Brazil: Part two

Rio baby!

If you read my last post, you know how much I loved São Paulo. But after two weeks of average weather in a large city, I was craving the beach.

The sun was shining when we arrived in Rio de Janeiro and our hostel was one street back from Ipanema beach. The first morning there, we got up at 6 am to go for a swim while the sun rose. The beach, usually crowded and hectic, was mostly empty, the sea was already warm, and the famous Dois Irmãos mountains looked majestic in the morning light. It was perfect.

While in Rio my purpose was to film my documentary, which was wonderful and I met some incredibly interesting people. I won’t elaborate further on my film but I can’t wait to share it with you later this year!

In my spare time, I ticked a lot off my bucket list:

  • Sugar Loaf mountain, which has amazing 360° views of the city.
  • Christ the Redeemer. The iconic statue surprised me, for some reason I thought the statue was an enormous, looming figure overshadowing Rio. It was far smaller than anticipated, but still awesome nonetheless.
  • Escadaria Selarón, the most beautiful tiled steps I’ve ever seen.
  • Copacabana beach is a dream and I bought a lot of bikinis at the night markets.
  • Swam and chilled amongst the many bright umbrellas and Brazilian bums at Ipanema beach, and watched the sunset from Pedra do Arpoador which was beautiful. I was a little distracted by a family of cats that lived in a cave near our spot on the rock. Kittens + sunset over Ipanema beach = my ideal situation.
  • Watched the Festival of Yemanjá, goddess of the sea, which was so special. With lots of music and dancing, people dressed in white offer gifts of flowers to the sea.

Other than filming and interviewing interesting people, the limited time I spent on the beach was a highlight for me. During the day Ipanema and Copacabana are far from relaxing, with vendors constantly walking past yelling ‘AGUA!’ or ‘CERVEJA!’ When we rejected a man selling AÇAI!, he smirked and quietly said ‘…marijuana?’ Because obviously if you don’t want a smoothie bowl, the next best thing is some dank kush. We had our own chant of ‘Nao. Nao. Nao.’, meaning ‘no’, one of the few Portuguese words I mastered.

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Looking at this photo alone, it looks like paradise! And it is. Ipanema beach is iconic, and wading through the warm water while sipping agua de coco is a dream come true.

But shortly after taking this photo, as I sunbathed on the beach, a little girl no older than 5 years old stood on the edge of my sarong with a boy, who looked around 8. They were selling chewing gum. I told them I had no money left, I had spent my spare reals on my coconut water and had nothing to offer them. This little girl didn’t move and kept repeating herself in Portuguese. Meanwhile, the boy spotted my friend’s readings and highlighters sitting on her sarong. His face lit up, he abandoned his sale, settled in beside me and quickly began to highlight the title of her reading. The girl remained determined and kept repeating herself in Portuguese.

Finally, I clicked, this little girl was pointing at my coconut. I handed it to her and without another word, she took a long, frantic chug and wandered off down the beach with it. The boy was so into his colouring that it took him a while to notice his companion had left. He scrambled after her and they had a short squabble over the coconut. The girl won.

This quick exchange brought me back down to earth. I felt so guilty for enjoying myself and relaxing, while for whatever reason, these children were forced to sell goods to beachgoers on Rios most famous beach. My heart was heavy but I’m so grateful I met this little girl, she made me more determined to share important stories like hers.

Rio de Janeiro itself was so much more than I expected, and I can’t wait to go back. Before my trip, I had heard of people getting their necklaces pulled straight from their necks and belongings getting stolen while people spent time on the beach. I took precautions, such as not wearing jewellery and taking the bare minimum to the beach (no pun intended), and again, not once did I feel unsafe. Of course, there are bad people anywhere you go in the world, but for me, it’s simply about realising that people are just living their usual lives in this place. The minute you accept it’s not everyone’s sole purpose to harm you, you can relax. At least that was my mindset anyway. The one downside to spending most of my time in the city meant I didn’t get to see much wildlife, I was so keen on hanging with some sloths and toucans. All the more reason to go back one day!

