1) Debit cards – There are plenty of cash machines around, but it can be an adventure to find one that will work with your card! It is best to have a card with a VISA logo on it. If you don’t have a VISA logo, a Mastercard logo is second best. If you don’t have either logo on your card, call your bank and ask which banks in Brasil will accept your debit card. If you don’t do this, you will probably be S.O.L. (no translation needed).
Cash machines work using only specific networks. Just because your card is on a network displayed on a particular cash machine does not mean that it will accept your card. Be patient. After all, as the Brasileiros would say, you’re in the Nordeste…no one else is in a hurry, why should you be!
2) Business hours – Normal business hours are 9am to 6pm. The post office and travel agencies are also typically open 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. Almost EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays. Note, if you are getting into town on Saturday afternoon, you will not be able to get any tourist info until Monday. Plan your itinerary accordingly.
3) Tourist infrastructure in the Northeast, with the possible exception of Salvador, is not really set up to make it easy for the foreign visitor. Plan accordingly. In this light, MAKE SURE YOUR CAMERA IS OKAY BEFORE COMING TO THE NORDESTE. TAKE A ROLL OF FILM AND GET IT DEVELOPED BEFORE YOU LEAVE. There is not much expertise in camera repair in this region.
4) The “Gringo Trail” seems to be along the coast, centered in Salvador. If you are going inland, or north of Fortaleza, TAKE THE TIME TO LEARN SOME PORTUGUESE.
Brasileiros are among the friendliest people in the world, but if you are going to places like Maranhão, Piauí, Pará, Amapá or Ceará, you’re not going to find many – if any – English speakers. Not only that, but the Brasileiros themselves are one of the major reasons to visit their wonderful country. Voce precisa compreender um pouco Portugues!
5) There are two seasons in the Nordeste; hot, and hot and rainy. The closer to the equator you get, the hotter is seems to be. For example, Amapá is noticeably hotter than Salvador.
6) If you are coming from a cooler climate, consider staying in air conditioned rooms to avoid bouts with prickly heat. Speaking of the heat, the SPF 518 sunblock, insect repellant and a wide-brimmed floppy hat are your best friends.
7) Gifts – Remember, se você o compra, o carrega (if you buy it, you carry it). Wait until the end of your trip to buy stuff unless a particular item “has your name on it.”
If you are leaving from a good-sized city, consider going to the biggest shopping mall there (typically, Iguatemí Shopping), and pick up a few CDs by sambistas. They make great gifts. Ask several different people which sambistas they like. If three different people like one particular artist, go to a record shop, explain what you want to do, and start listening.
8) Bring condoms, etc.
9) Check with the Center for Disease Control (or another country’s equivalent) Website before leaving, and see what shots and meds you need before and during your trip. You’re not going to Disneyland.
10) Final thoughts – The Northeast of Brasil is not only a place on the globe, but it is also a feeling and a state of mind. If you visit o Nordeste, you’ll take a little bit of it back with you to your homeland, and will probably want to return.
About the Author
Jeff Rothman is a 49 year old licensed accountant who is from Southern California (E.U.A). He is a Spanish speaker who also speaks some Portuguese, a little German and Bahasa, and can swear in ten other languages.
Every year since college graduation, he has taken a month off work to travel. Highlights of such travels include being detained by Chinese security police in Manchuria for being a suspicious-looking “foreign devil”, eating bread cooked by a fire fueled with cow shit, and meeting some of the kindest people on the planet.