What the Guidebooks Won’t Tell You: 10 Things You Must Do When Visiting Rio de Janeiro

Okay, so you’re going to Rio. You’ve read the guidebooks, and you know you’re supposed to see Christo…The Copacabana beaches…Jardim Botanico…Sugar Loaf Mountain…but what else? What do the locals do in Rio?

Well, after spending nine months in Rio, I like to think that I became a bit of a local. I saw and did a lot during my time there…but there were a few memorable, not-so-touristy experiences that topped my list. And I’d like to share them with you.

So with that, here are the 10 things that I think everyone should do when visiting Rio…

  1. Grab a (Iced-Cold, Of Course) Beer at Bar Urca at Sunset 

Urca is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Rio. It’s also one of Rio’s safest.

Urca is known for its long, sinuous promenade that overlooks the bay, called Mureta da Urca. And at the end of the promenade is a tiny, hole-in-the-wall bar, called Bar Urca. On weekend afternoons (especially Sunday), people spill out of the bar and onto the streets, indulging in ice-cold beers and warm pastels. Directly across the street from the bar is a stone wall that lines the water, where many cariocas sit and watch the sun set behind the mountains.

Tip: Go Sunday afternoons, pre-sunset

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Bar Urca
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Urca sunset

2. Listen to Samba at Bip Bip in Copacabana 

Bip Bip is another one of those casual hole-in-the-wall bars, where a table of musicians play samba (also known as a roda de samba). This place is super local and looks/sounds a little something like this (please excuse my crappy iPhone video)…

3. Mingle on the Streets of Baixo Gávea on Thursday Night 

One thing that I love about Rio are the street parties–like the ones in Baixo Gávea.

On certain nights of the week (Thursday, Monday and Sunday), the streets of this affluent, former Bohemian neighborhood fill with young, beautiful Brazilians and gregarious street vendors selling caipirinhas and beers. And unless much has changed in the last four years, you won’t see many foreigners or tourists here.

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Baixo Gavea on Thursday night

4. Hike Morro Dois Irmãoes 

Morro Dois Irmãoes is a mountain that’s home to one of Rio’s most popular hiking trails. And the top of the mountain boasts some pretty amazing views of the city. The hike itself is pretty easy and takes about an hour.

It starts in the (pacified) favela, Vidigal (which is just past Leblon). Like any favela, Vidigal sits on a hill. So to reach the entrance of the trail, you can either walk about a mile uphill (if you really want to get a workout in), or you can take a moto-taxi or van up, which shouldn’t cost more than a couple of reais.

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Vidigal
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About 1/4 the way to the top of Morro Dois Irmaos (already looks like this…)
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Top of Morro Dois Irmaoes

Then after the hike, I recommend rewarding yourself with some food and drink at Alto Vidigal, a rooftop bar which offers some more unbeatable, panoramic views of the entire city.

5. Watch the Sunset at Palaphita Kitch in Lagoa 

Palaphita Kitch is an outdoor lounge area that overlooks the lagoa (lagoon). It feels like you’re somewhere in Bali, what with its bamboo furniture and thatch huts. It’s more of a day place, so go in the afternoon sometime, and then watch the sun set over the lagoon (can you tell I’m a fan of sunsets?).

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Lagoa
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Sunset on the Lagoa
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Palaphita Kitch

6. Enjoy Street Samba at Pedra do Sal on Monday Night 

Pedra do Sal is the place to go in Rio on Monday nights. The streets fill with rowdy Brazilians, who go to mingle and listen to the roda de samba ao vivo (a.k.a. live samba music performed by a group of people).

7. Wander Along the Streets of Santa Teresa 

Santa Teresa is one of the most charming neighborhoods of Rio, thanks to its narrow, hilly, cobblestoned streets populated by old, colorful mansions and colonial buildings. If you’re looking for a place to stay in Rio, there are also loads of chic, boutique hotels that offer incredible views of the city.

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The charming streets of Santa Teresa
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Pretty mansion in Santa Teresa

While you’re there, be sure to stop by the Parque das Ruinas (Ruins Park), which is an art gallery built in the ruins of a mansion. If you go at the right time, you can even enjoy live outdoor concerts as well.

Tip: Just be sure to wander the streets of Santa Teresa during the daytime, not at night. It gets pretty sketchy post sunset.

8. Spend a Night on the Beach of Arpoador With Friends and Guitar Music 

I don’t know about you, but I actually prefer to go to the beach at night. I find it so relaxing, since you don’t have to worry about finding a place to sit amongst hordes of people–nor do you have to worry about getting sunburnt!

In Brazil, it’s pretty popular for friends to get together on a weekend night and hold a “luau” as they call it (which, for those of you who don’t know, is actually the Hawaiian word for “party”).

In Brazil, a “luau” refers to a party on the beach, generally accompanied by some food, drinks and good music. And it’s a whole lot of fun. Bonus points if you go and stay till the sun rises.

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Arpoador at sunrise. Not even photoshopped, I swear!
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Arpoador just after sunrise

9. Hit Up the Blocos for Carnival 

Carnival in Rio centers around blocos, which are basically massive street parties. Everyone gets dressed up (men dress up as women). And music, dancing and grabby men abound (girls, watch out!).

While I’ve never seen a Carnival parade at the Sambadrome before, I imagine that it’s hard to beat the fun that can be had at Carnival blocos in Rio. Just be prepared for massive crowds and a lot of mayem…and guard your belongings like a hawk.

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10. Walk along Ipanema Boardwalk on Sunday 

On Sunday, the roads that line Ipanema boardwalk shut down to cars and are replaced with bikers, dog-walkers, joggers and the like. There are even bands playing music on the street. Like so…

So there you have it. Those are a few of my favorite (non-touristy) things to do in Rio.

Have you been to Rio? What’s your favorite non-touristy thing to do? Share in the comments below.

8 Ways to Meet People While Traveling Solo

Solo travel is exhilarating. It’s liberating. And it’s transformative.

But at the same time, it can get pretty lonely.

Over the years, I’ve gone on various solo trips and moved to places where I didn’t know a soul.

I’ve found that it’s actually easier to meet people when traveling alone than when traveling with people, because you’re really forced to put yourself out there in ways that you probably wouldn’t do otherwise.

For people who are naturally outgoing and extroverted, this might come naturally. But for all you introverted folks out there (holler!), this might take a bit more effort.

If you’re finding it difficult to meet people while traveling, here are some ways that I’ve had success:

  1. Go to coffeeshops

Depending on what city you’re in, it can be really easy to meet people at coffeeshops, especially fellow travelers and “digital nomads”. If not for the coffee, most travelers tend to go for the free Wifi. Sound familiar?

Just grab your computer or a good book, and strike up a conversation with the person next to you. I met a ton of people in Medellin that way.

2. Attend Meetup events 

Meetup is a website where users can organize and schedule events. If you’re in a bigger city, you’ll find that there’s a Meetup for pretty much anything.

Want to learn a new language? Learn how to dance salsa? Attend a yoga class? Go to a networking event? Go rock climbing? All of the above?

The great thing about Meetup is that you’ll meet people who automatically share at least one common interest with you.

3. Use Couchsurfing 

Couchsurfing is basically like a free version of Airbnb. It’s a website where locals offer free accommodation to travelers in exchange for some good conversation and company. The idea is to find hosts that you think you might get along with (judging from their profile at least), and then get to know the city you’re in from a local’s perspective.

Couchsurfing was the first way that I met people online. I was traveling to Munich for Oktoberfest and all of the hotels were booked. I needed a place to stay and ended up finding a nice German guy who agreed to host me for that period. I was nervous about staying in someone’s house that I had never met before (to be honest, the idea totally freaked me out), but I ended up having an amazing weekend–and all with people that I had just met during those few days!

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Me with my Couchsurfing host and other travelers at Oktoberfest

Then I did the same thing several years later. My friend and I couchsurfed with a really awesome Brazilian guy living in Munich. We all went to Oktoberfest together and had a blast. And I met up with him in Brazil just several months ago!

If you don’t need a place to stay (or aren’t totally comfortable staying in the house of a complete stranger), you could also post in the Couchsurfing forums, saying that you’re looking to meet other people–although be careful going this route if you’re female, since you’ll probably get a lot of sleazy guys who are looking to “hang out” for the wrong reasons. Just use good judgement, filter the sleazy ones out, and you might end up meeting great people! I did this when I was living in Rio and ended up meeting a really nice Aussie girl (also living there) who I became good friends with.

The Couchsurfing Hangouts app is also a great resource. The app shows you other locals and travelers in your vicinity, with whom you can connect with and well, hangout with.

The nice thing about Couchsurfing is that generally the people who use it tend to love to travel and be open-minded (presumably, like yourself!).

4. Use Facebook Groups 

The first time I moved abroad alone was to Toulouse, France to teach English for the year. Before going, I joined a Facebook group for other Toulouse teaching assistants like myself. One of my first nights there, a group of us all met up for drinks. We all got along well and ended up becoming friends.

Here’s some of us on our first night out…

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Through that same group, I also met a really sweet Irish girl who I became friends with and ended up traveling with several times. We even met up in Toulouse several years later for a reunion!

My point? There are about a gazillion Facebook groups out there. If you’re staying somewhere for a longer period of time, join the Facebook groups in the city you’re in and connect with other group members. Post something saying that you are looking to meet other people. You never know who you might meet!

5. Use Bumble BFF & Hey! VINA 

Bumble BFF and Hey! VINA are like the Tinder for making girl friends (sorry guys).

It’s pretty simple: You create a profile with a bio and a few pictures of yourself…and then start swiping!

