Valentines Day in Rio

I had the most wonderful Valentine’s Day: Adam, not so much. After two delayed days, our city tour finally took us up Sugarloaf Mountain.  The day was beautiful and cloudless! When Andre arrived he said our tour would be going on a little later than planned, but that we would be having a fabulous buffet churrasco after the mountain and that it would be a great time. I was excited, but unfortunately, Adam already had a date at 12:30, that was much more important than hanging out with me. So, we went our separate ways and I left for the tour while Adam stayed behind. The tour was supposed to end about 1:00, so we agreed to meet back at the hostel sometime around there, although I had no problem waiting if Adam was a little behind.

So off I went in the van to Sugarloaf! In total there were 7 of us, 4 Brazilians, 2 other Canadians and myself. I was thrilled that there were other English speakers on the trip, since I was dreading another tour entirely in Portuguese. Katelynn and Scott, are both from Toronto and they are the most wonderful couple we’ve met on the trip so far! (If you guys read this, it’s true, we are so glad to have met you! Hopefully our paths will cross again!). So naturally, I clung to my fellow Canadians throughout the afternoon. I don’t remember any of the stats about Sugar Loaf Mountain, except that it took 3 minutes on the gondola to reach the top (and even then I’m not sure If that was for the first peak, or the second). But I do know it was STUNNING! The view of the city was gorgeous. It looks down over Copacabana, and across to the Christ the Redeemer statue. Another beautiful 360 degree view of Rio checked off my list!

I knew I would get along with Katelynn and Scott immediately when a quarter of the way through the trip they suggested grabbing a beer from the concession before going further: so we did. Immediate best friends.  Then we caught up on each other’s travels, and took touristy photos from every angle possible.  It was a wonderful time!

After Sugarloaf it was time for the Churrasco (Brazilian BBQ).  This was the most elaborate buffet I have been to yet! A plethora of barbequed meats, salads, starches, seafood, fruit platters, sushi, desserts, It was all available.  So, I crashed Katelynn and Scott’s romantic lunch, and was third wheel to a couple I met only hours earlier on Valentines Day.  Impressive, I know.

Once the BBQ was finished, I was dropped back off at the hostel. It was about quarter after 3 and I felt bad that Adam was probably waiting for the better part of 2 hours for me; however,  when I walked through the front door, the receptionist handed me a note: “Hey Hil, still out, be back as soon as I can”  Uhoh!

So Adam’s Valentines Day plans actually started a day earlier. We were running errands after the Favela tour – i.e. I needed to get 4000 types of mosquito repellant so I don’t get eaten alive in the Amazon. While we were at the pharmacy, Adam figured he would pick up Malaria pills that he didn’t get in Canada before he left. No big deal, I did this is Bangkok and saved myself hundreds of dollars! What we then found out, unfortunately, was that Brazil and Thailand have different laws on prescription medicine. In Thailand you can probably get heroin handed to you over the counter for $1, in Brazil, prescriptions are needed for everything, or so we thought, just like in Canada.

So the pharmacist sent us to the hospital a few blocks up to speak to a doctor. Ya, like our Portuguese is good enough to figure this out at a hospital! Nonetheless, off we went.  We knew we were in trouble when even the receptionist didn’t know what we meant when we handed her a piece of paper with “I need a prescription for Doxicycline” translated into Portuguese. Luckily, a random man nearby spoke English well enough to help us out. Turns out, we were in the wrong place.  “You need to go to emergency,” he said. “No, no” we explain, “Adam doesn’t HAVE malaria, we just need a prescription”. Still, need to go to emergency. So we walk over to emergency and can’t even figure out how to grab a number to wait in line! We’re never going to make it. Then all of a sudden the man from earlier comes in and wants to make sure we’re all right.  Everyone in Brazil is SO nice. He helps us through the whole process, and we sit and wait to be called.

Once we get into the room, the doctor has to go get a translator who can help us out. We explain our situation and the doctor shakes her head. “No, we only TREAT malaria, not write prescriptions. If yo need one you have to go to the free clinic a few blocks away; unfortunately, it closes at 4:00 which is three minutes ago.” Luckily, she tears up Adam’s form, so he doesn’t need to pay $280 just to SEE the doctor!

So thus begins Adam’s Valentines Day. He got up early to be at the free clinic by 8:30. No one could write a prescription there until the doctor arrived, so he makes an appointment for the only available time 12:30 – thus his previous engagement as mentioned earlier. By 3:15, when I got back from my awesome day of touring and eating, Adam was STILL waiting at the clinic. I went down to meet him, and we crossed paths a couple blocks from the hostel. I look inquisitive; Adam shakes his head. “No prescription”.  Apparently, he had spent the better part of the day staring at a white wall, watching patients go in and out of rooms, until finally he asked about his doctor. “Nope, she’d left the hospital to work at her other job across town”. Fabulous. We then heard there was a malaria injection that was quick and easy. We asked about that, and “yes!” they could do it. So Adam gave his passport and information, we waited a couple minutes, then the nurse turned to us “sorry, we ran out for the day. We have yellow fever shots only now. Come back tomorrow”. Unfortunately, we had a 15-hour bus ride to be on in a couple hours, so we’d have to try in Salvador: we left defeated. Productive day. We spent the remaining hours of Valentines Day stuck on a bus, headed to God knows where, 15 hours north of Rio.

