Latitude Attitude: São Paulo, Brazil

Although we planned to spend almost the entire summer in Salt Lake City, we ended up nearly constantly on the move. No complaints here – I love the chance to explore new places! I knew almost nothing about São Paulo, Brazil, before tagging along there for a week while my husband had a work commitment. I’d never even ventured into the Southern Hemisphere, and knew not one word of Portuguese.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve heard it said that we learn best when we’re out of our comfort zone – for example, functioning solo in a new culture when we don’t know the language. And boy, did I learn a lot.

Traffic Rules

I explored the city primarily on foot, with the occasional Uber ride. Traffic is intense all over the city, at most times of the day and night. As with any new place, it’s important to grasp the rules for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to avoid collisions and retain sanity. Here’s what I noticed from my travels on foot around São Paulo.

  • When the signal turns red at an intersection, all of the motorcycles will move to the front of the line to get a head start..
  • If on foot, check that a car isn’t whipping around the corner first before entering an intersection. They will not stop for you.
  • When the coast is clear, pedestrians run like crazy to cross. The lights are short, and again, no one will wait or stop.  

The exception to busy traffic? During World Cup matches, when traffic died down to just a few trucks here and there, as most folks stayed home or swarmed to local bars to catch the game.



Ready, set, go! Motorcycles lined up at an intersection.

City of Juxtapositions

The divide between rich and poor is pronounced in Brazil. Homeless encampments squat just a few blocks away from gleaming hotels. In the Old Town Center area, graffiti mars buildings at eye level, but a gaze upward reveals beautiful architectural details. Amidst heavy traffic, lush islands of serenity like Ibirapuera Park and Trianon Park provide a quiet escape. Modern structures stand side by side with buildings from the 1500s and 1600s. On one short stroll, I overheard at least six different languages in conversations: Portuguese, French, Spanish, English, Chinese, and Italian. The contrasts all around me felt jarring at times, but also eye-opening.


Homeless encampment and graffiti in Old Town Center



Architecture, old and new

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Peaceful Trianon Park


Busy urban landscape

World Cup Fever

Enthusiasm for soccer competitions in the USA is muted at best, even more so because the USA team didn’t make the World Cup finals this year. The day after we arrived in São Paulo, the city transformed into a sea of yellow and green, the normally busy traffic slowed to a trickle, and bars filled with fans to watch the Brazil vs. Mexico match. We chose a local bar and joined in the fun, as it erupted in cheers for two goals – and also anytime the referees made a favorable ruling, or the goalie made a save, or the ball moved a few feet in the right direction, it seemed. The final score: 2-0, Brazil victorious! For hours after the match, fans in various states of intoxication wandered the streets celebrating.

A few days later, we joined an even larger crowd at a different bar for the Brazil vs. Belgium match. This time, the outcome was not so fortunate for Brazil, though one goal did result in the usual amount of triumphant vocalization. I was reminded of Philadelphia, my home town where the Eagles recently won their first-ever Superbowl, and Washington, DC, my current city where the Capitals won their first-ever Stanley Cup this June. No matter where you’re from, it seems, you share in the exuberance when your favorite team succeeds, and in the disappointment when they lose. Fandom is universal.



Watching the Brazil vs. Belgium World Cup match


Decked out in my own Brazil gear

Future Priorities

A week in São Paulo offered just a snapshot of the diverse, beautiful, complex, vast country of Brazil. My wishlist for future visits could fill a lifetime: driving along the Costa Verde with striking coastal views to the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City) of Rio de Janeiro, beaches in Ubatuba and waterfalls in Ilhabela (Beautiful Island), hiking in the mountains of Serra del Mantiqueira,  experiencing cultural festivals in Salvador de Bahia, taking a boat ride into the Amazon jungle, and checking out some of the array of UNESCO heritage sites all over the country.


Costa Verde, Brazil. Image source: Flickr


One last note: I did much of my traveling through the city solo on foot while my husband attended work meetings. I’d heard a lot of warnings about crime and the need to be vigilant, especially as a female solo traveler. As a result, I carried very little money with me and avoided public transportation. I never felt unsafe or threatened in Paulista, Jardins, or Brooklin, the upscale areas of the city that I visited on my own. I saved the somewhat sketchy Old Town Center for a time when I had a travel companion, but again felt safe walking around there in the daytime. Like any city, especially one in an unfamiliar place, it’s a good idea to be cautious and stay alert.

All told, I loved the chance to expand my comfort zone in Brazil. My first visit to the Southern Hemisphere will not be my last!


Mountain Home

Although I’ve always lived in relatively flat places in the Mid-Atlantic region, something about the western mountains just feels like home. On long road trips, the first glimpse of the mountains after days of travel across flat plains sparked gasps of delight. My family spent many happy hours hiking in the Rockies, tossing pebbles into rushing streams, and spotting wildflowers, birds, and mountain animals such as elk, marmots, and bighorn sheep.  

This summer, our first glimpse of the mountains after a long westward drive came near Taos, New Mexico. I pulled the car over and paused a few minutes to absorb it, stepping out to smell the sweet scent of Ponderosa pine. “Nothing like it, is there?” noted a fellow driver who had stopped for the same purpose. Nothing indeed.


Nothing like the mountains

Taos seems just a bit enchanted. The area attracts artists, independent thinkers, and lovers of the outdoors. Earthships, an off-the-grid settlement, occupies acres of land on the Taos Mesa. Its name hints at the otherworldly feeling of peering at pods tucked into the desert like a settlement on some faraway planet. A few miles away from Earthships, we stayed overnight on the mesa in a funky domed house, gazing at the stars and dreaming of those other worlds.


