Mother’s Day in Brazil

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Like in Canada, Brazilian Mother’s day falls on the second Sunday in May. Oddly for Brazil, this is not a holiday widely linked to a Catholic celebration, despite there being many countries around the world that do so.

Also similar to Canada, everyone celebrates it somewhat differently. Meu Cunhado (my brother-in-law) sent Minha Sogra a ready-made breakfast, whereas the distance makes it hard for Minha Namorada and me to do anything more than call. However, a big distinction with Mother’s Day in Brazil rather than Canada, is that in Brazil you celebrate all mothers. If you have friends/family that are mothers, you wish them a happy Mother’s day too. I am of two minds when it comes to this.

I really like the sense of community that the collective celebration entails. It reminds everyone of the important role that mothers play in our society. Canadians, of course, realize this, but I still like the idea of having everyone together taking a day to recognize that importance. It also makes it into a bigger celebration, since everyone is taking part with everyone else in celebrating all mothers. There also tend to be lunch or dinner with the extended family, as all the mothers are feted together, and I always find the holidays with big family meals are better. They also keep the whole family close. Finally, it would be much harder to forget the day in Brazil than in Canada, which is always useful for us forgetful types.

However, on the other hand, I like that we celebrate our specific mother on Mother’s Day. It seems more special that way, and I would feel almost like I was betraying my mom by wishing someone else a Happy Mother’s Day (grandmothers excepted). Especially, since Mother’s always make birthdays all about the child, when really she’s the one that did more work that day. Other than the first couple of birthdays when babies don’t really understand what is going on, and so the husband does make it about the wife, there is very little done to celebrate one’s mom on the day she became a mom. So, I like that there is a specific day set aside when everyone is expected to celebrate their specific mom. Ideally, having a small intimate dinner with just the immediate family, where everyone is there to celebrate just that important woman in their life. It is the same as that I don’t want Valentines Day to be about celebrating all couples. for me, I want it to be celebrating just Minha Namorada. So, why would Mother’s Day be for celebrating all mothers, and not just mine?

What do you think?

Brazilian Shrimp Ensopado (Soup)

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Brazilian Shrimp Ensopado (Soup)

What you’ll need:

Shrimp – 400 grams
Garlic – 5 cloves
Onion – one large
Green Pepper – Half of one
Cilantro – 1/2 cup
Tomato – one large
Tomato sauce – two spoons
Coconut milk – 1 can
Olive Oil
Water
In a pan, add the shrimp, two cloves of garlic (grated or pressed), half of the onion (grated), a splash of olive oil, and a small amount of water. Cook until the shrimp becomes pink – the actual cooking time can vary, but it should be fairly quick.

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Strain the water into another bowl and set aside the water and the shrimp for later.

In another pan, add 3 cloves of garlic (grated or pressed), the other half of the onion (grated), another splash of olive oil, and cook until slightly browned.

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Not yet browned

Chop up the Cilantro, Green Pepper, and Tomato, then add to a pot.

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Combine with the browned garlic and onion, and heat until warm. Then add the water from the shrimp, two spoons of tomato sauce, 1 can of cocounut milk, and 1/4 cup of additional water.

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Pre-blend

Once all ingredients are warm (not hot), pour into blender and blend briefly until there are no large chunks.

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Post-blend, with shrimp added

Return to a pot, add the shrimp, and heat until hot. Your Ensopado is ready.

Picuí, and other small towns of Brazil

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When I was visiting Minha Namorada over Christmas, Meu Sogro (my Father-in-law) invited us to visit his hometown, Picuí, as he was excited to show me where he grew up.

Getting there was an adventure on its own. Driving in Brazil is already a scary concept for a Canadian, but the drive between Joao Pessoa and Picuí has its own special set of fears. As we had to drive uphill, there were fifty-six button hook turns on the highway. The roads in this area were well-maintained, but the numerous monuments to loved ones on the roadside attested to the danger that drove the need for well-maintained roads – we would hardly pass 50 feet between the roadside crosses. However, this does not slow down the Brazilian drivers. Every car I saw was travelling well above the speed limit, and cutting the corners, lightly honking the horn to tell any driver on the other side of the turn that they were coming. I have rarely feared for my life while driving, but this was definitely an exception. Later I was told there is another, slightly slower, route that has no such turns, and we took that way home.

