A Gringo’s look into the problems facing Brazil

One of the hardest things for me to grasp about Brazil was the problems that the country faces. Ever since I started working at Billabong, I would hear a lot about how the economy was going downhill and the government wasn’t doing too great. I was starting to learn Portuguese at the time so my conversations with people didn’t venture off from the casual “What brands do you like? You are looking for some shorts for your son. How old is he?” so I didn’t really get to ask or speak about the problems facing the country. As my Portuguese got better, I started becoming more aware firsthand of many issues occurring back in Brazil. It was weird because my first year working at Billabong was pretty much day after day of selling decently expensive goods to an enormous amount of Brazilians. For me it was people just whining about the government, something everyone does regardless of nationality. I didn’t think much of it. It is very difficult to sympathize with someone who is telling you about how bad his government is and how horrible the economic situation is back home when that someone just dropped over a thousand dollars on board shorts and t-shirts without thinking twice, something I haven’t had the pleasure of doing in a better economy than what said someone lives in.

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tell me more about your economic woes

As time progressed I did see a marked difference in the amount of Brazilian tourists we received and the amount of money they would spend. With each oncoming year we would get less and less tourists and the exchange Brazilians that would work at the store would talk more about the economic toll it was costing them to do an exchange. It was becoming a visible phenomenon for an area that highly depends on tourist traffic. The ones that did come from Brazil had either saved up a lot of money or had so much money that the increasing exchange rate didn’t really do much to stop the allure of seeing Mickey Mouse and buying still relatively cheap goods.

(Disclaimer: I’m not an economist. I’m not the most well versed person when it comes to Brazil. I’m just shooting off opinions and writing about my observations. I might get some things wrong and I might upset some people. If so, I will gladly listen to the feedback.)

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the lack of degree should be enough reason to take my word with a pinch of salt

So a little condensed history of Brazil to bring anyone unfamiliar with the situation up to speed. Like any good Latin American country, Brazil had a 21 year military dictatorship. The military dictatorship was backed by the United States as it was very right leaning and pro-capitalist; the United States trying to prevent any Soviet influence from taking over the country. Dictatorships come in many shapes and sizes and Brazil’s wasn’t the best, granted the word dictatorship never carries a positive connotation. The military regime cracked down on political opponents like a good military dictatorship does. Human rights were launched straight out the window and cases of censorship, torture, and kidnapping became all too common. If there was any good about the dictatorship, it was the economic growth that occurred during the military dictatorship. The Brazilian Golden Age was a weird time where the country was doing economically great with a growth rate reaching up to 10% and the national football team winning a World Cup in 1970 but at the same time the current President Dilma Rousseff was being tortured by the military government.

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nothing quite says comforting like the government telling you to “love it or leave it”

This all came down in the 80’s as the economic growth died down and the debt the government had incurred during the golden age started to set in. The next 20 years were a series of off and on attempts to normalize a country that had become used to a dictatorship with a decent economic record but a horrible social record. The New Brazilian Real created in 1994 somewhat helped stabilize the economy. This on and off cycle continued until Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva , also known as Lula, came to power in the early 2000’s. Lula brought in a good era of growth and stability for the Brazilian economy and many social programs that helped decrease the enormous levels of poverty. His success was enough to get him reelected. Lula’s administration was also riddled with cases of corruption but overall he had one of the best approval ratings of any President. His successor Dilma Rousseff has not been so fortunate. Her first term was marked with a declining economy, as seen throughout the rest of the World and less than impressive results in terms of policy. She was reelected for a second term which has been less than optimal.

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contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t actually say “for a Dilma”

Her current approval rating is around 10% and isn’t rising anytime soon with current protests going on aiming to impeach her for ties with various corruption scandals with Petrobras, Brazil’s largest energy company, along with many of her political party the Worker’s Party including former president Lula.

Traveling around Brazil brought me in contact with the country and I got a firsthand account of what goes on in Brazil. I got to travel a lot, talk to a plethora of people, listen in on a variety of opinions from all sorts of walks of life, as well as just experiencing firsthand how the country shakes. One of the main things I did notice was the disenchantment of the people. No one is too happy with the current status of Brazil. The distinction is to be able to separate the common Brazilian moaning about the current state of affairs to the actual problems that the people are facing. What am I talking about? Brazilians live in a weird paradox where they love to hate their country but still actually love their country. It doesn’t make sense but once you talk to a Brazilian, you can start to see it. They will wear a Brazilian National Football Team shirt and talk about how it has the most World Cup Wins, yet the team being in disarray and a national embarrassment but somehow managing to win the next World Cup. Same thing translates to the actual country. The country is doing horrible, the politicians are lying scumbags and as corrupt as possible, but the country itself is beautiful and the people are amazing, yet they are also idiots and elected the current president, but the country will turn around an impeach her and elect a better leader.

