When in Rio ..... get into the beach culture

I am sorry, right up front, for the fact that Barry Manilow’s song ‘Copacabana’ is going to be stuck in your head for the rest of the day, but…

Just like the girl from Ipanema, I went walking along the beach. (I did not have an itsy-bitsy polka-dot bikini on, so don’t ask!)

And what a beach to go walking on! It’s probably THE most famous two beaches in the world – Ipanema and the Copacabana, who between them account for only 7km of Rio’s total of 90km’s (that’s 90 KILOMETERS!) of beaches. I think everything that today counts for beach culture – havianas, sarongs, very little beneath the sarongs, beach volleyball, caiparinhas and cold coconut water on the beach – it all came from here.

The promenades themselves are famous too: Ipanema for its duotone mosaic pattern, Copacabana for its waves pattern. These, in fact, are so famous they have their own flip flop design dedicated to them, and it features on all kinds of beach sarongs and other curio’s.

Life in Rio revolves around the beach to a large extent; even the favela kids play endless games of foot volleyball in the hope of being discovered. There are fisherman’s communities tucked away in the corners, there are open air gyms where bronze giants pump iron in the blistering sun, and of course the chances of spotting the Brazilian Olympic beach volleyball team on Ipanema, which is their base, are excellent.

This is the last of my Rio blogs, but let me leave you with an image that might want to make you pack a bag: a volleyballer practising a block, or as my brother Neel put it: “a member of the Brazilian National Hottest Ass Team” playing volleyball on the beach…

Image credits: All photography by me

When in Rio ..... hip and quirky Gilson Martins

While walking in the fashionable high street of Ipanema, a block or two away from the beach, I stumbled upon a shop with an eye-catching, funky and very colourful shop front. Going inside, you see that the description is also 100% applicable to the products inside.

Gilson Martins is a local designer that uses recycled vinyl to make bags, purses and accessories. He then uses the famous Rio landmarks as motif on his products, such as Christ the Redeemer, the lovely Sugarloaf Mountain, the Lapa arches and Copacabana’s iconic sidewalk, all in bright rainbow colours. He was also the first designer to use the Brazilian flag in fashion.

His bags have been on display at the Louvre and Milan Design Week and are sold at the MoMA store in NY – probably the ultimate indication that his contemporary designs are pretty revolutionary.

What I love about it is that the bags made me smile. Yes, I know it is only a bag with a little picture, but somehow the sense of humour displayed in these designs made me linger a bit longer in the shop. Plus, it is probably the most fun and practical souvenir that you can take home from your visit to Rio de Janeiro – as their slogan says: “Take Brazil with you”. Clever!

Gilson Martins
Rua Visconde de Piraja 462B
Rio de Janeiro

You can visit their website here or like their Facebook page – hope your Portuguese is better than mine :-)!

Image credits: All photography by me

When in Rio ..... visit a feira

Walking around in Rio, you immediately notice quite a few colourful “feira”, or fruit markets. It was in the R. Henrique Dumont market in Ipanema that I took some time to have a good look around and I was amazed to see such a host of exotic fruit. I later read that Brazil is the country with the most fruit in the world. I saw strange things, such as fruta do conde (in crates in the picture below), mangosteen and noni fruit. I watched how a vender cracked open green coconuts to decant coconut water into a bottle for his customer (well, I always thought a coconut is filled with coconut milk, but I’ve now learned that it is actually made by grinding the coconut meat and pressing out the liquid) . I also learned that avocados are not used in salads by the locals, but rather for desserts and milk drinks.

Looking back at it now I realise that visiting the market turned out to be a great way to interact with the locals and to learn more about the country. Plus, I saw where my favourite barman gets all those limes from!

Image credits: All photography by me

When in Rio ..... flip out

Havaianas, pronounced ah-vai-YAH-nas, and meaning “Hawaiians” in Portuguese, seems to be a national treasure in Brazil. It is part of the essential beach kit and it is sold in common-or-garden-variety supermarkets. The first pair was created in 1962 and was inspired by the Zori, a typical Japanese sandal made of fabric straps and rice straw soles. A shoemaker in Sao Paulo took the idea and made a rubber version which would suit Brazil’s climate better. That is also the reason why the sole of all Havaianas have a textured rice pattern, one of its unmistakable features.

In 1998 a new model was specifically made for the soccer World Cup, featuring a small Brazilian flag on the strap. Then, in 2000, the company started exporting these sandals. And when, in 2002, Jean Paul Gaultier sent his models down the runways in Havaianas, the attention of the fashion world was well and truly captured. 

Nowadays, not only Havaianas, but other similar brands from Brazil are available in South Africa, including Ipanemas – you know, the one in collaboration with that nice, friendly girl, Gisele Bündchen. My favourites were the ones with the Copacabana’s unique black-and-white wave-patterned pavements from the beachfront promenade (by Braziliano Praia).

Daniel received a pair of the bright yellow and green Havaianas with the Brazil flag as a gift from Rio, and believe me, he looks cuter than even Gisele! (If you ask my husband, he offers a minority opinion on that one!)

The official Havainanas site is here.

Image credits: All photography by me

When in Rio ..... try a caipirinha

The caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail and is made with cachaça (sugar cane rum), sugar and lime. The keyword here is lots: lots of lime, lots of sugar, lots of rum! And, as they say, when in Rome, or in this case Rio, do as the Cariocas do.

This blog is dedicated to the bartender at our hotel’s pool who had an especially heavy hand with the cachaça…. 

It’s also dedicated to my husband who will be visiting the liquor store THIS weekend to find the ingredients for a home-made version! 

Image credit: Photo by me

When in Rio ..... seek out the unforgettable views

So, onwards to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for a couple of days in what must be one of the most beautiful natural settings for a city in the world. My guide book said that the locals claim that after God spent six days making the world, He chose Rio as His resting place on the Sunday.

Our first outing was to the Sugar Loaf Mountain, a 400m high monolith reached by cable car (for us at least, others climbed the rocks or walked the winding trails to the summit). The cable car first stops at Morro da Urca, the neighbouring boulder where you can shop for souvenirs, havaianas or just sit in the shade with a caipirinha taking in the magnificent views. From the top, Rio is truly a sight to behold.

(Sorry if I am bombarding you with photos, but how do I choose which ones to leave out??)

When we arrived, the 30m high statue, Christo Redentor, perched atop the Corcovado Mountain in the distance, was in the clouds, but just as we were about to descend the clouds cleared and the Christ became visible. It’s quite amazing – you know He’s there, you’ve seen lots of photos in the guide books and all over Rio, and even from this distance the first sight of Him manages to be breathtaking. Helicopter tours leave from Sugarloaf and they are super popular – at once stage we saw three helicopters circling the statue. I just loved their ad poster!

Probably the second best viewpoint in Rio (or maybe the best, who can say?) is from the feet of Christo Redentor. One has to go through the Parque National da Tijuca, the beautiful tropical national park, one of the world’s largest urban forests, to get to the iconic statue. Luckily our taxi driver was very laidback (must have been one of a kind now that I look back at our couple of days in Rio!) allowing us to experience a bit of this peaceful forest. 

The statue was first inaugurated in 1931 with several subsequent renovations, and it is built from blocks of soapstone and, at 30m in height, is visible from most places in Rio. His serene face and outstretched arms would not have had such an impact at ground level, and even amongst the hordes of visitors there is a timeless atmosphere about the place, a real sense of God’s presence hovering above all the frantic activity that seems ant-like from this height.

Image credits: All photography by me