On my first girl date in Barcelona, I ended up meeting a really cool Japanese girl who I got along with. Since then, we’ve gone out, traveled to Costa Brava and Montserrat, and have gone to a Barcelona soccer match together.

Here’s a little proof:

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6. Stay in hostels

I’ll admit–I’m getting to the age where I feel a bit old for hostels. I prefer a good night’s sleep to partying all night, and would rather have my own room than share one with a bunch of strangers.

The reason that I still stay in hostels is primarily to meet other people. If, like me, you need a good night’s sleep and a quiet room, you could look into getting a private room at a hostel (although sometimes they are pretty expensive and just not worth the price).

7. Rideshare 

When I was living in Paris, I wanted to take a trip down to my old stomping grounds of Toulouse. But instead of taking the usual method of transportation (the train), I decided to save some money and use the website Covoiturage (now BlaBlaCar) to carpool.

BlaBlaCar lets you find and share rides with drivers that are headed in the same direction as you. You then pay for a share of the gas (or whatever the driver decides to charge).

On this particular ride, I ended up hitting it off with the driver. We ended up becoming good friends–and still talk to this day, six years later! He is even planning to come to Barcelona to visit me soon.

Not only can it be a great way to meet people, but carpooling is also generally much less expensive than traveling by train (or bus).

8. Work from a Coworking Space 

If you’re working while traveling, working from a coworking space can be another good way to meet people. I’ve found that it’s really a hit or miss, depending on the coworking space.

My coworking space in Florianópolis, Brazil (O Sitio) was amazing. Not only was it a beautiful space, but I also met a lot of great people. The people who worked there were all super friendly and I ended up becoming friends with several of the other coworkers.

They held events and parties almost every night of the week, so it had a very social atmosphere.

But I’ve also worked from other coworking spaces where I didn’t really meet anyone at all.

My advice? Feel it out. If the coworking space is super quiet, there’s a good chance that it’s not very social and might not be so easy to meet people. I loved O Sitio because there were quiet spaces to work, but also common areas where you could mingle more. Plus, it looked like this…

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Final Words 

The truth is, there are limitless ways to meet people while traveling, and what’s listed above is only a small sampling.

You might have to step outside your comfort zone a bit (especially if you’re an introvert like me), but the end result–travel companions and possible life-long friends–will make it all worth it.

Trust me on that one.

Spending a Day in Tossa de Mar & Lloret de Mar, Costa Brava

Barcelona is a pretty amazing city. But one of the best things about living in Barcelona is being able to venture out of the city from time to time and explore the magnificent coastline.

Costa Brava is a region on the coast of Catalonia in northern Spain. It’s well known for its beautiful beaches and rugged landscape (hence the name: Costa Brava. “Brava,” as it relates to geology, means “rugged” or “rough” in Spanish).

There is so much to see and do in Costa Brava…If you can, I suggest renting a car and spending at least a week exploring the coastline (something which I have yet to do myself).

But if you don’t have much time or just want to get out of Barcelona for a day, there are some quick and easy day trips that you can take too. Yesterday, I did one of them.

I spent the day in Tossa de Mar and Lloret de Mar, two towns a 20-minute drive away from one another.

How to Get There 

To get there, I took the bus from Barcelona with a friend. Our trip was organized through her language school, which made things easy. But there are a lot of busses running from Barcelona Nord station, which run pretty much every hour.

You could also catch a ride with someone via BlaBlaCar, a website where you can share rides with drivers headed where you’re going (and pay for a share of the gasoline). It’s often cheaper and faster than public transportation. I’ve used this several times (in France and Brazil) and had only positive experiences.

The bus from Barcelona to Tossa de Mar takes about an hour and a half without traffic. But we went on a Saturday morning (leaving at 10:30AM) and encountered some traffic towards the end of our trip. So the whole trip ended up taking about two hours.

We spent the afternoon exploring the town of Tossa de Mar, a walled-off medieval town and ancient fisherman’s village that is incredibly charming albeit completely overrun with tourists.

The narrow, cobblestoned streets are lined with little shops and restaurants, leading up to a massive 12th-century castle that sits atop a hill overlooking the adjacent beach and coastline.

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After exploring a bit of what this beautiful town had to offer, we hopped on a boat to check out a nearby beach. The boat cost 10 euros round trip and took about 40 minutes to get to the beach and 30 minutes back.

We did a bit of sightseeing on the way there, stopping in various caves to admire the multicolored rock and hordes of little black fish swimming in the translucent water.

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And then, we arrived at our destination…

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Paradise, I know. We took a dip in the water (which was a bit cold but felt super refreshing!) and stayed for about an hour before heading back to the main beach at Tossa de Mar.

Then we spent a little more time exploring before taking the bus to our next destination: Lloret de Mar.

I have to admit: I had high expectations about this place and was a bit disappointed overall. Lloret de Mar is known for its nightlife, so there are some trashy-looking discotecas all along the main strip. And the main beach is so overcrowded that there is barely anywhere to sit. My first impressions? Not so impressed.

But then we walked down a path (from the main beach) that led us to the other side of the hill. And the difference was like night and day. It was much more calm and peaceful. And just look at that view…

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We walked down that path for a few minutes and then stumbled upon a multilevel outdoor and indoor bar/restaurant that overlooked the surrounding coastline.

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Then we sat and enjoyed some sangria for a bit before heading back to Barcelona. Not a bad way to end the day…

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Note: I think that Lloret de Mar does have more to offer than what we saw, but you might have to venture a bit outside of the city center to see it.

What it’s REALLY Like to Live in Medellin, Colombia

After spending seven unforgettable weeks in Buenos Aires, I once again packed my bags and this time, relocated to Medellin, Colombia, where I ended up living for another two months.

Why Medellin? I was drawn to the fact that there was a huge digital nomad (pardon the douchy term) and entrepreneurial community there, thanks to the city’s high quality of life, low cost of living and friendly people. Medellin is also known for being one of the most creative cities in South America; many entrepreneurs from all around the globe move to Medellin to start businesses (I lived with three of them).

I certainly had my preconceptions about what it was like to live in Medellin, but not all of them proved to be accurate. So for those of you who are curious, here’s what it’s REALLY like to live in the former drug capital of the world…

It’s safe (really!) 

Before I moved to Medellin, I had received my fair share of warnings. A lot of my friends and family back in the states thought I was certifiably insane for moving to a place that was once the drug capital (and the most dangerous city) of the world. One ex-colleague of mine relayed warnings to not go anywhere near Colombia, because the entire country was replete with drug trafficking, kidnapping and violence.

Rest assured, these warnings were nothing more than vast, unfounded generalizations based entirely on anecdotal evidence and stereotypes. Even just a little bit of research on Medellin shows that this is a far cry from reality.

Here’s my take on things: Like any city, it depends on the neighborhood you’re in. I lived in El Poblado, which is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Medellin, and felt like I could have just as easily been in a suburb of the U.S. All of the bars and restaurants were within walking distance from my place or a short cab (or Uber) ride away and I honestly felt safe walking home at any hour of the night.

But when I ventured out to other areas (like the slums, for lack of a better word), I definitely didn’t feel quite as safe. I visited Comuna 13, known for once being the most dangerous neighborhood of Medellin. Over the years, it has undergone a massive transformation; home to a library park, an outdoor escalator and some colorful graffiti art, the neighborhood is now liveable and relatively safe (at least comparatively). But I wouldn’t recommend flashing your belongings or meandering down any dark alleyways.

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Comuna 13
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Comuna 13
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Comuna 13

Bottom line: Like any city, you just have to “keep your antenna up,” as my mom always used to say, and be aware of your surroundings. But honestly, most of the time, I felt safer in Medellin than I did in the U.S.

People are very honest 

I gotta say, as bad as it sounds, this one surprised me. Being in a developing Latino country (not to mention a city that was once the drug capital of the world), I would have expected the locals in Medellin to try and take advantage of gringos like myself whenever they could.

Au contraire. There was not one, but multiple instances, where I nearly overpaid by quite a lot (the Colombian currency takes some getting used to, okay?!). The taxi drivers/cashiers could have easily pocketed the extra money, but instead, they told me that I was paying way too much and gave me back the money I didn’t need to pay.

It’s cheap–but not THAT cheap

Compared to a city like Buenos Aires, Medellin is definitely cheap. And when it comes to housing, the dollar and euro go a long way. Because the city has developed so much over the last ten years, many of the apartments are modern and new and come equipped with pools, saunas and gyms.

Just to give you an idea, I paid $500 USD a month to live in a shared penthouse where I had my own private bathroom, desk and a queen-sized bed. The two-floor apartment had a large terrace with a big screen projector and a kick-ass view of the entire city, as well as another large balcony (which also had an awesome view). It also had a treadmill, which proved particularly advantageous due to the city’s unpredictable weather.

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Our terrace
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The view from my bedroom
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#digitaldouchebag

And for all that, I still think that I was overpaying a bit.

I found my place through one of the Facebook expat groups (so no, I didn’t live with any Colombians)–but Airbnb is also really cheap and honestly an option for long-term rental. When I went back to Medellin (on my way to Brazil), I rented a room in Poblado for a week and paid about $10 per night. The apartment was nice and fairly modern; I had my own bathroom; and my bedroom had a panoramic view of the city. Like so…

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Yup, $10 USD a night for that. True story.

In Medellin, I was able to afford things that I currently wouldn’t be able to afford back home (or in many other places for that matter).

