Search This Blog

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Iguaçu Falls
Iguaçu Falls
      It took me close to two years, and despite living a mere hour and a half from the border I finally made it to Brazil, and it was awesome! I took my last 11 vacation days and spent them visiting Iguaçu Falls in Foz do Iguaçu with my life long friend Kit, and then onto Rio De Janiero to spend a week with four other friends from back home. Thanks again, Hervas, Bohlke, Sam, and Haley for your visit. I could probably write an entire book about my time in Brazil, but I figure that thousands of people have already done that in one form or another given the touristy nature of the places I visited. All I'll say is that Rio was one of the coolest place I have been and certainly one of best cities, so put it on your list of places to go it it isn't already. I was struck by so many things when I was in Brazil, but think what struck me the most was how little I knew about it. Brazil is the 5th largest country on earth in both population and area. It has a lot of diversity, contains some of the worlds most unique ecological wonders, and still has parts that are widely unexplored. It amazes me that despite all it has to offer I could only think of a few things I knew to be Brazilian before my trip including, samba, carnival, the beaches, Christ the Redeemer statue, the flavelas (slums), and soccer. Maybe that is more than most people, but it struck me as pathetic given the size and global influence Brazil has.

       I spent a long time trying to figure out why I knew so little about Brazil. I think a lot of it has to do with the language. Portuguese is the 6th most spoken language on earth with a total of 258,604,956 speakers in 9 countries that recognize it as an official language. Of that number 201,009,622 live in Brazil for staggering 77.7% of the total ( This is a language that has roots in small European country of 16,000,000 people. By comparison America has the worlds largest population of English speakers with 58.5 of the world total ( The difference, though, is while English is the most commonly learned second language, Portuguese is rarely promoted as an important language to learn. That mentality is likely changing given Brazil growing economy, but regardless if it wasn't for Brazil there wouldn't be much point in learning Portuguese as second language. It be like learning a Scandinavian language, cool that you can speak it, but limited in its usage. What is even more staggering is the fact that the total population of South America is roughly 399,230,000 people meaning that slightly more that half of all South Americans are Brazilians. When I hear South America mentioned, I immediately think Spanish, but even though nine countries speak Spanish in South America, compared to one that speaks Portuguese, that one country has more people then the rest combined.
View from Sugar Loaf

       While Spanish and Portuguese are both romance languages that there roots in neighboring European countries, they are different enough that someone who speaks Spanish would struggle in Brazil and vice versa. I remember meeting a few Brazilians in Uruguay when I was there last Christmas. I was better off speaking English to most of them, which is even more dissimilar, than trying Spanish. Even in Rio, I found English was more commonly spoken than Spanish, and I was frequently amazed when cab drivers would stop me and speak English after trying to Portuguese up my Spanish. Reading wise it is really similar with some words being completely different, but enough cross over to figure out the gist if you speak Spanish. What amazes me even more how the borders of Brazil and other countries seem to be a wall against language learning. The second I entered Brazil my Spanish became useless. The same can be said about Portuguese when I crossed back over to Paraguay. Most people I have met who claim to speak both really don't speak both, but rather have tendencies one way or the other while with certain words being switched in appropriate places.
View from Sugar Loaf
      Culturally, I noticed a lot of similarities between Brazil and other South American countries. The outdoor restaurants, coffee, general lay out of the cities, and a smattering of old looking buildings from colonial times were as prominent they are in other cities, but it still had a very different feel. Maybe it was because I was in Rio while they're preparing for not only the World Cup next year but also the Olympics in 2016, but it felt a lot more modern to me than other South American cities. What struck me about Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Lima when I went there was how the modern buildings and amenities were hidden within the frame work of an old looking city. Rio struck me with a more balanced look with lots of modern looking buildings and infrastructure taking prominent positions within the backdrop of the city. It seems clear that Brazil is on the up and up, but unlike other countries that have experienced rapid development in recent decades the vibe seemed much more laid back. When I was in China, things were moving at a frantic pace to keep up with the economy. As a result the environment suffered, and at times has rattled the social framework of the country. Brazil is an economic powerhouse, but despite all it has, it doesn't seem to be growing too fast for society to keep up. Its development seems to be a much more calculated design within preexisting the social framework than other places I've been.
       It was clear to me that the country had wealth, but what was fascinating was how little it seemed to effect the the social interactions between people. All shapes, sizes and colors came off as equals even though that is not the case at all. I somehow felt that the people in Rio despite being in a major city came off as being a part of a community. A lot of that might have to do with the various neighborhoods within the city that have distinct culture identities, but I constantly had the feeling that people were enjoying their lives and their interactions with those around him. The city is riddles with juice bars that sell fresh squeezed juices of all kinds, many of which I had never heard of. There are chains, but it seemed as though most were independently owned, and that people had certain allegiances to one over the other based on the familiarity I saw with vendors and customers. Rio also has a plethora of things to do outside with extensive bike paths, public beaches, and outdoor workout stations. I was so unused to this that I almost single handedly caused several catastrophic accidents just trying to cross the bike paths. On a random Thursday afternoon I was sitting looking at the beach in Copacabana when this beefy looking man walked up to me and my buddy just to practice his English. His name was Walter, and he had been practicing for about a year. I could barely understand what he was saying, but the fact that he was a local who asked to talk with us as tourists in one of the worlds biggest cities struck me as unique. He seemed genuinely happy that we came to see his city, and proud that it attracts people there that can help him get a better sense of the world outside of it. I have to say I felt great the whole time I was there. Even though I could barely communicate I felt like people were interested in me in the same way I was interested in them.

Maracanã Stadium will host 2014 World Cup Final 
Botanical Garden
      I'll concede that I only spent a week, and only saw two places in that enormous country, but I have to say I was amazed. The balance between progress and tradition was well proportioned. People seemed like they were happy and knew how to have fun. Even the poorest people who were selling stuff on the beach did it with a small on there face. Whether that smile was genuine or not is another story, but I cannot remember how times a random street vendor, sales person, or taxi driver would ask me questions about why I came to Brazil, where I was from, or give me advice about place to go and see. I guess makes sense in a city with lots tourism for people to help each other out, but it was so unlike many other major tourist cities I had been too in the past. I never really get the impression that I wasn't welcome at any point. So often you get that tolerated vibe from locals, but thats not how I felt in Rio. Maybe it would of been different if I went someplace else in Brazil. In fact, I'm sure it would of been different, but regardless I'll always take home that I had an awesome first time in Brazil, and will definitely be going back in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment