Recife - Our First Look

What an opportunity! While we had not planned to head to the north of Brazil during our last few months in Rio, our best laid plans were undone by work demands. Richard had a TDY (temporary duty assignment) for a week in Recife so we got to see, in advance, where we will be living for the next 3 years. Let’s see what we discover....

First day impressions – Arrived after 3:00 in the afternoon so it was too late to do much exploring. Just a quick trip from airport to hotel. En route I noticed that, similar to Lima, there are many, many walled houses and businesses with electric fence or cut up glass / spikes of some sort on top of the walls. Clearly there is crime here....

The beach, however, is just lovely. Boa Viagem, where we will leave and where our hotel was located, is a neighborhood on the Atlantic Ocean that runs for about 8km. The beach is different than Rio in that there is a lot more plant life, a narrower beach and reefs (recifes) right off the coast. Take a look – it is just lovely:

Similar to Rio’s beaches there are plenty of high rise residences built along the coast to provide the great views that we all love.

Not sure yet where we will live but we will have to cautious in any case. Recife has a shark population and all beach visitors are warned. Every 400 or 500 meters you encounter a warning:

Not to worry though – there are plenty of shark spotting towers. Unfortunately none of them were manned....

Which is unfortunate for this poor dude.... (please note by the credit in the lower left that this photo is not mine but you have to admit that it really fits the story line....)

This is just a brief teaser – there will be many more reports from Recife over the next few years. And, as always, friends and family are encouraged to come and visit us and see for themselves.


Our time in Rio de Janeiro is, sadly, coming to an end in the next few months. As Richard has plenty of unused vacation time we will be trying to visit many spots in the south of Brazil – including some return trips to our favorite spots. Knowing that we are going to Recife next we will defer our Amazon travels and northern beach trips until we are settled in our new home in Pernambuco State.

One of our very favorite cities is Paraty, about 4 hours to the south and west of Rio. While it fills up on weekends and for Brazilian holidays, we were pretty sure that we could go mid-week, post school holidays and just take our chances on finding a pleasant hotel. So off we went on a Tuesday morning in March. As it turned out we had fabulous weather, wonderful lodging and some truly fabulous dining experiences.

We went a little higher end than we normally do and spent the first few nights at the Pousada do Sandi ( ). I highly recommend this pousada and particularly when their rates are more affordable in the off season. The pousada is located in the historic center and is wonderfully appointed and decorated. The added attractions include a marvelous massage chair that put Richard right to sleep.

Breakfast is a lovely and very complete buffet as is typical of most Brazilian pousadas. The outdoor garden area made the experience that much more enjoyable.

We spent our days wandering the town and enjoying its wonderful architecture, lovely shops and delightful wharf area. We did cross the bridge over the Rio Pereque-Acu to the Bairro Pontal for dinner at Thai Paraty (no web site – located at Alameda Princesa Isabel, 37-c, (24) 3371-2772). We highly recommend this lovely restaurant that is out of the way but has the best Thai food we have had in Brazil. The green curry is outstanding!

We never did take one of the boating / snorkeling tours but I am told that they are well worth it for a lazy day in good weather.

My previous blog on Paraty has lots of photos on the colonial architecture so I won’t repeat all of that. Well, maybe just a little.....

Sadly we were not able to stay at Pousada Sandi through the weekend since we did not have reservations. Not to worry. We had been curious about the lodging options on Praia Jabaquara about a mile to the north of Paraty’s historic center. The praia is little known among our Rio friends who have visited Paraty and is very much worth a visit. It is a humble beach with various kiosks serving meals and beer and seems to attract the locals and more budget minded.

We sampled a few of the Jabaquara pousadas starting with Pousada Acqua Marinha. This hotel has the advantage of being cheap (about R$135), having a very good breakfast room and buffet, and having an absolutely delightful and interesting owner. On the other hand, the bed was only a minor step up from sleeping on a board. The mattress was foam with absolutely no give. A good option for post back surgery but otherwise kind of uncomfortable.

