Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ipanema Beach

Everything we read before arriving in Rio led us to believe that hooligans roamed the streets and beaches en masse looking for and finding gringo victims. Undoubtedly some hooligans do lurk about and hit the unsuspecting gringo, but we've not noticed them yet. We have noticed though police cars parked with light flashings on many street corners - our apartment, the grocery store, most entrances to the beach. The police seem more interested in standing around chatting, but they are armed and I'd rather not see them needing to do anything but chat. More alarming were the military guys on Saturday hanging around with their machine guns. At least I hope they were military and not just some fellows in camoflauge.

With two kids its hard not to head right to the beach. We chose Ipanema for our first visits. Not only because it's close, but because we've been told it's safe. I'm all about easing into life here since we have no real idea what's going on most of the time and no one speaks English. But they will slow down their Portuguese and speak a bit louder in their efforts to help make us understand. I find myself nodding a lot and smiling. But I'm very excited when I pick up a word or two and think I understand what's being said.

At the beach every area has its own chair and umbrella providers. The fellows run out with a chairs for you and charge you for it for the day. The chairs are not even $2 CDN each, and the umbrella $5 CDN. We didn't get an umbrella the first day because we were only staying for a bit. We won't make that mistake again. Poor Kerry has a bit of a splotchy burn on his shoulder and tummy.

We stand out. We are so pasty white. On the beach I have seen only two people more white than us - the one with bright red hair and almost translucent skin, and the other red head with shockingly lobster red skin.

I also stand out because I'm wearing my regular swim suit: a tankini with a skirt bottom. And stand out I do. If I were to take some scissors to my suit I could fashion 15-20 bikinis that would still give plenty of coverage compared to what some wear. You can't be naked on the beach, but how some of the swim suits disappear into skin folds I don't really see how that level of coverage beats nudity. But my slightly prudish ways continue to reign supreme and I'm sticking to my two-piece that looks like a one piece. Plus, there's no chance anyone will speak Portuguese to me and expect me to understand.

The beach itself is quite wonderful.  Amazing soft sand. A cooling breeze. The kids have enjoyed every visit and are keen to get back. I've chosen to ignore any of the news coming from Olympic coverage about viruses in the water etc. We're not in the area where the raw sewage escapes and besides, others are in the water. Plus, you can't really swim in the water because of the waves and the undertow, only wave jumping. These prairie kids are quite satisfied, actually thrilled, with the waves.

There are some days the waves are so big the no swim red flags come out. We hit one of those days. People are still allowed to hang out at the edges of the waves, but the lifeguards do come out with their whistles if someone goes swimming into the waves. The undertow on  the red flag days is mighty strong - even on the edge and if a big wave comes in. Fortunately we saw no drowning, but two Brazilian macho men stomped into the sea like they were going to own it. The sea had other ideas. A rather large and strong wave did pull them out a bit and move them out and then along the beach quite a few yards. They popped out by the kids. None of us understood a thing they said, but their tone and gestures made it clear that they weren't doing that again.

A red flag day

Lifeguards and the No Swim flag.

Then there's the food. Men walk up and down the beach selling food: shrimp on a stick, cashews, drinks, empadas (like a mini empanada) some açai thing we haven't tried yet. There's more, we just haven't figured out yet what the man is yelling, or tried whatever is in the insulated containers. I am definitely going to try whatever the man with the little portable charcoal grill has on offer. Portuguese here sounds so much different than how I pronounce things. Go figure. Up on the boardwalk there's more street food and coconut water. 

The beach walkers also sell bikinis, cangas (thin pieces of fabric to sit on), sunglasses, sunscreen, selfie sticks. Really, if there's a market for it, they will sell it.

Now, I need to interrupt for just a moment to recognize that many of the service providers on the beach are not young buff things prancing about looking for some spending money. They are mostly old, hard working people trying to earn a living. However much they make, it is likely not enough. And I feel for them. But I'm trying to not let my western bias judge a country that permits this type of work. Rather, I'm going to remember the words of Mma Precious Ramotswe (from "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series by Alexander McCall-Smith) when she stated it was her duty to have a maid to provide employment to those who had less than her. I still feel bad, but the services are mighty fine.

The best (and possibly most hilarious) part of the beach is the Brazilian men. They never sit on cangas. I have seen some in chairs, though most seem to prefer to stand around or work out at one of the many work out stations scattered along the boardwalk. Then they move with a kind of swagger/strut down to the beach. They look out to the sea as though are ready and capable to conquer it. They resume their swagger/strut into the sea and dive into a wave. They come up. They slick back their hair and exit the ocean. Finally, they stand in very macho poses at the edge of the waves looking out onto the beach. I know they're just drying off so sand doesn't stick to their bodies, but it's really almost as though they are saying: "Ladies, look at me and my awesomeness. I'm giving you all such a gift right now." 

And this routine doesn't include just the nice looking fellows, it includes ALL the fellows.

The working out ones are my favourite though. They appear in a group of four to a dozen. They face the ocean and do push ups, then sit ups, then jumping jacks. Then they do the macho thing into the water. After an appropriate period of posing they then disappear off the beach, perhaps to continue a marathon run or some other equally macho and masculine-testing endeavour.

The sun sets on a beach afternoon.


  1. "The Girl from Ipanema" played in my head the entire time I read your post. Hope you lose that pastiness soon, LOL!