The Language: One of my favorite things about Brazil is speaking with the cheerful, romantic females, with the intelligent, open-minded males, with the proud Brazilians. For this reason, I’d highly recommend making an effort to learn some of the language.
If you know Spanish, it would be sufficient to study how Portuguese-speaking Brazilians pronounce each letter of the alphabet, and then to learn many of the most common words. (You could use a Portuguese grammar book from the library, or else search for pages on Portuguese grammar on the web.) With just a few hours of study, you could be communicating confidently within your first few weeks in Brazil. Portuguese isn’t very different from Spanish, although it sounds different.
If you don’t know Spanish, I recommend getting a Portuguese grammar book from the library, believing in yourself, and spending a bit of time studying the language. You can work on your vocabulary while you’re in Brazil, as you’ll have plenty of opportunity and desire to converse with the locals there. Portuguese isn’t a very difficult language; there are only four verb conjugations, and you could probably even ignore them and communicate fine. Your trip would be more rewarding if you learned some of the language; it would give you a challenge to entertain you while on vacation; and it would provide you with memorable exchanges with the locals.
Seeing the Country: Brazil is one of the biggest and most complex countries in the world. It’s also quite inexpensive. For these reasons, many travelers choose to spend months at a time there, traveling around its twenty-seven states. I’m sure few of those travelers get bored or lose interest in the country during their stays.
It’s rather inexpensive to get around the country by bus. Every city has a large bus station. Smaller towns are connected to bigger cities by public transportation. The transportation comes often.
The first time you go to a big city’s bus station, you can be overwhelmed. If you must, just start asking people for help. If someone looks like he would know English, ask him. Most people, including bus station employees, will try to help you. There may be people in the station trying to offer you, along with other passengers, transportation in their private vans. They are usually more expensive than taxis, less expensive than buses.
To get around a big city, you can take local buses or “kombi” vans. Some cities have subway systems. The kombi vans usually cost the same as local buses. I often found the kombi’s to be easier to figure out, easier to get into, and quicker, than the buses.
All Brazilian cities have one or more shopping malls, serviced by the local bus system. They’re generally hideous and culture-less places, like shopping malls everywhere. But, they do feel comfortable and Western. So, if you ever need to just relax from Brazil, or see a movie, you can go to a mall.
My Favorite Places: My four favorite places in Brazil are all rural, natural places. They include: Ilha do Marajo, an island at the mouth of the Amazon River; Jericoacoara, a beach village near Fortaleza, which is quite popular with backpackers; the National Park of Chapada Diamantina, an area inland from Salvadore, with nature reminiscent of the United States’ western interior; and on a passenger boat ascending or descending the Amazon River, where you meet humble and wonderful people. I never made it to the Pantanal in western Brazil, but two interesting places to visit would’ve been Bonito, which offers beautiful freshwater snorkeling, and Pocone, where the locals supposedly allow a cow to run on the field while they play soccer.
Amongst cities, Rio de Janeiro and Salvadore are certainly beautiful and unique. Natal is nice. Sao Paulo doesn’t have much to offer a tourist, in my opinion. The small, colonial city of Olinda, Pernambuco becomes crowded and familiar during Carnival; it’s said to be one of the best places to be during Carnival, up there with Rio and Salvadore.
The city of Vitoria isn’t usually a tourist destination. However, it has a wonderful beach called Vila Velha, where you can snorkel near a big rock in the water and see a dazzling array of colorful fish. Whenever I ride on a bus between the states of Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, I usually arrange my trip so I can get off the bus in Vitoria in the morning; I keep my bags at the bus station and go to Vila Velha’s beach (and, perhaps, shopping mall) for the day; and I take another bus that night to continue on my way.
My Favorite Brazilian Pastimes: Forro dancing is a popular couples dance; it can be difficult to figure out, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Brazil celebrates many holidays with dancing and parties. Brazilian girls and guys are more eager than Western people to go on dates (or simply be friends), and they also kiss more liberally.
If you see people playing soccer, and you would like to join them, I recommend asking; they’ll probably let you play, although they’ll probably be much better than you.
Brazilian food is healthy. Meals often include rice, noodles, a piece of meat, farinha (a powdery grain used as a topping), and salad; usually, it’s all mixed together. If you want a delicious feast, you can find all-you-can-eat meat buffets in big cities; the meat seems to be of a very high quality, and it’s much less expensive than you’d expect.
And Brazil has a wonderful variety of fruits. They can all be bought in juice-form, too. I highly recommend guarana juice, which is more readily available in the north of the country, often sold by street-vendors. “Vitaminas” are juices blended with milk. The most popular vitaminas are avocado, banana, and papaya. “Acai na tigela” (Acai in the bowl) is an AMAZING, purple food; you can find it in Sao Paulo, as well as other places.
A successful, fast-food chain in Brazil (found in every shopping mall) is called "Bob's". Their ovalmaltine shake is an addictive pleasure.
The Danger: In my opinion, Brazil is a pretty dangerous place. I’d say I was robbed there four times in eight months. One robber was a pick-pocket during Carnival; one stole my camera, when I foolishly left it in the shower on an Amazon River boat; one emptied my wallet, and reached his hand beneath my seat on the bus to search and feel through the pockets of my bag, while I slept on an overnight bus ride; and two robbers followed me into my Copacabana Beach apartment building where they robbed and assaulted me, though without weapons. I’d say Rio de Janeiro and Copacabana Beach are especially dangerous. Brazilian cities seemed dirtier, poorer (excluding the well-to-do minority), and more dangerous than the Brazilian countryside.
However, for the most part, you should feel safe and comfortable in the country. Just take precautions.
(For more information, you can check the travelogues of “modernoddyseus”. I won’t be checking the forums, but you may send me a message/any questions through my travelogues. Justin Breen)