September 26, 2019

Q&A: How One Family Fell in Love with Brazil

Ann Marie Wei and her family stand at Iguazu Falls. It is the largest waterfall system in the world, being taller than and twice as wide as Niagra Falls.

We never get tired of hearing our guest’s family travel stories. So when traveler Ann Marie Wei took her husband and three children to Brazil with Thomson in August, we had to hear how it went.

TFA caught up with Ann Marie for an over-the-phone Q&A about her family’s experience in the country, her initial hesitation with traveling to Brazil, how she quickly came to love the country, Rio de Janeiro and her time in the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland.

Why were you first interested in traveling to Brazil?

This was my middle daughter’s graduation trip. We have traveled quite a bit, lived in Europe for a while, but her goal was to do something different. I’ll be honest with you; I don’t know how she ended up with Brazil.  We were able to visit the Pantanal and have our outdoorsy, wildlife adventure, and we also got to spend time in Rio [de Janeiro].

We were limited somewhat for time because of the kid’s school schedules. It worked out beautifully. The natural beauty, the city life. We felt the different vibe of different parts of the country.

Did you have any concerns about traveling to Brazil?

Going in, our concern was the reputation of Rio not being the safest place. We took a lot of precautions. We were probably over cautious. But we didn’t feel any less safe than we did in any other big city, like Paris or Rome. It freed us up to enjoy the city more.

Where do you think these anxieties came from?

It’s the reputation. My husband and I, being older, were carrying an older image of Rio. The kids felt less trepidatious. My oldest researched and said, “You know, the crime rates are lower among tourists than it is among European cities.” Because Rio is not as well known, because it’s not in the news as much, the old sort of reputation held in my mind, probably more than it should. It’s an old stereotype.

How did your guides help you navigate the city?

The guide was with us almost the whole time. We went through a local market, a cooking class, a samba school. The second day, we did Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain. We had a lot of time with the guide, so we didn’t have to worry about how we were getting anywhere. It’s nice to stroll through the city. It was very comfortable. It was like walking through any other city. You take the normal precautions.

Ann Marie Wei and her family stop for a photo in front of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.

 

What were some of your favorite parts of the trip?

We loved the horseback riding in the Pantanal. My favorite moments were at the lodge, though. We could sit out at the eco lodge on a screened in patio. I remember laying in the hammocks in the afternoon and the capuchin monkeys were 15 feet away and the macaws were right there. You can hear the capybara. They’re just floating around the lodge.

In terms of the Pantanal, we didn’t realize how big and beautiful and amazing it would be. I knew we were hitting savanna, we were in the largest flood plain, but it really did not fail to amaze. That far exceeded our expectations as far as what we would see, what it would look like.

In Rio, the samba school was definitely a highlight. To walk through the warehouse and see these enormous floats, and these phenomenal costumes, and how beautiful and elaborate and thoughtful everything that went into the carnival was, was really a neat experience.

At Iguassu, the falls were phenomenal, but the highlight was the hotel. To see the wildlife that’s just roaming right there! We felt like we had 3 trips in one. There’s something for everyone.

What did the kids think?

They loved it. Everybody had their favorite pieces of it. They would all say it was one of their favorite trips.

Would you go back?

We would totally go back. There is so much more to do. The Pantanal, I would go back in a heartbeat. It was a great sampler, which was what we signed on for, but I could easily spend another 5-6 days, no problem.

What TFA trip are you looking at next?

We’re down for Iceland.

Why?

This will be our fourth TFA trip, after the Galapagos, China and Brazil. We’ve had nothing short of a phenomenal trip with TFA. It’s a slam dunk every time. Iceland is one we’ve wanted to do for a while. My daughter is a geology major; my son loves the geology stuff. I’m a huge hiker. We can hike, we can snowshoe [walk on glaciers], we can go see lava flows and ice formations.

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