On doing nothing vs. being productive – Travel (and Corona ) Insights Series #4

Somewhere along the coast of the state in Bahia, crashing waves, beaches framed by palm trees, and sunsets that were postcard-worthy, my third workaway volunteering placement was challenging myself on different levels than I expected. I was contacted by a host of a small bed and breakfast right by the coast, telling me he needed help asap. At the time, I was traveling in the area around Rio the Janeiro and I ended up taking a (very rare) flight up to this area, to be there as fast as I could. This was a place I would not return to; however, looking at my insights, I can see that I learned a valuable lesson from it.

I also feel that these reflections come at a good moment and there are so many parallels I can draw towards our current situation with COVID….

Here are the two posts I wrote in December 2018 about this place:


So how’s my trip been, recently?
A good week of traveling left me feeling out of sync with the routine I have been trying to establish over the last months (yoga, meditation, online work&study)
(…) Going to the next volunteer place, I was hoping for some tranquility and stability, which yet hasn’t been that easy to find. It made me question how I could use my skills in this place and how I could create a schedule/routine in a place that is way too flexible for me. Bad internet was just the tip of the iceberg and left me feeling unproductive, having time on hands and nothing to fill it with.

So I’ve been looking for the positive in all this.
Trying to connect more with myself than the internet, realizing that I can find a lot of answers by just listening to my inner voice.

Accepting that sometimes in order to move forward, you might have to take a step or two back. That progress isn’t linear but will have ups and downs.

That it’s not all about what I do and achieve. But about being and how I show up in life. How I take these challenging moments and what I make from them.

After all, this is what I wanted to get from this trip: Growing as a person ❤️
And I am grateful to have some beautiful scenery to make me realize how grateful I can be for my life at this very moment.

Leaving workaway (volunteer placement) #3 in Brazil.
This placement has been one of the most challenging ones I’ve been. As a volunteer I’ve felt out of place and not fitting into the organization because it was hard to be of help and to know how to do things the way it was expected (but not communicated).
(…) I was on the verge of quitting. But somehow I decided to go through with it. Week 2 brought some improvement and the fact that I was able to work some shifts in the kitchen and practice my Portuguese with their magnificent cozinheira made a big difference.
(…) Luckily being there with other volunteers helped, because even though we were not similar in most ways and sometimes being with them felt challenging, I still found companions who stuck together with me through this situation for better and worse. I managed to channel my focus on the beautiful beaches, the amazing breakfast and lunch our cozinheira produced, practicing my Portuguese with the staff and my yoga spot under a palm tree and flowers

In some way, my situation over there was a little bit like these days, with the exception of the quality of the Internet. I did not have to follow social distancing at that volunteer placement, but I was stuck in a remote place with nowhere to go except for the beach (no grocery store or restaurant within walking distance, just an accumulation of beach huts and resorts)—it kind of feels like where I am living right now. The only thing to do was and is to go for a walk or to stay indoors.

And you know what? That is what I’ve been wanting for the last months and also during my travels. I was already travel-fatigued after 2 months of traveling at the point that I wrote the above. This might come as a surprise to many of you, however, I had never set out on this trip to bump around from place to place. I envisioned myself at a few volunteering placements, having some peace and quiet and staying in one place without doing much sightseeing. One way or the other, I did get lured into the backpacking lifestyle and partly liked, partly hated it…. I’m saying this so that you might understand that life being at a slow place and me not being able to go anywhere is just what I need right now. I talked with other friends who are leading a similar lifestyle to mine and they admitted to finding themselves in the same position. That when you have the opportunity you go, go, go because it would be a waste not to! Even though deep down, all you want to do is curl up in a comfortable bed, read a book, sleep, or binge-watch Netflix.

Therefore this time in many ways has brought me what I needed without having to justify my actions… until I got to this stage now and which I will write about below.

Let me say that I realize that I’m in a position where I don’t have to take care of 4 kids and a husband who are suddenly all at home 24/7 and which would not even make me think about what I wrote below. Everyone’s life is different and some people might not have any extra time on hand. The idea I’m presenting below might still resonate and you might be able to take in an aspect on what this extraordinary situation does to our life.

