Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Further afield – the Brazilian equivalent of St Tropez

Escaping the worst downpour in 48 years – this according to the Brazilian meteorological society – has seen the LCM troupe head up to Búzios. Armação de Búzios to give it its full name, a bustling resort town on the Costa do Sol some 180km east of Rio.

Passing over the very long and quite impressive bridge that spans Guanabara Bay, through Niterói (which suffered the bulk of the recent horrendous mass landslides in the favelas), we embarked on a journey that was a) without a map, b) without any signposts, and c) with some of the biggest potholes ever encountered in all my driving life. It is worth noting that the Brazilian state highway agency equivalent was intent on fixing the latter, although their method of 'barely there' safety for their workers amidst all the traffic (fluorescent jackets over t-shirt and shorts, hard hat, boots and adequate shoe wear optional) and the 'bucket and spade' approach – literally - to filling the trenches puts the UK process under a positive light. Never again will I complain about the state of our roads in Britain. And I won't mention the speed humps that appear out of the blue and are high enough to wrench the axis off your hire car. Actually when you think about it maybe these are something they could import to Blighty: it might just do the trick and replace the expensive speed camera mania we are succumbed to on all our roads. Imagine driving down the M4 and being more concerned about when the next raised hurdle will be, rather than whether that average speed camera has clocked you doing over 70mph.

I digress. So, the maps. Or lack thereof. Neither the car agency – not one to name names but it is a household name with a yellow and black logo – nor any of the service stations we stopped at (three) had a map. Of any sort. Not even a postcard with an outline of the region and its coastline. But the locals, friendly as ever, pointed and gesticulated and I am happy to say that we arrived at our destination without so much as a wrong turn, relying on my interpretation of their Portuguese (dubious at the best of times), a mental recollection of the Google map I had looked at the previous evening (pre caipirinha), and a guide book that was long on words but short on directions. Personally I was quite impressed, but mentally I made another note to take a compass with me next time so at least I could be sure we were heading the right way. Bear in mind I say this every holiday, and still forget.

A few interesting facts about Búzios: supposedly 'discovered' by Brigitte Bardot, it forsook its sleepy fishing village origin for that of a playground for the rich during the 60s, and underwent some serious property development in the 1980s. The atmosphere though is more Spanish Riviera chic than Costa del Sol bling: the designer shops and upmarket eateries testify to this, and the backdrop of Búzios harbour and the cobbled roads – some of which are car-free – give the whole place a sense of easy-going laissez-faire.

The downside is that the restaurants, bar a few exceptions, are expensive. In fact, as an aside, eating out in Rio overall is on par with London prices, a fact I am choosing to ignore until the credit card bills come through next month, at which point I will probably embark on another caipirinha-fest to get over the shock.

The upside is that there are some 27 beaches within easy reach of the town centre. I am now trying to dissuade Other Half from attempting to visit each and every one of them over the coming few days. The huge seas following the tropical cyclone that hit us earlier this week are creating some very impressive surfing conditions. (Another note here: OH decided to not bring his surfboard this trip, a fact I am grateful for if for no other reason than our 'upgraded' rent-a-car – I use the term loosely, thanks Mr H for nothing - can barely fit the 5 of us with a mere two bags between us, so I hate to think of the outlay if we had opted to tag this extra piece of equipment along with us and needed a people carrier to get about.)

Most poignant observation of the day came from OH as well. Watching the kids play on the beach directly outside our current abode, he noted that we could just as well be in Cornwall, considering that they would have happily splashed around in the water and built sandcastles even there. "Except we would be wearing anoraks," he noted, "and trousers and a woolly sweater."

Whereas at least here when it rains you can still wear shorts and go barefoot. Surely that counts for something?

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