On October 13th – the day after one of my best friend’s weddings, I was on a plane back to South America, heading to an island city in the south of Brazil – Florianópolis.
Florianópolis, nicknamed as the ‘magical city’ by Brazilians, is a pretty extraordinary place to live.
Despite being an island, it is anything but small – driving from one end to the other would take over 2 hours on a good day. If you’re Brazilian (or American for that matter), this might not sound like much but, coming from the UK, this is pretty huge! For us, it would be just as quick to go from London to Cambridge and back as it would to make this same journey.
Because of this size, the island is fantastic to explore – it has dozens of hiking trails, mountains paths, sand dunes and 42 beaches all around. And, if you go to one of the beaches in the northern part of the island, you’ll probably even get a chance to spot the odd pirate boat hanging around!
Ignoring the occasional pirate, Florianópolis is actually one of Brazil’s safest and more developed cities. I had first heard about it when working in the hostel in Salvador 5 years before and, since then, whenever I have asked my Brazilian friends where in the country would be their favourite place to live – they have all almost unanimously said Florianópolis.
Being a southern city, the climate is much cooler than the rest of the country with an average temperature ranging from 22° to 30°C in the summer or 13° to 21°C in the winter.
Temperature aside, the south is surprising in other ways… to understand why, you need to first know that the majority of the population in the south are actually descendants from Germany, Austria and Italy rather than from Portugal or Africa like the rest of Brazil. Due to this, the ethnicity of the population is entirely different to what you would normally expect – with many people having blond hair, blue eyes and, believe it or not, might even be whiter than me!
Some places even look like they are straight out of Europe – seeming to imitate the architecture of traditional German towns. And, because of their heritage, quite a lot of Brazilians in this region celebrate the same German customs and traditions.
Shortly after I arrived, there was even an Oktoberfest celebration in the nearby city of Blumenau – it was no small celebration either… I was told by one person there that there were over a million people attending and it was officially the 2nd largest Oktoberfest in the world.
After a few months living in Florianópolis, my dad came to visit. Over the next week, I introduced him to some of the more iconic Brazilian foods like Pão de Queijo and Açaí, we went kayaking, had a proper Brazilian Rodízio (barbecue) and a big variety of chopes (beers).
After a week going around Florianoplis, we took a 15 hour night bus north to see the waterfalls of Foz do Iguaçu. The highlight of which was “The Devil’s Throat” – La Garganta del Diablo on the Argentinian side of the falls
We then travelled to Rio de Janeiro where I was able to take my dad around to all the top sites like Christ the Redeemer, Pão de Açúcar, and even the neighbourhood where I used to live a few years before.
After this quick escape, I returned back to Florianópolis to spend my last few months. I began taking Portuguese lessons again in January and ended the trip in the city of Natal to celebrate Carnaval.
One of the coolest things on the border of Natal was ‘Cajueiro de Pirangi’ – the world’s largest cashew tree. It’s 2.2 acres across and produces over 60,000 cashew fruits each year!
It felt like something out of a storybook.
Overshadowing the last few months however was the growing threat of Coronavirus (or COVID-19). Fortunately, I had already bought plane tickets to return back to the UK on the 15th of March as I had planned to return for work. However, as the weeks went on, more and more of the conferences that I was scheduled to attend were being cancelled until there were absolutely none left.
After some thought, I decided that it would still be safer for me to return. However, there was then an even bigger worry at this point that the airline that I was flying back with might go bankrupt… this same airline had cancelled over half of its international flights so the risk was very real. Fortunately, no announcements like this were made and I was able to fly home without any problems. The timing actually couldn’t have been luckier as, the day after I got back, both Florianópolis and the greater state of Santa Catarina went in a state of full lockdown.
I’ve now been in London for just under a month. Returning at this time has been surreal to say the least – right now, nobody knows what the future might hold or when everything will return back to normal – all we know is that this can’t last forever.
Hopefully, if the situation does improve before the end of the year, I will be able to return back to Florianópolis but, whether this will actually happen or not… only time will tell.