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Seven waves to sea in the New Year

IMGP1090I have wanted to see New Years Eve or ‘Reveillon’ in Copacabana since before my first trip to Brazil in 2005. That first time, I changed my plans at the last minute and missed out on the Carioca revelry that year, so this year nothing was going to stop me… the wait was over.

I had bought a cheap air ticket online, and made my way to the airport in São Paulo. It was an odd setup, as it appeared that everyone had the same gate as me. There werecrowds of people gathered around, all seemingly assigned the same gate. But after the computer, or clerical error was discovered, one helpful guy came down to scream out where flights were leaving from… every few minutes. It seemed like every flight had a gate change, frustrating even the locals, prompting one woman to get up and yell out, “Meu Deus, imagina A Copa” (My God, just imagine the World Cup).

This was the first, but not the last time I heard this current saying around Brazil. Anytime a system was slightly broken anywhere, the humorous Brazilians would just laugh it off and imagine the anticipated chaos of The Cup.

Then it was time for my gate to change, and I was jetting off to Rio. Choosing airports close to the city can be gold for domestic travelers. Congonhas in São Paulo, or Santos Dumont in Rio, can shave your taxi fare or travel time in half, so choose wisely, and don’t. just go with the main international airports you might have heard of. Santos Dumont is an airport pretty bang in the centre of the city, and it’s a beautiful way to get into Rio.

When I lived in Ipanema for a few months in 2005, I fell in love with the place, so there was no question of where I was going to stay this time around. I’m an Ipanema boy through and through…

Both Ipanema and Copacabana are some pretty impressive stretches of beach in Rio de Janeiro. There is always a bit of rivalry between Copacabana and Ipanema as to which beach is better… but for Reveillon, ‘Copa’ wins hands down. I headed down to the beach for the last rays of sun from 2013, before heading across to Copacabana, all within walking distance from Ipanema.

Transport shut down pretty early, so you had to give yourself time to walk to your desired location. Copacabana beach is the place to be and usually the best action happens in front of the Copacabana Palace, in terms of free shows and crowds. Usually they score some pretty big acts, and it’s worth checking who might be performing at one of the three or so stages constructed on the beach.

I like the equality of New Years in Rio. In Sydney, the fireworks are amazing, but everyone seems to be fighting for the best positions to view them. I remember sometimes starting at 10 in the morning to make a day of it in Sydney just to reserve a good spot, and slowly watch it erode throughout the day as the crowd presses closer. In Rio, anyone who makes it to the four kilometre stretch of beach has a commanding view.

I celebrated New Years at a friends place in Copacabana over a sumptuous dinner with amazing Brazilian dishes, (thanks Marcos and Felipe) and with fifteen minutes to go before 2014, we walked the 2 streets down to the beach, and made our way to the shoreline, champagne in hand. (Brazil’s lack of laws regarding alcohol in the street or anywhere are a real boon – and rampant alcoholism doesn’t seem to abound.)

Midnight struck, and the sky grew red with fire as the fireworks got underway. It was 17 minutes of sheer beauty, with a scope of view to rival any IMAX screen or tennis match, but at least the champagne dulled any neck aches.

As with any Brazilian festival there seem to be a few traditions that are worth getting into. For New Years, you wear predominantly white, with splashes of to their colours that signify what you hope for in the year ahead. Red for love. Yellow for money. Blue for peace. Green for hope. Just to name a few… And then there is the presenting of offerings to Iemanjá, an Orixa from the Candomble religion, and the goddess of the sea.

After midnight, scores of people head to the sea to offer their gifts of flowers or other presents for Iemanjá into the sea. I’ve heard that it’s good if your offerings are taken out into the sea, as if they return back to shore it’s not a great omen for the year ahead.

Then you just have to jump seven waves in a row, and your luck is all sorted for the year ahead. No one seems to know exactly where this tradition came from, but it likely relates to Iemanjá, who is the mother of all the other orixas, a spirit of water – her favourite number is seven after all.

So regardless of whether you put your luck in destiny, or your destiny with the gods, add New Years at Copa to your bucket list… it will be a worthy addition.

