Tag Archives: brazil

The Beaches of Rainsoaked Rio

7 Jul

The beach at Leblon

I woke up on the second day in Rio to find that there was some confusion between Ludmilla and I. She had woken up early and went back to sleep when she couldn’t get in touch with me, so when I woke up and couldn’t find her, I sat around until past noon when she was ready to move again. I wasn’t happy about wasting precious time on such a short trip, but it was nasty and raining again, so visiting Christ the Redeemer wasn’t a possibility anyway. There wouldn’t be any visibility from up there and it would just be a waste of money to look at a cloud.

We took the bus from Botafogo to Leblon, one of the well known beaches to the south. Leblon is an upper class neighborhood with trendy restaurants and cafes, but also very residential, and kind of reminded me of a tropical Recoleta. Traveling in Rio is interesting because the morros, or giant rocks, just jump out randomly and the roads need to abide by the space limitations. Therefore, it can often take you much longer to go a short distance because you have to bypass the rocks. However, this traffic tie up it made less painful with the beautiful scenery that abounds. And in any case, I found the traffic in Rio to be much better than in Buenos Aires, even at rush hour. I found in my short time there that there were no pickets, road blocks, or any other man-made headaches.

Clouds can ruin Rio

Rio for me was a very Latin American city, in that it seemed like a typical image many might hold of South America. Tropical with palm trees everywhere, slightly faded buildings in the grey rain, and a strong sense of pride and happiness throughout. Even on a cold day, it wasn’t terribly frigid. We grabbed lunch and then walked along the beaches of Leblon and Ipanema. Ludmilla pointed out the only house left on the beach in Leblon, and apparently the owner refuses to sell even when they offer him millions of dollars. Almost no one was on the beach, and though we moved on quickly, it was impressive to watch the hard waves crash onto shore. Rio has a pretty rough surf, and it’s actually not recommended to go swimming there. There are many rocks and the seafloor quickly drops off.

Down in Ipanema I treated myself to a fresh coconut for 3 reales and took a few pictures, though it was far from the typical Rio postcard shot. If anything, it seemed like it might be a cloud forest. In Copacabana we walked the strip and got another churro, passing the famous Copacabana Palace Hotel and hoped that the weather was turning. The rain had stopped and it heated up a bit, but the sky was still uncooperative. At 4:30 pm I directed us to Sugarloaf, the iconic rock where a cable car takes you to the top for a view of the city. Ludmilla wasn’t too crazy about going because of the cloud cover, but I insisted. It was one of the icons of the city and one of the things that I wanted to do most, so I didn’t care what the outcome was.

We took a taxi there and paid the 53 reales to get in, and Ludmilla told me it used to be 16 reales. Brazil has essentially had inflation for years, but with a fixed system, they plan on how to lower it little by little every year. We got to the first section for a slight view of the city just before more clouds came in, though taking pictures was difficult. As we got to the top of Sugarloaf it was dark and cloud cover totally obscured the city below. Still, it made for a unique effect on the landmark, and we walked around a bit before heading back down.

I parted ways with Ludmilla and spent the night with Sergio and his roommates, going to bed fairly early, but not before eating another feijoada dish and feeling like I would explode from over-eating. In the morning I walked around until finding one last churro and then headed to the domestic airport via taxi, where I then got a bus to the international airport. This is actually a much cheaper option than taking a taxi all the way to the international airport, and the bus leaves every 30 minutes. So the short trip in Rio ended, and it leaves me wanting more. I’ll have to go back some day to see more of the city and take advantage of the beaches, plus the other sights I couldn’t get to. And of course, there are so many other places to visit in Brazil.


The Brazilians I met were incredibly friendly, and even though I spoke mostly in Spanish while they spoke back in Portuguese or a little Spanish, we were able to understand each other. Many speak English and are eager to practice it. While I have a long way to go before I can say I fully understand Portuguese, it’s amazing how my Spanish skills allowed me to figure things out more easily. Yet every time I reminded myself to say “obrigado” (thank you), “gracias” slipped out. My brain is wired for Spanish. I’ll have to practice more for the next time.