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not sure if he is talking about soccer of politics

Once you dig past that layer of confusion, you get to hear the actual complaints: Corruption in many facets of life, the exchange rate being horrible, the price of many goods rising at exorbitant rates, wages stagnating. These were common points of contention regardless of socio economic status and region. Some differences I did notice were based on what party you most affiliated with. Those who aligned with the Worker’s Party or any more left leaning party did agree that corruption was a huge issue but those of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party were also corrupt while trying to maintain an aura of transparency and that they cared more about helping higher class people and caring less about lower socio-economic classes. They also claim that the BSDP tends to overlook many issues like racism, economic and social privilege, and tend to pander to more conservative rightist ideologies that can be deemed detrimental to many key civil and human rights. Those from the BSDP or right leaning parties claim that the Worker’s Party is too corrupt and takes advantage of its role as majority and leading party in government to get many benefits from private enterprises. They also think that the Worker’s Party panders to the poor by giving them handouts which in turn guarantees them votes. They are too busy helping the poor with money from taxes from the middle and higher classes and not busy enough focusing on elements that will improve the economy. Granted there are many more arguments but I can say these are the most common ones.

Are the problems even there though? I would say so. That is the cool thing about being an outsider. I get a fresh unbiased view of things. It was my first time in Brazil so while I may have expectations, I don’t view things through the lenses of someone that endures the problems that Brazil has to offer. The biggest thing I noticed was the exchange rate. For me it was incredible! I was getting 4 Reals for one dollar.

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the face you make when you are only worth 1/4 of your former self

 

I couldn’t have chosen a better time to travel in Brazil and get a bang for my buck. Now on the contrary, Brazilians weren’t clamoring to buy dollars. The rate is horrible for them. What hurts more is that the rate was ridiculously better less than two years ago. This is what probably pisses Brazilians off the most. They saw a huge downturn and are conscious of the downfall of the value of the Real. It isn’t a generation away but rather two summer vacations ago. Now scale this up and you have a huge problem for the economy. Imports become very expensive because of the devaluation of the Real and while this should help with exports, it doesn’t necessarily help with foreign investment which the country became quite accustomed to during Lula’s administration. By traveling around and seeing different prices of different goods around the southern part of Brazil, I can understand the complaints about prices and wages. Gasoline for example is around 3-4 Reals a liter. Doing the math that comes out to about 3-4 dollars a gallon. Way more expensive than here in the United States. Food costs are moderately low but anything material tends to be way more expensive. Now adding to this a minimum wage of 880 Reals a month, I can understand the stress placed on families that must survive on the equivalent of 220 dollars a month.

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the equivalent of $1000 dollars or 5 months of Brazilian minimum wage work

Many of these high prices are because of high taxes. I was told that almost all products in Brazil will pay a bunch of taxes before reaching their final destination. You don’t actually see it when you pay for it but a small google search of what taxes are applicable to what products in Brazil explains why so many Brazilians are so eager to shop elsewhere from Uruguay to Paraguay and even the United States. Like any other tax paying populace, this is where everyone starts getting angered. What priority is being placed on that tax money, considering Brazilians to contribute a decent amount of their hard earned money to the government? Well that is the reason for all the protest, anger, and resentment that most Brazilians have. While the government has put out some programs to help eradicate hunger and poverty like Fome Zero (zero hunger) and Bolsa Familia (Family allowance) they haven’t been as transparent with all of the tax income. It also doesn’t help that Brazil ranks pretty low on transparency on a global scale. Corruption is in most if not all levels of government from local city officials paying too much for certain projects and not receiving the quality that was paid for to heads of state governments giving very nice contracts to private companies that likewise don’t do as well of a job. This is especially noticeable during a time of much construction considering the past 4 years has seen many projects for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

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not that FIFA has ever been known for being in shady dealings

Lastly it all comes down to what is currently going on with the indictment of Lula for being involved with Brazil’s biggest corruption scandal involving the government, Petrobras, and 15 billion Reals (3.75 billion dollars). And the final cherry on the cake being Dilma Rousseff being on the board of directors of Petrobras when the scandal was in full swing.

So what are some solutions? Well you are asking the wrong person! I’m not really sure what an exact solution would be. I can however give an opinion. What I can say is that the biggest problem Brazil is facing is corruption. Not really hard to figure that one out. It really weakens the country. The huge loss in credibility and actual money is probably what is keeping the country the way it is. And it sucks because Brazil is a pretty awesome country with a huge amount of potential. But I’m not sure if Brazil is ready for that. There were demonstrations recently with a huge outpouring of Brazilians hitting the streets asking for Dilma’s impeachment. I can understand the anger and agree with protests in such occasions. But the disheartening thing is watching a good majority of those same protesters push for a new government with many key people from the opposing party who are also involved in corruption scandals.

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and if you want utterly disheartening, you should listen to people talk about bringing back a military government

Seems slightly ironic and hypocritical to want to drive someone out of office for her involvement in such a shady corruption case to then place someone in the same position, albeit of a party one favors, whom also has the same corruption issues. If that is the case, then you aren’t trying to actual solve one of the big problems. You are only trying to advance your ideological agenda for your own cause. That might just be another big problem. The notion that ideology will help the country. Brazil needs pragmatism and people willing to look past their own party lines for solutions rather than scapegoats.

