A Travellerspoint blog

January 2012

Brazil: Part IV

Buzios, Chic or Shock?

Just a sleepy fishing town until it was discovered by Bridgitte Bardot in the 1960’s as she ran to escape the paparazzi, Buzios is now considered one of the most prestigious and glamorous resort towns in Brazil. Frequently dubbed the “St Tropez of Brazil,” Buzios (pronounced Boo-zee-ous) is a peninsula surrounded by over 20 beautiful beaches just a short 2 hour drive from Rio.

I included Buzios in our tour of the state of Rio because it showed up in nearly every search, always with photos of exotically beautiful beaches and in articles filled with descriptors like “chic,” “posh,” “luxurious,” and “stylish.” It seemed like the perfect fourth quarter. It rounded things out perfectly: 1) Paraty- historic town, 2) Ilha Grande - exotic tropical island, 3) Rio de Janeiro - urban center, and 4) Buzios - chic resort town.

After two tense days in Rio, we were both looking forward to getting as far from that city as possible, and we were excited at the thought of ending the trip on a high note in a classy little town that might make us forget the smell of the favelas and the panic inducing drives up and down Avenue Brazil in Rio de Janeiro for hours trying to find a single turn.

Matt was still edgy from the previous days’ drives and wasn’t looking forward to another. I assured him it was a straight shot from Rio to Buzios and was through the quiet countryside. We’d be there in no time. Easy peasy.

This was almost true.

If I hadn’t caused us to make that one wrong turn just before the town of Itaborai.

Seriously. It wasn’t my fault. There was no sign. I had a 50-50 shot. And you know what happens when I have a 50-50 shot.

As we made the ill-fated wrong turn, we noticed that we didn’t seem to be on the highway anymore. We seemed to be driving into the heart of Itaborai. Because we thought we were going the right way, we powered on. Before we even knew what was happening, we were in sit still traffic in the middle of the most horrific looking depressed city that I have ever seen outside the Discovery Channel.

The car in front of us literally had the back hacked off and where the trunk used to be sat the worlds largest speaker, pumping out some foul noise that was intended to be music. As the music made my lungs and eyeballs vibrate, I looked out my window at hundreds of people just loitering about on the sidewalk staring at us.

There are no photos of this event because I was literally terrified. I was certain that if I raised that camera, that was it. There would be a mob rush of the Fiat ECONOMY and Matt and Vicki would be no more.

We were both struck mute with fear and apprehension. We sat perfectly quiet in that car, inching our way through the hoardes of people as they stood in the road and stared into our car as we passed, creeping behind Sergio the Superfreak and his stereo on wheels. The road broke down into a narrow lane, rutted and muddy, and I wondered exactly what we would do if the Fiat broke down?

Neither of us spoke for the excruciatingly LONG 30 minutes that it took us to get to the other end of that town. I had absolutely no fingernails left at that point and am pretty sure I ingested one finger all the way down to the first knuckle.

As we got to the other side of town, my heart sank. As I looked down the road as it continued to narrow and creep down into farmland that we had gone the wrong way and that our only option was to turn around and go back.

I thought Matt was going to vomit.

Another painful 30 minutes back through town, during which I am pretty sure I came very close to developing an irreversible case of trichotillomania in order to cope with the screams that I could not vocalize, we were back to the highway.

After about 15 minutes filled with a variety of colorful expletives expressing just how much we hated the Brazilian road system, we continued on our way.

The rest of the drive was actually quite beautiful, and it made me sad that the miserable hour we had spent fighting our way through Helltown pretty much ruined our ability to enjoy it. The drive was through beautiful countryside, filled with huge rolling green hills and lush farmland.

I had never before seen cow pastures with palm trees!

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The remainder of the drive passed without event, but Matt was feeling worse by the minute and the sky seemed to be mirroring his mood, turning blacker with every mile.

We reached Buzios about an hour later than we expected and, as had been the case everywhere, our maps were simply ineffective at helping us find our way. After driving around that stupid peninsula for a half hour and finding that we had done nothing but make a huge circle and were back at our starting point, God decided to take pity on us. I looked up and saw the Buzios Tourism office right in front of us.

With a really good map in our hands, we decided to calm our nerves over lunch before heading to the inn. It was only about 1:00 and check in wasn’t until 3:00.