Rio de Janeiro in 2 Days

7 Jul

Inside Confiteria Colombo

Despite the fact that I’d just lost 2 nights out of a 4 night trip to Rio de Janeiro, I used the positive energy of the Brazilians on my flight to pump me up for a fun time and looked ahead brightly. After all, the Brazilians are very fun and welcoming, so I knew this was going to be a good trip. I already had a place to stay with a friendly host from Couchsurfing named Sergio. On top of that, a girl I knew from Buenos Aires from Brazil was going to meet me in Rio and show me around. She’d also written me a letter of invitation for the visa application. So I got myself an overpriced taxi at the airport to avoid any possible late night kidnappings and start off well. Ludmilla suggested I not get a yellow cab (even though all the cabs in the city are yellow) and instead went for a private service costing 99 reales, where as a regular cab would have run around 60. Sergio later told me not to worry too much about the cabs, but just speak in Spanish at least if you don’t speak Portuguese and always pay after.

Getting into the Botafogoneighborhood too late to do anything, I talked with Sergio a while and then went to bed. In the morning I woke up to find that it was raining and cold, and I was ill prepared for it. In fact, I’d only brought one sweater and one pair of jeans which I’d already been wearing since leaving Buenos Aires, and would need to wear them every day. I had planned on warm weather and had shorts and t-shirts, plus sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat, all of which went unused. The umbrella did come in handy, however. I met up with Ludmilla and we started with a quick stop at the Rui Barbosa House, just a few meters down the road.

Tiradentes Palace

The Botafogo neighborhood is very residential and peaceful, but next to Copacabana and close to the center, which made it very attractive for me. The house was a former residence of a prominent Rio citizen, and is now a museum. We took the Metro which was in my opinion, years ahead of the Subte in Buenos Aires, and got off in the Central Station. Ludmilla wanted to show me a point where some of the poorest and hardest workers in Rio must travel to daily, and it’s a very symbolic point for many. Again, the Metro system in Rio impressed me, with wider, faster and more reliable trains. No one pushed or crowded the doors, and there were various methods for buying tickets. Buenos Aires could learn a thing or two.

In the center we moved around to various spots, including the Municipal House (Tiradentes Palace) where we got a tour of the main chamber, the recently refurbished Municipal Theater and the National Library. Between all of this it was on and off raining, but never as cold as Buenos Aires gets in the winter. It was odd because some people would be in shorts and sandals and others like myself were totally bundled up. We had a quick snack at Confiteria Colombo, a famous cafe in the center on par with the Cafe Tortoni in Buenos Aires. I took advantage of a store in the central market and bought a pair of sandals with the Brazilian flag logo, which in recent years has become very fashionable, yet were always a mark of a poor person without much money, so I was told.

I was pleasantly surprised by the churros sold at the stands in the street, and can say they were definitely the best I’ve ever had. Warm, filled with either dulce de leche or chocolate, they were coated in cinnamon and totally delicious. I wanted and had to have a couple more throughout the next days. We visited a couple of cathedrals, including a giant pyramid-shaped one, and then took a bondhi, or trolley car up to the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Santa Teresa is very bohemian and kind of like San Telmo in Buenos Aires. There are pretty cafes and restaurants along the hills and you get good views of the city below. One of my contacts fell out in Santa Teresa and I couldn’t see much for the next couple of hours, but we later met up with Sergio and went out for dinner.

I had my first taste of feijoada, the traditional Brazilian dish of steak, rice, beans, fries and whatever else. It’s a huge mix that’s usually eaten for lunch, and it’s a great blend. I also tried a caipirinha, which is a traditional Brazilian cocktail made with cachazaand lime. For me it was a bit too strong and acidic, but I can see how it can grow on you. We had an interesting talk about the favelas and Brazil’s booming economy and rise of the middle class. I was told that a lot of the favelas are no longer dangerous and have been pacified, though it’s still obviously a major problem.

The National Library

It was time for bed and the next day, which promised the main sights of Rio: Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf, Cobacabana and Ipanema…

Problems on Getting to Rio Because of the Ash Cloud, A Bad Start to the Trip

6 Jul

On Saturday afternoon I left for Rio de Janeiro, slightly concerned about the volcanic ash cloud which has been terrorizing much of South American air travel for the last month. It had been clear of late, but the day before canceled all air travel in and out of Buenos Aires. That day, however, flights were cleared. With Pluna Airlines, we took off around sunset, and I became more unsteady as I could see the skyline getting hazier and hazier. It was clear that something wasn’t right, and as the sun ducked behind the haze it turned into an orange-red blur. Nothing was visible.

