Food differences in Brazil

As I’ve written about before, one of the best ways to experience a culture is through their food. So much history and modern society go into meal preparation that no two places are similar. However, many people when travelling will find themselves still reverting to their old favourites – be it a type of food or drink. Often this is because we all get a little bit homesick, and whether it is just part of your normal morning routine, a quick bit to eat in the afternoon, or a late night midnight snack, food is one one of the best ways to feel at home. However, certain foods either don’t exist in Brazil, or exist in a form uncommon in Canada.

1. Diet Coke is rare. Diet coke is the second highest selling soda product (behind only classic) in America, but finding it in Brazil would be rare indeed. While places still sell Coca Cola, Coke Zero is the drink of choice for those trying to keep their calories down. If you are like me, and simply prefer the taste of Diet Coke (I find regular too sweet), you are simply out of luck to find this. If they don’t have Coke Zero, and you don’t want water, your most likely calorie free alternative to water is Guaraná Zero, which kind of tastes like ginger ale.

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This is a picture of the regular (full calorie) type.  The can even reminds me of ginger ale.  Salvarequejo [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

2. Corn is saltier in Brazil. While “sweet corn” is grown in both Canada and Brazil, Brazilians tend to use a one known as maíz elote. It is more white than the corn more commonly found in Canada, and is saltier than normally found here. If you have ever had corn from Chipotle, this is more similar to what you will find in Brazil.

3. Coffee is almost always espresso only. Due to the heat in Brazil, people generally don’t want something warm to drink for awhile. While they want the caffeine effects, and (for some) the flavour, they aren’t going to want a large cup to drink over the next ten to fifteen minutes. So, most places you find will only have espresso – even getting an americcano can be hard, although it is sometimes possible to get them to dilute the espresso in a glass of hot water. You might get some odd looks, but they can easily do it.

4. Pancakes and maple syrup don’t really exist. Pancakes are more commonly found as crepes, but tend to be served with savoury foods rather than sweet. Maple Syrup truly is a Canadian thing, and even finding normal american table syrup in restaurants is uncommon.

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Meu Cunhado (my brother-in-law), after trying some Maple Syrup I brought, described it as very similar to honey – which I thought was a very apt comparison.

When feeling homesick, the best way is to stick to brand name snack foods, or foods like fries, pizza, and chicken strips. As well, there is something reassuring, and yet mildly unnerving, that McDonald’s will be the same nearly anywhere you go in the world.

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.

 

Bathrooms in Brazil

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I know bathrooms are a bit of taboo subject, but there are definitely some things you will want to know before you go.

As to terminology, bathrooms are known as “Os Banheiros” or “Os Sanitarios”.   While the former is more commonly used (and found on signs), with my horrible Portuguese accent, I find people are more likely to understand me if I say the latter.  You don’t need to actually ask “where is the bathroom?” (Onde é o banheiro?), like in English, just raise your voice at the end of the word to convey that you are asking a question.

However, you probably won’t want to use the public bathrooms for anything besides urinating.  Brazilian plumbing is not the same as Canadian.  This means that bathroom tissue does not go in the toilet.  There is a small garbage in the toilet, and that is where you are supposed to dispose of the soiled paper.   The garbage is changed frequently, but it still smells.  Also, it is a somewhat small, so you have to use paper sparingly.    Airport bathrooms are the worst though, so I would definitely recommend against those.   Go during your layover in the USA (assuming you don’t fly direct), and then you should be good until the hotel.

At people’s homes, or in hotel rooms, you are more likely to find a bidet. If it doesn’t work, check the hose for a handle, not everyone uses the bidet, and some people turn it off without realizing. Bidets, however, are the wave of the future. Read the reviews of bidets on Amazon, and the only complaint you’ll find about them is that people get addicted – once you get used to a mini shower for you tushy, it’s hard to feel clean without it. I don’t understand why these things aren’t common in Canada. There is the occasional time you will find one in a public bathroom, but those are far and few between.

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Handheld units are by far the most common, use it like you would use a showerhead.   The pressure can be a bit strong before you get used to it, so start slowly.   Paper is used to dry, otherwise your bottom will be wet just like when you step out of the shower (which, you butt basically will have).

