Category: Brazil

Things that remind me I’m in Brazil

Açai

Açai
Açai

The amazing wonder berry out of the amazon, sold into a “healthy” ice bowl that is often served with banana and granola. Of course, there’s a huge heap of sugar in each bowl and I know it’s still a treat. However it’s really hard to find overseas at a reasonable place.

Weigh by the plate restaurants

The concept of paying however much you put on your plate is typical in Brazil. Restaurants offer a buffet where you load as much you like of salad, vegetables, meat dishes on to a plate. Before eating, your plate is weighed and added to your bill. It’s a great way to sample so many Brazilian dishes without ordering a full plate of them. The cost is extremely reasonale and lets you tailor your meal to your diet.

Mate

Mate is the popular hot tea, often served in a traditional drinking cup with metal straws, intended to be passed around and drunk in a communal fashion. I couldn’t help but laugh to see how popular it was, waiting in the security line at São Paulo behind someone who was trying to figure out with the security person how to get both their full cup of mate through the scanning machine without spilling it!

Tropical fruit

It’s always sad to be reminded of how poor the British Isles are when coming to fresh, season produce. You hit another country and everything tastes like they should. I’ve been indulging in plenty of papaya, pineapple, and watermelon during breakfasts. I don’t normally drink juice, but I’m taking the opportunity to enjoy the freshly pressed guava juice too.

Pao de queijo (cheese bread)

Fluffy puffs of cheesy bread. What’s more to say?

Cachaça

Cachaça seems to be the national spirit to drink after, naturally, beer! It’s an essential ingredient to the Caipirinha but this time I’ve already had a taste of a couple of unique brands.

The passion of people

Perhaps it’s the stark contrast to the European winter, but it’s hard to walk a few blocks without seeing couples passionately kissing or warmly hugging each other when they greet each other.

More beach time in Recife

My third and penultimate stop in Brazil was the coastal town of Recife, located north of Salvador and home of one of the longest stretches of people friendly beaches… if you’re good enough to avoid the shark attacks with over 21 deaths out of 56 shark attacks in the last 20 years. Signs warn swimmers around the beach of the possibility of shark attacks made significantly riskier when you swim beyond some of the protect reef areas, deeper waters and at times of dusk with a high tide.

The stretch of beach is truly magnificent reaching, I’m guessing, about 7km of beach, with something for everyone.

Beach hut operators line the beach in groups, some providing simple services such as catered water, beer and other drinks whilst other give a fuller service such as grilling fresh fish for lunch.

You have all the usual vendors on the beaches of Brazil selling everything from suncream, hats, sunglasses, ice cream, and drinks. I did notice a few differences for the vendors compared to those in Rio, with some selling more “sophisticated” seafood such as crab, mini lobsters and one vendor even selling the famous feijoada stew. The cheese grilling stations also seemed to be a bit of an upgrade with wheeled carts.

With great for lounging-on-the-beach weather for the three days, I was also a bit careful not to get sunburned putting on a large amount of sunscreen and trying to spend some of the afternoon time doing a bit of other sightseeing that meant I wasn’t simply on the beach. I took a bus downtown after being advised by the hotel staff as to where and which one to get and I ended up in a historical part of town, centred around Praça do Marco Zero where you can take a small ferry over to a small island dotted with statues created by Francisco Brennand although note the park is unmanned and could do some work.

There wasn’t really much to do on this island other than some older buildings. I stumbled across a place showing a large screen for the Confederation Cup and noticed that the old buildings has some pretty interesting street art. Still before dusk, I was a little hesitant to walk around by myself as most of the streets seemed deserted and I wasn’t sure how safe I would be by myself, still I took my chances and managed to get some pictures of some nice street art.

When dark approached, I figured it would be simpler catching a taxi back to the hotel. Unfortunately the main strip back seemed to be occupied by protestors (fortunately no incidents happened when I was there). They simply blocked off one of the main traffic streets leading back to Boa Viagem (the area I was staying in) so I decided to brave the smallish crowd since I figured they weren’t going anywhere for a while. I did sit in taxi for another five minutes to see how quickly we progressed (we didn’t). I paid him a little extra, hopped out and simply crossed through the crowd.

Although there was a police presence there, they seemed to play a much more passive role standing to the side rather than trying to create traffic flow again. Fortunately it was pretty easy to get through the crowd who seemed pleased that I was taking photos of the event, and then I jumped in an taxi that was sitting in a taxi rank a couple of streets away.

