I’m An American In Brazil. This Is What Reopening Has Looked Like So Far.
Published June 19, 2020
Welcome to my travel blog, Caffeinated Excursions! This is a follow-up to my previous post that documented my experience social distancing in the city of Santos during the month of May. At the beginning of June I relocated to the seaside town of Ubatuba, where I’ve continued to social distance and enjoy the amazing beaches. If you’re curious about what a modest and partial reopening has looked like in this little corner of Brazil, grab a cup of coffee and read on!
How I Got Here
I moved from Santos to Ubatuba at the beginning of June. Both cities are located along the Atlantic coast of the State of São Paulo. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, then you know that I came to Brazil intending to teach English for about six months, but that plan was obviously disrupted by the pandemic. I’ve since started tutoring English online. Although I prefer teaching in person, it’s been a great way to stay safely employed.
I’m moving very slowly eastward along the coast in hopes of making it to Rio de Janeiro by August. That’s because I purchased a very cheap airline ticket from Rio to Lisbon for the middle of August. I’m aware that Europe may not be open to visitors by that point. If I’m not allowed to board, I’ll have to reassess and decide what to do: stay in Brazil longer, travel to another country that is open, or go back to the US.
The Virus Situation
Anyone who’s been following international news knows the COVID-19 situation in Brazil is… not good. In addition to a lack of testing, a lack of leadership from the federal government, and a healthcare system that can’t handle the outbreak, this month was marked by a scandal involving the government attempting to remove data from its own public database. The courts have gotten involved, and individual Brazilian states have continued to collect data, which means this cover-up effort has basically been unsuccessful. Nonetheless, the situation is still worrying for many who value transparency and accountability through this challenging time.
In spite of all of this, I really do doubt that the case numbers will ever surpass the United States. In my opinion, American media has focused heavily on Brazil, where the virus is taking an especially devastating toll on poor and indigenous communities, in part to draw attention away from the recent spikes at home. Nonetheless, the US has well over double the number of cases as Brazil despite having just 1.5 times the population. I’m not saying this to minimize the severe situation in either country, but I do think presumptuous American notions of Brazil being a lawless, almost war-torn region are affecting the overall perception of the situation here. I personally think the two countries are much more similar than different in terms of their handling of COVID-19 as of June 2020.
My Daily Routine
My daily routine is pretty similar to what it’s been the past few months. I usually work in the mornings, get lunch, go for a walk as long as the weather is good, come back for dinner, and then sometimes work in the evenings. As I’m sure is the case with many people, weekdays and weekends for me have really blurred together, especially since I do some of my teaching on the weekends.
My Amazing Airbnb
One of my favorite parts of my stay here in Ubatuba has been the great deal I found on Airbnb for a month-long rental. For 340 USD, I got this beautiful, massive studio loft for the entire month of June. It even has a kitchen and a private bathroom.
The really nice thing about this loft is that because it’s the entire second floor of a house, I don’t have to share any common space with the hosts who live downstairs. The loft even has its own private entrance, so social distancing has been easy!
Food: A Mix of Cooking and Restaurants
The month of May was the month I learned to cook. While in Santos, I ordered take-out only twice and made literally every other meal at home from scratch. This month, with more eateries open for dine-in and take-out, I’ve tried to do roughly half eating at home and half patronizing restaurants.
One thing that’s made it tougher to eat at home in Ubatuba has been that there aren’t any big grocery stores within walking distance. The one nearest my Airbnb has the basics, but is a fraction of the size of the supermarket I had access to in Santos.
In terms of restaurants, I’ll actually be writing a separate post featuring all of the ones I tried in Ubatuba. It may not be much, but I want to help showcase them for visitors who come back once Brazil goes back to normal.
People have let their guard down (at least a little bit) when it comes to preventative measures. Beaches in Ubatuba are not closed, although they’ve never been crowded. If I go for a walk, I’ll bring a mask with me in case I need to pop into a store or find a restaurant for lunch, but I usually don’t wear it outdoors. It’s been pretty easy to maintain six feet of distance while walking in town or on the beach.
