I had planned on publishing on my usual Sunday time, but my weekend and week get away from me. Due to the long weekend, my next article should be published Monday.
Minha Namorada (My Girlfriend) and I had finally arrived in Praia de Pipa. This city had one of the largest nightlife I have seen in Brazil – the streets actually are probably the quietest betwen 7-10 p.m., as everyone is inside getting food before they go out for the night. The street fills with giant crowds and become one large party every night. Given the relaxed drinking rules in Brazil, they don’t mind if you buy a beer from one bar, but then go wandering with the drink in hand (making sure to pay first). This is where I encountered the most amount of tourists during all of the my times to Brazil – our neighbors in the adjoining chalet were British, I overheard German a few times, and it was not out of place to overhear people speaking English in any bar. I really liked the city because it still felt like authentic Brazil, but my Portuguese was not what it is now (although I’m still far from fluent), so I did enjoy the tourist-nature of the city, so that menus were available in English, with most servers understanding me.
Pipa is gorgeous, with pure white sand beaches, and gorgeous red sand beaches adjoining each other. There is a big cliff face to get down to the beaches though, with natural stairs built into the hillsides, so you need to be careful when walking – bars are mostly located on the beach (of course), but that means you eventually have to ascend the cliff at the end of the day when you might be slightly inebriated. This also means you should bring everything you need with you for the beach, as you probably won’t want to walk up and down those stairs just to grab your Sunscreen or a bottle of water.
Minha Namorada and I spent the day at the beach, and then went to this beautiful bar that is only open in the evening to watch the sunset – Mirante Sunset Bar. There is a small cover charge to just be there, and the food is nothing to write home about, but the view is absolutely stunning. I took some pictures, but even they don’t do it justice. I highly recommend you visit to see for yourself. The bar doesn’t let too many people in, so that everyone can enjoy their time there, so I’d recommend getting there right as it opens, but every seat is designed to allow you to take in the breathtaking view.
It rained briefly while we were there, but luckily the rain never tends to stay for long (it tends to be short, intense bursts), and even then the sun still shines while its raining. Sun Showers are actually my favourite type of weather – rain doesn’t really bother me when its 25 and I can still feel sun on the back of my neck.
You wait for your vacation, counting the days, only to spend the first three days sick in bed. Its horrible and you feel like it ruins your entire vacation. There are many things that can make you sick, from the lack of sleep counting down the days to the vacation, to the stress of finishing your work before you go on your trip – sometimes it is only adrenaline keeping the illness at bay. However, one major source of illness that not everyone realizes is the airport and the airplane itself.
Germs are a part of daily life, but most of those you will encounter you will already have developed an immunity against. It is only when a new germ shows up that you get sick, and that’s why (most) people only get sick a handful of times per year. However, people at airports aren’t just bringing their luggage, they also bring their own micro flora of germs to travel with them – and just because they have their own immunity, doesn’t mean you do. Additionally, lots of people are travelling for lengthy periods of times, staying in the same clothes, and not showering for days. This means your chance of getting sick at an airport is significantly increased, and you’d be well advised to take extra precautions.
Assume everything is dirty. Tables, chairs, doors – these have all been touched by people from everywhere. Even if you assume everyone washed their hands after using the washroom (a dubious assumption at best), you can’t assume they didn’t scratch an under arm itch, or touch some other germ ridden area. Their hands then come in contact with things that you later use, and you are open to infection. This is even more true on the airplane, where they have limited time to switch between passengers, and so the cleanup will necessarily be limited. One of the worst offenders is the tray table where they will place your food, people sometimes use that when changing diapers – never let anything that you eat directly touch that tray. Wet wipes can help and are generally allowed on planes.
Since you have to keep your baggage in sight at all times, if you do have to use the washroom at an airport, you’ll have to handle it with your dirty hands from the stall to the sink – everyone else has to do that to (as I said, assume EVERYTHING is dirty). Wash your hands, and if they have the hand sanitizer, rub some on the handles of your bags and belt. Take every opportunity you can to wash your hands, and it is extra important to wash up before eating.
On any intercontinental plane, you will have hundreds of passengers, and, unfortunately, some of them will be sick. You are then jammed into a small area with them, seated like sardines, for many hours, breathing the same recycled air. Your best bet in this case is to turn on the overhead fan at maximum strength, and place it directly over your face – the plane has an internal filter that will help reduce the amount of germs you breathe in. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it helps significantly.
If you can avoid it, don’t use the airplane bathroom. Those are small washrooms, not cleaned regularly between visitors, and turbulence is a thing. Toilets flushing cause enough germs to circulate, I can’t imagine how bad an airplane bathroom is on a plane. If you have to use it, wet wipes are again your friend.
Don’t order ice in your drinks. The ice machine on planes is the low man on the totem pole when it comes to maintenance and cleaning, so, you really don’t want to risk the extra bacteria just so that your pop is a bit colder.
When travelling to other countries, many people leave their phone at home. This could be because they want to be “off the grid”, are afraid of losing the phone, or simply to avoid roaming charges. However, I would say this is always a mistake. Your phone is your lifeline in another country, it is the best chance you have at responding to an emergency, your best method for remaining safe, and is incredibly useful in your day to day while travelling (presumably you’ll want to use it as a Camera either way). A little bit of preparation ahead of time will allow your phone to be that much more useful when you go travelling:
First, and most importantly, double check the emergency numbers in the place you are visiting, and record them in your phone. In Brazil these numbers are:
- Police – 190*
- Ambulance & Fire – 192 or 193.