The dilemma doesn’t only refer to me but also to what I heard my friends talk about or the messages of the posts I could see on social media.
At the beginning of the self-isolation phase, I noticed people being either happy about having so much free time or wondering what the hell to make out of it.

During the past weeks, however, I’ve seen more and more people (including me) struggle to be unproductive and associate this as something concerning and unnerving. Many of us, including me, have tried to find something useful to do, so as in not to ‘waste’ this time given to us. It made me feel almost stressed. I was trying so hard to set up a full-day program that I felt more worn-out and unsatisfied that during a regular week in my life. I was battling procrastination, instant gratification, wanting to do ‘more’ and not knowing where to start. Starting on five different ‘projects,’ then losing motivation. I felt all over the place and not at peace.

So, eventually, I had to guide myself back into spending my day with moments where I would deliberately do nothing – and that was (and still is) really really hard to do.

In my definition, that means being present but not thinking about what to do next. Not running through your imaginary to-do list. Not trying to compare me with other people’s efforts and achievements during quarantine times. Not having every single minute of my day filled, trying to achieve something.
Instead, being present and only present in that one moment (also outside of my daily meditation, which had been a ‘thoughts-overloaded’ ordeal for a bit)
Doing nothing is pretty much impossible (we are always breathing, right?!).

So I was looking for these ‘pockets’ in my day where I could drop everything for a bit and either didn’t carry out any conscious action or did something (in my eyes) ‘unproductive.’

I managed to tone down my multi-tasking and started going for walks without my phone, which was difficult but also incredibly liberating! I started looking at the trees and how all the buds were turning into leaves and flowers. I suddenly felt such an intense eye for detail, even more than I already thought I had. I smelled the spring air, the pebbles of the beach underneath my feet and took it in just by myself without taking pictures to post later.
I also put my phone away while I was eating and stared at the plants on my terrace instead. There was so much peace suddenly within me.
I started feeling annoyed by all the clutter in my life – digital non-sense that I was devoting my day to.
Also, sometimes, I would just lay on the couch and be there. This brought me some more meditative moments in life, not just when I’d deliberately sit down but just when getting on with my day.

And then there were days when I just lay in bed, read a good book and binge-watched Netflix (A Coisa Mais Linda, my go-to series for listening to Portuguese and getting those Rio vibes back). I had not done that in years and letting go of the productive me for a day was so fulfilling. It made me recover energy that I felt I had lost and gave me the motivation to, e.g., write on this blog the day after.

I also eventually realized that I did neither have to nor want to renounce my daily routine completely.
My personal life has seen constant changes over the past two years. It would have been easy to feel like the ground was pulled away from underneath my feet. Keeping my routine (which is merely about 2 hours of my day) has helped me frame my day with an official ‘start’ and ‘closure.’ My routine had helped me stay on track when I didn’t have much to do and felt like wasting my life away. It had also helped me in days when everything seemed overwhelming and I didn’t know where my head was. Knowing that I have a structure, the one that stays no matter what happens during the day, has helped me find some feeling ‘safe and secure.’

In my opinion, the challenge is not to ‘over plan’ the free time of my day but to leave enough time for unexpected circumstances happening, ‘pockets’ of nothingness and moments of spontaneous creativity and flow.

The simple farm life / Travel Insights Series #2

Here comes part 2 of my blog series about reflecting on my travel insights from my 14 months in South-America. If you’re curious about part 1, jump here: Accepting myself without make-up.

This week’s reflective post talks about my first experience of working as a volunteer on a farm in Brazil. The farm was a recently created small area by a local who had traveled the world for several years before deciding to take over his ancestor’s land. He had created a space for people to practice meditation and yoga, set up a cafe with live-concerts and a mandala garden for people to handpick vegetables of their choice. I spent about 2 weeks there. The farm was located along a dirt road and we were not able to go anywhere. Food was purchased in town twice a week but we mostly ate what we were able to harvest. It was a very simple and no-frills place filled with people who put their hearts into this kind of work and worked on the mindset of living a simple lifestyle.

I’m going to comment below each of the ‘bullet points’ I had written regarding this place.


Leaving the first farm…

Some reflections on what I experienced and learnt.

