Beaches, Buzios and a Brazilian Wedding

the beautiful bride and the next brides to be

Click to see the whole Photo Album

I left the Mediterranean for Brazil and thought I was going from Portugal to something similar, but not even the language seemed familiar when I landed in hot and humid South America. The attitude and energy changed even on the plane ride over, the friendly flirtatiousness slowly oozing out of the beautiful Brazilians on board. I landed in Rio´s international airport at 9pm and thought it would be too late to get to Buzios, a beach town 2 hours away, but the first driver I saw when I walked into the arrivals hall was a guy holding a sign with ‘BUZIOS TRANSFER.’ I walked past him and went outside to feel the warm sticky air again, and parked directly infront of me stood the Buzios bus. I figured it was a sign, so I went straight to Buzios.

I didnt have the address where my friends were staying and my phone conveniently didn´t work, so I arrived at 2:30 am with my backpack and wandered around the streets unsure where to go. There were many people still out partying and my friend in Rio had said to find my friends at Pacha nightclub… but Pacha was closed. I decided to go to the busiest bar with the biggest crowd, and spotted my friend Matt almost immediately, sitting at the bar with a glass of whisky and a Skol beer.

We spent 3 days exploring the beaches around Buzios, one day by means of a sand dune buggy, which would have come in really handy the one day we braved a sandstorm to get some beach time. The day we were on Geriba, we couldn´t really lay our sarongs on the ground because they were buried by blowing sand within minutes, and so were we if we tried to lay on them. We sat in beach chairs that blew over if we stood up, and our umbrella functioned more as a wind shelter than as shade.

We returned to Rio to meet a group of travelers all attending Mara and Rich´s wedding, two friends of mine from New York City. Our first night together, we gorged on caipirinhas and meat at the Porcao churrascaria, while torrential downpours flooded the city streets and drenched us to the bone in the 30 seconds we had to spend outside to get in and out of a taxi. It kept raining the following days, with only glimpses of sun phasing in and out during the day, so you had to time yourself really well to benefit from Ipanema or Copacabana´s near empty beaches.

The bachelorette party was held inside Leblon, a shopping mall full of bikini and lingerie stores of which each and every one we visited. The wedding was held at Villa Riso, a regal mansion located in the rain forest near Sao Conrado. The lack of sunshine was well received by all the guys in suits and tuxedos, who would otherwise have never made it without sweating through all their fine clothes. Mara was the most beautiful bride I´d ever seen, including every cheesy wedding magazine and bridal model you could compare her to, and the lights, cameras and action constantly surrounding her confirmed I wasn´t the only one thinking that.

The wedding ceremony was held in the chapel, and the reception followed in a big atrium, and I´ve never imagined so many white flowers and yellow roses possible in one place. The champagne flowed all night, with caiprinhas and whisky as bountiful as the salmon and sushi being served all night. There was an entire room of candies and deserts, served in roses, and every woman received a pair of Havaiana flip flops half way through the party to ensure she stayed on her feet dancing the rest of the night.

When the energy in the room started to slow down just a little bit, we didn´t even get a chance to notice the emptying dance floor because a band of 20 dummers overtook the room with such sound and rhythm that noone could stay sitting down. Everyone rushed back to the dance floor and let the drum vibrations move their hips, and before we knew it, an hour had passed and we were still jumping up and down to their contagious beats without even remembering how tired, full, or drunk we had just been feeling.

Rio de Janeiro and Ilha Grande

8 months ago, I was in Florence, Italy, visiting 2 American brothers. Their friends were hosting a Brazilian couchsurfer named Andre. After the group of us traveled to Cinque Terre together and hung out in Florence, I had convinced Andre to surf my couch in Reykjavik one day. 2 months later, he arrived in Reykjavik, and I told him I’d have to surf his couch in Rio one day. 4 months later, I was surfing his couch in Niteroi, with only 2 days notice.

Ipanema

It was impossible to reach him earlier since I was floating around in the middle of the Northern

me and Cristo

Brazilian Amazon, and I wasn’t sure he would be in Rio since he travels a lot. But, he welcomed me in to his family’s home as a couchsurfer and a friend, and Im so relieved I actually remembered I had the outstanding invitation (I have so many people left to visit I often wonder how many cities I’ve visited without remembering to call someone!)

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Sugar Load and the teleferico lines in the fog

His home was in Niteroi, accross the bay from Rio, with a spectacular view of the Sugar Loaf hill. You could see Christ the Redeemer from his balcony, and it only took a 14 km bridge to get to the heart of Rio. He took me to Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, we took the gondola up Pão de Açúcar, took pictures from Vista Chinesa, and waded through the crowds up the Corcodova to see Cristo Redentor. I had planned for 6 days in Rio, but on my second day, we took an impromptu camping trip to Ilha Grande.

We were having buffet pizza with some other locals and backpackers on my first night when Digo invited us to go. He said we would need all our camping supplies and food for 3 days since the island is only interconnected by a series of trails and a few boat docks. We had to hike 3 hours to the ‘secluded’ beach we wanted to stay at, but then realized hundreds of other people had made the difficult trek searching for the same paradise… a perfect case of tragedy of the commons.

