Travelling – A Close-up of Brazil

You know what I miss? Travelling. And I’m sure there are a lot of you out there who would agree. The pandemic has taken a lot from us, whether it’s coming down with the virus itself or the way it’s being handled in various parts of the world. A few days ago I commented on someone’s post about travelling and I started thinking that maybe I should do a post about Brazil. If we can’t travel right now, we can at least live vicariously through our memories… or even someone else’s! And who knows? When this whole thing is over and we can all get back to travelling, maybe we’ll be inspired to visit new places when we read travel-related posts!

When I was in college, I spent six months doing an internship in Brazil. I’d spent a mere fifteen hours learning Brazilian Portuguese ahead of time, so although my skills were limited and I’d never travelled anywhere on my own before, I packed up my things with an unmatched eagerness to explore a new country.

A side note about travelling to a country with a language other than your own: while I was there, I picked up Portuguese editions of novels I’d brought with me. (Just remember, there is a difference between Portuguese Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese). I would read as much as I could in the language, and compare it to the English version to get a better idea of the translation in parts where I was stuck. I also read newspapers, which gave me an even better idea of the nuances of every day Brazilian Portuguese. Combine this with making Brazilian friends who wanted to learn just as much English, and I was quickly able to grasp a basic understanding of the language and get around on my own.

Where I was living was an island off the southern coastal state of Santa Catarina. Florianopólis is the main city on the island. The island is home to many beaches (one hundred, it is claimed), and I never tired of visiting any of them. I know there are a lot of beautiful beaches in the world, and I’ve experienced only a handful in the grand scheme of things, but the beaches on Ilha de Santa Catarina were stunning beyond description. The sand so soft on some of them, it felt like walking through baby powder.

Ilha de Santa Catarina

I lived in a hotel-style tourism/hospitality school, known as the “practise hotel” to the students, but I noted whenever I was touring through the island’s towns that a great majority of porches had hammocks hanging down from ceilings. It evoked a feeling of comfort and relaxation just looking at them. There are many pousadas that people could rent out – a cross between a hotel and a bed and breakfast would be my best explanation. Hotels and resorts are also in the popular beach towns, for those wanting a more pampered experience. I prefer to immerse myself in the society, though, and if I ever do get back there, I believe I’ll choose a pousada.

At the time, digital cameras were just becoming a thing. I had an SLR with me, but I also had a Canon PowerShot 1.3 megapixel point-and-shoot camera, and I was excited to use it. Future me would laugh, but back then, I felt pretty lucky to have it. I still managed to take some decent, albeit grainy shots with it, for which I’m so thankful. I’ve shared a selection of them here, and be sure to check out the reel below to see more. (NOTE: please excuse the quality of the photos – there is a big difference between a 1.3 megapixel camera and what we have today!)

Floripa, as the locals refer to it, is full of warm and welcoming people. They are more than happy and almost bend over backwards to show you around, introduce you to foods, drinks, and local hangouts, and help you develop a working knowledge of the language. Being a foreigner, you basically become a magnet. I’m sure there are other countries like that as well, but these people are genuinely interested in where you’re from, what brings you to their part of the world, and how to speak some English.

Being in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are opposite to what I’m used to in Canada. I went down in February, so my winter that year was short. Not being a fan of winter or coldness, that suited me just fine. Floripa was hot and humid and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. Did I sweat a lot and need a shower two or three times a day to cool off? Yes. Did I mind? No – especially when on my daily walk, I could stop at a coconut stand and get a fresh drink of coconut water – straight out of the bright green, heavy, round shell. The person would make three quick and precise chops with their machete, and a small hole would be revealed at the top of the coconut where a straw would be inserted. All this for a mere 50 centavos. There’s nothing quite like the taste of fresh, cold coconut water. (Mental note… not only are they refreshing during hot days, they contain a high amount of electrolytes, which come in very handy after one too many caipirinhas!)

Another thing about the weather – when it turns to autumn and the weather begins to change, what Brazilians consider “cold” is what we consider a cool summer day. But don’t let the temperature fool you. Living in a seaside city, the air is different. It’s damp. At first, I giggled at all the locals wearing hats and scarves and mitts when I was still in shorts and a t-shirt. But I would soon come to realize that having a couple of sweaters and warm blankets and socks are not a bad thing to have handy in June, July and even August.

Taking the bus was a good way to get around the island, but it was often jam-packed with people. For a blissful six weeks, I rented a car (which cost the equivalent of one week’s car rental in Canada). This allowed me the freedom to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, even the places where the bus didn’t run, as well as going to the mainland and having some adventures there. In addition to several drives around the island, I also visited Blumenau, a German town, and Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state in Brazil, to a misty mountain retreat.

Blumenau, SC with my brother who came for a visit

Another out-of-state place I visited was, in fact, right out of the country. I took a bus trip with some girlfriends to the most incredibly breathtaking place I’ve ever seen, even to this day. Foz do Icguaçu, the Brazilian version of the falls, sits on the border of Brazil and Argentina, and both countries have a national park for viewing the 275 cataracts – although trust me on this one, go to the Argentina side (at Puerto Iguazu) if you do go. The view is much better. There you will find the most magnificent views of the falls. There are three areas; The Upper Circuit Falls, Lower Circuit Falls, and Garganta del Diablo – the Devil’s Throat. I’m from a town just outside Niagara Falls, Ontario – and let me tell you – the Devil’s Throat puts Niagara Falls to shame. At about 270 feet (82m) tall, it is well over Niagara’s 167-foot (51m) cataract, and although it is only 300 feet wide (compared to Niagara’s 2,000 ft), the many individual waterfalls to its left merge into a single cataract during times of flooding. Icguaçu Falls makes up the largest waterfall system in the world. It is truly a sight to behold.

