Brazil

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BroDrive

We had to postpone the Brazilian brodrive a couple days while the friendly people at American Airlines tracked down Ted’s bag which had been re-routed the wrong way from Dallas. Kelsey’s younger brother didn’t seem too concerned though—he’d just travelled 18 hrs without any travel on: no book, no mp3 device, no toothbrush … the invincible years.

Highway 101 between Rio and São Paulo winds around a mountainous coastline and offers tantalizing glimpses of turquoise blue ocean lagoons and secret beaches lying seductively behind curtains of Atlantic rain forest.  We drove to Itamambuca a small town just north of Ubatuba; honed our pool skills on a very unforgiving table, surfed and drank homemade caipirinhas.

The two T's Chilling

The two T's Chilling

Paraty, further north, is one of those fairytale towns with cobbled streets, white-washed buildings and creeping bougainvillea. We stopped in here for their annual Pinga Festival which is a celebration of artesanal cachaça, the main ingredient in the national drink … some were better than others.

Tasting all the Pinga

Tasting all the Pinga

The south of Brazil has a surprisingly large German population and we decided to brodrive 900 kilometers to Blumenau to see the German founded town and to sample some of their renown beers. We stayed at Hotel Gloria which has been awarded Joydrive’s best free breakfast buffet.

And then on to Florianópolis to hang on the beach for a few days. We saw Ted off with some beer champagne from Blumenau, two 40 ounce bottles of cachaça from Itamambuca and four bottles of hot sauce from Florianópolis.

Beautiful Floripa

Beautiful Floripa

Kero Coco Water

Maybe it’s because we are both feeling the nasty pain of too much wine last night but right now I am really missing my coconut water – the world’s best natural hangover cure.  Brazilians drink agua de coco like it is going out of style and you will find fresh coconuts stacked high on nearly every street corner ready to be struck open by three deft machete chops. Apparently you need one coconut for a regular-sized hangover (two if you got blitzed) to start your recovery.

Cool and refreshing, with a hint of sweetness, coconut water rehydrates your body – at least that is what the Brazilians claim.  Naturally fat-free and low in calories coconut water contains 5 essential electrolytes.  It is a great alternative to drinking fluorescent-flavoured sports drinks that claim to make you fly.  If you cannot find the real thing or don’t want to drive with a coconut in your hand, Kero Coco is the next best choice in Brazil (in the US you can track down some here).

Maracuya Tic Tacs

 

I can eat a whole box of these in about five minutes flat. Tom tells me I have to savour the flavour by sucking instead of chewing but tic tac etiquette be damned.

These tasty Passionfruit flavoured Tic Tacs can be found in both Colombia (maracuya) and Brazil (maracuja), they have a soury-sweet flavour that makes them instantly addictive and they also claim to have vitamin C so they are undoubtedly good for you.  These treats are great to have kicking around when you are on the road with nothing to eat… having more than one box helps… I buy five at a time.

 

We struck up conversation with Mary in a small cafe in Copacabana, Bolivia.  As she left, minus her meal (Bolivian service is a work in progress), she parted with, “If you are ever in São Paolo give me a call!”  Well, bet she didn’t actually expect us to call…

The lovely Mary invited us into her home and we spent 5 days hanging out with her in the gigantic city of 18 million people.  Mary moved to São Paolo to teach and let me tell you, it’s a pretty sweet gig.  In fact it would be a great way to live somewhere new and fully immerse into a culture completely different from the one you know.

Hanging with Mary

Hanging with Mary

Mary and all her fun and crazy teacher friends shared a little bit about teaching for international schools.  One thing to note is that they are all extremely dedicated and talented folk who deeply love what they do.  They have to learn how to integrate kids into new classes, deal with parents who don’t speak English, plan curriculum and manage kid stuff all year long. They all said it, and we would agree, that you need to love teaching to do their job.

