So I wrote, as usual, a long-winded post on my time in Brazil and of course it didn’t save so now I have to re-write it and I’ll try and see if I can remember what was in my old post. Soooo frustrating!!! But this is the first post of the first country I went to on my recent trip. It was supposed to be just the beginning of an around the world trip and a first stop before I went to Malaysia to see this guy I am involved with (long story somewhat short- we met online through a Syrian journalism agency due to my interest of what is happening in Syria, became friends, and then it developed into something more. While he IS Syrian, he is currently studying in Malaysia, and we made plans to meet in Malaysia and travel to several countries together afterwards [including Syria], but due to some cold feet and financial concerns, I cut the trip super short and came back to the States. I immediately regretted it, but then later realized that I didn’t have a proper Visa to get into China which was my first stop to get to Malaysia, so it actually wouldn’t have worked out anyways). So I ended up just going to South America and Mexico for this trip and putting off Malaysia for later. As I write this it is the 11th of December, and I will finally be heading to Malaysia on the 28th. This is the third time I have made plans to go to Malaysia, the first two I canceled and I have been wanting to go to the country for years now. ANYHOW, enough about that.
I fell in love with Brazil. So full of life, colors, sounds, tastes. Redundant perhaps I know, but it’s true. My mother warned me not to got to Brazil or Mexico (on this recent trip I went to Brazil, Suriname, French Guiana and Mexico, which will all have their own posts, so be on the lookout if you are interested!). She was, as usual, afraid something would happen, but then again she is always worried something will happen to me when I travel. But this time she implored me even more not to go, telling me how dangerous Brazil and Mexico were. And its true, if you google the most dangerous cities and countries, Brazil and Mexico top the lists. Because of this fact and my mother’s incessant warnings and worries, I became scared myself. Yet I returned safe and sound and only experienced what I believe was a little danger. Or who knows? Maybe I was lucky.
Anyhow, I spent about 10 days in Brazil and it was absolutely wonderful! The first 3 days I spent in Rio de Janeiro in a cute little air bnb that had an INCREDIBLE, picturesque view of Ipanema (see photos!). Whenever I travel, I am always taken aback by the people I meet and the hospitality and help I experience abroad, and Brazil was no different, in fact exemplary! I never expected that Brazilians would be so helpful and welcoming, but they were. Brazil is in fact known for this and I didn’t even know that! My very first night, arriving at my air bnb, the cab driver walked me up to the door and rung the doorbell for me and announced to my host’s sister (who was welcoming me since the actual owner of the apartment was in the United States, funny enough) that I was there. I was so amazed at how he helped me. I met the host’s sister who gave me the keys and welcomed me in. I was hungry, but since it was night, and I had just arrived in a new country and I had heard all these warnings about Brazil especially at night, I asked my host’s sister if it was dangerous. She said at night it was “a little”, which sort of had me concerned, but a little while later I ended up seated at an outdoor café listening to music and chatting with a wonderful Brazilian couple! It turns out that right down the block there was this little café and that very night they were having live music with little plastic tables and chairs seated along the cobblestone street which in appearance looked like Europe had met a southeast Asian street food stand. The Brazilian couple and I talked about everything including politics, and not an argument or harsh word ensued. It was great! I’ll never forget being at this café as I feel like it represented my overall experience of Rio- joyful, friendly, colorful, lively, happy. It was so much fun.
I struggled with fatigue a lot on this trip. And while I have struggled with fatigue before during other trips, this one I felt it in particularl. When I was in Mexico I ended up sleeping for an entire day. But in Brazil it was less bad. Still, though, I struggled. I wasn’t sure if it was because of bad jet lag or all the pre-trip stress melting off of me. Or maybe a combination of both, I’m not sure. I was really, really stressed before this trip because of my mother and the other warnings about Brazil and Mexico I had heard. Even so, I struggled through the fatigue and the next day went to see the Christ the Redeemer Statue. It was amazing! I wasn’t aware that you could take a tram and actually see the statue up close, which I thought was pretty awesome. The tram itself (if you can call it that) slowly takes you up the steep hill (or mountain? I wasn’t sure) where the statue is. The ride is a bit long and steep which is a bit scary as I worried that perhaps at some point there would be a malfunction and the tram would go shooting back down the hills ( but it didn’t), but the views and nature on the way up make it allllll worth it.
