Friday, February 18, 2011

views of Rio from Corcovado

Christ The Redeemer

While visiting an outstretched armed Jesus Christ statue wasn't my top priority, I played along (see below) and ultimately took in some amazing views from atop Corcovado (hunchback mountain).

Views from the Trans-Harbor Ferry

Haipuacu Beach

Gorgeous cove...

This is where I took my last swim

My last night in Brazil was spent at Regina's family reunion at a countryside house in Haipuacu, about an hour outside of Rio. We, like pretty much everyone else, arrived by bus and stayed overnight. After munching on salad and churrascaria (barbecued meat), I faced I could not fake another sentence of Portuguese and so I wandered off.

It was nice being out in the middle of what felt like nowhere--time to just reflect on where I'd been and what I'd figured out. Brazil is a huge and compelling country -- there is so much going on there (beaches, jungle, mountains, megacities, art, dance, music, indigenous peoples, Afro-Brazilian culture/spirituality) that many Brazilians are content to explore within rather than venture beyond their country's borders. Beyond their own borders, the country, language and culture they are most interested in is the USA. Their contact with Portugal is minimal compared to our contact with England. We devour British theater, music and media exports, while they consider Portugal to be culturally dull.

In the morning Regina and I walked down to the beach and I took a final swim. Afterwards we had some acai and another helping of coconut water. Eventually we found boarded a bus that took us to Niteroi where we caught a ferry that glided across the Rio Harbor.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Views from Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf)

Rio de Janeiro - Beachscape and City
Ipanema Beach

Botafogo Harbor

Pao de Acucar

Rio has two super-famous overlooks... Sugar Loaf (Pao de Acucar) and Christ the Redeemer (Corcovado). After Regina saw my photos from Pao de Acucar she became inspired to (once again) look at her city from high the next day we both went to the Corcovado. At the first moments of the view, all I could do was gasp in amazement - I knew my camera couldn't do it justice. I just took it all in and breathed... Here are photos of the tram...

Here you can see one tram going and another coming...

The Beach Scene at Copacabana

If you enlarge this photo, you will note that all females are wearing skimpy bikinis...

Sidewalk of Waves

This runs along the edge of Copacabana Beach...

Copacabana Palace Hotel

Didn't stay there this time...

Sand-cooling hose on Copacabana Beach

No super-hot feet in the walk to the shore...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sipping Coconuts with Regina in Copacabana

Gorgeous Beach...Delicious Coconuts...

More Rio...

After my day of wandering around somewhat aimlessly, Regina decided some-hands-on guidance was in order. (I’d been left to wander alone with a clear directive to be very careful and come back home before dark.) Being super-attentive, nothing untoward happened. Nonetheless, the fear of robbery and assault is palpable. All windows are barred and there is a ton of police presence in public parks and plazas. In part I did my solo wander because Regina’s Mom had a painful relapse of her bone cancer and the day was filled with getting her to the hospital – pick up narcotic painkillers, etc. That evening she moaned in pain – I felt so bad for her. Miraculously the next-morning she was puttering around the kitchen making breakfast for everyone. What an absolute trooper!

In that Mom was doing okay, Regina announced that she would take me out and about. First we took a meandering bus ride down to the Copacabana Beach. Yes, it’s gorgeous. One of my favorite innovations was a sprinkler tube that lay over the hot sand so that one might comfortably walk down to the perfect shore. We did a beach walk, bought coco’s gelados (chilled coconuts) and took it all in. Next we went to a kilo-restaurant (body-conscious Brazilians would not tolerate an all-you-can-eat buffet) and ate a bit of this and that. Then Regina went to a photography class and I took a tram up to Paio de Azucar (Sugar Loaf) mountain and marveled at the Rio Bay expanse. (When the first explorers “discovered” Rio de Janeiro – they thought the bay was a river and being January, they thus named it.)