We had gotten directions from the Tourism office for the Rua das Pedras. Portuguese for “Street of Rock,” the Rua das Pedras is just that – a cobblestone street that is closed to anything but foot traffic and runs the length of the main town beach in Buzios. It’s lined with high-end shops and eateries and is the place in town where it all happens.

We saw a colorful place on a corner and could smell the most amazing aroma of grilling meat coming from the tall wooden doors. It was like a giant, warm hug pulling us in and saying, “It’s all going to be okay now.”

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We stepped inside Estancia Don Juan and could see the giant wood fired oven where potatoes were baking slowly and grilled steaks were sizzling. We ordered a bottle of red wine. We probably needed two. The smell of the grilling meat was too much to resist, so we ordered the Churrasco Don Juan for two, which included 3 grilled steaks, 2 grilled chicken breasts, a Mediterranean stuffed potato, grilled onion, and grilled sausages.

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Despite the very odd placement of that weiner on the plate, the food was quite delicious.

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Feeling a little less rattled, we made our way to the Cachoeira Inn.

As we drove through what looked like a pretty raggedy little town, I had to ask myself if this was really what Brazil considered “chic.” It looked more Poor Valley, TN than St. Tropez to me.

The Cachoeira Inn, however, was phenomenal. Words and photos simply can’t capture how exceptional this place is.

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The Inn is a home to Matt and Susan Marshall, American ex-pats who call Buzios home. There are 4 outstanding guest suites in the huge multi-level house.

The most amazing feature, though, are the waterfalls and pools. Literally everywhere you look, there is another waterfall plunging into a custom pool of shimmering aqua. Each pool as swings, hammocks, daybeds, or beautiful cushions to lounge on. There are endless nooks and crannies with colorful pillows or soft chairs. The house is aptly named the “Waterfall Inn.”

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The house sat on the edge of Ferradura beach’s rocky shoreline and the view stretched out across the bay. The place was simply extraordinary.

We were greeted warmly with much needed caipirinhas and a platter of food. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I had just eaten 2 steaks, a sausage, a chicken breast, the world’s largest potato half, and a grilled onion, so I did what I always do: I ate. Don’t ask me where it all goes. I still don’t know.

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We settled into our room. We had the Jog Falls suite, which was the smallest room, but it had beautiful wooden louvered windows that opened onto the waterfall and housed an amazing Balinese bed.

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The day was gray and feeling ugly, and Matt kind of was too, so we did nothing more than grab our books and settle into one of Cachoeira’s numerous reading nooks for the rest of the day.

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Because I had eaten enough to feed a family of six that day, we didn’t even head out for dinner.

We simply crashed and hoped the following day would be better.

The morning started off with breakfast in the Inn’s dining room. Fresh squeezed juice, yogurt and house made granola, and fruit were laid beautifully on the dining table. Coffee was set up on the elegant house bar. We helped ourselves and got a slow start to the day.

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Matt still wasn’t well, but he was hanging in there, thanks to his little bottle of crack cough syrup. We were out of the Aleve I had brought along, however. We had seen a pharmacy in town and cringed at the thought of repeating the great game of pharmacy charades, but we didn’t have much of a choice.

We stepped into the pharmacy and, of course, the pharmacist did not speak English.

“Advil?” Matt asked tentatively. Hopefully. Plaintively.

The pharmacist shook his head to indicate he didn’t understand.

Matt and I stepped away from the counter and strategized. I had an idea. We walked back over to the counter.

“Ibuprofen?” I asked. I thought maybe using the drug name rather than the brand name might work. Surely it was similar in Portuguese.

“Ibufan?” the pharmacist responded.

“No. I-bu-pro-fen.” I repeated slowly.

He nodded. “Ibufan,” he said again. This time he grabbed a box. Sure enough, it said IBUFAN on it.

Matt and I stepped away again to consult.

“What do you think?” he asked. “Should we get it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s missing an entire syllable.”

We went back to the counter and re-examined the box. Convinced it was the same thing, we bought it. Matt took it. He didn’t die.

We later discovered it was, indeed, 600 mg Ibuprofen.

Whew.

Pharmacy disaster #2 over with, we walked around town for a while.

