboprop plane that we were meant to take from Wellington to Dunedin. Luckily, we were not on the plane and no passengers were hurt. Still, our flight was delayed seven hours and we spent a lovely day in the Wellington Airport.

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New Zealand is never without its magic. Our lunch quest led us away from the airport and through a pedestrian tunnel that opened onto a sleepy seaside cul-de-sac complete with grass-filled parking lots, a dog beach, and a Kiwi bodega.

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Arriving in Dunedin, and traversing the cliffs to the picturesque Larnach Castle, we were greeted by Head Gardener, Fiona Eadie, who was kind enough to keep our much-delayed appointment and tour us around the grounds of the castle. Fiona has been working with Margaret Barker, the owner of Larnach Castle, over the last twelve years to transform the gardens of the Castle into lush havens for native New Zealand plants with a focus on an impeccable visitor experience. Larnach features a South Pacific themed garden, an alpine garden, English style borders, tropical forests, and many other extensive plantings with a light Alice in Wonderland theme permeating various installations.

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Up to this point we were unaware that a significant 6.2-magnitude earthquake had struck Wellington just hours after we had taken off. Over the past week we have come to love New Zealand and its people; our hearts go out to the North Island and those affected by the quake.

Dinner at Larnach is accompanied by a story of the rise, fall, and rebirth of the Castle. Its relatively short history includes episodes of extravagance, adultery, tragedies, insanity, and death. We were left indulged and intrigued, whispering the question… “Is it haunted?”

Photographs by Gary Shanks

International Experience New Zealand Days 1–3: “This group is keen to hear about bureaucracy.”

My everlasting, heartfelt compassion and understanding goes out to all of our colleagues who made the trip to New Zealand for the 2013 BGCI conference. No matter where in the world you depart from, the flight is a beast, but I knew from the moment I saw the sunrise over Hauraki Gulf that every second spent in the air was worth it.

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We were greeted at the airport by Adele Marsden of New Zealand Educational Tours, and our driver Colin Berquist with whom we explored the Mt. Eden volcanic crater. A park run in conjunction with the Auckland City Council and a community board, Mt. Eden attracts tourists with its intense vistas, and locals with its hilly walking trails. The crater itself is swathed with low-growing grasses that sway and ripple in the ever-changing winds of Auckland. Several panoramic group photos followed, and we made our way to Auckland Domain where we enjoyed breakfast with Adele and Colin at the Wintergarden Pavilion and Café in Auckland Domain park. Adele introduced us to “jandals,” the Kiwi word for flip-flops, and a Cadbury candy favored by New Zealanders called “Chocolate Fish.”

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After breakfast, Adele passed us off to David Millward, the Manager of Metroparks for the city of Auckland with the caveat “This group is keen to hear about bureaucracy.” David gave us a thorough explanation of the history, and financial and operational structure of the Auckland Domain and city parks system. Auckland Domain was founded in 1880 as a 200 acre public preserve created on the cones of an extinct volcano. The Wintergarden Glasshouses were built in 1920 to feature temperate and tropical plants in a constant rotation of bloom. David toured us through the Wintergarden Glasshouses and a native Fernery, where we all agreed that the traveller’s palm in the Glasshouses was the largest that we’ve ever seen.

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Text by Kevin Williams, photos by Sara Helm Wallace

Iguaçu Falls

After our late arrival in Foz do Iguaçu last night, we indulge by sleeping in until 8am.  After a quick breakfast at the hotel buffet, we are in the van at 8:30 with our local guide, Vera.  Vera is from Foz do Iguaçu and has been guiding tours of the area for 28 years.  We know we are in good hands.  Our mission today is to see both sides of the famous Iguaçu Falls, named as one of the great wonders of the natural world.

The Iguaçu Falls are waterfalls on the Iguaçu River at the border of Brazilian state Paraná and Argentine province Misiones. The falls have a flow capacity equal to three times that of Niagara Falls. 20% of the falls are in Brazilian territory, and the other 80% in Argentina. The “Garganta do Diablo” (“Devil’s Throat” in Portuguese) is the tallest of the falls at 318 feet.

