Journal Day 8

Fast forward seven months, and its my next trip to Brazil. In the meantime, Minha Namorada (My Girlfriend) and I had grown much closer, we spoke every day on WhatsApp (video calling is a godsend to long distance relationships), and she had spent a large part of the summer with me in Canada.

This time, I felt much more comfortable walking into her home after a long flight, smelling terrible after 24 hours of travel, and craving a shower – this was a big sign of how welcome her family had made me feel from day one of my first trip. We didn’t hang out too much at her home though, as Minha Namorada wanted me to see the Sunset from downtown and so whisked me away after just enough time to stretch my legs and say hi to her family.

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The couple just ahead of us were speaking in English – it seemed they couldn’t understand each other in their native languages, so they used English as a universal language.   

While I did get some beautiful views, we missed the sunset by about five minutes. Downtown João Pessoa is beautiful though, as I’ve mentioned. It used to be the richest neighborhood in João Pessoa, and the architecture reflects that, but large swaths of downtown are now abandoned. The rich having moved to the coast to be right next to the ocean. Being unable to resell these properties for their values, they have now been long abandoned, and an uneasiness has settled around the downtown core.

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This is not a safe place to be at night, although during the day there are still many tourist attractions worth checking out – just start early, and leave after sunset. That being said, there are still busy bars downtown, so its not all parts that are unsafe. The basic rule is of safety in numbers still applies. If you want to go at night, make sure to check with your hotel if its a night where one of the downtown bars is having a large gathering, and then Uber directly there and back.

Downtown even has a thriving Chinatown community, where everything seemed incredibly similar to a China Town in Canada that, if not for the language. My first trip, I had barely seen any foreigners other than myself, and there are definitely less in Brazil than in Canada (for example, Japanese and Chinese restaurants tend to be staffed by ethnic Brazilians), but there are still lots of expats in Brazil. This trip, my suitcase had broken a wheel, and we went downtown to get it fixed – that is another lesson I liked from Brazil, there is a much stronger emphasis on fixing things that are broken, rather than just throwing them out and buying new. For 45 Reals (about 20 dollars) my suitcase was as good as new.

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Hot Temaki – my mouth waters just thinking about it.

I also insisted that first night that we have one thing I had been craving since I got back to Canada from my previous trip – hot temaki. Brazil has taken the wonderful taste of sushi, and they deep fry it in batter similar to chicken-strip batter, and it is one of the best tasting (and horrible for my waistline) foods that exists.

Cabin Baggage for the Professional Traveler

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The most important part of flying comfortably is to pack correctly – you want to have one carry on bag, that is almost exclusively used for items you will/may need on the plane itself. I say almost exclusively because lost luggage does happen, and its good to have clothes for your first day with you, so that you can still go out before they get your bag returned. You’ll want the following items:

1. Paperwork – Passport, Visa, any other paperwork you need at any point in your flight shouldn’t ever leave your side. The same is true for your travel insurance paperwork, which could be needed at any point in your travels.

2. Cellphone – download the airline’s app, as well as a few shows on Netflix/other streaming service, and music/podcasts. You can’t always download these when in flight, and the airport’s WiFi is always a bit tricky. Bring charging cables with USB end, and an adapter for USB/North American (most airplanes have both outlets, but my experience has been that one is always out of order). Ideally you’d also bring a Brazilian/North American adapter, but those are expensive in Canada, and are better purchased in Brazil.

3. Cellphone Charging block – this is your backup in case both outlets are broken. Most I find can’t keep up with the battery drain from heavy use, but even so, it will significantly extend your battery.

4. Cell phone stand – a lot of airlines have gone to providing in-flight entertainment through personal cellphones. It makes sense, because they don’t have to pay to maintain the hardware, but it can be uncomfortable for long flights. You want a dedicated cellphone stand, that raises your phone up slightly – this way you don’t have to have your neck bent down at an extreme angle for the whole flight. You don’t want it too high, as that risks the phone falling and breaking, but a small distance makes a world of difference.

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This is the cell phone stand I use

4a. Laptop – personally I find that a laptop is a bit cumbersome on the plane, and I actually prefer to watch shows on my cellphone with the stand, because the seats put you so close to the laptop, but to each their own.

5. Headphones – ideally, you’ll have two sets. One earbud style, which is useful for those airlines that only allow this style during takeoff and landing. The other ones you want are Active Noise Cancelling, Over-Ear style. These can be found for less than $100 on Amazon, and are well worth the money. Its a risky purchase online, because youtube videos don’t do them justice, but the trick is to search for 3 star reviews where the complaint isn’t something that bothers you. You don’t need the expensive ones that cancel out all noise, as long as the low-beat of the airplane engines is drowned out, you’ll be able to actually enjoy in-flight entertainment, and sleep much better. These have completely revolutionized flying for me.

6. Candy – If you have trouble sleeping on the flight, a big sugar rush right after the in-flight meal will lead to a sugar crash and may help you nod off to sleep. Having a beer before/on the flight helps with this too.

7. Cash/Card – not everywhere will take card, and not everywhere will take cash – bring both, so you can buy something if you need.

8. Gum – if you have problems with the takeoff and landing, gum can help, although I prefer to just hold my nose and swallow to equalize pressure to avoid the headaches.

9. Medicines – if you need to take them, obviously bring them with you.

You don’t want to bring much more than this with you on the flight, because if the flight is packed, you might have to put your bag under the seat in front of you, and a full bag will take away the precious little leg space you have. Additionally, you’ll want space in your bag for Duty Free purchases.

Journal Day 7

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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.

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How was I supposed to resist?
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This is a picture of my sweat glands after the coffee

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 aka, Macaxeira, Manioc, or Yuca

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Amada44 [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D
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!

In preparing Cassava, I find it is best to follow the Australian Government’s recommendations, which state that:

  • 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!

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Macaxeira Frita, essentially, Cassava French Fries – Bdieu [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D
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.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

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.

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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.

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Bleff [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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gabriel_12 [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D
Floralis Generica – has giant artificial flowers that bloom in the sun, and close at night.

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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.
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Christian Haugen [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D
  • 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.

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Blmurch (in Commons and Flickr) [CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D
Travel Tips:

  • 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.
  • As always Sunblock is super important, you might even want to use Blistex with Sunblock because the sun is extremely powerful there. A sunburn on your lips is absolutely horrible.

Thanks to https://abackpackingjourney.home.blog/page/1/ for the great blog post idea!

Porto de Galinhas

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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.

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Porto De Galinhas is a fairly popular tourist spot
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This was just a random Tuesday night in Porto de Galinhas, but it was decorated for a party all the same
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We could tell the crowd was already starting to wind down

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.

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Downtown Porto De Galinhas was surprisingly empty during the day

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.

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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.

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Igrejiinha de São Benedito (Church of Saint Benedict)
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Its so close to the water
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You can see just how flat the ground is the whole way across the inlet
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The horses in hats that take you to and from the Igrejiinha de São Benedito were one of the cutest unexpected things I saw on this trip