The statue itself is huge and looks sort of reminds me of a 13th century knight. There were lots of tourists around and they were all snapping pictures of themselves with their arms outstretched like the statue, which I thought was a little tacky and sacrilegious in a way (I’m not super religious, but sometimes when people make fun of Jesus or icons of him I wince). I got some great photos of the statue but I can’t remember what I did afterwards. In fact, I forget which things I did on which day. It seemed like I was in Rio for a lot longer than 3 days because I experienced so much while I was there.
A couple things that irked me a little bit about Brazil, and I hope this doesn’t make me come off as an entitled Anglophile. But, none of the cab drivers that I can remember spoke English in Brazil, and I only speak broken Spanish so it was frustrating to get around in what is known as a tourist country. While I ended up meeting people on the street that spoke English, many did not and all I was able to do was communicate with them in my broken Spanish and the one phrase I learned in Portuguese: “eu preciso” (I need). It’s not that I think everyone should speak English, but if you are a cab driver in Rio where there at lots of tourists, wouldn’t you want to learn a little bit of a different language? I don’t know. I actually remember someone I met commenting on how this was a tourist country and more people should be speaking English, at least those whose jobs require communication constantly.
The other think that irked me about Brazil was the food. Because I couldn’t communicate well enough and only had a little time to learn and use new words and discover which dishes had what in them, I had trouble eating. Everywhere there seemed to be pao de queso (I’m probably spelling it wrong) but it was basically bread balls filled with cheese. While these were guaranteed vegetarian, I wasn’t sure what else was so I had to ask. No carne? That was how I asked if there was meat in things, which I wasn’t even sure if it was correct since I was just basing it off of Spanish but it appeared to work. I can’t really tell you what I ate in Rio as it wasn’t that memorable, with the exception of Acai bowls, a drink I had at a restaurant that was based on the cuisine of the Para region of Brazil, and a shrimp empanada or something I remember eating. I did have some good, interesting sugar-free, fat-free, everything-free it seemed chocolate when I went roaming around Ipanema. And that was in fact where I stumbled upon the restaurant with the Para theme.
The Para themed restaurant I’ll call it had a woman dancing out side of it who was soon joined by several other dancers whom I weren’t sure if they were members of the crowd or other dancers. It reminded me of a Mexican dance with a flamenco flair and a rather large crowd had gathered around to watch. I can’t remember if I was invited inside or if I went inside myself, but the host was very welcoming and I decided to try a drink she suggested and that she said was really good. I should’ve ordered food in that restaurant and I can’t tell you why I didn’t, because when I ended up sitting down next to a woman and her mother whom I made acquaintances with, the food they said, was good and vegetarian. The drink they gave me was interesting but not what I would consider delicious. It wasn’t bad, it was just very strong and had some ingredient that made my mouth feel numb. For some reason when I had come in the restaurant I was speaking French (I have no idea why, maybe I had heard someone speaking it so I tried chiming in?) But anyways the host heard me speaking French and sat me down next to a few women who she said spoke French but who ended up being Americans who just spoke French, haha. I struck up a conversation with both women (the mother and the daughter) and I discovered that the daughter was a life coach who had been living in Brazil for several years. (I ended up getting her email as my mother has told me I need a life coach and I thought she was interesting).
I believe after the Para restaurant I went back home then out again to get some acai. I had trouble communicating with the owner of the restaurant as to what I wanted so this nice Brazilian guy who was there with his friends helped me. I then realized that I didn’t have enough cash to pay for my acai bowl and would have to go to the ATM. This young man (whose name I forget) offered to walk me to the ATM!! He said that it was dangerous at night in Brazil and thus offered to escort me. I thought this was very kind and I felt lucky but also a bit scared as it was the second time a Brazilian had told me that things were dangerous at night. But it was also another example of how helpful the Brazilian people were. And the Brazilian men especially, they weren’t just helpful but GORGEOUS and sexy! The guy who walked me to the atm was cute and another guy in that same acai place who stopped in and who I chatted with was incredibly hot, so much so that I had to tell him!
The next day I went to see Sugarloaf mountain, which is actually three peaks instead of one giant mountain to my understanding. You take a cable car and it takes you across all three peaks and there are some awesome views. It is a bit scary, just like the tram that takes you up to the Christ the Redeemer statue. Especially since I saw one of the guys who was operating the tram looking at his cell phone as he worked the controls. Apparently the cable car is made in Switzerland however so its supposedly very safe and what not. Sugar loaf mountain is one of the main attractions in Rio and when you look up photos of Rio you will likely see it.
