Roy Maltby's Trip to Brazil

Now with a rebuttal from an irate Brazilian!
Scroll to the bottom to read it.

December 27, 1998 to January 11, 1999

Contrary to anything else you may have heard, a vacation in Rio de Janeiro is no day at the beach.

Sunday, December 27.

Departed Calgary. Calgary-Denver-Miami-Rio, all on United. The United concourse in Miami is not well-organised. All their flights to South America leave there around the same time and the gates are all crammed together in groups of four. There are signs indicating which flight is connected to each gate, but there are no visual cues for whether boarding has commenced. You have to listen to the announcements for all twelve gates, many of which are inaudible, to learn when your flight is boarding. I was misled by all the people standing around the gate for my flight. They were actually waiting for different flights to start boarding, but with the gates crammed together there was just one big mob for three flights.

Monday, December 28

Kevin met me at the airport, drove me to his apartment, and returned to work at Petrobras in downtown Rio. The guest bedroom had a bullet hole in the window. Kevin's place is in Leblon, the west end of Ipanema, which is south of Copacabana, which is south of Botafogo, which is south of downtown Rio. I walked along Ipanema Beach (more than 4 km, I think). About halfway along Ipanema is a canal that runs into the ocean. The water was distinctly green and smelled, but kids swam in it where it went into the ocean. I mentioned this to Kevin later and he said of course people swim in it because it's the warmest water along the beach. The books I read suggest that none of the water along Rio's beaches is fit for swimming by first world standards, but plenty of people went in the water. Ipanema and Copacabana Beaches almost meet, but it took a little navigating to get from one to the other. I decided to walk on the sidewalk along Copacabana, thinking it would be easier going. As I neared a shoeshine guy, he pointed to my shoes. I looked and saw that there was a big dog turd on my right shoe -- not on the sole, but on top. The shoeshine guy cleaned it off and then demanded R$20 (C$25). I protested and eventually gave him R$5. Kevin later verified that dropping dog turds on tourists' shoes is a common scam and he figured I achieved about the least scathing possible. I continued walking to the end of Copacabana, the rest of the way on the beach (another 4 km, at least, I think). I was near Sugarloaf (the mountain with the cable cars in the James Bond movie Moonraker), but there was another mountain preventing me from getting to Sugarloaf. I backtracked to find a route to Sugarloaf. I found a tourist information office. I got a map there and asked how to get to Sugarloaf. The guy told me it was too far to walk and told me about bus routes. I decided to walk. There was a tunnel through the mountain which it seemed would get me there quickly, but since the guy said it wasn't possible to walk there, I assumed the tunnel was for vehicles only, so I detoured to go to a street that goes over the lowest part of the ridge between that mountain and the next one. I found my way to Sugarloaf, but it had been somewhat exhausting. I found out later that there are pedestrian sidewalks in the tunnel. However, after that I read that tourists tend to get mugged if they walk through that tunnel. I went up Sugarloaf in the cablecar. When I came down it was after six. I took a bus back to Leblon using the advice from the tourist information office.

Tuesday, December 29

I walked to the Botanical Garden near Kevin's place. The stands of bamboo sixty feet tall were impressive, but I think the highlight was the two lizards I saw walking across the lawn, each more than two feet long. Then I walked on a road through the Tijuca Forest to Vista Chinesa. There is not much to report about the walk except that it was even more exhausting than my walk the day before. There was little traffic on this road and I saw two skateboarders. I had seen Rio skateboarders on some cable tv show in Canada, perhaps on this road. Vista Chinesa is higher than Sugarloaf (over 400m altitude) and most of the thermometers I saw indicated that the temperature was 35 or 36C. Fortunately, there was a guy selling drinks when I got there. I tried Guarana, which was okay. Guarana is a Brazilian pop flavored with a berry of the same name. The view was excellent. I had worked so hard to get there that I was not going to leave quickly. I lingered for more than an hour. One unexpected major benefit of sticking around was that after about forty minutes, I saw monkeys in the forest. At first there was just one, but after about five minutes, several of them were climbing through the trees about thirty yards away. They appeared to be squirrel monkeys. I walked back to Kevin's place. The downhill walk didn't seem bad at all in comparison to the uphill walk. Later, Kevin told me that of the four or five human corpses he has seen during his year and a half in Rio, one was on this road with a slashed throat. The road is reputed to be popular with gangsters for dumping bodies. (The other corpses were pedestrian fatalities.)

Wednesday, December 30.

I went to downtown Rio. It doesn't look nearly as much fun as Copacabana and Ipanema. Those areas have lots of restaurants and cafes, but downtown these are fewer and mostly less appealing. There were many bits of paper falling from the sky. Eventually I realized the meaning of this was that people in highrises were getting an early start on celebrating the new year. I went to the Fine Art Museum. It was disappointing.