When Minha Namorada and I went to step outside, she asked me if I was “ready for hell”, because of the heat. And, while I do admit it was hot (definitely above 30 Celsius), I told Minha Namorada that it wasn’t nearly as bad as Joao Pessoa. It was hot, but much of the Brazilian Interior is extremely dry, and Picuí is one of the driest of those. As people will often attest, its the heat, not the humidity, and a little bit of shade went a long way in Picuí. Picuí is located in a place called the Polígono das secas (Drought Polygon). It has droughts unrelated to Climate Change (although that doesn’t help), and, when I visited, they had gone five years without rain – the former river beds had become football fields, and most farms in the area raised goats, which can eat cacti. It actually rained above two weeks after we left Picuí, and Meu Sogro sent me a video of the people outside cheering and watching the giant storm. It warmed my heart to see their prayers for water had finally been answered.

Now, Picuí is a small town, and small town Brazil is a lot different than the big cities. They are very reminiscent of small town North America, and while there are still a few more walls and gates than you might normally see here, there isn’t the need. Crime levels are generally less, because everybody knows everybody, and watches out for one another. There is also not the same level of distinction between rich areas and favelas. Very nice houses can be close to poor ones, and so you never know until you get somewhere what the place will look like. The Priest for the small town is one of the most important people in the city, and things tend to move at a slow pace.

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The Churches in small towns are some of the most beautiful buildings.  I didn’t actually make it inside this one, as Meu Sogro knows the Father of the church in a nearby city, Cruzeta.

 

Prices in restaurants are very cheap – Minha Namorada and I had a large stuffed crust pizza, with four beers and a pop for less than 30 Reals (about $10 Canadian at the time) – including a cover charge for the band. I don’t necessarily recommend travelling to these towns for the average traveler, as there is a lower chance people will speak English. Accents also differ significantly, as they do anywhere, but I can never really guess who I will understand when speaking Portuguese. Trained politicians are sometimes harder for me to understand than an average joe off the street. But, I will say that everyone there is extremely welcoming, even compared to the warm greetings I have always found in the rest of Brazil.

The big event of the year in Picuí, as it is for all the small towns in the region, is their Carne De Sol festival. The centre of many small towns we drove through were clearly built with this in mind, as I couldn’t imagine many gatherings that would require so much space in any small town otherwise. During these events, all the surrounding towns visit, and the places are packed to the brim. These events appear to happen regularly, but varying from town to town, and create a wonderful sense of comraderie and good natured rivalry between the cities.

I can’t say for certain if Picuí is a good representative of small towns in general in Brazil, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Travel with us! Gallery update

Given the recent COVID-19 issues around the world, I thought my readers might appreciate an updated gallery, so you can travel with me and Minha Namorada (my girlfriend… I guess I should say Wife actually).

We took our honeymoon in one of the hardest hit countries for Coronavirus, so you may not be able to visit there anytime soon. To see it with us, please visit the Gallery for aCanadianInBrazil does Italy!

Restaurants in Brazil

While your hotel will often include breakfast, you are most likely going to eat the majority of your meals at restaurants when vacationing, and there are some important things you will want to know about doing so.

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Beach front restaurants tend to have a building, but everyone sits on the beach under the parasols

At many restaurants in Brazil, they will have entrees for two, three, or even four people. While there will also be meals for one, I have found the norm to be at least two. There should be some sort of indication of the number of people each meal serves. You may have to scan the menu to find where it indicates though, as, like in Canada, menu designs vary wildly from restaurants to restaurant. If you don’t know, it is always best to ask. Most restaurants, in my experience, will have someone working that speaks English at all times, or if you have prepared your phone properly, you’ll be able to translate what you need – but worst case scenario, you can always pantomime for a question like that. Personally, I find the serving sizes are a bit small in Brazil, and I once basically ate a meal for three people by myself, but I think that’s more of a personal thing, than Brazil vs. Canada.

