The university, lunch and a moqueca

Wednesday morning we headed towards the southern tip of Salvador, to the Federal University of Bahia, where I’d been told I would finally find the archives. And I did. It was the easiest thing. We walked in to the library – no one questioning whether or not we were students – and the room was just on the right, with John Russell-Wood’s name printed above the door. It was a large collection for one person, and the people there were clearly proud of it – showcasing his medals and a poster of his achievements alongside the stacks of books.

As we were strolling back along the quiet road to somewhere busier where we’d find a taxi we stumbled across what we initially thought was a house but turned out to be a low-key port kilo restaurant. At least we thought it was low-key. The doors opened just as we got there and we were one of the first to go in, but within twenty minutes the place was bustling and there was barely a seat spare on the shady patio. The buffet was simple, mostly overflowing piles of salads and meats, as well as freshly-cut fruits, but it was undoubtably the best food we’d had so far. I could see why people would navigate the quiet backstreets to have their lunch here.

That evening we finally had a seafood moqueca, the traditional Bahian curry dish. It arrived in a huge pan that was placed between Anna and I, and was then accompanied by rice, a mysterious curry-like paste and farofa. I immediately thought that we wouldn’t even get near to denting the piles of food in front of us, but it was delicious. Not long later, there was left only a few farofa crumbs and a small pool of the yellow-orange sauce left in the pan. We rolled home for an early night since we’d have to be up early the next day for the boat.

To Salvador

We were sad to be leaving Rio but excited to see what Salvador would be like, since we’d heard it was so different. The first thing that struck me about the place was how tropical it was, and how big. I had not expected the city to spread so far; the ride from the airport to the old town took over half an hour, and the city went on even further along the coast before that.

It was lightly raining when we got there and the streets were relatively empty and still – something that would change very quickly. The first place on my Salvador list was the Santa Casa de Misericórdia, so we headed there early afternoon on our first day. The place was set back from the street, and consisted of several buildings and a church surrounded by well-kept gardens and grounds. We passed the security guards and were vaguely directed to the colonial mansion-type building at the back. There, we found an incredibly nice woman who, after informing us that the Russell-Wood Collection was in fact no longer kept in the museum, called the university for me and located the exact library where the collection had been moved to (something I had been trying to do for several days now). I began asking her about the history of the place and, seeing that I was interested, she took us on a tour of the place.

First she showed us the archives, which had recently been modernised and consisted of these huge mechanical bookshelves that were stacked together, and rolled apart when the woman spun something akin to a large steering wheel. Some of the books were unbelievably old – the tall, brown-leather bound things were clearly not from this century. A cool story about the archives is that the people who had been abandoned or left there as a child (which happened regularly as they ran an orphanage) could use them to look up their parents and families, since the place had had a meticulous system of recording everything.

We popped in to the Museum of the Santa Casa de Misericórdia on the way home, just to round off the experience. It was unsurprisingly pretty empty given it was so late in the afternoon, so the woman there gave us a private tour. All in all it was a productive day and we were somewhat drained by the time we got back to the hostel. Thankfully, one of the perks of the hostel was an hour of free caipirinhas every evening, and the hour was just starting as we got back.

Later in the evening we headed out in search of food. In the time we’d been back at the hostel the streets had transformed. The local and incredibly talented youth drumming group were performing outside and you could barely move along that street for the throngs of people crowding them. We decided to eat at Corvinha and clearly we were the only tourists to make this decision. Its not that the place wasn’t busy – people were spilling out the front of the restaurant and you had to squeeze your way through the bar area to get to the restaurant hidden behind – but everyone was local. We ordered prawns and beer, because that was what almost everyone else had on their tables, and once I tasted the prawns I saw why. After leaving Corvinha we wandered around the streets, and somehow found ourselves dancing samba to live music in a small square in the old part of town.

Last day in Rio

Although we’d been just the night before, we decided we loved Santa Teresa enough to make the trip back there the next day. We wandered up the steep, cobbly streets in the sunshine, stopping occasionally at various local arts and crafts shops that are dotted around the neighbourhood.

Since it gets dark relatively early here, we left the hills mid afternoon to catch the view of the sun sinking behind the hills from the rocks at Praia de Arpoador. There was hardly space to move on the rocks when we got there, and I soon saw why. As the sun sank the sky turned from blue to pink to orange, and the sea to golden. 

On the way back to the hostel I was looking out across the beach when I saw a familiar face – Juneo! I was so happy to see him again, and he introduced us to another friend of his who happened to be passing. It made me even sadder that I was leaving Rio the next day, it would have been nice to have longer to get to know him and hear more about his life.


