Being 20 Again: 12 Days Spent in Ouro Preto

Last night I got back to Rio after spending twelve incredible days in Ouro Preto.

I had originally planned to stay for five days, but was having such a great time that I ended up extending my stay. And I went by myself, which just goes to show that, while it’s always fun traveling with friends, you can sometimes have just as much fun (if not more) traveling alone.

A Bit About the City

For those who haven’t heard of it, Ouro Preto is a former colonial mining town located in the mountains, in the state of Minas Gerais.

It’s been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its beautiful baroque architecture. It looks and feels like a European town, with hilly cobblestone streets and red-roofed houses.

DSC_0587

DSC_0654

To add to the charm, the shop and restaurant signs throughout the city are all hand-crafted. Like this…

DSC_0641

In addition to being much smaller than Rio (eliminating the need for taxis much of the time), Ouro Preto also feels (and is) much safer than Rio. I would feel totally comfortable walking home alone at night, for instance, especially in the center of town.

Another thing that makes Ouro Preto unique is the fact that it’s the only city in Brazil with fraternities and sororities. Ouro Preto is home to a massive student population and most of those students live in shared houses, called républicas (aka fraternities or sororities).

The Frat Culture 

I stayed in two male républicas when I was in Ouro Preto (which I found thanks to couchsurfing!). I stayed in one called Républica Kome Keto for the first five days and then stayed in another called Républica Vaticano for the remaining six nights.

I had an especially awesome time at the second républica I stayed at (Républica Vaticano). The house was located in the center of the city and everyone in the fraternity was so welcoming and nice, making me feel right at home.

When I first asked them if I could stay six nights (which felt like a long time, and I didn’t want to overstay my welcome), they replied without hesitation: “Of course!! You can even move in here if you want!”

And even though some people had to share a room in the house (the youngest people of the house generally have to share a room), they were gentlemanly enough to give me my own room and everything.

Some of the républicas actually charge couchsurfers a fee to stay there, but Vaticano refused to accept my money. They treated me as if I were an actual guest and friend, not just some stranger occupying their living space. They also had their own personal chef, who came to cook delicious food each day – I’m already missing that food!

There are around 500 républicas in the city of Ouro Preto. Walking down the street, it feels like nearly every house is a républica.

Someone told me that in Ouro Preto, people even tend to give directions according to républica, rather than the street name.  Each républica generally has about 11 students living in the house; most are either all male or all female, but there are some mixed/coed houses as well.

As you can imagine, living in a républica is super cheap. One guy told me that he only paid R$ 200 a month to live there (granted, he didn’t live in the center and had to share a room with two other guys…but he said that the price would be the same when he was upgraded to a larger room later on).  He said you could rent a private room in the center of town for around R$ 400. Compare that to the average exorbitant price of around R$ 2,000 one pays to live in the center of Rio…

The houses each have their own names and people in the house are loyal to that house and one another, much like a fraternity/sorority.  Each person in the républica has an “apelido” or nickname.

Everyone calls one another by their nicknames–it’s almost as if the real names are a secret.

Each républica also has several “bixos” which are like the American version of pledges–they do all of the grunt work for about six months and only after that do they become officially part of the républica.

The Parties 

Loved the name of this Républica - Beijinho Doce (Sweet kiss)
Loved the name of this Républica – Beijinho Doce (Sweet kiss)

And of course…républicas also throw awesome parties nearly every day of the week (which rival any of the parties I attended in college). I learned the Portuguese phrase “virar a copa” (chug the cup), which I had never once heard during my nine months in Rio. Suffice it to say that the going-out/drinking culture in Rio is much more centered around sipping–rather than chugging–beers!

On Saturday, there was a churrasco (Brazilian BBQ) at the Vaticano and the neighboring républica (Républica Pureza), which was basically a 12-hour eating, drinking and mingling fest.

The parties (called “rocks” in Ouro Preto – pronounced “haw-ckeys”) are all thrown in some part of the républica houses.  The last one I went to (on a Sunday night) was quite massive, in the center of the city, held in a part outdoor, part indoor space, with about five different rooms. One room resembled a club with strobe lights, while another room had a beautiful view overlooking the city…and of course, alcoholic punch could be found throughout the house.

Another “rock” I went to with some guys from Républica Vaticano was held in an outdoor space in Centro (the center of the city). At the party, there were all different kinds of cachaça (cinnamon and peanut butter were my personal favorites), and there was a competition between the républicas to see who could drink the most shots of cachaça (Side note: Mineiros–people from Minas Girais–drink a LOT of cachaça!).  The prize for winning the contest? A “date” with the female républica that hosted the party. And guess what? My républica (Vaticano) won!

At the parties, nearly whenever someone takes a shot, people in the corresponding républica raise their glasses in unison and chant the “reza” (cheer) of their house (each républica has their own cheer). The cheer of the house I stayed in went something like this…”Quém tem amor tem saudade..” (Whoever has love has saudade) and…I forgot the rest haha.  I wish that I had recorded it–but here is the “reza” of another républica to give you an idea…

Oh and if you go to Ouro Preto (or any part of Minas Girais), you can expect to hear a lot of sertenajo music. This was one popular song that I heard almost everywhere I went…

Despite being the oldest person at these parties, I had a fantastic time. Being there made me want to go back in time and be a student again…but this time in Ouro Preto!

Image
One of the “rocks” that I attended with the boys

Even better, there are very few gringos/foreigners that study in OP. As far as I know, I was the only gringa at these parties, which means that I got to speak almost exclusively Portuguese the entire time…and of course met a lot of people who were very intrigued by my foreigner status and where I was from. 🙂

Speaking “Mineiro” 

Despite the fact that I sometimes felt a bit out of the loop and like I was repeatedly asking “what?”, all the guys were extremely patient with me and constantly filling me in on different “girias mineiras” (slang from Minas Gerais).

