The Girls from Ipanema – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The Girls from Ipanema
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

My first trip to Rio de Janeiro started anxiously yet ended happily. I had let myself forget one of the best things about traveling independently – the freedom to meet people outside the tourist routes. This trepidation began on the way to Brazil. I was meeting two friends. Having decided to go at the last minute, I’d left the planning to them.

A snotty yuppie type on my flight proclaimed that no one stays in Rio during Carnaval. Everyone travels to Salvador or Florianopolis. It was one of those “my vacation is cooler than yours” conversations, which I found supremely irritating. I suspected the yuppie might be right, though. There is nothing worse than traveling thousands of miles to hang out with other tourists. It defeats the purpose of travel.

We knew Rio was a tourist center and that Carnaval attracted people from all over the world. I was glad to change planes at Sao Paulo and be rid of this know-it-all, but I still had a residual fear that maybe I was going to be stuck in a tourist trap, meeting no one but drunk American frat boys.

After Lisa, Shannon and I had been in Rio for two days, we began to wander about. We had been through Ipanema looking for the wild and crazy street parties. No luck. A few neighborhood block parties and cookouts were all we found. We had gone to a Scala ball, and although it was fun, it seemed no different than nightclubs at home. I was beginning to think the yuppie was right. Should we have taken the bus and gotten out of town?

Finally, we decided to check out the Sambodromo. We were told that scalpers might sell us tickets cheaply. We found a scene I’d imagined about Carnaval. We got the best seats outside in the streets with a perfect view of all the glamour. We mingled with the party-goers and with the Carnaval dancers readying to line up with their floats and Samba schools.

It was then we met Duda, Brigida and Mario. They were part of a Samba School and had their costumes at their feet, waiting for the rest of their school to arrive.

Carnaval Girls

Carnaval Girls
L to R: Shannon, Sheila and Lisa

“Do you want your pictures taken?” they asked in impeccable English as we wandered by with our cameras and motioned to their costumes. After a brief moment of hesitation (I had heard about cameras getting stolen in Rio, but then what were they going to do with my Food Lion disposable?), we donned the sparkly hats and smiled.

“Let me get a picture of everyone,” Shannon said.

They seemed excited by that prospect and posed for several shots. No one made a grab for the Nikon, and the photographs came out great. Our Carnaval friends invited us to Devassa’s in Leblon. The moment we stepped in, I realized we were among locals – very different from the places we had been before.

We had a great time – six single girls from different places with amazing similarities. We shared career choices, heartbreaks and headaches, the pros and cons of tattoos. We found that “hoochie mama” means the same thing in all languages.

Two nights later we went out again with our new friends to Cobal do Leblon, a pizza place in a parking lot. We were introduced to more of their circle, several of whom had studied abroad in the United States and were eager to share their experiences. Everybody was friendly and it did help that they spoke English while trying to assist us with our struggling Portuguese.

Then their ulterior motives surfaced. Duda asked about our jobs. Shannon said she was a photo researcher and had worked for Discovery and National Geographic. I told them that I was trying my hand at freelance writing. They brightened immediately.

“Really, who do you write for? Do you work for National Geographic?”

I was flustered, wondering if there was a translation problem. How to explain that trying did not necessarily mean in print with National Geographic.

“I write for a website called,” I remembered saying.

“For what?” they asked, looking puzzled.

They thought we were journalists because of Shannon’s Nikon. They were hoping to be photographed for National Geographic or some other international publication. I told them they would be in print, at Beats National Geographic any day! And I made a mental note, if I ever saw him again, to tell my yuppie airplane seatmate, that some locals do stay in Rio and have a damn good time.

Left, front to back: Brigida, Shannon, Sheila
Right, front to back: Roberta, Duda