I never go to get my nails done in the U.S. because it’s not worth it to me to spend $60 to $70 on a mani/pedí every couple of weeks. But in Medellin, this was something that I could easily afford. I paid a total of $15 for a gel manicure and pedicure at a nice salon in Poblado (which would have cost me nearly $100 back stateside). Imagine what I would have paid at a “cheap” salon!

I also paid $10 for a haircut at a high-end salon in Poblado (something that would cost me a minimum of $60 in the U.S.).

We had a housekeeper come to clean the apartment several times a week, and each time, it cost us a total of $20 USD (so $5 each) for about six hours worth of cleaning. Given the fact that she worked so hard, traveled for several hours to come to us and had a son to provide for, I felt bad about paying her so little. I talked to my roommate about paying her a bit more, but he said that if we paid much more than the going rate, we would then become the dumb gringos who get taken advantage of…so alas, that stayed the same…

We also had a full-time chef, who came five days a week and cooked all of our meals (that cost about an additional $500/month per person for the food ingredients plus her services). As someone who reallyyy does not like to cook (at least not on a daily basis), this was a huge bonus for me.

Here are some of the gourmet meals that she cooked for us…

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Your mouth watering yet? Ok sorry, I’ll stop. Moving on…

Uber and taxis are also very inexpensive. I never felt guilty about taking them because they almost never exceeded the cost of what I would pay in NYC for a subway ride.

To give you an idea, a 20-minute taxi or Uber ride will set you back about $3 USD. There was one time (in Cartagena) where I think I paid about 50 cents for a ten-minute Uber ride…yet again, I felt pretty bad about not compensating the poor driver more for his time.

As for groceries, you will probably spend about $70 on a week’s worth of groceries, give or take, depending on what you buy.

What’s not cheap? Going out to eat. If you want to eat at a nicer restaurant in Poblado, you will probably spend just a bit less than you would at a similar restaurant in the U.S.

The medical care is amazing 

The medical care in Medellin is inexpensive; the facilities are state-of-the-art and modern; and many of the doctors are top notch.

To be seen (and tested) by a good doctor, you will pay about the same without insurance as you would pay with insurance in the U.S. To give you an idea, I paid about $30 USD for a very full and extensive teeth cleaning. A procedure that would have cost me between $1,500 and $10,000 in the U.S. (an upper endoscopy) cost me a mere $150 in Medellin.

If you’re looking for a doctor in Colombia, I recommend searching for one on Doctoralia.

Oh and don’t be sketched out if the doctor gives you his or her Whatsapp number. It’s totally normal in Colombia (and all of South America–or at least Brasil and Argentina) for doctors to converse with their patients via Whatsapp.

It’s really easy to meet people & network

I normally worked from home, but almost every time I worked from a coffee shop, I would meet other gringos/expats/travelers. On my last day in Medellin, I probably met at least ten different people (all gringos of course), some of whom I ended up going out to dinner and dancing with later that night. That’s how easy it is to meet people in Medellin.

It’s also inspiring to be surrounded by–and meet–so many ambitious and creative people. On my last day in Medellin, I was working from a restaurant and started talking to the guy sitting next to me, who was also working from his computer. Then the other guy next to me (also working) chipped in and goes, “I hear you talking about content marketing…I started a content marketing company.” And then revealed that he was one of the founders of Contently, a company which is pretty big in the marketing world and one that I was already well familiar with. As a content marketer, that was a pretty exciting moment for me.

The digital nomad/expat community in Medellin is huge and all the gringos/expats tend to know one other and stick together, for better or for worse. To be honest, I didn’t have much luck meeting Colombians. I suppose like anywhere, it’s always easier to meet other expats and travelers than it is to meet locals.

It rains a LOT 

Known as the city of eternal spring, Medellin has a pretty ideal climate. It never gets too hot or cold and the temperature hovers in the 70s Fahrenheit (mid 20s celsius) year-round.

The downside is that it is always a bit chilly at night (so not quite comfortable enough to go jacket- or sweater-free). And it rains (ie: pours) a LOT, which can get annoying if you are unprepared. I learned the hard way to always bring an umbrella (and sweater) with me wherever I went. Luckily the rain never lasts too long (normally only a few hours) before it’s sunny again.

Spices don’t really exist 

If you like spicy food, then I’ve got some bad news: You’ll probably be disappointed by the food in Colombia, which is notorious for being quite bland and spice-free.

The typical to-go food in Colombia is fried…think: plantains, arepas (corn cakes) and empanadas.

Most of the time, the to-go food also looks pretty unappetizing, like it’s been sitting out for several days (and judging by the taste, probably has been).

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Super fresh hamburger patties and sausages…yum

But go to a nicer restaurant and the food can be pretty amazing…

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The amazing food at Alambique, a restaurant in El Poblado

Pollution is bad 

Because Medellin is situated in a valley, surrounded by mountains, pollution can build up and get pretty bad at times, like during rush hour when there are a lot of cars on the road. Good news is that the frequent rain helps to clear the atmosphere.

Also, if you live higher up on a hill, the pollution isn’t really an issue. Where I lived (in El Poblado), I didn’t notice it, but when I ventured out into certain parts of the city, I sometimes felt smothered by the polluted air.

The paisaje is breathtaking 

One of the reasons that I wanted to live in Colombia was because I wanted to be surrounded by nature. And Medellin definitely turned out to be a good place for that.

I loved looking out of my apartment window and seeing green mountains in the distance and cows lounging in nearby parks…

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See the cows?? View from one apartment I stayed at

I loved walking through the streets of my neighborhood and passing by streams, bamboo trees and lush plant life I’d never seen before.

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One of the streets in my neighborhood

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I loved the open-air restaurants and bars and always feeling like I was surrounded by nature.

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37 Park – my favorite bar in Medellin. Can you see why?
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37 Park

I also loved being able to hop on a bus and in 40 minutes, completely escape from city life and be surrounded by, well, this: 

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Can you blame me?

For mini outdoor escapades, caminadas (walks) and hikes, I went to Envigado (which is technically a separate town, but practically in the city of Medellin).

There are also many pueblitos (small towns) close to Medellin, which make for some amazing weekend getaways. During my two months there, I didn’t get to see as much as I wanted to, but I did pay an overnight visit once to the colorful town of Guatapé (an absolute must-see).

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It has a thriving cafe culture 

Being a city full of digital nomads (again, there goes that douchy term again) and online entrepreneurs, it makes perfect sense that there are a ton of coffee shops and places to work from in Medellin.

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Cafe Zeppelin in El Poblado
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Cafe Zeppelin in El Poblado
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Cafe Velvet in El Poblado
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More cafes in El Poblado

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More of a restaurant than a cafe, but I loved this place (and yup, worked from there too)

And unlike the U.S., where waiters and waitresses bring you the check practically before you have taken your first bite or sip, in Colombia (and pretty much anywhere else in the world, to my knowledge), it’s considered rude to bring patrons the check or offer them their check before they have asked for it.

In the U.S., waiters will ask you about a hundred times how everything is and if you need anything (which gets so annoying). But in Colombia, waiters will only come up to you if you summon them. In other words, you can sit at a coffeeshop or restaurant all day long in Medellin and not be bothered or feel pressured to leave.

And now, I know you’re probably wondering about the coffee itself…apparently, the best coffee in Colombia is exported. But it is still home to (hands down) the best coffee that I’ve ever tasted: Pergamino coffee.

Like many of the cafes in Medellin, Pergamino has a variety of brewing methods and beans to choose from, so there’s something for everyone.

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Home to the best coffee in the world, hands down

My other favorite coffeeshop in Medellin, Urbania, is also in Poblado…but is much less touristy. The coffee is also (probably equally as) delicious and beautifully presented:

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Only in Colombia do they have 7 different coffee brews to choose from…

The locals are warm and friendly 

Before moving to Medellin, I had heard rave reviews about how friendly the people were. Perhaps because I went with such high expectations, I was a bit let down by the friendliness of locals. I imagine it has something to do with the fact that the city has received a massive influx of tourists and expats over the past few years.

But with that being said, I did encounter some very friendly people. On my first day in Medellin, I had not one, but two different cars of people stop me to ask if I needed help or a ride (and no, they weren’t males with ulterior motives…they were females!). I did accept the first ride from two Colombian women (mother and daughter) and they drove me to a nearby coffeeshop.

And on my last day in Medellin, I had an Uber driver pick me up and take me to the airport. Except instead of dropping me off curbside and helping me unload my bags, as would have been expected, he parked the car, paid for parking himself (actually refused to let me pay), and then proceeded to help me take my bags to baggage claim and didn’t leave me until I was in line at check-in.

I had to get photographic evidence of whom was probably the world’s best Uber driver:

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Not a bad note to leave on.

So there you have it. The good, the bad and the ugly (well, there wasn’t much ugly) of living in Medellin.

My final verdict? With its low cost of living, temperate climate, vibrant community and excellent medical care, Medellin has a great deal to offer both expats and tourists alike.

So what do you say…ready to pack your bags?

Observations from 7 weeks in Buenos Aires

In November of 2016, I left my 9-to-5 office job and started working for a remote-based marketing agency, which has since given me the freedom to work from anywhere in the world. I first set my sights on Buenos Aires, where I ended up staying for 7 weeks.

A little context: When I first arrived in Buenos Aires (or “Bs As” as the locals refer to it), I stayed with my friend Carolina and her brother, who were both total godsends when I arrived. They took me in while I looked for a place to stay (which turned out to be much more difficult ordeal than I had originally predicted).

After staying with them for a month, I moved to an AirbnB for another month, where I stayed with two Argentinian guys in a different part of the city. They often had asados (barbeques) at the house and invited me to join them whenever they did.

