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First Impressions of Fortaleza

My first impression of Fortaleza was rather depressing. I met another traveller Davide, from France, and we headed out to see some nightlife as it was kind of boring hanging around at the backpackers hostel. So we went to nearby Iracema where there seemed to be a little movement.

After having a rather tasty, yet rather suspicious dinner for just A$3, we ended up walking into a bar. The entry was $15, based on consumption, which means if you go in and drink nothing, you pay $15, otherwise the first $15 of your drinks is already paid for, so everyone stays for at least two drinks in order to make it worth your while…

Turns out we were in the red light district and it was just the two of us travellers, a few desperate older men and a horde of enterprising women with makeup piled on with trowels…

It was quite depressing to watch, and I wondered what the hell I was doing in this part of town. Outside the streets seemed pretty deserted, and a little bit rough. I was beginning to think that I wasn’t going to like Fortaleza all that much. 

But the next day, I saw a different side to the city, which I was glad to see… I spent time at the city’s cultural hub, the Dragao do Mar, and even went to see a play. It was a student production, and so while the acting wasn’t all that brilliant, it was still awesome to see the work that had gone into the production. Tickets were just a few dollars each after all…

I also went to another part of town that was fantastic, Meirelles, a suburb by the sea that reminded me of Rio. There were lots of active, happy people out jogging the sidewalks, the streets were always lively, and a large street fair ensured there was always something to see and buy down by the beach. 

First impressions can be damning, in relationships, and even in travel. But give a person time, or a place some time, and you might see another side to it that makes you appreciate the uniqueness it has to offer. 

Fortaleza, while not my favourite city this trip to Brazil, was still a great experience, and I’d go back again to experience what else it has to offer. 

(Stay in Meirelles, not Iracema, even if it costs a little more… it’s far nicer!)

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Rocking The Rio Beach Life

Brazilians are really into their black and white rocks… Many of the cities have ornate sidewalks which must take days to create out of small pieces of colored rock.

In Rio, two designs in particular mark the calçadãoes (sidewalk promenades) of its most famous beaches, Copacabana and Ipanema. The designs have been adopted with a sense of pride and place by its inhabitants, and have come to symbolize the spirit of the beachside communities.

For Rio, beach life is kind of like Australia’s cafes… People meet here to chat, drink and share lifes moments together.

It’s sometimes hard to know where to meet amongst the crowds, but everyones so easygoing that it doesnt matter if you don’t end up finding them!

My advice for a great day on the beach in Rio…
– Choose a ‘barraca’ or serviced tent and grab a chair and umbrella. It’s a good idea if you plan to stay there a while.
– Tents are the best way to find someone as well. Let your friends know which tent you plan on staying in front of and it makes it a little easier to find you.
– Take only what you need for a great day at the beach. Sunscreen, sarong, some money, a book. Everything else you can get there and ask someone to mind your stuff while you take a dip. It’s common practice…
– Forget the boardshorts. The speedo or square ‘sunga’ is the way to go here…
– Try the foods on offer. Queijo coalho (haloumi like cheese) and açai are my favorites. Oh and agua de coco, the coconut water!
– You can almost buy ANYTHING on the beach in Rio. I’ve seen people selling carpet, no joke…

Reconnecting with Rio

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Rio has changed so much in the past six years since I was the Boy from Ipanema… And it’s a change for the better!

The city is far safer (in most of the tourist spots) than it was during my last visit. Which means that all there is for you to do is enjoy the marvelous life that the ‘cidade maravilhoso’ has to offer.

My first day I spent connecting with all the places I had missed so much… Ipanema, my old apartment, my favorite cafe, and of course having an açai with banana by the beach!

No matter how prepared you are, the first time you go to the beaches here, you always feel like a complete foreigner… But the feeling passes overnight and then you can just relax and enjoy this stretch of paradise.

Cariocas, Rio’s locals, can be profoundly annoying to tie down to times, as a general rule, but once you accept this and move on, you’ll find the other Carioca characteristics that make them so charming. Wide smiles, good humoured, friendly and always with their finely tuned bodies on display, the Cariocas are excellent at making tourists feel welcome.

The Grandeur of Ilha Grande

I had believed the massive grey shape across the bay on the horizon to be the mainland, but no, it turned out to be my next destination.