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The Houses of Others: Ranking the cities I traveled to

With every trip come expectations of the places you will see and the things you will do. Brazil was no other. I had certain expectations for Brazil and what I imagined it to be like. The weird thing is I had various different perspectives from which to base my expectations off of. The biggest one was from my American perspective. I have lived in America most of my life and thus have a very American way of living as well as viewing things. Although I maybe American by birth, I am also Colombian thanks to my parents as well as the botched attempt my parents made at moving back to Colombia when I was young.

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on the bright side, that botched attempt got me a cool passport and visa free into Brazil

Being Colombian in the United States also adds you to the diverse cultural group that is being Hispanic. That has not only taught me about my own Hispanic-ness but how to switch so to speak between both cultures which I live in. Learning to live in between these not so mutually exclusive but at the same time inclusive cultures has taught me to be able to switch up how I see things. This comes really in handy when in a completely different culture. This came out really well when I lived in Germany and had a class called Intercultural Communication which helped me understand everything that I was experiencing around me. As if this giant hodgepodge of cultural-ness wasn’t bad enough, I have been working with Brazilians for the past couple of years and have jumped into that culture enough to where I wouldn’t consider myself Brazilian but I can easily jump into the role.

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If a Brazilian can play Pablo Escobar, than I can be Brazilian

So with that foundation being set up I can more easily explain my expectations of the cities I traveled to and the reality I found out once I got there.

 

Florianópolis

American expectation: sounds like a Greek city. Not really one of the biggest cities in Brazil so not much to expect.

Brazilian expectation: That city is loaded! The beaches are awesome and the parties are great! You are going to have a blast there. And it’s a relatively safe place.

Reality: When I was flying to Florianópolis, the plane ride didn’t do it much justice nor did the window seat facing the ocean. When I was landing I only got a view of the mountains and buildings to the south of the airport and I honestly felt like I had arrived ready for the next season of Lost. Once at the airport, it felt strangely familiar to Colombia, with the whole exception of people speaking Portuguese instead of Spanish. From there my friend Amanda took me to her house in Ribeirão da Ilha and I truly realized I was in for the next season of Lost.

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you thought I was kidding

Ribeirão da Ilha is on the south of the island of Florianópolis cradled between the central mountains and the ocean. There is one main road that drives through it with houses on the slope of the mountain and every once in a while on the other side between the road and the bay. It isn’t party central but there are a lot of restaurants and plenty of fishermen hauling in their daily catch. If hippies had to build a home and settle down, it would probably be in Ribeirão da Ilha. From there we left the island and went to Amanda’s apartment in São Jose. So Florianópolis as a city is divided into a huge part that consists of the island of Florianópolis itself followed by a small portion that is on the continent. São Jose is right after Floripa (I can assume you are smart enough to understand the abbreviation) on the continent and for the sake of ease, I will consider it part of Floripa. The continent part of the city is pretty average and slightly more industrial than the island. Lots of tall building none the less. It is very similar to Miami where more of the back scene things occur off of South Beach and Miami Beach and on the mainland. Once you cross the generic bridge onto the island you reach the main center of the city. The irony of it all is that next to the generic bridge exists the Hercilio Luz bridge.

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beauty comes in all shapes and sizes I guess

It is a very beautiful bridge that serves as one of the key symbols for the city. This bridge is also the perfect symbol for Brazil. It was built to be amazing, cost the country too much money, had to be closed for a plethora of issues, restoration talks have been ongoing and fruitless, and people yet view it with the same eyes that an old family dog is viewed where you are proud of it even though it can barely hear and see and quite frankly it isn’t its former self. Past the bridge and next to the bay is the more picturesque part of the city where there is a walking path parallel to the road/highway that runs parallel to the bay. On the other side of the road are all the nice shopping centers, restaurants, and residential buildings. It has a similar feel to downtown Miami without the pretentiousness Miami offers so well. If you continue north you will reach the more mellow yet party crazy part of the city. This is where all the beaches are and Instagram picture are taken. It is pretty much a giant resort and most of the good parties are located in the north. Lastly there is the Lagoa de Conceição.

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bunch of hipsters if you ask me

All around the lagoon are a bunch of small colorful settlements with cool bars, restaurants, and stores. A pretty nice place to come on a Sunday and just chill out. I would go on and explain all the shenanigans that went on in this city but those are drinking stories and I don’t let those out that easy.

Rating: Floripa is a pretty cool city and more than anything I expected. Of all the places I went to, if I had to choose somewhere to live, I would probably live there because it offers so much diversity in terms of lifestyle that it would be difficult not to fit in somehow. Floripa gets my stamp of approval.

 

Balneário Camboriú

American expectation: how do you pronounce that? What does it even mean? Please tell me you can just call it BC.

Brazilian expectation: You better go party hard there. The two best clubs in Brazil are there. If you don’t party until the next day, you didn’t enjoy the city.

Reality: I got the chance to visit BC because Lucas, my brother from a Brazilian mother, lives there and he would probably disown me if I didn’t visit him.