So…after all of that, here are a few things that I learned about Argentinian (or Porteño culture)…

Driving 

I think this might be more of a South American thing, but pedestrians don’t have the right of way in Buenos Aires. Cars just don’t stop for pedestrians (even at crosswalks where there is no pedestrian signal). You can be in the middle of a crosswalk and cars will just continue to barrel towards you.

After nearly getting run over several times (quite literally), I learned my lesson: always cross with extreme caution and NEVER assume that a car will stop for you!

The Language

Pretty much every Spanish-speaking person I’ve met seems to be obsessed with Argentine Spanish. It sounds like Italian-influenced Spanish, singsongey and melodic.

One Argentinian guy friend of mine lived in Barcelona for some time and told me that Spanish girls would go loco for his accent. I found the same to be true of my friend, Carolina. Personally, it also happens to be one of my favorite accents, as well.

To the outside ear, Argentine Spanish can take some getting used to. My Spanish is still pretty basic at this point, but here are a few things I’ve found…

The “y” sound becomes a “sh” sound. So instead of saying “yo,” it sounds like “sho.”

“LL” is pronounced as “Sh,” so “llevar” is pronounced like “shevar” and “calle” is pronounced “cashay.”

What I love is that Argentinians don’t say “de nada” (you’re welcome), they say “no, por favor” (no, please). They don’t say “todo bien (all good),” they say “todo bien, por suerte” (all good, thankfully).

Argentine Spanish (or at least Porteño Spanish) has a lot of Italian influence, with many words that are taken from Italian. Laburar (to work) is a slang word that is taken from the Italian word “lavorare.” Fiaca (laziness) is another word that is taken from the Italian word “fiacca” (weariness).  The list goes on…

There is one expression I recently learned which I love: viejos son los trapos, which means basically that things are old, not people. You will probably never hear an old person being called viejo or “old” in Argentina. I noticed that waiters, for instance, even address middle-aged (and older) women as “chicas” (girls). In Argentina, everyone is treated young, no matter their age. “Old” doesn’t exist.

One thing I’ve found is that while I tried to speak Spanish all of the time, many people would respond in English to me (to which, I would respond back in Spanish or simply say “español esta bien”). I found that this very rarely happens in Colombia (where far fewer people speak English). So if you are just passing through Buenos Aires, you could probably get by on unicamente ingles (only English). But the polite thing is to at least ask “Hablas ingles?” before assuming. You’d be surprised how many foreigners (ahem, Americans) don’t seem to do this.

Fashion

Women in Argentina seem to love wearing these hideous five-inch platform shoes (referred to as “tacos”), which for whatever reason, have become a trend in Buenos Aires. They look a little something like this…

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And EVERYONE (at least all young people) wears them.

Cost of Living/Prices

Word on the street is that Bs As used to be quite cheap. Not so much anymore. Everyone warned me that it was an expensive city, but I guess I didn’t realize just how expensive it was. While definitely less costly than other major cities like London, New York and Paris, it’s definitely not cheap.

For a decent room in a shared apartment in a desired neighborhood (like Palermo or Recoleta), you’ll pay upwards of $600 USD. If you don’t mind living a bit off the beaten path or in a tiny (and I mean, tiny) room, you can pay less than that, like $375 maybe.

A coffee in a nice coffee shop will run you about 50 pesos or $3 USD. A take-out meal normally doesn’t cost less than 150 pesos or $10 USD. If you want healthy, organic food, you’ll pay closer to $20 USD (or more). Prefer to dine in? Lunching at a nice, healthy restaurant in Palermo (admittedly one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city) will set you back about $30.

Alcohol isn’t cheap either. Expect to pay about 200 pesos or $13 for two beers in Palermo (the place to go out in Bs As). A cocktail at a nice bar costs about twice that, 200 pesos (or more), for one cocktail.

Groceries are probably even more expensive than the U.S.–for lower quality. I would pay about $100 USD for a week’s worth (maybe less) of groceries.

As someone who is quite health-conscious and picky about what I put in my mouth, I found it difficult and frustrating to grocery shop in Buenos Aires.

The selection is much more limited for health-conscious eaters and finding things like Himalayan sea salt, seed-based crackers, goji berries and the like isn’t easy (I realize I probably sound like a spoiled, pretentious brat even saying that!). Also, many of the fruits and vegetables look practically rotten, sometimes with flies all around them. Not very appetizing.

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Frankly, I found it difficult to find what appeared to be fresh fruits and vegetables. There are some smaller markets that sell healthy, organic foods, but still not even close to the same selection that you can find back stateside or in neighboring Brazil.

Food & Drinks 

On that note, it’s not easy to be vegan or vegetarian in Buenos Aires. While there are more and more healthy, plant-based restaurants opening up around the city, this is, first and foremost, the land of meat. Porteños love to have asados, or barbeques, on the weekends, and the abundance of rooftops and terraces (every house or apartment seems to have one) bodes well for that.

A typical breakfast here consists of some medialunas (croissants) and coffee.

And, oh, the wine…This is not only delicious in Argentina, but also one of the few things that is relatively inexpensive. Wine-lovers rejoice.

Fernet, which, let’s just say, is an acquired taste, is another alcoholic drink that you will hear and see a lot of in Argentina. No party is complete without it.

And then there’s mate. Mate is like an herb tea and is everywhere in Argentina. People drink it out of a tin cup filled with herbs. At parties and get-togethers, you will probably see a thermos filled with hot water, which is poured into the tin cup every so often and then passed around for everyone to drink. Like so…

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One thing that I love, which I had never had before, is coffee tonic, which is a cold brew coffee with tonic water – expensive but surprisingly delicious. This is a thing in Buenos Aires I found.

Getting Around

There are three ways that I got around: Uber (or taxis); the bus or the metro. The metro is very limited, so in terms of public transportation, you’ll probably be relying mostly on the bus. In order to take the bus or metro, you’ll need to get a card–and recharge it before boarding. If the card runs out while you’re on the bus, you have two passes which you can pay off another time and then you won’t be able to use it all. If that happens, you will have to ask a fellow passenger to pay for you (and give them the 7 pesos or whatever it is).

Uber exists only for people who have a foreign bank card–because of the taxi competition, people with Argentine bank cards are prohibited from using Uber. Uber drivers will often ask passengers to sit in the front seat (and pretend that they are a friend), because if a taxi driver notices an Uber driver, he may pick a fight (Yup, I have heard of this actually happening). Unlike many other South American countries, Uber and taxis are not cheap.

Culture

Buenos Aires feels more like a European city than anything else. And this isn’t just in the architecture (Recoleta, in particular, feels like a little Paris) and the city itself, but in the behavior of the people, as well. Everyone greets each other with a kiss on the cheek. Men will even greet other men this way.

People tend to be very nice and friendly once you start talking to them, but at least from my experience, they generally won’t strike up a conversation with you on the bus or in the middle of the street. Of course part of this surely has to do with being in a big city–I’m sure it’s also a bit different in other parts of Argentina.

What’s interesting to me is that, despite its proximity, Argentina is culturally so different from neighboring countries (like Brazil, for instance). Argentinians themselves have told me that people are happier, more carefree and laid-back in Brazil (or at least seem to be).

Another example: In Brazil, there isn’t much of a cafe culture. People tend to drink coffee standing up at juice bars. In Buenos Aires, like Paris, there is a huge cafe culture. Cafes are everywhere, and you will often see people sitting outside with friends, sipping on a coffee and talking about life.

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The vibe is just completely different from Brazil–and it seems, the rest of South America. It really did feel like I was in a European city in South America.

Nightlife & Dinner Culture

The proverbial nightlife and late-night dining of Buenos Aires is really something else.

I went out to dinner one night–and at 12:30AM, the restaurant was packed (so loud that I could barely hear the person I was with). And that was a Wednesday night.

Most restaurants close at 2AM, at least on weekends, because people generally don’t dine before 10-11PM here. Restaurants will be completely empty if you go at 7:30PM (the most popular time to dine in the states). Most restaurants don’t open until 8PM, but that is considered a super early hour to eat (probably equivalent to eating at 5PM in the U.S.).

When it comes to partying, people (at least young people) tend to pregame (or have prévia) until 2-3AM and then go out to clubs. Which, let me tell you, wasn’t easy on my ancient, 30-year old body!

On one of my first weekends there, we got to the club (or boliche as they call them here) around 3AM and it was only around 4AM that the place started to get super packed and everyone started to arrive. It was really unlike anything I’d ever seen before (except maybe Spain).

Given all of that, what surprised me was the fact that the streets themselves are actually pretty quiet, even on weekend nights. People tend to do their partying either at a friend’s place or at a bar or club–and not so much on the streets.

Despite the fact that people party super hard (and late) here, the hard-partying only really goes on during the weekends (at least Thursday, Friday and Saturday). On Sundays-Wednesdays, everything is dead and streets are empty after around 1AM. So porteños (or people from Buenos Aires) save their real partying for the weekend.

I was talking to a Spaniard who was visiting Buenos Aires and I asked him where the parties were better–here or Spain–and he told me Spain, because, in Spain, there is a party every single day (and Buenos Aires, people only party on certain days).

Side note: I can attest to that. I remember arriving in Madrid one night around 1AM, after having taken the train from Toulouse, France. A group of us from the hostel I was staying at all went out together, and we tried to go to a bar with live music, but found that it was closed…until 3AM…

So we went to a karaoke bar in the meantime, and when we returned to the other bar around 3AM, the place started to get packed. And this was a random Sunday at 4AM…

Not sure I could handle that degree of party-crazy. Buenos Aires is already more than I can handle!

