Written by Valéria S. B. B. de Oliveira
Photographs by Stefano Paterna
I’ve always loved traveling. If you would ask me when I fell in love with traveling, I’d have to say when I was 2 years old. My mother had had a miscarriage and she had to stay in bed, so I was sent to my grandmother’s. Everybody was worried I would cry and miss my mother, but I was pretty happy discovering my grandma’s backyard with its little hidden treasures, including her cats and kittens. Her house became a desired destination during my childhood and she also used to take me with her when she visited her family and friends. I guess we could say she was my first traveling companion and I enjoyed traveling with her very much. Some years later, one of my uncles got divorced and started taking us wherever my grandma wanted. He became our travel mate and an important person in my life. I used to spend the holidays with them because they lived nearer us. My mother’s parents lived in the countryside of São Paulo and we used to go there to spend our vacations. There my adventure world would expand: from my grandma’s backyard to my grandparents’ farm. The number of people involved was also multiplied: I had loads of uncles, aunts and cousins. There were always at least 20 people spending their vacation over there. There was always someone falling from a tree, breaking a leg or an arm, cutting a finger or a toe, running to the ER with my grandfather. There were loads of food to be made, lots of animals being slaughtered (No wonder I’m not very fond of eating meat!) and the chores were endless. I loved going there, but it was very tiring. I’m sure that’s the reason I’d rather travel by myself or with someone I know and get along very well. When there are a lot of people involved, someone has always to compromise. My grandmother loved to see us all there, but she was often compromising.My parents liked to travel to other places as well. They had an apartment at the beach and we would go there every weekend. There was a water and marine life park across from our building and we made friend with the people who worked there. They would let us in when the park was closed to see them taking care of the penguins, dolphins and sea lions. These were the highlights of those weekends. Although I live by the sea nowadays, (Yes, you can get jealous!), anywhere with a beach is still one of my favorite destinations, mainly when I need to relax. My grandparent’s farm and the beach were not our only destinations. We also traveled around a lot. We went to “Cataratas do Iguaçu” – one of the 7 New Wonders of Nature:
(where I stepped on a snake – first travel accident – and jumped into a foreigner’s arms – first contact with someone from abroad who spoke English) and Paraguay (first contact with someone who spoke Spanish); Minas Gerais; Rio de Janeiro; etc. My mother complains that I’m always traveling, but she was the one who infected me with the “traveling bug”! When I became a teenager I started to grow apart for two reasons: My father’s drinking problems started to really bother me and my mother’s attitude towards this issue was something I couldn’t understand. Instead of traveling with my parents, I wanted to travel with my friends. My mother would not let me, so I got my first job in order to have money to travel. We would go to the beach or to the countryside; to a friend’s family house or camping. We had a lot of fun on those trips and nothing – even a tent falling apart in a stormy weather making everyone sleep in the car – would ruin it. My first boyfriend liked to travel as well and we would go away almost every weekend. We used to get along very well and for a while traveling only got us closer. Unfortunately, his jealousy made me feel like breaking up and start traveling with a close friend or by myself.That way I discovered the Northeast of Brazil and a new Brazilian identity. I’m from São Paulo, and all my trips had been in the Southeast and South of Brazil. There is a huge difference between the Southern part and the Northern one. Although we speak the same official language (Portuguese), there are different accents and meanings that make you wonder if it is really the same language. There is also the attitude; the way of seeing life; the way of living and raising children; etc. We could say that the focus in the South and Southeast in on making money; buying property; achieving a good social status; giving your children the best education money can buy; etc… In the North and Northeast it is also important to make money, but the attitude towards working and making money is much more relaxed. Children can still have fun and play (I’m talking about middle class families) and music – for good and evil! – run into their veins.
Let’s not forget the weather – It is always sunny and hot! – And the wonderful beaches. I fell in love with the beaches and I kept coming back until I decided to move to Natal ten years ago. After traveling around Brazil, I decided to take my first big trip abroad. I chose Bolivia and Peru because I was studying Spanish and I wanted to go to Titicaca Lake and Machu Picchu. My world was – once again – turned upside down. I know that Peru has changed a lot and nowadays is more modern, but when I went there 17 years ago, nothing could have prepared me for the pleasant surprise I had. It was so different from what I was used to: I loved the people, the food, the culture, the music. I stayed there a month and I went to places that even Peruvians from Lima never go. The most valuable thing I’ve learned from this trip is that we have to leave our prejudice at home in order to really enjoy a different culture and way of living.
I had barely come back from Peru when I decided I was ready to go to Europe. I started saving money for that purpose (I guess you have already realized I had spent all the money I was making traveling!). I went to study Spanish in Barcelona and I stayed in a family house during the week (best way to learn a language!) and traveled around during the weekends. I also traveled to Italy, Switzerland, France and Germany. I went to Verona to see the city where my great-grandmother was from. The highlights of this trip were overwhelming. Reading is one of my favorite hobbies and I had read about many people, things and places I was visiting. There is no word to describe the feeling of being able to see Michelangelo’s David; Monet’s Water Lilies; Picasso’s wives’ portraits; Miro’s Nocturne; Dali’s Persistence of Memory; Gaudi’s architecture; the list is endless… Even the experience of seeing a whole field filled with sun flowers, olive trees or covered by the snow was great. And again the people, the food, the culture, the languages…
We have to try everything that we are not used to when we travel. If you want to eat the same food; to watch the same TV programs; to do the same activities you have at home while traveling, stay at home! After Europe, I traveled around South America a lot (studying Spanish whenever I could). When I moved to Natal I started traveling around the North and Northeast of Brazil again. This time staying much more days in each place and having more time to enjoy them. My other travel destination nowadays is São Paulo.
I have to go there to see my friends and family. It’s funny to go back where I started. It’s also great to know that my little world – playing in my grandma’s backyard – has become bigger and bigger; better and better; more and more interesting just because of my trips. Thinking back, everyone who is still important in my life has traveled with me to somewhere. I’ve fallen in love and out of love during my trips. I’ve met very nice people. I’ve learned languages. I’ve made good friends. Traveling has changed me, has made me get over prejudice and has given me a new life perspective. It doesn’t really matter where you are going to. As long as you keep an open mind you will have a wonderful experience.
PS.: Don’t think my traveling days are over just because I got back to the starting point. It is time to start all over again! My bucket list is as endless as the destinations available in the world.
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