While in the US, the slang is fairly universal (as are the accents), in Brazil, the slang (and accent) varies with each region.

In case you’re curious, here are a few “girias” from Minas that I learned…

cabaço: bobo/stupid

fragar: sacar/to understand (very common)

passar fina: dar uma dica/give a tip

kamofa: mulher galinha/female player

uai (pronounced like “why”): basically can be added on to any sentence/used to express disbelief, admiration, impatience or to reinforce what someone just said (this is a classic mineiro word, used all the time by mineiros)

The Friendly People 

As a whole, mineiros are known nationwide for being incredibly friendly and warm. Go to any part of Brazil and everyone talks about how great mineiros are.

And they definitely lived up to their reputation! When walking down the street, random passerby would strike up a conversation with me.

People were very curious about where I was from and what I thought of Brazil. Even when just buying something from the pharmacy, for instance, the woman at the checkout counter, upon noticing my accent, curiously asked me where I was from.

And when buying something from the market the other day, the people who worked there struck up a conversation with me about where I was from, why I was there, and the differences between Brazil and the US…This type of thing happened quite frequently.

I was reading an article in the New York Times about a woman who was traveling around Minas and she said that, while driving somewhere in the middle of nowhere, she and a friend stumbled upon what seemed to be a “mirage in the dust.” She said,

Curious, we pulled up, wandered the out-of-place manicured lawn and found a gentleman farmer from the city examining his banana orchards. Rather than shoot us for trespassing, he invited us in for coffee and homemade guava paste. For me, that was a typical moment in Minas Gerais…”

I think that sums up the Mineiros (people from Minas Gerais) quite well…

Exploring a Nearby Village 

While there, I also met a nice couple who picked me up in their car one day and took me to a different part of Ouro Preto called Lavras Novas (where there are supposed to be some great waterfalls – a.k.a. the “beach” of Ouro Preto!).

Once there, we indulged in a few caipirinhas before going to grab dinner at a charming restaurant (which was actually someone’s house) in the town.

The large kitchen looked incredibly ancient (with one of those old stoves that I don’t think I had ever even seen before in real life)…and of course the food was delicious.

DSC_0624
The homey kitchen of the restaurant that I ate at in Lavras Novas, OP

The guy I was with helped out the owner (this adorable old lady) by making the caipirinhas himself. Only in Brazil…

DSC_0619
Lavras Novas–a part of Ouro Preto where there were actually cows and horses just wandering around the streets…NBD

The Verdict 

Ouro Preto reminded me of why I love Brazil so much: the happy, friendly and hospitable people; the jaw-dropping scenery; the laid-back culture…and of course the fun parties don’t hurt!

Even though I can’t turn back the clocks of time and go back to student life, I think at the very least, I know where I will be spending my next Carnaval…

15 Things That Surprised Me About Brazil

You can learn a lot about a country and its culture just by visiting. But you really learn about a place after living there.

After the honeymoon phase is over, you start to see both the good and the bad. You see what really lies beneath the surface, as opposed to just the fantasy sold in guidebooks and the like.

I definitely had my preconceptions about Brazil before moving here…but there were some things that surprised me in the end. Here are 15 of them.

1) People rarely ever text. They (almost exclusively) whatsapp.

Whatsapp is basically the only way that people communicate here via cell phones. Which is funny because in the US and France, Whatsapp isn’t used all that much (except to talk to people who are in another country). I’m pretty sure that Brazilians are the primary reason why Whatsapp was sold to Facebook for $19 billion…

Before moving to Brazil, I never used Whatsapp. Now, I can’t imagine communicating with anything else. It’s much more user-friendly than normal texting or iMessage. Once you start using Whatsapp, you’ll never go back. Guaranteed.

2) How insanely expensive (almost) everything is.

I was warned about this before coming, but I still didn’t think that Brazil would be that expensive compared to the US.  This is a developing country after all, so how is that possible for things to cost that much more when the salaries are so much lower? But it is.

All imported products are absurdly overpriced, due to the high import taxes. So overpriced that I refuse to buy clothes, cosmetics, books, electronics…I pretty much only buy what I actually need here!

Just to give you an idea, I went to Sephora the other day and saw that a NARS lipstick that runs $26 USD back home costs R$100 here (about $45 USD).  A Lancome cream that costs $190 USD in the U.S. (still crazy expensive) costs a mind-boggling $1,029 reais here (like 450 USD).

The price of electronics is generally two to three times the cost that it is in the US. A Nikon camera that costs about 500 dollars in the US will set you back about 2,100 reais here (approximately 1,000 dollars).

I was shocked when I saw the price of this simple calculator (equivalent to about 70 USD  - would not cost more than 5 USD at home!)
I was appalled when I saw the price of this simple calculator (equivalent to about 70 USD – would not cost more than 5 USD at home!)

It makes me honestly wonder how people can afford to live here long-term. I have heard that many Brazilians travel to the US just to buy things and then resell them here–And they are able to pay for their flight (and more) with the money they make.

3) The horrible customer service 

People who work in low-level service positions (like at grocery stores, big department stores etc) all generally seem very unhappy (probably due to their low wages) and often project that unhappiness onto the customer.

They do not care to help you and are often even downright rude. I was actually shocked when, last month during Carnaval, some woman behind the counter at Lojas Americanas (a “cheap” department store) initiated a conversation with me. That had never happened before (and hasn’t happened since)!

And if you buy something and want to return it, the salesperson will make it very difficult for you to return that item (if you are able to return it at all). Yet another reason why I don’t buy things here!

This all goes back to the mentality. In Brazil, it’s all about short-term gain–making as much money as possible in that moment.

Whereas in the US, people tend to think more long-term–which is why, for instance, if the customer has to wait longer than usual for the food, they will likely get something in return, like food or drinks on the house. And if the meal doesn’t live up the customer’s standards, it will be free. The restaurant owners want to keep their customers happy, because they know that doing so will prove most beneficial and lucrative for their businesses in the long run.

