Those of you who know Cass and I will understand we like a plan. Being the ‘reliable couple’, as we have been referred, you’ll probably be surprised to hear we only booked accommodation for Rio, and left our other destination hotel beds “flexible”. What we hadn’t accounted for was the festival of Saint Sebastian. Like a great British bank holiday weekend, this Rio de Janeiro state only break leads Cariocas (Rio’s residents) to head to the islands, and importantly for us, Ilha Grande.
Admittedly, I should have studied my Brazilian Portuguese more thoroughly in London. Though ordering a beer and getting away with pointing at the menu carried us yesterday, deciphering the accent over the phone is a completely different matter. As with learning all new languages, picking your question in your phrase book, complete with phonetic guide, is simple enough. The machine gun response however leaves you stumped. The overriding repeated phrase though from the twenty posadas (guest houses) on Ilha Grande was ‘Não há vagas’ - no room at the inn! With the mounting irritation Mary must face felt with Josef for not booking ahead, Cass and I persisted until finally Hélio and Norma at the ‘Portal dos Borbas’ said they had an available, if somewhat pricey room - we just hoped it wasn’t the stable…
Feeling relieved but intent not to repeat this mistake and spend more hours locked in a hotel room while the sun blazed outside, we quickly organised our buses for the next nine days and shot emails to hotels in Paraty, our next destination in 4 days. To say Ipanema was packed is an understatement. Almost every square inch up to the crashing water’s edge was occupied with a family celebrating/sheltering under a red parasol. The holiday had brought everyone who couldn’t escape the heat of the city to the beach. With seconds to spare, Cass spotted a prime clear patch by the sea and swooped in with our sarongs. Brazilian’s are not worried by personal space and despite our close proximity, others soon clustered around us to enjoy the lapping waves and cloudless sky. From here, we had a perfect view for more people watching of every shake and size; bootlicious thongs to ‘back burrito’ bulges.
Though I’m not religious, I’m always astounded by the incredible fears of design and engineering it inspires. And so we headed to ‘Cristo Redentor’ (Christ the redeemer) who towers with open arms, surveying the staggeringly beautiful Rio landscape atop the 710m Corcavado peak. Via a relay of public bus, shared taxi and tourist bus we reached the summit in the mid afternoon. Although pleasingly cool, the overcast sky made for dull photographs, save for the spectacle of tourists lying on their backs to frame their standing partners echoing the Christ’s outstretched arms looming above. What we did realise though, was that the twin peaks at the end of Ipanema we had taken for the famous sugar loaf mountain, we’re infant another range, and the loaf itself stood prominently to the north closer to Copacabana.
With some recommendations in hand from Brazilian friends, in the evening we headed for the trendy area if Leblon. Cass put on her heels and so was a little self conscious when we arrived at ‘Bracarense’. What we had took to be a cool cocktail bar was actually closer to a New York style alfresco diner. However we soon settled in at the bar stools and sank some ice cold tumblers of choppee, delivered in rapid succession by our eager barman who served up a range of delicious appetisers : prawn balls with cream cheese, squid and crab patties, followed by a hearty pork sandwich carved from the bone in front of us. Again in fragmented Portuguese, we chatted with a Brazilian family who took to us enjoying their local before we headed to the ‘Academia Cachaça’. For those unacquainted, Cachaça is Brazil’s national spirit, a ‘put Hayes on your chest’ sugar cane liqueur usually unadulterated with any mixer except sugar and fresh lime. Thinking I was choosing a “healthy” option, I opted for a combination with Coconut juice but on arrival bore a strong resemblance to a lethal ‘Bushwhacker’ Cass’ brother Sebastian bought me in Nashville. Cass meanwhile was served an innocuous looking fruity number but on tasting could strip point and killed a small part of her liver. When asked to suggest a mixer to soften it, the sheepish waiter suggested more ice! After a boozy season extending since early December, we’re astounded we need more drinking practice.
- By Ian