Suddenly I found myself in the midst of a zillion international tour-groups with guides barking out directives in French, English, Spanish, German and Japanese. Their itineraries were packed with must see Rio-moments and mine was still unfolding. For a moment I wished it wasn’t on me to figure it all out and that 45 minutes later I would be surrendering my being to ready-transport to another hot spot. Instead, I spent several hours photographing the bay from different angles and levels. I quietly squeaked away amidst the flurry of barking guides and continued my wander. While Regina had suggested I might want to visit an indigenous people’s museums, I faced there really wasn’t time so I visited a huge shopping mall (and to my eyes a museum). It was kind of like the Beverly Center of Rio, replete with a food court, non-stop shoe stores, high and low-end fashion stores and hair / nail salons. Being a frumpy misfit I just looked and occasionally took photo notes….

Many Shades of Human

Brazil sports this huge mix of cultures and colors. On the beach there are signs suggesting the level of sun protection one might use depending on how dark or light they are. And interracial love is the norm – with absolutely gorgeous results.

Ways to look thinner in Rio...

Zero Barrigo (no tummy) bottoms Full body slimming suit

cold and sweet

McDonalds Ice Cream Cafes are super popular
English is used liberally to sell tasty things...

Rio continued...

Rio is a place of contrasts—there’s this free-wheeling lust for life, expressed through music, dance and fashion. Perhaps more than in any other part of Brazil, there’s this cult of the body. Women become obsessed with looking good—with having a lean sexy body with no untoward pubic hair. Thus the Brazilian wax—the thong bikini, etc. And women without flat tummies wear skimpy bikinis as well. Only very elderly women might be seen sporting one-piece attire. Off the beach there are skin-toned zero-barriga full/half body corsets. And to add to the chaos over the body there are non-stop opportunities to purchase snacks—saldados crunchy salty pastries often-filled with cheese. The cheese is delicious and whatever else is thrown in (tomatoes, olives, chicken) tastes great, too. Then there are sweets – frozen yogurt shops abound as do home-grown and Starbucks Coffee Houses. McDonalds Cafe’s and Ice creamerias are everywhere, too. It’s no doubt a challenging conundrum to look good amidst the constant temptation of goodies. My hostess Regina shared some of her strategies – drink coconut water instead of mineral water (it’s filling and thirst quenching). Don’t drink water with meals – let your stomach’s own juices do the digesting. I tried it, but then got super thirsty (she empathized) and so we ended up sharing a huge pitcher of coconut water…

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Around Rio...

Sky, clouds, trees, the top of the central library
Building side with dripping air conditioners

Alleyway Cafe

Around Rio de Janeiro..

Watery reflections
Harbor Mural

View from the Harbor

Palm tree over the Harbor

Rio - First Look

I'd heard about Rio de Janeiro forever--the famous beaches (Copacabana and Ipanema), it's obsessive cult of the body and it's dangerous favelas (slums). I had to come see it. But then there are the small stories of staying in a non-tourist neighborhood, buying bread at the corner bakery, and getting spun around a zillion times finding my way around. Generally, I'm a bit spent on sorting out new cities and squeaking by speaking fake Portuguese (throwing in Spanish, Italian and French and hoping people understand me).

Yesterday morning my host, Regina, proposed a huge number of things I might do. She told me where to catch a bus--I couldn't find it so I walked further and found a bus stop for many busses. I waited watching all these busses stop, not being able to figure out (or decide) which one to take. All I knew is that she lives in Maracana and that I should head south. Eventually, I boarded any bus, figuring they would all be heading south. At some point I was the last one on the bus and it started to turn around. The fare collector told me I'd have to pay again if I wanted to stay aboard. I figured we were somewhere, so I got off. It turned out I was at a ferry center where one could catch boats to the other side of the bay. I wandered and took photos.

Eventually I found my way into some galleries and exhibitions--the art scene (from my very limited vantage point) featured messy work by quite self-involved auteurs. There were rooms with scrawls on the walls, white canvasses with bits of scratchy color -- that kind of stuff. Sao Paulo's scene felt so much more sophisticated...

