So I leave for Brazil in less than 24 hours, and I feel far from ready.
The poster and handouts are done. I have my passport and visa. I have confirmation about my flights. I have some of my packing done. (What I also have is a really bad cough. My flu of last week evolved into a persistant cough that I really hoped I’d have shaken by now. Can I say that I’m not looking forward to the 12+ hours in airplanes? Oh, right, and I’m also pregnant, which may also lead to the flights being somewhat uncomfortable.)
What I don’t yet have are reservations for my last 2 nights in Brazil. Which I need to work out, hopefully tonight.
I’m very excited about this trip, but there are a number of things weighing on my mind.
The conference itself is in Campinas, a city in the state of São Paulo, and about an hour away from the sprawling city of São Paulo itself. Campinas is an industrial city with a university. It appears, however, to be rather short of attractions that might be interesting to a tourist. If you look it up in the Lonely Planet Brazil guide, you won’t even freakin’ find it. Okay, it’s on the map, but that’s it. And this travel site shows 3 attractions, one of which is a nightclub. I feel a little like I’m going to Pittsburg. (I have never been to Pittsburg. I’m sure it’s a lovely city. But it’s not exactly known as an international tourism destination.)
My plan, therefore, is to try to spend some time in São Paulo, a city which has an actual chapter in Lonely Planet, for the couple of days after the conference ends. There are loads of museums there, and also some vegetarian restaurants, and a famous large outdoor market. I find myself thinking more about that end of the trip than about the conference.
I spent a semester in Brazil in 1991, as part of my undergraduate studies. It was an amazing experience, and I have a deep affection for Brazil. It amazes me to realize that I have not been back there in over 16 years. I have been hoping to find some time to write about my earlier experiences. I lived in Rio, where I stayed in sort of an uncomfortable living situation with a “family,” attended classes at a university there, and took every chance I could to get out of Rio and see the rest of the country. The high point of my stay in Brazil was when I bought a one-way plane ticket to Manaus¹, a city smack-dab in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon, and worked my way back down to Rio by boat and bus over several weeks.
I was 20 years old then. I took some risks. I had some adventures. I stayed in some really seedy places. I nearly got stranded. I met some interesting people. And I was very lucky. I managed not to be the victim of a crime, unlike large numbers of other travelers that I knew.
This trip will be very different from that other time in Brazil. I expect to be quite safe while attending the conference, and taking the shuttle to and from the fairly upscale hotel where I’ll be staying along with one of my professors.
But I do have a few misgivings about the end of my stay. My professor will be heading off for other parts, and I’ll be on my own the last 2 nights. São Paulo is considered to be much safer than Rio, but tourists are still regular targets of crime. For example, take a gander at this lovely bit from the US government Overseas Security Advisory Council:
The Department of State rates the crime rate for São Paulo as CRITICAL. Despite various organizations and state government entities reporting decreases in crime levels throughout São Paulo state, crime is still widespread with various degrees of severity. Violent crimes such as murder, rape, kidnappings, armed assaults and burglaries have become a part of normal everyday life.
Crime was a serious threat when I was in Brazil in 1991, too. It was a part of daily life. I learned ways of reducing my chances of being a victim. I got to be very good at looking like I knew where I was going, even if I had no idea. I learned to carry a bag like locals carry. I learned to keep my money not only hidden, but distributed across various pockets and such so that I wouldn’t have to fork it all over in the likely event of a mugging. I learned not to wear a watch, or any shiny jewelry, no matter how low in value. (I had a friend who was mugged over a cheap plastic watch.)
I’ve already taken off my wedding ring, and won’t even bring a watch. I’m planning to bring a 5-year-old laptop, rather than my more recent one, and I’ll keep it tucked away when I’m not in the safety of my hotel room. I’m not planning to even leave the hotel after dark. But you see, I haven’t yet picked a hotel. Part of me says I should just stay in some expensive place, to take advantage of the relative saftey. But part of me wonders just how much I should shell out. My various concerns make it hard for me to decide on a hotel, and then I still have to hope that I can even get a room.
It’s been interesting to think about this trip compared to my earlier trips in Brazil. I’ve come to realize that I value my safety a lot more now, and that I value my life a lot more than I did when I was twenty. As a wife and mother (and an expecting mother at that), my life and safety also mean more to more people than they did when I was an unattached student.
And on top of all of this, I’m feeling the pangs of being separated from Phoebe for over a week. (Yes, I’ll miss John, too. But I can email him, hopefully.) It was hard for me to put Phoebe to bed tonight, because I didn’t want to stop holding her. I found myself caving to her requests to read and reread more books than usual.
So now it’s time to get back to packing. And looking up hotels online. And paying bills. And doing all the other assorted things one always has to do before a trip.
¹ Thanks again, jenny, for lending my that $300 to help me get my plane ticket when the airfares suddenly doubled. I couldn’t have done it without you!