Fond Memories of Brazil 2009: Rio de Janeiro + Búzios (Part 2)

Yes, this is FINALLY the last Fond Memories of Brazil post! Last week’s post was about the first part of our stay in Rio de Janeiro, but this week focuses a bit more on Búzios, a fancy beach town that’s a three hour bus ride east of the city.

Bus from Rio to Búzios: map credit Rome2Rio

Bus from Rio to Búzios: map credit Rome2Rio

Despite some iffy weather and a bad case of food poisoning, we thought Búzios was pretty great. Just don’t try taking a late night bus there during a holiday weekend! Read why in Aaron’s email below:

Q: And Friday night you left for Búzios. Any mention of that word is going to unleash a linguistics rant, isn’t it?

A: Okay, here’s the thing about Portuguese as a language: it’s not fair if every character in your alphabet makes either the “h,” “ch,” or “sh” sound. That’s just cheating. For instance, here is a handy pronunciation guide for a few words.

  • Mate (the local drink, pronounced “mah-tay” anywhere else): “Mahhh-tchhh”
  • Lorraine (the name): “Lo-ha-ni”
  • Veinte (twenty): “Been-che”

And, in Rio, this lisping is incredibly strong. Ilana ordered a Sprite in a restaurant, and the waiter just laughed at her ignorant accent. “Oh, you mean a ‘Spree-tchhh.” No. No she does not mean that. Pretty sure there´s no “H” in that word.

Anyway, so we’re going to Búzios. As you will come to understand, Búzios is THE vacation destination for Rio citizens. It’s close by, easily accessible by bus, everyone goes there on holiday weekends. So, when people would ask us what we were doing for the weekend, we would tell them we were going to Búzios. We would pronounce it “Boo-zee-ohs,” as it looks. Blank stares. Nothing. Eventually, we would have to write it out, or describe where it was, or something, and finally they would get it.

“OHH!!! Booshhh-eee-ohhhssshhh!!!”

Now, first of all, there are no “H´s” in the name of the city. But secondly … and this is my bigger issue with the whole thing: Think of where you live. Now think of the biggest tourist/vacation spot near that place. Now think of how badly someone would have to mispronounce the name of that place before you would not be able to figure out what they were talking about? (Bergstrom Family: If someone told you they were going to “Dohh-Ahh” County, would you not realize they were talking about Door County?) What is your deal, population of Rio?

Also, much more hilariously, Brazilians add “E”s to the ends of American words, so it´s “Hippy-Hoppy,” “Pingy-pongy,” and “Biggie Mackie.” This never gets old.


We made it! Emily and me in beautiful Búzios

Q: Okay, let´s cut the rant short here. Impossible to pronounce or not, Búzios was one of your first “Places We Absolutely Have to Go in South America” places, first proposed as a destination by Ilana’s friend Emily, a University of Michigan grad now living in São Paulo. So Emily came up to Rio, and you all took the bus to Búzios. That sentence sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

A: Deceptively, deceptively simple. First of all, rain shuts down Rio de Janeiro worse than hail shuts down the Inner Richmond (though less hilariously). Second of all, “it’s a holiday weekend” can be used as an excuse for anything, and every weekend is a holiday weekend (Emily: “I don’t know, it’s probably some guy’s birthday … I gave up on keeping track of all of them). Let’s practice.

Q: Why did the cab ride to the bus station, which normally takes 12 minutes, take 87 (yes, 87)?

A: It’s a holiday weekend.

Q: Why was the bus station packed with so many people that it was literally difficult to find a place to put our bags down?

A: It’s a holiday weekend.

And so on and so forth. So, while we were supposed to get in to Búzios at around 10 PM, we got there at 3:45 AM.

Q: So explain how, even though you now had the advantage of traveling with a Portuguese speaker, you managed to get ripped off on a cab ride worse than anywhere else in South America.

A: Well, when you add people to your travel plans, you start to assume that someone else will take care of things like “finding out where you hostel is located.” So we got to the last bus stop in Búzios, got in a cab, watched him make a U-turn and stop, pretty literally across the street, and charge us R$12 ($6 US). We later learned that he was fully within his rights to do this, that in fact the minimum cab fare in Búzios was R$12, but wow … it sure seemed like a slap in the face at 4 AM.

