Category Archives: Brazil

Top moments from our 2017 RTW trip

As the year wraps up, my photo editing from our incredible round the world trip is far from over and my blog is even further behind, but I am enjoying these last few days thinking about all the truly amazing experiences we had this year. Until I can catch up, here are some of my favorite photos and memories from this year!

Breathtaking scenery:

Patagonia’s incredible rough terrain probably wins out for 2017. From the Perito Moreno Glacier to Torres del Paine to the jagged mountains and ice fields surrounding El Chalten, we were constantly awestruck by the power and beauty of nature. Rising at 4:30am and eating pão de queijo in the dark while waiting for Cerro Torre to light up in a brilliant, fiery blaze for a minute or two was definitely a highlight.

It was hard to compare nature’s work to the exquisite Japanese architecture we saw later on, the ancient and crumbling ruins in Bagan and Siem Reap, the unending Burmese golden temples and structures, the massive Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, or the true wonder of finally beholding the Taj Mahal in the first light of dawn.

Nor could we forget the amazing underwater landscapes from the Philippines or Maldives especially, the fantastic crystal clear water and the whitest sand, endless beaches on the Abel Tasman trail, or the sensational landscapes surrounding us in Southern Africa, from Sossusvlei in Namibia to sunset bush walks in Botswana and sweeping canyons in South Africa that we later compared with American canyons on our trip to the Grand Canyon and beyond.

Moments with Kay:
Who could forget all the nights we spent this year camping under the stars, huddled in our sleeping bags to stay warm? Or the countless trails we hiked and climbed until we reached the top. All the hours I spent looking at Kay’s backside from the trail, or as a little speck when he was much further ahead. The moment that still makes me laugh the most is thinking about him zip-lining on the Huemul Circuit with too much weight for the low line and getting soaked in freezing water when he inevitably got stuck in the middle.

After a year apart in 2016, I truly loved every minute with Kay while traveling. I couldn’t soak up or get enough of this boy, and I gladly followed him up mountains and down to 40m where the sharks roam. Thanks for all the time you spent driving on the left side of the road and carrying far more camping gear than I could. I’m still not sure how I survived a whole month in that rented truck camper in Southern Africa with you. That’s commitment.

Culture overload:
Thirty countries and thirty cultures, and for the first time ever, Kay and I were both truly in culture shock when we landed in Tokyo, unable to do more than stare at the bright lights, flashing ads, and wander around slowly listening to the multitude of sounds.

One of my favorite things about meeting locals everywhere was having someone explain different customs and traditions in their country. Whether it was learning how to pray at a Japanese temple or get your fortune told, that the thanaka in Myanmar that we originally thought was religious was really a cosmetic and SPF protection made out of tree bark, or listening to our Swazi guide regale us with stories of how rhinoceros poop is used as an eco and budget friendly floor sealant in Swaziland, there was always something to learn.

The hard part is not the language barrier. You find ways to communicate with people from all sorts of backgrounds and we found generous, welcoming people in every country. The hard part is seeing the disparity of wealth and education. It was difficult to see all the trash and landfills lining the beaches and towns in the Philippines and even the pristine Maldives, but harder yet was India, where you know there are no jobs for the homeless that line the streets, with no access to even toilets. Guilt plagues you when you see others with so little, whether it was the child monks in Myanmar sent to the monastery because their parents couldn’t afford to feed them or the little children in Dehli who would knock on our car windows and ask for food. It made us happy to help those we could, but sad for the many many others.

Animal encounters:
From diving to safaris and jungle walks, this was a year for animals. Highlights in the underwater world were thresher sharks at 5am in Malapascua, a whale shark in Thailand, the sardine ball in Moalboal, jackfish schools in El Nido, manta ray, flock of eagle ray, stingrays, cuttlefish (which I LOVE), electric clams, morays of all sizes and shapes, the friendliest trumpet fish you ever met, googly-eyed puffer fish, baby sharks swimming at shore, and my old favorite, clownfish.

We seemed to see baby fish and animals everywhere! I couldn’t get over the sweet baby kittens and puppies in Myanmar, the baby sea lions in New Zealand, the troublesome weka birds that tried to steal my toiletries and eat my camp meals, and the amazing orangutans we spotted up-close on our jungle walks in North Sumatra.