Safety

After living in Rio, where assaltos and robberies are commonplace in pretty much every single neighborhood, Buenos Aires feels very safe to me, especially neighborhoods like Palermo, Recoleta and Colegiales (where I lived). So safe that I would even walk home from my coworking space at night with headphones in my ear.

But like many other large cities, Buenos Aires can also be pretty dangerous, depending on what part of the city you’re in. Venture much outside of the aforementioned areas to places, like to Microcentro, La Boca, and it can get pretty sketchy, fast…even in broad daylight.

Architecture & Design

Buenos Aires is a city of contrasts.

From the European-inspired architecture of Recoleta, to the colorful, artistic buildings of Palermo, to dilapidated buildings in between, this city is a blend of many different styles. Each street corner is different from the next…

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Graffiti and street art are omnipresent in Buenos Aires, thanks to the fact that there are almost zero restrictions on where artists can paint in the city (they only need the permission of property owners).

The plethora of abandoned buildings throughout the city means that there’s a profusion of blank canvases for artists to freely express themselves. On almost every street corner, there is yet another incredible mural to look at and try to interpret. Much of the art is politically-charged or depicts the history of Argentina (which was ruled by a dictatorship for many years).

Here’s another little slideshow to show you what I mean:

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Buenos Aires may be a concrete jungle, but greenery and plants are everywhere. Even though you’re in a big city, it feels like you are surrounded by nature.

From the tree-lined streets to the foliage adorning restaurant walls and window sills, there seems to be almost an obsession with plant-life in Buenos Aires. I’ll let these photos speak for themselves…

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The Weather

I have yet to experience winter in Buenos Aires, but I hear that it gets really cold (0-5 degrees Celsius), and because it stays humid year-round, the wet air makes it feel much colder than it actually is. One Argentinian told me that Buenos Aires winter felt much colder than winter in Stockholm, due to the humidity. Brrr!

Autumn is really nice and temperate though. Summers are supposed to be super hot and humid. And be prepared–when it rains here, it pours. 

La gente (the people) 

Get a little alcohol in them or put them in a party setting, and Argentinian men can be pretty aggressive and persistent (they are also, for the most part, incredibly attractive). My friend, Carolina, and I went to a club one Thursday night. I kid you not, three or four separate instances, different guys literally grabbed my face and tried to plant one on me. And this, I’ve heard, is normal behavior. Granted, most of the people in the club were probably under the age of 25…but still.

While generally, people are not quite as warm, relaxed and friendly as Brazilians (the bus drivers would never strike up a conversation with me, for instance, as would sometimes happen in Rio), overall, I have found people to be quite friendly in Buenos Aires. All of Carolina’s friends and brother’s friends were very warm and hospitable. The same goes for my Airbnb hosts and their friends. They could not have been nicer.

Here are some more examples of the buena gente I encountered in Bs As:

Once, I was looking a bit lost, trying to find my way, and an older woman stopped and asked me (in English — because I guess it was that obvious that I wasn’t Argentinian), “what are you looking for?” and then pointed me in the direction that I needed to go.

Another time, I was riding the bus and my card had run out of money, so I had to ask a random passenger to pay for me with their card. I asked a teenage boy and he immediately agreed, but when I handed him the cash, he refused to accept it. Granted, it’s not a lot of money (like 50 cents), but I thought it was so nice that he actually flat-out refused the money when I tried to hand it to him.

One time, I was walking by myself (in broad daylight) to La Boca, a pretty sketchy neighborhood of Buenos Aires. I was trying to find the famous “El Caminito” street and ran into two police officers. They told me that it was dangerous for me to be walking by myself, because there was a soccer game going on. They then offered to drive me to my destination in their police car. As soon as I got in, I got a bit worried–what if they are corrupt and kidnap me?! But they dropped me off, safe and sound, to where I wanted to go….But not before one of the police officers asked for my Instagram! Only in South America does stuff like this happen…

It’s also totally normal for wait staff or people in the service industry to call female customers “linda” (beautiful), as in “Ciao linda” (bye beautiful). Can you imagine a service employee or waiter saying that to a customer in the U.S.?! He would probably get sued for sexual harassment.

Sólo effectivo, porfa 

Get used to hearing “sólo effectivo” (only cash) in Buenos Aires. While nicer restaurants generally accept credit cards, they don’t accept all credit cards (sometimes only debit cards). And most places only accept effectivo or cash.

It’s pretty much impossible to get by on just credit cards in Argentina, and I found myself having to make frequent trips to the ATM there.

The Verdict

Crazy nightlife and late-night dining. Delicious wine and steak. Fernet and mate. Tango. Neoclassical architecture and edgy street art.

My verdict? Spend some time getting to know Buenos Aires. I think it’ll be worth your while.

Beyond the Beaches: Getting to Know Some of the Real Mexico

I think it’s safe to say that most gringos visit Mexico for the beaches. I’ll be honest: I’ve been guilty of being one of those gringos too.

Up until last week, the only places I had visited in Mexico were Tijuana, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. In the latter two cities, my friend and I stayed at all-inclusive resorts and the only time we ventured out was to go to a few local bars (chaperoned by the resort staff of course).

While this was undoubtedly a relaxing and fun experience, I wouldn’t say we gained any sort of understanding of the Mexican culture or way or life. Culturally, we may as well have been in Florida.

I was curious to see what else this massive, neighboring country of mine had to offer. A few Google searches showed me that there was much more to see there than just exotic, white-sand beaches.

So I booked a trip for the long Memorial Day weekend. None of my friends could join, so I ended up going solo.

Many people would probably think I’m crazy for going to Mexico by myself. In the U.S., Mexico is perceived as being incredibly dangerous and off-limits to travel to. When I first moved to San Diego, I was initially terrified of going to Tijuana, based on everything that people told me. In the end, I realized it’s like any other city. Side note: Word on the street is that if Tijuana were a U.S. city, it would be ranked number #35 or so on the list of most dangerous U.S. cities. True story.

While it’s true that kidnapping, drug trafficking and assaults are more common in Mexico than many other countries, it also depends on where you go (border cities are obviously not as safe) and how you travel.  As my wise mother always told me, keep your antenna up. Don’t be stupid (and by “stupid,” I mean get excessively inebriated, leave your drink unattended, be loud, accept rides from strangers, or wander down vacant streets at night), and chances are, you’ll be fine.

Even so, I was a little nervous about traveling to Mexico by myself, given the bad rep that it has stateside. I had heard enough stories to incite a little fear in me.

Getting to Mexico 

I booked my flight from Tijuana to Mexico City–or DF (Distrito Federal) as the locals call it.

Tip: If you live in the San Diego area, you should seriously look into flights from Tijuana if you are heading south of the border; my flight was at least $200 cheaper than it was from San Diego.

There is a bridge from San Diego that will take you directly to the Tijuana airport, but I found it a bit ridiculous to pay $15 just to cross the border, so I parked my car on a random street by the border, then took an Uber to the border, walked across, and from there, took a taxi to the airport. With my broken Spanish, I somehow managed to bargain my taxi fare down from $20 to $8! Lesson learned: Don’t accept the first price you’re given, a.k.a. the gringo price.

Once at the TJ airport, it probably took me all of five minutes to get my boarding pass and walk through security–couldn’t have been easier.

When I arrived in DF (around 1AM), I took a taxi to my hostel, Casa San Ildefonso. The location was central (Centro Historico de la Cuidad) but in a pretty (supposedly) touristy area. Funnily enough though, I barely saw any other tourists outside of the hostel.

I expected to be sharing a room with like five other people (as is the case in most hostels), but instead, I had an entire room to myself the first night and the second night, had to share it with just one other person.

There were three spacious bedrooms connected to one another, with two beds in each room, all of which shared a common bathroom.  Set in a gorgeous colonial-style building, with high ceilings and hardwood floors, it felt almost more like a hotel or European mansion than a hostel.

It looked a little something like this:

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The area immediately surrounding the hostel was pedestrian-only, and it sat behind the beautiful Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso (Former College of San Ildefonso). So when I stepped outside, this was the view I was greeted with:

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Exploring DF 

I only had one day and night to spend in Mexico City, since I also wanted to visit Guanajuato, further north. I chose to spend my time just walking around and checking out the different neighborhoods and architecture.

Since I’m a big fan of rooftops, my first stop was El Mayor, a Mexican restaurant set on a rooftop overlooking Templo Mayor, one of the city’s major archaeological sites.

The food was expensive by Mexican standards, but average to cheap by most U.S. standards (I paid like 60 pesos or a few bucks for a delicious, seemingly bottomless pit of guacamole).

And the view made the above-average cost worth it…

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Next, I went to check out the more ritzy, upscale neighborhoods of La Condesa and La Roma. When I got to the metro station, I found that I was unable to pay with a credit card–and had no pesos on me. Luckily, the kind woman working behind the counter paid for my fare. I cannot imagine something like that ever happening in the U.S., where if you are so much as two pennies short, the cashier won’t let you make a purchase.

Once I made it to La Condesa, I passed by this beautiful, tranquil park. DSC_0497

The buildings in the neighborhood looked a little something like this:

I then wandered a bit further, into the neighboring La Roma. Out of all the places I saw in Mexico City, this was my favorite district. Populated by trendy cafes, chic restaurants and avant-garde boutiques, La Roma has got it going on. It’s also got a vibrant nightlife scene for those who are looking for a fun night out.

