Week 1 in Florianopolis, Brazil

Week 1 in Florianopolis, Brazil

2019 has been a crazy year. It has without a doubt been the most eventful and emotionally taxing year that I can remember, starting off with our CON Air flight to Zanzibar back in January, to both my Dad and my Aunty getting diagnosed with cancer, to me having an operation, to Josh and I deciding to take the plunge and enact Project Escape starting with a 6 month long trip to South America , to both of my brothers announcing that they were going to be having a children, the first of my Mum’s grandchildren and thus my first neice and nephew (both due whilst we would be away), me passing my driving test and leaving my job of 12 years.

So, 2019 for me has been a year of constant change.

My sister was also going to doing a 6 month trip around South America at the same time as us so both her and my youngest brother have plans to meet up with us when we get to Colombia.

The only people we knew who had heard of Florianopolis was our Brazilian friends. It seemed that outside of Rio De Janeiro, the Amazon and perhaps Sao Paulo , the majority of Brazil was still quite rural and undiscovered so despite the scale and abundant natural beauty of the country, the beaches and the warm and friendly people, not many people seemed to know much about anywhere else. Certainly not in England anyway.

But we were looking for somewhere special. We wanted to find the kind of place that we had such a natural affinity to as to make it almost impossible to leave. We had found such a place only a few times before and we were always in search for somewhere a little off the beaten track that had a authenticity and a natural charm.

Josh had heard about Florianopolis from someone he met at a networking event and what he had heard plus the name of the place had intrigued him so we done some research on it and there it was: Floripa or The Magic Island as it’s affectionately named. Located in the south of Brazil the magic island of Floripa was only a 2 hour flight from Rio, and just 1 hour from Sao Paulo but rather then attracting the kind of international tourism that it deserved it attracted many wealthy Brazilians who chose it to build their second homes.

What was special about this place, other then it’s great weather, Latin hospitality and relatively unknown location was the fact that it had 60 beaches! Yes, you heard me, this amazing, small(ish) island boasted a staggering number of beaches, all as interesting and diverse as the people that inhabited the land. There was a beach for everyone: for party animals, fitness lovers, nature lovers, surfers, swimmers, sun bathers, families, friends and couples.

Though we aren’t necessarily beach bums, we found the idea of having a beach to choose from every day of the month and then some very appealing. And who knew? maybe I’ll even learn how to surf whilst we’re here?!

We were going to be staying in the most affluent part of Florianopolis, Jurere.

Jurere Internationale, the playground of the Brazilian rich and famous was a mere walking distance from our apartment which was located right on the beachfront. With crystal clear waters as still as a bath, and beautiful and as yet undeveloped beach, we had unknowingly arrived out of season which meant that we could avoid the hordes of tourists that turned up every November/ December to overwhelm the city. And since we were going to be staying in Jurere for a month and a half that meant that hopefully we would get the best of both worlds: calm and tranquility now whilst it was relatively quiet and then towards the end of our stay more life and atmosphere as the beach bars would be opening up in preparation for the party animals as people arrived to celebrate Christmas and new years here.

For us, this wasn’t just a holiday (though at times it certainly felt like it was!), we were also going to be working here, so having a place with a bit of peace and quiet so that we could work uninterrupted whilst also being able to stroll down to the beach whenever we felt like it without being bombarded with party loving Brazilian tourists was a definite plus.

Our apartment which we found on Airbnb was in the perfect location, walking distance from shops, cafe’s, restaurants and the beach bars in Jurere Internationale, but on a stretch of the beach that was so natural, unspoilt and quiet that it almost felt as though it was private.

We were on the 4th floor which had incredible panoramic views of the whole of the bay where we could see far out into the misty mountainous distance. To think that we had found this magical, laid back place just by clicking through some pictures on Airbnb was quite a wonder. As for the apartment itself, well, it could have been better. It was apparent by the poorly chosen decor and plastic cooking utensils that this was an apartment that was purely used for it’s income. It definitely wasn’t someone’s main residence or home and it had a distinctly musty smell as if it hadn’t been aired in awhile, but what this apartment didn’t have in sophisticated decor in keeping with it’s locale it made up for with it’s incredible views, an (almost) private beach on one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil, and stunning private tropical gardens with a pool, jacuzzi and barbeque.

The manager of the apartments also seemed very nice with a decent command of English that far surpassed my extremely limited Portuguese and he made it very clear to us that he was happy to help us with anything we needed at any time of day. So after we’d dropped off our things at the apartment we walked the very short distance to the supermarket where we stocked up on some much needed food and condiments. The fact that we would be able to cook our own food from now on if we felt like it was definitely a bonus. We like staying in Airbnb’s when we do long stays in a country as it affords us much more space, privacy, comfort and we can cook there. And apart from the horrible villa we’d had in Bali where we were under siege from every creature going, we hadn’t had any other bad experiences and even in Bali they eventually moved us after a relentless campaign of complaining by Josh and I.