Although mask usage overall is down from last month, they are still required to enter any store. Most restaurants also ask customers to wear a mask while ordering food and paying bills. In most places, half of the dining room tables have been blocked off to increase physical distance between customers, as shown in the picture below.
My Own Thoughts About Reopening
First of all, I’m so glad to be able to support small businesses again! I know that there’s some risk of contracting COVID-19 every time I eat in a restaurant, but the protection measures I mentioned above do put my mind at ease.
A major question in Brazil (as in the US and other countries where the curve has not been flattened) is whether or not it’s really safe for things to reopen. Regardless, I can definitively say that people here have prioritized restarting the economy despite widespread transmission (on a national level). I’ve heard that the Brazilian government did not issue economic assistance, which makes me more sympathetic to business owners and employees who are putting themselves at some level of risk to go to work and earn a living.
The other thing that stands out to me is that the current situation can really only be described as a “new normal.” It’s clear that Ubatuba probably won’t go back to business-as-usual, at least until the end of 2020. Walking around town, I’d say that 50% of shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars are still shuttered. It makes me wonder how many of them have already gone out of business permanently. The stores and restaurants that have reopened are almost always empty; I’ve had many meals where I’m the lone customer in a large dining room.
The pandemic has also resulted in very random business hours. If it’s raining or cloudy, many businesses simply won’t open at all. Some restaurants appear to be open only three or four days out of the week. Sundays are especially quiet; I assume this was the norm even before the pandemic, but it’s even more noticeable now.
Since Ubatuba is a town that relies very heavily on tourism, I worry that many of the businesses here won’t be able to survive until the next high season (which will start around November or December). However, since lockdowns didn’t really start in Brazil until March, I hope that most businesses here had a normal high season in the first few months of 2020 and that this will hold them over until the holiday season starts.
Info About Ubatuba
Ubatuba is known first and foremost as a beautiful beach destination. That’s why I’ve written an entirely different post about some of the nicest beaches within walking distance of the town center! If you’re into surfing, Ubatuba is also a world-famous surfing hot spot that hosts international competitions.
Although it’s not tiny, Ubatuba definitely feels more like a town than a city, and I’ve really enjoyed that. The touristy waterfront is basically divided into two sections that are a short walk away from one another: Centro in the north and Barra da Lagoa to the south. There are also a fair number of restaurants, bars, resorts, and shops along Praia Grande beach.
Centro has everything you’d expect in the center of a small resort town. There are a number of historic buildings, including a beautiful old church (Paróquia Exaltação da Santa Cruz).
Another interesting attraction in Centro is the walking street adjacent to Praça Nóbrega. The paved tiles there have this beautiful tessellated fish pattern as shown below.
Barra da Lagoa is a nice part of town that clearly caters to tourists. For whatever reason, Ubatuba has a ton of pizzerias, and many of them are clustered in this small commercial area.
In terms of safety, I’m glad to report that Ubatuba feels like the safest place I’ve been to since I came to Brazil. Although I’m always aware of the risks of petty crime, I’ve never felt like I’ve had to keep my guard up here. I will say that the neighborhoods further inland (to the west) are probably residential without much to see, so I haven’t made an effort to go explore them and can’t comment on them specifically. Nonetheless, no part of town I’ve been to has given me a ‘bad vibe’ so far.
My plan is to move to the small town of Cunha at the beginning of July. Although it’s not on the coast, Cunha looks like an interesting place to set up camp for two weeks. After that, I’m planning on spending the second half of the month in the famous town of Paraty in the state of Rio de Janeiro. If all is well, I’ll then be heading to the city of Rio, where I’ll be for two weeks before my flight to Lisbon leaves in mid-August.
If I’m allowed to go, I do plan to spend the entire fall in Europe. I’m looking at spending a month in Portugal, a month in France, and a month in Italy. However, if the pandemic situation appears to take a turn for the worse, I’ll be ready at any point to stay put in one place for as long as I need to or fly back home to the US.
How have the past few months been for you? Is your community slowly reopening, or are you still under lockdown? Do you have any travel plans for later in the year? Leave a comment and let me know! Stay healthy and stay safe! Thanks for reading!
This post was published on June 19, 2020