Things that could have been frustrating about our trip: the fact that we had to buy a $150 visa to go to Brazil after accidentally buying airplane tickets there, my being sick for one of our two full days there, missing the bird park/Brazilian falls due to this illness, it pouring rain the one day I did go to the waterfalls, and the “natural thermal springs” being swimming pools in a trailer park.
But you know what? This was the best trip ever.
One of the top reasons this trip was so wonderful is that it turns out that Brazil is incredible. Even without going to any of the cities that would probably be better to visit in Brazil — like the pretty beach towns or a famous city like Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo — I could still tell that this is a great county that I want to come back to. One of the first things my friend and I noticed upon arrival is that Brazilian men don’t give piropos (the remarks you always get walking down the street in BA). It was a breath of fresh air. We talked to the bartender at our hostel about it, and he was saying that Brazilian men think porteños are ridiculous in how aggressive they are with females. I don’t know how true this is, but he asserted that machismo doesn’t exist in Brazil, which I’m surprisingly liable to believe. The difference in how men treated you there was almost tangible; the most striking example was that almost as soon as we’d crossed back into Argentina for a day trip, some guy calls out, “¡Qué lindas!” (How pretty!) to our group of poncho-clad female tourists. Really?! It’s so constant in Argentina that I’d almost forgotten it bothered me.
Also, turns out the rest of South America really dislikes Argentines because they’re perceived to be very snooty and racist. We had a really interesting talk with the bartender (he was very chatty) about race in Brazil, and although I think it’s true that there’s a little bit of prejudice in Brazil, for the most part, they are exceptionally open about race. Brazilians, almost more than any other nation in the world, can look like anything — of African, European, Asian, or indigenous descent. But much more so than in Argentina, it seems, they don’t identify as “European” or “African” or anything: just “Brazilian.” And there appeared to be much less of a correlation in Brazil between skin color and class. It was refreshing.
I also learned a bit about Brazilian politics and economics, and about their famed President Lula, who is basically known for making Brazil into one of the most robust economies in the world while simultaneously ignoring United States’ pressure for neoliberal policies. He left office with an approval rating of over 80%. Over 80%. And then the bartender was telling us how Brazil is just on fire; everyone, he said, has one or two jobs, poverty is lessening dramatically, and all around you things are being built, created, opened, etc. One important lesson I got out of this is: Portuguese would be a really, really useful language to learn.
Plus, we got to practice our Spanish a lot! All these conversations with the bartender were in Spanish (most Brazilians can speak at least a little) and we found that we could understand a bit of Portuguese! Depending on whether or not they spoke slowly or used hand gestures, our understanding was usually about one quarter to about one half of what they said, which was pretty exciting given I’ve never heard it before. I think that if I improve my Spanish for a little while longer (it can mess up your Spanish to try to learn Portuguese simultaneously if you’re not very solidly fluent), Portuguese won’t be very hard to learn at all. In fact, in the “Accelerated Portuguese for Spanish Speakers” class at Middlebury, they speak Portuguese from day 1 in Portuguese 101, and you’re expected to understand and pick it up! Very seriously considering taking that class senior year.
The falls were amazing. The fact that it was pouring monsoon-levels of rain the day we did an all-day tour of the falls actually turned out to be kind of cool because it created this really cool misty jungle-y feel the entire time as we walked in between the falls through the forest. And I don’t know if it was even more amplified by the amount of recent rainfall, but either way, the quantity of water in the falls was just mind-boggling. I guess pictures will probably to this more justice (but not as much as they should…), but basically, the falls are just utterly breathtaking and awe-inspiring. I would go back in a heartbeat.
We loved the food. I can’t think of anything that’s actually very Argentine other than pizza, empanadas, steak, and facturas (pastries). I was extremely excited to eat some new things, especially given my host family’s aforementioned daily carboload. So one night we went to this all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse and buffet and found that Brazilian meat is just as delectable as the Argentine stuff! And they also have lots of cool fruit, many more flavors, more ethnic food (Arabic food in town was to die for), and in general a greater variety of options. My taste buds love Brazil.
South American backpackers again deliver on being the best. I can’t get over how cool all the people we meet in hostels are. First, they have the most interesting stories, and are pretty universally friendly and DTP. Second, I haven’t met a person yet who wasn’t travelling for multiple months; Australians and Europeans have this thing about travelling for huge blocks of time, and don’t understand why Americans only travel in two-week blocks because, “It takes at least 3 weeks to really get into the swing of things,” an Englishman who had been travelling for 5 months explained to me. To be honest, I can’t understand it now, either. I am already thinking that I’ll need at the very least 4 months to do and see all I want to do in South America, and I’m really impressed by how all these people manage it financially. I get the sense that they are very good at saving money and travelling cheaply.
As per usual, the Australians at our hostel were an especially perfect combination of fun/adventurous/outdoorsy/interesting/laid-back, and we actually ended up learning a lot about Australian culture and society through our late night chats around the bar. The two we hung out with lived really far inland, and had the coolest stories/insights from living in what isn’t the Outback, but… sort of is.
Conclusions on Brazil: I want to go back immediately. Since my visa is good for 90 days, I am sort of considering going to Rio or something for a short trip after I finish classes. Problem is that none of my friends who might be able to go during this time have visas, which is a little roadblock since travelling to Rio could be nerve-wracking when done solo. Either way, I am now more convinced than ever that I need to do a huge South American backpacking trip after college, and now I know that Brazil is not to be missed. I’ll keep you updated on how this progresses, but a nebulous plan to live in Brazil at some point is currently floating around in my brain. This was buoyed recently by the fact that my awesome Brazilian classmate from my first couple weeks in Argentina recently sent me an e-mail inviting me and the other two girls from my class to come visit Recife and stay with his family, which includes his three daughters. And the fact that Recife is beautiful, lined with idyllic beaches, and much cheaper than Rio doesn’t hurt at all.
So in conclusion, everything just keeps working out for the best, doesn’t it?