About this blog
Thrill of Brazil is a travel blog all about Brazil written by Moon Brazil author Michael Sommers. Michael blogs about Brazil travel, culture, and more. He welcomes questions, comments, and story ideas.
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- Brazil’s Homegrown Tourism Boom
- Brazil's Best and Write-est
- Making House Calls in Rio (Part II)
- Making House Calls in Rio (Part I)
- The Dawning of Brazil's B&B Age
- Rio's Alternative Points of View
- Taxi Trouble in Santa Teresa
- Obamas Take to the Campaign Trail in Brazil
- Plans and Punctuality
- Reliving Tropicalismo - On and Off Screen
- Food and Lodging that Make the Grade
- The Making of Moon Living Abroad in Brazil
- U.S. is Number One Source of Immigrants to Brazil
- Best English-Language Blogs about Brazil
On the Go with a Baby in Brazil (Part II)
In late March of this year, I received a comment on this blog from Marissa Cortes, a young woman from New York who was traveling through Brazil for several months with her 10-month old daughter Lulu.
I was impressed by Marissa’s spirit of adventure (not to mention her guts) and eager to hear about her exploits. Although she kindly steered me to her blog, travelswithlulu.com – which was full of insightful observations and great photos – I also got Marissa to promise that, after it was all over, she would share some of her travel stories with readers of “Thrill of Brazil”.
In my experience, it’s rare that travel memoirs, guides, articles and/or blogs are told from the unique perspective of a single mother traveling solo with her baby. Last week, Marissa – who, having returned to New York with Lulu, was eager to revisit her Brazilian experiences with some hindsight – kindly agreed to my request by taking part in the following interview (Part I of which was posted last week, while Part II is posted below):
Marissa, what was the biggest surprise for you about Brazil?
“The biggest surprise for me was although it is a gorgeous country, Brazil is still a third world country in many ways. This is supposedly the next booming global economy, after all. How Brazil will be prepared for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, is not clear to me. It looked as if stadiums and hotels were still in slow stages of construction. As a woman in need of help, especially in airports, I was surprised that I was never able to easily find any porters on hand.
Then I stepped out into the cities and was sometimes met by people asking for money, or offering to just “watch the car for us” for a small charge. Every day, one is confronted by the large disparity between the rich and the poor. I felt this everywhere and for me, personally, it was discomforting. Aside from strangers who asked to be paid randomly, there were the warnings in Brasília of increased kidnappings (“Never linger outside a restaurant, talking; go straight to the car!” a new Brazilian friend scolded me); the favelas looming large above the beautiful apartments in Rio, the passing of policemen with large guns following a raid on a favela in Salvador… none of these scenes are part of my daily life in New York. Brazilians live with this, and most turn a blind eye. What can you do?"
What was the best part about traveling alone as a single woman in Brazil? What was the most challenging/frustrating part?
“The best part about traveling alone in Brazil is the same answer for anywhere else—the people I met and ended up talking to that I most likely would not have met had I been traveling with a group. Brazilians are known for their hospitality and those I met welcomed Lulu and me into their homes and their lives, despite knowing us only briefly. I had good luck throughout this trip in meeting locals despite my very basic Portuguese (actually most Brazilians I met were quite proficient in English, which is supposedly a rarity).
Among the Brazilian friends I made was a jewelry designer who owned a wonderful little shop in Trancoso. She was originally from Brasília and traveled there the same time I went to Brasília to visit my brother. I got to know her well, along with her group of friends, which made an enormous difference in my stay. My brother also had Brazilian friends with relatives in other parts of the country who went out of their way to show us their pockets of Brazil. Even back in New York, I continue to meet Brazilians that are friends or family members of people I met on my trip.
On the flip side, the most challenging and frustrating part of traveling alone as a single woman in Brazil was what I found to be the total lack of chivalry on the part of Brazilian men! Whether at the São Paolo airport, where I had trouble getting my luggage from the baggage carousel, or at an apartment building where the doorman stood and watched while I struggled to get the baby’s stroller and things up the steps, I was hard-pressed to find Brazilian men willing to lend a helpful hand.
Meanwhile, I can recall countless times when Brazilian women – young and old, with or without children —took me under their wings, even if just to help me hail a cab. I don’t know if this is a female thing linked to Brazilian women’s love of babies or not, but I definitely felt more embraced by the women of Brazil than the men. It was quite the opposite in other South American countries—and even here in the U.S., where I still find chivalry to be comparatively more alive.”
And what were the best and most difficult parts about traveling with a baby in Brazil?
“The best part of traveling with Lulu in Brazil was the amount of attention she drew; she was definitely a conversation starter. People enjoy babies in Brazil, and apart from lending a hand (or not) to help the mother, they were open to interacting with her to experience her laugh and smile. Public places, airports, shopping malls, museums, restaurants all seem to take babies and mothers into consideration (i.e. availability of high chairs, diaper changing stations, etc.).
