“Only a dream in Rio…” singer and composer James Taylor wrote after performing there and being overwhelmed by the warm and passionate reception. Rio de Janeiro, a city made of dreams. Beauty beyond compare can be found in the people and in nature surrounding the city of wonders or as we call it: “Cidade Maravilhosa.”
Rio de Janeiro has been the site of three major recent world events:
a) World Youth Day in 2013—a gathering of more than 3 million young people who spent the night on Copacabana Beach and received Papa Francisco with so much warmth and love
b) the FIFA world cup in 2014—although soccer is not as big in the United States, it is the most common sport in the rest of the world. Brasil lost to Germany in its home turf and it was truly a sad day for all 300 million Brazilians
c) the 2016 Summer Olympics as we were just lucky to witness. And on a very personal note, Brasil won the gold medal for soccer against… you guessed it: Germany who took the silver. God is good!
As a true Carioca, meaning someone who was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, I thought it would be fun to have our readers participate in an authentic Rio de Janeiro experience and feel as if they were there. So let me begin by describing the Cariocas for you. In a nut shell, much like most Brazilians, the people of Rio are very warm, hospitable, and friendly. They get to know one another almost instantly. For instance: the woman whom you’ve never seen before steps into an elevator with you and by the time the “elevator ride” is over, you now know her life story and she knows yours, you have exchanged phone numbers and just became friends. The guy who sells matté on the beach knows you by name; you and the other one million people who go to that same beach every weekend or everyday. You are never alone in Rio. Privacy is difficult to find because there are people everywhere! You are obviously not the most important person; others are just as important as you. And you treat them that way, just as they treat you. Cariocas have a bit of a mocking tone but it is mockery with humor and not filled with meanness. They play with your insecurities only because you should not take insecurities seriously. So the guy who comes to the beach everyday and applies a ton of suntan lotion, eventually turning orange, will definitely be laughed at. However, if that same guy were to talk to someone or need anything he would be received with open arms, much like the Christ statue sitting on the top of the Corcovado mountain.
Carioca Portuguese is almost a language in itself because it is infused with slang and “ginga.” Ginga is a movement in the Brazilian fight “Capoeira” where the person swings forwards and backwards; it is also used in soccer to trick the opposing team. The R’s sound like GHA and the S’s in front of a consonant sound like SH. And sometimes S’s become the Carioca R’s as in the word “mesmo” that sounds like “meghmo.”
There are so many slangs, it is ridiculous. Whenever you enjoy something, just use the Portuguese word for beauty: “Beleza!” Or the word for angry: “Irado.” Oh and don’t forget to always give a thumbs up, which simply means all is good. It is the same as the OK gesture in America, which cannot be used in Brasil because that gesture means something so nasty that I won’t even dare to mention here.
ACTING LIKE A “CARIOCA”
Here are a few pointers if you ever want to visit Rio and act like a Carioca. At the beach, don’t ever wear shoes and socks with shorts. Always have your Havaianas tongs. Say hi to people you don’t know because at the beach everybody knows one another, even those selling food and drinks.
If you are riding in someone’s car, never criticize the driver’s driving, but feel free to cuss any driver who cuts you off or blocks you.
When calling for the waiter, using the word “garçon” (gaghson, as in Sondra) be patient and don’t lose your cool. It takes a while to be served. If drinking a tap beer called “chopp” but pronounced “showppee” always say that it is the best “chopp” in town. However, if your “chopp” is not cold enough, you can totally feel free to ask for a colder one without offending anyone. If you like your beer with foam then ask for “com colarinho” which translates “with collar” as in a shirt.
PLACES TO GO
The South Zone, or Zona Sul, is the most famous part of Rio. Recognizable neighborhoods are found there such as the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema, Arpoador, and Leblon. Gávea and Jardim Botânico are affluent areas distant from the beach, but closer to the granite mountains covered in tropical forest. Botafogo, Flamengo, Catete and Gloria face the Guanabara Bay, which is considered one of the most beautiful and secluded bays in the world. The Guanabara Bay contains several islands and atolls. Some of Rio de Janeiro’s prominent icons such as Sugar Loaf and Corcovado are located by the Bay’s shore. On the other side is the city of Niterói, reachable only via the Rio-Niterói bridge or by ferry. Up until the 1940’s people used to go swimming in the Guanabara Bay, some would even swim from Rio to Niterói and back. Sadly, the waters became polluted in the early 1950’s due to excessive sea traffic and lack of echo-awareness.
Atlantic Avenue on Copacabana beach is always alive. The sidewalks are crowded with people walking everywhere. There are various hotels along the avenue with good restaurants; the most famous being the Copacabana Palace. And there are also small restaurants with eating areas that extend to the sidewalk. For those following a paleo diet, cow meat is grass-fed. Rice and beans are served with most day meals, and the salads are simple but delicious. For those choosing to break away from healthy eating, the “calabresa” pizza is decadent, especially with “chopp.”
Further North towards downtown, also known as Centro, on Aterro do Flamengo—a pause here; it used to be called Praia do Flamengo or Flamengo beach, but in the late 60’s the municipal government elected to fill the beach with a four-lane highway to make it easier for those living in the South Zone to get to downtown. The project was called Aterro, which means to fill with dirt—there you will find Fogo de Chão, a paleo paradise, offering the most delicious variety of grilled meat accompanied by a richly assorted salad bar. I will post the recipe for one of the most famous Carioca salads next.
Barra da Tijuca or just Barra is one of the nicest neighborhoods, and it is pronounced Baja, as in Baja California. There you can visit the best shopping mall in Rio with brand-name shops, along with a super, super-market “Costco” style and many great restaurants. Barra is quieter but it still thrives with activity. It is considered the most affluent section of Rio.
If you feel adventurous, a ride on one of the high-speed boats from Rio to Niterói is also a fantastic experience. You can catch the newer boats to Charitas and have lunch or dinner at the landmark Olimpo restaurant right by the dock. This restaurant was designed by the most famous Brazilian architect of all time, Oscar Niemeyer. The food is fabulous and as they say, the best thing about Niterói is the breathtaking view of Rio de Janeiro—a little bit of carioca humor.
There is much more to see, smell, taste and feel. If this short article wetted your appetite for visiting Rio, please leave a comment below.