travel reservations: heading down to Brazil

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!

8 thoughts on “travel reservations: heading down to Brazil

  1. It’s funny how our definition of safe changes as we get older and have kids.

    I used to have a job that I LOVED but it would have required me to deploy to a disaster zone if an American city were ever attacked again. That could have included nuclear, bioterror, etc. and even though I looked forward to work every day I couldn’t imagine making that committment now!

    Enjoy your trip. Take pictures!!

  2. wow, i’d forgotten about that! in retrospect, that loan agreement should have been a surefire indicator that i was doomed to end up in law school. or as a loan shark.

    i wouldn’t dwell on the OSAC comments on SP too much – they tend to be written for maximum hysteria impact, and targeted at the non-traveler. you’ve got good sense, you’ve traveled in brasil before, and you know how to keep your wits about you.

    so have fun in brasil, and do what you feel comfortable doing. have you thought about staying in liberdade again?

  3. Things sure are different for everyone once we have families to think about. I can’t help but think about my time in the military. Going into a skirmish or even “clearing a building” would have a whole different feeling if I had to think about my wife and children as I was going in.

    Good luck on your trip and I hope you find some interesting (and safe) places to visit during your down time.

  4. A couple of hotel suggestions for Sao Paulo are the Time Othon Flat (basic 3.5 star property in museum district, near USA embassy – handy if your passport gets pinched) or the Hilton Morumbi (yeah, it’s a big chain hotel, but is reported to have a Brazilian flavour and ranks third on tripadvisor for Sao Paulo hotels).

    As regards the travel warnings, the Australian government also has travel advice for Brazil. They have a scale of one to five, one being ‘Be alert to own security,’ and five, ‘Do not travel.’ Brazil is ranked at number three, the same as Mexico, lower risk than Bali and higher than Malaysia. After the Bali bombings in 2002, the Australian government copped a lot of flak for failing to warn travellers. After that, they pretty much put out warnings for *everywhere*. (Just for interest, New Zealanders are advised not to travel to Sydney in case of terrorist attack! We go there all the time. In fact, some Australians actually live there!)

    Have a wonderful journey and be safe and careful! See you when you get back.

  5. Have a wonderful trip. And I’m glad to hear you have a visa – my sister once went there without one and ended up in Uruguay.

  6. oh do enjoy brasil! i’ve never been, and don’t know that my studies will ever bring me there, sadly, so i look forward to hearing all about it! be safe! and eat some delicious food!

  7. flutter-
    I’ll see if I can find some bossa nova to pocket for you.

    Yes, I can see how disaster zones would be less appealing at this stage…
    I do hope to take some pictures.

    Yes, well, as for the loan sharkery, I think you may have needed to work on technique. I don’t recall there being interest charged, nor any threats to rough me up.
    I’m not really taking the OSAC bit too seriously. It did sort of startle me, though. It also somewhat amused me. (I don’t think my mother-in-law would approve.)
    I hadn’t actually remembered where we stayed that time we came down. I remember museums and sushi, and also passing through some very neat suburbs that were strikingly different from the outskirts of Rio. But I remember very little of the city of São Paulo itself. (What is up with my memory?)

    Wow. It’s hard to imagine actual skirmishes. And yet people who are parents still have to go through that.

    Thanks for the hotel suggestions. (I forgot I might have a travel agent reading this.) I’ll have to check those out. They sound pricier than I had in mind, though. But options are good. Especially at this late stage…
    And goodness, Sydney is considered unsafe for New Zealanders? That’s wacky.

    They don’t even seem to let people on the plane anymore without showing visas.
    I hope your sister had fun in Uruguay!

    I’ll working on sharing my experiences (pretty tame thus far) and finding some good food. So far, I’ve felt pretty safe. At least from crime. Traffic is another story…

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