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The Rua das Pedras did have some nice shopping. As we walked the cobblestone streets, we heard the sound of waves gently hitting the dock, the slap of water against the boards of the many boat hulls that sat littered about the bay, the clink of cold caipirinhas as a waitress carried them to wooden table draped in a bright tablecloth, the whisper of hangers sliding along metal bars as the many women browsed the numerous clothing shops. It was quaint.

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Until the cruise ship people showed up.

Have you ever seen a town go from quiet, charming seaside town to tacky clamoring noise parade in 60 seconds flat? I have.

As soon as the hoardes started piling off the little boats from the cruise ships with their plastic bags, too white sneakers, and lime green sun visors, it was time for us to cut and run.

We really wanted to visit the beautiful beaches of Buzios, but the day was overcast and not very pretty. Instead, we headed to Rocka.

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I had read about Rocka and for a cloudy day, it seemed like the way to go. Rocka Fish is a beach lounge on Praia Brava where you can spend your day on a daybed with an umbrella sipping cocktails and champagne and listening to music while slurping salty oysters out of their shells.

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It sounded very barefoot-chic to me and I was dying to spend the day pretending I was keeping up with the Kardashians and be one of “those people,” sipping Veuve Clicquot on a white leather lounge as some tanned Brazilian man fanned me with banana leaves and fed me frozen grapes.

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I am not one of “those people” but I had a GREAT time pretending to be one for a day. Rocka Beach was a blast.

Rocka is set on the beautifully rugged horseshoe of Brava Beach. We arrived early enough to score a daybed and were promptly set up with pillows, umbrella, and cocktails.

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As we sipped and perused the menu that changes daily based upon the local catch and freshest produce of the day, Matt noticed the “oyster guy” and had to start off with a platter of ice-cold oysters.

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That was followed by a lunch of grilled lobster for me and a filet for Matt. The lobster was grilled perfectly, with butter and lime juice. Matt’s filet was thick and rare, topped with caramelized onions and sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes.

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The caipirinhas flowed, the music played, the waves crashed, and we had a wonderful day doing absolutely nothing.

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We headed back to town for dinner and decided to have a simple pizza at Parvati rather than following our giant lunch with another big meal.

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When we woke the next morning, Matt was still sick and the day was just as dreary as the previous two days had been. Unfortunately, we would not be seeing the stellar beach vistas of Buzios, because the weather simply would not cooperate.

Matt and Susan had prepared a special breakfast, Matt Marshall’s soon-to-be-famous French toast with bacon and spicy sausage and it was phenomenal.

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We were joined the second morning by another couple. As soon as they opened their mouths, I knew they were from “my neck of the woods.” They sounded as southern as cornbread and told us that they were from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He worked for Chevron and had been working in Rio de Janeiro for about 4 years. When they discovered we had rented a car and driven they just stared at us with their mouths open.

“We never drive,” she said.

“How do you get anywhere?” we asked.

“The company provides us with an armored car and a driver. The glass is bulletproof. We don’t drive anywhere. You really drove? You didn’t stop at any red lights did you? You know the police won’t pull you over for not stopping at a red light in town, right? On account of all the carjackings.”

Matt and I felt like we had narrowly missed getting hit by a speeding train. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.

It was our final day and we were kind of ready to head home. Between being sick and having so many problems getting around, Matt had never really recovered since Rio. He’d been in an on-again-off-again foul mood since we had left paradise on Ilha Grande, and I couldn’t blame him. We had made the best of it, but the second half of the trip had definitely been lackluster in comparison to the first half, for many reasons.

Neither of us were sad to be going home.

Our flight did not leave until midnight, however, so there was no hurry. Matt and Susan were gracious enough to let us stay until late afternoon, so we simply took it easy at the Inn and lounged around their many, many, MANY pools.

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We thought we’d give some of beaches of Buzios at least a passing glance, and we headed out to try to see them, but realized quickly that the day was just plain ugly and we were probably going to waste our time trekking out to beaches that would look like nothing but gray sky and gray water. After seeing a couple and being pretty disappointed, we decided our best bet was to hang at Cachoeira Inn.

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When it was finally time to go, we said our goodbyes to the Marshalls and made one final stop at Geriba Beach on the way out of Buzios.