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the man that taught me how to sleep on the floor and forget everything I knew about moderation

The downside was that I only managed to stay in BC for about 36 hours. On the upside, a majority of that time was spent in every which way but sober. So I drove from Florianópolis to Balneário Camboriú. When you are arriving to BC, you are hit with a decently long tunnel followed by tall buildings as far as the eye could see. There were all over the place. I’m assuming they ran out of space to build out so they just started building up. The city itself isn’t really that big so it wasn’t long before I arrived to my friend’s house. The fun is finding a parking spot in a densely packed city. BC is pretty similar to South Beach in that it has a nice strip of walkway between the road and sand where people like to show off. There is a main avenue that runs the span of the city right next to the beach. On the other side of the road are all the buildings, restaurants, and whatever else you could imagine is pertinent to a city. My friend’s apartment happens to be in one of the tall buildings. The cool thing about having an apartment on a high floor is that you get a pretty amazing view.

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albeit sun isn’t always a guarantee

The downside of having an apartment on a high floor in BC is that there are so many tall building everywhere that you really don’t get much of a view, but you still get a view none the less.

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better than watching the actual “View”

We pregamed the party we had yet to decide on from midday. BC offers you a variety of options for partying. My options for the night were David Guetta and Robin Schulz at Green Valley, go to Shed, or go to Valen (supposedly Brazil’s first erotic bar). 8 pm rolled around and we had already finished most of the beer and a bottle of fireball. We were too hammered to go to Green Valley and the tickets were sold out so the girls dragged us to Valen. To make it short, I remember half of the night but I managed to break a chair in the VIP section, almost get in a fight with some randos, and walk 30 minutes in the rain back home. A very successful night in terms of partying.

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the only evidence that remains seeing as how my chair was as weak as i was that night

The following day I met up with my friend Igor in Itajai, which apparently is a separate city even though I didn’t really notice the distinction between the two with the exception of a small hill, and had some pretty good seafood. We hung around, did some slight sightseeing, which in this city involves just looking at different tall buildings and the ocean, and the new had sushi and left back to Floripa. This was the first city I had the pleasure of having sushi in Brazil and all I can say is that I have tasted the chocolate strawberry sushi and I am both very appalled and highly impressed.

Rating: Decent city. Could see myself spending a summer there like the hundreds of thousands of people that turn the city from a 125,000 inhabitant city to a million inhabitant city. Probably wouldn’t spend a whole year there. The city and its chairs will thank me for it.

 

Bom Principio

American expectation: none, I was probably the first American to ever step foot in that town.

Brazilian expectation: Never heard of it. Sounds like a good start. Wait, What? Rio Grande do Sul, oh, ok! Enjoy the accent!

Reality: So I decided to road trip it to Argentina and luckily for me I have friends in Rio Grande do Sul (the last state before Uruguay and Argentina) that invited me to come visit them. I originally assumed they lived in Porto Alegre but that turned out to be false. We drove to Porto Alegre and the GPS told us we weren’t there yet. We then started leaving the city and head to a smaller suburb city north of Porto Alegre. Well that city wasn’t it either. We then continued until the GPS finally took us to the small town that is Bom Principio.

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most Brazilians would not be able to tell you where this is

At first it seemed like your run of the mill small Latin American town but things took a turn for the interesting when the architecture was straight out of Germany. The GPS decided to play along and make me take a bunch of German sounding streets. I knew I hadn’t hit a wormhole because it was still a nice and blistering 95 degrees outside and Germany doesn’t get that too often. We finally arrived at Flavine’s house and we rested from our trip from Floripa. I went out with Fla to get medicine for Amanda because she likes to get sick and the Germaness of this town was intense! Street names were German, a bunch of blonde light skinned people were all over the place, and to my surprise many people in the town speak German. Fla’s parents and other older family members speak German. I was 6000 miles from the Germany yet I was speaking German and staring at bratwurst. The town itself only has 12,000 inhabitants and not much goes on but the area itself is very German with some Italian enclaves. We stayed there an extra day because of sicko and went to Gramado, a very well-known small town that also looks as German, to have fondue.

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straight from the blurry streets of southern Ger…..Brazil

Cool little fact, Brazilians pronounce fondue like funji, which had me wondering what the hell we were gonna go eat until the whole melted cheese and chocolate thing was explained to me. In a crazy twist of fate, we ended up coming back to Bom Principio on our way back from Uruguay and stayed another two nights. Did some more sightseeing, played some soccer (probably the first Colombian to play soccer and set food in this town) and got to enjoy the festival of the patron saint of São Sebastian de Cai, another city lost in the pits of nowhere Brazil.

Rating: Would visit this town easily, more for the people but also because it is so perfectly out of place that it fits in with the rest of the region. I’m also pretty sure there are Nazis hiding in the area. It wouldn’t surprise me.

Buenos Aires

American expectation: That’s the capital of Brazil right? Oh my bad, Argentina! Well they all speak Spanish anyway

Brazilian expectation: The people are interesting but everything is cheap, more so for you going with American dollars. Enjoy all the food and don’t get robbed.

Reality: To be written some day when they actually let me into the country.

Rating: I saw the other side of the bridge into Argentina. Looked cool! I’ll travel that road one day in the future.

 

Montevideo

American expectation: I learned this city in Spanish class with that silly capital cities song. It also has the word video in it. It is in some country that ends in guay right?

Brazilian expectation: eh, it’s a city in Uruguay. Buy X,Y,Z while you are there because it is cheaper than here.

