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The days and weeks leading up to our South America trip were a blur. Between wrapping up work, saying goodbyes to friends, emptying our apartment, and also planning our trip in between all that, we had no time to think. It happened all too fast. 36 hours after we both quit our jobs, we were already on our flight to Brazil.

The long flight to São Paulo was the first time in a few weeks when we had the chance to process everything. Our trip till then was rows in a spreadsheet but now it was finally coming to life. We were excited about the 12 weeks ahead, but also nervous on how well we could pull this off. There was only one way to find out!


Where things got Rio(l)

When we arrived in Rio, our brains hadn't fully adapted to the fact that this wasn't our usual vacation. We were excited that the trip had finally begun and we wanted to see everything. We started by checking off the touristy spots. We hit the Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, saw Christ the Redeemer, visited the Selarón Steps, and took the cable car up to the Sugarloaf Mountain. 

People often think of Rio for its beaches, which are indeed among the world's best. But what really stood out for us were the views from its mountains. Seeing Rio from up high is something else. Whether you're atop Sugarloaf or the Corcovado peak (home to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue), the sights are incredible. You get a sweeping view of steep mountains, the bay, coastline, lush parks, and the vast city below. Sure, there are crowds, but the breathtaking views are well worth it.

The Breadths of Brazil

Anusha Sekhar


A few days into our Rio trip, we decided to shake things up and venture beyond the touristy spots – we decided to do the Dois Irmaos (two brothers) hike. The hike starts in the Vidigal favela, which initially gave us pause due to favelas’ reputation for violence. But Vidigal is a ‘pacified’ favela, and after some research, we found plenty of reassurances that it was safe for visitors and tourists. Convinced, we set out to explore this new part of town. 

Our Uber dropped us off at Vidigal’s entrance, and for the last stretch we decided to take a moto-taxi up to the trailhead. The bike ride was literally a roller-coaster ride! Our drivers drove at top speed, weaving through oncoming traffic, while we held on for dear life. The ride up was super short, but was a fun start to the hike.


The hike itself wasn’t too challenging at just ~1.5 kms one way, but the heat and humidity made climbing up harder. We reached the top of the peak just in time for sunset, and were rewarded with absolutely stunning views of Rio. We could see all of Ipanema, the fancy Zona Sul neighborhood, and the sprawling Rocinha, the biggest favela in Brazil. Seeing Zona Sul on one side and Rocinha on the other was a jarring demonstration of the income inequality that exists in the city. You begin to appreciate the scale of Rio from the heights.


Turning around, we were a little apprehensive about walking through Vidigal, especially since it was now past sunset. The walk back, though, actually felt pretty safe. We celebrated our hike at a local sandwich and juice shop that came recommended by one of Suhas’ colleagues. It felt like we were slowly moving away from our touristy mindset and embracing adventure.


As our time in Rio came to an end, we really didn’t want to leave. Thankfully, we still had another eleven weeks of travel to look forward to.


All that glitters is not gold


After an overnight bus trip from Rio, we arrived in Ouro Preto. Our Airbnb was just a kilometer away, so we decided to walk -- which in hindsight wasn't the soundest of decisions. We ended up having to drag our heavy suitcases over uneven payments and cobblestone streets. The suitcase wheels kept getting stuck, so we had to carry them part of the way. Not a great start to the day – poor sleep, bad decisions!

When we arrived at the Airbnb to check in, our host Josiline greeted us at the door. She was a sweet lady, and we had been exchanging messages through the Airbnb app till then. But only when we met face to face did we realize that she spoke no English and she realized we spoke no Portuguese. The only way we could continue interacting was using the Airbnb app, which was clearly doing an excellent job translating. It was awkward communicating via chat with someone we were standing right across from. We would constantly point to our phones when we had to say something to each other. I’m glad technology has made it possible to get past language barriers. Can’t imagine how hard this must have been to navigate in the past.