Domed house in New Mexico

The next morning, more up-and-down miles brought us to Moab, Utah, where dramatic land formations characterize Arches National Park. Years ago, I’d read Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, which details his time as a park ranger at Arches. I’d worried about the human destruction of Arches after reading the book, but for now, the park seems to be managing its visitors wisely. In our experience, park guests seemed to respect the trails, content to marvel at the gravity-defying sandstone arches without feeling the need to desecrate them.


Double Arch at Arches National Park

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Turret Arch

At last, after nine days of driving from Maryland, we reached our destination, Salt Lake City, our home base for the summer. Cool summer nights perfect for runs and bike rides in Liberty Park, friendly local people, inviting coffeeshops and restaurants, and the ever-present Wasatch Mountains just a short distance away: all of these are enough to make a place feel just like home.

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At home in Utah


Pausing in the Ozarks

Since October, my husband has commuted nearly every week from Maryland to Salt Lake City. This summer, we took advantage of my flexible teacher’s schedule to relocate to Utah and save him the weekly trips. As it worked out, we are both traveling more than ever this summer, by chance and by choice! We are both nomadic souls who rarely refuse an opportunity to be on the move.

We decided to bring a car out to Salt Lake City, taking a leisurely course through nine states. As a child, I had patient parents who drove us through much of the United States on long family camping trips. Over thirty years later, many of those beloved trip memories are turning fuzzy, and I was eager to make new cross-country memories.


With my brother, causing trouble on a road trip circa 1983.

A bonus and challenge of the trip was driving Mike’s Tesla electric car, which has to be charged every 200 miles or so. A network of superchargers, many located near interstates, allows for “quick” charging, about an hour in most cases. Luckily the chargers are often near hotels, restaurants, or coffee shops. While the car charged, we slipped into those places for air conditioning and free WiFi, having a bite or catching up on email and news while we waited.

After lightning quick stops in Morgantown and Louisville, we slowed down for a couple of days in the Ozarks. We didn’t know much about the area, beyond a few references from movies and TV, not always of the positive variety.  We had few expectations besides a slower pace of life, much welcome after several days of moving at 70 miles an hour.

The farmhouse Airbnb where we stayed was charming, with glacial Internet service that encouraged us to unplug and enjoy nature instead of depending on constant technology. On the same land as the farmhouse was an original 1800’s log cabin, hinting at the area’s pioneer history. The Laura Ingalls Wilder home is not far away.


Log cabin in Missouri, on the site of our Airbnb

Our sleepy break in the Ozarks featured one adventurous mishap in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways National Park, which connects 125 miles of rivers. We discovered just how scenic they are when our car bottomed out as we crossed one such river on our way to a trailhead. We spent over an hour stuck in the river, unable to move the car backward or forward, watching helplessly as water trickled inside. Luckily, two park rangers came to our rescue and towed us out. Our car and belongings were waterlogged, but otherwise unharmed. 


Stuck in a scenic river.


Our ranger rescuers

We celebrated in relief that evening with local moonshine, learning from our bartender that moonshine refers to unaged whiskey, and does not need to be bootlegged or made in a bathtub.

Among some, Missouri has acquired a less than savory reputation: in books, movies, and shows such as Gone Girl, Winter’s Bone, and Ozark, it’s depicted as a backwards, unfriendly place where few people would choose to live. It even made Fodor’s 2018 “No List” of worst places to travel for some policies and practices that are deemed less than progressive. Like any stereotype, though, there’s another side to Missouri for those that care to take a deeper look: scenic landscapes, kind and neighborly people, and the smoothest of sweet tea moonshines.


Cave Spring by Thomas Hart Benton


American oddities

My adorable Italian cousin Valentina and her sweetheart Paolo visited the United States for the first time this month.


Here are a few American things that they found fascinating and unique.

1. Foaming hand soap. Paolo even bought a bottle to take home.


2. Grape jelly Valentina had some on her toast every morning. She said that jam is common in Italy, but not jam made of grapes.


3. Chinese takeout food – even the greasy, salty, nutritionally devoid kind from the places with food photos on the wall.


4. Squirrels. They must have taken a hundred photos of squirrels scampering around DC and Maryland.


5. Drip-style coffee makers. Paolo naturally brought his own coffee maker and coffee to the States, since Americans really can’t be trusted to make proper coffee. Nevertheless, he and Valentina were impressed by the drip coffee process, if not the product.


I wonder what items and events I’ll find to be unique and impressive when I travel to Asia this summer?


Happy Mother’s Day


My mom bakes the best poundcake. It is the smell of home.

My mom has the most infectious laugh. People recognize her from aisles away in the supermarket. As a child, I used her laugh as a location device at crowded events.

My mom is incredibly kind, not just to her family, but to everybody. Her patients from her four-decade nursing career still call her and send her notes. Her friends know they can count on her, and they do: for guidance, for support, for hospital visits and rides to the doctor and pet sitting. She once drove 150 miles at midnight on New Year’s to comfort my broken heart (and helped me choose a kitten the next day to complete the healing process).

My mom is so much fun. Within days of her moving to a new community, she had made friends with all of the neighbors and been recruited to the Social Committee. She is the life of every party.

My mom sings so beautifully, with the most joyous, expressive face. She welcomed my husband into our family by singing at our wedding. It is my most cherished memory of that day.

I learned so much from my mom. Most of it revolves around generosity, love, and keeping an open-mind. I still learn from her, all the time.