So we cruised down the beach a bit and happened upon the Pousada Estação do Sol ( At R$165 it was a substantial step up in creature comforts and also very well located on Praia Jabaquara. We highly recommend this pousada and would absolutely stay there again.

During our stay on Jabaquara we found our kiosk, had some beers and spent a few hours relaxing and collecting seashells.

We had fabulous weather during our entire stay and were blessed with a harvest moon that we watched rise over the bay.

Life is good......

Swans on the Lagoa

Finally, after almost two years living on the lagoa in Rio, we decided to venture out for the water sports. Now by water sports I don’t necessarily mean rowing, sailing or water skiing – all of which are big deals on the lake. Rather, I mean renting one of the pedalinhos (little pedal boats) and pedaling around the lake!

I have shared this picture before of all the nice swan boats tied up to the dock.

Sadly, that rental company went out of business after one of their boats sank and the ensuing investigation determined that the company had not kept its licenses current and were operating illegally. Oops…..

Not to worry though, a competitor – and now sole operator – continues to provide this essential service. The fleet and dock are a bit more humble but far more colorful.

Our selection for a day – or rather an hour – on the lake was the classy pink swan. Tacky yes, but we really had a lovely ride. It is hard work since the pedals are designed for the over 6 foot crowd, hence I couldn’t help and had to just sit back and enjoy. Also, the steering is a bit slow and the rudder not very responsive. But the views from the lake were great.

Clouds drifted in and out during our venture and the Cristo statue drifted in and out of view. What a privilege to be able to see this every day!

This one is a shot of our apartment building from a vantage point that we do not normally have.

And we were not alone on the lake – other colorful pedalinhos were out as well including the black pirate swan model.

But all good things come to an end and the end of our adventure brought us right back into traffic at the dock. But heck, this is Rio and traffic is a given where ever we go!

The Carnaval Parade

And finally, the really big event. Twelve of us went together in a rented van. Don’t we look perky as we start out for the very, very long evening?

Well in advance of the Carnaval parade we had purchased tickets for the Special Group competition / parade. Six samba schools parade each night on the Sunday and Monday nights preceding Ash Wednesday. After the competition the lowest ranked of the schools is dropped from the Special Group of 12 and the highest ranking school from the level below is brought into the Special Group.

However, in 2011 there was a major fire in the Cidade de Samba facility where costumes and floats are made. Three schools suffered damage and the samba association determined that no school would be dropped. Hence this year there are 13 schools. The event begins at 9 p.m. and, amazingly for Brazil, actually does begin on time. We went on Sunday night when 7 schools would be competing. So at about an hour and 15 minutes per school you see where I am going – we were at the event until about 7a.m. the following morning. I have now become a great fan of Red Bull. Three to four cans seem to do it for me though by 7 in the morning I was plenty tired.

Our group had rented two “frisas” down on street level. Each of these outdoor, uncovered boxes has seating for 6 and an incredible view of the activities. Most people came with some degree of Carnaval attire to participate in the event.


Others went with the dapper sporty look.

Leading off the parade activities is the entrance of King Momo, a tradition in Brazilian Carnaval. This is a position of honor and one that requires attendance at many events throughout the Carnaval season. Together with his queen he opens the night and welcomes the crowd.

The best word to describe the Carnaval Parade is overwhelming. Each of the samba schools has 3,500 – 4,000 participants. Each school has 6 – 10 floats. The cost to each school is US$4-5 million. The costumes are incredible, the floats are amazing, and the music gets inside of you. That being said, I will cease with the commentary and provide a small sample of photos from an amazing night. This event should surely be on everyone’s “bucket list”.

The flag bearers – or porta bandeiras – are the women who carry the samba schools’ flag and dance with it the whole length of the Avenida Marquês de Sapucaí: Collapse )

Each school uses a number of floats, or carros alegoricos, to express their theme and to add grandeur to the event. Here is a sample of some of the floats and their riders. Collapse )

And, of course, the cute couple is participating in all things Carnaval...

