garota (que não é) de ipanema

Despite my crippling irrational fear of drowning and inability to swim or surf, I actually love the beach. Especially when it’s really, really hot out. I’ve lived near several beaches on both coasts (San Diego, LA, Miami, and several summer trips to the Hamptons while living in NYC), plus I’ve visited many others in my travels. Depending on what you’re into, however, I have to say my personal favorite beaches have been here in Brazil.

There are several things you can judge a beach on, from crowds and “culture” of the beach, to the texture of the sand and temperature of the water. Growing up on the Pacific, I don’t really mind if the ocean is freezing (as long as it’s really, really hot outside). Sand, however, is extremely important to me. Perhaps I’m a bit spoiled because most of the sand at my favorite California beaches was likely imported to set back erosion. The best beaches are the ones with thick sand that doesn’t stick to your skin and make you feel dirty, but is comfortable to lay on. Also, never go to Nice, France. They don’t even have sand, they have rocks.

Although it does allow for potential stone therapy.

Although it does allow for potential stone therapy.

But this problem goes the other way too, when the sand is too fine and becomes, again, uncomfortable to lay on. In Salinas, Pará, the sand is basically dust, and the wind is so strong that lying on the ground is pretty much out of the question unless you are already blind. Also, the water there is warm and extremely salty, which makes for a hard day for your skin. However, the compact sand allows you to actually drive onto the beach in any normal car, which is pretty cool.

The most convenient beach parking ever.

The most convenient beach parking ever.

Most people agree that private beaches are better, and in San Diego I would have certainly agreed with you. But here in Brazil, the benefits of being on a popular beach far outweigh the fact that you have to spend a few extra minutes hunting for a spot. That said, I will explain why my favorite beach is Ipanema, and I’ll try not to sound too cliché while doing it.

1. It’s beautiful.

I mean, look at this.

I mean, look at this.

It’s so beautiful here, that people actually APPLAUD when the sun sets.

Also, the rumors are true. The beautiful women here are like goddesses, and are worth the awkwardness when you get caught staring. You can google that yourself, though. I’ll just say that being forced to share space with really attractive people isn’t all that bad.

2. You don’t have to bring anything.

Literally the only things Brazilians bring to the beach are some cash and a canga. No one uses towels, because let’s get real: towels suck. You almost never use them to dry off at the beach, and they just end up wet, heavy and caked in sand for the rest of the day. Brazilians use what Americans would call “sarongs” to lay out on (and less often as a “sarong”) at the beach. Simple, but brilliant.

Every single other thing you could need is sold on the beach, and you don’t even  have to stand up. When you first arrive, there are guys working at huts every 50 paces along the beach to offer to rent you umbrellas and chairs, and sell you only-slightly-overpriced water bottles, beers (see #3) and even coconuts.

Much like all drinks in Brazil, the coconut is kept on ice until it is almost frozen, and then hacked open with a machete-like knife for your thirst-quenching necessities.

The coconut is kept on ice until it is almost frozen (much like the rest of drinks in Brazil), and then hacked open with a machete-like knife for your thirst-quenching necessities.

Of course, if your particular hut doesn’t have all the options you require, there are consistently people walking by with many other options. I personally recommend the dangerous queijo coalho, which is literally dangerous. It’s illegal to sell on the beach for health reasons (namely that it’s imported without following proper health laws and cooked on makeshift foguinhos that are probably made from toxic paint cans and other things).

But who cares? It's delicious.

But who cares? It’s delicious.

3. You can drink on the beach.

Oh yeah, forget hiding your beers in red cups and pre-mixing vodka gatorades (if you went to USC, you’ll know what I’m talking about), no sneaky methods necessary. This is Brazil. Not only are you allowed to drink on the beach, but they will bring the beer to you. Relaxa.

 

4. Mate

I could have looped this in with #2 and all the stuff people will bring you, but mate deserves its own. This tea is actually from the south of Brazil, but is for whatever reason extremely popular in Rio and served on the beach by guys carrying giant metal jugs of it and screaming “MATE” at the top of their lungs, over and over.

Looking for a fun summer job?

Looking for a fun summer job?

FYI, it’s actually pronounced “mah-tche” because this is Brazil, and if you run around screaming “mate” people will probably just assume you are Australian. Or at least, I will.

5. Even the sidewalks are famous here.

The famous print of the Ipanema sidewalks are beautiful, and all over every souvenir shop. You know you’re doing it right when you don’t even have to show the ocean or sand, you can just show the sidewalk and already people want to be there.

"I went to Ipanema and all I got was this lousy sidewalk mug."

“I went to Ipanema and all I got was this lousy sidewalk mug.”

No kidding, I saw a woman (in Ipanema!) wearing a dress that was the same print as the famous sidewalk.

Yo dawg, I heard you like Ipanema...

Yo dawg, I heard you like Ipanema…

 

 

Writing this just gave me horrible saudades for the beach. Lucky for me, I’m heading up to Rio for Carnaval and I’m looking forward to spending more time with my favorite beach in Brazil, and perhaps get to know some new ones! And it looks like it will be nice and hot (did I mention I love the heat?)

égua maninho

As I’ve mentioned a few times, most of the wonderful people I’m lucky enough to call my friends here in Brazil are from a not-so-small Amazonian town called Belém do Pará. I’ll level with you guys: when I came to Brazil for the first time in February and people told me they were from a city in the Amazon, I pictured the same thing any American with average geographical knowledge would picture.

