My name is Alex Baldwin and I'm from Northern California. I've always wanted to continuously travel the world until I've been everywhere. Even as a six year old I loved looking at my globe and giant world map. These days it is becoming more of a reality. I also played soccer most of my life and I believe that has made a big impact on my interest in travel. Growing up my best friend was Brazilian, so I always watched the World Cup with his family; that was when my life became occupied by the sport.
What brought you to the Brazil? Which cities did you visit?
As I mentioned before, I grew up around Brazilians - my best friend was Brazilian and I'd watch the World Cup with his family. Ever since then it had been a dream of mine to not only attend the World Cup but to visit Brazil as well. It became a once in a lifetime experience when I was finally able to combine the two together earlier this year.
I generally prefer to travel alone because I can move at my own pace. I spent time in Belo Horizonte, Foz do Iguaçu, Brasilia, Lençóis, Ibicoara, Morro de São Paulo, Salvador, São Luís, and Rio de Janeiro; also visiting several other cities and small towns along the way. Although I traveled by myself, I met new friends everywhere and stayed with some local families as well.
How did you plan/prepare for your trip?
Planning is the hardest part of every trip so I knew I would have to be persistent. To prepare, I checked flights everyday months before my departure date and stayed up late to buy tickets from FIFA the moment they went on sale. While in Brazil I ended up taking a total of 19 flights over a period of 30 days.
One of the places I visited was Ibicoara, a small town on the South end of Chapada Diamantina National Park. After several emails back and forth with Carlos, the owner of Kabana de Pedra Ibicoara, I found out there is no public transportation available into the town from the nearest airport three hours away. There weren’t many options for a rental car out in the middle of nowhere Bahia, yet Carlos arranged to have an agent meet me at the airport with a car. I arrived with no difficulty from both directions, and it ended up being a truly beautiful and enjoyable drive.
What were some of your experiences (culture, food, cities, people you encountered) during the FIFA World Cup?
When I first arrived in Brazil I stayed with a local family in Belo Horizonte. My friend's mother is from that city so I was able to stay with her friends. They were incredibly nice, the home cooked food was some of the best on the trip, and they were very protective. I was treated like family. Apart from the family homes I stayed in, most of the people I encountered were foreigners also attending the World Cup. I ended up selling two of my tickets for the Brazil vs. Netherlands match, and bought one upgraded ticket from a couple South Africans; thereafter we became instant friends. It was great to spend the match with the father and son pair.
Regarding my culinary experiences, I cannot say that I was impressed with Brazilian food in general, though there were a few meals that stood out. While I found the bread, meat, and cheese too common for my liking, the churrascaria, buffets, and pizzas were all great. The best meal I had was Arroz de Garimpeiro in Ibicoara at Kabana de Pedra which was home cooked and home grown. There's just nothing like fresh local produce.
What recommendations can you share for future travelers?
When I travel, I always seek out beautiful landscapes and beaches.
- I would strongly recommend the most surreal place, Lençóis Maranhenses. With over 1500 square kilometers of sand dunes and fresh water lagoons, if you are ever in Brazil between the months of May and September you should definitely make an effort to visit. The lagoons fill up once the rainy season ends around June and become iridescent blue green ponds freckled across never ending white dunes. I would suggest you stay in Barreirinhas and take tours out to the dunes in 4 wheel drive vehicles, Atins if you like to remain off the grid, or arrange to hike across with guides. You can catch a ride to Barreirinhas right from the São Luís airport which is about 4 hours away.
- Another amazing place is Chapada Diamantina in the State of Bahia. I spent my time in the south near Ibicoara, but you really can't go wrong visiting anywhere in the park. Cachoeira da Fumaçinha and Buracão were the waterfalls I visited. Both were visually captivating and fun to explore.
- When you travel to Brazil you will notice that pizza is quite popular and I must say they have perfected it over there. Give it a try. You'll find most of the best local food is not in the restaurants, but in the markets. For some good local cuisine check out the Mercado Central in Belo Horizonte, which was my favorite mercado. You can sample some exotic fruits, candy, peppers, cachaça, and have a few drinks or small plates at the bar. However, be careful which markets you visit in other cities in Northern Brazil. You might walk down a path of blood, surrounded by headless livestock, while some man insists you buy his goat.
What is your favorite or funniest memory of the trip?
The night Germany won the final I met up with my friends Matthias and Oli in Ipanema. We were on our way to meet my friend's sister Louise in Baixe Gávea, when a group of Brazilians at a small local drinking spot saw Matthias's Germany jersey. They were drunk, singing and called us over to ask if Matthias is from Germany. They bought us drinks and we took pictures with them. We had to leave and were looking for a cab when these Brazilians insisted on driving us. A total of seven of us hopped into a five seater, then drove from Ipanema to Baixe Gávea. The entire way we were chanting "Deutschland" and "Carlos Menem," an insult to the rival Argentines who invaded the city. When we arrived at Baixe and parked halfway on the sidewalk, hundreds of people were partying in the streets. At any moment you could begin singing "Deutschland" or "Mil Gols" and a hundred other people would join in on the chant. Carlos, one of the Brazilians who drove us helped me find Louise. Once we did, Carlos turned to me and said, "You have been delivered, tchau", before disappearing into the crowd (in Brazil the word for "bye" is "tchau" and is spelled differently than the Italian "ciao"). Baixe Gávea is a great area where locals go for drinks on certain nights. The bars are small, the drinks are cheap, and everyone floods the streets. It was an overall hilarious night.
Can you share any other unexpected moments during your trip?
My friend Oli and I decided to climb Pedra de Gávea, however, we got lost before we even found the trail. Every time we asked a local for help, we were pointed in another wrong direction. Eventually we arrived at the trail, three hours late at the top overlooking Rio during sunset. We hiked back down in the dark while the fireflies attempted to light up the trail. I'm glad we got lost earlier in the day.
What advice do you have for individuals that want to start traveling internationally, but don’t know how to start?
Where I'm from, it seems most people are interested in materialistic things. New cars, trips to Las Vegas, and expensive resorts. Then they ask me how I'm able to travel as I do. My advice is to avoid those things for a while. If you want to start traveling internationally I would suggest making it a priority. When you arrive you may not know the language or where you are going. Don't worry about any of that because people are generally nice everywhere you go; they will help you.
What’s next for you?
I'm always considering plans for the next trip, many of which are last minute. I'd like to spend some time exploring the Sierra Nevada here in California. I’ll be leaving the country again in October, but I don't really have any plans figured out other than my one-way flight booked to Italy.
To see more of Alex's travel photography, be sure to follow him @Alebaldwin on Instragram.
Images Courtesy of Alex Baldwin