If someone asked where all the beach action takes place in Buzios, you’d have to tell them Geriba. This huge beach sits on the south side of the peninsula as it projects eastward into the Atlantic. Because of its wide-open face to the southeast, Geriba Beach has the best surf in Buzios and attracts the surfing crowd.

It is also home to Fishbone, a gritty, frills-free beach shack that happens to be the hottest beach club in town at night and one of the best lunch spots during the day. It has an outdoor restaurant with a sandy floor and a menu filled with Brazilian specialties.

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Susan had given us directions AND a map and we still got lost as hell. Just one more Brazilian kick in the pants.

We finally found it and made our way down a long sandy lane lined with graffiti art.

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It was our last caipirinha of the trip and we sipped it watching bronzed twenty-somethings laying out on the cloudy beach, refusing to accept the fact that there was going to be no sun today. Dogs lazed in the warm air and surfers ran to the edge of the water with their boards. It was a lively scene.

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French fries appear on virtually every Brazilian menu as an appetizer and I had to have me some. Covered with the house made hot sauce and washed down with the tangy lime chilled caipirinha, I can’t imagine a better plate of fries.

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We had decided to go with the Moqueca de Camarao a second time and yes, I still ate that fish head gravy because I still didn’t know what it was. Sometimes, it’s just better not to know.

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At long last, it was time to head back to Rio. We managed to make it back to the airport with no trouble.

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I have to admit that when I was finally inside the airport, cleared through and sitting at my gate, I sighed a long, sweet sigh of relief.

Brazil had been exciting and adventurous, and it had been filled with some wonderful things, but it had also been difficult. The bad parts were bad enough to make the good parts not seem so good.

Am I glad I went? Yes. I guess so. Now that am back home safe and warm in my own bed, I guess I am glad I went. It was an adventure and it was filled with beautiful sights, (MONKEYS!), great food, (MONKEYS!), and some wonderful moments (like MONKEYS!). It was also a little tough and I wish that better information and travel tools had been available to help us avoid those. The difficulty of the place will keep us from going back, despite the wonderful things that it has to offer. Matt and I are always up for an adventure, but sometimes too much adventure on a vacation makes it a lot more like work and a lot less like fun.

I’m happy to have another exotic place under my belt and I’m proud of us for learning some new things and tackling some new experiences. I didn’t die from the fish head gravy, Matt didn’t die from the Ibufan or crack cough syrup, and we made it home with all of our vital organs, so I suppose we can call it a success.

Next time, though, I might just go to Cleveland.

Posted by vicki_h 19:21 Archived in Brazil Tagged brazil rio_de_janeiro south_america buzios Comments (2)

Brazil: Part III

Rio de Janeiro: City of God, or Hell on Earth?

Rio de Janeiro has a sexy reputation. It’s know as a scintillating city. When you hear “Rio” what comes to mind are hot Carnival nights where skimpily clad dancers fill the air with feathers and sequins. Images of sultry summer evenings are conjured up, where samba music fills the air and cold caipirinhas flow easily as dancers’ bodies move to the music. You think of tiny bikinis and beautiful bronzed bodies on long beaches of soft white sand. It’s touted as a cosmopolitan city, a sensual and rhythmic place, the sexiest city on earth.

This is not what came to mind as Matt and I sat for hours in bumper to bumper traffic, dirty favelas rising up on either side of us as far as our eyes could see, windows rolled up tight to keep the smell of overflowing garbage and bus fumes out of the car. Men with poles on their shoulders covered with bags of snacks ran up and down in the middle of the lanes of traffic selling food to those of us trying desperately to inch our way into the city in the heat of the afternoon.

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Their road system is simply inadequate for the amount of traffic that they have. God help the 2016 Olympics.

As we fought our way toward the city, we both dreaded the moment we actually had to try to find the way to our guesthouse. I had very good directions, but we had discovered that following very good directions was very hard when there were few signs and nowhere to turn around if you missed a street. Besides that, we were actually leaving the safety of the highway and crawling up into the heart of downtown. One wrong move and we’d be in a one of the many favelas that surrounded the city in an instant.

Matt was extremely ill and the hours we had spent in the car sitting in traffic hadn’t helped.

We were doomed and we knew it.

We did everything right. We followed the signs, we followed the map, we followed the written directions the innkeeper had given us….but we still missed it. After turning up and down the same street 3 times and missing it AGAIN, we figured out there was a sign missing somewhere.

