BRAZIL: Ten Things I Didn’t Know

Travel to Sao Paulo Brazil

Ep. 42 What do you know about Sao Paulo, Brazil? Join me for stories and surprising experiences from my trip to Sao Paulo. 

#10 BRAZIL is a Country of Immigrants

Like my home country, the United States of America, Brazil consists of the true native indigenous tribes, such as the Gaurani, , but otherwise the citizens have descended from immigrants. I could sense a spirit of building, enterprise, and a hard work ethic. The people I met knew the stories of their ancestors.

My tour guide, Doris, descends from immigrants. Her grandparents were Jews who escaped Poland at some point during Hitler’s regime and the outbreak of WWII. They didn’t know where they were going. They got on a ship having no idea where the ship was headed. That is the true definition of fleeing, taking the gamble that any place you land will be better and safer than where you are. I would LOVE to know the intricate details of their story, how they ended up on the ship, who they were with, what happened to their friends and family who decided not to go with them or who found a different way out. I only know what Doris told me, that her grandparents arrived in Brazil with nothing, and found a way to work and carve out a living.

Another man’s great-grandparents escaped from Syria due to war in their homeland in the late 1800s. A new wave of Syrian refugees has been fleeing to Brazil over the past eight years since the civil war has driven close to 5 million Syrians from their homes.  The UN refugee agency reports that Brazilian consulates in the Middle East have been issuing special visas under simplified procedures to allow survivors of the war in Syria to claim asylum and have a chance to start a new life.

#9 Sao Paulo is HUGE

Sao Paulo is the largest city in Latin America, larger even than Mexico City. With 19 million residents living in 587 square miles, the Sao Paulo city sky line goes on and on and on. The view flying over Sao Paul is hard to comprehend—miles of skyscrapers, apartment building that just keeping going.

Yes. Traffic is an issue. What’s interesting is that I didn’t feel crowded. There was a vibrant energy to the city.

#8 End to Slavery Spurred Immigration

The sugar cane and coffee plantations were largely built on slave labor. Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery in 1888. At a loss for labor, Brazil began paying voyage for immigrants from countries such as Italy. Today, Brazil has the highest Italian population outside of Italy. But Italian immigrants worked for low wages, were ill-treated, and had poor living conditions. In 1902, Italy banned subsidized immigration to Brazil. 

Meanwhile, poverty in Japan forced Japanese to migrate, but their options were limited due to bans in the U.S. and Australia.  In 1907, the Brazilian and the Japanese governments signed a treaty permitting Japanese migration to Brazil. Between 1917 and 1940 over 164,000 Japanese came to Brazil, 75% of them going  to Sao Paulo where most of the coffee plantations were located. Today Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan.

#7 Language Encounter

English is not taught in Brazilian schools, so you’ll find that many residents do not speak English, and those who do have found ways to learn on their own. My tour guide, Doris, spoke excellent English. Doris is an example of the Brazilian population of immigrants. Her Jewish grandparents fled Poland in the 1940s. Doris regretted never learning to speak Polish from her grandmother. However, she did learn Hebrew studying the Torah in school, but has since forgotten all but the phrase, “I don’t speak Hebrew.” When Doris explained that she can’t really consider herself a Jew because she’s forgotten Hebrew and hasn’t been to synagogue in years, I taught her the English suffix “-ish.” I explained that –ish means not exactly. A person can be tall-ish or hungry-ish, or wealthy-ish. So I told her she could call herself Jew-ish. She loved that. 

#6 Bandeira Means Flag

I picked up this little piece of trivia. Bandeira is Portugese for flag and is close to the Spanish Bandera. So, the name of Spain-born actor Antonio Banderas can be translated to English as Antonio Flags. Now you know. You’re welcome.


I learned what it is like to drive through long mountain tunnels. Now, I live in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, and there are some tunnels here and there. My kids have contests to see who can hold their breath to the end of the tunnel. But we don’t have anything like the tunnels on the route from Sao Paulo to the coastal city of Santo. Those tunnels go forever, you wouldn’t be able to hold your breath and live to tell about it. I have never before experienced mountains covered by a solid carpet of lush green foliage.  

#4 Soccer

With five World Cup trophies, Brazil is the soccer capital of the globe. The dominant religion in Brazil is not Catholicism, but soccer, and what team you cheer for matters. A lot. There are four main soccer clubs. 

