Buzios, Chic or Shock?
02.12.2011 - 04.12.2011
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!
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.”
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.
Despite the very odd placement of that weiner on the plate, the food was quite delicious.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pharmacy disaster #2 over with, we walked around town for a while.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The caipirinhas flowed, the music played, the waves crashed, and we had a wonderful day doing absolutely nothing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At long last, it was time to head back to Rio. We managed to make it back to the airport with no trouble.
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.