August 28, 2014. Written for Dead At 30. Big Biddy (@biddyImam) returns with tales of his Brazilian adventure reflecting on everything Brazil travel has to offer including the endless nightlife, bottomless cocktails, breathtaking beaches and the beautiful people themselves…
The Brasil 2014 World Cup Adventure is now complete. The football was amazing, but a big part of the cup experience is what goes on away from the pitch. I can confidently say it was the best month of my life so far. Here are a few reasons why.
Brasil has a very low English proficiency. About 10-20% of the 200 million can speak some of our commonwealth lingo. 99% of the population speak Portuguese. It is a very cool sounding language. If you don’t know it, be prepared to use google translate, speak with your hands or even try making words up that sound portuguesey in a desperate attempt to communicate. Invest in a phrasebook and I recommend the Duolingo or Memrise app to make your learning enjoyable. Once you start catching on to a few words, you start to appreciate how awesome Brazilian Portuguese is. My favourite aspects are the pronunciation of words Red Bull (hedgy-boool), hip hop (hippy hoppy), chocolate (chocolatchy) and hot dog (hotchy doggy). The word you’ll use commonly to express your gratification is Muito Obrigado, meaning thank you very much. Just be careful not to say ‘Mucha Obrigachaaaaa’ like some cute tourists I saw or you will receive blank stares or laughter. The word Valeu (pronounced vah-lay-ew) is pure brilliance because it is used by younger people to say thanks, bye or ok! My test for language competence is if you can hold a decent chat with a taxi driver. Just ask something like ‘Qual é o seu time de futebol’ (what is your football team) and the conversational floodgates will burst open.
From Samba to Sertanejo, there’s a whole kaleidoscope of rhythms with influences from around the world. I felt a big opportunity was lost by FIFA to properly showcase tunes from local talent. Instead they missed an open shot at goal by choosing foreigners for the official World Cup song. My local friends echoed those sentiments and shared with me tunes the streets were enjoying. These hits became the bookmarks of my Brasilian memories . MC Guime – Pais do Futebol, was a song played everywhere locally and represented Brasil and it’s love for football really well, check out the YouTube video. The genre which got me moving like no other was Baile Funk (pronounced Biley Funky). This dance music originated in the favelas of Rio and is said to be the voice of the working class, rhythmically expressing a lot of issues faced by the people. Without understanding many of the x-rated lyrics, I can say the energy at clubs playing these beats were next level.
Brasilians don’t need a reason to party. My first night coincided with their national teams disappointing 0-0 draw with Mexico. You could assume a quiet one might be on the cards right? Wrong. A street party we went to in São Paulo was bouncing till the break of dawn. Outdoor jams were to become the places to be after games. Vila Madalena in São Paulo, Baixo Gávea in Rio and Rio Vermelho in Salvador were among the prime districts I experienced. What made these so wild was the blatant lawlessness. Public beverage consumption, beats pumping, spontaneous dancing and thousands of people from all corners of the globe mingling in peaceful celebration of a special occasion.
Food & Drink
Vegetarians beware, Brasil is a meat lovers paradise. The smoky scent of BBQs can dominate a city skyline on matchdays. Churrascaria is a popular dining experience. $30-50 a head for all the meat you can eat, a constant flow of various cuts wheeled and dealed at your table. It’s as good as it sounds. Some of my highlights were Pão de Queijo, which are baked balls of bread with melting cheese in the centre. Coxinha, grounded spiced chicken covered in dough and fried in crunchy coating. Salvador had some great African influenced seafood dishes like Acarajé and Moqueca.
To my pleasant surprise, São Paulo presented the best pizza of my life. This mega metropolis is the cultural melting pot of South America and has a huge Italian community. What made it so pleasurable were the quality ingredients and inventive toppings.
Now all of this great food needs to be washed down. The ever present national cocktail of Brasil is the Caipirinha. It’s concocted predominantly with Cachaça (a spirit made from sugarcane), sugar and lime. There are even entire bars dedicated to the spirit called Cachaçarias. A certain brand named ’51’, sells at $3 per litre and is the closest thing Brasil has in reputation to goon. Bohemia, Brahma, Skol and Antarctica are the local beers of choice. Brasilians insist on drinking these ice cold in cups called a ‘chopp’. While feeling my adventurous self, I was introduced to a native drink called Catuaba. This is made from local tree bark and is regarded to have many health benefits, especially in the bedroom. It is also quite alcoholic and getting more popular among the youngsters looking for an economical buzz.
This place definitely has some exciting food and drink.
Brasil is a vast country the size of a continent. I strongly encourage travelers to visit a number of cities to properly appreciate its diversity. São Paulo is an economical mega hub with a population the same as Australia. It is straight up gigantic. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring it’s distinct districts such as Liberdade, with the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. Porto Alegre is Brasil’s most southern city and has a noticeable European influence.