4) How much I like the Brazilian bikini

When I first came here, I was so timid about wearing the Brazilian bikini on the beach.  Now, I can’t imagine wearing anything else!

Personally, I find the Brazilian cut FAR more flattering than the American/European bikini bottoms– which Brazilians jokingly refer to as “fraldas” (diapers).

And now, I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s safe to say that I am forever converted to the Brazilian style…

My Brazilian bikini next to my
My Brazilian bikini compared to my American bikini
My Brazilian bikini on top of a bikini I bought in France...
And…another Brazilian bikini bottom on top of  bottoms I bought in France…

5) How I always feel like I’m being ripped off

Just to go to a bar in Rio (not a boteco, which is a casual Brazilian bar), you generally have to pay a cover of at least 15 reais. And that’s if there is no live music playing. It makes bar-hopping pretty much out of the question and going out a very expensive excursion.

In comparison, even in a big city like New York, you rarely have to pay to get into a bar. You will likely have to pay a small cover if there is live music, otherwise, the only places that you have to pay are at the high-end clubs. But even then, you won’t pay more than 20 dollars (with a free drink included). In Rio, you can pretty much expect to pay a cover everywhere…and you can forget about that free drink!

There are also many times when the waiter will short you of change or overcharge on a bill. You have to be extra diligent about checking change and bills here.

Here’s another example: If I order sushi and want extra wasabi, I will have to pay 4 reais for that extra wasabi. In the US, you would never be charged for something like that! But I’ve found that nothing is ever free in Brazil.

6) The inefficiency 

Let’s just say that Brazil’s strong point is not exactly efficiency.

Take this for example: As I mentioned above, if you go to a bar in Rio, you are normally charged an entry fee. But instead of paying at the door when you arrive, you have to pay it when you leave. You’re given a piece of paper, where food/drinks are written down as you buy them, and then at the end of the night, you have to pay.

This process sometimes leads to extremely long lines at the end of the night–and caused major issues when there was a fire at a nightclub in Brazil last year.  Tragically, many people actually died because the bouncer would not let people leave without paying their tabs first.

A much more efficient system would be to have customers pay for the cover charge immediately when they arrive and then have them pay for their drinks as they order them–or just allow customers to start a tab and leave the credit card with the bartender, as is done in the US.

It works similarly in stores, where customers have to go to one cashier to get a slip with the price of what they have to pay, and then proceed to another cashier to actually pay.  I never understood this. Why can’t I just pay at one cashier? Why is it so darn difficult just to make a purchase?! Whatever the reasoning is for this (probably to avoid theft), there has got to be a more efficient way.

If I go to the grocery store, there can be three people in front of me and I will be waiting for half an hour just to buy a mango.

So…yeah. You learn to be patient living in Brazil.

7) How necessary it is to speak Portuguese

I had heard that not many people speak English before coming here, but I was still fairly surprised by this.

I witnessed this when my friend Mallory came to visit and, not speaking a word of Portuguese, tried to get by solely on English. Oftentimes, people just did not understand. As can probably be expected, taxi drivers, bus drivers and other people in low-level service positions generally do not speak much (if any) English, while educated and wealthier people tend to speak quite well (but this is of course a very small portion of the population). Personally, I prefer it this way. It means I get to speak Portuguese almost all the time! 🙂

But if you are traveling to Brazil and expecting to get by on just English…you may have your work cut out for you.  I would at least advise buying a phrasebook and learning some key phrases–a little Portuguese will go a long way! And will be much appreciated.

8) Everyone flaunts their bodies proudly 

I honestly have never seen so many ripped male bodies in my life than I have seen in Rio…and luckily for females, many guys elect to go shirtless, even just walking down the street. Definitely makes for some nice eye candy on a day-to-day basis!

But what I love is that no matter one’s size (or age), everyone seems to be proud of their body. In the US, women tend to stop wearing bikinis past a certain age or if they are over a certain size. In Brazil, all women wear bikinis (and not those “diapers” that people wear back home!). Suffice it to say that the beach culture is a refreshing change from the US.

9) How hard it is to eat healthy

pixabay
Salgados, popular Brazilian fried snacks made up of meat and/or cheese (photo courtesy of pixabay.com)

In a country that has more types of fruit than I have ever seen in my entire life (which I LOVE by the way), it’s surprising to me how difficult it’s been to have a healthy, well-rounded diet here. I have found myself eating much worse here than I do back home. The grocery store selection is limited and the majority of restaurants do not cater to healthy-eaters.

I’ve found that most Brazilians love to add tons of sugar to almost everything–even things that (at least in my opinion) don’t need any added sugar! Like fruit juice, for instance. Unfortunately, this could be a reason why obesity is on the rise in Brazil.

Eating out centers around mainly fried food (salgados), meat and sugar and very little organic food.  The healthy food is few and far between. If you do seek it out (healthier restaurants can be found in Ipanema and Leblon, the wealthier neighborhoods of Rio), you can expect to pay an arm and a leg for it.

10) The fact that everybody seems to live with their parents.

Most Brazilians live with their parents until they get married, unless their parents live in a different city. It is pretty strange for me, coming from a culture where people generally move out at the age of 18. But here, living with the ‘rents is simply the norm!

I live with an English guy and anytime I tell a Brazilian that I live with a guy who is not my boyfriend and that yes, we have a purely platonic relationship, their jaws practically drop in surprise. I asked one Brazilian about it and he explained that it is not normal for a guy and a girl to live together here, unless they are coupled up or married.

11) The fact that I generally feel quite safe here

This also came as a surprise to me. Sure, I live in a very safe neighborhood and spend most of my time in the Zona Sul (the safer part of Rio), but I do feel a lot safer in Rio than I had anticipated, even riding the bus (I had always heard that there were a lot of robberies on busses, but I have never had a bad experience).