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There’s something so wrong about this…

Meet Brahma Zero… Just like Coke Zero, Brahma Zero has all the flavour of the original, just without any alcohol. I’m not sure this will have quite the same impact as Coke Zero did… Here’s the ad that might convince you otherwise. >> http://youtu.be/-KcshJpr3P8

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Impatiently Waiting – Acabando Pra Chegar no Brasil…

And so, after a mad rush to finish the year, I was setting off again for another trip to Brazil, eventually – I changed the ticket about 5 times and wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen. It was an intense 2013, and I was really beginning to feel it towards the end – with back pain problems throughout the first half and the ensuing surgery, then a new opportunity to work in Indonesia with my company in February 2014 meant lots of changes were happening in my life. (It was just like puberty all over again… everything changes). There was a job to finish up, a house to move, and meanwhile, bags to pack for Brazil.

People often ask me why I keep going back… and there’s no one answer to give them. It’s a little bit of everything all bound together. It’s all about the food, the music, the people, the vibe and the awesome places to visit in such a diverse, friendly country.

Over the next few weeks I hope to share a little of each aspect with you, and maybe one day you might head over to Brazil too. It can be difficult to get around at times, and sometimes you just feel like banging your head against a wall when it comes to processes here, but for those that push through, the rewards are most definitely worth it.

If you get frustrated by slow walkers, or find yourself wanting to slap the back of the head of that person in the line at the store who can’t make up their mind, or generally get frumpy if you have to wait more than two minutes… then you’re going to probably have a love-hate relationship with Brazil.

Everything has a ‘fila’ or a line… and why have one line, when you can have three, one after the other… you just need to have a game plan for your down time. Socialising, flirting or public displays of affection while waiting in line are completely expected and acceptable. I remember reading once that a great way for two people to meet in Rio, was to crash their cars together, and get a number… There is always a way, or ‘jeito’.

I’ll elaborate a little on the lines in a bit, but for now… it’s just good to know that I’m back in Brazil again – I really do miss this place.

Somewhere between Sydney and São Paulo, my bags got left behind, which was a first for me. There was a connecting flight in Santiago, and with a few delays early on we had 30 minutes to get off the plane and on to the next. If you have connecting flights and if traveling with your bags the whole way is important to you, allow enough time at each stopover so they can connect the dots, and perhaps budget a bit of time for delays. Otherwise you might find yourself down at the shopping mall picking up some new undies, socks and anything else that comes in your size… Or perhaps pack at least one change of clothes in your hand luggage, I know I will from now on. #traveltipsFTW

Brazil ate my toe! [Not for the squeamish]

So I arrived back home and thought, wow – great trip! Nothing bad happened.

That’s about the moment when I should have touched some wood or something, as little did I know, but I’d brought back a little something extra special with me from Brazil, and yes, as the title of this post suggests, it was in my foot.

About a few weeks after being back in Oz, I noticed my foot was damn itchy, and there was this crazy red anger happening in between my big toe and its neighbour – you know, where the flip flop connector bit sits. I decided I must have had tinea or something, so I grabbed the treatments and sat back peacefully to get rid of the itch.

A month later, no change. So I went to the doctor, and he thought some kind of bacterial infection or irritation, so started treatments for that… 

Another month later I was back at the doctor, and I said to him that it felt like little tiny things inside me eating their way through my toe. Literally the red lines on my toe would move… albeit very slowly. He said that he’d heard stranger things before! Anyway, it was like painfully itchy, and the lines of redness were slowly traversing my toe. It was like a new vein popping up on my toe, with the line moving every few weeks.

He didn’t have any suggestions at that stage, but gave me a call the next day to say that he thought he knew what it might be. Later that night, he was reading a medical journal and came across a story of a guy who’d been travelling in South Amercia and had symptoms very similar to mine. 

(Bless!)

So what was this mystery beastie?  Cutaneous larva migrans… (Wiki them later…) Basically they are parasitic larvae that eat flesh, but can only hang around the outer layer, just under the skin.

Anyway, it turns out the medication for treatment is kind of hard to find in Australia. I was going crazy from the itchiness. It was intense – I mean, these little fellas are literally eating away at my toe – about 0.5 mm each day.

Anyway, over the course of a few months, they had made there way from between my two toes, to the far side of my big toe, then finally they came to rest, and by rest I mean die, under my toenail at the base near the cuticle. 

The result? One ugly toe… heheh but the good news is that it will be growing out and it looks like there is a fresh nail underneath. Woohoo!

So a warning when travelling… Wear appropriate footwear and cover any cuts you may have even if they are small. Take that extra little bit of care, because there are some crazy ass things out there in the world.

I don’t regret any of my travels for a second. And people sometimes go, Brazil? Why would you? My answer – it’s my favourite place on earth. It comes with its own problems, just as anywhere has, but the people, culture, music, spirit and natural beauty of the place far outweighs any reason not to go.