The only thing about staying in an Airbnb versus staying in a hotel for a long stay is their strict policy if you don’t like it/want to leave. Thankfully with the case in Bali, the country had at the time been experiencing a volcanic eruption scare, so it looked like if it wasn’t for that we probably wouldn’t have been able to leave because from what we had seen it needed to be pretty extreme to get out of your booking and get your money back once you were there. Also, if you had any problems with creatures (i.e caterpillar’s like we had in Ubud, tookay’s like in Thailand or bats and snails like in Bali), you had nobody really to complain to or to dispose of them. And I seriously cannot deal with creatures!

Obviously I didn’t particularly relish the thought of any animals gaining entrance to my abode but spiders and cockroaches are an definite no no. I simply cannot deal. And Airbnb pictures can and do lie. You could easily turn up to a property thinking that it is going to be exactly like it is in the pictures but you can be in for a bit of a shock as some of these places don’t have their most recent photo’s up and the people who own them don’t even live in the country. This means that whoever is tasked with looking after them can easily allow the place to get into a state of disrepair as it’s not their property (or their reviews) afterall.

Plastic Not-so Fantastic

Our aparment in Jurere wasn’t rundown or unclean, but the owners seemed intent on kitting it out with any and every low grade plastic home accessory that they could find. What is it with these people and their plastic home accessories? I got it, this wasn’t someone’s home but did they really need to make that so obvious? Even the kettle looked like it came from another era!

I decided that in order to make our stay more comfortable for the time that we were here the place needed some sprucing up and that persistent musty smell needed to be banished once and for all so the following day we took a trip down to a larger supermarket where we picked up more food and things for the apartment including some breakfast bowls, a tea towel plus some air fresheners and scented candles. I was also tempted to buy a little rug for the place but I conceded would have been going too far! Whilst in the supermarket we actually spotted alot of the things that we had in our apartment for sale which confirmed my sneaking suspicion: they had furnished the place with whichever convenient cheapness they could find!

On the Airbnb it had claimed to have a washing machine in the building for free or for a fee and I had been very much looking forward to using it whilst we were in Rio. Sad as it may sound I had been daydreaming about the convenience of being able to wash my clothes in our apartment and hanging them out to dry as there’s nothing worse then carrying around dirty clothes. But I could see no washing machine in this apartment and when I asked the manager where it was he told me that we would need to take our clothes to the local laundromat. Great!

Our apartment literally being right on the beachfront was a luxury that I wasn’t about to start taking for granted. Just looking out at the serenity of this beautiful stretch of beach was wonderful, but hearing the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore was so relaxing it was almost hypnotic. Our apartment was small but a perfect size for the 2 of us, with a modern design featuring large windows overlooking the gardens and beach, an open kitchen with marble counter tops, a big desk where we could work from and a double bedroom with an ensuite.

I often daydream about living beside the sea but buying a seafront property in France would not only be small in size but extortionately expensive too so we have resigned ourselves to the fact that we probably won’t be able to live on a beach but being a short driving distance from one would be amazing. What I loved about this beach especially was the fact that it felt as though it hadn’t been discovered yet. Apart from the beach clubs at Jurere Internationale which only opened in the high season there didn’t appear to be alot of development around here but the sea and beach was very clean and it felt safe that I felt that it was only a matter of time before that happened.

Our beachfront apartment in Jurere

We went out and walked the length of the beach which took us about an hour stopping off to snoop at the beach clubs dotted along the beach. It was already starting to feel as though we’d been here a long time but infact we had only been there a day!

The large supermarket had a coffee shop on the top floor so we went there to work and get some coffee. In there we got talking to the waitress, a Brazilian woman whose name was Lily who told us (in perfect English with almost no distinguishable accent) that she used to live in the UK and offered to help us if we needed any. She was very friendly and even introduced us to another English lady who had moved there with her Brazilian husband to start a new life with their young daughter. We swapped numbers with her. We were already finding that the people here were very friendly!

I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were no creatures here. Like, literally none! I had yet to be bitten by any mosquitoes and apart from the 1 small cockroach that I saw on the first night we arrived in Florianopolis, who looked just as shocked as we were to see us, I hadn’t seen any others. This I simply could not believe. A place like Brazil with no crawling or flying creatures? no mosquitoes or cockroaches?! – it seemed too good to be true, but after coming up to a week since arriving here with no mosquito bites whatsoever (and mosquito’s LOVE me!), I stopped wearing any insect repellent: I simply didn’t need it.

Also it wasn’t sticky and humid like I was imagining. It was hot yes, but not ridiculously so, and it wasn’t sunny all the time, it has rained here too, plus being on the beachfront meant that we were getting a constant breeze so we never felt overheated. Truth be told: the weather was pretty perfect.

Jurassic Garden

The private tropical gardens of our apartment leading out to the beach was a real sanctuary. Green with lots of different varieties of trees, plants and foliage it afforded us almost complete privacy whilst at the same time allowing us to see the people strolling passed on the beach. Great people watching could be done here as the gardens were so perfectly hidden that they couldn’t see us at all. The next morning we were planning on spending some time in the gardens, perhaps having a swim, a sunbathe, or go into the jacuzzi for a bit but when we looked out our window to check that nobody had got there before us we spotted what looked like a gigantic lizard on the grass!