Most of them are things I knew but you get new awareness about them when you’re exposed to these situations first-hand:

1. Farming is really hard work and I have lots of respect for people who choose this as a profession. It’s so easy to just grab veggies from a tray at the store. But if you have to grow them from a seed to a seedling to a fully grown plant (and harvest when you need food to cook with) you realize how much work is behind this and how much we take a large choice and beautiful veggies for granted (and how we complain when things aren’t available/look beautiful/change in price due to bad weather/harvest)

This had been my first farm-stay during this trip. I had experienced some in Japan a few years before, so it didn’t feel like a completely new territory. 

It did, however, bring a fresh wave of awareness regarding food production for me. I was reminded that our perfect-looking food often means that it is ‘modified’ or ‘adjusted’ in a way that makes us consumers buy it. The food that we are buying in the supermarket often isn’t 100% natural, even though we might look at a salad and picture it coming right from a small farm’s field, that’s being farmed by hand.

It also sparked the wish for me to have my own place at one point, where I can grow fruit and veggies. I’m still more than far from that, but looking at farmland now, makes me wish that I could just knock on the door and help out for a few hours, digging in the dirt, turning beds, planting seeds, harvesting and feeling that close connection with the land…

2. Living with little can be as rewarding as living in an overflow. You work with what you have and can be totally satisfied with it. This refers to food for example: my cravings for sweets and snacks almost completely vanished as they simply weren’t available or had to be made from scratch. And the little snacks I brought with me became a real treasure ❤️ you definitely appreciate what you have a lot more! (And someone baking a chocolate cake can make your week!)

Well…. Back in Germany, I am totally enjoying eating all the good chocolate that can be bought here (It is chocolate heaven in the supermarket!).

The living with little still applies to my life though. I moved to a new city on the train with a small suitcase and my backpack and have hardly increased my possessions – and thanks to Corona, I’m not tempted much anyway. Joke aside, I don’t think it will change my shopping habits as I have tried to reuse as much as possible, even things I bought 10 years ago for my first flat in the Netherlands and that I’ve kept since then!

3. I tackled my fear of cooking for other people (especially a group of people). I love cooking but mainly for myself (I can take my own judgment about my food :P). At the farm I had to cook for the volunteers sometimes and it was excruciatingly difficult for me in the beginning. I wasn’t familiar with some spices and the limited selection of ingredients that I would have usually used. However, something in my attitude and mindset shifted and after a while, I just didn’t think about my fear anymore but just went on with the cooking! (still don’t think I’m the greatest at cooking but at least I can feed hungry mouths ;)).

This was one aspect I had worked on during the year.  I am quite an introvert and like living by myself. I love cooking but I am not used to cooking for other people much. When I cook for myself and don’t like it, then I just have to take it the way it is. I remember growing up surrounded by people who feared other people’s judgment about their cooking very much. It was always seen as a scary thing to do, almost being sure the other people wouldn’t like it. 

I’m aware that this aspect stands for a much bigger issue – the fear of criticism and of being rejected for the way one is. Again, this is probably something most people struggle with and it might express it for me in my fear of cooking for others. As always, confronting the fear helps and realizing that if being judged, that it would be the meal that would be subject of the criticism and not your own person directly.

4. The biggest obstacle in life is yourself. You’re able to make yourself feel the worst and the best at the same time, depending on your attitude. And yes, that’s a lot easier said than done and a real skill to (continuously) work on in life 😉
Now off to the next farm and new experiences!

Hm, wise-me. I don’t think I can add much more to this other than that I’m hyper-aware of this every single day. I have to watch out, to not beat myself up too much and show compassion towards my own ‘flaws’ and I hope so do all of you. ❤

Back next week! Stay safe, healthy and sane everyone!

Belo Horizonte – an awesome Brazilian city, visited by few foreign travelers

Foreign Traveler: Where are you traveling to next?
Me: Belo Horizonte.
Traveler: Uhm, where is that? Never heard of it. Why are you going there?

Brazilian: Where are you traveling to next?
Me: Belo Horizonte.
Brazilian: Cool!!! The people in Minas Gerais (the region) are so nice and the food is simply the best in Brazil! Oh, and it’s great for going to bars.