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See you for the next adventures of the Brazilianaire! 2012? 2013? Who knows yet…

Final Farewells in Sampa

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As I was only going to be staying in Sao Paulo a few days, I wanted to be right in the epicentre of all the action, Avenida Paulista.

I found an awesome pousada in Jardims that had a really charming feel to it, all while a stonesthrow (with a slingshot perhaps) away from my favourite places.

Livararia Cultura – a bookshop to beat the pants off any I’ve seen… (see picture above for just one of the many areas within this megaplex of literacy) I love the giant dragon in the middle!

Frans Cafe – even with the irregular table service, you come back to have the great coffees, cakes and of course, to be seen.

MASP & Parque Triannon – both opposite each other on Avenida Paulista, these places are both great spots for the eyes to take a deserving break from the monotony of Sao Paulo’s endless cement buildings. It’s a big city after all, with more than 22 million in wider Sao Paulo.

Conjunto Nacional, Rua Augusta, Shopping Frei Caneca – all fantastic spaces to meet, eat and feel a part of it all…

All too soon it was teary farewells and I was once again on a plane, headed for Buenos Aires, then home…

(Thanks Brazil! Another awesome trip!)

Sao Paulo – Restaurant Week!

Last time I was in town, it was Fashion Week – this time it was Restaurant Week, and I have to say, it is the BEST IDEA EVER!

Sydney, are you listening? Feel free to steal it… and soon!

All the top, and I do mean top restaurants in Sao Paulo create a special one-week only set menu for around 30-40 Reais ($25 AUD more or less) which includes an entree, main and dessert.

It’s a busy week, and the hip, social scene of Sao Paulo taketo the streets every night to take advantage of the bargains and experience some of the finest food the country has to offer for a fraction of the usual cost. 

We trundled our way along to the already packed ‘Capim Santo’, where I was so tempted by the other normal menu, I ended up ordering from the usual menu for the normal price. I was not disappointed! A flavoursome Baiano dos Dois, fantastic entrees with flavours from the north of Brazil all tantalizing my tastebuds. It was a great way to say farewell to friends Ricardo and Carol. Saudades!

 

Courage for Acaraje

If there’s one reason and one reason alone to go to Salvador, particualarly if you like traveling with your stomach as your guide – then acaraje has to be it!

Made from ground feijao, (black-eyed peas), this deep fried ball of goodness is then topped with spicy sauce – ask for it ‘bem quente’ (trust me!)

After the spicy sauce comes a seafood mix, some salsa and a few other variations depending on the vendor you’ve chosen. Top it off with a few prawns and you have a cheap snack that packs a punch, which I have to say isn’t common in the foods in Brazil…

I hadn’t had one in 6 years, so I asked the baiana lady if her acaraje was awesome, because after 6 years, I needed awesome. She laughed, assured me it was and then asked me if I wanted it hot or cold (spicy or mild). Very hot please was my reply. It burnt the sides of my mouth and throat, but it was truly an awesome acaraje. 

This street food is sold by vendors all throughout Brasil, often by the Baiana women, wearing their traditional costumes. For awesome acaraje in Salvador, head to the lighthouse at Farol do Barra. I think her name was Maria… Still savouring the taste!

 

Salvador and the Rain Shaman

Bidding my island adventure adieu, I was on a plane to Salvador. Having been there last time in 2005 and stayed mostly in Pelourinho the historic centre. It rained every day last time I was in Salvador and I didn’t even get to experience their beaches once. This time I planned differently… I stayed in a great location in Barra, near the lighthouse. The pousada Ambar was awesome and had spectacularly good breakfast each morning. 

I had a pretty watery connection with Salvador, and it still held strong this time. Finding myself cut off from the beach due to the rain, it was back to the Mercador in Pelourinho for some trading. Yes, it’s touristy, and there’s plenty of ‘religious’ women who want you to grease their palms for your protection and blessing… but there’s genuinely some great merchandise there as well. 

The famous Elevator connecting the high part of the city with the lower costs just 15c to use. It’s kind of a must if you’re there, and a quick and easy way to get up and down between the two parts of the city. 

At the market, I found a lady selling the most awesome necklaces made out of small tiny seashells, each one meticulously painted a different hue. She also had some amazing necklaces made out of the seeds of acai, my favourite amazon berry! (A plus was that Australian quarantine had no issue with either!)

