Ten Tanning Tourists Sitting in the Sun. Nine Went in the Water Then There Was One

cangas, towels, sunglasses, oculos de sol, bolsinhas, purses

Here are two of my friends and me on Copacabana beach near post 5 with our cangas, sunglasses, and bolsinhas (small handbags). These are some items one must carry to the beach. To find out more, read on!

Taking advantage of the beaches in Rio is what every tourist dreams of… Watching the waves come in and then recede int0 the frigid waters kissing Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, or Sao Conrado. The beautiful people walking up and down the beach, playing footvolley or tanning on their colorful *cangas. These are the things dreams are made of. But what should a person wear to the beach? What should they bring? What should they do? In this series we will talk about beach etiquette. Yes, there are rules…. but once you know and understand them, the beach is full of endless possibilities….

Read Teeney Weeney Brazilian Bikini, Speed-Oh!, Cooler Than Coolers, Vendor Bender, H2O, and Posto Which-O? for more information.

*Cangas are what Brazilians use on the beach instead of towels. They are thinner and wider and resemble large scarves and are often used as dresseshandbags and shawls. Cangas are great for men and women on the beach because the don’t collect sand in the fibers.

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Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn…..

The Sheraton, located next to Vidigal in Rio, is a hotel with excellent views of the beach and amenities galore. It is isolated with its own gorgeous beach, but it's about a 30 minute ride from the city center.

Preface: I’m hesitant to post this because of my strong Christian background, but the information is useful… so here goes.

When differentiating between hotel options in the United States, we often think of a few things: amenities, room size, bed size, and, of course, cleanliness. We know that a hotel is for extreme comfort and that a motel is a quick, economic choice. We don’t think about the mattresses being covered in plastic or the sheets popping off in the night, as we talked about in When You Sleep. We may think about wall-width, but it is rarely a problem, and when it is, we can usually complain and get another room or breakfast comped. We worry a little that we’ll wake up in the morning by check-out time, but we know we can drop off the key while our travel buddy finishes packing the bags.

In Rio, middle class citizens don’t think about these things either. But not for the same reasons. Here I’ll discuss with you the difference between hotels and motels, and what to expect from each.

The difference between hotels and motels in Rio is pretty simple. Hotels are what we are mostly accustomed to… comfort and sleep. Motels are for “passion,” and intimacy.

The Copacabana Palace, built in 1923, is the oldest Hotel in Rio. It, like other high end hotels, has beds (not covered in plastic) and amenities much like you would find at a high end hotel in Europe or the United States.


Though the beds are often still covered in plastic and the walls might be a little thin, the rooms and the amentities are similar. What’s different? The keys are old-school and more expensive to replace than the plastic key cards that Americans have grown accustomed to, so, often, you’ll need to leave your key at the front desk when you exit and pick it back up when you re-enter. The television, lights, and radio are often controlled by something that resembles an old radio and sits bedside.

They do have travel size shampoos, views from balconies, and more. These accomodations are for all-night stays, similarly, but depending on where you go, they may be a little more expensive than what you’re accustomed to.

What are motels?

Motels are often lit up with neon signage. These pay-by-the-hour establishments are designed for love birds who'd like to "get a room."

I’ll need to give you some background first. Rio is known to be one of the most sensual cities in the world. You see couples smooching on the beaches, and in line at the supermarket, and in the street. What most visitors don’t realize is that these public displays of affection are, to some extent, the result of young adults living at home with their parents until they are married or well into their careers. They, often, can’t go home. The phrase “get a room,” means that one must go to a motel, where the ceilings are covered in mirrors, the room service is not food but, we’ll call it, merchandise, and the televisions are left on explicite, disgusting channels. These rooms are normally rented by the hour and can be cheap or expensive. 

Why does a good Christian girl know this? Well, I worked in the city and needed a nap. The sheets, towels, etc. were all wrapped in plastic to prove that they had been cleaned. But, I couldn’t get over my phobia. I left in ten minutes and took my slumber by the bay.

How do you spot the difference from the street? Motel signs are often lit up in neon lighting at night. Their names are often in English and sound seductive. Names like Vanity, or Loveless should give them away. Hotels often have Brazilian names and often look higher end. Good luck.

