Things I learned along the way in Brazil … or a list of my misadventures! As one of my travelling partners will attest (aka Sue) I do a lot of pre-planning in the name of research. I’ve learned in this trip that I either could have done more planning, or the information was either lacking or just wrong! Nothing prepared me for a few of these highlights (and a few lowlights) I call my misadventures!
1. Taxis In Sao Paulo It is not cheap to take a taxi around the central downtown area, unlike what the guidebooks say. Take the Metro, it is clean, efficient and had the best signage in Sao Paulo – the arrows and street names actually point the right ways! Taxis get caught up in the never-ending traffic. Sao Paulo is a city of between 11 and 19 million people (depending on who you talk to). Just take a minute on that number. There are 34 million on all of Canada – Sao Paulo is a city. So, the information on taxis is this: as soon as you get in, it costs 4,10 Real. The good news is that the price only goes up when the taxi move – not when it is merely stuck in traffic. The bad news, there is no “straight” way to get anywhere. The other good news, none of the taxis drivers I met would accept a tip.
2. Speaking of signs The signage in Sao Paulo is also interesting. The further away from a place you are, the better and more frequent the signs. As you get closer, the signs seem to disappear. Street signs are also placed at angles, so you almost have to guess which one matched the street. After a while, you do start to see how the signs match the streets, but if you are lost, good luck!
3. Getting from one place to another Tour guidebooks provide all sorts of information about how to catch a bus to go from point A to Point B, however most rarely tell you what the trip will be like. Such was the case for the bus ride from Sao Paulo to Santos. All I knew was a) there was a bus, b) it would take about 1 hour and 20 minutes c) it would cost 19,30 Real and d) the main bus terminal was an easy walking distance to the port. I did not know that the drive would go through a mountain pass that was incredibly beautiful. This lovely, winding road was also filled with transport trucks heading to the port. The aforementioned bus terminal was on the outskirts of town – and nowhere near the port (nor would I have wanted to walk through this neighborhood with my luggage and lack of Portuguese). The bus became a “local request a stop” bus through the city of Santos. The good news? Its last stop, which was exactly 2 1/2hours after we left Sao Paulo, is the Cruise Port! I need to let the Cruise Critic website know that for future cruise planners. It would have saved me a lot of worries and I might have enjoyed the impromptu tour of Santos a little more!
4. Portuguese Yes, I knew that Spanish would not suffice completely, however I truly know how it feels to only speak one language and expect people to understand you. I’ve never told so many people that I do not understand, and they continue to talk to me, thinking that it is just a passing phase and I will soon figure out what they are saying! Funny thing is, I have started to understand a little – at least enough to smile and laugh at jokes. I’ve even had people insist they do not speak English, only to hear them speak it to someone else! It has been an adventure in languages, and will continue as we cross the Atlantic, as 85% of the passengers and over 50% of the crew are Brazilian. (NOTE: I met a waiter last night who is from Bulgaria – and he was so excited to speak English to me that I have a friend for the cruise!)
5. “Cruise passengers never experience the real essence of a place” I’ve heard that said a lot. It is one of the reasons I try to make my own way as often as I can. I was going to go it alone in Salvador because I really wanted to spend some time in the Nosso do Senhor Bonfim church, which is at the heart of Condomble. After some harrowing experiences in other areas of Brazil, I thought I should get some assistance in arranging a tour. I was able to join a tour of Historical Salvador and was able to experience Salvador in a way that included meeting people and participating in various rituals – including a blessing by two Santos, and a performance of children who are going through a program to try to keep them off the streets and give them a way to earn money. I also met some amazing and beautiful people.
Final notes: Caipirinhas rule! Trust people to be willing to help you along the way and smile!