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Brazil - It's Big

BRAZIL | Tuesday, 8 November 2011 | Views [2141] | Comments [1]

Sunset at Ipanema Beach at Rio, watching a surf contest

Sunset at Ipanema Beach at Rio, watching a surf contest

After a longer than planned stay at Puerto Iguazu waiting for our Brazilian visas, we crossed into Brazil. All of a sudden, our hard earned Spanish was next to useless, as the language turned to Portuguese (I bitched about this until I realised that given the population of Brazil, Portuguese may be the dominant language in Latin America, or at least South America), Iguazu became Iguaçu, and the national dress code became 6 inch high-heels, dresses and a load of makeup (for the women). We had a couple of hours to visit the falls from the Brazilian side: this side offered a more panoramic view of the falls, although it wasn’t as spectacular as at the Argentinian side, just due to the proximity of the falls. Still, incredible is incredible.

That evening, we caught a night bus to Sao Paulo, known to the locals as Sampa. Sao Paulo is huge. With 19 million people, it almost has the population of Australia in the space of a single city. It’s the economic powerhouse of South America (and probably the only place in South America where there is a real powerful work ethic as part of the culture), the biggest city in the southern hemisphere and seventh largest city in the world. Interestingly, there aren’t any huge skyscrapers in the city, but hundreds of thousands of mini-skyscrapers, topping in at around 20 stories, sprawling across the city as high density suburbs. It has the biggest Japanese population outside of Japan, a huge Italian and Arabic population, and a real immigration culture, complete with the benefits this brings of delicious food.

We checked into our hostel (the excellent LimeTime Hostel, run by the equally excellent Bebeto) got some food at one of many tasty ‘by the kilogram’ restaurants, spent the afternoon working out our plan of attack, and tried some of the pizza Lonely Planet claimed was better than Naples (it was good, but I’m going to back the Italians in on this one). The next day we headed out, Bron bought a sexy new Brazilian bikini, and then we headed to the Municipal Market.

South America has a lot of good points, but variety of food just isn’t one of them. This possibly made the Municipal Market seem such a tasty godsend. Forgive the dramatics, but we were almost having to wipe back tears of joy as we meandered through alleyways devoted to pork, scores of suckling pigs hanging from the roof, hams and racks of ribs as long as my arm; choked back gasps as we passed the delis, resplendent with French cheeses and wines, salamis of all manner and pools of marinated olives, artichokes and feta; goggled at the fresh looking salmon and cod at one of six fishmongers and soaked up the colours, shapes and aromas of all the (surprisingly expensive) tropical fruit stands. For lunch, we grabbed a mortadella sandwich about the size of your head, with 2 inches of delicious ham, mixed with sundried tomatoes and cheese. Our risk of coronary disease may have sky-rocketed, but we regretted nothing.  

Sao Paulo's Municipal Market. A foodies dream place.

That evening, we headed out with Bebeto and a few others from the hostel to taste Sampa’s nightlife. A word on Bebeto. Bebeto has adopted Sampa as his own, and is super proud of his city. He moonlights as a DJ, and after meeting a bunch of Australians in the hostel, and getting along well with them decided to visit Australia. Long story short (you can find the long story here: http://garfolino.tumblr.com/post/4431086691/deported), he’d arranged to DJ for a friends party in Australia, and customs got wind of it. So as he entered Australia, he got questioned by customs, and they contacted his friend he was DJing for and asked if he was getting paid at all; turns out they were going to pay him $50, which earned him a night in a detention centre before being deported back home. To this day, he’s still got a white jacket with the Australian coat-of-arms on it, as well as ‘Deported from Australia’ in big letters on the back. He’s also got a Cut/Copy (see below) shirt he bought from the Brazilian version of Target before he’d ever heard of the band. Nowadays, his main work in the guesthouse involves showing guests how to have fun in Sampa (i.e. clubbing 7 nights a week, where he appears to know everybody in the city), administrative  work in the hostel, and maintaining an incredible afro. I digress.

The owner of our hostel, Bebeto got deported from Australia (for stupid, pathetic reasons!) - but got a souvenir

We started off at the Puma Social Club, a temporary bar set up by Puma, the sportswear brand. We had a couple of beers, and stopped for some pizza. The pizza joint had all the normal suspects, but also included some tasty chocolate and m&m options. Surprisingly edible! The second bar was Vegas, which was part of the Smirnoff nightlife exchange project, the idea being to create an experience of a bar from a different part of the world. In hindsight, this may not have been the most effective way to sample Sao Paulo’s nightlife, but it was fun anyway. Good night out.