We arrive at the Brazilian side of the falls at 9am.  The falls are surrounded by Iguaçu National Park, a huge swath of sub-tropical rainforest.  Vera pays our admission and we begin our journey to the falls.  A short walk later, we get our first of the falls.  All we can say is, “Wow!”

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One of the first views of the falls through the trees–it would only get better.

A view from a platform on the Brazilian side.

A view from a platform on the Brazilian side.

A viewing platform.

A viewing platform.

Two hours and hundreds of photographs later, we climb back in the van to visit the Argentinian side of the falls.

On our way to Argentina, Vera takes us to a local barbecue spot so that we can try mate.  Mate is a tea-like drink made from Ilex paraguariensis.  Drinking and sharing mate has its own set of traditions, much like coffee does in the US and Europe. We are in a bit of a hurry, so we are only able to enjoy the mate for a few minutes before we must leave. We pass around the special mate cup, sipping the hot liquid from a silver straw.  It tastes a little bit like very strong green tea.

Back in the van, we cross the Argentina border with no problems.  A short time later, we enter the Argentina side of the Iguaçu National Park.  As we begin our walk to the falls, we quickly notice the popularity of mate amongst park visitors.  Many carry the distinct cup and thermoses for extra hot water.  After a short train ride and a lot of walking, we suddenly come upon the falls and look down straight down into the Devil’s Throat.

After the train ride back to a visitor center, we are tempted to take the train back to the park entrance.  Fortunately, Vera insists we take another walk. Little did we know, this walk includes several more stunning views of the waterfalls. We can see the platforms where we walked on the Brazilian side earlier that morning.  We can’t resist taking more photos.

Falls from the Argentinian side.

Falls from the Argentinian side.

Finally, we are done with the falls and climb back in the van to return to Brazil. We are very lucky to have Vera as our guide. Not only does she know the Iguaçu area very well, but she also loves birds, animals and plants.  All day long, she points out plants and animals that she knows will interest us and carries with her a book on wildlife that we frequently reference.  We are grateful to have her as our guide.

There really are no words adequate to describe Iguaçu Falls.  Hopefully some of our photographs will convey some of the majesty of the waterfalls.

Curitiba

We started our day in luxury bus fitted for 60 people and headed to Curitiba Botanical Garden with our guide Fabio. He told us a lot of interesting stories about the history of Curitiba. The name of this city is from a native “pine” tree (Araucaria angustifolia) which has a long history and is well represented in this region. Curitiba means ‘here many pine trees’ in the native Tupi language.

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The Curitiba BG has free admission and many visitors come to the garden especially on weekends. The garden includes outdoor natural areas and a greenhouse. They are well maintained by the largest local cosmetic company in cooperation with the local government. They have their logos on the interpretation boards and labels that make a win-win situation for both government and the company.

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In the garden, we saw the beautiful tree that tells the story about how this country got its name. Brazil means “red wood like a hot ember”.  Red was the noble color in the past and they could use the tree to dye fabric a red color. Also some other beautiful blooming trees like monica (Tibouchina) and golden rain tree (Vochysia) are very impressive in this season.
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Behind the garden is the plant museum where we learned some biology and botanical history. The famous Brazilian botanist, Gerdt Hatschbach, made great contributions to the plant world. 180 plants are named after him, and when you see a plant scientific name that includes’ gertii’ or ‘hatschbachii’, it means it was discovered or named by him.
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The sensory garden demonstrates a great way of allowing people to interact with plants. Josh experienced the garden wearing a blindfold. He experienced the plants only by touching or smelling  them. “It is great and wonderful experience,” he said. After that, we went to the native plant garden which displays Brazilian native plants in well designed landscapes and views. It is a powerful encouragement for people to use native plants in their gardens.IMG_0985

After a delicious lunch in the biggest Italian restaurant in Brazil, we started a whirlwind suburban park tour. At one park, we walked around the big loop to the top of hill where we got great view of the city. Looking down rom the Free University of the Environment to the bottom of the woods, we could see that the lake was made as the shape of the state of Parana. The Bosque do Alemão (German woods)leads visitors on a trail that tells the German tale, Hansel and Gretel, for kids.
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The tour ended at the museum of Oscar Niemeyer, which features postmodern design and state-of-the-art engineering. We loved Curitiba, a city that combines historic and modern culture and architecture, a city that values sustainability with great landscapes and a fantastic environment.