The SIZE of the thing! I knew that this was a wild and natural place but I certainly wasn’t expecting to see a pre historic dinosaur on my doorstep. Alas when we left our apartment and went into the gardens it had disappeared so after our daily stroll on the beach we returned to go and have a lay down on one of the sunbeds but then we saw it: A beast! The thing was bloody huge! Looking very much like an iguana, a big lizard or small alligator this big scaly creature had huge pronounced gills on it’s wide and solid looking head, it’s tongue was long and much like a snake came in and out of it’s mouth rapidly looking very questionable indeed plus even though it was moving slowly on the grass it looked as though it could shift at any given moment. I had never encountered such a beast of this size and to think that here it was in the garden casual as you like just as Josh and I were about to settle down to sunbathe was quite surreal.

The manager of our apartment saw it too and was standing there casually watching it as it ate an egg (which I presumed that either him or someone else had given to it). I wasn’t sure whether seeing it eating an egg was more or less disconcerting but it meant that it was otherwise occupied so wouldn’t attack me but perhaps more importantly it meant that (probably) it was a herbivore which also gave me some comfort because that meant that it wouldn’t be interested in devouring me but then I saw it scooping up insects with it’s long pink tongue which made me reconsider.

Surprisingly though despite the slight horror of seeing this beast less then a metre from my scantily clad skin I was able to remain in the garden whilst he continued eating his egg (though I wasn’t that brave as to take my eyes of him just incase), but then soon after the manager had left us to our dinosaur watch a second one turned up in the garden! So now there were 2 gigantic beasts roaming about the place a mere metre or so away from us and the other one looked like he’d had his tail chewed off!

I was not keen on watching these two beasts fight but thankfully it seemed that they knew each other (perhaps the smaller one with the bitten tail was a friend or family member or something?), and he followed the other one about until eventually they both disappeared into our foliage: Thank goodness!

Alas I still maintain that I’d rather have an iguana in my garden (if that was what it was), then a cockroach or a gigantic spider in my house. I simply could not deal with any of those things.

Jurassic Garden

We were struggling with the language. It seemed as though apart from the woman we met in the coffee shop we were the only Brits on the island. Of course I’m sure that was not the case but we certainly hadn’t encountered any other native English speakers since we’d arrived. One good thing though was that now that Josh’s tan had began to take effect (which generally happens pretty quickly), people now assumed that he was Brazilian so began talking to the both of us in Portuguese. Unfortunately for us though we couldn’t respond back to them as apart from saying Hi – Ola (the same as Spanish), we only knew one other word: Obrigado (Thanks). I kept on saying to Josh that we really need to up our language game and get a few more words and phrases in our arsenal but for some reason despite all of our raving about the fact that we were going to use our language translator (which was not cheap) everyday to converse with the locals we had yet to use it. Nonetheless, we managed to get about with our few words, and we seemed to understand people (kinda!). Still, we’ve only been here a week so we’ve got much more time to get used to the language and thankfully Portuguese is very similar to Spanish which we have more knowledge of.

After a nice long stroll around the neighbourhood whereby we saw where the rich and famous hung out, and all of the multi-million dollar homes that were in our neighbourhood, we went out that night to a local restaurant that had been recommended by Tripadvisor. Called simply Jay’s Bistro the casualness of the name belayed it’s high level fine dining experience. Fed up to the back teeth of eating beef I was determined to find something on the menu that didn’t come from a cow.

After looking at the very accomplished menu (which they also had in English), I chose to have the Patagonian Lamb with Truffle Risotto and Josh had Carbonara, which came with a breaded egg and sausage (interesting I know). Alas I can confirm that the food (and the Caipirinha that accompanied it) #caiprinhaaday was delicious. Like, really good! The imaginative presentation, flavours and textures wouldn’t have been out of place in a high end European restaurant. And of course the chef had trained in Europe and come back to his native Brazil to treat the fancy people of Jurere to his talents. The portion size had been a bit of a concern for Josh and I as we knew that this was a fine fining restaurant and you usually get small portions there. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem but tonight we were starving so when the dishes arrived and we saw that the portion sizes were generous we felt very relieved. The risotto was perfectly cooked (no mean feit) and the lamb too, done as I asked it to be done: medium, no less and no more.

#capirinhaaday

Again, as with most other places the restaurant wasn’t particularly busy, but it had a very laid back atmosphere. And even though I could tell the people had a bit of money to splash about they weren’t flashy at all, they were just chill. The service was excellent too. For dessert I had creme brulee (one of my favourite desserts), but this one was truffle flavour not vanilla as is the norm. I have had a passion fruit creme brulee and a pistachio one before (delightful), but I’d never had truffle and I was a little concerned that they meant truffle like the thing that I’d just had for dinner (you know the really expensive ingredient that they get special dogs to forage for) but when I asked Josh he said he thought they meant truffle as in the chocolate kind. So I ordered it only to find that they infact did mean truffle the fungus kind so I was truffled, twice over.

Now obviously I do like truffle hence why I ordered it as my main but had I of known the chef was going to also put it on my dessert I would have declined as I do not like it that much! However to be fair to him, he clearly knew what he was doing as it was delicious. It came with an intensely raspberry sorbet with a soft biscuit crumb and together with the truffle creme brulee was surprisingly tasty. Would I order it again? Sure, but this time I would miss out the truffle main!