Perhaps this is a false sense of security. I know that I need to always have my guard up here and should not walk alone at night…And I have certainly heard my fair share of stories. But I think if you stick to the safe areas and do not walk alone on empty streets at night, chances are, you will be fine.

But regardless, if you’re traveling to Brazil, be sure to check out these safety tips.

12) The fact that cariocas tend to be a bit closed-off

I had always heard that cariocas (people from Rio) and Brazilians were super friendly, so when I came here, I was a bit surprised to find that this wasn’t exactly the case.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Cariocas aren’t anything like frigid Parisians. But they tend to have their group of friends (from high school, college, work…) and don’t seem to care that much to branch out and make new ones. I have heard from many people that it is very hard to break into a circle of Carioca friends–so it’s not just me that thinks this!

I was out the other night with my awesome Carioca friend, Claudia, and my (equally as awesome) American friend, Iyin. Some Brazilian guy asked us how we all became friends. He thought it was estranho (weird) that a Carioca girl would befriend us, since generally Cariocas have their friends and stick to them.

While people in Rio may not be as overly friendly and warm as I had anticipated, many people are friendly and strangers will often go out of their way to help you if you need help. And in other parts of Brazil, like Minas Girais, people are incredibly friendly and approachable.

13) How women are often seen as sex objects 

How sad is it that I just google imaged “Brazil beauty” and “Brasil beleza” (the Portuguese version of that) and hoping to see pictures of the beautiful country, I instead see (in both languages), pictures of beauty pageant contestants, dolled-up women and their behinds. Such gender objectification is obviously a global issue, but I notice that it is much more blatantly obvious in Brazil.

I’ve been shocked by some of the things that I see on TV here. Watching a normal talk show, for instance, this is what I see on the screen: one male presenter holding a microphone, surrounded by his “assistants”, a line of women in skimpy costumes, just standing there next to him, posing and smiling. As a woman, I find it to be downright offensive! Yet this type of thing is completely normal in Brazil–nobody bats an eyelid.

14) The fact that nearly all of the men have tattoos 

I was quite surprised when I moved to Brazil to find that almost everyone and their mother has at least one tattoo. I have rarely seen a guy without one. Although it is something that seems to be fairly regional. I noticed that tattoos weren’t as prevalent with Mineiros (people from Minas Gerais), for instance. Must be a beach thing!

pixabay
The Portuguese term for a full arm tattoo is “braço fechado” (photo courtesy of pixabay.com)

15) That despite it all, I still love it here

OK, that’s a lie–I knew that I would love Brazil before coming here. While some of the things on this list do make me miss home at times, at the end of the day, the positives outweigh the negatives.

The other day, I was riding the bus and the bus driver told me to sit in the front and he would let me out through the front later. He told me that he didn’t speak a word of English–that the only thing he knew how to say was “I love you”. Surprise, surprise!

Then at my stop, he directed me where to get off and how to get home, and when I got off the bus, he shouted out “I love you!” Only in Brazil…

It’s those little interactions that make me love this country so much. It’s the kind, warm people…the infectious energy…the laid-back attitude…

It’s walking down the street and seeing this…

You see? Try not falling in love with Brazil. I dare you.

Celebrating Carnival in Rio

Brazilian Carnival is one of those special events that everyone should celebrate at least once in their lifetime.

I just finished celebrating my first Carnival in Brazil. While I didn’t watch the actual Carnaval competition/parade, I did participate in the festivities.

In Rio, Carnaval is much more of a daytime celebration (whereas in Florianópolis, for example, the real fun happens more at night).

In Rio, the festivities basically consist of a bunch of blocos (street parties) during the day.  Each bloco starts at a certain time (most start in the morning or early afternoon). And some blocos actually start a few weeks before Carnaval officially starts.

IMG_3833
Flamengo bloco madness
IMG_3866
Ipanema bloco
foto
Leblon bloco

At each bloco, there is a street band/group that performs on a big moving truck, playing music, singing and dancing. The streets are packed with people and various vendors selling beer and Smirnoff Ice (for the most part, these were the only two choices!). It resembled something like this…

Another thing about Carnaval is that everyone dresses up in ridiculous outfits. Well, the guys do, anyway. Most of the guys dress up as women. But from what I saw at least, the girls don’t seem to be quite as creative in their costume choices.

This guy dressed up in a wedding gown
This guy dressed up in a wedding gown

To me, Carnaval seemed to epitomize Brazil in many ways. The energy and happiness are just contagious. I had never experienced anything like it before.

This video does a better job at depicting it…

Even riding on the busses was total madness, with people singing, drinking, and just raising ruckus. Like this…

Carnival is known around Brazil for being the time of year when everyone kisses everyone. It’s not uncommon for people to break up with their significant others right before Carnival starts, just to aproveitar Carnival and make out with as many people as possible. This means that females should be prepared for some grabby men.

If you’re planning on making it to Carnival anytime in the near future, here are a few tips to make it a successful one:

  1. If you want to attend the most famous Carnival in Brasil, head to Salvador, Bahia.  I had a ton of fun at Rio Carnival, but there are a lot of other places to celebrate, like Ouro Preto (especially if you in your early 20s), Florianópolis, Recife/Olinda..
  2. If you are celebrating Carnival in Rio, don’t just go to Ipanema, Copacabana and Leblon – also check out the scene at the less touristy, Lapa, Santa Teresa, Flamengo.
  3. If you want to avoid crowds of people and sit back and relax, get tickets to watch samba schools compete in the Sambadrome. You can buy tickets in advance or show up and buy them from a scalper. Or if you prefer to participate in all of the action (and fun), head to the blocos.
  4. If you do attend the blocos…wear sunscreen!!! Hours outside in the strong Brazilian sun (even if it’s cloudy out) will be disastrous if you aren’t wearing sunscreen (at least for fair-skinned folks like me!)
  5. And plan to wear some crazy costumes. Get creative!
  6. Download the Blocos app from O Globo and you can see where and when all of the different blocos are taking place.
  7. Be super careful with your belongings and don’t let them out of your sight. With so many crowds of people, something is bound to get stolen if you don’t watch your things like a hawk.
  8. If you are in Rio and looking for a typical, relatively inexpensive Carnival costume, head to Centro.
  9. If possible, be single! And get your kissing game on!

