Wow. Just wow. Where do I begin? Sitting here at the airport feels shitty – it’s not easy leaving a place where you feel like a princess 24/7. I think it’s fitting that I do a post/blurb per city I visited because I have so much to say about this beautiful, sensual country.
Guaruja – all work and all play makes Jups smarter and tanner.
I know that not many people get the opportunity to fly all the way to Brazil for a training program. And since I had already planned a holiday for after the program, I was not too concerned about how I spent my time in Guaruja – a cute beach town 2 hours away from Sao Paolo with surprisingly nice beaches and warm, soft waves. My training schedule ended up being as perfect as perfect gets. After breakfast on the balcony facing the ocean, we started at 830 am and worked till 12 and then took a massive 2.5 hour lunch break during which we could choose to chill in the pool (floating around on giant foam boards), walk by the beach, get mani/pedis, etc etc and still have time to shower and change for the next session which lasted until midnight. No complaints, none whatsoever.
Rio de Janiero…the cariocas stole my heart…
Rio is everything you heard about it. Multiplied by ten thousand. It is a chic city. It is miles of beautiful white sand beaches . It is mountains that offer stunning views. It is filled with women with banging hot bodies and men so handsome they put the Gods to shame. It is caipirinhas so strong one drink can knock you out. It is exotic fruit smoothies like acai with bananas and strawberries and granola, that energize you out of the worst hangovers. It is Asa-Delta, hang gliding from Pedro Bonita and landing on Sao Conrado beach. It is catching the breathtaking sunrise on Leblon and the sun dissolving over the Bahia de Guanabara from Pao de Acucar. It is the rich of Gavea living right across from the favela of Rocinha. And Rio is so. much. more. As
ironic as it sounds, I felt extremely safe in what is generally considered a rather unsafe, crime-ridden city. Against advice, I did not “call for taxis”, I took the metro, I walked around at night and I went to the beach late at night. Maybe I was just lucky, or maybe said reports are exaggerated and outdated. Either way, I have a billion interesting stories from the 4 days and 4 nights that I spent in the city of samba. I went to really local places, where Bunny and I would be the only strangely coloured foreigners who spoke enough Spanish to betray their Indian and Chinese faces. We ate bolinhos de bacalao (fried cod balls) at Bracarense and hot, deep friend pastels and chilled sugar cane juice on the street. The men here (HBMs – hot Brazilian men, as my friend calls them) can melt a girl’s heart with their flattery, because unlike in the rest of the world where a hot man is arrogant, the HBMs are humble, generous with the compliments and boy can they play a mean game of “futvolei” in their sungas ( futvolei is a hybrid of football rules used on a beach volleyball fi
eld and sungas are the teeny tiny speedos they play in). Nice men, surfers from Barra de Tijuca and doctors, gave us rides back home at 7 am after a night of partying at Rio Scenarium in Lapa. Even the gay men were nice to us – a gay couple introduced us the Metro in Rio (clean, posh trains that are about as “scary” as a newborn puppy) and invited us to a carnaval rehearsal (which we had to decline in favour of samba dancing). I was given enough compliments to last a lifetime ( but hey I wouldn’t mind more) – I was told I looked Brazilian (fairly believable considering my skin tone after the hours of sun and the long wavy hair) and obviously I was flattered. That I spoke spanish and pigeon portuguese with a perfect carioca accent was a ginormous plus. I sincerely believe that every woman should go to Rio at least once, if you’re a woman who has had a bad breakup or a personal crisis or are just plain sick of being invisible and you want to feel like a princess, Rio is the city for you. Recounting my Rio stories to my Paulistana/o friends in Sao Paolo, I was informed that my experiences were so local that even they hadn’t done what I had done. So it’s official, the Jups has found her home away fromhome, her happy place in times of crisis. The Jups is carioca at heart.
Foz do Iguazu – don’t go chasing waterfalls…
The Brazilians I know don’t go to Foz do Iguazu. I’ve been told the country is quite classist and the rich don’t really mix with the poor (contrary to the situation in Rio) and Iguazu is more of a lower class vacation option. So Foz is filled with international tourists – make that really really old tourists. So old and so European that Bunny and I,
for a fleeting moment, want to get off the plane and run back to Rio. But Foz is a must-see, must-do place. The mighty Iguazu river shared by Brazil and Argentina falls from great heights and over great breadths into panoramic waterfalls that span several thousand metres that make walking through the borders of both countries an exhilarating and touching experience, especially if you have the soul of a romantic like I do. I squealed with delight, jumped and clapped my hands and gasped “oh my god oh my god” several times. As to the much-repeated question, which side should you go for – the Brazilian or the Argentine side? Here’s my answer: The Brazilian side offers wide panoramic views from far, a walk almost under the Garganto del Diablo (the stunning devils throat falls) that lets you get thoroughly soaked and an elevator ride a few metres above the falls for a breathtaking view. The Argentine side on the other hand lets you get up close and personal with the falls. Brazil’s the foreplay and Argentina is the fantastically intimate finale. Crossing the border, you walk several h
undred metres into the forest, take the cutest choo-choo-like train to the devil’s throat and watch and hear the thundering river “fall” right under your feet as a wet Argentine flag flies proudly.
You then walk the inferior and superior circuits and see several of the smaller falls; in other words you explore and experience every single mini-fall that forms part of that panoramic shot you took from the Brazilian side. You get drenched again as at one point you get to go under one such mini-fall. And then comes the boat-ride.
