Marli Meyer’s big fat Brazilian family holiday
my mind, family and vakansie are synonymous. Over the years, my late grandfather and his five sons (our dads, also sometimes referred to as The Big 5 – yes, we’re cheesy like that) have fostered our love of shared family holidays. It’s a core value of our ‘company culture’, if you will: spending extended amounts of time together, getting caught up in the chaos of airports and public transport together and, last but not least, eating together. Whether we’d be trekking off to a local coastal town or a flashy foreign destination, it would always be better together, with all 40-something of us.
It was the five brothers’ genius idea to deposit any profits they made through shared business into a ‘holiday fund’, which would subsidise things like air tickets and accommodation so everyone could join in. Every two to four years, depending on how much the fund has accumulated, a big holiday is planned.
So, over the Easter holidays this year, almost our entire extended family embarked on our seventh big trip: I’m talking 28 Saffas with a busy itinerary, burning to make memories abroad. We take our shared holidays very seriously, and Brazil delivered on every level: packed with adventure, not too expensive, tropical, rich in a variety of experiences to suit every age and preference, and easy to get around in.
I’d recommend buying a SIM card so you can get online – Uber is even cheaper than in South Africa and works like a charm.
Our hotel, Arena Copacabana, was perfectly located and worked really well for a big group.
These were my highlights:
1. Hiking up Corcovado
Seeing the Christ the Redeemer statue is an obvious must, but hiking up Corcovado through the Tijuca Forest really added to the experience. Only four of us braved the trek and met the rest of the family at the top.
The hike starts at the back end of Parque Lage, a public park with a few trails and an enchanting old mansion – a must-see even if you don’t do the hike. Don’t bother getting there before 8am, like we did; the park officials won’t let you in a minute early.
A little way into the park, under the canopy of countless tropical trees, the trail begins. It felt like we were characters in a video game or a scary movie as we moved through the musty forest, but
I was soon distracted from the slightly eerie feeling by all the details around us: technicolour caterpillars on trees, monkeys above, the clicking sound of loud beetles, smashed jackfruit scattered on the forest floor and humid air… You experience Tijuca with all your senses.
The hike also crosses the path of the tram that goes up to the statue and ends when you reach the sinuous road to enter the monument. The statue is majestic, and the surrounding views of Rio’s beaches and skyline equally so. We ended the excursion with ice-cold beers at Restaurante Corcovado. TIPS FOR THE CORCOVADO HIKE
• The hike requires a reasonable level of fitness (it’s tough!) and remember to take a lot of water, as it’s sweaty in the forest!
• Buy a tram/minibus taxi ticket for the trip down before you go up – you won’t be allowed into the taxi area without one, and the queues at the top are long.
2. Lunch at Bar Urca
The walk to the top of Sugarloaf is a lot milder than the Corcovado hike and the view is absolutely worth it. After the hike we headed to Bar Urca, which I’d seen in an episode of travel and food show
No Reservations (if the late, great Anthony Bourdain liked it, it had to be good). Bar Urca has a takeaway bar at the bottom and a restaurant at the top, and was absolutely packed with queuing locals – always a good sign! By way of enthusiastic menu pointing, we
bought piping hot, freshly made cod fritters, shrimp empanadas, lightly battered sardines (my favourite by far), calamari and quart-sized beers in polystyrene cooler holders.
We sat on a wall looking out at the sea, enjoying our tapas-style lunch and drinks surrounded by locals – grandparents and kids included – doing the same. The shaded spot was a dream in the hot weather, and out on the water there were boats and stand-up paddlers enjoying the weather too.
3. Sunset strolls
Golden hour should be spent strolling along the promenade of the adjacent Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Some of us rented bicycles while others walked all the way from Copacabana to Ipanema, sipping cocktails
– carried around on trays by exquisite Brazilian women – and ambling past soccer and volleyball games on the beach. After our promenade stroll we went bar hopping in search of the ultimate ‘caipi ’and feijoada, a local bean and pork stew (which we did not find).
4. Meaty feasts
A churrascaria is basically an all-you-can-eat braai; they’re all over Rio, but many are tourist traps leveraging off this Brazilian barbecue tradition. Despite the touristy name, Churrascaria Palace was anything but. We were lucky to be able to squeeze in, as the place was packed with local families.
The waiters walk around with different kinds of fresh-off-thegrill meats and carve or slice a juicy helping onto your plate. There was everything from roast lamb to asado de tira (South American short ribs), as well as an impressive buffet table with seafood, cold meats and salads. It’s pricey but so worth it – especially if you’re a meat-loving Saffa!
Another highlight was Braseiro da Gávea, an affordable authentic restaurant in the Gávea district. This was where the whole family had dinner on our first night, and it set the tone for Brazil’s food scene. The sharing platters of broccoli rice, picanha steak, homemade chips and lashings of farofa (an accompaniment of toasted cassava flour with onions, butter and bacon that is sprinkled on main dishes) were excellent. The restaurant made night number one really special.
1. The island
The idyllic island of Ilha Grande can also be reached from Rio.
We did a day trip from Club Med to Ilha Grande with the help of local guide Wilson Fernandes. On board a (slightly worn) boat, he took us on a tour of the picturesque beaches and all the best snorkelling spots. This was not your B-grade bleached coral scenery in slightly murky waters – we’re talking crystal-clear, seethe-pansy-shells-on-the-ocean-floor kind of underwater sights. We even took a dip with a curious sea turtle (major bucket list moment), which swam graciously alongside us, peeking back every so often before disappearing into the blue.
At one point, every uncle, aunt, cousin and grandchild was bobbing in the water, squealing, laughing and blowing snorkels like a bunch of silly seals – the epitome of family holiday euphoria!
Ilha Grande’s village centre has a quaint backpacker feel to it, with a few curio shops and a hip café or two. From there we walked past the remains of Candido Mendes, an abandoned jail that once housed some of Brazil’s most dangerous criminals, to a waterfall and rock pool that we could bum-slide down into.
The white powdery beaches we stopped at were utopian, and Wilson provided top-class entertainment, videoing and taking selfies all the way – so much so that on our way back, when it started to rain and the boat broke down, his cellphone battery had died. But with one of our phones he was able to organise a back-up boat within minutes. As soon as the next vessel was en route, our boat decided to get going again and we made it back in the pouring rain. If you’re ever in the area, Wilson is your man; find him on Facebook under @wilsonfernandes2018.
The sweeping views of Rio from the Christ the Redeemer statue.
Below: Hiking up Corcovado Mountain to the iconic statue of Christ. One of the quaint beaches at the foot of Sugarloaf Mountain, seen from the trail.
The whole family, in team gear, at Club Med Rio Das Pedras.
Copacabana Beach at sunset on Easter Friday was packed with local families enjoying the good weather and public holiday.
This pic: A view of bustling São Paolo from a hotel room. Below: The family enjoying caipirinhas and cervejas on top of Sugarloaf Mountain.
This pic: The aunts, uncles and cousins snorkelling. Below: The streets of Paraty are lined with beautiful buildings. Left: Marli and Thomas disembarking after a cruise to explore Ilha Grande.