After dropping off our bags, we finally got to explore this charming colonial town. Ouro Preto, which translates to ‘Black Gold’, was once the epicenter of Brazil's Gold Rush in the 1700s. At its peak, it was one of the largest cities in the Americas. The main square of the town has a ton of historical significance. Walking around, we came across several old churches (surprisingly high number of churches for such a small town). The deeper we went, the more we felt like we had time traveled to the past – many of the buildings and streets seemed frozen in time and hadn’t changed for centuries. We couldn’t stop taking pictures of the buildings and the charming alleys all morning. The morning's highlight, though, was tasting Pastel de Nata – a delicious Portuguese custard tart. It’s a must-try, and we made sure to indulge at every opportunity. 😋


However, not everything about Ouro Preto was charming and pretty. Underneath these beautiful colonial buildings and cobblestone pathways, we got a glimpse into the city’s dark history: slavery. 


We visited Mina Chico Rei, a gold mine turned museum, with a story that was equal parts inspiring and saddening. Chico Rei was a Ghanaian king who was abducted and brought to Brazil to work in the mines. His past life as a ruler motivated him to lead the laborers toiling under unsafe conditions in these mines towards freedom. The workers started hiding some of the gold they mined, and over time collected enough gold to buy their freedom, and eventually bought the whole mine itself. 

We did a short tour of the mines. It was dark and extremely cramped - we felt claustrophobic. It's hard to imagine how people worked here 14 hours a day, bent over, and constantly breathing in toxic fumes. The fumes were supposedly so harmful that mine workers had a life expectancy of just 10-15 years once they started working there.


The dark past of Brazil extends beyond Ouro Preto. During our walking tour in Rio, we visited Praça 15, a major landing site for African slaves brought to South America. Of the 12 million Africans that were forcefully taken away from their homes, over half were enslaved in Brazil, more than any other country in the world. Brazil was also one of the last few countries to abolish slavery. It happened in 1888, 23 years after the US.

When water meets water

Manaus is the largest city in the Brazilian Amazon, and one of the things you can do here is to go see ‘Encontro das águas’ or the meeting of waters. We had a little time to kill as soon as we landed, so we decided to give it a try. Google searches only yielded expensive full day tour options, which weren’t going to work since we had to get picked up for our Amazon experience the next morning. Also, all of them seemed like tourist traps.

Luckily, thanks to local Portuguese reviews and Google translate, we learnt we may be able to take a ferry from a port nearby for a fraction of the price. We took a chance and went to the port. Couple of enquiries later, we found our boatman. It was the simplest of boats but the driver knew just enough broken English – that was good enough for us.

Encontro das águas is where the muddy brown Rio Solimões from Peru meets the black Rio Negro, originating in Colombia. What's amazing is that these rivers don't mix, but run side by side with no barrier in between for over 30 kms. This occurs due to differences in their temperatures, speeds, and density. Eventually, Rio Negro dwindles, becoming the dark brown Amazon river all the way till it reaches the Atlantic Ocean thousands of kms away.

Our pictures don’t do justice to this phenomenon. Below you'll also find a satellite view from Google Maps that does a far better job. On our flight out of Manaus a few days later, I got the window seat. I wasn’t expecting it but ended up getting a pretty good aerial view of the meeting of waters. Glad I got a chance to see this again, this time for free (not really, but kind of).


All in the same boat

In planning our Brazil itinerary, the Amazon was the one thing I was really looking forward to. The Amazon ecosystem is home to more than 10% of all biodiversity on earth, and plays a huge part in climate regulation, especially in absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide, and influencing global rainfall patterns. Ecological benefits aside, the Amazon is also known for its unparalleled natural beauty and incredible scenery, and I wanted to experience all that.

A good part of our two and a half day Amazon experience was spent on a boat, going from place to place, enjoying the rainforest and surrounding areas. As I was typing up what we experienced, I accidentally rhymed the first two lines. So I figured, why not the rest?

At our jungle lodge, we feasted on mangoes and cashew fruit straight from the tree.