Q: Everything seems like a slap in the face at 4 AM. Anyway, the next morning, you woke up to more gray skies in a beach town. So what did you do?

A: Well, we learned how to make our own caipirinhas, of course. We weren’t about to pay $4 for them in bars, so we bought all the ingredients to make about 25 of them, and it came to … about $4. And learning to make a tropical drink is a wonderful experience. Even if you don’t get any better at it, each one is tastier than the last. We experimented with different fruits (though traditional lime is the best), and suddenly the bad weather wasn’t such a problem.

buzios   buzios

We walked around town a little bit, met a girl carrying a very young puppy who claimed to have found it in the street (Ilana’s mind was BLOWN), tossed around the idea of renting a buggy for the next day (it was obvious we couldn’t afford taxis), and decided to give rodizio pizza another try.

street puppy   buzios

Rodizio pizza … what is there to say? David Foster Wallace´s thousand-page novel Infinite Jest is about, in part, a video so enjoyable that anyone who sees it only wants to watch it over and over again, and forgets about all necessary life processes, and eventually dies of too much pleasure. Rodizio pizza is kind of like that. Pizza is wonderful. And people just keep bringing it to you. More and more fresh slices, in wonderful new topping combinations. And … and you tell yourself you’ll stop when you’re full. But you can’t. Somehow, though, you make it back to your hostel. And you sleep for sixteen hours, with very few interruptions.

Q: Sunday, though, you woke up to sun. This gives you a chance to explain Búzios again, when seen the way it should be.

A: You know, when you see travel-channel video clips of Brazil, and there’s some kind of voice-over going, “Fabulous Rio de Janeiro, home of beautiful beaches … and even more beautiful people”? That’s Búzios. Once a quiet fishing village, someone found out that it has seventeen distinct incredible beaches nearby, and it became THE spot for the rich and pretty of Brazil. Until Búzios, I had thought the whole beautiful-people-of-Brazil thing was a myth, and I would have told you there were prettier girls in Colombia. Not anymore.


Holiday weekend in Búzios

Q: So you´d say that it was a nice backdrop for the most emasculating moment of your travels?

A: Yeah, that sounds accurate. As I mentioned before, we had discussed renting a buggy to get around town. Now, these buggies use a manual transmission, which I do not know how to operate (as most of you know, I don’t really possess any traditional male skills). Nor did Ilana and Emily. Still, the guy renting the buggies seemed to think we could learn, and I thought maybe it would be like a go-kart or something, where there’s shifting, but it’s not a true manual transmission.

Well, twenty minutes of stalling later, it became obvious that this was not the case. Bear in mind, all of this took place on a busy street. Various people would come up and helpfully try to explain how to work the clutch, in jabbering Portuguese, and I would say, as politely as I could, “Yes, yes, I know … you push down the accelerator as you ease off the clutch … yes, it sounds so easy when you say it and you make that motion with your hands … yes, I understand, I could write an instructional pamphlet IN PORTUGUESE teaching people how to drive a stick, in an abstract sense I am now an expert at this … but the fact is … in practice … it’s not happening.”

So we decided not to rent the buggy after all.

And that was somewhat emasculating. But it really got fun afterward. Because afterward Ilana and Emily decided to go shopping next door, while I sat outside the buggy rental place looking like a sad puppy. And that was bad. But the worst part was this: apparently the people at the buggy rental place thought I was sitting there waiting to be given the green light to take this buggy out on the street because THREE (3) people from the agency came out, one after another, to explain to me that they didn’t think it would be safe to rent the buggy to me, as I obviously had no idea how to drive it, and that they were very sorry. THREE PEOPLE. Ah, the psychological scars of travel.

Q: Aww … pobrecito. You had to get over your little pride bruise by going to a beautiful beach on a beautiful day. You are some kind of martyr.

A: Okay, first of all, that’s not a question. Second of all … well, yeah, you’re right. And I got to surf, and this time “surf” means “actually stand up and ride the waves,” which is quite a thing for me, and we got to watch people on the beach do incredible things with soccer balls (seriously, playing two-on-two beach volleyball without using your hands should be in the circus or something). It turned out to be a pretty good day after all.

surf buzios   buzios besos

Q: And, that night, you had kind of a weird food request, if I understand you correctly.

