Brazil: Yep, still here
It’s been a month now and no idea where the time has gone. I went out last night for my birthday and had a really great time dancing the night away. No one else knew that they were there to celebrate my birthday – but I did, and that´s all that matters. That is another great things about Latin America – men like to dance! At home it’s like pulling teeth…but here you can´t get them to sit down! It´s fabulous! Rio has an awesome nightlife Shamefully, last night was my first and only time out.
My Rio favorites thus far:
Santa Teresa bairro: This is a really cool part of the city. It is a neighborhood near downtown, but high up on a hill. From the bairro there are great views of different parts of Rio. The coolest part is that the way to get up there if you are part of the car-less population, is to take an old, rickety tram (called bondinho) that leaves from downtown and snakes its way up the hill (see pic). It’s very San Francisco like and passes charming old homes and colonial buildings on narrow, curvy streets. It’s a bumpy ride, but I loved it! Santa Teresa is where the artist-types live, and consequently there are fun coffee shops, over-priced boutiques, and great restaurants stuffed to the gills on the weekends. We ate at a place that specializes in “mineira”food – which means food typical to the state of Minas Gerais. Now one problem I’m having with going out to eat here is that they are constantly forcing me to share my food. I don’t like to share my food. In fact, I prefer to eat all of my food, AND try the dish(s) of my dining partner(s). But here, it is quite common that all the entrees on the menu are for 2 people, meaning we only get to try one thing per visit. The other problem is that I never want to eat what the other person wants to eat, and vice-versa. Call me difficult, but I want to order whatever the hell I want.
Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas: This is the peaceful lake a few blocks from where I am staying. It has become part of my morning routine and is the perfect example of how the cariocas are dedicated to leisure as there are always people out for a stroll, a jog, a bike ride, or some roller-blading (Renee – makes me miss you and our wash park dates!!). There are basketball courts and soccer fields and rowing centers all along the path. It’s a great atmosphere! One thing that concerns me is that the water is too polluted to swim in, yet there are always fisherman out standing in the water tossing out their nets…..now if the water is too nasty to swim in, I can’t imagine the fish to be very healthy. Do they end up on my plate later on? Maybe they are just practice fishermen. Oh, and some of you will be happy to know that there is a man who I’ve seen several times now from Dubuque, IA!! He always has on a Clarke College sweatshirt and I yell Go Hawks to him as we cross paths. The little ways I entertain myself! The best part of my mornings at the lake is the Agua de Coco. They have these huge crates of coconuts and when you order one, they hack off the top with a machete, stick a straw in it, and for the rip-off price of $1.25 hand it over so that you can quench your thirst with the sweet coconut water. That one’s for you mom!!
Ipanema Beach: Not only is it the home of The Girl, but it is a wonderful beach screaming with what makes Brazil, well, Brazil. It is one of the cleaner city beaches and a fun place to people watch and to watch the surfers, beach volleyball games, soccer games and fitness nuts exercising like crazy people. Beachfront property here doesn’t really mean beachfront. So, restaurants and hotels and all buildings are actually across the street, making the beach, just the beach. There are several stands renting umbrellas and selling refreshments, snacks and frosty beverages, but my favorite part is waiting to see what the walking vendors will offer up. You can buy all kinds of goodies on the beach – Arabian fried foods, disgusting rice-cake-like chips, shots of carrot juice that supposedly make you tan faster, iced tea, sunglasses, gaudy earrings, and shrimp-kabobs! My beach tolerance level is pretty low, so after an hour or so, I head in a couple of blocks where the streets are lined with juice bars and lanchonettes for snacks.
I also went to the botanical gardens a couple weekends ago. It is just down the street from where I am staying and has some really impressive 30 meter high royal palm-lined paths (Dad, feel free to correct the punctuation on that one!) It also had an orchid-arium, with tons of orchids in full bloom!! They were all very pretty and stunk good, however, I couldn’t help but have a horrid flashback to the orchid show that my mom made my dad and I sit through in January in Colombia. Ugh.
It’s a hard-knock life: I feel I’ve done a disservice in my blog-writing to Brazil, and South America in general by painting a picture of everything being all hunky-dory. It really isn’t so. There has been extreme poverty in all of the countries I’ve been to and in many places there is only despair in the eyes of the people. In some countries, it has been masked better than in others, but it exists everywhere. It has been humbling to see the way some people live, especially coming from a culture of hoard, hoard, hoard, me, me, me. It really has a huge effect on the guilt factor. Here I am, indulging in a splurgeful dream trip when there are people here (and at home) who can barely survive. There have been times where it is impossible to eat my meal because there are so many people begging. Unfortunately, it is sometimes too easy as a tourist to ignore, but here I’ve been able to take off my backpacker blinders and observe. Brazil has a very notorious income gap problem. Here you are either well-off, or dirt poor. The middle-class, as we know it, hardly exists. But, unlike other Latin American cities where the poor are safely snuggled into secluded parts of the city, here they are all mingled together in this very densely populated city. Favelas (slums) can be found right next to beautiful homes and they are interspersed throughout the city. It can make for very drastic changes from block to block. Right now, out the living room window (see pic), I see the favela Dona Marta crawling up a dangerously steep hill, and right next to it, some high-rise condos. Nonstop on the news I hear stories of gun battles and people being killed by stray bullets in the favelas in the ongoing struggle between law enforcement and the drug lords who run them. Oddly, as I watch these news reports, I still feel like I am watching international news and hearing about some very far off place, not just down the road. From my pretty little apt in this pretty little part of town, it’s easy to forget that all of that is happening here. I guess this is why it is equally easy for the “well-off” portion of the population to sigh with pity, shrug their shoulders, and look the other way at the poverty problems of this country. I suppose that happens in all parts of the world.