An Uruguayan, an Argentine, an Irani, and a Minnesotan walk into a Brazilian bar and order German beer. This mini United Nations summit was made possible thanks to a spur of the moment solo-trip to the Brazilian island of Santa Catarina.
Warning: This post is a bit longer than usual. Sorry!
Gorgeous beaches. Thick jungle. Breathtaking mountains. Beautiful lagoons. Stunning views, world-class surfing, great seafood, and the city of Florianopolis: named Brazil’s “Best Place to Live” in 2016. It’s easy to understand why people come from all over the world to enjoy Floripa.
Having said that, traveling alone involves challenges. Traveling alone in a country where you don’t speak the language presents another obstacle. Looking back makes me shake my head… My Portuguese was next to nothing. I literally ordered orange juice on the plane because it was the only thing I knew how to say. I didn’t even know how to ask where the bathrooms were and I was leaving for a solo trip to Brazil. Throw in the fact that my debit card was suspended within five minutes of my arrival in the country? One way or another, this was going to be a trip to remember!
At least this trip across the border was legal, as I was able to acquire a Brazilian travel visa last week, which is not a small task I might add. I made 3 trips to the Brazilian consulate in Rivera, filled out several documents, ran around town looking for a place to get a passport picture taken and spent hours waiting for everything to process. All the while I was using my second language and trying my best to interpret a third language.
When I finally had the document in my hand on Friday afternoon, I genuinely felt a rush. A mix of relief, excitement and accomplishment.
I went home and booked last minute bus & plane tickets; In just a few hours I would be traveling to Brazil all by myself.
After a six hour bus ride, I reached Porto Alegre 🇧🇷 in time to catch the sunrise over the city. I wandered my way around the historical city center for a few hours before heading to the airport. (Slideshow below contains 6 images).
As mentioned… during my “layover” in Porto Alegre, my debit card was denied when I tried to use it to get cash. Huge shout-out to US Bank for ignoring my Travel Note and making this nightmare happen!
Thank God, my saint of a host-mom Sandra had given me R$50 (roughly $15 USD) prior to my departure “just in case” as I was able to get from the bus station to the airport without a problem.
Here I was, halfway to my destination and in my wallet I had exactly 33 Brazilian Reais ($11 USD), 500 Uruguayan Pesos ($18 USD), and 63 US dollars.
Taking advantage of the 30 minutes of complementary Wi-Fi at the airport, I was able to FaceTime the home team (Thanks again for your effort, Dad) and make several attempts (unsuccessful) at reaching US Bank. Bless his heart, an airport security official worked with me for over 40 minutes as we tried to place a collect call from Brazil to the United States using my Uruguayan cell phone. Mind you, he spoke exclusively Portuguese and at that point in the trip I couldn’t even ask him what his name was in Portuguese. (People are awesome!)
While we couldn’t reach US Bank, I was – thankfully – able to use my credit card for just about everything all weekend. Crisis averted: Let’s get to the fun stuff.
I stayed three nights in the Floripa Surf Hostel in the town of Campeche. At 25 reais ($7 USD) a night and a five minute walk from the island’s eastern beaches, the price and location could simply not be beat.The added bonus was great company, people who I will always think of as friends despite the fact we shared just a few nights together.
When I arrived I was met at the gate by Santiago: An Uruguayan! 🇺🇾 It was a relief to know there another Spanish speaker staying in the hostel. Over the next 4 days I met a whole bunch of travelers, visiting from near (São Paulo 🇧🇷, Curitiba 🇧🇷) and far (Valparaíso 🇨🇱, Salvador 🇧🇷, Paris 🇫🇷, Amsterdam 🇳🇱, New York City 🇺🇸).
Among them was Alejandro, a 30 year-old biologist who had hitchhiked from Córdoba 🇦🇷, a distance of over 2,000 km. Early Saturday morning as I was leaving the hostel, I invited “Ale” to join me on a hike to Laguinha do Leste, a beautiful beach accessible only to those willing to hike through the forest. He took me up on the offer and we had a blast.