Paradise Found: A Few Days Spent in Floripa

A few weeks ago, I went to Florianópolis (aka Floripa), located in the Southern state of Brazil, Santa Catarina. I went with my friend Mallory, who is currently taking a six-week trip around South America.

Before visiting, I had heard from many people how incredible Florianópolis was. But I still didn’t expect to totally fall in love with the place like I did.

The never-ending beaches and turquoise waters set against a backdrop of verdant mountains and bright blue sky…the scenery was out of this world.  But that was only part of what made Floripa so amazing.

The neighborhood where we stayed, Barra da Lagoa, was a fisherman’s village–an incredibly laid-back, beach community that looked a little something like this…

IMG_0092

The neighborhood was home to a multitude of dive and bikini shops; restaurants; and a few surf schools. And here I thought that Rio was a relaxed city!

I also found people to be friendlier. MSN Travel apparently agrees with me; the publication rated Floripa as the #1 friendliest city in the world.

Another plus: Floripa is one of the most developed and safest cities in Brazil. So you can actually walk around with your phone out and not worry about being robbed.

To get to our hostel, we crossed a little bridge from the main town in Barra da Lagoa that took us to a dirt path…

IMG_3435
The  hilly, dirt road that led to our hostel

We then climbed up the path and our hostel was at the top of the hill, overlooking a magnificent little beach.

This was the view from our room/balcony (which, to add to the easygoing vibe, even had a hammock):

IMG_0089

IMG_3542

So, that is what I woke up to each morning. And this was the view from the patio of the hostel (I swear I’m not being paid to promote this place!):

IMG_3442

You can see why it was hard to leave.

The first day, we went down to this little (semi-private) beach and ordered caipirinhas (only R$6 or like $2.5 USD per caipi!! Far cheaper than I have ever found on any Rio beach! Not to mention delicious–and quite strong!).

It felt like paradise.

IMG_3532
The beach in front of our hostel

beach2

IMG_3555

Okay, done with the photoshoot!

For being as secluded as it was, this beach was actually pretty popular, and at night, it  turned into quite the party. So if you didn’t feel like making the trek out to the bars and clubs, you could just hang out on the beach.  

While this little beach was my favorite, the main beach (across the bridge) had the best wavesit wasn’t too bad on the eyes either: 

IMG_3558 

As if just soaking in all of this beauty and sunshine wasn’t enough, on top of that, our options for outdoor activities were endless (plus, our awesome hostel provided free equipment for snorkeling, surfing and a few other water sports).   

Attempting to Surf 

Surfing is probably one of the most popular sports in Floripa, since it’s got some of the best waves in Brazil. So we decided to give it a whirl!

Me and my friend Mallory after our surfing lesson :)
Me and my friend Mallory post-surfing lesson 🙂

Even though I barely rode any waves on my own, I found it incredibly peaceful just being out there on the water, lying on the board and letting the waves crash down over me. And then there’s that exhilarating feeling of when you finally catch that onda (wave) and ride it to the shore.

I also really enjoyed surfing because it was very social. During my surfing attempts, one random guy (who wasn’t surfing, but apparently knew how to surf) approached me in the water and started giving me some tips. I’ve heard that the surf culture can be quite cut-throat and competitive (when it comes to waves, at least), but here, I found it to be just the opposite.  Everyone on the water was eager to help one another.

IMG_3488
Me struggling to get up on the board – and nice people from my hostel trying to help

In addition to the abundance of water sports available, Floripa also boasts a variety of great hiking trails.

A hike of Lagoinha do Leste in Floripa, photo by Flickr Creative Commons License.
A hike of Lagoinha do Leste in Floripa; photo by Flickr Creative Commons License.

And then there’s Ilha do Campeche, an island off the coast, where the water is an even clearer blue and the sands are even whiter…this is what it looks like…

ilha.jpg
Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Want to go? Head to Campeche beach and ask for the boat (barco) to Ilha do Campeche. The boat ride takes about 10 minutes and is 100 reais round trip I believe (as of 2018).

The island limits the number of people who can go each day, so make sure that you go early (like 9AM or 10AM); otherwise, you might be turned away.

Partying it up in Floripa  

To top it off, as if Floripa didn’t have enough to offer in the daytime, the nightlife in Florianópolis is known for being off the charts. NY Times even labeled it as the  “party destination of the year” in 2009.

So, we had to test out the waters…One night, we went out to Lagoa de Conceiçao, which is probably the most hopping part of the island, with tons of bars, restaurants and shops. The vibe is super laid back and hippyish.

IMG_3522

Another night, we went out to a place that just oozed Brasil: a bar, resembling something like a log cabin, that faced some sand dunes. Inside, performers were playing forró music and people were dancing along to the beat (forró style of course).

Side note: Forró is a very specific type of Brazilian music and dance that originated in the northeast of the country.

Although you can’t see any dancing in this video, this is was what the music sounded like…

IMG_0080
The crew from the hostel out and about

One thing I love about Brazil: you don’t even have to go to a bar to hear live music. You can literally be anywhere and hear high quality music. Music and dancing runs in peoples’ blood here.