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I eventually took an Uber back to my hostel, and along the way, I saw some more stunning historical sites in the central neighborhood of Zócalo

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And then walked around some more…

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A few observations about DF 

One thing I loved about Mexico City was that, despite being a massive city with a population of over 21 million (fun fact: that’s more than five times the size of New Zealand), I’ve never met such friendly, helpful people. If I so much as looked a little bit lost, whether on the street or on the metro, people would come up to me and ask if I needed help. This happened not once, not twice, but multiple times.

Everyone I encountered was also so polite. For instance, Uber drivers would actually get out of the car and walk over to the other side just to open the car door for me.  Nice to know that chivalry is not dead after all!

Here in the US, my pet peeve is being called “ma’am.” In Mexico, I loved that everywhere I want, people called me “senorita” (“miss”).  I imagine that this is a result of the more casual, friendly Mexican approach.

To be expected, everything was so cheap in comparison to the U.S. It was nice to be able to eat out at a nice restaurant and not feel like I was spending half my weekly income. And considering the fact that a 20-minute Uber ride costs only about $2 (no exaggeration here), which is cheaper than the cost of a metro ride in New York City, I could take an Uber everywhere and not feel guilty about it.

Despite the warnings I had heard about Mexico City (I had actually heard of people who came to DF and hired bodyguards), I felt incredibly safe walking around by myself.

I definitely felt safer walking around than I did sitting in the backseat of Ubers or taxis. It doesn’t seem like traffic laws are really obeyed or enforced in DF. Even when the streets were congested with people, drivers would just keep driving. Whatever happened to stopping for pedestrians? There were also multiple instances where I actually thought that another driver was going to run into us!

Onwards and northwards 

After soaking in all of DF’s madness, I headed north to the colonial city of Guanajuato.

I took an Uber to the main bus station in the north of the city and from there, took a bus to Guanajuato. The ticket was quite expensive (around 600 pesos or 30 dollars for a 5-hour bus ride), but each passenger had their own reclining chair and TV with a wide selection of movies and TV shows.

I arrived in Guanajuato later than expected–around 8:30PM–without a place to stay. But I ended up lucking out and finding an awesome place at the last-minute.

I stayed in yet another quaint, beautiful hostel (called Casa de Dante), a bit aways from the main city center (but within walking distance). To reach the hostel, I had to walk up a seemingly endless flight of stairs–not easy when you’re lugging an approximately 25-pound bag along with you!

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Like Casa San Ildefonso, this hostel had a very open, airy feel to it. There was also a massive two-level balcony with amazing views of the city…

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Besides the hospitable staff and endless supply of free earplugs (!!), one thing I loved about the hostel was all of the distinctive signs and decorations throughout. As you can see, there was a heavy emphasis on drinking!

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After I arrived at the hostel (around 10:30PM), I went out and explored the town with a Kiwi guy and a Mexican guy who were staying in my room.

Not sure if this was just coincidental, but I found it interesting that I was the only female staying at Casa de Dante and was also one of the few (if not the only) females staying at my hostel in Mexico City. Girls, don’t be scared of Mexico!

Saturday night on the town 

Even though the streets were packed and alive with music everywhere, many of the restaurants were already closed by the time we got into town.

So what exactly do you order on a night out in Guanajuato? I’m not a huge beer person, but apparently, Corona is not the type of beer you should be drinking in Mexico. From what I’ve heard, the best Mexican beers (and the ones that you will probably see the most people drinking) are Dos Equis, Victoria and Leon.

Mexcal, a distilled beverage made from the agave plant (native to Mexico), is also a must-try. It is basically like tequila, but tastier, traditionally served with orange slices instead of lime slices. And instead of being served with normal salt, mexcal is accompanied by chili salt or sal de gusano, which is sea salt ground with the dried caterpillars that infest agaves. Gross, I know. I actually didn’t know that until I looked it up afterwards–and probably would have been better off not knowing that.

Anyway, mexcal comes in many different flavors, and you can drink it as a shot or sip it, whatever suits your fancy.

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Daytime exploring 

The next day, Sunday, I had planned to spend the morning and early afternoon in Guanajuato and then head on to San Miguel de Allende (which is only an hour away and on the way to Mexico City, where my flight was flying out of on Monday night), but I was so entranced by Guanajuato that I couldn’t bring myself to leave.

You can see why…

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Like DF, I also felt very safe walking around the city, both day and night.

I spent another day touring around, and on my last night, I went to get a drink with the guys from my hostel at a bar that boasted one of the best views of the city (and a shot of mexcal for 50 cents). This view (seen below) is also about 100 times better in person.

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We then all went out for some dinner and drinks. Even though it was a Sunday night, the town was full of people out and about. There’s really no off-night in Guanajuato!

One thing I appreciated was how few tourists there were in Guanajuato. During my time there, I only heard English spoken a few times outside the hostel. It definitely was nice to be in a foreign country and actually feel like I was in a foreign country.

The next morning, before I left, I had a delicious, homemade breakfast at the hostel (which was included with my stay).

I was shocked to discover that the hostel actually had its own private chef on staff, who cooks and serves the guests each day. The most I’ve seen a hostel ever have for breakfast is bread and maybe waffles if I’m lucky! This put all the other hostel (and hotel) breakfasts I’ve ever had to shame…

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Shortly after breakfast, I headed back to the bus station, where I took a bus to Querétaro, and from Querétaro, hopped on a bus that took me directly to the airport in Mexico City.

It may have been a lot of traveling, but hey, at least I had some nice views on the way there…

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I bid farewell to Mexico with some delicious tacos. Even the airport tacos in Mexico put US tacos to shame:

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Hasta luego, Mexico!

Hiking Around Paraty and Surrounding Beaches

While I was living in Rio, one of my best and oldest friends from home, Mareill, came to visit me to help me celebrate my 27th birthday.

As if visiting me wasn’t enough, as a birthday gift, she generously treated me to a three-day hiking trip around Paraty, a small coastal colonial town in the state of Rio de Janeiro. I know, I have some pretty awesome friends.

To get to Paraty, we woke up before the crack of dawn (around 3AM) and got on a bus from Rio, which was about five hours away. From there, we hopped on a boat and headed to a nearby beach, where we began our hike.

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The beautiful pink boat we took

Paraty runs along the coastline (Costa Verde) of the state of Rio and is surrounded by untouched beaches and lush green mountains and forests.

During the boat ride, we passed by little islands like this one…

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And about an hour later, we finally reached the beach where we started our hike…

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I know. And that’s not even photoshopped.

Before starting the hike, we explored the beaches a bit, finding that, while they were not entirely secluded (there were actually people living on and near the beaches), they felt completely cut off from civilization. It was definitely a nice escape.

After the first day of hiking, we set up camp at a campsite, where a local of the area  prepared and served us a homemade dinner. We were both so exhausted that we passed out shortly afterwards, at around 7PM.

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Our campsite the first night

The next day, we hiked by some jaw-dropping landscape…

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And that evening, after a long day of hiking, we finally arrived at our next destination: an adorable, bustling little village (well, comparatively anyway).

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Bar/restaurant on one of the beaches

For dinner, we went to a local villager’s home, where we were cooked yet another meal. Something I could definitely get used to!

And we spent the night in a tiny house that had just a bathroom and a bedroom.

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The next day, we woke up early again for a third (and final) day of hiking, which led to even more beautiful, pristine beaches.

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And towards the end of our hike, we finally reached the best view of all…

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We hiked down to the bottom of the trail and arrived at yet another little beach village (perhaps the biggest one yet).

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One of the beach bars/restaurants on the last beach we trekked through

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Loved the carefully crafted, handmade chairs and tables

 

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A school on the beach

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Loving the creativity here.
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Bathroom/outdoor sinks of one of the homes

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After a little much-needed R & R, we were off once more to start the last leg of the hike.

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One final view before leaving
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The last leg of the hike…at this point, I was about ready to collapse!

Once we finally finished the hike, we caught a bus back to Paraty, where we explored a bit more before heading back to Rio.

Even if you don’t make it to the beaches, Paraty itself is definitely worth a visit. The historic center of the town is made up of narrow, cobblestone streets and whitewashed, red-roofed buildings adorned by colorful doors and windows. Cars are prohibited, so people get around by horse and carriage or bicycle. It looks a little something like this…

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Now, how can you not fall in love with that place?

After the sun set, we caught the bus back to Rio. It was hard to leave Paraty, but it’s a little hard to complain when your home looks like this…

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Morro Dois Irmoes, Rio de Janeiro

Being 20 Again: 12 Days Spent in Ouro Preto

Last night I got back to Rio after spending twelve incredible days in Ouro Preto.

I had originally planned to stay for five days, but was having such a great time that I ended up extending my stay. And I went by myself, which just goes to show that, while it’s always fun traveling with friends, you can sometimes have just as much fun (if not more) traveling alone.

A Bit About the City

For those who haven’t heard of it, Ouro Preto is a former colonial mining town located in the mountains, in the state of Minas Gerais.

It’s been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its beautiful baroque architecture. It looks and feels like a European town, with hilly cobblestone streets and red-roofed houses.

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To add to the charm, the shop and restaurant signs throughout the city are all hand-crafted. Like this…

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In addition to being much smaller than Rio (eliminating the need for taxis much of the time), Ouro Preto also feels (and is) much safer than Rio. I would feel totally comfortable walking home alone at night, for instance, especially in the center of town.

Another thing that makes Ouro Preto unique is the fact that it’s the only city in Brazil with fraternities and sororities. Ouro Preto is home to a massive student population and most of those students live in shared houses, called républicas (aka fraternities or sororities).

The Frat Culture 

I stayed in two male républicas when I was in Ouro Preto (which I found thanks to couchsurfing!). I stayed in one called Républica Kome Keto for the first five days and then stayed in another called Républica Vaticano for the remaining six nights.