Our safari time in South Africa was the icing on the cake. Baby elephants, a 1 month old baby giraffe, baby zebras, a 2 month old baby rhino, baby hyenas… babies everywhere! And countless incredible sightings, including some elusive lions that walked right in front of our car as I hastily rolled my window up. Hippos, elephants, wildebeest, black and white rhinos, water buffalo, we were only missing leopards from the big 5, which I suppose means we need to go back some day.

Fantastic food:Food. Possibly my favorite part of the whole trip, even while dealing with celiac disease and language barriers as I communicated what was safe for me to eat. We started out with fantastic Brazilian food, from fresh fruits to pão de queijo and mouthwatering churassco meat, served fresh from the family grill. Endless caipirinhas, obviously.

In Argentina and Chile, we drank Malbec every single night and had huge steaks any time we were in town after hiking. Highlights were when we bought a bag of 40 pão de queijos and took them hiking and on our 24h bus ride. Much better than that baby rice food with copious amounts of dolce de leche.  And who could forget drinking whiskey on 1000yr old glacier ice that Kay fished out of the lake?

In New Zealand we found amazing bio vegan wine and the best GF sliced bread I’ve ever had, with a yummy poppyseed peanut butter. Japan provided endless sushi trains and while it was one of the most difficult countries to eat as a celiac, it had some of the best food, from GF ramen noodles and my last GF beer for months, to our Kobe and Waygu beef night in Kobe. Let’s not forget the day it rained and we went on a sake brewery tour.

Myanmar held the best food in South East Asia for us, with fermented green tea salad being our favorite. Thailand had the best, sweetest coconuts, India had the richest curries, Dubai had amazing Lebanese. Egg coffee from Vietnam was interesting, but it was pho that stole my heart. Ethiopia has incredibly delicious food, including their GF teff flatbread. Local Maldivian food is actually way better than everything they serve in a 5-star hotel, and that includes the unlimited drinks.

Bad decisions included buying (and eating) multiple cans of chakalaka in South Africa, that chili crab in the Philippines that gave me horrible food poisoning, and that stupid idea I had that glutinous rice donuts from Dunkin Donuts in South Korea would somehow actually be GF. (They were not…)

So, that’s 2017 in a wrap. And if I’ll be honest, after writing about all that delicious food, I need to go have dinner! Happy New Year folks!

First Stop, South America

It was my idea to head west first to start us off on our travel, aiming towards Japan by cherry blossom time. I really wanted to see the mountains of Patagonia, the rugged landscape. And because almost all flights to Buenos Aires or Santiago from Zurich went through Brazil, it made perfect sense to stop in Sao Paulo for a short time and visit Kay’s Brazilian family.

Even though we had just visited his family at Christmas in 2015, you never know when you can get back again, so we decided we had to visit. And the whole family was sooo happy we decided to!
From Sao Paulo, we picked up a car and stopped at a dear friend of the family’s house for lunch on the way to the small town where most of Kay’s family lives.Eloy gifted us a special Brazilian flag work of art for our wedding back in 2011, and I still had never met him. He was incredibly sweet! And Brazilians are fantastically emotional. He cried and hugged us tightly when we arrived, and then cried again when we left, but not before feeding us until we might explode with the most delicious food you could ever imagine.There is nothing quite like Brazilian hospitality. They are some of the most welcoming, generous, friendly people in the world, and they LOVE to feed you. Below was just a sampling of fruits laying around on Eloy’s counter.When we finally made it to Pirajuí, we were overjoyed to see all of Kay’s aunts and uncles. We stayed with his Tio Tarcísio and Tia Vera. Below is Tio Tarcísio explaining some of the things in his workshop to Kay. He is such a handy, creative soul! He recycles tons of things into new designs and is always dreaming up a use for something else.The best part about their house might be the pool, which in the heat of summer was a.m.a.zing.And who wouldn’t love spending their days in the pool being fed fresh bite-size pieces of churrasco meat off the grill and caipirinha drinks that seem to refill themselves?It’s seriously heaven!!We also arrived right in time for a couple birthdays and managed to go to a family party with children running around in swimwear, jumping in and out of pools.I am still a far way off with my Portuguese, but I noticed a big difference after another year of classes. I could understand a lot more and even start to make very primitive conversation, where I could ask about things like holidays, traveling, the weather, our plans. Basically everybody was asking when we will have children, so I had to be prepared for that question as always!

