TRAVEL:

Marli Meyer’s big fat Brazil­ian fam­ily hol­i­day

Fairlady - - CONTENTS - By Marli Meyer

TO

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.

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