Getting Married in Brazil

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As I have alluded to in earlier articles, I am actually engaged to Minha Namorada (my girlfriend), which is why in a few articles I have referred to her as Minha Noiva (my fiancee/bride).   I’m just not yet to that point in my Journal articles. In fact, we already did a beautiful small civil ceremony in Canada, as I elaborate on the need for which below, so I should probably even call her Minha Esposa (my wife). But, we are planning a religious ceremony for Brazil, because that is where her family is, and in planning this wedding, we have come to realize how much cheaper, and better, we can have a wedding there than a local Canadian wedding.

Now, to get started, there are some complications to get married in Brazil. Brazil used to be a Military Dictatorship, and so treated their military very well. This included an inheritance of the father’s pension for sons until they turned eighteen, and daughters until they got married. As you can imagine, this lead to some abuse of the system, where a daughter would get married in a Church, but not conduct a civil marriage. The daughter would then remain unmarried in the government’s eyes, and continue to the collect the pension, while being married in a religious sense to avoid any social taboos. The government’s solution to this was simple – they worked with the churches to require a civil marriage before one can get married in a church. Unlike most places in Canada, the marriage licenses in Brazil have a waiting time, so you could end up having to go down a month before your wedding to apply for the license. The easier way to handle this is to get married civilly in Canada, and then you can bring the paperwork to a church in Canada to have them contact their Brazilian equivalent, and certify that the marriage can proceed. If you don’t want a religious marriage, it is even easier – just do a quick trip to city hall before you go to do the paperwork.

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Toronto City Hall actually has a beautiful little ceremony room, with seating for about 15 guests

While there are many options to choose from, we elected to go with this lovely venue called Porto Pinheiro for the reception. They are located right on the beach, with a lovely outdoor area for the ceremony (should you choose), and a large air conditioned inside (which is important for people who plan to dance the night away).

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The outside of Porto Pinheiro is lovely for wedding ceremonies

The inside is just as beautiful!

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And the glass walls allow the view to be appreciated from the comfort of the air conditioned interior.

They do a set package for weddings on Sunday – Thursdays, which includes food, desserts (read: brigadeiro), cake, decorations, music, and lights. Drinks, except water/coconut water/ice, are usually not included, but can be bought easily – Duty free also allows you to buy up to $500 USD on landing in Brazil, which will allow you to supply your own alcohol should you choose. While prices for someone else might change, we are currently budgeting less than $10,000 Canadian to do the entire wedding in Brazil, which includes the the set package for 80 people, including an open bar, and a church ceremony. Compared with the cost of what Canadians usually pay for weddings, this option is a steal. Additionally, in terms of cost passed on to guests of a destination wedding, João Pessoa is extremely budget friendly – the flight is the only expensive part, and will probably be three quarters or more of the all-in cost. Depending on time of year, the costs can be comparable to that of an all-inclusive resort.

 

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.

João Pessoa – Points of Interest

As I have written about before, I have a special place in my heart for João Pessoa. It may not have the fame of Rio De Janeiro, or the size of São Paulo, but it is the first city I explored in Brazil, and it is where Minha Noiva (My Fiancée) calls home.

João Pessoa is not without its own landmarks or attractions that make it unique, and a wonderful place to visit, and if you are looking for great photograph opportunities, here are three great locations:

1. The Easternmost Point in all of Mainland America, Ponto de Seixas.

Even to people who have no familiarity about Brazilian geography, I can always easily describe the location João Pessoa. South America comes roughly to a point (or a horn) on the Eastern side, and João Pessoa is located exactly at the end of that point. This is as close as you can get to Africa without leaving travelling to an island.

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Ponta do Seixas                                                                  irene nobrega [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Atop a nearby cliff, called Capo Branco, there is a lighthouse, which most people confuse with the actual Easternmost point, Ponto Do Seixas (always go to the Wikipedia article in the local language, using Google Translate, rather than assuming the English article has the full story, especially if the English article is a stub). Capo Branco does give a much better view (and is better for the lighthouse’s functionality), but the location of a large landmark so close to the actual location, causes much confusion.

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Cabo Branco Lighthouse  Pbendito assumed (based on copyright claims). [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
If you are looking to visit though, always ask for directions to Ponto De Seixas, not Capo Branco. Since there is a neighborhood named after the Cliff, which will just add to your confusion.

2. Saint Francisco Cultural Centre, Centro Cultural São Francisco

While most people would either know, or could guess, that Brazil was formerly part of the Kingdom of Portugal, far less would know that parts of Brazil were one time conquered by the Dutch. Saint Anthony’s Convent (a part of the Cultural Centre), while initially built by Friars in 1589, was used as a fortress by the Dutch during their occupation from 1630 to 1654.