I was also happy to meet some cousins again that I wasn’t sure if I had met in 2010, but who I hadn’t seen in a very long time. Kay has so many cousins! Way more than I do, and all of them are such lovely people.We even had time to visit Kay’s twin cousin in Bauru on the way back to Sao Paulo when our journey was ending.Overall, we were sure that visiting was the right thing to do. Lots of Kay’s aunts and uncles are getting older, much older than his mother was when she passed away and you never know when you will get to see them again, so it was nice to have a good visit.The only thing I might change about our visit here was accidentally leaving my sunglasses in the pool the night before we left when it got dark and there was a crazy bug attack. One week into our 9 month journey and I was already sunglasses shopping in Buenos Aires. 😛

Gluten Free Brasilia, Brazil

I didn’t really worry about how to eat gluten free on our whole trip to Brazil. The main food we eat is churrasco, which is BBQ meat with beans, rice, veggies, and salad. Plus, Brazilians label all packaged food, even things like cachaçha, as gluten free.
For breakfast at our hotel, there was also usually pão de queijo- cheese bread- which is made out of tapioca flour.There was also always a lot of fresh fruit to enjoy, and lots of Brazilian coffee!With lots of fresh vegetables and options, I was not feeling left out of the food scene, although I did miss enjoying the subzero beer from my previous visit in 2010. They serve beer extremely cold and keep it in a thermos on your table, ensuring that each glass you have is ice cold. Plus as soon as you finish the bottle, another one was on its way. I had to be a little more careful with the caipirinhas. 🙂Some meals were not quite as amazing as others, like this mediocre salad below, but that happens when you’re eating in a mall.We also enjoyed lots of cafezinhos, little coffees.If there was one thing we got enough of on this holiday, it was MEAT. Glorious meat.Another favorite of mine is Brazilian tapioca, which are a kind of pancake made out of tapioca flour, often served with condensed cream and coconut. Although they are less common outside the north of the country, we found them in a mall and made sure to order some!Another part of churrasco’s feijoada – stewed beans and pork served over rice- is farofa, which is toasted cassava, or tapioca, that you can see in the lower left of the photo above. That was also a typical part of my Brazilian diet. 🙂

Not all the people know what gluten is, but eating gluten free in Brazil is still a pretty painless process. The most painful part was eating too much meat and not enough vegetables!

Brasilia, Brazil

Kay had been wanting to visit the capital of Brazil for many years, so when I found “affordable” direct flights to Brasilia from Paris, where he was already going to be for his INSEAD pre-course in December, I booked us tickets together and started planning the trip from there.

Once he was done with his course, I whisked him away for some relaxation before the craziness of INSEAD would begin.Brasilia is one of the few “planned” cities in the country, laid out in the shape of an airplane, with many buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer, it also houses the three branches of government.
Brasilia was nice and hot when we showed up. So much, that we didn’t rub enough sun lotion on our little gringo bodies and got burned on the first day! Oops.

The domed building was the Memorial dos Povos Indígenas (Museum of Indigenous People) which had a photography exhibition at the time.The city was a bit more empty than usual as many diplomats who fill the city were on Christmas holiday.Here we are visiting the Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida, or Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasília.The inside of the church was very beautiful, with exquisite stained glass and an intriguing floor plan having people go below ground level to enter the church.Kay was very interested to visit the governmental parts of the city, below you see the towers that house the Congresso Nacional (National Congress).

