It's located way in the south of Brazil, so the climate is a bit cooler, especially since, here in the southern hemisphere, May is winter. The city is half on the mainland, and half on the island of Santa Catarina. The mainland half, for the most part, isn't worth visiting, but the island half is one of the most beautiful places I've been, in terms of natural beauty and architecture.
The region was settled by Azorean, German and Italian immigrants so there's a lot of old European architecture in the city center and in a lot of the villages around the island,
and there are over 40 beaches all around the island with every type of sand or surf you could want. The beaches on the west side of the island have almost no waves, and the water's a bit warmer, but on the east side, they offer some of the best surfing in Brazil, and they hold a lot of pro surfing tournaments here. It really makes me wish I knew how to surf, since, looking back on my pictures now, it seems like all I did was go to the beach. In my defense, the weather hasn't given me any excuse to do otherwise. It's rained all of 10 minutes the whole time I've been here, and been overcast only for a few hours. Although I didn't surf, I did get to try sandboarding on the dunes at Praia (beach) Joaquina. Apparently, the sport was either invented here or popularized here.
I went with a couple other students, Veronica from Colombia, and Ben from Australia.
Being an Australian bloke, he obviously knew how to surf, and he picked it up pretty quickly. I did ok too because it's very similar to snowboarding, although I never mastered stopping without falling (see video). The main problem with sandboarding is, it's 10 seconds of fun, and then 2 hours of grueling work slogging up the sand dunes in the heat. Ok, it's more like 5 minutes, but it's the longest 5 minutes of your life. Besides having fun outdoors, I've also enrolled in a portuguese language course to force myself to speak portuguese for at least a few hours a day. The school also hooks you up with a host family, which is how I came to stay with the aforementioned "mental" lady. Without getting too much into it, she had a LOT of rules, and they were enforced to the t. Being a single guy in his 20s, that didn't do it for me, so after a few days, I moved to a different family, with whom I couldn't be happier.
Not only do they live in a mansion, but they happen to be the nicest people too. The parents, Carmen and Antonio, own a restaurant, and don't speak a word of english. The eldest daughter, Olivia, is studying at the Universidade Federal da Santa Catarina (UFSC or oofskee as the call it, no joke). She doesn't speak any english either, but her younger sister, Aline speaks some. I'm proud to say, I haven't actually spoken english with her. Of couse, I haven't spoken english with the other family members either because it would be pretty pointless, so I'm definitely getting to use my portuguese a lot more here than in Rio. It also helps that the people here are much easier to understand than in Rio. Think of it as a foreigner with a tenuous grasp of english, arriving in New Orleans and being completely frustrated with his english, and then moving to, say, Kansas and realizing that it actually WAS english that he'd studied before. Also like Kansas, there's a lot of really fair-skinned people here from all the European immigrants (I woulda picked Vermont in my analogy but some Vermonters are pretty hard to understand, anyone heard of Fred Tuttle? no? ask a Vermonter). In fact, there's a town a couple hours from Floripa where everyone speaks German still. Unfortunately, I haven't had time to go there yet. So, back to the portuguese, all the teachers are young ladies in their 20s.
They're all really nice, and, apart from the occasional textbook lesson, a lot of the class is conversation excercise, and some of the afternoon class students even convinced the teachers to hold class at the beach a few times.
It didn't take too much to convince them. Of course, we also asked for a swear-word section, because afterall, if you don't know those words how will you swear at people?
