7 initial observations from my first 10 days in Rio de Janeiro

Evan Quarnstrom on the Selaron staircase in downtown Rio de Janeiro.
Being an extreme tourist and visiting the Selarón steps in downtown Rio.

I love the feeling of being in a new country. Every time you walk out the door it feels like a new adventure, a new experience. It’s like putting on prescription glasses that finally allow you to see beyond your bubble, observing all the new that surrounds you. Even mundane tasks like going to the grocery store come with their learning experiences. This process of assimilating to an entirely new set of customs is fun, yet simultaneously draining.

I’ve been down in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for 10 days now, so I figured I had spent enough time to reflect on my initial thoughts of the city and country. I know these observations will mold and shift over time, but here’s my gringo take on my stint in this South American metropolis.

1. Ubers are so cheap!

I have been taking the time to learn and ride the public transportation system in Rio, but for some locations and situations it just makes more way sense to take an Uber. And every time I request one, I cannot believe how cheap they are.

Here is a look at the recent trips I’ve taken:

  • 7.4 miles, 21 minutes = USD $4.12
  • 8.6 miles, 23 minutes = USD $2.93
  • 1.9 miles, 9 minutes = USD $1.74
  • 19.5 miles, 50 minutes = USD $11.28

I understand that the USD is historically strong compared to the Real — so you could say that most things are very cheap in Brazil — but still compared to other goods and services, I find the price of the Ubers to be the most eye-opening.

2. I love Brazilian food

In 10 days I have only been able to touch the tip of the iceberg as far as trying all the Brazilian cuisine, but so far, I can’t get enough of it.

Some of the highlights:

  • Açaí — This goes without saying. Açaí is perhaps Brazil’s best gift to the world. It doesn’t get any better than eating a cold, fresh açaí in its homeland. One small difference I’ve noticed is that Brazilians in Rio often get their açaí ‘batido’, with all the ingredients blended into a smoothie.
  • Tapioca — The easiest way to describe this is probably a tropical Brazilian tortilla. It’s starch extracted from the manioc root that is heated up to form a large, round tortilla-like object that is then folded in half and filled with whatever your heart desires. It’s a bit more grainy and crunchy than a tortilla and I’ve discovered it’s really simple to make at home. I also have been putting my gringo twists on it by applying peanut butter.
  • Farofa — Farofa is another spin-off of the manioc root, but unlike tapioca, it’s a flour mixture that is more on the dry, powdery side of the moisture spectrum. It goes well with almost anything and can be used to dip into or mix with food that has moisture.

Those are just some of the culinary highlights, but by no means did I mention them all! I am looking forward to continuing to fine tune my palette to the Brazilian flavors.

3. The weather has been … weird

Rio de Janeiro sits just within the Tropic of Capricorn, thus with my springtime arrival, I was expecting some warm, humid weather that would continue to ramp up until summertime. However, the weather has been surprisingly cool.

While it has been humid, the heat is nowhere to be found. It’s barely been cracking 70 degrees Fahrenheit on a good day, and the nighttime lows are refreshingly in the low 60’s.

Even more surprising, that tropical water that you imagine when you think of Brazil is nonexistent at the moment. Ocean temperatures are currently in the mid to high 60’s, a tad warmer than the southern California ocean temps that I thought I left in the rearview mirror.

The locals tell me that the rain and the relative cold of this spring are the most extreme in recent memory, and that when the true heat of summer soon arrives, I will be longing for these cool, crispy days. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

4. Big avocados

In Brazil they have jumbo sized avocados called ‘abacate’ (pronounced ah-bah-kah-chee). They are about the size of a baby’s head, but at the end of the day they taste pretty much the same as the ‘normal’ avocados that I am accustomed to (which they have here as well).

I am currently waiting for one of these bad boys to ripen in my apartment, so I will report back on how it goes.

5. Beach culture

One of my favorite parts of Rio is that the city revolves around its beach culture. There are miles and miles of beautiful beach, and it seems like everyone plays a role in it. Whether it’s surfing, volleyball, biking, hanging out, or renting beach chairs, when the weather is good, everyone heads to the beach.

Ipamena beach at sunset in Rio de Janeiro.
Ipanema beach at sunset.

6. Rio has an awesome shared bike system

I’ve tried and tested several of the shared bike systems implemented in cities around the world, and Rio de Janeiro has hit the nail on the head as far as balancing price and convenience to make their service work really well.

Rio has over 3,000 shared bikes that you can find at more than 300 stations dispersed throughout the city. There are the options of normal pedal bikes and electric pedal assist bikes. The unique part of the system, at least when comparing to the ones that I’ve tried before, is that you can pay a flat monthly fee to access the bikes. For just a tad over USD $5 per month, I can ride the bikes 4 times per day for up to 45 minutes, and if I go over the time allotment there is just a modest fee charged.

It’s cheap and the stations are on nearly every corner, so it’s also convenient. Also, you HAVE to leave the bike in a dock, or else it will keep charging you for your ride. That solves the issue of bikes getting left everywhere around town, which seemed to be the demise of the shared bikes in my hometown of Santa Cruz, California.

Tembici Itaú bicycles in Rio de Janeiro.
Shared bikes in Rio. Photo via Sthe on the road.

7. Crazy covid protocol to enter a soccer match

I went to my first Brazilian soccer match in the historic Maracanã stadium. And while it was fun to watch some high-level soccer and experience the passion of the Brazilian fans, the complicated process of obtaining the ticket is what stood out most.

The process of getting my ticket to the match involved an absurdly comprehensive (and perhaps overly bureaucratic) process of cross checking my covid vaccination card and passport.

I had to email my documents, wait for an online approval, enter an online chat with a very deliberate agent who then (again?) gave the documents an ok, and go to a printing store to get a physical copy of the documents (this part was just for foreigners). Only THEN was I able purchase a ticket to the game — a process that took well over an hour.

Flamengo vs Bahia at Maracanā stadium in Rio De Janeiro.
Flamengo vs Bahia at Maracanã stadium.

10 days down, many more to go

It’s been a whirlwind here in Rio, but I am finally settled in and getting the hang of things. Every day I am uncovering a new aspect of the city’s culture, people, and language. Consequently, I am sure these initial observations will soon become rather outdated. I’m looking forward to adding to the list.

7 thoughts

  1. Thank you for the update and interesting observations. Sounds like you are settling in, finding your way around and having fun. Like you, I love being immersed in a new social/cultural space. I will look forward to the updates, experiences and your impressions. Love the pics too.
    Hugs and love, Mom

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In spite of Bolsonaro, looks like Brazil is taking Covid seriously and developing some bike infrastructure as well. Uber is the great blessing of South America, cheap AND safe; we would not have survived in Colombia without it. You look good in the tropical sunshine–hope it warms up and that you keep seeing the world with new eyes. Love, Shelley

      Like

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