Despite getting staph during our first week in Rio, I wasn’t going to let that derail our month in Brazil. Sure, the nature of my infection meant I’d have to reel myself in a little bit — I couldn’t walk for at least 4-5 days of our trip, and the antibiotics I was taking prevented me from drinking any alcohol — but I’ve never been the kind of traveler who lets setbacks ruin my travels. If anything, they add a bit of flavor.
Logan’s main reason for coming to Rio was to train Brazilian jiu jitsu at a school just up the road from our apartment. So while I was rehabilitating, he focused on training twice a day, and I attempted to settle into our bright, sunny apartment and live like a local.
Just outside our apartment building was the launderia we had to use throughout our trip. We didn’t have a washing machine, so while we washed some items by hand in our kitchen, we had to take some of it to the launderia for a proper cleaning. We got to know the ladies at the launderia on a very, very basic level — my Spanish was good enough to get us by in Spanish-speaking countries, but not remotely experienced enough to translate well in a Portuguese-speaking country.
Every day, a group of jolly-looking men sat at the tables of a small bar next to the launderia, and it’s not an exaggeration to say they gathered pretty much round the clock. It was a nice sight to see, though — these men, who were all retirement age and beyond, hung out all day long sipping on beers and enjoying the summer weather, speaking animately in Portuguese.
After I’d had my staph removed and was able to walk around a little bit, we took daily walks down to the lake directly north of us, or the beach down to the south. Both were about 10 minute walks away, and both were beautiful in their urban flavor. Coconut water vendors were pretty much everywhere… and when I say “coconut water,” I’m not talking about the bottled stuff. I’m talking about literal coconuts which, when their tops are hacked off with a sharp knife, are brimming with subtly sweet coconut nectar that can then be sipped from a straw. I’d say we enjoyed 1-2 coconuts each day per person, on average.
I’m not going to pretend the area where we stayed wasn’t a little touristy. There’s a reason Ipanema is well-known in pop culture. It’s definitely Rio’s version of Chicago’s Gold Coast, though it does also have a sizable LGBTQ+ population as well.
We did get a chance to venture around the city outside of our little enclave, though. My personal favorite neighborhood was Santa Teresa, which was a slightly dirtier yet still trendy neighborhood. Santa Teresa and neighboring Lapa both have slightly more of a local feel than Ipanema, but are also quite gentrified. Santa Teresa is characterized by its narrow, winding streets, colorful buildings and street art, the most famous of which are the Escanderia Selarón, a colorful stairway decorated with artful mosaic tiles.
Food-wise, there was a lot to explore. All things considered, South American food as a whole is a lot less exciting than you’d probably imagine. Ninety percent of our meals in Brazil were some version of grilled meats paired with rice and farofa. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it was delicious — farofa in particular won a special place in my heart (and it’s a cheap, simple dish too… it’s basically just tapioca starch with spices). We did go to one of those fancy Brazilian steakhouses one night, but we were primarily in the company of other tourists. As you probably suspected, Brazilian steakhouses are an Americanized idea of the way Brazilian people actually eat. Far more common are cheaper meats paired with inexpensive grains and starches, as well as delicious stews.
From time to time, we got brunch from a cafe across the street that served approximately 16 meals’ worth of food per person. One cringe-worthy memory was made when we were trying to request a takeaway container, but as we realized after the fact, due to our incredibly poor Portuguese skills we may have been misunderstood to say “Take this away!” — definitely *not* the kind of sentiment we intended to convey!
Since we were in Rio for an entire month, though, we didn’t eat out for every meal. We had a lot of fun shopping at the local market and trying out all kinds of Brazilian snacks, sodas and treats. Dried fruits were a staple in our kitchen, as were fresh fruits, eggs, rice, and locally crafted beers. As a side note: as an American accustomed to Hass avocados from California and Mexico, the avocados in Brazil were basically unrecognizable. Chart inserted below:
In short, our everyday life in Rio was pleasant, sunny, warm, fun, relaxed and wonderful. Despite my medical issue, I look back on those days as a time when I learned a lot about relaxing and living in the moment (like I said in a previous post, that may have had a lot to do with reading The Power of Now on this trip). In part three of my Brazil recap, I’ll tell you all about the SECOND medical emergency I experienced in Brazil… And then in part four, I’ll get to what you really want to hear about: Carnival.