Sunday, December 20, 2009

Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, post mortem

I’m currently killing about 2 hours in the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport, somewhat wired after having to chug down a can of Brazilian Coca-Cola at the security checkpoint. AGAIN. Still no free internet, so uploading photos and blogs will have to wait another 6 hours when I’m back in Vancouver. I looked out the window and there is frost on the cars outside. I shudder to think of what it’s like back home. I’m-a-guessing pretty frickin’ cold.

The past two weeks have been a very worthwhile experience, with memories that will last until I become senile. With beaches, warm weather, interesting people, and good Capoeira training, the trip will stay with me as long as I have the mental capacity to recall this.

Best things about the trip:
-Almost constant beautiful weather, making the fact that we’re in “rainy season” pretty ironic.
-A completely different cultural experience than what we see and do back home
-Time spent relaxing on the beach
-All of the new friends that have been made
-Developing a better appreciation for the way life is back home after the visit to the favelas
-Great food almost everywhere we went
-A different perspective about Capoeira training
-Picking up parts of a foreign language and expanding my horizons
-The non-commercialized aspect of Porto de Galinhas, with nary a Starbucks or McDonald’s in sight
-Receiving the mini-celebrity treatment at Batizados

Worst things about the trip:
- The “laid back” mentality of northern Brazil often resulting in lackadaisical customer service and forcing changes in plans, resulting in a lot of wasted time
-The day we were forced to pay for lunch by people who we knew that came to the table, ordered, ate, and then left
-Frighteningly unsanitary conditions of some of the places we visited, making some of us really glad that we took the necessary precautions
-The Brazilian public infrastructure resulting in road trips rougher than the plane ride over Miami.
-Being forced to spend 3 hours looking for a hospital because someone decided to handle a stray cat
-Having last minute changes to plans due to businesses giving away reservations to other parties or groups

Survival tips for those looking to do the Brazilian experience with Aché Brasil next year:

General travel and planning:
-Get everything done EARLY. Because the trip is done in high season, ticket prices will be very volatile and can price quotes can change within hours. Additionally, visas and passports take a long time to process, while vaccinations take about a month to protect you fully.
-Items purchased after completing security checkpoints in the airport are typically meant to be consumed. I got burned by this twice when attempting to bring a can of Brazilian Coca-Cola home, but because it wasn’t in the checked luggage, I had to chug it at the security check point.
-They really do not mess around when it comes to carrying liquids. I have been forced to part with two cans of Coke, a bottle of sunscreen, and a tube of insect repellent because they were not in checked luggage. If the bottle was originally more than 100 mL, even if it obviously has less than 100 mL in it (i.e.: partially emptied), they will confiscate it.

Stuff to bring:
-Brazil’s household electrical pumps out 220 volts. Most of your electronic doo-dads will utilize 110 volts, although a lot of electronics will be able to accept voltage ranges. While you may be able to obtain an adaptor while here, it’s better that you bring your own. Check the voltage ratings on your electronics. If it ONLY accepts 110 volts, you will need a step-down voltage converter as well, or else the device is not going to work or you’re going to fry it.
-Depending on what you plan to be doing, you can usually pack very light in terms of clothing. I brought about 10 pairs of socks, but I ended up going barefoot in sandals the entire time. Since you’ll likely be wearing a swimsuit a lot of the time, you can forgo a lot of clothing. During the two week stay, I wore the same pair of cargo shorts the entire time.
-Sunscreen is very expensive in Porto de Galinhas. Bring your own and make sure it’s in your checked luggage.

Brazilian culture:
-Learn as much Portuguese as possible before coming. As much as Porto de Galinhas is very touristy, it’s not commercialized to the point that all of the locals are bilingual.
-If you bungle the Portuguese language, accept the fact that they are laughing AT you, not WITH you. Besides, when’s the last time you laughed at someone bungling English? Deal with it.
-Despite the racial diversity of Brazil, in the more northern districts (Pernambuco, Natal, Paraiba), Asians are extremely rare. If you are Asian, you WILL be stared at, they will assume that you’re Japanese (even if you’re not), you know Kung Fu, and that you’re all related. All the Japanese people are in Sao Paulo, not Pernambuco. Deal with it.
-There are certain social aspects that are far beyond your control, which will result in what appears to be very lackadaisical customer service attempts to screw over the gringo tourists. This is more culturally based and is standard practice. Businesses will often say “yes” and “agree” to do things when they in fact have no intention of doing so, or will even give up your reservations to someone who is paying them more (and yes, they keep your money anyway). Customer service standards that would otherwise cause bad word to spread around and resulting lost business are the norm here. Why? It’s a tourist town and it’s not like they’re going to see you again any time soon, and it’s not like some other gringo tourist isn’t going to replace you when you’re gone. Deal with it.

Climate and health:
-DO NOT DRINK THE WATER FROM THE TAP. You should be consuming at least 1.5 litres of water per day.
-To minimize mosquito bites, wear long sleeves and pants to bed and leave the door closed. Kill all mosquitoes that make their way into your room.
-If you’re on a low-sodium diet, you will be SOL. The Brazilians like a lot of salt on their meat. This may be beneficial as it could help retain fluids and stave off dehydration, however. But remember to keep drinking water.
-DO NOT HANDLE STRAY ANIMALS. This should be a no-brainer, but someone on our group caused us to lose 3 hours trying to find a hospital for a rabies shot.
-Get a minimum of 30 SPF sunscreen and remember to reapply as necessary. Some with fairer skin types will need a much higher protection level.

Safety:
-Nobody had any major problems, but the standard rules do apply. Avoid wandering around at night alone, do not keep all your money on you or flash your money around, leave your passport in your room and carry around a photo copy.
-Cops in Brazil are bastards and for good reason. They are vastly underpaid, face danger constantly, and have very itchy trigger fingers. During the trip, no major incidents happened, mostly because Porto de Galinhas is relatively safe. However, one of the group was accused of stealing prior to our arrival and had a shotgun pointed at his head.

Budgeting:
-I ended up spending less than 350 R$ on food during the two weeks, but budget for 450 R$. Remember that exchange rates are very volatile, however.
-Things will generally be more expensive in Porto de Galinhas than in surrounding areas such as Olinda and Recife. A bottle of water averages around 2 R$ in Porto, and about 30% less in the supermarkets in Olinda and Recife. Stock up and purchase in bulk whenever possible.
-Bar fridge purchases are stupidly expensive. Everybody should know this by now, but a few in our group did not. Remember to replenish the inventory before you leave. Also take the inventory the second you check in.
-DO NOT WASTE MONEY ON LAUNDRY SERVICES. Several students on this year’s trip relied on the laundry service which was purported to be next day service, but ended up being delayed to the point that they were not ready when a Batizado was held.

Merchandise and souvenirs
-Avoid places that have no price tags on things. Vendors may apply arbitrary pricing based on how much of a tourist you come across (i.e.: “the gringo tax”).

Activities:
-As much as Capoeira is a large part of our lives, surprisingly, it is largely looked down upon and is often viewed as a “poor man’s sport.” Capoeira rodas are best performed with Mestre’s approval and when all students have full Capoeira uniforms.

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1 comment:

Gregory said...

I lived in Brasil for 11 years and found your commments about your experience not that far off, compared to remarks made by other expats that have travelled around the northeasst.