Thursday, January 26, 2012

Babecation in Rio - Part II

It is Monday, January 23rd and we're chilling on the beach in Bali. Our hosts, Sara and Jesse took us to a small and quiet hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean. The "hotel" consists of a few bungalows spread across a green lush garden right on the edge of the cliff by the ocean. People come here to relax and escape the crowded touristy areas of the island. We've been here for 3 days lost in perpetual indulgence, as Anne wisely put it. Today we're heading up north in the mountains, to a town called Ubud, the cultural center of the island, and also the place where Eat, Pray, Love takes place. Will I find my own Javier Bardem? But I'm getting side-tracked here; this post is supposed to be about Rio.

It seems to be getting harder to get myself to writing these blog posts. Overwhelming sensations, days full of new experiences... and the will to sit down and rationalize about them slowly goes away. On the other hand, if I don't write about it as soon as it happens, some of the smaller details and sensations tend to get lost in the bigger picture.
We called it "babecation" (a term whose creation I think belongs to my dear friend Elena Mangione, whom I miss a lot, btw) because my coworker Bruna from StumbleUpon joined us during the Rio part of our round-the-world trip. Bruna is Brazilian and she can't get enough of Rio. So, despite having a really long holiday vacation (StumbleUpon is really generous with that), she took an extra week off to meet us in Rio.

Aside from increasing the babe factor, having Bruna with us helped enormously because she speaks Portuguese. Which we don't. And in Brazil nobody speaks English. Nor Spanish. And those who do, refuse to understand. In terms of communication, Brazil was a real bitch for us. I speak Spanish pretty well and thought I'd be able to get around or understand what they're saying, but HELL NO! Ordering food and drinks on the street was a pain in the ass, asking for directions was impossible, we really had a hard time. I was almost in tears with frustration. Many times I tried to ask basic questions, often using gestures, and all I'd get back from the salesperson would be shrugs or a tirade of fast spoken Portuguese. But I guess I'm in their country, I have to play by their rules.

To get to Rio, we took a bus from Foz de Iguazu (on the border with Argentina) and sat on that bus for over 24 hours. The bus cost around 140 USD, but it was still cheaper than flying, which would've been about $300 one way. We assumed the bus would be just as nice as the overnight buses we took in Peru and Argentina, but no... this bus was shitty and nothing worked. The lights didn't work, the AC didn't work, the chairs were stiff and didn't recline and it leaked water from the rain. At some point, a pissed off passenger yelled at the bus driver (what exactly I don't know, since apparently I can't understand Portuguese at all) and after a short while the bus stopped and we were asked to transfer to a different bus. It was some time past midnight.

The views out the window compensated for the shitty ride. Brazil is a gorgeous country. It's so incredibly green. I wonder if the green in the flag stands for that. Every inch of land is covered by lush, seductive green-ness. There's no dry land, there's no dead land. Anything that exists immediately gets covered by lush vegetation. The image above shows these chandelier-looking trees. I don't know how they're called, but they were all over the hillsides on our 24-hour bus ride.

The thing that impressed me the most about Brazil is how well integrated the races are. Unlike United States, where blacks don't quite mingle with whites, Brazil is a fully and beautifully integrated country. It's how it's supposed to be. It's how it should've been in the US too, if race segregation didn't happen after slavery was abolished. In Brazil, segregation didn't happen, so people mingled from the moment slavery went away. It's hard to explain it, unless you're there and see it with your own eyes and if you've also been in the States and seen it there as well with your own eyes.
A little alley in Ipanema that was lined up with hostels. Since the hostels were tiny and didn't have communal hang-out areas, people were mostly hanging out on the stoop, turning the alley into a big stoop party.
We arrived in Rio on Saturday, January 7th. We didn't have a place to sleep. We looked up the address of a hostel in Lonely Planet and told the cab driver to take us there. We walked in and the place was fully booked. We walked to another hostel and it was full as well. We made the mistake not to book anything in advance, thinking we'd just find something once we get there. Bad thinking, since January is prime time in Rio and everything fills up fast. After a few hostels rejected us, we finally found one that had room. We gladly took it, even if it was overpriced and shitty. In Rio, beggars can't be choosers. Paying $30 for a bunk bed in a tiny 6-bed dorm room is all there was available for our budget and we took it.

As soon as we were done with that, we went straight to the beach, where we got coconuts and took the photo you can see above. Hell is always followed closely by heaven on our trip.

Ipanema beach must be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Beautiful soft white sand, gorgeous people, breathtaking mountains in the background... you can understand now why it's such a tourist attraction.
Ipanema beach is apparently split into sections, and each of them defines the type of people who tan their bodies in that area. There is one section for families and children, one section for "the rich and the beautiful", one section for the gay. Post Number 9 was for the beautiful people... we went there, of course. And what did we see? We saw a lot of chiseled and oiled male bodies and plenty of big butts with almost invisible bikinis. We got very confused because here in Brazil we couldn't tell which men were gay or not, since all men were fit and wore tiny sexy beach trunks. By American standards, you'd think that all men are gay, but no... they just like to work out and show off their bods playing soccer on the beach. The other thing we liked is how confident women are with their bodies. We saw big fatties with overflowing bellies and asses wearing tiny string bikinis. And nobody judged them, stared at them, laughed at them. That was beautiful.