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Rock the Streetcar (Bonde)

Bonde in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro Brasil

The bonde travels up and down Santa Teresa in Rio de Janeiro. It is always packed, because it is the cheapest mode of transportation.

There’s a saying in Rio that some people use when they’ve eaten far too much. “Cheio como um bonde.” It means, “Full as a streetcar.” This particular saying has some merit. The Bondes are almost always packed. They are streetcars with benched seats and no walls or doors. Though the fare is cheap, between 10 and 30 centavos, there are generally people who hang off the sides until they’re asked to pay the fare and then jump off.

The only time I needed a Bonde was to go up Santa Teresa, a mountain in the city center. It provided a great view, and it was great for meeting other tourists also seeing the city. I think I met folks from 5 different countries who were sitting or hanging around me. Unfortunately, while I was in Rio one of the Bondes came off it’s track and flipped over, so the Bonde is shut down right now in Santa Teresa while the city takes its sweet time to do safety checks and modifications. It was a terrible accident, and many people died or were injured, but the process of repair is more extensive than most Cariocas would like. Read about the accident and the updates here. If you’d still like to see the famous mountain and its sites along the way, there are other modes of transportation available to you. For example, you can take a moto-taxi or something called a combe.

The moto-taxi is what it sounds like. A guy on a motorcycle takes you

Moto taxis are one of the fastest ways to get up and down large mountains including Santa Teresa. These motos are on their way up the street in a mountain favela called Rocinha.

up and down the mountain. It’s 2 reals, and for the adventurous type, is a fun way to go. They are also a great mode of transportation in any favela. On the way down the mountain, however, you may want to let them know to, “Mantenha o motor funcionando, por favor.” This means, “Keep the motor running, please.” The drivers are known to turn them off to save on gas.

The combe is also cheap at 2 reals per ride, and is a safer way to go, if you prefer to stay off of motorcycles.

The combe is a Volks Wagon mini bus that also goes up and down the mountain. Also 2 reals, they pack in about 10 people and run every 10 to 20 minutes. They are a little more limited as to which routes they’ll take and where they wind up, but they’re safer.

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Not Your Momma’s Mini Van

What does riding a Van entail in Rio de Janeiro?

Vans in Rio: transportation

Vans in Rio are a quick, easy way to get around, but you've got to know how they work.

The choice way of the locals to get around from beach to beach in the Zona Sul area (Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon), Sao Conrado beach, Gavea, Vidigal and Rocinha, and from Zona Sul to the hippest night spot in town under the arches, Lapa, is the Van, pronounced Vahn. The Vans are generally 15-seaters. I don’t say 15-passenger for a reason, but we’ll get to that later. Consider the Vans multi-fare taxis that charge 2.30 during the day and up to 2.60 at night, depending on the distance traveled. They are fast and efficient, and drive like bats out of hell. Myyyy favorite way to travel. Unfortunately, many tourists hear tell of the infamous mode of transportation and don’t know how to use it, if they want to use it, at all. Now, I think one of God’s many purposes for me is to spread the word—I consider Vans, despite the bad press, to be one of the safest, greatest ways to get around in Rio. Sure there are pros and cons, and we’ll go over those. Know, though, that whenever a van is available, I’ll take it.

Let’s get the cons out of the way first, shall we?

Con 1: Like I said, vans are 15-seaters. The rather unfortunate part is that the drivers often pack two or three extra people in standing up if they can. Some vans have fewer actual seats to accommodate more standers. Yes, this is technically unsafe. However, your driver and change taker (or trucador, if you recall from Wheelies on the Bus) are literally riding on your business. If they get into an accident, the consequences for them are devastating. Therefore, though they are the Evel Knievels of the road with lots of stunts, they have very, very few fender benders and severe accidents.

Interior of a Van in Rio de Janeiro

Vans usually hold 15 seats including the driver. Unfortunately, they usually pack in people wherever there is room to stand.