On our fourth try, we missed it again and somehow ended up on the highway again. This meant a 40 minute drive in the wrong direction in sit still traffic before coming to an access road that allowed us to turn around and drive the 40 minutes BACK to our starting point.

At this point, nerves were fried.

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We finally made a desperate move up a side street. This might be our road, but it might also take us up into a bad neighborhood. After 2 hours of driving the same stretch of road, we had to do something.

As we crept down a congested neighborhood street, filled with trucks, garbage, boxes, and loitering people, I had to wonder about those that insist on saying that Rio is a fabulous city. It did not look fabulous to me from any angle, and by now, I had pretty much seen it from every angle.

As I sat in the car, I started to wonder if my parents were right. This would be the perfect time for someone to come rushing out of any of these alleys, as we sat trapped in our car, unable to go anywhere to escape. The worst part was knowing that if we were indeed carjacked or kidnapped, we were too old to sell as sex slaves. No, we’d end up digging ditches or carrying cinder blocks. Or offering up a couple of kidneys.

The only thing we had going in our favor was the fact that the word ECONOMY was stamped on our extremely cheap and crappy little car. Surely, any good carjacker wouldn’t want a cheap little car with a couple of old people in it.

As I sat there sweating it out and Matt cursed under his breath for the fortieth time, I saw our turn.

I SAW IT!!!!

After about 2 miserable hours of trying to find a guesthouse we should have been to in about 10 minutes, we were finally there. As we drove into the Santa Teresa neighborhood, I was happy I had chosen to stay here. We had just driven through the hot and congested Zona Sul, where most people stay, down at the beaches. I had not been impressed. This however, was quiet and quaint.

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Despite the razor wire that appeared on every gate and the bars that appeared on every window, this seemed to be the quieter, more decent face of Rio, and for that I was glad.

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Santa Teresa is a charming historic neighborhood that sits on a hillside overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro. A bohemian arts district filled with cafes and galleries, Santa Teresa has numerous historic mansions that have been converted to guest houses. The cobblestone streets are lined with colorful shops, draping tropical foliage, and a bright yellow bonde, or tram, that runs up and down it’s steep hillsides.

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It was a good way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

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Guesthouse Bianca was a gorgeous old mansion that had four guest suites.

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The owner, Guido, spoke English fluently, and greeted us warmly, showing us to our guest suite, where Matt promptly fell asleep as soon as he touched the bed.

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It was about 2:00 p.m. and I was stressed out and starving. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast, but Matt was now completely comatose on the bed.

I wasn’t willing to walk out and about alone, not really knowing much about where we were, and Matt wasn’t going to be conscious for a while.

To keep myself occupied and to forget my rumbling stomach, I decided to explore Guesthouse Bianca.

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What an amazing house this was. Our suite was very large, with a big bedroom, hall, a large bathroom, and an outdoor balcony with a beautiful view of Sugarloaf Mountain.

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The house itself was filled with amazing architectural details.

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The grounds were as beautiful as the interior.

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When Matt woke up he sounded TERRIBLE, but said he was hungry. We took the advice of Guido and walked a short distance down the street to Espirito Santa.

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The restaurant was small and comfortable, with a cozy patio in back.

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We were seated outside and ordered caipirinhas, Bolinhos de Bacalhau (salt cod balls), and Pastels de Camarao (shrimp pastries).

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We probably overdid it on the appetizers, because when my entrée came, I could only eat about half. Maybe it was just because that fish was huge. (Personally, I tend to think it’s because Matt forced me to skip a meal, thereby causing significant stomach shrinkage in my near-starvation state).

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The fish was thick and lightly fried, wrapped in a banana leaf. It was served with rice and a sweet banana sauce.

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Tired, nerves shot, not sure why we were in Rio but hoping for the best, we decided to call it a night as we walked back to Guesthouse Bianca, the lights of the city twinkling in the distance.

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The sunrise over Sugarloaf Mountain was a sight to behold. It made me hopeful that good things would come from our day in Rio.

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There were 2 things Matt wanted to see in Rio: Christ the Redeemer and one of the famous beaches. There were 3 things I wanted to see, the same 2 Matt wanted to see plus the Escadaria Selaron, primarily because it was only about a block from our Guesthouse.

