This is a resource for Canadians planning a trip to Brazil, or even just those interested in learning more about Brazil. We have travel dos and don’ts, we address commonly held misconceptions, we give other useful travel tips, and we show off a number of potential destinations that might be of interests. You can also follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/acanadianinbrazil/
If you already know you want to go to Brazil, then check out my article on Crossing The Border.
If you are still deciding about whether to vacation in Brazil, or have concerns about going there, you might be interested in my article on Misconceptions about Brazil.
If you are just interested in looking at some beautiful pictures of a Brazil, then check out the Gallery.
Minha Namorada and I had decided we were going to visit more places this trip to Brazil. Some people say, the difference between North America and Europe where people say “a long drive is 100 kilometres in Europe, a long time is a 100 years in North America”, but Brazil is the fifth largest country by size with a rich history – there are theories that the Amazon rainforest itself is not naturally occurring, but the results of 11,000 years of human cultivation. So we didn’t want to limit ourselves to just one small tip of the country. Thus, we set off on our trip to Praia da Pipa.
Transportation in Brazil, is lacking somewhat. The shape and population distribution throughout Brazil was not as conducive to railways as Canada, and so heavy trucks are the most common form of delivery for products. This creates significantly more road maintenance needs, and you need to keep your eyes out for that many more potholes. In addition, while you can download directions and maps on Google ahead of time (which is definitely recommended) the English voice on the GPS doesn’t handle the Brazilian road names well, it isn’t the easiest to follow, and unless you are travelling with a local, it is probably best to just book bus trips with the tourist organizations – professional drivers who drive the road daily are better off anyways. However, do not take the normal buses between cities. Much like in Canada, Bus stations tend to be more dangerous places.
Brazil is very strict against drivers having any alcohol in their system, they operate on a zero tolerance system, with seizure of the vehicle, significant fines and your licenses being revoked for 12 months for anything below 0.06 BAC, and criminal charges for amounts above that. However, this restriction is only against the driver themselves, oddly, it is perfectly legal for there to be open alcohol in the car, and passengers can drink while riding in the car. Multiple times we drove past police vehicles and stations, without anyone even giving me a second look.
Brazilian Countryside is very beautiful too – many people when thinking of Brazil only think of the areas immediately adjacent to the ocean. However, the rolling hills with fields of sugar cane and pineapples, with the occasional small forest dotting the landscape is not a view to be missed. Essentially, imagine the foothills of the rockies, but with different vegetation. Maybe its my own western Canadian Routes, but some of those views were just as breathtaking as any ocean vista.
Brazil is well known in Canada (and North America generally) for Carnival, even to the point that some stereotypes of Brazil tend to focus on some traditional samba dance wear due to its association with some Carnival celebrations.
However, one of the other big Brazilian celebrations is nearly unknown outside of Brazil, that festival is called São João, also called Festas Juninas.
Sao Joao is a festival mainly held in the North and Northeast, but can also be found in the interior of São Paulo and other large urban centers. It started as a tradition imported from Portugal associated with St. John the Baptist, whose has a Feast day in June, leading to celebrations throughout the month, and sometimes even into July.
This holiday has now become a celebration of the rural life of farmers (called Caipira – this word has similar associations to the redneck or yokel though, so they can use it to refer to themselves, you cannot), with boys dressing up in straw hats and plaid shirts, while girls dress in country dresses and pigtails.
They dance in “Quadrinhas” (think square dances – even the music is surprisingly similar), and the festival celebrates the fertility of the land by hosting a mock wedding as the centre of the Quadrinhas.
Common midway games from North America are also found at the festivals, including mock “fishing” for prizes, ring/dart toss, and three-legged races. One-legged races are also popular stemming from their association with the Brazilian folklore surrounding Saci – a Brazilian prankster genie, who grants wishes to those who trap him or manage to steal his cap.
Essentially, when trying to imagine Sao Joao, think of the Calgary Stampede, with a less rodeo, and a lot more emphasis on country dancing, and you’ll get the gist of it.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve now been learning Portuguese for about two years. It is difficult learning a new language, although I still think my progress is going well. But, here are some of my initial observations from when I started learning.
The best way that I’ve found to learn Portuguese is on the Duolingo app for your phone. The lessons are short (15 questions), and there is significant gameification to make it enjoyable, and it slowly builds upon itself. Don’t bother with Duolingo Plus, it is a waste of money. The main benefit of it is the offline mode, but, honestly, how often don’t you have internet connection? Regular Duolingo just requires you to start the lesson when you have internet, you can go offline during the lesson without any issues, so, even an intermittent internet connection is good enough.
