By Alan B Williams
February 18, 2014
So, my fellow Americans; you want to go to World Cup in Brazil this coming June? You think you have enough money, time, moxie, streets smarts and your high school Spanish will get you by. Think again, Gringo. Here is my primer and a warning.
1) Airfare: I hope your significant other is a travel agent; because you are going to need all the help you can get booking a flight under $2000.00 each. The best way to get to Brazil is out of Miami or Atlanta, direct to Brasilia or Manaus. From there you can get shorter flights to the Northeast or other FIFA World Cup sites. Flying to São Paulo is 10 -12 hours or more. Then if you are heading back up North, add another four hours or more. From Brasilia, Fortaleza is a two hour flight, for example. Of course, if you are heading down South, then Rio is you best bet.
2) Language: Yes, English is the second language for Brazilians, but in my five trips there, only a few people actually spoke any, and one was my wife (and she was an English teacher in Brazil for 16 years!) So bone up on the Portuguese, dudes. You are going to need it for basic everyday survival. And to have great chats over who is going to be in the finals.
3) Drinking: Think you can handle your alcohol? Forget about it! I have served five years as a St. Patrick’s day bartender, six years at the LA County Wine Pavilion, five trips to Europe, nearly 1000 conventions in the USA and I have drank with everyone from the Star Wars and Lost in Space actors to the Swedish Wrestling team, and I am but a talented amateur compared to the Brazilians. The average party in Brazil is a 24 hour deal, with many lasting 3 days. My advice, get a stint at the local Renaissance Faire and practice all night debauchery. For six weeks. That might get you in shape. Maybe.
4) Public Toilets: Good lord, they are awful. I thought French toilets were the worst (and they have those in Brazil, too) but stop at any Petrobras gas station and you will experience the true horror of filth, degradation, germs and yuck. Bring TP everywhere, and Toilet seat covers, and hand sanitizer. Or hold it until you get to a private home. Or do it in the woods, but watch out for snakes.
5) Driving in the city: Don’t even think about it. Brazilians are the best drivers in the World, and the craziest. And the pedestrians all have a death wish. They walk out in front of traffic without a care, and it is up to you to avoid them. Take a taxi, bus, tour bus or train. The busses are packed to the gills, but they run constantly and there is safety in numbers.
6) Currency Exchange: Use a credit card whenever possible. My last trip this winter, I got 2.36 Brazilian Reals to the dollars with Master Card. When I exchanged cash, I got a maximum of 2.15 Reals. I pissed away over 200 Reals this way, and I am still pissed about it.
7) Shopping: The same word in English and Portuguese, and the same prices as well. Check out the downtown markets, and older businesses for gifts, clothing, souvenirs, artifacts, pottery, art and cachaca, coffee and preserves. Avoid the Shopping Malls, as you will experience sticker shock. I do not know for the life of me how Brazilians can afford the clothing and electronics at the mall, except through the payment plans.
8) Hotels: Good luck finding any within the FIFA host cities. You best bet is to stay at a Beach resort and drive the two hours you need to get to a game. That way, win or loose, when you get back to the hotel, you can chill out with a nice drink, some crab, and the calming sound of the Atlantic Ocean to rest your frazzled nerves. Or stay with a host family in Brazil.
9) Night Life: Best in the World. All night dance parties – Forro, that are very affordable, and tons of fun. Pagode at the local clubs is superb; Bossa Nova on Tuesday night at the local bar will put your mind in the clouds. Many upscale restaurants have live music, jazz or traditional sounds. Get out and get your groove on.
10) Luggage: For goodness sake, do not tell anyone in Brazil that you are coming, or be prepared to be a pack mule. Tommy Hilfiger, electronics, whiskey, Ralph Lauren & Play stations are in high demand. On the other hand, if you bring these items to sell, you may be able to pay for your trip.
11) Insects: Heed my warning, the most important item is Bug Spray. Two trips now the airlines lost my luggage and both times my bug spray was lost. This resulted in 100’s of bug bites. Now, I had enough booze in me to ward off the pain, and the mosquitoes probably died after ingesting my blood but the aftermath made me feel pretty damn miserable. And then there was my run in with the Formiga – red fire ants that burn like sulphuric acid. The pain still lingers, emotionally anyway.
12) Food: My favorite is Tapioca, dried and rolled into a breakfast burrito filled with egg and chicken. All the seafood in Brazil is outstanding, and the portions are large enough to split three or four ways. The Churrascuria BBQ’s are great as well, though I have filled my quota of meat intake for the rest of the year. Eat at the Brazilian cafeterias in the malls and avoid fast food like the plague, because with the possible exception of Habib’s, it is bland at best, and you can eat it when you get back to the states. Avoid hamburgers, pizza and sushi as well.
13) Love: Do not fall in love with a Brazilian unless you are prepared to go all the way. And I don’t mean sex. I mean moving there. They are like the Borg; resistance is futile and you will be absorbed. I know because it is happening to me.