Carnaval, incredible beaches and views, samba and Bossa Nova, girl in Ipanema and Havaianas, Brazilian wax and Brazilian sex, favelas and violence — all that was dancing in my head when I landed in Rio de Janeiro to live for three months.
Especially when everyone was warning me about the fact that I will probably get robbed soon and there will, possibly, be a gun pointing to my head. Unless you start acting crazy. Hmmm… Good to know. Thanks for the recommendation. But I knew better than to freak out this time. The post was a rant about how Colombian men are some of the most dirty cat-callers and are trying to get into your pants all the time. Stories of sexual harassment on the streets during daylight and beating of wives was present.
The author of this article who was a single female traveller was advising other solo female travellers not to visit Medellin or Colombia at all. Back than I got so uncomfortable that I had considered leaving Medellin right away. It was my first time in Latin America, I was a solo female traveller so the last thing I wanted was to end up being stared at and touched by weird Colombian men. When I politely asked my Colombian Airbnb host whether it was all true she looked at me in shock.
She said that this is an extreme case and I should just relax and enjoy my time in Medellin. I have stayed in Medellin three months and nothing like it was described in that article had happened to me. In fact I got angry at the writer for misleading the readers and urging women not to come to Colombia.
I had a great time in Colombia and have never been harassed or stared at excessively. Sure, there were men looking at me and trying to make a conversation on the street but nothing like the article described.
We create our own reality. And so nothing had happened to me or my beloved Estring in the three months we have been living in Rio de Janeiro. Of course, I was careful and had that resting bitch face most of the time. Of course, I was taking Ubers at night, not getting into weird neighborhoods, not showcasing my big shiny iPhone 6 and the only time I entered a favela was via a guided tour. Rio de Janeiro is where my location independent entrepreneurship journey has started.
First week in Rio was tough. I got confused, stressed and overwhelmed. My anxiety quickly disappeared when I started learning Portuguese which came easy to me because I already spoke Romanian and Spanish. But so it happened that my time in Rio was about my focus on writing and figuring out my priorities. And so as soon as I was comfortable enough to speak Portuguese with the locals, I dropped learning it.
But I was still interested in exploring Brazil and Brazilians. I am not a tourist. I am a full-time traveller. For me travel has always been about culture and about people. How do people live around the world? What do people eat around the world? What do they value? What is different from culture to culture? How do they have fun around the world?
How do people relate to each other? Being a traveller is like being a scientist of humanity. I am an explorer. I am a discoverer. Being in Brazil was no different. Yet again I got further convinced that people are people everywhere. Humanity does not discriminate. All people want the same things and are driven by the same core wants: All people just want to have a good life, take care of their families and be happy. Children still play with their toys, adults still go to work and stop by a local bar after hours.
For some reason we think that over there, thousands and thousands miles away, everyone is so different. Yes, they are different in language, appearance and mindset. But at their core people are people. They cry, they laugh, they feel pain and they feel joy. Because what Samantha wants is the same as what Chuenchai wants.
Because what Donald wants is the same as what Vladimir wants: In their own way. In the way they think is meaningful and necessary. Brazil is the same.
I found Brazilian people to be much warmer than other nations. That relates to Latin American people in general. There is something about them that makes them dance, enjoy the present moment and smile more. They are just there with you.
Maybe it is because they are new developing nations. Maybe their lands and mindset have not suffered so much conflict, wars and suffering.
Most of my stereotypes about Brazil have proved to be indeed true just with a different flavour. Three months is not enough for any real, deep understanding of why certain things are the way they are in a country or a culture. But three months is still enough to get a glimpse of who they are and their ways of life. Second, Brazilian women are said to be very sexual, open and in touch with their bodies.
When a Brazilian woman passes you on the street you can feel her confidence in herself, her curves and her own body. There is nothing to be ashamed of. You have a choice but to take her all in. She wears beautiful flowy dresses that show some skin.
She is inviting and open like that. She embraces gracefully her femininity and her power as a woman. I got very inspired by Brazilian women and their sense of fashion and confidence. I am not claiming that only Brazilian women are like that. But I felt it in more women here than in any other country I visited.
My single male friends have constantly told me stories of how sex on the first date is very common. They just get to business right away. I now understand that Carnaval is not just a party to dress up and get drunk for seven days in a row.
Carnaval is so ingrained in this culture that people cherish it with great pride. Especially outside of Rio de Janeiro. In the north-east in Olinda people get ready for the event a year in advance.
They get together to practice in bands, design and sew their costumes. The actual Carnaval festivities are a cultural expression and a unification tradition. Street dancers in Olinda. I now understand what a favela is and why the situation is so sad. These are poor neighborhoods that have been forced to build their houses on the hills and mountains of Rio. They have their own ecosystems and ways of life, laws and regulations. Drug trafficking is still going on.
They say that the situation has improved greatly, though. Brazilian men are said to be very machista. Stories of how good they are at romance and dating but not great at keeping an honest relationship are going around constantly. A friend of mine who lived in Brazil describes it well here from personal experience. The fight against discrimination and corruption is ongoing. Surfing is a hobby here. Their language is beautiful, their people are beautiful, their food is great.
I want to feel safe and know that I can take my phone and my money with me whenever I go with no problem. I want to go to the bank and have my things done at no time. That might be a utopian wish, I know. I want to live in a country where internet is fast and reliable.
Where I know that my rights are respected and there is no need for a jeitinho finding another way to settle things.