Otherwise, the washrooms are fairly normal. You may occasionally see an open air urinal behind the back of some bars. Brazil generally has signs that ask you limit your paper towel use to two sheets, to help with the environment. Note, that while hand dryers are usually even more environmental, they largely undermine washing your hands at all, and that doesn’t even consider the issues of pull doors.

How to avoid getting sick on a Plane

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You wait for your vacation, counting the days, only to spend the first three days sick in bed. Its horrible and you feel like it ruins your entire vacation. There are many things that can make you sick, from the lack of sleep counting down the days to the vacation, to the stress of finishing your work before you go on your trip – sometimes it is only adrenaline keeping the illness at bay. However, one major source of illness that not everyone realizes is the airport and the airplane itself.

Germs are a part of daily life, but most of those you will encounter you will already have developed an immunity against. It is only when a new germ shows up that you get sick, and that’s why (most) people only get sick a handful of times per year. However, people at airports aren’t just bringing their luggage, they also bring their own micro flora of germs to travel with them – and just because they have their own immunity, doesn’t mean you do. Additionally, lots of people are travelling for lengthy periods of times, staying in the same clothes, and not showering for days. This means your chance of getting sick at an airport is significantly increased, and you’d be well advised to take extra precautions.

Assume everything is dirty. Tables, chairs, doors – these have all been touched by people from everywhere. Even if you assume everyone washed their hands after using the washroom (a dubious assumption at best), you can’t assume they didn’t scratch an under arm itch, or touch some other germ ridden area. Their hands then come in contact with things that you later use, and you are open to infection. This is even more true on the airplane, where they have limited time to switch between passengers, and so the cleanup will necessarily be limited. One of the worst offenders is the tray table where they will place your food, people sometimes use that when changing diapers – never let anything that you eat directly touch that tray. Wet wipes can help and are generally allowed on planes.

Since you have to keep your baggage in sight at all times, if you do have to use the washroom at an airport, you’ll have to handle it with your dirty hands from the stall to the sink – everyone else has to do that to (as I said, assume EVERYTHING is dirty). Wash your hands, and if they have the hand sanitizer, rub some on the handles of your bags and belt. Take every opportunity you can to wash your hands, and it is extra important to wash up before eating.

On any intercontinental plane, you will have hundreds of passengers, and, unfortunately, some of them will be sick. You are then jammed into a small area with them, seated like sardines, for many hours, breathing the same recycled air. Your best bet in this case is to turn on the overhead fan at maximum strength, and place it directly over your face – the plane has an internal filter that will help reduce the amount of germs you breathe in. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it helps significantly.

If you can avoid it, don’t use the airplane bathroom. Those are small washrooms, not cleaned regularly between visitors, and turbulence is a thing. Toilets flushing cause enough germs to circulate, I can’t imagine how bad an airplane bathroom is on a plane. If you have to use it, wet wipes are again your friend.

Don’t order ice in your drinks. The ice machine on planes is the low man on the totem pole when it comes to maintenance and cleaning, so, you really don’t want to risk the extra bacteria just so that your pop is a bit colder.

How to Prepare your Phone for Travel

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When travelling to other countries, many people leave their phone at home. This could be because they want to be “off the grid”, are afraid of losing the phone, or simply to avoid roaming charges. However, I would say this is always a mistake. Your phone is your lifeline in another country, it is the best chance you have at responding to an emergency, your best method for remaining safe, and is incredibly useful in your day to day while travelling (presumably you’ll want to use it as a Camera either way). A little bit of preparation ahead of time will allow your phone to be that much more useful when you go travelling:

First, and most importantly, double check the emergency numbers in the place you are visiting, and record them in your phone. In Brazil these numbers are:

  • Police – 190*
  • Ambulance & Fire –  192 or 193.

*Police will generally be able to help with any of the emergencies, but it is faster if you call the right number.

You’ll also want to download a translation app for your phone, and install the offline translation. I am a big fan of Google Translate, but I don’t know its availability for non-android phones. Test the download by putting your phone into airplane mode – it should still be able to translate phrases, including using the camera mode to translate written text. This will be fairly literal translations, but it will allow you to read anything from store signs to menus with relative ease. I don’t find the conversation feature works that well yet, but it still is incredibly useful to help you communicate.