Foz do Icguaçu

I also flew up for Maceió, in the state of Alagoas, for a couple of weeks. It was even hotter there, being quite a bit closer to the equator. It was a fun city, with lots of history there, but it was busier and not as at home as I felt in Floripa. Not that the people weren’t welcoming, but I just found them to be more so in the south. Floripa has a very relaxed, laid-back attitude about it that is quite palpable.

Some must-sees and must-dos to note:

  • Pântano do Sul – there is a restaurant right on the beach that I like to call the Post-It Note Restaurant. It’s a bar atmosphere, and folks who drink and dine there leave little notes or cartoon drawings on paper, napkins, or old receipts, which are then hung up on virtually every surface except the table tops. It is so neat to go around and look at the markings from all over the world!
  • Praia Naufragados – you must hike in for about an hour or so or rent a boat to get to it, but it is so worth it! It’s beautiful and unpopulated.
  • Praia do Santinho – a beautiful long stretch of beach at the end of which is a hiking trail that features ancient rock carvings/petroglyphs from the indigenous tribes that used to roam the area. (Note this is also the site of Costão do Santinho Resort Golf & Spa – a stunning beachside resort)
  • Barra da Lagoa – this is where you come for dining or bar hopping in the evenings. It is a small fishing village, but there are little shops during the day, it is close to sand surfing or regular surfing at Praia Joaquina, and many other beautiful beaches (Mole, Praia do Moçambique, Galheta, for example).
  • La Bohème – a cafe and restaurant that I dined at several times in the Trinidade region. The fact that it’s been operating since 1997, I visited in 2003, and it’s still in business is testament to their outstanding quality of food and service. It was probably my favorite restaurant to go to.
  • The seafood in general, in any of the seaside restaurants that dot the island, is to die for. If you are a fan of shellfish, you must try any of the variations of camarão – shrimp or prawns – and just for kicks, Brazilians often eat the outside casing of shrimp. Including the legs. Yep, I got some looks when I came back to Canada and waitresses would find my plate of shrimp void of any shells! LOL
  • A coconut stand. Find one. Purchase a coconut. Drink the agua de coco – the nectar of the gods, no less – from within one. It’s like no coconut water you’ve ever had before, because it’s as fresh as fresh can be. It will rehydrate your body and your soul. There is a stand (or at least there was eighteen years ago) on the paved footpath going south toward downtown. There is also one on the road from Barra da Lagoa to Joaquina, near where the sand surfing dunes are, but on the left-hand side of the road. It’s more like a permanent little coconut shack, not just a portable refrigeration unit like many of the other stands.
  • Ilha do Campeche – this is an island off the southeast coast of Florianopólis,featuring gorgeous beaches, not to mention it’s an archeological site full of paintings and carvings from ancient tribes. Be careful what you bring with you, as there are coaties that can and will take things (this goes for Foz do Iguaçu as well, as I personally witnessed it!)
  • Praia Armação – this is a smaller beach, but I enjoyed going there when the tide was out because you can walk across to what is an island when the tide is in (make sure you pay attention to the tide schedules to avoid getting stuck out there!)
Maceió, AL

Overall, Brazil was so entirely amazing that I even tried to have my car sold back home so that I could stay longer. I had fallen in love with the country, the state, the city, the people, the food, the culture, the language, and the sights. It was hard to fly away from (and that’s another story all in itself – a nightmare getting back home), and it remains my favorite place I’ve ever been to so far.

Even though it was two decades ago that I was there, I can still hear the noises in the streets – Brazilian music playing, people talking, laughter. I can still smell the salty ocean air that’s not quite like any other coastal towns and cities. I can still feel the powdery sand between my toes. I can still taste the fresh coconut water, or the café con leche at the little coffee kiosk in the Beiramar Shopping Centre downtown (“Centro”). The pistachio gelato. The feijoada at the buffet-per-kilo restaurants, or the delicious, mouth-watering meats and grilled, cinnamon-sugar coated pineapple at the Churrasquerias. I can still hear the distant, soft hum of the motors taking the early morning fishing boats out to sea, watching the sun rise turn their silhouettes into brightly coloured vessels. I can still feel the excitement in the air as parades of beautifully costumed people dance down the street during the annual Carnaval festivities (one of which I participated in!)

If I were to give any three general pieces of advice for visiting Brazil, they would be to stick to the south (I found São Paulo very dirty and much too big for my liking, and Rio de Janeiro is very dangerous), go in Brazilian summertime, and cachaça is not for the faint of heart!

Novo Fogo cachaça

Florianopópolis is a place I’ll never forget, and hopefully I’ll be able to get back there someday. I bet you I can still remember how to get to most of my favorite places!

What is your favorite place to travel to? Tell me about it in the comments! Don’t forget to hit that like and share button, and subscribe if you’d like to be notified of new posts and updates for my upcoming novels!

Published by kathleenfoxx

Author of domestic thrillers and gothic horror.

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