I landed in Brazil about 39 hours ago, but from sunrise to sunset to sunrise to sunset, I’ve been in this city for two days – “dois dias”. On the ride between Galeão International Airport and my homestay in Copacabana, I realized immediately why they call Rio “a cidade maravilhosa” – “the marvelous city.” Boy, did I marvel. The city is literally an urban jungle. Forested mountains, colorful skyscrapers and crowded streets are woven together to create a place that is simultaneously both explored and unknown, tamed and wild, modern and timeless.
My home for the next six weeks is a three bedroom, two bathroom apartment three blocks from the beach and a five minute walk from school. My host mom, Jô, hurried downstairs to let me in, flustered, she explained, because I arrived at eight and the program directors told her that I wouldn’t be there until noon. One would think that this imposition may have gotten us off to a bad start but, nope. She cheerfully introduced me to her neighbor, as the three of us and my three bags crowded ourselves into the tiny elevator up to her floor. “É americana,” Jô explained (“She’s American.”) She asked me if I liked Rio, to which I replied (in broken Portuguese), “Yes, it’s a beautiful city.” Jô, who is originally from Minas Gerais, a different part of Brazil, smiled and said, “People don’t really leave Rio. If they do, they always come back.”
Jô let me into her apartment and showed me my room. It’s spacious, comfortable and admittedly eclectic. Unfortunately, the only acknowledgement that my sleep-deprived, jet-lagged brain could muster in the target language was, “Minha cor favorita é verde.” Yep, in response to this lovely woman proudly showing me her home, I said, “My favorite color is green.” At least I did it with some enthusiasm.
Jô left me to unpack and after about twenty minutes, came to tell me that breakfast was ready. The two of us talked a bit over bread, fruit, and strong, delicious coffee. To my relief, I realized that I actually do speak Portuguese and, as Jô is also learning English, the two of us were able to communicate pretty well. After breakfast, Jô took me for a walk around Copacabana, pointing out the main streets and showing me the best ways to the beach and to school. Lunch was salad, baked potatoes, and “arroz com bacalhau” (rice and cod). In an effort to fight through the jet lag, I decided to go exploring on my own for the afternoon and I walked up and down the beach for a while. On Sundays, Avenida Atlântica is closed to motor traffic and filled with pedestrians enjoying their day off in the sun. People of all ages were working out, socializing, or enjoying a drink and a snack at one of the beach bars. I even ran into this cool individual, who entertained the crowd around him with choreographed rollerblading and lip-syncing.
I returned to the apartment, accidently fell asleep, woke up, ate a light dinner of yogurt and berries, watched fifteen minutes of the U.S. – Portugal game with Jô, and then passed out for a solid eleven hours.
Today, Monday, Jô and I had bread, fruit, and the fantastic coffee again for our “café de manha” – breakfast. Breakfast in Portuguese literally translates to “morning coffee.” A meal built entirely around coffee. I like this country.
Though it was technically our first day of school, today’s class time consisted of just a general information session, introductions, and a placement test. I met a few people from my program there and the group of us decided to grab some food together. We wandered for a while before finding a large table at a corner juice bar, one of the informal eateries found all over town which serve everything from typical Brazilian “salgados” – savory snacks – to hamburgers and, of course, any kind of juice you could ever want. I ordered a “salgado de frango,” bread stuffed with chicken and cheese, and a Coke Zero to make amends for the gooey, amazing carbs.
After lunch, one of the guys suggested a walk to Ipanema, the neighborhood next to our Copacabana, which was absolutely beautiful! We stopped at a beach stall there and I tried Gauraná, a popular Brazilian soda flavored by an Amazonian fruit, which was totally different and very tasty. Another member of our group opted to try one of the ever-present coconuts, which seem to go for a steady rate of R$5 (approximately $2.50 USD) and are handed to patrons with the tops cut off and a straw stuck inside.
By the time we walked back to Copacabana, the streets were full of native Brazilians and tourists alike, clad in the iconic yellow and green of Brazil, and headed towards the bars and beaches to watch the Brazil-Cameroon World Cup match. I obviously had to buy a jersey of my own to blend in…
Our original plan was to watch the game on one of the giant TV screens erected on the beach, but with the crowds and the sand, we back-tracked to one of the more removed beachfront bars. As the sun set on the most beautiful city I have ever seen, the six of us ordered caipirinhas (the national cocktail of Brazil) and chopp (draft beer), and watched Brazil win the game. At each goal, the cheers were almost deafening and fireworks were launched into the sky from nearby rooftops. Cliché-ridden as it may be, I can’t imagine a more quintessentially Brazilian experience to have so early on in my trip.
I walked home with two girls who live on my street and Jô had dinner ready within half an hour. We had warm zucchini and tomatoes, cold pineapple and beet salad (weird but good), and kibe, a Lebanese dish of spiced beef that is very popular in Brazil. Stawberries with sugar and crème de leite for dessert. So far, I’ve tried a lot of new food, seen lots of new things, and met some very cool new people. If these “dois dias” are any indication, this trip will be completely incrível!