Next on my Brazilian itinerary was Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas, which according to fact is a “departure point” for the Amazon rainforest, which is precisely why I wanted to go there. I wanted to see the jungle and meet an Amazonian tribe, which turned out to be EXACTLY what I did. On my way to Manaus I had to fly from Rio to Fortaleza, spend a night then catch an early flight to Manaus. Fortaleza and the hostel I stayed in was a far cry from what it seemed like online when I booked it. It turned out to be HELLA sketchy and the lady who was working there didn’t speak any English so we had to communicate via google translate (which I also did with a postal worker when I sent a package of some of my stuff home because I felt I was carrying too much). While there was a nice, seemingly upscale deli right around the corner of this hostel, the entire neighborhood looked like a favela and when I was waiting for a taxi to come and take me to the airport for my early morning flight, the lady said something like “no, peligroso” which I knew from my broken Spanish meant “dangerous”. So I must’ve really been in a bad neighborhood and it was at that point that I felt a little scared.
I booked a hotel in Manaus instead of an Airbnb and the owner of the hotel was really nice despite his English not being fluent. He helped me book a tour with a great guide named Jairo, who in turn helped me book my little jungle excursion. The owner also let me keep my stuff in the hotel while I went into the jungle for two nights.
The tour I took through the hotel took us to the meeting of waters and to meet an Indian tribe. The meeting of waters, because I can’t explain it very well, is according to Google a “confluence between the dark Rio Negro and the pale sandy-colored Amazon River”. When you go to the meeting of the rivers in a boat you can actually see where the two rivers meet and how they contrast and you can dip your fingers in. The guides say you can feel the difference between the two rivers when it comes to temperature but I couldn’t really feel it. We did a couple more things on the tour but I forget what they were. The Indian tribe meeting however was awesome. We got do dance with them and I bought a bracelet they made. It was the first time I got to see a nude Indigenous tribe up close and personal, and to be honest it made me feel a little uncomfortable, but not the nudity part. It goes into the theory of “the other”, and how when you aren’t part of a dominant social structure you are “othered”. Well I have never been “othered” except for a handful of times including this one. The fact is that I was raised in a white family, in a mostly white, English speaking country, and while I have traveled, I do not know what it is like to be a minority for the most part. I felt this a little bit in India, but more so when I met this indigenous tribe as well as a Native American man I met and interviewed for a college cross-cultural psychology project once. I think it is because often we are reminded that white people took over what is now the Americas and rarely ever does it seem that whites and indigenous Americans get together or talk about it; there’s a lot of anger and I would assume hatred on both sides and a lot of damage has been done to indigenous Americans both in the North and South and still continues to this day. When I got together with this tribe and with the Native American man, I felt this feeling that was hard to explain. I felt, for lack of a better term, very “white”, and for the first time that I was an outsider and truly a member of a privileged oppressor class (due to history of course) like social justice warriors shove down our throats. Its hard to really explain how I felt really, but I hope you get the idea. It partially made me feel bad and ashamed for what some of my ancestors and people who look like me have done in the Americas, but it was also a very acute feeling of just being in a completely non-white environment and seeing things from the perspective of a person who is entirely different from you.
Well now that I am off that tangent I can tell you more about the tribe. They played these flutes and had us dance with them in a circle and one of them spoke Portuguese which was translated to English by the guide Jairo. It made me wonder about this tribe and how they managed to still keep their traditions and language and relate to and participate in the outside world. Our guide said that they “were prepared to receive visitors” and that they lived “further in the jungle” then where we were meeting them. The whole situation kind of reminded me of the Amish and how they still keep their traditions and live in the old ways (I guess you could call it that)? While being amongst modern society. One last interesting but somewhat also off-putting thing about the tribe was the fried termites they had in a bowl next to some of the jewelry they were selling. One of the little girls who was on the tour with me ate one and asked me why I didn’t eat one, LOL. Then the little girl’s mother chimed in and said that even she didn’t eat one so why would she ask me why I would eat one? Then the little girl introduced herself to me. Funny little kid.
After the day tour the guide Jairo told me about a company where I could do a jungle tour where I would spend some nights at a jungle lodge and even camp in the jungle. This, beyond meeting the Indian tribe, was the highlight of my trip. Jairo, like the two other Brazilian men before me, walked me back to my hotel at night once as he remarked that where I was staying was a hub for human trafficking, as well as Suriname where I was planning on going eventually!!!!! (Yeah, I guess in some ways I was really lucky as danger seemed to be around a few corners on this trip).
It took from what I remember two boat rides and long car ride to get to where we were staying. Apparently they have groups doing these tours all the time everyday so I wasn’t going to be alone. . I picked a week in Manaus so I would have enough time to see some of the city of Manaus as well as go to the jungle and I researched tours ahead of time. I was lucky to be able to find a company that was so flexible.
