Ten Days in Paradise
Holy crap, I’ve been in Brazil ten days already. Time does fly when you’re having fun.
I’ve been meaning to write a number of posts about specific parts of my trip so far, about life in Rio, and about life in general.
However, my first week and a half has consisted of me finding my feet, getting my bearings, training, and settling in. So here’s my Top Ten hits so far.
1. The People
Within a few days of living at Connection Rio I felt like I was hanging out with friends I’d known for ages. It helps that everyone in the hostel is a gringo in town for the jiu jitsu so we all have something in common. Lots of people to hang out with, to show you all the local secrets, and to go exploring with.
The locals tend to be really friendly too, in keeping with the stereotype. Many will happily chat to you and call you friend (well, ‘fren’ anyway) within minutes. I had an excellent chat with a bus conductor who came and sat next to me and chatted and laughed for most of the journey, despite the fact I hadn’t got a clue what he was saying for the most part. Of course, not everyone is like this, but there’s definitely a much more laid back vibe to the place. Everything definitely runs on ‘Brazilian time’… the one exception to this is driving. They drive like madmen here, although to be fair they seem to remain fairly relaxed whilst honking their horns or avoiding a fiery death by a matter of microseconds.
2. The Jiu Jitsu
Yup, the Brazilians seem to be pretty good at this Brazilian Jiu Jitsu lark. At open mat today, there were eleven black belts, including one guy who must have been around 70 and completely schooled a couple of gringoes. The depth of talent here is extraordinary and the training is top notch. I’ve had a couple of glaring holes in my game exposed and (kinda) patched up already.
I’m training at Gordo Jiu Jitsu, run by Roberto ‘Gordo’ Correa, one of the best instructors in Brazil. Although there’s a bit of a language barrier, a lot of the guys speak English and it’s amazing how fast you can make friends through rolling around on the mat. We’ve also been down to Team Nogueira, run by the Nogueira brothers who are absolute legends in Mixed Martial Arts and BJJ, where we trained with Little Nog.
I tried a few different Portuguese language products before I came out. It’s still bloody hard to make myself understood or work out what the hell is going on at times, because the accent is strong in Rio and things aren’t pronounced how they’re written. Pimsleur probably worked best for me, because of the emphasis on listening and speaking. I’m starting to understand a bit more as I get used to things, and I can at least string a few words together.
4. The Food
Food here is gooooood. Mostly fairly simple, but it’s tasty as hell and there’s lots of it. There are plenty of buffets, ranging from ‘as much food as you can heap on your plate’ to ‘all you can eat’ or ‘per kilo’. Expect meat, rice and beans, and vegetables with most meals.
Açai tigela, or a kind of frozen blended Brazilian berry in a bowl, is amazing.
I have also eaten an ungodly amount of steak and fish, which brings me nicely to the next point…
5. The Price
Things are pretty cheap here. Far cheaper than I was led to believe by numerous articles stating that Rio was as expensive as any city back home. Well maybe they were thinking of cities that weren’t London, because things here are a lot cheaper. How does three steaks for about £2.50 sound? Or if you’re eating out, how about a huge serving of meat, two sides of your choice, and beans, all for around £5? Sure, some things and some places are pretty pricy, but all things considered you can live like a prince for very little.
6. The Nightlife
So far I haven’t been going out a huge amount. We’ve been for a few drinks around the neighbourhood, which has been nice and chilled. Brazilians like to start late and stay out late. So far I’ve only been out in Barra, and we went to a fairly high end club called Zax which had a rich young crowd. It felt a little snobby, like people were more there to be seen than to have fun. But the music was good (a mix of local stuff and commercial western stuff) and the dancing was fun, plus it was just the right kind of busy. I hear it loosened up later, and the consensus was that this was way out of the ordinary, with other bars and clubs being much friendlier.
Door policy here is crazy - we got ID’d three times on the way in, then went to the front desk where instead of paying, they scan your ID (again) and take a photo of you, all of which gets programmed into a card that you use to pay for your drinks all night. This goes on a tab, which you pay at the end of the night (along with your cover charge) when you hand your card in at the end of the night. Things could get hairy if you don’t keep track of your spending; it was an expensive night, although all things considered it was cheap compared to back home. It did seem to make queueing at the bar much less painful.
Ah, the drinks. They have a kind of tea called mate that is popular across South America and is pretty good. Guarana is the most popular local soft drink, made from the guarana plant, slightly caffeinated, fizzy, and damn refreshing. Brahma, Skol and Itaipava are the beers of the choice, and they are served ice cold. Light and refreshing. But the interesting drinks are the cachaça based drinks, of which the caipirinha is the most famous. Cachaça is a kind of rum made from sugar cane. All hail the glorious batida, which is basically blended fruit (or whatever) mixed with cachaça. It’s like drinking an alcoholic smoothie! Our local bar, owned by one of the black belts at the gym, has flavours such as açai, coconut, passionfruit, cashew, coffee creme, and chocolate. Om nom nom.
8. The Beach
So far we’ve mainly been on Barra beach. It’s 16k long, the sand is glorious, and there are beautiful beach bodies everywhere. It’s quiet during the week but busy on the weekends. The surfing is supposed to be great, so we’ll have to check that out soon. All the beaches have stalls at regular intervals where you can buy drinks, while there are also vendors wandering along the beach selling things ranging from hats, to food, to football shirts.
9. The Sights
We hiked up Pedra da Gávea, which is a big old mountain (according to wikipedia it’s a monolith: I don’t know what the difference is but it sounds awesome). It’s a really steep jungle hike, interspersed with a bit of rock climbing.
The views from the top are amazing: the photos just don’t do it justice.
I checked out the Escadaria Selarón, a famous landmark in one of the older parts of town (Lapa/Santa Teresa). The artist, Selarón, has covered the stairways by his house with a whole series of brightly coloured tiles which he keeps constantly updated: it’s a real labour of love. Check it out:
I’ve also been around Barra and seen a little bit of Copacabana and Ipanema, but I still have plenty more exploring to do. Christ the Redeemer and Pau de Açucar are on the list…
10. And the other stuff
There’s too much stuff to write about, plus lots of stuff that don’t warrant their own entry but are fun little anecdotes in their own right. So I’ll throw them in here:
Being without a bag. Fresh avocados in the garden. Jumping in the pool to cool off after training. Pimento the cat. Monkeys living outside our house. Baby monkeys! The dog that dangles its paws over the balcony. Canto Alegre. Oswaldo’s. Camacha. Sungas and fio dental. The sun, and the torrential rain. Mats in the house. Melissa commandeering a bus back from Team Nogueira. Getting crapped on by a pigeon. The way Brazilians like to make out - and they do it anywhere and everywhere. The prospect of watching the UFC in Brazil.
Oh ya: and apparently the girls here are quite nice looking.