As 2015 slowly comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting where, and how, my year started. This year’s travels began with a trip to Rio de Janerio, Brazil, for Carnival – with approximately 2 million other people. I’m slowly learning that I am so not a fan of crowds.
Carnival is the largest celebration in the world. I have to be honest, when my sister Sarah and I booked, we had zero idea what we were getting ourselves into, but the beaches and warmth of February in Brazil were certainly something we were not going to find in our Land of 10,000 Lakes.
People, minus our bosses, find it fascinating how Sarah and I book our trips. It starts with one of us picking up the phone, calling the other (usually at work) and expressing our desire to be anywhere in the world other than where we are now. Two hours later, we’re locked and loaded. The countdown is on, and a couple of months (or weeks) later we’re off like Carmen San Diego. (The anxiety of how we book our trips nearly causes Sarah to have a panic attack every time, but seeing as though I’m the older sister, it’s my duty to pull rank and make things happen.)
Except this trip, before we even left, was already giving us a run for our money. Sarah went to a Zumba class about two weeks before we were leaving. She randomly ran into a co-worker at this Sunday morning class, and the co-worker says, “So, I hear you and your sister are going to Brazil! You guys are going to love it. Are you all ready? Have your passports and everything?” Sarah states that yes, we are 100% locked, loaded and ready to get the hell out of dodge. “Great! Those Travel Visa Passports can be a pain to get last minute if you don’t already have them,” says the co-worker. Errrrrtttt! (Insert sound of tires squealing here.) Hold. The. Phone. How did this sneak past us? We researched everything.
Brazil is one of ten countries that requires a Travel Visa. During peak times of the year, like Carnival, it’s nearly impossible to rush the process, even if you did want to spend $800 on their expediting fee. We (Sarah) spent the next 8 hours calling, emailing and devising a plan that would get us on a plane to slingshot us across the world. Dear Delta, these “minor” details are helpful to know when you’re booking tickets.
My picture clearly depicts how amused I was by the entire process, especially when being pried away from NFL playoff games to take this photo.
(Words don’t even cover the many things wrong with this picture, aside from the fact that I look like I’ve got a one-way ticket to Criminalville. #mugshot)
Now, I’m a big believer in signs from the universe, and if this passport fiasco was any indicator of what was to come, we were in hella trouble. Needless to say, we got our passports the day before we left. You better believe I was high anxiety until that passport was in hand. Nothing like standing on the shore and waving to a vacation that you didn’t get to take, right?
Upon arrival, and for the next few days, we hit the beaches and pool, cocktails in hand. We had found one of Absolut’s limited edition flavors, Karnival, at a duty-free shop, so it seemed Absolut’ly necessary (bad pun intended) to purchase. And after a few cocktails, we got our photo on.
One of the first, and most exciting, Carnival events we attended was the Sambodromo, an all-night organized parade, where 30,000 participants from samba schools intensely compete in front of 70,000 spectators on a half mile runway. Each samba school has a different theme to their performance, and showcases their yearlong preparation in the form of handmade costumes, floats, choreographed dance and music.
Our last five days were filled with sightseeing, surfing lessons and making friends – oh, and food poisoning. Looking on the bright side, at least, we got four days to savor the countries flavors and cuisine. I realized that the country stays so slim because their diet is very much, but certainly not 100%, Paleo based. A Paleo diet is “a diet based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, consisting chiefly of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, and excluding dairy or grain products and processed food.” This diet exactly why the people of Brazil look as good as they do.
Brazil is known for Churrascarias, a dining style “where the meat is cooked churrasco style (grilled/barbecued) and served by a waiter who comes to the table with knives and a skewer, on which are speared various kinds of meat.”
Another dining establishment type, one that is more budget friendly, is the “Restaurant Por Quilo,” meaning restaurant by the pound, or as we call it in America, a buffet. There is no all-you-can-eat pricing, and you pay the cashier before you can sit and chow down. I applaud this weighed dining method for two reasons: 1) it alleviates food waste and 2) it makes you focus on what, and how much, you are shoveling into your body. Additionally, you can window shop the offering before committing to dine.