Reality: So I am going to start Montevideo with the fiasco that was trying to get to Buenos Aires. We were originally destined for Buenos Aires from the beginning of our trip. We hit the border with Brazil and Uruguay and crossed countries accidentally multiple times because the immigration offices are hidden in the middle of the city at the most inconvenient locations.

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the border splits one street in half with one direction driving in Uruguay and one direction driving in Brazil

We fought off multilingual beggars and holes with roads around them until we finally reached the border with Uruguay and Argentina around 9 or 10 at night. We were so glad to see the beautiful bridge that connected both countries but that unfortunately we would never cross. We were told by some fat Argentinean lady (I would call her an immigration officer but she doesn’t deserve that respect) who barely had the decency of getting off of her chair at the border crossing that we could not go in because Amanda’s car was registered to her dad and he wasn’t there. This is in spite of the insurance we got to travel to Argentina for the week that obviously proved we hadn’t stolen the car as well as documentation showing that Mr. Antonio is Amanda’s dad. We then traveled from Paysandu to Fray Bentos to try at another border crossing. We were denied access again this time by a very friendlier Argentinean immigration official, who did everything he could short of sneaking us into the country. We called it quits after talking with my friend in Buenos Aires and spent the night in Fray Bentos. Unique is the only word I have for that small town. Luckily the beer was cold and the bed was soft.

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nothing like a cold beer to remind you of the South American hierarchy of amazingess

 

God Bless the people in that town. We then went to Montevideo. The roads in Uruguay suck! The only time the roads are half decent is when you are traveling on a road that takes you directly to Montevideo. If it doesn’t, you will know because there will be many holes, not much road, and no white markings on it. We considered taking the car by boat to Buenos Aires but unfortunately the cost was too much so we decided to become tourist for two days in Montevideo. The city itself is not that big but the city as a whole takes up a decent amount of space. We drove around the peninsula and I was not really impressed by the city. The water in the bay looked brown and dirty, the streets and buildings looked very European but generic and gray, and there really wasn’t much to do other than to walk around and sight see. Luckily for us, Montevideo has an amazing saving grace that stops me from bashing it as bad as I would like to. The food! This country knows how to kill and cook a cow! The beef was amazing and the side dishes were very delicious and different. I personally fell in love with papa Roquefort.

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not even Chipotle can make aluminum foil look this good

They grab a potato, fill it up with Roquefort cheese, put it in aluminum foil, and throw it over an open fire next to the sizzling meat. The way they cook their meat is also different. They make a weird grill with a wall of wood behind a horizontal grill that holds the wood back. They light that wood on fire and as it burns the smaller pieces fall underneath the actual grill where the meat is cooked. A might fine piece of engineering.

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beautiful indeed

My crowning achievement was the moment Amanda fell in love with chimichurri. That was probably my main reason for traveling to Buenos Aires. Sure the city might be cool but chimichurri is amazing. Luckily the Uruguayans make some fire chimichurri and the purpose of my trip was ultimately validated, albeit by different means.

Rating: Nothing special. A cool city to visit once or twice. Definitely worth it if you like amazing food. Also the price of everything was actually very expensive. Not really sure what Brazilians were so happy to buy from that country.

 

Rio de Janeiro

American expectation: cool the capital of Brazil! Go enjoy the beaches and take pictures with Jesus. I heard the girls are beautiful there. Have fun!

Brazilian expectation: Rio is such a diverse city! Prepare to see the rich and poor side by side. Also stay near the beaches and don’t get robbed.

Reality: I took off from Floripa on a nice and sunny day with probably the best weather of the trip. Rio is an hour by plane and just as we were getting ready to descend we were told that due to the weather conditions there would be a half hour delay. So after a half hour of turbulence, the plane landed at the Dumont airport. The cool thing about the airport is that since it is smack dab in the middle of the city, you get a really cool view of the city as you land. My first impressions of the city don’t really do it justice. It was rainy and grey and when my friend Jake picked me up with her roommate. We were stuck in traffic for a good hour. Not really inviting but that’s what you get when you arrive in a big city.

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50 shades of wet

From there we ran some errands and she showed me around the south part of the city near the beach. We then went to some hipster expat bar and somehow ended up taking Jack Daniel honey shots. Pretty much proved to me that if you have money, you can simulate things you would have had back home, even down to the American accent one of the bartenders had. The next couple of days were spent going to the beach and getting to know the different beaches.

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there are like 5 beaches in this picture alone

What looks like one giant strand of beach is actually a bunch of different beaches divided by the lifeguard post most closely located to them. I went to all the famous ones from Copacabana to Ipanema. I even found a girl in Ipanema but the story resembles the English version of the song more than the Portuguese one. From the beaches I got a chance to visit a favela. Everyone makes favelas out to be horrible neighborhoods where Satan himself runs every illegal imaginable underground business. Fortunately that is not the case. I got to visit a Favela right behind one of the nicer beaches and went to the house of a German exchange student who found a cheap apartment in one of the favelas. He had a pretty nice pad with running water, electricity, and even a decent view of the ocean.

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unfortunately no escalator

We then climbed further up the favela to a restaurant voted one of the best in Rio. The owner’s pride and joy was a picture with NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg at that very restaurant. A sign proving that this favela is a safe and secure place. There is a distinction between the favelas that have high crime rates and the favelas that have very little if no crime. Favelas are pretty much an answer to very high land and rent prices, granted rent prices in many favelas is now on the rise even making living in a “slum” an expensive endeavor. The following days I ended up going to a bunch of Carnaval block parties and if you read my previous post, you can only imagine how that went. In between I got to travel to the Tijuca Park where I discovered my inner Tarzan and got to see the natural side of Rio. Less natural but equally as mountainous, I went to meet good ole Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado. The trip to the top was pretty cool with a bunch of small vans leaving the city center and heading to the top. (I see an opportunity for money if any of these companies wants to be names.) Once at the drop off point for the nameless vans, you can either do like Jesus and walk to the top or do like many of his followers and take the elevator. At the top you get a nice view of the city as well as a bunch of tourists squatting and doing all sorts of weird poses.

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it took Bert like 15 tries to get a decent pic

Only the leaning tower of Pisa has more interesting poses. Nonetheless it is pretty cool to be at the top and take a future profile pic as well as just to see the expansiveness of the city.

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This Jesus guy has some really good real estate going on

The rest of my time in Rio was spent hanging out with Jake’s friends. The majority of them aren’t actually from Rio but it’s cool to see how a huge city attracts people from all over the country.

Reality: I really enjoyed Rio a lot and can easily see why so many foreigners would move there. I could easily see myself living in such a multicultural and diverse city but I would probably get very little accomplished with all the partying the locals do.

 

Final Thoughts

If you enjoy traveling, there are never really any bad places you go to but rather interesting and different places. There is always something to be learned from where you go. You can get stuck at some horrible bus stop in the middle of nowhere and still learn from that experience. I definitely enjoyed all of my travels from sambaing somewhere in the middle of downtown Rio to trying to find a hotel in some empty and desolate town in Uruguay. My experiences always exceed my expectations. My expectations weren’t bad but they are a mental tool my mind uses to calm down my anxiousness to be somewhere new. My mind makes quick assumptions of what certain places will be like based off of what I know and what people tell me. That is one of the key reasons I travel. To replace those quick expectations with concrete memories and experiences.

Back to Uncle Sam after a rendezvous with Aunt Dilma

So it has been almost two weeks since I arrived from a month long vacation from Brazil. It has been a difficult to assimilate back to my chaotically normal life but it is coming along. My English is returning, my Spanish is unfortunately littered with Portuguese (sorry to those who have heard me say “mucho legal” and “ainda” instead of “todavia”), and I’m limiting myself to yelling “porra” twice a day. Not a bad start for someone who tried to emerge himself deeply in the culture he was in for a month. Sadly, my mind still drifts back to Brazil more often than I would like, and who am I to blame it? It was an amazing trip. Jumping into a new culture gives you plenty of opportunities to evaluate your own culture and there are so many things that you end up liking about others because you got a chance to experience them and view them from a different perspective. That is probably what I feel the most “saudades” (fancy Portuguese word for nostalgia but without the negative connotations) about Brazil. It’s the things that I had over there but that I don’t have here in the United States.

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The American Dream is to buy a television and use it as furniture

 

Food

 

It would be wrong for me to start at any other point. I miss the food like crazy. Not just the home cooked meals but restaurants. There are so many different types of restaurants but the main establishments I mainly miss are the Kilo buffets where you serve yourself food then weigh it at the end. These places are gold mines. I went to Uruguay for 3 days and the first place I ate at when I got back to Brazil was one of those buffets. The love I have for these restaurants runs through my veins like the cholesterol laced meat they serve. Any self-respecting establishment of the sort has churrasco.

churrasco

not all heroes wear capes

Brazilians love cooking meat over an open fire. This is where whatever disagreements I had with Brazilians ends. You go through the line, grab whatever carbs you consider essential for that day, (potatoes soak up alcohol pretty damn well) and then you come to the glorious attendant who runs the fire pit with all sorts of skewers filled with meat. I’m not gonna go through all the cuts because they are different from American cuts but I will say I choose picanha and alcatra, with garlic if possible, make sure that it is medium well, and then add something bacon covered (chicken, sausage, more beef, whatever). As if that wasn’t enough, you get to “have it your way” (Burger King doesn’t fulfill the mantra as well as the fire pit attendant does) and choose where you want the cut of meat from off of the skewer. You then add some farofa (Brazil’s answer to cocaine) and you are set. Weigh your food, get your ticket, and go feast. This is the common lunch process for most of the country on most days and quite frankly I am ridiculously jealous of this everyday once lunch time comes around here in the states.

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I miss you too boo

 

Beer

I have a love/hate relationship with beer in Brazil. I love beer in general and the amount of beer they drink in Brazil is something I can easily condone. The hate part comes down to one key factor that Brazilians have when drinking beer. It has to be colder than your ex-girlfriend’s heart (you know where you are #!%&$). Giving a Brazilian a cold beer, but not frosty beer, might as well be an insult to everything they know. You are better off telling them that Dilma is a great president. The repercussions are less severe. The cold beer part leads to the whole beer drinking process become slightly more complicated, albeit still manageable enough for me to get drunk. You order a liter beer for the table, (unless you order a long neck a.k.a. a regular bottled beer which in that case you should really reconsider the establishment where you are at). They bring it in a giant plastic cover that looks like a beer coozie gone wrong.

