Journal Day 7

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My final day of my first trip to Brazil landed on Good Friday, and so it was a family-oriented day. One important lesson I learned that day was just how important family is to Brazilians. There is a stereotype of latinos having large families, and while Minha Namorada (My girlfriend) doesn’t have the largest immediate family, the closeness that she has with her extended family more than makes up for this. Her cousins act more like siblings, with her Tia (aunt) and Tio (uncle) were just as welcoming to me as her parents had been.

I remember when I was young sitting around the table with my extended family, my grandfather and uncle laughing, while everyone talked with everyone at once – participating in five or six conversations at once, always eager to jump into another. It is one of my most cherished memories of my family’s farm. As much as my portuguese didn’t allow me to participate in the conversations as much as I would have liked, that was the feeling I got as I sat around the table. The love of a family that are just happy to be in each other’s company. And I was not excluded for even a second, from the very beginning, I was family.

I did come to learn why Brazilians tend to drink more espressos, as I’ve never been one to turn down coffee (especially wonderful Brazilian Coffee), but it was not a good idea to have a mug in a hot apartment. I thought I was sweating before I had my coffee… A second cup was a close-fought battle between my taste buds and my sweat glands. But, I can say that I don’t know how anyone ever cooks a big meal in Brazil, because I would immediately grow to hate the excess heat from a stove or oven – I bet toaster ovens are big there.

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How was I supposed to resist?
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This is a picture of my sweat glands after the coffee

In the evening, we went to get ice cream, which brings me to another point. Brazil is not good for diets, as Canadians tend to think of cold treats as good for cooling oneself down in the heat, and Canada doesn’t tend to get so many extremely hot days.  The cold protects us from indulging too often, because its not healthy to eat those every day, but in Brazil we lose that natural protection.  This is not to mention that Nordestino (Northeastern) Brazilian fare is heavy in cheeses and breads.

All good things must come to an end, and so it was that I concluded my first (but certainly not last) trip to Brazil.

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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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.

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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!

Porto de Galinhas

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Porto de Galinhas started out being known as Porto Rico, which means port of riches. However, when slavery was outlawed in Brazil, Porto De Galinhas continued to allow the importation of “chickens” (read: slaves) through the city, and the name stuck. Unlike many cities with not-so-glamorous histories, Porto De Galinhas acknowledges its history and has taken it back. The chicken is now a symbol of cultural significance and pride in the city.

After playing spot the chicken for about ten minutes, we realized that it would have been easier to try to find places without chickens, they were everywhere.

Porto de Galinhas has a thriving downtown, but oddly, the downtown is only busy from about 2 p.m. until 9 p.m. I’m not sure what there really is to do in the city outside of those seven hours. The first day Minha Noiva (my fiancee) and I went, we got there a bit late (around 8 p.m.), and while there were still many people there, by the time we had walked the length of downtown it was clear the crowd was slowly dispersing. I do wonder if it might be busier on a weekend (we were there Monday-Tuesday), but other cities (like Pippa) are busy regardless. When we went there the next morning around 1 p.m., entire streets were empty with the stores not opening until 2, although there were a few restaurants open to accommodate the guests of the many cute hotels right in the heart of downtown.

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Porto De Galinhas is a fairly popular tourist spot
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This was just a random Tuesday night in Porto de Galinhas, but it was decorated for a party all the same
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We could tell the crowd was already starting to wind down

However, Porto de Galinhas is very much centred on tourism, and you will find lots of signs in English, and all the restaurants had english-language menus (although I personally try not to use them too much, so that I can continue to improve my Portuguese). Porto de Galinhas is also a less expensive city, with good deals on shopping, and inexpensive food.

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Downtown Porto De Galinhas was surprisingly empty during the day

Outside of downtown Porto de Galinhas, however, there are many resorts and beautiful homes. We stayed in a resort named Viva, which I would highly recommend, although there were many others to fit all sorts of vacations. At ours, it was something called “half-board”, which meant ours breakfasts and dinners were included, but lunch (which is the main meal in Brazil) we were on our own. I liked this style, as it allowed us to try different foods throughout the trip, but also we could also be lazy and just walk in to the restaurant first thing in the morning, and at the end of the day. There is a lovely little bike path that connects all of the resorts to downtown, so you don’t have to worry about getting around.  The hotel was clearly aimed at both families and couples, having a bunch of stuff for kids to do, but also having locations where couples could have romantic meals alone.

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One of my favourite locations next to Porto de Galinhas was the Praia de Carneiros (Sheep Beach), which is located on a beach of an ocean inlet, and has a lovely church on the beach. The church is so close to the ocean, that at high tide ten steps should take you from the front door of the church to the water below. The water is not deep near the church though, with people able to walk more than halfway out towards the other side of the inlet before switching to swimming. The church is a common stop for all of the boat tours of the area (which are surprisingly expensive), and there are even horse buggies that take you back and forth from the church to various resorts along the beach.