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Centro Cultural São Francisco

The Friars then returned for three centuries, but shared their space in 1885 to 1892 with a School of Marines Apprentices, and the Military Hospital, before eventually becoming a Seminary (until 1964) and Diocesan College (until 1906). Eventually, the site became a Cultural Centre, but remains one of the most beautiful churches in the area, having been renovated over centuries, in baroque style, with extremely ornate details and adorned in gold.

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It also houses some of the most important artwork a for the Brazilian Baroque style.

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Glorification of the Franciscan Saints by José Joaquim da Rocha, Manuel de Jesus Pinto, José Soares de Araújo, or José Teófilo de Jesus  – there is some controversy over the true artist.
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Another view of the Glorification of the Franciscan Saints, from where the choir sits during Mass

3. Global Hotel, Hotel Globo

This is a beautiful hotel built in 1928 that used to host presidents of the country. It was located here for the beautiful view over the Sanhauá River, over the same river as the Praia de Jacaré sunset, and in the heart of downtown, but recently it has become a heritage museum noted for its unique neoclassical influenced architecture. The sunset remains just as beautiful, but the area was abandoned in the mid-1930s, due to construction of a new port, which caused a mass exodus of the elite to the newly developed beachfront area. The area has become a time capsule of that period of time in Brazil, but being in an abandoned area, I wouldn’t visit it on foot, or stay well after dark. I highly recommend you go to see the sunset from the gardens, just don’t stay too long afterwards.

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Sunset at Hotel Globo

Journal Entry Day 1

Minha Namorada (My Girlfriend) and I had met the previous summer, and she’d even come to visit me over the Christmas holidays in Canada – arriving on a freezing cold day in Toronto when we broke a fifty year old record, but that is another story.

I had flown from Canada on a ‘milk run’ through the United States, and first arrived in Sao Paolo. As with most countries, I went across the border and through customs in Brazil in the first city I landed, São Paulo, it was a simple process because I had done my research ahead of time, and then I had a short layover before heading to Recife. I was actually worried I would not catch my connecting flight initially, because of a long line for checking in, but luckily there were many signs in Engliish. Following them, I saw that there was a second check-in tucked away in a corner, specifically for connecting flights, and where there was no line.

I had an uneventful flight to Recife, which is the State Capital of Pernambuco, just under two hours away from Joao Pessoa. Then I was back in the loving arms of Minha Namorada – I won’t bore you with the romantic details, but she was a sight for sore eyes.

Recife is not a city that I have visited much, or that I particularly like, and the route we took out of the City did not help. I’m sure it has many beautiful areas, and I’m sure it actually is a nice city, but if you’ve ever been to Chicago, you’ll understand how I could have accidentally seen only the bad portion of the City.

Baggage comes out much faster in Brazil, which was refreshing. One time I was standing waiting for my bag for ten minutes, and staff actually came to check on me, because it was so unusual – that time was my own fault, I followed someone I thought was on my flight, and ended up waiting at the wrong carousel.

My first stop in Brazil was at a place in the airport called Casa Do Pao de Queijo. Pao Do Queijo is one of my two favourite Brazilian foods, the other being Carne De Sol but I had yet to try Carne De Sol. Pao do Queijo, however, is common at Brazilian Steakhouses in Canada, whereas Carne De Sol is not.

After a quick snack, we were off to drive to Joao Pessoa. The countryside in Brazil was very beautiful – the part between Joao Pessoa and Recife has a number of hills, and some beautiful sugar and pineapple farms. Coming from Western Canada, as I do, I found the similarity and yet differences between the farms so interesting – also, I had somewhat forgotten that Pineapples grow in the ground.

We arrived in Joao Pessoa, and that’s when I got to meet Minha Namorada’s family. Sweaty and smelling from a long day of travel, I was welcomed with open arms. Her brother was excited to see me, and had been practicing his English specifically so that we’d be able to talk, and with a small group of people they very kindly spoke slowly and waited for Minha Namorada or her brother to translate for me so that I could respond, as at this point I basically spoke any Portuguese.

Brazil has the largest Catholic population in the world, and so Mass is an important aspect of life. We went to a service on Saturday, as we wouldn’t be able to make it on Palm Sunday (it was right before Easter). Services in another language are difficult to follow, but they do give you a handout to read, and at least some parts (like the Lord’s Prayer) always have the same rhythm, so I did my best. Like many places in Brazil, it a very open building to allow a breeze, but it was still very hot.