Belo Horizonte. The one foreigner I had met told me that there was nothing to see. It was ‘simply a big city’. So, in my head, I had never considered coming here if it wasn’t for Ouro Preto, a famous old city full of churches, cobble-stone streets, and ancient gold mines.

However, this post is not about Ouro Preto. You can read about that from other travelers and bloggers 😉

I wanted to highlight Belo Horizonte a little bit as I think it has a great vibe and is totally worth a visit!

Warning: This is not a Brazilian beach town. It’s a place inland in the middle of nature!

Belo Horizonte is the capital of the region of Minas Gerais. It’s a rather large city and one of the biggest consumer markets in Brazil. It’s about 6h from both, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

I spent 2.5 days in the city and wanted to share some of the things to do there!

The food – Central Market

Minas Gerais is known for some of Brazil’s best food. As most Brazilians have told me: Pão de Queijo (the famous Cheese Bread) is simply the best in Minas Gerais as the amazing cheese from there is used for it. I can only agree with that and you should definitely give it a try, even if you’ve had it in other regions.

For a sample of some of the best foods in Minas Gerais you can head to the Central Market in Belo Horizonte, the apparently ‘third-best market in the world’ (at least they’re honest )

Below are some of the foods to try:

Cheese: If you’ve spent a while in South-America then you’ll probably be missing good cheese. At least that’s where the European in me comes out – I love strong-flavored and ‘scented’ cheese. Minas Gerais satisfied my cheese craving at its fullest. There are so many different flavors to try at the central market, that you don’t even have to buy any 😉

And in case you weren’t familiar with it – Goyabada (a guava dessert jelly) and cheese are the perfect combination of savory and sweet food – so perfect that it’s called ‘Romeo and Juliette’ here and you can find it on pizzas, in pies, on its own or even on top of an acai bowl (not sure whether that would make it better or not – both foods are too good on their own).

Speaking of Goyabada and sweet foods. The next food to try at the market are:

Sweets: Ah sugar and Brazil go hand in hand! Seriously I wonder why people are not high on sugar with all the delicious treats that lure you around every corner…. Minas Gerais makes it even harder. There are things you can find elsewhere in Brazil – such as Goyabada and cocada (a sweet made from coconut rasps mixed with other things) or even Dulce de Leche (the caramelized sweetened milk candy or bread spread) but the quality here is simply at another level. I also thought the prices to be definitely on the affordable side and again, there were enough samples around to taste everything. I totally loved the pumpkin coconut ‘sweet’ – I had never tasted anything like it before.

Fruit: As you are at the central market, you will be able to find fruit and vegetables. I was thrilled to find Jabuticaba, a grape-like fruit that has become one of my favorites in South-America and is mainly found in this region. There are of course other fruits and vegetables and vendors sell pieces of pineapple and melon as well as sugar-cane juice with lemon or pineapple (highly recommended guilty pleasure treat!)

You can also have lunch at the market – THE dish to try in Belo Horizonte is the so-called Feijão Tropeiro – a hearty rice and bean dish with egg and sausage, different from your regular ‘Arroz e Feijão’. Bear in mind that the market can get incredibly crowded. I went on a Saturday morning and the lines in front of popular restaurants and bars were long and it was simply crowded everywhere you went.

So apart from eating, what else is there to see or do in Belo Horizonte?

Nightlife/Bars

As people in Belo Horizonte will say ‘Não tem mar, vai pra bar’, i.e. If there’s no ocean (mar), go to the bar! People take this literally. I haven’t seen a city this full of bars in a long time and every Brazilian I told, that I would go to Belo Horizonte mentioned that the best thing to do was going out for a drink. 

That being said, Belo Horizonte got you covered. Even though I’m not necessarily a nightlife person, I loved how many streets were full of outside no-frills bars where you could grab something to eat, sometimes listen to life-music and simply enjoy the warm (not yet summer) evening.