Saw dolphins and went piranha fishing, we caught our fish and let them go free.


Concluded the day with much needed rest, following a magnificent sunset. 

Woke up with bug bites in the morning, and made our way into the jungle next.


Spotted a crocodile in a swampy area, though thankfully no anacondas or caimans.

Learned about indigenous communities around, but didn’t get to see any shamans.


Held a sloth that fell into our boat, and helped it get back up on its feet.

We then ended our Amazon adventure, with a stunning mirror-image visual treat.

Rhymes and fun aside, the Amazon experience was special because it was the first time since we got smartphones that we went off the grid for more than two full days. Our lodge had no internet and there wasn’t any cell phone service in the jungle. This meant two full days of distraction free, immersive experiences in nature. I especially remember falling asleep in a hammock after returning from a nature walk, with some light afternoon breeze and the sound of the Amazon river crashing against stones. It had been a while since I felt so relaxed. Surprisingly, we also didn’t miss the internet that much over those couple of days.


Football frenzy is real

My write up on Brazil would be incomplete if I didn’t mention football. People here are obsessed with football, to put it mildly. We got to witness this on multiple occasions.

First, every neighborhood we visited had at least one football field full of passionate players. It didn’t really matter if the neighborhood was the posh Zona Sul, or a favela like Vidigal. Football transcended these divisions.


Next, we watched Fluminense (a local Rio team) play Fortaleza at the Maracanã stadium in Rio. Even before we went inside the stadium, we saw hordes of adults and children dressed in Fluminense’s maroon, green and white on the streets and in the trains. We enjoyed watching the game live with 25k+ Fluminense supporters. Every goal scored brought the stadium to life. Flu won the game 2-1, which unleashed a whole new level of cheering and celebrations. The bands got louder and there were fireworks. We missed catching a Flamengo match earlier that week. Apparently Flamengo fans are even more passionate. The stadium is always full, and things could get out of hand very quickly if their team loses.

And finally, we found ourselves surrounded by world cup mania when we returned to Brazil near the end of our trip in early December. On our last day in São Paulo, Brazil played South Korea in a Game of 16 match. We were on our way to the airport when the match began. The first time Brazil scored, cars nearby honked and fireworks went off in the distance. This happened again when Brazil scored their second goal. From them on, this became how we learnt Brazil scored their next goal. All in, they had put four past South Korea by the time we got to the airport. We caught the rest of the game at the airport, joining in the celebrations after Brazil won that match.

Brazil's world cup journey was cut short soon after, unfortunately. Then again, it's Brazil. Who knows, maybe the next world cup in 2026 could be theirs!

The beginning is the end, and the end is a new beginning

When we re-entered Brazil from Argentina to see the Iguazu falls from the other side, it felt like we had come full circle. We had begun our South America travels in Brazil, and the fact that we were back here meant the end of our three-month journey was near.

We enjoyed seeing the falls again (see Argentina for a more detailed account of Iguazú). The Brazilian side offered stunning panoramic views. Mostly, we walked down a long walkway seeing one waterfall after another. The Devil's Throat was especially amazing and we got fully drenched in the waterfall mist by the time we were ready to turn around. But every time there was a dull moment in between, we'd think about our trip coming to an end. The end of our South America trip meant our India trip was only days away. We were looking forward to spending time with family and perhaps some travel within India too. 


On our very last day in Brazil, we walked around the streets of São Paulo, taking in the sights and enjoying some pastel de nata. We reminisced about our first time landing in São Paulo exactly 3 months ago, and how the last 3 months had unfolded.

- - -

As we left Brazil, we felt like we had only scratched the surface of what it had to offer. There was so much more to explore, and two weeks weren't enough. Hopefully, we will return to this massive, incredible country someday to see more of it.


The plane ride from Sāo Paulo to the US also marked the end of our 12-week trip through South America. We felt accomplished, but also realized how fond we had grown of this continent. Leaving all of that behind was definitely bittersweet.

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