Thursday, September 24, 2009

It rains in Rio

(September 21, 2009)

I don't know why I got off the bus. I knew it was turning onto the street on which I am currently living, Rua das Laranjeiras (sounds like larangitis).

My Portuguese is still pathetic, but with a little effort I could have mumbled through the words to confirm the bus' general direction. But I didn't ask for help, and instead stepped off and into a swarm of drenched Cariocas rushing home from their work day.

Now, I too am drenched, trudging, squishing and sliding through the flood that was once a street, soaked to the bone, my umbrella a useless shield against the evening's impressive downpour. My shoes have become heavy weights, filled to the brim with cruddy rainwater. My denim skirt is stuck to my thighs, riding up where it shouldn't. Wouldn't you know, I think to myself, it rains in Rio de Janeiro! And just then, I start to laugh out loud as the bus I was just sitting on passes by, and heads right past my front door.

It hasn't been all rain, cold and muck here in the Cidade Maravilhosa. The weekend was pretty nice, and in my first two days I was quite the tourist. Within hours of arrival on Saturday morning, I was whisked away for a jam-packed and carefully planned day under the direction of a local friend: right on schedule, he picked me up and generously treated me to a tour-by-car of Rio's hottest beaches, lunch of toasted sandwiches and frothy, blended Acai at one of the city's many amazing juice bars, then straight to the famous Maracana stadium for some futebol, passionately Brazilian style, then finally ending up at Salgueiro dance hall, a popular school and showcase for the fantastically wild sounds, rhythms and dance moves of Samba. It was my own personal Rio Highlights tour, and all this following the overnight flight from Bogotá left me more than ready for a good long nap. Or, for another glass of energizing Acai... which incidentally I have been trying to slow down on ever since learning that the magical berry is pretty darn fattening. Dammit.

Sunday I woke early and did what pretty much everyone does here on Sunday: I went to the beach. As seen on any postcard or in every guidebook, the beaches on weekends really do become packed to the gils with all of Rio's young, tanned, athletic and beautiful... plus everyone else. Intimidating for a white girl like me? Maybe a little!

It's fantastic, though. Endless miles of picturesque coastal roads are closed to traffic on Sunday, creating a virtual paradise for joggers and cyclists. These lanes become as packed as the beaches, and it would be impossible not to notice what an active and health-conscious bunch the Brazilians are. Every city block is home to a gym, a pilates studio, a natural foods market, a store selling exercise apparel, a juice bar or two. Needless to say I am loving how healthy this city seems to be. And I am relieved to have finally found a place - maybe for the first time ever! - where I can actually enjoy eating. Countless sushi restaurants, tons of fresh fruits and juice bars.... just drop in a Whole Foods Salad Bar and a jar of peanut butter, and I will have found culinary heaven.

The beach provides the stage and setting for exhibiting all the hard work and exercise that create these lovely bodies, and the vast population of well-toned and bronzed young men playing football and volleyball in the sand is particularly nice to look at. And believe me, these boys are plentiful! After so much time spent all week inside a gym, these perfectly sculpted dudes wouldn't dare stay indoors on weekends. I appreciate the spectacle, but I have to say that the itsy-bitsy speedo-like choice of bathing suit is somewhat of a distraction. No offense intended, but I grew up in California where a good pair of board shorts is considered sexy. Hey Rio boys, your bodies are hot but take a cue from those Cali surfers: leave a little to the imagination!

Despite all of this endless beauty and yummy eats, I have to admit that I haven't been as immediately wowed by Rio as much as I thought I would be. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe there has been just too much rain. Either way, I haven't really been feeling the essence of Rio just yet. I am thinking a change of scenery is in order, a break of sorts, a small journey to see some landscape, culture... and something different. Maybe I will head South for a day or two - or North - and give this great city a chance to dry out and warm up. I'll be back for the weekend, camera firmly in hand - and photos to share.

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