Kicking Off Carnival with A Melhor Caipirinha do Mundo

There’s nothing quite like your first day on the beach in Rio.  For one, you will learn that Americans have the beach all wrong.  The instructions I was given by Brazilians for the beach was as follows:

Wear your bikini and your wrap.  Don’t bring anything.  Don’t leave your sandals in the sand and expect them to be there when you return.  Anything you need will be sold on the beach.

As soon as we got to the packed Ipanema beach we found a small spot on the sand and set up shop.  Within 5 minutes we saw people selling sarongs, bikinis, acai and granola, beer, coconuts, tea, lemonade, sandwiches, jewelry, artwork, sunscreen, and even shrimp on a stick.  No matter how much you like shrimp, and how tempting plump, orange, perfectly grilled shrimp on a skewer looks with that juicy slice of lime just remember that guy has been walking around with that tray all day, in the sun, in 90 degree heat – and shrimp is seafood.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Ignoring all that stuff, although I would eventually buy one of the sarongs (which has been the best purchase of my trip so far), my only mindset as soon as I got to the beach was get a caipirinha.  By sheer chance we ended up at Posto 9 by tent No. 65 and received the blessing of A Melhor Caipirinha do Mundo.

The caipirinha is a special thing in Brazil.  You can get them everywhere, everyone will claim to make the best, and while I had a ton of good caipirinhas on the trip, especially at Mocoto, Ivan’s caipirinhas at tent 65 were hands down the best.  No questions asked, no arguments accepted.  When I wandered up to Ivan’s tent I ordered a caipirinha expecting the standard 1 minute slice, sugar, cachaca, shake, pour.  But no, I was asked what fruits I would like to season my caipirinha with, whether I wanted vodka or rum and what kind of tastes I liked. Excuse me?  Am I at a beach stand in Rio or did I accidentally just time warp myself back to a $15 a drink bespoke cocktail lounge in NYC?

I told the bartender to surprise me and make me something good.  He asked me where I was sitting and told me he would bring my drink to me at my towel.  Beach, check!  Sand, check! Beautiful water, check!  Drinks brought to my towel, check!  I was really starting to like Rio.

Ten minutes later,  Ivan strolled up with the best caipirinha of life.  I can’t remember the specifics but it was something with fresh muddled mango, some thyme, a pinch of “special herbs” and of course cachaca.

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One of Ivan’s masterpieces – maracuja (passion fruit), kiwi, vodka and basil

As it would turn out, we would walk the extra quarter mile each day just so Ivan would make us caipirinhas and caipiroskas with whatever fresh seasonal fruit he had bought that day at the market (limes, lemons, mangos, bananas, avocados, watermelons, passion fruits, pineapples, coconuts, you name it he had it) with special herbs (local shit, rosemary, basil, thyme etc) and a cheap local cachaca. Seriously, heaven on earth is Ipanema beach on a sunny day with Ivan’s caipirinhas.

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Mark, Ivan and I

Not to mention the beach itself was gorgeous, the water was a blue I hadn’t seen in years (what color exactly are New York beaches?) and everywhere there were half naked people frolicking around in the water and on the sand. Disappointingly, I didn’t see as many rocking bodies as one would expect from the land of Giselle and Adriana Lima, but I did see women of every age, shape, size and color rocking a teeny weeny bikini and being proud of it.  Props to Brazilians for all the body love – you gotta respect that.  And actually correction, the guys’ bodies were pretty much all banging but it was really difficult to tell who was gay and who wasn’t since everyone was in man-kinis and in shape.  Sigh.

By the time we made it back to the apartment a few hours later, the others that hadn’t gone on the favela tour had already returned and told us that some Brits they had met suggested we start off Carnival with a street party in Gloria. So at around 9pm we headed over to Gloria to catch the party – which was literally one stand with a guy playing samba loudly on a radio while seemingly drunk people danced in front of it and a few other drunk stragglers stumbled around. Sweet party.  As we would later find out, the party they were informed of was one of the signature “blocos” of Rio’s Carnival and we were too stupid to realize that they were daytime street parties not a night time thing. Stupid Americans.

We figured while we were there we would eat dinner and eventually we made it to an Italian place where we ordered a bunch of pizzas and pastas. I also wanted to start Carnival off right so I ordered a vodka tonic (pronounced: vodjka com tonica) since after Argentina I couldn’t do any more beer or wine. When the server came over with the bottle of vodka and the can of tonic and a measuring cup I mentally “booed” since he was going to give me an exact pour. However, when pouring the measure into my cup he missed altogether and poured it on the table, apologized profusely and then gave me another 5 count of vodka. So bascially my high ball was filled 3/4 of the way with vodka. Party!

The food ended up being really good, and what made it even better was the waiter came back 2 times to refill my glass of vodka for free. Have I mentioned that Brazil is awesome?

After dinner we headed back to the apt to meet up with Jess and her bf, but first we had to take a cab, and without naming names, someone puked out of the moving cab window on the 20 minute ride back – which is apparently common practice in Rio during Carnival as the driver neither cared nor noticed.  All I’m saying is, for once it wasn’t me.

When we got back Jess wasn’t there yet, so a few of us headed out in search of the sound of the drums coming from nearby.  For the record, there’s no such thing as open container laws of any sort – and alcohol is served everywhere during Carnival.  So along the way Derek, Ryan, Gian and I stopped at beach stands, ladies with coolers of cheap beers, and a makeshift stand run by a drunk guy and each chugged a caipirinha, two rounds of beers and a ridiculously strong passion fruit caipiroska while following a local samba school through the streets chanting and dancing to the drums.

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what the middle of the street looks like at night during Carnival

After that we strolled home on the beach, and I have a vague recollection of stripping down to my underwear and running into the ocean at night.  Mind you I don’t know how to swim during the day while sober, but drunk, the lack of waves and warm inviting water was too much for me to resist.  Yup, I’m a bright one.

Sometime later we made it home just as Jess was getting ready to head out to a club so I threw on some cuter sandals and immediately went back out, or something like that because at that point my BAC percentage was probably closer to my parents age than my shoe size.

By the time we arrived at the club I really don’t remember much, except it was huge, the music was good, we talked to some random Asian-American dude, I tried to order an agua com gas, failed, and then I think I spent a substantial amount of time puking in the bathroom while simultaneously telling Jess that I was fine since this happens all the time. I guess this time it was me.  But on the other hand after puking I did get back up and dance.  Boot and rally –  yay Amurrrica.  At some point in the early morning we got home, ate empanadas from the 24 hour corner empanada and beer shop, and went to sleep. Carnival was going to kick my ass.

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Copacabana at Sunset

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what I do when I’m happy (Ipanema Beach)

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Party at Ipanema Beach

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Christ the Redeemer and some of the “hills” of Brazil

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