Con 2: People in Rio think Gringos are loaded. If you think a trucador is hiking up the price because you look like a foreigner, call him out on it. Generally, they won’t do this. I even overpaid once when I was tired, and the trucador gave me all my change back and told me to be careful. “Not everyone is honest,” he said.  He was right. On another occasion, a Columbian friend and I got on a night van to go a few blocks and he tried to charge us 2.70. It was unreasonable. I told him, “I have 2.30. If you don’t want it, I’ll get off and walk.” “Eu tenho dois e trinta. Se você não quer meu dinheiro, eu vou sair e andar.” He balked, and I rode for 2.30. Sure, it’s only a few cents, but, to me, it’s principal.

Con 3: Vans don’t go everywhere. There are going to be times where you’ll have to take the metro, a bus, a taxi, or whatever. Look at the sign on the front windshield as the van approaches. If you’re still unsure whether or not it’s traveling to your desired destination, flag it down and say the name of the location. If the trucador says “Sim” (sounds like sing), he can take you there. If he says “Não” (sounds like Now), you can try another Van or another mode of transportation.

Now for the Pros. There are many, but I’ll hit the highlights.

Pro 1: Say you’d like to take a bus to Gavea. You’ll go to the designated bus stop, wait for up to 30 minutes, and ride to Gavea in a wale that can’t maneuver around traffic. Vans come by about once every three minutes. Look for one that says “Gavea,” and three minutes later, you’re on your way. Nough said.

Pro 2: Aside from being faster, Vans are also, generally, less noisy… annnnd cheaper. Yay.

ipanema beach

The fastest, cheapest way to the destination beach is usually by van. Just check the plackards in the front windshield to be sure they're going where you're going...

Pro 3: People are also even more helpful on Vans. If you talk to the trucador on the Van, you can let him know “Estou indo pra…” “I’m going to…” Fill in said place. “Pode me dizer quando estamos perto?” Can you tell me when we’re close?  If you try to ask a question, or if you look confused, many times someone who speaks a little English will pipe up to help you out.

Pro 4: The view from Vans is also better, I think, than the bus view.

Things to know about the vans…

How do I find one?

Well, during the day many run along the beaches. In the morning before 10 or on weekends, you may find them two or three streets back. Flag them down like you’re waving a taxi.

What should I expect?                                                                                                                

You don’t have to prepare your change like you do on a bus. Some vans take their change soon after you get on. Others, right before you exit. Either way, they’re pretty patient. Don’t take a lot of extra stuff with you though. Like I said, they pack ‘em in… so lots of stuff can get trampled on.

 How do I know if I’m really on the right Van?

They usually shout their destinations out the windows of the van to convince people to ride, so that’s a big help. However, the phrase “Vai direto?” is a biiig help (pronounced Vi g-reto). That means, do you go directly (or a round-about way).  The only time I ever ran into problems regarding this was when I wanted to go to Rocinha, the favela and last stop before Barra. I was a volunteer English teacher there. Two vans shout Rocinha, but one says Gavea and the other says Sao Conrado, a beach. The way by the beach is much faster. Before I understood that, I had to ask for the “pasarella,” or walking bridge, which is at the entrance to the favela. Even so, “Vai direta?” is a better way to go…

Phrases to know:

Sim (sounds like sing): Yes

Não (sounds like now): no

Vou sair (Vo Sa-eer): I’ll leave/I’ll go out

Vai direta (Vi g-reta)?: Do you go directly there?

Estou indo para…(Esto eendo para):  I am going to…

Pode me dizer quando estamos perto? (Pod-g me dizer…): Can you tell me when we’re close?

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Wheelies on the Bus –brace yourself

Even when you are standing at stop that coincides with your bus, be sure to hold your hand out like you're waving a Taxi, so that they'll stop.

My first experience on the ônibus was a petrifying one. I entered the bus, which immediately lunged forward and hit full-speed ahead while I was still standing on the stairs with an open door directly behind me. I gathered myself and climbed the stairs up to the landing, where the change person, or trucador, and the revolving gate awaited me. Now, before I climbed aboard, I did not know how much the ride would cost. I also  did not realize that, even after the amount of 2.50 was told to me, the speed at which the bus would make turns and weave in and out of traffic would disallow me from digging through my wallet to deliver the proper change. I was horrified. There we were, zooming past the cars and taxis, pushing through red lights like the big bully 8th grader in a 3rd grade footrace. I was sure at any moment I would go flying out the front window of the bus.

