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.