Monday, 9 September 2013

Brazil - A Final Word

Dear Readers,
It has taken me a very, very long time to get around to writing this post.
I left Brazil two weeks ago and flew directly to Sweden, my new home. Moving to Sweden has been far more complicated than I thought it would be, but you'll hear more about that in a later post.

Brazil is an absolutely stunning place. It's politics and ways of life are so incredibly complex and the reports that I read in the newspapers now seem so skewed and uninformed that I can only assume the people that wrote them have never visited the country. It was only through talking to people and asking questions that I began to understand how this country works and yet, for me, the most important thing I learnt was that despite their problems and the corruption people are proud to be Brazilian. Not in an obnoxious, my country is better than yours way, but in earnest and I found it refreshing.

Here's a short list of things I learnt in Brazil, that you might find interesting or useful if you're planning on a visit sometime soon.

1/ People are not happy about the Olympic Games or the World Cup. This problem is not something that can be discussed in a small subsection of a blog post, one could easily write a book on it. I just think that everybody should take 20 minutes out of their day and read up on why. The feeling was so strong that I began to make a short documentary with some very kind couch surfers and a small production company called Torie Propaganda (which I'll be able to post online in the upcoming months).

2/ Most toilets do not take toilet paper. My Uncle's advice upon my arrival, was if in doubt, throw it in the bin. It being the toilet paper.

3/ The traffic jams are incomprehensible. Rush hour lasts a long time and you're better off staying out in town than attempting to go home if you're going to get caught in it. One thirty minute drive took my Uncle and I three hours because we left at the wrong time. (Note: in Sao Paolo, cars are only allowed to drive on certain days depending on their number plate because the traffic is so bad).

3a/ Traffic lights are more of a guideline, than an actual signal to stop.

4/ The buses are excellently designed. There's a lot of stigma around Brazilian buses for a whole host of reasons. The prices keep rising, they're dangerous etc.etc. There are three main forms of public transport in Rio; buses, vans and taxis. Taxis are safe and cheap. Buses are pretty cheap for the distance they travel and variably reliable, but I think the way they are designed is fantastic. They're not particularly up-to-date or clean, but most have air conditioning and they have a turnstile that the driver operates, making it very difficult for anyone to get on without paying. As for the vans I advise that you don't take them (as do most good travel books). They work on a pretty complicated system and I think you need to speak quite good portuguese to be sure that you're getting into the right one. They're also not entirely legal.

5/ Corcovado (Christ the Reedemer) - Go there first thing on a Sunday morning. Be there before 8am when it opens and buy your tickets online. Take one of the vans up to the top (these ARE legit) and then take the stairs not the lift. You'll be one of the first people to reach the statue. You might have to sit and have breakfast or browse the tourist tat shops whilst you wait for the clouds to clear, but it's worth waiting just for the view.

6/ The Brazilian staple diet is excellent. I'm a vegetarian, so obviously I couldn't enjoy the grilled meat, but the beans and rice tasted so good.

7/ Bonito. If you're going to Brazil, go to Bonito. Make sure you have a decent amount of money for this trip because once you pay for the hotel and the activities (which you simply won't be able to avoid) the cost will add up. But it's worth it. Just so you can go 'floating' in the crystal waters, climb in trees with the monkeys and dive into waterfalls. It sounds idyllic and it honestly is.

8/ Avoid the tourist traps. I never went to Copacabana or Ipanema, we mostly went to a beach near Barra di Tijuca. I would recommend going even further out though if you've got a means of getting there. Grumari is a beautiful, hidden beach right next to where all the surfers go. Places like Copacabana are nice, but it's insanely busy and it's expensive.

9/ Be street smart. Brazil isn't a dangerous place, unless you're silly. If someone asks for your wallet, give it to them, you can always recover your belongings later (this is advice based on the fact that the someone asking for your wallet might well have a gun). You'll also notice that a lot of the street performers who step in front of your car at traffic lights will do a turn lifting their shirt up - this is to let you know that they don't have any hidden weapons.

9/ Go to Lapa. I didn't really know what to expect on a night out in Brazil but Lapa certainly proved to be interesting. On arriving to the place I felt pretty intimidated, surrounded by prostitutes sprawled on cars, but it turned out to be the hub of Rio's nightlife. Most people don't even seem to bother entering the clubs or bars, spending their night on the street drinking and listening to the street musicians. Also, I'd advise a stop at the singing waiters bar at Barra di Tijuca. I forget the name but when I remember, I'll post it.

10/ Eat in the kilo restaurants. Here the food is priced by the kilo. They're cheap (about 5 euros for a large meal) and the food is good.

10a/ Buy the snacks that the roadside sellers offer. Especially the coconuts.

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