A Glimpse of the Real Brazil
Featured destinations: Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Iguazu
Published 07 March 2017
Hangliding over Rio © Rob BradleyMy apartment was perched upon a cliffside looking out onto the Atlantic Ocean; I could hear waves continually crashing against the rocks below as I craned my neck out of the window to absorb the instantly magical surroundings. To my right I could see what I assumed were favelas in the distance, whereas to the left, a road led down the hill towards the beaches, high-rise buildings and jutting tree-covered peaks for which Rio de Janeiro is famous. I later had an even better view of the scene as I took to the skies in a hanglider.
Cycling Rio’s beaches © Rob BradleyOn my first full day in Rio, the sands of Ipanema and Copacabana were amongst several beaches I wanted to get acquainted with. Now, unknown to me, these beaches are all connected, running down Brazil’s western coastline under the watchful eye of Christ the Redeemer. The real question is how to see these wonders; I chose bicycle. As I slinked my way along the pedestrian walkway which runs parallel to the beaches, narrowly avoiding joggers, roller-bladers, and fellow cyclists, this reserved Brit was blinded by the amount of flesh on view. Ladies in thongs, men in thongs, their pets in thongs (almost) and most were not just idly sunbathing but actively engaging in a variety of sports (apart from the pet) of which beach volleyball seemed to be the staple.
Drinking from a coconut © Rob BradleyFor refreshment along the way, you can always stop at one of the many snack bars and order a coconut and devilishly devour its watery contents. If this is not invigorating enough, try a local delicacy called acai juice which is bound to give you a much-needed energy boost.
Ipanema BeachCycling between the beaches of Rio, I’d expected all locals to have a sun-kissed complexion with jet-black wavy hair. Not so - some were quite pale and even had ginger hair. With this being the case, you’d almost expect me to blend in. Again, not so - "Black, grey, black, grey… that’s all you Brits wear", announced a local from a town near Sao Paulo, "you’re dreary, like your weather!" mocked the multi-coloured joker. On a serious note though, she did point out that as long as I didn’t speak, people may well assume that I am local. I gleefully rammed my Brazilian Portuguese phrasebook to the bottom of my rucksack, never to be seen again.
FeijoadaIndeed, I found that when using a tour guide, the local language is the least of your concerns. On one such trip, a local teacher took me and a couple from the US to a restaurant in a nearby favela. We got out of the car and stood at the kerbside of this narrow side-street as our guide gingerly parked his car. We immediately struck up a conversation based on the fact that we were in a favela, unsure of our unfamiliar surroundings. However, local knowledge goes a long way, and our guide had chosen us a quiet street and a decent restaurant with efficient staff. He suggested a dish called feijoada which is basically meat and beans – we never did find out what kind of meat we were eating, but the meal served its purpose and filled a hole. For dessert we succumbed to our sweet tooth and ordered paçoca, a moreishly good candy, best avoided if you have an allergy to peanuts or an expanding waistline!
Iguazu Falls © Rob BradleyFurther afield, I took a trip to the magnificent Iguazu Falls which is situated on the Brazil/Argentina border. It not only has the largest collection of individual waterfalls in the world but also boasts an unusual creature called the coati that can only be described as a cross between a racoon and an anteater.
Coati © Rob BradleyAll in all, Brazil produced the scenery and people I had dreamt of, and even though everyday life is not that different to ours in Blighty, Brazilians have own unique way of living and eating that may make you want to don a thong and dance the samba, energy permitting of course!