One place that I really liked was the so-called ‘Mercado Novo’. It is basically a shopping mall that has some office/printing related shops on the ground floor and the second floor has been turned into an area full of bars. I loved the atmosphere; you basically enter through the ramp of the parking lot and head to the second floor. People are hanging around in the hallways of the mall, bar hopping from place to place. Some places serve food as well and many have changing menus, especially in their artisanal beers. Not all places are open all the time, so you’ll always find another place to keep your interest. I really loved the relaxed atmosphere, it’s not a ‘fancy area’ to go out but simple and chill.

Another street full of bars and restaurants I visited was near the Praca de Savassi. Leading off it is the Rua Antônio de Albuquerque, a section of which is for pedestrians only. It was a great combination of bars and restaurants, some even had live music.

Museums

Belo Horizonte, being the State Capital has its fair share of museums and the best part is that they are mostly free! (at least the four museums I visited were). Most of the museums are clustered around the Praça da Liberdade, so you can do a quick museum hop and enjoy a coffee in the beautiful coffee shops. Below are the four museums I visited.

The following three museums are all located at the Praça da Liberdade:

MM Gerdau Museum Of Mines And Metal (MM Gerdau – Museu das Minas e do Metal)
My favorite museum and the one I’d recommend if you only had time/energy to see a single museum in the city. It displays many minerals, metals, and gemstones as well as international ones.

Memorial Minas Gerais Vale
This museum had my favorite coffee shop. The café’s walls are covered with large photographs and showcase one wall full of bottles of cachaca, the local liquor. It made for a very artsy and peaceful atmosphere.

The museum itself had some temporary art exhibitions and some information about the history of Minas Gerais. I really liked the architecture of the building.

Bank of Brazil Cultural Center/ Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil
The Bank of Brazil has temporary art exhibitions that you can visit. There is a popular café in the inner courtyard as well.

Arts and Crafts Museum/ Museu de Artes e Ofícios
This museum is right at the Central Train Station and showcases Minas agriculture and other historical temporary exhibitions.

Feira Hippie

This outdoor arts and craft market runs every Sunday from the early morning hours until around 1pm. It is located at Avenida Afonso Pena, right next to the Municipal Park. I am not sure why it has the term hippie in it as most goods sold are regular new items, sold at very affordable prices. You can find bags, jewelry, shoes, clothing, arts and crafts. Several food stalls are serving mainly Bahian Acarajé, barbecue and other basic (fried) snack food and of course: cakes and brigadeiro. You can find FeijFe do Tropeiro here as well. It gets pretty crowded around the lunch hours so it’s advised to get there early!

Praça Governador Israel Pinheiro (or simply Praça do Papa – Pope’s Square)

This is the place for a picnic and hanging out with friends whilst enjoying the view over Belo Horizonte. It is a big park with lots of grass areas to hang out, snack vendors…

From the Praça itself you can head to yet another lookout, Mangabeiras that has an even better view over the city.

Nature

Américo Renné Giannetti Municipal Park / Parque Municipal Américo Renné Giannetti

I was positively impressed by the Municipal Park. It seemed more like a Botanical Garden to me than just a simple park as it had lush green nature and different kinds of trees – even bamboo! There are a few small ponds and you can nicely relax and chill on the grass. There is a section for kids where there are some small ‘roller-coasters’ and you can also ride boats on the lagoons. It is right in the middle of the city, so perfect for a little break from all the concrete and city life.

Surroundings of Belo Horizonte:

Due to the rainy weather, I did not get the chance to check out nature in the surroundings of Belo Horizonte but there seemed to be quite a few choices. From the Laguna Pampulha, a man-made lagoon right in the city to nature parks on the outskirts – there should be enough to keep you busy for a couple of days once you finished your sight-seeing in the city center.

Another very popular place to visit is the so-called Inhotim museum. It is a contemporary art museum, set in the middle of a beautiful natural setting/park. It is about 2h outside of the city and there are daily buses from the bus terminal (Rodoviária) in Belo Horizonte that take you there and back at the same time). I didn’t visit it unfortunately as I had rainy days and that place definitely asks for some sunshine as you will be walking around outside most of the time.




I spent only 2.5 days in this city but I already got a feeling of why many Brazilians seem to like to live there. It is a friendly city, that feels safer than many others I’ve visited and has various places where you can enjoy culture, food and nightlife. I’d recommend you give it a try if you’re in the area!