I have class three hours a day, five days a week. Since it's the low season here, the only other person in the class is Veronica, the Colombian girl I mentioned before. I lived with her for a few days back at the first place I stayed. Luckily we hit it off pretty quickly. I'm sorry to say, Veronica and I speak english, and very occasionally, Spanish. But that gets very confusing because of the portuguese. During the first few weeks, besides going to the beach, another hobby I picked up was taking the wrong bus. Not being used to public transportation, coupled with a strange city and a language deficiency has made it so getting around by bus is always an adventure. Several times I had to walk 30 minutes or so because the bus didn't go where I thought it was going to go. Oh well, what better way to learn the city. Even when catching the correct bus, there are only a couple beaches that are easy to get to by bus. It's way easier to enjoy all the island has to offer if you have a car. I was lucky enough to know some people in Floripa before I got here. A family of Brazilians my family met 20-something years ago in Germany lives down here. The mother, Maria, was nice enough to drive me and Veronica all around the more isolated beaches in the north which were absolutely beautiful.
The pictures really don't do them justice. We met with her son, Tobias and his girlfriend Simone for lunch at the beach near to where he lives. I later met (or re-met I should say) the father, Elenor, and the daughter, Cibele, at Cibele's birthday party.
I got about a weeks worth of portuguese exposure in a few hours because everyone was speaking really fast and at the same time. As for nightlife, I haven't done as much of that as I did in Rio. The main strip of bars is 2 buses away and the buses are really irregular after midnight. Like I said, it's definitely a city for car-owners. I've gone to a couple movies, a college party (UDESC or "ooDESkee") and a couple bars. During the day, besides the beach, another fun thing to do is to go to the town center, the Centro. They preserved the old European buildings and cobblestone streets. There are lots of restaurants and those open-air markets with cheap stuff that seem to be in every city on earth.
There's a beautiful park with this gigantic fig tree that looks like something out of Lord of the Rings, especially at night when it's lit up with green lights.
The tree is also the namesake of the Floripa soccer team, Figuerense. I went with some of the students to a game against Curitiba. It was fun, but nothing approaching the game at Maracana in Rio. I'm realizing now that I wasn't impressed enough to snap any photos. The soccer stadium is located on the mainland half of the city, which, as I mentioned earlier isn't worth visiting, except maybe for a soccer game, and even then, just barely. Being surrounded with soccer all the time down here, I decided to give it a shot my last Thursday in Floripa. Antonio knows some people who hold a weekly game and a churrasco (brazilian bbq) afterwards. Despite not having played since 5th grade at recess, I managed not to embarrass myself too badly by just passing the ball as soon as I got it, which I did reasonably well. Whenever I would try to dribble somewhere, they'd shout "calma gringo, calma!!" and then I'd remember that I don't know how to dribble and I'd pass it. The churrasco afterwards was delicious, and I got another superdose of portuguese. 20 drunk guys all talking vulgarity at one time. At least I assume it was vulgarity, because it was 20 drunk guys talking, but I only was able to catch a few words here and there. My last night in Floripa, the Martins (my host family) had a bunch of us over for dinner.
Andy, a guy from San Diego who was formerly a student at the portuguese school, a british girl named Rachel who I'd become friends with over the weeks, Veronica and her boyfriend, Oscar, who came to visit from Uruguay for a week, along with some family friends and the whole Martins family. Delicious food of course and good company, and afterwards, we went to see some live samba. All in all, a wonderful way to cap off a very enjoyable month in Floripa. Now, on to my next nerve-wracking journey to my next adventure in Salvador da Bahia!
Arriving in Florianopolis, which the locals have shortened to Floripa for obvious reasons, was just as nerve-wracking as getting to Brazil. I'm starting to think it's not just coincidence, and it might have something to do with me. I caught the wrong bus in Rio to the Rodoviaria, the central bus station (actually, through no fault of my own, I was told the wrong bus in the hostel). So, lugging my huge suitcase and backpack, I had to change buses and then arrived 2 minutes before the big bus to Florianopolis left. Then, when I finally got to Floripa, the lady whose house I was supposed to stay at wasn't answering the door, so after dragging my stuff up and down the block wondering what to do, I finally got a neighbor to call her to let me in. The neighborhood was really nice, as was the host lady, but she was, as I was soon to find out, completely mental. But that's for later. For now, a bit about the city.