Escape to Brazil

Leaving London wasn't just about not being on Lockdown. I surely have my thoughts about the Government trying to assume responsibility over my life, but that wasn't entirely it. For us, leaving a country and city that was in the midst of shutting down again was about our physical and mental health more than anything.

It was the beginning of Fall and Winter was approaching. These are the two seasons people begin to get the “flu”. They begin to get sick and are generally unwell. London begins to get colder and darker. Add to this all the high mucus pus forming foods and overall less fluid intake and you have the perfect environment and breeding ground for bacteria, parasites, and viruses. Dehydration and blood stagnation rises while circulating oxygen lowers. It's the perfect foundation for which stories of coronavirus to be sensationalized. There was no way London was going to get better. Not yet.

And we didn't need anyone to tell us that because it was apparent.

So my family moved away from the Fall-Winter to a country that was currently in Spring leading into Summer. It is our own responsibility to protect ourselves from mental and physical traumas to the best of our abilities and we made the choices necessary to facilitate in our wellness.


(Sunset in Arpoador on one of our first nights in Brazil)




Why Brazil?


As we sat in our home in London knowing that we had to leave in the near future I started researching destinations. We could only speculate on the ever-changing elements and I did the best I could to check with foreign governments, embassies, airlines, Air bnb's, and all the other components of travel that would affect us. I used a notebook to create a spreadsheet where I chose places based off of 8 factors, including:

  1. Climate

  2. Cost of living

  3. Abundance of fruit

  4. Time difference

  5. Cost of flight

  6. Current covid rules in daily life

  7. Covid rules for entry to the country

  8. Visa and duration of stay laws for both American and British citizens

As you already know, we could not go back to Florida because we didn't legally have enough time to stay there. We were searching for a place that we could stay until it was Spring in London-a timeframe we agreed it might be safe to return. Our top choice was actually Bali! We had heard so much about it from friends who have visited and we have been wanting to go for years too. The borders were still closed, but it was being reported that they were hoping to open in October, which is when we wanted to leave. Unfortunately as we waited for an official announcement that Bali's borders were opening, the government there kept pushing the date back until we knew we couldn’t wait any longer. We had to book a flight somewhere else.

Other choices included Thailand, Tanzania, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Brazil. All of these countries met our minimum requirements listed above, but it was Brazil that won us over in the end for these reasons:

  • The country has a hot tropical climate and they were headed into Summer

  • The British Pound against the Brazilian Real was strong currently, meaning we would save money on living better

  • The variety and abundance of fruit that grows there effortlessly

  • It was only a 3 hour time difference to London, which would make work seamless for Coupe

  • The flight was a decent price that compared with other destination choices at the time

  • At the time, there was no PCR test required for entry and no quarantine required either. All they asked for was proof of travel insurance

  • American and British passport holders are both allowed up to 6 months stay with only a small fee and short process completed after the first 3 months stay


Thankfully we have some friends and acquaintances in Rio and as soon as we were settling on Brazil I began to message everyone to hear first hand what their thoughts and experiences have been in Rio during covid.

We want to come to Brazil-what's the scene there now? Is the country open? Can you take domestic flights? Can you rent cars? Are the beaches open? How about the restaurants? Are masks legally required? Are they taking temperature checks and if so at what kind of places?

I asked a lot of questions, but I had to be sure it was safe to move our family away from our home to a place that I verified was a better option for now. My Husband and I were in unison with our thought process-Even if Brazil does go into a Lockdown we know that Brazil is a gigantic country with thousands of miles of coastline. We'll surely be able to find a safe space to escape the insanity, eat fresh fruit and vegetables, swim in the open water, and protect our physical and emotional health. Our almost-3-year-old deserved to be happy and free and she needed parents with fortitude.

(My family after dinner the first week here in Brazil)


Packing essentials


We booked our tickets just 11 days before we flew, giving us just enough time to tie up any loose ends. I thoroughly cleaned the house one last time, saw our friends, and ate some more at our favourite vegan restaurants all while packing up our things and shopping for necessities. We tried to pack as light as we possibly could, but when you don't know where you're going or for how long it can be a bit difficult. Still, I'm proud to say I packed lighter than I ever have for a vacation bringing just one set of pajamas and 3 pairs of shorts amongst other items. We ordered our favorite clay based fluoride free toothpaste from Georganics, I bought organic pads from Planet Organic, and yes, we packed our Vitamix to take with us! Everything else we knew we could purchase once we arrived if we needed to.

