Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Num doce balanço, a caminho do mar

When my baby smiles at me I go to Rio De Janeiro, my-oh-me-oh......I go wild and then I have to do the Samba And La Bamba....Now I'm not the kind of person with a passionate persuasion for dancin' Or roma-ancin'.......But I give in to the rhythm And my feet follow the beatin' of my hear-eart.....

- Peter Allen, I Go to Rio

Rio de Janeiro. Now THIS is the place for me. (However, never during Carnivale....I do much better on the off-season. Crowds and I do not mix.)

My vacation to Rio and Salvador was last week. I met up with two friends/former colleagues from Semester at Sea. There is Bama who is guessed it....Alabama. And there is Zella who is from Canada. Zella was already there, as she was hired to work another Semester at Sea voyage. The ship was docked in Salvador, so we were to meet up for a couple days.

The trip started out quite lovely. I flew the red-eye to Rio and had an entire row of three to myself. What fortune! Loving Delta Airlines right now. I was able to spread out and nap quite comfortably. Upon arrival into Rio it was early morning, so the first thing I did was head for the beach. Copacabana Beach is clean and the water is soothing. For less than $8 US dollars I had cold beer delivered to me, cold water, and a lounge chair with a towel and a beach umbrella. A bargain if I ever did see one!

Unfortunately because of recent mudslides and graffiti, the most popular Brazilian Icon {Jesus Christ the Redeemer} had a blanket over his head. He was undergoing some surgery. I'm sure he will be fine in no time, I mean, he is Jesus. Miracles run aplenty with him. I was just sorry that I did not get to see him during my visit. Actually you still could go visit the statue, swaddling clothes and all, but the experience was altered, as the train was not operational and had been temporarily replaced by mini-vans. So I said a few hail mary's and called it a day.

After my day of beers and beach and bathing in the sun, I was quite exhausted. I slept from 4 PM until 8 AM. And it was very cold in my hotel room. I think the air conditioner was broken, as there were ice-cycles growing out of my nose. Much like Jesus, I draped a blanket over my head throughout the night to stay warm. I do try to mimic Christ in my day-to-day behavior, so this just made sense.

The next day Bama and I walked to Ipanema. I couldn't stop singing:

Tall and tan and young and lovely The girl from Ipanema goes walking And when she passes, each one she passes goes - ah When she walks, she's like a samba That swings so cool and sways so gentle That when she passes, each one she passes goes - ah

Which version do you like best? I think I like the Frank Sinatra version. But Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald both did an alteration of the song: "Boy from Ipanema" that I like too. And then there is a "loungy" sounding version by "Echo", which I dig. Kind of a sad little song. This beautiful tan girl walks by each day, but she never pays this poor guy any attention. Oblivious and beautiful, she walks the beach and just keeps going. Sad.

But I was happy. Happy to walk such a beautiful stretch of beach. The people in Brazil are supposed to be the most fit people in the world. Similar to South Beach in Miami, I expected string bikinis, with thongs of dental floss and ultra-tan beautiful people. Not so much. They had the skimpy bathing suits, but there were a lot of overweight people there. And a lot of "banana hammocks". Gross. Don't get me wrong: Brazilians are beautiful. But much like New Yorkers, they come in all shapes and sizes.

Here is what Ipanema looks like. Please note "all shapes and sizes" in the background:

After the long walk, we went to a Brazilian soccer match. Bama was cheering loudly in English, which made this Brazilian guy turn around and look, and crack up laughing. He was cute. He came over to say hello. His name was Thiego (pronounced "Chee-Ah-Go"). He asked me out. I said yes. He was very sweet and funny, but not the "sleazy South American guy who picks up tourists" type of guy. Just a good guy. He worked for some sort of sports media company and invited me to meet the "estrelas" (stars) after the game. The main estrela of the soccer team we went to see was this guy named "Fred". Everyone else had these big long Portugese names, except for "Fred". I liked Fred. I cheered for him too. I don't really understand soccer, but I liked the atmosphere. I must say it took some getting used to. It is not disneyfied like some of our MLB ballparks with food of every type and music and jumbo screens. It was quite simple. Very few announcements. No elaborate concessions. No Jay-Z blasting on the sound system. Just the sport. And my own personal, very sweet Boy from Ipanema. Oh. And Fred.

Because I know some broken Spanish, which sounds vaguely simlar to Portugese I decided to go ahead and give that a try. Thiago (as well as many others) told me that this was a wasted effort, as more Brazilians understand English than they do Spanish and I was making it more difficult on both parties. But I couldn't help trying anyhow. And the Spanish word for star is 'estrella' which is JUST like 'estrela' only missing one "s". So there-to! It *is* the same language in my book. Just with a twist.

The next day I ventured to the north part of the country. A cute town called Salvador. Bama and I met up with Becca (aka Zella) and we stayed at a very cute hotel called Casa Amaralindo. HIGHLY recommend this place. A beautiful roof-top deck with a piscina (pool) and beautiful gardens with cheerful little hummingbirds who happily flounced among the foliage. Here you can take your breakfast, where the very sweet hotel staff provided fresh guava and papaya and some sort of ham and egg dish, as well as cafe' con leche.

Salvador felt hotter and less safe than Rio. Apparently some of the students there with Semester at Sea were mugged. I don't know if it's because I'm from NYC, but I always feel pretty on-guard and I have never felt threatened. Zella, Bama and I spent our time exploring the cobblestone streets and watching capoeira, which is a Brazilian martial art which sort of looks like dancing. We had this fantastic dinner of shrimp and rice and pork and steak and of course Caipiriñhas. This is a drink, not to be confused with the earlier word I said- capoeira, the martial art. This drink is much like a mojito without the mint. It is rum, cane sugar, lime, and I don't know what else, but it was yummy.

Salvador reminds me a little bit of San Juan, Puerto Rico (old town) and Cadiz Spain. There are buildings in many shades of pastels and narrow alleyways and steep hills. Little shops line the streets and vendors welcome you in to look at their art and jewelry. It was sad to part ways with Zella, but I am certain our paths will soon cross again.

When you sail around the world and then meet someone again a year later on another continent, it makes the world seem quite small.

I must say the flights on this trip were quite wonderful. We had an unanticipated, yet much welcomed upgrade to First Class on the flight back to Rio from Salvador. Here is me, quite confused:

Back in Rio it was a beach day once again. I got slightly burned. Up until that point, people thought I was Brazilian, which made me feel good. Brazilians are beautiful, so I was happy to be among those ranks. I looooove going to a foreign country where people think I am a local......until they start speaking their language and I smile, wide-eyed and without words.

The flight home was yet another red-eye. This time I had two seats to myself. Not quite as roomy as the flight on the way there, but still quite comfortable. Thank you, Delta.
I got home to some fraudulent charges in Sao Paulo. Ummm....I did not go there. Aaand the money was withdrawn when I was on my flight back home. But I think it will soon be straightened out and I'll feel better. I am non-plussed at this point and quite frustrated with my bank's condescending and lackadaisical approach to assisting me. In the market for a new bank right now. Aside from that, this was a great vacation.
Next stop: Hawaii.