The trucador finally pointed towards a seat in front of the gate where I could sit and count my change.  Phew! I was sitting. At that point I knew that having a change purse was crucial, and having my money out before boarding would keep me alive in the next 6 months.

Even so, there are more important things than the eyes-closed-tightly,  six-flags-over-deathdom feeling to understand. When used correctly, buses can be an effective, exciting mode of transportation in Rio. When used incorrectly, they can be expensive and dangerous.

When looking for a bus, find out which numbers visit your destination of choice.

So when is the right time to use the bus? Here’s the tricky part.

The first few days you are in Rio, finding the right bus can be very difficult, especially if you don’t speak the language. And getting on the wrong bus can send you to areas of town that are miles out of the way. However, I still say that buses are the best ways to get an idea of the layout of Rio. You begin to see the cut-offs between parts of town, you learn land marks, you see places you’d like to re-visit later. Even though traffic during business hours is a complete mess making the subway, most often, faster, I’d suggest using the bus as often as possible in your first week.

To avoid spending a small fortune and arriving after the after party, however, you must study bus routes. You can do this by visiting Rio transit website or simply by stopping at the bus stop with a pen and paper when you arrive in Rio. On every visible stop, there is the number 1, 2, or 3 displayed. Look, then, at the bus list to be sure that your destination falls under that particular stop number. Keep in mind that some of the stops are covered and have benches, whereas others do not. Take an umbrella if it’s raining, for safety’s sake.

Sometimes, in the business districts or areas with fewer tourists, the bus stops are less obvious or without signs, at all. If you find yourself frustrated

After finding the bus number that travels to your desired location, check to be sure the bus will go by your particular bus stop.

over the lack of bus stops, keep in mind there are literally 1000 lines. Stop and ask a newspaper stand, and they’ll probably point to the corner and tell you a bus picks up there.

Things to keep in mind

Public buses are a cheap, wonderful way to travel. Most, however, ride around with open windows and don’t include air conditioning. There are air-conditioned blue buses that you can take, for about twenty centavos more if you prefer. You can also ask the trucador to tell you when your stop is getting close. They’re great about helping tourists out. If you already have an idea of where you’re going, make sure you give yourself enough time to move towards the door. Crowded isles and a blocked exit often prevent on-site, on-time arrivals.

*At night, post rush-hour, fewer buses run. Travel in groups, especially if you’re female, and always avoid the back of the bus. Homeless tend to jump on and off through the back door and ride free, day and night.

*If you find yourself near someone who makes you uncomfortable, there is no shame in getting up and moving. No one will judge you.

*Watch your belongings. Make sure your wallet is not in your back pocket, that your purse is closed, etc. Thieves are quick in the city.

For more advice on Rio transportaion, read Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles –Types of Transportation in Rio

 When planning a trip to Rio de Janeiro, we must consider expenditures, right? We budget. We save. We check prices of the must-see tourist attractions, accommodations, and restaurants. In fact, we think primarily monetarily while trip-planning, because dollars make sense…and cents, or in this case, centavos. Unfo

Transito no Rio

Choosing the right type of transportation can save you money, time, and energy. Check out the links on this page to minimize trouble and maximize fun.

rtunately, if we plan this way, we are really, painfully under planning.  What should we really expect? I’ll tell you one thing– I wish someone had given me a manual on how to manage types of transport in the grand city, because when I arrived, the get-to-where-I’s-going used up everything I had. That’s right folks. Transportation done the wrong way in Rio can spend more than just most of your money–It can also exhaust most of your time and energy.

In the next few entries, Wheelies on the Bus, “Driving Mrs. Crazy,” Not Your Momma’s Mini-Van, Rock the Streetcar (Bonde), “Under-Over Ground,” and “Politician Aero Plane (Newly erected, keeps changing positions),” we will explore the how-to’s of each type of transportation, which types are best to use to go where and why, and, of course, the costs of each. Get ready for a bumpy, crowded ride.