Budweiser beer coozie

even Budweiser gets in on the weird coozie action

They hand you a bunch of small cups, unless you are somewhere fancy enough to where they freeze their glasses. You then pour yourself a beer into those small plastic cups you give 5 year olds for their birthdays. You then drink beer in small quantities as to make sure the beer doesn’t get warm. It isn’t a complicated process, but a very different one from the United States where you order a beer, they bring you said beer, and you drink the beer out of the container which they gave it to you. Maybe I don’t like it because the small cup makes me question my masculinity, or my age since I feel like a 5 year old drinking beer. At least it is good beer, and I stop complaining after the first two beers because beer is meant to help you forget about your problems. This process gets trickier when you decide to drink on the streets. Luckily I have great stories from every drinking occasion so I can’t complain and only look back at all my drinking with saudades.

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with great stories come great responsibilities

 

Holidays

So I was lucky enough to go to Brazil during a very festive time of the year. I got to spend New Year’s, whatever other random holidays came after, and then part of Carnaval. In the span of 30 some odd days, I got to enjoy random festivities all the time. We have that here in the United States too but we are too busy toiling away to enjoy the finer things in life. The USA gets very busy trying to come out with whatever specials will attract zombies into the store. No one drinks on MLK day, rightfully so but I feel like Brazil was probably running some random Saint Day to drink to around the same time. New Year’s luckily enough is a great reason to drink anywhere in the world but they up the ante by wearing all white on that day.

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either Brazilians are colorblind or off white is also acceptable

It probably has something to do with some tradition to bring in the New Year clean or in good fortune. I have my own theory that involves a syndicate of white clothing makers and their agenda to sell white clothes because anyone that remains with white clothing for the rest of the night probably didn’t celebrate to the extent that they should have. My white shirt is now champagne colored so I guess the syndicate got me this year. Following the white frenzy that is New Year’s comes a bunch of random holidays that many people get off, normally patron saints of towns, and the alcohol consumption continues to gradually increase until the beginning of Carnaval where your liver and sense of self-dignity take a nose dive. I have never fully understood Carnaval in terms of reasoning and common sense but I can fully endorse the message and I will summarize it as best as I can for those who don’t know much about it.

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honestly its just another excuse to drink cold cheap beer

 

Jesus died for your sins. Christians remember that date as Easter Sunday. Before that date, you should probably prepare to commemorate that special occasion by being better than you are most of the year. This applies more so if you are Catholic because Catholics love traditions and following antiquated rules. About six weeks before Easter, begins said period of preparation with Ash Sunday. If you have ever wanted to put ashes on your forehead for a day, definitely check it out but one normally doesn’t party on that day so be forewarned. The weeks before Ash Wednesday are the weeks where people start to realize that they will need to be on their best behavior for 40 days. For many of us sinning folk, that is a long time and something must be done before to ensure we get our dose of debauchery before that period (said period of non-debauchery is known as lent). The period of debauchery is known as Carnaval with all of it culminating on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday as to ensure that you are hungover and regretful of all of your sins when you get ashes placed on your forehead.

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Jesus would be proud, or making wine and multiplying fish and bread

Many big cities in Brazil celebrate Carnaval with bands, music, alcohol, block parties, costumes, and any other things that you would deem appropriate for partying. I was lucky enough to experience some of Rio’s Carnaval celebration and I have to say that Cariocas (the denizens of Rio de Janeiro) know how to throw a good party. Every neighborhood, at least good and self-respecting neighborhood, throws a block party and invites everyone to come, be festive, and just have a good time. You normally have a band playing popular music in the middle followed by a crowd of crazy revelers dancing around the band. Then on the outskirts are those tired of partying hard as well as many vendors selling items ranging from chicken on a stick, to all sorts of beer, to alcohol in little bags, to pot brownies (obviously not legal but highly unenforced). Music rings throughout the streets, alcohol flows through millions of those annoying small cups, and lots of people start doing things that ironically enough are probably on the list of things that Jesus came to save them from. I feel that the Christ statue above Rio looks down on the city with great disdain at seeing what the city does but at the same time is slightly impressed with the crazy antics and good party they throw.

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“I really died for you lightweights?”

 

The People

How could I forget the people of Brazil? They are what make the country great. I’ve been encountering these interesting creatures for the past couple of years here in Orlando but seeing them here doesn’t do them justice. They are out of their comfort zone, many don’t speak great English, and some are just pissed off that they can’t get a frozen beer and decent cut of meat in this country.

