We said our final goodbye to the good ladies selling warm chipa to hungry bus riders as we headed out of Paraguay two weeks ago and into the land of Brazil. Now, after learning Spanish for the past two years we were feeling pretty confident in our ability to travel and communicate easily in South America. Lest we forget, however, that Brazil’s language is Portuguese. Spanish and Portuguese are pretty similar though, right? While that’s true to a certain degree, it was the overflowing grace and warmth of the Brazilians, not our Spanish, that got us through the week and a half we spent in Brazil – specifically São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Porto Alegre.
Case in point, one afternoon in Rio we decided it was time to take the still unfamiliar journey back to our Couch Surfer friend’s apartment that was a ways outside of the city center. We got to the bus stop and must have looked a little lost because a Brazilian woman in her 50s approached us and asked us where we were trying to go (in Portuguese). We attempted to explain our destination to her (in Spanish), and she led us to the bus that would take us there – the same one she was using. As we three waited in the bus line, a particularly aggressive panhandler caught back up with us still demanding that we give him some money. She told him something in Portuguese and kept a keen eye on him as he circled around us once more before heading off. She offered us candy while we waited and chatted pleasantly about something that we understood very little of. Once on the bus she explained to the person taking money where we wanted to go and asked that he help us get off at the correct stop, as she would be getting off before us. Later, as she stood to get off at her stop she wished us luck and reminded the money taker to look out for us, which he dutifully did.
That is just one story in dozens we could tell of people approaching us to ask if they could help, with no ulterior motive. It seemed we just needed to scrunch our noses in confusion as we looked up at a street sign and some magic little helper would appear, ready to pull up Google Maps on their cell phone if they or those around them didn’t recognize the street names for which we were searching. It was amazing and made me question my patience with people in the States with limited English. The Brazilians definitely have me beat on that front. And oh, the mountains and shores were pretty great too.