A: Well … we just wanted to eat a normal meal. No all-you-can-eat, no rodizio, no per-kilo, no mammoth family portions … we just wanted to go to a restaurant where you ordered a dish, and they brought it to you, and you ate it, and you were full, but not painfully so.

We never found a place like that. So we got some family-style food, and made the best of it.

That night, a few important soccer games were going on, and, as Búzios is basically Rio north, there were team bars for the local Rio clubs, so we walked back and forth, listening for the cheers from the Vasco bar or the Flamengo bar, and both teams won. No love for Fluminence, though. So the girls headed back to the hostel, and I headed to the local internet cafe to watch the baseball playoffs on Gamecast.

Q: Do you want to tell a story about that event, one that seems symbolic of something but then, when you think about it, isn´t really symbolic at all?

A: At the internet place, you could only buy time in 30 minute increments, which I did, dutifully, four of them, and I sat through the inevitable crushing Twins loss. However, with two outs in the ninth, Brendan Harris up against Rivera, my last 30 minutes ran out. When I went to buy more time, the guy wouldn´t sell it to me, since the place was closing in 20 minutes. He wouldn´t sell me 15 minutes. He wouldn´t even sell me one minute. So I left, not knowing the result of the final at bat but, y´know, deep down, KNOWING. I got back to the hostel and couldn’t sleep, so I sat up listening to music and thinking about the season.

Q: So you were awake when Ilana ran to the bathroom and started vomiting violently then? And so you realized how stupid it was to feel bad about yourself because your team lost?

A: Well … first one yes. Second one … maybe. After months of eating only the dirtiest street food, Ilana got food poisoning in the richest, cleanest city we’d been to yet (though she likely did get it from food purchased on the beach from some sketchy vendor). Monday, then, was spent sleeping (Ilana) and trying to take care of Ilana, but really what do you do about food poisoning except wait for time to pass (Aaron). At some point, Ilana was able to sit up without nausea, and we took the bus back to Rio and our familiar hostel, where at least I had Anna’s help in nursing Ilana back to health. And, within 24 hours, she was back to full strength (though she IS still a little skittish around street food).

Q: Tuesday you had a late flight, which left you most of the day to wander around Rio. Talk about how that went, then devolve into an open letter to the people who publish the Lonely Planet series of guidebooks.

A: Well, our first choice was to go hang-gliding, but, as with the week before, the winds were all wrong for that. Hang-gliding must be incredibly difficult in Rio.

Our second choice was right out of the guidebook. In their “Don’t Miss” list for Rio was a stroll though the Santa Teresa neighborhood, described thusly: “Currently the residence of a new generation of artists and bohemians, Santa Teresa has colorful restaurants and bars and a lively weekend scene.” The book explained that we could get there by tram.

Dear Publishers of Lonely Planet,

We have utilized your book extensively on this trip, and for the most part it has served us well. However, you have this annoying habit. You explain things in words I understand, but words that make no sense in a cultural context. For instance, “tram.” Now, I know what a tram is. And, the thing that you recommended we take … it IS a tram. But … they don’t call it that in Rio. They call it a “Bonde” (strangely pronounced “boon-gee”). So, when you ask where the tram is … no one knows what you´re talking about. And, when they helpfully ask if you mean the bonde … you think they are idiots, despite the fact that they are totally correct, because you have never seen the word “bonde” before. And this scene just repeats itself over and over again.

Secondly, I know you are probably under a lot of pressure to come up with new and exciting travel destinations, to get off the beaten path, and I know you have to take chances. But … Santa Teresa … there’s nothing there. Literally nothing. It’s just a neighborhood. Houses. There is no “scene” of any kind. You could be right. Maybe artists and bohemians do live there. Maybe we were supposed to just knock on doors of houses until a local artist let us in and showed us his art. Maybe it’s our fault for not doing this. But … restaurants and bars? Not so much. On the other hand, we DID meet an interesting Canadian couple who were as confused as we were, so at least we made friends because of your guidebook. And isn’t that what it’s really all about?


Aaron and Ilana

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