Children’s Day

This weekend, as my Canadian Readers know, we celebrated Thanksgiving. A day to spend with friends or family, and remember what we are all thankful for. While this is not exclusively a Canadian/American holiday, it is not celebrated in most places around the world. And, especially given its association with the fall harvest, which isn’t the same “end of season” event in the land of eternal summer, it makes sense it is not celebrated in Brazil (although oddly, it is celebrated in some hot climates).

Even so, this weekend was a holiday weekend in Brazil – Children’s Day.

water-fight-442257_640

Children’s Day, which actually exists around the world, is a fairly significant holiday in Brazil (unlike Canada), and by tradition is a gift-giving holiday, where parents buy toys for their children. Of greater significance, is that the more well-off people tend to buy gifts for children of the poor, and even host parties so that the kids can enjoy the day just like everyone else. Personally, I think sharing like this is a better way of showing thanks than most Canadian/American traditions. Donating money, and, more importantly, time gives back to the community, and definitely gives each person more perspective on what things for which we ought to be thankful.

Children’s Day falls on October 12th. And while most people remember it as Children’s day, like most Brazilian Holidays, it actually is associated with a religious holiday. It is Our Lady of Aparecida’s Day, being a Christian Feast Day in honour of the Patron Saint of Brazil, the Virgin Mary. Most people probably associate it with Children’s Day, simply because that’s how it was first introduced to them as a child – and any holiday that you get gifts as a child is a memorable one.

NS_Aparecida
The small terracotta Virgin Mary, representing Our Lady of Aparecida, to which many miracles have been attributed 

There are some less than proper motivations for the holiday as well, the history of the day actually comes from a marketing campaign to increase sales for toy companies, in part by Johnson & Johnson, in the 1960s. The day was initially celebrated in March (and was similar to Canada in that there was very little acknowledgement), but the marketing campaign was extremely successful and created the now well-known celebration. But this is true of many holidays, Santa Clause is significantly associated with Coca Cola, but Christmas is still special. In fact, some might argue the commercialization of Santa has helped spread the Christmas Spirit.

santa-claus-1628845_640
It is an urban legend that Santa’s depiction comes from Coca-Cola because of very successful 1930s commercials.  Santa had already been depicted as such, and had even sold other soft drinks like Whit Rock Beverages

Flights to Brazil – the basics.

hal9001-AKYjr-kmYtQ-unsplash.jpg

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.

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.

duo200

Referral LinkRegular Link

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.

free-to-use-sounds-pM9p3StkknY-unsplash.jpg

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.

austin-distel-fEedoypsW_U-unsplash.jpg
Note: Duolingo doesn’t have a progress chart like this, but it should.

 

 

Keeping Hydrated – Water in Brazil

kobu-agency-1333371-unsplash.jpg
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.
ethan-mcarthur-653534-unsplash.jpg

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.

20181008_162403.jpg
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.

theater-santa-rosa-1681626_1920 (1).jpg

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.

20181008_172816.jpg
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.

IMG_2113.JPG

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.

palermo_montage
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.

IMG_2561IMG_2582

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.

IMG_2058IMG_2071IMG_2072

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.

IMG_2142IMG_2143

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.

geronimo-giqueaux-1370856-unsplash

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.

la_bombonera._-_panoramio
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.

floris.png

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.
la_recoleta_cemetery_entrance
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.

zoo_lujc3a1n_animales
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!