Buzios. (This is a hypothetical account, based on experiences I had during a 3 day visit to Buzios in Dec. 2003. I fell in love with this beach resort east of Rio de Janeiro!)
A light morning breeze coming in through the open window brings with it a profusion of sounds and smells, in addition to cooling me with its freshness. Primary among the latter are the smells of flowers, at this time of day overpowering even the diesel fumes emitted from the trucks which rattle down the nearby avenue. Competing with these delightful flowery scents is that of freshly brewed, strong Brazilian coffee that is waiting for me in the kitchen. Bees buzz around the cascading flowers on my verandah and birds sing in the mango tree in the yard. If I decide to take a nap later, the red, orange and yellow cloth hammock on the verandah awaits me.
As I sip my morning caffeine, I gaze out the window at my neighborhood in this seaside resort town. My house is located in a residential area about a 15 minute drive from the famous beaches that tourists and other out-of-towners are already beginning to flock to even though it is not yet 9 am. I chose this neighborhood because it is off the beaten path and because of its small town charm.
Outside mothers call to their children, children call to their friends, husbands say good-bye to wives, dogs bark at everything that moves, and car doors slam as families prepare to go to work and school. I watch children running toward the family car, dressed in the navy and white of their school uniforms, backpacks bouncing behind them. Another group of older students clad in red, gold and white gather at the bus stop on the corner to wait for the city bus that takes them to their secondary school several miles away.
If it is the weekend, these same families will be strolling outside to take advantage of the cool of the morning that gives way to the heat of midday. Kites fly, mothers chat with friends as they push their babies in their strollers, men work on their cars or supervise improvements on their houses, and music can be heard wafting from the open doors and windows of houses.
On this workday, the music I hear is the maid singing as she bustles around the kitchen. She arrives every morning at 7:30 to fix our coffee and breakfast, clean floors, gather laundry, and after washing it, hangs it outside on the line to dry. Later she will consult with me for menu ideas for lunch (the main meal of the day) and supper – usually sandwiches and soup or a pizza, perhaps followed by an ice cream at the closest sorveteria.
Each neighborhood has its own small park, generally at least one church, and sometimes a neighborhood store, if you’re lucky. The houses all have clay tiled roofs and most are white, although the store fronts along the main streets are painted in a variety of colors. People meet their friends for a chat and a stroll in the local park – for the young people it is a place to gossip and to be seen. Nowadays, of course, added to this meeting with friends are long conversations on their cell phones as they walk hand in hand with their boyfriends and girlfriends, who don’t seem to mind sharing their relationship with other friends who are not physically present. These cell phone conversations add fodder to their topics of gossip.
Since I am retired, I no longer participate in the rush to get to a workplace or school. I make a living now by writing an occasional magazine piece and the rest of the time I work on a novel or a children’s book. My heart led me to settle in the country I fell in love with when I was a young adult, so I came and bought a house as soon as my years of service to Chicago area school districts were over.
I love this town because it is one of the most beautiful beach resorts I have ever been in – no huge hotels line the beach front, and the area has become a haven for artists trying to escape the congestion of large cities like Rio de Janeiro. Buzios combines the excitement and bustle of an entertaining night life and good shopping areas where no cars are permitted, with the peace and simplicity of Brazilian country towns.
Being in the tropical zone, the flora are lush and exuberant; colorful hummingbirds and a variety of songbirds entertain me as they flit about outside, pausing at my bird feeders and taunting the local dogs. Although deer are occasionally seen, we do not in general see the type of wildlife associated with typical portrayals of this region. There are too many wild open areas for them to encroach much on populated areas. Of course, there are plenty of bugs of all types. Just imagine the insects and other bugs that exist in the U.S., double their size and quadruple (at least) their numbers, and you get the idea! If you leave my neighborhood and drive south on one of the roads leading out of it, the road soon turns into a gravel, but still adequate road. This road takes you out for miles of grass covered sand dunes and would be completely deserted except that some rich people have decided to build some very large homes on a hill to the west overlooking this area. I took this road trying to find the back way to some of the more remote beaches, but the sand dunes eventually took over the road and it became impassible.
The restaurants here serve food as good as the best in Rio, and the churrascarias are inexpensive and always entertainingly noisy, because most have open air bars where local musicians – mostly amateur – come to jam on weekends, bringing their guitars, chocalhos – gourds covered with netting of beads that rattle when you shake them, harmonicas, drums, and agogôs. Along the beaches are many open air bars, most of which serve some kind of food – and that serve as meeting places for people. Everyone has their favorites, usually those located alongside their favorite beaches. In the evening, a stroll along the avenues in some of the beach areas provide not only plentiful people watching opportunities, but also plenty of live music, mouth-watering smells of fresh fish served in coconut milk, beef cooked on a spit, garlic and other spices used on almost everything, and the refreshing salty ocean air accompanied by the unceasing rhythm of the waves. If you are in the mood for any kind of cuisine, from Thai to German, it’s available here. I prefer the restaurants that serve Brazilian food, but I have my favorite pizzeria where you can get almost anything you could possibly imagine on crispy paper-thin crust pizza, loaded with spices, cheese, and tomato sauce.
