About three months ago my wife and I moved into the top floor of a lovely house near the top of a steep hill in Santa Teresa, an artsy neighbourhood near downtown Rio. To be honest, it’s a little more than we can afford and walking up the hill is exhausting, but the beautiful view makes up for cutting back on a few luxuries and the achy legs.
Santa Teresa (or simply Santa as the locals say) is quite unlike most other Rio neighbourhoods, being a hilltop district with steep, windy roads lined with beautiful old buildings. In English we would describe the streets of Santa as “cobbled”, but here in Brazil they have a far more interesting word for the rough, rectangular stones: paralelepípedos. Try saying those seven syllables after a caipirinha or two!
Literally translated, Pé Sujo means “Dirty foot”. This is the term used to describe the many low-end bars that pepper the city. You will find a Pé Sujo on almost every street in Rio. As the name suggests, these bars are not known for their standards of hygiene – if your feet weren’t dirty when you went in, they most likely will be by the time you leave. They say that when the waiter wipes your table with a cloth, it actually makes the table more dirty! But these grubby drinking dens are loved as a quintessentially Brazilian place to drink beer and share gossip.
Right now it is quite chilly in Rio. In fact it has been cold for the last few weeks and I have to say I am starting to feel somewhat aggrieved – this is not what someone from my part of the world expects from ‘Sunny Rio’. Thankfully, most of the year the weather is just how I like it – hot, very hot or boiling. And the drink of choice when you are in need of refreshment? Cerveja! [ser-VAY-zha]
In the course of my (ahem) exhaustive research I uncovered some interesting beer facts. Brazil is the fifth largest beer producer in the world, making nearly 10 billion litres each year. Most of this is made by an evil company called Ambev which has something approaching a monopoly here. But I was surprised to discover that the average Brazilian drinks just 53 litres each year – compare this to the average Czech who drinks 158:
One of the things I enjoyed most about travelling was meeting people from all over the world. Granted there weren’t many Somalians climbing the mountains down in Patagonia, but even so, I still found myself meeting and getting to know people of nationalities I’d never previously encountered. And through these people I was introduced to all kinds of new music, films, books, phrases, etc.
I now know that a “yoke” to an Irishman translates roughly as “thingamy” as in “Pass me that yoke there will you?”. That Fahhhhn! is a rude word in Swedish. That Mexicans sprinkle a little salt into their Corona (turns out that you can now actually buy specialised salt to add to your beer).
Of course these differences in culture, taste and tradition led to many disagreements and debates, though perhaps ‘debate’ is giving these conversations too much credit as they rarely surpassed the repetition of the phrase “That is so wrong!”.
Where I come from ‘Juice Bars’ conjure up images of weird, rich people sipping wheat-grass and beetroot juice. These joyless health obsessives have just come from an ayurvedic flotation tank session and are on their way to an organic coffee and yoghurt colonic. Here in Brazil I’m happy to say they have a very different feel to them.
Casas de Sucos are sprinkled all over Rio. They are basic and unpretentious – open to the street with huge and colourful displays of (real) fruit behind a simple stainless steel counter. Ordinary working people will prop themselves on a stool and have a freshly blended fruit juice and perhaps grab a snack before heading off to work.
On my first visit to one of these juice bars I was taken aback by the size of the menu. There were more than 20 different fruit juices and half of them I had never heard of.
I have been using buses to get around Rio since I moved here. I discovered early on that as well as being a good way to get to know the layout of Rio, they also provide a great way to get a feel for the inhabitants.
Initially I was daunted by the fact that absolutely none of the drivers or ticket inspectors speak any English (at the time I had not started my Portuguese lessons). But it was simple enough to master – you simply stick your arm out when you see your bus coming, hop on and say hello to the driver, then give your money to the ticket inspector and find a seat. When you want to get off you pull the cord that runs along the ceiling and the driver will pull in at the next stop – not rocket science.
Hello World! In case you’re interested, here’s a little about me:
My family and I travelled a lot when I was young: most of Europe, Egypt, Jerusalem, The Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Ghana, Zimbabwe, South Africa. From an early age I was introduced to diverse cultures and delicious foods and this gave me the desire to discover more. As you may have noticed, the list of countries above doesn’t include any from Latin America and it was for this reason that I set out in 2009 on a 4 month trip to what my father referred to as “The Unknown Continent”.