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The Escadaria Selaron is a mosaic masterpiece in the heart of the Lapa neighborhood, a seedy area that borders the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Chilean born artist, Jorge Selaron, has been tirelessly decorating this unassuming staircase that runs along an alleyway for over 20 years.

This was something that I had to see.

As we started walking to it and Matt realized it involved a one block walk down a ridiculously steep street, he decided it was NOT something he had to see.

As he sat at a corner café to wait, I headed to the top of the stairs.

Although the area is not considered one of the best, it was early in the morning and no one was out with the exception of some very nice people that appeared to be on their way to work. I never felt unsafe.

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I finally reached the head of the stairs. I was awestruck. Colorful tiles from all over the world had been placed lovingly by the artist along the stairs and walls of the alley.

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It was huge and seemed to go on forever, tiles everywhere.

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The 250 steps were a riot of color and pattern.

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Running from Rua Joaquim Silva and Rua Pinto Martins, officially known as Rua Manuel Carneiro, the steps straddle the neighborhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa.

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There are said to be thousands of tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world.

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An ever-evolving piece of art, Selaron says the project will not end until he dies.

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Wowed and amazed by what I had just seen, I almost didn’t notice how horrific the steep trek back up the hill in the broiling heat was.

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As I rounded the corner with the little café, Matt looked up from a small table and I could tell he was furious.

Apparently, while I was gone, he came to the sudden realization that he had actually let me go traipsing about a dangerous neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro alone. I’m not sure if he was more angry at me or himself, but despite my assurances that there was nothing actually dangerous about my walk, he reminded me that I lack the self-preserving fear that God gives most people and that walking around carrying an expensive camera in my hand, I may as well have had big sign on my head that said, “Please rob me. I am a stupid American tourist.”

We made up over espresso and baguettes, compliments of Guesthouse Bianca who provided us with a breakfast certificate for the corner café in lieu of breakfast at the guesthouse.

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As we ate, we kept seeing what seemed to be squirrels running up and down the power lines above our heads, but upon closer inspection, turned out to be monkeys. Only in Rio.

Not really wanting to drive through Rio again, but unwilling to attempt to use the public transportation, particularly when we had a perfectly good Fiat ECONOMY car, we piled in and went in search of that famous statue.

We didn’t realize that it was a very short drive from Santa Teresa. We drove through forested hills, following the signs, and actually found it very easily.

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Christo Redentour is the 130 foot tall statue of Christ that sits atop Corcovado Mountain, in the Tijuca National Forest, it’s outstretched arms open to all of Rio de Janeiro.

Erected as a symbol of Brazilian Christianity, it has become an icon for all of Rio de Janeiro. It seems to be the one thing you must see when visiting Rio, and see it we did.

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It was early and the crowds were light. The view from the top was simply astounding.

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We left Corcovado and followed the signs for the Zona Sul.

The Zona Sul is the area along downtown Rio de Janeiro that houses those world famous beaches: Copacabana and Ipanema.

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We had been told again and again that Copacabana is just too sketchy and dangerous and that if we wanted to get out on the beach, to stick to Ipanema and Leblon.

For that reason, we simply waved at Copacabana in passing.

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Ipanema and Leblon are essentially one long curving beach, backed by towering skyscrapers and fronted by crystal clear water and blinding white sand.

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Where Copacabana is described as grungy and chaotic, Ipanema and Leblon are described as cool and chic.

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We chose our destination based on nothing more sophisticated than where we actually found a place to park – all the way on the Leblon side. We parked and walked down the famous black and white “wave” sidewalk that runs the length of the downtown beaches.

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This guy was proof that ANYONE can wear flip flops.

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After walking for a while, we paid $1 to change into our bathing suits in a bathroom. Yes, there are public restrooms on the beach, but no, they are not free.

A cheap $10 for 2 chairs and an umbrella, and we were settled into the sand.

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It was a busy beach with sparkling turquoise waters, fine white sand and a vibrant beach scene. Locals were busy playing action-packed games of beach volleyball and soccer, lounging on chairs soaking up the sun in their tiny swimsuits, or standing around posing and checking every few minutes to see if anyone was watching.