Ilha Grande, aptly named as this island is huge, is mostly an untouched paradise just south of Rio de Janeiro, next to Angra dos Reis.

After docking the ferry at Vila Abraão, pop 6,000, we were greeted by six sandy streets of tourist shops, restaurants, pousadas and bars to choose from. This is the only real village on the island and the main hub of activity.

I grabbed my backpack and walked onwards, asking along the way how to get to my pousada. It turned out to be both awesome and quaint.

A hammock at the front, which you can sit in and read, while small monkeys play in the trees above. The pousada host was friendly, if not a little deaf, so he didn’t quite understand every question, but happily responded to whichever question he thought he heard.

The place was charming. The only downside to pousadas are that they are not as easy to meet other people as at the youth hostels, but then again, you do get your own room, and no one tries to have sex in the bunk above while you sleep. Hehe. Ahhh hostel life…

The island has an interesting history, and was once a leper colony, and also contained a number of prisons. Oh to be trapped in paradise! The unsavory past has helped it’s future though, as the island remained largely undeveloped.

While on Ilha Grande, which is as close to a natural ecosystem that you can still access, there’s plenty to do. Schooner trips, diving, surfing, hiking along the many trails, and bathing in the waterfalls just to name a few…

This island should definitely be added to anyone’s Brazil travel itinerary without hesitation.

Beach life – Ubatuba

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After catching a local bus for just 2 Reais, and seeing beach after beach fly past the window, we finally arrive at Praia Prumirim. The bus stop is not all that obvious, or very promising, as it appears to just be in the middle of nowhere.

But walking on, down the trail, we find the street access, and then soon we’re surrounded by nice beach houses scattered in and around the foliage.

The foliage parts, and now we’re on a fairly secluded beach, with just a few other beachgoers beside us. At the north end of the beach lies a kiosk, beside the lagoon, with deckchairs and sunbrellas waiting…

For just a few dollars, drink, food and water are at your beck and call. The tranquility is free, and you’re safe to leave your things behind as you take a dip in the refreshing water.

Turtles pop their heads up every now and then to gaze at you with mild curiosity, and crabs scamper across the sand to their hideaways as you head back to waiting caipirinhas and snacks.

Now THIS is Brazil…

Ubatuba – not an online video site…

Ubatuba is a stretch of beachy paradise between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It’s not a frequent stop for many foreign tourists, but the South Americans love it!

Paulistanas (people from Sao Paulo) use it as their weekend getaway, after all it’s just four hours from the centre of Sao Paulo by bus, and much less if you are traveling by helicopter, one of Sao Paulo’s prefered methods of travel.

In Ubatuba, there are more than a hundred beaches to choose from, some busy with tourists and traders, others more secluded with just one or two beachfront kiosks for food service and drinks, and yet others where you are its only inhabitant for the day.

You’ll also find a thriving local turtle population thanks predominantly to the Projeto Tamar group. It’s quite an experience to swim in the beaches with turtles around you.

In the city centre, you’ll find bikes to rent, a great skate park, ice skating in summer (yep!) and plenty of great places to eat, shop and relax.

But if it’s beaches you’re after, then you’ll need to catch a bus either north or south and checkout some of the favourites like Praia Grande,Praia Vermelha, Felix, Itamambucu and Prumirim.

When visiting Ubatuba, you HAVE to try the local creation of ‘Azul Marinho’ or fish with banana – a delicious stew made with fresh fish fillets and green bananas.

Thanks to Marcio, meu amigao, for showing me around Ubatuba and introducing me to some of the local culture.

Ten Brazilian Timeouts from the Brazilianaire

You’re at work aren’t you, and you’ve been YouTubing again… I can tell by the glazed sparkle in your eyes. Well don’t despair, this highly researched list of ten of my fave Brazilian themed clips online will pep you up. If you’ve seen another you like better, send it through in the comments!