Tipps:


1) I really enjoyed getting to know the city through locals. I used couchsurfing and was hosted as well as joined the weekly Friday couchsurfing meeting.

2) The metro is fast and useful but doesn’t get you anywhere. There are a lot of buses running through the city which might more of use for getting you from A to B. Also, Uber and other rideshares, i.e. 99 and Cabify are widely available and very affordable, so that often with two people you’re better of getting a rideshare than using the bus or the metro. I’d also say definitely use them at night for safety reasons as that limits you having to walk around the city for too long.

Cruising the Amazon

‘This is the biggest dormitory I’ve ever stayed in’.

The boat that greeted us with two empty decks when we got on, soon turned into a colorful land of hammocks.

We were on the public boat down the Amazon river in Brazil.

This journey that we took from the border town of Tabatinga all the way to Belem on the Atlantic Coast was one of the most unique parts of my travels of the last year.

My friend and I traveled the river in three sections, from Tabatinga to Manaus, Manaus to Santarem and Santarem to Belém.

A boat, a hammock. All you need to worry about is that you show up to get food at the right time. Other than that, you’re free to fill your time with whatever you want. For most people that are sleeping, chatting to others, staring at the river and repeating everything all over again.

The hammock will become your best friend at that time. It is not only your place to sleep but also your seat and your hideaway. I became a master in completely wrapping myself into the hammock when my introverted me had enough of socializing and needed a few hours by myself.

Sleeping in a hammock was much more comfortable than I had imagined. I’m not the best sleeper so I was slightly nervous about that. That changed pretty much the minute we set up the hammocks, finally left the port of Tabatinga at the Colombian/Brazilian border and I fell asleep right away. We had been waiting at the port for about 3 hours before the boat finally left.

The first boat to Manaus was much more ‘luxurious’ than we had expected and compared to what would await us by far our favorite out of the three boats we took in total.  There were 3 decks: the lower deck for cargo and a few hammocks, the middle deck for most of the hammocks, bathrooms and dining hall and the upper deck with some cabins, a small room that functioned as a ‘church’, a small shop that sold snacks and an outside deck with some exercise equipment and space to hang out and get some sun. That area was surprisingly quiet and my favorite spot in the morning to meditate and do yoga right when the sun rose around 5 am.

As you can see, you’re on an early schedule on the boat. The sun rose around 5 am, which meant everyone would wake up around that time. Breakfast was served at 6am, lunch started from as early as 10.30 am and dinner was served at 5 pm. At 6 pm it would already be pitch-black dark and by 8 pm lights were off and most people went to sleep. For an early bird like me, this was great. I loved living by the rhythm of daylight, something I’ve learned to enjoy particularly during this last year of traveling.

Being on a boat for 3 full days meant you got to know a lot of people. Your neighbors would be right next to you, as the deck can get pretty full and hammocks are squeezed in one right next to the other. Personal space was non-existent (thus my wrapping up in my hammock to get it) and me being quite an introvert for whom personal space is indispensable, I had to get used to this a little. I had many people coming up to me to talk, whether that was while I was in the middle of doing yoga, eating in the lunch hall or chilling in my hammock. To me, this was sometimes too much attention and me and my friend being blond females among the few foreigners (out of hundreds of passengers) didn’t help to stand out less.

On the bright side, with that many people on board, I got a good chance to practice Portuguese. If you’re wondering, whether you need to speak any to do this trip I’d say: Not necessarily as there are signs in English and Spanish on the boat and some of the staff and some people will be able to speak broken Spanish. I have met travelers who didn’t speak a word of neither Spanish nor Portuguese and they managed as well. That being said, it’s nice to be able to communicate with the locals and hear their stories, so I’d at least recommend knowing some Spanish. Brazilians usually don’t expect foreigners to know their language and it was always nice to see their face light up when they heard me speak.

We met a few people who were living here in the Amazon region and it was fascinating to hear their stories.

