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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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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…