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.

Ubatuba

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.

Does anyone even remember what it feels like to be on a plane?

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.

A sign claiming that a beach in Ubatuba is closed. However, that was not being enforced by anyone, and I haven’t seen any other similar signs on other beaches in the city.

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.

When I do cook at home, pasta is always a good option.
Burgers are another easy thing to make even if you aren’t a master chef.

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.

The grocery store near my studio.

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.

Restaurants this month have almost always been empty like this.

Mitigation Measures

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.

A beach bar with a massive outdoor patio is devoid of tables and chairs. It’s unclear whether this one will reopen later this year, or stay closed permanently.

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.

A sign outside a bakery conveying reduced business hours due to COVID-19.

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.

A colorful alleyway in Barra da Lagoa, Ubatuba

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).

Paróquia Exaltação da Santa Cruz in Centro

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.

What's Next

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!

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This post was published on June 19, 2020

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. paddockfamily4

    Watching the numbers rise in Brazil is frightening- just as it has been frightening here in the US. I hope Braziil can get t hings under control and hope you can stay safe and healthy!!

  2. thetoptentraveler

    You are in a beautiful place and it’s a strange but interesting experience to be there at this time. I hope you will enjoy Cunha as well!

  3. You made the right decision – a beautiful place like this makes life a lot better than a crowded metropolis like Sao Paulo. The virus numbers look frightening and Brazil may be overtaking the US in the number of cases. Take good care of yourself!

  4. ansh997x

    This looks like scene from some dystopian movie. Who had known that the most popular touristy place will go empty all of a sudden. But it is a good thing that people are aware and not stepping out.

  5. I read your previous blog post and it’s so nice to see a follow-up here today! Ubatuba seems like an amazing place and your AirBnB is fantastic! From your article, I can understand why business owners are desperate to trade again, but considering the dire health situation in Brazil still I also understand why the public isn’t all too eager to make use of their service yet. Stay safe and well during your explorations!

  6. Thanks for sharing, it looks like a nice place to stay as long as you keep your distance 🙂 We had to suddenly come back to our country when it all started and now live in an Airbnb because we gave up our rent just a month before… Hope you’ll be able to catch that flight to Lisbon safely in August!

  7. Two’s company

    I’ve really enjoyed keeping up with your posts during lockdown as I think it’s so interesting to see how Covid is being handled in other countries and the impact it’s having on people living there. It’s such a shame that there has been no economic support for people in Brazil.

    I think you made an interesting point about how the US have focused to heavily on Brazil, I think many government and media outlets in the UK have similarly been focusing on other countries as a way of potentially deflecting from the issues at home.

  8. Travel with Mei and Kerstin

    Your Airbnb looks like a really nice place, and Ubatuba also seems to be a beautiful city worth visiting. Since the Covid-19 situation in the USA is really bad, you did good to stay in Brazil as we don’t think it’s worse than in the USA. Over here in Europe, borders and everything else have reopened again since last week. In France for example (our neighboring country from thousands of commuters come every day…), people are not even forced to wear masks anymore! We personally find this irresponsible, since we have no idea if there will be a second wave or not. So we both keep wearing our mask when we go out and avoiding crowded places.

  9. Sandy N Vyjay

    Your experience in Ubatuba in the midst of the lockdown makes for fascinating reading. The Air BnB you have hired looks awesome. This corner of Brazil looks heavenly. Stay safe and healthy.

  10. Smita

    Glad that you’re staying safe and exploring these places Kevin. I hope you make it to Lisbon as planned! Ubatuba looks like a beautiful destination – it’s been wonderful following your posts and hearing about these new places. Look forward to reading about Cunha.

  11. Kailyn Travels

    I am glad you’re staying safe in Brazil, and have been able to explore safely, despite the pandemic. I’m sure it helps to have such beautiful beaches around since most indoor activities are canceled. I am excited to see how other towns in Brazil are handling reopening in your coming posts.

  12. Sarah

    It’s so interesting to learn about what the situation is really like in another country! In the UK things are opening up and although cases have dropped there is a risk cases could spike again as things open up. I totally get that they want to try and restart the economy too though and help people who are out of work. It’s definitely a tough call. It looks like you’re in a great spot for the next month, I love how colourful it looks there 🙂

  13. I don’t know much about South America – coronavirus or not – so this post was super informative. I can relate to having your plans completely changed by corona and being stuck (even positively) somewhere that isn’t your home. Glad you’re staying safe – and very jealous you have beaches to social distance on!

  14. josypheen

    I think you might be right about the reporting in the States. They are keen to mention anything that distracts just how bad things are there.

    I am very glad you’re in a area that feels a bit more safe. And OH MY GOODNESS, I love the look of your amazing Air B&B. It may not be near a big supermarket, but I’d swap a supermarket for those beaches any day! Stay safe Kevin!

  15. I’m super jealous you were able to spend the whole of the month in such a beautiful place! I love all the colours, and it looks so peaceful and empty at the moment. The government issue sounds serious, I hope it doesn’t impact you or your travels

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