Archive for the ‘Travelogues’ Category

Culturally, Brazilian wedding festivities are akin to Indian weddings. There was a ton of family, even more food, and lots of music and dancing. I can’t say enough about how warm and welcoming Margaret’s family was, despite the fact that we couldn’t really communicate with them. They didn’t speak English, and remember what I said about Brazilian Portuguese? We set them off into fits of laughter with our attempts to speak a few words.

On our first night in Mimoso, I thought I had learned the word for bread: pão. When Margaret’s Uncle, having been notified we didn’t eat meat, wanted to know what we could eat, I trotted out this word proudly (pão), only to be met with a look of total surprise. One of Margaret’s sisters managed to clear up the confusion. The way I pronounced the word, he thought I was saying “pau,” which is the Portuguese word for…stick. Yup, he asked what we could eat, and I asked for…a stick. Pão/Pau–try it for yourself!

And then her cousins asked our names. Turns out, Anusha is easy to pronounce in just about any language. Rohit, on the other hand, is almost unpronounceable. The cousins couldn’t understand even Margaret and her sisters when they said the name. This was because the letters R, H and T aren’t really pronounced in Brazilian Portuguese. R is pronounced as H is in English (Rio sounds like Hey-o), H is silent altogether, and T is pronounced more like Ch, like in Chair. They just don’t hear the other sounds, which happened to be ALL the consonants in Rohit’s name. In their heads, his name sounded like “Oh-ee.” Finally, we spelled it, and their faces lit up with understanding, as they pronounced the letters the correct way: “Ho’ichi!” And that’s how we introduced him the rest of the time.

What a great rest of the time it was. The night before the wedding, we ended up taking the party to the streets of the town. During many Indian weddings, there is often a singing/dancing night–the Sangeet, where family and friends strut their stuff. It turned out to be much the same in Brazil, and Margaret’s family had talent to spare!

It started with singing, and they had their own music system. On wheels. Margaret has perfect pitch, so she got in on the action too, as Rohit and I watched, awestruck. Then the drumming started. There is simply no way to describe it. Rohit plays the drums himself, and seeing his interest, some of Margaret’s cousins gave him a quick lesson. He enjoyed himself a lot, and I enjoyed the look of intense concentration on his face.

What we found the most amazing about the drumming was that even the kids knew how to keep a count with one hand–beating 1-2-3-4, while with the other hand, they beat double or triple time! One hand beat down steadily on the drum, while the other rippled quickly across the surface, like skipping stones across a lake. How do you have your left hand and your right hand playing different, but coordinating beats? It was incredible! I’ll leave you for now with a few more images from the pre-wedding procession, and follow up next time with the big day itself!





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After a few days in Rio, we were off to Mimoso do Sul for the actual wedding festivities. At the bus station, the Rodoviária Novo Rio, we had delicious açaí bowls. We got a little addicted to açaí while in Brazil. It’s an addiction that proved too expensive to keep up once we returned to the US. But for the duration of our stay there, açaí and granola was our go to snack. For those who haven’t heard of açaí, it’s the fruit of a Brazilian palm tree, mashed to pulp and mixed with granola. It’s rich in flavor and nutrients, naturally vegan, and just plain tasty.

The bus was more comfortable than our seats on Delta. I managed to sleep almost the entire way to Mimoso. Rohit doesn’t have the magic power of sleeping anywhere he wants, whenever he wants, so he turned to technology instead. The iPod is an insomniac traveler’s best friend.

We arrived in Mimoso shortly before dawn, but Margaret’s uncle was already there to greet us. We loaded all our suitcases into his truck and walked the short distance to the house.

The only hotel in town was full of wedding guests for the rest of the week. An international army descended on Mimoso, since our bride and groom, Margaret and Mike, are so well travelled that they had friends in many many different countries. Margaret’s Brazilian family hosted all of us for meals at their house on the Rua Crispim Braga. We spent the rest of the week eating together and making new friends.