And near the congress was the Praça dos Tràs Poderes, with an Olympic flame nearby.
We were two happy campers with the weather in December. 🙂Brasilia is not the most pedestrian-friendly city, and we ended up using Uber for the first time ever a lot on this trip.There are also some areas like around the TV Tower, wide, open, dark spaces, that you don’t want to be at night, because they are a big scene for drug deals and theft.We also made a visit up the TV Tower to see a view down the “belly” of the airplane.We booked a tour to visit the Palácio dos Arcos housing the foreign ministry.Also below was our visit to the congress halls, which took quite a bit of finagling to get in, and Kay needed shoes and a nice shirt. We actually went like three days in a row before we finally got tickets for a tour. Bureaucracy is strong in the capital of Brazil!After a few days, it was time to head to Bauru to meet Kay’s family for Christmas.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro in summer… is there anything better? Kay has been to Rio several times and he loves it, but his Brazilian family warned us about visiting this “dangerous city” and, to be honest, New Years is a bit of a crazy time to visit because the city is pulsing with tension, excitement, drugs, and alcohol. You could feel the excitement in the air and smell the danger that comes along with it here.
After months of warning me, Kay had freaked me out about Rio so much that I hadn’t even brought my wedding and engagement ring on this trip, something I never leave at home when I travel! Maybe it is something about his intimate knowledge of the country, but he warns me about Brazil like no other place, and has a special concern for Rio. So I carried an old purse and left my wallet and everything in the hotel the whole time.Since university, I have dreamt of visiting the balmy beaches of Rio and Copacabana and finally, the dream was coming true! Don’t let anyone tell you differently, Brazilian beaches are stunning! And like all of Brazil, there is cold sugar cane juice, caipirinhas, and delicious food beckoning at every corner!It was also hot, hot, hot! I was ready to get in the water.This gringo was absolutely enjoying herself, although we were slightly worried about getting in the water at the same time. I mean, I have had friends have even their havaianas stolen while they were swimming here. Kay was also keeping his eyes open, which meant paying closer attention to what the Brazilians are doing. If people are loud and crazy and no one cares, you don’t have to care… but if all the locals suddenly react to something, you should too! Fights can break out fairly easily in Rio, especially at New Years and Brazilians are known to be rather passionate. While we were on the beach, everyone was minding their business, when suddenly a huge cluster broke out and lots of people suddenly stood up to watch something… two people fighting. It is times like this that you have to be very careful what is going on and if there are weapons, especially guns involved, you need to act quickly.

Thankfully, the fight dissipated in a matter of minutes and everyone went back to normal. Go back to enjoying the water. You might say we were enjoying our time in Rio with underlying tension and stress in the background…Rio is actually the first city that I have ever felt uncomfortable in. I had been to New York, Stockholm, Rome, Barcelona, Brussels, London, Oman, Beijing, and countless other cities, and this was the first time I felt routinely nervous about what was going to happen.

After visiting the beach, Kay actually tried to get some petty change because finding small bills is an issue in Brazil and we wanted to take a bus where we would need the small bills. He went to try and change money in a store while I waited at a bus stop.

While I was waiting, a man about 2-3m (6-10ft) away came up to an elderly lady and quickly put her in a choke hold and screamed at her, something in Portuguese that I didn’t understand at all. It happened so quickly, but almost as soon as it started, he let her go and was walking around, while my heart was racing in my chest and I was freaking out.

Did this man have a knife? A gun? Was he on drugs or just out to get money? I had no idea, but as Kay walked out of a store and back towards the bus stop, he had  to pass by this man and I was absolutely flipping out that something horrible was going to happen. I have never ever had these kind of thoughts anywhere, but within a matter of minutes, everything was racing through me.

Kay got to me just fine and the crazy guy had wandered off… Kay couldn’t get change from the store (Figures! Change is sooo hard to come by there!) so he asked if I wanted to take an Uber instead for more money and I quickly agreed to whatever… whatever would get us in a taxi or cab or away from this bus stop and man faster.

We eventually made it to Christ the Redeemer and all the good weather from the day in the photos above changed to rain and wind as we were atop the hill.