Collapse )
Before I move on to the costumes and the tens of thousands of participants in the parade I need to share some photos of the heroes of the event. Whenever crowds accumulate, trash accumulates - be it coconuts on the beach, beer cans left behind, or general dust and such from the Carnaval paraders – Comlurb is there. They are the municipal trash collection agency and they are fabulous! And, at the Sambodromo, they not only sweep the street between samba schools, they also dance and entertain.

They were as well received as any samba school.


They dance, they clean, they are wonderful1

But the really incredible, overwhelming Carnaval parade experience is the massive wave of people from the communities that participate in the parade. Most of the samba schools, perhaps all, come from pretty humble communities. Places that tourists do not visit unless accompanied by tourist guides. But the spirit and commitment these people bring to the experience are overwhelming. They practice for months, they wear costumes that – in some cases – are very bulky and hot. But they participate in the parade and you sense that they are fully committed. So I will share more. But I recognize that some folk might want to head for the "hot chicks" first, so will respect that. This is, after all, Carnaval.....

Collapse )
And then there are the many participants that parade forth in costume. Remember, each school has 3,500-4,000 participants. Every one of them arrives in costume.Collapse )

It is impossible to capture Carnaval with still pictures. It is truly overwhelming and I feel so fortunate that we have had the opportunity to see it twice.

Carnaval Miscellany

Carnaval is a season and the celebrations do not take place only in the streets and samba venues. The InC (International Newcomers Club at ) celebrates the season as well. Each of the past two years we have had samba instructors come to one of our meetings to give us some lessons and get us into the spirit. And the ladies love it!

First, we listen to theory.....

And then we get moving!

Of course we are doing this in regular shoes while the instructor is more appropriately dressed for the occasion.

This year we doubled down. We had a Carnaval themed cafezinho (leaving plenty of confetti and streamers to be cleaned up afterwards.)

In addition we were graced by the presence of Patricia Pizzolato (021-9424-2044) and two of her protégés who did a fabulous job of taking us through a number of samba moves.

They started the lesson with slow rhythmic steps to build confidence. By the time the group was really moving the pictures were all too blurred to share. If you are looking for a good samba teacher I highly recommend Patricia (and she speaks English).

This last one is a picture I had to take of the variety of “stuff” one accumulates during the season. Masks and headbands are common attire on the streets, at the blocos, at the Sambodromo – everywhere. The Antarctica hats are very dashing and have converted Richard into a stylish hat wearing dude. The plastic Carnaval parade tickets are pure gold entry to the Sambodromo and cost about as much as gold would! The CD of the Enredos (theme songs) of the elite samba schools provides great energy and the best work out music I can imagine. And finally, the collection of camisinhas (translates as little shirts – better known as condoms), was one of the items provided to attendees at the Sambodromo. Curious but the message was clear – safe sex only for Carnaval!

Street Carnaval - Part 2

To continue yesterday’s theme, let me share some miscellany about street carnaval.

Beer & Buns: Collapse )

While sharing sights of street carnaval I cannot let that last picture go without a mildly voyeuristic comment. Note the guy behind Richard who is buying a beer from a beach kiosk. This is a man who is proud of his futevolei – a beach sport that is played on a sand volleyball court but with soccer rules – no hands. Gotta love this man’s pride.

In fairness to the other gender, carnaval brings lots of opportunities for bun viewing.

Moral Teaching Moments Collapse )

More Blocos Collapse )

Don’t know what to say about this picture other than it captures a normal Carnaval summer day at the beach. A cruise liner in the back no doubt brought lots of tourists to hit the popular attractions and Carnaval prep while the locals shower on the beach after a day in the surf. These portable showers are set up every day with portable generators and keep the crowd fresh to party and enjoy a bloco after a salty splash in the waves.

