Here’s a list of 20 things I observed in Brazil, things that surprised, intrigued, struck me, were told to me or caught my attention. Not necessarily good or bad, just observations.
1 English isn’t common
Pretty much no one (outside hostels and tour guides) speaks English and Portugese is a very difficult language to pick up and pronounce. This makes for some hilarious charades and miming. Spending time in a Portugese speaking country has definitely made me appreciate how much Spanish I’ve picked up!
2 But the English speakers will go out of their way to help you
While getting a wee bit flustered trying to figure out why our bus from Florianopolis to São Paulo had not appeared a lovely woman came up to me, asked if I spoke English and then explained the situation. So nice! Similarly, a lovely man in Rio helped us find a taxi.
3 The subway in São Paulo is amazing
The subway line we were on was probably the best and cheapest I’ve ever experienced in the world. I’m guessing the subway had a major refurb for the World Cup in 2014. It was so modern and clean and easy to use. Also at some stations you exit from one side of the train while people enter from the other side. Genius!
4 Parts of the major cities are very American
In São Paulo we stumbled across a mall with Outback Steakhouse, Sephora, Applebee’s and two Starbucks cafes. I’ve never seen Applebee’s outside America!
5 Other parts are very South American
People here clearly still have the individual entrepreneurial spirit common in South America. For example the man selling phone battery packs on the train, the woman selling sunglasses on the beach and the guy selling individual Twix bars from a jumbo box to hungry commuters.
6 Beach culture similar to Australia
The beach and surfing culture reminds me a lot of Australia. Especially people still swimming in bad weather, or maybe that’s just a Victorian thing?!
7 Brazilians told us ‘Australia is Brazil done right’
This really surprised me. I love how in Brazil you can walk along the street, drinking a can of beer without being arrested. Or ride a bike without a helmet and not be fined. Australia is such a nanny state! But Brazilians we met in hostels who had been to Australia said that Aus has the beaches and other great parts of Brazil without the corruption. One guy told us about his brutal run in with the cops, another lamented about the high taxes but dismal hospital system. Then I felt bad about hating on Australia so much.
8 The beaches are crowded
I’ve been spoilt with Western Australia’s pristine, practically empty beaches. It’s almost impossible to find the space to roll out your towel on the beaches here. They are packed with not only beach goers but people selling bikinis, dresses, caipirinhas, churros, sun glasses, you name it!
9 Music is LOUD
Doesn’t matter if you’re in a completely empty bar or bus station, the music will be turned up to a ridiculous degree. Oh you wanted to have a conversation? Too bad!
10 Women are super stylish and wear a lot of colour
Particularly in São Paulo. I loved seeing all the immaculate outfits, meticulously planned so the belt, handbag and shoes match perfectly. Brazilian women have serious style. But it’s not all black dresses and skinny jeans. I’ve never seen so much yellow, pink and green and in such a well put together outfits!
11 The sushi is amazing
There is a large (1.4-1.5 million according to Wikipedia) population of people of Japanese descent in Brazil. The delicious result? Excellent sushi testy arranges everywhere! We had sushi two nights in a row in São Paulo.
12 Haviana thongs/flip flops are sold everywhere
Havianas are sold at all the supermarkets here, even the tiny grocers. They have way more crazy patterns and designs, from what I’ve seen anyway. The plain, classic style are $5 (AUD) a pair. Pretty sure I paid $25 for my black pair in Aus! The patterned ones are $10-15.
13 Long distance buses are excruciatingly slow
I was expecting the worst buses in South America to be in Bolivia, but it turns out Brazil wins that title! Each bus we took was arrived a painful 2 hours later than scheduled. The buses within the city of Rio on the other hand, hurtled along at break neck speed. It was great!
14 The streets are very colourful
Even more so than the rest of South America.
15 Groceries are super cheap
Accommodation and eating out in Brazil is pretty expensive for South America. But conveniently, groceries are extremely cheap. We did a lot of cooking and $7 (Australian) was plenty for two people for dinner.
16 The wealth gap is bigger and more obvious than I anticipated
We visited the Rocinha favela (slum) and given the fact that tourists have been going there for 20 years, I was surprised at the lack of infrastructure there. Wandering down the narrow, claustrophobic paths between houses and witnessing (smelling) the sanitation problem was fairly confronting. It was the damp, darkness that really got me. Rocinha is wedged between two very affluent neighbourhoods and the contrast is immense. 100,000 people live there on the hillside and the government does helpful things like provide brightly coloured paint so at least the dwellings look good from the outside.
17 You can buy açaí everywhere and it is delicious
I’ve only seen acai in super trendy Australian cafes and on wanky #fitspo Instagram accounts. In Brazil it’s everywhere and just a few dollars for a small cup. It’s basically frozen acai berries blended into a very thick smoothie-like consistency. And it’s super delicious.
18 Churrascarias (Brazilian BBQ) are definitely worth the hype and the money
Men brandishing stakes of meat come around to your table and slice of piece after piece until you can’t eat any more. What’s not to love?! I had probably the best lamb of my life and the beef was amazing. Also ribs, chicken and sausages. And a salad bar (I didn’t waste room on salad though).
19 Cashiers hate it when you don’t have the exact change
Especially check-out people, they seem to regard it as a personal slight if you provide the wrong change when paying. If you pull out a 50 real note for a 36 real purchase, expect a death stare. Even though they always have plenty of cash to give you change?!
20 It’s a really, really beautiful country
This wasn’t a surprise, but a pleasant reinforcement of what I expected to be true. From the lush green jungle to the clear aqua water at the beaches to the wonderfully friendly people, Brazil is a seriously beautiful place.