PC 08 Beach Life in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro is famous for its beaches, for their proximity to the centre of the city and therefore for their ease of access, for their cleanliness, for the clarity of the water. And Brazilians love the beach; as the sun comes up the beaches and paved areas come alive with joggers, walkers, fitness fanatics, swimmers, surfers, volley ball players. The names of two beaches, Copacabana and Ipanema, are recognised throughout the world. Maybe people come just to search for that girl on the latter?!

When we go to the beach we go to the 18km long beach of Barra da Tijuca, which starts some 6kms west of Sāo Conrado; it’s only 10 minutes by taxi as opposed to 40 to Ipanema – such is the traffic in the city!

The beaches are overlooked by Life Guard stations located every 500m or so. From here fit men and women keep an eye on what’s happening, and help those in difficulties. Despite the lovely looking water the offshore currents are strong and potentially dangerous. Beach sports proliferate; put up a net, stake out an oblong, and the ball gets punched backwards and forwards. Closer to the sea a couple will hit a small hard ball to each other with a table tennis-like bat; it’s known as Fresco ball. Again, and again and …….. the hard ball on hard wood produces a sound that carries across the sand ……the sound of beach life in Brazil. Some days we walk along the sand, just on the water’s edge, from Life Guard station 2 down to Number 5 or even 6 or maybe (!) 6½! If you get too hot, the sea is cool and refreshing.

“Sanwhitches Natooral, Sanwhitches Natooral!” In Portuguese this is actually ‘Sanduiche Natural’, but this is how my untrained ear hears it. For me it epitomises this beach life in Brazil. The chap carries a coolbox over one shoulder, but his body is bent by the uneven weight, his head bowed and he seems to drag his feet through the hot sand, forever crying “Sanduiches Natural” with great enthusiasm! Honestly, would you ever want a sandwich when it’s 36°C? He’s become so familiar to me that when I don’t hear him, I wonder whether he’s OK!! But he’s not the only salesman; you hear them all shouting their sales pitch down the beach – “Mate!” (pronounced ‘matchee’) – a strong sweet tea in a can, “água!”, “chapeu” (think Panama-style hat),  sun tan lotion, bikinis, wraps, and of course “Biscuito Globo”. This thin doughnut-shaped ‘biscuit’ isn’t really a biscuit as you or I would know it. It’s made of polvilho flour, is extremely light, and in the beach environment, just to die for!! Anywhere else you would think: “What is this tasteless, flavourless snack”!!! At weekends an enterprising Brazilian of Arab decent (?) rides a fibreglass orange camel, the panniers stuffed with kebabs and other Middle Eastern food. It is SO bizarre, the Arabian music heralding his progress down the beach, his helpers pushing and pulling the camel, and people queuing up to purchase his food. The cash box is under the tail!

Every now and again there’s a Barraca, a temporary tubular steel construction of shade from which you can hire chairs, an umbrella and buy cold drinks. The one near Life Guard station Two is run by Severina. She is an absolute delight. Fifty something, during the week she runs a small shop; during the weekend her Barraca is the centre of beach gossip and wisdom. She’s known Celina for many years and welcomes us in true Brazilian style. Call from our chairs for some ‘água sem gas’ and a Zero Coke, and she dives into her huge cool box and hands them to Mineiro. He’s in his 80s, needs a knee operation and is not a good example of dental health; he hobbles across the sand, oblivious of its scorching temperature, and smiles as he hands them across. He loves being useful!

Brazil is famous for its beaches and for its beautiful people. There has been a gradual move away from near nudity in the carnival parades of the past and it’s little known internationally that being topless on a beach is unlawful. But I’m never quite sure when reality ends and imagination begins; never more so than on the beach! We all know that Brazil invented the ‘Brazilian wax’ ……. and it doesn’t take long on a beach here to understand why it was necessary. You know that term ‘dental floss’? Well, some women spend a huge amount of money for very little material to go around ‘you know where’. And the men? Well, they simply ‘strut’ and ‘pose’. Tattoos are numerous and colourful, upper bodies are honed, smoothed and packed  …..  and then they just stand, like a peacock, flexing, puffing, colourful. There are, of course, more numerous ‘normal’ people, of varying shapes and sizes, just enjoying the sunshine.

Further to the west are the smaller beaches of Prainha and Grumari, where the biggest waves in Rio de Janeiro attract numerous surfers. You need a car to get here, out beyond the urbanisation, and the undertow on the beaches discourages families with young children; worth the drive if only for the lack of other people. But there are no cries of “Biscuito Globo” or “Sanduiches Natural” and, despite the thunder of the waves and the yells of the surfers having fun, it isn’t quite ‘beach life in Brazil’!

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

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