  1. Corinthians is the most popular team in São Paulo (and the second most popular in Brazil). Corinthians regards itself as being the “team of the people” and gathers most of its support from the city’s working-class suburbs. It’s jerseys are white & black.
  2. Palmeiras is Corinthians’s biggest rival. The club is traditionally linked with the city’s Italian community, having been founded by a group of Italian laborers in the early 20th century. Playing in green and white, Palmeiras is officially nicknamed Verdão (Big Greens).
  3. São Paulo  is known as the Tricolor for its white, red and black uniform. São Paulo is the city’s second-most supported club and one of Brazil’s most successful. 
  4. Santos  is not technically part of São Paulo’s Iron Trio, as they are from a city outside of the state capital, but Santos is one of the most famous football clubs in the world, not just in Brazil. Playing in the coastal city of the same name, Santos is nicknamed Peixe  (Fish) and its all-white jerseys are recognized across the globe. The club’s fame is most known thanks to Pelé, the greatest soccer player of all time, who played for Santos for 18 years, arriving as an unknown 16-year-old and leaving as a 34-year-old global superstar. Pelé won three World Cups as a Santos player, while he also took his club to an astonishing 26 trophies, including two South American championships and two world championships.

#3 Gambling is Illegal; Fake Gambling is Fun

Gambling in Brazil has been illegal since 1946, so our hotel hosted a Casino Night offering every guest 100 worth of fake money. I don’t know how to play Poker or most Casino games. And the hotel employees did not speak English. I was trying to learn how to play Poker with Portuguese instruction, and somehow it worked. My husband and I had studied up on Portuguese numbers before going. It turns out that “gambling” is a great way to practice learning numbers. The employees helped us learn to count in Portuguese and we helped them learn to count in English. 

#2 Ibirapuera: The Central Park of Sao Paulo

With massive growth of population, mostly old buildings or historic sites weren’t preserved, just torn down and replaced with bigger, more modern. Except in the city there is this huge park. Parque Iberapuera.  Swamp. 1950s president planted foreign trees like Eucalyptus that drink a lot of water. Now it’s a tree park with trees from all over the world. I love trees. Justin and I walked half the park one night, and guess what? Felt perfectly safe. So many people jogging, sprinting, biking. 

Cool thing: adult exercise playgrounds. Never seen this before. Par corp/Ninja equipment. Chin up bars. Leg presses. Rowing machines.

#1 Brazilian Cheesy Bread is GLUTEN FREE

Maybe you remember from Episodes 19 and 20 talking about not limiting summer screen time, my family chose different things they wanted to learn and practice during the summer. Then, at the end of the summer we had a Family Shine Time (Ep 34) and took our kids to eat at Rodizio Grill, which IS a Brazilian Restaurant. BUT, I didn’t eat the cheesy bread there because I assumed it wasn’t gluten free. I didn’t even think to ask. 

From Doris, my tour guide in Brazil, I learned that Pao de Quejo, or Brazilian Cheese Bread is made from Tapioca flour and is GLUTEN FREE!!! 

The best part of the story is how Doris came to know that Brazilian cheese bread does not have gluten. It happened like this: even though Doris is Jew-ish, a few years ago she was fasting and not eating flour. Her brother, who is not Jew-ish, but more like Orthodox, told her it was okay to eat Pao de Quejo because it is made from tapioca flour. Right away Doris asked the man behind the counter if indeed these particular cheese breads had any flour and he said NO. I bought one and ate it on the spot. 

This marvelous thing happened on my first full day in Brazil. For six days after that, I ate Pao de Quejo every day. What would my trip have been like if we hadn’t stopped for juice at that cafe, or started talking breaded and fried foods, and Jewish fasts, and flour-free bread options? It would still have been a marvelous trip, but not nearly as tasty.

This makes me wonder what other yummy morsels of life I miss out on because I don’t know or because I don’t think to ask. Months ago, when I was debating whether to purchase an airlines ticket and join my husband on his trip to Brazil, my daughter said, “Mom, of course you’re going to Brazil with dad because it would be ridiculous if you missed the opportunity.” 

I think this is the summary of what life is all about. If I had to summarize the meaning of life I would say it is this: Life is about getting an education, about having experiences, and opening your heart to find the love in all of it.  

I loved this lesson learned from my Jew-ish, Polish, Brazilian tour guide (now friend) during a trip that I didn’t want to take: that life has all kinds of delicious bites for me to partake of, if I open myself to the possibility. 

And this is what I learned traveling to Brazil.