Acaraje

In Rio de Janeiro, we found this street stall selling Afro-Brazilian food. At the time I had no idea what the fried dough and shrimp thing was that I ate. I just knew it was delicious. It was only after reading an article about street vendors protesting FIFA’s resctrictions about selling food near World Cup stadiums that I found out what I ate that day was called acaraje. I’m happy to have finally figured out what it was, and even happier to see that the women vendors in Salvador truimphed over FIFA and were allowed to sell their food outside of the stadium there!

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Rio de Janeiro

So much has been written about Rio de Janeiro that I don’t know where to begin. It even serves as the backdrop for the latest Fast and Furious movie I haven’t seen. I can see why one would choose the city as a film set; it’s dramatic, layered, colorful, glamorous and grimy. The director only has to point the camera towards Pão de Açúcar, a brightly painted favela or the beaches of Copacabana and stick any mediocre actors in the foreground.

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Three ways to experience Paraty

The owner of our hostel tells us it’s possible to stay in Paraty for 14 days and never visit the same place twice. We have only three days, but it’s just enough to experience three different sides of this small town.

Day 1: Culture

Sipping a caipirinha in front of an old church, watching a teenage girl try to tie a bow in her puppy’s hair and listening to music slipping out through the colorful window frames of nearby restaurants…this is a great way to spend an afternoon.

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You might call Paraty Old Town a tourist trap, but it’s a very charming one. Smiling families, here for the weekend, ride horse-drawn carriages along the cobblestone streets. At the seafront, painted boats are lined up, visitors returning from day trips to the islands which dot the coastline here. Jason Mraz plays at every other dock and signs advertise a party cruise setting sale that evening. Cake sellers open up their mobile carts in time for mid-afternoon snack time.

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Wandering down the small side streets, it’s easy to lose the crowds. The pre-tourist Paraty is still visible here. Paint peels in dull-colored flakes, damp patches creep up walls and plants grow amongst stones or on roofs.

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Day 2: Waterfalls and Swimming Holes

I give up trying to ride my bicycle uphill. Instead I push it, puffs of dust circling my feet and sweat dripping down my back. Eventually I catch up with the others. They’ve given up too and stand in the shade at the roadside, applying insect repellant. This was supposed to be the easier part, but we’re perhaps too exhausted after a whole morning of cycling to look at this objectively. There’s no question of giving up though. Not after where we’ve just been.

Natural water slide

Sliding down the ridge of smooth rock and splashing into the pool at the bottom; fighting our way against the flow of water to climb up behind a waterfall and listen to its torrential crash around us; laughing amongst the Brazilians, here on holiday too, as people slip and trip across the rocks to bask in the sun and cool water simultaneously. All this at just one site. We can’t give up on reaching another.

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With tour agencies in town charging R$70 for transportation and a mere half an hour at each waterfall, we can’t help thinking we have the better deal. It’s hard work now, but we know how refreshing that water’s going to feel once we’re in it.

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Day 3: Beach

“You wanna take a bus or walking?” asks Pablo, the Argentinian owner of our hostel. He gives us instructions on how to get to Praia do Sono. “It’s fucking paradise,” he tells us. After a 30 minute bus ride we arrive in a small village. There’s only one way to the beach and that’s by foot through an area of protected land. When the path begins to descend we think we must be reaching the beach, but it’s a false hope. We hike on past banana trees and palm fronds and purple flowers.

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As we walk we catch glimpses of the light blue sea between the deep green of shadowy jungle leaves. More than an hour later the trees part and there we see it. Praia do Sono.

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I’m not a beach person, but here I become one. The water is warm and calm, the sand fine and golden. Colorful buildings sit back from the shore and tents are pitched in the shade of trees, but there are only a handful of other visitors. It feels like some magical make-believe place.

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Sao Paulo

A lot of what you hear about Brazil´s megacity has to do with crime. So, I was initially a bit guarded, looking out for pick pockets, or worse, violent gangsters. But my fears soon dissipated as I walked around Sao Paulo´s varied and coloful neighborhoods. From the Koreatown we stumbled into to the high rises of Vila Mariana, I took a cue from the easy-going Paulistanos and relaxed.

A postcard from the Afro-Brazil Museum

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Iemanja, goddess of the sea.
Pele, god of football.

We chose to visit the Afro-Brazil Museum over the Modern Art Museum just because it was closer to where we were standing at decision time. Not only is it the best ‘cultural thing’ of the trip so far, it’s also one of the best museums I’ve ever visited.

The two-level building inside is set up with both broad open views and small labyrinthine spaces that bring you close to the exhibits. The collection is vast, encompassing historical and ethnographic artifacts as well as artworks (including folk art, fine art and modern art). They’re displayed along themes rather than by category, so you might read about the slaves brought to Brazil, stand next to a ceremonial costume from Africa and admire a modern sculpture made of seashells and pottery.

The most beautiful exhibits were the traditional costumes, displayed on wire-frame mannequins to give all the glory to the patterned fabric, embroidery, beadwork and jewelry. I was most surprised at the skeleton of a slave ship, which was much smaller than I had imagined and made me wonder how they possibly fitted so many people on it. My favorite thing was the temporary exhibition about cowboys in the northeast of Brazil.

Life size photos brought me face to face with cangaceiros; outlaws reacting against landowners and government. Stony-faced and unmoving like all old portraits are, men and women clad alike in leather with a backdrop of thorny desert. This contrasted with the many clay figurines of Lampião and his girlfriend, Maria Bonita, smiling arm in arm or riding horses, glorified as folk heroes despite being the leaders of the most notorious band of marauders in the 1920s and 1930s. One final photo showed their disembodied heads, mouths limp, eyes closed in death as they rested upon shelves in front of the camera.

Afro-Brasil Museum
Subway: Ana Rosa, then walk to Ibirapuera Park
Price: free
Hours: Tue-Sun, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

A postcard from the Museum of Portuguese Language

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A museum of language seems a little odd. How can there be exhibits when there’s nothing tangible? Even odder is going to a museum about Portuguese when we don’t speak it and there’s no other language to help with interpretation.

But the couple of hours we spent there were surprisingly fulfilling.

There was lots of multimedia presentation; videos, music, graphics, touchscreens. The most interesting part was a display about Portuguese words that had come from other languages. Rolling screens showed words which you could touch to reveal the definition and the word in its language of origin. You could look up the history of the language and the people who brought it to Brazil. We had lots of fun guessing the meaning of words and listening to the pronunciation.

I was surprised at how much of the meaning we could piece together using our knowledge of Spanish and English (thanks to all the cognates from Latin). Did you know that many of the Portuguese words from French relate to clothing whereas those from English involve sports? Fancy a game of ‘futebol’ anyone?

Museum of the Portuguese Language
Subway station: Luz
Price: R$6 adult
Hours: 10am-6pm, last ticket 5pm, closed Mondays

Rainy times in Japantown

The Liberdade area in Sao Paulo is also known as JapanTown. It has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. Our hostel guy said it was a great place to go and take pictures because everything was Japanese (I was secretly hoping to find a bowl of ramen).

When we arrived it was late-afternoon and lots of shops were closing. We dodged rain showers under the awnings of cafes until we found somewhere that served hot bean soup (Brazilian not Japanese).