Carnaval Rehearsal

The Carnaval parade in the Sambodromo is a spectacle and a competition. Twelve samba schools compete for the winning title which carries financial rewards (more funding and sponsorship for the organization) and big time bragging rights. During the weeks before the Carnaval weekend each samba school has the opportunity to practice their routine twice in the Sambodromo. The competition has about a dozen specific aspects which will be judged – theme, music, costumes, floats etc. Points are deducted for failing to complete their presentation in the scheduled time. The performances must be no shorter than 55 minutes and no more than 85 minutes – but each school submits their schedule and must perform within their set time. Hence, the rehearsals, or Ensaios, are critical.

Attendance at the ensaios is free so it is a popular event and opportunity for the various communities to come out and support their school. For us it was an opportunity to get into the spirit and to see the renovations that had been made over the last year to the venue. Ana and Lynn joined us as we set off for a night of music and fun.

The Sambodromo is essentially a parade route about a kilometer long. Each side has a variety of seating areas ranging from partially enclosed luxury boxes (camarotes), open air reserved seating right down on the street level (frisas), and the reserved seat stands (arquibancadas). The recent renovations added lots of new camarotes and expanded the arquibancadas to increase seating capacity to around 85,000.

Two schools present their show at each ensaio but do not march in costume nor do they bring in the floats – this is all about choreography, timing and a bit of advertising. Each school will spend US$4-5 million in preparation and presentation. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including the government, as well as money from illegal gambling and drug trafficking . Recently many of the schools have taken on corporate sponsors as well and as a substitute for the illegal activities. They can use sponsor logos and names in all activities leading up to the parade but cannot show any sponsorship advertising during the actual competition.

Seating is pretty much open on rehearsal nights so attendees can chose to sit down close to the paraders.

Or they can choose the arquibancadas and the chance to hang banners, shoot off confetti and generally show their support.

As in all Carnaval, events the audience participates in costume and spirit.

While some opt for the more simple show of support for their favored school.

The marchers, however, are dressed only their official shirts (for sale as a fund raising source....).

King Momo, the Carnaval king and official host, participates in each rehearsal.

His costume, and the queen’s, change to show the colors of each school throughout the Carnaval season.

The ensaios offer a great opportunity for orientation at the Sambodromo and to begin to learn the music and the themes of each school. And they are free! If any of you are visiting during the Carnaval season I highly recommend that this activity be included on your list.

Rio Street Carnaval

Nothing says Rio like Carnaval. As this is our 2nd year in Rio we at least had some idea what to expect but that did not take away any of the enjoyment or amazement at the whole Carnaval season. While the outside world hears mostly about the parade at the Sambodromo, Carnaval is truly a season. The street events (Carnaval na Rua) go on for about 5 weeks and are open to participation by anyone. Streets are closed; parades fill the streets and thousands of people party in the street enjoying the sun, the music, the spirit and the beer. So, as I did last year, I will share a bit of each major aspect of Carnaval. But truly – this should be on everyone’s “bucket list”. Visit Rio for the week before the Carnaval parade to enjoy the community spirit and stay for the Sambodromo parade. None of this comes cheap but you will not regret it.

In an attempt to maintain order during a chaotic time, the city requires that the blocos register their street events. Streets are closed accordingly and a schedule is published for party goers to plan their time. Some of the younger, more energetic cariocas will attempt to get to 4 or 5 events a day. Our top is probably 2 or 3. A “bloco” is generally a community based group that does some amount of preparation for each year’s carnaval – a theme, a song, etc. In some cases they parade and streets will be closed for several hours while the participants move slowly through the city. Parades start and stop and may take hours to go just a few blocks. This is all about audience participation and a party atmosphere so the parade is really just a moving party. In other cases, the bloco is stationary and represents a street party with a theme. In all cases the beer and beverage vendors are present and music fills the air.

Our favorite blocos this year had a variety of themes.

