My third day in Rio was the National Holiday “Children’s Day” and Flavia, my coworker, took me all around the city. While most people in Brazil speak very little English, her English is close to fluent. What’s so impressive is that she’s barely spoken any English since she was 17 when she did an exchange for only 3 months in North Carolina. And since my arrival she’s picked it back up completely! She’s been so so helpful for translating with my other co-workers, but she’s also been an amazing tour guide.
Our day started at one end of Copacabana beach. Copacabana is an area of Rio where Flavia lives, a touristy neighbourhood that’s very close to the beach. Copacabana is just one of many incredibly beaches in Rio. What’s unique about the city is that all these beaches are integrated right into the city. Flavia said many Cariocas will hit the beach after work and always on the weekend. Every beach has a different “vibe” and Copacabana seems like one of the more energetic, buzzing, crowded beaches. It was packed full of teenagers and young people running around. One thing I’ll say is that Rio is just plain LOUD – everyone’s yelling, even shouting, it’s crowded, music is always playing (even on the public transit) – but that’s part of the charm.
We walked the entire beach and then had some snacks and a coconut (one of my favs)! From there we headed over to Sugar Loaf, a set of beautiful mountains that’s a popular attraction for tourists and locals for its stunning views. We opt-ed to hike the the smaller of the two mountains and beat the gigantic lines to take the tram up. The trek was a nice bit of exercise, and the views as you climbed up were stunning. I finally got to see the full panorama of Rio and it made me appreciate the beauty of the city. What makes it so gorgeous is that the beaches and mountains are nestled within the city, so you have pockets of development and favelas which are built around all these natural features, giving the city a really distinct look.
From there Flavia, my tireless tour guide, took me to one of Rio’s largest fairs – the feira de são cristóvão – devoted to Brazil’s Northern culture. There’s been a large amount of migration from the North (which tends to be more rural and less developed) to the cities in the South/East. So this is where all those Northerns get a taste of home cooking and familiar music. The fair as you might imagine is massive and incredibly overwhelming. Not the kind of place I’d venture to on my own, but I was so glad Flavia took me as it was a unique cultural experience I otherwise wouldn’t have had. The fair is chock full of vendors selling northern food, nothern treats and even has a stage where northern artists perform the popular music Forro. It really was something incredible to see! Alice the director of Asta later told me she used to come to this fair as a teenager, where they’d party late into the evening and dance the night away.
I really enjoyed this fair because it felt like a glimpse into how “the people” live – not the fancy affluent Brazilians who love plastic surgery or American brands – but the regular folks who come here to relax, blow off steam and have fun. I’m learning that Brazilians are really good at having fun and living in the moment!
We had a quick bite and then made our way over to karaoke at a bar within the fair where Flavia’s friend was having a birthday party. One of my favourite discoveries so far in Rio is that a lot of popular pop songs from North America are remade here using the original melody, but sung by Brazilian artists with different lyrics. The best example: Celine Dion’s Power of Love was a well known (albeit still very cheesy) song by a Brazilian artist. Flavia and her friends chose it for Karaoke and had no idea it was originally a Canadian tune. Of the course my Canadian tendency of urgently pointing out all other famous Canadians came out and I made sure they all knew where the song came from 🙂
I’m sure your wondering at this point, but what have you EATEN? Well the day was full of some authentic Brazilian food. At the top of Sugar Loaf we stopped to have a frozen Acai, made from simply the pure frozen Acai fruit blended into an almost smoothie like texture, very refreshing and not too sweet!
At the beach we had a traditional drink called Mate. Vendors come around the beach selling the home made Mate. You have the option to mix it with Lemonade which I’m going to try next time, but to start I just had the original. Flavia told me it’s made with some sort of herbal mixture, which gives it a distinct flavour. Along with the Mate we had a snack called Globo Biscoitos (in the green and yellow bag). I’ve heard them described as “puffed crisps” that you can get as salty or sweet. Naturally we tried both. Both are classic beach snacks!
For our main meal of the day we had a Northern dish called “Carne de Sol” which basically means meat of the sun. It’s salted beef that’s been dried or cured – sounds weird but it tasted great (the salt really bring out the flavor). Apparently the dish developed as all great food does, from poor populations who have to find a work-around to make great tasting food with limited resources. So without refrigeration to keep the meat fresh, they developed this curing technique. And like with every Brazilian dish it came with a side of rice and beans (a staple of their cuisine). A meal of meat, rice and potatoes is the kind of food Brazilians eat at every meal, lunch and dinner. Alice complained to me that when she went to America they didn’t eat “real” food, and I can totally see how you’d find how our chopped salads really sad if you’re used to eating rice and meat 🙂
After fair we headed home to recover from a full day of touring and eating.
The rest of my week was devoted more to work and research – updates coming soon!