The other great part for me about traveling with Lulu was experiencing the country through her eyes. Everything was new to her. Watching her reaction to things – and watching people’s reaction to her – added another dimension to the travel experience.
As for the most challenging part of traveling with a baby in Brazil, where do I begin? Traveling with a baby is challenging any way you cut it. Traveling with a baby in a third world country may be twice as hard, especially if you are an American accustomed to every convenience. For instance, I had to boil each one of her bottles, three times a day, before I could use them for her formula/milk. I was also told not to trust the tap water. This advice came from local people everywhere we went, as well as from hotel staff. Halfway through our trip I was told to not even use the whole milk I had been buying for the baby; it was better to use powdered milk that most Brazilian mothers use. This worried me, but I got over it. For someone who was using organic everything before we left the States, there was only so much I could control when I needed to feed my child in a foreign country.
I have not yet mentioned the difficulty of getting by in Brazil without knowing the language. Fortunately, I had studied Portuguese for a month before leaving New York, but with Argentina and other Spanish-speaking countries as our first destinations, by the time I reached Brazil I was tongue-tied. I was often at a loss when menus arrived. Always aware of potential food allergies since Lulu was new to solid foods, she often got by on a diet of rice and beans. It was the one thing I could recognize on the menu and considered safe for her to eat.
Getting from one destination to the next was also no easy feat. Although we flew to most cities, once we arrived our means of transportation was sometimes left to chance. There was one trip to Ilha de Boipeba, where we were stuck in a Jeep with no seat belts (and Lulu on my lap). After taking a dinghy across a river to the island, we had to walk 1 km through the sand, and up a tall steep hill in 100-degree heat, to our hotel. There really was no other way to arrive.
Traveling through Brazil – much like parenting itself – requires that one be flexible, resourceful, and patient. In hindsight, the frustrating aspects of this trip were really all part of being a parent in any region of the world.”
How are Brazilians’ attitudes towards single women and babies different from those of North Americans?
“In all honesty, I couldn’t perceive a big difference. I did appreciate that I was not harassed in Brazil as a lone woman, as I have been during previous trips to Europe for instance. Perhaps this was due to the fact that I was always with a baby.
As for babies, I noticed that in South America in general, there is more respect for women with babies and for young families. There are lines designated for pregnant women and women with young children. At airports and grocery stores, there are actual signs indicating that women with children can pass ahead of others. People would come up to me and insist I cut lines when they saw me with Lulu. I do not see that here in the U.S. In fact, at JFK airport, I watched a Brazilian family with two very young kids ask officials if they could pass an extremely long line of foreign nationals to get to the customs counter. The customs officials refused.”
If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?
“After first visiting Iguaçu Falls, the plan was to come straight to Rio de Janeiro for a week during Carnaval. I had a rare offer to purchase front row seats at the Sambodrome. I debated, and decided at the very last minute that it would be complete madness to attend Carnaval with a baby in a sling. I regret I did not take a chance for the one night of discomfort, just to have that experience.
I also would have taken the time to see more of Brazil. I missed parts of the Amazon, areas in the South of Brazil which apparently resemble little Swiss villages, the historical towns of Minas Gerais— Ouro Preto and Tiradentes. There is a showcase for contemporary art outside of Belo Horizonte called Inhotim that I was told I should not miss, yet I did. High on my list to visit would also be the Northeast Coast, specifically Jericoacoara and the white sand dunes of Lençois Maranhenses. However, the one place that I totally regret missing is Fernando de Noronha. I have only heard superlatives used to describe this island that sits between Brazil and Africa.
At a certain point, my exhaustion limited me. During the time we traveled, Lulu grew from a compact baby, easily carried in a sling, to a taller child weighing 25 lbs. This exhaustion may have also stirred a loss of nerve and fear of the unknown that I had not experienced earlier on in my travels. I shied away from cities based on reports of steep, cobblestoned roads. Knowing how mosquitos bothered Lulu, I eventually steered clear of locations where I had read there were lots (but there seem to be mosquitoes everywhere in Brazil!).
Overall, I wish I had taken my time and spaced my destinations out as opposed to initially changing locations every week. If I had spent two weeks or more in one place, and pushed myself to visit certain places regardless of the challenges of arriving with a baby in tow, I could have covered more ground and seen more of the country.
As always with travel – and it seems with life—no risk, no reward. I would love to say there is always next year, but at the rate the dollar is dropping against the real, I may have to wait until after the Olympics end in 2016. Hopefully, by then, Brazil will return to being the affordable destination I heard it once was!”
Marissa Cortes has lived and worked as a marketing and communications professional in New York City for the past 15 years. She was bitten by the travel bug early on, and her wanderlust grew with a career that sent her to Europe, Asia, and around the U.S. Last winter she took several months off of her life in New York to discover and blog her way through parts of South America with her 10-month old daughter, Lulu. Her life will never be the same. They are off again for another three months next winter, this time through New Zealand and Australia.
Photo: Marissa and Lulu at Brasília’s zoo.
(Photo Credit: Marissa Cortes)