One thing that it always takes me a bit to remember at Brazilian restaurants, is that the servers do not come to the table unless called over. There is no checking if your food came out right, there is no asking if you need anything else. Instead, the server stays at the back of the restaurant and watches the tables from afar. You simply raise your hand and wave them over if you need anything. This is extremely convenient, as your table will not be interrupted in the middle of a story, nor do you have a server come by just as you’ve taken a bite to ask about the food, and generally the server will come by faster. As a Canadian, it feels rude to wave at the servers like that, but it really is a better system.

Taxes are included in the menu price, but the tip is not. A 10% tip is added to the end of the bill automatically, so the total of the bill will be the total you should pay – you do not need to tip anything above the amount they add. I find that I already calculate an additional amount in my head, because of the crazy Canadian system of adding taxes after the advertised price, and so I never really experience any sticker shock when the bill arrives like I assume most Europeans would. The automatic tip amount is also simpler than trying to decide if the waiter brought your drink out fast enough to warrant an extra percentage, although I still think it would be best to just pay servers a proper wage. You can ask to remove the tip if you choose, but that is just as awkward as you imagine it to be.

Exercising in Brazil

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Now, I understand that many people don’t exercise, or work out when on vacation. But, just as many like actually enjoy their workout, and so keep to their routine when travelling. However, there are some important things to consider when doing your workout in Brazil.

While Minha Namorada (my girlfriend) will sometimes mention that Toronto, on its hottest summer days, is worse than Brazil, she still considers Toronto to be very dry. So, the mix of the (low 30’s) heat in Brazil, and the high humidity makes working out that much harder. Perspiration doesn’t have the same ability to cool you down in humid weather so you will definitely overheat when in Brazil that much more.

Please note the below are my experience, and you really should talk to a medical professional before doing any sort of workout to ensure that you are healthy enough to partake. Talk to your doctor about what precautions you should take for the Brazilian climate.

Because of this increased heat, you have to take your workout slow. On the first day, I would do a maximum of 75% of my normal workout. While I might not get that same “runner’s high”, just as often I find myself “hitting the wall” much faster than normal. I never want to overdo it and ruin my ability to workout the next day, or, even worse, find myself too exhausted to enjoy the rest of your day. I never feel bad if I’m more exhausted than usual, as this is normal. I always remind myself, I’m basically running in a sauna compared to Canada. Sometimes, I actually need to lower my workout even further. By pacing my workout on the first day, I’m able to see how my body is reacting to the increased temperature without falling out of routine.

When working out indoors, I always make sure to turn on the air conditioner. While it will probably be off unless someone else is already using the gym, even turning it on over the length of a short workout can really help. Air conditioners control not only the heat, but also the humidity. By having one run, it will not only cool down the room, but also allow my body’s natural sweat to work better. It is also a wonderful after-workout treat to stand next to the air conditioning unit and just cool off. I think that’s better than any runner’s high.

It is also best to work out indoors. While the wind in many parts of Brazil may seem inviting, I never want to get lost in a city in which I’m not familiar. Most people seeking cardio want at least thirty minutes a day, and at light-jogging pace of eight kilometres per hour that’s about four kilometres, which is plenty of space to get lost. As well, it is safest in Brazil to stay in the crowded areas, which can be some of the most annoying places to jog, as that requires weaving through unpredictable crowds.

Finally, I always make sure to stay hydrated. While in Canada, I often don’t drink water before my workout – I know this isn’t the best idea, but I don’t like the sloshing feeling of the water in my belly as I run because it sometimes makes me feel nauseous. However, in Brazil this is a bad idea. I basically always feel thirsty in Brazil, and it is very easy to forget to drink water. That can easily lead to real problems, which is the opposite of what I want from a workout. For example, Heat Stroke is a real possibility in Brazil, and drinking sufficient fluids is a good preventative measure. I drink a fair amount of water before my workout, and I bring a water bottle with me when working out. Even without anything serious happening, failure to stay hydrated can increase recovery time exponentially, and that can ruin one a whole day in paradise.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Learning Portuguese, Part II

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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