Brazil 101 – Malaria, Zika, Dengue, + Safety

Continuing my mini-series of posts on visiting Brazil, I’d like to address a few less pleasant but still practical topics. If I missed a question, don’t be shy. Ask in the comments below.

What vaccines do you need to go to Brazil?

This one depends on several variables, but the most important one is: where are you staying?

As we’ve already talked about, Brazil covers a lot of land. The landscape, weather, and therefore risks for disease change drastically from one end to the other. If you plan to visit the Amazon rainforest or northwestern states, you may want to look into prevention methods against malaria/yellow fever. There are vaccines, tablets, and other options. Talk with your health care provider about what would work best for you.

As for Zika, it’s highly unlikely you are going to come into contact with it. According to the CDC’s Zika Travel Recommendation Map Brazil has no current outbreaks. There are still precautions to take if you or your partner are pregnant, though, so please look into that if applicable.

Similarly, Dengue is also transmitted by mosquitos. To prevent both, take a DEET spray and apply it especially if going hiking, etc., avoid still water where mosquitos like to gather, and don’t stress about it. If you’re a tourist doing touristy things in touristy places, it is highly unlikely you will encounter these diseases.

I mostly stick to the south of Brazil, as that’s where my family lives. I usually stay for a month or more and have never taken any of the vaccines or tablets. I only use bug spray when venturing into the outdoors, much as I do here in Canada. (To be honest, I have a much greater paranoia concerning ticks in North America than I ever have about mosquitos in Brazil.)

Bottom line: if this is a concern for you, discuss your visit abroad with your health care provider and follow their advice.

Will I get mugged?

Probably not. Have your wits about you. Keep bags closed and close, carry only the essentials (don’t take your 15 credit cards, all your ID from home, etc.) in your wallet. Pare it down when you leave home, and pare it down again when you arrive at your hotel, taking only the absolute essentials for your outings.

Don’t go out at night without knowing where you’re going and how you will get there. Take major routes instead of sketchy shortcuts.

Be aware of your belongings. Don’t flash your camera and cellphone around unnecessarily. Also don’t place them down (on a counter, table, shelf, sink) and turn around to do something else. There’s a possibility that it won’t be there when you turn around. There’s probably a better place to keep it than your back pocket.

You can have a wonderful and safe time in Brazil if you plan well and not do anything you wouldn’t do at home just because you’re on vacation.

Don’t ever let the media keep you from traveling and meeting new places, especially not Brazil. Have fun!

Brazil 101 – Currency

Ah, my dear American/European/Canadian friends. You will feel rich in Brazil. Let us take the US$ as our base currency. As of right now, US$1 is equal to BR$4 (4 Brazilian Reals). Slightly less with the Canadian dollar, slightly more with the Euro, and so on.

Exchange your currency for the Brazilian Real before you leave. Currency exchange houses at the airport will charge you more. Exchange your money at home before you leave, take a little extra in your national currency (if that currency is Dollar/Euro). In a pinch, you’ll always find someone willing to buy those off you (you give them x amount of dollars, they give you the equivalent in reals).

Come ready to spend! Be a tourist in Brazil! Hotels that are R$400 a night are just US$100. Trips and attractions are much more accessible to you!

This, of course, does not apply to things you can find in North America. Technology, imported items and foods, foreign brand name clothes, etc. are all going to be more expensive than if you bought the same product here.

What I love about shopping in Brazil is that tax is already included in the price. Whatever price is on the price tag is what you will pay at check out. I live in British Columbia where tax is 12%. What an odd (and high) number to calculate on top of every purchase! So purchases in Brazil feel a lot nicer, 😄.

Several things, however, become more affordable: food, shoes, toiletries, kitchenware, dentistry, LASIK, spa services, touristic activities in general. To find the price of something in dollars just divide the price by four.

Souvenir Ideas – General

Actually, before we talk about gifts for other people, let’s talk about gifts to yourself. Go shoe shopping. Man, woman, child, whoever you are, take some time to go shoe shopping. Brazilian shoes are quality shoes that will last a long time. They are also light and soft and comfortable. Go shoe shopping.

