Since starting this blog, Meet the Locals has definitely become one of my favourite features. I love having a coffee, beer or cocktail with a São Paulo resident; someone who will be able to offer an alternative perspective of life in this crazy city.
I’ve met a really interesting mix of individuals so far, including a bucket-playing street performer, one of the city’s biggest names in drag, an influential fashion blogger, a deliciously-eccentric bar owner, a candy-selling comedian and also a woman who had her leg amputated by an alligator.
Like seriously, I feel so fortunate that these people have given up their time to talk to me, offering me an insight into their world – and in doing so – allowing me a glimpse of city life from their own unique perspectives.
For my next interview I met up with Rafael Leick – a travel blogger and YouTuber, responsible for the sites Viagem Primata and Viaja Bi! Over coffe I got to learn more about him, his experiences as a YouTuber and his opinion on São Paulo as a gay travel destination.
Thank you for agreeing to this interview Rafa! Can you tell me a little about your project, ‘Viaja Bi!’?
Well, it must have been back in 2012 or 2013 when I noticed that there weren’t many sites for people to find LGBT spots; not without them ending up on porn websites! I was already a travel blogger and I said “Maybe I should create a site to find these places, but without the porn”
I thought about it for almost two years – then at the end of 2014 I decided to take this project out of the closet. So Viaja Bi! has become a place where members of the LGBT community can find travel tips and travel experiences.
Now I have four contributors, well actually there are five; there is a couple who write together. I have one guy who talks more about the LGBT tourism market, a girl who gives a lesbian perspective of both adventure and outdoor activities, and then another guy who focuses on hiking and trekking, particularly in Rio. So I have these different views. I have always seen this project as a collaborative space and now I have different people showing their perspectives of the world.
I should add that I don’t define myself as a gay traveler, but as a traveler who is gay. This is the way I write. I don’t own the truth, what I write is from my own experiences.
Let me ask you something I can imagine some foreigners will want to know before coming to Brazil. How does São Paulo’s LGBT scene compare to Rio’s?
I think in São Paulo there is more of a gay ‘scene,’ whereas in Rio this is more spread out. São Paulo’s nightlife is much better than Rio’s too, there are more options in this city. In general there are always going to be more options here; if you wanted to party for 24 hours in São Paulo, you can.
But in Rio you can go to the beach and there are open spaces for the gay community. Rio has also had more investment in campaigns. The city has done some public campaigns in the past against homophobia and this advertising was everywhere. It really sent out a powerful message to the world.
In this respect we are a little behind them. But I do know that this year there will be a push to make São Paulo the main LGBT spot in Brazil. I have been invited to see what the city is planning, what projects are being developed. Maybe these plans will help São Paulo achieve this goal.
Let’s talk about this nightlife scene, do you enjoy this?
I can say that I enjoy-ED it a long time ago. I mean, I used to go out every night of the week and sometimes stay out until 8am. Now I feel like – in this sense – I am old. I prefer to be in other places. But the nightlife has really evolved here over the last three or four years with people reclaiming public spaces for parties.
For example, you just have to look at the carnival scene. The street parties are getting bigger and bigger here every year. The carnival parties are now arguably much more important than the official carnival parade. This is also happening with gay parties. Clubs used to be the main spots for the LGBT community to party – but then the more alternative parties came along. These parties move around and people tend to follow these, instead of going to one specific club every week.
So you have shifted from writing for the blog to making videos for YouTube. What made you decide to do this?
Traveling is about imagery, and with YouTube can really capture that. Plus, I knew that YouTube would give me more exposure. Actually, I am very shy and so I was worried about this at first. But YouTube is very controlled; you can edit and put whatever you want to show on there.
Also, nowadays consumption is quicker, so people will maybe spend three or four minutes watching a video instead of reading a blog. I spotted this a few years ago and said, “Yeah! Maybe I should go to YouTube and establish my site on there.”
One negative about YouTube is that you can spend a lot of time producing a video. You have to have an idea, record it, edit it, upload it and then share it. So in this way it is more effort than the blog. I have a limited time and I can’t upload every week. That was my dream, but I just can’t do it.
Nice! At first I thought “I don’t know if I can handle the criticism, the hate.” But I haven’t had any. Thank God! I’ve just had two cases of bad commenting over the last two years, and I’m glad this has been such a small number.
Obviously your face is all over your YouTube channel, have you ever been recognised?
Yeah, and I have a funny experience I can tell you about. I was once working at a travel fair and I went to use the bathroom. When I was at the urinal this guy approached me and asked, “Hey, are you Rafael from Viaja Bi!?” And I answered “Yes!” Then he said, “I’m a fan, can I take my picture with you!” I agreed, but of course, we went outside of the bathroom to take it!
Interaction is nice though. Sometimes people don’t want to comment on the blog or YouTube channel because they don’t want to show that they are gay. So they won’t openly post feedback online. Because of this you generally have a lower response rate than your average blogs. So it’s great when people come up to you in person to thank you for the work you do, or for helping them in some way. This is rewarding.
And are all your blog posts and videos in Portuguese?
Yes, but with the blog there is a translation function with Google Translate, so you can read this in English. This will automatically work if you use Google Chrome.
Rafael and I then began to talk about the first video he did on YouTube for his Viaja Bi! channel; an interview with the gay porn star Colby Keller. As you can probably imagine, this video is one of his channel’s most popular…and I’ve included it below because a) it is in English and b) because Rafael’s interview style gives a flavour of what else to expect from both his blogs and this channel!
Brazilians consume social media – like YouTube and Instagram – much more than in other countries. Why do you think this is?
We are masters of social media! Well, we are very sociable people in general, but I don’t know why we are so into it. It’s strange for us when we go to other countries and see that people are not spending as much of their time online. We are one of the most active countries on Facebook, we really engage with it!
I always ask this question in my interviews. What would you say to a foreigner who is thinking about coming to Brazil but not thinking of making a trip to São Paulo?
This happens a lot! Well, São Paulo is a very diverse city, you have everything here. It is very special. For instance, if you want to find a restaurant with Japanese food at 3am, you will find it. I would say come to São Paulo, get to know it, give it a try; you will probably be surprised. You will either love it or hate it, and most of the time I love it!
Well now I am curious! Japanese food at 3am? Just to go back on something you said earlier, you told me you don’t go out so much nowadays. What would you recommend for a gay guy to do in this city if they don’t enjoy nightlife?
There are many great coffee shops and bars here. You have many options, like on Augusta street for example. Augusta is very diverse; you have clubs, bars, coffee shops, restaurants, movies…everything really. But like I said, I feel old and I don’t go out so much!
Well, I’m sure there will be some readers of this blog who, like you, will want to enjoy São Paulo without going to parties. What restaurant or coffee shop would you recommend? Maybe places that aren’t going to be listed in a travel guide.
Hmmm, let me think! Well there is one place I’d like to go called Spot. This is very popular with gay guys, but I know it is expensive. I don’t know if that one is in many travel guides.
One of my favourite places to eat is Pateo da Luz in the Centre 3 Shopping Mall. You have all-you-can-eat pizza and a buffet in there, and the environment is very nice. And for coffee shops I would say Urbe, it’s close to Paulista and easy to get to by metro.
And where can people find you?
Let me give you the list!
The official site: http://viajabi.com.br
The YouTube channel: http://youtube.com/viajabi
The Instagram page: http://instagram.com/viajabi
And then my other site: http://viagemprimata.com.br