Journal Entry #6: Jan 16th 2023, Pedra Azul Brazil
The uniqueness of Brazil, and why you think South America (and Africa) are smaller than they are
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We left Rio a few days ago, and are now on our (very slow) way back to São Paulo. This time through the interior of the country instead of the coast. I am excited to see this part of the country! But before we move on from the marvelous city, let me tell you a bit of what surprised us about Rio.
Cariocas, as people from Rio are usually referred as, are one of the proudest people I have ever meet. We went to three Samba concerts and in every one of them the entire audience would sign along to every.single.song. They sing passionately, yell the lyrics towards the sky, hold strangers while swaying from side to side, move their hips while holding their heart. It’s captivating and entrancing to watch.
They also seem blissfully ignorant of - or more likely actively ignoring - popular Latin American (in Spanish) music. I am talking the sort of music the *whole* of Latin America - minus Brazil apparently - obsessed over for DECADES. We befriended a brother and sister who were staying next to us when in Ilha Grande, and talked to them about Brazilian music, which is admittedly excellent. Eventually, we got to the topic of other type of music, and on the mention of Soda Stereo and even Bad Bunny (the most streamed artist *in the world* for three consecutive years) we were welcomed with blank stares. Baffled, we played “De Música Ligera” by Soda Stereo on our phone - an anthem in most of Latin America.
“You must have listened to it at some point, it’s impossible you haven’t hear of it”, we begged
They payed attention and exclaimed, “ah yes! But that is "Os Paralamas do Sucesso!”
And now we were the ones with the blank stares. “Who?!”
A popular rock band in Brazil, the Os Paralamas do Sucesso included a Portuguese version of the song in one of their records and, understandably, became famous in Brazil. So much so that Brazilians - or at least these two new friends - think the song is originally theirs! We of course then gently - or maybe not so gently? My shock is clouding my memory - made sure they knew this wasn’t a song by the Os Paralamas do Sucesso, but by Argentinian band called Soda Stereo, which they should maybe possibly just briefly look up and listen to :)
Even more shockingly, we haven’t heard a single Reggaeton song the entire month we have been in Brazil. Reggaeton is basically all that is played in every country bordering Brazil, and also most that don’t, but here is like it doesn’t exist. Bad Bunny? No clue! Of course Brazilians have their own Reggaeton, called Brazilian Funk.
My point with all of this is that Brazil is truly unique and set apart from the rest of the continent. Language has no doubt been a barrier, but I don’t think is the only factor. I guess none of this should be very surprising given the size of the country. At 8.5 million square kilometers and over 220 million people, Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world by area and the seventh in terms of population. It’s so big it takes up half of South America and borders every country in it except Chile and Ecuador.
I found this paragraph from the Brazilian Report surprising: “Brazil is the size of a continent. All the countries of the European Union could fit inside Brazil’s borders twice over. Combined, Brazil’s 27 states are bigger than the contiguous United States”
I knew Brazil was huge, but honestly didn’t realize just how huge until I was here. As it also happens with the continent of Africa, maps don’t accurately represent the size of many countries/continents, showing Canada, Russia, the United States and Europe look specially - and misleadingly - large (this was no accident, but that is a story for another day). So, the maps we use today (Mercator projection) makes you believe that Africa and South America are smaller than they actually are. South America is made to look about the same size as Europe, when in fact it is almost twice as large, and Greenland looks roughly the size of Africa when it is actually about 14 times smaller.
My point is that Brazil has a gigantic market and also the population to create and maintain a music industry specifically for them, without the need - or want - of outside music that is not in their language and is not culturally relevant . But it also goes beyond music, Brazilians - and Cariocas in particular - are proud of their country, their heritage, their roots, their language, their music, their dance, their sports, all of it, in a very unique and intense way.
To us, this lack of obvious outside influence is surprising, as both in Mexico and in Venezuela are SO heavily influenced by not only other Latin American countries but also the US and Europe. I don’t know, Brazil is just different, which I love.
Anyways, I digressed, here are some other things that have surprised me about Rio. The good:
You can pay everything with card, even a coconut by the beach!
It’s an incredible active city, with people running, biking, kayaking, swimming, playing foot volley and beach rackets bright and early every single day.
It’s a beach city, so everyone wears swimsuits and flip flops all day long, even in fancy restaurants.
Everyone has tattoos! I love a city in which tattoos are accepted and common (this was not the case in Peru or Ecuador).
The not so good:
You need a CPF - an identity number like your social security - for lots of simple things. This is quite annoying if you are a tourist. We are lucky to have a friend who used to live here and let us use hers for some things. We have needed one to pay for parking, buy a SIM card, make reservations to a state park, get discounts in pharmacies, etc. So for basic things! This is not friendly to tourism at all, and it has been one of the most surprising things about Brazil.
Many museums and places of interest to tourists don’t have translations. For instance the most important Museum of Art in Rio de Janeiro only had information in Portuguese. What?! I was shocked. This is kind of related to the above. It basically feels like in Brazil they know they can depend on national tourism - again, they are huge! - and don’t need to stretch to make anyone else happy.
Btw, I am still in love with the city and plan to live here in 2024!
K that is it for now :)
See you next week <3