I have never considered myself a beach obsessed person, but the beaches here are truly the most spectacular on Earth, and so many of them along this small strip of peninsula that surely there is a beach to satisfy any taste. Ferradura is a horseshoe shaped beach with a gentle surf. It attracts families with small children who play in the sand and wade in the shallow water without fear of large waves. Kids paddle on large inflatable rafts, and more adventurous types kayak. José Gonçalves and others that face the open ocean are wild, usually with cold winds blowing, and often rocky. Signs warn people to stay out of the water when the sea is rough (actually the English translation of the sign says, “…when the sea is ruffle” but its meaning is clear), but these beaches are popular with surfers and “non-swimmers” – those who like to watch the violent waves crashing against the rocky shore. At José Gonçalves, the land rises high above the beach, so one can safely sit on a lounge chair and have a caipirinha with friends, singing or listening to music being played on a poor quality stereo at the thatched roofed bar.
Praia Azeda and Azedinha are twin beaches, the latter being a miniature version of the former. Azedinha is reached by taking a path and scrambling over rocks from the main beach. Praia Azeda is a great place to meet foreigners. There are several small hotels here, more like Bed and Breakfasts than real hotels. There are lots of things for sale, and especially if you look foreign, vendors will harass you unmercifully, showing off their wares. Tattoo artists will give you just about any design you can imagine, and paint the temporary tattoo while you sit sunning yourself, charging way more than they ought to. These tattoos are not permanent, and rub off within a week or so. If you’re hungry you can buy a rectangle of fried cheese on a stick and wash it down with a variety of tasty drinks made with vodka or cachaça, the national strong sugarcane liquor. There is a boat which sits just offshore, within wading distance, where drinks can be purchased – caipirinhas, made with cachaça, can be had with lime (the classic), strawberry, banana, mango, papaya, and others, or for something a tad less strong, you can get a caipiroska – the same flavors but made with vodka. People wade out there to order their drinks and return to shore, their arms up in the air with colorful drinks in each hand.
I love to hang out at Praia Azeda. It’s so relaxing to stay there for hours, and if the sun is too hot, you either use a beach umbrella or move off the sand and sit under the shade of a nearby building. From there it’s a short walk through leafy side streets and past intriguing art boutiques and benches where you can sit and people watch, to the main part of the central shopping area and dozens of restaurants, all crowded. To avoid the crowds, I sometimes get my exercise walking along the length of the beach and over to Azedinha.
Poverty is pervasive in Brazil, and Buzios is no exception. I usually take public transportation into town if possible, because parked cars are often broken into, often by the people who are paid a few reais to watch them. Although some areas of the town are unsafe due to gang activity and petty crime, most areas are safe, and most poor people are respectable and hard-working. Once at Azedinha I met a man who was walking barefoot on the beach, wearing faded shorts and a stained shirt. He was unshaven and several teeth were missing. Even so he was respectable. He was selling oranges. I bought one and invited him to sit and share it with me. He was reluctant at first, but we eventually began conversing and he told me how he had fallen on hard times when a work accident forced him to quit his job. He and his family had lived on the edge of a parking lot for a time, where his wife made a fire to cook rice in the one cooking pot they had. Now his wife was working at a hotel and his son went door to door in middle class neighborhoods, cutting their grass for a meal and a few reais. He used a machete and slashed the grass, rather than cutting it uniformly with a lawn mower, which he couldn’t afford to buy. By combining their incomes, they could now afford a small shack in a slum area on the edge of town. Although there was no running water and electricity was intermittent, he was proud of the vegetable garden he had cultivated, growing tomatoes, corn and beans. These the family ate; the oranges he bought wholesale and sold them to people on the beach for a small profit. I bought the whole bag and scrambled over the rocks and along the path back to the main beach.
At night I often sit on the verandah and enjoy the moonlight while sipping a demitasse of coffee, um cafèzinho. I admit I’m hooked on the 8 o’clock soap opera, and sit on my sofa with a lightweight blanket over me (which I bought from one of the obnoxious vendors at Praia Azeda) to ward off the evening chill. To the sound of the crickets and tst, tst, tst of the fruit bats, I turn off the TV and spend the rest of the evening with a good book.