Adventures in Brasil: Salvador

The weekend after out trip to Rio, we rented an AirBnB in Salvador with the other 3 Americans who are in Brazil for the same program as Derek. Salvador is known for its colored houses, which reminded me of Valparaíso. We didn’t realize that the weekend we were visiting was the holiday for São João. On Friday afternoon, we walked over to the historic district, which was decorated with colorful flags and ribbons. We visited the Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo (which boasts a carving of Jesus inlaid with 2000 rubies), Largo do Pelourinho (the plaza where slaves were once whipped), and the Igreja de Sao Francisco (which is famous for its tiles imported from Portugal, the amount of gold leaf, and the paintings on the wooden ceiling). We also wanted to visit the Mueso Afro-Brasileiro, but it was closed due to the holiday. That evening, we walked back to this area in order to take part in the feira. There was live music (we wished we had baby hearing protection) and lots of street food. Michelle had a caipirinha (the national drink which is made with cachaça [fermented sugar cane juice] sugar, and lime), and we shared salgado tapioca (like a tapioca crepe with savory chicken and cheese fillings), a plate of churrascaria style meats with typical Brazilian sides like farofa and rice, and coxinhas (chicken surrounded with potato and rolled in breadcrumbs then fried).

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On Saturday we went to breakfast at a typical by the kilo restaurant (we ate for less than $10), and then we tried to visit the Feira do São Joaquin – the largest outdoor market in the state of Bahia with produce, food, jewelry, crafts, religious items, etc. – but it was closed for the holiday.

Many people questioned our decision to move to Brazil for several months, especially with the babies. In the U.S., you hear so much negativity about the violence, drug, and disease problems of Brazil. The reality is that by Brazilian standards most Americans are very well off. This allows us to stay in hotels that are in very nice and safe parts of towns. We also make a point of being well informed about which neighborhoods are safe to visit, and we try to avoid going anywhere but the safest areas after dark.  Overall it is possible to have a very positive and safe experience here. The stories far outdo the reality.

All of that said, Salvador was one of the first times where we felt we made a bad decision that could have put us in a dangerous situation. Since it was a holiday, nearly every retail business was closed. We decided to walk the 2ish miles from our AirBnB to the Feira do São Joaquin. Since everything was closed, this meant we were walking pretty much alone on streets for most of the time and eventually passed under an elevated highway that was sheltering  a small homeless population, as well as passing in front of the entrance to a favela. This was not a good decision. You should not put yourself in a position where you are alone like this. When we got to the market, it was also closed and the few adults around were throwing large fireworks into traffic, seemingly with the intention of stopping traffic. We quickly got an Uber out of there. We definitely learned some lessons about having a plan and understanding our walking routes before heading out. Fortunately all ended well.

After we arrived back to the safer tourist district, we ate a relaxed lunch of Carne del Sol (a typical northeastern dish of salted beef left to cure outside) and Guaraná (a soda popular in Brazil). That evening, Derek’s coworkers babysat while we ventured out to the historic district on our own. It was much more crowded and the food was not as good as the previous night. We tried some Afro-Brasilian food which we only ate one bite of, as well as fried cheese, more coxinha, another plate of churrascaria style meats with typical Brazilian sides, and a dolce tapioca (this time the crepe-like tapioca with dulce de leche inside). For our last day, we took the ferry to Ilha Itaparica, where we walked along the beach and ate a lovely lunch of feijoada, with Derek’s coworkers. The views sitting outside the restaurant were beautiful, but in all honesty, this day was a little more expensive than we would have liked due to the cab ride to and from the beach, and didn’t really seem worth our time there.

Overall we really enjoyed Salvador, as it had a very different feel than São Paulo or Rio. It was fun getting to try street food and experience a local holiday. However, we would have loved to visit the museum and market that were closed!

Adventures in Brasil: Rio

We visited Rio de Janeiro over the Corpus Christi holiday. Therefore, we arrived Wednesday night and left Sunday night. On Thursday we did an all day tour – Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain), Christ the Redeemer, the Selarón Steps, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and lunch at an all you can eat churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse). As it was Corpus Christi, the Metropolitan Cathedral was filled from the sidewalk to the altar with people creating religious sand art. Christ the Redeemer is quintessential Rio, but the view from the top is so close to the statue, that people lay on the ground in order to get a good picture!