We had found a few local places now that we could rotate. They included the coffee shop on the top floor of the supermarket where we could also see our nice new Brazilian friend who worked there, the Jurere Open Shopping Centre, which was an open air shopping area which was very classy indeed and where there was a really cool coffee shop where we could work during the day. A juice bar called Brasil Berry where they had healthy snacks and drinks made from a local berry grown in Brazil: Acai. Then there was a coffee shop across the road from there which looked pretty new. In there we met a waiter called Gino who we found out was elated to meet us as he had been studying English but had never had an opportunity to use his learned words (until now), as he hadn’t met any other English speakers. He was really sweet and put us to shame with the amount of words he knew in English. But to be fair to us neither of us had learned how to speak Portuguese, we were simply using a language translator to get a few words under our belts.

In this coffee shop we ordered a Cappuccino (you know what that is right?), well here in Brazil a Cappuccino is not what you think it is. They have there own version which is more like a Hot Chocolate, infact it IS a Hot Chocolate with cinnamon in it. Don’t get me wrong it IS delicious (especially how they made it, it reminded me a lot of a Jamaican hot chocolate, but a Jamaican hot chocolate also has vanilla pod and nutmeg so tastes even better), but I was confused. How do I order a Cappuccino if all I want is a Cappuccino and not a Hot Chocolate? Even the bill said Cappuccino! I was truly baffled.

Confusion aside, it was delicious. Definitely the best Hot Chocolate I’ve had apart from my Mum’s Jamaican Hot Chocolate. And we also had a cheese and ham croissant. Sounds basic I know. But this croissant was no basic croissant. It was tasty beyond belief. It had salad in it and mayonnaise and was slightly blackened and crispy on the top but was full of flavour. I wondered what cheese they used? as I know that they didn’t have cheddar here. Delish!

We got to try one of the famous Empanada’s too. Very much like a Jamaican Pattie (hey, I’m noticing a pattern here!), it had the same thick and flaky pastry but with different fillings. Remembering that they don’t really do spice in Brazil (still something I’m slowly getting used to), I chose their “Caprese” filling (which I assumed would be cheese), but was actually ham or bacon. Josh had chicken. My ham one was lovely but the filings in the Jamaican Pattie’s have more flavour (and spice), so they are better.

Empanada’s – very similar to a Jamaican Pattie!

The following day I heard the news that I was expecting (and very looking forward to hearing): my very first nephew, my little brothers son was born that morning. I had been devastated to learn that he was expecting this (very unplanned) baby whilst I was planning on being away but I was very much looking to holding (and kissing!) him upon my return when he would be around 6 months old. But he was born on this day and my brother and Mum sent me picture of his beautiful little face which looked so much like my brothers. Beautiful and innocent, both my brother and Mum are naturally head over heels in love with him! And apparently he smells like what heaven would smell like if it existed. I have something wonderful to return to 🙂

The following day however I received some bad news from my Mum: My Aunt had died. She had been unwell for awhile as she was recently diagnosed with cancer but I had seen her a few days before we left London and she looked well. It didn’t occur to me for one moment that she would pass away whilst both my sister and I were travelling. And unlike when my other Aunty died (my Mum’s sister), I couldn’t just up and leave and go back to the UK to attend her funeral. But I was devastated. She was such a warm and happy person, made whole by her wonderful and adoring family who just seemed to grow and grow every year (she surely must have around 6 grandchildren and counting!). And her husband seemed to love and adore her very much, they made a lovely couple.

I could only imagine how he and her 3 daughters must be feeling, particularly her youngest who only had twins a year ago. When I went to see her with my sister and my Mum she was happy at home playing with her beautiful grandchildren and though I could see that she had lost alot of weight and her hair (through the chemo treatment she had had), had fallen out it didn’t occur to me that she would be gone this soon. Her cancer was terminal but it seemed as though she had more time. She deserved to have more time. But life is unfair, cruel and unforgiving, and even though I could celebrate the birth of this beautiful baby, my nephew who is going to be loved within an inch of his little life, now here I was mourning the loss of my beautiful, warm and sweet Aunty who had the most infectious laugh and was a happy and hugely funny and charismatic human being. I am going to miss her so much, and undoubtedly the world is much worse off without her being here.

RIP Aunty.

Me and my sis with my Aunty at my Mum’s 60th birthday celebrations

Redeemed in Rio

Redeemed in Rio

In Brazil. Rio to be precise.

After returning from Zanzibar in January we had decided a matter of days after that we couldn’t possibly hack another year of employer sanctioned holidays and instead we were going to put into motion the plans that we’d had for awhile: Project Escape.

But enacting Project Escape in all of it’s wonderous and freeing glory would mean lining up a number of things: Firstly, we would need to choose where we wanted to go for the 6 months away (not too difficult considering we both have a list of places that we want to travel to as long as our arm!), then, we would need to figure out who was going to look after the cats (again, not too much of a challenge provided our lodger didn’t have any overly ambitious plans about travelling anywhere whilst we were away). Of course we would need to also rent out our house (to a couple preferably, and ones who were happy to mind our cats whilst we were gone).