In the end, it turns out you can “trick” pharmacists, when you drop the word prescription from your note, and translate Doxycycline to the Portuguese equivalent “Doxicilin”.  Then, they will freely hand over the drug! We later bought the pharmacy in Olivenca out of drugs. The rest were easily obtained in Salvador. Thank goodness!

Sao Paulo: Barzinos and Caipirinhas!

The short three days we spent in Sao Paulo were amazing, thanks to the generosity of my wonderful friends, Lilian and Raf. We spent Friday in zombie mode after our sleepless bus ride from Blumenau. By the afternoon, we got our bearings in the Vila Mariana and checked out a local mall for a couple hours. Sao Paulo is MASSIVE, and that is a huge understatement. It is the business district of Brazil and has a population of 20 million people (three times the size of Rio). The city buildings stretch literally as far as the eye can see, and traffic is horrendous 24/7. The metro system is, fortunately, very excellent. 2nd in the world to Shanghai, Sao Paulo’s metro moves 6 million people each day through it’s various line (As Adam pointed out, that is the equivalent of Canada’s entire population in less than a week). Commuting to work in the city sounds like a nightmare. People have up to 2 or 3 hours of commuting EACH WAY to get to their jobs (i.e. Lilian), and even a very short distance makes for a tedious journey (Raf takes a quick 40 minutes to get to work… And lives 7km away).  It’s work, work, work for most Brazilians from Monday to Friday: then the parties start!

Lilian picked us up Friday night and took us out on the town. We headed to the lively Vila Madalena neighborhood where the streets are lined with Barzinos, or “little pubs,” that are EVERYWHERE in Brazil. We found a nice one that had a live Samba band and sat down for a drink and some food. Everyone but Adam and I knew the lyrics to each and every song.  People of all ages would get up by their tables to dance and sing along! Lilian even taught us a few moves and we danced along with the locals! We sipped on icy beers and I had a kiwi caipirinha, thanks to Panos’ recommendation, that was out of this world!  It was great to see the lively atmosphere of Sao Paulo on a Friday night! Everyone clearly loves to party here and the weekend is definitely the time to let loose. Bars here close well into the morning, but we went home at a very early 2AM, because we had still been awake since the morning we woke in Blumenau.

The next day, after another terrible sleep for both of us, we went to explore the city. We walked down Franca Pinto Street and found a large farmers market that was full of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats and fish that continued for blocks! At the end of the market was one of Sao Paulo’s largest parks. The place was filled with families, couples, people running, biking, rollerblading and picnicking all over the place! There were a number of museums – one of which we explored that was a very strange modern art museum full of creepy statues and paintings all displayed on metal scaffolds. Giant video screens hung in each one of the scaffolds and had a film of each of the artists talking, I’m assuming about their collection, but we didn’t understand any of the language so we were very lost.

After the park, we headed out on the metro to a place where they were offering free walking tours of the city. We were only 2 of 4 people that spoke English on the tour, and so the whole thing was done in Portuguese (although the guide was nice enough to come up after and give us a very brief summary about what she was talking about). Either way, we had a nice time exploring the Luz district, saw the Parque do Luz, and walked through another Brazilian museum for a half hour.

Later that evening we met up with my friend Raf and went for pizza. Not just any pizza, mind you, but the best pizza IN THE WORLD. They say that Sao Paulo makes the best pizza on Earth, so much so that Italians come here and get jealous. We went to one of the most renowned and oldest pizza parlors in all of Sao Paulo. The place was a brothel turned pizza joint, but you would never know it. By the time we arrived, the place was full and Raf already had our names on the list. The place was SUPER classy and all of a sudden I felt a little under dressed in my backpacker outfits! Thankfully, they let us in anyways. Raf did all the ordering, as we were once again lost with the Portuguese menu, and the place looked a little too nice for me to whip out our Portuguese/English dictionary that I have embarrassingly done on so many previous occasions. We started with Antarctica beer and the most amazing Bruchetta! Then came our first pizza! The thing about Brazilian pizza is that it has a thin but perfectly crispy crust to it and it’s extra cheesy!! Unfortunately, there’s no way for me to really describe what’s so awesome about it… You’ll just have to come down yourself. But I promise you; it is out of this world! We also tried one with a vegetable called palmito on it. At first I heard there was no English translation for this word.  I didn’t think I had seen it before, until finally I saw a street vendor selling it whole.  “Palmitos” are Palm Hearts! They are white and crunchy and a PERFECT addition to pizza! All future South American pizzas will be sure to have this on it!  We enjoyed our pizza dinner so much that we actually refuse to eat pizza for a while so as not to be disappointed!