We then went to see Minha Namorada’s mother, who is also lovely. She and I spoke through Minha Namorada and Google Translate (make sure to download Portuguese for offline use ahead of time), and we had fun.

Prior to arriving in Brazil, I had heard many of the stereotypes. First and foremost was the crime. I did some actual research, and while the crime rates are high, it is largely confined to the Favelas. Crime statistics are sometimes misleading, Acapulco in Mexico hass the third highest per capita murder rate in the world, but no one thinks twice about going there for Spring Break. If you stay out of the Favelas, then the crime rate drops significantly. There are Favela tours which some people go on, I do not. While there is debate about Favela Tours themselves, sufficed to say, they are just not for me.

However, one thing that is initially unnerving is that every building you see will have a wall. It is unnerving in the same way that it is unnerving when you see security at airports in The Netherlands carrying machine guns – why would they have them, unless they need them? But what I realized while sitting on the apartment patio, right next to the (relatively) low wall, chatting with Minha Namorada’s mother, is that a large amount of the reason for the walls are that they are a form of security theatre. I do believe it helps to make a big show of security, as it deters some would-be criminals or crimes of opportunity. Obviously, you shouldn’t take stupid risks, but that’s true of anywhere, and ultimately, I felt perfectly safe in Brazil after that night.

We then went out briefly to a bar, again it was wide open with an extended roof to protect us from the rain, and we relaxed with two of Minha Namorada’s friends. A lot of the bars have live music, and you should be aware that if you stay to listen, they’ll come around and ask you to pay a small fee to the band – essentially a cover charge, but one that comes alongside your bill at the end of the night. They play lovely music, often Forró, which is a big in the Northeastern culture, and it is definitely worth the money to experience such a riveting part of the culture. The cost will be a minor amount anyways – less than a GST/HST charge, which Canadians are used to anyways. Remember, the exchange rate is heavily in your favour.

I was tired after travelling, and while I am probably better at sleeping on a plane than most, we called an end to my first day in Brazil.

João Pessoa

I’m a bit biased, and I definitely favour João Pessoa. It is the home of Minha Namorada (My girlfriend), and it is the first place in Brazil I explored. That being said, it is an absolutely wonderful city.

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(“Jampa” is the city’s nickname)

The first time I arrived there, Minha Namorada kept telling me that she was sorry the weather wasn’t cooperating, and that it didn’t look as good as it could be – I had to keep explaining to her, that it was the most beautiful landscape I’d ever seen. João Pessoa is right on the easternmost point of all of mainland South America, and so there are pristine beaches, and wonderful ocean views all around. However, the crazy part is that one the last day I was there, the weather actually improved, and it was that much most beautiful.

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Joao Pessoa 2

All of the above pictures are from days when it “wasn’t as beautiful” as it can be. I had to catch my flight, so on the last day I didn’t have time to get many pictures, but below is one to give you an idea.

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While there is a lot of tourism in João Pessoa, and you will see significant amounts of English. That said, the tourism there is largely confined to other Brazilians. On my first visit there, I stayed for a week and the only non-Brazilians I saw were one group of Americans (one of whom was married to a woman from a nearby city), one group of Argentinians, and one single Asian woman. On my second visit to the City, we did visit the City’s downtown though, and that time I saw a lot more non-Brazilians.

One of my favourite places “in” (read: near) João Pessoa is a Praia do Jacaré (Alligator Beach). Don’t let the name fool you, it isn’t famous because of alligators. The name is just a name. It is famous because of the beautiful sunset, and a Saxophonist, Jurandy do Sax, who plays Bolero de Ravel at sunset daily. Tourists and locals alike flock to Praia do Jacaré every day to see the sunset there, so get there early if you want a good view! We went on a random Tuesday, and the crowd was still quite large. Also, remember, João Pessoa is very close to the equator, so the sunsets quite early – they are a bit east for their time zone, so solar noon is actually shortly after 11 a.m., and sunset is around 5 p.m.

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Not everyone in João Pessoa speaks English. While people in hotels and other tourist areas of João Pessoa will speak English, you simply can’t expect every local person to speak it fluently. I actually think there are lots of benefits to visiting a place where the majority of people don’t speak English, as I have spoken about before, but some people might be surprised by the lack of English. While there is some English taken in school, I believe their education in English to be a little bit better than Ontario’s French education. Some people you meet will be fluent, but that is more common among the younger generations.

That being said, the people in João Pessoa are incredibly kind, and they are genuinely excited to try to speak with you in English. With the assistance of Google Translate, and some patience, you can likely talk with anyone.