Brazil ’79

Photo courtesy Manchete
Great Samba!

I had had so much fun the first time around that I had to go back to Rio de Janeiro in time for New Years 1978. Kim was living there then having transferred to the Canadian Consulate located there. She and Andy were going strong and were to be married later in 1979.

On New Years Eve we went to a party in Copacabana. I remember going up to a nice apartment. We had a few drinks and then heard fantastic drumming sounds coming from the streets. Groups of young men had formed spontaneous drum groups and were competing to outdo each other. It’s samba drumming like you hear in Beth Carvalho’s video above. Then we headed for Copacabana Beach for more fun. There were hundreds of people there celebrating the Reveillon as it is called in Brazil.

Offerings to Iemanja

The people on the beach dress in white and prepare little handmade boats and load them with offerings, aiming to please Iemanja, the goddess of the water, so she can provide them with prosperity for the coming year. There are rituals and dances happening to celebrate the coming year in a spiritual manner. The Candomblé religion originated in SW Nigeria and is practiced in Brazil. It is syncretized with the Roman Catholic religion meaning separate beliefs and traditions have been merged into a inclusive combined tradition. Wow, this is special folks!

Offering Kim up to Iemanja

It was truly an amazing experience. We all wondered into the sea to watch the little boats float away. If they didn’t come back, that signified acceptance by Iemanja. If they did, that means bad luck for the sender I guess. I wondered into the sea, glass of wine in hand. When I wandered out I wondered what had happened to the glass, lol. At midnight a huge wall of fire poured out from the top of a hotel skyscraper and there were fireworks all about. Wow, Happy New Year 1979!

Soaking it all in literally

In 1979, Brazil was a led by a military dictatorship as were many other South American countries. The president at the time Gen. Ernesto Geisel was relaxing restrictions after left wing guerillas had been largely defeated in the brutal U.S. backed Operation Condor which had killed thousands. I do not recall seeing any evidence of this – no troops in the street etc.

Copacabana Beach

Of course we returned to the beach during the day. I remember lots of beautiful people, kids playing soccer, vendors selling matee (tea) and limanche (lemonade). There was lots of visible poverty around too. Favelas, the informal low-income settlements were always in sight wherever we were. When you parked your car at the beach you had to pay the local kids a fee or risk it being vandalized. When you went to an outdoor restaurant there were kids begging. You saw beggars on the street everywhere. It was a dichotomy of riches and poverty. Perhaps you saw the 2002 movie City of God which depicts drug gang warfare in Rio. Sad but real.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

On a lighter note we went to a “churascaria” restaurant and enjoyed it – as much BBQ meat as you can possibly consume. We went to a seafood restaurant at Barra de Tijuca which was a barren beach then and now all built up. We enjoyed “feijoda completa” on Saturdays – a spicy stew made of meats. We enjoyed “Chopp” beer and caiparinha cocktails made with cachaça made from fermented sugar cane. But the real highlight was going to the bar in Ipanema where the song The Girl from Ipanema was written by Anonio Carlos Jobim. What a dream.

Kim and Andy off to a party

My visit was coming to and end but not before one more trip to the beach.

On the way home this time, I stopped in Caracas, Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago to meet up with some friends. In Caracas I remember seeing a favela right beside the Simon Bolivar skyscaper. In Trinidad we visited the La Brea tar flats before heading for Tobago with its quiet beaches. Another great trip had come to an end.

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