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.
My final day of my first trip to Brazil landed on Good Friday, and so it was a family-oriented day. One important lesson I learned that day was just how important family is to Brazilians. There is a stereotype of latinos having large families, and while Minha Namorada (My girlfriend) doesn’t have the largest immediate family, the closeness that she has with her extended family more than makes up for this. Her cousins act more like siblings, with her Tia (aunt) and Tio (uncle) were just as welcoming to me as her parents had been.
I remember when I was young sitting around the table with my extended family, my grandfather and uncle laughing, while everyone talked with everyone at once – participating in five or six conversations at once, always eager to jump into another. It is one of my most cherished memories of my family’s farm. As much as my portuguese didn’t allow me to participate in the conversations as much as I would have liked, that was the feeling I got as I sat around the table. The love of a family that are just happy to be in each other’s company. And I was not excluded for even a second, from the very beginning, I was family.
I did come to learn why Brazilians tend to drink more espressos, as I’ve never been one to turn down coffee (especially wonderful Brazilian Coffee), but it was not a good idea to have a mug in a hot apartment. I thought I was sweating before I had my coffee… A second cup was a close-fought battle between my taste buds and my sweat glands. But, I can say that I don’t know how anyone ever cooks a big meal in Brazil, because I would immediately grow to hate the excess heat from a stove or oven – I bet toaster ovens are big there.
In the evening, we went to get ice cream, which brings me to another point. Brazil is not good for diets, as Canadians tend to think of cold treats as good for cooling oneself down in the heat, and Canada doesn’t tend to get so many extremely hot days. The cold protects us from indulging too often, because its not healthy to eat those every day, but in Brazil we lose that natural protection. This is not to mention that Nordestino (Northeastern) Brazilian fare is heavy in cheeses and breads.
All good things must come to an end, and so it was that I concluded my first (but certainly not last) trip to Brazil.
Cassava, also known as Macaxeira or Yuca, is a staple crop in Brazil, and is a very healthy alternative to add to the North American diet. While it is often made into flour, I find it is more like potatoes than wheat (although it can substitute for both). One of my favourite meals when out with Minha Noiva (my fiancee) is to have Carne De Sole with fried Macaxeira (known as Macaxeira Frita). Cassava flour is also a great alternative for those in need of Gluten-Free products.
However, you have to know how to pick one, and how to prepare it properly. Generally speaking only “sweet” Cassava is available in Canada, which is better, but it is still not safe to consume raw as it contains some cyanide (as do almonds, millet sprouts, lima beans, soy, spinach, and bamboo shoots). Processed Cassava (such as Cassava flour, or chips) will have already been safe to use as-is.
Picking the right Cassava is important – the correct way is to snap off the end and it should only be white (as pictured above). If brown specks appear, then the Cassava should be avoided. I do find it weird to go to the local supermarket and break the products in half before deciding if I’m going to purchase it, but its the only way to check a Cassava, and any store that sells them should know this – so, as awkward as it feels, it’s perfectly normal!
To make cassava safe to eat, first peel and slice the cassava and then cook it thoroughly either by baking, frying, boiling or roasting. This process reduces the cyanogenic glycosides to safe levels. Frozen cassava and frozen peeled cassava should also be cooked in this way. Discard any cooking water after use.
Cassava can then be used in any way that you use potatoes!
If you want to use it as a substitute for flour, buy the premade flour (which is widely available, and can also be found on Amazon), and then replace it 1:1 for regular flour. However, Cassava Flour is lighter, and more water absorbent than regular flour, so here are some baking tips:
1. Since it absorbs more water, it can end up being more dense, so you might want to add slightly less than normal and check consistencies before adding the rest.
2. It may tend to bake faster on the outside, even while the inside remains a bit doughy, so its better on lower temperatures for a bit longer time.
3. It sometimes gives a bit of a nut-flavour to your food.
4. It is very dusty, so be prepared for a slightly bigger mess.
Occasionally I get asked questions about other South American Countries by my readers, so I thought I might write an article to answer a little bit about Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In Buenos Aires there is a wonderful Hop-On Hop-Off Buenos Aires Bus that has stops all across the tourist locations. They book for 24 or 48 hour tickets, so if you buy at 3 p.m. one day, you can use it until 3 p.m. the next day. They also have audio descriptions, available in various languages, of all the places you visit.