Eventually I took the subway back to Maracana and then got truly spun around. The stop seemed nowhere near anything I remember. I'd flash a piece of paper with the address of my host's condo and I'd either be pointed in a direction or I'd be told that they had no idea where it was. Then I remembered I had a map and lo and behold, I figured out where I was:)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Leaving Bahia

I spent my last night in Bahia with Romero and Maina who live way out in a suburban beach town. Before going to their house, they insisted that we go back to the Yemanja Festival and take in this rock band, Mario Melo, which was offering a free concert in the streets. I got so tired from being on my (newly healed) feet for countless hours and weathering the super-intense crowds, that there were moments I thought I would just collapse. Instead we danced it all out and then that night I slept it off. The next day I went down to a really quiet and beautiful beach and rode the waves. I got a really bad sunburn, so something new to complain about...

That evening Romero drove me to the airport to catch a flight to Rio de Janeiro. This time I flew on Web Jet which must be the Ryan Air of Brazil. The seats were so close together there was absolutely no room to lean back and stretch one's legs (and I'm relatively short!) The one cute stand-out was that all of the flight attendants wore lime green T-shirts that were the same color as the plane. Being so no-frills, they charged me 3 Reales for a glass of water...

Upon arrival in Rio (close to midnight) I went out to the curb and bargained for a taxi. Soon enough I arrived at the home of my final couchsurfing hostess, Regina. She's an attorney who lives in a nicely furnished condo with her ailing mother (cancer) and her two adopted/grown children. We immediately hit it off. Couchsurfing is amazing!!!

Yemanja Festival

I timed my trip to Bahia to coincide with the February 2nd Yemanja Festa, celebrating the mermaid-goddess of the sea. Here celebrants gathered by the sea, bringing flower and perfume offerings. Baskets of flowers were then taken out by boat to the edges of the harbor. The streets were packed with people -- the air was filled with sea breezes, music and delicious Fejoada (bean pork stew) and plenty of cerveja (beer). The energy was non-stop amazing. (More photos are posted as an album on my Facebook --
Streets packed with celebrants - tents selling food and drink


Flower bouquet being carried to the sea

Boat ride to deliver flower offerings

Feeling the energy...

The whole expanse of beach was filled with celebrants...

Candomble Ceremony

What do you do if you're in Bahia for a very short time and a tour guide hands you a flyer for a "real deal" Candomble Ceremony? Well, you go. While my couchsurfing hosts were downright skeptical, it was in fact "real." That is it wasn't orchestrated for tourists like let's say a hotel-based Luau in Waikiki, Hawaii would be. It was in progress before our 5-person tour group arrived and continued after we left. And no effort was made to explain anything to us while it was going on.

Having seen many films of vodou practitioners going into mind-blowing body-trembling trance, I was a bit non-plussed. A couple of people writhed on the ground but hardly in a sustained trance-state. Mostly it was a small loving group of people doing a healing ceremony. At one point, I received a healing where branches were waved over my head and down by back and then my body was sprinkled with popcorn. Afterwards my foot did start feeling better...

Cigar smoke was a big thing -- honoring the sacred tobacco used by indigenous tribes of Brazil. And then sweet red wine (ala Manichewitz) was distributed. Drums beat, bodies swayed and no-doubt healing occurred. Later I was handed a plate of very typical Brazilian food (rice, fejoada (cooked beans with pork) and a gummy salty glob that was tan in color. I dutifully tasted it all and then ate the rice.

Too sacred for photos...just memories.

More from the Afro-Brazilian Museum

Patio Labyrinth
Altar for Benin

A lot balancing on one head:)

Man does dog-spirit as part of a dream?

In search of Candomble in Bahia

Salvador, Bahia was the first capital of Brazil and a major port for the arrival of African slaves. For about 40% of the slaves that arrived in the New World, Brazil became their new homeland. With so many, spiritual traditions from African practices like Yoruba remained strong. These were infused with Catholicism from the Portuguese and Italians, causing a vibrant syncretism to emerge. I came here to feel it... I wandered through the Afro-Brazilian Museo, noting objects honoring the different spirit entities...

Yemanja - Mermaid Goddess of the Sea

Xango - powerful spiritual entity

Ifa - Diviner, predictor of future events

Exu, eldest son of Yemanja