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.

Journal Entry Day 6

Day six in Brazil, Minha Namorada (My girlfriend) and I had to go to Recife for Meu Cunhado  (My brother in law) to attend a Concurso.

Now, as a first thing, Minha Namorada and I are not yet married (although we are engaged, so sometimes you will see me refer to her as Minha Noiva – my fiancee).  So, it may seem a bit odd for me to refer to her brother as Meu Cunhado.  However, it is common in Brazilian Culture to refer to the significant other of a family member, even if not married, as if they were married.  Accordingly, Minha Namorada’s parents refer to me as Genro, and I refer to them as Sogro (father in law), Sogra (mother in law), and Cunhado (brother in law).   Some Canadians may be a bit scared by this, especially those who are afraid of commitment, but I found it very wonderful – from first meeting them, I had a place in their family.  I guess that’s more of a reflection of how I already felt about Minha Namorada than anything else, but it also felt so welcoming.

Now, a Concurso is a public competition for a job.  Think of it like any Canadian Federal Government job – usually there is a test involved, and a few interviews, and you are ranked against a number of other candidates with the top candidates getting the job.  These also tend to be the best jobs in Brazil, so it was important that Minha Namorada and I support Meu Cunhado in attending his Concurso.  This threw a wrench in our plans for the week, but as I told Minha Namorada, this was clearly important, and all I really cared about was spending time together, so I didn’t mind at all.

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RioMar, Recife

We drove out early, dropped off Meu Cunhado, and then we decided to spend the day at the mall while we waited to him, not knowing how long it was take.   The mall was very pretty, with very similar stores to what you’d find in Yorkdale or any other Canadian Mall).  Being tired though, I thought it would be a great time to explore Brazilian Coffee.

The first thing I noticed was that almost no store in the mall served brewed coffee or Americanos.  Even dedicated coffee shops almost exclusively served espresso.   I found this frustrating, but I realized it does make sense.  In a hot climate, you don’t want something warm to sip on for awhile – you want something that will get you the same effect but smaller so it won’t warm you up, hence the reason for the espresso.

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The other thing I realized is that coffee was surprisingly expensive in the mall.  After seeing how inexpensive I could find beer in places, I was surprised at how expensive coffee was relatively speaking.

Eventually I decided that the Canadian in me wouldn’t be satisfied with an espresso, so I elected to go to McDonald’s for a brewed coffee – banking on that McDonald’s is basically the same all around the world.  However, this turned into an adventure in itself, as Minha Namorada and I experienced a very hostile employee.

  1. First we were told they didn’t serve coffee, despite it being on the menu.  Luckily, the manager was walking behind the employee, overheard, and corrected the employee.
  2. Then we ordered, and the employee wouldn’t take credit card, because he said the internet was down.   We didn’t have enough cash, so had to leave and come back (the bank being a 10-15 minute walk to the other side of the mall).
  3. Then when we came back, we tried to order the coffee (along with other breakfast items), and we were told they didn’t have change to give us from the bill.  We were paying with a $100 note (about $40 Canadian), for a meal of about $28 (about $10 Canadian), nothing unreasonable.
  4. Afterwards, we decided to directly approach the manager, who was clearly upset at his employee, who then said he had lots of change.   We finally got our order (which had two wrong items the manager fixed for us), and left.

Now, I could have very easily been turned off by this experience.   The employee gave me many dirty looks, and it was clear he gave us trouble because I wasn’t Brazilian.  In fact, he even explained his actions to his manager that Minha Namorada just hadn’t understood him – presumably, not realizing that Minha Namorada is Brazilian.  However, this was a complete one-off situation.  I met countless other Brazilians on my trip who were excited to practice their English with me, or had large amounts of patience as I attempted to speak to them in Portuguese.   I just felt bad that this guy must have had a bad experience some other time by a foreigner to make him dislike me, and it just increased my resolve to show good manners as a guest in Brazil.

Surprisingly, Meu Cunhado finished his concurso shortly after we had our delayed breakfast/lunch, and we headed off to pick him up.    We went out to celebrate him finishing the Concurso (it is important to celebrate finishing BEFORE you know the results – so everyone can celebrate, that’s what Chartered Financial Analyst’s do in Canada).   I won’t tell you the results of the Concurso, because that is Meu Cunhado’s story to tell, but I will tell you that the restaurant we went made a giant Risotto for us, and between the four of us (Meu Sogro, Meu Cunhado, Minha Namorada and myself), we ate enough “servings” for six, of which I probably ate half.   The food is just so good in Brazil.

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I ate probably four times this much

Journal Entry Day 5

On my next day in Brazil, Minha Namorada (my girlfriend) and I went to a bunch of tourist locations.

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Saint Francis Church and Saint Anthony Convent
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Cabo Branco lighthouse next to the Ponta do Seixas

Now, Tourists in Brazil are generally not American, or English speaking. I only met one group of English-speaking people the entire time I was in Brazil, and it was on this day. They overheard Minha Namorada and I speaking, so came over to talk, and upon noticing my hat (at that time, a Toronto Blue Jays baseball cap) they recognized that I must be Canadian (I guess there aren’t that many American fans of Canadian teams). I assume they had the same experience with few English-speakers, otherwise they wouldn’t have struck up a conversation.

In fact, most of the tourists that I saw were from Argentina, which makes sense, as it is a very large Spanish speaking country that borders Brazil. I also found out that day just how similar Portuguese and Spanish are, as Minha Namorada gave directions and spoke briefly with some Argentinians who were lost, and later explained to me that she just spoke Portuguese to them, and they spoke Spanish, and they understood each other. I had previously believed that they were similar in the way that German and English are similar – singular words can often be understood in context, but I didn’t realize they were fairly mutually intelligible. In fact, since then, Minha Namorada has even watched an entire Columbian telenovela (soap opera) in Spanish without any difficulty, so clearly the languages are much more similar than I ever realized.

