In February of 2012 we took 10 days in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio is a vibrant and vivacious city proliferating up between mountains and sea. The second largest city in Brazil, Rio is undoubtedly metropolitan but manages not to take its self too seriously. There is a distinct holiday feel to things. Between the world-renowned beaches, cultural events like Carnival, a burgeoning music scene, and the famous Corcovado and Sugarloaf mountains- there is a lot to celebrate in the marvelous city. We stayed in an apartment on Copacabana Beach that we found to be very conveniently located and within easy walking distance of a wide spectrum of bars, shops, and restaurants.
The beach culture in Rio is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Honestly we were blown away by the beaches. It wasn’t the water that got us. Truth be told we barely set foot in Guanabara Bay (Rio is of course set on Brazil’s Atlantic Coast but nestled in an inlet) because the water is polluted and probably somewhat unsafe. The people we saw actually swimming in the sea promptly rinsed themselves off upon exiting in one of the outside showers on the beach. It wasn’t the sand that blew us away either; it’s nice but not the powdery fine silica that you’d want to bury yourself in. It was the beaches as an epicenter for activity, each with its own unique personality, which blew us away. Frame them with lush mountains and the iconic Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) overseeing all the action and you have one spectacular and unique locale.
To us, Rio felt fun and glamorous and exotic. Just foreign enough to get our adrenaline pumping but with all the modern conveniences we might want- like wi-fi and ATM machines. Going to the beach for the day in Rio was so different than going to the beach for the day here in New Jersey. No schlepping down chairs and coolers. For a few dollars you can rent a pair of nice chairs, an umbrella and a small table for the day. Anything you could imagine wanting comes to you: food, drinks, toys, clothes, souvenirs, magazines, lotions. It was surreal; a never ending parade of delights marching down the sand.
Adding to the Rio beach experience is the emblematic tiny swimwear sported by everyone- and I do mean everyone. String bikinis seem to be the only style anyone wears in Rio. From little kids to great grandmothers and everyone in between, it doesn’t matter what body type you are or even if you’re very very pregnant- you wear the dental floss two-piece. Phil took countless creepier shots of sun-bathing beauties tanning their cheeks.
The food in general was good, not great. Stand outs were the pasteis (pastries filled with meats and cheeses), the crusty coxinhas (shredded meat in a thick fried corn crust), and acai. Mmm, acai! We ate this super food twice a day, served frozen, blended and sweetened to dessert levels. I also had my share of Globos while lounging on the beach; think of these as cheese puffs without as much flavor (but no artificially orange fingers either). They’re made from mandioc, a starchy tuber like a potato or yucca. Along the beach we noticed a new trend that was gaining popularity. Intrigued, we gave it a try…pizza in a cone. This is a novel idea but in application it doesn’t work well. It’s not just difficult to eat molten hot cheese and tomato sauce from a cone shell of crusted dough- it’s downright painful and dangerous. That said, it’s probably the most contemporary and fashionable way to destroy your taste buds and burn the interior of your esophagus.
We visited the week before Carnival and the excitement was palpable as the city geared up for the massive festival. We love a good festival and I hope one day we have the opportunity to return for a Carnival or a New Year’s Celebration. I also like that Brazilians are accepting of gays and that Rio is a leading LGBT destination (there are plenty of places in South America that are not accepting and that’s a shame).
So the question remains: could we live in Rio de Janeiro? It’s not my first choice but I wouldn’t discount it. Rio is a top vacation destination in my book but it’s probably too large and populated for me to be completely happy living there. More research is needed. I’d presumably have a really hard time learning Portuguese and I’d perhaps never get completely comfortable wearing a Brazilian bikini. Phil could probably settle in just fine though.