Our hotel was in the neighbourhood of Palermo, which has a bunch of bars and restaurants nearby that are easily walkable. We wouldn’t recommend you stay downtown, because there isn’t much to do at night without taking a Taxi (which are inexpensive), and it is a little less safe than some of the other areas.
Some recommended places are:
Caminito – which is a very beautiful neighborhood, very colourful houses and buildings, great for pictures, and has a bunch of nice restaurants. It doesn’t have a lot else to do though, so you won’t want to plan a long time there.
Jardim Japones – a Japanese style garden, very picturesque.
Teatro Colon – a theatre, again great for pictures inside, even if you aren’t going to a show. They have guided tours. This was Meu Sogro’s (My father-in-law’s) favourite spot of the trip.
Cafe Tortoni – a dinner and tango show. The more famous one is Senor Tango, but both are nice, and Cafe Tortoni is a little bit cheaper.
Delta Do Tigre – we didn’t make it here because of the timing, but they have boat trips and is well known as one of the best spots in Buenos Aires.
La Bombonera – if you like Football, this is where Maradona played. This isn’t the best neighborhood, so take the tour bus there and don’t travel around the neighbourhood outside the stadium. Don’t make any disparaging comments about Maradona there, as Meu Cunhado (my brother in law) almost got punched for making a joke.
Floralis Generica – has giant artificial flowers that bloom in the sun, and close at night.
Some other places that are very popular, but I have reservations about:
Cemiterio da Recoleta – a very famous cemetary, absolutely gorgeous, with many famous Argentinians. But, it is a bit odd to go on vacation to a cemetery.
Zoo Lujan – a very popular zoo outside of the city, where you can get close up with many wild animals for pictures. However, while they deny giving the animals any sedatives, there is a lot of controversy because clearly many of the pictures wouldn’t be safe to take without some sort of tranquilizer in the animal’s system.
Water is very expensive, buy it in a supermarket and bring it to your hotel/with you.
Wine is cheap though, often we found it was cheaper than beer.
Porto de Galinhas started out being known as Porto Rico, which means port of riches. However, when slavery was outlawed in Brazil, Porto De Galinhas continued to allow the importation of “chickens” (read: slaves) through the city, and the name stuck. Unlike many cities with not-so-glamorous histories, Porto De Galinhas acknowledges its history and has taken it back. The chicken is now a symbol of cultural significance and pride in the city.
After playing spot the chicken for about ten minutes, we realized that it would have been easier to try to find places without chickens, they were everywhere.
Porto de Galinhas has a thriving downtown, but oddly, the downtown is only busy from about 2 p.m. until 9 p.m. I’m not sure what there really is to do in the city outside of those seven hours. The first day Minha Noiva (my fiancee) and I went, we got there a bit late (around 8 p.m.), and while there were still many people there, by the time we had walked the length of downtown it was clear the crowd was slowly dispersing. I do wonder if it might be busier on a weekend (we were there Monday-Tuesday), but other cities (like Pippa) are busy regardless. When we went there the next morning around 1 p.m., entire streets were empty with the stores not opening until 2, although there were a few restaurants open to accommodate the guests of the many cute hotels right in the heart of downtown.
However, Porto de Galinhas is very much centred on tourism, and you will find lots of signs in English, and all the restaurants had english-language menus (although I personally try not to use them too much, so that I can continue to improve my Portuguese). Porto de Galinhas is also a less expensive city, with good deals on shopping, and inexpensive food.
Outside of downtown Porto de Galinhas, however, there are many resorts and beautiful homes. We stayed in a resort named Viva, which I would highly recommend, although there were many others to fit all sorts of vacations. At ours, it was something called “half-board”, which meant ours breakfasts and dinners were included, but lunch (which is the main meal in Brazil) we were on our own. I liked this style, as it allowed us to try different foods throughout the trip, but also we could also be lazy and just walk in to the restaurant first thing in the morning, and at the end of the day. There is a lovely little bike path that connects all of the resorts to downtown, so you don’t have to worry about getting around. The hotel was clearly aimed at both families and couples, having a bunch of stuff for kids to do, but also having locations where couples could have romantic meals alone.