From the start, it’s important to acknowledge that learning a language is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t expect to learn useful phrases right away, for those you should look for a tourism phrase book. Learning a language is a lengthy process which takes dedication and commitment. Duolingo will teach you unusual phrases, and these actually help you remember the words better, but gives you very little useful knowledge at the beginning. It takes time before it all starts to click together.
You will learn a lot of pronouns, which are useful, but you will almost never hear them used by native Portuguese speakers. Portuguese tends to just use the conjugation of verbs in place of its pronouns. Learning the pronouns will help you to learn how to conjugate words, and will help when you are speaking. They will allow others to understand you even through the (doubtless) grammatical errors of a newbie to language.
Add don’t get upset if your initial progress slows down. Portuguese is very similar to Spanish and French, languages which many North Americans have a fair amount of exposure. This helps a lot in learning the language, as you’ll already have some basics, but you will quickly exhaust those stores of knowledge. You might think that you’ve plateaued, and that can be disheartening, but its actually that you are now at a normal learning pace. Keep going through it, and you’ll eventually hit other milestones as the rules and phrases start to click.
I was once asked what did I view as the biggest challenge in my relationship with Minha Namorada (My Girlfriend), and my answer was that I do not speak Portuguese. That is still my answer today. Luckily, Minha Namorada speaks English quite well, and that has allowed our relationship to flourish. However, it is still very important to me that I learn Portuguese. There are many reasons but one of the most important reasons is culture.
Culture helps define who we are, it tells us where we came from, where we are going, and it binds a community together. While Minha Namorada and myself are building a life together now, and while A Familia Dela (her family) always do so much to make me feel welcome, I still always feel a bit excluded from her Brazilian Culture, simply because I don’t speak enough Portuguese to participate fully. Unless there is an English translation out there, I can’t understand the shows Minha Namorada watches in Portuguese, I can’t read the books she’s read. But, even translations tend to lose much of the raw emotion and feel of the originals
As well, at the best times when families are just laughing and joking, and everyone forgets themselves, it becomes that much harder for me to follow the conversation – I am inadvertently excluded at the time when everyone is attempting to make me feel most welcome. I am never offended by this, and in fact am very touched that they are so welcoming towards me, but it does bother me that I can’t follow along with everyone.
After two years, I can generally read news articles in Portuguese without too much difficulty, and I’ve learned enough Portuguese to be understood one on one. Minha Namorada’s friends and family are always impressed with how much Portuguese I’ve learned since we first met, but I still have much to go. It is a slow process, as I expected, but one which reaps many rewards. And not just in my relationship, but also in my ability to broaden my horizons. Being able to read non-english sourced newspapers gives me new perspectives on world events that I would not have known if not for those newspapers. Only about 1/7 of the population speak English, so learning languages helps me learn about the other 6/7ths of the world.
So, let’s start a conversation about tips/tricks, and other observations about learning (and hopefully eventually mastering) Portuguese.
Everyone knows keeping hydrated is important, but it is easily missed in Brazil (and other tropical areas). This can easily ruin a day or two of your trip, and given the low amount of vacation days Canadians get, you don’t want to lose any of them to easily avoidable situations.
On the left is what you think of when you order water at a restaurant, but on the right is what you get.
Now, to be clear, tap water in Brazil (in most places) is perfectly safe to drink. I know a lot of Canadians think all tropical places have unsafe drinking water, but this isn’t true. In addition, not everywhere in the USA has safe drinking water (for example – Flint, Michigan). Brazil actually has great water purification systems in place in urban areas, and you don’t need to worry. That said, everywhere you drink water, you’ll find it comes in bottles. Tap water is never drank, even in homes, partly because of prior times when it was not as healthy, and partly because their method for purification leaves an odd taste that some people don’t like. Always stop at a grocery or convenience store to buy water if you are staying in a hotel – the hotel will charge more than double the price for half the water, and there is no point in wasting money on water. Feel free to brush your teeth or rinse with the tap water, but the taste is bad enough that you won’t want to drink it straight.
The main problem with tap water not being served is that, like in Canada, restaurants and bars always charge for bottled water. This, combined with the cheap beer/drinks makes it easy to forget to drink water. I have often caught myself dismissing ordering water, because I think “well, if have to pay either way, I might as well buy beer”, and this is even easier do when sometimes (although rare) the beer is cheaper than the water. However, you’d be wrong to do this. As everyone who has ever had a hangover will tell you, drink water is essential. This is even more true in hot tropical climates where you will spend all day sweating. Drink water, and drink it often. I try to make sure to drink water at least one in four drinks, if not more.