Then I went to the modern cathedral. It is a big concrete cone about as tall as a ten-storey building with lots of small windows constructed to admit small amounts of light, and four stained-glass windows about twenty feet wide going all the way up the building. Then I went on the streetcar to Santa Tereza. This is a community on mountainsides that seems to look much the same as it must have looked sixty years ago. This is in dramatic contrast to most of Rio where old small buildings have been eliminated to make way for highrises. There was supposed to be an art museum in Santa Tereza. I had a hard time finding it, but eventually found the entrance to the grounds. A sign clearly said that this was the place, but the entrance was locked. Fortunately, a couple looking for the same museum were passing and they were accompanied by someone who knew the route to the correct secret entrance. I saw a Monet. I saw signs indicating that a couple of Dalis belonging to the museum had gone to be exhibited in Sao Paulo. There were other paintings, but no other famous names, contrary to what my guide books said.

I think this was the night Kevin took me to the Barra Shopping Mall. It's the only good mall in Rio. I thought Southcentre was crowded on Boxing Day. I had no idea... Afterward, we went to a charrasco restaurant. This means all-you-can-eat meat. Beef is the main attraction, but this restaurant served fifteen kinds of meat, as I recall. The chicken hearts were the most surprising. There were vegetables, too, but I passed on those as Kevin advised, except for the fried bananas. This place also had all-you-can-eat desserts. The cheescake with a passion fruit glaze was excellent.

Thursday, December 31

I wanted to see two things on this day -- Maracana Stadium and the Catete Palace. Maracana is the world's biggest soccer stadium. More accurately, it holds the record for the highest attendance at a game (over 195,000 for the 1950 World Cup Final). Maracana cannot match this record any more because seats have replaced some of the standing room area, and World Cup regulations now prevent any stadium from admitting this many spectators. I took the metro to Maracana. There is nothing in the way of homes or businesses between the metro and the stadium -- just a long ramp over a couple of major roads. Partway along the ramp I saw people coming toward me. A shirtless black youth screamed at a white woman, she quickly handed over her wallet and started running toward the metro. The black youths ran the other way with the wallet and I joined the Australian tourists running back to the metro. A few minutes later, another youngster approached the Australians in the metro station. He returned the wallet, from which only the cash was missing. They thanked him and gave him a couple of dollars. I gave up on Maracana and went to Catete. It was closed for New Year's Eve. It was not yet 3 p.m.

That night I walked with Kevin and Rosa to Copacabana Beach to watch the fireworks at midnight. As far as I know, this is the world's largest New Year's party. I've read that it's estimated two million people crowd onto Copacabana Beach every New Year's Eve to watch the fireworks. The beach is long and fireworks are launched from about five locations along the beach. The fireworks go off directly over the crowd so they look particularly spectacular. It is traditional to wear white to bring in the New Year. This also means that scorch marks from cinders falling on one's clothes show up particularly well. Ordinarily, I might be upset by such damage to my clothes, but in this case I think the scorch marks make the shirt in question more interesting. We were close to the Meridien Hotel which must be the most expensive hotel in Rio. It is about fifteen stories high and as the Copacabana fireworks end a waterfall of fireworks streaming down all sides of the hotel commences. After the fireworks people wade in the water for a bit before departing, and departing is no easy task with two million people trying to leave the beach at the same time. We got back to Kevin's place around 3 a.m.

Friday, January 1

We drove to Petropolis, about an hour's drive outside of Rio. The drive through the mountains and forest is as appealing as the town itself. Everything except the cathedral was closed for New Year's Day. We saw the outside of Santos Dumont House. Brazilians consider Santos Dumont to be the inventor of powered flight. I saw busts of him at Santos Dumont Airport in Rio as well as the domestic airport in Sao Paulo. The house where he worked and lived had only one room. There was no kitchen, and he slept on a chest of drawers.

Saturday, January 2

It rained most of the day. We hardly did anything. We walked to Rio's new planetarium only a block from Kevin's apartment. The shows were sold out so we just looked at an exhibit about optics sponsored by Zeiss. I knew Zeiss made the best (and almost the only) star projectors for planetaria, but apparently they make eyeglasses, too. We went to Barra Shopping Mall again to see Rush Hour starring Jackie Chan, but it was sold out. We settled for Halloween H2O. Tickets cost R$9 (about C$12).