After dinner, Raf took us on a whirlwind nightlife tour of Sao Paulo. We drove down Augusta street, which is Sao Paulo’s equivalent of Vancouver’s Granville street, but on steroids! People from all walks of life were out and about on a Saturday night! People were lined up for concerts, nightclubs, drinking beer in the street, gathered in groups, relaxing in Barzinos! There were the classy groups, punks, skater kids, the club crews, people listening to electro music, and others to traditional Samba. This place was the happening area of town for sure! Raf said that nightclubs could be up to $CAD30+ for cover, and they stay open until 7am. We drove down the street for about 15 to 20 minutes and didn’t get remotely close to the end. The street continues for block after block and goes straight down to the centro of Sao Paulo. We decided to head to a quieter neighborhood to catch up over some good beers. Raf took us to a pub in the Vila Mariana district that served hundreds of types of beer imported from around the world (a rare find in Brazil, where they usually offer the same 3 or 4 types of lagers). There we tried a delicious beverage that I cannot, for the life of me, remember the name of.

After the pub, Raf invited us back to his apartment for some real Brazilian booze. His apartment is right in the middle of Sao Paulo and is GEORGEOUS! An elevator that takes him directly to his front door, the apartment is the entire 15th floor and wraps around in a giant circular shape. His balcony is massive and looks out onto the endless concrete buildings that make Sao Paulo. The city is beautiful at night! The three of us sat outside, sharing stories and taking shots of cachaca well into the night. Raf offered to take us to a football match the next day, but we already have plans with Lilian’s family. Oh how I wish we had longer to spend in Sao Paulo!

For weeks now, we have been at a loss for what to do on Sundays. Sunday’s in South America are “taken very seriously” as many have told us. The cities shut down; everyone leaves the bustle of urban life, and spends the day eating good food with their families. As a backpacker, this is slightly depressing. We are left with nothing to do, and missing our families back home. This past Sunday, however, Lilian kindly invited Adam and I to join her and her family, at their country home, for a swim in the pool, a “churrasco” BBQ, and a first-hand look into how Brazilians spend their Sunday. 
So we got up bright and early Sunday morning and headed out of the city center to Lilian’s family’s place. Her family is ADORABLE! We met one of her sisters, her parents and her grandmother at the house and they immediately offered us anything we could want: breakfast, drinks, seats etc. Her parents don’t speak any English (apart from her father who throws out the occasional English word to impress us) but Lilian is a fantastic translator, and I found out later her father understands Spanish, so we are able to small talk when Lilian is gone. 
We drove the hour and a half or so out of the city to their home, and it was perfect! On a hilltop with a beautiful view of rolling hills, their house is a quaint little villa with a couple large BBQ pits and an outdoor pool. Hammocks were hung on the front porch for siesta time, lawn chairs on the grass, and 4 different puppies happily greeted us as we came through the gate! The backyard had a big vegetable garden with lettuce, fields of corn, lychee trees, mango groves, and fruits we’ve never even heard of before!

We hadn’t been at the house for more than five minutes before we were handed icy beers, a caipirinha, and the BBQ was turned on. We met Lilian’s aunt at the house as well, who brought more delicious food to the gathering. Within no time, Lilian’s father was bringing platters of meat to the table. Juicy sliced steaks and chicken wings cooked to perfection. When we moved inside, another plate was placed in front of us.  When it looked like our plate was getting low, another one appeared, overflowing with food (The same rule applied for cold beers). By the time salad and rice was brought out we were stuffed!

The caipirinhas were fantastic! We asked Lilians father to show us how to properly make them so we could try on our own later. His special formula was one thinly sliced lime, muddled at the bottom of a glass, half a lime squeezed for juice, a couple heaps of sugar, fill the glass with cachaca (39% alc) but leave a little room to water it down… with VODKA. Apparently this makes the drink smoother. No wonder we were feeling the booze after only one drink each! It probably had 5 shots of straight alcohol in it! But man were they tasty!  After lunch everyone had a siesta while Adam and I played in the pool. We had a big inter-tube that left us more entertained than a child with an oversized box. After a couple hours in the pool we sat down to a game of cards. We taught Lilian and her dad how to play golf, and even with the language barrier we had a blast!

At the end of the afternoon, Lilian’s parents headed out on their motorcycle for home, we joined them shortly afterwards in Lilian’s car. The day was absolutely wonderful and Lilian’s family was more than hospitable to us! They said next time we come to Sao Paulo we will have to stay at their home, and we can visit their beach home on the next trip (how luxurious are these people!?). It was so great to finally get to experience a Brazilian Sunday.  The tradition of family and food first is something I wish we had more of in Canada. It was definitely a perfect way to spend our last night in Sao Paulo!