These were our main needs, but for our Daughter we needed to make sure she would feel safe and protected. She's actually quite used to travel having already been to 5 countries, but as we would be away for an unknown amount of time with no long term place to stay we wanted her to have items of comfort. I packed her favorite lion towel for when she gets out of the shower, about 7 of her favorite books, her little wooden tea set, and her leopard print blanket. All of these things give her a sense of belonging and of reassurance which is necessary to foster a growing child.


(We left London with less baggage, but have accumulated more as we’ve traveled Brazil)


Flights and the new "rules"


We flew Air Tap to Rio with a layover in Lisbon, Portugal, just one month before London's second lockdown began. By this time we're used to the rules of flying; Though they say masks are mandatory in airports and on flights I have found in my 7 international flights in 2020 that it depends on who the staff is. In airports they typically don't bother you until you reach security. Put the mask on while there and then you can remove it. Once boarding the flight all crews have asked for a mask to be put on. You can try to argue with them, but actually on our outbound flight from Jamaica the flight attendant tried to get us kicked off the flight-only you can decide if it's worth it.

What I do is board with the mask and then as soon as we take off I break out as many snacks and foods as possible to occupy the flight duration. They've caught on by this point now though and that trick doesn't work as easily. Night flights are best because it's easier to be incognito as the lights are off and everyone goes to sleep. On a day flight and with no food to eat, the flight attendants will definitely try to enforce these rules that they will call "laws," but bear in mind they are not laws.

On a domestic flight here in Brazil there was a flight attendant who rudely tried to tell us it was the "law" to wear a mask. Understand there are differences between rules, mandates, laws, and proclamations. Once you truly get it, you'll be able to stand your ground any time you feel you have the energy for. That being said, choose your battles. There are some times I put my chin strap up and also a lot of times I come ready to fight for my freedoms, whether I'm flying or not.

When we woke up from our overnight flight we only had a couple of hours left until landing time. I never put the damn mask back on for the rest of the flight and no one told me anything. It's all hit or miss though. Upon landing I put it on my chin to deplane and then once again removed it literally as soon as I was on the jet-bridge. Maybe it's because I have my toddler that some people just let me be, but I've also learned not to make as much eye contact as I used to. With no eye contact there's less of a chance that anyone says anything. I know it all sounds insane.

That's because it is!


(Boarding our over night flight to Rio in October)


Safety


Rio has never felt dangerous to me, but then again I also don't pay mind to the stories people and the media tell. There's lots of infrastructure and plenty of beautiful areas for activities. Sure there are areas that are more dilapidated than others, but let's be serious-If you're coming to Rio de Janeiro you'll be visiting tourist destinations that are built around foreigners. This means restaurants with menus written in Portuguese and English, people who speak Portuguese and English, and truthfully, if crime is involved, it will more than likely be petty robbery that could probably have been avoided. Active gang activity is usually found in particular favelas, but locals and your driver always let you know which areas to avoid if you for some reason find yourself close to an area ruled by gangs.

It depends on what you're into though. I recently had a conversation with someone from London who has lived here for about 5 years and he has experienced various crimes. We both agreed that it was because he is outdoors at different hours of the night and frequents the club and party scene, whereas, because I have a young child, I do not. I personally don't blame Brazil because after-hours crimes happens all over the world.

Common sense will protect you whether you're in Brazil or your own neighbourhood. I haven't experienced any danger since I've been here, though I must point out that my activities take place mostly during the day and they're always child friendly. Just being cautious of everyday behaviour is enough. If you're a solo traveler don't go out at night in dark places. Don't dress overly flashy with lots of jewellery. Don't hold your expensive equipment like your phone and your cameras out in the open. Don't hold cash in open areas. Basically try not to stand out. Sometimes this even means toning your behaviour down like not speaking as loudly as you may normally speak (this definitely applies to me) or lowering your voice if walking past a group of people so that they don’t know you’re not from here. Whether you’re staying someplace long term or short term the goal is to blend in as much as possible.