São Paulo, the city of smut, concrete buildings and traffic

I only spent a couple of nights in São Paulo as I was told there wouldn’t be too much to see. I was told that São Paulo is the business centre of brazil. The same person told me that about 90% of Brazil’s money flows through the city in some way.

Noticeably, on the way to the hotel from the airport, you pass many sex shops, and “love hotels” dotted around the city. My Lonely Planet travel guide told me how the city, a while back, attracted the LA porn industry because of its liberal attitude and the cheap foreign exchange rate. The book went on to say how the American porn industry was ravaged for a short time when one of its actors contracted HIV after having unprotected sex for camera, apparently a much less common practice in Brazil.

In addition to this infamous industry, the city is known as the concrete jungle and you can sort of tell when we were descending from the plane. We passed huge columns of tower blocks, almost until landing when it finally cleared and we hit the airport space. Even though I have been flying to much, the only other cities that I can think of with so many buildings near the airport were Narita in Japan.

I originally came to São Paulo as it was a reasonable distance to fly from Rio and we had recently set up an office there. My company organised for me to give a talk there. Attendance was pretty reasonable considering that the protests going on around Brazil meant that many people were unable to avoid the traffic.

Which is another thing about the city. Traffic, traffic, traffic. Although there is a metro system, it is not very extensive and during peak hours, you have to be prepared to be crushed against other people. London’s tube system prepares you well, although people here are a lot pushier. I had one morning to try it out, taking the metro to a station nearby the Mercado Municipal (city market) apparently well known for fresh produce and other food stuffs. I like seeing what’s on offer – the unusual ingredients, etc even if I’m not going to be cooking.

The market is located in the downtown part. Even with the guidebook and a number of websites, I still found my guard automatically up when wandering the streets because there was so many shady people. Some were simply homeless, and some of them a bit crazy. Others were really out to sell some fake brand goods, or to take you to a place where you can buy them.

The streets leading to the market are also chock-full of many other market stalls selling everything from jewellery, clothes, telephone accessories, you think of it you name it.

I made it to the market reasonably early. I figured I’d skip the hotel buffet breakfast and try to get a coffee and something to eat at the market from the small handful of cafes or stores selling hot food as well as produce to go. There was a whole second floor area with much larger restaurants that I’m guessing caters for a lunch time audience rather than the morning purveyors.

One of the big things to apparently order were the massive mortadella sandwiches. Massively filled with layers and layers of meat (with some variation of cheese or other alternative layers) all within a large bread roll. I’m not a big fan, so I ordered a cheese pastel that turned out to be a rather unhealthily fried pastry, although it was generous, salty and super tasty. Once was probably enough.

One of the other places that I read in the guide book that seemed worth visiting was the area known as “little Japantown” although it’s turning into more Korean and Chinese as other east Asian immigrants move in. The city is well known for its immigration with the largest number of Japanese and Italian immigrants. The result is an explosion of pizza joints and sushi places, in particular the hand-make temaki rolls that you see places devoted to (appropriately called temakerias)

Although I stopped off at Liberdade, “little Japan town” there isn’t really that much to do there as a visitor. It’s interesting to see the different stores, selling almost exclusively Asian wares and the street lamps stylised in a very oriental fashion.

Although there were plenty of churches and museums to check out, the lack of public transportation and not knowing how far some of the sights were made it a bit more difficult for me to want to visit a number of them. Although a very busy city, it feels like you’d want a bit more of a local guide to show you different parts of town.

Holidaying in Rio De Janeiro

I was fortunate to be invited to keynote Agile Brazil this year, and thought it would terrible if I didn’t actually visit other parts of the country and take a bit of a holiday at the same time. This year’s conference is being held in Brasilia (Australia’s equivalent of Canberra) and I had a pretty much unanimous vote from everyone who is either from Brazil or had been to Brazil not to spend too much time there. So, to Rio as my first stop it was going to be. My plans changed a bit after an ex-colleague working for a Globo.com asked for me to do another talk I am giving in São Paulo tonight so with a bit of adjustment, ended up a day earlier in Rio De Janeiro.

Doing this talk in Rio also meant that I saw a part of the town I probably wouldn’t have been able to see – Barra (pronounced Baha) and is the more newly developed part of the city. It’s pretty obvious the commericalisation of shopping was complete with a “American Mall” complete with their own mini Statue of Liberty and all of the Americans labels to go with.

Before visiting the customer for the day, I had the morning free to check out the beaches of Barra. The hotel gave me a pass that allowed me to use a small ferry that crossed a small channel that blocked walking access direct to the beach. I’m sure I could have found a pedestrian bridge further down the road but this was a much nicer way to cross. Barra’s beaches are famous for both being cleaner and better for surfing than those at Copacabana or Ipanema.

