Learning Portuguese – Initial Observations

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.

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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.

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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.

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Note: Duolingo doesn’t have a progress chart like this, but it should.

 

 

Keeping Hydrated – Water in Brazil

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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.
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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.

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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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!