Rio de Janeiro is the tourist haven. With beaches, scenery, great weather, nightlife and culinary delights. It satisfies most criteria of a typical vacation wishlist. Salvador in the sunny north-east state of Bahia was the country’s first capital city. Being a focal point of the slave trade in the 1500’s, it now has a very cool West African influence. This Afro-Brasilian cultural blend is responsible for the capoeira dance, amazing rhythms of Olodum drummers and inspires the world’s biggest carnival celebration. Walking through the winding colonial paths of Pelourinho you appreciate the historic significance of this place. You will find accents, appearances and attitudes alternating at each destination.
Each city is like visiting a different country. That’s why it’s definitely worth seeing Brasil from top to bottom.
Rio De Janeiro, now known as Freo De Janeiro
A smashing time was had in this party capital. You know it’s going to be a pretty good place when it’s nickname is Cidade Maravilhosa, or the ‘magnificent city’. It is a photogenic marvel with postcard worthy shots galore. You need a week just to do the tourist spots. Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana Beach, Ipanema and of course, one of the world’s most legendary sporting arenas, Estadio do Maracanã. These tourist hangouts sometimes resembled united nations conventions of football fans. Away from this, I enjoyed the tranquillity of Barra da Tijuca, views from Leme and street parties at Gávea.The prospect of the 2016 Olympic Games in this city has got me pumped. A great excuse to make the journey back to my new favourite city, after Fremantle.
Staying in the Favela
Rio’s famous mountainside favela’s are perched on some of the cities most prime real estate. Approximately 11.5 million of Brasil’s inhabitants live in these high density subnormal agglomerations. A visit is mandatory to see another side to this complex country. Due to elements of perceived risk, many tourists take the tour option and spend a few hours with a local guide taking photos then going back to their plush beachside residences. Once the World Cup was finished, excitement was needed, so I decided to stay at a friends hostel at the top of favela Chapeau Mangueira in Leme neighbourhood, overlooking Copacabana Beach. It was recently pacified and considered quite safe. The one way roads that wind up the steep hills are very unforgiving by car and foot, so much so, even some taxi drivers refused to take me up. It’s 10 minutes of climbing stairs, passing numerous 4x4m box family homes until you reach the top. The scenery is stunning, you’ll see a close community with colour and character. I highly recommend an extended visit to one of these communities to see Brasilian life through a different lens.
Attending a World Cup game
I was fortunate enough to attend four games in category one comfort. Australia vs Netherlands in Porto Alegre, Belgium v Russia in Rio, Belgium v USA and Netherlands vs Costa Rica both in Salvador. On game day there are people everywhere. Traffic, lines, and walks were the norm. Selections of pre and post game watering holes were made more crucial for this reason. The stunning stadiums were protected by a number of checkpoints and sizeable security presence. USA’s match felt like I was at a military gala with marching soldiers, police perched on horses and helicopters circling overhead. Once you navigate through the hordes of scalpers, pat downs, queues and vendors you can make your way to the seat. It’s all worth it as soon as you first set sight on that field of gold. Each blade of grass manicured as perfectly as a Victoria’s Secret model. You take a sip from your commemorative Budweiser cup and think how amazing it is that the entire world’s gaze is set upon that 105x68m patch of turf in front of you. There are selfie’s galore in the stands. AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ would blast through the loud speakers in every stadium, for every game, to pump up the crowd as the players prepared to walk out. If this didn’t get you going then nothing will. I loved the loud chanting crowds, the local children walking around with memorabilia given to them from tourists, the opportunities to banter with people from nations you don’t usually even hear about back home. It was a special and unique feel-good vibe. That’s the great thing about being at a world cup game. It feels like you’re at the centre of the universe. Nothing else like it.
I have saved my favourite for last. The mighty cool people of Brasil. Without generalizing 200 million people, the good folk I met from all walks of life were always welcoming, happy to share a chat and laugh, even if there were language barriers at times. To the gentlemen who are curious, yes the women have stunningly gorgeous personalities and outlooks that are very compatible to us Aussies. While we have touched on a few of the best parts, the saying “Brasil is not for beginners” still applies. Just be on top of things as you navigate these colourful streets. One tip i received from an amigo is to get pockets sewn inside my jeans, making them pickpocket proof. It did give me a great piece of mind in the heaving crowds. There are large numbers unfortunately living in severe hardship. The voice of Brasil’s people is growing and they are rightfully demanding improvements in vital social services. I wish them luck in this cause and hope the mega sporting events they host can create a platform for positive change.
I thank my awesome families in São Paulo, Salvador and Rio. Their embrace enabled me to experience the rich culture and fulfill a dream. Now I pass the ball to you Deadat30 readers. Aim to give this place a shot because you haven’t lived until you’ve been to Brasil.