We left Brazil at the end of last week. In total we spent five weeks roaming around, arriving in Rio and travelling south via Barra da Lagoa (outside Florianopolis), onto Porto Alegre and then finishing in Gramado in the Sierra Gaucha mountains. We can by no means say we have ‘done’ Brazil – there are huge swathes of the country that we did not get to see (saved hopefully for a future trip – the Amazon in particular is a dream, albeit a much less baby friendly one) but what we did see we loved, and we had a pleasingly varied itinerary that included beaches, mountains, cities and a zoo.
We have covered our Brazilian adventures pretty extensively to date so not much more remains to be said. However, there are a couple of final overall observations and experiences that we would like to jot down.
Brazil is very baby friendly and Amber was welcomed everywhere. From taxi drivers to shop keepers to waiters – with the sole exception of the bars that line Copacobana, who in fairness are probably hoping for a far more boozy and rowdy clientele – pretty much everyone we met greeted, cuddled or engaged with Amber in some way. Ladies came up and kissed her on the street, old men smiled and waved as we walked by. This behaviour was not reserved solely for Amber and we noted that people generally just love kids. Children, and indeed the institution of the family as a whole, are respected and even prioritised; there are children’s playgrounds everywhere, even in the most smallest of squares, and people with babies (as well as the elderly, the infirm etc) get prioritised to the front of queues. We had read that this would be the case, but it was lovely to experience it so soon into our trip, and it made getting around with Amber that bit much easier in those early days while we found our feet.
Brazil is surprisingly expensive (even more so for us post-Brexit – the less said about that the better), probably one of the reasons why it remains more of a destination in itself as opposed to being on the typical traveller route. Indeed, in a couple of the places that we went to further south (Porto Alegre and Gramado in particular) we got the impression that very few European travellers made it that far.
Admittedly we arrived in the midst of the Olympics when sporting fervour was at its height, but we immediately got a sense of the fierce national pride that came with hosting the event. At a time when the country’s politics are taking a bit of a hit, the Olympics have been a great source of optimism and patriotism. Brazilian flags are flown everywhere, and there is oodles of support for the Brazilian side. We experienced it first hand when we watched Brazil play the Olympics football final in a local bar in Rio – the tension was palpable and the celebrations were boisterous. It meant so much to Brazilians to win that game. And despite the negative reports of disappointing ticket sales and events being downsized, we got the impression that the Paralympics were similarly well received.
We arrived with zero knowledge of Portuguese, and we left with zero knowledge of Portuguese. It is a very unique – and very difficult – language to get your head around. My sparse knowledge of Spanish helped us un poco but Portuguese is vastly different and it was awkwardly limited. What we found particularly interesting however was that hardly any English was spoken anywhere. As an Anglophone, you get used to (and definitely complacent about) being able to get by with English when abroad, but in Brazil this is not possible. I actually quite liked this – I always feel an unnecessary amount of guilt relying on English when travelling – but it made most communications and all logistics extremely challenging. It also meant that we found Brazil a little inaccessible. Being unable to talk to people meant that we never really felt that we really got to know the country, or got beneath its skin. A shame perhaps, but not game changing, and our overall enjoyment and appreciation was in no way hindered.
With growing industries, a strong economy, and a vast and varied landscape, Brazil is notably independent and self-sufficient from the rest of the continent. And as its language and culture are so distinct from that of its neighbours it feels individual and even separate. Upon arriving in Uruguay we immediately felt how it is different here, Spanish is spoken and there is a more European vibe in general. As such, starting our trip in Brazil was great, and it will no doubt serve as an fascinating point of comparison as we continue our travels.
Brazil – wrap up in facts and figures
- Brazil’s national language – Portuguese
- How we got by – a mixture of Spanish, English, wild hand gestures, and relentless repetitions of ‘obrigada, obrigada, muito obrigada’ (thank you, thank you, thank you sooo much)
- Weeks into trip before we considered using Google Translate – 3
- Number of kms travelled within country (excluding taxis) – 1,883km
- Different types of transportation used – metro (Rio), taxis (everywhere), plane (Rio to Florianopolis), bus (Florianopolis to Porto Alegre, Porto Alegre to/from Gramado)
- Beer brands consumed – Skol, Antarctica, Kaiser, Brahma and the microbrewed DaDo Bier
- Beer brands favoured – DaDo Bier (by far) and Antarctica
- Bottles of wine consumed – 3 (Brazil not known for its vineyards, at least not by us)
- Longest number of days without washing – 4 (James)
- Number of times we lost Bunny – 1
- Favourite animals (Bunny aside) – Gramado zoo’s parrots, and the monkey we saw walking on its hind legs like a human
- Least favourite animals – the street dogs that bark relentlessly at each other all night pretty much everywhere we went
- Country highlights – sunset view from Sugarloaf mountain, spelunking in Parque das Ruinas, arriving in peace and tranquility of Barra da Lagoa’s beaches, Gramado as a whole
- Most treasured moments – arriving in our flat in Rio and having a team cheers (the adventure had begun!); Amber experiencing the sea for the first time, fearlessly splashing around and running into the waves; our mutual joy and delight (and shame) as we scoffed endless amount of cheese, meat and chocolate at a fondue restaurant in Gramado; Amber standing and taking her very first steps on her own in a park in Porto Alegre, completely out of the blue (and us losing our s*** in response)