Mobile Vendors on Rio Beaches

Copacabana Beach

Copacabana Beach

The beaches of Rio are some of the nicest you’ll see anywhere. The hills that surround the beaches give the place an exotic look and when there’s nobody around, I felt like I was on another planet, Mars maybe or Pluto perhaps. As beautiful as the beaches are and some of the people who frequent them, there is something about the experience that is not so pleasant.  And it wasn’t the usual suspects – powerful and ferocious waves that attack and swallow innocent waders or the cigarettes butts littered about the sand that many use like an ashtray.  And for the record, Brazilians don’t smoke nearly as much as the tourists do. No. What annoyed me were the vendors. Yes, mobile vendors on the beach selling everything imaginable: single cigarettes, beer, caipirinhas, water, soda, juice, sandwiches, pao de queijo, shrimp, kibe, ice-cream, candy, coconut, watermelon, caps, soccer jerseys, flags, jewelry, dresses, bikinis, beach towels (cangas), beach chairs (for rent), purses, whistles, trinkets, toys, flags, kites, sunscreen, tanning oil, sunglasses, license plates, and arts and crafts. Every two minutes or so, a vendor would approach and not leave until I said no or shook my head firmly. The first few days, I would politely say “no, abrigado”, or smile and shake my head respectfully. But on the third day, all the activity started to bother me as if the vendors express purpose was to disturb my peace. One of the problems I suspect was that I looked foreign enough to have excess money to spend and thus became a favorite target. What they didn’t know is that I had no intention of buying anything. I brought my own beer, towel, sunscreen, sunglasses, and food. I didn’t need or want a mini-statue of Christ Redentor. I don’t like shrimp and am not fond of gritty watermelon. Now for my last few days on the beach, I did rent a chair and it was a pretty good deal – about $2.50 for the whole day. And I did buy a caipirinha too (a limeade-like drink made with a Brazilian sugarcane based liquor) which cost about the same, and that’s it. But a thought occurred to me and I think it would have made for a good documentary: what if I bought one of everything that came my way? I think it would be fun haggling a little with the vendors and having a conversation. They certainly appear friendly enough and obviously hard-working, hauling their wares on their backs and shoulders plowing through the sand with bare feet going up and down the beach all day. It was clearly not easy labor and I suspect that most work for some sort of syndicate and have a quota to meet each day. I would like to hear their stories to understand the Brazilian economy and culture a little better. I had heard that many of the vendors are among the poorest of the population and live up on the hills behind the beaches in the favelas. It would be an interesting project for a sociologist, or a linguist, but given that I was on vacation and not doing research, such an endeavor was not for me. I just wanted to be left alone to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of one of the world’s most beloved and magnificent beach areas.

If you don’t want to be bothered by the vendors, it’s best to stretch out on your towel, canga or chair and close your eyes as if asleep.  Or you could simply ignore them by looking down when they approach, but they will stop if they think you can see them.  The other strategy is to go down to the water and swim, wade or walk the beach.  Vendors don’t vend near the wet sand.

The vendors are a part of the Rio fabric and can’t be avoided as most of the famous beach areas – Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon – are public.  If you want a vacation with a beach all to yourself, Rio is not your place.  And anyway, if all you want is a beach vacation, you’d be better off in Florida.

 

Forte Do Leme – What a View!

Brazilian Flag

If you ever find yourself in Rio (actually it’s a big enough place where you could lose yourself quite easily) not that I expect anyone to randomly go, but anyone who might be thinking about going to the 2016 Summer Olympics, plan to do this:

Walk to the end of Copacabana Beech toward Leme.  Veer off to the left.  Go to the kiosk.  Buy a ticket to Sitio Historico do Forte Duque de Caxias for R$4 or about $1.80 U.S. and head up the hill. You have to enter a military base to access it, so don’t be alarmed to see an armed guard staring at you as you pass through. Just smile.

Rio is known for its hills called morros.  Leme is one of the larger beach side hills and is the site of an 18th century Fort built to protect the city.  It is the third largest hill in Rio next to Sugarloaf and Corcovado where Christ the Redeemer welcomes with outstretched arms.  Morro do Leme has a nice stone paved twisting trail that you can take to the top to visit the Fort and get a magnificent view of Rio.  As you enter the trail, look straight up at the rock face and you’ll find cactus growing. It reminded me of a Dali painting.  Wear your walking shoes because it’s a bit of hike, but a pleasant one, as if going through a rain forest, with an abundance of fauna and flora, colorful birds and tiny squirrel-like monkeys called micos. And what a glorious view!

The walk from the middle of Copacabana Beach to the top of the Hill and back is about 9 miles, 17,000 steps according to my pedometer, and is well worth your time and effort; highly recommended!