Brazil, Day 8: Feijoada, Santa Teresa, and Good-Bye to Cristo

Our last day in Rio was just as packed as the rest. We got up at 10 to pack, store our bags, have one last açai, and get our last overdose of Vitamin D on the Copacabana beach.  We ended up walking back towards the beach in front of the Copacabana Palace; one thing we discovered was that 50 yards can make a great deal of difference in both the sexiness of the beachgoers and the cleanliness of the sand, and we wanted to make sure that we got the best of both. The sun seemed particularly hot yesterday, so I spent more time than usual in the water. The beach was packed; the Easter holiday apparently brings lots of people to Rio for the weekend. We met a guy from São Paulo who had spent some time in the States but had never before been to Rio even though it’s only 6 hours away. Given the big rivalry between the two cities, I was not surprised to hear him voice only modest approval of Rio! He seemed to think the cariocas less friendly than the paulistas… which is hard for me to believe. I’ve never met more friendly people anywhere!

After a quick shower on the sand (my last bathing before getting on the plane, wahoo!), we grabbed a cab and headed into the Santa Teresa neighborhood with two goals: explore the streets and eat feijoada.

Santa Teresa is near the Lapa district where we were the night before, and some have compared it to the Montmartre district in Paris. It reminded me and Mary of the small towns we’d visited in Spain – there were lots of beautiful older buildings, narrower streets, and unique shops, and it had a distinct neighborhood feel that made it in many ways the complete opposite of the beach areas. We had our taxi drop us off at a restaurant that had been recommended to us by the hotel, and we found that many others had come there for feijoada as well. Fortunately, several places down the block were also serving feijoada, so after a quick search we ended up sitting in a courtyard acting as a pop-up feijoada restaurant.

So, what is feijoada, and why were excited to eat it? Feijoada is Brazil’s national dish; some say that it’s derived from the slave trade because it’s made with cheap ingredients and fills you up, but that seems to be under some dispute. What people do agree on is that it’s delicious. It’s only served on weekends because it takes a long time to make and to digest, so it was the perfect thing for us to eat at 3:00 on Saturday afternoon.

We had an unexpected bonus experience while we waited for our food: April 22 (the previous day) is apparently Day of the Indians in Brazil and celebrates the heritage of its quite sizable native population, and I guess in recognition of that, three men in traditional tribal attire and paint came into the courtyard and performed two briefs songs/dances. It was very cool to see! We didn’t take any pictures out of respect to them, but you can probably picture what the equivalent would look like in the US.

Feijoada is described as a stew, but it’s served in a more deconstructed manner. We each received a plate with separate piles of white rice and farofa, and we got two bowls of meat and black beans for the table. Stacey’s book described feijoada meat as “well larded”, and that was totally true – I am not sure what pieces of beef we got, but they had plenty of fat! Feijoada also includes different kinds of sausage. It’s very heavy but so, so good! We were glad when the chef came out of the little garage that served as the kitchen to ask us how we’d liked it (we were once again the only tourists). We had a nice little conversation about politics (Obama and Lula), economics (Brazil’s kind of in the same situation as the US when it comes to how the recession has affected the general public), and Portuguese (he said that we spoke well).

Our waiter was very nice to us too; he introduced himself to us as we got up to leave and gave us each the traditional two kisses (one on either cheek) along with the reminder, “two kisses; no shame”, which we think pretty well sums up Rio. If I get to come back sometime soon I may come find this place again as both Paulo and the chef mentioned an interest in finding a language buddy.

We needed a walk after eating all of that food, so we strolled down the street and found a number of very cute shops that remind me of the ones in Carytown in Richmond. They had some great non-tacky souvenirs, but unfortunately at this point we were running low on our reais and generally had to say no.

We had just enough time to go into a few of those shops and admire the view of the bay (Santa Teresa is on a hill) before we had to find a cab to head back to the hotel, grab our stuff, and get to the airport. We each did a quick change in the hotel bathroom before piling into the cab with all of our stuff and silently processing the fact that we were leaving Rio. I focused most of my attention on Cristo as we drove; we went almost directly underneath him at one point, and that’s the last picture that shows up in the album I created on Facebook. It truly is a stunning statue at night; the lights don’t illuminate the mountain – it’s just Cristo up there, and I already miss seeing Him.

Getting to and through the airport wasn’t particularly difficult for me and Stacey, but Mary had started to feel sick in the cab and was not doing well when we arrived. Once through security, I went off in search of some medicine to dull the pain in her ear and some agua de coco to rehydrate her. There wasn’t much in our terminal other than duty free, and Mary really wasn’t feeling well, so she decided to go back through security to the main terminal in search of a doctor or a clinic. Stacey and I stocked up on cachaça at duty free and then kept glancing anxiously at our watches as more than an hour passed since Mary had left. Finally, she came back with a nice US Airways employee in tow, only to tell us that a doctor had told her she couldn’t get on the plane because her eardrum would burst! We felt awful leaving her, but there wasn’t much else we could do, and fortunately the airline was very helpful – they helped her get some antibiotics and got her into a hotel near the airport. She is hopefully back at the airport now as I’m writing this, waiting to get on the flight tonight! You just never know what can happen abroad…

Boarding the plane obviously made me very sad; even our walk down the jetway reinforced the charm of the country we were about to leave. The flight attendants were stopping people to see passports (again) and ask about our carry-on luggage. When Stacey and I said that we had bought some cachaça, the woman laughed and said “oooh, you’re going to make caipirinhas in the United States!” And speaking of caipirinhas, if you fly first class from Rio, you get them when you board the plane.

My last view of Rio was perfect. From my side of the plane, I could see Cristo lit up in the distance looking over the city. I truly haven’t been anywhere more beautiful.

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