Buy an iconic pair of Havaianas: flip-flops made out of rubber. A pair of the original design will last you forever. But they also have numerous new designs and so many colors. They’re so comfortable and make great gifts too! Buy a pair of Havaianas with the original little flag for everyone back home. Boom! That’s souvenirs sorted. (Make sure you get everyone’s shoe size before traveling.)

Other ideas include food items like national sweets. These are some of my favorites:

  • paçoca: peanuts, sugar, salt (buy the Paçoquita brand)
  • pé de moça: peanuts + condensed milk
  • cocada: coconut + sugar
  • doce de leite: it’s dulce de leche. Buy the Aviação brand
  • goiabada: guava paste. Buy the Predilecta brand

Brazilian food usually has a much smaller shelf-life (fewer preservatives, especially in national sweets). So just be aware of the expiration date and calculate whether it will get to its intended home in time.

Above, I mentioned that toiletries (I refer to soaps, perfumes, creams, lotions, etc.) end up being affordable. These also make great gifts if you buy brands like Natura, which is Brazilian and uses Brazilian resources to make their products.

And of course, all sorts of “Brazil” paraphernalia: keychains, magnets, cangas (wraps/coverups worn at the beach, often with Brazilian patterns).

If you’re going to Brazil in September 2019, I suggest also taking money to purchase things at the event! There will be stalls selling all sorts of items.

There will be so much for you to explore. Go to farmer’s markets, adventure in downtown commerce, visit small-town businesses, stroll through malls and convenience stations on the side of major highways. Stop at fresh fruit stands on the side of roads, try the homemade sweets. Immerse yourself. Bring back gifts, but make sure you take home stories and experiences.

Brazil 101 – Vegan Food

Veganism is increasing in popularity in Brazil, much like it is around the world. However, it is already a great change if a Brazilian adopts a vegetarian diet.

Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef (hello burning of the Amazon rainforest for pastures!). Brazilian gastronomy centers heavily on meats and seafood, which are the star ingredients in so many national dishes. Brazilian steakhouses are popular worldwide.

Context given, I suppose you will not be surprised to know that Brazil is not as vegan or even vegetarian-friendly as other places (like Vancouver, BC, for example!). If you eat cheese, you will have a much easier time.

Although Brazilian cheese is not internationally famous, Brazilians do make pretty good cheese. There are often plenty of street food options if you eat cheese. Pastel de queijo, pão de queijo, rizole de queijo…(queijo = cheese), pizza de catupiry, coxinha de catupiry, (catupiry is creamy cheese, although different from cream cheese).

If you’re vegan, I suggest betting on heart of palm. Heart of palm is a classic filling in many savory dishes: savory pie, pastel, empada, all of these can be found with heart of palm, and normally end up being a vegan option. Plus they’re delicious. However, many of these dishes may have egg in the dough. You would need to ask.

To be safe, I would go with sweets:

You have not (and I cannot stress this enough) had açaí until you have had it in Brazil. Açaí bowls in Brazil are entirely different. They’re sweet, rich, give you an energy boost, and fill you right up. None of that runny banana + water with just-enough-açaí-to-make-it-purple atrocity.

Açaí is meant to be thick, sweet, and served with strawberries. Okay, whatever toppings you’d like. To make it vegan, just don’t choose dairy-based toppings like condensed or powdered milk. Choose fresh fruits, coconut flakes, nuts, etc.

Try sugar cane juice (squeeze a lime into it, or ask them to add some pineapple, mmm). Try a piece of rapadura (unrefined whole cane sugar). Or! try a piece of sugar cane itself! Find pamonhas (superior tamales) and buy the ones without cheese (either sweet or salty).

Then try some artisanal sweets: doce de mamão (papaya sweet), doce de abóbora  (pumpkin sweet), cocada (coconut sweet), doce de batata doce (sweet potato sweet), and so on.

Vegans traveling in Brazil should invest in buying local fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Enjoy the abundance at your fingertips and eat them raw and natural. Whatever deficiencies local eateries may have in serving vegan options, the natural abundance of fresh produce makes up for it.

This is especially true if you visit during the summer (December-March). Winter (June-September), may not be as plentiful, yet there will be many more varieties available than Canada in its plentiful summer/autumn.