It is a good idea to download the map of the city you are visiting in advance. The downloaded map will allow you to navigate should you get lost, and also to help you plan where you want to visit.  You do not need data to use the gps. Record the hotel you are staying at and the local spots you want to check out, and check the directions to the places at the times (adjusting for the time zones) you want to go – remember, traffic can be extremely bad in some cities (Minha Namorada – My Girlfriend, doesn’t even consider Toronto at rush hour to be bad traffic), and so you’ll want to check out the directions ahead of time to ensure your fifteen kilometre drive won’t take four hours. Be careful with directions though, they may try to send you through a Favela (Google doesn’t have an option to avoid them that I’ve seen), but if you are using Google Maps, you can drive past those areas and your phone will recalculate a new path for you.  Again, test your phones ability to give directions between two local spots at your destination before your trip with your phone in airplane mode to ensure the downloaded map is working correctly.

Download and install Uber (note: referral link). If you get stranded in Brazil, you don’t know who is driving that random taxi you flag down, if you can even find one. Most places have Wifi, and an Uber will have reviews from hundreds/thousands of previous riders. It is generally viewed as much safer. While hotel-associated cabs are probably your best bet, that may not always be an option. Check the driver’s rating, and check the driver’s number of rides. It will probably be safer and cheaper for you to take an Uber.

Download and install WhatsApp. If you don’t know what it is, WhatsApp is basically a text/voice/video messaging program, that runs over data rather than through standard telephone lines. WhatsApp is incredibly popular in Brazil, with most bigger businesses advertising that you can call them regularly, or on WhatsApp.

Finally, and this is the least important, install the app for your airline company. A lot of companies are phasing out in-seat entertainment for use on your phone/tablet. If you don’t have the app downloaded ahead of time, you might be stuck on the plane with no way to use the entertainment system.

If you have an unlocked phone, consider buying a prepaid Sim Card for your phone. These are very inexpensive, and are available at countless places. This will give you a Brazilian telephone number, but more importantly, it will give you a limited amount of data for use in a pinch.  Then you won’t have to keep your phone in airplane mode the entire time.andreas-haslinger-iD6mmn89YX4-unsplash.jpg

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.

São João – the unknown Brazilian Festival

Brazil is well known in Canada (and North America generally) for Carnival, even to the point that some stereotypes of Brazil tend to focus on some traditional samba dance wear due to its association with some Carnival celebrations.

However, one of the other big Brazilian celebrations is nearly unknown outside of Brazil, that festival is called São João, also called Festas Juninas.

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Sao Joao is a festival mainly held in the North and Northeast, but can also be found in the interior of São Paulo and other large urban centers. It started as a tradition imported from Portugal associated with St. John the Baptist, whose has a Feast day in June, leading to celebrations throughout the month, and sometimes even into July.

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One major part of the tradition is the lighting of a fogueira (a bonfire) on Saint John’s Eve (June 23rd), which is symbolic of the fire lit to tell Mary of the birth of St. John.

This holiday has now become a celebration of the rural life of farmers  (called Caipira – this word has similar associations to the redneck or yokel though, so they can use it to refer to themselves, you cannot), with boys dressing up in straw hats and plaid shirts, while girls dress in country dresses and pigtails.

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They dance in “Quadrinhas” (think square dances – even the music is surprisingly similar), and the festival celebrates the fertility of the land by hosting a mock wedding as the centre of the Quadrinhas.

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A mock wedding from São João, called a casamento matuto

Common midway games from North America are also found at the festivals, including mock “fishing” for prizes, ring/dart toss, and three-legged races. One-legged races are also popular stemming from their association with the Brazilian folklore surrounding Saci – a Brazilian prankster genie, who grants wishes to those who trap him or manage to steal his cap.

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Saci by André Koehne [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D
Essentially, when trying to imagine Sao Joao, think of the Calgary Stampede, with a less rodeo, and a lot more emphasis on country dancing, and you’ll get the gist of it.