Brazilian culture is incredibly friendly and hospitable. Especially if you happened to be Indians. Rohit and I had noticed even when we arrived in Rio that people turned and looked at us a lot. We assumed this was because they couldn’t quite decide how to categorize us. Maybe we looked like native Brazilians, but walked and talked like Americans. We thought that might be confusing.

Once we got to a small town, however, and people actually came up and talked to us, we realized that Brazilians were fascinated with us because we were Indian. Not natives, but from India. All of Brazil was hooked on a telenovela called Caminho das Índias. Essentially it’s like watching a giant multi-generational mini-series. In Brazil in 2009, Caminho das Índias was bringing the whole country to a stand still every night, with everyone stopping whatever else they were doing to watch the intertwined saga of two Brazilian and Indian families. Inter-caste romance, silk saris and gold jewelry, Bollywood music and classical dance–Caminho das Índias had it all, and Brazilians couldn’t get enough!

What was most fascinating to me was how clearly they could tell we were Indian (in fact that was pretty much everyone’s first question; the second was whether I could teach them Indian dance, but more on that later). Why was this fascinating? Because every Indian character in the telenovela was actually played by a Brazilian! So how did they know? It’ll always be a mystery.

Rohit took great delight in informing everyone that I was a classically trained dancer. That’s pretty much all it took for me to become a celebrity. For the rest of the week in Mimoso, Rohit and I got our 15 minutes of fame 🙂 Even Mimoso’s mayor wanted to have his picture taken with us. Here I am with all my littlest fans, and the Mayor!



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A trip to Brasil would not be complete without attending a football game! Here we are outside Maracana stadium, getting ready to cheer on the local team, the Flamengo. Rohit’s very excited, as you can tell by the size of his smile!

To be honest, I can’t remember too much about the game, except that the stadium is lovely, the Flamengo won, and the mood was electric. If this is how just a regular game is here, I can’t imagine how it will be during the World Cup in 2014! We might be planning a trip back for it.

We also unexpectedly came across some fun urban graffiti right outside the stadium. It’s just as nice to randomly see street art like this in cities we visit, as it is to turn the corner and discover a cool building or a pretty view. Here are a few of our favorites. Rohit decided that he needed to pose next to the one that said “Thug,” in case there was any doubt as to how he views himself.



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Enough about us! On to the wedding. Congratulations to Margaret aka Maggie, (here with Rohit) and Mike! They met in Afghanistan/Pakistan and got married in Brazil, in Maggie’s mother’s hometown, Mimoso do Sul. Over 40 of their friends flew in from all over the world to celebrate with them.

Many of us first spent a few days together in Rio, where we stayed at the Orla Copacabana. It was a decent hotel, reasonably priced for Rio (our standard room was $119/night + taxes), and as close as to the beach as possible! Since we didn’t spend much time in our room, it worked out great. This is pretty much the whole room, except for a small bathroom to my left.

Maggie and her two sisters became our tour guides for the rest of our trip. On our first night we all went out to a samba club. It was a combined bachelor/bachelorette party, and Margaret and Mike were such good sports, they wore the “gifts” her sisters bought them.

on the bus

trains weren't running

sisters in the van

Day 2 in Rio, we all trekked to see Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), who watches over all of Rio. We took a bus to the base of the mountain, and then hired a van to take us the rest of the way. There should have been train service to the top, but it wasn’t running that day.

(a) pirate captain and crew (b) brazilian family or (c) all of the above?

see if you can spot rohit following the pirate

rohit's delighted to have his picture taken with his pirate!

Rohit also became fascinated with a family of pirates that were on our van. He guessed they were pirates because the dad wore a bright red shirt, gold hoops, a ponytail and a general pirate-y look. We ended up taking almost as many pictures of the pirate as we did of the Reedemer!

After soaking up all the views of Rio, we headed back to the city, tired and ready to eat. But, it was siesta time everywhere.