I had an especially awesome time at the second républica I stayed at (Républica Vaticano). The house was located in the center of the city and everyone in the fraternity was so welcoming and nice, making me feel right at home.

When I first asked them if I could stay six nights (which felt like a long time, and I didn’t want to overstay my welcome), they replied without hesitation: “Of course!! You can even move in here if you want!”

And even though some people had to share a room in the house (the youngest people of the house generally have to share a room), they were gentlemanly enough to give me my own room and everything.

Some of the républicas actually charge couchsurfers a fee to stay there, but Vaticano refused to accept my money. They treated me as if I were an actual guest and friend, not just some stranger occupying their living space. They also had their own personal chef, who came to cook delicious food each day – I’m already missing that food!

There are around 500 républicas in the city of Ouro Preto. Walking down the street, it feels like nearly every house is a républica.

Someone told me that in Ouro Preto, people even tend to give directions according to républica, rather than the street name.  Each républica generally has about 11 students living in the house; most are either all male or all female, but there are some mixed/coed houses as well.

As you can imagine, living in a républica is super cheap. One guy told me that he only paid R$ 200 a month to live there (granted, he didn’t live in the center and had to share a room with two other guys…but he said that the price would be the same when he was upgraded to a larger room later on).  He said you could rent a private room in the center of town for around R$ 400. Compare that to the average exorbitant price of around R$ 2,000 one pays to live in the center of Rio…

The houses each have their own names and people in the house are loyal to that house and one another, much like a fraternity/sorority.  Each person in the républica has an “apelido” or nickname.

Everyone calls one another by their nicknames–it’s almost as if the real names are a secret.

Each républica also has several “bixos” which are like the American version of pledges–they do all of the grunt work for about six months and only after that do they become officially part of the républica.

The Parties 

Loved the name of this Républica - Beijinho Doce (Sweet kiss)
Loved the name of this Républica – Beijinho Doce (Sweet kiss)

And of course…républicas also throw awesome parties nearly every day of the week (which rival any of the parties I attended in college). I learned the Portuguese phrase “virar a copa” (chug the cup), which I had never once heard during my nine months in Rio. Suffice it to say that the going-out/drinking culture in Rio is much more centered around sipping–rather than chugging–beers!

On Saturday, there was a churrasco (Brazilian BBQ) at the Vaticano and the neighboring républica (Républica Pureza), which was basically a 12-hour eating, drinking and mingling fest.

The parties (called “rocks” in Ouro Preto – pronounced “haw-ckeys”) are all thrown in some part of the républica houses.  The last one I went to (on a Sunday night) was quite massive, in the center of the city, held in a part outdoor, part indoor space, with about five different rooms. One room resembled a club with strobe lights, while another room had a beautiful view overlooking the city…and of course, alcoholic punch could be found throughout the house.

Another “rock” I went to with some guys from Républica Vaticano was held in an outdoor space in Centro (the center of the city). At the party, there were all different kinds of cachaça (cinnamon and peanut butter were my personal favorites), and there was a competition between the républicas to see who could drink the most shots of cachaça (Side note: Mineiros–people from Minas Girais–drink a LOT of cachaça!).  The prize for winning the contest? A “date” with the female républica that hosted the party. And guess what? My républica (Vaticano) won!

At the parties, nearly whenever someone takes a shot, people in the corresponding républica raise their glasses in unison and chant the “reza” (cheer) of their house (each républica has their own cheer). The cheer of the house I stayed in went something like this…”Quém tem amor tem saudade..” (Whoever has love has saudade) and…I forgot the rest haha.  I wish that I had recorded it–but here is the “reza” of another républica to give you an idea…

Oh and if you go to Ouro Preto (or any part of Minas Girais), you can expect to hear a lot of sertenajo music. This was one popular song that I heard almost everywhere I went…

Despite being the oldest person at these parties, I had a fantastic time. Being there made me want to go back in time and be a student again…but this time in Ouro Preto!

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One of the “rocks” that I attended with the boys

Even better, there are very few gringos/foreigners that study in OP. As far as I know, I was the only gringa at these parties, which means that I got to speak almost exclusively Portuguese the entire time…and of course met a lot of people who were very intrigued by my foreigner status and where I was from. 🙂

Speaking “Mineiro” 

Despite the fact that I sometimes felt a bit out of the loop and like I was repeatedly asking “what?”, all the guys were extremely patient with me and constantly filling me in on different “girias mineiras” (slang from Minas Gerais).

While in the US, the slang is fairly universal (as are the accents), in Brazil, the slang (and accent) varies with each region.

In case you’re curious, here are a few “girias” from Minas that I learned…

cabaço: bobo/stupid

fragar: sacar/to understand (very common)

passar fina: dar uma dica/give a tip

kamofa: mulher galinha/female player

uai (pronounced like “why”): basically can be added on to any sentence/used to express disbelief, admiration, impatience or to reinforce what someone just said (this is a classic mineiro word, used all the time by mineiros)

The Friendly People 

As a whole, mineiros are known nationwide for being incredibly friendly and warm. Go to any part of Brazil and everyone talks about how great mineiros are.

And they definitely lived up to their reputation! When walking down the street, random passerby would strike up a conversation with me.

People were very curious about where I was from and what I thought of Brazil. Even when just buying something from the pharmacy, for instance, the woman at the checkout counter, upon noticing my accent, curiously asked me where I was from.

And when buying something from the market the other day, the people who worked there struck up a conversation with me about where I was from, why I was there, and the differences between Brazil and the US…This type of thing happened quite frequently.

I was reading an article in the New York Times about a woman who was traveling around Minas and she said that, while driving somewhere in the middle of nowhere, she and a friend stumbled upon what seemed to be a “mirage in the dust.” She said,

Curious, we pulled up, wandered the out-of-place manicured lawn and found a gentleman farmer from the city examining his banana orchards. Rather than shoot us for trespassing, he invited us in for coffee and homemade guava paste. For me, that was a typical moment in Minas Gerais…”

I think that sums up the Mineiros (people from Minas Gerais) quite well…

Exploring a Nearby Village 

While there, I also met a nice couple who picked me up in their car one day and took me to a different part of Ouro Preto called Lavras Novas (where there are supposed to be some great waterfalls – a.k.a. the “beach” of Ouro Preto!).

Once there, we indulged in a few caipirinhas before going to grab dinner at a charming restaurant (which was actually someone’s house) in the town.

The large kitchen looked incredibly ancient (with one of those old stoves that I don’t think I had ever even seen before in real life)…and of course the food was delicious.

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The homey kitchen of the restaurant that I ate at in Lavras Novas, OP

The guy I was with helped out the owner (this adorable old lady) by making the caipirinhas himself. Only in Brazil…

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Lavras Novas–a part of Ouro Preto where there were actually cows and horses just wandering around the streets…NBD

The Verdict 

Ouro Preto reminded me of why I love Brazil so much: the happy, friendly and hospitable people; the jaw-dropping scenery; the laid-back culture…and of course the fun parties don’t hurt!

Even though I can’t turn back the clocks of time and go back to student life, I think at the very least, I know where I will be spending my next Carnaval…

15 Things That Surprised Me About Brazil

You can learn a lot about a country and its culture just by visiting. But you really learn about a place after living there.

After the honeymoon phase is over, you start to see both the good and the bad. You see what really lies beneath the surface, as opposed to just the fantasy sold in guidebooks and the like.

I definitely had my preconceptions about Brazil before moving here…but there were some things that surprised me in the end. Here are 15 of them.

1) People rarely ever text. They (almost exclusively) whatsapp.

Whatsapp is basically the only way that people communicate here via cell phones. Which is funny because in the US and France, Whatsapp isn’t used all that much (except to talk to people who are in another country). I’m pretty sure that Brazilians are the primary reason why Whatsapp was sold to Facebook for $19 billion…

Before moving to Brazil, I never used Whatsapp. Now, I can’t imagine communicating with anything else. It’s much more user-friendly than normal texting or iMessage. Once you start using Whatsapp, you’ll never go back. Guaranteed.

2) How insanely expensive (almost) everything is.

I was warned about this before coming, but I still didn’t think that Brazil would be that expensive compared to the US.  This is a developing country after all, so how is that possible for things to cost that much more when the salaries are so much lower? But it is.

All imported products are absurdly overpriced, due to the high import taxes. So overpriced that I refuse to buy clothes, cosmetics, books, electronics…I pretty much only buy what I actually need here!

Just to give you an idea, I went to Sephora the other day and saw that a NARS lipstick that runs $26 USD back home costs R$100 here (about $45 USD).  A Lancome cream that costs $190 USD in the U.S. (still crazy expensive) costs a mind-boggling $1,029 reais here (like 450 USD).

The price of electronics is generally two to three times the cost that it is in the US. A Nikon camera that costs about 500 dollars in the US will set you back about 2,100 reais here (approximately 1,000 dollars).

I was shocked when I saw the price of this simple calculator (equivalent to about 70 USD  - would not cost more than 5 USD at home!)
I was appalled when I saw the price of this simple calculator (equivalent to about 70 USD – would not cost more than 5 USD at home!)

It makes me honestly wonder how people can afford to live here long-term. I have heard that many Brazilians travel to the US just to buy things and then resell them here–And they are able to pay for their flight (and more) with the money they make.

3) The horrible customer service 

People who work in low-level service positions (like at grocery stores, big department stores etc) all generally seem very unhappy (probably due to their low wages) and often project that unhappiness onto the customer.

