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How to be a Carioca

The clock strikes 9:15 AM in Rio de Janeiro. It’s April, and the heat is not excessive, so the weather allows for a lazy Saturday morning. Yet, there is an urge to explore the vibrant streets of the city and pay homage to the ever-present sun.

I get up and take a quick shower, while the water boils to prepare a steaming cup of cafézinho coado. A little filtered coffee. The first of many over the day. Showers, coffees, and words in their diminutive form — the very essence of Brazilian-ness encapsulated in these simple acts.

Havaianas, shorts, and a short-sleeved-buttoned shirt – and bikini underneath it, of course. Sunscreen, sunglasses, and anything sun-related goes into a tote bag. If Paris is hailed as the City of Lights, Rio undeniably reigns as the City of Natural Light, where the Sun is the King. A benevolent and democratic ruler, willing to serve everyone.  And here I am, ready to embrace its embrace, dressed to be out all day long, in the city of the most relaxed dress code – yet full of bossa.

As I hit the street, I take a moment to soak in all the dichotomies of an urban paradise, as they fuse into a symphony of scents and sounds. I could talk about the magnificent birds’ serenade, the gentle rustle of the Atlantic forest’s colossal leaves, the distinctive carioca wheezing accent resonating, or the background Bossa Nova notes from someone rehearsing saxophone. But the one I am always looking forward to, is the weathered yet resilient Volkswagen Kombi painted in a faded shade of white – against all odds, this vintage relic rolls the streets of Rio every day, likely powered by an eternal gospel hymn that resonates from its speakers. Intermittently, a rhymed recording emanates from within, inviting residents to trade in any unused metal items they possess: beer cans, worn-out pans, outdated appliances—anything goes! It’s loud, unpredictable, and feels rural, briefly casting doubts upon the reality of this metropolis, home to nearly seven million souls. It gets me every time.

After a few blocks, I sense the smell of freshly cut passion fruit. That’s the cue for me to diverge from my way, and stop by the local street market – feira – to check out the flowers and get another coffee, a glass of coconut water, and a tapioca filled with cheese and carne de Sol – a tender and delicious sun-dried meat, a delicacy from the Northeast. And here it is again, the sun. Feiras are without doubt temples of colors and smells, but they are also one of the best spots for people-watching. The respect for the elder, the confraternization between a loyal customer and their preferred vendor, and the new people on the block trying to settle within their new community. Everyone is loud and talkative, but as Brazilian Portuguese sounds like an endless song, even a feira feels like a bit of a party.

Off to calçadão! I hop on a city bike and head to the shore and its large sidewalk and bike lanes. This is the best way to feel the vibe of each beach and pick the one for the day, which I tend to do based on my mood. Although they all share the same coastline, they are quite different from one another. Feeling sociable? Posto 2. Looking for a quiet spot to read a book? Posto 12.

Regardless of which beach I chose, the script to do it the carioca way is the same:  I pick up the perfect spot and lay down my canga, claiming that portion of sand as my territory. I strike a balance, not too close to others, but not too far either, relying on the friendly faces around me to keep an eye on my belongings while I cool off in the revigorating waters, battling one or two waves.

It doesn’t take long until the first mate vendor passes by and I refresh myself with a dose of sugared happiness. Yes, mate, as in Yerba maté, but pronounced mah-tchi. Here, served cold with a splash – or half glass – of lemon juice straight out of a big aluminum barrel that the orange-dressed mate vendors carry around. Also known as the best cure for caipirinha hangover.

As the day unfolds and the sun bathes my skin, I indulge myself in some coconut water from one of the nearby barracas.  And as Sinatra said, evoking Tom Jobim’s poetry to the world: “The fundamental loneliness goes whenever two can dream a dream together“, so I share my location with friends by telling them which Posto I am at. My canga soon becomes my living room, my personal oasis. Some just drop by to say hi, and some stay. Some can’t say no to a drink, others rather play altinha or beach tennis. A dream of two becomes a dream of six, seven, eight and we worship the sun, the sea, and the beauty of a city that is so urban yet so natural, so full of nature… and that goes on until hunger forces me away. So I freshen up at the beach shower and proceed to my sacred tradition of paying a visit to Bar do Bacana for a PF – which translates as something like “today’s special”: a full meal served on a plate featuring all the essential elements of Brazilian cuisine: rice, beans, manioc flour, some protein, and a choice of salad or fries. And what better compliment than an ice-cold beer, the quintessential companion to the sunny days of Rio?

After satiating some of my hunger, music is still on a low, so I hop in a cab and cross the city all the way uphill to Largo dos Guimarães in the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Santa is like a village within a city. Sinuous cobbled streets, vintage yellow trams running since the 19th century, and several remaining examples of colonial buildings contrasted with a handful of modernist houses and art studios.  The sense of community among its inhabitants makes me travel in time and away from fast-paced life downhill. The air is fresher and it’s actually a few degrees cooler up there.

Yet definitely bucolic, the aim is to dive into its vibrant and full-of-life scenery and enjoy the music emanating from a microphone accompanied by an acoustic guitar, a DJ set, a radio, or, from a Carnival band who decided to gather there and start a procession, even though Carnival just happened in February.

And just as the day begins to fade and before I allow the night to show me the way, I go up to Parque das Ruínas for a super special spot to watch the long-waited sunset.

Just as it is always hard to leave Rio, so it is to finish this article – and so I leave you with a careful dose of saudade and a promise to soon be back.

The joyful and exuberant Lais divides her time between Paris and Brazil, works on our France trips and plans our Brazil trips. But don’t hate her for that. Contact her here to plan out your own lazy day in Rio.

If Paris is hailed as the City of Lights, Rio undeniably reigns as the City of Natural Light, where the Sun is the King. A benevolent and democratic ruler, willing to serve everyone.

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