Brazil: Part One

PART ONE: São Paulo

At the end of 2016, I found out I had been chosen to go to Brazil to make my own documentary about street art. I would spend two weeks in São Paulo and two weeks in Rio de Janeiro. It was so surreal that my dream of travelling and making films was actually happening! I have to admit, after years of listening to the many reasons why my arts degree was ‘useless’, I felt a tiny bit smug. You mustn’t let the opinions of others influence what makes your soul sparkle!

When I told people my plans, most would say things like, ‘isn’t it dangerous there?’, ‘what if you get zika?‘, ‘don’t get taken by a cartel lol.‘ One lady even told me I shouldn’t bother going at all. The ironic thing is, not one of these people had ever been to Brazil. I didn’t know what to expect, but I quietly ignored the negative reactions and continued trying (and failing) to learn Portuguese on my trusty Duolingo app.

We arrived in São Paulo in the middle of the night, and our hostel had sent a Kombi van with a massive peace sign on its front to pick us up from the airport. I had spent weeks telling anyone who would listen how much I wanted to travel in a Kombi, so despite my jet lag, I was buzzing. That first trip in the van sums up the essence of Brazil for me. We passed people sleeping on the streets, contrasted by a backdrop of beautiful street art covering what seemed like every inch of concrete. No building, lamppost or bus stop was immune to the colour. We stopped at a red light, to the left of us a football game was in full swing in a makeshift field under a bridge. To our right, a man had stopped in the middle of the street, swaying slightly as he cautiously watched a swarm of huge rats climb up a rubbish bin. It was overwhelming in the best way possible and I couldn’t decide where to look, I didn’t want to miss a thing.

The street art in São Paulo is unlike anything else I have ever seen. I’m not exaggerating when I say it covers every inch of concrete. A graffiti artist named Thiago Ritual took me to the Grajaú district, a couple hours south of the city. Grajaú is known as a ‘favela’, which are essentially the poorer neighbourhoods in Brazil, but that doesn’t mean they’re all alike. It was nothing like the depictions of favelas run by drug gangs in movies such as ‘City of God.’ That’s not to say that poverty or crime doesn’t affect the area, but there was a lot of happiness and life there. Families listened to music in the street, children were on rooftops kite fighting. We stood out like a sore thumb, yet I never felt unsafe. The graffiti there was on another level, and to be guided through the artwork by an artist local to the area was the highlight of my trip.

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Thiago with some of his street art in Grajaú
20 million people live in São Paulo, the buildings and skyscrapers seem to go on forever. I prefer places where I can see the ocean on the horizon but I have to say, I fell in love with this city. The metro was seamless. We had cake for breakfast. There was a cat named Mingau, which means porridge, at the hostel (he nursed me through my dark days of food poisoning, miss you my sweet cat). It rained most days, but that just added to the magic. I saw people doing the samba in the street despite the pouring rain. Did I mention the street art was so fucking rad?? The only negative thing I could possibly say about my time in São Paulo is sometimes it was difficult to find healthy vegetarian food when eating out. However, this was totally my own fault as I did zero research beforehand. I still had the best food, I survived on açai, a delicious fruit native to tropical South America, (pronounced a-sigh-ee for those of you ready to head to The Smoothie Bowl to buy an ‘akai’ bowl for the gram. Dw, I got you.), feijão (bean dish), and all of the cheesy, carby, deep fried goodness.

The misconceptions about Brazil, and South America, in general, are frustrating. If you are careful, use your common sense, and make sure you take your 40% DEET bug spray, you will be fine (I didn’t get bitten once, in case you were worried). Please don’t let the bad press put you off, I felt so safe in Brazil, and I can’t emphasise enough how wonderful this country is. The people, the food, the culture. It was life changing.

Brazil diaries to be continued… Stay tuned for PART TWO: Rio de Janiero!

Pani x