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Read My Body

Body Language and Gestures:

Body Language

Learn what you're saying when you aren't saying anything at all. Hand gestures and body language make up an equally important language in Brazil.

What did I say? What are ‘they’ saying?

Growing up, I can remember  my mother telling me not to slouch, not to walk with my head down, and not to stretch my arms above my head (or stretch at all, for that matter) in public. I have tried desperately, through the years, to follow this advice with fervor.  Thanks to these simple rules, among others, I have, succeeded somewhat in becoming a polite, socially-aware, confident young woman….as long as I’m in the United States. Body language laws, I’ve found, are quite different in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

If you’ve read Carioca Poker Face, you know my first run-in with simple hand gestures was at the airport when I flipped a police officer off instead of saying “ok,” like we do in the states. That was a pretty big oops, if I do say so myself.  What I didn’t know is there were things far more subtle that I would have to modify.

For example, still at the airport while waiting for my bags to come off the conveyer belt, I stood, pondering how long it would take to appear semi-normal in a country where I was so obviously a Gringa. As I thought, my mother gave me a gentle nudge. “Take your hands off of your hips, Diana,” she said. I stared at her, baffled. Many of you may agree that placing your hands on your hips is one of the most comfortable ways to stand and wait…for anything. Now, I never went to prep school. Nor did I ever attend a junior Cotillion. This no-hands-on-the-hips rule may have been around for a while, but as I sit now, in a yupi Starbucks in the U.S., I can see three people with their hands on their hips. Needless to say, it had never crossed my mind as socially unacceptable.

My mother explained to me that, to place your hands on your hips in Brazil was like telling everyone in the room that you were upset or experiencing feelings of hostility towards someone nearby. Who knew? During my stay in Rio, I constantly observed people to see if this idea held up. To my dismay, the only instances I ever saw women with both hands on their hips was when they were angry. Straight men, as far as I could tell, never did it at all.

Below I’ve listed and described a few other parts of body speach that you may find useful and intersting.

Don’t look now–What eye contact can do

Eye contact in Rio speaks volumes. If you are a woman out in public, it may be tempting to observe the opposite sex—quite a handsome lot. Know, however, that the moment you make eye contact with a man, whether intentional or unintentional, for one second or several, you are expressing interest.  Staring, then, sends an intense, usually sexual message that will likely result in the object of your gaze walking over and kissing you, often without even speaking.

Men, if you are the type of dork who uses pick up lines, leave ’em at home. You don’t need them. Staring is quite common among you, so go ahead. It is important to understand, however, that if you stare and do not approach a woman when she reciprocates, she will be insulted.

Standing on the beach

Because cangas, or large scarves, are used instead of towels on the beach, people use the sun to dry themselves after a dip in the ocean. This means standing for about five or ten minutes before sitting down. Both men and women do this, so do not be surprised. However, persons who stand for an unreasonable amount of time are usually on the hunt for a partner, or they want to show off their goods. In other words, unless you’re hungry for the opposite sex, sit down when you’re dry.

Now for things that are a little more noticeable…. Gestures. Below I’ll list the meanings of a few gestures and describe how one might execute them. Once you know them, you will probably find them helpful in communicating with those around you even if you don’t speak Portuguese. Brazilians are hand talkers.

“Come here.”

“Come here” is a similar gesture to the one found in the U.S. except upside down. Hold out your hand with your palm facing the ground and open and close it, making a fist and then extending your fingers.

“Someone is going to steal from you.”

This gesture is commonly used in crowded areas like street fairs, concerts, buses, and the subway. Locals standing near you but out of earshot will often use this to tell you your wallet is coming out of your pocket or your purse is unzipped.  It can also mean that someone else is eyeing your vulnerable belongings, so respond by checking your possessions immediately. The gesture is as follows:

One hand—let’s say the right—is open with fingers extended away from you. Usually that hand will be placed vertically with the palm facing left and the back of the hand facing right, away from the body. The left is also open, but horizontally with the palm down, and the thumb of the left hand is in the palm of the right, and the left hand is waving up and down, like a child would wave.

