I officially arrived back in the United States this past Sunday morning after a 2-week vacation in Recife, Brazil. During that time, I experienced both the weather and the food in Recife as I shared in my two previous blog entries about this trip. However, during my last week in Recife, I got out to see more of Recife beyond just the mile or two near the AirBnB where I stayed. Here are my final observations and thoughts from my recent trip.
Absence of Any Ocean Smell
Any time I approach the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, or Gulf of Mexico, I often smell one of these bodies of water before I ever see it. Known as dimethyl sulfide (DMS), this ocean smell has a salty, pungent odor produced by bacteria in the ocean as they digest dead phytoplankton.
Yet after two weeks of walking around and living near the Recife coast, I never detected this smell. Rather, the air on the Recife beach was remarkably free of any odors. This held true even though there was constantly a breeze blowing in from the ocean.
Why this was the case, I cannot definitively say. It might be attributable to the time of year, Recife’s location on the Atlantic Ocean, or some other factor of which I am unaware.
Sugar Cane Fields and Heart Attacks
I was aware Brazil has a place as one of the largest agricultural producers in the world before I arrived there. But of all the crops it produces, I had no idea it produced so much sugar cane.
I only became aware of this fact as my family and I were driving to the Bora Bora Bar and Restaurant south of Recife. Located about 50 km south of Recife, we were going there for the day to enjoy a day on a different beach in the area.
It was on the drive there that we passed through miles of sugar cane fields. Having lived in Nebraska and previously in Kansas, I routinely see miles and miles of wheat and corn fields. However, these sugar cane fields bore little resemblance to these wheat and corn fields.
First off, the sugar cane routinely appeared to stand 10 – 12 feet (3-4 meters) in height with many plants appearing to be taller. (Wikipedia confirmed my observation.) Further, Brazilian farmers do not grow sugar cane on flat fields such as I see corn and wheat grown on. Rather, sugar cane grows on rolling hills with very steep inclines, with perhaps over 60-degree inclines.
Second, due to these steep inclines, machines cannot easily get up and down these hills to harvest the sugar cane. Instead, laborers must enter the fields and cut the sugar cane down. I can only imagine how difficult they find it to work their way up the sides of these hills to harvest the sugar cane.
Third, these sugar cane fields essentially come right up next to the highway that we took to the Bora Bora Bar and Restaurant. While that might not seem noteworthy, recall the sugar cane stands up to 20 feet (6 meters) high. In the middle of these fields the owners have cut dirt paths to grant their trucks and machinery access.
The tall plants and the proximity of the fields to the highway made it nearly impossible for anyone to clearly see anything. Further, the height of the sugar cane plants largely obscured any evidence of the dirt paths into the fields.
This resulted in trucks and machinery that hauled the sugar cane almost magically appearing from a sugar cane field with little or no warning. Adding to the excitement (trepidation(?)), this road curved through the hills on which the sugar cane grew. This made it nearly impossible for truck drivers to observe the highway traffic before pulling it out when it was safe. Instead, trucks hauling sugar cane sometimes suddenly burst onto the highway irrespective of the traffic.
Clearly, this “bursting” onto the highway represents a common occurrence. My Uber driver seemed to expect it and stood ready to swerve on a moment’s notice. I, on the other hand, lacked his fortitude. After a few instances of this, I found it better to look at my phone or the surrounding countryside than the road ahead to avoid having a heart attack while swerving around a truck entering the highway.
Monkeys are to Brazil are What Squirrels are to Nebraska
During our last few days in Recife we visited two museums located on the outskirts of the city. Situated in the countryside along a river, one contained a collection of art from around the world. The other contained a studio and presented works from a famous Brazilian artist, Francisco Brennard.
These two museums both resided on estates located away from the hustle and bustle of Recife. This stood out since Recife itself has little green space with few or no parks that I observed. Further, most of the residences that I saw had no green space or lawns.
In contrast, green space and water surrounded these two museums. It was while walking through these green spaces that I saw monkeys in the trees, which I did not entirely expect. Being near the equator and relatively close to the Amazon rainforests, I should have expected to see monkeys. Yet up to this point, I had not seen any.
In watching the group of them frolic in the trees, it struck how much they reminded me of the multiple squirrels that reside in my backyard. These monkeys squawked at each other. They jumped from limb to limb. They fought with one another. They always had their eyes on the ground looking for any food or objects dropped by any visitors. In other words, they behaved much like the squirrels that I routinely encounter.
I only spent two weeks in Brazil which certainly does not make me an expert on anything about Brazil. I, at best, speak Portubonics (as my oldest son calls it) and I stayed in an area where tourists and primarily wealthier individuals largely reside.
That said, I did feel that staying there two weeks gave me a representative taste of the culture of Brazil. Brazil certainly impressed me as a nation that has a lot going for it.
Its residents struck me as very industrious who were often up early and worked hard. While I was warned about the crime in Brazil, I did not witness any though that might be attributable to the areas in which I stayed. Further, all the roads in and around Recife appeared in good repair. In cases where they were not, such as the street in front of our AirBnB, its potholes were repaired during our stay.
As a travel destination, I would certainly recommend it. The exchange rate of 5 Reais to every US dollar contributes to making it an affordable destination. One can easily eat at very nice restaurants for under $15US/person/meal. Further, if trying to be economical, one can reasonably eat on that amount per day.
Yet if going there, the more Portuguese one speaks, the better. I was blessed in that my son’s fiancée is from Brazil, speaks Portuguese fluently, and went to college in Recife. Having her serve as our translator and tour guide gave us the means to stay at places and visit sites non-Portuguese speaking tourists probably would not visit. In that vein, finding and hiring a Portuguese-speaking Brazilian tour guide to take you around will expose one to areas of Brazil a tourist would normally never see or visit.