 View of Ipanema beach from the eastern end, where it meets with Copacabana beach.

 A closeup of the western end of the Ipanema/Leblon beach, where you can see a favela creeping up on the hillside. Rocinha is the largest favela in Brazil and one of the most developed. Rocinha's population is estimated at between 150,000 and 300,000 inhabitants.

 On Sundays, the street closest to the beach shuts down to car traffic and fills up with skateboarders, bicyclists, joggers and roller skaters. I've never been to Miami, but I hear it's a lot like it.

The gay section of Ipanema beach is full of hunks in tiny colorful trunks. It's also the most packed section of the beach, as if someone drew an invisible line on the sand. I guess it's a great place to socialize and meet new love interests. We also saw a lot of foreigners with Brazilian boyfriends/vacation lovers.

 No shorts, no problem! You can buy them straight on the beach. Those yellow trunks are pretty sweet, don't ya think?

 With so many beaches and beach time all year round, waxing salons are doing great business in Rio. And boy do they take their waxing seriously! I went to get my wax on (no, it's not what you think) and had to take a photo of the waxing menu (see above). An extensive list, in alphabetical order, split by gender... you can basically get any part of your body waxed... and see the 3rd item on the list? And if you're a guy, you can even get your balls waxed! My dear male friends, has any of you ever tried that?

 There is a little park that you can walk through to cross from Ipanema beach to Copacabana beach. Its sandy alleys are carpeted with these yellow flowers.

 Night time is the perfect time to work out. After the scorching sun is gone and when people get off work, they come to the beach to play a game of volleysoccer (I just made that name up.) It's basically playing soccer with a soccer ball using a volley net. Just like in soccer, you can't touch the ball with your hands.

It's Monday night, the night Bruna arrived. We met up with her at the hostel and went for a walk on the beach. Here we are - day 1 of our babe-cation.

 Our shitty and overpriced hostel room. For $35/bed/night - this prison cell was the most expensive and least comfortable accommodation we've had on our trip so far. The mattresses were covered in blue plastic, probably to avoid getting stained by all the young party girls puking caipirihnas late at night. Under the mattress, there were sheets of wood, cracked or completely broken.

Most gas stations in Brazil carry etanol as alternative to normal gas. When will we see this in the US I wonder.
Our trip has been an eating extravaganza so far. Here we are, trying out deserts from Bahia, a region in the northern part of Brazil. Anne is eating a slice of coconut pudding cake and I'm eating caramelized coconut flakes with orange peel. I love trying out street food!

 The medicine man - an old guy selling all sorts of herbs, potions and teas.

 Downtown Rio, aka their version of the Financial District. Old tall buildings, with an old school charm.

Bruna and Anne by one of the gates surrounding an old Portuguese church in the heart of the downtown area.

Blue painted tiles inside the church - the color blue is traditional to Portuguese architecture.

I wonder how many other tourists take this same shot? This is in Santa Teresa, a cute romantic neighborhood perched at the top of a hill. We had a really hard time getting there, as all cab drivers we approached refused to take us there. Apparently, the road to St. Teresa is a steep windy cobble road and cabbies don't want to break their cars going up there. I suspect it might also be superstition, as the road used to have a tram on it. A few years ago, the tram went off the rails at a downhill turn and flew down the cliff, killing all the passengers inside. It was a big tragedy and the train was discontinued.

 The streets in Santa Teresa are lined up with cute little shops, restaurants and all sorts of wall art, such as this one.

Dancing on the streets in Lapa. The guy on the left taught us how to dance samba and we all danced together on the sidewalk outside a packed venue where a band was doing a live show.

Samba, de Janeiro!

View of Copacabana beach from the rooftop swimming-pool of a swanky hotel. Yup, we really love crashing hotel pools and we keep doing it in style! Ballers on a budget is what we are after all. As we were swimming on the 30-something floor, lulled by the most refined elevator music, we met a few Italian guys, who flew all the way from good ol' Europe to shoot an exotic music video for a hip Italian band. We had an enjoyable conversation with them. Dear Italian dudes, if you happen to read this, sorry we lied about staying at the hotel. We don't even know how much the rooms were, but I bet we couldn't afford it.

 Lunch at a beach bar in Buzios. Life is good!

Crashing yet another hotel pool, this time in Buzios. This one we got kicked out of, but not until we've used the hot tub and pool for several hours.

 Cruise ships line up in the harbor in Buzios.

 We saw these pretty windows and couldn't help doing a little fashion photoshoot sporting our latest yellow accessories: Anne's necklace and Bruna's blouse. A true babe-cation indeed!

 Anne and I with our matching 5-dollar hats.

 One of the many beaches in Buzios, packed with Argentine tourists. You could hear more Spanish than Portuguese in that place. And thank God, the sound of Argentine Spanish is music to my ears!

 Getting our beach cocktails on! When in Rome, do as the Romans.

Eating fried fish at a local fisherman's eatery in Buzios. Anne and I each ate a whole fried fish, white Bruna got a fish stew with coconut milk.