It did end up being much more walking than Alejandro had anticipated, which enabled me to learn the Argentinian word “culiado“, as used in the phrase, “¡Este gringo culiado!“, which might best be translated as, “This crazy f***in’ gringo.”
(Side note to RWHS 8th Graders reading this as choice homework: Don’t use that word in Señora Toivonen’s class!)
Anyways, the views from the cliffs were spectacular and the water was unbelievably clear. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Locals at a make-shift shack in the middle of the Lagoinha do Leste offered us lunch and caipirinha: Brazil’s national cocktail, made with cachaça (a sugarcane liquor), sugar and lime. Paradise.
One of my favorite things about traveling is meeting people along the way. If I had gone on this hike alone, the landscape would have been just as beautiful, but my memory of the day is so much richer having shared it with Ale and the many other people we met along the way.
For example after a few hours at the beach, I talked Ale into hiking to the top of yet another mountain in order to get the best view. About a half hour into our climb, Ale turned to me – panting and full of sweat, and said, “Vayate con el gringo se me dijo… Va a ser divertido se me dijo…” In English, “Go with the gringo they said… It’ll be fun they said.”
It was a pretty incredible day. In total, we walked several miles, along the coast, through the jungle and up mountains, making stops at various beaches including Armação, Matadiero, Lagoinha, and Pantano del Sul. Upon arriving again at the Hostel it took me all of about 2 minutes to fall asleep in my hammock.
The next day I walked up the coast to Joaquina Beach. Not surprising, it was beautiful and full of surfers! Taking advantage of oceanfront restaurants and food trucks, I ate like a king. I sampled marinated Brazilian filets and enjoyed açaí na tigela – a traditional Brazilian smoothie made with yogurt and açaí palm berries, bananas and granola. Yes, it was as good as it sounds and looks.
Later in the afternoon I ventured a little further north to see the Dunas of Joaquina, where I had the chance to sand-board and enjoy more views.
To cap off the day, I visited Lagoa da Conceição (again, just amazingly gorgeous) where I absolutely feasted on a grilled octopus. Yes, you read that right: octopus.
Despite all the amazing sights, smells and tastes I experienced over the weekend, I will end this post by saying that what I will most remember from this trip to Florianópolis is a conversation that I was part of on a Monday night in the common room of our hostel.
There were six of us: Cintia and Mona (🇧🇷), Santiago (🇺🇾) , Alejandro (🇦🇷), Barthélemy (🇫🇷) and myself. It wasn’t so much the content of our conversation that was so riveting, just the fact that we were able to make ourselves comprehensible to one another. I wish I would have recorded us all communicating with each other.
The Brazilians spoke exclusively Portuguese, but to my surprise after three days of significant exposure to the language I was able to understand them with relative ease. Likewise, the gals were able to understand the four of us when we spoke Spanish. Barthélemy and I were also able to communicate in English, which actually came in handy a few times when the Spanish couldn’t be understood by Portuguese-speakers and vice versa.
It was truly remarkable. I was consciously thinking about what language I would need to use with each person. Barthélemy and Cintia understood more English than Spanish, where as the other three needed me to speak Spanish. Again, just thinking about it makes me shake my head. We told stories of travels, talked about “home”, taught each other phrases and just genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.
I think that what made our conversation so intriguing was the fact that we needed to really listen to one another in order to understand. No distractions. No interruptions. Just quality conversation shared by six individuals hailing from five different countries, speaking four languages collectively. We will never share a dinner table again and soon enough I will probably not even remember what we talked about, but I will never forget the dynamic.
It’s ironic really… I was very worried about not being able to communicate with Portuguese speakers, yet it was the English speakers at US Bank with whom I wasn’t able to communicate.
My post was a little longer this time… Thanks to those of you who stuck with me through the end! I can’t emphasize enough how much the Spanish language has impacted my life, through where it has taken me and who it has enabled me to meet, and this weekend simply will serve as greater evidence.
A las ordenes…