Sunday, January 3

I flew to Foz do Iguazu, the nearest city to Iguassu Falls. I took a city bus from the airport to the city center. The Rough Guide recommended a hotel across the street from the bus terminal, but all I could see there was an empty lot. I started walking in the most promising direction to find hotels and was accosted by a guy with a lot of hotel brochures. He had a brochure for Hotel Dany which was my second choice based on the Rough Guide so he walked me to Hotel Dany, pointing out a charrasco restaurant on the way for which he gave me a brochure. I might have been suspicious of this character, but this type of promotion seems normal in much of the world judging by episodes of the Lonely Planet tv show, and I remember one episode of Lonely Planet in which Ian Wright whined one time when he got off a train in an unfamiliar town and was not promptly approached by people offering to show him hotels. The hotel room was tiny but it had everything (bathroom, air conditioning, cable tv, and breakfast included) for R$30 (about C$40) a night. This was about half what Kevin told me he usually pays when he goes to small towns along the coast. The room appeared very clean although over the course of two days I did see one beetle and a number of small ants took an interest in my bag.

Iguassu Falls - Brazil on the left, Argentina on the right
photo by Dr. Roy Maltby - January 3, 1999

I took the city bus to Iguassu Falls. It took almost an hour. These falls also appear in Moonraker, but they are not shown in the best possible way since in the movie they are supposed to be in an isolated jungle so they are only shown in such a way that the nearby buildings and thousands of tourists are not visible. The Falls are amazing. Is Niagara supposed to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World? If so, the judging committee hadn't seen Iguassu. I cannot do the Falls justice so I'll comment on the ring-tailed garbage-eaters instead. It's supposed to be a national park but people are not discouraged from feeding the animals and the garbage containers along the paths at the Falls are not animal-proof, so these ring-tailed garbage-eaters hang around rummaging through garbage to lick ice cream wrappers and getting handouts from people. I think Brazilians call these animals quatchis. They are a bit bigger than cats. They are shaped a bit like badgers but they are light brown and they are cuter than badgers.

Quatchis scrounging for handouts
photo by Dr. Roy Maltby - January 3, 1999

Monday, January 4.

I was going to try taking a bus to the Argentine side of the Falls which would actually require taking one bus to the nearby Argentine town and another bus from there to the Falls. At the bus terminal, there was a conversation in English going on which I took an interest in. A local guy who spoke English was trying to negotiate a deal between some English-speaking tourists and a taxi driver to see the Falls. I joined an Australian and his Brazilian girlfriend and an Austrian in sharing a taxi to the Argentine side of the Falls. Unfortunately, a lot of the paths on the Argentine side were closed for repairs. Maybe it did not really matter since it started raining heavily so we did not even walk around all that we could have. We went to Itaipu next. It is on a different river forming the boundary of Brazil and Paraguay. It is the world's most powerful hydroelectric generating facility. If I remember correctly, it produces about 14 gigawatts. I have seen higher dams, but this dam is very wide. They claim it is 8 km wide. I would not have said it looked that wide, but there a couple of curves so it is hard to tell. The bus tour of the dam goes across the dam and drives a little on the Paraguay side before returning on a different road across the dam, so I think I can claim that I have been to Paraguay. Next we went to the Falls again, this time to the Brazilian side (where I had been the day before, but it was worth another trip and there was nothing else to do there). After that we went back to the town. The taxi driver had driven us around from about 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and it cost us $R27 (about C$36) each.

This part of Iguassu Falls is entirely in Argentina
photo by Dr. Roy Maltby - January 4, 1999

That night I went to the charrasco restaurant that had been pointed out to me -- all the meat I could eat (as well as fried bananas and roast pineapple) for a mere R$5 (about C$6.50). I certainly got my money's worth, even if I didn't feel so great afterwards or the next day. At one point during this meal, I asked a server for more sausage. Not surprisingly, he did not understand, so I said "saucisse", which is the French word for sausage, and he understood. Kevin later verified that the Portuguese word for sausage is very close to the French. This was the only time in Brazil that I used a language other English or Portuguese. Hardly anybody in Brazil speaks anything except Portuguese, and I found English to be the only foreign language that is in evidence at all, except around Iguassu which is on the border with two Spanish-speaking countries so some residents speak some Spanish. It was unusual that I wanted to ask a server for something. At charrasco restaurants, it seems like there is a server offering you something every minute, but somehow five minutes went by without any sausages being offered to me, and these were unusually good sausages.

Tuesday, January 5

I went on the "Macuco Safari" to the Falls. This 90-minute trip consists of a short drive on a dirt road through the forest from the main road to near the river, then a 600-metre walk past Macuco Falls to the river, and then a boat ride to the bottom of Iguassu Falls. The boats hold about 24 people and each is equipped with two Suzuki 200-horsepower V-6 outboard motors. (My car is only a 4-cylinder, and it only has one engine, and it doesn't even float as far as I know. (I'm pretty sure that if my car could float, the salesman would have mentioned it.)) The boat did not go near the terrifying part of the Falls.

