Traveling to Brazil has been on my bucket list for a few years now. About five years ago my Dad married Nadja (My Step-mom), who is originally from Sao Luis, Brazil. They primarily live in Fort Wayne, Indiana and spend winters in Sao Luis. I was lucky enough to make the trip this year to Brazil and meet with them for a couple of weeks. Thanks to my tour guides (Nadja and my Dad), the experience exceeded all my expectations. I got to check out three unique parts of Brazil during the trip, Sao Luis, Barreirnhas, and Rio de Janeiro.
I spent the first week of my trip in Sao Luis. Sao Luis is a port city on the northeast coast of Brazil in the state of Maranhao. It maintains the second largest Sea Port in Brazil. When you look out at the ocean there are always huge ships waiting to be guided into the ports. The water is very shallow, so it takes a specialized captain to bring the ships in individually. It is not uncommon for a ship to wait several weeks before finally being guided to the docks for receiving and loading.
While in Sao Luis my Dad showed me around to the local beach bars, I met their family and friends, celebrated New Years at their condo’s annual party (which didn’t start until 11 p.m. with dinner finally being served close to 2:00 a.m.!), enjoyed the historical downtown Christmas celebration, and hung out at the beach and pool. Sao Luis is interesting because it is not a tourist town; it’s primarily locals. In the week I was there, I didn’t run into a single non-Brazilian person. Luckily, I had my tour guides to show me the ropes.
About three hours’ drive from Sao Luis is a place called Barreirnhas. This is a town that many Brazilians vacation to. The town is next to a big river that you can get to the ocean in a couple hours on a boat. In-between the river and ocean are giant sand dunes. The first day we were there we took a boat out for the day. We stopped along the way at an area with several restaurants; the ocean was on one side of me and the river on the other.
This is where Nadja’s grandson, Ian, and I rented four wheelers and drove them out along the beach and sand dunes weaving in and out of the windmills. I was amazed at how little paperwork or ID checking was required before we were given keys to these things; hint there wasn’t any. We spent the night in a chalet style hotel. Between the cock roach I saw in the shower and the constant animal noises and humidity, I did not sleep very well that night.
The next day we went on a real adventure through sand dunes at Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. To get there, we hitched a ride in the back of a heavy duty, 4-wheel drive pickup truck with seats built into the bed of the truck. We drove through the town of Barreirnhas, took a quick ride on a large ferry across the river, and then we were off into the dunes.
The truck dropped us off once it drove as far as it could and then we explored for a few hours until it picked us up. We were fortunate to have a local expert, named Elvis, to guide us around the expansive dunes without getting lost. During the rainy season, the dunes collect water and various lagoons are created as a result. Some of the lagoons retain water all year round which allows for a variety of small fish to make it their permanent home.
The last four nights were spent in Rio. The city of Rio has a much different feel than the north. Due to tourism, and recent Olympics and World Cup, it is well developed with modern infrastructure when compared to Sao Luis. We stayed in a hotel right on Ipanema Beach, which is known for its sunsets. While in Rio we took a train ride up the mountain to get to the “Christ the Redeemer” statue and made our way up Sugar Loaf Mountain in a cable car on a different day.
Not only was this trip on my bucket list, but it also comes as a personal milestone for me. This was my first time really traveling outside of the United States, except for a Cancun vacation I went on as a kid. Additionally, it was my first time traveling to a foreign country alone. I flew from Orlando to Rio and then had a twelve-hour layover before my next flight. I wouldn’t arrive in Sao Luis until two flights later from Rio. It was an eye-opening experience as I had to navigate on my own for close to 20 hours in a new place where Portuguese is spoken. I learned that with the help of Google Translate, smiling, nodding, eye contact, and hand gestures that it can be done.
The trip would not be possible without the support of my Project Manager while I was absent. In addition, the Bucket List bonus funds provided by netlogx helped finance the trip. Finally, it would not have been possible for me to experience Sao Luis and Barreirnhas without the support and navigation of my Dad and Nadja. I am extremely grateful for all parties and individuals that played a part in a allowing me to accomplish this bucket list item. Thank You.