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We were particularly amused by all the beach vendors. You can literally buy ANYTHING from your chair. Drinks, snacks, clothing, hats. It was all there. Forgot your hat? No problem. You can buy another one. Need a popsicle? Just wait and in 2 minutes, someone will bring one to your chair. Lose your bikini top in the surf? Don’t worry, you can even buy a new swimsuit on the beach.

Somehow, I managed to get a picture of my three favorite vendors in one shot: Bikini selling guy, sarong guy, and beer keg guy. Yes, he was toting 2 beer kegs up and down the beach. Where else, but in Brazil?

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When we’d had enough, we packed it in and headed back to Santa Teresa. It was then that Matt saw the Fogo de Chao sign.

Matt loves Fogo de Chao.

Sure…it’s a chain….but it STARTED in Brazil, so that made it okay to go, right?

Besides, Matt was feeling awful and he had let me drag him around Rio all day. This was the only thing he wanted. We had to go in.

My only hesitation was that I was wearing a bikini, beach shorts, and a sheer cover up top with rubber flip flops. Fogo de Chao is not a casual place.

Maybe it will be more casual for lunch, I thought nervously as the valet took the keys to our awesome ECONOMY car while I tried to kick some of the sand off my feet.

As I walked in and surveyed the tables filled with elegantly dressed women and men in suits and ties, I realized even the wait staff was dressed better than we were. Matt hadn’t shaved in 3 days and was wearing swim trunks, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap. I looked like Betty the Beach Bimbo.

I finally knew how it felt to be the hooker in Pretty Woman in your spandex dress and thigh high boots at the classiest place in town.

I held my head high and hoped that everyone would just think we were so rich we knew we could walk into a place like this dressed any way we wanted.

It must have worked, because within minutes of being seated we saw a group of waiters whispering to one another and looking at our table. Afraid they were going to ask us to leave, I couldn’t believe it when one of them came over to us and whispered to Matt, “Are you that TV artist? That American TV artist? You can tell me. I promise not to tell anyone.”

He was so serious. I remembered a few years earlier when the shop keeper in Italy insisted that Matt was “that American actor.” We still have no idea who they thought Matt was, but apparently the Brazilians think he looks like him too.

We assured them Matt was a nobody, but I could tell by his eyes that he never believed me. Hilarious.

If you have never been to a Fogo, you have to go. A Brazilian steakhouse with the most amazing 4 sided all-you-can-eat salad bar. Actually, to call it a salad bar is just wrong. There is so much more on there than salad. Smoked salmon, cured meats, artisan cheeses, salads, marinated vegetables, sundried tomatoes, artichokes, a bowl of bacon. Seriously…a bowl of bacon. What’s not to love?

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I almost filled up on the cold stuff before I remembered I could also have all the grilled meat that I could hold. The restaurant serves about 15 cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and chicken cooked whole over an open fire. They are brought to you by waiters in traditional goucho attire and they proceed to slice off what you want, as much as you want.

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Without a doubt one of the best meals of the trip.

We walked out feeling like maybe Rio wasn’t so bad after all.

We thought that a minute too soon.

Five minutes later, having missed our turn into Santa Teresa AGAIN, we found ourselves trapped on the highway headed in the wrong direction AGAIN and had to drive for an hour and a half in bumper to bumper traffic AGAIN to get back to our starting point.

By the time we got back to Guesthouse Bianca, we both hated Rio. Two hours in that traffic can undo any good that might have occurred before it.

Matt badly needed a nap, so he crashed while I walked to the Parque das Ruinas which was practically next door to Guesthouse Bianca.

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Ruin Park contains the burned out shell of an old mansion belonging to Brazilian heiress Laurinda Santos Lobo, whose house was a salon for Rio’s artists and intellectuals in the 20s and 30s. Left in ruins, the old brick exterior has metal walkways that ascend to the upper levels where there is a 360 degree view of Guanabara Bay and downtown Rio.

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Matt was feeling pretty bad, but we had reservations at Aprazivel, one of the best restaurants in Rio and just a stone’s throw from Guesthouse Bianca, so he decided he’d get out one last time for the day.

