It has been a month since my last post – I cannot believe it! Time really does fly when you are on vacation. Sorry about that! I promise to do a better job from now on and keep those posts flowing.
Anyway, now I am back to the real life and I wanted to share with you a unique personal experience I had during those lovely weeks of April – my parents’ first ever visit to Brazil!
To fill you in quickly on the basics: I have been living in Brazil for more than two years now. Since then my husband has been to Estonia twice, his parents and grandparents once. Finally, this April 1st the time came for my parents to pay back the visits and get to know this “very very far away country” (as my husband’s grandmother vividly remembers my own grandmother having said to her) too.
The intense program we had set up to show my parents how we live here and what we appreciate about Brazil included São Paulo, the countryside, Campo Grande, Pantanal and Ilhabela. Which is a lot if you take into account that we only had 12 full days to do all that!
I think we all were a little worried at first, how things would carry out. My parents had not been to South America before and Brazil definitely might seem like a dangerous and strange new world to someone coming literally from the other side of the world from a different culture and environment.
Nevertheless, everything went well and a few adventures that ended well just spiced the otherwise very safe and enjoyable trip up.
Here are a couple of highlights, tips and conclusions from the trip:
- São Paulo is huge, hectic and not exactly accessible
Meaning that it is never easy for a newcomer here. Even a tourist has to go through quite a lot of work to race through the sights worth seeing scattered all around the city while trying to find the most reasonable transportation methods (and times!) for getting around. Travel times are a huge factor for deciding when and even if to go somewhere.
So, as the main idea of the trip was to show how we live here but we did not want to spend too much time in the chaos of the mega city, the side of São Paulo that my parents saw was a safe, tasty, a bit bohemian and a very comfortable one. So probably not the face that a first time visitor would spot right away. In addition, as we were all on vacations, there was absolutely no rush at all – something generally very rare for São Paulo.
You may ask – how come you say the experience was tasty? Well, apart from all the lovely home cooked meals and restaurant visits, one of the things that my mom really came to love here was eating tapiocas, which we made for breakfast whenever possible. Who does not know, tapiocas are made from a white flour-like substance made from the manioc root. When the substance is spread as an even thin layer and heated on a pan, its particles stick together forming a white pancake-shaped dish. Then you can just add any filling you like – either sweet or salty – and wrap the tapioca on the pan as you would usually do with a taco. Easy, delicious, quick and gluten free!
- Family is everything
Some of the most memorable moments of the trip happened during the several meetings of our families. Bonds were created, experience was exchanged, speeches were made and we all felt how much unconditional love was surrounding us. As my father put it in very few words (just as a typical Estonian would) when making a toast at a big family lunch: “To love and to friendship.” No matter how big the physical or cultural distance between the two countries is, as people we are very close, so similar and extremely lucky to have been able to come together. Only enriching experience all around.
- How to Make a Meat Eater?
Campo Grande, where my husband’s parents and youngest sibling live, received us with wonderful hospitality. The “Swarthy City” and the state of Mato Grosso do Sul are famous for farming of bovine livestock and exporting meat to other states in Brazil and abroad. To get a genuine local experience we enjoyed meals, which had meat as their primary component. That is a big thing coming from me, as I am not a very big meat eater. We enjoyed it even so much that my parents claimed that they do not even sell meat that good in Estonia to begin with. In addition, my father discovered the Crème de Papaya that is a traditional dessert usually served with a liquor to balance the sweet taste.
Therefore, I must repeat myself; our whole trip was definitely as much as a culinary as cultural experience. Overall, after the gastronomic delights, some shopping, long walk in the Park of Indigenous Nations, and finding shelter from the hot weather in the pool, no one could deny that the quality of life in Campo Grande is definitely something else. Makes you reconsider if big city life is really worth it.
- No Need to Fear Swimming with Alligators
The true adventure awaited us in Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland area. After driving for a couple of hours from Campo Grande and taking a long and bumpy dirt road, we finally arrived to our awaited destination – Refúgio da Ilha ecoresort. This place is a perfect option for someone that wants to discover the wonders of Brazilian nature and wildlife without sacrificing their comfort or security.
In a way, that place became a symbol of the trip of releasing your fears and allowing yourself to have fun when trying new things in a completely new environment.
Refúgio da Ilha is located on the bank of a crystal-clear river that we threw ourselves into to escape from the swelter together with a couple of alligators. Although, scary at first, there was no real danger as the reptiles were all well fed and generally just ignored people. If you had decided to take a dip on the other side of the guesthouse in the weir, however, you would have had to make absolutely sure you did not have any bleeding wounds. Otherwise, the piranhas could have made a quick bite out of you.