One of my favourite locations next to Porto de Galinhas was the Praia de Carneiros (Sheep Beach), which is located on a beach of an ocean inlet, and has a lovely church on the beach. The church is so close to the ocean, that at high tide ten steps should take you from the front door of the church to the water below. The water is not deep near the church though, with people able to walk more than halfway out towards the other side of the inlet before switching to swimming. The church is a common stop for all of the boat tours of the area (which are surprisingly expensive), and there are even horse buggies that take you back and forth from the church to various resorts along the beach.
So, this past trip I went to Recife again, in hopes that I would learn to appreciate the city Meu Cunhado (my brother-in-law) calls home. Long and short, I still don’t like the city, but I found some gorgeous parts.
Now, one important thing you will notice in Recife is the heat – unlike many coastal towns in Brazil, Recife grew too big too quickly, with large apartment buildings all being built right along the coast. While this is nice for those who live in those buildings, this is poor city planning. The large apartment buildings block the ocean winds, and the entire city suffers from higher temperatures as a result.
However, the city has tried some other ways to actually improve the gentrification and prevent the poor from being pushed out of their homes. Basically, they have attempted to prevent there to be as many designated favelas (read: ghettos) as compared with the affluent areas. Instead, even right across the street from a very expensive apartment building, there will be some housing that looks as though it is falling apart. However, I don’t think this has created the intended effect, as you can easily see that the decrepit houses still have volvos and other expensive cars parked in their driveways – simply disallowing the building of new, expensive housing doesn’t prevent the rich from pushing out the poor.
This is also true of businesses, where right next to expensive looking bars, that would not seem out of place in Manhattan, there will be very run-down bars that won’t generally feel safe. Even the tourist areas are not well separated, and while Recife has a booming tourist culture due to Carnival, I got the impression the rest of the year it does not get many visitors and isn’t as safe. My guess is that it is similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where the city changes completely for a few days every year. I also don’t know how it manages anything during Carnival, as the traffic was bad enough without an additional couple hundred thousand tourists. Although, from the pictures I’ve seen, I doubt many people drive during Carnival.
Oddly, attached to the City of Recife (similar to how Kitchener and Waterloo are attached), is the much smaller city of Olinda, which was absolutely gorgeous. The streets there looked beautiful, and were reminiscent of Dutch streets, with little bars and cafes that looked beautiful, and even the poorer looking houses seemed pretty nice. Olinda’s downtown has actually been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and this seemed like a perfectly wonderful place to stay – even not during Carnival. If I was going to Recife for Carnival, I would stay in Olinda, and go to the parties there.
Downtown Recife does have some absolutely gorgeous churches and locations that are worth exploring during the day, although parking can be an issue. As is common in many places of Brazil, the free parking is controlled by individuals who charge money to watch over your car – they will ask for 10 reals, but it can be negotiated down to 5 fairly easily (although sometimes you have to say no and get back into your car before they reduce their price). While the parking is free, you really need to pay this money or your car might get broken into – I don’t like it, but such is the downtown of Recife. There is some convenience though, as they will help you find a spot (sometimes moving their own car to give you a space), as well they will help you get out of your spot despite the bad traffic – so, its annoying, but not horrible.
The Golden Church in downtown Recife
In traditional baroque style, the gold encrusted portions tell religious stories, which is contrasted with porcelain or marble sections which tell stories of science and natural events.
We went into another church that was attached to the Golden church, which had a completely different style (it seems common in Brazil that old churches were often connected to one another), and it was filled with some (creepy) statues recreating scenes, but far more interesting was the contrast here in materials. The marble/porcelain stone they had placed in the wall here had actually been imported from Portugal, with exact stonework being removed from the walls to place the marble, and it told the biblical stories instead of being used to show the distinction from science.