February 28, 2012

Brazil Recap

We can hardly believe it, but we have already been traveling for a month and have officially moved on from our first country. It’s difficult to formulate an opinion on Brazil because we have nothing else to compare it to! Here are some parting thoughts on our time there...

Unlike the U.S. where cars pass buses, here, the buses blow past the cars…even on hills. A local once told us that any of these bus drivers could easily win a Formula 1 race, and yep, that seems about right.

On women’s bathing suits: they are as small as you would expect. Whether or not the women deserve to be wearing something that small needs to be judged on a case-by-case basis. It is tolerable to be seen in a fuller bottomed bikini, although you’ll immediately be pegged as a tourist. A one-piece bathing suit is unacceptable.

Brazilians love their Carnival! Two wonderful examples of this…
Outside of the Sambadrome in Rio, there are vendors selling jerseys for each samba school – much like you would buy a jersey for your favorite football or baseball team in the US.

And when we were in Salvador on Ash Wednesday, we watched the results for the Rio samba school competition being announced on TV. It was very reminiscent of the judging for gymnastics or figure skating at the Olympics. 13 schools, 10 categories and 4 judges per category are announced. When a school gets awarded a perfect 10, everyone goes nuts.

Our diet has mainly consisted of rice, beans, meat and fruit. We haven’t seen a vegetable in 3 weeks. Here are some of the different kinds of foods that we’ve encountered:

Feijoada – a bean and meat stew traditionally eaten on Saturdays. It's always accompanied by white rice, stringy lettuce, a powdery cornmeal and orange slices.

Pasteis Feijao – feijoada stuffed into fried ravioli-shaped pastries. We tried these at a little restaurant called Bar do Mineiro in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of Rio. People travel from all over to eat these bite sized morsels at this local’s gathering spot.

Moqueca – a bubbling seafood dish served at the table along with rice, beans, yellow cornmeal powder and shrimp paste.

Acaraje – a traditional dish in Salvador that was popular with slaves. It’s essentially a hush puppy cut in half and stuffed with shrimp paste and a tomato tapenade.

Tambaqui – a white fish from the Amazon region. When we ordered it, it was served with glazed pineapple and herbs.

Picanha – a particular cut of beef served on a skillet at your table, usually shared. Side note, Brazilians seem to call all cuts of beef “filet mignon”. Do not be fooled.

Rodizio – all you can eat. There are several different kinds, but our favorite (of course!) was pizza. We really enjoyed our rodizio pizza night in Santa Teresa while watching a soccer game on TV.

Churrasco – a rodizio restaurant where the waiters carry around different cuts of meat on huge skewers and you choose what you want at your table.

Corazcao – heart. We were cozied up at a fun pizza place watching a soccer game in Iguazu Falls. We thought we had ordered a chicken pizza, but we clearly didn’t understand the language and we ended up with chicken heart pizza. Steve gave it a small attempt. Katie was too disappointed to even try.

Salgados – in Portuguese it simply means “salties”, or in other words, anything that is “not sweet”. These are inexpensive pastries found on nearly every street corner. They are filled with various things – ground beef, ham and cheese, or chicken are the most common. We loved them!

Tapioca – this is not like the pudding in the US. It’s a white powder that is heated up and shaped into a sweet treat. We tried it two different ways. One time it resembled what a coconut rice-krispie treat would look like if such a thing existed. The taste was indescribable but somewhat reminiscent of sweet rice and was served with condensed milk sprinkled on top…yummm!!! The other time the tapioca was heated on a flat outdoor grill, a dulce de leche carmel sauce was spread in the middle, and then it was folded and served like a crepe.

Cocada – a very sugary, no-bake sort of cookie that was prevalent in Salvador. There are many different flavors and colors, but we tried the white kind – “Cocada Blanca”.

Fruits – we tried so many different kinds of fruit, that we lost track of all their names. We do remember eating a lot of banana, mango, pineapple and guava. With so much fruit in abundance, we happened across a mutant pineapple and banana.

Sucos – fruit juices served at breakfast and on almost every street corner in Rio. We tried Umbu, Cupuacu, Acerola, and Cashew. For the record, the Cashew suco was tangy and not Katie’s favorite.

Acai – we were already connoisseurs of acai in San Diego, but it was even more fun eating it in the homeland. It is much sweeter and darker in Brazil. We tried acai several different ways – the more traditional sorbet with granola in a cup, as a chutney, and out of a frozen can made into a smoothie. Katie also bought a necklace made out of dried and dyed acai berries.

Ice Cream – we sampled several flavors. The Mint Chocolate Chip was so minty that it tasted like we were eating toothpaste. Condensed Milk was pretty good, but our favorite flavor was Chantilly. Regardless, when in Brazil, it's probably better to stick with what they do best: sucos and acai.

Beach Treats – roasted corn on the cob, popcorn, sugarcane juice, and “cocos” – green coconuts with a straw to enjoy the cold coconut water inside. After you're done drinking, you break it open so that you can eat the coconut pulp. Breaking open the coco is a funny art-form that we saw accomplished with either a machete or just banging it against the ground until it opens up.