Just as we resigned ourselves to going hungry, we came upon this small alley, paved with cobblestones and softly aglow with early evening light. There was just one restaurant open, and it was a Middle Eastern place. So vegans, vegetarians, omnivores and carnivores all had a perfect meal, to end a perfectly lovely day.

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 It was raining when we first arrived in Rio. But that didn’t deter us from seeking out some lunch. Brazil is generally NOT a vegetarian/vegan friendly country. They love them some meat over there. From the way it smelled, roasting on spits, we could understand why!

Luckily, during our Rio research, we had discovered the existence of a small vegan restaurant in the fashionable area of Leblon, which was not too far from where we were staying in Copacabana. With a name like Vegetariano Social Clube, how could we resist?

Since it was raining, and we were starving, we decided against walking there. Instead, armed with my Brazilian Portuguese phrase book, we tried out the local bus system. We discovered immediately that (1) most people in Rio do not speak or understand English, and (2) Brazilian Portuguese is one tough language to pronounce correctly!

The bus driver and the conductor (who administers the tickets) were both very sweet and managed to understand that we were clearly asking something about where the bus was going. Esta onibus vai para Leblon? Unfortunately, the Vegetariano Social Clube is located on the Rua Conde Bernadotte, which years of high school French made me consistently pronounce with a French accent (roo conda bear-nah-doht). So many blank looks later, we had to write it down and show them. Of course it turned out that we had just passed the stop!

The rain had stopped by then, so we walked the short distance to the restaurant. The Vegetariano Social Clube had an extensive buffet, and amazing fresh juice drinks. Since it was a Sunday, we also got to have vegan feijoada (a delicious stew of beans and pork, or in our case, tofu), accompanied by farofa, a condiment that is a mix of toasted flour and spices. This is pretty much the Brazilian national dish!
So on our very first day in Rio, we discovered that our travels together would encompass these three things:
  1. My interest in learning at least a few phrases in the local language, which I would pronounce with a French accent;
  2. Rohit’s fascination with trying out the local public transportation; and
  3. Our mutual obsession with not just finding vegan food, but vegan versions of the food the locals eat!

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Our first vacation together was to Brazil, to attend the wedding of Rohit’s college friend, Margaret. Traveling to foreign countries is always an adventure. In this case, the adventure began even before our trip, when we went to the Brazilian Consulate in SF to get our visas.

  1. Yes, US citizens, you do actually need a visa to go to Brazil. The US makes Brazilians get a visa to come to the US, so Brazil would like to return the favor. The rules seem to change from time to time, so be sure to always read the Consulate’s website.
  2. There is a short but very important list of rules for getting the Brazilian visa. You need a passport photo, and the fee must be paid ONLY with a postal service money order. This means you need to go to the post office and get this. No cash, checks, or credit card will be accepted. You fill out the application online and then PRINT it out and bring it with you, along with information about when and how you’re arriving into Brazil, and when and how you’re leaving Brazil.
  3. When we went back in 2009, the Consulate was accepting visa application only from 9am-12pm. You took a number and then sat there and waited…and waited…and waited. People lined up outside the door starting before 8am! Now it looks like you have to make an appointment online. Do not show up without an appointment.
  4. They take a long time to process the visa. When we went, it was two weeks! And there is no expedited process or fee you can pay to make it go faster. There were several people who showed up there and said their flight was the next day! They were SOL. The Brazilians are very fun in Brazil (see the rest of this entry), BUT they are not messing around at their US Consulates. They have no pity or sympathy for our ignorance. So plan ahead.

Rohit had found us a super cheap flight to Rio, but it left out of LAX and stopped over in Atlanta for 12 hours. Luckily, we have friends in both cities, so we started our vacation with an afternoon at the Santa Monica pier.

Then we took a redeye to Atlanta and spent a lovely day catching up with old friends.  

All this vacation bliss was almost ruined by Delta’s ineptness. They had somehow cancelled part of our crazy itinerary, and almost couldn’t get us seats together. Overall, the experience was bad enough that we decided never to fly Delta again.

But finally, we were in Rio!

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