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.

 

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The High Down on Rio

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Ipanema Beach

When one thinks of Rio, the first thing that might come to mind is the iconic and welcoming art deco statue of Christ the Redeemer a top Corcovado mountain. Or maybe you think of beautiful stretches of exotic beaches on the open Atlantic.  If you had asked me what I knew of Rio before I came, I would have said beaches, the Christ statue and music.  Now that I am here I realize that Rio has much more to offer and in my view, and view is key here, it can’t be fully appreciated until you visit.  But….

 

Samba Night at Club Bip Bip

Samba night at Club Bip Bip

Brazilian music is not just any music.  It is THE music in my book.  Bossa nova, samba, chorinho and all those great musicians from Luiz Gonzaga, Chico Buarque and Jobim to Elise Regina,Gail Costa, and Gilberto Gil and the list could go on.  Even turning on the radio and listening to Brazilian pop music is a pleasure.  It sounds uniquely Brasilian and catchy and NOTHING like that  sanitized auto-tuned corporate crap you hear on most commercial stations in the States. And then there is live music.  If I did nothing here but go to the beach in the day and catch live music at night, I’d be happy. We have already checked out Samba night at a tiny storefront club called Bip Bip that opens up to a sidewalk on a obscure street in Copacabana where the locals sit around a table (Roda de Samba) and jam as patrons take beers from the refrigerator inside the club, pay the owner who is seated at a small table outside the club, and then gather peacefully on the sidewalk, to watch/listen, dance (a little) in place and sing along if the words are known, as they are to all the Brazilians in the crowd.  The scene is all protocol driven. The owner does not like the musicians to be disrespected in any way.  At the gathering on the night I attended in which German tourists and younger hip-type Brazilians represented the majority, the owner (Fernandinho) stopped the music and lectured us in a hoarse, barely audible voice in Portuguese explaining that the club existed solely to preserve and maintain Brasil’s rich musical culture and that it was not a place to socialize or party- which meant no talking, laughing or clapping after the music either, but we were allowed to snap our fingers to show appreciation.  It wasn’t clear whether we were allowed to take photos, but I did and even took a little video too as did my daughter.

Fernandinho gave us a suspicious look and I was afraid he was going to stop the musicians and call us out and say “no music for you” and banish us from the club, so we bought some beers to appease him.  Wednesday is bossa nova night and we plan to go back.

But the point I am trying to make is that Rio is MORE than music, beaches and a stylish Christ.  Rio is a place of hills, rocks and mountains that give it that characteristic exotic and ancient look as if it were located on Pluto or someplace. Now the terms hills (morros), mountains and rocks are used interchangeably in descriptions of Rio de Janeiro. Around the beach areas, the smaller ones are called morros in Portuguese, as far as I can tell.  The larger, more touristy rocks would qualify as mountains in my book,  although geologist may beg to differ.  Sometimes the rocks, hills, mounds, morros or whatever they are are just referred to by their names, for example – Corcovado (where Christ welcomes), and Sugarloaf (Pao de Azucar) the one that has a face and a bunch of cable cars running to the top.

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Sugarloaf

You see, to REALLY see Rio, you have to get high (and quite a number of people are already that judging by the pungent odor on nearly ever street corner) and most of the larger “mountains” offer a supreme view.  Unfortunately, my acrophobia prevents me from summiting them all, but I did climb to the top of Morro de Leme (a smaller but formidable hill) and managed to make it up the third highest rock (from the sun) called Pedra Bonita inside Tijuca National Park.  I hiked the trail to the summit with my oldest daughter.  The hike is just that – a hike –  and unlike what the tourist guides say, it is not an easy, leisurely stroll.

The Trail

The Trail (not as easy as it looks, trust me)

