I am back! From January 1st to the 23rd, I was on a 3-ish week vacation in Brazil to visit family, where I hadn't been in 5 years. This time was extra special not only for that reason but because it was the first time that my boyfriend of 4.5 years got to experience this amazing country. For some history, my parents are both from Brazil, got married in 1990 there and then moved to the U.S., specifically Cape Cod. They are both from small towns in Minas Gerais and come from huge families. My dad is 1 of 9 and my mom is 1 of 16.
When my sister and I were kids and going to Brazil, we never felt like we were "in Brazil" until we got to the farm where my mom grew up. This farm is 5 hours away from the major city of MG and located in a small town that isn't even visible on Google Maps. One time we spent a week on the beaches of Bahia but still didn't feel like we were "in Brazil". Now that I am older I am more aware of how much there is to explore, and I made it a point to do that during this trip. But to be honest, I had no intentions of going to Rio. I just wanted to go where was familiar to be able to show Kevin, but he insisted we go and make the most out of these three weeks, and it ended up working out perfectly. We left on December 31st and saved a TON of money by doing this. Flights to Brazil are overnight and we sacrificed spending NYE on the plane to be able to go to 3 different states in 3 weeks while spending less than 2k. Worth it to me.
I'll be sharing 3-4 posts total about my trip. This is not intended to be a true travel guide since I mostly stayed with family. I also don't consider myself a traveler lol. My goal is to give you some insight on who I am, where I come from, how I came to love food the way I do, and mainly to show all the wonderful things Brazil has to offer. It gets a lot of negative attention in the news sometimes. While the economy is plummeting and their presidents are getting impeached, I've still met some of the happiest, most humblest people there. It really is magical.
So let's start with Rio:
We landed around 11 am and my Tio Tião (short for Sebastião) picked us up at the airport. He's my dad's brother and I had not seen him since I was THREE years old so I was really excited about this. The more we talked on the car ride to the hotel, the more I felt like I had known him for years. Brazil is a very family-oriented country which gives off that warm fuzzy feeling whenever you're together. (For the record, Tio means uncle, Tia means aunt)
My uncle is a taxi driver and knows the city like the back of his hand, conveniently. He took us straight the Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel where we stayed for two nights. Once we checked in, we had a relaxing afternoon where we went to my second cousin's house. Here, I met tons of family members from my dad's side that I'd never met before. They were having churrasco (Brazilian barbecue) and beer and were super welcoming to us and of course, Kevin. This was honestly the most important part of the trip for me.
We ate, talked about life, had some drinks, and Kevin tried cheese on the grill for the first time and went to heaven. (They have a built in brick grill in their kitchen that is #goals and I can't find my picture of it. Will post later!) At around 4 pm, Kevin and my sister got hit with a wave of tired, so my uncle drove us back to the hotel. We laid on the beach for a while, then Kevin and I got drinks and some pastel (similar to empanadas but fried, he calls them fried meat pockets haha) before bed.
As far as the hotel, we picked it because I have an aunt who is an international flight attendant and this is where she stays. It has a beach that is semi-private (people from nearby houses come down to it), a nice pool and is kind of in the middle of everything.
Although this was very early in the vacation, this was definitely one of my favorite days! I messaged my cousin Mariana (also a nutritionist, and whom I had not seen since I was 3 also) prior to going and told her Kevin and I were interested in doing a hike. Now, Kevin is an all-or-nothing type of person and here, we end up doing New Hampshire hikes that take a whole day. So when looking for trails in Rio, I of course gravitated toward ones with similar distances. My cousin basically told me I was insane and that she'd pick a better one. She was totally right. It was a 100 degrees out, the city was packed from being around NYE and there was no way we'd survive doing a day long hike.
We ended up getting picked up by my uncle, his wife Dorinha, and my cousins Igor and Mariana around 10 am and drove to Morro da Urca. This hike is short, between 1.5 and 2 hours and gave us an amazing view of the city. I would highly recommend it! I loved that we all hiked together as a family and it made me wish my parents were there, too. You're basically hiking in a mini jungle with creatures I'd never seen before, and the top is also convenient for tourists - there's restaurants, wifi, clean bathrooms (#bless) and shops.
After the hike we ate a quick buffet lunch (most Brazilian restaurants are like this) and then went to the beach at Barra da Tijuca. Beaches like Copacabana are packed around this time and it just was not worth it. We drove through there and Ipanema and they were all beautiful to me.
It started to get super cloudy around 6 (but otherwise would have been so bright out!) so we went back to the hotel early, ate a late dinner and relaxed for the rest of the night.
The plan for this day was to go to see Christ the Redeemer. This didn't happen and I will go ahead and take the blame for it. I was kind of the only one who really wanted to go. My sister had already been and Kevin is the type of person who doesn't like to do cliche tourist things. In the morning we packed and then laid by the pool for a few hours to relax. My uncle picked us up around noon, we checked out and then drove to the Christ statue. To go up there, there used to be a trail but it is now closed. Now, you have to buy tickets for a little train that goes up the mountain. I didn't even think about this and how crowded it was going to be given the time of year. When we got to the booth, I saw a sign that said the next train was going to be at 4:30 pm. Our flight to Bahia was that night and there was no way we'd have time to go and enjoy it. I was totally OK with this though because we had already gotten the scenic view of the city from the previous day's hike, and it is, of course, another reason to go back again!
We ended up going to the Museo do Amanha (Museum of Tomorrow). This is one of the very many museums built during the Rio Olympics in 2016. While we were driving there, my uncle pointed out tons of gorgeous yet abandoned buildings from that year. The city spent a ton of money on preparing new infrastructures for the guests with the intentions of selling them at the end. With the poor economy, these buildings aren't selling well at all and are just for show at this point. Kind of sad but paints a picture of the Brazilian reality.
This museum had incredible architecture. I'd call it a mix of an interactive art, history, and science museum. I thought it would feature more innovative technologies for the future that were up and coming, given the name, but instead it focused on sustainability issues we are facing as a global population. It was crowded, again because it was right around New Years, which made it hard to get through. There was a room at the end that showed a ton of sustainability projects worked on by Brazilian researchers and students which I found interesting. Kevin really enjoyed seeing another countries perspective on these issues.
After the museum I was basically melting from the heat and told my uncle I was craving some açai. We stopped for some açai smoothies and then drove to his house where my aunt made us dinner. This is custom in Brazil. I have already been asked if I ate out a lot while there and the answer is no. People are always more than happy to cook for their guests. It was a delicious meal and then we all sat around and talked and told stories. Again, I had not seen these people since my infancy and I felt like I knew them for my entire life. We laughed so hard for hours and almost were late to the airport. Although it was short, I am so thankful for this time I got to have with them <3
That night we flew to Ilheus, Bahia to spend 4 days going to the beach! Keep an eye out for my recap on those days in my post later this week!
As far as Rio goes, it definitely left a desire to visit again for more time. I would absolutely choose to go back any other time of year, though. My cousins told me that around April and May or even September and October, the city is a lot easier to get around. I am not a city person and the crowds don't intrigue me. It is such a unique city from anything else I've ever experienced and deserves a good amount of time to enjoy it.