Caipirinha – Brazil’s quintessential drink. It’s made with a sugarcane rum called cachaca. We visited a cachaca tasting room while we were in Paraty. It goes down about as smoothly as drinking any other hard alcohol would. We tried chaiparinas of many different varieties – lime, pineapple, and kiwi.

Cerveja – beer! Brazilians love beer. The most common brands are Antartica, Skol, Brahma, Ipatiava and Schin. They are all very similar to a Coors Light. On a hot day, you can’t beat it!

One last impression about Brazilians and their food is that they struggle with portion control just as much as Americans. Most restaurants categorize their menus by food for 1 person or 2 people. We started out ordering for 2 and quickly learned this was a mistake.

Besides all of the animals that we saw at Iguacu National Park, we also had several encounters with…

Monkeys, about the size of squirrels. Spotted in trees and running along telephone wires.

Lots of mysterious bugs. Standard mosquitoes loved Katie. Unidentifiable Brazilian bugs, who leave behind bruises and blood blisters, loved Steve.

15 or so cockroaches and 1 dead rat.

Our first week in Rio, we “splurged” on a private room with a shared bathroom. It was a smart decision to ease ourselves into our new lifestyle, but lately we've been trying dorms. In South America, breakfast is included in the nightly rate for most hostels. Less than half of the showers have had warm water, but it’s been so blazing hot that taking cold showers has actually felt good. It’s all relative – let’s not forget that these are hostels – but our favorites so far have been The Mango Tree (Rio, Impanema) and Biergarten Hostel (Ilhe Grande).

-          -  Basing ourselves out of Ipanema while in Rio
-          -  Being on top of Sugarloaf Mountain at sunset
-          -  Meeting the artist himself, Jorge Selaron, at the Santa Teresa Steps in Rio
-          -  Eating authentic Brazilian acai
-          -  The Sambadrome
-          -  Running along the Copacabana boardwalk at dusk
-          -  Our samba lesson
   -  Watching samba musicians at Bip Bip in Copacabana
-          -  Paraty’s beautiful and romantic cobblestone streets
-          -  Ilhe Grande
-          -  Our new Carnival abadas and the camarote in Salvador
-          -  Dancing and singing with friends at the Daniela Mercury bloco at Carnival
-          -  Making wishes at the Bonfim church in Salvador
-          -  Escaping the crowds at Iguacu to enjoy the waterfalls and rainbows by ourselves
-          -  Cold beers on hot Brazilian days

We would have loved to see a soccer game in Rio, but unfortunately the schedule of the games never matched up with our social calendar!

We had the option of going on a tour to the Rochina favela with their former HOA president. It would have been more authentic (with less annoying tourists around us), but perhaps more unsafe…who knows. We choose what we thought would be the safer option, but we still wonder about that one.

We should have gone to Christ the Redeemer on a weekday. We went on a Sunday and it was just packed with people. Oddly enough, we headed straight to Sugarloaf after that and it wasn’t as crowded.

When we returned to Rio from Costa Verde, we moved neighborhoods from Ipanema to Santa Teresa. Santa Teresa is known as an artistic and charming area of the city with hilly roads and an antique yellow tram. In 2011, however, the tram derailed killing 5 people, and it hasn’t been in operation since. While still an interesting neighborhood, it was hard work walking the hills without the tram in the summer heat. A day trip to that section of the city would probably have been better than basing ourselves there.

Carnival: Rio or Salvador??? We have asked ourselves this question many times. It just depends on what kind of experience you’re after. We would have liked to see parts of Salvador when Carnival was not in full swing. Katie also loves anything and everything that sparkles, so perhaps Rio would have been more logical. Even so, we heard that Ipanema – the beach that we so loved during our time in Rio – became quite unsanitary during Carnival week. It’s a toss-up. We chose Salvador and we had fun. If we had to do it over again, we would consider going to Rio the week after Carnival instead of the week beforeskipping the dress rehearsal in favor of the Champions Parade at the Sambadrome.

We would have swapped out Trindade for more days on Ilhe Grande. One day in Paraty is all you need.

We would have done a better job of tucan-spotting at Iguacu. Bird watching was never really our thing anyway.

A common theme you’ll probably keep hearing from us is that we only wish we had more time! There are so many amazing places to visit, but we just couldn’t hit them all. If we had more time in Brazil, we would have liked to visit: Floronopolis (beach), Ouro Preto (history), Manaus (Amazon).
We have come a long way in 4 weeks! Every day is different, but when it comes to packing up our backpacks, showering or finding directions, we have a routine down.

We were excited to arrive in Argentina, but a piece of us was also sad to leave Brazil. We knew zero Portuguese when we arrived there, and we spent 3 weeks trying really hard to learn the language and the customs. Now that we’re into Spanish-speaking territory, it will be more comfortable for us, but dang…we were just getting the hang of it!

Katie has only gone on 3 runs since we left the US, but she doesn’t really miss it. We walk so much every day that we’re exhausted by the time we get home. Steve has already lost about 15 pounds.

We have been working really hard on our tans. It’s been tough work, but it’s starting to pay off. Katie has been asked if she’s Argentinean or Chilean on multiple occasions. In combination with his new sleeveless shirts and budding language skills, Steve was looking and feeling more Brazilian every day…just in time to leave!

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