Why Brazil made me happy-sad

When people are asked about Brazil they think of soccer, sun, beaches – first and foremost Copacabana and Ipanema – Caipirinha, Havaianas, maybe even Capoeira. At the same time they also think of favelas, poverty, drug abuse, and street crime. It’s for a fact that Brazil has all of that – the things, places, and climate we dream of from the other side of the globe – but all the other ones, too that often make people avoid countries like Brazil or worry very much when you tell them you’re actually going to Brazil.

For all the good reasons and for my never ending wanderlust, my hunger for traveling and new, exotic adventures far far away, I made Brazil my next travel destination nonetheless.

So I packed my backpack (this time just 8,3kg), did some but very little preparatory reading on where to go and studied basic phrases, checked places to stay with my travelmate, booked a roundtrip and boarded an airplane after work on December 30th last year. I prepared mentally for a robbery and felt a major flashback to the time I visited Colombia (in 2014).

I imagined I would hand out my cash and my belongings should I be robbed, without hesitation. I would probably bite my tongue to not yell at the thief. I would try not to worry too much and move on for I wouldn’t be the first one to be robbed and I would probably be able to replace most things after all, if I thought I really had to. So many „ifs“ and „woulds“, right? Well.

Our trip started: we celebrated New Year’s Eve in São Paulo, we walked around the deserted city centre on New Year’s Day, took the nightbus to Foz do Iguaçu and visited the breathtaking Iguaçu Waterfalls on both the Brazilian and the Argentinian side (which got us an extra stamp in our passports), we flew to Rio de Janeiro where we sunbathed at Copacabana and Ipanema and watched the eager vendors selling anything from refreshements and grilled shrimps to swimwear, handmade jewellry, and sunglasses, we strolled around the Avenidas, did all the touristy stuff from visiting the Christ statue, admired the sunset from Pao de Açúcar, tried to take photos on and from the Escadaria Selarón – a somewhat selfie must-go destination – fell in love with the Brazilian relaxed friendliness, induldged lots of Caipirinas and almost daily Açai, kept trying to say things in Portuguese even though it was pretty hopeless for the locals would pronounce things and places so differently we could have just pointed at a map or the menue in the first place, but we found joy in these daily adventures and projects from making our way around, and finding a laundry place to booking tickets or understanding the instructions at Crown CrossFit where we walked by just by accident and I got to drop in for a team WOD one time during my three weeks in Brazil.

Here’s a selection of pictures (out of cam – didn’t have time so far to edit them), but read on below, the story isn’t over yet 😉

Our trip continued: we went to Ilha Grande, swam in natural pools with lovely waterfalls, had more Caipirinhas, watched fishermen and had a good laugh with some Brits on a rainy afternoon when we took a boat taxi from one beach back to the main town Abraão and got tickled by „liquid sunshine“. We followed the tracks of pirates in cobblestone paradise Paraty, slided down Tobogã waterfall that locals can actually surf, fed little monkeys, learned how Cachaça is made and tasted different flavours. We also learned to accept the rain in Petrópolis, a small town (compared to Rio or São Paulo) totally different from all the sunny, beachy places we’ve seen before. A town that took us back to 19th century imperial Brazil. We felt like backpacker prince and princess. 😉

And so the weeks went by, we met travelers from many places, actually even ran into someone I know (from my CrossFit box in Hamburg) – how odd and great was that?  We had great talks over beer and caipirinhas in hostels, in a favela restaurant (Bar do David in Rio apparently serves incredible ribs…I of course didn’t eat them, but I know for a fact they made someone really, really, really happy) became friends with some travelers and marveled about others who palavered about conspiracies or played online poker literally all day long.

Eventually it was time to pack up again and sqeeze all the memories and new Havaianas into my luggage. The last day in Rio was quite melancholic for I realized there are still sooooo many things to see and do in this city alone and then of course in the entire country. However, it was time to say goodbye for now.

All this time in Brazil I almost never felt insecure. Yes, I was a little hesistant when we walked around São Paulo on January 1st which felt like we were in an apocalyptic movie or on our first day in Rio, when we navigated to our Air BnB located in a favela (which was in fact safe as decribed by the host and a really cool and real starting point for exploring Rio with all its facades) or this one time I rented a bike in Paraty and rode it back home in the dark without the lights on…because it didn’t have lights.

There’s in an undeniable injustice in Brazil, of course, too: with wealthy neighborhoods and nice accommodations that will lay out towels folded to swans even though they are not a luxury hotel just a few blocks away from some of the poorest people, incredibly little understanding for plastic waste while lush nature slowly vanishes, noisy traffic, ice-cold air-conditioned metros, cinemas, and, shops. And so on. You’d be lying if you’d only romanticise about Copacapana and Caipirinha, the sun and sound of singing birds in the jungle.

Whatever image you have of Brazil or in fact any other country in the world: go, see, feel, smell, live it for yourself. Be open – make an effort. I’m not saying you should take risks, or do something irresponsible – that’s totally up to you. I’m just hoping you’ll give all impressions an honest place in your memory and perhaps can even make a change to the injustice, not only in Brazil.

We may have been slightly more conscious about our valuables than normally when going out in Hamburg, and we avoided the areas known to be dodgy. Maybe we were lucky and maybe my relaxed face – which people often mistake as a mean look – helped to keep pickpockets away. Maybe someday in my homecountry someone will try to rob me and maybe even suceed.

What no one can take from me and what obviously exceeds the value of a camera or my credit card, are all the mental pictures. In the end: Happy End.


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