Besides, this was the only restaurant we had wanted to eat at badly enough that we made the reservations months before, via email. I used the Bablefish translator to email my request to them in Portuguese and I am pretty sure to them, it read something like this:

“Hello please. We will visit of the United States in diverse weeks. We will be remaining in the house of Guesthouse Bianca. He is possible to make a reserve for the email? We are excited to come. If he is possible to reserve a special table, that one would be wonderful, please. He forgives me for saying the Portuguese so badly. Very obliged! Until already!”

I know this, because their response to me read something like this, “Debtor for the contact. She is possible to make a reserve for email. Please, she directs me the date, the schedule and number of people to effect its reserve. Debtor for the contact and choosing the Aprazível Restaurant. I confirm reserve for 02 people in day 1 of December to 20:00 h, preferential in area with sight.”

It’s always good to be seated in an area with sight.

We decided to drive even thought it was less than a mile away for three reasons, 1) We never felt safe in Rio, 2) it looked like rain, and 3) Matt didn’t even feel well enough to walk a mile.

The restaurant was incredible. Set on a hillside in Santa Teresa overlooking the lights of the city, Aprazivel is open-air and very tropical, filled with plants, trees, an eclectic décor, and tables built into little tree houses. We were seated at a table that looked like a thick slice out of a giant tree and as I looked up at the thatched roof, I wondered it if would keep us dry as the rain started to pour in buckets just a few feet from our Havianas.

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We suddenly found ourselves in the REAL rain forest café, staring at the pouring rain a foot away as candlelight flickered on our table and the waiters delivered crisp caipirinhas from table to table with umbrellas. We dined as the rain thundered and poured. It was sublime.

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Matt wasn’t feeling up to a caipirinha, so he politely asked the non-English speaking drink waiter for a Coke.

Now, those of you who have never heard Matt speak need to know that he has a deep voice and a low, slow southern drawl. Sounds more like he is from Texas than Tennessee, so when he says, “Coca-Cola” it sounds more like “Co-CO-la.”

All the waiter heard was Co-Co, which is Portuguese for coconut, which is a drink staple down there. Next thing we knew a giant coconut with a straw was sitting on the table.

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I nearly laughed myself silly.

Aprazivel is an award winning restaurant, and I was eager to try the food, but my late lunch had included giant platters of cold meats, cheese, and veges and gluttonous portions of grilled meat. Matt wasn’t even hungry. I opted to order 3 small plates and a dessert.

The first plate was an order of pastels, Brazilian pastries filled with meats or cheeses. Half of these were filled with cheese and shrimp and the other half with a spicy sausage.

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The second plate was a Salada Aprazivel – greens topped with shaved parmesan, grilled slices of eggplant, sundried tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, topped with a tangerine vinaigrette.

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The final, and best, was the escondidinho, which in Portuguese means “the little hidden.” It was a ramekin filled with shredded sundried meat topped with mashed yucca (tastes just like potato) and cheese, baked until the cheese was melted and bubbly.

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Matt managed to eat some of them all, but actually declined on dessert. That’s when I knew he was really sick, when he passed on the Tarte-Tatin, what was essentially a very tall apple pie with caramel and the most delightful homemade ice-cream. It even had a crispy little toffee "Neeble" in there.

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Thankfully, the rain had slowed by the time we left and we managed to get to the car without getting too wet.

Our day in Rio ended uneventfully, unless you count Matt trying to park the car on the street in front of Guesthouse Bianca, which was a very steep street and the space was barely bigger than the Fiat, and proceeding to get the transmission stuck so that it wouldn’t go in reverse and causing him to (very forcefully) smash into the car in front of him, all while some little Brazilian man was leaning out his window yelling at Matt to which Matt responded with some very special English that I hope the elderly man could not understand.

Rio ended as violently as it had begun.

The next morning we would head to Buzios, where hopefully, things would take a turn for the better after a rough day and a half in the Marvelous City. While we had managed to “make the most of it” and actually enjoyed many of the things we did and saw, the general unease that followed us everywhere we went, the fear that kept us from doing many things we would have liked to do, and the disastrous traffic system nearly undid what good we had managed to get out of the city.

I think Matt summed Rio up well when he said, “If God came down and told me I had to spend my remaining years in hell or in Rio….I’d ask him if I could have a day to think about it.”

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Posted by vicki_h 18:32 Archived in Brazil Tagged brazil rio_de_janeiro south_america Comments (3)

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