“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

Monday, February 25, 2013

Day 2: Copacabana Beach and Sugarloaf

Also, thoughts on traveling alone, fruit juices, fresh markets, and the bus system.

I have been looking forward to taking this trip alone because I wanted to see what I was made of. How much have I grown since my last solo trip abroad 4 years ago? Am I older and wiser? Dubai was a cinch. I pretty much just laid around the pool with maybe two excursions by taxi, and mostly around English-speaking westerners. This time, Rio is a whole new ball game. And when I stopped to think about it, this is easy. There is no fear. A little hesitation, but I wait out any doubts by getting comfortable in my surroundings. So often to I do my own sightseeing and run errands alone in Chicago that in used to being alone navigating a city. This feels like much of the same. I've taken the subway, ordered food, finally took the bus (more on that later), held my own at the beach, gone shopping, and found my way back "home."

All the while speaking something that can only be called Enspanguese. My Spanish is definitely helping here, and I only know a few Portuguese words, but sometimes they come out with Spanish pronunciations. And when I'm stuck, I pepper a sentence with English. Maybe I can start my own commune down here and we can make it our official language. Half the time I just point and nod, and that seems to be working.

Over breakfast this morning I met another couple staying here who are also from Chicago. I swears we're all over the world! Always a Chicago connection somewhere. They have a couple more days here so maybe I will ask them to have a drink down the hill before they go. Afterward I headed out to Copacabana beach. Bathing suit on, cover-up, flip flops, and my small bag. On the way to the metro I passed a side street with a farmer's market selling everything from fruits and veggies to fresh meat and fish. Locals would bring their little carts down and do their entire day's shopping. I spotted some strawberries and bought them to bring to be beach. They were delicious! I couldn't tell you what half the other fruits were since many were Amazonian. Next I stopped at a newsstand and picked up 2 bottles of water and was on my way.

Rules of the beach: don't bring anything you don't NEED. I didn't need credit cards or all my cash. I didn't need my good camera, the point-and-shoot was just fine. Do NOT bring a beach towel. You will be marked as a tourist. Do not bring food; the beach provideth. Vendors walk the beach endlessly selling water, soda, caipirinhas, hot food (more kibbe!), sandwiches, bathing suits, sarongs (buy or bring a sarong and use it like a beach towel), sunscreen, hats, jewelry, and the list goes on. I walked up to a beach kiosk and they set up my chair and umbrella. The beach gopher boys will keep patrons in their area stocked with water, beer, and soda in coozies, then settle the tab at the end of the day. The beach is like a social club or a bar. Every few dozen feet are kiosks that monitor their little patch of sand. I spent a good three hours there doing nothing. Twice in the water, and the rest of the time just people-watching. When I got hungry, I flagged down what I successfully guessed to be a food vendor. Near the end of the day I haggled with a vendor for a sarong that looks like the Brazilian flag. After a decent layer of sunburn (not bad, I still used sunblock), I showered off the sand and headed out for some light shopping. Since I was sopping wet I just wrapped my sarong around me and floated in and out of stores.

This is a beach culture. Wearing half-dressed beachwear in public is no big deal. And I appreciate that body image is quite different here than in the US. People seem to embrace who they are and wear it just fine. I feel better here, whereas I'd be so self-conscious at home. This was also true in Peru, so I'm thinking its a South America thing. I found a bin full of bathing suits a some inexpensive clothing store and picked up an obligatory suit, probably only suitable for my pool and maybe the beach at my house if I'm brave. But I AM brave, dammit, I'll just pretend I'm in Rio instead of Chicago. America can take its body image issues and shove it.

Back at the B&B I rested a bit, then decided I should probably head to Sugarloaf if I were to catch it at sunset, which I heard was the best time. I'm not made of money, so I researched the bus system online, read my guidebook, and talked to Patty the house manager. When I was walking back from the beach I noticed a bus heading to Urca, and I knew that's where Sugarloaf was located. Okay, so maybe I can take the bus and save a few bucks. It adds up. First I made a pit stop at my bank (yay, a branch here!) and got a rock star exchange rate, so good, I'm stocked up for the week. I found a bus stop and stood there observing how people flagged down buses, what they did when they got on, how they paid, etc. When my 107 bus to Urca/Pão de Açucar showed up, someone flagged it, I followed him on, watched how people paid, and I did the same. There's a cashier that sits near the door, then you go through a narrow turnstile. I like. No freeloaders like in Chicago (there are also bus passes). I found a seat, then wondered how in the world to get OFF the bus and signal it to stop. There were no ropes to pull or buttons to press. At some point I noticed a lot of people get off at one stop. I stayed seated and pulled out my iPad and checked the map. I passed the stop by a block, so I stood up and went to the exit door. The bus stopped Let some guy off ahead of me and I followed. 1 block later I was at Sugarloaf. Okay, success. I'll worry about how to get home later.

I reached Sugarloaf after sunset, but there was still a hint of color in the sky. I managed a few great pictures from the peaks that I can't wait to post later. This wasn't an excursion I was planning on, but one of the owners said it was definitely worth it at dusk. It was really neat to see the city at night with Cristo Redentor lit up in white seemingly hovering over the city. Copacabana beach was awash in light. The moon was full and reflected off the ocean. The city lights glistened under the hot night air. Yes, beautiful. And I got to test the new camera at work at night and it seemed to perform like a dream in low light.

On the way back down the cable car I was contemplating taking a taxi. But that, plus the cost of dinner I wasn't prepared to cough up just yet. I had to be back by 10 when the B&B locks up and I didn't want to press my luck being out that late. I figured if the bus brought me here, it had to bring me back. I waited with some others at a bus stop and had a few coins ready. When the 107 showed up (buses operate so frequently!) I asked the driver "Ir Praia Botafogo?" Spanguese. Yes, he confirmed (because the bus sign only read Centro, which I knew was past my neighborhood). Okay, so now that is was on the bus, at night, how would I know exactly where to get off? And HOW to alert the driver to stop?? This sits where a few things came in handy: before ever leaving, I studied the maps of my neighborhood and the one I was visiting, and the route between. I kept my sense of direction, and noticed street signs as we passed. Yesterday and today I made note of landmarks and stores. So when the bus went up, around, down and did a loopy, I knew where I was. When I thought I was in the right place, I stood up and walked to the exit door and saw a button on a pole. I figured if it worked that by in Chicago, maybe it worked like that here. I pressed the button, saw a bus stop ahead, the drive slowed and pulled over, the light over the exit door went on and the doors opened! I jumped out, looked around, realized I was in the exact right place, and was so excited that I pumped my fist and yelled Yes! This was the first time I ever took a bus in a foreign country and its not as easy to navigate as a subway. I may do this again!

Since it was already 8:30, I spotted a stand-up burger bar on the corner and stopped in for a cheeseburger. Cheap and quick as I wanted to be back by 9. I could still walk back to the B&B. I made it safely, as this is an upscale residential neighborhood and known to be safe. Still, I'm going to ensure I'm back by 8 on further nights, if I'm even out. I have nowhere else on my list to be or see that is at sunset, so this should work.

Since the forecast for tomorrow is just as pleasant, I plan on going up to Corcovado before the your buses get there. Maybe Ipanema beach later on. And take it easy.

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