I had a fun, memorable, albeit extremely bumpy, off-road type of car ride along the way and got to joke around and chat with some of the other people who were going the same time I was. With this particular tour company you could pick how many nights you spent at the jungle lodge, and I picked two. It was all coordinated very well in my opinion. I asked for my own cabin and I got it! Complete with mosquito netting.
I managed to take my laptop with me to the jungle, camp with it and bring it on several boats with me even at night in the jungle where there were caymans hunting! While I trusted the hotel enough to leave some of my stuff behind, I did not trust that no one would steal my laptop. Along with myself, my laptop was the most important and valuable asset that I had, and being that I needed to write with it during the trip I wasn’t about to lose it or risk it getting stolen. I even put insurance on the thing! I’m proud it didn’t get a scratch on it.
At the jungle lodge we had options of spending nights in the actual jungle or just in the jungle lodge. For around 200$ we got housing, 3 meals and all excursions, including cayman hunting which was INCREDIBLE and fishing for piranhas which was also pretty cool. At the jungle lodge I struggled pretty badly with fatigue so there was one excursion that I didn’t do because I was too tired, but I don’t think I missed out on much.
We ate lots of fish at the jungle lodge including piranhas which were actually delicious. They were fried and none of the bones or heads were removed so you could still see the teeth on the piranha! (I caught a really blurry photo of one if you can see it). It was a bit freaky. Fishing for them was really easy though. You could pick and choose what excursion you could go on depending on how many days you were there. I wasn’t entirely sure how it was all coordinated but I ended up doing different activities with different people. Fishing for piranhas I did with some really pretty English-speaking Brazilian women on a boat with a guide (the same one who fished for Caymans with us) who spoke English very well. Fishing for piranhas was rather simple. I have only fished like three times in my life, and the last times were when I was a kid with my grandfather and I don’t remember them very well. I remember a caught a clam. I knew that fishing could be very hard and sometimes you wouldn’t catch anything at all. But not with piranhas! I don’t know if it was the bait we used or the time of the day or what variable it was but I caught two piranhas! (And ended up stabbing myself with the bait hook). The poles we used were just wooden sticks with lines and hooks on the end. This entire excursion, in my anxiety, I kept thinking how all of this was so risky….possibly getting bitten by a piranha, falling off the boat, getting tetanus from the bait hook, eaten by a cayman, etc. There was an element of danger to it all which is why perhaps it was so much fun. I did feel kind of bad fishing, even though I am a pescatarian. I knew that what I did was hurting the fish, and when we caught it it would struggle and the guide would take a small hatchet (I believe that’s what it was) and kill it. But here I am still eating sushi and what not. I don’t like hurting things but I don’t know if I can ever give up fish.
When it came to actually camping in the jungle, I chose it for the first night. Our guide was a very sexy badass who knew his way around with a machete. Being that I had never camped in the jungle in a hammock and that I have anxiety along with the anxiety my mother has instilled in me, I started to worry, what if we get attacked by a jaguar or an anaconda? I even asked the guide. I am sure he was laughing at me inside but he said it was like a million in a one chance.
When we got to the actual campsite it wasn’t at all what I expected. There was shelter and a small area where someone had clearly had built a fire the night before. It turns out I am not really that good at “roughing it”. I had trouble with my hammock and had to rely on other people to help me get it up, as well as the mosquito net. Our guide did most of the work, and it was amazing to watch him do it. While he didn’t build a fire from scratch (he had a lighter) he cooked all of our food (including eggs and rice for pescatarian me, as everyone else was having chicken) in a sort of makeshift stove he made with two branches over the fire. The boat we took from the lodge to the jungle was a bit shaky and made me nervous getting on and off it, and I don’t know how we managed to get all the stuff on it that we brought into the jungle. We even brought booze! Which along with the other cute guide that came we made cocktails with pineapple.
There were no chairs but there was some long pieces of wood connected to trees that I assume had been built to sit on. Everyone got along great and we all got a bit tipsy and watched as our guide did his magic and made food for all of us. And it was good! Everybody had their phones and at some point people started playing music and I started singing. Everyone liked how I sung and at some point it was suggested that we all go out on the boat in the pitch darkness to look at the stars. I was scared since the boat made me nervous period (but hey, I still did it!) but I didn’t want to be left behind. What was interesting about these boats we used for the excursions was the guides just walked along the narrow ridges on the sides just fine, like it was nothing, while I would ask for help just to get on and off the damn thing. I am surprised more people don’t fall down and into the water.
