After spending a little over two months in Brazil, I would say I’ve earned a fair amount of much needed perspective in life. I say “earned” because nothing about leaving your bubble is easy. When I first arrived at my host family’s apartment, Portuguese 101 was already in full swing, because something smelled delicious in the kitchen and nothing gets done if you just point and grunt at things. The language wasn’t even the hard part. What was really difficult was wandering aimlessly through the city the first day of class in a vain attempt to not look too much like a tourist and find the host school before class started. The whole time I knew I had a crisply folded Salvador map in my backpack, but I wasn’t about to break it out in the crowded street of a crime-ridden city where my blond hair was already turning heads.

Salvador is an incredibly fun and interesting place, but it’s not somewhere that affords you too many chances to put yourself in a stupid situation before something bad might happen to you. The city is where you learn everything. No one speaks English, so as soon as you wake up and set foot outside, you are already learning Portuguese whether you realize it or not. Portuguese is written on the bus stops, the billboards, the storefronts and it floats through the air like a warm breeze from car radios and conversations in the streets. But that’s not all that you learn. You learn to avoid sketchy areas, at what time certain places become dangerous and how to fend of the persistent crack heads that hound you for money in the streets. It can be stressful, but I think there couldn’t be a better place for your bubble to pop. I don’t think that I will ever feel nervous about traveling again after the whirlwind of Salvador. What the city really does for your psyche is it allows you to appreciate all the little things that you never saw as luxuries before and allows you to love the details.

This is the frame through which I was able to see Itacaré. This little slice of paradise is where I spent my last three days, and it left me with the distinct impression that I might die if I don’t go back. Itacaré is not a big city, the roads are only one lane and you won’t be able to stand anywhere in the city without seeing something green and vibrant exploding into your field of vision. It is a town that has become known throughout the Brazilian state of Bahia as the surf mecca of the north, and for good reason. Everyone surfs in Itacaré. This is obvious when you walk down the streets and find that most of the shops are closed during the middle of the day, when everyone is at the beach. There are a few beaches in Itacaré, and all signs point to them. They have white sand, the best surf in Bahia and a view of the surrounding rock points that are thickly covered by the overgrown jungle. Here, people surf all day, party all night — starting at midnight, after a proper nap — and then wake up when they feel like it to start all over again.

After living in Salvador, it’s amazing to see kids playing in the streets without the slightest concern about what is in your pockets, and people saying, “Bom Dia,” in the streets just to be friendly. No one wants anything from you here, except that you keep the vibes where they belong. You could be wandering the streets blind drunk at 4 a.m. with a camera around your neck and a handful of money, only to safely fall asleep on the beach and maybe have some locals point and laugh at you. I am now back in Salvador, back to the dirty grind of the city, and back to hiding my money in my underwear. I’ve got nothing but love for Salvador, though. Although Itacaré is a place where I could surf epic four-foot beach breaks everyday for the rest of my life and rack up countless hours in a gently swaying hammock, I wouldn’t have half the appreciation for a place like it without knowing Salvador. The grime adds character to the old city, and I’d like to think it adds a little something to those that get to know it as well.