(We took a tour through Rocinha, an active favela, with a tour guide and never felt unsafe)


Living in Brazil


Food


Since we arrived on that early morning back in October 2020 the three of us have been contented. We knew what to expect because we were just here 8 months prior on vacation and we loved it. We're completely at home in Rio because it's effortless to live our lifestyle with the multitude of fresh organic and vegan products at grocery stores and also big quality farmers markets weekly. Papayas, watermelons, sapodillas, mangoes, bananas, guavas, passion fruits, jackfruits, soursops, persimmons, strawberries, atemoyas...and that's just some of the fruit that grows here! On Sunday's after our weekly shop at the farmers market we always stop for fresh caldo de cana (sugarcane juice) and it's definitely a Sunday highlight. When we crave caldo de cana during the week we go to Vidigal where the sign says you can get up to 99 refills free for R$3. I've never been so purely and truly hydrated in all my life! Of course they also have various vegetables and herbs, which we enjoy as well.


(One section of one stall at the Sunday Market!)


(Fresh caldo de cana)


There are many big grocery stores and health stores that carry plant based essentials like quinoa, chia seeds, coconut sugar, and even coconut aminos. Our main grocery store is called Hortifruti and they're definitely more of an upscale grocery store in that they sell lots of produce and organic foods. They also sell fresh young green coconuts, which is important to us as we drink between 6-8 per day as a family. Instead of worrying over going to any of the stores that sell them and carrying those heavy coconuts home, we place an order with Hortifruti every few days and 25 new coconuts come straight to our door by the next day!

The food we purchase all grows everywhere too and we pass by all these fruit trees daily. We'd be happy to pick them ourselves, but most of them are well out of reach or the birds and insects get to them before we do. It's fulfilling to be so close to Nature and to learn and teach our Daughter how to be One with the ecosystem. We've tasted many a fruit from the tree when we could reach while here.

(This palmer mango was picked fresh from the tree and eaten about an hour later)


For those days when you don't feel like cooking there are plenty of vegan restaurant options. They have vegan junk foods like soy or wheat based burgers and fries and then lots of fresher more whole food options made of vegetables. You'll see a lot of demerara sugar, brown rice, and cassava on their menus, making many dishes naturally gluten free because all of these things grow here and are processed here for consumption. Their national dish is called "Feijoada," which is a hearty black bean stew served alongside rice, crispy sautéed kale, and farofa (fried cassava flour). Overall, Brazilian cuisine uses garlic and onion as its base for nearly everything and the food here isn't too interesting. This makes the better vegan restaurants more enjoyable because they bring creativity to their menu you wouldn't otherwise see. I'll share vegan restaurants and my favourites in a post at a later date.


(A whole foods planet based meal at one of my favorite vegan restaurants in Rio, Org Bistro)


Flora, Climate, Animals & Scenery


I've never lived in a place literally blooming with such dynamic flora! Every road we walk and every step we take there's something equally beautiful to witness and appreciate. I've fallen in love with flowers as there are thousands of colorful species here and my Daughter and I love to stop and admire them, picking the fallen flowers from the ground and collecting them to bring home. My new favorite is the flamboyant for its bright coral color and 1 speckled petal.


(A flamboyant)


Rio has hot weather, blue skies, mountains, beaches, various hikes, lots of playgrounds for kids, and even workout bars along most beaches. There are the occasional rainy and overcast days, but without the rain the flora wouldn't be so bright. Overcast days are still really hot and you'll still catch a tan if outdoors. There are also various local animals that you're sure to spot while in parks or on a hike. Depending on where you are staying you could also see some wildlife from your window at home.

Micos are small furry monkey-type animals who I think are adorable. The first time I spotted them was at a playground I took my Daughter to play at. Since then we see them everywhere as long as you know where to look. We've also seen Capybara, the biggest rodent in the world, and coati, which looks like some sort of racoon. These in addition to the various lizards, huge frogs, insects, and all sorts of birds. My Daughter and I love to look out for what we call the Yellow-Belly-Bird...scientific, I know.


(From left to right: Micos, Cabybara, Coati)


Shopping


Don't fret into thinking you have to bring everything to Rio with you either. There are huge shopping malls like Leblon Shopping and Barra Shopping with every store imaginable here. From Caudalie for skincare to Nike for training gear and everything in between. Brazilian fashion is fun, flowy, and comfortable and I love picking up a new piece here and there.

