Well, it’s been a solid two months since I made my first escapade to South America so I guess I should write about it before I forget all the wonderful little details. It was really a lucky break that I had the opportunity to go; my dad needed an assistant for a meeting he was speaking at (the purpose of the trip) and my mom, having just returned from another international excursion and needing to prepare for the Thanksgiving chaos that is their home, wasn’t able to go. That being said, my being there to help my dad made this trip very different than any other I have ever been on.
Brazil is now the 14th foreign country I’ve been blessed to visit. Most of those other countries are in Europe, so I knew already, going into this, that it was going to be a very different experience. First off, our location: the beautiful island of Florianopolis. It’s not São Paulo, or Rio. It’s not a big city. In fact, it’s really a tourist destination for Brazilians. Though it is below the equator, and consequently the seasons are reversed, most people weren’t on holiday yet. I appreciated this aspect very much since I usually prefer to be able to see what a place is like on its own, even a tourist destination, without all the tourists. This way most of the people I interacted with were locals. Not that that stopped us from doing touristy things.
I had the first day mostly to myself. Despite having lots of experience with international travel, this was the first time in 5 years that I’d been outside the United States and was feeling a bit out of my element. So I decided to start the day with the one thing that I knew would be constant and predictable across the board - the gym. After a hearty breakfast of exotic fruit and chocolate cake, I jogged to the nearest crossfit gym I could find on google. Sure enough, it was amazing. Not only was it the only workout I managed to get while there, but it was my first (and only) extended interaction with locals. They were so kind and welcoming and made no issue of the language barrier.
That afternoon I walked along the perfectly groomed beachfront that ran in front of our hotel (the largest for miles). The city had clearly made an effort. There wasn’t a single piece of trash in sight and benches, playgrounds, volleyball courts, and plaques with information on the constellations and planets visible from that location could be found at various intervals. It turned out to the our hottest day of the visit and I finally had to stop at a little shop to buy a popsicle. I grabbed the same one I saw the kid in front of me go for and he turned out to have great taste. I paid my 5 real (ray-all) and sat down to peoplewatch.
Every evening was pretty much planned out for us, as was, really, the rest of our time there. I now have a very good idea of why my mom is so tired after these international trips. Each day I’d meet up with spouses of other meeting attendees after breakfast, go see something unique, eat lunch, explore, and drive back to the hotel with enough time left in the afternoon to take a power nap and start getting ready for the evenings festivities. It was a great excuse to dress up every single evening and I even bought a new pair of heels, which the guy at the shoe shop assured me were very trendy. It was go-go-go te entire time and I think I saw as much of the island as could possibly seen in 4.5 days. I’m pretty sure I slept the entire way back to the US.
One of the most interesting parts of the culture was that it wasn’t immediately obvious to everyone I passed by that I was American. Brazil has so many influences from its long and varied history with influences from the earlier first nations and the later influence of other countries’ colonization efforts. There was a greater variation in skin and hair color than I had expected unlike my time living in Florence where the 5’10” blonde chick stuck out like a sore thumb and would always be pegged as an American no matter how well I spoke Italian. I may have stood out in Florianopolis as a tourist but I didn’t necessarily stand out as an American. I honestly loved every minute and could not have felt more welcomed and love by the Brazilian (and Argentinian and Italian) people that I met there. They have the most welcoming nature and every single person I interacted with was kind and gracious.