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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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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

Fast-talking Friends

The real test of mastering another language is when you’re accepted into a group of friends – and they stop talking slowly in their native language for your benefit. 

The storytelling begins, the pace quickens and the vocabulary suddenly takes on rarer and unusually evocative words – all of which means that confusion reigns supreme.

It’s a slap in the face for the cocky linguist (I avoided using cunning there…), and a challenge afoot to learn more…

One such time was the trip back from Bezerros to Recife. The car was abuzz with storytelling, most of it coming from Wilton – who could only be described as the fast and the furious. It was pretty safe to say that I had no idea what on earth they were talking about for most of the conversation. Perhaps my brain had had too much and shut down, but I was processing ‘nothing’.

It made me stop and think about sometimes how I talk with my friends back home, and if I change the way I speak to make it easier for my friends from afar to understand.

The key to helping them understand is not really to speak louder. That only helps in the clubs and bars! Try these tips instead.

– Avoid using descriptive language which relies on cultural references. We love to describe things in ways that only a local will understand – but remember that not everyone may get what you mean. A work colleague had fun once by talking about the ‘elephant in the room’ and one of her teams overseas were probably wondering why the hell we had elephants at the office. Cliches can lead to plenty of confusion for foreigners.

– Don’t shorten all words – expand them out at first, and slowly introduce conjunctions. 

– Keep it simple. Shorter Sentences are best. After all communication is better when its flowing between two people, so try practicing listening and speaking. 

– Keep as much of the conversation in the present tense, or be specific when refering to past or future events. Tenses can confuse and confound at the best of times, even more so when you’re learning a language. 

Of course, not everyone wants to be understood – some prefer the challenge. Ask your friends from afar, and check in with them to see if you are going too fast (or slow) for them. After all, they are probably here to study English, and learn the unique flavour behind Australian lingo.