Then there was the more long-term and serious considerations, such as us being able to financially support ourselves whilst we were travelling, aswell as when we returned because yes, I was going to be leaving work, permanently, to join Josh building the business. So we needed to be sure sure that this was going to work! And I had also decided to learn to drive, giving myself a couple of months to do so before we left in preperation for our long-term plans of relocating to the South of France. Leaving work for me was a pretty big deal, not only because I had been there for 12 years and though it was quite a mundane role with no chance of career progression nonetheless I was happy and content there. Alas, contentment wasn’t going to give me the lifestyle that I had always dreamed of, Josh was getting itchy feet since he had already relieved himself from the pressures of full-time employment and quite frankly, I was ready for the next chapter in my life.

So we put the house up for rent, I left work, passed my driving test (2 days before we flew out no less!) and now here we were in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil at the start of our 6 month extravaganza.

Rio, A Riot Of Colour

Of course like many people I already had my expectations about Rio before I’d even gone there. My friend Marisa had gone there a few years back and sung the praises of the beauty of the people there (the men especially!). She told me how warm the people living in the favela’s had been but though I could tell she had been enamored by the place, to be honest Rio had never been on my bucket list but the attractiveness of a country’s population was never going to be a serious consideration for my travels and I had no intention of venturing into the favela’s.

What I understood from what I’d seen on TV and read about Rio, it was a very colourful city, with a passionate people who loved football, samba and there was a very sharp divide between the rich and the very poor (who mostly tended to be black and lived in the favela’s), but could it live up to my expectations?

Josh and I had only stopped by Rio because we had found some amazing flights from Norwegian Air and we were planning on being in Brazil for 3 months before going onto Colombia for a further 3 months then around the Caribbean on a cruise from Miami. We figured (much like going to Japan and not passing through Tokyo), that forgoing Rio completely would be a bit of a shame. Sure, we didn’t have much interest in city breaks but since we had 3 months to play with we thought that we might aswell take advantage of this opportunity. We had booked a hotel right on Copacabana beach, the iconic 4 km beach linking the busy city of Rio to the other famous beach, Ipanema. If we were only going to be here for 4 days then we decided that we were going to do all of the typically touristy things that you’d expect in a location such as this!

Our hotel in Rio wasn’t great. It was dated and was in need of a good repaint (and preferably a renovation since it looked like it hadn’t been touched since the 80’s), but it was no cheap digs – it commanded a reasonably high price due to it’s location in the centre, overlooking Copacabana beach.

And we didn’t have time to waste. We really wanted to make the most of our time as it seemed unlikely that we would be returning. On the night we arrived, after dropping our bags in our hotel room we went out to a local pizzeria. We had arrived late and didn’t have time to be walking around looking for food places so we asked for a recommendation from one of the hotels receptionists and walked the few blocks there. Even though it was around 8:30 pm it was still very warm outside, around 26 degrees which we both enjoyed immensely after having a long and particularly depressing stint in the UK battling intermittent rain, grey skies and the relentlessness of an unpredictable and contentious Brexit.

Just to feel the warm air on my skin (and so far no scurrying cockroaches were to be seen), was a pleasure indeed. The Pizzeria was full and though we had brought our language translator with us we had left it back at the hotel so we figured we would have to try and communicate in broken Spanish or Spanglish as it might be called. It turned out that the Portuguese language was actually very similar to Spanish and most people were able to speak and understand both, but despite it’s reputation as a tourist mecca, in comparison to many other places I had frequented, most of the people we had encountered were Brazilian or from neighboring Spanish speaking countries. Oh and of course there were Americans, but nobody from further afield really. Since Josh’s skin hadn’t yet had the opportunity to acclimatize to the country we were in, he was still very much a “gringo” in their eyes, and thus people immediately either tried to speak to us in Spanish or English as they knew that we weren’t from there.

The pizzeria wasn’t like your normal pizzeria, instead of ordering what you wanted from a menu like you do in most restaurants, the waiters brought a a variety of different slices of pizza around and you simply took what you wanted. Of course you could also order from the menu but it seemed like most of the people just chose from whatever was brought around. I found it slightly odd but it seemed that was the norm here. The pizza’s were huge and neither myself nor Josh could finish ours as unlike pizza’s back in the UK they were very generous with their pepperoni slices. The pizza was nothing to get excited about but it hit the spot and it allowed us to go back and get an early night after the 11 hour flight from the UK: We were bushed!

There were lots of things to do in Rio but rather then get overwhelmed we had made a list of our must-see’s whilst we were in the city and we planned to tick them off one by one. We’re not really big on “tourist traps” which is probably the reason why we avoid places that have lots of them but we also knew that some places really did live up to the hype and Copacabana beach was one of them.

Rio was a lot like the US in a lot of ways: it had the same grid system, people obsessed with fitness and looking good, a lively nightlife and it took it’s inspiration from American culture. But Copacabana beach had something that Miami did not: it had vibrancy.