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A day in Sao Paulo

Photography by: Longwood Graduate Fellows

IMG_4494Day two with our guide was a little slow. We started out exploring the natural areas behind the Museum Paulista. They are full of native Brazilian trees and tropical plants along with lots of exercise equipment. What’s different about Brazil compared with the US is that we constantly saw people of all ages utilizing this equipment, doing pull ups and using the leg and running machines. The woods in Sao Paulo, along with the parks and open areas all over Brazil were lively and well used.

We then toured the Museum Paulista, which chronicles Brazil’s Independence. Everything was in Portuguese and our guide was somewhat helpful in explaining the items and translating the interpretation. However we realized on this day specifically the importance of a good guide. A good guide can make or break your opinion of a city and the amount you are able to learn. This made us realize the value in mastering some useful phrases in the language of the country we are visiting before arriving. In our case the guide’s English was not great so sometimes we had a little trouble.

IMG_4500The garden in front is modeled after Versailles and is quite formal with a beautiful choreographed fountain. It is aptly named Independence Park and there is a monument to celebrate independence and also the original emperor. It was interesting to see how they were managing the loss of some of the larger trees by replacing them in the formal allées. In addition we were surprised at the amount of boxwood used in the design.

IMG_0658In the afternoon we visited the central market where we sampled lots of tropical fruit and ate lunch. Some of the best stories from the trip happen whenever we attempt to order food. Sometimes the restaurant has a menu in English which is very helpful to us in ordering. However, most of the time the waiter cannot read the English menu so we still have trouble ordering the correct item. All in all that part has been an entertaining learning experience.

That evening we flew to Curitiba. The hotel was old fashioned but the people working there were fantastic! Helpful and friendly, they carried our bags for us, were really appreciative of our smiles and attempts at Portuguese and helped us to order a vegetarian pizza. The pizza arrived with peas, corn, hearts of palm and oregano,…oh and no sauce. It was interesting compared with our vegetarian pizzas in the states but it was delicious. It was quite late and were off to bed.

 

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Sao Paulo Botanical Garden

Photography by: Longwood Graduate Fellows

We met our tour guide at 9am today and set out for Sao Paulo Botanical Garden to walk around for a couple hours. Lindsey had tried, tried, and tried once again to make contact with the garden, but had heard very little in response, and so we arrived thinking we were there only to see some pretty sights. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Unbeknownst to us, Lindsey’s emails had beeen heard and we were met by a team of employees who were there to escort us through the garden. Our entourage included Nelson, an administrator in the education department, Rafael, an intern at the garden, and Adib, a seasonal worker who volunteered to be our translator.

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The garden is partnered with the Botanical Institute of Sao Paulo, and therefore has a large research component as well as acres of beautifully maintained grounds. Sao Paulo BG was and the Institute were originally created by the state to help preserve the State Park and watershed in the area. The focus of the garden is around conservation and preservation of the natural flora of Sao Paulo and has a very active plant-rescue program to help save plants from construction projects around the state. Most recently they rescued a large group of Cyathea (tree ferns) from a highway construction project, which they replanted near the main entrance for a stunning affect. It is remarkable to see what we call “indoor plants” growing in large quantities outside.

DSC_0585As we continued through the gardens and conservatories, we found ourselves in an ever-growing number of school groups. Nelson explained that there is a kindergarten on the grounds which frequently brings the kids onto the grounds, but also Sao Paulo Botanical Garden hosts over 35,000 children a year for local public schools. Students come to explore and to learn about the different ecosystems in Brazil and how each one is important. At the garden, visitors have the opportunity to explore a çerrado (savanna) ecosystem inside one of the greenhouse, walk on an elevated pathway through a preserved Mata Atlantica (Atlantic Rainforest) and to learn about native orchids, bromeliads, and trees found throughout the entire country. By the end of the morning I think we all had a much better understanding of Brazilian ecology, thanks to Sao Paulo Botanical Garden.

