While I’ve enjoyed each and every port so far, Brazil tops the list of favorites. It might have been the length of time we got to spend there—since we overlanded, we had eight full days in port—or the amount of activities we packed in, but either way, I had a blast. The country stands out alongside Morocco, as both were so different from Europe. Most people did not speak any English, and we quickly learned that our broken Spanish didn’t work out as well as we hoped it would when talking to Portuguese speakers. However, everyone was so friendly, and as we’ve learned, there’s still plenty of ways to communicate without necessarily speaking the same language. When we were paddle boarding in Rio on our last morning there, neither the instructor who pushed us out past the bigger waves close to shore nor the instructor who checked up on us once we were out there spoke any English, but still managed to help us out and give me pointers on how to keep my balance.
The most exciting activity in Rio by far was hang gliding. It hadn’t really been on my bucket list before, but once someone suggested it, I was in. I’m so thankful I went for it because it turned out to be one of the coolest experiences of my life. Someone from the company came to pick us up from our hotel the fourth morning in Brazil, and once we got to the site, it was go go go. After essentially signing your life away, a pilot comes to get you and drives you up a huge mountain where you practice running off a cliff twice, get strapped into the hang gliding apparatus, and then run as fast as possible down a slanting wood plank coming off the mountain into the air. Luckily, there wasn’t much time to be nervous (though the look of terror on my face in the GoPro video says otherwise). I was in the air for 10 minutes, floating over the mountains, looking at Sugarloaf and Christ Redeemer, and swinging out over the ocean before landing on the beach. It’s the closest thing to flying I can ever imagine.
After hang gliding we had lunch at this tiny hole-in-the-wall buffet spot that the pilots told us about. I ate probably the best rice and beans I’ve ever had, plus grilled chicken, yucca, and a couple different salads. Our food (which Grandpa Bob pointed out seems to be the highlight of many countries…it’s a good thing we do a lot of walking!) in Brazil was awesome. Along with lots of rice and beans and pork, we had probably a dozen acai smoothies or bowls, sushi, Mediterranean food (hummus it’s been too long) and incredible shrimp dishes.
The Christ Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, and a hike through the Tijuca Rainforest all offered unbelievable views of the city. My one complaint was the monkeys running around Sugarloaf—they are tiny, creepy, and fearless, and kept trying to take the granola that came with our acai bowls. Not a fan.
After four days in Rio, we flew to Salvador. Going to an airport felt like reentering the real world a little bit…though we’ve been all over the world, SAS can feel like a bubble sometimes. Salvador was so much less touristy than most ports we’ve been to, which I loved. We found so many fun restaurants and bars with awesome live music and dancing. We never really made any concrete plans, and after many ports with long to-do lists, that was a nice change. A woman we met at our hotel in Salvador was kind enough to make us a list of all her favorite restaurants and spots around the city, so we used that to explore different areas. One of the highlights was a famous ice cream shop located in the most random little town that took Katie and me roughly two hours to walk to. We weren’t sure we had made it to the right part of town, since it was pretty quiet and, again, not touristy, but once we noticed someone taking a picture outside an ice cream shop we figured we had made it. Sure enough, an entire wall inside was covered with framed write-ups and awards. I ordered toasted coconut and passion fruit and it was fantastic.
We had been advised that Brazil was one of the sketchier ports, but I never felt unsafe in either city, even in the favelas, which I visited twice with classes (once in each port). The visits to the favelas were eye-opening in different ways. The first community, Santa Marta, was located in Rio. It’s been pacified, meaning there is a police force located within the community whose goal is to sustain life and curb violence. I went with my Anthropology and Underdevelopment class, and we had recently finished a unit on slum tourism, so I felt a little uncomfortable walking into Santa Marta as an outsider. By the end of the day, I had a bit of a different view of the tours. Our guides live in the communities, which made me feel somewhat less obtrusive walking through their neighborhood. The ‘roads’ are very narrow and steep, more like alleyways really, so that the opens doors and windows on either side of me were never more than a few feet away. During a discussion section at the end of the day, our guides told us that they enjoy tourists coming in to see their community because it allows them to dispel the idea of how dangerous and crime-ridden all favelas are, and gives them the chance to talk to foreigners and hear what other peoples’ lives are like. Two of the women talked about the strong sense of community in the favela, and how that brings them more happiness than material things would. The people we met don’t speak for all favelados, or even all the residents in their own favela, but nonetheless their insight and outlook was enlightening. While I am still not a proponent of most kinds of slum tourism, this afternoon showed me that it can be done in a respectful and mutually beneficial way.
The second favela I went to was in Salvador. I went to visit a school located within it on a Brazilian Education field program. The education system in Brazilian has its flaws, to say the least, including compulsory education but nowhere near the capacity to instruct every child. As such, community schools like Escola Aberta Do Calabar are formed to try to fill in the blanks. The resources are still stretched, though. In this community, for example, there are 22,000 people—this school can only hold 130 children, and operates on a first-to-the-door policy. When we arrived in the favela, on a school-day morning, there were plenty of kids just running around the neighborhood, instead of in school. Funding is an issue too—City Hall provides the school with some money for snacks, but the rest of the money and supplies needed come entirely from donations and the help of business partners. It was very disheartening to hear what a struggle it is for some kids get a quality education in these areas. However, it also encouraged me and my friend Katie to plan on collecting school supplies to send to Escola Aberta Do Calabar once we’re home.