Disney's Human Element - Brazilian Tour Groups.... "Here We Come

hard to believe that something so scary can be so cool

You really have to go back to their natural habitat to understand them. So I did and it all made sense. Brazilians are some of the most welcoming, open, and straight out nice people I have ever met. I don’t say that cause I’m catering to the crowd but because I legitimately felt welcomed in by almost everyone I met. It would be the first time I would show up to someone’s house and they were already offering me food, drink, and their most beautiful daughter. Five minutes into knowing them and we were discussing whatever random topic they found of interest as if we had left off the conversation a week before. It is probably that openness to other people that attracted me the most to Brazilians. It was always easy to talk to people. Even at bars, parties, restaurants, etc…, people were easy to approach and to talk to. That is a huge sticking point since here in the states; I feel like many people go to public places and create a wall around themselves which for me doesn’t make much sense if you are in a public place. The whole reason you are out and about is to do just that, get to meet new people. I definitely miss that and realized it on one of my outings here after coming back. I guess the warm weather makes people warmer.

The exchange rate

If there is a time to travel to Brazil, it is now! The exchange rate is currently hovering around 1 dollar to 4 reals. This is twice what it was less than 2 years ago.

exchange rate

it could be 7 to 1 (too soon?)

Brazil is currently facing an economic crisis and a possible recession which isn’t great for the country, but if you have to find a silver lining, it makes Brazil very affordable for those of us who have dollars. So how expensive is Brazil. On average, I was spending between 15-30 reals (4-8 dollars) at the buffet restaurants I so highly covet. I spent 45 reals (about 11 dollars) at a fancy all you can eat pizza place (the place where I discovered my love for Nutella, chocolate, banana, and strawberry pizza).

nutella pizza

a small price to pay for such sweet love

I then spent about 100 reals (25 dollars) at a nice restaurant for two. And I don’t think I ever spent more than 10 ($2.50) on any domestic beer. This is way cheaper than the United States. A bargain indeed for anyone who wants to splurge and feel like a king without actually having King-like money, at least in the United States anyway.

 

Just like there are things I do miss, there is a short list of things that I really don’t miss about Brazil.

 

Toilets!

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not posting any toilet pics so here is a cool pano of the beach where we spent New Year’s

 

You can’t flush toilet paper down toilets in Brazil. I’m going to be straight up about that. No sugarcoating this one. I find that really awkward. I can understand the reasons behind it so I am not going to stick to this point for long, but I can easily say that if I ever end up in Brazil for a more permanent stay, it will not be easy to get accustomed to using a trash bin rather than just flushing it all away. (P.S. to all of my friends in Brazil, I didn’t flush toilet paper down your toilets so you can remain calm about any repercussions that could have occurred from that social/cultural faux pas.)

 

The situation with air conditioning

air conditioning

way better than any television

I say situation because there isn’t necessarily a lack of air conditioning. Rather there is a lack of mutual consensus on how to use air conditioning. For the most part, everywhere I stayed had an air conditioning unit inside each room. This is done to save energy. While this is intelligent in that sense, it isn’t convenient. There is always that temperature shock when you leave one air conditioned room and walk into another room that is being air conditioned at the same time. I understand I come from a spoiled country like the United States where we air condition the front porch, but I find it difficult to understand how people live in such a hot place without such a commodity. There are plenty of supermarkets, buses and other modes of public transportation, and even residential buildings that lack air conditioning.

bus fire

probably the same temperature

I find it difficult, more so cause I would always be the one who started sweating first, and that really wasn’t the look I was trying to go for while in Brazil. The random, sweaty, foreigner doesn’t sound like the person I wanted to be nor does he fit in enough to pass off in Brazil. I am going to assume that my body has not grown accustomed to living in Florida, another one of Satan’s hot boxes on this earth, and that it probably never will.

 

Weak cars

I might sound like I am complaining, I am grateful for everything on this trip, but these things are hard to get accustomed to. Brazil has cars and luckily I had access to one most of my time there but if there is one thing that makes it tough it’s the engine size. My car, Smokey the VW GTI, is knocking around 210 hp.

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I sure did miss all 210 horsepower

The main car I drove in Brazil had about 80 hp.

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80 horsepower + 1 Cow

 

The fastest speed I hit in the mighty stallion that is the Fiat Uno was 140 kph (86 mph). My car hits 86 mph without me noticing. I’m not trying to brag, but when you are trying to drive cross country in Uruguay and southern Brazil and make it back to the city you are staying at, you wish you could accidently hit 86 mph rather than having your foot on the floor and only reaching that speed. While not all cars are like that, it is still very common for cars to not have big engines since the bigger the car and engine is, the more expensive the vehicle is not only to maintain but to register with the government. With that being said, anything over 200 hp is a luxury in Brazil while anything over 200 hp here means you just have to fuel up a little bit more.

 

Pineapple Caipirinhas and Bohemia Beer

They are bad. Try them once, experience their badness, go back to drinking regular caipirinhas and any other type of beer.

pineapple caipirinha

looks can be very deceiving

 

So with that being said, I miss Brazil like crazy. I definitely plan on going back to that crazy country and taking another turn at uncovering all its mysteries. If not I’ll go back for the meat, beer, and pretty girls. Life isn’t that complicated or at least it shouldn’t be. If you have those three combinations you really shouldn’t be complaining.

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or just anyone to down a beer with

P.S.

I know this blog was originally intended for studying abroad but I will probably write a couple more posts as the saudades wears down and I’ll probably get into the gritty details that I didn’t feel like writing today. I really learned a lot from this trip and I like to write about my findings because it gives me a chance to analyze them as well as look back in the future at what my former self thought.