Next I went to a privately-owned aviary nearby. Some of the birds were tame enough to touch.

After that I went to the airport and returned to Rio.

Wednesday, January 6

I went to the Catete Palace in Rio. This used to be the presidential palace before Brasilia became the capital of Brazil. It seems a bit small for a palace, but is very elegantly furnished. The elegance seemed in great contrast to most of what I'd seen in Rio.

Next I went downtown. I detoured briefly to the beach. There was an excellent view from that beach of the Sugarloaf cablecars travelling between Sugarloaf and the smaller mountain next to it. I am surprised there are no postcards showing this view, especially since a photo from here could include a beach in the foreground.

I went to the train station and was quite pleased with myself for speaking an entire sentence of Portuguese (after a fashion). I asked "Ondesta bilheteria por va Sao Paulo", meaning "Where is ticket office to go Sao Paulo?". Unfortunately, in direct contradiction of the Rough Guide to Brazil, there are no longer overnight trains between Rio and Sao Paulo -- there are no trains from Rio to Sao Paulo at all in fact.

I could not find the way into the Sao Bento Monastery, but I found that there are exhibits open to the public at the naval base in downtown Rio. I went aboard the Brazilian submarine Riachuelu (I think that was the name). I have also been aboard the Canadian submarine HMCS Okanagan and at least two American submarines, one of WW II vintage, the other featuring prominently in The Hunt for Red October.

Thursday, January 7

I flew from Santos Dumont Airport in Rio to Sao Paulo. The view of Rio leaving from this airport is excellent. In Sao Paulo, I went first to the Butanta Institute for the study of poisonous snakes, spiders, and scorpions. I learned that the preferred method of producing antivenom is to collect venom and inject it into horses, then draw blood from the horses later and there will be antivenom in it. The institute raises its own livestock. I did not see horses, but I saw monkeys and ducks. They have a zoo of snakes, spiders, and scorpions.

Next I tried to go to the Art Museum of Sao Paulo which is the best art museum in South America. At the bus terminal downtown nobody would tell me how to get to the metro. I had a map for the metro, but once I had taken a bus to the bus terminal, I could transfer free to another bus. I did not see much value to this since I had no idea what bus to take or where to get off if I did find the right bus. But the people I tried to ask thought it would be crazy to pay the metro fare when I could get on any bus free. After a little of this futility, someone who spoke English overheard and helped me find the art museum. He was going near there so I got on a bus with him and he showed me where to get off. He spoke very good English and was wearing a Planet Hollywood t-shirt. Brazilians do not speak English or wear t-shirts with writing so I asked where he was from. He said Sao Paulo. I got to the art museum around 6:15. The Rough Guide said that on Thursdays, admission to the museum was free and the museum was open late. The Guide is wrong on both counts. The museum was closed when I got there. My flight back to Rio was at 8:40. At least this gave me a chance to try getting to the airport without paying R$30 for a taxi. I decided to take the metro as close to the airport as possible and take a taxi from there. In the metro station, there were sufficiently detailed maps for me to judge that it should actually be possible to walk from the metro to the airport. I tried this and it worked fine except that it was raining. I had been rained on before in Brazil but it was hot enough that it was not a problem. I walked in the rain for about an hour from the metro to the airport and the one thermometer I saw said the temperature was 18C. It wasn't any warmer inside the airport or the airplane, and the air-conditioned bus from Santos Dumont Airport to Leblon was positively cold. The next day I had a cold and only now (ten days later) am I pretty much recovered from it. Sao Paulo looks like a more functional city than Rio. In particular, there are lots of restaurants around that look like they are probably clean and inexpensive with good food. In Rio, places to eat seem to try to be at least somewhat elegant and expensive, or they are extremely basic. Also, houses in central Sao Paulo are not all fortresses, which is in contrast to Rio.

Friday, January 8

I think this was the day of my second attempt to find Sao Bento Monastery. I found two entrances this time and was baffled as to why I had trouble finding a way in before. The map I got from the tourist information office seemed to indicate that the monastery was open to the public most of the day, but it turned out that the public are only allowed in on guided tours, of which there are two each day, so I left without seeing inside the monastery.

I went to Maracana again, this time cleverly getting off the metro one stop before Maracana and walking on the major roads to elude the hoodlums. Walking from the metro to the stadium, I had my best observation of the transit day phenomenom. There were some concrete posts about eighteen inches high at the edge of the sidewalk. These solid concrete objects were illuminated by bright direct sunlight, but they cast no shadow. It was quite a vexing sight, even though intellectually it is perfectly logical. The reason there was no shadow, of course, is that the Sun was directly overhead, which never happens outside of the Tropics. I had calculated that this effect should occur at high noon on January 1 and 2 in Rio, but the Sun seemed to be directly overhead at high noon every day I was there so I guess a few days near the solstice do not make a significant difference to the Sun's position in the sky.