IMG_3443
Another plus of our hostel: the adjacent bar/restaurant that often had live music playing

And last but not least…

A few tips for aspiring Floripa-goers: 

  1. If you want to stay somewhere super relaxed and low-key, stick to Barra de Lagoa (I promise you won’t be disappointed!). If you want someplace more upscale and posh, head to Jurerê. Jurerê, known for its lavish nightlife, is also a great place to break out those high heels once the sun sets.
  2. Be sure to visit Floripa in the summertime (peak season). I had a friend who visited in the winter and hated it (I would have thought that would be impossible!) because it was freezing cold and super windy (well, “freezing” per Brazilian standards anyway!).
  3. If you are looking for the beach to see and be seen, go to Jururê, a hotspot for beautiful people. For a more secluded beach, check out Praia da Daniela in the north of the island.
  4. Take a walk around Lagoa de Conceição, a charming village located in the center of the city, with restaurants, bars, cafes and shops.  It is also one of the best places to wind-surf.
  5. If you’re a beginner surfer, go to Barra de Lagoa. Meanwhile, experts will find good waves at Praia Mole and Praia de Joaquina.
  6. Hike to Lagoinha do Leste, a secluded beach that can only be reached by boat or foot. The views will not disappoint, I promise!
  7. Go to the mercado (market) in the center of the city, which has displays of everything from various types of seafood and fruit to cheap trinkets. For all you seafood-lovers out there, it’s the best place in the city to buy fresh fish!
  8. If you are a guy, be sure to pack your sunga (the Brazilian equivalent to the speedo). As for females, the smaller your bikini, the better. Don’t have one? Not to fret. Floripa has no shortage of shops that sell exclusively bikinis – which are much cheaper than you will find the U.S. Whatever you do, do not wear those American “diapers” (as Brazilians refer to them) from back home – unless you want to be made into a laughingstock.
  9. Spend a beach day soaking up some rays and enjoying some caipirinhas on the stunning island, Ilha do Campeche. 
  10. Then dance the night away to forró music at Bar Deraiz, in the Dunas de Joaquina.

Beach Culture in Rio: How to Blend in Like a Local

To most cariocas, the revered beach is much more than just a place to swim and soak up some rays. And if you want to blend in somewhat, there are a few things you should know about this city’s unique beach culture.

Get to know the “postos”

First things first, “postos” are used as a reference point for locating the different beaches; each beach has its own “posto.”  So if you are meeting people at the beach, they will often use postos to describe their location.

posto 9

Perhaps more importantly, all of the beaches (or postos) in Rio have their own characteristics and are frequented by different crowds.  As Frommers puts it, “beaches are to Rio what cafes are to Paris.”

While Copacabana may be the most famous beach in Rio, it is certainly not the coolest amongst cariocas or Rio residents.  Posto 9 (Ipanema beach) is the place to be and be seen, frequented by a diverse crowd of young people (and on a sunny weekend day, it gets so packed that you can’t even see the sand!).  It is also known for attracting all of the beautiful people.

Between Posto 8 and 9 (also Ipanema) is the gay beach, made distinctly obvious by the rainbow flags waving about.

Posto 12, in Leblon, is less packed than Ipanema. Located in the wealthiest neighborhood of Rio, this posto is (also) filled with many beautiful people, along with many families.

Posto 1 (Leme beach) is more low-key and also less crowded than the others.  Read more about the different postos here.

Update your swimwear 

It is always easy to spot the gringos on the beaches of Rio.  How? Simply put, they are the ones that do not show enough skin.

In direct contrast, the Brazilians are the ones flaunting their bodies.  It is quite refreshing to see that in Rio, women of all ages and sizes sport the bikini – and often a thong bikini or “fio dental” (also the name for dental floss).

fio dental.jpg
A typical Brazilian bikini (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

Unlike in the US, where women generally stop wearing a bikini at a certain age, in Brazil, older, overweight women are just as likely to sport a bikini as younger, skinny women are.  It is actually extremely unusual for anyone to wear a full-piece to the beach.  Fortunately, Brazilian women do not seem to be burdened by the same body hang-ups that Americans are; for the most part, they seem to be comfortable in their own skin and liberated from society’s expectations of the ideal body type.  While the end goal is to show as much skin as possible…no one goes topless (or bottomless for that matter).

So if you want to blend in, be sure to stop by one of the many bikini shops in Rio before hitting the beach, if nothing else than to the avoid getting some looks for that “fralda” (or “diaper”, as Brazilians refer to the American bikini).

As for men, most wear the sunga, which is quite similar to the “speedo” bathing suit. Other guys (often surfers) wear regular trunks.

sunga praia
Sunga, the typical male bathing suit in brazil – and no, it’s not a speedo! (photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

Get your bronze on 

Sunbathing is of course a major part of the beach culture in Rio.  But don’t hide those tan lines! Because in Brazil, the more tan lines (and the deeper they are), the better.

Hit up the “barracas” 

Along the beach sidewalk in Copacabana, there are many restaurants (all of which look the same), where you can sit down or take away food.

Sidewalks of Copacabana

On the beach itself, there are numerous small tents (or barracas) throughout, where you can buy drinks and snacks or rent chairs and umbrellas for just 5 reais a day.  You pay at the end, so just don’t forget to pay your bill before leaving.

DSC_0331_2
Barracas de praia

A trip to the beach in Rio is not complete without drinking the delicious agua de coco (coconut water).  Another popular drink of choice is matte leao, an iced tea that, on the beach, is served directly from a keg riding on the seller’s back.

IMG_3721

Lose the towel – trust me on this one 

Less is more in Rio (and I’m not just talking about bikini fabric). You definitely don’t want to bring any valuables to the beach.  My ex-roommate (who is English) made the mistake of bringing his iPad to the beach during one of his first weeks in Rio, and had it stolen (he got it back in the end, but not without a fight-another thing which is not recommended!).

Beaches in Rio are also frequented by arrastões, which is a type of crime in which a gang of people surround an area and steal everything in sight.  The beach turns into total mayhem.

So…you will never see cariocas at the beach with the hefty beach bags that Americans bring – many people just bring sarongs, also known as kangas, which can be used to sit on. These are sold all along the beach boardwalk.  Towels are an absolute no-go – after taking a dip in the ocean, people choose to air-dry instead (trust me – the heat will do that quickly!)