The next day was the birthday of Jason, an old workmate of mine. By chance, Australian band Cut/Copy were playing in Sao Paulo, so we were all heading out there. Jase used to work at LimeTime when he first arrived in the city, so we all met up there (after Bron and I gorged on an incredible lunch of All-You-Can-Eat Japanese), and then Jase’s lovely girlfriend Roberta drove the four of us to the stadium, where we met a bunch more of Jason and Bebeto’s mates. Cut/Copy put on an amazing show, really cool. After months of Reggaeton and Andean folklorica (panpipe) music, this was a nice change of scene. The show finished up around 1-ish, and it was time to hit the clubs.

At the first club (the Fun House), Bebeto arranged a free birthday drink for Jase. We’d already had a bunch of Smirnoff Ice’s at the concert, and then Jase got hit with a cocktail made of big shots of rum, tequila and absinthe. This progressed his night along somewhat. The rest of the night was spent drinking and dancing at an indy bar (ooh I just remembered it was called the Lab). Around 5am, we decided it was time for some dinner, and we went to a huge 24 hour bakery which was packed with revellers from the night, as well as the odd business man in a suit making an early start. Bron and I shared a giant sandwich, so good. So unhealthy.

Jase's birthday drink of tequila, golden rum and absinthe was a turning point...

The next day, we were off to Rio de Janeiro. We ended up arriving around 9 or 10 in the evening, and then once we arrived at our hostel in Ipanema, we realised that we’d left our passports with the bus driver when we’d checked on. This was a bad thing. The hostel called the bus company for us, but it took a day of chasing (and the hostel staff were amazing with this: they kept calling the company throughout the next day without us following them up) until they turned up, in the bus maintenance depot, late in the afternoon. That evening, we got a taxi out to the depot, which predictably wasn’t located in the nicest part of town. Initially, the driver wanted to drop us off at a bridge so we could walk to the depot, where there was a big favela (Favela’s are Brazil’s versions of project houses: dangerous slums, run by drug dealers, with lots of violent crime). A cop car was parked there, and both the offices had automatic weapons sitting on their laps, just in case they needed them. It took a while to explain to the driver that we’d really prefer to be dropped off at the depot, if it was all the same, and ideally have him wait to take us back to Ipanema, rather than walk through this neighbourhood, being all whitish and robbable. Eventually we found the depot, and got our passports back, a massive relief.

The rest of Rio was spent as time at Rio should be spent. The beaches are lovely there (I still rate Western Australia as having the world’s best though!), with a real energy, although the water was really cold. There is no shortage of beautiful women wearing next to nothing for the guys, or athletic guys wearing not much either for the girls, vendors selling beer, chips, cocktails and chairs, Brazilian’s proving their skills at soccer or volleyball, surfers and sun. Basically, the Rio beaches do everything they claim on the packet. And after three or four months in the Andes, it was just what the doctor ordered. Sitting on Ipanema Beach, eating a picnic dinner and drinking beer, watching a gorgeous sunset backdrop behind a 6 Star Surf Competition isn’t something I’m likely to forget in a hurry.

We did most of the other sights that one needs to do in Rio: Christ the Redeemer, the Madness (a whole bunch of steps covered in tiles from around the world), the rain forests; and they were all great, but this place is about its beaches.

From Rio, we returned to Sampa for the night before getting an onward bus to Buenos Aires. We caught up with Jason and Bebeto, and headed to the Outback Steakhouse, an Australian themed restaurant, in the manner of so many other themed steakhouses. The menu was worth a laugh, containing gems such as Adelaide Chicken, Bloomin’ Onion and the like. We also learnt that porterhouse steak was a typical Melbourne dish, and that cheese fries (chips with cheese, bacon and ranch dressing – anyone who ever visited a Lonestar Steakhouse will know what I’m talking about) is a traditional Australian dish. ¿Que? Take nothing away from them though, they could cook some good ribs.

Brazil was fun. It really is a massive place. To give you an idea of how big Brazil is, they have a soccer club with 35,000,000 fans in Brazil: one and a half times more people call themselves a fan of Corinthians Football Club in Brazil than people call Australia home. It was also expensive: we spent more per day in Brazil than we did in New York City, mostly thanks to expensive buses and gorging on food in Sao Paulo. But I’m not going to bitch about the cost, because it was worth every penny, and we’re definitely coming back in the future. After-all, we’ve only just put the tiniest scratch into the surface of one of the biggest countries in the world.




We really liked your post and decided to feature it on the WorldNomads Adventures homepage so that other travellers can enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!

  Kate Hoffman Nov 21, 2011 9:20 AM

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