A few months ago my partner and I flew to Rio. We were traveling in September, which is near the end of Brazil’s southern hemisphered winter, so it was kind of chilly and overcast for most of the trip. An interesting southern hemisphere knowledge morsel: toilets flow the opposite direction, which is caused by what is known as the the Coriolis force, the internet tells me.

Rio is perhaps the prettiest city in the world, nestled between beaches and hills. It is incredibly expensive, as the government is experimenting with the currency to prepare for the next Olympics and World Cup. There are also plenty of investors paying for infrastructure to cater to the promised influx of wealthy tourists. Thus, there is a plethora of income disparity with rich folks flying around town safely and efficiently in personal helicopters, and poor folks that live their lives squatting in shacks on the hillside on dollars a day. These hillside squatter shack neighborhoods are known as favellas, and have to be among the most aesthetically appealing ghettos anywhere. Many are hyper-dangerous to outsiders, as evidenced by the heavily armed police at the entrances keeping misguided tourists out. They are also known for their rawness and their strong sense of community. Recently, sadly, many are getting displaced because of the Olympic/World Cup gentrification and many of the favellas’ appealing proximity to downtown.

For our first few nights in Rio we rented an apartment right off Copacabana beach. OMG, this is an urban beaches worth singing about, breathtakingly beautiful, golden, sunsets to die for, miles and miles of action packed urban paradise! There are folks wandering the beach selling everything liquid, with canisters of putrid tasting coffee served in tiny plastic cups, fresh coconuts opened with hatchets, lots of sugar cane liquor, fresh fruit and beer. The beer situation is odd — the quality of beer doesn’t seem to matter, just the temperature. They serve it in small cups so the beer doesn’t have time to warm, and then they slide the bottle in a fitted beer cooler. The colder the better, so you can’t taste how crappy it is. Fresh juice is HUGE, and around every corner of Brazil is a juice bar. You can get any kind of tropical juice by just pointing at which fruit you’d like, from passion fruit to kiwi to strawberry. They’ll squeeze it for you in front of you. We saw a fellow wander in and order an orange juice. He then proceeded to pour a pyramid of sugar on top, stirred it in and slammed it. Those Brazilians love their sugar.

There is a huge Japanese influence in Brazil, which shows its face with fast food sushi, served in a cone. Apparently, Brazilians love things served in cones, such as pizza. Very strange. All of our meals were too salty, even at fine dining restaurants. There is nothing you can do about it. Even if you ask for no salt, they’ll likely look with their beautiful eyes and then oversalt your food anyway. Our most incredible meal was at a Brazilian Steak House. They had three servers with bow ties who wander around with lamb, pork, chicken or 12 cuts of steak. There are also salad and sushi bars (Japanese influence), and it is all one price. Totally worth it. Never eaten better or more meat in my life. Bonnie doesn’t typically eat much meat, but she ate her weight at this place. Quite the experience and now we know the difference in taste between a cow’s rump and hump! It took more than three hours, allowing time for digestion so we could eat more.

We wandered Rio and experienced an absurd nightclub scene that makes Ybor City look like a Mennonite village. Rio-ites stay up all night, partying in the streets and in clubs with bass bouncing around every corner. Both men and women dance, and Brazilians seem to have laser pin-point precise control over their butt cheeks. Public displays of affection are commonplace, I’m told, which is in contrast to the US. People are deeply making out wherever we went with no regard for our Puritan social norms. Another aspect of this is with some young adult men who wander around with semi-hard ons. You’ll see them periodically flick themselves to keep them semi. Apparently this is attractive in some circles.

Perhaps my favorite moment was one morning, I got up early and watched a purple sunrise over the beach and then went body surfing with a small boogie board for several hours. Then my partner met me on the beach with a fresh coconut. I did so much swimming and relaxing at beaches during this trip. At one point we went to an island where the beach has 15 feet waves. I went into my ankles, which was probably too much. It still felt like I could be pulled out to see at any moment.

Christianity is HUGE, both Catholic and Fundamentalism. We wandered near several churches that seemed like the kind Sarah Palin’s family would attend, with preachers yelling into microphones, people graveling, folks packed in their like sardine cans. Because of this religious leaning, abortion is illegal and the government doesn’t support family planning/birth control. Interestingly enough, there is still a decreasing birthrate. This has been attributed to the soap operas, which are prime time events. Everyone watches them, including men and children. They are in smaller series, lasting only a few months at a time. Recent series over the past years have featured childless women in their 30s, and this influence has spread into the masses. Also, a series had a young girl with lukemia, and that month blood marrow donations increased 50 fold.

Other highlights: we ended up taking an rickety bus ride to a remote hippie beach village called Trinidade where we were treated to golden beaches, enough patchouli to make smoke signals visible from the moon, and some of what must be the finest muqueca (coconut milk stew) on the planet. We also went to an island village with no cars and plenty of monkeys to interact with. Apparently, Brazilians are fascinated with squirrels like we are fascinated with monkeys.