Brazil: The many things I loved after 10 days in Rio de Janeiro and Buzios

Blanka layin' the SMACK down on Zangief
Blanka layin’ the SMACK down. BRAZEAL!

In February, I spent 10 days in Brazil – 3 in Buzios (it of the Bardot statue), and 7 in Rio de Janeiro (5 of them during Carnaval).

Brazil is a top 5 city for me. The top 5 right now would be:

1. New York (see my Quora answer)
2. Shanghai
3. Los Angeles
4. Tokyo
5. Rio de Janeiro

I need to spend more time in Europe (Scandinavia is high on the list), and I’ve never visited Australia, so I expect this list to evolve.

Here are random observations and things I loved about my time there.

View from our Buzios room
View from our Buzios room

In short, I can’t wait to go back; I spent the same amount of time in Argentina but don’t feel the same way.

Rio is an absurdly beautiful city. Locals say God created Rio when he was drunk. GORGEOUS mountains. GORGEOUS beaches. A GORGEOUS lake (5 miles around). Most cities would be happy with even one of those gifts. Rio has them all. And all with the buzzing vitality of a large city and friendly, fun-loving people.

Farofa is a very popular side dish that can be mixed with beans, meats, veggies, just about everything. Made from the manioc root, it’s Brazil’s ketchup. I LOVE IT. Maybe not as much as Ichiran, but I miss that crunchy, savory flavor. Like a more subtle, grounded up Cheetos.

Some farofa goodness at 10 o'clock
Some farofa goodness at 10 o’clock

You know what still amazes me? The universality of American culture. Nothing is more influential than Hollywood and everything it represents – our movies, tv shows, music. No matter what traveler you’re talking to – whether from Hungary, Australia, Japan, or anywhere in-between – they can recount Friends episodes, laugh at Cartman’s jokes, and compare The Wire v. Breaking Bad (The Wire is more intense and socially profound, Breaking Bad is BETTER TV).

Carnaval was ridiculous. Essentially a giant street party, for young and old alike. But I can understand why many locals dislike it and leave the city for quieter pastures. You get a bunch of loud, obnoxious, alcohol-fueled non-locals who make noise day and night, and leave tons of trash everywhere they go. But who doesn’t like baile funk??

Crazy street parties (blocos)
Crazy street parties (blocos)

When traveling, I really enjoy doing my “US things”, like going to McDonalds, buying coffee at Starbucks, going for a run, or watching a movie. It’s familiar and comfortable, and yet it’s in a whole new environment so it adds that extra bit of excitement and uncertainty.

People in developing countries don’t stand a chance against largely America-influenced and America-led consumerism. Taking a 3-hour bus ride to Buzios, I counted at least 10 huge billboards promoting the latest Bob’s Burger deluxe meal (a popular fast-food chain) with extra fries and extra cheese and extra bacon. And we drove by a MASSIVE Carrefour (a French version of Costco). No wonder countries become obese.

Subway's popular
At least Subway’s popular

Funny how some behaviors are just so universal. Maybe it’s learned through media, but some of it is instinctual. For example, teenage girls everywhere love to hangout at malls, drinking lattes and gossiping at Starbucks.

Brazil either has a very large gay population, or is very liberal and supportive of that community. There’s a specific gay section at Ipanema Beach (Posto 8), and gay bars throughout the city.

Yet another reason I love traveling – you learn SO MUCH, not only about the country & cultures that you’re visiting, but others too. How Aussies are generally crazier and party harder than most, how Swedes enjoy electronic music, etc etc etc. Gross generalizations, of course, but fascinating nonetheless.

Interesting to me how, in both Argentina and Brazil, laundromats are all wash & fold. I have yet to find a self-serve. Labor costs are low, perhaps laundromats are few & far-between…

Argentina, and even more so, Brazil, seem to have a big tattoo culture. Just a part of expressiveness and fashion. I love it.

Overemployment. Our Airbnb host brought this up, and I definitely concur. The local supermarket has 3x the people it needs. A third stand around and chat, a third are active, and a third seem to be engaging in productive activity but really aren’t. I ask for a bag of ice, and it takes 10 minutes, and several discussions between groups of 2-3 people, before one is procured.

Rio has such a big beach culture. It really is a way of life. All of the sports it enables (like foot volleyball, body boarding), the foods that are popular (like frozen acai), the clothing styles (tank tops, shorts, hats, bikinis, etc). Growing up in Austin and spending much of my adult life in the Bay Area, I’ve never experienced this firsthand. Amazing and addictive

The Redeemer!
The Redeemer!

You know you love a city, when you’ve only spent a week there and dread the idea of leaving.

How does it feel to be a country that has never seen a major war? A country that does not learn about its own violent history in grade school (I remember taking Texas History class in 3rd grade and easily 1/3 of the textbook was about our wars with Native Americans, the Spanish, the Europeans, the rest of America). A country that does not know a friend or relative who fought and perhaps died. I wonder how that history, or lack thereof, affects the national ethos and its peoples’ values: on things like gun control, military service, geopolitics…

Ending with this Rio quote from the NYT (I’m sure basketball fans out there appreciate the irony of this totally unintentional comparison):

The place makes Miami look like Cleveland. […] We stopped saying things like “wow, look at the view,” because we saw stunning views almost everywhere we looked.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.