Rio de Janeiro is the major reason for Brazil's existence. Most
of it can be safely ignored with the exception of the beaches - Copacabana
and of course Ipanema (oh that girl from Ipanema...)
At almost any time of the year Copacabana is crowded for about
thirty metres back from the waterline. This is because the remainder of
the beach is simply too hot to walk on anytime between sunrise and sunset
- so a view from above shows water, a strip of people, a strip of desert,
and then the pretty swirly pavement of Avenida Atlantica.
The Avenida is an experience in itself - it consists of two three-wide
lanes of traffic which depending on the time of day travels in either one
or both lanes, in one or the other or both directions. This can be rather
confusing when trying to cross the road, particularly as the adjacent cycle
lane is bidirectional and the traffic lights are considered optional by
most of the cyclists. To make life interesting, every now and then the
police decide to cone off a couple of lanes and pull over drivers for questioning.
Recent observation suggests that the stopping criterion is 'white cars with
a 7 in the registration number'.
Eating and Drinking
Along the city side of the Avenida are all the international hotels
and lots of restaurants. Manoel and Juaquim's ('We close for lunch')
is highly recommended. Get lots of munchies (bolinhos de bacalhao, gurjoes
de peixe, etc) and caipirinha. Expect to queue for up to an hour at busy
times - after eight or nine at night. Next door is the recently opened
'Arab' which still has a severe amount of bistromathics in the calculation
of its bills (as contas, por favor) but the food is ok. Either of these
places, and lots of others, will give a good feed for two for fifty reais
or so - about twenty-five US dollars. For a little more, try a Churascaria
Rodizio - freshly barbecued meat is brought to you on a sword until
you can eat no more.
On the other side of the road are forty-eight kiosks where basic snacks
can be obtained, plus the standard fare of green coconuts (coco gelado),
beer (um chopp), caipirinha, and coke (bleah!). Munchies and drinks for
two, about ten reais. While sitting there you will be approached by kids
wanting to sell peanuts - a small square of paper will be placed in front
of you and a couple of peanuts solemnly placed on it. The kid will then
wander around the other tables and repeat the task before returning to
you. If you've eaten the free samples, you'll be expected to buy a paper
cone of nuts, freshly heated. Otherwise the nuts go back in the sample
The path where the kiosks are is 4km long and morning and evening is
full of people taking gentle exercise. For example, walk to one end, have
a coconut, walk to the other, repeat until bored... The path itself is
made of the world's smallest paving slabs - about two inches across. These
are fixed in black and white stone to make interesting patterns which are
even more interesting after a few caipirinhas. Policemen are scattered
along the path to watch the young ladies - many of whom appear to have
an interesting anatomical variation of an extra joint at the base of the
spine. Taking one to pieces to investigate is probably not a good idea
though. In the evening the walking is a little slower - it's been called
the biggest singles bar in the world. Don't take obvious valuables - jewellery,
credit cards, cameras unless you're trying to claim on the insurance.
Once you leave the Avenida and make the trek across the desert - air
temperatures can exceed 40C in December - you'll arrive at the beach strip.
There's a thriving economy on the beach - the first thing you'll come across
is an entrepreneur renting chairs and parasols - 2 and 3 reais each. You
then need to find a spot near enough the water that the sand is cooler
but not so close that the tide will get you. Once settled - remember that
sunscreen and ladies, last time someone tried topless they sent in armed
police to arrest them - you then alternate between the sun and the sea.
As far as I know there's nothing too unpleasant in the water though it's
not the cleanest in the world.
When in the 'sun' stage, you can engage in wildlife spotting. A frequent
sight is the lesser vendor, which can be recognised by the cry 'agua mineral,
cerveja, matte leao, cocacola um real!' - water, beer, iced tea (ish),
coke, one real! Other members of the species sell ice cream or biscoitos,
shrimps (onna stick!) or grilled cheese. Everything is either one real
or two for a real. The lesser vendor egages in territorial posturing with
the parasol renters, who will also try to attend to your every need in
the snack/drink department. The greater vendor is more creative and will
offer such delights as inflatable animals, beach wraps, sunglasses, football
shirts 'we have Manchester!', and hats. Beer and coke cans are valuable
commodities and one must be careful that it is empty before putting it
on the sand for it will be snapped up, squashed, and put in a large sack
for later reselling.
At new year, the beach is even more crowded than the rest of the time
and the beer doubles in price. Wear white. Don't stand too near the fireworks.
Drinks part ii
Cerveja is somehow different from chopp but I've never worked out how1. You seem to get the same thing whichever you ask for - recommended
brand is Antarctica which is good for Linuxheads as it has two penguins
for a logo (Send this beer!). Brahma is another well-known local brand.
Made from limes, ice, sugar, and cachaca - a sort of cane rum. It's slightly more potent than Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters
and should on no account be missed.
A strange drink, almost but not totally unlike cold tea. Try it with lime (com limao) but don't say I didn't warn you.
Another strange but highly recommended drink, based on an Amazonian berry. It's softer than coke and should be drunk very cold. It will keep you awake or make you quite hyper if you overindulge. The Antarctica version is sharper than the Brahma and can even occasionally be obtained in the UK.
A green coconut, just before the meat forms. Note that 'um coco' gets you a coconut, 'uma coca' gets you a coke. You can
tell these apart due to their different colour. Having ordered a coco,
watch with awe as the sellor uses an axe or machete to slice the bottom
off. Gasp as he dextrously flips the nut over and makes three slashes in
the top. Wince as you see how close the machete gets to his fingers...do
*not* try this at home. After you drink the water - every one tastes different
- you can ask the man to split the nut for you to get at the meat. This
time he hits even harder with the machete while holding the nut on the
palm of his hand...