Thursday, 7 April 2011

Passport to Rio - Fun in the South American Sun...

Dear, Dear Reader I must apologise… for two weeks I have been absent from your computer screen. I was selfishly basking under the Rio sun and put the blog as far from my mind as possible. I attempted to write some marvellous, verbose piece of bloggery but the lure of the Caipirinha and Stephen King’s ‘Cujo’ proved just to great! But now I am back and determined to make up for my holiday by telling you all about it. For the purposes of maintaining interest, I have rolled a number of events into one day as otherwise the next 10 posts will be about my time there. This is the first of three posts about my trip, which I hope will give you an informed if rather schizophrenic and jumbled picture of Rio de Janeiro…

We took off from London Heathrow on one of those typically glorious Spring mornings; the ones that always seem to come out from hiding every time you go away. Having gone through check in and the absurdly overbearing security of Heathrow Terminal 5, we enjoyed a glass of Champagne or two in the Concord Lounge before embarking on our flight. It had been two years since I had been on my last flight abroad and as such I was extremely excited. I love take off and, as we left the runway, I was filled with the anticipation which accompanies the feeling of leaving all your cares behind at home.

Heston had obviously not visited the plane that I took as the victuals on offer were of a rather suspect nature – The combination of rubbery Cajun Chicken with creamy Fusili is not one I will be repeating at home! Having said this, the advantage of flying BA is the relatively open drinks cabinet, and, after enduring a few cracks made concerning the vivid purple jeans I was wearing at the time (from the cabin crew) I was able to help myself to as much beer as I wanted!

With all those beers on offer, as I am sure you can imagine, the flight went rather more quickly than I had thought. Touching down in Rio and having negotiated passport control we wended our way by Taxi to the smart Leblon district and the functional, if flawed, Hotel Ritz. Tired and hungry we dumped our bags and went out for a quick and unspectacular meal (not worth mentioning here) before conking out. I awoke the next morning to find the city basking in blazing sunshine and the temperature a very respectable 29 degrees.

No one can look at the geography on which Rio rests without thinking (apart from the ocean access) that it is a wholly inappropriate place to build a city. Nestling between sheer granite ‘monolithes’/mountains and lush rainforests, it sprawls across the South Brazilian coast as the Favelas and high rise apartments grow daily. Nowhere can this be better observed that from the famous Sugar Loaf Mountain. As seen in the truly hilarious but highly mediocre Moonraker (1979), Sugar Loaf is quite astounding and the accompanying cable car makes for an enjoyable ride. As we were precariously pulled to the top on a lone steel cable I was delighted that I did not spot Roger Moore and Jaws doing battle on the roof of the cab! 

Once at the top you are afforded with the most stunning view of Rio (with the exception of Corcovado) and a collection of naff tourist boutiques filled with Jesus figurines, mugs, ashtrays and the like. I grabbed a beer from one of the kiosks and surveyed the great presence of the city on the tropical landscape. After the beer was finished I took my leave. Unlike many I have never been one to linger on upon views and landscapes like a character from a Caspar David Friedrich painting and soon I was back the bottom and was hankering for some grub.

I approached the food in Brazil with apprehension, chiefly for the fact that I had no idea what it was. Consulting a number of food encyclopaedia, I found a few entries for the cuisine. Heavy on barbecued meats, Portuguese dishes with a heavy emphasis on Bachalau (salt cod) and a national dish ‘Fajueida’ I was not that optimistic about what I would find.

What I found was far removed from the descriptions that I had found in my reference books and on the internet. Sushi – yes sushi – was the main food on offer around the area in which we were staying and in fact the whole of the city centre. In fact, every other restaurant seemed to have their own take on raw fish, whether as a starter on a more extensive menu or the whole thing altogether. It is the food of aspirational Brazilians and it says something that the most exclusive restaurant in Rio ‘Sushi Leblon’ is a Japanese one! But whereas in most parts of the world, this Eastern delicacy is eaten in moderation, the Brazilians wolf it down as if it were egg fried rice.

The one thing you notice going into any restaurant in Brazil is the sheer amount of food that the patrons eat, plates are piled high, filled with all sorts of proteins and carbohydrates (it is usual for most meals to be served with rice, beans and fries simultaneously). In one restaurant that I visited, three men out on a business lunch managed to polish of almost the entire contents of an aquarium judging by the size of the platter and the variety of fish on offer. Hugh and his gang of ichthyomaniacs would have been quite horrified, but having tasted the highly exploited products that they were tucking into, you couldn’t fault them on taste! As you can probably guess from this, my first proper meal and many more to come on my first visit to Brazil was sushi!

Lunch was followed by a trip to the renowned Leblon beach. Teeming with bronzed men and women clad in next to nothing (more often than not it was far from flattering – I must have seen more cellulite and sagging midriffs than on Skegness beach!). However I had my own problems to deal with… I stuck out like a sore thumb, the ‘gringo’ that I was with my pasty British complexion, rugby shorts and insistence on drinking coconut juice through a straw straight from the fruit. ‘What a wally!’ I can hear you exclaim - dear reader - as you shake your head at the screen. Anyway, after an afternoon of frolicking in the ocean waves under the intense sun and numerous beers it was time to head back to the hotel as the beach became overcast with the shadows of evening. 

After another fine supper full of more beers and Caipirinhas we were soon on our way to the most popular nightspot, the Lapa district. It was time brace ourselves for an evening of fun, madness and debauchery as only the Brazilians know how to provide…

Tune in for part two tomorrow evening in order to find out how to have fun on a night out in party town, and to keep yourself up to date with the adventurous life of this Bloody Good Chap.

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