O domingo fomos à feira ‘Hippie’ da Ipanema, uma feira que é muito mais pequena, e um pouca mais turística, que a Feira de São Cristóvão. Contudo, é muito divertida e tem coisas lindas bem como comida gostosa. Dado que foi o último domingo que tivemos no Rio, decidimos que tivemos que experimentar todos os bolos que tiveram na barraca de comida baiana. Começamos com um pedaço de bolo de coco e outro de aipim. Mais tarde (precisamos de tempo para digerir) experimentamos um bolo feito com arroz. Embora tivesse mais tipos de bolo, infelizmente eu não pude comer mais, e no final decidi que o de aipim tinha sido meu favorito.

À noite, fomos a Santa Teresa, um dos poucos bairros (além das favelas) que fica sobre um morro. É um bairro muito lindo, com grandes casas antigas e belas vistas da cidade. Anteriormente, o bairro tinha um bonde amerelo mais agora não funciona, dada a uma acidente que aconteceu alguns anos atrás, alguém me disse. Jantei numa restaurante lá que foi muito pequena e linda. A comida da restaurante foi muito gostosa, especialmente um prato de peixe e banana frita!

Ipanema life

Friday morning’s class focused on the different accents of Brazil, and the main differences between São Paulo and Rio. Since it was (finally) such a beautiful day, I headed straight back to the hostel after class. I met my sister there and we headed straight to the beach.

One of my favourite things about Ipanema beach is the countless barracas, beach stands that will rent you beach chairs and umbrellas and sell you cold coconuts and caipirinhas, all for a relatively low price. Going to the beach in Rio is an activity in itself. It’s an incredibly social affair. People arrive in their best, and tiniest, swimwear, making sure they’re sitting by the coolest lifeguard posto. And then you have the beach venders. They hike up and down the length of the beach all day long selling everything from cold açai to hot Arabian pastries, from woven jewellery to souvenir sarongs, and from temporary tattoos to outdoor massages. There’s hardly a quiet or uninteresting moment on the sands of Ipanema. 


After a caipirinha at a lively bar in Ipanema we headed to Lapa. On Thursday and Friday nights the streets under the Lapa arches are transformed. They become packed with countless street stands selling food and drinks (mostly chicken skewers and caipirinhas) that are impossible to resist. It is beyond lively. You can barely move for the number of people, locals and tourists alike. And it’s loud, with music leaking out from nearby bars to compete with street musicians playing along the sidewalk.

Saturday was another beautiful day weather-wise. We headed north to the lake and followed it around to the Botanical Gardens. The gardens weren’t quite what I had been expected, as they were bordered by rather large highways, but inside they were surprisingly green and serene. Well worth the walk.

After the gardens we headed to Leblon for lunch at a small vegetarian por kilo restaurant, which was both delicious and packed to the brim. Apparently we’d stumbled upon an incredibly popular local lunch spot. We walked home along Ipanema, detouring slightly to visit Farm on Visconde de Pirajá, essentially a wondefully colourful, Brazilian Urban Outfitters type of store. I wanted everything.

Culture and more 

Lunch was at another por kilo place. They are buffet-style restaurants where you pay by weight, and they might offer anything from the very traditional (think feijão and rice, fresh salad, barbecequed meat) to the slightly more modern, like sushi. I personally love them for the piles of fresh salad and huge selection of meat, as well as for the endless mini cups of free hot chocolate you can help yourself to on the way out.

Afterwards, I headed up Avenida Rio Branco to the Museum of Rio Art. There was a few different exhibitions on, and a lot of small Brazilian schoolchildren running between them. Particularly interesting was the exhibition about the influential women of Brazilian history. Here was showcased a selection of paintings by the Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amarel, who had a way with bright colours and peculiar shapes.

In the evening, I walked along Ipanema with the idea of finding a street stand still selling corn. Unfortunately, earlier rain had driven most of them away. But, I had had a cob every day so far, and I was quickly becoming addicted. So I continued on. Eventually I got to Leblon, at the very southern end of Ipanema and, to my complete surprise – I had wrongly assumed all the action stopped after Ipanema – I found throngs of people in bars and restaurants, and the doors of many small boutique shops still open. I wandered around, amazed, and very quickly decided I liked Leblon a lot, and would back soon, if not the next day.

I did come back the next day, but not till much later. I spent the morning in class, learning all about the Brazilian government and politics, as well as some oddities about Brazilian culture. For example, almost no Brazilian here will touch their food with their hands. When I walk past pizza restaurants here, I see locals eating with their knife and fork. It’s true that eating pastries and street food is common, but there is always a safe layer of napkin between food and skin. The rest of my lesson on culture that day came from my trip to Rio’s Museum of Fine Arts. A beautiful building and an interesting collection that, surprisingly, even included a collection of contemporary pieces.

