Then we had Alanna, our beautiful baby girl. As I have now learned, travel plans change rather drastically when you have an infant.
Carrying a tent and your own gear on your back as you hike around a canyon or coastline is feasible. Carrying a tent, your gear, a bazillion diapers, wet-wipes, butt-cream, clothes, cute little hats, teething toys, sleepers, a stroller, breast-feeding pillow, spit-up cloths, baby shampoo, blankets, and the baby itself increases the difficulty-level slightly!
1) I know that our week-long experience in Rio does not enable us to make a definitive statement regarding Brazilian attitudes towards children. However, I’m going to make one anyway: Brazilians seem to love babies. Even more than the average person loves babies. No, seriously; they really love babies.
Alanna’s drooling, droopy jowls were a magnet for cheerful commentary from smiling cariocas. The first phrase I learned in Portuguese was “Ela tem bochechas enormes,” or “she has enormous cheeks.” Alanna’s cheeks were pinched and fondled endlessly by random strangers ogling her “bochechas;” she basked in the attention by smiling coyly and then turning away in a vain effort to appear uninterested in the newfound attention. Having a baby in tow was also a magnet for kindness. Shoppers held doors for our stroller. Our Airbnb host playfully carted Alanna up four flights of stairs while we dealt with our bags. Taxi drivers stalled traffic by waving us across the street. Passerby’s helped pack our monster-stroller into Uber vehicles. While changing a (particularly gnarly) diaper on a Copacabana bench, a street-vender snatched her dirty diaper from the ground, folded it up neatly, and disposed of it in a rubbish bin before returning for a rewarding smile from Alanna. I could go on. In short, we were overwhelmed by the kindness we received throughout our week-long visit to Brazil’s star-city.
2) Our Airbnb was right on Ipanema beach, so a few hours of each day were spent strolling along the iconic wave-patterned cobblestone of Copacabana, Leblon and Ipanema. On these daily excursions, we tucked Alanna comfortably into her stroller, lathered sunscreen on her legs, wrestled a hat onto her balloon-head and picked our way through the joggers, cyclists, surfers, sun-tanners, beggars, vendors, police, artists, and tourists who swarm the beaches. It was relaxing to walk, chat and observe the incessant parade of humanity with the sounds of pounding waves and honking horns as a backdrop. Alanna clearly demonstrated the ocean-going nature of her parentage by falling asleep almost every time we left the Airbnb to the rhythmic song of the ocean. It was great.
3) Dragging a baby around amplifies the difficulty in taking quality photographs of our travels. This lesson was best-exemplified by our experience at the Cristo Redentor, the Brazilian behemoth Jesus-statue overlooking the city that was selected as one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World. The throngs of maniacal, camera-wielding tourists made it difficult to navigate our stroller, let alone watch our bags, pose and snap photos from odd angles. When Alanna started fussing to boot, we basically gave up, gave the outstretched stone arms a final glance and took off to calm an impending scream-storm. In previous travel-escapades, I could take my time and try to capture quality pictures. Now that we have our gorgeous gordita in tow, getting the right shot is subservient to the whims of my daughter’s attention span and ever-changing mood. On the bright side, pictures of myself have been generally improved by the beatifying presence of my daughter.
4) Travel-dining with an infant is a radical break from our pre-baby habits. We found ourselves searching for food that would be easy and quick rather than finding Brazilian fare. Leisurely conversation over food and drinks has come to a temporary halt; when we settled into our seats for a meal, we understood that we had a ticking time-bomb in our possession that would inevitably “explode” by loudly demanding a feeding, a bum-change or a change in scenery. The unintended result of this knowledge was that we ate in restaurants less and relied even more heavily on supermarkets than normal.
And I’ll always remember the meaning of “bochechas enormes”!