#1 Favelas/Equality… This is Michael Jackson’s music video for “They don’t really care about us”, shot on location in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and a few other hot spots around Brazil. The songs topic addresses the vast divide between rich and poor, which in Brazil is widely considered to be its main domestic challenge

#2 Samba… even the toddlers are outdoing me on this front. I have to skill up pretty quickly so I don’t get stomped on during Carnival

#3 Carnival… You’ll never look at a street party in the same light again afterwards… 2010

and a bonus clip of our Jen in Rio‘05

#4 Rhythm… You can get it in a tram, you can get it on the streets, matter of fact I got it now… 

#5 Brazilian Waxing… You can wax any part you want to in Brazil. It’s just called a wax there… The good news is, no visa is needed to experience a Brazilian wax…

#6 The Boys from Ipanema… Distractions aplenty on the beaches of Ipanema… Need I say more…

#7 Portuguese… such a beautiful romantic language, except perhaps when you get your maid to try and spell out YouTube’s web address in Brazil. 

#8 Football… whether it’s the emotional ankle injuries for the refs, or even the emotional shows from the refs, football is about 95% performance

#9 Football Passion… if you think the fans go a little nuts for football, then wait ‘til you see the commentators!

 And finally… #10 Churrasco… Bring on the Meat Sweats! If the meat doesn’t get you drooling, at least the dancing tomato clip art kitsch will get you grooving

The Floripa Streaker

Just before my streak at Praia das Galhetas

Just before my streak at Praia das Galhetas

Florianopolis, or ‘Floripa’ as the trendy Brazilians call it, is a city that doesn’t know which side of the fence it is on. Half the city is on the mainland of Brazil and the other half is on the island of Santa Catarina.

The keyword here is beaches. There’s beaches for surfers, beaches for people who are 20-30, beaches for wave-lappers, beaches for tanners and finally – beaches for nudists.

What better way to leave Brazil than with a truly consolidated tan, right?

So one sunny morning I found myself lying face down grabbing some rays feeling all liberated.

(No wise cracks about sand in uncomfortable places ok… after all, a wise crack stays covered!)

There may … uh hmmmm … be a photo around somewhere…

The Coast of Discovery

Arraial d'Ajuda - a great place to relax!

Arraial d’Ajuda – a great place to relax!

Ahhhhh… Bahia. Home of spicy food, capoeira and Afro-brazilian rhythms. I kicked off this adventure with historic Porto Seguro – the coastal city where Brazil was first discovered by the Portuguese over 500 years ago.

The first night there I had a great experience with a local tattoo artist who approached me to draw a henna tattoo on my arm. My greeting included a firm reminder that I did not want a tattoo and also that I had next to no money. He continued to talk and then next thing I know he started drawing a tattoo on my arm. Now he was fairly interesting and was pretty funny so I let him continue, reminding him that I didn’t want one, but thinking maybe I could give him a few Brazilian Reais for the effort. After completing a fairly large and impressive tattoo on my arm he tried to convince me that the tattoo was worth about 150 Reais ($75 AUD) but that he would give it to me for 130 because I was a nice guy. Laughing hysterically I told him he should go back and learn basic portuguese as I had said I had next to no money and didn’t want a tattoo to begin with.

His response to this revelation was interesting, as he whistled for his 6’2″ amigo to come over. Having a whole inch more in height but considerably less in the muscle department I still kept up the banter, “And you are?”. The “tatt” artist explained the non-payment situation to which I added a basic reminder of how business transactions operate in 99% of the world. The artist tried to get a bit desperate then saying that he needed to pay his slightly over-beefed friend for the tattoo. Pondering what it must be like to be a henna tattoo pimp, I laughed again, gave him 10 Reais ($5 AUD) and bid him and his tattoo pimp a good night.

After that I headed to nearby Arraial d’Ajuda where amongst other things I encountered the very man who supposedly created the Lambada dance craze of the 80’s. There’s a bit of contention between Bolivia and Brazil about who created the dance, but seeing as the word ‘lambada’ is a portuguese word, I tend to believe the Brazilians. I originally thought the lambada was from Mexico or something, but after seeing the locals dance in Arraial d’Ajuda, I am without doubt that it began in Brazil.

Arraial d’Ajuda is a beachside village of hippies and tourists who come together at the beach to play and frolic in the calm waters. Picture hundreds of people all playing sports, drinking and grabbing that tan. Then move 3 km down the beach and you are standing on an isolated stretch of coast where one or two people are practicing capoeira on the sand, and the others are strolling about aimlessly, but content. You choose the type of beach you want and then spend the next few hours lapping it up. I stayed for a week…