Teachers NEVER have fun

Teachers NEVER have fun

But, if you are interested, perks can include:  a higher salary than in Canada or the US, subsidized rent (pretty much free rent),  a monthly grocery stipend, amazing free lunches at school, free language classes, contract bonuses, a good amount of vacation time,  assistance with doctors, dentists… just about anything.  Two of the gals we met own cars and they told us that if a car needs fixing they drive it to school, park it, leave the keys with reception and Voila! at the end of the school day their car has magically reappeared fixed, ready to go in the school parking lot.  We tried to see if we could take Marlin to school too – but we couldn’t swing it.

These perks are totally dependent on the country, the school and the contract.  Not every international school is going to feed you lunch or pay for your lux apartment.  However if you are a teacher or are interested in becoming one–international teaching could be a great way to do what you love and see some of the big ol’ world.

Before we arrived in Rio, I the travel nerd, was busy reading up on all the things you can see and do in Rio.  One thing that caught my eye was a favela tour. Favela is the term used to refer to slums or shanty towns in Brazil.

It was a bit of a struggle to decide whether to partake in this type of tour.  On one hand we did not want to feel like we were on a “zoo” tour.  On the other I was curious to see what the favelas were like.  The movie Cidade de Dues (City of God) clearly portrays the violent side but I couldn’t help but wonder what daily life was like in Rio’s famous favelas.  So I called up Favela Tour (you save a few bucks if you call yourself instead of having your hotel do it for you) and booked us on a tour.

There are 800 favelas in Rio and 20% (about 1 million people) of Rio’s population live in them.  A new government project “Barrio” (neighbourhood) has received 550 million dollars from the Interamerican Bank to start providing basic infrastructure like water and sewage lines into these areas.  The goal is to integrate the favelas into the city.

A view of the favela

A view of a favela

Out of 800 favelas 4 are controlled by militia and the rest, all 796 are controlled by drug dealers.  From what we were told the only difference between the two is that the militia doesn’t sell drugs.  The drugs for sale tend to be marijuana, coke and crack cocaine.  For a potentially very violent area, favelas have a surprisingly low crime rate and robbery is a rare occurrence.  Why?  Well with crime comes the police and the drug dealers don’t take to kindly to having the police poke around in their shady business.  This does insinuate that drug dealers may take punishment into their own hands so those pondering performing criminal acts probably think twice knowing that consequences are much harsher coming from the dealers.

Rocinha is Rio’s largest favela and at 60,000 people its population is equal to that of Copacabana.  It has the most people per square meter in all of Rio.  According to our guide, living in Rocinha is like living in one of India’s slums.  That is not a very uplifting thought however, for some, it is not all bad, in fact, you might be surprised to know that all these people living in one place has actually created numerous jobs and 91% of all business in the favelas is informal business (local shops, video stores etc).  8% of the inhabitants of this favela are considered middle class earning 1000 to 2000 Reals ($550 to $1100 USD) per month.  Rocinha also has organized water, sewage (to some extent), health clinics and even a postal service without government assistance.  There are 3 large banks, local radio stations and even a community newspaper found within the favela’s limits.

Ummm power anyone?

Ummm power anyone?

So, should you take a tour?  For us, it was an eye-opening and interesting look at these neighbourhoods that envelope the city of Rio de Janiero.  They are only minutes from the famous beaches and wealth of Ipanema and Copacabana and are a huge part of Rio’s culture. You won’t go far without seeing some painting of colourful shanty homes stacked sky high.  The people who live in the favelas are like people anywhere – for the most part good, hard-working folk looking to create a better life.  However, there is serious drug dealing in the favelas, weapons are often visible and YOU don’t belong so don’t kid yourself into thinking that the favela is a safe place for any foreigner to walk into. Taking a tour is a safer way to explore this part of Rio.  Even better, the tours offered by Favela Tour help to support 80% of Para Ti a local organization that provides a place where kids from the Vila Canoas favela can go to learn, play and stay out of trouble.

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