Ever since I watched the movie “The Bucket List,” I have worked on making my own list. So far, it has two pages worth of ideas and things that I want to do before I die. I must admit that some of those things are near impossible to achieve; for example, flying in my private jet will be a bit difficult considering that I am a broke college student. Still, a girl can dream. Most of my bucket list, however, consists of things that are achievable. One of those was traveling to Brazil.
I have always been fascinated by Brazilian culture. I grew up in Venezuela, which is right next to Brazil. Brazilians always traveled to Venezuela, and Venezuelans loved going to Brazil as well. Although we speak different languages, both countries have always had a strong relationship.
Some of my best friends are Brazilian, my boyfriend is Brazilian, and I have gotten to know their culture through them too. What attracted me the most, was their friendliness and unique sense of humor. Also, they always speak wonders about their home country, which made me want to see it even more.
So, when I was faced with the idea of traveling to Brazil, I did not think twice. I purchased my ticket and waited anxiously until the day arrived. I had everything ready: sandals because they are the norm there, shorts and t-shirts because of the hot weather, and cash to enjoy the myriad of drink and food choices offered in the country.
One of the first things I noticed after arriving was that the weather was going to be much warmer than expected. I had sweat dripping down my face, and it was not even noon. I headed to the hotel where I was greeted by some of the nicest people I have met.
They gave me the keys to my room and offered me a caipirinha, a liquor made from sugarcane juice that turns into alcohol over a period of time, on the house. That is when I knew that the trip would be more fun than I thought. I headed to my room, caipirinha in hand, and got ready to head out.
I spent the first evening at a shopping mall nearby. This was not any mall, it was one of the most colorful places in Rio de Janeiro. It had an area called “Rua do Rio,” which translates to “Street of Rio.” Rua do Rio is the number one destination for those who like to party or have drinks with friends on the weekends. I had never seen so many bars and nightclubs at the same place; to be honest, it was a bit overwhelming.
I finally found the perfect place. It was a small bar, with comfortable couches, and Bossa Nova playing in the background. I ordered a local beer because caipirinhas are not a light drink and I did not want to be hungover on the first day of my trip. I had a couple of beers that night and mostly people-watched. A couple of people offered to join me. I thought they had other intentions, but they merely wanted to get to know me and seemed very interested in learning about American culture. You see, as soon as you speak English, everybody’s faces turn around, which I thought was pretty cool.
The next day was all about beaches. Rio is well known for its beautiful beaches, and I wanted to experience it all. I visited several, but Ipanema and Copacabana were my favorite.
Ipanema has that calm and tranquil vibe that many of us look for when traveling. Copacabana, on the other hand, gives out a more Brazilian fun vibe. It also offers many more options. You can people-watch, eat, drink, sun bathe, swim, ride a bike, or join a game of beach volleyball.
I spent a great deal of time just walking around and taking pictures. There were hundreds of people; so, if you are looking for a cozy place, Copacabana is not it. Still, it is worth to see it at least once. I stepped on the Portuguese-style pavement that is often shown in pictures of the area, and I saw some of the art made by locals. I also purchased a couple of pairs of “Havaianas.” Havaianas is a Brazilian brand of flip-flop sandals known for their quality and variety. They are very popular during the summer.
Something that caught my attention was the different sand sculptures locals spend hours making. One of the sculptures was surrounded by the Brazilian flag and Brazilian women wearing bikinis, made out of sand. Another had a Christ the Redeemer, an icon representative of the country, and a sign that said: “Welcome to Rio 2018.”
One of the people who was working on Christ’s sculpture, Manoel, told me that he has had to re-do it several times, but he doesn’t mind because he knows tourists love seeing his work. He said he enjoyed seeing people take pictures of his work and showing them the talent that the country has to offer.
Before leaving Copacabana, I had to try some of the food. There were so many restaurants that I had trouble deciding. Eventually, I chose the place that looked the most authentic. I am glad I did. The servers could not speak English, so I put my Portuguese skills to the test. I have been trying to learn the language for a couple of years now, and I was glad to see that I could communicate and order a meal at least.
