Well, it's 2:13am on Tuesday morning (9/23) and I'm currently sitting on the plane back to Buenos Aires. Looking around, I see that I am the only person visibly awake at the moment, so I might as well try to start a quick blog post. The good news is that I have a whole row on the plane to myself, so that is a first.
But what I really have to be thankful for is these past 4 days that I spent in Rio de Janeiro. In one word, the only way to describe that city, surrounding area, and Brazil is breathtaking. From the beaches, mountains, and people, I did not find anything that I disliked about Brazil or Rio de Janeiro.
For a city that is in the center spotlight over the next few years following the most recent 2014 FIFA World Cup, and leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro surpassed any and all of my expectations. Situated on the Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by white, sandy beaches and plush rainforests, the city is not like any other. Since I have so much to say about the city and my experiences, I'll split up this blog into 2 different posts (the cultural aspects and my experiences).
THE PEOPLE (Cariocas)
So like several other cities, Brazilians living in and around Rio de Janeiro have a nickname for themselves called "Carioca" (pronounced Ca-ri-o-kah). Cariocas are a different breed of people, as I have never been to as relaxed of a place in my life. For the most important city in Brazil and potentially South America, the Cariocas live their lives on a day to day basis and genuinely enjoy hosting foreigners like me and my friends. They also are some of the best looking people in the world, in a general sense. We were approached by very nice people (for the most part), as they always had a great tip or recommendation for us to listen to; aside from the ones that tried to sell us drugs occasionally..
We arrived very early Friday morning (9/19) and made it to our hostel in the Copacabana area of the city (very close to the beach). The name of the hostel is Walk on the Beach Hostel, and that in itself is enough to tell you how great it was. The employees were all personable and very helpful with their insights and recommendations about the city. The people also staying in the hostel were just as great and enjoyed being expats just like us. From countries ranging from Chile, Greece, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, India, and Australia, we were greeted by a very unique grouping of people.
We made friends with many of them, but in particular we became rather close with Antonio, from Italy, and Olga, from Greece. After spending time with both of them on Saturday and Sunday, I realized how genuine they were, so it was sad to say goodbye to them when we left our hostel earlier tonight. They were visiting Rio de Janeiro for the same time as us, and are studying in Salvador for medical school. One of the best parts about our friendship is learning a great deal about each other's backgrounds, as well as now having a place to stay in both Italy and Greece (which I would like to make a trip out of somewhere down the road).
Just to mention a conversation that I had with Antonio about Italy and my ancestors that emigrated from there, I know that my family would appreciate this little bit of information. As difficult as it was to convince Antonio that I actually was part-Italian, when he asked me what the maiden name from Italy was, he believed me in a second. Apparently, our family name from its Italian roots, Amandola, is a famous last name in Italy. According to Antonio, Amandola is equivalent to the "John Smith" of the United States, and its origin is found in Southern Italy. It's good to know that my ancestors were a part of one of the most famous names in Italy.
THE LANGUAGE (Portuguese)
Since this was the first time that I was going to a country where I expected to know none of the language, I was definitely a little apprehensive about the language barrier. However, I can say that I was very surprised how much I understood the locals when they spoke.
Some people say that Portuguese is nothing like Spanish, and others deem it as very similar. What I can say is this: it's very similar to Spanish with a twist of French infused into the words. Either way, it was an experience learning a small amount of Portuguese for my time in Rio.
Just as an example of how they pronounce some words, their currency is called the "real" (hay-ál). And the plural form is "reais" (hay-aísh). So just from that, in Carioca Portuguese they pronounce their 'r's' that begin a word as an 'h'. That took some getting used to, but they also do not pronounce "Rio de Janiero" as it would look to an English speaker. It is said "Heu de Janeiru" (He-u de Ha-nair-u). The letter 'o' that ends a word is correctly pronounced as a "u" sound. Different, I know. It would be interesting to learn Portuguese one day, but considering it is only spoken in 2 countries in the world, Portugal and Brazil, then there is not as much benefit to learning it as it would be for a language like Spanish or English.
So for a country that is surrounded by rainforest and an abundance of exotic fruits and vegetables, their diet definitely reflects those ingredients. Not that Argentina does not use their agriculture, but Brazil uses it to a whole different level. While in Brazil, I tried several of the local foods and found that all of it was unique and very good. I had Maracuja Juice, which is passionfruit, and was definitely a fan of it. I also tried Açai (A-sigh-ee) which is common in the United States too but not to the same extent. Below is a picture of it, as it is served as a cold ice cream type of food, but it is 100 percent healthy. The Açai Berries are crushed to form the mixture with another energizing liquid. And it is even better with granola or banana.
Brazilians also make some interesting combinations of foods. A popular snack is called the Coxihna and it is simply shredded chicken and cheese inside dough and then fried. Those things can be deadly, but were too good to be true. Finally, the most iconic of all Brazilian foods and drinks is the Capirinha (Ka-per-een-ya). It is an alcoholic drink, but it is the staple of all vendors, bars, clubs, and restaurants. It is a very simple drink, with muddled lime, sugar, and Cachaça, which is an alcohol similar to Rum. Once again, another deadly indulgence in Rio de Janeiro, but entirely worth it.
Just to add an additional fact about Brazil, their money is the coolest that I have ever seen. Their bills come in all different colors, and have animals on the backside of each one. Since Brazil has a relatively stable economy, unlike Argentina, the exchange rate between US Dollars and Brazilian Reais is not very different from day to day. It is currently about $2.33 Reais per $1 USD. It's a great rate for traveling Americans like myself, but the rest of the world is not so beneficial for estadosunidenses ("United States-ians" in Spanish).
This is the end of my first blog about Rio de Janeiro. The next post will include the events and best things that I did throughout my time there. Stay tuned for the second post coming on Wednesday night, because it's too late for me to keep writing and I'm already only running on 2 hours of sleep. Goodnight, and be good everyone.
"People who don't travel cannot have a global view, all they see is what's in front of them. Those people cannot accept new things because all they know is where they live." - Martin Yan