From the sellers pushing their carts full of fresh fruit, ice cubes, coconut water and pashmina’s and shouting out to people as they went by, to the children building sandcastles and doing cartwheels in the surf, to the tanned and bronzed Brazilians letting you know that they are always very much #beachbodyready, to the group of laughing friends lounging underneath their colourful umbrella’s drinking an ice cold beer or a Caipirinha, to the fancy footwork from the Ronaldo and Pele footballer wannabe’s, to the beat of the samba drum from the musicians on the beach, this wasn’t a place for quiet contemplation or boredom: it was place of colour, passion, creativity and sound.

Always #beachbodyready

And the people were just as colourful as their state of dress. People of all skin tones, shapes, hair textures and ethnicities, all were represented here and thus I felt immediately at ease. Nobody was looking at me. Why would they? – I was just like everyone else, and since the Brazilians are descendants of the Portuguese Josh was too (or would be once his tan started to take effect!). Of course the people were as beautiful as everyone said that they were, but I also found them to be very natural, I loved seeing my skinfolk looking so at ease with their skin with their natural hair, and their curves wearing it as they could with pride. They looked resplendent in the sunshine.

And of course you cannot come to Brazil without having a Caipirinha, so I had decided that for the rest of my time in Brazil I was going to try and have at least one Caipirinha a day #acaipirinhaaday. My first Caipirinha I had whilst I was sitting outside a beach bar overlooking Copacabana beach people watching and it was particularly delicious because unlike in England where they are made using vodka, it came with a very generous amount of Cachaca, the traditional Brazilian distilled spirit. Tres bon!

A #caipririnhaaday

The beach was packed but thankfully it was a very long stretch of beach so you could always find somewhere to sunbathe in relative peace. I say relative because it was immensely noisy, there was always some commotion on the beach whether that be people blasting out music, parents shouting to their children, a gym session, lifeguards blowing their whistles to remind people that it was still very much a red flag beach and they shouldn’t go so far out, beach sellers selling everything from handmade trinkets, to ice cold drinks, hot food and of course drugs (on the low low), but even though the people here seemed happy and laid back there was still the very real danger of our belongings being nicked from right in front of us and with this many people occupying the beach it was easy to see how. Thankfully we hadn’t travelled far to get to the beach (our hotel was literally across the road), so we didn’t have too much with us, and we had intentionally bought our beach towels which had a secret compartment where you could store your phones and wallets etc. Judging by the information we had been given by our Brazilian friends and from the staff at our hotel, we should be vigilant at all times and not flash our valuables around. I wasn’t one for wearing lots of jewellery anyway but this did mean that we needed to be much more purposeful about what we walked around with and in particular where we went especially late at night.

The beach was wide and the sand was soft and powdery but the waves here were no joke. I soon realised that there was to be no striding sexily into the sea like a Brazilian supermodel, infact the current was so powerful that when I eventually did make it into the sea the force of the waves knocked me over straightaway which embarrassed me no end. It was hard to stand up, let alone play around in the sea like everyone else seemed to be able to do with ease as I felt the pull of the current dragging me down into it’s watery depths.

Fresh Coconut Anyone?

Despite the dire warnings about crime in the city, I felt pretty safe. When the locals did try to engage us in conversation (usually because they were selling something), a quick No Gracias usually sent them on their way. This would be unheard of on some Caribbean, African and European beaches. So I didn’t feel concerned at all, but then I guess we were still in a relatively “sanitized” part of Rio. What I did notice though was the presence of the law enforcement, aka Po Po. They were stationed on almost every corner everywhere from the airport to Copacabana beach, they would just be standing or sitting there inside their cars with their police lights flashing as if to warn any would be criminals of their presence. For a tourist to Brazil, who had probably heard every scare story going about the favela drug wars fuelled by poverty in the city, to see a hench looking Brazilian cop with his romper stompers looking like he had just returned from Afghanistan was a somewhat disconcerting sight, alas if that it was kept the crime to a minimum then that was all right by me. I had every intention of surviving this trip until the very end. And infact I’d love to return and say to all of those naysayers (including those who had expressed concern when we told them that we were planning on going to South America), that I travelled there for 6 months and didn’t have one bad experience. We’ll see!

The promenade that ran down the side of the beach and alongside the hotels was decorated with a distinctive black and white wavy pattern that I found out is called the Portugese wave. Despite it’s distinctive design however there was also a powerfully distinct smell of urine that accompanied it. It would seem as though the rough sleepers in the city (of which there looked like quite a few but less then there is in London these days in my opinion), used this area to err…relieve themselves, and the smell was very distasteful, particularly when you got a blast of wind come off the sea to carry it along and shoot up your nose. Nawsty.

After Bali I never thought that I would experience having to put my toilet (spoils) into the accompanying bin. And after doing that a couple of times and wondering why the toilet wasn’t flushing I had to acknowledge the inevitable: That shit won’t flush. Afterall Brazil was still a second world country, they didn’t have advanced plumbing like we have in the West.

That evening we went to Churrascaria Palace, a steakhouse with a Brazilian twist. There we dined on meats of all types brought to our table by friendly waiters. It was tasty but the waiters only brought round the meats, all the rest we had to get from the buffet table and as you know I am not a buffet fan.