(A dress I bought here typical of other printed and colorful clothes you will find)


Cariocas


I've found the "Cariocas" (local people) to be so friendly here! They are generous, warm, and welcoming and not once have I felt out of place. There are many people who only speak Portuguese, but also so many people who speak English too. I have found that the English speakers really enjoy practicing their English skills in real conversation. I've had many a good chat with people who are interested in where I am from and how I like Brazil. Funny enough, they all preface their conversations with, "I'm sorry, my English is not good" before going on to speak perfectly understandable English! For those who do not speak English we get by in Portuguese because I understand Spanish and the words are very similar. When I don't understand I either act it out or simply use a free translator like Google. Even for someone who doesn't speak the local language Cariocas are genuinely approachable and good spirited in my experience. Bear in mind I'm at farmers markets, kids playgrounds, and getting bottomless caldo de cana though. Overall, I still think if you don't speak any Portuguese, with patience and a translator app, you will be fine.


Transportation

Rio has a well connected transportation system with big city buses, an underground train network, small local buses/vans, taxis, and even Ubers. I haven't been on any of the buses, but I have been on the train once. It was clean and safe and I'm told during rush hour there are special pink carriages for females only and our security during high traffic hours. Uber is here throughout Brazil and with such decent prices it's all we've been using. The furthest we travel from where we are averages less than R$40 one way-that's currently about £5 GBP or $7 USD. My Daughter comes in the Ubers too and we've never worried over traveling with a car seat. She either sits between my legs and we're both seat-belted or in the seat by a window with her seatbelt on and me right next to her. Children here ride on motorbikes so it's no spectacle to see a child without Western harnesses.


Accommodations


In the last 5 months we have stayed and lived at 12 different homes and cities across Brazil. Every place we've stayed has been found on Air bnb through intense searching. Air bnb allows you to use filters that help the process of finding a place like budget you'd like to remain within and also amenities you'd prefer like A/C, private entrance, wifi, and washing machine. Most of the time we have been very pleased with our places, accepting that some parts that are not up to our standard we just had to tolerate or spend our own money on investing in something to make us feel comfortable.This could be anything from cheap pots and pans to mismatched bedding. We have always felt safe and been in a clean place and that is what matters most to me.

When we first landed we decided to book one week in Copacabana until we figured out where we wanted to be situated. We soon found an area called Barra da Tijuca, which is less than 40 minutes from Copacabana. For us it's perfect because it's slower paced than Zona Sul, which is the main area where Copacabana is. The beaches here are nicer and it just seems more family oriented to me. There's a few vegan restaurants in this area and we can get to the beach, mall, playground, workout bars, and grocery store within 15-30 minutes.


(Two of the most stunning views from two different places we have stayed while here)


Cost of Living


Air Bnb's will still run you approximately £650-£900 for a one month rental. This will usually include everything and there are no hidden fees. You can of course always spend less or more, it just depends on your preferences. A typical dinner for 2 (plus a child) at a vegan restaurant with only entrees will run you less than £20. If you decide to try everything on the menu and have an appetizer, entree, and dessert for 2 people you're looking at less than £40. 1 liter of fresh squeezed tangerine juice at Hortifruti is R$19.99 The British Pound is currently very strong against the Brazilian Real. There's not much else to say about it because you can spend little to nothing coming here or you can always spend more. It just depends on your lifestyle.


(One of our most expensive farmers market shops when we first arrived R$347/£44 GBP/$61 USD)


Covid Response


Brazil has been completely open since we arrived. I can't speak for the whole country, but Rio has been operating. The shopping centers, beaches, parks and playgrounds, and restaurants are all open and functioning at 100% capacity. Some restaurants have limited hours, but to be honest, it's mostly the vegan restaurants.

Update: As of March 5, 2021 it was announced that Rio was enforcing some new rules to restrict coronavirus. Currently all restaurants and bars now have to close by 5 pm and there is apparently a curfew in place from 11 pm-5 am.

Domestic flights are still allowed throughout the country and most airports are operating. We have been on 3 separate trips, including 4 flights (not including layovers) while here and I can confirm that Iguazu Falls, Recife, Salvador, Manaus, Sao Paulo, and both airports in Rio de Janeiro have been open and operating within the country. We sometimes rent cars and have no issues doing so.