Maracana is about 75% standing room. There are no games in January, unfortunately. From videos I saw, the action in the stands is pretty amazing. The "tour" was pretty brief. I saw the inside of the stadium and the locker rooms. Contrary to the Rough Guide, the tour did not go onto the playing field, although some Brazilians snuck away from the tour to go there anyway.

Next I walked to the other side of the metro line to go to the National Museum and the zoo. I had read that the National Museum had stuffed animals which I thought could not be very interesting, but in fact they were a lot better than I expected. They even had polar bears. But the insect collection was the best part. There were also a few dinosaur skeletons, and there were Indian artifacts from all over the New World.

The zoo had a lot of monkeys and a lot of birds, including an Andean condor.

This night we went to see Rush Hour starring Jackie Chan and we actually got in. Afterward, Kevin introduced me to acai (ass-eye-ee). This is a fruit drink made from a purple berry from the Amazon. The drink is very cold and slushy. Unfortunately, I could not discern any flavor that I could attribute the acai fruit. This drink included banana which I could discern, but anything else eluded me. Colorwise, though, the drink was definitely distinctive -- a very dark purple.

Saturday, January 10

Kevin and I were joined by Lee, another Calgarian who had just come to Rio the day before for the same work Kevin was doing. Kevin drove us around the Tijuca Forest. We had a lunch of feijoda, the most traditional Brazilian meal. It is an improved version of what slaves often ate -- rice, black beans, and scrap pork (snouts, ears, and such). The pork we had was good pork meat and sausages. Kevin also introduced me to caipirinha, another fruit drink. The version of this drink that I had contained a lot of alcohol. We also took the train up Corcovado ("the hunchback mountain") at the top of which is situated the Monument of Christ the Redeemer. This and Sugarloaf are Rio's two most famous landmarks. A flavelinha directed Kevin into a parking spot on the sidewalk. Kevin negotiated a price of R$3 which he paid when we returned. The theory I had heard is that you pay the flavelinha to "protect" your car while it is parked on a public street, but this guy could just about be considered to be providing a service. There is no way so many cars would have been crammed into that space without a profit-motivated individual directing them.

That night I began my return to Calgary. I had booked through United, but my first two flights (first to Sao Paulo, and then to Atlanta) were on Varig, the largest Brazilian airline. The check-in clerk did not understand my ticket which I had booked through United and it took forty-five minutes to check in with Kevin speaking fluent Portuguese to the people involved. Also, I had to pay the world's highest surprise departure tax (US$35). The flight from Sao Paulo to Atlanta left an hour later than I expected. There was no explanation or apology. As far as I know, Varig just rescheduled the flight without regard for the fact that almost every passenger had a connecting flight to catch in Atlanta. I missed my connection so my departure from Atlanta was delayed five hours. Then I had to wait for three hours in Denver before returning to Calgary. The time in Denver Airport was not so bad. There was a very impressive gallery of mostly wildlife photographs by Thomas D. Mangelson whom I had not heard of before.

The flight from Rio to Sao Paulo was the only time I saw the Southern Cross.

I think some people must have a lot of money. My return airline ticket from Calgary to Rio cost C$2000. (It would not have been quite so expensive if it had not been so close to Christmas.) I think first class tickets typically cost about five times what economy tickets cost. On the flight from Sao Paulo to Atlanta there was a woman in first class with two kids.

Undated observations:

One day when I took a bus from near Kevin's place to downtown, another bus collided in a minor way with the bus I was in. It appeared the only vehicular damage was that the rearview mirror of the other bus smashed against the side of the bus I was in. Some passengers were hit with debris coming in through the open windows, but it appeared no one was cut or otherwise injured.

I only went to McDonald's once and all I had was a banana pie. They advertised guava sundaes, too, but I passed on that because if the guava juice that I had with breakfast at the hotel near Iguacu was any indication, guava is a flavorless fruit.

Cappuccino is very scarce in Rio. Espresso is almost everywhere, but the most popular form of coffee is cafezinha which is even stronger and served in smaller cups than espresso, judging by the one time I tried it in the airport in Sao Paulo.

Coconut water is commonly sold in the form of a whole green coconut which the vendor hacks open with a machete and sticks a straw in. At the bar where I tried it, the bartender put the coconut on a chopping block, but others hold the coconut in one hand while using the other hand to cut it open with three chops of a machete. I was not sure I would like the coco water since I don't care for the taste of coconut, but the coco water actually had very little taste. There was really only enough flavor that you could tell it was not plain water, and the flavor was not really identifiable as coconut. Coco water is almost clear.