If you are in, say, downtown São Paulo, vegan snacks would include that guy over there selling fresh guavas loaded up in a wheelbarrow, or that lady over there selling fresh corn, which she will cook and cut up and sprinkle with salt (ask for no butter/margarine), the guy over there who will peel and cut up a fresh pineapple for you to eat in a bag for easy food on the go, the lady selling salted peanuts, and so on.

In major cities, you will also find vegan restaurants. However, if you’re truly hungry and going to sit down at a “normal” restaurant, you will always be able to fall back on rice, beans, and salad. These are Brazilian staples. If there is no side of vegetables (which there will almost always be), there will always be rice, beans, and some salad (beets, lettuce, tomatoes, heart of palm, olives, cabbage, always something) even at the smallest out of the way restaurants.

Note: Feijoada is a national Brazilian dish made of black beans and all types of meat. If you go to a restaurant, the feijoada will most likely be full of meat. Opt for the pinto-beans instead.

And juice! So many natural fruit options–pure, thick, fresh, made with actual fruit not concentrate. Whenever you come across a fruit juice stand, buy some. Guava, orange (it tastes different in Brazil), acerola, strawberry, mandarin, papaya, graviola, cupuaçu, açaí, etc.

The most important thing to know is you will have options. They might not be the most obvious because everyone will want to offer you the confections, the treats, something “special”. Many take the abundance of fruits and vegetables for granted. But if you take a moment to appreciate the fresh options, you will see there’s plenty to choose from.

Brazil 101 – Driving + Tolls

Get your change ready! If you’re planning to rent a car in Brazil and drive outside of whatever major city you’re arriving at, then it’s a good idea to have money on you. And I know I said change, but depending on how far away you’re going and if you’re coming back the same way, you might actually need some serious cash. When we go into the interior of São Paulo to visit my grandparents (about 564.7 km) we spend about R$212 (~US$56) round trip in tolls.

However, if you’re just going from the airport in São Paulo to Sumaré it’s not that bad. You will pay ~R$20 (US$5) and then the same on the way back. So just make sure you’ve got cash on you, don’t be surprised when you see the toll booths and stick to the middle lanes (usually, the far right, sometimes the far left, lanes are reserved for people with automatic toll payments. I checked. Not worth it if you’re just visiting.)

Signs saying toll booth is 1km away. The lane on the right is for electronic toll collection (not you).

Another thing to keep in mind about driving in Brazil is your speed. You, of course, would never speed, right? But just in case you sometimes do, be aware that there are three types of speed limit enforcements to watch for: fixed radars, mobile radars, and handheld radars.

All of these are common on highways. You will normally be able to spot a fixed radar, and know they will be there every time. Mobile ones are sometimes more tricky to spot, mounted on a tripod, and handheld radars involve actual police waiting in their cars.

A fixed radar will normally look like this:

But it can also be on one of these:

These are just friendly reminders. What will happen if you get caught speeding is….well, you’ll get a speeding ticket.

A few useful reminders:

  • You cannot turn right at a red stoplight.
  • Speed signs are in kilometers.
  • Should you ever need it, there are emergency phones on the side of just about every private (tolled) highway. They’re located every 1km.
  • In big cities, watch out for motorcycles. Pay attention. They drive through, around, and weave in between traffic. Just be aware of them.
  • Let’s say you’re driving past 10pm and a stoplight turns red. If you see it while a ways away and it’s possible, slow down. Even if you’re going just 20km/hr. Slow down so by the time you reach the stoplight, it’s turned green and you can avoid stopping.
  • Gas stations/convenience stations off the highway are often a little town of their own. There are restaurants and boutiques within the main buildings. The actual station store will often boast local and artisan sweets, leather goods, just an eclectic array of goods in general. Take the chance to visit one. Common ones in São Paulo are Graal, and Frango Assado.

I hope these have been helpful and that you have a safe and enjoyable drive in Brazil. Any questions I didn’t address? Drop a comment below!

Brazil 101 – Bathroom Etiquette + Data Coverage

The TL;DR version: Don’t throw toilet paper in the toilet.

You’re a guest at a new friend’s house in Brazil. You’re having a good time. Everyone is having a good time. Nature calls. You ask, and they show you where the bathroom is. You flush. And then it happens. No. Oh, no. The toilet has clogged, the water is rising, the lock on the door is sticking. No, oh, noooooooo!!!!

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