The following day we had booked an excursion around Rio. For travellers like us, who thought it was nearly always best to discover a place on your own, get lost, and find your way again, this was definitely a departure from the norm, but we only had 3 full days to explore Rio and we wanted to see as much of it as we could. So, starting at 08:50 am we had booked a 8 hour long excursion which would take in the sights of the city and see some of the most important and iconic Rio landmarks, including the famous statue of Christ for the Redeemer, which for a proud atheist such as me is quite an irony but one doesn’t have to respect the doctrine to respect the craftsmanship. Infact it seemed to be incumbent upon me to acknowledge the fact that human beings are capable of the greatest (and the worst) things, and with inspiration are capable of doing anything they put their minds, hearts and hands to. This includes creating a 98 ft high concrete and soapstone sculpture weighing 325 metric tonnes up the 2,300 ft mountain in Tijuca Forest.

The tour would also take us to the Rio’s largest football stadium, to the place where the samba parade started, to the “colourful steps” and Sugar Loaf mountain, aswell as lunch at a local restaurant. Had I of designed the tour myself there were probably only 2 things I would have included that were missed out and that would be watching some Capoeira and a tour to see some of the cities graffiti. Infact I would have missed off visiting the Cathedral (it was soon becoming depressingly clear that these Brazilians took their “faith” very seriously), and chosen to go and watch some Capoeira and see some graffiti art instead, afterall that is far more creative and distinctive to Brazil then another obscenely priced building built with the sweat of others to further tiresome religious ends.

We started off with a coach that took us through some of the most vibrant and creative city sights I had ever seen. Forget Rome, this was the real deal: a culmination of the efforts of the residents, who with their powerful art told the story of their pleasures and pain. It was colourful, it was beautiful, it was raw. And the faces staring back at me painted on the walls looked a lot like mine but they started back at me with expressions of the struggle and the fight to be seen. I never realised such emotion could come through via pictures painted onto a decaying walls but it was. And this art was everywhere. I honestly could have spent the entire day just travelling through the city looking at the various graffiti alas we had places to go and things to see.

I didn’t realise that so much time would be spent travelling between the tour stops but as I came to find out Rio was a huge city, it would be impossible to see all of it in such a short period of time. Our first stop was at Maracana football stadium, the largest football stadium in Rio. We didn’t actually go inside (for that you needed a ticket and since Brazilians were football mad that meant the queue to get in was very long). For me personally, going to a football stadium didn’t hold much appeal and I didn’t feel particularly inspired by what I saw but my little brother is football mad so I knew that he would be impressed just knowing that I had had the opportunity to be in such a place so I took this picture for him:

Maracana Football Stadium

Afterwards we drove onto Sambodromo, another stadium but this time something more to my tastes: The Samba Stadium! Yes, this was the place where the world famous Rio Carnival started and in true Rio style, they made a big deal of their carnival, dedicating a whole stadium to the event. From here you could watch the carnival dancers in their colourful regalia as they done everything in their talented power to impress the judges. Because Rio Carnival unlike carnivals elsewhere in the world, was a competition. It was a competition of dance, music, song and most importantly, dress. I have always been impressed by the sensuality, grace and strength of samba dance and of course the women when wearing their get up were so beautiful nobody could match them. It’s why the Brazilian woman is revered worldwide as being the most desirable. As mixed as you could get, they were an effortless combination of Portuguese, African, Native Indian and in many cases Japanese as Brazil I found out actually had the largest concentration of Japanese people outside of Japan. Intriguing!

Outside of Carnival time, the date of which changed every year, at the Sambodromo you could learn more about this fascinating Brazilian tradition, aswell as buy some memorabilia including discounted carnival outfits, music, speak and take pictures with an actual Samba dancer (who had legs like a stallion), and of course get yourself a Caiprinha for the road 😉

Carnival time at the Sambodromo 

Next we stopped by a Cathedral which for the most part was interesting with beautiful stained glass windows but of course the fact that it was a Catholic Church to me was only indication of religions insidious pyramid scheme in this region, brought over by the colonising Portuguese who had been heavily influenced by Rome. It was that way all over the world, how telling that the religion of the day was spread by conquest only for people to adopt it truly convinced that they had found the true path to heaven.

Escadaria Selaron

I’d actually never heard of this place before but I did remember seeing it in many music videos not realising that it was filmed here in Brazil. Escadaria Selaron was the colourful tiled steps of the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Santa Teresa, considered one of the arty neighborhood’s in Rio, not only had the beautiful multi-coloured tiled steps but also lots of amazing graffiti art. The stairs were absolutely crammed full of people, mostly tourists, baying to take pictures for their Instagram, and as I was being a shameful tourist myself, I took one for mine too 🙂

The beautiful tiles in the Santa Teresa neighbourhood

Amazing graffiti art near the Sscadaria Selaron

Rio I was finding, was a place of contradictions.  Obsessed with social standing, beauty and health, they had also refused to sanitise their more edgy side, their struggles, the crime and their past which was still visible in living painted glory of the city walls. It was also very green here. Much more so then I’d expected. Part of the reason why I forgo large cities is because they often ignores the nuance in favour of a dramatised version of what the country and people are about. Here I felt that it was very authentic, and rather then just a concrete jungle it still had a lot of the kind of nature that in my eyes is what Brazil is really all about. The hills, the trees, the lakes, the plants, the mountains..somehow nature managed to co-exist amongst what was still quite Americanised in it’s approach to city building. It reminded me a lot of both New York and Miami, but was far more interesting and authentic to me then both of them: Take heed Americano’s.