The different brands of beer in Brazil actually have very different tastes. Skol tasted like typical Canadian beer, but Malzbier was unnervingly sweet. I think it must be a beer for children.

Lunch counters are numerous but they have a rather frustrating system. All the food is on display in glass display cases below the counter. Not speaking Portuguese, of course one wants to order just by pointing at what one wants, but they don't make it that simple. One is expected to go to the cashier and say what one wants and pay for it, then give the receipt to a server who gets the item out of the display case. They seem to accommodate bumbling tourists, but they would prefer that tourists adapt to their system.

One very silly thing about Brazil is the coins. They all look the same. From one centavo to one real, there are six denominations, and all are the same color with the same rim and exactly the same design on the side that does not say the denomination, except for the 25-centavo. New coins that are made of different metals for the different denominations are coming into circulation gradually. It took a few days for me to learn that there were denominations other than 5- and 10-centavo because the majority of times, this is all you get in change, even if you're getting 80 centavos. My favorite denomination was the 50-real note which has a panther on it.

Ever since I started considering this trip, for about six months before I went, there were news stories of an impending financial crisis in Brazil. I thought it would be convenient if the currency collapsed just before my arrival. As it turned out, the crisis did not occur until the week after I left. The president of the central bank resigned right after he announced that the bank was giving up its effort to prop up the price of the real in international money markets. The real fell 8% in a couple of days.

Many people in Rio seem to have a good standard of living by first-world standards, but there are also hundreds of thousands of people who live in favelas. In Brazil, it is pretty much legal to build a house on any unoccupied land and favelas are areas where people have done this. There are many favelas around Rio. The houses in the favelas are made of concrete blocks. Many are two storeys high and some are higher. The windows appear to be rectangular holes in walls with no glass. All these houses have electricity, but the majority do not have plumbing. I get the impression Brazil doesn't really have such a thing as a minimum wage, so while people living in favelas do not pay for a place to live, most of them work for very low pay. Foreigners may think middle-class Brazilians wouldn't want favelas around, but the standard of living of middle-class Brazilians is somewhat dependent on the presence of a dirt-cheap source of labor.

There were some elements in the design of Kevin's apartment that seemed very odd to me, and it wasn't until after I left that I realised the reason for these elements. There were two doors from the hallway of the building into the apartment. One door led into the living room and the other into the kitchen. The locks for the two doors were different. The master bedroom had an en suite bathroom, and there was a second bathroom across the hall from the second bedroom. There was yet another bathroom off the kitchen. There was a large storage closet off the kitchen which had no window even though one wall of the room was an outside wall of the building. Eventually I pieced together some things I read and heard and realised that this closet was intended as a maid's bedroom. The building was designed with the assumption that anyone who can afford a good apartment in a nice neighborhood is likely to spend a little more each month to have a live-in maid. I read that one hardship of living in Rio is that your maid won't know how to cook anything but boiled rice and beans until you teach her to cook real meals.

Movies that show Brazil

Blame it on Rio - This movie shows the type of terrain very well -- the city surrounded by mountains with lush tropical forests. There are a couple of shots of main streets of downtown Sao Paulo, too. This movie lies about one thing, though. Judging by this movie, you would think most women on the beaches are topless. I read that it is acceptable for women to go topless, but very few do. I saw thousands of women on Ipanema and Copacabana Beaches as I walked from Leblon to Sugarloaf, and none of them were topless. However, it is true that the bikinis are very skimpy, especially in the rear.

Moonraker - This movie also gives a fairly accurate impression of Rio. The Sugarloaf cablecar features prominently. Iguacu Falls also appears, but the movie does not show the Falls very well. This may be because in the movie, the falls are supposed to be hundreds of miles from anywhere, so the movie could only have shots of the Falls that didn't show boats and trails and walkways and tourists.

Bus 174 (Ônibus 174) - This is a documentary about a hostage-taking in Rio in 2000. Actually, the movie is more about the background of the hostage-taker including his mother being murdered in a grocery-store robbery when he was a child. The film also describes the lives of street kids and prisoners, and the ineffectiveness of the police. There are several beautiful aerial shots of Rio in this film. There is an interview with a "professional mugger" who says that the Tijuca Forest is full of criminals who hide there when the heat is on. I recommend this film highly, but if you are thinking of going to Rio, you might want to avoid watching this movie until you come back.

City of God (Cidade de Deus) - This is one of the highest-rated movies at and rightly so. It is the true life story of a photojournalist who rose to fame in Brazil for his depictions of gang control of Rio's slums. This photographer grew up in a government housing project called City of God which inevitably was under gang control. As someone who was familiar with this territory, this photographer had access to people and places most journalists wouldn't try to approach. The neighborhoods in this movie are a step up from favelas, which isn't saying much. This movie does not show any of the pleasant tourist sights around Rio.