My fears were tested as we landed in Montevideo 50 minutes later, and the airport became more and more backed up. At first you could see that they were desperately trying to get the flights out, but as my 8 pm departure time came and went, it was obvious that things were getting complicated. We were alerted to the fact that ash was in the air, and every half hour until 9:30 we were told to keep waiting. Then everything was canceled, and a collective groan went throughout the terminal. Now, it started out normal enough, with Pluna calling people up one flight at a time to orderly be admitted into Uruguay, collect baggage, and be transferred to a hotel. Yet it soon got far out of hand and was one of the worst displays of management I’ve ever seen.

The ash cloud was obviously not the airlines fault, though they offered to lodge us in hotels and pay for food, which was a nice gesture on their part. However, the execution of the plan was as poorly put together as if high school students were behind it. My flight was one of the last to be called, and after getting through Customs, I went over to a large crowd gathered around one employee. There we were supposed to wait as he checked off our names one by one, flight by flight. It was a mad rush as people crammed in and shoved their boarding pass in his face. He was sick and sniffling, and obviously not entirely sure what to do. Everyone someone asked if their flight was being done he said not yet. Impatience grew higher and higher until the mostly Brazilian passengers lost control.

Brazilians can be very emotional and have been known to put on a show. The passengers started to form little circles within their respective flights, and together they yelled at the Pluna staff relentlessly. The staff looked legitimately afraid, as if a mutiny was on hand, and soon a border guard showed up. One flight was told they wouldn’t get a hotel because they had to be at the airport at 4 am, so when a woman with her baby in her hands asked what she was supposed to do, the employee shrugged and walked away to find information. We were not given water and by 1 am a woman passed out. A manager came over and took abuse from a man who screamed at the top of his lungs, throwing his jacket to the floor with a great boom, all the while screaming in front of the guard who did nothing. I thought that if this was an airport in the U.S. and he acted that way, he would most definitely be taken away.

Slowly things were sorted out and we were told which hotel we’d been assigned, and then we had to wait for a bus to arrive and take us. As luck would have it, our flight got the last bus and we waited in the airport until 3 am. Bad as it was, the flight grouped up well and apart from myself and another woman from Oklahoma, they were all Brazilians who joked around and wanted to give me advice on what to do in Rio. One of them was like a ring leader or camp counselor, pooling together the group and organizing with Pluna. It turns out he was a university professor, and after talking with him he told me that the reason so many Brazilians act that way is because they aren’t accustomed to much air travel. As the middle class has boomed, many people can now afford to fly and travel abroad, but since they’ve never had much experience with it, even a little speed bump seems like an injustice. Regardless, I’ve flown all my life and found the way Pluna handled it to be very amateur-like. Airlines have contingencies and the ash cloud has been disrupting travel for over a month.

We were taken to the Holiday Inn in the center of Montevideo and by 3:30 am I was crashing from exhaustion. The next day we were treated to a free lunch at a parrilla next to the hotel, courtesy of Pluna. I helped myself, as well as my compatriots, to a lavish feast, and then went back to the hotel to rest up. It was far too cold to walk around and I’d already visited Montevideo in 2007. We were transferred to the airport in time for our flight that night to Rio, yet again we were delayed. As we began to board we were told there was a 40 minute delay, and a rumor spread that it was the ash cloud again. It turns out it was a mechanical problem, and soon we boarded a bus, then were told to get off the bus, and again people started to groan. But in a minute we were back on track to the plane, and as we took off people cheered. On to Rio de Janeiro.

What I Know About Brazil

2 Jul

Tomorrow I’ll go to Brazil for the first time, so long as this pain in the ass ash cloud hovering around Buenos Aires dissipates. The cloud came back in town today and canceled every flight in and out of the city, and I’m just clinging to the hope that it will be gone soon. As of this afternoon I could see that on the northern edge of the city it was a blurry mess, while towards the south some blue was visible. Maybe that’s a good sign. I can’t afford to miss time on my 4 night stay in Rio because I get in very late the first night and won’t be able to push my trip back. My friend Amy arrives to Buenos Aires the morning after I return, so it’s do or die. I’ve already bought the plane tickets and visa.

But what I was going to write about before the ash cloud came back was what I know about Brazil. It’s such an attractive country, and anytime you mention that you’re going to Rio de Janeiro, anyone within earshot will exclaim how jealous they are. Brazil borders almost every country on the continent and is widely diverse, though a lot of people mainly associate it with beautiful beaches.