 

On Friday, we did a 3 hour free walking tour of the Centro district. We were the only ones who wanted an English tour, so it was a private tour! This was an awesome experience, and we learned a ton about the history of Brazil and Rio. We walked by the Teatro Municipal, old aqueducts, Selarón Steps, original cathedral, and other historic statues and buildings. If you want our recommendation – skip the city tour and just hit those main attractions on your own, but definitely do the free walking tour! After the tour, we went to the Teatro Municipal for their tour. They do offer one in English, but we did not want to wait. While we didn’t understand the history of the building (and wouldn’t have been able to hear if we had understood the Portuguese as the babies were very tired and we often had to walk away from the tour group to keep their crying from interrupting), we were awestruck by its stained glass, marble, wood floors, etc. Next, we walked to the commercial district. There were so many street vendors! This area was fun to walk around and had a great vibe. Friday evening we took the babies for their first swim. Norah seemed at ease in the water, wanting to lay on her tummy and kick her legs. Naomi enjoyed the water but wanted her legs pointing toward the bottom of the pool.

 

After our long days on Thursday and Friday, on Saturday we decided to allow the babies to take their first nap at the hotel before we walked along Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. It was fun people watching, as different parts of the beach draw different crowds. We held the babies in the ocean, but they were not thrilled with the cold water, waves, and sand. We went back to the hotel and took them in the pool again. Derek then met up for a jog with some runners who were in town for the Rio Marathon. That evening we walked to Galeto Sal’s, which was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. The restaurant seemed local and not touristy, the galeto (young chicken and a Rio staple) was delicious!

 

On our last day, we again let the babies take their first nap at the hotel, while Derek went out to cheer for his marathon running friends. We then visited the Museu da Chácara do Céu and Parque das Ruinas in the Santa Teresa neighborhood. The museu was in a cool old house with indoor/outdoor living and awesome views of the city. While in Santa Teresa, we tried some German feijoada (as the southern part of Brazil is very German). It was light and tasty – carrots, potatoes, white beans, German sausage – served over rice. Finally, we visited the Palacio de Cachete to see where presidents lived when Rio was the capital. Overall, we loved Rio. It had so much culture, so many things to do, and the babies enjoyed eating lots of rice and beans!

10 Months Old and Adventures in Brasil!

In the past month, we have visited Avenida Paulista, Liberdade, and Casa de Francisca in São Paulo and have taken weekend trips to Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.

After both weekend trips, I found myself thinking that it was nice to “go home.” We have definitely come to think of our hotel in Sao Paulo as “home,” and we have gotten used to our routines here. With my Spanish, I am able to understand some Portuguese, but I sometimes get frustrated that I cannot speak and understand more Portuguese. Derek is able to communicate fairly well, but he definitely understands different words and phrases than I do. There are some cultural norms that we have become accustomed to and some which I don’t know that we would ever really accept. For example, Derek is regularly frustrated by how slow everyone walks.

Parents with small babies seem to be treated with more respect in Brazil than in the U.S. At the airport there is a separate check in and baggage check line for pregnant women, parents traveling with infants under 2, the elderly, and people with disabilities. There is also a separate line for this group of people at security. In the U.S., I feel like this group of people is allowed to pre-board, but that is the only accommodation parents with small children get. As well, if I walk into a restroom with a baby strapped to me, all of the women allow me to cut the line.

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Headed to the pharmacy to get Naomi (on front) some medicine
However, the obsession with babies is also frustrating at times. People are constantly stopping, pointing, staring, and wanting to talk to us. Any time we leave our apartment, we hear “São gêmeos? Que linda!” They then want to ask lots of questions about the girls’ names and ages, where we are from, etc. Sometimes we just pretend we don’t understand any Portuguese, so we can get where we are going! In Rio, we noticed that people were also especially touchy. When eating breakfast at our hotel, people would constantly touch the girls’ hands and heads and talk to them. This made it a little difficult to get Norah and Naomi to eat. When we were out and about, we were always trying to be aware of potential pickpockets, so it was disconcerting that people were constantly coming up to talk to us and touch the girls. Most people seemed to have good intentions, and many wanted to “help.” For instance, when we were at Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain), we fed the girls and changed their diapers. A woman came up to us and without asking began adjusting one of the girl’s hats, holding her head, etc. We repeatedly told her that we did not need help (in Portuguese), but she continued to “help.” We love that people are friendly, but sometimes we just want some space!