But anyhow we all went out in the pitch black on the boat to look at the stars and I sang! Several songs! And everyone listened! It was truly magical. There was something about being on the water at night in the Amazon looking up at a sky full of stars and experiencing the stillness and singing and chatting and just being in awe, while still knowing in the back of my mind that we would have to find our way back and it was hard to see except for the light that our guides had on their hats (what do you call those things? Whatever they are they were really powerful and in the pitch dark we could right into the jungle.) There was an element of danger but also of peace, and it was quite extraordinary.
When it came to the actual camping, I didn’t fall out of my hammock and that my mosquito net worked (I don’t recall being bit at all!) HOWEVER, I woke up at night to this very loud, very eerie, sound that I believe was the sound of the howler monkeys everyone had told us we would hear. But I can never be quite sure as they didn’t sound like howler monkeys, more like aliens if you ask me. It was a bit scary but I just stayed in my hammock and didn’t move. Actually managed to sleep!
The next day we visited a family that lived on the river and owned a plantation of sorts. Our guide knew all kinds of things like how to make a fan out of just scraps of bark and leaves from the ground. While visiting the family who owned the plantation he picked up something that I can’t really describe and ripped it open and it was full of fruit to eat! And I ate some of it! Just off the ground and just like that! And for the first time I saw a pineapple bush! I didn’t even KNOW pineapples grew on bushes! That is how disconnected most of us are from nature, at least me.
That night we went fishing for CAYMANS! Which is basically like an Amazonian alligator or a crocodile. We went out at night (I still had my laptop with me in my backpack the whole time LOL) and we watched as one of the guides laid down on the boat with his light on on his hat, dipped his hand into the water and YANKED OUT A BABY CAYMAN! He brought it onto the boat (see the pictures) and that was when I started to freak out. I shouldn’t have because this dude had obviously done it before but I had never been up close and personal to an animal of that sort like that and I was freaked out that one of several things would happen (one of us would fall off the boat and get attacked by a BIG cayman, the baby cayman would bite, the guide would fall off the boat, etc. etc., but luckily none of that happened and I got to touch the baby cayman. I am sure this cayman (who he said was a girl and was out hunting when we caught her) didn’t like any of this, and while we didn’t hurt her (people just held her with one hand underneath her neck so she couldn’t open her mouth to bite) I wondered if what we did was bad or not. We did leave her in the same spot we found her but I wonder if the experience was traumatic for her? Another girl on the trip said that she didn’t think it was a good or cool idea to go hunting for caymans and that when she had done it they left the cayman in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps what we did was wrong, just like the fishing of the piranhas, but I have to admit that it was quite amazing to be able to see a creature like that upclose and touch it and learn about it.
As we made our way back to the lodge we saw an actual BIG cayman in the distance swimming! Its glowing eyes were poking up from the water! It wasn’t until THEN that our guide told us that big caymans can turn boats over! But he said our boat was too big to be turned over apparently. It just made me more scared than I had been when we had the baby cayman on board! It was another one of those moments where we straddled the line of awe and danger. I’ll never forget those eyes and who they glided along the river not too far from us!
When it came time for the trip to be over I was nervous about getting back on all the boats again and the car ride, but it all turned out just fine. I made it through the jungle trip and back to Manaus.
The other guide Jairo and I sort of made friends and at a couple points went out and ate and had ice cream together. Manaus, for being a city in the middle of the Amazon, had a restaurant that sold vegan and vegetarian food! Imitation meat! And it was great too! I hade it two nights in a row along with some incredible ice cream from this ice cream place which sold like every single flavor of fruit which you could only find in the Amazon. I don’t think I will ever taste some of those ice creams anywhere else! I can’t even remember their names besides acai and graviola (of which I hade two smoothies while I was in Manaus, delicious!)
After Brazil I would end up going to French Guiana (which I wasn’t crazy about and while I’ll do a short post on).
All in all, Brazil was incredible and while I don’t know if I’ll ever go back (I want to see as many countries ONCE if I can instead of returning to the same ones again) I really loved it and I will treasure my memories from there for a lifetime. I am also scared a bit to go back even though I was fine this time around, as one of the girls who was on the jungle tour with me and who road back with me to Manaus said everyone she knew who was living in Rio had been robbed violently, so that kind of makes me feel that I was lucky).
Whew! That was a long post and while I probably wrote too much I wanted to include all the great things that I experienced and go into detail on all the interesting things as much as possible to paint a picture of what I experienced. If you read this far, and thank you so much!!! I hope you enjoyed it and I hope it has inspired you to maybe go to Brazil someday too!