My First Bus Chat

In one of my first posts I gave a bit of an overview of the buses here in Rio – they are such a great way to get a snap shot of the people of Rio that it seemed a good place to start. And although I described some of the negative aspects, I hope the overall impression I gave was one of affection.  

One of the the first things that the buses showed me about the Cariocas is their willingness to chat. I watched as complete strangers sat next to each other and passed the time, discussing all kinds of interesting subjects in an amiable way. I remember thinking back to all those miserable bus journeys back in London where everyone would sit in a kind of suspended animation, where the closest thing you’d get to conversation would be someone tutting at the traffic. And then I would return my attention to Rio and the cheerful strangers in front of me as they discussed who knows what. 

Perhaps I am idealising the situation somewhat. It has occurred to me that my limited understanding of the language does mean that I’m missing all the bitching and complaining that may well be going on around me. They could well be moaning about the traffic in just the same spirit as my former co-passengers back in London. Well maybe they are, but at least they’re talking!   

Anyway, as much as I enjoy watching these conversations, I always felt rather sad that I couldn’t really take part in one. Although I was here and in amongst it, my lack of decent Portuguese meant that my role was restricted to that of spectator… Until tonight!

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How to eat like a Brazilian

When I arrived in Rio, the plan was to stay a couple of weeks with my girlfriend in her mother’s house, after which I would make alternative arrangements. I am a little ashamed to say that the ‘couple of weeks’ turned into 8 months – a testament to the generous, welcoming nature of the lady who became minha sogra (my mother-in-law).

Although I don’t remember exactly what we ate on that first evening, one memory from the meal does remain. As everyone else was milling around in the kitchen, I approached the table and happened to notice that someone had put the knives and forks round the wrong way – knife on the left, fork on the right!

Well, being a polite young (ahem) man, I didn’t want my hosts to feel embarrassed when they discovered this mistake, so I quickly switched the cutlery around to their proper positions and then popped into the kitchen to help bring the food to the table.

As we sat down to eat, I saw that my girlfriend, her brother and mother all switched their cutlery back to their original positions! Thus I discovered that most Brazilians eat with their fork in the right hand and the knife in the left. I say most because it isn’t all of them – a quick glance round at lunch today showed that 8 out of my 10 work mates eat this way.

Cutting it the Brazilian way.

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Maid in Rio

Although there is a lot of talk and excitement in the global media about the strength of Brazil’s economy, I am often told by Brazilians “Don’t forget, this is a third world country!”. This is usually said while they are bemoaning a woe of the city (traffic jams, poor public transport, etc) that they assume is absent in more developed countries. In many cases I can truthfully tell them that we have the exact same problem back in ‘first world’ Britain!

Moving in different directions – Brazil’s booming economy is reflected in falling unemployment levels. However, 26% of Brazil’s population is considered to be living in poverty, compared to 14% in the UK and 12% in the US. Figures from:


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Tasty Little Thighs

Title got your attention didn’t it? Well sorry to disappoint, but the thighs I’m referring to belong to chickens. The word Coxinha [co-SHEEN-ya] means little thigh and this is the name of one of Brazil’s tastiest and most popular snacks.

The Portuguese word for snack, lanche [lansh], originated from the English ‘lunch’ but at some point lost the original meaning and came to mean any quick bite.  Dotted all over the city are lanchonetes [lan-shon-ETCHES] or snack bars and these are great places to grab something quick, tasty and satisfying.

The much-loved coxinha, found in almost every lanchonete in Rio.


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Beautiful Ugly Rio

In early July 2010 I found myself in Fortaleza in the state of Ceará (just up the coast from the tip of Brazil’s pointy nose). I had made my way by river and overland from the border with Colombia in the north but Rio, my final destination, was still a long way off. And after almost of year of living out of a backpack, staying in hostel dormitories, enduring long bus rides and even longer periods without clean clothes, I had started to crave a break. 

The approach to Santos Dumont at dawn

I booked a flight and flew into Santos Dumont, Rio’s domestic airport. Rio’s main international airport, Galeão International, is a long way out of town and in a very ugly area but Santos Dumont is far closer to Rio’s iconic attractions: Copacabana, Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) and Cristo Redentor (the statue of Christ the Redeemer). As you approach Santos Dumont you get an incredible view of these sights and you instantly understand why they call it A Cidade Maravilhosa (the Marvellous City). 

Take a chopper ride around the Rio of 1968 to the sound of Gilberto Gil’s Aquele Abraço. Not only a lovely song but also a fascinating view of Rio as it was in the 60s (and you have to admire the pilot’s nerves of steel!).

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The Strange Sounds of Brazil

Four months before I left London (back in 2009) I started taking weekly Spanish lessons in preparation for a five month trip to South America. My teacher was Ivette, a lovely Chilean woman and although 16 lessons isn’t a lot, she managed to get me to a reasonable standard so that when I arrived in Argentina I was able to order beers, follow directions and make very rudimentary conversation.

The next four months brought adventure, misadventure and discovery. I made my way through Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia before deciding that five months wasn’t going to be enough. I tore up my return ticket and continued my journey through Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua (where I met the woman who later became my wife), Guatemala and finally to Mexico.

The extreme southerly and northerly points of my trip – Spanish all the way!

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