I don’t know if it was the storm or the extra crowds from the holidays, but there was also a kind of electricity aside from the actual thunder and lightning that had everyone buzzing. We made sure to keep a good watch on our personal items as we marveled, OK, mostly I marveled since Kay had already seen this before, at Christ the Redeemer. Despite the drizzle, I was happily marking this off of my “must see” list. Maybe Sugar Loaf wouldn’t quite count though, with this weather:Sugar loaf is out there somewhere, right?? Not even my panos were working out up there. Woe is me.The storm broke up for a little bit before coming in for round two.
It started raining pretty decidedly, so we slowly started to make our way down, which was our first experience with crowds in Rio pushing us places we don’t really plan to go. There was a long line to go down with the rain coming, and no one wanted to be out in the storm when it started whipping up rain and wind, but you had to wait to get a train down in groups. Everyone pressed forward as much as possible, and sometimes we were moved a bit by the crowd and not ourselves.On New Year’s Eve, we went out to eat before going out for the night. I learned first hand that Brazilian chefs do not take criticism kindly. I had explained my celiac disease and that I cannot eat bread or wheat or all these kind of things, so I ordered a gluten friendly meal and was happily eating the beef below until I got to a pita, which looked very bread and pita-like. It was sitting on the plate below all the meat and rice and hummus.

We showed it to the waiter and said, “What is this? We said no bread.” And he replied, “But it’s pita! Not bread.”

[Ugh, classic “celiac” moment with the pita-is-not-bread moment. They all tell you about it, but you don’t think it will happen to you!]

Kay said, “No, she can’t eat that.” So the waiter offered to take the pita away, and Kay had to explain that no, he can’t just take it away because it touched all the rice and meat and now all this food is contaminated with gluten for me. The waiter was very apologetic that he didn’t understand this when he took my order, so he went to explain it to the chef, who did not take it so kindly.

The kitchen was open to the restaurant, so we could see them conversing and you could see the irritation of the chef saying, “But I made exactly what you said! I did it correctly,” and the waiter explaining that, “No, it’s still not right, she cannot eat it. You have to do it again.” And the chef was so pissed that he was being criticized.

When I received my new plate, it was actually just rice and meat lumped together. “What about my hummus?” I asked Kay, dejectedly, and he had to ask the waiter to ask to get me some hummus again. I didn’t get any of the salad concoction again, which had been one of the tastiest parts of the meal, but I didn’t want to upset the cook again, so I let it go.

After dinner, we headed out to the beach. I was prepared for a crazy night. I took off my necklace but kept in my small stud earrings; Kay took off his wedding ring. We both wore white as is customary for New Years. I had on white high-waisted shorts with deep pockets and inside I had stuffed our Olympus Tough 4 to take photos. We both left our wallets and IDs at home and Kay just brought a bit of cash with him in shorts with zippered pockets.

He didn’t want me to bring the camera, but I said that New Years Eve on Copacabana was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so it was worth possibly having the camera stolen. After all, my big camera was locked up in the hotel because I didn’t dare to take it out in Rio at all!The beach was already pretty full when we arrived, but we started working our way into the crowd.
Kay was wary of buying anything to drink besides bottled beer or water, because there are lots of stories about people diluting hard liquor with things that make you go blind, or just making a shitty diluted cocktail, so we figured we would just keep it safe. I have enough stomach problems without drinking random chemicals!The stage was pumping and it was glorious… live Brazilian music and tons of people dancing and enjoying themselves.
Unfortunately, things already started to get a little crazy early on. Some fighting broke out nearby, which you could immediately tell because a thick crowd suddenly had a huge gaping hole as people dodged to the side to get away from the action.

It seemed that there was some kind of domestic fight going on. It died away at first, but people kept getting provoked, and suddenly we were right next to a big ring around a few people. There were two men fighting with a woman nearby, one younger and one older… The older man had his fists up and literally motioned for the other to come at him with his hand. I have NEVER seen this outside of movies. It was crazy. The guys dove at each other and then several other people ran in and pulled them apart.

The crowd was all shouting at them at this point, and we were looking around where the police were, because there were police everywhere in watch towers and even a helicopter.

Some time later, the fight broke out again even worse, and this time, the woman was throttling the neck of the older guy and everyone was shouting in the ring, meanwhile, the crowd was shouting and jumping and pointing to the police, who did nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Eventually everything calmed down again, but the fighting really put me on edge. At this point in my sheltered life, it was my first time seeing real fighting, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Kay was disappointed in his countrymen for fighting during a time of public celebration and he said it’s sad because it typically happens around the holidays when people are drinking too much.