Right near where I grew up is a huge Brazilian population. So large, in fact, that during the last presidential elections, a special voting sector was set up for Brazilians all over the northeastern United States to be able to vote. Yet the image you usually get of immigrants is quite different from the rest who stay behind. I was shocked to learn that there are actually blond hair, blue eyed Brazilians (mostly in the south). A lot of them come from German descent, and sometimes I get confused as being Brazilian. Pero no falo portuguese.

I know that while Brazilian isn’t quite as well known for it’s barbecues, you know you’re going to eat well if you go to a Brazilian steak house. I seem to remember going to a great one in Newark, New Jersey as a child. Then there are the beaches, from Florianopolis to Bahia, and maybe the most famous being Copacabana and Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro. While I’ll be far from living the life of a celebrity, I hope to stroll the beaches as well, without the ubiquitous zunga, or Speedo bathing suit.

Everyone always warns me to be careful in Rio, saying it’s dangerous, more so than Buenos Aires. They say look out for the favelas, or ghettos. They tell me to be careful when getting into a taxi, and to be on alert at night. Yet at the same time they say how friendly the Brazilians are and how they are always smiling and ready to party. Yet there’s also a serious side to Brazil.

I’ve done some research and know that Brazil has one of the strongest economies of Latin America, and now many Latinos are seeking to learn Portuguese instead of English, if not both. Brazilians are traveling abroad more and more, especially to Argentina, where their reales get them more than twice the amount of pesos. They have continued to industrialize and improve the quality of life, and the cost of living in Sao Paolo is in par with that of New York City or perhaps Paris. The Chinese are so interested in Brazil’s land resources that they are continuously trying to lease or buy land, investing millions into the economy, in what many fear is a backwards step towards colonizations, whereby the raw materials leave Brazil, get turned into products in China, and resold in Brazil.

But these are just the things which I have gathered before visiting the country. So long as I can fly tomorrow, I’ll soon be able to add my own opinions with a plethora of experiences including sights, sounds, smells, videos, photos, and of course, the stories. I can’t wait to share it.

The Power of an Asado

5 Jun

One of the most traditional and fun things that you can do while in Argentina is attend an asado, or barbecue. You always see those typical grills anytime you walk down a street, and giant slabs of meet slowly cooked over low heat charcoals waft deliciousness through the air. The only thing is, and this might be hard to believe, but I’ve never had success in finding invitations to these events, even while other foreigners always boast about theirs. You have to first know someone who has a grill in the city, which can be tough, and then know someone who has a grill who’s nice enough to invite you. Try as I have in the past to be invited to asados, invitations have been few and far between, leaving me with a feeling of rejection, or what have you. But last night I was invited to maybe my second or third asado while here. Oddly enough, no one there was Argentinian.

Maria del Mar and Nick are two friends who I met a year ago while watching the U.S. and England play in the World Cup. Maria del Mar is from Guayaquil, Ecuador and Nick is from a village in England, and while Maria and I could talk about Ecuador (Nick as well lived there), Nick and I can enjoy English conversations. We don’t get to meet up too much, but this week Maria invited me to an asado, and I had interpreted it as being a lunch time affair. I wound up waiting around all day for the message on what time to go, finally being told it was at 7-8 pm. I was starved by 4 pm. I did my best to show up fashionably late and at 8 o’clock rang the bell to find that I was the first one there, even before Maria del Mar and Nick. The girl who was hosting us, Stephi (another girl from Guayaquil) had been napping until 7:30 pm. You just never know what “on time” is.

Nick got right to work on firing up the grill, starting by piling up the charcoal in the back left corner and lighting newspaper and cardboard to get it hot. With no lighter fluid, he simply fanned the flames until the coals became hot enough, and once we had a good and consistent temperature, he flattened them across the grill bottom. I noted how in the United States people are usually in such a rush to eat that they douse the coals with lighter fluid and then light it up before it can even soak in. This simply burns the fluid and the coals soon expire. I’d even go so far as to say the lighter fluid changes the taste of the food for the worse.

