We nearly didn’t make it home from Brazil.
There was some confusion with the taxi booking and a mumbled excuse about traffic. Who’d have thought it would be busy in Rio at rush hour after all? Becoming more stressed by the minute we sat helplessly in our hotel room glumly counting down the minutes to our flight departure. This level of disorganised service had plagued us during our 2 week trip to the country, so why should it be any different now. Luckily we made it, because despite joking about staying on the beach and never coming home, we were both pretty desperate to leave.
Brazil just wasn’t for us!
We perhaps should have taken more notice of our blogger pals Frank and Lissette over at The Travels of BBQ Boy and Spanky, who declared they wouldn’t be returning to Brazil after feeling unwelcome there a few years ago. Although I always say don’t make up your mind until you’ve tried it yourself!
Arriving in style aboard the glamorous new KLM dreamliner, we jested that our unexpected upgrade to business class would be the highlight of the trip. Little did we know how close to the truth that would turn out to be.
It wasn’t the landscape that didn’t tick the boxes. Brazil is as stunning as it gets, and indeed I’d stick my neck out and say the coastline and towns we visited along the Costa Verde are right up there with some of the most gorgeous places we’ve ever experienced.
No, instead it was the people.
Whilst that may be a sweeping generalisation, we just didn’t feel all that welcome in Brazil. And the incredible laid-back attitude that seems to be the core of existence in the country ensured our relaxing holiday was shadowed by stress and worry, all beyond our control.
It’s perhaps all about managing expectations. You might be tempted to suggest we’ve been spoilt by our previous travel experiences. We’ve enjoyed genuinely warm welcomes all over South East Asia, Africa and Europe, and whilst we certainly don’t expect to be treated like royalty when we’re overseas, it certainly makes us eager to spend our money there, and even return one day.
To be fair, most of the hotel staff were friendly and helpful. Just because they don’t smile as much as the Thais, or feel your welfare is their honour like the Moroccans, doesn’t make the Brazilians any less attractive as a people. Indeed I’m sure many a foreign tourist has come to Britain and felt we are too reserved, and possibly a little unfriendly too?
Yet beyond the walls of our hotels last month, it was quite a different story.
The majority of tourism in Brazil is domestic, something I hadn’t realised before. We hardly saw another foreign tourist, which was both refreshing and maybe a little divisive. The Brazilian tourists almost without exception were verging on rude in their attitude towards us. Not one of them returned a cheerful bom dia or even a shy smile as we saw them at breakfast or in the street. Some even looked at us as though we were something they’d found on the bottom of their shoe!
The only positive experience we had with domestic tourists were the lovely family from Rio who shared our jeep during a waterfalls tour from Paraty. They chatted to us, translated the bits we didn’t understand and generally saved another day from potential disaster. More on that later.
Shop keepers were indifferent, with many completely ignoring us and not even making eye contact when we made several purchases. On another occasion we took a private car transfer from Rio to Ilha Grande. The driver didn’t make eye contact either or even speak a single word to us the entire trip, not even at the hotel where he picked us up! Is it just me who finds this rather odd? Normally they never shut up, and at least ask us about football when they hear we’re from England.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt like such an outsider before.
In restaurants it was a little better, and hubbie did manage to make some of the staff grin with his unique sense of humour. In reality they were probably laughing at us for being the only people in the restaurant so early in the evening! How can you tell we’re British?!
If they were any more laid back they’d fall over
I get that there’s a certain charm to a relaxed what-will-be-will-be attitude to life. Never succumbing to urgency or stress, and bumbling along in a kind of sunshine bubble at the pace of a contented tortoise. Indeed I can draw parallels with Morocco’s much loved phrase Insha’Allah which is used both in reverence to religion and as an excuse whenever anything is uncertain or unknown. Or just too difficult to bother to investigate. Yet somehow this doesn’t irritate me in Morocco like it did in Brazil. Perhaps because most Insha’Allah’s are accompanied with a mischievous twinkle in the eye, or else just buckets of charm.
I’m usually a pretty chilled kinda girl, rarely get in a flap and am probably one of the calmest people you’re likely to meet. Yet I’m also highly organised, and like things to run like clockwork most of the time. It’s not a difficult concept. It simply requires thinking ahead, planning and a bit of common sense, and most people don’t have a problem achieving this.
