If you tremble at the sight of the world’s largest rodents, shudder at the thought tackling the metric system, or faint at the sight of “men-who-shouldn’t-be-wearing-Speedos” wearing Speedos — Rio de Janeiro probably isn’t for you. But if you want an entirely new cultural experience — unique people, foods, beliefs, and customs — perhaps it is for you.
For three weeks I was subject to all of the unique aspects of the world’s fifth largest country, including the cereal aisles stocked solely with Frosted Flakes and (!) Chocolate Frosted Flakes, the devastating extent of the favelas (Brazilian slums), and the die-hard country-wide passion for the game of futebol (soccer).
…I was almost completely unprepared.
I say “almost” because, after four years of Spanish, I had a decent level of fluency. Fortunately, Spain and Portugal are neighbors: the languages are very similar. (Yes, they speak Portuguese in Brazil—NOT Spanish!)
From first glance, Rio seems like any other city. There are tons of taxis and ten times as many people. Vendors sell their wares with gusto and restaurants and bars are filled into the wee hours of the morning. On second glance, the city and its inhabitants are more unique than any I’ve ever seen before. I’ve seen the Golden Gate Bridge, the White House, Graceland, the St. Louis Arch, and the Houston Rodeo, but I’ve never seen anything quite like Rio.
If you get the chance to visit the city hosting the 2016 FIFA World Cup, check out the beaches –Ipanema and Copacabana. Ipanema Plaza (http://www.ipanemaplaza.com.br/en/accommodation) is located only a block away from the beach, has delicious citrus scented shampoo and a breakfast bar that will leave you bursting with fresh Brazilian coffee, fruits and breads. Walk to the beach, and (on a sunny weekend day) you won’t find a good beach spot before 10:00 a.m. Get there early and buy a coconut from one of the many stands along the beach. For only a few Reais, you can enjoy the unique taste of coconut water, straight from a coconut. If you don’t speak Portuguese, I’ve found that the “point-at-the-menu-and-smile” technique works surprisingly well too!
After hanging out on the beach, don’t forget to visit Corcovado (the famous Christ statue overlooking Rio). You can wait for a train to take you up the mountain or save some time (and money) by paying a taxi driver. If you’re really really really adventurous (and a little loco), you could hike or bike up the mountain. Be careful of the cars though — everyone in Brazil drives like they’re in a video game!
Next, visit Sugarloaf (Pao de Acucar). Get there early to avoid the long lines. Bring your camera to snap a few shots of the cute monkeys that hang out in the trees at the top. Buy a presunto e queijo (ham and cheese) sandwich and a cold bebida (drink) and enjoy the view! Helicopter tours are available too!
You could spend weeks in Rio and still not see half of it, but a few days will give you a general idea of what Brazil has to offer. Between the diverse wildlife, people, and culture, you won’t leave feeling disappointed. While in Brazil, I gained an appreciation for the breadth of the cereal aisle in America, I opened my eyes to a culture dominated by soccer, and I embraced an entirely new language. If the opportunity presents itself, I’d go back in a heartbeat…. perhaps even for the 2016 Summer Olympics. One thing’s for sure, though, I’m glad that “everything’s bigger in Texas” isn’t always true—Brazil is home to capybaras, the world’s largest rodents!
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