The Bloco dos Bichos Collapse )

The Bloco Infantil Collapse )

Beach Eats

When you think of Rio de Janeiro, what comes to mind? Beaches of course! Yes, there is Carnaval but that is a separate blog. We are blessed to live in a community replete with simply gorgeous beaches – Ipanema, Copacabana, Flamengo, and on and on. And we take as full advantage as possible by spending lots of time cruising the beaches. With all that walking one needs refreshments and the options are many.

Restaurants along the beach are of the outdoor variety and sell all manner of meals and beverages. Copacabana has the classiest selection.

These relatively small kiosk restaurants are actually far more extensive than they appear. Food preparation and storage take place under the sidewalk. Bathrooms, showers and lockers are located down below as well keeping the sidewalk open for pedestrians and vendors.

But all the beach areas have kiosks of the more humble variety as well. Dining selections in these kiosks are more limited but beverage selections are pretty extensive.

While a nice cold beer is our normal beverage of choice there are other interesting alternatives. A very popular beach beverage is coconut water (or coconut milk depending on who is doing the marketing – but it is sold as just plain Coco at the beach). Packaging is pretty simple since the beverage comes in its own container.

Coconuts have a pretty darned tough shell so the cutting process is interesting to watch. The really good vendors can toss it in the air, take 3 strong blows with a machete and it’s ready to go. I shudder when I watch this technique since I am waiting for a thumb to find its way into the beverage. Anyway – it’s pretty good, healthy and I understand catching on in the U.S. (with different packaging…..)

A popular beach snack is peanuts. They go well with beer, have a fresh roasted taste and arrive fresh and warm at the table on the beach. The only problem is that you have to wait for the peanuts to find you. This is generally not a challenge on Copacabana beach.

The sellers cruise the beach with their tightly wrapped cones full of peanuts. They drop a small handful on the table in front of you and walk away to do the same at all the other tables at a single kiosk. This gives you time to sample before they return for the sale.

We have become peanut addicts and the beer vendors must love it since it often times requires that we stay for one more round while enjoying our salty snack! For gringo visitors the going rate is R$5 for 3 cones – if you are identified as a tourist the vendors will quote you a higher price.

The best peanuts are brought by the guys who carry them in heater cans. I’m sure there is a better term for this sophisticated devise but it is very effective.

Not in the mood for a beverage up on the sidewalk? Not to worry, the matte vendors will bring their sweet tea drink brought right to your towel…

And finally, we need to remember man’s best friend and his or her need for liquid refreshment. Water is available at the Dog Bar on one of the classier shopping streets.

But for the more substantive drink the dogs here seem to prefer coconuts. This next sequence is not a one-off event, it happens all the time!

Dog gets left over coconut from owner, thinking no doubt that these humans are missing the best part!

After a bit of work and tossing the coconut around the dog achieves what humans need a machete to accomplish.

Good eats!

Santa's Village

Nativity scenes are a significant part of most Christmas celebrations. We have them in our homes, we see them in store windows and, here in Rio, we see dozens of life sized examples on display at a nearby park.

The Jardim de Alah is a dog park for most of the year. But at Christmas time it houses the Festival de Presépios, or Nativity scene festival. The event includes Santa’s village, an arrangement sponsored by many local businesses, and a couple of dozen nativity scenes.

Santa’s village is delightful for holiday cheer but a bit incongruous with fake pine trees and very real palm trees.

The primary attraction is obviously the nativity scenes. The event is a competition with a prize of R$50,000 to the winner. Voting is done by attendees, all of whom can enter free of charge to enjoy the Christmas spectacle.

The most common scenes are pretty traditional.

But modern versions grace the scene as well.





In addition to the village and nativities the park has other northern hemisphere reminders of winter, including this rather large and fierce looking polar bear.

Fortunately, I was travelling with a polar bear trainer who was able to keep the big guy in line.

Had the bear misbehaved the local municipal police would no doubt have taken charge. Or they would have found out how fast those Segways really will travel!

The final touch of holiday cheer was the Christmas concert in the park. Christmas is universal and the carols sounded great even in Portuguese.

So Merry Christmas to all from the other side of the equator!