Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tales from TheGlamtrak: Ramona Condell, Brazil

It feels like forever since I lasted posted (partially because it has been)...lo siento or in this case sinto muito. Anyhooo I come bearing gifts! My bestie, Ramona spent two weeks in Brazil this Summer and was gracious enough (forced by me) to share her story. *This would be the best time to grab some popcorn or a cocktail*


Street side Samba my first night there. Gaucho -style cuts of meat on my last. Capoeira, futbol and caipirhinas in between. Here is my Summer 2011 Study Abroad: Rio de Janeiro.

The 10-hour flight from Miami was overnight, so after I downed two glasses of the complementary alcohol, I went right to bed, and woke up the next morning in Rio! My roomie and law-school-bestie, Misty and I were SUPER pumped to see our apartment at Edificio Jucati in Copacabana.

Different story upon arrival. Talk about false advertising...the beds were tiny, the internet connection was crappy, there was no hot water (I'm sorry...did I sign up for Survivor and not know it? We later found that if you fiddle the cold water handle a special way, hot water may come out. Hooray.), and other than the sweet daytime staff who checked us in (heart them!), everyone else who worked there was less than helpful or even friendly. Edificio Jucati - please work on the abilities and customer service techniques of your night staff. Thanks. Regardless, this was about to be home, so we bought some groceries for our kitchen and counted our blessings in the clean linens and that fact that our TINY room only had the 2 of us. Other rooms (the SAME size) had 4! Whoa...

The Brazilian unit of currency is the Real, and has a varied exchange rate of R$1.50-R$1.70 per US $1.00, depending on where you do your exchange. The varied rate thing kinda sucks, as to be truly smart with your money exchange requires way too much pre-planning which totally gets in the way of my go-with-the -flow -MO. WTH? That aside, most things were pretty comparable to US prices, with coffee costing R$3.25(US$2.00) at the on campus cafe, Reido Mate. I'm a strong, black and rich kinda girl, but their cappuccino??? OMGeee. Party for your taste buds! Not quite sure what they put in there...and don't you DARE find out, lest it be illegal...While we're on money, I guess I should mention that there isn't really any tipping. At restaurants, 10% is automatically included in the bill, regardless of the size of your party. Same for taxi drivers. Truthfully, the ex-American-server in me put a little extra sometimes, especially when I was slightly inebriated, but it is certainly not expected. One cabbie even tried to give me back. I gave him a "No! Somos Americanas!" and exited as he laughed with the extra R$3.00 in his hand, probably rolling his eyes since it really wasn't that much, haha. So, I took cabs sometimes, but really got to most places via train. Well, except for those in Copacabana where I stayed. Everything I needed there was walking distance - restaurants, bars, banks, post office, grocery, pharmacies, and of course, 8 blocks away was the beach!
However, 3 blocks away was the train station, which took me most other places for R$3.10 each way. The mall in Botofogo, home to the ONLY Starbucks around, was 2 stops north, and Ipanama (a fancier tourist town) was 3 stops south. Perfect! The only time I took a cab was when it was raining, or I was wearing heels and didn't feel like battling with the cobblestone sidewalks.

You must be wondering about the food. I was pretty sure I was gonna be A-Okay in this arena before I even got there. I love love a good piece of red meat. (Fogo de Chao is my favorite Atlanta restaurant. If there's one in your city, you should go...or see if there's another Brazilian steakhouse you can check out). And... the fruits are pretty much the same as what  I know from growing up in Jamaica. Give me manga (mango), goiaba (guava), or jaca (jackfruit) and I'm good! Plus, I was introduced to the wonder that is acai, a fruit from the rain forest, packed with antioxidants, and in a great abundance on Rio street corners. Actually, there are juice bars on every other block, like corner stores in New York City, which made fresh juices from whatever crazy combo of fruits you wanted to try. They do it with or without added sugar (be sure to let them know if you don't want it!). I started off safe with a banana-mango-guava, but by the end I was throwing caju (cashew fruit) and frute de conde (sweetsop) into the mix, and it seemed to get better each time! If nothing else, I got a cup of frozen acai, plain, eaten with a spoon, but you can add banana or granola if you can't take it straight up. ;-)
The kilos were the most common style of restaurant, buffet looking set - up, but you weigh your plate, and pay per kilo. Kinda cool, and can be budget friendly once you figure out which foods weigh less than others, lol. I have to mention Bob's Burgers. Great because it's open late, but it is seriously American fast food gone wrong. It won't satisfy your craving for the burger you're used to in the U.S so...have a milkshake instead if you MUST go there as a last resort (they're equally as unhealthy...). The Ovmaltine is the most popular, and it's pretty good...VERY filling...and a much better choice than the cheeseburger, unless you want 3 days of indigestion.

