29 December 2019 – a month in Rio de Janeiro

It’s been just over a month since I arrived in Brazil.

It’s been both a long and short month (yes paradoxical I know) but one month in this country has given me just enough time to properly reflect on my experience in Brazil.

To sum things up in simple words: it’s been both wonderful and challenging.

Before I arrived in Brazil, I didn’t do any research on the country ~ I don’t entirely understand why because it was completely different to how I was before I did my first solo trip in India (I researched for 2 months before my trip and guess what? My research on India paid off because when I went to India, I was in less shock and adapted so easily).

For those of you who don’t know – I’ve been traveling for almost 6 months…and actually, for this whole trip I haven’t done my research on any country before I’ve visited (with the exception of visas of course)  For some reason…I’m not motivated to do research anymore. I guess I have faith that everything will be OK…and I guess not knowing anything before going to a country gives me more of an adventure in a sense because I have to deal with the shock.

In retrospect….maybe I should have researched Brazil at least a little bit because all I can say is WOW ~ it’s taken me one month to overcome my culture shock and become comfortable in Brazil.

When I first arrived, I was so scared. I could feel the lack of safety and security here. I mean in Rio, you see locals and tourists wearing their bag at the front and guarding it with all their might. You can also see people putting their phones in the front of their pants rather than in their pockets. I’ve also been constantly told by my local friends that I shouldn’t walk or even catch public transport alone at night. To top things off, the horror stories I’ve heard from locals about robbings and shootings didn’t make things any better for my confidence (I don’t know why but for me, locals telling you these stories give things even more weight).

Put it this way…I haven’t taken anything of what I’ve been told lightly.

I’ve listened and followed everyone’s advice…and surprise, surprise – nothing has happened to me yet…except for credit card skimming ~ I lost almost AUD$5000 because someone stole my credit card details here but luckily my bank refunded me the money (THANK GOD!)

It sucks because I’m still expecting something to happen to me at least once. That’s why I brought two spare phones with me and two shitty looking purses (in case I get robbed). I even used to carry foreign currency in my purse to make it look like I had more cash (I’ve given up on this now because it’s more of a burden for me to sift through the notes. Now I just don’t carry much money with me)

For a very long time (the last month), I was walking around…scared to use my phone in public and to be on the street by myself after sunset. I felt crippled…or caged (whichever word sounds better to you). I felt like I lost my liberty to explore on my own accord (kind of like how I felt in Malaysia but not because of my family’s paranoia this time). It’s something I’ve never experienced before and I guess it frustrated me.

I didn’t (and still don’t) like that I have to pay so much for my safety. In other words, I hate having to keep paying for taxis or Ubers to get home (especially for budget travel reasons)…but I guess you can’t put a price on your safety right? (And I am getting free accommodation in a beautiful apartment and area so it makes up for it too). But it sucks because I’m the type of person who really enjoys catching public transport in a foreign city ~ it’s one of the best parts about traveling for me. I like to be free to do whatever I want when I want (yes I’m a selfish solo-traveler).

But something beautiful happened very recently ~ I started coming to terms with how things work here and accepting Brazil for how it is (you even possibly go as far to say that I’ve adapted to the culture here). And once I started accepting instead of fighting with my frustrations, anxieties and fears, I was (and am) able to fully start appreciating what Brazil has to offer (well only the state of Rio de Janeiro actually – I haven’t visited anywhere else yet). Now that I’m comfortable and much more confident I truly believe that Rio de Janeiro is an AMAZING city and Brazil is an AMAZING country. There is seriously has so much to see and do here. It’s crazy because the longer I’m here, the more I don’t want to leave.

 

What does Rio de Janeiro have to offer?

