Staying on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian people are so friendly and co-operative, the language barrier melts away.
By Tom P Blake – Finding Love after 50
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 2009
My partner Greta and I are on a three-week trip to South America. Our first stop was in Santiago, Chile, then Buenos Aires, Argentina, and now, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In each country, the currency is different, so the exchange rates take a little getting used to. It seems the first transaction or two in each country you just hold out the money and let them take it because you don't know what the heck they are saying to begin with, and your brain hasn't yet clicked into the exchange rate.
Each of us has a pretty could handle on Spanish, but in Brazil, the language is Portuguese and that's another breed of cat. Oh, there are a few words that sound enough like Spanish words that you sometimes get the hang of what they are saying, but that's about it.
However, the Brazilian people are so friendly and co-operative, the language barrier melts away.
On the Internet, we selected the Mar Ipanema Hotel, which is located 100 yards from Ipanema Beach. And what a great choice it was. There was a wonderful restaurant in the hotel lobby and since a breakfast buffet was included in the cost of our room, we ate there each morning, which carried us until dinner. Well almost, we'd share an ice cream or an Acai smoothie mid-afternoon.
While we're on the subject of food, one of the impressive aspects of Brazil is the fresh fruit, particularly papaya, pineapple, watermelon and the Acai berry.
It didn't take us long to find a nearby Super Market, called Zona Sul, which was a fun store to shop in. I discovered they made thin-crust pizzas, on a par with Italian pizzas, which we enjoyed on three nights.
I don't want to give you the impression that we didn't enjoy the fine restaurants of Rio de Janeiro. On the other two nights, we feasted on native Brazilian cuisine.
Our first native meal was at Casa da Feijoada in Ipanema. We enjoyed Brazil's national dish, a stew made of about six different meats (we opted out of including the pig's feet and pig's ears the natives include). The stew is served with a plethora of side dishes and flavorful sauces; we should have ordered for one, instead of two, there was so much food. Caipirinhas cocktails, which are similar to a strong margarita with lots of fresh lime, knocked us for a loop. Stuffed and a little juiced, we waddled the mile back to the hotel that night (It was still early so we felt it was safe).
The second feast was special because we were joined by two of Greta's cousins, who live in Rio and are fluent in Portuguese and English. We met the entire family. The father speaks five languages-English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Arabic (Morocco).
The two sisters took us to a Brazilian restaurant called Feijoada Espaco Brasa in Leblon, a nearby beach area.
There you open with a salad bar with everything from shrimp, salad, caviar-probably 200 items from which to choose-and that's before they start bringing the main course, which is five different types of meat, carved at the table right off the skewer.
To signal to them to start carving, you turn a little poker-chip-sized piece of paper over to the green side. When you've had enough, you reverse the chip and they stop. It was one of the tastiest meals I've ever eaten.
While there, about 300 Americans poured into the restaurant after their cruise ship came into port.
The weather reports we'd been watching on the computer before arriving were pretty grim-scattered thunder storms with a 60 percent chance of rain for the entire time we were to be there. On our first morning in Rio, when we saw a blue sky with only a few scattered clouds, we decided to go to the most famous landmark in South America, the statue of Christ the Redeemer.
We bounced out of bed and took a cab right from the hotel. We paid the driver, who spoke no English, to take us to the parking lot, as far as he could go in an auto, wait for us, and bring us back.
It was a perfect day on top with views to Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon beaches, and we saw the soccer stadium, the world's largest, which seats 150,000 people. We took lots of priceless photos, including one view of the statue with Greta in the foreground that I took lying on my back on the hot marble.
On Ipanema Beach, there were lots of string bikinis, but many worn by women who would have been better off in something more conservative. We never saw the perfect "Girl from Ipanema" on the beach, nor in the four days we were in Ipanema, did we hear the famous Astrid Gilberto song of the same name. That's not to say there weren't some bronzed Brazilian beauties strolling around.
The sun is powerful. I missed covering a small area of my upper back with sunscreen and got cooked pretty good on that spot in about an hour.
One morning, we went to downtown Rio. Our front desk maitre 'd advised us to take a bus marked "Castelo" on the front. It was air conditioned and had luxurious seats, definitely the way to get to downtown.
The Brazilian people are nuts over soccer. At the building that houses the Congress, when I asked our guide, an English speaking young man, if he likes soccer, he bubbled with enthusiasm and told us he was wearing the uniform of his team under his work clothes. One of Greta's cousins loves the same team.
Downtown is worth visiting while in Rio, but having a detailed street map is imperative because the streets go off in all different directions.
While in South America, we took advantage of the safes in our rooms in which to lock valuables. In that way, we'd take just enough money to spend that day. Our hotel front desk gave us a color copy of our passports and recommended we leave the actual documents locked up.
In Rio, air conditioning becomes your friend in a hurry--in hotels, taxis, restaurants and on buses. With temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s, you respect the heat. Greta and I have learned a little secret: we freeze plastic water bottles in our room refrigerators and take them with us when out and about, not for drinking, but for keeping our bodies cool.
Seats belts aren't enforced in South America. On several occasions we made the taxi drivers make them functional for us before we'd get underway.
Quite simply, we loved being in Rio de Janeiro.