“I’m watching you,” or “I know what you’re doing.”

Pull the bottom lid of your eye downward with your index finger.

“That’s cool/great!”

Pull on your earlobe with your thumb and index finger.

“That’s exactly what’s deserved,” “Wow!” or “Oh, Snap!” 

Touch your thumb gently to your middle finger. With the wrist, move your hand up and down quickly so that your limp index finger slaps the inside of your middle finger making a snapping noise.  This takes practice, but do not do so publically. People will think you’re an idiot.

“No big deal,” “whichever,” or “I don’t /he/she doesn’t…care”

With your two hands held vertically, palms facing inward, clap with your fingers, alternating the hand on the outside with the hand on the inside.

“Okay,” “Good,” or “Great”

Just give a thumbs up. Do not, by any means, use the “okay sign.”

There’s something romantic going on between two people

Hold two index fingers out side by side horizontally and rub them together.

And for all you rebels out there or for those of you who want to know if you’re being silently sworn at:

“F’ You,” or “A-hole”

What I once thought was the international okay sign. The thumb and index finger touching, making a pronounced circle and the other three fingers spread apart in the air. The middle finger is not as common, but is understood.

Something that I thought was meaningless but obviously has a vulgar meaning that you should avoid:

When I’m bored, I snap my fingers on my right hand, then immediately my left, open the palm of my left hand and hit it on the side of my right fist. I’ve seen many Americans do this. Unfortunately, the responses I got in Brazil were those of shock and horror, yet no one would tell me what it meant. To be on the safe side, simply don’t do it.

Please let me know if you think of any more gestures by leaving me a comment. Please, keep it tasteful. You can also check out a short tutorial that covers a few of these gestures here.  

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When You Sleep

How to deal with a sneak attack sleep attack? Ask my friend and his niece for advice.

When I first arrived in Rio, I experienced the most acute case of culture shock, I thought, in the history of mankind. I didn’t speak any Portuguese or know anything about the geographical layout of the city, about the transit, or where to purchase items I considered to be necessities. The food was different, the music was different, the soaps on TV were different. Nothing made any sense except sleep.

My body craved sleep more my first few weeks in Brazil than it had during final exam week in college, when I would force myself to stay awake for three days straight, cramming, fueled only by  four –shot coffees and punk rock music. The fact that we walked between 5 and 20 kilometers a day didn’t help.

Around 9 pm every evening, sometimes even earlier, I would drag my feet up the steps to my apartment building, nod at the porter, and head for the 9th floor apartment I shared with my parents that first month. It was winter, so the sun would’ve disappeared much earlier. Perfect conditions for sleep—one would think.

Beds and beyond

I was lucky to have parents who wanted to help me settle into my new country. The unfortunate part was that it meant, in a place where renting is near impossible, that we shared a one bedroom apartment… and I took the couch (which was advertised as a bed online because the back folded down). The couch was really just a wooden platform covered with an inch of cushion and removable pillows and armrests. The mattress upon which my parents’ slept was a queen and had about an extra ½ inch of cushion and an attached plastic cover for hygienic purposes. Almost all mattresses I’ve seen in hotels and rental apartments in Rio have these, which can really be a turn off.  I thought, if only I had some good sheets, maybe I could get over it.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult in Brazil to find what we call in the United States “decent sheets.” Anything over a 400 thread count is absurdly expensive and highly uncommon. Even if you do find it, beware… the bottom sheets with the elastic ends are very shallow, so even if you do get good sheets, they’ll most likely pop off in the middle of the night to leave you sleeping on only the plastic cover and a pool of sweat.

Solutions to the Bedding issues

Mattress covers will help significantly with the lack of cushion and provide an extra layer of protection against the creaking plastic bed lining. However, mattress covers without their own inner plastic lining can be difficult to find. I would suggest rolling one up tightly, binding it, and bringing it with you from home.  It wouldn’t hurt to put it in your carry-on luggage, either.  The overnight flight to Rio from the U.S. is a chilly one, and a mattress cover, I’ve found, is the best defense against airline air conditioning.