We're allowed to live our lives here, but the mask wearing is heavy though. When we first arrived in October nearly everyone was wearing them, even if they were outside on the streets riding a bicycle or running. It was horrifying! I'm sure like most other places people were told it was the "law" to wear a mask in outdoor and indoor spaces, but this is frankly untrue. I've passed numerous cops while outdoors in the last 5 months and never once have I been told anything or even looked at in a strange way by the police. In fact, my Daughter loves to stop and say, "Bom dia!" to them and they smile and wave at her so they're clearly aware of our choices.

Masks are "mandatory" in stores and they do enforce it. They have security set up by entry points who will chase you down if you walk past them mask-less. You can try every excuse imaginable to justify not wearing a mask here and they won't have it. Same as I said about the planes; better to wear it on entry and then immediately pull it down or off. This goes for indoor shopping centers and grocery stores too. Uber drivers mostly don't care, but sometimes they'll ask you to wear one or I'll ask if they want me to if I see them looking in their review mirror too many times. In restaurants you don't have to wear them. You will mostly see people everywhere wearing their masks no matter where they are or what they are doing just like the good stewardesses of the Earth they are though.

Catch my sarcasm?

Mask security is hysterical. They have these motorized mall scooters for the mall cops and they roll around on them looking for rule breakers. The running joke here between us is "mascara! mascara!" because that's all these people say while motioning to their face to act out putting a damn mask on! It's so irritating because when you're in the stores the people who work there don't tell you anything most of the time.

Besides the masks they will take your temperature using the temperature reader at your wrist to enter all malls and some grocery stores do the same. They don't take any contact information or have you fill anything out to enter places. For activities like museums each place is different. Some you have to get a ticket in advance, others you just show up for. Check on-line in advance.


What Pandemic?


2020 was nothing any of us had planned. Mine started with a regular family vacation to a country I thought I wouldn't be returning to for some time. Then I had a miscarriage. Then I was forced to leave my country because my family can't stay. Jamaica was next because the price was better. Then back to London. It was all watching the news for countries across the world and trying to stay one step ahead of the ongoing changes. Talk about stress.

As 2020 was coming to an end we made the choice to leave London because it was looming with uncertainties that meant no freedoms. We made 2021 our year instead of leaving anyone else in charge of our fates and I'm so happy we did. I haven't been this healthy in a long time. I haven't been this content in a long time. I need to take the time to write for you all about the last 5 years because they haven't been easy, despite what social media may make life appear to be. So, yes, I'm happy for me. I'm happy with my family and so very much in love with them. Our obstinance and perseverance brought us here to this beautiful and amazing country to thrive and live well.


(Playing volleyball with my happy Family)


We think often of how everything happens for a reason. We think if I didn't have that miscarriage last year we would right now be in London with a 5-month-old. I would be joyful for my family, but maybe I'd still be sick? Maybe I would still be dealing with internal and external stressors leading to my demise? Maybe it would have been ongoing for years to come because one thing I know for certain is that this constant sunshine here in this country and the fresh fruits and drinks and the feeling of belonging without anyone besides my Husband and Daughter have led to ultimate happiness and fulfilment.


(Happy in Iguazu Falls)


There are so many people back in London really suffering through this third lockdown. We've had many conversations with people who are trying to overcome this worldwide situation, but finding it unbearably difficult for various reasons. My heart absolutely aches for everyone who is unable to make choices that would put them in better spirits. We have been wholly thriving in a time that many people are suffering from depression, anxiety, or worse and we are so thankful. We took matters into our own hands and made decisions that were necessary to protect our spirit. We have been given opportunities that many have not. I've not shared as much as I could on social media since I arrived to Brazil in October because I remain mindful of these factors, but trust we are flourishing.

We'll continue to make necessary moves as the world changes always putting our physical, mental, and spiritual health first. My 3-year-old is incredible and has loved living in Brazil. She has had marvellous opportunities and has ridden a motorbike, gone horseback riding, taken a boat ride through one of the biggest waterfalls in the world, learned to swim through the pool, and so much more. She understands that home is where Mommy and Daddy and she are together. She's ready to leave though and our visas have nearly expired so the question is...

Where to next?


(On a boat ride on Christmas Day 2020)