David and Lili's World Tour


July 2016 - Brazil again, because Brazil!

My seventeenth visit to Brazil was different... This time we rented a house. This time we had access to a car but instead we rode bicycles every day. This time we finally made it to a town called São Romão. We attended two weddings, plus Junina parties and other bar-b-ques galore. Sometimes we ate fried fish by the river (the world's best river fish we think, especially with a cold beer or caipirinha on a warm night). This is our favorite aspect of Brazil, far from Rio de Janeiro, in the interior with friends.

Speaking of Rio, we were tempted to go see the Olympics but instead we went to Colombia. Bonus! Right now we are watching the Rio Games on Colombian TV. We love watching this global celebration of unity and talent from our hotel room. But in Brazil of course, just outside the stadiums, there are protesters. People are angry that the government failed to clean up Guanabara Bay as promised. The people are angry that their economy is in a recession, and they blame their crooked politicians. And they are angry that their president was impeached for alleged corruption, only to be replaced by a guy who (most agree) is worse. But the Opening Ceremony was fabulous!

Regarding Dilma Rousseff, her trial in the Senate will soon put the drama back in the headlines. Maybe her opponents will produce some actual evidence against her at the trial, but this is not required because they already have the votes. Dilma's take is that her opponents want to stop the ongoing corruption investigation, Operation Car Wash. Stay tuned...

Regarding President Michele Temer, I shall quote US Senator Bernie Sanders: "After suspending Brazil’s first female president on dubious grounds ... the new interim government abolished the ministry of women, racial equality and human rights. They immediately replaced a diverse and representative administration with a cabinet made up entirely of white men. The new, unelected administration quickly announced plans to impose austerity, increase privatization and install a far right-wing social agenda."

Bummer. Given that the people just voted against right-wing austerity (Dilma's re-election), this power grab is widely seen as a Parliamentary Coup (a victory for the anti-Socialists). To be clear, many politicians in Dilma's Workers Party (PT) are corrupt (and Dilma might be too), but the whole bloody system is corrupt, so what to do?

Maybe (as with the USA) Brazil should rework its constitution. Maybe the military will take control (again) to push the reset button (as they did 52 years ago). Or maybe Brazil will struggle forward, hopefully by throwing so many corrupt assholes in jail that they can pass constitutional reforms. That's the good news from the Car Wash operation: the cops are catching some of the bad guys. Meanwhile the lower-middle classes will suffer through a rather long economic downturn. At least thanks to the Worker's Party, Brazil has just enough welfare money flowing through the poorest areas to prevent hunger.

With respect to violent crime, we hang out with locals, and we're extra vigilant at night, the local way. That's one reason why I use a small camera, the point being to fly under the radar. Usually when I go out to the street, I do not bring the camera.

Despite so many problems, the amazing thing is that Brazilians have fun. It's no cliché to say that Brazilian culture is welcoming and kind with a love of music and bar-b-que parties. Most foreigners probably underestimate the Brazilian sense of humor which is legendary. This is our home away from home. When we're alone we speak in Portuguese. Sometimes we dance samba. Beleza!

March 2016, Brazil... Beleza!

Oi Gente! Beleza?

We arrived into Brazil from Paraguay at Foz do Iguaçu and then travelled all the way to Brasília. Mostly we visited friends and family and therefore this was a budget-friendly trip, and heaps of fun! We enjoyed beaches and waterfalls and captivating conversations (stopping in Porto Alegre, Florianópolis, Guarujá, Paraty, Rio de Janeiro, Arraial D'Ajuda, Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto, Diamantina, Sete Lagoas, Pirapora, and a farm near Buritizeiro). Thanks for the hospitality, y'all!

Our longest stop was at Lili's Mom's house in Pirapora, and for most of this time our friend Micah from New Zealand joined us. A tall, natural blond guy speaking no Portuguese (initially), Micah fit right in with Lili's friends and family. In fact he had such a great time that he extended his tourist visa and hit the road towards the coast with a backpack and a smile.

Despite Brazil's ongoing economic / political crisis, just about everybody we met displayed a positive attitude. And that's exactly what we love so much about the Brazilian people. Attitude is everything. There is a word that Brazilians use frequently: 'beleza'. It literally means 'beauty' but translates as 'no worries'. This single word sums up our Brazilian experience. The people we met were universally open and friendly and funny and playful. Their love for life is infectious. For the casual traveller, everything is beleza!

Well, not everything... Tourists with street sense and backpacking basics can move around safely in comfort, but Brazil can be problematic and sometimes dodgy, so the safe tourist should also be cautious. To make matters worse, many Brazilians are angry about their country's endemic corruption (and the economic downturn) so the mood is more negative than usual. Just three days after we arrived, we witnessed a street protest focussed on impeaching president Dilma Rousseff. The people at this event were mostly upper-middle-class white folks whining about paying taxes, but it did represent the frustration felt so deeply by so many. How does one fix a corrupt system? Nobody seems to like Dilma personally, and she's a poor public speaker, but we only know one person who supports her impeachment. Why is this? First of all, no evidence of Dilma's guilt has been put forward, yet. Meanwhile, the guy leading the impeachment process, Eduardo Cunha, has himself been formally charged with corruption. Furthermore, impeaching Dilma would only make things worse, people say, because despite the problems, she and her Worker's Party have been very good at alleviating poverty, hunger, and homelessness.

Here's our take: First of all, note that voting in Brazil is mandatory. Given that all the political parties are mostly rotten, we think that people should support the party that passes the best laws, especially laws that promote sustainability and/or benefit the most vulnerable (the Green and Worker's parties). This is not just altruism; violent crime is another big problem in Brazil, and crime goes up when the poor do not receive enough money to survive. Also, benefiting the poor directly fights against the disasterous trend in capitalist countries towards extreme inequality. It's good econimics to spread the money around despite the so-called "lazy poor" who abuse the system (and it's the right thing to do ethically too). This explains the popular support for socialist programs such as Fome Zero (zero hunger), Bolsa Família (family subsidy), and Minha Casa Minha Vida (my house my life). We think support for these programs would grow further if they were funded more by taxes on wealth and financial speculation, and less by taxes on salaries and consumption.

Brazil's population growth is now less than 1% per year (despite having a Christian majority, people use condoms and the pill). This is important because with a stable population, it is possible to improve living standards (and save the rainforest) despite the corruption, especially in self-sufficient Brazil. For example, there is a virus here called Zika that spreads from pregnant women to fetuses, causing very serious birth defects, so now would be a great time for Brazil to legalize abortion. We also call on the Pope to endorse birth control now, and not just because of Zika. If the number-one problem on Earth is too many people, already, then the solution should be family planning. On that, a common complaint regarding socialism is that "welfare queens" receive more money for every child they bear, and so we often hear people suggest that Brazil should pass a law requiring strelization after 2 or 3 babies. This is controversial for sure, but the idea has merit.

Finally, the food. We love it. Vegetarians will be happy in Brazil despite the ubiquitous grilled meat because it's always possible to find rice and beans with fresh fruit and salads. Also farm food is always fresh. Sadly however, we observe that people are eating more meat plus cheap, processed foods (with beer) at the expense of the healthy freshies, and the population has become significantly fatter. Fortunately there is also a culture of vanity which is helping to balance this out. As the sun sets after a scorching hot day, most cities come alive with exercise activity. Beleza! Oh yeah... We are in the USA now, but we plan to return to Brazil soon for more awesomeness :)

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