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On weekends where we have stayed in São Paulo, we have tried to make the most of our time here, by visiting various places of interest. Avenida Paulista is popular place to visit for many of the same reasons that people visit Michigan Ave. in Chicago. We visited the Museo de Arte (MASP), then walked along the avenue. We browsed street crafts, window shopped at knock off Polo stores, and saw mansions from the early 1900s mixed in with many financial and cultural buildings. It was the first time that I really felt like I was in a big city!

We have also been to Liberdade twice, which is the Japantown of São Paulo. There are Asian grocery stores (where we picked up some teriyaki sauce), stalls selling various Asian and Brazilian inspired crafts, and a diverse range of street food. We bought a carnival mask and ate some delicious kabobs, spring roll, dumpling, and washed it down with caldo de cana com limão (sugar cane juice with lemon). The food market is always super crowded but very affordable, so we think it is worth it to brave the crowds to get some yummy and cheap eats (USD$2-5 per item).

Finally, Norah and Naomi slept through their third Brazilian babysitting experience, while Derek and I went to Casa de Francisca. Casa de Francisca is a theater/bar in an old building in the Centro district which offers live music and food. I was thinking it would be like a dinner theatre, but it was set up more like a restaurant with tables, a dance floor, and a small stage. Interestingly enough, they also stop taking food orders when the show starts. The  music wasn’t really our style (think lots of triangle with some drums, accordion, singing, and guitar thrown in), but it was definitely a fun and unique experience.

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Naomi weighs 17.19 pounds (13th%), and Norah weighs 15.87 pounds (3%). Naomi was sick the week before their 10 month birthday, so she had not been eating well. However, when she is feeling well, she likes picking up and eating food on her own and tends to be very independent at eating. Norah really improved her pincher grasp this month and can now pick up food with ease, as well. Their favorite meal is pasta with pieces of cheese. In terms of motor skills, Norah clapped for a few days but then started flapping her arms like a bird instead. She also went through a period where she enjoyed wrinkling her nose and sniffing! She can now go from sitting to standing to sitting with ease, and everything has become a jungle gym. Naomi likes clapping, especially when we clap back at her. They both shake their heads back and forth, but Norah has been doing it longer and more consistently.  Both have 3 top teeth and 2 bottom teeth now, but Norah only has one of the two top central teeth and Naomi only has one of the two top lateral teeth! Norah likes turning pages of magazines, so we are excited to go back to the U.S. and read children’s books with her. Naomi has shown some stranger danger and is unsure when rotating maids (not our usual maid) pick her up.

 

 

Navigating The Brazilian Medical System

As some of you may know, I have started getting serious about running again. After a really poor marathon in 2015, I decided it was time to get back out there and have a good marathon experience.  I have been training hard through the first half of 2017 and had some good success in shorter races at the beginning of the year.

When I started looking at marathons, I thought it might be fun to do one while we were in Sao Paulo. After much struggling with the requirements for foreigners I registered for the Sao Paulo City Marathon on July 30 (the weekend after my work assignment in Brazil ends).  I was doing a great job of training while in Brazil, relying on a combination of our hotel’s gym and the wonderful park a mile from our place.  I was able to go on some really nice runs in Rio de Janeiro as well.

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Run along Copacabana and Ipanema

Unfortunately, while running two weeks ago I experienced some very bad pain in my hamstring. Bad enough I had to bail on my run and couldn’t get back to it for several days.  After giving the hamstring a break with no improvement, I decided it was time to explore the Brazilian medical system. Fortunately, EY provided international insurance (ISOS) for the duration of the trip. ISOS has a team of specialists on-call 24/7 with a range of language specialists to help book appointments and navigate local health care issues.  While the team at ISOS has been great, it is challenging at times to get a hold of them, as it can only be through calls to U.S. numbers (extremely difficult in Brazil) or email (slow response time when I am standing at a hospital trying to make a future appointment).

So I called ISOS to book an appointment. Despite assuring the team at ISOS that I needed an orthopedist, I was told that I had to go to a generalist first. I was impressed they were able to set up an appointment the same day. I headed to meet my new doctor at the lovely Centro Medico Sergipe building. Centro

There are very few people in Brazil that speak English, even in comparison to places I would not expect large English speaking populations like Peru, Vietnam, or Cambodia. I try to speak Portuguese with everyone I meet, but sometimes that proves to be a losing proposition as well. I have found that if I admit I don’t speak great Portuguese early in a conversation, most people won’t even try to understand what I am saying. However, if I never admit that I don’t speak Portuguese, people will generally work harder to understand me.  It’s weird. Regardless, through my broken Portuguese I was able to get in to see the doctor.