Lose your bikini top in the waves? Not to worry – hard-working men brace the sun’s scorching rays, pacing back and forth along the beaches selling everything from jewelry to bikinis to sarongs.

DSC_0482_2

If you look like a gringo (like myself), you will likely be approached by these eager vendors.

Stay active 

Introverts, be warned: You are unlikely to ever see a Brazilian reading at the beach or listening to music with headphones in. The beach in Rio is meant for socializing…playing sports…bronzing – and drinking coconut water of course…or maybe an ice-cold cerveja.  

While the females lounge on rented cadeiras (chairs), in the vain attempt to deepen those covetable tan lines, many men simply stand, hands on hips, and check out the scene (Can you blame them?).

For those who aren’t sitting or people-watching, engaging in sport is a popular pastime (especially for men).  Volleyball nets are set up with bronzed men in sunga competing against one another.  And surprise, surprise – there is almost always a group of guys kicking a soccer ball around.

copacabana
Futebol na praia (football/soccer on the beach) in Copacabana (photo courtesy of pixabay.com

For those who prefer more solitary activity, there are exercise stations set up at each posto sidewalk, that even come accompanied by glass-enclosed stretching guides for its users.

DSC_0336_2

In case you can’t already tell, in Rio, it’s pretty much impossible to get bored at the beach. Even just people-watching is entertaining enough. But if you want to get up and stretch your legs, it’s always relaxing to stroll along the boardwalk that runs parallel to the beach…especially on Sundays, when the street is closed off to cars and replaced by bikers, rollerbladers, joggers and the like. There are even a variety of bands set up, all of which are composing mellifluous tunes that rival your Spotify playlist.

Tip: After you’ve had enough of the beach (and hopefully not burnt yourself to a crisp), meander the street between Leblon and Ipanema, one of my favorite places to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon.  Major plus if you can stay and watch the sun set…

IMG_3698

In case you aren’t convinced, this is a video I took that perfectly depicts the typical post-beach Sunday afternoon in Rio:

And last but not least…

Learn to bargain like a carioca

Chances are (at least if you have read this article), you will want to buy or rent something on the beach at some point.  The only way to not get the gringo price is to speak a bit of Portuguese (and know when you are being ripped off).  Use your best judgement – if it sounds unreasonable, it probably is. But note that the beaches in Leblon and Ipanema are going to be more expensive than its neighbors to the east (like Copacabana and Leme).

Here are a few words and phrases that you should know when hitting the beach:

cadeira – chair

guarda- sol – umbrella (for the sun)

kanga – sarong (the Brazilian version of the towel, which also doubles as a cover-up)

fio dental – thong bikini

maté – sweet iced tea

agua de coco bem gelada – ice-cold coconut water

Cuanto custa isso? (bonus points if you can pronounce it with a carioca accent – “quan- toh cush – tah) – how much is this?

Você ta me dando o preço gringo, cara? Are you giving me the gringo price, dude?

Me dá o preço carioca – give me the carioca price

Eu tenho apenas 5 reais – I only have 5 reais

Onde fica o banheiro mais proximo? Where is the closest bathroom?

And for all the rest…bring a dictionary!

 

Tips for Staying Safe in Rio

Many people think of Brazil as being a very dangerous place.  While the US is subject to frequent random shootings and acts of terrorism, Brazil’s safety issues are more along the lines of petty crimes and robberies.  Both countries are dangerous (and I might even argue just as much so), just in different ways.

Last week, my iPhone got stolen  – I was walking through the streets of Lapa at 6AM (after a night out) and a man subtly reached into my purse and grabbed it as he walked past me.  My purse was open (yes, I know, not the smartest idea!) — but only because there was so much stuff in it that I couldn’t even close it (not the best excuse, I know)! My iPhone was sitting on the top of my purse and therefore easily accessible. As soon as the sneaky thief took my phone, I noticed and confronted him, yet he played dumb and somehow got away with it – I didn’t think it was worth it to fight him off.  It was one of the most infuriating, frustrating experiences and it really makes me so angry that people get away with stuff like that. But the sad reality is that many Brazilians out there have become pickpocketing experts and you must always have your guard up when walking around.

Just a few days before, my iPhone almost got stolen when I was walking down a busy street in Copacabana, using Google Maps on my phone to navigate.  Someone came up from behind me and grabbed my phone; luckily I had a fairly firm grip on it, so the person did not succeed in his attempt and simply ran off.  But it was definitely an alarming experience.

Both the attempted robbery and the actual robbery were definitely wake-up calls for me. Sure, robberies and theft happen everywhere. But in a developing country like Brazil, there are certain things that you just cannot do and rules that you should abide by in order to not end up a victim.

Don’t flash your belongings 

As I found out, walking down the street with a smart phone out is a surefire way to get pickpocketedI have been advised that if I need to use my iPhone, to step into a shop to use it – to never take it out on the street. But since most people (including myself) use their phones as cameras, this is unrealistic. If you want to take a picture of something, look around you first and snap quickly, tucking your phone away immediately after you use it. Likewise, be careful with other valuables, like DSLR cameras – keep cameras hidden away in bags, not swinging around your neck, as you walk around.

Close your bags and keep them by your chest  

Second lesson learned: bags must always remain closed – and held tightly to you, not down by your waist, like mine was.  I spoke to another American girl who told me that her cell phone was stolen 2 times the first two months she was here – one time, she was kissing her boyfriend at Carnival and someone unzipped her purse without her knowing….and another time, she was on the bus and someone started talking to her to distract her and then reached into her bag to take her phone.  As she said, “they really are professionals here!” You have to remain extra vigilant, since most of the pickpocketers steal from their victims before they are even aware of what’s happening.  Keep your guard up and be wary of overly friendly random strangers who approach you.

Even if you are at a restaurant, you should not put your bag down on the seat next to you, which is something that I have always done in the past.  Apparently some chairs in restaurants come equipped with belts to which you can attach your bag, making your belongings less accessible to robbers.