Sitting on the steps

After the colourful steps we went onto see Christ the Reedemer at Corcovado, the sight that everyone immediately thinks of when you talk of Rio. After a long coach ride and a lengthy climb to the top of the mountain in the intense heat we finally reached the statue of Jesus. Of course the surrounding area was packed full of tourists there to take pictures and some where even there to pray (but not many). This was definitely a tourist attraction and one worth ticking off our Rio bucket list. We gazed upon Christ in all of his stony glory in front of us with his arms outstretched over Rio as if blessing it with his presence, but I knew the reality was that he was designed, engineered, sculpted and transported for the purpose of impressing the world with his significance, so all I could do was marvel at the determination and skill of the human beings who created him.

Redeemed

These Brazilians do love a buffet. That much was becoming clear after our buffet like pizzeria experience the night we arrived, the Churrascia last night and the local restaurants most of whom did one buffet offering or another. So naturally it was to another buffet that our very nice and extremely fluent tour guide took us to. I was reluctantly coming to the realisation that not only did they love a buffet, not only did they love beef in all of it’s many forms, but they also didn’t really eat all that much. Their portions were pretty small by England standards which was surprising since I thought they liked to be like Americans and we all know that Americans have huge portions!

The food at this buffet was okay, but nothing special. They had things like salads, french fries (which they seemed to love), vegetables, rice, pasta (another favourite) and beef which you could have cut especially for you at the grill. My friend Sasha who herself was Brazilian had actually warned me of their aversion to spices and I had found that hard to believe because of the diversity of the people who lived here, but it was true: Brazilians didn’t do spice, not even pepper! I had imagined that their food would be extremely flavoursome with lots of fruits, vegetables and spices but it was not to be. They were perfectly content with rice, beans, french fries and beef seasoned simply with just salt. And preferably buffet style. In short: Their food was bland.

The realisation that Brazil with all of it’s creativity and diversity, a region that surely must grow it’s own amazing fruits and veg and is surrounded by all of the other Spanish speaking countries including Peru which is supposed to have some of the best cuisine in the world (yet to be confirmed by me), then how on earth could it not have delicious food in abundance?

I simply could not go on eating beef everyday. I would find it far too boring and I like to enjoy my food thank you very much.

Sugar Loaf Mountain

Sugar Loaf Mountain was the world heritage site in Brazil shaped like a loaf – a peak jutting out of the Atlantic Ocean. To get to the top of it we had to take 2 cable cars which was pretty scary for alot of people in this region but not for Josh and I who were used to taking cable cars to get to the top of the ski runs.

The panoramic sights of the city, ocean, mountains and beaches below was a sight to below. Seeing the sprawling city from here, with the setting sun casting glimmering down on the white boats in the harbour below, an atmospheric mist floating magically by, houses perched on the top of clifftops, soaring birds spreading their wings, the sound of silence, was truly one of the most breathtakingly beautiful sights that I’ve ever seen. I don’t know where it felt like but it certainly didn’t feel like Rio, it was far too beautiful for that. Or was it? Perhaps this was the contrast that made Rio such a unique and positively alluring place.

The loaf made of sugar 

Josh and I on top of the world!

The Girl From Ipanema

Well of course I went to Ipanema Beach, how could I not?

Just the thought of being able to take a picture on this iconic beach was enough to make a special trip to visit. We spent the whole day there drinking Caipririnha’s and people watching. People watching on Ipanema beach was even better then in Copacabana beach which seemed alot more casual. Here people were here to impress, and being beach body ready as they were, impressing wasn’t too hard to do. We had a great day.

Another #caipirinhaaday 🙂

On our last evening in Rio we went to a local underground Bossa Nova club called Beco Das Garrafas for an event in their Little Club. Being a Bossa Nova fan as I am I was delighted to find out that here in Rio we could listen to live Bossa Nova and Jazz for the price of a glass of Prosecco. Now that’s my idea of a night out! In this small, dark club we would find a Bossa Nova band (with an amazing blind piano player) playing nearly all of the songs that I had recently discovered on a Youtube Bossa Nova playlist. They played really well and the singing was great too. I was in seventh heaven.

Rio, I underestimated you. I thought you were just about glamorous people with plastic surgery walking about trying to pretend to be American. I didn’t realise that you were this vibrant, colourful, characterful, friendly, warm, laid back. I didn’t know you had one of the most beautiful birds eye views of a city I’d ever seen, nor that your Capririnha’s tasted like THAT. I didn’t know that you were so artistic, your music so catchy. I didn’t know too, that you rained (sometimes), that your city was so huge, that you had such a problem with petty crime so as to make it the norm, and I really didn’t know that your food was so bland. But that’s okay, 4 out of 5 is okay. Especially for a city. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime?

Next stop: Florianopolis, Brazil!