The one criteria ISOS used in booking my appointment seemed to be finding an English speaking doctor – so once I got into his office things went pretty well. But, for medical purposes the doctor’s English as a second language combined with my bad Portuguese still left something to be desired.  After an hour of conversation and mild poking and prodding, it was decided that I did have a hamstring injury (who would have thought). This meant a further referral to the orthopedic specialist as I requested in the first place. To add to the fun, my insurance would not cover the orthopedic specialist the general practitioner (chosen by my insurance) referred me to.

Which is how I found myself at Albert Einstein Hospital on a Monday night.

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One thing about Brazil: everything requires an extra degree of security. Whether that be to get off on a specific floor in your hotel, to visit the ID processing building, or in this case to visit the hospital. I had to have a photo taken, share my Brazilian and U.S. documentation, and have a finger print taken just to get in the door. I find this level of security adds a sense of stress and…heaviness to every day activities. Sort of highlights that you’re not in the U.S. anymore and things are maybe not quite as safe as you’re used to.

The nice things about Albert Einstein Hospital: it’s a gorgeous new facility and they maintain English speaking hospitality staff to escort dumb Americans.  So I was given a personal interpreter for much of the evening.

Eventually I was able to see the orthopedic specialist (after my helpful English speaking guide ditched me). The doctor spoke some English, but things were a little muddy in our communication. The ultimate result of our conversation was a “prescription” for an ultrasound and 10 physical therapy sessions.  I thought it was odd to get assigned physical therapy before seeing the results of the ultrasound, but I guess I am not the doctor here. The ISOS folks don’t have a local number to call, so I could not immediately schedule the ultrasound (I wasn’t going to pay BRL$700 on the hope I could get reimbursed). However, ISOS took care of it quickly the next morning when I was able to call and scheduled my follow up doctors appointment and physical therapy too!

So now I am now at my third Brazilian medical facility awaiting my ultrasound. I am honestly quite impressed with how fast and helpful the ISOS team has been (minus not having local numbers to call). The other remarkable thing is that I have not had to wait for medical personnel to see me. Appointments have started on time, every time.  Which is a nice change of pace!

Hopefully, the ultrasound shows no major issues and I am able to get back to running soon!

 

 

 

9 Months Old & Adventures in Brasil!

 

It is completely surreal that we are currently living in Brasil! The babies and I have been here exactly 2 weeks (of our 11 week stay), and Derek almost a month and a half into his 3 month rotation. So far, it has definitely been an adventure (as it should be!). Flying here, while stressful, went about as smoothly as it could have. My mom, Naomi, Norah, and I flew SEA-PDX-ATL-GRU. We had tight connections, but Delta came through for us. On the Portland to Atlanta flight, there were plenty of seats, so my mom and I were able to share a row! (There are only 4 oxygen masks per row, so usually only 1 infant in arms is allowed per row. However, if only 2 of the 3 seats are occupied, then you can have 2 infant in arms.) We met my dad in Atlanta and were not optimistic that we would get on a flight to São Paulo. However, we got lucky and 2 seats were available. My mom and I raced onto the plane at the last minute. We then sat at the gate for an hour while they finished loading luggage and fixed a toilet. My dad got on a flight a few hours later bound for Rio and then met us in São Paulo. The babies did pretty well on the flights. Naomi and my mom had aisle seats on the 9.5 hour flight to São Paulo and made friends with everyone walking by (including a little Brasilian girl who wanted to show off her stuffed animal). Norah and I were stuck in a middle seat, but the Brasilians around us were very nice and put up with Norah trying to steal their watches and bracelets. Unfortunately when we arrived in São Paulo, we found out our luggage had not arrived with us, but we were able to have it delivered the next day for a small fee. Derek and I are so thankful that my parents were able to make this journey with us; we truly could not have done it without them. My mom and Naomi are now best travel buddies!

