Brasil (Or Unexpected Encounters with my Inner Latino Fire)

Disclaimer: This was written in Brazil but it’s been gathering metaphorical dust on my desktop for a while. Please excuse the belated posting.

I can still taste the Atlantic salt on my lips. Digging my toes into Ipanema’s blindingly white sand is certainly a contrast to sitting in the Santos Dumant airport food court, sandwiched between the stiff fabric of Samsonites and the red plastic trays holding McDonalds. It’s ok, the grains of sand still lodged in various crevices of my body is enough of a memory for now.

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Today marks the end of my first venture into Brazil – home of the bikini, beautiful women (and men), Havianas, and more bright colors than I’ve ever experienced. The trip was made under the pretense of a university-funded business trek, but I’ve never been about all work and no play. In total, I spent four days in Sao Paulo and three in Rio de Janeiro. One week was definitely not enough. The feeling is akin to when you’ve just polished off two scoops of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. You’re pretty satisfied but if you had more money, you’d definitely scarf down two more scoops with equal enthusiasm.

On Thursday evening of my last finals week ever, I ditched Chicago’s grey sleet for the lush greenery of Sao Paulo. Friends who’ve been have had varying opinions. Some lauded it’s cultural offerings, some waved at its sterile business vibe. All agreed that it is a true beast of a city.

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The sprawl is enormous but Sao Paulo’s buildings aren’t super tall.

Honestly, Sao Paulo exceeded my expectations. My first two days, I stayed at Café Hostel in the Vila Madalena area which I’d describe as the Wicker Park of Sao Paulo. Vila Madalena is nestled amongst several steep hills and features some of the best street art I’ve ever seen. Tons of art galleries, quaint bars, concept coffee shops, and boutique bookstores complete the Wicker Park-y feel.

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The view from the hostel’s balcony.

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A hipster neighborhood staple – that café that takes coffee as seriously as vineyards take wine.

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At the end of the main Avenue Harmonia (think Wicker’s Milwaukee Ave.) was a beautiful cemetery, similar to many across Brazil with above ground family crypts and winding paths lined with trees.

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Despite its reputation for being a concrete jungle, Sao Paulo has little pockets of lush greenery as a reminder that nature can’t be completely conquered.

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One late night after a full day of visiting companies, a few of us decided to hit up Skye Lounge for a panoramic view of the city. There are a handful of spaces and moments wherever I travel that make me think, “How can a place like this possibly exist in the world?” Well, this was the place for Sao Paulo.


You have no idea how difficult it was to capture the city lights with an iPhone camera.

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Seafood. Always seafood.

Rio’s just a short 45min flight from Sao Paulo. The coxinhas and papaya smoothies taste the same but Rio definitely moves more sensually – probably following the beats of live Samba more than the ticks of the stock market. And for sure, the curves of Rio’s women definitely mirror the curves of the landscape 😉

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I must have eaten three a day. Cheesey bread balls!

We stayed in Centro, near the famous Lapa district that is the historically bohemian hotspot of Rio (sensing a theme here…). Colonial style houses line the streets surrounding the aqueduct that the Portugeuse built in the 18th century to bring water from the mountains. I have never in my life been even remotely described as having a spicy, Latina fire, thus I didn’t expect to enjoy so much the liveliness of Rio’s late night eateries and Samba bars. There’s must be something in the air…


….or something in this drink.


Caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail, made from cachaca (a sugar cane based hard liquor). You basically mash lime and sugar together, then pour cachaca and some ice cubes over it.

I grew up brainwashed to believe that sun equates to wrinkles, but even this sunscreen addict couldn’t resist Rio’s beaches. The waves, oh the waves. For all its beauty, clarity, warmth – the Atlantic tosses you around a bit. “Respect the ocean,” my Brazilian friend’s mother had advised us. Ipanema definitely earned mine.


I’m blessed to have experienced a taste of that Brazilian friendliness. I fell in love with the canga that the bed and breakfast lent us. A beautiful abstract representation of Rio’s beachfront and sun rendered in bright green, yellow, white, and blue. A bunch of vendors sold cangas along Ipanema but I couldn’t find any pattern that came close to it. Back at the B&B, I offered to buy the canga from the owner. But all she said was, “It’s your last day in Rio, consider it a gift from Magareida.”

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I believe that you have to visit the highest point of any city you travel to.

From the beach to the airport, from Rio to Sao Paulo, from finals week in the Reg to spring break in Brazil – life is peppered with these movements between extremes. That displacement is the addictive quality of wanderlust. My traveler’s high doesn’t come from any specific cultural atmosphere as much as it comes from the constant change itself. Constantly lost, constantly discovering, constantly being reminded of just how massive and different the world is from my little, individual perspective. Obrigada Brasil, por tudo.

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