We then said farewell to Nelson and Rafael, and went with Adib to have lunch at the café located on the grounds. After lunch we got permission from the Director of the Garden to go into the research facilities located on the grounds. Though it was summer DSC_0533and many employees were on vacation, we were able to meet with some researchers from the mycology department, the seeds physiology department, and the orchid department. We even got to go into their orchid house, which holds one of the largest collections of orchids in Brazil.

We had originally planned to stay at the garden for only about three hours, but by the time we left it had been 6 hours, and we could have stayed longer for there was more to see.

Our driver picked us up and then we headed off to Parque Ibirapuera, which translates to Rotting Tree Park. This park was built on a swamp and for many years the city could not get trees to grow, they would just rot – hence the name. It was not until they started planted eucalyptus trees to absorb the moisture that the park was fully implemented. Ibirapuera park is now a beautiful public park full of residents running, walking, biking, relaxing, and enjoying the outdoors. Our new friend Adib, who agreed to come along with us from the botanical garden, showed us around and made sure that we all got back to our hotel afterwards since our tour guide had to leave before we were ready to go.

It was a wonderful day of walking and enjoying nature. Luckily we weren’t flying out that night since I think we all needed a good night sleep.

Rio and Sitio Roberto Burle Marx

Photography by: Longwood Graduate Fellows

DSCN28269am sharp and we are out the door with our guide Gerardo. Our destination today is the Sitio Roberto Burle Marx, but first Gerardo is taking us on a whirlwind tour of the city of Rio.  Driving along the Copacabana beach, we pull over for 5 minutes to snap a group photo on the famous sidewalk designed by Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.

 

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Back in the van, we drive through the city to the Sambadromo, a huge stadium designed by Oscar Niemeyer just to host the samba competitions during Carnival.  Gerardo gives us a quick lesson on how to dance the samba and then Laurie, Ling, and Josh try on carnival clothing and pose for photos.

 

 

 

 

 

We finish our city tour at see the cathedral, a huge, imposing concrete structure inspired by the pyramids at Chichen Itza in Mexico.DSCN2863

 

 

 

 

 

An hour later, we arrive at the Sitio Burle Marx, the home and studio of landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Burle Marx was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1909.  As a young man, he traveled to Germany where he was inspired by the use of Brazilian plants in the Berlin Botanical Garden.  Returning to Brazil, he began collecting plants around his home in Guaritiba and designing landscapes for friends and clients.  He is most well known for the design of the Copacabana promenade and the landscapes around some of the government buildings in Brasilia. He also designed the Cascade Garden at Longwood Gardens. Burle Marx’s property in Guaritiba was donated to the Brazilian government in 1985 and became a national monument. It houses over 3,500 species of plants and many works of art by Burle Marx and other artists.

DSCN2904Thanks to our tour guide Gerardo, we have a wonderful and insightful tour of the Sitio. Gerardo translated everything that the Sitio tour guide said and added his own information about Brazilian plants.  He also provided everyone with much needed mosquito repellant!

The Sitio is truly stunning.  Swaths of bromeliads.  20 foot tall Plumeria trees. Contrasting black and chartreuse foliage (years ahead of his time) and the use of textured plants and hardscaping.  So many native Brazilian plants, including the Helenconia hirsuta ‘Burle Marx’ that the designer discovered in the Amazon region. Burle Marx’s use of native plants in design is inspiring.DSCN2946

We left the garden and returned to Rio late in the afternoon.  A shopping trip before dinner turned into a hilarious adventure after we got caught in a downpour (we were told it doesn’t rain in Rio!) and took a wrong turn walking back to the hotel.  After a misadventure with a sink, we finally made it to dinner at a churrascaria (a Brazilian steakhouse) where we indulged in beef and sushi and various Brazilian dishes.  It was a wonderful way to celebrate our last night in Rio and the start of our day off.