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the crowds and the view from Corcovado

But, instead of a wild and rugged weekend, we had a fun-filled beach vacation, making lots of new friends  while dancing and sleeping only inches from one anothers tents. I learned very quickly that I don’t speak Portuguese, but I can understand it, and when I try to speak, I’m actually communicating myself through Portunol and Spanglish, a mix of Spanish and English with Portugese decoration.

Through the Amazon to Brazil

 

the bidge from Europe to South America

I had been told about the possibility of going by land from French Guyana to Belem and decided that would be the way I’d get to Brazil. I started Sunday afternoon in a very quiet Cayenne and learned I had missed the last bus to St. Georges, the border town of French Guyana and Brazil. Instead, I had to hitchhike, and waited on the side of the road for only a few minutes before a Lexus SUV pulled over. The driver was Cecil, an immigration officer who worked in St. Georges. We drove the 3 hours together listening to Zouk, and only stopped once to buy a bag of lychees for 1 euro on the side of the road. He told me about all the tricks and formalities I had to know to get to Brazil.  In St. Georges, I had to first find the police station in town to get my exit stamp. Then I had to go down to the riverside and hire a motor canoe to drive me across the muddy waters to Oiapaque, the Brazilian town 5 minutes away. Cecil first showed me the bridge to Brazil, which has been completed for some months now and has an entire staffed border on the French side, but the Brazilian side hasn’t finished their road or built the proper facilities yet, so the bridge remains ucrossed.

Once I arrived in Oiapaque, I had to wander a few blocks into town away from the docks to find the Brazilian police station, which makes you wait outside while they take your passport inside and take 15 minutes to examine and stamp it. Then you have to walk back down to the river front, or 4 km further into town, to find a bus to take you overnight to Macapa. There are only a couple daily, leaving between 5 and 6 pm, and take 11 or 12 hours to get to Macapa. I read the road was bumpy and uncomfortable, but even in the very back row, I managed to sleep without hopping around too much.

The bus stopped every 4 hours for a toilet break, and each rest stop had free coffee and water. You could pay for a meal by weight, serve-yourself buffet style of whatever tickled your fancy. It was a long, damp ride through the rain forest, but it was never cold until they overdid it with the airconditioning.

Once you arrive in Macapa, you have to get to Santa Ana, a town 25 minutes away either by bus or taxi. The docks there are filled with boats that sail up and down the amazon, to remote floating villages and all the way to Belem, an urban city of 2 million. There’s usually a boat every day, leaving in the morning or afternoon, and takes anywhere between 24 – 40 hours. I bought a ticket with Sao Francisco da Paula, which was scheduled to leave at 10 am. It left 30 minutes late, but arrived in Belem exactly 24 hours later – a unexpected surprise when I had been warned the boats usually take atleast 36 hours.

We sailed all day and night, at the same, slow speed, with the humming sound of the engine quickly becoming white noise. There were 3 floors – the first, the loudest, with fewest hammocks; the second with hammocks stacked beside and ontop of eachother in every conceivable hanging spot, and the third, a roof top patio and bar where people watched the same music video on repeat the entire 24 hours. I was the only non-portugese speaking person, and only one of three women under 40. The rest were males and families who paid little attention to my strangeness. The staff made sure I knew when meal time was, where I could find free coffee, and approved my hammock spot in a more secluded corner at the back of the boat where I shared the view of the amazon passing under us with only 3 other people.

Sometimes the river was narrow, with overhanging trees and lush vegetation seemingly floating alongside us. Other times, it was as wide as a lake, giving you the feeling the Caribbean ocean wasn’t far away. Every few hours, we passed a fisherman or some kids in dugout canoes paddling against our wake, and a wooden house on stilts with some smoke or light peering out of it. I could never see past the density of the trees, or down below the murky surface of the water, so I found myself looking up a lot, at the bright blue sky, the passing clouds, the thick grey clouds pouring down rain on us or over yonder, and finally the star studded sky and shiny moon filling from the wrong side.

Since I arrived in Belem 12 hours earlier than I expected, I had the entire day to explore since my flight to Rio wasn’t until 2 am. I had no idea or any clue what to do, and Belem was as big and scary as sailing into Miami Beach from the silent everglades, so I took a taxi to an internet café and searched for a friend on couchsurfing. Within an hour, I was walking past the beautiful Nazarene Basilica on my way to Jorge’s house, where I could shower, drink some acai, and leave my bags. He led me to the old town, past another beautiful church, a fortress, and a rancid port where pigeons had been replaced by vultures and the smell of dead fishy things was overwhelming. But the place was beautiful, and an incredible market started there and went on for many blocks until we reached the new town. There we ran into more couchsurfers, and sat on a patio in the drizzling rain drinking beers and cachaca until my midnight calling to go to the airport sadly arrived.