As for the sheets, if you have the option, ask for oversized top sheets and tie them underneath the mattress at all four corners. This prevents “poppage.” If that is not an option, I would suggest bringing a needle, thread, and large elastic strips to sew on to the sheets to provide an anchor around the bottom of the mattress.

Pillows are cheap if you would like to buy one in Rio. This is best for short stays. However, if you have a down pillow at home that you love and you’re planning on staying for a while, bring it. Your neck will thank you.

If You Really Want a Silent Night

The streets in Rio are noisy. Most buses begin running around 5:00 a.m. and go late into the evening. If you are a light sleeper, this can be torture.  To lessen the noise, when you are searching for an apartment, try to find one on a street where buses are not allowed to run. An area called Leme, for example, just north of Copacabana, has many streets where buses do not run, but main bus stops are only a short walk away. Even a block away from main lines, you’ll notice a significant noise difference.

You may, however, want to stay closer to the beach or in some particular area where buses and heavy traffic are unavoidable. If this is true, bring some ear plugs. It may seem goofy, but you’ll sleep better and have more energy than all of your travel buddies. If you forget to pack your ear plugs, you can buy them in Brazil. Keep in mind, though, that they’ll be more expensive and harder to find. I’ve only ever seen earplugs for swimming in the drugstores, which are not as comfortable, but will still get the job done.

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Carioca Poker Face


Blending in is Hardly an Option

Do even the best poker players have tells? One thing's for sure... I was bluffing and everyone knew.

I am not your typical 1)gringa. I was blessed with skin that doesn´t burn. If it does, I like to tell myself like many young women do, ´´It will turn into a tan by tomorrow. Ahem.“ I have dark hair and hazel eyes. They´re somewhere between dark green and brown on most days. I have been accused of being latina–even Brazilian!– by countless drunkards on my former college campus. Needless to say, when I boarded the flight to Rio, I was pretty sure upon arrival I would look like I belonged–at least a little. WRONG.

The first time I was noticed, it was a doozy. When I exited the airplane, a security guard spoke to me in Brazilian Portuguese. I thought, ´´Great! I know what he´s saying!“  ´´Bom dia,“  he said.  ´´Tudo bem?“ Nothing could be simpler than ´´Good day. Are you well?“ I returned with my well rehearsed ´´Tudo bom. E você?“ This would have been fine, except that the gesture I coupled it with was off. Waaay off. Despite advice from my family members about the American gesture for ´´okay,“ it was a natural thing for me to raise my hand and sign it, though I never recalled using it in the U.S. Well, that was it. I flicked a guard off in Brazilian sign language. And I knew it. Thank goodness he laughed as I tried to play it off like I was…stretching my hand?

I believe if you´re considering visiting Rio, you´ve done some homework. And it will help you to have a wonderful experience! But face it. If you´ve never been to Brazil, you´re going to look different to every 2)Carioca no matter how great your disguise. Perhaps not at first glance, but we all have tells. Put the 3)havaianas away and pay attention. The moment the sun rises and beams through the window shade that you forgot to close when your overnight flight took off, you will experience sensory overload. That feeling will not cease until you board another flight back to the U.S.  Your facial expressions, body language, and unfamiliarity with social norms will out you.  Your height (if it exceeds 5`6“) will out you. The way you walk will out you.

Tells. Even when we know better. The great part is, you can be American. Just be an alert, well-informed American. I am hoping that my experiences (mostly the things I´ve learned by trial and multiple error) will help you answer questions like how to pack, how to get around once you´re here, and how to communicate when you aren´t fluent in Brazilian portuguese. Stick around and we´ll learn together.

1)Gringo/a–´´And all the girls say I´m pretty fly FOR A WHITE GUY.“  Or girl. Note: some Brazilians now use this for ALL non-natives–not just the fair skinned ones.

2)Carioca–someone from Rio

3)Havaianas–really comfortable flip flops that are Brazilian made and very popular here. You can buy them in the US but they´ll be more expensive. I would suggest purchasing some as soon as you get to Rio. Your feet will thank you. Rio requires a lot of walking.

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