Yet in Brazil, NOTHING seemed to run smoothly.
Nothing runs smoothly here
Right from the word go it was a nightmare trying to make enquiries and reservations. Tour companies and hotels would take weeks to respond, and more often than not just ignored my emails completely. Even some of the hotels with whom we had a confirmed (and paid for!) reservation wouldn’t bother to reply to my repeated enquiries, which led to us spending most of the trip wondering if we did actually have somewhere to stay the next night.
To name and shame an example, let me introduce Paraty Tours. This company pretty much has the monopoly on excursions from Paraty, and unless you like flying by the seat of your pants and booking tours on the spot whilst you’re there, it seems the obvious choice for advance reservations. Yet I emailed them THREE times, enquiring about transfers and trips, but not once did they get back to me. I also tried using their online contact form, to no avail. In the end we asked the pousada where we were staying to contact them on our behalf, and in the event didn’t manage to actually book anything until we were there in person. Not ideal especially when arranging transfers! We have very mixed feelings about their service delivery too, but I’ll review that in another post.
I should point out that a notable exception to this rule was Davi from Palombeta Speedboats who took us on the most amazing tour of the coast down near Paraty, and was spot on in terms of both communication and charm!
Once we were in Brazil, we assumed things would improve. They didn’t. Communication between hotel staff was diabolical and we spent our time unsure whether our requests for meals, trips and transfers were being actioned. Even when we complained or hassled staff for answers there was never any sense of urgency in rectifying the problems. Rarely did we receive an apology for cock-ups and it was very much a case of ‘that’s how we roll here’.
We stayed at Asalem Seaside Hideaway on Ilha Grande for a few nights, and whilst the staff were friendly and the location almost perfect, the laid back attitude once again put a damper on things. The team didn’t seem to communicate with each other. We’d book a tour or a transfer with the morning shift, only to discover the evening shift knew nothing about it. We were constantly having to reconfirm our arrangements, just to make sure, and it was always up to us to take the initiative, never the staff.
This somewhat chaotic approach was typical of our entire trip.
I say it again. A little communication goes a long way.
Changing our future plans because of Brazil
Our experience in Brazil has affected us so much that we’ve reconsidered our travel plans for the remainder of the year. Back in January we flicked through the Lonely Planet World book, chose a page at random and vowed we would visit wherever lay on that page. It was Sao Tome and Principe. Somewhere we had to look up in the Atlas, and Africa’s least visited country (it only receives just 8,000 visitors a year). Lying off the coast of Gabon and Cameroon, the islands are a veritable paradise of tropical forest, azure coastlines and colonial history. What a find! The next couple of months were a whirl of over-excitement and secrecy. We planned to run a competition to guess the destination, and couldn’t wait to explore this relatively unknown part of the world.
However, after returning from Brazil we realised the overly laid back culture was very similar in Sao Tome. I guess they share the same Portuguese history so it’s perhaps not surprising. The phrase leve-leve (‘easy easy’) started to catch our attention, and before long we were reading visitor reviews that made us immediately wary. Laid back is the very spirit of the country. Communication was poor, tourists found booking excursions and hiring guides difficult, and service was generally nothing to write home about. Alarm bells ringing, and we made the gut-wrenching decision to abandon our exciting Sao Tome plans.
It’s not all doom and gloom
If you stick with the thought that beauty is in the eye of the beholder then you’ll do okay. Travelling south from Rio along the lush Atlantic rainforest coast, we stopped at both Ilha Grande and Paraty, and weren’t disappointed with what we saw. We snorkelled with sea turtles, explored remote fjords and walked on deserted beaches. We climbed waterfalls, drank cachaça and slept in colonial mansions. On the whole it was worth putting up with all the uncertainty above, and of course we only saw a small part of Brazil. Maybe up north everyone is friendly and organised? Let me know if you’ve been!
This post isn’t meant to offend, and of course is just the opinion of a couple of tourists who have only spent 2 weeks in the country. Yet I stand by my guns. The purpose of blogging is to show the good, the bad and the ugly of travel, and I’m never going to lie and tell you it was all rosy.
Whilst we didn’t fall in love with the culture, we certainly did the with landscape, and although we won’t be returning to Brazil any time soon, I wouldn’t advise against travelling there. Just go armed with the knowledge that it won’t all be plain sailing.