With Argentina staking majority claim over the breadth of both the falls and the river, there is no denying that the boatride offered in Argentina is miles better than the one protecting in Brazil. The walk to the boat in an experience in itself, you walk through the black rocks taking in lush-green views that you thought only existed on Pandora. With a tarpauline bag our belongings and dressed in bikinis and lifevests, we squealed and screamed as our little boat whizzed through the monstruous currents that obviously came into the boats soaking us from the side and then we were spellbound as the boat coolly parked itself right under the falls. You take in the height of the falls right over your head squinting against the sun shining right above. You’re getting soaked by the violent but clean shower. You can not think – the thundering noise and the water pounding over your head won’t let you. It’s the cleanest, physically and mentally, that you can feel and that feeling alone makes the whole trip worthwhile. That, and the picture your friend took of you sans make up, looking like a million dollars in front of the most beautiful waterfalls you’ve ever seen.
P.S. We went to get a drink at a local bar and the bartender was hitting on me in wanton fashion. “So, you are a beautiful girl…with a beautiful body… I get off work at 12…I can meet you in your room”… pretty cavalier huh? I made a run for it the second he returned to the kitchen.
Sao Paolo – can I just move here already?
They say Brazil is an emerging market, a developing country. I know this country well, I think; after all, I look at the market on a daily basis. Then I get to Sao Paolo with its fantastic roads and towering plush condos and expensive restaurants and bars and how can i forget, exquisite fashion and all those presumptions go out the window. I spent all of 2 days in Sao Paolo – blame the 26 hour return flight and loss of time for this – but it was enough to know that this is a metropolis I could easily live in, currently limited language skills notwithstanding. My friends are already making a pretty strong case for me to move here and I have to say that I am tempted. It shouldn’t even be that difficult considering what I do and where I work. Sidebar: Orangetree disagrees (yes he’s still somewhat in the wide-angled picture) and says he doesn’t really like the people. Mary and Russell love me to bits, they were extremely kind to me. I met Pele, an extremely good looking colleague that I have been working with for over a year (on phone/email only) and his mother (who was chaperoning him since he broke his leg in a pretty severe road accident). His mother liked me so much she offered me a chance to stay in their summer house in Buzios! Can you blame me for wanting to move here?
Shopping and the works.
You would think that with the company bearing the (business class) airfare from Hong Kong to Sao Paolo, this would be a pretty cheap trip for the Jups but if you did, you wouldn’t know the Jups too well, would you? Hotels in Rio, especially in the nice neighbourhoods are not cheap and you don’t get quality nor space. You pay hotel rates and get guesthouse-like facilities with the saving grace usually being the cleanliness, the friendly staff and a lovely breakfast spread with traditional american elements like eggs and breads and meats coupled with brazilians fruits, juices and sweet baked delights and let’s not forget excellent coffee.
Let’s talk about shopping because like everything else in Brazil, shopping is a uniquely local experience. This proud intrinsically focused country boasts of a unique fashion industry where everything from shoes to dresses to bikinis are “feito a mao”, usually handmade on brazilian soil. So if for a second you can forget the price tag, you realise that you can not find these things anywhere else. And you know the Jups has been a sucker for originality and exclusivity. Lucky for me, January-February are sale months and there are loads of “liquidacao” signs that urge you to enter stores. Bear in mind that liquidacao does not mean liquidation-type prices…as I was disappointed to find out. In Rio, Bunny and I really adored “Farm” a colourful, vibrant carioca label. We also loved the store named “Jelly” that stocked delightful shoes by the famous plastic shoe brand “Melissa” of which Bunny ended up buying four pairs and I, two. Few days later, in Sao Paolo, while nursing a massive hangover I was determined to find and shop at Iguatemi (the nicest mall in the city). I am not really a mall person but sometimes it is the smarter, more efficient option several hours before dinner and flight back, isn’t it? First stop: Salinas for Brazilian bikinis. Now I know what you’re thinking and you’d be wrong. Yes, in Rio, you do end up seeing a lot of dental floss bikinis and tangas (many on unsightly butts too!) but there’s more to brazilian bikinis with high end brands like Salinas churning out delicious designs in beautiful fabrics. I had a pretty sales girl (who spoke only portuguese, what better way to learn the language?) dedicated to pulling out all the stuff she thought would look good on my body and my brown skin (“morena”, which makes people crazy here). Now I am no supermodel, far from it, but I daresay that the bikinis I ended up buying made me look pretty damn stunning (or “sensuel” as my pretty salesgirl kept saying). I very nearly spent 500 dollars (US$ not hong kong) but resisted and bought only 2 of the 3 suits I liked. Buying bikinis has never been such a pleasant experience and I gave my salesgirl a big hug and kiss and said “eres muito sympatica” (you’re very nice) and in turn she said “oh mi querida”. Now I regret not buying that last bikini.
I also checked out some of the brands my friends recommended like Cori but I couldn’t bring myself to shell out 500$ for a dress (until then). Then I walked into Cris Barros – a local designer with rather avant garde runway-appropriate designs. Twenty dresses and a very helpful salesgirl later, I walked out with a flesh-toned jersey dress marked down from 1200 reais to 350 reais (about 200$, still, by no means, cheap).
To summarize (which is so hard), Brazil was two weeks of sheer delight, a treat to all senses and a new addition to my very small but very precious list of happy places. I love you Brazil, I miss you already and I swear I am coming back.