My ears are ringing with noises coming from all directions, like I’ve steeped into a loud Italian market with people yelling at one another, raising their hands up, making gestures to negotiate prices with vendors. That’s exactly where I was, except in Porto Alegre.
Porto Alegre is a city with about 1.5 million people in the South of Brazil. It is the biggest city in the southern most state of Brazil. We decided to make this our first stop in Brazil since we were coming up from Uruguay and were looking for a smaller city to relax in, walk easily, and take Portuguese classes. Just a 12 hour luxury bus ride (fully reclining seats!) through the night and we woke up to this historic and beautiful city.
Since we arrived about a week ago, we have been taking Portuguese classes for 2-3 hours per day in the city center. With class typically around mid-day, the morning for me usually consists of going on a run in the park next to the apartment we are renting (through Airbnb for the month), having a little breakfast (usually just a banana, granola, and some yogurt), and doing some reading or writing. Living in the neighborhood Bom Fim, which is the trendy, nice part of town, we are able to walk just 20 minutes to get to our school everyday.
Two blocks from our class is the central market, which I mentioned as the place of the noise above. In the picture below, it is the yellow building. The tall palmetto trees are commonplace across the city, providing an aesthetically pleasing median for cars or pedestrians.
The market is bustling with people, buying foods, sweets, teas, wine, and anything you can think of to whip up a meal. If you don’t watch your step, you might just get bulldozed by a fast-moving Brazilian woman and her many bags of purchases. An assortment of smells whirls through the air – a brush of smoked meat, a fishy odor, and a fresh orange juice being pressed. I wiggle my noise trying to pick up where each one is coming from.
The prevalence of meat in the diet, similar to Uruguay and Argentina, can also be seen in the market – the chorizos, ribs, long slabs of meat, chicken breasts, chicken hearts, and much more. The chicken hearts are a typical option in the city, with locals putting them on sandwiches, with rice, with pasta. I have yet to try them, but I noticed many people picking them up at the market. Also, the chorizos can be bought in entire rolls, like the ones pictured below. Don’t think Santiago and I will be trying to eat THAT much…
A diversity of mate is also sold in the market. Mate is a drink made from dried leaves of yerba mate, mixed with hot water to make a green tea like beverage. The mate culture is ingrained in most of the Southern part of Latin America, including Argentina, Uruguay and this southern region of Brazil. The drink is sipped in a little cup, a calabash gourd with a silver, metal straw. Walking around the city, through parks, down the street, sitting on benches, locals can be seen with their cups, straws, and an entire hot water thermos, so that they can be drinking mate throughout the day. I’m astonished that someone would go through so much trouble as to carry so many things, as if they were a cell phone on their body. But I guess, if you were raised and accustomed to it, you wouldn’t think twice about bringing around all those things with you everyday. It would be like grabbing a purse before heading out the door, but instead it’s heating up a thermos of water and preparing a cup full of leaves.
Apart from the market, there are a number of historic buildings, museums, squares, and parks scattered about the city, which are largely concentrated in the city center. Since we are here for a month, I excited to spend some time learning more about the history, culture, and people.
On a sunny afternoon with temperatures around 70 degrees, you can think of me wandering around this charming city or outside wandering in a green park. There are numerous parks sprinkled across the city – ones with windmills, ones with old arches, tall trees, little flowers, overgrown grass, fresh cut grass. A mix of everything.
From the grandeur of the city center to the tranquility of the parks, I am excited to call this my home for the next few weeks!