Flying Down to Rio - This is an old movie. The bits of this that I saw on telly appeared to have been filmed on Hollywood sound stages, but in That's Dancing, there are a few shots of Rio from an old movie which I suspect is this one.

The Great Rock'N'Roll Swindle - This film consists mainly of Malcom McLaren describing what a great manager he was for the Sex Pistols. One segment of the film was shot in and near Rio when McLaren and the two unfamous Sex Pistols went to Rio to hang out with famous train robber Ronnie Biggs. Johnny Rotten was appalled by the idea of associating with such a disreputable individual. Kevin told me that Ronnie Biggs still lives in Rio and you can hire him to be a raconteur at your dinner party.

Creature Comforts - This is a plasticine animation film by Nick Park who went on to make the Wallace and Gromit films. It consists of interviews with animals in a zoo, including a very entertaining Brazilian panther. The film is only about five minutes long, but I recommend it highly even though there may be a political message with which I disagree.

Brazil - Judging by the title, you might expect this movie to be the most enlightening of the lot, but in fact, there is nothing at all in this movie that has anything to do with Brazil.

The Boys from Brazil - I finally found a copy of this in spring of 2006. The title is a bit of a mystery. Brazil is not mentioned at all in the movie. Some of the story takes place in Paraguay, but none of the film was shot in South America.

The two movies in this list that have "Brazil" in the title have nothing to do with Brazil.

Update - May 25, 2002

Today I received the following email in response to this page. I guess I've had this page online for about 2.5 years.
I was looking for some information about santos dumont airport and
accidentally i got in your page.
I'm from Brazil, 26 years old, and somethings about your text i have to

1.when people of tourist information advise not to go walking,
you go and complains it is exhausting?
- if someone reads your text will think in Brazil everything goes wrong, but
was your attitude that was wrong.

2. Your friend is lying, i think when you see a dead body you register it
clearly (4 or 5??)
- i lived in brazil all my life, the only dead body i saw was my grandpa.

3. Kevin doesn't eat vegetables? has he a mother?
- brazilian vegetables and fruits are the best of the world, and very
appreciate in europe, maybe when he becomes more civilized he will eat.

4. Brazilians consider Santos Dumont to be the inventor of powered flight
- all the world (except usa and close friends) consider Santos Dumont to be
the inventor of powered flight

I'm not trying to make a fight, but if someone reads your text will think
that is not a good trip to come to brazil, and you know that is not the
We, Brazilians, try to make this the coolest and happiest planet on earth,
and most of our tourists (and citizens) have this feelings.


Diego Valdivia

PS: if you come to sao paulo again, e-mail me, and i will be glad to help

I'll assume this message is genuine even though a couple of things about it seem highly unlikely based on my limited experience of Brazil:
(1) The writer is Brazilian but speaks English.
(2) The writer defends the reputation of Rio de Janeiro even though he is from Sao Paulo.

Diego has a point regarding the body count. I didn't see any dead bodies myself in the two weeks I was there. In this respect, Brazil rates more highly than some other countries I've been to: Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Russia. I didn't see any dead bodies in those countries either, but I was in those countries for shorter times.

If Kevin doesn't eat enough vegetables, the blame probably lies more with his Brazilian wife than his Canadian mother.

I don't know enough about the history of powered flight to have much of an opinion about whose flight should be considered the first successful one. Some time ago on television I saw a story suggesting that a German (if I remember correctly) could be considered first.

I suppose I might get a lot more email like this if I translated this page into Portuguese. But seriously, if you want a more positive description of Rio, try

Further Update - May 27, 2002

After reading the preceding update, Kevin wrote:

Hey Roy,

Speaking of Brazilian body counts, did I tell you that a Brazilian friend
of mine was shot to death late last year in Recife? He was confronted by a
teenager with a gun while walking back to his car after getting $40 from an
ATM. He tried to jump into his car and drive away, but was shot in the arm
before he could escape. He made it to the hospital and seemed to have been
stabilized, but died just before going into surgery. His family had to sue
the police to investigate the murder, as they considered it an "accidental


Another Update - June 21, 2004

A few days ago I received the following message from a Brazilian who read this page and did not take as much offense as the well-meaning fellow above.

I found your site while looking for information on Rio and the Iguaçu Falls
in the film Moonraker. I'm a brazilian from Rio. I read your review nodding
in several points. However, for the sake of clarity, let me comment on some

Guava (which we call Goiaba) is very tasty. Ask your friend Kevin about
"goiabada" (guava jam) and the "Romeu e Julita" dessert (goiabada and fresh

It's "churrasco", not charrasco. And "churrasco" is simply the brazilian
word for barbecue. What the all-you-can-eat restaurant is offering is a
"rodizio" (with acute mark on the first i). It's pretty popular here, and
these days you can find "rodizios de massa" (all-you-can-eat with several
varieties of pasta) and "rodizios de pizza" (pretty self-explicative, uh?)