Also, it isn’t expensive to buy water even at bars, as the exchange rate works heavily in your favour, but the price is close enough to Canadian prices it will trick you – three Brazilian Reals for Water sounds expensive, until you remember that is only one Canadian dollar. If I told you you could get a beer and a glass of water for four dollars Canadian at a bar, people would be lined up out the door. You need to view the price of buying the occasional water as part of the price of the beer you drink. But if you really can’t get yourself over the knee-jerk reaction of refusing to pay for water, buy it at a grocery store earlier in the day. Water at a grocery store isn’t even expensive in Canada, and it’s much cheaper in Brazil. For a dollar, you can get a large bottle of water to take on your travels. Drinking from it regularly throughout your day will go a long way to keeping you hydrated. Ideally, if you really want to avoid a hangover, you would do both.
That being said, if you do get a bad hangover, or fear one coming, I personally find a water and a Gatorade right before you go to sleep, and another right after you wake up is a good home remedy to keep the hangover to a minimum.
When I dress for travel, I throw aesthetics out the window right away – no matter how good you look at the beginning of your trip, you will never look good after 24 hours of transiting, so I don’t waste effort on that.* Your loved ones will be happy to see you no matter what, and you’ll have a better trip, and be ready to go faster, if you traveled comfortably. So, keeping that in mind, here are my travel suggestions on what to wear:
1. A baggy T-shirt
Think the type of T-shirt that you would wear as pajamas. You want a T-shirt that doesn’t have buttons that can dig into you. You don’t want to wear anything lighter than a T- shirt, because they don’t exactly have a long time between passengers on planes, and you never know who/what was there before you – thus, its best to minimize contact with the plane seat as much as possible. But, since you can’t control the plane temperature, you may need to strip down to just the shirt to avoid excessive sweating. The T-Shirt being a little bit big also helps it breath.
2. A hoodie with a zipper front
Again, since you can’t control the temperature it may get a bit cold – the hoodie helps with that. While I try to avoid zippers as much as possible while flying, you won’t know if your plane is too hot or too cold until you are a little bit into your flight, and its awkward to get up, disturbing your seat-mates to remove a pullover, but the T-shirt underneath should help protect the zipper from digging into you in any event. Ideally, the the hoodie will have pockets to hold onto those items you need immediate access to (that you don’t keep in your backpack), and can double as a pillow/blanket if you want to sleep. The pillow they give you on the plane is meant for your lower back to make the seat more comfortable, not for your face.
3. Running tights and compression socks.
For long flights, there can be a risk of blood clots or other issues when you sit too long. If you are young/not diabetic, you likely don’t need to be too concerned, but running tights and compression socks still help avoid the muscle ache in your legs that comes from sitting for too long – I’m not saying there will be none, just less. The tights and, especially the compression socks, are specifically designed to encourage blood flow. If you are diabetic, these are a must, since circulation becomes more of an issue, and flying halfway around the world can test anyone’s limits.
Tights look a bit too revealing without anything to cover them, but jeans/slacks have strong zippers, and buttons that can dig into you when you sit in a cramped seat for long flights. Sweat pants breath and help regulate your body temperature, but most importantly are designed with comfort in mind. Ideally, you’ll want ones with pockets again (like your hoodie), but it is not necessary, because your backpack is for items needed on the plane. Storing items in your pockets just makes your clothing less comfortable, hoodie pockets are better for that anyways.
5. Wear a hat
A hat is useful in case you want to sleep and its still bright out. Even if you have a window, there is a good chance someone else’s window will be open and the light will keep you awake. Or, what if your seatmate isn’t able to sleep, so decides to read a book, and turns on the overhead light. Your best solution is to have a hat that will at least dim things for you.
6. Don’t bring a coat
Depending on your dropoff/pickup you can just have someone bring your coat (that is how Minha Namorada and I handle it). With trains/taxis/ubers you will probably only have a couple minutes of extra cold weather in the worst scenarios. Coats take up lots of luggage space, and believe me, you’ll regret wearing it on the plane, especially once you get anywhere south of Canada.
7. Comfortable shoes don’t matter
You won’t be standing, you won’t be walking. So, it doesn’t matter if they are your most comfortable shoes. Save space in your luggage by wearing the shoes that take up the most amount of space – for me, that’s usually my dress shoes.
8. Use your backpack unless you immediately need an item
When you are waiting in line at the airport, then it makes sense to use the pockets (to hold your wallet, tickets, passport etc.) but after the transaction, return the item to your backpack. It helps you remember not to lose things (since you put them away immediately), but it also avoids you getting jabbed by something in your pocket. Otherwise, follow good backpack practice.
* Minha Namorada (my girlfriend) thinks you can look good and travel, but I would rather the extra 1% of comfort.