In command all night, Nick piled on the ridiculous amount of meat while the girls brought out cubes of cheese, and with our drinks we tried to stay warm. Last night was one of the first truly bitter cold nights we’ve had in Buenos Aires, a horrible preview of things to come. Standing directly in front of the parrilla, we chatted as more people showed up, though together we consisted of an odd group. There were the girls from Guayaquil, plus another guy from Guayaquil who’s dad was German. He looked like no Ecuadorian I’d ever seen, and had lived in Germany for a part of his life, giving him a German accent on his English. His girlfriend was from Brazil, and a couple from England were joined by another couple from Australia. More people were supposed to come, but we found ourselves happy with the food we had before us.

Though I didn’t know most of the people there and was the odd man out by coming alone, we had no trouble in mixing it up and getting to know each other while waiting for the food to cook. I’d been told once that a tradition of an asado is the other guys standing around always make fun of the person cooking. I guess it’s a preemptive bashing before they need to give thanks for the great meal. Eager and hungry, our eyes fixed back on the grill at least every three seconds, as if willing it would cook it faster. And eventually the meat was ready, with Nick announcing it proudly as the girls brought out a couple of trays.

Choripan with chimichurri and three cuts of meat were available, and after Nick cut out pieces directly on the grill we would stand up and eat straight off the bone with our hands. It was so natural and carnivorous, it made me feel like a caveman sitting around a fire eating red meat with the juices running down my mouth, but in a good way. We each helped ourselves to about four helpings of steak and at the end, had to be forced to finish off what was left. All together it was only $23 pesos per person which is a total steal when you consider the value of that meal.

Long after the food was finished we sat around talking in the cold night, and it made me want more of these experiences. I’m quite certain that if I had worked more asados into my experience here, it would be one of the things I’d miss most. No matter where you come from or what you do, everyone can be joined together in their desire to stand around and eat some meat, save the vegetarians. And that’s a pretty sweet thing.

How Do You Speak My Language So Well?

30 May

Adelia was a friend of mine when I studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain back in 2007. Years had passed without much communication, until a few months back when she began to ask me for advice on South America before a big move to Brazil. And now, after a month in Brazil, she’s in Buenos Aires for a week-long visit, and on Friday we saw each other for the first time in four years.

Even after the long time apart, she looks just as I remember, and though we’d liked to have caught up right then and there, with six other Brazilians in the pregame talking loudly and vying for attention, the best we could wiggle out was “4 years in 30 seconds, go!” One thing did happen, however, which was much more interesting. When I first got to the apartment in Las Cañitas where she’s staying with her old roommate from Sevilla (who is actually studying a Masters here) the Brazilians in the house didn’t pay much attention to me except for one who I chatted it up with. But soon they all headed out on the balcony and with Adelia speaking a few words in Portuguese, suddenly they all opened up.

I almost felt badly for her at first, knowing exactly what it feels like, You become the toy in the party and everyone wants to ask questions or grill you on something. It can be nerve wracking the first few times it happens, yet it’s also thrilling, to be able to communicate in another language. Adelia started speaking in Portuguese and the Brazilians broke into huge smiles and claimed disbelief that a foreigner could speak so well. Apparently she has an accent from some region in northwestern Brazil which couldn’t be explained by the fact that she’s from Florida. Shy and humble, she said the standard, “Oh no, I don’t speak that well…” but the Brazilians wanted more, wanted to know how she could speak their language so well. I could relate to my own triumphs with this in Spanish.

For me it was also impressive; the last time I saw Adelia we were both beginner Spanish speakers, and now here we were, in Argentina both fluent but in different languages. I don’t speak Portuguese but with the Spanish and a French background (high school education), I’m able to loosely keep up. The Brazilians even wanted to talk to me and find out how I could speak Spanish so well, as if the realization that you could speak another language was a ticket in, and it really is. As people always say, “language opens doors.”

In a single conversation we were continuously switching from Spanish-Portuguese-English, often all in the same sentence. Someone on the outside would have been totally confused by the situation. These experiences are always priceless and explain why we travel. There’s a huge difference in how you speak and also understand a culture, and it often will direct how deep the conversation can go. On a number of occasions, for example, someone here has opened up to me and told me to leave Argentina and go back home, yet not in a xenophobic way. The fact that I could speak to them well enough showed that I perhaps wasn’t just another tourist, and that they could say more to me than just “Welcome to my city” or “It’s a beautiful country”.

Study a foreign language and learn about another culture. In fact, just today the New York Times ran a piece on The Bilingual Advantage, stating that it can also help prevent or slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. You would be surprised at how valuable just a few words or phrases can be, and it really makes a trip overseas worthwhile.