Brasil (And The Outdoors)

Hey all. I missed blogging, so I’m back. Enough said about the absence.

I’m looking into stuff I started writing in the past few years, but never finished. Like the one below, about travelling to Brazil and wanting to spend more time outdoors. It’s more than a year old, but thought it was worth saving, if only for memory sake. There will be comments in italics throughout, where I might have changed my mind. Have fun.

If you know me, or have been reading this blog or following me around social networks, you will know I’m Brazilian (born and bred). My partner, O’s dad, is also Brazilian born and bred like me, which makes O Brazilian herself, even though she had never set foot in the country till earlier last year. We hadn’t gone back in 3 years when we decided to go last January and ended up staying almost 4 months. It was quite an intense journey, for all of us. We hadn’t planned much other than the first two weeks in Rio (which was absolute bliss), then pretty much let the wind take us wherever direction it was blowing. We travelled every week or so to a different city, a different town, across states to different places. We’re lucky to have family spread out in 5 different states, so sometimes we stayed with them, but we also took advantage of our lovely friends and their nice homes everywhere  (some had to endure us more than once, poor things, sorry for that!), and we airbnb’d a few times when we felt like we needed a bit of privacy. We learned a lot, specially about travelling with toddlers: in our case, it completely demystified the enormity of such a monumental task. It isn’t that monumental. Kids, as experienced parents will wholeheartedly know, adapt.  And if they don’t, you do. Travelling makes you let go of several things, material and metaphoric ones, and changes your perspective of several others ones. For example, the notion of home. To us now, it’s an elastic concept. It used to mean our parents places, but neither J. nor I ever felt too attached to them as, in my case, my parents divorced and recreated new lives for themselves, and J. just had to flee his nest and find himself. We lived everywhere for years, decades even, till we created our own home in London, which, strangely, only acquired such “status” after we left for Brazil. Until then, London had a sort of impermanent calibre to it, as if we were meant to just pass by (even though we’ve been here 11 years). But while in Brazil, after a while, we missed it. A lot. We felt homesick like we hadn’t felt in years. And at the same time, strangely, we discovered that we could, if we wanted, move anywhere else. If we can create a home here in London, where rents and house prices and now good schools drive you to relocate at an exhausting rate, then we could recreate it somewhere else in the world. We would only need to take our books, our music, our influences, a thirst for exploring, and a good dose of patience, creativity and mindfulness, and we’d be home. (Side note after re-reading this: wow, how detached from material stuff am I on this paragraph? I should confess that these days I would also miss my clothes and furniture, but I’m proud of myself back then.)  

It wasn’t always like this, though. For the longest time, London was a strange, grey and overcrowded metropolis, overwhelmingly unfamiliar and everything about it seemed alienating: the food, the weather, the high cost of rent ands services and low price of product, the jokes, the habits (tea with milk, sunday papers, going home at midnight on a friday night), the politeness and general distance people kept. These were all different things to me, specially in my first years, and while I hated some of them, they all turned out to be the things I loved about London. I’ve absorbed Englishness (London-ness, maybe) so much in a decade than going back to Brazil was (and still is) an inverted culture shock.

For starters, Brazilians are intrusive – in a good and bad way. I used to think of it as sign of friendliness, warmth, the in-built social quality of my own culture. They will approach you to give their opinion on a private conversation you’re having, they will make comments about anything to whoever wants to hear it in a lift, or on the street. We weren’t used to it anymore, as we’re used to Londoners keeping a polite distance, and it made for some surprisingly funny moments  (for a while, at least, till it started getting on our nerves a bit.) If you’ve got kids, they will tell you what they think you should do with them (like the waitress who told us “don’t use this chair, she’s too small”, or the stranger in the mall who said “why is she crying so much? maybe she’s hungry.”) It’s terribly annoying, but it shows how much Brazilian culture is kid-friendly, compared to the UK. People everywhere will want to kiss and cuddle and talk to your child (and believe me, they will), and kids of all ages will be running around restaurants way past 11pm, at least in the summer (I can’t imagine taking O with me to a restaurant in London past 7pm without getting reproachful looks). That’s also because in Brazil you very rarely find freelance babysitters: you either have a nanny full-time or a “folguista”, a weekend/nighttime nanny, very expensive and hard to find. Or you have family, which in our case was difficult, because they were spread out across the country and generally not based in the cities we liked to stay in (Rio, Sao Paulo, the Northeast). It meant that we stayed together, the 3 of us, 24/7 for a long time. I wasn’t used to it anymore either – O goes to nursery 4 days a week, J goes to his office and I work from home, so we have a chance to miss each other. To say we had to adapt, specially as O was full-on into her Terrible Twos, is an understatement, and she ended up spending a considerable amount of time watching films on the iPad (something I’m not proud of and have tackled since we came back. More on that later.)