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Igrejiinha de São Benedito (Church of Saint Benedict)
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Its so close to the water
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You can see just how flat the ground is the whole way across the inlet
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The horses in hats that take you to and from the Igrejiinha de São Benedito were one of the cutest unexpected things I saw on this trip

 

Recife Revisited

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It must have taken us fifteen minutes to get a picture without anyone else in it.

So, this past trip I went to Recife again, in hopes that I would learn to appreciate the city Meu Cunhado (my brother-in-law) calls home. Long and short, I still don’t like the city, but I found some gorgeous parts.

Now, one important thing you will notice in Recife is the heat – unlike many coastal towns in Brazil, Recife grew too big too quickly, with large apartment buildings all being built right along the coast. While this is nice for those who live in those buildings, this is poor city planning. The large apartment buildings block the ocean winds, and the entire city suffers from higher temperatures as a result.

However, the city has tried some other ways to actually improve the gentrification and prevent the poor from being pushed out of their homes. Basically, they have attempted to prevent there to be as many designated favelas (read: ghettos) as compared with the affluent areas. Instead, even right across the street from a very expensive apartment building, there will be some housing that looks as though it is falling apart. However, I don’t think this has created the intended effect, as you can easily see that the decrepit houses still have volvos and other expensive cars parked in their driveways – simply disallowing the building of new, expensive housing doesn’t prevent the rich from pushing out the poor.

This is also true of businesses, where right next to expensive looking bars, that would not seem out of place in Manhattan, there will be very run-down bars that won’t generally feel safe. Even the tourist areas are not well separated, and while Recife has a booming tourist culture due to Carnival, I got the impression the rest of the year it does not get many visitors and isn’t as safe. My guess is that it is similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where the city changes completely for a few days every year. I also don’t know how it manages anything during Carnival, as the traffic was bad enough without an additional couple hundred thousand tourists. Although, from the pictures I’ve seen, I doubt many people drive during Carnival.

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The Streets of Olinda during Carnival

Oddly, attached to the City of Recife (similar to how Kitchener and Waterloo are attached), is the much smaller city of Olinda, which was absolutely gorgeous. The streets there looked beautiful, and were reminiscent of Dutch streets, with little bars and cafes that looked beautiful, and even the poorer looking houses seemed pretty nice. Olinda’s downtown has actually been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and this seemed like a perfectly wonderful place to stay – even not during Carnival. If I was going to Recife for Carnival, I would stay in Olinda, and go to the parties there.

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This house is exactly how I picture dutch houses
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Olinda from a bit further out, you can tell they get a lot of rain in this city.

Downtown Recife does have some absolutely gorgeous churches and locations that are worth exploring during the day, although parking can be an issue. As is common in many places of Brazil, the free parking is controlled by individuals who charge money to watch over your car – they will ask for 10 reals, but it can be negotiated down to 5 fairly easily (although sometimes you have to say no and get back into your car before they reduce their price). While the parking is free, you really need to pay this money or your car might get broken into – I don’t like it, but such is the downtown of Recife. There is some convenience though, as they will help you find a spot (sometimes moving their own car to give you a space), as well they will help you get out of your spot despite the bad traffic – so, its annoying, but not horrible.


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The historic downtown from which the City grew
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This tower marks the oceanside edge of Recife across from the historic downtown, and was created by this one family of locals who have spent generations developing the city into a cultural hub.

The Golden Church in downtown Recife

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In traditional baroque style, the gold encrusted portions tell religious stories, which is contrasted with porcelain or marble sections which tell stories of science and natural events.

We went into another church that was attached to the Golden church, which had a completely different style (it seems common in Brazil that old churches were often connected to one another), and it was filled with some (creepy) statues recreating scenes, but far more interesting was the contrast here in materials. The marble/porcelain stone they had placed in the wall here had actually been imported from Portugal, with exact stonework being removed from the walls to place the marble, and it told the biblical stories instead of being used to show the distinction from science.

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Biblical scenes created in marble
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Here you can see the accurate stonework necessary for them to place this marble exactly right.
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It is hard to tell, but the depiction at the front of St. Francis’ stigmata is three dimensional
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I realize what they were going for, but these just seem like creepy statues to me
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Again, I’m sure they didn’t intend for this to look so creepy
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I really wouldn’t want to be here at night.

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)

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

The Importance of Sunblock

Sunblock is extremely necessary in Brazil.  While Brazil is the fifth-largest country (by area) in the world, the Equator goes right through the country.   Thus, is it possible to talk in general terms about the issues of sun-care in Brazil.

Canadians do not really know the sun, not the same way as Brazilians.   Canada has a very low UV index by comparison, as it does not get the intense solar rays that Brazil does.   Canadians go outside and “don’t want to waste the sunshine”.   As long as you are in Brazil, you will get plenty of sunshine; however, I do understand that Canadians aren’t going to travel all that distance to Brazil, just to sit in the shade.   It may technically be a good idea considering the UV index, it may even be what the World Health Organization suggests, but I understand it won’t get followed.   So, at least do yourself a favour and use Sunblock properly.