Still, we started to enjoy the music again and after awhile the fighting faded away and the clock counted down.Finally the time came for the countdown and the fireworks! 2016 hello!I made a little video for midnight…. to try and show the craziness and joy of thousands of people on a beach celebrating and popping champagne and fireworks going off all across Copacabana! It was incredible in person.

Kay and I kissed as midnight struck, as we do.We enjoyed the last of the fireworks and then decided we should probably GTFO as fast as possible. And let me tell you, we had a time trying to get out of there.

As we made to leave, we realized that the police weren’t opening up any of the barricades they’d set up to quarantine people for the wait, so you had thousands of people trying to press through a very small amount of exits.

A crowded night with drunken, easily-provoked people. They got angry. People were pressed tight. They started pushing. The closer we got to the exit, the less control we had about where we were going. I was following Kay and tried to keep my hand on him, and at first he thought I was pushing him and was getting pissed off, before he realized it was the crowd and not me.

At one point, I reached my hand down to my pants to check for the camera and my heart jumped in my chest. It was GONE. Oh God! Already!! Then I moved my hand up my waist to the top of the shorts, which was under my shirt, and remembered that I’d stuffed the camera into the pockets and up so that it was lodged in the tight part of the pocket beneath my shirt. But ohhh I was getting nervous!

We switched and had Kay go behind me and keep his hands on me and the pocket with the camera. We were being pressed close to the funnel of people exiting and honestly could barely control our movement anymore.

Suddenly we realized there were hands, everywhere, reaching out. Kay started to feel someone opening his zipped shorts pocket with the hotel key and cash. He swatted them away, but we were both feeling pretty stressed and nervous. Kay also saw  a hand reach out as if to pat a friend on the back, only to have the hand close around someone’s necklace and try to yank it off their neck, choking them as it strained to break. Everyone was trying to pick pocket everyone. People were also bordering on angry as folks became agitated from being pushed and began to push back.

Finally, we were carried away through the thickest point of the gate, almost without walking at all. I’ve realized that I get very nervous whenever I am in crowded situations where I cannot control where I am going anymore. We made a bee line for our hotel, which Kay had booked not far away from the beach. I was really thankful that we didn’t have a long walk through the tunnel toward the beach at night.

We were back in our room by 1am and spent some time before bed looking out the window at the crowds of people leaving the beach. We both agreed that it was absolutely incredible being on Copacabana for New Years (huge bucket list item!), but we are happy we didn’t stay later and happy to not do it again.On New Years Day we went for a food tour with Culinary Backstreets. We were supposed to visit a house in the favelas with home-cooked food that I was really looking forward to, but when we got to the neighborhood and wanted to take the ski lift up, it was shut down. Our guide asked why and the operators casually said that it was shut down because there was just a shooting and the police were there investigating.

We had just seen the lift moving moments earlier, so it was clear that the accident had just happened. Our guide immediately called a taxi and shuttled us away before we could run into police and/or suspects and we went to a different restaurant than planned. Always exciting in Rio!

On one of our last days, Kay had received an invitation from one of his future INSEAD classmates for a rooftop BBQ, which was every bit as amazing as you would imagine.Did I mention there was a pool and views of Christ the Redeemer??Amazing home and amazing views.Here you can really see Kay daydreaming about living in Rio some day.We agreed that if we were to live in Rio, we would not be sad to do it in a place like this… but that’s probably just a dream. I can’t imagine how expensive a place like this is to find!Soon it was time for one last buffet-style meal with feijoada. Mmmm. And then time for the airport.Ending the trip was rather weird, because Kay had already moved to his new flat in Paris for his business foundations course in December as a precursor to his 2016 studies. We had flown out of Paris together after I saw his flat, and when we flew back, he would be staying in Paris and I would continue on home alone.

It was the first time we ended a holiday in different homes, and that made me pretty sad. I savored those last moments with him in Brazil and the airport and started planning my first trips of 2016.