I talked to a guy who was living in a small town along the river. Compared to what I and my friend were expecting we actually stopped quite a few times on our boat journey to pick up passengers from small river towns. He was saying that we’d be surprised how people are probably as obsessed with their smartphones as we are and that he thought most foreigners have a bit of a too simple image of people living in those areas (this does not refer to tribes that do live in the jungle but the people who live of fishing and agriculture and have settlements along the river). He also explained that some people take online courses that are broadcasted by the university of Manaus and that was how he got a degree. The Internet seemed to be plentiful even in that remote area and we’d take the chance once we got sim cards to enjoy some 4G at every bigger town we stopped at during the ride.

Furthermore, we met a Peruvian pastor with his family who had hopped on the boat one stop after us and became our hammock neighbor. He told how he’d been working with tribes in the area for 11 years in order to civilize them. According to him, tribes partly wanted to become civilized to get certain government benefits and ‘luxury commodities’ such as electricity, big boats, etc. but of course that there was also some resistance and they wouldn’t allow just anyone into their territory. He told me about different rituals such as using frog poison (kambo) as cleansing medicine, a practice that had become popular for tourists in the Amazon region in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil. I had heard of it before but it was interesting to hear from a person that wasn’t a tourist. He also told me about other practices etc., many of which were hard for me to follow as he was using local words that I didn’t understand and I also wished my Spanish was more advanced to follow his stories. The feeling I got though was fascinating as the description sounded just like I had imagined. The fact that these tribes indeed exist who’ve had little to no contact with civilization. I can’t say whether this ‘civilization’ was really what they but it was interesting nevertheless to get at least a glimpse into this story.

Another guy we met told us that he was working in the river gold mining business and would constantly proudly point to his gold ring on his hand which had his initials engraved into it. Up to this point I had been unaware that there was gold in the Amazon, so that was another interesting fact to know.

Again, this was in Portuguese so I was able to follow only partly and not enough to recite the full stories but I am happy I got a few bits and pieces of the different worlds that exist out there.

The scenery cruising down the river pretty much stayed the same throughout the whole time. We didn’t get to see any animals unfortunately except for some birds. What we did see where small communities living in houses on stilts on the shore and fishermen heading out to do their work. The morning and evening showed some beautiful sunrises and sunsets and the stars at night were pretty impressive – we got to see the milky way the first night!

We would sometimes stop at small towns and villages to pick up new passengers or drop some off. This was the time when everyone would stand expectantly on the side of the boat, waiting to see what goodies the food vendors would sell. We were always on the lookout for ‘Choppe’, a popsicle as the heat on the boat could be challenging, especially in the afternoon. Vendors would also sell fruit, shrimp or full meals.

After 3 days and 3 nights we finally reached Manaus around 10 am.

The last hour was the time when everyone was packing up their hammock and their belongings and moved towards the railing to watch out for the city of Manaus to appear. After 3 days of trees and small settlements suddenly a large industrial city appeared in from of our eyes. Seeing that I couldn’t help but feel a hint of nostalgia, knowing that we would leave our little oasis of peace behind.

People who before were wearing summery clothes as in shorts and flip flops suddenly changed into dressing shirts, jeans, high-heels, etc. Even after having spent a year in the sweltering heat in South-America I still cannot comprehend how people can wear tight jeans in this climate. I kept being the tourist with the summer wear as the heat of the city was even hotter and stickier than on the boat.

All in all, the trip was in a way surreal, knowing that we were really on the Amazon river, very relaxing and entertaining.  We made the decision to finish the rest of the journey until Belem in the Atlantic Ocean by boat as well as we loved it so much. 

If you want to know the nitty-gritty details about the trip, also check out my post: Tabatinga to Belém – the details

How I am learning Portuguese

This post is specifically about how I am currently learning (Brazilian) Portuguese without being in the country. Note that I have been to the country and am planning on returning but I’d say that the majority of what I learned was not by being surrounded by Brazilians (although that could be the preferred way of studying for many) but through self-study.
All the products are non-sponsored, I simply love sharing what I found useful after a lot of trial and error 😉
Also, extra point: As I know Spanish and French, Brazilian Portuguese already seemed very familiar to me. I do believe that the below-mentioned resources are suitable for anyone, whether you know other Roman languages or not as they mostly start from zero. Enjoy!

