On a rainy evening last October, I booked a one-way flight to Brazil. And then a return- I’m not that reckless. My season of hostel-working in the Lake District was nearly finished, and a best friend had conveniently moved to Rio de Janeiro- visiting Brazil felt like a now or never thing. A few things I already knew about Brazilians: they speak Portuguese and Football (not Spanish like the rest of South America), share a home with the great Amazon Rainforest, enjoy beach life to the extreme, wear fabulously colourful clothes and the occasional fruit headdress, and are really good at carnivals. I can’t say I was surprised to find Brazil all these things and more, except maybe a lack of fruity headdresses. But there were some things which I just wasn’t prepared for…
- Going for Sunday Lunch in the Countryside
Hang on… what? Am I back in Yorkshire? Turns out this is a thing here. Sunday is after all a holy, work-free day, in the predominantly Catholic country. But without pubs, Brazil gets creative. My friend’s boyfriend drove us to a churrasceria in the neighbouring state of Minas Gerais, an open dining hall where servers bring around hunks of barbecued beef, pork and chicken, and are very eager to carve you off slabs. We had salpicão, a salad of crisps (yes crisps), mayonnaise, chicken and raisins. Feijao tropeiro, a bean stew topped with pork crackling, egg and farofa (fried cassava flour), fish, rice, and my absolute favourite, mandioca (yucca plant), fried parsnip-like chips. *mouth is watering right now*
As for the ‘countryside’, I couldn’t help picturing green hills, cows in fields, and trees. We already know where the cows had disappeared to… but there were certainly trees- palms shedding leaves nearly as big as me, Venus flytrap looking plants, cacti(?) and tropical birds and monkeys, all enjoying the stifling heat. I would probably have called it Sunday Barbecue in the Jungle.
- Paying insane amounts for sun cream. And zero for alcohol.
If you think about it, it’s a pretty nifty way for a government to make money- add some sort of hot country tax to sunscreen. A standard 250ml bottle of Nivea SPF30 from the supermarket would cost you $60 (£15) and I was using a lot. At least other things were cheap, like the alcohol. Most hostels I stayed in offered a ‘happy hour’ of free caipirinhas (cocktails made with a loads of cachaҫa, lime and sugar), not that they were strict on the one hour time frame! The cachaҫa was 51% alcohol content, compared to vodka at 40%. No wonder Brazilians are good at partying.
- Free Massages
Just don’t be that naive person who accepts a free massage. You heard it from me.
- Seeing a real-live sloth!!!
I love animals and was very excited to see monkeys (micos) for the first time, roaming the city by way of electricity cables- they’re pretty cute! I also travelled to Salvador in North Brazil to visit Project TAMAR, an organisation dedicated to protecting sea turtles, which was pretty cool. To the list of creatures I can also add snakes- we were walking barefoot down the road at dusk when we saw it so that was a bit scary! A giant toad- everything is just 10 times the size in Brazil. Capybaras (rodents like big guinea pigs)- ahain, really cute. Oddly, they are found on the Argentinian side of Iguaҫu Falls- maybe they only speak Spanish…
Finally, saving the best til last, I saw not one, but two sloths! I was walking on a nature trail through a forest in Bahia, North Brazil. The guide had seen a sloth that morning, and we headed back to the same spot, where it hadn’t moved. For this reason, their Portuguese name is perezoso (lazy)- they sleep up to 18 hours a day. Walking back, we saw another ‘lazy’ in a different tree, and the guide told me a story of when he saw a baby sloth fall from its mother’s back. He just left it alone, survival of the fittest and all! Apparently though, sloths are not so common to see, so I felt lucky that we did. I have no pictures, because by this point I had given up on phones, having gone through 3 in 3 months, through storms, phone piracy or pickpockets, and carrying a camera around you might as well wear a sign saying ‘please rob me’.
- Spending Christmas on the beach, roasting myself, not the potatoes!
I had originally planned to come home to England for Christmas but the magic of Brazil had got to me and I knew I had to stay for their infamous New Year celebrations in Rio. This also meant a warm Christmas, which was, obviously, really strange! I was staying in a hostel in Florianopolis, South Brazil, and there were travellers from Australia, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Chile, Argentina and the UK, some alone, some in small groups. On Christmas Eve we had a big hostel dinner, and then went to a Latin American themed party, where I felt like a traitor to Christmas. On the 25th December, me and a German girl I’d met attempted to hitchhike to a secluded beach. We failed at that part, but we did manage to get there to literally bake ourselves in the 38 degree heat (this is just the start of Brazilian summer). Although everyone else there seemed oblivious to the fact that it should be snowing in December, we did manage to recreate a bit of European festiveness with epic Santa hats. I’d probably sum up my Brazilian experience as weird and wonderful, and full of surprises to say the least.
Current Location: Halifax, West Yorkshire