They do not care to help you and are often even downright rude. I was actually shocked when, last month during Carnaval, some woman behind the counter at Lojas Americanas (a “cheap” department store) initiated a conversation with me. That had never happened before (and hasn’t happened since)!

And if you buy something and want to return it, the salesperson will make it very difficult for you to return that item (if you are able to return it at all). Yet another reason why I don’t buy things here!

This all goes back to the mentality. In Brazil, it’s all about short-term gain–making as much money as possible in that moment.

Whereas in the US, people tend to think more long-term–which is why, for instance, if the customer has to wait longer than usual for the food, they will likely get something in return, like food or drinks on the house. And if the meal doesn’t live up the customer’s standards, it will be free. The restaurant owners want to keep their customers happy, because they know that doing so will prove most beneficial and lucrative for their businesses in the long run.

4) How much I like the Brazilian bikini

When I first came here, I was so timid about wearing the Brazilian bikini on the beach.  Now, I can’t imagine wearing anything else!

Personally, I find the Brazilian cut FAR more flattering than the American/European bikini bottoms– which Brazilians jokingly refer to as “fraldas” (diapers).

And now, I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s safe to say that I am forever converted to the Brazilian style…

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My Brazilian bikini compared to my American bikini
My Brazilian bikini on top of a bikini I bought in France...
And…another Brazilian bikini bottom on top of  bottoms I bought in France…

5) How I always feel like I’m being ripped off

Just to go to a bar in Rio (not a boteco, which is a casual Brazilian bar), you generally have to pay a cover of at least 15 reais. And that’s if there is no live music playing. It makes bar-hopping pretty much out of the question and going out a very expensive excursion.

In comparison, even in a big city like New York, you rarely have to pay to get into a bar. You will likely have to pay a small cover if there is live music, otherwise, the only places that you have to pay are at the high-end clubs. But even then, you won’t pay more than 20 dollars (with a free drink included). In Rio, you can pretty much expect to pay a cover everywhere…and you can forget about that free drink!

There are also many times when the waiter will short you of change or overcharge on a bill. You have to be extra diligent about checking change and bills here.

Here’s another example: If I order sushi and want extra wasabi, I will have to pay 4 reais for that extra wasabi. In the US, you would never be charged for something like that! But I’ve found that nothing is ever free in Brazil.

6) The inefficiency 

Let’s just say that Brazil’s strong point is not exactly efficiency.

Take this for example: As I mentioned above, if you go to a bar in Rio, you are normally charged an entry fee. But instead of paying at the door when you arrive, you have to pay it when you leave. You’re given a piece of paper, where food/drinks are written down as you buy them, and then at the end of the night, you have to pay.

This process sometimes leads to extremely long lines at the end of the night–and caused major issues when there was a fire at a nightclub in Brazil last year.  Tragically, many people actually died because the bouncer would not let people leave without paying their tabs first.

A much more efficient system would be to have customers pay for the cover charge immediately when they arrive and then have them pay for their drinks as they order them–or just allow customers to start a tab and leave the credit card with the bartender, as is done in the US.

It works similarly in stores, where customers have to go to one cashier to get a slip with the price of what they have to pay, and then proceed to another cashier to actually pay.  I never understood this. Why can’t I just pay at one cashier? Why is it so darn difficult just to make a purchase?! Whatever the reasoning is for this (probably to avoid theft), there has got to be a more efficient way.

If I go to the grocery store, there can be three people in front of me and I will be waiting for half an hour just to buy a mango.

So…yeah. You learn to be patient living in Brazil.

7) How necessary it is to speak Portuguese

I had heard that not many people speak English before coming here, but I was still fairly surprised by this.

I witnessed this when my friend Mallory came to visit and, not speaking a word of Portuguese, tried to get by solely on English. Oftentimes, people just did not understand. As can probably be expected, taxi drivers, bus drivers and other people in low-level service positions generally do not speak much (if any) English, while educated and wealthier people tend to speak quite well (but this is of course a very small portion of the population). Personally, I prefer it this way. It means I get to speak Portuguese almost all the time! 🙂

But if you are traveling to Brazil and expecting to get by on just English…you may have your work cut out for you.  I would at least advise buying a phrasebook and learning some key phrases–a little Portuguese will go a long way! And will be much appreciated.

8) Everyone flaunts their bodies proudly 

I honestly have never seen so many ripped male bodies in my life than I have seen in Rio…and luckily for females, many guys elect to go shirtless, even just walking down the street. Definitely makes for some nice eye candy on a day-to-day basis!

But what I love is that no matter one’s size (or age), everyone seems to be proud of their body. In the US, women tend to stop wearing bikinis past a certain age or if they are over a certain size. In Brazil, all women wear bikinis (and not those “diapers” that people wear back home!). Suffice it to say that the beach culture is a refreshing change from the US.

9) How hard it is to eat healthy

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Salgados, popular Brazilian fried snacks made up of meat and/or cheese (photo courtesy of pixabay.com)

In a country that has more types of fruit than I have ever seen in my entire life (which I LOVE by the way), it’s surprising to me how difficult it’s been to have a healthy, well-rounded diet here. I have found myself eating much worse here than I do back home. The grocery store selection is limited and the majority of restaurants do not cater to healthy-eaters.

I’ve found that most Brazilians love to add tons of sugar to almost everything–even things that (at least in my opinion) don’t need any added sugar! Like fruit juice, for instance. Unfortunately, this could be a reason why obesity is on the rise in Brazil.

Eating out centers around mainly fried food (salgados), meat and sugar and very little organic food.  The healthy food is few and far between. If you do seek it out (healthier restaurants can be found in Ipanema and Leblon, the wealthier neighborhoods of Rio), you can expect to pay an arm and a leg for it.

10) The fact that everybody seems to live with their parents.

Most Brazilians live with their parents until they get married, unless their parents live in a different city. It is pretty strange for me, coming from a culture where people generally move out at the age of 18. But here, living with the ‘rents is simply the norm!

I live with an English guy and anytime I tell a Brazilian that I live with a guy who is not my boyfriend and that yes, we have a purely platonic relationship, their jaws practically drop in surprise. I asked one Brazilian about it and he explained that it is not normal for a guy and a girl to live together here, unless they are coupled up or married.

11) The fact that I generally feel quite safe here

This also came as a surprise to me. Sure, I live in a very safe neighborhood and spend most of my time in the Zona Sul (the safer part of Rio), but I do feel a lot safer in Rio than I had anticipated, even riding the bus (I had always heard that there were a lot of robberies on busses, but I have never had a bad experience).

Perhaps this is a false sense of security. I know that I need to always have my guard up here and should not walk alone at night…And I have certainly heard my fair share of stories. But I think if you stick to the safe areas and do not walk alone on empty streets at night, chances are, you will be fine.

But regardless, if you’re traveling to Brazil, be sure to check out these safety tips.

12) The fact that cariocas tend to be a bit closed-off

I had always heard that cariocas (people from Rio) and Brazilians were super friendly, so when I came here, I was a bit surprised to find that this wasn’t exactly the case.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Cariocas aren’t anything like frigid Parisians. But they tend to have their group of friends (from high school, college, work…) and don’t seem to care that much to branch out and make new ones. I have heard from many people that it is very hard to break into a circle of Carioca friends–so it’s not just me that thinks this!

I was out the other night with my awesome Carioca friend, Claudia, and my (equally as awesome) American friend, Iyin. Some Brazilian guy asked us how we all became friends. He thought it was estranho (weird) that a Carioca girl would befriend us, since generally Cariocas have their friends and stick to them.

While people in Rio may not be as overly friendly and warm as I had anticipated, many people are friendly and strangers will often go out of their way to help you if you need help. And in other parts of Brazil, like Minas Girais, people are incredibly friendly and approachable.

13) How women are often seen as sex objects 

How sad is it that I just google imaged “Brazil beauty” and “Brasil beleza” (the Portuguese version of that) and hoping to see pictures of the beautiful country, I instead see (in both languages), pictures of beauty pageant contestants, dolled-up women and their behinds. Such gender objectification is obviously a global issue, but I notice that it is much more blatantly obvious in Brazil.

I’ve been shocked by some of the things that I see on TV here. Watching a normal talk show, for instance, this is what I see on the screen: one male presenter holding a microphone, surrounded by his “assistants”, a line of women in skimpy costumes, just standing there next to him, posing and smiling. As a woman, I find it to be downright offensive! Yet this type of thing is completely normal in Brazil–nobody bats an eyelid.

14) The fact that nearly all of the men have tattoos 

I was quite surprised when I moved to Brazil to find that almost everyone and their mother has at least one tattoo. I have rarely seen a guy without one. Although it is something that seems to be fairly regional. I noticed that tattoos weren’t as prevalent with Mineiros (people from Minas Gerais), for instance. Must be a beach thing!

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The Portuguese term for a full arm tattoo is “braço fechado” (photo courtesy of pixabay.com)

15) That despite it all, I still love it here

OK, that’s a lie–I knew that I would love Brazil before coming here. While some of the things on this list do make me miss home at times, at the end of the day, the positives outweigh the negatives.

The other day, I was riding the bus and the bus driver told me to sit in the front and he would let me out through the front later. He told me that he didn’t speak a word of English–that the only thing he knew how to say was “I love you”. Surprise, surprise!

Then at my stop, he directed me where to get off and how to get home, and when I got off the bus, he shouted out “I love you!” Only in Brazil…

It’s those little interactions that make me love this country so much. It’s the kind, warm people…the infectious energy…the laid-back attitude…

It’s walking down the street and seeing this…

You see? Try not falling in love with Brazil. I dare you.