There are some very important things you need to know about sunblock.


     1. SPF 30 is likely sufficient

With the exception of some extremely pale-skinned individuals, sunblock with an SPF factor of 30 is probably sufficient.    It is much cheaper than higher SPFs, and there are diminishing returns.   Generally speaking, you divide the time you spend in the sun with the SPF factor, to get the equivalent:

  • 30 minutes with SPF 30 is the equivalent of one unprotected minute in the Sun.
  • 30 minutes with SPF 60 is the equivalent of 30 unprotected seconds in the Sun.

Barring extreme paleness, the difference of 30 seconds isn’t extreme, but your pocket book will thank you.

Another major issue is that higher SPFs may create behavioural disincentives to use sunblock correctly.    Looking at the above comparison, you may look at the numbers and think you could wear SPF 60 for two hours, and its the equivalent of wearing SPF 30 for only one.  While it is technically accurate, the problem with looking at the comparison that way is that you might fail to then remember that the both sunblocks needs to be reapplied after 2 hours.   The SPF 30 after one hour is still good for another hour, whereas the SPF 60 after two hours is not.   So, if you accidentally make them equivalent in your head, it would be easy to accidentally go long overdue before reapplying the SPF 60.   The slight lower feeling of security with the SPF 30 will remind you to use it properly.

Further, higher SPFs, depending on the country it is sold, are not always associated with higher protection of the damaging UVA rays, but only UVB.  While UVB are the more likely to cause painful sunburns, UVA is associated with faster aging of your skin, and more importantly, UVA is associated with increased cancer risk.  Unless there are strong statements of broad spectrum protection, you may actually be better protected by SPF 30.

     2. Use Sunscreen properly.

Sunscreen needs to be applied 30 minutes before you go outside to be effective.   You want it to have some time to soak into your skin and actually begin protecting you.  

As I said above, sunscreen needs to be applied every two hours, don’t forget this.  Sunscreen doesn’t always disappear everywhere at the same rate, so you may not notice parts where you are beginning to burn until it is too late.   Your body will absorb the sunscreen, and it won’t be effective all day.  Sunburns will ruin your trip, it is incredibly hard to sleep on a sunburned back, and you won’t want to move, walk anywhere, or even enjoy the sun.   If you were going to just stay in the hotel, why would you have even gone to Brazil?

You also need to reapply when you sweat or when you get wet.   Water is a natural solvent, and is really good at its job.  If you look at the supposedly “water resistant”, or “sweat proof” sunblocks, they all still recommend you reapply after any situation in which the sunblock may have washed off.  While I do think they are a good idea, they can only do their job so well, so you have to do your part and reapply.

Remember to use enough sunblock – you want to use about a shot glass full every time you apply it.   

     3. Spray sunscreens

Personally, I like spray sunscreens.   A big drawback is that it is hard to know if i have used enough, but that is why I apply twice as much as I think I need.  However, the main benefit for me, is that I am not a flexible man.   I can’t touch everywhere on my back, and the spray sunscreen at least allows me to know some sunscreen is applied everywhere.   Partial protection is better than none.

Simple tips to remember:

  • Put Sunblock on when you wake up
    • make it part of your morning routine, after you’ve dried from your shower, and gotten dressed. Sunblock is supposed to go on well before you go outside anyways.  
  • Put sunblock on whenever you eat a meal, or start a new event
    • it is easy when you are on vacation to forget the time, so take a few minutes and reapply whenever you do something new.   If you apply it first thing in the morning, after breakfast and lunch, you’ll have captured most of the day.  Assuming you don’t stay in one place the entire time if you apply it whenever you get to a new location, you’ll have covered most of the day.   
  • Put sunscreen on whenever you dry out after feeling wet.   
    • You’re going to a hot and humid climate, you’ll probably go for a swim, or even if you just sit there and soak in the sun, you’ll get sweaty.

The above are all about making sunscreen part of your routine, so you don’t even have to think about it.   You won’t want to worry about the time of day (other than to make sure you reach your reservation), and you won’t want to have your cellphone on you.   Enjoy yourself, and just have this routine.

If you do think about the time, unless you are absolutely sure of the time of your application, round down and reapply 90 minutes after the last time.   Being extra protected is not a problem, and using SPF 30 you won’t break the bank.

     4. Finally, if despite all of the above, you still get a sunburn…

Apply sunblock immediately, and at night apply a sunburn cream.   Sunburns are not like a light switch, there are degrees, and just because you are “already burned” doesn’t mean it can’t get much, much worse.  A minor sunburn is an annoyance, a bad sunburn means you probably won’t sleep well, but a really bad sunburn can lead to hospitalization.

Sorry for the delay in posting this week’s article, WordPress was down over the weekend, and the holidays delayed me a bit further.