By Ricky Skelton
July 9, 2008

If you’ve come across this missive by accident after hitting the interweb in search of those directions that your friend emailed, because you can’t find the way to his house, his explanations made no sense and the reference points he gave you to look out for never appeared, there’s a good chance that you are in Brazil. Maybe this should be in the ‘Ask a Brazilian’ section: Why are Brazilians so singularly useless at giving directions to another place? Or perhaps a new Gringoes topic – ‘Ask a Gringo’. Has anybody ever arrived at a Brazilian house after receiving directions from the dono or dona?

The problem with Brazilians giving directions isn’t that they give you the wrong information, it is that they fill your head with so much worthless information that it is impossible to ever find your way to a shop, house, bar, market, club or even hospital. It isn’t just my lack of Portuguese that causes the problems, as Blondie tends to ask the way when we’re both lost together. She comes back as baffled as I do about where we supposed to go next. She is Brazilian though and proved it well when a Peruvian friend arrived the other week. He came all the way from Lima via Rio without any problems at all, finding the right bus at the station, changing later, getting off at exactly the right stop until he ended up right outside our place. Here he was stuck though. Early Saturday morning, we were in bed, he had to call his brother in Peru from the orelhão (enough of a task in itself in Brazil), who then emailed us to tell us our guest had arrived. Blondie hadn’t given him the address. Just a small detail.

When asking directions to a bar in the street, nobody ever says ‘Não tenho idea’. They spend half an hour telling you about where they think the bar might be, usually involving trees that have no relevance to their tale. ‘You’re going to see a tree. Well it isn’t that tree. Go past that.’ More details about how Tio once had a vasectomy on that street, and something about a giant cow follow from what you understand, before they finally tell you to walk 8 blocks then ask somebody else. All directions in Brazil finish with you needing to ask somebody else. That somebody else usually sends you back the way you came and you gradually find yourself getting closer to your target in ever-decreasing circles, like a drowning spider about to go down the plughole. The giant cow remains a mystery.

To be fair though, I did once get perfect directions in Brazil. We were invited to a party in Trancoso, but out in the bush not by the beach as you’d expect. The house owner came to town repeatedly to pick anyone up who wanted to go. The drive was as dark as anywhere could be, with an hour of driving up and down muddy tracks on the rolling hillsides, bouncing through ditches and streams until we reached the house in the middle of just about nowhere. Not being a likely place to find a taxi passing an hour after dawn, we asked how to get back to town. The directions given by the dona da casa were incredible. Turn right; down the hill; through the wooden gate; over the plateau; through the monkey forest; alongside the river; turn right at the flower shop and there you are! Only an hour’s walk somehow. A magic path. Or perhaps it is always that easy when the references are so perfect. We’d arrived at the house and headed to the serving hatch with two fingers held up ready. ‘Dois cervejas por favor’.

‘Where are you from, lads?’ came the answer in a lovely soft Lancashire accent. She was English.

You can visit Ricky’s blog at

Previous articles by Ricky:

Understanding Brazil: Driving
Understanding Brazil: Farra do Boi
Brazil: Catching Flu’
Around Brazil: Garopaba
Understanding Brazil: Funerals
Brazil: Bernie the Berne
Around Brazil: Journey to the Amazon Jungle
Around Brazil: Crazy Town Ceremonies
Around Brazil: Crazy Town
Around Brazil: Manaus
Around Brazil: Santarem & Alter do Chao
Around Brazil: Amazon Swarms and Amazon Storms
Understanding Brazil: Playing Pool
Around Brazil: Gurup
Around South America: Peninsula Valdes
Around South America: Patagonia
Around South America: Montevideo, Uruguay
Around Brazil: The Amazon
Around South America: Bariloche, Argentina
Understanding Gringoes: Drinking
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 2
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 1
Understanding Brazil: The Kids
Brazil v Argentina: Buying Beer
Understanding Brazil: Mosquitoes
Around Brazil: São Luis
Teaching English in Brazil
Around Brazil: Lenois Maranhenses
Understanding Brazil: The National Anthem
Around Brazil: Barreirinhas
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas
Understanding Brazil: Shopping Centres
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara
Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lenois
Brazil vs. Argentina: Statues of Christ
Around Brazil: Salvador
Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

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