Don’t bring out a lot of valuables 

This probably goes without saying.  This is especially true though if you are going on a hike or to the beach – the hiking trails are often subject to robberies and the beach is frequented by mass robberies (referred to as arrastoes), where a gang of people will come to the beach and try to steal everything in sight.

One of his first weeks in Rio, my roommate made the mistake of bringing his iPad to the beach – next thing he knows, it was stolen – he did end up getting it back, but not without a fight (which is probably something that most people should not attempt…for obvious reasons).  If you do bring any valuables to the beach, don’t fall asleep or it’s pretty much guaranteed that you will wake up with less than you came with.  And if you go in the water, ask your neighbor to watch your stuff for you. This is common practice in Brazil.

Be careful at ATMs

Need I say more?

Lock your car doors

Thieves often will rob you while you are at a traffic light; the best way to avoid this is to lock all car doors and try not to drive around deserted areas, especially at night.

Be smart with transportation 

Walking home at night is not safe and that is another thing that I need to get used to.  I don’t like having to rely on cabs or busses to get everywhere, especially if I am within fairly close walking distance to home.  But walking home at night is simply not okay here.

While taking a cab is a better option than taking the bus or walking home at night, even that has its risks. I have heard stories of people (mostly females) being raped or nearly killed by their taxi driver.  The only safe way to order a cab is to call for one – I’ve been told to never hail one off the street (as tempting as it can be in the wee hours of the morning).  If you do, ensure that the taxi is at least licensed (you should see a license sticker in the front window and the company name on the rear of the vehicle).

Don’t take busses after about 11PM – and if you do, make sure you sit towards the front of the bus, as close to the driver as possible (you should probably do this any time of the day).

Stay in the right areas 

The Zona Sul, while subject to many petty crimes and robberies, is generally fairly safe, as long as you remain attentive.  Or as my mom always told me, “have that antenna up.”

Santa Teresa and Lapa are two of my favorite neighborhoods (the latter especially at night), but can be dangerous – don’t walk around Santa Teresa late at night (when the streets are more deserted).

Centro is perfectly fine during the day, but at night should be avoided.

The favelas get a bad rep, but overall, I found the ones by Zona Sul to be fairly safe (since most of them are pacified).  The majority of violence in favelas is actually caused by the corrupt police, not the drug traffikers as one might be led to believe.  If you want to check out the favelas (which are home to some of the best views and parties in Rio), I would recommend only going with a local or someone who has been there before and knows his or her way around.

This should go without saying, but it’s a good idea to stay clear of any area that looks deserted, especially at night.  And when in doubt, just call a cab.

But don’t let all of this scare you – While my personal experience has made me quite paranoid about being robbed, I otherwise must admit that I do feel pretty safe in Rio. If you keep you guard up and remain vigilant, chances are, you will be fine.

Riding the Bus in Rio: What You Need to Know

In Rio, the bus is the way that everyone gets around.  There is a metro system but there are few lines and it is not very extensive.  Each time I have traveled somewhere,  I have relied on the bus to get me there.

While there are many bus lines in Rio, the busses often get extremely crowded.  And taking the bus can be pretty confusing…

I have to admit that I’ve gotten a bit spoiled by the transportation in Western Europe, where all of the bus stops are equipped with timetables for when the busses will arrive (and they are usually very accurate), the bus stations are all marked (so you know that you are getting on and off at the right stop!) and the busses themselves display all of the stops taken and what the next stop will be.

But in Brazil, things are a little different…

No timetable? No problem 

The bus stops in Rio have no timetables, so you have no idea when the bus will be arriving. Sometimes they can be quite frequent and other times, I have heard of people waiting for an hour and a half for the bus to arrive (reminder: we are on carioca/Rio time here!).

Fortunately, there are a lot of busses running and there are often several busses that you can take to get somewhere. But it’s a bit of a gamble, especially if your options are more limited.

Where in the world am I? 

None of the bus stations in Rio are marked with the street name or whatever the stop may be called, so unless you know the route, you have no idea if you are getting off at the correct stop (or if you are getting on at the right place).

The only real solution to this is asking the bus driver what the stop is or using Google Maps on your phone.

And where am I going?

Likewise, none of the bus stops or busses themselves display the stops that the bus will take. The bus stations often have boards that display the numbers of the bus lines that stop at the bus stop and the main stops they make–but not all of the stops are shown and it does not say what the exact routes are.

Ticket people 

When you get on the bus, there is a ticket person who you have to pay before you can sit down or ride the bus. In Europe and the U.S., you just pay the bus driver directly. Similarly, in elevators, there are people whose sole job is to sit there and press the buttons.

Is it dangerous to ride the bus?  

Many people have warned me not to take the bus at night (after say 9:30pm) because theft and other crime is more rampant.

I have heard that armed robberies are not that unusual on the busses…that sometimes, someone will slide next to a passenger and hold a gun to their side, demanding them to hand over their belongings. While there is no way to completely avoid being a victim to this type of thing, you can minimize your risk by:

  • Limiting the valuables that you bring out
  • Holding on tightly to your belongings and always keeping your bag closed
  • Not sitting in a place on the bus that is too isolated
  • Sitting in front of the bus

Also, try to make sure that the bus you are taking doesn’t ride through the favelas. Because while some favelas (like in the Zona Sul) are relatively safe, others are extremely dangerous and the busses that ride through them can subject its passengers to random gunshots (rare, but it happens).

Bus or rollercoaster? 

You know that stereotype about crazy Latino drivers? Well, let’s just say that the bus drivers in Rio definitely live up to that stereotype.

There have been times that I have legitimately feared for my life (no joke). It actually feels like you are riding a rollercoaster sometimes. So prepare yourself!

Bottom line? Riding on the bus in Rio is always an adventure!

%d bloggers like this: