I spent 4 amazing months backpacking in Brazil and I have a long list of reasons to visit Brazil.
I don’t want to identify myself with this story anymore but I know it is one of the reasons that brought me to Brazil. Back in 2013, I was with an Argentine guy in Morocco and things didn’t work out between us – he woke up and said he wanted to separate. The younger version of myself responded by booking a flight to Brazil – a country I had no idea about but I know it was so easy to go to because it’s visa-free for me.
So the dude is from Argentina but I need a visa to enter Argentina. At the time, it didn’t make sense to apply for a visa. I also didn’t know how the Argentine visa for Filipinos work so I opted for Brazil, where Philippine passport holders like me are allowed to stay for 90 days, visa-free. Since it’s just Argentina’s neighbour, I was hopeful that I will be able to win my ex back by being close to him.
In this journey, things turned to a different direction. Instead of getting back with my ex, a great world of opportunities opened for me.
With $80 USD left in my bank account, I was determined to convince my ex for a second chance. I deliberately contacted people on Couchsurfing because I didn’t know anyone it Brazil. Whenever it’s my first time in a certain country, I knew that Couchsurfing or volunteering in a hostel were the best ways to make friends. I felt so bad for not reading people’s profiles before asking them for a couch request – I just copy/pasted my way through Couchsurfing until someone answered. Finally, I got a host to approve my stay in Sao Paulo and in the process, I stayed with her for 2 months because we really clicked! The same happened to me in Rio de Janeiro but that’s another story.
Most of the world associate Brazil as a tropical country with lots of beautiful beaches and Rio de Janeiro is often the image we have of Brazil. I am from a beach country so this is not one of the reasons to visit Brazil for me – it is very secondary though I have always been a person who likes to get to know cultures I had no idea of. Sao Paulo turned out to be a surprise for me because of the images of Rio embedded in my mind. The moment I landed Guarulhos, I felt like I was just in Manila – it didn’t feel strange or different. I grew up in the Philippines with a slightly strong Latin culture. For those of you who are not well-aware, the Spanish came to the Philippines from 1565–1898, thus, making us the only Asian country with strong identifications with the Spanish culture.
Though Brazil was not invaded by the Spanish (they were under Portuguese rule, declaring their independence from Portugal in 1822), their “Latinism” prevails. Though Brazil is surrounded by Spanish colonized countries, they are very distinct in this region. First, they speak Brazilian Portuguese. Though you will sometimes hear me speaking fluently in Spanish on Instagram stories, I learned Brazilian Portuguese first.
It wasn’t a language I was fascinated with but in order for me to survive backpacking Brazil, I needed to have the basic language skills. Sao Paulo is a big city and yet I didn’t find it easy to speak English to everyone. Being the biggest country in South America, Brazil takes pride with their language, hence, the need to learn English is not urgent. However, most of the people I hang out with from the Couchsurfing community were predominantly foreigners living in Brazil. Like me, these foreigners were also willing to learn Brazilian Portuguese so I joined the language learning group every week. It was also a good opportunity for me to find my tribe while I was in Sao Paulo. I found myself basically communicating with people around the city and it really felt good to speak a language that isn’t your own. But what made me feel extra special is the ability to learn a language and being intensely dedicated to it. I spent an hour a day (and 4 hours a week with the language learning group) trying to perfect my Portuguese.
The Brazilian people also didn’t make it hard for me to practice Portuguese. They were very patient and I could see they were trying to hard to understand me. Since there wasn’t any other language to use in communicating, I guess the only way to do it was to understand me.
I never met a lot of Brazilians while traveling. The Brazilians’ backpacking culture was (and up until now, I can say), is not very popular yet. Like the USA, Brazil is a big country so traveling has been quite challenging even within their premises. Argentines, Chileans and Colombians are often the nationalities you see backpacking in Latin America but Brazilians prefer to travel to Europe or the USA. I believe they are the first ones in this region who can enter Europe visa-free (including Argentina) but the visa rules for the rest (Colombia and Peru for example) have been recently lifted by the EU. They too, can enter the EU with no visa but that doesn’t change their backpacking culture in South America.
Through this journey, I’ve learned that the Brazilians are very sweet and welcoming people. I have been in many situtations where a Brazilian friend or acquiantance saved my as* be it for a minor translation or filing a police report for my stolen wallet in Rio. For the whole time I was in Brazil, I felt taken care of. They do not have the exaggerate culture of greeting people they don’t know (like most of South America) but the Brazilians are very pleasant when you try to converse. I stayed with a local family in Pouso Alegre and did Couchsurfing with 2 different girls in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Going back to the image of Brazil to the world, Rio always comes up and we always thought that Brazilians are feisty, promiscuous, and flirty. In Rio, I knew someone who was just posting butt pictures of men and women every day with the representation of “exhibit #.” I found it really hilarious but then again, visual representations like these on social media tend to generalize cultures like Brazil’s.