Brazil: The world of Ipanema

By Emmanuel Samoglou

Brazil's golden sand is home to free spirits, writes Emmanuel Samoglou
Arpoador and Ipanema beaches Rio De Janeiro Brazil. Photo / Getty Images
Arpoador and Ipanema beaches Rio De Janeiro Brazil. Photo / Getty Images

Ipanema Beach's 2700 metres of smooth sand exudes the alluring free-spiritedness that defines the marvellous Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro.

The name, in the indigenous Tupi language, derives from "bad water" - there is a strong undertow and the waves can be treacherous. But the real attractions are on the sand.

Prudent travellers arrive on Ipanema as Cariocas (residents of Rio) do: a couple of reals (the national currency) stashed in a secret pocket, a bottle of tanning lotion, and a kanga (a thin sarong-like cloth to sprawl on). In a city with considerable income disparities, it's wise to leave that bulky towel and knapsack in your hotel, and think twice about bringing your DSLR - you wouldn't want to get stuck babysitting technology and missing out on the flavours, sights, and sounds of this stunning beach.

A particular Brazilian cliche comes alive along Ipanema. As with most beaches in this Portuguese-speaking country, full-brief bikinis are the exception, strings and spandex being the norm. Men sporting six-packs in tight trunks jog the length of the beach, dodging golden brown women in barely-there swimsuits.

The bosa nova swing of the mid-60s remains with today's girls from Ipanema.

On Ipanema, there's no need to pack a cooler full of provisions for a day under sun. Hawkers and vendors haul around a variety of goods and tasty snacks to keep you satiated until the sun dips below Dois Irmos (English: Two Brothers), the twin-peaked mountain on the western flank of the beach.

Skewers of grilled shrimp come around frequently, piled high on trays. Enterprising cooks offer sticks of squeaky grilled queijo coalho, a delicious Brazilian cheese grilled beautifully brown before your eyes on mini charcoal grills, and finished with a squirt of fresh lime and oregano.

And be sure your raised hand is seen by the guy selling bags of biscoitos globo - fried manioc flour snacks that have been a staple on Brazilian beaches since the 1950s.

"Cerveja?", will be asked often by one of the dozen vendors hauling coolers across the sand. Be sure to grab a can and follow with the obligatory, "obrigado" (thank you).

Ice-cold beer flows freely in this humid, hedonistic country and compliments beach eats perfectly. But if you're still feeling last night's caipirinhas, readily-available fresh coconut water, soda pop, and Guaran Antarctica - a caffeine-rich soda made with a local fruit called guarana - quenches the thirst nicely.

Although Ipanema is the second-most affluent hood in Rio, after neighbouring Leblon, you'll find scant evidence of opulence on the beach. Cariocas take pride in the democracy of the sand, where some of Rio's wealthiest brush shoulders with kids from the favelas.

The only divisions are of taste and style. Marked by tall, numbered posts, different parts of the beach become occupied by the diverse elements of Brazilian society.

Depending on which post you set up, you can find yourself surrounded by artists and guitar-strumming hippies or youth sitting in circles blasting baile funk - a Brazilian brand of modern dance music.

Just behind the beach, a seaside boulevard divides the beach from the city.

Cyclists and rollerbladers break a sweat on dedicated lanes against a backdrop of lush green mountains, passing the fitness-obsessed doing-chin ups on city-installed workout gymnasiums that dot the seaside promenade.

Fitness and aesthetics are ingrained in the psyche of the Carioca, so it's no surprise that authorities instigated a coconut-throwing melee after trying to break up a group juggling a soccer ball on the beach last October.

As Rio prepares to welcome the world at next year's soccer World Cup and later for the 2016 summer Olympic games, the city's authorities are "cleaning up" the image of the place. Oddly, this means many long-standing traditions of the beach, such as the endless, sprawling soccer matches in the sand, have been banned to refine the city's image.

But from the perspective of many locals and travellers, all of these elements come together to make Ipanema beach a stage that puts on some wonderful theatre.

Back on the beach, as the day passes by, the sun-obsessed orient their kangas parallel to the bluish, green waters of the Atlantic.

You can hear a noticeable strain in the voice of an acai vendor who's spent the day hustling up and down the beach selling the frosty antioxidant-rich drink derived from Amazonian berries of the same name.

As the sun dips below to the west and becomes hidden behind Dois Irmos, the beach erupts into applause. It's another stunning performance at Ipanema.

Local star

Heloisa Pinheiroa inspired the lyrics of the famous song The Girl From Ipanema when, as a 19 year old in 1962, she would stroll past the upmarket Veloso bar, frequented by the song's composers, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. When Pinheiroa did enter the bar to buy cigarettes for her mother, she would exit to a chorus of wolf whistles.


Checklist
Ipanema

Getting there
LAN Chile flies to destinations throughout Brazil from Auckland via Santiago.

Online
www.ipanema.com

- NZ Herald

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