They suggested that I order something called feijoada and a chopp. Chopp is the name they give to draft beer, and feijoada was a stew. To be honest, the feijoada threw me off a bit. I was expecting seafood since it was the beach, but I got something very different instead.
The dish is a stew made of black beans and different cuts of pork. All I could smell was pork, and it made me a bit sick. However, they were so excited to see me try their food that I had to give it a try.
I cannot say that I would order this again, but it is definitely a good choice for meat lovers. I left Copa feeling bloated and considered becoming a vegetarian for a while.
Another place that I knew I had to visit was the Maracanã Stadium, which is the second largest stadium in South America. The Maracanã has received soccer teams from all over the world for friendly matches and FIFA world cup games.
The stadium itself is a work of art, and if you pay for the tour, they let you take pictures on the field and visit their museum. The museum is the dream of any soccer fan; it has photos of historic matches, soccer jerseys worn by famous players, and all the country’s championship cups. To me, the most fantastic part of the tour was seeing Pelé’s famous No. 10 jersey. Pelé is the most famous and renowned soccer player in the world, winning three World Cups.
A trip to Brazil would not be complete without a visit to the Sugar Loaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer, or Cristo Redentor. I needed at least a whole day to visit the place because of the traffic and long lines. I arrived early and still had to wait about two hours to get to the Christ. To reach the statue at the top of the Corcovado mountain, we had to take a train. It was incredibly crowded, and it took hours to get to the top. However, the wait was worth it.
I was in awe when we made it to the top, and I got to see the Cristo up close. It was once the largest Jesus Christ statue in the world, standing at 98 feet in height, but was surpassed by Western Poland’s statue of “Christ the King” at 118 feet in height in 2011, so I should have expected to be wowed. Still, there are no words to describe what it feels to be there.
The Christ is magnificent. It makes you feel calm and peaceful, and it reminds you of the welcoming nature of Brazil. His open arms are considered by many a symbol of inclusion, and I agree. Seeing such a diverse crowd gathered around the monument was inspirational.
The food was, as always, really good. It was still early in the day, so I got a drink and some pastries. I bought something called a “Coxinha.” It is a popular food in Brazil consisting of shredded beef, chicken, or beef covered in dough. It has a shape that resembles a chicken leg, and it is deep fried. It was incredibly tasty.
I also had the popular “Pão de Queijo,” which is a tiny Brazilian cheese bread, and a cup of coffee. The coffee was bold but good. After all that food, I decided to spend the rest of the day there. Seeing the sunset fall over Rio was something that I would never forget.
Pão de Açúcar, known as the Sugarloaf Mountain, was one of the last places I visited. To get there, we had to ride a cable car that took us from the ground station to the mountain’s summit. The cable car offers 360-degree views of the city, which was impressive. I was able to see Rio from approximately 700 feet above the ground.
I was shocked at the city’s beauty and diversity. On the one side, you could see what I assumed were some of the wealthiest neighborhoods. On the other, you could see Rio’s favelas; favelas are the impoverished areas of Rio. By the way, if you ever visit, they offer tours of the favelas. I was tempted because it sounded like an eye-opening experience. However, I was worried about my safety.
At the top, I was able to take more pictures of the city while I relaxed in one of the restaurants. I had a simple hot dog that evening. Well, simple by Brazilian standards. It had peppers, onions, tomatoes, cheese, eggs, bacon bits, shoestring potatoes, and even ground beef on top. It was incredible, and American hotdogs should be ashamed of themselves.
There are no words to properly describe the experience of traveling to Brazil. The country’s people, the food, the beaches, and landmarks make it one of the best countries I have ever seen.
Two weeks were not enough to experience the whole city of Rio, and the trip left me wanting more. This was an experience worth repeating, so the name Brazil will remain in my Bucket List until I visit again.