All that said, it was incredibly liberating to be outdoors wearing not much other than swimwear and Havaianas every day, and it made me remember how much the weather in the UK affects us (but hello summer 2015! you’ve been good to us). So many days we have to be indoors, it’s hard to be away from screens – that said, TVs, iPads and smartphones dominate Brazilian culture too, and we had a hard time escaping them, for other reasons than the weather: safety plays a big role. Still, it made me briefly consider moving outside of London, if not Brazil, maybe somewhere with more nature and open spaces. We had our fair share of being nature-soaked over there: horse-riding and waterfall bathing in the Midwest, swimming on top of coral reefs overlooking sand dunes in the Northeast, jumping waves in Rio and Santa Catarina. But we also had our fair share of being house and car-bound in cities like Curitiba and Sao Paulo, where it’s too tiring or too scary to walk on the streets, and where there isn’t much to go other than shopping malls and restaurants (museums and galleries are expensive and not very child-friendly). It made us weary and exhausted and it was then that we got homesick. If I had to stay indoors so much, I’d rather be home where I can work, read and sleep in my own bed and let Olivia go wild with felt tips and snacks without worrying she’s ruining someone’s sofa. That was another of my lessons: travelling successfully with a two-year-old means you must make an effort to have plenty of outdoor activities, specially of the nature kind. We were happier in Rio, with its play parks on the beach at sunset, strolling around Jardim Botanico (their own Kew Gardens) and the sea, and walking around pleasant neighbourhoods like Gavea and Leblon. Or in Campo Grande, where there were farms and waterfalls outside the city where you can escape to. We figured out pretty early that whenever we could, if we had no business in the big cities, we had to escape to the country or the seaside.

It has affected us since we came back: last summer (2014! not this one) was one of the best we’ve ever had in the UK, and we escaped regularly for outdoor stuff. We even went to see the solstice at Stone Henge with the druids, then checked out the beach at Poole and cycled around New Forest (deserves another post too. I’ve got a LOT to catch up.)

I’ve been a very urban, concrete-bound sort of person since my teens – growing up in a small sea-side town made me yearn for the big city where big interesting things happened. And I still do love urban life to this day: I’m lucky to live in an area where there’s a strong community of creative people and friends, with plenty of parks and nature (well, some), and things to do. But I’m also the kind of person that likes to try new things and explore, and as cliche as it sounds, having a child has been the perfect excuse to go and do that. Nature wasn’t much of interest to my younger self, when clubs and bars and fashion had much more appeal. I’ve done that, plenty. Daytime and the outdoors are much more intriguing at the moment.

We’ve travelled a lot in 2014 (we went to California in September, then the Amazon in november – both trips also need separate posts, arrrghh) and we’ve been to the south of France this year so far, where we had a chance to stand up paddle (another post. i don’t know about you, but i’ve stopped counting). Now that O is a bit older, we’ll go on as many nature escapades as possible. Camping, climbing, surfing, it’s all in the cards.

Finito. Now, some pictures. Yay for making it this far. 

Snapshots from Rio

Campo Grande – Mato Grosso do Sul

Flexeiras – Ceará


Balneário Camboriú – Santa Catarina 

São Paulo

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