  • Beaches – Rio de Janeiro has some of the most amazing inner-city beaches I’ve seen in my life so far. You have amazing clear water, power-like sand and mountains in the background (not to mention the beautiful sunsets). I get more amazed each time I go to the beach (seriously). I am so fascinated with how a overly-populated city can keep their beaches so clean and beautiful.
  • Beach culture – one of my favourite things. Everyone loves to relax and enjoy their time at the beach. They get umbrellas and chairs and just enjoy their time there. There’s beach vendors including people walking up and down selling literally everything you need so you can enjoy your time at the beach all day
  • Music – Brazil has a deep-seated music culture. There are lots of different genres and an infinite amount of talented people in this country…and so many people here are deeply passionate about music AND dancing. I love how there’s live performances everywhere and people are happy to break out in dance almost everywhere.
  • Drinking culture – think beers or caipirinhas on the beach or on the street for dirt cheap. Everything is ice cold to suit the ridiculously hot and humid climate. Oh and street drinking is legal too!
  • Excellent night life – ok…all I need to say is LAPA. You have everything you want there. There are amazing street parties, bars and clubs with both excellent DJs and live concerts. Even a hostel I stayed at had a live concert on their rooftop. I only recently discovered Santa Teresa and it’s filled with beautiful small bars with live music.
  • Nature – I think everyone would agree with me on this one. Apart from the beaches, Rio has so many different hikes with incredible views you can do. And even if you’re not hiking, you can fully appreciate it when you’re walking around or at the beach.
  • Weather – ok maybe it’s a little too hot at times but I think it adds a lot to the charm and culture here. It makes going to the beach so nice and adds this relaxed, sub-island feel to the city.
  • Atmosphere – everywhere you walk and look, there’s something going on. This city is always lively and the people are passionate. It’s just an exciting atmosphere. I don’t think you could ever get bored here.
  • BEAUTIFUL people – I saved the best for last. Apart from getting too much unwanted attention from men, the people I’ve met during my time here have been so beautiful on the inside and outside. I have never been to a country where I’ve seen so many physically beautiful people (at least 50% look like models). But it’s not only their looks which are beautiful, Brazilian people are some of the genuinely warmest and friendliest people I’ve met. They will happily invite you in to join them at the beach and eat or drink with them. They have no problems with welcoming strangers with open arms…and I think it’s such an amazing thing for such a big city. The last thing I want to say is that I love how everyone is comfortable in their own skin here. You see all shapes and sizes at the beach and even in the city and everyone is so accepting here. It’s definitely made me feel more comfortable in my own natural skin.

 

How have I adapted and accepted?

It’s funny because I keep reflecting on what I’m doing on a daily basis and keep noticing that little by little…day by day…I’m becoming Brazilian. I don’t mean this in the sense that I am turning into a Brazilian person physiologically. What I mean is that I feel like I am starting to do all the things that the local people do.

  • I go to the beach all the time
  • I go to the beach by myself and ask locals to watch my bag for me while I swim in the water
  • I drink coco, beers and matte on the beach – essential Brazilian drinks
  • I drink caipirinhas on the beach and on the street
  • I share my drinks…especially beer – yes everyone shares a long-neck (1L beer) with small cups here
  • I walk around in a bikini and a sarong (actually a scarf) – a huge part of the beach culture here. If/when you come, expect to see hundreds of shirtless guys and girls in bikinis walking through the cities
  • My bikini shows my bum it’s almost impossible to find a girl wearing a bikini which doesn’t show their arse
  • I hang around and swim by the pool
  • I tan my body – unlike my family and Asian counterparts, I enjoy looking golden brown and make the effort to chase the sun and be in the sun like most Brazilians
  • I eat acai regularly – another Brazilian staple. It’s the absolute best for the heat
  • I use Bla Bla Car – a hitchhiking app used by many locals to travel around Brazil (I know it exists in Europe too)
  • I go out to dance at Lapa
  • I enjoy Brazilian BBQ
  • I use the public transport
  • I’m learning to speak Portuguese and trying to speak here
  • I listen to Brazilian music and dance to it – I’m trying to dance to samba but badly (work in progress)
  • I laze in a hammock in my spare time – from my apartment, I can see at least 10 hammocks on other people’s balconies
  • I explore Brazil’s nature – many locals go out on hikes up their mountains and hills here
  • I drink filtered coffee – Brazil has some of the world’s best coffee. It’s normal to drink filtered coffee here. You can see how much shelf-space it takes up in their supermarkets.
  • I shop at local supermarkets here – yep, I do grocery shopping and cook here
  • I eat Tapioca – another staple snack-like food that Brazilians eat here. It’s like a pancake made with cassava flour with different fillings (usually meat and cheese)
  • I don’t tip the wait staff

 

All I can say is that I’m proud of myself for sticking it out and facing a lot of fears front on. Brazil isn’t the easiest country to travel solo I’ll admit that…but being able to overcome my fears has not only taught me a lot about myself, it’s allowed me to really enjoy this country for what it is.

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