Feijoada (pronounced “fay ZHWAda) is a traditional dish of Brazil. And if you have a problem with articulation like I do, just point at the menu. What I meant and what I said (fay YODA) sounded nothing alike. At all. Feijoada, a stew of meat of choice and beans, is typically served with something called Farofa, a flour that tastes like ground breadcrumbs. I never actually figured out what you do with it (translation gap), but I put my fancy stew atop of the Farofa and created a “mound of awesome.” It was pretty damn tasty.
Day 5 we got food poisoning. By the end of Day 6, we gave up on eating and convinced ourselves that our new found vodka flavor should, in theory, sterilize our systems. Despite the setback, we rallied through the rest of the trip on handfuls of crackers, maybe a small bite to eat here and there, water and vodka and continued our adventure. Those were a long couple days.
Christ the Redeemer Statue: One of the Seven Wonders of the New World
Sugarloaf Mountain (left center) & Rio Botanical Gardens (right)
The Rio Botanical Gardens are home to large quantities of flying monkeys. Seriously. Flying monkeys are a real thing.
When we weren’t out exploring, we were either dining out with our new friends or stealing parade floats. Two of our new friends, Brazil natives (one of which sat next to us on the flight to Rio), kindly invited us to dine with them – at Pizza Hut. I think it’s funny that they thought so highly of Pizza Hut, because, in America, it’s considered a sub-par pizza chain. Everyone loves Pizza Hut in Brazil, but one thing caught me off guard:
Me: Ewwww!!! You guys put ketchup and mustard on your pizza? That’s disgusting.
New Friends: Really? You American’s put cheese on cheese. (As I nearly emptied the Parmesan shaker)
Touché. They win.
We also met two wild Australians with whom we hijacked a parade float – with about 5,000 people following it, one of the crazier things I’ve done. Not just anyone is allowed on these floats. From what I understood after the fact, being on a parade float is a privilege reserved for natives of the country. Note: I did not claim to be Brazilian to get on the float, despite what white lies you think I may have told.
Never a dull moment with all these new friends!
One of the most breathtaking things I’ve seen in the course of my lifetime is the Rio sunrise. There is nothing like it. Though early, it was luminous and energizing.
There was one thing in Rio that detracted from the city’s beauty – the abundance of poverty. Before my visit, the picture in my head was of millions of beautiful people flaunting their great bodies and skin tone. What I saw were handfuls of people draped in overly worn clothing, trying to eat and fighting for their lives. I had no idea it was that bad.
In 2014, it was reported that 5,500 Brazilians were living on the streets. And that’s not counting the rest of the country, only Rio. Rio ranks #21 on the list of “25 Cities with Extremely High Homeless Populations.” Even more shocking was to learn that 11/25 cities on that list were American cities. How did I not realize that we had this much poverty in the country where I lived? These statistics gave me a different level of perspective. I wonder if I tune in more in foreign environments? Maybe I am aware, but forget when poverty is not so overtly present. Regardless, I have a hard time just accepting that “that’s just how it is.” When I feel this way, it means that there’s something more to be done to leave a little more greatness in the world – and I’ve started to with each trip I take, in a way meaningful to me.
I believe that there’s something to be learned everywhere, in every situation. Every country I traveled to has taught me a lesson and given me incredible perspective. There is so much to be grateful for in our day to day routines, yet so much that we take for granted. Brazil was a cultural awakening. It’s so important to take pause and notice our surroundings, and the people around us. What are we taking for granted and what are the things we are overlooking? How can we make a bigger difference? Because you know what they say, right? A little goes a long way. In fact, it goes much further than you think!
Feijoada Photo Credit: São Félix Baiano
Additional sources: Wikipedia
Stay tuned for more travel fun!
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