Apart from that the resort itself was wonderfully calm and comfortable. There were just a few perfectly neat air-conditioned rooms for visitors to guarantee the maximum privacy and serenity. The resort served breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner and took care of the guided excursions and program for you to experience all that it had to offer. The variety of colorful birds, including the Blue Araras, all around the resort was incredible!
- Bad Decisions Make Good Stories aka Stuck in Knee-Deep Mud
The adventure of the trip happened during one of those excursions. Our guide took as for an afternoon walk to be able to enjoy the landscape and lovely sunset. However, it just went all wrong. First, we set out on foot on a dirt road around 4:30 pm in the blazing sun. After about a half an hour in the heat, we were dripping with sweat.
This was the moment my husband asked our guide if he really knew what he was doing. Having been to Pantanal many times in all sorts of conditions, he knew that some local guides deliberately make foreigners walk long kilometers in the sun just for the fun of it, as the visitors do not realize that this is nor healthy nor productive. A true pantaneira would never choose that option for themselves. In addition to that, with such heat no animals were around to be seen, which was supposed to be one of the objectives of the walk. After a short argument, we decided to continue, the guide telling us that we were taking a shortcut to get to the plain just on time to see the sunset. Nevertheless, we still managed to miss it.
When we got out from behind the trees, the sun was not there anymore and it was getting dark very quickly. As we advanced and it grew darker, the path gradually got more and more muddy. Until suddenly, while taking another calculated step in the slippery mud, I sank into it until my knee. It took some help and some hard pulling but I was finally able to free myself. Little did we know that this was just the beginning. Soon all of us were stuck in the mud the middle of nowhere. In a matter of minutes, it got pitch black and our guide lost both, his phone and his head. So we were left to literally dig ourselves out of the mud in separated groups while the ferocious mosquitoes ruthlessly attacked us and we had no way of stopping them, as we had probably sweated all the repellent off a while ago.
My mother in law was so stuck that she decided she would leave her sneaker behind if that helped to free her leg. That was not an option, though, because after getting out of the mud pool we still had to walk another 10 or 15 minutes in complete darkness to get back to the guesthouse. As it turned out our guide did not have a flashlight on him, nor was he able to call a jeep from the main house to come and pick us up. At least the sky was incredibly starry and lovely.
A little spooked, thickly covered with mosquito bites, which turned into uncomfortable allergies for some of us, and completely muddy, we finally got back to our starting point. Fully clothed and with our shoes on, we threw ourselves into the alligator river – as this was the only way to get the larger part of the dirt off. Startled at the time, this adventure later turned into one of the most exciting stories of the trip to tell and laugh about.
- There Are Only So Many Bug Bites a Person Can Take
After Pantanal the road took us to Ilhabela (in translation: Beautiful Island) where we had rented a nice family house for a couple of days. The beaches and numerous waterfalls all around the island were as wonderful as we had imagined them. We spent the days driving around, looking for those beautiful places, swimming in the ocean and trying to figure out why there have been so many shipwrecks around the island. At night, we made caipirinhas and played cards. It could have been a perfect beach vacation.
However, Ilhabela is notorious for one thing – tiny flying bugs called borrachudos that are everywhere, whose bites hurt as hell and leave large inflamed and painful marks on your skin. Those bugs are literally everywhere and not even the soles of your feet are safe. We must have used a year’s worth of all sorts of chemical products to protect ourselves from those unwanted creatures. Nevertheless, it was of no help. The discomfort caused from the bites and knowledge that there will be many more became so overwhelming that despite of the paradise beaches and general good times we decided to go back to São Paulo a day earlier.
The decision was sealed with a visit from two curious marmosets to our house. I was taking a shower downstairs when suddenly my mother started yelling out my name in panic. I dried myself as quickly as I could to go and see what had happened. Once I reached the ground floor, I saw my mother standing there with disgust on her face looking towards the terrace. “Ah, they are going to enter the house! Help!” she screamed. There, almost ready to step in, where two marmosets probably looking for food and entertainment. “They are the most ugly thing I have ever seen! They have a small human face!” exclaimed my mother when I asked what was exactly wrong with the situation.
Then she said she was happy we were going back to São Paulo early. She had seen enough of the beach for the time. The marmosets, clearly offended by her words, looked in from the windows just for a little longer, pooped on our window sill and made their way back to the tree that had dropped them on our terrace in the first place.
And that is what we did as well – packed our things and drove back to São Paulo wondering if we actually were as adventurous as we had thought in the first place, definitely appreciating the comfort of our own clean beds and the absence of the agonizing blood suckers a little more than before.
All in all, those two intense weeks with our families were filled with laughter and became a memory that none of us will probably ever forget. Although diverse and maybe a little scary at first, the world is an oyster and love makes everything possible. Therefore, let many more adventures come our way!