It was a good days activities while the rain persisted.

But finally, a smidgeon of sun broke through and I was determined to see what Salvador life on the beach was all about. 

While not the crystal clear waters of Fernando de Noronha, it does have some great swimming spots. Porto da Barra is one, where on a small slice of sand, the sun worshippers flock to pray to their god.

Serviced tents provide everything you need (water, shade, and a watchful eye while you bathe) and they even water the sand under your feet so it doesn’t get too hot. (I did find that a bit too strange…)

With a calm bay in front of you, this sheltered beach faces out to a row of boats moored about 500 metres off shore. With a brisk swim, swimmers make their way out to the boats to sit on them, sunbathe and strike up a conversation with another swimmer.

Again, just like Rio, you can buy almost anything on the beach, so just bring a little money, sunscreen, sarong and a sense of fun…

 

Bugger….

Feeling somewhat adventurous, I hired a dune buggy for a day to get to some of the harder to reach spots on Fernando de Noronha. The freedom was wonderful, and I ticked a few more places off my list that I’d been meaning to see or go back to. 

First stop though was down to the petrol station to fill up. I must say it was a bit challenging trying to stay on what I consider to be the wrong side of the road. Plus I had no idea how much fuel this thing was going to need or use. With some help from the locals, I was off and running. 

And I soon found myself back at my favourite haunt, the Baia do Sancho. 

After a 300m walk to the cliffs, you then descend down two sets of rickety ladders to end up walking down onto a gorgeous stretch of beach. Giant white birds with pterodactyl-style tails were flying and circling around overhead, before sheltering in the trees that hugged the cliffs around the calm bay.  It was somewhat like a scene out of Jurassic park, but without the fences, or the maneaters…

There was a giant tree at one end of the beach providing shade and protection for the handful of tourists who had come to snorkel and bathe. At the other end, tranquility and isolation… 

I loved the freedom that the buggy brought, even though it was a bugger to drive. At night it was dangerous too, as the top of the buggy obscured most of my vision of the road… Regardless, it was all going well. That was until… it broke. The gears snapped or something <insert technical explanation here later> and left me practically immobile on a busy enough stretch of road where there no places to pull over. Directly on either side of the road were large gullies for the rain…. and no place for stopping. 

With some mild swearing from other drivers, and a bit of a panic, I managed to veer the buggy by reversing down the wrong side of the road, and snagging an impromptu parking spot out the front of one of the restuarants. Lucky for me, one of the guys hanging around out the front, knew the owner of the buggy hire company. And it got all sorted within a half hour… 

They offered me a replacement buggy, but that thing was crazy I tell you. I said, ‘maybe tomorrow…’

(Hell no!)

Postcard Photos at Every Turn

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If you truly want to be in awe of Fernando de Noronha, then I recommend starting with one of the general island tours on your first day. (Blue Marlin had some good tours!) It’s great as there are some areas of the island you are only allowed to go to with a guide, particularly where the sea turtles are hatching and their breeding grounds. Once you’ve gone around to all points of the island, heard all the local stories, seen the views and taken those tourist pose photos (see below), then you’re pretty much free to pick and choose from the type of scene you want to for the rest of your time. 

 

From the sandy stretch of Praia Baldro to the snorkeling haven of Baia dos Porcos to the enchanting Baio do Sancho, you’ll be spoilt for choice on this island. Waves? There’s a beach for that. Snorkeling, there’s a hundred bays for that. Chilled down time, there’s a beach for that too…. 

Buggies, Bikes or Hikes are the best way to get around the island – and it’s not that big a place that you can’t get to or from any one place without too many worries.

Tour operators offer boat trips around the island too. Dolphins love to play alongside the boats as you head to the bays around the island and drop anchor to snorkel. I didn’t really rate snorkeling before this trip. I’d been snorkeling up in Cairns, and it was fun, but would I be itching to do it again – probaby not. But here, the sheer volume of wildlife underneath the waters, and the absolute purity and clarity in the waters around the island make snorkeling or diving a must. 

You could see down for 40 metres through the water to the sea floor below with little difficulty. Giant sea turtles lazily swim around, as do manta rays, sharks (friendly mostly), fish of all sizes and colours. 

I didn’t make it diving, but maybe these videos might whet your appetite!

On the island, the birds slowly circle overhead above the beaches, as hordes of small lizards roam the rocks and scurry when the giant rat-like creatures come snooping around. Natural beauty is everywhere… just as you’d hope.