Duolingo

I started off with Duolingo which I am currently still using. To be honest, I had never been a big fan of Duolingo because I don’t see it as very useful when you’re not a complete beginner and one might argue that the repetitiveness of some sentences that you might never use might not be the best. However, for Brazilian Portuguese especially I have found the app extremely useful and here’s why. I think it has a great progression in teaching you vocab and grammar. You usually have one or two vocabulary topics, then one or two grammar points. I love that as it gives a good rhythm to what you’re studying. Also as there are no grammar rules, you are basically acquiring the grammar just through example sentences, the way a child would learn it. Also, grammar is repeated regularly and so is vocab (meaning they come up in later lessons) so I am highly convinced of this language program on Duolingo.
My main advice for using it would be to really speak the sentences out loud. You will remember them so much easier and get a feeling for the language. Like this, you are living the language a little and it feels less dry than just passive listening and typing or drag and drop.
Also a little extra tip regarding the keyboard you’re typing with: You have the option on phones to install different keyboards for different languages in your input language settings. If you activate Portuguese, then it will be much easier to type and there will be a Portuguese autocorrect to help you with the spelling. I do sometimes leave the English keyboard on purpose so that I really have to think about the correct spelling myself but other times, it makes typing much faster and smoother.

Final note: I have found the quality and structure of Duolingo to be different from language to language. I had tried other languages and the way they were structured wasn’t for me. So if you weren’t convinced by one language, maybe give another one a try and see whether it works better for you.

Busuu

Another app I’ve been using has been Busuu. What I like about Busuu is its structure. Rather than just single vocabulary lesson or grammar sentences you have different units which are also categorized in different levels (according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages from A1 to C1). Each lesson starts with some vocabulary that you later review in a separate section again (sort of like flashcards). This is then followed by a dialogue with questions, where you’ll be asked to fill in some gaps after a listening practice. Section 3 is the vocabulary review and the final section often comprises a free writing or speaking assignment.
I especially love the dialogue section as it gives you some real-life context and a chance to listen to a larger section of native pronunciation.
Another great section is the writing and speaking assignment. You get a topic for this assignment related to the lesson you just finished and are then prompted to either type a short answer or record some audio. This will be corrected by other users of the app (native speakers) and creates a great feeling of community and the possibility to get feedback pretty quickly (within a few minutes up to a day) from native speakers.
I have purchased the app’s paid plan to download lessons for offline use and have access to all lessons.

Semantica Portuguese

Another resource I had been using a lot in the very beginning has been Semantica Portuguese. This is a video online course that you can purchase (their first video telenovela is for free). I loved learning Portuguese by watching videos from day 1. It is entertaining learning by following a story which is broken into separate parts where vocabulary and grammar are taught.
Also, I didn’t find it too expensive for what I got. They have several whole video series and some small video lessons as well as explanatory blog posts to deepen your understanding.
You can find their telenovela Eduardo e Monica on YouTube for free to have a look into it.

Books

In order to practice my reading skills, I good a Portuguese beginner stories book from Kindle. This was Portuguese from Portugal which I didn’t mind because it is rather similar and rather for intermediate learners or learners with a previous understanding of Spanish.
For absolute beginners, there’s also an app called Beelinguapp. You can read a story in the language you’re learning with your native language on its side. I personally haven’t used it much as the stories are mostly for beginners.
I actually just finished reading ‘The Alchemist’ by Paolo Coelho in its original form which I read without major problems after about a year of semi-regular self-study (and knowing the English version of the book!)

YouTube vlogs

Last but not least after finishing the video course, I finally decided to move on to real-life Portuguese. As I don’t watch TV and don’t use Netflix, I resorted to YouTube and have been following several Brazilian vloggers. I enjoy listening to either Brazilians living abroad or foreigners living in Brazil (vlogging in Portuguese!!) talking about their experiences. I am able to follow the videos without subtitles and am generally not too bothered if I don’t understand 100%. The same goes for reading, I hardly ever look up words unless they come up so often that I really need them to follow the storyline.

Of course, as final words, I am returning to Brazil and am planning to spend as much time as possible talking to locals. This is always one of the best options, but I can say that the above methods really got me pretty far I’d say.

Até logo!