Back at Leblon that evening, I found a small restaurant where you could make your own salad (somewhat of a rarity in Rio). I then somehow found myself in a ice cream place, and so I got a little scoop doce de leite ice cream to eat as I walked back along the beach to Ipanema.

Monday & Tuesday

The language centre was in centro which, with its high rise office buildings and throngs of traffic, was a clear reminder that I was in a large, urban city, and not a small beach town. I was slightly surprised to find only five other students also doing a course there, but then again it’s still not quite peak season here. The not-quite-beach-weather over the weekend was another reminder of this. Either way, the people seemed very chill, and the staff welcoming in every possible way. The main focus of the classes is conversational ability, which is perfect for me because it means I can do more of what I love – talk. 

After class, I headed to the National Library in search of the AJR Russell-Wood Collection, which was not as easy to find as I had anticipated. Luckily one of the library’s employee’s, dressed brightly in a salmon pink shirt, came to my aid. One particular book was housed in the Rare Works section; a huge, wooden room beautifully lit by rays coming through the stained glass panels high above.

A little detour on the way home took me to Monumento Nacional aos Mortes da Segunda Guerra. It was a strangely empty sight on Guanabara Bay, populated by a couple of soldiers and no other tourists, but impressive nonetheless.

The evening ended at a live samba bar in Copacabana. Although there was a  slight turnaround circa 1am, when the live band stopped, the instruments were cleared, and pop music started playing instead. 

Back at class this morning the conversation turned to carnival. The teacher was talking about the intensity of the whole event, recounting one particular instance where her husband was forced to climb atop a car to avoid a condensing crowd. I decided that I will most definitely have to come back to see it for myself.

The sun was out when we finished class, so heading to Ipanema seemed the most appropriate thing to do. 


Another day, another açai

The earlier sunset fooled my appetite last night, and I found I was hungry by 7 – a not so Brazilian time for dinner. I made up for the untraditional time by going to a meal that was very traditionally Brazilian, a churrascaria. The salads and sides are buffet-style, while the meat (including chicken heart) is attentively brought around by waiters who will brandish rather large knives to cut you a generous slice if you give them the nod. It was delicious, all of it.

This morning I headed to Feira de São Cristóvão, after my morning acai, of course. It was a fair journey, about 45 minutes on a metro that is almost over too air-conditioned, then a delightful walk through the grounds of Quinta da Boa Vista. The market itself is huge and mostly undercover, but at the bag was a large outdoor area with a stage and clear area that I would soon learn was for dancing.

I’m not sure if it was because we got there too early, or because there was a power cut shortly after we got there, but the live music didn’t start until the afternoon, just as we were finishing an odd but truly delicious snack of tapioca with banana and cinnamon. When we heard the music we decided to wander back in. The back open area had transformed. Live music was blasting, couples were dancing, kids were blowing bubbles from newly bought little plastic machines.  


Later that evening, I found myself at the end of Ipanema, unsure whether to keep strolling along to Copacabana or to stay near. I decided to have a drink while I decided and picked up a caipirinha from the nearest stall. I sat at one the tables and watched the evening bustle of tourists, couples and young Brazilians. I went largely unnoticed, until I suddenly heard a voice behind behind my right ear. It was a young Brazilian guy who worked for the Força de Pacificaçao. His accent was fairly strong and he had a little trouble communicating to me exactly what it was that his work involved. I had much better luck with the next one. He was a young, cheerful guy, and we talked easily about his life working and living on the streets of Ipanema. 

Day number one

I stepped off the plane to a climate much warmer than the one I’d left behind. Almost immediately I took off my sweatshirt. A good decision given that I’d spend the next 45 minutes pacing several terminals of the large GIG airport searching for an ATM that would accept my card.

Upon obtaining sufficient reais I left the airport and climbed onto a bus that would take me almost exactly to my hostel steps. But in the distance between I got a chance to see from afar some of Rio’s outter favelas. I was struck by the density of the structures, especially compared to the endless rolling green behind.

After showering, the next thing on my to do list was to get an acai. It was the perfect antidote to plane food. I wanted another immediately.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering. First, along Ipanema, then Copacabana, stopping by the Forte de Copacabana. Well worth it for the view. 

My ambles also took me to the Fundaçao Eva Klabin, a hidden gem of a mansion tucked away in the streets between the two famous beaches. Klabin, I was informed, was the daughter of a wealthy Brazilian industrial family in the 20th century. During her extensive travels throughout her life she had collected a spectacular amount of art, sculptures and the like. Five continents had contributed to her collection. The result was a wonderful array of beautiful paintings, elaborate pieces of furniture and shiny trinkets. They even had all her dresses on display. Peering into the large closet, I noticed that Eva, like any classy lady, had an impressive collection of shoes.