Caipirinhas have been a long time favorite of mine, ever since, I was introduced to them on a trip to Dominican Republic with Kay years ago. Now that I was in the motherland, drink them I did! This delightful concotion of muddled lime, sugar, and cachaca (Brazilian sugar cane liquor- a cousin of the rum my body is accustomed to) can be found anywhere that alcohol is served. Some places even give you fruit options! Instead of lime, you can have mango, kiwi, pineapple, whatever! Made with the fresh fruit in front of you, of course. And if you only drink vodka, they can switch up the liquor for you too ;-)

Now although I was there for school, which meant class from 8:30 -12:30, and lots of reading after school everyday, I managed to squeeze in some of Rio's 'must do' tourist attractions. In order of my most favorite:

1) Sugarloaf Mountain - breathtaking view from 900m high!

2) Hippie Fair at Ipanama (Sunday only)- an art lover's dream, and heaven for the shopaholic in me who is ALWAYS a sucker for handmade anything! Jewelry, sandals, figurines, and art galore!

3) Football Match (Soccer Game for you Americanos) - Ronaldhino? Heck yes!!! Unbelievable energy and some crazy fans. To be safe, go with a local.

 4) Hiking though the Tijuca Rainforest- if you can muscle up the strength to walk verticaly for 2 hours, go for it! Crisp air and a wicked 360 view await you with the clouds at the top of the hiking trail. I also lucked out and got to practice my capoeira with one of the tour guides when we got back to the bottom!

5) Corovado - after a while, the view from the top -any top- all begins to look the same,but the gigantonormous statue of Jesus the Redeemer is one of those things you have to go see for yourself, or you'll feel like you didn't do Rio, you know?

6) Shopping on Copacabana Beach - a 'mini-Hippie Fair' (after 5:00pm) in case you have a couple knick-knacks you forgot to buy on Sunday. The beach was a given. Besides having the most beautiful sand I've ever seen (looks like white sugar crystals!), the beach also served as my venue for my massage (beijos to Ilma), more shopping (shout out to Joao!) many, many caipirinhas (too many folks to big up), and some new food experiences (shrimp on a stick...grilled cheese (minus the bread) on a stick...)
I also took the time to myself waxed from the waist down. Once I figured out how to ask for what I wanted (it's not called a Brazilian when it's done in Brazil...) it was clean, fast, and affordable. For R$70 (less than US$50), Marisela did my legs and ummm...everything else...in less than 20 minutes, and I had individually wrapped gloves and stick for her to use! Cute!

My last couple nights pretty much gave me everything I was real looking for from the start:
  • I found a capoeira class being taught just outside Edificio Jucati, in a park across the street

  • Not for Meat Lovers Only- the churrascaria was EASILY my best meal there. Mind you, I ate only meat from the time I got there until I paid my bill. But...I regretted not visiting the salad bar before (saw it only on my way to the bathroom at the end of the night). It was full of some beautiful looking (and smelling!) vegetable and seafood dishes! Next time...
  • Lapa is where are all the locals hang out at night, and it is craaaazy! Lapa is filled with its own rhythm, and its own life.
    • BUT...BE CAREFUL. Travel in numbers, and DON'T leave the group, especially if you are a woman. The men there WILL recognize that you are a foreigner, and will appear to be very friendly. And...they will try to take you home, or offer to accompany you in your taxi, then try to stay! The drinks on the street side are stronger than normal, so know your limit, and don't go past it.
    • Lapa also has many clubs, which play more contemporary stuff, and even some American music, if you're itching for that kinda thing.
    • This is also where I found the local Rastafarians playing my first love, reggae, in Portuguese. I was home

  • And the real Samba. As much as I enjoyed Lapa, my best dancing experience was on my last Friday at the Centro Cultural Carioca. Drinks were pricey, but the music was live, and the samba spirit was in full swing. I even got to partner up with a cutie and felt like a real Carioca for 2 songs ;-) 

In a nutshell, Rio is well equipped to give you that 'real' experience if you're the type who likes to get in with the people. They have people in ALL colors, so chances are you'll be spoken to in Portuguese by most. NB- if you speak Spanish...ummm...it's not the same. But, if you have a knack for languages (any fellow linguists?) you can adjust your Spanish once you figure out the similarities and differences. Or if you plan far enough ahead, you should learn it. It helps A LOT. If not, grab a Portuguese speaker and keep him/her with you at all times possible.



greanbeens said...

In the words of Liz Lemon, "I want to go to there!"

Ramona said...

you should! brazil is the ONLY place that i've been to that has given me nation envy. it is equally as cool to be from there as it is to be from jamaica. ;-)

DJ Big Thumbs said...


Rafael Duarte said...

great post!

Nili In the City! said...

Fantastic read. Thanks to you, now there are a few things that I have to do: Massage on the beach please!!!!