If you look it up on Trip Adviser, folks say the thing is an easy trail for the family.  But don’t believe what you read.  The reviewers must be fitness freaks and triathletes, who think all people run 5ks before breakfast everyday.  I do not.  I don’t run at all and on most days of my somewhat sedentary life, I’ll manage 5,000 steps if I’m lucky.  I am by no means a slouch and am reasonably fit and can on a good day walk 10 miles, as I have done repeatedly on this trip.  Believe me, this trail is not for beginners.  It was rocky, steep, and slippery, with nothing to hold onto except some sketch vines, bamboo poles and a few thick low hanging tree branches that lovers had initialized.  The red clay surface was wet and muddy in spots and treacherous roots presented extreme obstacles to footing, something I lost several times.  And if the grueling trail alone wasn’t troublesome enough, and it was, there were mosquitoes darting about that bit with bloody abandon and perhaps injected us with a little dengue fever.  I may be exaggerating with the dengue fever, but who knows and it does sound dramatic.  Fortunately, I was not eaten alive thanks to my B vitamin regimen – mosquitoes don’t much like B6 and find B12 repulsive, I’m told anyway.  I suffered only 4 minor bites, but my wife, daughter and our Brasilian friend and host were mercilessly attacked by the parasitic marauders.  I did miraculously make it to the top but not without a great deal of effort.  To keep me going, I fantasized that I was about to be one of the few to summit Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen. When we did finally summit, I got so dizzy and paralyzed by fear that I had to crawl around as dozens of people around us were already taking in the view, frolicking about, taking selfies left and right, some even getting right to the edge and pretending to jump or fall off the mountain. My daughter recorded my pitiful crawling performance but I won’t be sharing that, or any of the pictures of me precariously standing with a look of absolute dread on my face.  I did manage to snap some nice shots of the mountains and Rio far below.

From the summit of Pedra Bonita

From the summit of Pedra Bonita

Rio is a city of remarkable beauty but to really see it, you’ve got to get high.

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Brazil Can’t Possibly Lose, Can They?

Fifa

Futbol reigns supreme in Brazil. The national team known for its jogo bonito (beautiful game) has advanced to the semi-finals to play Germany, a team they last played and lost to in an international match in 2011.  They are 9-0-1 in their last 10 games and have won 42 straight home games since 1992.  Germany on the other hand has a record of 7-0-3 in their last 10 games and has the distinction of being the first country to reach 4 World Cup semi-finals in a row. But can they win? The last time they made it to the finals in 2002, they played Brazil and lost.  They last won the World Cup in 1990, defeating Argentina, a rematch that is theoretically possible.

Notwithstanding the history, the European, Latin American showdown should be close. Germany remains reasonably healthy, having lost only one player to injury, defender Shkodran Mustafi. Brazil on the other hand will be playing without two of its starting players, Neymar, who fractured a vertebra in the game against Colombia and Silva who was served a one game suspension in the same match. The fact that two of Brazil’s most important players are out may neutralize Brazil’s home field advantage in today’s match in Bello Horizonte, Brasil. May, but will it?

One cannot underestimate the power of the home country advantage and I certainly won’t. In the 19 previous World Cups played, the host country has won 6 times.  And that kind of advantage for a powerhouse may be very difficult for Germany to overcome. France was the last host country to win the World Cup back in 1998.

On a personal note, I have the good fortune to be in Rio and to have the option of watching the game where I am staying with family and friends or to go the beach just down the street and watch it with fans who worship soccer as if it were religion. Watching it on the beach would be nice, especially if Brazil wins, but I prefer the comfort of a couch and a big screen TV, as opposed to the sand and a jumbotron screen.  To be honest, being more of an introvert, I don’t much like crowds, especially ones where alcohol and fireworks are combined.  And I am a bit of a wimp too when it comes to celebratory cannon booms and displays of fireworks that have loud reports.  It all reminds me too much of war and suffering. Of course, soccer is a kind of war, and teams in this tournament have used violent physical contact as a weapon to weaken the opposing team, as Brazil knows all too well.  And like war, the losers will suffer.

My prediction:

Brazil 2 Germany 1

Out of the Frio and into Rio

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We’ve been in Rio de Janeiro now for three days and it’s beginning to feel like home and literally will be our home for the next 3 weeks, thanks to our dear and gracious friend who is letting us stay at her spacious apartment in Copacabana. After experiencing the fall like months of June and July in Chile and Uruguay, my body finally gets to experience the summer it expects in July, and ironically, July is one of the coolest months of the year in Rio de Janeiro, with average temperatures of around 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

If there is a heaven on earth, Rio might be the location – tropical breezes, world class beaches including Copacabana, close to where we are staying, and Ipanema, made famous in a song, that face the fierce Atlantic Ocean surrounded by majestic hills or morros as they are called in Portuguese. The view of the city and the beaches from atop the morros is simply breathtaking, with its main boulevard lined with white and pastel colored hotels and apartments and brown sandy beaches for as far as the eye can see.  The contrast between the white foam and brown beach at certain angles looks like a giant cup of coffee con leche or as the Brazilians say, cafezinho.

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In our first three days, we walked a considerable distance on the famous and clean beaches of Rio and through several neighborhoods in and around Copacabana with its unique and diverse architectural styles, and beautifully landscaped city parks, and walkways. We have encountered pavilions overflowing with music, soccer fans, and general merriment and felt the special spirit and pride of the place that defies description.

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