*Police will generally be able to help with any of the emergencies, but it is faster if you call the right number.
You’ll also want to download a translation app for your phone, and install the offline translation. I am a big fan of Google Translate, but I don’t know its availability for non-android phones. Test the download by putting your phone into airplane mode – it should still be able to translate phrases, including using the camera mode to translate written text. This will be fairly literal translations, but it will allow you to read anything from store signs to menus with relative ease. I don’t find the conversation feature works that well yet, but it still is incredibly useful to help you communicate.
It is a good idea to download the map of the city you are visiting in advance. The downloaded map will allow you to navigate should you get lost, and also to help you plan where you want to visit. You do not need data to use the gps. Record the hotel you are staying at and the local spots you want to check out, and check the directions to the places at the times (adjusting for the time zones) you want to go – remember, traffic can be extremely bad in some cities (Minha Namorada – My Girlfriend, doesn’t even consider Toronto at rush hour to be bad traffic), and so you’ll want to check out the directions ahead of time to ensure your fifteen kilometre drive won’t take four hours. Be careful with directions though, they may try to send you through a Favela (Google doesn’t have an option to avoid them that I’ve seen), but if you are using Google Maps, you can drive past those areas and your phone will recalculate a new path for you. Again, test your phones ability to give directions between two local spots at your destination before your trip with your phone in airplane mode to ensure the downloaded map is working correctly.
Download and install Uber (note: referral link). If you get stranded in Brazil, you don’t know who is driving that random taxi you flag down, if you can even find one. Most places have Wifi, and an Uber will have reviews from hundreds/thousands of previous riders. It is generally viewed as much safer. While hotel-associated cabs are probably your best bet, that may not always be an option. Check the driver’s rating, and check the driver’s number of rides. It will probably be safer and cheaper for you to take an Uber.
Download and install WhatsApp. If you don’t know what it is, WhatsApp is basically a text/voice/video messaging program, that runs over data rather than through standard telephone lines. WhatsApp is incredibly popular in Brazil, with most bigger businesses advertising that you can call them regularly, or on WhatsApp.
Finally, and this is the least important, install the app for your airline company. A lot of companies are phasing out in-seat entertainment for use on your phone/tablet. If you don’t have the app downloaded ahead of time, you might be stuck on the plane with no way to use the entertainment system.
If you have an unlocked phone, consider buying a prepaid Sim Card for your phone. These are very inexpensive, and are available at countless places. This will give you a Brazilian telephone number, but more importantly, it will give you a limited amount of data for use in a pinch. Then you won’t have to keep your phone in airplane mode the entire time.
One of the biggest impediments to travel is, of course, the cost. Flying will likely be your highest expense on the trip, as prices in Brazil are very low after the exchange rate (currently, the Brazilian Real is trading just under 3:1 with the Canadian dollar).
However, finding the right flights can be a very difficult proposition. Luckily (unluckily), Canadians are used to searching for cheap flights because local travel is so expensive as well, and most of the same tricks work well for booking travel to Brazil. I, myself, am still finding new methods for securing the best flight, but here are some basic tricks I’ve found so far:
1. Clear your browser history before starting your search – travel websites can significantly increase the prices if you have searched for flights before, or if their algorithms think you have. I actually have a dedicated browser that I use just for booking travel.
2. Check out yyzdeals.com or yycdeals.com or any of the cheap flight websites from Chris Myden – Chris keeps a blog of pricing mistakes by airlines, and sends out alerts. His websites are great for finding deals when you don’t care where/when you are flying, and Brazil is sometimes one of the destinations he finds – three days ago he posted flights for $561 (taxes included) Round-trip from Toronto to Rio de Janeiro, so it is well worth your time to check out his website.
3. Create travel alerts using Google Flights – Google flights has tended to be the cheapest way to find flights for me when I book travel. It will also show you the prices for days surrounding your specific flight date, and you can set it up to email you when prices change. Even once you find a good price this way, still search around, as the prices across various websites tend to drop at the same time. Statistics generally show that flights will be cheapest six weeks before your trip, but you’ll want to create a travel alert ahead of time, just in case.
4. When selecting a flight, make sure that the layover is long enough to get through customs. If you are travelling through Pearson airport in Toronto, then there is pre-clearance in Canada for any US layover, but coming back a layover of 90 minutes isn’t very long to get through customs, security, and to your next flight. Airlines are rarely forgiving of missed connections. This is even more true if you book the tickets separately (which is sometimes recommended by Google as the cheapest option). If you do end up with a long customs line and a short connection, flag down airport staff to help you.
5. Make sure you don’t have to change airports in a foreign city. Changing just the terminal in an airport can sometimes be a worrisome experience involving shuttle-bus travel, unclear instructions in another language, and feeling like you have left the airport. But in those cases at least airport staff are generally recognizable, are the most likely to speak English, and will almost always be available throughout your trip between terminals to help. However, some flights suggested by google might include changing airports, which can be expensive, and lead to lengthy delays, and create unexpected headaches. I would never recommend those.
Had a very tiring weekend, my post will be delayed. Apologies!
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.