The architecture of downtown João Pessoa was very fascinating, which I only understood later when I remembered the fact that Northeastern Brazil used to be a dutch colony – which is very much reflected in the buildings. This is a very important part of the culture in Northeastern Brazil, with many Dutch Brazilians and the war helping to shape the country. Much like Canada was shaped by the battles between France and Britain, Brazil was shaped by the old world empires as well.

You can really see the dutch influences in parts of downtown, like Antenor Navarro Square:

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Zelma Brito [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
We also went to some cultural parks, and a science centre, but they were sadly all closed. It meant we got to walk around for free and see the large permanent exhibits that aren’t removed regularly, but I would have rather seen the full sites.

One important thing I realized though, is even if you are walking on sidewalks in Brazil, you need to wear bug repellent. I got bit by an ant in Brazil, and it actually made me stop walking it hurt so much. It felt like a painful cramp all of a sudden in my leg, and I had to ask Minha Namorada if we could cut the tour short and head back to the car… luckily, it only hurt for about 15-30 minutes, but I’ve never had an ant bite hurt that much before.

 

Recife

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Sandro Helmann [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I will freely admit that I did not get a good first impression of Recife. My first time in Brazil I flew into Recife, but the airport, and highways out of town (we were staying in João Pessoa, 1.5 hours away), are near some favelas that are not nice. In addition, I had just flown for over 24 hours (including the layovers). I felt a bit uneasy about Recife, and Minha Noiva (My Fiancée) even apologized for the part of Recife we were in, and told me not to judge Brazil by that area. To be clear, it is not all of Recife, just the area by the airport and the highway out of town that was a little bit rundown. There is also a bit of a city rivalry between João Pessoa and Recife (think Toronto-Ottawa, Calgary-Edmonton, or Montreal-Toronto), and with Minha Noiva’s family living in João Pessoa, I have to be loyal to her city. My trips to Recife have always had a specific reason, rather than simply enjoying what Recife has to offer. My next trip will involve a lengthy stay to see the sights in Recife, and I’m hoping to change my opinion of the City.

That being said, Recife is actually a very well-known city in the Northeast of Brazil, being one of the three biggest locations for Carnival in Brazil (the other two being Rio de Janeiro and Salvador). Despite Carnival not starting until February, events begin in Recife in November or December, and even that early tourists start to arrive.

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A bloco party on the streets of Recife Raul [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
They regularly have indoor-outdoor block parties you can attend (called blocos) and random live shows either outside, or inside bars – remember though, like many cities in Brazil, if you are in a bar and a band starts playing, you may be expected to pay something towards their compensation. It is worth it as Brazilian Music is wonderful, but just be aware.

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A frevo dance and music performance Prefeitura de Olinda [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
As a major tourist destination, there are lots of English on signs and in malls – one of the most unusual sights I saw was a Ben & Jerry’s, where all the signs were in English, except for the actual names of the Ice Cream, which were still made up of English puns.

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Praia de Muro Alto Cleferson Comarela [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
Recife is named after the reefs just off its coast, so you can imagine that it has some beautiful beaches. However, you need to be careful in the water there, as the reefs are not coral reefs, and so the beaches do not have the same protection from sharks that other beaches along the Brazilian coast have. Attacks, while still rare, are more common on the beaches here than in other locations. In fact, surfing has been banned on the beaches of Recife specifically because of the risk of shark attacks, and swimmers are specifically warned by many beach signs to avoid swimming beyond the reefs. Personally, I stay on the dry land.

Natal

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Mário Monte [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Natal, which was founded on December 25, 1599 (and shares the Portuguese name for Christmas), is a city in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, and has a rich history with a large population of expats. The city was one of the first major tourist areas in the state, largely because of its strategic location during World War 2.

Natal, while not the absolute closest, it is still about as close as you can get to Africa from the Americas, while simultaneously being one of the closest points to Europe in Latin America, and so was a staging area for the North African Campaign during World War 2. As is common with places where soldiers train, many of the Allied Troops fell in love with the city and returned after the war to settle. There are clearly lots of expats and foreigners, because I was pleasantly surprised to find, at more than one bar, hockey was on TV, and English was common throughout the city.  Natal still hosts a major training centre for the Brazilian Air Force.

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Centro de Cultura Espacial e Informações Turísticas (CCEIT)

Natal, owing to its location near the equator, also has nearby the Barreira do Inferno Launch Center, which is a rocket launch base of the Brazilian Space Agency.

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Natal, which is near Praia da Pipa, also has some beautiful beaches, although that leads to one unfortunate consequence for tourists – nothing is open during holidays because everyone expects you to be at the beaches during the day. Places open for brief lunches, but when Minha Noiva (my fiancée) and I arrived after a long drive, nothing was open for supper until late. We eventually found a bar that let us have drinks, but we couldn’t find anywhere to eat before 6. while it is a bit annoying when I’m hungry, I do like the calm and laid back attitude that everyone is just expected to “go relax at the beach.”

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The view from a hill overlooking some of the beautiful beaches of Natal
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Praia do Cotovelo, from the patio of Falésia Restaurant

This is not for a lack of customers though, Minha Noiva and I went to a tourist favourite shrimp and risotto restaurant, Camarões, and it was busy minutes after it opened. Brazilians don’t gorge themselves like some Canadians do though, and when I ate far too much risotto (with desert on top!) I did get some long glances from the wait staff. They even tried to suggest it was too much food I was ordering. (Note: I do not recommend eating as much food as I did, but the cheese and shrimp was just too good to stop)

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The Serving size was for four… I may have eaten the entire thing (Minha Noiva helped)