Literally the first image I found on a google image search of the word "Amazon" that wasn't an amazon.com logo

Literally the first image I found on a google image search of the word “Amazon” that wasn’t an amazon.com logo.

So, yeah, when I found out that there were skyscrapers in the jungle, you can imagine my excitement. Not to mention, as a self-proclaimed concrete jungle warrior, my immediate desire to visit.

And you better believe that I painted my nails in the style of the Paraense flag just for the trip.

And you better believe that I painted my nails like the paraense flag just for the trip.

Belém is quite an interesting place. It’s the 10th most dangerous city in the world (according to Business Insider’s 2012 list), but it is also home to some of the warmest (and smartest!) people I’ve met.

The entire time we were there, it was hot and humid (so, by my standards, perfect), but the weather in Belém is almost a joke. Paraenses like to say that in Belém they have two seasons: one where it rains every day, and one where it rains all day. But the funniest part for me is that, during the former, it rains at the same time every single day. Which means people actually make plans around this.

"Alright, let's meet tomorrow after the rain."

“Alright, let’s meet tomorrow after the rain.” – Actual Conversation in Belém.

Here’s a list of my favorite things about the trip, in no particular order:

1. Cairu

I lied. This was far and away my favorite part of Belém, and deserves to be right there at #1.

Cairu is a sorveteria with flavors like açaí, bacuri, cupuaçu, uxi, taperebá, and dozens of other fruits you’ve never heard of and are unlikely to find outside the Amazon. (Except for açaí, of course. That shit is at any and every smoothie place in Southern California.) The options of ice cream flavors are so overwhelming that I did what any completely rational person would do: I went to almost every location in the city, and tried as many flavors as I possibly could without exploding or pissing off the people behind the counter.

Yes, that's "queijo" as in "cheese." Yes, cheese-flavored ice cream.

Yes, that’s “queijo” as in “cheese.” Yes, cheese-flavored ice cream.

If you find yourself in Belém and don’t hit up Cairu, you better have a damn good excuse, like an allergy to deliciousness. I recommend the paraense, a combo of tapioca and açaí.

2. Ilha do Combú

Alright, I’ll admit that even as a diehard city girl, I was slightly disappointed at the prospect of flying all the way to the Amazon and not experiencing any jungle. To be completely honest, I really just wanted to see a monkey. Happily, I found my way to Ilha do Combú, a small island in the river next to Belém. To get there, you have to take a terrifying little boat across the river, leaving the skyscrapers behind. Upon arrival, you find a restaurant overlooking the river, halfway blended into the jungle beyond.

Of course by "overlooking" the river, I actually mean "pretty much inside" the river.

Of course by “overlooking” the river, I actually mean “pretty much inside” the river.

We spent the afternoon here, eating delicious fish called pescada amarela (probably caught by someone in our boat on the way there), drinking beer and exploring the jungle.

About 10 feet from the restaurant. Sadly, no monkeys.

About 10 feet from the restaurant. Sadly, no monkeys.

And luckily enough, we were able to miss the “daily rain” across the river.

Also, I enjoyed knowing that city life wasn't too far away.

Also, I enjoyed knowing that city life wasn’t too far away.

3. Parque Mangal das Garças

I had to look up the translation of “garça” when I got home, because I’ve never seen these before. For the record, they are called egrets and all I can tell you is that they look a bit like white flamingos.

You have to remember that this is their park.

You have to remember that this is their park. Not yours.

Anyway, I loved this place not because of the birds (in fact, I’m not the biggest fan of birds in general) but because of the tower in the middle of the park that allows you to see all of Belém.

Unless, of course, there are couples being touristy blocking your view.

Unless, of course, there are couples being touristy blocking your view.

4. Mercado Ver-o-peso

This market is probably one of the best places to go if you like cheap produce, are open-minded about trying weird fruits/plants, don’t mind things that are really dirty and want to see animals you might eat later that night in cages.

Or out of cages. I guess it doesn't really matter.

Or out of cages. I guess it doesn’t really matter.

My favorite part of this market, though, was the ladies selling bottles of some sort of spiritual… well, I guess, magic… to help people achieve their goals, make more money, seem less ugly, or “win at everything.”

I'll take one "vence tudo." Just kidding, I already win at everything.

I’ll take one “vence tudo.” Just kidding, I already win at everything.

My least favorite part of this place was experiencing a plant that is, according to Wikipedia, normally meant for medicinal purposes. It is called jambú, not to be confused with Jambu, the whale from that episode of South Park, and when you chew it, it makes your entire mouth go numb. While incredibly entertaining for my boyfriend, it was not a pleasurable experience.

Jambú. Not even once.

Jambú. Not even once.

 

5. Estação das Docas.

A riverfront warehouse converted into a beautiful shopping/entertainment center.

Don't worry, I wasn't swimming with my camera. I stole this photo from Google.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t swimming with my camera. I stole this photo from Google.

This place is full of shops selling over-priced goods you can get at the market next door for 10% of the price, and restaurants with traditional paraense food like pato no tucupi (delicious), vatapá (delicious), maniçoba (not delicious), and the best farofa you’ve ever had in your life. But unlike most shopping centers I’ve been to, this one happens to have a brewery right smack in the middle of it.

Amazon Beer. (I swear, that's actually what it's called.)

Amazon Beer. (I swear, that’s actually what it’s called.)

The Forest Bacuri is a personal favorite, because where else in the world can you have Bacuri-flavored beer?

Oh, and did I mention they have a Cairu?

Oh, and did I mention they have a Cairu?