 

Our first day in Brasil was just spent relaxing, and we quickly realized the importance of downloading an app (Viber or WhatsApp) so that we could all communicate! Our second day in Brasil, we decided to visit Parque Ibirapuera. Before heading over there, we stopped for lunch at a local  restaurant where we shared some delicious feijoada (bean stew with beef and pork). Derek said it was the best food he has eaten in Brasil! We took an Uber to Parque Ibirapuera. Uber has been amazing in Brasil, as they are readily available and fairly cheap! Parque Ibirapuera is like the Central Park of São Paulo. It is pleasant to walk around, as it is fairly shaded. There is a large lake in the middle, many play structures, soccer fields, bike paths, and a few museums.

 

Our third day in Brasil we visited the Catedral de Sé and the Centro district. The babies wanted to sing along during mass (especially when only the priest was talking). We briefly walked around the market in the Centro district and then ate a yummy Asian noodle dish and Chilean empanadas before heading home for the babies to nap. We went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner, where the babies were serenaded by a mariachi band. There was some confusion about the menu here, and we learned that rodízio means all you can eat. This was our last night with my mom and dad, who traveled to Rio for a few days before heading back to the U.S.

 

On the fourth day, the babies and I ventured out alone in order to visit Derek at work.  Up until this point, the babies had been struggling with sleeping. They didn’t get nearly as much sleep on the journey here as they usually do in a 24 hour period, and São Paulo is 4 hours ahead of Seattle. Plus, they are used to sleeping in a separate room! However, we finally seemed to turn a corner the 4th night and 5th day. It was definitely a rough couple days living in a 450 sq ft studio apartment with overtired babies who were crying for hours at bedtime and fussy during the day. We really needed more space, so we were counting down until we got to move into a bigger apartment on June 1. However, as seems to be the case in Brasil, it was a process. At first, the hotel seemed to have no idea that we were supposed to move. After many phone calls, emails, and conversations from me and an employee at EY, we were told we could move. I packed everything up the night before our move. On the morning of June 1, I was told we couldn’t move until after 5p, so I had to unpack some of the essentials for the babies. I went down to the front desk at 4:30 and was told that we actually couldn’t move until the next day because the room wasn’t ready. At this point we were quite frustrated, and EY began looking into other hotels for us. On the morning of June 2, I was told we could move in the afternoon. I explained that we needed to move between the baby’s naps, and I was assured that we could move at 12p. It seemed like the hotel just kept giving us what we wanted to hear instead of the truth, though… At noon, I received a call from the front desk asking if we were ready to move! Finally!!! Then a few minutes later I received a call back saying the room was still not ready! Derek and I went down to the front desk to see what the problem was. They said the room was not clean, which we didn’t understand as they had now had 36 hours to clean it! We said we didn’t care, we just needed to move. We finally got to move into our 667 sq ft room and everyone has been happier and slept much better!

 

On our second Saturday in Brasil, we went to the Zoologico São Paulo with some of Derek’s Brasilian and American co-workers. Norah and Naomi enjoyed the parrots, monkeys, and cats. That evening we went out to dinner (where we saw a nanny!) and then walked around the shopping mall until we found dulce de leite ice cream (the babies were sad that they didn’t get to eat any). On our second Sunday in São Paulo, Derek and I went to the Palmeiras futebol game with his co-workers, and the babies had their first non-relative babysitter. The soccer game was a very fun experience. The streets around the stadium were closed, so there was lots of tailgating with grilled street food, huge flags, cheering, etc. We were told that the babies did a great job for the babysitter. It is amazing what technology can do. I am part of a Seattle nanny Facebook group, and I asked there if anyone knew of babysitters in Brasil. Two women were able to put me in touch with relatives and friends here!

 

Norah and Naomi have graduated to size 3 diapers and weigh 7.2 kg (15.8 lb), which keeps them in the 8th percentile. They enjoy people watching on our balcony and plane watching at the pool. They also like the many floor length mirrors in our apartment and playing peekaboo. Norah and Naomi love mango and persimmon, but they are not big fans of broccoli. They have started to pull themselves to stand, and Norah likes when we help her stand and walk. She also loves splashing in the pool and practicing her yoga (especially downward dog). Naomi really likes eating necklaces (thanks Grandma…) and alternates army crawling and real crawling. They both are very curious and like to follow us around. Naomi has been fussy because she is teething (working on the top 4 teeth). Norah didn’t act like she was teething, but her upper right lateral tooth popped through on the 6th! They have been spoiled here. They get a lot more time with daddy, now that his commute is a 15 minute walk, and they are constantly being called “linda” (beautiful) by strangers, hotel staff, and friends.