If you want an opinion, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches are overrated. They
were cool in the 60's and 70's, but then the south zone got overcrowded.
These days, these beaches are more like a tourist trap. For proper beaching
activity (I mean, swimming, tanning and stuff) most cariocas go to Barra and
Recreio if they don't want to leave town, or to the Lagos regions (Cabo
Frio, Buzios) in extended weekend trips. If it helps, the city recently
finished some infrastructure works and the south zone beachs are supposedly
cleaner now.

The Barra Shopping is not the only good shopping mall in Rio. There's Norte
Shopping, which is huge and well supplied too, and the Carioca Shopping,
which is the best shopping mall in town by the single virtue of being at
walking distance from my suburban house. :-)

Your entire sentence in Portuguese is terribly funny, in the cruel sense of
seeing a foreigner trying to speak your idiom. The correct words for what
you meant are: "Onde e(acute) a bilheteria para Sao Paulo?".

And what they did ending the "Trem de Prata" (silver train) overnight
service between Rio and Sao Paulo was a shame. That was an excellent luxury
trip by all accounts I heard, but it was taking money from the airlines...
There's a movement for the return of this line.

The submarine name is "Riachuelo" but it's pronounced "Riachuelu" so you
were pretty close.

I'm somewhat offended by your comments that "Brazilians do not speak
English". Most brazilians, just as most natives of most countries with a
single tongue, speak just their mother tongue. But there are many who learn
a passable English, specially those who work with technology (as me).

Funny brazilian joke: "Q: Where's the ass at noon? A: Over his shadow."

You were smart. The maracana vicinity IS a dangerous place, specially if you
look like a tourist. I'm a student at Rio's state university (UERJ, that big
ugly building to the right of those who leave the maracana metro station)
and I usually avoid taking the metro home in the days of major games.

Those funky little badgers are "quatis". Again, you wrote something much
like what we pronounce, so congratulations on your auditive memory.

Acai (there's a cedil under that c and an acute mark over the i) is a
rumored energy drink and aphrodisiac, and as such is usually enhanced with
more substances than you can imagine. Guarana, peanuts, banana and granola
being the most common add-ons. If you want, you can order a pure Acai, which
will allow you to know what is the taste of this fruit.

Caipirinha is not on the same category of guarana and acai. It's made from
cachaca (brazilian hard liquor) and lime. It'll leave you quickly drunk if
you dismiss it as a "fruit drink".

Most lunch counters these days let you just point to what you want and you
pay later. The system you describe was common some years ago but it fell out
of fashion by the obvious reasons (it was slow and dumb).

Our coins are much better now! You have the coppery 1 and 5 centavos coins,
the golden 10 and 25 centavos and the golden trimmed silvery 1 Real coin.

The *good* favela houses (brazilian term: "barracos") are made of concrete
blocks. The stereotypical barraco is a shack made of paperboard, wood, tin
and anything else that fits in. But these are mostly temporary, quickly made
when a new unoccuppied area is invaded.

Boiled rice and beans (feijao com arroz, there's a tilde over the a) IS a
real meal. Specially when the beans are well made (read: lots of pork). Here
we use "feijao com arroz" as a expression meaning "plain, common, etc." What
is a real meal varies from country to country, I guess.

Well, congratulations on a sincere review.

Best regards,

Raphael Gomes

I only spent two weeks in Brazil so I think Raphael must be right about most of the points on which he disagrees with me, but I'll make a few clarifications of my own.

For most of my time in Brazil I only did touristy stuff and even at the touristy places, there was no written or spoken English that I recall. The only locals who spoke English to me are mentioned in my story.

Raphael says he avoids Maracana on game days. It seemed dangerous to me because of the absence of people, except for a few muggers and stray tourists. I think I would feel safer around a crowd of rowdy soccer fans.

Maybe I'll keep calling those animals quatchis. Now I know there's an English word for them: coatimundi. But that seems silly because it's too long and there's no point having an English word for them because they don't live in English-speaking countries.

I was dizzy for a while after drinking caipirinha.

Raphael mentions an area being invaded to create a favela which is worth clarifying a bit more. I have read that a favela can spring up literally overnight as hundreds or thousands of people together move in and set up shanties on unoccupied land at the edge of a city.

The comment about rice and beans not being a real meal came from a book that Kevin had. It claimed to be a guide for foreigners about how to fit in in Rio, but much of it seemed too stereotypical or oversimplified to be realistic.