I walked up and down the beach for a few hours, and you start to realise why the locals (known as Carioca’s) are as beautiful as they are with so many people out and and about exercising either running along the golden sands, or the pedestrian or cycle ways that line the entire beach up or down.

For those less inclined to exercise, there are plenty of cafes and beach stalls to rest your weary legs, grab a water, or a fresh coconut juice, or even something a bit stronger if you want. I stopped for an espresso where I saw a group of old men decide that it was time to crack open a beer at 9:30.

I even stayed mesmerised as I watched a game of very athletic volleyball played with feet instead of hands. There is probably a very good reason if they can be as dexterous and athletic to play this type of volleyball no wonder they are football champions.

Another really popular sport to do is to ride one of these wide surfboards. Each rider is given a massive paddle to which they can use to push themselves around whilst standing atop the board. I didn’t give it a go, but it certainly looked like fun from the distance.

Here’s a picture of a guy way out at sea (relative to the other beach go-oers)

After only a single night in Barra, I moved back to a hotel nestled in the corner point between Copacabana and Ipanema. Apparently Ipanema is the place to be now with better beaches, better restaurants and a classier set of options with Copacabana limited to the tourist spots. Staying in the Atlantis Copacabana Hotel gave me the option to play either one, as well as being very close to Arpoador, or a the corner cliffs complete with glamorous sunsets of both beaches.

I seemed to have odd luck with weather with two of the four days very rainy and overcast. Even then, the beach doesn’t look too bad right?

One of the other spots to check out when you’re near Arpoador is the outdoor gym area complete with barbells with blocks of concrete on either end and a whole assortment of bars and outdoor equipment. They had everything from single dumbbells to more complete chest presses although not exactly in all of the precise weight selection you’d expect at the gym.

I even went there one morning to hang out with the locals for a light workout before lazing on the beach for most of the rest of the day.

Do be careful when using all of the equipment though. More than one I scraped myself with the concrete blocks and pulled a bit of skin from my hands and my arms.

One of the common things in Rio to do is settle down in one of of the small shacks along the beach. They give you pretty much a full service treatment including beach chair, umbrella rental if you want and drinks on demand. Don’t worry if you get hungry though as lots of beach vendors will wander up and down selling everything from grilled prawns on a stick, freshly grilled cheese (queso), “globo” or what I could guess as fried onion snacks, acai (the magical amazonian berry) and everything else you might think you need such as suncream, or hats. The stands also often set up a makeshift shower for you to wash off the salt from the ocean.

On Sundays they close down one of the roads by the ocean where even more people come out to play. I can only imagine how busy this gets in summer – it was busy and it’s really the off season right now.

Compare the one above the one taken during the week.

One of the other fantastic things to do in Rio is take a trip up to the Sugarloaf mountain. Rather than take a tour, I opted for a morning in the sun on the beach (getting very well close to sunburnt – but not quite!) and then took a taxi over to the mountain. For the sugarloaf mountain, I read that it was much better to do it at your own pace as with a tour group you will be on a schedule and you get much better views and options with two different vantage points.

From up high, and on a clear day, you can even see the famous Christ statute from a distance. Yes, this was taken with a mega-zoom lens 🙂

If you’re lucky, you might even spot some local wildlife. Apparently these animals are quite common near the food court although I still don’t think it’s a good idea to feed them anything as it trains them out of their normal eating patterns.

There are two cable cars, and I think it’s definitely while heading straight for the second lift and coming back for the sunset to be cast against the sugar loaf mountain.

If you’re staying down near Copacabana or Ipanema, I do recommend an afternoon tour of the city and the famous statue of Christ. Partly because taxi fees can grow pretty quickly with the traffic in the afternoon and the Christ statue doesn’t really need that much time hanging around. You pretty much only have a few vantage points to the see the surrounding areas and I think the Sugarloaf mountain is much better.

The tour I did also took a trip down town so you can see some of the weird architectural government buildings as well as the famous open air Church.

I had a great time in Rio and although I could have hoped for a little bit of better weather, I think the rainy days definitely prevented me from frying myself too much.

There are a couple of other things worth doing when you run out of things to do at the beach. First is to visit the Hippie Market fair (Sundays) where you have lots of knick-knacks and the central park becomes a hub of artists. The other are the moving farmers markets that are awesome for spotting some of the great local fruit and vegetables you might see or eat around town.

Things that I didn’t get a chance to do but heard good things include a visit to Santa Theresa (would prefer to do that with a bigger group) and also a night time visit to Lapa.